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Start with Why

November 5, 2012

So yesterday I wrote that what initially drove my decision to move from being a minister to an auto body shop owner was money.

But that wasn’t the whole truth.

There were other reasons as well. My business is an economic engine that allows me to care well for my family, friends in need, and to be generous. But its also a way to present, in a very public way in a neighborhood that I love. My neighborhood has had significant abandonment issues over the years. There was a time that is still talked about fondly and longingly when General Motors had a plant here. That provided a lot of jobs and opportunities and wealth for this area. When they pulled out in 1987 – the year I graduated high school in this very place – it left a gaping hole in the local economy and a real sense of loss at a collective, emotional level. Since GM was an anchor business of sorts when they left so did other businesses.

It’s my belief that history is heading is heading somewhere. Yes, I am a Christian. As a Christian I believe in the restoration all things and that God has a plan for the very world we now inhabit. God has not abandoned it. I also believe that we are all called to cooperate with God’s vision to restore the earth and work to that end even though it will only be accomplished in God’s way and in God’s timing our current labors matter to that end in ways we can’t full imagine or understand. Yet. Restoration is at the core of God’s heart for this world.

“You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again…”

“They’ll rebuild the old ruins,
raise a new city out of the wreckage.
They’ll start over on the ruined cities,
take the rubble left behind and make it new.”

(portions of Isaiah 58 & 61 from The Message bible translated by Eugene Peterson)

This is the very passage that Jesus borrows from when he launches his ministry in Luke 4: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…” is straight out of Isaiah 61.

So the vision I have for my business, for Center City Collision, is anchored in this very large story that has roots in the Jewish scriptures, the life of Jesus and the restoration of all things as God develops a renewed earth. (see Revelation 22, the final chapter in this sprawling story)

About 4 years ago I wrote a manifesto inspired by this sprawling vision of restoration and how that might begin to look and take root in our neighborhood.

+The Norwood Manifesto, by Kevin Rains
Godʼs Spirit is on us to restore, to heal, and to beautify west Norwood. We are called to
restore people, buildings, lawns, gardens, businesses, public spaces, private homes.
We welcome all to join us: those who share our faith, those who do not. We welcome
the tired in need of a new life, the depressed in need of a greater purpose, the child in
need of a future, the elderly remembering the good old days, the broken hearted in
search of a fresh start, the abused, the neglected, the rejected, the rich, the poor, the
dark skinned and the light skinned and every shade in between, wrinkled skin, tattooed
skin, pierced skin, the handicapped, the able-bodied, the overweight and overwhelmed,
the underachiever and the underdog, the sick, the mentally ill, those grieving a deep
loss, the drug addicted, alcoholics, shopoholics, the whatever-o-holic inside us all.
Weʼre all getting free from something.
We believe the best is yet to come in Norwood. We believe that her best days are in the
future, not the past. From the rich soil of a prosperous history a beautiful new tree is
growing. God is creating a new heaven and a new earth. Weʼre all a part of that future
and can enact elements of it here and now. Signs pointing to that bright future.
So, together…
We plant gardens to remind ourselves that all creation is still good and loved by God…
We start businesses in abandoned buildings reminding ourselves that Godʼs kingdom is
a family enterprise.
We buy homes that are fixer-uppers on the ʻwrong side of the tracksʼ and beautify them,
saying to our neighbors, “Weʼre here for the long haul.”
We renovate and restore ancient ruins like St. Eʼs, our beloved old lady…
We share meals in each otherʼs homes and weʼre reminded that we will one day share a
feast; a banquet that is calling to us from the future…
We offer space for the weary and worn out, to refresh, renew, retreat…
We plant flowers for the sheer joy of it and trees that will shade our childrenʼs children
as they learn to walk…
We throw parties to celebrate the life weʼve been given and the life yet to come…
We practice hope…
We are a people of the Resurrection…

What is your why?

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Why a minister decided to run an auto body shop.

November 4, 2012

This post is going to get personal.

All my training and career up to this point has been directed at being in the ministry. So how did I end up owning and operating a local business?

The short answer: I needed money. My family was growing, expenses were increasing, and my income was not keeping pace.

And I also came to realize that many of the projects, ministries, and initiatives that I hoped to start or even just be a part of required an economic engine of some kind. I have seen scores of non-profits struggle because they lacked financial resources. And because I want to see what was started in my neighborhood continue and become sustainable I knew that a large, fundamental missing piece to the puzzle was having the funds to launch these dreams.

But I want to back up and sketch out the path that got me to this point.

Ever since I was a teenager I wanted to be a missionary. That seemed like the highest of all callings to me and involved elements of pioneering work, risk taking, travel  and adventure that intrigued me. I began preparing for this literally the summer after I graduated high school. A few days after graduating I boarded a plane for Brazil. I was heading to the Amazon jungle as a missionary with New Tribes Mission. How about that for jumping into the deep end! I spent the majority of my summer swimming in the Amazon river, digging a ditch at a boarding school for missionary kids, hiking in the jungle and we even did a little bit of “real” mission work when we went to some villages and I was asked to give my “testimony.” Now, if you grew up in church you’ll know that “giving your testimony” means telling people what a sinner you were and how much God/Jesus/the Bible/Sunday school/Church has changed your life and how it could do the same for others.

After that stint in the jungle, I decided I needed more training so I went to Cedarville College (now Cedarville University, thank you very much!) to study the bible for four years. But soon I was getting the itch to do something. So right in the middle of college, between my sophomore and junior year I decided to take a year off and pursue a calling to a different type of missionary field: the urban jungle. I joined Youth With a Mission aka YWAM and did some training and out reach in Amsterdam with a stint in Africa as well that took me to Kenya, Zambia, and Zimbabwe and eventually north to Cairo, Egypt as well. At this point the life of doing mission work mixed with the powerful elixir of adventure and travel was making me re-think even going back to college. But I figured I already had a couple years in, I might as well finish. So from Amsterdam I moved back to central Ohio to finish my degree.

After college I did another stint with YWAM, got married, felt called back home again and landed in the neighborhood where I graduated high school: Norwood, Ohio. I hooked up with this young church named Vineyard Central and eventually became the pastor, first as an associate pastor for 7 years then as the lead pastor for 8. During this time I was slowly working on a master’s degree in theology that eventually led me to a doctoral degree in ministry that I finished this year.

Most of the time I was a pastor I didn’t feel like a pastor. In fact, I didn’t really want to be a pastor. At least not in the traditional sense. I saw myself more as a missionary to my home town. I felt called to this place and this people. Also another thing you should know about me is that I’ve been mostly bi-vocational during this whole time. Working as a minister was my calling but I had to pay the bills in other ways. Even during college and right on through my time as a pastor this usually took the form of starting some small enterprise. Over the years I’ve started a dance club, a house painting business, a cleaning company, a handy man service and then ultimately launching into the auto body business with Center City Collision. So in one sense I’ve always been an entrepreneur, a starter. But its always been in service to my higher calling, ministry.

So my initial “Why?” was the simple need for an economic engine to support myself and my family. Then if things went really well I could also be generous and give back to others doing good work in my neighborhood.

And that happened! To a large extent and in various ways we’ve been able to do that. So its time to set the sights on something bigger… 

What I’m coming to realize is that the dream many of us have for this place is really big. And as the dream has evolved so has the need for an even bigger economic engine. And really it isn’t just one engine. There need to be multiple engines all pulling together. So hopefully my business will be one among many locally that are started and nurtured in this soil and fully committed to the higher purposes this place needs. For me and many others that is a holistic approach that involves caring for the whole person: body, mind, spirit, economy, and relationships.

I have no idea where this will all end up but I’m stoked to be a part of this unfolding story and ready to see what the next chapter will surprise us with….

Discovering a “passion mantra”

October 30, 2012

I’ve been working on John Jantsch calls a “Passion mantra.”

I’m discovering that getting in touch with my deepest desires is actually hard work. It requires some brutal honesty about what I really want and that means sorting out good desires from bad desires — or healthy desires from unhealthy desires, if you prefer. That has been a pretty grueling process. One thing I’m learning early on is that sometimes even our wrong desires (sex, money, power type of stuff) can actually lead us to what we really want (intimacy, generosity, courage to flip the aforementioned on its head).

When I get really quiet, and therefore honest and receptive, what seems to keep surfacing for me is a desire to encourage and resource emerging leaders, businesses, and communities. So something akin to a life coach/ spiritual director / mentor. Now that’s pretty broad which makes it applicable to my current business, my work with Fresh Expressions, etc. But I’m also honing in on some specifics like not just ANY business but businesses that are interested in more than the bottom line – higher purpose businesses if you will. And not just ANY faith community but communities that are deeply embedded in a place, a neighborhood that desire something a little more radical than just “being good people who go to church once a week.” Communities that want to forge a life together that has a cadence and rhythm to it and a deep commitment to be rooted in a particular place.

Yet, when I pan back a bit the word that seems to have the most mojo for me is actually the word “emerging.” I love the idea of helping people over that first hump, getting their feet wet in leadership or management of some project or venture that they are passionate about. I like what sociologists call the “liminal” space. That space between spaces where things are in flux, ideas born, and transitions navigated.

So how this apply to my current endeavors?

Well, I have some pretty aggressive growth goals for my body shop and to achieve those goals I’m going to need a small army of people who are able to lead and manage others.

Also, my work with Fresh Expressions in the Episcopal Church is an obvious fit especially among the new communities that are springing up in our region.

It of course applies in my family as I have two teenagers and one “teenager in training.” Kids are great because they are always in those in-between places as they grow and mature and become… in a sense they’re always emerging!

It could also be the basis of a new coaching or consulting venture of some kind. I’m open to that but not pursuing it at the moment.

I know I still have a lot of work to do on defining and refining my “passion mantra.” John is really encouraging by writing that its not something we get right on the first try and probably not even by the thirtieth but I hope this little foray into my discovery process has encouraged you to consider what you really desire and helped you get a little more in touch with your passion.

Be fully alive! (Part 2: The How to)

October 19, 2012

“In order for your business to become fully alive, you must become fully alive inside it.” John Jantsch, The Commitment Engine p. 18

So yesterday I explored the importance of being fully alive inside our businesses and workplaces. Today I want to discover more of the how to come alive, be alive and stay alive in our various contexts.

In a word: Less

The first thing I often need in order to feel more alive inside my business is less of my business. We all need a break sometime. We all need systematic, regular breaks where we step aside from our businesses and get a different perspective. Where we lift our nose off the grindstone and look up, get a different view. I’m part of a coaching program that refers to these as “Free days” and they have elevated that simple concept to a life altering and beautiful extreme.

Free days are days we plan to nothing related to our businesses – including email and reading business related books and articles – for 24 hours. It is a day for rejuvenation. The word Rejuvenation descended from Latin and literally means “to be made young again.” So if you’re wondering what you would do if you take time away from your business think about those things that you did when you were younger that made you feel alive.

When I was young I used to hike in the woods behind our home for hours, climb trees, camp, ride my bike, ride my skateboard, jump ramps, and ride motorcycles. Basically anything that involved risk, speed and nature. So not surprisingly as an adult I still like to experience nature and sometimes I like to do that at high speeds. So I bought a Harley last year – pictured above. (And Charlie, if you’re reading, I definitely want to ride in November even if we have to bundle up a bit!)

This concept of free days though is hardly new. It finds roots deep in the Jewish scriptures in both the creation story (God rested on the 7th day) and in the 10 commandments (“Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.”) It has been a part of the faithful’s practice for millennium.

So, I try to take at least one free day a week and often two. I also schedule a full day away for solitude each month. And quarterly I take a few days away that are focused more on dreaming, planning and goal setting. All that is in addition to family vacations and regular holiday breaks. I haven’t always been able to have this. It has been a goal and something I’ve worked toward for years and only in past few years have been able to enjoy.

And here’s the pay off: By taking time to not focus on my business, I return to it different, more ready to fully engage it with fresh ideas and energy that infects everything and everyone I interact with.  

Be fully alive! (Part 1)

October 18, 2012

“In order for your business to become fully alive, you must become fully alive inside it.” John Jantsch, The Commitment Engine p. 18

There was definitely a time when I was not fully alive in my business. John Jantsch has a simple definition of marketing and it’s getting someone who has a need for what you offer to know, like and trust you. I didn’t really know, like or trust my own business! Yet, over time I have been able to come fully alive inside my business. Part of that has been a healing journey and part of it has been a growing realization that this is what I was born to do.

Know: We all come with varying degrees of knowledge into a field. Sometimes the things we learned while in training whether that be vocational school or college don’t really apply in the real world of work. Sometimes we train for something and find ourselves doing something completely different. For me I spent years training for the ministry and found myself in business. Sure, I had worked in the family business when I was 15 sweeping floors, cleaning paint cans, and washing cars but 20 years later I found myself suddenly in charge of it and learning to do computerized estimates, deal with insurance claims and marketing to referral partners. Somehow my classes in Theology weren’t providing much help here. And the view I had on the bottom of the org chart when I was 15 also did not prepare me for this new challenge.
Like: Secondly, I didn’t really like being in business. At first. Now, I absolutely love it. But in the beginning it was just a means to an end. I just needed a paycheck so that I could do what I really loved which was ministry. That, I thought, was my calling and really, what could be more important than God’s work? Business was just a cow that gave me milk. I wasn’t attached to it. I was using it for one purpose: a paycheck.

Trust: I didn’t trust my business. I didn’t even trust “business” in general. I saw it at best as a necessary evil that would some day go away as we became more enlightened or God more fully redeemed the world.

But over time I came to know, like and trust my business. I know much better now the technical side and the how-to side of how it operates and what makes it go. I’ve also come to see that it has a personality, a unique way of being in my neighborhood and in my industry. And I like it. I have learned to like it in the sense that it brings me loads of joy and the more I work in it and at it the more joy it delivers. It’s like the guy in Chariots of Fire who said he feels God’s pleasure when he runs. I now feel God’s pleasure when I’m running Center City Collision. And lastly I trust it. I know that it is part of the good world that God created and I’ve come to believe that God fully intended business to be a part of the world he created and loves. That’s important to me because if that’s not true then I would have no hope for encountering his presence in the bulk of how I spend my day. But since that is true I can count on him to be there, ahead of me, waiting to reveal more of his abundant life to me there.

Iraneus, a church father from the 2nd century said “The Glory of God is a person fully alive.”

How are you coming alive in your work? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below or an email to kevinrains@gmail.com.

(In Part 2 I will discuss specific strategies for coming more fully alive inside your business.)

The Patient Entrepreneur

October 15, 2012

“The most critical aspect of commitment is that it can not be manufactured quickly. It must be carefully cultivated and cared for, just as a tree can only come from the careful nurturing of a seed.” (John Jantsch, The Commitment Engine p. 1)

When I think of entrepreneurs I rarely think of them as patient. That is partly for biographical reasons! I’m not prone to patience. Action? Yes. Moving quickly without all the facts. Yep! Starting something or innovating with little forethought. Guilty.

I’m part of a coaching program that encourages the use of the Kolbe profile. It is a test that measures how people prefer to act. It’s well worth your time to check it out but without going into all the details my profile is what they call a “Quick Start.”

“Hi, my name is Kevin and I act before I think.” And yet…

There’s no shortcut to an Oak tree. Growing Oaks takes time. It can’t be rushed.

There’s no shortcut to shared commitment. Growing commitment takes time. It can’t be rushed.

But the good news is it can be cultivated. So while our part in growing commitment is dependent on many factors we can’t control the few that are in our control are very important. We plant seeds: idea seeds. We share vision, painting pictures of a preferred and shared future. We invite co-workers to join the team and investors to buy in. And then we wait. We wait to see what the response is. We water it by sharing it over and over. We protect it by clarifying the vision and the invitation. We make sure that it passes from person to person without getting skewed like a game of telephone.

And we do the work. We experiment and create demonstration plots. We verify and adjust on the fly. We patiently tweak and try again. We fail as fast as possible so we can learn where the weak points are and that reveals where we need to make adjustments. And simultaneously we celebrate even the smallest successes and patiently point out where things are working.

I’m right in the middle of this process now as my shop Center City Collision is trying to dramatically reduce the amount of time cars spend in our shop. I am convinced that half the jobs can be done on a 24 Hour clock. I’m talking about it. We’re experimenting on small jobs. We’re succeeding. And we’re failing. And the failures are just as important at this stage so we can keep keep tweaking it. Finding clears that dry faster. Making sure all the parts are at the shop before we get started. We’re creating the recipe and taste testing as we go. Commitment is grown as we succeed. Learning spikes when we don’t.

But again, this takes time.

I’m reminded of Wendell Berry’s poem Like the Snow. I’ll let my favorite poet/farmer have the final word:

“Suppose we did our work

like the snow, quietly, quietly.

leaving nothing out.”

What shortcuts are tempting you right now?