Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Moving from Procrastination to Proactivation

I met Denis Waitley in the 1980s and since then, I have been inspired by many of his books and articles. He challenges all of us, especially pastors, to be proactive so that we can become peak performers. Too many of us have been 'lazy' and wasted our time on non-essential things.This article will definitely be helpful to get us back on track to do the things that are important and achieve the goals that God has set before us. (Pastor Albert Kang)


by Denis Waitley

Denis Waitley
Here are some ideas to help make you a victor over change rather than a victim of change:
1. Set your wake-up time a half hour earlier tomorrow and keep the clock at that setting. Use the extra time to think about the best way to spend your day.
2. Memorize and repeat this motto: “Action TNT: Today, not Tomorrow.” Handle each piece of incoming mail only once. Answer your e-mail either early in the morning or after working hours. Block out specific times to initiate phone calls, take incoming calls, and to meet people in person.
3. When people tell you their problems, give solution-oriented feedback. Rather than taking on the problem as your own assignment, first, ask what’s the next step they plan to take, or what they would like to see happen.
4. Finish what you start. Concentrate all your energy and intensity, without distraction, on successfully completing your current major project.
5. Be constructively helpful instead of unhelpfully critical. Single out someone or something to praise instead of participating in group griping, grudge collecting or pity parties.
6. Limit your television viewing or Internet surfing to mostly educational or otherwise enlightening programs. Watch no more than one hour of television per day or night, unless there is a special program you have been anticipating. The Internet has also become a great procrastinator’s hideout for tension-relieving instead of goal-achieving activities.
7. Make a list of five necessary but unpleasant projects you’ve been putting off, with a completion date for each project. Immediate action on unpleasant projects reduces stress and tension. It is very difficult to be active and depressed at the same time.
8. Seek out and converse with a successful role model and mentor. Learning from others’ successes and setbacks will inevitably improve production of any kind. Truly listen; really find out how your role models do it right.
9. Understand that fear, as an acronym, is False Evidence Appearing Real, and that luck could mean Laboring Under Correct Knowledge. The more information you have on any subject—especially case histories—the less likely you’ll be to put off your decisions.
10. Accept problems as inevitable offshoots of change and progress. With the ever more rapid pace of change in society and business, you’ll be overwhelmed unless you view change as normal and learn to look for its positive aspects—such as new opportunities and improvements—rather than bemoan the negative.
There is actually no such thing as a “future” decision; there are only present decisions that will affect the future. Procrastinators wait for just the right moment to decide.
If you wait for the perfect moment, you become a security-seeker who is running in place, unwittingly digging yourself deeper into your rut. If you wait for every objection to be overcome, you’ll attempt nothing. Get out of your comfort zone and go from procrastinating to proactivating. Make your personal motto: “Stop stewing and start doing!”
When it comes to peak performance, Denis Waitley has for many years trained high-performers, teaching them the secrets to optimal health, greater self-esteem and stronger self-discipline.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Seven Last Phrases of the Church

You’ve heard of the “seven last words of the church” before, haven’t you?

If not, here they are, tongue firmly in cheek:  “We’ve never done it that way before.”

There’s a lot of truth in that.  When a church gives way to an attitude that says things must be done the way they have been done, and anything new is to be met with skepticism and even rejection, its days are numbered.

It got me thinking to some other lines that are killers, yet sound so good on the surface.  But if you’ve been around a while, and know the real translation, you know how deadly they can be.

So instead of the seven last words of the church, let’s call them the seven last phrases of the church:

“I need to be fed.”

Translation:  I am a spiritual infant and need to be spoon-fed because I’m not mature enough to open up the Bible and dig into it for myself.  Nor do I want to be.  And since the church exists for me and my needs, this is my rightful expectation.  And if you want the last 5%, I’m mad about something that didn’t go my way, or you asked me to die to myself for the cause, so I have to find a spiritual-sounding excuse that makes it seem like the church is beneath my level of advanced maturity as I make my way out the door.  So it’s not just “I need to be fed,” but now, “I need to go where I can be fed.”

“I didn’t get anything out of it.”

Translation:  The worship service is all about me, which means I am the object of worship.  Forget that this is idolatry at its worst; I mustn’t be worried about such things.  It also doesn’t enter my mind that the important thing isn’t what I get out of it, but what God gets out of it.  I am a consumer, and my needs drive me and should drive the church.  And I’ll keep church hopping and shopping – and evaluating – until I find what does meet my personal tastes and current desires.

“The music is too loud.”

Translation:  I don’t like the style of music.  It’s too “rock.”  Too contemporary.  I came here liking a certain kind of music, and now you’re changing it in the name of reaching the young and disaffected.  So now I am going to be disaffected until you change it back.  And don’t offer me any of those blasted ear-plugs; I shouldn’t have to wear earplugs in church!  I should just like what is being played and how it’s being played.  When you talked about dying to ourselves in order to reach the unchurched, you never mentioned music.  I don’t die to myself there.

“You talk about money too much."

 Translation: I don’t give, don’t plan on giving, and certainly don’t want to be challenged to give.  And if you mention it even once a year I’m going to cry foul and pull this self-righteous phrase out as a way of making you the bad guy.  My money is my god, it’s not for God, which is why I’m hyper-sensitive about it.  I have to find a spiritual-sounding reason for exiting out from the challenge so that it’s about you and the evils of organized religion, and not me and my consumptive lifestyle.

“Who’s holding you accountable?”

Translation:  I’m into control and want to find a way to have it.    But talking about “accountability” sounds more spiritual.  What I’m really after is finding out about boards and committees, councils and business meetings, and then how to get on them.  Let church leaders lead?  Let pastors pastor?  Are you crazy?  You don’t send someone to seminary to learn how to lead the church; you send them to seminary to come back and be led by those of us who like to talk about accountability as a euphemism for control.  They are our chaplains, to care for us and do our bidding, not decision-makers or leaders.  I, of course, can be trusted and don’t need any vocational training whatsoever to lead, much less any…accountability.

“I don’t know everybody anymore.”

Translation:  The church is growing, and I don’t want it to grow.  At least, not so fast it outgrows me.  I don’t find fast growth exhilarating, I find it threatening.  My sense of security is tied to feeling like I know everything that’s going on.  I’m not even sure I know all the staff anymore!  I even have to make an appointment to talk to the pastor, and even then, it might not be the senior pastor who sees me.  That’s where all this talk about reaching lost people and growing the church really leads to.  I want it to be “us four and no more,” but they want to reach the whole world!  Do you know what that would mean?  Why, I would have to become less so it can become more!  Where do ideas like that even come from?

“Let’s disciple the ones we have.”

Translation:  A church can be about evangelism, or it can be about discipleship.  Not both.  We’re obviously misinterpreting Jesus when He said that it could be.   But more to the point, I’m a bit on the spiritually prideful side of things, which means I like to talk about discipleship to remind everyone how discipled I am compared to the rest of the Christian minions.  You know, I’m on the meaty, mature, believer-oriented, expositional, go-deep, doctrinally sound side of things.  Not the trendy, culturally-hip, Christianity 101, contemporary, church for the unchurched, evangelistic side of things.  And don’t bother me with the idea that there is all of eternity to grow in faith and knowledge and worship, and only here and now to evangelize.  Or that the first church started with 3,000 converts and no discipleship program except 11 overwhelmed followers of Jesus who had only moments before abandoned and even betrayed Him.  That’s Acts, and we all know Acts was written before anybody was, well, discipled.

So there you have it; the seven last phrases of the church.

Or at least seven you might hear very close to its last gasping breath.

James Emery White

Editor’s Note 

To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

4 Ways to Show Outsiders You Care

by Dave Devries

How do you show those outside your circle of Christian friendships that you care about them?

You've heard it said - "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

Those outside the faith typically aren't interested in knowing what you believe. They are probably more interested in knowing how you live out what you believe. "What difference does your faith make in the way you treat me or in the way you care for others?"
1. Serve
How can you meet genuine needs? Can you offer to baby-sit your neighbor's kids? Can you help your neighbor with a home-improvement project? Find out a need in their life right now - and offer to help meet that need. (If you don't know what they might need - Ask them!)

2. Time
How could you give someone the gift of time? People are busy. You probably need more time in your day. Think of ways to give someone more time. Offer to pick up their kids and give them a ride home from practice or school. Offer to let someone go in front of you the next time you are standing in line at Starbucks or the grocery store. That's a gift of time. Give up a close parking spot to someone so that they don't have to walk as far - especially if it's someone that you know.

3. Affirmation
Encourage others. Send an encouraging note, e-mail, or text message. Tell them something you appreciate about them. Acknowledge their efforts. Celebrate their progress. Affirm their kids. These things are always encouraging. Give them the gift of your affirming words.

4. Gifts
Who doesn't like gifts? I do - and I'm so grateful when someone gives me even the smallest gift. It's a tangible expression of care. If you like getting gifts, others you know probably do, too. Can you bake an apple pie for a neighbor? Can you buy a cup of coffee? Can you give someone a gift card? Gifts can open up an amazing opportunity for conversation.

Imagine how one of your friends who isn't a Christian yet would respond to really seeing that you care. As you serve, give gifts and time, and affirm others - it will create curiosity about why. And it might actually lead to a spiritual conversation about how you've become a less selfish person as you are following the ways of Jesus.

Consider: Who do you know in your circles of friendship that is an outsider to faith? What can you do this week to show that person that you care for them?

"For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me." -- Jesus (Mt. 25:35-36)

What matters to Jesus is tangibly caring for the needs of others! As you care for others, you help them to see the difference that God's grace has made in your life. Instead of being selfish, because of Christ, you are selfless and kind and tenderhearted and forgiving and caring! 


Friday, June 10, 2011

Leader of the Pack

Cesar Millan - The Dog Whisperer
By Albert Kang, Pastoral Advisor

Cesar Millan, the famous 'Dog Whisperer' has such great talent in spotting the behaviors of dogs - so much so that he is able to direct them and provide the leadership that dogs need. In his TV programs, Cesar keeps informing the dog owners to become 'leaders of the pack'. The reason is obvious, dogs like wolves live in packs. They respond to pack leadership. When a dog owner surrenders her pack leadership to her dog, then the animal will instinctively take control and become the leader of the pack. In the shows, Cesar is able to take control of the dogs and change their behaviors by positioning himself as the leader. 

One dog, heightened by its insecurity, has on many occasions, even bites its owner. The owner is a very nice person and even though she scolds her pet, she is very gentle. In just a few hours, Cesar takes control by becoming the dominant pack leader. The misbehaving canine backs down and submits completely. Cesar then teaches the owner to take charge and the dog submits willingly. It looks like a miracle but according to Cesar, the poor dog has been looking for leadership. When given that, it readily submit and be a part of the pack.

Human beings are not like dogs but we also look for leadership in organizations. Our decision to follow someone is more complicating than that of animals but the basic truth is that good leadership gives direction, hope, future and security to the group. 

For example, Moses was able to lead a whole group of very frightened people from the slavery of Egypt because he took hold of the responsibility that God gave him. His leadership provided direction and the people moved towards the Promised Land. It also provided hope because they moved away from slavery to freedom. The people continued in spite of so many challenges because they and their children clung onto a future. As a large united group, the Children of Israel had security and even became a threat to the other established surrounding nations.

Yes, Moses fumbled and became discouraged many times throughout his forty years of leadership. It was tough for Moses to be a leader because the Children of Israel were not really good and obedient followers. Later, we read about how this group of former slaves even dared to challenge the leadership of God Himself. Like most leaders, when trouble boiled, Moses wanted to give up. However, being a responsible leader, he bit the bullet and took charge. 

Today, modern leaders can echo after the motto popularized by Harry Truman and declare, "The buck stops here". This means that the leader takes full responsibility and does not 'pass the buck'. Pastors who take full responsibility over their flocks, not only have appreciative church members but dedicated ones too. 

People are more willing to win souls and do the works of the Lord when they are challenged by the clear vision and strong commitment of good leadership. Do not surrender your leadership if you are placed in the position of "leading the pack". If you do, then be ready for a take-over from a secondary leadership. 

One of the reasons why many churches suffer from church quarrels and splits is because the pastors are too 'nice and kind' to take charge. The truth has nothing to do with being nice or kind. It is just sheer weak irresponsible leadership. When a secondary leadership provides the vision and strategy for growth, it naturally undermines the primary pastoral leadership. Therefore, before this happens, pastors should learn how to take charge and be responsible leaders. Here are some ways you can be a responsible 'leader of the pack' and provide clear leadership direction to your church.

1. Be Responsible. When you take charge and be responsible, your leadership will change the attitude of the church. Your example will challenge the other leaders in your church to serve responsibly. Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister of Singapore, is a very good example of responsible leadership. Even though he is not yet a Christian, his responsible leadership style is worthy of our study and examination. 

In the 1960s, Singapore was going through much political upheavals but this man took charge. It was not a good time to be a leader. Singapore got kicked out of Malaysia and the British military that protected Singapore for many years was leaving for good. The Communists were confrontational and threatened to take over the young fledgling nation. There were racial, religious and labor strives. There were 153 major strikes between July 1961 and September 1962. The 1964 racial riot was among the worse. Indonesian saboteurs were planting bombs in Singapore. No, it was not a good time.

Without the peninsular of Malaysia as a good hinterland for natural resources, little industries, no military defense and a hostile political environment, Lee had to act. Added to all these, he had to lead a new country of different and often disharmonious races that were not used to being a nation. Most were loyal to their home countries and Singapore was only a platform for financial gains. With little education and not much of future prospects, Singaporeans were deemed to fail and become the debris of modern civilization. However, because, Lee was a strong and responsible leader, he and his dedicated team of young leaders turned the situations around and made Singapore to become one of the most prosperous and admired nations in the world. 

2. Be Innovative. People look for innovative leadership in a changing environment. Once again, Lee stepped forth as a brilliant innovative strategist of change. He was able to size up the situations in Singapore accurately and came up with practical solutions. He refused to allow Singapore to be a victim of her circumstances. Lee took the bribery culture at its horns and radically transformed it into a culture of honesty. In spite of its unpopularity, National Service was introduced. Young men were trained as soldiers for two or more years after they reached 18 years of age. Thanks to that, today, Singapore has one of the strongest defence forces in Asia. She can raise half a million soldiers if the need arises. Large swamps were filled and transformed to become industrial hubs. Explosive growth in population is curbed by harsh laws. Families are moved to high rise government-subsidized apartments. Drastic measures were needed during those drastic time.

To bring your church into the next level of growth, you have to be courageous enough to challenge the status quo and be innovative.  You may need to change the way you use to do things. Watch and learn from other forward-looking church leaders. They have gone through much hard knocks to get their church moving and going. You do not need to experience all those adverse experiences if you were to study carefully how innovations are being introduced into churches that used to be mired in traditions and ineffectiveness. Anyway, it is proven that forward-looking leaders do attract other quality people. 

3. Be Positive - King David was able to attract his mighty men because he was a leader who was exceptionally positive about his vision from the Lord. Since the time of his anointing by Prophet Samuel, David had challenged the status quo. Not any fault of his own, David had to become a fugitive. However, the wilderness did not rob David of his vision. He reinvented himself and his team of followers. For about 15 years, David was hunted down like a wild animal. King Saul made sure that David would have no chance of taking his throne. 

Rejected by the king, David knew that he was not rejected by God. In spite of great difficulties in taking care of 600 families in the wilderness, David did not give up. He was positive because he knew that he had a God who would help him overcome all hardships. He took responsibility to provide strong leadership. When his followers had doubt about God and their future, they just needed to look at their leader To survive, David had to be creative and used multiple means to get supports and rations for the thousands under his care. Prosperous people like Nabal, not only did not support these refugees but were hostile. Thankfully Abagail provided the support that David and his men needed.

This is the typical experience of responsible leaders - many may not give you instant support but this will come in time. Being positive and innovative means looking beyond the methods and approaches of the past. Learn to try new things and be brave enough to challenge the church to move forward. Take charge and say, "This is what we are going to do to achieve this or that!" In spite of the tough situations, your strong leadership will provide the positive motivation that your church needs in order to grow.

4. Be Consistent. Nothing makes the members more irritated than the inconsistent approaches of the pastor. For example, the pastor preaches much about evangelism and winning souls but provides no leadership, strategy and infrastructure to do so. Thus, the pastor is known for being a 'NATO' which stands for 'No Action, Talk Only'. When a vision is supported by related trainings, programs, and finances, the people will soon be challenged to respond. Such a definite action is endemic and will motivate every department and member. Evangelism and soul-winning will soon become the core values adopted to be part of the church's culture.

Leader of the Pack. Today, many church members are not so sure about the leadership provided by their church leaders. Indecisiveness and fear of being perceived as proud, many pastors back down as being the 'leader of the pack'. Any organizations that do not have responsible leadership will stagnate and then slide down the drain. As a responsible leader and pastor, you need to provide the framework for confidence to be restored. 

Work on these four aspects of your leadership - responsible in leading, Innovative in creating, positive in motivating and consistent in supporting - and you will see affirmative changes in the attitudes of those who are serving with you. Over the years, quite a number of pastors have discovered and applied these four aspects of leadership approach. They have gone on to motivate thousands to become more dedicated to the Lord, win souls and multiply the disciples in the kingdom of God. 

Finally, even though you may not be looking to pastor a mega-church but the least you can do is to have the willingness and desire to be responsible for a healthy growing church.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Competition With Other Churches

A member of our staff struck up a conversation with a pharmacist. Things turned in such a way that she invited him to a “Family Night” hosted by Meck.

His initial response?

“I like competition with my sports, but not with church.”


She soon learned that he wasn’t a Christian, but had started attending a church to explore faith for his life which, unfortunately, soon split, leading to a new church across town. 

From that point on, he felt nothing but competition seethe through the psyche of the originating church in the messages and almost every new venture.

He left in search of a new church, landing on one that showed promise. But within weeks, he picked up on it again. The mission of the church seemed to be being “better” than other churches. The story line was simple: “No other church in town is like us, as good as us, is doing what we’re doing, or loves Jesus like we do. Aren’t you glad you’re here, and not there?”

He stopped going to church.

Competition between churches is one of the most prevalent yet least- talked about issues in church-world. I’ve written about it in my latest book, Christ Among the Dragons, and also on this blog (The Largest and Fastest Growing and Why Don’t We Just Pick Up the Phone?). But I never imagined how strong a negative it was to those outside of the church.

I thought it was our dirty little secret.

It’s dirty, but it’s no secret.

As I recently tweeted, if you think the church across town is your competition, you need mission lessons.

Let’s unpack that a bit.

If you think the growth of your church is based on whether you are “beating” other churches, you need mission lessons.

If you think the heart of church growth for an Acts 2 biblically-functioning community is meant to be transfer growth (sheep swapping) from an existing pool of churched believers, you need mission lessons.

If you think a new church opening up in your area is a threat to your “mission field”, you need mission lessons.

If you think you need to match area churches brick for brick, event for event, staff for staff, program for program, gimmick for gimmick, you need mission lessons.

If you think you deserve to pat yourself on the back because you landed an article in the paper or a story on the six o’clock news about being a big, fast-growing church in town vs. those smaller, slow-growing churches in town, you need mission lessons.

If you think you need to keep up what the church across town is doing instead of the dynamics of a post-Christian culture, you need mission lessons.

If you can only learn from churches more than fifty miles away, or be generous in spirit toward the growth of churches in other cities, you need mission lessons.

Here are the realities:

*The mission of the church is to reach out to those who are far from God, divorced from a relationship with Christ, and develop them into fully-devoted followers of Christ. The Great Commission’s first-half is evangelism; its back-half is discipleship. But make no mistake: we begin with evangelism. 

And evangelism means reaching out to those who are not currently followers of Christ.

*Since conversion growth, as opposed to transfer growth, is the goal, it doesn’t matter whether a thousand new churches open their doors on your street. While you welcome and celebrate existing believers who need a church home, when it comes to outreach and primary growth, you are not after the person who is looking for a church!


Your real competition is a darkened world and the blindness of sin-stained lives.

Your strategy is for Believers to build relationships with non-Believers, share their faith, and invite them to experience the new community of the church.

Which means your challenge is the relational divorce that exists between Christians and non-Christians.
Sorry, but I don’t see other churches anywhere in that mix except, hopefully, as co-laborers in the effort.

Satan would love nothing more than for churches to see each other as the heart of the contest, and to fall prey to petty grievances and complaints, rivalry and strife, jockeying for position in the battle for existing sheep. He knew Jesus was right: “A kingdom divided against itself will collapse” (Mark 3:24, NIV).

So he seeks to divide.

If he can’t divide a church itself, he’ll divide the churches in an area.

This is not to say that there can’t be honest disagreements between churches, and sometimes the practices of one church or another in your city may force you to distance yourself a bit for the preservation of your integrity. But those kinds of qualifiers are a given, and don’t have anything to do with competition.

So whatever happened to our pharmacist? He came to “Family Night.” He then came the following weekend to one of our services.

What’s next?

My guess is he’s going to wait around just long enough to see if our competition is limited to Carolina and Duke.

James Emery White
From His blog, Church & Culture

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture and hosts; ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president; and author of over a dozen books which have been translated into ten languages.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Why I Walk Past 11 Cafes to Get to My Favourite One

Yep it’s true!

I walk past 11 other cafes including a steep hill-climb to get to my favourite one. So you’d have to ask – why?!

Well here are my top 5 reasons for this bizarre behaviour:*

Reason #5: I like the ambience – a unique blend of vibrancy and warmth.

Reason #4: The food is stunning and well priced.

Reason #3: The coffee is brilliant every time.

Reason #2: They’re always prepared to tailor and customise my order.

Reason #1: The owner (Bianca) knows my name and makes me feel welcome.

Now when I think about the retail outlets of Christianity (we call them “church”) I guess there are plenty to choose from that dish up a good “product” on Sunday.

Seems to me though, the thing that’s much harder to find is a church that customises its “programs,” learns your name and makes you feel welcome.

Am I being a bit unfair do you think? A bit harsh?

My wife Jacqui and I spent 3 years several years ago looking for a church – not just to be consumers, but to offer the gifts and abilities that God had given us, in His service.
Now we found one church that sang some great songs … but you didn’t need to take your Bible because you were unlikely to need it. And unless you attended twice on Sunday; unless you “got with the program”, you just weren’t committed.

At the other end of the spectrum, we attended a more traditional church for 12 months – strong on preaching the Word. But it took 9 months before we were invited out for so much as a cup of coffee. When Jacqui collapsed at work and was rushed into hospital for major surgery, only one person visited her … once. And when we left, it took 6 months for our home group leader to email us to see where we were.

So as Christ-followers (imperfect though we are), we decided that these (and quite a few other) churches were not the places to invest that which God had given us.

Fortunately since then, we have found a church where we’re loved and accepted. A church that’s making a difference in the marketplace (albeit imperfectly).

But after trying about a dozen, the question is … Why did it take so long to find a ‘Bianca’ in the Kingdom of God?

What’s your experience?


About Berni Dymet 

Pastor Berni Dymet is a dynamic preacher of God's word, with a passion for helping people to connect with God amidst the realities of life. He has a wonderful ability to communicate deep, life changing truths in a way that makes sense to the rest of us - talking about issues that really matter. Things that each one of us experiences in our own lives.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Magic Johnson's Fast Break Into Business

Learning to listen to the needs of our congregation is very important. Quite a few churches are not growing because the pastors and church leaders are 'hard of hearing'. For younger pastors, it is good to be humble and get help from a mentors. These older and more experienced ministers can point out your mistakes and help you make positive adjustments to your ministry and life. Read this article about how Magic Johnson learned business the hard way.

God bless, 

Pastor Albert Kang

Magic Johnson's Fast Break Into Business

The legendary L.A. Laker's secret behind a successful sports-to-business transition.

Don  Yaeger   
Magic Johnson was in the seventh year of his Hall of Fame career when thoughts of his basketball afterlife led him to the office of uber-executive Michael Ovitz, co-founder of Creative Artists Agency, Hollywood's most powerful agency. Johnson had watched many former athletes attempt entry into the world of business only to fail, and he was hoping for advice that would allow him to chart a different course.
“Michael dropped the newspaper in front of me,” Johnson tells SUCCESS. “He asked, ‘When the paper arrives, what do you read first?’ I told him I opened the sports section.

He looked at me and said, ‘Wrong answer. From here on, if you want to be involved in business, you have to read business.’ I walked in his office 6-foot-9 and proud. I left feeling 5-foot-tall and stunned.”

And thus began the business career of a man who, just 22 years later, in 2009, was hailed by Ebony magazine as one of the most influential black business leaders in America. Built over the past 23 years, Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Magic Johnson Enterprises now owns or operates gyms, movie theaters and other businesses in 89 cities across 21 states.

“I learned a couple of great lessons there with Michael Ovitz,” Johnson says. “The first is that if you want to be successful, you have to be willing to use every connection you’ve got. It is a funny story how that meeting came about. During a Lakers game the season before, I was standing on the sidelines getting ready to pass the ball inbounds. There were two businessmen I respect—[studio executive and Tell to Win author] Peter Guber and [recording industry executive] Joe Smith—who were sitting there courtside and were huge fans. I looked over and asked, ‘How do I get into business?’ It probably wasn’t the best place to ask, but they could tell I was honestly looking for help, so later they arranged for me to meet Michael Ovitz.

‘Be Ready to Listen’
“The second thing I learned is that if you want someone to be your mentor, you better be ready to listen and be humbled,” Johnson says. “Michael wasn’t sure about working with me because so many athletes think they can move right into business and never take anyone’s advice. I had to prove to him I was serious and that I would listen.”

That meant changing his reading habits, Johnson says, and he immediately started grabbing business magazines, newspapers and books to take with him on the road. But reading was just the beginning of Magic’s business education. His next big lesson was “listening.”
Johnson says his first foray into the world of business taught him what happens to entrepreneurs who aren’t listening to their customers. In 1990, he decided to begin a chain of retail sporting goods stores called Magic 32 that he intended to take nationwide.

To get the business off the ground, he decided to attend a major sporting goods convention and negotiate for products he’d sell at the stores.
“I didn’t ask a single customer what they’d be interested in,” Johnson says. “I went there looking for products I’d be interested in buying. I had to learn that I was not my customer. Actually, I was taught that lesson by what happened after we opened.”

Among the line of products Johnson chose to carry was a series of $1,500 leather jackets. They fit Johnson’s taste, but not the taste of his customers, as evidenced by the fact they were still hanging on the racks when the initial store closed just a year later.

“I’m sure I’ve made bigger business mistakes,” Johnson says, breaking into his trademark grin, “but I can’t think of one.”

Early Lessons
Johnson’s earliest entrepreneurial influences came from his parents in his hometown of Lansing, Mich. “I grew up in the kind of black family that people today worry is disappearing. Even though there were nine of us, we had what we needed— two great parents, food on the table and time for the whole family to be together,” he writes in his 1993 memoir, My Life.

Both parents worked hard; his dad on the night shift at a GM factory as well as second jobs that included pumping gas and running his own trash-hauling business, and his mother in janitorial and cafeteria work. “My parents believed in work—not only for themselves, but for their children, too,” Johnson writes. The kids had assigned chores around the house and had to earn their spending money. “By the time I was 10, I had my own little neighborhood business. I raked leaves, cleaned yards and shoveled snow. With the money I earned, I could go to the movies and buy an occasional record.”

Johnson’s dad, Earvin Johnson Sr., provided other life lessons, too. Through one-on-one basketball games, his father played tough and not always fair. “But that was the point. Dad was teaching me that I wouldn’t always get the calls, that I had to play above the contact,” Johnson writes. “He taught me to win against the odds, and never to quit.”

Johnson’s basketball career included a national championship at Michigan State, five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and a gold medal with the “Dream Team” at the 1992 Olympics. He played alongside and against some of the NBA’s best players, including Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and John Stockton.

His new teammates are business partners who include Sodexo, T.G.I. Friday’s, Aetna, AMC Theatres, 24 Hour Fitness and Starbucks. He has carved out a niche, becoming the go-to player for companies hoping to expand into the urban marketplace, using the power of his brand in that space to increase the credibility of businesses desiring a part of the pie in what Johnson calls “underserved and ethnically diverse urban communities.”

Something to Prove
The Magic 32 retail store failure also taught Johnson another important business lesson: Have a vision for your company, or prepare for failure.
“A lot of athletes go out and want to start sports bars or restaurants, and they do it without vision of what they’re going to add to their customers,” Johnson says. “I can say that because I did it. But now I know what my vision is, and everything we consider has to fit that vision. Lots of opportunities come our way, and we ask ourselves as we look at every one whether it will bring something of value to the communities we serve.

“And as we make our way around those communities, my team now is always asking, ‘What’s missing?’ We learned that African-Americans are the No. 1 group of moviegoers in America, yet we didn’t have theaters in our neighborhoods. That’s when we started building Magic Johnson Theatres. If your vision is strong enough, focus isn’t as much of a challenge. Things make sense or they don’t.”

Johnson’s company’s estimated net worth is in excess of $700 million, according to Forbes magazine, making him among the most successful former professional athletes ever to have transitioned into the world of business.

“It is interesting to me that so few athletes make a successful move into business,” Johnson says. “There are so many things about being an athlete that should prepare you for this world. Discipline, practice, outworking your opponent… all of that is just as important to me today as it was in the NBA. I think the problem is that for some athletes, our ego has been fed our whole life and we’re not used to people treating us as peers. Michael Ovitz treated me like a man who had something to prove, and by that stage of my career, not many people treated me like that. I think I handled it right, and it made a great difference.”

Seeking Mentors
The truth, Johnson says, is that many entrepreneurs are successful at something, and that gives them the confidence to strike out in new directions. Most, like the athletes who have failed at business, aren’t ready to take instruction from others on what to do next.

“Sports got me in the door—I know that,” Johnson says. “But that door doesn’t stay open forever. You have to do something with that access. In this world, just like in sports, nothing is handed to you. I had to learn that. Lucky for me, I started learning from my mentors while I was playing so that I could get a jump on life after basketball.” Johnson says his passion to prepare for life as an entrepreneur changed even the way he traveled when his Lakers team was on the road. While in cities like Atlanta, he met with executives from Coke. “I looked everywhere for mentors and used every opportunity to ask questions,” he says. “One thing I tell people who ask me for advice is that you don’t have to be a star to find a mentor, but you do have to show enthusiasm. I always showed enthusiasm.”

Johnson says there are many parts of life as an athlete that he can relate to his postbasketball career. The most important link, he says, is in the power of research. “While playing, I always studied my opponents, I studied their tendencies so that I could predict where they’d go when they came down the court,” he says. “That is just as true now. I want to know my customers, want to know their tendencies. And I don’t just read reports. I get out and ask them.”

Disproving the Naysayers
Compiling and sharing that information has contributed to Johnson’s success. The greatest example might be his partnership with Starbucks, which hadn’t previously established partnerships with other companies. While traveling, Johnson often noticed that the premium coffee company didn’t have stores in the communities where other Magic Johnson Enterprises partners were growing. Visiting Starbucks stores near these communities, Johnson talked to customers and found that many were from more urban communities and had driven several miles to spend their money at Starbucks.

Armed with that anecdotal information as well as statistics about the demographic he believed he could open for Starbucks, Johnson requested a meeting with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. He showed Schultz that the minority population in America is growing at a rate seven times as fast as the majority population and that African-Americans now spend almost $1 trillion annually. Latinos, America’s largest minority at 15.1 percent of the population, have a spending power in excess of $980 million.

“I asked him if he wanted to leave all that on the table or if he wanted to reach those populations with a partner who understood them,” Johnson recalls. “He went to his board and we joined forces.”

Now Johnson’s company owns 125 Starbucks franchises, “and our per capita spending at our stores is outstanding. We proved everyone who said that minorities wouldn’t spend $3 for a cup of coffee wrong.”

But his research didn’t stop with opening the door. “Once we opened, we started looking at ways to tweak the Starbucks model to meet our customers. We were going to bring them what they wanted,” Johnson says. “The results speak for themselves.”