Chad & Melanie Hartnell Love Us

I just received an email from Chad Hartnell, an alumnus of our ministry back in Springfield, who had some very kind words for us. With his permission, I share them here:

Congratulations on the new addition to your family! Melanie and I have enjoyed receiving newsletters detailing what the Lord is doing on the Stanford campus. How exciting! I had and have absolutely no doubt that the Lord is using you and Paula to accomplish great things for His kingdom! I also wanted to underscore how much your and Joe’s leadership is impacting my life right now.

We are blessed to be a part of a wonderful church in Tampa. Mel and I recently returned from leading a missions trip to South Africa for nearly three weeks. Melanie administrated people’s finances, organized the details, and was the point person for the team. She definitely has the spiritual gift of administration. She did an impeccable job! Our experience in Chi Alpha missions was the model we used in team preparation. We had 10 people on our team who ranged from the 20’s to the 60’s. We were all over the generational map, but we connected with each other and with the South Africans in a powerful way. Thanks to what we experienced in Chi Alpha, we were able to lead a missions trip that not only transformed people’s paradigm about missions, but also laid a strong foundation for the church’s mission vision for the future.

I still have the five‐fold philosophy tattooed on my forehead. In fact, I am observing that many churches have a difficult time keeping a balance among all five areas. Leadership gets excited about one area and forgets about the other four until people start feeling a void. I know that seasons exist that change the balance, but I am still learning what that looks like. “Balance” is probably one of the most difficult issues in life because it constantly changes. I think it is easier to achieve, however, if you know what it is you need to balance. Thanks to you and Joe, I know that a church (as well as a campus ministry) must be founded on worship,discipleship, fellowship, prayer, and witness. I just realized yesterday why we had the structure in place for Spring Leadership Retreat. We were planning activities around our five‐fold philosophy to balance our growth in each area. The light came on a little late, but it makes complete sense now. What a great structure!

I put this up not only for the sake of my vanity (although there’s probably a little of that), but also to reinforce the message I keep repeating: college ministry is strategic ministry. What we do in these few years with students shapes the rest of their lives.

To all of those who pray with us and support us financially, I say thank you. And I also say: your partnership bears fruit both now and for years to come.

Chi Alpha In Kansas

Chi Alpha at Wichita State University got some press recently:

Kayleen Hallberg, 22, said her spiritual life got back on track after she joined the roughly 60‐member Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship.

Last week, she staffed a booth for the Christian group that drew her interest three years ago after “backsliding” from her Christian upbringing.

“I was the typical college student: partying, once I got away from home,” said Hallberg, a fifth‐year senior studying management and finance.

Chi Alpha “gave me focus and direction. There’s a lot of focus on character and integrity.”

(source: Wichita Eagle, 8/28/2004)

Way to go, Chi Alphans!

Squirrel Day

I have told several of my friends about this great holiday that I grew up with. I am not sure that any of them believed me. So here is the proof.

For years around Ville Platte the opening day of squirrel seasonthe first Saturday in Octoberhas been known as Squirrel Day. Schools close early the day beforesome dont open at allbecause attendance by students and teachers alike is cut in half. Businesses shutter their windows. Everybody heads for camp, they call it, and that can mean a sleeping bag in the back of a pickup truck or a deluxe hunt lodge wired for electricity, with air‐conditioning and big‐screen TVs. Squirrel Day is the Cajun Passover, explains Ville Platte native Tim Fontenot. Theres a mass exodus into the woods.

From Field and Stream

The Wisdom of Crowds

On my flight to Baltimore about two months ago I read The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. I actually didn’t plan to buy the book–I just saw an autographed copy at Kepler’s and picked it up on impulse.

The first page of the introduction sucked me into wild intellectual romp from which I’m still recovering.

Since that flight I’ve recommended it to dozens of people and purchased it for two (to whom I owed a book). I’ve been meaning to write about it ever since, but I kept getting distracted. Plus I saw that two of the bloggers I read commented on it: Jordon Cooper and Todd Hunter (who commented not once, not twice, but thrice), so I knew the book was getting the buzz it deserved.

So what’s the big deal? What’s the idea that is still rocking my world? Simply this: given the right conditions, diverse groups of people collectively solve certain types of problems better than experts.

This isn’t a bolt from the blue: the basic idea has been kicking around for a long time, but the book is magnificent nonetheless. The anecdotes are precise and illuminating, the data is detailed, documented, and convincing, and the writing sparkles.

What Problems Do Groups Solve Better?
There are some problems you need experts to handle (problems of skill are the most important kind: landing a plane or operating on the brain are good examples), but there are several broad types of problems that groups tend to outperform experts on:

  1. Cognition Problems: questions with factual answers
    How many jelly beans are in a jar?
    Where is a sunken submarine?
  2. Coordination Problems: how do we all work together when it’s in our best interest to do so?
    How can we drive safely in heavy traffic?
    How should we deliver this product to market?
  3. Cooperation Problems: how do we work together when we have divergent goals and values?
    How can we control pollution while promoting industry?
    How can borrowers get money from lenders at the best rate for each?

Under What Conditions Do Groups Solve These Problems Better?

There are four key qualities that make a crowd smart. It needs to be diverse, so that people are bringing different pieces of information to the table. It needs to be decentralized, so that no one at the top is dictating the crowd’s answer. It needs a way of summarizing people’s opinions into one collective verdict. And the people in the crowd need to be independent, so that they pay attention mostly to their own information, and not worrying about what everyone around them thinks.
from The Wisdom of Crowds Q &A, emphasis added

Note that these criteria (diversity, decentralization, aggregation, and independence) often tend to move us towards a solution that not everyone is happy with. In Surowiecki’s own words:

The wisdom of crowds isn’t about consensus. It really emerges from disagreement and even conflict. It’s what you might call the average opinion of the group, but it’s not an opinion that every one in the group can agree on. So that means you can’t find collective wisdom via compromise.
from The Wisdom of Crowds Q &A

What Can Go Wrong?
When any of the above criteria are not met, groups often perform abysmally worse than experts or even isolated idiots. Some specific challenges:

  1. Cascades (p 40f and throughout the book): people imitate each other without understanding and everybody jumps off a cliff because all their friends did. Think about the stock market in the late 90s.
  2. Groupthink (p 36): people don’t feel free to disagree and groups reach suboptimal decisions that almost everyone can see a problem with but no one is willing to comment on. This is one of the cardinal sins of the Assemblies of God, by the way.
  3. Polarization (p184‐190): people egg one another on until the entire group adopts a more radical view than any of the members would have advocated going in.

Summary Thoughts
Surowiecki’s real contribution, in my estimation, is detailing the criteria under which groups outperform experts and the conditions under which groups fail catastropically.

Also, his endnotes rocked–they’re as good as the footnotes in Gordon Fee’s commentary on 1st Corinthians. If you read this book and didn’t read the notes, go back and read them right now!

The most stimulating idea in the entire book for me was using of artificial markets to predict future events (pages 17, 79, 103, 220–221, especially 278–280, and 285). I have no idea how it applies to my context, but it was a fascinating concept.

Learn More
You can read an excerpt from the book, read an article by the author or hear him discuss the book on NPR.