Have you ever felt like the ground is shifting right under your feet? Maybe not literally shifting, as in an earthquake or something like that. For me, it's been a whole lot more subtle than that. It's kind of like when you're at the beach and you walk out into the water about 15-20 feet. You're just standing there, enjoying the warmth of the sun and the cool of the water. Then, after 20 minutes or so, you look back to shore and struggle to find where you left your stuff because, almost without you feeling it, the current pushed you down the shoreline.
Drifting happens. There doesn't seem to be an area of life where I have to fight for intentionality because, I've come to realize that the drift is waiting for me. There really are no neutral days. Either I am moving toward intentionality or drifting toward complacency.
Nothing has helped me pursue Intentionality In my work as a minister and leader in a church like having a coach. I like to think of a coach as a partner for the journey. They're not expressly telling me what to do, but they're helping me discover the path and keeping me on that path. I've benefitted greatly from the voices of various coaches in my life over the past 20 years.
What I've come to figure out is that, for the past 3-4 years, God has provided opportunities for me to be a coach for others. That somehow, the season that I currently find myself is one where I continue to glean the wisdom from others, but also look to pay it forward to leaders who are coming behind me. The ground shifted under my feet without me even realizing it and I now look up and see that I've been at this for awhile now. I'm not armed with much more answers, but I'm more aware now at how much I don't know. I've also found that the secret to progress is curiosity and asking plenty of questions.
When I think back to the leader that I was trying to be in my early-twenties, I know that I would have greatly benefitted from having a coach, someone to be a partner with me in the journey of trying to find my way. Many young leaders, especially in the church, may not feel like they have anyone like that.
We don't have to drift through those early years of leadership.
We can walk together and pursue longevity and impact in ministry and leadership.
I was on my way home from meeting a friend for lunch when he sent me this message:
"Thanks again for taking the time to meet me for lunch. I needed that. Go blog about how answering a friend's text can make a difference in their life, spiritually.😁👍"
Bloggers are always looking for things to write about, so to me this was a gift. So, thank you, brother, the Noodles & Co. were fantastic as usual and consider this post as a, "Challenge accepted!"
I'd say about 90% of the time, I will shove my "to do list" to the side if I have the opportunity to meet with someone and have a conversation. What I've found is that the list will still be waiting on me when I get back around to it, the conversation might not. So, when I was given the opportunity to grab lunch, I jumped at the opportunity. As far as making a difference in someone's spiritual life, I try to keep that opportunity on the table, we have to try to have eyes to see what God is up to. Access to God's presence isn't limited to Sunday mornings. I shouldn't be surprised at all that a meal with someone else would be the vehicle for God to speak into our lives. We find that happening in multiple places throughout scripture.
So when we found ourselves asking each other about how our relationship with God was going, it didn’t come as a complete surprise. (*Important note: At the time of this lunch we had already been friends for a couple of years and have had many deep conversations about life and faith. A friendship like this is a true gift from God.) I launched in by asking, “How is your walk with God going right now?” Which provoked laughter because he was just about to ask the same question. Then came the response about wishing he could spend more time with God and have a more disciplined daily Bible reading time.
I’ve heard this a lot over the years in talking with people about how to connect with God on a more regular basis. In fact, it’s something that I regularly evaluate about my own life. But recently I’ve been asking another question altogether: When is enough, enough?
When are we ever going to feel like we’re spending enough time with God in our Bible study or prayer? It seems to leave me wanting on both ends. The days that I miss reading my Bible and praying have me convicted that I missed that opportunity to connect with my Heavenly Father. When I get into a rhythm of spending a solid hour with God, I find that I’m enjoying it so much that I feel like I should just spend more and more time...but there’s so many other things to get done each day as well. So when is enough, enough?
This dilemma is probably why we don’t get a whole lot of details about Jesus’ time alone with God. That was His time; not ours. Our time with God ought to be ours and tailored to refueling us for what the world is going to throw at us in the next 24 hours. So, here’s my non-negotiables to a regular connection with God:
Be present in the presence.
This is my way of saying that I need to put aside anything that is distracting so I can gaze at God. This means that my phone has to be out of reach. This means that I need to carve out time when nobody else can get to me. (Early mornings or Late nights...for me mornings are the best.)
Don’t come with an agenda.
Wouldn’t it be just like the enemy to use that against us in our attempts to connect with God? So don’t give him a seat at your table. Come with the intention to open the Bible. Come with a blank page to record some observations or ways you can apply the Scripture that you’re reading.
Pray for open eyes.
This is the transition from time spent with God to life spent with God. This is where I begin my search for how God wants to use me throughout the day for His purposes. The Scripture that I read (hopefully in the morning) now becomes a ready-made opportunity to speak the truth of Scripture into someone else’s life. Counsel turns into Godly counsel when it’s infused with Scripture. Encouragement becomes enhanced when it’s saturated with the promises of God.
It is a spiritual discipline, to spend regular time with God. When is enough, enough? There’s probably not a set answer, but it’s worth evaluating how our time spent with God is impacting the way we interact with the world around us. I’m curious about what your time with God looks like? How have you found success in connecting with your Heavenly Father?
The greatest gift you can give to the people you lead is your personal holiness. With the honor of being a leader in the church comes the responsibility to put holiness as a top priority and pursue Christ above all else. Unfortunately, I struggle all of the time when it comes to my pursuit of holiness. Holiness is a daily quest to turn more and more of my life and desires over to God as the Holy Spirit makes me more aware of my sin. It is through Scripture and other Godly people that the Holy Spirit shows me what areas I need to grow in personal holiness.
Several years ago, our church was looking for where the scriptures mention holiness as a means to motivate us to pursue holiness. As a result, a resource was created with a list of 40 Motivations for Holiness. This is a powerful resource in looking into God's Word to guide us in our pursuit of holiness.
As I journey through life as a minister, I want the journey to be marked with holiness, so this will be a series of posts, probably not every week, but from time to time they will pop up here with each post focusing on one of the motivations from scripture. The first motivation is Duty.
"Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind"
Solomon, highly regarded as one of the wisest people ever, concludes his book by describing the duty of all people to fear God and keep his commandments. The word duty means responsibility or obligation. There is a sense in which this is a baseline response for all mankind. This from a man who would allow his own desires to get in the way (check out 1 Kings 11). Does this make Solomon a hypocrite? No, it makes him human, and it doesn't make his assertion that holiness as a duty any less true.
If you think about it, every relationship that we enter into in this life carries with it a set of responsibilities or proper ways to respond to the other party so that the relationship can thrive and explore new depths and possibilities (aka intimacy). I've found that to be true the longer I'm married to Erin. This was dramatically reinforced when I became a father to Eliana and Everett. How true that is in our relationship with God? When we "fear" (not a negative trepidation, but a reverent respect) God and keep his commands out of duty we show up every day in anticipation that God is going to show us more of Himself and take us to greater depths of understanding what it means to pursue Him. Cheap intimacy comes as a result of cutting corners in the realm of duty and responsibility.
Holiness is a journey which requires that we trust God and obey what He says. Each command that we keep is a statement to our Heavenly Father that we trust His ways more than our own. Let's not be naive and think that this is somehow earning any type of status with God...that alone is accomplished by the work of Christ. Rather than earning status with God, our obedience helps us remember that God is in charge and our belief in Him combined with His grace through Jesus Christ sets us apart.
Sometimes the word duty in relationship to God gets shackled with the connotation that God has high demands for us which we can never attain. There is a sense in which that is correct, which is what makes the gift of grace so amazing....but God's grace does not erase the duty of holiness.
Have you ever considered holiness as the duty of a Christian?
When I posted on Facebook that I was going to read three books in one weekend, I was exciting knowing that one of them was A New Kind Of Leader by Reggie Joiner. It's a book for anyone who leads kids or teenagers, primarily in a ministry or church leadership role.
"There are pivotal moments in every kid's life when they need a new kind of leader who will show them something new about God or life."
For almost 15 years, Reggie Joiner has been leading an organization called Orange. Orange has been championing the potential of kids and teenagers by creating a strategy to influence the next generation. Orange is more than a color, it's a combination of two colors with the outcome being a new, vibrant color.
The core of the orange strategy is the combination of two influences: the home (red; heart) and the church (yellow; light). When the home and the church are working together, their combined influence is a powerful force to impact future generations.
While the book is 122 pages, it's easy to digest in quick, practical steps to becoming a new kind of leader for the next generation. The basic premise of a new kind of leader is putting action to the things that you believe. If you believe something then do something. For example, if you believe that every family matters then connect with a parent.
This book went to the next level for me when I came to chapter 4 - Every Family Matters Regardless. I was shocked by the statistic of only 20 percent of families in the United States are made up of married couples living with their own biological children. It's convicting as a minister because I have to fight against the perception that a family has to look a certain way in order to belong or feel welcome in the church. Connecting with parents is one of my favorite things to do in ministry. I love to encourage parents and help them see that they're on the right track. It's so satisfying to share something great that I noticed about their son or daughter. I completely agree that connection with parents takes consistent effort. Parents need to know that I'm for them, not trying to undermine their authority with their children.
As a new kind of leader, I'm committed to working with a team of other adult leaders to point the next generation to Jesus. We have to work as a team and partner with parents to actively participate in the spiritual growth of their children.
If you're leading children or teenagers, even if it's not in a church context, this is a worthwhile read. When a leader gets better, everyone gets better and when the adult leaders in our children and student ministries get their hands on this book the collective lid of influence of the ministry gets lifted. This book will definitely find it's way into our leadership equipping content!
Check out this video about the recording that took the internet by storm this week. It's explained here and the truth about Yanny/Laurel is revealed!
The graduation open house season is an exciting couple of weeks at the end of May/early June to celebrate students and their completion of high school. The open house is an awesome opportunity to meet people and show your support to families as they prepare for their son or daughter to embark on adulthood. The open house is also an interesting mix of people gathered together with the only common ground being a connection to the graduate.
Student Ministers (as well as coaches, teachers, etc) get invited to a lot of open houses and recently I came across a rating system to help us evaluate the open house experience. This rating system is based on a 1-5 chicken wings for overall experience. I know it's a little deceptive since I'm using a chicken wing as the measurement for rating, but the experience goes well beyond the food that is served at the open house. So, while the food might be awesome, if the lawn games are lame, the overall experience rating may suffer.
The "🍗" open house experience is the bare minimum experience. Never mind the fact that you couldn't figure out which house was having the party...apparently you overlooked the Post-it note on the mailbox that said "Congrats Grad". They've got the Mountain Lightning, Doctor Thunder and other generic soft drinks on ice. You can also have water from the tap if you want. There isn't really a "grad shrine" only a photo slideshow looping to "Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)" by Green Day. The food is a lunchables spread of the finest meats, cheese and crackers. They didn't even spring for the pizza crust with cold pizza sauce. The outdoor entertainment is a random uncle daring people to taze him. Some may argue that the uncle taze-ing puts this open house on a "whole-nuthah-level"...but we're holding strong at the bottom.
A step up is the "🍗🍗" open house experience. They've got the party sub going on and everybody seems to be enjoying themselves. There's also some "no bake" cookies that grandpa just can't seem to get enough of. The science fair project board is fully stocked with photos from the last 936 weeks of existence. There's a basketball hoop out front where you can play H-O-R-S-E with people that you're likely to never see or talk to again, but you don't show any mercy. You've mastered that "behind the hoop, over the backboard" shot and you'll make them make it all day if they want to beat you. The parking situation is the real downer here...the house is perched on top of mountain and there's no ski lift in sight. So, by the time you hoof it up to the front door, you're suffering from vertigo and you don't have much time to stick around and chat because you've got other open houses to get to and a 20 minute walk back to your car.
"🍗🍗🍗" is a magic number and compared to the first two experiences, you're feeling great as you pull up to this open house. Thankfully, your confident that you found the location because they've put a yard banner out featuring a 3 feet by 2 feet headshot of their graduate. This audacious lawn accoutrement is just the beginning of the pomp and circumstance that you're about to step into as this family is super-proud of their, apparently only child's accomplishments. You'll find the student in their garage that has been transformed to pay homage with little league jerseys and other memorabilia. They're prepared to give you a guided tour through their childhood and you won't mind because it gives you something to listen to while you munch on pulled pork and 7-layer dip.
While the "🍗🍗🍗🍗" experience doesn't earn the top spot, it is a truly solid open house experience that any guest is sure to enjoy. You pull up and you notice an eager family member guiding you to a parking spot in the yard. As you enter the house you notice a table covered with yearbooks and certificates and a picture frame with a place for you to write your well-wishes to the graduate. After you finish jotting down something like, "It's not the number of breaths we take, but the number of moments that take our breath away." you make your way to the kitchen where your greeted by a food spread that rivals that scene in Hook when Peter Pan finally figures out how to use his imagination again. There's chicken wings and burger sliders and cheese cubes and shrimp and graduation cake and ice cream. You exit out the back door where you have your choice of lawn volleyball or corn hole. And you pretend like you know the graduate because you didn't get invited to this Open House but it looked so good as you drove by that you decided to crash.
The "🍗🍗🍗🍗🍗" open house experience is a Pinterest board brought to life. The parents are on a first name basis with the workers at Party City. This party has it's own hashtag, Snapchat filter, and Instagram photo booth. You're too busy stuffing strawberries into the chocolate fountain that you're missing out on Aunt Patty and Uncle Jerry performing a lip-sync duet of "Rewrite the Stars". You make your way over to write your "Key to Success" for the graduate as they enter adulthood, but all you can come up with is, "You have to look through the rain to see the rainbow." Once the lip-sync battle concludes the DJ keeps the party going into the night...when it finally ends everyone leaves with a gourmet cupcake as a party favor.
O, the places you'll go and the things you'll see during graduation party season! I hope you enjoy each and every open house experience this year. Have some great conversations, enjoy some great food and celebrate these young men and women as they enter the next chapter of their journey.
If you want to run from God, you will always find a boat headed in the opposite direction.
He was looking for any way he could find to get out of carrying out the work that God had instructed him to do. He had the luxury of proclaiming good news to people in the past, but this request would send him into the epicenter of the most treacherous people on the face of the Earth...Jonah was looking for a way out and he found what he was looking for.
Last summer, I had the opportunity to lead a mission trip to the Dominican Republic and it was an experience that continues to shape the way that I see the world. On several of the evenings of that trip, we would share ways that we saw God throughout the day. Unanimously, it was the opportunity of seeing the Dominicans and their happiness and joy in the midst of having almost no material luxuries to speak of. It was perspective shifting and worldview expanding. They were looking for joy and they found it.
When I first started as a leader in the church, I remember being caught off guard when I heard a preacher say to some people who were visiting our church, "If you ever find the perfect church, don't join it because you'll ruin it." I understand his point, but the way he phrased it really got me thinking. Most people think that the church they currently attend is a great church, and probably the best church for them...otherwise they wouldn't be attending. Maybe we know that there are flaws because we realize that the church is just a group of imperfect people pursuing a perfect God. So, we look for the best in one another. And when we do, we will find it.
As a minister, the boat headed in the opposite direction of where God wants me to go is usually named: pessimism, cynicism and bitterness. When I recognize these attitudes at work within me, I need to realize that I'm not pursuing God, I'm pursuing my own wisdom. If I'm looking for something to go wrong...I'll find it. If I'm looking for someone to let me down...I'll find it. If I'm expecting something to not turn out well...I'll find ways that it won't.
Recently, I decided to put a stop to the way I was blaming others, most of the time in my own mind. Instead, I began seeking opportunities to encourage the best qualities that I noticed in them. Two interesting things happened: First, I began to find more and more things to encourage about them. Two, my mind was forming new pathways of thought toward other people and it was changing me from the inside out. Not surprising that God would bless us for seeing other people as the valuable, precious creations that they are. That's how I've come to know that my boat is heading in the right direction.
Fridays are my day off from the office, I get Saturdays off as well, because Sunday, I'm on the job all day. So, we started a tradition a little over a year ago. We get up and get ready for the day and I take the kids to get a donut before school. My son, Everett, gets to have Friday fun with day all day since he hasn't started school yet. Although, we're usually getting the house in order from the week that was...he doesn't think that's very fun at all.
Since Friday Fun is part of my journey, I thought I'd try and share a fun post each Friday. These might range from stories to simply a video clip.
My kids love to take things in for show-and-tell at school. I was beaming with pride at how my daughter took her magic set in to school and actually performed two magic tricks in front of her entire class! I was relaying this story to my mom on the phone one evening, which prompted her to share a story of something that I had taken to school when I was in preschool for show-and-tell.
Do you remember those things that looked like fuzz balls with googly eyes and like felt feet glued to the bottom of them? As the story goes, I found an orange one of those and brought it in to show-and-tell my preschool class at the church that I went to for daycare, but we also attended there on Sunday. This wasn't just any orange fuzz ball with googly eyes and felt feet...no...this one had an added feature. It was holding a little white flag, with orange text that said, "Try a fuzzy navel!"
Needless to say, my teachers were curious and asked me where I got my orange fuzz ball, to which I gladly replied, "I got it from my aunt's bar, where my mom took me after school." My mom had a great time reassuring my teachers that we don't go hang at a bar all night after daycare.
Did you ever have to do show-and-tell growing up? I'd love to hear about the funniest or strangest thing you remember being shared?
It happened without me being fully aware that it was happening.
But there I was sharing some pizza with some other Student Ministers as we talked about the week of camp that we're planning together this summer. The conversation was flying and it was one of those lunches that you just don't want to leave because you feel a kindred spirit among everyone around the table. I really don't know how it came around, but suddenly we found ourselves talking about our age and years of experience in ministry. Each of them sharing that they were in their early to mid-twenties and then there's me. I'm now closer to 40 than I am 30. When did that happen?
Like I said, "it happened without me being fully aware that it was happening." It's like, one minute you're tossing back a Red Bull and rallying students to keep going at that church lock-in and the next minute you're donating your Xbox360 because, now that you have kids of your own you never really have time to play it. I can't say that I like the fact that I'm getting older, and upper thirties in youth ministry is getting up there.
As this reality has settled in, I've been thinking a lot about seasons of life. These certain periods of time in life that present distinct opportunities. For example, Watching my son score a goal brings me infinitely more joy than winning the World Cup on FIFA 2011. Of course it should, but when I was in that season of life, I couldn't even describe the pride that I would feel at seeing my little guy beam with excitement after planing one in the back of the net.
I'm at a place in ministry, now, where I'm regularly trying to hack at how I'm leading to see if I can work smarter and not harder. It's such a freeing feeling to know that the things I'm terrible at don't disqualify me from ministry. These are opportunities to find others to serve and use their strengths for God's glory.
There is a time for everything,
I remember listening to the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast several years ago and Stanley mentioned a phrase that changed my whole posture toward these seasons of life. Stanley said, "When I say, no, for now, that doesn't mean never." It's completely natural to not be able to do everything all the time...who can? Instead, give yourself the grace to say "no, for now" with the understanding that maybe some time in the future I will have the margin to step into that opportunity. A good example of this for me is inviting people over to my house. Before we had kids, Erin and I would have people over frequently for cookouts and bible study. When our kids came along we had to say "no, for now" on that aspect of ministry. However, there is another season coming when that opportunity will open up again for us.
Looking upon seasons past, I regularly see things that I missed and mistakes that I made, but they're part of the journey. I'm just glad to be on the journey...it's something that I know I've been called to do. Which reminds me, I'm definitely going to have to write a post about "Calling" real soon.
Regardless of the season that I'm in, I hope to make the most out of every opportunity, as Paul says, because, "the days are evil." (Eph. 5:16). The days seem to get increasingly evil as the years seem to go 10x faster that when I was in high school.
What's one thing that you love about your current season?
As I pursue God, I believe that I am becoming more and more holy. It’s really nothing that I’m doing, but rather what I’m allowing the Holy Spirit to do in me. Each season is another opportunity to take inventory of the places in my life where I’m still holding the position that I know better than God does. As I relinquish that position, I see God shaping me into the person He created me to be. One of the latest places of my submission to God has been in regard to Sabbath.
After being rejected by several churches, I threw everything I had into serving. I felt like I was spending every waking moment thinking about and planning and preparing opportunities for students to draw near to God. While I was doing everything I knew to do to be successful in ministry, I was more discouraged than ever. I was seeking validation from somebody, anybody that I was doing a good job and truly making a differing for God's Kingdom. I was in a really dark place. My temper; short. My work hours; long. My passion; waning. My family; frustrated. This was a recipe for disaster, but fortunately I had an opportunity to withdraw for a week to try and re-calibrate. I attended the CIY Wilderness retreat in Colorado, where I was able to connect with other Student Ministers and spend time with God at over 22,000 feet elevation on the side of a mountain.
I didn't know that someone could get burnt out doing ministry. I mean, I had heard the stories, but I was deceptively thinking that it would never happen to me.
It took some time to get used to the slowed pace of this week, but once I truly calmed down, I was able to listed to the still, small voice of God and He was saying to me over and over, “You need this every week.” At first, I pushed it aside, thinking, “Yeah, as soon as I get back, I have a stack of work to do that would rival the height of this mountain.” I imagined God standing over in the corner glancing at me with one eyebrow raised clearly not impressed with all the stuff I was going to do “for Him”
The challenge to spend a 24 hour period each week as a Sabbath rest was a key takeaway from my time in the mountains. I’m not perfect in doing this, but it has been a focus of mine this year. As a minister, it’s just not possible to make Sunday my day of rest. So, for my family, it’s from 5pm Friday evening - 5pm Saturday evening. It’s during this time that I actively attempt to disconnect for the sole purpose of spending time with God and Erin and the kids. As summer approaches, it gets difficult to make this happen regularly with week-long camps and events going on. But usually, each week, we make this happen.
Sabbath doesn't mean that I stop working just to get caught up on house work and errands. If this happens, we're doing these things together. However, when we're getting our best rest as a family, it's because the laundry, cleaning, groceries, etc. get done by 5pm on Friday. I used to think this was impossible, but I found that a little intentionality goes a long way toward creating a healthier rhythm of life for myself and my family.
I wasn’t sure completely how God was shaping me through this journey of Sabbath until my friend Brad told me that he was making a list of 5 of the happiest people he knew, so that he could pray for them. He said that I made the list. I was humbled to make such a list and as I reflected on that encouragement I had no choice but to turn it into praise to God for loving me and shaping me through this Sabbath journey.