Church Leadership The Youth Cartel

Pushing Past the Pain of Change

This weekend, at Open, I heard a few things. Some were from attendees, some speakers, and others from the Holy Spirit.

Most of the thoughts that stuck are along the lines of change. People are ready for change. They are hungry for it. And the pain of continuing this cycle of depreciating returns is too depressing– finally overcoming the reality that making some levels of foundation shifting change is worth the cost.

Thoughts like this…

  • how we as a tribe gathers needs to change
  • how we gather teenagers needs to change
  • how we disciple teenagers needs to change.
  • how we think of ourselves needs to change.
  • how we fund the movement of ministering to adolescents needs to change.

With declining numbers in all of the categories that seem to matter, the reality is that there are so few winners and far too many losers.

We all need things in our life and vocation to change. And we are in the position to do something about it.

People, like you and me, are beginning to realize that it is up to us to make these changes instead of waiting for someone else. (Cough, be a leader. Cough, cough. Entropy. Cough, cough. I KNOW! Cough, cough.)

The Pain of Change

Actually changing things will cost you something. It might make people hate you. It will be messy. It might lead to your organization losing money or even closing. There’s a pretty good chance that you could get fired.

But I want to encourage you as you think about change. When you lead towards what you feel God is calling you to move towards… it’s always scary. It’s always full of fear. It’s always brought with some pain.

Sometimes in Scripture we need to read between the lines a little bit. I think of people like Noah going home and telling his wife he needed to build an ark and gather animals. I’m guessing he and his wife didn’t see eye to eye on that at first blush, something tells me he slept on the coach, and maybe it was a little while until she accepted the lunacy of her husbands vision. Rest assured… building an ark isn’t good for your sex life. Or I think about the Centurion in Acts… I’m sure it went well when his boss in Rome found out he and his entire house converted to the religion he was paid to squelch. I don’t think that guy got a raise. Or I think about the Peter on the day of Pentecost… I’m sure that his message of Jesus as the Christ went over like a pile of bricks. Remember, most of the people in the audience walked away saying he was drunk.

So this is what I know. Not just from the Bible but from my own life: Until you suck it up, accept that the changes you know you need to make will involve some pain, you’re just going to keep doing nothing.

No sir. Not for me. I want to sleep at night. The word regret will not be on my tombstone.

Things will change because they must. Pain will be overcome because its just pain. And the vision and dreams God has laid on our hearts should scare the hell out of us.

But fear of pain preventing me or you from the leaders we can be?

May we never sink so far.

Christian Living

The upside of fear

Stupid spreadsheet.

Typically, I’m a pretty positive– upbeat — and self-confident person. I’m told I’m overly optimistic by my friends. But the past few weeks have brought about unfamiliar emotions. Negativity, melancholy, and anxiety. 

And since these are unfamiliar emotions I haven’t quite known how to respond. In situations where I’m typically chipper I’ve been quiet. In moments I typically shrug off bad news and instantly turn it into a positive I’ve been silent. I’ve been asked for ideas on things and just not had solutions where I normally have been so dependable.

It’s not that I don’t have stuff to say its that I think its time to be quiet and listen– I don’t want the wrong words to come out because of my emotional state so I just bit my tongue.

It all goes back to the spreadsheet.

The spreadsheet brought out fear I’d never had before. And, like all fear, it’s illogical and stupid.

The Spreadsheet

As a small business owner my income and expenses are all captured on a master spreadsheet. This gives me a month-by-month look at my business, where my money is coming from and where it is going. (Very similar to a personal budget.) Heading into the summer my balance sheet was very strong for the rest of 2012… this summer we had some record breaking months and some projects coming this fall which could double, even triple what we made in the same months of 2011.

Then over the last few weeks I’ve had to revise some of some numbers down. At the same time I had to make these revisions we ran into a normal business cycle where I pay a lot of money out while I’m waiting for a lot of income to come in. (I call this cash poor, invoice rich.) When larger businesses hit these business cycles they take out short-term loans. But we’re small enough where we just float through these times with our savings.

But it was those normal revisions and that normal business cycle which brought out all of that funky emotional junk.

Factually speaking, the numbers aren’t even that bad. We will still make more than we need. We are totally fine. But the act of making those changes and seeing all that cash go out planted a seed of doubt in me which grew into fear. “What if the cash doesn’t come back?” “What if it gets worse?” “Why don’t I have ____ in savings for when this happens?” “Why don’t I have a line of credit at the bank in case to cover this better?” On and on and on.

This is what I know about fear: Fear will make you dumb. Fear whispers lies in your ears. Fear makes you say no to things you should say yes to and visa versa.

And all of that was true of me in August. Our last camping trip came at a perfect time. Just when I was thinking, “What am I going to do?” We went and looked at the stars and took hikes and laughed and giggled until bed time.

Those 4 days gave me the perspective I so desperately needed: We are totally fine. 

Sitting by the fire helped calm my nerves. It helped lower my anxiety. It reminded me that everything would be OK.

The Upside of Fear

Sitting in church the other day I think it all started to wash over me. Not all fear is bad. I’m afraid of what a spreadsheet says might happen in 3-4 months? Really? How could I be so stupid? Talk about a lack of perspective in light of all that I know about Our God! Talk about allowing emotions to rule over facts! Talk about putting your faith and trust in something really, really small!

Here’s my observation: The only good kind of fear is the kind which leads you to taking positive action. 

Photo credit: James Stark via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Church Leadership


Breathing heavy and full of adrenaline I stood up from the knee deep waves among the kids and did a 180. With a massive smile I began the long push through the surf back to my fellow bobbing boogie boarders.

It was a Sunday afternoon at Torrey Pines. One of my favorite beaches doing one of my favorite things.

Smiles were ear-to-ear among this pod of boogie boarders, basking in the late Sunday afternoon glow the with warm summer breezes, the water temperature had finally risen to the point where you could stay in indefinitely without shivering.

The swell was building. We all felt it. In our group were a wide variety of skill levels. Experts with nice boards and fins running circles around all of us. Beginners on their $20 boards that weren’t quite the right size. And me, a midwesterner who loved it but resides firmly in the novice category.

Typically, I don’t like to go off shore beyond where I can touch the bottom. My technique is typically to wade out and position myself near where the waves break so that I can move “hop on” a wave rather than paddle and drop in. But the waves have drawn me out here, floating and chatting alongside all the other giddy riders.

We’d all caught enough waves. We were just lined up at the dessert table waiting for something fantastic to happen. In truth, the waves had already been too big for me and I’d been lucky to duck the ones that broke weird and hop on some fantastic rides.

I was way beyond my skill level. I felt it. But the allure of nice, pretty waves, warm water, and my success pulled me out where I didn’t belong. I was trying not to think about

A few minutes later one of the more advanced guys said, “Here they come!” About the same time one of the guys girlfriends said, “Hey, I can touch the bottom.” We all knew that this meant that the next set was going to be big. Most of us got off our boards and stood up, watching where the first waves in this set broke.

I was in the perfect spot. I ducked and let a couple of big waves break over me. And I was feeling pressure not to let this big set go by. I could tell by the excitement level of the better boarders that the next wave was the best one. Judging by the massive size of some of the other ones, which were way taller than me, the best one had to be ridiculous.

And there it was. I ducked a wave and looked up… it was rolling in. The best guys missed it, they were too deep. But I’m there, standing in the sand with my board up against my chest. As it approached me I felt like it was too big. But I had only a split second to turn and dive under it before it broke on top of me. Instead I hesitated. It was too late, I had to go or get rolled.

Pushing off the sand just as this massive wave started to release I could feel the waves massive power. But I was a fraction of a second late. And I was about five feet too far to the right… I was on the waves but in the wrong spot.

It’s hard to imagine how fast I was going… Imagine a fat dude on a boogie board going 30 miles per hour propelled by the biggest wave of the day. It’s a scary thing to imagine and an even scarier thing to experience. The first half seconds were perfect, I cut into it and was flying by as all the other boogie boarders and swimmers ducked as it went by.

In the next instant I was crushed.

The wave collapsed on top of me. I was completely powerless against it’s power. It shoved me to the bottom then flipped me and rolled me and held me under water. It didn’t just roll me side-to-side, my head hit the bottom then my knees then my head. Water rushed into my sinus cavities causing me to gag under water.

It’s a horrible helpless feeling.

Finally, it released me. I felt like I’d been spit out of Jonah’s whale. And I was back in knee deep water among the kids and moms and floaties.

The best leaders are powerless

There’s a silent allure to power in leadership. Early success leads us over our head. But we quickly find ourselves out deeper than our skill level.

We mislabel fear as following. We mislabel position as authority. We mislabel obedience as respect. But behind the mask of many “strong leaders” are very scared little boys. They’ve created a puffed up thing, manipulative, terrified, and tired. Others have mislabeled it as leadership.

Lord, make us powerless leaders who lead with love. Amen.

Christian Living

Overcome by Evil

There’s a whole lot of saber rattling going on these days. Why? Because fear sells better than sex right now. 

  • The stock market is up 80%+ since March 2009.There’s a whole lot of money being made while the media scares you with news of recession.
  • Crime is at historic lows. But there’s a whole lot of money made selling you things you don’t need like home alarm systems and guns. Gun sales are through the roof because the NRA scares people into thinking Obama is going to make handguns illegal.
  • An entire segment of our economy is built around the 401k. A primary method people get you to invest in your 401k? Fear. Fear that you won’t have the lifestyle “you deserve” and fear that Social Security will go bankrupt. Tell me what would happen to a president who ended social security. Yeah, it’s not going to happen. Ever.

On and on. Much of our society and huge parts of our economy exist because their marketing keeps you fearful so you spend. It’s a distinctly American thing.

Economic theory says that once you start paying into something, even if it is a factual lie, you believe it because your money is there. (Want to see this in action? Listen to an IT professional try to tell you why a PC laptop is better than a MacBook. They really believe it and it’s completely ludicrous.)

The church isn’t far behind. We have learned that if we can scare parents that they will stick around. (And the church is infatuated with marketing right now. How many times has Seth Godin spoken at Catalyst now?)

  • Want to raise money? Scare parents by telling them that without ____ their children won’t follow Jesus.
  • Want to plant a church? Cite a bunch of stats about the churches decline. They’ll never ask about your strategy, just give you money.

You get the idea. We are trying to grow our churches with marketing schemes… and it’s not working, in case you haven’t noticed. 

Here’s the thing: Creating a culture of fear in your ministry is not good news. It’s fools gold. It might draw some people but you’re drawing the wrong people. This is a major reason you can’t do anything in your church– you’ve drawn a crowd of scared people.

Last time I checked we weren’t asked to lead people into a life of making decisions based on fear. That’s the opposite of what Paul teaches…

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 

Romans 12:21

Church Leadership

The Clenched Jaw

Sweat dripped everywhere. Day after day the men sat in the summer heat cooled by the gentle breeze sweeping through the empty valley. But Saul and David’s brothers stayed in their tent, no breeze, sweating.

They were afraid. They dared not go outside. As the sun beat down on their tent they paced, hoping a solution would rise out of the stench of that tent. Yet, day after day, the hours were counted by the drops of sweat running across their faces and onto the tent’s dirt floor.

They were afraid that their men would see their fear. So they hid from their armies. 

Each morning the giant came out to taunt them. “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” Meanwhile, Saul contemplated his options. Apparently, the best idea was a series of suicide missions. They’d promise each man a king’s ransom to go out to be slaughtered by the giant. They must have thought that after a number of these skirmishes they could wear the Philistine down. Each of them wanted to win, knew that Israel must win, but none of the leaders dared to challenge the giant.

The giants daily taunts petrified them in the forest of this tents poles. Too afraid to go home, too afraid to move forward. They were stuck– defined by a single voice.

To their dismay none of their subordinates would step up to the task. And so the summer of waiting, frustration, and sweat continued on those hills. The Philistines, with their giant, knew it was just a matter of time before the Israelites gave up. They knew that if they could sweat it out– fear would get the best of the Israelites and they’d become Philistine slaves. 

Late one morning, as the sun rose towards noon bringing silence across the camp, the escalating misery of the tents rising temperature was broken by murmurs from the camp. Someone was stirring up the men who had found their shade and breezy resting places for the long afternoon of desert napping heat.

One brother poked his head out of the tent to see that his kid brother David had arrived.

With anger directed at the lazing men David said, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?

All ears heard David. And all eyes shifted to the sweating, hiding tent of their leaders.

No doubt, David had said what every Israeli soldier knew but dared not speak. Their leaders hid from their reality like a child hiding from his father’s punishment. They’d rather hide in that sweltering tent than lead their men into a battle they might lose.

David’s brothers were pissed. How dare their kid brother come and call them wimps in front of their men? Who does he think he is? How dare he break ranks? He hasn’t even been here. He’s been out watching daddy’s sheep.

So the scared brothers did what their ancestors had always done. As with Joseph they set up David to be killed. They pulled David into Saul’s Tent of Fear and piled on the heat and weight of their doubt. Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you” as he sent his baby rival off to die.

And with a clenched jaw David shouted across the valley,

You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.

And that day, in that valley, the men of Israel found their leader. One man clenched his jaw and lead where others dared not. David might not have acquired the title of king yet, but every man in that army knew who their leader was.

Friends, fear will make you stupid. Whatever tent you are hiding in, whatever sweat pours off your brow, whatever hand wringing you do with your brothers in private… know that fear does not come from the Lord. 

Clench your jaw and lead this week. The same Savior who has brought you this far will carry you across the valley you face today. When has He ever left you before? 

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hmm... thoughts

Coyote Fear

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Yesterday, I opened my front door to this letter. Everyone in my neighborhood did. Take a second to read it.

There are so many things wrong in this letter. At its core it teaches us a lot about the power of fear in our lives.

  • The letter is completely anonymous. It’s a letter about fear from a person too afraid to reveal who they are.
  • A concerned neighbor expressed a legitimate concern. Coyote are dangerous to pets. Let’s agree that this note came from a very good place, right?
  • The solution offered is counter-intuitive. Hiding your animals and yourself in your house will not scare away predators.
  • The neighbor doesn’t talk about the one obvious solution: Calling animal control.
  • There’s a cynical side of me that wonders if this isn’t really about coyote, it’s a passive-aggressive note about keeping your pets indoors at night. Maybe this neighbor was awakened by a dog barking or two cats fighting? And there are plenty of neighbors feeding lots of stray cats.
  • The note talks about facts, says there is evidence to back up these facts, but provides no specifics as to where you could see the facts.
  • The notes use of hyperbole is impressive, poetic even, like a chapter of Inferno.
  • Every cat left outside will be attacked, killed and eaten.” That’s my favorite line. It reminds me of the nightly news.

Fear is big, bold, all caps… and delivered on your doorstep while you sleep.

Remember: Jesus is not the author of fear.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. ~ John 10:10

San Diego Living Travel

Mexico isn’t Scary

Not-so-scary street tacos and real Coke

I spent yesterday with some folks from Amor Ministries in Tijuana.

The point of our trip was to visit some recent Amor houses built in a colonia to create a video inviting NYWC participants to spend a day of convention there building a house. The houses we saw were anywhere from 3 days old to 10 months old. If you aren’t familiar with how it works, essentially Amor acts as an agent of blessing for a local group of pastors. Individuals from the community request help from their local church, and the pastor asks Amor to build a starter-house for a family. They intentionally don’t do everything because they want the family to come in and make it their own.

You aren't afraid of a place where children buy neon colored baby chicks, are you?

Here’s the reality for Amor (and YWAM, whom I visited last year): Fear of gang violence has lead to tons of people from the States stopping their annual trips down. Conversely, the downward dip in the economy has meant people already poor in TJ are now much poorer.

All Amor is trying to do is help the local pastor answer the question, “How can the church be Good News so that the community will hear and receive Good News?

Let me just say this: Forget what you’ve heard on the news. Yes, there are problems. Yes, drug cartel violence is horrible and deadly. But is Jesus always asking you to do the safest thing? 

But TJ is still TJ. It’s a border town. And a border town is a border town. (No one ever claimed that Sarnia or Windsor Ontario were the hallmarks of Canada, did they?) If anything it’s much more developed than it was when I first went there 10 years ago. And I don’t think there is anything there to be afraid of for you or I.

Now, if you’re buying or selling drugs. Or at a club until 2 AM. TJ might be dangerous for you. But so is Carlsbad.

Christian Living

Fear is not your friend

These are scary times. If you allow these times to be scary. 

The reality is that when you allow fear to creep in you are in big trouble.

Life is full of things that seem worthy of fear…

  • Big decisions like where to go to college, who to go out with, who to marry, having kids.
  • Big moments like telling your loved ones where you are going to college, who you are dating, that you’re getting married, or that you’re pregnant.
  • Pursuing big huge dreams and taking big huge risks to fulfill them.
  • Failure or being told your dreams aren’t going to be fulfilled.
  • Having a personal failure disclosed publicly.
  • Going broke, going hungry, or even having to move in with other people.
  • Relationships ending, you ending relationships, or relationships just accidentally ending.
  • Saying the wrong thing, at the wrong time, to the wrong people.
  • Unknown-ness.
  • Upcoming known stuff.
  • Unsafe things happening next door, in your house, or even on TV.
This list never ends, does it? We each, in our moments of vulnerability, have things we are afraid of.
Likewise, we each have things that we should be afraid of that we’ve learned aren’t all that scary because you’ve been there and done that.

A fearful state of mind

Over the years I’ve learned the biggest problem with living in fear of things beyond my control is that fear puts me in a state of mind which increases my ability to make stupid decisions. I remember one of my management mentors instructing me to use fear as a tool of manipulating people to do what I wanted. “When a person buys a car or a house or their spouse is pregnant, that’s when you change their job function or work hours. Why? Because they are so strung out financially that they will just deal with it because they can’t afford to quit.
That was stupid advice. Ultimately, I don’t want to manipulate anyone into doing something because they are afraid of the consequences. Fear is a short-term motivator. It’s helpful in an emergency, like when a building is on fire, but you can’t motivate someone to do their best work for years at a time over fear of a job loss.
In the same way, I do whatever I can to push fear aside. I don’t let fear of the stuff above scare me into a dumb decision. Instead, I push fear aside in those moments. Ultimately, it’s just an emotion and I have power over emotions.

What is worth fearing? (Not a rhetorical question)

More like who.

The Lord. The phrase “fear of the Lord” is found at least 135 times in the Bible.

Sure. That sounds cheesy right off the bat. But when you allow the reality to sink in that God is bigger, stronger, and in full knowledge of everything you face… it adds a new perspective on things I fear.

Ultimately, it helps me to know that fear of stuff doesn’t come from the Lord. Over and over again I read in the Bible, when God’s people were faced with impossible odds, “Fear Me alone.

Next to that? Everything else is unworthy of my fear. 

hmm... thoughts

The Crossing

We must dare, and dare again, and go on daring. ~ Georges Jacques Danton

photo HT to Likecool

youth ministry

5 Ways to Build Intrinsic Motivation in Students

Fear is a short-term motivator
Photo by marysia via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Fear is a short term motivator.” That was the first lesson in my first class on managing people. As a 21 year old manager of a staff at a health insurance company in Chicago, this was a valuable lesson for me. Most of my subordinates had either been with the company 25+ years or were right off the street, having never held a job more significant than McDonald’s or making license plates in the state pen.

That lesson stuck with me as I entered into vocational youth ministry. One youth ministry professor drilled into me that big things happen in students lives when we shift the focus from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation. In other words, as faith develops from a childhood faith where rewards motivate students to learn and begin to grow into an adult-like faith, we need to shift motivational strategies so that they will continue to grow because of something inside of them spurring them to learn and grow.

Question: If fear doesn’t work long-term and external rewards (pizza parties, badges, trips) are decreasingly effective as adolescence progresses, what are intrinsic motivators that work with students in youth group?

Here’s 5.

  1. Ambition – Remember this Super Bowl commercial from Every student is full of ambition. One way to motivate students is to tie their personal ambitions, self-talk & delusions of grandeur, into Gospel-oriented purposes. When you connect the dots that a life with Jesus could be a fast-track to what they dream of doing with their life, that creates fusion.
  2. Disdain for past failures, family patterns – Disdain is different from fear in that disdain towards your current condition has a repelling reaction. I’ll never forget when I figured out that living a life focused on my relationship with Jesus would help me navigate away from the shame of my personal failures and the gravity family failure. Deep inside I knew I didn’t want that to happen to me. Together that made living as a sacrifice to God more attractive. No sacrifice was too great if it meant I could avoid repeating the things I was most ashamed of and potentially have a more steady family in the future.
  3. Self-improvement – This is similar to ambition but even more internal. I’ve had many students over the years who have a strong, innate desire, to better themselves. They want to learn. And they want to maximize their impact on others. Tapping into that desire to self-improve by laying out how x will make them better at y has acted as an easy way to motivate students. They already want to grow! You are just giving them an avenue for growth to occur.
  4. Serving the greater good of society – So this isn’t exclusively a Christian motivational technique. Yet clearly, there is something in adolescent culture today that seeks to live out lives of justice, mercy, and compassion. In recent years I’ve learned that service projects are easier for students to invite their friends to than fun outings. Why? Because for lots of people public service has been ingrained in them as valuable and they like how serving makes them feel. It becomes your job, as their leader, to clearly make the tie between acts of service and the Gospel being good news to the less fortunate among us.
  5. Joy of doing what is right – We are all born with a conscience. It is shaped by culture with an innate desire to do what is right and avoid what is wrong. Helping students navigate those waters, in a practical and guilt-free way, is a powerful motivation for sticking around. Just like our conscience happens on the sub-conscious level… when you can connect the dots between the right they desire to do and Biblical truth for why they should do that, mountains move in students lives.

What are intrinsic motivators you are finding work with your students?