Good News

Like a Good Neighbor…

“Like a Good Neighbor. State Farm is There.”

That’s a familiar slogan, isn’t it? If you live in the United States chances are good that I just put that jingle in your head. But have you ever stopped to think about the meaning of this song?

What is State Farm saying? It’s an insurance company reminding you that your neighbors stink. But if you pay them a premium they’ll be like a good neighbor to you.

All we did was show up and smile.” That’s usually the honest reflection for teenagers who are serving on a mission trip. The lead-up to the trip elevated their expectations that doing mission work was somehow extraordinary. But when you sit in a circle with a group debriefing a day of service someone in the circle will always say that they didn’t do anything particularly special. There’s a little ounce of disappointment that handing a homeless person a sandwich or painting the classroom of a school didn’t feel more special.

Yet, there is power in that reflection. Often times loving a neighbor isn’t a big thing. Something doesn’t have to be large or especially memorable to be meaningful.

In fact, becoming Good News in your Neighborhood is often so free that you begin doing it without any intentionality. I recently sat down with a denominational leader who shared with me just that. He left a parish ministry to accept a position at the denominations offices, and in doing so he left his parsonage garden behind and began living in a condo. Several months later he noticed that a small common area of his complex was getting overgrown and he approached the property manager about turning it into a little vegetable garden. He admits, his desire to do this was very selfish. He missed gardening and saw an opportunity to do something he loved. But as time went on neighbors began to ask him questions about what he was growing. Of course, he shared some of his crop. And the next thing you know everyone in his complex knows his name, about his garden, is helping with “their” garden, and looks forward to seeing him.

I’ll give you one guess where a couple of families are now going to church…


The Youth Cartel

Ignore Your Limitations (YouTube You Can Use Sample)

For the past six months I’ve written a free, weekly resource for adults who minister to teenagers called, YouTube You Can Use. It’s exactly what it is called. All I do is take a popular, short YouTube video and write some prompts designed to make it easy for you to have a Bible-based discussion with students.

How do I use it? That’s for you to decide. I’ve heard from people who use it as a crowd breaker at youth group. I’ve heard from teachers who use it in the classroom as a discussion starter. I’ve heard from parents who use it as a weekly devotional with their kids. And I’ve heard from some folks who post it as a discussion starter on their Facebook. Be creative and use it however you want!

See below for a sample of this week’s edition.

Like it? You can subscribe to receive it each Monday here. (I mentioned this was free, right? It’s free!)

Big Dreams

Genesis 37:1-11

Discussion Starter:
Josh’s story isn’t about what he can’t do because of his accident. Instead he’s made his story about what he can accomplish after the accident.

Genesis 37 tells the story of a famous dreamer, Joseph. He was the 11th born of 12 kids. And yet he dared to dream that one day he’d become important. All throughout his life his wild dreams lead him into and out of trouble until one day, his dreams lead him to become the second most powerful person in all of Egypt.

Like Josh, Joseph’s story wasn’t defined by what he couldn’t become. What would happen if your dreams were bigger than your limitations?

3 Questions:

  1. Would you rather do a flip on snow skis or a bike?
  2. What are some limitations you have in your life?
  3. Which is scarier? Failure or failure to try?

Chew on this:
Why do you think God wants us to try so hard to achieve our dreams?

youth ministry

Beg, Borrow, and Steal our Retreat!

That’s the goal of our high school ministries Winter retreat.

I’m not talking about a cash neutral event to the youth budget. I’m talking about… we’ve got no money so we need to do this retreat for free. We don’t have budget money and our students literally have no cash to offset expenses.

Here’s what we’re trying to do:

Create a memorable, kinetic, outside-of-our-neighborhood, experience with our high school group. We need this retreat. It’ll be good for the students and it’ll be good for the group.

Here’s how we’re going to do it

Beg: I’m not too proud to beg. Especially when it comes to the faith development of the students in our ministry. Fortunately, when it came to location, I didn’t even have to beg. I just asked a Kingdom-minded friend if we could crash his youth building for 30 hours. When I visited Danny Long earlier this fall and saw his facilities (about 30 minutes from City Heights, but far enough into East County to feel completely separate from the urban environment.) I asked if it might be a possibility to use his building for a retreat. Without flinching he was happy to do it.

Next up, Kathy (our youth pastor) asked her cousin to lead worship. Done. Teaching? I’m pretty sure we’ll split those duties. Now we’re out begging for folks to pick up the tab on our Costco run for food for the retreat.

All that’s left is to beg off some programming elements. One of the tricks I learned from retreat-guru Lars Rood [author of an upcoming YS book on doing ministry for cost-neutral or free] was to not skimp on experience. So we are officially on the lookout to bring something to this retreat that our students from City Heights completely unexpected. (Horseback riding, sledding, paintball, or something along those lines.)

Borrow: We’re going to borrow ideas. Darn near all of them. Why spend all the time thinking up stuff when we can take things people are already offering for free and tweak them to work in our ministry/ From activity ideas to theme to kitchen appliances.

Steal: OK, we’re not going to steal anything. But we are stealing victory from the enemy by doing something we can’t afford for free. We might not be a resource rich ministry, but we are a resourceful group who aren’t ashamed to rely on the Kingdom.

Have you ever done a ministry event like this? If so, leave a comment and share your idea. [So I can steal it.]

hmm... thoughts Mac Web/Tech

Three New Mac Apps

I’ve got three quick apps for the Mac to share. All of them are free , freemium, or stinking cheap. Maybe they will be useful for you, too?

dropbox-logoIf you are anything like me– your work computer is a bit of a mess. I’ve got all sorts of work files mixed in with personal files, mixed in with stuff that I just used for a blog post or something like that. Keeping it all orderly and seperate is a big problem. But I think I’ve found something to help!

dropbox-installDropbox basically installs a remote drive on your computer for storing files online instead of on your computer. There are other things, namely MobileMe, Mozy, or even a webdisk installed through your hosting service that can do the same thing. But I’ve found them to be either too expensive for what I need or cumbersome. (i.e. Not friendly to the Mac) But I like Dropbox because of its apps. Once you install the free software on your computer (mac or pc) and link your account it basically just runs in the background as a folder on your computer. When I put a file in the folder, it copies it up to the secure server, and copies it down to other linked computers. This all happens automatically, no tech skills required. If you are sharing an internet connection with people you can even throttle it. Once set up, I can access the file on another linked computer (like my home computer) or even my iPhone. I can even share files through the app… I just select the file or folder I want to share and it emails the person with a link. It’s a pretty rad little tool. Up to 2 GB of storage is free. (Plently for me.)

tinygrab-logoI need to show people screenshots all the time. Whether I’m updating someone on the progress of a design, or putting together a tutorial, or if I just want to show someone something from the internet… I’m doing screenshots all day long. Command-shift-3 has long been both my friend and enemy. I could screen grab easily, but I’d always have to open up PhotoShop to clip out stuff I didn’t want/need the recipient seeing.

I picked up TinyGrab as part of a recent MacHeist. This little beauty basically allows me to screen grab only what I want, and in the same action automatically uploads it to a server and gives me the link. By doing a command-shift-4 shortcut I get a little cursor that allows me to highlight what I want to grab. When I’m done it snaps the picture and uploads it. An instant time saver!

sofortbild-logoYou may have noticed my recent fascination with time lapse movies. I think it’s a profound and fun way to capture the worlds movements. (more coming!) I’ve wanted to get software to do this with my Nikon for quite a while. But it was tough to justify spending $180 for Nikon Camera Control 2. It’s not like I had a real reason to do this… I just thought it’d be fun!

sofortbild-screengrabThat’s why I was so stoked to discover Sofortbild. It’s essentially the same thing– and it’s free! (Sorry Canon freaks, this is just for Nikon right now. And it’s just for Mac.) Basically, I can set up my camera where I want to shoot, connect the USB cable, and then completely control the camera with my computer. When the pictures are taken (either remotely or manually on the camera) the images are transfered directly to a folder on my computer. You can shoot directly with your computer, manually, do a timed picture (like for a family portrait) or set-up intervals (time lapse). It’ll even import right to iPhoto! Now if it had an iPhone app where I could start or stop interval shooting remotely, that’d be crazy cool.

So, there you go. Three quick new apps for you Mac users to try out. They are all free, freemium, or cost just a couple bucks.

What are some new apps for the Mac you are discovering?

Church Leadership Culture management Marketing

Free vs. Paid Content in the Church


Whether you are aware of it or not, there is a raging battle going on about the concept of free vs. paid content on the internet. Big names in media like Rupert Murdoch have drawn the line in the sand– they are going to make people pay for news content. Others have embraced the Google model of an advertising-based system of free content. Last week Seth Godin took the debate to a new level. He is firmly in the free camp while Malcolm is in the the paid camp. Of course, most of Seth’s income comes from consulting, speaking, and book proceeds– so Seth may be in the free camp for some things, but his paycheck comes from paid content too.

Inside the church the same debate has just begun. And all of these questions lead back to the same two central questions that newspapers are wrestling with, “Since creating content isn’t free, who is going to pay?” “In a world of free content, where is the ethical line?

Two Sides to the Content Coin

1. Gospel-oriented content should be freely available. As someone who has successfully started an internet business in the last five years I know the power of free. Ask Tim Schmoyer. Ask Ryan Nielsen. Nothing draws traffic to a youth ministry website quite like free. In the youth ministry world there is an expectation of free content. There is a righteous indignation when you question the ethics of free, too. No one cares that it costs me thousands of dollars to create, host, and market “free” content. There is a general consensus that stuff about youth ministry should be free and you shouldn’t expect anything in return for free lessons, videos, music, etc. “Don’t ask me to click on an ad. Don’t ask me to sign up for a newsletter. I need something free because I don’t have budget to buy stuff.” I’ve gotten nasty emails from folks who insist that all content about ministry should be free. These same people often are in paid ministry. So they want to get paid for using someone’s free content. Talk about wanting your cake and eating it too! Sheesh.

2. Gospel-oriented content should cost something. Of course, the ironic thing about the free thing is that the people who think ministry content should be free want to get paid by their churches, ministries, or non-profits. If I told you that you shouldn’t get paid for being a youth pastor you’d get angry with me! There is a certain immaturity to the free thing. At the end of the day there is no such thing as free content on the internet. Someone sits down to write something, they save it as a PDF, they post it on a website, and they offer it for free to anyone who wants to download it. It seems free when it isn’t. That computer cost you something. The education that powered your thoughts cost you something. The time you spent creating it… was it for work you were being paid for at the church? If so, does that content even belong to you? If it was your free time, isn’t that time worth something? If you don’t think your time is worth something why should I use your stuff? When you posted it somewhere on the web, who paid for that server space? If it’s on a well-known site, who is paying for the building of that site/brand? Who is paying for maintaining it? If you added graphics to the content, who paid for that? If you had someone proofread it, who paid for that persons work? That doesn’t seem free to me.

There is no such thing as “free” content, even Gospel-oriented content, so people should expect to pay something for the works they use. The real question is, “Who should pay?” In the old media world the user was expected to pay for the content. You subscribed to a newspaper to get the content and the profit in the model came from advertising. You wanted a book so you went to a bookstore and bought it. In the 1980s and 1990s most of us in ministry would have thought it immoral to copy books and give them to friends, copy cassette tapes and give them to students, etc. But now there is an expectation that advertising will somehow pay for all the content I want/need. That’s the new media age. Free to me, let advertisers foot the bill. Wouldn’t it be funny to see a pastors salary supported by advertising? He’d preach in an outfit that resembled a Nascar driver’s suit! It’s always funny to think about real world applications of stuff we do on the internet everyday, isn’t it?

Digital media has created an ethics dilemna for people in ministry, hasn’t it? There seems to be a feeling that the parable of the talents can’t possibly relate to actual money. People who advocate for free content will concede… “It’s OK to break even, just don’t get rich!” So if content cost me $500 to produce a lesson… why is it wrong to want to return $1000? (Like the parable) Don’t you remember the parable… Jesus called the man who just broke even a wicked and lazy servant. What then would Jesus say to people who intend to invest $500 in content and give it away? Super wicked and super lazy?

We would never walk up to an auto mechanic and expect him to change our oil for free simply because we are in ministry. We would never go to the dentist and insist that he give us free dental. We would never go to the grocery store and expect the grocer to pay for the pastors food. And yet we have no problem with this when it comes to Gospel-oriented content. Something is out of whack, isn’t it?

As with all things that seem to leave us in a quandry– I am wondering if there is a 3rd way. Is there a way that is both ethically satisfying and free? Is there a way that is both affordable for ministry folks and pays for itself?

Chime in. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. If you’re in the paid camp– speak up! If you think everything should be free, give me a counter-punch.