The Youth Cartel youth ministry

The Year of the Book

My new book: A Parent's Guide to Understanding Social Media

2012 will be remembered around the McLane house as, the year of the book. 

First, I partnered with Jon to write Good News in the Neighborhood which came out in May. Then I partnered with Marko to write A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media which arrived yesterday.

If those two projects were bookend, starting a publishing line for The Youth Cartel was sandwiched in the middle.

From the very beginning, Marko and I talked about doing some stuff in publishing. But we didn’t necessarily see that as starting our own line of digital and physical products. We were more thinking we’d work with other publishers, helping shape a Cartel voice into a wide variety of publishing efforts. (Actually, something we do quite a bit of.) It wasn’t until last Winter that we decided to include publishing our own products as part of our publishing plan. I’ll be the first to admit that when we decided to go forward with publishing some of our own stuff I had no idea what I’d agreed to. 


Parenting with a goal in mind

Here are some words Kristen and I use to describe our long-term hopes for our kids. 

  1. Independent-minded.
  2. Dependent on a loving God.
  3. Recklessly, hope-filled dream chasers.
  4. Happy and simple adult relationships.

We jokingly sum up our goal of parenting like this, “We don’t ever want to see our kids on Springer.

That’s not the most articulate thing in the world, it doesn’t lay everything out, but it does keep the end-goal in mind.

youth ministry

What if we made youth ministry’s goal simpler?

“What’s the goal of your youth ministry? Not like your purpose statement, but why do you do this thing?”

I love to ask this question. It usually takes people a few minutes to articulate something they feel comfortable with. And it always sparks a great conversation.

The answer to that question typically lands like this, “My goal is to create an environment where students grow in their relationship with Jesus.” And when we’re really honest a functional goal is, “Keep enough people engaged in my ministry so that my church thinks I’m doing a good job with that.” (In 2009 – 2010, the real honest answer was, “Whatever I have to do to keep my job.”)

A question I’ve been wondering the past couple of years is this…

What if we made the goal of youth ministry simpler? What if the goal of youth ministry became Christian worldview formation? How would that change the way I did youth ministry?

hmm... thoughts

Run Your Moobs Off

Yes. I just went there. Seinfeld jokes never go out of style.

Moobs – Unsightly man boobies.

Forget all of that Biggest Looser emotional stuff about being fat. “I don’t want my kids to know their dad is fat. I want to live longer. I need a new strart.” Yada. Yada. Yada. That’s all just TV psychobabble to me. If it works for you, awesome. But that show just makes me hungry. I love that there is a commercial during the weigh-ins so I have time to refill my ice cream bowl.

One thing I hate about being out of shape is where all of those extra candy bars, slices of pizza, and cheeseburgers end up. The belly, the butt, and for me… my upper chest. Blech.

And since I have the kind of friends who aren’t shy about pointing out my moobs I figure it’s probably time to do something about them.

So the last couple of weeks my running mantra has been: Run your moobs off.

Sure. It’s a bit crass. And surely it’s not Oprah approved. But it’s silly and makes me giggle and work hard at the same time. Right now, I’m about halfway to my initial goal of running a 5K without stopping and with just 5 weeks to go… I have many more hours of running my moobs off to go.

No easy way out

Whether I’m around professional golfers or big-time Christian leaders– one thing has been clear: It’s not merely that they are talented. It’s that they took a little bit of talent, a golden opportunity, and out-worked all of their peers to become the best.

The same thing is available to all of us.

Some people look at successful people with jealous eyes. They think, “Surely, they just got lucky.” Probably a little bit. But they also took the good fortune of an opportunity and made something out of it. Whatever their specialty is they have worked harder and smarter than you have.


Whatever your goal is… there’s no easy option coming.

For me, right now, it’s to run this 5K. For you? I don’t know what your goal is. But I do know this one fact:

You’ll just have to run your moobs off.

Christian Living Church Leadership

The new corner office

Photo by bitsnpixels via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Perhaps this recession really has taught us some things?

I’ve noticed some trends softly changing in the past 2-3 years that are enlightening a cultural shift in our work-home-success life quotient. And they are encouraging.

Here’s a few things I would label under “the new corner office.(Things that todays worker use to label that “they’ve made it.”)

  • No fear of self-employment. You’d think that a serious downturn in the economy, a tightening of credit, and exploding health insurance costs would scare the bejeezers out of people starting their own business? That’s just not happening in my circle of friends. And these new businesses, self-ventures, and new careers are all doing pretty well.
  • Working from home, working remotely, and location independence. Within the workforce, I think these are becoming status symbols. Kristen works from home as much as she likes. I like to work remotely about one day per week. And I know plenty of people who don’t even live in the same state as their company but work remotely permanently and just come in when needed. The net result for the company is that employees are actually more productive and the company needs less/different work space. The way technology is now… there’s a whole breed of worker growing less and less dependent on the traditional work environment. It’s a win-win.
  • Choosing “right job” over “big pay” jobs. [Note: I’m not talking about unemployed/unemployable recent college grads holding out for dream jobs that don’t exist at their level.] Plenty of people in my world have left jobs they pursued for years for something that was better suited for their personality/gift match. In many cases, that means they are pursuing a new career that pays less but feels right over a job that pays more but sucks the life out of them. That’s awesome for everyone.

Hard work is now and will always be the grease that makes the machine of success work for 99.9% of workers. At the same time, these new trends seem to show a desire for a simpler life. The new mantra seems to be, “I don’t mind working hard for the right things.


The Baby-god Myth, Part One

Hi, I'm Rex. I'll be the king of your life if you let me.

If you are a parent or if you work with parents you are well aware that there’s a lot of idolatry of children going on. In this four-part series I plan on exploring this phenomenon, it’s origins, and its impact on our society and the American family.

How did we get here?

People are waiting longer, much longer, to have their first child. The average age of marriage for a woman has crept past 25. (27+ for males) And it’s not uncommon for people to wait until their mid-30s to begin having children. And when those parents finally pop out a kid– a coronation takes place as the child is crowned king of the parents universe.

It is logical that an older set of parents has had longer to dream about being a parent, more impact of cultural ideals, [movies, television, books, magazines] and more mature in the workforce to have higher wages, more time off, and more flexibility.

Old parents

This is a purely cultural phenomenon. The only reason men and women don’t have children in their late-teen to early-20s is because our society requires it. It’s taboo to marry or have kids young now. (Trust me, I’ve got plenty of friends who married in their early 20s and had kids under 25… they bear the wrath of middle-class culture scorn!)

Biologically, this causes problems. Like it or not, the human body is “ready” in the mid-teen years. In human history this is when women started having children. Interestingly, cultural influence have caused females to enter puberty earlier and earlier. But it’s become increasingly taboo to have sex or conceive children in the teen years. Sexual activity is normative for minors yet culturally we frown on teen moms. Biologically speaking– the body is strongest, the reproductive system is the most ready, on and on. There’s no biological reason for waiting to have a first child until late-20s or the early 30s. In fact, human history is built on young mothers of 14-22. Common sense tells us that when you tell your body “no” to reproduction for 15 years or more, your body just might not want to say “yes” when you are culturally ready. Thus, we’ve seen an increase in physical problems with older mothers.

Culturally, this also causes problems. Middle-class American culture tells a woman she needs to go to college and start a career before “settling down” to be a parent. So men and women marry later and acquire more stuff before marriage. (and debt) By their mid-30s, affluence leads them into the baby worship we see today. The American Dream coaxes parents to believe that each generation has to be exponentially more affluent and educated than the previous generation. The problem is that macro-economics doesn’t work that way. Middle-class parents simply can’t raise children to become more wealthy than they are… there is a statistical glass ceiling to what the economy can bear. Economically speaking, we blame Wall Street for the recent collapse of the housing market when, in fact, the Middle-class bought the American Dream on credit. (Interesting article from Time Magazine, Older Parents: Good for Kids? Written in 1988)

We scornfully look down on young parents. We track the teen pregnancy rate in pitiful, arrogant, ignorance of the fact that in most places on the planet a 16-17 year old mother is normative– and our own grandparents would now be scorned in today’s late-marriage status quo. We’ve put so much pressure on ourselves that our kids will have it better than ourselves that from the time children are in the womb we want to educate them and put them ahead of their peer group. Our culture has created this truism. Young mothers are bad or naughty, older mothers are more prepared and nurturing. But is there evidence that this is true? Doubtful.

The Allure of the American Dream

In my opinion, the root of the baby-god-myth was born in the pursuit of the American dream among Middle-class parents. If little Rex is going to be better than well-off mommy and daddy, we’re going to have to push and shape harder than our parents did.

Sadly, the church joins in

This is a chicken/egg phenomenon as each side would argue the other started it. But any church growth expert knows that if you want to attract parents these days you need an amazing kids program. The hope is that if you can attract Rex and keep him happy, a parent will get hooked into participating in the greater church. This is, indeed, born out of an earnest desire to attract and reach lost people. But the churches desire to reach out to the little Rex’s of the community in hopes of hooking parents has lead to attracting parents and staff who buy into a format of church that idealizes the American dream. A thriving kids program is polished, safe, fun, and good for Rex. It’s bigger and better every year. Even if it isn’t, we strive for that in all we do.

And today’s kids ministry ideals are largely devoid of Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

The church often gives lip service to this truth. But systematically, we are quick to bail on parental responsibility and claim it as our own since Rex’s parents are too busy shuttling him to soccer practice and it’d be too embarrassing to tie anything scripturual as symbols on their hands. Sadly, church is often merely seen as “the holistic part” of Rex’s college resume to parents who are involved “because it’s good for the kids.”  And little Rex picks up on this, in full knowledge that his parents gods are him and the stuff they are acquiring. We wonder why kids check out of church? Maybe it’s just  the way we’ve raised them?

It would be controversial for the church to stand up to parents and tell them the truth.You are worshipping your children. You are to put God first, your marriage second, and your children third. Children are subservient to their parents!” No– this is heresy in our culture. We all know, intrinsically, that if we were to proclaim that kind of truth the parents and their money which pays for our nice building and staffs would quickly disappear.

Alas, the church is often sad peddler of the baby-god-myth.

More on this later.

hmm... thoughts

5 Clarifying Questions

As another week begins and another year winds down I hope that you are pausing long enough to reflect on who you have become, who you are becoming, and the trajectory/pace you are taking.

If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. Luke 12:28-30

Where have you set your heart?

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. If they stopped paying me to do what I do… would I still do it?
  2. Am I proud of what I’m doing?
  3. Am I doing something worth dying for?
  4. Am I doing something worth living for?
  5. If I were to go back nine years, am I on the path of things I dreamed about for ten years in the future?
hmm... thoughts

Michael Phelps & John Edwards

The last two news cycles have documented two men in quest of their respective dreams. One man failed while the other conquered. Let’s face it though, both were nearly insurmountable dreams. One man wanted to be the president of the United States while the other wants to change his sport forever. In my mind, there are some interesting parallels worth thinking about.

John Edwards is sexyJohn Edwards. I felt Edwards could have beat George W. Bush in 2004. But for some reason the DNC orchestrated the ticket of Kerry/Edwards instead of Edwards/Kerry. In my eyes only two details really matter about John Edwards failure.

#1 John Edwards has owned his mistake. He didn’t try to pretend that it was an accident, and despite some initial hopes that the story would never become public… once it was public he dealt with it quickly. He manned up and I can respect that.

#2 John Edwards was an idiot. Really. He broke one of the simplest rules of any man in leadership… don’t put yourself in a situation to fail. I didn’t catch all of the details, but it was clear that Edwards began traveling with his web videographer and not his wife. I don’t care who you are, no one is immune to temptation. If King David can fall so can you. At some point in the planning someone in John’s life should have said, “Hey John, I think you should take an accountability partner (like one of his kids) to Africa with you.” 

Michael Phelps, not sexy but fastMichael Phelps. Since we’ve been moving I’ve missed most of the Olympics. But I’ve caught enough to know that Phelps has electrified the sporting world by winning 8 Olympic Gold Medals. Let’s see a couple opposite parallels between Phelps and Edwards. 

#1 Michael Phelps made his own goal. I don’t know exactly what he means by it, but Michael Phelps desires to change the face of swimming. Winning 8 Gold Medals in a single Olympics is a crazy goal… but he made the goal and he took the steps to make it happen. Sure, he’s been blessed with a swimmers body. Sure, he’s had the best training. Sure, he’s had the best equipment. But that can be assumed of almost every swimmer in that pool. For some reason Phelps was able to take that body, that training, and that equipment to a place never dreamed of before. Think of all the millions of decisions Phelps has made over the last decade… all aimed at accomplishing his goal.

#2 Michael Phelps is brilliant. I know I am into marketing so I notice these things. But lets just say there has never been a more wealthy swimmer. He could retire now, never swim competitively again, and just live off of the cash he’s made in commercials. Instead, Phelps knew that if he accomplished his goal, surrounded himself with the right people, that he could change the sport and his world forever. My guess is that Phelps will be the richest junior at the University of Michigan this fall. Because while this was one amazing goal, the next goal is on the horizon for him.