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

Who will rise?

  • That’s just the way it is.
  • I don’t have the power in my organization to do anything about it.
  • We make changes incrementally, it takes time.
  • We aren’t ready for that.
  • That’s on the agenda to do, just not something we can address right now.

These are the excuses of people who value the status quo more than they want to see change occur in their midst. At the end of the day they’d rather lose their job in an attempt to protect it or see the church close it’s doors or continue to see their church reach the same saved people year after year than take the risk to lean into the calling God has for them.

Then they whine when they lose their job. They point to their job description but miss the point. Someone paid them to be a leader and they didn’t lead their churches anywhere. You can do all of the tasks perfectly– but if you fail to lead than you aren’t a leader!

In the end, the people of your church will always decide they don’t need a “leader “who will take them where they already have been. They need a leader who will take them where they don’t want to go. (Or are afraid to go, or don’t even know exists.)

I’m sick of the excuses. I have a feeling you are, too.

It’s like Genesis 18. God is on the hunt for one person. One. ANYONE who your people where they need to go instead of placating them for another budget cycle. Fire & sulphur are on order. This world will be destroyed. Is anyone going to lead people to safety? Anyone? 

God is looking for one person to rise up, take control, and lead His people where they are unwilling to go on their own.

Are you that person? Will you lead today?

The bell has rung. The crowd is looking in your corner. Are you going to rise to the challenge?

Or will you sit through another staff meeting, silent– lamenting– and wishing you had the power to change things?

youth ministry

Behind the Veil of Calling

Illustration by Frits Ahlefeldt-Laurvig, - via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I’m not a psychologist. Nor am I a sociologist. But I know my profession pretty well. And I know a ton of people in my profession.

Why do we do what we do?

It’s an important question. In many ways it is the only question that our students want to know the answer to.

My intuition tells me that most of us have been trained that the right answer is, “I’m called to this. I couldn’t do anything else because it is who I am more than what I do.

But behind that veil of the right answer– we find deeper, less correct, more driving motivations.

  • We want to see teenagers involved in the church.
  • We want them to steer clear of sex and drugs.
  • We want to help parents navigate the stormy waters of early & middle adolescence.
  • We want students to avoid the mess we got in; we want students to be the shining example we were in high school
  • We want to work at a church and this was the open door.
  • We want to be important in the lives of teenagers, we want to make a difference.
  • On and on…

Not all motivations are equal in nobility. While most motivations seem pure not all are with merit. And some might actually be contributing to a new problem more than solving the problem youth ministry was created to solve.

What are some examples of pure motivations which lead to ignoble motivations? If you work in a church or parachurch doing youth ministry– What are your points of contention with donors/supports/parrishners motivated to support your ministry with motivations that could be less than helpful?

hmm... thoughts

Kicking Fat Adam to the Curb

5:30 AM comes early on a Friday. I look at the time on my phone, “You’re kidding me, right?

Tired, groggy, and not feeling it I roll out of bed.

It’s time for my run. Three days per week for the last 6 weeks. Meh, this isn’t fun anymore. Stoney is the only one stoked about this morning routine. He’s having the time of his life with all of this running.

A few early morning demotivating thoughts cross my mind as I tried to find my shoes in the dark:

  1. I’m not a role model for health. Why don’t I just go back to bed or make some coffee and find something better to do.
  2. I’m not getting much faster or running any further. The same mile and half hurts just as much today as it did May 1st.
  3. I could just walk. Not like anyone will know or care. For that matter I could walk to Starbucks and no one would know or care either.

Then I walk by the mirror. And that puts a few motivating thoughts in the mirror:

  1. I am a role model to my kids for health. A big reason they want to play inside and do nothing all day is because that’s what I like to do.
  2. Where did those extra 40 pounds come from? Seriously, that’s not cute.
  3. My running clothes barely fit any more. The same is true with all of my clothes. My shirts are a little less full and I’m pulling up my shorts all the time. I’m kind of digging that.

Fat Adam yells at Skinny Adam every day. For too long he has won out. It’s time for Skinny Adam to stand up for himself and leave Fat Adam behind.

Next goal? Stop talking about myself in the third person.

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.

youth ministry

Why do I do this?

A few months back we had some meetings at work. And by “some meetings” I mean we were in meetings from Monday – Thursday more than 8 hours per day.

All throughout the week, one member of our team asked us, “Why do we do what we do?

I wasn’t sure what this person meant by it. And since it was often randomly inserted into the conversation I wasn’t sure how the question fit.

But on the last day– at the last moment– the question was asked more insistently. “I need to know why we do this? Why do we do what we do?” It was unavoidable. We all were going to be forced to tell the group why we do what we do. We personalized it and went around the room answering the question, “Why do I do what I do?

It was a powerful conclusion to the week. I’m really glad we finally made the time to answer the question.

The truth is that its a very important question. It doesn’t matter if your a plumber, a surgeon, the President of the United States, or you are me… what motivates you to do what you do is vitally important to who you are.

My community group reminds me that I live at the unique intersection of a job I love, working with people I love, and I get paid enough to take care of my family. Not many people in the world can claim all three.

With that said, it doesn’t mean that my life is without heartache or challenges. While I may live at that rare vocational crossroads I am still human. I have moments of weakness. And I’m often left running back to the bedrock question, “Why do I do what I do?

In those self-doubting moments, when I question myself, I go back to my motivations. These are some of the core reasons I do what I do:

  • I love resourcing youth workers. Whether its by being a listening ear or I make it easier to buy a curriculum for their Bible study or teaching a seminar on social media or just listening over a cup of coffee and saying, “You are crazy. God has you right where He wants you. You are doing a great job of loving God’s kids.” I love it. I love it more now that ever.
  • I love YS. It’s hard to imagine life in youth ministry without Youth Specialties. I have a deep love & respect for the legacy created by Mike and Wayne. I consider it an honor to carry on their mission. It feels like the best way I can honor that legacy is to keep pushing and keep innovating. I hope that one day soon I’ll be a part of coming up with the next thing as great as the Ideas Library.
  • I love who I get to work with. The team in El Cajon is a part of my family. But that family extends well beyond our office. I love working with my friends up in Minneapolis. Expanding further, there’s an amazing group of people who are really part of YS even though they aren’t on our staff. I love working with them.
  • I’m not satisfied with 10%. If you regularly read my blog you know I’m passionate about the people the church doesn’t reach. For every high school in our country, maybe 10% of the students are involved in a Christ-centered ministry or church. That’s not enough. I will be a broken record on this until people listen! My heart yearns to see youth ministry reach beyond the walls of the kids who show up and innovate methodologies that reach more. Ultimately, a big reason I do this is so that more kids will find Jesus.

No matter what happens… Those are some of the reasons I do what I do. Even before I was on staff at YS… most of those were true. (That helps too, I did much of this even before I got paid to do it!)

Why am I sharing this?

I don’t think it’s all that important that I shared these things today. Except for the fact that I hope that you can find the time to search yourself for your own motivations. Things will happen in your life that will rattle you to the core of who you are. Sometimes life shakes so hard all you can do is cling to the 1-2 endearing facts that keep you from giving up.

It will be worth it for you, for your long-term effectiveness, and for the trajectory of your life if you’d make time to drill down into the profound simplicity of this question:

Why do you do what you do?

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?

Social Action

Wanted: Maladjusted Activists

No application necessary. Work from home.

Position available immediately.

Church Leadership

5 Ways to Influence Influencers

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:2-7

Influence without motivating others to action is a wasted opportunity.

That verse and that phrase haunt me. I want to live my life in such a way that leverages whatever influence I may have on this planet to move people closer to the heart of Jesus. As Paul says, I want to proclaim the mysterious Jesus in a world where the simple Jesus is all people know.

But how do you influence people with influence over others? For me, that’s the question. It’s one thing to have a role that puts you in contact with influencers. It’s another to influence those influencers.

Here are five quick ways I’ve found (this isn’t wisdom, it’s me stumbling towards figuring it out) to influence influencers towards things that truly matter:

  1. Proclaim the whys. I’ve found that a lot of influencers are so busy that they need help connecting the dots and being told “why” something is important much more than how to do it. Influencers are smart and know how to get things done. But you need to have them own why it is important for them to do something.
  2. Heart tugs. A person has influence over others because they have a huge heart. If I can expose that heart to the need… they can make mountains move. A challenge for me isn’t putting them in that situation, it’s finding out what will tug a leaders heart to action. What, you thought this was easy?
  3. Biblical truth. Call me a crazy conservative all day. I don’t care what you label me– the Bible holds truth I cannot fathom. When I have the opportunity to bring up biblical truth, or remind a leader what the Bible says about the situation they are in, that moves them.
  4. Appeal to pride. You thought I’d say humility? Heck no, I play dirty if it means that they will take action. Have you read the Bible? The Old Testament is full of examples of prophets and friends motivating a leader with a well timed rib shot. Why? Because it works.
  5. Challenge them to take responsibility. I’ve noticed that highly influential people are very happy to disassociate themselves from opportunities. Surely, their plates are full. It helps to look them in the eye and challenge them– if not you, than who?
haiti news item

Fear Makes You Stupid

Yesterday morning I woke up to the news of a massive earthquake in Chile. The world seemed to hold its breath and wonder how bad the damage would be. “If a 7.0 earthquake killed 200,000+ people and flattened Port-au-Prince, Haiti– what would an earthquake 500 times stronger do?

Those fears and concerns were legitimate.

Fortunately, as news reports flooded in, we later learned that while there is widespread damage and hundreds of thousands displaced– Chile was well prepared for such an emergency. In fact, it appears that Chile may be able to handle the relief efforts largely on their own. The New York Times is reporting, “Although the United States had offered aid, Chile’s government had not yet requested assistance. All international relief groups were on standby, and the International Federation of Red Crosses and Red Crescents said the Chilean Red Cross indicated that it did not need external assistance at this point.

Chile’s disaster was not equal to Haiti’s disaster– and as those fears began to ease and you could see the media looking for a story to scare people.

Later in the morning, the media attention shifted from the earthquake in Chile to a tsunami the earthquake spawned. This is when the full on fear mongering went nuts.

  • Fact: 750,000 people in greater Port-au-Prince are starving and homeless while billions of dollars of aid sits on tarmacs because NGOs and governments are paralyzed.
  • Fact: The president of Haiti has said it will take 1,000 trucks 1,000 days to clear the rubble from Port-au-Prince. The muscle part of recovery hasn’t even begun.
  • Fact: 46 days after the earthquake in Haiti, starvation and disease are happening just 2 hours south of Miami by plane. Thousands of orphans are undocumented and at risk of being trafficked. Widows and elderly have no protection.
  • Fact: 2 million people in Chile were displaced as their homes were destroyed.

And twelve hours after the Chile quake all of the news media’s attention shifted from actual news stories to a potential tsunami in Hawaii.

Fact: Tsunami warnings had gone out for more than 4 hours all over Hawaii. There was no danger to life.

Fact: A potential tsunami is not equal to an actual tsunami. A potential tsunami was used to cover up the real story in Haiti. (The real story is that the church is meeting people’s needs while the NGOs and governments have meetings at the airport.)

Fact: The news was reporting on lines at Costco/Wal*Mart/Safeway, showing live video of a camera pointed at a computer screen of a feed, and anchors desperately trying to convince experts that although scientific instruments were saying the tsunami was only creating a 2-3 foot wave– the wave must really be 30-50 feet.

Fact: This was worse than Geraldo opening Al Capone’s secret vault.

And yet every news agency was showing live video from all over the state, showing sunshine and waves, interviewing tourists on vacation– all for a natural disaster that had not even happened yet! One reporter asked a tourist, “What is the situation like up at Diamond Head?” The tourist, confused, looked at the reporter and told the truth. “It’s a party up there.They couldn’t go to commercial fast enough.

Something is wrong with us. The fear of a natural disaster outweighs an actual natural disaster? The fear of damaged vacation property outweighs the reality of millions of people’s homes in Chile and Haiti? The fear that a tsunami might hit outweighs the reality that a significant disaster has actually happened.

Fear makes us stupid.

When will we recognize that fear is our god? When will we stop living in fear? When will we be motivated by compassion that overcomes fear?