Gracenomics & Creativity in Youth Ministry

One of the last books I read this year was Gracenomics from Mike Foster. In a chapter about putting grace into practice at work, he describes a scenario:

“The boss pretends the company never fails. Never has, never will.

The employees know this is a bunch of bull. Always has been, always will be.

But because they know their boss is fixated with erasing all evidence of the company’s failures, the employees trade in the goal of advancing the company for the boss’ real goal: covering up mistakes – along with anything that might’ve been learned from them.

Creativity is choked out.

Innovators are handcuffed.

Dreams die.”

Grace allows creativity and dreams to flourish because grace makes room for failure. I know that he was talking about the workplace with this picture, but I can’t help but forward this dynamic into the church (maybe because that’s my workplace). In a group of people who are admittedly depending on God’s grace, what if we’re so intent on covering up mistakes (or maybe we just ignore them and hope they’ll go away) that we don’t really let anyone learn and grow from them, that we don’t learn to give grace ourselves?

I believe the result is the same: creativity is choked out, innovators are handcuffed, and dreams die. Only, in the church, instead of continuing to punch the clock and collect a check, a lot of creativity will look elsewhere for an outlet and the less patient of the innovators will walk away long before the dreams die.

Through youth ministry, I have been given the chance to shape both the church that is now and the church that will be. I want to make sure I’m giving students and other leaders the freedom to fail. I’m not sure I’ve always done that well, and I can’t help but wonder what dreams and creative ideas have been stifled by my bottling up of the grace that’s been given to me…

What were the latest mistakes you or your church has addressed with grace? What did you learn?

Social Media Awkwardness

Have you ever wondered what social media are doing to us? What are we becoming as a people who are so pixel connected? There are a number of aspects of social media that I’ve noticed:

Twitter Trolling – If you followed me, just so I’d follow you, but I didn’t on any of the 16 occasions you’ve tried to get my following attention, what are the chances that I’ll follow you on attempt number 17?

Begging for Celebrity Retweets – “Hey Mr. Famous with your thousands of followers who don’t really pay attention to what you say, would you include my name in your next tweet so some of them can come ignore me, too.” I don’t get it. Maybe there’s a famous for being famous gene I didn’t get or bug I didn’t catch, but if I’m going to be known, I want to be known for doing something – not for having my name mentioned by someone who’s done something. I don’t know how @BrianDawkins puts up with it.

The Declaration of the Unfollow – If you don’t want to read what someone tweets, just don’t follow them. No need to announce it or threaten to unfollow them. Just leave the room. @markschlereth takes all kinds of crap because his football followers don’t want to hear about his chili, or some food snob chili fan just found out he was a gridiron gladiator, or because his son didn’t pitch away from some hitter, or because he just posted another of his ‘churchy thoughts’. “Sorry Mark, if you can’t be as one-dimensional as I am narrow minded, I’m not following you anymore.” What kind of person finds it necessary to tell someone that you’re not going to read their tweets anymore?

Facebook Relationship Status – Let’s just all put “it’s complicated” and leave it at that. (I would follow my own advice here, except that I’m already statified as married, and the switch would REALLY freak people out.) Relationships are ALL complicated, why complicate them more with this feature?

MEdia – What makes us think it is ok to be SO self-centered just because we’re digital? Even in the digital universe, other people exist, and they don’t just want to talk about me(you)! But I really am glad you told me how good your toast was this morning, do you put the jelly on with a knife or a spoon?

There are a ton of other strange moments in social media I’m sure you’ve noticed. The Old Flame Friend Request. The Terribly Public Argument That Should Have Been Behind Closed Doors. The Wall Post of Passion That Definitely Should Have Been a Private Message (closely related to the Tweet That Should Have Been a DM).

Which ones are most awkward for you?

Content To Be Frustrated?

I’ve been struggling to manage a tension lately between contentment and my constant (and perhaps idealistic) desire for improvement. I seem to always want things to be better. Call it perfectionism or whatever you want, I just always seem to see ways to improve and desire to implement those ways. I remember getting my ACT scores back when I was in high school and paying the extra money to get back my answers. I wanted to see where I’d fallen short, and when I realized the silliness of the mistakes I’d made, I knew I could do better. I even thought about taking the test again to improve my score, to reach that perfect 36, even though doing so would have had absolutely no bearing on my college choices or scholarship options, my upcoming marriage (yes, I was processing wedding bells and Pomp & Circumstance at the same time), or any other aspect of my life. It was just a desire to do better.
I’ve carried that penchant for improvement with me throughout my life and work, which has mostly been helpful, but is sometimes really frustrating. (Maybe even more frustrating for those that get stuck working and living with me… sorry.) People sometimes get annoyed with my tendency to expect better, because in the church, contentment is held as one of the highest of virtues. Paul, himself, hoisted the banner of contentment several times in his writings to the Christians in Philippi and to Timothy. 
I’ve asked friends to be praying for how I handle the frustrations that have come up in the current struggle, but lately have come to a conclusion: Contentment with anything less than what God wants is not a virtue. It’s sin and I don’t want to go there.
Doesn’t God deserve our best? Not just settling for our “best efforts”, but working diligently and intelligently for the best results possible. I know I don’t earn anything from Him with my incremental improvements in ministry techniques or tactics. I’m not trying to get a better score on some Kingdom entrance exam – in Christ, my score is already a 36. I’m in! But in light of what that has cost Him, doesn’t He deserve me doing my best AND working to gain the capacity to do better?
It’s one thing to be satisfied with a job well done, but it’s something else to think we’re finished with the work. When does contentment creep its way into that dank and squalid hole of complacency?

The Future Is Orange, Predominantly

The other day, I saw a bunch of lemmings patting each other on the back and celebrating how awesome their collective lack of perspective was. As their bandwagon rolled along, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of compassion for them as they mindlessly followed their own tails. I was in my truck, so I compassionately ended the misery that was their bandwagon existence. I’m not really a bandwagon guy.

Having said that (fictitiously of course), this post is going to sound a little bandwagonesque – ok, a lot! There, you’ve been warned. When it comes to the Denver Broncos, I have no shred of objectivity. I’ve mentioned here the pain of watching them crumble the past few years, but I’m glad to say the pain has subsided considerably.

Actually, the past couple months have been the most fun I’ve had watching the Broncos play since I sat in my grandma’s living room and listened to her cuss out John Elway’s gunslinging comeback ways. It’s a little scary that we now have to worry about the 4th quarter heart conditions of the elder set of Broncos fans again – and a little refreshing. Take some aspirin before the game – I hear that helps the heart…

A few quick Broncos thoughts:

Tim Tebow is just inexplicably getting it done. 3 completions through 3 quarters of play? No problem, what if we just have 18 completions in the next few minutes, okay guys… Win. For the record, McDaniels did a lot of crazy stupid things in his time in Denver, but drafting Tebow was not one of them. I loved the pick then, and I love seeing Tebow lead this team after waiting a year and a half for his shot. The lack of off season work put him in a bad spot, but he seems to be making up the learning curve pretty quickly. Character matters – A LOT.

The Broncos are not winning in spite of his first 3 quarters of play as some have suggested. What the Broncos are doing on offense is what they have to do on offense. They are playing for first downs and field position. Tebow’s throws are much more consistently getting where they need to be, and the offensive line is working like some kind of dump truck tank the A-Team would’ve put together is some rancher’s barn in New Mexico. (Sidebar: What would you give for a Mr. T sideline sighting with about 10 minutes to go? Sidebar spawned afterthought: What would you give to see Tim T. with some feather earrings and a mohawk!?)

When the receivers catch the balls they should be catching, Denver could be putting good teams away early. I know Marion Barber helped out in a big way by not going out of bounds yesterday, but if the Broncos receivers had caught 6 or 7 more passes (that were right to their hands!) earlier in the game, he wouldn’t have been in a position to gift-wrap the final moments for the Broncos. Can you imagine Dumervil/Miller/Williams getting after a quarterback who HAS to throw because his team is down by a couple TD’s?

The defense is looking stronger than it has in a long, long time. I loved the draft pick of Von Miller. Along with a couple other pickups and health improvements, the front of this defense improved in a big, big way. Champ & Dawkins are still playing like they always have and offer an incredible amount of leadership and work ethic to the young guys. If those young guys are listening and learning from that tandem, the defense could be back to the Orange Crush standard for several years to come.

I love watching a quarterback run over DB’s and shove linebackers to the ground with a well placed stiff arm as they desperately try to dive at his legs. (The Revis Matador was pretty sweet to watch as well.) I know, I know, the purist NFL fans want to see the QB stay in the pocket and look pretty, but I’d much rather see my field general crashing the front lines. Injuries happen, so depth is important, but then again, how many pocket-passing QBs are currently sitting around injured because they got blindsided standing 6 yards behind center?

It’s good to be a Broncos fan. And it’s enjoyable again too, now that every week doesn’t bring another beat-down. There’s hope again in the Mile High fan base. The future is orange… predominantly.

/fan boy ravings
/band wagon basking

Compassionate Christmas Sharing?

When it comes to food, we have some pint-sized picky eaters in our house. They’re often hearing from LuAnn or I that they need to be content that they have food every meal, even if it’s not something they like. I remind them that while they complain about their potatoes, there are kids all over the world who are going to bed hungry… again. Today, we got confirmation that the message is getting through. Sort of.

Lizzie’s preschool class has been gathering food for an elderly lady, so before we left this afternoon, she took a couple cans to donate from our pantry. Noticing what she was happily providing, I asked Lizzie if she thought the lady would like the green beans.

“Yeah, probably…” was her first reaction as she hurried to get the cans into her backpack. But as we left the room, she expounded upon her initial enthusiasm (to herself in a very matter of fact manner):

“She should just be happy that she has food.”

As LuAnn and I overheard from the next room, we humorously wondered how we’ve warped our kids in so many ways… I’m afraid the compassion runs so deep in that one that is has yet to fully surface.

What They Don’t Know…

Last night, after our youth group met, I noticed one of our kids sending home another student with one of the well worn Bibles our children’s minister keeps handy. Why would this 16 year old kid in western Nebraska be needing an overused Bible? Because he didn’t have one. Last night we were talking about what the church is supposed to be and how we can only really find out who we are by paying attention to Who made us. How we find ourselves when we find Him in His Scriptures…

Img: Ron Loveday at CreationSwap

But this kid had no Bible until last night, and he’s hungry to know more because the whole idea is new to him.

Let that sink in for a minute.

He has 16 years of life surrounded by steeples and church-goers, but without an understanding of who God even is… or maybe even that God is. This is the second time recently that I’ve been confronted with the stark reality that my generation is largely failing when it comes to teaching the next generation. We can no longer continue to think (or maybe it’s just pretending) that everybody already knows who Jesus is and that every upstanding American has already chosen to follow Him. How can they believe if they haven’t even heard? And how can they hear unless someone is sent to tell them? (Check out a bit of Romans 10 for more on that.)

Still think we’re living in a Christian nation?

Wake up.

The mission field is right outside your front door. Your community is full of people who have no clue who Jesus really is. Go make disciples.

Generation iY

I seem to have a perpetual stack of books that I keep hoping to get to that sits on my desk. The stack often gets interrupted by some other new entry into my reading whims, so sometimes books will sit in the stack for quite a while. Last year at Christmas time, one of the books I was wanting was Tim Elmore’s Generation iY. I got the book in Decemeber, but it has sat for almost a full year, waiting…

The subtitle of the book “Our Last Chance to Save Their Future” may seem a little overdramatic, but when you think about what’s really at stake for today’s young people, it’s not such a grandiose statement. The book does a really good job laying out a description of the Millenial generation (especially the younger half), the cultural influences that have shaped them, and what we as parents and teachers and youth leaders need to be doing to help them launch into adulthood.

It was a great reminder of the potential that lies latent in young people and the need for mentors to guide this potential into fruition. Sometimes, I can get distracted by so many secondary frustrations in my job that I forget… We have an incredible generation of young lives who are hungry for authentic direction as they emerge into adult life. They are hoping to mean something to the world around them, but too often we adults are doing a poor job helping them understand how to do so. I was reminded that a huge part of my job is to identify adult-student partnerships and construct frameworks to facilitate the unleashing of potential within those partnerships – making the most of our students’ current gifts and opportunities and preparing them to launch into lives of ministry of their own.

If you work with young people or have them in your home, the insight Elmore shares from his years of experience developing young leaders is invaluable. Check out the book for yourself and get some practical strategies and ideas for parenting, mentoring, & employing Generation iY. Also check out Save Their Future Now for more.

Healthy Church Culture

I’m listening to the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast from last month and hearing some great stuff I wanted to pass on. He’s talking about organizational culture – the way a group/organization expresses values/vision. It’s the way things are going, the way people are feeling/acting/reacting, the way we do things, attitudes… “This is who we are & how we do things.”

We can say whatever we want in describing our vision, but if the culture of our church or ministry doesn’t support what we say is important, then even the greatest statements have very little real value. For example, I say the highest priority for our student ministry is to ‘reveal God to students’. But if the culture of our ministry doesn’t lend itself to eye opening moments and conversations where God is held up to be noticed, then there’s not much hope that we’ll actually be revealing God to students. So we need to make sure we’re consistently showing students where to look for God and helping them learn to recognize Him when they notice what He’s doing around them.

Every organization has an organizational culture & the leader is responsible for shaping that culture. Are we just operating by default or are we purposefully shaping our culture? The longer a leader has been in an organization, the more responsibility they carry for the culture of that organization. They also become less aware of the culture of the organization. This is why the ‘new guy’ notices things that no one else may notice. Too often, we are just doing things because that’s what we’ve always done and we stop noticing the broken tiles and screeching hinges and horrible signage to which we’ve become accustomed. The problem is those blind spots may be hindering our ability to accomplish what we’ve set out to accomplish.

Healthy cultures attract & keep healthy people, so the culture of an organization impacts the long term productivity of the organization. Who wants to work in a place where co-workers hate their jobs, shoddy work is passed on to the next department to clean up, and the proverbial floor is made of eggshell? I know I don’t. It’s de-motivating. A good worker who wants to be productive can only stay in that kind of environment for so long before they either begin to hate themselves as they slowly resign to wallow in the slop… or leave to be a part of a more productive team. In some cases it may be possible for the worker to begin to reshape the culture around them, but unhealthy cultures are very slow to adapt to change, so it’s a rough road… This is no different in the church. People who have gotten serious about accomplishing the mission passed to us from Jesus won’t be able to hang around very long in a church where not much is happening to further that mission.

Some indicators of unhealthy culture:

  • Lots of drama – There always seems to be some big issue to deal with that’s not really a big issue. Small things are consistently blown out of proportion, but the underlying issues are probably not dealt with at all. Lots of elephants standing around everywhere, but everybody’s pretending they’re not there.
  • Inward focus – The organization spends most of its focus/energy on itself. Questions like “What do our people want/deserve? What do we owe our people?” are given precedence over matters of outward mission.
  • Sideways Energy– There’s seems to be lots of motion, but not really any movement. People may feel like they’re spinning their wheels without getting any traction… Lots of bull, but no buck – it may look good, it just doesn’t accomplish anything.

When we think of the church, we don’t always think in terms of organization/leadership, and it may even be a little uncomfortable to talk about the church this way. The church is a different kind of organization, where the leader is the servant, where top-down strategy was flipped over when the “head honcho” got off his throne and picked up a cross. And while we are a living, breathing Body with Jesus as our head, we still function organizationally. We can benefit greatly by shaping healthy cultures in our churches and ministries.

Maybe it’s time we learn to “be still” instead of spinning our wheels – to wait for God, listen to Him, then do what He tells us to do…
Are there ways we need to shift our focus away from our own members?
Could we cut down the histrionics if we’d deal with the underlying issues that are causing people to grumble at the slightest annoyances?

Let’s get healthy.