Yawn Like Somebody is Watching

The Response to What You’re Doing

The other day I was driving down the road and passed a car heading in the opposite direction. I glanced over just before the other car passed by to see the driver yawning. In a flash they were gone…and I started to yawn.

Even typing the words, I actually just yawned. I just yawned again. I’m not tired, but I can’t stop yawning. Are you thinking about yawning yet? Have you yawned yet? How about now?

Maybe you are one of those rare people who can refrain from yawning even when you see it happening or hear about it. I’m not kidding when I tell you that I yawned several times while looking at Google Images of people yawning to find a picture for this post.

Yawning is contagious. If you’re ever bored at a restaurant, just find someone at another table and fake a yawn while making eye contact with them. They’ll start yawning. It’s hilarious.

I don’t really want to talk about yawning though. I want to talk about what I learned from my encounter with the yawning driver who passed by.

After she passed me, I imitated her behavior. It wasn’t a premeditated response, but it happened. She had no idea how her action affected me.

Have you ever thought about how your actions are affecting other people? If you have, perhaps you have attempted to alter behavior you didn’t want repeated. However, in the rhythm of everyday life sometimes we forget that people may be watching and we quit acting and just yawn…I mean live our actual lives.

If people mimicked the way you talk to your spouse, would their marriage be healthy?

If someone talked to their kids the way you talk to yours, would you think they were good parents?

If another Christian followed Christ the way you do, would they be growing closer to Him or falling further away?

I recognize that this might seem overwhelming. It may make you sweat. It might scare you, but it doesn’t have to. Their responses could be positive or negative things. Somewhere, someone is probably emulating some of your good behavior too.

The reality is, people are always watching. If you have kids living at home, they are for sure. You are consciously and subconsciously modeling for them what it means to be an adult. Even beyond kids, people on your job, people in your community, your neighbors, your friends, and total strangers. They are just passing by, observing your behavior and it has an affect on them.

What actions are you taking that may be causing a response from someone else?

Live like someone is watching. Because they are!

My Freshman Year of College Almost Killed My Parents

Navigating an Awkward Transition in the Parent Child Relationship

Recently my dad and I had a heart to heart conversation reliving some of the details of my freshman year of college. In his words, it was one of the hardest years of his and my mom’s life. For me, it was probably the most confusing year of my life.

To give you just a bit of backstory: I was a “good kid” growing up. Pretty smart. Room stayed clean and organized. I wasn’t perfect by any means, but I didn’t do a lot of the normal stupid teenage stuff. I wouldn’t say my parents were strict, but they had pretty specific expectations for me and my brother.

So I moved away to college and experienced my first taste of true freedom. I didn’t go to class like I should. I rarely went to church that year. My grades were AWFUL! I didn’t come home to visit and called less frequently than they would have hoped. I made other VERY poor decisions.

I realize in the greater scheme of things there are still worse things I could have done, or that others have experienced. However, within our context it was a very trying year.

From over a decade working in Student Ministry and  another 5 years or so walking with families that are making similar transitions I believe there are several reasons parents and children struggle in the “off to college/moving out” phase.

  • Distance

For most, it is the first extended period of time that distance is created between parent and child. Whether they are moving across the country, going to backpack around the world, or moving into the dorm across town, the physical separation is a huge adjustment for both parties.

  • Decisions

Again, this is perhaps the first time that decisions are being made completely autonomous from parents. These are no longer petty decisions. They are choosing majors, potential life-long relationships, and financial decisions with long-term effects. Which leads us to…

  • Dollars

Often, parents are, wholly or partly, invested financially in the decisions their kids are making in this college season. They are paying tuition, co-signed on the student loan, or sending living money. So when they see their kids making poor decisions or not honoring the time and resource being invested in them it creates stress and strain on the relationship.

So, if you are a parent (or child) who is trying to navigate “the first year away from home” transition season I would offer the following advice. I am a parent of 4 kids not yet in high school, so I offer the advice as someone who lived on the “child” side of this equation and as a “spy” in a foreign land through my years in ministry to students and families.

Try to maintain proper perspective

I once read a quote that was attributed to John Maxwell. I haven’t been able to corroborate that it was actually him, but I’ll attribute it to him nonetheless. He said, “If someone overreacts in a situation involving someone else they are saying they value the situation more than they value the person.”

Now please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I realize some things need a reaction, maybe even a big one. However, if you can maintain a proper perspective you might be able to correct a wrong and still convey your love for the other person without overreacting. If you overreact you run the risk of losing the relationship over something that may or may not be important 5 years from now.

The reality for a lot of parents is that they are reacting out of a desire to help their children avoid some of the mistakes they made themselves. I heard a parent say not too long ago, “Walking through some dark days and living with the consequence of my poor decisions made me the person I am today. But I want my children to just become those kinds of people while avoiding the things I didn’t avoid. I’m not sure how that’s possible.”

While we want the best for our children there are various stages in their lives where we have to let them live with their decisions and the consequences. As long as their life isn’t in jeopardy and their future is still possible, it may require parents to step back for a season. On the flip side the son or daughter has to realize that mom and dad really are trying to help. They aren’t trying to rob you of fun experiences or get in your business, they just see with a little more clarity the possible repercussions of the things you are doing.

Keep talking

When I do premarital counseling I probably say the word communication 25-30 times an hour. It is that important. Well the same could be said for parents and young adults during this season of their lives. Keep talking. Communication is the key.

Some conversations will be better than others. Some conversations will end with one or both of you hanging up angry. Just keep talking. Maintaining the relationship and open lines of communication now will help to have a relationship in the next season.

Take the long view

While this may seem like it fits within “Maintaining proper perspective”, it’s somewhat different. The difference here is realizing that this season won’t last forever. Yes, I know, some students may take the 10 year plan toward graduation. But it won’t last forever.

Ultimately you want to be sitting in the crowd cheering at their graduation. You want to be standing beside them or sitting on the front row when they get married. And you want them to want you there.

Try to remember those future moments in the present moments you’re not sure you can live through.

Every situation is different and I realize you could read this and say, “Well you just don’t know our set of circumstances.” And you’d be right. But I lived through this season in my life. And my dad and I were able to talk about it and laugh the other day. I pray you can too one day!

Keep going. You can make it!

What advice would you offer to others in this season? Comment below.

 

3 Reasons Fast isn’t Always Best

The Power of the Process

My wife is an amazing “homemaker”. That’s probably not even the right word for what she does. Sometimes she is a DIY furniture maker. Other times she finds obscure antiques or knick-nacks and turns them into statement decor in our home. She is also the self-proclaimed “fastest painter in the world.”

She finds a color she likes, picks up a gallon, and we are moving furniture to the middle of the room that evening. We don’t obsess over color selection. She knows what she likes when she sees it. If we get it on the wall and don’t like it we can paint over it.

However…

We are both impatient. We like to paint the room, move the furniture back and take the “After” picture. The project needs to feel complete before we go to bed. While we are still passionate about the idea we want to leverage our energies toward completion.

I’ve adopted and love her get it done now mentality with painting. However, I have come to realize that I carry this same attitude with me into everyday living. Undone projects tend to eventually become the things we’ll get to “one day”. So I rush through to get the job done. After all, no one ever takes an almost finished picture.

The problem is, a lot of things worth doing can’t be done quickly. Financial responsibility starts with a decision and hard choices initially, but it’s never really “finished.” Weight loss or healthier living is ongoing. Educational endeavors take time.

So what do we do?

Stop comparing your “work in progress” to someone else’s “finished product.”

      The reality is they probably aren’t finished either. They just may be a little further down the road than you. It’s also important to view everything on social media like you do the objects in your rearview mirror.

While the mirror tells you “objects are closer than they appear”, social media should come with the caption “not as fabulous as presented.” The perfect Instagram picture of their clean house doesn’t reveal the dirty laundry hidden behind the door.

      The glowing Facebook post about their weight loss journey doesn’t show the lingering insecurity in front of the mirror.

If you allow yourself to be shaped by someone else’s well-crafted narrative you’re setting yourself up for unnecessary heartache.

Appreciate the benefits of “sleeping on it.”

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve painted a room, cleaned up, moved the furniture back and gone to bed, only to have the light of a new day reveal a spot we missed. Taking a little extra time gives you a perspective that finishing too quickly will rob from you.

My dad says he has two financial decisions he still regrets to this day. Both were made without walking away to sleep on it and returning the next day to close the deal. There are very few things that can’t wait an extra 12 hours.

Remember the original “why.”

Pastor Mark Batterson talks about the power of a picture in a cow pasture.

It’s not that the cow pasture has any power. It’s just that he originally felt the call of God on his life walking through that cow pasture. So he went back and got a picture of himself standing in the pasture and hung it in his office. On those days where his job feels “unfinished” he looks at that picture to remember his excitement for the original calling.

Why did you start out on this journey? Why did you originally go back to school? Why did you originally want to save money? Why did you commit to purity before marriage or faithfulness within your marriage, in the first place?

If you can remember WHY, you’ll eventually figure our HOW.

If you’re like us you love to finish the job and cross the item off your to-do list. But don’t be afraid to embrace the work in progress.

It’s where life is actually lived!

 

Dealing with Loss at the Holidays

This post appeared as an article in the December 2016 edition of AroundCanton magazine.

March 2nd, 2017 will be 6 years since my mom passed away after a two year battle with cancer. I remember the first Thanksgiving after she passed my uncle saying around the dinner table, “Her absence is no more real than when we are all together.” She never got to meet four of her grandchildren. She doesn’t get to see the excitement of all 8 grandchildren when they open presents or laugh with one another while trying to stay up late enough to “catch Santa”. The most wonderful time of the year is indeed still wonderful, even while we carry a loss in our hearts.

So how do you deal with loss during the holidays? Well, I’m not sure there is a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all process for everyone. However, I do think there are some common things we can all do to ease the pain a bit.

First, find ways to “include” those who are no longer here in your holiday schedule. Tell stories about them from family gatherings gone by. Make sure the younger generations know how important those who are missing were in establishing the traditions we enjoy today.

Second, don’t feel bad about feeling sad. Allow yourself room to grieve, especially in the first few years or holidays after they’ve passed. Grieving isn’t weakness, and is a natural response to loss. The healthiest thing to do is allow space to cry, talk or process your emotions.

Third, don’t feel bad about feeling happy. You aren’t dishonoring their memory while you laugh and celebrate with those around you. Free yourself from guilt and enjoy the moments you have with the special people in your life.

Finally, make sure you tell the people in your life what they mean to you. For many people, Christmas is a time where they will give and receive words of affirmation and love more easily than perhaps any other time of the year. Don’t allow another day to pass without them knowing that you care, that they are special to you, and that they matter.

In the Bible, Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” My prayer for you this holiday season is that the Lord will comfort you through those around you, even as you mourn those who are no longer here.

The Power of “The 1”

This past Sunday I spoke out of Genesis 18 about the story of Abraham negotiating with God about the salvation of Lot and the “righteous” before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorra. It was my contention that Abraham cared less about the 50, 45, 40, 30, 20 or 10 that he was asking God for than he cared about “The 1”: his nephew Lot.

You can listen to the message HERE.

Well, here’s what I didn’t know…

A guy in our church, Rick, has a guy he has coached baseball with over the last few months for their sons. Rick’s friend has experienced some personal tragedy during the time they’ve known one another and Rick has offered to pray for him and his family. Last week while they were talking Rick was trying to encourage his friend regarding some of the things that were happening and his friend said, “I just need what you have. You have something different and want that.”

Rick responded, “well then you need to come to my church Sunday.” And his friend said he would. Sunday rolls around and his friends does indeed show up. Rick admitted to me later that he was nervous because he didn’t know what songs we were singing or what I was going to be speaking on, and how his friend would respond. His friend stood with arms folded during the first portion of worship. I came up during a “pastoral prayer” moment and encouraged everyone to turn and tell their neighbor that God loved them. So Rick leaned over and told his friend who “kind of snickered.”

Later I started my message and our guest services team had passed out a penny to everyone in attendance. So as I’m talking about God valuing “The 1” everyone is holding 1 cent. Later I asked this question of those in attendance in each of our 3 services as they held their penny, “whose salvation are you begging God for?”

Rick’s friend leaned over and asked, “Rick, who’s your 1?”

To which Rick replied,

“You are!”

They both began to cry. Eventually their tears were more than either of them could control and then we all prayed.

Rick’s friend handed him the penny after church and said, “since I was the 1 you were praying for I guess you should keep this.” Rick took it as a reminder to pray for his friend everyday this week and he invited him to come back to church this coming week. His friend said he would.

Rick would later tell me, “this is one of those amazing stories you only hear about…and this time I get to be part of it.”

Living a life that seems “different” to those around us.

The power of an invitation.

The work of God in the life of “The 1.”

Who are you begging God for?

Life Lessons – Part 2

I started writing last week about 35 observations I have made since turning 35 last month. They are in no particular order and you can read the first half of the list HERE. After reading both lists I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

19.  I should have learned more about money-management as early as possible. I was smart so I understood some things intuitively, but I didn’t spend enough time around lots of people and resources that would help me manage money better until I got a little older.

20. Things are just things. My friend Matt taught me this phrase recently. Before that I would have called this “Possessions only really matter in the moment.” What I mean is most of the things I “have” to have in the moment are just things in my house after a few days, weeks, months or years. There are things in storage boxes right now that I have not used or touched in months or even years that at one time or another was a “have to buy”.

21. I make better decisions when I’m not in a hurry. This could be applied to every area of my life, but when I slow down, weigh things out, remove as much emotion as possible…I just make better decisions.

22. Sleep is important. My mom used to tell me that our bodies heal at night while we sleep, so if we don’t sleep we don’t heal. I’m not sure if that was even scientifically correct, but it’s practically correct. I feel worse the less I sleep and it has a cumulative effect. I’m better in every area of my life when I’m sleeping well for long enough periods of time.

23. Kids grow up too fast. I don’t mean this in the condescending way it sounds to those younger than me. I mean it more as a dad. My four kids are getting older, faster. I swear. It seems like it was just yesterday that they were learning how to crawl, and now we are navigating devices, proper relationships, language, habits, and sexuality. I wish they would slow down.

24. Fear is real, but it’s fake. I know some people who have a very real struggle with fear and anxiety. It’s a real thing, and in no way am I belittling that. However, I also believe that fear is fake. Beyond a very small percentage of the things we actually fear, most of the things we are afraid of haven’t and even won’t happen. They are fake fears. They are the monsters under our bed, and yet they grip us and keep us from living fully free.

25. News agencies cater to our fears. I don’t watch the news on television anymore. I scan the headlines on my computer or phone, but not near as much as I used to. The reason: these companies make money the more they sensationalize the events happening around us. Many times they have become part of the story rather than just reporting on it.

26. God knew what He was doing when He created the idea of Sabbath. I talked about sleeping earlier, this is not that. This is the idea that I have intentional time in my schedule and calendar that validates this reality:

I am not what I can produce.

When I work non-stop it is actually rooted in an unhealthy place that doesn’t honor God. I’m better 6 days a week than I am 7 days a week because that’s the way God made me.

27. Everyone needs a mentor/coach. It’s no secret that I believe in coaching and mentoring. I have been a recipient and I’m now actively coaching pastors and leaders. You can read more of my philosophy HERE. But my life, leadership and ministry is better because of those a few steps ahead of me helping me navigate my own life. I have mentors as a husband, father, pastor, leader, writer, speaker, and more. I think everyone needs people like this.

28. “You can’t go cheap on toilet paper, peanut butter or underwear.” This was a phrase my mom said over and over when I was growing up. She would buy off brand all the time, but not in the 3 categories above. She believed the higher price here was well worth it.

29. My wardrobe got better when I just gave up control. For the first few years of our marriage I wore what I’d always worn. It wasn’t great, but it was comfortable and I could usually get Buy One Get One ____. At some point Corrie started slipping clothes into my closet and drawers and I didn’t realize it until I was getting complimented for clothes I didn’t remember buying. Eventually I just gave up control and I’m thankful for it.

30. With a good tool, and a Youtube tutorial video I can fix almost anything. Technology has made me an actual, honest to goodness handyman. In a stage of life where money wasn’t readily available I learned how to fix my hot water heater, leaking toilet, change my oil, change my brakes and rotors, and lay flooring in my house…while watching someone else do it on Youtube.

31. There is a difference between a cup of coffee and a “good” cup of coffee. I didn’t start drinking coffee until I was pursuing my Master’s degree while married, pastoring, and had young kids at home. My friend Jonny was staying with us recently and he made some coffee but it involved a process to make it and time to let it sit. That was a new experience for a guy who just hits the start button on the auto coffee pot. But it’s a shame both of these things are called coffee, because what he served me was something else entirely.

32. You are what you read. (aka “Leaders are Readers”). I’ve always loved to read. My brother always hated to read…until recently. Now he reads circles around me. But I believe that reading has set me up to be a better leader, writer and speaker, among so many other things. By continually exposing myself to outside voices, even those I disagree with, across a variety of genres, I’m better.

33. Hair travels. I noticed it in older men long before I started getting older, but there’s less and less hair on my head and more and more hair…

34. I failed to realize how much a compliment was worth. I have always been surrounded by very affirming people. My mom often led the way in this area for me. While I would say that “words of affirmation” is not my love language, I never really wanted for affirmation. After her death there was a void left that I didn’t realize until it was too late. My dad, brother and friends are still very affirming, but I’ve realized that I’m not as good at giving affirmation as I probably should be because I took for granted how much I needed it myself.

35. My brother is an idiot. I use the term idiot as a term of endearment, and I’m not even kidding. If I call you an idiot it means I really love you. My brother Jason is a huge idiot. Nobody makes me more angry, but nobody makes me laugh harder. Corrie knows when I’m talking to him on the phone because I’m either ticked off or laughing so hard I’m crying. I’m thankful for our daily phone calls.

 

Honorable Mention:

Once I started making this list I came up with more than I needed. So here are a few more that almost, but didn’t quite, make the list.

36. Early bird gets the worm. I’m an early riser, for the most part. But I have definitely learned that I am more productive the earlier in the day I get started.

37. Dry cleaned shirts just fit better. There’s a place by my house that dry cleans shirts for dirt cheap. Once I found this out I started taking a few shirts at a time to get dry cleaned and my clothes miraculously started fitting better.

38. A full tank of gas is overrated. I hate stopping for gas. It’s a pain to stop whatever forward progress I’m making to stand still and wait…So I run ridiculously low most of the time. There have been times (the exact number is not important) when I have run out of gas. Thanks to my friends who have helped me in these moments. You know who you are.

39. The quality of a good pillow. I knew I was getting older the first time I took “my” pillow on an overnight trip away from home. You just never know what kind of pillow you’re going to find in the hotel or friends’ guest room. There doesn’t seem to be much in between. It’s either soft as a cloud and my sinuses get stopped up or hard as a rock and my neck hurts the next day. So I travel with mine.

40. I swear stuff hides from me. I can be looking for something very intently only to discover that it’s not where I thought it was or told it was. Corrie walks into the same room and the thing magically appears. I’ve looked into the refrigerator for something and didn’t see it. I close the door. She opens it and wouldn’t you know it, the thing is sitting right on the shelf where I looked. It’s some kind of voodoo wife magic or something. I still don’t understand it.

 

Alright, now it’s your turn. What are some things you’ve learned in your years on earth? Which ones of mine have you observed as well?

 

 

 

Life Lessons – Part 1

Last month I turned 35. I realize this doesn’t make me old, unless you’re reading this and I am your dad. I also realize this doesn’t make me young, unless you’re reading this and I’m your grandson.

I’m old enough to know that I don’t know everything, but I’m young enough to believe that I have some things I can contribute.

I don’t live with regrets. I really don’t. I believe that I can learn from even the mistakes I have made. I also refuse to spend a lot of emotional and mental time on things that I can’t change.

But, for better or worse, in no particular order here are 35 observations from 35 years on the earth.

  1. I wish I would have tried harder in school. While I’ve still never used Geometry as an adult, there were things I could have learned with a little more effort that would be beneficial now.
  2. I shouldn’t have tried to grow up so fast. I am an oldest child in my family, and with that came a certain push/pull toward acting older. So I always wanted to sit at the grown-up table. I missed out on some great experiences because I didn’t fully enjoy being a kid for as long as I could.
  3. I should have focused more on my friends, and less on girlfriends. This is not to speak negatively of anyone I ever dated. But I spent a lot of time and emotion on relationships that ultimately didn’t materialize into marriage. This time was then forfeited from friendships that have continued to this day, but missed out on experiences and time because I was elsewhere.
  4. A healthy marriage doesn’t just happen. I am so thankful for the marriage that Corrie and I have. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty darn close. We work at it though. We find ways to spoil one another. We buy each other gifts, even when they are inexpensive. We talk AND LISTEN to one another. We prioritize time together. We want to be faithfully married to one another for at least 75 years. While physical health will play a role in that, we are committed to the health and vitality of our marriage.
  5. I’m thankful for a Godly heritage. I don’t say this bragging, because I realize not everyone has this, but I’m thankful that both sides of my family tree are filled with God-fearing men and women who committed their lives to serving God and the local church.
  6. My parents did an amazing job raising me and my brother. As a parent myself, I realize they weren’t perfect, but looking back it’s hard for me to remember things they got wrong in the process. That might be the highest compliment I can pay them.
  7. Cancer sucks! My mom passed away in 2011 after a 2 year battle with Colon Cancer. She was 48 (she was young I know. Married at 16, had me at 19, had Jason at 21). I literally miss her every day. I still pick up the phone (both literally and figuratively) to call and tell her something before remembering. Cancer just sucks!
  8. Everyone needs a few reeeeaaalllly good friends. I’m an extrovert so I can talk to a brick wall for 10 minutes or so until someone else shows up. But I’m convinced even introverts benefit from enriching relationships. I’m not just talking about someone to do something with. I’m talking about the kind of people who love you deeply and are loved deeply by you.
  9. Authenticity is rare and priceless. When you find someone who is comfortable in their own skin, flaws and all, it is like breathing fresh air for the first time in a long time. I strive for this.
  10. Stretching is important. When I was a kid I would just start running, or throwing, or whatever. The older I get I need to wake the muscles up before I use them. They’ve told me they appreciate that.
  11. I value emotional stability. In the last 12 months I have come to realize that the number one personality trait I admire most is emotional stability. It’s hard to truly trust someone who shows signs of extreme emotional instability.
  12. Talent is Overrated. I’m a big sports fan, and there are definitely once in a generation types of players. But for the most part, teams can replace virtually anyone with someone younger or cheaper or… You get the point. Don’t focus on your talent more than you focus on these next two.
  13. Character takes a long time to develop. I believe you will spend a lifetime developing your character. The fruit will show itself all along the way, but you never arrive. You have to constantly evaluate your heart and allow the Lord to keep purging the things out of you that don’t reflect Him.
  14. Leadership is about influence. You can read all the leadership books and blogs you want to, but if you aren’t influencing other people you are not leading.
  15. I lose and gain weight like Oprah Winfrey. I have great intentions and every few months I eat better or exercise more. However, to this point, I have never had a sustainable diet and exercise lifestyle.
  16. Consistent Bible reading and prayer pays dividends. I used to be so legalistic with this. I felt guilty if I missed a day of my reading plan or didn’t spend the set amount of time in prayer every day. Now I have a much more grace-filled approach because I’ve finally seen the benefits. Don’t get my wrong, I try to spend time every day in God’s Word and in prayer. But if I miss a day or get interrupted that’s okay. It’s about the immediate fruit in my life and the cumulative results in my heart and character.
  17. It’s often easier to forgive others than it is to forgive ourselves. I tend to let others off the hook for the things they have done. Me? Not so much. I’m pretty hard on myself for past mistakes. That’s unfortunate because nobody else in my life judges me as harshly as I judge myself.
  18. Flexibility is underrated. I realized recently that I value flexibility in people as much as almost anything. We are going to plan. We are going to be prepared. But our ability to adapt on the fly is one of the greatest identifiers of strong leaders.

That’s a little over half, so I’ll stop there for now. I’ll share the rest of the list in another post.

What would you add?

UPDATE: You can read the 2nd half of my list by clicking HERE.

You May Be Out of Touch in Leadership

When I was in college I was exposed to a church that ran 4-5,000 people. I heard some of their senior staff say that everything they did was planned with 10,000 people in mind.

In some of the ministry coaching I’ve received in recent years I have been posed this question, “Are your systems ready if your church doubled next Sunday?”

I think there is wisdom in conversations like this, HOWEVER….

If you are anything like me you have seen this idea backfire or be misused to the detriment of the current realities (and people currently involved). My mom used to tell me when I was a teenager that I was “acting too big for my britches.” If you aren’t familiar with this vernacular it is acting bigger/older/smarter/etc that who you really are.

So in leadership and pastoring we must find the healthy balance between dreaming about, planning for and creating systems around our desired future of more people without our current systems and processes being out of touch with the present realities.

It’s like saying, while I believe my 7 year old son will one day wear a men’s size 10 shoe, if I bought them for him now he wouldn’t be able to walk. So how do I manage that tension in leadership:

  1. Make sure your systems work today.

If you have 50 people make sure your systems effectively serve 50 people well. Regardless of your desire for 250 or 500 to attend your church, you will lose those 50 people if your systems don’t serve them well.

2. Paint the picture of tomorrow, today.

Look for creative, consistent ways to communicate, in public, about what could be. I would encourage you not to make this about numbers all the time (or ever). The problem with numbers is anyone that can count can easily tell if you’ve missed the mark, and they rarely give you the benefit of time. You don’t have to talk about having 1000 people next Easter unless you’ve really heard from God and/or you believe that is the best way to expand what’s possible for your people. You can talk more passionately about creating space for people far from God. Tell stories, where possible, of the kinds of recent successes you hope to duplicate more regularly in the future.

3. Be realistic with your expectations.

I talked about my 7 year old son earlier. He weighs about 40 pounds and the doctors want him to gain a little weight to catch up to the “normal” curve for kids his age. He’s healthy, just doesn’t weigh a whole lot. It wouldn’t be realistic for me to think that he could weigh 100 pounds by next week. And yet, that’s what we do in ministry so often. We average 20 students per week in our youth ministry, but we order enough food for 150 for our lock-in because we hope that’s how many will show up. That’s not a realistic expectation unless we have done some major push to get more people there.

Create systems and buy supplies that are connected in some way to your present reality. That’s not a lack of faith, that’s good stewardship.

4. Spend “more time” leading now, and “some time” planning for what’s next.

I try to set aside at least 1 day every other month for what I call “Dream Day”. This day isn’t worried about logistics, details, why things can’t be done, or the budget. I just dream about what could be.

I prayerfully search my future for what God might intend to bless for my family, staff, church and more.

The other 59 days I live in the present, which may actually involve putting details to some dreams. Both are important. If I’m not thinking about the next growth season, when I get there we will be unprepared. If I’m thinking about it too much I become out of touch with my present reality. In some seasons I need more dreaming. In other seasons I need more present leading. Ask the Lord (and your spouse, your coach, or your team if you aren’t sure) for the discernment to know which one needs your attention now.

5. Dream Big!

Don’t limit God. Dream new dreams! Believe for growth! Plan for more people than you have now! Expose yourself to voices that stretch your thinking.

No matter how long you are in leadership this will be a tension to be managed. Lead today, and lean into tomorrow.

I’m pulling for you!

 

Oh the Places You’ll Stay

Today is a big day in our house. Today is the first day of school. It’s also a milestone first day of school in our house because our oldest starts middle school and our youngest starts kindergarten (the middle 2 aren’t being overlooked, they start 2nd and 4th grade).

One of the really cool things about our daughter going to Kindergarten is that she has the same teacher that each of her 3 older brothers had.

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While I think this would be a cool thing for any family, it’s especially cool for me because my family moved around a good bit when I was growing up. My mom and dad were in ministry, but their administrative position with the church had a 4 year term limit. So we knew when we moved to a state that 4 years later we would be moving to a new state. It didn’t really make it easier, but at least that part was consistent. There were so many positives in my childhood, and I wouldn’t change it at all, but for the sake of this post, the moving was a negative in this one area.

While I know that military families, some ministry families, and other vocations require people to move more often than we did, I attended a different school for Kindergarten, 1st-4th grades, 5th-7th grades, 8th-11th grades, and 12th grade.

Again, our family moved because of term limitations on their job and not just randomly switching jobs, but switching jobs is pretty prevalent in our culture.

The average person born in the latter years of the baby boom (1957-1964) held 11.7 jobs from age 18 to age 48, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As you might imagine in the current generation where loyalty is even further down the list of priorities the numbers are even crazier.

Ninety-one percent of Millennials (born between 1977-1997) expect to stay in a job for less than three years, according to the Future Workplace Multiple Generations @ Work” survey of 1,189 employees and 150 managers. That means they would have 15 – 20 jobs over the course of their working lives!

The average worker today stays at each of his or her jobs for 4.4 years, according to the most recent available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but the expected tenure of the workforce’s youngest employees is about half that.

I get that many of these situations have legitimate reasons. Boredom in the present job. Conditions changed, so a new job was necessary. New skills or education compels us to find a place to use our new skills…

But sometimes…it just “looks greener on the other side”. Sometimes, if we’re honest, we just move to move.

Pastors aren’t exempt from this reality. While statistics are hard to find on pastoral tenure, most studies show that pastors stay 3-4 years at a church before moving on to another assignment.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that the average megachurch pastor has been at their church 13 years+. Every successful, long-term pastor I know has made some statement similar to this:

“I wanted to leave in year __ , but I stuck it out. I’m so thankful I did, because the next few years after were some of (greatest/most fruitful/most fulfilling/etc) years thus far.”

 

 

It has been said that “we tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in the short-term, and underestimate what we can accomplish in the long-term.”

I’m trying to take the long-view. I’m blessed to be in a city I love, at a church I love, working with people I love and I’m looking to be here for a long time.

My grandparents on my dad’s side of the family pastored the same church for 31 years. I’m hoping to break his family record.

When times are good I file it away for later. When times are tough I remember when it was good and remind myself that there would be problems “there” too.

Obviously there are benefits to staying somewhere longterm beyond family. However, today my daughter is reaping the benefit of 10 years at the same church, living in the same town. I’m thankful for that. I pray that 12 years from now she has the same homeroom teacher her Senior year of high school that my oldest son has 6 years from now.

Pastor, be encouraged today to stick it out. Don’t look with longing to greener pastures. Keep watering the grass on your side of the fence and trust God to bless you where you’re at.

You’re Being an Idiot, Stop it!

Last week I attended the bi-annual denominational meeting for our tribe in Nashville, TN. The days were filled with business meetings as we elected officials to lead our movement, debated polity and received training and inspiration for ministry. The evenings involved gathering with approximately 12-15,000 people in worship services. I’m thankful for the opportunity to represent my local church at this gathering of one stream of the global Church.

However, if I can be honest the best part of the week was reconnecting in person with friends that I don’t get to see very often. Because we are all in ministry we don’t live near one another, and are separated by hundreds or even thousands of miles.

Facebook gives us the ability to stay aware of what’s going on in each other’s lives. For instance I can tell you where some of my friends have vacationed this year, when their baby was born, and big events in their churches. What I can’t tell you is where they feel weak, what makes them laugh, and so many other things that don’t translate on social media. So we sat next to each other in business sessions and church services. We stayed up late playing cards and talking. We laughed until we cried, and we’ve been texting each other since we got home.

It seems that the stories of men and women leaving ministry, either by their own choice or because of indiscretions that disqualify them from ministry are more and more common. This breaks my heart and creates an intense desire in me to finish well and help my friends do so as well.

I once heard a man say

You need a group of friends around you who love you, but aren’t impressed by you.

This kind of group insures that there are people who want whats best for you and they don’t have a false sense of reality about who or what you are.

I’m thankful that I have those kinds of friends. My prayer is that I will lean into these friends and they will lean into me and in the end we’ll all be better for it.

A few months ago I saw a minister acting irresponsibly on Twitter. It was so juvenile and “unChristian” in my opinion that I said to some friends in a group text message:

I believe this shows that he doesn’t have anybody in his life who will tell him he’s being an idiot and to stop it. Just so you know, you guys always have that permission in my life.

I reaffirmed to my friends last week that they have permission to call me out when my behavior would begin to disqualify me for ministry, discredit me from preaching the Gospel or put the future of my marriage and family in jeopardy. I told my staff this week that they have that permission as well. I also told them I was taking that permission in their lives. An awkward conversation or two is well worth it to salvage my life, marriage or ministry.

Who have you given that permission to?