Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lent's Do This Thing!

Let's start with a confession:

I have never given up anything for Lent.

There. I said it. I know, I'm a pastor, a professional Christian, and I've never given anything up?! I'll give you a minute to sit down and compose yourself.

Actually, if you really know me, you probably don't find it very shocking at all. You know how many faults and foibles I have, so this confession probably comes as little or no surprise.

I did not grow up in a church tradition that placed much emphasis on Lent, and certainly did not encourage giving things up for it. So it wasn't until I got to seminary that this became a part of my consciousness. And since then, I have approached it with some amount of skepticism. I just wondered if giving up chocolate or caffeine will really draw someone closer to Jesus. And isn't that the ultimate goal, becoming more like Jesus? It always seemed to be more of a form of self-flagellation exercise than a 'how can I follow Jesus more closely through prayer and repentance?' exercise. Self-flagellation for the purpose of abusing oneself I don't see being particularly beneficial to the believer or her relationship with the God who loves her.

The being said, I have decided to finally give up something for Lent. Or maybe I should say somethings, since there are two things. I mean, I have lost time to make up for, so why stop at one. Why am I choosing to do this after so many years of skepticism? Because there are many areas that I can identify in my life that are getting in the way of truly following Jesus and loving others. That being said, I am doing this to improve my ultimate relationship and with those close to me, not simply to abuse myself. Without further ado, here are the two things I am planning on sacrificing for Lent:

Those of you who know me are right now probably thinking, "He'll maybe make it to Thursday afternoon, but I wouldn't bet on it." I have identified this as a problem area for me for many years, but I haven't done anything substantial about it. For the most part, my sarcasm is not harsh or intended for harm, so some would say, "What's the big deal?" The big deal has two parts. First, it can harm. I generally use sarcasm with people that I assume can take it and won't be hurt by it. But people have a great ability to hide their true feelings, and my words can deep down be hurting them, and that is not cool. My words should provide healing and encouragement, not harm. Second, the majority of the time my sarcasm is intended to show people how funny and clever I can be. I don't need the spotlight on me. God has called me to be humble and to shine the spotlight on Him, and if changing how I use my tongue can give Him more glory and honor, then I want to do that.

We discussed this a while back in our weekend services as being spiritual apathy, but I'm approaching it from the angle that most people do: laziness. Exercise has not been a regular part of my repertoire for quite a while now, and it's starting to take a toll in how I look and feel. But this is not just about me. I want to be around for my wife and kids for a long time, and I don't want my selfish desire to sleep in and eat a lot and sit around get in the way of that happening. So I will start exercising. The other things I plan to do is have my desk at work modified. I read a blog post recently by Michael Hyatt about how damaging sitting down is to our bodies. I sit a lot at work. Today I will have a conversation with our facilities manager about the possibility of making a podium that will sit on my desk that I can use the majority of the time so I spend less time sitting. It may also have the side benefit of keeping me from sitting at my desk so much and getting me out of the office.

I thought about adding a third 'S' - smoking - because that's my standard answer to the question, "What are you giving up for Lent?" But then, I guess that would violate the Sarcasm pledge.

What are you giving up for Lent? And more importantly, why? I'd love to hear your comments below.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Leading Teenagers to Wholeheartedly Follow Jesus Christ

I recently asked several youth ministry co-workers this question:

We are in the beginning stages of rethinking and (potentially) overhauling our youth ministry. The mission statement of our church is 'leading people to wholeheartedly follow Jesus Christ.' Up 'til now, we have had our own, separate mission statement which, while it has been good, has made us complicit in silo-izing our youth ministry. So I feel like our mission statement needs to be 'leading teenagers to wholeheartedly follow Jesus Christ.' That being said, I have this question:

What are the non-negotiables to what a person who wholeheartedly follows Jesus Christ looks like?

Here are the responses I have received thus far:

Andy Stanley has a Checkpoints book that isn't a bad starting point.  – Brian Jones – Colonial Church / Edina, MN

Thanks for including me on this. I would have to say that wholeheartedly following Jesus would have to be centered on the three priorities that Jesus had for his disciples in John 15.
1.       A Growing Commitment to Christ (15:7-11)
2.       A Growing Commitment to the Body of Christ – The Church (15:12-17)
3.       A Growing Commitment to the Work of Christ in the World – Personal Evangelism and Missions (15:18-19, 21, 26-27) – Todd Erickson – Second Presbyterian Church / Memphis

love god, love others.  any more of a list can spiral out of control.  wrap your minds around those 2 things and you will have fun coming up with ideas to fulfill those 2 commands. – Scott Russ – Epiphany UMC / Loveland, OH

Here are my quick thoughts on the non-negotiables of a person who follows Christ wholeheartedly.
      I think they need to have accepted the grace of Jesus.
     They need to continually explore with their brain the truths of scripture.
     They need to experience God through worship.
  They need to express God's love and mercy to others.  They can't be the end point of grace. – Rob Bergman – Windsor Crossing Church / St. Louis

Obedience, trust, gratitude – Hal Hamilton – First UMC / Tulsa

We also recently adopted our church's mission statement. "Making disciples of Jesus Christ who love God, love others and serve the world."
     Love God = commitment to worship
     Love others = commitment to community (small groups)
     Serve the world = service and mission
To me, these are key components of a disciple. – Johnny Brower

Great Commandment and Great Commission – David Thompson

Service to the church, community and the "world" – Jeff Hogg – North Cross UMC / Madisonville, LA

What would you add to this list? Subtract? Tweak?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lessons on Leadership from Really Bad Singing

On Friday night I got to attend the volunteer appreciation banquet that our Children's Ministry area had. Two days before that my friend and co-worker Angel asked if I would be willing to help out with a performance at the banquet. It would involve singing, and since I did some singing in high school (OK, so that was 25 years ago - leave me alone!), I thought, "Why not? Sounds like fun." What I didn't know was that we would be performing - or attempting to perform - a parody of Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Keep in mind that Queen was comprised of operatically-trained singers with years of practice, and that we would have an hour-and-a-half to work on it the day before the big day. No pressure.

So the five of us who would be performing gathered in our worship arts office suite and started 'working on it.' Three of us had significant music performance experience...and then there was me and Kim, another sucker. As we started, I don't think I've ever felt that much in the dark before. They just played the karaoke version of the song and picked out their parts as easily as they had poured milk on their morning cereal. Meanwhile, I had no flipping idea what I was supposed to be singing. Sure, they gave me the first note, which was swell, but after that, I was as lost as Tom Hanks in Castaway. As they sang and had a good time - I had a good time, too - I thought, "I am SO screwed! It's a good thing that I won't be performing this in front of hundreds of people. Oh wait, I am?!? AAAHHHHH!!!!" As I type this, the big performance is in a few hours and I am looking for my raincoat to fend off the rotten fruit thrown my way.

I had a couple of thoughts during this experience:

Don't Assume
Because you know what that does to you and me, right? If you are a leader, don't assume that everything that makes sense to you makes sense to everyone else. You are a leader because you have been doing what you have been doing for a long time, usually. And the people you are leading may just be beginning. Don't assume that they are at your level or know what you know. You need to train them well so that they can be on the way of knowing what you know. And make sure you stop along the way to make sure they are still feeling good and not overwhelmed (like I felt, not knowing what I should be singing). And maybe, just maybe, that person is not cut out for the job that is assigned to them. A good leader must be able to recognize that and make the tough call of reassigning them for the good of all those involved.

Ask For Help
Just because you are a leader doesn't mean you know everything. You have people who know more than you do. You feel clueless about stuff. Don't try and play it off like you have it all figured out, because you don't. A good leader is humble enough to be willing to say, "Can we stop for a minute? I have no clue what I'm supposed to be singing here." It's for your best interest, and that of your organization, that you continue to learn and ask questions.

Have you ever felt this way? How does this apply to your leadership area?

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Lessons in Leadership from a Children's Ministry Volunteer

A few weeks ago I was shopping in Barnes and Noble with my family. I was walking hand-in-hand with Colin while Marcy and Hanna were elsewhere. As we walked by the aisles, Colin noticed one of his teachers from the Reign Forest, our Children's Ministry. He said, "Hey Dad, that's Mr. Jim" (Names have not been changed so as to give props where props are due) I asked him if he wanted to go say hi, and he got real shy. But when I asked him if he would go if I went with him, he said yes. I called out to Mr. Jim as we approached him. He turned and his face lit up when he saw us. He walked over to us and - this was the part that got me - got down on both knees in the store and talked with Colin. I might as well have been invisible as they carried on a conversation about what we were doing and what we were shopping for. In my short time as a parent, I don't think I've been that impressed with anyone who has had contact with one of my kids. I learned a few lessons in leadership that day:

Take The Time
Mr. Jim didn't have to give my kid the time of day. He could have simply smiled, maybe even waved, and then gone about his business. But he put away the book he was looking at, and walked over to Colin to talk to him. Are the people you lead getting the time and attention the deserve? Sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking my 'work' is more important than the people. People are keeping me from getting my real work done. But as a leader and a pastor, people ARE my work. Anyone who holds any sort of leadership position needs to recognize this fact: People are your work, so take the time they need and deserve.

Get On Your Knees
Mr. Jim very easily could have had a conversation with Colin as he towered over him, but instead he got down on his knees so he could look him in the eye at his level. As leaders and as ministers we need to make sure we are so arrogant to think that we are better or more important than those we lead and minister to. We may know more and may have spent more money on our education, but we are no different. So we need to be willing to get on the same level as our people where there is a perceived difference. The Church has a big fancy word for this: incarnation. Jesus took on flesh so He could get on our level and see the word from our perspective. When Mr. Jim got on his knees, he became a 5 1/2 year old boy so he could connect with another one. Until we spend time in their world, we won't understand it.

Avoid Distractions
When Mr. Jim was talking to Colin, I probably could have walked away and no one would have noticed. That's how focused Mr. Jim was on my son. When we are spending time with those we are leading, are we 100% there, or are we too distracted by other things going on around us. When you are meeting with someone and your phone buzzes letting you know you have a text, do you read it and answer it right away? If so, what does that communicate to that person sitting across from you? Are you listening to that other person, I mean really listening, or are you thinking about what you will say in response? If you're meeting at a coffee shop, are you focused on the other person or by all the activity around you? As leaders we must be willing to put on blinders to give our people the attention they need a deserve. (Side note: This really applies to families, too. Maybe it goes without saying. Probably not.)

What do you think? Were there any other lessons I missed?