After several years I’ve decided to shut this blog down for good. It’s had its time in the sun. I started it back in 2002 and there’s a lot of stuff here I’m proud of, some I’m not so proud of, and much I would delete if I were willing to put in the time. Still, it is what it is and I’ll leave it here for posterity, but this blog is officially dead.
Those of you interested in reading what I do write in the future should check out the new blog I’m starting to take this one’s place. It will serve much the same function this one did when I posted regularly – a place for me to share my thoughts on a number of topics that matter to me. I am such a different man than the one that started this blog nine years ago and I believe it’s time to leave this blog in the past.
Goodnight, sweet exercise in narcissism.
My brother is a bit of a Dave Ramsey fanboy so I took great pleasure in gloating to him via text that I was close to his hero. Ramsey has built a very successful organization meant to help people be smart with their money and avoid debt at all costs. There’s probably a pun in there somewhere.
One thing that stuck with me from Ramsey’s talk was a story he shared about a company picnic. He employs around 300 people and holds a big family picnic every year with inflatable jump houses, barbecue, and whatever else he can do to show his appreciation for the employees. As he arrived at the picnic he looked at this field full of kids running everywhere playing and he asked his teenage son what he saw.
“Lots of kids,” was his son’s predictable reply. Ramsey saw more than that, of course. If he didn’t it would be a pretty dumb story.
Ramsey said that if he, as the leader of his organization and the employer of the parents of these children, makes a really stupid decision – it would affect all of them. With all the blessings he enjoys as the leader of a successful organization, he also has the great responsibility of knowing that his actions impact a lot of people in significant ways. I thought this was a novel way to communicate the principle anybody in leadership has heard a million times: leadership is service.
Through his talk Ramsey shared five principles that guide him as he leads his organization. They were pretty standard – People Matter, Incredible Team and Culture Matter, Slow and Steady Matters, Financial Principles Matter, and A Higher Calling Matters. He had good things to say about all of those principles. A few notes I took that stuck with me most:
“When you get on fire about taking care of the needs of others, courage comes over you.”
“A great team gives you courage.”
"The tortoise wins every time; you don’t finish if you don’t do the little things right.”
“Practice excellence in the ordinary.” These last two in particular got me thinking about the day-in-day-out practice in my classroom. I want every day, every lesson plan to be excellent, not just so-so.
“When you have a pile of money and no debt, you have more courage.” Ramsey is rabidly opposed to debt, even to the point of discouraging student loans. While I’m not quite on the same page with him there, I do think this statement is true and helps demonstrate that the way you manage your money is more than just a money thing. When you’re stressed out about whether or not you can pay the bills, you are less likely to take some risks that you might otherwise take. When you have some savings and you don’t have some debt, some things you just assume you couldn’t do become possible.
The first speaker at Catalyst West Coast this year was Andy Stanley. The theme of the conference was “Take Courage,” and he admitted resisting the temptation to preach a sermon encouraging us to be brave like David or Gideon or Noah. While sermons along those lines have truth in them, it can be a challenge to relate to them when the chances of you having an army you need to whittle down to the faithful few are pretty small. There’s also the fact that if you’ve been around church long at all, you’ve heard plenty of sermons like that. Andy took a different route, and I’m glad he did.
Before he got into his message, though, I could tell he was bugged by the inability of this room full of alleged adults to control themselves with the little poppy things we’d been given. You remember those little boxes from when you were a kid – they were full of little bags of powder or something that would *bang* when you threw them at the ground? Somebody thought it would be a good idea to put one of those boxes under each seat. So many people couldn’t help themselves and kept messing with them long beyond the time they should’ve been. I found Stanley’s lack of amusement with them amusing. And he was right on. Anyway.
Here are a few of the highlights I got from his message:
The person engaging in an act of courage usually has no idea what the ramifications or impact of that decision will be. We’re not living in movies, and the orchestra doesn’t tense up when we’re about to make a climactic choice. We go through life and make the choices we’re presented with. Some have big impact and others little – but we don’t know which is which.
While our stories aren’t likely to be on the front page of the newspaper, we’ll face moments/opportunities/challenges that will require us to exercise the extraordinary courage we so often shrink from.
He then went on to describe three (he said four but ran out of time) faces of courage – times when courage may be required for us to move forward into God’s best plan for our life.
One of those situations was having the courage to ask for help when it would be easier to pretend that everything’s okay. The secrets you have influence the way you lead. You compensate for your secrets in ways you don’t notice but the others around you do. He called those who needed help but didn’t get it chickens.
We don’t ask for help because we’re afraid of what others might find out about us, or what we might discover about ourselves. But the real thing we need to fear, according to Stanley, is waking up one day and realizing we are outside of God’s will for our lives. If we are to lead, we need confidence that God is with us. If I’m not confident I’m where God wants me to be, how am I going to lead with confidence?
Do I fear being out of God’s will more than poverty? Irrelevance? The opinions of others?
I think what stuck with me most from his talk was something he said toward the end:
One day, everything I’m going through right now will just be a story. All the stresses, pressure, hopes, worries, doubts, fears, responsibilities – all of it will be a story. When this chapter of my life is over, what story do I want to tell about it?
“It would’ve been easier to X, so I did.”
“I was afraid of Y, so I didn’t.”
For some reason that really resonated with me. I can think back to so many situations and times in my life where I was consumed with one thing or another, worrying about this decision or that decision – and now they’re stories. I wonder how many stories I missed out on because I wussed out? I do not want to wuss out. I want my greatest fear to be that I’m out of God’s will for my life. I’m not sure it is. But I want it to be, and I will be praying for God to make it so.
I had the privilege this past week to attend Catalyst West 2011 with a team from South Bay Church. It was a fantastic experience but, as Matt Chandler said, a bit like trying to drink from a firehose. There’s a lot to work through. In an attempt to process some of what I heard and think about it a bit more, I’ve decided to resurrect my blog with a series of posts related to Catalyst. I need to force myself to write and think.
When Filipe sent out an email informing us that South Bay had tickets for those who wanted to go to Catalyst I assumed I wouldn’t be able to go. The conference was just a few weeks after Janelle’s due date. I didn’t dare ask to take an out of town trip and leave my wife with a newborn, a 16 month old, and a four year old. I’m smarter than that.
Janelle actually brought it up to me and said she felt like I should go. I did my best to pretend to struggle with saying yes and snagged South Bay’s last ticket. Fiona was just one month old but Janelle blessed the heck out of me by taking care of our girls while I left her alone from Wednesday-Saturday. I’ve said it before and I will be saying it until the day I die – one of the greatest evidences of God’s love for me is the amazing woman He gave me to spend my life with.
I had a lot of fun at the conference getting to spend some time with people from South Bay and strengthen some existing friendships as well as make some new ones. As far as the conference itself, there were some fantastic sessions and some not-so-fantastic ones. I did my best to get what I could out of everything and open myself up to whatever God had for me. Over the next few posts I’ll share my thoughts on the conference and some of what I got from it.
Yes it’s been a long time. I appreciate those of you who do check in on my blog, and I haven’t completely abandoned it (despite evidence to the contrary). I’ve taken up two new things that I wanted to pass along to you who already read some of what I write:
First, www.perduecommunication.com. I am starting to do some freelance writing and communication consulting on the side, and that’s the site for it. Any kind of writing you (or someone you know) needs done, I can do. Website content, marketing materials, business materials, resumes/cover letters…I can also do coaching for public speaking engagements or job interviews. Check out the site and pass it along.
Second, www.bettercommunicating.com. This is a new blog I’m starting that will be based on communication. In it I will talk about anything related to communication. It will focus on getting better at communication, and discussing communication in various situations/venues. On the job, in relationships, whatever. So add that to your RSS feeder or check in on it regularly, and I’d be much obliged. It might even do something for you too.
This week Janelle was reading something I’d written about what Belle was saying before her 2nd birthday. As she read it we realized we’d both forgotten about Belle ever saying those things. It was a reminder to me that I need to be better about jotting stuff down when she does it, so we don’t forget. She does so many cute/impressive/wonderful things on a regular basis that it’s easy to have them slip by without writing them down.
Last night it was a serious battle trying to get Belle to go to sleep. She asked “why do we have to go night night every day?!” After Janelle and I read her several stories and left her to fall asleep, she started to fuss and cry and get out of bed. We left the lights on (she has a princess Christmas tree that is really bright in and of itself, and she wanted her lamp on) but that wasn’t enough.She threw all the bedding off her bed and screamed things like:
“I really miss Mommy and Daddy!”
“Daddy! DADDY! Come here!”
“I don’t want to go night night.”
And my favorite…
“I’ll never sleep! Never!”
During a lull in her tantrum I came in and started to talk to her. I don’t know exactly what I did or how I did it but I convinced Belle it would be cool if I put the stuff back on her bed (with her showing me where it all goes). Then I laid in there and talked to Belle for probably ten minutes before leaving. This time she let me go and fell asleep peacefully.
We talked about what she would be doing soon, and we talked about what it will be like when I take her to see The Princess and the Frog. It’s going to be the very first movie she sees in a theater. She asked if they had blankets and pillows at the theater in case she gets cold. When I told her they didn’t, she asked if she could bring her own blanket.
I also told her about how you give your ticket to the man or lady and they rip it, then give it back to you.
“I will not say thank you to the lady,” she said. When I asked why, she replied “because I will be shy.”
I love my little girl. I went from absolute frustration and exasperation to utter amazement and thankfulness to God in the span of an hour. Parenthood rules.
The phrase “serve God” is used frequently in religious and spiritual circles. Through books, sermons, radio shows, conversations, and more we get lots of information on what it means to “serve God.” In my years of observing, listening to, and often speaking on this topic I believe the concept of serving God is something Christians (both laypeople and clergy) misunderstand.
This will not be an exhaustive post on the topic but rather something that has occurred to me more and more over the years. I worked at a church for several years as a youth pastor and since the beginning of 2008 have been working full-time in public school. I attend church and volunteer. I begin with a statement I learned to be quite true when I worked as a pastor:
Those who are not in ministry really do not know what it is like to be in ministry. I think the pastors I know would agree with this wholeheartedly. Almost as a rule the pastors I know personally are among the most hardworking, dedicated men and women I’ve ever met. They are doing their best to serve God and view their work not just as work but as a calling and privilege. I won’t go into too much detail about the kind of work and sacrifice being a vocational minister is but suffice it to say – unless you work (or worked) in ministry you really do not know what it is like.
Since I’ve been out vocational ministry, however, something else has become just as clear to me:
Those who are working in ministry really do not know what it is like to not be working in ministry.
There are of course degrees and variations on this – but I think it is a sound statement.
A large portion of church activity rests on volunteers, and rightly so. Pastors are not called to do everything – rather their job is to equip the saints for doing God’s work (Ephesians 4). Entire books have been written on what the job of a pastor really is, and I’m not going to delve into that here. But no matter your position on how closely a pastor should resemble a CEO or how available they should be to their congregation, any healthy Biblically-based view of the role of a pastor involves their preparing the laypeople for their ministry and acts of service.
I also believe it is not the obligation of every Christian to volunteer to serve at their church on a regular basis. You can be a completely healthy, devoted, passionate follower of Jesus and a great member of a church while volunteering only occasionally if at all.
This is almost anathema to the way I thought when I worked in ministry. I did not understand what the deal was with people who wouldn’t be willing to give up an hour on a Sunday or Wednesday or whatever to serve God by setting up sound equipment or picking up garbage or watching kids or whatever else. Jesus died on the cross for you and you’re going to dodge when I ask you to come every other Sunday a couple hours early to help get things ready for the church service where the gospel will be preached? Come on, man!
This is the mindset of one who works in ministry and does not understand what it is like to not work in ministry. It was my mindset when I was in ministry and I am absolutely not alone. This is a very common mindset.
Sometimes pastors (and then their congregants) subtly conflate “serve God” with “volunteer at church.” Because the pastors view their job as their calling, because building the church is what they are giving their life to, there is a tendency to assume this is what everybody’s life is to be given to. If someone is not volunteering at the church in some capacity then they are not really serving God the way they should be. They are holding back; they are not fully surrendered to God and are being selfish with their time. This misunderstanding can lead to all manner of frustration on behalf of pastors and parishioners as they talk past one another.
There is so much I could write on this topic and its corollaries. Maybe I will one day. Instead I will just get to my conclusion before I ramble on any more.
Serving God by volunteering at a church is a great way to serve God, but if it is the only way you are serving God you are not, I would argue, serving God the way He asks in Scripture. I would go so far as to say that serving God by volunteering at a church should be one of the first things to go when you go through busy seasons of life and something has to be cut out.
Unfortunately what well-meaning people usually cut out before they cut out “serving God” (when serving God = volunteering at church) are things like spending time with friends who aren’t at church, time with family (extended or immediate), being a part of the greater community, and so on. But this is where we need passionate Jesus-lovers spending more time and energy serving God. When someone doesn’t have time to spend with people outside of church because they are too busy volunteering at church, there is a problem. Not only that, but, if we convince people that serving God=volunteering at church we can give them a false sense of their own Christ-likeness.
“Am I living the gospel with my family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and community? Heck if I know, but I am putting out cookies on Sunday morning, so I’m serving God with my life!”
Obviously that is a bit of an exaggeration to make the point, but the point stands. Serving God is much more complex than volunteering to help out at church. Not only that, but I know times when I assumed a degree of spiritual maturity due to a person’s steadfastness as a volunteer on a team – and I was wrong. People need to be taught things like:
How do I serve God at work?
How do I serve God in the way I treat my family?
How do I serve God in the way I handle my wealth and possessions?
How do I serve God through being a part of the community?
How do I serve God with my neighbors?
As people learn those things, they need to know it is okay to take the necessary time to put them into practice, even if that means they don’t volunteer at church.
If our goal truly is the spread of the gospel – if our goal is truly the spread of Jesus’ love Jesus’ way – then I cannot reconcile a demand for volunteerism at the expense of community and relational involvement. And for the majority of people who do not work in ministry, this is the cost of being a regular, committed volunteer at church.
You have two days off if you work a full-time job. You spend the other five days working hard away from your family, brushing up against people, maybe going to a Bible study one night a week, and living your life. If you’re lucky you have a few hours at the end of the day to spend with your family (with whatever energy you have left). It’s also possible you spend those weekday nights simply taking care of the house/family and getting ready for work the next day. It is during those days that one should be considering how to serve God. It is during those days that we earn the opportunity to build relationships with people that we could then spend time with on the weekend (actually building and maintaining a relationship), if we weren’t busy volunteering at church or going to church events.
But even if a person could volunteer at church and maintain a healthy schedule but chooses not to because they want to spend more time with friends or family or as a part of the community – I see nothing wrong with that. If they are serious about serving God wherever they are, then that is what they will do. The job of the church is to encourage them to serve God wherever they spend their time.
If all of our non-work time is spent doing church things or with church people, then we have become residents of the “Christian Bubble” and convinced ourselves it is Godliness when in fact we are insulating ourselves from the very people who need to hear and see the gospel most. Inviting people to church is not adequate gospel-love-spreading. It is not evangelism.
Many people waste their time, or are selfish with their time, and it is important for the church to challenge that in Christ-followers. There is a lot to be gained by volunteering and being part of the team at a church. I did so before I worked in the ministry and continued to do it after leaving vocational ministry. I plan on doing so moving forward. But it is not the measuring stick of a devoted follower of Christ, and we make it one to the detriment of not only those who are seeking to know more about and follow Jesus better but also to the detriment of the broader community that is deprived of the time and energy of these people.