my schedule in new zealand (pray for me!)

i’m flying to new zealand tonight for a crazy-short and insanely full weekend. i love this country and its people, and have great friends there. but i could use your prayers for stamina and impact this weekend; but here’s what it looks like:
nz

  • tuesday night (west coast USA) through thursday afternoon (NZ): fly san diego to los angeles to sydney to auckland
  • thursday afternoon: get driven to hamilton (should be 1.5 hours, but it’s a holiday weekend, and could take twice that)
  • friday: two main session talks to 5500 teenagers at the north eastercamp, and one seminar
  • friday night: immediately following my evening main session talk, get driven 6.5 hours down to wellington, arrive in the middle of the night and sleep a few hours.
  • saturday: two main session talks to 1600 teenagers at the central eastercamp, and one seminar
  • saturday night: overnight at a wellington airport hotel
  • sunday morning: early flight to christchurch
  • sunday: two main session talks to 5000 teenagers at the south eastercamp
  • sunday night: overnight somewhere
  • monday: fly back to hamilton for debriefing and hangout with organizers, then get driven back up to the auckland airport
  • monday night: overnight in auckland airport hotel
  • tuesday morning: fly home, auckland to sydney to san francisco to san diego

whew. i’m winded and jetlagged just typing this!

this kid (reflections on my son leaving for 4 months)

my son max is just over 17 years old. he’s a junior in high school. and i am just blown away by how awesome he is.

i mean, his humor and quirkiness and musical passion and curiosity are all aspects of the joy he brings to our home and to others. but it’s his heart for others–particularly for those in need–that brings me pride and wonder.

i know this could sound like bragging. maybe it is. but i see this all as cause for thankfulness, not cause for self-congratulation. here are a few things he’s been involved in over the past few years:

as a junior higher, max started participating in a ministry loosely connected with our church, called Hope for the Homeless. every friday night, for about a decade (they have never, ever missed a week–and that consistency has been the secret sauce), a group of people from my church make sandwiches, then head downtown to hand them out to homeless people and engage in relationships. because of the consistency, the ministry has been been much more about humanizing people than about the sandwiches. when max started participating, they didn’t have other junior highers involved. it was all high school and college students, and a few adults. max went weekly for years, and still goes occasionally. the result is that max knows homeless people in san diego by name, and they know him. he knows their stories. when we’re downtown, they call out to him.

IMG_5691a little over a year ago, max started a ‘social justice club’ at his tiny private high school. it morphed into something else, and max isn’t currently leading it; but one of his first actions was to get his classmates to join him in sponsoring a World Vision sponsor child. to this day, max collects funds and manages that relationship and support (i have never helped on this at all, financially or otherwise).

when it was time for max to phase out of being the drummer for our church’s preteen ministry, he took it upon himself to raise up replacements. he coached, taught and encouraged a couple young drummers. one of those is now a freshman in high school and max’s back-up as the drummer in the high school ministry worship band.

max has always had a heart for haiti (even before the earthquake). he went with me on a Praying Pelican Missions trip to haiti a couple years ago, which ramped up his passion. last year, max was part of a month-long trip to haiti to put on a music day camp designed to give dignity to restaveks (haitian child slaves). he organized a small benefit concert to raise funds. and he worked to procure dozens of donated instruments.

in light of all this, the tiny nonprofit hosting the music camp–called Gabriel’s Promise–asked max to be their marketing manager. to this end, max has sought out coaching from a friend of ours who’s a marketing consultant.

this year, in preparation for the second music camp, max has seriously ramped it up on the benefit concert. he put together an informational packet about Gabriel’s Promise, met with the manager of one of the top music venues in San Diego (called Soma), and got them to agree to host the benefit. he recruited a half dozen of the top local music acts to perform. he worked with a designer through fivver to get a design and poster, started a facebook event, and recruited a team of high schoolers to be something of a street team, promoting the event. he shot short videos with the bands to promote the event. and he’s working to sell the thing out.

this is where the challenge entered.

with max’s desire to work in global development, he has felt it would be good to get a better handle on spanish (he takes it in school, but is FAR from fluent). so: two weeks ago, an opportunity came up for max to do a 2.5 month foreign exchange in peru. in many ways, it’s perfect: max’s class is going to peru for a class trip (sort of a service trip combined with a trip to machu pichu). the opportunity was to stay after the class returns, attending a sister school of his own. that meant no additional flight costs. but it also meant max would have to miss the benefit concert he has poured himself into. and he would miss the final months of fun with his many friends who are seniors (mostly his church friends). these are big losses for max, understandably. but he’s making the choice (with encouragement from us, but not pressure) to do what’s best for his long-range goals.

as a result: max leaves in a week for four months. the first three weeks will be his class trip; then he’ll stay in peru for 2.5 months of foreign exchange, living in the home of a peruvian classmate who will live with us for three months next fall; then he flies directly from peru to haiti to participate in the music day camp for child slaves. we won’t see him until the very end of july (when he plans on quickly turning around and working at a camp for a couple weeks).

i can barely imagine how much we’re going to miss him (i leave for new zealand tomorrow night, so today and tomorrow are my last days with him). with riley away at college, max is the center of much of what happens in our home. and he brings a significant amount of humor and joy to our daily lives. it’s going to rough for us (and i’m sure, at times, for him). i’m pretty sure that he’ll come back to us quite different (mostly in good ways, but there’s some loss in that for us also).

but, dang, i am so proud of him. godspeed, son. your dad loves you.

FRIDAY NUGGET: preventing or navigating conflict with your church leadership

In my coaching groups, I regularly try to help youth workers navigate tension and conflict with their church leadership (senior pastor, or other leadership). Here’s a quick list of practices that can prevent conflict, or help you navigate it if it already exists:

  • Continually clarify and unearth expectations
  • Exercise curiosity; Look for the “positive intent”
  • Be honest with myself about my own motives, desires, and dreams
  • Exercise full disclosure, even when it feels like the wrong move in the short run
  • Look at your contribution to any failure, even if it was only 10% of the problem
  • Hold these two things in tension:
  1. Don’t add drama (don’t make things personal, don’t assume motive)
  2. Enter courageously into places of conflict

Hopecasting excerpt: Post-Zombie Soul

hopecasting.coverhere’s a li’l tasty appetizer from my brand new book, Hopecasting: Finding, Keeping and Sharing the Things Unseen

The 2013 zombie film Warm Hearts was extremely unique for this weird film genre: it’s a zombie love story. I remember watching it on a trans-Pacific flight in the middle of the night, having not heard of it before finding it on my seat-back on-demand video screen. And I remember being very pleasantly surprised.

The film’s tag line summarizes the plot, in a sense: He’s still dead, but he’s getting warmer. Basically, it’s the story of a zombie guy whose heart gets a super tiny jump-start when he sees a live (non-zombie) young woman. He ends up saving her, and they’re forced to spend a bunch of time together in his proto-hipster bachelor pad while the zombie hordes move on by. But, of course, she begins to see the flickers of life in him just as he starts to feel them in himself. And love ensues! Yay!

What I found particularly unique about this zombie movie is that it was not about gore or horror or creative sound and visual effects (which are called for, I suppose, when the script calls for the eating of humans). At its heart (ha!), Warm Hearts is a film about feeling. It’s not-so-subtle message is “to be dead is to feel nothing; even those who no longer feel anything can come back to life, to feeling.” There’s also a subtle message, an exploration of the soulless zombies that only commodify others for consumption, and how some of the nonzombies in the film fit that description just as easily. Hopeless people are hollow people, zombie or not, and they use others to stave off their emptiness.

In my own mini-exile, I came face to face with the fact that I had developed a zombie soul. In order to press through a horrendous season of life, I had shut down my feelings. And while the soul and feelings are not synonymous, I’m not sure it’s possible to have a vibrant soul without authentic feelings. They’re both symbiotic prerequisites of one another.

Lots of people, I’ve found, live with a zombie soul. They’re going through the movements of life. They may even be going through the movements of a spiritual life. But there’s no blood pumping. And there is—by choice or external force—a complete shutting down of honest feelings.

In my own little way, I lived the story of R, the zombie in Warm Hearts. The rekindling of my soul was a love interest, just like his. But it wasn’t a girl. My love interest—the gentle and present heart sparker of my story—was none other than the Creator of my heart.

FRIDAY NUGGET: Vibrant Youth Ministry in 4 Steps

if i could re-write and re-release my book, Youth Ministry 3.0, i would cut the current 6th (and final) chapter and replace it with a chapter that focuses on four things. embracing these four things, i’m convinced, is the pathway to a vibrant youth ministry in 2015. of course, there are plenty of other issues and practices we should consider; but these four are the common ground:

  1. Embrace change as normative. Lean into it.
  2. Develop a culture of experimentation.
  3. Cultivate the skill and practice of collaborative discernment.
  4. Contextualize.

(i plan on expanding this in one or more blog posts in the future; but i thought i’d toss it out as a Friday Nugget for now.)

FRIDAY NUGGET: What You Do is Not Who You Are

I spin plates. I’m really good at it. Do you know what I mean? I have so many tasks and projects and ideas that demand my attention and focus: they require that I keep reaching toward them, giving them a little spin, to keep them from crashing to the ground.

Someone once asked me if my concern was that I wouldn’t know what to do if one or more plates crashed to the ground. But that’s not my issue. The issue for me is that I’ve often not been convinced I would know who I am, in a deep inner-life sort of way, if the plates no longer required spinning. After all, plate-spinner has become an identity.

Maybe, like me, you’re a youth worker. You passionately pour yourself out into the projects and people of youth ministry. But that’s not who you are. Do you know that, at a deep level? Do you know that you are so much more than what you do?

I’ve been on a long journey to separate “who I am” from “what I do.” Or, as a wise person said to me, to turn both “who I am” and “what I do” over to the transformational, redemptive work of God. So, if you hear a loud ripping sound coming from San Diego, you can assume it’s me. Want to join me?

Mission, Community, and Word 3.0

one of my coaching program participants is a sharp young woman leading a wonderfully tiny youth ministry. i think it’s something like 8 regular teenagers, or something like that. tons of awesome in that, from my thinking: opportunities to turn on a dime and try new things.

recently, she was rethinking her program structure, particularly in response to reading Youth Ministry 3.0. she was feeling that her ministry was just too program heavy for its size. too much complexity, particularly in a small group, made the teens feel like they had to be at everything; which just wasn’t sustainable.

ashley came up with the idea that she’d like to consider alternating foci/purposes for their weekly meeting, rather than multiple programs for multiple foci/purposes. listening to her description of what she was trying to accomplish–the values of her ministry–we came up with three purpose words: Mission, Community, and Word.

she set out to experiment alternating between those three. a Mission week would get the teenagers doing something for others. a Community week would focus on developing belonging in the group. a Word week would focus on teaching and talking about the Bible. the fourth week in a month would either take a second dose of one of those three (most often, Word), or would be a week off.

i loved this. clean, clear, intentional.

2 Sentence Book Reviews: Christian Nonfiction

i’m overdue for some book reviews, and will be posting reviews of 23 books this week. as i’ve done in the past, i’m posting two sentence book reviews. in each case, the first sentence is a summary of the book; and the second sentence is my thoughts on the book. i include a 1 – 5 star rating also. and occasionally, i’ll have an additional note.

today we wrap things up with two christian nonfiction books. in both of these cases, i wrote official endorsements; i’ll forego my normal two-sentence reviews for the endoresments:

fellowship of differentsA Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together, by Scot McKnight
5 stars
*note: this book releases on february 24
my official endorsement:
One of my life values is that uniqueness is better than conformity, firmly believing (though I realize this is strong) that conformity only leads to death. This isn’t merely a selfish value, reflective of my undeniable quirks and general non-compliance. Instead, my work with church leaders shows me, over and over again, that healthy thriving churches are not only places of diversity, but they love that about themselves. A Fellowship of Differents will feel like a commendation to churches who already live in this tension, and like a loving and prophetic intervention for those who wrongly worship the god of sameness. Scot brings us story and biblical teaching about who we–the church–can be, at our very best.

Magnificent Mark: Unlock Your Awesomeness and Make Your Teenage Years Remarkable, by Danny Ray
4 stars
*note: this book releases in april
my official endorsement:
My favorite Bible verse in John 10:10, where Jesus tells us that he came “that they may have life, and have it to the full.” That fullness of life–what I long for–is a life available to teenagers. Jesus didn’t come to give us a life of drudgery or rules or religious performance. Magnificent Mark points readers to that full life, a life of purpose and passion, adventure and meaning.
magnificent mark

2 Sentence Book Reviews: Church Ministry or Youth Ministry-Related

i’m overdue for some book reviews, and will be posting reviews of 23 books this week. as i’ve done in the past, i’m posting two sentence book reviews. in each case, the first sentence is a summary of the book; and the second sentence is my thoughts on the book. i include a 1 – 5 star rating also. and occasionally, i’ll have an additional note.

today’s reviews are a mash-up category — some church ministry books and some youth ministry-related books (i call some of these ‘youth ministry-related,’ as they’re not really youth ministry books, but are books i’m reviewing for youth workers):

it's complicatedIt’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, by danah boyd
4.5 stars
research-based explanation of how and why teens use social media from the world’s leading expert. even though the book gets a bit repetitive at points, i wish i could get every parent of teenagers and every youth worker to read the introduction to this book.

bonhoeffer as youth workerBonhoeffer as Youth Worker: A Theological Vision for Discipleship and Life Together, by Andrew Root
5 stars
rather than my normal two sentences, here’s the official endorsement i wrote for must-read youth ministry book:
“Wow. I have, quite literally, never read a youth ministry book anything like this: full of history and story and theological articulation and implication. Absolutely fascinating.”

got religion?Got Religion?: How Churches, Mosques, and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back, by Naomi Schaefer Riley
5 stars
a journalistic overview of young adult ministries in various faiths, highlighting case studies of what’s working. story-driven and easy to read, i’ve started regularly recommending this book to those who care about the faith of college students and young adults.

brainstormBrainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, by Daniel J. Siegel MD
3 stars
understanding the teenage brain from a perspective of its power, specialization, and potential. often boring (i found the exercises to be annoying and useless filler) and off-subject, there are some stunning gems in here for those with the patience to sift.

more than just the talkMore Than Just the Talk: Becoming Your Kids’ Go-To Person About Sex, by Jonathan McKee
4 stars
rather than my normal two sentences, here’s the official endorsement i wrote for this parenting book:
So many books on this topic are written by people who don’t actually interact with real teenagers. But McKee is a practitioner first, a frontline youth worker with current and regular interactions with Christian teenagers wrestling with the intersection of their faith and their sexuality. Never condescending to teenagers or parents, Jon brings his blunt and honest writing style to a subject I wish more parents were talking about with their teens.

wrapping up this series tomorrow with two christian nonfiction books.

2 Sentence Book Reviews: Nonfiction

i’m overdue for some book reviews, and will be posting reviews of 23 books this week. as i’ve done in the past, i’m posting two sentence book reviews. in each case, the first sentence is a summary of the book; and the second sentence is my thoughts on the book. i include a 1 – 5 star rating also. and occasionally, i’ll have an additional note.

today’s reviews include 6 nonfiction books:

war of artThe War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield
5+ stars
understand and overcome your internal resistances to creative output. this is a must-read for anyone doing sort of work that is even remotely creative, which, really, should be pretty much all of us.

homeschool sex machineHomeschool Sex Machine: Babes, Bible Quiz, and the Clinton Years, by Matthew Pierce
4 stars
self-published, hilarious, autobiographical stories from the author’s teen years. so, so funny (particularly for those of us who grew up in the sometimes odd world of christendom); my only complaint was that i wanted it to be three times longer.

finding the space to leadFinding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership, by Janice Marturano
4 stars
the subtitle says it all: this book is about learning how to be present in the context of leaders. easy to read through a christian meditation lens, i found this book to be wonderfully helpful, and have used it now with a couple of my coaching groups.

henrietta lacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
5 stars
well-researched history and science about the most common cells in medical research, which were harvested, without permission, from a poor black woman. i’ve rarely read a book with such a stellar combination of science and story, all written in a compelling and accessible style with tons of subtext and ethical challenges.

dueling neurosurgeonsThe Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery, by Sam Kean
5 stars
the history of neuroscience, told via fascinating case studies. if you’ve ever thought about reading a book to understand the human brain better, but were worried it would be too technical or boring, this is the book you should read.

kingdom of iceIn the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, by Hampton Sides
4.5 stars
exquisitely detailed history of a failed polar voyage in the late 1800s. the quantity of detail was so well crafted that it never left me wanting less.

on deck for tomorrow: five church ministry and youth ministry-related books