Category Archives: faith

The Best Life

i’ve had a book about Hope percolating in me for almost five years. i’ve had a publishing contract for the book since last summer. i finished a draft of it about 6 weeks ago and sent it off to 6 readers (including two “theological readers”). last week i spent 3 days in the desert making corrections and tweaks based on feedback from the readers. and on saturday, i sent it off to the publisher. even if the book only sells three copies (me, my wife and my mom), this was a major deal for me, writing a book that expresses something deep from my soul, and not just my head.

here’s a tiny snippet from the last chapter…

The Best Life

The age-old existential question that has haunted philosophers and college sophomores for a very long time, is some version of “Why am I here?” Jesus gives us some fodder for consideration in what has become my favorite Bible verse:

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10b)

Remember: When Jesus says “they” in this verse, he’s talking about you.

Contrary to what one might assume by observing Christians in America, Jesus did not say:

  • I have come that you may get into heaven.
  • I have come that you may leave this lousy place one day in the future.
  • I have come that you may get serious about religion, finally.
  • I have come that you may experience your ship coming in.
  • I have come that you may know who’s “in” and who’s “out.”
  • I have come that you may stop disgusting me so much.

It’s a pretty revolutionary promise, really. Jesus wants you to experience a full life. That’s his verbatim explanation for his time on earth.

Why are you here? To have a full life.

So, what’s a full life, then?

I’m convinced, from scripture, observation of hopeful people, and my own experience, that a fullness of life burns most hot when I follow in the footsteps of Jesus and give my life away, bringing Hope to the hopeless.

As my more self-focused longings are filled with the pigment of Hope, they start to shift. Since Hope and longing are dancing the Tango, a shift in one shifts the other. My Hope increases, and my longings turn outward. My longings shift and my Hope needs a power boost.

This is the full life. This is the life we were invented for. This is God’s dream for you, a continual broadening of your longings and increase of Hope, put into action.

Zydeco Mass

my family attended an amazing, joy-filled Zydedo Mass eucharist service tuesday night with some friends, at st. paul’s episcopal church in san diego. it was an absolutely beautiful and unique worship experience. i captured some of it in short videos and photos. here’s a taste:

my family and a friend (not a video):

the processional

reading of scripture:

reading of the gospel (not a video):

“dance your offerings to the front”:


the washboard player was one of the only people who didn’t seem amused; but he was awesome in his own curmudgeonly way (not a video):

the recessional:

experiential, joy-filled worship, man. couldn’t all our churches use a bit more of that!?

Jean Valjean and the sparking of hope

here’s a little snippet of the writing i’ve been doing in the desert this week. this is the intro to the 8th chapter of the book (which is about hope). this chapter is tentatively called “Jesus, the Hope-Giver.”

My favorite Broadway musical is Cats.

That’s a lie, actually, and a glimpse into my strange sense of humor. Seriously, the percentage of normal, well-adjusted guys who love Cats has to be terribly small, right? Sorry if I’ve offended you. Sort of.

My favorite Broadway musical is Les Misérables. But to be honest, I prefer the film versions, because I can focus on the storyline more, not being distracted by the theatrics and staging. I was more upbeat about the 2012 version with Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, and Anne Hathaway than many people I know. And I was two-thumbs-up about the 2000 version with Gérard Depardieu and John Malkovich. But my favorite version of the story, by far, is the 1998 (non-musical) version starring Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, and a pre-Homeland Claire Danes.

I think the reason the 1998 version of “Les Mis” is my favorite is because it contains one of my all-time favorite scenes in any film, ever. It’s a scene in all versions of Les Mis, but none capture it quite like the 1998 film version.

You can skip reading this paragraph if you’re a Les Mis groupie, but to make sure everyone is on the same page: Les Miserables is the story (written as a book, by Victor Hugo, in 1862, and widely considered one of the best novels of the 19th century) of Jean Valjean, a peasant who steals a loaf of bread for his starving sister’s child and spends 19 years in prison for the crime. After his release, he breaks parole, and his hunted down by a law-obsessed police inspector named Javert. There’s much more to the story, of course. It’s an exploration of law and grace, loyalty, transformation, and redemption.

jean valjeanMy favorite scene occurs fairly early in the film, when Jean Valjean is first on the run for breaking parole. Turned away from multiple inns because his yellow passport marks him as a convict, Valjean is taken in by the town’s priest, Bishop Myriel. During the night, Valjean steals the rectory’s silverware. But he is caught, and policemen return him to and the silverware to the rectory to refute Valjean’s claim that the silverware was given to him, enroute to what will clearly be a return to prison.

Here’s the breathtaking scene. When the police ask the Bishop if the silverware is his, he responds that it was the rectory’s, but that Valjean is correct in stating it was a gift. As the police release Valjean and turn to leave, the Bishop continues, saying that Valjean had forgotten to take the silver candlesticks. Valjean’s face reveals confusion, and the Bishop re-iterates that the valuable candlesticks were part of the gift.

Pulling Valjean aside, Bishop Myriel quietly says, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil. With this silver, I have bought your soul. I’ve ransomed you from fear and hatred, and now I give you back to God.”

The scene is powerful to me (and thousands of others) on multiple levels:
• I am Valjean (and so are you). I do not deserve mercy, but have been shown it countless times, by my God and by people in my life.
• The “measure” of mercy is over the top: not only forgiveness, but a double-portion gift.
• This is a clear picture of Jesus, particularly through the lens of the Bishop’s final comment.
• As a follower of Jesus, I am called to live like this, to be a dispenser of this style of mercy, which I find simultaneously life-giving and completely counter to my instincts.

And the scene is a powerful picture of hope’s arrival. Valjean heads into the rectory courtyard, held by the policemen, completely without hope. Full of fear and absolutely demoralized, days out of exile and about to be returned. He leaves with a kernel of possibility starting to crack open in his heart.

This is Jesus, who shows up in the midst of our confusion and pain and fear, and surprises us with hope. Other than the fact that Valjean would not be returning to prison, the immediate circumstances of Valjean’s life are still difficult. But his imagination is sparked, a dream of a new potential, hope and longing commencing the Tango.

reflection questions for taking stock of your life

back in 2005, just before YS got sold to zondervan, i got sent on a sabbatical. i say “got sent on,” because i hadn’t actually asked for it. but it become apparent to my co-leaders and my boss that i was running on empty. i wasn’t empty yet — i wasn’t burned out. but i was in danger. so they graciously cut me off. three days later (literally), i was in hawaii starting 11 days by myself (i spent a month away from work — 100% disconnected — but the first 11 days were by myself, in hawaii). while this was critical for me, i also think we had a bit of a “this sort of thing will never again be possible after YS gets sold to zondervan/harpercollins/newscorp” understanding that fueled a few decisions like this!

the consultant who worked with our leadership team, mark dowds, gave me an assignment. every day i was to take one of the reflection questions below and think about it while taking an hour-long walk. he was insistent about me walking while meditating on the question. after the hour, i would come back and do some journaling about what i’d thought about, or heard from god. then i’d spend another chunk of time praying.

the whole thing had a profound impact on me. and in the years since, i’ve returned to these questions, and given them out to dozens of others (especially those who are headed out on a saabbatical).

it’s been a while, though. i’m completely loving what i get to do these days. but i have noticed that it’s 5% less fun than it was 6 months ago. i think that’s probably only because adam and i are doing too much, running too hard. we’re making some adjustments right now that i hope will help; but we haven’t seen the fruit of those adjustments yet.

IMG_3520so, when i head to the desert next week for a 3-day writing retreat, i think i’m going to spend some time with these questions again. maybe i’ll even walk a bit.

Where is my life going?

What do I want life to be like in 10 years (remove all fantasy and projection of anything material from your thoughts and get to the substance of life experience)?

What might God be trying to teach me?

Am I growing spiritually? Meditate on the fruit of the spirit (do I love more? am I more kind? etc.).

What moments in life have been the most pleasurable and God honoring? Revisist these times and reexperience them in your body.

What am I most afraid of and what can I discover about myself?

What changes am I going to make in life to be healthier in a holistic manner?

What can I do to relinquish more control in life in order to become more dependant on God for outcome?

What opportunities might this season be presenting me that I am not seeing?

If I was to make the gutsiest choice that could benefit my life and family more what would that choice be?

i STRONGLY encourage you to find a way to prayerfully consider these questions.

when god seems distant

Recently I was asked to speak on Psalm 139 for a youth worker’s spiritual retreat. Of course, Psalm 139 is such a familiar psalm (“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me… Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?… For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”). And I didn’t just want to offer clichés. Since it was a spiritual retreat, and the youth workers would be introduced to a variety of spiritual practices, I thought it might be helpful for me to approach the text the same way. So I spent some time approaching the Psalm with Lectio Divina, a wonderful process of reading the text slowly and prayerfully, inviting God to speak or nudge or prompt; and if or when a word or phrase catches your attention, to sit with that and ‘roll it around’ for a while, asking God to reveal what he wants to say to you about that particular idea.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting anything.

long country road

I read the Psalm slowly and prayerfully a few times from the NIV, and once from the RSV. Nuthin’. But then I read it slowly and prayerfully a couple times from The Message, and two phrases immediately jumped out at me. From verse 2: I’m an open book to you, even at a distance, you know what I’m thinking. And from verse 5: I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there, too—your reassuring presence, coming and going.

In the midst of this gorgeous poetry about God’s presence were two little acknowledgements of God’s absence. Or God’s apparent distance. And while I’m pretty into God’s ‘comings’, I’m not such a fan of god’s ‘goings’.

The dark night of the soul
John of the Cross came up with this nifty little phrase we still use back in the mid-1500s. Some of his explanation works for me, some leaves me a bit cold. But, knowing that all of us, myself included, experience times when God seems very distant and/or silent, it struck me that some of these youth workers would be coming to a three-day spiritual retreat stuck in that place, with a palpable fear that God would remain distant and silent throughout the retreat. So I compiled a little ‘off the top of my head’ list of thoughts for spirituality during the dark night, built on my assumption that: When God seems distant, it’s rarely because he actually is. It’s usually because there’s something preventing us or blocking us from seeing or knowing his presence.

1. Hold firmly to the truth that faith is a choice.
I’m not talking about the free will/predestination debate here. I’m suggesting that almost everyone who goes through times of God’s distance or silence and comes out the other side, describes how formative it was in their own faith development. So in a time of God’s apparent distance, one of the most important disciplines we can exercise is to choose, each day, to be a person of faith. In times like this, faith has very little to do with emotion or feelings.

2. Hold two things in tension:
Release yourself from any guilt over being in this place (as if God is distant because you were bad), while being ruthless in looking for roadblocks that could be preventing you from seeing God.

3. Pray prayers of aspiration.
A church leader friend once shared how his church had struggled with reconciling their desire to be fully authentic and honest with the truth that they didn’t always, at every moment, believe everything in the creeds they wanted to be a part of their church life. They settled on something I have found extremely helpful: they consider the creeds to be statements of aspiration, statements of what they long for and want to believe. I have found this perspective way-helpful in terms of my own prayer life. When God feels distant, or when I’m struggling with doubts, I can pray with aspiration. I can pray Psalm 139 or the shield of St. Patrick with an attitude of hope and longing: this is what I desire to be true and real and my daily experience.

4. Break with the norm.
Find a spiritual director to help you spot God’s presence in your life. Re-arrange your daily schedule. Take a road-trip. Try some different approaches to prayer and scripture. Look for God in places you wouldn’t normally look (spiritual classics, nature, children, film, music).

5. Be more green.
So often we’ve been asked (by our churches and traditions) to focus exclusively on either God’s transcendence or God’s imminence: Evangelicals tend to chose transcendence, and our Christianity is primarily about living out a personal communion with a transcendent God. Our evangelism and worship and discipleship are all built around this. More liberal churches tend to chose imminence, and while cautious about God’s ability or interest in connecting with individual people, embrace the “agenda” of God–doing good works, caring for the earth, justice, and the present work of the Kingdom of God.

A friend of mine describes these two polarities as yellow (for transcendence) and blue (for imminence), and says all Christ-followers need constant nudging toward combining those colors to create green. It’s a beautiful metaphor. But the implication here is this: especially when we’re stuck in times when God seems distant or silent, pursuing the ‘other’ primary color than the one we’ve been steeped in from our tradition can open up new ways of seeing, hearing and experiencing God’s presence.

6. Wait. Be still. Slow down.
This is likely the most important. If John of the Cross’ reasoning is correct at all (that we primarily interact with God through our own images of God, and that God distances himself from us in order to move us beyond our limited images), the only path forward is to wait. Most of us are so uncomfortable with silence and slow. But it’s an essential component of a fully-lived Christian life. Create a pattern of slowing down.

unknown youth ministry heroes, part 2

in the last couple weeks, i’ve heard a couple stories of youth workers that were so inspirational and challenging to me. both stories were inspirational because they capture a vivid snapshot of the passion of people who truly love teenagers. and challenging, because, in both cases, they poked at my comfort and my willingness to really empty myself (as christ did).

yesterday, i shared the beautiful (and difficult) story of tim and sue. here’s the 2nd story:

would you offer to give up one of your kidneys to a teenager in your youth group who needed one?

kidney beani have a few nurses in my immediate extended family, who i recently spent time with in the detroit area over the christmas and new year’s holiday. one of them was present the day a volunteer youth worker came in for surgery, along with a teenage guy from his youth group. apparently the kid desperately needed a new kidney, and a match and donor had been difficult to find. so this youth worker–let’s call him dan–stepped up with an offer than falls significantly outside the normal role description of any volunteer youth worker i’ve ever known. really, it falls outside the job description of any paid youth worker for that matter!

i would have prayed with and for the teenager, sure. i would have likely visited him in the hospital. i would have tried to be a listening ear when he was struggling with mortality and the brokenness of his body. but i truly don’t think it would ever cross my mind to say, “take one of mine!” in this case, though, if i had been this youth worker, i would have died.

my family member who’s a nurse, and was there, said the two–dan and the teenager–were prepped for surgery and both rolled into adjoining surgical bays at the same time. family waited.

but in a time-frame that was confusing at first, because it wasn’t long enough, the teenager was rolled back out. turns out: when the surgeons went in, they found dan’s kidney was cancerous. it had been completely undetected in all pre-op tests and was 100% unknown to dan and his family. the doctors were able to remove his cancerous kidney and save his life. and some time shortly thereafter, another kidney donor was found for the teenager.

the end of the story is amazing: dan’s life was spared, and the teenager is fine also. but that’s almost a distraction from why dan is an unknown youth ministry hero. dan’s a hero–far and away beyond anything i have ever, ever done in 33 years of youth ministry–because he was willing to go to irreversible, costly, intimately personal lengths to give to a teenager.

paraphrasing, “greater love has no youth worker than this, but to offer up his kidney to a teenager in need.” seriously. dan, i don’t know you; but you’re my hero.

unknown youth ministry heroes, part 1

in the last couple weeks, i’ve heard a couple stories of youth workers that were so inspirational and challenging to me. both stories were inspirational because they capture a vivid snapshot of the passion of people who truly love teenagers. and challenging, because, in both cases, they poked at my comfort and my willingness to really empty myself (as christ did).

i’m in england as i write this post, speaking at the british YFC staff conference. it’s a wonderful family gathering of 450 youth workers from all over england, wales and scotland. immediately following my morning talk on the first day, where i’d attempted to remind the crowd of the simple core of our calling (and not all the complexity we’re often pulled toward), a upper middle-aged couple approached me and asked if i could spend some time with them. later in the day we met for what turned out to be a coaching session of sorts, and i hope god used me to speak some truth into their lives, both encouragement and caution.

but their story…well, it just blew me away.

council estatesue and jim had mostly raised their own children (i think their children are 18, 21 and something a little older than that now). sue was (and is) a part-time mobile hair stylist, and jim manages some properties. but three years ago, sue felt a nudge to consider ministry, and started bible college. as part of her program, she was expected to do some sort of practicum. she approached the minister of her small church and asked about starting a children’s ministry. there were no children in their church, but she somehow reached out to some children from a “council estate” (the british equivalent of a housing project; but here in britain, they are often not urban) a few miles outside of her town. very quickly, the church had a small children’s ministry of 7 or 8 kids. as sue got to know the kids a bit, she realized the struggle of their community, that many of the children never even had a chance to leave the estate, and that there was not a single church presence in this large community, where thousands of children and teenagers lived.

so sue and jim sold their house and moved into the housing estate.

they asked their church for support, but were, in essence (these are my words), shunned, and told that the church would have no part of their work. with no training, no resources other than their own, and no support, they began working directly in this community, seeing the children’s ministry quickly grow from 7 or 8 to more than 120 children attending every week. they launched a young teen gathering and an older teen gathering. initially, their ministry work consisted mostly of taking kids on excursions to give them experiences outside their little estate world. needing transportation for this work, they used personal funds to purchase a 16-person mini-bus. but as the ministries all grew, these excursions became more and more untenable.

without a place to meet, they’d originally held gatherings in their home. but when the attendance overwhelmed their space, they rented space in a small building on the edge of the community.

currently, they run 6 weekly meetings for these three age groups — a sort of “youth group” for each on a weeknight, and a children’s or youth church for each group on sundays. they do all of this without any consistent help from any other adults (one of their adult children had been a key leader with them, but he has just recently needed to step out due to other demands in his life). a long-empty small church building in the middle of the estate has just come up for sale, and they’re in the process of considering using jim’s pension to make an offer on the building.

jim and sue (jim runs the older teen group, and sue runs the children’s and young teen group — but they both attend everything) seriously need to make some changes in order to become sustainable (and hopefully, their recent move to become a YFC centre will be part of that solution).

no youth ministry expert would look at jim and sue’s ministry and conclude that they’re doing things perfectly. how could any two people run multiple ministries of this size and demand in a sustainable way or a way that reflects “best practices” of relational youth work. but without anyone willing to join them in their work, they’re doing literally everything they can to meet needs and follow jesus. changes need to happen, or they won’t make it.

but their hearts. their willingness to give all. their courage. their generosity. their willingness to forfeit comfort. frankly, i was breathless, and brought to the edge of tears.

what are you doing–what am i doing–what brings you beyond your own self-sufficiency and resources? what are each of us who are called to youth ministry doing to minister in a place that completely requires dependency on god?

women in youth ministry, and april diaz’s ymcp cohort

the brou-ha-ha over the last couple weeks about the under-representation of female voices at christian ministry events (see here for starters, but there’s lots more) has had me thinking a bit about women in youth ministry. i know that, for a segment of the church, this is mostly a non-issue. their traditions have long viewed women as equally gifted for and called to ministry. but i also know that so many of my sisters in ministry continue to be viewed as “limited” in what they can or should do, and what roles they can or should embody. and for those women, there’s an additional layer of complexity in that it’s often not safe for them to talk about it.

this made me think of two particular women in youth ministry that i’m partnering with these days (two of many, to be clear): gina abbas, a wonderfully gifted youth minister, newly the JH Pastor at mars hill bible church, and currently writing a book for The Youth Cartel for women in youth ministry; and april diaz, a very longtime friend of mine who is one of the most gifted leaders of any gender i’ve ever met (who, coincidentally, also wrote a book for The Youth Cartel!).

that made me remember a lament april wrote for me a couple years ago. i was working on a large multi-author project, and specifically asked april to write a lament to god about the place of women in church leadership. i asked april because i know her to be gracious to peoples’ stories and not demanding or rude in how she talks about these issues. april wrote this wonderful “prayer” based on psalm 40:


Lament for Psalm 40

Waiting. No one likes waiting. Maybe me least of all. I’ve waited my entire life to see your Church reflect your heart to see men and women lead your people. Equally. “With skillful hands and integrity of heart” (Psalm 78:72). I’ve waited for your Church to wake up and get it that we have as much to contribute to the Kingdom as men do. I wish your Word were painfully clear about our contribution equality.

Too many times I’ve seen women in the pit of despair because they have not been allowed to use their voices, their gifts, their experiences, their calling to build the Kingdom. You have not stopped them from leading and teaching, Lord; your people have.

My sisters and I have cried when we’ve been told “no”, “be quiet”, “this is not your place”. We need your rescue, God. We desperately need you to bring good news in places where we are pushed down, snuffed out, and negotiated around. Your Kingdom suffers when we are relegated to roles and ministries and places where we are not gifted or passionate. How long?

You are solid and steady and trustworthy. When your Church fails me, I can still be amazed by who you are. I will find my hope in you, not in an outcome – a promotion or a platform or power. I will receive a new song that you give me and sing to the rooftops of who you are and what you’ve done. I will serve you fully and contribute my best to your Kingdom, even in the midst of broken systems. Give me the courage I need to be faithful today.

How long will we sing this song? When I grieve for what your Church is not yet, I must remember that you are a God of justice and have called ordinary people like me to bring justice on earth as it is in heaven. Help me not be afraid to speak out and speak for those who do not have a voice, but to do so with humility and love.

You have written your calling upon my heart and I will not forsake you. I will take joy in following you no matter what anyone else says. Help me listen to you more and more and follow you obediently. Thank you for my calling, even if it’s not honored among others.

and here’s the killer, that points out the problem and almost caused me to pull out of the whole project: we weren’t allowed to use this piece, because a major, conservative, christian bookstore chain would not carry the project if april’s lament was included. april was as gracious about the whole thing as one can possibly imagine.

yc-all-black-300x68and this is one of a hundred reasons i’m glad april will be leading a cohort of my youth ministry coaching program for women in youth ministry. the women in all my other coaching cohorts have been equal in every way, and have added so tremendously to each group. but some, i realize, would particularly benefit from being a part of a cohort that allows them a sisterhood, a place that’s truly safe to not only think about youth ministry and leadership, but also to lean on each other. april’s cohort will be a modified version — 2 face to face meetings of two days, and 4 shorter online meetings. we’re limiting it to 8 participants, 5 of whom are already committed. april’s really hoping to get the remaining spots filled in the next few weeks, so the cohort can look for an early-2014 launch date. if you’re interested and would like more information, please email april directly, as [email protected] april has blogged about this cohort here and here and here.

the bible is story

storyWhen we present the Bible to our youth as a collection of guidelines, principles, and stories, we rob them of the opportunity to see the grand arc of God’s Big Story – the single, unified, awe-inspiring story God is unfolding from before the creation of time and space, to well beyond our understanding in the future.

One of my greatest joys in youth ministry in recent years has been helping students understand how their stories can intersect with God’s Big Story, and that God invites them to be an active participant in His unfolding story of creation, grace, love and restoration!

Curiosity is the Serum for Judgmentalism

my most recent epilogue column for Youthwork Magazine (UK) came out recently. here’s what i wrote!

serumI get insanely annoyed by the judgmentalism within the Christian church. I’m not just talking about judgmentalism within a single church, but that judgmentalism that dismisses or diminishes entire movements and tribes within the bride of Christ. That judgmentalism that shows up as ministry leaders who spend so much time and effort deciding (for God, it seems) who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s “in” and who’s “out.” But, I can’t deny the beam in my own eye on this one.

That makes me think of a quote my wife shared with me sometime ago. It’s a quote about Gandhi (not by Gandhi), from the book “The Root of This Longing”:

Gandhi always brings you back to yourself–the beam in your own eye, the discrepancy between your own actions and the ideals you profess. He insists that you look beyond the headlines for the root causes of each new horror, and always the trail leads back to forces in consciousness, like envy and fear and the lust for power, and always you have to recognize those same forces in yourself.

Shoot. I would much prefer the point out others’ annoying judgmentalism than face my own.

Half a dozen years ago, the leadership team of ministry I was a part of was sitting in the living room of a beach house in beach town in California, on retreat. And we were getting worked. Our consultant was in the process of inverting all the dimensions of reality as we knew it. At one point, during discussion, I noticed a co-worker getting defensive. This particular co-worker was pretty transparent when about his defensiveness, so it’s not that I was being perceptive: his body tensed up and he fidgeted like crazy, his voice raised a half-octave, and his answers become a series of “uh-huh’s”.

In the spirit of the truthfulness we were trying to foster, I decided it should be called out — “for the good of the team.” I did, at least attempt to speak with gentleness, even though I was calling him out. I said, “Hey, can I interrupt? You’ve suddenly gotten really defensive.” And here’s where I completely blew it: in the insecurity of that moment (thinking I was doing a good thing), I turned to the rest of the room to back me up: “Am I alone in this? Do the rest of you see this?”

Before the defensive guy could respond, the consultant turned to me, and with uncharacteristic directness and push-back, completely unveiled what I had just done: that I had attempted to gang up on my coworker; that I had tried to manipulate everyone in the room to my opinion in order to corner my friend. Just as the tingly nature of being publicly exposed and realizing he right started to set in, the consultant re-directed again. He said something like: I’m calling this out for a very specific reason. If you five are going to be effective, you have to learn the skill of being curious.

He used the situation that had just been unveiled as a case-study: if I notice that my coworker seems to be getting defensive, and if I really want the best for him as a human being, as an image-of-God bearer, than I should be more interested in what his “positive intent” is (what’s driving the defensiveness, in this case), than in embarrassing him or making myself look like the hero of group dynamics and herald of truth.

This concept of “being curious” profoundly shaped that leadership team over the next couple years. We exercised it all the time with each other, and it — more than anything else, I think — changed the tone of our meetings.

I found the concept of being curious (particularly about someone’s “positive intent”) has spilled over into other areas of my life. And I think it might offer us some particular value in our overwhelming place of judgmentalism in the church.

If judgmentalism is the venom currently coursing it’s way through the veins of the church, I’m thinking the anti-venom, the serum, isn’t what we’ve thought it to be. It’s not more truth or more clearly defining what we mean or retreating.

Curiosity. Loving, “I want the best for you” curiosity. I think that’s the serum.

To the church or ministry leader who seems overly concerned with criticizing others, or with who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s “in” and who’s “out,” I ask, gently: What are your fears? What are you feeling, and what’s driving those feelings?

And to myself, when I catch myself in the midst of judgmentalism, I ask, gently: Wait, Marko, what’s going on here? What’s driving this judgment or attitude? What’s the positive intent behind this — how are you hoping to benefit from this? What’s another way to think about this?