Category Archives: leadership

creativity

18 things highly creative people do differently

i recently found a link to an article that i’d sent myself via email 6 months ago. yeah, i have some strange ways of keeping track of things. deal with it.

really insightful and challenging article in huffpo about the 18 things highly creative people do differently. i think i’m somewhat creative; and i do some of the things on this list pretty regularly. but i would be exponentially more creative if i leaned into these babies a bit more. click through to read the whole article (it’s really worth it, and an easy read); but here’s a list of the 18 habits:

  1. They daydream.
  2. They observe everything.
  3. They work the hours that work for them.
  4. They take time for solitude.
  5. They turn life’s obstacles around.
  6. They seek out new experiences.
  7. They “fail up.”
  8. They ask the big questions.
  9. They people-watch.
  10. They take risks.
  11. They view all of life as an opportunity for self-expression.
  12. They follow their true passions.
  13. They get out of their own heads.
  14. They lose track of the time.
  15. They surround themselves with beauty.
  16. They connect the dots.
  17. They constantly shake things up.
  18. They make time for mindfulness.
commitment

what are your commitments to yourself?

i was looking over some old notes from leadership team retreats, and found some great stuff for personal and team development. i remember when our freakishly insightful consultant, mark dowds, led our team in these exercises, first making commitments to ourselves, then to each other. both are surprisingly difficult and vulnerable.

it was fun to read my 6 year-old response to the question, “what am i committed to for myself?” i’ve had SO much change in my life and faith and vision over the last four or five years; so it was interesting to me that these still ring pretty true.

commitment

i am committed to passionate living — i must have a significant portion of my involvements be things i can be passionate about.

i am committed to growth: in self-knowledge, in emotional intelligence, in knowledge about subjects that interest me, in leadership, in spiritual fruit, in new and refined skills.

i am committed to a life of joy.

i am committed to experiences — i want to experience more people, places, situations and involvements; and to experience more of god.

i am committed to a full life.

how about you? what are your commitments to yourself?

10 leadership soundbites off the top of my head

soundbitesreally, i’m going to make this up right now. ’cause i gots me a little burst o’ passion that i think will translate to twittery bits (ooh, “twittery bits” probably used to mean something very different). so here we go… i’m gonna wing this!

  • sometimes you fake it until you’re able to break it. that’s when things might get good.
  • “the ways we do things around here” could be, just might be, a really wonderful and good thing. take a second look before you discard it.
  • might is shite
  • “who i’m responsible for” can be legitimately in tension with “what i’m passionate about.” but not for long, or you’ll wilt.
  • you need a “how could this possibly succeed?” moment at least twice a year.
  • crossing t’s and dotting i’s is for scribes. is that all you are?
  • there are a thousand legitimate things you could do with the next hour.
  • loosening your grip is the second most important component of growth.
  • i want to play with people who are weird. i want to work with those who are odd. the edge of change is always populated with weird and odd folk.
  • see that line? put a couple toes over it. there you go.

YMCP coaching update: new cohorts almost formed, and a new ‘women in youth ministry’ cohort starting

in some ways, the youth ministry coaching program gave birth to The Youth Cartel. at least, YMCP existed before TYC. and it’s still one of our flagship programs. to date, 99 youth workers are either graduates or current participants in one of our 9-month online or year-long face to face cohorts. personally, it’s been one of the greatest ministry joys of my life, and i LOVE LOVE LOVE seeing the growth and transformation of these people and seeing them become some of my closest ministry friends. in fact, i have a 2-day working reunion in a week with my first nashville cohort, which met in 2010 and early 2011. we have all, to a person, stayed in close touch (thanks to a secret facebook group), and our reunion will both an ongoing opportunity for growth and a freaking party.

i’m very close to filling multiple new cohorts, and am ready to announce a brand new one. here’s the run-down:

palm treeSan Diego

my third san diego cohort didn’t fill up earlier this year. i have 5 or 6 people committed, and we only need 8 here in san diego to make a go of it (since i don’t have travel costs). i would love to start this cohort early in the new year, and wonder if there are any more people who are interested. you don’t have to live in SoCal, though the travel costs certainly shift if you don’t! the most recent addition to that pending group lives in dallas.

columbia-as-seen-fromColumbia, South Carolina

the south carolina conference of the united methodist church started talking about forming their own YMCP cohort early this year. and at this point, we have 7 committed people, ready to go. we need 10 for that cohort, so we’re looking for 3 more people. this cohort would really be ideal for any UMC youth workers in the southeast — SC, NC, GA, VA, WV, TN, KY, and even northern FL. and hey, if you’re interested in this and aren’t in a UMC church, i think we can make an exception. :) oh, we’re hoping to start this cohort before the year’s end — maybe in early december.

nashvilleNashville

my current nashville wraps up in november. i don’t have concrete plans yet, but i’ll likely open up the application process for a new nashville cohort that i’ll hope to launch in late winter or spring of 2014.

epcEPC cohort

the evangelical presbyterian church has been trying to fill a cohort for most of this year. they have 5 committed, so we still need 5 more. they’re just now exploring opening it up to non-EPC youth workers, as well as some additional ideas. the location of this cohort isn’t set yet, but it’s likely to be in either western PA or nashville. if you’re an EPC youth worker, talk to me! and if you’re not, i’ll announce the actual plan at some point, if we open it up to non-EPCers.

and here’s the AWESOME BIG DEAL YMCP ANNOUNCEMENT

DSC_0146-2the amazing april diaz, in partnership with me, will be launching a YMCP cohort exclusively for women in youth ministry. april and i have taken the best of the face to face format and the online format and are launching this cohort in a hybrid approach. the cohort will strictly limited to 8 participants (+ april; and i’ll probably be a “guest coach” at a couple meetings).

here’s april’s description of her vision for this group:

This 10 month whole-life coaching program is all about developing and empowering you as a woman in leadership. Being a woman in youth ministry is different. It demands unique skills and awareness as we approach the challenges and opportunities due to our gender. We will learn across a scope of subjects including theology, practical life realities, leading men, and issues defined by this group. This specialized cohort has 8 women in leadership, and meets twice for 2 days plus 4 times online (2-3 hours each). Each time is very intentional and structured to provide encouragement, challenge, and transformation. This cohort provides customized attention to your specific context and needs as a woman in youth ministry.

and here’s the unique (hybrid) schedule we came up with:

  • January – face-to-face, 2 days (in orange county, CA)
  • February – online, 3 hours
  • April – online, 3 hours
  • June – online, 3 hours
  • August – online, 3 hours
  • September – face-to-face , 2 days (in orange county, CA)

we hope to fill april’s cohort quickly, so dates (particularly for the january meeting) can be collaboratively locked in soon.

details, details

all of the year-long face to face cohorts have a $3000 fee. i realize that might seem steep to some of you. but i can tell you this: not one single person who has gone through the program has said it was overpriced, and many have said it was underpriced. sure is cheaper than a semester of grad school, yet the impact on your life and ministry will be exponentially greater.

the women in youth ministry cohort, however, since it’s a hybrid, is $1750.

i think it’s likely i’ll start a couple more online cohorts in early 2014 also. those have worked well, and i just finished two of them and have two more about halfway through the 9 month process. the cost of the online groups is $900.

i’m happy to email you a program overview and or an application. there are a bunch of testimonials and stuff on this page of The Youth Cartel site. of course, email me ([email protected]) with any questions you might have. you can email april directly if you have questions you’d like to ask about her cohort ([email protected]).

what the church needs: loyal radicals

loyal radicalssome time ago, a friend send me a link to this online article, written by bob hopkins, about the sort of people who are able to foment change in the large, change-resistant world of british anglicanism. he calls these people “loyal radicals.”

i thought the insights were absolutely brilliant, and have SO much application for the coaching work i do with youth workers, who are all too often (understandably) frustrated with the change-resistance of their churches.

my slightly edited version of hopkins’ definition of a loyal radical:

Loyal Radicals are grass roots leaders who are passionate about mission and change, but are totally committed to the church [or organization] they belong to and are working for change from within.

here are the traits of loyal radicals he draws out:

  • Love the church (or organization) they are a part of, even though they are passionate for change (and often frustrated by institutional resistance to change).
  • Love of the church (or organization) is fueled by faith that God is able to bring about change, even when it seems impossible or unlikely. It’s a positive, hopeful perspective, built more on a theological perspective than on optimism.
  • An attitude of expectancy.
  • A strategy of pressing forward with confidence that there is a way forward, a way around the obstacles. They “look for the slightest crack in the door, sticking your foot firmly in it and keep pressing it there as long as it takes to ease the door open.” They find and leverage “healthy creative pressure points.”
  • Their strategy is one of “benevolent subversion.”
  • They gather and disseminate stories of pioneering success.
  • They network with other Loyal Radicals for learning and encouragement.
  • They have a ton of patience.

in my coaching program (YMCP), one of the assigned readings is a quirky little book called Orbiting the Giant Hairball. it’s a former Hallmark Cards creative’s thoughts about how to remain creative while involved in an organization with tendencies to draw you into the hairball of its bureaucracies. but, really, it’s about being a loyal radical (though the author never uses that term). there’s great dove-tailing, certainly, between the book and the ideas above.

over and over again i chat with youth worker (or other ministry leaders) who would love to see change in the organization they are a part of; but they’re often not willing or interested in the “loyal” half — they just want to be the radical. problem is: that almost never works. radicals can influence change, to be sure. but radicals influence change from outside the organization, exercising a prophetic voice. if that’s you, go with it (just be ready for a diet of locusts and honey). but if you really want to see change in a church or organization that you love even while it frustrates the heck out of you, then spend some time reflecting on this idea of a loyal radical, and how you can more fully embody the traits listed above.

control and release

recently in one of my coaching groups, we were talking about our propensity to try to control. i see this in so many of our youth ministry approaches: an attempt to control the outcomes.

one of the participants asked me for a definition of control, and i responded with this: minimizing variables and maximizing efficiencies for predictable outcomes.

yup: i’m so prone to doing that in my life. and it’s pervasive in american church culture.

today in the mail the latest copy of youthwork magazine arrived from the UK. and i’d forgotten that i’d written my last “epilogue” column (which they call Mark: My Words. ha! get it?) on this same subject. here’s what i wrote:

Open HandsA month ago I was struggling–obsessing, really–with my income. Being self-employed can have that impact. In my three and a half years of self-employment, I’ve yet to have a significant financial problem; but that doesn’t keep me from freaking out from time to time. I look at my little tracking spreadsheet, and my mind starts to wander down completely useless and unhelpful pathways.

I’m not going to have enough money.
How will I pay my daughter’s university fees?
What if this is the beginning of the end?
We’re going to be living in the gutter soon!

But here I am, a month later, realizing that God provided, yet again. It wasn’t one of those dramatic stories I’ve often heard of an anonymous envelope of cash in the post. Instead, it was through the most regular and mundane of provisions: some projects I’d been working on came together.

And I was reminded of a connection that I’ve learned many times. I’ve been speaking and writing a bit on the subject of biblical hope lately. And one of the points I always make is that hope isn’t something we can make. I can’t bear down and try harder and suddenly have more hope.

Instead, hope (not optimism!) is a gift from God. Hope comes to me, usually in the midst of suffering, dissatisfaction with the way things are, and an honest cry out to God.

When I talk to teenagers about the fruit of the Spirit, I try to make a similar point. we don’t choose to be fruity. Fruit is a result of a life connected to the Spirit. It’s a gift, really. And our all the effort in the world, even with the correct leverage, won’t suddenly result in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Effort might give me hemorrhoids, but not much else.

There’s so much I try to control. Finances, hope, and spiritual fruit are only three of a very, very long list. And I think I’m learning that my open hands toward God–a position of release and request–is the stance that ultimately gives me what I truly long for.

This is true in every aspect of youth work also. So many of our youth work efforts are about control. We try to control the behavior of teenagers. We position ourselves in an attempt to control church leader’s opinions of us and our work. We control programs like lab scientists, as if the perfect mix of this and that will necessarily result in engagement, attendance, compliance and spiritual growth.

But, ultimately, we all know that it’s God who brings about transformation in the lives of teenagers, not our crafty talks or hipster songs or The Best Game Ever.

So then: what role do I play? I mean: I’m supposed to do something, right? Whether in my own interior life or my family’s well being or the spiritual formation of the teenagers in my ministry: I’m not just supposed to sit and wait, believing that God will do something, right?

That’s the tension there for me. Part of me believes that a little more sitting and waiting on God is exactly what’s called for, and just might be the antidote to my ongoing forays into control and manipulation.

But I also believe that God invites me to play an active role. I get to participate!

I need to be reminded that my active participation with God looks like me being the kid with the weird lunch at the miraculous feeding of the 5000.
Could Jesus have fed the crowd without the kid’s participation? Sure.
Was the kid necessary for the will of God to happen that day? Not really.
Would the miracle have happened were it not for the kid’s involvement? We don’t know.
But we can be confident about this: that kid would never have been the same. You know he told that story to his grandkids.

My personal finances. The hope in my heart. The fruit of the Spirit in my life. The spiritual growth of the teenagers in my charge. They all beckon with the same invitation: Step up, open up your hands, release control, and give your “lunch.”

my renewed commitment to diversity (one of the reasons i’m stoked about The Summit)

annie lockhart croppedmost people reading this blog would already know that i co-lead a little pot-stirring youth ministry organization called The Youth Cartel. and most would know that one of our most focused chances to stir is our event The Summit. if you’re familiar with TED talks, then you have an idea of what this event is like: 18 carefully selected, unique and brilliant presenters bringing laser-focused 12 – 15 minute talks specifically designed to spark your youth ministry imagination. in the spirit of TED (and, very much in the spirit of the wonderful and fun little book, The Medici Effect), The Summit includes presenters you’ve mostly never heard of offering provocative ideas or suggestions or challenges or prophetic words that are intended to help you dream big dreams; new dreams, even.

there are 50 or 100 uniqunesses about this event that get me pumped about it. i’m not alone in that; and it’s not only because i’m hosting this baby. in fact, those reasons are probably why april diaz, a seasoned youth ministry veteran who’s been to her share of national youth ministry events wrote this about last year’s event:

The best “youth ministry” conference I’ve ever been to! The format was provocative. The content was challenging. The community high caliber. Just incredible.

BethanyStolle-headshot-croppedit’s why marti burger, the head of youth ministries for the evangelical covenant church (denomination), wrote:

Loved the variety of voices, the challenges, the opportunity to dream, vision and create new concepts moving forward. This isn’t a conference where you will walk away with something you can use on Wednesday but a chance to discern how to re-image ministry. Such a gift!

bryan lorittsso, yeah, i’m pumped. but there’s another reason.

a few months ago, my friend efrem smith shared an image on facebook that showed how little progress we seem to have made on reflecting the diversity of youth ministry leaders when it comes to the “stage” and “page.” in other words, we haven’t been intentional enough about finding and raising up both women and non-white youth workers. now: i’m a white dude. add to that: i turn 50 a week from friday — so in the youth ministry world, i easily qualify as an “old white guy.” i still have something to say, and i don’t want to be sidelined because of my skin color or age.

Christy Lang Hearlson Headshot 2012but i’ve really come to see that the church (particularly the evangelical wing of the church) doesn’t have much of a “farm team” system for raising up speakers and writers who aren’t white dudes. i wouldn’t be speaking and writing today, honestly, if i hadn’t given a whole lot of mediocre talks and written some “just ok” stuff when i was younger.

my interactions with efrem about that post (we had a fantastic four hour lunch, and a bunch of emails) convicted me that The Youth Cartel’s value of finding new voices simply must include those who are often marginalized. and in the spirit of The Summit, the best new thinking often comes from the margins. (i have also been reminded of my interactions with dr. soong-chan rah from north park university, who challenged me and mentored me years ago in this area.)

crystal kirgissi’ve had an interesting a-ha. when our criteria for finding presenters isn’t “who’s really well known? who will be good for our marketing efforts?” the process of finding diverse presenters who will bring significant contribution gets reframed. it’s still work. but it’s not an almost-impossible task.

as a result: while the topics planned for presentations at this year’s Summit have me totally stoked, the mix of presenters has me even more so.

holly rankin zaher-croppedwe currently have 14 of our 18 presenters locked in. there are only 5 white dudes in that mix (and only two of us — me and mark devries — would qualify as “old white dudes”). there are 6 women. there are 5 non-white presenters. we’re actively pursuing 5 more presenters this week (with the ideal of landing 4 of them), and those 5 include 3 women. those 5 include 3 people of color.

jeffrey wallacethis effort (and success!) is much more than some sort of a politically-correct marketing ploy. this is core to the DNA of The Youth Cartel. and it’s core to The Summit being an event where you still truly have your imagination sparked. and it’s why you won’t hear a bunch of ideas or thoughts that you’ve already heard in one variation or another sixteen times before.

it was a very happy moment for me at last year’s event when, as Anne Jackson was getting ready to go up on stage, she whispered to me, “i just realized that of the 6 presenters in this session, i’m the only white person!” yeah: and that session totally rocked it.

we hope you’ll join us at The Summit. but we also hope you’ll join us in looking to the margins. it’s pretty rare that fresh stuff comes from the middle.

lem usitatheresa mazza

(oh, and by the way: if you register for The Summit before June 1, you get a VERY sweet bonus. you call ALL the audio and video of this year’s event for FREE!)

Orbiting the Hairball: Innovation without Disconnection (part 3 of 3)

(part 1 of this series explored the need for most of us, despite the desire to be innovators, to stay connected to our organizations via the gravitational pull of orbiting. part 2 looked at forces that corrode innovation.)

bow thrustersTwo Essential Thrusters for Sustaining Orbit
Spaceships and Large Ocean Vessels share a technology that helps them make minor directional adjustments without firing up their engines: thrusters. On a boat, bow thrusters move the front of the ship left or right. On a spacecraft, they provide short bursts of propulsion to move in any direction.

In order for us to stay in the sweet spot between a useless trajectory of our own and getting mired in the disabling affect of the hairball, we need two thrusters.

Courage
Anyone with healthy or unhealthy resistance to change (most of us have this) need a dose of courage from time to time to push us in the direction of innovation. Here’s what I have learned: I cannot make myself have courage anymore than I can make myself have the fruit of the Spirit. Spiritual courage comes from the Holy Spirit.

The etymology of the word itself tells us this. The root of courage (“cour”) means “heart”; and courage literally means “to have a full heart.” Excitement and praise and rewards and potential can partially fill my heart. But they’re not sustainable. My heart can only be truly topped off in the face of significant risk by the fuel of the Holy Spirit.

Humility
I’m done being an arrogant risk-taker. I want no part of innovation born out of my own hubris. Instead, I long to experience a life of humility. Humility can keep me from believing my innovations are sure-fire. Humility can keep me from steamrolling people. Humility can prevent me from dismissing others, made in the image of God, who do not agree with my inventions.

I long to experience a life of Jesus-y courage tempered by Jesus-y humility.

I long for a tribe of youth workers who will fire up their thrusters of courage and humility, overcome their fears and insecurities, and move into orbit together, not disdaining the hairball, but exerting our own gravitational pull on it while it reciprocates with us.

Orbiting the Hairball: Innovation without Disconnection (part 2 of 3)

(part 1 of this series explored the need for most of us, despite the desire to be innovators, to stay connected to our organizations via the gravitational pull of orbiting.)

corrosionForces that Corrode Innovation
Even in the orbit, I have to be intentional about resisting the hairball’s pull. I’ve noticed a handful of things I have to be particularly cautious about.

The Love of New
I have a short attention span, and am constantly drawn to the next new thing (whether it’s a youth ministry idea or a smart phone). Whatever good or broken thing in me drives this has to be stabled from time to time.

New for the sake of new causes all kinds of problems. When I live this way, and think this way, I hurt people. I get more interested in the new thing than in people. I both reflect and add to our cultural obsession with acquiring new things and discarding (potentially good) old things. I set myself up to miss out on the beauty of stillness and unchanging. I get ruthlessly dismissive about what was good. I have, in the name of new, tossed many an archetypal baby out with bathwater that was hurl-worthy.

My Own Insecurities
I can be a bull in a china shop, to be sure; but sometimes only because I like being perceived as the kind of guy who’s willing to be that bull.

In my desire to be innovative, my insecurities work against me in two ways:

First, my insecurities and desire for approval fuel me to innovate merely so I will be perceived as an innovator. Seriously, how lame is that? Surely, any innovation born out of that motivation will be short-lived at best, or hollow and hurtful at the worst.

On the other side of the equation, my insecurities work against me to curb innovation. The thinking that lurks in my subconscious says, “In this case, it would be easier and safer to retreat to the majority way or the old way where tried and true measures of success are more predictable.

A Desire for Security
The professionalization of youth ministry brought some undeniable changes. But, in many ways, it’s the worst thing that ever happened to youth ministry. When we are—when I am—being paid to do youth ministry, our innovation muscles are unavoidably restrained.

I find this a tension regularly in my work with The Youth Cartel. I deeply desire for us to “instigate a revolution in youth ministry.” But I also need to figure out how to pay my mortgage, and pay my daughter’s upcoming college tuition. There’s great job security in not being a boat rocker.

Fear of Being Marginalized
I’ve been confronted with my fears at a much more visceral level since I lost my job at Youth Specialties more than three and a half years ago. My fears sort of sicken me; but as I’ve identified them, they’ve played a wonderful role in my pursuit of humility.

I know I have an almost insatiable desire to live larger-than-life. The squiggly thing under the rock is my fear of being forgotten, marginalized, lacking influence. It’s a counter-productive fear, and it stunts my creativity.

You might not share this exact same fear (though I think it’s common to the majority of youth pastors). But, what I’ve so strongly found in the coaching and consulting work I do these days is that every organization and every leader carries with them fears that are more than willing to stifle creativity and innovation, truncate risk, and derail deep transformation. Being honest about your fears, when it comes to change and risk, is a critical component of maintaining orbit around the hairball.

next up, in part 3: Two Essential Thrusters for Sustaining Orbit

Orbiting the Hairball: Innovation without Disconnection (part 1 of 3)

Here’s a tension I live with: I’m passionate about innovation in youth ministry, but—if I’m really honest—I’m not a true entrepreneur.

I want to stir up change. I love hearing about bold and risky youth workers who are experimenting. I often scramble up on my little soapbox and rant about this or that perspective or approach that needs to be dismantled. Heck, I even started a fledgling organization called The Youth Cartel (not a safe name, to be sure), with the tagline: Instigating a Revolution in Youth Ministry.

But I also have all these internal and external forces—fear, complacency, expediency—that pull me back to the way it’s always been done. I’ll speak to a group of youth workers on a weekend about the need for change, write a ranty blog post on Monday, encourage a youth worker in my Youth Ministry Coaching Program to take a huge risk on Tuesday, then fall back into what’s easiest with my middle school small group on Wednesday night.

At times, I think I’m just a wannabe innovator.

orbitingMaybe that’s why I find such great encouragement in one of the strangest and most wonderful little books I’ve ever read, Orbiting the Giant Hairball, by the late Gordon MacKenzie. MacKenzie tells weird stories and gleans principles from his decades-long working life at Hallmark, the bastion of greeting cards. The author constantly struggled with the bureaucracy, red tape, naysayers, and compliance-demanding systems of his workplace. But, through a bit of luck and a big dose of creativity, he shaped himself into a sort of corporate shaman with the absurdist job title: Creative Paradox (really, that was his job title).

There are dozens of gems in the book; but my primary, ongoing takeaway (I’ve read it about five times) is in the metaphor of the title. While the world needs eccentric and whatever-the-cost entrepreneurs (the world of youth ministry surely needs these people), most of us live our vocational lives in organizations, with hairballs that exert significant gravitational pull. If we want to have an impact on the organization (in our case, our churches), we have to avoid two extremes: we have to find ways to protect ourselves from getting sucked into the hairball while not shooting off into our own trajectory. We have to orbit, staying in the gravitational pull of the hairball without succumbing to it.

A true youth ministry entrepreneur would say, “I’m going to do this a new way, no matter what happens: whether I keep my job or lose it; whether I impact the church or have to do this outside the church.” We need those people; but I’m realizing that’s not me. I’m called to the orbit. And I think most church-based youth workers–shoot, really, anyone who isn’t self-employed!–is called to the orbit.

coming up in the next two posts…
in part 2: Forces that Corrode Innovation
in part 3: Two Essential Thrusters for Sustaining Orbit