i’m speaking at Jake Kircher’s church in CT in a couple weeks. some of his high school guys made this video-of-awesomeness:
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.
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.
27/28: Building U event for youth leaders and student leaders, in Greenville, SC
29/30: UMC district worship night in Greenville, SC
4 – 6: JH Journey (junior high event) in Anderson, IN
10 – 13: The Youth Cartel’s Middle School Ministry Campference (actual event is 11 – 13), in Seymour, IN
13/14: The Youth Cartel’s Best Ever Parent Training Ever for Central Christian Church in Carmel, IN
16 – 21: The Youth Cartel’s Open Paris, Paris, France (actual event is 18/19, followed by a parent seminar for The American Church in Paris
25 – 27: Especialidades Juveniles Convencion (spanish YS convention) in Orlando
27/28: The Youth Cartel’s Best Ever Parent Training Ever for a group of churches in Lakeland, FL
6 – 11: The Youth Cartel’s The Summit, in Atlanta (actual event is 8/9), followed by a Best Ever Parent Training Ever for the North Georgia Conf of the UMC
13 – 16: Detroit, for the Detroit Youth Ministry Network on the 14th, and a youth ministry training event for Life Church in Canton, MI on 15/16
18 – 20: Youth Ministry Coaching Program in Nashville
22 – 24: National Youth Workers Convention in Nashville
whew! if you’d like to support me through this season, i sure could use prayer! pray for good health, adjustments to time changes, a clear head, a responsiveness to the spirit, and for my family back home!
i preached at my church a few weeks ago on the topic of transformation. here’s my outline:
Jesus is actively working to bring about restoration to everything broken and tainted – all of creation.
…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:31)
…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)
Why don’t we experience constant growth? We block the process.
Tweaking is not Transformation
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12:2)
What holds us back?
Resource needed: an Open Mind
And [Jesus] said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)
Resource needed: an Open Heart
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)
Resource needed: an Open Will
So do not fear, for I am with you (Isaiah 41:9-10a)
So, what should we do to experience transformation?
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)
and here’s audio. but, for some reason, it starts about 5 minutes or so into the sermon. i began by showing this doctored photo of myself at 75, and talked about how, since i’ve recently turned 50, i’ve been thinking a bit more about my next 25 years (assuming i have them). i talked about how one of the worst things i could imagine would be to be the same person at 75 as i am today. then i started talking about how my parents have been such a great example to me in this area, and in the midst of that description, the audio picks up:
(or, you can click through here if you’d rather download it)
man, i have been a lousy blogger lately! i’ve had such limited bandwidth lately, and just haven’t found time to blog. hoping to get back in the saddle this week.
so, what have i been up to?
my last couple sporadic posts were the week of my 50th birthday. but that was a crazy week in itself.
i’m completely stoked that The Youth Cartel is working with World Vision (and, particularly, the 30 Hour Famine team) on a variety of initiatives. one of the ways we’re working with them is to lead the development of a couple additional engagement programs for youth groups. the first of those (which i can’t reveal much about yet) kicked off may 21 – 23 with a three-day program development retreat. i handpicked a half dozen brilliant people i knew i could rely on to bring passionate collaborative input and deliver on various aspects of the program development. i rented a house on top of a mountain (roughly in the san diego area), and we spent those days dreaming, praying, wrestling and planning. we came out of those days with an amazing plan that i’m completely pumped about (both in terms of how it will impact american teenagers, and how it will impact vulnerable children on the other side of the world). now we just have to write and create the whole thing by september 1! yikes!
the day after i came home from that retreat, a few friends and my family planned a really fun 50th birthday party for me. we had about 30 people for a great evening of laughter, food, cigars, and a pretty hilarious marko-roast. tic long was the emcee, and was clearly in his element. good friends from past and present (including a few who came in from out of town) blessed me with their presence and words.
then, after a weekend of recovery, i headed off for a couple weeks in new zealand! what a fantastic trip. the first weekend, i spoke at two youth ministry conferences: one for youth workers on the south island and one for youth workers on the north island. it was a fairly blistering pace, since i spoke multiple times at each event, and flew down to christchurch and back up to auckland in the midst of it.
then, after a day off, i headed out on a ferry to an island off the coast from auckland, where i lead a four day coaching retreat for youth ministry leadership from 4 different denominations. they had never gathered like this before, so it was an incredible honor to get to lead, encourage and challenge them. we stayed at a gorgeous house overlooking the ocean, graciously given to us by a husband and wife who believed in what we were doing and wanted to invest in these leaders.
after that retreat ended, i headed off with my good friend (really, she’s like a sister) tash mcgill. we headed north to her family’s bach (the kiwi term for a cabin, though this one was more like a beach house). we had a few days of chillaxing, conversation, good food, and a bit of sightseeing along the coast. i got smacked with a bad head cold; but it was otherwise a really wonderful weekend.
now i’m home (actually, i’m in the LA airport as i’m writing). can’t wait to see my family, though my oldest child is now gone for the entire summer working at a camp. this week i have two online coaching groups, and a TON of work to get caught up on.
man, i am a blessed dude.
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:
A 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 most recent back page column for youthwork magazine (UK) came out a few weeks ago (just got my physical copy that swam all the way over from england). i wrote it in december, soaking in all that wonderful pre-christmas warmth and cheer and spirituality. but i knew the readers would read the column in january. so:
The Festive Spirit
At a recent youth ministry training event I spoke about what real change and transformation looks like for a Christian. Somewhere in the middle of the talk I commented off-handedly about how I feel like it’s only been in the last three years that I’ve begun to experience the Holy Spirit, rather than merely acknowledging, understanding, or conceptualising the Holy Spirit.
A friend of mine wrote me two weeks later: ‘You said something to the effect of “I didn’t really discover what life in the Spirit really meant until the last few years.” What changed for you? I imagine you as someone who seeks God deeply and honestly. I was taken aback by that statement. I wonder if that is something that can help me in my own walk.’
Here’s how I responded:
‘Yeah, I don’t mean to say I was unspiritual or anything prior to a few years ago. I just think that I mostly saw my faith as an intellectual pursuit that outworked itself in my actions. But I didn’t ‘get’ the role of the Holy Spirit. I felt broken in my departure from my last ministry position, and wondered so deeply if I would ever have any value again (sounds dramatic, but that was the state I was in). It was then that the Holy Spirit broke through that in a powerful and affirming way, starting me down a new road. It’s not been a complete ‘charismatic renewal’ or anything. I’ve just grown in experience and practice and believe that God actually speaks to me. That is what has reformatted my understanding of the Spirit’s role in leadership.’
I’m only sharing that exchange with you to set the table for this: I think we have had (and I have had) a less-than-full embracing of Emmanuel (meaning ‘God with us’).
It’s December as I write this, and I’ve been reflecting on that interchange above, and what God is doing in my life. But while I’m unavoidably Christmassy right now (I’m even listening to Christmas music as I type this!), I realize you will be reading this in the decidedly non-festive post-Christmas months.
And here’s where my mind went (or was lead): How come we only talk about God entering into his own creation (which, of course, God did through the birth of Jesus) at Christmas? I mean: I love, love, love the word Emmanuel (am I allowed to have a ‘favorite Bible word?’). It’s pregnant with the entire gospel. That single word summarizes every aspect of Christianity that keeps me tethered when I’m feeling hopeless for the church or annoyed by my brothers and sisters or disgusted with my own inability.
But, treating Emmanuel as a Christmas-only word, well, that’s a rip off. In a sense, it’s as if we pack up Emmanuel with the ornaments and lights, and shelve it for 11 months.
For me, that mirrors how I treated the Holy Spirit for most of my life. ‘There you go, Spirit – you’re a good theological concept, and I have a high appreciation for you. Now, it’s time to get back into your storage box until you’re called for again.’
God with us. 12 months a year (not just one). At Christmas we hold expectation of Jesus’ coming. What if we had that same expectation that God could powerfully show up at even the most mundane and ordinary moments of our day-to-day lives? If we truly believe that; if we really lean into that; if we really remember that the power and intimacy of God is with us at every moment; our experience of the Holy Spirit will be revolutionised.
Maybe that’s the bottom line of this whole thing: what’s it look like for you and me – as children of God, and as youth workers – to live with an Advent expectancy that the Spirit can move powerfully all the year around? Let’s dream big ‘Christmas-sized’ dreams about what God can do with us today and in the coming year. How about a little infusion of anticipation in your faith today? I’m telling you, it’s like a booster shot of Christmas pudding.
in september of 1983, near the beginning of a 2-year break i took between my sophomore and junior years of college, i walked into the lobby of michigan oven company with my drafting portfolio under my arm, ready for a job interview. the receptionist was cute, and i was fairly convinced our flirtation proved my charm (she later told me her only impression was that my suit looked dorky).
flash forward to january 4, 1986: we got married.
yup: 27 years ago today, i felt my knees buckle when jeannie appeared at the back of the aisle. she still makes my knees buckle. and i love her more than my 22-year-old self knew was possible.
here’s jeannie and me, looking very young, while visiting universal studios in california, in the summer of 1985.
this being my last blog post of the year, i thought i’d take a few minutes to look in the rear view mirror. as this post goes live on my blog, my wife (jeannie) and son (max) and i will be in the air on our way to london. this is a very unique thing for us, spending christmas in london! i’m 49 years old, and i have never spent a single christmas season in any location other than detroit, michigan, with my family and jeannie’s family. jeannie has never had a christmas away from her parents either. my two kids (liesl is almost 19, max just turned 15) only know christmas with extended families in detroit.
but liesl is on a gap year trip. she and her friend stephanie spent the last three months in ireland (and the month before that in england). on january 3, the day after we fly home, liesl and steph fly to india for three more months. so we splurged. we cashed in a boatload of airline miles and booked jeannie and max’s tickets using those. a london youth worker friend of mine found an extremely gracious family to give us their home for free while they’re traveling over the holidays (we’re “cat-sitting!). we even have a little side-trip planned to wales, and another british friend hooked us up with friends of his who are letting us use their welsh seaside cabin for a few bucks to offside utilities. it’s still a splurge — considering food and fun. but it seemed worth it. and i can’t wait to see my little girl.
oh, and potential robbers: we have house-sitters at our place. so don’t even think of it.
now, for that look back.
we haven’t had such a significant year in our family life for a long time. highlights:
in many ways, i feel like i was the family member with the least eventful year (which was probably a nice change for all of us!)
i doubt i will ever again publish as much as i did in 2012:
in addition to that absurd glut of books, i wrote three columns on middle school ministry for Youthworker Journal, 6 columns for Youthwork Magazine (UK), and probably another one or two articles i’m not remembering.
i also had about 28 speaking engagements, including:
at my church, i continued my weekly leadership of a small group of middle school guys (now 7th graders). i preached once in “big church,” and was involved here and there in other ways.
The Youth Cartel
since adam had just joined me in the last few months of 2011, 2012 was really a massive year of growth for The Youth Cartel. it really felt like it went from me doing my little stuff, to being a real start-up. we’re running at about 110%, and just hope that the two of us don’t become limitations to continued growth.
the year included:
i’m sure i’m leaving some stuff out. but that’s the bulk of the stuff for The Youth Cartel in 2012.
yup. it was an amazing year. i’m thankful to my god. i’m in love with my family. and i’m deeply happy and full of hope.
ok, 2013: bring it on!
man alive, i’m feeling a bit exposed right now.
no, it’s not because a friend just pointed out that this shot of me speaking at the NYWC a few years back (with glorious long blonde hair!) is on the home page of the town & country website:
i’m feeling exposed because adam and i (the youth cartel, that is) are pushing and pushing into new things, and it pretty much all involves risk. i have struggled on and off over the almost-three years since i left YS with the reality of not having the security of a salary. but god has been good, and things have gone well. jeannie and i had one significant cash low-point last summer, but we made it through. now, i’m looking at all the amazing things happening in our little start-up, and i’m stoked. any outsider who hears what we’re doing responds glowingly about our growth, and about how well things are going.
but i’m afraid.
i don’t want to be afraid. i want to trust. i want to have faith (please god, give me faith).
i love speaking to groups of teenagers and youth workers, and that’s also been a great source of income for my family these past few years. but my speaking calendar is pretty empty — comparatively — at the moment.
i think the youth ministry coaching program is just about the most amazing thing i’ve ever been a part of, and there are SO many possible cohorts in the wind. but i can’t seem to get ‘em landed, and am faced with fears like: what if this has run it’s course? what if i can’t count on any more of these coming together?
i and 75 other middle school peeps had our socks blessed off by the middle school ministry campference last year, and i know this year’s event will be just as amazing. but the registrations aren’t where i’d like them to be. and i’m nervous. i’m afraid, dang it.
the summit is a big risk for a start-up. 18 amazing and diverse presenters, plus all sorts of other fantasticality. the way the program has shaped up has so far surpassed my hopes for this baby. and the buzz is great — everywhere, i hear youth workers talking about it. but they’re not signing up. at least they’re not signing up in the quantities that i would expect for this thing. we’re leveraged out on this, our baby, and adam and i are just scratching our heads about how to get the word out (this blog and our other social media tools have so much less reach than the old marketing budgets we worked with in my days at YS). so, i’m afraid on this one.
on all of these, there are interesting commonalities: the “content” or “program” is nails. i’m encouraged and hopeful and confident and excited. but on all of them, it’s that dang security thing again.
jeannie told me yesterday that our bank account is looking startlingly slim. last year at this time, i had a great fall of income that we rode into the new year. but this fall has — all across it — questions of “will this work or not?” and it’s pushing me back to the questions of faith and trust.
i know i rarely experience the good life when i’m coasting, when everything is easy. i know that i’m wired for risk, and that no risk quickly feels boring and mundane. i also know that i lean into god when i’m risking. so that’s all good. but i don’t like the fear part. i know it’s not helpful, and i know it’s not from god. but it’s so dang hard to shake!
adam and i have this funny little dance we do. i’m fairly optimistic; and he is — imho — sometimes beyond that, into idealistic. when he’s exercising his super-optimism or idealism, i often feel the need to provide counter-balance, and point out the risks and possibilities for failure and loss. and when he’s more down, or worried (as he was in our “staff meeting” yesterday), i counter-balance with all the reasons we have for hope. i sound like a highly functional co-dependent, huh?
anyhow. i was struggling. i am struggling. and i decided to write this out as a prayer, in a sense. naming it all gives me perspective.
minutes after adam left yesterday, we had a registration for The Summit come through; and it felt like a little “i’ve got you” nudge from god.
yes, god, give me faith. help me to trust. and please, give me this day my daily bread.