i was having breakfast with my friend ed today, and somehow we got onto the subject of parents who choose bad names for their kids. and i mentioned an 11 year-old girl i know named Chestney, and we both groaned about how awful junior high could be for her. Ed said, there should be a junior high baby naming committee that every pregnant couple meets with to vet their baby name ideas. can you imagine saying to a group of 13 year-olds, “we’re thinking of naming our baby chestney; what do you think?”
about a year ago, we at ys had what we called our “reboot day” — a day-long off-site meeting for our whole staff, where we launched off the shore of who we’d been into the deep and rough waters of change. i recapped what’s happened in the last year here.
then, we sensed that we were at a critical spot a few weeks back — lots of great opportunity in our faces, and a general weariness of our staff. so we shut down for a week of sabbath (see here and here).
this morning we all came back. we met for 90 minutes — first sharing “what i did on my summer vacation”. it was wonderful to hear how people experienced rest. then, i talked about growing up. i believe one of the most absurd modern myths in america is that one’s high school years are the best years of her life. rubbish. the only adults i meet who believe this are sad and immature, and have never, really, grown up. like Uncle Rico. and, the reason life as a maturing adult can be so much better is because we (get the opportunity to) step more fully into our identity and calling.
it’s time for ys to do that. we’ve been a wonderfully adolescent organization for 35 years. 35 glorious years. this isn’t to take anything away from the impact of those years. and, this is not to suggest ys will become stodgy or grumpy or button-down. geez, i’m an adult, and i hope i’m not those things. but it’s time for us to step more fully into our identity and calling.
here’s what i’m suggesting as our identity and calling:
- To serve the church, though youth ministry.
To resource and train and encourage every youth worker on the planet. (w/ primary focus on the Americas)
To impact the lives of teenagers around the globe.
then, we spent some time talking about “the far shore” (remember, we’re in the middle of the waters of change). these are “the trees” i can see taking shape in the distance…
- Continue and strengthen our legacy of the best youth ministry training events (NYWC and CORE) and ministry resources (YS and Invert)
Run hard at our new values:
Systems that serve us (rather than the other way around)
Youth ministry change-agent
Deep satisfaction and sense of contribution for staff
Freedom with Accountability, leading to financial stability and new abilities to risk
New growth (we talked about “new growth” in the way of the green-stuff in forests)
Then we identified what will be required of us as staff in order to reach that vision:
Trust, curiosity (we’re going to step on each others’ toes)
Submission to mutual accountability
Prayer / God’s continued blessing
we all stood together and assumed a prayer posture (hands open, one foot forward) of “stepping into our identity”, and spent some time praying together.
it’s good to be back! i love these people, and i’m so excited about where we’re headed, together.
my friend (and ys author) steve case wrote this beautiful blessing for the staff of ys, during our sabbatical 7-day weekend.
A Blessing For The Good People of Youth Specialties:
Creator and Rejuvenating God
Your servants are tired.
They have walked across a desert for you and now they stand
Take a balloon, God, one of those big ones with all the colors, and hook it up to some heavenly spicket. Let them stand together and rest. Let them know its okay to stop
Let them stand and wait as the balloon swells with your sweet water.
Let them take this moment and close their eyes and tilt their heads back and outstretch their arms.
When the water bursts let it pour down
not in a drizzle
not in a sprinkle
not in a sponge down
not even in a pouring
let it be a deluge
let it be a drenching of your love and presence
May they stand in the center of a waterfall obscured by pour God sized buckets of sweet renovating water.
let them stand firm and feel the washing away of the stress
let every speck of collected dust be wash away
Leave them standing refreshed and ready for what is to come.
Let them shake water from their hair
And feel sweet relief
there is nothing natural or good about being in the airport at 5:30am.
when the first of these came out, bob carlton emailed me: “I can not decide if I think the paper doll video thing is (a) brilliant viral marketing or (b) another example of the male hero worshipping that is often so typical of youth ministry or (c) a biting meta-critique of both.”
i wrote back that it’s (c)… or, maybe (d), just pure silliness.
the 2nd is live today, and it’s terrifying.
more on that subject line in a second…
i got back in the office today after a most-of-a-week-long exec team retreat. great stuff. tuesday was all about strategic planning (for lack of a better term — i don’t really like the traditional concept of SP, and don’t think it makes sense in this day — maybe i’ll post about that sometime). wednesday was a very emotional update on how the five of us have changed in the past year. thursday was work — decisions, plans, stuff like that.
one of the things we addressed was the weariness of our staff right now. here’s part of an email i sent to our staff an hour ago, summarizing an all staff meeting we’d just had:
On our exec retreat this week, we talked about lots of stuff, which I won’t go into today. But one of the things we spent some time on was the general weariness of our staff right now. We identified that we’re at a unique spot in history, with these elements coming together:
· A year into our change process – lots (TONS!) accomplished; but a lot of staff who are tired
· Out in the middle of the river of change (as we talked about at our all staff meeting two weeks ago). I mentioned that I was surprised that, when I mentioned that I was starting to “see the far shore”, some of you responded that you couldn’t see it at all. That was a good wake up call for me – that we all have to step it up on talking about it.
· We’re experiencing sadness at our friends leaving (anca, andy, Susie, sarah)
· Yet, there’s this wad of new stuff about to kick into high gear. On one hand, that’s exciting; but for people who are already drained, that can seem daunting and disheartening.
[Pause – sidebar – story…]
Two weeks ago, my son Max and I went on a cub scout campout on Fiesta Island (a small island in the middle of mission bay). We camped on the beach, along with a handful of other scout families. The campground was right next to the San Diego Youth Aquatics Center (or something like that) – a place where scouting troups and schools and youth groups can come to learn things like canoeing, sailing and kayaking. That Saturday morning, as I was nursing a cup of coffee (that I’d driven to purchase!), sitting in a camping chair on the beach, I watched a group of about 20 asian teenagers (likely a church youth group) gather on the beach for some instruction, then get into a HUGE LONG canoe. They sat two-across, with about 10 or 12 rows. It reminded my somewhat of Olympic rowing, but was really a canoe (and they just had regular paddles). There was a woman from the aquatic center standing backward on the bow, somehow perfectly maintaining her balance. And there was a guy in the back at the TILLER (no, not a rudder – those are underwater, and controlled by linkage to a wheel or other steering device).
After shoving off, they paddled around the inlet – sometimes in unison, sometimes with a random spaziness. They learned how to turn, how to speed up and slow down. Eventually, after about 30 minutes, they were at the far end of the inlet, and the woman on the bow told them to stop (I could just barely hear her). She told them to rest for a few minutes, because they were about to “sprint” across the inlet. She told them to breathe deep and shake their already tired arms out. I saw them rolling their heads around on their necks, trying to loosen up their tensed muscles.
Then the bow-lady said, “ok – get ready. Everyone? Paddles up! On the count of three, I want you to DIG in unison on my call. Are you ready? ONE… TWO… THREE: DIG! DIG! DIG! DIG!”
The massive canoe literally jumped forward. They flew across the inlet (it was kinda breathtaking) in about 45 seconds.
[Unpause – end sidebar – back to us…]
we’re going to do that — all of it. We’re a bit weary and tired; and we have an all-out sprint coming up: NEW THINGS — new events, a possible significant partnership, fall CORE, Alter; and ONGOING NORMAL THINGS – three youth workers conventions just around the corner, all the same publishing work as usual, building the CORE for next year. We’re going to need an all-out unison push from everyone, in every department, in every role.
But we need the pause – the rest before the sprint. So… we’re shutting down YS for a week. We’ll close down at the end of the day, Tuesday, June 7, and remain closed until Wednesday morning, June 15. This will not require “vacation time”. This is personal and corporate rest, in preparation for the sprint. Basically, you’ll have a 7 day weekend (Wednesday, June 8, through Tuesday, June 14). A few people are traveling on business on the 8th. sorry. You still get a 6-day weekend. Use this time however you want – but please make it restorative and rejuvenative and restful. If that means laying at the beach, so be it. If that means heading out of town, go for it. If it means sleeping in and trying a new kind of wine every day, uncork it, baby. Just – please – don’t come back more worn out! I’m going to ask Beth Slev (our spiritual director) to prepare some suggested short reading and reflections for us for each of those 7 days – so anyone who chooses can reflect on the same passage of scripture or practice the same prayer on the same day as your fellow paddlers.
so, there you have it. we’re closing the doors of ys for a week to rest in preparation for a sprint of reinvention. pray for us!
i’m not normally one for prophetic visions. but today, as our consultant asked our exec team what picture comes to mind when we think of the role YS should be playing in the future, an extremely clear picture instantly popped into my mind. this is it:
large stadium field, giant rigging with black gauzy segmenting drapes – on top and dividing sections of the field. Inside each, in various sizes of groupings, are different segments of youth workers in the church – mainliners in a section on one end of the field, fundies on the other; a large square section of evangelicals in the middle somewhere (huddling closer and closer together, afraid by the outlines of “beings” they can barely see through the gauze). A catholic section, and a tiny 7th day Adventist section, and, and, and. Oh, and a “used to be” section with people who’ve crawled away under the gauze, somehow, from a section, but not figured out where to go. All groups can see forms and shapes through the gauze, and make varying conclusions (mostly wrong) about what they see. YS has a huge rope that we connect to the top of all these sections, and we yank it in one unveiling swoosh (think: a sheet being pulled off a statue at an unveiling). Momentarily, people stand blinking and semi-blinded by the sunlight; they even feel a momentary panic of the expansiveness of the field. But, slowly, a good murmur starts to bubble up as people start talking and connecting, and dropping assumptions, and, and….
So, where’s it go from here? If they stand around for an afternoon digging this and learning a ton, where do they go next?
a year ago tomorrow, YS set off on an aggressive path of organizational re-ivention (which we call our “reboot”). this stemmed from a growing sense that we were getting stale, and losing our innovative edge, even though the company was “healthy” by most external measuring standards. in the months leading up to that day, we’d tinkered and considered pursuing a few innovative ideas. but we got to a point where we realized that, unless we seriously address some internal, cultural, systemic problems, the best we could hope for was a few innovations, but no sustained innovation. so, the reboot has been (and still is) a wild and challenging process of rethinking who we are, how we work, how we’re structured, how departments interact, how new ideas get birthed, naming our roadblocks, and addressing personal growth.
we had an all staff meeting this morning, and spent some time going over the reboot milestones of the past year. it’s been quite a ride — and my hunch is that we’re maybe about half-way through the process. here’s the list of milestones:
- · Reboot day (an all staff day away to launch the change)
· Learning from Adizes’ “Stages Of An Organization” theory (see here and here and here) (we set off on a course of re-invention, taking the middle of three opportunities for change. We’d already missed the first opportunity – creating a flywheel of change that starts before the necessity is clear. But we weren’t yet at the last opportunity – basically, selling off the assets to someone else who would bring the rebirth. Our chosen path of re-invention, however, necessitated a “departure from the shore of where we were” into the waters of change, without a clear vision of the other shore)
· Naming of 5 re-affirmed organizational values and 6 “new values” that would be the initial (at least) focus of our reboot
· Reboot org chart, v1.0
· Reboot working teams formed
- · “Change Czars” (two God-given consultants) enter our world
· Exec retreat #1 (personal and corporate identity; major break-throughs in trust; shift in thinking about employees)
- · All staff report on the implications of June retreat
· Re-boot org chart, v2.0
· Attempted shift in reboot working teams
· All staff day away at Mission San Luis Rey
- · Consultant here to meet with marketing
· “Accounting Irregularities” discovered
· Lawsuit filed against YS
- · At all-staff, largest intro of new staff ever: David C, Holly, Brock, Kelsey, Alex, Sarah M, Ian, Jerilyn, Miriam (also joining us in the past year: Camille, Andy, Matt, Beth Mac, Phil, Jody, Gimena and Natalia)
· Acknowledgement that “reboot working teams” are a false construct
- · Financial technology consultant spends his first week at YS (has been back two times since, plus attending the Atlanta NYWC)
- · Web and content management consultant spends his first week at YS (has been back two times since, plus attending the Atlanta NYWC)
· Thinking about “seeing” our future, we started talking about these kinds of things are markers (this was a pre-cursor to the Jan exec retreat and “Yvonne Santos” – the name we gave the living organism that was our desired future):
o Change/risk/good failure
o Self-organizing teams
o Accessible resources
o Satisfaction from contribution
· Mild revision of “new values”
- · Product, marketing and events department retreats with Change Czar, plus individual coaching for everyone else
· Major office moves: tech upstairs, product and events trading spaces, marketing bulging across the hall
- · Organizational “Culture-Strategy Fit Profile” survey taken; extensive report compiled by organizational learning psychologist.
· “Imagine if…” exercise with all staff
· Exec retreat #2 (redefining our future – identification of Power and Communication as primary impediments)
· Decision to stop hosting NPC/EC (primarily coming out of the discussion on power and identity)
- · Innovation Bunker, a neutral creative space for self-organizing teams to work (and white-board dominant conf room) open for cross-departmental creativity
· Re-boot org chart, v3.0
- · A wad of opportunities appear on the horizon, darn close to simultaneously
· Lawsuit concluded
10. “Punch It!”, the railroad crossing game
9. “The Big Book of Things I’ll Tell My Therapist in 20 Years”
8. Soiled “Hands Across America” t-shirt
7. “Too Slow Ronnie, the Roadkill Raccoon”
6. Coin-operated vacuum cleaner
5. Mr. Goodwrench earrings
4. Indian’s playoff tickets
3. Black ‘n Decker makeup applicator
2. Screaming toddler personalized cell phone ring
1. Whack a Facial Mole
from mikey’s funnies
i’ve done seminars on junior high ministry (usually two or three) at, i think, 35 different national youth workers conventions. One time, i did a seminar on a broader topic. it went OK. i absolutely love talking about young teen ministry, and will continue to do so.
but this fall i wanted to do something broader again. so i planned on doing a seminar that’s basically a rant about what ticks me off about the american church that i love so much. i had it called “what ticks me off about the american church”. but the thought around here was that the title was too abrasive. fair enough. these alternative titles were suggested:
– “Rethinking Church”
– “How the church needs to change in the 21st century”
and i countered with:
– “Getting up to speed: Changes the church needs for the 21st Century”
but i’m still not happy with it. what do you think? any ideas?