bob carlton has a fantastic post today about exuberance. an excerpt:
n 1: joyful enthusiasm 2: overflowing with enthusiasm
For me, the exuberance embargo is particularly hard. I have an almost genetic predisposition towards enthusiasm. Years of therapy have taught me its limitations, but I still love nothing more than to give myself over to (often times irrational) exuberance, the (re)discovered enthusiasm for an idea, a person or a thing.
The source of the word enthusiasm is the Greek enthousiasmos, which ultimately comes from the adjective entheos, “having the god within,” formed from en, “in, within,” and theos, “god.” Over time the meaning of enthusiasm became extended to “rapturous inspiration like that caused by a god” to “an overly confident or delusory belief that one is inspired by God,” to “ill-regulated religious fervor, religious extremism,” and eventually to the familiar sense “craze, excitement, strong liking for something.”
i especially loved a quote and a graphic he posted, from a post by kathy sierra about exuberance in the workplace. the quote:
If you knock out exuberance, you knock out curiosity, and curiosity is the single most important attribute in a world that requires continuous learning and unlearning just to keep up. If we knock out their exuberance, we’ve also killed their desire to learn, grow, adapt, innovate, and care.
looking at this graphic during our convention season, when i have a hightened amount of contact with living, breathing youth workers (as opposed to emailing youth workers, who are living and breathing in some other time zone), i’m quickly struck by how this applies to churches and youth workers. the “what churches SAY they want” and “what churches ACTUALLY want” seems to me to be the primary rub in the ongoing tension and firing and relational distance and stiff-arming and relegating and slaughtering of youth pastors. (i’ve had an uncommonly high number of these stories come to me in the past 30 days, so i’m a bit tender about it.)
i’m not saying youth pastors bear no responsibility. i’ve said this before, that we need to own up to our collective immaturity and the role it plays in all of this crud.
but i have a couple random thoughts here:
first, i think the gap between what churches SAY they want in a paid youth worker, and what they ACTUALLY want (and likely haven’t even expressed to themselves) is the primary source of youth worker failure and youth worker vs. church (senior pastor, board, parents, whatever) tension. this has implications for churches and youth workers. churches need to do a much more thorough job of defining what they want in a youth worker. ultimately, this is a theological question. and, i believe, many churches could really use some outside help in this process (which is why ys is launching a consulting group — more on that later). but i also think youth workers considering roles in churches need to learn how to be much more proactive in discerning what the truth is behind the “we love your energy and that you like teenagers” front.
second, i think this little graphic and this little truth could become a starting point for conversations between senior pastors and youth workers who are experiencing tension. this would need to be done carefully and humbly, of course — not in an arrogant way (tossing the graphic on a senior pastor’s desk and saying “this is what we need to talk about — i’m not your freakin’ robot!”). but to start a conversation about the difference between “what i thought i heard when you hired me” and “what the realities seem to be” — with a curious, exploratory perspective — could be very helpful.
third, i have a hunch that exuberance IS actually wanted in youth workers. but some of the regular and apparently normal tension is connected to a question of the focus of that exuberance. or the implications of that exuberance. for instance, i think most senior pastors and church boards would contend that they DO actually want a youth worker who is exuberant about teenagers. and most youth workers (especially during the hiring process!) would hold to that. but for most youth workers, exuberance about teenagers means (for example) actually hanging out with teenagers — away from the church. but for some senior pastors and boards, exuberance for teenagers might mean (for example) putting in the office hours necessary to run a nifty and well-administrated program for those teenagers. enter: rub.