FRIDAY NUGGET: What You Do is Not Who You Are

I spin plates. I’m really good at it. Do you know what I mean? I have so many tasks and projects and ideas that demand my attention and focus: they require that I keep reaching toward them, giving them a little spin, to keep them from crashing to the ground.

Someone once asked me if my concern was that I wouldn’t know what to do if one or more plates crashed to the ground. But that’s not my issue. The issue for me is that I’ve often not been convinced I would know who I am, in a deep inner-life sort of way, if the plates no longer required spinning. After all, plate-spinner has become an identity.

Maybe, like me, you’re a youth worker. You passionately pour yourself out into the projects and people of youth ministry. But that’s not who you are. Do you know that, at a deep level? Do you know that you are so much more than what you do?

I’ve been on a long journey to separate “who I am” from “what I do.” Or, as a wise person said to me, to turn both “who I am” and “what I do” over to the transformational, redemptive work of God. So, if you hear a loud ripping sound coming from San Diego, you can assume it’s me. Want to join me?

Mission, Community, and Word 3.0

one of my coaching program participants is a sharp young woman leading a wonderfully tiny youth ministry. i think it’s something like 8 regular teenagers, or something like that. tons of awesome in that, from my thinking: opportunities to turn on a dime and try new things.

recently, she was rethinking her program structure, particularly in response to reading Youth Ministry 3.0. she was feeling that her ministry was just too program heavy for its size. too much complexity, particularly in a small group, made the teens feel like they had to be at everything; which just wasn’t sustainable.

ashley came up with the idea that she’d like to consider alternating foci/purposes for their weekly meeting, rather than multiple programs for multiple foci/purposes. listening to her description of what she was trying to accomplish–the values of her ministry–we came up with three purpose words: Mission, Community, and Word.

she set out to experiment alternating between those three. a Mission week would get the teenagers doing something for others. a Community week would focus on developing belonging in the group. a Word week would focus on teaching and talking about the Bible. the fourth week in a month would either take a second dose of one of those three (most often, Word), or would be a week off.

i loved this. clean, clear, intentional.

2 Sentence Book Reviews: Christian Nonfiction

i’m overdue for some book reviews, and will be posting reviews of 23 books this week. as i’ve done in the past, i’m posting two sentence book reviews. in each case, the first sentence is a summary of the book; and the second sentence is my thoughts on the book. i include a 1 – 5 star rating also. and occasionally, i’ll have an additional note.

today we wrap things up with two christian nonfiction books. in both of these cases, i wrote official endorsements; i’ll forego my normal two-sentence reviews for the endoresments:

fellowship of differentsA Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together, by Scot McKnight
5 stars
*note: this book releases on february 24
my official endorsement:
One of my life values is that uniqueness is better than conformity, firmly believing (though I realize this is strong) that conformity only leads to death. This isn’t merely a selfish value, reflective of my undeniable quirks and general non-compliance. Instead, my work with church leaders shows me, over and over again, that healthy thriving churches are not only places of diversity, but they love that about themselves. A Fellowship of Differents will feel like a commendation to churches who already live in this tension, and like a loving and prophetic intervention for those who wrongly worship the god of sameness. Scot brings us story and biblical teaching about who we–the church–can be, at our very best.

Magnificent Mark: Unlock Your Awesomeness and Make Your Teenage Years Remarkable, by Danny Ray
4 stars
*note: this book releases in april
my official endorsement:
My favorite Bible verse in John 10:10, where Jesus tells us that he came “that they may have life, and have it to the full.” That fullness of life–what I long for–is a life available to teenagers. Jesus didn’t come to give us a life of drudgery or rules or religious performance. Magnificent Mark points readers to that full life, a life of purpose and passion, adventure and meaning.
magnificent mark

2 Sentence Book Reviews: Church Ministry or Youth Ministry-Related

i’m overdue for some book reviews, and will be posting reviews of 23 books this week. as i’ve done in the past, i’m posting two sentence book reviews. in each case, the first sentence is a summary of the book; and the second sentence is my thoughts on the book. i include a 1 – 5 star rating also. and occasionally, i’ll have an additional note.

today’s reviews are a mash-up category — some church ministry books and some youth ministry-related books (i call some of these ‘youth ministry-related,’ as they’re not really youth ministry books, but are books i’m reviewing for youth workers):

it's complicatedIt’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, by danah boyd
4.5 stars
research-based explanation of how and why teens use social media from the world’s leading expert. even though the book gets a bit repetitive at points, i wish i could get every parent of teenagers and every youth worker to read the introduction to this book.

bonhoeffer as youth workerBonhoeffer as Youth Worker: A Theological Vision for Discipleship and Life Together, by Andrew Root
5 stars
rather than my normal two sentences, here’s the official endorsement i wrote for must-read youth ministry book:
“Wow. I have, quite literally, never read a youth ministry book anything like this: full of history and story and theological articulation and implication. Absolutely fascinating.”

got religion?Got Religion?: How Churches, Mosques, and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back, by Naomi Schaefer Riley
5 stars
a journalistic overview of young adult ministries in various faiths, highlighting case studies of what’s working. story-driven and easy to read, i’ve started regularly recommending this book to those who care about the faith of college students and young adults.

brainstormBrainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, by Daniel J. Siegel MD
3 stars
understanding the teenage brain from a perspective of its power, specialization, and potential. often boring (i found the exercises to be annoying and useless filler) and off-subject, there are some stunning gems in here for those with the patience to sift.

more than just the talkMore Than Just the Talk: Becoming Your Kids’ Go-To Person About Sex, by Jonathan McKee
4 stars
rather than my normal two sentences, here’s the official endorsement i wrote for this parenting book:
So many books on this topic are written by people who don’t actually interact with real teenagers. But McKee is a practitioner first, a frontline youth worker with current and regular interactions with Christian teenagers wrestling with the intersection of their faith and their sexuality. Never condescending to teenagers or parents, Jon brings his blunt and honest writing style to a subject I wish more parents were talking about with their teens.

wrapping up this series tomorrow with two christian nonfiction books.

2 Sentence Book Reviews: Nonfiction

i’m overdue for some book reviews, and will be posting reviews of 23 books this week. as i’ve done in the past, i’m posting two sentence book reviews. in each case, the first sentence is a summary of the book; and the second sentence is my thoughts on the book. i include a 1 – 5 star rating also. and occasionally, i’ll have an additional note.

today’s reviews include 6 nonfiction books:

war of artThe War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield
5+ stars
understand and overcome your internal resistances to creative output. this is a must-read for anyone doing sort of work that is even remotely creative, which, really, should be pretty much all of us.

homeschool sex machineHomeschool Sex Machine: Babes, Bible Quiz, and the Clinton Years, by Matthew Pierce
4 stars
self-published, hilarious, autobiographical stories from the author’s teen years. so, so funny (particularly for those of us who grew up in the sometimes odd world of christendom); my only complaint was that i wanted it to be three times longer.

finding the space to leadFinding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership, by Janice Marturano
4 stars
the subtitle says it all: this book is about learning how to be present in the context of leaders. easy to read through a christian meditation lens, i found this book to be wonderfully helpful, and have used it now with a couple of my coaching groups.

henrietta lacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
5 stars
well-researched history and science about the most common cells in medical research, which were harvested, without permission, from a poor black woman. i’ve rarely read a book with such a stellar combination of science and story, all written in a compelling and accessible style with tons of subtext and ethical challenges.

dueling neurosurgeonsThe Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery, by Sam Kean
5 stars
the history of neuroscience, told via fascinating case studies. if you’ve ever thought about reading a book to understand the human brain better, but were worried it would be too technical or boring, this is the book you should read.

kingdom of iceIn the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, by Hampton Sides
4.5 stars
exquisitely detailed history of a failed polar voyage in the late 1800s. the quantity of detail was so well crafted that it never left me wanting less.

on deck for tomorrow: five church ministry and youth ministry-related books

2 Sentence Book Reviews: Fiction

i’m overdue for some book reviews, and will be posting reviews of 24 books this week. as i’ve done in the past, i’m posting two sentence book reviews. in each case, the first sentence is a summary of the book; and the second sentence is my thoughts on the book. i include a 1 – 5 star rating also. and occasionally, i’ll have an additional note.

today, five Fiction books:

one more thingOne More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, by B.J. Novak
5 stars
a collection of mostly humorous essays–mostly fiction, but not all–from The Office writer and exec producer (and ryan, on the show). i found these wonderfully entertaining even when they weren’t laugh-out-loud funny.

serpent of veniceThe Serpent of Venice: A Novel, by Christopher Moore
5 stars
a hilarious, lusty, and fantastical mash-up of The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and The Cask of Amontillado (yes, you read that correctly). moore is my favorite comedic writer, and this one is absurdly over-the-top in the best possible way.

worst person everWorst. Person. Ever., by Douglas Coupland
4 stars
dirtbag TV cameraman gets an assignment on a tropical island for a ribald Survivor-type show, where nothing more could go wrong, and nothing can spare him from his a-hole self. reads more like chuck palahniuk than douglas coupland, but is biting commentary on our cultural obsessions.

brutal youthBrutal Youth: A Novel, by Anthony Breznican
5 stars
4.5 stars
a lowly freshman makes his way through his first year at a parochial school full of systemic (even endorsed) bullying. great characters and wonderful honesty, with development and insight into teenagers.
*note: this is not a young adult fiction book, but a fiction book about teenagers. in my observation, one difference is that these teenagers talk like real teenagers.

your fathers, where are theyYour Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?, by Dave Eggers
4 stars
a lonely and disturbed man shackles a series of captives on an abandoned military base in order to question them, to make sense of his life. more light-hearted (sort of dark comedy) that my summary would lead you to believe, this isn’t eggers’ best work (i believe eggers to be one of the 20 best living fiction writers), but it’s interesting and insightful.

on deck for tomorrow: six nonfiction books

2 Sentence Book Reviews: Young Adult Fiction

i’m overdue for some book reviews, and will be posting reviews of 24 books this week. as i’ve done in the past, i’m posting two sentence book reviews. in each case, the first sentence is a summary of the book; and the second sentence is my thoughts on the book. i include a 1 – 5 star rating also. and occasionally, i’ll have an additional note.

let’s get started with Young Adult Fiction:

allegiantAllegiant, by Veronica Roth
4 stars
the third and final installment in the Divergent series brings a sort of teen-led revolution and wrap up to the series. the author took some big risks (which is obvious by how many amazon reviewers were not happy with this book’s approach or ending), but i felt the risks paid off and made this final installment less predictable than it might have been.

maze runner
The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, and The Death Cure, by James Dashner
4 stars for the first book, 3.5 stars for the other two
a group of teenagers push through a series of deadly tasks as part of an ill-formed and twisted scientific plan to rid the world of a deadly pandemic. often interesting, certainly nonstop, but ultimately uneven, with plenty of missed opportunities for deeper insight into motives, relationships, and humanity.

firecrackerFirecracker, by David Iserson
4 stars
a rich and self-centered teenage girl gets kicked out of her elite private school and is forced to attend public school as a super-smart loner with an axe to bear and lessons to learn. the writing is fantastic and the main character is brilliantly witty and snarky, though as a whole, it feels a concurrently over-the-top and lacking depth.

hollow cityHollow City, by Ransom Riggs
5 stars
the second installment of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children finds the children on the run for their lives. these books almost defy description: beautiful in writing, layout, creativity, and full of metaphorical insight into every person’s uniqueness.

tomorrow’s reviews: five fiction books

FRIDAY NUGGET: the question is one of values

a former coaching program participant called the other day with frustration about how his regular youth ministry retreats have become program-focused, ends unto themselves (“just offer a programmed retreat and that’s a win”). he was wondering about scrapping them.

but good change rarely involves throwing the baby out with the bathwater. sometimes programs need to be shut down; but often they simply need to be retooled and revisioned.

this youth worker had done major work with a team to discern their ministry values. so my input was: strip away all assumptions about what a retreat is (not easy when you’ve done it the same way for many years). then, with your ministry values in front of you, build a retreat that optimizes the rocket fuel of time away together as a means of fully embodying your ministry values.

programs are just programs, not evil but not the goal. the question is: how can we more fully lean into our values?

Optimism helps in a sprint, but Hope is needed for a journey

In high school, my parents grew weary of the multiple ways I was finding to abuse their Volkswagen Bug. They issued an ultimatum that I would lose driving privileges for a time if I had another infraction. So I totally panicked when my buddies thought it was hilarious to somehow completely fill the inside of the car–all the way to the roof–with the tiny styrofoam pellets you find in bean bag chairs (or could find, back then).

I drove around the church parking lot with the doors open, allowing the styro-bits to create their own weather pattern. Then I pumped quarter after quarter into a self serve car wash’s industrial
vacuum, making sure I sucked up every single last piece of evidence.

All was well, I convinced myself, for a few weeks. Then, the first cold day of the fall arrived, unfortunately, when my dad and I were in the car together. The windows fogged up. As we drove down a major road, my dad reached over and turned on the defrost fan. On a Volkswagen Bug, the windshield is almost vertical, and the defrost vents point straight up. How was I to know that they were filled with thousands of patient, hiding, styrofoam balls, which engulfed the inside of the car with a blinding snowstorm?

You can convince yourself for a while that optimism will get you where you want to go. But eventually, optimism will be found out as limited. Optimism will fall short. Optimism’s great for a short sprint, but Hope is needed for a lifetime journey.


This is just a li’l tease, a snippet from Hopecasting: Finding, Keeping and Sharing the Things Unseen. it’s currently at the printer, and should be available in just about a month or so.

(click for a slightly larger and more legible cover image)
hopecasting full cover

FRIDAY NUGGET: Courage for Leading Change

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.