Tag Archives: personal growth

Pearls from Jimmy

yesterday, the Level 2 cohort of our Youth Ministry Coaching Program had a special guest join us for a couple hours. Jimmy Abegg is an amazing creative — an amazing guitar player (played in Rich Mullins’ band, and Steve Taylor’s current line-up, and with so many others), a professional photographer, a designer, and an amazing painter (i hope to own an Abegg one day).

with a life given to that sort of work, one could understand if Jimmy were deeply struggling with depression over the dramatic loss of his eyesight. but he’s just the opposite: positive and genuinely hopeful — not hopeful that maybe he’ll be healed, but hopeful that his loss of sight will lead to all sorts of good.

here’s an excellent 13 minute video about Jimmy and his sight loss, VERY worth watching:

Peripheral: Painting in the dark from Derek Pearson on Vimeo.

our merry band of youth workers had a fantastic rambling conversation with jimmy about how to respond when one’s expectations about the future run up against major redirects or roadblocks. a few pearls i furiously scribbled down:

Maybe I’m getting this (vision loss) earlier than most because it’s a good story.

find who you are and go for broke, because i’m betting there’s a hell of a lot more in there than you’ve discovered yet.

not to be sure of what’s goin’ down has to become part of what’s goin’ down.

finding more of me is more exciting than regretting the loss of some aspect of me.

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.


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?

How I Changed My Mind

I had convinced myself that I was speaking the truth; and whether it was spoken “in love” or not, speaking the truth was the thing leaders were supposed to do. But the young woman in my office started crying, and something tipped sideways in my self-analysis.

This crying young woman was the third meeting in a single day, all in my office, where I had spoken “the truth” to someone, only to have them end up in tears. After the first of these meetings, I felt a rush a power, confident that I was doing what leaders do. After the second, my confidence waned a bit, and I had an inner-Scooby-Doo saying “Huh?” But that third meeting; well, it started me on a path of change.

I’d always been a leader who was willing to be vocal with my thoughts and opinions (I’m sure, much to the frustration of everyone in my life). On those spiritual gifts tests, I’d always scored a flat-lined zero in the area of mercy. And here’s the silly part: I was proud of that.

When I worked in a church going through a massive transition, I was asked to be on a transitional leadership team, and was taken under the wing of the two older pastors leading the process. They were both naturally gifted leaders, but had similarly convinced themselves of the strength of their weaknesses. In fact, I remember to this day the exact wording of the mentoring I received from the two of them in one meeting. They said, “Marko, your lack of mercy is the strength of your leadership.” Hey, that sounded good to me (embarrassing and stupid as it sounds to me today). And for the next few years, I steamrolled people left and right under the ruse of “strong biblical leadership.”

What a crock.

But that crying young woman loosened something in me. And through divine revelation or long overdue common sense (or some combo), I immediately knew I needed to change. But I had no idea how to make that happen (and, I was accustomed to “making” everything happen in my world).

I carefully selected two older men who I perceived to be gifted leaders, but also to be merciful, and asked them to mentor me in the areas of mercy and gentleness. At one of my first meetings with one of these guys, he stated the should-have-been-obvious: I couldn’t make myself have mercy; I could only ask God to give me mercy, and pursue a life of mercy. They other guy helped me understand something that became a framing idea for me: I’ll likely never score high in mercy on spiritual gifts tests; but I can still grow in mercy. This same kind of parallel plays out all over my life (I’ll never be perfect, but I’m still called to righteousness; I’ll never love perfectly, but I’m still called to be loving).

These two new understandings re-framed leadership and mercy for me, and put me on a multi-year quest of change. I met with these mentors; I read books on mercy (and the kind of leadership that was more Jesus-y than CEO-like); I journaled and prayed; and I asked friends to help me.

About two years later (yes, it took that long!), I received a great double-confirmation from God that I was making progress. In the span of one week, I had someone comment to me (who didn’t know of my quest) how gentle he thought I was. I could hardly believe someone would ever use that word to describe me. Then, a few days later, one of the secretaries of the church told me that the other secretaries had a nickname for me: the gentle steamroller. I laughed out loud when I heard this: yup, I still had that steamroller way about me at times; and I’m not even sure what a “gentle steamroller” would be. But I responded, “Hey, I’ll take that!” I thought it was the best compliment I’d received in a long time.

As I write this, it’s about 17 years later. I’m still a merciless jerk on a regular basis. I am still very capable of possessing the gentleness of a sledgehammer from time to time (and even of being momentarily proud of it!). But I can see change. I wish it were more immediate. The only thing that was immediate was my recognition of need for change. The process of change has been, and will continue to be, a long, slow journey of transformation.

How are you growing and changing as a leader? In what areas do you need to be transformed?

plotting will and competency: a helpful self-evaluation tool

i am committed to growth. i want to be a life-long learner. i want to grow in self-knowledge, become a better leader, a better youth worker, a better husband and father, a better human being, and a better follower of jesus. not that i always nail this growth thing, to be sure. but i’m thrilled when i see growth in my life.

recently, i was sharing a little leadership self-evaluation tool with someone in my youth ministry coaching program, and thought it might be helpful to pass along.

where it came from: less than a month before i was laid off from ys/zondervan, i had an annual evaluation with my boss. by this point, i was under such horrendous stress (trying to keep ys from imploding during the upcoming transition from zondervan to youthworks, and trying to figure out how to remain true to who i was while being asked to be a kind of leader that wasn’t me). it was the single worst year of my life, and i wasn’t enjoying my work. my relationship with my boss was strained, and i didn’t see a way out of that. i knew ys was either going to get broken up and sold, or get shut down, or some other alternative i didn’t see (but didn’t expect would be good). when i sat down with my boss for my evaluation, i said something like, “i hardly see the point of this, and i’m not very excited about it.” she asked why, and i responded, “well, i think that within a month, i’ll either be going with ys to a new supervisor, or i’ll be out of a job; but either way, an evaluation of how my leadership should change here doesn’t seem worth the time or effort.” she said, “i don’t see it that way at all.” and she meant it.

what came next surprised me: an opportunity to grow, and to learn more about myself.

she set our evaluation forms (hers and mine) aside, and asked me to stand at the whiteboard in her office. she asked me to draw a simple 2-axis grid, with low to high will along one axis, and low to high competency along the other axis. this created four quadrants:

then she asked me to think of all the responsibilities, tasks and other roles i played as the president of youth specialties (and a leadership team member of zondervan). with each, i was to place it on the grid. things like “financials” (meaning, staying on top of the details of ys’s budget and financial performance) got plotted in the lower left quadrant. things like championing the values of ys, and understanding youth workers got plotted in the top right quadrant. but the truly fascinating stuff were those things that got plotted in the other two quadrants — stuff i wanted to do, but wasn’t good at; and stuff i was good at, but didn’t want to do. she suggested additional responsibilities and functions i hadn’t thought of, and i placed them on the chart.

then she revealed a similar chart she had created about me, with almost exactly the same list of responsibilities, roles and functions. to my great surprise, there were only a couple items (out of about 20) where we had disagreement; and even then, the difference wasn’t great.

the process was wildly helpful and insightful. not only was it a good discussion around the differences in our perception and expectations, it was helpful for me to plot myself. i wrote the whole thing down, and brought it home for further reflection. again, the two quadrants i found most helpful to plumb were low will/high competency and high will/low competency. had i continued in that role, it would have been a great tool for making adjustments in the things i spent time on, a great tool for identifying areas i needed help (or needed to delegate), and a great tool for identifying those areas i needed to work on even if i didn’t like them.

i’d encourage you to take 10 minutes and do this exercise yourself. it might be helpful to make the list of responsibilities, role, function first, before plotting them. once you’ve got the whole thing completed, show it to your spouse, or a co-worker, or a supervisor, and ask for feedback. it could be a wonderful opportunity to grow!