Tag Archives: fear

youth workers and fear

group mag coveri wrote a feature-length article for the current issue of Group Magazine. in fact, they chose to make it the cover article; and they shot this photo of me in a suit at SYMC. i’m not sure how i feel about it (“Fun!” “Look, a whale in a suit!”). but i’m also honored — blown away, really — to be on the cover of Group. it’s a little surreal. i posted the cover on facebook yesterday, and a few of the comments would have made me blow milk out my nose, had i been drinking milk at the time:
– steve knight wrote: “you know what they say, sex sells”
– mike pitts said i looked like a college coach
– adam, my partner in The Youth Cartel, text me, “I’m hoping to be on the swimsuit issue of Group next year.”

anyhow: they put the article online. here are the first couple sections:

Fear Only Fear

I’ve been fired two times from ministry positions.

Well, that’s not fair. I was fired once, and I was laid-off once. But the fearsome inner dialogue that erupted within me—despite 20 years separating the two terminations—was eerily similar. I’d grown and matured in significant ways over those two decades, so my intense reaction to the latest bombshell meant:

A. My interior self hadn’t grown as much as I would’ve hoped, or

B. My experience, while deeply personal, is not uncommon to anyone who’s ever been told, “We don’t want you anymore.”

After walking alongside several fired youth workers over the last few years, my gut tells me both are probably true.

But the focus of this article is not about coping with getting fired. Losing my job was simply the most intense personal experience I’ve had of ongoing and pervasive fear. And the voice of fear has often been the primary tool the evil one has used to keep me frozen—exasperatingly short of the fully transformed life God has dreamed of for me.

In both terminations, I saw it coming. I grasped and positioned and politicked and even begged. I tightened my grip, hoping I could somehow control the situation and distract the approaching monster of loss. Once my control was taken away, I entered a very brief stage of disorientation mixed with relief. The waiting was over. My exerted effort to control (which is tiring!) was no longer necessary.

But quickly on the heels of that moment, the voice of fear started to whisper, then insinuate, then sneer…

“You’re done.”

“No one will hire you after this.”

“You’ll never again impact the Kingdom.”

“Your family is going to starve.” (Yeah, the voice of fear isn’t always rational.)

◊ ◊ ◊

My second termination was less than four years ago, so it’s fresh in my memory. It’s very easy for me to re-live the volcanic emotions of those unendurable months. Sure, I had other strong feelings: anger, sadness, and even something I can only call curiosity. But the struggle that almost undid me was unequivocally an MMA match with my inner voice of fear.

My youth ministry coaching program (for a video introduction to the program, go to theyouthcartel.com/coaching-2/) has given me a cautious invitation into the deepest places of struggle in the lives of youth workers. And I’ve found, over and over again, that somewhere around half of youth workers struggle with debilitating fear. They might hide it well, even from themselves, but it colors their interactions, nudges their decisions in one direction or another, and limits their freedom and ability to truly be themselves.

I’ll go a step further—we youth workers nurture a collective self-image of fearlessness (“Rawr! I’m a wild one! Get out of my way, ’cause I’m a bundle of Jesus-y action and energy!”). When that vocational stereotype (which is both thrust on us and self-selected) is combined with the spotlight of ministry leadership, it misleads us, telling us that our experiences of fear are not “normal.” And that’s a killer lie.

(the rest of the article unpacks a model for change, voices of resistance, what to do with your fear, and has a sidebar excerpt of my “fear journal” from a few years ago when i lost my job. read it here!)

Orbiting the Hairball: Innovation without Disconnection (part 2 of 3)

(part 1 of this series explored the need for most of us, despite the desire to be innovators, to stay connected to our organizations via the gravitational pull of orbiting.)

corrosionForces that Corrode Innovation
Even in the orbit, I have to be intentional about resisting the hairball’s pull. I’ve noticed a handful of things I have to be particularly cautious about.

The Love of New
I have a short attention span, and am constantly drawn to the next new thing (whether it’s a youth ministry idea or a smart phone). Whatever good or broken thing in me drives this has to be stabled from time to time.

New for the sake of new causes all kinds of problems. When I live this way, and think this way, I hurt people. I get more interested in the new thing than in people. I both reflect and add to our cultural obsession with acquiring new things and discarding (potentially good) old things. I set myself up to miss out on the beauty of stillness and unchanging. I get ruthlessly dismissive about what was good. I have, in the name of new, tossed many an archetypal baby out with bathwater that was hurl-worthy.

My Own Insecurities
I can be a bull in a china shop, to be sure; but sometimes only because I like being perceived as the kind of guy who’s willing to be that bull.

In my desire to be innovative, my insecurities work against me in two ways:

First, my insecurities and desire for approval fuel me to innovate merely so I will be perceived as an innovator. Seriously, how lame is that? Surely, any innovation born out of that motivation will be short-lived at best, or hollow and hurtful at the worst.

On the other side of the equation, my insecurities work against me to curb innovation. The thinking that lurks in my subconscious says, “In this case, it would be easier and safer to retreat to the majority way or the old way where tried and true measures of success are more predictable.

A Desire for Security
The professionalization of youth ministry brought some undeniable changes. But, in many ways, it’s the worst thing that ever happened to youth ministry. When we are—when I am—being paid to do youth ministry, our innovation muscles are unavoidably restrained.

I find this a tension regularly in my work with The Youth Cartel. I deeply desire for us to “instigate a revolution in youth ministry.” But I also need to figure out how to pay my mortgage, and pay my daughter’s upcoming college tuition. There’s great job security in not being a boat rocker.

Fear of Being Marginalized
I’ve been confronted with my fears at a much more visceral level since I lost my job at Youth Specialties more than three and a half years ago. My fears sort of sicken me; but as I’ve identified them, they’ve played a wonderful role in my pursuit of humility.

I know I have an almost insatiable desire to live larger-than-life. The squiggly thing under the rock is my fear of being forgotten, marginalized, lacking influence. It’s a counter-productive fear, and it stunts my creativity.

You might not share this exact same fear (though I think it’s common to the majority of youth pastors). But, what I’ve so strongly found in the coaching and consulting work I do these days is that every organization and every leader carries with them fears that are more than willing to stifle creativity and innovation, truncate risk, and derail deep transformation. Being honest about your fears, when it comes to change and risk, is a critical component of maintaining orbit around the hairball.

next up, in part 3: Two Essential Thrusters for Sustaining Orbit