Saturday, December 28, 2013


This post also appears on Canadian Youth Worker here.

If you study the life of Jesus you will not only discover a God-man full of integrity and character. You may also discover that He likes to do things differently...a lot.

When I first started out in ministry as a volunteer and then young ministry leader, I was convinced that the way I was doing things was the best possible way to minister to teens and families. Call it arrogance, call it being naive, or simply call it being blind. Many years later as a seasoned ministry leader I'm learning to appreciate the richness that diversity has to offer.

Diversity is an interesting word. To some it means embracing a laissez-faire attitude towards life and leadership, while to others it means uncovering and celebrating the different personalities, character and dreams that people possess. For me, diversity is a value; one that liberates a leader from a narrow frame of modus operandi.

Back to Jesus.

If you study the miracles that Jesus performed during His time on earth, you will discover that each one is uniquely different and yet completely amazing. He spits into mud and rubs it onto the eyes of a blind man restoring his sight, He changes water into wine through a simple exercise of refilling empty wine barrels, He speaks to a dead man inviting him to step back into life, and he prays over a small lunch in order to feed a gathered crowd of over 5000 people. And these are just a few of the miracles Jesus performed!

If you take a deeper look into the people that Jesus interacted with, you will again discover this theme and value of diversity. Jesus took the time to notice and to befriend anyone who was willing to be known by Him.

If Jesus embraced and lived this value of diversity, shouldn't our families, churches and ministry communities do the same? Is there room for diversity in your current ministry context, or are you asking everyone to be like everybody else?

Here are a few questions that I'm asking in my life and in my ministry to help me refine the value of diversity:

1. Do I create space where people with different stories, personalities, abilities and learning styles can connect?
2. Do I take the time to celebrate someones uniqueness as well as to look for something that we might have in common?
3. Do I encourage other ministry leaders who do ministry different than I do to keep leading into their uniqueness, or do I suggest that they should copy what I do?
4. Do I possess a balance between creativity and imitation in my pursuit of embracing diversity as a value?

So what about have you seen the value of diversity impact the lives of people? Are there additional questions you'd add to this list to help refine the pursuit of diversity as a value?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


The holiday seasons provides us with many opportunities to generate different conversations. Sometimes these conversations are brand new, and others are sometimes rekindled over food, fun or some other holiday activity.

Regardless of how conversations begin, it's clear that the words and non-vocal exchanges that occur in every conversation matter. Here are some ideas on creating conversations that matter:

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Christmas Pep Talk

Heading into the holiday season we are sometimes in need of a reminder of what might really be important. This is a message I got to share alongside a teenager at the church I currently pastor in. I hope it inspires you to find hope and peace this Christmas season. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Autonomy or Collaboration

Sometimes I wonder if living in our consumer oriented culture stunts the development of our understanding and implementation of leadership.

The typical North American branding for leaders has been those created through a personal ascension towards responsibility, goals and achievements. The name of the game has been to increase one's character, competency and capability so you can become the leader you were intended to be.

As a leader, what I've learned most is that in order to grow I need others around me to challenge me, to encourage me and to help refine me. There is a great temptation to try and carve out our own personal slice of leadership glory. But when we choose autonomy over collaboration, we choose position over progress.

Here are three reasons why it pays to pursue collaboration.

1. God is collaborative. Although the existence and relevance of God may be up for debate in some circles, examining every major world religion you will find that God is always projected to work in tandem with either humans, other Gods or other supernatural forces. As a Christian, I believe and hold to the biblical view of the existence of God. In the Bible, God is described as a communal being that exists in perfect relationship within Himself (referred to as God the Father, God the Son & God the Holy Spirit), and extends relational connection to His creation.

Because God, who is in the innovator of life, has chosen to exist in a collaborative communal expression within Himself, what would make me believe that isolation and autonomy are the best options for leadership development?

2. Personal gain is an empty pursuit. When is enough enough? The answer is never. No matter what I personally achieve as a leadership, it will always remain shallow if I don't have anyone to share it with. Humans were created for relationship. We invest a great deal of time defining who we are based on the determination of how we are connected to others (parent, child, relative, friend, co-worker, etc.). What this tells us is that at the very core of human culture is the fabric of relationship. True leadership is understanding that growth is about a communal practice not personal gain.

3. Many hands make light work. Have you ever tried to push a car out of the snow by yourself? Unless you are omnipresent (meaning you can be in multiple places at the same time) it is impossible. You need one person (or multiple people) pushing the car and one person steering. Leadership was never intended to be a solo endeavour. Great leaders find ways to work alongside of others by putting their differences of opinion, philosophy or methodology aside.

Are there any other benefits to working collaboratively that you would add to this list?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Being Intentional

We live in a last minute culture and we are slaves to our impulses. Marketing agencies take full advantage of this concept with gems like:

  • Buy now, pay later
  • Fast food - we deliver in 30 minutes or less or your pizza is free
  • The easy button
  • Instant download
  • Instant love connection

All the while, we are accumulating these instant fixes for deeply seeded needs as we allow our impulses to control, dictate and dominant our schedules, our habits and our choices.

But what if life what never intended to be lived at the rate of pure impulse? I'm discovering these three things as I strive to find a balance between impulse and being intentional.

1. If you believe in intelligent design, you believe that planning is important. Life doesn't make sense without the concept of intelligent design. Intelligent means well thought out. If you and I exist as part of a well thought out design, which points to the undeniable fact that planning is essential in order to create something that is significant. I'm not sure that you can believe in intelligent design, but yet allow your life to be controlled primarily by impulse. While it may be true that your earthly parents never planned to create you, God (the innovator of intelligent design) did. There is no accidental life on planet earth. God creates beauty out of brokenness and chaos, and He is not controlled by impulse in doing so. Intelligent design points to the fact that planning is crucial to success in life, in leadership and even in love.

2. Discipline yourself to think ahead. Don't just settle for last minute. It takes discipline to create space to make a plan. Great leaders possess the ability to respond to the moment while always keeping the future in mind. The struggle is that most of us have not created the habit of taking the time to plan what might be next, and allow ourselves to instead be controlled by the ever increasing pressures of a reactionary, impulse based lifestyle. 

It's true that you can't think of everything, but entering into a conversation, a situation or a challenge without some sort of plan leads to becoming easily overwhelmed, burdened, disconnected and eventually burned out. If planning ahead doesn't come naturally to you, find the courage to seek out others who have seemingly mastered this discipline and ask them to coach you. Great leaders understand their vision and mission. Vision is an orientation, not a destination; it exists in the future and the present. But unless you discipline yourself to take time to make a plan, you will struggle to discover what vision and mission are.

3. Being spontaneous doesn't mean you're being spiritual. Being led by the Spirit is different than choosing not to make a plan. As a leader, I've been blessed (and cursed) with the ability to see the future fairly easily (meaning that I have an idea of where we should go and how we can get there). There are many times that the plan that I have put in place needs to flex, be adjusted or even torn down due the promptings of God's Spirit. But spontaneity doesn't always equal being spiritual or Spirit-led. Sometimes spontaneity is linked to laziness in leadership. To gauge whether or not people see you as a lazy leader, ask them about to observe your planning habits and give you feedback. The community around you may be able to help you sharpen and refine your leadership habits if you are willing to hear honest feedback from them.

Being intentional in leadership is extremely important. If you are a leader, that's not by accident. Courage, bravery, honesty and integrity are required to lead. Our impulse based culture demands that we must be intentional in the way that we lead. So, how are you being shaped by impulse and/or intention?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Breaking Bees

My son Cannon is terrified of bees.

The instant he hears the buzzing noise of an incoming insect, he runs for cover. While humorous at times, it's also frustrating from the perspective as a father when you see your son driven by fear of the unknown rather than the certainty of what is. No amount of rational, logical thinking can help Cannon process the reality that he is larger than a bee and the bee might just be more afraid of him than he is of it.

I was thinking more about bees during one family walk and yet another instant where I witnessed Cannon jumping out-of-the-way of another insect for fear it might harm him. What do bees and Christians have in common? Here are a couple of thoughts that came to mind.

1. We travel in packs. Bees live in colonies: extended family communal type settings. There are times when different bees are sent out of the hive to scout out new territory, but for the most part, bees prefer to stick together with their own kind.

This is somewhat of a sad realization of most Christians. We love to associate with those who are like us. While this mentality isn't altogether bad, it definitely limits our ability to grow and develop or even influence the world around us. The challenge we face is allowing ourselves to be culture-shapers instead of consumers or bystanders. We take a risk when we put ourselves out there to interact with those who may not share our thoughts and views on life, that's true, but we miss out on the beauty that is to be found in every human being when we only choose to associate with those who are exactly like us.

2. We protect the hive. There is an instinctive nature to bees. The hive is their home; their place of safety; their place of identity. They will offer their lives in service to their queen in order to protect their hive.

The challenge we Christians face is not allowing our denominations, buildings or programs become our hives. If you've ever studied the history of Christianity, you will know that many lives have been lost due to a difference in theology, doctrine and even methodology. Each of us falls victim to the same basic human tendency to immerse our identity in what we do instead of who we are (our doing vs. our being). In our attempt to protect the hive, we unintentionally give our lives for something that may not actually mean what we believe it does. Perhaps we need to re-cultivate the habit and posture of humility instead of pride when it pertains to matters of the hive.

What are other similarities that may exist between bees and Christians?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Conflict, Friendship & Feet

I suffer from the proverbial foot it mouth disease. I cannot recount how many times I have intentionally or unintentionally caused conflict based on what I did or didn't say to someone. It is because of this habit of eating my own feet that I have gained a lot of experience with regards to the benefits of working through relational tension.

This is a fact: Every human relationship will experience conflict, strain and stress over time. How we choose to handle these moments of conflict will determine whether or not a connection is strengthened or severed. Here are two ideas on how you can grow through relational tension.

1. Humility. There is nothing quite like a reminder that you're not perfect to help foster humility in one's character. Learning to apologize, accept responsibility for your actions, and the consequences associated with disappointment and pain provide the best catalyst for character growth and development. It's in times of tension where your true character is revealed. Attempting to deflect or mask responsibility in conflict does nothing but harm any sort of future relational bond that may be built. Relationships that stand the test of time are built on honesty, respect, forgiveness and unconditional love. 

The next time you find yourself dealing with relational tensions ask yourself this question: "What do I need to learn from this situation?" instead of giving into the temptation to distance yourself from this learning opportunity.

2. Fox-hole syndrome. My first role in ministry was in a church that faced a lot of different kinds of conflict. Learning to navigate through the seasons of great tension, strain and hurt helped me to understand that conflict can act as a communal catalyst for strengthening relational bonds. 

One of my favorite mini-series is Band of Brothers. The 10 part series tells the story of a division of soldiers as they walk through the Second World War. As the television series continues to unfold, we discover that the bond between these men is enhanced by shared conflict.

There are times when we may be invited to dig a figurative foxhole alongside of others in opposition to conflict. Instead of viewing these seasons of strain as hindrances to future development, discover the richness of the opportunity to create relational growth that conflict can bring. It's true that unresolved conflict does severe a relational connection, but when you are mature enough to fight through the conflict, the relationship you long for will grow.

The next time you find yourself suffering from indigestion due to your attempts of eating your own feet, remember that relational conflict is unavoidable and it may just be an invitation to deepen the connection that you have with another person.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Living into Mission

I chose the domain name of "Live the Story" for my blog because of the belief I hold that every single human being that has existed, presently exists or will exist in the future plays a role on an overarching story of the existence of humanity. Every single character in this story plays a part in its development (good or bad). The challenge we face in this emerging understanding of story landscape is discovering how our role fits into the grander story of humankind, and what we can do to help shape this story in the present and in the future.

For the sake of this post, I'd like to define the role that each human being plays within the context of this unfolding story as mission. Mission answers the question of why we exist. It gives us meaning, purpose, worth and orientation for the life what we live.

For some, mission is to kill, destroy, manipulate and harm for personal gain. Others may find meaning in devotion to faith, family, friends or vocation. 

In any case, every human being is living into their mission here on planet earth, whether they realize it or not. The challenge in shifting one's mission, or is creating a vocabulary for one's current mission is impacted by the following four elements:

1. Opportunity - Discovering mission begins with recognizing that every living being has been provided with the opportunity to not only exist, but to invest their life within the setting of the unfolding story of humanity. Opportunities come is all different shapes and sizes. Some are made available offline in one's neighbourhood, faith community, workplace or educational environment. Others occur online through social interaction, activity, study, research and the sharing of information.

Where mission is, opportunity has led us there. What are the opportunities available to you at this point in time? Find some people who can help point them out to you if you are having difficulty seeing them.

2. Proximity - Living into mission is most easily sustained by investing in the opportunities that are nearest to you. Proximity is both a physical location and an emotional engagement. Take for example the social justice issue of human trafficking. It may not be possible for someone to move into the middle of where this issue is most pressing, but the emotional connection that can result from awareness of the opportunity to get involved creates the nearness connection that is proximity.

3. Passion - Passion is most easily defined as suffering, believe it or not. Passion extends beyond a fleeting emotional connection, creating a determination and active engagement in an unfolding opportunity sustained by nearness (proximity).

4. Courage - Courage is the final element to the nucleus of what it means to live into mission. Opportunities are plentiful, created by nearness and sustain by passion...but it's courage that moves thought into action and value into activity. Will we face the fear of the unknown, embrace the concept of re-writing an unwritten script and live into the mission we were created for?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Team and Transformation

I'm a huge fan of team sports because I love studying how teams are put together. I listen to endless hours of debate and rhetoric about what drafted or acquired player might turn into an all-star or high-functioning leader for his team; and who might be a better fit in terms of role or character on which team. I'm intrigued by the phrase "intangible qualities" team officials use during interviews to justify the selection of a specific player ahead of another individual.

What I've discovered in all of my observation and involvement as a fan is that there are two major components of team building that exist in the world of professional sports: the draft (player development) and the sign or trade (the acquisition). Imitation is often the predominant pattern to sh a team. When one team wins a championship, other teams begin to adopt principles of the championship squad. Players are analyzed, graded, ranked and selected based on different sets of needs for each individual organization, and other emerging trends or patterns they see more successful teams demonstrating. I often wonder what makes one person more valuable to an organization than another? As teams are built, players are changed, elevated, developed or removed depending on their overall value to the team and the long term goals of the organization. Players become assets and commodities in environments like this.

Thankfully when it comes to the family of God we don't function like that...or do we?
In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul writes about the development of the church, speaking to both the unity and diversity that is found in a living and breathing organism such as the human body. He goes into great detail to highlight the value that every individual body part plays in the overall development of the entire body as a whole. In Paul’s understanding of the Christian community, while there are different roles to be played there are no favorites. We essentially function together as a team, working together towards the common goal of transformation.

Transformation is discipleship and discipleship is most easily defined as becoming who we were created to be. It takes time, effort, investment and intentionality. We leaders help to shape the culture of transformation in our community.  And although transformation should be the goal for every community or team, many communities give way to three most common temptations.

1. Spiritual development is the most important part of transformation.
Earlier we defined transformation in terms of holistic development or discipleship, referring to becoming who we were intended to be. There are four basic elements that define what a human being is: the spiritual self, the physical self, the emotional self and the intellectual self. Paul’s description of the human anatomy functioning in diverse unity shows how all four of these elements of an individual and/or entire community must work together in the transformative process.

If we fail to exercise one set of muscles and overuse another set, we will end up with a lopsided figure. There are seasons where we may elevate the development of one of these facets ahead of another, but unless there is a long term balanced approached to the transformative process between all four of these elements, the process itself will be stunted. Does our pursuit of transformation overemphasize spiritual development or appropriately emphasize spiritual transformation under the auspice of the holistic transformative process we know as discipleship? 

2. Transformation is exclusively individual.
Thinking back to our team analogy, no one individual is greater than the entire team. A culture of transformation is developed in a communal setting that benefits individuals. The greatest sports teams understand this principle. While individuals contribute to the over all goal of the community, they also reap individual benefits of communal growth.

Here in the western world, we are just beginning to rediscover the communal reality of the Christian faith. You may have heard before that it takes a village to raise a child. The same can be said for the process of transformation. We are relational beings designed for connection. Individuals void of a communal expression of faith will experience a stunted transformative process. A team requires a full compliment of players in order to compete effectively. Transformation requires a community of individuals to do the same. No single individual will rise above the development of the broader community alone. We need each other to survive, to grow and to find stability. How is your current community valuing holistic transformation that invites individuals into a long-term development process?

3. The loudest ones are the brightest stars.
It’s easy to assume that the squeaky wheel always needs the oil. If its true that every human being is created to function as a part of a broader living breathing organism known as the body of Christ as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, and that no part is greater than the other, the parts that are louder aren’t necessarily better.
My Grandma used to tell me that the reason God created humans with two ears and only one mouth was so that we could learn there is greater value in disciplining ourselves to listen than creating the space the be heard.

The extroverted and naturally gifted teens and families are usually the easiest to notice and sometimes even get along with. But there may be thousands of diamonds in the rough among those who are less noticeable or desirable to be around. Do our communities make room for the so-called misfits? Do we value every part of the living community we represent, or are we some sort of genetically engineered nightmare growing a dozen limbs but missing a heart?

We grow together, we move together, we breathe together. How are you cultivating a team in the process of transformation?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

We are What We Value

"You are what you eat!"

I can remember watching late night infomercials while in college that were attempting to sell me some new high fibre crash-diet miracle fat burner. For only three easy payments of 59.95 you can create the body shape you've always wanted!! These commercials were mildly entertaining at 3am as you are working on some sort of study paper due the next morning.

What I learned from these infomercials is that we not only have an over-fascination with dieting, but we also crave instant gratification and change.

The truth about life (that no one wants to market) is that it can be difficult. Many people on our planet face an everyday struggle for survival. Those of us who are blessed enough to live in places where our challenges aren't as severe may think differently at times, but we too struggle with making the most of the time we've been given to live.

If life is a gift we've been given, how might we invest what we've been given? Here are 3 thoughts I'm discovering about life and values.

1. We are what we value. At my daughter's elementary school their theme for the year is identity. Their hope is to help their community discover who they are through scholastic education. Different activities, events, and teaching styles are being integrated throughout the year in order to help this theme take root as a value in the lives of their students.

It's one thing so that that we value something and another to live it. Over the years I've witnessed far too many examples of people who say good things but struggle to implement them in their daily lives. The truth about life and about values is that we are what we value. If you want to know what someone values in life, observe where they spend their time and their money. What you see and what they say can sometimes be two different things. It takes great courage to be honest about what we value based on how we are currently investing our lives. Find a community that will help you uncover your values.

2. The expression of our values can shift over time. One of my favourite activities to do with my kids is to have tickle fights. I love hearing their squeals of joy fill our house and leave my ears ringing. While this activity is meant to show them that I value our relationship, I realize that how I express the value of relationship will need to shift over time. Tickle fights work with young children, but are less effective and appropriate with teens or adults. As my children grow, my expression of relational value must also grow. I need to challenge myself and find the courage to admit that what I've always done in the way I've done things isn't going to last. The way I choose to express what I value has to change with the passing of time.

3. Values and character are interrelated. I've heard it said that a season of testing reveals character, but what I'm discovering is that the character we possess is directly correlated to the values that govern our lives. If we desire to be a trustworthy person, we will value honesty & integrity. Life's challenges can be used as mirrors, reflecting what sort of character is being developed in us while inviting us to great depth through what we value.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Three Invitations Boredom Brings

I have three young children at home (1 girl, 2 boys). My daughter just started grade 1 this week, and she loves having to take a bus to get to her school. Five days a week we wake up before the sun, ingest some sort of breakfast food, and make the trek out to meet the bus. Four days a week, we pick her up around 3pm. But Friday is a half day, meaning that she needs to be picked up at noon.

This is our schedule and routine. Mix in friends coming over for dinner, extra-curricular activities and family time and it becomes a full experience. There is seemingly little room for boredom, but without fail, one of the kids will vocalize with great conviction that they are bored if they don't have something to do or are asked to spend some downtime each day. Their response to moments of boredom makes me chuckle, cause I remember saying something similar to my parents when I was younger. In fact, I even thought that being bored might actually kill me one day. But guess what? It hasn't.

The question that I've been left to ponder is this: So if boredom doesn't kill you, is it really an ally?

While it's true that boredom doesn't actually kill you, it's always been difficult for me to identify a sense of value that comes with it. How can you measure something that is usually unwanted and find some sort of use or appeal for it? I'm just now beginning to see that boredom actually invites us into one of three spaces.

1. Creative Space.
Boredom is an invitation to be creative. I can remember some of the most enjoyable moments I had as a child were when I was forced to utilize my imagination through play, work and even school. Faced with an opening in my schedule I had a choice, I could make the most of the free time that I had, or I could fret about not knowing what to do. Have you ever watched kids on the playground at recess? Their imaginations are running wild, creating new games, points of connection and experiences with their classmates. 

As a parent, I now understand the challenge between saturating the schedule and leaving room for creativity. We extinguish the ability to be creative when we don't allow those under our leadership influence to taste boredom. So what if someone says that they might be bored, maybe they are simply asking for help in kick-starting their dormant imagination.

2. Spontaneous Space. 
Boredom invites us into spontaneity. Sometimes being spontaneous has got me into trouble, but it has always provided me with a memorable experience. One of the greatest values I hope to pass along to my children is that we control our schedule, our schedule does not control us. We choose whatever rhythm of life we live into. It's true that external factors do have an affect on a life rhythm, but we still must choose how these factors will shape us.

Haven't you ever dreamed of doing something? What's stopping you? Time, or money? We can allow these external factors to continue to drive our routine, or we can rise about these temporary realities and allow whatever values we've adopted as our own to be the filter through which we experience the life we've been given. Spontaneity reminds us that life is a gift and not a chore. Do you embrace the invitation to be spontaneous that boredom has to offer?

3. Restful Space.
Boredom invites us to find rest. North American culture is built upon results and schedules. Our modus operandi often seems to orbit the death-stars of efficiency and effectiveness. Having 3 young kids I have experienced first hand that not having enough rest has a negative impact on my ability to parent, to lead and to live. Sometimes the gaps in our lives are intentional invitations to restoration through the practice of rest. Do you allow yourself and others to experience downtime for this purpose? Or are you completely fixated with the bottom line as dictated by efficiency and effectiveness?

The Bible contains many different stories about the human experience here on planet earth. One such story speaks of the concept of a drink offering. The practice existed where followers of God would offer a drink offering in His honour. These offerings were meant as gifts; signs of one's gratitude and thankfulness for the gift of life they had been given. These offerings were poured out onto the ground or other sacred space in ceremonial fashion as an act of worship. If you've ever poured liquid from one container to another, you know that you can adjust your pour rate in order to increase or decrease the speed the receiving container is filled and the pouring container is emptied. A good friend of mine once told me that our lives function in a similar way. Despite our best efforts, life here on planet earth will not last forever. Each life on earth symbolizes this concept of a drink offering. All of us have been given the gift of life, which equates to a certain amount of time that we will exist on this planet. It's our responsibility to control the rate of pour so to speak. We can empty ourselves in a splash, or in a slow steady stream. Boredom can be an ally in this experience; one that reminds us of who we are, what's important and how we are choosing to invest the time we've been given. Boredom doesn't kill you, but being foolish certainly will. How are you investing the time you've been given?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Great Consumer

I recently read a claim made by Alan Hirsch that 95% of churches in North America are attempting to reach the same 40% of the population. While in some cases this might seem like an exaggeration, the North American propensity towards consumerism might actually confirm such an analysis.

Our predominant culture is built upon individualism and consumption. We create to consume, we consume to create, and this endless cycle repeats itself. As a parent, pastor, friend and leader, I often spend my time thinking about how I am inspiring others and what sort of life I'm inspiring them towards. The cyclical nature of the above-described cultural reality seems more like a life-sucking vortex than an inspirational fountain.

Consumerism isn't entirely evil, but when left imbalanced, it can become the millstone that sinks the ship so to speak. Here are three tendencies this imbalance brings.

1. Loss of the ability to create. At the dawn of the human age, humanity was given two great responsibilities: take care of the environment and procreate. The care of the environment is another subject for another time. It's the procreate part of this dualistic enterprise I'd like to focus on for a few moments. Procreation in its' most basic form is about multiplication. Procreation literally means "for creation." If humankind exists to create and consumerism is void of creativity in its most innocent form, then a consumer-driven culture will inevitably create a non-innovative environment. 

Consumerism ironically creates more of the same thing, while creativity creates more new things. When we allow ourselves to become submerged in and driven by a consumer-oriented culture, all we are left with is an appetite for what we know. 

When I read about Jesus invitation of experiencing a full life, I don't believe He was referring to life that is simply full of the same thing; I think He was referring to a life that blossoms with creativity.

When we choose to consume, we give up the invitation to create. How can we hold these two powerful allies in balance so that we can experience a life inspired by hope?

2. Expectation trumps invitation. A consumer driven culture elevates expectation over invitation. We humans are interesting folk. When we clothe ourselves with pure consumerism, we allow expectation to grow and invitation to diminish. Our primary concern becomes having our own needs met and our expectations fulfilled. Life becomes about us, the individual, more than about the common good for all of humanity. We resist the opportunity to invite others into our experiences and remain numb to the development and maturity of those we share affinity with.

What if we could fight the tendency toward our individualistic pursuits through the simple discipline of inviting people to share in life with us? Imagine how our perceptions and perspectives might change as we walk alongside of others instead of walking alone.

3. Commitment is a curse. When life is all about the needs of the individual consumer, both experiences and relationships become disposable. It takes commitment to make relationships work. For the pure consumer, loyalty is a weakness, a curse. There is no room for commitment in the world of the pure consumer. Multiple community connections become the new normal as communities are viewed as things to consume and not places to belong. We wonder why families fall apart and neighbours harbour disdain for one another, could it be because we've allowed ourselves to view the world through the lens of consumption rather than creation?

Our consumer culture won't disappear over night, and I'm not certain that it should ever cease to exist. What I do know is that if we adopt one extreme worldview or the other life on our planet doesn't make sense. There is a balance to be struck between consumption and creation. Who will lead us in the pursuit of equality between them?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

To Shame or To Inspire

Our family recently watched The Croods. Our kids loved different elements of the show, and as with all movies in a household containing pre-school aged children...our kids have enjoyed mimicking different phrases and scenes from their newest favourite movie.

I've always been fascinated by different forms of communication and the motivations that drive our need to communicate.

There are two characters in this film that personify the classic tension found in shame or to inspire. Grugg is the prototypical father figure. His desire is to keep his family safe, and he uses fear to keep his community in line. Guy, on the other hand, while desiring to see everyone remain safe, chooses to inspire the community through his communication style.

Watching these two individuals try to lead their community made me think. As parents and leaders we face the decision to shame or to inspire on a daily basis. These are the two primary voices of leadership that are at our disposal. The trouble is, the voice of shame has an extremely limited shelf life, but yet it seems to be the "default setting" for most leaders or parents.

Here are two questions that I'm using to help me evaluate which voice I'm leaning into.

Do I speak more about our disappointments? When I talk to my kids, other leaders, my wife or others, what do they hear from me? Do they hear more about where they might be failing or what is going wrong, or do they hear affirmation as well? While it is important to talk about where things could be improved or corrected, there has to be a healthy balance between affirmation and disappointment. Where there is a void of affirmation, things like ownership, internal motivation and hope will be lacking. You cannot expect someone to grasp a concept, idea or character quality that has never been demonstrated to them though a verbal & visual witness. Be the kind of person you want others to follow. Show them what a life filled with joy and hope looks like. Be a person of affirmation instead of a person of disappointment.

Am I trying to conform or transform? I have 3 young children at home. The temptation to want them to do what I want them to do is overwhelming at times. I will admit that there are seasons when all I'm looking for from them is to do what they are told in the way they are told to do it. This style of leading begs the question of whether or not I value conformity ahead of transformation. If we agree together that every human being is a unique creation, then conformity isn't possible. The best possible hope we could ever long for is transformation. Transformation speaks to the shared values and principles of human life, and not as much to practices (which are driven by values). If we want those under our care and influence to become who they were created to be, we have to be okay with tossing conformity out the window. The greatest compliment here on earth might just be when someone desires to pattern their way of life after yours. They will never be like you, but when they want to live like you live, they are really stating that they would like to adopt the values and principles that drive your life to be their own. Stop pursuing conformity and embrace the freedom found in transformation.

The next time you find yourself in a leadership role, ask yourself these two questions. You might be shocked at the answers you discover, and perhaps you'll need to make an adjustment to the way you lead.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Silver Lining

I had the privilege of serve alongside a cluster of world changers today. As many of you know, southern Alberta (the region where I live) experienced significant flooding during the third week of June. Many residents suffered damage to their homes, lots of infrastructure was destroyed, and even our beloved green spaces experienced change during this natural disaster.

My band of change agents & I headed to one of our local green spaces to help in the cleaning efforts with the goal of helping restore a communal oasis for public use. We got started in our efforts much later than we had hoped, but by the end of our experience each one of us left with a different souvenir of sorts (other than filth laden clothing).

It was humbling to see the damage caused by flooding first hand: 30 foot trees uprooted, erosion of the river bank, damaged fencing, debris and other sorts of clutter. But within the layers of chaos, there were still signs of great hope. Hope that this emerging generation recognizes that they have a role to play in the over-arching and unfolding story of humanity. Hope that all things can be restored, improved and re-purposed even though they have been wounded or damaged by a flood. And hope that there is always an opportunity in every obstacle.

I met a local city worker named James who was passionate about flood ecology. Near the end of our day, James offered us a story that has captivated my imagination. James explained that the poplar trees are a flood species. When the water table is saturated, poplar trees release their seedlings (similar to how pine trees release their pine cones during a fire), allowing the species to continue to grow, thrive and mature over time. James asked us what we had seen during our cleaning efforts. We pointed to uprooted trees, dirt, silt and other debris as a result of the flood. Bending down to a patch of greenery I had walked past half a dozen times throughout the day, James asked us to look closer. As we looked down and more closely at the ground, James pointed out thousands of tree saplings that had begun to germinate. These saplings were unnoticed by those of us who were focused on cleaning and helping our city recovery little by little, and yet these same saplings serve as a reminder that great good can come out of great disaster in time.

The story of Joseph (read more here), a biblical character, has a similar ending. Joseph endured much pain in his life (slavery, abuse, betrayal, etc.), and yet still had the courage to view his circumstances through the lens of an opportunity instead of an obstacle.

Life isn't a series of disconnected chaotic random events. Life is an intricately stitched, elaborate and unfolding story that has a rhythm and design. It's our choice to discover the silver lining during perceived times of chaos. So how are you discovering opportunity in the obstacle that you might be facing?

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Funny Serious Side of Life

Remember being a kid? Summers seemed to stretch on forever. Life seemed brighter at times, and the endless quest for fun was at the forefront of each day's agenda.

Then somewhere along the line we all decided (in one way or another), that it was time to grow up and fun became less of an emphasis as we pursued the more serious side of life.

Maybe you're like me and the faces of people come to mind when you think of people who are way too serious about life, and others who seem to take life for granted. Is there a balanced approach between these two opposing outlooks on life? I think so. And here's what I'm learning about it.

1. Fun & Serious are actually cousins. Being fun and being serious are actually interrelated (meaning that they belong to the same family). I'm not certain that either emphasis is worthwhile unless it is coupled with its' cousin. Laughter and fun create the necessary bridges to become more serious about life, and the serious side of life helps us to appreciate and recognize the value of what fun brings to the family. Sharing in times of both fun and seriousness help us to see the richness that all of life has to offer. We should grow to appreciate both of these fabulous outlooks to life.

2. Laughter leads to longevity. Two summers ago I had the privilege of leading a team of teenagers students on mission to Vancouver. While there, I led a sub-grouping of this team to work in a old folks home. This elderly residence proudly held the record for the most centenarians for the province (meaning people over the age of 100). When asking the staff what they had witnessed to being the key to this kind of longevity each of them referenced the vibrant sense of humor that each of this over 100 year old persons possessed. When we laugh, we saturate our soul with joy. Finding amusement in the mundane routine life offers at times provides us with the perspective we need to weather the tide that each season of life brings. Laughter creates connection, while reminding us that there is more to life than perfection.

3. Each of us has a natural tendency towards one of these viewpoints. Some of us find it easy to have fun with life, while others of us prefer to be more serious in our approach to life. In order to understand the value of both of these elements of life, we need to know where our natural tendencies lie, not so we can bury them, but so we can learn what sort of community we need around us in order to help us embrace a full view of what life is truly all about. If you are more of a serious soul, learn from those who seem to be at ease with having fun. If you have a difficult time taking life seriously, rub shoulders with someone who seems to live in wisdom with how they approach life.

Humor and wisdom may be distant cousins, but they are still related. Being fun and being serious are skills that all great leaders learn to develop. How are you being shaped by fun or wisdom?

Monday, June 24, 2013

What Matters

Time is limited.

The movie In Time starring Justin Timberlake contained the basic plot and understanding that every living human being exists within a specific time frame. The characters of the movie all possessed clocks on their arms that would begin counting down towards zero once they reached a certain age. Once their clock reached zero, they would cease to exist. Instead of being paid a regular wage, they were paid in time increments in order to prolong their existence. Commodities were equated with a different cost in time; 4 minutes for a coffee, 3 minutes for a bus ride, etc.

As leaders, parents & individuals, our life here on earth does follow this same basic principle and understanding. It's true we may not possess a countdown clock on our forearms letting us know how much time we've got left, we do have an awareness that life on this planet doesn't last forever, and usually a longing to invest whatever time we've been given coincides with this basic understanding.

When I think about investing my life, I think about what I need to experience so that I'm filled with great joy and hope. I'm also thinking about what it might mean for others around me to experience a joy filled life. Conversation and interaction between human beings is a large part of life. When I interact with others, am I making the most out of my opportunity to connect with them, or am I wasting my time instead of investing it.

Here are three ideas that I'm discovering about creating conversation that matters.

1. Rooted in story. Each of us has a story to tell. Every life exists for a reason and purpose. Each life represents a single story that is being lived within the context of a greater unfolding story known as the existence of humanity. When I connect with others (old or young), how am I sharing my story with them? Our world is designed to trade in relational currency. My story matters. Your story matters. Our lives matter. Choosing to share stories with one another helps to create the life-giving interaction and experience that each of us crave. Share your life by sharing your story (past, present & future).

2. Willingness to listen. While finding the courage to share my life with someone is critically important, I must also be willing to create the space of others to feel heard and valued through my willingness to listen. I create life-giving opportunities for others by being willing to hear them. My youngest son Deklon reminds me of this all the time. He is just learning how to speak, but he always has a great story he wants to share with me. Sure, there may be only a few words that I understand, but the joy in his eyes as he knows I'm his captive audience is inspiring!

When we interact with others do they know that we are willing to hear what they have to say? We may not agree entirely with them, but we model that they are valued when we take the time to listen to what they have to say. Are you willing to listen to someone's story?

3. Courage to be real. Perhaps this should have been where I started my rant. I'm tired of fake things. Plastic plants always look great from a distance, but when you get close to them, you realize that they are really limited in what they can be used for. This same principle can be applied to our understanding of human life. People that do not represent who they really are through the way they live their lives and interact with others will find themselves becoming increasingly lonely. We humans are designed for authenticity...fake just won't do! We might be able to fool some people for a little while, but we will loose sight of our own identity and a sense of stability in the process if we continue to project who we think we should be instead of who we really might be. The rejection of our fake self is easier to handle, that much is true, but the acceptance of our fake self is even more difficult to process. All you were ever meant to be was you...just the way you intentionally flawed masterpiece. Find the courage to be real, cause fake just won't do!

Conversation that is real, rooted in story & provides an opportunity to be heard is life-giving. How are your creating these environments and opportunities with the time you've been given?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Most Terrifying Question I've ever asked

What now?

In recent weeks I've found myself bumping into this question more frequently. I've walked with families who are working through pain, I've seen many grade 12 students wondering what might be on the horizon a few months from now, and I've even had conversations with folks about different life transitions they are looking at (moving, changing jobs, health issues, etc.). The one common denominator in all of these interactions has been the prevailing, and somewhat deafening, ask of "what now?"

This question seems to stem from a form of identity crisis. When a role that we have played begins to shift (like graduation from an achievement of sorts), we seemingly loose sight of a piece of our identity. We are no longer what we used to be, and we are uncertain of who we are in the immediate and now not as distant future.

I wonder if the tension we experience is a result of allowing our identity to be shaped more by the roles we've been accustomed to playing rather than the values or the principles from which we may have stated are the foundation of our lives.

Consider this: If a parent who has had their children living with them in their home for 20+ years is now suddenly dealing with the emerging reality of becoming an empty-nester (a welcome thought for some), does their role a parent come to an end? Perhaps not, but it does indeed shift.

If roles in life change, and if experiences sometimes facilitate this change, how might one respond to the reality of the 'what now' in their life? Here are three simple suggestions.

1. Breathe. This may seem like a no brainer, but this is absolutely critical. Without oxygen we will die. There are times when the pain we are experiencing in our moment of crisis we are impeded in our attempts to not only breathe physically, but to find space to process the emotional, spiritual and physical realities that transition brings. Create space where you can process this transition and don't forget to catch your breath.

2. Seek wise counsel. Get input from people who have gone through a season of asking the "what now" question before. Their experience might not mirror your own experience, but you may also be able to learn from someone who has walked the "what now" path before you. You're not expected to figure everything out on your own. Take some time to connect with people you trust, people who have your best intentions at heart and allow them to walk this emerging journey with you.

3. Take your time. Don't be hard on yourself. It takes time to work through a "what now" season. In our intensely saturated instantaneous culture we succumb to the pressure and demands of results based value as a society. It takes time to work through different seasons in life. The "what now" season is no different. You cannot expect an instantaneous response to a soul-stirring question. Be kind to yourself and others who are walking through this kind of season. You don't simply get over a "what now" season, you get through it...and that takes time.