Monday, December 8, 2014

To Honour and to Lead

There is a tension that young leaders face. We think we know it all. Our minds are chalked full of great ideas, visions for the future, and the sometimes delusional thinking that we can achieve the impossible. And in our vigour and intentionality we lead out hoping that by sheer will and determination our current reality will change.

(to read more about other leadership tensions, this is a blog post I wrote for the Youth Cartel).

But there is often times something standing in the way that we have failed to be aware of...tradition.

I know that tradition can be a curse word in today's post-Christian, trans-modern and flexible culture. Young folks sometimes cringe when they hear someone who is older than them talk about what they used to do back in the "good-old-days."

There is, however, something true about tradition

Tradition has helped to shape both expectancy and culture. The customs, rituals, experiences and values that have been conceived in the form of tradition have created a perception about the past, the present and the future. To change the perception towards the present or the future requires the willingness to honour tradition and a determination to lead towards a new future.

There are 3 ways young leaders can honour the tradition of the culture so they can lead towards the future:

  1. Know the history - Every community has a story. Knowing the history of what went well, what went poorly and the lessons learned along the way will provide a young leader with the posture of honour & respect. Arrogance is death to a young leader. Demonstrate a willingness to learn by uncovering the story of the organization you serve with.
  2. Celebrate the good in everyone - A friend of mine once said, "You always remember the past more fondly or more poorly than what it really was." It can be true that we humans have a tendency to sensationalize the past in a more favourable light when it suits us. However, it also must be said that there are amazing things that have taken shape before our arrival that are worth celebrating. Discover these historical moments for your community and be intentional on how you celebrate them. Honouring tradition in this way will give you the credibility to help shape the future history of your organization or community.
  3. Contextualize your vision for the future - Use common language. If a 6 year old doesn't understand it, a 90 year old won't find it fascinating. Speak in terms that can be easily understood. Is it compelling? Is it memorable? If the answer is no to one or both of these questions then you've got some work to do. Be creative. Find ways to make it stick. Borrow language from other thinkers. You don't have to dream something up out of thin air. Pray, listen & test the language you'd like to use.
To honour and to lead. Two habits of a highly effective young leader. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sitting in the Ashes

Last night I had the privilege of listening to a ministry friend of mine share his story of working through the reality of living with mental health related issues. Brett Ullman shared openly, honestly and passionately about this somewhat taboo subject, causing me to reflect on what my role is as a friend, father, husband and leader when it comes to mental health.

One of my favourite stories is the story of Job. It's an epic tale of a man who had everything, lost it, experienced great pain, and saw it all restored over a series of different circumstances (read about it here).

As the story of Job unfolds, his friends gather around him to support him in this season of pain and confusion. They do something that I find extremely profound and the outset of this initial connection...they choose to sit beside him in literal ashes for 3 days.

Unfortunately after this point they attempt to counsel Job and offer their "wisdom" as to why he may be experiencing this pain.

Nonetheless, there is something very raw and powerful to be learned here. I've asked myself this question over the last 12+ hours, "What does sitting in the ashes alongside someone look like today?"
Here are some ideas that came to mind:

  • visiting someone in the hospital
  • sharing a meal with someone
  • laughing
  • giving your lunch to someone so they can eat a meal today
  • financially supporting a child through Compassion or World Vision
  • giving out free hugs (careful with this one...could get weird!!)
  • shovelling snow
  • praying for someone
Are there Jobs in your life? People who just need to know that someone is willing to sit with them in the middle of their pain? What would it look like for you to sit in the ashes alongside someone in need today?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Pharisaical Syndrome - Leaders & Opponents

Jesus and the Pharisees...sounds like an indie-rock band, doesn't it?

I was having lunch with a ministry friend of mine and listening to him share about what God was saying to him regarding the future direction of his role and his church; he began to describe the hope that he had for this new and bright future, but also the nervousness that he felt for potential opposition to this future that he believes he is needing to create. This is a description of a leadership tension that is familiar to anyone who has had to lead people in a direction that wasn't a natural expression of where they wanted to go.

Jesus too faced this sort of tension...from the guys who could have backed up him, but instead were intent on killing him. These guys, referred to as Pharisees & other names, suffered from a human condition known as the Pharisaical Syndrome. This syndrome describes people who can be hypocritical, self-righteous & judgemental. While we all are capable of this type of behaviour, opponents to any form of leadership often exemplify these unbecoming characteristics. And the truth about leadership is that we will always have opponents to what we do or to who we are. Leaders learn to navigate through these tensions, trusting that the God they serve is larger than the perceived opposition they may face.

So how do you know when you are facing an opponent in the form of a Pharisee, or if the opposition you face is actually an invitation to refine your vision for the present or the future?

Here are four signs that you may be dealing with an opponent who suffers from the Pharisaical Syndrome.

1. Murder
Instead of supporting Jesus, the Pharisees engineered his death. Sometimes the opponents we face want to kill something inside of us as leaders. Maybe it's hope, maybe it's confidence, maybe it's something else. The goal of a Pharisee is to get rid of a potential problem or threat. The frustrating part of this reality is that sometimes Pharisees believe their intentions are God-honouring and helpful to the broader community. But the goal of this activity is ultimately to harm, and not to help...that's how you know the difference between someone who has succumb to the Pharisaical syndrome and someone who is speaking truth in love.

2. Pride
Pharisees didn't like Jesus because he threatened their spiritual control of the community. Opponents sometimes lash out because they too feel threatened in some way. Maybe covered up lies will be exposed or a long celebrate program initiative will be dismantled. If your opponent is attempting to protect themselves or something they've created in some way, you may be facing someone who's pride has been hurt.

3. Selfishness
The Pharisees had a different agenda than Jesus. All of us are motivated by something, and there are times when our motivation is distorted towards self rather than towards others. We may take "pride" in being the voice for the voiceless, but have we ever asked ourselves if someone ever invited us to play that role on their behalf? There are times when we need to speak up for justice, and there are times when our perceived pursuit of justice is simply a veiled form of selfishness. What's your opponent truly motivated by: self or others? In Jesus' case, his actions were motivated by his love for people, while the Pharisees were motivated by love of self.

4. Complexity
Taking something simple and making it more complex - the reality of the erosion of the Covenant first made by God and humankind by those who struggled with the Pharisaical Syndrome. Moses was given 10 commandments to give to the people of Israel...commandments that pointed to God's desire to be loved and to see his created beings love each other. When Jesus walked the earth, these 10 simple commands had evolved into a complex oppressive reality for the people of Israel. Opponents to your leadership may seek to create complexity or demand you conform to pre-existing complexity in some way. It's important to remember Jesus words "unless you change to become like little children" (Matt. 18:3) when we face the opposition of complexity. Simplicity is the currency of hope that the Kingdom of Heaven trades in. If something is more complex than it needs to be it's time to be reminded that living is simple.

Every leader faces opposition. See it. Process it. Respond appropriately. Sometimes our opponents are just like Pharisees.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Adventure #4 - Lost in Time

I recently received some of the childhood toys that my parents were storing in their basement for the last 25 years or so. My kids spent the better part of 2 days playing, exploring and celebrating what I once held dear.

These moments reminded me of something that is a key part of adventure...something that dads can very easily share with their own children - the PAST.

The past is a part of everyone's story. As my kids held up toy after toy, memories flooded to my mind, endless moments were my own creativity was nurtured and stirred. Here are some of my top ideas to help share your past (your story) with your kids:

1. Board Games
What games do you remember playing as a child? Are there current versions on hand that you can share with your kids? Go to garage sales, look on second hand websites or call older relatives so see if they have what you are looking for. Games are an easy way of sharing fun, laughter and memories with the next generation.

2. Movies
What stories captivated your as a youngster? If you've got a Netflix subscription, you may be able to find them and share them with your kids in fun new way.

3. Places to Visit
Did your parents, grandparents or relatives have a special tradition their shared with you? Maybe a place where they would always like to visit? My grandparents loved taking us kids to Dairy I look for every opportunity to take my kids for ice cream (partially because I love it, but also because I may have a dairy addiction)

4. Toys
Did your parents save some of your toys from your younger days? Find ways to introduce your kids to your childhood through stories and play time with toys.

5. Food
Did you have a favorite meal as a kid? Why not take an evening to make it with your family? Share the reason why you enjoyed it so much and ask them what their favorite meals are.

What other activities or experiences from a person's past can be used to create, strengthen and build relationships in the present?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Adventure #3 - Just plain fun

I'm sure lots of you have seen the #ALSicebucketchallenge videos dominating social media. It's been interesting to hear stories of all the awareness, funds and fun generated by this campaign. I recently got nominated, so I invited my kids to help me out, and well...this happened.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Adventure #2 - fun for free

A home is something that invites people to be who they are, to rest and to try new things. Creating fun and adventure is a challenge when you are faced with limited resources and budget constraints. Those that know me know that I love a great deal, so hear are some of my favourite stay at home adventures you can create for families...even if your kids are older, it just takes a little time to warm them up to the idea.

1. Inside Dodgeball
Remember hearing your mom say don't play catch in the house? Well...why not? What not break the rules sometimes and create some unexpected fun with a soft foam ball. Indoor playground games can cause a ton of me...

2. Forts for sleeping
Make bedtime fun and unexpected by changing things up. Why not sleep in a fort?

3. Hide and Seek
It's an old game I know, but once again...why not? Enjoy the invitation of spontaneity and fun by doing something you normally wouldn't do. Get over yourself and get creative!

4. Family Cookouts
Invite every member of your family to help prepare a meal together. You can put each person in charge of a particular element for the meal, or decide to work on everything together. Watch your connection grow and you work together towards a common goal and mission as a family.

5. Dress-up
Be a kid. Have fun. Do theme based dinners as a family, or run errands in a costume. Adventure is out there; sometimes you just need to help create it.

6. The Pet Store
It's fun, it's free and you can pretend for hours to be owners of all sorts of different pets.

7. Parks & Recreation
Go play on a playground, throw rocks in some water or take a good old fashioned walk as a family.

8. Lego
Are you a master builder? Have a family contest to see who can build the most creative lego based structure.

These are some of my favourite fun for free ideas. What would you add to my list?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Aventure #1 - #howtodad

As dads, we get to be like adventure guides for our families. Over the next few weeks I'm going to highlight some of the fun adventures I've either participated in with my own family, or heard other families have a lot of fun with.

So here it goes...

Adventure #1 - Hiking

Hiking is an activity that families of any age or size can comfortably do together. Depending on where you live, you may have great access to bodies of water, mountains, grasslands or other unique features that will make your time together incredible! Being outside provides you with a great opportunity to connect with your family outside of the normal hustle and bustle that is sometimes the dad life...and it's super simple to organize:

  • Pick a place you'd like to try out
  • Pack food and water
  • Lather on sunscreen & bug spray
  • Don't forget your camera!! - take lots of photos...makes the memories last

Here are some of the fun places to hike we've hit up as a family this summer. 

Sheep River Falls

Sheep River Falls is located in Kananaskis Country here in Alberta. It's a free park open to families, and it's worth the drive!! You can hike right down to the water's edge. Enjoy!

Elbow River - Stanley Park

Here is Calgary we have the privilege of having two rivers run through our city. The Elbow River is smaller, and provides young families with quiet spaces to explore and enjoy. We got our fill of rocks, minnows and fun in the sun!

Johnston Canyon

Johnston Canyon is epic. If my young family can do the 6k hike to the upper falls, then yours can too! Again, this is a free hike. The only cost to us was the gas to drive to the starting location...and yes, it was worth it!!

Bow River Falls

Bow River Falls is located on the east edge of Banff. It's a fun hidden gem in the middle of tourist central. There is a lot of space to walk around, throw rocks and enjoy the beautiful scenery. I officiated a wedding at this very location back in's a great spot!!

These are just a few of my summer 2014 favourites. I would love to hear about some of the places that your family enjoys hiking (which is really just a form of walking) together. Comment below or tag me in your own family's photos.

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Thursday, August 7, 2014's part of being a Dad

Dads play many different roles in the lives of their children, but one of my favourites has got to be the guide to ADVENTURE!!

Remember when you were younger? Every new experience left an impression of some kind on your life. Some were good, others were less than awesome. These adventures shaped you in some way. Perhaps you found the courage to do something you never thought was possible, or you discovered something new about yourself that you didn't think existed. Adventure stokes curiosity, wonder and hopefulness in the lives of kids.

I'm going to devote the next few blog posts to highlight some of my favourite adventures I've helped to create (with the assistance of my amazing wife Bonny!!) for my kids.

Stay tuned for more...

Monday, August 4, 2014


I stumbled across this bold commercial that reframes the stereotypical Hollywood idiot dad in a brand new, restored light.

Who are the dads in your sphere of influence who need a little encouragement? Enjoy!!

(PS...I'm not endorsing Peanut Butter Cheerios, I'm celebrating the restoration of the champion dad image)

Monday, July 28, 2014

All Kinds of Dads

What is a dad? Have you ever stopped to ask yourself this question? There are all kinds of dads in our world: foster dads, adoptive dads, bio-dads, step-dads, spiritual dads, wanna be dads and mentoring type dads (to name a few).

Dads come in all shapes, colours and sizes. Some are tall; some are small; some may be more round in stature, while others may be more lean. So why is it that sometimes we all wish dads would be something that they are incapable of being? The Perfect Dad.

Hollywood hasn't done us any favours in this regard. The dads depicted on television and in the movies are usually one of two types of extremes - negligent (Homer Simpson) or hyper-active (Liam Neeson in the Taken films). As we soak in the messages we are receiving about what a dad should or could be like, we begin to compare our own dad to what we've experience in the realm of conjured fantasy we call entertainment and we are often left uttering the phrase: I wish my dad was more like...

What if we shifted our focus away from the impossible search of the perfect dad and instead embraced the simple concept of the good-enough dad?

I realize the words "good-enough" scare some folks. Some people see them and interpret that there is a lack of effort being given to a particular task. Others may hear "good-enough" and understand that what is being shared is no longer a priority.

Let's you and I commit to something here. Call it a restoration of language. Good means just that, good. And enough tends to mean full, or a limit of some kind. So a good-enough dad is a dad that is full and good. This full and good type of dad is unique, because every person contains a different proportion of being full. For some dads a full experience is being incredibly intentional in spending time with their children through a variety of ways. For other dads, being full is working multiple jobs to provide for their families. What I'm saying here is that good-enough becomes more a relative term than an absolute standard for all dads to achieve.

When we take our focus off the idea that dads can be perfect, and instead allow them to be who they have been created to be by pursuing a good-enough dad like strategy, I wonder if we would be able to celebrate who the dads in our lives are instead of who these dads aren't a little more intentionally?


I don't pretend to know your story at all. Maybe your personal experience with your dad hasn't been the greatest. It's true that our experiences with the people in our lives do shape us, but they do not have to define us. Can you celebrate your dad (remember, there are lots of different types of dads) for being good-enough, or are you still holding out for the perfect dad experience?

If you are a dad, take time to be the best version of you. This will mean something different for every single dad on the planet. Discover how you are wired, lean into your uniqueness and allow who you are to help shape those around you in a positive way.

There are all different kinds of dads out there and we need them all. Be you. Because you is awesome.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I'm a Dad...and it's ALL good

I remember the very first time I found out I was going to be a father. My wife Bonny had just taken a pregnancy test and we were sitting the doctor's office to confirm our hunch. I was filled with excitement, awe, wonder...and a little bit of fear.

Questions like, "would I be a good father" and "how am I going to support another person" raced through my mind at an alarming rate.

Then the day came when I met my child for the very first time...our precious daughter Saydie. I remember snuggling her and giving her her very first kiss. I remember promising her that I would love her, care for her and do my best to be a good dad. This same life-changing experience was repeated in unique ways as we welcomed our sons Cannon & Deklon into the family over time as well.

I haven't written much this summer cause I've been spending a lot of time just being a dad. But it occurred to me that conversations about dads aren't always positive, so I wanted to change that. I'm going to experiment with beginning to write about what I see dads doing right, celebrating people while intending to inspire readers towards hope. If you know a dad who needs some support, or have a story of someone who is doing something awesome, let's celebrate it together!

Post it. Share it.

I don't know much, but I do know something...I'm a Dad and it's ALL good. So here's to dads!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Interview with Ken McIntyre about leadership & Youth Ministry

Ken McIntyre is the youth ministry director at Beddington Pentecostal Church in Calgary, Alberta. Ken loves working with people, using technology & all things Canadian.

Watch/listen to this conversation about God's activity in and through the life and ministry of Ken (Follow him on twitter: @ken_mcintyre)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Power of Story

Have you ever wondering where stories come from and why they are so powerful?

The origin of story is found in something we lovingly refer to as oral tradition. From the dawn of time, human beings gathered together to share in story - story of life's origin, story of purpose, story of definition and story of hope. Every human culture that has ever existed has elevated story to be the capstone of their existence. We are immersed in story.

Story is in the sinew that binds the human narrative together.

One of my favourite things to do as a parent is to tell stories to my children. Sometimes these stories are about my own childhood memories; sometimes the stories I tell are focused on producing some sort of desired response; and at other times stories are simply about celebrating something.

Stories are powerful because they matter to us. Here are three ways the power of story is revealed.

Story inspires. Have you ever heard someone say, "I've gotta great story to tell?" They proceed to dive into a great tale of some triumph or failure, evoking emotion, engagement and wonder as a result. Great stories are ones that inspire us in some way. Inspiration is a fickle thing. At times it demands an active response, and at others it invokes a pensive state. In all its forms, great story-telling catapults the listener into an emotively saturated climate called inspiration.

Story celebrates. The best stories told through image or words are those that seek to elevate a cause, an individual or a dilemma that is worth celebrating. While Hollywood has done society a great disservice is many regards, what Hollywood does do well is celebrate great stories. Historical turning points, social awareness issues and personal triumphs have been captivated in print or on-screen in ways that have allowed millions of people to be influenced in some way. Awards shows like the Grammys & Emmys provide a platform through which the telling of story is honoured, and the stories themselves may gain the recognition and joy they deserve.

Story breathes. Stories are alive. Don't believe me? Try telling someone a story and see what happens. Stories evoke question, wonder & hope at the drop of a hat. What we say, how we say it, and how we choose to live in response to what we've experienced are signs of that is wrought into existence by the power of story.

One of my goals as a leader is to learn to harness the power of story in my own life - knowing that what I say and what I do are stitching together a narrative that influences the world around me. More importantly, knowing that my life as story exists within the context of a greater unfolding story known as human existence, which has been authored by a creator God in a loving and determined fashion.

It's this story that all of human kind finds itself immersed in. Which leaves me to ponder how we are engaging the power of story in all its forms to inspire, celebrate & breathe in present reality and the not so distant future? What do you think?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Video Interview with my friend Phil

Phil is a youth ministry worker who is passionate about Canada, intergenerational ministry, youth and the Toronto Maple Leafs! Listen to a conversation between Phil and I as we chat about Canadian youth ministry trends, what we love about Canada and what we hope every Canadian Youth Worker would know about their ministry.

Monday, May 12, 2014


It's grad season. Students are preparing for life post-university, post high school, post jr. high or post elementary. Each transition brings with it a series of new opportunities, questions, hopes and dreams. In these seasons where we may ask 'what now' how do we respond? This is a video some friends of mine helped produce in an attempt to generate spark life in the midst of transitions. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Youth Ministry chat with my friend Grover Bradford

Grover Bradford is a Canadian Youth Ministry legend. He possesses over 20 years of ministry experience with missional agencies and the local church. Listen to our conversation about the current and future state of youth ministry in Canada and join the conversation!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

3 Ways to Destroy Connection

Two weeks ago I wrote about the necessity youth workers face to create environments where students find a place to belong and someone that believes in them. Last week in a video interview with Mark Oestricher, he mentioned that teens are being driven by their desire to belong to connect as their foremost filter through which they create their connections.

If we agree that creating space to belong is important, are there habits and elements that erode or destroy these connections?

1. Humiliation - No one likes to be the focal point of jokes on a regular basis. When students make mistakes do we ridicule them in some way? Do we parade them in front of their peers and ask them to apologize? Do we use them as an illustration in our next youth talk to "inspire" their peers to choose differently?

Jesus met with a Samaritan woman at a well. (Read more here). As he interacted with her, he challenged her towards a hope-filled life but he didn't humiliate her in the process. We all make mistakes. We are all sinners. When we humiliate someone we alienate him or her from community and cause they to question their sense of belonging. What would our youth ministries look like if we instead responded with love and grace while avoiding the seductive nature of humiliation?

2. Condemnation - When we focus on behaviour more than identity, we tell a student that who they are is less important than what they do. Character is reflected by our actions, that's true, but activity void of deep connectivity to a set of values that govern our decision making process is empty and really does not have any formative connection to character.

What if instead of focusing on a list of do's & don'ts, we focused on living into a rhythm of life filled with hope, joy, compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience & self-control? What if instead of hearing how bad we are we focus on how great our God is and how amazing His design for life really is? I don't know about you, but I'm tired of feeling like I'm not good enough to do something because of what I've done and need to be inspired to live life despite my past, present or future mistakes. Perhaps teens are longing for a sense of mission beyond sin management similar to what we as leaders may be craving?

3. Lack of Invitation - When we expect students and families to get involved in the experiences we create instead of taking the time to invite them into the creative process and the experience itself, the program becomes more important than the people. 

I've been learning a lot about this theme lately. What is success in invitation? Is it when the person responds to the invitation positively? Or is it simply the extension of the invitation? Jesus interacted with a young rich man and invited this man to become a disciple. The man chose not to respond positively to the invitation Jesus extended, so does that make this interaction a failure? I don't believe so. In this story we are shown that reality that not everyone will want to be a part of what we are doing and/or facilitating. If it is true that teens are desperately looking for a place to belong, if they are never invited to do so, how will it be possible for them to find it? Do our youth ministries need to reflect more of an invitational culture than one of expectancy?

Do you agree with these 3 ways we destroy connection? What would you add to this list and why is it important?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My friend who loves Canada

This past week I had the chance to interview a good friend of mine, Mark Oestricher, about youth ministry in Canada. As an American, Marko is able to provide a unique perspective that may somewhat surprise you coming from an American. Sit, listen, enjoy and please provide feedback!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Born this way

The resurgence of conversation about discipleship within the context of family and the church is an encouraging sign for both the present and the future of Christianity.

But I wonder if sometimes we create more confusion than clarity when we attempt to communicate our vision for the future. Do families and individuals simply hear that discipleship is yet another thing they have to try and fit into their already overcrowded calendar? What if we reframed the conversation about discipleship around the theme of intentionality and consistency, would that answer the question?

One of the more famous statements Jesus made is commonly known as the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Here are two ideas I’m discovering about these words of Jesus through a fresh lens.

1. Discipleship is more natural than we think.  Jesus frames the conversation about discipleship by simply uttering the phrase “go and make disciples.” What this tells us is a number of things. First of all, there is an expectancy that we will make disciples, meaning that our lives are meant to inspire others towards hope and a future. The way we live, how we talk, what we celebrate…all of these characteristics point to the hopefulness we are encouraged to represent. When your life is reflected in a mirror, does it point to hope or to something else?

The second element of truth in this phrase is that the idea of discipleship is what we humans were created to do. Now please understand that when I use the word discipleship I’m referring not only to making disciples, but also to living missionally and acting as an evangelist. A disciple is someone who follows Jesus. A person that follows Jesus must live missionally because Jesus is mission, and to be on mission with Jesus is to tell the story of who Jesus is through the way we act and speak. For too long these facets of Christianity may have been seen as antonyms with one another, but they are instead synonyms and function together in cohesive communion within each other. Whether we know it or not, we are in the business of discipling people. How we act, what we say, where we invest our lives…all of these elements express our discipling ways to those around us.

And finally, making disciples is an ongoing process that does not come to a static conclusion. Discipleship is an organic entanglement because people are both complex and simple. It’s true that shared basic needs shape humanity at the general level, but each person requires a unique invitation towards a hope-filled expression of life making the complexity of the discipleship process more diverse than uniform.

2. Intentionality and consistency.  If discipleship is a natural expression of human life, the intentionality and consistency behind that expression are of crucial significance.

Every human being engages in the formation of people (discipleship) consciously or unconsciously. Examining one’s intentions and desired outcomes in creating connections with others reveals the degree to which the individual is aware of his or her influence, significance and meaning.

Imagine if an entire generation of people understood that who they are matters and what they do with what the life they have been given makes a difference. How different would the world in which we live become?

We were born to create, born to connect and born to grow. Discipleship isn’t a fad; it’s a part of our original design. How are you inspiring the people around you to discover that they were born in this way?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Two keys to working with people

I recently returned from a cross-cultural experience with teens. Trips like these always provide students (and leaders) with valuable memories, opportunities for conversations, growth and potentially life-changing experiences.

This is one of many different trips that I've been a part of in the youth ministry world over the years. Each time I've travelled to a different country, experienced a different culture, or have simply taken the time to be present with a group of people I've noticed that there are two primary values (keys) that drive connection: a place to belong and someone who believes in you.

These values aren't limited to culture, context, age or gender. They simply exist because they speak to the core needs of humankind. So if these values happen to be the root motivators for connection, what does that mean for us as leaders who work with people? I'm not an expert in this material at all, but I would suggest there are some key shifts that may need to take place in the systems and communities we leaders create.

A place of belonging. There are numerous articles written by people who are much smarter than I am on this particular subject matter. Here is one of my favourites written by a friend of mine, Mr. Mark Oestricher.

The question that belonging answers is "where do I fit?" If the communities, activities and environments we help create answer this question for the people we hope to serve, then we are on to something. But, what if the reverse is actually true? What if the sub-culture we've created is based on something other than acceptance and love and polarises people rather than embraces them?

Can you believe different and still find connection with those around you? If we foster a place to belong we value and embody love ahead of anything else.

Someone who believes in you. Every single person who is in existence, has existed or will exist in the future needs someone who believes in them in their life. Someone who comes along and speaks hope and life into you at a dark place in life. Someone who has your best interest in mind in the way the speak to you and interact with you. Someone who isn't willing to see the dark side of our human nature overshadow the hopefulness of the image of God that exists in every human being.

Without someone who believes in us, we may never find the strength to persevere through tough times or the hope to carry on when things don't seem to make any sense. What if having someone that believes in us is a literal matter of life or death? No one can walk through life alone, nor should they believe the lie that says they have to. Do our ministry efforts foster a culture of belief and hopefulness through the exchange of respect, honour, love and admiration?

Do you agree with these two ideas? What would you add or subtract from this conversation?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What do innovation and dreams have in common?

Photo used with permission

Have you ever had a dream that was so vivid it seemed as though it was reality? You know, the one where you wake up and think you can fly, or look good in a mullet?

There is a great fascination with humanity as it pertains to dreams. How many of us have been asked or even asked others what dreams they might have for their lives? Sometimes our dreams may include a preferred relationship, job opportunity, home, car, vacation or other things. At other times, the dreams that we have are more focused on seeing the Kingdom of God become a reality.

When I read the story of Joseph, I'm consistently reminder of the power that dreams can have in a person's life. But there is a distinct difference between dreaming and innovating that we as leaders need to be aware of.

1. Dreams aren't for everyone. In a conversation with a great friend of mine, Travis Wilkins, I was reminded that dreams aren't for everyone. Joseph was given an incredible dream by God...and he was excited. And when we as humans get excited, we want to share our excitement with others. As a young man, he believed that his brothers would share in his excitement...but the opposite was true. Joseph's brothers were frustrated with his dream, and plotted to eliminate their juvenile brother as a result.

So what's the point of this facet of the story? I believe it's to show us that dreams aren't for everyone. The excitement that we experience through the hope that dreams can bring should be shared, but not necessarily with everyone. I wonder if this story may have played out a little differently had Joseph found a person of peace, someone who believed in him and loved him, to be his confidant. 

Sometimes we unknowingly create enemies by sharing our dreams with people who aren't ready to hear them, or who really aren't people of peace in our lives. Dream your dreams, but take great care to find those who truly love you to share in them with you...a principle and model that Joseph demonstrated later on in his life.

2. Dreams without innovation may not really matter. Just like the dreams we have when we are flying, anything we think of but never work towards just doesn't matter. Some of us love to stay in the idea stage of leadership. We think about what could be or should be, but we rarely venture in the lab to begin experimenting or innovating with our dreams. Ever wonder why that is? 

I think that sometimes we let expectations, fear of failure or fear of the unknown limit our dreaming to a blue-sky stage instead of inspiring us to begin to innovate. Dream your dreams, but please find ways to experiment with bringing them into reality over time.

3. Dreams speak of hope, innovation lives it. Dreams are an invitation to hope. Innovation is an invitation to live it. Martin Luther King uttered the most famous line "I have a dream" when he spoke or racial equality. This dream was an invitation to hope, but it was brave souls like Rosa Parks and others who began to live into this new reality through innovation.

There's a line from one of my favourite movies, We Bought a Zoo, that I believe sums up this invitation culture the best - "sometimes you only need 20 seconds of insane courage to do something incredible." As leaders and parents we sometimes need to find these 20 seconds in our lives. And if we have the ability to begin to see different challenges that we face in light of 20 second courageous intervals, maybe the hope we so desire to experience and thrive in will actually become the reality in which we live.

Discuss this: What tendency do you lean towards as a leader, a dreamer or an innovator? If there is one thing you need insane courage for right now, what would it be?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

When your leadership is threatened

Every leader will face a season where his or her influence seems to be fading. Sometimes this can be due to age, sometimes to irrelevance or sometimes due to a copious amount of mistakes that are made.

In other moments and seasons, a diminishing influence in leadership may occur when a younger and perhaps even more gifted leader comes into the picture.

The biblical narrative is chalked full of a number of different stories of leadership transitions, both positive and negative. For the purpose of this short article I simply want to focus on two such stories highlighted by Dave Brotherton in his live interview with Mark Buchanan conducted online through Canadian Youth Worker here.

Saul meets David
Saul was the first king of the nation of Israel. The story of Saul and David begins with David defeating an enemy, Goliath, who was terrorising the Israelites. David, a teenager at the time, fought Goliath in battle. No one from Saul's court or mighty army was willing to lead out in battle against this supposed giant.

In this moment, David not only seized a level of authority and fame, but also elevated his leadership voice substantially.

As this story progresses, Saul becomes increasingly threatened by the ability, talent and popularity of David. At one point, Saul tries to end David's life by hurtling a spear at his head...side note, if someone physically threatens you as a leader, I would say this classifies as a failed leadership transition...just saying.

Saul maintained the title of authority, but David's leadership ability and anointing from God elevated him to a place that surpassed Saul.

Every leader will face their own David and/or Saul moment. As a youth pastor, there are leaders and teens in my ministry who are going to do even greater things that what I've been able to accomplish in my leadership thus far (and in the future). I have a decision to make when the stories of these brazen, young & incredibly gifted leaders collide with my own leadership story. Will I hurl a spear at their heads hoping to wound or kill their ability, or will I have the confidence to step outside of myself, lend whatever leadership reputation I may have built to these younger leaders for the sake of the Kingdom?

Eli mentors Samuel
Eli was the high priest of Israel at the time when a young boy named Samuel came to live with him. One evening, the Lord began to speak to Samuel (which was a privilege typically reserved for the priesthood in Israel...of which Samuel was not yet a part of). Samuel, not knowing what was happening runs to Eli several times seeking to respond to what he thinks is Eli calling out to him.

At some point, Eli clues in that Samuel is hearing the voice of God, and instead of letting his jealousy overwhelm him...he coaches Samuel to embrace the Lord's invitation. Eli knew he was being passed over, and he could have held on to what "he built" for the sake of his family and his reputation, but instead he allowed wisdom to shape his decision to celebrate Samuel instead of destroy him.

So when threats occur...
When your leadership feels threatened will you throw a tantrum like Saul, or embrace wisdom like Eli and support, coach, empower and cheer on those who will do more amazing things that we can possibly imagine?

Are there people in your current sphere of influence as a leader that you need to begin to view differently in light of these two stories? What is God saying to you, and what are you doing about it?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Celebration - the role of the extended family

I grew up in a small town and what was unique about my childhood is that the majority of my extended family lived within 20 minutes of one another for these early formative years. We'd gather together regularly for special holidays, feasts and crazy family experiences.

At this young age I never really understood the value or privilege it was to share in these experiences. To be honest, there were times I didn't want to be a part of these experiences. I felt like too many people knew me for who I really was, and I wasn't sure if that would ever be enough for them.

Kind of sounds like what some people have to share about connecting with a community of faith, no?

As a father of three young children, I'm being inspired to return to the practice of celebration. There is great value when we support, protect and honour these shared experiences.

1. Support/Love - Families are designed to support and love each other. Both of these habits aren't always easy to create or achieve. There are internal and external pressures that affect the context families exist in. A family doesn't always represent a biological connection. Families are clusters of people of different ages who consistently commit to living out life together....families are meant to be people who love one another no matter what.

I long for my own children and for teens/leaders/parents under my influence of leadership to know that they matter. Do I shape the elements of my parenting and pastoring around the postures of love and support, or do I allow productivity and measurables dictate rhythm, pace or design?

2. Protect - Families are designed to protect each other. It's true that those who are closest to you have the most influence to harm or to help you. As an extended family, gathered around a set of values & principles (like a community of faith), do we fight for things that truly matter, or do we reserve our physical efforts to creating chaos within our familial connections? When people connect with your extending family (community of faith and/or ministry) do they understand that they are being welcomed into protection, or do they live in fear of being seen for who they really are?

Only one person ever lived a perfect life...Jesus. And we still found a way to make fun of him, hurt him, betray him while ultimately killing him. For the rest of us who are less than perfect, maybe we should invest our energy into developing health and growth in one another instead of always focusing on why we might be sick. Would people flourish if they knew they were worth fighting for?

3. Honour - Families honour each other. In my world, to honour means to celebrate. I honour those who are older than me because their lives have helped to shape the current reality that I benefit from. I celebrate my own kids because we all need people who believe in us and will cheer us on. Honouring doesn't infer that we completely agree with everything that has transpired over time, but it demonstrates that we are willing to overcome our differences and recognize that diversity isn't meant to polarize us, it's meant to inspire us. As leaders, parents and people, is our posture one that speaks to defiance, or one that speaks to celebration?

What other roles do you see an expression of the extended family playing in the lives of people?

Thursday, February 20, 2014 this on?

This post also appears on the Youth Cartel site and Canadian Youth Worker.

If you've been in any sort of leadership role you will know the reality of being evaluated. It's happening constantly. Parents are looking at you to see if you are trustworthy as a voice of reason in the life of their child. Teens are wondering if they can trust you with who they really are. Volunteer leaders are hoping they can find a faithful cheerleader who supports, encourages and cares for them as they invest their life in the lives of others. And while tests can sometimes help us evaluate the good, the bad & the ugly, at other times I wonder if they simply get in the way of our goal of defining meaning and purpose behind the ministry activity we are seeking to measure.

Over the years that I've been involved in youth ministry as a student, a volunteer and now a paid youth worker, I've discovered that there are 3 predominant themes that permeate the evaluation process from both a programmatic and personnel perspective.

1. Personality
2. Passion
3. Performance

Here are some thoughts on how each of these themes burrow their way into the evaluation process.

Personality - This is perhaps the most contentious aspect of evaluation. It's also the most subjective. Every person in the world possesses a unique personality and make up. Some personality traits are more endearing than others. Different environmental factors can enhance or detract from natural personality quirks. But at the end of the day, some people are going to like you as a leader and others aren't. And they base a lot of their assessment on whether or not they can understand or interact with your personality.

It's important to remember that the way you are wired is the way God intended you to be wired. As Creator, we must trust that God doesn't make mistakes. We aren't asked to be perfect like Jesus, we are asked to follow the way of life that He modelled for us. Perfection is unattainable for us as humans, and therefore we should never seek to personify it. Yes, we can grow in our understanding of ourselves and others, and in our ability to love one another, but we must recognize that we are intentionally flawed and yet still worth knowing and being known. As such, we cannot lament about different aspects of our personality that naturally connect us with people while disconnecting us from others.

Evaluation that is based solely on personality is always subjective. Sometimes it really is about you, and there is nothing you can do about it. Live into who God has created you to be while asking others to love you in the same way. If you hit an impasse in evaluation, you may have to embrace the reality that some personalities will never get along and it may be wiser to move on than to continue trying to create hope or change.

Passion - Passion is most easily defined as burden or hunger...although I do think the word suffering is appropriate to use at times. Passion asks the question: What drives you to move forward? Passion is also contagious. As people interact with you, are they experiencing our passion or are they questioning it?

Having passion doesn't mean doing more or working harder. Sharing your passion means learning to communicate what drives you forward to lead the way you are wired and to do what you do as a leader. If there are questions about your passion, it may be because people don't understand your personality, or it may be because what you are saying and what you are doing don't link up.

If you have passion, it should be seen through what you do and heard through what you say. Sure, we all have our off-days, but is it our passion that drives us to move forward or something else?

Performance - While personality may be the most subjective element of evaluation, performance seems to be the most convoluted. The typical North American church defines success based on the bottom line reality of what is most easily measured (attendance, budget & income vs. expense). We've created different metric systems to try and bring clarity to our performance, but in doing so we may have unintentional creating recurring ripples of chaos that detract from the true goal of our leadership efforts.

It's easy to say that performance should be defined by obedience and faithfulness. But how do you measure it? I will say this, if you are performing well according to whatever contextual metric is in place, questions about your personality and passion become less frequent. But if the opposite is true, questions about both become increasingly prevalent.

If these three elements are in play throughout the evaluation process, where does that leave us in our quest to evaluate and even define success? What do you think?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Soul-Caring Habits

This post also appears on Canadian Youth Worker.

Much has been written and talked about regarding the necessity of youth workers caring for their own souls. This is a critical habit to develop. The truth is that unless you are tending to your own soul care, the ministry you are engaged in and serve with won't do it for you.

I've seen way too many friends and colleagues burnout in ministry because they neglected the health and development of their soul. And when burnout happens, it's more than just the individual that suffers. Their entire community bears the scars and wounds that soul neglect creates.

There are many different habits that can become soul-nourishing. Here are three of my top three:

1. Playing or listening to music. Music has the ability to lift, emote, transform and transcend situations and circumstances. In different seasons of my life I've been drawn to different genres to help restore my emotional capacity, or process the difficult nature of pending circumstances I was feeling. Songwriters like Adele and Ryan Tedder (and others) have the ability to translate their pain and joy into song in ways that help others process their own current reality in a fresh perspective. Even classical music can help with decompressing after a difficult day or conversation.

When you are feeling on edge, music can be a tool to help you recalibrate. Listening to or playing music can become a soul-nurturing habit.

2. Watching movies. Sometimes living into an unfolding story as seen on screen can provide you with the necessary processing time you need to tend to your soul health. Stories are powerful invitations to celebrate, create or hope. Movies can be springboards into hopeful perspectives and outlooks in leadership challenges. When a protagonist triumphs over evil, it can be a reminder that every leader faces challenges and can discover a way to work through them. When an antagonist becomes all-consuming, the viewer may be aware of his or her own ability to become the negative influence we seek to overcome in different seasons.

And sometimes you just need to laugh. Visually displayed humour can invite us into a 50,000 ft perspective of our own hardships or challenges while reminding us of what is really life instead of simply managing it.

3. Creating conversation. We all need people we can talk to and confide it. Whether that is a spouse, close friends or a network of other youth workers, who are your allies in your foxhole? Do you have people you can be completely candid with, or are you always in the habit of keeping up appearances? Authenticity is the gateway to a healthy soul. It is absolutely critical for every leader to find fellow sojourners who support, uplift, pray for and challenge them. We weren't created for isolation, and we will not survive on our own. We need each other.

What have been your most healthy soul caring habits? What would you add to this list? 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Parents - Allies or Enemies?

This post is also featured on the Youth Cartel blog here and also on Canadian Youth Worker.

When I first started out in youth ministry I thought my role was to be everything a teen's parents could never be in their life. I focused on being edgy, cool, hip and of course up to speed on pop culture.
Then something happened. I myself became a parent.
So what was my new role as a youth worker going to be now that I was parent myself? Did this eliminate my identity as a hip, cool and with-it youth pastor?
The truth is, being a parent has enhanced my ability to both pastor and parent. Neither of these roles are mutually exclusive, but somehow they have blended together to help me reshape how I lead families in the present and into the future. Here are three things that I'm learning about working with parents in ministry.

1. Parents aren't the enemy. We've all had negative interaction with parents I'm sure, but these experiences don't make parents bad people. Parenting is the most difficult job on the planet. Add into the mix the explorative tendencies teens possess, and you get an emotionally charged scenario 9 times out of 10. Parents are passionate about their kids, and sometimes their passion is mis-communicated as anger, rage or displeasure. Wise youth leaders find ways to disarm emotionally charged confrontations and turn them into win-win scenarios for all parties. Parents sometimes just need someone to listen...just like teens do. I wonder if we spent more time listening to the stories and needs of parents if we'd build greater partnerships with them?

2. Parents need to be loved & valued too. If you're constantly told that you aren't doing a good job, wouldn't you begin to believe it? Most teens (like most human beings) have no problem telling people when things aren't working well for them, but when it comes to sharing encouragement, they might struggle to do so. Consider your next upcoming parents gathering. Spend a few moments encouraging and inspiring parents instead of asking them to change something they do right away, you might find that they are more willing to consider your ideas once you've spent some time listening to them.

3. Parents want to belong & fit in. Often times parents feel isolated in their parenting struggles or wins with their kids. The family schedule is usually oriented around that activities of the children. Parents often sacrifice their own desires and needs for socialization for the sake of their child's development. Are your parent connection times more about information being given, or relationships between parents being built? The most powerful gift you can ever offer another human being is to help them see that they aren't alone in life. Parents long to belong and fit your ministry to families a place where they can do that? 

What are you learning about working with parents? Post your ideas below!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Leaders who are Different

This post also appears on the Youth Cartel blog.

There is no “one-size fits all” approach to leadership. There is an abundance of examples of rich diversity in nature marked by the sheer volume of unique species of plants, animals, fish, rock or foliage. And as diverse as creation is, leaders too are developed through different gifts, personalities, abilities and styles.
Here are four types of different leaders I’ve had the privilege of serving with:
1. The reluctant leader – I wrote about this at length here. A reluctant leader is someone who believes that they could be or should be doing something else. There are countless biblical examples of this leadership type. For this conversation, however, let’s refine our thoughts to the person of Moses.
Moses didn’t want to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.  He didn’t want to carry the burden of leadership while wandering in the desert. Moses was called by God to lead even though he wanted to live into a different calling.
We sometimes will work with leaders like this. It’s important for us to affirm their calling, while encouraging them to engage emotionally in the leadership opportunity they’ve been given.
2. The timid leader – Gideon is a prime example of a timid leader. Timid leaders question both their calling and their ability, and yet timid leaders are often times the most powerful and profound leaders of an organization. They spend a great deal of effort connecting relationally with those whom they are charged with leading because they are willing to earn the right to lead through relational connection.
Timid leaders are catalysts for relational depth in your community.
3. The headstrong leader – These leaders are intense. They push through obstacles and often times run over people in the process. Peter was this kind of leader. At times their intensity can be misdiagnosed as arrogance. Headstrong leaders have a clear picture of where they are going and are determined to get there.
Headstrong leaders need boundaries or they will run over everything in their path. Be firm, remind them of vision and set them up to succeed by allowing them to help lead your organization and community forward.
4. Systematic leader – Systematic leaders choose their path wisely. They calculate the pros and cons of any given leadership situation and have often thought through a variety of different solutions to a problem while others may still be attempting to describe what they problem is. One biblical case study for this type of leader is Joshua. Joshua learned how to bring a vision to life by leading the people of Israel into the promised land.
Systematic leaders can help you make wise decisions that may bring a larger vision into focus and/or into reality over time.
The reality is that each of us is a blend of these different leadership types, but we may possess a natural tendency or dominance towards one or two of these profiles. Think about your team of leaders. Which ones fit into which profile? Are there other types of leaders you would add to this list? What type of leader are you, and how does this shape how you lead?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What's in a Name?

This post appears on the Youth Cartel blog.

I remember the first moment when I found out I was going to be a dad. Mixed emotions of excitement, nervousness and joy flooded into my soul. The weight of responsibility of caring for and discipling a young child into adulthood became the focus of my thought power and energy leading up to the moment of birth (and beyond!). Of all the responsibilities associated with being a parent, none seemed as important as providing a great start for this new child by choosing the name they would live into.
My wife Bonny and I spent countless hours creating names for our children. We created a spreadsheet listing all the leading name candidates, researching their meaning and dreaming about what we hoped our children would live into in terms of values, character and aspirations for their future.
The day came where we met each of our three children and called them by name. In that moment everything seemed settled, new, hope-filled and amazing.
Fast forward a couple of years and these young little babies who are now young children are beginning to live into and own the name that they have been given. They respond to it when it’s called (for the most part…), they introduce themselves by it and they know how to write it. My kids are beginning to share who they are with others, starting with their name.
I often marvel at the power that names have in each of our lives. Working with teens I’ve seen firsthand the positive and negative effects of names or labels that have been placed on these kids by those who they trusted and cared about. How we speak to each other and what references or names we use matter. The grade 7 boy who is home-schooled is more than just a home-schooler. The grade 10 girl who has dated half the youth group is more than just the floozy. The student that lives in the rough part of town is more than an underprivileged kid.
The names we share with one another and we give to others matter. What names are you using to refer to the teens and families under your sphere of influence and care? Are they names that breathe life into their souls, or names that reinforce all the lies they may be tempted to believe about who they are? What’s in a name, and does a name really matter?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

What do you really value?

This post also appears on the Barefoot Ministries blog here.

What do you really value? In different seasons of life I’ve found this question to be both motivating and debilitating. As I’ve stared into the mirror and seen the reflection of how I have invested my time, resources, and abilities, I’ve experienced moments where my values are inspiring and moments where my values humble me because they are different from what I hoped them to be.
Life is a journey, filled with a sequence of highs and lows. Self-discovery is critically important for an individual, his or her family, and his or her broader community. The process of self-discovery begins with uncovering what our values really are.
Values, beliefs, and customs are directly related to tendencies, priorities, and actions. Objectively identifying how we behave will lead us to question why we do what we do. It is the determination of the why behind a particular behavior that leads us to discover what value drives our activity.
The sobering reality is that much of what we say we value actually differs from what our realistic, lived values tend to be. While it’s true that an external environment, perceived limitations, or uncontrollable circumstances contribute to the development of a set of values, personal choice and activity still bring a set of values to life.
Let’s look at the state of the North American church for a moment. Consumerism and democracy have shaped North American faith. As a result, people have a tendency to voice their individual opinions while searching to create (or consume) their own personal spiritual experiences. The resulting factor has been an elevation of personal spiritual development with the resulting diminishing value of a communal experience or expression. The question of, What do I get out of this? becomes more important than, What can we contribute to this?
Knowing what we value will help us redefine a vision for our present reality and our future hope. Values shape who we are and what we do. What do your values say about you?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

New Year, New things?

I've never been one to sit down and generate a bunch of resolutions for a new year, which might surprise some of you. Yes, it is true that I'm somewhat of a hyper-active planner but there are some things that even a systems oriented guy like me don't really enjoy spending a lot of time thinking about!

Here's why I've never generate a list of new things to accomplish in a new year:

1. I'm usually on vacation as I usher in a new year. For the last 10 years or so, I've used the Christmas/New Year season to slow down, unplug and recharge. In other words, I like to attempt to shut my brain down for awhile. I discipline myself to attempt to live in the present alongside my family & friends and really enjoy what the season represents.

2. I don't like feeling pressured to come up with something. I don't mind working in an instance, high-driven environment. But I do like to plan on my own terms and in my own time frame. Just because someone else is coming up with something doesn't pressure me to do the same. While others may generate their resolutions out of habit, how many are simply living into the "monkey see, monkey do" imitation culture that is too prevalent in our world?

3. I need clarity. I take my faith and my life seriously. Both are gifts that I cherish. When I plan, I seek wisdom that only comes from God's revelation through the Bible, through creation and through Christ-like people that intersect with my life over time.

I've made plans and goals for 2014, but I hold them loosely and I'm willing to allow them to be changed, grown and re-directed as needed.

What about you? Have you planned new things for this new year? If so, how did you begin to plan towards these new things? If not, why not? Share your feedback with a comment, email or social media interaction.