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?