Archive - April, 2012

A Leadership Lesson: Don’t Forget to Shuck the Tamale

In April 1976 President Gerald Ford visited the Alamo in San Antonio. He was in a fight for his party’s nomination for president, which is never good for a sitting president. At the Alamo, the story goes, Ford was given a plate of tamales. He grabbed one and bit into it. Without removing the husk. The President of the United States didn’t know how to eat a tamale. A server got to the president, grabbed the tamale, removed the husk, and gave it back to him. But the damage was done. One of the great leadership gaffes in American political history had been committed. Ford, who already had a reputation for being awkward, now appeared to be out of touch with Latinos. He narrowly won the primary, but lost the 1976 presidential election. He did not do well with Latino voters. And I’m guessing this gaffe hurt him with other demographics as well. In leadership it is often our attention to detail that demonstrates how much we care. I

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have no idea how concerned President Ford was with issues of concern to Latino voters, but in that moment in 1976 he appeared unconcerned. That’s all it took. It’s not fair, but it’s reality. On the day of the incident he also gave a speech to 18,000 people. I have no idea what the speech was about. But I’ve heard about the tamale incident dozens of times. Undoubtedly other issues also led to his defeat in 1976, but the “tamale incident” is what everyone remembers. In the same way, people remember if you remember their names. People remember if you reply to their phone calls and emails promptly. People remember if you smile and give them your full attention. Frankly, I forget to shuck the proverbial tamale all the time, and this story is an important reminder to me. All of the techniques and strategies learned in leadership classes are rendered meaningless if we don’t get the little stuff right. That’s true in business, in ministry, even in our families. If we’re not authentic and honest, no one cares what our “speech” was about. If we don’t give our attention the people in front of us, no one cares about our bold visions and strategic plans. If we want to inspire people, we have to know what matters to them. If we want to lead people, they have to know we care about them and we’re not using them. That sort of attention to detail is the foundation upon which real leadership is built.        

How Much Theology Should There Be In Youth Ministry?

Yesterday I shared a post from The Gospel Coalition blog called “Why Theology and Youth Ministry Seldom Mix”. The article argued that modern youth ministry is more about fun and games than any sort of significant theological training for young people (see picture to the right). The reasons for this are many, ranging from the lack of theological training for youth leaders to an emphasis on “decisions for Christ” with little emphasis on discipleship to the constant pressure many youth pastors feel to be “cool” and maintain their popularity. I’ve got a few thoughts on the connection (or lack thereof) between youth ministry and theology, and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this issue, whether you are actively involved in youth ministry or not. 1) While some of the critiques of youth

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ministry culture are a gross over-correction, it’s clear that youth ministry in general doesn’t seem to be preparing students to walk with Jesus after high school. The article cites The National Study of Youth and Religion that said, “The vast majority of teens, who call themselves Christians, haven’t been well educated in religious doctrine and, therefore, really don’t know what they believe.” This has been true at every church I have ever been a part of. The results of this truth shouldn’t be that surprising. Depending on who you talk to, somewhere between half and three quarters of high school seniors end of walking away from their faith after graduation. I suspect correcting this problem doesn’t begin with youth ministry, but with children’s ministry (but that’s another post for another day). 2) In youth ministry there is often a divide between “fun” and “serious” activities. This is unhealthy. When we throw water balloons at each other, that’s fun, but when we sit down and study the Bible and share our lives, that’s serious. And serious isn’t fun. I’ve tried to remove the language of fun vs. serious from my youth ministry, but it’s been a challenge. This sort of language almost baits teenagers into being bored with anything of spiritual significance. It can also be a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy in that it can cause us as youth pastors to be less creative in our lesson planning, because after all, that’s the “serious” time. There’s nothing wrong with the activities that we put in the “fun” category. Let’s be clear: “Fun” is not the enemy, but I think we need to be careful about the language that we use. 3) We severely underestimate our students’ ability to comprehend theological ideas. The Gospel Coalition article makes this same point, and it’s important. A few months ago we were at Forest Home for winter camp, and the speaker talked about how she refuses to let her students act dumb when they start to talk about the Bible. “You take AP Bio and AP Calculus, I know you’re not dumb.” (Not a direct quote, but you get the idea) I fear that modern youth ministry has trained students to be theologically “dumb” because it has trained them to believe that youth group and other Christian settings are shallow. The GC article says that our lack of confidence in teens “has left us with an ignorant generation (or several) with regard to what the church actually believes.” Our students are smart, and they can handle more theology than we’re giving them. The answer is not to start analyzing Barth at youth group, but there is room for increased emphasis on basic Christian doctrine in a setting that is a bit more dynamic than a confirmation class. 4) We assume students know more than they do. This may seem to contradict my previous point, but I don’t think it does. I’ve written before that one of the biggest mistakes I made during my first few years in ministry was assuming my congregation knew more than they did. It’s easy to assume that because a student has been in church their entire lives and was raised in a Christian home that by the time they get to high school they have a basic understanding of the Gospel, the person and work of Jesus, how we are saved, what the Bible is, and other foundational Christian beliefs. Research continues to show that this is not the case, and it’s not just a youth ministry problem. The basics of our faith need to be reinforced continually in youth ministry if there is going to be any hope of students developing a Christian worldview that they can take with them to college. 5) We need to recognize that youth ministry is training for life. In his landmark book Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers Fuller Seminary professor Chap Clark argues that adolescents today have been abandoned. As broken families and absentee parents become more and more common, students are going to be showing up at church desperately needing adult guidance but unsure about how to get it. Less

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training for life happening at home means there needs to be more of it at youth group. The majority of the seniors in my youth group come from fairly healthy families, but for those that don’t it’s becoming clear that I am the only person in their life who is helping them prepare to transition for college. We still play games, we still laugh and joke around, but we also spend a lot of time talking about life training because there is a serious need there. Part of this life training is specifically theological, but much of it isn’t. There are a few thoughts. The integration of theology and youth ministry is challenging, especially because of the current state of youth ministry culture (I can hardly stand to read youth ministry books or attend conferences anymore), but it’s a conversation that needs to happen because the stakes are too high. So what do you think? How much theology should there be in youth ministry? How can youth ministries be more effective at training students for life?

Links Worth a Look- April 26, 2012

5 Wrong Ways to Comfort Hurting People- I appreciated this post from Chris Lazo, the College Pastor at Reality in Carpinteria. “It is inevitable that we will have “trials and sorrows” in this life (Jn. 16:33, NLT). Many of us are aware of this, as well as the pertinent Scriptures that will warn or exhort us when trouble transpires. Surprisingly, not all Christians know how to behave or act when someone else is going through difficulty. Below are five of the most common ways Christians attempt to comfort others in their suffering.” Three Questions to Ask Before You Post Something to Facebook- These are simple but important questions to ask before you post something you’ll regret. “like every good gift, there can also be a dark side to social media. An

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unhelpful side. A sinful side. Here are some questions to ask yourself before you post something on Facebook or Twitter.” What Every Son Needs from His Dad- Over the last several years that I’ve spent working with teenagers and young adults, I’ve met way too many young people who struggle with all sorts of issues in part because they didn’t have a good relationship with their dad. This article was a great reminder for me as I find myself at the beginning of the fatherhood journey. Why Theology and Youth Ministry Seldom Mix- This idea will be the subject of a blog post in the near future. “Everyone knows the stereotype of the youth minister as a big kid with an expertise in games and an affinity for creative facial hair and body piercings. Despite the stereotype, many youth pastors are passionate and intelligent. Yet youth ministry has a reputation for not doing serious theology.” Perhaps you’ve seen this picture already, but this is one of the more creative ways I’ve seen of showing your contempt for how lousy your team is (albeit for $240 per seat). Incidentally, my wife once did that at a baseball game, but I think it was more due to her

extreme lack of interest in baseball than her frustration with the quality of play on the field.  

4 Simple Tips for More Enjoyable Bible Reading

There are few practices that are as important to Christian growth as regular personal Bible reading. It’s an amazing thing to sit down with the Scriptures, ask God to speak, and then hear from Him through His Word. I’m constantly encouraging our congregation to spend time with their Bibles, and I’m constantly on the look out for resources that will help make reading the Bible less intimidating. I also want to help people understand that reading the Bible is not a joyless obligation, but rather is a discipline that God intends for our joy. Here are four simple tips I’ve used that have brought more joy to my daily Bible reading. They aren’t creative, but I’ve found them to be effective. 1) Have a plan- The difference between success and failure is often a matter of planning. The same is true when it comes to enjoying our Bibles. It is helpful to know what you’re going to study and how long you are going to read for when you sit down. The YouVersion Bible app makes this much easier for me. It contains Bible reading plans of varying length, and it helps me to know where I’ll be reading each day. Plans range from two-day plans through short books of the Bible, to several different ways of reading the Bible in a year. I don’t typically read the Bible on a mobile device, but I use it every day to keep track of what I’m reading. One important caveat: Don’t be a slave to your plan. If you get behind, it’s ok. The first two times I attempted to read the entire Bible in a year I got behind and quit, so finally I just committed to reading each day without a set agenda, and I finished it in seven months. Your plan is meant to help you, and if it’s more of a hindrance, find a new one. If you miss a day, don’t feel guilty, just get back to it the next day. The point of reading the Bible is to grow in your love for God, not to impress Him. 2) Read with a pen in your hand- Whenever I’m reading anything of importance, I do so with a pen in my hand. I am much more engaged with my reading when I am underlining, making marks, and writing notes/questions in the margins. My wife likes to read with a journal open, and I’ve done that from time to time as well. Usually I prefer to mark up the page. Remember, when you read the Bible the words are the inerrant and inspired, but the pages are just pieces of paper. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with writing in your Bible! 3) Use resources to aid understanding- Study notes and commentaries are not a replacement for the biblical text, but they can make it much more understandable. In high school I read The Scarlet Letter in English class and I struggled to understand it. However, I found reading the CliffsNotes prior to reading each chapter, helped my comprehension skyrocket. In the same way, using study tools can help us understand what we are reading. You’ll enjoy Matthew more if you understand it was written for a Jewish audience. You’ll enjoy Nehemiah more if you understand its historical background. The same could be said for nearly every book in the Bible. For this reason I recommend a good study Bible (I use The ESV Study Bible for my daily reading, it is excellent), and I also recommend investing a few hours reading a good book about the Bible (I recommend How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth). These sorts of resources will make the Bible more understandable, enjoyable, and applicable. 4) Eliminate the decision- When you’re ready to read the Bible, your mind will be flooded with everything else you

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must do. The laundry needs folding, the dishes need doing, Facebook needs checking, that phone call or email needs to be returned, etc. This happens to me nearly every day. For that reason, I have a specific time each day when I set aside all non-emergencies and spend time in the Word. It’s a bit of a mental game I play with myself. All other tasks simply cannot be done during that time. I don’t decide to read my Bible, it’s just what I do during that time slot. The world has yet to stop spinning, and I am enjoying my Bible more than ever. Without this discipline I am prone to distraction, and will allow my Bible reading time to get eaten up by more urgent but less important matters. There are four tips that have worked for me. What has worked for you?

Upholstery and Ocean Views

On Thursday my eight month-old son and I took the train from Santa Barbara to Ventura. His first train ride. If you’ve ever driven that route on the 101, you know how beautiful it is. Just a whole bunch of that the entire way. And on this spring afternoon the ocean was sparkling in front of the silhouettes of the Channel Islands as Matthew looked around the train. About half way through the ride I tried to interest Matthew in the beauty out the window. “Look, Matthew! Look at the ocean!” I pointed, I snapped my fingers in front of the window, I did whatever I could to direct his attention in that direction. But it was all to no avail. He was fascinated by the upholstery that covered the seats of the Amtrak train. He reached for it, scratched it, and gazed at it adoringly. Let me be clear about one thing: This was, at best, mediocre upholstery. And some of the most spectacular scenery in the country was right outside the window. No matter. He was totally into the upholstery. And that’s fine, because he’s eight months old. That’s what eight month olds do. There isn’t much rhyme or reason to what catches their fancy. It would be absurd to expect him to appreciate the beauty out the window. But I can’t help but wonder if I don’t act in the same way, ignoring the “ocean view” because I’m fixated on some boring upholstery, ignoring the significant and the spectacular because the meaningless has captured my attention. It’s fine when you’re an eight month-old, but not when you’re twenty nine. And I’m thankful for the reminder, because I too am prone to being captivated by lesser things.

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that
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Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” -C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Links Worth A Look- April 19, 2012

The Recipe for A Successful Pastor- “We must be careful how we define ministry readiness and spiritual maturity. There is a danger in thinking that the well-educated and well-trained seminary graduate is ministry ready or to mistake ministry knowledge, busyness, and skill with personal spiritual maturity. Maturity is a vertical thing that will have a wide variety of horizontal expressions.” (This article says “man” and “he” where it should use gender neutral words, but aside from that it’s terrific).

Social Media and Our Epidemic of Loneliness- Interesting article from Christian Piatt- “So yes, social media can aggravate an existing problem of loneliness rather than remedy it, but it’s not at the source of the problem…We can look back as recently as a couple of decades to see the likelihood of what we’re now dealing with coming.”

Fifteen Things That Have Happened Since Jamie Moyer’s First Major League Win- I’m not the world’s biggest baseball fan, but I think it’s pretty amazing that Jamie Moyer of the Colorado Rockies was the winning pitcher against the San Diego Padres the other night at the ripe old age of 49. Here are a few things that have happened since win numero uno. No. 10 on the list is pretty amazing.

Naptime is… This is my wife’s photographic documentation of the process of getting our dear son to take a nap. As one who stays home with Matthew three days per week, I can attest to its accuracy.

The Gospel is Insufficient- A thought provoking post to say the least. He makes some good points (sorry again for the lack of gender neutrality, it should read “men and women” just about everywhere it says “men”). “For Paul, the gospel is not in itself sufficient to ensure the continuation of the gospel.  It needs men to preach it; it needs men, women and children to tell it to their friends.  And because all of these agents are fallen, it needs a church structure to help to safeguard its content.”

All Sons and Daughters- All the Poor and Powerless- I came across All Sons and Daughters late last week and have been gushing about them ever since. They are amazing.

Church: A Safe Place for the Disgraced

I’ve never had someone shave off half my beard (in part because I’ve always lacked a beard), but I understand in ancient Israel that was quite the insult.

Beards were a sign of masculinity, so to shave off another’s beard was to disgrace them in the worst of ways.

In 2 Samuel 10 King David sends a few of his men to comfort a neighboring king whose father had just died. This was a calculated move on David’s part, as he hoped the goodwill gesture would help maintain peace between the two kingdoms. The other king’s advisers suspected something else. They told the king that they were spies.

So Hanun took David’s servants and shaved off half the beard of each and cut off their garments in the middle, at their hips, and sent them away.


These men have essentially been emasculated and made to look like slaves. They returned to Jericho humiliated.

David’s reaction to this wasn’t great.

In fact, it led to a war. And his treatment of the men involved was based partly on his desire to protect his own reputation. I don’t want to pretend like he was a saint, but I do appreciate what he said to the men:

When it was told David, he sent to meet them, for the men were greatly ashamed. And the kind said, “Remain at Jericho until your beards have grown and then return.”

Again, David’s motives weren’t entirely selfless, but nonetheless he does invite these disgraced men a safe place to stay while they work through their disgrace. He reached out to them in their disgrace, and offered them the refuge they needed.

That’s a picture of what the Church can be.

A place for the disgraced, the bruised, the broken, the dejected, the rejected and the lost to find acceptance and healing.

A place to take refuge from the judgment of the world.

A place to gather under the grace of Christ and extend and receive that grace.

There are not a lot of places that are safe for the disgraced.

There are not a lot of places where it is safe to admit you’ve been disgraced.

Let’s remember that we serve a God who comes to us in our disgrace and offers us grace and healing.

And let’s extend that healing to our world.

How I’m Learning To Write

I was 10 years-old when a teacher first told me I was a good writer.

It’s a funny story. Our class was told to write fictional news stories about our future selves. I wrote about getting drafted into the NBA. At the time this was no fantasy. It was a foregone conclusion.

I thought it stunk.

My teacher thought it was amazing. She read it in front of the class and everything.

I was mortified/thrilled.

And I enjoyed the assignment, so I figured I should keep writing.

So from then on I brought stacks of lined paper and a handful of pens with me on long car trips. I made up stories. Stories lasting dozens of pages.

Then I wrote for my junior high paper, and my high school paper, and my college paper, and my seminary paper, and then I had a blog for a few years. Over the years I’ve written dozens of papers and received mostly A’s on those papers. You get the idea.

I still like to write. But here’s the thing:

I don’t know how.

Some of you who have been reading my stuff figured that out long ago.

But seriously, I have no idea what I’m doing.


When I write, I just write. I don’t really think about it much.

Outside of my world class high school journalism teacher, I haven’t had a single good writing teacher in my life.

My former English teachers are a who’s who of coaches forced to teach, history teachers forced to teach English, rookies who meant well but didn’t know what they were doing, bitter professors, and flat out boring dudes.

It’s not their fault though. It’s mostly my fault.

I’ve written a lot, but I haven’t really invested effort in getting better. There are a handful of things in my life that come naturally to me, and so I float along being decent at them with little effort. Writing is one of those things.

I decided I should probably change that. Donald Miller gave me the push I needed with this post I stumbled across a couple of weeks ago. I found some of the books he recommended at the library, along with a few others, and I’m trying to teach myself how to write.

Here are some of my new friends:

The titles in the stack are:

  • The Elements of Style by E.B. White and William Strunk Jr.
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
  • Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language & Style by Arthur Plotnik
  • Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose by Constance Hale
Best part is, one of these books calls another book in this pile garbage right on the inside cover.
I’ve already read Pressfield, am almost done with Snyder, and am working my way through Zinsser and White/Strunk.
They’ve all been helpful in their own way.

I’ve also started following a handful of helpful writing blogs. I’ve benefited most from Jeff Goins and The Digital Writer.

The way other writers talk about writing, it seems like half, or more, of the battle is just simply doing the work.

Showing up at your keyboard and pounding the keys until something half way decent assembles itself on screen. So I’m doing a lot of that in between sermon writing and lesson planning and teenager pastoring and Elmo’s Garden reading.

I’m on the lookout for stray “thats” (a dozen unnecessary thats deleted from this 700-word post. A dozen! Donald Miller is right, they are like cockroaches!) and trying to get my commas all in the right place and I’m attempting to craft something helpful enough to you to justify three minutes of your life. I’m even proofreading (a little).

I’m also learning about creating a platform and publicizing my work and using social media and all that jazz. But it just doesn’t seem like that all matters much if the content stinks. It seems like the people who really make a difference in the world focus more on having something to say than finding someone to listen.

I’ve got a long way to go, but for the first time in my life I’m actually investing in becoming a better writer.

For those of you who write, what books, blogs, or other resources have helped you improve as a writer?

3 Keys to Leading Up

Quick note: To all of my subscribers…an unfinished blog post accidentally got sent out this morning along with this one. Sorry!

Leadership isn’t just for the person on the top of the org chart.  And it isn’t something you give only to people below you.

The first leadership book I ever read taught me about “360 Leadership”.

It taught me that effective leaders don’t just lead “south” (those below them), but lead in all four directions. “Through relationship and influence good leaders lead the people who supervise them.”

I’ve heard this called “leading up”.

Whether your context is a church, company, family, non-profit, or other organization, there are opportunities to “lead up” if you play your cards right. Healthy organizations need good followers who can lead up effectively.

I wish I could say I’ve always done this well. I can say I’ve been fortunate to serve under gracious and patient leaders, and over time I’ve learned the following three things:

1) Public affirmation is critical.

Andy Stanley says that he is most open to private feedback from those who affirm him publicly. That makes a lot of sense. It’s most vital to effectively leading up. Leadership can be lonely, and leaders need to know that their subordinates are on their team. Sometimes insecurity in senior leaders is due to issues they need to work on, but more often than not it comes from having been beaten down a bit by unfair criticism. The last thing a leader needs is criticism and disloyalty from untrustworthy subordinates. Nothing will make your leader unresponsive to your ideas faster. If you want the ear of your leader, go out of your way to affirm him or her publicly. There is no better way to earn trust. Private affirmation doesn’t hurt either. Don’t assume they know you appreciate them.

2) Do your homework.

There are three ways to do this: a) If you have an idea, think it through before you present it. Even if it’s ultimately rejected, you’ll earn respect by showing that your thoughtfulness. An undeveloped idea presented with great enthusiasm won’t get you anywhere, for good reason. Unpreparedness sabotages leading up efforts. b) If you are assigned a task, approach it with the same passion and thoroughness as you approach your own ideas. Quality work not only earns better assignments, it earns credibility. Such assignments can also be valuable learning experiences. c) Work hard to develop expertise that will be useful to your organization that no one else in the organization currently has. Demonstrate how this expertise can make the organization better.

3) Ask good questions.

Make it clear that you want to learn from your leaders. Great leaders prepare for leadership roles by learning from those a few steps ahead of them. Even if you see a particular issue differently than your leader, you will benefit from hearing their perspective. I’ve had my mind changed on a few church leadership issues from learning my superiors’ rationale for certain programs and decisions. Asking good questions is also a way to show your leader respect. Some of the most valuable church leadership lessons I have learned didn’t come from seminary, they came in one-on-one meetings with my bosses. These conversations make leading up easier, because you’re able to show that you are teachable. Also, ask questions about your own job performance. Let your leader know that you want honest feedback, and then make adjustments based on what you’re told.

Obviously this list isn’t comprehensive. What would you add to it?

Links Worth A Look- April 12, 2012

There’s been a stomach bug floating around our apartment this week (hoping it’s on it’s way out!), so I’m a little late with my Links Worth A Look. Here they are:

Should Ministers Officiate a Wedding for Non-believers? The Gospel Coalition has a couple of posts on this issue up today. Deepak Reju says yes, and Russell Moore says no. They both make pretty good cases for their positions. This is an issue of particular interest to me, because I come from a family with many non-believers, and while I wouldn’t presume they would ask me to officiate their weddings, there exists the possibility they might. I’m unsure what I will do. I’d love to hear your opinion on this question, whether you’re a pastor or not.

Three Reasons Why Faithfulness is More Important than Success- My friend and former pastor/boss Hal Seed says while success is important, faithfulness is much more so. He also offers some wonderful encouragement for pastors who are thinking about quitting due to discouragement.

Ghandi Doesn’t Like Us- I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with the Ghandi quote, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” In this post Tim Challies gives us two reasons why we shouldn’t use the quote, and they are both good.

It’s Still Easter- An important reminder from a Fuller prof. “It’s Easter. We celebrate. We celebrate not the absence of scars, but their transformation and glorification. We celebrate. We celebrate new life from the old, new creation from the old.”

The Bacon SundaeApparently a handful of Burger King restaurants in Nashville, Tennessee, are testing out a new menu item: the bacon sundae. I’m not sure what to think of that, but I do know Ron Swanson would be happy.



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