Tough Choices

a few years ago, as a church staff, we read Carly Fiorina‘s book, Tough Choices. this morning i was reminded of the themes she touches on in this memoir, and it is still so challenging and helpful. it was fun to pick it up and flip through the book today.


here’s a few (of many) quotes i had underlined back when i read it the first time:

There are some people who would argue that a manager’s job is to use fear to motivate people, but I believe a leader’s job is to help people overcome their fear.


Never threaten if you’re not prepared to follow through. Never threaten if reason can prevail, but if you must, threaten something that really matters and stick to it.


Once change is advanced, retreat is fatal. Sometimes you just have to burn the boats.


A leader’s job is to set the frame so that the people a leader serves can do the right jobs in the right way to the best of their abilities. A leader’s job is to build lasting capability into the organization he or she serves.


There is always something to laugh about, even in the most difficult of times. It’s especially important to find the humor in the tough times because laughter helps people manage stress.


Responsible directors and reasonable people do not reverse in a few days a decision that has taken nine months to reach.


Values are signposts to guide people’s behavior when the rules aren’t clear and the supervisor isn’t present.


Not everything is easy, and not everything happens right away. Not everything happens exactly as you think it will, but when people work together, focused on a common goal and inspired by a worthy purpose, then truly everything is possible.

Get the book for yourself here!


Keep Your Heart Soft

a friend tipped me off to a  great blogpost this morning by Carey Nieuwhof. i needed to hear this.  check out the excerpt below, then head there for the rest!

I don’t know about you, but as for me, the longer I serve in leadership the more intentional I have to be at keeping my heart open and fully alive.

That’s a polite way of saying that the longer I’m in leadership, the more I have to guard against my heart becoming hard.

Hardness of heart is a condition that people on the other side of God develop. Pharaoh had it. Israel did on occasion. And the Pharisees specialized in it. Not exactly great company if you ask me.

So it’s a little bit vulnerable to admit you struggle with it. But I do.

At times I think it’s an almost natural by-product of ministry. (Maybe it’s a natural by-product of life…but I’ve done my adult life in ministry, so I’m not the best diagnoser beyond that.)

Like a physician who sees illness or tragedy every day, you develop a way of dealing with the pain. And some of that’s healthy. But if I don’t monitor things carefully, I can move into full seasons where I don’t feel much of anything at all. My heart can grow hard.

What are some early warning signs of a hard heart?

1. You don’t really celebrate and you don’t really cry. Well, you might on the outside, but in reality you don’t feel it.

2. You stop genuinely caring. Enough said.

3. So much of what’s supposed to be meaningful feels mechanical. From your personal friendships to your family to work, the feeling’s gone.

4. Passion is hard to come by. For anything.

5. You no longer believe the best about people. Even when you meet someone, you’re thinking about what’s going to go wrong, not what’s going to go right.

Go here to continue!

Staying Focused While Criticized

it’s march madness!!!

growing up in syracuse and often watching the orange play in the dome, i have gathered a great deal of respect for jim boeheim.


i just read an article about some new allegations the NCAA is looking into. not always known for his personality or tact when speaking publicly, boeheim responded in his way that only he can:

“We’re concerned about playing Montana,” he said. “What people write or say, you know, there’s 30,000 people in the Dome yelling at me all the time. People yell at their television sets. I tell them I can’t hear them, but they still yell at them. There’s no distractions for me. And these players, there’s absolutely no distractions for them. They’re here to play Montana, and that’s it.”

if you didn’t hear, they absolutely destroyed montana in the first round.
i wish those of us in ministry had this level of focus, especially when criticized. as a leader, there are always people out there who don’t like a call you made or agree with the direction you’re taking. and rather than stay the course and continue to cast vision, we second-guess.  we pay an inordinate amount of attention to those not on board and steal our emotional energy from those who are.
as a pastor, i probably can’t just tell someone who criticizes me next “i can’t hear you”… but i can control what i focus on and where i put my attention.

sometimes you just have to tune your critics out.

When To Give Your Senior Pastor “The Heads Up”

as a youth pastor, good communication with your senior pastor (or direct report) is always wise and helpful, but there are definitely situations where a time-sensitive heads up is critical.  i learned alongside another youth pastor who was always great at this – it was always important to him that the lead guy never got blindsided by something under his area of leadership.
here are the top 5 types of situations i’ve learned where “the heads up” is pretty much automatic if i want to save myself and my ministry from future pain.  the types of situations may definitely vary from church to church, and i’m sure i’ve missed some… so feel free to leave them in the comments!
  • WHEN A CHURCH MEMBER OR INFLUENTIAL PERSON MIGHT LEAVE THE CHURCH BECAUSE OF A DECISION YOU MADE.  leaders make decisions, and there’s no way to always keep everyone happy. from time to time, i’ve had to make an unpopular decision, and though it always bugs me that some church-goers’ commitment to a church is relatively fragile, it doesn’t help your ministry if the lead guy finds out about it from somewhere else before you.  their side of the story usually isn’t balanced, and the teeter totter certainly isn’t leaning towards your side of the playground.  let your pastor know what your decision was, the reasoning behind it, and offer to help bring clarity through any of the tough conversations to come.
  • WHEN IT’S TIME TO “RELEASE” A YOUTH LEADER TO A DIFFERENT MINISTRY IN THE CHURCH.  it always stinks, but not everyone that makes it on the team is a good fit. no matter how hard you try to help them transition into a different serving role in the church, conflict often emerges from these conversations. i still remember the youth leader i had recruited with seemingly good intentions, to later find out they were just trying to keep tabs on their own kids.  it was a tough situation to navigate because they made me force them out, and out of it i remember learning how much easier it is to say no to someone who wants on than to kick someone off.  let your senior pastor know you’re moving them off the team before the conversation happens.
  • WHEN A PARENT ISN’T JUST UPSET, BUT HOT AND ANGRY AT YOU OR YOUR MINISTRY. again, conflict is inevitable in leadership, but many times angry parents can be the worst because their protective emotions can fuel extra anger. unfortunately the immature will look to go over your head and take it up with your boss rather than dealing directly with you… and it will help you immensely to let your lead guy know in advance if you see it coming. give him the facts, let him know what you could have done to avoid the situation, and assure him that you’re taking steps to resolve the conflict. i remember a situation like this a few years ago. it still totally sucked, but at least i knew my senior pastor had my back the whole way through.
  • WHEN A STUDENT IS IN DANGER AND YOU HAVE TO INTERVENE. of all the things we do in student ministry, pacing with hurting students through messy situations is both sacred and scary. as pastors we are mandatory reporters, and from time to time we have to get the authorities involved. before calling CPS or setting up a 1AM meeting with the parents, get your senior pastor clued in on the important details. you don’t have to break confidentiality, but you do have to give him enough info to know you’re on it and doing your best to see it through responsibly. he’s probably got a lot of wisdom to offer in situations like this as well, and you can earn points by coming in with humility and glean from his experience.
  • WHEN YOU THINK YOU SHOULD BUT YOU’RE NOT 100% SURE. just do it anyways. i’ve learned the hard way that it’s better to over-communicate and have him tell you to keep it to yourself than to under-communicate and leave him grasping for answers when everything hits the fan. to make matters worse, the one time he DOES call asking for an explanation you’ll be out with a student at starbucks and your phone battery will be dead… or you’ll be snowtubing down a mountain and it’ll go to voicemail. no matter how “covered” you are in the situation, you WILL lose credibility points and make the situation worse.
what did i miss?

X3Church: Sobriety Is Leading By Example

here’s a post i originally wrote last month for be sure to head over there to check out some other great posts from pastors willing to open up on this pervasive issue.

It might be because I work with teenagers, but somewhere along the way I learned how to make farting noises with my hands.  The underarm method is way too obvious in many situations, and this alternative way is perfect for long staff meetings, boring church services, and awkward elevator rides.  What’s even funnier though is watching my 2 year old daughter trying to do it.  Everything her dad does right now, she tries to imitate. Whether I realize it or not, I’m leading by example.

As pastors, we all know the haunting and chilling truth that our leadership rises and falls on the example we set for those in our church. In fact, if your people are reading and living the Scriptures in Hebrews 13:7, they are told to examine your life and live like you – to imitate your choices and behaviors and follow your example. The overwhelming pressure that this verse puts on us as pastors is one that others simply cannot fully understand until they stand in our shoes.    And that’s why sobriety from pornography is so important as a pastor. 

There’s a good chance the example you’ve left for your church in regards to this issue is not one of perfection.  And that’s actually a good thing… nobody can relate to someone who’s perfect.  Maybe you’ve been caught and have lost your ability to lead.  Or maybe you’re in the process of restoration and rebuilding trust.  Maybe nobody knows…

What if the example you led by was not one of perfection… or of silence… or of failure… but what if it was one of transparency, vulnerability, and honesty? What if you left a clear path for others to follow in terms of…

  • how to come clean?
  • how to invite accountability?
  • how to build action steps to protect yourself when temptation comes?
  • how to keep yourself from relapsing?

Take heart!  You have an opportunity like few others to lead by example.  The idea of taking your limping brothers by the hand and leading them on the path to freedom – because you know the path well – is a powerful and honorable calling! Whether we realize it or not, we are leading by example. The question is, are we content with our people following it?

Making Change At Your Church Without Losing Your Job

just got a weekly youth ministry email with a link to an article from youth ministry architects with some simple tips to creating change in your church, especially if you’re new in your leadership position. i can remember some classic mistakes i’ve made by not following these steps; if i had it would have saved me from a world of pain!

check this excerpt out, and head here for the rest!

Making changes in a 2,000-year-old institution can be tricky.  If you’re 20-something, and you haven’t earned any street cred in your new church, it can be absolutely dangerous. […] here’s a place to start. It’s a simple tool that creates the kind of trust and credibility that moves you from “whiner” to “winner” in the eyes of your volunteers and the church establishment.

Step 1) Make a list of everything you want to change at your church.

Step 2) Make a list of everything that everyone else wants to change at your church.

Step 3) Highlight the things that are on both lists, and fix those first.

The Basics Of Student Ministry

been thinking a lot lately of what student ministry at its core really is. back when i was a student in high school it didn’t seem like youth ministry was as big a “machine” as it is today. what we have today is certainly not bad… in fact i’m thankful for the hundreds of conference/training options, books, resources, blogs, podcasts, etc. out there. but as anything grows and matures, it can lose (at least for me) the essence of what it was created to do in the first place.

here was my experience 15 years ago when i was in high school, and how our church’s non-complex student ministry literally transformed my life. this is what it’s really all about:

1. we had a bunch of caring adult leaders around, and one of them in particular pouring into me. they were there every wednesday night. playing ping-pong, joking around with other teens, introducing themselves to the new kid, asking me about my world, and organizing a pickup basketball game at the park right afterwards. most of them knew me and i knew they all cared about me. but there was one who went beyond the others. he took a special interest in me, met up with me every week outside of Wednesday nights. we emailed, talked on the phone, hung out, and simply did life together. rubbing shoulders together as we went through everyday life made a profound impact on me, greater than any one event or amazing youth talk.  and the coolest thing… he wasn’t even the youth pastor!

2. i was given chances to lead. our youth leaders saw potential in me, and created space for me to lead. i know many nights the program bombed because of me, and i dropped the ball. they could have done the job better and quicker without me, but they saw a value in me holding the mic or writing the encouragement card. i still remember giving the announcements, running tech, and greeting other teens at the door, and for a self-righteous stuck up teen like myself, i needed an opportunity to see beyond myself.

3. we had an extremely safe crowd program. wednesday nights at our church was the place to be if you were a teenager in our little city surrounded by cornfields. there were always new teens there, and i still remember our youth pastor arriving each week in his beat-up, old truck with a bunch of students from the community. he even transported a kid in a wheelchair more times than i can count. the crowd was everywhere on the spiritual spectrum, and i still remember the nervous looks on the some of the older church members’ faces from time to time when they would walk in. there was laughter, learning, worship, and a strong challenge to follow Jesus harder.

no matter how complex and involved student ministry today becomes, i hope we always have these 3 components coming through loud and clear!

When Your Relationship With Your Neighbors Is Less Than Great

a few weeks ago, we received an anonymous note in our mailbox. though it was anonymous, it *seems* pretty obvious who wrote it, because of the way the wind blows.

to give you an idea of how many leaves we were actually talking about, here’s a picture that shanna took with the baby surrounded by them. ironically, every single one of the leaves comes from one of our other neighbor’s trees!

to be very honest, there were many ugly thoughts rolling through my brain when i first saw the note. and i quickly learned that i could respond in 1 of 2 ways:

1. i could respond by building the wall between us stronger. like buying a leaf blower and blowing them all off my yard and onto his. or by installing a fence between our yards. or by “f***ing it” and doing nothing, like another neighbor told me to do.

2. or i could respond by building a bridge. it would require some work, time, and a good dose of humility. but the good thing is, because of Christ’s influence in my life, this was actually a doable option.

so… after stewing on it for a few days, i raked all the leaves up, mulched up the leftover ones, and then raked them a second time (they filled the yard back up as soon as i was done). and as i was raking and thinking about it all, it saddened me that we don’t have a better relationship with this one neighbor… or at least a good enough one that he could’ve felt comfortable talking to us face to face about it.

so we did some baking. we made some cookies and took them over with a note apologizing for the inconvenience. i tried to let him know our door is open anytime an issue arises in the future. and the hope is that a bridge has been built, or at least begun.

there are so many examples in life and ministry, just like this, where we’re given opportunity to respond.  and they’re usually small, mundane moments that don’t get a lot of attention. but it’s in those moments where our leadership money is earned.

i don’t want to just “settle” for what is around me. i want to lead the change and create a new and better reality.

Our 5-Step Process For Recruiting Ministry Volunteers

it’s summer time right now, which for us in student ministry means it’s all about the fall and prepping for the start of a new ministry year… (all while still running the ministry, summer events, and late night conversations with teens).  one of the things we are all working hard at during this season is recruiting new volunteers to join us in this worthy cause in september. when a potential volunteer expresses an interest in serving in our student ministry, i take them through this 5-step process. it’s definitely not perfect, but it’s working for us right now:

  1. come, check it out! i wanna know for sure that they even want to serve in this area.  do they have a passion for teens, or do they run when they enter the room? do they relate well to students, or are they insecure, awkward, and frightened? this is just as much for the volunteer as it is for me. i wanna see how they react in the room and i want them to have an accurate picture of our ministry before we start really talking specifics. i usually ask them to come for 4-6 weeks before anything else happens.
  2. roll out the paperwork! we have a formal application that i then give to them. with it i also give out a background check authorization form.  all of our volunteers have had background checks run, and it’s important for me to be able to tell new parents that as they check out our ministry. we use a company called protect my ministry, but there’s lots of great ones out there.  in case it can be helpful, here’s the application we give out:
  3. take some time! i tell them from the beginning that i’m a lazy youth pastor (not really… but that it might seem like i am).  i take my time looking over the application, brainstorming how they could specifically fit & contribute in our ministry, how their personality will gel with the others on the team, etc. i’ve learned the hard way that it’s way easier to say “no” at this stage rather than to say “yes” now and then try to get them off later. 
  4. do the interview! even though it’s not a paid position doesn’t mean the interview has to be any less formal. it’s a high calling and an extremely important role in the church. going into the interview i pretty much know whether we’re going to bring them on or not, and we use this time to discuss specific roles, how their experience and story will affect their leadership over students, and some potential next steps for them to take before joining the team. sometimes we do say “no” to this specific ministry role, but i work hard to provide them a list of other areas in the church where their unique gifts and abilities can be used instead.
  5. announce it to the teens! once they’re added to the team, it’s important that we let our students know this is someone they’ll track with over the next few years and someone they can trust. we usually bring them up front on a sunday morning. and ideally we try to get them to share their story with the teens within a few weeks.  i love this fun video that this one youth ministry has been using lately to introduce their new leaders:

Protect Your Marriage

i’ve really been enjoying Michael Hyatt’s blog lately – tons of great content for leaders and it’s super practical!  just yesterday he posted a challenge in response to the news of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s infidelity. and it made me think of a previous post on why speaking well of your spouse is so important.  here’s a few highlights from that post, head there for the rest!

Affirmation wards off the temptation of adultery. When others see you are happily married, they are less likely to proposition you. It’s like a hedge that protects your marriage from would-be predators. You simply stop being a target.

Affirmation provides a model to those you lead. To be a truly effective leader, you must lead yourself, and then you must lead your family. Your marriage is a powerful visual of how you treat the people you value the most. When you speak highly of your spouse, your followers are more likely to trust you. It takes your leadership to another level.

Affirming your spouse in public is an investment that pays big leadership dividends. In a world where fewer and fewer marriages last, it can be a difference-maker.