Friday, February 12, 2016

Eyes Roll Ears Close: 3 Tips for Lowering A Tense Conversation with a Teenager

You can feel the tension rise.  

A button was pushed and the tempo and volume of words increase.

Listening has flown out the window and you are only hearing words that provide opportunity to pounce and launch a another great because I am the adult type lecture.

As you run through your lecture, the eyes of targeted teenager actually appear to role back into the cavity of the brain and reappear possessed by some demonic, hormonal force shooting a laser through your soul.

The laser does not silence your barrage of words.  It increases the tempo and frequency of your words as you begin to say things you swore you would never repeat from your own echoed past...

"If you want to live somewhere else, I will pack your bags!"

"I would have never talked to my parents the way you are talking to me!"

"I hope you enjoy boxes because you are going to be living in one if you don't get those grades up!"

Have you ever had this type of conversation with a teenager?  With the teenager living in your home?

Tension and Conflict are often part of the chaotic dance parents and teenagers go through on the journey towards independence and adulthood.  When the tension and conflict rises, no one typically wins. Personally, when I am in the middle of (what I think is) a great lecture, I feel validated and empowered as I am giving a certainly magnificent-life changing instruction.  After the lecture, when the tempo and volume have settled, I am faced with the truth that all of that magnificent-life changing instruction came across with the effectiveness of Charlie Brown's teacher!  Why?  When the eyes roll  the ears close!

What do you do when tension is on the rise?

There are a bunch of breathe deep and go to a happy place relaxation suggestions, but these 3 tips will get the tension lowered quickly and further strengthen your communication skills with teenagers:

Ask for a time out and Walk Away.  This suggestion is for both adult and student.  You can develop a special word that signals I am taking a time out and walking away or simply agree to say, "I need to take a break" when the conversation is too heated.  The point is, rejoin the conversation when the tempo and volume are settled (this may take a while-don't rush it).  Remember, calling a time out does not mean you ignore the conversation.  You simply pick the conversation up when the ears are open and the eyes stop rolling.

Don't Chase.  This one is especially true for the adults.  Remember what I wrote above about feeling validated and empowered while giving "certainly magnificent-life changing instruction"? Yes, this is my problem.  Confession time, this is my biggest problem with my own kids.  At times, I do not allow for a time out and walking away.  I chase.  Not sometime, but all times, this ends badly. It is an  eyes roll ears close guarantee move.

Stop Lecturing. This one is for both, but especially adults.  Keep your words short and to the point. this is the first step in keeping the eyes watching and the ears listening.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Dirty Secret Church Leaders May Want to Hide

What's the Dirty Secret?

Minister, you are not the most important element in your church member's spiritual formation.   As a matter of fact, you are probably not the most important reason people will be in your assembly this weekend.


I was visiting with a friend of mine last week and he said, almost apologetically, "Honestly, I get much more out of the group, morning bible study time than the sermon on Sunday morning."

He nervously talked about the great sermons he is privelaged to hear from his preacher every week, but quickly went back to the value his "group" of friends play in his spiritual formation. Why?

They know him (good and bad)
They speak into him (blessing and challenge)
They have spent time with him (joy and suffering)
They authentically care (time

Honestly, I was not surprised at my friends' priority.

It has been my experience, professionally and personally, that the greatest influencer of spiritual growth, positively or negatively, are the relationships we choose to be a part.  I have heard a lot of great lessons from the pulpit and currently blessed to hear one of the greatest preachers of my life time every week, Rick Atchley.  Still, the effect of key relationships on my spiritual journey trumps all that great teaching.  I could drop in a whole lot of research from the Fuller Youth Institute and other great organizations to further support this truth.  However, I am certain most minister's know this truth and should use their public platform to not only give life changing information but leverage their position to encourage the type of community my friend was describing in our conversation.

Why did my friend feel like he was being "offensive" when speaking his heart?

Why do some minister's act like the greatest spiritual formation takes place when they are on the stage?

Why do Church leaders want to hide the Secret?  Is it:


I am certain, because I have experienced each of these, they all play a role.

In my opinion, the key reason the man was uncomfortable sharing, why minister's struggle to keep their role in the body in prospective and why Church leaders want to hide the Secret is found in the way church leaders measure ministry effectiveness.

They are important, but church leaders place a lot of significance on numbers and budget.  Again, both are strong indicators that a spiritual marker is being achieved.  Even so, when a minister feels the pressure to deliver the numbers and budget, he or she can begin to rely too heavily on their own ability to generate such growth that they lose focus on the necessity for members to build relationships with other believers "outside" assembly time(s). Insecurity, pride, comfort and control raise their ugly head in a minister's life leading to burn out and/or disenchantment with the way the institutional-business side of church functions.  It makes sense that church leaders question and challenge a minister when the numbers and budget drop.  However, the dirty secret highlights the problem may not rest on the quality of the "stage" performance but the quality of relationships within the church body.  In other words, numeric and budget growth issues are not always the minister's fault.

While experiencing the pull to attribute too much credibility to the "stage" of ministry performance, I have been blessed beyond measure in working with leadership groups that strive to look beyond the numbers and budget in determining ministry success.  In each case, the leadership had to first come to the realization that the weekend or gathering stage event was important enough to deliver at the highest of quality but did not possess the power to develop long term discipleship formation.  I am sure it came from some "small group church" based minister, let's say Andy Stanley (He's a popular minister who understands the dirty secret), the simple, yet profound truth that "spiritual growth best occurs in circles not rows."  

Crazy thing, it has been my observation that once a minister embraces the dirty secret of spiritual growth and lowers the importance of their "stage" performance, the Lord actually increases the effectiveness and draw of their "stage" ministry (the least will become greatest, last to first words of Jesus echo in the ears of such leaders).  

Here are a few action steps ministers and other church leaders can take with the knowledge of this Dirty Secret :
  • Embrace the truth that you or your minister is not the most important element in your church member's spiritual formation.  Here is a hard truth we minister's need to remember. More than likely, even though "churched" people may have heard of your ability to preach or teach, the "un-churched" visitor sitting in your assembly is there because someone they knew invited them.  Ouch!  Your ability to communicate was an added bonus to their visiting your gathering.     
  • Find ways to measure ministry effectiveness beyond the easy to identify numbers and budget.  Numbers and budget do not necessarily equate with fruit of the spirit growth! My friend is able to measure the effectiveness of his bible study accurately because of time and involvement with these people.    When we count numbers and budget in the typical ushers with clipboard fashion we may feel good about the 500 attendees that attend ever weekend. But they are probably not the same people every week!  We don't know who is in our assemblies.  We need to start looking at growth longitudinally.  This is a fancy word for "over time."  There are great church management programs that help church leaders track a person from the parking lot to conversion to worship participation to service to giving.... These programs have the ability to track over time and keep the overall number and budget counts in proper context.  Even so, the greatest accounting program is people in meaningful relationship! People notice when the people they are living life with are missing.  Therefore, the third action step.  Before we leave this action step, I believe the greatest way to evaluate ministry effectiveness is through story.  Ask for and share stories that illustrate ministry is happening in your church family!  Stories inspire and focus ministry. 
  • Provide opportunity for relationship building in your church community.  Depending on your context determine what best suits your church member's needs for "circle" type relationship building.  Leaders have to determine how to provide and support environments where relational safety and vulnerability occurs while also providing relationship building opportunities where those outside the church walls and new members feel welcome and wanted.  This is difficult work. Classes, Small Groups, Classes with Small Groups are all options in the appropriate settings for this to happen.  A word of caution.  Please do not simply copy another church's programming without first examining your own ministry context. This could lead to lots of trouble.  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Lesson Learned at the Dirk vs LeBron Showdown

Sitting in a loaded stadium watching the Dirk's Dallas Mavs play LeBron's Cleveland Cavs-awesome! Lots of energy and "celebrity" watching

I have been watching pro sports for a while now and have never made the Big Screen.  Well, last night I MADE IT.  Well...sort of.  Look closely. I am in the grey pull over appearing right above the head of the young man reaching for the camera.   The man next to me, their dad and great friend of mine, snapped the picture you see below.

As you can see, the seats and camera crew where way up there.  Certainly a cool pic and great memory from a great game. The moment came and it was gone.  Even though I coaxed the guys to try different things to attract the cameras attention (I could not help myself-I may or may not have challenged them to take their shirts off and wave them), the moment was over.
The event drew my attention towards the Big Screen for the rest of the night as I watched what people would do and how they would do it to get their seconds of fame.  Here is what I learned from my people-watching extravaganza.

People want to be seen.  My favorite screen moments where created by people who did not realize they where on screen.  The person next to them nudged them into looking up to the screen.  Then the magic happened.  Smiles, dancing (sometimes innapropriate), kisses, hugging and overall this is my moment behavior.  Really, people do crazy things to be seen.

Seen people bring energy.  When the game went into OT (again, great game) the camera caught one young Mav Fan who in turn grabbed the attention of the entire American Airlines Arena. The camera gave him much more than 5 seconds.  They used his passion to amp up the entire place.  He pumped his hands, beat his chest and begin to yell at the top of his lungs-the crowd responded. The kid who was seen changed the energy of the entire arena. I am certain that this young fan felt directly connected to and impacting a truly great sports moment.



The "Blind Man."

The woman "at the Well."

The woman with "the Issue of Blood."

The man with "a Legion of Demons."

Are a short list of people in the Gospel Story who wanted to be seen, where seen by Jesus and changed the energy of entire crowds.

Let's remember that our students (and those we engage with every day in the stores, coffee shops, gyms and places we frequent) desperately want to be seen.  That's why some do crazy things to stand out.  They want to feel a part of something bigger than themselves.  They want to be noticed.

As youth workers, we spend a lot of time being seen by those we are ministering to and with.  If you want to change the energy in your student ministry, start by focussing on the answer that is right before your eyes-the students and adult volunteers the Lord has placed before you.

Place the Big Screen attention you posses as a leader on them and watch the energy rise in them and your ministry.

Oh, your first notion may be to focus on the "franchised" students and adults.  They are easier and give you more in return right?  Wrong.  My advice, don't ignore those, but focus on students and adults who rarely get the Big Screen shot.  That's what Jesus did and it worked out pretty good.

Here is a closing observation.  One of the celebrities we watched (through the binoculars) was Mark Cuban.  It was cool to watch his passion for his team and game.  Even so, the one who stole the show and brought the energy to the Arena?

That young Mav fan-Just sayin'! Seen People Bring Energy!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Falling to Stand Up

"It is one of the most difficult things I have ever done!"

This statement has come from the lips of parents who, even though they could have prevented the outcome, refused to intervene and allowed their kid to fail.  To be transparent, these words have come from my lips as well.  Knowing the foreseeable outcome and letting your kid fail and suffer the consequences of their own actions is truly difficult.  However, even though one of the most difficult challenges faced by a parent, it is imperative that we not intervene in every instance that failure is the certain outcome of a poor choice. 

Certainly, there are times when a life/death decision is in the balance and intervention is warranted.  For example, a kid that believes they can float from the highest tree branch via umbrella needs to be stopped.  Or, the kid that runs into the street needs to be stopped and instructed of the danger present when such action occurs.  This type of intervention is part of helping children grow and understand the inherent dangers of living.  However, at some point, a child will have all the information they need and will make a choice.  That choice will have consequences-good or bad.

This is where the blur begins.  A parent/guardian and the wise adults providing counsel (hopefully everyone reading this has or is building a wise team for counsel-parenting is a team sport) will arrive at a point that they know they have to step back and let the kid accept the consequences for their own choice.  That point is different for each student (the blur).  BUT the point where training has been completed will arrive and the parent/guardian will let their student experience the pain of failure.  Again, it is one of the most difficult things a parent can do but it is essential to a kid's development that failure is allowed to happen.

Failure is not fatal.  Failure can refine and define a kid.  Kids that are allowed to fail refine their efforts, focus and determination to learn from their mistakes.  Kids that are allowed to fail define their true strengths and weaknesses. 

Yes, there are extremely painful allowed to fail situations in which a student's moral failure(s) has lead to major consequences.  Allowing failure in these scenarios causes great and nightmarish pain for parents/guardians.  Even so, without the consequences of a hard fall some students will never be able to refine and define their lives.

So, here is a set of questions for all of us to consider:
  • Do you complete your student's homework and projects because you are afraid of them failing?
  • Do you complain when your student does not get the playing time you believe they "deserve"?
  • Do you fight your student's traffic tickets because you are afraid of their "permanent record"?
  • Do you cover your student's moral failures from caring adults that have expressed concern?
  • Do you work harder than your student in trying to make them "successful"?
  • Do you allow your student to "work you" and remove consequences from them when house rules are broken?
I know that in the real world these questions are not always cut and dry.  Even so, how did you do?  
Even though difficult, failure is an essential element in a child's moral, spiritual and social development.

Remember when your child (all of us) learned how to walk?  Falling was the natural consequence of balancing first steps.  If our parent/guardian never allowed us to fall we would not have learned to walk.  It was literally a falling to stand up learning experience. 

It is good to let kids fail.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Observations from a Social Media Addict

"Hello, my name is David and I am a social media addict!" 

I have discovered this truth while in my recent Social Media Fast adventure.  Many times over the last few weeks, I have reached for and/or wanted to check my status, likes/dislikes, comments and messages.  Hopefully, as I have trickled back on the "social media juice," I have learned a few things. 

I have sorta ended my Social Media Fast.  I say sorta because I have established a few rules to better use the ol' social media in hopes that I do not let it consume too much of my time.  There is much I have observed and many lessons learned during my fast.  Here are a few that top my observations-lessons learned list:
  • We, not just teenagers, are way too involved with social media.  I really don't believe I have to unpack my observation.  Seriously, I can track several of my "friends" days from breakfast, lunch, supper,  date nights and love life (I know--ew) by reading their facebook and/or twitter updates.  My fast brought to light how many times I have often missed a present, never to be repeated moment because I had to tweet and post the event out to the world.  Or, I am missing a present, never to be repeated moment because I am responding to a tweet or post from someone else's life.
  • People really did not miss my presence on social media & I lost NO FRIENDS during my fast (Actually, I may have deepened a few of my friendships during this period of time because I had to old school text, talk on the phone and have face to face conversations). Hard truth, people are not waiting to hear and see what I have to post.  "What?"  "I love your posts Dave!"  "They inspire me!"  I am grateful that many of you like to read the material I post.  However, I am certain you found other inspiring material to read while I was away.  Point, we should not take our cyber presence so serious.  Hard fact, their will always be someone to take our place in the ocean of social media.
  • I am a much better husband, dad and friend without social media participation.  Why?  I was removed from the comparison, competition, consumerism and corresponding drama often created by social media participation.  It is amazing how much better I relate to others when I only have my present reality and context to draw from.
Here are some rules I am putting in place to better use and not abuse social media.
  • Turn off Social Media alerts.   This allows me to check social media information when I want to and not respond (like Pavlov's dog) when I hear a "ding" or other notification sound.  Test, if you have ever reached for your phone when you heard a familiar "ding" or notification sound only to realize it was the person's phone next to you, you may want to turn off those alerts.
  • Turn off your social media when in the presence of spouse, family and friends.  Sure, pictures and videos are fun-capture those memories; but, wait to post!  DON'T loose the moment! 
  • Stop rationalizing and accept accountability. Someone will or has let you know when you are way too into social media. Listen to them and accept their correction.  My wonderful and wise wife has spoken this truth into me countless times and let me know that my social media consumption was out of control!  We all need to listen and respond to those who are trying to tell us something.  Oh, I have seen where fellow social media "junkies" tell other "junkies" to ignore the accountability and rationalize the over usage of social media-That's called co-dependence folks!
  • I will control social media and not let social media control me.  To be clear, social media is important and real social contact takes place in this location. So, I will continue to take periodic fasts from and control my participation in this powerful, cultural medium.  
I hope these few observations, lessons and rules help your social media consumption.  Now, stop reading and tweet and post this blog to the world.  Oh wait...let the present reality of this blog hit home and post later (when you are not around your spouse, family and friends). 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Playing God

I just finished a great week at the National Conference on Student Ministry (NCYM).
Great Speakers
Great Information
Great People
It was know...great!

The Executive Director of Youth Specialties (YS), Mark Matlock keynoted a night of the conference and had a perspective on social media I had never considered.  He likened our (student and adult) obsession with our connections to media (social and otherwise) as an attempt to be omnipresent.  Since God is the only one with omnipresent capabilities, we end up stressed, burdened and unable to be fully present in any of our contexts. We are not built or intended to be omnipresent. So, if we want be fully present with our God, spouse, family and friends we need to Stop Playing God!

Yes, I know.  It hit me as well.  I never considered an obsession with social media as an attempt to claim an attribute of God, but Mark is right.  None of us are so important that a night without posting, checking or sending would stop the Earth's rotation.  Deep inside, all of us know that a night without posting, checking and sending would create a much needed breath and space in our already busy and crowded lives.  A breath and space that would allow us to be fully present.

Take this little quiz (totally made up and unscientific-but it helps evaluate your level of media obsession) to see if you are Playing God:
  • Do you ever "power down" your phone and media devices? Related, can you leave your phone or media devices off at night?
  • Do you "check" your phone and media devices during meal times?
  • Do you "share" too many moments or too much information via phone and media devices-in other words, you are often guilty of TMI? (This is a question best answered by a spouse or friend because those who "share" too much can't see the problem)
  • Do you "reach" for your phone every time you hear a ring tone (whether it is your tone or not)?
  • Do you "check" your phone or media device when in conversation with others?
If by answering these questions you have discovered you are trying to live the life of a god, the answer is simple (I did not say easy): Power Down and Live in the Present!

Power Down! Self explanatory, find the "off switch" more often. 

And practically, "live" more in the present and "share" less online!  Like this moment from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  A moment that ends Walter's adventure filled journey to find a famed photographer (Sean Penn) who is discovered while patiently waiting to snap a picture of an allusive snow leopard. Ghost Cat

Right after this moment (sorry-I could not find the clip), the Snow Leopard appeared and the photographer did something incredible.  He did not take the picture.  Why?  (paraphrased) Some moments are best experienced and not shared.  

Power Down and Live in the Present!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The 3 Most Powerful Words in Youth Ministry

"I like you!"
What if these were the 3 most powerful words in Youth Ministry?

Student ministers use the word "love" a lot-maybe too much.
"I would love to have lunch with you guys."
"I would love if you joined us at our church."
"I really loved the sermon today."
"I really love hanging out with students."
"I really loved that conference."
"I love this scripture, praise song, camp, mission site, preacher, blog...etc."

Oh, and there are given love statements students expect to hear from student ministers.
"God loves you."
"Christ loves you so much he died."
"The Spirit loves and lives inside of you."

Don't misunderstand.  These are all fine and appropriate things to say.  But what if students need to hear something else from you?  What if they need to hear words that would help them clearly understand and believe the love statements you are desperately trying to communicate?

Perhaps a disconnect comes from students wondering if you like them?
I would say, for the most part, student's know you love them (that's why you drive vans with stinky teenagers in the heat of summer and plan lock-ins).  But do your students know you like them?
Do you hang around with the same students, families, activities?
Do you talk about the same type of activities in your lesson illustrations?
Do you pass certain students to talk with others on a constant basis?
Do you have inside jokes with a limited number of students?
If you answered yes to a few of these questions, you may be communicating an "I don't like you" message.

Teenagers experience moments in which they doubt anyone likes them or that they possess a talent or ability that is likeable.  They go through stage(s) in their life in which they feel invisible or at best common among peers.  These are difficult times in which student's battle with tough developmental questions:
"Who am I?"
"Do my choices matter?"
"Where do I belong?"
These moments certainly call for a flood of love statements from caring adults and youth workers.  But, in my opinion, these moments call for an even greater flood of like statements to validate the worthiness the feel to receive words of loving guidance into their core. 

Let me give you an example (this example has been changed for confidentiality).
Years ago I had a young lady in my youth group that was difficult to like.  She had a disability that made her irritable, argumentative and pretty much unable to work with others (imagine how complicated work projects could be if you were on this person's work crew).  On top of all this, she came from a rough home situation and was often unkempt in appearance.  She heard many love statements from our youth ministry team which seemed to fall on deaf ears.  Why? She did not believe anyone liked or could like her.  However, a group of students decided to "include" this young lady into their group (I know...a clear breach of teen world protocol) and caring adults began to point out unique things to like about this young lady. This changed everything. In short order, the like statements made it possible for the love statements to sink deep into her core. 

I am certain we all have students that need a flood of like statements.  There are many things youth ministers and adults can do to begin a like flood, but here are a few suggestions:
  • Spend time talking with the "unlikeable" in the presence of more "likeable" students.  There is great significance and like shown when passing the students that get all the attention from adults for students that stand apart from the group or look for a place to hide in the crowd.
  • Go to all types of events to support your students.  As a youth ministry professional or volunteer, you will naturally feel more comfortable around certain groups of students (athletic, artistic, creative, alternative, etc).  Fight the urge to support one group over another.  Yes, this is difficult, but  a loud "I am likeable" message is communicated to students when you show up at games, concerts, performances, competitions or house.  Please don't be that, "I only relate to athletic (insert other comfortable) students" type of youth minister.  
  • Communicate like messages to students.  Old school works best here.  Send an email, text or write a note and put it in the snail mail highlighting something you have seen that is unique, praiseworthy and likeable about a given student (I recommend you stay away from tweets-those can backfire and become a self-esteem competition) . Students cherish such communication.
  • Share the praise from the stage.  It is easy to call to the stage as an example and/or volunteer the likeable students.  Why not share the stage with those who never or hardly ever share the spotlight? You will be communicating a strong like message. CAUTION:  Some students do not like the stage.  Do not embarrass a student-that message would change into an unlike message quickly.
Enjoy practicing the 3 most important words in youth ministry, "I LIKE YOU!"