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!