Wednesday, December 31, 2014

4 Keys to Vacation Well

Every Christmas, Jessica, the kids and myself take some time at Christmas to go back to visit our families in Missouri and Kansas.  We save up some vacation time and make it a whole week's worth of family visits - which may sound painful for some of you, but we really enjoy being back home with our families.

But in today's high-tech world - something I love - it can be hard to break away from the office even when you're not there.  I get my email on my phone and iPad.  I can be texted at the drop of a hat.  One of my goals of any vacation is not to get any calls/texts about work.  My family deserves my undivided attention when I'm with them.  And I need to break my mind away from my job, and focus on my family.  This Christmas I succeeded!  Here's how I did that.

1. Make a Leave List

I'm a recent convert of Wunderlist, and probably would forget 90% of what needs to get done if I didn't use it.  Besides, Jim Wideman taught me that "our brains are for dreaming and thinking, not remembering things."  About 2 weeks away from a vacation I start my list of things that need to be done while I'm gone.  What do I do that I need someone else to do?  What needs to be done before I get back?  Is there anything that I need to order before I leave? 

Here are a couple of things on my Leave List:
  • Set-up my email auto-reply to let people know I won't be responding until I'm back.
  • Change my office phone voicemail message.
2. Send a "Who-To-Call List" Email

The day before I leave the office, I send out an email letting our staff know who to call for certain questions.  If there is a maintenance issue - call Carey.  If it's a building construction questions - call Nick.  Obviously your job is different than mine.  Just make a list.  This lets people know who to call - and it's not you.

3. Start the Back in the Office List

As I'm working on leaving, I'm always thinking of things I can wait to work on when I get back.  Start that list before you leave.  What phone calls or emails do I need to make when I get back?  What tasks need to get done the day I get back?  Starting this list helps set my mind at ease that I won't forget it when I get back.

And if you're like me, you'll think of something while you're on vacation.  Having Wunderlist on my phone lets me put in on the list...forget about it...and get back to my family.

4. Don't Check My Email

Don't do it.  In the past I would make the excuse that I'm just cleaning out the junk so that I can get back I can focus on the real emails that I need to deal with.  Bull.  Even if I didn't open those "real" emails I still saw that I had something from someone - and my mind was back at work.  In order for me to focus on my family I have to keep my mind out of the office - and that includes my email.

Vacations are for family.  Not work.  It's time we reclaim the family vacation to be about that - family.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

'Fairness is Overrated' Book Review

If you've ever lead anything, you know the tension that never sits well.  It's one of the toughest questions that we wrestle with, and almost never seem to find a solution. Do I do what's right, or what's fair?  Rarely do we get to choose both.

In Fairness is Overrated, author Tim Stevens draws on over 20 years experience in leading a larger church staff, with an incredible reaching impact.  

One of the most refreshing qualities of Stevens and his writing, is that these are tried-and-true leadership principles that have been molded and shaped as he's worked with the more than 130 staff of Granger Community Church.

Every chapter is short.  The content is easy to follow and pick up on.  One of the things that most excites me is that this is more of a manual, than a book.  The short chapters make it work like a reference book.  There are principles in this book that are not immediately important to my leadership now and the decisions that are in front of me - but they will be.  Fairness is Overrated is broken up and organized in such a way to quickly come back to the content over and over again to find those nuggets of wisdom as we attempt to lead through different situations.

If you're a leader at any level in the church, this book is for you.  If you're a business owner, trying to create a work environment where you get the best out of everyone in your company, this book is for you.  If you lead anything, this book is for you.

I recently changed roles at my church, Grace Fellowship, from Age Level Director to Executive Pastor.  I can't tell you how timely the wisdom and experience that this book offers has been and will be in my new position.

Fairness is Overrated comes out January 6th.  You can preorder the book at

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mt. Dew & Community

If you were to come to my office, you'd find all sorts of nick-nacks.  Some cool.  Some you'd think are dumb and childish (...and you might be on to something).  But every single one of them has a story (I'm not a hoarder!).

One such item is a very special Mt. Dew can (seen in this picture).  If you look closely you'll see that it doesn't actually say "Mt. Dew" least not in English.

I was on a trip to Russia back in 2007, and feeling pretty low - going through culture shock, missing my wife, missing "normal" food...and missing Mt. Dew.  I shared that sentiment with one of the Russian guys that I had become friends with - Artyom.  He could tell I wasn't doing well, and that afternoon he called a friend who was on his way out to the camp we were at to bring me the can of Mt. Dew.  Just a simple act.  A $.50 can of soda.

There's a principle that I've learned from a few different people (Andy Stanley, Reggie Joinner).  Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.  What Artyom did for me was something that he didn't - and couldn't - do for everyone of us Americans at the camp.  But he did for me.

Honestly, Artyom probably doesn't remember buying me this can of soda.  But I do.  I still have the can to show for it.  It's important to me.  (In fact I just about cried one time I thought a middle schooler had opened it in my office when I wasn't looking.)

Community is often simply the small, seamingly meaningless acts of generously giving to someone.  People we care about.  People who need a boost.  People who need an encouragement.  People who need a Mt. Dew.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Say the Same Things...

One of the things we say all the time to our small group leaders is that one of their roles is to be "Another Adult Who Says the Same Thing a Parent Says".  That very thing happened on a recent trip.

One of our 8th grade girls was broken up with by her boyfriend on the trip.  I knew nothing of this incident until after we got back and found this Facebook post (pictured) by the teen.  I showed her small group leader on Sunday, and the small group leader explained to me what had happened.

Huge win!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"And They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Holiday Greeting..."

Oh, wait!

Personally, I'm torn on this issue.  Christmas is about Jesus - always has been always will be.  It's the reason that we even have a celebration this time of year.  And in the last few years the rhetoric back and forth between those who just want for the "holiday" time to be a little more politically correct and those of us celebrating the true meaning of Christmas only seems to be heating up.  There is even a display in Chicago about "A is for Atheist" right next to a manger scene.  It's hard to watch.  It's hard for me even to hear someone say "Happy Holidays" and not think, I wander what their angle is.

But then again, it's also hard for me to see people deliberately belittle and and poke fun of Christianity at any time of the year - much less at Christmas.

If we want people to take our faith (read personal faith) seriously, maybe we should act like it is at other times and not just when people try to take away our greeting of "Merry Christmas".  Maybe our love of people, our generous hearts, our love for the poor, our desperate need to help those down and out should be a bigger maker than a simple "Merry Christmas".

Maybe our "Merry Christmas" should actually mean it though our actions, rather than just being said.  Then people may actually know we are Christians by our love, rather than simply our "holiday greeting".

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Best Times to Post on Social Media

Social media is such a powerful tool - especially in student ministry.  It allows us to rally students. Engage them after a message.  Play fun games.  Brag on students who do something awesome.  Post pictures that happen at events.  But what are the best times to reach people on these networks?  Check out this infographic:

social media infographic when are the best times to post

Monday, September 16, 2013

4 Keys to Starting Fresh in Student Ministry

Eight fall seasons ago I had the opportunity to start fresh with a student ministry that was, for the most part, non-existent.  Since then, along with an incredible team of volunteers, I'm very excited about the student ministry that we've built, and are continuing to refine.

A fellow youth worker from a few towns over called me the other day with a similar opportunity - to start fresh and small.  Here is some of the advice that I had for him.  I hope you find it helpful if you're starting fresh.

1. Small Groups are Key:  You've heard it before, but don't do ministry alone.  Even with only 15 students and your spouse.  Bring along other adults to care for students.  You will ultimately only grow at the pace that you have adults to adequately care for the students in your ministry.  Pick a ratio that you want to see in small groups, and recruit AHEAD of that number, not in response to it.  Just be careful in the early stages not to overwhelm the students with too many adults.  If you have 15 students and 8 adults it's going to feel a bit overwhelming for the students.

2.  Be Intentional with Your Programming:  With a small number of students it's easy to leave a lot of room for unplanned and off-the-cuff activities.  But what happens when you add 10-15 more students.  All of a sudden you have to add some structure and things in place.  You don't want to have to change things up majorly mid-steam and have your current students push back on this new structure.

Have fun, but do it with purpose.  Have a plan each night just like you would if you had 50 students.  Jim Wideman says it all the time: "Do NOW what you'd be forced to do if you grew.  Then you'll grow."

3.  Have Fun Outside of "Normal" Programming: Tailgate at football games.  Do impromptu ice cream runs, or coffee meet-ups.  Have students over to your house.  Those relational moments that we're tempted to do off-the-cuff in our regular programming can be done at other times.  The allows for those relational connections to happen, while still remaining intentional during your "normal" programming.

4.  Be Committed for the Long Haul:  I've been in the same place for nearly 8 years now, and have seen things in student ministry by being in the same place that I would have never seen had I jumped ship even 2 years ago.  Seeing your team go from 2 other volunteers besides your spouse to a group 17 small group leaders (larger than the student ministry we started with) is unbelievable.  I'm still a bit emotional when I get together with those leaders each week before our student environment starts.

I hope that list helps some in either starting fresh, or working in a small context.