What If You Simply Aren't a High Capacity Leader?

What If You Simply Aren't a High Capacity Leader?

One of my favorite pastimes is reading leadership books and listening to leadership podcasts. Because, in my mind, I am a high capacity leader.  The more that I read and the more that I listen, the more I am coming to an awful conclusion, I am not a high capacity leader.  And I am willing to bet that you aren’t either.

The leaders who write the books and make the podcasts are the best in their industry.  They have proven themselves as leaders through decades of hard work, and incremental gains that have snow balled into exponential growth, to where they are now writing books and making podcasts.  As youth workers, by our very nature, by our very call, and by our place in our organization, chances are we are not high capacity leaders.

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Unless your student leaders embrace your vision, it is only a nice philosophy.

Unless your student leaders embrace your vision, it is only a nice philosophy.

This last weekend I took my incoming seniors away on our annual Senior Road Trip. This is the kick off for our intentional Senior Confirmation program that is a year long investment in our oldest and often, our most burnt out students. The purpose of this trip is to build community, inspire leadership, and solidify faith as they launch into adulthood.

This year one of the elements was to watch Remember the Titans and have a discussion on leadership. To my horror, that movie is already 15 years old. For me, who is old and been at this a while, 15 years is recent. But to our students, this movie couldn't be more dated. Although they enjoyed watching a young Hayden Panettiere and Ryan Gosling.

Thankfully,for as dated as the movie is, it is such a compelling movie that it held their interest for most of the 2 hours. As we watched this movie as a group and discussed afterward, there was one simple point I wanted to drive home:

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Do you pour into the "Leaders" or the "Least of These?"

least of these As my ministry grows and shrinks and and I grow and shrink, I have found myself wrestling with this challenging question.  "Do I pour my life into leaders, or into the least of these?"  

I totally get the strategy and potential multiplication that happens when you take the cream of the crop and invest into them.  The potential pay off is huge.  They become spiritual leaders among their friends, at their schools, in their companies, and even follow a call into ministry.  Many of us youth pastors were "leader" kids that were given some extra love and attention by our youth pastor and helped shape a larger view of ourselves and ministry and that is why we are doing what we are doing.

Leader kids are the best.

They are all in.  They are normal.  They have social kids and it feels good when they like us.  And while I am a product of some extra love and have seen the fruit of that in some of my leader kids, I wonder if the strategy of ministry to leaders trains our hearts, our leaders, and our ministries to miss the very heart of the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Let's face it, the "least of these" kids are a challenge.  Our groups would be much more effective and fun, and we could actually reach more kids if these socially awkward, totally dysfunctional, poor hygiene kids were not around as much.  There is absolutely no strategic goal that is accomplished by giving our time to this group of kids.  There is little chance that our time with them will turn them into part of the main stream of our ministry let alone of their campus.

The proverbial wisdom is that whatever you feed, grows, what ever you starve dies.  When we focus so much of our time and energy pouring into leader kids, then that is the culture that develops and the space for those on the fringe becomes limited at best.  If you pour into the kids on the fringes and that shapes your culture, your dreams of developing a large, dynamic, beautiful youth ministry go out the window.

Are we perverting the Gospel?

As much as I so long to have a youth group where the leader kids and families are attracted to and impressed with, I am wondering more and more if this is just a continued perversion of the Gospel.  I have read many books, and seen many youth ministries in action.  Everyone is pushing me towards intentional and strategic development of leaders.  And when I spend time with Jesus and watch what he did and how he did it, it is the opposite.

Does anyone else wrestle with this conflict in values?  Has anyone read anything that speaks to this issue?  (Besides Henri Nouwen, our favorite author we love to read, but hate to model) Has anyone developed an intentional and strategic plan to make plenty of space and provide plenty of care for the least of these?

May God be gracious with us as leaders to be good stewards of our ministries and of our gifts, but not at the expense of those we are actually called to care for.

Leadership is not the job or calling of a youth pastor

Surprise! You are actually the pawn. :) Over and over I listen to youth workers who are so frustrated at their senior pastor, supervisor, and parents because they just don't seem to understand or respect their leadership.  The more I listen to my friends, the more I am convinced that the reason is simply, leadership is not the primary, in fact its not even in the top 10 of values, skills, or even responsibility of a youth worker.

Unfortunately many youth workers are young, educated, and look up to strong leaders who write extensively about leadership.  But these authors and pastors are LEAD pastors.  Crazy, they are the leaders of their churches and organizations.  Even in their churches they hire people to FOLLOW THEIR LEADERSHIP.  In fact, most youth workers in those larger churches lead significantly less then those youth workers in smaller churches.  They fully get who the leader is and where they sit in the org chart.

The truth is that youth ministry is near the bottom of the org chart in most churches.  It is an for many of us, an entry level position.

Isn't it strange that we put on this gigantic mantle of leadership and significance to an entry level position where the youngest and least experienced pastors do their work?

I am in no way belittling the work that youth workers do.  I am a youth worker and have been one for a long time.  I am simply offering a small correction.  Leadership is not what we are called to do.  We are called to love students and help them love Jesus.  We take our marching orders from our lead pastors and our stance towards parents is one of service.  Yes we may lead a game, give a talk, and LEAD a small group, but whatever leadership we have is tempered by fulfilling the leadership goals and dreams of our LEAD pastor.

And as a side note; don't be too quick to blow off your old, tired, lame, lead pastor and their LEADERSHIP.  They actually may know more than you think and you would benefit by submitting to their leadership.  And if you can't, then it is time for you to leave and work for a LEADER you can submit to.

Youth ministry is not the place where young bucks LEAD!  It is the place where people are called to serve and care for a particular niche within the church body.  We are a small part of the larger church team and in this position we submit to our LEAD pastor, SERVE our parents, and LOVE our students.

Just a thought :)

What sort of legacy do you want to leave?

Throughout Spring and the beginning of summer I have spent a lot of time thinking about leadership and maximizing the places of influence that God has placed me.  I used to low talk my position as a youth worker, but over the past few years have been challenged to see a bigger picture.  I have read a bunch of books on leadership and organizational health like, Deep and Wide, The Advantage, The Catalyst Leader, 1776, etc.  And all of these, and these types of books have been inspiring. As I have been trying to live into the corporate CEO model of ministry I have realized that my focus has begun to drift.  The things that stirred my heart when I first started in ministry and the individual lives of people in my ministry context got exchanged for buzzwords like influence, maximizing, platform, etc.

I do think there is a strong argument to be made that we are to continue to grow as leaders and strive to expand our influence and platform.   But once the focus moves from Jesus and His kingdom to me and my whatever, I think we / I have missed it.

God, in His infinite grace has offered me a course correction by stumbling on one of the oldest and cheesiest Christian Songs of the late 80's.  As I listened to this song, God reminded me of my calling.  I am called to be a pastor, a shepherd.  I am called to offer my life as a drink offering, poured out for the sake of others.  My calling is to the weak, the marginalized, and specifically to those crazy, troubled, gifted, mixed up, and amazing students who are right smack in the middle of adolescence.

This call starts and ends in the local church.  And, at least today, I am content that my blog, podcasts, book, platform has little play outside my mom and my close friends.  I will gladly plant deep roots, serve these students, this church, and this community with little fanfare.  And when Jesus does take me home, I long to have a legacy like Kentucky Rose!



This is not how I would do it.

I am the best leader I know
One of the hardest things about being a leader is the burden of always being right. It seems that whatever group of people I am working with, I have the best ideas and know what should happen next. When I am the true leader of every part of something, like my student ministry, I get to fully live into my brilliance. But most of the time I am sharing leadership with others who, in their mind, is also the smartest person in the room.

In the church context, we have senior pastors who are leaders doing the best they can. As youth workers we love to sit back and judge what a poor job they are doing and share that with others so our friends know how brilliant we are, and dumb they are.

In a missions context, we share leadership with a local church or organization that has come up with a plan that makes total sense to them. Because it is missions it seems like our definitions of best and smart are quite different. Let's be honest, the plan they come up, pales compared to my brilliance. And because I am insecure I don't want those around me to think that their poor idea is mine. To make this clear, the easiest solution is to blow up their obvious incompetence with my friends and those I lead.

Lets be honest for a second. While we know that this is actually poor leadership and you have enjoyed judging my self-righteousness, the truth is every leader I know is tempted to put others down in order to prove their own abilities and brilliance. But proving our brilliance is not the task of leadership.

Being the smartest guy in the room is not good leadership
Providing for, and shaping experiences so students will encounter Christ and partner more fully in the work of God is our task. For this to happen we have to take ourselves out of the mix. We must discern the heart of God in every curve ball we are thrown and help our students live into that.

The picture at the top of this post is the awful construction work our students are doing. One by one, students are hauling block and bags of gravel a quarter mile up a road to the place where the actual construction is happening. 10's of thousands of pounds of materials, one by one.

In 5 seconds I had a dozen solutions to efficiently move the pile of materials from point A to point B. After 10 minutes if attempting to help the process, I realized it was going to be a no go. For four days we were going to move this pile from point A to point B.

My natural leadership ability is to walk alongside my students, roll my eyes, and patronize those dummies for making us do this all week. You see, I don't want them to know this is my idea. But good leadership is helping our students live into the larger story of what they are doing. There is no way a family could move all this material by themselves. How pig headed to assume that they even have access to a truck. We are to be a blessing to others, to bring God's mercy and grace. And I am pretty sure that doing this well has nothing to do with me and my teams perception of my brilliance.

May we all be shock absorbers and buffers of grace when those we lead with lead differently the us. When those around us, those we partner with, those whom we must serve under don't live up to our expectations, may we have grace and serve them well. Because the truth is, everyone we lead has the same judgements about our leadership.

I am sorry that my students are hiking materials for four day, but I am thankful that I caught myself in time and didn't down talk our ministry partners so that our students could fully love, serve, and enjoy every part of this trip. Pray that they would have the strength to finish well. (Last day!)

From leader to facilitator

With all the hiccups that happen when traveling with 50 people, and most of them minors, we are finally all together getting dialed in for our arrival into Guatemala.

What hiccups you might ask?
Good question. In just the few short hours we have been traveling together, we have managed to get stopped in security for a student who "forgot" about a knife he had in his possession, a lost boarding pass, and two separate incidents of bags left behind. (You know, when you go to the food court, bathroom, or currency exchange and leave your bag behind.) Thankfully, God's grace has been overwhelming and so far these little hiccups just make us adults smile. :)

But with these opportunities for grace behind us, we are now trying to make best use of this time so we are honing our craft skills, doing some team bonding, and praying together. And as our students meet up in their teams, I have come to the realization that my role is already transitioning from team leader to facilitating team.

What I mean by this, is that for the past few months I have been herding cats, wrangling paperwork, lessons, crafts, songs, games, and more paperwork from my students. I have been the person in the front with a clipboard moving students from point A to point B. Now that we are quickly approaching point B, I am handing the reigns over to my student leaders. This is now their car to drive!

I could not be more proud of my three sets of student leaders. They are keeping tabs on their people, managing the group dynamic, and leading their team into deeper dependance on God. It is so fun watching these students get after it.

As a facilitator, my job is now to meet regularly with these student leaders, communicate well, clarify expectations, and ooze non-stop, specific affirmation. It is incredibly intimidating leading high school students, it is exponentially more intimidating leading high school students when they are your peers. And this is the role that these leaders are living into!

I am so aware and thankful of all the prayers and support of our church and my friends and family. Now that we are one more plane flight to actually being in Guatemala, putting into practice what we have been learning over these past few months, I would ask that you pray specifically for my student leaders.

These students, Tommy, Samantha, Bix, Sarah, Jessica, and Tristan are amazing and carrying a huge burden this trip. Pray for God's grace, wisdom, discernment, and guts. Pray that God would empower them and that they would live into the people that God so clearly has made them to be! And pray that they would love their team well, love them selflessly, with a servants heart, and find joy in empowering their peers for ministry!

It is an honor to be a part of this team, and a joy to fade into the background as our student leaders step up and step out!

Next stop Santa Apolonia.

PS: Please pray that God multiplies our rest as well. We arrive around 11:30 pm, and our day begins at 7:00 am on Monday! YES PLEASE!! #sleepwhenwearedead Thank you again for your support and prayers for this trip.

The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family : Book Review

3 questions for a frantic familyAs the school year was winding down, I started to have this familiar feeling that my life was, once again, slipping out of control. Trying to get all the end of the year responsibilities accomplished, gearing up for summer programing, connecting with returning college kids, made it in credibly easy to sacrifice my normal rhythms and be busy with no rest in sight. What I found to be so challenging was that I really enjoyed everything that I was doing. In fact I didn't feel over worked, I felt like it was killing it professionally. But every passing day, the hint that I was running a 100 miles an hour in a hundred different directions was getting louder and louder. That hint was that besides my job, I am also a husband and a father.

Ministry + Family = Hectic Life

And now that my kids are getting older, they actually need more from me. They have sports and their own social lives and their own end of school activities. This added chaos combined with my work schedule, made me feel like my family was running around like a chicken with their head cut off.

Then I came across Patrick Lencioni's new book, The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family at a conference and bought it immediately. Who knew there would be a book that would help me navigate my life by asking 3 simple questions.

That night I opened the book and was immediately drawn in by Lencioni's writing style. I have read some of his other books, and this is written in the same narrative style. After he developed they "typical" family, Lencioni moved to the meat, the practical help, the solution to help families who feel out of control begin to gain a sense of control.

Every chapter I took a ton of notes and developed my family plan. About every 20 minutes I would look over at my wife and tell her what a great book this is and what a great plan I am developing for our family. She would look at me graciously and say, "I can't wait to talk about it." After a week of work and with a complete plan, I was ready to share it with my wife.

So on Saturday evening we put a movie on for the kids, poured a glass of wine, and sat on our deck ready to get our family system under control. The problem was that I only got about two sentences in before my wife stopped me. She said that she was so proud of me trying to understand our family and get the frantic pace of our lives under control. She loved that I wanted to develop intentional relationships with her and with our kids. She loved that I was willing to wrestle through my job responsibilities so I could have better balance there. But then she made it clear that the franticness I was feeling was actually just my franticness.

My wife and my kids did not feel frantic at all. She has friends, she has a job, she has a rhythm that works. Are kids are loved by her and taken care of by her, seen and known by her. They have special jokes and rhythms that I have no idea about. While there were times in our past where this franticness was felt by all of us, this day, this season, the frantic pace of life was simply mine!

My life was out of control, and this book helped!

All that to say is my life was obviously out of control enough to the point that I thought everyone else was in the same predicament. Because this frantic pace was actually my problem, I was able to take my family plan that Lencioni maps out and write up one for my personal and my professional life.

He does this by getting you to ask 3 basic questions. How cool that all of the brilliance of Lencioni and all of his work he does with CEO's and financial big wigs, is accessible for people like me. So what are these three questions?

1) What is your top priority right now? We all have 10 things we want to get after right now. But the truth is that our brains are limited, our time and resources are limited. After you take these 10 things you want to do, start chopping away until you find the top priority. This is your rallying cry. This is what is going to shape your time and resources.

As you get after this top priority you must outline your defining objectives. These are the new initiatives that will allow you to accomplish this priority. Then there are standard objectives. These are the objectives that you can not let go of that keep the rest of the machine working.

2) What makes us unique? You wouldn't think that this is an important question, but this actually is the most important question. We are all unique, we all have different gifts, passions, and abilities we bring to the table. Instead of continually trying to keep up with the Jones's in both a family sense, but also in a ministry sense, we should settle in on what makes us and our ministry unique and maximize that!

3) How will we talk about and use the answers to this information? This is Lencioni's way of having feedback loops. We must have people, spouses, friends, supervisors, who will hold our feet to the fire, who will keep us on task, who will help us succeed. Without feedback loops, we are doomed to fail!

That is it. 3 simple questions that will focus us personally and professionally so we don't find our selves chasing good and ok things at the expense of running after what is truly great!

I hope and pray that your life is considerably less frantic than mine. But if you find your self slipping and sliding out of control, then this is a great resource. This book is approachable, easy to read, and give you the step by step directions to develop your own plan.

My you find some space in your life this summer to reflect on the habits and pace of your life so that you will be defined by compassion, grace, empathy, love and joy and not as someone who is really busy. Don't let your tasks or schedule master you. Develop your rallying cry and get after it!