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Leaders who are Different

There is no “one-size fits all” approach to leadership. There is an abundance of examples of rich diversity in nature marked by the sheer volume of unique species of plants, animals, fish, rock or foliage. And as diverse as creation is, leaders too are developed through different gifts, personalities, abilities and styles.

Here are four types of different leaders I’ve had the privilege of serving with:

1. The reluctant leader – I wrote about this at length here. A reluctant leader is someone who believes that they could be or should be doing something else. There are countless biblical examples of this leadership type. For this conversation, however, let’s refine our thoughts to the person of Moses.

Moses didn’t want to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.  He didn’t want to carry the burden of leadership while wandering in the desert. Moses was called by God to lead even though he wanted to live into a different calling.

We sometimes will work with leaders like this. It’s important for us to affirm their calling, while encouraging them to engage emotionally in the leadership opportunity they’ve been given.

2. The timid leader – Gideon is a prime example of a timid leader. Timid leaders question both their calling and their ability, and yet timid leaders are often times the most powerful and profound leaders of an organization. They spend a great deal of effort connecting relationally with those whom they are charged with leading because they are willing to earn the right to lead through relational connection.

Timid leaders are catalysts for relational depth in your community.

3. The headstrong leader – These leaders are intense. They push through obstacles and often times run over people in the process. Peter was this kind of leader. At times their intensity can be misdiagnosed as arrogance. Headstrong leaders have a clear picture of where they are going and are determined to get there.

Headstrong leaders need boundaries or they will run over everything in their path. Be firm, remind them of vision and set them up to succeed by allowing them to help lead your organization and community forward.

4. Systematic leader – Systematic leaders choose their path wisely. They calculate the pros and cons of any given leadership situation and have often thought through a variety of different solutions to a problem while others may still be attempting to describe what they problem is. One biblical case study for this type of leader is Joshua. Joshua learned how to bring a vision to life by leading the people of Israel into the promised land.

Systematic leaders can help you make wise decisions that may bring a larger vision into focus and/or into reality over time.

The reality is that each of us is a blend of these different leadership types, but we may possess a natural tendency or dominance towards one or two of these profiles. Think about your team of leaders. Which ones fit into which profile? Are there other types of leaders you would add to this list? What type of leader are you, and how does this shape how you lead?

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What’s in a Name?

I remember the first moment when I found out I was going to be a dad. Mixed emotions of excitement, nervousness and joy flooded into my soul. The weight of responsibility of caring for and discipling a young child into adulthood became the focus of my thought power and energy leading up to the moment of birth (and beyond!). Of all the responsibilities associated with being a parent, none seemed as important as providing a great start for this new child by choosing the name they would live into.

My wife Bonny and I spent countless hours creating names for our children. We created a spreadsheet listing all the leading name candidates, researching their meaning and dreaming about what we hoped our children would live into in terms of values, character and aspirations for their future.

The day came where we met each of our three children and called them by name. In that moment everything seemed settled, new, hope-filled and amazing.

Fast forward a couple of years and these young little babies who are now young children are beginning to live into and own the name that they have been given. They respond to it when it’s called (for the most part…), they introduce themselves by it and they know how to write it. My kids are beginning to share who they are with others, starting with their name.

I often marvel at the power that names have in each of our lives. Working with teens I’ve seen firsthand the positive and negative effects of names or labels that have been placed on these kids by those who they trusted and cared about. How we speak to each other and what references or names we use matter. The grade 7 boy who is home-schooled is more than just a home-schooler. The grade 10 girl who has dated half the youth group is more than just the floozy. The student that lives in the rough part of town is more than an underprivileged kid.

The names we share with one another and we give to others matter. What names are you using to refer to the teens and families under your sphere of influence and care? Are they names that breathe life into their souls, or names that reinforce all the lies they may be tempted to believe about who they are? What’s in a name, and does a name really matter?

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Kingdom Diversity

This post also appears on Canadian Youth Worker here.

If you study the life of Jesus you will not only discover a God-man full of integrity and character. You may also discover that He likes to do things differently…a lot.

When I first started out in ministry as a volunteer and then young ministry leader, I was convinced that the way I was doing things was the best possible way to minister to teens and families. Call it arrogance, call it being naive, or simply call it being blind. Many years later as a seasoned ministry leader I’m learning to appreciate the richness that diversity has to offer.

Diversity is an interesting word. To some it means embracing a laissez-faire attitude towards life and leadership, while to others it means uncovering and celebrating the different personalities, character and dreams that people possess. For me, diversity is a value; one that liberates a leader from a narrow frame of modus operandi.

Back to Jesus.

If you study the miracles that Jesus performed during His time on earth, you will discover that each one is uniquely different and yet completely amazing. He spits into mud and rubs it onto the eyes of a blind man restoring his sight, He changes water into wine through a simple exercise of refilling empty wine barrels, He speaks to a dead man inviting him to step back into life, and he prays over a small lunch in order to feed a gathered crowd of over 5000 people. And these are just a few of the miracles Jesus performed!

If you take a deeper look into the people that Jesus interacted with, you will again discover this theme and value of diversity. Jesus took the time to notice and to befriend anyone who was willing to be known by Him.

If Jesus embraced and lived this value of diversity, shouldn’t our families, churches and ministry communities do the same? Is there room for diversity in your current ministry context, or are you asking everyone to be like everybody else?

Here are a few questions that I’m asking in my life and in my ministry to help me refine the value of diversity:

1. Do I create space where people with different stories, personalities, abilities and learning styles can connect?
2. Do I take the time to celebrate someones uniqueness as well as to look for something that we might have in common?
3. Do I encourage other ministry leaders who do ministry different than I do to keep leading into their uniqueness, or do I suggest that they should copy what I do?
4. Do I possess a balance between creativity and imitation in my pursuit of embracing diversity as a value?

So what about you…how have you seen the value of diversity impact the lives of people? Are there additional questions you’d add to this list to help refine the pursuit of diversity as a value?

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Four Tensions a Leader Must Face

Being a leader isn’t an easy task. The greatest leaders in history are those who have learned to work around, embrace and resolve tension. While many people enjoy the responsibility of making decisions, choosing a direction or having people work for you, there is significant weight associated with being a leader because tension is inevitable.

A leader is someone who is open to criticism that is fueled by the mismanagement of the different tensions they endure.

Here are four tensions that every leader faces:

1. Physical Tension – respect and honor for other leaders
There is a natural default human tendency to define our self-worth based on who we are in comparison to others. Leadership is no different. We might look at a leader from another environment and evaluate ourselves to be better than or worse than what we see based on a set of identified or inferred criteria.

Every leader will be faced with the tension to consider him or her self to be of better quality than another leader. Learning to value other leaders for who they are, while leaving room to disagree with process, philosophy or methodology will help you to stay focused on developing into the leader God has created you to be.

2. Emotional Tension – hope vs. pessimism or cynicism
Leaders are often faced with the tension of creating a sense of hope or a sense of impending doom. Facilitating hope creates and sustains vision. Consistent pessimism or cynicism leads only to peril.

Leading from a hope-filled perspective doesn’t make a leader naïve, but instead helps the leader to process, refine and redirect vision as necessary. Leaders need to be honest about their current reality, admitting when things are darker than they had hoped, and brighter then they could have imagined. Hope may not disappoint, but pessimism and cynicism always do.

3. Intellectual Tension – being teachable vs. being arrogance
There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. This is often the difference between creating momentum or chaos. Leaders who are willing to learn from everyone and every situation will begin to develop intrinsic momentum within their organizations by valuing creativity and innovation over proper procedure and/or productivity.

4. Spiritual Tension – love or legalism
There is a leadership tension between valuing tradition over outcome. A loving leader celebrates diversity while a legalistic leader demands conformity. The values of an organization are its social conscience. Violation of values leads to a culture that is more cumbersome than hopeful, depleting the leader’s ability to inspire, manage, create or stimulate growth. Leadership is learning to balance the tension between a legalistic carnal response and loving spiritual intuitiveness.

Tension is a necessary experience for growth and development as a leader. While this is not an exhaustive list of leadership tensions, it points out the reality that tension exists and it cannot be avoided. What do you agree or disagree with? What other leadership tensions do leaders face? What tension are you facing most prominently right now?

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Team and Transformation

NFL Draft 2013

NFL Draft 2013I’m a huge fan of team sports because I love studying how teams are put together. I listen to endless hours of debate and rhetoric about what drafted or acquired player might turn into an all-star or high-functioning leader for his team; and who might be a better fit in terms of role or character on which team. I’m intrigued by the phrase “intangible qualities” team officials use during interviews to justify the selection of a specific player ahead of another individual.

What I’ve discovered in all of my observation and involvement as a fan is that there are two major components of team building that exist in the world of professional sports: the draft (player development) and the sign or trade (the acquisition). Imitation is often the predominant pattern to sh a team. When one team wins a championship, other teams begin to adopt principles of the championship squad. Players are analyzed, graded, ranked and selected based on different sets of needs for each individual organization, and other emerging trends or patterns they see more successful teams demonstrating. I often wonder what makes one person more valuable to an organization than another? As teams are built, players are changed, elevated, developed or removed depending on their overall value to the team and the long term goals of the organization. Players become assets and commodities in environments like this.

Thankfully when it comes to the family of God we don’t function like that…or do we?

In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul writes about the development of the church, speaking to both the unity and diversity that is found in a living and breathing organism such as the human body. He goes into great detail to highlight the value that every individual body part plays in the overall development of the entire body as a whole. In Paul’s understanding of the Christian community, while there are different roles to be played there are no favorites. We essentially function together as a team, working together towards the common goal of transformation.

Transformation is discipleship and discipleship is most easily defined as becoming who we were created to be. It takes time, effort, investment and intentionality. We leaders help to shape the culture of transformation in our community.  And although transformation should be the goal for every community or team, many communities give way to three most common temptations.

1. Spiritual development is the most important part of transformation.

Earlier we defined transformation in terms of holistic development or discipleship, referring to becoming who we were intended to be. There are four basic elements that define what a human being is: the spiritual self, the physical self, the emotional self and the intellectual self. Paul’s description of the human anatomy functioning in diverse unity shows how all four of these elements of an individual and/or entire community must work together in the transformative process.

If we fail to exercise one set of muscles and overuse another set, we will end up with a lopsided figure. There are seasons where we may elevate the development of one of these facets ahead of another, but unless there is a long term balanced approached to the transformative process between all four of these elements, the process itself will be stunted. Does our pursuit of transformation overemphasize spiritual development or appropriately emphasize spiritual transformation under the auspice of the holistic transformative process we know as discipleship? 

2. Transformation is exclusively individual.

Thinking back to our team analogy, no one individual is greater than the entire team. A culture of transformation is developed in a communal setting that benefits individuals. The greatest sports teams understand this principle. While individuals contribute to the over all goal of the community, they also reap individual benefits of communal growth.

Here in the western world, we are just beginning to rediscover the communal reality of the Christian faith. You may have heard before that it takes a village to raise a child. The same can be said for the process of transformation. We are relational beings designed for connection. Individuals void of a communal expression of faith will experience a stunted transformative process. A team requires a full compliment of players in order to compete effectively. Transformation requires a community of individuals to do the same. No single individual will rise above the development of the broader community alone. We need each other to survive, to grow and to find stability. How is your current community valuing holistic transformation that invites individuals into a long-term development process?

3. The loudest ones are the brightest stars.

It’s easy to assume that the squeaky wheel always needs the oil. If its true that every human being is created to function as a part of a broader living breathing organism known as the body of Christ as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12, and that no part is greater than the other, the parts that are louder aren’t necessarily better.

My Grandma used to tell me that the reason God created humans with two ears and only one mouth was so that we could learn there is greater value in disciplining ourselves to listen than creating the space the be heard.

The extroverted and naturally gifted teens and families are usually the easiest to notice and sometimes even get along with. But there may be thousands of diamonds in the rough among those who are less noticeable or desirable to be around. Do our communities make room for the so-called misfits? Do we value every part of the living community we represent, or are we some sort of genetically engineered nightmare growing a dozen limbs but missing a heart?

We grow together, we move together, we breathe together. How are you cultivating a team in the process of transformation?

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The Spiritual SAT

1517798383_9bd851eee6Sweaty palms. Loss of breath. Fear and panic.

These are some of the many symptoms different people experience when they are confronted with life’s most unforgiving tutelage… the test.

I can remember the first time I wrote a mid-term exam in university. I had studied more intensely than I ever had before, and had even decided to sleep on top of some of the study material I was supposed to memorize hoping that osmosis would allow for more absorption and retention of information in my nearly exhausted body.

Exam day came. I entered the room, found a place to sit and began feverishly attacking the test with great vigor. Two hours later I found myself back in my dorm room, mentally and physically exhausted, hoping that I had done enough to pass the test and continue on with my course studies.

Several days later, I received confirmation that I not only passed the test, but did better than I was hoping to do because of something called the bell curve that my professor had decided to implement for this particular exam.

This was probably one of the most significant times where I took notice of a metric, something that is used to measure the success of failure of an individual. This bell curve pushed me into an entirely different category than what I had labeled myself to be, and I wasn’t too sure how I felt about it.

The Spiritual SAT

I think one of the most challenging facets of ministry is measuring success. We’ve learned through studies like the Willow Creek Reveal, Sticky Faith and Hemorrhaging Faith that what we’ve typically used to measure the spiritual success in others isn’t working. Our metric seem wrong. These studies have shown us that we cannot assume a person’s attendance at a religious activity will develop long-term transformation in their life. But we still have this desire to measure how successful we might be, and so we continue to utilize the broken metric. The metric; the Spiritual SAT. The test that doesn’t really tell us anything that matters, but something we continue to point to cause we don’t know what else to do.

Maybe I’m the only youth pastor in the world that will ever say this, but I’m tired of the metric.

This test that we’ve created doesn’t tell us anything that we don’t already know, and it places a label and structure on the lives of teenagers that they don’t need and aren’t asking for. I’m tired of asking teens to find our fit instead of allowing them to find how they fit into the life of the community they so desperately need to connect to. I don’t want to view teenagers through the lens of attendance, or spiritual merits achieved. I want to see them for who they’ve been created to be. Intentionally flawed masterpieces.

It’s time to find a new metric; a new way of defining what success looks like. Success should be based on character development and life transformation instead of attendance and compliance. Death to the Spiritual SAT.! Life to a new creation!

Define your success. What does that look like?

Photo credit: Davidalender Hu via Flickr (Creative Commons) 
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Making Mentorship Fresh


I believe life exists for the purpose of creating community. Each of us is impacted in and through the relational connections that we develop. Whether challenging or refining, the relational context that individuals are exposed to shapes who they are, who they have been and who they are becoming.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how my journey through life has unfolded and what factors affected my character development as a leader.

Some Background


I grew up in a small town in a rural setting. My community was filled with different generational representatives, multiple ethnicities, and of course both men and women. My parents were heavily invested in the community. Particularly with the faith community portion of our relational context. We went to church most Sundays (often twice in one day); we knew all of our neighbours and many of our other community members in our little town.

While being in such a small setting does come with its disadvantages, there were many things about my upbringing that I unintentionally took for granted. The older members of our community took a vested interest in who I was. They knew me by name, and were happy to give me a piece of their wisdom when I was in need (either because of my propensity for mischief, or because of my desire to learn… I’m not sure which desire was greater.) I didn’t know it at the time, but the investment these people were making in my life was really about mentorship.

What is Mentorship?

Mentorship in its most basic form is best understood as the intentional relational investment in another person. Sometimes mentorship can be a negative experience. We humans are creatures of habit; we mimic what we see and experience. Children that experience abuse at a young age, most agree, are more likely to become future abusers than those who are not victims of this sort of tragedy.

While we may not see this as a form of mentorship, it is. Although negative, there is an intentional investment in a relational capacity in the life of an abused child. Similarly, there is an intentional investment in the lives of those who do not experience great trauma as a young child. The mentorship process becomes more about a sequence of relational exchanges than a linear curricular guide to adulthood and beyond.

There is actual biological evidence to back this up. Human brains contain something scientists refer to as “mirror neurons.” These neurons help us as humans to display empathy and sympathy. Have you ever wondered why a great storyteller captivates us? At the most basic level, the mirror neurons in our brains help us to be able to identify with and even imagine ourselves in the unfolding story that is being presented. The same can be said for experiences of mentorship. We are shaped by those we interact with because of our desire to either become or refrain from becoming more like them. Mentorship is discipleship. As followers of Jesus we are invited and expected to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:18-20), and because of this great invitation those of us who have given our lives to work alongside emerging generations must become experts in the mentoring process.

So what is a mentor?

Being a mentor and finding a mentor are two significant milestones in the process of discipleship. While there are many different components of what this all entails, I want to suggest three basic principles every mentor and disciple-maker should pursue:

  1. A mentor is someone who knows your name. You can’t intentional invest in people if you aren’t willing to either know or be known by them. While it’s true that we can learn from people we may never meet, it’s those that we do share some sort of relational connection with that will have the greatest impact on our lives. In the absence of relational, mentorship and discipleship in turn are virtually impossible. As we work alongside this emerging generation are we making the effort to know and to be known, or are we more concerned about a statistical analysis of our ministry success than character development and transformation?
  2. A mentor is someone who inspires you to be. Our North American cultural possesses an over-stimulated fascination with doing. Think about this for a minute, what are some of the initial questions you ask someone you are meeting for the first time? What is your name? Where do you live? What do you do for a living? As we introduce ourselves to people, we are more likely to talk about our vocation than we are about some sort of character quality that we either possess or are trying to develop (Hi, my name is Lisa and I’m a dentist). Deaf culture, conversely, makes the effort to introduce themselves to one another using a being descriptor instead of a doing descriptor (Hi, this is my funny friend Lisa who is a dentist). Mentors focus more on character development and transformation because they care more about who a person is than what a person does. As ministers to youth and families are we helping to create a culture that emphasizes being rather than doing, or are we simply content modify a persons behaviour instead of partnering with Christ in the transformation of their identity or entire being that will ultimately shape their behavior?
  3. A mentor is someone who stands in the gap for you and with you. People who value character development are people who are willing to walk alongside of others in all seasons of life. This is the most difficult time in all of history to be a teenager. They face more obstacles than us older folks ever have. The communities that we create in our gathered or scattered church settings must be places of safety, hope and restoration. Do those we serve know that we are willing to walk life with them no matter how dark or how bright the next season might be? Mentors are allies in life’s journey, not adversaries. Difficult truths need to be shared verbally and non-verbally. People who are willing to share in the suffering of others earn the right to be heard and the credibility to be a mentor. How does your community reflect this value of being present in the moment?

Making it Fresh

When we work with this emerging generation our ministry initiatives should be steeped in the concepts and principles of biblically based mentorship. If we believe that the church needs a fresh infusion of enthusiasm, life, energy and passion, perhaps we should grow to consider what it would be to re-culture our approach to mentoring and discipleship instead of re-engineering our programmatic elements of youth ministry. What would it look like if our commitment to families (how ever diverse the definition of this may be in your context for ministry) became more about mentorship and less about keeping them active in our programming efforts?

I know that I’m longing for something fresh, what about you?

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Youth Ministry is Risky Business

youth-ministry-risky-businessThe parable of talents (or bags of Gold) has taught me many different leadership lessons over the years, but perhaps the most eye-opening and convicting of them all has been with regard to the concept of managing risk.

Risk Management in Youth Ministry

There is a lot to be said about the concept of managing risk when it comes to youth ministry. I’ve spent countless hours navigating through complex situations that required great sensitivity. I can remember losing many hours of sleep agonizing over different leadership questions and conversations that dealt with matters of great risk. Perhaps you can identify with some of these sleepless nights if you’ve ever been in a situation where you are contemplating a major shift in your youth ministry. Maybe you’ve even made a list of pros and cons for or against your proposed change or risk, and based your final decision on what the cost of the risk might be.

The Upside of Risk Management

While there is a great cost associated with risk, there is also a great reward. The story of the bags of gold reminds me of this. Two servants found the courage and inner resolve to risk what they had in order to pursue more. And while we may apply this concept to the materialistic pursuit of happiness as a society, I’m not convinced that the material gain these servants experienced had anything to do with materialism at all. Take out your leadership lens and re-examine this story once again. Two leaders with ample resources invested what they had in pursuit of greater things. Sounds like a basic youth ministry principle to me, doesn’t it?

Leadership Lessons

What if leadership is more about learning to take appropriate risks rather than managing the risk itself? If it is true that great reward comes only through great investment or risk, shouldn’t we spiritual guides of the emerging generation become expert risk-takers for the sake of Kingdom extension?

I’m beginning to wonder if my strategic plans, strengths assessments and evaluation of weakness would be better served as filters for questions about my ability to embrace risk as a leader. No general wins a battle by choosing to play it safe. If we agree that this emerging generation cannot and will not be disciple in the ways of Jesus through entertainment based illusions, are we then willing to risk what we know for what we do not know, trusting that the leading into risk will provide great returns if the risk itself is simply an extension of a invitation by Christ to come and follow after him?

Youth ministry might just be about risky business, but then again, so is life itself! May we learn to navigate, embrace and lead into risk as invited by the power and presence of God’s Spirit.

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Form or Function

Form or Function?Today I had the privilege of beginning a year long journey with a group of individuals who are as crazy as I am… people who appreciate, care about and genuinely love teenagers. As you may be able to imagine, whenever like-minded folks get together, much of the conversation is focused on what we are doing and how we are doing it. I’m not sure if this is a systemic issue, or a preoccupation that is a societal trend, but we as humans seem to be fascinated with form.

Think about it for a moment. We celebrate (and even idolize) the human form in a variety of ways: athletic achievements, intellectual pursuits, spiritual habits and physical changes and/or developments. Somehow we seem to believe that the form is the pinacle of excellence…but perhaps the opposite might be true?

When I think of function I think of purpose. I make a lot of different choices based on this principle. I use certain technology because of its’ functionality. I wear certain clothing, not because of how it looks, but because of what it provides… a covering. Merely a function.

I consume from specific venues due to the functionality or purpose they provide me with, not necessarily due to the form in which the function is provided.

But yet when it comes to something like ministry or parenting we often seem drawn to the tendency to copy the form without giving greater concern to the function. For example, we may admire the way a family’s children have turned out. And as a result then adopt their parenting style (form) in order to provide us with our desired function.

Sports teams are notorious for this type of behavior. If one team ends up with the grand prize for it’s league, other teams begin attempting to copy the “blueprint” (form) of their success in order to replicate the function.

Yet I wonder if embracing form over function leads to a devaluing of the outcome the form provides and an elevation of the form itself? Instead of valuing the nutrition a meal provides we may be more concerned with how it was prepared or developed. We may celebrate a certain style of music ahead of all others not because of the function that it provides but because it is our preferred style or form.

Does embracing form over function really mean that we are making a statement of preference and that our preference becomes more important than its function? Or does the elevation of form over function erode much needed elements of creativity, flexibility and adaptability of the form itself?

Form or function.

Both are important, but perhaps determining the desired function should be the starting point of the discussion instead of celebrating the function’s form.