Do They Really Have to Choose?

I’ve got a brilliant young friend with a passionate heart for ministry. He got his degree in business, while spending a significant portion of his time as a leader in a ministry to high school students.

When I called him, months before his graduation, to ask whether he’d consider joining the staff of our youth ministry, his immediate answer was, well, less than positive.

He had never imagined himself being the “church guy.” He had always seen himself as a business guy who, sure, would always be doing ministry, inside and outside the church, as a volunteer.

He eventually came on our staff, did an incredible job, and now has transitioned to working part time for the church and part time in a business/ministry of his own with a much higher ceiling of opportunity.

I wonder if his track doesn’t give us a hint about what we should be looking for as the church’s future game changers. I wonder if the church will have the wisdom, creativity and flexibility to receive highly gifted folks who refuse to pretend that having a single career is somehow more faithful than multi-careering.

Could it be that the anemia afflicting much of the ministry world has to do with the fact that so many of its full-time leaders have no life outside their consuming ministry “jobs”? Could we be seeing the toppling of the MIC (Ministerial Industrial Complex), with a new kind of minister finding a third way of ministry between full-time ministry and full-time something else?

The Dream You Can’t Get out of Your Head

My friend and fellow Permissionary at Ministry Incubators, Kenda Dean, asks, “Does the church have to be the place where great ideas go to die?”

Most people have at least one.

  • An idea.
  • A dream to change the world.
  • A brainchild to make the world “more awesome” (thanks Kid President).

But the vast majority of great ideas stay stuck in the heads of their dreamers.

You have had that experience, haven’t you?  You come across something in the store or on an infomercial, and you say, “That was MY idea!”  But it was an idea that never got out of your head into the world.

That’s why we created the Hatchathon experience.  You gather with dreamers like you who share one thing in common—an missional entrepreneurial dream, an idea that links a “change the world” mission to a sustainable revenue stream.

One of our clients is a food truck sponsored as a young adult mission of a local church.  Another is a “farminary,” essentially a seminary (you guessed it) on a farm.

You may have a dream of a coffee shop as a church, a film company that employs the homeless, or a side business to support a ministry or mission you love.

These are the kinds of ideas we’ve seen in our previous Hatchathons.  Our next one is scheduled for just 2 months from now, March 4-6 on the campus of Princeton Seminary.

To register, click here.  For more information, click here.

Getting to the Work That You Love

Why not?

Why not just do the work you love?

There are probably a lot of reasons you can’t make the wholesale shift today, not the least of which are the bills.  At the same time, I’m absolutely convinced that both these things are true:

  • We can do the work we love. In fact, if we make some fundamentally different decisions today (and for lots of today’s afterwards), we can spend exponentially more hours doing the work we love as we get older.
  • Starting out, we probably can’t quit our day job (Thanks Jon Acuff).

Let me say what you already know: What we do for a living is not our life.  It may just be the way we fund our lives for a time.

In the same way that parachurch workers might fund their ministries by doing fundraising (even though they hate fundraising), our current jobs can fund the work we love (even if, for a time, we find ourselves in a job we don’t love).

Ultimately, we may or may not get paid for the work we love, but we can organize the business side of our lives in such a way that, ten years from now, if not before, our time is astoundingly free to actually do the work we love.

Sadly, too many of us get stuck along the way.

This reality is the heartbeat behind the Ministry Incubators (  In March of 2015, my friend Kenda Dean and I will be leading our next “hatchathon,” a 46-hour intensive for folks who’d like to  leap frog toward their missional-enterprise dream.

For application information, Click here!

A Back Door Strategy to Change Your Life

Dan Miller says that we become the average of the five people we spend the most time with.

Couples married for decades start to look like each other.  It’s easy for best friends to start talking like each other (“I’m just sayin”). Even some dog owners start to look like their pets.

If Dan’s right, the implication is huge: We have the power to change the trajectory of our lives simply by being deliberate about the people we spend the most time with.

Hang out with people who think an obstacle can be overcome, that a noble goal can be achieved, that the thing actually can be done, and (not amazingly), the needle starts to move.

But for most of us, we leave our associations to chance.  We find ourselves in an organization that follows its own unspoken risk rules.  We serve on teams that default to limiting routines made automatic in the center of “the hairball” (See Gordon MacKenzie’s book).  Small mindedness can be highly contagious.

Einstein thought differently (again): “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

I want to spend my time with the kind of dreamers who, when faced with the opportunity to become cynical, choose hope.  I want to spend my time with people who fail gloriously and get up quickly.  I want to spend my time with people who love God and God’s people with such resilience that I can’t help but want more of what they have.

Over the years, I have been blown away by so many brilliant, wealthy, wise, holy people who have generously shared their time.  Sure, some couldn’t make time for me.  But I’ve been amazed by the number of people way out of my league who said yes, some of whom have become lifelong friends and coaches.

Take this simple dare: Make a list of 5 people in your area you’d like to learn from, whom you’d like to be more like, five people who’s insight might help you overcome an obstacle you’re facing right now.  Ask each of them for a 45-minute meeting.  It’ll be really unusual if one of them doesn’t say yes.  Keep the meeting to 45 minutes and come prepared with specific questions.

Repeat this process, with at least one meeting a month, for the next year.  It just might change your life.

Having a Coach Doesn’t Change a Thing!

You may have heard me talk about how important coaches are so much that you’re ready to quit reading right now.

So what I’m about to say may surprise you:

Having a coach doesn’t work. 

Getting a coach doesn’t move the needle.  Meeting with a coach doesn’t change a thing.  The impact comes when we act, when we actually try something the coach has given us to do.

Here’s a fascinating wrinkle.

Following a coach’s counsel doesn’t have to work.  It doesn’t have to be the greatest idea you’ve ever heard.

Following a coach’s counsel has a way of getting us moving, getting us going at a fast enough speed that we can start to make turns easily.  When we are dead in the water, it’s a thousand times harder to change direction.

Long ago, I made the decision that if I were going to ask for (or pay for) time from a coach, I would never ask for a next meeting until I had completed the assignments given to me in the previous one.

Make that your rule too.

If you’ve got a coach or two in your life (especially free ones!), make it your practice never to call for a second meeting until you’ve actually done something with the counsel you received in the first one.

Imitate and apply the counsel of wise people, and you can’t help but become wiser.  Spend time with folks who have created financial margin in their lives, and there’s a good chance that you will too.  Start to think more like your generous friends and coaches, and it will be nearly impossible not to become more generous.

But it all begins with actually trying what you haven’t tried, doing what you haven’t done, thinking in ways you’ve never thought before.

I’d Love to Have a Coach, but I Just Can’t Afford It.

There are a lot of excuses for not building coaches into our lives.

One of my favorites is, “Sure, I’d love to have a coach, but I just can’t afford it.”

So…start with what you can afford.

If that’s nothing, ask 10 people you respect to give you a little coaching on a project you are working on (or on your soul).   I’ll guarantee that 2 of them will say yes (if they don’t, I’ll give you a little coaching myself!).

I have coaches I pay (my counselor, for example).  But when I first started building my team of coaches, every coach was a volunteer.

  • I’d find someone doing great youth ministry, and I’d take them to coffee every few months.
  • I’d find someone building great businesses, and buy them lunch.
  • I’d meet someone with a resonant faith and joyful countenance, and we’d meet together.

Some of the relationships became on-going, formal relationships.  Some were one-off meetings that helped me move the needle in some area of my life.

So take a quick inventory for yourself:

How many coaches would you like to have, in what areas of your life?  How many do you actually have?

What are you going to do about it today?


A young man approached me after a seminar recently with a question.  “How can I get into coaching like you’re doing?” he asked.  “…you know, ministry coaching, life coaching, that sort of thing?”

I responded the way I almost always do:

“Tell me about the coaches you have in your life right now.” 


Very long pause.

A very familiar, very long pause.

If you are a consultant or coach (or want to be one), let me be direct.  If you don’t have and use coaches and consultants yourself, you are (dare I say it?)…a hypocrite.  If you want a job as a consultant but don’t believe in the consulting/coaching process to have one yourself, you might as well do something that has more integrity.

If you want to be a consultant or coach, do not pass go, do not collect $200.  Find yourself a coach (or 5) who can help you move in the direction of your dreams.  Once you’ve worked that process for a year or so and you have found it life-changing, then you’re ready to be a coach yourself.

I know.  Having a coach is not something normal people do.  It is not something weak people do to prop themselves up.  In my experience, having a coach is a peculiar practice of champions.

The Light Touch and the High Road

It was a season of incredible turmoil.

It happened almost 15 years ago, but I can remember it like it was yesterday.  The intensity of the anxiousness was overwhelming.  Sleep was a luxury my body was not afforded.  My mind was running like a lost child through the woods, stuck on the endless loop of trying to “solve” my church’s crisis.

I reached out to many wise friends during this season.  With each one, I rehearsed, in painstaking detail, all the drama, the twists and turns, the multiple failures of leadership.

I was hoping for direction, for clarity, and, if I’m honest, for justification that my indignation was justified.  Most of all, I wanted to fix this thing.

A number of my friends shared my outrage, others gave sympathy, others detailed advice.  But after 15 years, I only remember one response.

One of the wisest friends I have ever had now serves as an executive pastor at a 5000-member church and, curiously, is also an absolutely brilliant spiritual director.  I was sure she would give me some clear guidance, and at the very least, that she would at least be empathetically “on my side.”

After receiving my lengthy, detailed email, she responded with one simple phrase—not even a complete sentence:

The light touch and the high road.”

It was disarmingly simple and unnerving at the same time. This was not a way to calm the turbulence (what I wanted) but a way to ride the rapids with integrity, a way to calm my reactivity enough that I could be present, both to the people who were “on my side” of the conflict as well as to those whom I was convinced were dead wrong.

The details of the conflict faded from my rearview mirror over a decade ago, but my friend’s profound counsel have never been far from me.

Transition: The New Normal

“What is the question your life and ministry are asking you today?”

That’s the question I asked a group of youth leaders a few weeks ago at the beginning of a retreat.

And out of the 15 or so folks gathered, at least twelve spoke of some significant transition they were in the middle of—with their health, their marriages, their ministries, their vocations, their parenting.

And I was one of them.

As of August 1, 2014, I ended my 28 years of ministry at my church (exactly 1/2 my life) and concluded my vocation as a “youth pastor,” the only real job title I had ever had since becoming an adult.  I’m sure I’m experiencing just a little vocational vertigo these days.

But as unsettling as transitions can be, they are also seasons ripe with opportunity.  In most sports, more points are scored during times of transition and chaos than at any other times in the game.  Learning to navigate transitions with alacrity (yep, it’s a word) used to be a skill we needed once a year.  Today, it may be once a week.

In fact, learning to stay the course with joy, through the acute distractions that always come with major change,  may be the most important life skill required of us in the coming decades.

More and more, transition is the normal life of ministry.

We can choose to leverage each transition to leap-frog us more quickly to where we’d like to be.  Or we can keep swirling in the inevitable churn that always comes along with any major change.  The choice is ours.

The Rules of One: Putting Email in its Place

I read recently that Mike Hyatt, one of the most prolific social networkers in the country and one of the busiest guys in the universe, clears out his email inbox every day.

Weirdo that I am, I was inspired.

If a guy as busy as Mike can do it, so can we youth workers, who tend to be (in)famous for irritating our bosses, our youth ministry stakeholders, and even our spouses with the way we handle email.  Let’s face it.  The all-too-normal youth worker has an all-too-normal day like this:

We step into our office, and the first thing we do is to fire up our email.  We scan through the 100 or so subject lines, delete the spam, read an urgent email or two, and then check the ESPN site.  We get a cup of coffee, come back, maybe even start a to do list.  And throughout the day, we check our email dozens of times, often spending an unexpected 30 minutes or so responding to a single message.  And we end the day feeling like we have accomplished next to nothing.

I for one am tired of having my email take over my day like kudzu.  If you are too, try out my three Rules of One:

Tend to email ONE HOUR a day.   Research is clear: Multi-taskers are actually less focused and less productive.  A single, focused hour each day will take less time than reading emails throughout the day.  An hour a day allows us to attack our email with gazelle-like intensity and avoid the kudzu effect.

Tend to email ONE TIME a day.  Our email doesn’t belong at our dinner tables, in staff meetings, or during our time with God.  Nothing will irritate a senior pastor (or a spouse) quite like our partial presence, while our face buried in our phones. So corral your email work into a single time slot each day.  Tomorrow you can deal with the emails that come in today.  I have yet to meet a spouse, a senior pastor, or a son or daughter who says, “I’m so glad my _____ is being extra productive by keeping up with their email every hour.”  Looking at our email dozens of times daily will cost us.  We won’t get ahead; we will stay distracted.

Develop ONE SYSTEM for managing your inbox.  We all need to create our own system for managing the daily barrage of emails.  Here are a few of mine:

  • If it can be dealt with in two minutes or less, I deal with it and delete it.
  • I try to touch snail mail and email just once, either trash it, act on it quickly, or defer it to a task list that I will focus on later.
  • I like to focus my subject lines so that even people who don’t open the email get the key element of the message (for example, instead of “Youth Ministry Update,” I like “Register Now for Fall Retreat, October 7-8”).
  • I want to make sure your email system gives you the ability to search deleted emails for those times when I need to recheck a detail.

Putting our email in its place allows us to practice that rule of focus: Wherever you are, be there.  We’ll spend less time on your email by giving more focus to it, and we’ll have more time for the things that matter most, for God, our families, and our ministries.

(First published in The Youth Ministry Consultant Column of Group Magazine,  Nov/Dec 2012)