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.


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.

Joseph Project – Part Three

Over the last few months the contours of the Joseph Project have begun to take shape: Coaching men and women with hearts for ministry to build economic engines to support their current and future work for Christ.

inspirational-quote-by-giantsqurlThere is little doubt that there will be a need for a new kind of youth pastor in the coming decades.  I’m imagining that today’s “normal” youth pastor supported entirely by an individual church will become decreasingly normal, as church budgets shrink and the cost of living rises.

Some youth pastors will learn to be fund-raisers, joining the bourgeoning crowd of non-profits and missionaries competing for the same pot of charitable dollars.   Others will be part of the fortunate few who will be able to land a job in ministry with full salary and benefits.  But unless we do something, most, I fear, will choose to drop out of the vocation of ministry all together.

If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance that you, like me, believe that this work we get to do in youth ministry is crucial, not only to the future of “the church” in our country and the future of our larger culture but more importantly for the future of the 75 million or so kids under 18 in the US.

I can’t help but think of the demise of the church in Europe and wonder what might have happened if a well-equipped sustainable army of youth pastors had been at work 50 or 100 years ago.

The good news is that our educational institutions are doing better than ever at equipping people for youth ministry.  The bad news is that they may be preparing youth workers in exceptional ways for jobs that may not exist (or at least exist in much fewer numbers) in the ecclesial landscape that we might anticipate a few decades from now.

And so, looking ahead 20 years or so, we’re launching the Joseph Project and beginning to work with a few hungry youth pastors who long to stay in this game for decades and helping them slowly launch sustainable businesses.   Seems like Jesus said something about building a tower and figuring out how much it would cost before starting to build.

A couple weeks ago a ran a marathon with a very specific strategy…start out slow and taper off from there.  5 hours and 45 minutes later I scampered across the finish line (okay, maybe “scamper” would not be the first verb that came to people’s minds as they saw my final 50 yards).

We’re launching the Joseph Project the same way…nice and slow.  Scamper with me?

P.S.  One of the ways we are working on missional entrepreneurship is with a Hatch-a-thon at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Click here for more info on the Hatch-A-Thon event with Kenda Creasy Dean and Mark DeVries.

Joseph Project – Part Two

A month or so ago in my blog, I suggested that it may be time for us to begin preparing for a youth ministry “famine” that is likely to take place 20 years or so down the road.  I’m not predicting that this will be a famine in the quality of programming or the importance placed on youth ministry, or even a famine in the number of well-trained youth pastors.

I’m suggesting that, given our current economic trajectory and the low levels of enthusiasm in younger generations when it comes to giving to institutions (like the church), there is a good chance there will be less resources available to hire full-time youth pastors 20 years from now than there is today.

If I’m wrong, I’ll sing the Doxology and be thrilled about the fact that we’ll have far more youth pastors are in place than expected.  If there’s even a strong possibility I’m right, though, we might be better served to consider the possibility of developing a whole different kind of youth pastor.

So I offer here a few provocative theses around the Joseph Project so far…

–What if every youth pastor was not only equipped to do youth ministry, but as a required part of his or her training, was equipped to be an entrepreneur?  My experience is that, since much youth ministry requires entrepreneurial skills anyway, this could be a more natural fit than we might think.

–What if the typical youth pastor could be coached in to developing his or her own “company,” designed to generate income that didn’t just trade time for money but held the hope of producing more income for less time 10 years down the road? Could this not have the effect of extending the ministry tenure of many (if not most) youth pastors, providing long-term youth pastors for churches who would not otherwise have been able to support someone with significant youth ministry experience?

–And if we could find a way to make this kind of model work here in the expensive North American context, how might it be simplified and adapted for “youth pastors” in places like Rwanda and Uganda?  I’ve got hopes of trying out a few experiments in those countries in the next year.  I’ll keep you posted.

Joseph Project – Intro

A few weeks ago, I enjoyed a delightful few days with some great youth ministry minds at a Thinktank sponsored by the Lilly Endowment, hosted by the Center for Youth Ministry Training (  We got the chance to talk and dream and scheme about the future of youth ministry and the most significant issues on the horizon.

Though we knocked around over a dozen seismic ideas, the most provocative idea for me came in this question:

Are we getting better and better are preparing more and more people for vocations which will be less and less a part of churches in the next two or three decades? 

Here’s the basis for the question:

  • We know that the younger generation of disciples (at least in America) tend to have much less enthusiasm for investing in the institution of the church than did their parents or their grandparents.  Though young Christian adults may be generous, they tend to give more of their tithe to causes and less to their churches.
  • We know that, therefore, it is likely that it will require multiple young adults in the church to equal the given of the typical 60+ year-old church member, a group of folks who will not be around in droves in 20 or 30 years.
  • It seems not unlikely that churches will have less margin to hire full time youth pastors…unless we do something to prepare for this eventuality.

Is it possible that we can get ahead of the coming “famine”?  I’d like to propose that we start thinking of what a “Joseph Project” might look like, accessing the years we do have to ensure provision for youth ministry when the famine comes.

In my next blog, I’ll do a little noodling on what this might look like.