Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Inexperience is a beautiful thing

when i was going to college and doing ministry vocationally at the same time i thought that i was crazy. there were long hours involved on both ends and i pretty much made the decision to give up my college years to pour into the lives of students. at the time i did not know if it was really a good idea or not. however, i wanted to continue to be in relationship with Cobb and so when the job was offered to me i took it. i knew that Cobb was familiar with my spiritual walk and capabilities and that he had a reason for wanting to bring me on to staff. he knew what i was good at and what i need work in. he knew my dreams, goals and ambitions.

over the next four years i learned how to do ministry on a paid level under one of the best in the business. we experienced all kinds of stuff together. i know that it had been some time since the guy before me to work for the church and so i wanted to tear it up. it is in my nature to want to be the best. i wanted to show Cobb and the church that i was the best decision that they ever made. it was something that drove me to be better each and every day. 

i only really am beginning to understand how blessed i was at that time to be under the leadership of such an experienced team of pastors, all the way up to our Senior Pastor. these were peeps who genuinely wanted the best for our parishioners and non-believers who needed to hear the Word. In the beginning of one of his letters, Paul writes,

"Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother..."
Colossians 1:1

the cool part about this opening is that Paul did not have to add Timothy, even if the boy was the one who was penning the letter. Yet Paul did. He saw Timothy as one of his lieutenants and one who shared with him in the Gospel. think about it. Paul was one of the big dawgs in the church and could have chosen to do ministry with anyone he wanted - and he chose this kid. and that is how i felt. i had the privilege of being under the supervision and care of a guy who knew ministry unlike many others. and although it took me a while to understand, eventually i did.

and today is no different. i still seek the counsel of Cobb and other Godly men who know ministry and have wisdom beyond their years. while many of my friends were falling away from ministry for reasons of pour examples of leadership, i was excelling. while my buddies were getting frustrated, i was being taught. so the question i have is who you look to in your quest for ministry for the long haul. many peeps have a great vision but they are all alone with no Paul in their life to help them develop it. well then, find a new leader. if you are going to be at the helm of ministry, you need to know who you are following.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A ministry marathon of a season

Have you ever run a marathon before? it's a bunch of work. recently i took on the endeavor and realized that ten years later the training is a lot different - it's harder! there was about thirty-four weeks of training leading up to the big day and i knew that i could not slack. if i did then it would mess up the entire training. so, i got a calendar and put on each day how many miles i was going to have to run each day. each day i would run i would cross off that day. it was very fulfilling. and as i got closer i realized that i got more excited and there was a goal that was becoming more of a reality. the same is true in ministry.

i am not talking about ministry in terms of the long haul of life, although that is also a marathon. i am talking about each season of ministry that you are in. let's say that a good length for a ministry marathon season is a year. and by a year i mean the beginning to the end of the school year for the students. this is about a nine-month season. it does not seem that long but try going every week without a break and tell me how you feel from september to the end of january. it gets crazy. and the problem is that we just make a calendar and give it to our volunteer staff and expect them to stay healthy for the duration of the year. it ain't gonna happen. imagine if you had never run a marathon and i gave you no schedule and told you to get ready for the race coming up in nine months. you would prolly not do too well. why... discipline. it is your job to keep your staff in the proper and strict training while at the same time helping them love what they are doing.

you already know that they love the kids and ministry or they would not be there. you need to give them the goal and then the training schedule. then you have to go beyond that and make sure they are staying on track. just like in the training for a marathon, if your peeps fail to do the daily and weekly stuff, and are not disciplined in their own lives, spiritually and the like, you will have some peeps drop out along the way. this is not good.

think about it. there is so many other things that are pulling at your staff. they have school, work, family, personal interests, sleep, etc. if you do not know what is going on in the lives of your staff you can bet that some if not all of them are going to fall out or at the very least not be as effective as they should or can be. and that is not acceptable. you owe it to them to give them the best possible chance to kick butt in ministry. if you are strategically planning ever step of the way then they will be able to follow you and do what you brought them along to do... touch lives and change kids to follow God.

you are the coach. you need to be able to spot when your team is waning as a whole or even a couple of individuals. Florence Shinn once said, "Intuition is a spiritual faculty and does not explain, but simply points the way." you need to be that person to point the way. all of your peeps are going to wait for you to do so... and they have every right to do so. but if you get complacent and get too busy or whatever to pay attention, it will happen. and before you know it you will be scrambling to fill holes of the staff peeps that burn out or can't finish for whatever reason. you will have to do the work either way. you can either be preventative or you can react to the mistake of not taking care of stuff when you should have. it will make for a more durable and sustainable ministry.

Communicating the vision

Your ministry is all about vision. you have to believe in what you are doing before you can hope that anyone will follow you and the goals that you have in mind. i remember when i was President of my high school and i thought i knew what leadership and being a leader was all about. i was a total micro-manager and thought that all i had to do was set the course and peeps would follow. now, you can imagine how well that worked. yeah, it didn't.

when i graduated and came on to staff with Cobb i would get my first real lesson in what it meant to use my leadership gifts on a continual basis. now, i believe that i have had a lot of influence while i was growing up, however i never really used those gifts to my full potential. Cobb knew that i had it in me. the guy lead me to christ for crying out loud! if anyone could get through to me and into my thick arrogant skull it was that guy. and he knew it. i didn't know it at the time, but he did. 

I bought into his vision and understood after much coaxing and leadership on his part over the next few years that i could do tons for God in ministry. and i needed that belief bestowed in me. especially with all the spiritual warfare that was being waged in my life at the time. The enemy wants us as far away from ministry as possible and it takes the influence of mentors in our lives to keep us on the straight and narrow - or at least as close to that as we can get.

Cobb got me to believe in his vision and then taught me how to harness mine. he knew that i was a big vision guy, even when i did not know that i was. i would have these big ideas all the time and be all over the place in my thinking. i would always be frustrated and not know why i was feeling the way that i was. i wanted to do everything - and i wanted to do it all NOW!!! it was killing me inside. i was frustrated that the peeps who were in my ministry were not understanding what i thought was the right way to do ministry and i thought that i would never get to a place where i felt that i could be effective.

then i remember a conversation that Cobb and i had. he told me that if i wanted to lead others effectively then i was going to have to get my vision in line and understand what i wanted for my group. he believed in my dreams and goals, he just knew that i was not going to reach them with the way i was doing stuff. he helped me to write stuff down and start running for my goals. he told me that i had to meet my staff and students where they were and bring them along with me, rather than the way i was doing stuff - dragging them kicking and screaming behind me. and then he told me the one thing that i did not want to hear. he said to me, "MO, this is going to take some time." Ahhhh!!!

no! the one thing that i did not want to hear. but i knew that he was right. i needed to take the time and invest. but get this. i had to first invest in my dreams and then move them to my peeps. and i started to do stuff that way. and the funniest part was that now that is my favrit part about doing ministry - investing in relationships! so, whatever you are doing, make sure that you are loving on your peeps and giving them the time that they deserve. if they are not grabbing a hold of your vision then guess what, you are not doing something right. find a mentor, someone that can speak into your life, and ask him or her how you are in your communication skills. talk to them about your vision for your group and what you can do to better move it to your peeps. trust me, your mentor knows what you need... but they are not going to tell you unless you ask. so, pick up the fone and get 'er done.

Unleash the leaders...

I distinctly remember early on in my time with HCC that we about team ministry. I had great examples of leadership from the get-go. having come up through Cobb's ministry i already knew the way that he liked to do stuff and it was an easy transition from being in his ministry to being under his leadership on paid staff. Ralph Nader once said, "I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers." and that is what this ministry was all about.

so you could imagine the kind of pressure that i was under. the funny thing is that i never really thought of it that way. i knew that Cobb would not have brought me onto staff if he did not think that i had the potential to be that kind of leader. and i always felt encouraged. now, i did have the luxury of coming into a small ministry but the challenge of the goal to make it bigger - much bigger. and that is what we did.

Cobb told me that if i learned how to create leaders then i would excel in ministry. he reminded me that in any job with peeps under you who are paid... they have to do what you tell the to do. but in ministry it is all about influence. peeps were going to spend time with us because they believed in the message, program and people. and that was the vision. we ended up bringing up tons of leaders, men and women who were much better than us at most of the ministry stuff that we did. but that was the beauty of it; everyone knew his or her skill set and applied them in the right capacity. and that was my job and ultimately Cobb's as the leaders - to help others excel.

One example would be my boy JP. this kid has more ministry ability in his pinky than most peeps have in their entire bodies. he just got it. at one point a few years into his time on staff, Cobb and I thought that it would be a good idea for him to take on more responsibility, as it would make our ministry grow significantly. and, we knew that JP was at a place in his life where he wanted to be as effective as possible. now, the hard part was for him to see that by giving up influence over the many boys in his small group would be a good thing for the ministry as a whole. and that is prolly this main issue in an instance like this.

As i thought, JP did see that it would be best for him and the ministry to move into a new role. we strategically moved him out of a small group and replaced him with a new leader. then we let him do what he was best at - leading. he pretty much took control of the junior high group on a program level. he took that baby by the horns and made it work in ways i could not have done. it got to the point that he was telling me what to do. on one occasion he told me that i only got half the message time in front of the kids that i usually took. "But," I pleaded, "I need that time, homie." he gave me the old "no-can-do" and that was that. there was too much to get done on that particular nite. i understood... i had to - i mean, i am the one who put him in that position. and for him to do the job i needed him to do, i had to let him roll with it - his way.

Teddy Roosevelt once said, "The best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it." who is in your ministry that needs to be unleashed. Guys like JP are one in a million. however, if you can spot them then these men and women will take your ministry to a new level. as the leader, do not be afraid to give away power. the more you give away the more you will make yourself invaluable.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Nite at the impov...

I have got to say that one of my favrit stories to tell about speaking to junior high students would definitely be the Braveheart message I gave some years ago. being the hip and with-it guy that i am, i was always looking for ways to be creative and different - i still do. it is good to bring stuff the kids that they do not expect and send them home with something that they can remember. this instance was one of those.

in the days leading up to one of my commitment messages i was looking for a way to present the Gospel in a way that the kids had not seen before. and keep in mind that i set up my program so that we gave an opportunity for kids to give their lives to JC every couple months or so. we had tons of students come through the midweek ministry and i wanted to make sure that kids had the chance. so, towards the end of the year i was running out of clever ideas and wanted to make this one memorable... it was.

i remembered the seen in Braveheart right before the first major battle; you know, the one where he gives the dope speech and then the Scots kick some major booty. and my favrit part about that was the blue warpaint that he wore on his face. yeah, he was straight gangsta with that madness going on. so, since i was planning on talking about passion and commitment to stuff that you believe in, with spiritual warfare and all that jazz in mind, i thought i would surprise the kids and come out on stage with identical warpaint for my message. 

i figured it would get a great laugh and then i could have some fun talking like William Wallace and make a bunch of jokes and go into the invitation to a life with JC in a lighthearted but meaningful way. so the last upbeat song is done and all the kids are riled up and ready for me to come out and screaming for the band and messing around with one another. then all the lights go dim and MO walks on stage. the kids were having tons of fun like always and i couldn't hear a thing. then my I.T. guy hits the lights and it shines right on me - i couldn't wait! and then it happened...

you could hear a pin drop. every person in the place, including staff (who also had no idea whatsoever), were completely and utterly silent. my entire plan had backfired. i was standing on stage looking like Braveheart with no where to go. you may have been in a similar situation; one where you were not ready for the reaction you were going to get from your audience. there were like three hundred peeps just waiting for me to do - well, i don't know. i mean, if i would have pulled out a sword or a ball and chain or sacrificed a chicken - or whatever - it would not have gotten me out of the awkwardness. so, i did what i did best... improvise. 

i proceeded to act as if that were the reaction i was going for. when in reality, i had no idea what i was going to do. the message was pretty low key and serious. and halfway through my talk i realized that this may be the best thing that could have happened. at one point when i was getting crazy i looked at a one of the seventh-graders and he was completely frozen, prolly 'cause he thought i was going to stab him or something. it was hilarious. tons of kids dedicated their lives to JC that nite and i know that God was prolly rollin on the floor watching the whole thing. 

my point... you never know what you are up against and sometimes you are going to be standing on stage or wherever and you are going to have no idea what to do. but you cannot panic and you gotta be ready to bring it! and if you trust God and do what you know your audience will respond to, it will be all good. but if you are out of touch with your peeps then you will fail to communicate. and you cannot fail at this; you are the one who is called to get it done. know your audience. after that nite i made sure that i played out the different scenarios in my head whenever i was going to speak somewhere. i know that there was always a possibility for something to go not as planned. i'll tell you this much, though. next time i would be ready.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Much love to my peeps

I gotta say that i owe a lot to my peeps for sticking with me over the years. for a guy like me that gets into ministry and has no business doing so, it takes tons to keep me in the game. you may be in a similar situation. what i mean is that most of us who choose to live a life with JC do not really deserve his grace. 

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power  is perfected in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

and i guess that is why it is called grace - because we do not deserve it. but then there is another category within this one; it is the one that calls others to give their life to one of ministry in a vocational way. and these are the peeps who inspire me. i know what it means to do ministry and yearn to put into the lives of others. and one of the hard things that comes along with this passion is the need to find a group to pour into you. i speak a lot about having a mentor or mentors - and that is very important. however, you also need to have those who are doing ministry along side of you who can speak into your life.

"let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance..."
Pr. 1:5

i remember the first time that i read this when i was in high school. my associate pastor at the time told me that i was going to have to look to other young men my age to give me encouragement in my walk. then he pointed me to the book of Proverbs and to my astonishment, there it was right in the beginning of the book. i realized that i needed to find others who were better than me to help me in my life. then i read a couple of years later a book by John C. Maxwell. he says in one of my favorite chapters of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, "Seek for yourself inner circle people who will help you improve" (134). And now that is what i do. i want to find the peeps that are good at the things in ministry where i am not good. 

and what i realized very quickly in my first job as a youth guy, there are only a select few things that i am really good at. the rest of the stuff i need to give away to others who can do a better job. and i know that in your ministry you are thinking that if you do not do stuff then it is not going to get done right. and to that i say baloney. it will get done, maybe not exactly the way you would like it, but it will get done. and if you spend time on the stuff where you are not good, then your ministry will ultimately suffer because you will not have the energy to do the stuff you ARE good at to the best of your ability.

this is what my inner circle of men and women do. they are good at seeing stuff that i am not good at. they have gifts and talents that i could only dream of. i can name five peeps off the top of my head that have authority in my life because they know what i do and do not need to hear. they are the ones who know my strengths and weaknesses and make my ministry better. so the question i would pose is what are you good at - and i mean really good. find those things and stick to them. everything else, find someone who is better than you and let them excel. your ministry will thank you for it and you will continue to grow in relationship with God and your ability to do ministry.

Maintaining control of the madness...

The success of your ministry is going to depend on the spending the time that you don't have to get stuff done the right way. what i mean is that you need to understand that you are not going to feel that ever have enough time in your day to get stuff accomplished. here is the funny part... you are right. but the reason that you and i don't have the time is that we do not utilize the clock the way that we should. and if we do, it is only for short periods of time. let's face it, we are all procrastinators that would rather be other stuff instead of the work that we need to be doing. yeah, i am definitely guilty. but what you and i have to do is figure out a way to get it done anyway. 

in this equation are going to be the peeps in your ministry. these are your warriors; the ones that are going out in the field every day and hook up the ministry opportunities that you can only dream of. there is no way that you are going to connect with all the students in your ministry even if you made the rounds every mid-week program nite - this would be impossible. and for this you need to trust your warriors. and even more so than that you need to be making connections with them on a consistent basis, or you will suffer at least one of a couple fates.

the first of these is that you may lose them altogether from your ministry. they will not feel loved and eventually fade away. and you will prolly never even know what hit you. your staff member will end up missing a nite or two of programming thinking that you will not notice. the ironic thing is that this is true. yeah, you will remember that this person or persons did not show up, but like most other things, you will let is slip your mind like the rest of the stuff you should be getting done in your ministry. then he will inevitably tell you sometime down the road that he is "feeling God pushing him in a different direction of ministry." by this time you are a gonner. there is no going back at this point and you can count yet another leader casualty to your ministry. you will not know what happened, you will be flabbergasted at the notion that this staff member could have possibly expected you to be able to "babysit" him... get over yourself - it's your fault. you are the leader. and being the leader calls for the ultimate responsibility.

however, there is a worse fate than this if you could believe there to be. maybe this staff person will stay in your ministry but get off track with the vision of the group, for lack of you as the leader providing it. then your students will be taught stuff that you do not want them to be taught, bad theology, negative thoughts of your ministry or the church as a whole - you get the picture. by the time that you know this person is doing the stuff that she is, she has already contaminated her group and maybe even the attitudes of other leaders around her. getting rid of her will just make you look bad and ultimately hurt your group.

there is tons more stuff, but you pretty much get the idea that if you are spending time with your staff and connecting with them, they will be on your side and feel loved, as they should. there is no reason for you to be losing staff peeps if you just put in a little, or should i say a lot of time. but this is time well spent. relationships are what matter the most and you cannot shortcut them. do your homework. know your staff members - your warriors. remember, they are getting beat up daily and the enemy is going to try and bring them down. be a good leader and spend time pouring into their lives. it is well worth the time you don't have.