There’s No Excuse for A Lame Online Presence Anymore

This Reply All episode featuring the story of Lindsey Stone blew me away (content warning: there’s some raw language in there). Who knew that the best way to clean up your online reputation is not by deleting negative content but by adding new positive content?

It’s a public world now. Googling your name is basic professional diligence in this world, and not, as recently as five years ago, narcissistic indulgence. So shouldn’t we all be representing ourselves online in ways that accentuate our work and our values? Shouldn’t we all be showcasing ourselves online?

We’re all one foolish photo away from public internet shaming, and the best defense appears to be a good offense. Assure that the world sees the person you want them to see should they come looking.

Then, make sure you’re as good as that person.

“I’m [Just] Saying”

Speak your mind or don’t. No, speak your mind. Please.

“I’m just saying” is either a passive aggressive ploy to say something direct without appearing to, or it’s a shirking of our responsibility to speak the truth in love, a timid denial of the permission we have to make a contribution.

“I’m just saying” is saying, only not well and not in a way that makes anyone want to follow you.

Don’t “Just” say. Say.

Choose Your Own (Leadership) Adventure

More people involved is better. More people invested in a project means more ownership players will take over the outcome which means less top-down dictatorial leadership.

Only, when we’re making something new, does it actually work like that?

Joe has an idea for a service project at his church. He wants to support kids at a low-income school in town by providing backpacks filled with school supplies at the start of the school year. He’s talked to the school, and they’re on board.

So, choose your own adventure here. You’re Joe. You want to put a call out in your church for people to work with you on it, so you’re going to make an announcement in worship. Does your announcement say, “If you want to be part of this let me know,” or does it say something more like, “Here’s how to sign up to help” and include a list of specific tasks people can volunteer to complete?

Choice A is a path toward open-ended collaboration with anyone who heard your call and felt compelled to respond. The major decisions about how to accomplish the project are on the table for the whole team. In fact, the nature of the project may even change.

Choice B is a you calling the shots and assigning responsibility for particular pieces.

As church leaders, are we encouraging people with ideas more toward path A or B? And which one are we actually taking with our own ministry ideas?

What Do You Do?

What do you do? Not for a living, so much. If you’re lucky, your job is a way for you to do what you do, but what do you do that you will always do, regardless of where your paycheck is coming from?

An organizer of a new house church said to me, “I would be doing this even if nobody came.” Somebody in my congregation told me, “Church is how I do what I do.” She connects people. She creates positive experiences for people. She writes.

What do you do, and how do you do it? What communities invite you to do what you do? Support you? Equip you?

As a church leader, I am as interested in what you do and how church can help you do it as I am in the things the church *needs* done.

So what do you do? Do you even know?

Monday Morning Quarterback (Or Things I Learned At Joke Night)

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Stuff I learned on Sunday Saturday

Roughly 40 people participated in Joke Night this weekend. It was a really fun thing to work on with a courageous and creative team. These are my initial takeaways from the event.

People really own their jokes.

People are walking around every day with at least one terrific joke in their head. We spent a lot of time in preparation copying jokes out of a book and cutting them into categorized boxes so that people who don’t feel like they know any good jokes would have one to read, and a few people took advantage of our preparation. But most of our joke-tellers came eager to tell the one or two jokes they know really well and have been telling for years.

Story jokes win the day

I envisioned an evening of short jokes told in quick succession, but the jokes people told were overwhelmingly of the narrative type.

Laughter is medicine

(Everybody says that, I know; I once bought my wife a T-shirt that said, “Actually, medicine is the best medicine”).

Telling a joke and being rewarded with a room full of laughter is a kind of restorative magic that everyone deserves to experience. This was at the heart of the idea for Joke Night, that, in the words of its creator, it would allow people to “shine.”

Even courtesy laughter achieves a kind of placebo effect.

Jokes are inter-generational 

Two of my favorite moments of the evening: a man in his 80’s masterfully telling that long joke about the guy who orders three drops of whiskey at the same bar every day (look it up), and a six year old (okay, my daughter) gleefully pronouncing the punchline to the “What’s-the-last-thing-that-goes-through-a-bug’s-mind-when-it-hits-a-windshield” joke (“His butt!).

Bathroom humor won’t kill you

There was a moment when someone used the word “asshole” in a punchline, and I froze. It was funny, though. There was a “fart” joke and an impotence joke, and nobody stalked out in indignation.

Clean, family-friendly humor was on the marquee, but that’s a slippery standard. A couple of off-color jokes don’t ruin the event, as long as they’re actually funny.

Jokes thrive in community

I’m excited to see a community of joke-tellers emerge and carry on Joke Night, because so much of what I enjoyed about it was seeing people I know well shine in a way I never saw them shine before. Most of the people there knew each other from church, and that, I think, made the jokes easier to laugh at.

There were non-church folks there as well, and for them, too, Joke Night was a chance to experience their own community; they sat together and got up to tell jokes together.

Of course, a couple hours of laughing together makes a community out of a room full of strangers. Maybe joke night is building a community.

Stepping Up To The Plate Ain’t What It Was

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I heard a plea for leaders to “step up to the plate,” and I thought, “Do we even know what that involves anymore?”

Stepping up to the plate–i.e., taking leadership–used to mean a certain set of commitments and skills, like writing an op-ed for the local paper and getting people to sign up and attracting a crowd. But are those the expressions of leadership that a post-Christendom connection economy demands?

The rules of engaging the world as leaders who wish to make an impact have changed. More is not longer better. The righteousness of your cause can’t be equated with your eloquence in talking about it. Nobody wants your committee.

The rules have changed. Literally, in baseball, the rules for stepping to the plate have changed this season. In a time-saving move, hitters are no longer allowed to wander around outside the batters box between pitches adjusting their batting gloves and hammering at their spikes with their bat. They have to keep one foot in the batter’s box.

Hitters like Adrian Beltre (seen in the video below) are struggling to adjust to what stepping to the plate now requires.

If we’re not sure what stepping to the plate now means for us and the impact we want to have, how are we going to find out?

Tricking Yourself Is A Bad Long-Term Strategy

Putting an idea on the calendar is one way to commit. “If I calendar it, then I have to do it.” That’s true, although there will always be the equation happening in your head that calculates the cost of failing relative to the cost of flaking out. And, of course, the closer the date gets the higher the cost of failing seems. We can always bail.

That seems like a kind of mental trick, the kind that you read Lifehacker posts about. Maybe tricking ourselves into doing good work is a useful strategy once in a while, but as a long term plan it’s pretty lousy. We need strategies instead for initiating meaningful projects and connecting with partners so that we relish the date we’ve set to publish/launch/perform instead of dreading it.

All this to say, Joke Night is in two days.

Also to say, this week’s podcast features someone who started something by first putting it on the calendar but then did the risky work of inviting people (many of them strangers) to come and try it. Listen to her story below.

Statements of Faith–No, Stories of Faith–No, Wait. What Was The Question?

My 9th grade confirmation students used to write one-page statements of faith. Then I changed the assignment it to a “story” of faith in which they wrote about their experience of God in the past, present, and future tense.

I’m now on my second year of not requiring a written product at all, owing to a gnawing ambivalence about 1) the value of a writing exercise meant to express either a teenager’s beliefs about God (whatever that means to a 15 year-old) or their perception–as if all of a sudden–of God in their life and 2) the lack of a similar expectation of adults who make professions of faith and become active members of the church.

I haven’t thrown down the gauntlet on this. The assignment has evaporated more than fled. I’ve lost something in its disappearance, though, but I’m not absolutely certain what.

Our 9th graders used to fret over my expectations for these statements, and I spent a lot of nervous phone calls assuring them that neither I nor the session would be grading them–like a history essay. Those phone calls now focus on an exclusively face-to-face outcome of confirmation, a meeting with the church session at which no paper changes hands. There’s a lot less anxiety about that.

The writing exercise had value in that it forced some concrete decisions about what our teenagers sensed was most important about their faith and the church. Even though I’m not certain that such a concrete exercise is all that great, developmentally speaking, for adolescents, I recognize at least some value that’s been lost in removing that requirement, even though I lack all conviction about what ought to replace it.

But to the point about what we expect of adults: should our processes for hearing their statements of faith mirror our process for teens? If one of confirmation’s functions is to introduce youth to adult membership and responsibility in the church, then should we be using a procedure that has no corollary for new adult members?

My tortured love of confirmation grows . . .

Return The Shopping Cart

Simply returning the shopping cart creates possibilities for connection that are closed off if you ditch it on an island before slinking into the driver’s seat and pulling away. It’s the simplest of decisions, and, like most simple decisions, it can change your whole day.

On my last trip to the local grocer the parking lot was crammed and the closest available spot was in an adjacent lot. I grumbled all the way into the store, and I grumbled all the way back out again, pushing my cart past a store employee who was returning a train of them left in that adjacent lot. Mostly due to guilt–If I don’t return this thing that poor guy is going to have to come and get it–I closed the trunk and made the long trip back to the front of the store–the store that has no cart corral in its parking lot.

A dear soul from the church was standing in the exit. She beamed to see me.

“How are you?” I asked with that casual-yet-pastoral tone we use when we see church folk in town. She only smiled and said, “I love you” before striding away whistling.

Changed my whole day.

Seriously, always return the shopping cart.

Monday Morning Quarterback

Stuff I learned on my vacation

If you can put your work completely out of mind for a time, then how much of a hold does your work have over your imagination?

I took a four day vacation with my family last week. I struggled to stop thinking about my work, about particular people and projects, long enough to be completely present and to fully rest. By the fourth day I gave up the effort and instead allowed myself to think work thoughts. I made mental lists and conducted imaginary conversations. That was truly relaxing.

If we’re lucky, we get to do work for a living that we can’t stop thinking about, even if we try to.

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