Take It

Standing up for yourself is standing up for others. Leaders need to keep in mind that when we put up with bad behavior directed at us because, hey, we’re the leader and we can take it, we send a very clear signal that such behavior is acceptable towards others in the community as well. This is bad news for people in the community who don’t have the power the leader has.

Just because you can take it doesn’t mean you should.

Told

A pastor colleague said, “Pastors are told to hide their true beliefs from their congregations in order to keep their jobs.”

I asked, “Told by whom?”

Pastors have as much power as anyone in a church to shape who is told what; ministry is largely a vocation of persuasion. The job largely consists of telling people what you believe and trying to convince them to believe likewise.

I’m still waiting on an answer.

Agenda

Leaders have agendas. We say people “have an agenda” like that’s suspect, but I’d much rather follow someone whose agenda I know than one whose I don’t. Everybody has an agenda. Not having an agenda is an agenda.

The skill for leaders is making our agenda plain, even for a single meeting. Participants should not be confused about what we’re trying to achieve. Troubleshoot Sunday’s worship service. Approve next month’s expenses. Assign responsibility. Stating our agenda clearly at the beginning invites participants to connect their agenda to it, to add items or strike them. Our agenda doesn’t have to carry the day, but someone’s should. Naming ours up front makes that far more likely.

Counting

People engage meaningfully with online content when the content invites them to. Social media polls and quizzes aren’t that, and neither are most YouTube videos, even Ted Talks. TikTok is passive, and Twitter almost never feels constructive.

But an online course you sign up for and set aside time to engage, one that asks for feedback and allows you to chart your own growth/learning/change? That feels meaningful. If we are going to measure online engagement, we ought to measure more than clicks and views. For those of us leading churches that are livestreaming worship services, views shouldn’t count the same as in-person attendance, because those two activities require very different levels of engagement (this is also true within in-person attendance: sitting in the back and leaving before the postlude is not the same as sitting in the front, staying through coffee hour, and signing up to make sandwiches). One need not be considered better than the other, only different, and different enough to warrant their own standards of evaluation.

What are we looking for when we count online views? More importantly, what are we asking for?

Wreck

At 6:15 on a January morning, Lincoln Avenue is cold and dark and quiet. The 15 minute walk to the Fullerton Red Line station is an almost mystical experience of sensations, like the sight of two collided cars, mangled from their impact with one another, resting motionless in the southbound lane. The drivers left long ago; snow and ice cover both windshields. Tempted to pause and examine the scene, I think better of it. Instead, I quickly look up and down the street, across and behind, but find no witnesses and walk on.

Plumbing

“Good afternoon, ____________ Plumbing, can I help you?”

“Yes. I’m calling about some work one of your plumbers did yesterday. I live at _____________.”

“I see. What’s your phone number?”

“My phone number is ___ _____.”

“Yes, I have your job here. Why were you calling?”

“I’m calling to complain about the work your plumber, whose name was _____ did.”

. . .

. . .

. . .

“Well, actually, nobody is here right now. Someone from management will call you later.”

“Wait. So one of your managers will call me at this number, the number I just gave you, to talk with me about the job that _____ did here yesterday?”

“Yes.”

“Okay, thank you. Goodbye.”

Management isn’t calling. There probably is no management.

Start Now

Last year’s youth ministry was going to be different, so we prepared differently. We reached out and over-communicated and listened.

This year was going to be a return to “normal,” so we prepared the way we used to: we communicated to everyone at once and all in the same way, and we didn’t really ask how people felt about it.

Two things are now clear. First, in youth ministry, “normal” is what you did last year; every new year needs to be planned and interpreted as its own thing. By the time we start planning for the fall of 2022, our 6th, 7th, and 8th grade youth will have no practical experience of what youth ministry at our church was like before Covid. The other thing that’s clear is that the year you plan is not the year you get. We didn’t plan on Omicron.

The advantage of all the outreach and listening and over-communicating at the start of the year is that you can bank those conversations for when the year goes off the rails. You’ve already heard from people. The channels of communication are open, so when tough decisions have to be made parents are more likely to share their concerns and hopes.

If you didn’t reach out and listen at the start of the year?

Start now.

Choices

We came back from the holiday on Sunday to a single junior high youth and four senior highs–two pair of siblings. Omicron is Omicroning and the temperature was in the teens and icy, but whatever the reason that’s a different state of attendance than we’ve seen. We’re wondering about switching to Zoom for awhile.

Here’s my hunch about that: 6th and 7th graders will tolerate it better than high schoolers will. Since we resumed in-person youth group last September, it has seemed to me that the younger students who show up do so because their parents come to in-person worship, while the older students come largely on their own; they want to be with their peers more than their younger counterparts do.

We could go to Zoom tomorrow with no difficulty. It might be better for some younger students whose parents are staying home until Covid numbers subside appreciably. Or it might take away somebody’s in-person lifeline.

Choosing between bad options feels routine.

Interesting

Heaving and gasping through a video exercise routine, I take inspiration from the instructor’s motivational pablum. “I never said this would be easy!” she shouts, and then adds: “I’ve never met an interesting person who had an easy life!” Yeah, that kind of thing works on me; I want to be an interesting person.

Not Daughter though. Overhearing, she scolds from the other room, “That’s toxic!”

Now heaving and gasping and laughing. That works on me too.

Juice Box

A worshiper arrived late to our small afternoon service and walked, mid-sermon, straight to the front seat. He carried a large red “American Girl” shopping back and wore a camouflage coat, a baseball hat, and tan colored boots with shimmering diamond-like material at the ankles. He sat down quietly, making sure to not squeak the wooden chair he’d selected on the tile floor.

He sat attentively for a few moments, and then he reached inside his big red bag to retrieve a small box, which made a crinkling sound as he fidgeted with it: a juice box and its cellophane straw wrapper. He poked the straw through the top and stealthily raised the box to his chin. The straw slid beneath his face mask, and he took a long drink, eyes constantly on the preacher. The box’s sides caved in quietly as its contents were emptied, and then he placed it back into the bag.

Come, you who are thirsty.