I Disrespect That The Broncos Felt Disrespected

My hometown football team won the Super Bowl yesterday with a show of defensive dominance consistent with its performance over the course of a season in which the defense was ranked the best in the league and after which commentators suggested it as among the best ever. The day before the Super Bowl, the Broncos received still another endorsement of its defense’s supremacy when Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips was named “Assistant Coach of The Year.”

Still, the world awakes the morning after to find analysis of the game like this:

The Broncos felt they were “disrespected” by the Panthers, by the media, by the general public.


Sports are not life. My job is nothing like Von Miller’s or Cam Newton’s, so I use caution when illustrating my work with examples from theirs. But, whatever your work, if you require a grievance to motivate you to excel, you can still be better.

Aren’t we all chasing a standard of excellence that is its own reward?


First Days

The first day is like the 9th day is like the 43rd day is like the 762nd day in one sense, as the places and the some of the people are the same. Of course, it’s you every day, so . . .

But in another sense the first day presents opportunities and liabilities both symbolic and practical. The advantage you have on the first day is fresh energy, optimism, and a clean slate with people. The disadvantage? You know practically nothing and have given no one a reason to think you’re worth their trust.

A mentor told me on my last first day, “Begin as you intend to continue.” I took that to mean that the attempt to bowl people over with your ideas and energy at the starting gate will backfire once you begin to lag, which you surely will. So be mindful of the temptation to create unsustainable expectations.

But create some expectations on the first day, even if only of yourself. Crack a joke. Take a breather. Do something without being asked.

Worry less about impressing new people and more about impressing the person who has been through all your first days and who will endure the highs and lows of all the days after this: you.



Make ’em Laugh: In Praise of Levity

For the final three minutes of my last appearance at youth group I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. It was just the leaders who were left–students went home 30 minutes earlier–and one of them offered a strained description of some quotidian thing that another one couldn’t let pass without mimicking incredulously. Chuckles spread, and then six adults were gasping for air and crying with laughter.

It was a fitting close to my time with this community because so much of our work with junior high and high school students has been marked by laughter, both amongst ourselves as well as with those students. I’ve actually come to see laughter as part of our work: permitting it, stimulating it, giving ourselves over to it, even at the expense of our agenda.

It will be very difficult for me to work with people if I am not able to laugh with them. I won’t actually be able to do my best work if goofing off is forbidden.

I took a very serious class on a very serious subject taught by a very serious man in my last semester of seminary, but I sat next to a couple of guys with whom I was constantly tempted to crack jokes. I spent the semester embarrassed about my immaturity. But in a private conversation with the professor on the last day, he told me how much he appreciated the “levity” that marked our antics as well as our work.

I work to laugh and I laugh to work.

A Pastor Guts His Library

I cleaned out my office. My library is down to eight Uhaul book boxes. Six of those boxes full of books went to the Goodwill. They contained volumes I considered essential 10 years ago, must have classics for any pastor worth her theological salt. Not in boxes but staying behind on one long office shelf–a donation to the church library–are sets of works I once badly coveted.

Part of this biblio-purge is driven by an impulse to pare down, lighten up, cling less authors and titles for my sense of identity and impact.

Another part of comes from an awareness of a drift in my interests since I moved into this office eight years ago. That awareness is most pointed with regard to all the “Missional Church” books I gave away. I clung desperately to those books in my first call, but looking at them today I have a definite sense that those volumes were a great deal of ink spilled on one big idea, a kind of theoretical hall of mirrors where each contributor reflected what all the others were already doing, only a little louder or longer. I got the idea. My work is based on it. I don’t need the books anymore.

Yet a third component of this move away from all these books arises from a reconsideration of the value of a theological library for my work as a pastor. I am uneasy about a move away from a library stocked with the Niebuhrs and the Barths I was weaned on in seminary, but less and less of the ministerial work I’m doing utilizes those texts. At all.

I’m drowning in text: magazine articles, blog posts, books, newspapers–all in both digital and analog form (I’m the guy who prints digital long form journalism to read on paper). This book dump is not about a Kindle. It’s a desire to possess only books with which I can imagine a lively engagement, between me and the books as well as between me and people with whom I want to discuss and share the books. If I couldn’t imagine running to my shelves for a book,. I didn’t keep it.


Five Things I Learned from A Preschool Director

From Seth Godin: “Every job candidate ought to be able to outline the five lessons learned from the leaders they’ve worked with previously. Those unwilling or unable to do so are not paying attention.”

I’ll take that challenge. I’m not a job candidate, but I’m about to start a new job, and I want to be both willing and able to outline five lessons I’ve learned from the leaders I’ve worked with in my job of the last eight years.

I’ve written about my Head of Staff and Christian Education Director.

Today: the Preschool Director.

For a pastor, working with a Preschool Director is super educational, because early childhood education is a field unto itself that most pastors know very little about. There are state licensing agencies and national accrediting organizations to navigate, a staff of 15-20 teachers to manage, books to keep, and marketing to conduct. It’s dizzying to watch.


Here are five things I’ve learned from our Preschool Director.

Care Out Loud

Our Preschool Director cares about her work and about her staff in a big, big way. She has them over to her house for a holiday party. She quietly puts her own money into supplies for classrooms. She listens to them and advocates for them. They notice, and their work in response makes our preschool better. Caring starts at the top.

Know Your Stuff

Early Childhood Education isn’t so unlike other fields in the amount of continual learning it requires to excel at it. My colleague knows every teacher-to-child ratio, every food allergy policy, every accreditation standard. When something changes in the field, she’s the first to know. That’s tremendously reassuring to parents, and it’s prevents a lot of distracting headaches. It helps that she teaches Early Childhood Education at a local community college.

Scale Appropriately

In order for our infant and toddler care to be as good as it can possibly be, our Preschool Director caps enrollment at a lower number than we can actually take. She’s learned that if we get as much out of the teacher-to-child ratio as possible, the quality of care will suffer. Staff will be less flexible. So the center actually is under-filled, but with a waiting list that expectant parents in town are increasingly eager to get on.

Invite Artists 

One of the most effective developments in our curriculum in my colleague’s tenure has been enrichment programming run by artists from the community and not by preschool teachers. These have included painting, dancing, and singing. Parents don’t pay extra for these (we have some of those programs too), but the Director puts them in the operating budget. She invites artists to work with children, then pays them what their time is worth. It gets even better: her invitation to a local music teacher has led to our preschool being the only one certified by the Music Together program in town.

Be Generous 

For almost four years now, my colleague has assisted with the weekly chapel time at our preschool because I asked her to. She only misses if she has a parent tour scheduled. It gives her a weekly chance to interact with the children her teachers are working with, so she gains valuable insight into her staff’s experience. Also, it helps the chapel leader (now the Christian Education Director) immensely. She knows things about working with children that we don’t. She teaches us.

Working alongside a rock star professional in an adjacent field makes you better. Here again, I’ve been lucky, and I’m grateful.

Five Things I Learned from My Christian Education Director

From Seth Godin: “Every job candidate ought to be able to outline the five lessons learned from the leaders they’ve worked with previously. Those unwilling or unable to do so are not paying attention.”

I’ll take that challenge. I’m not a job candidate, but I’m about to start a new job, and I want to be both willing and able to outline five lessons I’ve learned from the leaders I’ve worked with in my job of the last eight years.

Yesterday I wrote about my Head of Staff. 

Today is for the Christian Education Director I’ve worked with here for nearly six years.

You’re The Ministry

Christian Education Director; Director of Ministry to Children And Families; Children’s Ministry Director–my colleague has been called all of those things and more at our church. Through all those title changes, though, she has done remarkably consistent work, which I think is because she puts her personality fully into that work. No matter her job title, her work bears her unmistakable mark. It’s work only she could do in the way she does it.

Stand Up for Kids

Even in a community that is outwardly friendly and welcoming of children, people can act in a way that privileges the sensitivities of adults (guilty as charged). The only way that changes is if someone calls it out and insists it be different. Someone on our staff team has done that, and it hasn’t been me.

Work in Secret

It was three years into our working relationship before I understood that my colleague had a habit of taking people who had visited the church out for coffee. That’s not, like, an official church or pastoral procedure. She was just doing it. So she had these insights, both into particular individuals as well as into a certain profile of church visitor, that she started interjecting into programming conversations. That’s when I knew, and started to copy her.

Say When You’re Struggling

The temptation to fake it in this work is strong indeed. But my colleague has shown me how to admit when you’re having a hard time with some aspect of ministry, whether that involves a particular skill, like managing personnel, or a more meta issue, like the challenge of balancing church work with other pursuits (my colleague has been earning her PhD while on our staff). Allow people to help you.


Work Like The Artist You Are

My colleague and I completed Godly Play training together in 2010 and then partnered to convert our congregation’s Sunday School for children 100% to Godly Play. She worked like mad at that. Particularly, she sweated the artistic details of how to tell Biblical stories to children from memory, not only herself, but also the new staff of volunteers we recruited to carry the program. Teaching those skills is an art form all its own, and she developed that far more thoroughly than I did, hosting quarterly “confabs” to work on skills and troubleshoot struggles. There again, I copied what she was doing.

I took this call eight years fully aware of the things I needed to learn in the area of Christian Education programming. I got lucky with the Christian Education Director I got to work with for most of my time here, because she knew a lot of those things already, but mostly because we got to learn a lot of them together.


Five Lessons I’ve Learned from My Head of Staff

From Seth Godin yesterday: “Every job candidate ought to be able to outline the five lessons learned from the leaders they’ve worked with previously. Those unwilling or unable to do so are not paying attention.”

I’ll take that challenge. I’m not a job candidate, but I’m about to start a new job, and I want to be both willing and able to outline five lessons I’ve learned from the leaders I’ve worked with in my job of the last eight years.

Today, the Head of Staff.

I’ve been fortunate to serve with the same Head of Staff for my entire time here. We’ve had a great working relationship. These are five lessons I’ve learned from her.

Listen first, speak later.

My colleague is a careful listener. She will offer substantive leadership to the question at hand, although perhaps not right now, in this particular conversation. She will say, “I need some time to think about this.” Then, the next time you talk about it, she will have a carefully refined conviction about it that is infinitely more valuable than if she’d forced some position in the moment, just to have something to say.

Keep it professional.

Two of the most active members of my youth ministry here are my Head of Staff’s kids, but that has never been awkward, because my HOS maintains a very clear distinction between her relationship with me as a staff member and an adult working with her kids. She asserts that distinction with her kids, too.

Let people laugh

I’ve laughed a lot these past eight years. The culture my HOS has cultivated allows for–encourages, even–levity. There are serious challenges involved in this work, but none of us feel overwhelmed by them; the boss smiles a lot and gives space for yahoos like me to crack jokes in staff meetings.

Do what you say you’re going to do

Dependability is priceless. I can’t recall a single instance in which my HOS has failed to follow through on something she committed to. Not one.

Assume the best about peoples’ competence, but yell if you must

I have grown here because my HOS has let me work on the things I think are important and has only very rarely questioned me on that front. And when she has, it has been more with curiosity than with judgment, and never with anxiety.

I’ve heard her yell twice, both times to great effect.

Stepping Up To The Plate Ain’t What It Was

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?

What Are You Working On Right Now?

Ministry: a constellation of programs and projects that has stated goals and objectives and that continues as long as there is energy to do it. A homeless outreach ministry. A youth ministry. A Christian formation ministry. Needs a Coordinator. 

Program: a regularly recurring going on of some kind that has stated goals and objectives and that continues as long as there are participants. A free community meal. A Youth group. A Sunday school. Needs a Director.

Project: a one-time going on of some kind that has stated goals and objectives and that continues until it’s done. A winter coat drive. A Youth Sunday worship service. A four week class on Bonhoeffer. Needs a Manager. 

Church leaders, Ruling and Teaching Elders, Pastors and Lay Leaders: what are you working on right now? Is it a project? Then you’re the Manager. Is it a program? Then you’re the Director. Is it a whole ministry? Then you’re the Coordinator.

Very likely you’re Manager, Director, and Coordinator (please let’s resist the urge to codify these into titles; they’re more helpful as leadership descriptions).

I think it helps to know what we’re working on RIGHT NOW and which tools we need to do the work well. Because right now you’re probably coordinating multiple ministries, directing divergent programs, and managing emerging projects at the same time. Those all need different tools.

Two tools I’m finding indispensable these days: my bullet journal (with its ubiquitous sidekick pen) and the Master Project List.

What are you working on right now? What tools are you using?

Maybe Preparation Is Insurance

Maybe having a plan is insurance against having to use it.

Maybe if we study conscientiously for the exam, there will be a snow day and the exam will get postponed. Maybe if we solicit informed counsel the issue will go away on its own. Maybe if we clean the house from top to bottom the company will unexpectedly cancel.


God might wink at us, and we might be rewarded for diligent preparation by the challenge being taken away. Awesome if that’s true.

If it’s not, though, the worst thing to say is that we have a plan where we didn’t before. We know something we didn’t. We possess wisdom we lacked. And we live in a clean house.

We’ve learned, and we’re better.