Saturday, May 10, 2014

2 Things Every Parent Should Know

This time of year the florist's begin to buy new cars and the card isle at Target looks like someone attacked it with a leaf blower....we all know what time it is....MOTHER'S DAY!  I am blessed to have many mothers in my life, but I especially want to wish my bride of almost 9 years a Happy Mother's Day!  She is without a doubt the best mom on the planet, sorry mom! 

One thing I did this year for Mother's day was buy a large picture matte that was made for events such as a wedding shower or birthday party where everyone signs their name and writes a word of encouragement.  I asked my almost 3 year old and my 5 year old what they loved about their mother and here is what they said:

Grace (5 yrs old)
  • She snuggles me
  • She plays with me
  • She makes me s'mores
Elise (almost 3 yrs old)
  • She pushes me on the swing
  • She kisses me a lot
  • She plays with me
I then asked Grace what she thought that mom taught her more than anything else.  She said "To be nice to others."

Now, as I was writing these things down to use for my bride's gift I realized that there are two over-arching truths regarding parenting that I learned from my wife.  These are critical to the success we have as parents.
  1. Be there - both of our girls mentioned that momma played with them.  But all of them have one requirement, that my wife be there.  It would be impossible for my wife to snuggle my daughter if my wife was not there.  If we want to invest in our children we have to be there to experience life with them.  When we are there we must be there fully, meaning we may need to turn the phone/computer/tablet off and invest in our families. What is scary about this truth is that someone is always going to be there.  They are kids and lets face it, they have to have someone making sure they don't burn the place down.  At the end of the day they have someone who is there, that person should be us more than others.
  2. Lead them to Jesus - Grace's answer to my last question about what momma taught them seems like an answer that someone who knows Jesus or someone who doesn't could answer, but let me tell you from experience that the idea of being nice to others is rooted in the fact of the gospel and what Christ did for us.  Every opportunity my wife gets she impacts them with the gospel. She always, and I mean always leads them to Jesus.  She disciplines with scripture and explains the way we love others is a reflection of our love for God.  I had a parent tell me once, "You have to make your kids hungry for Jesus", and I feel like my bride does that.  We have to lead them to Jesus.  Again, the scary thing is that our kids being led is not an option.  They are going to be led somewhere, and there are only two options out there.  Jesus or the world.  The world is trying hard every day to get our kids to follow it, we must always lead them to Jesus.
One final remark I will make is that if we do these two things with excellence Satan will continually attack us and remind us of all the mistakes we make in parenting.  We all do them and we always will, but know that God gives each child their parents for one reason, to bring Glory to His name.  If we keep our focus on that then everything else will take care of itself.

I write this in honor of my wife Elizabeth, who sacrificially and selflessly loves our two girls and me every day.  

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Parenting = Discipling

     One of the things the Lord has laid on my heart recently is the lack of motivation for junior high and high school students to spend time in God's word.  As a student pastor I see this all the time.  I see it in students who show up once a month for life group and I see in students who are at every event.  The Lord has been challenging me to better understand why this happens.  A lot of these students are obviously believers in Jesus but they do not spend time with the Lord on a frequent basis.  After talking through the idea with a close friend of mine, Caleb Reeves, I began to realize that part of the issue may be because of the way we frame the bible.  He was talking about how we tend to make it something that will help us if we read it or hurt us if we don't and in reality it is something that we do out of worship to our savior.  It is a response to our salvation.  This led me to a deeper thought, in order for students to spend time in the word they must value their salvation.  In other words, their faith must be the number one priority in their lives.  It doesn't matter how "perfect" we paint the picture of the bible if their faith is not a priority they have no draw to scripture.  This led me to ask a couple of our students who I would call "rockstars" in our ministry what causes their faith to be a priority and I believe the Lord gave me a clear cut conclusion, Parents.  I know this may sound like a "duh" statement but as a parent (although mine aren't teens yet) this hit me pretty hard.  I think there are a few areas that we as parents always need to be reminded of:

Follow the Leader
     As a parent we are given leadership over our Children from the Lord.  PARENTS ARE THE PRIMARY DISCIPLERS IN THE PARENT/CHILD RELATIONSHIP. Let me make this clear, this is not an option nor is it a sometime thing, we disciple our children.  Every day they watch and listen to how we live, what we read and watch, how we treat others and everything else.  This is all discipleship, the question is what are we drawing them to be a disciple of?  Here is the bottom line of this section, If faith is not a priority to a parent, it will not be a priority to a student or child.  Youth pastors and workers can preach and teach until they are blue in the face the importance of making a student's walk with Christ the most important thing in their life but if we as parents do not reflect that it will be very difficult.  Scripture tells children to honor their parents, and it is innately in us that we are to listen to them.  Pastors and life group leaders can equip them to be disciples of Christ but if as their parents we are equipping them to be disciples of the world we don't have a chance.

Off - kilter
     This leads me to my second thought.  As I was thinking through this I began to weigh in on what students priorities in life were.  I think it can be grouped into 3 main categories: relationships, media, and extracurricular activities.  For most students these three areas drive everything they do.  When they get up in the morning they spend a large amount of time getting ready because of a desire to meet some sort of relational expectation.  This could be from friends or teachers all the way to a "significant-other".  They might get up and spend time working out which could be relational or could be so they can dominate on the court/field/etc.  They may wear a certain outfit just so they can post a selfie on whatever social media site they want.  Then the rest of their day is spent filling themselves up (being discipled by) these different arenas.  They spend time in relationships, they spend time on media (average 7.5 hours a day according to the huffington post), they practice and play games and have concerts.  I was struggling how do we make faith something greater than these and it dawned on me as me and my wife were discussing that the reason student's priorities are off kilter is because most adults priorities are off kilter.  They come home and see us on our phones, or watching tv, playing video games, or focusing on our favorite sports team.  We make decisions based on relationships.  Our motivating factor is the exact same as our children.  We must evaluate where we use our resources: time, money, energy.  All of these things are give to us from God and we have a finite amount of them, is what we do with them a reflection that Christ is our priority or something else? 

     I think one of the root causes of all of these is a false sense of satisfaction.  All of us have a desire to be satisfied.  It was put in us by God.  We spend our entire life (some of us anyway) searching for satisfaction.  The challenge we have in the U.S. is we have  false sense of being satisfied.  We think because we go to church, our kids are doing good in school and sports, we have jobs and money in the bank, and good friends that we are ok.  This false sense of satisfaction leaves us lazy in our desire for perfect satisfaction found through Christ.  This is why it is not a priority.  Why do students spend 7.5 hours a day on media (social media, tv, internet, video games)?  Because they feel satisfied and they see their parents as satisfied.  How would our lives changed if we realized that our only satisfaction was found in Jesus and we genuinely sought his word because we were wholly satisfied in him and desired to know more and more about him?

Not enough time?
     I have to give my wife Elizabeth the credit for this thought.  We were talking through and she brought this point up.  I have said multiple times that if there just more hours in the day I could get everything accomplished.  We all feel that way, there is just not enough time for me to do everything and spend time with the Lord and, and, and….but the fact of the matter is that God created time.  He created days, and he created us.  He created all of us in harmony and if God thought we needed more than 24 hours in a day he would have given us more.  But he didn't.  He gave us 7 days in a week, 365 days in a year, and 24 hours in a day.  What we have to do is make sure we are using that time in a manner that glorifies the Lord.  We don't need more time, we simply need less time-wasters.

What do we do?

     So what do we do?  How do we as parents make sure that when we disciple our children that we lead them to be a follower of Christ and not the world.  It starts with us.  We have to make a decision that our relationship with Christ is the greatest priority.  We have to spend time in the word every day and pray, we have to have spiritual conversations with our family.  We have to serve together, go on mission trips together, share the love of Christ together, and do it all in worship of who Christ is and what he did for us.  If we have a relationship with Christ and find our ultimate satisfaction in him and desire to grow in our walk with him then everything else in our lives filter through that lens.  In John 15 Jesus lays out to his disciples what it looks like to follow him, and I think if we truly want to worship Christ with our lives then we have to follow these things.  Not out of a desire for righteousness but rather out of worship to our Lord.  We must abide in his word, we must pray, we must love and connect with the church, and we must reach the world.  If we do these things then naturally our everyday life will be centered around Christ and it will be the number one priority.

Monday, March 31, 2014

10 Things I learned in Business that Help me Do Ministry

Prior to surrendering to the call to ministry I spent 5 years in manufacturing logistics working for a wide variety of companies.  I have worked for both small family-owned businesses and I have worked for a major corporation.  Both taught me a lot about leadership and management.  

*Let me throw in my disclaimer here.  I am by no means and expert and most people who read this will be like "DUH!", but for me I have to constantly remind myself of these things and hopefully this will help whether you are in ministry or business.*

Here are 10 of the best things that I learned which help me do ministry:

1.     Family First – our primary responsibility is to minister to our family.  It is crucial that when we leave our occupation we leave our work as well.  I have heard both Dan Reeves and Andy Stanley say that the job we do will be handed off to someone else but we will be the only dad and husband in our family.  So when we are with our family it is imperative that we are fully with them.  In addition, in leadership we want our employees and volunteers to keep their families first, but if we don’t live our own lives that way we cannot expect them to either.  If we do not make our family our first ministry we will not be fit to minister to anyone else.

2.     Organization is crucial – whether studying major manufacturing or a made to order processes there is one constant in world-class companies, everything has a place and everyone knows it.  Organization also includes having organized processes for everything being done.  Everything that we do should be designed so that anyone who comes in should be able to know where everything is and how it is done immediately.  Good leaders can leave and their organization will survive, but great leaders leave and their organization will thrive.  Organization is crucial to this.  Ministry depends on volunteers and a lot of them.  If we have an organized process with organized materials and supplies we are setting them up for success in the ministry they are serving in. 

3.     The devil is in the details – does it matter that an assembly line worker knows the proper torque to put a lug nut on in an automobile factory?  Absolutely.  The same goes for ministry, the more details we have and plan ahead for, the smoother our processes will go and the better stewards of time we will be.  In ministry it is imperative that all the details have been thought through.  It is crucial that when I lead a group of students on a mission trip that we have the day planned out to the minute.  Why?  We take them on the trip to grow in their relationship with Christ and if we want to be good stewards of the time God has given us everything we do must drive to that purpose.  Also, meetings need agendas and we need schedules.  Although minor details, it is a proven fact that meetings with agendas are more efficient.  Finally however, there is a point where details become a time burden.  Know this limit.

4.     Communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more – regardless if it is intended or not the level of communication a person receives has a direct correlation to the value they feel.  When people are included in the communication they feel valued, and when they are not included in the communication they feel de-valued.  One key to remember is never assume everyone is clear on the matter.  If there is any doubt communicate again.  My motto has always been over-communicate.  Make sure everyone who needs to know is clear, and evaluate if your communication is effective.  Whether doing ministry in a small church or a multi-site mega church communication is critical to the effectiveness of its ministry.  Its quite obvious that this is one of the most important things in my humble opinion.

5.     Do everything with excellencemy dad always taught me that if a job is worth doing it is worth doing right.  We have a finite amount of time on this earth and if whatever you are doing is using that time and your energy it is worth doing right, the first time.  In addition, as a leader if you expect your people to do everything with excellence and you are not; the wrong example is being set, and the work will reflect it.  It has been said that history always repeats itself, the same goes for leadership; whatever you do as a leader your people will repeat.  Ministry is kingdom work; our goal is and should always be excellence every time in everything.

6.     Love your people, not just what they do – this is one of the most important things I learned in business.  The greatest asset any organization has is its people.  While people are there to help us complete a goal they are still people.  Know their families and mourn with them when they mourn and rejoice when they rejoice.  Ask them how they are and mean it.  Another key thing I learned was when leading people help them set goals.  We all have a goal, even if it is to “ride it out” until retirement.  Help them set goals and help them put plans in place to reach their goals.  Ministry depends on volunteers, and we love and appreciate them; not just the task they do.

7.     Numbers matter – this one is controversial.  Hear me out.  When I worked in business we had a metric to measure every facet of our business.  Efficiency, quality, engagement, etc. and we knew how to measure them.  We set goals based on what we were seeing.  It did not matter how good I thought our quality was improving if the numbers did not reflect that my feeling was not reality.  Numbers reflect reality.  Numbers in ministry reflect people.  Therefore we need to set goals and the goals have to be measurable.  That being said there are many important facets of ministry that cannot be measured by numbers, but they do matter.

8.     Earn Respect, don’t expect it – as a leader we walk into situations where we need to be respected.  While it is easy to assume that everyone will respect you because of your title people will respect you greater if you take the time to earn it.  First off, know the jobs you are over.  Understand what their responsibilities are and how they are supposed to be doing them.  Secondly, spend time with the people and watch how they do the job.  Do the work, help them with the hard stuff, and don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and get dirty.  When a leader takes time out of their busy schedule to do work and know the job from experience the natural response is respect.  In ministry it is imperative that we know and understand the things we need our people to do, and come along side them while they do it.

9.     Be decisive – if the above are done and you as the leader know your people and their jobs and have their respect you should be well prepared to make any decision that you are faced with.  People want to follow a leader who is willing to make a decision quickly.  Two things happen when we are indecisive; first off it wastes enormous amounts of time.  We all face decisions everyday and if we spend 3-5 minutes contemplating every decision, we can end up wasting hours each month.  From my experience 95% of the time the initial decision will be the same decision made after contemplation.  The second thing that happens when we are indecisive is that it shows a lack of confidence and ability to the people we are leading.  If we want our people to take chances and evolve in what they do we have to be confident and show it.  Ministry is no different, there are decisions that have to be made every day, and we have to be decisive.

10. Be flexible – we are all going to make mistakes.  One of the greatest hindrances to evolution in business processes is the fear of the response a leader will have when a new process is tried and fails.  Don’t react negatively when someone tries something new and it fails, rather praise him or her for trying and challenge him or her to make it better.  In addition, one of the few things in life that is constant is change; and plans and processes change.  They also can change and change back.  Be flexible and lead through the change, never against it.  Ministry is always evolving while the gospel never changes.  Be flexible in how ministry is done but never give on the truth of who Jesus is and what he does.  Don’t let pride get in the way of trying a new idea or process, be flexible and willing to do new things to reach new people.