Tag Archives: ministry

Worth your time to read

A few good reads to kick off your week. One should never approach Monday without a good read around.

To kick off, this piece by Kutter Callaway of Fuller Seminary really hit home with me today when I read it in a back issue of Fuller Magazine that we got at work a few months ago. (Yeah, I know, I’m behind.)  He discusses the way that chronic pain distorts our view of reality, usually attacking our sense of hope the most viciously. And how Christians dealing with chronic pain gain insight into the hope offered by the Gospel. A powerful read.

Restoring Hope: Being Weak and Becoming Well – Fuller Studio

From the same issue of Fuller Magazine come two excellent pieces about Christians and hospitality. This ancient set of practices has worn very thin in our modern age, and these scholars take time to explain why Christians should pursue hospitality even more fervently now.  In fact, hospitality might create a space where Christians and Muslims can gather on common ground. 

Restoring Hospitality: A Blessing for Visitor and Host – Fuller Studio

A Moratorium on Hospitality? – Fuller Studio

Time is not just money. It’s also power.  And one of the significant discrepancies between working women and working men lies in their access to uninterrupted free time to think, create, or connect.

This article by Brigid Schulte gives a name to the fragmented craziness that women experience as they try to juggle work, parenting, and marriage:  leisure confetti.  

While many working men are able to access blocks of uninterrupted time, most women — especially mothers — get their leisure time only in snatches, and even then it’s dirtied with the mental anxiety of carpool logistics, supper planning, family scheduling, budgeting, etc.

Confetti. You can’t build or create anything or even feel like a real human being if the only time you get to yourself comes in scraps.

Brigid Schulte: Why time is a feminist issue

I never talk on the phone much now, and aside from my teenaged spurt of nightly phone sessions with my best friends (or calls home during my college days), I’ve never been a huge phone talker.  Texting was (and is) a god-send: concise communication that people can read when they’re ready, apart from the disruption of a ringing phone.

This Slate writer disagrees, and wonders if we’ve lost something…

The Death of the Telephone Call |Slate

This next one may make some folks mad…. but that’s not my intention. In fact, I’d like to post this as much to invite critique as suggest alliance.  But I think Americans need to turn a critical (in the sense of objective / evaluation) eye on football. It’s a dangerous game – one that grinds up the bodies (and brains) of players for the violent pleasure of the masses. This bothers me.

And here, this author suggests an even more troubling link – that the US military is happy to keep Americans confusing patriotism with team loyalty, to see football as  a kind of American war.

I’m not a peacenik but it doesn’t take a 60s hippie conscience to question whether Americans can tell the difference between patriotism and nationalism, between bandwagon-riding mob behavior and common sense.

How the NFL Sells – and Unabashedly Benefits From – the Inextricable Link Between Football and War |The Cauldron (Sports Illustrated)

A powerful reminder that ministry which sees the recipients as “needy” will fail to be as successful as it should be.

“Do you want to know why we love him [another missionary]? He needs us. The rest of you have never needed us.”

What’s Wrong with Western Missionaries? | DesiringGod

I may not be in a classroom any more (an experience that I genuinely miss pretty often), but I want everyone to read this wonderful piece directed to young teachers.  It’s a great reminder of why I taught, and why I want to spend my life trying to make education better.

In The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer suggests that we teach who we are and thus, no matter what we teach, our students judge us as “good” or not according to how we communicate who we are.

Letter to a Young High School Teacher | Comment Magazine


I’ll be back with some book reviews soon. Currently reading 2 or 3 that have been good reads for sure.

On Leadership: Some advice from my bottom rung

Not having spent any time in a core leadership role might open me up to criticism for this post. Some of you will say, “Well, it’s easy to criticize if you’re not the one leading. Easy post for you to write.”


I don’t rake in the big bucks from the C-suite or even middle management … but I have led teenagers across America and Italy without misplacing or killing any of them, coerced an entire class of middle schoolers to do Latin conjugations willingly, and directed several plays – a project management quest like few other experiences.  I’m not a stranger to making crisis decisions, organizing a complex system, or juggling conflicting personalities.

You might think that I’m just sounding off about pet peeves, but I genuinely believe that some of us sitting at the bottom of the organizational chart can spot leadership failures much faster than the executives. We’re the ones who have to make those crazy plans work, after all.

Here’s my advice for CEOs and organizational leaders, from my vantage on the bottom rung:

1.  You have two jobs as a leader.   The first is to figure out what your company or organization is doing (your mission) and make it clear and inviting so everyone gets on board.  Second you need to hire the best people that you could afford and then get out of their way.

Everything else follows from these two tasks, and if you screw them up, you’re probably making your underlings miserable.

2. Sometimes leadership means making the decision, often quickly without enough information as you’d like.  Sometimes leadership means stepping back so your managers and planners can step in and make the call about a problem, issue, or policy they’re better informed to decide.  Knowing the difference is why you get paid three (or more) times as the rest of us.

3. The people who do the core work of the organization know more than anyone else about the problems that need to be fixed, the solutions that could be implemented, and the long, painful history of failed attempts at change. Perhaps that information isn’t equal to an outsider’s assessment when it comes to solving problems or implementing needed changes, but any leader who tries to implement change without actually taking time to listen to the people in his/her organization is a fool.

4. You know that old saying about how leaders need to spend the first month or year just getting to know the organization before they change anything significant? Yeah. That one. It’s absolutely 100% true. And unless the building where your office resides is actually on fire, you ignore that wisdom at your peril.  If you start changing parts of a system before you really understand the system as a whole, you run the risk of doing a lot more damage than the problem you were trying to fix.

5. You need multiple viewpoints among your organizational advisors. You need dissension — not discord, not disrespect, not gossip or backstabbing or other expressions of human nastiness. But you desperately need people who will tell you “No” or “That’s a bad idea” or “Wait, have you considered this angle?” You can’t get that when everyone around you thinks alike. Or when you don’t bother asking.  You have a blind spot… and you need spotters for that.<

6. Employee morale is an expensive currency. Like most human capital, employee goodwill is very expensive to acquire and too easy to spend. Don’t blow it all in one place.

Your human capital – the people who work for you – are your most expensive investment. It makes no sense to forego giving your employees the best salary and benefits you can afford along with real authority in their job positions, meaningful professional development opportunities, plus as many non-monetary perks as you can squeeze in and a couple kick-ass holiday parties. Hell, it’s amazing what a piece of chocolate and a sincere thank-you means to the people in the trenches. Forget this, and see how bad it feels when your organization starts hemorrhaging employees to the competitors.

Find ways to make the most of those doing the work – for their benefit and for yours.

7. If you aren’t spending time with the people in your organization, how do you expect to be leading them?  If you don’t  know the people in the departments, if you don’t walk around visiting all the offices, how can you make decisions that directly affect what they do in good conscience?

Get out there. Be seen. Take 10 minutes every day to walk into a different office and say hi. Ask what people need to do their jobs better. Listen to their suggestions.  Be approachable and friendly.

I don’t care if you “aren’t a people person” or “don’t have time” … you aren’t going to cut me any slack if I fail to do my job with thorough knowledge and skill, so why should I cut you slack at yours? Put in the time.

8. You will always piss off at least some people with your course of action. Your goal is not to keep everyone happy. Your goal must be to do the best thing for furthering your organization’s work, and that means pissing off the correct people in that situation — the people who are holding you back.

Have the balls to do hard things well and make decisive choices without trying to be everyone’s friend. But don’t be a dick either. It’s a tough balance.

9. For leaders of religious organizations:  Believing in Providence is not an excuse or a substitute for planning well, knowing your market, counting the cost before you make big changes, and choosing to take measured risks.

It’s quite possible that God doesn’t give a damn about your organization, no matter how awesome your mission statement. “Kingdom work” may be your goal, but God might have other plans on His table.  Pray and trust, yes, but work twice as hard as everyone else.

10. The best leaders are servants. Jesus said so. Management theory has finally caught up with the “servant leadership” theme in the Gospels – complexity leadership theory, for example, sees the role of the leader to be removing the obstacles that prevent the team from rising to their fullest potential. The leader carries the burdens of leadership, like responsibility for key decisions and oversight of complex systems, so her people can achieve more than they thought possible.

Does this sound like a demanding list? You bet it is.

We cannot escape the reality that those among us who step into the roles of leadership, guidance, training, and mentoring are held to a much tougher standard.  The rewards are greater, of course.  But sometimes a view from the bottom of the org chart can do a lot to realign leaders to their core purpose.

Sorrowing with those who sorrow: wise words of advice

A fantastic column in the New York Times today offers timely and thoughtful, real-world suggestions for people who stand just outside the circle of grief or tragedy – those of us who wonder what we can do to help, but often walk away because we don’t know what to do.

It’s a short piece but well worth your time.  The Woodiwisses offer simple and effective suggestions based on their own experiences of tragedy.

The columnist, David Brooks, writes:

[S]uffering is a teacher. And, among other things, the Woodiwisses drew a few lessons, which at least apply to their own experience, about how those of us outside the zone of trauma might better communicate with those inside the zone. There are no uniformly right responses, but their collective wisdom is quite useful.

via The Art of Presence – NYTimes.com.

Don’t miss the original post that sparked the NYT column:

The New Normal: 10 Things I Learned About Trauma
written by Catherine Woodiwiss, who was hit by a car last fall while riding in DC on her bicycle. She marches on through a long hard road of recovery.

Parenting: You probably aren’t supposed to start with 6

The Man & I have been teaching teens or working with youth groups or trying to feed hungry teenagers who’ve landed at our house for several years now. Sometime in the past decade, we realized this might not be the usual way to fall into spending a ridiculous amount of time with kids.

I mean, most people start with babies and then move up, you know?  But no.  I gotta be different.

I’m not joking when I say that kids make sense to me only after they go through puberty. Maybe I’ll get better at it once we’ve had our own brood, but little kids declare me to be weird. They’re such literalists while I traffic almost entirely in understatement, irony, pun, hyperbole, and satire.

I figured you needed that background to understand fully the impact of my next sentence:

For the past two weekends, we’ve been the “relief parents” at Calvary Home for Children.

Please indulge yourself in as many mental scenarios of disaster as you’d like. I’ll wait. 😉

CHC is an amazing ministry that works hard to provide a safe, gracious space for kids in foster care to find real love and stability, especially groups of siblings (who otherwise would be split up among multiple foster homes). We’ve known the CHC folks for nearly a decade, and they do incredible work.

Our first experience with CHC came through our classrooms at New Covenant – some students were placed at NCS for their coursework.  (I remember Coart spending two nights a week with a particular trio of 8th grade CHC girls for a full year, doing extra tutoring so they could pass his Logic class.)

We still keep up with a number of our former-CHC students, and it’s exciting to see them thriving despite the hardships of their backgrounds.

I’ll save those stories for another day.

You *know* CHC must be hard up for relief parents if they called us. 😉   Indeed, they’ve lost a lot of folks off the volunteer list in recent weeks due to attrition, moving, and other normal factors.  And the current house parents still need their two relief breaks a month (child care can drive people batty faster than anything else, I imagine, so relief is important for the house parents).

I was pretty reluctant at first.  Six kids ranging from 4 to about 16.  I don’t know what to do with a 4 year old. Really.  Fortunately, we have a 20 year old in the household who’s great with kids…. so we convinced Liz to join in this adventure and tackled the job as a team of three.

I gotta say ….  The two weekends really were great.

Yeah, so, I know NOTHING about important things like "where can we find a good park" and "what does a 6 year old eat, anyway?"  Answers: The Castle Park at the Civic Center is a blast.  Also, 6 year olds aren't really into lasagna. :/
Yeah, so, I know NOTHING about important things like “where can we find a good park” and “what does a 6 year old eat, anyway?” Answers: The Castle Park at the Civic Center is a blast. Also, 6 year olds aren’t really into lasagna. :/

The house parents (the Parkers) have their cottage running like a well-oiled machine.  With lots of love, good structure, clear expectations, realistic expectations.

The kiddos themselves are great kids…. caught in a bad situation beyond their control and trying to make the best of it.  We went to the park. We went to the zoo. (Turtles! Lions! Elephants! Giraffe!!!) We climbed stuff. We got dirty. We ate ice cream. (Don’t tell.)

Sure, we had our moments.  The 4yo definitely woke up on the wrong side of the bed every day this weekend, and I was definitely raised with a different philosophy of food choices than kids nowadays. (What, you don’t feed your elementary kids cabbage rolls or stuffed green peppers or chicken cacciatore? Because that’s what landed on my plate “back in the day,” and the only alternative was “fine, don’t eat.”)

But if you’re looking for a way to truly love your neighbor in a tangible, meaningful way, consider calling the folks at Calvary Home and offering them your skills (cook? clean? tutor? babysit? play? Surely you can do one of those!).  Or money. That’s always useful.

And if you aren’t from around here, I’m sure you won’t have to look far to find broken relationships to heal, children who need love, a house that needs cleaned, food to cook, a family in need.