What students taught me about Trust and Unity…

26 01 2011

This past Friday and Saturday we took 52 staff and students leaders to a cabin in Twain Harte for our 2nd Annual Student Leadership Retreat. We get them away from their friends, families, cell phones, and computers.  The purpose of this retreat, as stated by my good friend Matt Van Cleave,  was to “become vulnerable with one another so our students  grow to understand each other and learn to trust each other. This opens the door to unifying our team around a common purpose and direction. A community of leaders united around a common purpose will accomplish great things for the kingdom of God.”

As Matt led this retreat last year, this purpose became very evident through our time together. Students and a few of our staff shared their deepest secrets, pains, failures, and regrets and came together unlike any group I had ever seen before.

This year was a little different. Matt had to stay in the East Bay to perform a wedding, we had about twice as many people there, and the questions we asked the students were a little bit different. But the results stayed the same: students talked about their doubts and regrets and character flaws, they were honest and sincere, and they grew together like I had only seen once before.

I left last year saying, “We need to find a way to get all of our students on a retreat like this.” And I was saying the same thing this year but in a different context. I began to think about trust and unity in every area of my life. We can be more vulnerable at work, with the teams we lead, with our families, and with our friends. I know there are people in each of those settings that I don’t know a lot about.

“What is their biggest regret? What is their biggest failure? What do they doubt? If they could change one thing about their childhood, what would it be? What are they afraid to tell God? If they could do anything for God without failing, what would it be?”

There is so much I don’t know about the people I do life with and so little they know about me. I had a good friend tell me once that people in our generation are waiting for a pastor who isn’t perfect. I think this is true, but I also think our generation is waiting for a community of people to show weaknesses and imperfections without fear. We have  struggles, addictions, pains, regrets and even joy and things we celebrate that no one knows about. If we knew more and understood more and actually let people in a little bit, trust might mean more than something that just gets broken.

There’s not a huge difference between High School students and those of us who are a bit older than them. We are also broken and hurting people in need of a little depth. Hopefully we can experience healing the way I saw our students this past weekend, as a community united with a common purpose that WILL do amazing things for God.

The Best Team Ever

15 01 2011

This past week Jim Harbaugh became the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. I like Harbaugh and I like him even more now that Notre Dame won’t have to face a team he coaches every year. I’m not much of a Niner fan, but living in the bay area he has been the talk of the town. During his press conference Harbaugh explained his game plan for his new team and he said something that really caught my attention.

I have unshakable confidence and great faith in human agency, in human beings, and their desire to want to be part of a team, want to be part of something great, whether it’s building a great cathedral or winning a Lombardi trophy.

I love teams. The 2008 Temecula Valley Golden Bears are one of my favorite teams of all time. I’ve played and coached some incredible teams, some of them championship teams. In 2008 I coached a team that wasn’t exactly a championship team. Actually, we entered our last game with a 0-9 record, but I’ll never forget that game. We were playing a school from a little further north of us and like most of our games it was hard-fought all the way through. Unfortunately, our determination and persistence usually didn’t equate to any sort of closeness on the scoreboard. However, in this particular game we were hanging around. We were actually down 7 with the ball and two minutes left in the game. We drove all the way down the field and scored a touchdown, but the night — or the drive– didn’t end there.

We decided to go for two. My wife was up in the stands pacing like it was her job and I was doing my best Lou Holtz impression, practically picking a crater in the grass with my fingers. As our quarterback received the ball from the center he stumbled, regained his balance, and threw a strike to one of our wide receivers in the middle of the end zone. Some of the stories about football games end with elation and joy as the underdog wins the game. Well, that is exactly how this story ends as well. We won. We celebrated. We laughed. We cried.

As I reflect on what I remember most about that night, it had to be the seniors. They didn’t want to leave. We didn’t have any playoffs to look forward to or championships to win, this was it for them. This would be the last time they could be with THEIR team on this field to a play a game they loved. The players literally sat on the field speechless as they took everything in.

I loved that team. We weren’t good, but I would say we accomplished something great. We were unified, we never quit, and we continued to press on toward our goal. I’ll have to agree with Harbaugh on this one. We definitely want to be a part of a team and we want to be part of something great.

As ministers and leaders, I think it is important for us to create teams that embody some of the qualities I saw in the Golden Bears that night. Unity, persistence, trust, faith, endurance, and love. Anyone who has ever played on a team knows the feeling you get from being part of something special. I mean isn’t incredible when you know your role and know what you add to a team? Isn’t it amazing when you can trust the person next to you and trust they are going to do everything they can to help you win? And don’t you love it when week in and week out each member is practicing and playing their hearts out as they work toward a common goal? We can work to create this type of team. As we put together and lead great teams, not much can get in our way. Even if we aren’t seeing wins the way we want to, greatness can still be on the horizon. Like I learned a couple of years ago, even win-less seasons can end in victory.

Parenting (No we’re not having kids…yet)

7 01 2011

I figured with a title like “Parenting” I would get a lot of questions about our plans to have children. We’re still waiting Mom. The way I look at it I already have 200+ kids and I don’t have to change their diapers.

With that out of the way, it seems like parenting has been a fairly large topic in my life recently. My best friends in San Diego are pregnant, my good friend and mentor just adopted a beautiful girl from Ethiopia, and then there’s my job. If you are in student ministry or have ever worked with students, you know you are working with FAMILIES. Parents look to YOU (mid 20’s with no children) for parenting advice. It feels a little weird but everyone involved knows you actually have something to offer. You are relevant, you understand the culture, and you can even figure out what is going on in the mind of a teenager from time to time. YOUR insight is valuable and parents trust you because you love part of their family.

Students are difficult creatures to work with and parents LIVE with them. I remember hearing my folks remind those around them “there is no handbook for parenting.” I understand that and my heart breaks for parents in difficult situations. In the last two weeks here at Cornerstone, I have heard about a family dealing with suicide, a family finding out about an affair, and many families experiencing broken trust because of decisions made by their son or daughter. Students go through addiction, abuse, messy relationships, ridicule, loss, manipulation, and so much more hurt on a daily basis. As parents discover these pains and burdens they have us to turn to.

My hope and prayer is that those of us that work with students and families will be present and available. I pray we will be wise, humble, and loving as we meet with and care for the people God has put in our lives. I pray we have individuals to confide in who love us and care for us as we minister and lead. And I pray God will flow through us as we counsel and advise in areas we have yet to experience ourselves.

“That’s all parenting is. Pretending you know what you’re talking about and then jamming it down their throats.” -Danny Devito in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”