Why We Do What We Do

6 01 2012

One of our High School students recently showed me the essay he wrote for his college application. I asked him if I could post it on my blog because of how much it encouraged me and the reminder for us “why we do what we do.”

Here it is:

Pepperdine University is a Christian university committed to the highest standards of academic excellence and Christian values, where students are strengthened for lives of purpose, service, and leadership. How are you prepared to contribute to Pepperdine’s mission and community of faith, learning, and service?

“What? Why?” my mother said. Her question was not rhetorical. I had just announced my plans to go Haiti. I hadn’t even approached my father yet. Telling them why I wanted to go, I heard myself professing faith.

Although raised in a Catholic family, I was not actively involved in the church until I began attending a Christian church with my best friend. I was 15 and attending church with my friend was more an act of fun than act of faith. Before I even realized it, I was embedded in the system, frequently attending trips, activities and retreats with the youth group. I hadn’t recognized the progression in how or why I was choosing church events over other activities. Over time, I was choosing events with less rock walls and sports courts and more food banks and shelters. Service had become a part of my personal pursuits and I had not recognized the changes in how I felt or acted toward others.

On one retreat at Hume Lake I was up late staring at the sky waiting for my personal burning bush. I acknowledged in the night’s quiet, there would be no sign. I realized that an emptiness I had never named, was now a presence. That was the relationship with Christ people spoke of, the feeling within. I said to myself in that moment, I am a Christian, now what? I began wondering about values and commitment. I knew that I needed to discover more, and try to live life for the man that died on the cross for me. So, I brought my church to school where I founded a faith leadership chapter at my public school focusing on service and leadership and continued to attend church and youth group service activities.  The Haiti project was soon realized and I worked to raise money for a building project and service trip.

Once in Haiti I wasn’t off to a great start. I wasn’t taking things seriously, was obnoxious and had accidentally broken the only Haitian toilet leaving everyone without a restroom for two days. The Pastor sat me down for some re-direction. I questioned him, “What is the big deal? I didn’t do anything.” As if that wasn’t making his point for him? That was a long night in one of the poorest countries in the world, realizing that it is ridiculously easy to be ridiculous. It is so easy to get caught up in your own reality, to be afraid and dismissive instead of kind and curious. As Charles Hall, Dean of Seaver College wrote in an article in Pepperdine magazine (2011, Vol 3, Issue 3 p.5), “what people do most when they are confronted with difference- they stay with each other”…you could live a whole year in another country without knowing anything about people outside your own group”.  Faith shouldn’t be insular or afraid. Service is an act of faith, it has heart. Faith is an act of love, it has arms.  Leadership is loving with that heart and helping with those hands.


I don’t like mom all the time…

17 05 2011

Here is a staff email I shared with my team this week:

Hey team,

I’m sure you’ve seen this video but if you haven’t watch it again real quick:

As I watched this a few things came to my mind:

1. Kids are hilarious. Enough said.

2. Sometimes I feel this way about our students. Not that is has anything to do with cookies (I mean that helps), but there are times where I definitely LOVE our students but don’t like them. I mean there are times where they bring my joy and laughter and I’m so proud of them, but they can be frustrating, irritating, and annoying. In the midst of all that, if I ever feel like I don’t LOVE our students I will step down from any sort of paid ministry position. I don’t care where I’m at in life and where I’m at in the church, if I don’t love students I know I will be living outside of what God has called me to as His follower. This generation is the next generation of the church and we should always be caring for them. I hope you continue to love our students. Your presence, your commitment, and your care has shown them that you do. Keep moving forward with them even during those “I don’t like you” times.

3. I know our students feel this way about God sometimes. Some of our students think God is just there to give them a cookie. They love Him and they are thankful for Him, but they are young and don’t have a full grasp on who God is or know how we respond to our Father. I hope we are communicating a God of love, sacrifice, presence, wisdom, power, Knowledge, grace, abundance, etc. that is worthy of our praise and worship. Not a God who is there to give us a cookie when we want it.

4. I hope there are times you feel this way about me. Again, probably doesn’t have too much to do with the cookie. I hope you feel the freedom to disagree with me, but I also hope you trust me through the process. I want to do everything I can to earn your trust and if you don’t agree with me on certain things, I’m totally ok with that and we can talk through those things. But I hope you trust that I am trying to make the right decisions for the ministry and our students. I hope you know that I care about you and love you enough to be open to conversations that involve healthy conflict or disagreement. I want us to be a team that relies on one another and has the freedom to be in healthy dialogue with one another. We are different and we each have strengths we bring to this team. Let’s make sure we get all those strengths working together to make the best HSM possible.

We are already doing a good job you guys. God is working and moving in this ministry. Let’s continue to grow together while we invest in our students and care for this ministry and church. I love you and am blessed to serve with you.


I’ve FAILED as a youth pastor…

22 04 2011

… if I put the ministry ahead of my relationship with God.

… if I put the ministry ahead of my relationship with my wife and family.

… if don’t invest in meaningful friendships outside of youth ministry and/or the church.

… if I don’t continually work to grow closer to my Creator.

… if I allow my identity to be found in my work.

… if I allow the numbers to discourage me OR make me feel good about myself.

… if I become jaded towards the church because of envy or pride.

… if I allow people’s view of me get in the way of God’s view of me.

… if I allow how the church/leadership values me to define my worth.

… if I am not a disciple AND a disciple maker.

… if I constantly look beyond student ministry towards “the next big thing.”

… if students feel like a number and not an individual.

… if the work I’m doing “for” God doesn’t align with God’s desire for me or the ministry.

I’m sure there are others we need to be aware of as pastors/leaders/volunteers. Any others that come to mind?

iPhone Present

11 02 2011

For the past year and a half I have had the pleasure of owning an iPhone 3G S while my wife carried around a Nokia Brick. Ok, her phone wasn’t that old but it definitely had it’s moments. The little ball on the front wouldn’t really work, the screen would freeze constantly, and it didn’t really like making phone calls or receiving text messages. It got so bad that I sent an e-mail out to our entire staff and asked if anyone had any old AT&T phones she could use (yeah, we don’t have service either). She had a replacement Blackberry for a while but it didn’t really do the trick.

Well, just this last week while we were visiting friends and family down in San Diego Amanda decided it was her time for an upgrade. That’s right, she bought an iPhone. She knows how competitive I am so she decided to go with the same model I have instead of one upping me. Actually, the 4G cost about $100 more but I like to think I was the focus of all her thoughts during this particular purchase.

We had planned to spend some time with her family before we left and as were sitting there talking I noticed something. Amanda was really quiet. Now, this comes as no surprise to those of you who know my wife, but she’s usually extremely talkative around her family. Not today. She was so locked in to her phone that she didn’t even know what was going on around her. I guess we could call this “being iPhone present”.

I’ve written before (read it here) about how the faults we see in others are really the faults we see in ourselves, and I’m not saying my wife has any faults (don’t want to come home to that train wreck… “hey honey, i read your blog post today…”), but this was one of the first times I noticed my wife not being fully present with someone as she talked to them. Her intentional presence with people is one of her strongest qualities and it’s something I wish I was better at. I can’t really blame her because come on, she just got a brand new iPhone, but I learned why it bugs her so much when I’m not fully present with her.

I’m horrible at this. I feel like I’m the king of “being iPhone present”. I always have my phone out and have a very difficult time giving others my full attention. When I don’t give people my undivided attention I know I’m communicating a few different things to them:

1) You’re boring. If you can’t hold my interest for a couple minutes then I’m moving on to something else. When I do this I’m showing people how selfish I am.  If you’re guilty of this some people will try and do or say things to gain your acceptance, while others shut down and write you off as a rude person that doesn’t have anything to offer.

2) You’re not as important as whatever is happening on my phone. People matter and ministry flows through relationships. When we invest more time into our phone then the people we are leading, counseling, or investing in then we’ve told them they don’t matter. We might as well put a little note on the back of our phones saying “I don’t care about you.”

3) I’m better than you. Not only are we telling people they’re boring and unimportant, but essentially we are communicating a sense of superiority over them when we don’t listen. I hope I’m not arrogant enough to think that God can not or will not teach something through a conversation with someone else no matter who it is.

Leaders need to be fully present with those they are leading. If we don’t know them how are we going to direct them? I’m sure I’ll get back from a mission trip or something in the near future and be even more disgusted with myself and this struggle, but for now I will work towards being truly present with those I come in contact with throughout my day.

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.

What I learned from “Undercover Boss” and then some…

8 12 2010

A few things I’ve learned/been thinking about lately in regards to leadership…

1) Leaders appreciate those around them.

Ever seen the television show “Undercover Boss”? I started watching this incredible television program during a “dark night of the soul” time in my life and learned an extremely valuable lesson in leadership. PEOPLE WANT TO BE APPRECIATED. There are individuals on different teams that do not get recognized for all the hard work they put in. They aren’t even noticed. When there is someone on your team that is doing a good job, tell them about it. It’s so easy to get caught up in all of the strategy and vision and momentum that leaders look at. Eventually, it causes us to look right past the people that are going to make those things happen. A personalized text message, a specific positive statement about an individual, or a hand written note makes such a difference (believe me, I just tested it out last week).

2) Leaders take risks, but not with their families.

I admire risk takers and I try to be one myself. Risk takers are not afraid of failure and try to do what no one else is doing. They are leaders that do not fear failure, but embrace it because they know it will make them better. As Paul writes to Timothy in 1 Timothy we see a few descriptions of leaders within  the church. One of the most interesting statements is the one made in 1 Timothy 3:4.

Great leaders are not just great leaders within their organization.  Great leaders lead their families well. I’ve been around a few leaders that are risk takers in the work place and risk takers in life (and no, I’m not talking about skydiving or bungee jumping).  These people take risks with the health and stability of their family. Their families take a back seat to work, other relationships, or whatever the new kick is. THIS truly is risky business. If you are taking risks with your family, the failure that will inevitably come from your risk will NOT make you a better person. It will however, lead to destruction, sorrow, and regret.

3) Leaders learn humility.

Leaders are definitely learners and one of the most important characteristics that a leader can learn is humility. Humble leaders are secure in who they are. They don’t need to be validated by those around them because they are too busy leading. To kind of play off the words here, I’ve actually seen young leaders (and at times am guilty of this myself) that are proud and arrogant about what they are learning. People usually don’t care that much about what you are learning. Put it into practice and SHOW your newly found wisdom and insight to the people around you  and observe the fruit that comes from your efforts.

“A man who is eating or lying with his wife or preparing to go to sleep in humility, thankfulness and temperance, is, by Christian standards, in an infinitely higher state than one who is listening to Bach or reading Plato in a state of pride.” -CS Lewis

Faults I see in others…

3 12 2010

“The faults I see in others are really the faults I see in myself.”  I don’t know where I read this recently, but I swear I did. I think it may have been C.S. Lewis writing about Pride. The more I think about what this means though the more I recognize why I tend to clash with certain people. The worst part about it is that I am recognizing it in the people that I lead. I am overly critical about specific things within some of the people around me.

That guy has a pride issue.

She is lazy.

Why can’t he follow through better?

How hard is it for her to say that she’s wrong?

I have the ability to point out there biggest faults and  the things that are preventing them from becoming great leaders.  As I sat and thought through it a little more though I realized that the things that bugged me most about them were the things that were really bugging me about myself. Lets just say Matthew 7: 3-5 applies a bit here. Those planks are a bummer aren’t they? Remember, this doesn’t mean that the speck has been removed from your brother’s eye. No way, it’s still there.  But check that plank before you begin to approach someone (in love of course) about their specks.

So I guess the question I have to reflect on and work through comes directly from this struggle. It’s kind of like looking in the mirror when you see the faults of those around you. They stick out because you recognize them. They are extremely familiar to you. What faults do you see in the person next to you? They are showing us where our struggles are. Let’s pay attention and try to not be so critical especially when it comes to those that we are leading. You could look like a real jerk if you are calling someone out on their pride and YOU are the proudest person in the room.  A little self assessment can go a long way before pointing out the faults in others. After all, it looks like we are just criticizing ourselves.


2 12 2010

I walked into the office this morning and sat down to my normal routine. Read a blog post by another youth pastor or pastor, change the date on my calendar, check twitter, read an excerpt from a CS Lewis book, read a page from The Maxwell Daily Reader, read a Proverb, and then delve into whatever book I’m going through in the Bible. This whole routine takes me about 30 minutes (depending on how many interesting links there are on twitter and where that takes me).

Well today I felt pretty crappy about my routine. I don’t mind the fact that it is a routine and I really don’t feel like it’s something I ever have to do. The reason I felt crappy about my routine this morning is because of the order that I have decided to do it in. I felt like this was an indicator to my priorities. What other pastors are doing and doing well, what is going on in the social world around me, and how I can grow as a leader, have become more important to digging into God’s story.

I was listening to John Ortberg’s Q & A on “Shadow Mission” on the way in and he talked about character a lot. At one point he said that character results in our pursuit of God. I hope that I can shift my thinking and pursue God more than the things that make me better. Ultimately, I want to be a great leader, pastor, whatever, but I have to pursue God and grow through that before I can grow through anything else.