Category Archives: Thought-provoking

The mindset of Generation Z.

File this one away for when you give specific thought to the mindset of the students you’re reaching.  It’s Lit: a guide to what teens think is cool is being passed around in some of our circles. It’s a Google magazine highlighting proprietary research into the mindset of Generation Z by the Brand Team for Consumer Apps at Google.

“It’s Lit” provides a glimpse into US teens through what they think is cool. As the introduction states, “Cool is an indication of what people pay attention to, what gets them excited, and can often act as a manifestation of their hope and dreams.”

While our high school staff might find this particularly pertinent, incoming freshmen on our college campuses are very much a part of Gen Z as well. If this stimulates your thinking, reading the source material also provides further insight.

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016

All good things start (again) with Jesus.

I was given True North: Christ, the Gospel, and Creation Care by Mark Liederbach and Seth Bible for Christmas. With several friends passionate about creation care and the environment, I dove into it. It has been a very engaging read…but not for the reasons you might think.

The authors set out to show why Christians could actually have a better ethic for calling all of creation back to its original purpose of glorifying God because we ourselves have been brought back into a right relationship with our Creator.

Much of the book establishes that humankind was created to glorify God, has fallen (not just spiritually, but in every way), that Jesus Christ is Lord and Redeemer, and has imparted to us new life and new purposes. It’s good theology.

“In Rom 8:1-17, Paul stresses that through his redeeming and atoning work, Christ broke the power of sin and death. Therefore, for those who are in Christ ‘the era of bondage to sin has ceased’ [from Thomas Schreiner, “Romans”, 430]. In addition, Paul tells us that those who are redeemed by Christ also receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, who indwells them and gives them life and strength (Rom 8:9,13). It is through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that believers are no longer bound to follow after the sin nature they inherited from Adam. Instead…they are also free from the domination of inherent sinful life patterns and choices. Indeed, Rom 8:15 tells us that because of the work of Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit bears witness to us that we are now “adopted” as sons of God into the lineage of Christ, the Second Adam. All these truths… establish the baseline by which believers can now be restored into the intended purpose for which they were created…[In] and through these redeemed image bearers, the rest of creation can be called back to its created purpose and be rightly ordered or “reconciled” to God (Col 1:20).” Pp. 100-103.

While Liederbach and Bible are making a case for creation care, these truths easily extend to

  • redeeming our relationships in every sphere (in our family, with our neighbors and co-workers, and even those with whom we disagree),
  • social justice,
  • care for the unborn and those who unable to care for themselves,
  • the creative arts,
  • our political involvement, etc.

“Put another way, human beings are most fully human when they are both rightly aligned with the reason for which they were created and when they are rightly fulfilling the task for which they have been created…when they personally glorify God and seek to have the entire created order give maximum praise and honor to God.” P. 104.

In the main, the authors are calling us to evangelism and discipleship. “As God gave a great commission in Gen 1:28 to fill the earth with image bearers and subdue and rule the earth in such a way that it would bring maximum glory to him, so also does he now give a great commission to all believers to ‘Go’ and ‘make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit’ (Matt 28:18-20). The task is the same: fill the earth with worshippers who will maximize the glory of God in their environment—all the earth!” P. 104.

You will encounter students as you minister who are passionate about a great many things. That passion will only find it’s proper focus when oriented toward Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

In this new year, I want to help us all “fill the earth with ‘image bearers’ ”. I hope to pass along tips that will make ministry easier, extend our reach, and as a result engage more students and faculty. Look for one next week about involving a whole staff team in launching a new campus ministry.

Fall 2016 Coaching Tips

Outreach in real and online contexts.

Do you…

  • Look for ways to connect virtually with non-believers? Or with your disciples?
  • Utilize social media for evangelism and discipleship?
  • Use EveryStudent.com as a significant outreach strategy?

If you said maybe or no to any of these questions, you must read Boys Online, a recent article in the National Post with interviews by Ben Kaplan. The article begins by saying,

“Teenagers in 2016 live two lives. There’s physical life — school, sports, exams, dating, jobs. And there’s digital life — Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, Tinder. Most days, it’s difficult to say which consumes more of their attention, and which shapes more of their future.

“There is plenty of handwringing hype about the impact of social media and technology on the lives of teenagers, much of it focused on bullying and the exploitation of girls. On the heels of American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers (Nancy Jo Sales) and Girls & Sex (Peggy Orenstein), we wanted to explore sex and cyberspace from the less-explored perspective of teenaged boys.

“What followed was a series of frank nationwide conversations that helped us unpack a new, transforming universe with a unique and easily misunderstood language, social pressure and codes.

“From nude pics to Twitter breakups to trying to fit in, these young men talked honestly about grappling with the challenges of our times.

“It was through these conversations that reporter Ben Kaplan embarked on a relationship with Central Toronto Academy, a 100-year-old high school that lost an 18-year-old student last year to gun violence and suffered through a long Facebook-fuelled incident of Islamophobia. As the school comes to grips with how to govern technology, Kaplan has been invited to work with the English and Media Arts department and report — from the inside — on how digital life is affecting Canadian teens.

“This is the start of a year-long conversation that will take us to the front lines of the internal and external lives of teenagers.

“Listen up. Learn.”

The piece goes on with a number of boys sharing their experience with social media. You can read the tension they feel between being one thing online and something else in real life. Their stories are compelling.

The point is this. You work hard everyday to create a different life for the students you talk to. It is real and it makes a difference. We must not think that the only real ministry is face to face. You can also create a different life for students online as well. And just think, if they are taking the time to read an article on EveryStudent.com, they are not feeding their prurient interests.

You can give them something much more life giving than what they are feeding on now. Do you want to know how? Start by downloading Marilyn Adamson’s The Ripple Effect. Take 15 minutes and have a look. Then pick out one or two ideas and try them this week.

Fall 2016 Coaching Tips

Destino Connecting Culture and the Gospel.

You may have seen my recent post, “Did you know…?” Many of our leaders contributed to this list of information and resources.

Many of those contributing sent enough info to make a worthy Coaching Tip. It was a shame to limit them to a sentence or two. Today’s tip is one such case.

Thanks to the Destino distance coaching team of Chelsea Hengeveld, Erin Brasher, and Devin Tressler, I’m passing on some Destino evangelistic materials great for various contexts when engaging evangelistically over culture, race, and ethnicity.

Soularium Culture Questions is one example that helps us enter conversations and bridge to the Gospel that isn’t just for Latinos. Another is an outreach called Colored Chalk.

Destino envisions many of their resources, found at destino.org/resources, helping regardless of whether or not you’re launching Destino.

Finally, this team has developed a basic semester long coaching plan for those beginning Destino movements that may give you ideas for coaching a start up.

Fall Coaching Tips

Summer Tip Series

“Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell.

I have one more book to call attention to in this summer tip series. Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell is a fascinating look at both the intrinsic qualities, as well as the environmental opportunities that set high-achievers apart from the rest.

While Outliers is a story about the best and brightest, it’s really more about the world we live in offering a “patchwork” of breaks, opportunities, and “arbitrary advantages”, and how some better avail themselves of those advantages.

While Gladwell asks if our world could be different from the one we’ve settled for if we understood those arbitrary advantages, I think many of us have become painful aware that there are systemic concerns that mitigate against some being able to accomplish the vision God has given to them.

The first story Gladwell mentions is the Major Junior A hockey league in Canada. “By the time players reach their midteens, the very best of the very best hockey players are channeled into an elite league known as the Major Junior A.” p.16. We might think that it was skill alone that got them there. Gladwell would say, “Not so fast.”

At about eight or nine years of age, when players are getting into the sport, there is a key age cutoff of January 1. Those who are closest to that cutoff have a several month growth advantage over those born later in the year. At that age, those 6-12 months of growth make a huge difference.

What Gladwell noticed was that the majority of the best high school players had birthdays in January and February. What’s more, in other sports and in other countries, elite players had birthdays during the first quarter after the cutoff.

“A boy who turns ten on January 2, then, could be playing alongside someone who doesn’t turn ten until the end of the year—and at that age, in preadolescence, a twelve-month gap in age represents an enormous difference in physical maturity…coaches start to select players for the traveling “rep” squad—the all-star teams—at the age of nine or ten, and of course they are more likely to view as talented the bigger and more coordinated players, who have had the benefit of critical extra months of maturity…He gets better coaching, and his teammates are better, and he plays fifty or seventy-five games a season instead of twenty games a season like those left behind in the “house” league, and he practices twice as much…In the beginning, his advantage isn’t so much that he is inherently better but only that he is a little older. But by the age of thirteen or fourteen, with the benefit of better coaching and all that extra practice under his belt, he really is better…” p.24,25.

Hockey is just a sport after all, but Gladwell observes that the same age advantage shows up in things of more consequence, like education. “The small initial advantage that the child born in the early part of the year…persists. It locks children into patterns of achievement and underachievement, encouragement and discouragement, that stretch on and on for years…” p.28.

For the sake of time, and your continued attention!, I won’t go into his findings from Trends in International Math and Science Study. But they mirror those outlined above. The researchers concluded, “So, early on, if we look at young kids, in kindergarten and first grade, the teachers are confusing maturity with ability. And they put the older kids in the advanced stream, where they learn better skills; and the next year, because they are in the higher groups, they do even better; and the next year, the same thing happens, and they do even better again.” p.29.

(Full disclosure. The cutoff for school for me was February 1, and I was born February 18. I grew up thinking I was just a bit smarter than others in my class. I experienced advantages throughout. When our boys were starting school the cutoff was August 1. We kept each of them out of school for one more year to give them an age advantage on their peers.)

But I explain all of this to set up this question: Are there arbitrary criteria that we have front-loaded into our ministry, that unintentionally determine the trajectory of those who get involved? It might be an interesting exercise for our teams to consider.

I can think of three areas in which this might be the case.

  1. Our language, processes, and environment are friendlier to those in the majority culture and, unfortunately, present challenges for those who are ethnic minority.
  2. Our ministry is effective for the traditional student and for the traditional way we train and develop leaders. But those who are entrepreneurial and enterprising, the pioneer going after new places, and those who look to minister to the marginalized, can feel marginalized themselves.
  3. For 24 years, I have done distance coaching. We absolutely need more high school and college distance coaches. There are far more leaders out there seeking our expertise and encouragement than our ministry is currently servicing. But is there something in our ministry that predetermines satisfaction meeting with a person over a cup of coffee at Starbucks than coaching a leader impacting their campus over Skype, and doing that again in multiple places? Our ministry values both “growing where we are” and “going where we aren’t”. Can we add to the personal satisfaction of impacting a life, the strategic-ness of multiplied touches over a distance?

I hope you’ve enjoyed these synopses of books that aren’t our typical ministry textbooks. I have enjoyed sharing them with you. I will be taking a two-week break before starting another year of Coaching Tips August 8.

Summer Tip Series

Spring Tip Series

“The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell

I read a lot. Mostly history and classic literature. I tend to like variety in the authors I read, but I do have some favorites that I keep going back to—Charles Dickens, Thomas Cahill, and Malcolm Gladwell. Oh, and I do own and have read 37 of the first 50 classic The Hardy Boys detective series! They were my childhood favorite growing up.

But it’s been Malcolm Gladwell who has provided out of the box understanding for ministry. It began with The Tipping Point. Subtitled, “How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”, I found the book so fascinating after taking it out of the library that I asked for and received it as a gift from my wife, Chris.

Gladwell examines “social epidemics” and the factors behind them. That is essentially what we are attempting to create on our campuses, spiritual epidemics. Gladwell offers insight for us with limited resources seeking to make the greatest possible impact. He looks at three factors that push something past the tipping point to an epidemic.

  1. The Law of the Few– People with exceptional abilities critical in spreading an epidemic.
  2. The Stickiness Factor– Ideas must be memorable in order to move others to action.
  3. The Power of Context– The circumstances and conditions of the environment also impact something going to an epidemic.

We normally think about looking for people with gifts of leadership, evangelism, etc. But Gladwell asserts in the chapter on the Law of the Few that there are three types of people instrumental in making a difference.

  1. Connectors– “Those with an extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances.” p. 41.
  2. Mavens– “Information brokers, sharing and trading what they know.” p 69.
  3. Salesmen– Those with the “persuasive personality” type. p. 71.

Some things to think about.

  • How we can enlist those who know lots of people around campus (connectors)?
  • Who do we know with the social skills to pass on what they know about Christ (mavens)?
  • How much of our efforts go into developing those who can persuade others to believe (salesmen).
  • Gladwell says,“Starting epidemics requires concentrating resources on a few key areas.” pp. 255, 6. How do these sociological factors correspond with what we are developing spiritually in those we lead?

The Apostle Paul went to synagogues on his travels, but he also went to the influencers of those cities. The time he spent on Mars Hill in Athens is given considerable attention. “Simply by finding and reaching those few special people who hold so much social power, we can shape the course of social epidemics. In the end, Tipping Points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action.” p. 259.

Ours is a high call. May God give us greater insight into the interpersonal dynamics necessary for reaching our campuses for Christ.

Tips about ending the campus year well.

Upstream/Downstream

You are sharing the Gospel. They give you a response you’ve heard before, but you know they didn’t come up with that. Wouldn’t it have been nice if someone else before hadn’t negatively influenced them?

Dr. Greg Ganssle is a professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and former staff for many years in the NorthEast Region. He talks about a conceptual tool, “Upstream/Downstream”.

He frames it this way. Having grown up near a polluted river, sometimes the pollutants were particularly bad and there would be considerable “fish-kill”. You can do two things. 1. Go downstream to try to save the fish. Or 2. Go upstream to stop what is killing them.

Greg writes:
“Any culture is like a river. Whatever happens upstream has a great effect on what happens downstream. Downstream, we find the individual person and her relation to the Gospel. Upstream, we find all of the things in the academy and culture that affect her responsiveness to the Gospel—all of the things in the environment that make certain things obvious and other things ludicrous.”

This was why Greg got into philosophy. He wondered about the prevailing assumption that moral truth is relative. Students didn’t make it up. They absorbed it from education. But where did this come from? Everything that happens upstream affects the downstream. The ability of a person to hear the Gospel as good news is affected by what happens upstream.

Now, Greg admits this is simplistic. Culture and those who influence it aren’t that linear. But it does help to diagnose what is happening. We look downstream, and consider why is there resistance. We look upstream to see what we might do there to influence those downstream.

When I talked with Greg last week about referencing this work, he also mentioned that “not just our beliefs and assumptions about what is true are affected. What is more important is how what we love or what we want is shaped. This can be a huge issue. Lots of what happens today pushes people away from the Gospel. As Friedrich Nietzsche said in The Gay Science, ‘What is now decisive against Christianity is our taste, no longer our reasons.’ P. 132.”

“But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man [Paul] is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.’ ” Acts 9:15, NIV. “…and their kings”. Perhaps you will have some extended time on location this summer to think and work on projects that you don’t normally have time for during the campus year. Why not make a list of faculty, administrators, grad students, RA’s, Greek presidents, club presidents, and those in student government who impact the river your incoming freshmen will drink from and swim in this fall.

There is an article on Cru.org about Surveys and Questionnaires. If you download the resource, you will find a Student Leadership Questionnaire on page 3 to use with students.

I used this same leadership interview for years with fraternity presidents at the University of Rhode Island. Sometimes those conversations opened doors to speak to pledge classes or to do other events in the houses. This was an example of going upstream to touch someone influencing the responsiveness of our audience downstream.