Category Archives: Thought-provoking

Ministry as microcosm or ecosystem?

Today’s tip will challenge your thinking. It came about because of a collaboration call last week between high school staff and college LMDs.

During the call, Josh Chen, who serves both on the City Millennials Team in Portland and as LMD for the Western Washington and Western Oregon Cohort, talked about the difference between ministries as microcosms or ecosystems. I asked him if he would elaborate. Here is what he sent me.

Microcosm or Ecosystem

“One of my frustrations in leading the City team was that I felt like our strategies across the city were disjointed. There was no cohesion between the high school strategy, collegiate strategy, the city strategy, and even beyond that, the other churches and ministries in our area. This type of silo-ing is inefficient, what we need is a bridge that can span all the strategies. So this fall, we rolled out a strategic plan that is designed to help staff and volunteers think of their ministry more like an ecosystem than a microcosm. The ecosystem in our case is Cohort 20. On the city side, we have done quite a bit of research on what it will take for students to live out their faith after college, and that’s our goal isn’t it? To reach and develop students to live a life of faith? What we realized is that some of our collegiate strategies were inadvertently keeping them from thriving after they graduated.

“An example of this is that we teach students to find community, in fact we try to create such a great community, that it attracts other students. Well that type of community requires effort and intentionality, maybe even vision and direction. But what we do is we spoon-feed it to college students. After they graduate, a great majority of them find themselves having a hard time finding community. In essence we’ve taught them to be consumers of community and not contributors. So we need to rethink how we develop our middle school, high school and college ministries to prepare people not to find community, but to be able to create spaces of belonging wherever they go. Along those lines, we train students how to reach other students, yet most of our strategies will never be utilized in a work place environment. Even our best leaders in our movement won’t pull out a KGP or Soularium as they are talking to coworkers or neighbors. We need to train students on what it means to be gospel fluent rather than reliant on tools.

“So as an ecosystem, we need to have the end in mind as we develop our win/build/send strategies, ones that will translate into the next season of life. We also need to see what comes before our microcosm and what comes after our microcosm. I asked one of our metro team leaders from the collegiate ministry who their best student leaders were. His response? A handful of high school students in the running start program at a community college. They were faithful, available and teachable. I asked him, why not focus a chunk of their teams time reaching high schools, develop them as leaders, so when they hit college, they’ll be ready to multiply? He thought it was a great idea. But how does a small team that is already struggling to reach scope add more to their plate? They’d need to cultivate the ecosystem. There are volunteers that could come out of our millennial focused ministry and the collegiate ministry that may have a heart to reach college students. So spend 15% of your time raising up these volunteers, and going with them to high schools to get them going and coach them the same way you would coach a circle movement. On the other side, you would have to spend some time (minimal) making sure your college seniors are going to be transitioning well into the work place. Because if they are struggling to keep their head above the water like many of them are, they won’t be thinking about how to be a contributor, they will be trying to get their own needs met.

“So we are trying to develop a curriculum that students would go through in their last semester or quarter that will continue into the first 6 months of whichever city they go to. This is where we have to start thinking of geographic ecosystem. We currently have 5 teams in the Pacific Northwest. My guess is that a majority of our graduating students will stay in the PNW, but many of them will move cities. This is where the larger the ecosystem, the higher percentage we can send well. In the city they move to, they can form a launching community with others that have moved into the city (or already live there). They can meet once a week to go through the curriculum, check out the city together, check out churches together, and encourage each other to be on mission. If there are City staff in those cities, they can help facilitate this group and orienting them to the city, if not, Campus staff can spend some time facilitating.

“In order to create capacity to spend 15% of your time with high school, and another say 5% of your time with grads, we need to become excellent at student-led movements. I think what we will find as we look beyond our scope, is that our ministries will slow down in the short run, but in 3-5 years, they will grow tremendously. But it’s hard to think about long-term gains, unless you own a larger scope than just your microcosm. Which is why with the shift in our organization towards cohorts, we become a team of teams reaching a larger area. So knowing that as we raise up high school leaders, each team will be invested in making sure that high school leader goes to college and becomes a multiplier there. If there is not a movement, maybe the sending team works with the receiving team to launch a movement.

“Initially, I want to test out the ecosystem theory in the Northwest, but I’m hoping if it goes well, that it will become more of a national strategy, because, like I said, the larger the ecosystem, the less people will fall through the cracks…”


Lots to think about!

Have a great week launching and building new movements.

Previous Coaching Tips


Focusing on the Influencers

It’s the beginning of a new year and we are all seeking to meet and connect with as many new students as possible. But in our busyness with freshman week activities and following up as many as we can, we can easily overlook the real influencers on campus.

Steve Shadrach, Executive Director, Center for Mission Mobilization, in his ebook, Heart of the Campus: Ministry principles and strategies for focusing on student leaders, suggests that reaching leaders will actually help us have a greater impact on the campus, something we all long for. The Kindle version is available for free with a subscription to Campus Ministry Today.

Shadrach says the campus has three types of students, the influencers (about 10%), the interested (about 60%), and the isolated (about 30%). I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the each context on campus has those same three groups.

His point is that the campus ministry efforts of most organizations are directed toward the interested, while we often ignore the “heart of the campus”, the influencers. He offers 10 movement principles (pp. 13-20) in this brief booklet. I’ve listed each along with a brief excerpt for explanation.

  1. How we view ourselves dramatically impacts how others view us. “For good or for bad, the way each spy viewed himself [in Numbers 13] determined how the giants viewed them.”
  2. The mature can relate to a broader spectrum of people. “It takes a lot of maturity and confidence to believe you can relate to…any person regardless of [their spiritual, social, economic status.]”
  3. Jesus said to focus on shepherds more than the sheep. “The cry of [Jesus’] heart was for more laborers (Matthew 9:36-39). Not more followers, but more leaders; people who could be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. It is not exclusivism or favoritism as to why we select and develop these types of believers.”
  4. Select individuals who can “teach others also”. “In his final letter, Paul instructed his disciple, Timothy,…to significantly narrow down the prospective pool of laborers because they not only had to be faithful, but ‘able to teach others also’ (2 Timothy 2:2).”
  5. The heart of the campus is the most unreached segment. “Many collegiate ministries seem to be targeting the same students and appear to be nibbling around the edges of a campus, focusing on interested or isolated students because it is less threatening, and they are more available.”
  6. If you win the chief, you’ll win the tribe. “Isn’t it obvious that all groups have leaders (whether they are designated or not) and that these individuals have greater influence than the average person in that group?” Many when reached want help reaching their group.
  7. The core of the movement must be made up of influencers. “…at least five to ten students have to be influencers…These “relational networkers” are the magnets who attract other influencers, as well as the interested and isolated students, to the ministry. These key leaders become the glue that causes everyone to stick together and stay a part of the ministry. If the core is primarily interested or isolated students, then a movement will never get off the ground. They will struggle with: 1) relating to each other, 2) being able to initiate personal ministry, 3) attracting others to the movement, and 4) influencing the campus.
  8. Focus on influencers and you’ll indirectly affect more of the interested and isolated. “Jesus loves all students the same and so should we, but how can we impact the greatest number of students?… consider focusing on the influencers; they will draw the others in.”
  9. Vision and boldness is built when you go straight to the heart. “…we are here to win the whole campus to Jesus Christ, and we will not stop until there are key laborers raised up and working within every segment of the campus.”
  10. If you want influential staff, you must focus on influential students. “If your ministry is full of bold visionaries who are not afraid to go straight to the heart of the campus, you will draw stronger leaders to your team. Arliss Dickerson, veteran BCM campus minister…shares, ‘You attract what you are.’”

Shadrach offers perspective on selecting students from Mike Hearon, Director of Campus Outreach in Augusta, Georgia. “He wants to reach as many students as possible on campus and believes that focusing on the influencers is the key: ‘We must see our apostolic calling and realize more people can be reached by investing in those who will be able to teach others also.’”

Regardless of your ministry emphasis, I think you will find Heart of the Campus thought provoking and immediately practical. It is a quick read; one you can finish in an hour. But as you think about reaching your campuses this year, why not consider the influencers on your campus?

Related to this topic.

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 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, 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, 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