Category Archives: Trusting God

Andy Stanley’s Looking for the Uniquely Better

Welcome to another year of Coaching Tips. While this is a transition year for those of us in the US campus ministry, may we see God work in new and unexpected ways.

Last week, one of the teams I’m on attended Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit. We found that many of the talks applied directly to our situation. I personally walked away with enough fodder for months of coaching tips.

Andy Stanley, pastor and founder of North Point Ministries in Atlanta, mentioned that some time ago, their organization had done some analysis of their success in ministry over the last 20 years. He included the five things that they would do all over again in two podcasts entitled “Lessons from the First 20 Years.” They are, in no particular order,

  • Have a uniquely better product.
  • Maintain a culture of continual improvement.
  • Power of a clear vision and mission.
  • The value of a learning organization.
  • The people we chose is more important than the system we use.

It’s that first one on being “uniquely better” that Stanley unpacked for us Thursday. I want to pass on his most salient points and then share some of my own takeaways as we begin a new year in a new leadership environment.

North Point sought to create an engaging church experience for the family and especially for men. Today, lots of churches are doing the very things they did “uniquely better” than others when they grew so quickly. But, while it is virtually impossible today to discover that which is uniquely better, someone, somewhere is messing with the rules of the prevailing models.

Will we recognize the uniquely better ideas when they surface? Our best hope is to create organizational structures that recognize the better when surfaced. Stanley listed four ways to create a culture that recognizes the better.

1. Be a student, not a critic. Don’t criticize that which we don’t understand or can control. The moment we start criticizing, we stop learning and stop seeing the next. The next generation idea almost never comes from the previous generation.

2. Keep eyes and mind wide open. Listen to outsiders. Listen to those who don’t know what we do or how we do it. Outsiders are not bound by our assumptions. We go with “That won’t work.” because of our assumptions. Close-minded leaders close minds. If you shut eyes and minds you will shut those of others. If they have ideas they won’t bring them to us.

Some questions he asked us to consider:

  • How do we respond to staff who make suggestions based on what they observe in other organizations?
  • Can we shut down the thing inside that wants to shut down the ideas?
  • When was the last time we ran with an idea that wasn’t my idea?
  • Am I curious about what I don’t know?

3. Replace “How?” with “Wow!” Ideas die with “How?” How much does it cost to just say “Wow!”? “Wow!” ideas to life, don’t “How?” them to death. Nothing is gained when we don’t know what young leaders are dreaming about.

4. Recognize rather than resist. If we are pursuing the uniquely better, we will be pre-disposed to see it. Ask if it is unique and better.

In reflecting about this afterward, I realized that some of this is counter-intuitive to the way I think. As an ISTJ, with strengths of analytical and deliberative, I focus on the “how” and am reticent to “wow”. I do seek to position the next generation of leader, and I don’t need to be the one who comes up with the new ideas. Our team has a habit of reading a book each semester giving us new insight and different assumptions.

And while I love to read, I am quick to run ideas through my own grid. I think that is typical of many Cru staff. We are good at our ministry. But we forget that past success is no indication of future success.

In this season of our ministry may we have open minds, open hearts, and open hands to receive from the Lord what He would do in and through us.

Acclimatization.

I passed a car today with a bumper stick that read, “It’s not all so ‘bumper sticker slogan’ simple.”

That’s true in politics, business, the Christian life, and, even re-organizational design.

I’m reading the book “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, detailing the 1996 expedition to the summit of Mt. Everest and the tragedy on the descent.

The month-long process of “acclimatization”, adjusting physiologically to the rarified atmosphere of high altitudes, was far from a straight line up the summit.

Krakauer was asked by the editor of Outside magazine to join an expedition to Mt. Everest, elevation 29,028 feet, and then to write an article about its commercialization. Having never ascended above 17,200 feet, he spent a year in preparation before joining the team in India in late March 1996 who would then take him to the summit.

They arrived at the 17,600 foot high Base Camp on April 12. At that altitude, the oxygen level is 50% of that at sea level. At the summit, it decreases to 1/3 of that at sea level. While the human body will adjust, it can take weeks to acclimatize. To do so they would need to reach various camps spaced about 2000 feet vertically up the mountain.

Krakauer’s expedition ascended and descended to these camps with varying rates and duration:

  • Base Camp to Camp 1, and then back to Base Camp.
  • Base Camp to Camps 1 and 2, then back to 1 and Base Camp.
  • Base Camp to Camps 1, 2, and 3, then back to 2, 1, and Base.

After a series of attempts and days of rest and recovery from different altitude complications, Krakauer reached the summit on May 10, more than a month after arriving at the Base Camp. He only remained at the top of the world for 5 minutes; hardly time to bask in his achievement.

In Romans 8:12-17, the Apostle Paul says, “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” NIV

Different tenses indicate past facts, present realities, and future outcomes in that passage. Past events such as Christ’s work on our behalf and our response of faith, make a difference in how we live today. And these present realities in our life of faith determine a future character and destiny. They are interconnected.

While time is linear, our walk of faith is not. We take steps forward and back, forward again two steps, then back. Sometimes we experience great strides, but other times it’s really tough slogging. There are moments of clarity, as well as dark perplexity. And we pray for times of rest and recovery along the way. But in all of that, growth is happening, “acclimatization”, if you will, is taking place, and Jesus is becoming both the object of our affection and our source of satisfaction if we take His yoke upon us.

There is joy in the journey. Do we believe that? What we are experiencing in our ministry today has required our own spiritual acclimatization. Only as we submit to His lordship and “keep seeking the things above” (Colossians 3:1) are we able to take higher ground.

And finally, from “The Valley of Vision”, a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions, the one entitled “Openness” reads,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016

 

Off and Running in the Fall.

Most of these tips over the last several weeks have been about ending the Spring semester well, wrapping up the year, preparing for summer ministry, and getting set to hit the ground running in the fall.

Today’s tip is typically my last one of the year. But after a two week break, I will do a summer series on some of the habits of leaders.

Today’s focus is on the importance of a strong start in August, planning ahead, being intentional about our efforts, and maximizing the single most critical week of the campus year. Not everything applies in our missional context, but this article speaks to the urgency of the first week on campus and the reality of how quickly a student determines allegiances on campus.

“Every group I’ve studied has followed roughly the same pattern.  In fact, with only two exceptions, I have never seen a campus ministry grow after the first month of the year.”

Off And Running by Mike Woodruff

Three weeks into the Fall quarter finds most students in a rut.  They’ve picked their classes, joined their clubs and scheduled every waking minute between now and Thanksgiving.  Some have carved out time for “significant others,” most will have set aside entire weekends for football, pizza and parties, and a few will even have blocked out an hour or two for class.  But by the end of the first month it’s all in stone.  And if attending your large group meeting isn’t in their schedule by then, there is little hope it will be there come May.

During my 8 years with a church-based campus ministry in Washington State, I watched student involvement at our large group meetings climb from 150 to 700.  With the exception of one small hiccup up, all of that growth occurred in the Fall.  If we ended Spring quarter with 200 students, we started back in September with 350.  That May we’d be down around 300-far from growing, every group seems to lose numbers over the year-but by the next Fall we started with 450.  We grew by starting strong.  Every other group I’ve studied has followed roughly the same pattern.  In fact, with only two exceptions, I have never seen a campus ministry grow after the first month of the year.  And that means that if you’re serious about expanding your influence you need to begin with a shout.  If ever there was a time for a home run, it’s the first meeting of the Fall quarter.

Be Ready: Of course, starting strong is hard to do because first meetings are full of early season mistakes. The worship team is rusty, the microphones are lost and no one can find a three-prong adaptor to plug in the overhead.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Use the summer to jump start the Fall.  Put summer students to work preparing publicity and drama.  Work on your first message during June and July so it’s one of the strongest you give.  Ask the worship team to come back to campus a few days early for a planning and preparation retreat.  Or hire the worship band from a local church to help you begin with a bang.  Hold a dress rehearsal the night before.  Make it a party and buy pizza for the whole team.

Additionally, apply the popular business philosophy of continuous improvement. Keep a separate file folder just for the events that occur during the first few weeks of the Fall quarter, and as those events unfold critique them.  What could we do next year?  How could we have reached out more effectively to freshman?  Should we have started the meeting earlier? Later? Gone shorter? Longer? By continually updating this file-technically called an After Action Report-you can insure that your kick-offs get better and better.

Be Visible:  If you normally meet in a church or a room that is the least bit hard to find move your first meeting.  We picked one of the most visible buildings in the middle of campus even though that meant competing with a back-to-school kick off dance right outside the door. If your school has an activity fair where you can advertise, set up the best booth and offer the most free food. I’d suggest spending up to seventy-five percent of your advertising budget for the entire year on your first couple of meetings-and be creative.  Anybody can do posters.  Try banners, balloons, sandwich boards, flyers, blackboard blitzes and, of course, personal invitations. We sent out letters to all returning students welcoming them back to school and inviting them to our first meeting.  The invitation includes the who, what, where, when, and why of every event we have planned during the first week, and ends with me egging them to invite anyone and everyone they know to our very first meeting.  If they will send me the name of someone they’d like invited, I’ll send them a letter or give them a call.  We also make a special effort to reach freshman by handing out lots of flyers around the freshman dorms and in their registration lines. I know several Christian groups whose members come back to campus early just so they can help freshman move into the dorms.  They find that by being one of the first friendly faces a freshman meets it’s easy to form friendships that might later lead to a chance to share the Gospel or invite someone to a meeting.

The Sardine Effect:  During the 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy’s advance man picked small high school gymnasiums for their political rallies.  He didn’t want the nicest auditorium to meet in; he wanted a place they could pack.  We’ve done the same. In fact, the room we now use seats 150 fewer students than we expect.  The fire marshal hates us, but the energy we create is incredible.

Pray, pray and pray:  But not right before the meeting.  The last place you want your leaders just before the start of the first meeting is locked up in a room with you.  They should be out inviting friends, greeting early arrivals or picking up newcomers who need a ride.  Hold your prayer meeting earlier in the week or earlier in the day. That frees everyone up to deal with last minute headaches and mingle with people.

Force Fellowship:  Helping freshmen feel welcome is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face; especially since upper-class students all gravitate to friends they haven’t seen in three months.  Place greeters at the door, plead with your Bible study leaders to befriend lost freshmen and end the meeting by asking people to find two people they don’t know and introduce themselves. I also explained that everyone-including our staff-feels like everybody here knows everybody else-except them.  The bigger the group the more of an issue this becomes and the more proactively you need to deal with it.

The Meeting:  First meetings are not for regular attendees.  Serve food, skip inside jokes, explain all terms, don’t sing any songs that you do not have the words for and otherwise bend over backwards to make visitors feel welcome.  Screen all announcements and any drama to be certain they are done well.  Seekers and nominal Christians are more likely to check you out at the beginning of the year-actually, most everyone is there to check out the opposite sex.  This is a point I make during the beginning of my talk because it’s guaranteed to prompt lots of nervous laughter-so adjust worship and your first message. Be light. Be user friendly. Be funny. Be short. Your goal is to get them to sign up for a Bible study and come back next week, not explain the finer points of the hypostatic union.

“… the first 168 hours after a student sets foot on campus represents the most strategic time for them to get plugged into your fellowship.”

Follow Up:  Life long friendships are often formed in the first few days of college, so cram as many opportunities for bonding into that week as you can.  We held a picnic the afternoon after our first meeting and sponsored a social event that weekend. Additionally, our staff worked around the clock placing people in small group Bible studies.  Our goal was that everyone who signed up for a study was contacted within twenty-four hours by his or her study leader.  That means at least one all-nighter for our staff, but it was worth it.  We wanted Bible Study leaders to be able to spend time with the members of their study during the first week.  They could meet with them at the weekend social, walk with them to church that first Sunday and sit with them at the next large group meeting.

Was all of this work easy?  Not hardly.  Trying to jump-start a college ministry is a lot like trying to kick start an aircraft carrier.  At least two or three people will nearly die of exhaustion.  But someone has to do it and without question the first 168 hours after a student sets foot on campus represent the most strategic time for them to get plugged into your fellowship.  Plan now to begin with a bang.

Have a great week summer.

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016

Summer Survival.

One of the many priorities we have in campus ministry at this time of year is preparing students for the summer.

“Let’s face it. Summers can pose a major challenge to our faith and obedience to Christ.

So begins the first article in the Summer Survival Guide.

Summers can be:

  • a very spiritually isolating time because you are away from the environment and friends that have helped you grow spiritually this past school year.
  • or a great experience as you see your faith tested and increased and take some key steps on your own (1 Peter 1:17)

What makes the difference? The decisions you and your students make now can put them in a position of advantage and strength going into the summer. “As a Christian, we can embrace challenges the summer brings because we recognize the opportunity to trust God in new ways and see our faith grow in ways that we would have never seen otherwise.”

The Summer Survival Guide provides perspective and resources to help make the difference. The introductory article of the survival kit tells about three essentials with practical helps and further resources:

  • self-discipline
  • the right fellowship
  • daily time with God and His Word

Personal growth happens when there is the right combination of personal desire and conducive environment. Both are needed. Many of our students will be going back into less than ideal environments. Let’s do the best job we can to prepare all of our students to grow in Christ this summer.

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016

Celebrate!

How are you at juggling? Ministry during April requires a fair amount of juggling. You are trying to end the semester well. You are thinking about the summer. And you are already planning for next year.

Last year’s list might be helpful as you keep all those balls in the air.

One important aspect of ending the year well is celebrating what God has done. Jeff Grant, partnership specialist on our Student LINC team, recently shared some thoughts along these lines with me.

“The Bible says a lot about celebration, God even commands us to remember the good things in our life by throwing parties! In my own strategic, always-looking-forward mind, I often forget to stop and make a big deal about people and what they and God have accomplished. Let’s spend less time reaching for the next thing (which only God can accomplish anyway) and more time rejoicing in the people and blessings God has already given us!”

Jeff also shared an interesting article from Entrepreneur, “4 Ways Innovative Companies are Celebrating Their Employees.” and a video by Rend Collective telling the story behind their “The Art of Celebration.”

There are lots of ways to celebrate. Jason Skjervem, MTL, Northern North Dakota, offers a “toast to Jesus”.

And here is one we used when we were on campus. Okay, now, at the risk of showing my age, and before you read on, now might be a great time to cue up “Celebrate,” by Three Dog Night.

We would bring a bucket of stones from our backyard to the last meeting of the year and build a monument to what God did in our ministry that year. We started by reading Joshua 4 and talked about how the rock pile served as a visual reminder of what God had done for the Israelites. Similarly, this would be a mental monument to God’s working in our lives. After students put a stone on the pile and share what God had done in their lives and ministry, we took time at the end to thank God for what He had done.

Such times of celebration are so encouraging and lifts our eyes to what God might do next year.

“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:15 NIV

Now that’s worth celebrating!

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016

“Better than my dreams.”

Last week I mentioned that this is the time of the semester when I typically map out the rest of the year. I chose, instead, to focus on prayer and putting ourselves in a posture of receiving direction from the Lord, not just projection planning based on what we’ve done before.

Again, last year, this particular tip looked like this.

It seems appropriate to keep asking what the Lord would do. But this week, consider the dreams He is giving you.

  • What could you imagine the Lord doing if He had free reign?
  • What Scriptures are you praying about for your campuses?
  • What would your campuses look like if your dreams became a reality? (i.e., the spiritual responsiveness of non-believers, the spiritual walk of believers, the spiritual tone on campus, the character, vision, and biblical convictions of Christian students, etc.)?
  • What is the Lord showing you concerning the kind of person you’ll become in order to see your dreams fulfilled?
  • What could you imagine regarding the spiritual health and training of your student leaders and volunteers?
  • Since small plans don’t inflame the minds of men, what faith stretching events might you do in the next two to four years to fulfill your vision?
  • In light of the vision God has given you for the next two to four years, what is He showing you to do or become this year?

(These questions were adapted from “Cultivating a Vision for my Campus.”)

There’s a line in the book (not the TV series), The Virginian, by Owen Wister. It’s at the end, and I won’t spoil it for you by telling the circumstances. The Virginian repeatedly says, “Better than my dreams.” And finally he says, “And my dreams were pretty good.” What are we dreaming that only God can accomplish?

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016

First, prayer.

This is the time of the semester when I typically map out the rest of the year. It’s a busy time, giving thought to ending the year well, preparing for summer, and planning out the beginning of the next fall.

Last year, this particular tip looked like this.

But I thought it might actually be good for this focus to be on prayer. That will set us up better as we lead out of this year into next.

Actually, it was my wife, Chris, who said, we can do the same things we have always done In planning and preparing for the summer and the fall. But where is the faith in that? Are we planning by experience, and then, logically, by projection? “We did thus and so…and so with what we have, we should be able to do such and such.”

No one is going to argue that we shouldn’t pray. Prayer surfaces leaders. Prayer causes growth. Prayer brings us in tune with the heart of God. Prayer opens doors. Etc., etc.

But, while we should plan ahead and do our preparation, let’s consider how we can put ourselves in a posture of receiving from the Lord as we look ahead.

You might possibly have a significant season of prayer and then come up with the same things you have always done. But isn’t it good to know that it was the Lord leading you in that?

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016