Serving Millennials on the Journey Toward Significant Life
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The Peripheral Should Be the Priority

My week tends to revolve around two different times: Sunday at 9am and Tuesday at 6am. Sunday at 9am is the culmination of a week of preparation. Tuesday at 6am those preparations start all over again.

The times of studying for a message, practicing music, or coordinating with people involved with something on Sunday quickly rises to the top of the priority list. And then there’s meeting with people, knowing their lives, and prayerfully considering how best to care for and disciple them.

These are the things that make my to-do list each week. These are the things that cause me to wake up at 4am with floating thoughts. These are the things that are the highest priority in my life.

Yesterday I went to the park across the street with my son. Monday is my day off, and my wife is usually busy working, so it’s a fun day of father-son time. Before that we wrestled in the living room for an hour. As much as I enjoy those times I tend to see them as a peripheral—the things I have to do until I can do what I want to do.

time with the boy in the park

Yesterday something landed differently in me. I have a to-do list the length of fiction novel for the week ahead, but I haven’t touched it. Yesterday I focused on the peripheral things, and made them the priority. Because I don’t damage people when I fail to finish my to-do list, but I only get one chance to be a husband, dad, brother, son, and friend to those nearest me.

During the month of October my wife organized a bunch of friends and family members who blessed me on different days. Texts from Seattle, a letter from NYC, lunch with a friend from Portland, dinner delivered to my door. Too bad normal months aren’t like that!

For me it was a startling reminder that the summary of my life in those previous 30 years is not found in any of my accomplishments. I have two degrees. I’ve written a book. I own a house. All these are great accomplishments that I’m proud of, but none of them took time to say, “thank you for being in my life.” I hope that in the next 30 years I have more accomplishments in people than I do in things.

Today is here in front of me now. The to-do list is being punched in the face. But this week I decided not to make it the priority, and I don’t think you should either.

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30 for 30

nebraska fansToday I am officially entering the years of old. 30 years old to be exact. Those of you who are beyond 30 will chuckle, that’s okay. I’m sure I will in another few years. “Oh how young I actually was back then,” I’ll think. As someone who has typically identified himself as a “20-something” today is a day of transition beyond that label.

Don’t blame me if my blog still says I’m 29. I have to hang onto something from the past. Nobody but you all will know the difference.

I’ve taken time in recent weeks to examine my life over the past three decades. Here’s 30 lessons I’ve learned over the past 30 years.

1. Do not take on any debt for school. Instead, pursue higher education degrees, but pay for as you go. It’s worth the sacrifice.

2. Marry someone you can’t not be around. Someday the butterflies won’t be there if you marry for an emotional romance.

3. Read more, watch less. I still say it’s better to watch the movie than read the book, but reading engages the mind much more than a screen.

4. Focus more on formation than grades in school. How are you being shaped as a person? No one ever asks you what your GPA was during a job interview.

5. Always cheer for the underdog.

6. Don’t take your ex-girlfriend to prom.

7. Despite what you believed in middle school, your parents usually know best.

8. Find a few extracurricular activities to get involved with while you are in school. I don’t remember much from classes over a decade ago, but I remember friendships that were deepened and lessons that were learned through after school activities.

9. Don’t underestimate the value of an unpaid internship.

10. Don’t park your car, and then get in the backseat, on a date. You can do the math on that one.

11. Seek out opinions different than yours and learn to value them.

12. Though some personalities are able to develop lots of friendships, it’s very difficult to sustain more than a few over the course of decades.

13. You’re more like your parents than you’re ever comfortable admitting.

14. No amount of money guarantees contentment.

15. Never expect your favorite sports teams to make the playoffs (oh? that’s just a Minnesota sports fan’s issue? I see…).

16. Getting drunk isn’t cool after you turn 21.

17. Debating politics online never ends well.

18. Debating anything online never ends well.

19. Don’t listen to what people say, real friendships can happen online.

20. But don’t rely on Facebook to stay connected to your friends. Real friends sacrifice time and energy for each other.

21. Between the ages 20 and 29 staying up until 1am will become less and less appealing.

22. First impressions are of utmost importance.

23. You will always have someone who sees your actions in a negative light. Don’t listen to them.

24. Your 20s are an opportunity to take chances and make mistakes without people questioning you. Once you hit 30 people think, “he/she should know better.” So take some risks in your 20s. Some of them will pay off.

25. No one ever says they took too long to get married. Don’t rush a relationship to take it to the altar.

26. Learn to give a firm handshake, while looking the person in the eye, while saying “nice to meet you.”

27. (I’ve learned this the hard way) No one cares if you think highly of yourself, they care if you think highly of them.

28. Honest, face to face conversations are some of the most rare and most important things in life.

29. Loyalty is key to your legacy.

30. Not everything you read on the internet is true (but this is) :)

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Millennials and Their Lack of Commitment: 3 Quick Steps to Prioritize Your Life

dinner mealEvery previous generation seems to enjoy pointing out the generalized shortcomings of the millennial generation. We’re narcissistic. We’re lazy. We’re relativistic.

I tend to roll my eyes. Plenty of people want to point a finger, not many want to lend a hand. Of course, the problem with ignoring issues is that it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

My friend JR tweeted this not long ago:

I use this specific example because I’m not badgering any of you. None of you skipped this dinner. But you also can’t skip the fact that this happened and it is representative of a general feeling many have: millennials lack commitment.

As a 20-something for a few more days (oh the horror) it feels a bit like the kettle calling the pot black (or however that saying goes) for me to approach this subject. I’m hoping that a fellow 20-something can speak to this subject better than others.

I don’t share the example of JR’s parents because it’s a unique thing, I share it because I’ve experienced it. “I’m hoping to come,” means no. “I just have so much going on, but I’ll try to make it.” That means no too.

Why is it so hard to commit to things that matter?

My Wavering Compass

The first issue is figuring out what matters, and what deserves your time and energy. I also consistently evaluate the top priorities I have in my life. God, family, vocation, health, community, hobbies, rest. Once I’ve made a priority list I evaluate how I’m allocating my discretionary time.

My wife and I do this with our monthly budget. We list our priorities as a couple and a family, and then figure out how our budget can best reflect those priorities.

Too often I see my discretionary time taken over by Netflix, social networks, football games, or any other mindless activity. Even if I call this a time of rest it does not deserve the bulk of my free time. My priorities mean little if my activity does not reflect them.

So for the past year on nights when I’m home for dinner, after I put our son to sleep, I typically sit down to read for at least 30 minutes instead of immediately turning on the tv or computer. I engage with God while tapping into some vocational values, and often I find myself rejuvenated, which is the whole purpose of rest.

My wavering compass is just an example of something I see in my millennial friends. Your intentions can be pure, but if your follow through doesn’t disperse your time among your top priorities you are failing yourself and others.

You can change this by doing three simple things:

  • Make a list of your priorities in life. See my list above for examples.
  • List all the time slots you have outside of work. Name each time slot with a particular category from your priority list.
  • How are your top priorities reflected in your time? What needs to change?

Let’s be people who are committed to things that matter.

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Too Busy Pointing Fingers

In recent months I’ve found my online status updates slowing to a crawl. I don’t have the energy for it. I use Twitter less (and I love Twitter), I use Facebook less (and still hate it), and I definitely write for this blog less often (I shared about that here).

Finger-PointingWhen I first started this blog, and started joining various social networks, what I loved was the ability to bounce thoughts and ideas off of people who had different thoughts, perceptions, and experiences. I found this community to be warm, forgiving, and nearly always erring on the side of grace. These connections, especially as a guy just starting a pastoral role, were hugely influential and vital for my own spiritual formation.

I often tell people I almost learned as much through my online connections and readings as I did in my seminary degree. I poured myself into it. Traveling all over town to meet with bloggers. Giving up hours and hours to write, read, and engage in comments, not only on this blog, but many others as well.

A year ago I wrote on the subject of feminism, and did so fairly poorly. But according to the metrics it was a success. Thousands of hits. Hundreds of comments. Plenty of conversation on Facebook and Twitter. I started to wonder how I could follow up one controversial writing piece with another.

I followed up the initial post with another that questioned those who disagreed with me. I still believe in church unity and the big picture ideas I presented, but I categorized the subject in a disparaging way. And I paid the price for it. Years of built trust in friendships were wiped away.

People that I connected with on a sometimes daily, but at least a weekly basis, walked away. Preston. Micah. Rachel. Emily. Esther. Suzannah. The list could go on. All people who have differing perspectives than myself on the subject of gender and others as well, but all people I made it a point to listen to and learn from. For the past year I’ve been too busy pointing the finger their direction—”How dare they unfollow me! So much for grace and conversation!”

Throughout the intensity of all this I forgot one key principle that I had tried to keep in mind previously. In the online arena, perception, not intention, is chief. Despite intentions centered on unity and pursuing like-minded community, I actually threatened it under the veil of trench warfare where the biggest gun or the loudest voice in the fight wins.

In online writing there’s a little white lie that is so easy to buy into: If you can create a stir, you can gain a crowd, and if you can gain a crowd, you can win a tribe. Once you win a tribe you are a success. But we rarely consider the trade-0ff, where friendships evaporate as the social shares increase. Because of this online writing has a weekly outrage feel to it. Rip off your scab or point at someone else’s, and people will show up. Until now I saw myself as immune to the little white lie.

11 months removed from this I find myself being quiet. The problem with encouraging people to post online as often as possible is that we slowly misunderstand the power of our words. Words damage. Words give life. But words are never meaningless.

I’m now pointing the finger at myself, because my words were damaging instead of bringing life.

“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

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My Struggle to Develop New Leaders

Servanthood-Jesus

Two years ago I joined the staff of a relatively small church. Having served exclusively in large churches, it was quite a shock to my pastoral system. The biggest shock was the realization that I simply couldn’t do it all. My job description included far more than I could accomplish on my own—and there was no support staff to help with whatever I didn’t get done. It brought me to my knees. “Lord, please bring me people who can lead!” I prayed.

The need for lay leaders came into sharp focus with a married couples group that formed a year ago. The group meets on Sunday morning, and even though it is in my job description to provide oversight and care for the group, I cannot lead it. In fact, I cannot even be part of the group other than briefly stopping by to say good morning. Sunday mornings I am tied to the church sanctuary where I am either leading worship or preaching.

As I created a mental list of people I could ask to lead this group of married couples, I had a troubling realization: all of the godly, mature leaders in our church were already overextended. They simply didn’t have time to do more. How could I find and develop new leaders who could shepherd ministries on their own?

As I hunted for people to lead the group, my mindset about leadership was shifting. As a rookie pastor, I had expected people to step into leadership on their own. After all, if someone is truly a leader, they will prove it, right? I’d also seen lay leaders as my personal support. They were there to help extend my reach. Now I was starting to question that view. In fact, I had it exactly backwards: my position existed to serve others. As Andy Crouch puts it in Playing God, “Power is not the opposite of servanthood. Rather, servanthood, ensuring the flourishing of others, is the very purpose of power.”

I was also realizing that not every leadership role had to be filled by one person. After all, my own experience was showing that I couldn’t do everything by myself. How did I expect others to?

*READ the rest of the article over at Leadership Journal*

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The Investigation

investigationDavid ends his well known Psalm 139 with the phrase, “lead me in the way everlasting.” For most Christians this is a prayer they would claim for themselves. Christians desire to follow God’s direction and leading. Rightfully so. God’s way is the right way, so listening and discerning His movement is vital for fulfilling His desire for your life. 

But what gets lost when we throw out this desire as our end goal is the difficult process it takes to get there. Just previous to the “lead me” statement David says, “See if there is any offensive way in me.” As if to give the idea that God must search us before we can fulfill His plan. And this squares well with the previous verse:

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.”

I’m all for listening to God and allowing Him to direct my path, but the whole “search me” piece is a bit invasive for me to get excited about.

In order to allow God to truly lead you in the way everlasting you must first go through an intense investigation of your heart and soul. With an army of God’s soldiers burrowing deep within, the process will be tedious and grievous.

I find it easier to follow a God who pats me on the back rather than a God who wants to invade the depths of my being.

In my studying of the opening chapters of Genesis a theme of suffering and glory is coming through. Genesis 2 is a picture of glory. God and man thriving in the garden of Eden. Genesis 3 is a picture of suffering. Sin. Curses. It’s ugly. Often we want the glory experienced in Genesis 2 without dealing with the suffering of Genesis 3. Daniel Montogomery and Mike Cosper speak to this in their book Faithmapping:

“Crossless Christianity wants the glory without the suffering. It wants access to God (Genesis 2) without acknowledging the ravaging effects of sin in our hearts and in our world (Genesis 3). Jesus calls his followers to deny themselves and take up a cross; a share in the kingdom means a share in suffering (pg. 52).”

The same theme is at play in our lives. We want to follow in the way everlasting, but we’d rather not deal with the difficulty of allowing God to search us and know us.

Prayer: Father God, search me and know me. Help me to grant you access into the depths of my being, allowing you to shape and form me more fully into your likeness. Amen.

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