Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

reflections on a Fire Captain

the best part about being in my thirties is that i’ve realized what i like and what i don’t like. i like ice cream, and popcorn (with extra butter), and lazy friday nights with my husband, and cooking, and reading new books, and of course the beach. i don’t like leftovers, and large parties where shallow conversation happens, and bad websites, and chewed gum, and most of all cold weather.

but more than anything else, i know that i like great leadership – and i absolutely can’t stand a situation where less than great leadership is tolerated and expected.

when my husband and i were living in our first apartment, there was a stretch of time (like many many months) when the building’s fire alarm would go off several times in the middle of the night. it was crazy. every night, beginning at 2 AM, this incredibly loud and obnoxious alarm would shriek in our bedroom and we would see red flashing lights, and we would hear doors slamming as people fled their apartments and children crying as their parents carried them down ten flights of stairs in the middle of the night. it was terrible. and it happened every night, 3-4 times per night, for several months. and the best part was there was never actually a fire. every night the system malfunctioned. i’m grateful there was never a fire that destroyed our home. i’m not grateful that the system was not able to function properly.

well you can imagine what began to happen, people started staying in their apartments when the alarm went off.  they knew it wasn’t a real fire, and they weren’t about to continue sacrificing their full eight hours of sleep for a faulty system. but my husband and i are rule followers so we continued to get out of bed every time the alarm went off – Every Time. and i grew to hate that alarm, but more than my hate for that alarm, i hated that no one was leading, and helping us figure out a solution for this terrible problem.

something needed to be done. we needed a leader. so i appointed myself the official Fire Captain of the 10th floor. a Fire Captain would be responsible for checking on the floor each night,and giving leadership and direction when an actual fire was occurring, helping to implement a strategy when real people were in real danger. it was a fabulous idea! and even though no one besides my husband and our next door neighbor knew that i was the official Fire Captain, i now felt confident that in a crisis situation we had a plan, and that someone would be leading in order to care for everyone on the floor.

because, as you know, that’s what happens when you are both blessed and cursed with the gift of leadership. it’s like you can never quite turn it off, even when you are trying desperately just to get a good’s night sleep, instead you must step in and lead. even if it’s a leadership role as silly as the Fire Captain.

i’m in my thirties now which means it’s finally time to be me. to be the leader i was designed to be. and so today, i’m embracing the Fire Captain inside of me. the leader who loves to solve problems, and build teams, and encourage innovative thinking. and today, i vow to celebrate extraordinary leadership and decidedly not tolerate poor leadership.

be blessed, be encouraged, and be reminded: it’s time to be you.


#16: build a better (fall) meeting

happy monday! i apologize for the lack of posts this past week, i thought it would be an easier transition back to work from vacation – but i was wrong. it was a crazy, chaotic, busy week, that lacked any sense of normalcy or routine. but, now that i’ve had a week to collect my thoughts, unpack my suitcase, and reacquaint myself with my office i’m ready to jump back into work full force!

and so, just like that fall is upon us!  summer vacations behind us, it’s time to embrace fall and launch a brand new ministry season.

today’sbuild a better meeting is all about the fall volunteer meeting. i always love a great fall meeting-it’s the perfect opportunity to reconnect with volunteers, and share updates, information and training for the upcoming ministry season. there are a lot of great ways to do a fantastic fall meeting: all volunteers together for dinner and a vision talk, volunteers divided into age classrooms for an all day saturday training, and even a virtual meeting in which volunteers log online for an hour during the evening to receive updates.

but, i think every great fall meeting includes some components of vision, information, training, and community.  my most favorite fall meeting was a few years ago when we played off a carnival theme. we had a lot to accomplish during our meeting and wanted to do it in a fun way so we built a giant carnival. we set up booths where volunteers could play games to receive their information and training, get their pictures taken for their volunteer tags, and have fun re-connecting with each other! it was easy to find popcorn, carnival flags, and inexpensive prizes to make the carnival complete. it was a blast! [and sometimes i wish every meeting i went to included a carnival!]

today, let’s share creative ideas or simple tips for building and implementing a great (fall) meeting. what have you done in the past, or what are you planning for this year’s meeting, or what have you always wished to do but haven’t yet had opportunity?

and for extra incentive, i’ll randomly choose 1 person (who posts a comment with a creative idea or simple tip) and send you a small box of carnival goodies!

happy monday, and cheers to better fall meetings!

play with your food (?)

photo by Balla Tamas

i know. playing with your food is fun. i was an elementary education major and we used them&m counting bookall the time to teach our students math. it was fun.

then, when i began my first children’s ministry job, i created activities for kids that included making art out of food. noodles, coffee beans, and rice are the most perfect supplies for creating necklaces, and flower pictures, and musical instruments.

and all was fine and good. i played with my food and encouraged kids to do the same.

until, i began my next job. teaching underprivileged preschool children at a local head start school, and learned of our playing with food policy: don’t play with food. that was our policy. because 90% of our children were living below the poverty level, we needed to teach them a healthy approach to food. not only how to make nutritional choices, but how to have a positive attitude towards eating by sitting together for meals and learning to how to cook and prepare. and, at the school, we believed that when we used food to play with (create crafts, sort to learn colors or shapes) we were highlighting what you can do with food when you have extra, more than enough, and when you don’t desperately need it for eating – you can play with it, and maybe you start to take advantage of food’s intended purpose.

the policy made a lot of sense to me. in a western mindset, where we (usually) have enough food to eat, when we use our “extra” food for playing, we might unintentionally communicate a sense of wastefulness to our children.

what if, in our churches (whether we have families with plenty or little food) we didn’t use food for playing, but instead used our extras to highlight giving and serving to those without extras?

what do you think? does it make a difference if we play with food in church?

creative retreat

yesterday, i spent the day in the city so that i could have some creative space to think through a few new projects. because sometimes sitting in the office just doesn’t produce the innovative ideas that i need!

the city is a magical place for me. i feel alive, and inspired, and free to think new thoughts, and i know the places in the city where i can go for inspiration and creativity. so, when i have a list of projects that need innovative thinking – i head to the places that inspire me every single time.

these are the details of my creative retreat, you too might be in the midst of planning a day alone, or a creative retreat for your team of staff and volunteers, maybe this will inspire some fresh planning or motivation to take a day away from the office!

for the morning, i usually plan activities that will open my mind and prepare me for creative thinking. yesterday, that included listening to music and reading seth godin’s book tribeswhile i rode the train into the city.

also, one of my projects includes creating new training resources for children’s ministry, and i knew that i needed a better idea of what was currently available – so when i first arrived in the city, i spent time wandering around a local christian bookstore making note of what was already available and what still needed to be created.

right before lunch, i attended a noon church service at my most favorite downtownchurch. it’s so different than my tradition, but there’s something about the beautiful architecture and the richness of the service, and the many people who gather to worship in the middle of the workday that does my soul well. god meets me every time i’m there and inspires my spirit, and yesterday was no different.

after lunch, i settled down in my favorite second floor coffee shop overlooking michigan avenue in order to get my ideas out on paper. i wrote, i sketched, i strategized and mapped out several ideas. because of my morning routine, i was open to the mental work of brainstorming in the afternoon.

and, of course, on the way home i rewarded myself by picking up some cupcakes at a brand newbakery. because, every creative day should end with a cupcake.

what does your creative day look like? where do you go to be inspired?

home—–> church

i’ve been thinking about the way we encourage parents to have spiritual conversations at home with their children, and how many times we feel like our efforts just aren’t working. why don’t parents read their take home sheets, and read the bible with their children, and pray for children? as children’s leaders, we buy the latest family resources, and read the best books, and try so hard to encourage families – and we still wonder if our efforts are actually helping parents in the spiritual formation of their children. so, what if instead of a new family resource, or a brand new book we consider a new at home perspective. or a new starting place.

this is what we usually do:

i think, most times we create content for the church context and then push that content home – for example: at home activities that encourage parents to ask their children questions specific to the church lesson. nothing wrong with this, it’s good to reinforce and remember the lessons from church.

but! what if we balanced it the usual approach with this new starting place:

what if we started creating content that is intended first for the family, activities to be done in the home – activities that have nothing to do with the sunday morning church lesson, and instead of pushing the lesson from church to home, we wait for parents to push the lesson from home to church. maybe it would create more ownership, and more intentionality from parents. maybe as parents have success with their children at home (because the activities were designed just for them) they ask if they can volunteer and help shape the programs at church! (can you imagine this?!)

interesting idea. what do you think? what would happen if we created content first for the home?

children + city = strong faith

i’ve been thinking a lot recently about the characteristics of parenting children in the urban context. last week tammy melchien,who is in the midst of launching acommunity church in chicago,pointed me towards a resource from tim kellerat redeemer presbyterian church in new york city.

the sermon titled “it takes a city to raise a child” is a fascinating look at the advantages of creating strong spiritual families in the city.  tim keller claims that 2 of his 3 children would not be interested in christianity had they not been raised in the city. i love the idea of equipping churches to build strong spiritual families in the city.

the sermon is fantastic, about 30 minutes long with a great question time at the end. below are my notes, but i would love to interact with you. take a listen, take some notes, and then share your thoughts!

3 cons for raising children in the city:

1. money: taxes and rent, it costs more to raise a family in the city

2. physical logistics: it’s difficult to get around the city with young children

3. educational complexities: too many options in the city that can prove overwhelming for parents

8 pros for raising children in the city:

1. the city environment provides real world experiences for children

2. an urban context for children undercuts self-righteousness towards parents and their faith

3. children are able to become more confident and self-reliant

4. children are able to handle diversity well

5. the city pushes the family together and creates more connection between home, work & activities

6. in the city, teenagers are able to more easily see a christianity that can be modeled and respected

7. more opportunities for parents to process real world events with their children

8. urban children do not generally have the same pressures to conform as suburban kids

typically, there are 3 factors for influencing a children’s faith: the influence of the holy sprit, the nurturing environment, and the choices of the child. raising a child in the city provides a great place for these things to happen.

fascinating! what do you think? would love your thoughts: city or suburbs?

feedback ≠ control

i’m a big fan of apple. my husband likes to say he converted me several years ago away from the terrible pc life i was living, and while my life really wasn’t all that terrible, it sure is a great time to be an apple fan!

so, of course i was thrilled when i saw the cover of the latest issue of fast companya full picture of steve jobs with the caption, “the invincible apple: 10 lessons from the coolest company anywhere.” many of the lessons are great leadership, innovation tips – but lesson #8 really made me think.

lesson #8: turn feedback into inspiration.

steve jobs has often cited this quote from henry ford: “if i’d have asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘a faster horse!'”

this is job’s defense of apple’s reluctance to listen to even its most passionate customers, and the line is a good one to remember the next time you’re considering a new round of focus groups. “the whole approach of the company is that people can’t really envision what they want…they’ll tell you a bunch of stuff they want. then if you build it, it turns out that’s not right. it’s hard to visualize things that don’t exist.”

but jobs doesn’t exactly ignore customers; he uses their ideas as inspiration, not direction; as a means, not an end.

hmm. good words for me as a church leader. i love focus groups. they help shape, confirm, and guide my initial thoughts. but, if it’s my job is to lead by creating vision and direction – what role should i allow feedback to play?

sometimes i think that we allow feedback to control us. we allow the most vocal parents, volunteers, and pastors to make our decisions, instead of turning their feedback into inspiration.

let’s lead, and vision cast, and implement well, and use feedback to inspire us – not control us.