Tag Archives: Leadership

Principles are weird…are you weird?

jetskiSometimes it’s hard to do the right thing, even if we have resolved to live our lives on principle. We will always be tempted to fall back into a habit of self-preservation and the seeking of our own self-interests. However, there’s another factor that will make it difficult to live consistently on principle.

Living on principle is weird.

It is unusual to find someone committed to living on principle. When you do, they stand out. They spend a huge amount of time doing things apart from their own self-interest; they don’t simply volunteer one or two Sundays a month at church, they are consistently and regularly volunteering hours whenever and wherever there is a need, while also being active in other community activities and outreaches. They don’t look at their time as something they sparingly donate, they are focused on making a significant impact on the world around them.

Looking around, you will see lots of people spending their money on lavish vacations, recreational activities, bigger and better vehicles, and other things that make life a little more comfortable. Often times, people who live on principle seem short on cash. They live below their means because their spending is tied to their principles. This doesn’t mean they don’t go on vacation, upgrade vehicles, or have other comforts, but they could have much more than they do if they didn’t spend so much money supporting their church and other worthwhile missions and causes. It isn’t an issue of tithing 10%; that is simply a minimum. Jesus highlights that we are called to more than the minimum; we are called to live generously.

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Luke 21:1-4, ESV

Living on principle means putting those valued ideals of yourself and your own comforts. For some, that may mean donations yearly in the tens of thousands of dollars. For others, that may “simply” mean hundreds or thousands of dollars. It means we are willing to sacrifice some things that would be really nice for something bigger than us.

I remember when my youth pastor, Tim Hunter, challenged us to give 10% of whatever we money received as junior high and high school students. He said, “Right now, you are sacrificing a meal out or a case of soda, but if you can’t do that now how will you be able to sacrifice a jet ski or a new car when you tithe as an adult?” Living on principle means the mission is more important than the money.

As a ministry director for a new nonprofit, it’s fair to say that funds are not plentiful in my household. However, we were what I would call “comfortable” in our finances when I was a youth pastor and my wife worked for a law firm. We owned a modest home, had decent vehicles, and I even eventually saved enough money to buy my Harley Davidson motorcycle. However, that purchase came after a year of saving extra money after our tithe, our other bills, and additional giving to groups and missions like our support for a missionary friend in southeast Asia and our giving to a Christian summer camp that we are passionate about. Anything we purchase beyond essentials (true essentials, like food and clothing, NOT “essentials” like cable TV and gym memberships) was weighed against doing what we could do to support the advancement of the gospel in and through the various groups we worked with.

If by some fluke a “normal” person notices that you are living on principle and not for our personal interests, it will grab their attention. While they will talk about going to the cabin every weekend and the new snowmobile they bought to replace the “old one” that they bought last year, you talk about volunteering at the food distribution over the weekend or at the local youth drop in center. In addition, even though they know you make enough money to afford new things, they will notice that you don’t buy new toys every year. They may eventually work up the gumption to ask, “What’s different about you?” And when you give them the answer, their response will be simple.

You’re weird.

And they’re right.

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Change, principles, and other boring stuff that can dramatically alter your life

bowieI’ve been involved in church leadership now for almost 14 years (that seems like forever). I have now worked as a volunteer in a church, as part-time staff, as full time staff, as paid temporary staff, and as a supported ministry worker. I have been asked to give advice to churches I do not regularly attend, and I been asked to not give advice to churches that I do regularly attend. I have also spent years working with ministries that seek to supplement and support in-house church ministries. I have been part of growing and vibrant ministries, ministries that have struggled and declined, and ministries that have switched from one to the other and back again.

When you work with any organization, and I think especially with churches and ministries in the last 10+ years, you experience change. It is inevitable. Either your ministry is changing and adjusting to different demographics, attitudes and cultural climates around you in order to better reach the people God is putting in your path or you begin to experience declines in attendance and engagement with your ministry. Sometimes you enact those changes along the way and you find that you do not experience the results you are hoping for, which leads to further changes. It is a difficult, confusing, turbulent cycle that tests our patience, resolve, and even our faith.

With change comes uncertainty and conflict. Again, these things are unavoidable. I remember major conflicts that took place when I started my full-time ministry and all of the twists and turns that took place over my first three years as a youth pastor. People were upset and extremely frustrated because of change, because of lack of change, and most importantly because of a lack of assurance over what the future would bring – and this was true of people from both sides of the conflict.

I was forced to navigate these waters as a 21 year old church leader, and for over a decade now I have continued not to just dip my toe in these waters of change and conflict but to dive in head first. I was not ready back when I was too young and inexperienced to deal with what I was thrown into and I am not ready now, as a 32 year old church leader that now has experience but still not enough to deal with what is coming my way.

Why do I do it? Some would say it’s because I like to argue (not completely untrue), but, truth be told, I am weary of the battles that feel like they have been continuous and unrelenting for too many years now. I continue to fight, to accept and work through conflict, and to seek difficult and painful changes for one reason: principles.

I believe God has called all of His followers to something extraordinary. I believe we are called to change the world, not just in subtle ways through our everyday lives but also I big, dramatic ways like what can happen when likeminded believers work together towards a God-sent vision for a group or a community. I believe He has called us to do difficult things because nothing that is worth doing is easy. I am willing to endure the deep pain that conflict with fellow church members, many of whom I truly have considered family, brings to my heart because I know that “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5, ESV)

There has been a single principle that I have lived my life by. In some ways it is far too simplified, but it has worked for me. I’m not entirely sure where it came from (the Sunday School answer would probably be “God”), but I think it might be from my answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?”

The answer is not 42.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
Ecclesiastes 12:13

This is a simple answer by a wise man as a culmination of 12 chapters of a book laying out a methodical process to find the meaning of life and what was learned along the way. The principle I live my life by is simply this: “do the right thing.”

So, in any situation, the question becomes, “what is the right thing?” That’s the part that isn’t so simple. I will say this; the answer is never easy, convenient or comfortable. This has required that I get rid of any notion I had of living life my own way. It has meant that I would take on the role of servant to nearly everyone who has asked something of me. I have sacrificed money, time, energy, and personal desires for what at times feels like no reward at all. It has forced me to put relationships that I value at risk, it has caused me to sacrifice a comfortable job for the instability of something new, and it has brought me pain, sleepless nights, and heartache.

And it has totally been worth it, because it has put me in the place God has wanted me and it has caused me to do what I have been created to do. There is nothing better than that.

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Be More Musk-y

Elon_Musk_-_The_Summit_2013My church is currently going through a vision-casting process. The church has been growing steadily for 3 years and has been near-capacity on Sunday mornings for around a year, and the youth and children’s programs have begun to fill the spaces available to them. Some solution needs to be found in order to continue to reach out and minister to our community.

This is the second time I have gone through a visioning process with a church. The first time was when I was on staff as a youth pastor at another church. In both cases there were challenges that needed to be met and it was clear to at least most of the leadership that something needed to be done. However, in both cases and in most similar situations in churches, ministries or businesses, hundreds and/or thousands of hours of work has to be put in to come up with any answers. The first visioning process I was a part of took those hours and translated them into almost no appreciable change to what was already being done. I am far more hopeful that the process I find myself in the middle of now will bring about more effective change.

I have recently been fascinated with the work of an inventor and businessman by the name of Elon Musk. If you do not recognize his name, you will very likely recognize his work. He started his career by creating PayPal, an internet money transfer site that sold to Ebay for $1.5 billion in 2002, just 3 years after Musk started the company. Musk also is a co-founder of Tesla, one of the leading electric car manufacturers in the world – they make electric cars that actually work! Seriously, if you haven’t seen those cars, go check them out!

Recently, Musk has been in the news because of another of his businesses, SpaceX. The company was founded in 2002 and, in 2008, was awarded a $1.6 billion contract from NASA to become the first commercial company to transport equipment to the International Space Station. SpaceX has been continuing to develop better space vehicles, with the goal of continuing to expand space exploration. The next step in development was attempted early this year, when they tried to land a first stage rocket (the part that drives the launch) onto a floating platform in the ocean. Think about that; they believe they can safely land a rocket from space onto a boat! You can read about it here, and check out the first attempt!

They described the first attempt as “50-50 at best,” but they have come up with several ideas to improve chances for their next attempt, coming in the next couple of weeks.

While all of this is happening, Musk has a couple of other little projects up his sleeve. He has proposed what he calls a “hyperloop” from LA to San Francisco; it is an air-powered transportation system that will allow riders to travel 350 miles in around 30 minutes, for cheaper than any other current form of transportation. He has also announced plans to build a “space internet,” a satellite system to not only provide high-speed internet globally but with the purpose of providing communications to a Mars colony that he envisions happening in the next couple of decades; “It will be important for Mars to have a global communications network as well. I think this needs to be done, and I don’t see anyone else doing it.” (for more, check out the Bloomberg Businessweek article here)

Musk is 43, and he has accomplished more in the last 6 months than I expect to accomplish in a lifetime. He has accomplished these incredible feats of engineering and vision by dreaming big, aggressively pursuing those dreams and bringing people on board his projects that can help him develop the projects he has envisioned. Technology is jumping by leaps because of the work of Elon Musk.

I am not an engineer. I am not a venture capitalist – that takes money, and I don’t have any. But there are some important lessons that I take away from Musk’s story – dream big and pursue your vision aggressively.

When we think about what God is doing or could do in a church, organization or in our own lives, we often think too small. We serve a big God that wants to do dramatic, amazing things! Through prayer and faith God reveals the pieces of His plan that He wants us to know and pursue. Don’t let “we can’t” or “I’m not sure” or “that just isn’t us” to stop you from following what He has called us to do.

When I launched The Gathering in Fairmont, MN, I told people that our goal was a fundamental transformation of our entire area, and that I believed God wanted to use us to make Fairmont, Martin County and the surrounding communities a light for the Gospel to our entire region. I still believe that is what He wants for our area, and while I still pray for God’s guidance and wisdom, that is the vision that I continue to pursue because I believe that God is big enough to accomplish anything!

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