In Memory of My Friend Lori

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I lost a good friend to cancer last week. She was close to my age, and a youth minister. Because this has become something I do, I thought I would process a few thoughts about Lori today. (You can read her beautiful obit here.)

I met Lori a few years back when she started coming to our Horizon meetings because she had decided to join us for camp. I can’t remember exactly when it was, but in the time I knew her, I realized pretty quickly she was sharp.

Lori was a rule follower. I’m not usually good at picking up on things like that, but she was always quick to point it out. I have two distinct memories of rule-following Lori.

First, her first year at camp with us. During student small groups, we have a youth worker meeting. It’s a time to check in and see how things are going, but also a time to brainstorm ideas and what not. The problem was Lori didn’t know we had that time, so she hung out until lunch. When we talked about it later, she was mortified she had missed it, because she was a rule follower. I tried to let her know it was okay, but I don’t know if it helped.

Second, around the beginning of August, I started reading through a book with a group of friends, one of whom was Lori. Early in the book there’s a survey of sorts with the line that says “if you’re not able to answer x or more questions on one level, don’t go to the next.” As I was giving some background on my experience with the survey and why I wanted to work through the book together, I admitted the thing that motivated me most was looking at the next level above where I should have stopped, basically breaking the rule. Lori quickly responded, “Well, I didn’t even look at those because the book told me not to!”

Lori was always ready to be better. Speaking of our unofficial book club, Lori was always willing to grow. When I mentioned the idea of going through that book with her, she responded with an enthusiastic yes. In fact, during the COVID shut down, as churches were having to rethink how they executed ministry, we zoomed regularly with a few other youth ministers to share thoughts and ideas. She touted that her friends started referring to her as the “Queen of Zoom”.

But more than just being better, she made those around her better. I know this because I am a better youth minister because of knowing her. She made Horizon better. It’s hard to put into words, but her quiet determination and creativity were assets.

Lori was an advocate for 3QL, and for my own leadership development. I’ve been writing this blog for going on four years (I think. Math is hard.). My views and visitors are not what I would like them to be, but I keep writing, in part, because of the handful of people like Lori who have stuck with me through the journey. I can’t tell you how many times in a conversation she would reference “some leadership blog I read”, and every time it meant the world to me. Knowing she was a faithful reader helps me stick with it.

When I decided to put on a leadership workshop hosted by Horizon, Lori was on board and a support the whole way. Both times.

When I asked her to help me lead Horizon Leadership Camp, she agreed whole heartedly. When I asked her to lead in my place, she hesitantly agreed, and then hit it out of the park.

When I asked her to participate with me in whatever new idea popped into my head, she said yes.

When I started my new job in March of 2019, I had two notes waiting for me in my new office–one from Lori and one from her intern. That meant more than she knew.

She understood one of the best things about friendship is presence.

And to say she will be missed is a significant understatement.

The Best Mindset for Training

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Do you ever think of something you wish you had said, only it was after the fact?

A few weeks back I hosted a youth worker’s meeting (one of only a couple I’ve done since starting). In my intro to the meeting I made a statement along the lines that I realized I had done a poor job training them.

Then one of the leaders asked, jokingly, “Do you think we’re doing a bad job?”

Again, let me emphasize I know this leader’s heart, and know it wasn’t aggressive, but meant to be funny. But still, it made me think. So, here’s my response, three weeks later.

I want to train to maximize, not correct.

At the end of the day, everyone has bad habits in need of correction. But, more than correction, training provides a way forward. When I’m able to help my adults steps forward and become better, stronger, more equipped leaders, then we both win.

Let’s put this another way. A fire extinguisher is not the best way to fight (correct) a grease fire. The best way to fight a grease fire is to implement proper protocols (training) to keep the grease from catching fire to begin with.

Or, let’s go agricultural (because that’s what I do). Good grazing keeps cattle in the pasture way better than good fences. So, when you do the work on the front end to have the best possible grazing, you spend less time on the back end chasing cattle.

It’s the difference between being reactive and proactive. Reactive people spend all their time reacting to what’s happening. Proactive people work to change the outcome from the beginning.

The same is true for student leaders. If I can train them to influence a room, then we make way more progress than if I simply spend my time trying to correct everything they’re doing wrong.

So do you spend more time helping those you lead put out grease fires, or teaching them how to prevent them in the first place?

So You Want to Be a Leader?

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Over the course of my leadership journey, especially the past four or five years, there are a few key principles I can pretty much hang my hat on. And I’ve written about them several times.

Providing students (and adults) a framework to start growing their leadership influence.

The Horizon of Possibility. Oh, and this one, and this one too.

Key traits for student leaders.

Learn from everything.

The Redundancy of Leadership.

Today, I’d like to revisit yet another thought. But first, if you only have time to read one post today, read this one.

Are you ready? This is going to be mind-numbingly simple or incredibly challenging.

Leaders show up.

That’s it. Very few people can positively influence a room by not being in it. If a place is better because we are not there, one of two things are true:

  1. Our level of influence is so great that even in your absence, people have been empowered and equipped to step up, connect, and lead.
  2. Our leadership influence is negative.

Outside of these two instances, if we are not present, we cannot lead. And I’ll be perfectly honest with you, the first one is extremely rare.

If leadership is influence, we have to be present to exert influence: Present in the lives of the people we lead and physically present in the rooms they are in.

I’m watching this play out all around me. If I want to influence something, I have to be part of it. I cannot watch, critique, bemoan, and stay at arm’s length and create any kind of change. But by jumping in, serving, listening, contributing, and listening some more, I can slowly start to build the relational credibility that allows me to grow my leadership influence.

But it only works if I show up.

Where do you need to show up today? Make your presence a priority.

2 Overlooked Programming Elements

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We all live in a time crunch. In the church world, we have to finish on time, every time. I want to respect people’s time, so my ability to finish when I say I’m going to finish is a reflection on me. And I know that ultimately if I cannot end when I’m supposed to end, people will stop participating.

I’m still not a master of program and event time management, but I’ve found two things that have helped me be more mindful of our end time.

  1. Prepare before. One of the places where I find it easiest to lose track of time is while I’m teaching/preaching. I love teaching, so time flies for me. But at some point a 75 minute message just isn’t going to cut it. So that’s where my preparation plays the most significant role. The more time I put into preparing and arranging my thoughts, planning illustrations and examples, the more I’m able to manage the time crunch. The same is true of games. If I prepare/practice a game or activity beforehand, I have a better sense of how it will go. Again, I’m not as good at this as I should be, but I’m working on it.
  2. Start on time. This may seem like a “no duh” statement, but is it really? If I have 60 minutes with a group of kids and start 5 minutes late, guess what? I no longer have 60 minutes, I have 55. Starting on time literally saves time.

Why does this matter? Because ultimately, how we start matters. I hosted a meeting a few weeks back and I totally fumbled the beginning, starting late, not being prepared. The result was an okay meeting, but one that went too long. When we reign in the start, we allow ourselves to set the pace for what our time together is going to look like.

What about you, in your experience, what’s the biggest cause of perpetual tardiness? What area do you have to intentionally reign in to help you build credibility with your word? What struggles do you face in this area?

2 Ingredients for a Great Leader

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I’ve never done this before. What follows is a post I wrote in November of 2018. The last three weeks, these words have been on my mind almost continually, so I thought I would share them again. I hope they challenge you.

Have you ever noticed some people look at situations differently than you?

A few years ago, I heard a radio personality talk about how science has proven women and men look at cleanliness differently. Women actually see dirt more easily than men. It’s not that they have some sort of super vision, but their awareness of filth is higher. This means as a husband, I need to adjust my standards of clean in order to be a blessing to my wife.

This happens in developing student leaders as well. So many times, as youth ministers, we fall into the trap of thinking a student has to meet a certain level of leadership ability in order to take on the mantle. But I would disagree.

In fact, as I have been working with student leaders more intensely over the past 3 years, I have noticed 2 criteria which are critical to developing successful student leaders.

1. OPPORTUNITY TO SERVE

I cannot think of a single situation where anyone has led without first making the most of an opportunity. In fact, without opportunity, nothing happens. Where there is no opportunity, there is no movement.

Opportunities are simple, but it may require you changing how you view situations. The old saying goes “If you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” While the intent behind the saying may be negative, the truth is opportunity opens up when we shift our perception.

Every time you meet with students, there is an opportunity for leadership. My question for you is: are you making the most of the opportunities around you to allow students to grow and develop as leaders.

2. WILLINGNESS TO SERVE

The other part of developing student leaders, and the most critical, is willingness. If a student is not willing to take intentional steps, any effort you exert will be diminished.

A student’s willingness to serve is imperative to their own development. But if you think about it, this concept is a no brainer.

As an adult, if you need to lose weight or cut back on salt, no one else can make that decision for you. It’s a decision you have to make. The people around you can provide opportunities, but it is up to you to make the most of the opportunities.

Students who are willing to serve, are more likely to grow as leaders. Students who are unwilling to serve will hit a ceiling of their own making.

The bottom line is this: if you can find a student who is willing to serve, give them an opportunity to serve and lead, and watch the impact they begin to make!

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