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?

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?

You'll Figure it Out

You’ll Figure It Out

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Did you know I play bass guitar?

I got my first guitar in junior high and learned to play over the following few years. Who am I kidding, I’m still learning to play.

But for Christmas my senior year of high school, my dad bought me a bass guitar. Ever a pragmatist, he decided to buy me a “real” bass so that when/if/when I decided to give up on it, since I was a guitar player, the bass would have a good resale value. That meant my first bass was a Fender Jazz Bass.

But there was something he didn’t expect: I’m a pack rat, so I never get rid of anything. So I kept my bass. I learned one 8 bar blues bass line that made me sound like I knew what I was doing, but never really had occasion to play bass.

Fast forward a couple years. I was serving at my first church as the youth minister. Even though I was in charge of youth, I helped with music where I could. Then, with the arrival of a new music minister, something changed.

Our new music minister was incredibly gifted musically, but had cut his teeth playing bass guitar. So, he started teaching me how to play. But his approach was different.

I generally have a pretty poor memory, but I’m pretty certain we never sat down for a formal “lesson”. It was always learning “on the fly”.

I still have a picture in my head of one morning. He was on guitar. I was on bass. It was the opening song for the morning. Right before he started playing, I remember telling him I didn’t know the song. And his words continue to ring true: you’ll figure it out.

And that’s what I had to do. Sink or swim. And I sank, a lot. Until I learned to swim.

Playing with him I learned to anticipate the changes, to play with the rhythm, to find the groove, and so much more.

His leadership approach is something I occasionally employ today. Sometimes the best tool for growth is immersion.

Does that mean it’s going to be perfect? Nope.

Does that means it’s going to be flawless? Nope.

Does that mean it’s going to be memorable? Very likely, one way or the other.

There is someone in your sphere of influence who needs an opportunity to sink or swim. There is someone you are leading who needs a challenge they feel they cannot meet.

So I have two questions for you today: 1) who is it? and 2) are you willing to step back for the sake of their growth?

Will vs Skill

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When it comes to developing student leaders (or leaders in general), What’s more important: willingness or skill?

Put another way, would you rather have someone who is incredibly skilled and arrogant, or someone who is incredibly willing and less skilled.

In my experience, willingness wins.

I would love to have people who are the absolute best at what they do in every role. But the truth is, I would much rather have someone who is humble and willing to grow because when that person develops their skill, we will accomplish infinitely more.

I can help a willing person grow in skill. I’ve seen it over time, especially in the realm of student ministry. I’ve seen students with a heart to make an impact, discover and strengthen a gift they have.

Very rarely have I seen an arrogant person go the other way. I don’t remember seeing anyone who has shown up believing they have arrived become a positive influence. When the task becomes more important than the heart, we miss the point.

There is someone in your life at the moment who is willing and simply needs someone to invest in them. Take some time today to look around and evaluate how you can help them grow.

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