#nywc and #aar/sbl

We live in a world where you can be in more than one gathering at a time, kind of. Thursday I got on a plane and headed to Nashville. The same day many of my colleagues boarded a plane to Baltimore. All of us were on work-related trips, and truth be told I could have gotten on either plane and had an enriching time.

Baltimore was a national gathering of religious scholars, people who teach and research in a wide range of disciplines and work in a variety of colleges, universities, seminaries and divinity schools. People come for the learning, yet many experience it as a reunion and networking opportunity…having dinner with PhD colleagues, drinks with past professors and running into colleagues at receptions or in hotel elevators. Publishers come to introduce their latest resources, trying to diffuse them into the field; authors come looking for opportunities to pitch their proposals, with hopes of tenure and ‘making it’ in their career.

Nashville was similar. A national gathering, one which offered more learning than one person can handle and one filled with networking, reuniting AND introducing colleagues from all parts of the country. And yes, publishers were there pitching their resources, as were all sorts of other ‘vendors.’ And yes, there were aspiring authors hoping to take their ideas to the next level. And this gathering also hoped to advance participants careers, as it also hoped to further the work of faith and religion.

But these two gatherings were also not the same. As I followed both on Twitter, I noticed something different. My colleagues in Baltimore offered teaching tips and nuggets of scholarly wisdom; they tweeted some fun, even whimsical quips of their experience. And while some of the tweets from Nashville also fell into those categories, the gathering in Nashville was centered in something more than learning and networking. And that center was what I needed.

Young and old, from near and far, representing different church traditions, the group in Nashville were Youthworkers and they gathered around a shared mission. Several times each day the networking and learning was interrupted by ‘the big room.’ ‘The big room’ brought everyone together celebrating everyday ministry, joining thousands of voices in praising God, and reminding all of us who God is and who we are in this shared mission. The center was not doctrine, shared experiences or great ideas, but our love for discipling young people and sharing the good news of GOD’s love with them.

As a scholar, teacher and church leader, I’m usually leading others and proposing ideas about what it means to be church today. I’m encouraging leaders and listening to the joys and challenges of leading ministry today. And while I love my work, I get tired. And when I do I sometimes forget. This weekend I was reminded, even encouraged, not only around youth ministry but also about being church again. Sure, there are tons of frustrations, challenges and obstacles. But guess what. Being a ministry leader today matters. It really does. Thousands of us gathered in ‘the big room’ and heard that message again, and that’s the message I wanted to share with others. That was what I was tweeting about.

So this weekend I was in Nashville, ease dropping into the gathering in Baltimore, and I got on the right plane. As I return to work this coming week, I do so thankful, blessed and excited to be called into ministry with young people. #nywc

What Young People are Teaching Me

This afternoon was Senior recognition night for my daughter’s high school tennis team. It’s been a hard, short season for my daughter which started with leg surgery and is ending with her playing great tennis. Let’s just say it’s been a full 6-weeks. With only two matches left of the season, the end of the tennis season is in sight, as are her days playing high school tennis. Today was the first of many “endings” that will be celebrated this year.

Yesterday was our first small group meeting at our church. Having “timed out” with my own daughters, I now have returned to leading in the middle school ministry. Sixth grade boys, nine of them. My husband and I are co-leading the group. (The last time we co-lead was when our college senior was in preschool. Wow!) Last night was an evening of beginnings, or at least marked the beginning of a new year. Even though the boys go to different school, the boys know each other from sports or other activities. And me, I know several of these boys because some years back I sat in this same room with their parents when they were in 6th grade. YIKES I’m old (or at least I felt old last night).

Beginnings and endings. The lives of our young people are filled with them. Some beginnings are major ones – new school, change of friends, moving – other ones are less dramatic – ending a sports season, changing classes each trimester, riding the wave of friends. The same can be said of endings. Having beginnings and endings as a regular part of one’s life is hard in many way, yet it also provides openings for new starts, reforming habits, and igniting new relationships.  

As I look at the lives of adults, their lives are much more stable. Sure, much of that is good, but some of it makes adults both boring and stagnate. How often are adults meeting new people and making new friends? When was the last chance you had for a “do over” or to develop a new pattern? Sure, the things adults worry about are “more serious” then young people, and maybe their decisions are of greater consequence, but really…could we learn a thing or two from young people?

Tonight, let me suggest five lessons we can learn from young people:

1. Moments of recognition are important. Tonight the coaches spoke into the lives of each Sr. Some of the things they said were obvious (like their athletic ability), but other things were more subtle (thinks like your sensitivity for others or your communication skills are really good). Everything said were important, not only for the individual, but also for the whole community. We could use more moment of honoring each other.

2. Dreams are important, and come in all shapes and sizes. Sixth graders and Sr have dreams. Be it being asked to prom, getting a goal in hockey, learning math, or attending a particular college, young people have dreams. Adults don’t always ask about them or take them seriously, but they have them. What does it mean to be people who cultivate dreams? What does it mean for adults to dare dream?

3. Life has ups and downs, count on it. Spend much time around anyone 13-18 and life’s a roller coaster. One day they can be flying high and the next they might hit bottom. These highs and lows are expected (not always appreciated, but expected). Some of the main work of adolescents is to learn skills to navigate these moments in life. But what if adults began expecting life to be filled with highs and lows, and actually got on the roller coast and enjoyed the ride? Sure, it’s hard some days, but maybe it might also bring us more joy as well.

4. Life is better together. That’s not surprising, but many of us adults are so focused on what we have “to do” each day/week we miss the people in our lives. How often do you get the chance to spend time with your peers, your colleagues as people? So many activities middle schoolers and high schoolers are involved in foster community – team-building, bonding, shared life together. Might adults learn something here?

5. The future is important, but the present is what counts. Sometimes parents (myself included) get frustrated with young people because they get so caught up in the moment they can’t think about the future. Now don’t get me wrong, we do need to keep the future on the horizon, but adults can be so focused on the future they miss the present. And living in the present is a valuable gift.

Leadership Lessons


Sunday I participated in my first race of the year, a duathlon in downtown Minneapolis. It was a hot, humid August morning. As racers made their way to the starting line, the race organizers warned us that they’d be keeping an eye on the weather and if the heat index got too high, they’d call the race for safety reasons.

Now I was not in my best racing condition and hadn’t trained in this extreme heat. So, I had mixed emotions regarding this announcements. But as my waved headed to the starting line, I promised myself I’d listen to my body…and committed to holding safety above a competitive time. And then I was off on the first leg of the race.

Just about two hours later I crossed the finish line exhausted and dehydrated. As I found a place to sit down and rest I learned 10 minutes before they’d made the decision to stop people before the final leg. I’d finished, but over half of the participants would not have the same opportunity.

What followed was a series of comments – some in favor, some in opposition. As I returned to the transition area to get my gear, I passed one of the event staff. I paused and once he got off the walkie-talkie, I thanked him for his work. Then I made my way to breakfast and air conditioning.

It wasn’t until later in the day when I made the connection between the race and ministry. Linsky and Heifetz remind us that leaders are always putting themselves on the line. Many of us know what they are talking about – leading is dangerous, and not going to win any popularity contests. But here are three things I’m taking away from my experience on Sunday, things I will use as I enter into a new season of ministry this fall.

Leaders are called to keep their eye on the big picture. As a participant, I had a job to do – run my race. But as I was focused on my role, there were all kinds of other things going on that I couldn’t (and shouldn’t) pay attention to. It was the job of others – the medic staff, the volunteers, the police officers – to pay attention to traffic and weather and making sure there was enough water. And their paying attention to those things enabled me to do my thing. In ministry, there are people who’s role it is to teach Sunday School, for example. Their role is to love and teach kids. But other people have other roles – like cleaning the building and planning worship. And some ministry leaders are called to step back and see the big picture, just like the race staff. These leaders have to watch and listen, they have to make decisions, often weaving together information from various other folks, so they can lead the whole.

Leaders have to care about the good of all, not the good of a few. Many of the participants stated that the decision to finish or not should have been left to the individuals themselves. And yes, many of the participants could have made the right choice for themselves. But speaking for myself, I didn’t realize until later in the day how dehydrated I had gotten. I was taking in fluids all during the race and I was paying attention to my body. But too many elements were different than my previous training runs and I was not in the best position to make the call, for me or for others. Leaders understand that, they understand their role is to care for the widest audience. At times, caring for the whole means watching out for the vulnerable, those on the edge, those who may not have the opportunity to speak up for themselves. This was the right thing for the whole.

Leaders decide and move on. Once the decision to cancel the last leg of the race was made, everyone stood behind that decision and worked to carry it out. And there was no apologizing. Yes, there was explaining and communicating, but there was no hedging. They had warned us, they had watched the weather, and it had gotten to a turning point. And the leadership made a decision and stood by it. Thanks! I appreciate that. And standing by one’s decision does not mean being without compassion about the individuals impacted. No, quite the opposite. The decision was made in order to care about the individuals…and that was part of the message communicated in various ways. If we, as leaders, know what our calling is, and have a framework for leading, then we have what we need to make the hard decisions when the time comes.

So, as we move into September, and another fall season of ministry, I challenge you to lead. Know leading isn’t going to make you popular and, in fact, it might be dangerous. But also know that leading is important…and without it, ministry won’t have the environment it needs to thrive.

I Saw What I Saw


Yesterday I received a text from my husband. Attached was a picture of a child. Today I received another text, saying great program and great stories.

Not that rare, but these texts were different. You see Eric is traveling in Ethiopia with a group from Compassion International. This is not his first trip to Africa, but that doesn’t matter much. The pictures spoke volumes. Trips like this have the potential to change us. You see Eric and I have been sponsoring children through Compassion International for over 20 years. And we’ve been lucky and had the chance to meet all three of our children, now all out of the program. So today’s experiences are added into a whole array of other meaningful moments connected to how Compassion International is making a difference in the lives of young people around the world.

While Eric was in Africa, I was working in St. Paul, MN, preparing for graduation this weekend. Tomorrow and Sunday I will have the opportunity to witness over 120 ministry leaders receive their diplomas marking the final step in their journey at Luther Seminary. Students assembled will be from all sorts of places like Minnesota, Ohio, California, and Florida, and sent to similar places. A significant number, however, have come further than that. These students, mostly sent by their home churches, crossed continents and oceans to get here. They left families and supporting communities to follow their call. And now, after years of being separated from the ones they love, will be sent out to change the world. Some will return to their home countries immediately, others will make some stops along the way. But all of them will make a difference in one way of another.

As I hear the names of these student read and watch them walk forward, tears will come to my eyes. My heart will be filled to brim, and I will be without words. You see these leaders in ministry have changed me. They have brought the world to me – both it’s pains and it’s joys. And I see their communities, their families and friends, through them. And, like Eric, I will have traveled a long distance and been changed.

There is no way our family can thank these ministry leaders, near and far, for making an impact in our lives and ministry. You have changed our family and our calls. And we cannot see the world the same any more. Thank you!

Sara Groves song, sums it up best.

Social Media and You

I don’t think social media is dangerous. I think we are dangerous.

Social media is here to stay, just like telephones and computers. Yes, there are unhealthy ways to interact with social media. But there are also healthy ways to engage social media. For those of us seeking to be public about our faith, social media is one place to engage public conversation – be it about social issues or our personal lives. I, for one, have appreciated having social media tools available to me as I stay connected in meaningful ways with various people within my social sphere. Sometimes it’s with people down the street, other times it’s with people halfway around the world. Sometimes it’s sharing information, other times it’s lamenting the loss of my favorite sports team. Regardless, I want us, everyday people, to wonder how faith and social media might intersect in a constructive way. Check out this great, simple article on ways social media can be a healthy way for humans to live within community.

How Social Media Made me a Better Person


The importance of Family Meals

Family Meals Remain Sacred in the Face of Splintered American Lifestyle

Many of us grew up with meal time as “sacred” time for family. Some of us liked it, others of us hated it, but most families did some version of it. Today shared family time around a meal is not the norm. But studies say it’s a health practice. Our family still does value time shared around meals. Sometimes friends join us, sometimes it’s chaotic, and sometimes we do it in public places. I love this project on reimagining this simple, but core practice. Check it out!