Just Put It Down

I sat there at the table feeding my 8-month-old daughter porridge. Spoonful after spoonful I dutifully delivered to her the breakfast she was seeking to devour. She was enjoying it and I was enjoying feeding her. She sat there in her highchair, smiling away and looking at me intently, waiting for the next spoonful.

Photo: Anthro Brown Bag

At that point I naturally went towards my phone. This wasn’t to receive a call or check my messages. No, this was to open up my camera app and start putting those priceless smiles and eyes into digital format. After all, I had to capture the moment.

After taking about 10 photos, all very similar of course, I began to think something wasn’t quite right.

Here I was, sitting at the table with my living in-the-flesh daughter directly in front of me, both of us enjoying our time together and the connection we were obviously having in sharing breakfast.

But instead of simply enjoying the moment, I decided to objectify it.

I decided to take this precious moment and stick it in digital format, rather than continue to be mesmerised by my lovely girl. I decided to interrupt breakfast, interrupt our smiling and cooing and eating, and inject some foreign device into the middle of our eyesight all for the sake of capturing another moment on camera.

I don’t think that’s the way I’m meant to be living. I don’t think that’s the way we’re meant to be living.

The wife and I were travelling in Jordan once and we came upon a fellow-traveller who joined us for a desert safari trip for a few hours. He’d been travelling around the country a while and had decided not to take a camera with him. Instead, he asked us (and others he came across) to email him one photo when we were back home and when we had the chance. He didn’t want to be constantly taking photos of what he was seeing, he wanted to enjoy what was in front of him.

I’ve been taken by this idea ever since that trip. It’s counter-intuitive, almost counter-cultural.

Somehow we’ve become OK with interrupting the precious, special, fabulous, emotional (insert your adjective here) moments rather than get taken away with them. We’ve stopped enjoying life because we’re always trying to capture it.

This realisation won’t stop me from taking photos of my daughter, no, I’ll still want to take 10 photos in one hit. I’ll still want to interrupt great moments to video or digitise her for posterity. But what I will do is begin to think through it a bit more. Learn to live in the moment rather than watch it from the sideline. I want to keep engaged. I want to stay focussed for as long as possible. It seems I need to teach myself to just put the phone down. Just put it down.

What about you? Do you do a similar thing? Had similar thoughts? It’d be great to hear from you below.

What I Learnt From Steve Jobs

The other day I finished the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Incredible.

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This book excels in portraying a man who defined much of this generation. I know he’s certainly transformed the way I interact with the world through the iPhone and iPad, I suspect it’s the same for you.

There is something about reading a biography that provides insight into people you otherwise wouldn’t know. Isaacson’s masterful job of putting together the components of Jobs’ life is a perfect example. A deeper and fuller understanding of Jobs and his character gives cause to reflect on what can be learnt from him. Here then, are my thoughts on what I learnt from Steve Jobs:

1. I learnt Steve Jobs is a douche – There is no doubting it. He was a douche. His personality and the way he acted and behaved were terribly stupid and degrading to others at times. This wasn’t just one-off events every few years, ripping people apart in front of others occurred for sustained periods and made the guy a ripe proper douche. He even admits it himself.

2. I learnt Steve Jobs had a tremendous appreciation for quality – Everything he sought to do, whether it be his eating practices or the products he sought to produce, was to be of high quality. If they weren’t of the highest and best then they were crap. His push for quality products is what made Apple and Pixar. It’s a shame this wasn’t reflected in his relationships with others, including his parents, his daughters and his wife. Nevertheless, he pursued the best – products and employees. He wouldn’t settle for second.

3. I learnt Steve Jobs didn’t care about money – That’s always easy to say for someone who actually has millions already. But, I think that truly was the case. He didn’t seem fussed about money, it was the product, the A-class quality of a product, that mattered. If he made money by doing this then all the better.

4. I learnt Steve Jobs embodied Apple and Apple embodied him – After leading an organisation for so many years, even with a rather long period of exile, his personality shone through the company. There is no mistaking Jobs’ influence because he was the founder of the company but there is something that happens when you’ve been involved for 30 years. The company reflects your personality, and so it is with Apple. This desire for perfection, for high quality design and products, for pushing the boundaries in what people believe they can do, all comes from Steve Jobs.

5. I learnt that Steve Jobs is an inspiration – There is no doubting it, he’s one of a kind. There won’t be another Steve Jobs and the effect he’s had on Western society is very hard to measure, but needless to say it’s been enormous. His leadership and determination are inspiring. His passion for his industry and product is inspiring. He’s inspired me, through this book, to be a person who is more focussed, passionate, and determined in their work and life. I’ll skip the douche bit but have to say the other character traits are inspiring.

A sixth point would be that Walter Isaacson is an amazing writer. He inspires me to be a better writer and has made this book flow so well I didn’t want to put it down at times. If you happen to get the chance to read this book, I’d highly recommend it.

Are You A Youth Influencer?

From: Salvos
From: Salvos

Everyone is influenced by others. For better or for worse there are influential people in our lives that, well, have an influence on us.

I sat around a table with other youth leaders not long ago and as each of us shared our stories it became evident to me that we’d all been influenced by an older person when we were growing up. It was interesting to hear that the main person for each of us was either a youth pastor or a youth leader in our church.

As a leader of young people and young adults it can be surprising as to how much influence you can have over others. It’s certainly been the case for me where an older person has been influential – a youth pastor, an older friend, a parent, and a member of the church has influenced my faith and life in general.

But, I find that it’s not just the official youth or young adult leaders that have influence on younger people. There are others within a church setting that can influence younger people despite not being an “official” youth leader.

For example:

  • The worship leader who interacts with the younger band members. This can occur on Sunday’s but also at practices during the week and other times. Sometimes the worship leader may have more to do with the younger person than the official leader/s.
  • Young adults who hang out with the high-schoolers before and after services. Not all young adults are going to be official youth leaders but they may still go to the same service that many of the youth groupers go to. After the service is a great time to hang out and also go out for supper. During these times other attenders of the church can be influential without even knowing it.
  • An older member in the congregation who has a heart to see young adults grow in their faith may simply strike up conversation at morning tea. Here there is the cross-generational thing happening but also the influence of an older person toward a younger person.

There are plenty of other examples to use. Perhaps you can think of some that happen in your church too. But the point is that despite not being called a youth leader or a young adult pastor or a lead generation connector, or whatever title you want to give yourself you may actually be a “youth influencer”.

Instead of marking territories in terms of who’s a youth leader and who in the church is responsible for the youth and young adult ministries, perhaps a more wholistic way to look at is that everyone does have there own part to play. Quite often it might be the people you least expect to be influencing the next generation.

Are you a youth influencer?

Why Your Church Service Is Awesome

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Photo: Wiki Commons

In the last 6-9 months I’ve had the opportunity to visit a variety of churches and sit through a number of services “on the other side of the pew”. Since I’m no longer on staff at church I get to observe and participate in services like never before. This experience is great and painful all at the same time.

Today’s post is simply a list of points that have struck me while reflecting on services I’ve been to recently. In other words, it’s a list of points that I think make your service awesome.

  • Your worship or service leader is genuinely interested in welcoming me as a visitor. Because your service leader is so good I now know their name, I know what’s happening in the service, and what to expect in the coming hour. This is very good to know and I appreciate this information.
  • Your time of singing is an appropriate length and there has been thought put into the song choices. The words of the songs and the number of people singing in the service gives a good indication that your “song picker” knows what it means to gather as a church. They evidently know that the words of songs are important and there is a focus on the gospel and the theme of the whole service, particularly the sermon. While I know there are plenty of people who all have different preferences for songs you’ve been able to focus on the essentials in the choosing.
  • Your announcements are given by a real person, who tells me their name and highlights 2-3 points from the bulletin that are important for the church. I appreciate that it’s a real person up the front delivering the important announcements in good time. This shows me that you know it’s important to communicate with the church and also lets me know what I should take note of among all the other newsletter items.
  • Your pastoral prayer is spoken on behalf of the church for believers and non-believers around the world, throughout this country, and also for those within the church. In some ways the pastoral prayer can be a tricky one because there are so many options to pray for. Yet, the person who is praying this in your service has thought deeply about how to pray for people around the world. This gives the impression that your church is focused on the whole world and has a global worldview. Praying for your country and for those within the congregation also allows me to see that you care about your community, both inside and outside the church. It is in this prayer that the focus of the church is most readily shown.
  • You have a bible reading. This is brilliant. Not only do you have a bible reading but the one who speaks these words over the congregation introduces the text in such a way that if I didn’t know where to find the particular passage I am led by the reader to it. This is either through the mentioning of the page number, where it is in the bible (OT or NT), or being directed to the table of contents page at the front of the bible itself. Thank you for taking the time to do this, I know it must feel weird if you’ve always been around a bible but it is helpful to see you thinking about others. With this your reader has also given me ample time to get to the passage and is happy to stay silent while people “page flick” to the right spot.
  • You have a preacher who actually reads, explains, and applies the bible. Your service is awesome when this happens. It is one of the main reasons for gathering together on a Sunday, to hear the Word preached, and your service has a preacher willing to do so. This is excellent. Not only that, but they introduce themselves and seem genuinely concerned with wanting to get across what the bible is teaching. I’m not too concerned about how long your preacher goes for if he’s teaching and applying the bible, it’s just good for them to be doing so.
  • You have people in your congregation willing to talk after the service. To have a welcoming team or people who are on the look out is great. I appreciate that. To have people in your congregation who are willing to turn around and say “hello” off their own bat is even better. This makes your church look like a friendly and welcoming place, somewhere I’d think about coming back to.

So, is your church an awesome church?

How Do You Measure Failure?

I’ve been struck this morning by reflecting on how we measure failure.

Honda Presents DREAM THE IMPOSSIBLE Documentary Series
Photo: Honda News

In preparation for my first sermon in 9 months the passage of 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12 causes a change in thinking about success and failure. Failure isn’t not succeeding it’s not being faithful.

The best and most recent example of success and failure is the Olympics. For many competitors any result bar gold is a failure. We saw in the coverage, swimmers, gymnasts, and athletes, who came second or third weren’t looking overly happy up there on the podium. Yet, for other competitors simply standing anywhere on the dias was a massive achievement. Even competing in the games was an achievement (Think: competitors from third-world countries or Eddie the Eel from a few years back).

Yet, for Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians success wasn’t measured on the number of converts or how many he preached to or what connections he had with authorities. Paul’s success came in being faithful to God and the mission that He had called him to.

In evaluating whether he was a failure the passage gives us the impression that if he was to seek glory for himself, be greedy, or try to trick people into believing in Jesus then he would’ve been a failure. Not only would this mean his attitude and motivation for the mission would be skewed away from God’s priorities, it would also mean he failed in his task. Yet, in the face of opposition and persecution he remained faithful to the mission, faithful to God, and faithful to the gospel.

It seems that faithfulness isn’t failure, forgetting God is.

Youth Ministry Models

The youth pastor at University Reformed Church has written a post on Kevin DeYoung’s blog giving some advice for youth ministers. It’s worth a read and some comment.

His four points are as follows and are all very good and straightforward:

  1. Relationships matter much more than coolness.
  2. Gaining the trust of the parents is one of the most important parts of the job.
  3. Center your ministry on the Word of God
  4. Give more thought and attention to the above things than to your youth ministry model.

All these points are good points. They should be points that every youth pastor can affirm. Coolness only lasts about 5 minutes and then everyone sees who you really are. Gaining the trust of parents in this role is essential and a high priority in the relationship building of the youth pastor. The Word is to play a central part of it all, guiding, directing, and correcting the young people, the youth pastor, and the church.

It is, however, point four that I find most interesting. While yes, it is important to give thought and attention to the three points above, it’s actually the three points that outline the model for ministry. Focussing on relationships, parents, and the Bible is a model for youth ministry. They are to be priorities and in the course of being priorities they become a model. In giving thought and attention to them you’re therefore giving thought and attention to your youth ministry model.

What’s your youth ministry model? One that focuses on the Word and relationships or one that puts it’s focus elsewhere?

Reverse Culture Shock

Have you ever experienced reverse culture shock?

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Photo: Pavel Ševela

Reverse culture shock is where you’ve spent time in another culture and when you came back to your home country you found it hard to deal with the lifestyle and worldview you once had.

A good friend of mine recently came back from overseas after working in a third world country for three months. Now that she’s back many of the things that used to be important are no longer – the wealth of our lifestyles now seem exorbitant, the way we do things don’t always seem the best, and what we complain about are really just #firstworldproblems.

I remember after living in the Middle East for two years coming back to Australia and being paralysed as I stood in front of the supermarket shelves trying to choose what type of diced tomatoes would be best for the bolognese. What stunned me was the availability and options of all these different types of food with all these different brands. All I wanted was diced tomatoes!

It’s amazing how travelling can broaden the mind and give new perspectives on life and priorities. And while reverse culture shock is not something people wish for it is something that regularly happens after experiencing life in another culture. On one hand there does come a point where people “get over” the culture shock, but it’s also important to realise and hold on to what you’ve learnt from your time there.

What have you learnt from living in or observing another culture?

Book Review: The Road Trip by Mark Sayers

theroadtripHere is a travel book with a difference.

Most travel books give information about a certain place. The good and bad hotels, the best restaurants, the sites to see. In The Road Trip Mark Sayers travels through the last 50 years of culture enlightening us on what’s happened to the West. Following the travels of Jack Kerouac, writer and experiential junkie of the 1950s, Sayers shows how Kerouac’s journey across America is now mainstream for the life of a Western young adult.

The book is in two parts. The first, offers a critique of young adult life in the 21st Century. The themes, illustrations, and connections between the journey of Kerouac and journey of today’s millennials resonates strongly. The second, turns toward the cross and gives broad examples of what the church must do to re-engage with young adults today. Following the journey of Abraham and centred of the cross Sayers describes how young adults can find true meaning for their lives.

Here’s what I liked about the book:

(1) The Cultural Analysis

In many ways Sayers depicts young adult culture; its aims, its experiences, its lack of meaning, its search for something better, its hopelessness, with compelling accuracy.

(2) The Writing

Sayers pulls you along with him. It’s hard to put the book down. There are illustrations, quotes, stories, and his own ideas, which keep you reading and reading. It’s a very well written book that enables you to travel the cultural contours with him.

(3) The Gospel

In part-two Sayers turns to how Christianity is to deal with this “culture of the road” that young adults seek to travel. The central answer to this ‘issue’ is the Gospel, which “reconciles us to God, others, and creation”. It is only through Christ’s death on the cross that gives meaning to this world and to this life. Therefore, it is this reality that provides the necessary answer to this “culture of the road”. It is an encouragement to see the explicitness of the Gospel within this book, and how it is the basis for further application.

(4) Morality and Covenant

These are two themes, among others, are tackled by Sayers toward the end of the book. They are themes put on the agenda for Christians and wider Western society to think through. Morality and covenant have both been thrown out the metaphorical window in recent time and so it is a good reminder to again reflect on these issues.

Here’s what could be improved:

I should say that I liked everything in the book. It was very good. There is much to take away and dwell on, particularly for those in youth and young adult ministry. It’s hard to come up with much in terms of critique or growth areas. However, when I put the book down I did feel there was something missing.

A couple of caveats:

First, I opened the book expecting big things. Maybe bigger than Sayers could deliver. I’ll name that.

Second, I recognise I’m involved in young adult ministry. I get to see the culture first-hand and affirm almost everything Sayers said about it. I believe these two factors affect my thoughts here.

However, toward the end I was wanting to know more. I was wanting to know what was next. I was wanting to know how to connect the young adult world of experience, journey, and meaninglessness to the worldview of the Bible.

I know I was offered suggestions; to bring back the transcendent, to bring back covenant, to bring back sacredness, to bring back commitment. In other words, to show that living the Christian life actually means giving up what the world offers and travelling the journey of God into full discipleship and devotion. This was made clear, I don’t want to deny that. Yet, this still leaves me hanging for more as I try to connect and apply these themes back to culture.

Since finishing the book I’ve worked out what I’m really asking. It’s the “How?” question.

How do we bring these themes back in a way that enables young adults to have a big vision of God and involved in His mission in the whole of life?

Maybe that’s not Sayer’s task here but mine as the practitioner. In any case, it’s left me pondering that task and something all of us should be pondering as we reach out to the young adults of today.


After writing this review Mark was kind enough to go back and forth on some of my thoughts. Below is an excerpt from our conversation and a reply to the “how” question. Many thanks to Mark Sayers for his time and willingness for this.

Mark’s response:

“…As I get around across the evangelical/charismatic/pente scene I notice that there is no one programmatic thing that is reaching young adults. Rather, it is the simple stuff in the book which I think is important e.g. covenant, living at the foot of the cross etc. I think because western young adult culture at the beginning of 21st Century seems so shiny and powerful we expect the answer to be so as well, but again I think that the answer is simple, humble obedience to Christ, simple non-sexy stuff that we already know. I have positioned our whole Church around this idea – no show, just less of us, and excitingly over time it is incredibly transformational…

…The other thing is that I often notice after workshops and talks that I do, describing western cultures journey to secularism and now post-secularism, that people become overwhelmed and want quick and easy answers. However, how do you reverse 500 years of this stuff in some simple ministry tips? I don’t think you can, it is going to take generations to turn things around in my opinion. No one likes to think of it this way but the questions of today’s young adults are essentially Hamlet’s questions at the dawn of the modern. We have a lot of work to do.”

You Are A Writer by Jeff Goins

After reading Jeff Goins‘ new book, You Are A Writer, you’ll come out of the closet. The little writing closet that you hide away in of course.

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By: Jeff Goins

Jeff is a prolific blogger (goinswriter.com) who writes about writing. This book is an extension of those posts with a few juicy bits added.

Jeff loves giving; you can tell by the way he writes. In this case Jeff is giving advice on writing and how to get your writing out into the world for people to connect with. This advice is aimed at writers and wannabe writers who are too afraid to show their work to others (yeah, that’s me and probably you).

Throughout Jeff seeks to inspire and give practical tips on how to get started in this writing caper. In his fast-paced, sharp, and punchy style the reader is drawn into his personal stories and advice. It’s a great read and could be completed in one sitting if you’re keen.

If you’re teetering on the edge of wanting to launch yourself more seriously into writing but aren’t sure how to do it then this book answers your fears.

In fact, it’s all about fear according to Jeff. Fear is what stops us from doing those things we want so desperately to do. We are fearful of taking risk and in this case we are fearful of others reading our work and laughing, or criticising, or actually liking it!

The two main areas that Jeff writes about are:

Writing. It’s hard, it’s great, it takes practice, and it becomes you. Jeff wants you to find your voice and get you to start believing in yourself. You need to think of yourself as a pro. That’s simple enough isn’t it? Just say you’re a writer and begin writing.

Platform Building. Jeff gives tips on what to do to be heard. In this busy information filled world it’s not easy for our ideas to stick. Jeff tells you how to make it happen. Through a bit of effort and consistency in your use of social media and blogging you can raise your platform just like he did.

This, however, does require a mind shift. The key ingredients to this whole argument are:

  1. Choose Yourself. You’ve got to be the initiator and change your attitude to your writing. It’s no longer a hobby. You’re a pro. Stop waiting around for someone else to pick you on his or her team, start a team yourself. Practice, work hard, and put yourself out there. That’s what Jeff’s saying.
  2. Overcome The Fear. Seth Godin calls it “The Resistance”. It’s that fear factor in the back of your head, or perhaps it’s on your shoulder, stopping you from becoming a real writer (Hang on, that’s right, you’re already a real writer). This fear is costing you. It’s costing you time and energy, it’s stopping you from pursuing your dreams. It’s costing you from taking risk. It’s time to get over that fear and begin.

Perhaps we’ll let Jeff say it in his own words:

“We’re afraid of the cost. Worried we don’t have what it takes. Anxious of the road it takes to get to greatness. So we play it safe and abide by the rules. Before we start, we sabotage our work and subvert our genius” (p13-14).

“Real artists risk failure every time they release their work into the world. If your words are going to matter, you will have to do the same. You will have to let go. Until you do, you’re not creating art. You’re just screwing around. Remember: The fear of something is always scarier than the thing itself. Yes, there is pain and rejection. But the greatest failure is to never risk at all” (p32).

So, what’d I think?

First, I think it is a great book and well worth the time to read. It didn’t take very long and is packed with inspirational advice about writing. I was certainly encouraged to get cracking on a few writing projects I want to complete.

Second, I don’t think it matters whether you’re a writer or not. Much of the book is really aimed at anyone who’s creative, wants to be more productive, or in leadership. The principles in this book can help you launch yourself upon the world. Hopefully for the good!

Third, as I opened with, there are thousands of closet writers. Read this book and come out. I know I will be.

Fourth, if you’ve read a bit of Seth Godin, Michael Hyatt and the like then you will probably notice a fair bit of overlap. Much of the content within is described by Godin and Hyatt in their works. Jeff says it another way and specifically about writing – I think that’s great.

Fifth, if you’re still not won over to buy the book and you’ve actually read this far then my final point would be that you need to show him some sympathy. Go and buy the book. He’s a wranga after all, they need all the help they can get. 😉

You can find more information or purchase Jeff’s book at http://youareawriter.com/.

Top 3 Books For Youth Ministry

Late last night I was texted asking for what my top 3 book recommendations were on the topic of Youth Ministry. I thought I’d share them here for interest sake:

  1. Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry by Doug Fields
  2. Fruit That Will Last by Tim Hawkins
  3. Leaders That Will Last by Tim Hawkins

I’ve also added a fourth in my response as years ago Al Stewart put out a little primer on youth ministry called No Guts, No Glory worth reading.

I’d recommend these books to anyone beginning in youth ministry or a good refresher for those who’ve been in it for a while.

What are your favourites? What would you recommend if you were asked for your top 3?