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As a youth minister, I work alongside college students a lot, and some of them have become my closest friends.  It seems in our conversations lately a theme has arisen.  They feel trapped somewhere in between where they’ve been and where they want to be.  I think we’ve all felt this tug at some time in our lives.  Maybe you’re feeling that restlessness right now, knowing that God is calling you to something else, but also knowing you must stay right where you are until He tells you to move.  And, it is mighty difficult to seize the present when you are reaching for the future.

As much as I want to say that I find myself in that place right now, it’s not the case.  In fact, it’s almost the opposite.  I’m glad that I’m not where I’ve been and right now the future is down right overwhelming.  I am happy in my present, or at least I was.

Because three months ago, life was difficult (isn’t it always?), but life was also going great.  My job was stressful, but I loved what I was doing.  I was building great friendships, enjoying being a “grown-up,” and finally planting some roots.  But, while all of that was great, God was reminding me constantly that it wasn’t what He called me to.   He didn’t call me to build a stable and “happy” life for myself, He called me to follow Him.

Life was going great for me, just in the wrong direction.

So what do we do when life is going great, but it’s just going great in the wrong direction?

Over the past 3 months I have been bombarded by this question.  It has shaken me to my absolute core, and for a long time, the only answer I could come up with was “I don’t know.”

As I began to talk through this with some people in my life, I was confused and frustrated and at times angry.  But, then I began to realize that, if I were on a road trip and found myself going in the wrong direction, I would turn around and go back to the last place I knew was right.  So, that’s what I did.  I went back to the last direction God gave me.

I remember it so clearly.  I was sitting in the back of the chapel at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in March 2008, listening to Francis Chan speak.  Francis is an amazing speaker, but I don’t remember a single word he said that night.  All I remember is God speaking inside my soul, awakening me to this calling to work with teenagers who had been abused.

In that moment, I didn’t really know what that looked like.  I thought God was calling me to start my own ministry (aka speaking, writing books, etc).  In the weeks that followed God confirmed over and over that He was calling me to this, and my ministry began to explode at the church where I was serving.

A few months later, I graduated from seminary and returned to my home town, to begin the job search and embark on my ministry calling.  But, in the craziness of my job search, I pushed aside my passion.  In that time I fought with God…a lot and questioned His faithfulness to me.  I felt like He had brought me out into the wilderness and left me to die.  I began to understand how Israel felt after they had be rescued from Egypt, witnessing God’s amazing power and provision, only to be brought out into the desert without food or water.

Then, in His perfect timing, He led me to Cornerstone and blessed me with, not just a job, but a family.

The past 18 months that I have been on staff at Cornerstone have been some of the hardest and most joyous days of my life.  I love the staff team here and my heart is rooted here in Cornerstone’s mission and vision for this community and the world.  I can’t imagine a better body of believers to be a part of.

So, this question of direction has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to face.  It has cut straight to the core of who I thought I was, revealing who I really am.  Because, as much as I love being on staff here at Cornerstone, my calling is not to be a youth minister. (For more details on that check out this blog)

I know that God led me to Cornerstone and has allowed me to be a part of this family, not only for these students and this ministry, but also to refine me.  I have grown to have a deeper understanding of who I am, my gifts, talents and passions, and, in understanding that I believe God is calling me into professional counseling.

I’m learning that sometimes it’s when we make a wrong turn that we find the greatest treasures.  Maybe it’s the detours in our life that God uses to show us Himself in ways we never would have seen before.  Maybe it’s how He gives us the opportunity to experience beauty we wouldn’t have if He had led us on a straight path.

Like He did with Israel.

God could have easily led them into the desert on dry land, but instead chose to lead them through the Red Sea.  He could have led them straight across the desert to Canaan, but instead let them wander around for 40 years before He led them into His promise.  He could have just teleported them straight into the Promised Land (come on He is God) and totally bypasses all the suffering and death.

But, He didn’t.

God could have made their journey easy, but then they never would have seen God’s power as He parted not only an entire sea, but a river, too.  They never would have experienced God’s continual presence leading them by a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of smoke by day.  They never would have experienced His unending care and provision through manna, water from a rock, and quail.  They never would have experienced His justice through the Law.  They never would have come to know His abundant love and forgiveness over them in such a real way.

So, as my journey moves me on to the next step, I’m learning to embrace the twists and turns God has in my path.  They are leading me to know Him.  They are drawing me closer and closer to His heart.  And, even though it’s scary, because each turn holds a new set of unknowns, I’m growing to I prefer it over the easy way.  After all, what joy is there in the destination if I can’t celebrate the journey.

Okay, so when I do book reviews I usually publish the  on my bookshelf, but this book has messed me up enough to get its own blog post.

Plan B by Pete Wilson raises the question we have all asked, and if we haven’t asked it we will soon, “What do you do when God doesn’t show up the way you thought He would?” or as it says in the the book, “Why God?”

I have kept a journal since I was in the 8th grade, and I have this habit of looking back every once in a while to where I was a year ago.  It seems like each time I do this I always think, “I never thought I would be where I am now a year ago.”  It never fails.  I am always living in a Plan B situation.  But, this book made me realize that even when I find myself in what I think is “Plan B” maybe it’s exactly where God wants me to be.  Maybe it’s God’s “Plan A” for my life.

You see I have been in Plan B situations: my father died when I was 17; when all I wanted to do was do missions, God called me to seminary; when I graduated from seminary, God called me to go home….and wait in darkness for what seemed like an eternity; I am still single at 26 while my desire for marriage and family grows deeper every day; and now I find myself facing another “Plan B” situation as I try to follow God’s leading in my life.

Wilson writes, “So many people miss out on this designed life because we make an unconscious vow that we will only trust ourselves and the things we think we can control.”

This is so true!  And, I am the guiltiest of all.  I have such a need to be in control, that it is hard for me to trust God, even when He is doing his best work.

Form me, the hardest part of being in a Plan B situation is believing that God is still with me and that I am not a failure.  I can’t even count all the times I have sat in my bed crying because I felt like God had totally abandoned me (one of those times was just a few days ago) and that I was a complete fool for trusting Him in the first place.  But, I believe if we (if I) could truly grasp that God is always with us and that He loves us unconditionally, then we (I) could trust God even in the darkest moments our our Plan B’s.

Wilson addresses this so beautifully in his book, “Just because God calls you to some venture, that does not guarantee the venture will succeed.  Just because life doesn’t turn out the way you thought, that doesn’t mean you missed God’s will….God’s will: it’s as much about the person we’re becoming as it is about where we’re going.”

So many times I completely overlook the process God has me in of “becoming” and focus on the product.  God is more interested in my becoming than my doing.

I know this is true, and yet when the darkness of my failed dreams sucks me in I completely forget it.  God has brought me through SO MUCH pain, grief, uncertainty, fear, hopelessness, and yet when I find my life flipped upside down the first thing I do is get angry at God.  I get angry because I think He owes me something.  I get angry because I am afraid and my gut reaction isn’t to trust Him to protect me.

But, what if God is doing His best work through my fear?  What if God is revealing His love for me by, as Wilson says, stripping me of anything that keeps me from him?

Now that’s a game changer.

But, I struggle, as we all do, with giving up my dreams and being willing to let go of what I want for my life.  Wilson writes, “We must be willing, if necessary, to abandon the life we’ve planned and dreamed of in order to receive the life that our God has authored for us.” Plan B situations will always challenge our willingness to give up our dreams to God.

It’s hard for me even to describe how this book has been like refreshing waters to my soul over this past week.  God has reminded me of who He is and that even when things seem crazy and cloudy and scary, He is in control and is doing great work in me.  If you find yourself in one of those “I never thought I would be here” moments, I suggest that you get Plan B and read it.  It has some very thought provoking questions in the back that will also help as you dig a little deeper into the character of God and what He has for you in your Plan B situation.

I’m not going to act like I have this all figured out.  I actually have a feeling that I haven’t even experienced all the Plan B’s God has in store for me.  Even now, I find myself in the midst of an “I never thought I would be here situation.” I am confused and scared, but, I want to trust God.  And, I do believe that He is working something inside me that I cannot even comprehend.

It has taken me a long time to get here, and I may change my tune tomorrow, but in this moment, my prayer is that I would not settle for safety and shortcuts, that I would not be satisfied living an unfulfilled life, and that in the waiting and in the darkness I would trust God in the process of transformation He is working in my heart.

It seemes like everyone in my neighborhood is moving.  It has become typical to see U-haul trucks going up and down the street and families carrying out boxes taped up with the pieces of their lives housed inside.  In two weeks I will be that person.  The U-haul truck will be outside my duplex.  I will be carrying out all of my boxes containing the pieces of my life.  And I will move (but, don’t worry,  I’m just moving across town).

I feel like I have been moving a lot lately.  There is movement going on all around me, and I am racing along with it.  This summer has been full of movement…so much that I haven’t even stopped to realize that July is almost over.  Last week was amazing with Cornerstone Youth OnMission.  I had the opportunity to work alongside 25 wicked cool teenagers plus our youth volunteers.  We moved lots of weeds, horse poop, paint, tree limbs, pine straw, people….and each other.  It was great.

Camp Cornerstone is next week, and it will be full of movement. But, I am praying for movement that is more than just moving groups of kids through different activities.  I am praying for the movement of kid’s hearts.  I am praying that God will move entire families.

In the weeks ahead, there will be even more movement in my life and with Cornerstone Youth.  This ministry is moving forward, and as it moves forward it is moving me forward.  I am learning and discovering that movement for the sake of movement can be dangerous.  But, movement with a purpose is revolutionary.

So many times I have caught myself moving (physically, spiritually, mentally, etc…) because I am restless with being still.  This is not the case right now.  I am moving intentionally, with a purpose, with precision, both in my personal life and in ministry.

I am excited about the movement ahead of me.  I am excited about what is coming up in the fall with Cornerstone.  I am excited about Revolution Weekend in August and our move to Wednesday nights starting August 26th.  I am excited to see the vision of reaching students in our community in new and fresh ways come alive!

I believe that God is taking Cornerstone, not just the youth ministry, but the entire church, in a direction of blessing that we can’t even comprehend right now.  I don’t know all the details of what’s on the horizon for us/me, and I’m okay with that.  If I knew, it wouldn’t be bigger than me.  But, I do know that whatever He has in store, it is His best.  It is in our best interest because it brings honor to Him.

He is moving.  He is moving us.  I am moving with Him.  We are moving with Him.  Will you move, too?

Just like last month, today I looked down at my desk calendar only to realize that it was still on May and June is almost over.  I can’t be so busy that I don’t realize a month has began before it is almost over.  But, nevertheless, June has flown past me, and it strangely feels like I have also flown past myself, leaving me somewhere in the dust of mid-May.

But, I guess I’d rather be busy than idle.

This time last year, I felt like I had nothing to do and life was barely managing to creep by, but now I find myself with so much in front of me that it’s hard to keep everything straight.

It’s overwhelming and exciting and scary and beautiful all at the same time. It’s my life.

The past 2 1/2 weeks have been a whirlwind.  I not only watched my little brother get married, I was in his wedding.  BigStuf was a whole week of crazy goodness.  Then, I went on “vacation” for four days.  And there is still more ahead…..Life Groups start up this Wednesday, Saturday is the OnePrayer Auburn Service day, family is coming for the 4th of July, OnMission starts the second week of July, then we are on to Camp Cornerstone, and before you know it, school will be starting back and Revolution Weekend will be here, and then there will be another wedding on the horizon…

Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful that I am active, but I also know that I need to build margins in my life, and I’m not really doing a good job of that right now.  Having so much going on makes me stop and examine what in my life is really honoring Christ.  Because if in all of my busyness I forget that He is the most important thing, it is all for nothing, and I have missed it…I have missed out on the Life.

Busyness doesn’t equal life.  A full inbox doesn’t equal self-worth.  Sleepless nights do not equal importance.  Anxiety does not breed success.

Christ equals life.  His word is Truth.  He gives rest to those He loves. And the only success that is worth anything is to bring honor to His name.

Now, I just need to remind myself of that everyday.

I went almost a month without going to the gym.  I blame it on busyness….or maybe just laziness.  But, now that I have started going back, I find that I am pushing myself more.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe I’m working out some agression…..I don’t know.

Yesterday in my “workout” I did pectoral butterflies (impressive….I know…).  Other than the fact that it hurts to lift my arms today (There is a sign in my brother’s gym that says, “If you can’t tie your shoes, you’re doing it right.”  So I guess that means I did something right.), it made me start thinking about the miracle of our muscles.

I have always been fascinated with the anatomy of the human body.  It amazes me how everything works together so beautifully, and if the smallest thing goes wrong, the entire body is impacted.

God has given us the ability to grow stronger by building our muscles, which can only happen through pain.  We build muscles by tearing them down first.  This is done through putting weight and resistance on them, making them work so hard that they rip and tear.  Then the miracle happens…the muscles repair themselves by building little bridges of more muscle tissue where the little tears are…binding them…building them…healing them.

This morning as I was lying in bed, trying to wake up, and trying to get my very tired and achy body to move, I remembered my pectoral butterflies.  I remembered that my muscles were in the process of repairing themselves and growing stronger.

I hate it when people say, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” (Sometimes I wish it would kill me.)  Or in the midst of a difficult circumstance someone says, “God is building your character.”  I hate it, because when people say these things it’s usually to make themselves feel better than the person going through the difficult time.

It’s not that I don’t think God desires that we have good character, but I believe He is more interested in building our dependence on Him and our desire for Him.  And, many times God tears us so that we become aware of just how much we need Him and want Him in our lives.

And, He has given us such an amazing picture of how this works.  Just like our muscles are built through resistance, our faith is built through resistance.   We come face to face with problems that are bigger than we can handle.  We find ourselves struggling with emotions and fears and doubts that weigh us down.  We look around and find ourselves alone, going against the flow, knowing that what comes next just might knock our feet out from under us.  It’s too much.  We can’t do it.  The fear swallows us alive.  Our hearts yearn for something more, but there is no hope.

That’s when we throw our hands up in the air.  We give up.  And that’s exactly where we need to be.  It’s where I am.

Becuase only when I give up does God step in and take over.

He will let me fail.  He will let me be torn down.  He will let the resistance come.  Because it shows me how much I need Him….how much I love Him….how much I can trust Him….He is my Healer.  He is my Defender.  He is the One who is Victorious.

I feel the burning in my bones for more of Him, and I will rest in that.

I spent some time visioning about youth ministry at Cornerstone with our Pastor of Connections, Josh, yesterday.  It was messy.  I was challenging.  It was good.

It looked a little like this.

img_0479

I put this picture on my computer desktop, so now everytime I open my computer I have to stop and think about–dream about– where this ministry is going, my place in this ministry, and how I can pull others alongside me in this journey.  And, that its okay to ask for help.

I have also started reading Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley.  I couldn’t even get through the introduction without being challenged in my understanding of leadership.  The weird thing is that I have never considered myself gifted as a leader.  Most of the time I find myself stepping up and being a leader because no one else will.  But, now I have a group of people that are following me, and I have to lead them somewhere…..that’s a lot.

I’m trying.  I’m learning.

The leadership essential that has hit me the hardest so far is courage.  I have never considered myself a courageous person.  For the most part, I am crippled by fear (at least I used to be that way).  Things are changing in my life, but fear is still something I face every day.  And, as a leader, my biggest fear is of failure–both in trying something and it going down the tubes and in missing out on something amazing God has in store.

These fears keep me from dreaming.  And, when I do let myself dream, I often write my dreams off as unattainable.  But, I am learning, that sometimes I just have to go for it, pick my fears up and take them with me for the ride.  And, if I fall on my face, I fall on my face.  But, at least you can’t say I didn’t try.

It’s my job to dream for this ministry.  To cast a clear vision and take people along with me.  It’s not my job to protect myself (or other people) or avoid risk.  It’s my job to stare risk down and move anyway.  I must be willing to challenge things as they are now for the sake of what they can be.

So, I leave you with this:

“Courage is not the absence of fear.  Courage assumes fear….  Courage is the willingness to strap on your fear and move ahead.  The leader who refuses to move until the fear is gone will never move.  Consequently, he will never lead.  There is always uncertainty associated with the future.  Uncertainty presupposes risk.  Leadership is about moving boldly into the future in spite of uncertainty and risk.  Without courage we will simply accumulate a collection of good ideas and regrets.  What could be and what should be will not be…at least not under our watch.” (Next Generation Leader, p.54-55)

“The leader who accomplishes great things will not always be the most talented or the best educated–it will be the leader who refuses to put brackets on his thinking.” (Next Generation Leader, p.74-75)

So, go dream!  Dream Big!  I will be dreaming, too.