Archive for January, 2012

Piggy was John Wooden’s old coach at Purdue. And John Wooden was quite possibly the greatest coach ever, the “Wizard of Westwood!”

In his book, They Call Me Coach, John credits Piggy with keeping coaching simple by focusing on the right mental attitude. He believed this attitude was achieved by conditioning – getting in the best mental and physical shape possible to play, by fundamentals – executed quickly and skillfully in an uncomplicated way, and by team spirit – developed by consideration at all times for one’s teammates.

Wooden maintained that when we complicate the game, we lose sight of the beauty and grace.

I don’t really think I need to add anything to that. Thanks, Coach!

Elements of Coaching

Posted: January 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

It’s that time of year. People are talking about coaches.

Five NFL football coaches fired. New coaches in process of being hired. And things are heating up in college basketball. Which coaches have what it takes to get their team ready to make a run in the big dance? And of course…there are the coaches that matter the most…those of our sons and daughters!

I had a couple of conversations about coaching yesterday myself.  Context: I coach two junior high basketball teams.  I love coaching this age.  I’ve coached a handful of soccer teams and these two teams are somewhere around my 25th and 26th middle school basketball squads.

One of the two teams is a 7th grade school team where I serve as the assistant coach. The other is a church league middle school team where a father and a high school senior help me out.  One of yesterday’s conversations was with that senior student’s father. “He does really well. And he ‘gets’ the intangibles of coaching. I appreciate how the very first day he took time to learn every name and something about each boy.  There are a lot of college coaches that still haven’t understood how important relationships are to successful coaching.”

The other conversation was with a friend who was asking me questions about how I coach.  We had a fun conversation, but one of the things the friend focused in on was that I try to give each student a manageable, inspiring, concrete goal for each game, or part of a game.  That way every student can contribute every game to the success of the team while having a string of personal successes along the way.

Moving beyond middle school basketball…coaching is a great metaphor for youth ministry.  From practice to game time, from set plays to organic improvisation, from knowing your team to reading the opponent, from sideline encouragement to 30 second timeouts, coaching is rich with images that help us be intentional in how we connect successfully with young people.

What are some of the elements or components of coaching that you have used or seen successful in connecting with teens?  When and how were you coached well?

Pranking the Youth Pastor II

Posted: January 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

This one is for Jon.  If you serve in youth ministry, what pranks have you played on your students?

When I was a junior in college, a freshman student came up to me and said he was writing a speech on “uses” (the local vernacular for pranks) and wanted to use me as a source. I told them him the three marks of a great “use” were they had to be harmless, you had to pull it off successfully, and you had to get the credit.  He used those points as his speech outline.

I still think those first two are a pretty good measure. And here is your chance to give yourself the credit if you missed out on that third opportunity.  🙂

Integrity…what’s that?

Posted: January 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

“Who do you know that has integrity?” That was the question I posed the senior class. I hadn’t intended to. You might say the question took me by surprise.

The local high school was measuring seniors for their graduation caps and gowns. They decided to pull them all out of their classes and run them all through a set of short electives.  I was invited to come in and teach a mini-class on values.  Through the course of the day, I would have the opportunity to interact with each senior in the high school.  (Kind of a funny exercise to teach a class on values without permission to name an objective starting point.  The irony of educators helping lead the flight from objective truth to relativism always strikes me.  But I digress!)

Early with the first group of seniors, I used the word integrity in a sentence.  From the blank stares I received, I decided to take a short detour.  I gave a 3 minute orientation to the word, using the root to take me to the illustration of a “fully integrated” person.  “Who do you know that is the same person no matter who they are with?  Who do you know that has integrity?”  Blank stares.  Shrugs.  “No one.”  “Nobody is like that.”  In class after class. 

I tried to seed the discussion by offering the idea of uncles, aunts, coaches, teachers, mothers, fathers….   No one in any class all day knew a single person that they were willing to say had integrity except one person who thought maybe some preacher might. 

Chap Clark has written about students growing up in a world where adults have modeled saying one thing and doing another.  He suggests in his book, When Kids Hurt: Help for Adults Navigating the Adolescent Maze, that there is an ethical system in place for students.  It values loyalty and boundaries over integration and honesty.  And it is pragmatic.  Just like the systems modeled by the adults in their lives, they are willing to compromise or abandon an ethical framework that seems irrelevant or gets in the way of happiness. 

What do you think?  How important is having integrity, being a completely integrated person?  Are the new ethical “systems” healthy?  How are you seeking to model ethics and integrity with the students in your sphere of influence? 

And where are you discovering integrity already in place?  In your opinion, what is the soil that helps that plant to grow?

When I moved to my first youth ministry position after college, I was pretty green and eager.  After our first Sunday evening worship, several teens came up to me.  “It’s a tradition for us to take the youth minister out for pizza.  Want to come?”

I agreed and asked if I could invite the senior pastor as well.   It would be good to get them enjoying each other.  “Sure,” they said.  “She can be our guest as well!”  We had a good time.  And kids came out of the woodwork to attend.

Toward the end of the evening, my senior pastor was waxing eloquent on some topic.  Kids began to shove money and bills toward me.  “Here’s for our pizza.  We gotta go.”  I engaged with them to say goodbye, but not with what was being put in my hand.  When everyone had cleared out except the senior pastor and I….and the topic began to wane….I began to count the money.  I had in my hand about 16 dollars and bills for over $100 worth of pizza.

And no wallet.  Since I was being invited as a guest I had not run home for my wallet.  I turned to the senior minister, “Well, I’ve been had. You can either loan me the money or I’ll be here all week doing dishes.”  She paid.  And extracted her repayment from me by using me as sermon illustration fodder from the pulpit for weeks to come.  I was never sure.  She may have been in on the whole thing.

Just for fun…..youth ministers, how have you been pranked?  The rest of you, what have you done to your poor (and perhaps deserving) youth minister?

“It takes a greenhouse to nurture the souls of young people – a greenhouse formed by adults who want to know God. A young person’s faith is best tended by a variety of relationships within a Christian community.” Mark Yaconelli   

My mentor has said for decades that there are only two things necessary for youth ministry to take place.   Adults passionately in love with Jesus(1) who choose to authentically love students with intentionality and appropriate vulnerability(2). 

Research by Search Institute demonstrates that every student needs 5 caring adults in their life.  Adults who know them by name and love them unconditionally. 

How do/should these truths change the face of “normal” youth ministry?  What difference do/should they make in the choices we make with our time in our families?  How does/should this change our response to the teens within our sphere of influence?

Asking the Experts: Part II

Posted: January 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

What was a particularly powerful and effective learning experience for you when you were a teen?

What about that experience is worth bringing into your world as you befriend middle and high school students today?

Asking the Experts: Part I

Posted: January 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

Yesterday evening a father of teens shared a great parenting tip with me. It got me thinking – What are some of the best tips (big or small) for parenting/shepherding teens you have received or learned along the way?

I have a dream…

Posted: January 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

Many have spoken or written more eloquently than I can about Martin Luther King.  I’m not going to try.  But I have a few thoughts for reflection:

Martin Luther King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail of a time when the church was not merely a thermometer taking the temperature of the culture, but a thermostat directing it.   Can we/should we seek to be that once again?  How would that begin to happen?

Martin Luther King spoke in a 1957 Christmas Sermon about the necessity of light to drive out darkness, of love to drive out hate.  Are we guilty of wasting our light?  Are you teaching the young people around you to waste their light….or to hunt darkness and hate?

Martin Luther King spoke of having a dream where our children would be judged not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.  My perception is that while older leaders seek to teach and exploit new mores of racism,  many among younger Americans  no longer even see the color of another’s skin. But the second part of his dream is forgotten (by more than today’s Google icon).  Character?  What is that?  Does it really matter if a person gets their job done?   Revisiting MLK’s dream, how are you learning the first and teaching the second to a younger generation?

What about the difference of a life of one person with a dream?

Are you dreaming?  What do you do to help you have space/time/place to dream?  What is the inspiration and fuel for you?

Who are you dreaming with?  Who are you teaching to dream?

The Mighty Achievatron

Posted: January 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

David Brooks actually coined this term to talk about the professionalization of childhood. “From the earliest years, an alliance of parents and schools creates a pressure cooker of competition, designed to produce students who excel in everything. Brooks call this ‘a massive organic apparatus….a mighty Achievatron.’ The family is no longer what Christopher Lasch once called a “haven in a heartless world,’ a counterbalance to the dog-eat-dog areas of life. Instead the family has become the nursery where the craving for success is first cultivated.” (This quote is from a great little book called Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller)

Do you see this as true? Have you been a victim…or an unintending accomplice…to the Mighty Achievatron?

My family has been a part of a number of school systems. I grew up in academia. We have homeschooled, we have been in two public school systems, we have participated in some level with four very different home school groups, and we have participated in a limited way in three private school systems. Our older children have been a part of five college systems, both private and public. I have been an adjunct. We have been grateful for each one as we annually seek what is best for each one at that time in their life. We have also known a few thousand youth in the past 25 years of youth ministry. And I know there is almost no hot button like the education of one’s children. Yet, it is from this vantage point that I take the risk of making every reader angry at the same time and say that I think Tim Keller is understated in his analysis.

But that’s just me….what do you think? Is four to five hours of homework a night effective? To what end? Is the parade of limelights healthy? Has the removal of roles in our society created such individualism that we can no longer feel worthy unless we are the best…or at least better than most of the rest!?

Am I just a cranky or ill-informed grownup…or is the current education system overvalued and rapidly becoming less sustainable than the housing bubble? And more importantly, if the Mighty Achievatron is in fact seducing our children (and us), what is a Kingdom response?