to quote someone else: changing culture (Peter Block)

“A shift in the thinking and actions of citizens is more vital than a shift in the thinking and actions of institutions and formal leaders.”

taken from Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block

I read Community several months ago and have been thinking through the implications of its content ever since. This particular quote has generated a lot of pondering and wrestling in my head.

As a youth minister, there are things I want to see changed or focused on within the context of the congregation within which I work. There are attitudes that need adjusting, focuses that need fine-tuned, understanding that needs broadened, lessons that need learned, and apathy that needs shaken. There are even changes that need to happen, but can only happen when there is a shift in the culture. And changing a church culture is no easy task.

As Block points out the best (only?) way to change a culture is to shift the thinking and actions of the people in the community you want to change. What community culture do you want to see shifted?

  • A Sunday School class.
  • The youth ministry.
  • Your volunteer team.
  • Staff dynamics.
  • Church leadership.
  • Awana group.
  • Your small group.
  • Parents of your students.
  • Your family.

Changing any of these communities will take effort and time. If you are a leader of the community, you have a vital role in helping to shift the actions and thinking of the people within the community. You need to be intentional about changing your thinking, actions, and language. Since you want to see the changes, you have already made the mental shift. You might have even made a shift in how you plan, organize or promote things in order to show the shift. But the most important step (and one that gets forgotten by many leaders) is to verbalize and share your thinking on the shift.

Do you need to change how you talk about a topic? It could be as simple as changing the way you promote the Sunday School class. For example, if you want to shift the class to be more about discipleship than fellowship you will need to stop talking about how much “fun” class is and start using phrases that reflect the depth of the studies.

Do you want church to be less about attendance on Sunday and more about living a life for Christ every day? If you are a leader, you need to help the congregation shift their thinking from the one to the other. How can you help people see the Christian life as more than a checklist? A few possibilities include: speaking about the shift from up-front, changing the way you evaluate and discuss the ministry of the church, or spending time sharing the need for the shift with a few “key” people who can help you champion the changes.

What would you add to this conversation? What have you learned about changing culture?


Book Review: I Am Second

I Am Second by Doug Bender and Dave Sterrett hits on something everyone struggles with. Every story in the book, and it is full of them, is about someone’s struggle with letting God be first in their life. Every human being wants to know they can be different, that they can be better. This book provides some encouragement that it is possible – by putting yourself second.

One great aspect of this book is that it talks about drug addicts, marital unfaithfulness, absent parents, popularity and so much more. You will connect with the stories and be drawn into the lives of the people who are opening up to share their change. But even beyond the book, you will find links to other stories and videos on their website (with more being added).

If you work in a local church setting, this book is a great resource. It contains stories that are great for illustrations. You can direct people to specific stories that relate to something in their life. You can draw from the wealth of experience during a conversation or from a teaching role. You will find it relates with people you know. And you will find that it will change your thoughts and you will be affected by the openness and hope found within its pages.

The subtitle says it all: Real Stories. Changing Lives.

**I reviewed this book as part of the BookSneeze review program**

My advice (rating) – borrow from a friend (3 out of 5)

Simply Youth Minsitry Conference

In less than a month (March 2), I’ll be heading to Louisville, KY to join 3,000 other youth workers for the Simply Youth Ministry Conference. This year, I am going to be taking 4 other youth workers from my congregation. I’m pumped about sharing the experience with them, just hope they aren’t too overwhelmed.

The theme this year is “breathe” and I know a lot of youth workers who could use a chance to exhale a little. Maybe you’re one of those people who just need a place to breathe and refresh. If so, this is the place you need to be. Instead of me sharing why I’m looking forward to this conference, let me just quote/link to my post-conference post from last year. It pretty well sums up why I am going back for the third straight year.

As you can see, the reason I went back to SYMC this year (and the reason I’ll go back next year) is that the conference is more than 5 day event.

  • SYMC is a spark plug for your ministry.
  • SYMC is a collection of listening ears.
  • SYMC is love and support
  • SYMC is genuine.
  • SYMC is “what you see is what you get.”
  • SYMC is a family.
  • SYMC is a set of shoulders to stand on.
  • SYMC is a safety net to prevent huge falls.
  • SYMC is a smiling face.
  • SYMC is a place to rest.
  • SYMC is a place to recharge.

Here is the entire post – SYMC 2011 post-conference thoughts

If you’re going to be in Louisville, I’d love to talk with you and hear your story.

Book Review: Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half

This is a review my wife wrote after reading the book, “Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half” by Steve & Annette Economides

If you are in youth ministry, or any form of ministry, you could probably use some of the tips in the book to help your salary stretch a bit more.

“A dollar saved is a dollar gained” is a phrase I have heard before, and in their book the Economides show how to gain a lot of money when it comes to feeding your family.  Although not every strategy will work for each reader, there are so many ways to cut costs on your grocery bills that certainly everyone will come away with changes to be made.  I appreciated how the chapters were organized and well thought out, and at the end of each there were suggested steps to put the ideas into action.  Each of the tips were categorized by how you felt you already were handling the major job of feeding your family.  So, no matter where you fall on the spectrum of frugal or shopping every day for each meal, there is room for improvement.

As a mother of three, I felt I walked away from this book with very practical ways to lower or at least maintain my family’s food budget in light of rising food prices.  I consider myself fairly frugal when it comes to shopping and preparing meals, and I felt encouraged that I am not alone.  Not every idea I read am I planning on incorporating into my plan to feed my family, but I certainly have learned to think beyond coupons to see many ways to feed my family for less!  Thank you, Economides, for writing a book that pays for itself!

(This review was written as part of the Booksneeze book review program.)

Book Review: It Couldn’t Just Happen by Lawrence Richards

It Couldn’t Just Happen is not simply a creation v. evolution book for kids. It’s a book that anyone can learn from. Though it is filled with color photos and x-rays, it is not childish in its presentation of scientific facts that shine light on God’s creation. To make it just a little more applicable, each chapter has a series of questions at the end.

The book is broken up into five parts. The first part looks at Earth, including its origins. The second part delves into the beginning of life, even answering the question of if life can begin in a test tube. The third part takes a closer look at the design of several animals and plants. The next part is all about human beings. The last part takes the reader into a quest to understand more about the Bible.

If you’re looking for a book that will answer some of your kid’s questions about the universe or life, this book will do that and much more.

**I reviewed this book as part of theBookSneeze review program**

If you work in children’s ministry, this would be a great book to have for reference when discussing creation, Genesis, the Bible, or God.

My advice (rating) – borrow from a friend (3 out of 5)

The Wise & Foolish Builder

In Matthew 7, Jesus tells a parable of two builders: one wise and one foolish. Without even reading the story, you already know which builder you would want to be, right? Nobody wants to be foolish. Before we say anything else, read the passage again.

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

I have heard this passage hundreds of times (not counting the times I sang the song that goes with it), yet I just read some thoughts on it that made me stop and think. Here is what the footnotes say in the Archeological Study Bible.

“The sand ringing the lake (Sea of Galilee) was rock hard during the hot summer. But a wise builder would dig down, as far as ten feet below the surface sand to the bedrock, knowing that this was the only way to erect a foundation able to withstand the winter rains, which were notoriously torrential and capable of causing disastrous flooding.”

For some reason, I have always pictured the wise builder finding a rock formation that was on the sand and building on that. This would have taken time and forethought, but not a lot of extra energy. The foolish builder, on the other hand, was pictured as simply lazy or apathetic, unwilling to notice the foolishness of not using the rock formation.

During part of the year, the foolish builder’s house would be perfectly stable and secure. He would have no worries or fears. His house would be safe… but only because there was no outside dangers. As soon as something negative began happening, the foolish builder’s house would be in danger of collapse.

The wise builder – who took the time to build on a strong foundation – would also have no fears or worries during the good part of the year. But even when the danger came, his house would stand firm because it was built on bedrock which would not collapse. The danger would be real and he would certainly feel some affects of the storm, but he would outlast the danger.

Jesus says that anyone who hears His words AND puts them into practice is like the wise builder.

As a follower of Christ, I have to ask myself one question. Am I putting Jesus’ words into practice in my life?

As a youth minister, I have to ask myself another question. How am I helping students put Jesus’ words into practice in their life?

Are you helping others be wise or foolish builders?

Sunshine, baseball, and wornout grass

It was a nice sunny day and the entire family headed outside to enjoy the weather. The kids rode bikes, played with sidewalk chalk and just ran around. My wife and I played catch and talked. But then something happened that reinforced the fact that youth ministry is part of my family culture. Upon seeing one of the neighborhood kids (a 7th grader) come out of his house with his glove my wife says to me, “You should see if he wants to come over and play catch with you.” On one side, she figured I would enjoy playing catch with someone who is better at baseball and on the other side, she knew it would be a great chance for me to talk to him.

Joe (not his real name or is it) has a younger brother who is friends with my oldest son. He’s been over to the house before and we’ve talked before, so this was not going to be something completely new.

What I thought would be a 20 minute session of throwing fastballs and trying to throw curves ended up being something much bigger. I’m not sure how long we played or how many pitches we threw, but I know my arm hurt when we were done. In fact, as you can see from the picture, we played long enough to cause some serious damage to the well-being of my front yard.

We talked about school, family, and a little about church. I learned a lot that afternoon about Joe and his world. Something else happened, though. After I had to leave to start grilling for dinner, Joe stayed and played with my boys. He continued to play catch and just hang out – my kids thought it was great. And because youth ministry is more than a job – its part of our family culture – we had Joe and his brother over for dinner, too.

We were glad to have the chances to connect with our neighbors and it was a great chance to minister. But a few days later I learned that it was something more. One of Joe’s teachers goes to our church and a few days after this I was talking to her at church. We were talking about Joe, she was asking me some questions, and I mentioned to her that I had played catch with him earlier that week. She said, “Oh yeah, I know that. He came in the next day and told me about it.” She went on to tell me that she thinks I’ve been (and need to continue to be) a good influence in Joe’s life.

I was a little shocked. Apparently the fact that I spent time with Joe meant more to him than I imagined it would.

I was reminded that sometimes the seemingly small things we do with people, especially teenagers, are much more important then we first think.

Many times in youth ministry we get opportunities to spend time with students. Are you making the most of those opportunities?

Book Review: Jolt! by Phil Cooke

In Jolt!, Phil Cooke set out to write a book to help people navigate a constantly changing world. My first question when I saw this book was, “Is it possible to effectively write a book, which takes over a year from start to finish, about changing culture.” This was a question I was curious to answer, so I read Jolt! and made my own decision.


What Cooke is able to do throughout the book is discuss principles to navigate change and not specifics on handling individual changes. He discusses twenty-five mini-jolts within five larger categories. The five main categories are: jolt your direction, jolt what matters, jolt your potential, jolt your heart, and jolt your future. Within these categories, he discusses jolts such as the power of ‘what if,’ borders, creativity, the freedom of accountability, discover the power of faith, and get over yourself.


What I like about this book, and what makes it work, is the simple fact that Cooke does not try to help people utilize the latest software or app. He focuses on helping people become better people. And when we make the transition to better effectiveness and productivity, we will be better equipped to handle a constantly changing culture without feeling like we’re always behind.


**I reviewed this book as part of the BookSneeze review program**

My advice (rating) – go out and buy it (4 out of 5)

books for young youth workers

I am an avid reader.

I am a bookaholic.

I have been known to spend too much time in a bookstore.

Because of these facts, I do not recommend books lightly. Below you will find a list of books I highly recommend. In fact, it is a list of 8 books I have read more than once (and might read again). When I do read a good book, I mean a really good book, I’ll go back to it again. If it is really good, I’ll even read it again. And since I don’t like to keep good books to myself, I thought I would share my list of books worth a second read.

These books are not solely youth ministry books, but are books I feel help a youth worker maintain balance in their ministry. These books will challenge you personally, spiritually, and professionally.

  1. Flashbang by Mark Steele
  2. Me, Myself, and Bob by Phil Vischer (my review)
  3. Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli
  4. A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards
  5. Hurt by Chap Clark
  6. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
  7. Visioneering by Andy Stanley
  8. Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries (my review)

I also asked some of my friends to share their recommended “read twice” books.

my twitter friends:

@ShawnMichael Yac’s “Messy Spirituality”🙂

@GamersGuide2God Made to Stick, Mere Christianity, Screwtape Letters, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, and obviously the Bible.🙂
@DanuckInUSA The Present Future by Reggie McNeal
@dbuckham hands down…A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards.
A few of my facebook friends (who will remain nameless) recommended these books:
-Band of Brothers…Wild at Heart…Cost of Discipleship…John Stott…NT Wright…
-the giver. ECXELLENT BOOK!
-How to Win Friends and Influence People
-Where the Wild Things Are
-The Book of the Long Sun by Gene Wolfe.
I think its fun that a few of the books I thought were worth a second read were also on another person’s list. Just reinforces that they are definately worth another look.
What books would you add to the category of “worth a second look?”

Waiting for Spring

March 20 was the day I’ve been waiting for – the first day of spring. To be honest, this date has been circled on my calendar since the end of October. You see, I’m not a huge fan of Winter.

Growing up in northern Indiana afforded me many opportunities to enjoy winter as a child. We had numerous hills on which to sled, friends with frozen ponds or small hockey rinks in their yard, and even an ice skating rink in the mall. Though I enjoyed spending hours with my friends playing in the wintery goodness, I never woke up hoping there would be a foot of snow on the ground. I guess you could say winter was not my favorite season, I simply tolerated it.

When I went to college, in Cincinnati OH, I found a whole new reason to like winter less and less – driving on slippery hills. Driving on icy roads is bad; driving on icy roads at a 60 degree incline is just plain miserable. Again, there were many opportunities to enjoy the wintery weather with friends. But this time, I participated a lot less. I simply waited for the snow to melt and the warm weather to begin.

Over the past few years something has changed. I have become more intentional and focused on making the most of the cold months and not living as though I’m just waiting for them to be over. I finally accepted a truth you probably already know, when you focus too much on the future you miss out on the present. Focusing on Spring to arrive without enjoying Winter is simply wasting 3 months of your year (do this for 4 years and you have wasted away an entire year of your life).

I have found the same thing to be true of the Christian life. At times, it can be easy, even natural, to focus your energy on the future. It could be focusing on Christ’s second coming, avoiding spiritual change until “such and such” happens, or waiting for someone else to take the first step. If you are waiting for a better day to take your next step of faith, you might not ever start moving. Instead of tolerating your current spiritual status and longing for change, make today the first day of a changed you.