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There are some weeks when I am preparing a message for our student ministry gatherings that I will leave the church and go work on it at a coffee shop. Most times when I go to a coffee shop in town, I will run into people that I know. The other day I ran into one of my youth pastor friends. We began to talk about our college days and about some of the ridiculous stories. Before we knew it, we had been talking about those memories for an hour. There is one thing that I miss most about college: COMMUNITY. 

Leaders recognize that there is power in community whenever you are trying to achieve a goal or finish a collaborative project. But do we recognize that same power in our circle of influence? How often do we look to see who is in our corner and if we have the right people in our corner? The community that you desire needs to be built intentionally. 

There is story that come to mind when I think about community. The story is found in Luke 5:1-11. Jesus was preaching to a crowd of people on the shore of Lake Gennesaret where he had taken the boat from Simon to use as a platform to speak from so the crowd wouldn’t trample one another like a Black Friday shopping experience. Simon and some other professional fisherman had just come in from an overnight fishing trip where they had caught NOTHING. As soon as Jesus had finished speaking to the crowd, he told Simon to go into the deeper water and cast your net. A tired, exhausted Simon went back out with the other fisherman. Jesus saw an empty boat as an opportunity, while the fisherman saw it as a failure

Simon said, “Master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.” It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch. -Luke 5:5-7 (The Message)

This story is the very beginning for the disciples as they began to trust and follow Jesus to go fish for people. Simon didn’t go into the deeper water alone, the other fisherman went with him. This huge haul of fish wasn’t a job that one man alone could bring into his boat, it required him to have partners in the mission. 

In youth ministry, it is easy for us to look at the youth ministry around the corner, the youth ministry that has triple the students we have, or the other church in your denomination as someone you are competing with. Those other youth ministry leaders are your partners in bringing in that huge haul. They are your partners in spreading Jesus’ name across your city. Youth pastors, youth leaders, whatever your title you have been given…we have been given… the task of leading students and helping them grow in a relationship with Jesus. We have to remember we must provide ourselves with the opportunity to be invested into as well. That starts with the community that you have. That community must be built intentionally. 

One of the biggest blessings in my ministry comes from the community I have with other youth leaders in our city. Whether it is coffee or lunch, my community provides an opportunity to connect, learn more about the stories of other youth leaders, their experiences, and youth ministry hacks. If you look in your corner and realize you do not have the right people, what should you do? 

INVITE the people who encourage, motivate, and challenge you.

IGNORE the people who drag you down. (Yes, they need Jesus, but you can’t help anyone experience Jesus if you can’t help yourself first).

INITIATE the action. Yes, people are being influenced by you. But who are you being influenced by? Be intentional about developing your community.

It’s time to check your corner, who is in it? 

When is the last time you found yourself asking “why?” Why do the days seem to run together? Why does it feel like summer camp just wrapped up and now kids are already back in school? Why does it feel like it’s too soon to be planning a new year of youth experiences and strategies? Why can I not get in front of things? Do you find yourself knowing where you would like to see your ministry go but just can’t seem to gain traction and you don’t know why?

I’ve found myself there a time or two. When I do, I’m reminded of something my pastor, Craig Groeschel, once said. It changed how I approach everything I do. He said, “We all end up somewhere, but few people end up there on purpose.”

Whether you want to get out of a mountain of debt, or simply want to make the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie, neither of those things will just happen by accident. You need to have a plan of attack. I call it “planning with purpose.” I want to share with you the five things I do when I have goals I want to achieve, need to course-correct, or need a whole new direction for my ministry.

OUTCOME

It’s hard to come up with a plan of attack if you don’t know where you want to go. Perhaps you’ve always led an event-based youth ministry, but your lead pastor challenged you to become more small-group focused. That’s great but, what does that look like? Is it creating an environment where students can hang out talking about Fortnite and the latest Chance the Rapper album, or are you looking for something more? While you may not know all the details up front, you want to be sure you are leading your leaders and stakeholders with strong vision like, “We want to create small groups that are based on trusted relationships where students can grow in their faith and exercise it.”

ASSESS

Before you know where you’re going, you have to know where you are starting. Once while visiting one of our locations in Texas, our Ft. Worth youth pastor recommended a great place for chicken and waffles. I was eager to go because who doesn’t love chicken and waffles? I put the address in my phone and prepared to leave when I noticed GPS said it would be a 14-hour drive. I double-checked the address and it was correct. The problem was, for some strange reason, my phone thought I was in Minnesota. That would have been one long trip. So, before you even get started, you need know exactly where you are.

MEASURE

So now you know where you want to go, and you know where you are starting. The next question you need to ask is, “How will I know if my new strategy is working?” How will you know what to celebrate and where to make course corrections? Imagine the look on Usain Bolt’s face if someone told him that he didn’t actually win all of those 100m dashes. That, in fact, the winner was decided based on which person had the shortest stride while running. Seems odd, but I have conversations all the time with youth pastors and leaders who say, “I can’t seem to figure out why my lead/executive pastor doesn’t see the points I’m putting on the board” or “Why don’t they see all of the wins in my ministry?” When I hear this, I always ask if the two of them have sat down together to establish what a win is.

RESEARCH

No matter where your youth ministry is now or where you are going, I’m willing to bet a couple of Fornite skins that someone has been there before or in a similar situation. Before you start laying out your perfect 11-step plan, it’s time to start asking some questions and doing some research. Find out what others before you have learned and use that knowledge to help. While you would love to be the first to climb Mt. Everest, asking those that have gone before you will make your climb easier, smoother and more efficient. It will also allow you to see possible pitfalls before you even take off.

PLAN

Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”  When I was in the Army, I had a Sergeant who always said, “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.” The same is true when it comes to creating a plan. The proper steps set up for a great plan, and a great plan followed up by great execution will help you find success.

The next time you face a problem, obstacle, or opportunity for change, ask yourself “What is my plan of attack?” When you plan with a purpose, your efforts to grow and get better will be intentional and strategic – resulting in fast and positive results.

My favorite thing to be called is “David.”  

The second is “Dad.” 

The third is “Coach.” 

And (believe it or not), way down on the list is “Doctor.”  

Why? The top three are personal and typically indicate a deeper relationship.  

Let’s focus on “coach.” Yes, you may have had coaches that were jerks.  But for the most part (especially those I have had the pleasure to work with-on the field and in the church), they are awesome individuals who care deeply about those they are coaching. 

I spend a lot of my days on a football field.  For those in the game, the field is a special (we use the word sacred) place where the relationship between player and coach is highlighted.  Don’t get me wrong, it is awesome to hear and feel the energy of the band and fans.  But in the heat of battle, the dance between coach and player is spectacular, messy, intense and special.  

I have spent 31 years on the youth ministry field.  For those in the game, the field is a special (we use the word sacred) place where the relationship between student and adult is highlighted. Don’t get me wrong, it is awesome to hear and feel the energy of the stage and students.  But in the heat of battle, the dance between youth minister and player is spectacular, messy, intense and special.  

Yes, I just made a very deliberate connection between Coach and Youth Minister.  Why?  The similarities are that close.  So, where does a “coach” go to get “coached.”  They can go to clinics and seminars on technique.  However, for most of us, we get the best advice and direction from those we call coach.  Or, we find seasoned (old) coaches who have been through the battles and earned the trust to speak into our ministry. 

With this in mind, let me introduce you to NYWC Coaching

Whether a rookie, veteran, or somewhere in between, you have hopefully come to realize that youth ministry is a team, not individual sport.  There are moments in which we face a cross road of opportunity and/or challenge and would benefit greatly from a conversation with a trusted, wise and confidential youth ministry veteran who has been there, done that and has the t-shirts to prove.    A conversation that helps you explore the various sides of the opportunity/challenge and can help you catch a glimpse of what each road may look like for you, your family and ministry if chosen.   That’s NYWC Coaching.  

Coaching is ideal for those…

  • looking to better utilize your gifts and skills
  • contemplating a ministry change
  • whose ministry is stuck or in need of systemic or structural changes
  • who have been fired 
  • who have been hired and don’t know where to start
  • who are looking for their first job
  • who have a difficult relationship with your senior pastor or volunteer
  • who want to know how to best use volunteers and/or build a ministry team
  • if you need encouragement
  • if you need an honest opinion
  • if you need more balance in your life
  • if need to process a particularly challenging NYWC Big Room or Class session.  

As you can see, there are a several reasons (many not listed) why you should consider scheduling a time with a YS Coach.  Each session is 45 minutes in length, FREE for NYWC Participants and the agenda is set by you.  

Sign up below to secure your time with a YS Coach.  Note: Time slots fill up fast.  So, if you know you want to schedule a time with a Coach, consider signing up before NYWC begins.


CHECK OUT COACHING AT NYWC 2019

Since recorded history, human beings have philosophized about what it means for a human being to live the “good life.” Perhaps the most famous ancient philosopher was Aristotle who believed that the goal, or telos of human life is to flourish. This flourishing, according to Aristotle is the result of right behavior (virtues), which results in living the good life. However, in the Greek World in which Aristotle lived, the virtuous life was a life accessible to enlightened and educated men.

Three hundred years later, Jesus Christ was born and his teaching on what it means to live the good life superseded that of Aristotle. First of all, Jesus desired the good life for all human beings, not just “enlightened” men. Secondly, Aristotle believed that all human beings wanted one thing – happiness. Jesus Christ brings something more deeply fulfilling than happiness – joyfulness. The scandalous claim of Jesus Christ, which was quite the stumbling block for not only Greeks, but also his own Jewish people, was that Christ promised through his own personhood to give life to the full to all human beings, John 10:10.

Too often we try to gain the good life through endless human effort, exhausting performance to be better and better, and trying to please everyone around us. This is only compounded in our current reality of what it means to “flourish.”

In a culture driven by innovation, technology and success, we are falsely promised that this can all happen while we become more fulfilled, time-efficient and productive. But the reality is that all of these things – innovation, technology and the metrics for measuring success – actually result in the acceleration of time, leaving us increasingly exhausted and depleted of the things that truly lead to the Good Life that Jesus promised to give us. AND YES, this is true of youth workers all over the country. I like to think Eugene Peterson had youth workers on his mind when he paraphrased Matthew 28:28-30 in the Message

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Jesus, Matthew 28:28-30, The Message

For nearly twenty years, Youth Specialties, has carved out a place in the National Youth Workers Convention for youth workers to take care of their souls, to rest and find quiet places to listen to God’s Spirit. The Sanctuary and Prayer Room have been a place of refuge and discovery. Our team of certified Spiritual Directors is there to help you listen to the Holy Spirit and your own life.

Nearly two-dozen Sanctuary sessions create space for you to sit at the feet of Jesus, like Mary did, and drink deeply of the water of life. The sessions are designed to feed your soul and provide you with ways to better sustain your life with Christ. The Sanctuary offers Morning Prayer, Midday Prayer and Evening Prayer throughout the convention. These are short prayer times that carry on the Jewish tradition that Jesus and his disciples followed and the early Church continued. Join us as we seek to be youth workers who engage in ministry out of the fullness of our life with God, in devotion to Jesus Christ and full of the Holy Spirit. Ministry out of the overflow of our life with Jesus sounds like the Good Life not only for you but also for those whom you live life with and share ministry with.


CHECK OUT SOUL CARE AT NYWC 2019

I was recently thinking back to the season where I started doing youth ministry.  When my journey began, America Online was the main way to get on the internet and they charged for every hour you were online. Around the same time, a certain former professional football player turned actor was just acquitted of murder. So let’s say it was a long time ago. 

In my initial youth ministry job, during my first meeting with our new Senior Pastor, I recall being introduced to a series of questions that he would be asking me for accountability. They were extremely personal and super weird.  I had been following Jesus for a whopping three years, and I had not had someone probe so deeply into my thoughts. I thought to myself I want to be honest with him, but do I really want to be that honest? I had literally just met this guy!

In the years that followed, I would be exposed to the various tensions of doing ministry with boundaries. Could I have a meal with a female youth leader? Should I only invest in the guys in my youth group? They’d say um, your wife can meet with the girls! But of course my wife wasn’t employed by the church, and her calling was different than mine. Everyone seemed to have strong opinions on one side or other, and I will admit that I spent times in both camps.  

In those years, I believed accountability in ministry leadership was either about following some unwritten ambiguous rules that you had to figure out, or being willing to tell your boss things you had no interest in telling him. I struggled with questions such as “Will honesty impact my job?” “How do I know if this is a good idea when my boss seems to think I should know this?” “Who can I talk to when everyone I know and trust is in this church?”

Looking back into the glorious 90’s and fast forwarding to today, I see a major way accountability in ministry leadership has changed, and I believe it’s mostly changed for the better. 

I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me

Technology has undoubtedly had the largest impact on accountability in ministry leadership. The church I work at now has cameras everywhere. I mean EVERYWHERE. While it might make me self-conscious if I need to “scratch” my nose, it also creates a feeling of safety because I know when I am in the building, I am protected. In addition to our church building, pretty much every place I meet people is littered with cameras, because that’s just how things are. If I’m connecting with someone at Panera, Starbucks, etc., these are no longer private meetings where I sit unaccountable.

Along these lines, accountability is different not only because of security cameras, but because people in your ministry have the ability to capture anything you say or do on their smartphone. In the pre-smartphone era, there were things done in youth ministry that I would never be so foolish as to write out, but let’s say that looking back, I cannot believe we did those things (anyone who has been in ministry more than 15 years surely has a story like this). Whether they were gross or aggressive games or other foolish antics that we shake our heads at today, accountability has changed the game. I think this is a good thing as it makes us filter these mostly immature things through a better lens. Instead of justifying things with “That’s youth ministry!” we can ask “What would happen if people watched this on video?” The accountability is built in because you live with an awareness that someone outside of that immediate context will likely see what you are doing.

Accountability continues with our personal social media usage. Did you know if you once tweeted something stupid in 2010, someone is going to find it? That Snapchat story you shouldn’t have shared has probably gotten a screen shot. Your Facebook comments from years ago are still around somewhere. That text you sent will likely be seen by someone you never considered when typing it. We are accountable in a way this world has never seen before.

We live in a culture where we feel like we constantly need to update people on our lives. We sometimes say things on social media and in text that we would never say in person. The problem is that people tend to find these things eventually. I’m pretty sure the only reason people know the stupid things I said and did in my early youth ministry days is because I told them, but for those doing youth ministry today, there’s probably video evidence! 

Technology breeds accountability whether we like it or not. This has been a game changer, and one that can make us better. 

Many times in my journey I have failed to be above reproach. Today we can consider technology an aid to help us in our striving for accountability. Let’s be people who serve faithfully, and consider the potential audience in our actions. Let’s refuse to allow our immaturity and foolishness to bring down what God has built up. May God alter our perspective to the reality that not only is He always watching, but others may be as well.

Within the context of Student Ministry, I am always looking for new, different and engaging games to play with my students. More than that, I am always looking for games that will equalize the playing the field. Sure, there are times where we play a game that will let the athletes flex their muscles and show off their prowess. But I also try to find other times where we let the intellectuals of our group show-off their critical thinking skills and capacity. Thus, when I think of games or play games and analyze what is best for our group and my students, this is always the lens through which I look. Therefore, I will try to highlight some of our favorite games that we have found as a Student Ministry.

Three of our favorite, minimal prep games that I hold in my back-pocket often are (what we call) Fishbowl, Empire, and 4-On-A-Couch. Each of these requires only paper and pens, a bowl or hat, and memorization.

FISHBOWL

Fishbowl is a game where everyone writes down three nouns on different pieces of paper, and puts them all into the bowl or hat. There are two teams, and three rounds. The teams take turns drawing a piece of paper, and trying to get their team to guess the noun they have. The first round is like Catchphrase, you can describe the noun but you cannot say the actual word or say “Rhymes with…” The second round is like charades, where the person must act out the card. The third and final round, the person only gets one word to describe the noun. The goal is to get the most points as a team.

EMPIRE

Empire is a game where you pick a category as a group, such as fruits, states, or colors. One person is the moderator, and every other person then picks an item in said category and tells the moderator (secretly) what they chose. You can have everyone write it down and place it in a hat or bowl and the moderator can read it that way. The moderator reads the completed list of everyone’s selections twice, mixing up the order as they are told them so as not to give away who is what. One person starts and tries to guess what someone else said. If they guess someone else correctly, that person whom they guessed is now on the guessers “empire,” and that empire now gets to guess again. You keep guessing until you guess incorrectly. If someone guesses incorrectly, it is now the turn of the person that they guessed. You can guess an established empire by guessing the head of the empire. If you guess them correctly, that entire empire is now in your empire. The goal is to become the largest empire and guess every other person.

FOUR-ON-A-COUCH

Four-On-A-Couch was introduced to me by one of my previous students, and has quickly become one of our favorite games. We usually play guys versus girls (i.e. you need two teams). You will need a circle of chairs including one extra chair than the amount of people playing, and one couch preferably, or designate four seats as your “couch.” Everyone takes a piece of paper and writes down their name and then places it into the hat or bowl. Then, everyone draws a name from the hat or bowl; you are now that name. You will need two people from each team starting on the couch. The person with the empty chair to the left of them goes first by saying the name of someone in the circle (remember, everyone wrote down their own name). The person who currently has that name moves to the open seat, and then trades name papers with the person who called that name. Then the person with the open seat to the left of them now goes. The game continues until you are able to get all four seats on the couch filled with members from your team.

CATCHPHRASE

One other game that we love as a group and that is very easy to play is Catchphrase. You can buy it at Walmart for $20 or less and it is well worth the investment. You sit in a circle in two teams, sitting every other person. The game shows a word and starts a timer. You can describe the word or the noun but you cannot say the word or say “rhymes with,” or “sounds like.” It is like hot potato in that you do not want the timer to run out while you are holding it. The person left holding the game when the timer does run out gives the other team a point. The game ends when one team earns seven points.

JACKBOX GAMES

Another favorite of my students’ is the Jackbox games. I have an Xbox One, so we use that. There are now five different packs I believe, but each one contains five or six games for up to ten players sometimes. You logon to jackbox.tv on your phone and enter the room code, and everyone can play the game through their phone. These games are fun and goofy, ranging from business pitches and inventions, to trivia, to designing t-shirts, to rap battles. Again, I believe these are well worth the investment (We host a different grade each month and these are usually the games my students want to play). 

THROW THROW BURRITO

Finally, a new game that I have had for a little over a month but that has become an instant favorite is called Throw Throw Burrito. It was made by the creators of Exploding Kittens (another funny small group game). Basically, this is a mix of spoons and dodgeball. There are no turns, so everyone is frantically looking at and passing cards, trying to lay down sets of three of a kind. There are three different cards that when laid down in sets of three cause different rules: Burrito Brawl, Burrito War, and Burrito Duel. On these cards, people grab the plush burritos that come with the game and either: The two people on either side of the one who laid them down race to grab it and throw it at each other, everyone except the one who laid them down race to grab a burrito and throw it at anyone else, or the person who laid them down picks two people and these two literally stand up back to back and have a duel, respectively. I played it first with my family and friends, and then tried it with a smaller group of students to play-test it. It was an instant hit.

Undoubtedly games are part of Student Ministry. Sometimes you need something to break the ice in the beginning, or create some fun in the middle or end of your time together. These are all simple and relatively inexpensive games that I have found work for my ministry and my context. They all do a great job to level the playing field, and I would encourage you to think about doing this more if you have not already. Instead of playing baseball, try wiffle ball. Instead of playing dodgeball, try Throw Throw Burrito. How might we create environments where all students might, or at least have a chance to succeed?

I have worked with middle school students in educational, athletic, and ministry settings for more than 14 years now. Although each context was uniquely different, there were still a few basic things about (most) middle schoolers that remained the same no matter what.  

They will be intensely interested in you. 

Do you have a boyfriend? Where do you buy your makeup? What are you eating? Where did you get those shoes? What position did you play in soccer? They may not show it at first, but the moment you let them in (even just a little), they want to be in a lot. They are stacking up questions in their minds, and if they aren’t courageous enough to ask, they are waiting for just a hint of permission from you to let them know they can ask. Of course, this only counts for some of the time with middle schoolers. Other times, you could walk into the room in a clown suit and they wouldn’t even notice. #middleschool

They exaggerate (and sometimes lie).

Something happens at the 8th grade dance, and you find the girls huddled in a circle crying in the bathroom. If it’s trending, they are talking about it… non-stop. Friend drama is basically an all out brawl (with words or rumors). It thunders outside, and they act like they’ve never been in a storm before in their lives. They see a snake outside, and it’s most certainly trying to eat them. Their teacher is obviously the most unfair person on the whole planet. Oh, and they didn’t copy that homework or cheat on that test; they were just scratching their head! You get the point. It’s a phase full of all out exaggeration. 

YouTube is Gucci

According to many research studies, 80%-95% of Generation Z seeks advice through YouTube channels and videos. The most searched videos are about real stories, day-in-the-life videos, behind-the-scenes videos, or how-to videos. They want to know about relationships and dating, teen trends, advice on how to do new skills, and more. If they don’t know how, they go to YouTube. If they don’t know what it is, they go to YouTube. If they want to become famous, they go to YouTube. So basically, you should be on YouTube as well.

What their friends think matters more than anything else. 

This is difficult, because as puberty begins to change them from the inside out, middle schoolers are desperately trying to fit in. Peer approval will always trump advice from adults. They can’t be seen wearing those pants, hanging with those boys, or walking around in public without makeup. The point is, students at this phase care more about what their peers say than anyone else. That’s why finding an influential student to lead the charge on a new initiative or event you are having will give you more success. Because if Sadie thinks it’s cool, everyone will think it’s cool. 

They push their parents away. 

Middle schoolers want freedom. They aren’t kids anymore, and when they are treated that way, they revolt. They pushback on everything from bedtime, to chores, to going places by themselves, to social media. They want to make their own choices. The tricky part for a student leader is balancing earning a student’s trust while being present for the parent. It is an art. Youth leaders have the privilege of standing in the gap between the middle schooler and the parent. But no matter what, always remember to let it be known that you are on the parent’s team. 

They are incredibly insecure about what is happening to their bodies. 

They feel like they are the only ones going through this thing called middle school. Normalizing what’s happening to and around them is imperative. If you are trying to get a middle school student to do something in front of their peers and they resist, there is probably a physical explanation for it. Sweat stains. Period leakage. Wrong bra. Gas. Food in their braces. Acne. Though it’s all normal, it feels isolating to them. So don’t push them.

They want to have fun, but they want to be taken seriously. 

You can’t be boring, or they won’t want to be with you. They don’t want you to just allow them to have fun; they want you to have fun with them. At the same time, they want you to be real with them. They want to be taken seriously. They don’t want surface answers. They want direct, real explanations. When they tell you something that seems silly to you but real to them, you can’t laugh. You can’t dismiss it. You have to engage it with a matched level of seriousness to show them you care.

No matter where you’re working with middle schoolers, I think these seven things will stay true. It’s who they are in this phase, and it’s why they need people like you cheering them on and loving them as they figure it out. 

What does being together really mean? 

Today, the word can mean different things to different people. 

So what if we saw the theme of Together in light of Jesus’ John 17 prayer? Just moments before the cross, Jesus prayed for his disciples. But then he prayed for us, asking that “for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21 ESV).

There is a lot in these powerful lines. But for now, I want you to lock into one major take away: Jesus prays that our “together” would be the same unity that exists in the Trinity. 

Literally.

Let this idea shake you up: Jesus believes that the Church can be as united as He is with the Father and the Holy Spirit! So, when we say together, it must carry the mystery and weight of the Trinity. For one thing, this means we can’t ever quit on together. This also means we submit and serve one another relentlessly as we co-create with God the future He wants.

A Little Further

Or, what if we saw this theme of Together in light of Ephesians 1? Paul echoes Jesus’ prayer here and says that “(God) made known to us the mystery of his will…to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Ephesians 1:9-10 ESV). 

Are you ready for a bold statement? If unity is not a key part of our ministry, discipleship or outreach to love our communities, then we are missing a central part of the Gospel. Jesus’ prayer and Ephesians 1 highlight that unity is absolutely central to being God’s missional community. When we say together we are really talking about a cornerstone element of the Gospel. So, without unity, are we sharing an incomplete gospel? 

Unity Looks Like….

In my recent book, Designed For More I use a natural phenomenon of flocking starlings known as a Murmuration to draw lessons from nature and Scripture for how to move in unity. The beautiful flocking formations are a mesmerizing madness that give us a window into what our together can look like. After all, Jesus himself said “look at the birds of the air!”

Similarly to the birds, being together for us means seeing ourselves and our ministries, as part of a larger body. This in no way minimizes denominational tradition or beliefs, but rather celebrates the diversity – for the purpose of collective citywide strategies. 

It looks like sharing resources outside of our typical in-group and to care a little less about our brand and a little more about Kingdom. The goal is not to become one mega bird. The goal is to learn to fly in unison.

Unity Does NOT Look Like…

First, unity is not merely in our hearts—it is physical and visible too. 

The unity Jesus prayed for was not just for unity’s sake. The greater purpose is for the world to see God through our love and united missional efforts. It is not merely the act of self-sacrifice that will catch the world’s attention, but even more so, who is doing it together. The unity in the Church cannot only be spiritual in nature – it must become an incarnational, tangible and visible expression.

This does not mean we must work on everything together all of the time. Even in the Murmuration there are moments when the flock separates. But the why behind our separation is the critical difference between God-glorifying movements and decisions that grieve the Spirit.

Second, unity does not come at the sacrifice of purity of the Church. 

Theologians talk about the tension between the “purity” of the Church and the “unity” of the Church created by believers’ passion for truth and their interpretation of Scripture. We like to make lists of what a pure Church looks like, listing things such as biblical doctrine, proper use of sacraments, and spiritual power in ministry, among others. 

While this conversation regarding the purity or unity of the Church has merit, the dialogue is operating from a wrong premise because unity actually contributes to the purity of the church. This is not an either/or scenario, because unity and purity do not stand opposed as if on two ends of a spectrum.

Let’s Fly!

Fighting for “together” is stuff of guts and glory. It can be hard, but following God’s design is worth it. May we fight for unity as the Holy Spirit propels our own Murmurations as the entire world looks up to see Christ as Lord. Let’s fly!


Excerpts taken from Designed For More book, Faithwords 2018. For more, visit www.LucasRamirez.org or @TheLucasRamirez

Remember Your Value 

You matter, you are communicating something new or inspiring which is why you are able to lead! People are following you for a reason. Remember that you have value and that what you do is important. You don’t need to be arrogant to be a leader, but you do need a high level of confidence and the willingness to be bold. As a leader, you have the opportunity each day to teach and inspire something new in the world and you have the drive to go after it. 

Be unapologetically you in your leadership and surround yourself with people who stretch and challenge you. Since you are a unique voice in the world, you may find yourself with people who are trying to cheer you on or tear you down. Humility is important for a leader but so is knowing the reason why you stood up as a leader in the first place. If you don’t know your why and how valuable your voice is, it is easier to give up when the going gets tough. 

Support Your Team 

Every leader knows that your team can make or break you. If you don’t have a team, go find like minded people who want to get behind your vision and treat them like gold. You can’t truly be a leader if there aren’t people sharing your vision and working to complete your goals by going in the same direction. This is where you get to inspire people with your ideas for the future and encourage them to be a part of whatever you are trying to build. 

If you already have your team assembled, remind them that you are behind them 100%. Good leaders will always propel their team forward and place trust in them to go toward the set goals and visions of the organization. Teams function best when they know they are supported by leadership and can operate with enough freedom to accomplish tasks while knowing that they can always come to the leadership team for extra support. Continually encourage your team to push forward knowing that they have your support. 

Set Goals and Celebrate Wins

Part of caring for your team is teaching them what your wins are! You need to define what success looks like for you and celebrate when your team reaches their goals. The goals you set should be of varied level of difficulty to keep momentum moving for yourself and for your team. Set goals that are attainable in the next month, the next year, and the next 5 years. Hitting these goals will encourage you and your team to continue working hard for the next win. 

When you reach goals as a leader or as a team take time to recognize the hard work that it took to get you to this new goal. Encourage the people who worked hard to reach your goals so that they will have a reason to stretch toward the next one. You don’t have to spend lots of money to let people know you appreciate them either. Simply do something out of the ordinary to thank yourself or your team for working hard. 

Watch Out for Burnout and Find Support 

It is important for you to take care of you. As a leader, it may be tempting to try to work the longest hours to prove your worth. Some weeks, you may need to work longer hours than usual to complete a project but if you consistently work excessive hours, please be careful. Even if you are a passionate leader, burnout can happen and we have learned that this type of stress can cause leaders to give up entirely.

Another key to avoiding burnout is to build a network of leaders who may be going through the same types of things that you encounter. It is always helpful to have a listening ear when you encounter roadblocks. Choose these people carefully and look for mentorship over friendship when building a trusted network. Confide in people who will help you continue to grow spiritually and emotionally so that you can become an even better leader and learn through difficulties.  Take care of yourself and work hard because the world needs your voice, your passions, and your leadership. 

On July 22, 2006, I had a crossroads moment. Amanda and I were returning from our first beach vacation as a married couple. When we reached the city of Birmingham, Alabama, I said out loud, “I’ve had enough!” At that point in my life, I was 402 pounds. I wore a size XXXXXXL, that’s SIX Xs, shirt. My waist size had topped out at 56 inches. I had just spent a week on the beach, and I was miserable. Unhappy. Out of breath. And, borderline depressed. Something had to change.

So, then and there on I-65, I pledged before God and Amanda that I was going to be different. And, the journey I was about to embark on would not have been possible without that moment.

Over the next few lines, I want to layout some TRUTHS that I have learned during my transformation. They may not be groundbreaking, but I can promise each is true!

Cut The Junk

You may be thinking, “If he says I can’t have Cheetos, I’m out!” Well, even though that may be true, I am headed in a different direction. I had to STOP lying to myself. I had to admit I was in a state that needed to change. I could no longer believe the lies or continue the excuses if I wanted to be different. First, if you’re going to change, you MUST cut the junk!

Focus On YOU

Indeed, selfish people are not the easiest to be around. But, when it comes to your health and lifestyle, you MUST focus on yourself. Many of us get into terrible health predicaments because we forget to take care of ourselves. We choose to focus on other things, and when that happens, YOU are the one who suffers. I realized early in the process that I was going to need to say NO to some things to say YES to life transformation. It may be hard, but you will need to focus on yourself to make any necessary changes.

Hard Work

Changing one’s health and lifestyle is not for the faint of heart or the uncommitted. It requires hard work. Over the years, people would ask me what was at the core of my lifestyle transformation success. I would respond with something like this, “Do you really want to know?” After they said yes, I would say, “Hard work.” It is not always the most popular answer, but it is the truth. It is also the most sustainable way to transform. No “magic potion” is a substitute for hard work. Do you want to change your lifestyle? Let me suggest that you set a plan. Then get to work!

Don’t Diet

In my experience, a diet will always fail. I had tried a great many diets and every one left me with my head hanging. The reasons a diet will fail is because you cannot stay on the low carb, high fat, low fat, salads only bandwagon forever. I found sustained success by re-working my relationship with food. For those of us who find food comforting, it can be a REAL struggle. That’s why the harder you work, the more sustainable results you will see. Diets are a quick fix. Working on a relationship is something that takes effort. My motto, which is not original, is I no longer LIVE to EAT, but I EAT to LIVE. Please do the hard work and don’t just diet, and it will pay off in the long run.

Discover Your WHY

Do you see an area of your life that needs some attention? Do you wish to change a bad habit? If you want that change to last, you must discover your why! My why was I wanted to be MORE than what I was. I wanted to be a better husband, teacher, and disciple of Jesus. I wanted to have more energy to serve. I wanted to live a long and productive life. And at 402 pounds, I was finding it very hard to do. It is your WHY that will fuel the way you go about accomplishing your goal. It’s your WHY that will keep you on track when you want to quit. Essentially, it is your WHY that will drive you to change and transformation. It may take some work, but discovering your WHY will be the most important thing you will do!

I often ponder on what my life might look like if I had never decided to take hold of it. What would I be doing? Where would I be working? Would I still be alive? And, even though we will never know when our last moment on earth will be, I think it is up to us to give ourselves the best possible chance to live a long and productive life!  

If you find yourself needing a crossroads moment maybe reading this article will be it. And if it is, may I call your attention to number one on the list above – Cut The Junk!  Start by being honest with yourself and get to work!

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