Dear Leader, please just say…

I was sitting around a table of some pretty influential folks (at least in my world) about 7 years ago. Leading up to this meeting, the group had made one of the largest decisions the church had seen in many years and guess what? It was a bad decision. Really bad. We displaced hundreds and hundreds of worshipers in our church. Carnage.

As this meeting began, the head of our team said something that I believe was the most powerful move I have seen in leadership. He said “I’m sorry.” He did not follow this statement with a “but” or read a letter that someone encouraged him to say. He owned the decision. He ate the frog while it was tiny, knowing it would someday grow into a massive bullfrog that would be harder to digest.

When leaders admit to handling something poorly, they earn trust. The opposite is true as well.

So why am I writing about this? Glad you asked.
I can count the number of times I have heard a leader own a mistake on two hands.
Here are some thoughts on the subject that people in leadership have shared with me over the last year and most of them do not sit well with me.
A. “If young leaders say I’m sorry, people will think they are ill equipped.”
B. “Women in leadership cannot say I’m sorry. It shows weakness.”
C. “Admit to a mistake, lose trust.”

Maybe these are true out there in the real world. I sure hope not. I hope this is just a crappy corporate belief and not the truth. Unfortunately, the higher you go in a corporation and the church, you will find leaders are afraid to say “I was wrong.” If a presidential candidate, a mayor or any politician were to admit to being wrong in full humility, they would have my vote. They have shown strength and wisdom.

I am no connoisseur of millennial culture, but I do have an observation or two. There are many people who sit in the pews each Sunday who want to believe their pastor is never wrong. And if she/he is, then for God sake don’t talk about it from the pulpit or in any crowd. Conversely, the younger generations want to not only know their leader, they want to know what mistakes they have made and owned up to. Again, eating crow builds trust for so many.

I want to grow in this form of humility and I want to serve under leaders who do as well. I think it is possible. Regardless of what the world says, I think it is possible.

“It takes a great deal of character strength to apologize quickly out of one’s heart rather than out of pity. A person must possess himself and have a deep sense of security in fundamental principles and values in order to genuinely apologize.”
-Stephan Covey

“Apology is only egotism wrong side out.”
-Oliver Wendell Holmes


Little Lent Thought #2: Effort

Effort is such an interest thing to me as a Christian.There are two
well known ditches that I hear about everyday and have actually
found myself in from time to time as it pertains to effort.

Ditch #1- Little Effort Required: this is a cheap or sloppy grace. It says that God has this thing under control therefore he requires nothing of his people. There are some truths to this statement as well as lies. Jesus never said “everything is gonna be alright”, that was Bob Marley.

Ditch #2- Faith = Effort: On the other side of the ditch we see folks who work so hard to believe and to show others they believe. Fueled by guilt, shame or legalism, this way of living is exhausting. Jesus never said “hey fella, just try a little harder!”

So what does it look like to live between these two ditches? How do we both rely on the sovereignty of God and fully participate in His work?

Dag Hammarskjold has influenced my thinking in a helpful way as I understand effort and following Jesus.

“Your own efforts “did not bring it to pass, ” only God– but rejoice if God found a use for your efforts in His work. Rejoice if you feel that what you did was “necessary” but remember, even so, that you were simply the instrument of which He added one tiny grain to the Universe He has created for His own purposes.”

As you read this today, know that the God of the cosmos wired you and repurposed you for something significant. It may involve getting on a plane to an obscure village, but most likely your mission or call to be faithful is within a mile or so from where you live or work. May God use our efforts for his purpose and may we never believe that what we do is more important than Who we follow.

Will you pray with me?

Hallowed be Thy name,     not mine

Thy Kingdom come,           not mine

Thy will be done,               not mine

Give us peace with Thee
Peace with men
Peace with ourselves,
And free us from all fear.

– Dag Hammarskjold



Preaching as Childbirth

shutterstock_187574327I know what you are thinking.
What the heck does Nate know about childbirth.
You are right. I have simply been a spectator and breathing coach.

Yet I will ask you to humor me as I tease out this metaphor on preaching that I heard several years ago from my friend Jim.

Conception- The journey begins. Whether you are given a text to preach or you found it on your own, you have been impregnated with the Word of God. Little do you know that preaching is a journey full of exhilarating ups and exhausting downs. In this first trimester it easy to get excited about the opportunity to share God’s message with God’s people. Like an expectant mother scurrying to decorate the baby’s room, a pastor scurries around collecting quotes, verses, video clips, prayers and insights leading up to the big delivery.

Third Trimester-
For me, I love wrestling with ideas and trying to discern how to say the words that the Holy Spirit is prompting me to say. Yet in the third trimester (or Friday) the hormones are raging and you can be swept around with expectancy and fear. It is in the third trimester that you share the name of your sermon and people have funny reactions. You are not sure whether they think your title is weird or if they think it is actually you who is weird.

At this point I bounce back and forth from “I can’t wait to say this” to “I have nothing to say” and on the dark weeks I question my faith, my call, my marriage, my favorite baseball team and my God.  Did I mention cravings? Oh yeah, I stuff my face with comfort food while questioning my life.

and then…… Sunday comes. The baby is coming and she needs to be delivered. All of a sudden, your faith is strong, your call and marriage are secure, you have forgotten about your baseball team and God is good… even though you think you still might puke at some point.

The Delivery- As silly as this may sound, I get pretty fired up when I put on my black Geneva preaching gown for our traditional services. Like strapping on my football helmet in middle school, putting on the robe reminds me of my calling and responsibility. It is an honor. It’s go time.

Now here is the kicker! After an emotional experience you deliver the baby and guess what? Every single church member has the opportunity to say whether or not they think the baby is cute or ugly. Even encouraging comments can be hard to hear after sermon delivery. In all honesty, critiques can carry too much weight and encouragement can be like a drug when given right after preaching.

Preaching is also very personal if you have a transparent and vulnerable preaching style. So when someone is really critiquing your sermon, you often believe they are critiquing you. This has opened my eyes to the fact that many people make harsh judgements about art or music, forgetting that the artist and musician are deeply connected to their work on an emotional level.

Postpartum- You may think I am being overly dramatic and I am in many ways. Yet preaching for many is an emotional, spiritual and physical experience. Monday mornings after preaching often leaves me in a zombie-like state. I am generally tired after delivery and at the same time I am ready to be impregnated with the Word of God again (creepy line in some ways, but you get the point). In this post-delivery phase I have to work hard to give all critiques (including the ones from myself) and the compliments to God. He is the one who gave the Word, grew it, launched it out of my mouth and takes care of how it shapes those who heard it.

Yet at the end of the pregnancy….

It is an honor to deliver God’s Word.
While doubts, fears, pride and need for approval often get in the way,
this emotional and holy experience shapes and humbles me like no other.

It is a gift.



Doing Life With and Without a Cutman (Cutwoman)

mentors-rocky-590x350Whether you are a mom, CEO, volunteer, minister or human for that matter…you will get beat-up.

You know what I’m talking about…

It is the criticism, the under appreciation, the anonymous letter and the daily betrayals that can leave you looking like Rocky Balboa on the inside. So where do you go when your child says that you are no longer a good mom or everyone in your job is advancing faster than you?

Hopefully you have a cornerman or cutman.

Read the definition from Wikipedia below and think about how helpful a figurative cutperson would be in your life.

A cornerman, or simply corner, is a term for a coach or teammate assisting a fighter during the length of a bout. The cornerman remains outside the combat area during the fight, but in proximity, and can assist the fighter through instruction. This instruction can take place in between rounds, as in boxing. The cornerman occasionally performs cutman duties such as applying ice to reduce swelling and stopping bleeding. The cornerman may also be responsible for throwing in the towel when necessary.

Can you imagine as a parent or employee having some older person with a small beanie cap who is willing to assist, instruct, reduce swelling, stop bleeding and even help you throw in the towel when you don’t have the strength to? As I write this post this morning, I can tell you what it is like to have cornerpeople in my life as a dad, husband and leader. I can also tell you what it feels like to go back to the corner after a fight and realize that nobody is there.

In the last several years I have heard 2 “seasoned” pastors say something to me that continues to catch my attention. They would love nothing more than to find a younger pastor and to serve as their corner man. As a young’ish pastor, I got googly eyed at the prospect of stepping out in leadership and knowing there would be someone to instruct and encourage me as well as stitch me up and reduce the swelling caused by the daily duties of leadership.

As a quick aside, I am also aware this morning that I have caused some bruising in the lives of others as well. I pray that each person in my family or those I lead in ministry find a cornerperson, but I also need to be a better corner for those I love and believe in.

Think about the courage to be gained in all facets of you life if you knew there was a cornerman or cornerwoman waiting for you?

Final thoughts…

1. If you don’t have a corner…think of someone who would be a good fit….forward them this article and then invite them to your corner.

2. The cutmen in my life have been greatly used by God over the years…but they are not God. Cast your anxieties first to God and then let Mick stitch you up and help reduce the swelling.



So You Wanna Be A Youth Pastor?

Just about every week I talk to someone who says they want to be a youth minister. There are so many responses to this statement that I would love to share and hear from others as well. This will be another “All Skate” post where I ask some of my ministry friends to share their gut reactions, statements and questions in response to the person who inquires about youth ministry as a vocation.

Let me (Nate), take the first crack at this;

Gut Reaction: That’s rad! Do you know what you are getting into?

Statement: I get the feeling that many people want to lead a youth ministry because they liked their own experience as a teenager in youth ministry. They loved their youth group and their youth leader. This is not bad, nor is it great. I make this statement based off of my gut reaction above. From the periphery, many observers see youth pastors going on trips, teaching, playing guitars and hanging at Starbucks. Don’t get me wrong, these things are fun and life giving for me, but they are only part of the job.

A wise sage once told me that if you love Jesus and want to share that love with students, then you should be a volunteer. If you love Jesus, love students and their parents and the church and creating structures and environments for other adults to love students, then you may want to consider vocational youth ministry. I personally think every follower of Christ is called to youth ministry and most will never receive a penny for their efforts. Yet the small percentage in youth ministry who get a salary realize they must function as a coach not just a player or an architect and not just a builder. A player, builder, volunteer is no less important than a coach, architect or a paid youth pastor. They are just different roles requiring different gifts and wirings.

Questions: What type of volunteering or interning could you be doing now to explore youth ministry on a deeper level? What God given gifts do you have that would serve students and their families? Have those close to you affirmed this gifts you just mentioned?

Full Disclosure: If I come across a bit snarky, it is because I think youth ministry can play such a vital role in supporting parents and students as they journey in faith. Yes it is fun and yes it is serious.

Mark the Oestreicher- The Youth Cartel

Gut Reaction: Sweet! Youth ministry is awesome!

Statement: (well, usually I think “sweet.” But there are times when I think “oh, uh, I think you probably have a whole raft of issues you should seek professional help with before you jump into youth ministry.”)

I agree with Nate: a significant portion of college-age people heading into youth ministry are doing so because they had a great youth ministry experience. That’s not a bad reason. Frankly, it was my reason, initially. My youth workers had a huge impact on me, and gave me meaningful responsibility and leadership opportunities (including opportunities to fail) in the context of mentoring. My youth workers pointed out what they saw in me—calling out gifts and strengths, as well as areas I should work on developing. Really, in many ways, I think that’s the question I ask young adults who tell me their thinking of heading into youth ministry: in what ways have you tried it out, and who is mentoring you and helping you identify your calling?

When I was picking a college, youth ministry degrees didn’t exist. But today, there are well over a hundred schools with a youth ministry major or minor. This is good and bad. The ‘bad’ is that youth ministry has proven to be a popular major; so plenty of schools have added majors simply because it will help enrollment. And future youth workers would be better to major in something else, than to attend a school where a youth ministry major simply reinforces a ‘fun and games, drive-by missions, isolate those crazy teens’ approach to youth ministry. BUT, there are some world class youth ministry programs these days, teaching exceptional thinking and practice.

So if it’s a high school student asking me about going into youth ministry, I usually move to a conversation about which schools could really help prepare them for this calling and career.

Questions: The primary question, really, is “why?” I pursue an answer (or answers) to that question from a hopeful and encouraging perspective, usually – because I love that someone would be considering vocational youth ministry. So I’m not asking ‘why’ with a skeptical, cynical set of assumptions.

If the aspiring youth worker is 16 – 20, that ‘why’ question is usually my single line of questioning (other than talking about schools, if they’re still pre-college). I don’t see any great reason to pop the bubble of positivity and excitement they have, and don’t think my ‘here’s what it really looks like’ counter-arguments will be all that helpful at the tail end of middle adolescence. But if I’m talking to someone 21 and over (rough guideline – really this is about maturity and adultness), I’ll also push in a little on their assumptions about what youth ministry looks like in the real world. I meet with too many youth workers in soul-stealing, humanity-diminishing contexts, and want those with a bit more maturity to understand a more complete picture of the youth ministry landscape.

April Diaz- The Youth Cartel

Gut Reaction: I couldn’t imagine anything better giving your life to. Let’s grab a cup of coffee with Nate and talk more about that!

Statement: I’ll build off Nate’s wisdom and thought process. And I’d add to the conversation digging into matters of the soul. Some of the unhealthiest people I’ve seen in life are pastors and ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Somewhere along the way they’ve lost their souls. They’re unaware of their pain and how it leaks in leadership, their life stories, their true spiritual giftedness, and their relationship with Jesus. Maybe their souls were never healthy to begin with, but the crucible of ministry has a way of bring that to light.

I was highly unprepared for the spiritual intensity full-time ministry would bring with it. The spiritual warfare, increased spiritual activity, pressures from the church, and every other kind of stress are really intense in Jesus-kinds-of-work. For example, for years I was told I needed to build a prayer team for my family, my leadership, and myself. It wasn’t until about 14 years into ministry when I finally heeded this recommendation, and I cannot begin to describe how different my soul’s health and ministry effectiveness is. Something different happens when a shield of protection cover your ministry.

Finally, I’d want to talk about how much work you’ve done in your life when it comes to dealing with your junk, your pain, your brokenness. Yes, we are all a work in progress, but you can only claim that if you work on progressing into your fullest self. Have you ever gone to therapy? (I think every pastor needs to have a therapist available to them.) Do you have a spiritual director or coach? What kind of mentors do you have in place for your development? What does the accountability structure look like in your life? We’ve all seen far too many leaders fall or burn out. It doesn’t have to be like this. So, what measures are you taking for your health and wholeness?

Questions: “What’s the benefit if you gain the whole world and lose your soul?” (Mark 8:36) How is Jesus becoming greater and you’re becoming less show up in your leadership (John 3:30)?
What does a rich and satisfying life look like for you (John 10:10)?