I once blogged about the importance of parental influence and mentioned five things that can increase it. In this–and the following four posts–I will elaborate on what I call the Five Optimizers of Influence. While nothing guarantees that our kids will make wise choices, my 31 years of youth ministry taught me that parents who become proficient in these five areas will have maximum impact on their kids.
1. Model authenticity.
Since character and values are more caught than taught, careful management of your own life and character is of critical importance.
Want them to have high moral character? Live it. How can we expect them to be honest if we’re cheating on our taxes? How will they be truthful if they see us calling in sick on the way to the golf course? How can we expect them to be respectful when we mock those of different political persuasions? How will they learn patience and forgiveness if we don’t work on our road rage? How will they be humble if they never see us apologize?
Want them to learn? Show that you don’t know everything and that you have a teachable spirit. Model a desire to seek truth wherever it may be found. Show interest in learning from them; they will likely want to learn from you in return.
Want them to open up to you? Open up to them, speaking about things that really matter. Be transparent and vulnerable about how you are growing and what your personal goals and dreams are–physically, relationally, spiritually, financially, etc. Authenticity breeds authenticity just as superficiality breeds superficiality. Such conversations may help you discover the unique person that they are.
Want them to be spiritually strong? Devote yourself to the spiritual disciplines (prayer, Word, solitude, etc). Spend less time monitoring their spiritual walks and more time focusing on your own spiritual development. Let them see you carving out time to get alone with God. Let them see your open, underlined Bible. Let them see how developing intimacy with God is a priority in your life–not just lip service–and that it is changing you for the better. Show joyful obedience, generous giving, and eagerness to do ministry — all flowing from a heart of thankfulness, never obligation.
Want them to be careful about their internet use? Show them your own commitment to internet accountability by giving your social media passwords to your spouse and not shying away from random checks on your computer use. Show how you proactively guard yourself against porn and other online temptations.
Want their dating life to be God-honoring? If you’re married, model a God-honoring marriage. Let them see you reading books to strengthen your marriage and see your eagerness to attend marriage conferences. Let them see two imperfect people who are committed to relational growth. Be a team. Regularly show forgiveness, love, and respect toward one another as well as much displayed affection. Talk about the importance of exclusivity in your relationship. If you’re single, explain your beliefs about marriage and expose your kids to healthy marriages.
Want them to be plugged into a faith community? Don’t allow Sunday sports leagues to interfere with church attendance–think what that teaches them about your priorities! If you make church involvement important to you it likely will become important to them for the rest of their lives.
Want them to take care of themselves? Show how you are taking care of yourself. Attend to your personal growth needs and show self-respect. Parents who are so busy meeting the demands of their children become doormats, unintentionally teaching that parents are push-overs and that kids can be entitled.
Tomorrow I will elaborate on the next Influence Optimizer!
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New Year’s Day is a good time to think about where we’ve been and what lies ahead in the coming year. Today, many will be setting New Year’s Resolutions in hopes for better days ahead, but it’s well-known that most of these short-term goals will be short-lived. But what if we had a longer-term look at the things we need to change?
A few years ago, I was challenged by reading The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards, by Steven J Lawson. It highlights the determination/focus of Jonathan Edwards, one of my heroes of the faith. This man from the 1700s was a spiritual giant, a great evangelist, and an intellectual genius (he was a President of Princeton) who has also been called the greatest theologian America ever produced. This is someone to learn from! While still a teenager, Jonathan carefully crafted seventy Resolutions that he would live out during his entire life. They are amazing to read, in fact, click here to read them now! They make most of our New Year’s Resolutions seem shallow by comparison!
Reading Edwards’ resolutions made me resolve to come up with my own Lifelong Resolution list, which I’ve been working on over the past few years and revising annually. Jan 1st is a good time to re-post them in their latest form.
Here then, in the spirit of Jonathan Edwards, is my updated list of my Forty Life Resolutions.
MY FORTY LIFE RESOLUTIONS
Note: I do not claim to yet be living out all of these resolutions consistently in my life. They are more statements of intent — the things I want to be realities in my life.
Revised Jan 1, 2019
PREAMBLE: (adapted from Edwards) Aware that “apart from Him I can do nothing” I humbly entreat God by His grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, as much as they align with His will.
RESOLUTIONS OF THE HEART
Resolved that my primary delight be in God alone, irrespective of my circumstances, regarding Him as my only true need.
Resolved to view His Word as a chest full of treasures providing spiritual riches, and to partake of that Treasure consistently–daily when possible.
Resolved to attentively listen to the voice of God by whatever means God would speak—general or special revelation—and not to limit God’s channels by my narrow thinking, prejudices, and assumptions.
Resolved to make personal prayer a lifeline priority—surrendering myself to His service and pursuing relational intimacy with Him and surrendering myself to His service.
I aspire to seek to love God with my emotions, fighting against my natural tendency toward stoicism and intellectualism.
Resolved to regularly pray “Thy Kingdom Come,” interceding for God to bring His justice and abundant provision and the proclamation of the Gospel to all His creation.
Resolved to increasingly develop and portray a longing for heaven and to maintain an eternal perspective.
I intend to allow any discomfort, suffering, or mistreatment I experience to deepen my appreciation of the suffering Jesus embraced for me. (Philippians 3:10)
I intend to sacrifice my life willingly and gladly if God directs.
Resolved to be a faithful husband to Cindy until death, dedicating my eyes, my body, and my affections to her alone out of obedience to Christ. I will seek ways to put her wants before my own.
Resolved to have absolutely no secrets of any kind in my personal life. I will fully disclose all my areas of weakness to trusted friends that they may hold me accountable — that I may always be a man of complete authenticity and integrity.
Resolved to be at peace with all men as far as it depends on me, (Rom 12:18) meaning to me that there should be no one on the planet to whom I would not gladly share a meal.
Resolved always to treat every person with a heart of respect regardless of how much I may like or dislike that person’s personality, values, or behavior. I will take special care to show extra love and respect to those whom evangelical Christians and others have historically mistreated such as gays, atheists, liberals, the disabled, people of other religions & those society would call “ugly”.
RESOLUTIONS OF THE HEAD
Resolved to be continuously attentive to my weaknesses, that I may surrender them to Christ’s mercy and transforming power, but not so obsessed with them that they distract my attention from God thus becoming an idol.
Resolved to hold my loved ones loosely: never presuming upon Gods propensity to bless, but rather viewing them always as a temporary privilege and never as an entitlement.
Resolved, like Paul in Philippians 4, to be content with and thankful for whatever God gives me: whether prosperity or adversity, comfort or suffering, joy or sorrow, sickness or health, abundance or scarcity.
I intend to gladly submit to any injustice done to me without claiming my so-called “rights” just as Jesus modeled. (1 Peter 2:21-25)
Resolved to protect and preserve my life only as much as is prudent and a matter of reasonable stewarding of the brief earthly life God has granted me.
Resolved never to hold a grudge against, seek revenge from, nor to rejoice at the misfortune of anyone who may have wronged me or surpassed me in achievement.
Resolved to never take personal offense at anyone, knowing that given the same circumstances and apart from the grace of God I would have treated myself likewise.
Resolved to recognize that we live in a spiritual as well as physical world and that our true battle is not against flesh and blood but is fought through prayer in the unseen spiritual realm. (Eph 6:12)
Resolved to be a lifelong thinker, learner and reader so that I may continuously challenge my own perspective and worldview. I want my faith to be an intelligent one and one that recognizes truth, wherever it may be found.
Resolved to never put my hope in political parties, governments, ideologies, personalities, or in anything other than God Himself and His church insofar as it submits to His headship.
Resolved to care very little about fashion, fads, trends, pop culture, amusements, or technologies except as they serve to advance what I perceive to be the purposes of God in my life, i.e. being in the world, but not of the world. (John 17:15-16)
Resolved never to judge anyone inwardly or outwardly to whom God might hold to a different standard in these matters of asceticism, spiritual disciplines, fitness, finances, and lifestyle. (1 Cor 7:17)
RESOLUTIONS OF THE HABITS
Resolved, like Jonathan Edwards in his 63rd Resolution, to seek to behave in the same way as if I were aspiring to be the godliest person in my generation. (1 Cor 9:24)
Resolved to live an authentic, exemplary life worthy of imitation as I seek to imitate Christ. (1 Cor 11:1)
As long as I’m physically able, resolved to keep my body in excellent physical condition as a matter of stewardship and enjoyment, but not of vanity or condescension.
Resolved to surrender my natural inclinations toward laziness and comfort-seeking and instead rely on God to transform me into a diligent, proactive, risk-taker, who generally seeks out hard things rather than easy ones.
Resolved to surrender to Christ my natural tendency toward introversion that I may better influence others by proactively investing my life in them.
Resolved to keep under control my God-given appetite for food and to always remain thin as an outward display of my inward convictions to live an ascetic lifestyle of contentment, moderation, and restraint.
Resolved to fight against my natural lack of proficiency at remembering names, faces, and details; i.e. to sharpen my mind and take extra effort to remember, allowing me to better honor and influence.
Resolved to faithfully and regularly intercede for those individuals that God has put in my circles of influence and awareness, praying God-sized prayers, expecting the miraculous, as frequently as I perceive Him to direct.
Resolved to be highly influential in the lives of those around me as I seek ways to encourage, inspire, and equip them to grow in goodness and godliness.
I aspire to be honest, direct, and prompt to hold crucial conversations and confrontations rather than resorting to silence (as is my tendency).
Resolved to continuously strive to improve in my effectiveness as a highly involved husband, father, son, relative, friend, and pastor/employee.
Resolved to be a reasonably and responsibly engaged citizen in whatever country, state, city, and neighborhood God may place me in.
Resolved to strive to remain debt-free (except in the matter of love, Romans 13:8) and to generously give away as much as I reasonably can, considering my obligations to love and provide for my family and those who would benefit from our hospitality.
I aspire to bear as much fruit as I reasonably can, storing up treasures in heaven in order to reap a bountiful eternal harvest. (Matt 6:19-21)
Resolved to stay attentive to keeping these resolutions for the duration of my life that I may finish well to the very end and hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” (Matt 25:20-21)
One final, but important section must be added to communicate the attitude of Jonathan Edwards towards the resolutions that he set.
Edwards recognized that sheer will power alone is useless in keeping any such resolutions. God has to do it—we are unable. The book mentioned above includes quotations from his journal, reflecting on how he viewed them and lived them out. Here are some excerpts.
“If God should withdraw His Spirit a little more, I should not hesitate to break my resolutions, and should soon arrive at my old state. There is no dependence on myself.”
“But alas, how soon do I decay! O how weak, how infirm, how unable to do anything of myself! What a poor inconsistent being! What a miserable wretch, without the assistance of the Spirit of God…How weak do I find myself! O let it teach me to depend less on myself, to be more humble.”
“Our resolutions may be at the highest one day, and yet, the next day we may be in a miserable dead condition, not at all like the same person who resolved. So that it is to no purpose to resolve, except that we depend on the grace of God. For if it were not for is mere grace, one might be a very good man one day, and a very wicked one the next.”
May this be the attitude of all who set resolutions of any kind, whether they be for the New Year or for the rest of life! Only then can we hope to accomplish them!
I don’t pray for my kids every day, but when I do, there are a lot more things that I don’t pray for than I do.
In fact, there are really only three things I do consistently pray for, succinctly summed up in nine keywords. These are the things — in my view — that matter infinitely more than anything else.
I pray that my kids will:
With regard to Knowing God Accurately, I’m asking that my kids will have a real encounter the Creator of the Universe and increasingly understand who He is. I want their beliefs to correspond to the actual qualities of God, not an understanding skewed by human thinking. I want them to more fully comprehend His omnipotence, omniscience, sovereignty, justice, holiness, mercy, love, compassion, and grace.
By Loving God Wholeheartedly I’m asking that my kids would increasingly love God for who He is and continuously turn every part of their lives over to Him as Lord. Loving God involves more than feelings, it’s a commitment to align their wills with His, surrender themselves to His service, and delightfully obey what He says — regardless of the cost.
In Representing God Authentically, I’m asking that my kids will increasingly become more like Jesus, humbly bear much fruit, and love others — being God’s ambassadors wherever He places them.
These nine words sum up what matters most to me as a praying parent. What more could I want but for these prayers to be answered? That’s why I don’t spend much time praying for the typical things: success, health, prosperity, finances, careers, or a spouse. Besides, most of these things will fall into place anyway if these “top three” prayers are answered.
(I pray these same three things for myself, Cindy and others too!)
Btw, here’s what I pray for my kids’ dad — I always pray that I would shepherd, serve, and cherish them more and more…yet hold them looser and looser.
The other day a parent messaged me, wondering what to do about a lying teenager. Her question prompted me to flesh out this post that I started almost two years ago.
Let me start by saying that “lying” is one of the things that ought to be on every parent’s “Majors” list. I’ve blogged about Majors and Minors elsewhere, but let me just state that few things are more “Major” than having family relationships based on trust. Lying within the home can’t be ignored.
But just because something is on the Majors list doesn’t mean it has to be dealt with severely or punitively–it just has to be dealt with. In the case of a child’s lying, I think it may be just as useful to consider the reasons for the child’s lying, rather than be solely punitive about it. Before jumping to confrontations, it would seem useful to think about what internal things may be going on that might make them (and us–if we were honest) choose to lie. Rather than immediately react to what they did wrong, let’s slow down, gather all the information, and listen. Only then can we learn what’s really going on with our children. Here are six possible reasons they might be lying.
1. Some kids lie out of fear. Could it be that our discipline methods are overly strict? Any reasonable child would want to lie to avoid “setting off” an unreasonably punitive parent. Parents would be wise to consider whether they may be over-disciplining. An honest heart-to-heart conversation between the child and parents might reveal rules and expectations that are overbearing. If so, negotiating better rules and expectations might eliminate the need for the child to lie for self-protection.
2. Some lie so as to not hurt loved ones. Perhaps the lying is intended as a way to make the parents less anxious, worried, or crushed by the child’s choices. Thus, lying could actually be intended as a kindness. Such children view their parents as fragile; such parents need to convince their children that their own well-being doesn’t depend on the child doing everything perfectly. As I’ve controversially stated elsewhere, the parents need to communicate that they don’t need their kids to behave in order for them to thrive. The parents should model a resilient faith in Jesus that doesn’t need to pressure their kids into making perfect decisions all the time. In fact, it’s ok for them to fail!
3. Some kids lie as a way to protect someone else. As in the previous case, such lying might actually be intended as a kindness. The biblical Rahab hid the Israelite spies on her roof–and lied about it to the authorities. Her lying saved not only the spies but also the lives of her own family–and she was rewarded for doing the right thing! Likewise, the child who lies to the stranger at the door–saying their absent parent is home but “can’t come to the door”–is being wise, not wicked. In the same way, the kid who lies to keep a friend from getting in trouble is likely trying to do the greater good. Parents would do well to have conversations with their kids about when lying may be appropriate, when covering for a friend may be helping them, and when it actually might be hurting them unknowingly. Discussing how “true friends” should relate to each other is an important concept for them to understand during their years of nurturing in your home. Sometimes friends need to “wound” others rather than enable them to avoid responsibility. (Proverbs 27:6.)
4. Some kids lie so as not lose their parents’ approval. These kids have a perception that their parents’ love and acceptance depends on their good behavior. Wise parents would do well to communicate that–no matter what good or bad choices their kids may make in life–their love will never be in question. It is important to keep a distinction between the child’s behavior and their personhood. They need to be convinced that we unconditionally delight in their personhood, eliminating this reason to lie about their behaviors.
5. Sometimes kids lie to build themselves up. Each of us has a longing to feel accepted by others, so it’s no surprise that this is a common motive for kids’ lying. In this competitive “selfie-saturated” world of ours it’s easy to see why exaggerating one’s achievements may seem necessary for social survival. Lying may also be a defense mechanism to avoid bullying. If self-preservation is the cause of your child’s lying then berating him or her for lying might actually be adding to their feelings of not measuring up. Rather than punishing such boasting, it would be better to spend time empathetically listening to them while looking for opportunities to convey biblical truth to them about their worth in the eyes of God. Pray for them–and with them–about this.
On the other hand, if the child is lying as a way to put others down, that should also be addressed with a heart-to-heart discussion. Beneath the rough exterior of most bullies is insecurity. Helping them see how their lying may be wounding others is important for them to learn.
6. Some kids lie to cover up their rebellion. This kind of lying needs to be carefully handled as it indicates a deficiency in the child’s heart. Since we have no ability to directly change a heart, prayer is the best thing parents can do in such cases. But we can also indirectly affect their heart by the way we respond to their rebellious lying. Will it require consequences? Absolutely! But as stated earlier, be sure the consequences are reasonable. Any obvious overreaction will make the child focus on the parents’ faults rather than his or her own bad behavior. (This is where delayed consequences can really help avoid the perception that parents are being unreasonable and impulsive in their punishments. Such a delay buys the parent ample time to pray, think, and consult with others regarding which appropriate consequence would help the child learn the best lesson.)
Six Final Considerations:
First, since character is “more caught than taught,” parents must be careful to always model lives of personal integrity. If the kids overhear the parent calling in sick to work–while heading out to the golf course–no amount of lecturing on life’s virtues will compensate!
Second, reward honesty. Every time we catch our kids telling the truth, let’s affirm that wise choice.
Third, as I mentioned at the top of this post, lying often results in a breach of trust within the home. Consequences–if there are any– should be tailored to address this issue. It’s appropriate to reign in the leash if the freedom of a longer leash has been mishandled. This is a true principle that will apply for all of life.
Fourth, consequences should last as briefly as possible, with the stated goal of wanting to restore their freedom as soon as they show they can handle it. We want them to have freedom–and we want them to use it responsibly. Offer hope for a better tomorrow. “Grounded for a year” will only produce resentment instead of shaping a child’s character. Trust and verify.
Fifth, consider whether the lying might be age-related. It should be noted that preschool children typically manifest lying as part of their normal development. They may not fully grasp the difference between fantasy and reality–an example would be having an “imaginary friend.” They also are experimenting with reading others’ perceptions and controlling their own actions. Parents should keep this in mind as they confront the lying of preschoolers in the home. Kang Lee has done some interesting research (and a Ted talk) on the subject of early-childhood lying if you’re interested.
Finally, is the lying related to mental disabilities or trauma? I haven’t studied these issues yet, but consideration might need to be made for such cases. I’ll edit this post as I learn more during my graduate school counseling training.
In Part 1 I made the case for why I believe every kid should be given an allowance. Today I want to make the case for giving your kids HEFTY allowances.
Someone will say, “But we don’t have any extra money in our budget to start paying our kids hefty allowances.” I’m not suggesting you add even $1 to your overall family budget. I’m merely suggesting you transfer some of the money you’re already spending on raising your kids–to them!
Think about it–right now, you’re already spending a certain amount of money to buy them treats, gifts, clothes, fashion accessories, cosmetics, games, entertainment, etc. How about handing them some of that same money and letting them pay for some of their own expenses! This will lighten your load and teach them a lot about managing themselves.
Realizing that every family’s amounts will be different, let me share how it worked in our house. We paid our girls $1 a week for each year of their age. That means when they were three, we gave them $156 a year and by the time they were 18, that had increased to an annual amount of $936. That may sound like a lot, but it’s really not, compared to the total cost of raising a child.
We made them put 10% of it in their savings bank and 10% in their “Jesus bank” to take to church periodically to put in the offering. From the earliest age, we wanted our kids to learn the importance of generous living and wise saving. (Savings money could only be used for investments that we parents agreed were worthy ones: e.g., musical instruments, computers, major school trips, cars, etc.)
Their remaining *80% of “discretionary” money, was theirs to spend as they chose–for the most part.
Parents will need to restrict what purchases are–or are not–allowed based on their own values. Examples of “outlawed” purchases might be explicit music or violent video games. Be sure to major on the majors though, and don’t be afraid of letting them waste their money! (For years our 8-year-old daughter Lexi would spent all of her weekly allowances on frivolous purchases, living from “paycheck to paycheck.” Then one day she decided she wanted an American Girl doll. She started saving almost all of her allowance for the next 6 months and when that doll arrived, it was a hard-earned treasure. She learned an important lesson on how “the best things come to those who wait”–a lesson she’s never forgotton!)
Each year on their birthday, they would get an increase in allowance, and often be informed of new things they would need to start purchasing for themselves. Parents would do well to envision how much much financial responsibility they would want their kids to have on their first day of college and work towards that.
Depending on the age and situation, parents might physically dole out cash or transfer amounts into an account–perhaps even a debit card. Admittedly this takes some time and effort, but the benefits from creating financially responsible and independent kids make it worth the effort.
As I’ve blogged about elsewhere, allowance money can easily be deducted from the child’s next “paycheck” to pay for fines, consequences, unfinished **chores, etc. No arguments required!
What kids might pay.
Here is a list of expenses kids might be expected to pay for, starting from age three and progressing through high school:
Small Toys, snacks, candy–anything the 3-year-old might beg for at Walmart!
Hobbies and crafts (slime comes to mind!)
Pet expenses (100%–food, cages, shots, etc.)
Bikes, scooters, etc. (parents might choose to pay for safety equipment, helmets, etc.)
Electronic games (including batteries, accessories, etc.)
Entertainment (movies, bowling, books, magazines, etc.)
Hot school lunches (if they don’t want to pack their own)
Netflix or Cable TV costs (e.g., parents could charge a fee per movie or show watched to help defray the entertainments bills)
Clothes/shoes (anything beyond the basics–they pay for unneeded clothes or expensive name brands)
Cosmetics/accessories/toiletries (anything beyond the basics of deodorant, essential hygiene items, etc.)
School/church trips, proms, club sports (a percentage–see below)
Cell phone/data (beyond the basics–see below), apps.
Car (purchase, gas, insurance, repairs–see below)
Saving for College (see below)
What parents might pay
Parents should make clear what expenses they will cover. For us, in addition to the basics (food, essential clothing & toiletries, school supplies, transportation, housing, utilities, insurance, etc.) we told them we would pay for the following:
75% of church activities/expenses. (The high percentage shows how this was a priority for us. Yet, we also wanted them to participate in deciding which church activities were most important. However, if they had been reluctant to go to church at all we would have gladly paid 100%.)
25% of extra school activities/expenses such as uniforms, trips, prom costs, band trips, club sports, etc. (School costs were admittedly a lower priority to us than church ones.) One time, this policy of ours forced our 15-year-old daughter Lexi to decide which was more important–paying 75% of a spring break band trip to Ireland (which would cost her several thousand dollars) or saving her money to purchase her own car. She opted for the car!
Birthday presents for friends (However, this was a predetermined “flat rate.” They would need to pay the extra if they wanted to purchase extravagant gifts.
Basic phone and data costs (If they wanted the latest, coolest iPhone or unlimited data, they would need to pay that difference)
One weekly music or sports lesson. We wanted to encourage their skill development, but we didn’t want them burning out. If they wanted a second type of lesson they would need to pay those costs. (BTW, if kids are too lazy to practice between lessons, they should pay for those lessons!)
A percentage of car insurance or fuel costs once they own their own car (this is because they are saving us money by driving themselves.)
Half of college expenses (This helped one of our daughters determine where to attend since it would significantly affect her pocketbook.)
I hope this gives you some ideas of how you might incorporate allowances into your family structure.
*Others, like Jeff Anderson, have suggested making kids save a third, give a third and use 33% for discretionary spending.
**I’m not suggesting allowances are given in exchange for doing chores. I explain the difference here.
Our goal as parents is not to raise children, but rather to raise responsible adults. Sadly, too many parents end up with chronically-dependent high school graduates who can’t manage their lives — or their money.
So today I want to make the case for giving your kids allowances, which will make your kids better prepared for life. And that means your life will be better too!
But first, I want to share with you an email I received from a missionary mom in Nicaragua, where I did a parenting seminar a few years ago. She followed my advice about giving kids allowances, and surprised me with this beautiful testimonial about doing it with her THREE YEAR OLD! [I’ll insert my comments between hers.]
.Our 3-year-old son is learning the value of $ as he spends all his $1 per week on gum.
We might think of it as a waste of good money, but he’s learning to decide what matters to him. Someday he’ll figure out that there are better uses for his money, but he’s got to learn that for himself over time. Most importantly he’s learning that adults are trusting him with the responsibility of making his own decisions.
He is quickly learning which gum pack gets him the most pieces.
Amazing! Notice how he already is learning to stretch his dollar, to look for bargains, and to do comparison shopping to get the best value!
He is learning not to eat the entire pack in 2 minutes because he doesn’t have $ to buy more.
See how he’s learning about delayed gratification, patience, pacing himself, relishing what he has, and living within his means! How many teenagers never learn this!
He even paid me a nickel the other day to carry the laundry into the house because he did not want to do it. I explained to him that it is one of the small chores he is required to help with and therefore would have to pay me for his portion of the work. Amazingly he looked at me square on and asked, “How much?” I told him, “One nickel,” and he paused, thought awhile, and finally said “I want to pay you because I don’t want to do it.”
Wow! This three-year-old is already learning to weigh pros and cons, to make decisions, to negotiate with others, and to wrestle with priorities regarding his time, money, work & leisure!
I share this because if someone told me that this stuff would work on a 3-year-old I would never have believed it. But, he is the youngest of 3 so we included him in the process because he was feeling SO left out. Now we know it is effective even at 3.
I love this story because it vividly demonstrates how giving some measure of financial control even to the youngest of kids can serve to build their character.
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”
Ephesians 5:15-16 (ESV)
I want to share a free app that I have found to be extremely useful in helping me “make the best use of my time” as I manage my own life. It’s called WhatsNext? by the Corporate Coach Group.
I don’t usually promote products, and I’m not getting a commission, but this app has helped me so much that I want to pass this resource along!
Most “task manager” and “to do list” apps have you assign a priority level to each task (high, medium, low, etc.) That’s a start, but it doesn’t really help you prioritize which of your “high” level ones to do first. If there are 10 things in your “high priority” list, how do you decide in which order they should be done? Funnest first? Most difficult first? The ones that would make God, or my boss, or my wife the happiest?
This app solves this problem of real-time decision-making, and makes it easy to determine which–of all the things that I could do today–should I do first, then second, third, etc. It’s not designed for long range strategic planning or for managing all the tasks that could be done, but it works perfectly in making decisions about the handful of things I could do today.
To use the app, you simply plug in the five or eight or ten things you could do today. Pressing the “prioritize” button then brings them up two at a time and compares each one with each of the others. So instead of looking at 12 things and saying, “where do I start?” you simply compare two and say, “If I had only time to do one of these two things, which one would I want to have accomplished at the end of the day? In other words, which task is most important for me to do–today?
When finished comparing all the possible combinations, the app gives you a list of all your tasks in order, so you simply begin working on #1, then #2, etc. You don’t have to give it any more thought! And if you don’t have time to finish them all, no problem! You did the most important things first, so you can sleep well, knowing you did the most important things with the time you had.
The app allows you to save multiple lists, such as “Things I could do on my day off” or “Home improvement projects I could do.” And for adding tasks on the fly you can either insert them one-at-a-time into a previously prioritized list or you can run the program again.
The lists can even be backed up to the web and can be emailed too!
Today I crossed the finish line of a very long race and am about to start another.
I completed my final list of “to dos” this afternoon, the last of which was packing my office belongings into my car. At 3:45 I walked down to Linda’s office, turned in my church keys, and instantly went from being Pastor Mark back to just Mark.
I’ve been in full-time ministry for 32 years straight — and now, in an instant, I find myself unemployed and not really sure what this new normal will be like for me. In two weeks I’ll be starting my next race — that of a full time grad student.
What a change. At this very moment I’m blogging these reflections instead of running youth group. So weird.
Looking over my shoulder at the race I’ve just finished I am profoundly grateful and humbled that God would let me run it.
At my “graduation”/farewell party this past Sunday Cindy and I set out all of the youth group pictures and memorabilia that we had preserved from each of the past 25 years. Perusing through them brought back many long-forgotten memories of ways that God blessed us with each other and with Himself.
I marveled at the number of youth group alums who came back to wish us farewell, coming from as far north as Duluth and as far south as Arkansas. It was such a delight to reconnect with our old kids (some now in their 40s), watch them relive old memories, and reflect on how good God was to us during those years. It struck me that with every single year, trip, and retreat God seemed to have sovereignly brought together those students and sponsors who needed each other at that precise moment in time. We truly had something special.
On a personal note, Cindy and I were so profoundly touched by all those who were able to come and wish us well. Thank you for expressing your kind words to us verbally and through the many, many cards. Our view is that each of you has impacted us every bit as much as you say we have impacted you. God gets the glory for it all.
It was indeed a good run!
Whenever I finish a race I find myself equally exhilarated, exhausted, and satisfied all at once — and looking for the massage tent!
My farewell party is this Sunday afternoon and people will naturally be congratulating me on my 25 years as youth pastor at New Covenant.
But what most people don’t know is that less than 2 years into my job, I almost disqualified myself. I want to tell that story.
When I came to New Covenant in 1992 the youth group was in a state of disillusionment. My predecessor’s departure had been unexpected and the high school group was admittedly in a state of disarray. I came in knowing the youth group needed fixing and that it was my job to do just that! I was going to make this youth group great again!
Armed with my Moody Bible theology degree and 6 years of church ministry experience, I had all the resources I needed to turn things around! It didn’t take me long — just a few months — to come up with just the right programs to develop leaders and make disciples. Several students signed up for my programs and gave me great feedback. I was doing it! Things were really getting fixed!
Or so I thought. One summer day — having been here just a year and a half — I was unexpectedly called in to Pastor Ray’s office, where an elder and one of my few youth volunteers (we call them “sponsors”) were waiting. They relayed the hard news to me that actually the youth group wasn’t fixed. At all. In fact, a high percentage of youth group members felt like they didn’t matter. That it was “Mark’s youth group” not theirs. And that if they didn’t show up, no one would likely even notice. They were unheard and devalued. They were falling through the cracks and my “discipleship kids” were the only ones I seemed to care about.
At first, I was in disbelief and in a state of shock. But as they relayed one account after another of those who had been feeling neglected by me I recognized that they were speaking the truth in love. In my frenzy to run a successful program and quickly turn things around I had completely missed that this youth group was about them, not me and my grandiose solutions that were being imposed on them.
I spent a week wrestling in prayer. I did some fasting, and serious soul-searching. I knew I couldn’t continue to be a shepherd that was actually wounding the sheep by my pride and neglect. I was broken. I either had to completely change my priorities or quit my job. Thankfully, God allowed me to stay and change.
Those who were there will recall that I immediately did several things to demonstrate my change of heart.
I called a meeting of the whole youth group and in brokenness apologized for making the group about me, not them. I confessed how I had imposed my plans on them rather than serving them.
I brought in a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle, which together we assembled and mounted on the wall to visually remind us all that every single person mattered. We did this for several years.
I stated that if anyone ever caught me using the phrase “my youth group” I would pay them money on the spot. It was God’s youth group, and their youth group, but I needed it to not be mine.
I confessed to having developed a “Savior Complex,” trying to run the youth group my way and attempting to shepherd the large group of students all by myself. I committed to begin to pray that God would raise up a large team of youth sponsors, caring adults who would help prevent students from falling through the cracks if possible.
Graciously, the group gave me a second chance. And God miraculously brought us just the sponsor team we needed. In the remaining weeks of that summer 17 sponsors randomly approached me out-of-the-blue, asking to become sponsors. It was remarkable because I had only prayed, never even making the need known to the church. That so many approached me so quickly was a miraculous confirmation from God.
This traumatic experience of almost losing my job altered my life and ministry values — permanently. It taught me the importance of listening to those whom I serve, frequently soliciting their input. I learned to hold my agendas loosely. To be teachable. To be an includer. To give up control. To do things as a team. To let others (students and sponsors) make ministry decisions that may be different than mine. To admit that I can’t shepherd everyone and to be ok with sponsors impacting particular students better than I could.
So as I reflect on the lives of students that may have been impacted over these past 25 years I give the lion’s share of the credit to my wonderful sponsor team. Without them our youth group would have self-destructed long ago! Thank you, thank you to the dozens and dozens of you who served as sponsors over these years. I couldn’t have done much of anything without you. Did we care perfectly for every student? Sadly no. In a big group it’s hard to notice all the needs and direct our attention to the students when they need it most. But looking back, we sure cared for a lot of them!
Here’s one of my favorite sponsor photos from over the years. Mark Eades and I got our sponsors bowling shirts that year!
And now, as I step down from leading the high school group, I’m not at all concerned for the group’s well being. My vacancy has been anticipated and the sponsors are ready. The current team of committed sponsors will make sure that the youth group continues to function without skipping a beat and I am confident that the students will be well cared for moving forward.
I want to express special thanks to the sponsors who have committed to keep the group running smoothly during this time between youth pastors: Stacey, Steve, Melissa, Bryan, Charley, Jennifer, Candace, Sabrina, Jeff, Tim, Brad T, Brad A, Sara, Dawn, Lynn, Ron, & Becky. And I’m thankful for the resourcing and support that they will continue to be given by Mark Eades and Renee Kim. The youth group is indeed in good hands!
Last night I drove the church bus for the last time. A short trip there and back to the Great Jones County Fair — featuring a Casting Crowns concert. Driving that bus has always been one of my favorite things to do! As usual, this was another delightful trip.
Back at church, I dropped the kids off in the parking lot, grabbed the broom, and headed to the back of the bus, not prepared for what I would encounter there. Tears. Lots of them. Coming out of my eyes. Completely unexpected.
As I unhurriedly swept the bus for the last time I couldn’t help but reflect on how much this bus (and its predecessors) had changed our lives over these past 25 years. Wherever it brought us it seems God was there, waiting to bond us together and teach us something profound. We always seemed to come home changed.
With tears of joy my mind raced back in time with overwhelming gratitude that God would have allowed me these over-the-road experiences.
15 Mexico trips — we logged about 45,000 total miles on these trips! And they were brutal — driving over 24 hours straight through. On each trip God brought together a unique collection of people who had a profound impact on the 41 Mexican families we helped. In all, 829 people made the trek.
Summer trips to Summit, Toronto, Indiana, Tennessee, New Orleans, Denver, Kansas City, Chicago, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Wisconsin and Colorado Springs.
Close to 100 Retreats to a variety of places including Camp Courageous, Camp Wapsie, Camp Io-Dis-E-Ca, East Iowa Bible Camp, Pine Lake Camp, Pictured Rocks Camp, Camp Wyoming, and my favorite, Rustic Camp Hitaga. Most memorable retreat: when we accidentally burned a cabin to the ground at Camp Wyoming.
A variety of special events: concerts, ski trips, ball games, conferences, a Billy Graham Crusade, Promise Keepers, amusement parks, sponsor hunts at the mall, Shamrock Around the Clock.
On these buses we had singalongs, testimonies, story times, comedy clubs, autograph signing, prayer meetings, book studies, discussion groups, creation talks with Charley, get-to-know-you mixers, and even duct-taping kids to the ceiling. Talk about bonding!
As you would expect, some of my favorite bus memories involved adversity. Like the time a bus engine caught on fire coming home from Adventureland and Tom Maring just happened to drive by and had it fixed within a half hour. Or when a Mexico bus broke down in Oklahoma City for 18 hours and a youth group put us up overnight in their really cool youth building. Or when a bus died in Cedar Falls on the way to Minnesota one winter and we impulsively rented a fleet of vans so we wouldn’t have to miss out on skiing. Or when things got stolen out of a bus at the St. Louis Zoo with no evidence of how they got in — everything was still locked up tight! Or when a Mexico bus got stuck in snow in Wichita and we almost had to sleep at McDonalds overnight. Or when we took a wrong turn in residential Chicago and ended up on a narrow street lined with cars on both sides with less than an inch of side clearance space. Or when the transmission dropped out of a bus four miles from church . In a blizzard. After dark!
Each was a life-changing encounter, for which I will ever be grateful. We bonded on these trips. Lifelong friendships were forged in these seats. I believe there are married couples today who first fell in love on these buses.
As I continued sweeping — and weeping — I thought about how so many of my personal ministry passions were fulfilled by having these buses. I thought of what we would have missed out on had they not been at my disposal!
My thoughts then turned to the people over the years who procured these buses and helped keep them running. For Brian Valenti (aka The Commish), who knew how to pick the perfect bus and who trained so many drivers over the years. For Randy Hudson who helped me pick up our first “new” bus when I first came. For Dave Beer, who who did — and still does — the bulk of the mechanical work and the painting. For Jeff Westrom, who came up with snazzy paint designs and helped implement them. For John Maehl‘s financial and property management expertise For George Bushlack, who always puts so much heart into into keeping the buses roadworthy and in tip-top shape. For Larry Pinkston, who wired up a 50 foot internal microphone so we could have better sharing on the road. For Charley Snodgrass, aka KC0CD, who wired them up with ham radios and who drove more miles than anyone except me, aka KC0ODH. For Ruth Stavlund for stitching up the torn bus seats. And for all the drivers, who worked so hard to get CDLs to help the ministry. For all the sponsors who gave up their comfort to mingle with teens, sharing their lives with each passing mile. For the New Covenant attenders over the years whose offering money helped pay for these vehicles and gas.
All these thoughts flooded my mind last night. My tears were all tears of joy and gratitude to God, and not at all of sadness. Those great memories made within these metal walls will be with me forever and they’ve changed me permanently. We had something special for which I will ever be grateful. It was a good ride!
But all journeys must come to an end and God has made it clear that my time has finally come to deboard this bus. As I lock up the bus for the last time I know it’s time for someone else to chart the course for the future of New Covenant’s high school ministry. God’s blessings will continue through the leadership of another and that thought also brings me joy.
As for me, I know it’s time to focus my energies on bringing hope and healing to a broken world. I’m not sure exactly where this new counseling adventure of mine will lead, but I’m excited to find out.