11 Characteristics We Need in Leaders Today

The church of today looks different than ten years ago – or it should, if it doesn’t you’ll have a really hard time being effective in today’s culture.
The church ten years from now will look different than today.
It’s the message of the church, the movement of God that is sacred, it is not the methods or institutions that are sacred.
We desperately need leaders, with deep character and faithful competence, to help the church go from where it is today to where it needs to be for tomorrow.
In days gone by church leaders could be trained to give a decent sermon, hold a funeral, visit the faithful and they were good to go. As a professor of mine would say, church leaders need to be ready to “pray, preach or die on a moments notice.”

Things look different today.
Those days are long gone.
So much more is needed and required from our leaders today and into the future.
We need leaders who can bridge cultural divides, bring change to congregations, equip people to BE the church and remind the church of its role to join God on His mission in the world every day.

My colleagues, Garth Williams, Kevin Vincent and I, have been discussing the kind of leaders the church needs today. Here’s our list. Let us know what you think.

The leaders the church needs today and into the future are:

1. Highly relational – value people and are great listeners. They know trust is a key commodity and is only built through solid relationships. They build teams that accomplish a lot, but also know, trust and understand each other. They know when to be vulnerable and can be trusted with others vulnerabilities. These leaders can listen to even criticisms and hear the hurt and confusion that is coming out as judgement or anger.

2. Collaborative – invite others into help shape and accomplish the vision. These leaders are influencers rather than dictators. They have a posture of invitation into God’s way and into their leadership. They display an openness to discussion, while also knowing when to push the team from discussion to action. They are willing to give away power and control.

3. Less linear, more fluid – comfortable living in less defined constructs and living in the grey. They are comfortable ending a discussion with a comma and not a period. They are comfortable with uncertainty and leading into the unknown. They are versatile, agile on the method but married to the mission. They recognize the church cannot stay where it is and continue to reach new people and a new generation.

4. Great questioners – They are able to ask questions that are not judgmental but force assumptions to the top. They ask question that invite people into deeper and more thoughtful discussion. Questions also help these leaders be on-going learners. Leaders need to show this willingness to learn from outsiders, insiders and anyone. (More on great leadership questions here: 7 Questions to ask to be a better leader)

5. Visionaries – Leaders with extreme clarity of God’s mission for them. They know their “white hot why” and are able to communicate the cause clearly to others.

6. Strategist – Leaders that not only dream and vision but know how to lead a team and church to become passionate implementers.

7. Experimenters – Leaders that are passionate about experimentation. They have an entrepreneurial attitude and are not afraid to take risks. There is no failure, there are only lessons along the way.

8. Character – Leaders with depth of character and love. Leaders that have the character to withstand challenges with grace and perseverance. They have clear integrity, inside and out. Leaders that love and serve so fanatically that their deep convictions are respected by even those outside the faith. Other could say “I don’t agree with them in that but WOW they live out their faith in Jesus!”

9. Missionaries – know they are called by God to love and serve missionally where they study, live, work and play. They are desperate to understand their context, the questions people are asking today and the needs around them, so that they can equip the church to be missionaries in their context. They are both modelling being on mission everyday with Jesus in their own lives and are calling and equipping others to live on mission with Jesus everyday.

10. Kingdom minded – they are concerned about the Jesus movement going forward. They are not protecting a particular church, a building, a denomination, nor are they seeking to build their own church or kingdom. They are others’ focused.

11. Gritty – they are not afraid of hard work and pain. They are resilient and persevere through challenges. Their strength comes from being close to Jesus and listening to Jesus. They are not afraid of talk about the tough topics or have difficult conversations. They are willing to do whatever it takes for the sake of Jesus’ mission advancing.

We are so encouraged that we see leaders developing in these areas.
We are so encouraged that we see emerging leaders with these skills and passions.
God is absolutely building His Church.

Let us know – what do you think of our list? Leave your comments below.

You might also be interested in reading this blog asking the question “Who will create the new hoverboards and flying cars for the church?” 

Lead on!
-Renée @r_embree

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Who will create the new hoverboards and flying cars for the church?

As I’m writing this it is October 21st, 2015, back to the future day. If the 1989 movie Back to the Future II were based on true events, Doc Brown would have landed his time machine amongst hoverboards and flying cars today. I remember the movie well. I always wanted a hoverboard. I haven’t got to try one yet. Lots of predictions can be made about the future, but the only thing we know for sure is it will be different.
When we think about the future of the Church, it will be different.
See, the now is inadequate for the future.
Because the now is tailored to the now (or to 50 years ago in some churches. I wish I was joking.)
Each generation has to figure out how to best live out the Gospel and show and tell the Gospel, in their context, in their culture, in their generation.
The Gospel doesn’t change, the core of doctrine doesn’t change, but the church’s methods, language, approaches, needed services…changes with what works and the neighbourhoods where God has placed you.

back-to-the-future-day

The question is, who is going to lead us into the future?
Who creates the new hoverboards and flying cars for the church?
Who is going to make sure we don’t get stuck in 1989 or 2015?
The young.
To the young, we need you! Lead us!
Our imaginations are getting thin, lead us with your best imaginations into the future.
Our creativity is getting old, lead us with new creativity.
It’s not just any young that will lead us to the hoverboards and flying cars or whatever is needed for the church of the future. It is the young that are willing to risk and do the sorts of things in the list below.

This past weekend I was privileged to be at the Inspire Justice Conference in Halifax, NS (#IJC15). I’ve been chewing on one phrase ever since. “It is the task of youth think beyond your elders and leaders.”-Rick Tobias. When Rick Tobias speaks I listen. He has a heart after God and continues to live his life in partnership with the poor and marginalized in our society. He continues to give his best towards helping break the cycle of multi-generational poverty.

Here’s a piece of what Rick said, that I’m probably misquoting slightly.
“To the young, think past your elders and leaders. It is the task of youth to think past and see beyond your leaders.”
“Youth, move us to justice and inclusion. Dream, innovate and create the new.”
“Youth are saying ‘enough already telling us to care for the poor, tell us how to change stuff.’”
He continued to call the young to “rise up, don’t wait for permission, just do it. Live out your purpose.”

As I chew on this, here’s what keeps coming back to my mind.
WE NEED THIS.
We need you, young, to push us.
We need you, young, to not let us stay where we are.
We need you, young, to do the new.
We need you, young, to lead us into the future.

Church now will not be Church 25 years from now. It shouldn’t be. Now is inadequate for the future.
Young, call us into being the Church we need to be. Young, call us into the Church of the future.

So to those who are young and young at heart. (Feel free to define “young” however you like.)
Please think beyond us. Dream new dreams for the Church, for the Kingdom of God.
Below is what it will take for the Church to actually become different. This is what it’ll take for the young to go beyond current day leaders.
Repeating and building on what Rick said, here is a list to the young who are willing to lead beyond the now.

To the young…
1. Take courage to experiment. As Rick said, there is no blueprint, invent the new, invent the way.
2. Question. We need your questions. Question us, your leaders, the Church, the way “things are always done”. Let your voice be heard. Often the best way to let your voice be heard is to ask really good questions.
3. Listen to the voice of the outsider, those who feel forgotten, left-out, outside of your “camp”. Especially listen to those who oppose you and learn from them.
4. Be fiercely committed to the Gospel, but be very agile in how you live out the Gospel in different neighbourhoods.
5. Be fiercely committed to justice, including and embracing those who have been treat unjustly. Correct whatever allows injustices to continue. To quote Rick again “Compassion responds to need. Justice asks why those needs exist in the first place.” Both are needed.
6. Stay close to Jesus. This path will not be easy.
7. Just do it. Do what needs to be done to follow Jesus and His heart for justice in our world. Do not wait for permission from the older folks. Do not wait for the older folks to figure out. You, just do it. Live out your purpose.

To the older (not old, just older)…
1. Let the young lead.
2. Let the young experiment.
3. Let the young ask questions, even the ones that make you feel uncomfortable.
4. Release the young from unnecessary systems, rules, and traditions that are holding them back from fresh expressions of justice, faith, and showing and telling the Gospel.
5. Serve alongside the young, be the hands and feet of Jesus together. Join their cause.
6. Mentor the young, not as guardians of traditions, but as ignitors of God’s Spirit work. Help them develop a deep, robust faith, rooted in their relationship with Jesus.
7. Be the biggest cheerleader of the young. Support them and their efforts to live out their faith.

Let me say it again, we need our youth to lead us beyond.
Lead us, we pray.

Young, lead us into the Church we need to be – the Church that shows the Gospel, the Church that tells the Good News, the Church that heals brokenness, the Church that corrects faulty systems that keep people down and trapped, the Church that brings peace, that Church that lives Jesus and points to Jesus.
The Church that is Jesus in the neighbourhoods where we live, study, work and play.

-Renée @r_embree

Thriving when life goes from 0 to 100 km/h for a season

September seems to be that season in ministry, in families, in workplaces and in schools when life very quickly ramps up.
I feel it.
Talk to Youth and Children’s Pastors – they feel it, as programs ramp back up, big events start coming at them fast and furious and everyone wants to meet with them again.
Talk to Senior and Solo pastors – they feel it, as everyone is asking about plans for the year, the phone calls and emails increase tenfold, programs ramp up, Sundays come at them with amazing regularity and vacation now seems like a distant memory.
Talk to Parents – they feel it, their kids activities start to fill in all the blank spaces in the calendar, they start feel like a taxi driver again and the kids always seem to need more food and more money.
Talk to Students – they feel it, the syllabi overwhelm them and assignments, tests and exams start to fill their calendar.
When is your 0 to 100 km/h season?

I’ve come to expect it now. I know every September it is going to get a little crazy, a little too full for a while. There are other seasons when this happens too. Seasons when things very quickly seem to go from 0 to 100 km/hr.

Here are the things I remind myself of in a 0 to 100 km/h season, so that I continue to lead well and my life and character continues to display Christ, even in the busy seasons.

1. Write down your top 1 to 3 priorities for the next 3 months – focus on those things. This helps me remember what God, my team and myself really are expecting me to accomplish in the next stretch. When I know my top 3 priorities it is much easier to decide what can wait, what I can say ‘no’ to and what really needs my attention each day. Seriously, write the 1 to 3 things down somewhere where you’ll see them. I’ve found for this short season 5 priorities is too many and can feel overwhelming. This is for a season, 3 priorities or even just 1 is enough.

2. One step at a time – The old saying is true, “how do you climb a mountain? One step at a time.” In a busy season it can seem impossible to get anything done. It can seem your email, phone, meetings or the urgent dictates your schedule/day. In busy seasons especially I remind myself “one step at a time”, “what’s one step?” Break down tasks or projects into steps. Ask, “What is one step I can take today to move the ball further down the field for my top priorities?” I’m famous for making charts and lists. I tell you, there is just something about seeing things broken down in a chart or list, where you can clearly see how things will be tackled and then can start checking things off step by step.

3. Lean into the things that restore your soul – in a busy season it can be tempting to skimp on doing the things that restore your soul, even things like spending time alone with God in His Word. I’ve learned (often the hard way) that during busy season I need to be even more protective of my soul care activities and fight to not let them go. Quite simply, I actually need them more in a busy season. I especially need to be protective of my alone time with God so I’m hearing from Him about priorities and receiving everything I need from Him to bring Him glory in this season. When I skimp on these things a 100 km/h season can easily go off track at high speed. That is a sad sight to see.

4. Rest – This one always seems counter intuitive to me. In a 100 km/h season my reaction always is to work harder, work longer, stay up later and get up earlier. I’m learning I get way further ahead if I quit at a reasonable time and get a good night’s sleep. When I sleep well I am better able to handle the stresses of the day and I’m simply a nicer person in the process. Yup, there are some stretches where sleep just gets shorter (long meetings, new parents etc.), but if I go into the season knowing it is temporary and I will seek to get good sleep when I can, I do much better.

5. Ask for help – Trust others, invite them in to help in this season. Ask yourself, “what can I give away in this season?” Entrust things to volunteer, give your kids more chores, tell the team & family what kind of season it is for you and how they can help, invite others to pitch in.

6. Tell God – Tell God how you are feeling in this season and what you need in this season. Ask God to guide your steps, your lists and your priorities. Ask God to give His perspective on this season. I have found it completely perspective changing when I have balcony time with God and I can walk away with a fresh view on what He’s doing in a season. Receive what God wants to give you to thrive in this season. For some leaders receiving is the hardest part.

7. Tell those closet to you, especially those you live around – Make a plan to get through this busy season and still like each other at the end. Plan short pockets of time together. Plan a vacation together at the end of the busy season. Plan a mini celebration when you get through the season or a priority is accomplished.

8. What’s your cruising altitude? – Know yourself and your seasons. 100 km/h seasons are sustainable for a little while, but not forever. We are not created to maintain them season after season. Make sure this season does not last forever. To keep the analogy going, I’m learning I function best at about 75 km/h, I’m focused, handling the load, leading well and able to have good rhythms of rest and play. I also have some margin, in case something unexpected comes up. If it’s a 50 km/h season I get antsy and want to see things get moving. If it’s 20 km/h season I get bored and start day dreaming and get unfocused. If it’s a 100 km/h season I know I cannot maintain it for longer than a season. What’s your prime speed? What’s your cruising altitude?

Hope this helps.
What helps you come through busy seasons thriving? Please add your thoughts in the comments. It’s great learning from each other.
-Renée @r_embree

Current day heroes

I’ve been pondering my current day heroes in the faith. Who are yours?
In the spirit of Hebrews 11, where it says “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (vs. 1) and then the passage goes on to list all those who have gone before who have lived by faith, I’ve been thinking about current day heroes. Those who are dancing for God now, even though their circumstances tell them to give-up. Those that bring the umbrella to the prayer meeting for rain. Those that speak and share as if those in their audience are just checking out the faith, even though those folks are yet to come to their gathering.
Living by faith, that what they do not yet see, but what they hope for in Christ, will in fact come to be.
Who your heroes are says a lot about the aspirations and direction of your heart.

Here are some of my current day hero’s:

Church planters, who despite I’m sure lots of pressure, are resisting becoming like others churches, so that they may reach new pockets of our society. Thank you for teaching me determination.

Refugees, who give up so much for the hope of a fresh start and come to a foreign land with courage. I think of Syrian refugees coming to Canada today. Thank you for teaching me courage.

Theologians of today that call me again and again towards more faithful, less fragmented living for Jesus in our world. I particularly think of our Canadian theologians who I’m sure get little recognition and would often be consider irrelevant by society. Despite this they faithfully call us to be the body of Christ in the world, inviting us to continually shift our lives and thinking to be in-line with God and His Kingdom. Thank you for teaching me dedication, a long obedience in the same direction.

Women who lead faithfully in ministry, living out of God’s call on their lives even when they are misunderstood. The women that continue to hold firm to the Gospel and God’s calling on their lives. Thank you for teaching me loving resilience.

Those who have intentionally chosen to root themselves in a neighbourhood so Jesus may be become known to those around them. They immerse themselves in a community to be God’s presence there. I think of those who have uprooted their lives to intentional live in forgotten neighbourhoods and those in the new monastic movement. Thank you for teaching me true love.

Our brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle with LGBT attraction and have chosen to journey towards living faithfully for Jesus, even choosing to live a celibate lifestyle. They have given up more than most of us for the sake of costly obedience to Christ. This takes faith especially when many of our churches have not been the most welcoming. Thank you for teaching me costly obedience.

Parents that faithfully walk with their children of all ages, inviting them to live for Jesus in all areas of their lives, even (especially) when it looks different than the rest of society. Parents that continue to stand by their children even when they make choices that break their hearts. Thank you for teaching me grace.

Youth who are living faithfully and leading their friends to Jesus. I think of those that have started groups and practices in their school that display Jesus to their fellow students in word and deed. They have faith that God is at work among their friends, school and community. Thank you for teaching me joy and relevance in joining God’s work.

My mentors that speak God’s truth into my life even when it’s hard and it cause upheaval in my soul. Thank you for your tough love.

Volunteer youth and children leaders, doing so much with so little for the sake of this generation encountering God and being transformed by God. They have unwavering faith that God is speaking to, loving and transforming this generation. Thank you for teaching me passion.

Leaders and churches (tiny, small, medium and large) that have made the tough choices to say it is not about our holy huddle, but it is about those that have yet to experience God’s grace and Kingdom in their lives. They have taken hits as they’ve called their Christian community to turn outward again. They are my heroes for calling the body of Christ back to our mission. Thank you for teaching me sacrifice.

Who are your heroes in the faith?
As I look over my list it gives me great hope! We have many among us who are living by faith. We have many who are living with a radical openness to God’s possibilities in their life.
These heroes challenge me to more faithful living.
These heroes call me to live by faith.

Here’s the especially important part:
Who are the heroes in your life and ministry today? Tell them! Write them a note to cheer them on and thank them. Spur them on even more!
I’m off to write a note…

Add your comments below, let’s celebrate together, who are your current day heroes in the faith?

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

-Renée @r_embree

Why leaders should travel

I tend to be a skeptic when it comes to ministry trips. Most of it stems from being frugal and having a hard time justifying the money it takes to travel and wondering if that money could be better spent in other ways to serve God’s Kingdom. I love to travel, but am very hesitant to spend money to go and tend to keep my money in my pockets when I’m there. Yes, sorry friends, this is my way of telling you I didn’t bring back any souvenirs or chocolate.

I’ve just arrived back from a ministry trip where 10 Canadian students joined 15 European students for a course and then we spread out to visit some of the European students’ home ministries. It helped me gain a fresh perspective. So I thought I’d write this blog to remind myself and others the value in exposing ourselves and other leaders in our midst to different ministries, whether they are across our city, across our Nation or across our world.

Four reasons leaders should travel and visit other ministries…

1. Trips expose you to what is possible
When we see someone else doing something, it is easier to say “I could do that”. It forces you to wrestle through what is working in the context you are observing and how it could (or could not) apply in your context. The big thing I saw on this trip was how the European leaders did so much with so little. Often our response to new innovations is that it is going to take money and staff. Yet I saw European leaders who somehow found ways to start new youth ministries, start church plants, start a school etc… without any money or staff upfront. I also saw our Canadian students trying new ministry ideas on the trip that they may not have the courage to try yet back home in front of everyone they know and who knows them. For example they tried dance, new ways of leading communion, new ways of hearing from God, pushed their physical limits and were vulnerable in sharing more of their journey with God. Where are you trying to break through? Who could you visit to show you what is possible?

2. Trips remind you of the community we have all over the world
Even though we spoke different languages, came from varying background and different communities the commonalities in Christ and Christian leadership were staggering. The understanding we had for each other and support of each other as brothers and sisters in Christ was such an encouragement. Furthermore, travelling and living together with a group of others for two weeks teaches you a lot about community! We saw each other at our best and at our worst, it doesn’t matter if you are the “leader”. I had to confess my selfishness to the group more than once (e.g. when I wanted to get to the top of the mountain on our hike) as we figured out how to live, work, play and eat together as a group. You learn so much about yourself and others in this close community. Who can be your encouragers and partners in ministry? Who do you need to go on a trip with?

3. Trips reveal we have the same Gospel, but use different methods
The ministries that were flourishing the most in the places we visited were not the ones who had copied some cookie-cutter North American approach. The flourishing ministries were the ones with thoughtful, indigenous leaders who had found a way to be relevant in their neighbourhood, to the people right around them in their town or city. Sound leadership principals were the same across cultures, but methods were very different. The Gospel is the same, but how we show and tell that Gospel in ways that are relevant to our neighbourhoods are very different. Seeing how different leaders figured out how to best show and tell the Gospel in their context invited me to rethink how I best show and tell the Gospel in my context. What new method do you need to see in action? or do you need to try?

4. Trips can give you a fresh perspective
Taking a step away from your usual ministry and routine can help you get a balcony view of your own ministry. As you see new ministries and come back to your ministry it helps you to see it with fresh eyes. It is so easy to become focused just on our own ministry, church or camp. We have a big God, who is at work all over the places. May our eyes be open to see where God is at work all around us. I found that even Scripture can have a new freshness in new places. Whether I always realize it or not my Bible reading and interpretation is steeped in my culture. Reading passages about the freedom we have in Christ took on a whole new meaning as I read them standing in a city that used to be under occupation and heard the stories of Christians from a different era and culture. I carry that fresh perspective back with me to my life and context. Where can you go to gain a fresh perspective?

These are just a few thoughts on the value of travelling to visit different ministries, if we take the attitude of a learner as we go.
Your travel doesn’t need to be across an ocean or a national board, it can be across your city, to a different town, to a different province or just down the road.
Where can you go to learn? Where can you go to get a fresh perspective? Where can you take your team to build community and get a fresh perspective?

Why are ministry learning trips valuable to you?

May God open our eyes to what He is doing beyond our own ministry. And may God help you apply what He shows you, when you return to your circle.

If you are looking for such an opportunity for students check-out Tidal Impact happening this summer and Kamp Tumaini where we will be taking a team of students in 2017.

-Renée @r_embree

8 Things Churches Can Do To Include Singles

Last week I wrote a blog sharing four reasons churches should pay attention to singles. 
This week I’ll share 8 things churches can do to include singles.
Next week I’ll share 7 things singles can do to build bridges with the church – this will give you further insight whether you are married or single.

These ideas really aren’t my own, they are the ones I’ve picked up from friends (singles & marrieds), blogs, books, and preachers that have stuck with me. I would really like to hear what you would add to this list.

1. Preach positively about singleness – Leaders let’s consider how we can affirm single adults in our preaching topics and in our illustrations/examples. We need to make sure to include examples that apply to the life of singles throughout our messages and in the application. If your examples tend to all start with “So, in your family..”, “In my family…”, “My husband/wife and I…” Change it up and try “with the crowd at work…”, “with my/your friends…”, “with the folks at your gym…”, “at the coffee shop…”, “In class…” When you’re thinking of examples of how to help families and couples live out your sermon/devo during the week also think of examples for single parents, widows and singles.

Furthermore, messages about marriage, parenting and families are quite common, but when was the last time you heard a sermon on the high calling of being single? Singleness is a reality for many people and needs to be discussed just as other important topics need to be discussed in our churches.

2. Don’t segregate singles –Singles do not want their own subculture, they want to be a part of the church, just like married adults are a part of the church. The operative word is adult, not single. Plus, we’ve all heard the terrible stories of singles/young adult ministries that turn into a dating service. This insult singles, turns the goal away from pursuing Christ, and reduces singles to a problem to be solved. Treat singles like adults. The 35 year old single likely has more in common with the 35 year old couple than the 18 year old single (and vice versa).

So, intentionally invite and include them in all the other adult activities around your church. This also is a reminder to take a look at what you are doing for adult discipleship beyond Sunday Services – is it discipling people from all walks of life?

3. Establish groups that cross demographic lines – Where can you encourage connections across demographic lines in your church? In small groups? In volunteer teams? Mission teams? Intentionally encourage connections across demographic lines. I know small groups that have experienced such a blessing and grown so much in their faith by being a mix of people from different demographics, ages and backgrounds. This is how we grow in grace together. In these groups risk being vulnerable together and learning from each other. Just because you’re married with kids, don’t assume the single can’t sympathize with you. Just because you’re single, don’t assume the married folks can’t sympathize with you.

4. Shorten the walk to a seat – Singles say no matter how long they have been doing it, it still takes a lot of courage to go to church alone. It’s easy for singles to talk themselves out of going to church and instead find an alternative way of doing church at home, this is especially true if they’ve made all the effort to get themselves to church sometimes and yet have found it so hard to find friendly connections or community there. We are all way more likely to stay connected to a church if we establish friendships there. So, shorten the walk to the seat. Not literally, figuratively. Ease the route from home to parking lot and parking lot to a seat in the sanctuary. How do you do this? – be friendly, say “hi”, offer a seat, make small talk, offer to pick them up and go to church together, seat them by others and introduce them around, or let them know you’ll save them a seat by you in church.

5. Put singles in positions of responsibility – Make sure your leadership teams, boards etc. reflect the broad demographics you want to have in your church. One way to affirm the value of any group is to ensure they are well represented in positions of significant responsibility in your church. At the same time, don’t abuse singles. Sometimes it is assumed singles have more time, less responsibility and more money. This is not necessarily true. Singles often carry various responsibilities on their own. Have singles been trust with positions of responsibility in your church?

6. Pay attention & include, include, include – notice the singles among you, and take time to connect with them and listen to them. Make sure to include in your informal chats after church and other gatherings. Singles have clearly received the message that dating couples, marriages and families are important, so can be very hesitant to intrude on couple or family time. Singles can get tired of always feeling like they have to ask to be included. So, couples and families, you’ll have to do the work to include them and make sure they know you value their presence. Reach out and invite them into the chaos of a family meal at your home, invite them on a group outing, invite them out for coffee. Note: This is not the same thing as a once a year sympathy invite or inviting someone over to set them up, which most singles have horror stories they can tell you about! Most singles can smell a sympathy invite a mile away. A sympathy invite is when you just want to get the check-mark off your list of having invited someone in once or twice, or when the single person feels like your project. Both singles and marrieds, be open here, what may start off feeling like a check-mark on a list can turn into a beautiful friendship. We all want genuineness, this is a human thing, not a single thing – we all want conversation to be two-way and for people to take an interest in us as people, as adults, not just as singles.

7. Take the attitude of a learner – Admit that singleness is complex and that you know little about it. Married people sometimes mistakenly believe that they know something about singleness, when in fact they know very little. Most single folks I know have received more than enough advice! (There is a very long list rolling through my head right now!) A lot of people seem to treat singleness as if it’s the farm team to the NHL team of marriage. Singleness isn’t the farm team to marriage, it’s an entirely different sport! If you haven’t played it, you don’t understand it and you certainly haven’t mastered it. The average marrying age in Canada is somewhere around 29 years old. If you got married before this age, then your experience and understanding of what it is like to be single is naturally, below average. Being single when you were in your early twenties, when most of your friends were single too, is not the same thing. In other words, you don’t know a lot about singleness. This calls for humility. If you’re married, treat singleness as you would any cross-cultural experience, take the attitude of a learner. Realize you know little and seek to learn and be careful to not speak on what you don’t know. Watch those assumptions we talked about last time. For example, sometimes married people make the assumption that singles must know very little about relationships, which is an unfair blanket assumption. Research actually shows singles tend to have more, stronger, longer lasting friendships and they take better care of their friends. (From: “Marriage: The Good, the Bad and the Greedy” (2006) and “Single and Unmarried Americans as Family and Community Members” (2011).) This is not to try to create a one is better than other attitude or discussion, remember both singleness and marriage are equally awesome options. This is a reminder to please not sell singles short. Listen and hold-off on the advice.

8. Watch what you allow to be idols in your church, camp or youth group – Ok, I am about to make some bold statements which I’m presuming will generate discussion (which I welcome). I fear in some cases we have made an idol of marriage and family, and even given permission for family loyalty to trump loyalty to Christ. We do not question when someone says “for the sake of my family.” It certainly could be, but we should be able to ask, are you sure that is what Christ wants for you and your family? Let me give some examples, so you understand my concern.

Example 1 – For the sake of their family a Pastor is refusing to move even though their time is clearly up in a ministry. We’ve let that be O.K., family loyalty trumping what God could be saying. If you have a family God has called you to serve them and He will take that into consideration, but your number one loyalty is to be Christ. I’m not saying the Pastor should always leave in this scenario, but they should watch their idols, their loyalties – are they really allowing themselves to listen and obey the voice of Christ, who will also look after their family? The scenario does not even have to be moving, if “family” is given for a reason, it is often not questioned. Hear me here, if you are married and/or have a family that certainly has to be a top priority in your life, but it cannot be an excuse for refusing to follow God’s leading. We rarely allow singles this same permission to give their communities ties, friendships or church family as a reason for not doing something. Whether married or single we must be careful to not let either of those states become an idol for our decision making.

Example 2 – There are churches that run along family lines instead of following God’s will. If there is a strong godly family, often for a number of generations, that helps your congregation hear and obey God’s will that is wonderful! However, if there is a family where it has become more important for the church to do what that family wants, that is not good. You have an idol in your church. If the family is keeping your church from moving forward in living God’s calling for your church, you have an idol. Family loyalty is trumping loyalty to Christ.

Example 3 – I recall overhearing a youth group (middle schoolers) being dropped off at a large, Atlantic Canada wide event one time. As the youth were getting off the bus the leader said “remember you could be meeting your future spouse here this weekend.” I must admit, I wanted to scream. Marriage was just made an idol. The point of the event is to help students take a leap forward in their journey with Christ. The point of the Christian life, and youth discipleship, is not to get people into marriage relationships! It is to pursue Christ and fall more in love with Him and His ways. Shouldn’t we be saying something like “Listen for God’s voice this weekend. God is going to be speaking to you and challenging you this weekend.”

Singles certainly can fall into idols too, and also should be asking, where is my number one loyalty? –Trying to find someone or living for Christ? Or even is it the idol of marriage, thinking when you get married that’ll solve all your problems? (ya, right?!)

Married or single, can you say your number one loyalty is Christ? This is the journey we are on together in our church families, helping each other make Christ our number one in all areas of our lives. Leader, if you are helping people do that, wherever they are in their journey of life, demographics and backgrounds, you are doing well! Thank you!

So the advice here, on watching our idols – have honest conversations with others, asking questions like: where is your loyalty in this? What does loyalty to Christ look like in this season of your life? Is this honouring your family, as you should or is this not trusting God to lead and take care of your family? What does loyalty to Christ look like during singleness, separation, divorce, single parenthood, marriage, kids…? What does loyalty to Christ look like in your finances, your time, your free-time, your relationships etc…?
Whoever we are, may we be loyal to Christ above all.

I hope you recognize in these blogs that I fully support marriages and families, and especially welcome the work so many of you are doing to equip families to experience and live out their faith during the week. My hope is simply that not only do we help marrieds and families be equipped to live out their faith where they live, work, study, play, but that we also help singles, youth and young adults live out their faith where they live, work, study and play. So that together, as all God’s people, from various walks of life, we can join God in changing Atlantic Canada (or wherever you are) one neighbourhood at a time.

-Anything you’d like to add as advice for churches as they seek to include singles?
-Anything you agree or disagree with in this post?
Comments are welcomed.

Next week I’ll share things singles can do to build bridges with the church – this will give you further insight whether you are married or single.

-Renée @r_embree

4 Questions to Ask to get Great Feedback

4 questions to ask to get great, actually helpful, feedback.

Feedback is the breakfast of great leaders.

My phone is regularly giving me feedback – it tells me when its battery is getting low and it needs to be recharged, it tells me when programs and apps need updating, and it even tells me when a new operating system is needed. This is all so my phone keeps running at its optimum and does what it was designed to do (or tries to do, keep me connected and organized!).
Leaders, we need this ability we see in our phones, to constantly be checking in with the things we lead to see if it is time for a recharge, an update, a new system or (gasp or squeal – depending how you react to change) even a new phone.

And if we’re not intentional about getting this feedback, it will not happen. You’ll be obsolete before you even get the phone out of the box. Most of us avoid and resist feedback until it is too late. I know I’ve ignored the recharge signal, run my battery dry and been caught without my charger too many times. I know a number of people around my office these days complaining about their phones – how slow they are getting, what a poor battery life they are getting etc. I’ll resist the urge to tell you what model of phones these are. These phones are less than 3 years old, but they have not kept up or changed fast enough to satisfy the owner. People around my office are itching for the new phone to come out. I know I’ve let ministries go on too long without an update or recharge. I know I’ve let ministries keep going, when I should have really let them die and tried something new.

So, find ways to get regular, I mean very regularly, honest and helpful feedback. (In this post I’m thinking about feedback on our activities and programs – what we do and how we do it. In a future post we’ll chat about personnel feedback.)

Here are four questions I’ve picked up along the way (sorry, I can’t remember who first shared them with me to be able to give them credit). These questions can be asked after every gathering, even while you are cleaning up together. They should be asked after ever youth group, service, new event, service project, mission trip…

4 questions for getting helpful feedback on any program, service, ministry or event:
1. What should we keep doing?
2. What should we stop doing?
3. What should we start doing?
4. What should we do differently?

Ask these every time.
You’ll be amazed.
If you invite peoples’ honesty – they’ll tell you. I’ll never forget the time a youth, when we invited feedback on the youth group said “Could we please stop doing that crazy dance!?!” (the dance was the interlude, for those who are wondering). The leaders thought everyone loved the dance, until that moment.
These 4 questions can lead to minor tweaks or major overhauls, as you clarify whether reality is matching where you want to be headed.

Here are 4 more questions for deeper reflection. These questions can focus on how you are doing towards your vision as an organization. Take a longer time together as a team, as a church, as a youth group, as a children’s ministry, or as a missional community to reflect on these ones together.
As you look at your vision and how your organization/ministry is doing at seeing it come into reality:
1. What’s wrong?
2. What’s right?
3. What’s confused?
4. What’s missing?

WHY should you invite this kind of feedback?

First, every time you do it reminds you and others about your central vision and how what you just did is to be a piece of furthering that vision. It brings everyone back to the why.

Second, every time you invite this feedback as a leader it displays clearly you value others – they are equally a part of creating and cultivating this vision. They equally own the vision. You value their input as together you are faithful to the calling God has put on your community.
So involve kids, teens, all generations, outsiders, insiders, old voices and new voices in giving you and your team feedback.

Let me give you an example. We have an event called Springforth (springforth.baptist-atlantic.ca) for middle school and high school students from across Atlantic Canada. The purpose of the event is to create a catalytic environment for students to take a leap forward in their relationship with God. This past year, after the event, when we started asking people “What should we do differently?” someone suggested we should take the serving others component and put it on steroids. In other words, take the partnership with Kamp Tumaini (through CBM) and find ways for students, youth groups, and church to be a part of it all year long. So, the plans are in the works. It fits, it gives more students, more opportunities to take a leap forward in their relationship with God. Furthermore it fits with the larger vision of why we exist, to invite people to join God in changing their world neighbourhood by neighbourhood. Without asking “what should we do differently?” we might never have heard all the great ideas.

So leader, ask these 4 questions this week and listen.

Renée @r_embree