Losing Friends Because of Jesus by Tony Miles


“I lost a friend over the whole Josh Duggar thing.”

I listened as my buddy explained how he’d used Facebook to dare others to not to be petty in how they responded to the now-infamous news story.

Apparently, the individual who took offense couldn’t tolerate such a perspective.

Curious, I went to my buddy’s Facebook profile… only the discussion was nowhere to be found. He’d deleted it so as to not antagonize the situation further.

I can’t say I blame him.

Right or wrong, I’ve certainly edited myself in the past when I said something controversial that caused ripples in a relationship.

That’s when the real tension emerges… 

truth or friendship?

Not knowing how to navigate this, we often end up doing one of two things:

  • In fear, we silence ourselves to a fault: We unknowingly fulfill Aristotle’s summary, “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”
  • In exhaustion, we speak liberally to a fault: We become so tired of holding several things in that we presume it’s better to pop everything out.

Christians notoriously wrestle with this.

We think, “I shouldn’t offend, but should try to blend in and appear like everyone else. Then I’ll have the credibility to tell them about Jesus.”

Ironically, by spending so much energy not standing out we suppress everything out-standing about our lives… which saps any credibility we were hoping to build.

It’s as if our primary ethos for life morphs from being ourselves with God into avoiding losing friends because of Jesus.

The strange thing is you’ll find people around you who are begging you to “just be real.” This past week I had someone articulate that to me, explaining, “Don’t give me safe conversation. Tell me whatever you think without holding anything back. Let me hear everything you wrestle with.”

This is someone I just met who is new to church and God.

I explained, “I get asked that all the time, as if I’m hiding my deepest junk from the world. I’m actually a pretty open guy, but have learned to be appropriately honest.”

“What does that mean?” came the counter-reply.

“Imagine I lost my job and needed to explain it to my family. In complete honesty, I would tell my 4-year old ‘Daddy needs to look for a new job. Pray for me, okay?’ I might then tell my 11-year old, ‘I’m not working there anymore, and we might need to cut back on some of our extra spending for a while.’ I might further confide in my 14-year old, ‘I’m not at my old job anymore, and here’s what happened.’  Of course, I’d let my wife into my more intimate inner world, from all the fears and dreams I had about it. In each situation, I would be completely honest while being appropriate to the audience.”

This is a tension any Christian leader has to learn to walk. It’s why over the years I’ve gone from trying to debate every issue I disagree with in a public forum to hanging out with people in person and exploring such tensions over a warm beverage.

Jesus explained,

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6)

Eugene Peterson paraphrased it,

“Don’t be flip with the sacred. Banter and silliness give no honor to God. Don’t reduce holy mysteries to slogans. In trying to be relevant, you’re only being cute and inviting sacrilege.”

There are some things that are worth taking a public stand about.

Evangelism and discipleship are on some level you saying, “It’s okay if you don’t like me after this. Your life / eternity matter more to me.”

There are other things that need to be handled more personally.

Being a local or global missionary requires reading the culture/person you’re trying to reach to find the best way in.

There are zero things that shouldn’t ever be talked about.

Jesus said to love God with every bit of who you are, and the Epistles add to “test everything” and let “whatever you do, whether in word or deed” be done for the Lord.

Our challenge is not to know the difference, but to let the Spirit of God tell us which is which.

How do you navigate all of this, let alone the tension of losing friends for Jesus?


Leading Students Into Racial Reconciliation by Jeff Wallace and Brent Crowe, with Rick Lawrence



Racial tensions, like embers in a forest, have been whipped into a flames by controversial (and deadly) confrontations between white police officers and young black men. Racial distrust and misunderstanding now define our contemporary culture in profound and far-reaching ways. We need an ongoing, courageous conversation to break the tension…

Jeff Wallace is the longtime pastor of youth development at Peace Baptist Church in Decatur, Georgia. He’s also the co-founder of Frontline Urban Resources, and co-creator of the DVD training kit Urban Ministry From Start to Finish and co-author of the book Everybody’s Urban (both from Group/SYM).

Brent Crowe is vice president of Student Leadership University, a leadership-development journey for middle and high school students. He’s author of Reimagine: What the World Would Look Like If God Got His Way and Chasing Elephants: Wrestling with the Gray Areas of Life (both from NavPress). He lives and works in Orlando.

It was Jeff’s idea to have GROUP moderate an open conversation about the role of youth ministry in the journey toward racial reconciliation—a topic that has resurfaced as a major fault-line in Western culture. More than any time since the ’60s, today’s tensions over racial distrust and anger over racial injustice have fueled the national conversation. And what does this have to do with youth ministry? Well, this cultural environment is forming students, and the way we engage them about issues of race and reconciliation will determine how they live out their relationship with Jesus in the real world.

Jeff and Brent have respected each other for a long time, and knew each other in a casual way—until Brent reached out to Jeff in the wake of the Trayvon Martin verdict in an attempt to more deeply understand the perspective and heart of the black community. Their conversations have led to a deeper friendship and a shared, passionate commitment to laying a foundation for racial reconciliation in youth ministry.

I’ve taken our 45-minute Skype conversation and condensed it into sections headed by questions. You can watch the video in the free digital issue, available at: youthministry.com/group-magazine.

Rick Lawrence

Youth ministry has many priorities—why should racial reconciliation be one of them?

Jeff Wallace: One, we’re training the leaders of tomorrow, and we have to be intentional about what we’re doing. Two, we live in a time driven by the trending topic—what happened to Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown has pushed the issue of race into classroom conversations.

If we’re going to be authentic youth leaders committed to investing in the real lives of our students, we have to pull our heads out from under the pillow and really begin to engage in the conversations these kids are having. They need a place that’s safe to express what they’re feeling. But they also need somebody to navigate them toward a godly response to these issues.

Brent Crowe: Youth ministry should be a laboratory for having ongoing conversations about issues that are impacting our culture. During the time of the Reformation, church leaders viewed “calling” as plural—we are called to the church, family, vocation, and citizenship. Citizenship has to do with our influence on our culture. Racial reconciliation is a non-negotiable for youth workers, because it’s directly tied to preparing students to be godly citizens in our culture—salt and light. It’s my responsibility to prepare them to engage their culture with a sense of calling.

How can youth workers address issues of racial reconciliation when most ministries are not racially diverse?

Brent: Our target audience should not be a skin color—our target audience should be whatever population is represented on school campuses in my county, city, and region. I have to assess what’s outside my doors. So if there is a lot of diversity right outside of my doors, then my ministry should reflect that. But there are some ministries that reflect a homogenous demographic because their surrounding culture is primarily African-American or Hispanic or Caucasian.

Race has to do with genetics, when it is properly understood and defined. There really is just one race, and that is the human race, but there are a multiplicity of cultures within the human race. With that understanding, we’ve tried to join communities that are multi-cultured, whether or not they’re multi-colored.

Jeff: The reality is that the landscape of our culture is changing. The communities surrounding traditional churches are changing. If the church is going to continue to be healthy, balanced, and missional, we have to be willing to engage the people that are right outside our doors. We have to ask ourselves if we want to represent God’s kingdom on earth, even as we strive to represent the Kingdom of God in heaven.
How do we help students break out of typical connections into a broader scope of relationship?

Jeff: When I was going to the 8th grade, I wanted to go to the neighborhood school where all of my friends were. But my mother told me: “The world isn’t black. If I send you to a neighborhood school, I’m afraid you’ll have a single-story perspective on what the world really looks like.”

Well, I had my own biases and prejudices and perspectives of what I thought all whites were. I was one of five blacks in the entire school. And as God helped me journey through high school, I began to see the heart of people. And God really opened my eyes to my mother’s words—”the world is not black.”

As I did life with my friends, God positioned me strategically to be a bridge between both perspectives. I began to tell my black friends that not all white people are like the stereotypes. And my white friends began to admit that all black people weren’t thugs or baby daddies—there are articulate, educated African-Americans. God put me right smack in the middle of both cultures and gave me a heart for both. If we are really going to be the church that God intends us to be, we have to have understanding, clarity, and a better perspective.
What does each “side” in the current racial divide not understand about the other?

Brent: Growing up, there was not prejudice in our home or my little country town, but there were some very ignorant assumptions. I never would’ve thought of myself as racist, but I did harbor certain prejudices that were rooted in the assumptions prevalent in my environment. I’ll give you one example: In our high school, if you were a Caucasian young lady and you dated a Black young man, you were marked for the rest of your high school career. That environmental reality produced a subtly sinful belief in me: “I don’t have anything against black people, but they’re not beautiful.” Beauty was reserved for a color—that’s a sinful, ungodly, depraved assumption.

Fast-forward to my life today as a ministry leader and a dad—we have sought actively to combat that wrong way of thinking in our kids. The other day I took my 5-year-old girl Mercy to see the film Annie—and later that night she announced she was intending to become black. I asked her why, and she said, “Because Annie is black.” In her mind, she’s saying, Annie is beautiful. That’s a sign of healthy development, because she’s not growing up around the assumptions that I grew up around.

Jeff: The reality is that African-Americans have similar prejudices and assumptions—for example, “All whites are racist” and “They don’t really ever understand our struggle.” There is so much pain and hurt rooted in the history of our country—it fuels this feeling that we’ll never be able to understand one another, and we’ll never be able to come together. These divisive assumptions are underscored by media propaganda; we see racist white people holding signs and thuggish black kids committing violent acts.

This propaganda creates images that are forever embedded in our minds. When race intrudes into our everyday life, those images and the ideology automatically take us to a place of judgment and assumption. So the first thing we have to do as leaders is stand up and say, “We’re going to have unifying conversations that really begin to break down some of the myths that are out there.” We have to have intentional conversations that deal with the ugliness and the tensions that are out there.

The reality is, my generation and above may not ever get it. That’s why the focus has to be on youth and young adults who are living in a very diverse world. But we have to have leaders who are comfortable being uncomfortable—I think that’s what’s missing in the church. No one wants to sit in a room and talk about racial tensions. We want to talk about how we can have a sexy youth room or the latest curriculum or how to deal with discipleship and worship. All these things are important, but we’re not putting our youth leaders in a position to engage in these crucial conversations.

The problem is really for us to confront, more than it is for youth and young adults. We subtly promote the racially divisive issues in our culture, because we have prejudices and biases. So we have to be open and honest about our issues, be transparent as leaders, and then have hard conversations with our church leaders.

Brent: We didn’t create this mess overnight—it took hundreds of years. But in the social-media age in which we live, there’s a subconscious arrogance that we can solve these types of problems quickly. As leaders of student ministries we need to recognize we’re starting a conversation that’s going to last for years. We’re not going to solve this with a webinar. It’s too loaded of a conversation.

We have an attention span of a gnat—we haven’t shown the ability to wrestle with these things over the long haul. And this is going to be a long-term conversation.

Jeff: I think the gospel and social-justice and civil-rights issues have to really marry one another. The gospel is the one equalizer that can help us address all issues of culture and tension and reconciliation. As Brent said, if it took 40 years to get out of the wilderness, it may take us a little longer to deal with this issue.
In this culture, social justice is often divorced from an intimate relationship with Jesus. It’s compartmentalized. How do we embed efforts to move toward racial reconciliation within the context of the gospel?

Brent: You can’t have common grace if you don’t understand gospel grace. The only reason it’s a good thing to go serve in a community is because there’s something that’s already determined what good and evil is. So common grace, such as humanitarian acts, can’t even be defined apart from the gospel.

Jeff: In churches, when we’re exposed to visuals about foreign missions, we’re often seeing people of color who are living in poverty-stricken areas. So here in the States, when you see a person of color, you’re hard-wired to have a missional mindset. They’re a kind of charity case—and for a lot of African-Americans, that comes across as very disingenuous. We feel pity for the little black girl or boy because I’ve primarily seen them from a particular perspective. Just because I’m an African-American does not mean that person you saw in Johannesburg is my cousin!

Brent: It’s also how we define terms—for example, we don’t use the term minority. If you’re a social scientist, you can use the term minority because it is a quantitative term to you. But for the rest of us who aren’t social scientists, the term minority means lesser-than. We’ve got to continue to redefine the ways we refer to one another—the lazy terms that have become a part of our ordinary, daily conversations.
What are some very pragmatic things that an average youth worker can do to begin to integrate this way of thinking and engaging in their everyday youth ministry?

Jeff: I think it would be really cool if student leaders were more intentional about connecting with other youth leaders in settings that are different from theirs. There’s nothing more authentic than great times of fellowship—mixing our groups and going to the movies or paint-balling. Or maybe you can have a youth leader from another group come and speak at one of your Bible studies or your main gathering. Use that time to encourage your students to really engage—to see the heart of the person, so they can look past the color of the person.

Brent: I’ll give you four ideas. First, I think that we need to have unity at a leadership level. It would be beautiful if cities had citywide staff meetings, with churches from all over the city gathering together. We all have the gospel of Jesus Christ as our central message, and the redemption of mankind as the objective of the mission of God, to the glory of God.

Second, we have to identify and tackle assumptions. There are some fun ways we can do this—watch the show, Blackish, for example. They’ve built an entire comedic show about assumptions, and it’s always turning the assumption on its head.

Third, we have to redefine terms such as urban and, as I said before, minority. And the list could go on and on and on.

Fourth, we have to remember and honor and celebrate history. Martin Luther King Day has turned into a joke—people use the long weekend for events that we normally schedule during the summertime. I’ve rarely heard Dr. King mentioned at any of the conferences I’ve been at on Martin Luther King Day. We have examples in Scripture where the people of God create memorials—the purpose is to help us remember the event. The purpose of MLK weekend is to help us remember the life, the leadership, the legacy, and the sacrifice of this great Civil Rights leader. We need to intentionally remember significant events and characters in our history.


By Jeff Wallace and Leneita Fix

Alexus comes to the youth program every week with her brother Larry. When we saw her the other day, she arrived with the same look on her face she always does. There is no smile. It is a scowl, wrapped in a sadness that hangs behind the eyes. No one is going to pull one over on Alexus; she’s too busy carrying the weight of the world with her everywhere she goes. Larry is the same way. If he thinks you’re getting too close, he will push you away, literally and emotionally. They are rough—really rough.

The other day, Alexus seemed to just spiral out of control. She was sitting next to a friend and laughing about a movie they had both seen, when someone accidently stepped on her foot. Immediately, Alexus was two inches from the student’s nose wanting to know “what his problem was.” The student stammered about it being an accident as Alexus pulled her arm back to slap him. Out of nowhere Larry was at her side, fists clenched, ready to defend his sister.

Thankfully, one of our team leaders was on the scene, putting an arm around Alexus and quickly diffusing the situation.

Do you have an Alexus and a Larry in your group? They’re the students that are hard to handle, as they say. Life seems to have hardened them at a young age. Maybe it doesn’t manifest itself in quite the same way, but they are the ones who live as if their dreams have been snatched, never to be replaced. Tripping through life, they hope to survive the day.

Have you already guessed what their home situation might be like?

And did you assume that home is in an urban setting?

If so, what does that mean? Would it shock you to find that Alexus is white, growing up in rural Pennsylvania? Would it shock you to find that she’s African-American, growing up in the inner-city?

As you consider “Alexus” and “Larry,” a better question might be who in your own group fits these characteristics:

• Hurting

• Hopeless

• Can’t seem to grasp what it means to truly belong to Christ

• Exists to survive another day 12

• Can’t understand there is a plan and future for them that has boundless limits

What about us—you’ve likely assumed we have the “street cred” to write a piece like this. Would it shock you to discover that the blond-haired, blue-eyed girl lives in a turbulent neighborhood with gang members across the street, while the African-American guy lives in a nice neighborhood surrounded by white picket fences?

Urban is a word that no one really seems to know how to define. Sure, some people say it’s about ethnicity or a demographic location. It could mean a life riddled with exposure to violence, addiction, and abuse. Some would say it is about the hip-hop culture, wearing certain clothes, listening to particular music, and watching BET.

We think the definition needs to be broadened. Instead of making assumptions of the life background of an “Alexus” and a “Larry,” we want to define the condition of the heart. Statistics that seemed to once represent a myopic idea of “urban” no longer exist—the classic problems of urban youth are now the common problems of all youth. The “other side of the tracks” is disappearing.

No matter what the geographical context, we’re finding more and more teenagers who are “stuck” in a place of survival. They have no idea how to see beyond today. Their dreams were snatched from open hands, and they have given up on getting them back. Urban has a new definition—it is any student, from any race, background, culture, religion, or style who exists to survive the day.

This short piece is adapted from Everybody’s Urban, by Jeff Wallace and Leneita Fix. You can order the book at SimplyYouthMinistry.com. And while you’re there, check out the DVD training kit Urban Ministry From Start to Finish and the small-group curriculum LIVE Urban.


What Do Your Students’ Personality Types Mean? by Danielle Rhodes


One of the most popular personality inventories is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (or MBTI). Isabel Myers-Briggs and Katharine Briggs, using Carl Jung’s theory of personality types, created this inventory to pinpoint an individual’s preferences through a series of questions. The inventory then takes the individual’s answers and assigns him or her a personality type, based on four major categories:

1) Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I)—These refer to activities that energize a student. Extraverted students enjoy being around large groups of people and gain energy from the active world around them. Introverted students are more likely to sit back and observe. They get fueled after time alone or with a group of close friends.

2) Sensing (S) or Intuition (N)—These describe the method in which a student receives and interprets information from the world around them. Students who score high in the sensing type are likely to pay more attention to information processed through the five senses and hands-on experiences than students who score high in intuition. “N” students rely mostly on their impressions of situations to acquire information and develop new ideas.

3) Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)—These describe students’ decision-making processes. A “T” student will weigh all the facts and information before making a logical, informed decision, while an “F” student is more attuned to everyone’s feelings, including their own, and uses that knowledge to make the most harmonious decision.

4) Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)—These refer to how students interact with the world around them and how the world perceives them. A “J” student is not judgmental in the negative way we usually think of the term. Rather, this category means a student typically prefers structure and planning. On the other hand, a “P” student is more spontaneous and open to change.

Now that you have a better idea of what each distinct category means, let’s look at their different combinations. With a better understanding of these 16 personality types, you can plan your activities, lessons, and youth room to fit the personality types of the students in your ministry. If you aren’t sure what your students’ personality types are, there are plenty of free tests on the Internet (although these won’t be as definitive as taking an official Myers-Briggs inventory test). I’ll cover the extraverts today, and later this week, I’ll explain the introverted personality types.

1) ENFJ (Teacher)

These students are personable, disarming, and aware of the needs of those around them. However, other domineering students or extremely introverted individuals can make them feel unsure of themselves. Small groups will give ENFJs opportunities to take the lead in discussion and will also expose them to other personality types they might otherwise avoid.

2) ENFP (Champion)

These students thrive in any environment rich with multiple personalities, although they may be seen as attention seekers. These students are enthusiastic about their beliefs and can be quite persuasive. However, ENFPs may have a hard time giving others a chance to speak. They can also become so excited about new friendships, that old friendships are neglected for a time. By giving ENFPs a chance to speak in front of the group and encourage them to share their faith with others, you can provide a positive outlet for these students’ energy.

3) ENTJ (Field Marshall)

ENTJs tend to assume leadership roles quickly. Unlike ENFPs, these students don’t necessarily need the approval of others to create and carry out a plan. When they are challenged, ENTJs can become argumentative and unyielding. Small group leadership will give these students a forum to fine-tune their leadership skills. Or, if you’re up for it, invite an ENTJ into the planning session for an event. That will help this student learn to give and receive constructive criticism.

4) ENTP (Inventor)

These students love solving problems and creating new ways to accomplish routine tasks. They are quick thinkers and outspoken, skilled debaters. These students will actively avoid repetitive, routine tasks, and they require straightforward, no-nonsense leadership. These students develop close bonds with those important to them, so they thrive in personal discipleship training. Shake up the routine for large group nights to keep these students excited and engaged.

5) ESFJ (Provider)

Like the name suggests, these students have an uncanny knack for understanding the needs of those around them and striving to provide for those needs. They enjoy being in roles that help them care for others. These students tend to be as protective as they are caring. Often, their need to preemptively protect others from harm leads them to perceive the world as dangerous and untrustworthy. Incorporate frequent service opportunities in your ministry to see your ESFJs excel.

6) ESFP (Performer)

These students love having fun and entertaining. They have no problem making newcomers feel welcome and included. They are excited by new things and get frustrated by boring, routine operations. ESFPs work great in teams, so include them on a student leadership team to get things accomplished. They’re also great on greeter and welcome teams.

7) ESTP (Promoter)

These students are thrill seekers. They love the excitement of high-stakes games. Flexible and outgoing, ESTPs respect individuals who can play and compete on their level. They are also accomplished speakers, utilizing showmanship and “shock” to engage their audience. These students will be bored senseless with theoretical concepts, so, like ISFPs (which I’ll cover later this week), make room for hands-on activities—especially competitions—to capture and keep their attention.

8) ESTJ (Supervisor)

ESTJs excel in organizing people to accomplish tasks. They are practical, straightforward, and efficient. Loyalty is important to these students—they will feel betrayed if they are not appreciated for their gifts. You may find that these students are uneasy with the unconventional and strive to appear “normal.” Willing and ready to express their opinions and principles, these students appreciate it when you give them a venue to do so.


10 Characteristics of Great Team Leaders by Tyler Reagin


For those of you that know me, you know that nothing excites me more than coaching and leading teams. I love it. I find fulfillment in leading and developing highly efficient, excellent, healthy teams more than most other things I do in business.

In the spring this year, I took our team leads from Catalyst away for a two-day retreat. The goals were simple: learn more about each other. Learn about our unique wiring. Learn the DNA of our current team, and create energy around becoming great leaders.

I asked these leaders what they believe makes great team leaders, and It did not take long for us to come up with a list of 21 qualities that would surface from the greatest team leaders we know.

I have narrowed it down to the top 10, which is still too many, but I can’t edit anymore. So over the next few days, I want to talk about each of these characteristics and the value that they bring to leading teams.

Before we start, I have one MAJOR precursor to this list. It was the point of the entire exercise, and 9.99 times out of 10 this is true with this exercise. If you look at this entire list of characteristics, less than 5-10% of the traits would be qualified as a “results–based” trait. In other words, almost all the great traits that are attractive and constitute great leadership have to do with how you lead PEOPLE. John Maxwell always says that leadership is influence. I would add that you influence people, not necessarily projects. So as we go through this list, I would love for you to think about where you have seen these play out in the leaders you have respected the most and how you can apply them to your leadership.

I want to just give you the list ahead of time, in case you decide to tune out over the next few weeks. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Leverage Influence for the Team
Great team leaders leverage their influence and power to promote and serve their teams. (Andy Stanley talks extensively about this.)

2. Approachable
A team leader that creates a culture of approachability is a leader worth following.

3. Solid Grip on Reality
In Steve Jobs’ biography, the author uses a phrase that Steve had reality depravation. Leaders who are not in-tune with reality create teams that are unhealthy and frustrated.

4. Relational 
Over and over again, leaders talk about and point to relational leaders as being more effective than results–first leaders. It doesn’t mean results do not matter because they clearly do. It’s how do you lead people to results. Emotional Intelligence is central to this conversation.

5. Consistent 
Let’s be honest, no one wants to be on a team that they have to guess which mood the leader is in or what today is going to hold because of the inconsistencies of the team leader.

6. Calm/Stable 
Rorke Denver talked recently about a Commander that gave their team one of the greatest leadership lessons ever while they were in the field. He simply said, “Calm is contagious.” So true.

7. Release Ownership/Delegate 
Nothing shows the commitment of the team leader more than a leader who is willing to release ownership and delegate important tasks, projects, and relationships. It shows way more than just trust; it shows character and priority.

8. Self-aware
There is something attractive about leaders who just know who they are and operate with an extensive self–awareness. I’ve always said the quicker we can be proud of how God wired us, the quicker we will become the leader he wants us to be.

9. Trustworthy 
I’m pretty sure this requires no explanation, but integrity will always be at the top of the list for the greatest leaders in the world.

10. Respected 
As much as I wish that all respect comes from relational investments over time with your team, I’ll be the first to admit that competency to achieve results is also crucial to this characteristic. You can’t lead well without a standard of excellence and a strong skill set for work.



Let’s start with how great team leaders leverage their influence for the sake of those around them. In his 8 part series called Follow, Andy Stanley outlined the importance of this in the 7th part of the series (check it out here.)  Basically, paraphrasing, of course, when you are at the top of the food chain at your office or on your team, how you leverage your influence is an indication of the type of leader you are.  He would argue (and obviously I agree) that the greatest [team] leaders are the ones who use that influence, resource and power to bring others up and serve them.  This comes from the passage in Mark 10, where James and John ask Jesus if they can sit at his right and left in paradise.

He then says, “You know that those are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them…not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

Here’s what this looks like in a day-to-day situation. Great team leaders will always see opportunities for them as opportunities for their team. Many times they will use the resources given to them to celebrate, develop and care for their teams. It is so powerful when leaders are with their teams until the last chair is stacked and the lights are turned out.  We have all had moments where we saw our leaders as sweaty as the rest of the team while everyone knows they don’t have to do that. It’s contagious. It’s the kind of leader everyone wants to work for….I mean with. Great team leaders feel like they are on your team and are constantly leveraging all they have at their disposal to serve.


The second quality on this list cannot be removed or deleted from a great team leaders resume. To me, this has to be such a central principle that without it, I’m not convinced you can be a great TEAM leader.  I know the argument can be had that there were great leaders in history who were not approachable.  Agreed.  But I would argue they were not necessarily great TEAM leaders. They probably were brilliant minds and strategist that led through fear and had turn over.

Great team leaders create a culture on their team where your team members feel the freedom to express their thoughts and an “open-door” type policy.  I always want my team to feel like they can bring any question, comment or concern to me. Let me say this as well.  When this is accomplished correctly, there is not a lack of respect for the authority your role carries.  At a Catalyst East event, Patrick Lencioni talked about the argument that many CEOs or execs would use about being vulnerable and approachable.  He said that you can’t be vulnerable enough.  I would add that when your team members feel like you are authentic and their advocates, they will respect your position even more!

I can promise you one thing, approachability will create a team of loyal team members.  Try it and let me know if I’m wrong…


This is such an important characteristic for team leaders. We can all think back to a former or current team leader who has Reality Depravation (see Steve Jobs biography for a more in depth understanding of this term).  In other words, what they think is reality, is so far from the truth that they are blind to it. They live in a world that is removed from the day-to-day operation of their team and their team suffers for it.

I recently re-read the Executive Book Summary (summary.com) of Primal Leadership.  Last summer our entire company went through the Emotional Intelligence principle that is from this book and the article by Daniel Goleman (read it here). To sum up EQ (emotional intelligence), the best leaders in the world are in tune with the emotional state of their teams and themselves. It is crucial to the success of leading.

Here’s the quote:

“Dissonant leadership produces groups that feel emotionally discordant, in which people have a sense of being continually off-key…they create wretched workplaces-although they have no idea how destructive they are, or simply don’t care.  Meanwhile, the collective distress they trigger becomes the group’s preoccupation, deflecting attention away from their mission.”

If team leaders do not have a firm grip on reality and stay in tune with their team, dissonant leadership will take over and they will begin the erosion of their influence. No leader wants that. The more “out of tune” you are with the realities of your team and your tasks, the quicker your team loses confidence in your leadership.  Simple as that.

Figure out ways to keep a pulse on your teams realities.  


This trait goes perfectly along with the last trait. The best team leaders in the world understand that you must value relationships. I know that sounds so simple and like a no brainer, however, the number of leaders that will ALWAYS choose results over relationships is staggering.

I will be the first to say that there are times you MUST choose the right result and create withdrawals with your team’s equity. One of the drastic differences for teams is when the leader makes constant relational deposits allowing for the occasional withdrawal to be only a bump in the road.  When a leader mostly chooses results first, every time they have to make a relational withdrawal, it turns into a huge ordeal.

I often say that a litmus test for my team leadership is whether or not the spouses of my team still like me. I know that sounds cheesy and a little subjective but it is a great gauge on how I’m leading their husband or wife. Nothing makes me prouder as a team leader than when a spouse, friend or family member of my team tell me how much they appreciate my leadership. Fighting for those relationships is so important.

Patrick Lencioni has basically built an entire business model and array of books that are based on being great relational leaders. I would argue that fighting for staff and team members and valuing the relationships will always make you business or organization better.

If you are a naturally results oriented leader, choose relationships. It will make the results pushes easier. If you are naturally relationship oriented, keep depositing and push for results when appropriate.

What can you do to make some relational deposits today?


The definition of consistent is simple…Unchanging in achievement or effect over a period of time. Another way to say this would also be integrity. My southern, simple version is this: What you see is what you get. There are obviously times when you have bad days and act in unexpected ways. The key, in those times, are those days are exceptions and not the rule.

Let’s be honest. No one wants to be in a relationship with anyone whose moods change with the wind and their decisions seem to have no rhyme of reason. If you lead that way, then you will keep your team on their heels, never able to gain traction or confidence, and struggling to be their best.

I have often said that one of my highest values as a person (maybe my highest) would be being known to have the same personality and character at home, the office, church or out with friends on the golf course.  I obviously do different things depending on the environment I’m in, but my character and personality are constant.  It requires fighting hard for your personality and being yourself.

This does not immune any of us to having a bad day.  The difference is that when we are having a bad day, people will know it’s a bad day and not the normal.

Is it just me, or is this a must for a great team leader?


I know this sounds very similar to the trait right before this, but I would argue that there is a difference in these two.  Specifically with the calm attribute.

In England, it’s often said, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”  I’m almost convinced that they took that from me.  There is a reason that some of the best coaches in professional sports resemble men and women of calm.  They can take every moment and regulate their emotions so they can stay in clarity.  Think about it…Phil Jackson, Bill Belichek and Bobby Cox were all in a league of their own when it comes to leading teams.  I would argue that their calmness served them well and constantly kept them focused and clear minded.  As well as the occasional intensity to wake everyone up!

Rorke Denver (lead Navy Seal in Act of Valor) spoke at a previous Leadercast event and tells a story of a commanding officer teaching the recruits this simple phrase, “Calm is contagious.”  How true.  Team leaders that can stay calm in the face of plans that fail, technology that breaks and team members that get anxious, will attract an amazing team with a loyal following.

What is one area you could be asking God to give you calm in that would make you a great team leader? 


Almost every time I have talked with leaders who have left a job, ministry or team because of the “boss,” they will mention a couple reasons they did not want to stay.  At the top of almost every list is the famous phrase, “They micro-managed me”.  Let’s talk about that for a minute.

I don’t think people leave their jobs because their direct report was in their business or cared how they did their job.  I would argue, it’s because they wouldn’t release ownership to the team.  No one really wants to work for a team leader or boss who have nothing to do with their job.  Everyone wants to know if they are doing a good job and being successful, but they want to have the freedom to own their areas.  Think about it for a minute.  Who wants to work for someone who NEVER tells them how they are doing or gives them any direction/vision for what success looks like?  It crosses the line when the boss doesn’t trust their team to do their jobs.

Now to stand up the for the team leaders…you need to give them every reason to trust and feel like they can hand it to you.  The way I’ve always said it is:  “I hired you because you are competent and GREAT at what you do.  I want to fight for your health and speak into the process so you know what’s expected.  However, you go and kill your job because that’s what I hired you to do!”

Great team leaders not only know how to trust the current team, but they know how to hire great people to make trusting easier.  Our teams will never reach their full potential until we let go and allow them to shine.

Team Leaders:  What’s the worst that can happen if you let go of something to your team that they are probably better at anyway?


This trait is such a no brainer to me, but I realize it still needs to be addressed. For the past few years when I coach teams and leaders, I usually start by talking about Emotional Intelligence (See Daniel Goleman’s What Makes a Great Leader article).  The foundational trait of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is self-awareness.  So one of the exercises that I will do with these teams is to have them describe characteristics of leaders with high EQ.  Here’s some of the usual answers:







I don’t know about you, but I’ll sign up to do anything where I can have those traits.  Self-awareness makes great team leaders because teams want to follow someone who know themselves.  Patrick Lencioni talks about how many CEOs he works with that try and hide their weaknesses or personality quirks.  He argues you can’t be TOO vulnerable because your team already knows all of those things.  When we are not self-aware and open about ourselves, our teams lose trust in us because we are not acting in an authentic way.  Plus who wants to work for someone who “Fakes it to Make it”?  Not me.

When I meet with leaders, one of the greatest things I believe that God has to say to them in this regard is simple…The quicker you become proud of the unique way that God has created you, the quicker you will become a great leader.  I know it’s hard sometimes to look into your life and heart and wiring.  But do you think that God messed up with how he created your personality?  It is so tempting to look at all people around us and covet that trait and this characteristic.  What if God created you in a unique way to use you in a specific purpose?  Be yourself.

What assessment or person could you connect with this week to help you become more self-aware?  


Around our offices, one the phrases we have made part of the DNA of our team was taken from my pastor and friend Andy Stanley.  We talk about leaders worth following.  It’s very similar to the idea of being Trustworthy.  Worthy of Trust.  Worthy of following.  You don’t become trustworthy overnight.  You earn it.

There are so many leaders who believe that their position at the top of the team makes them trustworthy.  Nothing could be further from the truth. If you are already acting that way, then it will take you so much longer to gain trust than someone who knows that leadership isn’t about position.  It’s about influence.

Trustworthy leaders provide their teams with a stable work environment because what is being talked about and encouraged is being lived out by the team and by the leader. How many people do you know who have left a job because their boss was not worthy of trust?  Probably each of us have left somewhere because of that.  I really don’t think we can over estimate the power of having the trust of the people on your team.  It could be the most powerful characteristic of great team leaders.

What can you do today to gain a little more trust with your team.  Maybe it’s time to make that hard decision or take that difficult step to show your team you are trustworthy.


As much as I wish that all respect comes from relational investments over time with your team, I’ll be the first to admit that competency to achieve results is also crucial to this characteristic.  You can’t lead well, without a standard of excellence and a strong skill set for work. So many of us who are naturally relational, really wish that we could just hang our hat on leading people.  The truth is people won’t follow you if you are just relational, you have to be able to do something….

When I moved into the director seat here at Catalyst, it was a little unnerving frankly.  I don’t have an MBA from…anywhere.  I don’t have years of experience in business.  I don’t even understand all the abbreviations that CFOs use to sound smart.  But I knew God gave me the ability to lead people and I needed to lean into the “Leaders are Learners” mentality.  I don’t care how good I am at casting vision for Catalyst, or caring for the team at Catalyst, if I can’t make sure we have realistic financial goals and systems, create and deliver world class leadership events or lead a marketing department, then I will never be respected in the seat I sit in.

But it cannot just be competency.  I believe respect comes from not demanding respect, but earning it by doing the first 9 things in this series. 

Leaders.  Team Leaders.  Let’s be leaders who deserve to be respected and worthy of trust. Let’s lead today knowing that how we lead effects people’s faith.  Let’s represent Christ to our teams today and watch God take our little gifts and explode them through amazing teamwork.


How to Develop a Great Ministry Team by Rick Warren


I first began to understand the importance of teams as a seminary student. I did a study of the 100 largest churches in the United States, and I asked them a series of questions related to staff and ministry. This may come as no surprise, but the study showed strong churches have a strong team spirit.

They do this by combining two things: a common goal with good communication.

Both of these elements have to be present. You can have people working on the same project but not communicating with each other, and they ARE NOT a team. You can have people who communicate well, but are not working toward the same goal, and that is NOT a team, even if you call them that.

Let me give you some foundation on why I think this is important: Continue reading


How to Help Students in a Sexually Confused Culture by Ron Powell

The world is more complicated than it used to be.

Students are worried about their sexuality in ways that they were not 20 years ago. 

Today, some kids are less certain that the body they were born with matches who they feel they are inside. They are also aware of different options for their sexuality as they mature into adults. Students have asked me, “What if I turn out to be gay?”

This used to be a much smaller percentage of the population but culture now presents more options to kids while they are young.

Part of me wants to shout “Stop confusing the kids! If they aren’t thinking about this stuff, leave them be.”

Well-meaning people are working hard to reach out to students who are same sex attracted or do not feel at home in their bodies. Unfortunately for kids who have never even considered these possibilities, they are being presented with ideas that plant seeds of confusion their minds.

How should we approach this? How do we teach what the God has taught us in the Bible about these things? I certainly don’t have all of the answers but from working with teens and from teaching adolescent development, I do have a few thoughts for parents and youth workers.

Consider Learning Readiness

Too-much-too-soon seems to be the way that kids are getting information these days. They are hearing about issues that they are not really ready to process. They are introduced to concepts that are probably better off not knowing about. While it is appropriate for children to know the right names for their body parts it is not age appropriate to know about sexual relations in grades 2 or 3.

There have been televised stories of children being brought up “gender neutral” so that parents would not influence their sexual preference. Some families have worked hard to avoid sex role stereotyping concerning appropriate behavior for a boy or a girl. This may also add to the uncertainty.

When students have questions it is important to determine what are they really asking. It is important to provide accurate information but it is not necessary to go into more detail than they are ready to deal with in their stage of development.

Correct Mis-Information

Even in the teenage years students believe information that can confuse them. Lines like “You know, all of us are both male and female actually..” or “If God created people this way how can it be wrong.” “God is love, so anything done in love; God is all for it.”

Let’s be clear on this. Students do not know what the Bible teaches about appropriate human sexuality. Most adults don’t. A recent article, Voices that confuse: Reclaiming Biblical Truth from Interpretative Distortions shows three easy traps that well-meaning Christians can fall into in this area:

One, personal stories drive biblical interpretation. It’s dangerous when stories make us disregard what God has said.

Two, modern culture is superior to ancient culture. It’s dangerous to disregard scripture thinking it was written for backwards people in ancient times.

Finally, Doctrine is bad; love is good. It is dangerous to see love without truth, grace without repentance, God having no right to judge.

It is a dangerous thing to let culture influence the way we read the bible, so much so that we don’t hear what it is saying. This poor interpretive technique has been used to support slavery, polygamy, and apartheid. It is dangerous when we try to make God say things that he doesn’t about life, sin, marriage, sex, or the human condition.

Communicate Personally

A youth worker approached me this week about how to discuss gender confusion and same sex marriage with students. He felt that if it is in the news and if Christian celebrities are making position statements then students are going to want clarity.

I agreed but I am concerned about what students will hear if we “set the record straight.” (no pun intended.) Just because I have spoken it does not mean that a student has heard, learned, or will remember correctly what I tried to teach.

This sensitive information needs to be discussed in two way conversation so that students can provide immediate feedback about what they heard and how it sits with them.

It is also important in these settings to deal with their emotional issues like:

“Are you saying that I am a freak?”
“So if God made you gay he is going to send you to hell for it?” or
“I know this gay couple and they and they won’t go to church because they know they will be hated.” or
“so if someone is attracted to the same sex they have to be alone all their life… a loving God would not make that cruel rule.”

Students will have a hard time trading what “feels right” to them for what we say is “biblical truth.” They will also point to a well known Christian or a particular denomination that interprets the bible in a different (more culturally tolerant) way.

In small groups or one to one we can address the emotional concerns as well as share the biblical truth.

There is so much good material written on this.  Unfortunately, students are not going to hear it. We need to become educated about what the Bible really does say about sexual morality. We need to share it as personally as possible and address the misconceptions held by students and be open to hear their concerns.

I expect this is going to be an exploding issue impacting many students at a personal level. Being aware prepared and having a meaningful relationship with students will determine whether their viewpoint will be informed by the bible or by popular culture.


Five Things You May Have Forgotten by Brian Aaby


When asked “what do you do?” most youth pastors can identify some major areas of his or her week (church meetings, youth group and message prep). Obviously there are other small areas that require more thought. However, many are forgetting some very basic but BIG areas. My hope is that this post will serve as a simple reminder.

Some things you may have forgotten to put on your schedule (in no particular order)… Continue reading


A Graduation With Over 90 Valedictorians by Tim Elmore


We’ve all seen it: Little League baseball players show up for their final game, and everyone gets a trophy. Students compete in an art show, and everyone gets a ribbon. It’s become commonplace. We are all winners. In fact, we’re all awesome.

The question on the minds of students is simple. In this kind of a world, what does an award even mean? I know a ten-year old baseball player who handed the trophy back to his dad, saying, “I don’t want this. It doesn’t mean anything.”

This year, three high schools in Dublin, Ohio, displayed their own version of this charade. But they claim to do it with good reason. Do you want to guess what they did?

They named 222 graduating seniors valedictorian. Yep. They sure did. That means two out of every ten graduates in Dublin’s three high schools received top honors this year. (One of the schools had 96 valedictorians.) If they’d all been allowed to speak, graduation ceremonies might still be going on now.

So why would they do this?

David Hawkins, executive director for educational content and policy with the National Association of College Admissions Counseling, said he’s aware of more schools offering the top award to multiple students. Experts say it’s more typical to see multiple valedictorians (or none at all) as educators try to eliminate the competition among students to be number one in their class. Additionally, some schools do this because of the scholarship money that may be available to high school grads with valedictorian status.

Is This a Good Idea?

Let’s break down a few points of contention surrounding this issue: Continue reading


Five Qualities of People Who Use Time Wisely by John Maxwell

How do we maximize the precious minutes given to us each day? Learn and emulate the five characteristics of people who use time wisely:

1. They are purposeful.

People who use time wisely spend it on activities that advance their overall purpose in life. By consistently channeling time and energy toward an overarching purpose, people can most fully realize their potential.

We cannot reach peak performance without a peak purpose. Purpose enlivens all that we do. In fact, I believe the two greatest days in a person’s life are the day they are born and the day they discover why. Uncovering purpose helps to refine passion, focus efforts and sharpen commitments. The cumulative result is to amplify achievements.

2. They are committed to values.

People who use time correctly underscore their values with the time they spend. By acting in accordance with their beliefs, they find fulfillment. Failure to identify values leads to a rudderless existence in which people drift through life, uncertain as to what they hold dear. Clarity of values is like a beacon of light, guiding the way through life’s twists and turns.

When extended to an organization, values inspire a sense of broader purpose. They make work worthwhile. In an organization, if vision is the head and mission is the heart, then values are the soul. Values endow day-to-day operations and transactions with meaning. Continue reading


Earning The Right To Be Heard By Students by Tim Elmore


Last year, the results of a Harris Poll were released on the subject of respect. In this first-of-its-kind survey, a Harris Poll asked 2,250 adults to compare their memories of “school dynamics” when they were students with today’s school dynamics. The percentage of respondents who agreed with the statement “students respect teachers” dropped from 79% to 31%. (Interestingly, the findings on students’ respect for teachers are nearly identical for adults who are parents of school-aged children and those who aren’t.) It was a huge drop. Still another big drop, however, was this: respondents’ views of the percentage of parents who respect teachers, which has plummeted from 91% to 49%.

Wow. Whatever happened to respect?

As I interact with both faculty and administrators, I commonly hear this complaint: kids and parents just don’t respect the school system anymore. This may sound like hyperbole, but it’s how so many educators feel. These statistics don’t surprise Arnold Fege, president of Public Advocacy for Kids, a Washington, D.C.-based group focused on education and child-advocacy policy. According to USA Today, he’s noticed “a lack of respect for public education over the years,” whether the issue is testing, teacher evaluations or school choice. “I think the community really feels that they’ve lost control of a large part of the institutions that are important to their life,” Fege says.

Forget the Badge for a Moment

So how does a teacher, staff member, coach or administrator get respect back, without resorting to force or leveraging their authority? Good question. Respect is a delicate quality that cannot be forced or feigned. It’s rarely real when it is demanded. It’s a matter of the heart. Generally, if you want the heart of a student—you have to earn it.

Some faculty might say, “Well, they should listen and respect me because I’m the teacher!” That’s absolutely true. Unfortunately, we live in a day where many children have never learned to respect those in authority, so we must build that respect in a different way. While your position may deserve it, simply demanding it tends to backfire. At best, you get behavior modification, but you don’t get genuine follow-ship. Remember the obstinate kid who was told to sit down and be quiet in the back of the classroom? He insisted on standing up and talking. When the teacher finally got him to sit, he replied, “I may be sitting on the outside, but I’m still standing on the inside.”

This anecdote illustrates what I am talking about. If we really want more than mere behavior modification — if we want true respect — we must remember that it’s earned. May I suggest you forget your “badge” for a moment? Instead of demanding your students listen and submit, what if you earned the right to be followed?

Five Axioms I Practice to Gain Respect

The following statements are principles I embrace to gain respect from students:

Axiom One:
Youth do not have the innate need to get their way. They do have the innate need to be heard. We gain respect as a response to showing respect.

Axiom Two:
When we listen, we genuinely show respect for a student. We elicit transparency, and over time, a reciprocal response from them toward you.

Axiom Three:
When we ask questions, we authentically demonstrate we care. We gain credibility. They begin to believe us and take our leadership seriously.

Axiom Four:
When we do both of the above, we authentically earn the right to speak. Although our words may be no different than the past, students now listen.

Axiom Five:
When we ask for feedback, we once again encourage the same response from them. This builds bridges of relationship that can bear the weight of truth. Even hard truth.

Jim Forleder is the principal of Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Washington. When he took over, he heard the school was known for student detentions and suspensions. Disciplinary actions were high, as students frequently showed no respect for teachers. Jim decided he needed to try a new approach to discipline.

So the next time a student dropped an F-Bomb in class and was sent to his office for punishment, he tried the axioms above. He sat down with the teen offender, and instead of jumping into a recitation of how the student had violated school policy, he quietly sat for a moment, then leaned forward and looked into the eyes of the young man. Then, he gently spoke: “What just happened in that classroom doesn’t sound like you. You’re capable of better conduct than that. Is there something going on in your life that I don’t know about? Something at home with family, or in your personal relationships?”

Jim reported that most of the time, that’s all it took to begin a transparent conversation. In nearly every case, the offender would pause, then break down and talk about how his dad had just left… or how mom was suffering from drug abuse… or how his family couldn’t pay the rent… or how he’d just lost his brother in an accident. The floodgates opened, and Jim was able to address the real need. Along the way, he’d talk over the offense and the changes that needed to happen. Ironically, he said that it frequently wasn’t necessary. The majority of the time, the student would return to class and apologize, without being told to do so. School suspensions dropped 85% at Lincoln High School.

What’s our take away? Until our school systems figure out how to regain the respect of students, or until parents decide they’ll teach their children how to respect authority, let me suggest we forget trying to force it and begin trying to earn it.