What are you about?

It's a simple question really, although one that might be difficult to answer:  What are you about?  What defines you?  What is unique about you?  What makes you who you are?

Jamie asked this question of herself on her blog, which got me thinking about what I'm about.

I'm about Jesus, and I'm about helping others follow him.

I'm about my wife.

I'm about the Church and more specifically my church.

I'm about community.

I'm about cities. I live in DC, and my last three trips have been to Seattle, New York City, and Addis Ababa.

I'm about food. I especially love Chicago pizza, hot dogs and beef sandwiches, and if you grill meat I'll like it.

I'm about leadership, learning to lead myself and others well.

I'm about too much TV.

I'm about receiving grace and trying to get better at giving it.

I'm about reading and writing.

I'm about social media.

I'm about driving.

I'm about generosity.

I'm about being stressed and agitated but trying to change that.

I'm about my friends.

I'm about Sabbath.

I'm about poker.

I'm about competition and winning.

I'm about thinking and challenging and stretching my mind (and yours).

I'm about serving the vulnerable, because that's what Jesus is about.

I'm about integrity.

I'm trying to be about joy and intentionality.

I'm about theology.

I'm becoming about artistic expression and travel.

I used to be about politics.

I'm about exercise (sometimes).

What are you about?  Leave a comment below or better yet, write your own post and link back to mine.  I'll be sure to swing by your blog and check it out.

Photo by Flickr User gfpeck

A Rhythm of Rest

August 12-September 17 Task List
  • Lead mission trip
  • Launch fall small groups
  • Film three leadership training videos
  • Train new Protege

...it's been a long few weeks.

Fortunately, Rachel and I have nine days away from it all in sunny Seattle.  I'm looking forward to a lot of reading, writing, and caffeination.

On tap are a tour of Starbucks headquarters, the troll and the Lenin Statue in Fremont, perhaps a couple of days in nature, a visit to the Space Needle, and did I mention lots reading and writing in coffeeshops?

Not on tap? Checking my work e-mail.

The last few weeks and months are teaching me some important lessons.

There are no "slow" seasons in ministry, only busy seasons and busier seasons, and I know that's a problem not limited to pastors: entrepreneurs, politicians, activists, and many others face the same struggle.

If I, or anyone else with a demanding role, is going to last—to live, love, and lead for a long time—it's going to take a concerted effort to keep a sustainable rhythm.

Notice that I didn't say a sustainable pace.  It's not about making sure you only work 48.5 hours per week every week.  Some weeks will be sixty or seventy hours.  There will be busy days, busy weeks, busy seasons, but don't fool yourself into thinking that every day, every week, every season can be like that.

I suppose there may be a few notable exceptions, a few people who can go and go and go day after day after day, but for the vast majority of us...

  1. We need to balance our periods of intense activity with real rest,
    and
  2. We need to avoid taking on more than necessary during our already busy times.

I could have done a much better job with both of these this year.

I have taken very little down time, very little time to rest.  There's a reason I still have 5+ weeks of vacation this late in the year... I haven't taken any.

And during two of my busy months, May and August, I managed to pile on a lot of extra work, like 30-40 hours of study for an intensive small group and an eight day mission trip.

Without a sustainable rhythm, we're setting ourselves up for burnout or worse, a crash that sets us back years.

Do you have a sustainable rhythm?

When are you resting?

What do you need to change so that you can last a long time?

Photo Credit: Nova77

Today is Crazy

You ever have one of those days at work when the feeling around the office can only be described as chaos? So far today I’ve…

  • Faced a potentially disastrous situation on a big project.
  • Blown an hour waiting for the Internet to come back up after last night’s power outage.
  • Had my car blocked in the driveway while trying to leave (to get said Internet elsewhere).
  • Shut the water off to half of our office building after we found a pipe leaking water from the second floor all the way into the basement.

It’s just one of those days.  You can laugh or cry.  I’m trying to laugh :)

Thanks, Josh

Josh Stockstill has been the Discipleship Protege at National Community Church for nearly a year now.  Proteges are essentially unpaid fellows who spend a year with NCC blessing us with their skills and (hopefully) learning how to do ministry more effectively.

Three times per year my job gets really busy as we begin to prepare to launch and then actually do launch small groups.  The preparation phase may be the craziest part of the whole thing.  We’re trying to get new leaders trained, groups registered, promotional pieces assembled, etc.

In the midst of all of this part of my role is to be strategic about our groups, ensuring that we have a good mix of groups both topically and geographically.  This is something that I’ve been failing horribly at ever since I started this job over a year ago.  There’s just so much going on that this has always gotten pushed aside.  That is, until now.

Right now we’re smack dab in the middle of prepping for fall small groups and suddenly it hit me, Josh has taken on the bulk of the work that I’m usually doing at this point.  Suddenly I have time to actually work with my team of volunteers to recruit leaders, strategize meeting locations, meet with leaders, and (this is key) not feel like I want to tear my hair out because I’m just so insanely busy.

That wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for Josh.  In fact, as one of the biggest projects I undertake every semester is being finalized, I’ll actually be in Ethiopia.  Josh will be taking it across the finish line solo.

In September Josh leaves to help plant a church in St. Louis and attend seminary.  I hope he already knows I’ll miss his friendship greatly; I’m tearing up as I write this.  But he should also know that his significant talents and skills will be missed as well.

Thanks, Josh.  It’s been an honor to work with you, and it’s an even greater honor to be able to call you a friend.

Video of Me in a Human Gyroscope

This weekend I’m in Nebraska for my wife’s family reunion.  Yesterday we visited the Strategic Air and Space Museum.  For $5 they offer guests the opportunity to experience a multi-axis trainer, otherwise known as a human gyroscope.

Apparently, this is similar to the training that astronauts undertake to prepare for a tumbling re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere.  By the end of the experience, let’s just say that I wasn’t feeling the greatest…

Without further ado, here I am:
Will, the Human Gyroscope

Finding a Part of Myself that I had Lost

I preached my first sermon when I was 17.  The youth group at my church put on the sunrise service for Easter Sunday.  Afterwards my senior pastor asked me if I’d be interested in preaching again.  I’m not sure what possessed him to ask that of a cocky 17 year old. That summer I interned with him and preached twice more.

Fast-forward eight years.  As a Protege at NCC I was asked to serve as one of two campus pastors for our largest location.  I was honored, and while I was pretty good at some parts of the role, I wasn’t so hot at speaking in front of the congregation.

I wasn’t preaching, but I handled the rest of the up-front pastoral duties: delivering announcements, praying, giving the benediction, receiving the offering, administering communion, all of that.  I didn’t have a lot of public speaking experience, so it took a few minutes to calm my nerves and get into a groove, which obviously never happened as none of those things took longer than five minutes.  At the same time, I was struggling with mild depression, which made the job of pastoring exceptionally hard.  To top it off, part way through my eight-month tenure I got some (probably deserved) negative feedback that absolutely killed my confidence.

That was two years ago.  After that I was pretty hesitant about getting back in front of people.  I had been far more confident at 17 than I was at 27.

My job now is such that even though I’m a pastor I could avoid public speaking if I tried and have to some degree, but I’ve been making an effort to get back on the horse. Last fall I spoke at one of our Alpha classes and addressed a gathering of NCC leaders.  In January I did some vision casting to our leaders at our annual Leadership Retreat.  In February I emceed a men’s event.  In March I gave two theology lectures, and this May I recorded a couple of short teaching videos.

I’ve felt like I’d been getting better and gaining confidence but still had pretty significant doubts and tended to be somewhat stressed in the hours leading up to speaking.

Until Saturday.

Last Saturday was our summer Leadership Summit.  It was probably the calmest I’ve ever been before speaking.  I was given a six minute slot to talk about the rhythms of a leader’s life, and for probably the first time in my life I got off stage and said to myself “Nailed it.”

My evaluations of my own speaking tend to be filled with self-doubt and questioning, but I felt good about both what I had said and how I said it.

It’s been a long process, a process of getting comfortable in my own skin, a quality I had at one point but had long lost.

So, what’s the take away for you?  I don’t know exactly.  This is one of those insecurities that I need to grow through as a leader.  Maybe it’s encouragement to you to keep at it, whatever it is.  Maybe it’s me being honest about my own self-doubt.  Maybe now you know me a bit better than you did before.

Praise for Small Miracles

When it comes to the miraculous, I tend to be a Christian Atheist.  In other words, I believe in God but live as if He doesn’t exist.

This morning my face felt like it was going to explode.  I have seasonal allergies, which for me means that in addition to the sinus mess, which I can handle, my eyes will itch… a lot… sometimes to the point I just about lose my mind.

I had taken Allegra, Claritin, and allergy-specific eye drops.  Nothing worked.  I closed my eyes throughout most of our weekly staff meeting.  It hurt too much to keep them open.

After the meeting, Team D huddled up for a few minutes to talk about what’s on tap for the week and pray.  As soon as Heather prayed for my allergies, things started to clear up.  Suddenly I could open my eyes without pain.

No, it’s not perfect.  I’m still stuffed up, and my eyes are a bit itchy, watery, and red.  But they don’t feel like they’re full of dirt.  And I can function, which I wasn’t sure was going to happen today.

I don’t often write about the supernatural side of faith.  I don’t tend to live it enough either.  So I just want to take a minute to praise God, tell Him I’m sorry for doubting, and thank Him for this small miracle.

As a man once said to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Generosity

Can I let you in on a dirty little secret?

Sometimes I count up all of the things that someone has done for me and given me, and I use that as a determining factor in what I should do for them.

They bought me lunch, so I’ll by them lunch.  They helped me move, so I’ll help them move.

Admit it.  You do it too.

In some ways I’ve never had a problem giving money away.  I’ll give it to my church, to missionaries, to humanitarian organizations.  I have a lot of sin issues, but greed isn’t one of them.

At least not in one sense.  On the other hand I can tend to be stingy in the day to day.  I’m not the guy who buys lunch or picks up coffee.  I’m working on it.

It’s on me.
I’ll take care of the check.
Don’t worry about paying me back.

These are all things I want to and am beginning to find myself saying more.

I want to be known for my generosity.

I Fall – Off Bikes

Have you ever fallen?  I mean really fallen?  Fallen well, gotten swallowed up by a pit in the sidewalk, skidded across the ground at the top of an escalator, or nearly killed yourself on a trampoline?

I’m pretty sure I don’t actually hang out with people who don’t fall.

Personally, I’m pretty sure footed.  I might slip on the stairs occasionally or stumble a bit, but I rarely actually go tumbling down.

When I fall, it’s off a bike.

When I was a kid I was always crashing.  It may have had something to do with my jumping dirt hills and biking through construction zones… and we didn’t wear helmets.  Shoot, we didn’t even have them.

Now that I’m all grown up, I live in the city without a car, which means I bike everywhere, even to the store.

A couple of summers ago I was carrying some bags home on my handlebars when one that was hanging a bit too low swung into the spokes and immediately seized up my front tire, sending me flying over the handlebars.

Fortunately, I managed to catch myself before my face smacked the pavement, but I was still in pretty bad shape.

A week or so later I helped some friends move.  Lemme tell you, the arm still hurt, which isn’t that surprising given that when I finally went to the doctor she told me that my arm was broken.

Perhaps the funniest part was the people who asked me if I was wearing a helmet when I crashed.  As I told them, yes, but that didn’t help my arm much.

Thanks to Heather, Maegan and Jenilee for the inspiration.  As Heather said, there’s no real lesson here, just a laugh.

Soundbite Wisdom

Earlier this week I headed to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to reflect, relax, pray, and plan.  I’ll share more over the coming days, but here are a few quick reflections.

  • I hide my faults from people well.
  • Two days is not long enough to plan the next five years of your life.
  • There are a lot of things I want to do.  They will take a lot of work.
  • Just because you go away doesn’t mean that problems do. They’re waiting for you when you get back.
  • There are things I really want to be good at that I’m just not.
  • Jesus was very popular… until he was captured and crucified.