Book Review: Now Discover Your Strengths

NowDiscoverYourStrengthsNow Discover Your Strengths – Buckingam and Clifton

A while back I read: Go Put Your Strengths to Work by Marcus Buckingham and I was fascinated and captured by the idea of what he calls ‘The Strengths Revolution’. I came to realize that he had laid the groundwork in a prior book,  Now, Discover Your Strengths. This book has been a long time coming for me and has sat in my ‘books to read’ pile for a while… I wish had read this sooner… It’s been out a while, but if you have not read this, you should add it to your book list

In this book, Buckingham addresses the premise behind ‘The Strengths Revolution’, which is this: Rather than focusing on bettering ourselves in our weaker areas of work / ministry, we should discover the our strongest areas and learn to build and capitalize on them, (while also learning to ‘manage around our weaknesses’). Too many of us have learned to focus on the areas we are not good at, rather than building on our strengths. Buckingham maintains that we will have greater impact and fulfillment when we work from our strengths and not our weaknesses.

Sounds simple? Why wouldn’t we be living this out already? This seems a very basic concept, right? However, in my ministry, I have often been inclined to focus on getting better at an area I am weak in. Or I try to be stronger in an area I see in someone I admire who is in ministry.

Let’s be honest for minute… How many of us see a Speaker at a conference, or know a prolific youthworker and wish we could communicate and write like them? How many of us try to mimic the style and strengths they have? How many of us lacking administration strengths try to be ultra organized in all we do, but no matter how hard we try, it just never seems to happen. How many hours have we spent focused on our weaknesses while our best talents and skills get placed on the back burner?

This book is a MUST read for all in youth ministry if we desire to highly effective. It is a must read if we desire to be confident and at peace with who we are. It is a must read if we want to understand others around us and how to effectively help them work from their strengths

The book itself comes with an online ‘strengths finder profile’ for each reader to take, as well as a definition and breakdown of the strengths areas after you take it. This has been valuable to me as I confirm and rediscover who I am and where my focus needs to be. The book also gives many examples of professionals with different strengths and how they managed to harness their strengths and accomplish greater things. These examples were extremely helpful for me as I related to the characters stories.

All in all, a great read and I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy and talk it through with a friend or ministry partner. It’s been a wonderful process as I have been defining my strengths with greater clarity. Maybe you can get the same result?

Phil <><

Balancing Family and Ministry

Emma and AddieLast week was an exciting one for Lisa and I as we welcomed our second child to the Bell family. Here you can see our first, ‘Emma’ with her baby sister ‘Addie’. Emma was excited to meet her, Addie on the other hand was not a big fan of meeting people…

I have been on vacation for a week and I am headed back tomorrow. We are all a little sleep deprived and very excited to be parents again. However, one of the blessings of having another Addie has been the insights God has provided for me as I reflect being a parent again. As I consider these last few weeks and as I look ahead, here is what I am learning about Family and Ministry:

Clarity: Having another child is a great way for me to be able to bring clarity to what matters most and to consider my primary ministry – my family. No matter how many tasks and how many events or programs I have, it’s important to realize that family should come before youth ministry. While youth ministry is of huge significance, it is my belief that God has called me to 1) Be child of His first, 2) Be a husband and father second, 3) A youth pastor third. Agree or disagree, this has been continuous theme I hear from mentors in my life.

Balance: Balance is always hard to find in ministry, but it is crucial that all of us should try to lead our families well and pursue balance. Two great books that I recommend on this area are: ‘Choosing to Cheat’ By Andy Stanley, and ‘What Matters Most’ by Doug Fields. Both books are an easy read and very practical.

Andy Stanley is the pastor at Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta which is one of the fastest growing churches in the nation…yet he maintains that family come first. He rarely works over 40 hours a week and God has done some completely amazing things at Northpoint. As I have kept my hours at a sustainable and healthy level, I have seen not only my family blessed, but the ministry too.

Example: The power of example is always a huge area I often talk about, (just see my previous post). You and I have too many students and families watching our lives  for us to set a murky example of healthy balance.  Ultimately, these students will live out what is modeled for them. It’s important to not only take care of our families first, but to realize that we helping those around us too.

Planning Ahead: Putting my family before ministry also means that I should give them priority in my schedule. As I look ahead at the Fall we already have some key family nights and date nights in our schedule. It’s often challenging to do this since ministry can consume us in many ways. However, it’s important to schedule family first.

Finally, as I have said earlier, I have seen great things happen not only in my family but in my ministry. When I have clarity and pursue healthy balance,  I win, the church wins, and of course… my family wins too.

What is God teaching you about balancing family and ministry?

Phil <><

We celebrate the good gifts God gives us in our children. Children are a gift from the Lord. Psalm 127:3


The Deep and Wide Leader

A while back I wrote a post about the power of example as a leader to volunteers. In the same way, the power of example to our students is imperative if we want to see them become passionate about Jesus.

This week Jason Lamb at Dare to Share posted an article of mine about the example of leadership to our students.

Take a look at: http://deepnwide.wordpress.com/2009/07/06/the-deep-and-wide-leader/

7 Tips for Planning a Great Event

calendarI know it’s the summer, but now is a great time to be brainstorming and thinking strategically about what events you will be doing when the Fall gets here. In the past I have used a lot of unnecessary energy and faced disappointment from events that didn’t turn out like I hoped. Today, as we look ahead to the Fall, let me give you a few tips from my vault of successes and mistakes.

1) Know the Purpose and Target Audience: This  is probably the most important step in planning the event. Who is it for? Is it for students who are not there yet? Is it a connections event to build community? Is it for students to grow deeper? My experience has been that the answer cannot be, “all of them”. The more specific we are, the greater the impact on the target audience you are reaching. A great question that always helps me to better understand the purpose is this:  “When the event is over, what would we hoped to have seen happen”?

2) Communicate the Purpose and Target Audience: Once you have established the purpose and the target audience, make sure that everyone (and I mean absolutely everone – students, leaders, parents and the pastor), know the purpose. I have been frustrated in the past when planning events and the leaders and students are coming up with great creative ideas, but for a different kind of event. The more we communicate the purpose the greater we can channel creative ideas.

3) Build Ownership into Planning: When students are part of the process at the outset and are part of planning and implementation, the greater the impact of the event.  Although this can be messy and often students drop the ball, it is key to help them to be involved in as many ways as possible. In the past I have designed and implemented the slickest events with a group of youth leaders with low impact. In contrast, I have worked with students (and leaders) to design and implement events with high impact. Bottom line: Students want to see the event succeed if they have ownership of the ideas, creativity and implementation.

4) Keep the Event on the Same Night as Usual: There are two very good reasons I can think of for why this is key: First, it means you are not asking leaders to come out on a different night and therefore it is easier to staff the event. Second, when doing outreach events, it is crucial to allow for a ‘next step’ to the regular program the following week. It’s easier to invite a new student out the following week if it is on the same night.

5) Delegate, Delegate, Delegate: Yeah, yeah. We have heard this a million times. However, how much does this happen? Your ability to be ‘all there’ with students and be connecting with new students. Failure to delegate well will mean that you and I are programming the event more than we are pursuing students.

6) Create a ‘Next Step’: Having a next step as Andy Stanley would say, is creating an “easy, obvious and strategic” step for students to take at the event and / or following the event. A next step might be simply inviting a new student to come back the next week for your regular large group meeting, (this is why having the event on the same night is so important – it is easy, obvious and strategic).

Another next step might be have students sign up to get plugged into a small group at a connections event. If students are  connecting and getting to know each other better, a great next step is to be promoting small groups where they can continue to experience connection.

7) Pray! Finally, but most importantly, make sure that you pray for wisdom, direction and for God to do great things with this event. At the end of day, we are just event planners without God being at the center of what we are doing. Praying prepares our hearts to minister to students with the heart of God as well as preparing the hearts of the students who are coming. In my experience, this step is often the one that gets missed in the clutter of planning. Don’t miss this step!

Hope this helps. I am sure there are more tips you could include. Why don’t you share them with me? I would love to hear from you!

Phil <><

Latest Teens and Media Trends

text messageYesterday I read the latest trends in ‘Teenage use of Media’ from Nielson provided by Media Life Magazine.

As youthworkers working with students, it is imperative that we understand teens world of communication and entertainment as much as possible, as well as find ways to ‘break into’ their world with relevant promotion, ideas, and conversation.

One caution I do want to state before you read on is this: I believe there is never a better way to minister to students than face to face contact where they see us look into their eyes with authenticity, hope and love. No media communication can replace quality time with them…

Three quotes stood out to me that I believe are helpful to us as we minister to students:

Fact is, their media habits are similar to adults“.

It seems that the teenagers and adults are using similar modes of media to connect, relax, and get things done. The major difference is perhaps that teenagers tend to use these modes of media in greater consumption. This is good news for us in terms of how to interact and promote to them. Bad news is that they might be too busy to realize…

“In the first quarter of this year the typical U.S. teen sent or received 2,899 text messages compared to 191 calls – that’s about six times the average number of texts and nearly 100 text-messages per day.  Texting is picking up across age groups, but it’s clear that teens are leading this communications shift by leaps and bounds”.

This tells me that as youthworkers, we are smart to continue to communicate with students through text messages more than ever. Again, it is my concern that this this mode should not replace face to face contact. It’s easy to ‘check off’ kids on our list if we have been texting a student. Do we truly get the full picture from them through text? Therefore, I use the Simply Youth Ministry Text Service to ‘mass texts students’ about events, weekly programs and last minute changes. I do send students encouraging words and notes, but it is more of a promotion tool.

In respect of differences between adults and teens: ”

The biggest difference are in internet use, where teens spend about half as much time online”.

I have found that students rarely view our student ministry site even though we promote it regularly. They will respond to texts and facebook invites though.  However, I still use the web as a way to connect effectively with parents and adult leaders.

Also, a common complaint I hear from some of my leaders is, “I emailed him / her and they never reply to me…” Well, now we know why… If we want to ‘make contact’ with students, we know that a phone call to their cell phone won’t work, (many of them might now even know how to answer and hang up at this point). We know that an email likely won’t work, nor will a website or a flyer in the mail. For me personally, it is a more organic approach or ‘word of mouth’,  text messages, or facebook that seems to be working.

In light, of this study, it’s important to continuously consider how we communicate with students…

What works for you?

For more on the study go to Media Life Magazine.

Phil <><

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