Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas for the City 2014...A Look Back...In Her Words

There is no better way to describe the events of last nights annual "Christmas for the City" ( than with the following email I received this morning...

Hey Mike!!

This was the second year Blair and I volunteered at Christmas for the City, and although we knew that our experience was going to be amazing (because it was last year) we had no idea what we were in store for.

We entered our station, Ezra's kitchen, around, a little disappointed that there were cinnamon rolls instead of cookies, but we were still excited about the night ahead of us. We smiled, passed out cinnamon rolls and wished Merry Christmas until about... And that is when this exhausted woman walked in with a mere look of help me in her eyes. On her back was a one year old who was fast asleep, and in her arms was an 8 month old who was also snoozing, and then closely behind her were two beautiful little girls ages 3 and 8.  When she made it to the cinnamon roll table, she immediately made eye contact with me and said please take him.  (Him referring to Sir Edward, the 8 month old who was sleeping in her arms) So I carefully took him out of her arms so she could sit down, and that's when I realized, not only had she made this voyage to Christmas for the city with four children, but she was also pregnant, very, very pregnant. She allowed her two daughters to enjoy a cinnamon roll while she just sat there, looking heart-broken and helpless.  We gave her a bottle of water, because at this point, she looked as if she was about to go into labor. She was very grateful and just continued to sit there.  

As I was holding her precious 8 month old in my hands, I realized she was in Ezra's Kitchen for a reason... I made small talk with her telling her how beautiful her family was, and getting their ages, and then I asked her if she lived around here.  She looked up with her big brown eyes and said no, and then tears began to fall.  I continued to hold her little one, while she sat with another one on her back.  The 8 year old reached over and gave her mommy a tissue and asked her if she was okay; which was heart touching in itself. In the middle of her tears, she looked up and said "It's too late, isn't it?" I looked at her, trying to figure out what context she meant it was too late for, and then she asked again, "it's too late to get help for Christmas isn't it?" I was trying to hold back my emotions and told her that I was sure we could figure something out... But deep down I was worried.  I spoke with the other two ladies who were working the cinnamon roll station with me, because I knew having this woman's baby in my arms, I couldn't really go far in the convention center to seek anyone who would be willing to really help.  They immediately starting making phone calls and running around to various people to seek help.  In the meantime, Sharon, this was her name, was worried about the punch cards... She wanted to know if she really had to go back to all of the stations to get her card punched for her children to get their special present, you could tell she was beyond exhausted... However, She was very concerned with them getting it.  The next thing I knew we were able to get all four of her cards punched and a man, who I think went by the name of Devyn, brought each of them a couple of toys. Then a box full of food showed up and the blessing that there was a family at Christmas for the City (Devyn and his wife, who once again, I saw him, but am not quite certain his affiliation with CFTC) wanted to buy Christmas for this family.  Sharon was beyond humbled by this, and just started crying again.  She looked carefully at each boxed puzzle, and told the girls not to open them.  And then she looked up at me, and said at least that will be something under the tree for them!  

By this time, at least an hour had passed and I am still cuddling her sweet baby, who might I add was a very, very healthy baby!  (My back was really starting to ache) She asked one of the other ladies at the station if she would hold her one year old for her (who was in a backpack-type toddler carrier) and she kindly said sure.  She had earlier mentioned that she might go get another sandwich because she was hungry, but then the idea just seemed to pass... She then looked at me and said she would like to go upstairs and get her stuff so that she could just leave from downstairs and said I'll be right back, you guys just watch them... And she walked away with her two older girls, trusting that we were going to take care of her babies.  I just smiled and said okay,  knowing how hard it must be to carry a child on her back and one in her arms, and not to mention one on the way.  10 minutes passed, then 15, then 20... Next thing I knew 30 minutes had passed and We are still holding these two babies, with no mom in sight.  The girls in the kitchen started panicking and asking if any volunteer went with her.  I told her no, and then I realized what she was implying... That the mom had left the children with us. The other volunteers began to scatter looking for her, and I stood there thinking what on earth am I going to do with little Sir Edward... Don't get me wrong, we want kids one day, but I wasn't planning on leaving with this 8 month old baby who I didn't even know his last name. The cops then became involved, and I told them that I truly thought she would come back, and that maybe she went to eat dinner.  

About 35 minutes later, here she came, walking back in with her subway sandwich! I was relieved, because at this point, there were so many people involved I really didn't know if she was coming back or not.  She sat down with one of the girls to give her information for the family that was going to help them out for Christmas.  Blair and I had already decided that we would help walk her to her car because there was no way she could carry her two kids and the box and watch the other two girls. So when I told her we would walk her to her car, she told us that she didn't have a car and rode the bus here... That was a game changer because at this point there was no way she could get all of her things home with her.  The other three women, who were doing all of the behind the scenes stuff of getting her help, began running around again to figure out how we could safely get her home... The bus wasn't an option because she couldn't take her things, police officers couldn't because they didn't have car seats, but a taxi could and a taxi did.  We walked her to the taxi, I'm still carrying Sir Edward, a heavy 8 month old and I have the hand of her Three year old as we cross the street while Blair has the 8 year old by his side.  One of the ladies paid for her cab ride and we slipped her a little but of money... She was beyond grateful for both and looked at me with teary eyes and said this is going straight to pampers!!  We closed the door to the cab and sent her on her way.  

I say all of this because this is just ONE experience with the 4,000 people who attend Christmas for The City... This one experience put so much into perspective for us... How blessed we are for all of the things that God Provides us with, our family, our home, our finances, our church... It's hard to understand how good you really have it, until you are able to interact with someone who Christmas for the City is the only Christmas they are going to experience this year... Thank you for opening up this Experience to Project Re3; I am eternally grateful for last night!


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Short Term Missions - How to Help and not Hurt by Beth Gianopulos

Recently, I have read a number of articles, books, and blogs questioning the importance of short term missions.  Some of the criticisms of short term missions are that short term mission teams often know little to nothing about the countries and people they visit, the teams often spend a lot of money that could be better used for other purposes, and in some instances, short term mission teams discourage and even hurt the communities they hoped to serve.  Often times, short term mission teams are accused of visiting a city or country once, and never helping the area again (this failure to support may be by failing to serve again, failure to provide financial support, etc.)  Finally, many short term mission teams are accused of getting more from the trip themselves than they actually give. 

I believe that there can be a strong argument made for short term mission trips if the trips are planned appropriately and if the trip has the right focus.  While I am not an expert on short term missions, my husband and I have traveled on a number of mission trips both nationally and internationally.  Through our experiences, I have some suggestions on how short term mission trips can be life changing for the short term mission team, as well as the people the team serves.

1.  Do your research.  It is insulting for a mission team to go to another culture or even another area of their own country, without some knowledge of the people they will meet.  Before I travel to a region, I read about the area - I read about problems and issues facing the area, about the culture and the people, and about the needs.  If I have friends or contacts that have lived in the area or currently live in the area, I ask questions about appropriate behavior, cultural sensitivities, and what they view as the greatest needs in the area. 

2.  Be a good steward of your resources.  There are horror stories of Christians that have poured money into ministries that are not true ministries, but are established instead to make money off of the generosity of others.  As a working mother, I have limited resources - I have limited time and money.  If I am going to invest my time and money (which is really God's precious time and money), I want to make sure that I am making the best investment of my time and money that I possibly can - I want to maximize my investment.  One of the best ways to do this is through a short term trip.  During my short term mission trips to Mexico City, I have met independent missionaries that are working with women and children that are victims of human trafficking. Through multiple trips to the area, I have seen  first hand the work that the missionaries do, and through the relationships I have built, I know their heart.  I have also worked at an orphanage, and through staying at the orphanage, I have observed the children being loved and cared for.  These first hand accounts have allowed me to give freely to these ministries with the knowledge that the missionaries that I support share my heart and they are using the money that I donate to help women and children in need.  I realize you may  not be able to visit each location yourself, but there are other ways to research non-profits and ministries.  You can learn a great deal through google searches, and the larger social networks afforded by social media allows you to find others that may have served in an area or have a mutual connection or contact at a potential ministry.  Additionally, this blog will have ministry spotlights (you can click the ministry spotlight tag) of organizations, missionaries and groups that we believe have a heart for Christ and a deep desire to love and help the needy. 

3.  Go back.  Although my husband and I have been on a number of mission trips, many of the mission trips return to the same places.  I will never forget returning to the orphanage in Mexico City and hearing the shock in the leader's voice when she explained that our group was the ONLY group that ever came back.  She stated that a number of mission groups may pass through, but NO ONE ever came back.  We now travel to the orphanage at least once a year.  While the people that make up our short term mission teams may change, we have built a mutual trust with the children of the orphanage.  While the kids still cry when we leave, they always excitedly ask when we will come back.  By returning to the same location to do our ministry, we have established a mutual trust with the children and the leaders of the orphanage that has opened doors that we could never imagine.  In addition to physically going back, we also financially support the orphanage.  When the orphanage has specific needs, we are the first people they ask to help.  A number of us at ProjectRe3 are also able to write to children in the orphanage and support them, even when we are not physically there.

4.  Rely on the full time missionary/ the contact that you have at the location.  When I first visited San Salvador,the missionary Jon, picked us up from the airport.  During the entire drive to our home for the week, I asked Jon about the country, about the people we would serve, about how we could help without hurting.  We relied on Jon to tell us how to stay safe, how not to offend the people that live there.  Our group followed Jon's lead, because the worst thing we could do would be to harm his ministry there by our ignorance.  When you go on a short term trip, you must understand that your host is the "expert" on the country.  They will know the true needs, they can guide you so that you are not scammed but truly help those that need help, and they can ensure that you have a rich experience.  In a few weeks, we will also travel to the reservation in South Dakota.  Our team is currently, and will continue to, rely heavily on a contact that lives on the reservation, knows the families, and knows the needs of the people that we will serve. 

5.  Experience the culture.  While working is important, it is also important to get to know the people that you meet and to attempt to understand the poverty that you see (Jesus modeled this by spending time on relationships and talking to the people that he healed and helped).  When I traveled to Mexico City and San Salvador, I was overwhelmed by the hopelessness. I immediately asked about the underlying problems that led to the homelessness, drug use, and gang activity.  Though asking questions, I gained insight into the history of the country.  I also learned how some American policy has impacted the countries, and how decisions that are made in the US may impact the lives of the people that I met.  I asked questions while I was there, and I have continued to follow news of the countries through the relationships that I formed.  I also got to know the people.  I remember admiring a flower in a squatters village where we served.  One of the ladies was delighted that I loved her flower, and immediately dug up a flower to give to me.

6.  Relationships.  The one lesson that I have learned through our short term trips is that in the end, relationships matter more than we can imagine.  Many short term mission teams want to arrive in a region and "fix" the problems and evangelize to the lost.  While this may sometimes happen, true transformation happens through relationships. Although I have not been able to keep up with every person that I have met on a trip, by maintaining strong connections and relationships with contacts in the areas that I have served, I am able to check in on some of the orphans that I love.  I am able to find out that a child is off of the street and receiving job training or that I need to pray more for another child who is in danger.  I am able to follow the projects that we started by continuing to support and keep in contact with the missionaries there.  And, in the instances when I have the privilege of returning to a location more than once, I am able to get to know the children over time and watch them grow. 

7.  Support the local economy and empower people as much as possible.  When we travel, we try to buy supplies and support the local economy as much as possible.  More importantly, by establishing relationships, we are often able to partner in ministries that empower the locals to provide for their families.  For example, one ministry we have worked a great deal with in Mexico is a ministry that is set up to help women who were trapped in human trafficking work and develop skills in a beauty salon.  Our group helped remodel and do the construction on the salon so that the missionary that works there can bring in ladies and teach them to cut hair and paint nails.  This ministry not only ministers to the ladies that go to the salon for services, but it empowers the women that are working there to develop a skill that will allow them to support themselves.  People need to feel that they have a purpose and that they have hope.  By finding ways to help people feel useful, this ministry provides hope and provides for the individuals after our mission team has gone home. 

Another great example of this is through our contacts in El Salvador.  Jon & Danielle have started the Lighthouse ministry. Not only do they meet physical needs of the homeless (providing showers and clothing), but they also provide literacy training and microenterprise training through a bakery.  I encourage you to read about them here.  They are a great example of creating sustainable projects that pour back into the community they serve. 

8.  Be inspired to serve at home.  After a mission trip to inner city Atlanta, one of our youth group members came home inspired.  The group spent time making meals for the homeless and distributing them. Instead of returning home and simply discussing what she learned, this young lady thought, why don't we feed the homeless here?  She developed Feed the Hungry.  Our youth group gathered funds, and made meals every other week.  They then hopped in a van, and found homeless individuals.  They gave the meals to the homeless, and eventually began to collect other necessities like toothpaste, cloths, and coats.  As they ministered in the same areas, they learned the stories of the people they served.  They built relationships (see number 6 above). 

9.  Love.  In the end, how can you do harm when you are loving a child?  The pictures below are of two very special kids in Mexico that we have had the honor of loving and watching grow.  We love them and hug
them during the weeks that we visit.  My prayer is that the relationships we have started will continue for a lifetime.  When we come home I talk about them, and I talk about the issues that impact these children.  I am changed for knowing them.  I want to help other orphans, at home and around the world.  I want to love my children more - because I realize how precious children are.  I care about what happens in Mexico because it impacts people that I love. 

I didn't even touch on the impact these short term mission trips have had on the individuals that serve on our short term trips.  Although some people are not changed, we have had 3 individuals decide to dedicate at least a year to full time mission service.  We have had a number of people find inspiration to start local ministries.  A large number of people find that they left their heart in one of the countries and return there again and again.  Project:Re3 supports a number of the missionaries and orphanages through prayer, financial support, and in any other way that is needed.  The short term mission trips that I have experienced have been life changing for me, and I hope for the people that I have served.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Preacher's Cheat-Sheet for Prayer and Final Sermon Prep by Tim Challies

Preparing a sermon is one of the most gratifying and the most difficult tasks you’ll ever face. There is joy in finding meaning in the text, in finding structure, in developing just the right outline, in discovering the perfect illustration. But there is also labor and, at times, intense spiritual warfare. I am a relative newcomer to preaching, and as I’ve prepared sermons I’ve relied on others to teach me how to pray and how to prepare. Here are two lists that have been very helpful to me. I combine them into what I affectionately call my Preacher’s Cheat-Sheet.

Praying For A Sermon

A couple of years ago Mike McKinley shared "8 Ways to Pray During Sermon Preparation." I found those eight ways to pray tremendously helpful and have been following them ever since. I pray in these ways at the beginning, middle and end of my time of preparation.
1. Lord, please help me to understand the meaning of this text and how it points to Christ.
2. Lord, please increase my love for the people who will hear this sermon.
3. Lord, please give me wisdom to apply this text to the lives of the people in our congregation.
4. Lord, please use this passage to help me grasp and love the gospel more so that I might help my hearers do the same.
5. Lord, please help me to see how this passage confronts the unbelief of my hearers.
6. Lord, please help me to be obedient to the demands of this passage. Help me to enter the pulpit having already submitted my life to this truth before I preach it.
7. Lord, by your Spirit please help me to preach this sermon with the necessary power and with appropriate affections.
8. Lord, please use this sermon to bring glory to your name, joy to your people and salvation to the lost.

Preparing For A Sermon

Along with praying during sermon preparation, I also wanted to develop a checklist of sorts—but not a guide to help me exegete the text or make sure I have properly found and preached Christ from it. Rather, I wanted something to use as I near the end of my preparation to ensure what I have prepared is well-structured and will avoid missteps that may prove hindrances to my listeners. I spoke to seasoned pastors to find what they do, then I developed this checklist which I like to run through when the sermon is nearly complete. I also return to it shortly before I preach the sermon.
1. Have you prayed for yourself and your listeners?
2. In one sentence, what is the point of the sermon?
3. Does the sermon have a clear, easy-to-follow outline?
4. Can you express your outline in a way that makes sense and explains the big point?
5. Has every theological concept or term been defined or explained?
6. Is there a clear gospel call that expresses the gospel in a fresh way?
7. Have you spoken to the children?
8. Are there places you have planned to pause, or to decrease or increase volume?
9. Is there anything that can be removed for the sake of clarity and concision?
10. Does every point have at least one helpful illustration?
11. Have you included some good turns-of-phrase?
12. Have you considered how the sermon will speak to people who are: discontent, divorced, abused, addicted, mourning, in a difficult marriage or other difficult circumstances?
13. Is there something to jolt the regular, committed sermon-listener?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Don't Kill Your Message! by Carey Nieuwhof

If you’ve ever spoken in front of a group, tried to motivate a team, or if you prepare messages almost every week like many of us do, you’ve probably wondered what makes for a great talk.
In fact, you’ve probably asked questions like these:
What’s the difference between a talk that flops and a talk that people still buzz about years later?
What’s the difference between a merely good message and an incredibly great message?
What’s the difference between a sermon that changes someone’s life and one that no one can remember even as they drive out of the parking lot?
If you’re like me, those questions might even bother you.
I hope they do. They haunt me.
And yet every week gifted communicators kill the messages they bring by making at least seven predictable, fixable mistakes.
The good news is that once you identify the mistakes, you can address them.

7 Ways Communicators Kill Their Messages

I’m writing from the perspective of a Christian who speaks. And as I wrote about here, I realize that the Holy Spirit is involved in a special way when we speak. He redeems terrible talks and converts people through his power, not our persuasive words. I get that.
But that shouldn’t be your fall back week after week.
The Holy Spirit’s work is not an excuse for laziness. It’s also no excuse for failing to develop a skill set that supports your gifting.
So if you’re at all interested in honing your gift set, identify and then address the seven mistakes communicators make that almost always kill a message:
1. Inadequate Preparation
Here’s a tension every communicator faces: People will only ask you to do things that take away the time you’ve set aside to prepare your message; then they’ll criticize you for not being prepared.
I’m not slamming people. It’s just human nature.
That’s why you have to be exceptionally self-disciplined in setting aside time free from interruption to work on your talks. Yes, your inbox will fill up. Yes, the people who want to meet with you will be disappointed. And no, nobody is ever going to email you and ask you, “Did you take eight hours today to work on your message?”
So grow up. And take responsibility for becoming an excellent communicator. Eventually, people will thank you and understand you are making a valuable investment.
2. Poorly Constructed Introductions
Too many sermon introductions begin with a “Good morning,” and then maybe a weather report and some banter that’s supposed to create rapport. I used to do this too until I realized that as natural as it is, it’s not nearly the best way to connect with your audience (unless maybe you’re a guest preacher and need to connect with people you don’t know).
You’ve got about 30 seconds to capture people’s interest or lose them.
The best way to do this is to establish common ground.
a. Tell a story.
b. Talk about a tension or problem everyone faces.
c. Introduce the subject in a way that establishes why it matters.
d. Orient people to your topic (talk about the series, where you’re at and why it matters).
The truth is that too many communicators actually don’t think about how they will start. Change that. Even the mere act of intentionally thinking through your introduction will make it better.
3. Stories That Go Nowhere or Everywhere
Stories are among the most powerful and memorable devices a communicator has. But there’s an art to storytelling.
I am not a natural storyteller, so I have to work on ensuring I have enough stories to support a message. Some of you have the opposite problem. You have so many stories that you could fill 30 minutes with stories without even trying.
I know my challenge is to find a story that supports the point I’m trying to make … otherwise I will end up telling a story that goes nowhere just so I have a story in my talk.
If you’re a story person, your challenge will be to cut the number of stories you tell down to the level where each one supports a key point in your message. Otherwise, your stories will end up going everywhere and people will completely lose your point (assuming you have one).
4. Too Many Points
Every topic is a jungle. There are so many things you could say when you give a talk. A great talk focuses on the one thing you must say.
That’s really your job: to take a vast subject and zero in on the essence of what is most important. And it’s incredibly hard work.
It takes far more work to be clear than it does to be confusing.
When pressed for time, here’s what most of us do: We take five or six points that are interesting and staple them together and we call it our talk.
The more difficult thing to do is to distill all your learning into a single sentence around which you build the entire talk.
If you want an example of this, next week I’ll email you a free PDF of our current nine-week series (called "Skeptics Wanted: Asking Christianity’s Toughest Questions"). The PDF will contain a single paragraph summary of each week, a small group study and a single-sentence bottom line for every message (the hardest thing I have to write for every message I give). Every subscriber to my email list will get it. If you haven’t subscribed, you can do so today in the box under my photo.
5. No Clear Call to Action
Most messages focus on what people need to know.
As a result, most communicators fail to answer a crucial question: What are people supposed to do with what they’ve heard?
Are people supposed to think differently? Well, that’s good. But it’s so vague.
Here are two recent calls to action at Connexus, where I serve. During the Climate Change series, Jeff Henderson challenged people to ask three people (and God) this question: What’s it like to be on the other side of me.” I did, and it generated several hours of amazing conversation.
During Skeptics Wanted, I told people it kind of lacked integrity to dismiss a book they hadn’t read and challenged people to read the Gospel of Luke in 24 days; one chapter each day.
Because the call to actions in those messages were clear, people did something as a result of being in the room. Doing is almost always more powerful than simplyhearing.
6. Crash Landings
I’ve been guilty of this too many times: crash landing a message. In the same way communicators don’t pre-plan their introduction, many of us fail to think about how we’ll end a message. So we crash land it.
Better to think it through.
These days, I usually close by reminding people of the call to action, reflecting on what will happen if they do it (some inspiration), and then often repeating the bottom line of the message.
You can create your own pattern for endings, but the point is to have an intentional ending, not an accidental ending.
7. Resistance to Feedback
I realize how terribly painful it is to listen to a talk you’ve given, or worse, to watch a video of yourself giving the talk.
After decades of public communication, I still don’t like the sound of my own voice.  And I think I look like a complete geek on video. It’s painful to watch and listen to myself.
You know what most communicators do because of this?
They never watch or listen to themselves.
Question: Why would you expect people to watch you speak if you won’t watch you speak?
You have to become methodical about evaluating yourself. Watch. Listen.
And create a system for feedback. Every Tuesday, six of us meet to review the weekend service. And everyone gets a chance to critique my message. Yes, it hurts sometimes. But I want to get better. I have to get better.
Read your inbox too. Don’t be defensive, but humbly ask God to let all feedback grow you as a person and as a speaker.
The more open to feedback you are, the better you will become.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Thom Rainer: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Preachers

I sometimes listen to preachers with amazement, if not awe. So many of them are incredibly effective in communicating God’s Word, so much more effective than I ever was or will be. I certainly understand that assessing effectiveness is a very subjective assignment. But, simply put, a number of preachers I have observed are incredible in explaining and applying the Word. As a consequence, God changes lives and saves people.
The best I can do is be a student of these preachers and share with you seven key habits I have observed in most of them. I regularly ask these preachers about the way they go about preparing, preaching and evaluating their messages. My list is fallible, but I do hope it’s helpful.
1. They give preaching a priority in their ministries. A pastor has a 24/7, always-on-call schedule. It’s easy to let sermon preparation slide with the demands of the moment. The outstanding preachers I know give preaching a very high priority. They make certain they put the hours in to communicate effectively and powerfully.
2. They make their sermons a vital part of their prayer lives. Here is a quote from one of those preachers I believe to be one of the most effective alive today: “I cannot imagine sermon preparation and delivery in my power alone. I regularly plead with God to anoint my preaching and to guide me in my sermon preparation.”
3. They have a routine in sermon preparation. To the best of their abilities, these effective preachers set aside many hours a week on their calendars for sermon preparation. And while emergencies will happen, they do their best to stay committed to that time. Most of them have specific days and times of day when they work on their sermons.
4. They constantly seek input about their messages. I know one pastor whose wife listens to each of his sermons ahead of his preaching. She offers valuable input to her husband. Many of these pastors have mentors and church members who help them evaluate their messages. And a number of them watch and listen to their recorded sermons within a week after preaching them.
5. They stay committed to a specific sermon length. The pastors with whom I spoke have sermons that range in length from 25 minutes to 45 minutes. But they all are consistent each week on their specific length. In other words, a pastor who preaches a message 30 minutes in length will do so consistently each week. They have learned that their congregations adapt to their preaching length, and that inconsistency can be frustrating to the members.
6. They put the majority of their efforts into one message a week. Some of the pastors were expected to preach different sermons each week, such as a Sunday morning message and a Sunday evening message. But, to the person, they all told me they can only prepare and preach one sermon effectively each week. The Sunday evening message, for example, is either an old message or a poorly prepared message.
7. They are constantly looking for ways to improve their communication skills. So they do more than just seek feedback, as noted in number four above. They read books on communications. They listen to other effective communicators. And they are regularly in touch with the context of their church and its community, so that their messages are not only biblical, but relevant as well.

Friday, May 16, 2014

"11 Questions You Should Ask At The End Of Every Job Interview" By Jacquelyn Smith, Business Insider

It's important to remember that every interview is a two-way street. You should be interviewing the employer just as much as they're interviewing you because you both need to walk away convinced that the job would be a great fit.

So, when the tables are turned and the interview asks, "Do you have any questions for me?" take advantage of this opportunity. It's the best way to determine if you'd be happy working for this employer, and whether your goals are aligned with theirs.

"The very process of asking questions completely changes the dynamic of the interview and the hiring manager's perception of you," says Teri Hockett, chief executive of What's For Work?, a career site for women. "Asking questions also gives you the opportunity to discover details that you might not have otherwise unveiled."

Amy Hoover, president of TalentZoo, says there's another reason you should always prepare questions. "It's expected — and if you don't ask at least two questions, you will appear disinterested, or worse, less intelligent and engaged than a prospective employer would like." You should have at least four questions prepared, though, in case your original two are answered through the course of the interview.
But, Hoover says, don't just ask questions for the sake of it. To actually benefit from them, you'll need to think carefully about what you want to ask.

"Your questions can, in fact, make or break an interview," she explains. "If they're not thoughtful, or if you ask something that has already been addressed, this can hurt you way more than it can help. Asking smart, engaging questions is imperative."

Here are 11 questions you should always ask in a job interview, if they weren't already answered, to help you get a better sense of the role and the company, and to help you prepare for the next steps:
  • Who do you think would be the ideal candidate for this position, and how do I compare?
  • Who held this position previously? Why is he/she leaving the role?
  • What do you like most about working for this company?
  • Can you walk me through the typical day of someone in this role?
  • How do you evaluate success here?
  • How would you describe the company's culture?
  • Will I have an opportunity to meet those who would be part of my staff/my manager during the interview process?
  • Can you tell me what steps need to be completed before your company can generate an offer?
  • What distinguishes this company from its competitors?
  • Is there anyone else I need to meet with?"/"Is there anyone else you would like me to meet with?
  • What's your timeline for making a decision, and when can I expect to hear back from you?

Friday, February 07, 2014

"Sports Illustrated, Blockbuster, and Your Church" By Marty Duren

Years ago there was a world-beating sports magazine called Sports Illustrated. It was the one thing that every football, baseball, basketball loving person could not wait to see weekly in the mailbox or on the newsstand.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the throne crumbled. An upstart cable TV network called ESPN became the must-watch channel for sports fans. ESPN provided sports updates all morning so people getting ready for work could catch up on the scores and highlights from the previous night. No more having to wait a week for Sports Illustrated. Fans did not even have to wait until the sports segment on the evening news.
Now ESPN boasts multiple cable channels, a partnership with ABC Sports (via parent company, Disney), its own Olympics (the X-Games), its own magazine, and a host of other properties. ESPN is now THE undisputed leader in sports. Sports Illustrated still exists, but its once dominant foothold is long gone.
What is the difference? Sports Illustrated mistakenly thought it was in the magazine business. ESPN correctly understood itself to be in the sports information business. If Sports Illustrated had understood its true position and leveraged its talent base, reach and influence, ESPN might still be a channel.

Remember when there were Blockbuster stores? People got into their cars, drove miles to a brick building (or strip mall) to rent movies on VHS, and later on DVD. Remember when Blockbuster dropped their late fees even though it made up a large portion of its revenue? Why would a company willfully drop revenue?
This other out-of-nowhere company called Netflix had arrived. A Netflix membership allowed you to order DVDs online and have them sent directly to your mailbox! There were no late fees. Instead, you simply had to return the movies you had rented before ordering more. No driving in the snow or rain, no penalty for being forgetful—and no need to rewind. Netflix was a game changer.

As if that were not enough, Netflix was an early provider of online streaming movies and TV shows enabling subscribers to watch on their desktop, laptop or tablet. Now Netflix produces its own shows and movies.
What is the difference? Blockbuster mistakenly thought it was in the movie rental business. Netflix correctly understood itself to be in the entertainment content delivery business. Blockbuster had both the market share and the leverage to do everything Netflix did. They simply did not have the understanding of the times or vision of the future.

Unfortunately many churches are like Sports Illustrated and Blockbuster. They rightly see themselves are repositories of truth with a responsibility to get truth to others. Unfortunately, they hold to a singular content delivery system—the Sunday morning service—as ultimate. This is a time when people expect multiple delivery systems as the norm. For churches, the content will not change; the gospel is the same. But our delivery systems and touchpoints with “customers” must change both for the sake of our members and those who need Jesus.

One way to make our content (the gospel) more readily available is for churches to re-evaluate everything about their online presence from the website to use of social media. People who live in your area do not reach for the Yellow Pages or the church directory of the county newspaper. If they are looking for a church at all, they will use a search engine or the search bar on Facebook. If you have a website that looks like a template from Geocities or a middle schooler’s 2006 Myspace page, you have blown it.
Websites need not have elaborate image sliders and be covered in HTML5 moving parts. They simply need to be clean and easy to navigate. Remember: the landing page needs to be friendly to non-attendees, so service times and contact information need to be prominent. Members—those who visit the website regularly—know where to look for other information. Ease of use is for non-members, not for members. 

Additionally, make sure your social media is just that: social. Do not make announcements on your Facebook page then neglect to answer related questions. Social media is a conversation, not an info dump.
So much content can be provided via a church website it is hard to cover it all in such a short article. Podcasts of the sermon, videos of the entire service, new member training, a pastor’s welcome, bulletin downloads, student ministry permission forms, and so much more are all content pieces just waiting to be added to your church website.

Churches should learn from Sports Illustrated’s missed opportunity and Blockbuster’s failure. Do not isolate yourself into a single content delivery system. Put the Internet to work for you and your church for the sake of the gospel.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

"8 Guaranteed Ways to Emotionally F*ck Up Your Kids" by Sherrie Campbell

Our children are the lights of our lives. We all start off as parents envisioning nothing but success, love and happiness for them. However, these dreams often do not manifest because they are not getting the important things they need to become disciplined, mature and motivated adults. The following are eight parenting f*ck-ups that will guarantee your child will suffer from depression, anxiety, anger, tense family relationships, problems with friends, low self-esteem, a sense of entitlement and chronic emotional problems throughout his or her life.

1. Ignore or minimize your child's feelings. If your child is expressing sadness, anger or fear and you mock them, humiliate them, ignore or tease them you minimize what they feel. You essentially tell them what they feel is wrong. When parents do this they withhold love from their child and miss opportunities to have open and vulnerable connections teaching them to bond and to know they are loved unconditionally.

2. Inconsistent rules. If you never talk about your expectations, you keep your child from knowing how to behave appropriately. Children live up or down to what you expect. Rules give them guidelines and boundaries to help them define who they are, good and bad. If you keep your child guessing and life is vague, they will begin to act out to find the boundaries themselves, which leads to low self-esteem and problem behavior.

3. Make your child your friend. Never share all your worries, concerns and relationship problems with your child or ask their advice. If you act helpless and defeated to your children they will never learn to respect you and will treat you as an equal or an inferior because you have used them for your own therapy. You must show your children you can stand up to problems, face your challenges and handle life through all the stress and come out on the other side. Be real, have your emotions, but do not burden your children.

4. Put down your child's other parent. If you never show affection and love to your partner/spouse in front of your child, the child does not develop a barometer for what love is or what it looks like. If you are always putting your spouse down and rejecting him/her, threatening divorce, you create a chronic state of anxiety for your child. If you are already divorced and you remain cold, distant, bitter, angry and blaming of your ex-spouse, you are sending the subtle message to your child that your ex-spouse is the cause of the divorce and you need to be the preferred parent. This is parent alienation.

5. Punish independence and separation. When we punish our children for growing up, we make them feel guilty for having normal developmental needs and desires which often causes deep insecurity, rebellion, cutting and other forms of behaviors that indicate failure to be able to branch out and be themselves as independent people.

6. Treat your child as an extension of you. If, as a parent, you link your own image and self-worth to your child's appearance, performance, behavior, grades and how many friends they have, you let them know they are loved not for who they are but for how well they perform and make you look good. This turns them into pleasers rather than doers, and they will always worry about being good enough.

7. Meddle in your child's relationships. Directing every action your child takes in their relationships -- from friends to teachers -- inhibits their maturity. For example, if your child gets in trouble at school and you immediately rush to talk to the teacher to get them off the hook, or you are constantly telling your child how to be a friend, as your child grows he/she will never learn to navigate the sharper edges relationships bring on their own.

8. Over-protect. When we protect our children from every problem and emotion, it creates a sense of entitlement and inflated self-esteem that often crosses the line into narcissism. They expect life to be easier than it is. They want everything done for them no matter how they behave. They then become depressed and confused when they don't get what they believe they deserve.

Follow Sherrie Campbell, PhD on Twitter:      

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Mark Batterson: How to Eliminate Boring Sermons

A hint: It has nothing to do with delivery or style. It has everything to do with the most important kind of content.
There is a world of difference between preaching a sermon and living a sermon. No amount of study can compensate for deficiencies in your life. You can “study it” but if you aren’t “living it” it’ll ring hollow. 
The opposite is true as well. Jesus’ teaching was authoritative because it was backed up by his life. You can’t back up your sermons with a seminary degree. You’ve got to back it up with your life. My advice? Don’t just get a sermon. Get a life. Then you’ll get a sermon!
Let me be blunt: if your life is boring your sermons will be, too.
If you have no life outside of church—no hobbies, no friends, no interests, no goals—your illustrations will feel canned, your applications will feel theoretical instead of practical, and your sermons will be lifeless instead of life-giving.
The greatest sermons are not fashioned in the study. They are fleshed out in the laboratory of everyday life. Now please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying.  You need to study to show yourself approved and rightly divide the word. So keep studying! In fact, study more. But you can’t just study the word. You need to live it. The most powerful sermons are well-studied and well-lived.
At the end of the day, God won’t say, “Well studied, good and faithful servant.” He won’t say, “Well thought” or “Well said” either. There is only one commendation: “Well done.”
Now let’s be brutally honest: Most Christians are educated way beyond the level of their obedience already! We don’t need to know more, we need to do more. That’s why I think sermons should focus on application more than interpretation. Theological doesn’t mean theoretical. In fact, as you get a life, your messages will be less theoretical and more experiential. You won’t just preach your sermons. You’ll incarnate them! 

Mark Batterson
Mark Batterson serves as lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. One church with multiple locations, the vision of NCC is to meet in movie theaters at metro stops throughout the DC area. NCC also owns and operates the largest coffeehouse on Capitol Hill. Focused on reaching emerging generations, 73% of NCCers are single twenty-somethings. And 70% of NCCers were unchurched or dechurched before attending. Mark is the author of In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day and blogs @ He lives on Capitol Hill with his wife, Lora, and their three children.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

"7 Crippling Parenting Behaviors That Keep Children From Growing Into Leaders" by Kathy Caprino

While I spend my professional time now as a career success coach, writer, and leadership trainer, I was a marriage and family therapist in my past, and worked for several years with couples, families, and children. Through that experience, I witnessed a very wide array of both functional and dysfunctional parenting behaviors. As a parent myself, I’ve learned that all the wisdom and love in the world doesn’t necessarily protect you from parenting in ways that hold your children back from thriving, gaining independence and becoming the leaders they have the potential to be.

I was intrigued, then, to catch up with leadership expert Dr. Tim Elmore and learn more about how we as parents are failing our children today — coddling and crippling them — and keeping them from becoming leaders they are destined to be. Tim is a best-selling author of more than 25 books, including Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future, Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet the Challenges of Becoming Authentic Adults, and the Habitudes® series. He is Founder and President of Growing Leaders, an organization dedicated to mentoring today’s young people to become the leaders of tomorrow.

Tim had this to share about the 7 damaging parenting behaviors that keep children from becoming leaders – of their own lives and of the world’s enterprises:

1. We don’t let our children experience risk
We live in a world that warns us of danger at every turn. The “safety first” preoccupation enforces our fear of losing our kids, so we do everything we can to protect them. It’s our job after all, but we have insulated them from healthy risk-taking behavior and it’s had an adverse effect. Psychologists in Europe have discovered that if a child doesn’t play outside and is never allowed to experience a skinned knee, they frequently have phobias as adults. Kids need to fall a few times to learn it’s normal; teens likely need to break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend to appreciate the emotional maturity that lasting relationships require. If parents remove risk from children’s lives, we will likely experience high arrogance and low self-esteem in our growing leaders.

2. We rescue too quickly
Today’s generation of young people has not developed some of the life skills kids did 30 years ago because adults swoop in and take care of problems for them. When we rescue too quickly and over-indulge our children with “assistance,” we remove the need for them to navigate hardships and solve problems on their own. It’s parenting for the short-term and it sorely misses the point of leadership—to equip our young people to do it without help. Sooner or later, kids get used to someone rescuing them: “If I fail or fall short, an adult will smooth things over and remove any consequences for my misconduct.” When in reality, this isn’t even remotely close to how the world works, and therefore it disables our kids from becoming competent adults.

3. We rave too easily
The self-esteem movement has been around since Baby Boomers were kids, but it took root in our school systems in the 1980s. Attend a little league baseball game and you’ll see that everyone is a winner. This “everyone gets a trophy” mentality might make our kids feel special, but research is now indicating this method has unintended consequences. Kids eventually observe that Mom and Dad are the only ones who think they’re awesome when no one else is saying it. They begin to doubt the objectivity of their parents; it feels good in the moment, but it’s not connected to reality. When we rave too easily and disregard poor behavior, children eventually learn to cheat, exaggerate and lie and to avoid difficult reality. They have not been conditioned to face it.

4. We let guilt get in the way of leading well
Your child does not have to love you every minute. Your kids will get over the disappointment, but they won’t get over the effects of being spoiled. So tell them “no” or “not now,” and let them fight for what they really value and need. As parents, we tend to give them what they want when rewarding our children, especially with multiple kids. When one does well in something, we feel it’s unfair to praise and reward that one and not the other. This is unrealistic and misses an opportunity to enforce the point to our kids that success is dependent upon our own actions and good deeds. Be careful not to teach them a good grade is rewarded by a trip to the mall. If your relationship is based on material rewards, kids will experience neither intrinsic motivation nor unconditional love.

5. We don’t share our past mistakes
Healthy teens are going to want to spread their wings and they’ll need to try things on their own. We as adults must let them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help them navigate these waters. Share with them the relevant mistakes you made when you were their age in a way that helps them learn to make good choices. (Avoid negative “lessons learned” having to do with smoking, alcohol, illegal drugs, etc.) Also, kids must prepare to encounter slip-ups and face the consequences of their decisions. Share how you felt when you faced a similar experience, what drove your actions, and the resulting lessons learned. Because we’re not the only influence on our kids, we must be the best influence.

6. We mistake intelligence, giftedness and influence for maturity
Intelligence is often used as a measurement of a child’s maturity, and as a result parents assume an intelligent child is ready for the world. That’s not the case. Some professional athletes and Hollywood starlets, for example, possess unimaginable talent, but still get caught in a public scandal. Just because giftedness is present in one aspect of a child’s life, don’t assume it pervades all areas. There is no magic “age of responsibility” or a proven guide as to when a child should be given specific freedoms, but a good rule of thumb is to observe other children the same age as yours. If you notice that they are doing more themselves than your child does, you may be delaying your child’s independence.

7. We don’t practice what we preach
As parents, it is our responsibility to model the life we want our children to live. To help them lead a life of character and become dependable and accountable for their words and actions. As the leaders of our homes, we can start by only speaking honest words – white lies will surface and slowly erode character. Watch yourself in the little ethical choices that others might notice, because your kids will notice too. If you don’t cut corners, for example, they will know it’s not acceptable for them to either. Show your kids what it means to give selflessly and joyfully by volunteering for a service project or with a community group. Leave people and places better than you found them, and your kids will take note and do the same.

Why do parents engage in these behaviors (what are they afraid of if they don’t)? Do these behaviors come from fear or from poor understanding of what strong parenting (with good boundaries) is?

Tim shares:
“I think both fear and lack of understanding play a role here, but it leads with the fact that each generation of parents is usually compensating for something the previous generation did. The primary adults in kids’ lives today have focused on now rather than later. It’s about their happiness today not their readiness tomorrow. I suspect it’s a reaction. Many parents today had Moms and Dads who were all about getting ready for tomorrow: saving money, not spending it, and getting ready for retirement. In response, many of us bought into the message: embrace the moment. You deserve it. Enjoy today. And we did. For many, it resulted in credit card debt and the inability to delay gratification. This may be the crux of our challenge. The truth is, parents who are able to focus on tomorrow, not just today, produce better results.”

How can parents move away from these negative behaviors (without having to hire a family therapist to help)?

Tim says: “It’s important for parents to become exceedingly self-aware of their words and actions when interacting with their children, or with others when their children are nearby. Care enough to train them, not merely treat them to a good life. Coach them, more than coddle. “

Here’s a start:
1. Talk over the issues you wish you would’ve known about adulthood.
2. Allow them to attempt things that stretch them and even let them fail.
3. Discuss future consequences if they fail to master certain disciplines.
4. Aid them in matching their strengths to real-world problems.
5. Furnish projects that require patience, so they learn to delay gratification.
6. Teach them that life is about choices and trade-offs; they can’t do everything.
7. Initiate (or simulate) adult tasks like paying bills or making business deals.
8. Introduce them to potential mentors from your network.
9. Help them envision a fulfilling future, and then discuss the steps to get there.
10. Celebrate progress they make toward autonomy and responsibility.

How are you parenting your children? Are you sacrificing their long-term growth for short-term comfort?

(For more about developing our children’s leadership capabilities, visit Tim Elmore and Growing Leaders at and follow @GrowingLeaders and @TimElmore on Twitter.)