We is Better than Me

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Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. ……….But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.”  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

The emphasis throughout both the New and Old Testament is that life is better lived in relationship with another.  I came across the following quote that is attributed to C.S. Lewis:

The safest road to hell is the gradual one . . . the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts. This is why it’s so dangerous to do life alone.” 

A quote from a resident of a halfway house in Darien Connecticut put it this way:

The mind alone is a bad neighborhood.”

A 2015 study done in the U.K. found that a majority of the men surveyed (51%) had two or fewer friends, and 15% had no friends. None.  Nada.  Zip.  That’s hard to imagine.   According to C.S. Lewis, they are leading a dangerous life. It’s so easy in life to do things solo – without any aid from our friends.

We live in community with one another – in fact, most of the New Testament deals with how our Christian life is to play out on the horizontal field with other people.  Christianity is an individual decision,  but it is also a team sport.

So, who is on your team?  Do you have a friend – someone who knows you inside and out – the good, the bad, the ugly, including what your spiritual and thought life, and what junk you have in the trunk of your car (or “boot”, as it is called in other parts of the world)?

The British survey is sobering, but it really is even worse, because their definition of a “friend” really doesn’t go beyond an acquaintance with whom you share a common interest.  That’s not the friend that will stick by you through thick and thin, and will help you up when you have failed or fallen down or had a serious setback of circumstances.

The passage from Ecclesiastes above is one of the many scriptures that follows the theme of what I call the “principle of the twos” in the Bible.   Another one is found in Proverb 27:17: “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.”  I have met with two men weekly for the past 24 years.  It is an intentional and covenantal relationship.

Over time, we have shared each others ups and downs, successes and failures, trials and tribulations, and rejoiced at each others accomplishments for the kingdom. It’s second nature to us to be transparent with our lives and challenges.  I am really saddened how few other men have what we have experienced over a long time.

The majority of men I meet disregard the principle that life is best lived in community, unfortunately to their detriment. As the title says, “We is better than Me”.   Pastors are often the biggest offenders and yet the most vulnerable. They put moats around their lives and become insulated from others because of their position.

But that’s not how Jesus modeled it when he sent out the seventy-two disciples in Luke 10.  He sent them out two by two with a reason. This was their first “road trip”. Had I been advising Jesus, I would have suggested that it might make strategic sense to send them out individually because they would have covered more territory.

But Jesus had more wisdom than me, knowing full well that sending them in twos was more important than getting more geographical coverage.

I have long been known as an advocate of having someone else in your life (other than your spouse) to whom you can confide in and be accountable to.  The evil one doesn’t attack us in groups:  he isolates us and takes us down when we are alone.  Satan doesn’t influence a group to go out and collectively commit adultery.  It happens when we are isolated.

If you don’t have one or more close friends that you can be transparent with, you risk violating the biblical principle of the twos, and as C.S. Lewis suggests, you are in danger.  I encourage you to find one today.

Bill Mann

 

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The 3 P’s

pretend

 The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.  Isaiah 29:13

This post was inspired by a prison inmate that my wife, Sis, has ministered to over the past 20 years, both in Raleigh and now in Troy, North Carolina. Her name is Teresa Jean Culpepper and she is serving a sentence of life without parole.

Life in prison is harsh.  Teresa Jean has survived on her faith. Her 4 children have grown up without her, and she has grandchildren she has never seen. Troy is a small town and she doesn’t get many visitors. We try to visit her when we can and I always come away energized by her faith.

We surprised her recently with a visit and the two hours went by quickly.  Teresa introduced me into the idea of The 3 P’s, which stands for Prayer, Praise and Pretend. She said that her Christian faith had consisted of those three P’s for the longest time – at least until she got to prison. Then she couldn’t pretend anymore.

She could go to church on Sunday and pray and sing with the congregation, but that was about it.  No real change to her life, and no deepening relationship with Christ.

Once in prison, she had to get real with her faith because no one cared if she was just pretending.  She went from being a Kingdom Pretender to a Kingdom Contender, where she learned to lean on Him through every circumstance.

I came away from that visit thinking about The 3 P’s – both what Teresa Jean had learned and how it applied to me. It didn’t take long to realize that I was no different. My Christian life, abbreviated though it was, consisted of trying to be pious and perfect. I was concerned what others would see or think. It was all about externals.

I was like the Apostle Paul – a Pharisee on steroids. In his life as Saul, he was proud of his theology and behavior.  External behavior mattered to the Pharisees. They want to be noticed for appearing to be religious and for obsessively adhering to ritual.

Jesus condemned the Pharisees – not for their external behavior, but for their internal heart which was not turned to God. They were Pretenders.

My epiphany came at a FCA conference where Jill Briscoe told a humorous story on herself. She described an incident while her husband, Stuart was speaking at a church. She was seated on stage. They passed the collection bucket, and one of the ushers came on stage. She realized she didn’t have any money to contribute so she just put her hand in the bucket as if she was putting in some cash.

The usher looked in the bucket and realized there was nothing there. Thinking her gift had fallen out, the usher started looking around the floor and even got down on his hands and knees to look under her chair.

She was embarrassed, and later confessed and apologized to the congregation for her actions.  She was concerned about the optics of the situation, to her detriment.

Jill’s anecdote impacted me. It was the single most important message I had gotten as a young believer. I realized I could make mistakes and being “perfect” was not God’s objective.

We all fail – we are all mis-wired from birth and even Apostle Paul struggled with perfection in Romans 7 where he says: “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

The world is full of Pretenders. People who act one way in Church on Sunday, and then their lives the rest of the week don’t match up. Hypocrites and Pretenders kept me from becoming a Christian until I was 38.

For 17 years, my wife was desperate for me to go to church.  At times, I relented and went to church with her but that didn’t help. I sat in Sunday school classes taught by persons I knew hung out with folks that did drugs or ran around on their wives. That was not for me. I wanted no part of it. They were Pretenders. They were Phony.

My theology changed when I became a Christian. All of a sudden, I realized that I shouldn’t judge Christianity by the actions of people who were also flawed from birth. Thank goodness God doesn’t judge that way, too. That’s grace.

Still, there are a lot of Pretenders out there doing damage to the Kingdom because their actions don’t measure up to their words. My prayer is that my life honors Christ, but I need God’s help every day to achieve that goal.

As I was writing this, I learned that one of my close friends, Ray Seigler, was moved to Hospice after an unsuccessful attempt at a bone marrow transplant. Heartbreaking to me and all those he touched during his 30 years with Young Life in Raleigh and more recently a marketplace ministry to men.

His ministry and mentoring has produced dozens of men and women who are now in full-time ministry.  Ray was not a Pretender. Ever. He was a Kingdom Contender.

The challenge for everyone who is a disciple of Christ to look in the mirror and ask what others see?  Is it the real you, or are you just Pretending?  Put another way, what will your legacy be when you leave this earth?  Will you have impacted others for the Kingdom?

 MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Mentors need to examine themselves, and not just their mentees. Are you pretending? Doing Christian things for others to see, but not really depending on God.  It takes humility and honesty to evaluate your heart for God. Ask this question:  Am I just going through the motions, or am I fully committed?

WORSHIP:  Listen to the “From the Inside Out” which reminds us that God’s mercy extends even through our failures. From the Inside Out – YouTube

COMMENT:  I would be delighted at comments on this or any other post. You can comment by clicking on the icon at the top of the page, or emailing me at otterpater@nc.rr.com.  SUBSCRIBE:  You can receive an email notice of each post by clicking on the icon at the top right corner of the site (www.mentorlink.wordpress.com)  and entering your email address.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Google GIGO

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Pay attention and turn your ear to the sayings of the wise;
apply your heart to what I teach.
 Proverbs 22:17

Half of the title of this post will be recognized by almost everyone on the planet – the first word, of course.  It’s so ubiquitous that it has been turned into a verb – as in, “have you googled it”?

GIGO, on the other hand is a product of the ‘80s, and only a handful of folks remember that it is an acronym for “Garbage In, Garbage Out.”  Simply stated, it is a mathematical and computer concept that basically says that the quality of the output depends on the quality of input.  Said another way, flawed input of nonsense results in flawed output of nonsense.

There is also the Google Effect, which is now a recognized as a mental illness brought to you courtesy of the internet. It is one eight new mental disorders which are now recognized by the medical field.

The term Google Effect describes a condition where your brain’s ability to retain information and facts has declined because the information can be found online by doing searches on Google or other search engines.

It might not surprise you that Google accounts for 90% of all internet searches.  It is the “go-to” source of information.  Sadly, as Jack Nicas wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Google has picked an Answer for You – Too bad It’s Often Wrong.”  That’s the essence of GIGO.

Nicas notes that Google has presented itself as the ultimate “authority on truth by promoting a single search result for the answer”.  For example, the question “Does money buy happiness?” results in the highlighted answer “There is enough scientific research to prove it.”  Really?

If asked “Should abortion be legal?”, Google cites a South African news site saying: “It is not the place of government to legislate against women’s choices.”  This is one of the promoted answers, which are outlined in boxes above other results and presented in larger type, often with accompanying pictures or images.

Unfortunately, these answers are often believed by many people as being the definitive answer. According to the WSJ article, “surveys show people consider search engines as their most-trusted source of information, over traditional media and social media.”

While many of answers has sources, not all of the answers do. Answers to the question asking for a list of the “worst CEO’s” had no sources, for example. Google’s “featured” answers has caused a debate about the ability of Silicon Valley companies to influence and manipulate society.

Google’s answer to that charge was that the answers were “generated algorithmically and are a reflection of what people are searching for and what’s available”.. In other words, your answers are partly a function of what people are asking.

This from a company that self-reports that its Top “How to” question is “How to make slime?”, followed by “How to make solar eclipse glasses?”  In other words, Garbage In, Garbage Out.

A friend or mine recently sent me a humorous video of a job interview by a millennial (you can listen to it below). Although it is a parody, it has some very poignant truths. When the job applicant is told that she will be required to do research, she responds that she is good at it and can just asked Siri.

For those of you without an iPhone, Siri is the voice on your iPhone or iPad which can do internet searches to answer verbal questions. The employer in the video is dumbfounded, of course, at this answer.  The idea that quality research can be done by asking Siri or doing a search on Google is a little mind-blowing.

Here’s why:  A study by an analyst of the tech industry showed that Google’s search engine answered 5,000 questions correctly with a 97.4% accuracy.  Problem is that Google handles trillions of queries a year and a 2.6% error rate means that billions of answers are wrong. Other services (Amazon’s Siri, and Microsoft) are not as accurate.

“Searching on a mobile device is very different from a desktop computer. Speed and simplicity really matter” says the President of Google’s parent. “It’s why the best answer is usually THE answer” [emphasis added].  Or not, if it happens to be wrong, but too often people trust the answer to their detriment. The answers may be entirely wrong, incomplete or irrelevant.

An example from the Wall Street Journal article:  If you do a search “Why Are Komodo dragons endangered”, the featured answer is:  tourism, volcanos and fire.  Problem is that the answer comes from a Canadian elementary students’ report listed on-line. Oh, and by the way, Komodo dragons are not endangered.

The challenge here is that the next generation is wedded to getting its answers from Google and other internet sources. According to a story in this morning’s Wall Street Journal, close to half of the American population gets its news from Facebook.

The problem with that is that Facebook’s algorithms will choose what stories you are likely to read, so you ultimately only get one side of a story. If it is biased, then so be it. That’s a slippery slope.

For mentors and parents, we need to challenge the next generation to read more. Answers can be nuanced and detailed and not dumbed down into a single sentence as if that was all there is to a problem or an issue. We also need to find creative ways to engage the next generation in ideas like absolute truth from scripture. There are no wrong answers in the Bible.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Be sure to watch the job interview video below. It gives a humorous look into the millennials mindset, and is instructive that their thought processes are often flawed by thinking that Google can be trusted for all answers to all questions.

FURTHER STUDY: A humorous video job interview with a millennial: https://vimeo.com/239050403/ cdd07b248e  

Jack Nicas Wall Street Journal article on Google’s Wrong Answers: https://www.wsj.com/articles/googles-featured-answers-aim-to-distill-truthbut-often-get-it-wrong-1510847867

For articles on the Google Effect: http://academicearth.org/electives/internet-changing-your-brain/

An article on Digital Heroin: http://miami.cbslocal.com/2017/03/03/doc-claims-too-much-screen-time-turns-kids-into-digital-junkies/

WORSHIP: Listen to Open the Eyes of My Heart by Michael W. Smith: Open the Eyes of My Heart – YouTube

COMMENT:  I would be delighted at comments on this or any other post. You can comment by clicking on the icon at the top of the page, or emailing me at otterpater@nc.rr.com.  SUBSCRIBE:  You can receive an email notice of each post by clicking on the icon at the top right corner of the site (www.mentorlink.wordpress.com)  and entering your email address.

 

 

 

Lessons – 2017

lesson

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 1 Corinthians 10:11

I debated whether I should follow the footsteps of other blog writers who crank out a topic like this in the early part of a new year.  I reflected on my own 2017 as to whether there were any “Aha” moments, and while these weren’t mountain top epiphanies, they were important insights.

So, here goes:

Getting older has some pluses and minuses.  The plus side of the equation is that you have time to do things you never had before – like taking Sarah, our 11-year-old granddaughter, on a 3-week European trip.  The negative side of this is that, for many, health issues begin to creep in and limit your activities. My sister-in-law, who loves to travel, is now dealing with health issues that may sideline her.  My advice:  travel when you can because you can’t count on good health forever.

Retirement is not an end destination, but actually the beginning of a new phase of your life. Most people facing retirement focus on the financial side, but often neglect thinking about what they are actually going to do now that going to work is not required. Years ago, an accountant friend of mine asked me when I was going to retire. I said I was thinking about it. He leaned across the table and said: “Golf is not enough”.  He was right. Retirement planning is more than financial planning.

Staying engaged in life is essential for your mental health.  My wife and I have devoted our retirement years to spending as much time with our grandchildren as possible. Our goal is to leave our fingerprints of who we are all over them. It brings a lot of joy into our lives, which is something I could not have predicted when we got married. This year, we are planning a trip with the two eldest granddaughters – ages 16 and 18. Our trip planning is interactive, and we will make suggestions of things to do and places to visit for their input.

Mentoring is a highlight of my time.  I have met with a number of men – from 17 to 49 – over the years. All are in different phases of life and often facing issues.  It’s hard to predict the impact of my involvement because of the short time horizon, but I hope my investment in each of their lives will be beneficial. Every meeting is a new life experience for me.

My faith journey deepens.  It’s something new every day. In my travels, I have friends in sub-Saharan Africa. Many face tyrants or despots in control of their countries (like Cameroon) who have committed human atrocities – torture, rape, imprisonment, murder or, as one of my friends said, “mystical” disappearances of people never to be seen again. Yet they persevere, facing danger daily. They are undaunted in their efforts to continue to bring the gospel to others. Our “problems” in the western world pale by comparison. We don’t start our day wondering if we will be safe.  I am inspired by my friends.

Interacting with the next generation is important.  They are our leaders of the future. They are looking for mentors but often rarely find them from the older generation. It is an unmet need that could be filled by a few good men or women willing to invest in someone else, just as Jesus invested in his 12 disciples.

Miracles still happen.  There is no explanation for having been run into on my bike by a car doing 35 miles per hour and walking away. None. The EMS guys couldn’t believe it, nor could the doctor at the Emergency Room. He was sure there was something wrong with me since my body did $1,000 of damage to the front end of the car. That’s a miracle.

I have spent my entire life looking at life in the rearview mirror, often asking myself what I learned from an experience or episode. If it was a significant event, I often wrote about it, such as when I had prostate cancer or burned out several years ago. My goal was to pass on my experiences to others in an effort to help them in similar circumstances.

I pray that you will look back and examine what your experiences were in 2017 and see what they have taught you so that you can build on them in the coming year.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Passing on the lessons life has taught you is the essence of mentoring. Think back on this past year for some insights to give to your mentees in the future.

WORSHIP: Listen to Christ Tomlin sing a version of Amazing Grace, reminding how we live under God’s grace all the time.  http://www.worshiptogether.com/songs/amazing-grace-my-chains-are-gone/

COMMENT:  I would be delighted at comments on this or any other post. You can comment by clicking on the icon at the top of the page, or emailing me at otterpater@nc.rr.com.  SUBSCRIBE:  You can receive an email notice of each post by clicking on the icon at the top right corner of the site (www.mentorlink.wordpress.com)  and entering your email address.

 

 

Listen

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My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, James 1:19

As we close in on the end of the year and gear up for the new year, I pondered as to what I should write that might be worthwhile for all.  After some thought, I decided that I would do something similar to what I have done before.

Some of us beat ourselves up this time of year coming up with resolutions for the New Year. Things like start working out at a health club or exercise more.  Usually, those resolutions last about 3 months, and then often end up in your rear-view mirror, only to be dredged up again the following year.

I ran across a book entitled My One Word (see the video below) which intrigued me. Instead of coming up with a list of “to-do’s” or resolutions which are aimed at self-help, the author suggests that you choose one word that describes what you hope God will accomplish in you for the next year.

The word will be with you all year – something you can focus on, meditate on.  My word for last year was Listen.  Not surprisingly, when I asked my wife which word she thought I chose, she guessed it right off.  I guess she thinks I needed to focus on listening. After a year, I realized how much I needed to improve.

I realized that I often wasn’t listening to others very well, often absent-mindedly thinking of a response to whatever they had to say without totally absorbing what they wanted to say. Mentoring requires a lot of listening, and so it was a good choice for me.

I think I have improved at listening to other people. I have also concentrated on listening to God more.  I can be impulsive, and waiting on His input on decisions or directions has made me more patient.

While I feel like I made progress, I think that I will repeat Listen as my word for 2018. That’s just me.  There’s more to do.

For you, the reader, think about One Word that you could select. We might not be able to remember a lengthy resolution, but at least you can remember one word.  Several people emailed me after I did the post before, and gave me their one word.  One of them chose the word “Trust”.  I like that.

The challenge here for all is to select just one word for the next year. I found that the one word stuck with me and was a constant reminder of something I needed help on.  Is there an area in your life that you need to work on with God’s help?  Use the One Word concept to guide you through next year.   You’ll be glad you did.

 MENTOR TAKEAWAY:   Mentoring is more about listening than talking. Mentees are affirmed when you value what they have to say.

FURTHER STUDY:  For the video What’s Your One Word? http://www.faithgateway.com/what-is-my-oneword/?utm_source=devosdaily&utm_campaign=devosdaily20170104&utm_medium=email#.WG-dJ7GZM_U

The book My One Word is available at Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/My-One-Word-Change-Your-ebook/dp/B008EGUFF2/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1483709932&sr=1-1&keywords=my+one+word

WORSHIP: Listen to Chris Tomlin sing “Take My Life” which reminds us to be open to letting God do a work in us. Take My Life (And Let It Be) Chris Tomlin [Lyrics] – YouTube

COMMENT:  I would be delighted at comments on this or any other post. You can comment by clicking on the icon at the top of the page, or emailing me at otterpater@nc.rr.com.   SUBSCRIBE:  You can receive an email notice of each post by clicking on the icon at the top right corner of the site (www.mentorlink.wordpress.com)  and entering your email address.

 

 

Failure

failure                                        

 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion foreverPsalm 73:26

 This is a practical topic for every mentor (and mentee).  When I met with the very first man I agreed to mentor years ago, I told him a couple of things up front.  One of them was that it is a lot easier to learn from the mistakes of others, and that I had made 100’s of them.  I had a lot to tell him.

When people approach me about mentoring, I usually tell them that one of the key ingredients to being a successful mentor is to put your pride in your back pocket and take a large dose of humility daily. Just like a vitamin, humility goes a long way to forge a relationship with the next generation.

Mentoring is not about just sharing your successes in life. By most standards, the typical mentor has had some level of success in his or her career. But all  have learned from their mistakes and most have been helped along the way.

The best mentors are willing to share their failures as illustrations of what can go wrong. I was asked to speak to an MBA class at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School years ago.  The class was about commercial real estate, and I asked the professor, Tony Ciochetti, what he wanted me to talk about.

His answer surprised me.  He wanted me to talk about real estate deals that went bad, and the reasons that they went bad. It was intended to provide context to his students that not all projects or developments are successful.

From my own experience, I came up with 10 projects where things went wrong, or were based on assumptions which turned out to be incorrect, leading to some very difficult workouts.

The session with the MBA students went well. They learned that you can plan for a lot of things, but you can’t plan for everything that might happen during a project that might take 2 years to complete.

One is prudent to consider tax consequences, but but having all of the rules altered in the middle of the project by a change of law can result in drastic changes to the outcome. That actually happened in 1986.

Shifting back to mentoring, I have commented many times that every relationship has at least four levels of communication. These levels are separate and usually are done sequentially. The levels are:

  • Fact – sharing a fact such as “today is Wednesday”.
  • Opinion – sharing your opinion about a topic such as “Wednesday is the worst day of the week”.
  • Feeling – sharing your feelings such as “I hate Wednesdays”.
  • Transparency – Sharing that “I have difficulty with Wednesdays because it reminds me of my father’s recent death”.

As noted, rarely does one get to the transparency level. Women reach feeling much faster than men, and most men get stuck at communicating at the opinion level. Think about your conversations with your friends, and I think you will realize how accurate this is.

Most conversations are not done at an authentic and transparent level at the beginning  Part of that, I think, is that we fear being vulnerable and admit our insecurities and mistakes. Also, men are brought up in a culture where the mantra is to “never let them see you sweat.”

Why is this important? Well, one of the highest values of the next generation is that they crave authenticity. They want to interact with people who are real with them and willing to share their lives – both the good and the bad.  That, of course, requires mentors to develop an ability to be transparent.

Regi Campbell writes a weekly blog for Radical Mentoring. I’ve attended one of his annual workshops in the Georgia mountains, and admire what he has accomplished, although he admits it took over 10 years to gain a foothold with his process.

In a recent blog, he observed that the intensity of young people increases when your stories are about failure you have experienced.  They don’t take well to what he calls “victory laps” which often looks like self-promotion than being authentic. I agree.

Regi ascribes the power of “failure stories” to the following (I have added one at the end):

  • Authenticity – Your failures taught you lessons of what you did wrong and what you learned, as well as what you would do differently the next time. Mentees can’t get that information from any other source. They see you as real and authentic, and become more willing to listen to other stuff.
  • Approachability – You drop your guard by telling them that you aren’t perfect yet you managed to succeed despite your own shortcomings. It is an expression of humility which goes a long way to being more accessible.
  • Emotion – Regi suggests that all decisions are made at an emotional level. Most meaningful learning is the result of engaging ones’ emotions, including emotions of pain, embarrassment or remorse when things go badly.
  • Value – Mistakes are costly, thus valuable because it leads to wisdom gained from a painful experience. There’s value in that.
  • Believability – Most mentees won’t connect with your success stories – they can’t relate to your achievements, but they can relate to your shortcomings. They can see that their success can be accomplished despite setbacks and failure along the way.
  • Challenging – Young people look up to a leader who shares his failures and shortcomings. It may be the start of helping them believe in themselves and realize their own potential. They also see “the chance to stand on the shoulders of one who’s gone where he wants to go.”
  • Transparency – Sharing personal failures gets the level of communication past Fact, Opinion and Feeling in a hurry. If you are willing to show humility and transparency, your mentee will develop trust and be transparent in return.

The challenge is pretty straightforward.  Mentors need to be willing to express humility and vulnerability to their mentees.  They want to know that you messed up, and that you learned from your mistakes.  They will make their own mistakes, but possibly not the same ones you did. In addition, you will develop an ability to communicate at a deeper level.

Secondly, every failure I have experienced is part of my faith journey. With few exceptions, I have found scriptural verses or biblical stories that I have found which have shown me how God has used my failure to grow me to be the person He wanted me to be.  I am always quick to share the spiritual side of my journey to my mentees.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:   Don’t hesitate to share failure stories. It’s actually part of your faith story.  No one ever succeeded without setbacks along the way. If you don’t share your rough spots, your mentee won’t either, and your mentoring will suffer.

WORSHIP: Listen to Amy Grant sing “Better than a Hallelujah” which reminds us that God is with us through our successes and failures. One line is “Beautiful the Mess We Are”:  Better Than A Hallelujah – Amy Grant – Vevo

 COMMENT:  I would be delighted at comments on this or any other post. You can comment by clicking on the icon at the top of the page, or emailing me at otterpater@nc.rr.com.  SUBSCRIBE:  You can receive an email notice of each post by clicking on the icon at the top right corner of the site (www.mentorlink.wordpress.com)  and entering your email address.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transitions

community

 Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:18

I had coffee with Stacy Rinehart today. He’s one of two men that I have met with weekly over the past 25 years. He is facing retirement from his ministry next year and spending a lot of time thinking about the upcoming transition.

He commented that he thought the most difficult trials of life involves coping with transitions. I reminded him that the Holmes-Rahe stress test gives points for events of life in order to determine how much stress you have.

Most of the events in the Holmes-Rahe test involve a transition of some sort – moving, change of job, change of marital circumstances, etc.  Retirement is one of the highest with 45 points on a 100 point scale.

Reflecting on our conversation, I have to say I agree with him. Transitions, by their nature, means going from your comfort zone to the unknown. I have always thought that our biggest fears in life are dealing with the unknown.

Christianity, in a way, is also facing a transition as it addresses reaching the next generation. As someone once said, the Church, throughout the ages, has always been a generation away from extinction. Yet it has survived for over two millennia.

When it comes to reaching the next generation (the millennials and Generation Z), the church has some creative thinking to do.  The next generation is different from prior generations, primarily due to changes in technology which has been a game changer as to how they communicate.

One commentator went so far as to predict the demise of the American Christian church on one single cultural issue:  sexuality. He may be on to something because the changes in public opinion over same-sex marriage has occurred at breathtaking speed.

I believe the millennials are responsible for this rapid change in opinion.  Most of them are unmoored from biblical principles and their attitudes towards same-sex relationships have occurred by observation, and to them, they seem to be OK.

Generation Z will take this even farther. As described by James Henry White in his recent book Meet Generation Z, “Generation Z are relationally and sexually amorphous.”

Kristen Stewart, an actress, recently was quoted as saying: “In three or four years, there are going to be a whole lot more people who don’t think it’s necessary to figure out if you are gay or straight. It’s like, do your own thing.”

 Another pop star said: “[I don’t] relate to being a boy or girl, and I don’t have to have my partner relate to boy or girl.”  Those attitudes are not unique according to a recent U.K. study which found that nearly half of the young people don’t think they are exclusively heterosexual.

“The YouGov study in the U.K. revealed that 49% of the people between 18 and 24 identified as being something other than 100% heterosexual.” That is despite consistent studies show that only 4% of the population is homosexual.

These comments are stunning to older generations. The reason for this new attitude?  Well, it’s “because the greatest value for this generation is nothing less than individual freedom.” James Emery White goes on to identify 12 categories of sexuality other than homosexual and heterosexual. The list is daunting and includes terms I had never heard before including Digisexual and Pansexual.

How does the church reconcile its biblical stance on the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman with these trends?  I think the short answer is that you don’t, but you do have a responsibility to interact with those that do. It’s something I had to learn on my own some 30 years ago when I became part of the management of an international law firm.

Our San Francisco office had non-lawyer staff which was approximately 80% male, and a large percentage of them were homosexual.  Intuitively, I knew that taking a strong stance against their sexuality would be detrimental and counterproductive.

So, I learned to forge relationships with them – love them where they were, if you will – yet not sacrificing my values, nor change who I was. Being right was less important than doing right. It involves treating people in everyday life with kindness and compassion.

Churches that learn to do this will learn to transition and embrace the millennials. Two illustrations of churches making these transitions recently came to my attention, and both were in Kansas City.  One was a black church, and the other a predominantly white church, and both have differences on the transition as it affected their traditions.

The first one, Parkway Baptist Church, started its transition with a young 21-year-old pastor who started by telling the elders at their first meeting that “the entire dynamic is going to change.” His first decision: “Stop wearing suits on Sunday.” That was just the beginning. Services would be shorter and start later (accommodating late sleeping millennials).

The early result of the change was an immediate drop-off of attendance from 300 to 85. The church changed its name to the City of Truth, and now has 1,000 in attendance with a high concentration of a younger audience who were “freaked out by the rules and rituals of traditional religion.”

As another pastor noted: “When you talk about the ministry and trying to resonate with younger folks, you’ve got to meet them where they are.”

As I read this story to the City of Truth, I could mentally place myself in the shoes of the leadership of the church, particularly as they watched 2/3rds of their attendance disappear. This was a major transition for this black church. They even shortened their service to one and half hours, which, by most black churches, is quite short. Again, a tribute to the short attention span of the millennials.

Another church plant, The Cause, was started in 2009 by a pastor and his wife who felt a call to start a church for younger people. Today, it has an audience of 1,400, mostly millennials. They attend one of 5 one hour services and gather for church, coffee and community.

At The Cause, Kyle Turner, the pastor, says the emphasis is not on a judgmental exposition on why God may be angry about you, but rather a focus on a relationship with God. A relationship with Jesus is first and foremost. “For people to change [their behavior], they need to see that God is good, not a tyrant.”

We have to authentically care about people. I’m not worried about your sexuality right now. I’m not worried about what you did Saturday night. I’m worried about what do you know about Jesus and how can I tell you more about him. Not let me tell you why God is upset at you.”

City of Truth replaced the weekly “droning” Church announcement with a 5-minute crisp video which is entertaining affable with shop talk and takes about 20 hours of staff time to prepare each week. Again, a method of reaching millennials where they are through technology.

The amenities might seem to be the draw (music that features Hillsongs, etc.), but what brings millennials back again and again is the genuine connections. “Free coffee isn’t the answer to people’s problems, but it does invite community.

As for difficult topics, these churches address them directly.  According Lady J, the pastor’s wife in City of Truth, the church really blew up “when we started teaching on love, sex and relationships and did a sermon series when we spoke on those topics candidly.”

“Millennials want to address these issues; they’re seeking answers to the tough questions and wanting to have the tough conversations. They are inquisitive and want to know answers to certain questions” continued Lady J.

“We have gay and lesbian couples who aren’t always on the same page as us. And they tell us that,” Lady J says. “They’ll tell us, ‘We don’t all the way agree, but I can tell you’re coming from a place of love, and we love that.”

They discovered that the best way to address sex, orientation and other controversial topics is “head-on” in a “respectful and gracious” manner.  Good stuff, and a model that should be followed elsewhere.

Takeaways are plentiful:

  • Millennials are inquisitive and want answers to difficult questions including sexuality
  • Churches that adapt to using new technologies (i.e. the short entertaining video replacing announcements) will have more appeal to a younger audience that grew up on YouTube
  • Shortening the services is essential. Professional sports are trying to speed up games to keep millennials in the stands.
  • Creating a genuine community is important. Coffee (or tacos) becomes a social lubricant for discussion
  • There is a flip here – the traditional church looks for attendance and then engagement; the new model seeks engagement and then attendance
  • Embracing all who come regardless of their situations is important.
  • Behavioral change is up to God and the individual; the key is engaging them to be connected to God first
  • Millennials crave authenticity and transparency

The challenge here is for churches to creatively adapt to the seismic cultural change that is going on in America. At every stage of the church’s existence, it has found a way to be relevant in its culture. As Carey Neuhoff says: “The church at its best has always equipped people to live out their faith in the world. But you have to be in the world to influence the world.”

Christianity in the next century may be simpler, and attendance at church may seem less important than developing spiritually through other means, according to Carey Neuhoff. Authentic relationships – especially mentoring – are always be available, and are effective means of connection and community.

Not every church has to make radical change, but they do have to pay attention to these cultural trends and adopt models that work with the next generation. The churches that fail to embrace the next generation are, unfortunately, doomed to do out of existence.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Millennials are seeking authentic relationships, and mentoring is an easy ministry to develop in the church. It requires no space and few resources.

FURTHER STUDY:

The Holmes Rahe test is an older model which associates stress with events in life. It is instructive as to how transitions affect us. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTCS_82.htm

A review of Meet Generation Z by a millennial: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/meet-generation-z/

The article in the Kansas City Star entitled “Bucking the Trend – these two churches figured out how to bring millennials back to worship” http://www.kansascity.com/living/religion/article188544194.html

Read James Henry White’s article on the Rise of the Digisexual: http://www.churchandculture.org/blog.asp?id=12035

An article by Carey Neuhoff on 10 Predictions about the Future Church: https://careynieuwhof.com/10-predictions-about-the-future-church-and-shifting-attendance-patterns/

Another Carey Neuhoff article on Why Church Attendance is Diminishing: https://careynieuwhof.com/10-reasons-even-committed-church-attenders-attending-less-often/

RESOURCES:  James Emory White’s book is a good read for any church serious about reaching the next generation:  Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World

 Another excellent resource is Tim Eller’s book entitled “Marching off the Map” available at Amazon or his website at https://growingleaders.com/store/marching-off-map-inspire-students-navigate-brand-new-world/#sthash.qSHyskg9.dpbs

WORSHIP:  Hillsong’s rendition of The Power of Your Love reminds us that God’s love can overcome everything.  Power of Your Love – Hillsong – YouTube

 COMMENTI would be delighted at comments on this or any other post. You can comment by clicking on the icon at the top of the page, or emailing me at otterpater@nc.rr.com.

SUBSCRIBE:  You can receive an email notice of each post by clicking on the icon at the top right corner of the site (www.mentorlink.wordpress.com)  and entering your email address.

 

Connection

Connection.j

They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. Colossians 2:19

This is part two of this weeks’ post, the first one exploring the spirituality of the next generations, both the millennials and Gen z (those who are just now entering college as freshman).

It’s one thing to gauge the spirituality of the next generation, something entirely different to engage them. This post will explore some of the trends and things that work, or might work, and is intended to be a starting point for the body of Christ to creatively engage the next generation.

By its nature, I can only go through some of the ways that Christianity can connect with the next generation. The major game changer from prior generations is technology, which has advanced since 2000.  Not only has it changed methods of communication, it has resulted in changes to their values and habits.

One example to me is the recent growth of the mega-church which has tried to be a one-stop place to congregate, have coffee or even have exercise classes.  They are having to rethink their approach to a generation that won’t darken the door of a church. It was fine for the latter part of the 20th century where going to church was the norm. Now, the church is seen as a bastion of rules, dogma and the bible is viewed with distrust by 27% of millennials.

As Tim Keller of Redeemer Church in Manhattan famously quoted: “We have enough churches in America; what we need now is more Starbucks.” His point?  We have to come out of our fortress mentality and reach millennials where they are, not where we want them to be.

Dean Engebretson, a pastor in my home church in Pinehurst, has spent this year experimenting with ways to interact with millennials. He has a group of close to 30 millennials come to his house a couple of times a month for a meal. Each participant brings some ingredient, and they cook tacos together. Having a meal together is important – food opens up social avenues and relational connections.

Dean has learned that he gets better interaction if he breaks them down into small groups where they can openly discuss a topic. Afterward, they meet as a whole to discuss their conclusions. He has learned to be a facilitator, and the choice of topics are open to suggestions from the individuals in the group.

This is actually the flipped classroom model which colleges are now starting to embrace, for many of the same reasons (of course, without the food).  Lecturers are now facilitators, and they guide their students through a collaborative discussion. Students learn to hear different views and they learn from each other, not just the facilitator.

This is quite a departure from the Sunday School model of yesteryear where a teacher sits in a class and gives a didactic bible lesson to students. As Dean acknowledges, a lecture is the least effective method of communication with millennials. Also, he has found the change of his role from communicator to facilitator has been a learning one.  He can help shape the discussion but not lead it or really control it.

A facilitator in a millennial group context is similar to the role of a mentor. A mentor can guide a discussion in one-on-one meetings, but often the agenda gets dictated by the needs or agenda of the mentee. Both the facilitator and the mentor can insert biblical truths into the discussion as needed, but they can’t really control its overall direction in many instances.

Dean was quick to note that most in his group grew up in an Evangelical church, and they actually have a fairly deep understanding of Christianity. Sadly, they are becoming the exceptions, but they are the leaders of the next generation and they need to be equipped.

Another way to engage millennials was in a recent Wall Street Journal article.  It had a story titled “YouTube Star Shows One Way to Reach Gen Z”. The subtitle is that teens are looking for authenticity online. Thirty four percent of Gen Z watch YouTube.

The generation [Z – those born after 1995] favors irreverent, DIY [Do It Yourself] stars seen as “authentic,” who produce bite-size content, sometimes daily, tailored to social-media and other outlets.”  Note the emphasis on authentic. That’s what the next generation is looking for – both millennials and Gen Z.

Ms. Koshy, the YouTube “Star” featured in the WSJ article, has 17.5 million YouTube subscribers. Her Twitter feed has 1.4 million followers and another 14.5 million track her on Instagram. Those numbers show an incredible audience by someone who just started doing snarky videos with offbeat humor, often poking fun at consumer culture and trends.

As a footnote, advertisers took note of her success, and she is now making some $10,000 to $15,000 a month from her YouTube account alone.

Another approach is offered by one of my close friends, Ralph Ennis, who I have described as a “Christian rocket scientist”. Ralph has spent his life studying cultures and different generations for the Navigators. He’s been instrumental in my sensitivity to generational changes over the past 25 years.  His current focus is on a non-traditional approach to the next generation: using visual images to interact and cause spiritual transformation.

The last three generations – Gen X, Gen Y, and now Gen Z are much more attuned to images. Studies show that the brain process images 60,000 times faster than text. No, that’s not a misprint, according to Thermopylae Sciences and Technology in 2014.

According to Tammie Ploufe in Harvard Business Review, after 3 days, we retain 60% of what we see versus only 10% of what we hear. She notes: “Retention of decisions and “aha moments” is critical when it comes to achieving real change in behavior and alignment of action across perspectives.”

Ralph is now involved in the Visual Faith Project which aims to connect to the next generations through images. As Ploufe notes in HBR: “I’ve found that photos can create connections between people faster – and more profoundly – than any other icebreaker or team building activity I’ve ever used.”  Good stuff, and worthy of trying her suggestions in a Christian context, with believers and non-believers.

As I mentioned in my last post, Casey Neistat has figured it out. Every day, he posts a short video online that documents his daily life as a creative entrepreneur in New York in an entertaining way. He now has some 7 million subscribers.

A typical church website has recordings of past sermons. That might appeal to an older generation, but not to the next generation.  The next generation gravitates to and are much more visual than older generations. “Snackable” or “popcorn” videos or podcasts have promise – this is the content that they will listen to and appeals to them.

Jake Gosslin, a 27-year-old in his article on How the Church can Reach Gen Z, says this: “I believe if churches want to effectively reach Generation Z, they must start creating engaging, informative, and creative content that answers spiritual questions with a voice of conviction.” Good stuff, and I agree with him.

My takeaways are multiple:

  • Millennials want to be engaged and collaborate with others as a learning model
  • Creativity and innovation in reaching them through new media are new frontiers
  • Content with short “Snackable” videos or “popcorn” podcasts may create new ways to communicate
  • Using non-traditional ways through images to connect with the next generation is a promising innovation
  • Group interaction is effective rather than traditional teaching models
  • Churches need to seek input from millennials and Gen Z as to what works best – they want the ability to participate and collaborate

Our challenge, just I posited in my post on podcasts entitled Podfaster, is that new media are being used by the next generation, and the church has to think outside the box. Putting sermons on-line is not enough and it won’t attract the younger audience. A 20+ minute sermon will lose the generation that can only absorb 5 to 10 minutes, and who think that a 2-minute movie scene is too long.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Mentors are relevant regardless of new media. It’s an age-old process that still works. Face to face communication by someone who is transparent and willing to share his or her life with another can have a huge impact on a mentee.

FURTHER STUDY:  Jake Goslin writes an interesting and provocative article on three things the church should consider when approaching Gen Z: http://churchfront.com/blog-churchfront/2017/4/28/how-the-church-can-reach-generation-z-reflections-on-meet-generation-z-by-james-emery-white

Tammie Ploufe’s article on using photography to make connections has practical suggestions on the “how to” in using photography in a group: https://hbr.org/2017/10/to-build-connection-on-your-team-skip-icebreakers-and-talk-about-photography

For more on the Navigators Visual Faith Project: https://www.vibrantfaith.org/visualfaith/

Watch a video of Carey Neistat (caution R rated for language) entitled “Do What You Can’t” to get an idea of creative content: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtinbF-Q-fVthA0qrFQTgXQ

 RESOURCES:  James Emory White’s book is a good read for any church serious about reaching the next generation:  Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World.

WORSHIP:  A song for the next generation by Tommy Walker: Taste and See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBRYZc-yy6I

COMMENT:  I would be delighted at comments on this or any other post. You can comment by clicking on the icon at the top of the page, or emailing me at otterpater@nc.rr.comSUBSCRIBE:  You can receive an email notice of each post by clicking on the icon at the top right corner of the site (www.mentorlink.wordpress.com)  and entering your email address.