When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

1 Corinthians 13:10 

I openly admit I may not be the most socially aware person. My wife is quick to coach me about being more curious about other people’s lives and interests. I personally think I’m OK, but I still have some work to do.

Two college interns spent this past summer at our church.  One of them is engaged to be married. Both of them worked with our worship team. They are both talented musicians and members of Gen Z.

A friend and his wife had them over to their house for dinner. Their experience is anecdotal of the next generation.

The interns never asked any questions of their hosts during their time together. Nothing. Nada. Zero curiosity. It was all about them: their interests, desires, plans, experiences, goals, etc.

Another leader who had taken the same interns to lunch. He had the identical experience. There was no curiosity about their host.  I know both of these men. They have led fascinating careers and have accomplished very interesting things. It’s hard to imagine that anyone would not have questions for them.

My friend thought their behavior quite odd and asked me what I thought about it. My first thought was that these interactions are neither isolated nor rare.

The next generation (and in particular the millennials) are the “me, me, me” generation. I think it is more than that. Gen Z are digital natives who are constantly connected to others but not through face-to-face interactions.

The digital “connection” has a price. Gen Z lacks self-awareness of this, and at one level, they are blind to it. They are socially unaware of how they come across to others in a social setting.

In my career, I had a law colleague who was ultra-smart about everything except when it came to interpersonal communication. I used to joke that he had the interpersonal skills of an anvil dropped from a 10-story building.

About every three months, I had to sit down with him to tell him that he had over-stepped his boundaries with some staff member who had threatened to quit (or was in the bathroom crying) because of something he said or did.

Every time, he had the same reaction: he was surprised his behavior had caused waves.  His “fix” was to take the offended person out to lunch to make amends. That worked a couple of times, but not always.

It’s not a stretch to say that the two interns would react the same way: they would be surprised if someone pointed out their self-absorption.

I have come up with a theory to explain the interns behavior. It’s really the “birds of a feather flock together” theory. Gen Z’s circle of friends are like-minded in their self-absorption.

They don’t need to ask questions about others because their friends and colleagues will openly tell them what’s going on in their lives without prompting.  When they get in an intergenerational context (or get their first job), they will be lacking in a skill that is needed in life to be successful.

I touched on this topic when I wrote Arrogance and EQ. One reader said that I could republish the Arrogance post monthly. It struck a nerve.

The also lack what I call “street-smarts” which I attribute to the lack of inter-personal interaction which has been replaced by “conversations” on a smart phone. It is not the same.

An Emory professor said: “People are more narcissistic when they are young. It’s a self-absorbed stage of life.”  I was reminded of this quote when one of the interns lamented that he felt was not given freedom during his internship “to show how worship is really done”.


Hebrew has a word for this:  Chutzpah. It means impudent or someone who has audacity. It can be interpreted as arrogance, too. Ironically, these labels may be misplaced because Gen Z are just socially deficient. It’s not as if they were trying to be insolent or arrogant. They just don’t know any better.

The challenge here is to help the next generation develop a sense of self-awareness. They are, in many ways, socially “unaware”, largely due to the lack of interpersonal interaction which earlier generations learned in the pre-digital era. They need help.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Meeting with the next generation may be the best fix for helping them learn to become more socially aware. Have them ask you questions about your life as practice.

FURTHER READINGEmotional Intelligence 2.0.

Tim Elmore:  Arrogance: What to do When Your Students Know Everything.

WORSHIP: Listen to Breathe by Hillsong.

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Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.  Mark 6:7

 I was reminded of this topic at a recent MentorLink board meeting. It is one of the five core values that we emphasize to leaders. Two are better than one. This post will explore the benefits of collaboration in three different contexts, including how it will help connect with the next generation.

When the recession of 2008 hit, our ministry suffered a significant drop in financial support, as did most other ministries and charities. We had to retrench and pare down our budget to the bare minimum after 8 years of existence.

In hindsight, it may have been the best thing that happened to us, difficult though it was. The ministry exploded exponentially.  One would think was the last thing that would happen.

Conventional wisdom tells you that your ministry “output” should be in direct proportion to financial “input”. While that may be true in many cases, it was not true for MentorLInk.

Why did we succeed where others failed?   Very simple:  we collaborated with other ministries,. We formed partnerships with NGO’s, denominations and churches around the globe, none of whom were relying on our financial support. Collaborating and partnering is one of our core beliefs. It’s the way Jesus and the disciples spread the gospel.

Our partners embraced our emphasis on character over content, and influence over control. We were the catalyst, and our partners took our tools and ran with ball. They went to places we could not gain entrance, and their ongoing ministry was not impacted by a recession on another continent.

The second anecdote of the benefits of collaborating comes from one of my engineering friends. He tells of his experience of collaborating while in the Air Force years ago. He assembled a team of 4 to 5 people to work on projects – often inter-disciplinary and consisting of people with different backgrounds and specialties.

He said that the small group of collaborators was the most effective model for innovation.  They accomplished some amazing things – some of which are just now being “declassified” by the government after 40 years.

Which makes me turn to the next generation. Collaboration has a particularly important role for the next generation. They learn best by collaboration, and studies show that it is one of the most effective means of learning.

Schools and colleges are now adopting a “flipped classroom” model where the teacher becomes a facilitator rather than a lecturer.

A study by IdeaPaint discovered that 74% of millennials prefer to collaborate in small groups. I rest my case.  The workplace is already adapting to developing teamwork and collaborative models. The church, however, has lagged behind these developments. It’s time to catch up.

At our board meeting last weekend, one of our group believes strongly that the church needs to focus on millennial leadership.  He has found that millennials are relational believers first and church goers last. They often “hate” the organized church, and often eschew it for meetings off-campus to interact with each other.

His observations are consistent with my own observations. The youngest millennial is now around 23.  They comprise the largest demographic component in the United States (78 million). That’s true elsewhere:  in Africa, the median age of their population is only 19.

Nonetheless, I don’t see the church embracing the next generation into its leadership models, or even being strategic in trying to reach them.  One suggested answer: develop models of ministry where collaboration and participation are the norm. That means the pastor or leader becomes a facilitator, , not a teacher or lecturer in the classic sense.

Long sermons are still the norm, but the average millennial will check out within minutes. It’s not that they aren’t interested;  it’s the wrong learning model for them. With an attention span  of only 8 seconds, one can’t expect them to suffer through a 20-30-minute sermon or lecture.

The bible is clear in its mandate to “pass it on to the next generation”.  Today’s next generation is unique because they are digital natives, and we need to learn to communicate with them differently. Developing models of teaching and leading that permits them to actively engage and participate is one method to explore.

Collaboration worked for Jesus. It worked for MentorLink and my engineering friend, and it can work for the next generation.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:   The digital world is here to stay.  Mentors should be embracing collaboration as a way to communicate with the next generation in a new and creative way.

FURTHER READINGUnderstanding the Millennial Mindset of Collaboration– a good primer.

What Can We Learn from the “Collaboration Generation”–

The (Millennial) Workplace of the Future is Almost HereThese 3 Things Are About to Change Big Time  —

WORSHIP: Listen to Yes I Will by Vertical Worship

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Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Colossians 4:19

Disobedience is not new. Children have always sought ways to evade parental control, particularly when they become adolescents. I often tell parents that you can tell when a child becomes an adolescent:  it’s when they became deaf overnight.

Most parents nod their heads when I say that. I would be remiss in not saying that adolescents eventually grow out of it and become adults.

It  might not surprise you, but I wasn’t a perfect child and had my own measure of rebellion. Nothing bad, mind you, but my group of friends always had a secret going on that parents didn’t know (or at least we didn’t think so).

At least my disobedience was neither harmful nor addictive.

Fast forward to the digital natives of today, where a “friend” is at their fingertips, 24/7. They don’t have to go next door or down the street to connect.

They are constantly connected, which can have some bad consequences. A recent UK study shows a dramatic increase in myopia (nearsightedness) caused by teenagers spending too much screen time. The number of kids needing glasses has almost doubled in the past 7 years.

Parents struggle to monitor their children’s screen behavior. Cellphones can be useful, but too much of a good thing can be bad. In the case of mobile phones, it can lead to addiction which I have detailed previously.

No parent would ever knowingly give their child an addictive drug, yet they give in to the peer pressure by letting their children have phones, often unsupervised.

Addiction comes in many forms – it can be drugs, alcohol, even sex, but the most prevalent addiction for adolescents is phone addiction.

There is now a recognized disorder called “nomophobia”, or the fear about being without a mobile phone or having mobile contact. Nomophobia is a growing trend among the next generation over the past 5 years.

There is a disturbing the increase in the of burner phones use by Gen Z. Parents who try to limit their kids use of cell phones haven’t realized that this is the latest work around. Rationing the use of a cell phone only works if there is only one phone.

One parent had a 9 pm curfew where their three Gen Z children had to surrender their cell phones for the night  Their rule met with a lot of backbiting for a while, and then the children stopped complaining. The parents thought that was unusual.

That’s when they found out about burner phones. This is a phone that is disposable, cheap, and can be obtained at any school from some kid who sells them from his locker. Burner phones are available in almost every high school in the country according to a retired police detective.

For millions of Gen Z, the burner phone is the second or even third phone that their parents don’t know about. Having a burner phone is a telltale sign of phone addiction.  Sometimes, they are phones that have been replaced with newer ones, but they still can access the internet.

Tim Elmore has conducted focus group of middle and high school students. He has found that middle schoolers readily admit to being addicted to their phones. It’s not just for texting, but they are being used for posting on social media platforms unknown to parents like “Finsta” – the “fake Instagram” account.

As in any addiction, Gen Z kids have to find another source to satisfy their “substance” need – in this case a phone instead of drugs or alcohol.

Some suggestions for parents:

  • Have a written “contract” that defines the boundaries of cell phone use. Enforce it.
  • Monitor your kids’ online activity – track the hours and usage. If you see a sudden decrease, it might be because of a burner phone.
  • Discuss the ground rules and live by them. Discuss the dangers of social media.
  • Consider getting a newer router that can block certain apps and websites as well as alert you if unknown devices access your Wi-Fi.
  • Underscore the “trust” factor with your kids. Once it is violated, it has to be earned back.

The existence of a phone in a teenagers hands has some significant downside. There are even legislative initiatives  to “fight the digital drug” by curbing the “tricks” used by technology companies to get teens hooked digitally.

The digital world is here to stay. Parents, educators and mentors need to learn more about how to supervise limits for the next generation. That includes keeping current with trends that they might have missed, such as burner phones or Finsta.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Mentors can help in this process by asking their mentees hard questions about their use of phones to be sure they are not addicted.


Dark Consensus about Screens and Kids Emerge in Silicon  Valley  – Axios

Parents Hire Coaches to Teach them to Live Without ScreensScary Mommy

Burner Phones– Growing Leaders

Fighting the Digital Drug– World Magazine

Teens Smuggle Burner Phones to Defy Parents Wall Street Journal

Fighting the Digital Drug

Teenagers Needing Glasses from Too Much Screen Time

WORSHIP: Listen to Christy Nockels sing Waiting Here for You

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Pay Attention



Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation. Joel 1:3

Research on the next generation indicates a shortened attention span.  The goldfish, pictured above, has an attention span of 9 seconds. The millennials, on the other hand, have an attention span of 8 seconds – one second less than a goldfish.

And Gen Z?  Well, they have an attention span of only 6 seconds. Contrast that with the attention span of a teenager in 2000: it was 12 seconds. This means that they can pay attention to something for 12 seconds before being distracted.

Parents, teachers and employers all say this is a problem. When I meet with the younger generation, I often use the goldfish illustration as an insight of what makes them different. I have never had any one – millennial or Gen Z – deny that they have a short attention span.

Some of the degradation of attention span can be traced to the digital culture.  The next generation have grown up with mobile phones in their hands and are used to multi-tasking – often switching from one app to another.

They might be texting a friend and then quickly switch to Facebook, Instagram or whatever the latest popular social websites are for their friends. It is non-stop. They might even stop long enough to Google the answer to a question.

The average person checks their phone 150 times a day, sometimes every 6 or 7 minutes. Hard to stay focused with that distraction.

They might do a lot of reading, but it is superficial – often just headlines, posts to social media or text messages. But they don’t read at depth, and the reason, according to Tim Elmore, is not intelligence.  “It is attention span.”

It might be useful to describe the two kinds of attention spans.  The first is called Transient Attention which is a reaction to a stimulus that has temporarily distracted attention. There is no real research on how long this span is, but children pay attention to lots of different things during the day.

That brings us to Selective Sustained Attention, also known as focused attention. It is the level of attention required to produce consistent results on a task over time. Studies show that the average college student only has a 5-minute attention span– at best – where they can actually remain “on-task” without disruption.

Adam Gazzeley, a neuroscientist,  has written an interesting book titled “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World.”  Based on neuroscience, he writes that the brain is designed to always be seeking out new information. Yet it also is “programmed” to continue to find food and water (i.e. staying on task).

Trouble is, the design for finding new information is stronger than the cognitive part that lets you complete tasks. As Gazzeley notes, the digital world has only made it worse.  Ignoring small distractions or stimuli is an active, not a passive, task for the brain to perform.

In effect, your brain uses scarce resources to filter out distractions around you. I had to laugh at this insight. My wife has always accused me of not listening when, in fact, I have zoned out while concentrating on a task.

What’s the cure?  Here are suggestions for improvement:

  • Learning from unique or interesting situations. The next generation learns best by collaboration. Make it interesting to them and let them actively participate.
  • Use stories and images from real life. The next generation is a visual generation, much more so than prior generations. Pictures grab their attention.
  • Stop multi-tasking. Your brain pays a penalty for doing several things at once. If you think you are good at multitasking, then you probably are the worst at it. Feeling good about it and efficiency are two different things.
  • Exercise more. Studies show that cognitive attention is increased by just one session of exercise. Oh…and get your sleep, too.
  • Reduce outside interference. Work in a boring environment. I, for one, find that I work better in environments where I am not as likely to be distracted. This might mean (gasp) turning your phone off.
  • Hydrate more – even a 2% drop in hydration affects your attention span. Drink tea (although I prefer coffee).
  • Listen to classical music – even symphonies. Peak brain activity occurs in the silence
  • Chew gum (who knew?). Studies show it can increase alertness.
  • Meditate more – several suggested this method of mental training of your attention based on study at UC Santa Barbara.

Everyone can improve their focus and attention span, but the next generation of digital natives are particularly vulnerable. Anything a parent or mentor can do to help them will be an improvement.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Think of your next generation as gold fish. They may need some aid in developing longer attention spans so they can think creatively.

FURTHER READING:  The Distracted Mind by Adam Gazzeley.

How to Increase Your Attention Span, from Gazzeley’s blog.

Five Tips to Increase Attention Span in Young Adults by Tim Elmore

8 Quick Ways to Improve your Attention Span – Fast Company

WORSHIP: Listen to Chris Tomlin sing I Will Follow

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Love Does


And the second [commandment] is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:39

One of the better books that I’ve read by Bob Goff is titled “Love Does”.   It is a series of anecdotes of how to love one another in real life.  He traces his daily life with sometimes hilarious examples of how love is played out.

My wife and I just spent about 30 hours in a car driving to St. Louis and back in 3.5 days. It was not a planned trip, for sure. Our friend, Kathy Virtue, had an important meeting to attend in St. Louis and was all set to go, until….

Well, until she fell and shattered her knee cap and broke her leg just below the knee. We signed up for bringing her a meal and took it over. That’s when we found out she was desperate to get to an important meeting in St. Louis.

She had chartered a private plane because flying commercial would be difficult with a knee replacement and a broken tibia.

I told her to check with her doctor about flying.  After surgery, there is an increased risk of blood clots when you are at altitude in a plane. Her doctor agreed with me, so she canceled the flight.

Sis (my wife) woke up in the middle of the next night and texted Kathy to say that she felt led to help Kathy drive to St. Louis. I was next to join the fray.  I enjoy driving and the logistics of planning hotels and restaurants on a long road trip.

Sis makes a great nurse – she kept track of how long ice was to be on her leg, when to take the next pain pill, etc. We were a good team, along with James, Kathy’s adopted son, who did the lion’s share of driving.

We had to make a stop every couple of hours so Kathy could get out of the car and walk around. While in the car, she sat in the back with a contraption that kept her knee moving which is required rehab for any knee replacement.

As Sis said – we had nothing else to do since I am retired. So, off we went. Three hotels, seven states and about 1,750 miles in three days. We ate barbecue in Nashville, Tennessee and Saint Louis, Missouri along the way.

We laughed, told stories and basically made the trip as fun as possible. We also developed a deep friendship that could only be possible through an experience  like this.

On the journey, I was thinking about what to write this week.  The reactions of friends to our adventure were interesting. No one could believe that we would do this for someone else.

Frankly, we didn’t think about that. We saw someone who needed help and we were in a position to provide help. Period. Sure, it could be viewed as a selfless act, but that’s not why we did it.  We did it because we could do something for Another.

Our trip was exactly what Bob Goff talks about in his book.  It is an example of being God’s hands and feet by doing something very simple: helping someone who needed our help.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  It is often not what you say but what you do that is important for your mentee to see.  They can see beyond words by your actions.

FURTHER READINGLove Does: Discovering a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World  and Everybody, Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People, both by Bob Goff.

WORSHIP:  Listen to I Am Yours   by Michael Neal.

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