The Task of Engaging Young Leaders in a Rural Church

The Task of Engaging Young Leaders in a Rural Church

With butterfly’s in my stomach I ran out of the tunnel from the locker room to our high school football stadium. It was the biggest game of the year – Leominster vs. Fitchburg – on Thanksgiving Day. So big in fact that this rivalry of neighboring towns has been played since 1894.

As we approached the sidelines I looked at a teammate and said, “Where is everyone?” I was naïve because this specific game broke 15,000 in attendance, but it looked empty in my eyes.

Growing up I couldn’t comprehend small or rural America. I didn’t even know such towns existed. I grew up 40 miles outside Boston (673,000). I eventually moved to Baton Rouge (227,000) and spent a short span of time in New York City (8.5 million).

Endless food options paired with a Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks on every corner was the norm to me. Fun activities and the general personality of a large city was always on display. There was never a dull moment to be found.

This past December, Kayla and I went on vacation to Los Angeles (3.9 million). At this point though, we lived in towns of 4,009 and 4,652 for the previous six years.

It was a Sunday and we were making our way to the Griffith Observatory in LA. The Observatory was only seven miles from our hotel. It took us 45 minutes to get to our destination. I looked at Kayla and screamed, “Bring me back to my town of 5,000 people!”

I never thought I’d live – or enjoy living – in a small town. Maybe that's because this isn’t the case for most people my age. Because of this it’s becoming more difficult for churches in rural locations to not only employ young leaders, but engage with millennials in their communities.

One Simple Game to Remember God's Faithfulness (try it!)

One Simple Game to Remember God's Faithfulness (try it!)

At the end of this week, I’ll be another year older. On St. Patrick’s Day of 2018, I’ll be 27 years old – to be exact.

I’ve scarcely met a person who didn’t care about birthdays (and I would still guess they were slightly fibbing if that was their answer). In my observation, you either love them or loathe them. Depending on where you are on the age spectrum, it’s usually a celebration of maturity or a close reminder of our brief time on Earth.

I met my now mother-in-law almost a decade ago, and since that first meeting I’ve adopted her attitude toward birthdays. She determined since she was 18 years old that as long as she could avoid it, she would never work on her birthday.

Instead, she would try every year to take that day off and spend it celebrating life. I understand this isn’t feasible for everyone, but considering I was 18 as well when she shared this practice, I assumed it would be as good of a time as any to also implement such an anticipated annual day-off.

So far since my adult years began I’ve been able to keep this promise to myself. Matt and I will usually spend the day or weekend creating a memory – going somewhere we haven’t been before or trying out a new activity.

No matter what the plans our though, one conversational topic always comes around either during the drive there or the journey home. We always end up playing this game we like to call “Remember When.”

The origin story of this game didn’t necessarily start on a birthday.

During a 20+ hour drive to Massachusetts in college, we tried to outdo one another in recapping shared memories simply out of sheer boredom.

Today though, it’s bi-annual tradition (on both his birthday and mine) to take a birds-eye view of the last year as a whole, from that day looking back on the past 365.

 “Remember when I finished preaching early one Wednesday night, and right after I prayed the electricity went out in the church?”

“Remember when we surprised my mom on her birthday by flying in my grandparents?”

“Remember when we both were ordained at District Council?”

Though all our memories start out light-hearted, they always bring us back to the same conclusions of gratefulness and thankfulness by the time we park the car at home. Here’s how such a simple game became spiritual over time:

Why I Generously Unfollow People on Social Media

Why I Generously Unfollow People on Social Media

When Tom Brady stepped up in the pocket with a little over two minutes left in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 52, I knew what was next. Brady was going to lead the offense – and his team – to a sixth Super Bowl Championship.

Then flashes of the trauma of the New York Giants franchise flashed before my eyes. Brady fumbled, the Eagles recovered, and thanks to one of the worst defensive showings I’ve ever seen by the Patriots – we lost.

As is a normal game day custom, I turned my phone off prior to the game. For this game, I didn’t turn it on until the next morning. The next day I intentionally ignored ESPN, but I started browsing social media.

Hundreds of my “friends” celebrated (yes, non-Eagles fans) the demise of the greatest sports dynasty in modern history. I graciously clicked to the right of each post and my finger quickly pressed, “snooze for 30 days.”

Within moments, my social media feed was back to the happy lives of my friend’s – coffee pictures – and a lot of Boston Celtics talk. All was well in my social media world.

The snooze or unfollow aspect of social media hasn’t been new to me – or just reserved for Patriots bashing friends. Over the last year, I’ve generously unfollowed many friends. I’ve even removed two social media platforms all together.

Facebook particularly has reached a new challenge. In 2012, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s mission was to make the world connected. People would have easy access to the internet and their voice mattered.

Here we are in 2018 – and the mission reigns true. Facebook has 2.2 billion active users, but with that has come the ushering in of “fake news” and unreliable content. It’s led to wrongful action and perspective. It’s almost as if Facebook has been the vehicle of our division as a society.

This summer, Zuckerberg and company shifted their mission for the first time. Facebook now wants to “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”

“Connecting friends and family has been pretty positive, but I think there is just this collective feeling that we have a responsibility to do more than that and also help build communities and help people get exposed to new perspectives and meet new people -- not just give people a voice, but also help build common ground so people can actually move forward together.”

Let me translate – Facebook wants to build personal relationships not just give people a platform to launch their personal opinions. If you’re a nerd (like me), you can read more about it. Basically, Facebook will continue to make general posts you and I publish less accessible to the average person. The big push will be building community within Facebook Groups.

The big picture here is that Facebook had to acknowledge something wasn’t working. Facebook – and other social media platforms – have become littered with personal opinions and political jargon. It’s become a place for you and I to feel empowered as we sit comfortably on our couch.

It’s divided people – not connected them. That’s precisely why I unfollow people – even people I greatly love and respect.

Here’s three practical reasons why I’ve made this decision:

Raise Your Hand if You Hate Conflict

Raise Your Hand if You Hate Conflict

Back in 2015, Matt and I took a trip to visit Lakewood Church in Houston, TX. After hearing many opinions about said church and pastor (both negative and positive), we decided to hop off the gossip train and check out all the hearsay for ourselves.

Visiting that church was such a life-changing, healthy experience for us that I decided to blog about it afterward. 100,000+ views and multiple shares later, I found myself asking my husband to shut down the comment section on the website.

In a matter of hours, we were called everything from false prophets to undercover church attendees who were paid to ghost write an article. I had no idea who these people were. They knew nothing about me outside of content in the blog.

Still, I was sick to my stomach for days thinking about the fact that there were people in this world who disliked or even hated me, and I couldn’t do anything to change their opinion.

After asking Matt to disable the comments, I remember lying in bed with the covers over my head. I was disappointed in myself for the lack of courage and resiliency present in my life.

While most would take pity, my reaction more sense in the grand scheme of this not being a one-time event, for the sick feeling deep in my core wasn’t new or adverse. Rather, this sinking sensation had become like an unwanted friend; it was the same familiar companion that came around anytime I had a conversation with someone that involved opposing views.

While my psyche could blame it on the blog, I knew this is who I was on the inside all the time – someone who was afraid of any type of conflict. My initial instinct to conflict was always to first run and hide, similarly to what I was doing at the time under a heavy comforter in a dark room.

Last week, Matt described three categories of people that we all fall into when it comes to conflict. If you’re like me and can raise your hand after description No. 1 (people who try to run from conflict), then welcome to the club.

It’s a non-confrontational party where problems find no solutions and leaders don’t grow in their capacity, yet we all remain unoffended and passive. Sounds great, right? (Some of you are probably screaming, “Yes!”)

In my mind, conflict was always associated with anger. Conflict meant broken relationships. Conflict was connected to a power struggle. These connotations had stemmed from a plethora of examples in my past.

While all true examples, they were not healthy examples. Though unaware of it at the time, staring at the ceiling that evening was the start of my journey toward health in conflict.

Unwilling to allow things to continue the way they were, here are the practical steps I took to gain courage, confidence and competence toward resolving peace with others.

The $30 Phone Bill That Forever Changed How I Handled Conflict

The $30 Phone Bill That Forever Changed How I Handled Conflict

After a few weeks of training I was finally transitioning to the “floor.” Oh yes, … the floor.

The floor was where we made money. As a “sales consultant” for one the largest technological companies, my job was simple in theory. All I had to do was push products on the sales floor and make the company money (which in turn makes me money).

I grabbed my iPad from the back and swung open the door. I glanced up at our T.V. screen which had a list of people waiting for a representative. I approached the next customer who we’ll call Bob for this story.

I approached Bob. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous – this was my first customer interaction on the clock after a few weeks.

“Hey Bob, my name’s Matt – how can I help you today?”

“You idiots went up on my phone bill from $29.43 to $30.02.”

“Okay! Let me check that out for you.”

“Hurry up. I’ve been here for 10 minutes. You people are always so slow.”

The next 30 minutes was eventful. His increased charges were due to a government telecommunication tax that effected everyone who owns a cell phone.

I explained this to him in detail, but he wasn’t satisfied. My patience quickly wore off as I glanced over his account and noticed he had $125 of bill credits every month because he was an “accelerated customer” (he complained a lot).

I looked at Bob and said, “You know, most people pay $150-200 a month for a plan like yours. You should be grateful to pay $30! That’s not normal today.”

Apparently, I misspoke. Bob cussed me out for being arrogant and rude. He proceeded to tell me he saw a phone online he can pay $10 a month for and have unlimited data. Being facetious and knowing he had no idea what he was talking about, I fake smiled and said in a condescending tone – “Man, that sounds great. You should totally do it!

Bob caused a scene, left our store, and despite much chuckling coming from my peers who heard the whole exchange I quickly found myself in a meeting with our manager.

At this point in my life, I had recently transitioned from a full-time ministry job. I wasn’t all that likeable as a person and, in fact, I hated people (for the most part). I handled this situation of conflict just like I would at my previous job.

I arrogantly told an individual they were wrong and waited for them to get over it. Yeah, that’s not ideal in life – or you know, in a church setting. I chalked up my conflict resolution skills from my upbringing – “I’m from Boston. We’re all rude.”

Let’s be transparent here. I still do believe I was right most of the time, but my approach was off. My pastor frequently says this – “You can tell me anything, you just have to approach it the right way.”

On the first day on the floor, I was brought down to the reality that the way I handled conflict was deeply flawed.