11 Habits Every New Dad needs to learn

I’m not a new dad. I guess I’m what you’d call a “new again” dad. It’s been 5 years since I had a newborn at the house, and in that time I forgot a thing or two.

There are a few things that I learned the first time around that I naturally, intuitively, do this time. Things that I think would’ve made life a lot easier the first time. Things that I had to learn the hard way on round one.

Now that round two’s here, things are a little more smooth-sailing.

Because here’s the honest truth: in the first few month’s of a baby’s life, dads aren’t essential. We don’t produce milk, which is essential for life. And that could cause us to disengage, and leave everything up to mom.

But there’s a better way. A way to be fully engaged, fully present, and fully helpful during this first season.

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11 Habits Every New Dad Needs to Learn

1. Learn how to change a diaper.

Come on, fellas. Plug your nose. Resist your gag reflex. And dive in. It’s not that difficult, and in the process, there’s a good bit of bonding that takes place. Talk to your baby, and look at this as another moment you can steal with them.

2. Learn to be full of grace.

Moms are operating on a lack of sleep. They’re emotionally frazzled. They’re giving of themselves in a more physical, spiritual, and emotional way than they ever have. As a dad, be full of grace. Overflowing with it. She’ll love you for it.

3. Learn to do your honey-do list. Now.

You’re living in a fog of little-to-no sleep. Of life being out of the normal flow. And you feel like life couldn’t get any more chaotic. But hear me when I say this: life doesn’t get less busy or less complicated. Plow through your check-list of chores now. Don’t put it off.

4. Learn how to make a great cup of coffee.

Use a chemex. Or a French Press. Or a v60 Hario. Just learn to make a good cup of coffee. It’s essential.

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5. Learn how to curb your tongue.

You can start a fire more quickly with your tongue than you can with a match. When emotions are high, sleep is low, and our physical bodies are out of their normal rhythm, our words are even more powerful.

Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. – James 3:3-6

6. Learn how to capture tiny moments.

Like going on a lunch date when your mother-in-law is in town. Or going to a movie in-between feedings. Or letting your spouse leave the house for a while as you watch the baby.

7. Learn how to do the dishes.

Performing menial-seeming tasks like washing the dishes, washing the clothes, and vacuuming the floor are huge helps to a mom that’s giving of herself to feed, nurture, and grow another human being.

8. Learn how to function on very little sleep.

…because you’re not going to get much. My secret? See #4, above.

9. Learn how to be on full-alert in a moment’s notice.

Even when you’re relaxed, even when you’d rather sit on the couch, even when you’d rather finish reading that page, even when you’d rather keep your eyes closed because you’re (not half-, but fully) asleep…hop up. Put your self-serving needs aside. And change that diaper. Put that pacifier in. Rock your baby. Talk to him/her. Clean the spit-up. Burp them. Do whatever it takes. In a split-second.

10. Learn how to talk with a baby that won’t talk back to you.

This one’s tough. And to be honest, it feels kinda weird. But I’ve found that a baby will listen no matter what you say. So talk about your day at work. Talk about what’s frustrating you. Talk about what you love. Talk about football. Baseball. Or your favorite band. Sing a song to them. They just want to hear your voice.

11. Learn to be at your wife’s beckon call.

She is growing a human being. With her body! Your problems are minor right now. Your convenience doesn’t matter. Your frustrations are miniscule. Your headaches are bushleague. Suck it up and love your wife with all you’ve got. Pour your heart and soul into serving her. And even after your child grows up…don’t stop this one.

To sum it up, at the end of the day, learn how to apply this verse in the context of your family:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Paul, Philippians 2:4

 

 

 

Two easy ways to be a terrible leader

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background image via Forest Cavale. CreationSwap.

There are all kinds of things that people say leadership is. Ways they sum it up. Retweetable quotes. Instagram-inspired sunset-in-the-background-laden thick-fonted quotes. Ones that make you go, “Wow…that’s good.”

But at the end of the day, leadership is about making decisions. Yes, it involves a lot/ But at the end of the day, leaders make decisions. Lots of them. Every single day.

Every leader must make a lot of good decisions. They also make a lot of decisions that don’t turn out as well.

In other words, good leaders make both good decisions and bad decisions. And so do bad leaders.

So what is it that distinguishes a good leader from a bad one? (let’s not talk about character issues here…that’s another issue for another day)

It’s true that good decisions will earn you more respect, and help push the ball forward faster, than bad decisions will. But there’s a factor in making decisions that, if overlooked, will leave you taking a walk in the park rather than leading people.

What separates a good leader from a bad one? Relationships. (Tweet that)

Leadership is a relationship between those desiring to lead…and those who have the choice to follow or not.

And it’s not just about being chummy with everyone you lead. Relationships are vital in two different ways, and they parallel how to be a terrible leader. They also happen to correspond with two different animals. :)

The 2 ways to be a terrible leader

1. Make decisions like a rabbit.

Rabbits never stay around to fight. At least not the rabbits I’ve run in to. When I get within 5 feet of them, they tuck their little cotton tail and hop away. They let other people do the fighting…they do the running.

As a leader, this looks like building leadership relationships purely on friendship, and making no decisions. Landing on nothing. Letting everyone else make the decisions for you. Putting your head down and running away. Assume everyone else wants to eat you, make no decisions, and lead out of fear. (Tweet that)

2. Make decisions like a bull.

Bulls don’t just stay around and fight. They don’t consult the other cows, either. They just charge.

In leadership, this looks like putting your head down and charging through everything. Assuming leadership relationships are purely top-down in-charge with no-respect for others’ gifts, time, talents, or other responsibilities. Put your head down, stomp your hoof in the dirt, and charge. (Tweet that)

But there’s a better way.

Leading with others in mind.

Leading with others in mind means you value collaboration. You value others’ gifts. Passions. Responsibilities. You allow people to use their expertise. You know you aren’t always be the smartest person in the room. You lean on others, because you weren’t created to be all things. God hasn’t gifted you with everything.

Leading with others in mind also means you value making decisions collectively, but you know you are the one on whom the buck falls. You take responsibility, make a decision, and move forward. (Tweet that) You know that, though you’re not the smartest, you must make a decision. You are the leader. You must move things forward. You don’t lead out of fear.

  • Fear of making the wrong decision. 
  • Fear of letting people down. 
  • Fear of being viewed as an idiot.
  • Fear of not having all of your ducks in a row.
  • Fear of not knowing the next step.
The book of Proverbs sums it up well.
Walk straight. Consult others. And give an apt answer.

Folly is a joy to him who lacks sense,
but a man of understanding walks straight ahead.
Without counsel plans fail,
but with many advisers they succeed.
To make an apt answer is a joy to a man,
and a word in season, how good it is!

– Proverbs 15:21-23

 

5 Things Small Groups Do Well

I’ve lived and served in small group life for nearly 5 years, on staff at Grace Community Church.

Small groups have become my heartbeat. Connecting people in biblical, authentic community has become the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning, and what keeps me up late at night.

photo credit: iStockPhoto user Digital Skillet

Over the past 5 years, I’ve seen lots of folks thrive in small groups…and many die on the vine. I’ve noticed that there are certain things that small groups can never be…and certain things that at which small groups excel.

Those qualities that a small group does well are summed in 1 Thessalonians 5:14:

And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.

 5 Things that Small Groups Do Well

1. “Brothers” 

Small groups help people “belong.” This is absolutely essential in our walks with Christ. That we have brothers and sisters to whom we belong, and are connected with at a deep level. This is the foundation for the rest of the verse, and the foundation for living life in community.

2. “Warn those who are idle”

We’re not talking about an “idol.” The word here is “idle.” Speak truth and hope into the lives of people who are stuck. Who forget that living life as Jesus follower is one of action. One of serving and loving and giving and going. Some of us need to quit planning, and start doing.

3. “Encourage the timid”

Fear is a reality for us in many different seasons of life. It grips our hearts and keeps us in bondage. Which is why we need other people. We need others to encourage us when we need to take that step of faith. We need to know that others have our back when we might fail.

4. “Help the weak”

Oh, how often I’ve needed this. And how incredible a bond you form with someone when they help you in need. When small groups rally around people in their group, or others in their community, there’s a deeper level of relationship than is found in most other areas of life. Helping the weak is something that healthy groups do well, especially when we realize that we can use our pain to help others.

5. “Be patient with everyone”

We’re all at different points in our spiritual journeys. And at various points, each of us can be a difficult person. The way we treat each other reveals our theology. Whether we’re walking through a mess ourselves, helping others deal with a mess, or trying to figure out what God’s got next for us and we’re just fearful or resistant, we need others to be patient with us…and we need to learn to be patient with others. Just like God’s patient with us. And it’s impossible to practice patience on your own. Being that we’re all broken sinners…small groups give us a great chance to exercise patience with one another.

Notice one key component of all of these: they’re active. None of these can be accomplished while you’re passive. None can be accomplished if you just look at group life as a sponge. If you expect that following Jesus is about sitting around.

If you go expecting to sit and soak, you’ll dry up. If you go expecting to give deeply of yourself…expect to be filled.

Question:

Have you seen any of these fleshed out in group life? What else do small groups do well?

 

 

 

 

15 Christmas Ideas for your Small Group

image credit: creation swap user Matt Gruber

Lots of small groups take the Christmas season off. And that’s fine.

But if you’re one of the groups that really loves Jesus, you’re not taking the season off. You’re soldiering through like the little drummer boy who could. Massive traveling, family celebrating, and time off of work won’t slow you and your group down!

If you’re one of the groups that’s meeting throughout the month of December, you may be wondering what you can do that’s a little outside of the norm. I’ve got some suggestions.

15 Christmas Ideas for your Small Group

Fellowship:

Don’t feel bad about wanting to have fun together as a group this Christmas season. Having fun together is very biblical.

  •  Go caroling.
  • White elephant gift exchange. See explanation HERE.
  • Ornament exchange.
  • Pot luck with your favorite Christmas dish.
  • “Favorite book” exchange.
  • Celebrate with a gift exchange mid-January. That way, you can get gifts on sale, and extend the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Jesus would probably have loved a good sale. Am I right?!?

 Serving

  • Email your pastor for families in need, and serve them food and gifts.
  • Contact your local public school system and tell them you’d like to sponsor ___ families with food and gifts this Christmas. Ask them to connect you with the families.
  • Contact your local Salvation Army and sign up to ring the bell.
  • Write letters to soldiers who are deployed, if you live in a military town.
  • Bless your pastor. Examples: a gift card to Amazon, a night away for him and his wife, or a gift card to a nice local restaurant.

Worship/study

 Is your small group meeting for the Christmas season?

* image credit: creation swap user Matt Gruber

 

The 1 thing every leader needs to hear

photo credit: creation swap user Drew Palko

I meet with leaders regularly. Mostly, those are small group leaders at Grace, where I’m on staff.

Nearly every leader struggles with feelings of insecurity about their leadership (I put myself in that boat, too). It’s just part of living life as a broken, fallible human trying to lead people.

Leaders wonder

  • whether our upcoming decision is the right one.
  • whether the decision we just made was the right one.
  • if we’re strong enough for the job.
  • if we’re pleasing the right people.
  • whether we’re being successful.
  • whether we’re the right person for the job.

Leaders say

  • It’s too tough
  • I’m too busy
  • People aren’t responding
  • I still have so much in my life I need to work on
  • I don’t know enough
  • I haven’t experienced enough
  • I’m in over my head
  • There are better leaders out there
  • I’m not the best leader available
  • Do you know my past?

If all leaders, at some level, struggle with insecurity, then all leaders need to hear these words spoken to them:

You can do this.

Moses and Joshua

When Moses was about to die, he knew he needed to pass the baton of leadership for the people of Israel. There was a huge task in front of the Israelites, and they needed a strong leader. Moses knew it wouldn’t be him (we learn this from Numbers 20:12) In Deuteronomy 31:1-8, we see Moses addressing the Israelites in preparation for his coming death. After addressing the people, he called Joshua to him and we read this:

“Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, ‘Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land…”

Joshua was taking on a huge responsibility, following the greatest leader that the nation of Israel had known. I can only imagine the feelings of insecurity that were coursing through Joshua in that moment. A confirmation from Moses was what Joshua, this young leader, needed. He needed to hear from another leader, “You can do this.”

Moses told Joshua that he believed in him. He believed that Joshua was the man for the job. He believed that Joshua had what it took to get the job done. Not on his own, of course…”it is the Lord who goes before you.” (Deuteronomy 31:8) In fact, this was so important that Moses affirmed Joshua “in the presence of all Israel.” Joshua needed this encouragement and affirmation.

Encouraging another leader

Every leader needs to hear this from another leader. They need to hear, “You can do this” from someone they respect. They need to hear this from you. It’s vital to their continued growth.

If this is so important, how can you honestly and helpfully encourage and affirm another leader?

Listen to them. Ask good questions. Look to affirm the work they’ve been doing, and speak hope into them. You’ve been where they are, and you’ve had the feelings of insecurity they’re having. Give them these 4 words:

You can do this.

 

 

Community is realized in story

Community is realized in story.

Image credit Creation Swap user Pierce Brantley

On the first night of our small group, I didn’t want to make things too awkward. I didn’t want to be the guy who dumped all of my junk on everyone…you know, the emo guy that just goes around with a rain cloud over my head, and shares dark things all of the time. You know who I’m talking about. Every time you talk to them you think, “How are you even still alive? You are so dark and mysterious…”

Community and Prayer

I didn’t want to pressure people too much, so I closed in prayer. I just laid it out there and said, “Hey, we’re going to close in prayer…please don’t feel the pressure to share anything…if you want prayer, please mention it and someone will volunteer to pray out loud for you in a moment.” There must have been something magical in those words. Because in that moment, the heavens opened up and it was glorious.

Our group gravitated towards each other’s stories. We could’ve gravitated towards a lot in that moment, but it was with each unfolding story that our group began moving inwards.

I didn’t ask for community to happen…it just did. Our group went from fragmented, broken individuals to a unified community in the matter of about 12 minutes. And I’ve seen this over and over again. Fragmented individuals come together more quickly and more tightly, forming the bonds of community, through the power of story. Stories reveal shared experiences.

Isn’t Community Through the Gospel?

I know that some of you right now are saying, “Nope, it’s not through story, you crazy liberal! It’s through Gospel. We’re aiming for Gospel-centered community, NOT story-centered community. Have you read Blue Like Jazz too many times?”

 Community is not realized in a group simply when we find out that we all follow Jesus.

Community is realized

  • When I hear how the Gospel has changed your life.
  • When I hear the junk you’ve had to deal with, and that God’s grace has brought you through it.
  • When I hear the pain you’ve been through, yet hear how the hope of the Gospel has sustained you.
  • When I hear about how the Gospel has changed your desires.
  • When I see that the Gospel transformed your family.

In the process of hearing your story, I hear mine. I make connections between who you were and who I was. I link who you’re becoming with who I’m becoming. And I see that the Gospel is strong enough. Scandalous enough. Generous enough. Big enough to transform my story, too.

Your story gives me hope.

Without your story, community isn’t found. “Bible study” may be found. “Fun” may be found. “Relationships” may be found. But genuine community is formed when I see and hear and feel and  smell and hug and experience the Gospel in your life.

To choose to not share your story is to choose fear. And it’s choosing a weak, inadequate form of community when the Gospel offers much, much more.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. – Romans 12:15-16

 

 

The #1 principle in Biblical Leadership

I tend to forget.

I get wrapped up into systems and organizational health and execution.

I get wrapped up into “best practices” and “change” and “techniques.”

I get wrapped up into “what’s next” and “what’s not working” and “who needs to be at this table.”

I tend to forget.

Not that leadership principles are wrong, or we shouldn’t be thinking about “what’s next.”

Or systems aren’t important.

Or learning “best practices” from others isn’t something we should be doing consistently.

But may we never that without God’s presence, none of this matters.

Without God’s presence, organizational execution is meaningless.

Without God’s presence at the table, nobody else’s presence matters.

I tend to forget.

Moses said to God, “Look, you tell me, ‘Lead this people,’ but you don’t let me know whom you’re going to send with me. You tell me, ‘I know you well and you are special to me.’ If I am so special to you, let me in on your plans. That way, I will continue being special to you. Don’t forget, this is your people, your responsibility.”

God said, “My presence will go with you. I’ll see the journey to the end.” – Exodus 33:12-14, the Message

Do you ever forget?

 *Photo credit: iStockPhoto user CourtneyK

 

7 Steps to Prepare & Deliver a Funeral Sermon

Photo credit: Creation Swap user Krist Adams

I realize that some of you have never delivered a funeral sermon, and perhaps you never will.

But I also know that, at just the thought of delivering a funeral sermon, others of you will begin to get the sweaty-palm. Your heart beats a little faster at the thought of having to stand in front of a casket to deliver words that convey hope and life in a room full of death. And though you may not be able to envision ever having to preach a funeral sermon, I can almost guarantee you that you’ll have the opportunity at some point in your life.

In my short tenure as a pastor, I’ve unfortunately been asked to preach many funeral sermons. I say “unfortunately” because I don’t thoroughly enjoy the heaviness. Even so,through meeting with families, weeping with them, getting to know somebody that I will never physically know, and communicating hope in the midst of pain, I’ve learned a lot about preparing and delivering a funeral sermon.

Having a system in place is incredibly important. Without a system, you won’t know the next step to take when you get the call that says, “____ has just passed away, and I want you to preach at the funeral…”

 

Preparing and Delivering a Funeral Sermon

Meet with the family.

Weep with them. Ask questions that help them recall the good memories. In the process, take note of stories and defining marks in their lives. Try this question:

If you could describe _____ in one word, what would it be?

Capture stories.

As the family is describing their loved one, feverishly take notes. Capture details from stories so you can better understand the life and legacy of the loved one.

Use this as a guiding question: What did _____ do as a hobby/for fun?

Find humor.

Listen for funny stories. If the family doesn’t offer any, ask for some. Likely, the family is sitting on them, not sure if they really have the freedom to share something funny in a setting like this. Humor (that maintains dignity and honor for the deceased) helps break the heavy tension of the service.

Try these guiding questions: Do you have any funny stories from ______’s life? What were some of _______’s nicknames?

As much as you can, incorporate the family’s wishes into the service.

I say “as much as you can,” because it could be that the family asks you to do something that contradicts your value system. But consider asking this:

Is there a verse, a quote, or a song that you would like incorporated into the service?

During the service, connect positive characteristics with a story from the person’s life.

Pick three or four defining positive characteristics of the loved one that you gathered from your conversation with the family and present them each with a story (or two). This helps paint a picture of a person’s life for those who didn’t know them as well, and it reminds family and friends of the good times.

Be honest, but not hard. 

It’s okay to be honest in your sermon, but don’t use it as a time to bash the deceased, even if the family relationships were difficult or the person was an unbeliever. First of all, it’s not your place. Secondly, it’s not becoming. Ever.

Give hope. 

Everybody in the room is focused on death, so utilize this as a time to connect people with the truth that this life is short, and the Gospel is the only hope of eternity with Jesus. If you don’t land here, you’ll leave people dry and miss out on a great opportunity to share true hope with hurting people.

Question: Have you ever had to give a funeral sermon? What did I leave out?

*I’ve also mapped out how I go about laying out a marriage sermon HERE.

* Photo credit: Creation Swap user Krist Adams 

 

 

 

What great leaders must do

image from iStockphoto, user: LDF

You might think that great leaders always leave you confident of the product (or service, or idea) that they’re “selling.”

You might think that great leaders always leave you with a clearer understanding of a key idea or concept.

You might think that great leaders have to be a certain age or stage in life.

But if that’s your sum total of a great leader, you’ve missed out on the one thing that all great leaders do well.

Great leaders leave you feeling better about yourself.

When you meet with a great leader, you feel more confident in God’s call on your life.

They aren’t afraid to point out holes, and prod into the areas that need work.  But somehow, when your time with them is up, you feel more confident and sure of your leadership than before you’d met.

Great leaders look for tiny glimmers of hope and expose it for you to see.  They look for areas where God’s working and say, “Do you see that?”  They listen for God’s voice and sound the trumpet when He’s working in your life.  Great leaders see the best in you and say, “Do more of that!”

I only know a couple of great leaders.  And I love when I get to sit down with them.

Great leaders encourage.

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up… – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

 

 

 

5 easy ways to make your small group fun

How do you build enjoyment into your small group?

photo by iStockPhoto.com/nano

Because if you’ve ever been a part of a small group that’s boring, you know that humor, laughter, and fun don’t happen naturally. And what one person find amusing, another can find offensive. Fortunately, although the presence of humor and fun can’t be guaranteed, group leaders can help ensure there’s freedom and space to pursue it.

5 Easy Ways to make your small group fun

1. Don’t plan to start on time.

If you start right off the bat with the study questions, you show quickly that you don’t prioritize your group members as individuals. You only prioritize getting through the curriculum. Plan on a casual start to your group each week. My group builds in 30 minutes (at least) each week before we start the study.

2. Include food!

There’s something about food that seems to break down walls of resistance. Eating with your group around a table (or, if you prefer, standing up while eating snacks) helps to build a tight-knit community.

3. End on time, but don’t end on time.

When you finish with the study questions and close in prayer, make sure to be done in time for group members to hang around and enjoy each other’s company each week.

4. Plan for some fun.

Maybe your group needs to put down the book one night and just do a good old fashioned pot luck. Or game night. Or go bowling. Or go hang out at the park. Or grill out. Or have a chili cook-off. These events can lead to a much richer study time when you pick the books back up. Also, plan it during the time you normally gather for small group; this way, you can reasonably assume your group members have blocked off that time each week.

5. Plan extra-group activities.

Pick a random Friday night and have a girls’ night out. If you have children, have the dads gather to offer childcare for the night. Then switch for the next week. Or go on a camping trip. Or go to the lake. Or go out to eat on Sunday after church.

If you truly desire to build a community of people who love and care for each other, will go to bat for each other, and consistently encourage each other—find a way to have some fun. You’ll find yourself eagerly anticipating your meeting time together each week. You’ll be less likely to burn out. And your group will find a renewed energy each week.

They can thank me later.

If I haven’t yet, allow me to convince you why it’s vital for the health of your small group to incorporate “fun” into its life.  Read my thoughts HERE.

*I originally published this for smallgroups.com