Prayer Lists – A Journey

Grand TetonsMaybe I’m unique, but having a prayer list has proven to be a challenging journey for me over the years.  I’ve wrestled with paper lists, electronic lists, reminders, no-lists and just from memory, etc etc.  I’ve downloaded all the great prayer apps for my phone looking for the perfect app or system – guess what…the perfect app doesn’t exist.  Stepping into full time ministry, and being the pastor over prayer ministries has again been a growing season as the number of things I pray for has substantially increased which is an incredible blessing and exciting but also pushed me to clarify how I manage and be productive and honoring with a prayer list.

Here is how I manage my prayer list:

First and most importantly if someone wants you to pray for something – pray for it NOW instead of writing it down.  If someone asks you to pray for something there is NO better time than in that moment to pray for it.  This shocks people sometimes, but WHY WAIT?

For requests that I should be praying for regularly, or for things I’m praying for frequently I have to keep a written list.  Paper lists don’t work for me because I tend to find time to pray for things at different places and times and I want my list with me all the time.  Don’t assume that you have to mark out an hour every morning as your only time to pray (although that’s a great time!) – go through your prayer list during the day, review it before you jump in your car for a drive so you can pray while you are driving instead of listening to the radio (with your eyes open), review it when you are waiting in line for something.

I use an electronic task management system (an app called 2do).  In that system I also store my prayer lists in multiple categories.  My categories currently are:

Wednesday Group – a group of guys that meet on Wednesdays to share life together.

Family – self explanatory, but all of the requests for my entire family.

Vineyard – This is for church specific prayer requests.  For example, leaders, members needing prayer, etc.

Project WARM – Another ministry we run in downtown South Bend.

Personal – Requests I’m praying for related to me

Home Group – Items I’m praying for related to our home group.

Because I’ve grouped the requests it is easy to review in context and update the notes for the request.  Once that prayer is answered I write down as much detail as I can recall and mark it complete.  I keep those completed requests and search them later to remind myself of all of the prayer requests that God answered and how.  Most any todo app has the same functionality, and the benefit of using a todo app is you can also use it for all of your other tasks.

For 2016 I’ll be challenging myself to memorize as much as my ongoing prayer list as possible.

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Hanging out with God – What that looks like for me

logo-twgOne of the areas that I’ve been working on over the last year is spending quality time with God. This goes beyond just worship during normal weekend services, or prayer times each day.   I try, twice a month, to mark 6-8 hours (at least) to spend time alone with God.  From a previous post on “How to Recharge in Ministry” I received a great question on what that looks like specifically for me.  We are all busy, have a million things going on, and so I thought it might be useful to process the practical way in which I try to spend that much time in a focused manner.

Here are the practical steps I take when I’m spending that time along:

  1. Take only the necessary items – For me this includes my laptop, my journals (blog post of how I journal) and my phone.  I don’t take any books, study helps, etc. but take enough that as my mind races to different things I have what I need to mentally process things only once.
  2. Don’t go with an agenda – If I go into my time with a specific agenda, because I’m task oriented, I can blow through time I should be spending with the Father in a matter of minutes or at most an hour or two.  If I approach the time with an open agenda and allow God to build the agenda as I go I find that a few hours is never enough.
  3. Mentally process things once – My mind races when I try to spend time with God, especially when I first start out.  Processing things once is a fairly common productivity tip that tells you to only touch tasks once.  Too often we think of something and then have to think about it frequently before it gets done.  At its basic form, if an idea, thought or task comes to my mind I want to be able to get it out of my mind as quickly as possible without having to remember it later.  It wants mental cycles to think about it and try to remember it, why it was important, etc.  The key, for me for this, is to WRITE IT DOWN.  It doesn’t matter what your system is, but HAVE A SYSTEM.  I use a paper journal and an electronic todo system.
  4. Journal your dialogue with God – Have a dialogue with God, through prayer, and write down your question or thought and what you heard.  If you were meeting with the President, or the Mayor wouldn’t you have a paper and pencil, or have some way to record the conversation?  Do the same thing with God.  Some of the greatest answers to prayer I’ve received was through journaling a dialogue of prayer.   For me this starts out what a normal journal might look like and then moves to questions that I’m wrestling with and then I write down what I believe God is saying about that.

While I’m still “perfecting” how I do this, I find the time incredibly useful and productive.  The more I focus on this time, and look forward to it, I believe the more useful I am in between these longer meetings with God.

I pray that you the time as well – I highly recommend it.

 

WHAT do you journal? The real question

UnknownWhen we look back at the journals of great men like George Washington, Abe Lincoln and General Patton we never argue about the medium they used to journal, instead we just pour over what they wrote!  Today there are debates over which journal to use, what pen to use, if our journals should be electronic or on paper, which app to use and what security to use.  I spent the better part of a few years jumping back and forth from electronic to paper and debating if one app was better than another.  What I’ve come to realize, and appreciate, is to look at HOW others have journaled.  What did they write about?  How frequently did they write?

Your time is spent on journaling on anything that works instead of trivial debates on e-journaling, or what type of Moleskine you use.

I use three journals on a regular basis, two paper and one electronic.  One paper journal is my everyday work and personal task related notes, one journal is a spiritual journey journal and my electronic journal (@dayoneapp) is my personal journal.  Rather than debate why paper versus electronic or why a hybrid system, I’ll share what I journal in each. (I wish other leaders would share what their journals looked like…. you learn so much more!).

Everyday work & personal journal

This is my primary paper journal and one that I carry everywhere I go.  I write down tasks, phone numbers that I need to temporarily remember, diagrams, thoughts, etc.  I also keep this close to my bed because if I have a thought that I am processing before I fall asleep I have a place to write it down.  Here are two example pages in my journal.  I try to always have a date (although I don’t have one on these two pages), and try to keep my thoughts separated by a horizontal line.  I usually fill 1-2 pages per day on average.  I keep the last 3-4 journals before disposing of them.  If I need to retain the information I can take a picture of a page I want to keep and I store it in Evernote.

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Spiritual Journey Journal

This is where I write down what I notice from scripture when I read it, what I hear when I pray and notes that I write while preparing to give a message.  I use this journal for prayer requests as well.  I use a paper journal because it eliminates the distraction of other apps (like email) when I should be listening, and keeps me focused.  Here are three examples of pages in my spiritual journey journal.

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Personal Journal

Because I know the power of journaling to recall history and share with future generations, I chose to use an electronic app (Day One App) to capture information and pictures.  Most often this is personal or family information or random musings about my day.  Here are a few examples

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Finding Time To Recharge : Sabbath-ing in Full Time Ministry

RestFinding time to recharge can be challenging in full time ministry.  Some wise person told me before I started in full time ministry, that there will always be ministry to do.  I can relate to that comment now as ministry can consume you and it can be challenging to find time to yourself, and find time to recharge with God.  I’ve learned that there is a ton of advice about this phenomenon, but thought I would share my own experience and suggestions on how to navigate your time to, hopefully, survive for the long run.

  1.  Over plan your calendar – Look months ahead, if not a year ahead, and make plans early.  Include all of your personal, family and ministry events. Without having a plan ministry that you didn’t plan will fill it up.  This limits calendar surprises.
  2. Don’t wait to plan events until the last minute – There are many opportunities in ministry for events.  While the event generally always makes it on your calendar, do the major milestones in planning that event make it on your calendar?  I use OmniPlan to develop small, but effective, project plans for large events.  If you have a Christmas Eve service, or an Easter Egg hunt think months in advance what you might need, who you might need and how to plan WAY earlier to eliminate the last week rush phenomenon that seems prevalent in ministry.
  3. Develop a “system” or rhythm – There are many out there, and no one has the perfect system.  One example is date weekly, rest quarterly and vacation annually.  This might mean  go on a date with your spouse weekly, try to go away once a quarter to recharge and vacation annually.  My system includes the following (and I’m not perfect at following this yet):
    1. Date night 2-3x per month with my wife.  Nothing fancy, but time that we can go out without the kids.  Trying this once a week for us is pretty unrealistic.  We connect regularly at home.
    2. Connect with God by myself, away from all else, twice a month.  This isn’t an overnight stay, but I try to get 6-8 hours away to recharge.  These are different than connecting with God daily / weekly.  This is intentional time where you disconnect from everything and only connect with the Father.
    3. Quarterly rests – I’m lucky enough to have one weekend off per quarter and it allows me to visit other churches.  This allows me to worship and listen to a message without thinking critically about what is going on during service and who I might need to connect with.
    4. Annual vacation – Get away with the family.
  4. Understand your priorities – Weekly I’m asked to change my calendar in the future for something or someone who needs time.  Without understanding how you are going to prioritize those events you will struggle at every request.  For instance, if my son wants to go to a high school basketball game and it has been on the calendar for a month, I would probably not overlap that when someone wants to meet at the same time.  That’s a silly example, but requests for overlapping events happen ALL THE TIME.  Make sure to prioritize personal time with God and put it on the calendar.  Don’t schedule something over a higher priority task.
  5. Share your calendar – Don’t let your system or your calendar be a secret.  Share your calendar if it is online with your administrative assistant, co-workers, etc.  If you have a paper calendar make a copy for your spouse.  There should be no surprises for others who want your time.

Multi-site Tip: Using the Campus Name vs. Church Name

whats_in_a_name.2When we launched our first onsite campus in November 2015 one of the areas that we were incredibly cautious about is when we use the campus name versus when we use the full church name.  Our strategy was “one church many locations”, which is a popular multi-campus philosophy.  The trick is when do you use the campus name instead of the entire church name.  It sounds silly, but if done incorrectly it can drive community affiliation too much toward the campus and away from the parent.  For example, if your church’s name was “Patmos” and you had a campus that you called “Northbound” how does your greeting team greet people at the front door?  Do they say “welcome to Northbound” or “Welcome to Patmos”?  In your announcements do you say “Hello Northbounders, or welcome to Patmos church”?

Here is where we settled:

At our front door we always welcome with the church name and not the campus name.  If we are one church multiple locations, you want new people to know immediately that you are one church.

At the doors to our auditoriums, inside the building, we never use the campus name or church name, we use a generic good morning or good afternoon.  This alleviates any confusion for people after just coming in the door.

In the announcements the campus leader welcomes everyone using the campus name AND the church name.  Something like “Hi I’m Steve Huffman the campus pastor for Northbound here at Patmos church”.  You need to acknowledge and affirm the community that you are building in the campuses, while acknowledging that you are part of one church.

For any offering or financial giving, always reference the church and not the campus.  In our announcements for the offering we state “We don’t pass a plate here at Patmos church, but giving back is a way to worship Jesus….”.

Phones messages and email signatures always had both the church and campus name in them.  “Thanks for calling Patmos Northbound Campus…”

It’s a delicate and important balance on how and when to use campus names versus full church names in a multi-site church.

 

The Calendar: Differences between Marketplace and Ministry

842612058204One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the jump from Marketplace to Ministry is how different calendar management is.  When I think back to running a hospital as interim-President or running an IT shop as Chief Information Officer my electronic calendar was a huge key in keeping everything in my day straight.

 

As I tried to navigate a similar process in ministry I learned, over the course of a number of months, that managing your calendar is really different.

Ministry is all the time and non-stop and rarely the same from month to month.  Ministry calendars change rapidly to adjust to the needs or opportunities in front of us.  In the marketplace, while there were variations, my months were generally the same.  I knew when the board meetings were a year in advance, my management team meetings were locked at the same time and things flowed on a fairly routine basis.  In ministry I am planning 5 months in advance and rarely is each month similar to the last.  Certainly weekend services (now 5 each weekend) can always be planned, but classes, counseling, conferences, special services small groups and team celebrations are dotted around each month.  Not only am I helping to pastor a growing lively congregation of 1,400 I’m also running a homeless ministry, trying to be a good dad and husband, trying to be a good board member of an organization, and teaching at a local college.

Instead of a fully electronic calendar I’ve transitioned to a hybrid paper and electronic system.  My paper system is a printout of a monthly calendar with 12 months in advance.  I use http://www.timeanddate.com as the template and use a pencil to label events throughout the upcoming 5 months.  I don’t write the time of the event, rather any large occurrence that day.  For instance if I am teaching a class at church I will write down that class on the day’s I’m teaching.  If I’m preaching on a weekend I’ll write that in.  If I have a commitment with my family I’ll write that in. If I’m going to stay home with the family I write that in.  I also write in days that I’ll be spending time alone with God and doing nothing else.  The paper calendar is a table of contents to my electronic calendar.  It helps me guide and direct future activity so I don’t over schedule myself and I don’t overlap my commitments.  I give a copy of this calendar to my wife so she can also see what commitments I have upcoming.

My electronic calendar is then filled in using the paper calendar system.  My electronic system keeps my on time each day.  I transfer the paper system to the electronic system monthly and ensure that they are in sync regularly.

If I just relied on an electronic system I would certainly over-commit because I can’t see what is happening easily. It’s easier to project my openings when I look at a month by month paper calendar versus an electronic calendar where everything looks the same.  For me, an electronic calendar, for planning purposes, looses context and meaning.

Another paper calendar option is the Do Over calendar (http://www.neuyear.net/products/do-over-year) that shows a year at a time.  I love this calendar and have a copy, however it is incredibly impractical to carry around.  My paper calendar is with me at all times.

 

The Prodigal’s Brother – A Marriage Lesson

The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) is one that many people relate to as they wander from their faith, request unreasonable things from the people they love and then come back and ask to rejoin the place they once left.  It is a story I could relate to as well.  Some of the real power in this story is the power of the prodigal’s brother and how it relates to marriage. (Luke 15:11-32)

Let’s look at what the older brother asks and reacts to when the prodigal son returns:
“What is going on”?  – The older brother, while working in the family business he already owns and has a future inheritance in, wants to know what all of the hubbub is about.  Notice that he is out working hard, in his mind maybe “earning” his right to what he already owns.
He became angry and refused to go in to the party – Learning that his younger brother came back and a party is being thrown with the best calf, instead of celebrating and joining in, the older brother becomes jealous.  He starts to compare his effort and rewards to his brother.  He doesn’t understand that he could have enjoyed his brothers return and lose nothing – there was no cost to him and no impact to him or his inheritance in this situation.
“Look all these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.” – The older brother immediately points to his performance on the farm and how hard he is worked.  The father knows this.  This is not new information.  I can only think that the Father at this point is wondering why, at this point, we are even talking about what the older brother did.  You already have this – why are you asking for it – just receive it!
“You never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends”.  The older brother attempts to make some comparison for what his brother has received, but does not make the connection that the goats were already his.  All he had to do was ask his father and he would have received.  This is like asking for access to something you already own.
So how does this relate to marriage?
1.  In marriage we can get caught up in working or performing to maintain an image of what we want,  we lose sight of the most important things we already have.  Don’t get caught up working to uphold an image that either don’t deserve or don’t understand.  If the image you are trying to maintain is completely disconnected from who you really are, stop performing to an incorrect image.  Celebrate what is going on around you, many times it’s not about you at all.  Even though the celebration isn’t about you, you can still enjoy the celebration. 
2.  Don’t point out all of the effort you have put in to your marriage to get some outcome you think you deserve.  This is an effort in futility because you never want honor to come to you because you had to tell someone what you did, you want them to notice.  You should assume they notice already.  Striving to perform to get something you want only reinforces bad behavior on both sides of the marriage.  If you are rewarded then you should also be prepared to be disappointed when your partner doesn’t reward you EVERY time.  You also shouldn’t do things for a reward in your marriage.  Love as a reward is really not true love.  True love is giving and receiving and desiring nothing in return.
Stop thinking you are the prodigal in your marriage – you are the older brother – and stop trying to perform your way into getting something you already have but don’t realize.

How to get the most from your mentor

mentor2So you’ve found someone who you think will mentor you…congratulations!  Now what?!?!?!  I’ve had the privilege to mentor many individuals through the years and here are my top 8 suggestions to get the most of of your mentor (and not spoil the relationship).

 

  1. Regularly scheduled meetings probably will lead to disappointment – Mentors are busy….usually incredibly busy.  Rarely do regularly scheduled meetings produce the fruit you think they will.  While you might have a few productive meetings, over time the routine will kill the benefit.  Don’t assume an “every other week” 1 hour meeting will be beneficial.  If you feel yourself leaning toward a regularly scheduled meeting consider if you are desiring an accountability partner instead of a mentor – there’s a difference.
  2. Quick check-in’s are key – 30 minutes with targeted questions are crucial.  When you schedule time with your mentor be prepared.  What are you going to ask?  What are you expecting to get? Be prepared!  Turn your phone off, don’t answer email and be focused.
  3. Write down what you hear – With pen and paper in hand, take notes.  Write down what you hear.  Clarify what you think your mentor is saying.  Stay engaged.  There are nuggets that will roll out while you are meeting and are easily lost unless you write them down.  Don’t type them…. write them…..
  4. Look for what to do and what NOT to do – Your mentor isn’t perfect and their suggestions may not be the perfect fit in your situation.  When your mentor gives you feedback don’t take that as the perfect answer.  Consider their option.  You might want to ask “What wouldn’t you do in this situation”, or other clarifying questions.  A mentor will only answer what they have experienced or learned, which may not work in your situation.  Look for situations that your mentor shares where they have failed in situations.  If you’re mentor doesn’t share where they have failed, then find another mentor.
  5. Ask for honest feedback on what they notice about you – You should be prepared to hear what your mentor honestly thinks about your situation.  If there is hesitation you won’t get the full fruit from the relationship.  Be prepared for tough, honest and gut wrenching stuff – and actually ask for it.
  6. Share what your future trajectory is – Most mentors want to help you on your path.  If you don’t share what you are trying to achieve and where you are on your journey you will just get buckshot advice.   What are you planning in the next year?  What do you think you are called to in the next 3 years?  Are you shooting for something that is currently out of reach, but would LOVE to have the opportunity to try?  Share all of those things.
  7. Follow your mentors advice if it is good – There is nothing more frustrating than to give advice that is good and have someone not follow it, and then ask you again for advice.
  8. Celebrate with your mentor – Your mentor is investing time into you.  When you reach a milestone or when you achieve success then let them know.  Your mentor wants to celebrate with you.  They want to know that the time they poured in actually helped you to achieve a milestone.  Send them a thank you every now and again, or better yet stop in and say “Hey that advice you gave me…. it was really good and it helped out”.

 

Considerations for launching an onsite video campus

drivebyvenueWe had the incredible opportunity over the course of 2015 to plan for and launch an onsite video campus at the Vineyard.  We were stretched for space in our main auditorium at our busiest services and made the decision to use our secondary auditorium, which was being utilized for children’s ministry, for an onsite campus.

During our planning phases we had conversations with a number of churches who had good, and bad, experiences with video campuses.  After a lot of consideration we launched and have live worship, live announcements and ministry time and pipe in the video message live.

Here were the primary drivers for our launch:

We needed space – for new attendees being packed in like sardines can be uncomfortable.  We always try to be friendly to someone coming for the first time to experience what God has for them.  Building a larger auditorium was going to take too long and we already were doing 5 services – adding a sixth was discussed and previously tried but it we found 5 was a practical limit. (2 Saturday services and 3 Sunday services).

We needed a place for leaders to develop – Our lead pastor has a passion for leadership development and for future campus or church planters.  To have an incubator space to walk through actually launching and supporting a campus onsite has been invaluable.  We now have a location that individuals can get behind the microphone and get feedback before they are in front of hundreds of people.  We treat it like our onsite video campus like a full service, however it is also intentionally used as an incubator of talent.

People like a smaller feel – Our Vineyard still has a heart for “small”.  Having an onsite video campus allows for a venue of no more than 125 people to come together.  It’s a smaller feel and people LOVE it.  Very quickly we heard that people were transitioning to the video campus because it felt small and they liked that.  They like the sound quieter we’ve heard individuals with sensory issues who can’t handle so many people around them find comfort in a smaller setting.  Just tonight someone shared that all of the sound and backgrounds in our main service gives them migrants and they find comfort in a smaller setting.

We’re just not on the same page spiritually

Jealous manI’ve heard too many times that a husband or wife isn’t “at the same spiritual level” as the other.  This is usually followed by some type of disappointment or frustration and a wish that the other person, who is inevitably described as “further behind”, start catching up.

While I can somewhat understand how this could be a problem, what I’ve come to appreciate in my own marriage is peristaltic movement in our spiritual growth.

The what?!?!

Think of an earth worm for minute.  It inches forward while while a portion of it holds tight, the next part moves, and so on and so on.  This is how I vision a healthy marriage moving along a spiritual journey as well.

The husband or wife moves forward and then after a short amount of time and understanding, the partner moves forward, in the same direction, as well.  Each is always connected, always appreciated, always joined in a common direction.

Could we move together at the same time?  I suppose, but that isn’t how it has worked in my marriage.  For many years my wife was out ahead of me and I resisted moving forward.  Once I started inching forward though I found out how enjoyable it was to move forward quickly.  When I moved forward I also was closer with my wife.  We moved in the same direction and there was shared vision on where we were heading.  In areas now I’m moving ahead and she is following lovingly.

I’ve come to understand that being on the same spiritual level can be a bit dreamy – while it could happen, it probably would only be for a very small period of time.  If we were moving at the exact same level at the exact same time it would mean that we were growing at the exact same rate.  (Or not growing at just stagnating at the same level).

A healthy marriage is a growing marriage in the Lord, appreciating what your partner has to offer and where they are leading or watching.  When you move forward in leadership pray about the direction together and lovingly move forward.  When you are “behind” (in a supportive position), celebrate the person ahead of you and start preparing for your own growth to lead soon.