Three Questions for Meaningful Conversations

It’s 6:00 pm. You walk through the door from work. Whether you have a roommate, kids or a spouse, sometimes the last thing you want to do is talk. For some of you who have had a long day with housework and kids,6:00 pm hits, your spouse comes home and you have the desire to have a meaningful conversation.

No matter where you fall in this situation, it can be difficult to have meaningful conversations on a regular basis. Besides the stress of the day, we want to come home and unwind. Unwinding can look like a phone, Netflix or the 6 pm news.

Meaningful conversations matter not just for us personally, but to the people around us. Taking time to listen to what’s on their mind can create space for deeper connection. It can also become the place where we process our own day. Our relationships and daily conversations help us to see the day a little bit clearer.

Start by unplugging from your devices. As you sit with your spouse, kids, friends, or other family members, consider asking these three questions:

1. What was your high and low for today?

My wife Robyn started asking me this question at dinner when we got married. It allows you to pick out two moments and could open the door for other conversations. If you ask this question, take time to add follow-up questions to understand more.

2. When did you sense God today or this week?

We can run throughout the day going from appointment to appointment, class to class, or crisis to crisis. Towards the end of the day, it’s important to give yourself and the people you most care about an opportunity to see God at work. This question helps with gratitude and perceiving how God desires us to grow.

3. What do you look forward to this week?

Often, we can find ourselves in conversations that focus on the negative. Take a moment to venture into what’s going well. This question allows you to celebrate with a person. Take a moment to get excited with them.

Hopefully, these three questions will help you to have meaningful conversations. What questions might you add to this list? Share them in the comment section below.

Photo by Bryan Apen

Four Tips for Young Leaders

Young leaders live with tension. We have the pulse of the community around us, but sometimes lack the wisdom of life experience. We can see with fresh eyes the unhealthy patterns in an organization, but sometimes we focus on change that’s not the highest priority. We can have a vision for hope for the future, but that can come across as a slam to the success of the past.

It’s not easy being labeled a young leader. As I look back at the opportunities afforded to me, I have many instances that I would label “handle that differently.”

Perhaps you have felt the same way. God has placed you in a role in the marketplace, church, or school. The people around you see your desire to lead and change a community for the better. On one hand, people love your insight and ingenuity; on the other hand, you may feel that people have put you in the box stamped young.

Last week, I was sitting with my mentor, Mike. We were discussing the tensions of young leadership. He gave me four practical tips in that conversation that I thought would be important to share with you:

1. Ask good questions

One of the frustrations people have of young leaders is that they have an answer for everything. Many of us have a lot to say, but the question is, are people ready for it? When we begin by asking good questions, it helps us create a bridge of understanding. It can also lead to better responding to the feedback that we desire to give. Asking good questions slows us down and communicates that we want to listen. Wait to talk.

2. Wait to talk.

Have you been in a meeting when the same person responds first to every question? That can be off-putting and the constant talking can render a voice ignored. I confess that at times I have failed here. Why should we wait? Because it gives other people a chance to respond. Another person might give the same insight, which would allow you the opportunity to agree with them. Instead of speaking, take a moment to write your thoughts down. And be patient.

3. Compliment specifically.

In talking with older leaders, I often hear how they feel young leaders critique more than affirm. One way to lose influence is to be the person that points out more problems than solutions. When something goes well, compliment specifically with an email, text, or note pointing it out. It tells people you are listening, watching, and observing.

4. Say YES as much as you can.

Many leadership books talk about the importance of saying “NO” to things that don’t fit the vision of the organization. At times, we need to narrow our focus.  As young leaders, a “YES” can be an opportunity to build a bridge. A lot of times when we say “NO” it has less to do with vision and more to do with convenience. That’s not always a bad thing, but if you become the person who constantly says “NO” then people might stop asking you. Look at ways you can support the people around you. That’s what saying “YES” can do.

Whether you’re a young leader or not, I hope these tips help you in your role. What other tips might you offer to young leaders? Share them in the comment section below.

Photo produced by Štefan Štefančík

Two Questions to Find Deeper Relationships

Who would you say is the greatest friend you ever have? As you think about that person, you felt like you clicked. Proximity played an important role. You might have gone to high school or college together. No matter where you are today with them, you feel like you can pick up where you left off.

For some people, you have a close friend with whom you remain close to this day. Yet, many of us build a bond with a person or group of people and for various reasons we relocate or they do. Sometimes, we lose touch due to changing life stages.

On a regular basis, I help people try to get connected into small groups. My job title is even called Belong Director –the guy that helps you BELONG at a church. You and I pursue community to engage the Bible, pray together, and serve, but our larger hope is to find our tribe, the people with whom we can share life.

Let’s be honest. This process of finding deeper and more meaningful relationships is tricky. It’s far more art than science.
Each decade of our lives has more complications through changing life stages.
The effort it takes to meet new people can feel exhausting.
Even when we intentionally commit to a new group of people, we’re not always convinced it’s the right one.

An observation that I have seen in myself and others is this: we measure our new relationships by our best old relationships.

What do I mean by that? Remember the friend you answered in the first question? When you set out to find deeper community, ultimately you are looking for something similar to the good you had. Don’t get me wrong; there are consistent characteristics of great friendships that are universal. But there is a line of wanting to over-replicate something you already had.

When we measure our new relationships by the old ones, we will have a difficult time letting the new friendships grow naturally. In many ways, we’re asking for duplicates rather than originals. Our expectations could be ruining the beautiful reality of growing relationships.

You might find yourself in this spot. You moved to a new area or you long for deeper relationships. I want to leave you with two questions to pursue deeper relationships: What’s realistic to your life stage right now?

1. What’s realistic to your life stage right now?

Many people tell me that their most meaningful relationships came during their time in college and 20’s. Both these eras of our lives had copious amounts of availability and invites. Then our career responsibilities and family life changed. Start with what’s possible to develop now and manage your expectations.

2. Who are two-three people that I want to invest more time into?

I think we have to start with the people already around us. Whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, we can either meet too many new people or not enough. Start with two-three people. Perhaps you meet with them one at a time and then move to a group setting. Begin by building the proximity so a deeper relationship can happen.

What insight can you give about finding deeper relationships? Share in the comment section below.

Photo produced by Phil Coffman

Why Personality Tests Matter

You can take the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, Strength-Finders, and the DISC test. There’s an endless amount of these personality tests. Each one of them provides their own unique insight into how a person sees the world and acts in community.

Skeptics can argue that people assign their type based on what they hope to be, rather than reality. Also, some people manipulate the results to box a person into certain behaviors. At some level, these tools can amplify narcissistic tendencies that make individuals the center of attention.

Why do these personality tests matter? Why should you and I engage these tools with those close to us in our lives?

One reason is that we need more bridges to connect us to our friends, family, and coworkers. Personality tests can provide the opportunity for healthy conversations. They bring us into the world of another person: seeing what they see, feeling what they feel, and thinking what they think.

In mature relationships, personality tests are less about us knowing ourselves, and more about understanding others.

  • Knowing when to give space vs. leaning in.
  • Recognizing how to encourage, rather than exacerbate.
  • Amplifying strengths instead of pointing out deficiencies.

Think about what would change your relationships if you could better understand the people around you. Personality tests create starting points for these important dialogues with others in your life.

How can you get started? Here are a few resources for you to initiate the conversation with people in your small group, coworkers, spouse, friends, and the important people in your life:

What have you learned from participating in personality tests? Share your answers in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Ben Duchac

Who asks you the tough questions?

What’s your greatest challenge?
How are you handling that conflict?
What keeps you up at night?
How’s your marriage?
What do you sense God doing in your life right now?

You could probably add a thousand more like these. When it comes to tough questions, you stop and ask, who asks me questions like these and do I ask people around me the same types?

Creating space for deeper conversation allows you to see God at work in the larger issues. For some of us, we live life swayed by the vapor of urgent matters. For others, our minds run through these questions without answering because no one asks them of us.

When I hear people share where they want to grow spiritually, they tend to list off reading the Bible, praying, serving, and other disciplines. Taking a next a step of growth is extremely valuable; but if you want to take your spiritual growth to the next level, it requires you to share with the people closest to you what you sense God doing in you.

Let me ask you – Who asks you the tough questions? Who in your life can help you see beyond the immediacy of today to the long term important issues? Or who has permission to ask questions to draw out what consumes your mind?

People asking us the tough questions invite us to see God at work. The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, invites us to these conversations. These conversations allow us to see the truth of our own brokenness and the grace of God’s love for us. God speaks through the people in our lives asking the tough questions.

Photo produced by Cole Hutson

Little Foxes

“Catch for us the foxes,
    the little foxes
that ruin the vineyards,
    our vineyards that are in bloom.”
(Song of Solomon 2:15)

What pesters you? What frustrations consume the dialogues in your mind?

The other day, I spent the morning frustrated by a minor detail of a conversation. Nothing necessarily immoral or consequential, but irksome nonetheless. It created an issue of more time spent discussing the topic that could have been avoided.

My wife noticed my distraction and seemingly “off” behavior. She graciously asked, “What’s on your mind?” Without really thinking, I blurted out, “Why do these little issues matter so much to me?”

Have you been there? I think for most of us, we prepare for the enormous issues. Yet, on a day to day basis, the little pesterings and frustrations get the better of us.
You have to re-explain the same direction after the thousandth time.
You once again have been the benefactor of a nitpicked piece of feedback.
Your day gets detoured by an unforeseen errand.
Your plans get altered by everyone else except you.

I recently came across Song of Solomon 2:15, the passage quoted above. In an extremely obscure book of the Bible, that word picture made so much sense. When you and I look at what derails us, the “little foxes” can be as or more dangerous than the catastrophic problems.

Listen to what Tremper Longman and Dan Allender say about the verse:

…the foxes stand for anything or anyone who threatens the harmony and well-being of the vineyard garden. That is, anything or anyone who presents danger to the intimate relationship between a man or women. (God Loves Sex)

Though Song of Solomon 2:15 specifically references the marriage relationship, this verse provides us a larger principle whether married or single. The “little foxes” keep the focus on ourselves rather than others. They can distract us from God’s best blessings in our lives. Ultimately, the accumulation of them in our lives can result in long term effects.

How do you deal with “little foxes?” It begins by identifying WHY anything or anybody has taken so much space in our mind and time.

These seemingly small issues hint to a deeper pain inside us: insecurity, bitterness, doubt, or anxiety. When we can go deeper, we can invite God to speak to the root problem. This is why community matters: with a trusted friend, you now have a place to receive truth and grace. Truth to see your blind spots to grow, and grace to receive.

What are your “little foxes?” What little pesterings or frustration are robbing you? Perhaps today is a prompt for you to identify these and take your next steps of growth.

Photo produced by CloudVisual

Meeting New People in Church

You have a choice. The Sunday morning routine begins. You find yourself in the same seat of your section. Next thing you know, a person who you have not met sits next to you. The internal questions begin to race through your mind. Should I say hello? Will I scare them off? What if I say something weird? How will they respond?

The choice comes down to greeting or letting them move on quietly. What choice do you usually make?

This situation can conjure up a host of emotions like fear and anxiety. Your response can result from having an extroverted or introverted personality.

Consider the role reversal. Whenever any of us walks into a new space, we hope someone will take the risk of meeting us. It alleviates a little of our anxiety and can help us get to know other people. This situation full of unknowns becomes more known.

Acknowledging the presence of a new person speaks volumes to what you believe about the Gospel. We welcome people warmly because Jesus has done the same for us. When you take the time to meet a person, you communicate their value as one created in the Image of God.

The next time you encounter a new person, rather than letting fear and anxiety keep you from meeting them, consider these steps:

1. Introduce Yourself and Find Out Their Name.

The first step can take the most courage. Take the time to not only find out their name, but remember it. You may want to use it two-three times in the conversation to help you remember it. You taking this first step helps a person feel noticed.

2. Ask Questions and Listen.

Once the introduction ends, carrying the conversation can become difficult. Start by asking, “Where are you from?” Most times that question will open the door to get to know a person. Then you can move to the question, “How did you find out about the church?” You might find similarity in your story. Most importantly, listen to what they say. You validate people by giving them the space to share their story.

3. Watch for Cues.

Most conversations happen before or after a worship gathering. If the gathering begins, be cognizant of a person wanting to get to service on time. At the end of service, a person may have to pick up their kids or go to another event.

A couple of cues to end a conversation: checking their phone, nervous tapping, looking around, and mentioning they need to go. Cues for staying in conversation includes eye contact, positive flow of conversation, and a relaxed posture.

4. Avoid the Pass Off.

You know the feeling of getting your phone call transferred. Sometimes in our exuberance to help someone connect at church, we immediately want to introduce them to other people. Remember how participating in a new setting can become overwhelming. You are a living human being talking to another living human being.

If a person has a specific question and they want the answer, then that would be an appropriate time to connect with a church leader. Recognize the next steps the person wants to take. Often, they want to start by getting to know a few people before taking a next step.

5. Invite follow up.

When you end the conversation, offer to exchange emails. Making a connection can make the difference between coming back to a church the following week – or not. People feel welcomed when you follow up with them. It speaks volumes to them feeling important if a person takes the time to make themselves available.

Also, invite them to events at the church. Think of the groups, classes, or gatherings that could be a good fit for them.

The time you take on Sunday to meet new people communicates far more than you can ever realize. Jesus not just saw people, but He welcomed them. He calls us to do the same.

How have you helped people feel welcomed at church?

Photo by Nina Strehl.

When People Frustrate Us

You’re frustrated. The conversation goes horribly. Tardiness becomes the norm. A person nitpicks our actions. You and I have a list of what frustrates us.

Frustration raises the levels of our emotions and defenses. In the heat of the moment, some of us want to retaliate. Others of us avoid the situation while slowly seething with anger. Some of us utilize passive aggressiveness.

Proverbs 14:29 says, “Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.” The key to overcoming frustration is seeing the big picture. Patience invites us to realize the grace God has given us and therefore have the wisdom to respond well to the other person.

Today, you might get frustrated with a person. Ask yourself these four questions before you take any actions:

1. What’s my preference vs. problem?

It’s important to categorize our frustration. Preferences emphasize opinions. Problems deal in terms of facts and guidelines. When our preferences get mixed up with problems, we focus on how we want to change the person to fit our needs rather than helping them mature.

2. What’s my role vs. theirs?

Often, our frustration comes from a lack of communication. We have not shared our expectations. Frustration causes us to assign motivation to a person with them filling in the blanks. Deciphering our roles helps us honestly assess the situation clearly.

3. Where are they on their journey of growth?

Our frustration with people can cause us to forget their growth. A person may have come a long way on an issue, but they have triggered us to forget. Subjective grace overlooks issues that do not bother us, but can magnify the ones that do. The conflicts we have with people may not adequately understand their journey.

4. How ready is the person to hear what I have to say?

We play over and over in our mind the conversation we would love to have. You could have the perfect argument to the person in their place. If our frustration causes us to confront, then the person may miss what we have to say. Ultimately, this has to do with trust. Can the person see that you are invested in the well-being of their lives to hear you?

When you get frustrated with a person, take a moment to pause and see the situation. Asking one of these questions could make the difference in how you approach the person. What other insights have helped you when you get frustrated with others?

Photo credit by Josue Bieri.

Silent Night 2016

How would you describe 2016? If you Google “2016”, you’ll see one of the top searches was “2016 the worst year ever.” Some of these articles go back to this July, not just the recent days of December. This year has been mired in social media arguments, political unrest, and a lack of empathy to say the least.

All of 2016 has led us to the December Christmas season. In a time of thoughtful and spiritual reflection, our minds can race through the anxiety and at times even anger from the last eleven months. The idea of Advent, Christ’s coming, seems so distant from the chaos of the world around us.

Recently, I sang “Silent Night.” Two lines of the song stopped me:

All is calm
All is bright

Questions emerged in my mind. Was it really all calm? Was it really bright? These questions seem fodder for theologians to debate late into the night. Part of the cynic in all of us asks these questions, because our current reality may not match the lyrics.

The Christmas story disarrays the characters. Mary has to explain the meeting with an angel and an unforeseen pregnancy. Joseph has the same problem. This couple then gets displaced from their current residence to Bethlehem. They find lodging in a stable as opposed to a room. They would later escape to Egypt because of an evil ruler. We could include the shepherds and the kings who got re-routed to see Jesus.

“Silent Night” offers us the radical message of hope. A hope based on Jesus, the Messiah, entering the world of chaos. Rather than elevating His heavenly power to become an earthly king, He steps into the disarray of the world as a powerless baby. That’s Good News because He has walked where we walked, especially in 2016.

What Mary and Joseph experienced and what 2016 has brought us is the Savior stepping into the darkness with us.

Celebrating Christmas in 2016 is much more than the presents, tinsel, holly, and feel good notions. It’s hope for people stuck in this year’s reality. Looking for the bright and the calm has less to do with the present circumstances, and more to do with the deeper significance and meaning of “God with us.”

Whatever 2016 has brought, let the Christmas season move you beyond the current chaos to the reality seen in the Gospel. The Savior born in an unexpected context brings us hope in His death and resurrection.

Photo credit by Ben White.

A Lament for Today

photo-1472566316349-bce77aa2a778

I lament for us today,
because fear motivated us more than love;
because we stopped seeing our brothers and sisters created in the image of God;
because the Golden Rule did not apply to our opponents.

Now, the greatest call of followers of Jesus is to become agents of reconciliation.
Our Savior brought us who were far from Him near, so that we might do the same for our neighbors.

The Good News of the Gospel motivates us
to give a voice to the voiceless;
love our enemies;
forgive those who hurt us;
extend grace to each other;
because Jesus has done this for us.

Let our laments turn to confession and listening.
May our hearts soften in compassion for each other.

Amen

Photo credit by Matthew Henry.

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