Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ember February Staff Dinner

We have started a new experiment this year as part of some Ember staff development: a monthly staff dinner with special guests. The goal of this is to gather our staff to hear from some of the most creative, missionally imaginative and innovative people we know.

This months guest was Trevin Hoekzema, our very first Ember guide way back in the day. He's currently in a pastoral residency program at Bay Area Comm Church, which allows him to get a seminary degree while being mentored by BACC's staff. He's working on the Masters in Global Leadership at Fuller which is the only seminary degree most readers of this blog should look at.

Some highlights of our conversation:
Redirected Christmas time efforts to come alongside some local ministries doing better work than previous efforts.
Deep engagement for short term mission leaders and team members.
Organized first ever short term missions one day conference [Edge]

FutureCasting Missions - what is present or future now but something we don't know about:
Discipleship making movements
Discovery Bible Study
Fuller emphasizes spiritual formation more important than knowledge
'Guide on the side not the sage on the stage'
The West will no longer lead the missions movement

Advice for students:
Talk to every missionary you can
Always eat the chicken feet

Left to right:
Terah, boutique houseware artisan entrepreneur
Trevin [sorry for the bad picture]
Emily, Ember spawn
Hailey, Ember 2018-2019 ProtoGuide
Sherrill, almost published author and illustrator
Gary, attorney
Deanna, Ember creative director
Mandy, The Well in Curtis Bay

Monday, February 12, 2018

Ember SSDC

The Ember Cast facilitated a serving-learning-culture experience this past weekend with some students and their leaders from our home church. Great time with a great group. Highlights included a cultural navigation exercise in downtown Silver Spring; serving with A Wider Circle, one of the best local nonprofits dedicated to alleviating poverty in our area; and attending a service at National Community Church in DC.

A few quick observations from our weekend:
+ Downtown Silver Spring has experienced a recent redevelopment effort that has transformed the area. [I worked there for about 3 years before the redevelopment.] The new library is stunning and a community hub. Our suburban kids seldom go to the library where they live, but it was packed when we checked it out.
+ Sometimes when you serve with orgs that are in the business of sorting and redistributing supplies like housewares, clothing or furniture, you sometimes only see the sorting part of that work. A Wider Circle is great because you serve on both sides - the sorting as well as clients coming in to choose what they want to take home. We were told there were 21 clients served the day we were there.
+ Mark Batterson gave a State of the Church talk this weekend and it was one of the most powerful messages I have heard of late. NCC's mantras are so innovative and out of the box and I love attending a service with students who have only seen one expression of Church for most of their lives.

This kind of thing is not too difficult to do with students and the impact of this kind of learning can be incredible. In other words, you could do this with your students too and it would probably have an enormous effect.

Special thanks to Ember guides this weekend, Em and Meghan.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Friday Burn

::: Every One of the World’s Big Economies Is Now Growing

::: The Status of Global Christianity 2018 in the Context from 1900-2050

::: The 25 Most Popular Icebreaker Questions

::: Culture is not a territory to be won, but a resource to be stewarded. - Makoto Fujimura

Photo: Ember guides, The Lincoln. May 2015.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

The Kingdom Is Like

This time 10 years ago, I was coming up on my fifth year of helping coordinate student missions at our home church. This included responsibilities for setting up partnerships, building teams, recruiting and training leaders and overseeing budgets. Our budget for that last year was $150K spread over 6 teams of 98 people in total, 3 teams of which were international with one team being gone for 4 weeks. I personally lead a team of 26 to Hungary and managed to meet another team of 18 in Paris and hang together for 2 days. [Logistical suicide - I loved it] And this was all on top of having a day job and a young family. It was a ridiculous, gargantuan amount of work, easily a part time job that took 15-20 hours a week sustained over months. The picture on the left gives you a little insight.

Over that season of five years, there was probably $500K of support, probably close to 400 students and leaders going on over 20 short term experiences. I had spent about a month away from home over the course of one of those years. Don't get me wrong - it was a fantastic, flourishing, lets-go-all-in season of ministry. Our family was uniquely marked for eternity by that season - we would not be who we are without it. I'm overwhelmingly grateful for it.

Contrast this to the last five years: 5 teams of 12 or less, about $135K in total, 10 or so interns over the past 5 years so far, a core list of about 20 Ember Guides.

The Kingdom is like a mustard seed, it is like yeast in flour, it is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls. Bigger is not always better.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Friday Burn

::: How Do We Ensure the SDGs Aren’t Just An Exercise?
After messing around in this field for decades, what I’ve come away with is that the most practical, effective way to end poverty is to create new markets that are scalable and allow people who are poor to be the major players (buyers and sellers). It turns out that multinational corporations are the most skilled at creating new markets and have had the best results.

::: Successful People Start Before They Feel Ready

::: The World's Fastest Shrinking Countries

::: A church should not simply have a missions department. It should wholly exist to be a mission. - Tim Keller

Photo: Chinatown. Jan 2016.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

A Weeknd

From time to time, The Ember Cast is invited to facilitate a culture or service or leadership experience for student groups. We are currently planning one of these experiences for a high school student group. The vision for this one is to integrate ideas of team, cultural navigation, serving in the suburbs and varied expressions of Church. We're excited to engage some students in these concepts that are at the pulse of what we do.

It is never too early for a middle or high school student to learn some of these ideas - how to peel back elements of a culture or what is the best thing I can give my team or what does poverty look like in the suburbs. The barrier to this kind of learning is almost never maturity - students this age are fully capable of getting it. Instead, in today's youth culture, the barrier is availability. The single biggest challenge to students learning these things is their busyness.

Ember's time with students groups like this is a huge honor and privilege. We don't take it for granted and know that there's lots of Kingdom potential in one single weekend.

Monday, January 29, 2018


Some of the Ember team visited The Salaam Center this past Saturday, which is a refugee drop in center located in the Highlandtown neighborhood in Baltimore. Fascinating to hear the founder share his story with us and inspiring to see how their work has grown in the past few years. They focus on helping serve people new to the US, mostly with English lessons, help with registering for school, getting a drivers license and details like that for people new to our country.

Ember will probably be getting a little bit involved consistently with this center, which will be great fun.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Friday Burn

::: US Drops In Global Innovation Ranking

::: Facebook Invented a New Unit of Time

::: Mosquitos Could Remember You for Days

::: Visiting 6 Continents in Under 58 Hours

::: "A mind that is stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimension." - Oliver Wendell Holmes

Photo: Etna. July 2016.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Announcing Ember 2018 IG

The Ember Cast is thrilled to announce the Ember 2018 IG team for this coming summer. 2018 represents our third summer partnering with a long term team aligned to serve refugees in a port city in southern Italy. This team is one of the most entrepreneurial, creative, and innovative teams we know, and they embody phrases such as: 'make a way or find a way', 'faith is spelled r-i-s-k', and 'everything is an experiment and the Gospel is worth the risk'. Facilitating an experience where high school kids serve with people that have this kind of mindset is one of the unique ministry values, and joys, of The Ember Cast.

Our team will also swing by Greece on the way home to serve and work with a refugee team there, based in one of Greece's most strategic cities. Andrew Jones, a dear friend and one of the most potent global missions catalysts I know, is joining us for both Italy and Greece and helping facilitate this leg of the journey and more. If you know anything about the Tall Skinny Kiwi, you would give your left arm to have your high school kid hang with him for a few weeks.

Thanks in advance for your support for this team.
* Dates and destinations of travel are not posted on social media.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Book Notes - Powerful, Patti McCord

Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility, Patti McCord
Patti McCord helped create the Netflix Culture Guide, one of the most significant documents to come out of Silicon Valley. It's an incredible read on Netflix values and how that translates to employees. Lots of insights in building high performance teams. If you are in any position of leading people, it is well worth the read. The book is an even better deep dive if you have read the Culture Guide.
Here is my radical proposition: a business leader's job is to create great teams that do amazing work on time. That's it. That's the job of management.

The most important thing to understand about transforming a culture, whether that of a team or a whole company, is that it isn't a matter of simply professing a set of values and operating principles. It's a matter of identifying the behaviors that you would like to see become consistent practices and then instilling the discipline of actually doing them. We fully and consistently communicated to everyone at Netflix the behaviors we expected them to be disciplined about, and that started with the executive team and every manager. We were so intent that every single employee understand our philosophy and the behaviors we wanted them to execute on that Reed started writing a PowerPoint about them, which I and many other members of the management team also contributed to. It ultimately became known as the Netflix Culture Deck. You may have read it.

At new employee college, as we started the proceedings, we'd say to the participants, "You will take out of this day what you put into it. If you don't ask questions, you won't get answers." I look back now and realize that this was crucial early stage-setting for the success of the company. It gave people at all levels license to freely ask for clarification, whether about something they were expected to do or about a decision made by management. Not only did this mean they were better informed, but over time it instilled throughout the company a culture of curiosity.

One of the most important insights anyone in business can have is that it's not cruel to tell people the truth respectfully and honestly. To the contrary, being transparent and telling people what they need to hear is the only way to ensure they both trust you and understand you.
The conventional thinking is that if you allow people to be anonymous, they will be more truthful. In my experience, that's not the case. Truthful people are truthful in everything they do. And if you don't know who is giving you feedback, how can you put their comments into the context of the work they're doing, who their manager is, and what kind of employee they are? Perhaps the worst problem with anonymous surveys, though, is that they send the message that it's best to be most honest when people don't know who you are.
In my experience, one of the most important questions business leaders must regularly ask is "Are we limited by the team we have not being the team we should have?"

An essential question is, do you have enough capacity builders? By which I mean people who know how to build a great team.

One reason Reed and I started using the "team not family" metaphor was that as the company kept changing, we saw that nostalgia for the good old scrappy day was a powerful force of resistance.

People's happiness in their work is not about gourmet salads or sleeping pods or foosball tables. True and abiding happiness in work comes from being deeply engaged in solving a problem with talented people you know are also deeply engaged in solving it, and from knowing that the customer loves the product or service you all have worked so hard to make.

But certain fundamentals should be strictly enforced. I set an ironclad rule that if anyone saw a stranger sitting by themselves waiting for an interview, they should stop and say, "Hi, I'm ____. Who are you? Are you here for an interview? Who are you waiting for? Let's take a look at your schedule for today and I'll help you find the next person." I know the message was heard loud and clear because if I was ever late coming to meet with a candidate, and I said, "Sorry, I hope someone talked to you," they'd say, "Six people talked to me."

Our goal was for every single person who came in for an interview to walk away wanting the job, even if we hated them. We wanted them to think, Wow, that was an incredible experience. It was efficient, it was effective, it was on time, the questions were relevant, people were smart, and I was treated with dignity. I would tell people, "Even if this person isn't the right fit, we might love their next-door neighbor."

In my experience, if you focus intently on hiring the best people you can find and pay top dollar, you will almost always find that they make up much more in business growth than the difference in compensation.

One reason that sports team analogy is so helpful in managing people is that everyone readily understands that coaches are letting the rest of the team and the fans down if they don't replace players who aren't producing top performance. Winning games is the only measure of success for sports teams, which is why it's not just players but coaches too who are replace readily on top-performing teams.

In my experience, people sue their former employers because they think they've been treated unfairly. But that's not because they weren't put on an improvement plan. It's generally because they weren't told the truth when they should have been about their performance or their fit. I've found that generally if people are mad enough to sue, there was a point when somebody should have told them, "You know, you're being a jerk! You're making us crazy! We're not going to want you around anymore if you keep treating people like that."

The irony of the PIP being used as a means to avoid being sued is that it actually fans the flames of resentment, all because of the fear of being honest.

People often come up to me after a talk to ask for career guidance. I tell them, "You want to be a lifelong learner; you want to always be acquiring new skills and having new experiences; and that doesn't have to be at the same company. The fact is that sometimes you're hired by a company to do something, and then you do it and it's done. If I hire people to rebuild my garage, when they're done I don't need them to rebuild the back of my house."

I tell managers to use a simple rule when evaluating their teams, which I call an algorithm because engineers love the word, and I love engineers: is what this person loves to do, that they're extraordinarily good at doing, something we need someone to be great at?

Friday, January 19, 2018

Friday Burn

::: Will Cape Town be the First City to Run out of Water?

::: The 5 Essential Practices Of Leaders Who Multiply Leaders

::: Left Brain Innovation
Innovation is the Latin translation of the Greek renew. The renewal of all things is the mission of the church (Colossians 1:20). In older church traditions, innovation was pictured as a virtuous cycle of two interconnected flywheels. On the right was social wellbeing. It turned the left wheel of economic prosperity. The right drove the left.

::: "The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see."-GK Chesterton

Photo: Rest in Peace, Bill Shipman. See you in Glory. July 2010.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Ember January Staff Dinner

We have started a new experiment this year as part of some Ember staff development: a monthly staff dinner with special guests. The goal of this is to gather our staff to hear from some of the most creative, missionally imaginative and innovative people we know.

This month's special guest was Erin Preshoot. Erin and I first met when she was the high school admin at Grace Comm and I was helping run Grace's student missions teams. In 2007, Erin joined a team I was helping lead, running a kids program in Hungary for a global missions org during their annual leadership conference. These days, Erin serves as the director of Serve The City Baltimore, as well as the US director for Serve the City. She also splits time working for Communitas, in their training division, helping get new potential cross cultural workers off and running.

Part of this monthly dinner includes inviting previous guests. Conversations that are always fascinating:
Baltimore - very neighborhood centric and sometimes that means turf battles even among social services and nonprofits
STC Baltimore - get people volunteering, help communities and help volunteers
Big serve week - 2nd or 3rd week in July
How overseas missions prepares you for serving locally
Favorite Baltimore orgs:
Second Chance
Movable Feast
The Well
Paul's Place
Baltimore Station
Baltimore Rising - great documentary about the city and current issues.
STC core convictions:
Take care of volunteers
Paint a big picture
Decompression is important
Cities with STC in the US - Baltimore, Newport News, Chesapeake
Erin's advice for young people interested in missions:
1 - Keep asking questions
2 - If you are sure of God's call, then go for it.
Church in the southeast that has a pitch day for potential missional partners to come and pitch to them. Also, this church deemed it important enough that all their missional partners are connected to each other that they planned and funded an international trip for all them to go on and connect.

From left to right:
Erin Preshoot - Director of Serve the City Baltimore
Susan - The Samaritan Women
Hailey - student who just started hanging with Ember
Emily - Ember spawn
Meghan - Protoguide
Matt - Ember Board of Director
Bill - The Samaritan Women

Monday, January 15, 2018

Perspectives - Summit Grove

Most readers know that I teach for Perspectives a few times a year, a semester long class about global cultures and missions. It's always fun. Last Friday I taught at one of their intensive classes, meaning all 16 weeks crammed into 5 days. Summit Grove Camp hosted the week and they've been hosting this intensive in early January for at least the past few years. If you enjoy reading some of the stuff I write about on this blog, you would love the Perspectives class - it is one of the most powerful venues for helping people get involved in crossing cultures.

Some observations from last week:
+ The Summit Grove class seems to grow more spiritually potent every year - there is this interesting feeling to it.
+ This year's attendees included people from Minnesota, Texas, North Carolina, Connecticut, a student from Hong Kong studying in DC for the year and a man from Congo, with his two boys.
+ Also an interesting mix of people: church planter, couple in second career doing missionary care, mobilization rep for Serving in Mission, a good number involved in missions strategies with their local churches.
+ The class coordinator showed a great video before my lesson on unreached people groups and the 10/40 window but that also included references to immigrants, refugees and international students. Perspectives was very 10/40 window heavy a few years ago and I'm glad to see the subtle shift to include current global realities.

Registration is open for the Spring - can't recommend this class highly enough.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


Dear Em,

Well, you've had quite the year for sure. Mommy and I are thrilled at who you are and are becoming and are so proud to see you become who the Lord meant you to be.

This year has been filled with lots of major milestones, including getting your drivers license, getting a part time job, managing everything that junior year has been, learning in the hospitality academy at school and being involved in some very cool service and leadership opportunities. All of that has been so fun for us to watch and although we've been nervous, you've handled it all with amazing confidence and poise.

Keep pushing into how the Lord is leading you and being in wonder of the great big world and the people in it. And plan to take that dog with you.

Love, DAD

Photo: The Grand Canyon, January 2017.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The App

For many years, I've kept a folder of what I call Better Practices [in missions] and a big portion of the content in there are Mission Trip Applications. There's also other stuff in there, like documents about strategy or promotional material or research reports. But I love reading a good missions trip application.

An application is two sided. Obviously, it is asking about us - the reader wants to get to know us. Past experience, passions, skills, maybe some questions about self awareness. All standard stuff. The best applications, the most thoughtful, intentional and unique ones - they tell you what is really important to the organization. What they value, what they are looking for, what people like us do. If you want to work for a quality organization, consider the types of questions they are really asking and why.

Applying for a job, a team, a leadership program, a trip? Consider what the application is really looking for. Like Vince Antonucci says, "Your assumptions create your crowd."

[We've just published our Ember 2018 application. Some of you might be filling this out pretty soon. It is intentionally the way it is.]

Photo: Prague, 2015.