Friday, January 31, 2014

Friday Burn

::: Food Preferences of Millennials

::: 2 Teenagers Run the Twitter Feed for History in Pics

::: 5 Questions with Don Richardson
Many mission agencies now recognize the wisdom of sending out workers with a heart to take the Gospel and help plant churches, via professions desired by the "host" countries.

::: 7 Hard Lessons about Calling

::: A church that avoids the culture can't be expected to shape it. @ryanmeeks

Photo: airplane mode. summer 2008, i think.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Toxic Charity Seminar, March 1

If you've been around here a bit, you know that I loved the book Toxic Charity by Bob Lupton. After reading the book, we started to be even more selective about the kinds of projects we work on and it's helped give us even more filters around potential projects. It's also where we got the mantra "self->service->systems."

Turns out, Bob Lupton will be here in Columbia giving a seminar on the book. I'd highly encourage anyone involved in the nonprofit or charity or global missions space to come to it. I'll be there with some of our Ember staff and would love to
see you, so let me know if you are attending.

[Related: Toxic Charity book notes and discussion.]

Monday, January 27, 2014

Meet IllumaNation

I recently had coffee [or in my case, orange juice] with Susan and Bill. Susan is the founder and CEO of a small information technology training firm located here in Howard County called /training/etc [yes they use the slashes]. They've been in business for over 20 years and if you are in technology around here, you have probably heard of them. They have recently stepped up energy and attention on a nonprofit arm of the business that they are calling IllumaNation and it's a great case study on a-for-profit business giving exposure to a nonprofit segment. I love what they are doing as well as how they are doing it.

I learned a ton of things from our short conversation, including:
+ /training/etc has a number of staff volunteer days - days where the whole staff goes and serves somewhere with a community service partner. Yes, the whole staff. They open up these days where others can come and serve as well and they utilize their staff to be 'guides' for the day.
+ They highlight a community impact partner once a month - students that come to their classes get a 5 minute overview and there is a display area with more info. Students can come serve and get a tuition credit.
+ Part of the picture is giving information and exposure to students that take training classes from them about possibilities to be involved in their community, both locally and globally. There is a niche demographic they are trying to engage - the technology professional who might not otherwise be exposed to these ideas and opportunities.
+ Some of their partners have included Academy of Hope [GED and basic computer skills], The Samaritan Women [they have plans to help network their campus], and World Computer Exchange [teaching people how to refurbish computers].

IllumaNation is one to watch. They are doing a great job executing along the spectrum of self -> serve -> systems.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday Burn

::: Must read - The Bill and Melinda Gates Annual Letter
3 myths that block progress for the poor:
- Poor countries are doomed to stay poor.
- Foreign aid is a big waste.
- Saving lives leads to overpopulation.
So so good.

::: Grading the B and MG annual letter

::: The smart contact lens project by... of course... Google.
As the husband of a diabetic, this would be incredible.
Link via my friend Travis

::: 19 hard things you need to do to be successful
Link via Ben Arment

::: Tracking the Church Planting Class of 2010

::: Rule 169: People collectively have an unlimited amount of free time. - @pmarca

Photo: Sheng girls on the move, Munich, July 2007.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Notes - Sacred Roots: Why the Church Still Matters

In January of 2005, I traveled to Orlando to participate in a Mosaic LA regional Origins experience held at Discovery Church. The host and emcee was an Australian guy named Jon Tyson. I continued to track his ministry after he left Orlando to land in NYC. Fast forward to today when Jon pastors Trinity Grace Church, a church I have yet to visit but have admired from afar. So when he wrote a book called Sacred Church: Why the Church Still Matters, it became a must read.

That and the fact that sometimes, I'm left thinking that so many expressions of our local churches could be so much more. Be it organizational architecture, mission and values, cultural relevance or the unleashing of the priesthood of all believers, I'm frustrated more than I want to be. So this book pushes back on my skepticism and tells me that yes, the local church does still matter. If you are involved in local church leadership or are a bystander to it, you should give this book a read. Not only because of the content but because I believe Jon and his team are proving that the local church still does matter and they are proving it in one of the most postmodern cities in the world.
Christy still loved Jesus, still loved people, and still believed the gospel was good news. She just wasn't sure the church we had created was producing the kind of disciples Jesus had in mind. Sure, we had become successful in the Christian subculture, but meanwhile, we were becoming irrelevant to the rest of the world.

The growth of the early church is arguably the most remarkable sociological movement in history. The numbers are staggering. In AD 40 there were roughly one thousand Christians in the Roman Empire, but by AD 350 almost 30 million.4 A remarkable 53% of the population had converted to the Christian faith.

The early church leaders didn't have the things we now consider essential for our faith. They didn't have official church buildings, vision statements, or core values. They had no social media, radio broadcasts, or celebrity pastors. They didn't even have the completed New Testament. Christ-followers were often deeply misunderstood, persecuted, and some gave their lives for their faith. Yet they loved and they served and they prayed and they blessed, and slowly, over hundreds of years, they brought the empire to its knees. They did it through love.

I believe two major factors have negatively shaped people's expectations of what it means to be the church in our time: the entertaining church and the individualistic church.

The impact of consumerism on American culture has been repeatedly discussed. From documentaries, the rise of Occupy Wall Street, and our media exposure on how the rest of the world lives, we understand the concept of consumerism and wonder about its implications for our culture. But we rarely ask how it forms our longings and expectations as disciples of Jesus. When we apply these same consumer standards to church, we end up approaching our Sunday worship with an attitude that can be summed up in this one simple phrase: "I want experts to put on exciting events that meet my expectations."

We expect brilliance from the pulpit, but often accept mediocrity in our souls. What is presented up front is often exceptional, yet most of us live average lives. ** so so good.

In fact, most of Jesus' invitations were not simply personal invitations to personal salvation; they were invitations to communal salvation — ​and shared responsibility as a result. Jesus made this clear when he said in John 13:34 – 35.

Yet the reality is that relationships take time to form. To love our neighbor means we have to know our neighbor. Beatrix Tafoya, one of our leaders at Trinity Grace Church, often says, "In other times of history the great commission was to go, but maybe the great commission in our generation is to stay." For those of us called to serve God in a Western context, these are words worth considering. ** this is a pretty significant idea, especially for the emerging generation

What would the church look like if the members chose to buy homes in the same neighborhoods or subdivisions, lived in the same apartment buildings or blocks, and sent their children to the same schools? What would love look like if it showed up dozens of times a week in small but profound ways: meals cooked, prayers prayed, songs sung, Scripture studied, games played, parties thrown, tears shed, reconciliation practiced, resources given? What if we stopped attending community groups and became groups of communities? What if our homes stopped being the places we hid from the world but havens to which the world comes for healing?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Seeing What Sticks

January and February are typically the months where we 'see what will stick.' In other words, we are throwing some stuff out there and seeing what gets traction. I love the variety, the process of these things coming together, the potential.

Along with the tossing projects into the air, I spend some time doing some recruiting. Brainstorming who will work great with what project is a way my StrengthsFinder developer gets put to good use and it is truly generative for me. Then it's writing a dramatic description of what we are trying to do and with whom.

People routinely ask me what I've got planned for Ember coming up or what a protoguide year looks like. I tell them that every year is always different because we have crazy, interesting, and different opportunities every year. In just about 10 years of doing this student missions thing, God has always brought us the best ideas. I'm excited to tell you about them pretty soon.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday Burn

::: The Collateral Damage of a Teenager
The subtitle says it all: "What adolescence does to adolescents is nowhere near as brutal as what it does to their parents." Great read, lots of it resonates with me.

::: 5 Things That Will Never Be The Same Again
4. Young adults will not flock back to church when they have kids.
5. Loyalty to the institution will no longer motivate people.
Link via Ben Kolarcik

::: A World Map of Aspiring Tech Hubs

::: The average Briton has visited seven countries.
The research, published today, found that almost one third (31%) of Brits have visited 10 or more countries, with one globetrotter claiming an impressive tally of 42.

::: A $100 3D Printed Prosthetic Arm in Sudan

::: It is impossible to give thanks and simultaneously feel fear. -Ann Voskamp via @boSEEcah

Photo: student missions teams praying for their summer. May 2013, Fulton, MD.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Six Months Later...

we asked the Ember X team:
- what was your best memory?
- how did the experience change you?

It is almost never too late to ask these questions of students that travel on your teams. Six months or six years, they will remember the experience and hopefully it will serve as a pivotal time to change their trajectory so they can serve the world better. Ask them.

And you should really ask. Lots of teams come and go but seldom dig deep within the lives of the students to erupt passion, calling and vocation. If you are going to spend all the energy to take students somewhere, it only takes a little bit more to follow up with them once they come home.

Photo: not such a great one... Ember 13 X.... Columbia MD.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Why We Exist 2014

2013 has been the best year of my life thanks to the Ember Cast. And I am not just saying that to make Tony Sheng happy. Nope. It’s the absolute truth. I’ve been able to have so many experiences this year, completely unique to Ember. I’ve made new friends from all over the world. I’ve had cross-cultural experiences this year that I never thought I’d be able to have. When I went overseas, I was equipped with the knowledge I needed to adapt to new cultures. My friend from France moved in with my family and I learned how to live alongside someone from a completely different culture. And lastly, and probably most importantly, I have strengthened my faith upon deep roots and solid soil which will not falter when I go to college. - Hope Koumentakos, Ember ProtoGuide 2013-2014.

500 years from now, you can say you read about Hope. This is why The Ember Cast exists.

Friday, January 10, 2014


Dear Em --

Happy birthday and welcome to officially being a teenager. You've already realized a little bit, I daresay, that the teenage years can be filled with angst, chaos and confusion. These past few months have not been easy for you. Mommy and I have been so proud of you though - you have persevered, believed the best and acted better than we would have. We will always stand up for you even if people hate us for it.

Even with all of that, you have had a great year. In Aix, we saw you contribute to an idea bigger than yourself. It was a team that you jumped in to, and not just because your dad was in charge. I'm confident that 500 years from now, you will see the impact of your investment there. In Oreo, you have found a middle school girls best friend. Truly that dog loves you to pieces - rolling over only for you is proof enough. Don't worry though, no one else in the house is bitter than he only listens to you.

We love you. Keep following the Light that shines in the darkness. Remember to come visit me and Mommy with your dogs when we are old.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Who God Is versus Where God Is

I've encountered this conception of God countless times over the years, a perspective that isn't as much about who God is as where God is. I've heard people pray and ask God to be with them; I've heard songs inviting God to come near; I've heard a good event described as a God thing - all of these undergirded by the subtle yet powerful belief that God is somewhere else and then comes here to this world from time to time to do God sorts of things.

The problem with this as one's only conception of God is that it raises questions about when and where and why God chooses to act.

Or not act.
- Rob Bell, What We Talk About When We Talk About God

Monday, January 06, 2014

Ember Advance

Over the past ten years, a conviction we have held has been that most student mission teams could be better prepared. As we've been fortunate to be involved in helping fix this, we've worked with some amazing individuals, teams and leaders. It's been a joy to interact with them months before they leave, track them while gone, and hear about how well their teams did after they come home.

Some of you are probably putting final touches on your summer plans. Our plans are not quite there but we wish we were. In either case, let me implore you: don't forget about the vital task of preparing your teams. Even though our plans are not quite final, we are already thinking about Ember Advance, a weekend with all of our Ember tribe preparing for summer experiences.

If you need some ideas or help along these lines, get in touch, we would love to help.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Friday Burn

::: God's Broad Canvas of Calling
If you don't have the broad canvas of calling, you have a highway with signs that read, "God calls these few people to these few tasks." If you get the broad canvas of calling, the exits on that highway are limitless, and both the individual journey and the national landscape are transformed because of it.

::: A Nonprofit takes on Poverty by Bringing Digital Jobs to Emerging Markets
Samasource creates living-wage digital jobs for women and youth in emerging markets, including sub-Saharan Africa, southern Asia and the Caribbean. It collaborates with in-country partners to recruit prospective employees and tackle client needs such as data augmentation, digital transcription, image tagging for SEO and machine learning.

::: Can do vs Can't Do Cultures
Big companies have plenty of great ideas, but they do not innovate because they need a whole hierarchy of people to agree that a new idea is good in order to pursue it. If one smart person figures out something wrong with an idea–often to show off or to consolidate power–that's usually enough to kill it. This leads to a Can't Do Culture.

::: Developing Special Teams
One of the most helpful things you can do as an organizational leader is look for ways to stretch staff without completely upending the organizational chart. My favorite way to do this is by creating special teams or task forces for unconventional projects.

Photo: train BRU, June 2012.