Monday, April 23, 2018

Experiencing Creative Revenue

One of our Italy-Greece team members is hosting a variety/talent show this coming Friday as part of her Creative Revenue Plan. If you would love to support our team but can't give financially or not sure what else to do, this would be a great way to show your support. Come meet and hang with our team and be entertained by some high school talent - we would sure love to see you. Here are the details:

Friday April 27th
The Church at Severn Run
8187 Telegraph Road, Severn, MD 21144
Doors at 6pm, show at 6:30pm
$10 cash at the door
There will be snacks for sale.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Friday Burn

::: American Airlines' AAirpass

::: Where is the OLPC now?
I bought one of these in 2007, big fan of the ideas behind it.

::: Sydney to split into 3 cities

::: Live to the point of tears. - Albert Camus via Jon Tyson

Photo: Blackheath, Australia.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Evangelism as Exploration

This raises the general question: How do churches effectively reach New Copernicans? My assessment is that churches need to provide authentic experiences of following Jesus into the arenas of their deepest longings (justice, beauty, love and spirit), giving them an opportunity to connect their personal story with a larger narrative of meaning, particularly couched in a relationally humble 3-D posture. Millennials want to see that you practice what you preach, that you love the world you live in through your work and not just your words.
Most importantly, this will require revamping how we think about, frame and teach evangelism. Even the word evangelism is a stumbling block for many millennials. The immediate reaction is "What are you trying to sell me or do to me that I don't want?" This is a fair reaction in light of the church's typical approach. We need a new picture for evangelism. It is less about closing a mortgage as joining an exploration.
- The New Corpernicans, Millennials and the Survival of the Church - David John Seel, Jr.

Monday, April 16, 2018

IG Team Meeting #6

When we get the chance, most years that I lead teams, I try and drag the team to a Perspectives class when I can. If I'm teaching it, I'll intro the team to the class too. It gives our team a chance to learn some of the content in the class, which is still one of the best collection of content about global missions, and it inspires and challenges the people taking the class. If a 16 year old has signed up to spend 2 weeks in an unreached city, what are you doing about your convictions?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Ember April Dinner

In the Spring of 2011, I met David Huey at a Dream Year weekend here in DC. We hit it off based on lots of similarities, including both of us running a nonprofit as a 'hobby', day jobs in technology, and a passion to live lives larger than just ourselves. David runs Hungry For a Day and we've kept in touch over these many years. David was gracious enough to fly up here to be our Ember April dinner guest. Some notes from our conversation below:
The book that changed it all - A million miles in a thousand years by Donald Miller
Wanted to live a significant life just wasn't sure how. A life having a good job and going on good vacations wasn't enough.

Made some money even before they knew they needed it.
Sold college football t shirts, made about $3K
About a year and a half later, started Hungry 4 A Day

Bless others out of abundance
Inspire others to sacrifice
Give out of excess of time, treasure, talents
Did not want to be the primary financial donor for his nonprofit
Other people give way more than he does

Basic premise is that people can choose to donate money to specific projects sponsored by H4AD. Most projects last 2 months. Some samples include:
Serenity steps sex industry hot dogs and prayer
Got a food pantry up and running
Food truck in st pete that makes gourmet pb&j sandwiches - buy 1 and 1 gets given away
Set up a bakery in an Iraqi refugee camp
Thanksgiving project where they partner with churches to do thanksgiving meals. Started with 50 people first year now up to 22k people last year.

God provides when you don't know it
Someone wanted to give them a truck
They had decided early on that they did not want to be in the food distribution business so no warehouses, trucks, etc.
They accepted the truck and then found out someone else in their network needed it.

Ideal partner org for them is someone with a small budget not a huge operation.

Favorite Book - A million in a thousand years Donald Miller
Favorite Place - Iceland or Hawaii
Favorite Food or Meal - Mexican food
Another career - I actually love my job

How often do you go hungry for a day
2 or 3 times a year

How many sought out Jesus from tday outreach

Gave up NFL and fantasy football to get things done

Advice for young people:
Travel when you can
Get out of your own biases

Monday, April 09, 2018

Creative Revenue Plans - 2018

Ember believes that missionaries of the future will rely on a 'portfolio of revenue.' [credit for this term goes to Ben Arment.] In other words, they will need to actually make some money outside of personal donations. Since 2013, our summer teams have been required to dream and execute a Creative Revenue Plan - a way to make some income based on their talents and gifts. This unique income will go directly towards 10-25% of funding of their missions experience. Prayer and financial support letters are also required.

Creative revenue has proven to be one of the most exciting things happening with our teams every summer. Their required inception makes students imagine what using their skills look like. The execution of the plans requires dealing with customers, communicating both about the product/service and the why behind it, and experimenting with pricing and costs. And over the course of 3 months, students get to see incremental progress that amounts to a pretty significant financial bonus. Since 2013, this creative revenue has totaled to be just over $20K, averaging about $4K every summer.

Photo: One of the team's offerings this year, bath bombs.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Friday Burn

::: Wheat in heat

::: I am the Nameless African from Your Last Instagram Post

::: It is Time to Reckon with Celebrity Power

Good Friday in Sydney

Cross equals love. Thank you Hillsong.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Pinetops Foundation - The Great Opportunity Report

Some of you might be interested in this report entitled "The Great Opportunity - The American Church in 2050.' Published in February from the Pinetops Foundation, it is a very interesting and dense [139 pages!] read and I found it via a tweet from Jon Tyson. In essence, the Foundation asked themselves what the best use of their money. What they found was that the American church is at a pivotal moment in history, what they called 'the largest missions opportunity in American history.'

Their recommendations circle 5 major initiatives: Church Planting, Youth Missions and Formation, Digital Platforms for New Audiences, Caring for the Poor, and Cultural Leadership. A few highlights and suggestions from the report:
::: Starting New Churches
+ Need to triple church planting efforts for the next 30 years
+ Average church size - 186 people
+ Median size is 75 people
+ One church per 680 Christians in America today
+ 4000 church plants start every year. 3700 churches close every year - net 300. Not even close to keep up with population growth.
+ New churches are the most effective form of evangelism.
+ Real estate investment trust - hold properties for church planting.

::: Mission for Youth [obviously the section I was most interested in]
+ "However, we are learning from the data that a youth-group model as the primary means of forming young people in a culture that is increasingly at odds with the Gospel is not enough. What does work is actively serving together on missions (domestic and foreign), active training in what following Jesus means, and serving alongside other adults in the church."
+ Surprisingly, one of the least impactful factors on substantial faith was a teen’s peers. It is the adults in their lives that ended up having the most impact, contrary to what we may think of teen culture.
+ "Historically, great movements of faith have been catalyzed by mission minded youth. In many cases, the very act of moving out in faith creates the context for faith to be strengthened and confirmed. It is our desire to see the next generation mobilized for missions for the sake of those both inside and outside the church."
+ "Critical opportunities for youth formation are missed when youth are not integrated into the fabric of the church, encouraged in their faith by multiple adults, and given opportunities to lead in corporate worship and missions."
+ Creation of a gap-year program prior to or during college that emphasizes cross-cultural evangelism or integration into a church plant.

::: Reaching New Audiences for a Digital Age
+ PewDewPie - 55M youtube subscriptions, 15B views. 75x more than total number of people that heard Billy Graham preach live over his whole life.
+ Casey Neistat - 2B views, 7.6M youtube subscriptions. Would constitute second largest denomination, behind the southern Baptists.
+ 2% of all people on Twitter follow a religious leader, house of worship or pastor.
+ "There is a conspicuous lack of Christian innovators and communicators among prominent social media innovators and leaders, and none that we could find with a substantial presence focused on those outside the faith about the faith."

::: Caring for the Poor
Increase church-driven care for the poor via better approaches to resource mobilization
Increase the effectiveness of church-driven care for the poor via investments in social entrepreneurship, cross-church collaboration, and more effective tools
Help the broader society see the good works already being done via awareness building

+ For example, time and time again empirical data demonstrates that people give more:
In response to an optimistic vision and hope for change, instead of an appeal to guilt and shame.
When there is a compelling vision instead of an appeal to “keep the lights on.”
When there are social proofs—people know that their peers and people they respect are also giving.
When they can connect with the recipient on an individual or emotional level

+ Mentions for
Praxis Labs
[I've been following Praxis Labs for a few years now and love what they are about and how they do it.]
When Helping Hurts
+ Elevate PR efforts [see Dan Pallotta - The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong]

::: Building Long term witness - Christians on the university campus
+ We believe that if we are to see millions of youth come back to Christ, and millions more accept him for the first time, we need both a strong ground game of local church ministry reaching one person at a time and a strategic long-term effort to articulate the Gospel in our culture. To do both well, we believe we need to reinvest, like we once did, in leadership development pipelines that equip emerging leaders to articulate the Gospel persuasively and with distinction in the world. We also think we need to invest in and help convene Christian academic and thought leaders who inhabit the front lines of thought and discovery and are wrestling with the ideas of our time. It is as Mark Noll wrote over two decades ago: “The scandal of the Evangelical mind is that there is not much of one.”
+ Dense networks
+ Clapham Sect [see more here]
+ Top 40 colleges, Christians comprise less than 5% of professoriate
+ Christian tutors in the Roman Empire
Obviously lots of other great information in this report - I highly recommend downloading it and at least skimming the Intro and the Summary. Here's a few other reflections with regard to The Ember Cast:

+ The gap year idea is a big win. We've sought to do this when we can even though these have been either a summer or semester in duration and these have been some of our most fruitful projects. Whenever we have done it, it has been centered around a church plant. [Summer Sends - Poland, Arizona (1 and 2)
+ Designing a gap year, helping drive more funds to the poor, serving in a church plant, creating a digital platform - all of these require someone that can dream and execute. Both of these skills are exceedingly rare but both can be taught and learned. If anything is needed in the global missions space, it is future leaders that can dream missionally and then roll up their sleeves and get to work. We at The Ember Cast see both of these skills as vital for the emerging generation and they form a subtle backdrop to our culture.
+ These kinds of initiatives and the people involved will push the imaginations of the leadership for many existing churches. Big challenge.
+ If you start a church, you should start it with the DNA that you will reproduce, right from day 1.
+ Lots of adults that work with students, me included, default to the perspective that peer identity is the most important thing to a teenager. But the fact is adults can make more of a difference when we invite, engage and challenge students to live lives that are bigger than themselves. Those of us that work with students need to be reminded of this often.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Raise the Bar - Mission Support Letters

If you've been around Ember, you know I am extremely overly critical on this every Spring: the average mission support letter is an example of mediocrity. Most letters encourage the prospective missions person to spend minimal time and effort presenting an idea to someone else. We see others blast social media with links to GoFundMe pages and then just wait for funding to roll in. We do the minimum when it comes to engaging people that are normally thrilled to support us. Sadly, a lot of people have turned support raising into sales transactions.

Instead, my suggestions - take them for what it is worth:
1 - Spend 4 hours designing a nice looking letter. Get some ideas from newsletter templates on Google Docs or Microsoft Word. You can ask me too - I have about 25 great examples.
2 - Resist the urge to blast your socials with links for support. People want to hear from you, but not like that.
3 - Lean on sending your letter to people that you know would be thrilled to support you and what you are doing - you know who these people are. Save a small percentage of your letters to give to people that would be long shots - they might be interested but might not.
4 - Follow up when you get support - thank you note, email, text message within 24 hours.
5 - Seriously consider using your talents, gifts and network to augment the support you need to raise. But that is another topic.

If you see yourself in vocational ministry or nonprofit work for the long haul, you will need to raise money. And many times, this is a leading indicator of whether or not you can actually do the work. Get in the habit now of doing it right.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Friday Burn

::: Everything You Wanted to Know about Shipping Containers and More

::: MIT's New Device Can Pull Water from Air

::: The Rise of a non-Christian Europe

::: We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims. - R. Buckminster Fuller

Photo: Lunch. Highlandtown Baltimore. March 2018.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Steeple to Street - Notes

I made it to the Steeple to Street conference for just Saturday last weekend which was put on by an org called Fresh Expressions US. Obviously interesting to me:
"More and more churches are taking seriously the call to engage with their communities...and many more would like to. But this new mission landscape is going to need new skills of leadership. Bold, risk-taking, creative, discerning leadership. Leaders who will move to the mission edges and foster fresh expressions of church. Leaders who will take on the adaptive challenges within existing churches to catalyze new energy for mission. Leaders who will make room for experiments and risks for the sake of the gospel."

The real reason that I saw this was because Alan and Deb Hirsch, whom I consider mentors from afar, were speaking at the event and I am drawn to the same types of people they like to hang with. Their thinking and writing has informed a lot about how we do student missions leadership and in the summer of 2008, they were so gracious to spend a little time with a student team we were leading. When you know you are responsible for your own development and growth, you'll go out of your way when a mentor is speaking close to where you live.

And a few personal convictions that were part of the flavor of this gathering: there is a limited lifespan left in the church as most of us know it, "all kinds of churches for all kinds of people" and most of us have no idea how to prepare students today to be leaders for the future.

Steeple to Street had a sweet ethos to it - gracious, a posture of learning, and an open hand to let the Lord lead. Lots more young people than a usual church leadership gathering. Mostly white people. Not your standard evangelical stream either - lots more Methodists and Episcopalians than I am used to.

Below are my notes - feel free to skip, skim or borrow with attribution.

+ Plenary - Iosmar Alvarez
People talk about the Holy Spirit like He is a dog or a river. He is a person.
Key to prayer is a clean heart and a clear mind.
Not about quantity, passion, posture.

Questions that we use to release people to do as God leads them:
1 - does it glorify God?
2 - is it ethical and legal?
3 - does it make disciples?
4 - does it expand this church?
5 - is it Biblical?

+ From Equipping the Organized to Organizing the Equipped - Alan Hirsch, Evelyn Sekajipo and Matt Lake
A committee keeps minutes and loses hours.

Begin with the end in mind
The church has deep muscle memory when it comes to change.
It is the end of the line for the church in default mode.
Movement thinking - the way we think about every believer.
Seed - potential for a forest
Spark - potential for a forest fire
[one of our favorite Ember mantras - In every apple, there is an orchard.]
You must see people as potential movements in the making.
Dunbar's number - most extroverts know 150 people. If they discipled 15% of their network, we would have a movement.
Movement - every person can reproduce the whole movement.
Everyone is in the game
Starfish vs Spider

Movements are DNA based organizations.
- core ideas and values
- low control high accountability
- discipleship culture

Dee Hock - VISA
Decentralized, not headquarters

Picasso - the best way to preserve tradition is not to wear your father's hat but to have children

Centered set vs bounded set
Perhaps there is a forum for both to meet

Movements begin on the fringe but they need pathways of learning

Matt Lake
Easier that we worship the teachings of Jesus rather than the person of Jesus.
We can organize the teachings, but Jesus call is messy
We have flattened Jesus to doctrine.
How do we build cultures to release people:
1 - Everything that talks about org talks about our R&D, apostolic side.
2 - 4 step DNA that we try to build into people:

We have organized people so well that they have lost their imaginations about mission.
Church culture - we train people to be good volunteers.
No imagination or dreaming - can't even get to that level.

Everyone is already failing in institutional culture, might as well try it in entrepreneurial culture.
In movement thinking, everyone has been given everything to get the job done.

How do you change culture
1 - Wendy Kopp - TFA - larger purpose and story
2 - my influence as the leader from every dimension possible

Evelyn Sekajipo:
Sometimes do not need to reinvent the wheel - find someone who is already doing what you are interested in and come alongside them
Invite the people you want to serve to the leadership table. We actually sometimes ignore the people we are serving or want to reach.

+ Mission Among the Hard to Reach - Alan and Deb Hirsch
"Microphones were created by misogynists" - Deb

Bounded set vs centered set - social theory
Bounded set - who is in and who is out is very clear
You are in and out based on if you
Believe like us
Behave like us
Belong to us

Clearly we are going for an encounter with Jesus where someone surrenders their life. And there is an element of who we think is in isn't in at the end. Jesus addressed the Pharisees in this same manner - you are good on the outside but your heart is awful. There are indicators to - know you by your fruit.

Centered set - concentric circles surrounded something at the middle - Jesus
Every human is in relation to Jesus somehow. He is calling of all humanity to Him.
Not about closeness, but rather their orientation, pointed to Jesus or not. Our job is to point people to Him.
Mt 28:18 - a discipleship text vs an evangelistic mandate
Pre and post conversion discipleship - disciple someone, teach them to live like Jesus before they actually make the decision
Humanity made in the image of God first and foremost - not terrible sinners in need of redemption [so important see Eldredge on this]

Incarnational Principles

Where you stand determines what you see.
3rd places - fertile way of looking at the world.
American - narrow vs extended family
Use your home as mission - house church movement
Pub outreach team - to be on the team you had to be able to say the F-bomb without flinching. Most couldn't do it - subtle way of alienating yourself away from the regulars in the pub.
The 3rd place for most Christians is their church, leaving little room for engaging the world.

Incarnational Contextual questions they have used
Pennies - rich or poor economy, how does money flow
Power - what is the power dynamic
Pain - who is struggling and why, find out what sucks and fix it
Parties - get in the middle of these
People of peace

Context forces you to contextualize
If you just start the same kind of church in your home, you do church badly - think worship band but done poorly. Can you worship somewhere in a public space without repelling people? How can you worship that draws people in?

+ Pioneering Panel
[Two terms the conferences uses a lot:
'pioneer' - the apostolic, entrepreneurial, trying it first, etc.
'Inherited church' - the already existing, more institutional church]

Q - Describe that first moment when you realized God was calling you to be a pioneer and advice around that idea
I started thinking of the term 'church unusual'
Noticing the marginalized
Don't negotiate with the Holy Spirit - obey immediately
Our community had the gift of desperation - term used in Recovery Community

Q - Words for people just a bit behind you in the journey
Do it with teams
Frustration can lead to callousness unless you are careful - sabbath, hobbies
Realize that you are maybe one of the permission givers - speak life into other pioneers

Q - Lonely moments - what keeps you in it?
God's call
I love my city - no one loves Denver more than I do
Doing what we do is not everything about us - have a life. Keep sure that ministry is not everything.

Q - Imagine you are speaking to another pioneer's leadership - what would you say to them?
Lead, follow or get out of the way but mostly get out of the way.
Make sure they know you have their back and come through with it.

Monday, March 19, 2018

IG Team Meeting #3

+ The Myers Briggs Type Indicator
+ Bridges video series
+ Check in for support letters

I use the MBTI religiously with teams - it is a fast forward for relationships and provides great and specific talking points for being a team. As you can see here, half of our team likes to improvise. Well, that should be fun.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday Burn

::: Here Come the MegaCities
By 2100, at least 10 cities are predicted to have populations over 50 million.

::: Affordable 3D Printed Houses
Debuted at SXSW, also check out some of the other cool social missions start ups are tackling.

::: Steeple to Street
The Church is rediscovering its identity in mission. More and more churches are taking seriously the call to engage with their communities...and many more would like to. But this new mission landscape is going to need new skills of leadership. Bold, risk-taking, creative, discerning leadership. Leaders who will move to the mission edges and foster fresh expressions of church. Leaders who will take on the adaptive challenges within existing churches to catalyze new energy for mission. Leaders who will make room for experiments and risks for the sake of the gospel.
I'll be at Steeple to Street on Saturday, would love to say hi if you are there.

::: Fortune sides with him who dares. - Virgil

Photo: Mt. Etna, and the 9 passenger van.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Ember March Dinner

Notes from dinner with special guests K and D.

Took Perspectives in the 1980s. Couldn't travel so started helping coordinate the class. Got involved in a bunch of mobilization stuff at home. Then could travel. Began making friends in the Middle East. Have traveled to a specific region there now 19 times over the past number of years.

Most exciting thing going on with missions these days:
Insider movements
Discipleship Making Movements
Fast growing church right now is in Iran.
Disciple people before they are believers.
Discovery Bible Studies - organic simple way to study the Scriptures.

Advice for young people:
Faithful - faithful in the small leads to being faithful in the big.
Available - you have the most free time right now when you are young. Availability is also related to financial availability - do not incur a lot of debt for college - this directly reduces your availability.

Involved in Partners for Transformation - a group of pastors that have prayed for Baltimore every week for over 10 years. Two incredible nonprofits sprung out of relationships in that group.
Don't make people your projects. They know when they are. Just build bridges of love and love them as friends.
Middle Eastern culture loves to talk about religion. Take advantage of that - don't be scared of it.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Vision, Budget and Cattle

That phrase will echo on my auditory cortex forever: vision beyond your resources.
That phrase has become a mantra at National Community Church and is inspiring us to continue dreaming irrational dreams. We certainly practice sound financial management, count the cost of every vision, and steward every penny in a way that honors God, but we refuse to let our budget determine our vision. That would be poor stewardship because it's based on our limited resources rather than on God's unlimited supply. Too often we butcher our God-given dreams because we forget the simple fact that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Don't let fear dictate your decisions. Letting your budget determine your vision is backward. Faith is letting your vision determine your budget. And if your vision is God-given, it will most definitely be beyond your ability and beyond your resources. Why? Because then God will get all of the glory! And I promise you this: the God who gives the vision is the same God who makes provision.
- Mark Batterson, Draw the Circle
NCC and PM impressed this upon me in 2013. It is absolutely true and when The Ember Cast dreams of projects, the viability of them are never based solely on the finances.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Friday Burn

::: Dolly Parton Donates 100 Millionth Book to Children in Need

::: A New Generation Redefines What It Means to Be a Missionary
Link via Justin Long

::: Muslim Connect
My friend Shane writes a Muslim Connect, a 300 word, weekly email that I enjoy about how we can trade apathy, anxiousness or anger toward Muslims for biblical love and engagement. It’s super short, very practical and sometimes funny. Sign up here.

::: The invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck. - Paul Virilio

Photo: Highlandtown, Baltimore. March 2018.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

2017 In Numbers

1 ProtoGuide for 3 months
1 short term missions team training event : 6 hours of missions team building for 60 people
2 local church based missions conferences : teaching 6 sessions for 120 people
2 student team community impact projects : 12 hours of community impact service learning for 30 students
2 summer teams including 2 team members sent to Poland for 6 weeks and 6 team members to Italy and Poland for 2 weeks
2 Ember monthly dinners involving 13 people
3 missions leadership events : 36 hours of coaching and practical training for around 70 people
4 Perspectives classes teaching - 12 hours of teaching for a total of 75 people

This is pretty informative picture on everything The Ember Cast was involved in last year and I'm super proud of just about all of that work. Thanks to many of you for your portfolio of support, including prayer, financial and moral support.

It is however, very important that we balance that picture with one of our favorite mantras:
"Disciples are made on the road, not in rows." - Kim Hammond

Monday, March 05, 2018

IG Team Meeting #2

+ Icebreakers during the drive from the 25 Best icebreakers ever
+ Serving with a refugee weekend program which included games with kids, futball with high school kids [Sam made numerous goals and was the only girl], English lessons and lunch.
+ Our team knows that in some contexts like this, we will have to be very friendly and make our own fun. These are integral skills for people that are interested in starting things from nothing in different cultural contexts. This day was good practice.

* Missing a few pieces of our team

Friday, March 02, 2018

Friday Burn

::: The Pineapple Fund Has Given $86M to Charities so far

::: These are the World's Most Miserable Economies
Link via Justin Long

::: The Student Activists of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High
Now it’s time for them to change the conversation around education in America, and not just as it relates to guns in the classroom. The effectiveness of these poised, articulate, well-informed, and seemingly preternaturally mature student leaders of Stoneman Douglas has been vaguely attributed to very specific personalities and talents. Indeed, their words and actions have been so staggeringly powerful, they ended up fueling laughable claims about crisis actors, coaching, and fat checks from George Soros. But there is a more fundamental lesson to be learned in the events of this tragedy: These kids aren’t freaks of nature. Their eloquence and poise also represent the absolute vindication of the extracurricular education they receive at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

::: Romantic love will get you to the mission field but sacrificial love will keep you there. - Deb Hirsch

Photo: Decompression, Union Station DC. Feb 2018.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Training Plans

California, Italy, Maryland, Virginia. It has never been easier to connect.

This is a planning session for the Ember IG team discussing some elements of training. Our local on the ground team requires teams go through some specific training so we are bringing in some other guests for specific cross cultural topics. If you are involved in student summer missions, you should be doing the same kind of planning right now. In fact, you are a little late.

But there is hope. The statistics bear it to be true, teams that prepare, even with the smallest amount, do far better than teams that don't. Reach out if you need some simple suggestions.

Monday, February 26, 2018

IG Team Meeting #1

Sam, Emily, Deanna, TM, Niall, Jolie, Meghan.
[Remote - Shannon, Andrew]

Our first team meeting for the Ember 2018 IG team. Two of our team are remote and there is a possibility of one or two more joining in the next few weeks. Great fun including:
+ Support letter overview - make it not suck.
+ Creative Revenue Plans.
+ Schedule - 15 or so meetings over the next few months including some serving together. Half of our team will be out of the country in late June to early July so we are adjusting that.
+ "The key ingredient to building trust is not time. It is courage. "- Patrick Lencioni
+ Hearing about some dreams for the future [this is a question on our Ember application]

I'm thrilled about this team - they are full of passion and action. I'm excited for us to travel and learn together and to impact someone somehow during this whole project. This team brings a new level of energy to The Ember Cast.

The future requires some of us to start new, adapted, innovative structures for missions - global missions won't bear the friction of the status quo. I'm marking history by telling you that some of this team will be the ones to start these new structures. You heard it here first.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Friday Burn

::: Billy Graham, from one of his grandkids
Best one I read.

::: The Longest Walk on Earth

::: Recovering from Jet Lag

::: The church in America is overprogrammed and underdiscipled. - Will Mancini

Photo: Ember Guides, SSDC. Feb 2018.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Happy happy Deanna

One of the most difficult years in recent times. But you have been faithful, steadfast, and relentless. Your hope has not wavered and you have been a deep optimist. People know that Jesus walks with you.

Here is to a better year. Happy birthday. Thanks for letting me win at mini golf.


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.

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.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Friday Burn

::: New Blockchain Project Gives Homeless New Yorkers a Digital Identity

::: The UN Special Rapporteur on Poverty Tours Poverty in America

::: The Studio D 2017 End of Year Report
Always inspiring.

::: We are what they grow beyond. - Yoda.

Photo: Worship, racquetball court. Sopron Hungary, August 2008.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Randoms With Katie

+ Polish Christmas Caroling in Fells Point, a family birthday tradition.
+ Her January term class is called "Children, Youth, and Sustainable Development of the World's Cities." Sounds like something Ember peeps would love. She'll spend a few days in India as part of the class. [See, Mommy and I knew you would enjoy college...]
+ Conversations have included topics like how class structure contributes to different economic infrastructure of countries, the tension between freedom and liberty versus a high quality of life, and how Emirati weddings are contexts for moms to find good grooms for their daughters.
+ Banking for someone like this can be challenging. She had a savings account with a little local bank since she was a little kid and they don't support global nomads very well. We opened an account with Citibank which seems like a good choice with their branches in global cities.
+ Her and Em made us dinner the other night and then made us watch Collateral Beauty.