And...

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My whole life I thought I would be a stay-at-home-mom. There was no other option in my head. I even picked a degree where a successful freelance career was a viable option so that I could stay at home and make a little side cash.

And then I grew up.

When Marc and I got married and moved to Maryland, I was disappointingly unemployed and had no job prospects in sight. Those first few months of being at home I had nothing to do, nowhere to go, and no answer to the nondescript call I felt in my soul. This sunk me into a depression where the most impressive accomplishment I could claim was pounding several seasons of Hoarders on Netflix. (Why did I even do that to myself?) This was my first indication that stay-at-home life might not be for me. I quickly dismissed the doubt to not having a baby around to keep me busy and binged the next season of Hoarders.

Fast-forward to August 2016. My pastors kept saying to me "if you decide to come back after the baby comes," and I was laughing in their faces and saying, "You're going to have to try harder than that to get rid of me." So what changed in those 5 years? Confidence in my call.

God has clearly called me into the role I'm in professionally. And God has called me to be a mother (sooner than I was planning to be...but that's another story for another time). 

And.

I don't think God calls us to be one-trick ponies. I think he calls us to seasons of slowing, seasons of minimizing, seasons of intense focus on one thing, but they are just that, seasons.

Hang on, before you stomp of in a hissy because you think I'm attacking SAHM status, chill out and finish reading.

God calls each of us in different ways. For me, I can confidently leave my son with his sitter day-in and day-out because I know he's calling me to be Caleb's mom and a full-time leader at Severn Run. Some of my friends are rocking part-time job status. Others are totally rocking full-time SAHM status. But I also see lots of moms losing track of their call, and suddenly they can't find their "and" anymore. Why is that? What distracts us from discerning our divine callings?

It has to do with who is at the center of your universe. Discernment of your call only comes one way:

But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.

When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others.
— 1 Corinthians 2:10-15

In order to have a clear understanding of your call, you need to have God's Spirit in you, driving you. This means Jesus needs to be the center of your universe, always.

For most of us it's probably way easier to keep Jesus at the center of our universe pre-baby, because the only one you're kicking out of that center spot is yourself. (Let's be honest, you were the only other person you were letting into the center spot, sorry hubs). Enter baby. Those cute eyes, chubby cheeks, and gummy gums wriggle their way right into the center of your universe before you even know what's going on. That's when everything changes. That's when you dismiss your "and." That's where insecurity, discontentment, judgement, and a host of other things sneak in and try to take over. Suddenly you're in a whirlwind of feedings, poo diapers, emotions, and tears and you can't see anything else...because your baby is at the center of your universe. No wonder we forget our “ands."

And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.
— Portions of Hebrews 12:1-2

If your kid is at the center of your universe, you aren't keeping your eyes on Jesus. If you aren't keeping your eyes on Jesus, you're going to start missing out on your call. 

😱 "But if I don't make sure that my kid gets everything he needs to be successful, who will?!" 😱

Jesus will! And Jesus will through you. And he will equip you with the resources you need at the times you need them in order to ensure you successfully be mom and ________ .

And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.
— 2 Corinthians 9:8

You cannot ignore your call to be God's daughter, to keep Jesus at the center of your universe. If you're reading this and noticing that your kid is the center of your universe, take a step out of the whirlwind and shift your center. Pray. Fast. Read. Ask your friends to join you in the journey as you rediscover your call, your "and." Once you do, you can confidently take steps knowing that you are living your call and that your child is well-loved and cared for, not just by you, but by your Father in Heaven as well. Take the time to discern your calling, and then act! Your calling may not be a career calling. Stay-at-home-mom is very much a calling, and most of the SAHMs living in their call will tell you that they also have "ands." Maybe it's baller church finance volunteer, or go-to babysitter, or a volunteer mentor at an inner-city women's program. Our calls are going to look different and come in varying sizes, shapes, and colors. Remember the end of 2 Corinthians 2:15: "Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others." Know your call, and confidently walk in it! Imagine what the Church of the Living God can do if we, mothers, make sure that we aren't getting sucked up into the crazy of kids and instead gloriously live out our "ands" in Jesus' name.

What "and" have you been ignoring? It's time to readjust your universe, sister, you got this.

One Bite At A Time

I recently joined a fun Facebook Group called "Church Communications" (side note, remember when Facebook groups were things like "Blue is the best M&M" and silly things like that? We've come a long way). Anyway, a question popped up there right after I joined:

Trying to start a Communications team so that I am not the only one doing all the work. Do any of you have documentation that you can share? Do you have a budget for subscriptions? I need a proposal for our administration to show my plan and the need and what kind of money we need. Do you have a schedule for posting? Any other helpful information and documentation would be great.

When I mentioned that I had some resources to share, lots of folks wanted in so I thought a blog post (it's a long one, hang on) would be the best way to distribute this stuff for now.

Background: I'm the Communications Director at The Church at Severn Run. Right now we are about 1,300 folks and growing. When I started three years ago we were holding at 800 folks on average. Now I'm a full-time staff member, but when I started I was very part time, so I immediately starting building a volunteer team to help me do all the things we needed to do in order to build a previously non-existent Communications/Creative/Marketing Department. Three years, and a lot more hours per week later, I still heavily rely on my volunteer team to get things done for a couple of reasons: 1) There is only one of me and lots to do; 2) My teams are better at the things they do for Severn Run than I am; 3) The body of Christ should be involved in making the church great! See Ephesians 4:11-13 for inspiration.

So how do you get started building this team? You know that silly question, "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." Same. Start one piece at a time and then slowly build. It's taken me three years to get a team functioning as highly as it is now, but it is still undergoing some restructuring and reorganization regularly to make sure we are doing things the best way. Below outlines how I started, and how I think you can start too.

1) Create Your Team - On Paper

Here is an example of my most updated Team Commitment Document, which is really fun to compare to my very first team meeting notes from 2013 which I have kept for sentimental reasons on Google Drive (to your advantage). This part is pretty difficult, but absolutely imperative in order to have a well functioning team. It puts you all on the same page right from the get go.

Elements to be aware of:

Overall team purpose: this should be closely in line with your church mission. You exist to support the church!

Continual Team Goals: these are the goals that stay the same year in and year out. They will very rarely change and they exist to help you sift through the myriad of project requests you will receive. If you get requests that do not line up with your goals or purpose, it's much easier to say "nope can't do it!"

Team Structure: My team is made up of several skill teams that are led by volunteer leaders: Writing, Marketing & Social Media, Graphic Design, Web, Photography, Videography, Fine Arts, and Stage Design. You will need to really assess your own church's needs and resources to determine what teams you want to create. For instance, if you are a really small church with very limited financial resources, you may not want to have a Videography team because there are resources like Igniter Media and Worship House Media for sermon illustrations and services that can help you make video announcements. This is probably more affordable than buying up all of the equipment that you need to do these types of projects well yourself. Once you figure out the teams that you need, these Skill Teams will really help you spread the workload out quickly!

Team Member Expectations & Commitment: These are so important because it allows you and your team members a way out that is clear and agreeable if it ever gets to that point. Newsflash! Creatives are especially flaky when we are given all the freedom in the world. When you are clear and concise with your expectations, most of us will rise up to the occasion and rock your world. My favorite commitment here is to learn how to create with an open hand. This leaves room for you and your team leads to provide feedback without it coming across as controlling. When you expect feedback, it's easier to receive. The hardest expectation is communication, hands-down. Be ready for lots of texting and phone calls because email communication is the WORST. I love Basecamp for team communication, but there is a learning curve in getting team members to use it. So prepare your phone, leader.

Time Sensitive Goals: Break these up to yearly, quarterly, monthly, and daily commitments based on what's happening in  your church that year.

Leader Guidelines

Because you want to divide up the workload, the next step will be to create similar expectation sheets for your Skill Team Leaders. I have one for each team leader with specific expectations of how they should communicate with me, their teams, and ministries as well as what projects they should focus on and how. The temptation will be to wait until you have a leader before you make these expectations, don't do that! This sheet will be a great recruiting tool for you so get on it first.

2) Recruit!

Now that you have your team on paper, it's time to start recruiting. Spend every second you have on the weekends at your church talking about your new team, to anyone and everyone who will listen. One-on-one conversations are great for recruiting this team. You will get references and people will start pointing others they know to you. As you recruit have two things ready: your team commitment, and your first meeting date and time.

3) Team Meetings

These have ended up being much more important than I thought they would be! I'm an introvert and like to just get things done quietly most of the time, but it turns out that creatives doing volunteer work do really well when you can remind them why they are serving and how they are making a difference. When we first started at Severn Run, we met as a whole team monthly. It helped us establish a culture and get to know each other, and we were small. We had 4-10 people coming regularly and we grew close and really turned into the core of my team now. This is really hard on you, leader, but worth it in the long run. It can be difficult to stay encouraged when you hit lulls, fail at a project or two, or lose your first team member, but hang in there and keep teaching your purpose until you are blue in the face. It will catch on, and even better your team leads will take notes from you and be able to do this when they start meeting on their own.

Now, my skill teams meet monthly, I meet with the leaders quarterly, and we meet as a whole only yearly around Christmas to celebrate the year we had and get ready for the year ahead. As we have grown, people have become much more specialized so our skill teams needed to meet more regularly than our overall group. This is our first year doing this and so far it has been a great model for our larger (think 40 person plus) team.

4) Nuts & Bolts

Now you need to start working with your team leaders to create tools that will help your current team members do projects well, and new team members to jump in easily. Also you want to have resources for ministries, small groups, and events so that they can work with your team effectively. Here are a few resources I have created for my church (click the title to see an example):

Special Interest Ministry Communications Plan
This is for our ministries, small groups, and events that reach less than 80% of our congregation. Large events and ministries that reach 80-100% of our audience get pretty much whatever they want, but we had to keep things clear for the smaller ministries who might feel like they are just getting ignored instead of helped in a strategic way.

Communications Pyramids & Social Media Expectations
This really helps my marketing and social media team most of all. It makes it really easy for me to guide this team on how they can best market (especially on social) announcement requests. I determine the priority level based on the ministry and relevance at the time of the request.

Mini-Brand Guide (In-Progress)
This is for designers mostly. It's missing some stuff (like fonts) but it's still in progress. Not surprisingly, my graphic design team is the smallest team I have right now because I tend to just do design instead of delegate it (my background is graphic design).

Writing Style Guide
This really helps marketing, social media, writing, and web. It helps us sound consistent and unified. We are going to be adding our favorite MLA rules to this guide as well.

Social Media Posting Cheat Sheet
Not going to lie, this one hasn't taken off for me yet. My social media team is awesome and we have a solid group of folks who have really found their niche in our social story, but I'm actively recruiting someone to help with the more boring "sales-y" posts. Once I find someone called to this, I think that this resource will help a lot!

5) Experiment with Collaboration Tools

There are so many tools that help volunteer teams who have to work in different locations at different times to collaborate. You need to assess what will work best for you and your team based on your needs, your personal abilities, and your financial resources. Here is what we use with my teams:

Basecamp - Project Management and Communication
I LOVE Basecamp. We recently switched to Basecamp 3 and it's absolutely phenomenal. It's great for each of my team members because you can keep up with it via email, an app on your phone or tablet, or via your web browser. There's really no excuse to not check it regularly and it's crazy simple to use. Also with Basecamp 3 you get UNLIMITED PROJECTS! Amazing. This let's you break up your teams easily and even projects within teams easily. Click here to watch a thrilling video of me explaining how I planned for my Marketing & Social Media Teams to use Basecamp 3. It goes into each available feature that Basecamp 3 offers. Also I recently heard that Basecamp offers a 25% off rate for Non-Profits, I haven't gotten that yet, but I will be looking into it. Find their pricing here. By the way, I doubt you will need clientside, so it's really pretty affordable.
Basecamp alternatives: Trello, Asana, Slack, Google Drive.

Buffer - Social Media Scheduling
Buffer is amazing for my social team. We used to use Hootsuite, but I was not a huge fan and it was harder to add team members to in the long run, also more expensive. Buffer has two levels of permissions for team members, Content Contributor and Admins. Content Contributors can create and schedule posts for whatever accounts you give them access to, but they will not post without approval. All of my team members, except my team lead, are contributors so that every post gets two pairs of eyes on them. This catches so many typos, and a typo, especially on Twitter, lives forever. The only bummer with Buffer is no Instagram scheduling. It has great analytics, easy posting, a browser extension, image creator, and a great app. We have the "Small" business plan for our team AND Buffer offers a 50% discount for non-profits. Check out their pricing here.
Buffer alternatives: Hootsuite, Sprout Social, Facebook Scheduling.

Mailchimp.com - Mass Emailing Service
We use Mailchimp to send out our nice church-wide email updates, a weekly devotional, and our weekly discussion questions. Mailchimp is great because you can have multiple team members contribute to campaigns and there are varying permission levels that will allow team members to make changes, but not hit send. Again, this is great for proofing! Mailchimp is also very user friendly. There are lots of drag-and-drop templates that you can use, or if you are a coding ninja you can code up your own templates as well. Mailchimp pricing is based on how many subscribers you are sending to, and many of you with smaller churches will be able to use it for free! See their pricing here.
Mailchimp alternatives: Constant Contact, Sendicate

Google Drive - File Sharing
We use Google Drive (which Google Apps for Businesses are free for non-profits and you get extra storage) for a lot of our file sharing, especially for the video team. Raw footage and final videos are exchanged via Drive so we aren't sending giant emails or exchanging hard drives in parking lots. My only gripe with Google Drive is accidental deleting. I once wiped out every stock photo we had. Dumb. Luckily I managed to recover them.
Google Drive alternatives: Dropbox

SmugMug - File Sharing
This is our NEWEST tool, suggested to me by my new Photo Team lead. SmugMug is cheap and allows unlimited storage of any file type. You can make public and private/password protected galleries and it's easy to tag, sort, and search for files in your SmugMug account. We are using SmugMug publicly to share baptism and event photos with our congregation, and we are using private folders to share resources around the Creative Team. Check out their pricing here. We are using their cheapest plan and it's working well so far!
SmugMug alternatives: Cloud Servers

Church Community Builder - Large Group Communication
We use CCB at Severn Run so I do have a large Creative Team group there as well. I use this group to send out full-team updates, scheduling events for the team, and recruiting. It is my least used tool right now. This is a huge investment that your entire church would make so I'm not going to get into the bonuses of how you can use this here.
CCB alternative: Facebook group, Slack

Lightstock.com - Stock Photography, Vectors, and Video
Lightstock is an amazing company with high-quality products. This year I joined their subscription service and their products have been a life saver for sermon graphics, social posts, and general advertising. They also give away a free photo & vector weekly and a free video clip monthly. There are a couple of subscription plans to choose from, or you can buy credits as you need them. Lightstock specializes in imagery for the church and they are getting better all the time with diversity in their images.
Lightstock alternatives: 123rf.com, istockphoto.com, and many, many more.

*By the way, I'm not getting paid to endorse any of these services.

Budgeting

The last part of the question above was about budgeting. This is the hardest part, especially for creative types.

  • The first thing you want to do is get a hold of your church calendar. Figure out what's coming up and find out if stuff is missing. This will help you determine what you need to market. Find out your biggest church events and be sure you understand what has been done in the past and if other departments have covered advertising pieces in the past. Now that your department exists, will you cover those costs or will they? Come up with some basic marketing ideas for each event and give yourself a nice cushiony budget to work with, and when the time comes to market that event, pretend you have very little money and do your best to stay in budget. Use recourses like gotprint.com, churchink.com and stickermule.com to see what kind of pricing you can expect on printed materials. Don't forget to factor in digital ads wherever you might want them. 
  • From there build your own calendar and plan in meetings, work nights, etc. Keep in mind that you will probably want to get snacks and drinks, maybe even meals for your team events.
  • Now factor in the tools you want to use. What subscriptions do you want to have? How much extra should you factor in for those times you can't find the perfect image on Lightstock? Is there any shiny new equipment that you want in the next year? What about programs like Adobe Creative Cloud (by the way, get a non-profit rate for Adobe CC through Genesis Technologies)? Might your Mailchimp list grow and bump you to the next payment tier? Try to consider all the options and factor them in.
  • You will want to consider team and leader appreciation. I try to get my leaders a gift each year and provide delicious food for the teams when I can. Anything I can to say "Thank you for what you do!" 
  • What about you? You need to learn and improve as well. Consider conferences, online seminars, and learning resources that you might want to use yourself and add those in as well. 
  • Here's an example of my spending lines for the year (note: the Gear Shop is a totally different ministry from what I've been sharing about above):

So, I think by now I've covered everything in the original question, but this is a lot of info and frankly, I could write an entire post about each section easily. I'm not blogging super regularly right now, but as specific requests come in, I'm happy to do my best to answer them when I can! Feel free to leave a comment below if you would like further explanation on something OR if you have an additional alternative resource to add that I may have missed (which I'm sure I did along the way). 

Keep up the good work, Communicators! Your job is difficult, but you can do it. And you can find your people and build an amazing team to support you and your church along the way. I will be praying for you!

Five.

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We handed out almost 1,000 of these jars on Sunday at The Church at Severn Run

Yep, tiny jars with a $5 bill in it.

Every person who sat through the end of our service this weekend got one, well every person who came forward to get one I guess...

Now you're probably thinking, "Who the heck wouldn't come get one of these?!" I'm not sure how many people skipped the $5 jar, but I bet a few did, because we got an assignment with this jar, one that we could take on, choose to ignore, or skip altogether.

Multiply. Gather. Grow.


Hang on, let's learn some back-story.

The Church at Severn Run is an amazing church. It's one of those churches that is known for its amazing people, not it's great building, great worship, or great sermons even though we have all of those things in my opinion. Our people are game-changers, life-changers, world-changers and they've taken on every crazy challenge that we've thrown at them over the last couple of years. And they haven't been easy challenges.

  • Take 30 invite cards and distribute them with your personal invitation. Done.
  • Put this sticker on your car. Done.
  • Join a Connect Group. Done.
  • Serve. Ok!
  • Write your God-given dreams on a wall for everyone to see. Done.
  • Paint a mural in Inner City Baltimore. Done.
  • Fast. Food, all of it, for a whole day. Done.
  • Post one of your biggest "asks" online for all to see and expect God to come through for you. Done.
  • Fast again. Your choice, but make it a sacrifice, for 21-Days. In-Progress.

These are just a few of the things I can think of that my church community has taken on and totally demolished. All the while faith has grown and people notice.

People notice because this doesn't exist in Maryland, especially not in the Baltimore-DC corridor. It's very post-Christian here. People here don't need church, don't need Jesus, don't need God. That's the norm, and it will stay that way until they see people who have Jesus. Not just the metallic Jesus that rests on a crucifix on your neck, the real Jesus who turns your world upside-down, shakes it out, rearranges it and then sends you back out as a radical world-changing agent. That's the Jesus that Severn Runners are face-to-face with each and every week in our gatherings. Many of them have taken on a personal relationship with that Jesus and are wrestling with him and growing with him daily, and people are noticing.

They're noticing because we're lead by a fearless pastor who hears from God and doesn't make excuses to avoid following him. The man is on his face (literally, yall) in prayer in his office for more hours than I sleep in a week, seeking God's next steps for our church. The craziest part of this whole ritual is that we actually do what God puts on his heart during those power-prayer sessions. Every stinking time. It's scary, challenging, stressful, stretching, and amazing.

For some reason I have gotten the crazy awesome privilege to not only be a part of this church community, but a part of the team who leads it. Here at the Mace Place, we're all in.


Multiply. Gather. Grow.

That's my paraphrase of the challenge. If you want to hear the heart of the whole thing, I encourage you to listen to this message to understand where it comes from: 

We were each asked to take this $5 and listen to how God would challenge us to use our gifts to grow this small investment. So here's how I'm doing it. With you! The only reason I didn't make social media part of my 21-day fast is because it's part of my job, so what better way to redeem my personal social media habits than by using it to grow what God has given me through my amazing church.

I would love for you to consider donating just $5 to my church right now. It's going to this all new Capital Campaign we're launching called, "On The Road." OTR's goal is to raise $6 Million to help us pay off our building and begin the nest egg for whatever the next logical step is in our overall goal to grow to a community of 5,000 Severn Runners (that's what I call these amazing life-changing Christians). Right now we are a growing community of 1,200 and space is getting extremely tight! We're already talking about launching a 4th (yes 4th) service time this year to help accommodate new folks, but we can only do so many services in one weekend so a new space will be needed sooner than later.

In a few weeks I will be introducing a more involved challenge to you, my online community, about how you can be more involved in this amazing journey (along with a bunch more information I've been working on with my team). But for now, could you drop $5 in my online "jar." I will be giving frequent updates on what this has done, but I'm making it a goal to bring in $1,500 this way by March 5. For now, keep it to $5, if you want to get more involved, hang tight, because I will be giving you an opportunity to do that later!

Here are some nuts-and-bolts on how this works. I've set up a PayPal.me Friends & Family page. That means that when you visit the link, don't click that checkbox about goods & services. Leaving that unchecked will allow you to donate $5 without any of PayPal's fees getting in the way. For now your donations are going into one of the Mace accounts and on March 5 we are going to make a withdrawal that includes all of your $5 donations plus mine, and bring it to Severn Run on March 6 as a part of the celebration we are having that day. I will be sure to tell you all about that day. I can't wait to share!

Thank you so much for participating in this crazy request! I'll see you in a few days with an update.

Four.

Cliché. That's how I feel right now. Only a brave impulse will actually get this post published. We will see if it happens, I guess.

New Years are always so weird. It's a chance for a "fresh start" but you're still living the life you were living 24 hours ago. I'm pretty cynical about the whole thing honestly. Maybe because I'm not much of a goal setter, or I've just never had high expectations for my year's achievements outside of getting decent grades in school, which I've been done with for several years now. I've only kept one New Year resolution in my whole life and it was to not add salt to my food (with the exception of my mom's cooking), which isn't really a great resolution. And now I'm back to salting things so...

My new year, new goals cynicism is such a bummer for my husband who is a goal-setting machine. He has always encouraged me to set goals each new year in several categories, but I never do, until this year. I think he almost choked on something when I told him I wanted to talk about 2016 goals the other day. He couldn't believe I was initiating that conversation. Honestly, it was weirding me out that I was initiating this conversation, and I actually avoided starting it for a long time because I still don't really want to set goals. But I'm going to...

2015 was just a shitty year for me. I don't even want to use a euphemism. I'm not sure that the internet will ever get to hear about why I hated 2015 so much, but I just did. I progressed in nothing. I re-read the only four posts I made in 2015 and I can see myself descending into the nothingness that 2015 would be. A couple of good things came out of 2015, don't get me wrong, but for the most part I was really not a fan.

The good news is that God is faithful. And he continues to whisper encouragement and growth into my life even when I'm firmly against it. And that's where this goals conversation came from. The whispers of my faithful Father. I told him several times I didn't want to do this or tell my zealous husband about it, but he disagreed with me, and ultimately he always wins.

So here are my unconventional, seemingly simple goals. They seem simple, but remember, I'm actually pretty new at this and I'm rebuilding myself this year. Each day I will do these four things: create one thing, read something, pray for one thing, clean one thing.

2016Goals

These goals will stay open ended and simple. Sometimes I will post a photo of my accomplishments. Sometimes I won't. Maybe this year I will create a few more blog posts. Maybe my sink will stay empty, and I'll vacuum the stairs finally. I might finish a book this year. I might be a part of a miracle. Only time will tell. Here's what I know for sure, this year will be different from last year, and it will be different than 2014, 2013, 2012, or 2011...and that's ok. In fact, it's a good thing...I think. :)

I've got a few additional self-disciplines I'm throwing in the mix this year too. But they are just tools that will help me do these four things each day. They are also pretty simple:

  • Don't come downstairs until I'm able to walk out of the house wearing what I will wear for the day (except for on slow Saturdays with Marc).
  • Only watch 3 half-hour episodes (or less) of Netflix/Hulu alone per day. Good bye binge watching.

2016 is here now. It's time to try this mess out. I'm definitely going to fail some days, but I'm giving myself the grace I would extend to anyone else this year. Here's to a new year and new things, friends.

Positive Affirmation

Did you see that Super Bowl commercial with Jeff Bridges? I sort of did, but it actually caught my attention when it reappeared on Squarespace's Twitter account. Obviously, I checked it out because it's silly. He's got this one Sleeping Tape Track called "Good Vibes" and it's hilarious. My husband and I laid in bed a few nights ago cracking up at it. Though I find this particular track of positive affirmation to be hilarious, the principals behind positive affirmation are awesome (and Biblical), and one I'm trying to practice with myself more often. I'm not quite to the out-loud part of positive affirmation, but you know, I think affirming thoughts to myself. Maybe I will get there?

Here are some positive affirmations I'm reminding myself of after a Sunday. As church communicators, we all know that Sundays are crazy, and if you aren't careful and intentional, we can walk out of every Sunday gathering deflated and discouraged. So remind yourselves of these truths with me, church communicators:  

"You are uniquely wired by god to be awesome at your call." - Tweet: You are uniquely wired by God to be awesome at your call. http://ctt.ec/USY6l+

"You are capable of leading, because God called you to lead others as you follow Christ." - Tweet: You are capable of leading, because God called you to lead others as you follow Christ. http://ctt.ec/F69Pc+

"You are more loved than you know." - Tweet: You are more loved than you know. http://ctt.ec/oMLEJ+

"You are probably over-analyzing that flaw." - Tweet: You are probably over-analyzing that flaw. http://ctt.ec/3uAZd+

"In your weakness, God is glorified, so think of it as a privilege and chance to glorify God when you need extra help along the way." - Tweet: In your weakness, God is glorified, so think of it as a privilege and chance to glorify God when you need extra help along the way. http://ctt.ec/3uAZd+

"Through your efforts, people will come to know Jesus." - Tweet: Through your efforts, people will come to know Jesus. http://ctt.ec/3uAZd+

Now get out there and change the world. 

How We Marketed Christmas 2014 at Severn Run in Print

UPDATE: I made some changes (2/2/15) in the results section after I realized that despite my husband's help, I still wasn't asking the right math questions. #embarrassing

We did something crazy for Christmas 2014 at Severn Run: 3 high-invite events. It felt crazy, but it’s what God was calling us to do. We hosted a concert event featuring our in-house band, The Worship Tribe, an all out Christmas Party to encourage connection between our folks, and then our traditional Christmas Eve Service to be the cherry on top of it all.

As you can imagine, marketing these things in conjunction with one another while giving the proper justice to each event in itself was a challenge. Add that to a tiny budget, and you’ve got an even bigger challenge.

Here is what worked best for us in print this season:

Ultimate Invite Packs

I absolutely love GotPrint.net (no they did not pay me for this endorsement...I wish). They make getting high quality print work ultra cheap, and it’s fantastic. Because of this amazing and affordable resource we chose to create an invite card for each event, each one a different size (based on our emphasis: connection). I made the highest return event (our Christmas party) the largest card, and our lowest return event (Christmas Eve) the smallest in order to make them easily distinguishable for Severn Runners.

Ordering cards is easy, but the distribution strategy is where a lot of churches get hung up. In many cases, print ends up being a waste of money because we aren't sure about the best way to get these materials into the hands of potential guests. This is where your congregation is key. We have the best core at Severn Run. The folks who are committed are die hard and all about our vision and reaching our community for Jesus which makes them our greatest resource. I bet you have a great core of people too. Know that they love your church, and they are looking for easy ways to invite people to experience it with them. Use your congregation as a resource!

Ok, you probably knew that, but how do you get them to participate and participate well? To make it simpler on our crowd, we took 10 of each of these cards and bundled them together with a packet of hot chocolate, one of our handy Severn Run 2.0 (brand building campaign) stickers, and a Livestrong style bracelet with our outreach phrase “Go After” printed on it. We called these bad boys the “Ultimate Christmas Invite Packet." We put these packets in our Atrium in a little area we call the Serving Spot, and the Creative Team manned this station for 5 weeks. Each time a member of Severn Run came up for a packet, my team gave them tips on how to best distribute the cards and how to talk about each event in a compelling, connecting, relational way.

Here's why this was helpful. It kept our over-zealous from grabbing up 1000 cards that they would not be able to effectively hand out without tossing 10+ cards on a Starbucks table. It also challenged the shy to take on a manageable, but impactful amount of cards. And it gave the lazy a break from counting. We also print these cards to be handed to individuals in the form of a personal invitation, because that is the most effective way to use print materials, which is why we had Creative Team members manning the Serving Spot. Their helpful tips gave people the confidence to strike up conversations with their oldest friend and the guy who rings up their groceries.

Finally, we issued a challenge from stage. Hear me when I say this: at Severn Run, stage time is now sacred. You only get on stage if you can engage 80+% of our congregation. So whatever is said up there is really important and our folks know it. So from stage, we told them how many packets we had (250) and how quickly we wanted them out in our community (4 weeks). This put the responsibility into a lot of hands, with a deadline. I’m so pleased and proud to say that all 250 packets were gone after week 2 of packet promo. And that's only because we told people what was important, why it was important, and how to get the job done. The math tells me that potentially 7,500 cards were out in our community beckoning folks to our events.

You might be thinking to yourself, "Well that's nice and all, but that's impossible at my church." Keep in mind, we are a congregation of 1000 (1100 on a good day) and we are putting out 7 times that in invite cards...all for under $700. Scale to fit your needs, set goals that are achievable (or just over achievable + a lot of prayer) for your church, and then watch how well this works for you!

Our results*:

  • For our Christmas Concert 1133 people attended, compared to the 1046 in 2013 (8.3% increase)

  • At our Christmas Party 1049** people attended, compared to 845 in 2013*** (24.1% increase)

  • At our Christmas Eve Services 1167 people attended, compared to 1104 in 2013 (5.7% increase)

  • For some perspective: Our 2014 average attendance 1046.31, our 2013 average attendance 988.58 (5.8% increase)

Let's do a little comparison here. The average return on a direct mail campaign is anywhere between 0.5%-2%, and direct mail is much more expensive than our Ultimate Invite Pack Campaign. We saw an average increase of 11.8% across our three Christmas events from our print campaign alone. That's a return of 4.7% on our printed card campaign. For the less math inclined, for every 100 cards distributed 5 first time guests walked through our doors, compared to the 1 or 2 people per 100 invites that would have attended due to a direct mail campaign. (We did a small amount of Social Media marketing, but not enough to those outside of our audience to be measurable).

As you can see, the events that we emphasized more with the card size and spoken influence from stage, saw a greater increase than our Christmas Eve Services (which we emphasized the least of the three). All in all, it was a great Christmas season for us, and we are continuing to see the positive results of this season into 2015! Just today, I received our attendance numbers from Sunday only to see that we have had our second consecutive record breaking "normal" Sunday attendance at Severn Run! We are so excited to see God moving in our community and rewarding our financially responsible marketing strategies. He can work in your communities too as you do the best you can with the resources you have!

What are some affordable and effective print campaigns that you have done? Do you have anything in mind for marketing Easter 2015? Leave a comment and let's see if we can all bounce some ideas off of one another!

*Thanks to my awesome husband, Marc Mace, for all the math help. Thanks to him these numbers are mathematically sound.

**This number is a low estimate. Many folks never made it to the Worship Center for the abbreviated service and only participated in party activities. I later found out we only tracked attendance in the Worship Center which resulted in this low number.

***For our Christmas party week, the corresponding week in 2013 was a typical Sunday. No special events were promoted.

Easter Inspired Spotify Playlist

How is your Easter planning going? We are just getting started at Severn Run, and I already feel behind. Isn't that crazy? I mean, it's January! I'm not quite used to the church world calendar even though this will be my third Easter. I'll get there eventually, right?

Anyway, I decided for this year that I would make a playlist with artful, Easter inspired music to help our Creative Team come up with amazing ideas. Turns out, it's pretty short, so I thought I would ask you for help!

Why?
Well, I find that music, though I know very little about it technically, really influences how I create. I bet it does for you as well, even if you haven't realized it yet. We are all different, so we will all be inspired by different sounds, lyrics, and tempos. Finding a few artists who draw out your best creativity while you listen really does improve those "buckle down and get serious" times.

So,
Here's the link: Easter Inspire
It's an open playlist which means you can add to it, so please do! And then you can also use it as you are working on your Easter plans to be inspired. While you're at it, follow me on Spotify and let us know if you have any "Get the creative juices flowing" playlists to share. Leave a link in the comments here so others can find it too! I will continue to build more intentional playlists for sharing as well.

Come back next week for some marketing inspiration!

2015

So I took an unannounced break over Christmas and New Year. It was nice and lazy! Once that little sabbatical was done, I jumped into my role at The Church at Severn Run on a FULL TIME basis! Yay!

I finished up my first week on Friday, and I'm now moving in to my second week as a full-timer. Having 40 hours each week to do my job at Severn Run was amazing last week! The unforeseen consequence of this is that I have to refigure my writing strategy. I don't have any content built up to schedule out quite yet either. So that's why I've been silent. Sorry!

That being said, blogging is a huge challenge for me, but I will keep doing it. And I will get better. In the mean time I wanted to follow up on my promise to be real and vulnerable to my readers by checking in and posting this ill thought out, un-proofread, late night post. So since I'm being real, and it's still early enough to claim "New Year" posts as ok, here are some ways you can pray for me in 2015:

  • Pray for this blog. I will rationalize quitting it as life gets busy. I'm still learning that my experiences have value. It's pretty easy for me to believe that I have nothing real to add to the world. Pray against that lie in my life.
  • Pray for my self disciplines this year. I'm attempting my reading goals again. I've established a place in my home for reading, praying, and quiet time (see photo) and I need to use it. It's crazy to me how much harder the mental/spiritual disciplines are than the physical ones were last year.
  • Pray for my work/life/freelance balance. I need to be more intentional in relationships this year.
10906201_10152862557441131_3073663425909538405_n.jpg

How can I pray for you? What are you hoping to accomplish or improve in this year? Leave me a comment and I will take it to my new praying chair!

Here's to an awesome 2015!

Watch Yourself, Millennial! Ways You Accidentally Offend: Part 3

If you missed Parts 1 & 2, be sure to check them out here and here!

So we've already talked about two big ways we accidentally offend others, and the third one is a little bit different:

YOU ARE YOUNG

This one is unavoidable, and it's not actually your fault. This part comes from a bit of unexpected personal experience, and I'm sure you will run in to it as well on your journey. I hope this post will at least make you more prepared for it.

The truth is, people don't like being led by others who are younger than they are, even worse if you are significantly younger than they are! I get asked at least once a week at Severn Run how old I am. Once I respond (and I do, because I'm not ashamed!), more often than not I hear "Wow! I have kids your age!" Here's a response you are welcome to steal if you often hear this as well: "Wow! So does my mom/dad!" This response has been wildly successful for me and here's why:

Generally, people tell you that they have kids your age as a way to either 1) put themselves down for their own age and accomplishments, or 2) give themselves permission to treat you like one of their children instead of as a leader. I've noticed my lighthearted response has been able to snuff out both of those underlying intentions quickly and with a laugh, which is always a good thing. It also removes your age as your defining factor and provides a little humanness to you.

Unfortunately, not all of these types of situations can be solved with such a lighthearted response. So far, I've only had one really bad incident of offending someone with my twenty-something leadership, and it was really tough! It happened on a Sunday, during services, and ended up with me being completely chewed out by the person that I offended right in the middle of our very populated atrium. Let me tell you this, I'm from the deep south, and I really take respecting folks seriously because, growing up, if I didn't, I was in deep, deep trouble. I'm so thankful for this ingrained character trait of mine (thanks mom & dad!) and honestly, I go over the top to respect those I lead who are older than me (and younger too). So when all of a sudden I thought I had disrespected someone, it tore me up quite a bit. I didn't sleep well that night because I was replaying every single bit of my interaction with this person over and over again trying to figure out where it was that I had crossed the line, and I just couldn't find it. I went to work the next morning, and the story of my public berating had gotten to my Executive Pastor. He called me to his office and we went over the entire situation a few times. By the time we were done, he assured me that he was taking care of this situation, and for me to not worry about it, oh and, "Welcome to ministry..."

We will all face people who are offended by our leadership because of our age. As I said earlier, this isn't our issue, but we do need to make sure that you are leading well to remain confident in this fact. In order to do this, first get yourself a good, professional mentor. Allow this person to call out the good and bad in your leadership situations, and take their advice to heart. Second, make sure that you are always following Jesus. If you are wholeheartedly seeking Jesus in your leadership you will be able to confidently look at anyone, any age and say "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." - 1 Corinthians 11:1

Back to my story, two weeks later I found myself in a meeting with the individual I had offended, my Executive Pastor, and another co-worker...and it was suuuuper awkward. My EP and my co-worker knew (and still know) that I'm seeking Christ in my leadership, so after a lot of talking, apologizing, and explaining it was really easy for my EP to call the situation as it was...a problem of age. This isn't a sunshine and rainbows story — from what I know, this individual quit their ministry and still hasn't rejoined because of my leadership — but I am still leading confidently because this is not an issue of my heart. I still pray for this person regularly, and I still go over the top to show respect to the people in our congregation, but I also stick behind my leadership decisions confidently, even though I'm only 25.

Another thing you should take away from my story is that you should be leading in an environment and under leaders who love and respect your leadership no matter how young you are. And be sure to remember that scripture backs you up, "But it is the spirit in man (or lady), the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right." - Job 32:8-9 (emphasis added); "Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity." - 1 Timothy 4:12. This problem is as old as time itself, so don't take it personally when someone (inevitably) disrespects your leadership because of your age.

Keep following Jesus. Keep moving forward. Keep leading. The church needs you. And one day when you are one of the old farts in the world, you'll remember what it was like to be a disrespected young leader sometimes, and your choice to instead respect young leaders will bless them (and you) immensely.

Watch Yourself, Millennial! Ways You Accidentally Offend: Part 2

If you missed Part 1, be sure to check it out here.

YOU DON'T KNOW IT ALL

This one goes back to growing up along side the internet. Seriously, the Internet and I went through our toddler phase, and even awkward adolescence together (Xanga anyone?). It's no wonder we are so quick to turn to the Internet to solve all of our problems and answer our questions. And I have to admit, I am an awesome Googler. I have legitimately impressed some of my older co-workers with my lightning, fast and uber-efficient search engine skills. This super-power really makes me feel like I can find the answers to almost anything quickly. Add that on top of my disdain for loitering and inefficiency, and this can make me a total jerk at times. When there is a problem that needs to be solved, or an answer that needs to be found, I want to go right around the human experience in front of me and jump to the searchable experiences online.

What I've learned is that even though there is a lot of information on the Internet, it is still missing some things. More than that, sometimes it's just nicer to hear a story or experience out of the mouth of someone in front of you than jumping to Google. And I've got another theory that God works more through your human interactions, where you choose to love well through listening, than he does through your keystrokes in a search query. You never know how the Holy Spirit will work through an interaction that you choose to have instead of skipping out on it and choosing to be a know-it-all. Let someone else's experience speak, if it doesn't change you, it may change them.

Here's what I mean by that: You never know when that person was last offered the opportunity to add their own personal value to a situation. I think we tend to forget in the day-to-day at times that even though we are communicators and marketers, our number one call is to minister to others in our community. Sometimes that means ministering to others who offer us very little to no value. People are lonely. It's an epidemic that Satan himself created I'm sure. If God is love and love is relationship, that means that loneliness is a side-effect of God's absence. Any time we can offer someone the connection and relationship of our listening ears, we win for Heaven. Even if that means spending half an hour to find a solution to something we already know or could have taken 5 minutes to learn. Honestly, even if they are telling you that they loved Chris Hemsworth as Captain America and want to tell you all about it (even though you know it's actually Chris Evans as the Cap), you should just let them, because maybe you are the only person they are going to meaningfully connect with that week. And hey, you can find a loving way to share that it is actually Mr. Evans who plays Captain America, then you've both "discovered" something useful.

So, next time you are tempted to pull up "Let Me Google That For You," set it aside and practice your listening skills. Then meaningfully respond. Slow down for a second and love that person well!

Read Part 3 of this conversation!

 

Watch Yourself, Millennial! Ways You Accidentally Offend: Part 1

My generation is...misunderstood. Actually, I don't understand us all the way. We are a weird breed. We grew up as the internet was beginning to take over, which is a new thing for this world. Then there was social media, and now smart phones. We've become accustomed to wearing our hearts on our digital sleeves, but we are pretty darn oblivious to a lot of things. Here are a few of the things I have learned to avoid by being a Millennial in leadership, and I hope they help you out too.

Photo by Lightstock.com

Photo by Lightstock.com

PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE, FOOL

I'm so guilty of this, ask my husband. I pick up my phone the second I'm bored, and I get bored fast. I quickly realized that my habit of boredom-induced phone usage was even creeping into my conversations with people. That's not good. I would walk away from a conversation that ended abruptly only to realize I had gotten my phone out during the conversation, and then I would feel like such a turd. Most of the time I would pull it out innocently, you know, to google a fact, to make note of something to remember, something like that, but they didn't know that. I just looked like a total jerk. So our conversation ends quickly. Potential ministry to that person is lost. Then there have been other times where I would just get bored (usually in a group conversation) and start checking Facebook or Twitter. I was listening, don't get me wrong, I was just...multi-tasking.

I've made a serious conscious effort to avoid even touching my phone when I'm talking with someone now. If they approach me when my phone is in hand, I immediately try to set it down, or stick it in my pocket. If it's not in my hands, it's less tempting to check. Now I only pull out my phone in a conversation if it directly benefits the person I am talking to, and when I do, I explain why I'm pulling it out. For instance, sometimes we are setting up a meeting time and I want to add it to my calendar (if I don't I will forget about it), I explain to them why I'm pulling out my phone when I do. Once I explain, they usually give me a second to get everything saved, and then we continue our conversation and my phone goes back on the desk face-down or into my pocket.

This habit is so important to master because this behavior says so much about how you value the person you are chatting with. We tend to downplay our phones as a distraction because everyone does it, but we need to see that giving a person our undivided attention is a way that we can love a person well.

Read Parts 2 and 3 of this post!

Woah! Thanks!

So it's been a full week (whew!) since I launched my blog here publicly, and what a fun ride so far! I wanted to take a time out and say "THANK YOU!" for all of the amazing feedback I've received so far. It's been really humbling to see where you guys and girls are, and how my adventures tie in to yours.

If you are new here! Welcome! I hope you like the little bits I have so far, and that you can embrace my web construction in exchange for some fun content. I'd love to hear what you would like to read more about!

Here's the being honest and vulnerable part of the blog I was talking about coming to you now... So I've got to build more content. My awesome friend, Alane Pearce (check her out at mypublishingcoach.com) offered me an awesome content generator so I'm going to get busy using that over the Thanksgiving Holiday. Oh and I'll be doing a lot of praying over it too. I'm genuinely excited to see where this thing goes in the future, as well as my consulting venture. Thank you for the outpouring of support (already) and I'm looking forward to sharing more!

Here are some posts I'm hoping to do soon, vote for the one you want to see first or submit your own idea:

Have an awesome Thanksgiving Holiday and I will see you back here soon!

Passion vs Calling

Passion burns out and quits after a while. Calling keeps going after the fire burns out. Calling finds more fuel for the fire and keeps pushing when passion runs out.
— John B. Smith

Sometimes my Executive Pastor and I have deep conversations. Thanks for the truth bomb, friend.

PS - that is his real name.

How To Pick Out Your First (or next) Ministry Job

I'm spoiled rotten when it comes to my ministry job. I have incredible leaders, amazing coworkers, and an awesome vision to work towards as a community. Without these things, I would not have lasted this long in the ministry world, because it can be tough. However, the tough I work with is not abusive, it's just tough. Unfortunately as I have talked with (or observed) some of my other friends in their first (or early) ministry jobs, I'm seeing that many churches or ministry non-profits can be abusive to young ministry hopefuls...and I hate it.

I spent many of my formative years in the buckle of the Bible Belt, Texas. And let me tell you something, young ministry hopefuls are coming out of the woodworks in Texas, and churches know it. Here are some tips you can use as you search for your first job in the wonderful world of ministry and churches that will keep you out of an abusive ministry situation!

1. KNOW YOUR CALLING

Here's the deal: we aren't all called to work in ministry, and that's ok! I've seen so many people pursue a Bible degree because they think that's the only God-glorifying thing that they can do with their life. Then they finish up that degree and go ruin a church or at least their relationship with the church because they hate it or they just aren't gifted by God to lead in that way. God lives outside of "ministry work." If you are called to be an art teacher, then go out there and be the most God-glorifying art teacher out there. You will be more impactful working where you are gifted and called in a job outside of a church, than begrudgingly working inside a church because you think other jobs aren't as valuable in the kingdom. People, I'm begging you to stop putting "ministry" specific work on a pedestal. It leads to bad pastors, and undervalued salesmen. God created us to thrive wherever we are if we are following him: "Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing." -Ephesians 2:7-10 MSG

Summary: Stop putting God in a box. He can work in the real world. He can work in the ministry world. He will work through you if you follow him to where he leads you, no matter what!

2. KNOW YOUR VALUE

Ok so I just got done with the huge rant about knowing your call. Now you need to know that if you are called into a certain ministry work, that you offer a tremendous value to that field. "Well, Bonni, here's the thing...I've got zero experience, just a few ideas. I need to get my feet wet before I get started." Bull, my friend, bull. Let me just get you to reference Ephesians 2:7-10 one more time, or how about this one: "God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done." - 2 Corinthians 9:8 MSG I like The Message version a lot right here because it says we are ready to do more than just what needs to be done! WHAT? You are equipped beyond what you know, because God asked you into this life. As long as you are seeking him, he will bless your efforts! Why the heck wouldn't he? You've taken the steps to follow after him wholeheartedly and that sort of thing makes his heart smile. Oh, BTDubs, you folks living your ministry in your "normal" jobs, these verses apply to you too! If God calls you to something in life, you are beyond equipped for it.

Summary: You are uniquely gifted. You are worth it. Be confident in God by being confident in yourself.

3. WORK HARD FOR IT

Ok just because God has equipped you for your calling, doesn't mean it's going to be easy. I said it earlier, ministry work is HARD! You've got projects, visions, goals, objectives, oh and peoples lives and emotions in the balance! If you think ministry work is all Starbucks and plaid shirts with the occasional mission trip scattered in, you are beyond deceived, my friend. Real ministry life leads to lots of all-nighters, tears, blood, sweat, and occasionally walking through the campus parking lot in the pitch black darkness alone! Sometimes all that blood, sweat, and tears get poured into something that suddenly isn't even needed any more, or worse, they're poured into something that someone loudly hates and you have to deal with that nasty email. Guess what: that's ok! Move on to the next thing and pursue it with the same fervor you gave the last project.

My working hard meant that the first few months in my ministry calling were pretty much pro-bono. Yep, I volunteered for months. But I loved it. Here's the thing, the only reason they didn't pay me, I later found out, is because the money wasn't there. They saw my heart, passion, and hard work and wanted me as part of the team! Once the money was there, I was on board as paid staff!

Summary: [Read this in your cheesy church-lady voice] "The only thing free in this world is salvation, hunny."

4. RESPECT YOUR LEAD PASTOR TOTALLY

I can't emphasize this point enough. If you walk into a ministry job thinking that your lead pastor is a fool on any level, walk away immediately. Let me help you understand something: unless God is calling you to be a lead pastor, you are not the lead pastor. The lead pastor is the one who determines the vision of your church and he even has a lot of say in how you are going to go about accomplishing this vision. If you don't respect him, then you can't disagree in a healthy way about anything. Let me clarify. Occasionally disagreeing with your pastor, and disrespecting him/her are two totally different things. If you respect your pastor, you can disagree on mechanics of how to accomplish the God-given vision of the church, and guess what, sometimes you might be right! If you disrespect your pastor on any level, this opens the door (then lights up a big neon sign that says "RIGHT THIS WAY!") for conflict within your church. Get over your stupid ego. Just because you like the location, size, or resources of a particular church body does not mean it is yours to take over if you could just get the right pastor in the door. This sort of insanity has GOT to stop in the church world. Either be called to be a lead pastor, or don't be. Stop letting hell win, and work with leaders you respect immensely and would be ok following for the rest of your life. Attitudes feel temporary, but they leave a forever impact. Make sure your attitudes are godly ripples into eternity, not the other kind.

Summary: Don't skip this section, read the whole thing.

5. MAKE SURE YOUR LEAD PASTOR RESPECTS YOU

So if you actually respect your lead pastor, chances are he/she will respect you too. If they don't, it will be a sore disappointment later on, but you need this point just as much as point number four. Remember how we were talking about your call and your value? A solid lead pastor (and lead team in general) will notice and respect that in you. They will feel your passion and recognize that you are on the same mission, together. Then they will feel that they can trust you with their church community, and you will be able to do so much more with the support and trust of your lead pastor behind you. You will be able to take more risks and push your community harder and faster towards Christ. 

Be careful here, friends! Especially in the Bible Belt, many church lead teams see young ministry hopefuls as expendable, and that is abusive. They use this subtle threat as a way to stretch you beyond your limits, tear you from your home life, pay you too little, and control your programs in a way that they should not do. How do you see past the facade in interviews? Well, chat with the other staff members. Assess morale, ask them about the process behind scheduling a doctor's appointment during work hours, or vacation policies, or staff expectations outside of business hours. These are all key indicators of how a lead team views their young staff members. Perhaps the strongest indicator of a healthy ministry environment would be asking around to see when the last time the lead team asked about another staff member's home life, or when was the last time they were prayed for, or cared for in a meaningful way? If a pastor or lead team is not being Jesus to their current staff, then you know they won't be for you, and, chances are, they are not being Jesus for their congregation either. RUN QUICK!

Summary: In order to fully contribute your value to a church community, you need the respect of your lead pastor and lead team.

6. REMEMBER, IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU

Ministry can be the least rewarding industry on this earth...or it can be the most rewarding by miles. It's all about how you go in to it. If #ministrylife is about you, your goals, and your brand, chances are you are going to be stinking miserable all the dang time. If you walk in to this call ready to do all you can for the glory of the Father, it's going to be hard to walk away even in the toughest of circumstances. There's something immensely powerful about looking past your own eyeballs in this field. Suddenly a personal attack from a disgruntled church-person doesn't slow you down, or you find yourself picking up a used cough drop from the floor because it was there and someone else would have to if you didn't (true story folks, hand-sanitizer is from heaven). But all of those things are ok, because...it's not about me. "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." - Romans 11:36

Well that's all I've got. What advice would you give? Who needs to read this post in your life? Send this along, send your words of wisdom with it. My generation of ministry people needs your encouragement more than you know!

Bonus: Here's a picture of me with a bunch of the goofballs I get the privilege of working with at Severn Run! Photo credit: Dr. Drew Shofner's awesome self-timer.

Bonus: Here's a picture of me with a bunch of the goofballs I get the privilege of working with at Severn Run! Photo credit: Dr. Drew Shofner's awesome self-timer.

Comfortable vs. Called

ComfortableVsCalled.jpg

I'm not sure about you, but when I imagined my professional life and home life as an adult, all I pictured was ease and comfort. Luckily for me, God cleared up that fantasy real quick, but it hasn't been nearly as horrible to live uncomfortably as you would think!

In my dreams, I was a graphic design professional bringing in a decent salary every year and wearing adorable clothes all the time. Oh and we were going to pay off our mountain of student loan debt in 2-3 years flat. We'd spend a little time here in Maryland and then journey back to Texas where our family is living, then settle down.

In my reality, I was blown off by the first company that said they had hired me, I spent the greater part of my first year here unemployed, and most of my second barely employed while volunteering my skills at Severn Run. Money wasn't great, my wardrobe did not improve, and 3 years later we are finally starting to put some money in savings while gradually chiseling down that mountain of student loan debt. Here's the stupid part: I wouldn't trade my reality for my dreams. I would pick this God-given reality over my fabricated lifestyle every time. Every. Stinking. Time. Which is really ridiculous when you start thinking about it.

The amazing part about having the privilege to learn this amazing God-truth so early in my life is now I'm prepared to be uncomfortable for the rest of my life!

Now I'm not talking about always being financially uncomfortable, I really do believe that God has always taken care of us, and now that I know I'm a better steward of my funds, I've already seen him bless in neat ways. I'm pretty sure discomfort will manifest in different ways all the time, but here are a couple experiences that have already come around in my role as Brand & Communications Director at Severn Run.

THE SPOTLIGHT:

Man, this one is the worst for an introverted lady like me. I went a full year at Severn Run without being introduced to our congregation, and I secretly loved it. For a full 52 weeks, I flew under the radar, did what needed to be done and then went home, and it was marvelous!

Not long after that great year, it got out that I'm a pretty decent public speaker. The Creative Team knew this the whole time, but I don't know how the pastoral crew found out. It was probably all of that profound wisdom I kept dropping in Sunday planning meetings. Oh well.

During one of these great meetings that last all of a Tuesday morning, my lead pastor, Drew Shofner, asked if I was ready yet to do the welcome time in our services. The idea had been tossed around before, so I had been wrestling with it for a while; this time I said yes and there it was, the spotlight, glaring in my face.

That Sunday I introduced myself from stage, welcomed our guests, and shared one key thing happening at Severn Run that week, and then as I was walking back in to our Atrium I heard it, "Hey, did you hear? That girl right there is our new communications person!" Dang.

I've been speaking from stage (and now I'm featured on our video announcements) on an almost weekly basis for a solid 6 months now and I'm still not used to feeling so relatable to complete and total strangers. Sunday afternoons are comprised of naps, chocolate, and silence in my house because Sunday Mornings are incredibly draining for me now. Aka - uncomfortable.

So why do I do it? Well it's simple. God is calling me to this, even though my introverted cells hate it so much. It's really amazing to see how God has really equipped you for his calling when you just shut up and follow it. I receive so much positive feedback on how my offering prayers touched someone, or how my goofy presence on The Rundown brightened their day. Never in 1 million years would I have guessed I would be making a difference in this way. I've always been a stagehand hanging out behind the scenes, not BEING the scene. Ew, I still hate typing it a little.

So why do I think it's my calling? Whenever I say that I'm following my calling in this way, The Voices (it's a reference to a sermon series, click it, I'm not nuts) try to tell me that I'm being really cocky. But once I shut that down, I'm confident in my calling because of the seeking I've done. At Severn Run, the millennial generation & women were severely underrepresented in the public eye. My stage presence has totally shifted that, and I'm hoping to see women and Millennials step up in big ways at Severn Run as a result.

THE CREATIVE LEADER:

This one is really new. We finally started planning for Christmas 2 weeks ago. We set aside some time to get together and talk through what our Christmas season was going to look like at Severn Run, and off the record my Executive Pastor had asked me to make a plan and lead the meeting.

Well I showed up the day of the meeting and my Exec. Pastor had double booked and wasn't there. Left in the room were my Lead Pastor, my Worship Pastor, me, and our Connections guy, and none of them knew that I was supposed to be in charge. Think about this for a second. The room was filled with men who were all older than me and had much more professional experience than I did. Their experience points had to quadruple mine on paper! In a quick second, I decided to just take a follower role out of comfort. Not going to lie, the first 20 minutes or so of that meeting was a train wreck. Why? Because I chose to be comfortable in my normal role of following. Even though I had spent hours preparing the night before, I shirked back and let our lead pastor take the reins because I felt uncomfortable leading him without John (Exec. Pastor) gently handing me the reins in front of him (which if you know our lead pastor, Drew Shofner, you know how ridiculous I was being). After we spun in useless circles for a while (not because my lead pastor is a bad leader, because he isn't. He's really the best. He was just unprepared to lead that particular meeting.), I finally stood up and took control. It was the most productive meeting ever (exaggeration), and we came up with some really innovative stuff for our church community to experience this Christmas. (Severn Runners, you can pick up your invite card packs THIS SUNDAY!)

I floored my lead pastor with how we got organized and he even kept me after we closed to let me know that he was appreciative of my leadership and impressed by my mad organizational skills (not a direct quote, but pretty close).

SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?

Well I hope that my scattered stories can help you see that God calls us out of our comfort-zones more often than he calls us into them. If you are feeling a tug towards something and rationalizing your way out of it because it's not something you feel comfortable with...maybe it's time to reconsider. I don't believe that God calls us to things he hasn't already gifted us to do, the thing is you may not yet realize that you have that particular gifting! I know that the church would be in a better place than it is now if we followed God's calling out of our comfort-zones more often. How are you being called? Are you ignoring it? Are you listening for it? Maybe it's time to follow the call and allow yourself to be over-awed by how God uses you!


Not sure how to hear your calling?

You're in luck, Severn Run did a great series on hearing God's voice over the noise recently. Check out "The Voices" below.

Image from Unsplash.com

Taking The Leap!

So I've been avoiding this. A lot. I'm finally sitting here at almost midnight with a sleeping dog on my lap while watching The Avengers for the billionth time writing this. And I hate it. I hate it a lot. But not because I don't want to do this, but because I'm freaked out! This is new stuff and it's big and different and that's terrifying! Here's what's up:

Lately I've been feeling that tug, the one you try to ignore, you know, that one. It's been bugging me every time I sit down to pursue this little entrepreneurial venture called Bonni Mace Design. I can barely focus on anything design and I've made almost 0 money this year and I definitely haven't pursued any new clients. I've been doing a lot of seeking and praying about this and here's what I've been avoiding, the big leap.

God is calling me to more than design, he's calling me to help the church become meaningful communicators again. It's always bugged me that the church has the greatest story in the world and we absolutely sucks at telling it. Somewhere along the way in history we became afraid of art, storytelling, science, innovation, and taking initiative. We've gone from being proactive to reactive, offensive to defensive. It's just ugly.

Over the last (almost) 2 years I've had the amazing opportunity to help The Church at Severn Run pursue new levels of creativity in telling the gospel story and I want to be able to keep doing that for Severn Run and beyond. So Bonni Mace Design is shifting into Bonni Mace Consulting (...? Or something more catchy in the future.) What does that mean? I want to take churches through the process of discovering their brand and then learning how to use that unique identity to tell the gospel story in their local communities in an effective way.

As I've said, right now I'm going to be documenting my experiences with Severn Run primarily. The stuff I'm learning now is crazy valuable, and I want to be able to use them to help others in the future. If a consulting opportunity rolls around, I'm excited to take it on and start tracking my experiences there too, but for now I will be reflecting mostly on what's in front of me.

What can you do to help?

  • Pray. Specifically pray for direction and perseverance. My default is to disappear when I don't know what I'm doing.
  • Let me know what you've learned from me. In my perspective, the things I know are just common knowledge. I tend to not realize when I know something of value that needs to be shared.
  • Let me know what you want to read! If i know about it, I'll write, if I don't I'll either figure it out and then write, or write to let you know that I didn't figure it out.
  • If you hear of a church or non-profit that is ready to do some growing, brand exploring, and marketing, let me know! I need a few more case studies. 

Right now I'm planning to secretly roll this out and then when I get brave do a big social media push to let all of you know that I'm doing this. So if you happen to stumble over this before then tell me about it :)

Oh by the way, all the posts from before this one are from past ventures. I'm leaving them up for now, but I wanted you to know that they may not line up with what I'm doing moving forward.

Hey! Here's to new things! Thanks for joining me.

Learning to Value My Talents

As a designer, there is a huge amount of pressure out there to work for free. I did this a lot starting out, some of it was helpful and some of it wasn't. I'm going to try to show you what was and wasn't helpful to me as far as free work goes. The Bad:

You may remember back from a previous post that I took a design job with no contract and a pretty low rate. I thought it was a great opportunity to get my feet wet and it was for about 2 months. Soon after that, the work that I thought I had agreed to for such a low rate was changing and I was never offered a lot of value for the creativity I was bringing to the table. This was due to the fact that I didn't bring a contract to the table defining our agreement. It was all verbal and it was all up in the air because there was no paper involved. Sidenote:  Y'all hear me out when I say this: contract EVERYTHING. Small job? Contract. Job for family? Contract. Huge job? Contract. Things can and will change in whatever you are doing and it's just human nature to squeeze you for as few pennies as they can put into you. Ok, back on track. Here's why this job ended up being bad for me professionally. When the nature of the work started changing to what I wanted to do professionally and was no longer administrative stuff, it took a huge chunk of confidence out of me. My work isn't good enough to be valued monetarily. People don't want to pay for what I'm doing so I might as well take this measly chunk of change. Design isn't important enough to be paid for. I'm just an art monkey putting other people's ideas on paper. All of this was swirling through my mind every day. Even though I was getting paid for this job, it was really detrimental to me and my business!

How did I manage to dig out of that hole?

Lot's of God ordained stuff folks. Remember DigitalWorx Printing? Well the two owners took time to really get to know me, see my work and what I could do and then they clearly stated what I would be doing for them and they started paying me well. What? They put some serious value into what I could bring to their company and let me tell you something, they never let me forget it. Working for these two really skyrocketed my value even though I was doing really boring stuff at first (barcodes, ick).

After regaining my confidence in myself and in the value of design, I went back to the original company I was working with and asked to renegotiate my pay. They flipped out and told me it was probably better that we part ways. It was horrifying. I cried on the playground outside of our apartment complex for like half an hour. And then. I prayed. Peace, reassurance, and worth covered me. God's got this. He's calling you higher.

That opened up the opportunity for me to really get involved in a volunteer project at Severn Run. Here I am a year and a half into the best job I've ever had and it's all been worth it.

I'm reevaluating again. I'm taking another leap of faith. I'm reassessing my worth again in a different industry, on my own, a big plunge. As you can see I've rebranded and redirected myself. Churches & Ministry consultation and design is going to be my focus and that's terrifying, but I'm excited for the journey. Pray for my journey. It's happening now.

Echo 13 - I am a Child of God

So this last one isn't just from my time at Echo. My senior pastor at Severn Run, Drew Shofner, recently preached a similar message which I would love to link to, but that week Satan ate our technology so there is no recording of it. When Drew preached this message, he put it in the light of a family context which isn't something I can fully relate to yet. Sure, I'm a daughter, sister, niece, cousin, grand-daugther, and wife but I'm not a mother and I'm not really planning on being one for a while so there was a whole aspect of that message lost on me in that regard because my brain is not even close to thinking in that way. However, Matt Chandler closed out Echo 13 with almost the exact same message, but geared right at me and all the other artists, geeks and storytellers in the room. Matt started out this session with Galatians 3, telling us that this should be the anchor of our identity in Christ. Basically this chapter starts off calling the Galatian people fools and as you keep reading you find out that Paul is calling them fools because they saw Jesus die and rise again for their sins and all of a sudden they are acting like they have to finish out the task with their own hands and feet. Fools.

Personally, a lot of my childhood I spent a lot of time thinking that I had to do something in ministry or I wasn't doing my salvation justice. When I was young and stupid, I thought my only chance for doing that was by either being the piano or organ lady, or by marrying a pastor (thanks early ingrained sexism in the modern church), and it turned out that I was really bad at piano. There it is, from an early age I felt like I needed to be doing something worthy to round out my salvation. Why? I can look back now and know that those silly thoughts were probably just the early whispers of God's call on my life to actually do ministry, but not because I needed to in order to round out my faith, but rather because he wanted me to and designed me to in his plan. Until recently, I've lived in this reality of thinking I need to be rounding out my salvation for some reason until this truth bomb was dropped right on my face:

"The only place you should be finding joy (and your identity) is in what God says about you not where you think you should be applauded!"

Whaaat? Blew me away. And what is it that God says about us? "You are my child," that's it. He saved us when we were dirty, grubby, dumb kids because we are already his and he loves us desperately. There's no and in what God says about us. He doesn't say, "You are my child and the number one graphic designer! Good luck with that, Bonni, because if you aren't creating stellar graphics for churches all the time, then you aren't fulfilling half of what I made you to be." No, we are solely his children saved at our worst so why do we think we should find joy and identity in doing at all? Another cool thing that Matt said to drive this home was along the lines of "When God saved you, was it when you were doing awesome and Jesus said 'Now I want you on my team!'? No! It was when you were at your worst that he picked you!"

My full identity is child of God. Your full identity is child of God. Our identities are wrapped up only in being his child and have nothing to do with doing anything at all. I think especially in American culture we wrap our our doing and our being in a sloppy package and put way too much weight on that belief. "Hi, I'm Bonni, I am a Graphic Designer." Wrong! I do graphic design, I am a child of God. When I wrap my identity around my actions, life is inconsistent and scary; when I am wrapped in being a child of God things are constant. Watch:

When I am doing awesome at my job - I am a child of God. When the Severn Run Facebook page sees a huge spike in likes because of an awesome ad campaign - I am a child of God. When my husband is full and happy because I've cooked an excellent plate of deliciousness - I am a child of God. When I am tired, and I only put half of my effort into my work for the day - I am a child of God. When I fail miserably and cost my clients hundreds of dollars - I am a child of God. When Bessie the MacPro goes kaput - I am a child of God.

When my doing or external happenings do something to me, there is always a consistency because my being rests solely in the hands of God. I am not shaken because I am a child of God, always. My Father delights in me, and has delighted in me when I was at my best and at my worst. My world is secure in that truth.

"Lean heavily into God's delight in you." - Matt Chandler

Echo 13 - Building Teams

One of the hats I wear at Severn Run is "Creative Team Leader," and it's one of the hardest and most rewarding hats to wear. Most of the time I feel ridiculous being a team leader because I'm 24 and I have some experience, but not very much. However, you know how that one verse says "in your weakness, I'm made stronger..."? Well I can tell you that promise has been true in my life. I'm not saying that leadership is a weakness for me (you can ask my parents, I was born a delegator, sorry Robyn), but the life stage I'm in right now doesn't lend itself to making leadership the easiest thing to jump into as one of your first "real world jobs." [Side note: I really can't figure out where to put quotes and punctuation right now so give me a break on that one English nerds]

Anyways...When I was headed to Echo, I was really excited for the Leadership track breakouts because I felt I needed them, and I did! Team building is essential in ministry and I've been blessed to be forced to team building by the crazy amount of job requirements I have and crazy lack of actual paid time I have in which to do those things. The Creative Team at The Church at Severn Run is an infant, and an amazing infant at that, and I was ready to come back prepared to raise them. I got some good stuff so here it goes.

Teams are nothing without a vision! What's the point of the team if you aren't fighting to win something. Think about how sad it would be to see a bunch of big ol' dudes dressed out in football pads just sort of wandering around a field because there are no goals, there's no winning, there's no purpose. We cannot expect our teams to succeed if we don't continually tell our team the vision, the win! No vision = no passion = no creativity. Every project, event, and celebration will develop around the vision, without it you're just a bunch of sweaty wandering football players that are all upset with one another.

Teams must trust one another. You must trust your team, your team must trust you. Whitney George put it this way, the more you trust your team, the bigger the pipeline between you and your team. This means ideas, projects, and jobs all flow more freely between you when you have more trust between each other. I think this is a really hard one for most leaders because we want things done right, and the right way is our way. This is where things get tricky, if you don't trust your team to do the job the right way, your team is never going to trust you to lead them to that way. Trust is a messy thing because jobs won't always be done in your way, mistakes will be made, typos will be found, money will have to be re-spent, BUT if you don't pass on the culture of trust in your team, you'll never get past those problems and you'll never have a team. The other hard component of creating trust on your team is guarding the culture of your team closely. This means that if someone comes along to volunteer on your team and they are a sour apple, a negative nelly, an all around nasty person, you have to get rid of them for the sake of trust on your team. If your team has always been an upbeat environment, filled with creativity, and suddenly when Crabby McCrabs joins your team, you find that meetings are silent and projects are stagnant, it's time to get real about Mr. McCrabs. Never will one person's talent be worth destroying the trust of your team within itself and with you. Now, I'm not saying throw out every complainer as soon as they whine, Mr. McCrabs will have had a couple of conversations with you about attitude and respect toward the other team members without any signs of change before you toss him back in the sea. This is hard, especially for small teams because you're looking for all the help you can get, but you have to make a trusting, united team a priority.

Finally, teams must have processes and check lists to survive. The Severn Run Staff is getting the check list beat down right now and I have to admit that it's something I'm seriously struggling with in light of my team, but the folks from LifeChurch.tv had a lot of helpful hints for processes in creative environments. Start with the "Why?" Get back to the purpose of the project and live there, solve for X they reminded us. Create brainstorming sessions and make them holy. Make sure they are "yes and..." environments with a stern, yet encouraging "designated driver" to keep the team on track. Always have time limits and expectations of outcomes! After brainstorming some serious work begins, once you have some ideas that are ready for second opinions create a "Thrashing" time and make it holy. I love how they used the term "Thrashing" for a critique session. These sessions should aslo have rules, time limits, a reminder of vision, and a focus on the project not the person. From there projects become better, people gain more experience and stories are told effectively through our work.

Be sure to pray for me and the entire Severn Run Staff as we learn to build teams and keep them healthy. It's a challenge and if you have anything else you would like to add to my couple of tips and tricks from Echo 13, please do!

I'll be wrapping up my Echo journey next week with my identity as a child of God.

Echo 13 - Tell Your Story

I'm sure a lot of you have heard this before about my generation (I'm 24, so whatever the name of that generation is), "You kids think you're the center of the universe because you grew up in a world with Xanga, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter and that made you think that everyone needs to know every little thing you're doing and that they care. Dumb kids!" So that might be a more harsh version than what has popped up in articles and studies, but that's how my brain took it. It shut me up, or down, I don't share about myself and my experiences because, who cares? It's not really about me anyway so what does my experience have to do with anything? Remember how one of the people Echo advertises for is "Storytellers"? Well, having this sort of mindset going in, I totally dismissed that part of the advertising and went in as solely an "Artist" and nothing else. I've come out of this experience feeling very much like a novice storyteller. The very first session I walked into (after mistakenly thinking that a Main Session was first and proving myself a fool in front of my whole team right off the bat), was called "Telling Stories on Sunday" by Scott McClellan. I walked out of this session completely converted to story. Scott posed to us starry-eyed Echo-ers "Where are you taking me?" the question every person in our audience is asking us. I thought "Hey, good question, I'll sketch that in a cool typographic way!" and then he started laying down the good stuff faster than fancy note taking could keep up. As a young twenty-something with the viewpoints I've held lately, Scott reminded me that the Bible is written as a Story, and that God himself called us to be HIS storytellers "and you will be my witnesses..." (Acts 1:8) Notice the Bible says "be" not "do," it's something that should be ingrained in the very fabric of our being, God's own storytellers. Because it is something we are, stories should leak into every aspect of our lives. For me that says a lot professionally. Every graphic, every video, every advertising campaign, every social media plan should be part of, or in itself a story that brings an individual from point A to point B. Scott really helped a silly person like me see how these possibilities were endless by sharing different types of stories: personal experience, imaginative, and vision casting. As you can imagine, my brain nearly exploded when I started thinking about the impact that stories built in these simple ways could have on my community, the one I'm responsible for communicating to, and had been doing a mediocre job of. (If my Executive Pastor reads that sentence he's going to have a cow because it ends in a preposition, but it's my blog so I do what I want).

I went on to the next session with Dawn Nicole Baldwin where the idea of storytelling as advertising and sharing was driven in a little further home. Dawn really did a fantastic job of giving guidelines of how we can push our story through the noise of our culture. She gave some really specific goals for communicators to take a bunch of information and filter it through the lens of the story we are trying to tell in that moment/quarter/year. I won't get into all of that greatness, because it's mostly stuff that will bore you and keep me up all night at this point.

The next day one of the main sessions was a fantastic blitz of really smart people throwing really good information at us. Two of those guys, Steven Brewster and Whitney George both emphasized the role of storytelling and I'm just going to write my notes as they are because they are fantastically written notes: "Let our motivation be to move people from A to B instead of creating art for self praise." - Steven Brewster; "Your ideas are great because they pass through authentic you." - Whitney George. That last quote leads me really nicely into my plane ride home...

On the way home I started reading Scott McClellan's new book "Tell Me a Story" and I almost finished the whole thing on the plane. I still have almost finished it because I haven't stopped and made time for myself to read for pleasure at all since I've been home. Anyways, this book y'all, is very good. Scott takes the time to first convince you why story is good (which he had already done at Echo for me) and then walks you through each component of a story and compares it to the life of a Christian person. Now you may think that this sounds like a book for writers, but it's not, it's for Christians, it's for former Christians, it's for burned out Christians, it's for doubting Christians, it's for strong Christians. One of the things he reminds you of in this book is that, guess what, the Bible is written as a story and as you read it, you should read it like a story. Picking it apart verse by verse looking for answers without considering the entire story handicaps the entire thing. I almost said renders it useless, but I'm pretty sure God can still work through our abuse of his book. I grew up and have spent most of my life treating the Bible this way, as a self-help reference or a spiritual guide guru hoping that if I just flip the page open and point that I will have a huge life revelation and all of my troubles will be solved. I've even used the Bible as an argument tool to prove that I'm right and you're wrong, :P, go sit on a log now. After reading this book, I realized that I've been missing the entire point, well almost. Right now I'm retraining myself to read Scripture with the entire story in mind, and with my story in mind because...

My story is God's story. What? This is such a simple concept now that I can't believe took me so long to understand. When I stifled my own story, my own experiences, my own pains and victories, I'm stifling the story of the Living God. As much as he worked through the people in the Bible, he's working through me now and the same goes for you as you seek him in your life. I'm attempting to live life understanding the story I'm in. Understanding that without pain and conflict, it wouldn't be a story, it would just be stagnant me, the same me from 10 years ago. Without hard work, I'm living pointlessly, following nothing that God has for me. I'll end this post with an amazing tidbit shared by Donald Miller in another main session: What if God has a purpose, an end goal, a Point B for your life, but he hands you the crayons of the journey and says to us "Make the journey meaningful and beautiful!" then allows you to draw?