Legacy Now Blog - Jason Carr Writes

Exploring the collision of everyday life and an incredible God

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Senior Letter

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The local high school in my hometown has a cool tradition of giving personal letters of encouragement to the upcoming graduates. Written by family, friends, and persons of influence, the letters are collected and given out at a special senior breakfast. I’ve been honored to write quite a few letters over the last two decades.

As I finished one, I saved the letter in a file and had a sentimental moment as I looked through some of the other letters I’ve written for students over the years.

Just like that, the lives of so many come flashing back in my mind.

Those letters reflect years and years of relationships. They reflect small groups—good times and hard times. They reflect countless coffee meetings and weekends full of chili and football. They reflect a lot of prayer, huge dreams, and unmet expectations. They represent life.

I’m leading a group of freshmen now and reading those letters made me think of them. What do I want to write them three years from now? What do I wish were true by God’s grace for them in the next few years?

All those thoughts land me on a really important, but hard-to-swallow, truth of student ministry: ultimately, the results are up to God.

We can do everything we can in the life of a student, but only God can change a heart. Click To Tweet

As I look at all these letters and think of all these students, I know that many are walking with God. Some are not. Neither is really “my fault.” My role as their leader was and is to love them, point them to Jesus, and leave the results to Him. No more, no less.

As the school year wraps up, take time to think about what kind of letter you wish you had received when you graduated high school. How can you help someone else get one of those today?

You can. Go be an influence in someone’s life and leave the results to Him.

Start Small To Dream Big

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It’s really easy to say that your church “does” small groups. That might mean you have a dedicated time and space for a group to meet, usually after someone speaks.

But does small group time really happen well? Why wouldn’t it? Perhaps because:

* Many communicators focus more on being liked than seeing the role as one to set up small group leaders to lead discussion.

* Many communicators think what they have to say is more important than the person going through life with the student.

* Many leaders see small group time as a chance to reteach the lesson, a chance to talk instead of ask questions, a chance to be right instead of listen.

* Many volunteers don’t value small group enough to help with the behind-the-scenes necessities to make it run well.

* Often worship time does not point towards students and leaders doing life together pursuing the Lord, but to a “look at me” time.

Ouch. I know those might hurt. I write them because I’m guilty of some of the above. It’s not that the things above are wrong, excellence is a good thing. It’s that the goal needs to be built around.

The heroes of the story in this context are the people investing time with the students.

In this case, start small to dream big. Does your programming set that up? Does your staff get that vision? Do the other volunteers see their part in helping students engage in meaningful relationships?

Consider how you can leverage your resources to set up your leaders to lead well.

Again, start small to dream big.  That’s the vision. Hang it high and point to it often. As you consider budgets, events, and planning, remember it’s about setting up those relationships to win.

I recently worked with a church that really wants to do small group ministry well. The challenge is their current culture does not bleed that way. They landed on the fact that some extensive foundational work needs to be worked on to take their ministry to the next level. They are dreaming big, but need to start small to move that way.

As you give your ministry away in a big way, consider how you are setting it up small. Your influence and legacy will be maximized when you empower others to invest well.

Bonus plug: I love helping churches do this. Let me know if I can help you!

Legacy Story

LegacyNowlogo.jpgAllow me to share a few stories with you.

A friend who hired me to consult with his church told me something cool. He said, “I could spend a ton of money and send my staff to conferences, which we’ll do some of—but I get more bang for my buck having you here. You observe, train, interview, speak, and do whatever we need to make our ministry better. Having you do that at our place makes it easier to apply.

I’m grateful for his kind words. It captures so much of what I love doing with churches: whatever they need to help the student ministry reach more students, families, and volunteers. The more reached, the more who get a chance to collide with the Gospel and are challenged to live a legacy for something eternal.

I recently ran into a small group leader from a church that I’d led leader training at a few years earlier. He said this: “Man, your training really challenged me, but it worked. The last few years I’ve really been spending time outside of group with my guys, and it’s made so much difference.” He went on to tell me stories of how the Lord has been teaching him and using him in the life of his small group—mostly because he’s pursuing them. That came from a time when a church hired me to challenge their leaders in relational ministry with their students, and primarily from something only the Lord can do. That is changing hearts. We get a chance to be a part of that.

Legacy Now is not about Jason. It’s about the hallways of teenagers who desperately need to be in a relationship with someone who loves the Lord and them. It’s about the potential volunteer waiting to be unleashed on your community if you had the system in place to let them to invest in others well. It’s about living for something bigger than ourselves and something that lasts forever.

I know it is not easy to ask for help. I’m a guy; I get it. I also know how freeing it is to have an advocate who simply wants to help you do what you’ve been called to do.

A special thing about my ministry is that there are a lot of people who believe in you whom you don’t know. They invest and pray for me so I can do that for others. It also helps me serve others and work with all kinds of budgets.

You have stories to be told and I’d love to help you tell them. Let me know at contact@legacynow.me if I can serve you to do that.

Your Choice

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It sounds so simple, so why is it so hard?

It would be communication.

In today’s world, there are so many ways to communicate, and most of them are impersonal. It’s easier to write a subtweet about someone than address what you really think. It’s easier to direct message someone than tell the person to his or her face.

One of the things I get to do with Legacy Now is spend time with student pastors. I love learning about different cultures and what’s working and what is not; I also love that I can share that with others. Consulting has some cool benefits.

That being said, one of the hard things I see often is the struggle between a student pastor and leadership.

I’ve written about it before and I will keep saying it.

Choose clarity over assumption. Click To Tweet

Choosing to communicate clearly can divert you from the built up frustration that comes from assuming.

I once met with a young visionary leader who had a huge idea for his community. He started a new event and built momentum. Students were coming and bringing friends. He felt on the cusp of something special. His authority? They were not happy he was putting his time in resources in this “new” thing and not building Sunday School. To hear him share, the win for the old leaders was simply “get ‘em in Sunday School.” He mentioned to me the only real chance he had to grow the program would happen when the old folks moved on. He had to make a choice to either engage with those old leaders and make the most of it, or pursue something elsewhere.

Imagine if they would have clearly told him their desires in the interview. (I asked and he said they did not.) Imagine if he felt the freedom to discuss with his church leadership why students in his community were drawn to the event rather than the Sunday morning class. He did not feel that freedom at all. The communication lines were not open. That’s not all “their” fault, but clear communication improves results.

Don’t let the enemy win this area, friend. It’s happening regularly, and our ministries hurt for it. Choosing clear communication is a great way to fight that battle.

Your Voice

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“Wow, you sound different.”

Voice changing. All teenage boys experience it. It’s part of life. A visit to a middle school service at the beginning of a school year and again at the end will render about an octave lower sound change.

We don’t know exactly when the change will occur. Nature has its way of doing that in each life. You could call it by design.

The same is true about our own “voice.” By voice, I mean how you sound and how you say it. You might not even realize your voice has changed or is changing. Many times others point that out in us.

In my own life, last year proved to be a rough one with some severe family circumstances. In the midst of that, the anchor of my faith had to extend to depths I was not sure was possible on the front end. As a result, my voice has changed. I have experienced a relationship with my Heavenly Father in a new way, and it changed my voice.

The experience reminds me of Paul. Before he knew God, he was committed to stopping the message of Christianity and its followers. And then he became one. In one instance we find Paul in prison singing praise songs while in jail. Really? He used to send people to jail for being Christians, and now is in the same predicament and is thanking God? (Acts 16)

As God directs our lives, He often develops our voices too. Click To Tweet

Amazing how He takes our situations and resets our perspective! In doing so, our voices might reflect what He is doing in and through us as we navigate what’s going on.

While I was catching up with a friend recently, he said I sounded different. I just nodded my head and thanked God that He is with me along the way. There is so much in our voices beyond our words. Our voice reflects what He is doing in and through us.

So I need to ask, how is your voice today?

Culture Dirt

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Programming? Volunteers? Staff? Events? Curriculum?

All these are important, but which one is most important? In the case of growing ministries, they all work together. Something underneath holds it together and gives it fertile soil in which to grow.

That soil would be the culture you create and maintain.

Your volunteers know when the staff do not get along with each other.
Your band knows when you are not on the same page.
Your curriculum sets the stage for your communicator and volunteers.
Your events are a big momentum swing or drain.
Your volunteers check a box or engage on mission with you.
Your students can tell from their leaders more than they will say, but they will observe and carry with them the health of your culture. That goes home with them.

Your culture affects way more than you see on the surface. Click To Tweet

I’ve been in both unhealthy and healthy cultures. Frankly, I’ve contributed to both. Chances are you have too.

One pattern I see in healthy cultures is the willingness to ask hard questions and evaluate. That might be by taking surveys, bringing in fresh eyes consulting,  or reviewing your mission statement to see if you’re on track.

The word culture is so overused right now it’s become almost vanilla in church world—I get it. But it’s important for us to consider the health of our culture, because it affects literally everything.

Peel back the layers and consider your culture. It very well may be one of the most important things you can do as you lead the ministry with which He has trusted you. You might have to get your hands dirty, but it’s worth it. Weeds will kill your growth, and it takes constant tilling, fertilization, and patience to grow healthy crops. The same is true for your culture. It won’t happen overnight, but a consistently faithful approach to trusting Him to lead it well might just grow something you couldn’t imagine and take credit for.

Respect

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Respect is often earned, not given.

I was recently visiting the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California when I witnessed a great scene. A high school Naval Junior ROTC unit was on property preparing for an event. As I left the library, I saw an elderly man wearing a WWII Veteran hat and jacket approach them.

Age had slowed him, but he moved towards the group with purpose. He walked up to them and looked each cadet in the eye to shake hands. I saw the teenagers immediately turn to attention. They didn’t know him, but instinctively they knew to show him respect.

In a mere matter of seconds, a man who has been there can remind you of the power of service. We respect someone who has done it before and been in the trenches. We respect someone who has experienced what we are training for. We naturally respect those who have gone before so we can do what we do now.

The same is true for us as church leaders. Those who have gone before us deserve our respect. Those behind us could benefit from our journey. Let’s not forget those whose shoulders we are standing on now and those who will be standing on ours.

I heard about a retired pastor who now feels useless. Though he had planted and built churches, his ability to communicate and lead regularly diminished. But his heart still beats to help others. A friend asked him simply to meet for coffee once a month, and now that retired pastor has a renewed purpose. He can help others. You can too.

Maybe you are “further down the road” and part of your mission now is to invest in others. Maybe you are still getting started.

Take time to consider to whom you can show respect. Click To Tweet

It might be those before you or those coming after you, but His Kingdom is made up of all kinds of leaders.

As those cadets knew to respect the veteran, so should we in our service to Him.

 

Your Word

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What is your favorite word currently?

Seriously, take a moment and think about a word that causes your brain to think and dream.

Obviously, I’m a bit of a words guy; you are reading mine right now. I have noticed that during different seasons, specific words seem to rise up as the words God is using to help me as I keep growing in Him.

I want to challenge you today to simply take time and consider what God is doing in your life. What word would describe that? It doesn’t have to be a happy word. It doesn’t have to be a spiritual word. It’s just a word that summarizes what He is doing.

One of my favorite “back porch” questions is, “What is God teaching you right now?” For me, it usually comes back to the word He has floating around my life. The more I can see that, the more I seem to get an idea of how He is chipping away at my soul, character, and life.

For example, my current word I am thinking a lot and talking about with others is “sovereign.” I know it’s a bit of a churchy word, but for me it has been powerful. Through that word alone, He has been digging deep in me and resetting some foundational things in my life and faith. Last year my words included “abide” and “anchor.”

It’s wise to take time to simply ask: God what are you trying to teach me right now? Click To Tweet

One really interesting side-effect of honing in on a word is how He will bring it up in conversations with others, sermons you hear, things you read, and songs you hear. He’s good like that.

God determines the seasons, so the word He is challenging you with might be for a day, it might be for years. Our role is to lean in and seek His wisdom as we unpack what He is doing in and through our lives.

So, what’s your word? Take time to consider that and ask Him to use that in deep ways in your life.

HALT! E-book

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I self published my first book almost 8 years ago. It’s only been available as a physical book . . . until now!

I am excited to announce that I have made HALT! DISMOUNT AND BE RECOGNIZED available as a download on the Noisetrade site.

You can download it for free, or tip as much as you want.

As I ramp up into what’s next, I wanted to share with you what came before.

I wrote HALT after many years of leading small groups of teenage guys and being frustrated with how they don’t read. I kept trying to read a book with groups and rarely did we finish one. I intentionally made the chapter’s short and included questions for a small group leader to use. The crazy thing is, it worked. I’ve even read it with several small groups I’ve led since its release.

HALT is full of stories that have a point. It has three sections, each pointing to seeing God in the midst of the journey. I’ve shared a lot of the stories in HALT over the years speaking at camps and events and it’s been something special seeing God use them to impact others. I hope and pray that if you have not read it and want to use it for a small group or your own reading, that He’ll use it to encourage you.

HALT is not a perfect book. It has some funny references reading it now (MySpace?) and it has a few errors in it. I’ve come to love that over the years, because we all have our warts and it’s imperfections make it more real.

Hope that God might use it to nudge you or your small group to laugh a little, think deeply, and have some great discussion about how amazing He is.

You can check out the page here.

At Fault

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It’s always his or her fault, isn’t it?

You can track back to the story of Adam and Eve when the blame game began. And it continues today.

A pattern I’ve seen in my life and in other leaders is that our struggles have a face that is not our own. Yet, often we choose not to handle it well and make our struggle worse.

The lack of clear communication and understanding in relationships leads to apathy—a feeling of “it’s always going to be this way.” The remedy for that is empathy.

Empathy trumps apathy. Click To Tweet

Choose to see things from a side of empathy, not apathy.

Choosing to be empathetic simply means to choose to listen and ask questions about why someone is acting the way he is.

Often I am recommending student ministry teams (in some cases church staffs) take personality tests to help understand each other more. I regularly encourage engaged couples to take personality tests and be honest about how God has wired them. I’ve even encouraged some parents to do this with their families to better understand some of the behavior patterns of their students.

Knowledge is power and can lead to understanding, which leads to empathy. The enemy would prefer us to be apathetic and to choose the worst in our relationships. Simply taking a test does not make anything better. You have to do something with the results. That requires time, understanding, and clear communication. It starts with a willingness not to assume, but to do the work of choosing empathy over apathy.

I’m writing this for a reason. As I take stock of the many conversations I’ve had with church leaders, this is a big issue. Many are struggling with their work and ministry culture, and it’s led to apathy. The enemy wins. Choose to work through it and seek clear communication, which very well might lead to understanding and empathy.

In that case, the enemy will not win. In fact, I think that God often gives us tough relationships to lead us to a deeper trust of Him and of how He has made us.

It might not be their fault after all.

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