On Being Told No

I’ll cut right to the chase: I don’t like being told no. Who does?

In my line of work I ask lots of people for lots of things. It feels like I am constantly making “asks” and this raises all sorts of anxiety for me. I fear being a burden, or annoying, or the person people dread receiving emails from (here we go again).

Recently I made an ask that had a lot of hope attached to it. I was told no. I fought for it. Still no.

I felt pretty crummy about this no. Then I read this. (Miller also talked about this at the World Domination Summit: how to find redemption in suffering/stories that don’t turn out the way we want them to).

So, in that spirit, here are four blessings that come with “no’s”.

  1. It forces me to pray more: you’d think I do most of my praying before/during/immediately after the ask. Rejection has a way of revitalizing my prayer-life like nothing else.
  2. The process of asking is clarifying: whether the answer is yes or no, the process makes me think deeply about what I am asking for, why I need it, and why it is important for whoever I am asking to be included in this effort. Asking produces clarity.
  3. No’s make me work harder: I’m not sure what this says about me, but yeses tend to produce laziness, a resting of laurels. No’s create urgency. Obviously, yeses are needed to get anything done, but a no drives up the energy levels in a more profound way.
  4. No’s produce character: I completely relate to Miller’s victim dialogue in the article on disappointment. It’s so easy to go there. In the end anything we receive when we ask is a gift. It’s so easy to take credit for a yes, to think I “earned” this. And, similarly, to blame someone for a no. But it’s all a gift. Maybe a better way of saying it is: no’s reveal character. And that can be painful, but ultimately necessary.

What do you think? What do you learn from “no’s”?


3 Things I Learned From All Those Old Notes

The other day I posted this…

Purging/Downsizing in preparation for move to new apartment. One thing I’ve learned going through old boxes: In Pacific Christian Fellowship we wrote A LOT of notes!

…on Facebook.

There truly were a lot of notes. Boxes and files and folders full. Sheets of paper, post cards, picture albums, even a paper plate: all filled with words of affirmation. I guess this is how we communicated love  pre-facebook.

In all honesty, I threw much of it away. Some of the notes were redundant, some had lost context over the years, some were just inside jokes. But there were many, many gems, and I saved those.

In ministry there are all sorts of channels for feedback. Very few of those channels are helpful.

You open yourself up to a lot of cuts in this line of work. Sometimes there are really big things: a big rejection, someone you thought was on your side who bails, someone who takes an offhanded statement and uses it against you. Sometimes there are really small things: comments, distancing, the reality that you ask most of the questions.

That’s the hard stuff. But then there are the beautiful words that good people speak and write to you and those words are gold.

There were a number of themes that stood out to me as a I read through all of those notes:, but these were the Big 3:

  1. You are funny
  2. You ask really good questions
  3. You should be a pastor

Why is it so important to be reminded of these themes”

  1. From time to time I’ll hear the message, directly or indirectly, that I am not fun. Fun and funny are two different things, but it was so, so good to be reminded that at one point in my life I was fun(ny) (a ringleader of fun, no less). I believe that’s still in me.
  2. Several notes revealed that not only were my questions “good”, they could also be “intimidating.” My current students will have a good chuckle about that. Still true. Sometimes we need to be reminded about our true selves and other times we need to see that what we do and love has been there all along.
  3. Welp. I’ve been told I should pastor ever since college. Even though pastoring pushes me out of what is comfortable based on my personality and preferences, there’s been an internal and external push, an undeniable call, to help people on their journey back to God.

The moral of the story, dear readers, is hold on to these words of affirmation that people give you: they are gold, they are sustenance, they are life-giving.


Yesterday we signed a lease and wrote a check and so, finally, it is official: we are moving to Roslindale. Rozzi, as it is affectionately called by the locals, is one of Boston’s southern neighborhoods. It’s a diverse community with spillover from Dorchester (most of my counselors at Bird Street were from Roslindale), Jamaica Plain (bringing with it the hipster influence), and West Roxbury (with some good old Boston accents). 

This has been quite the journey. About six months ago we began to with the idea of moving out of our current apartment. If you’ve ever been here you know we have these crazy stair cases, which makes life with a baby interesting. We thought there might be a nice first floor place for us in Eastie. At the same time, we were heavily recruiting some friends to move into the neighborhood too.

None of that ended up working out. The rental market in Boston is out of control right now (our current place is being listed for 25% more than what we started at). At one point we were going to Allston, at another point back to Dorchester, at another we thought about giving up and staying put. There were many, many ups and downs and twists and turns and someday, maybe, I’ll write a post about what, if anything, I learned about discernment from all of this. To put it mildly: it was draining.

We’ve loved living in Eastie and a lot of amazing things have happened since we’ve moved here: the transition to full-time ministry, Amy passing her boards and starting work, the launching of a REUNION community group, Marina joined our family, and the Giants won a couple of World Series. It’s been a good run.

But, the one thing we’ve never really had here was sharing life with people who have a similar rhythm. We are excited about Rozzi’s parks and people, its village, and walkability. We are excited to meet new neighbors and enjoy the Arboretum. But mostly we are excited to be within mere blocks of Stacey and Linsey and Bobby and Christina. Friends and family and co-workers. We are excited to share in the birth a new baby and in the patterns of life that only those in campus ministry can really relate to.

I am not excited about putting things into boxes and taking them out, but I am so, so excited to begin creating and forming community with friends whose homes I can get to by walking.

A new adventure begins!   

New [School] Year’s Resolution

I love to read. I devour books on topics that are interesting to me. They don’t have to be well written. They don’t have to be works of art. They just need to entice me with delicious information.

This is who I am. My strengthsfinder inventory tells me I am a “learner,” “input,” ideation,” “intellection,” and “strategic.” Taking in information is how I operate and process the world.

Naturally, as a campus minister, I end up reading A LOT of books about: leadership, theology, church, church trends, discipleship, discipleship models, college students, young adults, and this list could go on and on.

I’ve been wondering lately, though, if all that information isn’t a way to hide. It is easier to read and write about ministry and making disciples than it is to do it.

I’ve found myself getting annoyed with those who have many opinions on the topic, those who write blogs about it, and yet don’t seem to be doing much in real life. Upon examining my annoyance with this I realized the reaction is due, in part, to my own tendency to retreat into the world of ideas and knowledge and away from the mess of people and real life.

I thought about giving up reading all together. But I think I would die a sort of death if there were no books in my life.

So, instead I’m giving up reading books about church, theology, and ministry for the coming school year.

There will be a couple of exceptions to this: a book we’ll read as a staff, a couple of books that I’ve read before that I will re-read with students. But my reading for this year will be novels and classics and works of non-fiction that are interesting to me but have nothing to do with my job (like this one).

I hope this accomplishes a couple of things:

  1. Saves money
  2. Clears mental clutter
  3. Helps me learn new and interesting things, and forces me to practice what I often preach (integration: finding God’s truth in unexpected places)

Here it goes!

Our Feelings About Church

Over the weekend Rachel Held Evans published a blog post about how Millennials are leaving the church. Anyone doing ministry with college students or young adults saw this post, yawned, and went back to making disciples of the millennials who are leaving the church.

Other people got all fired up about it. I saw lots of facebook posts/tweets either lauding the article or worrying about her conclusions.

An observation: nothing Evans wrote about is new. McLaren wrote about this in 2000, as did Eddie Gibbs. No one has written more insightfully about this phenomenon than Christian Smith and Kenda Dean (my favorite). It’s been David Kinnamen’s life work.

Evans has received some push back, and some of it has been pretty good. See this and this.

I don’t have much more to add to the conversation, especially after Jonathan Fitzgerald went and posted this today. But, if there is something that stands out to me about millennials, it is best captured by recounting a scene from the greatest movie of all time: High Fidelity.

High Fidelity follows the story of Rob, a music snob who spends his time running a record store, making top 5 lists for everything under the sun, and trying to figure out why he’s never found the love of his life.

At the end of the film Rob reveals to his girlfriend that he is producing an album for some local skate-punks. His girlfriend is proud of him: “Rob, the professional critic, is finally putting something out there in the world.”

If there is something unique about millennials it just might be this: we’re a generation of professional critics. There is no shortage of outlets these days for people to share their opinions, to let the world know what we like and don’t like, what we need and hate, what we want to get rid of and what we want.

But, as Fitzgerald points out, talking (expressing our endless opinions) doesn’t matter as much as action.

Rob undergoes a transformation: critic to creator, and that is what is needed in the church today. Not more opinions, ideas, blog posts, or books.

If I had one creator for every five critics we’d change a whole lot.