The Christmas Letter Has Gone Digital

I have become a big fan of outsourcing.  This year I discovered that I could have someone else shop for my groceries and it has changed. my. life.  I did pretty much all of my shopping on Amazon this year, and mobile ordering my coffee has become a way of life.  It might be a sickness.

On my quest for a complete automation of my family’s home life I also discovered that Shutterfly has a department of elves that will print, stuff, address, stamp, and mail your Christmas cards.  I love America.

It is because of this you are likely reading this since I put a handy dandy little link on the back of our cards this year. So without further ado I present to you, my dear reader:

The Smalling Year in Review: Christmas Letter Edition.

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Joy

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I looked over at the clock, it was 3:58am.  The reason I’m up is I just got kicked in the head by Chicken Little who, at some point last night, wiggled his way into our bed and promptly fell asleep.  Between the snores of Sweet Hubs, Neurosis the Wonder Dog, and Chicken Little, there was no hope for sleep redemption last night.  I’m not even sure how long he was there but I do know that he wasn’t there when I fell asleep the first time.

That little sneak.

This scenario played out again at 5:45am, 6:00am, 6:22am, 6:54am and finally I relented at 7:00am and hoped the tv could babysit for another 30 minutes while I tried to will myself out of bed on 4 hours of sleep.

Dear Coffee, I love you.  Will you be my Valentine?

Sometimes in the rush of life we miss the little things.  And even though I feel like that exhausted rodent on the front of my coffee mug this morning I’m choosing to find joy.

Joy that Sweet Hubs made coffee for me before he headed off to class (part atonement for leaving me all day with Chicken Little and mostly because he’s great like that).

Joy that my house is warm, messy, but warm.

Joy that a healthy little boy can run across the house in the middle of the night and crawl into bed with his mom and dad.

Joy in the million little things that make up this life.  This beautiful mess of a life that I share with my boys (and one neurotic, smelly dog).

Pillars of Salt

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“Ughhhhhhhhh.  Really?”

I was just brushing my teeth minding my own business when I heard the way-too-intense-for-this-early-in-the-morning-groan from Sweet Hubs.  It wasn’t the usual I-wish-my-kid-could-get-his-own-breakfast grumble, it was more of an exasperation mixed with a bit of mild sadness.

Curious as to the culprit of this I poked my head out of the bathroom and saw what he was watching.  The Today Show was doing a story on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition‘s newest cover model.

You know, the one they had to use a photoshopped ribbon to cover her exposed, ahem, dainties, because it was “too hot for morning tv.”

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When Boomer Pastors Retire: A Millenial Response

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Earlier today on Twitter (while I was a multi-tasking Millenial mom picking up her child from preschool), I ran across this article about retiring Boomers and it’s impact on pastoral leadership in the church. It is a thought I have been having since college that, in recent years, is starting to gain some traction among the two (three – we’ll let you in on this conversation too, GenXers) affected generations.

We have a problem.

But it’s not impossible to solve.

Yet.

Give it a few more years and we, rising Millenial church leaders and retiring Boomers, will merely be plugging holes on the dam with chewing gum. Instead, we need to be willing and ready to have this strategic conversation now that puts all of us around a table in our local contexts instead of later when it’s too late and we’re scrambling to put someone–anyone–in roles they are ill-equipped or unready to fill.  Side note: this is true other places as well, specifically, higher education.

In order for us to stay ahead, we’re all going to have to compromise something — be it worship styles, discipleship principles, allocation of budget, belief systems (note: not the truth of Jesus, just in the approach we all want to take, make sense?) every side is going to have to put some skin in this game in order for this to work.  Every side is going to have to bend a little.

A generation depends on it.

The reason I know this is because I’m one of those minority Millenial church leaders who are watching these clouds forming on the horizon and can’t quite do anything about it. I signed up for vocational ministry in my teens while my counterparts were studying abroad and taking internships on Wall Street.  I got married right after college and became a mom a few short years later.  I’m a minority statistic in all the categories of how “my generation” behaves.  But again, I’m more than a statistic.  All I want to do is to help point all the people to Jesus but I’m cut off at the knees with my churchless 20something friends because all they see us do is fight about insignificant stuff, meanwhile, they are volunteering their guts out for non-profits out there fighting for social justice (and sometimes even winning).  Don’t misunderstand, I very much love the Church, but it frustrates the mess out of me when I feel like it doesn’t love Millenials back.  Sure, it loves me because I lead the kids but if I didn’t lead the kids, would I (and my other Millenial-leader friends) have a place in its sanctuaries and on its teaching teams?  I sure hope so.

Hear me out, Boomers.  You are going to retire and I know you love the flocks you’ve been shepherding for all of these years.  Truth is, we love them, too.  And no, we won’t do it just like you did but we’re not going to change it all the minute you retire, either.  In fact, we’ll keep most of it — we’ll just dress it up in some skinny jeans and #hashtag it.

Moses didn’t keep all the secrets of leadership to himself and then drop it on Joshua in a 6 month span.  Joshua pops up in Exodus, long before Moses is even thinking about “retirement” (spoiler alert: he dies).  Gradually, Joshua find himself in increasingly more “high-stakes” leadership stuff while Moses is still there beside him.  Then when it was time to transition the leadership the people followed (Joshua 1:16-18).  In two short verses the allegiance shifted from one to another because for most of their wandering, they saw the burden of leadership shared between them.

A seat at the table, a chance to spread our wings, a safe place to fail and to grow, it’s all I ask for you to consider.

Fly in a V

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During migration season birds fly hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles to get to a warmer climate for the winter.  In order to get where they are going they fly in a skein (or, as the Mighty Ducks call it, a “flying V”).  One bird leads the pack and faces the wind while the others fall in behind in a V formation flying in the draft of the lead bird.  Because they do this, the rest of the birds limit flight fatigue and as a result, the whole group can fly further than they would if they were just flying on their own in the same direction all fighting the wind at the same time.

Over the course of a migratory trip, every bird takes its turn as the leader — fighting against the wind and directing the course—and every bird takes its turn somewhere in the V, using that time to rest without slowing up the whole operation.  When the lead bird falls back, there’s always one to move in to take its place; they aren’t jockeying for position, though, they are simply working to their capacity and then allowing others to do the same.  There’s no need for the group to ever stop, reset, or bring in an outsider to lead them since they all share the burden of facing the wind at one point or another.  They are all able to be replaced and are all replaceable.

What’s more is that every bird has a role that is specific for a time but can change positions easily for the preservation of the whole group.

A lot of ministry teams have leaders that are all flying in the same direction, but some teams fly together in a V formation and others are just all flying together, all fighting the wind at the same time.  Here are 3 things to think about to decide whether or not you lead a team of migrating birds or a team of birds that just fly in the same direction:

Your team believes in a shared vision.
Are you all synchronized around the same vision? I’m not talking about individual ministry goals that need to be specific to the age groups being served, I’m talking about the end game. The thing that you’re all working towards tirelessly, the thing that everything else filters through before making it into your team’s individual game plans. For example, if your goal for your family ministry is to connect kids and students to consistent, caring adults is your whole team leading their individual ministries in a way that can accomplish that?  One way to test that is to ask them what they think the end game of your ministry is–you might be surprised at the varying answers.

You hire legacies, not people.
When you grow, you need more staff.  When you need more staff and you’re in a crunch sometimes the hiring decision is made based on current, not future needs.  When you hire legacies, you’re looking for someone who isn’t going to build something that will crumble as soon as he or she leaves because he or she did it all, all the time.  Rather, you’re looking for someone who understands that their time on your team, whether it’s 2 years or 20 years, will always need to be about working toward the shared team vision, not their own.  Someone who spends just as much time developing others as he or she does developing the ministry.  Sometimes, this also requires a little flexibility with you because you’ll want to be able to recognize when your leader needs to move to a different role within your team to stay engaged and enthusiatic about accomplishing the vision. This is especially important when hiring milllenials: they will get itchy and want to do something else but are loyal to the organization (most of the time).  The trick is to lead them in such a way that they can feel free to move around within the team structure because they’ve developed others to replace them and they want to do something new.  When you approach it this way, you’ll find some of the greatest leaders because they will not feel trapped or defined by their role, and they’ll be free to lead and fall back during different seasons of their time with your team.

Each team member leads their own flock of birds.
Every member on your team likely works within the framework of your larger church structure, but the best leaders and best teams build their own flocks within their ministry areas.  The stronger your structures, the less likely you’ll have to rebuild when one moves out or moves on.  Don’t sugarcoat it, make it part of your culture and hold your team accountable to it.  Those on your team who lead this way are going to leave the team well (if they ever do) and the ministry as a whole will thrive.  When this works well, sideways energy is eliminated and the vision of your church/ministry/organization is protected and nurtured.  Everyone wins and ownership increases.

What are some other things you do to make sure that your team is in a flying V?  Love to hear your thoughts!