Insert Flaw Here

imageToday, I learned that it’s okay to admit you got a bad perm.

I had been hiding this dirty little secret as much as I could for the past few weeks, save for the scathing Yelp review I wrote about my insanely, awful experience. (Which you can read here: http://m.yelp.com/biz/tgf-hair-salon-austin-16?skip_bridge=true )

I have put my hair up into a tight, twisted bun so many times in the past month, I thought my hair would never stay down. This morning while getting ready, I couldn’t fathom another day up in a top bun, but as I began to gather the mass of frizz atop my head, it hit me: in my shame, I had chosen to hide myself away from the world, rather than embrace every part of who I am, hair included.

Most of you who know me know I’ve spent the better part of two years actively working on learning how to love myself, and up until just recently, I felt I had become fairly successful at it. I feel like a better, more confident version of myself, and I am even an extremely proud owner of the bikini I’ve tried to spend all summer in.

However, it became very real to me today that even with the motivating self-talks, the bikinis, and the new-found freedom, when push came to shove, I unconsciously had shifted back into the comfortable, reclusive place I have spent so much of my life. I was undoubtedly disgusted with myself, not only for the fro that I had sitting on top of my head, but for the way I had treated myself. Instead of embracing who I am, I had opted for picking and choosing what I thought people would like about me, and in my opinion, it certainly wasn’t going to be my hair.

It took 6 people (seriously!) telling me that they liked my hair today before I realized I had grossly overreacted to the unfortunate perm incident. In my mind, I believed strongly that no one, not even my own mother, would like what I looked like, and if they said they did, they were lying. I quickly realized that I had done this to myself time and time again while growing up, and not just with my hair. It hit me that I had inspected myself in extreme detail and found every singular flaw about myself and hated myself for them, because I felt other people would do it.

I’m sure you could look in the mirror and find many things you don’t love about yourself, and if you’re anything like me, I’m sure you already have. What makes those things particularly unappealing?

Because everyone else has perfect (insert flaw here)?

Maybe because the girl/guy on the cover of the magazine doesn’t have that flaw?

What about that you read in an article that the only way to find a girlfriend/boyfriend is by fixing it or covering it up in 3 easy steps?

That’s insane, right? We’ve taken the beautifully unique things about ourselves and forced ourselves into thinking they’re flaws, not characterizations. If everyone in the world had a perfect nose, evenly spaced eyes, a perfectly shaped jaw, and full lips, do you think we’d really be able to tell the difference between one another? Absolutely not.

Today, I’m celebrating my chemically-induced curls, along with my thin lips, bad skin, and misaligned jaws. What are you celebrating about yourself?

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Effective Creative Meetings

I’ll admit it, I’m a result-getter, and the nature of what I do requires that I look at the process at which it’s done, else I forego any sort of creativity, which would be counterproductive to my job description.

Here’s where I struggle; how do we get from point A to point B in the most creative way we can think of, and how can we do it in an effective way?

While it may seem odd or foreign to most, I love meetings. A lot. I typically analyze the people I’m meeting with and sift through information rather quickly to draw out some of their creative thoughts that they may be trying to put in non-creative terms. You know what’s really hard to do? Self analyze. That’s why it’s truly important to gather around a group of people with the same end goal, but different personalities, backgrounds, thinking styles.

But that being said, it’s important to capitalize on the importance of knowing what everyone’s end goal is. This is why it’s frustrating when trying to attain an effective web strategy when you’re talking to your ministers; ultimately, all they want is for people to find their ministry on the website as fast as possible, and others involved want an effective website that has a clean, user-friendly design and full of content that will bring the user back.

This is a situation I’ve honestly been struggling with lately. In the church world, it’s often not easy to find like goaled people because God has created everyone for a very specific purpose. Meetings are important to help get everyone on the same page, and you have to do that before you can have an effective meeting.

Here are a few ideas on how to maximize creativity in meetings:

1. Be flexibly prepared 
It’s important to know what you’re going in to achieve, but it’s also important to recognize that God is going to be at work actively in your meeting, and you can’t stifle God with simple “Yes” and “No” answers. Know the end-goal, but don’t be surprised if you end up on a tangent. Tangents are really important to creativity, and I truly believe that creativity oozes out of tangents, because if we’re open and active to the conversation, we may find the answer in simply a round-about way. If you’re leading the meeting, ask guiding(not leading) questions, and don’t force answers, but rather encourage healthy discussion, and that means everyone shouldn’t be in agreement.

2. Play Devil’s Advocate–Judiciously
One of the best ways to work out the nitty-gritty details of your ideas is to work through the pros and cons of each idea. Each idea may be drastically different or strikingly similar, so it’s important to narrow down the ideas by looking at the consequences of each. If you’re leading the meeting, you must  be careful with this one, otherwise you’ll look like you’re shooting down every idea. Part of what makes politics so popular is that there are people who see valid and invalid points to each side, and you have to be Switzerland. Don’t take sides, and that means don’t necessarily take the favorable side, even of your own idea. When you initiate this kind of conversation, you open the floor to debate, which is seriously important to creativity.

3. Be drastic

Set the playing field from the get-go. Something I feel a lot of leaders take for granted is setting standards. In a meeting, personify the kind of creativity you want by giving an example/idea of something as drastic as you’re looking for. When your team understands the kind of material you want, you’re likely to spend your time more wisely. When you’re drastic, you give permission for your team to release their more wilder ideas and not feel like a black sheep. As a leader, you’ll also inspire them to think on that playing field.

4. Be ready to take action

The most annoying thing I have found a leader can do is take inaction after a meeting. When you narrow down your options, you’ve got to be the one who  keeps the spirit of the meeting alive outside the conference room. Send an email, do a quick shout-out, and be the first to take action. Don’t be a player, either– Take action immediately. Show your team you’ve got initiative and you care about the hour you just spent with them, or you’ll lose passion faster than you can say “creativity”. Don’t short yourself of that passion in your organization, keep it alive by honoring the time you spend with them.

How to Create a Free Church Website (Seriously.)

Web 2.0 has literally brought a brand new twist to the meaning of what it means to use the Internet, and with hefty stats encouraging the use of the Internet in ministry, it’s hard for churches to ignore it. There are a plethora of options on the web offering easy solutions, but if you haven’t noticed already, you pay generously for it.

This was an issue we dealt with in our church back in October, an with lackluster results from ACS’ Extend, we felt that there was definitely a better way to achieve our web ministry and with the right research skills, it happened. Our website is now in full swing and gaining almost 3 times the amount of traffic that it once did. Guess how much we pay/paid for ours? Not a single penny.

Here’s a real solution for your church, and I promise, there’s no upfront cost, there’s no monthly cost, and the only thing you need is a competent person to enter text (which should be anyone in your office, seeing as everything is now digital):

1. First, develop your web strategy. Monk Development has some fantastic ideas on the basic structure of a web strategy and if you’ve never heard of Drew Goodmanson, it’s probably a good time to Google him (I even did all the hard work for you). This is an incredibly crucial step in creating an effective website, and thankfully for me, when I was brought on board, the majority of this leg work had already been done, so my only effort on this step was refining the strategy and making sure it was implemented correctly.

2. Find your web hosting company. This is as well important, but again, this is some research you probably don’t have to look too far into, because part of the reason I’m posting this is to help churches get their websites free. Totally.  That being said, DreamHost is who we’ve decided to use, and the reason? They offer FREE HOSTING for non-profits (which means churches. All of ’em.) When you are filling out your registration, and it gets to the payment part, stop. Fax them your 501(c) non-profit proof, and they’ll get your hosting all set up ASAP. It’s free. Forever.

3. Download WordPress. Yeah, some web gurus will shy away from this, but for churches, especially churches that lack a solid web designer/manager, WordPress has a very, very minimal learning curve, natural SEO and is therefore one of the best solutions. It’s a WYSIWYG(What You See Is What You Get), and the back-end is pretty straightforward. DreamHost even offers a 1-click install, and takes about 10 minutes total to get you set up and ready to go.

4. Pick your theme. You’ve pretty much got free reign on this, there are plenty of free themes you could use, and if you’ve got a competent PHP-savvy member who’s willing to offer their time and efforts to code you up something, that’s a plus. Most churches choose to invest around $40-$50 on a premium theme at this point, but you don’t have  to.

5. Import all of your content. This is really important. Without content on your pages, it’d be pretty pointless to have a website. Remember: your website is the face and voice of your church, and most people look at your web presence before considering looking at your physical presence.

This takes time, especially step 1. But you will reap the benefits. During our Ash Wednesday service, someone mentioned on their welcome card that they appreciated our web information and chose to come here out of the many other churches because of our website, so people notice, they care. If you don’t believe me, get Google Analytics. I love looking at the stats and seeing our loyalty, map overlay, and mobile stats. It shows there’s a pulse in this ministry, and it aids other ministries in ways unthinkable.

Selling Worship

For some reason, printer/copier companies have been knocking on our door lately. I went to a little mixer a couple of weeks ago to check out a company with my brother. I wasn’t severely impressed with them, but it was a good experience and it got a few ideas of the direction I want to head with that sort of technology in mind. Today a small group of us went to another mixer “working lunch” with a guest speaker who acted like he knew quite a bit about church communications, and after 4-5 minutes, I realized he was a product pusher, and not a communicator. I was slightly perturbed by it and found myself immediately dismissing what he was saying.

Shortly after that, it was time for the worship meeting, something I genuinely look forward to, this is where all the “magic” happens, in my opinion. This is the only space we can all get together and hash out ideas that will either become part of a worship experience or not. As we started the meeting, I was determined to make them view creativity in worship differently no matter what. It wasn’t until the middle of my rant about why we should be using social media in worship that I recognized the similarities between the speaker at the lunch I attended and myself. Now, it wasn’t about sharing the ideas, it was about selling them to the worship team.

There I realized I had made a fatal mistake. These meetings aren’t about selling my ideas to them, it’s about finding the most suitable way to express ourselves in worship at our services.

In the end, worship isn’t about doing the flashiest or techiest things possible. It’s about breaking hearts and renewing the spirit within. Our main goal shouldn’t be to maintain job security or do something simply because another church is doing it, you need to do what’s right for your congregation and what’s right for the Kingdom. If you do that, everything else will fall into place as it should be. And that’s where innovation in the Church begins.