Saturday, October 27, 2018

Family Visit

We were so thankful to have Nate's parents (Oma & Opa) here with us for nearly two weeks in early October. We had a really special time together playing at home, doing some fun outings and taking a 5-day trip to the Alps. We also got to celebrate Maya's birthday with them before they left. Here are a few highlights from our time together:

Visit and hike up to Dürnstein Castle

At the top of Dürnstein
Walking around on top of Dachstein

Snow in October!

The view from the top of Dachstein

Riding up the cable car to the overlook in Hallstatt



Sisters holding hands!

The house we rented in St. Martin am Tennengebirge

Going for a hike

Enjoying the fall colors!

Exploring Hallstatt

Walking around Salzburg

Overlooking Salzburg from the fortress

Running Around and Chasing a Ball

I (Nate) tend to enjoy solo sports. It is fun to compete against myself and see how I grow as I train and work hard. But when a guy at our church wanted to start a soccer group, I jumped at the chance to build relationships with some of the younger guys in our church. I also love the chance to stay fit and run around. I have accepted the fact that many of these guys have been playing soccer a lot longer than I have and are way more skilled, but I can run hard and have a good time. This last weekend, we had a practice tournament against a few other teams on Saturday morning. It can be hard for me to make time for an event like this. Saturdays are important family times, as well as the chance to spend time with people we are connected to inside and outside of the church. But I think this time with these guys is also important. So as we stepped out onto the field, I was genuinely curious how the day would go.

Well first things first, we lost... Every. Game. It was hard to be at the bottom of the pile. I played defense most of the game, and man, some of the other offensive players were small and fast and just way beyond my abilities. In no way did my few seasons of grade school and middle school soccer prepare me to face these guys. I honestly didn't expect anything different for myself. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I am not sure I expected it to go this badly. I had heard we hadn't done well in previous games, but I didn't know that we would lose all of our games. And that we would lose them so decisively. Most of the other teams were just better. But here is something I realized: this is practice. Not just actual match practice. Not that we are practicing soccer. We are practicing life. This brings up a basic question: How do I handle failure? What do I do when I screw up? What do I do when it feels like the failure of your team is someone else's fault? How easy is it to undervalue my own failures and overvalue others? Once you start thinking of things this way, it can be hard to stop asking these sorts of questions. Each question has a subtly different answer. Each question peels back the layers, showing us the selfishness and sinfulness in each of our hearts.

The challenge is we often face true failure so seldom in regular life, that it can be hard to apply the personal gains to the next instance. But in this environment, where we get to accelerate the exposure, we can also learn more about it in our own lives. I said this is retrospect to a few people after the games, and the more I process it, the deeper in strikes home for me. The way we win or lose is far more important than the outcome. Displaying godly character is far more important than a number on a page. Scoring goals is fun. Winning is fun as well, but my identity is not defined by the number on the page.

I think the ultimate question I'm sorting through here is: Is there a Christian way to win and lose? Can we glorify God and be a witness in how we treat people when emotions are high on the field? I've seen it before, and I strive to model it as well. I want to be someone that works hard, that pushes and gives it my all, but also someone who doesn't lose a kindness that stems from remembering the image of God in each of my fellow teammates and the people I'm playing against. It is possible to show people Christ as we play together because I've seen it. I've seen players that work hard, but are selfless and charitable. I've seen and made my best effort to grab onto the chances to encourage others and to tell them when they did well. This is a habit that should extend into our daily life. We should be generous with our encouragement.

I found this to a be a pretty valuable experience, even though my 35 year old body is hurting, and we lost every game. Where do you see unexpected discipleship opportunities around you?

Monday, September 24, 2018

Dealing with Weakness

I like to listen to podcasts. I may in fact be that guy who mentions it in a conversation. Much of what I listen to is incredibly nerdy and only of interest to insatiably curious people like me. One podcast I've come to enjoy is the outgrowth of an internet friendship. Two guys, Destin from Smarter Every Day and Matt from the 10 Minute Bible Hour, got together and started having conversations about history, science and things that they thought were interesting. I listened to one of their recent episodes called "Congrats...On a Life with Chapters". And it hit home for me because our rhythm of life provides this sort of chapter structure. Our life is one where we have extended times of ministry, usually between 2 and 3 years, and then we travel back to the States and get the chance to share what God has done and give an update. This provides milestones or boundary lines for our life. It marks the changes that have happened in our lives.

Some changes are obvious. Last time we were in the States, we had one child; now there are two. Last time, my hair was one shade darker; now you see a lot more grey. But some changes are more subtle and under the surface. Through conversations with some of the really great people we know across the country, I had the opportunity to look back on the last few years of ministry, and these are some of the themes that have emerged, especially as we've transitioned into a position of leadership.

1. No Leader Can Do It All
It is easy to fool ourselves as leaders, to think that we have things together. Often we expect a leader to have an overabundance of all of the necessary skills. They must be gifted administrators, communicators, organizers, visionaries, and not let anything fall through the cracks. The reality is leaders are people, and all people have strengths and weaknesses. This is of course an obvious observation, especially for leaders we know that have glaring weakness, but I think where it really holds true are for exactly those leaders who look like they are competent. Exactly those people who look like they are holding it together are the ones for whom this reminder is the most important, and it is important mainly because of my second point.

2. Our Weaknesses Don't Have Only Short-term Consequences 
We often have this short-term view of areas in our life where we are not as strong. We see it play out in the smaller ways. I am, for example, really bad at calendars. Dates don't stick well in my head, and I struggle to keep them all straight. My Google calendar has saved my bacon so many times. I get into a situation where I have completely forgotten an appointment but was reminded in time to make it. My wife and I joke that I know so little about the calendar that she takes care of it and I just put my shoes on when she tells me to so we can leave on time. These things play themselves out in the micro, in the specific moments. But they also have longer term impacts. People often point out that pastors that have served in churches for longer periods of time tend to take on some of their weaknesses, even down to a structural level. If my weaknesses as a leader go unchecked, then that can have lasting consequences. 

3. I Need to Know My Weaknesses 

It is incumbent on leaders, not just leaders that struggle but all leaders, to know themselves. I need to know my weaknesses and strengths. I must be aware of my blind spots and the places where I struggle. I need to recognize where I am lacking and then find people around me that can help to balance out where I are weak. I need that level of self-awareness. I need to see my own weaknesses and see the places where I need others. I also then need to empower those people that are strong in certain areas to take those areas over so I can also work in my strengths.

Much of this I have been processing as I have been stepping into the role of leading our team here in Austria. I've been asking big questions about what we want this team, this community of workers to look like. Some of this is recognizing that Bethany is very gifted administratively, and there are some details that she handles effortlessly that would bog me down. Working together in this, we are strong where the other person is weak. To accomplish the things that we want to see happen as a field leader, I need to be honest with myself about my weaknesses. We need to then seek out strategies and people that can help me work through those weaknesses.

As I was thinking about this, I posed the question to my brother, who is also in full-time ministry. His big question about all these ideas, which I found profound, was how do we do this? What does this look like practically? It is profound because we often see leaders investing in those that they manage. We see a boss doing "professional development" with her employees...but actually if we are going to put this into practice, if we really are going to be realistic about our weaknesses as leaders, then there needs to be space for humble leaders that ask hard questions about themselves and ask those they partner with to accurately assess them. We need to be open to healthy feedback and criticism. We to have our antenna up. When we hear suggestions or critiques, we need to receive them with humility and gladness, even if we ultimately go a different direction.