Ignorance and Malice Are Not the Same Thing

One of the things that we truly believe is that people thrive in community. You simply cannot thrive in isolation, and a key ingredient in what adoptive and foster families need to thrive is to be connected to a healthy church ministry that understands them and will support them as they travel their adoption and foster care journey. Feeling connected is the first step towards being engaged. Families feel connected when they feel like their kids are understood and loved.

Families feel connected when they feel like their kids are understood and loved. Click To Tweet

Children’s ministry is so different now from what I remember as a child. I can still recall the little church I grew up attending. On Sunday mornings all of the children would gather and sing a few songs at the front of the Worship Center. We would sing songs from “This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine” to “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so.” After that we would be dismissed to our classes where we were taught the Sunday School lesson.

But the world my children are growing up in is vastly different to the one that I grew up in. There are more things vying for our attention than ever before which has created an attention deficit society. We are bombarded and we are overload. Everything is bigger, better, faster, more and children’s ministry in many ways resembles now that. We try to pack more into 75 minutes than we ever have before.

According to study conducted by the Barna group they found that 45% of adults picked a church based on the strength of the children’s programming offered. Now, that is both good and terrifying news for our churches. It is good news because a healthy, strong children’s ministry is a great way for families to get connected to the church. But if the program is not thriving then it will be a reason that many families move away. According to the research, our churches have both a great opportunity and a great responsibility.

But I think we need to talk about a key assumption before we go any further because I hear this from families all of the time; “children’s ministry doesn’t care about our kids.” While that statement can feel very real to parents, I counter that assumption with this idea; most people are not malicious, they’re just not informed, they don’t know any better.

I once had a boss who shared the following with me, and it has helped my frustration level every time I have encountered a situation where I felt like people were not understanding what I was trying to communicate. He told me to “never assume malice when ignorance will be sufficient.” We tend to assign sinister motives to people when the most likely cause of their actions is that they simply don’t know any better.

Here is the definition of MALICE

Malice [mal-is] noun – the desire to inflict injury, harm, or suffering on another, either because of a hostile impulse or out of deep-seated meanness.

That doesn’t sound like anyone I know who works in children’s ministry. I don’t know any people who volunteer their time on Sundays who have the desire to inflict injury or harm on the kids at our church. Children’s ministry volunteers are rarely, if ever, described as mean.

Here is the definition of IGNORANT.

Ignorant [ig-ner-uh-nt] adjective – lacking in knowledge or training; unlearned, lacking knowledge or information as to a particular subject or fact, uninformed; unaware.

When it comes to understanding trauma and its impacts on our kids, I have to agree with the advice my old boss gave me all of those years ago; “Never assume malice when ignorance will be sufficient.”

Now, some people might bristle at the thought of being considered ignorant, but the word simply means unaware or uninformed; lacking in knowledge or training.

Children’s ministry is designed to be both instructional and entertaining because we have to create an environment where kids are taught the truth of scripture while making sure it was fun enough that they want to come back next week.

The biggest problem with that idea is that it offers no understanding of what a hard place is and how our kids are affected by them.

The 6 risk factors that make a hard place are:

  1. Prenatal stress and harm
  2. Difficult labor and delivery
  3. Early medical trauma
  4. Abuse
  5. Neglect
  6. Trauma

Before we go any further I think we can all agree that those 6 risk factors are not unique to adopted or foster children. But here’s the thing, if our children’s ministry staff and volunteers do not know the 6 risk factors that make a hard place, and how they impact the brain, biology, body, beliefs, and behavior of our kids, we cannot make them responsible for using connected strategies with the children. We have to own the fact that it is our responsibility as advocates for these children, our children, to educate and equip the key people in the children’s ministry at our churches.

We bear a great responsibility in the matter. Because asking the church to have a trauma informed ministry is a big ask. It’s a big ask because we’re asking them to do differently what they have done the same way for years. It’s a big ask because we’re asking them to change their assumptions about some of the children in their care. It’s a big ask because we’re asking them to interact with the children differently. It’s a big ask because we’re asking them to think about what trauma is and how it impacts each child.

And if we ask them, we have to be prepared to equip them. You see it’s not enough to ask people to implement a trauma informed ministry if we have not given them the tools and the resources they will need.

It's not enough to ask people to implement a trauma informed ministry, we must equip them. Click To Tweet

Before we ask children’s ministries to change, we need to ensure that we have the knowledge and the experience to equip them. We need to have read The Connected Child multiple times we need to have read The Whole-Brain Child multiple times. We should all know how to explain the “Handy Model of the Brain” and how we “flip our lids” and how we can re-connect our upstairs brain to our downstairs brain again. We cannot ask others to do something if we are not willing to do it ourselves. We cannot ask others to do something if we have not equipped them.

What we are doing is asking a big ship to change direction.

There are two things that are true about big ships turning. One of them is that big ships turn slowly and the second is that big ships encounter the roughest waters in the middle of the turn because they are being broadsided by the waves. You should expect the same two things from the big ship that you’re trying to turn at your church.

Ships encounter the roughest waters in the middle of the turn. Click To Tweet

But don’t be discouraged because God asks us to do big things and then he equips us to do big things. The bible says that we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which he prepared in advance for us to do. Helping your children’s ministry become a trauma informed ministry is just a part of you walking in your calling.

Our church asked my wife to be a roaming behavior interventionist at VBS last summer. As she was walking down the hallway one day she heard two distinctive sounds,  One was a crying child and the other was an aggressive tone coming  from one of the teenage volunteers. As my wife got closer she heard the teenage girl say this to the crying 4 year old, “I’m going to leave you out here by yourself if you don’t stop crying and you’re not going to get a snack when you get back to class.”

Let’s unpack that for a minute.

A crying child is a child that is in distress. Instead of responding to him like he was struggling, she responded to him like he was behaving badly. But before we judge the teenage girl too harshly let’s consider this…she didn’t know any better. Nobody had equipped her for that moment and it is most likely that her experience as a child amounted to this, “Do as you’re told or suffer the consequences”, just like she told the little boy. I don’t believe that the first time she heard the words “stop crying or I’m going to leave you out here by yourself” was when she uttered them that morning to the 4 year old little boy.

That incident at that VBS was a turning point for our church. That was when they realized that they had to start doing things differently and asked us to come and train them on trauma and how it affects the children in their care.

Now, back to the teenage girl because she really illustrates the issue at hand. She was doing the best she could with what she knew. Maya Angelou once said “Do the best you can until you know better and when you know better, do better.”

We all know better, now we bear the responsibility to help our churches know better so that they can do better. So that they can become life-giving communities where adoptive and foster families feel like they belong.

Here is an audio version of the text if you’d like to listen to Ryan presenting at CAFO Summit 2016 in Orlando.

Common Logical Fallacies

My 14-year-old son is studying formal logic and I am loving watching him learn and discussing it with him. The following are descriptions and examples of 10 common logical fallacies. Understanding them can be very helpful.

  1. Ad Hominem: This occurs when an author attacks his opponent instead of his opponent’s argument.
    Example: Trina thinks guns should be outlawed but Trina doesn’t go to church, so we shouldn’t listen to her
  2. Ad Populum: Ad Populum attempts to prove an argument as correct simply because many people believe it to be so.
    Example: 80% of people are for the death penalty, therefore, the death penalty is moral.
  3. Appeal to Authority:  In this fallacious argument, the author claims his argument is right because someone famous or powerful supports it.
    Example: We should change the drinking age because Einstein believed that 18 was the proper drinking age
  4. Begging the Question: This happens when the author’s premise and conclusion say the same thing.
    Example: Fashion magazines don’t hurt women’s self-esteem because women’s confidence is intact after reading the magazine.
  5. False Dichotomy: This fallacy rests on the assumption that there are only two possible solutions, so disproving one solution means that other solution should be utilized. It ignores other alternative solutions.Example: The teacher gives too many A’s and therefore must be fired because grade inflation is unfair to other students
  6. Hasty Generalization: Hasty Generalization occurs when the proponent uses too small of a sample size to support a sweeping generalization.Example: Sally couldn’t find any cute clothes at the boutique and neither could Maura, so the boutique doesn’t have any cute clothes.
  7. Post Hoc/ False Cause: This fallacy assumes that correlation equals causation or, in other words, if one event predicts another event it must have also caused the event.Example: The football team gets better grades than the baseball team, therefore playing football makes you smarter than playing baseball.
  8. Missing the Point: In Missing the Point, the premise of the argument supports a specific conclusion but not the one the author draws. Example: Antidepressants are overly prescribed which is dangerous, so they should clearly be made illegal.
  9. Spotlight Fallacy: This occurs when the author assumes that the cases that receive the most publicity are the most common cases.Example: 90% of news reports talk about negative events. Therefore, it follows that 90% of events that occur in the real world are negative.
  10. Straw Man: In this fallacy, the author puts forth one of his opponent’s weaker, less central arguments forward and destroys it, while acting like this argument is the crux of the issue.Example: My opponent wants to increase teachers’ pay but studies have shown that professors with tenure don’t work as hard at their job to improve themselves.

This list is taken from Improving Academic Performance: 10 Common Logical Fallacies. The original post can be found on MyGuru.com

What do you do?

What do you do? It’s a simple enough question, however, it’s one that many people can’t answer. Because when you get right down to it finding clarity of purpose is hard. Articulating purpose is harder still.

Hand typing on keyboardMost of us will say that we want clarity in all things. We want clarity in our relationships. We want clarity in our jobs. We want clarity in the instructions that came with the still unassembled baby crib in the next room. We want clarity of purpose.

I believe we all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to know that we are spending our time doing something that matters, but most of us, we when you get down to it, are too willing to settle. Besides, the status quo is usually more appealing that clarity, and easier to live with too.

The status quo feels warm and cozy, which gives it the illusion of safety. And most people will trade almost anything they have to feel safe. A recent survey asked participants what they valued most, the top answer was “safety.” The number one answer to the same survey used to be “freedom.” But as the old saying goes, harbors are safer than the open seas, it’s just that ships were not made for harbors.

So what is it that you do?

Maybe you were never given a formal job description. Maybe the job you do is nothing like the job you were hired to do. And now you’re just maintaining and not creating like you had always hoped you would.

Like I said before, we all want to know that what we do matters, you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t. But to know if what you do matters, you must first know what you do.

So can you answer the question? What is it that you do? Or perhaps we should ask the question on a larger scale. Why does where you work exist? What is it’s purpose? Many people spend their days without direction or sense of purpose because their job has become a paycheck. They’re just punching the clock.

I had the opportunity to meet with the board members of a local private, Christian school, as well as the school’s director. In the course of our time together I asked them to take three minutes and write down why their school exists. Or asked another way, what was the purpose of their school. The only rule to this exercise was that they were not allowed to write down their mission statement.

There were five people from the school in the room and three minutes later I had five different answers. And I mean five very different answers. They were not even close. There were hardly any common words. It was almost like I was meeting with representatives from five different schools. There was nothing from their published literature and very little from their website on those pieces of paper. Everyone had their own vision for the school and at the same time nobody seemed to understand the school’s mission.

This is important if you’re trying to grow something. You can’t promote what you don’t understand

So here’s the rub, there are people leading organizations who can’t articulate the why they exist. I would venture to say that they have never truly thought about its purpose.

One of the best things ever shared with me is that in order to succeed I would need to answer two important questions; Who am I? and What is my purpose?

Let me rephrase those two questions in a way that gave them greater meaning to me; Who did God create me to be? and What did he equip me to do?

I think those two questions are amazing and demand that you be honest with yourself, perhaps more honest than you usually are. I know I had to be to get the answers I needed. If you answer them based on what you want the answers to be instead of what they are you’re just wasting your time.

Progress requires honesty.

Thoughts on MLK Day

MLK Noble Acceptance SpeechToday we pause and remember civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King. I can still remember the first time I watched footage of his “I Have a Dream” speech in history class. As a young man growing up in South Africa in the 1980’s Dr. King had a profound effect on my life because the speech he gave on August 23, 1963 in Washington DC caused me to question the world I was raised in. That speech changed the way I thought about the people around me and was instrumental in my family moving to the United States.

The “I Have a Dream” speech is his most famous oration and students study it in classrooms around the world. We all have our own version of the “I Have a Dream” speech and most of those dreams are now for our children. They include that our children will feel safe at school and that they won’t be labeled as “disruptive” or “difficult” or “bad”. We all have dreams that our children will be accepted and not ostracized, that they will be included and not excluded. We dream that they will be understood and loved.

But I don’t want to discuss our dreams for them because I want to share something Dr. King said a little over a year after that famous day in Washington DC. The following quote is from the speech he gave in Oslo, Norway on December 10, 1964 when he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize. It is one of my favorites.

“I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him.”

I love how he contrasts where we are (our “isness”) with where we should be (our “oughtness”). Our “isness” is the current state of events, it’s where we find ourselves. It’s the “now” that we live in. It’s where we are on the journey. But our “oughtness” is where we should be. It’s where we are called to be. It’s where we are meant to be. It’s the better day, the brighter tomorrow that we all long for. It’s where we get to stand in the sun.

The Nobel quote reminds me that nowhere is the contrast between “isness” and “oughtness” more evident than in the lives of our kids. They spend so much of their time living in fear when we want them to live a life free of fear. Through their own stories they have come to believe that adults can’t be trusted. That hurts us because we long for the day when they will trust us. It still hurts when they don’t trust us even though we know that we have to patiently and consistently walk beside them as they heal. We have to remember if we want to help them heal we need to connect with them and part of that connecting comes when we empower them.

I could keep going but there is no need. Our kids (like us) find themselves at a place of “isness” that is not their place of “oughtness”. We need to accept where they are on their journey and empower them and walk with them to where they ought to be. We have to help them find their voice. They need to know that thoughts, feelings, and opinions matter to us. We have to encourage them to express their feelings and we have to give them choices. We have to help them feel empowered.

We have to accept that our work is not done and that we need to stay faithful to the journey we are on. We cannot give up and we cannot give in because our kids need us. Our journey is one of empowering our kids, connecting with them, and ultimately being agents of healing in their lives. There is freedom in trusting safe people and there is freedom in living a life without fear. Dr. King believed that empowering people was an essential part of their journey to freedom. I couldn’t agree more.

This post can also be found on One Big Happy Home and Tapestry.

5 Keys to Building Better Relationships

couple holding hands on beach

I want better relationships, don’t you? Sometimes I feel like I spend more time thinking (or writing) about changing the way I interact with people than I actually spend changing the way I interact with people. I think some of you can relate. Change needs two things…ideas followed by actions.

Our example of the balance between ideas and action is Jesus. He didn’t only talk about healing the blind, He restored their sight. He didn’t only discuss the lame being able to walk, He made them walk. Jesus was a man of action. So I realize that for things to change I must change.

I’ve got to lead by example and so do you. Because if we’re going to be all that we were made to be then we need to take stock of who we are, and where we are, because for things to change I must change.

1. Be Proactive

Head for solutions before there are problems. If you initiate you won’t need to respond as much as you currently do. Don’t live in fear. Sometimes we don’t want to know the truth because, as Colonel Nathan R. Jessup famously told us, we can’t handle the truth. But your ability to deal with the truth does not change the truth. Since the truth is what it is you must run to it not from it.

2. Be Responsive

When someone reaches out to you respond to their needs. Instead of just talking about the things you need to do, you should go ahead and help. Don’t just engage in wheel-spinning exercises, but do things that help people with real needs. People respond to people who help them. If there is a need try to be the person who helps. If your child asks for some water because they are thirsty give them some water. Being responsive is not hard and it helps people realize that you care about them.

3. Be Transparent

I believe that your life should be an open book. What you see is what you should get. Your words and actions must be in alignment. Transparency includes admitting when you are wrong. This is hard for many adults. Admitting you were wrong to anyone can be very humbling but it is key in relationship building. Transparency leads to trust and trust is a precious gift.

4. Be Kind

As a concept it is easy to be kind but it can difficult to do. Sometimes when you’ve had a hard day and your kids are loud, and dare I say annoying, you must be kind to them. Because these are the moments when kindness is key. If you can be kind when you don’t want to be you’re a better person than most. You can make the world of difference with a kind word or deed.

5. Be Understanding

Everyone is struggling through this life. When those close to you face troubles they need to know that you are their ally and not their enemy. Life is hard and sometimes people just need someone who understands them. If you are not on the top of the list of people they come to for help you need to turn that around. If you are not their safe place they will find one. Knowing that you understand will go a long way to making you their safe place.

I believe that these five things are really important in building trust and improving relationships. What can you add that has worked for you?

6 Questions Everyone Should Ask

I believe there are six critical questions every ministry that is interested in growing and influencing people should ask. These questions should be asked not just to question things just for the sake of questioning them, but rather because the answers to the right questions will lead you to a better place. Rudyard Kipling called who, what, where, when, how and why his six friends who taught him everything he knew. I call the following six questions my friends who tell me everything I need to know about an organization.

  1. What do we offer?
  2. What are the rational benefits?
  3. What are the emotional benefits?
  4. What are our Icons?
  5. What are our Values?
  6. What is our Essence?

Each one of those six questions reveals who you are and what you do and are essential as you determine your plan and your identity. Without carefully and honestly working through each of these I believe you are headed for and an identity crisis, stagnation and potentially failure.