Wondering why you’re always fighting on Facebook? Here are 5 reasons our social media conversations are failing.

Is it possible to have good conversations on social media? I’m not so sure anymore.

The whole lot of yelling going on doesn’t seem helpful and I know I’m not the only one losing heart over our inability to engage each other meaningfully around important ideas and issues on which we might disagree.

Why is it so hard to talk on social media? Here are at least 5 reasons why.

1. Lack of Relationship

Whether the conversations are about carbon taxes, church strategies or the latest food allergies, they often rage between people who have no relationship with each other.  Maybe it started between friends, but the threads were quickly dominated by folks who do not know or love or understand one another. And with the absence of relationship comes absence of nuance and caring and empathy. And the absence of fruitful conversation.

2. Missing Context

More than once I’ve witnessed a show down between two people who, if they had known each other’s context, would have been much more careful and thoughtful in their responses. But this comment or that bullet response didn’t allow for that, and eruptions followed.  When I am in relationship with someone, I understand more of what’s behind the screen, and how I talk and respond and even challenge them changes as a result.

3. No Accountability

Perhaps nothing stands out more than how digital platforms create the illusion of anonymity, even if our names are posted right beside our comments! And with that illusion comes a lack of accountability. With our fingertips, we say things we will never be forced to back up (we can just log off!). There is no real way of holding to account someone’s ugly tirade or hateful comments, barring a little bit of shaming or blocking a certain user.

4. Little Trust

Another reason meaningful dialogue seems difficult is the lack of trust people have for each other. Given what we’ve said so far, it’s understandable–no relationship+no context+no accountability=very little trust.  And yet in order for a true exchange of ideas to occur, especially important and conflicting ideas, we have to extend some benefit of the doubt to the other person. We can’t think they are just idiots. As others have taught us, such as Patrick Lencioni, trust is foundational to good conflict over important ideas. But I see very little trust on the platforms (and often for good reason).

5. Limited Time

This one may surprise you, but I think the fifth reason conversations are difficult online is that we are often engaging in an ongoing thread of debate or discussion while moving at disorienting speed. We are commenting on this political idea while holding a bag of nails at the hardware store, then sniping in on someone else’s parenting comment while our own kid is demanding lunch. We just haven’t slowed down enough to engage, and end up reading too fast, commenting too quickly, failing to understand the issues, unable to follow through and then wondering why everyone’s so upset.  Some of these conversations just can’t be had within the time it takes to descend from the 4th floor of our office building.

So what do you think? Why is it so hard to have fruitful conversations on social media?


Getting ready for Christ-mass? Mary can help. Be like Mary.

When Mary first found out she was going to have a baby, she had only one question and only one response. You might have had more.

The Merode Altarpiece, Robert Campin c. 1428
The Merode Altarpiece, Robert Campin c. 1428

First, her question: while she might have been a innocent, Jewish girl, she knew how babies were made. And she hadn’t been anywhere near the production line. “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” she adroitly asks. And the answer is one-of-a-kind: the Holy Spirit is going to do something in you that’s never been done before, or ever will be done again. The son who will grow inside you will be conceived by the Holy Spirit, and he will be the King we’ve been waiting for and the Saviour of the world. (Luke 1:26-38)

Mind-blowing. Impossible. Totally out of left field. Not even on her radar.

So what does she say in response? Only one thing: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”  Mary, having received the most unexpected news you could receive, yields herself in total trust to the will of God.

Did she know what this gift meant? Could she imagine the turmoil her sudden pregnancy would invoke? Was there any way that anyone would believe her baby bump story? And what will it all mean, that her son would be the Son of the Most High?

She knew none of that.

But she trusted the Father’s goodness, and knew that what God was going to do in her and through her was greater than anything she had ever imagined possible.

So she stepped up. With courage and grace, Mary offered herself freely and fully to God’s crazy plan.  “I am yours”, she declared. “Everything I have is yours–my life, my future, my will, my body. Do in me what you have determined to do–I am submitted to your will.”

Mary challenges me, immensely.  I don’t think anyone has ever received a higher calling than this girl, in whom the very Hope of the world was conceived. And yet, the Son who came in her by the Holy Spirit then, comes to us by the Holy Spirit now.  Emmanuel, meaning “God with us,” came to make his home among us and in us. Mary was the nexus of that arrival, but God’s plan was that through Mary he would be able to finally live among his people, as he had always hoped to do (John 1:14; Rev 20:3-4). Do I have even a fraction of her courage to respond?

During the season of Advent, hearts and minds are reminded again of God’s sudden coming in Jesus. And while many barely remember the core surprise of Christmas, the celebration of his coming recalls for those who do his basic plan for restoring this broken world: coming to live in us, so that he could do for us and then through us what only he could do–destroy evil and return life to the world.

The Advent questions compelling me are these: Will I, like Mary, submit myself to God’s desire to make his home in me? Will I trust his goodness, even when his plan overturns my own? Will I let God do something in me that will fundamentally change my life and the lives of those around me? Will I pray, echoing Mary’s heart, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled”?

Getting ready for Christ-mass means saying yes to God’s plan. Do we know where that will lead? Not fully, maybe not even barely. But we do know, even when our lives take unexpected routes, that God’s plan will be good, because he is good. Can we trust him in that? Mary did. And I want to be like her.

I am your servant, Lord. May your word to me be fulfilled.

Thankful for Everything? I don’t think so.

I don’t believe we should be thankful for everything that happens in our lives.  We don’t need to do mental or theological gymnastics to somehow conjure gratitude in the face of tragedy. We can be honest about what’s going on.

In fact, in a Scripture often misconstrued as a kind of blanket “everything that happens is good”, we actually read something very different. In Romans 8:28, we are challenged by these words: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him . . .”  In another letter, Paul writes that we are to Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 

From one popular angle, we are told that everything going on is “good” and we should be thankful for it. But that’s not what the Scripture says. What we really read is that “in all things” — the good, the ugly, the tragic, the mundane — God is at work on behalf of those he loves. He is not blind to the difficulties, not ignorant of the suffering; rather, the Father is committed to turning evil on its head, destroying the works of the evil one through his resurrection power.  And because of that, we can “give thanks in all circumstances” (not for all circumstances), convinced that the Father will work, will redeem, will somehow restore even when the odds seem impossible. And that kind of hope? That is God’s will for us in the mess of difficult circumstances.

And what’s the uptick of this kind of thankfulness? We are able to be truly honest and fully hopeful. We are able to call evil what it is, naming tragedy honestly and without qualification. But we can do that with a kind of unshakable confidence that God is bigger than evil people, horrible events, and tragic circumstances.  We are able to name the truth about our current reality, while at the same time proclaiming the truth about our ever-resourceful Father, who will work in all things good for the ones he loves.

I’m not thankful for everything that happens. But because of who my Father is, I can be thankful in everything. God’s got this, and he’s going to work things out, in the end, for our good.


When Doubts Assail: How faith can grow when doubts come knocking

doubtDoubt is a normal, human experience. We all, at some time or another, experience doubt–doubt about the meaning of life, doubt about the goodness or reality of God, doubt about our own selves. Some of us struggle with doubt more than others.

And doubt, as we all know, can lead people into dark places from which they do not recover. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

Doubt can be a pathway to faith.


Here’s the key: Instead of letting doubt remain vague, follow up on it. Get specific. Name it. What are you doubting? What is bugging you? What, in particular, do you struggle with? And then do something with it.

Use your doubt as a pathway to deeper faith.

  • Interview people who’ve wrestled with that question.
  • Read books on the subject, from a variety of positions.
  • Write out your thoughts and discuss it with trusted friends.

But whatever you do, don’t just keep expressing vague doubts without ever doing anything about them. That’s just depressing.

Does that sound odd? Think about it. How many people express doubt–doubt in the goodness of God, doubt in the hope of resurrection, doubt in the importance of the church, doubt in Jesus as the son of God, doubt in the trustworthiness of the Bible–and then just leave it there, never going anywhere with it, never seeking answers, never following through. They might sound intelligent over coffee, but if they never dig in and do something about that doubt, it takes them exactly nowhere.

doubtingDon’t be that kind of doubter. Why? Because it doesn’t help you grow–it doesn’t bring about any kind of change. It’s like that friend who talks incessantly about losing weight or traveling or getting organized or quitting their job but never does a thing about it. At a certain point, what do they need? To just do something!

And if they would, then at least they’d be moving in a new direction rather than staying stuck.

Same with doubt: if we will use doubt as a pathway, indicating places we need to explore, then we will begin to grow as people.  Perhaps, at the end of our journey, we will have less faith, but at least we’ll come to a place of conviction instead of lingering in the grey.

But I have a hunch, actually. If we’ll let honest doubt guide our reading, our listening, our study and our thinking, and if we’ll open ourselves up to others who have truly wrestled with these same doubts, we’ll find–to our surprise–thoughtful companions who’ve walked these same roads and came to places of deeper faith.  Men like C.S. Lewis and Lee Strobel come to mind, both men who’s journey from atheism to faith in Jesus can be joined with benefit. (Lewis’ Mere Christianity and Stobel’s The Case for Christ are terrific places to start.)

So, what are your doubts? Can you name them?
And what are you going to do about it?


You are God’s Good Idea. In fact, everyone is.

You are God’s good idea. In fact, everything you see started out, not as a mistake or an afterthought, but as a specific and intentional act of creation by the Father, everything and everyone. That’s a transformative thought.

We just returned from our annual pastor and spouse retreat with the Covenant Church in Canada. And we were very blessed to have Steve Bell share both story and song during our time together. We both gleaned so much from this retreat, returning home refreshed and invigorated. Steve’s openhearted honesty and deep insight renewed my own heart and mind in many areas.

One was this truth that everyone we see, every inch of God’s world, is an expression of God’s good idea.gods-good-idea

Let that sink in.

Because it really changes things. We often judge something’s (or someone’s!) value based on how they are now, whether they’ve performed well or look good. But God, who is in the business of restoring the broken and redeeming the lost, is not fazed by what we’ve done or become–he knows what he is doing and longs to complete what he started. He knows what is most true about us: we are his good idea.

In spite of how screwed up we might be, what we’ve done or not done, said or not said, how we’ve lived or not lived, we are still God’s good idea, and if we could just get that, feel that, hear that, respond to that, life would change. Not only our own lives, but how we see others, how we respond to others, how we forgive and serve and pray.

So, why not let that idea seep down into your soul today? As you drive, as you work, as you listen and speak and pray, remember: everyone we see is God’s good idea. Everywhere we look, God’s good ideas are front and centre. God’s–not ours. And in grace and in love, we can treat ourselves and each other as we really are–people the Father dreamed up, folks the Father intensely loves and desires.

You are God’s good idea. And so is she. And he is, too. Just as the mountains, the elk, the poplars, the lakes are all God’s good ideas.

Can we live into that today?

Your Thursday Challenge: Practice Gratitude

There is something magical about gratitude. When we are grateful, our hearts morph and we wake to our world with altered vision. We see things we normally miss. Gratefulness changes our attitude, making us graceful when we would have been snarky and helpful when we might have shirked. Gratitude instills grace.

Today, practice gratitude with ferocious intentionality. Look for those hidden opportunities to express thanks, and go beyond just the normal platitudes.

Here are a few suggestions to prime the gratitude pump:

  • Be specific in your gratitude (For example, instead of just saying “thanks” to the server at lunch, try: “I really appreciate the helpful and cheerful way you served us today,” accompanied by a larger-than-normal tip.)
  • Make a gratitude list of 10 or 2o (or even more) things or people. (This is particularly powerful when we are having a bad day, and it can be a fun challenge with a few friends, too.)
  • Write out 2-3 thank you cards to people for whom you are grateful. (What a beautiful way to also bring delight to someone’s day!)
  • Express your gratitude to the Father for the little things you normally take for granted. (Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father, and we live gratefully under his faithful, loving care.)

Today, look for reasons to be thankful. Let’s see what gratitude can do, to our hearts and others.

I’ve been posting daily challenges this week. Here’s Monday through Wednesday.

Monday’s Challenge: To Make Someone’s Day Unexpectedly Great.

Tuesday’s Challenge: To Notice Beauty and Share It.

Wednesday’s Challenge: To See Brokenness and Respond to it. 

Your Wednesday Challenge: See and Respond to Brokenness

Following up on yesterday, beauty and brokenness are all around us. Just as we are often too busy to notice the beauty, we often overlook the pain as well. Today’s challenge is simple: Look for the brokenness and respond to it.

brokenessYou see someone hurting, a child being neglected, garbage strewn both figuratively and literally down the streets of our lives–act in response to the brokenness you see.

How can we act? I think in at least three ways:

We can pray–see the brokenness and respond by talking to the Father about what you are seeing and what he would desire in that life or situation. “Your will be done.”

Sometimes we can help. Perhaps the situation requires a definitive action, from the simple to the more involved. When we see brokenness, we must ask: How am I being called to help here?

And then there are times when we can speak. Tell that person that they are loved, remind that sister that there is hope, encourage or challenge as you are able.

There is both beauty and brokenness everywhere. Today, see the brokenness and respond, in the name of Jesus.

20 Lessons/20 Years: Lesson #9: Not Everyone Will Like Me (So Get Over It)

I like people. People (usually) like me. And I like people to like me. That’s where it gets tricky.

For the month of May, I’m reflecting on lessons learned in my 20 years of ministry. Today’s lesson has been hard won.

Lesson #9: Not Everyone Will Like Me (So Get Over It)
Confession time: My name is Tom and I am a recovering People-Pleaser. And while caring for people is central to pastoral ministry, pleasing people is its nasty Achilles Heel. The gifts that good pastors share, such as empathy and compassion, also make them susceptible to the darker side: needing approval and affirmation from people. But here’s the problem: leading people to follow Jesus and minister in his name will not always be pleasing or popular. Fostering missional change in a church creates tension. Sometimes people get downright grumpy. In fact, they might not even like you anymore.

DislikeThis has been a hard lesson for me, and I still struggle with it. I get all balled up inside when someone pushes back against a gospel challenge. I feel this overwhelming urge to rush in and resolve tensions Jesus himself creates (pick up your cross and follow me, for example). I can take personally someone’s deep antipathy to life change the Holy Spirit himself is leading.

But as I’ve lead in ministry, I’ve discovered something important. In order to truly care for people, I need to let my need for their affirmation go. If I want to help people follow Jesus, I must release my desire to be liked by them. More than that, I must embrace the fact that people may not like me, even as they hear Jesus calling them and respond to his call.

The less I need to be liked the more I am able to loveAcknowledging that not everyone will like me is still hard, but I’m starting to get it. Jesus is the one I must please, not others. He is my master.  And while this could be an excuse to be less caring, I’ve begun to see how I’m able to care for people more when I need their affirmation less. The less I need to be liked, the more I am able to love. Why? Because I’m no longer serving them to get something from them–I’m now serving them for their own sakes, even if that means they are less than thrilled with me.

How does pleasing people hurt true ministry?
How have you grappled with your need for affirmation?

During May, I’m posting 20 lessons I’ve gleaned from my first 20 years of ministry. Catch up on previous posts:


20 Lessons/20 Years: Lesson #8: Self-Deception is Never My Issue

We usually can’t see the egg on our own face. If we could, we’d deal with it. Unless we get a glimpse in a mirror or a hint from a friend, we’ll walk around oblivious to our breakfast carryover.

Self DeceptionReality check: the changes we need the most are often the hardest ones to see. We don’t readily identify areas we’re starting to slip, places we’ve become complacent, or negative attitudes creeping in.

And yet I’ve become more convinced than ever that growing in self-awareness is central to spiritual growth and ongoing ministry effectiveness.

For the month of May, I’ve been reflecting on my last 20 years in ministry, trying to glean lessons I’ve learned and am still learning. Lesson #8 has been an ongoing struggle.

Because Self-deception is Never My Issue . . . or that’s what I tell myself.
Knut hides his eyes

Wow, this is a big one. I’m coming to see that spiritual and personal growth is almost always about dealing with self-deception, a trait particularly strong in ministry leaders. There are so many things that seem to battle against self-awareness–our own feelings of inadequacy, our sense of mission, our patterns of deceit, our lack of self-reflection, even our overdeveloped sense of urgency which blocks out personal growth.

But figuring out how to hold up honest mirrors so we can unmask deception within ourselves and our leadership teams is paramount.

Though I’m just barely getting a handle on this one (and how would I really know?), this is what has been helping me most in the last few years:Holding up a mirror

  1. Meeting regularly with a spiritual director. I meet monthly, via Skype, with a director who helps me probe what is going on in my own heart and life. Immensely helpful.
  2. Honest conversations with friends I can really trust. We need to have a few people in our lives with whom we can really share. People who truly love us and will both listen and challenge us, trusted friends we’ve invited into our journey toward self-awareness. I’ve written elsewhere on our need to overcome blind spots. Trusted friends are key.
  3. Spiritual practices of solitude, silence, prayer, and journaling. I’m a bit of a slow learner, but these practices have become more and more central as I grow in self-awareness.
  4. Soliciting honest feedback from truth-tellers. The longer you are in ministry among people who love you, the more difficult it is to get good, helpful, honest feedback. I try to find ways to dig for it, usually through questions, conversations, and even reviews.
  5. Holding up a mirror whenever I can.  Committing to dealing with self-deception means we really do attempt to see what we normally ignore. Whether it’s when I’m listening to a sermon, or reacting to a situation in a disappointing way, I try to hold up that mirror, asking God to show me what’s going on in my heart.

Sigh. Self-deception is my issue, and in order to grow and lead, I need to make sure I’m growing in truth, both about myself and about the One I’m following.

How do you grow in self-awareness?
Where have you seen own leadership stumble from self-deception?

Here’s the first seven lessons I’ve posted:

20 Lessons/20 Years: Lesson #7: Be Always Learning

Those who’ve stopped learning should stop leading. Only someone who keeps learning can be trusted with leadership. This is especially true in the church.

A friend of mine and elder at a former church, himself a doctor, reflected on his responsibility for ongoing learning this way: “One year without professional development, and I’m behind. Two years without updated learning, and I’m dangerous. Three years, and I’m a fraud.”  This insightful aphorism stuck with me.

I’m taking the month of May to reflect on some lessons learned in my now 20 years of full-time vocational ministry. Be Always Learning is Lesson #7 of 20 I’m sharing. 

Ongoing, intentional learning is critical to the sustainability, vibrancy and effectiveness of ministry. As a leader, as a pastor and as a Christian, I must make learning part of my everyday life, as well as engaging more intense learning experiences on a regular basis (a class, a mentoring weekend, a seminar). How do I do that?

Here’s 5 ways I keep learning central in my life.
  1. Read, lots. I practice the maxim: Never be without a book. And so I never am. I have books stashed all over, and I’m reading constantly. And now with the availability of e-books and audio, reading is more portable than ever.

    © Dana Bartekoske Heinemann | Dreamstime Stock Photos
    © Dana Bartekoske Heinemann | Dreamstime Stock Photos
  2. Cultivate curiosity. Learn broadly, cultivating curiosity about the natural world, history, innovation, business, health, politics, poetry, etc, as well as your own field of study. On top of reading, it’s amazing what you can learn from YouTube, TEDtalks, and Netflix, too. And in simple conversation with a new friend.
  3. Resist easy answers or glib explanations. Always ask “why?” Dig deep. Let your assumptions be questioned, and question other’s assumptions, too (graciously!). One of the ways learning slips away is when we rest too easily in the pat or accepted answers, even answers we ourselves established long ago.
  4. Find good mentors. I’ve written about finding dead mentors as well as how critical good mentors are in ministry. Letting yourself be lead and challenged by mentors keeps you fresh and engaged. They give you what Craig Groeschel calls “the gift of disorientation.”  I access these mentors personally, as well as through books, podcasts, conferences and classes.
  5. Be teachable! Matt Keller believes that “The Key to Everything” is teachability, and I think he’s spot on. Teachability is central to this whole post, but I include it here as an attitude that must be nurtured so we don’t become learning resistant, especially when we become more successful or knowledgeable.Those who've stopped learning should stop learning.

Based on what I’ve observed, creeping burn out or diminishing effectiveness in pastoral leadership can often be traced to a lack of fresh learning in the life of the pastor. You can tell when a leader is learning, because they are bursting with new ideas, passionately sharing what they are reading, hearing, or reflecting upon. You can’t go five minutes without hearing something about their latest questions, inspiring authors or intriguing conversations.  On the other hand, you can see the signs of halted learning when leader simply recycles material, lacking freshness in their teaching and vibrancy in their vision.

If I want to keep leading, I need to keep learning. 

Why is learning so critical to leadership?
How can you cultivate more learning in your life?

Want to catch up on the first six lessons? Here they are: