Nearly every Tuesday night for the past 5 months, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to help lead a recovery group at Evergreen Community Church in Pine City, MN. And nearly every Tuesday night I’m absolutely blown away by the stories I hear of what people have been through and how they’re finding hope and healing in their lives today.
The people I’ve met come from a wide variety of backgrounds (everything from soccer moms to members of the Mexican Mafia), struggle with a slew of hurts, habits and hang-ups, and I’ve come to deeply admire and respect their courage, bravery and perseverance.
These are stories worth telling, listening to and learning from, and as a result I’ve decided to become an advocate for their stories by doing a portrait series on people that have been sober, abstinent or in recovery from their hurt, habit or hangup for 6 consecutive months. I intend to have the series widely published, so spread the word and get involved! This is something near and dear to my heart. I hope to not only promote recovery from addiction, but also raise awareness of how prevalent of an issue this really is in our society.
If you have been sober, abstinent or in recovery from your hurt, habit or hang-up for 6 consecutive months and want to help out or be a portrait subject in the series, please message me. The series is growing and evolving every day and I’m very excited by the possibilities.
As always, you can check out my photography at studiowphotos.com
Can I have a drumroll please??
After spending the last couple of months doing much of the groundwork, I’m thrilled to announce the creation and opening of STUDIO W – a full service, fine art photography and filmmaking studio based in Pine City, Minnesota and available worldwide, specializing in location portraiture, commercial and event photography and filmmaking, weddings, high school senior portraits and family photography.
The Back-Story: First things first… Why the name Studio W? The short answer is that my middle name is William. If you want to know the longer answer you have to book a session – we’ll tell you as we shoot. It’s guaranteed to bring about some of the natural smiles and laughter we’re looking for in your session!
Studio W is something I’ve been thinking about starting for the last couple of years and I’m REALLY excited to finally get it off the ground. I’ve had an interest for much of my life in photography, filmmaking and graphic design and I’ve been encouraged lately by some close friends to take that interest and put it to uses that will allow me to pursue more personal projects and expressions outside of and separate from church pursuits. I’ve dabbled in professional photography off and on for years. I’ve gigged weddings and senior pictures, worked in a studio, and had a variety of experiences in and with the photographic and graphic design industries.
But Studio W goes beyond anything I’ve ever had the opportunity to be involved with or pursue. It’s the culmination of many of my passions, interests, skills, and a lot of things that give me joy and make life FUN, mixed with an opportunity to pursue personal and creative projects that are meaningful to me.
My love of photography goes back a long way. When I was in 3rd or 4th grade, my dad (who’s also a photo enthusiast and won several awards and photo competitions for his landscape photography) started hanging an old Pentax K1000 camera around my neck and taking me on “camera walks” around our neighborhood or the nature trail we lived near in New Hampshire.
Those walks are some of my favorite memories of time spent with my dad. I used to come home and pour through his photo-catalogs, dreaming about putting together a camera system of my own, hoping to be as good at capturing the world around me in images as he was – telling it’s stories, capturing it’s light, freezing it in time and memory. To me, that’s what great photography is all about – it’s a window into how you view the world and people around you, what’s important and meaningful to you and what’s really in someone’s soul. A great picture tells a story. It conveys emotion in a way words can’t.
Almost 30 years after my first camera walks with my dad, Studio W is my attempt at doing what he did for me – walking along side others, capturing a little bit of life and expressing it through beautiful, creative and artistic means.
What to do from here?? I’m glad you asked! Here are a couple of suggestions:
• Visit the website at studiowphotos.com – there’s not a ton of content up yet, but I’ve already had a couple of sessions and there are more on the books. Stay tuned! The next couple of weeks, we’ll be filling it out even more.
• I’ve already posted 2 fine-art galleries from trips taken to Colorado and London. You can order a variety of fine-art images in various finishes (more information on the website) by giving the studio a call or contacting us through the website. I have several of these images up in my own home as well as in the Studio W Theater where we review images before print orders in a cool, relaxed, laid back environment over a soda, latte or cappuccino from the Hidden Moose Cafe. They look FANTASTIC!
• You can “LIKE” Studio W on Facebook by clicking HERE – stay up to date with all our latest adventures, images and specials!
• Follow Studio W (@studiowphotos) on Twitter! Photographers and filmmakers across the country already are! …I have no idea why, but why not be as cool as they are?
• Click the MERCH link on the website and order your fashionably awesome Studio W gear and accessories from cafepress.com! Or just skip the middleman and click HERE. I’ve already begun a growing collection merch myself!
• Know someone that might enjoy a session at Studio W? Or someone that might want one of our fine art prints for their wall but you’re not sure which one? Send them a gift-card! Simply call our studios, and we’ll take care of the rest.
• BEST FOR LAST!!! As a grand opening special/sale, now through the end of January we’re offering 50% off ALL LIFESTYLE, MINI-DUB (MINI-W) & LOCATION SESSIONS! Your session must be booked in the month of January, and SPACE IS LIMITED! Click here to contact us to find out how you can get more information or book a session at Studio W!
• Stay tuned to Living Social and Groupon.com for future specials and deals from Studio W!
And with all that, on the doorstep of a new year, a new start and a new adventure… Studio W is born…
Visit us online and book your session today!
5 things I want to share with you today:
1. I continue to be blown away by this series we’re in, Recovery Road. I don’t know that we’ve ever had a stronger lineup from the platform for a fall season as we do this fall. Living A Better Story was one of my favorite series to preach of all time, Recovery Road, which has been mind-blowing, wraps up this week, and in a couple weeks we’re going to start a whole NEW series for the month of November called “Poor Me: Walking In Victory Out Of A Poverty Mentality”. I hope you’re getting as much out of the messages as I am out of preaching them. They’re deeply challenging and I hope they’ve offered you some encouragement along the way.
2. If you’ve missed any of the messages from Living A Better Story or Recovery Road, you can check them out HERE.
3. Recovery Road is WRAPPING UP THIS WEEKEND with a message called, “The Road Home”. I hope you’re planning on being with us as we close out this series – it’s also a great one to invite friends and family to – ESPECIALLY IF THEY DO NOT KNOW JESUS OR GO TO CHURCH! Here’s a link to the promo video to the series you can use to invite them.
4. Thank you to EVERYONE who made my birthday on Sunday so awesome! From my office being filled with so many balloons and streamers that I couldn’t walk into it, to the cake and singing during Holy Huddle, to Andrew singing me a Katy Perry Song in front of the staff and volunteers (which I loved but I’m still a little weirded out by), it was an incredible day and I love and am grateful for all of you!
5. Hey Evergreen Church, one more time…FOUND PEOPLE FIND PEOPLE!!! I would ask EVERYONE in our church to read through John 1:35-51 and notice two back to back stories about someone meeting Jesus and then IMMEDIATELY going out and telling someone. AND…after reading spend a minute or so asking the Lord to set your HEART ON FIRE for people who are far from Him. (And…if you want to take it to the next level memorize Luke 19:10!).
That’s it for today, Evergreen! See you this weekend!
There are 4 things I want to share with you today…
1. Last weekend’s fall launch was AWESOME! Highlights included:
• AMAZING worship and music – one of my favorite worship experiences we’ve ever had as a church.
• We had DJ Outspoken in the house – always fun!
• Outdoor speakers and music being pumped outside? WHAT?! What an awesome and long awaited/anticipated addition.
• The set for the series is amazing – our guys @ Evergreen are some bad to the bone set-design ninjas!
• I loved Lisa Johnson’s bravery and courage in telling her story (Check it out HERE). Please say thank you to her when you see her this week – what an amazing testimony of what God can do with a life.
• Our new series, “Living A Better Story” is off to a great start. I truly believe that God is going to rock some worlds with this series.
2. There are three ways we want you to participate in the Living A Better Story series BEYOND SUNDAY MORNINGS:
• Participate in the Living A Better Story Photo Gallery. Just take a black piece of paper and a white crayon, write down in 3-4 words why your story is better with Jesus in it, and then take a pic of yourself (use your cell phone or whatever you’ve got!) in a context/place that represents your better story. You can then email your picture to email@example.com and we’ll put your picture in the gallery in the back of the worship center!
• Stop by the video booth before or after the worship experience this weekend and tell us how your story is beter with Jesus in it in 1 minute or less! We want as many of these as possible!
• Check out livingabetterstory.me and tell us your better story. Tell us what Jesus has brought you through, taught you, helped you with or how He has impacted your life. We’ll post it on the website and celebrate it with you!
3. There is still room at our 8:30 and 11:30 services on Sunday, but the 10:00 is VERY, VERY FULL! If you’re a regular attender, please practice MISSIONAL SEATING by attending one of the less popular worship service times.
4. If you’re in one of the other services, BRING FRIENDS THIS WEEK! I’m going to be talking about the suspension of disbelief. Suspension of disbelief is a dynamic that all stories need to be effective. It’s the reason my kids think Harry Potter really is magical, why men think that they really can fight bad guys like The Avengers and why women really do think that love is like what they find in Twilight… For real. We need to suspend our disbelief for the story to be effective. It’s no different with Jesus. Most of the time the reasons that our stories suck is that we don’t live like we believe the story that God (the director, producer, funder, set designer, and studio exec) laid out for us in His script. We have to believe it in order for Him to achieve it in our lives! It’s gonna be awesome!
God is not willing that 1 person should perish, the bible says – so lets set THAT tone – a tone of urgency about the good news! Who are you inviting? Who are you bringing?
I love my church! The best is yet to come! See you on Sunday!
Great volunteers are CRUCIAL to the life of any organization, especially a church. Over time I’ve noticed that there are a few characteristics that great volunteers all seem to have in common – and notice that NONE OF THESE THINGS HAS ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE SKILLS TO DO THEIR JOB. It’s all about the heart and the character with which they do it.
1. Never refer to their church as “them” or “they” – it’s “us” and “we”. They OWN the vision and mission and they don’t distance themselves from it or you (see Ephesians 4:5!).
2. Regularly go above and beyond their job description without being asked. They take initiative and go the extra mile because THAT’S WHAT JESUS DID FOR THEM (see Philippians 2!).
3. Are concerned not just with doing the job – but DOING IT WELL. They understand that what THEY care about is what people assume your CHURCH cares about. They don’t just go through the motions and be a warm body filling a role, waiting for their shift to end so they can say they served Jesus and did their good deed this week. They learn their role and BRANG IT every time they serve (Colossians 3:23!).
4. They go above and beyond the call of duty as a matter of regular serving. People who believe in your vision and mission are willing to be utility infielders, not just designated hitters. In fact, if someone gives you push-back when they’re asked to serve in a different role for a morning, a weekend or a season it may be a sign that they’ve become territorial, possessive or even LAZY in their serving. It’s become about THEIR vision and mission – not that of your church or organization (see Matthew 5:39!).
5. They know when they’re serving and they show up on time. I know this seems obvious, but it’s funny that people don’t always LIVE like it’s obvious. Knowing when you’re serving without being reminded or getting a wake-up call in the morning from your church isn’t going above and beyond – it’s just being a responsible person. Good volunteers know even as they’re staying out late on a Saturday that if it’s their Sunday to serve tomorrow, they’re still going to be there on time because they’ve made a commitment, other people are counting on them and they make Jesus and church a priority in their life – not a variable based on who called with what plans at the last minute (see Matthew 5:37!).
6. When they’re not serving, they’re engaged with other areas of your church or organization. If it’s not their weekend to serve, they’re still there worshipping and participating in the community life. They’re in a small group. They’re at the mid-week event. If a volunteer is only showing up when it’s their shift to serve, I promise you: it’s a matter of time before eventually they won’t be showing up for even that (see Hebrews 10:25!).
7. They’re crazy-loyal to their leaders. Good volunteers understand the leadership structure of their church or organization and don’t gossip or grumble, they maintain a positive spirit, they assume the best about their leaders, they understand that their leaders make decisions every day based on information they may not have and they protect the unity of the church and the character of their leaders by honoring up, honoring down and honoring all around (see Hebrews 13:17 in The Message… WOW!).
8. They have a sense of the big picture/vision and they just… GET IT! They understand that their job isn’t just to do THEIR JOB – it’s to help the church achieve it’s God-given mission and vision and that their role is just ONE WAY in which that happens. My job is to do my job as Jesus would do it for His greater purpose and plan within my life and my church (see 1Thesselonians 5:6!).
9. They’re SERVING translates to GIVING. Straight up: great volunteers do not barter with God about time and money and those that do are getting into some bad juju. When a volunteer starts thinking, “I don’t need to give to the church because I serve this many hours…” or they start adding up their hours served as the equivalent of finances donated, we’re now into a legalistic, grace-less, rigid, lazy, selfish, poverty mentality that is based on what the volunteer can get rather than what God has asked them to give of their time, talent AND TREASURE – ALL OF WHICH COME FROM HIM ANYWAY (see Malachi 3:10!).
10. They represent you well when they aren’t there. Ever had a volunteer who was all smiles on Sunday but spent Monday through Saturday telling everyone about all their “problems” with the church/organization? Or they live a life that negates everything their serving stands for?
There are different levels of this, but at Evergreen our leaders and volunteers understand that we watch Facebook pages and social media, we pay attention to what folks are involved with or talking about outside the church and we remind them regularly (commiserate with their level of serving) that if you can’t represent Jesus, our church and US well, we quickly won’t be able to have you representing these things at all.
You don’t have to be perfect – not by any means! This is more about the heart. Are you trying? Are you engaged? Are you growing in wisdom, stature and favor with God and people (Luke 2:52)? Or are we saying one thing and doing another (1John 1:7)? A great volunteer is one that represents well when they’re with you AND when they’re not.
We aren’t the police and this is not a legalistic piece of our culture. We don’t have a special social-media task force and we don’t stalk people. But we don’t do life with our eyes closed either. We want our volunteers to understand that we don’t just serve Jesus – we live out his mission in the world (read Luke 6:47 in The Message… So good…).
What do YOU think makes a good volunteer?
The month of August is so busy getting ready for a new season of ministry at Evergreen that I thought I’d take just a minute and recount some of my favorite moments from the year gone by. Even as I look ahead it’s hard to forget images like these (listed in no special order):
1. The 27 salvations & 26 baptisms on Easter Sunday in our One Day Easter Celebration. Record attendance, groundbreaking day and the biggest party Evergreen has ever thrown.
2. Favorite series:
• Hot Potato – we packed out the church talking about hot-button issues like Hell, politics, homosexuality and alcohol in the month of November. It remains one of the most popular series we’ve ever done and it was one of my favorites to preach.
• Whoville was our Christmas series and it was all about our identity in Christ – the what’s what about the who’s who. …I’m not sure which was better in this series – the set or the messages! Either way, it was our best Christmas ever at Evergreen!
• Monked was my comeback series from a serious car accident and resulting knee injury, and it dealt with spiritual disciplines. It was great to be back from the time away. The love and support of so many people was incredible during this time last winter. But these messages resonated deeply with me and I hope they did with others as well. We will be teaching a discipleship class in our new “Roots Classes” series this fall based on this series.
You can view or listen to all three series HERE.
3. Sending Evergreen eXtreme (our student ministry) off on their mission trip with a night of worship & prayer. Before the service started 3/4 of the church broke out in a loud, rowdy chorus of Sweet Home Alabama. That was seriously one of my favorite moments of the year!
4. The car show we held in the church parking lot to kick off the year as a part of our series, Restored.
5. Watching the growth of so many volunteers and staff in their walks with God.
6. Seeing the transformation of the Holy Grounds Cafe… Can’t wait to complete it this year!
7. Singing in the music video The Lazy Church Song.
Those are just a few of my favorite moments – what were yours?
“I have three rules which I live by: Never get less than 12 hours sleep, never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city, and never go near a lady with a tattoo of a dagger on her hand. Now you stick with that, and everything else is cream cheese.” – The basketball coach in “Teen Wolf”
I don’t care if you’re living, leading, working or playing – having coaches, or mentors, is an essential part of doing ANYTHING effectively.
The hard part is that you have to be humble enough to admit you need one (and no matter what you’re involved with… YOU NEED ONE). You have to be motivated enough to seek them out. And you have to have to be coachable enough that you’re willing to change some of your long-standing practices and habits (read: YOU NEED TO ADMIT YOU DON’T HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS!). And these are qualities that can sometimes be hard to come by.
I meet way too many pastors and church leaders of all ages, contexts and sizes of churches that have long since stopped seeking anyone out to mentor them because they were either too proud of their own philosophies and fruits (lacked humility), they were convinced that nothing could ever change (lacked motivation), or they were too stuck in their ways to do anything to improve (lacked coachability).
Please hear this next sentence very clearly and read it several times very slowly: “Potential” is a word that means “…Ain’t done nuthin’ yet.”
Even Jesus had to grow into being the man he was called to be. Luke 2:52 says that Jesus “…grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” How did he do that? A few verses prior we read, “…they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” Are you telling me that Jesus was getting mentored and coached!?!?
Yes! And if even Jesus needed to be mentored, it’s just POSSIBLE that you might, too. ALL of us need mentors and coaches to help us turn the POTENTIAL that’s locked up inside us into a REALITY lived out in our lives.
I once had a lengthy conversation with one of the greatest mentors in my life, Dallas WIllard, in which I had been telling him how hard ministry is and the pressures I lived with. I had been talking about the demands on my schedule and the expectations others have of me and that I have for myself. The technical term for this form of conversation is called whining, and it’s a spiritual gift that I sometimes seem to have in abundance.
Dallas Willard is may well be the smartest human being on the planet. He’s full of wisdom and knowledge and experience in life, ministry, leadership and following Jesus. His character has been so formed by Jesus; his life so fully lived for Christ; He’s the kind of guy that just moves at a different speed. He’s not rushed or hurried. Whatever time-zome his spirit lives in – that’s just kind of where I would like to be. I was looking to him for answers to what I felt were some really burning issues at the time.
Dallas listened to me with incredible patience and understanding and he then sat back in his chair and said simply, “Seth, your life is perfectly designed to get the results you’re currently getting.”
Excuse me? What was that? …Did I miss something here?
Dallas then went on to unpack the idea by explaining to me that if I wanted different outputs in life I needed to change some of the inputs. He then went on to list a few that he might change if he were me (the NERVE!)! I left the room we were in with my mind absolutely BLOWN! In a half hour, Dallas Willard had given me perspective I never had, wisdom I couldn’t see, and the tools and freedom to live and lead in a healthier, happier, more Jesus-centered way than I had ever had before.
My point is simply this: having a mentor(s) is something that’s absolutely critical to your development both personally and professionally.
My success or failure as a leader, pastor and follower of Jesus depends a great deal not just on people building me up and telling me things that are easy to say and fun to hear. It depends on who I seek out and give permission to speak into my life and give me the guidance, coaching and wisdom I need to grow from where I am today to what I could be.
Some tips on being mentored:
1. You will need to seek them out. You need to identify people who are living how you’d like to live and doing what you do at a higher level than you’re doing it. You’re going to have to be INTENTIONAL about asking to meet with them. If they’ve got fruit in their garden you’d like to grow in yours, you will need to initiate the conversation and ask for some seeds.
The rest of these tips come from Pastor Perry Noble at New Spring Church, a pastor who’s mentored me from afar through his messages, writing and leadership. Pastor P says that when you finally get to the meeting with a mentor:
2. I Always Adjust To Their Schedule–ALWAYS!
When I am attempting to set up an appointment with someone I want to meet with–I always ask them (or their assistant) to throw two or three dates at me that is most convenient for them…and then I adjust my schedule to make the meeting happen.
I NEVER send them the times I want and then ask them to adjust their schedules. I am the one who wants the meeting…and if they are available to me I will bend over backwards to hang out with them.
3. I Am Always Early For The Appointment
If I am driving from out of town I always make sure I arrive around 30 minutes early. If I get there TOO early then I will find a coffee shop–OR break out a book (ALWAYS have a book with you.) AND…if I see I am going to be late because of traffic or unforeseen circumstance I always give them (or their assistant) a call informing them that I am on my way. (I do this EVEN if I am going to be five minutes late–to me it’s simply a matter of respect.)
Usually I will arrive at the person’s office to meet them about 15 minutes early…and quite a few times the person I am meeting with has been ready, thus giving me “bonus time!”
4. Have A List Of At Least Five Questions That I Want To Ask.
I remember John Maxwell saying to me once, “I will mentor you, but you have to ask the questions. I am not preparing a lesson for you…YOU guide this meeting. If you want to know something–ASK. If you don’t ask anything then we don’t really have anything to talk about.”
SO…anytime I meet with a mentor (especially JOHN) I am LOADED with questions. Sometimes I get them all answered…sometimes I don’t…but I NEVER walk into a meeting without having a list of what I would like to know.
5. I Don’t Talk About Myself Unless They Ask.
When I meet with a mentor I don’t spend 30 minutes telling them about myself, my daily routine, my philosophy of ministry and how good I think I am. I ask questions and then SHUT UP! If I disagree I do not argue; in fact, if I disagree with something I will usually ask them to explain their point of view a little more…which often times has helped me in SO many ways as I have learned that I really can love people even if we disagree! If they ask me a question in regards to what I believe about certain things then I will answer…if not then I will keep on asking them my questions. They didn’t ask to meet with me…I wanted to meet with them–TO LEARN from them, not debate them.
6. I Always Send A Note/Gift Saying Thanks.
I haven’t done this until recently…but anytime someone gives me time I will send them a Starbucks gift card or a restaurant gift card–just to thank them for the time. (And I jot them about a four sentence note–NOT A BOOK, but a note.)
Are you HUMBLE? Are you MOTIVATED? Are you COACHABLE?
If so, who are some of the people that mentor YOU?
Here’s the nerdiest question anyone will ask you today.
Are you ready?
Push the glasses up on your nose, sharpen the pencils in your pocket protector and have those protractors at the ready, because we’re about to make it chic to be geek.
I don’t care what it is you’re leading – a church, a business, a sports team or even a family. How you answer this question can and will INFLUENCE you towards leading it better, and if you’re not engaged with it at all then your leadership is going to be severely handicapped and hamstrung. The question is:
3. What are you reading?
For a lot of people, reading is more like a hobby these days than a necessity. It’s something that once they weren’t required to do anymore for school, it just kind of fell off the radar because life is busy and if I don’t have to do it… WHY WOULD I? It’s like eating your veggies once you leave the house. My mom made me do it for so many years that once I get a little space and freedom from it, I’m kinda like, “I think I’ll skip the broccoli today, thank you very much!”
And that philosophy works fine when you’re young… Until you’re 40 years old, 20-40 pounds overweight and beginning to hear words like “cholesterol count” when you go to the doctor, which, by the way, is ALSO becoming a more frequent occurence in your life (not that I have first-hand experience with ANY of that…).
Maybe another way to frame the question of influence here is this: What are you learning these days? What are you a student of? What exercise are you giving to your mind? Or do you think you already know everything you need to know to live the life you’re already living at the highest level it can be lived? Are you being challenged by what you’re learning? Is it making you consider different perspectives or a different way of doing things? Or are the mental pathways of your brain flabby, out of shape and so deeply ingrained that the mere idea of LEARNING SOMETHING NEW AND APPLYING IT TO YOUR LIFE causes you to sweat, get angry or retreat into the fetal position because of the headache that’s developing?
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your MIND.”
How do you renew your mind? How do you refresh your thought process? How do you break out of old patterns and begin new ones that are healthier, more informed and that will lead you to better results in your life?
You read books about parenting. Read books about leadership. Read books about church and faith and what other people think about God or have experienced in their life with Him. Read about family. Read biographies – the story of someone’s life that you admire. Read about relationships and skills you need in life and in your career so you can live and work at a better and higher level than you do today. You learn from the experiences, wisdom and insight of others who have written these things down in books.
What I’m trying to say is this: LEADERS ARE LEARNERS. It’s really that simple. If you want to get better at anything in life, you’ve got to commit yourself to a life-long process of staying teachable, coachable and LEARNING – being transformed by the renewing of your MIND.
Don’t like to read? Download the audio-book and listen to it while you’re driving or while you work out! Download a podcast! Join a small-group and take it a chapter at a time! Ask someone else to read WITH you so you can talk about it while you go!
If you haven’t changed anything about the way you’re still living, working, relating, parenting or LEADING in the last 6 months, it means you’re not learning anything new. And if you’re not learning anything new, it means you think you’ve arrived at the point of being the world’s leading expert on all matters related to your life. …You’re not.
What are the 5 most influential books you’ve read lately? What did you learn from them? Did it make a dent in the patterns of your life?
Leaders are learners. So learn something new today! Be influenced and shaped by someone’s experience outside yourself and READ SOMETHING!