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The handcuffs clicked tight, we shuffled into the small cell, and the locked door slammed behind us. That was the night our whole children’s ministry staff ended up in jail.

Ok, that’s a little dramatic and definitely not what you think. While the handcuffs were real (and too tight), we weren’t really in jail. We were taking on the challenge of “C-Block,” an escape room from Escape Experience in Nashville, TN.

If you’ve never done an escape room, you’re basically locked inside a small room and forced to gather clues, solve puzzles, and channel your inner MacGyver to escape the room before the clock runs out. It’s intense and challenging, but tons of fun. It advertises itself to be a great team building exercise, so we put that to the test.

Over the last 12 months, our staff team has had multiple transitions. We saw a few staff members change roles in the church and five new staff members join our team. Along with the staff changes, we also changed curriculum and much of our Sunday morning schedule.

Here’s the crazy part: Things are going great! Even with all that change and certainly despite my distracted leadership, our team was more unified in our work and our attitude. By God’s grace, our team was thriving in a season of change. As we prepared to attend the ETCH Conference in Nashville, TN (which I highly recommend and will blog about later), I prayed that God would do something to unify our team even more.

The conference gave us training and more encouragement for our ministry roles, but God did something extra special through handcuffs and the intense pressure of a ticking clock.  Here’s why it was so good to be handcuffed in a jail cell with the Children’s Ministry staff:

It Created a Lasting Memory

After we escaped the jail cell—with 14:41 to spare—the entire team immediately began to recall the experience. We laughed about funny moments. We wondered how we missed clues and found others. And for the next 48 hours, we pretended like every random sign, locked door, or manhole contained a clue to help us escape! I imagine that this experience will be something that we all talk about for years to come because it was such a unique and lasting memory.

It Gave Everyone a Chance to Use Their Skills

Only 42% of groups escape “C-Block” in the allotted time, While the experience was fun, it was also very challenging.  It took the whole team working together and using their unique skills to piece together the clues. There was problem solving, data processing, listening, communicating, dexterity (which I proved was not my strength). Each team member had a chance to contribute and shine as they used their skills.

It Confirmed that We are Better Together

As I watched the team work together so fluidly and effectively inside the jail cell, I caught a glimpse of how God is using our team as a TEAM to proclaim the Gospel to kids. I realized how God is building this team so that each piece compliments the other pieces and at the same time needs the other pieces. There’s no way we would’ve made it out of that escape room if we had been missing even just one person. We are better together, and my prayer is that God will be glorified as this team works together to reach kids and families with the Gospel.

I’m not sure when, but I’m certain that we’ll be back in an escape room. This experience gave me so many ideas for injecting energy into our meetings, working together to solve problems, and just having similar fun to build a stronger team. If you lead a team of volunteers, employees, or a discipleship group, I encourage you to check out your closest escape game and have some fun growing together.

I had an experience yesterday that reminded me of the beauty and the power of having a mentor. By mentor, I mean someone who is older or more experienced to speak encouragement and training over you–like the relationship between Daniel Larusso and Mr. Miyagi.

I had stopped at Wal-Mart to pick up a few supplies for our ministry. As I stood in the office supply aisle, I overheard a conversation between two Wal-Mart employees about 15 feet away. The first employee was a young man, probably early 20s. The second employee was a woman in her 60s or 70s.

As I walked up, I could tell that the young man was talking about a job interview he had recently. I wasn’t sure if it was for a role at the store or elsewhere, but he was sharing very openly about it with the woman. He ended his comment by saying, “I’m just not sure what I should do.”

This is when the conversation got amazing and I didn’t even care if they knew I was listening.

The woman asked if she could share some advice. She proceeded to share about a few times in her life when she was faced with difficult decisions and how she prayed and sought the Lord in those times. She talked about following Christ in obedience even when it was hard. She encouraged him to keep praying and to keep trusting that God was good and in control no matter what.

Her words were as sweet as honey. I glanced over a time or two and could see the young man just soaking in the encouragement this wise woman was pouring over him. He continued to stock shelves but his entire countenance changed. It reminded me why we all need a mentor to share what God has given to them and speak into our lives when we need it the most.

As I continued to shop and process the conversation, I jotted down a few questions to ponder:

  • How can I thank those mentors who have invested in my life over the years?
  • How can I continue to seek out the advice of a mentor in ministry and in life?
  • Who can I encourage and offer the wisdom (limited as it may be) God has shown me?
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For the past two years, I’ve been doing my best to lead our Kids’ Ministry staff team. The team consists of 8 paid staff who are all very gifted leaders. Each of them has their own way of communicating, their own set of needs from me, but one common passion to reach kids with the Gospel.

I cannot even express how humbling this experience has been. In the mixture of wins and fails, I’ve learned a few things that I think are critical to leading any team. Here are my 4 essentials for leading a team:

Take Suggestions & Make Decisions

I’ve learned that leading a team requires me to be a good listener. My natural inclination is to make decisions and move forward. While this is necessary at times, I’ve come to realize that a better way is to listen to others’ input and reach a collaborative decision. Even if we need to make a hard decision, this gives me the opportunity to communicate the how and why behind decision so that everyone can feel confident in the decision. When the decision is made and it’s time to move forward, I feel more energy and excitement because we are all moving together.

Look for Ways to Add Value to Each Team Member

I remember hearing John Maxwell speak on this point about 12 years ago, and it has stuck with me ever since. He says that leading people is really an opportunity to add value to their life. It could be  picking up coffee for the team in the morning, a note of thanks, public praise, or meeting one on one to hear how they’re doing. If I want the team to be growing, then I have to be faithful to water it.

Make Room for Growth, Change, and Failure

I can’t stand to be micromanaged, and I suspect that my team feels the same way. I am not always the best at delegating authority, but I do know that the team needs the freedom to grow in their leadership, question how we could change to do things better, and take risks that might result in failure.

Be a Servant to Your Team

We’ve probably all suffered the effects of a leader who has taken advantage of their position. I know I’ve been guilty of it. But I want to be the leader that doesn’t ask anything of my team that I haven’t already done or am not willing to do myself. I want to use my position to serve them.

I’m learning that I can’t always be in the trenches with my team because I need to be leading in the ways that only I can lead. But I know the power of serving alongside them when I can. Those times help me to see what they do and how valuable it is to our team. When I have to lead from the front, I hope they trust that I care about them and their role on our team.

Unfortunately, I’ve learned these essentials more through my failures than successes. I’m still learning. I hope to continue learning and practicing these essentials for leading a team.

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I read that written goals are more likely accomplished, and accountability makes those goals even more effective. So in 2014, I tried something new and shared the goals that I had set for myself.  I kept those goals visible in my office throughout the year, but the results were not what I was expecting. In fact, I think it was better.

Not better because I accomplished all the goals. I didn’t. I came close to accomplishing some and utterly failed on some. But one of them literally changed my life.

As our church was preaching, teaching, and discussing God’s grace and it’s effects on our life, I wanted to learn more about grace, pay more attention to the grace applied to my life, and extend grace to others. From sermons, books, conversations, and life experiences—God took me on such an amazing adventure to discover more about His grace. I have not graduated from grace, but this past year has led me to a deeper appreciation and worship for God and His glorious grace!

What’s my goal for 2015?

As I’m becoming more and more aware of my need for Jesus and God’s immense grace to give me all I need in Jesus, I want to experience more of Him. I want to grow in my discipline to spend time speaking to God and listening for His voice. So, for 2015, my goal is to learn more about prayer and be disciplined to pray.

I’ve started by reading some of the writings on prayer by E.M. Bounds. He says:

“For prayer is of transcendent importance. Prayer is the mightiest agent to advance God’s work. Praying hearts and hands only can do God’s work. Prayer succeeds when all else fails. Prayer has won great victories, and rescued, with notable triumph, God’s saints when every other hope was gone. Men who know how to pray are the greatest boon God can give to earth—they are the richest gift earth can offer heaven. Men who know how to use this weapon of prayer are God’s best soldiers. His mightiest leaders.”

This gets me fired up! God, make me disciplined in prayer so that I can be used by You in the things that You are doing!

I’ve always struggled to be disciplined in prayer, but I enter this year wanting and expecting God to change me.