This Review Could Change a Generation

Recommended. A high-value kit that contains the tools to begin a community whose work will echo into eternity.

Fatherlessness is one of the largest crises facing America today.

Really, you might ask? A crisis?

I mean, I can understand it being a bad thing… but a crisis? Take a look:

  • 85% of all youth in prison or from fatherless homes. These are young people who could be treading the path of the Rebelution, using their teenage years to “do hard things.”
  • 63% of all youth suicides are from fatherless homes. These are image-bearing creations of God, whose creative potential over a natural lifetime will not benefit anyone.
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
  • Fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school. Once they drop-out, their chances for fulfilling careers are statistically shot.

Thankfully, Don Miller–author of Blue Like Jazz, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, and a variety of other compelling memoirs–saw this not only as a crisis, but as an opportunity. When he set out to write To Own a Dragon, a memoir about his experience growing up fatherless, he had hoped to provide people from similar backgrounds with a book that could help. But, as he was writing, Miller realized that this problem, being relational in nature, needed more than a book–it needed people.

But how do you address a crisis of such magnitude?

“If you wanted to solve the crisis of fatherless in America, you would need a building in every neighborhood across the country–because it’s that big of a problem. You would need an army of men to mentor the fatherless boys. So you’re talking about… perhaps billions of dollars in order to solve this problem. The only organization that is in America today that can actually do something about the crisis of fatherlessness is the church. We do have buildings in [nearly] every community in the country, and there is an army of men who are compassionate and caring but who also have a theological mandate to reach out to those who have been abandoned, because our theology would state that we were not designed to be rejected or abandoned; our fathers weren’t supposed to leave” (Don Miller, foreword to the Training DVD found in the toolkit).

And so was born The Mentoring Project, a non-profit that seeks to inspire, train, and resource churches to develop mentoring programs in their own communities. TMP has been active in and around its hometown of Portland, OR, for several years, but this past month it released a toolkit that equips Joe Blow layman to begin a mentoring community at his local church. The contents of the kit are as follows:

  • Promotional DVD (contains two highly compelling video clips perfect for piquing interest at corporate worship gatherings)
  • Training DVD (includes a foreword from Don Miller and then several segments of round-table discussions around the topics of Love, Model, and Coach.
  • Operations Manual (the comprehensive guide to starting a mentoring movement from scratch; developed for use by church leadership and the church-designated “contact person”)
  • 2 TMP Field Manuals (the training manuals that individual mentors receive, which include meaty content that follows the Training DVD, as well as pages of one-on-one and group mentoring activities)
  • 20 TMP Promotional Brochures (again, highly compelling material to hand out at church and help spread interest)
  • TMP Promotional Poster (ditto, but this one goes up in a high-traffic area at your church)
  • Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story by John Sowers, President of TMP (the perfect gift for anyone in your life who you think would be remotely interested in getting involved with the solution to the crisis of fatherlessness–of all the books I read and reviewed in 2010, this was my fave)
  • To Own a Dragon or Father Fiction by Donald Miller, Founder of TMP (again, a rocking gift for anyone and everyone in your life, period)

One aspect of reviewing this toolkit that made me excited was that TMP isn’t trying to be the super-hero organization that single-handedly resolves fatherlessness in America. They know what they’re good at: inspiring followers of Christ to address the crisis of fatherlessness, training them to mentor in a Christlike manner, and then offering these men up to matching agencies who already have lists of youths who need mentoring.

And indeed, they are good at this process, and they have effectively shared their expertise in the toolkit. I had no clue how to go about setting up a mentoring community at my church, but by the time I was finished perusing the Operations Manual, I could envision the steps that needed to be taken to go about making this a reality. I have recommended this resource to my pastor, and I hope that very soon a TMP Toolkit will be landing on the doorstep of my local church.


How Do You Teach Work Ethic? Plus a Reading List

I’ve got two items to share today; one is a question, the other a book list.

First, the question: How do you teach students the value of working hard? There are two ways students can measure themselves in my class:

  1. Their grade
  2. Whether or not they have done their best and are actually pushing themselves to learn.

How do you build #2 into a student? How do you impart the value of hard work, of pushing yourself to ceaselessly grow? Whether students are Christian or not, this work ethic will serve them well. If they are Christian, especially, this is obeying God’s call to “work at [whatever you do] with all your heart” (Colossians 3:23 NIV).

I’d love to hear what anyone in the blogosphere has to say about that question.

Second, toward the beginning of Do Hard Things, Alex and Brett Harris tell of a day when their dad came home with a stack of books for them to read:

This list has me thinking that it would be fun to hand these to an independent study student and ask them to tell me what they make of them.

Rebelutionary Wisdom for Beginning to Do Hard Things

At the end of their book Do Hard Things, Alex and Brett Harris share three profiles of young people and how they began to obey God’s call to flee from lives of self-indulgence alone to lives driven by a holy ambition. Here is some wisdom that the twins gleaned from their profiles–these insights are great for gospel-centered self-reflection and repentance (also, note how well this would work as a way to assess your current performance at your job):

  • What do you need to get honest about, and to whom do you need to be honest about it?
  • What negative patterns or actions need to end?
  • Which people can best help you get from point A to point B? Make a plan to get connected with those people (it can be as simple as scheduling a time for coffee).
  • Figure out one or two key action steps that, once taken, will make it a lot tougher for you to “chicken out and turn back.” Decide when and how you will take these steps.
  • Acknowledge that you can’t succeed without God’s help–that we rely on Him for every last thing–and make a practical plan to stick close to Him.
  • Expect success,  because as you seek to obey God by the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, He is glorified.

I thought these insights were too good to not post on. Do get a copy of Do Hard Things if you haven’t already. It’s a great read for anyone, and it’s a great graduation gift!

Book Review: Do Hard Things, by Alex and Brett Harris

Recommended. A rigorous look at the popular myth of adolescence and how a movement of teenagers are mobilizing to defy it.

Being familiar with, I was excited when Do Hard Things became available through Multnomah’s Blogging for Books program. There are several reasons why this book will prove to be one of the most important I’ve read this year as a public school teacher.

First, as a teacher who strives to have a wide selection of quality, thought-provoking literature available to my students, it is great to have a book to point the reluctant reader towards by saying, “Hey, this book was written by a couple of teenagers.” Though Alex and Brett Harris defy society’s expectations of teenagers, the tone of their writing will connect well with their age-level peers–and, at the same time, they connect well with adults!

Second, as someone who works with teenagers every day in a high school classroom, reading Alex and Brett’s words were like watching someone put words to the thoughts and frustrations I’ve had for a long time. The Harris’ give compelling examples of teens from history and teens from today who prove that the Toys ‘R’ Us motto of “I don’t want to grow up” is a lie. I am eager to find ways to connect my students with the truth that spending their teen years simply seeking their pleasures and avoiding responsibility will lead to want, rather than any kind of lasting fulfillment or sense of purpose.

Third, Alex and Brett have done an excellent job of refining their ideas into memorable groupings. They spend the bulk of the book explaining and illustrating the “five kinds of hard things.” These chapters were some of my favorites, as I found myself challenged by every kind of “hard.” I also loved Alex and Brett’s three pillars of the rebelution–character, competence, and collaboration. When I read about these, my mind immediately went to work on how to modify the concept for use in the courses that I teach.

Fourth and finally, the Harris’ have clear love for the Gospel. Their book is one illustration of how, indeed, the Gospel changes all of life; that is, that Jesus’ life and death and resurrection in our stead impacts every single aspect of human experience, including the teenage years.

I recommend this book to any and every teenager and teacher of teenagers. Even if you are not a Christian (like this reviewer), there is plenty here to reflect on and implement.

Here are some related books that I’d like to check out (though I haven’t read any of them yet):

Zach Hunter’s Generation Change & Be the Change

Peter Benson’s What Teens Need to Succeed

Sean Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens

Alex and Brett Harris’ Start Here

FCC Disclaimer: A complementary copy of this book was provided by Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for review purposes.

Notes from a restful browsing

  • Proverbs 13:20 tells us that “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” What we often don’t realize is that this isn’t just speaking of the human companions we keep, but also the media companions we keep. The movies we watch, podcasts we listen to, radio shows we turn in to, television we take in, websites and blogs we browse: all of these things constitute companions in our lives that we walk with. We must choose carefully.
  • Being “salt” doesn’t simply mean making the world taste good; it means helping to preserve it. We are to be a preserving force against the ever-increasing moral and intellectual depravity bred by our enemies of Satan, sin, and death.
  • We must not be satisfied simply with being better than the average teenager — this simply reinforces the low expectations on teens. In the same way, I must not be satisfied simply with being better than the average teacher, as this does nothing to change the status quo that schools are drowning in.
Crystal’s calling, and that means it’s time to watch Star Wars III.
Lord Jesus, please soften my heart towards You. Please show me Your ways. I want to walk in step with You. Thank You for Your relentless pursuit of me.