We Are All in This Together — Reflections on the National Prayer Breakfast

Ethiopia: Innocent Prayers of a Young Child, By Steve Evans, Flickr

Ethiopia: Innocent Prayers of a Young Child, By Steve Evans, Flickr

This past week I had the pleasure of attending the 63rd National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. The National Prayer Breakfast has a long history representing the important role that faith plays in American life. Engaging the breadth of the United States, delegates were present from all 50 states.

Global Presence

But the National Prayer Breakfast is not limited to delegates from the United States. Representatives were present from 130 nations. This group of nearly 5,000 gathered together with members of Congress and President Barack Obama to do something quite unique in public life in our day—to reflect together on the person of Jesus of Nazareth and His teaching and also to ask God’s blessing and favor in the affairs of our world.

Diverse Sectors

In addition to representation from around the globe, the composition of the group also drew upon a diversity of sectors. Flourishing societies are built upon a foundation of multiple sectors working together in productive and meaningful ways. Key sectors in the United States are government, the market economy, and private/voluntary organizations.

A healthy and balancing relationship among government, market economy, and private sectors is vital for our future vitality and health as a society, and I’m reminded afresh that we are all in this together. The National Prayer Breakfast provides a place to come together from these multiple sectors to reflect on how Jesus and His teaching shape the manner in which we engage our work in each of these areas of society. Additionally, the National Prayer Breakfast represents a unique context in which people build relationships and pursue pathways for serving the people of our nation and world as we ask for God’s favor in this vital journey together.

The Experience

The experience of the National Prayer Breakfast is unlike any I’ve had previously. We heard from a wide range of speakers including President Obama, world-champion boxer Manny Pacquiao, NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip, former Mayor and Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, and many others. We heard written remarks shared from voices as diverse as Pope Francis and King Abdullah of Jordon. And I had the opportunity to share personal interactions with a unique and wide range of individuals such as Manny Pacquiao’s friend and pastor, actor Stephen Baldwin, a best-selling author, and an elected official from my home state.

Perhaps the most meaningful personal interaction was with Doug Coe, the man who sought out President Eisenhower over 60 years ago to paint a vision for leaders around the world praying together around a focus on the person of Jesus and His teachings. Doug’s vision, persistence, and trust in Jesus has led to 63 national prayer breakfast gatherings and pointing thousands of lives around the world to gather in the name of Jesus even though coming from a wide range of religious, political, and national backgrounds.

From Global to Local

Although it was amazing to hear from and interact with such a unique group of people in this global gathering, the key takeaway for me was sharing this experience with individuals from my home state and home city. The experience was deeply meaningful and was a call to pursue, foster, and engage in deeper relationship with my neighbors around the person of Jesus Christ. This provides great hope for our region as we engage very real challenges and pray, work, and collaborate together toward the aim of serving and blessing the world in Jesus’ name.

6 Insights from My First Year of Blogging

Blogging, by Sean MacEntee, Flickr

Blogging, by Sean MacEntee, Flickr

Here are 6 insights from my first year of blogging on my Purpose in Leadership site. Though I began blogging midway through 2014, this first month of 2015 has led me to pause and think through some of the key lessons I have learned from blogging in 2014.

Certainly there is great value in learning from seasoned bloggers. I appreciate the many insights I find in the writing of veteran bloggers. A fresh set of eyes is also helpful. Because of this, I offer the following insights on blogging from my vantage point as a “newbie”, and hopefully bring some fresh perspective into the conversation.

Here are my top 6 Insights from My First Year of Blogging:

Insight 1 — Getting Started & Building Up Content

A friend advised me early on to build up content quickly. In other words, if you are just beginning your blog, try to work ahead and build up a dozen or so posts before launching. In addition to this, when you do launch, focus on regular posting as you continue to build up a foundation of quality content.

For me, regular posting meant that I sought to post daily for about the first two months of my blog. Everyone’s capacity is different. Perhaps you will be able to maintain daily posts indefinitely. Perhaps daily posting is not realistic for you, even from the start. The key is to find a workable pace that you are able to sustain for at least an initial season of time. Not only does this help you gain familiarity with the format as a blogger, it also helps to position your blog meaningfully in relationship to how search engines operate. Here is a helpful guide to search engine optimization.

Insight 2 — Maintaining Momentum & Finding a Sustainable Pace

After an initial push of getting started and building up content, it is important to maintain the momentum that was started and find a sustainable pace. Although daily posts were a priority for me early in the blogging journey, daily posts were not sustainable in light of all the opportunities and demands in my life.

One of my personal commitments early on was I wanted to maintain blogging as an enjoyable part of my life rather than it becoming a burden. This blog is not my job—it is not what I do for a living. Rather, it is something that I do because I enjoy it. Part of maintaining joy in blogging is finding the right pace. At the start, I really enjoyed the process of writing and posting daily. As the demands on my life increased in the fall, both in terms of my work life and home life, I knew that I needed to pull back from daily posting. Though my posting was sporadic after my initial launch and initial two months, I have settled into a pattern of weekly posting. This pace keeps me engaged with something that I enjoy doing, and but does so in a sustainable manner. This pace will likely change in the future again, but the key is to find a pace that maintains joy in the blogging journey.

Insight 3 — Keeping it Fresh & Timely

In terms of the content engaged in my posts, there are a couple key insights I’d like to offer. First, I find that blogging comes most naturally when I keep it fresh and share it in a timely manner. What do I mean by this? My content is most meaningful to me and readers when I am writing on material I am currently engaging.

Practically speaking, this means that I often am blogging about things I am reading about and reflecting upon currently. When it is fresh on my mind and when it is something that I am currently engaging in my reading and study, it provides a helpful base from which to draft meaningful blog posts. Doing this helps create energy for me in the writing process and seems to be helpful for readers as well.

Insight 4 — Focusing on Topics of Interest

Although I do not have a large history of statistics from which to draw for analysis, what I’m finding in the data is helpful. From 2014, the following categories drew the most engagement from readers: Personal Development, Leadership, and Organizational Strategy. Individuals and leaders are drawn toward writing that helps them think about their personal development. Additionally, topics such as leading change, communicating well as leaders, and understanding organizational vision were also themes that drew interest.

Leadership is a broad topic, and thus the blog posts can go any number of directions. As I think through potential topics for the future, I want to engage not only what is interesting for me to write, but also what is actually helpful for readers. Looking at categories and topics that demonstrate higher engagement helps me to know what is most helpful for future posts. Although there are other factors that will be considered as I land on future posts, I am aiming to be responsive to what readers find meaningful and helpful.

Insight 5 — Making Your Posts Attractive

At the end of the day, I think the content of blog posts is more important than format. However, making a blog site and blog posts attractive and reader-friendly is a helpful practice. Here are some of the basic principles I’ve observed on this front in my first year of blogging. First, find a picture that is attractive and on topic to include with your post. Flickr’s creative commons (https://www.flickr.com/creativecommons/) is a helpful source for photos, though you will want to become familiar with the various standards associated with using creative commons photos. A well-selected photo, or better yet a photo that you have taken that is on topic, can significant add to reader engagement with your blog.

Second, use formatting that helps your reader easily follow the logic and big ideas you are sharing in your posts. For me, this translates into using subheadings that are bolded for readers, a sparing amount of italicized words and phrases for emphasis, and the use of bullet points or enumerated lists.

  1. Lists provide a way for readers to quickly see the points you are making.
  2. Lists force you as a writer to decide on crisp expression of your ideas.
  3. Lists provide a visual tool to break up standard prose.

Third, and similar to the point above regarding bullet points and enumerated lists, bringing a list-based structure into both the outline and heading of the blog post helps reader engagement.  Though the use of lists may be a passing trend in blogs, it is quite helpful in drawing attention to the core ideas you wish to communicate. Three of my top five posts from 2014 were titled around lists (37 Barriers to Change, 7 Levels of Leadership Communication, and 6 Characteristics of Organizations with Vision). Also, as you may already have noticed, I have used a list-based structure for this blog post as well in order to model the practice.

Though format is not the main thing in blogging—content is—formatting will help your readers show up and meaningfully engage the quality content you are putting together in your blog.

Insight 6 — Keeping Focus & Engaging Globally

Finally, I recommend keeping focused (though with global breadth). It is helpful to maintain focus in a blog. What is your area of expertise? What is it that you are able to write about with passion and purpose? How you answer these questions provides a focus to a blog. For me, leadership is the unifying focus in my blog. Though I will occasional venture out into something on the peripheral side of things (e.g., posting pictures from a recent trip to NYC), my focus for the blog is leadership. This is the area in which I have some measure of expertise, and it is the area of focus I want readers to associate with the blog.

In addition to keeping focus, I also want to write on this focused topic of leadership in a way that meaningfully connects with a broad and global audience. One of the joys in this first year of blogging is seeing the amazing people I have begun to connect with because of the blog.

It was quite a surprise to read an overview of 2014 stats on this front. In 2014, individuals from around 94 countries engaged with the Purpose in Leadership blog. Topping this list of 94 countries were individuals from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil, Australia, India, and Kenya. What an amazing reality—that blogging provides a platform for communicating with such a broad audience.

I hope some of these insights are helpful for you as you think about either your current blog or one that you may potentially start in the future. Thanks for being a part of the Purpose in Leadership community.