A Call To Fatherhood - Focus 2015 Recap

It's surprising how much you can learn in a field on the south coast of England in just one week.

We have just returned from a week at HTB's Focus Holiday at Camber Sands, now for the 4th year returning to sit under teaching and worship from some of the most amazing people around the world.

This year's Focus was a very different experience for us for 3 reasons:

  1. We were camping (well glamping)
  2. We were taking a 8 week old baby (ours)
  3. See above 2 reasons

Reason one was short lived due to be being evacuated from our glamp tent after just 48 hours due to high winds and torrential rain - resulting in us being moved to the less glamorous chalet's of Pontins Camber Sands (trust me - if you've seen the Watchdog episode it's not far off...).

The theme of the week was Calling - what it means to be called by God. And for me that calling really resonated as what it means to be a father.

What it means to be a leader in the home - what kind of family I want to be in charge of and how I want to raise Mini Milk*.

It's incomprehensible how your perspective can shift so dramatically unless you have gone through it when becoming a parent. Everything you thought was important just dims slightly in the light of needing to preserve the life of this little creature that's entered your home.

Calling

It’s that sense of calling, of being known that will stay with me from this Focus.

What makes that light all the brighter is the knowledge that this is a little life that God has pre-destined to do great things.

A little life that will go on to learn to walk, talk, do taxes, take the tube, write their own thoughts on some social network of the future, come (hopefully) to know that there is a universe so expansive around her and that beyond all that there is a God who loves her and knows her place in it.

It's that sense of calling, of being known that will stay with me from this Focus. The speakers were great, the worship was amazing, the Spirit of God was in the place - but more than that, was a knowing.

A knowing that as much as I care for this little life who is asleep next to me as I write this, there is a God delighting in her, and me more than I can ever know, or even imagine.

Some shots from the week:

Note:

*Mini Milk is going to be our online given name for Baby Poulter 1 as one of the principles we are choosing to honor is not giving Google too good an idea of who she is before she decides to do so herself!

FOMO & Wondering if God cares where you work.

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Maybe its the changing in the weather or just a time in our lives, but it seems everyone around us is upping sticks, moving abroad or changing careers. And if they haven't done so recently, they are thinking about it.

There seems to be something contagious about change. When you see those around you pursuing new horizons and trying to route out their course it breeds, and spreads through small groups of friends and communities like wildfire.

For some years now I have had the pleasure of spending quite of time around students going through university. Seeing them pick courses and electives for new semesters and ultimately graduating and heading out into the world of work is also really inspiring.

However whether it is friends changing careers, heading abroad or graduating and going out to seek a career for the first time - there seems to be a question that permeates through all of them - does is matter where I work? Not just - does it pay enough or will I be looked after, but does it matter to God?

One thing that the internet has done us is massively extended a disease known in the TwitterSphere as FOMO. The Fear of Missing Out. Now we have so much Haccess to all of the job possibilities out there. Linkedin and Twitter give us new unprecedented access to every job level and career option going. Recruitment agents are having a whale of time, sending inMails to everyone who remotely could match a job description, and in my industry I can certainly testify to 90% of these being way off base.

This change in how we approach our careers choices seems to be helping perpetuate this FOMO way of living. Should I switch roles, companies? Should I move for more money or happiness? What should I do to feel fulfilled? And what does being fulfilled even mean? Will God be happy with my choice or should I do something more "kingdom focused"?

In Corinthians 3 we read:

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, (Colossians 3:17, 23 NIV)

Don't miss the emphasis here - Paul says that in whatever you do do it in the name of Jesus.

We as Christians - scratch that - as humans, have a really bad habit of trying to put things in boxes. We love to categorise and organise. We have been doing it since the time of the temple, when we built places to contain the glory of God and appointed people as Priests to mediate that glory to the people. In doing so we today invoke thousands of years of history thinking that some jobs are somehow more holy that others, or more worthy than others.

Pastor. Missionary. Charity Worker. Full Time Christian Whatever.

There is no such thing as full time Christian service. We are ALL full time. We are all Christians. We all SERVE. This is our calling friends. This is what we are here to do. In whatever we do - bring glory to him. The only ones who should be suffering from the blight of FOMO is those who haven't yet met him - not us.

I am not saying here that it is not important to think things through. To pray for God to guide the big choices in life, or that in certain circumstances. However to do any of this effectively we must first understand that we are all called to play our part in this - whether we spend our days pushing prams, preaching from pulpits or punching prices.

I was recently researching for a sermon I was writing on this topic and came across this story about St Augustine - who when asked about how to discern God's will for our lives he answered;

Love God, and do as you please.

This friends, is good news. Let's get on with it. Whatever.

Social Advertising: Serendipity+ or In-Authentic Engagement?

In recent weeks we have run a number of large-scale social ad campaigns for clients. On both the new twitter ads platforms in the shape of Promoted Accounts and Promoted Tweets, and also on Facebook running sponsored stories and page ads. One thing that's a common strand across these platforms, and is now becoming more deeply ingrained into Google's own Adsense platform, is the ability to target users based on behaviour, who their friends are, and "their social signals", those social actions we each make day as we like, comment and share out way through the web.

In a conversation earlier this week (see below) with Vicky Beeching (and more of her thoughts on her blog) I got thinking about just how authentic these forms of engagement are. There are two quite clear strands of thought about this.

From the point of the view of the advertiser, we are given an unparalleled opportunity to, (when done well) get messages in front of those who are far and away the most likely to be interested in what we have to say. In ad-land-utopia this means we get a far more personalised user experience, get less shoddily targeted ads in our various streams and feeds, and hopefully get introduced to some cool products and people that we wouldn't otherwise know about.

However we don't live in the mythical ad-utopia, and so in practice it doesn't always go quite that smoothly. In reality, some people make a random action on Facebook, outside their normal pattern and get thrown some curve ball ads for a few days. Over on twitter you talk about your mobile home for a weekend and then spend two weeks getting ads on twitter about upgrading your phone line rental.

Now of course in most cases this is not the result of people being intentionally annoying, but rather them not having a clear understanding of both the technology and the psychology of advertising in social spaces. I mention the psychology element, because actually this is often the most misunderstood.

These social spaces have a certain aesthetic that other advertising mediums do not, which is that despite the 800 million users on Facebook, to each user their profile and news feed is "theirs". We have a sense of ownership and possession over these digital living rooms. Most of you would be pretty upset if I walked into your living room and erected a giant billboard! That sentiment lives online too.

It's also compounded by the increase in mobile consumption of platforms like Facebook and Twitter. If the figures are anything go by we are consuming nearly every social platform increasingly via smartphones and tablets - these devices command an enormous (and in some cases unhealthy) amount of personal affection. They walk with us, most people I know sleep with them within touching distance. So when you combine the personal attachment we hold to both of these technologies it's not unsurprising that a bit of bad targeting can really rile some people.

When all is said and done there are of course commercial factors at play here. Facebook shares, now more than ever need to start shifting, stock prices need restoring - and a big way that Facebook is able to justify its existence to shareholders is its ability to monetize its phenomenally sized user base. Twitter is on the same path, and Google will keep step to save both face and market share.

Unfortunately for those who don't like their news feed being overtaken like an FA Cup final pitch invasion, it may be too late - the advertisers are coming. And mainly because they have too. Print circulation is dipping, ad rates going up and marketing directors the world over are taking long hard looks at their traditional "buy big, but everywhere" strategies, because TV is failing to provide the kind of responsive real-time data that social and mobile can. The economics of it all are kind of too hard to fight.

So this raises a question for those of us who look at these things through a lens that wants to see more transparency on the web. Is this feeling of false serendipity duping us? Are we being played for fools? Or as consumers should we be pleased that our data can give us a more personalised experience?

I think however you feel about it, how precious your data is it you, is an important thing for us to wrestle with - but know this, there are only two options. Live with it. Or leave - because the Ad men aren't going anywhere.