If I am honest, I was unthankful this Thanksgiving

Every now and then I like to give a little air time to some up and coming youth workers and writers.  (If that is you, let me know when you would like some space as well)  Austin is an incredibly godly young man who is sold out to Jesus and his students.  I have had the pleasure of watching him develop into quite the youth worker.  I hope you enjoy his post as much as I did.  

Thanksgiving....the time we celebrate everything we have been blessed with. The time we gather around the table with friends and family and gorge ourselves. The time when we are asked to share something we are thankful for, but if I'm honest I was unthankful this Thanksgiving.

Let's just say my life has not been picture perfect recently......well, it's really been horrible. Some of it is self-inflicted and some of it just circumstantial. I have been beaten down in every area of my life. Family, relationships, and ministry just to name a few. My wife and I have not had enough time to focus and grow our relationship. Our house was torn apart for an exterminator to rid our house of bed bugs. My grandma's health is shaky at best. I seem to be making all the wrong decisions to help student’s lives change; instead my decisions have led to frustration and spiritual exhaustion in myself and others. These are just a few from the laundry list. Call me Job.

Okay, maybe I'm a little tough on myself in some areas. Regardless, this is not a season to be thankful for......is it? It sure doesn't feel that way. Every part of my flesh does not want to be thankful. I want to scream in frustration, and I have. However, I have learned and relearned of some of the biggest, toughest, and life-changing lessons in the midst of all this. I needed this terrible season, I needed to feel like Job.

I am the hands and feet of Jesus, not Jesus 

This is a truth that almost every youth worker knows is true, but we all have trouble accepting it. We invest in others. Proclaim the gospel. Speak the truth in love. Yet, we see no life change. We beat ourselves up because we want to change the world one person at a time.......but we don't transform hearts, The Holy Spirit does. I needed to be reminded of my role, because when I put myself in Jesus' shoes I fail every time. When I put myself in the role of a servant....all the pressure is off. I don't need to change lives and I don't need to take on others burdens; I just need to invest in others, proclaim the gospel, and speak the truth in love. 

Your priorities shape your life

My priorities were way out of wack. I was spending way too much time invested in the church, and because of that everything fell to pieces. Even the very thing I was spending so much time doing. I needed to reprioritize my life. I needed to put God back on the throne instead of the church. God and my personal relationship with him is priority numero uno, my relationship with my wife needs to be second, and the role of youth director behind both of those. When I finally reprioritized my life, I received the breath of fresh air that I had been longing for. That breath turned into the best week of my life. 

Arrogance leads to destruction

For some reason, I decided to think that I was in control of my life and that I could handle every problem all on my own. The truth is I had put myself on the throne of my life and had kicked King Jesus off of it. I didn't intentionally do this; I subconsciously believed that I was more than capable to dictate my life. I made quick decisions without consulting the King, and although those decisions didn't turn out terrible.....they were decided out of arrogance and insult to the King. I should have asked for guidance from the King. I should have allowed Jesus to remain on His throne.  

It is so easy to get caught up in the fog of life and ministry. It is in that fog of confusion where we are attacked, our priorities shift, and we become arrogant enough to think we are the King. We are not the King, we are the people.....and there is a lot of peace in that. It's not until we play the role of the people where we can be thankful. 

My name is Austin Penn, and I am not the King, I am a citizen of the kingdom. I am so thankful for the lessons I have learned and relearned, and I am so thankful to be a servant of this great kingdom.

Austin Penn is the Director of Student Ministries at Countryside Covenant Church in McPherson, Kansas. Austin is a graduate of Central Christian College with a Bachelor’s Degree in student ministry. While at Central, Austin played for the baseball team, was the Student Body Chaplain and met his beautiful wife Stevie. He is passionate about young people, and he longs to see them come to know and love Jesus! 

Our own rumspringa

Our own rumspringa

Rumspringa (derived form the German term “Rond Springen” or “running around”) generally refers to a period of adolescence for some members of the Amish, that begins around the age of sixteen and ends when a youth chooses baptism within the Amish church or instead leaves the community.  (wikipedia) In one of our upperclassman small groups a student made a passing comment that I have been wrestling with for the past couple of days.  She simply observed that their once full table of students during small group time has withered over the the last couple of years.  Where a once a robust small group of 15 was, now a consistent remnant of 6 remain.

As my wife and I talked, we could account for almost every student that has faded away from our student ministry.  And for almost every student there was an explanation.  Most of them were a small changes in priorities that resulted with them being less connected and ended up with them being M.I.A.

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Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts

Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts

ENCOUNTER:  Read Romans 12:3-8

You and me are connected.  Not just because we go to the same church, but because you and I are joined together in the body of Christ.  We belong together.  Even though we are very different we are connected to each other, to share in common cause.  You and I have been uniquely gifted by the Holy Spirit and the joined to one another so that together we can build up the Church and expand the Kingdom of God.  

So the question is, "How has God created you?"  You are uniquely crafted.  God has given you a personality, some passions, and has placed you in a particular context.  The trick is reflecting on all of this to explore these questions and then leverage them for the Kingdom of God. 

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Why does food matter in student ministry?

Why does food matter in student ministry?

I love stereotypes.  I know I am not supposed to, but most of the time they are funny because there is a chuck of truth in them.  And as far as youth ministry goes, pizza is the one and only food group.  Pizza is the anchor to our ministry philosophy and model.  While I try so hard to be healthy and provide food options that actually have nutritional value for our students, pizza is still my go to food!  And when not pizza, then Oreo's and milk.

No matter if you are a health conscious youth ministry or you lean into the way of your forefathers by embracing the Costco $10 extra large pizza, there is something vital to the health of our ministry that is closely linked to providing food for the body and for the soul.

Sharing a meal is a way to share life. 

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The Sin of Dehumanization

The Sin of Dehumanization
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, 'Raca,' is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.  - Matthew 5:22

If there was one overarching sin that I find most offensive and evil, it is the sin of dehumanization.  And there is nothing like an election season to bring this out in spades!

Spending this week talking with students and colleagues while reading and watching everything I can get a hold of, I am horrified at how easily it is for people to roll dehumanizing rhetoric right off the tongue.  Being in a Blue State, most of this vitriol is directed firmly at Donald Trump and his 

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What youth workers can learn from Jen Hatmaker

What youth workers can learn from Jen Hatmaker

A little over a week ago, Jen Hatmaker did an interview with Religion News Service that has seemed to set the Christian world and all its onlookers on fire.  In this interview Jen came out as not only open, but open and affirming for Gay Marriage.  

Jen Hatmaker has become "Christian Famous" and has grown her platform and influence through a number of Christian Organizations and Publishers, and now her words are proving to have significant power based on this platform.  With this new found influence her open stance that is in opposition of the very institutions and organizations that have given her this platform, is putting everyone in a really challenging position.  

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How do you disciple students who have ZERO touch points with Christianity?

How do you disciple students who have ZERO touch points with Christianity?

Our students are increasingly living in a post-Christian world and this means that they have a worldview and moral outlook that has almost zero touch points with Christianity.  If that is the case, then how do we share the gospel and disciple students in the new world?

The Gospel story is wrapped up in the language of adoption.

We are lonely, alienated, and isolated.  The gospel is the story of a loving Father who leaves the comforts of home (heaven) and runs after the lost daughter and son and invites them back home.

For the "Christian" world, there was rebellion and sin, but the process of coming back into the Christian household was a rather simple process of assimilation.  There was a clear Judeo-Christian ethic that was internalized by those rebellious sons and daughters.  They were rebells, but they knew what they were rebelling agains, they knew what ideal had been lost, and an invitation back into the family brought justification / forgiveness for these sins, and brought healing towards these relationships.

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The Value of Having a Cry Night at Camp

The Value of Having a Cry Night at Camp

I Used to be Really Frustrated by Cry Night:

A few years ago I was invited to speak at a winter camp. Unbeknownst to me, there was a fixed spiritual rhythm to their retreat.  Over this three-night winter camp hovered the expectation of increased spiritual depth, culminating with some sort of significant moment or opportunity for response. I found out about this rhythm solely by accident.

I wanted to have an opportunity for response every time we were together. I wanted each session to carry its own weight and expectation for response. I crafted each session with very unique tactile ways to respond to what the Holy Spirit was doing. And I don’t mean to boast, but these were some of the most creative and brilliant sessions I had ever put together.

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By the power of Greyskull!! (I mean, the Holy Spirit)

By the power of Greyskull!!  (I mean, the Holy Spirit)

For many of us we have a He-Man theology of the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is God, the Holy Spirit lives in us when we become Christians, and therefore we can do all things through His power.  

Like He-Man, we think just because we have the "Power Sword" we have power to conquer just about anything.  But for many of us, when we have tried to wield that power, we have come up short.  

in this passage in Ephesians we are told that we will be able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or even imagine by the power at work with in us.  This is an incredible statement.  And one when we put it into practice often leaves us wanting.  But maybe that is because we are a little to short sighted and self focused in our prayers and petitions towards Jesus.  

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Top 5 ways to win over parents

Top 5 ways to win over parents

Let's face it, student ministry is a young person's game.  In fact, if you are a young person and doing vocational youth ministry, you are in the sweet spot.  You can relate well to students, you have band-with for their schedules, and you can see the best in them.  In fact, you were hired for this exact purpose.  

In your youth and exuberance to love kids and be on their team, don't forget to be intentional with winning over their parents.  For if you would like to do your job for more than a year or so, you must win your parents love, trust, and respect.  Here are 5 ways to pull that off.

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The need to create a unique culture within your youth ministry

The need to create a unique culture within your youth ministry

It is easy to think about student ministry priorities in terms of numbers, biblical knowledge, or behavior modification. Yes, spiritual formation is the goal, but often these priorities are the lens in which we evaluate this process. 

In an era where our kids are fully post-moderns, and increasingly post-Christian, there is a ministry priority that I think should out rank the first three as a tool for spiritual formation. And that is creating a culture.  

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How should youth workers use social media?

How should youth workers use social media?

That is a really good question!  With the heat of a political season about to come to an end, lets look around at the wreckage that has come to the world and sadly to the church because of Facebook, Twitter, and the other ones that I am too old to use or understand.  

As young leaders, many youth workers are fired up and passionate about many things and feel the need to, or the conviction to enter the political fray.  Also, as young leaders, there is a very fuzzy line between the professional and personal.  The combination of these two instincts can cause irreversible harm to your reputation and to the impact you can have at your church.

A good friend of mine, Evan Kolding, who is wise beyond his years helped me put my social media into the correct perspective:  TREAT YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE AS AN EXTENSION OF YOUR OFFICE WALL.  

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When is sexual assault ok?

When is sexual assault ok?

What a wild week it has been politically!  Another week and another story about a powerful man treating women as sexual objects and using and abusing them to his heart's content.  And right now, at least in my Facebook stream is a whole lot of people who are horrified and outraged that a presidential candidate would behave in such an awful way.  I also have another group of people on my feed who are dismissing the allegations because the other side is worse.  

Politically you can choose to vote for the person that makes most sense to you or against the person that seems most dangerous to you.  This post has nothing to do with who to vote for or against.  But this post does have everything to do about powerful men and the attitude that they / we / I take in my position of power, especially when it comes to people with less power, and especially when it comes to minors.  

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What color is your ministry? #OC17

What color is your ministry?  #OC17

Whether we realize it or not, every one of our ministries are shaped by the unique ways God has crafted us.  This is a really good thing.  Before we go on, it would be helpful to call out and articulate the following:

  • What do you love most about Jesus?
  • What do you do that causes the most intimacy with God?
  • What issues are you most passionate about?
  • What has God uniquely made you to do in the Kingdom of God?

These are important questions.  They help direct and point us in our faith and in the ways we express that faith in the big, bad world.  But if we are not careful, and don't differentiate from our students, we will end up cramming our unique passions, faith formation, and colors onto our kids. 

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Start saving your pennies for Orange 17!

Start saving your pennies for Orange 17!

For the last 5 years our church has been using Orange curriculum, resources, and the inspiration from the conferences to help transform our children's and youth ministry.  

At first, Orange was simply a curriculum we used.  And as curriculum goes, Orange is one of the best.  But as we have gotten more and more comfortable with the curriculum, we began to dive in to the incredible resources that Orange makes available.  

Over the last two years, Phases has been a major theme.  Kristen Ivy and her team have developed resources and tools for children's and youth workers as well as parents and leaders.  They have charted out the different developmental phases a person goes through from birth to college.  And at each phase there are new and exciting ways they are engaging the world, their faith, and even their bodies.  Along with each phase are tools for understanding and discussion as well as helps to sharpen your programs to capitalize on each unique phase.  

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Vlog 02: Why student ministry is really struggling to be effective

Vlog 02:  Why student ministry is really struggling to be effective

Happy Thursday!  It is time for another Vlog here at AYM.  I have had a really discouraging week as I have been gearing up for youth group.  It seems like everything I read, every study, every story has nothing good to say about the church or about student ministry.  It is actually really depressing that the thing you have given your entire life to has proven to be totally ineffective.  

When I reflect on my own experience and my own students and consider the long trajectory of our students long after they have left our ministry, I am reminded that there are actually many factors at play.  I do think we need to look hard in the mirror and to always ask the hard questions, challenge our assumptions, and do whatever we can to reach young people.  

But there are two gigantic factors that are out of our control that must be part of the equation.  One is theological and one is developmental.  I would love to know your thoughts as well.  

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A slow moving train wreck: Called to bring justice or reconciliation?

A slow moving train wreck: Called to bring justice or reconciliation?

I admit that I am old, and the way I see the world is more and more at odds with the students I work with and even with the younger leaders who are slowly taking over the church.  With that being said, I am noticing a coming disaster that is causing great distress in my heart.

Our students and younger leaders are pushing really hard for the church to be more inclusive, more hospitable, and to become more vocal advocates for a number of social justice issues.  For the record, I am on board.  

But as I talk with these younger leaders and listen to my students I am noticing a scary trend in the language used.  Justice has now become king!  But justice is more complex than any of want to admit, and if we aren't careful one person's justice is an other person's tyranny.  We can get ourselves into a lot of trouble when we only use language of justice, power and privilege.  The calling of those who follow Jesus is reconciliation, not justice.  Justice is part of the reconciliation process, but so is mercy and humility. 

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Vlog 01: Loving Kids into the Kingdom

Vlog 01: Loving Kids into the Kingdom

Good Lord!  What am I doing trying to Vlog.  Talk about the most humiliating thing I have done in a long time.  But after Vlogging has become main stream and is now on its way out, I thought I would jump into the mix.  I am always looking for ways to mix it up and grow in different competencies, and it turns out I have a ton to grow in.  But instead of waiting for perfection, you will see a gradual improvement until I reach my signature grade of C+. 

My first Vlog is a reflection on my recent parent meeting.  As our culture and context changes, there is less and less reasons for kids to show up to the programs we plan.  This means that we have to really have our heads in the game as we think about what we do and why we do it.  

I suggest we put on the mantle of grandma and dish out the hard candies. :)

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What would you do differently if you owned this reality:

What would you do differently if you owned this reality:

90% of your students are going to walk away from Christianity and the Church after High School?

There has been a lot written lately about what is going on with our students and why are they leaving the church in record numbers after they graduate from college.  It seems to me that this is a problem that has been around forever, or at least since I graduated from high school.  (Back when Pearl Jam was King!)

What would it look like if we quit wringing our hands about this awful statistic and accepted this as reality.

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I will never eat meat again!

I will never eat meat again!

ENCOUNTER:  Read 1 Corinthians 8

Ok, the title is a little misleading.  I love meat and will eat it forever!!  That is, unless, eating meat causes spiritual problems with those in whom I am in community.  For, in that case, I the spiritual health of those I live with in community is infinitely worth more than my freedom to eat as much meat as I want.  

Thankfully, we live in a context where meat isn't a spiritual issue, or one that divides us.  But this passage in 1 Corinthians isn't about meat.  This passage is about how we live in community when we have different understandings of the law, of freedom, and even of righteousness.  

The assumption is that we are all leaning into Jesus and long to love Him, honor Him, and serve him with all our hearts.  This is an important assumption.  For many of us in our context, we see our walk with Jesus in terms of regulations and question, "How much can I get away with?"  But the maturing life in Christ is not about regulation, but about union.  It is about a growing intimacy with Jesus and with His people.  

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