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This last weekend I took my incoming seniors away on our annual Senior Road Trip. This is the kick off for our intentional Senior Confirmation program that is a year long investment in our oldest and often, our most burnt out students. The purpose of this trip is to build community, inspire leadership, and solidify faith as they launch into adulthood.

This year one of the elements was to watch Remember the Titans and have a discussion on leadership. To my horror, that movie is already 15 years old. For me, who is old and been at this a while, 15 years is recent. But to our students, this movie couldn’t be more dated. Although they enjoyed watching a young Hayden Panettiere and Ryan Gosling.

Thankfully,for as dated as the movie is, it is such a compelling movie that it held their interest for most of the 2 hours. As we watched this movie as a group and discussed afterward, there was one simple point I wanted to drive home:

Unless our student leaders take up the mantle and vision of what our ministry can be, we will simply be just an average, run of the mill student ministry. But if they embrace and own the vision, they will be the anchor in making our ministry great!

In the movie, Denzel Washington’s character, Coach Boon, had a very clear vision and plan for his team. He had an awful situation he was handed with incredible racial tension and politics from the administration, parents and from kids. Despite these obstacles, he went forward with his vision and leveraged all of his leadership capital to create an environment on his team, where this dream could be realized.

But all of his dreaming, all of his hard work, and all of his pouring out his guts into this program and into his students, the team was still divided, selfish, and impotent. It wasn’t until the two leaders of the team actually decided to lead. In the turning point in the movie, when Gary Bertier leveraged his status and political capital to come down on one of his white team mates, and Julius laid down an incredible hit on one of this black team mates, followed up by the two leaders embracing. Ok, they hit each other and yelled, but that is the boy version of embracing.

From that point on, this program was no just Coach Boon’s. It was the students.’

I found myself getting emotional a little bit with our students during the discussion, because for the first time in a long time, I had a way to express to my students my heart and dream for them and for our student ministry. But I couldn’t just express my dreams, I also had to express my anxiety and fear because my heart for our students can not move forward unless my seniors embrace it and own it. What a scary thing to realize that our leadership only goes so far.

For our ministries to be great, we can only control what we can control, which is only the environment where ministry can happen.

It isn’t until our student leaders, in our case, our seniors step up and leverage their status and political capital to lead by example and model deep and inviting relationships, and an authentic and active pursuit of Jesus.

My desire is to have a great student ministry! Not great numerically, but great in its impact for Jesus and his Kingdom. Great in the way it models the household of God, and great in the ways that our students run after Jesus in a fully authentic way. This is my dream and I will work until I die to create environments that allow this happen. But this can only truly come into fruition if my seniors embrace this vision and make it their own. Please, oh please, class of 15, don’t settle for a cliquey, run of the mill youth group, but embrace all that God has for you and for our ministry! Leverage your time, your relationships, and lead your peers to the feet of Jesus our King!

Let’s Do This!

051912-MLB-Cleveland-Indians-PI_20120519231611104_660_320I think programatic youth ministry has gotten a bad rap over the past few years or decades.  A solid program is the skeleton in which relationships can be built and faith gets formed.  With no program, there is just you and a half dozen kids.  Every great youth ministry has a program that is fun, engaging, inviting, and points towards Jesus. But a good reminder is that no matter how amazing our programs are, how many cool lights and graphics we have, what are online presence and platform has become, without personal contact we have nothing.

At its very core, ministry is about relationships.   Now I know you are pretty smart and know this.  But before you skim down to the end or click to a new page, ask yourself if you really do know this?  A good gut check is to take a look at your calendar and see how you spend your time. Of all the hours you have allotted to pull of ministry, how many of them are spent building relationship, doing contact work, texting your guts out, facebook and instagram stalking, buying ice cream and coffee for, calling, etc. Chances are less and less of your time is devoted to these things.

I am watching this alarming trend among my good friends who are youth workers.  They think that clever programs and graphics with witty names draw kids to youth group.  Worse, some actually think it is their teaching.  While clever programs and solid teaching are vital for solid ministry, it is the hidden hours of connecting with students individually, seeking them out, listening to their stories, building memories doing silly things, goofing off before and after events, and mostly remembering the little details of their life that allow them to be seen and cared for.  And when students feel seen and cared for, then they are willing to engage in a program and even let their guard down enough to wrestle through the intimate and dangerous issues of life and faith.

As you gear up for your fall program, work hard to have epic games, clever videos, and sassy graphics.  Knock your program out of the park!  But DO NOT NEGLECT THE THINGS YOU DID AT FIRST!!

Make contact with those kids, see them, love them, build friendship with them.  Then and only then will your hopes and dreams for your program be realized!

Happy Fall Kick Off!

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I love / hate Facebook!  

This last month one of my old youth group kids go married.  And because of Facebook I got the pleasure of knowing all about it and being so happy for her and his amazing new chapter of her life.  At the same time, I got the pain of seeing picture after picture of my old youth group kids celebrating with her along with the youth pastor who served after me.  For over 7 years I served in a context and in that time, I had the opportunity to pour my life into this incredible group of girls.  They were all so talented, fun, reflective, and strong leaders.  They were the core of my student ministry and going to the be the anchor as they transitioned into upperclassmen.

It was at that junction that I was called away from that context and a new youth pastor stepped in.  This new youth pastor is awesome and a friend.  But from a totally worldly perspective, I was so bummed that he got to reap the fruit of my years of investment.  Just as they were becoming amazing, I left and he got a group of amazing young women who were all ready to step up and lead.  And with his leadership and love they thrived and continued to be great friends and a mentor into adult hood.  And now got to celebrate this amazing event together.

This is the natural rhythm of student ministry:

My angst about all this is mine alone.  It is the natural transition in ministry.  Youth workers pour their lives into kids and after a time the youth worker moves on, or more likely, the students move on and graduate.  And for the most ministry minded kids, those who came to know and love Jesus under your care, head out into the great big world ready to go to the next level in their faith and in their leadership.

I can’t tell you the number of conversations I have had with college students over Christmas or summer break tell me how amazing their Bible study leader is, or how amazing their college pastor is.  They are so excited to share with me their growing edges and had no idea there were authors out there like Rob Bell, Francis Chan, N.T. Wright, John Piper, etc.  Did you even know that some people even speak in tongues?

Again, I am so glad that these students are finding places to land and are thriving spiritually.  But deep within me, my heart still breaks and bitterness seeps in a bit to watch the years of labor, of planting and watering get harvested by some chump college pastor who oozes with passion and hipster glasses.

However, there is a grace when you stick around in one context for a long time.

I may have missed out on the wedding of an amazing student from my last context.  I may miss out on some of the deep and life changing 2AM conversations that happen on a college campus.  I may even miss out on the roller coaster of walking with young adults fall in and out of love.

But every now and then, one of these students who I have poured my guts into when they were punk kids end up moving back home, or simply have grown up and are becoming adults who know and love Jesus.  They are getting married, having kids, and even want to serve in the ministry that helped shape and form them.

Out of God’s graciousness, He has given me a handful of students from days gone by to come back as interns, or volunteer staff, or simply as friends.  I get to live normal adult life alongside them.  And while I may not get the amazing Instagram photo at some event, I get the pleasure of partnering with friends.

Harvesting in youth ministry is a rare activity.  

Youth ministry is not a ministry of harvest.  It is a ministry of planting and watering.  It is a ministry of selflessly pouring out your life into self-absorbed and immature adolescents.  To share with them the love and grace of Jesus and give them experiences of what the Kingdom of God looks like, and expose them to opportunities for them to be close to God and the places where He is at work.

But, by sticking around, staying put, and being faithful to the task we are called to do, every now and then, God graciously allows us to participate in the harvest!

May you faithfully pour your life into students, selflessly plant and water until your hands and knees are blistered and sore.  So that the Lord of the Harvest may do His work in His time.  And every now and then, may God be gracious to you and allow you not just enjoy the harvest, but the joy of sharing life with those you have walked with since their childhood. 

becoming-2

Imagine it is 3:00 pm on the first day of school.

Your daughter or son comes home and gives you a horrible report. They didn’t get the classes they wanted, one of her friends was mean to her, your son isn’t in classes with any of his friends, and it turns out they aren’t going to get to start their fall sport like they thought. So much disappointment all in one day.

As their parent, how do you respond? “It looks like school is going to be too difficult this year for you and I don’t want you to have to experience this kind of pain and discomfort, from here on out, if you don’t want to go to school or play that sport, you don’t have to.”

Why would you not respond this way? Probably because school is a no brainer. It is a value and a commitment that you have made. In fact you have so internalized this value that this conversation would never even happen and there is absolutely no expectation from your child that you would bail them out and they would no longer have to go to school. Because there is no exit strategy, they are forced to find their way, to make it work, and survive. And in fact, this is what happens every year with students and school.

What would it look like if you valued your child’s spiritual formation the same way you valued their school experience?

I know we all think that we value them the same, or we might even say we value them more. But as I have done this job and done this job here at MCC for the last nine years, I can firmly say that this is not the case.

It starts in 4th grade with kids complaining that Sunday school is boring, then in 8th grade that youth group is too immature, then in high school that their friends no longer come. And somewhere along the way the kids win out and church and youth group become an elective.

It is true that some of your kids really enjoy youth group, and I am glad. Matt and I work incredibly hard to make youth group a fun, safe place for kids to work out their faith. But what if your son or daughter, who loved youth group last year, decides this year it isn’t their thing. Every parent I know at our church would let the child decide because they don’t want to cram religion down their throat.

Here are some things to consider: 

1)  You are never going to cram religion down their throat. That is not you, that is not our church, and that is not our culture. This is our baggage from our childhood that we have to get over and die to in order to truly help our kids thrive spiritually.

2)  It is a no brainer to make your kids figure it out at school, why not make them figure it out at church. Kids will always find a way to survive. If they know that youth group is part of their life like math and english, they will actually find a way to enjoy it and make friends.

3 ) If you value the spiritual formation of your kids, then youth group is the only place in their world where it is going to happen. I know this sounds rough, but we don’t live in a christian culture, and there is no back up for what you are trying to instill on the home front. Teachers, coaches, radio, tv, internet, do not have your back spiritually. And if the only place they are getting a spiritual diet is from home, then during adolescence, this message is firmly going in the,”you are the parent, and I need to define myself against your beliefs and values” box. Youth group is the best place where they get to wrestle with these spiritual issues, have space to push back in a context that values what you value among peers who are in the exact same place.

4)  Would you consider this school year making the spiritual formation of your son and daughter a high value.  We work our butts off making space in our schedules for every activity under the sun.  Would you be willing to put some skin in the game to help them land at youth group so they can work out their faith and get after all that God has for them this year.

I know that this is the heart of just about every parent in our church. But the tyranny of the urgent, the old patterns we have slipped into often distort the desires of our heart. A new school year gets to be a reboot. This is the perfect time to take an honest inventory of our life and schedules, and to come up with a plan to live life according to what we value.

The worst mistake I see parents making is that they do not put a high value on actual attendance within the church community and in turn their kids never connect to the church community or to Christ.

“We become what we want to by consistently being who we want to become each day.”  The problem is that we are not intentional with what we do with the little and small decisions each and every day.  Spiritual formation for our kids is an intentional effort every day, and why not have today be that day?

May God give you wisdom and discernment as you navigate these waters and make some difficult choices. And no matter when your daughter or son jump into youth group, know that they will be welcomed with open arms and loved completely for who they are and where they are at!

 

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Out of the front lines of ministry comes an app designed by youth leaders for youth leaders. There are countless web-based, subscription based web-applications for managing youth ministry. But this is the first mobile app to really leverage the device you have with you all the time, your iPhone.

The app is built with features that will be really helpful in ministry. You are able to capture info from students, track attendance for events, monitor attendance trends over time by gender and school, and create smart filtered groups for powerful communication.

Capturing info gets everything you want from students. It would be nice if every teen came with a business card, but they don’t. So you hand them the phone with the app open and it leads them through a series of screens. By the end, you will have everything you need to follow up with the students, and this info helps create really smart tracking metrics.

Once you create ministry events in the app, you can take attendance or add new students at the event. The attendance screen features a picture of the student as well as their first name or nick name just in case you can’t quite remember everything about a newer student.

As you take attendance at events, the app is automatically generating graphs over time that highlight different statistical metrics. These will show you how your group is growing and how attendance is trending over time. The really helpful part on this screen is being able to show different graphs for gender, school breakdown or all of the students. This can help you catch any trend issues that may be coming up as they happen.

Our favorite feature of the app is really putting all of the data to use on the Groups screen. You can create static groups where you control the participants like “My Leader Students” or “The Worship Team.” You can also create dynamic smart groups like “All the new kids from my last event” or “High school students that have come on a Wednesday but not on a Sunday in the last month.” With the powerful filters in the app, creating smart groups with the data you collect has never been easier.

The bonus feature that only works on iPhones but not on the iPad or the iPod touch (because they lack a phone number) is that you can then send a text message to everyone in those groups with personalized name holders. For instance, you can type out “Hey [NAME]! Just wanted to see if there is anything I could pray for you about?” Then it will auto generate the text message, filling in the right name for each student when you send it. This will seriously cut down on those mass texts and allow youth pastors to say the same thing to a lot of students with a personal touch.

The immediate roadmap for the app is to include a native iPad version in the fall of 2014 and a cloud based backend for accessing and taking attendance on the same database with multiple devices in early 2015.
To get on the wait list, visit www.youthministrytracker.com.

The app will debut in August at 33% off for everyone on the list.

Senior and Young Women Holding Hands

It is only the first week of July and I am programmatically spent.  Wrapping up a hectic youth ministry school calendar, completing VBS, and prepping for a summer mission trip has just about fried my brain.  But as I prepare to take a team to Guatemala, I am noticing God percolate a small change in my heart.

I know God is saying something like, “Ben, You are an administrative genius!  Even I am impressed with how you juggle all these details and programs.  Nice job!  However, don’t forget that all these programatic endeavors are simply tools for the real work I want you to do.  You are called to be my ambassador of love and grace.  To model the incarnation and practice the ministry of presence.”

Embracing presence this summer:

With the logistics behind me, I am looking forward to spending this week in Guatemala simply enjoying my students and listening to the Holy Spirit so I can go, say, and do what the Spirit says.  The structures are in place, but without the ministry of presence, this trip really has no impact or purpose.

And for the rest of summer, this is going to be how I attempt to live.  I still have items on the calendar and events to lead, but mostly, I have relationships to build and ministry to do.  So as I backpack, officiate weddings, go on vacation, and play with my friends and family, my goal is to simply relax and enjoy the moments that God has provided for me.

Must unplug:

With that being said, I am unplugging for the rest of the month.  No more writing, no more blogging, no more checking my status, or reposting old blogs in a feeble attempt to grow my platform.  (I don’t even know what that means)  For this month, my online life has to concede to my real life life, my real life family, my real life ministry.  And the ministry of presence can only really happen when I am actually present.

I hope you too have a great summer, enjoy the relationships that God has blessed you with, and embrace your small piece of the world to be God’s ambassador of love and grace to the real people who you will be rubbing shoulders with today, this week, and this summer!

See you in August!

 

Have you come across this song?  It is a great song and has become our unofficial theme song of summer for my little weekly surf crew.  Hitting the beach, shredding the gnar, soaking up the sun, has been right inline with the catchy hook of this song.

But as the weeks have gone on and I have listened to this song a number of times, I finally started listening to the words.  And, with no surprise, it turns out that this isn’t just the theme music for my summer, but the actual song is the theme song for my students.

“No points to making plans
The wild life is human nature
We’ve got to take our chance
Try our best to keep it working
No points to making plans
The wild life is human nature
We’ve got to take our chance
Try our best to keep it working”

No wonder no one RSVP’s for events anymore :)

Where do we go from here?  Thoughts?

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How he loves!

For as long as I can remember, everyone in ministry has been trying to communicate to this broken world that there is a God and that this God loves them very much.  So much, that He gave His only son to pay for our sins so that we can be in restored relationship.  And in this restored relationship, we can now be fully embraced by God and live in the spotlight of his love and affection.  We sing our anthem, “How He Loves,” and our congregations and students swoon and weep as they celebrate over and over how much God loves them.

And the warriors of transforming God’s image from a one of judgement and wrath to love!  In fact they have won so much that nobody in the western world would even consider that there is a God who has anger or wrath.  Ok, maybe some old skool boomers, and for sure some old skool boom catholics.  But any and everyone else has a one dimensional view of God and that is that God is Love!

Instead of our culture reciprocating God’s love and returning His affection, we have become spoiled brats.  

I recently was part of an intervention between some parents and their out of control daughter.  She had been failing out of school, experimenting with drugs, and become toxic to her entire family system.  In an evening blow up, I was called in as reinforcements.  What sparked this outburst you ask?  The parents decided that the first step of regaining order back into their home, was to take the phone away.  NOOOOOOOO NOT THE PHONE!!

Students’ phones are the only thing in their life that seems to matter to them.  And loving parents who ooze love and grace to their kids and provide everything they could ever need or want, doesn’t seem to reciprocate respect, love, or kindness.  Instead, when the parents step in, for their kid’s own good, they through a huge temper tantrum.

Most of us our as spoiled and as entitled as the students we work with. 

This sounds like a lot of Christians I know.  We love that God loves us, and that means that he is to never stop pouring grace and blessing on us.  But when that gravy train ceases either by God’s providence, or our dumb choices, we freak out and throw in the towel.

Love being received by students doesn’t cause them to change their life.  And this is true in my own life as well.  But what does cause life change is when we love somebody, we actually want to be more like them.

Think about your students for a second.  Whoever is the alpha in a group at school or in youth group, the rest of the group tries to become more like that person in order to win their affection.  Or, in a more noble way, think of how you love the person you are dating or married to.  Because of your love FOR them, you long to to find out what pleases them and blesses them and work towards that end.  You don’t sit around receiving love FROM them and then return the favor.

A fundamental change in focus:

If we really want our students to experience life change, then I think we need to change the focus of our ministries.  Everyone gets that God loves us, but nobody gets that we are to love God in return.  Maybe that needs to be the focal point of our ministries these days.  What matters is not that you believe that God loves you or not, what matters is whether or not you love God.

Life change happens when we love!  Now when we are loved.

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There is definitely a wide verity of opinion regarding Vacation Bible School and its importance, effectiveness, and mission.

I have some friends who put on the most excellent program of all time.  It is a well oiled machine with incredible sets, dramas, teachers and group leaders.  It is done in the exact way the developers of the curriculum dreamed up.  I have some friends who are convicted by the Holy Spirit that VBS is the biggest waste of time and resources.  So, for my friends on both ends of the spectrum, feel free to stop reading, and / or check out my good friend, Ryan Reed’s blog :)

For me, VBS is the best thing on my student ministry calendar because:

1) I get daily contact with a large group of my student ministry.  Besides summer and winter camp it is really hard to get this many hours with a large group of students.  It is easy to forget that the number one way to build community and friendship is by logging in hours and having shared experience.  VBS does both. Plus it costs zero dollars so every student from every demographic gets to participate without it costing my budget a dime.

2)  It is not about them.  It seems like everything in their world is about them.  And unfortunately everything I do in my student ministry program is designed around them and their needs.  But for one week, they just get to serve. Not for community service hours, not for glory, not for anything other then to put someone else’s needs and program above themselves.  They have to give up sleep and spend 3 hours getting to know and caring for kids younger than them.

3)  It is actually for them.  As culture continues its massive slide into post-Christendom, VBS is a great primer on some of the most simple truth and well known Bible stories found in scripture.  It is easy to think that our students know all these things, but if you actually talk to them, or even tested them, you would realize that they don’t know any of these things.  And if they do, they have never internalized them.  VBS is a chance for them to rediscover some of these truths and think about them in a fresh way.

4) VBS models the life long chain of discipleship.  For whatever reason, there seems to be this vibe in student ministry that spiritual life begins and end with middle and high school students.  But the truth is that when our students have older college students to look up to and who will pour into them, they are so much more likely to model them and their faith, then us old guys who are paid to model it.  The same is true for the kids in children’s ministry.  Instead of only mom’s talking about Jesus, our kids get to see middle and high school students talk about their faith, and in doing so makes faith a real option for them.  We should always be talking about the people we are pouring our lives into and those who are pouring their lives into us.  This never ends, and VBS helps model it.

Thank you to my Children’s Ministry team for a job well done, and for being willing to sacrifice a little bit of excellence for some much needed opportunity and ministry to my middle and high school students!

 

least of these

As my ministry grows and shrinks and and I grow and shrink, I have found myself wrestling with this challenging question.  “Do I pour my life into leaders, or into the least of these?”  

I totally get the strategy and potential multiplication that happens when you take the cream of the crop and invest into them.  The potential pay off is huge.  They become spiritual leaders among their friends, at their schools, in their companies, and even follow a call into ministry.  Many of us youth pastors were “leader” kids that were given some extra love and attention by our youth pastor and helped shape a larger view of ourselves and ministry and that is why we are doing what we are doing.

Leader kids are the best.

They are all in.  They are normal.  They have social kids and it feels good when they like us.  And while I am a product of some extra love and have seen the fruit of that in some of my leader kids, I wonder if the strategy of ministry to leaders trains our hearts, our leaders, and our ministries to miss the very heart of the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Continue Reading…

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What Are Your Summer Bathing Suit Rules?
Now that summer is here it is time for pool parties, lake barbeques, and beach activities. As a youth ministry professional there is always one question that seems always rise to the surface: what is appropriate summer beach attire? Every youth ministry throughout the country has different rules and regulations when it comes to what is ok to wear at events that include water. All of the rules seem to surround the ladies and their swimsuit options. Bikini? Tankini? One Piece? Or my favorite, a Potato Sack.

Because our country is large and our micro-cultures are so varied, the rules we set up become “just the way we do things.” For many of us haven’t really thought through all of the reasons and cultural issues surrounding our decisions. We don’t even get push-back anymore because, “it is just how we do things.”

This way of setting up guidelines is perfectly fine with me. But the problem is that, when the larger body of Christ comes together for some summer fun, there seems to always be some conflict. Whether it is summer camp, a joint camping trip, or a denominational gathering, issues arise when one set of rules bumps up against another set of rules.

Will our pool be a bikini-free zone? For the churches who make strict rules regarding this, their students are ready. Even though the girls in this youth group wear bikinis to every summer function, they dutifully bust out their “youth group” swim suit for this event. But sure enough, some other youth group, who seems to have no morals, lets their girls wear bikinis. Now you have trouble! “Why do we have to wear these ugly swim suits when those girls get wear those hip bikinis?”

Purity or Freedom?
If you have ever been around a planning meeting for a joint event, you know that hours of conversation can swirl around the swimsuit issue. And in my world, it seems to be always framed in terms of modesty. We value modesty; that group doesn’t value modesty and as a discipleship issue, that group needs to see their sin and embrace modesty. While I do agree that modesty is an important value, I think there might be another way to approach the bathing suit issue.

Instead of the “one-piece” group pointing their fingers of shame and disgust at the “bikini” group wanting them to mature in their faith and value modesty, maybe the discipleship that needs to happen should come from the “bikini” group.

Check out Romans 14: 1-23 This is the passage where Paul talks about accepting their fellow Christians who are “weak in the faith.” One person believes that it is ok to eat meat sacrifices to idols, and another will only eat vegetables. He affirms that each of us personally will be held accountable for our decisions. God judges us, so we don’t have to judge each other. In fact, the stance that Paul argues for is not of finger pointing, but of self-sacrifice. “Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, there is nothing wrong with these things in themselves. But it is wrong to eat anything if it makes another person stumble.” (vs 20)

There is nothing wrong “in themselves.” To the pure all things are pure. It is culture that defines what sin is. Playing cards, drinking beer, smoking a cigar, and wearing bikinis are only sinful if the context you are in has made them sinful.

Clothing Is Culturally Optional:
It is kind of a trip to think about clothing and modesty as culturally defined, but as we look around the world and throughout history we know this to be true. What was acceptable beach wear in the 1920’s is vastly different than what our most conservative sisters and brothers accept at their pool parties. It is common for women in tribes of Africa or in the Jungles of Brazil to go topless. In their culture bearing it all isn’t shameful or sinful, it is simply their culture.

For the Yanamomo people in the Brazilian Rainforest the men are completely nude except for a small string they tie to their junk. If they come out in public without that string, then they have brought shame to themselves and are in sin. If one of these Yanamamo people becomes a Christian they are not supposed to immediately cover their privates and wear dockers. When they are in their context they dress in a way that won’t cause others to stumble. So the string stays.

If my Christian Yanamomo brother comes to Church with me and shares on a Sunday morning, the string will not cut it. It is not the string, but the culture that determines if something is sinful or not. But because my brother loves God and God’s people, he will gladly dress appropriately for our context because he doesn’t want to cause any of our people to stumble.

This same principle can be used for just about anything, and now must be used with bikinis. You see, the modesty group are actually the weaker brother in this passage of scripture. It is their cultural issues that cause them to see bikinis as sinful. The hard part is that the modesty group by nature of being the modesty group sees themselves as the true Christians, the keepers of the faith, and pure and holy ones. But in reality, they are the ones in danger of stumbling.

Another Approach:
If you have joint events that include swimming and you want a common dress code, that is perfectly acceptable. But it is a mistake to make the reasons be that those poor girls with no morals or concern for modesty the focus of the issue. For most students today bikinis are not scandalous in any way. It is the common dress of the day. And for those who live in beach communities, it is a way of life.

The real issue is that bikinis cause the weaker sisters and brothers, and mostly brothers, to stumble. The discipleship that needs to happen is for youth workers to walk with their bikini wearing-sisters to help them understand the vast variety of the body of Christ. And part of the call of being a follower of Christ is that we love another and serve one another. Part of that serving means dying to our own freedoms for the sake of the weaker sister or brother.

The next time you get together to plan your event and you are worried about dress code around the pool, it would be helpful if the tone was a little less judgmental about those people, and to own our status as the weaker Christians. Then in grace and humility we can ask those with more freedom to graciously give up some of their freedom for our sake. This posture would dramatically change the conversation and might even lead to some good ‘ol fashioned discipleship.

Speedos will always be sinful!

That is a question I regularly get asked by my friends in ministry.  And one I ask myself every time Doug (Fields that is) calls me and tries to talk me into working for him to help train his up and coming  youth workers. :)

The truth is, I am a paid youth worker and I love my job.  And even if I didn’t love my job, considering a move and all the dynamics involved in that decision seem to get exponentially more complicated.  Because of the secrecy of the process there seems to be little candid and open conversation about what sort of issues should be brought to the table when considering a job change.

The knee-jerk response is, “God is leading me.” While, I would concede that this is of utmost importance when considering a job change, this is almost always used as a spiritual smoke screen which conceals other factors that are vital to address in this process.

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Can we be honest for a minute and put our puffed up spiritual egos on the shelf for a minute and talk.

The truth is I am tempted to take every offer.  I love feeling wanted and valuable, who doesn’t.  When a church pursues you they make you feel like a million bucks.  (Even though they want to only pay you $25,000)  You know how great it is when a committee calls you up and wants to hear your story, your heart for ministry and are so impressed with your revolutionary model of ministry!

It is especially easy to have the exact opposite feeling when you have been in your context for a while.  Because, once you are hired you are in the machine, doing the down and dirty ministry that you love and are called to do.  But no one is asking for your sage advice, no one is impressed with your model of ministry, and students are as fickle as all get out.  Depending on how dry you are feeling, anything sparkly gets attention.  And the dryer you are, the greener the grass will appear.  The trick is doing the spiritual discernment to figure out if this of God or of your ego, of both, or of something in between.

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I have finally entered fully into the summer season.

This means I have carved out some additional space in my life.  With this space, I am planning on doing some writing, running, surfing, love my students, and put on my learning cap.  I have several books to read, but I am looking for some new blogs to read as well.

Instead of sharing your blog roll, I would love to read what you are writing.  I know there are some incredible bloggers that occasionally read this blog, and many that I read that shape me and my ministry.  With that being said, would you do me the honor of sharing your blog with me so I can read what is on your heart and mind regarding your life and ministry?

Your blog is . . . 

(If you don’t blog, you really should.  This is the best thing you can do for your personal, professional, and spiritual development.  Something transformational happens when you move from being a consumer to a contributor.  So get after it, and then please share it with me!)

See you around the blog-o-sphere!

 

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One of the hardest things about doing student ministry in the same place for so long is saying goodbye to the graduating seniors and making space for the incoming 6th and 9th grade students.

We only have so many relational pegs:

I am sure you have probably heard the term relational pegs or something to that effect.  The basic idea is our hearts only have so many relational pegs in them.  We are one giant (or in my case, small) fall green lego panel.  On this lego panel we can fit a finite number of lego people.  Each lego person takes up two pegs, and once our panel is full so is our heart. Being in one place is good news on so many levels.

But it is pretty difficult to offload students with whom you have given your heart to.  You love all your students, and as they graduate they stay on our panel and when they come back we love to catch up with them, and hear all about their new adult lives.  We work hard to track down our current and former students in an attempt to both maintain relationship as well as check in on our investment.

Before you know it, your current students who you have walked all the way through adolescence with are graduating, your favorite kids are returning home from college, and this strange and immature group of students are now taking the place where your beloved students once stood.   This is the forever rhythm of student ministry, and because of that, many youth workers simply pull the plug after 5 years.

A helpful way to take people off the panel:

The way I have managed to continue to love students with all my heart and make sure my heart remains open for the incoming classes of students is by offloading my graduating seniors.  Now, I know this sounds harsh, and I guess you may be right.  But I am called by God, and tasked by the church to pour my life into current middle and high school students.

Everything else is kind of of my time. Since, loving students after high school is really on my time, then I need to clarify my expectations with students leaving my ministry.  If you don’t do this well, they will feel like you are paid to love them and now you no longer are paid to be with them so they are out of your circle of love.  And on most levels they are right. So, instead of unintentionally hurting their feelings, why not come right out and say it.  Clarity is really powerful.

This is what I tell my graduating seniors:

“Hey, __________.  It has been the highest honor walking through your high school career with you.  I love you so much and could not be more proud of you.  I am looking forward to all that God has in this next season of your life.  You know, for these past few years it has been my actual job to run after you, chase you down, and check in with you.  I can’t believe that this is my job!  But now that you are graduating, it is no longer my job to track you down, chase you, hold your feet to the fire and make sure you are walking the straight and narrow.”

“So, if you want to continue to be in relationship, which I do, the ball is in your court.  You are no longer my project.  I would love it if you and I become friends.  But friendship  is a two way street.  It means that you will have to initiate conversation, you will have to be proactive in sharing your life with me.  It means that you will have to ask me questions and show concern for me and my life.  We are now moving into adult status and I am looking forward to all that means.  I love you and the ball is in your court!”

With this one little speech the playing field gets clarified and the students who pursue adult relationship actually fill my tank and often partner with me in ministry.  And so far, after almost 10 years, this little speech has allowed me to offload students from my relational panel so that I can give my heart to this incoming class.  And in just a few short years will be giving this exact same speech to them!
It’s so hard to say goodbye!  But we must do it well so we can do the job we have been called and tasked to do!

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How would you like to have an all expense paid vacation for you and your family?  To sweeten the deal, how would you like to add to that experience a way to sharpen your vision of and call for ministry?

 I have the perfect plan for you!

For must of us, this school program year is coming to a close and many of us have a little break in the tempo of ministry.  This makes for the perfect season to go and spend a vacation with your family and have it not cost you a thing!

All you need to do is find a place you would like to take your family on vacation.  For me, I think Disney World would be awesome.  But maybe the Grand Canyon, New York, Universal Studios, the beach, or the mountains.  Once you find that place, simply go on to youthspecialties.com, or your other favorite job board and apply for jobs in that area.

It doesn’t matter if you want to be Presbyterian, Non-Denominational, Methodist, Baptist, whatever, In fact, the more different from your tradition, the better.  Now, apply for every job in a 50 mile radius.  With a decent resume and some good phone etiquette, you will be invited out with your family to see the church and experience the surrounding areas.

If you kill it, your perspective church might even give you the hook up for destination places like Disney World or Wrigley Field.

The best part, is that in this process you will have refine your vision for ministry and as well as your ministry plan.  You will have the opportunity to clarify all those dreams you have stored up in your head to a committee who wants nothing more than to hear what is going on in that head of yours.  And who knows, your sense of call may even get tweaked!

Dream big!  Sell hard!  And enjoy the vacation of your dreams!  (All for free!)

Happy Summer!

See you in Orlando!
;)

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My friends over at youthministry360 have put together a cool little resource. It’s a framework to help you think about and evaluate your ministry’s effectiveness at leading teenagers to be more authentic Christ-followers. It’s called “The Six (Biblical) Discipleship Traits,” and it’s a really tool to help you in your discipleship efforts.

Here’s what they had to say about it:
“We poured through the Bible searching for how Scripture describes disciples. What resulted are six specific traits that all disciples have. By thinking about these traits as a goal of sorts, you can begin to think about what it takes to see these attitudes emerge in the lives of your students.

We’re thrilled to share these with you today in a free 22 page PDF that explains each one of the six discipleship traits, shows how Scripture supports them, and challenges you to consider how effective your youth ministry is at seeing the traits realized in the lives of your students.”

If you’re interested, you can download the PDF over on youthministry360′s site by going here:

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We just completed our final youth group activity for the 2013-2014 school year. And for our rhythm, we are taking a much needed two week break. We have been running full speed since September 1 and our staff, volunteers, and even our students are tired and in desperate need for a break. So, instead of fighting it, we embrace it.

Do you take a break in your calendar?

When I first started in ministry, I never, ever, never, ever took a break. Finals week was a study break, Christmas break was a movie night, spring break was a mission trip, any break was an opportunity to be with students and build relationships and memories. I felt like every missed Wednesday night was a missed opportunity.

But over the years, I have realized that this need to continually be with students for every break was really my desperate attempt to get as many hours in as possible. You see, we all need a certain number of hours to establish ourselves with others. It is how friendships happen. The more hours, the more memories and history, the deeper the connections, and the greater impact for Jesus. And this is true and good.

What I have found to be interesting is that these hours are really more about me then they are about the students. I watch my adult leaders spend their first year volunteering feeling incredibly uncomfortable around our students, and magically, by the second year, they are all in emotionally, sharing their wisdom and empathy. These hours of investment don’t really matter to students. They are open to adults and the more comfortable the adults are around them, the more they are willing to share life. Yes, students need hours, but not as much as we do as adults.

With that being said, maybe we should give our students a break from us and take a break when the calendar provides them for us. And right now, the calendar has done just that. It is dead week and finals week. We have no business invading students lives with programs. Give them time to study, be with friends, even miss you and the student ministry you run.

Then in 2-3 weeks when you kick it off again, they will be ready to jump back into the thing they have been missing.

Enjoy your break.

What should you do in these next couple of weeks?
Yes, you should finalize your plan for the summer.
Yes, you should go to graduations and parties.
Yes, you should update your databases.
Yes, you should clean out the youth ministry closet.

And. . .

You should rest.
You should read.
You should reflect.
And then you should rest some more.

This student ministry gig can be grueling. There is so much that happens throughout the calendar year, so much ministry, so much to celebrate, so much to grieve. And unless we actually plan to do some soul care in the midst of it all we will get burned out and wrecked.

Jesus longs for us to be in it for the long haul, and this can only happen if we are healthy and running at an appropriate pace, with needed pit stops.

So, please, for these next two weeks, REST!

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Guess What? It’s Not About You!

A call to student ministry is a special and unique thing. We have been called by God to participate in the spiritual development of students. For a very specific and often chaotic season, we get the privilege and honor of being adults who coach, mentor, disciple and journey with adolescents who are exploring their faith and making it their own. What could be greater? As we attempt to live this out in the real world with real students in a real context, this simple and yet profound calling gets blurry.

The students we work with have joys and concerns, victories and losses, growth and set backs. We attempt to be there for every student for every part of the roller coaster ride; and while we work our guts out, pouring our lives into these students, our vision becomes impaired. Because very slowly, without us knowing, the joy that comes from getting to be there for students and walk with them turns and starts to become about us. Instead of being an adult who journeys with students for a season of their lives, we see ourselves as the adult who journeys with them, who advocates for them, who loves them, who will get them through adolescence, who will solve their problems, etc…

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It should have been a bust!

For months, I have had a buys backpacking trip on the calendar. This one event has become my favorite event of the year. We take guys away for a weekend and have an adventure in creation where they get to unplug and be guys!

But this trip almost didn’t happen. For a number of reasons my numbers went from 20, to 15, to 10, and all the way down to 5 on the day of the event. My soul was crushed. Once again I got to feel the angst of planning a party that no one wants to come to.

But instead of throwing in the towel, I decided to forge ahead, but with a new plan, and a new purpose.

The more the merrier

With a wounded heart, I decided to make this at least make this trip a win for me. So I strong armed all my guy youth staff I could, then reached out to college kids who were back for the summer, and filled up our spots.

With a few phone calls, this trip went from a “high school guys’ camping trip” to “Ben’s favorite peeps over 4 generations of student ministry” trip. And while this trip wasn’t exactly what I dreamed up at the beginning of the year, it was a trip that actually filled my soul and accomplished way more then I could have ever expected.

Guys need Men to look up to:

On this trip I had my 5 high school kids, then 3 college guys, then 2 post college guys, and 3 adult men at different stages of life.  Goofing around was great.  Day hiking peaks was great. Eating gross freeze dried food.  And dealing with the gas that followed.  But the biggest highlight was sitting around in a circle on our last morning together.

Every guy shared a verse in scripture that is meaningful to them right now, and the responses were amazing.  Not amazing because so many guys are sold out for Jesus, but amazing because every guy shared in a way that was deep and authentic.  The sharing ranged from fully doubting faith, to feeling like God is calling them into ministry.

As everyone shared, I noticed an amazing thing taking place.  The high school guys were watching the college guys, who were watching the adult guys.  And by having guys to look up to, their current drama and angst was now placed in context.

After sharing, there was some organic conversation that arose between our high school kids and the adults as we hiked down the hill.  Instead of shame or guilt for their struggles, they were affirmed for their authenticity.  Instead of faking some idealized version of manhood, these guys got to see that doubt is a natural part of faith formation.

For the guys on this trip, and for the guys in my ministry, I am convinced more than ever, that the way through is by simply living life on life.  Guys need men older to look up to and guys younger to pour into.  When this happens, the smokescreens, apathy, and doubt can be part of the faith process and not simply roadblocks.

I am thankful for the older guys in my life.

As I reflect on this last weekend, I am so thankful for the older guys in my life that walked with me through all sorts of crazy seasons of life.  I am thankful that they modeled love for Jesus and a love for me.  My prayer for the guys on this trip is that they too would come to love Jesus and love one another.

I am thankful that our ministry has a number of guys around who are pursuing Jesus and willing to share their lives with these high schoolers.  For it is life on life where transformation happens.  And as we share life we get to wrestle through doubt, bust up smokescreens, and invite these younger guys into the wild adventure that is becoming a godly man.

Oh, How Nice It Would Feel To Drop the Hammer of Truth!

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had high schoolers lay into me about how youth group doesn’t do it for them anymore, or about how they need something with more depth. Sometimes I lie awake at night, imagining all the ways I would love to give it right back to them; to actually be a straight shooter and tell them how it really is. But just when I’m about to explode and completely blow away some unsuspecting, verbally processing mid-adolescent, God gives me a gracious reminder of my unique role and purpose in the body of Christ.

I recently had lunch with a former student who was the thorn in my side during her time in my student ministry.  Everything I did wasn’t good enough, every lesson wasn’t deep enough, and every other adult in her life was smarter and wiser then I ever could be.  Now, while most of my students probably already believe this, this young woman decided to make it very clear to me how dissatisfied she was with my leadership of our group.

I distinctly remember a conversation we had at the end of her sophomore year, when she tried to let me down easy that she would no longer be joining us for sunday school because it was baby food, and she would be going to big church instead.  She then proceeded to invite any other students who wanted real spiritual food to join her.

Their Self-Righteous and Rebellion is Right and Normal:

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