Playing for Keeps!! What can you really accomplish in 40 hours?

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How Many Hours Does the Church Get With Kids and Students?

I know that this video clip talks about children's ministry and sunday mornings, but the message is just as clear for those who work with students.  In children's ministry the church is luck to have kids for 40 hours a year.  For those of us working with students the numbers at best double.

If you include youth group, sunday school, and big church there is still no way that we are even close to having 100 hours a year of ministry with our students.  And this 100 hour figure is being generous with our most committed students.  No matter how you slice it, the church is lacking in the amount of face time we get with children and students.  This necessarily isn't a bad thing, unless those of us in vocational ministry think that our time with children and students is the most important and most valuable spiritual formation that happens in the life of kids.

Who Passes Down Faith:

Depending on the tradition you find yourself in, the pendulum is always swinging between the church and the parents as the primary person passing on the christian faith from one generation to the next.

For a long time the church held the distinct role of teaching children the tenets of Christianity and shaping the spiritual lives of its kids.  Traditions like confirmation and CCD (catholic catechisms) were seen an invaluable classes for making sure the christian faith was communicated correctly from one generation to the next.  It was the church who passed on faith, and the family played a supporting role.

Some traditions have completely inverted this concept.  The family plays the main role of passing on faith from generation to generation.  There is a lack of trust in institutions and the institution of the church is no different.  Parents are the ones who will disciple and shape their children and the children's and youth ministry role of the church simply support these endeavors.

No matter what tradition you find yourself in, both are inadequate.  At least in our context families don't trust the institution of the church.  But at the same time, many of the families in our context don't feel equipped to provide the main diet of spiritual formation for their kids as well.  This is the worst of both worlds, no one is leading strongly and the children are missing out solid christian formation.

Instead of Competitors, We Should Be Partners:

It is too bad that there were and still are seasons where the church and the family are pitted against each other for the spiritual formation of their kids.  It doesn't and shouldn't have to be this way.  The church and the family are at their best when they cooperate and work together to combine their influences so that children and students will be able to have the best shot of developing a faith of their own.

It is for this reason that our church has jumped into a unique curriculum and strategy called "orange."  The basic idea behind this strategy is that you combine the two primary influences that impact a kid's life.  Orange synchronizes the light of the church with the love of the family to connect parents and leaders with the same strategy toward the same end.

If church leaders continue to see parents as the problem for all the lack of commitment and faith development that is happening with our kids then we have already established a hostile relationship.  If parents continue to see the church as glorified child care while they encounter Jesus and try to come up with a curriculum and plan for their children they will quickly run out of steam as the issues become more and more complex.

With orange, we have an opportunity to partner fully with parents, to see them as the primary care givers and faith developers of their children.  Parents have 3000 hours.  But the church does have a role.  Those 40-100 hours are incredibly important as well.  But when the church combines with the parents, many more of those hours get to be redeemed so that kids can grow in their faith  and be excited for what a life connected to Jesus is all about.

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Consider Coming to Atlanta and See For Yourself:

Because we are still new to the Orange family, our entire children's and student ministry team is heading out to Atlanta for their annual conference.  If you register early you save $80.  It might seem pricy, but of all the curriculum that is available to those of us in the church, there is none better in taking the partnership between parent and church worker more seriously.

Being orange is a value for our church, for our team, and for our parents.  As church leaders it is foolish to put too much stock in our 40 hours.  The more we maximize our time, equip our leaders, and partner with parents, the more likely that the children and students coming through the doors of the church will actually stick around long into adulthood.

Hope to see you at Orange 2014!

3 components to an effective leader's meeting

Every week before youth group we have a half hour leader's meeting for our volunteer youth staff. This is, by far, the most important meeting of my week. It is an opportunity for our entire staff to touch base before we jump into another night of student ministry. Over the years these meetings have taken on many different looks. But as I continue to reflect on how to make that time a win for everyone, I have landed on my three most important components to an effective leader's meeting.

1. The Check In: Full time student ministry is my job. It is the thing that I spend a majority of my time thinking about, praying about, and trying to improve on. This is not true for my volunteers. They have real jobs that take 40-60 hours of their lives. That job is the thing that takes up most of the free space in their brains. They come to youth group after a long and hectic day at work, or at home with their own kids, or from class. When they walk through the door, they are often frazzled and rushed.

Checking in allows us to actually care for each other. The volunteers are not filler to this ministry, they are this ministry. And it is important that as the leader of this team we see them as people with real lives, concerns, joys, and sorrows. Allowing space for people to share their outside lives together unites the group and builds emotional strands towards each other and actually deepens our sense of team.

2. Head's Up: This this the meat of the meeting. It is the time to discuss what is going on in student ministries. Every week this time has a little different focus. Often it is giving the leaders a head's up to what is in store for the evening. What the games are and where I need their help, where we are going with the message and ways that can maximize their times in small group. This allows the staff to go into the evening knowing what you know and expecting what you expect.

Periodically, this time is also used to make slight adjustments. Nothing is ever stagnate in student ministry. Often I notice a change in our group dynamics or a leader brings to my attention something that has not been working. Sometimes my leaders or myself will slip into a funk with their small groups, and we need to give room for conversation, equipping and encouragement. By making space for honest critique and feedback, we model that we truly are a team doing ministry together.

3. Pray Expectantly: It is easy to let the weekly grind of student ministry bring us down. Students are fickle and if we are not careful it is easy to put them in a box. Especially after being in a church for a few years it becomes second nature to peg students as the hard ones, the shallow ones, the busy ones, the dramatic ones, the hypocritical ones, and the lost causes. But this is a lie from the pit of hell. God makes it very clear that he always leaves the 99 and runs after the 1, that God is the author and perfecter of their faith and has been and will continue to be at work in their lives.

I have found that it is vital that we end our time together as a staff leaning into the heavenly realities about our students. To ask that our eyes would be his eyes and our hearts would be his hearts. That we would be the people who stand in the gap for these students and will gladly love them into the kingdom of God. We intentionally wipe the slate clean every week and give all the space in the world for students to be exactly who they are this particular week. And as they are fickle, we remind ourselves that we are the adults and will not be fickle. We will pray expectantly, counting on the fact that God will use our feeble efforts to draw these students to ourselves.

Amen and Amen!

Now lets go love on some students!

A gospel for students who don't think they need one:

The following post was featured at youthmin.org

the-good-newsThis last week I got in the mail some response cards from some of my students who went to a local summer camp.  On these cards my students checked the box that they had said yes to Jesus and have made some sort of faith commitment.

In my faith tradition this encounter went something like this:

Now with every eye closed and every head bowed, I would like to give you an opportunity to respond in faith to Jesus.  If you want to say yes, say this prayer with me, “Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness.  I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead.  I trust and follow you as my Lord and Savior.  guide my life and help me do your will.  In your name, Amen.”

This handful of students prayed this prayer!  Praise God!  Hallelujuia!!

But on closer investigation, I have realized that this prayer makes absolutely no sense in their world view!

It may be different in your context, the but students I work with have no touch points with words like, “Lord,” “sinner,” or even “forgiveness.”  My students are the center of their own universe, entitled to fulfill their own dreams, and accountable to no body.  If someone has a problem with them, even if a teacher fails them, the problem is not them, but those outside their universe who don’t understand them or support them.

I know you are thinking that of course our kids are sinners, of course they are broken, of course they need a savior and forgiveness.  You may think this, and this may even be true, but it doesn’t compute to our post-modern, post-christian students.

So, if our students don’t think they are sinners in need of a savior, or broken in need of healing, what angle of the good news is needed to be both true to the biblical message as well as have true touch points with our students cultural context?

As entitled, self-righteous, self-centered, and connected as our students come across, every single one of them when given the safe chance to share all share the common story of being lonely, isolated, friendless, and wrestle with the anxiety of keeping these emotions under wraps.

It is this “thin place,” this cultural reality where the gospel of Jesus actually gets to become good news to students.  Our students don’t know how to have real friendships anymore.  Their family structures are crumbling, and they don’t even know how to not compare their lives to the seemingly amazing lives of their peers on instagram and facebook.  It is in this lonely, depressed, and anxious state that Jesus invites our students to be adopted into His family!

So what is this good news?

Adoption can become the gospel metaphor for this generation.  It validates their lost and loneliness.  It validates their lack of identity and purpose, and invites them into the family of God!

This family has an amazing Father, millions of sisters and brothers who actually belong to one another, and resources to empower these kids to take up the family business, to be partners with our brother Jesus as we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

This  is a paradigm that I am wrestling with as I am trying to address this changing landscape of student ministry.  What are the “thin places”  you see in your context?  What is the good news that connects with your students?

The Innovation of Loneliness

[ylwm_vimeo]70534716[/ylwm_vimeo] I recently had a conversation with my seniors where the prompt was simply: "We all have hidden things that shape who we are and how we interact, here is one of those things."  In an attempt to build some true community and authentic friendship, I wanted our students to realize that the things they struggle with were the same as others.

What I thought would lean toward some confession and revealing the common teen age struggle of self image, drinking, smoking pot, etc, spiraled into a conversation about how every single one of them feel alone and isolated.

I was shocked!  These are popular, good looking, fun, and social kids  And every one of them felt invisible and lost.  I found this video to be really helpful in putting this universal feeling of loneliness within our current social media context.

I am sure there is a thin place for the gospel to actually be good news in this new cultural reality!

As youth workers we must see our students for who they really are and what they really struggle with so we can meet them at their point of felt need with the love and grace of Jesus Christ.  Because there is an answer, a solution to this universal dilemma and I am sure a big piece of this has to do with belonging and community.

This is exactly in the wheelhouse of student ministry!  Student ministry models this spiritual reality: adoption into the family of God, belonging and having value, respect for each other in this family, and developing the family values of our heavenly Father.

May the Lord bless you and your ministry as you kick off this new year!  May you have His eyes, words, heart as you welcome these lost and lonely students into the family of God! 

 

Hope for the brokenhearted

Grief

It is painfully obvious that we live in a broken world. With international tragedy and chaos every night on the news, it is easy to be overwhelmed. When these tragedies occur in our own country with flooding, hurricanes, mass murders, and school shootings it gets even more painful. And when these tragedies happen locally, the pain and heart break is often too much to bear.

What do we do when someone close to us dies in a car accident? How do we handle the news of a terminal disease in a family member? What sense can we make of natural disasters that devastate entire populations? In this broken world, can we find hope for the broken hearted?

Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. Psalm 31:9

While it is true that brokenness, tragedy and grief seem to be ever present in our world, there is a huge opportunity to offer hope and peace to those in the valley of the shadow of death. But if we are going to offer hope in a way that others can receive it, there are some important things we must remember:

We MUST not give platitudes: Platitudes are the ultimate blow off. We think we are giving helpful nuggets of theology to help people in their time of grief, but we are really just keeping them at bay. Telling someone who is in the middle of grief that, “God has a plan,” or “God is good all the time,” or “This is all happening for a purpose,” is awful, simplistic, and is poor theology.

When tragedy happens, we are called to be like Christ, not offer a tract and be on our way. Rather we are to empathize, walk with, carry burdens for, care and comfort. Often this is all done without words.

We are free to protest: It is amazing how civilized we try to be when awful things happen. We want to be good soldiers and hold the company line regarding our faith in God. But we often betray our own hearts and the heart of scripture when we are wrecked on the inside, but put on a good face for the world to see.

Read through Psalm 10, Psalm 22, and Psalm 29. We see David’s prayer journal as he wrestles and protests with God. A man after God’s own heart has the freedom to question, cry out, shake fist at, and confess hopelessness. If David can be free to protest, we should have that freedom ourselves, and for sure give that freedom to those who find themselves with the waters coming up over the neck.

A time to grieve: Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 lays out the way things work in the real world. There is a time for everything, for every activity under heaven. There is a time to be born and to die, to weep and to laugh, and a time to mourn and to dance. It is crime when we only allow space for people to be happy and joyful. Life is hard and awful, and we must allow space for mourning. It is not a sign of weak faith, it is actually a sign of real life.

When my son was little, he scraped his knee and ripped through a couple layers of skin. When I tried to offer him platitudes he didn’t care. When I held him close and told him how much I loved him, he still didn’t care. For a short season of time all he could see was blackness and pain. We must allow people a season of blackness and pain.

In the darkest night, Jesus is right there with us: Even though it didn’t make my son feel better in the moment that I was holding him, when he began to open his eyes and see that I was right there and had been all along, his recovery was quickened. How much more does Jesus hold us and be with us in the most difficult of tragedies.

The best memory verse of all time is John 11:35 “Jesus wept.” While it is easy to memorize, the implications of this verse are crazy. When Jesus went to his friends funeral and saw the grief and despair of Mary, Jesus actually broke down and cried. He knew that he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, but he was so empathetic, so in it with Mary, that he wept. Jesus is not distant with our hurt and pain, but actually carries it with him.

We have to trust in the character of God: While it is easy to only see today, we have to realize that our world view and understand is so limited. We can never get our head around how all the chain of brokenness and sin pile up upon each other and crush us. Instead of shrinking our view of the universe which puts us in the center, we must expand our view and relay on the never changing character of God.

1 John 4:8 says that God is love. John 14:16 says that God gives us his Holy Spirit who will never leave us and comfort us in our trials and lead us into all truth. 1 Peter 5:7 invites us to cast all of our cares on Christ, because he cares for you. Nowhere in scripture can we find the reason or purpose for death and destruction, but everywhere in scripture we are reminded of God’s love and presence offered to us.

We must rely on the love of God’s people: Because God is invisible it is easy to spiral out about his love and care for us. But the church is to be the body of Christ. We are the ones who are to put the flesh and bones to the empathy, love and care that Jesus offers. This is why simple platitudes are so disgusting in a time of grief. We do not just offer words, but we offer our time, our presence, and in our empathy.

Because we are the body of Christ we must live into the truth that we are not just acquaintances or even casual friends, but according to Romans 12:5, we actually belong to each other. And because of that truth, we must care for one another like we would want to be cared for. Romans 12:15 says that we mourn with those who mourn and Galatians 6:2 says that we bear with one another. We are the body of Christ, and this truth is needed the most when part of our body is broken and bruised. It is then that the rest of the body comes to the aid to nurse that person back to health. We never amputate!

Finally, this is not the end: This broken world is not God’s dream for creation or for humanity. Every awful tragedy is a violation on our very being. Because we are made in the image of God, we are impacted so greatly when death and destruction show up. But our hope is that Jesus redeems all things. He makes all things new, and he heals the most broken of broken hearts. This healing is a long, long road that requires freedom to protest, sitting in our grief, relying on the character and people of God, and slowly but surely, having faith that Jesus will some how right the wrongs.

“Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passé away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw a Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’”

Revelations 21:1-5

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus

Time to herd the cats: A strategy to collect the busy and fickle students of ours before school starts.

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If your calendar is anything like mine, then you know that in just a matter of days or weeks, our students go back to school. And with the start of school comes the big fall kick-off. But before we can launch our epic programs and begin our year of ministry, we must first do the next to impossible task, gather those busy and fickle students who have been spread as far as the eye can see during summer.

While summer is great on paper, it seems to be almost disastrous to they needed rhythms our students and ourselves need. Yes we have camps, special events, and more hot dogs then the doctor would like. But for as many special activities we do as a student ministry, the truth is that summer actually scatters students to their individual actives. As they seem to all be landing from their family reunions, oversees vacations, summer camps of every kind (including college essay writing camp), and jobs, it is time to begin the process of gathering them together from their individual adventures to a common and shared purpose and identity as a student ministry. I have found that this is actually much more of an art form then simply announcing a fall kick-off and everyone showing up ready to go.

Our students are fickle and more individualized then ever and summer only exasperates this ethos. But for us to be the student ministry that God has for us this school year it is time to circle the wagons and heard thee cats. Over the years I have found some helpful tricks for gathering our wandering students.

Here is my strategy to collect my busy and fickle students:

1) Get buy in from the senior class. These are the oldest and most mature students we have. (That thought alone brings a wide verity of emotions) For some reason, more and more student ministries are believing the myth that seniors are or will basically check out so there is no point in investing too much into them, especially when the sophomore class is so pumped up and thinks we are so great. But if you can hook in the seniors, and give them a vision to lead and then actually let them do it, then you will be surprised how the younger classes will step up. Getting them to buy in is tricky, because if you are not careful, they will see through your shallow attempt for numbers and bail even quicker. I recommend a separate program for your seniors to invest into them and help them lead. We do just that in our ministry and it has radically transformed our ministry. I wrote a little bit about it in a post called, Helping seniors develop a faith that is ready for college.

2) Invite "leaders" over for dessert to dream big for youth group (Only fired up kids who see themselves as leaders come so grab them and encourage them.) That is it. Simply put a call out there for anyone who wants to be a leader in the student ministry this year to come and have dessert at your house. You get a pre-youth group meeting with the kids who have the most buy in. Take their excitement and let them feed of each other. It will be contagious. Plus you might actually be inspired with fresh new people and ideas for reaching out to students.

3) Connect with some of the freshmen subgroups, invite a senior to come along. Most freshmen are freaked out about high school and about high school group. There are probably several different pockets of freshmen who have spent the summer around the fringe. Before the fall kick-off, grab these groups of kids as clusters so that they see that their friends are in as well. This will help them land. More than ever, unless their friends make youth group their home, they will stay at the fringes. Don't overlook this point. Friendship groups are how you will build your ministry, not the perceived popular kid and their followers.

4) Pour love and grace on the contrarian kids who seem to always spoil the mood. Ask them what they are contrarian about and what we might be able to do to fix it. And then help then be a part of the solution. The best way to win over the naysayers is to put them in charge. We so want to write off these kids, but the truth is they often care more about the group. Capitalize on their angst to make your youth group that much better and in the process win over the kid who seems to always spoil the mood.

5) Personally contract every kid the week before our fall kick off. This is such a no brainer, many of my youth worker friends seem to forget about it. Block out some hours and hit the phone, fire up the Facebook, text away. Whatever ways you have to communicate, do it. Let every student know that they are seen by you and valuable.

6) Have every small group leader send a post card to each kid in their group and personally invite then to our fall kick off. Its that simple. Now every kid gets at least two touches. Freshmen more, seniors more, and kids that want to be leaders more. But every single kid no matter how connected gets two!

7) Pray your guts out. unfortunately, most of it is around my own anxiety and identity I falsely have wrapped up in my own issues. But once I get through that, I genuinely trust that God has his and on my students is doing a unique work in them. I want to be sensitive to his spirit and go where he leads and be able to be a shepherd, prophet, priest, brother, and friend to my students.

This is going to be an amazing year of ministry. It is a year of fresh starts, new decisions for Christ, big screw ups, and much more! Let's start off this year planting and watering our guts out and praying with as much expectant energy that God will do his part and cause faith to grow!

This is my plan, what's yours?

A post-Christian model for Discipleship: Spiritual Formation rather than Behavior Modification

My dear friend Erik Anderson is on the home stretch of adopting a 6 year old girl from South Africa. You should totally check out his blog and read about his story. Inspiring is an understatement! (If you are feeling generous, you should also help him out financially) Ok, are you still with me, because this blog isn't really about Erik, but in some ways it is totally about him.

Here is what I am saying. If you can humor me and agree (for a moment) that the gospel that you and I grew up as our bread and butter in student ministry is actually no gospel at all to this generation. And if we need a new shaping metaphor that to communicate this good news. And in an increasingly post-Christian context, adoption can be that metaphor that truly is good news to an alienated generation who long to be seen, known, accepted, cared for, and mostly to belong. What is awesome about the metaphor of adoption for the gospel and for salvation, it also gets to inform our understanding of discipleship and sanctification.

First we must die to any and all forms of behavior modification:

The traditional model of discipleship as behavior modification must be replaced with a model of spiritual formation. Spiritual formation is by it's very nature relational and implies process, and is cyclical in contrast to foundational, linear, and accomplishment versions we have today. If we can agree that behavior modification must die and want to invite this post-Christian generation to become formed spiritually, sanctified into the image of Christ, then we must start where they are, not where we want them to be. That is how we get back to adoption.

Use adoption as the model:

For generations we have lived in a cultural context that was for the most part Judeo-Christian. While not everyone shared faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, they did share a common moral code, a common understanding of the boundaries and a general frowning on those who lived outside of them. This made discipleship relatively easy. We simply had to put words to the rebellion they had experienced, share with them Christ's forgiveness and payment for that rebellion, and then encourage them to continue living into the accepted moral code of our cultural context. (Just with less cussing and drinking)

This is very similar to adopting an infant. Even if the infant is from a foreign country, they are born into a family system and will never not chafe to the family expectations and the cultural rules. They will understand the language, clothing, food, and rules just like every other child born into that family.

In a post-Christian world we are not adopting infants into the family of God, we are adopting 6 year olds from South Africa.

What I mean by this, is that the young girl that Erik brings into his family has a completely different starting point then every other kid born into or adopted as babies in Modesto. She speaks a different language, is used to different foods, and will have a different understanding of the morals and values that Erik and his wife have.

The assimilation process for this young girl can not be the same as every other child who is born into a family in Modesto. It can not be the same for every child born into a Christian home in Modesto. It can't even be the same for other children adopted later in life from other parts of the United States. Her process of "sanctification" living into the family trajectory and values of the Anderson family will be totally unique. It must throw timetables out the window. She can not have the same expectations as other 6 year olds. When she rolls into her 1st grade class next fall, she will know completely different things then the other 1st graders.

I am so impressed with Erik and Jessa and their heart of love and grace for this girl, and I know that they are already preparing themselves to welcome this girl into their family and to give her the time and space to figure things out on a timetable that is as unique as the situation. Over the months and years this young girl will become acclimated to the Anderson family, their church family, and to their town and to her school. It will happen, but not in a linear, building block model. It will be done in a relational, process that will be full of love, grace, frustration, and uncertainty.

Discipleship is Spiritual Formation:

In a post-Christian context people are going to come to faith from all over the spiritual, moral, political, sexual, spectrum. We no longer have a common story that our entire society agrees upon, which means when God grabs a hold of someone's heart, they will not look like the mom and dad with the four kids who live in suburbia, vote republican, and play soccer all seasons. Some might, but they will be urban, multi-ethnic, living with their girlfriends, over their heads in debt, homosexual, artists, liberal, educated or not, believe in evolution, value nature, eat organic, consider themselves to be tolerant and open minded, socially conscious, and want to enjoy life, and for the most part are.

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So, if we drop on them that discipleship means assimilating into the religious right then we have missed the mark. This group of people will come to faith from all over the moral and spiritual spectrum. But I am not talking about a linear spectrum, I am talking about the color wheel spectrum. And if they show up on the spectrum from every color, from every shade, the discipleship process actually becomes easier. Rather then having to become like me, then move towards Christ, I get to remove me from the equation. The discipleship process is one of spiritual formation, a process simply of moving more towards Christ, no matter the starting point.

Spiritual formation is me dying to myself, picking up my cross daily, and striving to follow Christ. This looks different today than it did yesterday, then ten years ago. If my prayer is search me, know me, test me, reveal any offensive way with in me, and lead me along the path of everlasting life, then every day I am moving more and more towards Christ.

Do you have space for the adopted child from another country?

We are not giving up discipleship or sanctification. In fact this entire model of ministry banks its existance on this reality. No more is a simple prayer at camp and refraining from drinking an acceptable version of Christianity. Rather now, we are inviting every and all people into the family of God. And no matter at what age or what background, they are welcomed for who they are and where they are at. This sounds easy, and sounds "Christian," but if you have ever welcomed someone from a different worldview /culture into your group, it becomes quite challenging.  Are you up for that challenge?

All of us are invited to journey together towards the cross of Christ so that we can become more and more like our savior Jesus, even those on other parts of the color wheel.

Ok, this has gone from an earth shattering post to me rambling.

I have to wrap this up. I am still in process with this stand of thought. I would love to know your thoughts and am open to your pushback. Hopefully in the weeks and months to come, this will get refined and reduced into something more coherent. But until then, thanks mom for reading!

Unless we are willing to put everything on the table and not discuss out of fear, but out of a conviction and passion to share the good news, the saving news, the transforming news, of Jesus Christ with young people, then we will not be able to move this ball forward! Join the discussion, and lets have a strategy sesh!

What do you do now that the gospel is no longer Good News?

Most of us love speaking to students, sharing our wisdom, pontificating on spiritual realities and how Jesus wants to help them in their desperation.  But if we are quiet for just a second and allow space for students to share what they really think, what their true convictions are, what they really think of Christianity, I think we will all be a bit surprised. My encounter with students, my students, my friends' students, students from all over the country is that students' worldview, self view, and moral view is in stark difference from yours.  Students know how to play ball in the adult world, they know what to say and how to get ahead in the verity of social contexts they find themselves.  When they are with their parents, coaches, every different teacher, and in our student ministries, they put on different hats in order to survive / thrive in each context.

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But what would happen if we took a step back and really listened, without our own agenda?  What would we find?  

  • Students' lives are not in total chaos and they are not depressed in dire need of salvation or hope. Their lives are just fine.  And if not, they don't know any different, so what you might see as awful and hopeless is simply the world they inhabit.
  • Students have absolutely zero understanding of sin.  Your morality is not their morality.  As long as they are open-minded and tolerant, and don't intentionally hurt someone else, then they are good people.  Live and let live.
  • If there is sin, then you are the one who is actually living in it.  You have judgmental and self-righteous attitudes and try to put your morality on others.
  • Sex and sexuality are of uttermost importance to them, and the church's traditional teaching on both have no place in worldview of our students.  "Hate the sin, love this sinner," sounds to our students like, "Separate, but equal."
  • Students have no need for organized religion and feel absolutely no guilt or shame for their lifestyle choices, for their past experiences, and especially for not coming regularly to youth group.
  • It is obvious that youth group provides some social need for students because they keep coming.  But it is also obvious that the actual religion we attempt to pass on rolls off their back like water on a duck.  When they no longer have a need for the youth group community, or when it becomes toxic for them, or they graduate, then they bounce.

We are idiots if we think that a growing youth group, or youth group attendance at all has anything to do with their acceptance of Christianity or their spiritual maturity.

All of this is to say, this is some bad news!   Substitutionary Atonement combined with an emphasis on purity and not drinking too much are totally foreign concepts that have zero meaning in our student population.  I would say that this is some bad news.  Thankfully, the gospel is good news!  And I think that the gospel still is good news.  But we are barking up the wrong tree!!

My next post I will wrestle through what how I think the gospel still is good news and a needed paradigm shift in our understanding and approach to discipleship.  FUN!

What do you think?  Am I a heretic?  Do you see similar trends? What are the felt needs of students?  How does the gospel speak into those? What are your solutions?  Game on peeps!  The world is changing.  Scratch that!  The world has changed and the church needs to do some hard work, intellectually and spiritually if we are going to have any sort of impact on this next generation.

In a Post-Christian context, it is not our programs that need to change, but our foundational assumptions.

This last week I had the privilege of sitting in on a roundtable discussion with some west coast youth pastors talking about post-christian student ministry. This conversation was facilitated by Jeremy Zach who is the XP3 Specialist for Orange. Jeremy is one of the sharpest youth workers out there, and most of that is due to the fact that he is a learner. He always wants to be stretched and grow. He strives to do his job better, and mostly he has a heart to be as effective as possible in reaching students for Jesus. And it is out of this heart that he put together a group to talk Post-Christian Ministry. The guys on this call are great youth workers and deep thinkers and you should check out their blogs and give them some push back :) They are: Peter Johnsen, Erik Anderson, Mike Cunningham, Ryan Reed, Looney Moore, and yours truly. shaky foundation

As our conference call began I realized very quickly that in a post-modern context, that is becoming more and more post-christian, our biggest challenge was trying to find common language to even begin this conversation. I knew there were questions to shape our conversations, but I was not exactly sure what questions were the right questions.

After our time, I spent some considerable time reflecting on our conversation, and reflected more about the context I find myself doing ministry, and about student ministry in general. After a little bit of wrestling, I realized that much of this conversation is us barking up the wrong tree.

It is not the programs that need to change:

Every church, every town, every student ministry has a very unique culture and style in which they do ministry. Some are huge and are like a worship service with hundreds of kids. Some are small group focused, some are on Wednesday nights, some are Sunday mornings only. Some have a strong campus presence, and others can't get on campus at all. Some are cluster focused, and some have a hodge podge of students. Some focus on worship, others on service, others on disciple making, and others on fun.

This emphases a ministry has doesn't matter when we are talking about post-Christian anything. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the what form a student ministry takes does not matter in the slightest. I have the exact same form that my youth ministry had when I was a kid in the early 90's. (Yikes) As I went around to visit other youth ministries on my Sabbatical, I realized there is nothing new under the sun. There are like 4 basic models and everyone falls into one of those models. AND THAT IS OK!

THERE IS NOT A SILVER PROGRAMATIC BULLET!

Unfortunately, this is where we want to go first in all of our conversations. We want want to find the secret sauce. But here is the reality: There isn't one. The form a student ministry takes does not matter, what matters are the underlying assumptions that inform your ministry. Some of those assumptions inform your form, but most of it will impact your youth ministry language, culture, expectations, and understanding of and communication of salvation, discipleship, and sanctification.

This conversation is motivated solely out of my love for Jesus and for my desire for as many to come to know him as possible. To be like Paul in my missionary endeavor, to be all things to all people, to find the thin places in my cultural context, and find the touch points with the Gospel and to point people to Jesus. This for me, is not an intellectual exercise or a pissing contest. It is recognizing that our culture has changed, and for some of us, the distance between us and the culture that our students live in has fundamentally changed. It is not simply a form or style issue, but a worldview issue. And this change must force us to change.

What does post-Christian even mean?

Owning that our students are fully post-modern, post-Christian, beings is hard to get our head around. We think because they can mimic back some Christian language at our gatherings this conversation doesn't apply. I think that outside the two hour program we do, no matter where in the United States we find ourselves, every student's worldview is completely post-modern and post-Christian. Simply stated this means that our students have no understanding of the Christian story and if they do, it has little to no impact on their lives and that they have basically rejected the Judeo-Christian ethics and morals that most adults over 40 take for granted. I have written about this topic several times, and for a little primer you can peruse the articles here:

All this is to say that if we are serious about reaching students we MUST get our head around the fact that their worldview and culture is FUNDAMENTALLY different than ours, and therefore we must do some cross culture contextualization. Here are some of the questions that will help us move the ball forward:

So, as we move forward in discussion, here are some questions I have surrounding this topic.

  • What in the world does post-Christian mean?
  • What is the the core of the Gospel? Is there even a core?
  • What Gospel picture speaks good news to this culture most effectively?
  • Can we own that penal-substitutionary atonement has ZERO cultural touch points with youth culture?
  • What are we to do about that reality?
  • How do we deal with students who are amoral?
  • How do we develop convictions in our students that are Holy Spirit directed rather than us directed?
  • How will we speak about, think about, and reach out to the LGBT community and those who sympathize with them. (Meaning all of our students)
  • Can we or should we move away from behavior modification focused language and talks?
  • How does us / them, in / out, death / life, language make us loose credibility with this culture?
  • How can we embrace dissonance and complexity?
  • If our goal was to make the Christian Faith and Christian Community a viable option for them to embrace in adulthood, how would that change what we do?

Ok, I got a little carried away. These are some of the questions I have, some of the thoughts that inform me, my worldview, and my ministry. The form of my youth ministry is for sure not cutting edge, but I hope and pray that the content of my ministry is getting closer and closer to the sweet spot, the thin place, of my context so that by God's grace, my students might embrace the love of God, experience salvation, healing, adoption, and live into the grand purpose that God has for their lives! (And that grand purpose has nothing to do with reaching their campus for Christ. Just sayin' :) )

May we love the LORD our God with all of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our MIND! And may we live life and do ministry in a way that compels our students to do the same.

The hidden danger of mission trips for students:

This article was published at youthworkerjournal.com

It is once again time to start gearing up our annual mission trips.  There are so many great options out there.  Some are as close as an urban setting, some are in rural and isolated contexts, and some are international ranging in proximity to Mexico all the way to Thailand or Africa.  One of the key considerations when planning a mission trip with students has to be assessing the potential dangers of the context we will be traveling to.

Our church has changed our context for short term missions several times depending on concerns for danger.  We have taken into consideration the violence in an urban setting or an outbreak of hepatitis within the street community.  We have wrestled with the potential danger of crossing a drug warfare zone in the boarder towns of Mexico.  Add to the danger of the location transportation and housing, and we start to realize that a mission trip for students is a costly and dangerous endeavor.

As someone who thinks that short term mission trips is the bread and butter of student ministry, I have come to the conclusion that these potential dangers are part of the process of helping students (and parents) to live outside their comfort zone.  And taking our students and putting them in a totally foreign and partially dangerous context softens their hearts and opens their eyes to see the working of God in new and fresh ways.

But after leading dozens of trips over the years, I am starting to realize that while the surface dangers are real and must be taken seriously, there is actually a bigger danger that is hidden lurking just below the surface.  This danger is cementing in our students a false view of missions and of themselves.

Every year we ask students to fill out an application.  One of the questions has something to do with why they want to participate in this trip.  And with almost 100% unanimity the answer is “we want to help those less fortunate than ourselves.”  Don’t get me wrong, this is an awesome value, it is a value that is at the heart of the Christian faith.  Those of us with power and resources are to care for the orphan and the widow, for the poor and oppressed.

However, when we unintentionally frame missions as us, wealthy suburbanites, helping those poor people, we continue to instill in our students that they have their acts together and are “above” others.  I am not saying that the suburban church is the problem, or that we need to beat down our own context or culture and make students feel awful for the blessings and resources they have.  The suburban culture is just that, a culture.  But when we engage in missions we must consider and celebrate the culture in which we are going to.  We have to help students see that we are guests in another culture, not superior to those we visiting.

Our students are naturally self-absorbed and limited in their worldview.  And when we set up our trips as us coming to save the day, their foundational worldview doesn’t have the chance to be challenged.  And this is the true danger of student ministry short term missions.  We take one of the most significant spiritual experiences of their high school carriers and actually solidify some of the worst of suburban thinking.  Missions is not suburban kids with their wealth and privilege helping the poor.  This is the danger in compassion ministries.

One of the best books I have read on mission for those of us leading trips from a suburban context is When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself by Brian Fikkert.  This book is a must read for anyone leading a trip.  My biggest take a way from my read of the book is that we must change our view of wealth and poverty.  All of us are wealthy in some ways and poor in others.  The challenge is to identify the ways in which we are wealthy and the ways in which we are poor.  Once we have done this, then we can come into any context, specifically impoverished ones, and easily become partners who share resources.  We then have a real chance for cultural exchange, instead of seeing ourselves as superiors above the poor people we help.

As the fundraising, logistics and training for our annual short term trips are gearing up.  There are many practical dangers we must take into account.  But it takes intentional work and training to breakthrough and breakdown the traditional mindset of many suburban students, and leaders.  Here are four values to consider as you plan your short term missions trip this year:

1)   Short term missions is about recognizing that God is already at work wherever it is we are going. The God we serve, so loves the entire world.  And the place that we will be heading off to for our short term missions trip is already loved by God and God already has people in place doing great ministry there.  This immediately takes the focus off of us and what we bring, and opens our eyes to the spiritual reality that God is alive and at work long before we showed up.

2)  Short term missions is about partnering not helping. We now have the privilege of coming alongside the people who God has called to love that community for the long haul.  And when we see our role as partners there becomes an exchange of blessings that occurs, we become givers and receivers, rather then saviors.  For this to be successful we must find organizations that are not only established and committed to that particular community, but organizations that we can trust.  The more you trust an organization, the more you can truly partner and celebrate all that God has done before you got there, is doing while you are there, and will continue to do when you leave.

3)  Short term missions is about student development. There is little long term benefit our students can bring to mission field.  We are only there for a week and often have little knowledge of the culture and language.  At best we are a blessing to the organization / missionaries we partner with.  Because that is the case, we get to use this experience to shape and transform the students we are called to be missionaries to.  And that means that we must help shape this trip in a way that broadens their view of ministry, not affirm their privileged world view.  Their spiritual health and development is our chief concern.

If we are taking students on short term mission trip we must clarify what we are doing.  It is true that many of us come from churches with significant resources and we want to partner with the heart of God in doing ministries of compassion.  But we cannot solidify the thinking that financial resources are the definition of God’s blessings.  Wealth does not put us a superiors.  We can not let our students live into this false and dangerous reality.

Our task in short term missions is to help our students understand how big God’s heart is for the world, to partner with those who are already there, and to be a blessing for the short time our paths cross.  We all have wealth and we all have poverty.  By helping our students identify and articulate where they are wealthy and where they are poor allows them to truly be partners in ministry and cultural exchange.

You most likely already missed the Harlem Shake!

On February 5, 2013 the Harlem Shake went viral.  As of February 14th, in a matter of 9 days, almost 40,000 spinoffs have been uploaded and have been watched over 175 million times. CRAZY!! This is the most unbelievable viral event of all time!  (Facts courtesy of youtube-trends) While there have been many viral videos of note, including, but not limited to, Justin Bieber's Baby, Friday, Call Me MaybeGangum Style, or Ryan Reed's new blog, this was one of the fastest parody pileups of all time.  And the best part is that your parody only has to be 30 seconds long! (Here is our below average offering)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OcKiTnFIkIM]

This viral video was made for youth pastors.

With 40,000 videos uploaded and counting, where is yours? All it takes is downloading the song, Harlem Shake, 3-3000 people, a helmet, and let the dance party begin.  I am someone who prides myself for at least trying to have my thumb on the cultural heartbeat.  I have written about how to stay culturally relevant, how to find work arounds to know what music is hip, and I have even made my own Call Me Maybe video.

But the total speed of this viral video has caused me to once again realize what it is that I am supposed to do.  As youth workers we must understand our cultural context, that is for sure!  But we must fully own the reality that we are not hip, cool, relevant, or cutting edge.  At best we can simply mimic cool and funny things in our culture.  At best we are simply a shadow of pop culture.

We DO have what our cultural desperately needs!!  

They need acceptance, love, belonging, grace, identity, friendship, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, connection, and purpose.  This is the church's bread and butter!  We know and serve a God who gives this and so much more.  We create culture at church and with in our student ministries that isn't hip or cool.  But it is a culture that is inviting, that allows space to actually encounter the living God, and that sends them out with real purpose.

Let us not spend so much time and energy in efforts to be hip and stay up on all that is going on at the expense of doing the thing we actually are called to do!  Our less hip youth ministry that actually offers friendship and belonging, where they experience forgiveness and grace, as they explore their faith will never come close the the viral explosion of the Harlem Shake.

So, make your Harlem Shake video.  Post your links in the comments.  Have a good laugh!  But please, please, please, let us die to our desires to be hip, cool, and relevant, and let us bring to the table what popular culture wishes it could, and desperately needs!  

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My top 5 favorite posts from Christmas past

It is the week before Christmas and I am truly soaking of my share of Christmas fun.  While I spend this week taking care of some personal business and other projects, I thought it would be fun to share with you some of my favorite posts from Christmas past.  These are some of the most insightful and culturally aware posts I have ever written.  Hahaha!  Actually, they are just some of my faves from Christmas past. christmas table

I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!  Thank you for blessing me and encouraging me in my walk with Jesus, in my vocational call as a pastor, and in my pursuit to be the man, husband, and father that God has for me to be!  Peace!

1)  Advent; What are we waiting for?

2)  An unexpected character around the nativity.

3)  Christmas; An invitation to belong.

4)  We finally have a generation who really have no idea why we celebrate Christmas.

5)  Don't be too quick to ditch Cheesy Christianity.

PS: If I am still in it, don't forget to vote for averageyouthministry.com to be the best blog in the universe.  Actually, it is just a popularity contest designed for us to milk our network, so lets see how my network does :)  Vote: Ben Kerns - Are Bikinis Sinful.

:)

What would you say in a parent / teacher conference for student ministry?

A year ago I mused about what a parent / teacher conference might look like if done within the student ministry context. I have to admit, that I didn't have the guts to pull it off. Danny Steis, a youth pastor in North Carolina is actually doing it. He wanted a little outside help brainstorming questions, topics, and issues that would work for this sort of meeting. So, I had him write a guest post and here it is. Danny has some questions at the bottom, and if you participate in the conversation by sharing your thoughts you will be entered in a drawing to win a free Average Youth Ministry shirt! The good people at whooptee.com are giving away three shirts. If you ever have a shirt you want made or help in the design, they make great custom shirts. Check out their sight and comment away!

Enjoy!

parent teacher conference

My wife is an elementary school teacher and I have utilized her vocational and educational expertise many times in dealing with various issues that come up in student ministry (attention getting behaviors, angry parents, impulsive students, teaching techniques, etc…). Frankly, I don’t know how I would have made it this far without her input. Her classroom phrase “we don’t give attention to negative behaviors” has become a staple of my ministry. I never say it out loud, but I think it all the time.

The latest thing that I am borrowing from the world of teaching is the student/teacher conference. These meetings are invaluable to teachers. They provide irreplaceable face-to-face communication, insights into home life, a proactive place for parents to provide input and feedback, and many other valuable things.

Over the next few weeks I have set up times with parents to have parent/youth minister conferences (as an aside – I highly recommend Sign Up Genius if you ever have to schedule things like this) with the hope that I can have some quality face-to-face time with my ministry parents. If your ministry is anything like mine you have some parents that you talk to on a regular basis. Some you just happen to bump into when they’re picking up their student from a youth event and strike up a conversation, others may stop by the church office for non youth ministry related matters and swing by your office for a friendly chat (which almost always leads to something related to their kid), and of course there’s the parent(s) that calls or emails all the time to give you their latest critique, complaint, or concern about you or your work.

My hope with the parent/youth minister conferences is to make these informal talks more efficient and purposeful and to also give the more introverted parents a chance to talk; the parents who shyly and quietly pick their kids up after youth group or the ones who rarely speak in parent meetings. My wife has given me a couple of tips for the meetings:

  • Start with and focus on the positive. No parent wants to come in and hear all the bad things their kid has been doing.
  • Don’t assume the parent knows the things you’re going to tell them, positive or negative. When I was in school and my parents asked me “what did you do at school today?” My answer was always “nothing.” Most of our students are probably communicating similar things to their parents when asked.

I am excited about the things I am going to learn from this experience and hopefully all the parents will agree to at least try this thing once. With most parents I will have no shortage of things to talk about but for a few of my more introverted or less involved parents I need some suggestions for discussion questions if the need arises.

What are some questions or discussion topics that you would recommend?

(Thank you for those who shared, and Danny, I hope this helped.  You are a stud for loving parents and engaging them this way.  I am honored to have you as a colleague.  As far as the shirts go, Phillip Beatty, MNGeelySmells, and Jason, you win the shirts.  I will find a way to send you the code and redeem your shirt from whooptee.com.  Thanks for playing everyone!

Lets get after loving those parents!

 

Screen Shot 2012-11-30 at 8.41.43 AM

(The more you comment, the more likely you are to win your very own Average Youth Ministry tshirt by whooptee.com) Danny is the “Student Minister” (Youth and College) at Yates Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina. He has a Master of Divinity degree from Truett Seminary at Baylor and has served churches in student ministry positions in Georgia and Texas. He is married with a two-year old daughter and in his free time enjoys table tennis, playing guitar, homebrewing, cooking, and reading youth ministry publications that provide lots of “I do that too” moments.

 

 

The culture war is over! (And we lost)

white-flag-2 This was such an interesting election to say the least.  Now that there has been time for me and you to collect our whits, I am left with a couple of thoughts that I think are important for the church to come to terms with.  And with the church, I mean the suburban white church that I am a part of.

Here is my take away:  After all the exit polls and post mortem of the election, I see the election as a choice between two cultures:  The Judeo-Christian White Man vs. Those who have been wronged by that culture combined with those who feel bad for those who have been wronged.  And for the first time, ever, the Judeo-Christian suburban culture has been rejected by the majority of Americans.

Before you react, think about it for a second.  Think about who you voted for and what values you were choosing.  Think about all the demographic information we have learned since the election.  Think about who you want to cast your lot with?  For the first time ever the majority cast their lot against the Judeo-Christian, suburban, middle class, married, white man.  And if not him specifically, the culture he represents.

Suburban Christians have lost the Culture War: Now what?

For those of us who do ministry in this suburban context, this movement into the minority culture has some very important implications.  There are huge implications politically, and even more so in how we do ministry.   Here are some of my take-a-ways:

1) We can not legislate morality. It is obvious that the electorate rejects Judeo-Christian morality.  With the legalization of marijuana and marriage equality winning in several states, Pandora's box is now fully open.  There is no putting away this genie.  This is a losing argument politically and we must concede that culturally we have been left in the dust of close minded bigots.  The more we fight this battle, the more we lose any real chance to do ministry in this increasingly post-modern and post-christian context.

2) Let's free up our legislators from our litmus tests so they can work for the "common good."  I know this blog is not about politics and that I have absolutely zero influence or impact politically.  But if I did and could speak a little truth to the right wing political establishment, let the moral issues go.  Embrace marriage equality and quit trying to reverse Roe v Wade.  Be about fiscal responsibility and find an ideology that unites us in a common good and doesn't vilify half the electorate who have different morals that we do.  (Ok, no more politics because . . .)

3) Politics is not our battlefield.  We are the church for crying out loud.  Our hope, our calling, our mission has not one thing to do with the powers that be.  It has everything to do with establishing God's kingdom here as it is in heaven.  The second we sell out to a political party (like what the religious right did and the religious left is now doing) we cut off our nose to spite our face.  In this increasingly post-christian context we find our selves in, we must not soil the name of Jesus by using power and money to crush the opposition.  His kingdom is a tiny mustard seed, it is a mystery, and no matter what, it has more to do with us decreasing than us increasing our influence.

4) Homosexuality and Marijuana are culturally acceptable.  We can not respond politically.  There is no argument in the public square that is going to help the church.  Gone are the days where we could tell our kids to look to the laws of the land and that is how you define morality.  We are Spirit filled people who major on discernment, grace, and love.  We take the planks out of our own eyes and then graciously help our sisters and brothers in distress.  The Christian life is going to have to be less and less about self-righteous moral legalism, and more about helping others find there true identity in Christ as they travel the long and winding road of sanctification.

5) Our hallmarks of Christian maturity need to change.  Being married and going to church while you judge those still do the things you used to do before you cleaned yourself up has not worked for the church's reputation.  Judging the sins that are furthest from your struggles or experience has not worked well for the church either.  We must find a new paradigm in which to engage Christians and the world.  We are going to have to have more grace for others and more truth for ourselves.  We are going to have to focus our discipleship around identity formation and true sanctification.  Having good theology and little to no personal reflection can not be our reputation anymore.  We will be known by how we love one another, by being the fragrance of Christ, and by being a blessing to everyone. We must no longer be known for our politics, our fear, our judgementalism, or our hypocrisy.  We must be true christians, exhibiting a spirit proper to a follower of Jesus Christ.

I think it might be time to say no to knee jerk reactions and yes to discernment, humility, and grace.  We do this so we can truly build Christian community, not a Christian nation.

Partnering godly values with our local values

Earlier this week I shared with you about finding the key to contextualizaion. The key is to discover the core values of your context and discerning the shadow implications of those values if there are any. And just this last week our church did exactly that. f1130f661bb311e2a30c22000a1f9683_7

One of the core values of our context is activism.

Activism in just about every form from recycling, organic farming, raising money for wells in Africa, Toms shoes, anti-bullying, etc, is a high, high value. If you add social justice causes to this activism value, now you are in the sweet spot for one of the strongest values in our context. Because activism and social justice are values that are also similar to values found in the heart of God, partnering with people in our community is something we are trying to live more and more into as a church.

There is a young girl in our area who was captivated by child slavery and compelled to do something about it. At first glance it seems "nice" that this little girl would want to take a stand against child slavery. But because activism is a core value for our context and a huge value for her family, they decided to actually get after and make a difference. She decided to make a lemonade stand and raise $150,000 to free 500 child slaves. And for the past 125 days, this is exactly what she has done. This is how Vivienne describes what she is doing in her own words:

"hiya! thank you for being here! i am vivienne. i am 8. on may 5, 2012, i saw a picture of two boys my age, working in nepal with giant rocks strapped to their little heads. they were slaves. to help each other feel better, they were holding hands. it hurt my heart. i decided to MAKE A STAND. a lemon-aid stand...and a stand against child slavery.

i am at my lemon-aid stand every day--rain or shine (121 days in a row and counting!)--until i raise enough money to free 500 child slaves through: not for sale an organization that wants to end child slavery. i believe that compassion is not compassion without action. that's why i am MAKING A STAND every day. i am vivienne. i am MAKING A STAND. will you please MAKE A STAND with me?"

Vivienne has become a local celebrity and came to the attention of one of our pastors, Jeff Mazzariello. He decided that what Vivienne is working towards is exactly in line with the heart of God and with the expansion of God's kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. So Jeff invited Vivienne and her family to share their story with our church and to give our church an opportunity to buy some lemonade from Vivienne to support the organization she is working in.

We wanted to be a part of something that brings joy to God's heart:

We decided as a pastoral team to give here $1000. We had no idea that our little church would come through with another $3500 for a grand total of over $4500 towards her goal. The entire morning was so inspirational for us as a church as we get to see all the big and small ways that God works to get his will done. And this morning was inspirational for this family who got to experience God's heart of love, grace and appreciation towards them.

After our time together on Sunday, Vivienne's dad wrote on her blog about their experience here at Marin Covenant Church. He called it A Day Unlike Any Other. You have to read his blog and see what happens when we get over our own version of the Gospel and seek to be cross-cultural missionaries. Missionaries who discern the values and thin places in a culture and share the good news of Jesus Christ in a way that is actually good news.

God is alive and at work! We need to simply get ourselves and our agendas out of the way, and go where he is going! What are the values in your context that you can partner with and celebrate?

Would you consider checking out her site and even MAKE A STAND with her?

The Key to Contextualization

A few weeks ago, my friend Phil and I met with Mark Oestreicher before our Bay Area Youth Forum to help us get our heads around the unique context we find ourselves in and capitalize on those uniqueness so as to have a more effective and relevant student ministry. Key to Contextualization

What MarkO pointed out is the very fine balance between one truth that every context is unique and the other which is that for the most part students are the same everywhere.  This really resonates with me.  We are all humans and we are all made in the image of God.  We all have the same longings and desires.  (N.T. Wright wrote about this in the beginning of this book Simply Christian)  But we all live in different contexts and these different contexts shape our worldview as well as our self view.  Because of this reality, the felt needs to which the Gospel can be shared will very from context to context.  Therefore, the trick is understanding the values of the context in which you live and so that you can capitalize on these values to find the "thin places" where the good news of Jesus meets people where they are at with language and stories that match their context.

This is exactly what the Apostle Paul did throughout Acts.  In Acts 13 Paul finds himself in a Jewish context and uses the rhythm of the synagogue and the story of Moses and David to find common ground with his audience as he shares about Jesus.  In Acts 17 Paul then finds himself in Athens and ditches the Moses talk and uses statues and local poetry to affirm their religious values and then presents Jesus as the revealed God made known to his creation.  (I wrote more about this here.)

The Homework we were given: 

As we were preparing for our forum and for our meeting with MarkO, MarkO gave us some homework to prepare for our time.  What he asked us to do was incredibly simple yet the results have already proven to have great impact on our ministries and have made for rich conversation for us over the last few weeks.  This was the simple assignment:

List 5-8 core values of the context in which you do ministry:

At first we simply brainstormed all the values of our context.  This list soon turned out to be a list of reasons why kids didn't come to youth group the way they had in the past.  They were a list of excuses about kids being busy and parents not valuing their children's spiritual development, etc.  But as we talked we realized that we were missing the mark.

When we reshaped it to think of 5-8 values from negatives that make our job hard to positive values which anyone at Safeway could affirm the juices really started to flow.  We chose our Safeway customer as our generic person to test our values to make sure were really coming up with positive values that our context would embrace.  The truth is that all of us think we are living out of some certain set of positive values and the same is true of the people we rub shoulders with ever day.  And with this new rubric we were able to come up with a great list.

Each value as a shadow side:

After settling in on our list we were able to see how many of these values also had a shadow side, a negative impact that seemed to crush students.  These shadow sides were the impacts that we have noticed working with our students.  But these issues were not values just the negative implications of those values.  And it was in this collection of positive values and the shadow side impact that gave us several ways for our ministries to connect in a culturally appropriate and relevant way.

There were positive values that are in line with the values of God and for those we can easily connect people in our context with our ministries.  And there were some values that have a shadow side that leave our students crushed and broken.  Because we can identify these contextually specific ways our kids are crushed and broken we can find the parts of the gospel story that are culturally appropriate dealing with the true felt needs of our students.

I think that this homework done well can become the foundation for a contextualized ministry that will find greater openness to the gospel of Jesus Christ and the expansion of his Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven!

The cohort of rookie youth workers I am working with is doing this exact assignment and I recommend that you take a stab at is as well.  I would love to know what you came up with and hopefully we can learn from each other as we strive to be cross-cultural missionaries to the unique culture our students find themselves in.  Below is  your assignment:

Your Homework:

  1. List 5-8 core values of the context in which you do ministry
  2. What is a value or two that you can embrace because they are similar to God's values?
  3. What is the shadow side of these values that the Gospel speaks into?
  4. List the 2-3 values of your ministry
  5. How do these ministry values capitalize on the values of your context or the shadow side of them?
  6. How can you increase the overlap of values of your ministry with your context?

Top 10 ways to get the most out of #NYWC

youth specialtiesCan you believe it? It is finally here. That most amazing gift a church can ever give to their youth worker, a youth ministry conference!! Your bags are packed, your room is booked, and it is time to go and get some freebies. For one weekend we get to take off our mantle of responsibility and leadership, and become participants, students, and receivers. Whether it is Youth Specialties, Orange, Simply Youth Ministry, or I Still Do, a youth ministry conference is the one time a year that us youth workers get to actually go to camp, and not just put it on. And like camp, there are some things that we need to do to prepare ourselves so that we can have an amazing time and get the most out of our time away. Every year before we take students to camp or on mission trips we give them a little pep talk, so here is yours :) These are the top 10 ways to get the most out of your conference experience.

10: This is Our Camp: Our students love camp, they wait for it all year. Their parents fork over all this money and they get to go along for a wild ride. Everything is set up for them to have a great time. All that is left is for the camper to show up and enjoy all that God has for them. But instead of us doing all the work, we get to be participants. There will be great music, amazing speakers, and plenty to learn There will be tons of opportunities to grow in our faith, our competencies, and our connections. We are not in charge. So for once, let us soak up all the hard work that someone else has done and actually receive it all as a gift.

9: Take a Seminar You Don't Agree With: We all have our hobby horses. In fact my favorite thing is to hang out with people who agree with me and reinforce my amazing theology and model of ministry. And when I get bored with thinking that I am so great, I then think of opposing views and set them up as straw men, just to destroy them. But most of these other positions in theology and practice aren't straw men, they are points of view by passionate believers who are committed to their pursuits. Being challenged in your theology and practice will actually sharpen you and cause genuine growth. Because we are all at the same conference, chances are you already agree on the big stuff, so let the small stuff sharpen and refine you.

8: Stay Up Too Late: We have to be responsible in every area of our lives, especially in our jobs as youth worker. When we take students to camp we are the ones who monitor the rooms to make sure our students go to bed. Have you ever realized how much fun our students have after bed time. They stay up late, laughing, telling stories, and sharing their deepest darkest. The best stuff always happens after bed time. The same is true at a conference. Don't go to bed at 10:00. When everyone gets a second wind and heads out to a pub, grab your ID and get going. If a beer will get. you fired, just buy a Shirley Temple. Just don't go to bed. This is when it starts to get good.

7: Don't Go to Everything: Ever conference I have ever been to has way to many options. There are main stages, break out seminars, network meetings, discussion groups, etc. Our brains can only take so much input. Find the ones that are most interesting and helpful, go to those and ditch the rest. This conference is our one time a year to get recharged. If we cram our brains with too much information, we will get worn out before we even get home. Hit the beach, catch a game, take a nap, read a book, meet up with friends. Think of it as extended free time.

6: Find 3 Practical Take-A-Ways: There is so much to learn at a conference. Everyone has a good idea that will revolutionize your ministry. Remember, all of these people are trying to sell you something. You have a very specific context in which you do ministry. You know your students the best. Instead of getting swept up with some latest and greatest. Find 3 practical things you can add to your current ministry to tweak it and improve it. Once you have your three, stop. Quit going to seminars, take a break and relax. It is a total disservice if you leave conference ready to chuck what you have been doing for a brand new ministry model. Trust what God has called you to do, and strive to improve it with something practical.

5: Wrestle With One New Concept: You will be challenged to adopt all sorts of new ministry models, curriculum, and causes. While I think it is silly to chuck what you have been doing because of some great marketing, It is important to be open to new things that God has for you and your ministry. There is no way to do everything that is presented. Instead of giving it all equal weight, use some patience and discernment. Use the conference experience for God to begin or confirm a new work in you and in your ministry. Don't think that a half week conference is enough time for a new conviction, model, or cause to be planted, germinate, grow, and produce fruit. Usually just one of these growing metaphors can happen. So wrestle with one new concept and simply take it to just the next level.

4: Connect, Connect, Connect: We continually tell our students to choose friends who will spur them on to know Christ more fully. We too need to choose our friends and colleagues who will spur us on to deeper and better ministry. We need fellow sojourners to commiserate with, celebrate with, and to speak truth into our lives. Our pastor won't do it, parents, won't, our spouse won't, and for sure students won't. Fellow youth workers, who get students, the church, this crazy job are some of the greatest resources available to us. Use every opportunity available to connect. Denominational gatherings, women in ministry gatherings, urban gatherings, rural gatherings, whatever. If they offer free food even better. Make new friends, nurture old ones, just connect and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you through this unique community in this unique setting.

3: Meet Up With a Conference Pastor: It totally sucks that in order to be a ministry leader means that our entire lives have to be put together. We have to have victory over all our sin, have a plan for our ministry, we know how to handle every crazy situation, and we can not worry about silly, worldly things like finances. None of this is true. We need priests who we can bear our soul to and confess our sin to and, for at least a moment, be the broken people we really are, and not get fired for it. Conference pastors get to be our priests who will listen to us, pray for us, and offer grace and wisdom. It is so old trying to be the spiritual hero all the time. For one hour, give it up and share what is really going on in your life and in. your heart. Confess your sin and be healed.

2: Get Over Yourself: When you look at the roster of who is speaking and presenting, it is easy to be a little bit bitter and prideful. You are a gifted ministry leader and you have a ton to share and teach. What do these guys and gals know that you don't. You run a successful ministry and you are the one who is just as qualified to teach that seminar. The only problem is that you aren't. Instead of being bitter or prideful, try to learn something. If you want to teach so bad, then put a proposal together and get rejected a few times. Maybe one day you will get chosen to present only to be judged by your peers. The truth is there is always something to learn, so let's learn. When your turn comes to teach, then teach. But this year, let's be open to new ideas and fresh perspectives from gifted leaders in our field and average youth workers like you and me.

1: Be Expectant: At the end of the day, our attitude 100% shapes what we take a way from any conference experience Most of what makes camp so great is that students expect to meet God in fresh and bold ways. And sure enough, God shows up. The same is true for us. God has all sorts of work to do on our souls and in our ministries. When we actually open our eyes and get in a posture of receiving, the flood gates will open up. God wants nothing more than to encourage us in our faith and in our calling. Let us cut away the parts of our hearts that are hard, cold, judgmental, self-righteous, and rude, and ask God to give us his eyes, his ears, his heart as we lean into all that God has for us.

May God use every single thing while we are away to restore our weary souls. Every session, every speaker, every conversation to fill up our cups to overflowing so that we can go back to our ministry context and live fully into the woman or man that God called us to be. Let us soak up this mountain top experience so we can enter back into the valley with clear vision and purpose. And may all of it be to the glory of God. Blessings!

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Can you love Jesus and love Halloween?

This article was originally posted on youthworker.com. It is impossible to walk through a retail store these days and not be overwhelmed with Halloween. Since the beginning of September, aisles of orange and black decorations, bags of candy and costumes have been calling out to my children, building excitement and expectation for their dream holiday. For my kids, Halloween is a simple holiday that involves their two favorite things: candy and dressing up. For Christians, however, Halloween seems to be a bit more complicated.

No matter how you slice it, Halloween has a dark and seedy past. Its history can be traced to a Roman festival that involved worshiping the goddess of fruits and seeds, a pagan festival of the dead or a Celtic festival celebrating the end of summer. This latter part isn't that bad, but the celebration of the spirit world coming close to the living world is. It's difficult to encourage recognizing a holiday that has many touch points with the occult. How can Christians get behind a holiday that, at best…OK, there isn't anything we can get behind in the history of Halloween.

However, as bad as it seems there might be another way we can look at Halloween—and I don't mean to pretend we are against it publicly while we quietly celebrate it with our friends and family (like a good wine). I think there is a way we can celebrate and even promote Halloween in a way that honors God and might even bring the kingdom of God closer to your neighborhood.

Before you call my supervising pastor and get me fired, humor me for one minute. How many of us Christians have Christmas trees as part of our family tradition and home decoration? If you Google "Christmas Tree Pagan," you will find there are more than 3,000,000 sites.

A quick view of these sites will afford many stories and traditions in which evergreens were used in worship and celebration as a symbol of life in the midst of death. In ancient Rome and Egypt, there were traditions of tree worship and burning sacred logs. The most worrisome history is that of Odin, a German god who required sacrifices to a sacred Oak tree. Even though the history of the Christmas tree is shady, it has been recast in a Christian light so that by the 18th and 19th centuries, the Christmas tree had become a fully accepted part of the Christmas celebration.

Christians transitioned the Tree of Odin to a tree with some vague inferences to Christianity so that now all is well with decorating a Christmas tree. The goal was to take a cultural norm with pagan symbols and use it to tell the Christian story, similar to what the apostle Paul did when he used culture to proclaim truth (Acts 17:22-23). In a similar way, that is what we need to do with Halloween; but simply transitioning Halloween to a Harvest Festival to make it more tolerable might be a missed opportunity.

If our cultural context had many touch points to spirit and ancestor worship, goddess worship or occult practices, then celebrating Halloween might be a tough sell. However, in the context here—suburban America—Halloween has nothing to do with anything except candy and playing make-believe. The primary people who are concerned about the darker issues are Christians. Because pagan worship has nothing to do with the world in which most Americans live and because Halloween is observed more as a secular holiday with zero spiritual overtones, maybe we could embrace it and use it as a place for Christians to impact their communities.

Halloween actually could be our holiday, a holiday of hospitality. With hospitality being one of the Christian virtues that is fading away, Halloween could be the holiday during which we embrace our neighbors, when we get to break down some of the barriers that have built up between us and those people who live on our street, when we get to be a blessing to them. In a time when we are less likely to be known by people in our own neighborhood and our neighbors are less likely to be known by us, Halloween could be the perfect holiday to rebuild that bridge.

Halloween could be our holiday to love our neighbors as ourselves. It could be the holiday for Christians express the love and grace of God throughout our neighborhoods and communities. If you haven't celebrated Halloween in a while, here are a couple of ideas to make a holiday with strong Christian overtones:

1) On a normal day, no one from your street comes to your house. Halloween is the one day when the entire neighborhood potentially could come to your door. The one day when your neighbors mill around in street is the one day your lights are off and door is locked. That doesn't seem quite right. So, be home; turn your lights on; answer the door.

2) If everyone is coming to your house, why not be the house that gets the reputation for best house to visit for trick-or-treating? Instead of the house that gives away raisins or toothbrushes—or even tracts—your house can be known as the house that gives away full-sized Snickers. Three decades later, I can still remember the stingy houses and the very generous houses I visited as a child.

3) As a youth worker, this holiday can even be a blessing to your students. Get your kids off the streets and put them to work by helping you make your house amazing. Have a party for them in your home. While they are there, have them decorate, pass out candy, do card tricks, whatever. Simply be being there, your house transitions into a place of life and celebration of life.

Halloween is the one holiday when your neighborhood actually comes to you. Instead of running away from this holiday, maybe we should embrace it, redeem it, make it our own. What story are you telling to your neighbors when they knock on your door? What are the values you are sharing with them? Jesus came to give us life and life abundantly. Halloween is the perfect time to share this abundant life. How great would it be if your house is the house that celebrates life; if your house was the house the neighbors' kids couldn't wait to get to for trick-or-treat?

Let us recapture the value of hospitality and show off this abundant life we have in Christ! King-sized Snickers for everyone!

Who knew a video would highlight some of my most biggest passions and values :)

A couple of weeks ago we had our monthly Manly Mecca meeting.  This is a new approach to our guys' ministry that was inspired by a show on MTV actually.  After we sat around and did our monthly check in, share our deepest darkest and be honest about every guys' struggle, and try not to pay the jar, we headed out for a little project. We take our fall kick off very seriously.  I think a solid youth ministry has purposeful events, and the kick off sets the tone for the year and direction for our entire ministry.  To make our first youth group special, I thought it would be fun to highlight the guys in our ministry and make a Carly Rae video.  I know they have been around all summer and are old news, but that is how I roll, about 6 months behind the curve.

I think it is important to embrace the music that is the sound track of our students lives and use them to have a Dance Party, or simply to use it to solidify great youth ministry memories.  And that is what we did.  This video is the result of some really hard work by one of my students, and in a way totally highlights some of my biggest passions and values.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLSdA0xx4As]

With all the chaos and work that goes into getting the school year up and going and pulling off our fall kick off, I am tired.  So I apologize for the shoddy post.  But it is Friday, and it is time for some rest.  I hope and pray that you have a great weekend and get some good old fashioned rest this weekend as well.  In fact not resting is breaking one of the 10 commandments.  How cool is that, taking a nap is what you are called to do this weekend.

We'll all get back after it on Monday. So until then . . .

Blessings!