Pot, Prostitution, and Porn: Developing a theology of morality in an amoral context.

Pot, Prostitution, and Porn:  Developing a theology of morality in an amoral context.

As the context in which we do ministry gets exponentially more complex, the foundational truths that we have based many arguments are becoming less and less helpful.  For me, growing up in a suburban context with majority culture being mostly "Judeo-Christian," the youth workers in my world helped us navigate theology and morality with a very light reading of Romans 13.

"Obey the laws of the land."

Is it ok to drink? Is it ok to use drugs? How fast can I drive?  Can I shoplift? Fill in the blank.  For a teenager who wanted maximum freedom and wanted to experiment with any and everything dangerous, this theological foundation sort of worked.  It, at its very least, provided a theological foundation for right and wrong.  

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Why social justice should not be the focus or goal of student ministry.

Why social justice should not be the focus or goal of student ministry.

According to the California Teacher’s Association website, generation Z is the generation that “while they may be named for the last letter of the alphabet, they’ll soon be at the forefront of solving the worst environmental, social and economic problems in history.”[i] This generation, born in the mid 90’s, or current middle and high school students, are supposed to be the ones that fix all our problems. This is the generation that will recognize the damage we have done to the planet and to each other and rise up and fix it. This is a perspective by many secular leaders, and is a calling that Christian and non-Christian kids are trying to live into. With social action being all the rage right now the church has been able to find common purpose with our culture to expand God’s Kingdom.

But is social action and world change really the goal of the youth worker? Is mobilizing an army of young people to enact lasting social change what we are called to do?

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One on ones, 101: The perfect primer on contact ministry

One on ones, 101: The perfect primer on contact ministry

So you’re getting to know students beyond just the “Oh hey, good to see you again!” You’ve got some contacts and you want to start getting into some “spiritual conversations”, but how exactly do you go about that? You hear that “intentional discipleship” is a hallmark of great youth ministries, but, uh, what are you supposed to do, sit down and say, “Okay kid, here we go. Time to follow Jesus, lemme give you a rundown.”??

Here’s a few tangible jumpstarters you can use as you move from “contact work” to “intentional discipleship”. 

  • Extend Specific Invitation

Students want to know you care. Take time to invite specifically and personally. Whether this is asking if they want to take a quick walk during free time at camp, or grabbing boba after school on Tuesday, initiate. Suggest a time and follow through. If you don’t initiate it, it probably won’t happen.

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The Search for El Dorado: The Elusive Quest for a Raise

The Search for El Dorado: The Elusive Quest for a Raise

So, you want a raise. Who doesn't. Getting a raise as a vocational youth worker is one of the most difficult, and therefore rarest item to ever make a church budget. Just like the quest for El Dorado, this journey often leads to a disappointing conclusion. Before you sacrifice your family finances and your soft heart for the church by being a good soldier, working for Jesus and not money, consider the perilous world of church finances.

By better understanding what you were hired into, it will in turn help you make the appropriate and healthy choices at your current church, and when negotiating compensation packages at future churches. So, if you think it is about time you deserve a raise and are not sure where to go next, consider looking at your position from the outside perspective. This perspective should inform the some of the decisions that you will need to make as your student ministry career progresses. And finally this reality should allow us to guard our heart toward our current church and its leadership. With that being said, lets jump right into it:

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Growing faith in this context is really difficult. (But not impossible)

Growing faith in this context is really difficult.  (But not impossible)

My favorite line from this movie is that, "In order to make water and grow food on a planet where nothing grows, I am going to have the science the $*%! out of this!"  And that is the perspective I think we need to have as we consider how we are going to not only reach this next generation for Christ, but to make disciples in a context where there is zero cultural or familial help.  

Instead of being discouraged, instead of being cynical, instead of putting our heads in the sand, it is time for us on the front lines to take an honest assessment of where we are, and then become the best "botanists" on this planet!

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An easy way to love your students: SNAIL MAIL

An easy way to love your students: SNAIL MAIL

Do you have piles of pictures from old youth group activities or trips?  Do you at least have them on your phone?  Well, here is the easiest way to use those old pictures for good!

One of the most fundamental needs we have as humans is to be seen and to be known.  In an age of social media we can give a lot of love by simply "liking" a students status or pic, and we can get even more when we tag them on Facebook or Instagram.  But we all know deep in our hearts that doesn't really cost you anything.  Did you know that if you simply print off that picture and mail it through the post office, that you have actually satisfied, albeit briefly, that longing to be seen and known.

Here is all you do to make your students feel seen and known:

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An easy way to set up and travel with 9 Square for your youth ministry.

An easy way to set up and travel with 9 Square for your youth ministry.

As ministry leaders, we work hard to create a vision that leads students to know Jesus and to have a close relationship with Him. We pray, we plan, we budget, we build, we plan some more, we promote, we spend hours choosing or creating an engaging curriculum, we craft a meaningful message, we meticulously rehearse, we order supplies… and the To-Do list never seems to shrink.

And the kids we’re trying to reach? They have something in common: a question they’re all wondering the answer to but wouldn’t dare just come right out and ask it. All the while, they are evaluating our request to come to the service, go to the camp, show up at the event.

Here’s the question they are trying to answer without asking…

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Raising Generation Z Seminar

Generation_Z.jpg

I recently did a three week seminar for parents at our church on Generation Z. Generation Z is this current grouping of middle and high schoolers, and they are a completely different tribe than the Millennials that went before them.

It seems that there has been endless ink spilled over the Millennials. In fact, when they were just entering middle school the entire world seemed to be mesmerized by them. And now we have the oldest of Generation Z exiting college and there is so little written about them. So using the book, iGen by Jean M. Twenge as the foundation and then dozens of other articles and websites, I put together a three week seminar looking at the Technology, Sexuality, and Spirituality of this generation.

And like all generations before, this one is not beyond the hope or reach of the Church. In fact, more than ever the church has an opportunity to be ambassadors of the good news of Jesus Christ more than ever before.

I may write more about this down the road, but I though I would at least offer up my notes and slides to share as a resource. If you would like further conversation about this seminar or about how to effectively do ministry to this emerging generation, send me an email and let’s talk. Feel free to download and use any or all of this material. I would be more than happy to walk you through it so you can be an effective advocate for our students to the church and a helpful support to parents.

Blessings!

HERE IS THE GENERATION Z SEMINAR LINK

What your numbers tell you about your ministry

What your numbers tell you about your ministry

It is amazing to me how much ministry numbers totally rule my life.  In my mind, I have a threshold number.   If that number is reached or exceeded I am on top of the world, loving my job, and thankful for the privilege of being considered a youth worker.  If less than that number of kids, then it is down the death spiral.  I question my effectiveness, my calling, and a stop off at McDonalds to get my binge eating on is all but given.

I get that I am probably more emotionally unstable than you, but I do know that most of my colleagues in ministry are continually wrestling with numbers and always trying to grow their ministry.   And I also know that for most of my youth worker friends, after their first year on the job, their numbers have gone flat.  The numbers they grew to in their first year are now the numbers year over year and year after year.

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How to turn hot topics into relational bridges

How to turn hot topics into relational bridges

"What's your opinion on abortion?"

“Gay marriage?”

“Weed?”

“Evolution?”

“Trump?”

“The end times?”

There they are, standing in front of you, casually chatting about their upcoming weekend plans until, BOOM, out of nowhere the question drops. It’s you and them, in uncharted territory, with nervous eye contact and weight in every word.  

Um.

Perhaps it’s the question you dreaded. “I have no idea what I think of that, I’m still figuring it out. I don’t want to look like an idiot right now! What am I supposed to say??”

Or maybe you love those questions, and you excitedly try to summon all your theological wit, all your communication skills, all the hours you spent winning theoretical arguments against friends. “This is it! This is why I’m a good Christian. I’ve got this. I researched this exact question all last year. I have my elevator pitch MEMORIZED.”

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Why vocational youth ministry will be here FOREVER!!!! :)

Why vocational youth ministry will be here FOREVER!!!! :)

There has been some discussion lately among some of my youth ministry friends about the future of our profession. There seems to be another round of shots fired across the bow at youth ministry and the professionals that lead these ministries. Sticky Faith, Family Based Ministries, and people with axes to grind continue to lay the decaying faith of adolescents and young adults squarely at the feet of us professionals and the failed models we are propping up.

Fellow professional youth workers have no fear, our jobs are here to stay!! 

We have an amazing calling and part of an amazing legacy, and I am convinced that for the foreseeable future, churches will continue to do everything in their power to make sure their staffs include a paid youth worker. Here's why:

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Longevity beats personality every time!

Longevity beats personality every time!

I was recently asked why the youth program at our church was so amazing.  Between you and me, our youth ministry really isn't amazing.  Numerically we are right there in the 10%-13% of big church attendance.  Our program is fully mid-1990's, and the guy in charge used to be me.  I may be a lot of things, but I am for sure not a pied piper when it comes to student ministry.  I love students and love walking through this season of life and faith with them, but I feel awkward when I show up on campus, and struggle with one on one contact time. Two years ago I finally tapped out, and brought on an incredible couple to carry on our church’s student ministry tradition. And while I am no longer implementing our student ministry, I am overseeing it, championing it, and clearing the way for our student ministry directors to crush it!

As this parent and I talked, I began to reflect on his impression of our youth ministry and realized that our success in student ministry actually has little to do with me, and comes from the leadership of the church and lead pastor long before it comes from me.

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It is impossible to do ministry where your students live :(

It is impossible to do ministry where your students live :(

Remember the good old days?

Back in the 1970’s Young Life dramatically changed how the church has done student ministry. With two key foundations, go where students are and earn the right to be heard, countless teenagers have come to know and love Jesus! The church was a little slow on the uptake, but by the time I started doing youth ministry in the late 90’s those values had become the bedrock of church based student ministry as well.

20 years later youth ministry has really taken it on the chin. We have declining numbers for programmatic ministry, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus as to an effective model, and there seems to be less and less money for staff. It may seem like the sky is falling, and it is, but not for the reasons stated above.

The reason for alarm is that even with all the challenge in front of those incredible people called to love students right into the family of God, it has become next to impossible to do the one thing most of us have been called to do. To make contact with students, meet them where they are, and earn the right to be heard as we love them and point them towards Jesus.

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Have you grieved your 20's?

Have you grieved your 20's?

Dear fellow youth worker,

I wanted to thank you so much for your faithful service to the church for all of these years.  In fact, you are above average in your attempt to live for Jesus and to help others do the same.  In fact, for many of you called to youth ministry, your call began in your own youth ministry experience and it was during your late high school and early college careers that you decided to serve Jesus by serving kids!  For this, the church, your students, and Jesus is thankful!

You spent your late teens and early 20's being a perfect model of Jesus.  You actually refrained from sleeping around and for many, turned this burning passion into a young marriage.  You and your spouse got married young and then together set out to change the world.  Because the age gap between you and your students was small at first, you gladly gave up alcohol as to not confuse your students or their parents.  And for the last 5-10 years you have been cranking along just fine.

But for some of you, including myself, there is something rumbling under the surface.  Is it discontentment?  Is it bitterness?  Is it jealously?  For many youth workers who got into this gig at an early age, there is a close identification with the older brother in the story of the prodigal son.  Our younger brothers and sisters went crazy!  And now our peers are slowly coming back to church, back to faith and are being welcomed back with open arms.

As they return, I sense God coming to the back  yard where you / we are pouting.  We gladly gave up our 20's, gave up the parties, the girls / guys, the chaos, in order to live an exemplary life for our students and for Jesus.  And for the older brother, and for me, and for maybe you, the question arises, "For what?"

Before you jump right back with the Christiany answer that all we have is God's and that we did the right thing and that God is pleased by our service, or God is displeased in our religiosity, or whatever knee jerk, bumper sticker you want to put over this feeling, I am asking that you would stop for a minute and reflect.

Do you need to grieve the coming of age rebellion that everyone experienced except for you?

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“Oh, the places they will go!”

“Oh, the places they will go!”

Having served in youth ministry for 20 years, one of the joys, and unpredictable elements is, ‘where will my students end up.’ I refer to “my students’ to include the former athletes I have coached, as well as youth leaders. I have served in ministry and coached in places, including; Saskatchewan, Washington, Minnesota, California and finally, Kansas.

My biggest joy comes from witnessing what I taught students, and seeing them passing God’s truth on to others.  I love that I get to see former students at denominational gatherings like Kara, Amy, Christian, Kara M., Nicholas & Drew who are now leading others.  I kicked Drew out of youth group one time and he is now a youth pastor in rural Alaska.  Maybe I should kick out more students!  Also, this job sometimes makes me feel old.  When at Bluewater Camp in MN, I saw the kid who almost drove me out of ministry, now counseling others. 

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Parents Just Don't Understand #thinkorange

Parents Just Don't Understand #thinkorange

As youth workers, our entire lives are wrapped up in connecting with students and helping them connect to Jesus.  We spend countless hours doing contact work, developing compelling youth groups, and planning special trips and camps.  And the worst part is that parents just don’t understand!

How many times have we had conversations with parents who just don’t seem to get the importance of what we are doing.  It is us who are standing in the gap, who are the last line of defense in the faith development of their children.  They don’t help their kids show up at youth group or our special events.  They seem to think sports, school, and family vacations are more important than youth group.  How do they not realize how important our programs are?

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Youth ministry is the most important job in the world!!

Youth ministry is the most important job in the world!!

I actually don’t think that it is an oversell. I truly believe this with all my heart. I have always thought it was the best job in the entire world, but more and more, I am convinced that it is the most important.

You see, we live in a culture that has totally abandoned kids. Chap Clark has been talking about this for over 15 years. But now the ramifications are being fully realized.

Clark argued that kids have been abandoned by adults and are occupying the “world beneath.” All the organizations that were supposed to come alongside families and support the character development and care of kids have abandoned kids as well. Teachers teach to the test, coaches coach for the win, and even youth workers plan for the numbers. And in all of this kids go unseen and are living in this hidden world where it is truly the Lord of the Flies.

What none of us realized is that this world beneath has become the world above. The cloud has become the center of life for all of us, but the center of reality for students. And now, more than ever they have been abandoned because parents are just as distracted on their phones as kids are, except that parents are fully formed adults and our kids are half cooked.

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Some pro tips for parenting Generation Z

 Some pro tips for parenting Generation Z

Today is the final week of my Generation Z class. I am not going to lie, the study and preparation for this class has been one of the most formative endeavors I have done in over five years. I am blown away at how quickly culture is changing and it is impossible to keep up. I am not talking about understanding Tik Tok or the millions of different Youtubers out there speaking into our kids’ lives. I am talking about the core of the culture that is unseen, but moving us all whether we are aware of it or not.

(You can take a look at my notes and bibliography here if you want to know what has helped shaped me this last month.) What is incredible is that this is just the tip of the iceberg and we must dive deeply in so we can help navigate our churches and families well in this moment. And even more, have no fear, but be filled with hope because the gospel is good news in every situation, in every culture, in every part of the world, in every time, and that is especially true for us!

With that being said, I wanted to share with you my last piece from this class, some pro tips for parents in helping their kids and their soul navigate these tumultuous waters. Without further ado . . .

THE TOP 10 PRO-TIPS FOR PARENTS WHO ARE RAISING GENERATION Z:

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The spiritual foundation of Generation Z

The spiritual foundation of Generation Z

As I have been studying up and preparing for my three week class on Generation Z, I found this last section to be the most compelling and heartbreaking. It is easy to get lost in the stats regarding technology and the correlation between screen time and depression. Or to examine the LGBTQQIP2A+ sexuality alphabet soup and the implications of that. (Both incredible topics and worthy of discussion)

But this week we take a look at the spiritual foundation for Generation Z and what is the native tongue for this generation, is not even on the radar of church leaders or parents. The spiritual moment our kids find themselves in goes all the way back to the garden. It is the total antithesis to orthodox Christianity, and the more I have been studying, I have been alarmed at how much it has influenced the church and me.

What is this new spirituality, this new religion? Humanism.

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Do you want to understand the soul of Generation Z?

Do you want to understand the soul of Generation Z?

Before you poo poo this video and say to yourself that this person does not reflect any generation Z person that I know, watch the first 1:20 again. What they say, in my opinion, perfectly sums up what is going on in the very heart and soul of this young generation.

In fact, what they share about is right in line what my 11-year-old, white, suburban daughter choir nerd thinks about herself, her friends, and the world.

I think we are fooling ourselves if we don’t take a good, hard look at this worldview and work hard to understand it, empathize it, find the beauty in, and also find the unique way the gospel is going to impact them.

Our kids are growing up in a world with fewer rules and standards:

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