The Blogging Life

The Blogging Life

This Thanksgiving is the four year birthday for this blog, Average Youth Ministry.  

And what a wild ride it has been.  In just under 1500 days, I will have rounded the corner on a half a million views from people all over the world.  

Over these four years, I began writing this blog as a form of spiritual discipline to help me process trough the joy-filled as well as the perilous mine field known as student ministry.  And within the first year enjoyed some of the dopamine rush that comes from collecting hits, likes, and comments.  And before long, I thought I was going to be famous. 

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Back off the helicopter in your parenting, the results may surprise you.

RAN_squirrel_helicopter_at_melb_GP_08 As a parent, I want my kids to be loved, cared and protected. In fact, just about everything I do as a parent is to build esteem in them and protect them from this big bad world. But as a youth worker, I know that building esteem as an end causes all sorts of problem. The true goal of parenting is to build character in our children. And as they build character, they will build esteem.

In this endeavor to build character, there is one ingredient that is sorely missing in my students, and am worried is missing in my own kids. The core value of protection, and in practicality, protection at all costs, takes away the one thing that builds character the most, suffering.

Before you freak out, I am not saying that we neglect our kids or intentionally put them in harmful situations. But what I am suggesting is that we back the helicopter off a bit and allow them to suffer the consequences of their actions.

A couple of case studies

I can't tell you the amount of conversations I have had with parents who are so frustrated with their kids and they way they seem to not care about school. In an effort to save their kids from community college, they step in at every turn to rescue the poor choices of their children.

Their 7th grader is failing math because they aren't doing their homework or studying for tests. The solution, to keep them home from youth group, get them a tutor, hold their hands back to school so they turn in their homework, and then follow up personally with the teacher.

By flying the helicopter in, parents are denying their children an awesome opportunity for character development. What happens if your son really does fail 7th grade math. Dealing with all the consequences of failing math in 7th grade made feel big to you and your son, but compared to the types of failures that happen in their 20's with no character are exponentially worse.

Or how about the conversation where someone's daughter feels excluded from a clique at school or youth group. This is an awesome opportunity for parents to fly in their helicopter and save the day. Being excluded, dealing with awful social situations are part of the adolescent journey. Instead of bullying the others around you so your daughter doesn't feel bad, this suffering allows your daughter to develop character and a thicker skin.

Sometimes it is actually their fault and they need to own that. Sometimes the crowd your daughter is traveling in is the fast crowd and your daughter isn't. This exclusion might be a blessing. But it is one that needs to be navigated by them with the support of you, not your intervention. This suffering builds character. The character built with this mini drama is 10x's better than the drama and chaos that happens on their dorm floor their freshman year in college.

Scripture doesn't promise that we will be happy.

It does promise that those of us who decide to follow Jesus share in his glory. But we also will share in his suffering. Some of this suffering is external, some of it is spiritual, some of it is out of our control, and much of it is within our control. But no matter what, suffering is the number one ingredient that leads to character development.

In Romans 5:1-5 it says:

5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Verses 1 and 2 are all about the goodies we have as a result of putting our faith in Christ. We have peace with God and now have access to Him. And most importantly we have hope. But this hope is only ours after the process of character development. If we are truly going to lean into all of these blessings, scripture says that we will lean into our suffering.

It is suffering that produces perseverance: I am always blown away by stories of people who survived POW from WWII like in that book Unbreakable. Or people who survive the loss of a child. I think, if God took my children or wife from me it would be over! I would curl into a ball and die. But God made humans with an amazing ability to survive. Those who persevere through suffering realize that there is life on the other side.

Perseverance produces character: I had an intern break up with her boyfriend and sat on my couch not having the strength to even sit up. She sat and bawled all night. For her, this was suffering. Getting through it was perseverance. And now that she is on the other side, she has a new perspective of what is difficult and a better understanding of her own ability to get through. When You add the faith component, you realize that God also is gracious in providing peace and healing in these seasons of suffering. Wether they are small like failing 7th grade math or not being invited to a birthday party, to larger being dumped by the man you thought you were going to marry, or huge losing a home, job, or a love one. In all of these sufferings, God promises to walk with us through it as we persevere, and develop character.

And it is our character that produces hope: Hope is the secret ingredient to pulling through every difficult situation. Even the author of the Hunger Games knows this. They fight hard because they have hope. Without hope, people give up. Hope is unseen and something that is difficult to grasp. But when we have suffered, persevered to the other side, we have developed character, and because of character we realize that there is life on the other side. With this fresh understanding of hope we are no longer swayed by our circumstances, by our relational drama, by our grades, or by the chaos that unexpectantly crashes into our lives.

When we fly that helicopter too close and intervene every time our child suffers, we are actually not protecting them, we are stealing hope from them.

They need to understand their life has consequences, that life is chaotic and awful things happen. Suffering is part of this broken world.

If we can allow them to walk in the suffering, we will actually be helping them learn about perseverance, build character, and live into hope! How much better when these sufferings happen in the world of middle school, a world that we actually have some control and the consequences are small. The result with be developing kids of character so that when the true sufferings of life fall upon them in adulthood, they will not be crushed, but have the character to persevere because they have HOPE!

Back that helicopter off. Building self esteem can not be the end. Character is the end and esteem gets to be the byproduct. And the key ingredient, unfortunantly, is suffering.

 

 

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

Who carries your burden?

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

The Joys of Transparency We had the most amazing time at summer camp this year! For the first time ever we were able to be truly deep and authentic with one another. On Thursday night, "Cry Night", the speaker talked about bearing with one another, carrying each other's burdens. And after his moving talk, he sent us back to our cabins to share burdens with one another. Normally I just facilitate this sort of conversation, but I was really feeling the Holy Spirit move and decided to go first to set the tone.

I knew I was really connecting with the students because for the first time in a long time they were really listening to me. The more they leaned in, the more I shared, and the more I shared, the more I realized I had to share.

It all began quite surfacey, with me sharing about how stressed I was feeling trying to juggle this job and my family. Then I decided to get a little more specific.

"My boss doesn't think I am doing a good enough job because our numbers are down this year. And because of that I have been working so much that I am becoming more and more disconnected from my wife. My boss, our pastor, is not just a tough boss, but a total jerk. I know he seems great on Sunday mornings, but working for him is a nightmare. In fact I don't even know how much more I can take working in this environment. On top of our pastor sucking and sucking the life from me, my wife seems to only nag and complain. She says that I am not around enough, I am always hanging out with students, and she not only resents me because of it, but resents you too. There is so much resentment that we haven't even had sex for months. This has lead me to become addicted to internet porn and gambling. I don't know if we need to go to counseling or what. And to top it all off, this stress combined with my sin is impacting my faith. I can't remember the last time I had a quiet time. And really, ever since my son has been sick, I have been pissed at God for abandoning me and jacking my life, my marriage, and my job. Really, what am I doing anyway?!"

For being middle school boys, they took all of this really well.

Where Do You Go? I hope you could tell this conversation was make-believe. Because the truth is that I would never share any of this with middle school boys, and I would for sure never share this on a blog.

While this conversation is fake, the issues are real among many ministry leaders. Because ministry leaders are also broken people, issues will arise that will test the faith, ministires, and marriages of people in ministry. The real question is not how to prevent these issues from arising, but, "Where do I go when the bottom starts to fall out in my job, my marriage, or my faith?" This is a question of vital importance for me and, I think, for anyone who wants to make it in ministry for the long term.

Just because we're ministry leaders does not mean that we're above the dark underbelly of life and faith. The danger is that if we do not have an appropriate outlet for these issues we actually end up developing split personalities, and before long become straight-up hypocrites. With so much on the line, where do you go to work this out? Who are your people?

As I've tried to work this out in my own life, I have realized my pastor / boss isn't the right person, my spouse isn't always the right person, my friends in the church aren't the right people, and for sure my students are never the right people to lay my burdens on. There is one place I have landed, where I have found friends who I can share my burden with. These friends have all come from my ministry network meetings.

Thank God For My Network: In some seasons these were people from my local network. But in this season they are from my denominational clusters. No matter which network you grab your people from, your network is your best bet for some authentic living and burden sharing. Who else gets the joys and sorrows, the stress and anxiety of youth ministry than others who are right in the middle of it?

As I get ready to head off to an annual retreat for youth workers in my conference, I realize that I'm about to spend time with my people. People who get me, get my ministry, true colleagues. What makes this time the most valuable for me is that I am with people who can bear my burdens or whose burdens I may have the honor to bear.

My prayer for you is that you find some colleagues who you can be real with and lay it down with, people who you would trust to carry your burdens. If these people are not in your life, then at some point there will be a straw that will break your back and crush your life, your family, your ministry, or all three. May God bless you as your share your burdens, and may God continue to be gracious as we work all this out.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

If you are a part of the Evangelical Covenant Church and would like to be connected to a local youth ministry network, click here and contact the facilitator for your area.

Water the grass that is growing

This last week I met with a parent who is having a hard time watching her son choose to build friendships with the hoodlum posse in our student ministry. As we talked, I tried to point out that this small circle of students who are consistently getting into trouble, ignoring all the rules, and disrespecting every adult around is not the core of our ministry. There is, in fact, a significant group of students who are pretty serious about their faith and their desire to grow into it. As I began to list name after name of other students who would be great influences on her child, she began to list reason after reason why her child wouldn't be able to connect as well with these students. She struggled with the ability to see the 90% of our ministry due to the 10% who are the "too cool for school" crowd who monopolize her child's circle of friendships.

It was easy to point out how silly it is to be so consumed by the minority of students who are ruining her sons experience at youth group. The solution was quite clear, to simply see the larger group and maybe even build some new, healthy friendships. As soon as these words were coming out of my mouth, the Holy Spirit reminding me of this exact conversation I had with my wife regarding the health of our student ministry.

Her Problem Was Really My Problem: I came home from youth group the other night incredibly discouraged because of the state of our student ministry. Students who I had been investing in were falling off the radar at an alarming rate, our student leaders have lost the will to lead or even participate, and my emotional tank was on empty from a long year of student ministry. After I was all done crying and complaining, my wife simply began to ask about specific students.

Before I realized what she was doing, I noticed my heart to change. Student by student I began to share about the contribution they had made, either within our ministry, during small groups, or the way they had been helping with our Vacation Bible School. And what was surprising was that this was not a short list. The list kept going and going, student after student, evidence of God's gracious hand upon the lives of our kids.

My wife simply reminded me that our ministry is way larger then the small 10% of students who had begun to check out and distance themselves from me and our ministry. There is actually 90% of our student ministry who are super involved and love our community, who are working out their faith and participating in the larger life of the church.

Just like the student whose parent was in my office, I had lost sight of the bigger picture of our ministry. It turns out, I am just as fickle as my students. I get hurt emotionally and my view narrows and I actually miss out on what God is actually doing.

A Simple Proverb: When I was a rookie youth worker, I had a similar emotional temper-tantrum after the end of a rough year in ministry. I remember going over to my pastor's house to debrief the situation. My pastor, boss, mentor and friend, Ed Hart, laid down a nugget of truth that has stayed with me to this day. He simply said, "Water the grass that is growing." Then continued reading his book.

This simple truth has turned out to be a great ministry philosophy. God is always at work, but it is easy to lose sight on the places he doing is business because the dead grass is consuming all of our emotional energy.

(Now, don't read too much into this or extrapolate all possible implications. This statement isn't about writing off students or actually believing that some students are dead grass with no hope of spiritual growth)

Ed's proverb was a simple reminder that God is alive and at work in the lives of our students. But sometimes I am spending so much energy pouring my life and heart into students who could care less and while doing this, I am actually missing the places where God is doing great and exciting things.

This proverb actually worked itself out in a best selling book and workbook. In Henry Blackaby,s book Experience God, his premise was that simple. We don't spend our time and effort working hard at trying to accomplish our plans, we actually work hard at trying to discern the places where God is at work, and get on board with what God is already doing.

Where Are The Places God Is At Work? I have to admit my very human eyes when it comes to student ministry. I work very hard at pouring my heart and soul into students. There are students who are charismatic and who have captured my heart, but after months and months and sometimes even years of chasing some students, I have realized that without even realizing it, I may have missed the places where God is active and at work.

Thankfully, I have my own coach and mentor who helps me change my gaze away from the dead grass and towards the grass where God is alive and at work. My wife has this amazing way of seeing through the masses and can pick up on the still and small voice of God. The people who God's hand is clearly on. Like Samuel at first picking the oldest strongest sons of Jesse, the true king of Israel was the youngest son who was tending sheep.

A couple of years ago, in another one of my temper-tantrums, my wife gently showed me one of our students who needed to have his life poured into. The grass was growing like crazy, but he was totally off my radar. Because of this conversation, I chose to pour the last two years into this student.

As we celebrated Senior Sunday, this student shared about the way that God has been transforming him, healing him, and is now sending him off to college and possibly even into ministry. I am blown away that I had the honor of being a small part of his story. God is actively at work in this student's life, and if I had spent that time running after students who could care less, I would have missed out on an incredible opportunity and honor.

Ministry is challenging. I think a lot of the challenge pouring ourselves out like a drink offering into our students. When those students don't respond it can crush us. But when we slow down and work hard to discern where God is actually moving, we have the opportunity to join with the Creator in the redemption and transformation of our students.

We touch the lives of many students, let's make sure the 10% doesn't limit our view of the 90%. Let us make sure we see where God is at work, and join the adventure.

Water the grass that is growing!

photo from Creative Commons:

i am second

lecrae rehab

Need some encouragement?  Need some perspective?  Check out my new favorite site: I AM SECOND:

"I am Second is a movement meant to inspire people of all kinds to live for God and for others. Actors. Athletes. Musicians. Business leaders. Drug addicts. Your next-door neighbor. People like you. The authentic stories on iamsecond.com provide insight into dealing with typical struggles of everyday living. These are stories that give hope to the lonely and the hurting, help from destructive lifestyles, and inspiration to the unfulfilled. You’ll discover people who’ve tried to go it alone and have failed. Find the hope, peace, and fulfillment they found. Be Second."

 

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