Archives For Discerning your context

It is that time of year where we wrap up this school year and begin to prepare for summer.  We have finally put together our spring and summer calendar and wanted to share it with you.  Not because it is the greatest summer calendar ever, but wanted to share it as an act of good will.  Those of us in this little AYM community are some incredibly faithful youth workers who are getting after some solid student ministry.  The only way we get better is by sharing our best practices and then incorporating other’s best practices into our own ministries.  So here is mine, and I would be honored if you would share yours.

qkr3fhnfe4vudrdyqd-uhaeqlllv3qmkb3ahslkpmzgtwy4ecyodren4pddjzuy7tqdpchrb3diftrfrdm_rz0pkmrp5glyp5u0kjkyhu5aorsls4y_p7rtedw63adyh4stuvyq6qzgcxbkpa63jklvy7nznjtna0ncxoxvfoctkThank you to the peeps at for this incredible template!

This last month at youth group we have been looking at media, pop culture, you tubes, music videos and movies in order to develop a more biblically framed world view.  And in doing this, I was surprised by what we discovered.

Of course there is plenty of garbage out there, and yes most of it dehumanizes and satisfies our base impulses.  For as much as I love Katy Perry, Dark Horse leaves a lot to be desired.  But as we were exploring media we came across the new John Legend song, “All of Me.”  And to my surprise, this was the most biblically accurate and affirming song in both pop culture and even in the Christian music charts.

Take a listen and let me know if you agree or disagree:

How beautiful your sandaled feet, O prince’s daughter!
Your graceful legs are like jewels, the work of an artist’s hands.
Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine.
Your waist is a mound of wheat encircled by lilies.
Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle.
Your neck is like an ivory tower.
Your eyes are the pools of Heshbon by the gate of Bath Rabbim.
Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon looking toward Damascus.
Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel.
Your hair is like royal tapestry; the king is held captive by its tresses.
How beautiful you are and how pleasing, my love, with your delights!
Your stature is like that of the palm,  and your breasts like clusters of fruit.
I said, “I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.”
May your breasts be like clusters of grapes on the vine,
the fragrance of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine.

Song of Songs 7:1-9

Here is a talk I gave at our denominational’s youth connection.  Recognizing our culture has changed is the easy part.  Developing a way to share the gospel and a path of discipleship is the call of this moment in time.  What are your thoughts?

What is Lent?

I find it interesting that as youth workers we are always looking for a new series to do with our students.  We inherently know that we must mix up the ritual and routine of youth group or kids will get board and get into a rut.  This need to mix things up might actually come from God himself.  I think that we were actually created for seasons, for change, for rhythm.  And this need for annual celebrations is affirmed all throughout scripture with the commands to celebrate all the different festivals.

While this need for seasonal change is needed and expected, many Christians seem to discard the traditional season change in the Church.  According to the church calendar, today is Ash Wednesday marking the transition from “ordinary time” to the season of Lent.

According to Wikipedia, Lent is the period of the liturgical year leading up to Easter.  The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer – through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial.

Lent is the worst season in the Church.

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christmas table

More than any other holiday, Christmas is surrounded with family warm fuzzies. On the surface it is a month of preparing your house and making it as warm and hospitable as possible. And we brave the strip malls to buy presents as a way of showing love towards our friends and family. Christmas highlights one of the most critical needs humans have, to be known and to be loved.

Yes the birth of Jesus tells us so much about God and his love and plan for humanity, yes the manner in which he was born shatters all of our preconceptions regarding status and power, and yes we have God exegeted in the incarnation of his Son. But all of these great truths are not found in isolation. They are proved a reality by way of invitation, invitation into the family of God.

While we were sinners, broken, outcasts, it is at this time that Jesus left his rightful place in Heaven and became Emmanuel to reconcile us back to God and change our identity and purpose forever. Once we were not a people, but through Jesus Christ, we are the people of God.

As I reflect upon this reality, I am convinced more and more that this invitation into the family of God, to given the purpose of the family business is the thin place our world has to experience the good news of Jesus Christ. People feel more alienated then ever, our students are more isolated then the even know. Even with all their access to social media, they are alone.

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I know it is nothing new that Christmas has become secularized. From the Happy Holiday wars to the removal of the nativity scenes, the reason we celebrate Christmas has finally left the building. I had an epiphany the other night as I was driving around with my kids doing some Christmas shopping listening to my favorite Christmas album, John Denver and the Muppets’ Christmas. (It is actually a rough album, but has a high sentimental value for me.)

As we listened to the story of Alphie I was reminded again the wide variety of meaning people have put on Christmas. Well, way back in 1979 we get some strange theology from John Denver and his enormous love for the outdoors combined with a cultural understanding of Christmas.

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For youth group this christmas, we are asking students to look at five different characters that were in close proximity to the birth of Jesus.  Although the lesson was rather simple to make, the conclusions were a little more difficult to swallow.

The Distracted:  Luke 2:1-3

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.

In the time of Jesus’ birth, God was in the process of doing the most amazing thing in all of human history.  At the same time, Bethlehem was jam packed with families for the census.  While there were many people in the proximity of this historic work of god, everyone seemed to miss it.

Imagine a gigantic family reunion.  Everyone was busy preparing their homes for guests, buying presents for loved ones, etc.  And while everyone was doing their own thing, God shows up.  This kind of feels like the mall at Christmas time.

This Christmas season, What are the things that are consuming your mind, are distracting you from seeing that god is actually alive and moving in our midst?

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Post Christian Posts

November 15, 2013 — Leave a comment


Here are list of links of posts I have written as I have wrestled with doing ministry in a post-Christian context.  Many of these posts build upon ideas and thoughts of other posts, so enjoy some of the redundancy :)



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

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

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

In a post-Christian world, the wayward and rebellious daughter and son actually have no idea that they are even wayward.  They have been so far removed from the Christian story, the Christian family that they don’t even know what way is up.  And while they may not be able to articulate it it, most adolescents in this context are lost.  Lost in the truest sense.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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The Innovation of Loneliness

September 6, 2013 — 3 Comments

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

August 26, 2013 — 1 Comment

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:

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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:

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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.

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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.


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

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:

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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.

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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)

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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