Archives For Discerning your issues

My entire career I have tried my best to be the best.  And every time I think I am there, I simply look into the next pond and realize that I am simply a small fish in a bigger pond.  This is an awful realization, but one that we must get to if we are every going to be both content and fully utilized by Jesus. Here is my sermon from last week about just this.  Being unique is important, but it is only when we submit to Jesus and leverage our uniqueness for the body of Christ will find hope and containment.  May you too quit chasing the wind and embrace who you are and leverage it for God.

Blessings!

Leader-small-1024x727

One of my favorite pastimes is reading leadership books and listening to leadership podcasts. Because, in my mind, I am a high capacity leader.  The more that I read and the more that I listen, the more I am coming to an awful conclusion, I am not a high capacity leader.  And I am willing to bet that you aren’t either.

The leaders who write the books and make the podcasts are the best in their industry.  They have proven themselves as leaders through decades of hard work, and incremental gains that have snow balled into exponential growth, to where they are now writing books and making podcasts.  As youth workers, by our very nature, by our very call, and by our place in our organization, chances are we are not high capacity leaders.

And the reason that this is important for us to grasp is that while we are striving so hard to be incredible leaders, we are actually diminishing the potential impact we can have in our current context.  You see, your students don’t care if you are a high capacity leader, your volunteers don’t care either.  And you know who really doesn’t care, your lead pastor.

As a youth worker you are simply part of a system.

If your lead pastor is a high capacity leader then they will have a healthy system that you will benefit from, and if they are simply an average leader, then that will be the system you will live in.  Either way, you lead one small part of the organization.  If you are in a large church context, your success is 90% that of your system, and if you are in a small church system, your youth group size is 90% of that system.

Listening to podcasts and reading books will not change the size or scope of your ministry.  You are simply called to love students and help them love Jesus within the current system.  The more energy you spend into striving to become a high capacity leader, the more you will fool yourself into thinking you are more important or powerful than you really are.

Be faithful to your context, and work hard at serving your students and your leaders.

If, by some fluke chance you are truly a high capacity leader, then chances are you are not reading this blog, you are not working at a small to medium sized church, and that your days in student ministry are numbered.  

I am thankful for the high capacity leaders who set the bar, start the trends, and are the point of the spear in our industry.  They challenge and encourage us, and help us do our jobs better.  We should always strive to learn and grow as leaders, and who best to learn from then the high capacity leaders in our industry.

But thinking we are more than we really are will often blind us to the actual ministry God has called us to do.

 

Cassie-keg-stand

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 are 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?

Have you noticed your walk with Jesus to be dry because you have remained “healthy” in your life and lifestyle?

Are you starting to act or dancing with the line when it comes to lifestyle choices now?

For many of my friends who have spent their 20’s serving Jesus instead of body shots, there is a percolating rebellion that is rising to the surface.   The real question is how are you going to deal with this rising rebellion?  At this point you have to much on the line, you have a career, a spouse, even a kid or two.  Some drunken outburst, a flirty relationship gone too far, the darker and hidden places you go online are not permitted for those of us who have chosen to do vocational ministry.  And sometimes it just doesn’t seem fair that we have to keep our entire lives in check every minute, of every hour, of every day, while the younger brother gets to go crazy and seemingly come and go as he pleases.  And unless we deal with it, all that we have on the line will be lost.

In fact, I am sure many of you can name plenty of fallen friends who just could not keep it together, their percolating rebellion found some unhealthy escape and that was more then they, their spouse, and even the church could handle.  I have too many friends that this story applies to.  I have too much on the line in my own life, and my guess is that you do to.

So, I simply would like to end this letter by asking you to reflect on this question.  “Have you, or do you need to grieve your 20’s?”

Because this seems to be a hidden battle for many of my friends in vocational ministry, and because I too am in this boat, and I too want to be whole and healthy as I continue to serve the church and students, I would love to know your thoughts.

How are you acting out? How are you locking it down? How have you survived?  How have you grieved? How have you responded to our gracious Father’s invitation to come back inside to the party and celebrate that our younger brother has been found?

Blessings Friend!

bk

 

francis-chan-preaching

Me too :)

There seems to be a strand of ministry leaders who are obsessed with becoming great “communicators.”  In fact the language of how we even talk about this strange thing we do for 20-45 minute once a week is called.  It used to be called preaching, some call it teaching, or sharing, but everyone in the industry seems to now refer to it as “communicating.”

And for those who want to become excellent communicators, there are few more famous that Francis Chan.  Wouldn’t you like to be able to preach like him?  Wouldn’t you like to know what the trick is, what the structure is, what ever “it” is so that you can communicate with the same power, effectiveness, and maybe even fame? :)

Well, I do, and so I have entered on a quest to understand why Francis, and others, (Insert your communicator of choice) are so pickin’ effective.  What has been challenging is that every amazing communicator, presenter, famous Christian I have listened to all seem to have a different slant, a different structure, a different approach to connecting with their audience.  It turns out that the simple task of copying structure, or stories, or illustrations is not going to cut it if you want to become a powerful and effective communicator.

Over the last year as I have begun to listen to some of my favorite “communicators” with this question, I have slowly, but surely, begun to see a through line in each of these, very different speakers.

If you would like to preach like Francis Chan you simply need to do these two things:

1) Believe what you are saying.  This seems like it would be a now brainer.  As pastors we are convinced of the Love of God and the Grace of Jesus.  We believe, I mean, come on, we have given our entire lives in service of the Gospel.  We believe it!!  My question for you is, to reconsider that question.  Do you really believe what you are saying?

So often we communicate “truth” but that is an intellectual exercise divorced from the way that that truth has actually impacted and shaped our own lives.  Believing in our head will simply not cut it when trying to become an excellent communicator.  Francis believes with all of who he is what he is saying.  He daily is trying to put into practice what he teaches and he is willing to share his journey and struggle with his audience.  His heart actually breaks for the things he says should break our hearts.  His messages are fully internalized!

Go back and listen to or reflect on your last couple of messages.  I know you don’t want to, but really listen.  Do you really believe what you are talking about, or are you just going through the Christian motions?  A good way to tell is by simply asking one more question; How is / has whatever you are speaking on actually impacted and transformed you?  (And why was that not part of your message?)

2)  Say something that matters to your audience.  For many speakers and communicators, they get lost in their task and forget the entire reason they have a microphone.  The stance from many youth workers, and might I say, many preachers, is that they have something to say.  They have something the audience needs to hear!

Maybe there was a day when the simple fact of you being a pastor meant that people cared what you had to say and were willing to wrestle with whatever you had to say simply because of your position.  But that day has come and gone (if it was even ever here in the first place)  When our stance is that of expert, or even as teacher, we have immediately lost our audience.

The best communicators consider their audience, they have a stance of wanting to serve and offer something of worth to them.  They are not trying to get anything from  them.  They don’t try to impress them or leverage who they are to prove that you should listen to them.  They are servants who long to give a gift to their audiences.  What a totally different stance.

Think about how different your communication style would be if you took you out of the center and started with your love for the audience.  If you longed to be a blessing to them, to consider them, their needs, their issues, their concerns, and decided to be helpful to them.  For many preachers this seems like heresy.  You should proclaim the word of God!!  Yes, but as a love offering, not with a bullhorn.

Communicating to an audience is a distinct honor, and rare in our cultural context.  If you want to preach, teach, “communicate” more effectively and become more like Francis Chan, or whoever your preacher of choice is, then simply make sure you have 1) internalized your message, believe what you are saying.  And 2) make sure you are saying something that actually matters to your audience.  

And may God be gracious to us teachers so that we don’t let our ego and pride blind our offerings.  May be simply be humble servants sharing the love and grace of Jesus Christ as it transforms us in a way where our audience can actually hear it and embrace it!

 

whiteflag

It is pretty difficult to do youth ministry for any length of time and not have some sort of blow up with a parent.  And I have found that no matter how hard I try, every now and then, I find myself at the receiving end of a firing squad.  Most of the time it is from some misunderstanding, but there have also been times when a parent’s rage was deserved.

But no matter who’s at fault, I have found the two silver bullets to de-escalate just about every major conflict between parents and youth workers.  The problem is, youth worker’s aren’t going to like it.

1)  Fall on your sword.  This sounds like retreat and like you are losing some justice issue.  You are not.  You are dealing with minors, with people’s kids, and in some way you have offended, caused anxiety, dread or fear to creep into their hearts because of something you have done.  Their kid, their most prized possession, is simply just one of the many kids in your program.  You have many things to worry about and most of them are seen simply through your lens, not the lens of a parent.

It is ok to admit that you have missed it.  Or missed something.  No parent wants a cowboy running rough shod with their kid.  They want their children to be cared for emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  And when we break this contract, parents want blood.  Instead of getting your pastor or worse, your board to draw your blood.  I have found falling on your sword seems to ease the conflict.  In just about every misunderstanding there is something that is your fault.  Embrace it, own it, and humbly ask for forgiveness.  And then it is over.

2) Engage them through the lens of Christ.  This might sound like a nice bumper sticker, and maybe it is, but there is some solid wisdom here.  Every time we are in conflict, our knee jerk response is to dehumanize our opponents and to belittle them in our head.  They are dumb, stupid, idiots, bad parents, fundies, etc.  You have your names, I have mine, and basically these are just ways to separate yourself from them.  You are in the right, you are fully human deserving of dignity and honor, and they are fools, who deserve the get the smack laid down.

But the truth is that these parents are real people, like you and me.  And when we see them this way, as people who deserve honor and respect then we are much more apt to engage them in a manner that is worthy of our calling.  But even more than respect, what if we were to put on the clothing of Christ and see them the way Jesus sees them.  What if we were to love them them the way Jesus loves them.  The entire meeting would be so different!

It actually works.  A few weeks ago, I had a mom and dad come into my office to express their displeasure with my ministry and its philosophy.  I don’t want to say exactly what is about in case they happen to read this some day, but let’s just say, they were in the wrong, and I was so in the right!  Haha.

I was actually really nervous for the meeting.  We had a true difference of opinion and one where we were throwing around words like conviction and “the Lord says. . . ” which escalate matters and seem to add weight to our conflict.  They were upset and I was going to be outnumbered.  This had all the potentials to end very poorly for me, or worse, for them.  And as we talked, God actually showed up, humbled me, and reveled to me his love and care for these parents.

And no joke, as my heart for them grew to be more in line with Jesus’, as I loved them more and more, I found myself transitioning from an enemy combatant to a pastor, to a shepherd.  This battle was not worth losing their respect, or even relationship.  It was not worth it to sacrifice my ego and hurt potential ministry our church has for their kid, or for them.  Because I was growing in love for them, I was able to hear them and hear their fears and concerns and my entire body language changed to where I could tell, they could tell, that I was engaged with them and wanted to hear them.

The temperature in the entire room cooled down and we left praying for each other and hugging each other.  They felt heard, and I got to keep my job.  And even more so, God knit our hearts closer together through this interaction.  Who knew that humility, love and grace win every time!

Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. (1 Timothy 5:1)

The power of empathy

October 1, 2014 — Leave a comment

I recently came across this little video on empathy.  I have always sort of had a grasp of the difference between empathy and sympathy.  But after watching this video again, I was convicted by how much of my ministry is characterized by sympathy.  I am other, distant from the death and destruction that so surrounds my students’ lives.  I rarely am willing to climb down into the pit and simply identify with them and be with them.

Thankfully, this is not how God deals with us.  In fact the entire ministry of Jesus was one of empathy.  The incarnation was God’s ultimate expression of empathy.  And thankfully I am reminded that just as God has been empathetic with me and my garbage, I now get to take on the mantle of Jesus Christ and be empathetic with my students.

Hebrews 4:14-16 (NIV)

Jesus the Great High Priest

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[a] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

GTY_expiration_date_tk_130910_16x9_608

I have some bad news.  Your dream of life long student ministry is simply that, a dream.  Whether you like it or not, there is an expiration date for your time serving in student ministry.  But before you freak out, or throw a temper tantrum, take a second to consider this reality.  And if this is actually reality, then this has some really important and potentially life changing implications.

If, in fact, there is an ending to your student ministry career, then what are the things you need to be doing now to prepare for this future?  Great questions.  Here are a couple of ideas:

1)  Go back to school. School is awesome and a degree  opens up so many doors.  While you are following your call to serve Jesus and students, this is a great time to finish up that B.A. or better yet, start working on a Master’s Degree.  And really, any Master’s Degree will do.  Global Leadership, MBA, or the classic M.Div.  Whatever career you do post student ministry, a degree is a must.  So use all that extra time playing video games and blogging, updating your pin board, and go to school.  Even work it into your contract and see if the church or some supporters will help you work out the money side.  The benefits far outweigh the costs, so get after it!

2)  Build bridges. It is so easy to have the “burn the ships” mentality when it comes to student ministry.  You want to be full of passion and be idealistic about life and ministry.  But life is really long, and ministry is really complex.  These two realities need to be taken into consideration when dealing with parents, your supervisor, network connections.  Wherever you go from your current context, you will need the affirmation of those adults in your life to launch you into the next thing.  If you think you are the greatest thing since swiss cheese, you will find that your circle of influence will only get smaller and smaller.  If you are generous with your time and your affection that your sphere of influence will only grow.  And when you are ready to launch into the next thing you will have plenty of connection and options to go wherever God has put on your heart to go.

3)  Build your character and spiritual depth.  Youth ministry is an amazing calling.  I love it.  I have given almost 20 years of my life to it.  It is also really easy to stagnate and to get lazy.  There is only so far a 15 year old can go spiritually.  And in no time at all you will be comfortable with your spiritual expertise and  knowledge.  But that is because you are continually grading it against 15 year olds.  You must continually work out your salvation with fear and trembling.  You must find people in your life who will push you to know Jesus better, to develop and deepen character, and to push you to invest in your spiritual gifts as well as to grow in your competencies.

When you do these three things, you will be always prepared for whatever God has for you in every season of your life.  I am so thankful that our season is to be colleagues in student ministry.  I am so glad that God hasn’t called me into the desert of Small Groups Pastor, or some nonsense like that (yet).  But the day that God calls me into what is next, I want to make sure that I am fully prepared educational, rationally, and spiritually.  And I hope that you are as well!

May God bless you in this season, and may we have a much  larger view of ministry and the Kingdom as to be faithful stewards of the gifts that God has given us so that we can serve Jesus in every season of our lives no matter the context!

This last week I had the honor to preach on the saying yes to God’s promise of an abundant and eternal life.  This is such good news.  But in order to fully embrace this abundant life, we must also pay the true cost of dying to our flesh so that we no longer suffocate the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Blessings!

wedding

I love / hate Facebook!  

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

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

This is the natural rhythm of student ministry:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harvesting in youth ministry is a rare activity.  

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

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

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

Senior and Young Women Holding Hands

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

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

Embracing presence this summer:

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

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

Must unplug:

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

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

See you in August!

 

swim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speedos will always be sinful!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I have finally entered fully into the summer season.

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

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

Your blog is . . . 

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

See you around the blog-o-sphere!

 

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

We only have so many relational pegs:

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

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

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

A helpful way to take people off the panel:

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

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

This is what I tell my graduating seniors:

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

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

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

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

 I have the perfect plan for you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Summer!

See you in Orlando!

;)

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

Do you take a break in your calendar?

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy your break.

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

And. . .

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

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

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

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

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Guess What? It’s Not About You!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their Self-Righteous and Rebellion is Right and Normal:

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One of the worst things I have ever gone through was an audit by the IRS.  Yikes!!  There is one little problem that raises a red flag, and then it is game on.  You would think the IRS would simply say, “Hey, I notice there is a discrepancy here, can you explain it?”  Then you say, “Totally, look here.”  And that is the end of the story.  Instead, the IRS notices a discrepancy and then proceeds to pull back every deep and dark corner of your finances.  Its the worst!

In a similar way, I have noticed that there is a discrepancy in my work hours.  I have a job description and I have what I actually do.  The longer I am at my job the distance between these two things has gotten further and further away.  And now, I am at the point where I am entrenched and very full.

Because I am entrenched, I can no longer go to my supervisor and say, “Hey, I am doing way too much and most of it is outside my job description, I am learning to say no, so from now on, NO!”  That is a great way to get a lot of free time as you enjoy unemployment.

The tack that I am trying is to make a true audit of my time and my tasks at work.  What tasks to do I do? What ministries am I responsible for?  Who am I meeting with?  What am I doing every 15 minutes while I am at work?  What things have creeped in that are not even in the realm of my responsibilities?

How do you do a calendar audit:

It is actually really simple.  But it requires something that is next to impossible, honesty.  If you are anything like me, you think you are pretty important and everything you do is with purpose and has high value.  But when you lay it all out, as I  have done, you will quickly see that this is not the case.

Ok, here is what you do:

  1. Start making a list of everything you do that is part of your job.   Take a look at your job description, think back to the last month and write down meetings, programs, everything that you do for “ministry.”
  2. Then, for the next two weeks write down everything you actually do!
  3. Include a calendar where every 15 minutes, (I do every hour, because I can’t face the truth of how much time I waste) and see how you are using your time.  Time for driving, meetings, Facebook, blogging, sermon prep, more Facebook, etc.

In two weeks you will have some incredible data.  You will have your idealized version of your job and what you actually do.  Now, based on the reality of how you use your time you can begin to cut waste, be more intentional with your meetings, and manage your time much better.

The truth is . . . 

One week in and I can already see how much time I waste and how many “meetings” I have because they somehow fit into a category of “ministry.”  I am responsible for too many things to simply have “meetings.”  If they fit within the world of my responsibilities then they are part of my work life.  If they friendships that happen to be with people from church, then those need to be on my time.

The truth is there are plenty of hours to accomplish all that I am responsible for, I have just put too much of my own hobbies and friendships into my work calendar.

With the decks cleared, I am fired up to work harder and smarter so that I can be the youth worker and pastor God has called me to be here at Marin Covenant Church.

For the sake of your soul and for the sake of the church, are you willing to pull the curtain back and expose what you do and how you actually do it?  

weekly schedule

weekly schedule

Hitting the wall:  In endurance sports such as cycling and runninghitting the wall or the bonk describes a condition caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, which manifests itself by sudden fatigue and loss of energy. Milder instances can be remedied by brief rest and the ingestion of food or drinks containing carbohydrates. The condition can usually be avoided by ensuring that glycogen levels are high when the exercise begins, maintaining glucose levels during exercise by eating or drinking carbohydrate-rich substances, or by reducing exercise intensity.

Le Tour de France 2011 - Stage Nineteen

This year I am training for a marathon, and I am not going to lie, it has turned out to be way harder than I thought it would be.  Endurance is a tricky thing. For the most part it is mind over matter.  But there is a point in endurance sports where it is actually matter that matters.

When your body had depleted all its carbohydrates and even the sugars that has been stored up are gone, there is a sudden loss of energy and fatigue sets in.  It is impossible, or at least impossible for me, to mentally push through.  Bonking has little to with training well and all to do with eating well and being smart about putting calories in while I run.  There is some chemistry to this, but the truth is I am learning more by trial and error.  When I prepare, maintain, and replenish, I can run forever.  When I skip just one of those steps, I am in danger of hitting the wall, of bonking, of failing short of my goal.

I think I may be spiritually bonking:

It is the end of the school year, and a long and difficult school year at that.  For all sorts of reasons, this has been an endurance slow jog of a year at the end of 8 full years of endurance ministry here at my church.  This morning as I was preparing for some things at church, I had this sinking feeling, like I do on a long run when I am about to be depleted.

The bummer is that on endurance challenges, there are no quick easy fixes.  Without proper care before, during, and after, the danger of bonking becomes more and more likely.  And as I reflect on this year, I have used my mental strength and will power to try and gut out this school year.  But I am afraid I may not make it!

Somewhere along the way in the endurance grind of this year, I stopped caring for my soul before, during, and after youth group.  I knew I was tired, but I thought the finish line was closer that it appeared.  But the truth is, I have 4 more weeks of ministry and I am crashed out on the side of the road.  There is no way to gut this out, no way to fake it until I make it.  I have bonked and without a plan, I won’t finish!

Time to pull over and get some forced rest in order to finish:

Pulling over to stop and rest in an endurance race feels like a failure.  But the bigger failure would be to not finish at all.  So, I may not be able to finish well at this point, because the goals I set out to accomplish at the start of the year are no longer possible to attain.  Even though I may not finish as strong as I want, I owe it to my students, my staff, and our church to finish, and the only way I can finish it to pull over and spend some time recovering.

Somewhere along they way, I stopped caring for my soul.  The small and steady diet of spiritual care that has allowed me to endure for so many years has broken down.  And no, a simple snack or pick me up won’t do the deal.  What needs to happen is a full on rest and recovery before I can get back in the race.  And spiritually that is what needs to happen.

This week and next week will be devoted to pulling out of the race, doing the basic work to check off the tasks that actually have to get done, and the rest of my time will be spent in prayer, study, exercise, and other activities that feed my soul.

By pulling over for even a week, will allow me to not just barely cross the finish line, but to finish strong, just not as strong as I had dreamed.

Surviving the endurance race of completing a student ministry calendar year takes intentional spiritual dieting before, during, and after our student ministry nights.  Without intentional care we are all in danger of bonking, breaking down, and finishing poorly.  May we all care for our souls so we can care for the souls entrusted to our care.  

And if you are going down, pull over and recover instead of trying to gut it out, because Bonking Sucks!