Archives For Discerning your issues

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!

 

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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.

Thumbs-Up-Thumbs-Down

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.

Continue Reading…

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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!

waltdisneyworld

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!

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I’m not going to lie, I often think I am a pretty good youth worker.  I have been doing this a long time and am technically proficient.  I can deliver a good talk, I can program a good night, and I can work a room and impact its temperature.

And for as good as I think I am, I still find myself longing and searching for the magic bullet.

There has to be some new trend, idea, games, illustration, insight that will help turn students’ hearts towards Jesus.  And sometimes my quest for the newest thing actually hinders me from using the best thing.  I know this is the case because recently I Facebook stalked some “friends” of mine of Facebook and listened to their talks, looked at their pictures, read comments on their pages and I was horrified that their feeble attempts at youth ministry were actually yielding some incredible spiritual fruit!

Once again, Jesus has brought me to the wood shed to remind me that clever programs, slick graphics, a polished talk, and even well trained volunteers all pale in comparison to simply introducing our students to the risen Lord, Jesus Christ.

No matter how we do it, no matter how prepared or under-prepared, no matter who holy or dirty our own souls are, Jesus is at work and is more powerful than any of us can truly understand.  For whatever reasons, Jesus chooses to use all sorts of feeble efforts and often thwarts the highest efforts to prove that it is the Holy Spirit that does the growing.

We simply plant and water, plant and water.  But it is the Holy Spirit that causes faith to Grow!

Jesus, would you please send your Holy Spirit and grab a hold of my students so that they may know and love you and serve you in your ever expanding Kingdom on Earth as it will be in Heaven!

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I am finding it harder and harder communicate my deep love for Jesus among people in the real world.

I think that this is because most people in the real world have absolutely zero touch points with the actual person of Jesus Christ.  At best they have a vague understanding of Christianity, but this is really a nod a moralist, therapeutic, deity.  And at worst they lump me in with the 12 crazies who are from Wesboro church who long to picket how much “God hates fags!”

But both of these extremes still miss the actual person of Jesus.  And even if i could find a way to cut through the cultural clutter that negatively impacts their first or second impressions of Jesus, when they actually get to know Him, they are going to be even more offended.  For as much as we long to preset Jesus as this giant oozer of never ending, cuddly love and grace, there is an awful part that is offensive to all. Continue Reading…

Whether you like country music or not, this song is an incredible seminar for parenting teenagers.  A couple of things before you enjoy these 3:09 of parenting gold!

1) Developing a sense of Identity and  instill Value over Behavior Management.

2) Remembering where you as a parent have come from might allow you a little more grace for your teen.

3) Take the blame and claim them every time!

I yelled he’s mine that one
Got a wild-hair side and then some
It’s no surprise what he’s done
He’s ever last last bit of my old man’s son
And I’ll take the blame
And claim him every time
Yeah man, he’s mine and he’ll always be
The best thing that ever happened to me
You can’t turn it off like electricity
I love him unconditionally
I’ll take the blame
And claim him every time
Yeah, y’all, he’s mine
I thank God, he’s mine

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This has been such an awful week for those of us who are associated with the “Evangelical” church.  The week started with World Vision changing their hiring practices to include married homosexual relationships.  Then a day and a half later reversed it.  And to round out the week, the movie Noah is hitting theaters.

Both of these stories have erected giant straw men called “Evangelicals” only to then proceed to light them up and burn it to the ground!

Continue Reading…

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It is that time of year.  The most dreaded time of year, Spring!  While the weather is great, and baseball season is upon us, the lives of our students are beginning to disengage from the programmatic rhythms of youth group.  They call it senioritis, but I am still confused how a sophomore has senioritis.  The truth  is that our low stamina students are checking out of this school year.  With all of the ways that students were dialed in to their many activities early in the school year, now only one or two hold their interest.  In the case of my students that includes a spring sport and a love interest.

The truth is that there are actually ton of reasons that students begin to disengage during spring semester; some good, some dumb, but no matter why, the what is real and how we cope with it matters.  

Continue Reading…

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“Everything is permissible for me”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12

Who needs lent?

In just a few days millions of Christians around the world will be celebrating Ash Wednesday.  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent.  For many Evangelicals this word and this season have zero meaning.  In an theological system that centers on grace and a cultural context that thrives on individual freedom, it makes sense that the drab and dreary season of lent would get little air time.  But it is exactly for those very reasons that we should reexamine the Lenten discipline as we journey towards the cross and ultimately toward Easter.

I have recently rediscovered the many places throughout scripture that call those of us who follow Christ to give up our freedoms, make our bodies slaves, and give up our rights for the benefit of others.  The more I wrestle with these topics with my friends, the more I realize that in our grace based, individualized context, any talk of limiting either seems to be blasphemous.

Can slavery actually bring me freedom?

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Peter Pan is one of my favorite characters.  The desire to never grow old, fight pirates, and fly probably influenced my decision to become a youth pastor more than I care to admit.  Peter Pan has a dark side, however, that we must come to terms with in youth ministry. Think about how our attitudes as youth pastors often betray a Peter Pan mentality.  We think we will get to be young forever by working with teens.  We will be a magical leader who will give lost boys, (and girls) love and purpose.  That purpose is to have fun and fight the pirates of worldliness, boredom, and bad cable tv.  Parents are at best unnecessary and at worst, a roadblock to having fun, I mean to true ministry.  As for the love triangle with Wendy and Tink, I’ll have to save that for another post.  If we don’t come face to face with our dark side, we will become increasingly immature, negligent, arrogant, and dangerous.  All kids are meant to grow up and that includes us.  Youth need parents to be involved in their lives.  Youth pastors and other adults can have great influence in the lives of teens, but not as smug, impressive, show-offs.  We need to leave behind Peter Pan and find a better model to emulate.

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A huge gift for parents

February 10, 2014 — 2 Comments

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It is really interesting how youth workers seem to have a love / hate, ok, maybe a hate / hate relationship with parents.

This last week I was at a national gathering with youth workers and in a break out session with 35 colleagues, I asked them to share their biggest frustration in ministry.  No, joke, in unison, the all said parents!It was interesting as it was sad.  For whatever reason, the tenor of student ministry professionals is that we are God’s agent for the spiritual development of students.  We are awesome.  We are experts at adolescent development and faith formation.  (At least, that is what we tell ourselves.)  We spend our entire existence dreaming up programs and meeting with students so that they will come to love Jesus.  But then our hearts get crushed as our students don’t show up to the parties we throw because we are getting such little support from parents.

I mean, COME ON!  Is soccer really more important!!

Then there are the family first peeps who think that professional student ministry is an anathema!

According to part of the bible, the nuclear family has the sole responsibility for the faith formation of their children.  All of the weight that we think we carry as youth workers, is carried exponentially by the family first crowd because their very own child’s walk with Jesus is dependent on their attempt at being whole, balanced, theologically sound, and the perfect representation of the their heavenly father.  All kidding aside, setting yourself up as the person who is ultimately responsible for your child’s faith development is an incredible burden to carry.

What if there was a third way? Continue Reading…