This Isn’t How it is Supposed To Be:

One of the worst feelings I’ve ever had in youth ministry is the feeling of going at it alone, feeling like I was the only one who cared for students at my church. Most of this feeling came because I really was the only adult from our church who was at youth group helping connect and pull off our program.

It doesn’t take many nights like that, or trips where you find yourself scrambling at the last possible minute to find an adult to drive for you, that you are willing to do whatever it takes to recruit volunteers. At this point in the ministry it doesn’t even matter if they like kids–just give me a warm body!

Getting Volunteers Now:

Ok, if you are in a situation like the one I described above, you simply need to just get a warm body in the room. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but you cannot be doing this alone. First for spiritual and emotional reasons, but also for legal reasons as well. If you are holding out for some adult who will attract kids, interact with them appropriately, and help nurture a healthy version of Christianity, you will die holding your breath.

A simple, if not very sexy solution is to get parents there. Have them drive, host events, help set up, clean up, facilitate small groups, whatever. They are adults, they care about the program because their kids are there, and you can grab them right now. Even if it is a different team for every youth group or trip, just get them.

The Best Long Term Plan: Continue Reading…

I think baseball is an amazing sport. On the surface, it is a simple game, hitting and fielding. But the more you dive into the game, the more you see the deep strategy, pitch selection, and the never ending statistics. Since my dream of becoming a professional baseball player didn’t pan out, I am now putting that pressure on my son. So, this last spring we signed him up for his first season of T-ball. It is quite an entertaining sight to watch a group of 5 year olds learning the game of baseball. The first season of T-ball is just that, learning the very basics. By the end of the season, this kids mostly know their positions, the direction to run around the bases, how to hit a ball off a T, and that is about it. But the foundation has been laid and a trajectory set for these kids to become legitimate baseball players and for my son to fulfill my dream of playing in the Bigs!

But, even more than my son playing professional baseball, my dream for him is to be a godly man who loves Jesus. And as he loves Jesus, to live a life that reflects that love in his personal life. As his personal life reflects his love for Jesus to live “within the culture as a missionary who is as faithful to the Father an his gospel as Jesus was in his own time and place.”

Continue Reading…

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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…

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

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

The myth of senioritis

April 14, 2014 — 2 Comments

This is it, the final few months of high school for the class of 2014.  They have been suffering from senioritis for a long time, and for many of them, long before they were even seniors. According to wikipedia, “the main symptoms of senioritis include procrastination, lack of motivation, a drop in academic performance, and ‘coasting,’ which is the act of going through classes with very little concentration or application of intent along with truancy.”

I wonder if this dreaded disease might not really be a disease at all, but a way to justify the massive drop off of engagement and participation from our seniors. Our seniors live into this description, and many of my fellow youth workers do as well.  But when I step back and actually look at my seniors, what I see is a group of students who have figured out what is important and what things aren’t.  Because seniors are practically adults, they feel empowered to make their own decisions regarding their time and effort.

They know what things bring them life and what things are purposeful.  They willingly pour hours into friendships because they realize that this is the last time they are going to be together with this group of people.  Seniors do well and study hard for their AP classes because they know that their AP tests which will give them college credits.  They practice and train hard for teams that are competitive. and at the same time they understand that more and more of their life is being filled with busy work, barely worthy of their time and attention.   The teachers and coaches who are just filling time get students who begin to show signs of senioritis.  The same might be true with our student ministries.

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As spring is fully upon us, and I reflect on our ministry and the students that have come through the doors this school year, I have realized that there are quite a large number of students who have come and gone and no longer part of our youth ministry community.  I get that sports, school, schedules, etc are the cause for a lot of this drop off.  But most of the reasons that initially caused students to drop off or fade away are no longer part of their reality.  They are now simply out of the habit.  So, the real question is, how do we get these students back in the habit of being part of our community?  Here is what I do: Continue Reading…

AYM: The Book

April 7, 2014 — Leave a comment

Average Youth MinistryIt seems that every book, blog post, and article I read is about the top 5 ways to be the best at something. But the sad reality is that if you are trying to study up on how to be the best, you can rest assured that you are not the best. What would happen to your ministry and more importantly to your soul, if you embraced the reality that you were simply average. Think of all that energy wasted on striving for something that you will never attain. Now, imagine if you died to that dream of being the best in the world and embraced the reality that you were simply the best youth worker your actual students know. In fact, the truth is, you are the only youth worker your students care about. Maybe together we can remind each other that we are called to love students and help them to love Jesus.

In this book, I have put my 40 best / most helpful / favorite blogs all together in one really slick package.  

I get that most youth workers want to have some impressive looking books to add gravitas to their book shelves.  And in some sense this is the best and worst book for that.  It is really impressive looking and tough, but at the same time says that you are striving to be average.  But all ascetics aside, this has been a really fun project for me, and I think an incredibly helpful and hope-filled book for you.  Whether you are a ministry veteran or just starting out, there is something for everyone to chew on and wrestle through.

This book is broken up into five sections:

  • Discerning your call
  • Discerning your context
  • Discerning your students
  • Discerning your issues
  • Bonus Section: Nuts and Bolts

Discernment is the key to health and longevity in ministry!

I have said it before, but it is true: Youth ministry is the best / worst, easiest / hardest job on the planet!  And it seems like the difference between these two polar extreems is where your head and heart are at.  Discernment is the process of walking along this tight rope.  We need input from those around us, from those who have gone before us, from the Word of God, and from the Holy Spirit.  We need to listen and be reflective.

Ministry is not about gaining knowledge or collecting information, it is about spiritual and professional formation.  And this book takes the 17+ years that I have been working out my calling and walk with Jesus and that application into student ministry.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, there won’t be very much new, other than all these posts put in a format that is easy to read and a quick reference for you as you crank out ministry.  You will also appreciate that the book form of my posts have actually been edited for grammar and spelling :)  

I wanted to thank the AYM community for your support and encouragement over the past few years as I have worked out many of these issues.  Your input, pushback, and different perspectives have deepened my own walk with Jesus and my call to student ministry.  I look forward to continuing my call as a vocational student ministry pastor and working out my recent call as a writer.

May God continue to bless you in your ministry and care for students and may we together help us keep our eyes on Jesus who is the author and perfecter of faith, of ours’ and of our students’.  

Blessings!

PS: If you are interested in buying this book and upgrading your library, then click on the amazon link and have it by the end of the week!  It will give you street cred and helps pay for my kid’s braces!  :)

 

It seems like just yesterday that I was sitting in a hotel room at a Youth Specialties conference with my colleagues in ministry.  There were at least four of us staying in the Motel 6 down the road just to save money.  We didn’t mind sharing the room because we could not believe that we had gotten jobs as youth workers.  We were being paid to love on students and help them love Jesus.  All four of us had recently graduated from college, were friends from camp, and relishing the opportunity to take our place as the next generation of youth workers.

The urban legend that shaped our views of success was the one about longevity.

We had all heard the statistic about the average tenure of a youth worker was 18 months, and most of had experienced that number to be a reality in our lives.  But this statistic would not define us.  We were in youth ministry for the long haul, not just 18 months, not even 3-5 years, were were going to be youth workers FOR LIFE!!

17 years later, I am the last of my four friends who is still doing vocational youth ministry.  And of the dozens of peers who are of similar age that I have had the pleasure of calling colleagues in youth ministry, I alone remain.

It seems like every young youth worker I talk with has a similar perspective to the one I had years ago.  And the truth is, that like my circle of friends, only a small percentage of them will continue on in student ministry into their 30’s, less into their 40’s, and none into their 50’s.

While this is the truth, this is not a sad truth.  I have no special honor for being the last of my friends who is still in youth ministry.  It is simply the way it is.  While it is ok for young men and women to speak boldly about things they do not quite understand, it is the implications of this false view that ends up limiting them in the long run.

Speaking boldly is part of the fun of ministry.  We love pontificating with our peeps, and really, anyone who will listen, about whatever the subject is.  We speak with great passion and conviction.  This should not be squashed, for passion and conviction are some of the important stones in a ministry foundation.  But sometimes this passion and conviction replaces wisdom and discernment and often proves to be a liability in the long run.

If youth ministry for life is your mantra, then my fear is that being open to all that God might have for your future gets put in jeopardy.  Calling is always seasonal.  Our lives unfold before us like a well written Choose Your Own Adventure book.  And because of this, the specifics of what sort of ministry we are called to do will always be in flux.

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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!

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As I have watched Frozen over and over and over, I have found myself approaching this movie from all sorts of different fronts.  But this last time I watched it I saw something I never saw before, Anna is the ultimate youth worker.

Anna is young and idealistic and pursues her sister (our students) with all of who she is.  She longs to be connected and share life and even though she is shut out from the bulk of her sister’s life, she has nothing but hope and good will for her sister.

Elsa is the classic student.  For whatever amount of personal pain and shut down they have experienced, their world is pretty egocentric.  She is special, in fact, the most special kid on the planet. And this uniqueness means that she is misunderstood and angst ridden.  She runs away to protect others, and really herself.

Even though Anna has been shut out and shut down, she always runs after her sister, always hopes for a restored relationship, and selflessly gives up her life for the sake of her sister.  And this selfless love, in the end actually restores relationship.

My hope is that my heart would be more and more like Anna’s.  

  • That I will always leave the safety and comfort of the castle, of the 99 and run after the one.
  • That I will not get bitter or disillusioned when my pursuit is not reciprocated.
  • That, in the end, I would actually gladly lay down my life, pour out my life over and over again so that by some possible means relationship would be restored; relationship with me, and mostly relationship with their Heavenly Father.

I love that there is so much to think about and process in this movie.  For me, this time around, I am thankful that God used it to touch my heart, to soften it, and remind me again of what I am truly called to do and be as a youth worker!

“Do you want to build a snowman?”

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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.  

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

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

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

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

Song of Songs 7:1-9

God KillsOver the past few weeks I have been reading an incredible book on spiritual formation.

It seems like most of the books I have read lately about spiritual formation, Christian living, or about ministry have all had a pretty strong sense of self help sort of vibe to them.  As you can tell by the title of this book, God Kills is not that sort of book.

God Kills, written by Art Greco, has very little to do with life.  For in this book, it is Satan who works hard to give life, but it is Jesus who is in the business of killing.  Killing our flesh and the the things that we so badly long for and have wrongly assumed bring us life.  When, in fact, it is only by Jesus killing, destroying, and eliminating those hidden parts of our soul that pollute our hearts.

Greco goes through seven spiritual disciplines that have seem to gone missing in our current spirituality of personal fulfillment.  With full transparency, we are walked through the spiritual development of a pastor and theologian, and mostly as a fellow sojourner towards the cross of Christ.

As you read this book, I am sure you will notice the deep waters of theology and spiritual growth in which Art swims.

It would be easy to sit in an ivory tower and give some deep pontifications surrounding these disciplines, but instead, you get a peek into an incredibly reflective and brilliant man as he works these disciplines into his own life.

Throughout this book, Art explores the disciplines of:

  1. Humility: God has a bigger plan than the plan he has for you.
  2. Teachability:  Maybe you’re right
  3. Celibacy: It’s not just about sex anymore
  4. Courage: Be afraid be very, very afraid.
  5. Faith: Pain, poverty and other really good things God doesn’t seem to mind you experiencing.
  6. Yieldedness: Live free and Die!
  7. Loyalty:  Look both ways before walking.

If you are looking for a devotional book, or a book that is going to kick you in the butt and spur you on to wrestle through some difficult topics as you grow towards Christ, then this is your book!

If you are noticing a larger chasm between the pop spirituality that is supposed to fulfill your soul and the deeper waters of death and service that are molded by our savior and want to explore this sort of death, then this is the book for you!

If you long to read a book by someone who not only has some good theology and wisdom, but who is currently walking down this road as well, then this book is for you!

I am thankful for a contemporary book that is authentic, humble, and deep that addresses the issues the church at large and that I personally am encountering.  I pray that God will not allow me to embrace the spirituality of self fulfillment, but rather the spirituality that daily lays bear my flesh and hammers it to the cross so that only what is made alive through the spirit will grow and thrive!

I could not recommend this book more and hope that you enjoy exploring some underused muscles in our spiritual development!

Blessings

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My good friend and brilliant youth worker, Carlos Devitis, from Peninsula Covenant Church established one of the best ministry ideas I have heard in a long time.  In fact, it is so great, I am actually stealing an idea from him for once and implementing it in my own ministry.

Once a month, or at least 4-6 times a year, we are going to invite our parents to join us on our Wednesday night youth group extravaganza.  Now, I am not totally sure what Carlos does, but the way we are working it out in our context is like this:

  • Youth Group happens just like normal for our middle and high school students
  • While the students are getting after it, parents will meet downstairs.
  • The parents will have dessert and coffee, a small mixer and then a discussion led by me.
  • This month our topic is “loving your unique kid”  It’s not sexy, but should get the job done.

The whole point of the evening is for parents to not feel so isolate and alone.  To bring refreshment and encouragement to our weary parents.  And hopefully, some of them may connect with each other and build friendship and community.  As parents connect and are encouraged their entire family system does better.

To be honest, parent ministry is not what I am most passionate about.  I love students and student ministry with al my heart.  But good student ministry can only happen when we as youth workers engage the entire family.  Big Wednesday’s are how Carlos does it, it is now how I do it.  How will you do it?

I would love to know the creative and effective ways in which you are engaging parents and partnering with them for the sake of the students we work with.

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

What is Lent?

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

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

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

Lent is the worst season in the Church.

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“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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I love at attractional ministry as much as the next guy.  I love the hype, the big games, the thrill of the crowd, the dynamics of a full room.  In fact, most of how I judge my effectiveness in student ministry is by how full I can get the room.

But one of the pit falls of this approach is that us youth workers end up ministering to the “crowd” and not to the individual students.  As a crowd, students generally play ball.  They engage games, seem to engage in worship, listen quietly and give us adults the answers we want to hear in small groups.

This is all well and good and strokes our ego.  But my fear is that as we engage the crowd, we loose sight of the individual students, their stories, their issues, and their world view.

The more time I spend with students, I am convinced that students are more than rebellious teens, or broken in need of healing, but they are straight up lost.  They have no idea what end is up or who or why they ended up where they are or do what the do.

Even though they may play ball in our system, the truth is that their world view is so far removed from ours.  And if this is the case, the we must as the question, “What are we really doing as a student ministry?”

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