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How he loves!

For as long as I can remember, everyone in ministry has been trying to communicate to this broken world that there is a God and that this God loves them very much.  So much, that He gave His only son to pay for our sins so that we can be in restored relationship.  And in this restored relationship, we can now be fully embraced by God and live in the spotlight of his love and affection.  We sing our anthem, “How He Loves,” and our congregations and students swoon and weep as they celebrate over and over how much God loves them.

And the warriors of transforming God’s image from a one of judgement and wrath to love!  In fact they have won so much that nobody in the western world would even consider that there is a God who has anger or wrath.  Ok, maybe some old skool boomers, and for sure some old skool boom catholics.  But any and everyone else has a one dimensional view of God and that is that God is Love!

Instead of our culture reciprocating God’s love and returning His affection, we have become spoiled brats.  

I recently was part of an intervention between some parents and their out of control daughter.  She had been failing out of school, experimenting with drugs, and become toxic to her entire family system.  In an evening blow up, I was called in as reinforcements.  What sparked this outburst you ask?  The parents decided that the first step of regaining order back into their home, was to take the phone away.  NOOOOOOOO NOT THE PHONE!!

Students’ phones are the only thing in their life that seems to matter to them.  And loving parents who ooze love and grace to their kids and provide everything they could ever need or want, doesn’t seem to reciprocate respect, love, or kindness.  Instead, when the parents step in, for their kid’s own good, they through a huge temper tantrum.

Most of us our as spoiled and as entitled as the students we work with. 

This sounds like a lot of Christians I know.  We love that God loves us, and that means that he is to never stop pouring grace and blessing on us.  But when that gravy train ceases either by God’s providence, or our dumb choices, we freak out and throw in the towel.

Love being received by students doesn’t cause them to change their life.  And this is true in my own life as well.  But what does cause life change is when we love somebody, we actually want to be more like them.

Think about your students for a second.  Whoever is the alpha in a group at school or in youth group, the rest of the group tries to become more like that person in order to win their affection.  Or, in a more noble way, think of how you love the person you are dating or married to.  Because of your love FOR them, you long to to find out what pleases them and blesses them and work towards that end.  You don’t sit around receiving love FROM them and then return the favor.

A fundamental change in focus:

If we really want our students to experience life change, then I think we need to change the focus of our ministries.  Everyone gets that God loves us, but nobody gets that we are to love God in return.  Maybe that needs to be the focal point of our ministries these days.  What matters is not that you believe that God loves you or not, what matters is whether or not you love God.

Life change happens when we love!  Now when we are loved.

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There is definitely a wide verity of opinion regarding Vacation Bible School and its importance, effectiveness, and mission.

I have some friends who put on the most excellent program of all time.  It is a well oiled machine with incredible sets, dramas, teachers and group leaders.  It is done in the exact way the developers of the curriculum dreamed up.  I have some friends who are convicted by the Holy Spirit that VBS is the biggest waste of time and resources.  So, for my friends on both ends of the spectrum, feel free to stop reading, and / or check out my good friend, Ryan Reed’s blog :)

For me, VBS is the best thing on my student ministry calendar because:

1) I get daily contact with a large group of my student ministry.  Besides summer and winter camp it is really hard to get this many hours with a large group of students.  It is easy to forget that the number one way to build community and friendship is by logging in hours and having shared experience.  VBS does both. Plus it costs zero dollars so every student from every demographic gets to participate without it costing my budget a dime.

2)  It is not about them.  It seems like everything in their world is about them.  And unfortunately everything I do in my student ministry program is designed around them and their needs.  But for one week, they just get to serve. Not for community service hours, not for glory, not for anything other then to put someone else’s needs and program above themselves.  They have to give up sleep and spend 3 hours getting to know and caring for kids younger than them.

3)  It is actually for them.  As culture continues its massive slide into post-Christendom, VBS is a great primer on some of the most simple truth and well known Bible stories found in scripture.  It is easy to think that our students know all these things, but if you actually talk to them, or even tested them, you would realize that they don’t know any of these things.  And if they do, they have never internalized them.  VBS is a chance for them to rediscover some of these truths and think about them in a fresh way.

4) VBS models the life long chain of discipleship.  For whatever reason, there seems to be this vibe in student ministry that spiritual life begins and end with middle and high school students.  But the truth is that when our students have older college students to look up to and who will pour into them, they are so much more likely to model them and their faith, then us old guys who are paid to model it.  The same is true for the kids in children’s ministry.  Instead of only mom’s talking about Jesus, our kids get to see middle and high school students talk about their faith, and in doing so makes faith a real option for them.  We should always be talking about the people we are pouring our lives into and those who are pouring their lives into us.  This never ends, and VBS helps model it.

Thank you to my Children’s Ministry team for a job well done, and for being willing to sacrifice a little bit of excellence for some much needed opportunity and ministry to my middle and high school students!

 

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As my ministry grows and shrinks and and I grow and shrink, I have found myself wrestling with this challenging question.  “Do I pour my life into leaders, or into the least of these?”  

I totally get the strategy and potential multiplication that happens when you take the cream of the crop and invest into them.  The potential pay off is huge.  They become spiritual leaders among their friends, at their schools, in their companies, and even follow a call into ministry.  Many of us youth pastors were “leader” kids that were given some extra love and attention by our youth pastor and helped shape a larger view of ourselves and ministry and that is why we are doing what we are doing.

Leader kids are the best.

They are all in.  They are normal.  They have social kids and it feels good when they like us.  And while I am a product of some extra love and have seen the fruit of that in some of my leader kids, I wonder if the strategy of ministry to leaders trains our hearts, our leaders, and our ministries to miss the very heart of the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Continue Reading…

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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.

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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.

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!

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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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My friends over at youthministry360 have put together a cool little resource. It’s a framework to help you think about and evaluate your ministry’s effectiveness at leading teenagers to be more authentic Christ-followers. It’s called “The Six (Biblical) Discipleship Traits,” and it’s a really tool to help you in your discipleship efforts.

Here’s what they had to say about it:
“We poured through the Bible searching for how Scripture describes disciples. What resulted are six specific traits that all disciples have. By thinking about these traits as a goal of sorts, you can begin to think about what it takes to see these attitudes emerge in the lives of your students.

We’re thrilled to share these with you today in a free 22 page PDF that explains each one of the six discipleship traits, shows how Scripture supports them, and challenges you to consider how effective your youth ministry is at seeing the traits realized in the lives of your students.”

If you’re interested, you can download the PDF over on youthministry360’s site by going here:

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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…

Continue Reading…

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It should have been a bust!

For months, I have had a buys backpacking trip on the calendar. This one event has become my favorite event of the year. We take guys away for a weekend and have an adventure in creation where they get to unplug and be guys!

But this trip almost didn’t happen. For a number of reasons my numbers went from 20, to 15, to 10, and all the way down to 5 on the day of the event. My soul was crushed. Once again I got to feel the angst of planning a party that no one wants to come to.

But instead of throwing in the towel, I decided to forge ahead, but with a new plan, and a new purpose.

The more the merrier

With a wounded heart, I decided to make this at least make this trip a win for me. So I strong armed all my guy youth staff I could, then reached out to college kids who were back for the summer, and filled up our spots.

With a few phone calls, this trip went from a “high school guys’ camping trip” to “Ben’s favorite peeps over 4 generations of student ministry” trip. And while this trip wasn’t exactly what I dreamed up at the beginning of the year, it was a trip that actually filled my soul and accomplished way more then I could have ever expected.

Guys need Men to look up to:

On this trip I had my 5 high school kids, then 3 college guys, then 2 post college guys, and 3 adult men at different stages of life.  Goofing around was great.  Day hiking peaks was great. Eating gross freeze dried food.  And dealing with the gas that followed.  But the biggest highlight was sitting around in a circle on our last morning together.

Every guy shared a verse in scripture that is meaningful to them right now, and the responses were amazing.  Not amazing because so many guys are sold out for Jesus, but amazing because every guy shared in a way that was deep and authentic.  The sharing ranged from fully doubting faith, to feeling like God is calling them into ministry.

As everyone shared, I noticed an amazing thing taking place.  The high school guys were watching the college guys, who were watching the adult guys.  And by having guys to look up to, their current drama and angst was now placed in context.

After sharing, there was some organic conversation that arose between our high school kids and the adults as we hiked down the hill.  Instead of shame or guilt for their struggles, they were affirmed for their authenticity.  Instead of faking some idealized version of manhood, these guys got to see that doubt is a natural part of faith formation.

For the guys on this trip, and for the guys in my ministry, I am convinced more than ever, that the way through is by simply living life on life.  Guys need men older to look up to and guys younger to pour into.  When this happens, the smokescreens, apathy, and doubt can be part of the faith process and not simply roadblocks.

I am thankful for the older guys in my life.

As I reflect on this last weekend, I am so thankful for the older guys in my life that walked with me through all sorts of crazy seasons of life.  I am thankful that they modeled love for Jesus and a love for me.  My prayer for the guys on this trip is that they too would come to love Jesus and love one another.

I am thankful that our ministry has a number of guys around who are pursuing Jesus and willing to share their lives with these high schoolers.  For it is life on life where transformation happens.  And as we share life we get to wrestle through doubt, bust up smokescreens, and invite these younger guys into the wild adventure that is becoming a godly man.

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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Leaders Eat Last

May 14, 2014 — 1 Comment

I am currently reading Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek.  It is an awesome book and rocking my world a bit.  As I am in the middle of it and still digesting the concepts and ideas  My friend Jeremy Zach shared a video of him speaking on this topic and I think it could fundamentally change how you approach leading.  Whether you are a book learner or a visual learner, this guy has will rock your world and your worldview as you lead.  And there is a huge challenge / rebuke for leaders who enjoy the rights and privileges but not the responsibility when danger approaches.  (I hope that isn’t you) Enjoy!

Simon Sinek: Why Leaders Eat Last from 99U on Vimeo.

Graduation

What do you want your graduating seniors to leave with from their time in your student ministry?

I used to have big dreams for my students when they graduated and moved on from my student ministry.  I wanted my students to be grounded in their faith, solid in their theology, disciplined in their life and life style, pure in their convictions, and ready to jump into college with a heart for ministry.  Their college pastors would be so impressed and would be able to launch my students into vital ministries to reach their college for Jesus.  Oh, those were some good dreams.

As I got older and a little more jaded, I lowered my expectations.  I wanted students who could articulate the gospel and who were ready to jump into college clear in their theology and disciplined with their convictions.  Maybe campus ministry wasn’t for everyone.  I was willing to let that go.  Oh, so jaded.  Hahaha

My dreams for my students are much more simple these days

I am still wrestling with this is a dream from God or a pragmatic approach lowering my goals to something I can actually achieve.  Either way, I have landed on a goal for my seniors that helps me work backwards and informs my student ministry, and keeps me full of hope and grace.  It is simply this:

I want my graduating seniors to have a positive experience from their time at church and exposing them to a faith that is worthy of consideration into adulthood.  

Everything I do for student ministry is to help students feel loved and valued by our church community.  Church is a place where students are seen and cared for, where they are given every benefit of the doubt, and they are loved and welcome no matter what.  This goes for them, their friends, and their family.  No matter their background, their lifestyle, their socio-economic class, their sexuality.  No matter what, they receive unending love and grace by me, my leaders, and the pastors at large.

The faith we lay out is a faith that is complex, deep, and transforming.  There is little room for flannelgraphs, bumper stickers, or slick graphics.  Faith in Jesus is some of the deepest waters you can swim in.  These deep waters are hard to understand and grapple with as a 14 year old, and a little less so as an 18 year old.  But our students need to not be fed simple spirituality that crumbles at the slightest push back from a professor, moral failure, or personal crisis.  These non easy answers are difficult on the short term, but will save their soul into adult hood.

I love Jesus and I want my students to love Him as well.  

The best way for this to happen is for our students to maintain a positive view of the church and have enough great touch points with Jesus that they would consider putting their trust in Him when they are adults.

As you get ready to launch your graduating seniors into the big, bad world, what is the legacy you want to pass on?  What is the main thing you want them to hold on to as they leave?  My hope for my seniors is a love for the church and a faith that is worth considering into adulthood.  You?

pic_internal_audit_big

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!

Thank you for joining me for this workshop on Evangelism and Discipleship in a post-Christian Context here at the Thrive Conference.  Here are the notes.  You can download either a PDF or word.doc for your notes.  If you have any feedback or would like to add to the discussion, please contact me anytime.   Thank you for being part of the refining process as I work through a manuscript wrestling with these topics.  Blessings!

Pen to the Palace Notes

Pen to the Palace Notes (PDF)

Pen to the Palace Notes (Word.doc)

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…