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Ever since my first day in student ministry, my number one goal has been to cancel Sunday School.  I mean, come on, everyone knows that Sunday school is the dumbest ministry model on the planet.  It is awful on just about every level.  9:00 on a Sunday morning is the absolute worst time in the entire world for any sort of ministry, especially to adolescents.  We try and try and try to make this hour of spiritual formation relevant and matter to a group of kids who could actually care less.  But it seems as much as we try to put a nail in the coffin of this antiquated mode of ministry, I could never muster the political capitol to pull it off.  That is, until the perfect storm of events allowed me to do just that.

This last spring we had to move our entire church off our main campus to a hotel ball room while we underwent some construction and renovations.  We went from two services with spiritual formation and student Sunday school during the first gathering, to a situation where we were only going to have one service.  The best part is that I didn’t even have a choice.  There were logistically not enough rooms to do church, children’s ministry and Sunday School for students.

When I was approached with this dilemma, I hung my head in grief and said that I would, reluctantly, take one for the team and cancel Sunday School.  On the inside, I was freaking out!  It just happened.  My dream for almost 20 years became a reality and it actually gained me political points instead of costing every point I have ever earned.

And I have to tell you, those first few months of not having Sunday School was a dream come true.  There was no more Sunday morning anxiety or dread for having to face a room full of apathetic and judgmental kids.  No more dealing with the zero feedback on the incredible curriculum I have put together for the morning.  Yes, my only responsibility was to simply glad-hand students and their parents as they walked past to their seats, and again as they left.  I WAS FREE!!

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR:

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I love the new year!  Out with the old and in with the new.  As I chuck the past and lean into the future, there is one area that I have been increasingly sloppy in and therefore becoming less and less effective.  This area is my calendar.  This is the document that helps me maximize my time, keeps my social media time to a minimum and keeps me focused on my vision, values, and tasks for ministry.

Too often the tyranny of the urgent overwhelms our calendar and then we end up never getting the the important things we long to do in ministry, or even worse, we end up doing most of our ministry half assed.  For me, I have let misc. appointments crowd out the appointments I must make and keep to keep my ministry moving forward.  I have found myself wasting many hours wandering our office and campus visiting people, and just wandering.

I have found when I limit my office hours, then I crank out what I need to crank out, and then am free to meet with who I need to meet with.  As I have erased my calendar, started from scratch, I have come up with a plan that will help me get after all that God has put on my heart to do in 2014!

In general, here is the breakdown:

  • 10 hours program: This includes, church, youth group, sunday school, set up and tear down for those programs.
  • 20 hours office: These are the hours where I am in the office, at my desk, planning, writing, emailing, phone calling, meeting with staff, support staff, etc.  It is when my car is parked in my spot at the church.
  • 10 hours contact: These are the hours I meet with students and leaders individually, and in groups.  Some for intentional formation, and some for fun.
  • 5 hours misc: There seem to always be emails, evening appointments and basketball games to get to.  So instead of being surprised or busy or fighting with the wife for working too hard, I have limited some of my other hours to plan for the unplanned parts of ministry.  
  • 5 hours spiritual formation: These hours are both personal and professional, but must be in your calendar.  Your personal bible reading, study, prayer, solitude, whatever it is that recharges your walk with Jesus. 

A hard thing to remember when mapping out your calendar and hours is that your work hours are your work hours.  We should honor our church and those people whose tithes are paying for our salaries and work hard for the hours we are assigned.  This means that when we run, surf, hike, pray, get our teeth cleaned, go to the doctor’s office or the store, these are our personal hours.  Everyone else in the world does these tasks after work and on weekends.  Many of us professional youth workers have gotten in the bad habit of combing work and personal hours and then play, “Oh, poor me, I work 60 hours a week.”  I am pretty sure you don’t.  :)

This new year, let us have balance and intention in our hours and in our lives so we can fully get after all that God has put on our hearts for life and ministry.

Below is  a calendar that I use to help keep all this straitened out and holds me and my staff accountable for our time and tasks.  I would love to know what you do!  Blessings!

weekly schedule

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As we gear up for a new year and new semester of ministry, it is easy to get caught up in urgent tasks and miss the mark on what we are actually called to do as youth workers.  Now, don’t get me wrong, tasks like the details that go into a successful and engaging youth group, planning events, buying supplies and setting up fun games, the study and preparation for your talks, receipts, and contact work, are all important, but these tasks are only the action steps that must be informed by the four key tasks of student ministry.  If you do these four tasks well then you will be a rock star for the kingdom of God and for your church!

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I don’t know if it is like this for you, but for me, winter camp is often a programatic event that is surrounded by anxiety and angst.  Anxiety around driving in the bad weather, losing over $1000 dollars because I scholarship too many kids, and all the potential drama and chaos that happens when tons of kids get together with minimal supervision :)

The angst often occurs because of my own issues and pride.  It is difficult to enjoy camp because I have so many ways that the camp can improve their program.  I can’t believe the camp didn’t choose me to be the speaker and instead they hired some chump who is only half the speaker I am.  I love to sit in judgement of the program and of my kids.  I usually cloak my pride in some intentional, smart sounding spiritual nonsense, but it is pride just the same!

Well that was before my 2014 New Year’s resolution:

For 2014 I am going to be unguarded.  Over the years I have developed a calloused heart as the grind of student ministry has taken its toll.  Too many years of apathy, fickleness, business, and broken promises and relationships.  In order to protect my heart I have withdrawn emotionally and spiritually.  But no more!

Camp has proven to be the best place to try it out!

We just got back from camp and it really was the best!  It was truly a life changing event, and most of that is because I simply took off my angsty armor, and decided to stand unguarded with Jesus and with my students.  I decided to not allow cynicism or pride get anywhere near me.  And the result was actually getting to encounter the Holy Spirit, and to walk through some incredible spiritual conversations with my students.

I know for many of you, this is how you approach every camp.  But no matter if you are naturally an optimistic person full of hope for all that God has for your students, or have an extra dose of pride that blinds your heart, may we all gear up and embrace winter camp!  Thankfully God is bigger than where we happen to find ourselves spiritually and is faithful to use even the feeblest of efforts to draw our kids closer to Jesus.  But when our heart is tuned, we get to be part of the process and have our hearts encouraged as well.

Because of my camp high, I am ready to dive into 2014:

With winter camp behind me, and taking full advantage of the mountaintop experience, I am expectant and hopeful for Jesus to do a fresh work in our students, in our ministry, and in me.

Are you ready for this new year?  How do you combat cynicism?  How do you stay unguarded after years of ministry?  How are you leaning into the fresh start that God has for all of us in 2014?

Happy New Year and may God truly bless you and your ministry in this upcoming year.

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As I look back over my Amazon purchase, Kindle Books, And Web History over this year, it turns out I have had a really diverse reading list.  I have spent this year wrestling with theology, practical ministry, politics, and an overall appreciation for culture.  Of all the hours I have logged in gaining more input, here are the top 10 highlights that have actually made its way from data points to actually shaping the way I think.  Even though I don’t agree with all of these people and in some cases agree with very little, what they have had to say and how they have said it have caused me to think deeply in response to it.  So here is my list, in no particular order.

Andy Stanley: Deep and Wide

Tom Wright: After You Believe

Cornel West: Race Matters

David Mcullough: 1776

Rachael Held Evans: rachelheldevans.com

Mark Driscoll: A Call To Resurgence.

Real Clear Politics: A blog that captures the entire spectrum of political discourse.

Malcolm Gladwell: David and Goliath 

Torn: Justin Lee

Brock Morgan: Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World

What did you read?  What shaped your worldview? What shaped your heart?  What shaped your ministry?  I would love to know so I can populate my 2014 reading list.

Happy New Year Homies!

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I trust that you had a great 2013 and enjoying the long and gentle onramp towards Christmas.  As I reflect on our last year and all the highlights that communicate how our family is the best and brightest, a recent event in our family’s life pretty much sums up our year.

Remember that horrific cold snap a week or so ago?  In our neck of the woods the temps dropped down to the high 40’s.  CRAZY!!  Well, being that our entire family is only outfitted with hoodies, we were all cranky and cold.  And to make matters worse, it was beginning to rain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Christmas and divorce

December 9, 2013 — 1 Comment

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This last week I had a meeting with one of my favorite moms.  Her love for her daughter, for me, and for Jesus is palpable.  And for a verity of reasons, due to long histories, and for things that I really have no idea about, this mom is in the middle of a divorce.  While the ethics of divorce are complex and worthy of lengthy discussions full of truth and grace, this blog post is not about the ethics of divorce.

As the youth worker, no one is coming to me for marital advice, or trying to navigate a difficult situation, asking for prayers, or discernment for whether or not it is time to pull the plug on a marriage.  No, I am the youth worker, my job, my calling, is to be the child’s advocate, care for them, make space for them, and help them navigate this new landscape.  I actually believe it is not the job of the youth worker to even take sides and spiritualize the landscape.  Our students are only our students for a few more years, but they will always be the daughters and sons of their parents, whether or not they are divorced.  To use our position of power and influence and pick sides will be disastrous for the long term health and reconciliation between all parties, and for all parties and the church.

With that being said, this conversation did help me realize that because all parents don’t expect to be divorced, don’t expect to have divided holidays, and now don’t know how to navigate the holidays, specifically Christmas in-light of their new divorced situation.  Here are a couple of helpful tips to navigate this new family rhythm:

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

The Distracted:  Luke 2:1-3

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

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

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

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

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Beer with Jesus

December 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

As I think about my devotional life and about how I approach Jesus, I have found surprising comfort and encouragement from this country song.  Wether or not you are a country fan, or think this is sacrilegious, listen to the lyrics and see if you can at least identify the songwriters stance towards Jesus, his questions, concerns, hopes and dreams.  What do you think?

Some things to consider:  Do we over-spiritualize our faith in Jesus?  Is there some validity in having a common faith, a simple faith? Is there some benefit to embrace this sort of humility in our prayer life with Jesus?  

I want to walk with Jesus in a way where Jesus is near to me, but where I don’t take him or his grace for granted.  Even more so, I want to help my students to embrace a real faith that is both common and simple.  A faith where Jesus meets them in their real and normal life, has wisdom and grace to offer, and where humility is key.  I am pretty sure there will be way less disillusionment in the church and among students when they see Jesus and their devotional time with him less as meeting with a genie, a therapist, a grandpa, or a superhero.

Maybe we can all be a little more humble and in awe of the time we get to spend with Jesus and spend that time asking questions and listening for answers.

I think tonight, I will have a beer with Jesus. :)

What are you thankful for?

November 25, 2013 — 1 Comment

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It is Thanksgiving week and I am taking this week off of writing and of work.  I am looking forward to being present with my family and with my friends.  As you enjoy your Thanksgiving and wade into the joys and dysfucntion of family gatherings, may we all be extra aware of the blessings that we have been given.  “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” James 1:17.

In the comments would you be willing to share what you are thankful for this Thanksgiving week?

Blessings!

This last weekend I had the pleasure of being part of the organizing team for the Open Bay Area.  The Open model is the brain child of The Youth Cartel and a really innovative way to gather, network, and train youth workers.  The Youth Cartel‘s vision is to allow local practitioners to have a platform to share their unique passions for their unique contexts in a local setting.  And this is exactly what we did.

We attempted to use the TED model of short, thought provoking talks to generate further conversation.  Please check them out, and as you do, I am sure you will be as blessed and encouraged as I was!  Also, if you have any feedback and would like to create a virtual Open with some pushback and or questions, feel free to do that in the comment section.

Thanks team and thank you Youth Cartel for a great event!

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It is so easy to get caught up in the tyranny of the urgent and forget to make time for the most important things.  There will always be ministry to do, and programs to manage, but if we are not careful we will quickly become a shell of the person we are supposed to be.

As you mine the internet for games and curriculum, preparing your epic talk and putting out fires, it is easy to forget that while these tasks are important, they are actually not the core of what makes a solid and successful ministry.  The core of a solid and successful ministry is a youth worker who is humble, teachable, and continually putting time and effort into their spiritual and professional development.

While I love sharing best practices and am always looking for additional games to get me through this upcoming Wednesday night, what I am most interested in today is what do you do for spiritual and professional development.

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Post Christian Posts

November 15, 2013 — Leave a comment

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

 

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

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

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

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

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The folks over at youthministry360 have just launched another round of free resources, just in time for Thanksgiving. They’re giving away 4 different Thanksgiving Bible study lessons, PLUS a set of Thanksgiving games.

These resources will help you lead students to reflect on what it means to be thankful as Christ-followers.

To download these free resources, head on over to ym360: https://youthministry360.com/blog/free-thanksgiving-content-ym360

And if for any reason you need help or have questions, their team is great about helping out, just let them know!

(Best deal on the intra-web)

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There have been a number of articles, (here, here, and here) and news stories about how young people are leaving Facebook in droves.  I get that part of it has to do that it is because parents are there and they want autonomy.  And while I will not disagree with this theory, I think there is something else going on.  What if students departure from Facebook was not just about autonomy, but about developmental stagnation.

Facebook made its name by connecting college students through a social network.  College students were able to connect with friends, classmates, and people with like minded passions.  College students by where age are more mature and socially developed than students in high school and middle school.  Especially in the beginning back when college students still actually talked face to face with one another.

To survive and thrive on the Facebook platform takes some social chops.  You have to know what to post, how to present yourself, what to reveal about yourself and at every turn there is an opportunity for feedback.  You can like something and comment on something and all these interactions are visible to your entire network.  Managing this actually takes skill, humor, wisdom, and discernment.   Oh, and most importantly, this takes actually knowing how to maintain friendships.  Hence, “friends.”

I think students are departing Facebook in droves because students don’t know how to have “friends.”  

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As a parent, I want my kids to be loved, cared and protected. In fact, just about everything I do as a parent is to build esteem in them and protect them from this big bad world. But as a youth worker, I know that building esteem as an end causes all sorts of problem. The true goal of parenting is to build character in our children. And as they build character, they will build esteem.

In this endeavor to build character, there is one ingredient that is sorely missing in my students, and am worried is missing in my own kids. The core value of protection, and in practicality, protection at all costs, takes away the one thing that builds character the most, suffering.

Before you freak out, I am not saying that we neglect our kids or intentionally put them in harmful situations. But what I am suggesting is that we back the helicopter off a bit and allow them to suffer the consequences of their actions.

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How do we help a generation who has no sin see their need for a savior?

A major part of our calling as youth workers is the vital task of evangelism. Unfortunately the tyranny of the urgent puts our true calling on the back burner. We have programs to run, bible studies to lead, and parents to keep happy. As great as these are to do, very few of us got into student ministry because we love programs and managing parents. Many of us got into student ministry because we have a heart for this broken and lost generation. We are cross cultural missionaries called to the field to connect with early and mid-adolescents so that, by any means necessary, they will come to know Jesus.

“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some “ 1 Corinthians 9:22

Classic Evangelism: This verse sums up the classical understanding of evangelism. Simply we want people who don’t know Jesus yet to know him as their Lord and Savior. We want to use whatever means, whatever stories, whatever programs, whatever resources are needed to do it.

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