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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I am ruled by numbers!

It is amazing to me how much ministry numbers totally rule my life.  In my mind, I have a threshold number.   If that number is reached or exceeded I am on top of the world, loving my job, and thankful for the privilege of being considered a youth worker.  If less than that number of kids, then it is down the death spiral.  I question my effectiveness, my calling, and a stop off at McDonalds to get my binge eating on is all but given.

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Everyone says that the longer the better for youth workers to stay in one church context.  And yes, there are all sorts of upsides to sticking around, but lately I have been thinking that 5 years might be ceiling for maximum effectiveness in your local context.

This is the pattern that I notice:

  • Youth worker shows up in a church context.
  • Spends the first year or so figuring out the context, dealing with the angst of the upperclassmen, and working overtime building relationships with students.
  • Youth workers kill it relationally!  They are masters at building relationships and winning students.
  • After 2 years there is a strong relational core in your ministry.  The new upperclassmen respect you and the incoming freshmen idolize you.  (in a good way)
  • Over the next few years this group of young kids become amazing upperclassmen.  They “get it,” they respect and love you, and you love them with all your heart.
  • Youth workers then soak up, and rightly so, the fruit of their labor!
  • Then around year 4 or 5, this group of students who you have known since pre-puberty graduates and you weep bitterly.
  • When you look up you see that you have replaced a solid group of leaders and young adults for an immature and rowdy group of freshmen.  This is more then our weak hearts can often take.
  • The thought of having to re-build an entire youth ministry with these young and immature kids sends us packing.

It is at this point that we have three options.  We can realize that our time in student ministry is done and start dreaming of church planting, realize that your gifts and abilities are too much for this context and start looking for a bigger and badder context, or to settle in and settle for a below average ministry with minimal students and minimal excitement.

Ok, I get that those are total straw men and mostly unfair.  The truth is that I have seen this pattern dozens of times among my peers and colleagues.  I have even noticed this pattern happen within my ministry and within me.  The more I reflect on this pattern the more I realize that there are actually two real options to avoid flame out by year 5.

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Planting Seeds

“For whatever one sows, that he will also reap.”  Galatians 6:7

For my entire life I have struggled with sin.  In fact, I have found that I am a slave to it.  Now, my sin may be different than your sin, but if we are honest, we can all agree with the Apostle Paul that we feel this war in our inner being between the flesh and the spirit.

As I reflect back on my life and think of the times when I was victorious in my spiritual life and the times that I have crashed and burned, allowing my sin to rule, I have seen one common theme emerge!

Whatever I feed more grows, and whatever I starve seems to die.

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Retelling a lost story

October 21, 2013 — Leave a comment

This article was originally published at youthworkerjournal.com

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Remember This Movie: Lions and tigers and bears, ___________! If you could immediately fill in the blank, then, whether you realize it or not, you have been impacted by culture. If upon further thought, you could fill in the blank and your mind went to Dorothy and her companions walking along a yellow brick road towards Oz, then you have some context for that cultural expression. And if the conclusion of that statement causes you begin to think about your favorite scenes, smile at the munchkins, hum a song, and even have fond memories of seasons of life when you enjoyed watching the film, then you are part of the generation that has been impacted by the movie, The Wizard of Oz.

Many of us have grown up with this movie. We know the songs, we know the stories, and we know the characters. We have seen poor high school versions of this movie, and even a brave interpretation of the story by Micahel Jackson. And because this story is so ingrained in our current pop culture, there was a place for someone to come along and use that story to tell a fuller story. And that is exactly what happened in the production of Wicked.

In case you haven’t seen the play, which I highly recommend, let me give you a quick synopsis. Wicked is a more complete story of what is going on in Oz during the time of Dorothy. The movie is Dorothy’s story, and the play is the unfolding drama between the two witches, Galinda, the Good Witch of the North and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. All by itself, Wicked is a compelling play with great characters and music. But what makes Wicked amazing is that it so incredibly clever.

Wicked tells the story by weaving in and out of the movie the Wizard of Oz. They reference people, places, and scenes. It is as if you get to walk through Oz and occasionally cross the yellow brick road just missing Dorothy and her entourage. During the entire play you have, “Ah, ha!” moments as you put all the pieces together. I found it to be a great evening of fun and incredibly refreshing. As I was driving home, I realized how much more I would have enjoyed this play if I had rented the Wizard of Oz before and re-familiarized myself with the original story. There was so much I missed, and if I weren’t so cheap I would have done that.

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So, you want a raise. Who doesn’t. Getting a raise as a vocational youth worker is one of the most difficult, and therefore rarest item to ever make a church budget. Just like the quest for El Dorado, this journey often leads to a disappointing conclusion. Before you sacrifice your family finances and your soft heart for the church by being a good soldier, working for Jesus and not money, consider the perilous world of church finances.

By better understanding what you were hired into, it will in turn help you make the appropriate and healthy choices at your current church, and when negotiating compensation packages at future churches. So, if you think it is about time you deserve a raise and are not sure where to go next, consider looking at your position from the outside perspective. This perspective should inform the some of the decisions that you will need to make as your student ministry career progresses. And finally this reality should allow us to guard our heart toward our current church and its leadership. With that being said, lets jump right into it:

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Some questions that this video sparked in me:

1) What is the cause?

2) Who is the first follower?  How do I treat them?

3) Is my treatment of the first follower actually hindering my leadership?

4) Do I care more about the cause or about being recognized as leader?

The real guts is not to be the lone nut, but to identify who the right lone nut is to follow,and then put your own street cred on the line to help create a movement.

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Dear fellow youth worker,

I wanted to thank you so much for your faithful service to the church for all of these years.  In fact, you are above average in your attempt to live for Jesus and to help others do the same.  In fact, for many of you called to youth ministry, your call began in your own youth ministry experience and it was during your late high school and early college careers that you decided to serve Jesus by serving kids!  For this, the church, your students, and Jesus is thankful!

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The million dollar question seems to be something like, “How do we keep students committed to Jesus into adulthood?” This is one of the main questions I have been wrestling with during my tenure as a youth pastor.  And depending on the season, I end up somewhere swinging between it all being on Jesus or all being on me.  It is true that Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith and as shepherds we are called by god to build up or students in their faith.  At the end of the day, it is both.  I plant, you water, I plant, you water, and God causes there to be growth and life.  This is a mysterious partnership.

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