#5 – originally posted February 13th, 2012
#4 – originally posted January 28th, 2012
#3 – originally posted June 28th, 2011
#2 – originally posted July 11th, 2011
#1 – originally posted May 15th, 2012
Thank you for joining me on this blogging journey, I hope God continues to work in your life as He also does in mine.
God Loves You
Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 (NIV) There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot.
God decides the seasons of life, not us. I am not in control, God is. My biggest life ambition is to be obedient to everything God leads me to do, to follow the example Jesus Christ gave. Sometimes I succeed and others I fail at this ambition. Right now I am going to be obedient.
These past several weeks I have found myself at a place I hoped I would never find; the end of my rope. I have prayed and sought God as I have entered a season of self-evaluation and reflection. As I started realizing how many things I am half doing, it became apparent quickly that I need to make some changes.
On April 28th, 2011 I “planted” this blog, and today is the day it will be “uprooted”. This is the last new content this blog will ever see. I plan to continue writing, just not here. I will walk through doors as God opens them (if He does), but I believe God is closing this door.
Over these 27 months I have posted 164 times. The final post will be one last Thoughts From The Past Thursday with my top 5 most popular posts. Whether you have read every single post or this is the first time, thanks for reading!
The last few months has basically been a break from my normal life. I took on several different projects that have consumed all of my extra time, other than a trip to southern California, these have all been manual labor type things. I built a new dinning room table and bench for our house, did a big fence project for mission trip fundraising, and built a tree house in our back yard for my boys.
The tree house by far has been the most consuming, it literally has been over a month long job – and not completed yet. With just a few dedicated hours it will be done; complete with zip line and light.
Among these big projects, I have also done a tone of maintenance stuff around our church and my house. Today as I was fixing yet another irrigation system leak the same thought kept running through my mind.
“I am ready to go back to doing what I was created to do.”
With all of these extra things and a natural break in our youth ministry calendar before we do a cannon ball into summer, I have not taught or spoke in almost a month. I have not been writing lately either, and I have several books that I have started reading and not finished. I have been just as busy as ever before, yet I have not been busy with the right things.
Romans 12:6 – 8 (NLT) God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out when you have faith that God is speaking through you. If your gift is that of serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, do a good job of teaching. If your gift is to encourage others, do it! If you have money, share it generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.
I must admit that I was ready for the break, and God has taught me and shown me some things that I needed to step back a bit to see. I have the ability to do all of these manual labor type things, but it isn’t what God created me to do with my life. I believe 100% that I was created to be a pastor, and to write and speak, and this break has confirmed that for me.
I bring this up to ask you two questions:
1. What were you created to do?
What is it that fulfills you, that makes you feel more alive when you do it, that you completely lose track of time when engaged with? If you aren’t doing that then you are just working. Work makes you tired and drained, serving God through what you were created to do fills you up.
2. Do you need a break?
I have been doing what God created me to do – but recently not with all of my heart. I needed a break, I needed to take a step back and re-evaluate. I have done that and am ready to jump back in with no regrets.
Last week I attend the FAM conference at Azusa Pacific University that was put on by HoewWord. As I reflected on my ministry to my own family as well as my church roles, this post popped into my mind. It was originally posted on December 8th, 2011.
Last night after our youth meeting our teaching team was discussing how the night went and what we were going to do the next week. One of the le
aders (who had led the Jr. High group) shared that during their discussion one of the students said their family never sits down together for a meal. I asked a student that is on our teaching team how often his family sits down for a meal together, and his response was “we did at Thanksgiving, and we might at Christmas.”
The family dinner was something my family did growing up as regularly as possible. Every other meal was scattered and rushed, but dinner was every night and if someone missed it was strange. I realize now how many of my family memories and significant conversations happened around our dinner table.
Now, that I have my own family, we also eat dinner together as much as possible. Our evenings are crazy, and I think we are just as busy as most other families with 3 kids and all the church commitments and sports and… I look forward to that time with my wife and kids every day, but we have consciously made it a priority.
We also have people join us for dinner on a regular basis. Youth leaders, students, friends, it changes often. And everyone that joins us for dinner seems to really enjoy the time around the table, especially youth students. Perhaps this is why – because it is not something they do on a regular basis.
Having kids over for dinner is a pretty big part of our ministry to teenagers. Some of the most beneficial times at camps or retreats is at meals. How do you use meal times as a part of your ministry? Does your family sit down for a regular family meal? If so how has it helped your family? If not what keeps you from doing it?
I have spent the majority of this week at the FAM conference in southern California. I have had a great time catching up with some old friends, meeting some new friends, and learning from some great leaders.
One of the things I enjoyed the most about this conference is that it was fairly small and the speakers were all very accessible and open to conversation. It is interesting to watch how people interact with others in this type of environment. Most people didn’t openly offer their weekly attendance numbers, yet it was not hard to give an educated guess on what “class” of church they are a part of.
On my way to California from the airport I tweeted this:
The truth is there are different “classes” that we have created all over our world, and the church world is in no way immune to this…I know…shocker! There are a million directions I could go with this post, and lots to say regarding this. However, I bring this up just to say one thing:
You are important in God’s family.
No matter how big or small your church is. No matter where on the church totem pole you land. No matter how insignificant you feel in the big picture, you are exactly what God needs exactly where He has put you.
Some people are called to be professional speakers…and a lot of people aren’t. Some people are called to be mega-church pastors..and a lot of people aren’t. Bigger is not always better, and small is not always insignificant.
2 Timothy 4:5 (NIV) But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
Whatever ministry God has given you, no matter what size it is, keep doing it with everything you have. When you compare you lose, God wants you to win!
It is that time of the year again; graduation season. As a youth worker, you get tons of invites during this season, and at least for me, it is one of my busiest times of the year. All the school year programs are winding down, I am deep in summer planning and trip details, and it is when we do our once a year evaluations and youth staff retreat. And on top of all of that are all of the graduation festivities. Over the years I have come up with some ways to lighten the load during graduation season, here are a few tips:
1. Arrive 45 minutes to an hour late. If you have heard one graduation speech, you have heard them all. And no one is going to quiz you on what the speaker said. If you don’t believe me, try and remember anything that the key note speaker said at your own high school graduation. Exactly…the students don’t care about the speeches, and you don’t need to either (unless a student you know is giving a speech). If you get there in time to watch them walk across the stage and greet them afterward, you are covered.
2. The smaller the school, the longer the ceremony. Small school graduations are almost as bad as 7th grade girls basketball! Since there are fewer people, there is a TON more stories, inside jokes, slide shows, and speeches. And, #1 does not apply, because the students do care about the actual ceremony, and they will notice if you are not there the whole time. So you have to just endure it, but block out at least 3 hours.
3. Family parties are way more important than the formal ceremonies. Sooner or later you will come to a place when you can’t make it to all the graduation festivities; so when you have to choose, choose the family party first. If you are invited to the family party, it means there is a real relationship there and they were not just fishing for a graduation present. So do everything in your power to make the BBQ.
4. Divide and conquer. We hit this wall a few years ago, we had so many invites it was physically impossible to attend them all. That year my wife and I both attended 4 graduations each, and never together! So, divide your volunteer staff up among parties and ceremonies, and send your regards with them. Chances are a lot of students know the volunteer leader better than they know me anyway, so strategically divide up and cover them all.
5. Picture slide shows are not worth it. We broke this tradition a few years ago, and caught some grief for sure. Yet, the only two people that truly care about seeing the baby picture morph into the senior picture is Mom and Dad, not your entire congregation. And despite your best effort, you will always leave someone out, or the picture won’t scan right, or they will send it to the wrong email, or… you get the idea. It is a ton of work, the graduates themselves are typically embarrassed, and most people just endure it. Definitely acknowledge them in church, just leave out the slide show.
There are my top 5 tips for the graduation season. What is your tip?
Today I taught Launch Pad. If you are not aware of what it is, please check out this post I wrote explaining this amazing ministry. Today’s class was about how God is a a God of joy and delight. Being happy and having fun truly can be an act of worship!
The last part of the class we all sat in a circle, ate ice cream, and went around the circle sharing a bit about our lives. We all answered two questions:
1. What is one thing you are looking forward to doing this summer, and how will that bring joy into your life?
2. Describe one person that you have observed in your life that truly lives out the joy of the Lord.
Why am I sharing this with you? Because I was a bit surprised by the majority of the answers. There were a few of they typical/predictable answers. But the majority of the students mentioned an activity like a trip or camping or vacation. Why did it bring them joy? “Because I will get to be with my family.” Literally almost every student mentioned that.
And then the second question; literally half of the students said a grandparent. A few others answered one or both of their parents. Not a single one identified their youth pastor or youth leader, and these are all students that are at least loosely connected to a church youth group.
If you are a parent or a grandparent: your influence is HUGE in a teenager’s world
I realize teenagers don’t always say thank you and sometimes it doesn’t seem like they care if you are involved in their life. But they are listening and they are watching, and they care for you A LOT.
If you are a youth worker: you need to be encouraging and helping families
If you truly care about teenagers’ faith growing (and I know you do), your efforts need to include parents and multiple generations. I have heard it said for my entire youth ministry tenure–the #1 influence in a teenager’s life is their family. That was once again proved accurate today.
What are you doing to support and/or encourage parents in your church?
How are the multiple generations within your church interacting with each other?
As I was writing my last post, I remembered this one that I originally published on March 16th, 2012. If our ministry does not include teenagers then it isn’t youth ministry is it? Enjoy.
It has been over a week since I have returned home from the Simply Youth Ministry Conference. Over that that time I have been involved in many different things and been just as busy as ever before. During this busy time I have continued to think about the things I experienced, observed, and talked about while at the conference.
I realize now that God had already been trying to get my attention about a few foundational issues, and this was confirmed while on that trip. One of them is this:
What is youth ministry really about?
At first glance this should not be a hard question to answer; it is about connecting teenagers to God. However, I realized that many of the decisions, changes, and priorities that I deal with day to day don’t really reflect that answer. A very humbling thing to admit, but there are times when youth ministry is more about me and programs than it is about teenagers and God. If it really is about connecting them to God through relationship (and it is) then everything I do as a youth worker should be a means to that end.
While at the conference I was a room host, which means I was in the same breakout room the entire weekend and didn’t have the option of choosing what I heard or learned. Since there are so many options I saw this as an advantage, and God put me in exactly the right room to hear exactly what I needed to hear.
During one of the sessions Walt Mueller (click here to go to the CPYU website) asked this question:
“If the power grid suddenly went down at your church would your students still know how to worship?”
This hit really close to home since we had just bought new stage lights for our youth room. Ultimately this points back to the foundational question; is our youth ministry really helping students fall in love with God or are they falling in love with an experience? If the band didn’t play, if there was no big screen, if the stage lights didn’t produce a perfect hue of red will the teenagers in my church still be able to worship God? Are they connecting relationally to God and to other people through what we do?
I am not saying we need to completely unplug from technology, but I am saying we need to keep it all in the right perspective. Is that technology helping us toward the right end, because if it isn’t then we shouldn’t be using it. Technology and hype can NEVER replace relationship. The band could play the songs perfectly, the sound system can be perfect, the message be entertaining and engaging, and students can still leave that program saying “I need something deeper.”
Deeper does not mean more entertaining or more content, deeper means more personal. In a world full of social networking and screens of all sizes almost everything has become surface level when it comes to relational value. What ministry (youth or otherwise) is really about is relationship. True relationship with God, with other Christians, and sharing those relationships with the world.
I realized that what was missing from our youth ministry had nothing to do with programing, and therefore could not be fixed with programming ideas. It had everything to do with relationship value, and that is what I am trying to work on. What is your ministry really about?
This post will wrap up my theme week of short term missions (I kept my interest for that long…Yay!) This was originally posted on December 29th, 2011.
As I have already been pretty deep into mission trip planning for our 2012 trip, I realized this will be my 11th trip I have planned at this church. After going on nearly 20 short term trips as a participant or the lead I have picked up several tips and tricks along the way. I have put them in order based on when you would do it in the planning process, not in order of importance. Here are my top ten:
10. Know your purpose
This may seem obvious, but not all trips will fulfill the same purpose. If your main goal/purpose for your trip is to serve and accomplish a task (like a building project) then make sure everyone knows that. If your primary goal/purpose is fellowship and team building people who just want to get the job done will get really frustrated. It does vary between organizations, so know what you are looking for before you get started.
9. Research the organization or decide to do it all yourself
I have done it myself and gone with organizations. As you probably already know, there are plusses and minuses to both. Doing it all yourself is a lot more work but it will likely be cheaper. I prefer going with an organization. They have local contacts and knowledge of what’s needed that I can never get, and it allows me to go and serve with our group and let them manage our schedule. Most of the ones I have used have been great experiences.
8. Get your dates out in January
Once you have nailed down enough details to get a date, publish it as soon as possible. My goal is to have the dates out by new years. Some years this is easy to do, others have been a struggle. Families need to know your dates early so they can plan their own vacations or family commitments. Parents have told me they have literally had fights over going on the mission trip instead of the family reunion, help families out by publishing your dates early.
7. Require a non-refundable deposit to sign up
Everyone has good intentions, and a ton of students will show interest in your trip when you first announce it. If you make them write a check it forces them to think through everything before they sign up, not after. The words “non-refundable” are very powerful, use it to your advantage. Make it enough money that it will force a discussion within their family. Some parents will throw out $5 without thinking, but $50 definitely makes them ask questions. Apply this deposit to the total cost of the trip so the only way it will be wasted is if they drop out.
6. Do individual fundraising
I do not like “group fundraising”. I charge every student the actual cost of their trip, and it is their responsibility to raise the money. We do fundraising events as a group, but divide it among those that actually do the work and put it into their individual accounts. If the group has a large goal, 20% of the team will raise most of the money. That fact really bugs me. By making the fundraising optional and tracking individual accounts only the ones that work benefit from it. Ones that don’t want to participate don’t have to, and they pay for their trip however they decide to.
5. The worship/devotions are just as important as the projects
One advantage of going with an organization is they typically do the evening devotion. If they don’t provide one or you are doing it yourself make sure you put some time into planning these. Everyone will experience many things on your trip, and the evening devotions pull it all together and connect their service to their Spirituality. It all works together, so don’t focus too much on the projects and neglect the devotion times.
4. Plan every second possible
Literally schedule as much as possible. You don’t have to be busy the entire time, in fact rest time is a must, but schedule it in on purpose. Type up meal times, devotion times, project time, down time, travel time, lights out times, and anything else you can think of. Print it, pass it out, remind people of the schedule constantly and then actually stick to it as much as you can. If you don’t have a schedule you will be fighting the slow pokes the entire time and likely will not do devotions after the first few days…(re-read #5 if you need to).
3. Do pre-trip meetings
I have had many people comment to me how great our groups are to host, and pre-trip meetings have a lot to do with it. By doing some team building activities, talking through the details, and Spiritually preparing for the trip will jump start the effectiveness of the week. If you take advantage of this pre-trip time, your team will “come together” several days earlier once you are actually on the trip, which makes their effectiveness go up exponentially.
2. Confirm all reservations and details right before you leave
If you have done your work well this step seems a bit redundant, but there is nothing worse than standing in an airport with 35 people and no confirmation numbers. Go over directions with all your drivers so many times they roll their eyes when you mention “drivers meeting.” Make sure the rental company inputted the right code for 12 passenger van, you don’t want to end up with three compact cars. All of these have either happened to me (when I didn’t do this) or were avoided because of this step.
1. Pray through the entire process
This should be number ten and number one. Pray about your purpose and need for a trip before you start this process. Pray through the entire thing, and pray as much as possible during the trip. If God is not a major part of your trip, then you are just a recreational tour guide. The whole point is for God to work through your group wherever you go and whatever you do and to change the heart of every team member. God can’t do any of this if you don’t invite him along.
As I write these ten, I just keep thinking of more that I should have put on here…I might need to add to this list. What would you add to my list?