Monthly Archives: January 2012
The past week and a half has been a hard time for our church. In the past 10 or so days we have had four people connected with our church go home to be with God. This week among the funerals and all the conversations with families and acquaintances I have obviously thought a lot about my life, about the lives these people led, and how it all fits into what I do day in and day out. Here are a few verses that have entered my thoughts:
James 4:13-17 (NIV) 13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. 17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
Yesterday at a funeral, as I listened to people describe the life that had been lived and all the lives that had been changed and enriched and brought closer to God through this woman I was in awe. I will do the same thing on Friday at another funeral, also for a man that I know changed and affected many people for God’s kingdom as well. Both of these people worked outside of the church in “secular” careers but at the same time had made major impacts for thekingdomofGod. They both knew the good they had been put on this earth to do and they did it.
Colossians 1:10-14 (NIV) 10 And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Both of these people were truly saints in the kingdom of light. Their funerals are a celebration of a life well lived and a homecoming party as they are with God in heaven. I hope that my funeral will be exactly that as well.
As I think about my life and how I am living it day in and day out, I am challenged to spend more time on the most important things and less time on meaningless things. As you read these passages what are you challenged with?
As I prepare for our first mission trip informational meeting this weekend for our summer trip I thought I would pass on to you everything I present at this meeting. If you have done all your work up to this point you should have most of this down already, but now it is going public, so gather it all together and make it as clear as possible. When you do your initial meeting make sure you include these things in your presentation:
1. When and Where
This is number one because it is the first question everyone has. Make it big and bold and right at the top of your handout.
This is number two because, well, it is the second question everyone has. Make sure you include everything in this price; on the ground cost, transportation (include hotel stays if need be), food, activities, project money, team shirt, and some misc. extra dollars. If in doubt about this figure round up, people react a lot better to paying less than being asked for more later. My goal is that everyone could come on the trip without a dime in their pocket and be taken care of the entire trip. I don’t include souvenirs or “blow money” in this amount.
3. Why you chose what you did
Don’t be afraid to play the emotional card or the spiritual card here. Hopefully you prayed a lot about where to go and be honest that this is what you feel God wants for your group this year.
4. Main projects
People want to know that making the sacrifices needed to go are worth it and that they will make a difference. If possible have at least a few different projects, some people are not good at physical labor so having a different option helps get people excited. If you are going with an organization you might not know your specific projects yet, so give their website for further info.
5. Trip Schedule
This is more for the parents than for the students. Parents like details, so give as many as you can and show how your time will be best spent. Everyone involved wants to know what they are committing to, and seeing that this isn’t going to just be a vacation is important for everyone to know.
6. Pre-trip schedule
This should include your non-refundable deposit to sign up, your trip payment dates, late fees, fundraisers, and pre-trip meetings. Again, the more details the better. Make your late fees are enough to motivate people to pay on time. If they pay late it creates a huge headache for you, so make them pay for your Tylenol.
7. Fundraising options
These don’t have to be set in stone, but at least have a few tentative ideas and possible dates down. If you can, try and coincide fundraisers with your payment schedule as much as possible.
8. Fun day
It is ok to be a tourist for part of the time you are gone. This obviously shouldn’t be the point or the reason someone goes, but including an amusement park or a day at the beach is a huge relationship building opportunity. Plus we serve a God that likes us to have fun, so don’t feel bad about including some fun.
9. Q and A time
If you present everything above chance are there won’t be many questions, but this is a good way for you to know if you clearly communicated everything. Don’t be afraid to answer “I am not sure, let me find out and get back to you.”
10. Pictures or Promo Video
Get some pictures if possible, or an organization promo video, or whatever you can show to get people excited. The more excited they are now the better chance they will make their payments and other requirements on time.
If you don’t have all of this information ready to present, then you aren’t ready to have your first meeting. If you don’t have it all together it is not too late…yet, but get to work soon. Have a great meeting!
In my last post I talked about the reasons that led me to plan our weekend retreat the way I did. So here is what we actually did.
On Friday night I presented to the students the 10 stops on the transformation journey as given in the book Maximum Faith by George Barna. I described each one as I walked us all through the 10 stops. My suspicion, which I think did prove true, was that the majority of the students on the retreat were lingering around stop six: Spiritual discontent. I described stop 6 this way:
Stop 6 is where you start to feel like church isn’t doing it for you anymore, you start to ask some hard questions within yourself about faith and God and religion and how does it all fit in. It seems like everything you hear or experience at church you have heard before… “If this is all the church has to offer then I’m not sure I need it”
”Prolonged Period” you know what this means… that most people are in this stop for a long time. Once you are there we fight moving to the next stop, no one likes to be “broken”… Some people give up the fight and either settle into stop 5 and stay there for the rest of their life or leave the church, and maybe even their faith, all together.
During that “fight”, we tend to point a lot of fingers, pass the blame or the responsibility, and ask some really honest and really good questions.
We then watched the popular internet video “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus”. I then connected the video and it’s content to the transformation journey; pointing out some of the Biblical flaws in his reasoning and also confirming some of his honest and true questions. My first main point of discussion was how religion and church are not the same thing and how we need both of them to help us through this journey. Religion can only get you to stop 5, while the church has varying roles through all 10 stops.
The second point of discussion was centered around the concept of self-righteousness and how we have to be very careful not to become exactly what we are speaking out against.
I then gave a challenge for the students to honestly ask themselves and God what stop they are on and gave a challenge for the weekend based on the stops.
Saturday I did not speak at all. During chapel times I gave them a scripture to meditate on, some journal questions, and 45 minutes to go off by themselves and seek God with all their heart. We then came back together and I read aloud a narrative story based on the passage they had just read, then we sang a few worship songs. That was it. The two scriptures I used were John 7:53 – 8:11 and John 3:1-21; times Jesus dealt with religion and self-righteousness.
I was amazed at how much of the conversation during free time and fun activities was centered on the scriptures. Saturday night we sat in a circle, sang a few songs and discussed what God had done or showed them.
Several of the students literally used their free time that night to pray for each other and share their experiences further.
I feel like it was one of the more Spiritually significant weekends of my entire youth ministry career, and I basically just got out of the way and let God work. Here are two things that God taught me this weekend that I hope is helpful for you.
1. People need permission to struggle
I told the students that if they were in stop six to see it as a growth step forward, not as a bad thing. To ask God their honest questions because God is truth and truth has nothing to hide and is not scarred of their questions or struggles. Somehow we have created this facade that says everything has to be perfect all the time in the church and if we struggle something is wrong. The church doesn’t always have answers, but God does, and only He can transform someone.
2. There are more people in stop six than we realize
One of my leadership students, who is a senior in high school said to me this weekend, “people in stop six are the ones that graduate their faith, I am in stop six and I don’t want to do that.” The better we get at children’s and youth ministry the quicker these kids get to stop six. A freshman in high school also shared that he was already in stop six. The issue this presents us as youth workers is that it is nearly impossible to program brokenness. Which is exactly the challenge we face, how can we walk through stop 6 and 7 with these students? Especially if you work with Sr. highers this is a huge question you must answer. I hope we can figure it out together because I need your help with this one.
As I continue to seek God about what He wants me to do in youth ministry, I feel more and more drawn to changing the paradigm we have created. I think this is at the core of it. I think discipleship needs to be a whole lot less about us and programs and a whole lot more about them encountering God. What do you think?
I have been thinking a lot about spiritual transformation and how that really happens lately, especially with how that effects youth ministry. This past weekend I lead our senior high students through a weekend retreat, and I felt led to do something different this year. Before I get into what we did and how it worked, let me first give you the scriptural basis.
Romans 12:2 (NIV) 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Transform, don’t conform. This verse talks about not conforming to the world, which obviously we don’t want students to do. But I also think that a lot of Christians, teenagers or not, are still just conforming; the only difference is what they are conforming to. The Christian RELIGION is about conforming your life to a new set of rules or list of do’s and don’ts. But CHRISTIANITY is supposed to be about transforming, which is rooted in relationship with Christ. Look back over the messages/teaching/Bible studies you have done in the past few months. Have you talked about relationship as much as you have talked about modifying behavior? I have challenged myself to constantly ask that question because I want to point these students toward transformation, not just conforming to a different standard. Everyone’s transformation journey starts with changing the standard we conform to, I am not saying that we don’t need religion. In fact it plays a very important part in our transformation journey, but we can’t be content with stopping there.
Colossians 2:19 (NIV) 19 He has lost connection with the Head [Christ], from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.
Only God can transform someone. Only God can make the body grow. As a youth worker and a Spiritual leader, I must realize this. It is a lot easier to program someone toward conforming than toward transforming. I must seek God on when is the right time for me to get in front and teach and when I need to get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit do the teaching.
These are the thoughts and verses that dictated our retreat this last weekend. I looked at the students that were going and where I thought they were Spiritually, and realized I needed to change my plan of attack. The weekend was awesome…and I will tell you about it in the next post!
Until then I challenge you to look at yourself and your own teaching and ask the question: Am I facilitating transformation or just conforming to a different standard?
I have mentioned this book several times on my blog in the past, but I thought it was time to do an actual book review on it.
There have been many books that have influenced my life and ministry, this one is in the top five for sure.
I am not usually a fan of wide scale survey results, lots of statistics, and charts. I will admit I have not read much of Barna’s stuff, but the reputation that precedes him is wide scale survey results, lots of statistics, and charts which made me almost not read this book at all. But it was recommended by one of the other Pastors at my church so I decided to give it a chance. I am very glad I did.
The book is split into 3 sections. The first lays out the transformation journey and how George discovered it. The second section is a personal story of a girl named Jennifer as she goes through the stops of the transformation journey. And section 3 gives some practical ideas on how to travel the journey yourself as well as how churches can help people navigate down the road of transformation.
The book is pretty long, over 200 pages, so it definitely is one you will have to commit to reading. However, the meat of the book is in sections one and three, if you skipped section two all together it cuts out half of the length. You might enjoy the mix of journal excerpts, life stories, and personal conversations but I didn’t.
The last negative thing I have to say is there are several typos and obvious grammar mistakes in the book, which was disappointing.
This book really hit me on a personal level as well as a professional/ministry level. I think the lack of spiritual transformation is at the core of many issues and problems in our churches today, mine included. This book speaks to the problem and gives some good tips and ideas on how to better minister people toward true transformation.
He makes the point in the book, and I agree strongly, that most churches are pretty good at ministering to stops two through five. But as soon as people hit stop six the modern church basically programs them back into stop five, which is where most of our Christian population is stuck. In my current youth ministry context, I have realized I have a lot more student in stop six than I ever realized. And as a student ministry we were not doing a lot to help them continue to grow. Many of the changes we have made to our programs and structure are aimed directly at this issue. I want to be about spiritual transformation, not behavior modification. This book has helped me make some big strides toward that end.
I gave all ten stops of the transformation journey in a past post, click here if you want to read them. But don’t let that deter you from buying this book and reading it for yourself. Like I said, this is in my top five. I think it will help you too.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 (NLT) For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.2 A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.3 A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up.4 A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.5 A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away.6 A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away.7 A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak.8 A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.9 What do people really get for all their hard work?10 I have seen the burden God has placed on us all.11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.
Once you get the song out of your head, think about what this passage really says. If there is a right season for an activity, that also means there is a wrong season for an activity.
The right action + The wrong season = A wrong result
Timing can be everything. I have often thought that as long as I am doing good things then I will get good results, but according this passage that is not necessarily the case. I could be doing exactly the right action, but if I mess up the timing I could end up in a drastically different place than God intended.
The implications for daily life and for whatever “burden” God has put on your heart are huge. Some of the burdens God has put on my heart include my family, my church, and my writing. When it comes to all of these things I must pay attention not only to what I should be doing, but also when I should be doing it. As Solomon says, I “cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” That means I don’t know what the right timing is, but God does. So I must constantly be asking His opinion about when to take certain steps so I can end up with the result He wants.
What burden has God put on your heart? Even if you know what to do, have you asked God when? If you want God’s intended result, make sure you follow His timing.
In recent weeks I have seen and/or read several blog posts and tweets and conversations about the changes needed in youth ministry, the need for new voices, and the reasons why neither of these have really transpired. All of this has peaked my interest because I have personally been wrestling with these exact questions and issues for a few years.
What are the changes I need to make in me and in my youth ministry? How can I help make a difference? What do you want me to do with my ideas and observations? Do you want me to be one of these new voices? These are all questions I have asked God, over and over, for the past few years.
Some of the answers I have received have not been what I expected. “Write a book” was definitely not one I expected to hear; English was my worst subject in school. With each answer comes more questions. As I have fulfilled each step moving forward has been coupled with frustration. I wrote the book I felt God asked me to write. It has been almost a year since my first manuscript has been finished, and I feel like I have made no progress toward it being published.
Amidst my blog writing I am nearly done with another book on leading a volunteer team. As I have walked down this road it has been full of hills and valleys for sure. Each hill and each valley brings with it more questions, more struggles, and more encouragements. Many that have read my finished manuscript have sent encouraging words my way and for that I am thankful. I have also been rejected more in the past year than any other time in my life. I can go from believing God wants me to be one of these “new voices” to being ready to give up in a matter of hours…
The main reason I am telling you all this is because recently I felt like I hit a crossroads in this whole journey. I honestly asked God to give me clear direction on what to do next or permission to give up. The thought of going back to just working at my church and not writing or caring about anything outside of Boise, ID was tempting, very tempting. My question to God came with one foot already toward that decision. Guess what verse I read the next day:
Proverbs 13:4 (NIV) 4 The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.
For whatever reason I might never understand, God put this desire in me to be one of the “new voices” in youth ministry. And I felt God’s nudge (more like hit to the nose) that he was not ready to remove that desire from my heart. So here I am, still writing and doing my end of the deal as best as I can.
As always, with that answer came more questions. “Fine, I will keep going, but now what?” God said “sacrifice Isaac.” I do have three sons, but I don’t believe they have anything to do with what God was trying to communicate. As I have wrestled with that answer and tested it to see if it was really God’s voice, I can say I feel a new resolve.
Before I ever started writing I told God my intention was not to make money or to be well known, but I do want my efforts to be helpful and worthwhile. By God’s direction I believe He is testing that attitude. I am now looking into ways I can get my books out so they can help people either for free or for as small of a price as possible. I am telling you all this so I will actually do it. The more public a goal, the more accountability you get to accomplish it. So as I pursue ePublish and self-publish options I will keep you posted.
I don’t know what you struggle with, what questions you have for God, or how much doubt you have toward your calling. I hope my struggles can help you move toward whatever God has put on your heart. No matter what, we both can trust that what God says is truth. I am banking everything on His leading and on his promises.
Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NIV) 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Last week I posted twice about short term mission trips:
Yesterday I had two conversations with other youth workers about planning their first trips. I love that more people are looking into taking mission trips with their ministries, and I am honored to be able to help these trips be as successful as possible. I ran across this post by Brian Ford this morning and felt I needed to share it with you.
In my top 10 post the first thing I say to do is know your purpose. Brian’s post speaks to the right questions to ask that will get you to the right purpose. He gives five very good answers to “why?”. I encourage you to evaluate which of these five (or a different one you come up with) are the most important to you and most needed for your group this summer. No organization will fulfill all five of these extremely well. Most will probably do one or two of them well. One of the first questions you should ask an organization you are researching is “what is your biggest strength?” or “how is the typical student most effected by your trip?”.
As he says, there are a lot of options out there, and if you haven’t answered “why” you will have no standard to narrow down the possibilities. Obviously price and dates are going to have some influence on your final decision, but they should not be the first or the only basis of your choice.
Please do NOT do a trip just because it is what everyone else is doing. Ask the right questions, pray a lot, and make an educated decision.
Last night we started a new teaching series on the book of Ecclesiastes. Since I have been spending a bit of time reading and studying this book, I came across this passage and I felt like it jumped out and bit me. I don’t know if you ever have that happen to you when you read scripture, but I sure hope you do.
Ecclesiastes 11:9, 12:1 (NIV) 9 You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment… 1 Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them”.
As a youth worker these verses provide guidance and clarity to what God needs us to do for these teenagers. Here are a couple thoughts that hit me:
1. It is normal for students to “follow they ways of their heart and whatever their eyes see.”
It is easy to get frustrated when I look at facebook posts, hear about weekend activities, or have to sort out the next teenage drama rumor fest. Sometimes the temptation is to bang my head against the wall and throw in the towel because they just keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Don’t they ever listen to the messages we teach?!?! As an adult it is easy to look down on them and their decisions, until I remember my teenage years…
2. Happiness and Joy need to be central to our ministry.
Because of the frustration I have to be careful to not smack them in the face with scripture, or always tear them down about how bad they are doing. There are certainly times when “Christian discipline” needs to be carried out, but not in every lesson. If they feel guilty every time they come to church they might not keep coming. I am not suggesting you water down scripture, but if you give a hard hitting message one week, follow it up with a feel good one the next week. Use games and humor and relationship building (even fun just for fun sake) to keep an overall feeling of happiness and joy while you teach the hard hitting truth.
3. My main role is to help them “remember their Creator” as they learn life lessons.
It is very important to keep a grasp on what my role is in their life. It is not my job to be their parent. It is not my job to save them from themselves. It is not my job to modify their behavior to please the church leadership. My job is to be one more person, among a team of adults in their life, to point them back to Christ every chance I get. I accomplish this by showing them what a life-long commitment to Christ looks like day in and day out. By loving the way Christ loved. By teaching them the truths of God’s word. And by letting God do what only God can do. I can’t save them. I can’t transform them. Only God can do that, and sometimes I have to do my part and then get out of the way.
As I start another calendar year as a youth worker, I have asked God some hard questions. It is easy to get discouraged or focused on the wrong things. God lead me to this passage and answered some of my questions, I hope it was as helpful to you too.
What do you see in this passage that I missed? How has God spoken to you through it?
I was sent a link to a blog post about the teenage brain by Neil MacQueen. I was skeptical at first, but found this to be very well written. I encourage you to read the post yourself, click here to do so.
One thing Neal states in this post is the need for youth ministries. He states, and I agree, that there are changes needed (and many happening) in the world of youth ministry. But I believe whole heartily that quitting youth ministry all together is not the answer.
The other thing he talks about and I have been thinking about a lot lately is how to match our teaching and expectations with the students cognitive level. In our recent program changes we tossed around the idea of combining Jr. and Sr. high on a more regular basis, but this cognitive issue is why we decided not to. Now several months into the changes, and after reading this, I know we made the right decision to keep them split.
Obviously a lot more I could say… Give it a read, and I am curious of your take on it as well.