Monday, December 27, 2010

I Was Shoeless... Student's Perspective

A couple weeks ago some students went to "Shiloh", an apartment complex in south Dallas that houses African refuges. Our purpose was pretty simple, distribute 120 pairs of shoes and coats. Here's the perspective of Gavin, a freshman in high school.

"Those white buses to us, may seem like hours of uncomfortable rides, but to those children at Shiloh, it seems more along the lines of fun and joy and of presents. As we passed through those oh so familiar entry gates, it took only a few minutes for the environment to set in. It was one of chaos and screaming and punching, but also of loving and laughing and not caring how stupid we may look. Those quick smiles as the doors were opened to be greeted by people not of their own culture bringing gifts was enough to drive anybody to endure the next few hours of what could be viewed as psychotic entertainment. After the shoes were delivered, it was fun time from then on only to be interrupted by the much apparent rehearsed and prepared for play telling the story of the birth of Jesus. And as we were finally loading up on the buses, there is always one straggler kid to hop onto the bus as well or, more surprising, on fender or roof. It's never easy to go to Shiloh, but that doesn't mean that we don't have an amazing time serving others and laughing all the time."  

Thursday, December 23, 2010

X-Mas - Great Time to Connect with College Students

We actually did something pretty cool at our home last night. It wasn't my idea (most of the cool ideas aren't) it was a team coming together and dreaming about how to better connect with our college students and former students.

It was pretty simple, we called it "Home for the Holidays" and utilized facebook to invite people between the ages of 18 - 23 to join us for a time of reconnecting. We had a lot of food (if you're hungry for something sweet, come on over) 2 fireplaces on the back patio and a great time of connecting and reconnecting.

Here's where it gets really cool, we invited our high school seniors. Like many, we're looking for fresh ways to help our college students know they are still a part of our church family, even when they temporarily move away for education. I told our high school seniors that next Christmas they would be the ones home for Christmas. They're already excited about Christmas break 2011.

The highlight of the night for me was watching a girl who is a sophomore in college connect with a current high school senior who is thinking about attending the same university. I know if she goes to this university she'll have Godly connection immediately.

We don't want students who go away for college feel like their in purgatory when they come home for the holidays or summer. They are a part of our church family. We must help them know they have support and a place where they're loved.

So here's a question, have you seen or experienced some great ideas connecting with college students when they're home? Do share.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I was shoeless...

In a couple of hours I'm joining students and adults from our students ministry to hand out shoes to African refuges. It's exciting to be around students who understand the gospel is not just a story that is spoken, it's a story that's lived out.

To be honest, our students lead the charge when it comes to caring for the needy. Our senior class life group and leaders went above and beyond in this project. They gave over $500 towards shoes and socks for children who are needy.

Why are they so engaged in helping? It goes beyond just good will at Christmas. I genuinely believe God is continually doing a work in their lives and part of living that out is caring and giving the way Jesus would.

It's going to be exciting! Maybe I'll post some pics later.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent Surprise

This year would you consider taking a different approach to Christmas? I am. Instead of acting like a scrooge I'm trying to embrace all that Christmas is.

I'm thinking about Christmas as a season instead of a day. Sure, with the commercialization of Christmas you can't help but be bombarded with "stuff" from Thanksgiving to New Years. But what about taking a month long journey of meditating on the birth of Jesus?

For the first time I've taken the idea of celebrating the season of advent seriously. For some of you liturgicals your thinking, "well dugh, of course Christmas is a season and you should have been approaching it this way all along". Please give this recovering "non liturgical" a little grace as I share some thoughts.

Teaching the lectionary passages to students on Sunday nights (Isaiah) and Shawn Small's "The Via Advent" have been the primary tools God has used to take me on this journey. This long term meditation on the coming of Jesus surprised me with some thoughts and emotions I didn't expect.

1. Anticipation for the Second Coming

A common thought through advent season is "Christ has come and Christ is coming again". By teaching key passages out of Isaiah I've been forced to focus on the anticipation of the return of Jesus. To be honest I don't often focus my attention on the Second Coming, but by meditating on these passages it's awakened a longing in me for the broken world in which we live to be restored. Even as I write I can sense a longing for Jesus to return and make me and everything around me right and new.

2. A soft heart towards the Christmas story

My daily meditations have been driven primarily by the book "The Via Advent". Every time I read through the passage and watch the story unfold I shed a tear or two. I'm not sure why I'm emotional about the whole thing. Perhaps this season I'm so immersed in the story that the radical love of God is too overwhelming for me emotionally. I'm not sure I ever want to get over the love of God for his people. Or maybe it's the rawness of the characters in the story that is tugging at my emotions. Whatever the reason I know that the Christmas story is impacting my soul in a deeper way this season. For that I'm grateful.

3. Connection with the larger story

The entire story of the Bible is the story of a holy, righteous, loving and sacrificial God coming to restore and deliver His people. My favorite Christmas verse isn't found in Luke or Matthew but in Galatians.

Gal 4:4-5
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

The Christmas story is about God fulfilling his promise at the perfect time in the most unusual way.

It is such a strange way to save the world...isn't it?

Yes, Christmas is only a few days away but it's not too late to jump into the deep end. You can order "The Via Advent" and follow Shawn's thoughts on his web site

May each of us experience the joy, anticipation and mystery that accompanies this season to the glory of God. Oh come Emmanuel.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Quote of the Day

"I think our God does miracles and loves us beyond our comprehension. Should this surprise any of us?"

Mary speaking of the miracle of Elizabeth's pregnancy.
From the "Via Advent" by Shawn Small

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Pageant

Best reason ever to avoid Christmas pageants at your church.

Quote of the Day

"God is looking for people through whom
He can do the impossible-
what a pity that we plan only the things we can do ourselves"

A. W. Tozer

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Priceless, from my small group leader...

I received this email from one of my life group leaders concerning a conversation she had Sunday night in her lifegroup.

On Sunday nights we're teaching a small portion of the Advent Lectionary passages out of Isaiah. In speaking of the beauty of Christ's second coming I spoke about how the world we live in is broken. One of the girl's didn't like it a whole lot.

When I asked our leader if I said something controversial here's how she responded. It made my heart glad.

"You didn't. One of the girls didn't like that it was said that our
world was a broken place because she chooses to see the beauty in it
and doesn't see why people make such a huge deal about going how
horrible it is.

I said that God created us to be in fellowship with Him, in
heaven...and before I had a chance to continue or clarify she snapped
at me and said something along the lines of, well I thought we were
created for this earth. That just doesn't make any sense.

Everyone was quiet and I said that we were created for this earth, but
because sin entered brought death and destruction and God was
working right now to prepare a place for us and eventually there was
going to be a new earth. I also mentioned that she probably felt that
way because she had a different world view. Maybe she hadn't
experienced third-world hunger or the pain of a divorce, etc. etc.

It just seemed like she was looking for a reason to challenge me. I
don't know why but this particular girl has a lot of attitude with me.
& she's the last person I'd expect it from. Maybe I should talk to her
privately. The week before she answered her phone in the middle of me
praying. She ran out of the room before I could grab her to ask her
about it."

She did awesome responding didn't she? From this point on how would counsel her to lovingly reach out to this teen who is obviously struggling with her faith?

And yes, my adult leaders rock!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Youth Ministry Unconference

Sometimes I wish my brain was larger. Thoughts of more effective student ministry, new relationships and deepening older friendships are flooding my mind.

Yesterday at 12:20 pm the "unconference" officially ended but the conversations were just beginning. After lunch with youth workers and time at the pub I realized what I experienced over the previous 30 hours had profound impact on me. As I'm beginning to unravel what "unconference" means for my ministry and perhaps for student ministry in general I have 3 observations to share...

1. Conversation is almost always better than lecture.

We know this don't we? Conferences and conventions are so much fun and useful, but to be honest the high points of my learning and contribution as it relates to student ministry and life have come from settings where intentional conversations happen.

That's really what this "unconference" was all about. Discussions and topics flowing from the needs, interests and expertise of those who were there. For me valuable learning happens when story, questions and experience come together. In every discussion I had there was pertinent information I learned and hopefully some I contributed.

That's how I (and most people) learn the best.

2. Youth Workers need each other

It's super neat to see the instant camaraderie that happens when people with like hearts come together for problem solving. I'm a big believer in relational networking for youth workers but was reminded of it's importance again. In addition to expertise there were relationships that began and friendships that were deepened.

There are many people on staff at churches who don't feel they have a safe place to be vulnerable. For some, "unconference" gave a glimmer of hope that there are safe people out there who will encourage and walk beside us when we mess up.

3. Experts are everywhere

It was amazing to watch experienced and inexperienced people rub shoulders. I learned from women who have been in student ministry for just a few years and from others who where veterans. Every person who attended added value to the conversation. Sure, some had more experience but sometimes too much experience keeps us from seeing things from a new perspective.

Tomorrow we'll meet as a team to unpack all that God taught us. I'm excited to hear what they heard, experienced and contributed.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


"Lord, there is often a sea of doubt
that rages deep beneath the surface of my life.
Unanswered prayers, pain, and hidden sins
are too easily masked by my shallow spirituality.

Lord, I am ready for the facade to be washed away.
I need an encounter with the Spirit of Truth
to reveal the reality of my heart's condition
that I may be set free to trust Your word and Your will.

Help me, Father, to mute the doubt in my heart.
Help me, Son of God, to release my pain to you.
Lead me, Spirit to a life of freedom and joy,
Blessed Trinity, help me understand Your Advent."

Shawn Small, "Via Advent"

Do you ever doubt what God says?

I'm not talking about intellectual doubt but practical, "how you live" doubt.

This morning I continue my advent meditation by reading Shawn Small's "Via Advent".

The story this morning describes Zachariah's encounter with Gabriele and how Zachariah questioned the validity of the angel's announcement. As the story unfolds I can easily see myself doubting the way Zachariah did. No, doubt for me isn't about believing things angels say to me, it's way more subtle and internal.

Here's is a statement from God that is hard for me to believe...

"In my presence is fullness of joy, in my right hand are pleasures forever"

In simply reading the statement it's easy to believe, it's in living it out that deep doubt is exposed. You see, if I believe this simple statement about the heart of God it changes everything. It changes how I pursue God. It changes how I view lust in my life. It changes how I view prosperity. It changes how I view position and prestige. Believing what God says to be true in the routine of our lives changes everything.

I feel eerily similar to the man in the New Testament who said to Jesus, "I believe, help my unbelief". As with any sin the solution isn't to try harder but repentance and to cry out to God saying, "help my unbelief".

So, may we be people who see our own unbelief and take it to God, asking him for the grace to believe the unbelievable, isn't that what the Christmas story is all about?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Why I'm Excited About Unconference

Next Monday I'll be 1 of many youth workers converging on North West Dallas to fast, pray, think and create.

There are students all over our country and world that desperately need to understand and embrace the true gospel. My hope is that "unconference" would sharpen each of us to more effectively share the good news of Jesus' love to the students around us.

It's been a long time since I set aside a couple of days to pray and dream about how to see God's greatness passed to the next generation. Almost all youthworkers worth their salt long to see God's greatness passed to those who are younger.

Yes I'm excited. What could be more fun than hanging with men and women who love to do what I love? Here are some specific reasons why I believe this gathering will be huge for myself and those who serve students.

  • Prayer and Fasting.
We need God. Apart from him we can do nothing. Prayerful dependence on God will be the foundation of all we dream. God longs to show his strength to those who are needy. That's us.

  • Many Voices
As we learn, share and create together the wisdom of all who are there will be heard. As a person who longs to learn I'm excited to learn from my fellow youth workers who are making impact in those around them.

  • Hanging Out
I just returned form the NYWC and had a great time. The most enjoyable part for me was getting time with other youth leaders. Yes, the younger kids kept me out way past my bedtime but we had a blast. I think I'm just now recovered from little sleep.

If there's any way you can make it next week please come and be a part. We're trusting God is bringing exactly who he wants. We long for your voice to speak into the experience.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful Thoughts From the Farm

It's really nice to be at my old house this Thanksgiving.

Growing up on a farm in Southeast Tennessee is quite an experience. As my family took a walk on the farm today I was flooded with all kinds of memories.

Visions of mowing the fields on a tractor, learning how to fish, riding my horse, climbing my favorite persimmon tree, picking blackberries, riding my motorcycle and playing tackle football in a field covered in cow patties where all very vivid.

(And yes, she thinks my tractor's sexy)

As I walked around the pond I remembered fishing for catfish with my best friend Todd. We would go to the pond around 11pm armed with rotting chicken livers and swisher sweet cigars. The piercing stench of the livers was overwhelming but the catfish couldn't resist, or the turtles. Poor Todd would always catch an snapping turtle but rarely a fish. Of course I never bragged.

My Granny taught me how to dig for earth worms and make sure I spit on them before throwing the bait into the pond. It really works! Grandpa would always promise to help me ride the horse but always had to "rest his eyes" for an hour or so before. His favorite phrase was "right now in a minute". "Right now" almost never arrived.

Today, the open fields are overgrown with trees and the pond is kind of stagnant and empty. The house my grandparents lived in is being rented to someone I don't even know, kind of weird. Both Granny and Grandpa have been gone for years now.

My best friend Todd died in the winter of 95 in a kayaking accident. I still miss him.

All this sounds kind of sad but I'm really thankful for the way I grew up. Sure, there has been heart ache in the past. In fact I have friends around the country right now who are going through deep waters, I'm in the game with them.

Spending a lot of time with grandparents is a huge part of who I am today, in fact all my experiences on the farm are a part of who I am.

All these memories cause me to savor what is happening in my life today. When we're young we rarely think about slowing down enough to breath in what is happening in the now.

It's hard to believe how much things can change in just 25 years. It's good to take time to remember and be thankful. A long time ago God was shaping me to be and do all he intends for his Name and glory. He's still working on me.

It all makes me wonder, What will thanksgiving be like 25 years from now? But instead of living in the past or wondering about the future, I want to take in all God has for me today.

I am graciously blessed.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Why NYWC is a dangerous place...

...well, at least for me.

In fact any place where there are other youth workers who do what I do can be a struggle. You see, I struggle with all kinds of pride issues. It seems God uses gatherings like these to shed a huge spotlight on the places that may be in the dark.

  1. I love to be noticed.
  2. I am naturally competitive
  3. I play the comparison game
  4. I typically feel I'm a little better than others
  5. I want to be seen as important
And yes, "I" was used with intentionality. Those of you who don't struggle with these same issues please don't judge, you have your own.

My hope and prayer for myself and others who struggle with insecurity and ego is that this weekend will be a time we genuinely walk in humility and "esteem others as better than ourselves". It is true, God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.

I can't afford to miss what I can receive from others and the little I can offer.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Read Your Bible, Pray Everyday

At some point in my life I heard this little song. "Read your Bible, pray ever day and you'll grow, grow, grow. To be honest I hate it.

I know there is truth to the lyric, but it seems way to simplified to me. In my life a + b does not always = c.

For me to grow it is essential that I give attention to God's Word. It seems like "following Jesus 101" but sometimes it's hard to follow through. I fight daily to spend time meditating and praying through scripture. It is life to my soul.

Imagine what it's like for students. They are busier than I am, in school and usually find the Bible boring. Our goal over the last months has been to motivate and inspire students to love the Word AND to motivate them without having them read their Bibles out of moralistic obligation.

It's been difficult, but we're making good progress.

You see, over the last year we've learned that very few of our students spend any time in the Word. Without the constant flow of truth over their hearts and minds they're sitting ducks in a world that constantly pumps lies into their minds.

Sure, they hear good teaching relatively consistently, but that's not enough. My good friend David McNeely says when we just listen to others teach the Word it's like allowing someone else to chew up a great steak and spit it in your mouth. That's not really ideal.

So how do we inspire students to long for time in the Word? Here's what we've done so far. Please, please, please give input. Our ministry is on a journey that's not finished.

1. Emphasize the Bible in discipleship groups

Our 10:24 groups are reading curriculum that gives students understanding of the Bible as a whole. Their also reading a chapter a day and discussing it in their small groups.

2. Focus on the Word on fall retreats

We just got back from our fall retreat. The major teaching was on the power of the Word and why we should spend time reading it. We were careful to say God isn't mad when we don't read it but longs for us to know him.

3. Give students space to actually read the Bible

On the retreat we gave students a lot of time to read and study their Bible. We took two mornings and read through, studied, and discussed the book of Habakkuk. Believe it not our high school students ate it up.

4. Give student a place to communicate with others what they're experiencing.

I just created a blog called "Letters From God". It's kind of corny but reflects how we communicated God desire for them to absorb the Word to get to know God. Hopefully they will jump on line and share what they're reading, what jumps out, and how God is changing them. No one's commented on the blog yet, we'll see how it goes. Our middle school students simply jumped on facebook and communicated they had read their Bible that day.

What's worked with you to inspire students to love the Word? I would love to steal some ideas.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Morning Nugget

I'm still reading "Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership".

Here's a little something that nailed me this morning.

"Earth's crammed with heaven,
and every common bush afire with God;
but only he who sees takes off his shoes-
the rest sit around it and pluck blueberries"

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I don't want to run so fast that I miss the presence of God all around me. Blueberries are good, but not that good.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fighting for Solitude

I'm working my way through Ruth Barton's book, "Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership". The word "working" is used with great intention because this doesn't seem to be a book I can quickly read.

For years those of us in spiritual leadership have talked about and emphasized the importance of caring for our own souls and spending time alone to reflect on our Lord and our own souls. As I continue to read and reflect I am more and more convinced that I'm a mess in need of a savior and that time alone with Jesus to let him do his work is not an option.

You know how it is, there's always something to do or see. Even for those who have the best intention there is always some good to do for the Kingdom. There's one more phone call, one more hour of prep, or one more email to answer. In our age of communication and technology there's one more tweet, one more college football game or another blog to read. "Muchness" and busyness are many times drugs that keep us from those quite reflective times. To be honest some of us fill our lives with activity so we don't have to face what's going on underneath the surface of our own lives.

Speaking of solitude, Barton says the leader must sit at the feet of Jesus...

"Then, rather than offering the cold stone of past devotionals, regurgitated apologetics or someone else's musings about the spiritual life, we well have the bread to offer that is warm from the oven of our intimacy with God".

Have you ever been tired of serving others out of a vacuum?

It's very difficult to give what you don't have or say with conviction that which you don't really believe at the moment.

Ever been at the place where there's really nothing left to give but you make it up because you have no choice? Yeah, me too.

Here are a couple questions I'm asking myself...

When's the last time I had time alone when I heard the voice of God?

When's the last time I took a full day to be still and listen to God?

Here's questions I want to ask you...

What do you do to find times of solitude? Is this something you battle? Have you found ways to find the margin in your life to "be still"?

Those of us who call ourselves spiritual leaders have no choice but to fight for times of solitude. Don't just do something, sit there.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Better Together

The other day I had the opportunity to host a little luncheon at my church with 70 youth workers from around our city. It was actually a lunch hosted by my good friends Mark Matlock and Adam Mclain with Youth Specialties. They did an incredible job explaining the exciting things going on with Youth Specialties and Planet Wisdom.

Sure, I took away a lot of information from Mark and Adam but it's been a while since I've been around youth workers in that kind of setting. Here's a few thoughts I have about youth leaders in general and together.

Youth Ministry is Growing Up

There are a bunch of sharp, experienced, passionate youth leaders around. Over the last years God has blessed student ministry with great leaders who love students. Gone (well, almost) is the day when youth ministry is reserved for the person fresh out of seminary on their way to a "real job". In fact, there were a few people in the room that were as old as me or older, that's exciting. (and rare)

Youth Workers are Fun

You can imagine the buzz in the room. There's something about working with students that keeps us light hearted and young. (if it doesn't, you should probably do something else} Sure, student ministry is more than fun but aren't you glad it's fun most the time?

Youth Workers Enjoy Being Together

It seemed in our little room there was a genuine sense that we wanted to know each other. During the after meeting meetings there were great exchanges and questions about "what do you do about this" and "how do ya'll pull this off". Of course we can be arrogant about our ministries, but many times we as youth workers know we need the sharing of ideas to make us better. Reaching the next generation can't be done by one person or one ministry.

We Need Each Other

No one understands youth workers like youth workers. Our Kingdom work is greatly enhanced when we make spending a little time together a priority, yes a priority. If it's not a priority it will get neglected in light of the more urgent things. Notice I said urgent, not important.

With all the "sky is falling" statistics we hear about student ministry sometimes we can get discouraged. Yes, we need to continually adjust and learn how to better connect students to Jesus but I'm thankful for all the youth workers who are doing the ministry of "being there", being God with "skin on" to a generation who desperately needs the love and grace of Jesus.

Hey, if you work with students, Thanks AND keep up the good work. God is using you.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Small Group Leader's Meeting

If you work with students and adult leaders are the foundation of your strategy then you most likely meet with them from time to time.

In our student ministry there is very little that's more important than training and shepherding our small group leaders but it seems that often gatherings for them aren't thought through as well as they should be.

Here's an outline of a gathering we got right. I hope it helps.

4:45 - 5:00 Coffee / Dessert

5:00 - 5:20 Small Group discussion / prayer
Question is "We're 3 weeks in, how are things?"

5:20 - 5:25 Logistical Announcements

5:25 - 5:35 Devotion - Focus is importance of caring for your own heart.
The condition of your heart directly effects your ability to minister to students.
Psalms 51:10-13

5:35 - 5:40 Prayer Around Tables (response to the devotion)

5:40 - 6:00 Training - Small group dynamics (3 simple points)

Come to your meeting time prepared

Listen and adjust to what is happening in the life of your students

Connecting with students outside group time impacts your group

We also discussed things like, "what happens when one person dominates the group" or "what do you do when no one in your group speaks up"? We put a white board by the coffee and asked our leaders to write questions or topics they wanted to discuss. These questions surfaced on our white board.

When going into small group leader meeting we want to listen to our leaders, help them know how important they are, care for their hearts and provide some quick simple training. The challenge for our staff team is similar to the challenge of our volunteer leaders, finding time to spend one on one to build and deepen relationship.

Hey, would love ideas of what you've done that's been effective. We're always refining and trying to get better.

Friday, September 10, 2010

"Kick A#@" is in your youth group

So I finally watched the movie "Kick Ass". Can I say a*# on this blog? Anyway, there was much about the movie I didn't like (it's "r" rating is legitimate) the language was rough and there were some sexual situations that were over the top but beyond that I actually loved the story.

Dave Lizewski is lot like students in our youth groups. He's not extraordinary, in fact he's a little geeky. He's not the kind of student we would typically be drawn too and he definitely doesn't fit the old school, lame strategy of reaching the "popular" student and the rest will follow. But Dave longs for greatness. There's something inside him that wants to do and be more than he is, he wants to be a super hero.

"we see someone in trouble and we wish we could help, but we don't"

Dave Lizewski

A lot of our students feel the same way. They see devastation in Haiti and they want to help. They see friends at school who are rejected and something in them wants to help. The world is broken and they long to be a part of fixing it.

The story really gets going when Dave asks the question, "how come nobody's ever tried to be a super hero?". After being ridiculed by his friends for asking the question he follows through by ordering a ridiculous looking spandex super hero costume. For some reason not only does Dave have the desire to be more, he has the ability to do something about it.

To find out what happens next you'll have to actually watch the movie.

So here's the question.

When's the last time you sat down with a student and shared with them the potential you see in them? Not just the obvious kids who can play the guitar, light up a room with their personality or pray in front of others, but the ones that are kind of out of sight. We can see potential in students they can't see themselves.

God has uniquely wired and gifted students in our youth groups. He has given them "superhuman powers" to accomplish his work and build his Kingdom. Each of our students has a super hero inside of them that needs to be unleashed on the world.

As leaders of students we must help them...

* Discover their gifts

* Develop their gifts

* Utilize their gifts

They already have the desire, we need to coach them in following through on what God has already placed inside them.

Yes, "Kick Ass" is in your youth group, maybe you just don't know it yet. And here's a suggestion, maybe ask him to change his / her name?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Yes, fall is my favorite time of the year. College football, cooling temperatures and the changing colors are all things that make me feel like a small boy on Christmas morning. I love fall.

I feel the same way about student ministry. It's one of the busiest times of the year but it's one of my favorites. From reconnecting with adult leaders to thinking about students reconnecting with friends at school. The fall season is the March Madness or Tour de France of student ministry. (Ok, for all you soccer peeps the World Cup)

As I'm thinking about all we've done to prepare and all we will continue to do, here are some broad stroke meanderings about student ministry in fall.

Adult Leaders Get the Spotlight

Our ministry lives and dies based on adult leaders living lives with kids. Sure we try to have good talks and fun events, but we believe that most life change happens when someone who loves Jesus takes the time to pray for and spend time with students.

It seems it's the way Jesus did ministry. He walked up to people and said, "follow me". In other words, live life with me. Go where I go and do what I do. Granted, we don't require our leaders to allow 7th grade boys to live in their home, but you get the point.

In mid August we took a Saturday afternoon / evening to pull our adults together for an interactive time of training, inspiration and fun. Amongst other topics we talked about how prayer in the foundation of an effective small group and relationship for relationship's sake is what student ministry is all about. We told them that many times adult mentors provide watershed moments in the lives of kids. Then we did what any good Texan would do, ate some barbecue together. It was a great day.

We will continue to shepherd and train our leaders throughout the school year, but that Saturday afternoon was a great start. We're blessed with some super duper adults.

Live Your Life, Love Your Friends, Tell Your Story

Years ago some of my friends in Georgia came up with this simple strategy to help students think through living missionally on their campuses.

We've been unpacking a key thought from Matthew's description of Jesus when he saw hurting people.

Matt 9:36
36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

We've been asking our students questions like....

  • when you walk into your lunchroom what do you see?
  • when you see students who are different than you, are you filled with judgment or compassion?
  • what are practical ways you can show love to your friends on your campus?
  • what's your story and how can you share it naturally?
Last Monday they started school. When they walked into their lunchroom I hope they thought about Jesus seeing the crowds and being filled with compassion. I hope they have the ability (by God's grace) to SEE beyond the surface of their peers who are difficult to love.

Students are no different than adults, left to themselves they only see their own hurts and needs, but the gospel gives them the ability to look beyond themselves to the needs of others. More than anyone else, students have the greatest potential to live out the gospel to students.

So I'm curious, what is your favorite season, personally and from a ministry perspective. Fall has to be close to the top of the list....right?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Prayer for Students

This is what I'm praying for students everywhere who are living their lives on campus. The gathering of the church and the dispersant of the church.

"Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirt, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Soul Pancake

One of my students just put me on to this website. I'm probably coming to the game late, but if you haven't checked it out it's really cool.

Here's a video from YouTube from Rainn Wilson describing the site.

Check it out and let me know what you think. I'm still in process, well, I suppose that's always true.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Movie Reviews

Here's some ratings on movies I've seen this year, at least the ones I remember. This is out of 10.

Shutter Island - 8
Valentine's Day - 3
Despicable Me - 7.5
Robin Hood - 5.5
Green Zone - 5
Inception - 9

I've seen others, I've just started rating recently and to be honest I'm struggling to remember what I've seen. What did you think about these?

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Church of Tomorrow?

For years we've heard how students are the church of the tomorrow. To be honest, I hate the statement for all kinds of reasons. First of all it assumes a definition of the church that is inaccurate. If the church is a group of people following Jesus and living life together, would we dare say anyone under 21 isn't a part of that experience?

Saying students are the "church of tomorrow" assumes students will lead someday, not today. Middle school and high school students who are growing in their faith are ready to lead now. We simply have to challenge them and give them space.

Here are a couple of examples.

Worship Experience For Student By Students

Last Sunday night we had our first student lead worship worship experience. I know, late July is a horrible time to try something new. That's one of the reasons it was so cool. You wouldn't have been blown away by the event being cutting edge or highly creative, it was actually pretty simple.

About 6 weeks ago we invited some students to think about what they would like to communicate to their fellow students. They chose 1 Tim 4:12. The "don't let anyone look down on you because you're young" passage. Pretty appropriate I thought.

We asked students to be a part of the music team, asked some students to pray consistently for the event, asked some students to help with tech and asked someone to teach. One student was mc and a girl who recently came to faith shared her story.

It was incredible! The sense of excitement was great from the students who were leading as well as the ones who were participating. Yes, I'm downplaying the work that went into the event a little, but the impact it had on our ministry was worth every ounce of effort our team put in.

Sandwiches For The Hungry Of Dallas

On our summer trips we challenged our students that mission trips and summer camp isn't a destination but a doorway. In other words, if those trips didn't somehow effect the way they serve at home it was a waste, well believe it or not they heard what we said.

Last Tuesday a few of our students showed up at the church to make over 600 sandwiches for a mobile soup kitchen. It wasn't my idea, they came up with it. I didn't discover the soup kitchen, they did. I didn't buy the sandwich stuff, they did. (I did provide my credit card). I wasn't even at the church when they met and made the sandwiches, the did it all on their own.

And yes, I'm really proud of them.

The interesting thing about 1 Timothy 4:12 is that it challenges the younger to set an "example" to the rest of the church. Setting an example means leadership. It means charting a course and showing the rest of us old people what it looks like to live out a radical life. A life that is consistently being transformed from the inside out by the gospel.

Students are the church of today. We must give them space and resources to live out the passions and gifts God has given them, then we must follow.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Is / Was Your Youth Camp Cheesy?

I’ve had the privilege of doing a lot of Summer Camp this year. I’ve spoken at 2 camps and my own church’s camp is this week. It’s truly been a blast so far.

To be really honest with you, I think camp is kind of cheesy.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love camp and believe God uses those experiences all over the country to move students towards his heart and I actually enjoy the cheesiness. As I’m staring down the barrel of our camp this weekend here are some things I’m thinking about to embrace the cheese but more importantly position our students where they’ll rub up against Jesus.

Camp should reflect your overall student ministry strategy

In other words, if you’re a ministry driven by adult leaders and small groups, your camp should have those opportunities. If your ministry is highly missional in nature, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to provide some missional experience at camp or at least expose students to injustices in the world. If your ministry is all about production then do that to the max. In fact, it might be better to go to Big Stuff or something that does production at the highest level.

The point is this, your camp should mirror what your priorities are in your ministry. Summer camp isn’t a stand-alone event, it’s connected to the rest of your ministry.

Work hard at having fun

To be honest this is a tough one for me. Fun is a high priority for my ministry, it just can’t be dependent on me to pull it off. This weekend one of our key leaders is the mc. She is absolutely hilarious and extremely fun. If you’re a fuddy dudd like me find someone who is fun and put them in charge.

Camp isn't a destination, it’s a doorway

You know this already, the challenge with camp is helping students process and live out what God does at camp when they get home. What about taking the entire last session or 2 to help students process and imagine what God is going to do when they get home? Many times camp builds towards that “last night” experience. Why not have that experience earlier in the week to help students unpack what God is teaching them and helping them prepare to go home?

If our camp is just about camp and not life change where students live work and play we have missed an incredible opportunity.

Focus on the gospel not the experience

Students (and adults) can easily be lured into worshipping an experience instead of God. The story of what Jesus has done on our behalf must be the centerpiece of every camp no matter what the theme.

Jesus doesn’t only live at your camp location. If students come home embracing the gospel and all that means in their life then their walk with him will have been truly deepened.

So, embrace the cheese and enjoy how God seems to work in a special way at our summer camps. By the way, I met Jesus at our church’s summer camp in Jekyll Island, Georgia. It will be cool to hear stories over the years of how God has worked at your camp this summer.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


I used to hope students would flock to youth group because of my unbelievable leadership and phenomenal speaking gift. Boy was I crazy. I even hoped it would be because of Jesus but that's not usually the case either.

In reality students come to youth group because of friends and fun. Yes, we hope they'll get a little Jesus but most students aren't motivated by that.

Last night was a great reminder of how important fun is. We did a simple activity called "soaplympics" and yes it was a lot of fun. It's amazing what a water hose, tarp, soap, rope and large fruit will do for community in your youth group.

I didn't speak and no one prayed that I'm aware of, but we as a group moved even closer to community and God was truly honored.

Sure, fun isn't all we should do but it's important.

Hey, have fun out there!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

3 Ways to Keep Upper Classmen in the Game

High school ministry attrition is so common in churches. Many times after students get car keys they become disinterested in the body of Christ.

To join the discussion on why high school attrition check out...

Why Attrition in High School Ministry

So the question becomes how do we provide an environment that encourages students to remain engaged as they reach those busy junior and senior years?

Provide Ownership

High school students have great ideas about student ministry. A few months ago I sat down with 17 students individually and asked their opinion about our high school ministry. You can learn so much by simply asking questions and listening. Asking and listening gives them true ownership in the ministry.

Right now our students are planning our first high school led worship experience. They're brainstorming the theme for the night, how to present it creatively and thinking through what it's going to take to pull it off. They own the night and they know they need Jesus to be effective in the planning process.

Provide Opportunity

Being unintentional about getting upper classmen hands on in ministry is like having a basketball team that practices but never plays a game. Many students have heard Bible stories their whole life. They've heard how others have been in dangerous situations when God came through in huge ways...but few of them have experienced it.

God has gifted student in remarkable ways, our job is to help them discover their gifts, develop these gifts and then provide opportunity for them to utilize their gifts. Sure, most the time it's easier to do ministry ourselves, but think about how powerful it would be if you sat down with a student and helped them learn how to study the scripture and write a talk. Think about how much they would need the power of God to come through when they stand up and deliver a message to their peers. This and other experiences like it keep students in the game.

From setting up chairs to praying to taking care of the tech needs, there are so many ways for students to minister. As they get older they don't simply want to be spectators, they want to be in the game.

Provide Ongoing Relationship

Youth staff will come and go. Yes, the average time a youth minister stays with a church has increased over the years, but making sure students connect with volunteer adult leaders is crucial. There's less chance volunteers move on.

Having a volunteer leader who has pastored a group of students since they were freshmen or earlier forges great relationships that grow through the junior and senior years of high school.

Sure, there are a lot of other issues to discuss, but if we as churches can focus on these 3 areas not only will our students stay in the game, their understanding of their role in the body of Christ and service to the world will increase.

God get's the glory and students get to enjoy what it's like to be used by God. Wouldn't we want that for all our students?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Why Attrition in High School Ministry?

Yesterday afternoon I stepped into my executive pastor's office to say hi. Now, you need to understand that Steve is unlike any executive pastor I've ever met, heck, Steve is unlike any person I've met. He's passionate, aggressive, gentle (most the time), a servant and values out of the box thinking. All of this wrapped up with a shaved head and a huge heart.

As we were pontificating about ministry (good word, hugh) he asked a question that has me thinking. "Does anyone know how to do ministry to juniors and seniors"? Of course in my mind I'm thinking, well yes, I'm standing right here.

In reality our ministry has gone through major transition over the last 3 years. This transition has really hurt our ability to serve upper classmen. We're rebuilding.

Most student ministries struggle to influence students after they get their drivers license. We've heard a lot of statistics about young adults leaving the church, I believe they're leaving the church much earlier than college, they leave church when they're still in high school.

So why don't they hang around? Why do we typically have great attrition when students get older. Here's some thoughts.

They have greater freedom...

When they get car keys they all of a sudden have more options of how to spend their time. Also parents may stop making their kids come to church as they get older. In reality, when kids have keys they can vote about how they value the student ministry. Many of them vote "no".

They have greater responsibility...

You know the drill, jobs, sports, band, drama, college prep. All these opportunities get loyalty from upper classmen, and they should. The question is, why doesn't the church receive the same loyalty from students?

They have greater interests...

As students begin to see the world differently their interests sometimes mature. The church typically doesn't give context for them to develop and serve in a way that impacts the world around them. Students at some point think the church is irrelevant and they go elsewhere to have impact.

Some seem to have the view that if the church can get students through the high school years without getting pregnant smoking pot or getting drunk, the church has done a good job. If parents don't have to twist the arm of their kids to come to church that's a huge plus.

Shouldn't high school ministry be more than that? In the next couple of days I want to share some thoughts on how to keep high school students in the game.

BUT before, what are other reasons we loose high school students as they get older?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Summer Intern Prep

Last night I had the privilege of spending time with our summer interns. Our purpose in having college students for the summer is pretty simple. Students have more time in the summer to hang out and chill. It's a great time to connect with a lot of students relationally. That's our intern's number one goal.

Although the goal sounds simple enough it takes planning and preparation to have effective results. Yes, even the organic goal of building and deepening relationships takes prep time. So, last night we spent several hours together thinking about the summer. Here are some things we spoke about...

It's all about the heart

Those of us who have been in ministry a long time know this to be true but still struggle. More important than anything we do or relationship we develop is finding time and space for our hearts to connect with Jesus. If we (or our staff / interns) are not connecting with Jesus, we have nothing to offer students.

It's all about relationships

Pretty simple. Go deeper with the students that are easily accessible, but work hard to connect with students who are on the peripheral. The tendency is to spend 90% of our time with kids who are pursuing us. To reach out to students who are aren't always around requires careful intentionality.

It's all about wisdom

For interns (and veteran youth workers) if you have to ask the question, "i wonder if it would be ok if..." is a sign you probably shouldn't. When you're 18 or 19 landing on the conservative side of decision making is important. Here's some other wisdom thoughts.

Don't drive alone with someone of the opposite sex
If a students wants to do something that requires a signing by someone over 18, don't
Be careful not to drive like a maniac with students in the car
Remember to communicate with parents
If there's a discussion about illegal activity / abuse, contact a staff member immediately

There are other topics we discussed like the importance of prayer and how to do fun things with little money etc. I truly believe God is going to work through our interns. Yes, it's only 3 months but God uses people when they're connected to him and willing to simply be there.

My friend Jim Burns says student ministry is the ministry of "being there". That's exactly what I want our summer intern program to be about.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Leading Through The Hectic

We have a ton going on right now in our student ministry. From planning mission trips, to preparing summer camp, to raffling a corvette (you can buy a ticket) to saying good bye to a loved staff member, to prepping summer interns, to interviewing new staff to regular weekly programming there is a lot happening. This doesn't even include parent meetings, church staff meetings and all the other stuff that happens at a large church. As I write this I'm feelling a bit overwhelmed.

Have you ever been there? Maybe even now? Everything going on right now is good and necessary, but sometimes when we start moving fast we forget the some crucial parts of ministry.

Yesterday I had to slow my mind and refocus on a few things that are mandatory for this season in our ministry.


It's funny. When I need God the most I have the greatest tendency to act as if I don't. Prayerlessness is acting as if we don't need God. When schedules and activities start going fast it's easy to depend on ourselves instead of running to God.

Staff Relationships

If I'm running fast then my team is feeling it as well. Yes, we go through seasons of really hard work and there are other times where there's more flexibility. In times like these the leader must work extra hard to show genuine appreciation. My tendency is to be over demanding and difficult to please. If I do that now I could damage relationships that I value.

Adult Leaders

Spring time in student ministry must mean recruiting new leaders for the fall. From a strategic perspective this is the most important thing we can be doing with our time right now. It's very difficult because the deadlines for all the other stuff is soon. Relationship is a high value for our ministry and relationship happens when our volunteers are hanging with students. No volunteer leaders means no relationships with students.


When things start moving fast it's easy to forget we have to tell people what's happening. From staff to students to parents, effective communication can't be put on the back burner when things get hectic.

Ok, I would love to write a little more but I honestly don't have time right now. If you have any advice I could sure use it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Relationship is King

I hate to do this, but I was able to be with Josh the other night and it he reminded me again of the importance of simply building and nurturing relationships. This is a post from a year ago. I hope it encourages you as Josh always challenges me.

Life 2 Life

Every youth group has that kid. You know the one. The student who is an accident waiting to happen. For me Josh was that kid. My first real exposure to him was at Erlanger Hospital right after he broke his back. That was just the beginning. I’ve actually seen him get hit in the thigh with a golf ball. You could read the word “titlelist” on his upper thigh for weeks. Beyond the accidents Josh was a fun kid who was faithful to the Lord and to the ministry. There are so many stories I would love to tell about this student. Sometimes just saying the name Josh makes me laugh.

At one point his dad forbid the two of us to be anywhere close to large bodies of water including lakes, rivers and oceans. With Josh I’ve been stranded on a small boat in the Atlantic in an intense thunderstorm. On a separate occasion I was actually with him when he was run over by a boat. Because of shared trauma our hearts will forever been connected.

Josh is now 26. It’s really kind of miraculous the boy is still alive. Last year I was privileged to attend his wedding and meet the woman he will spend the rest of his life loving well. I’m so proud of the man he’s become.

A couple of weeks ago I found out his dad died suddenly. I was in the area so we got to spend some really neat time together. We cried and laughed as we told stories about his dad and how awesome of a man he was. His Father’s nickname was “Boss” and he lived out that name with with great passion.

Towards the end of our time together the subject kind of changed. Sitting across the table from one another we began to talk about my future and what I should do when I grow up. (I was recently in a job transition) It’s funny how things kind of come around. My relationship with Josh had always been about me encouraging him and giving him spiritual mentoring, but now the tables were turned. The student had now become the teacher and it was time for me to sit and listen.

As we talked about what I should do next in my life he said something so interesting to me. “David, I would love to see you in a small church instead of a large church”. Of course I asked him why. What he said next was a golden reminder to any of us who love students. “There are many things I remember about being in the youth group, I remember you used to talk about the woman at the well a lot” (I really love that story) “But what I remember most are the times you and I spent together. That’s what had the biggest impact on me. If you’re in a large church with a large youth group I’m afraid kids won’t get that opportunity.”

I know I’m preaching to the choir here but it reminded me once again that youth ministry is the ministry of “being there.” Student ministry is the abiding ministry of Jesus in our lives and connecting our lives and hearts to students. I’m not really sure what I did in those “one on one” times. In fact I’m pretty sure they weren’t that intentional most the time. The reality is ministry is more about who you are and where you are than what you do. Paul said this about his own ministry.

8We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.

Let the words “we loved you so much” sink in for minute. Is there any relationship in your ministry that would fall into the “loving so much” category? Paul didn’t have to force himself to live life to life with people, it was the natural overflow of his affection towards those to whom he was ministering.

Sure, Paul taught and preached the truth to people but he shared more than words, he shared his life. My guess is that people he served are a little like Josh. The truth they saw in Paul was at least as powerful as the truth they heard from Paul.

So, what does it mean to share your life? If ministry is about being there then sharing your life has to be defined as time connecting with those who are under your care. That’s the main thing Josh remembered about his time in the youth ministry. It wasn’t the incredible expository teaching I delivered every week but was the backpacking trip or the time on the golf course.

Why is it that for some of us taking the time to be with students can be so challenging? Could it be that so often our performance is judged by what’s done in the large group setting? Many times the greatest hope and desire of parents and church leaders is that their kids won’t gripe about having to go to church. They believe that if students go to church they won’t have sex before marriage and they’ll stay off drugs. And isn’t that what student ministry is all about?

It’s easy to get confused about what makes ministry successful. Effective ministry is much more than shaping the behavior of kids. Jesus did a lot of up front teaching but he changed the world through the 12 men with which he lived. Please don’t here me say that the teaching of the Word and our large gatherings are not important, they are. My plea however is that we would remember and embrace that life-to-life ministry must be the foundation of student ministry and for that matter all ministry.

As we wrap our minds around this simple reminder, let’s consider a couple of questions.

Is your life worth sharing?

Paul was passionate about sharing his life with people. Our lives are only worth sharing if we are daily being transformed by the power of God. This means it must be our priority to savor God daily in personal worship. Time feasting on the Word and crying out to God in prayer is the only chance we have to share a life with students that will enable them to go deeper.

How do you judge success?

We have all experienced the joy and thrill of walking into our youth room and seeing it almost full or overflowing. Do we view our success by how many students are showing up at one place at one time? That can be an indicator of success, but if it’s the primary indicator you will invest most of your time, energy and resource in the large gathering and rob life-to-life ministry.

Do you have space in your life for relational ministry?

If we believe Jesus, Paul and Josh we know it’s so important to create times of one-on-one or one-on-a-few opportunities. A ministry of “being there” is about being available but also being intentional about having time to spend with students. Let’s take a look at our calendars to see how much time we really have set aside for these life to life encounters with students.

I’m so thankful my friend Josh reminded me of the simple truth that ministry is about relationship. I love being with Josh. I’m thinking about scheduling a deep sea fishing trip for us. Just for old times sake!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Can Students Lead?

This afternoon I'm taking a few High School students to East Texas on our church's first leadership retreat. The objectives are pretty simple.

* Broaden their definition of leadership
* Encourage them to lead by using their God given gifts
* Dream about ways to be the hands and feet of Jesus to their peers
* Help them discover ways they can use their gifts NOW

The more I think about it the more I'm convinced that a person can't lead an effective student ministry without somehow encouraging and equipping students to serve / lead. Engaging the potential of students is a necessary step in a ministry's growth.

Here are some random thoughts on beginning the process of thinking through equipping students to lead.

* Ask students for their opinion.

Sit down one on one with a student and ask them what they love about the student ministry. Ask them what they struggle with. By asking and listening carefully you'll learn a lot but also communicate how much you value this student.

* Ask yourself the question, "what are adults doing that students could / should do?"

There is very little adults do that students couldn't participate in at some level. Sure we want a balance of old people like us around students, but we need to think through opportunities for students.

* Help students dream

You may see gifts and passions in their life they can't see. Part of our role is to help those who are younger think through the question "what if?" What if God really used them to shake their campus, or lead a small group. They're not getting up every morning thinking this way we need to help them.

Throughout the weekend we're going to have some guest bloggers. I'm asking students to share their thoughts and experience as we go through the weekend. It could be rich!

Monday, May 3, 2010

I Missed It. Thoughts On Volunteer Leaders

Last week I hosted a cookout at my house for juniors. The goal was pretty simple hang out, eat some delicious burgers, and talk for just a minute about what it means to be a senior in student ministry. We had a great turn out and a great time.

However, as I looked around the my back yard I noticed that something was missing. Some people who should have been there weren't. Among all the juniors who attended there were no volunteer leaders.

Our adult leaders are pretty vested in the lives of students. It's not their fault they weren't there it was mine.

You see, sometimes when things get hectic instead of pursuing the value of including volunteer leaders in all I do, I end up trying to do everything myself. It sounds backwards doesn't it? When we get busy we should reach out to others for help, but sometimes it seems including others requires extra time and energy.

To be honest I felt a little more Godly because I was the one who went to the grocery store to buy all the stuff we needed for the cookout. What a servant I was! In reality I'm the last person who should be doing stuff like that. I'm famous for leaving out key details like buying all the ingredients for hot dogs and forgetting the hot dogs.

When thinking through including adults here's some things to think about.

* Plan Ahead
Our leaders are busy and will only be able to participate when given advanced notice. "Fly by the seat of your pants" ministry doesn't work when including leaders.

* Include them in the planning
Don't be a one man or woman show. Believe it not some of them are more gifted than you in the planning process. Let them lead, ministries who provide space for others to lead draws leaders.

* Know their gifts
If you know how they're gifted you'll be more effective in helping them find their ministry "sweet spot".

* Show them copious amounts of gratitude.
This goes without saying. Don't take your leaders for granted.

Ok, the cookout was successful but if relationship is a high value it means including adult leaders in the process and unleashing them to pursue and deepen relationship with students. When I do everything myself I rob them of their potential to utilize their God given gifts. Not to mention that gatherings aren't all they could be when I limit what we do to my own creativity.

Ministry is always deeper, more fun and more effective when done in the context of team. Take the time and energy to include others. Didn't God design us to do life and ministry together?

Friday, April 30, 2010

"Glee" gets something right

Ok, I'm not going to lie. Shows like "Glee", "Saved By the Bell" and "Beverly Hills 90201" scare me to death.

Yes, sometimes they show a clear reflection of what is happening in high school culture but my fear is that these shows are "normalizing" aspects of the culture that are damaging to kids and their families. My hope is that students will rise above relentless pursuit of love and acceptance that leaves students empty until they find love and acceptance in their creator.

With that being said and also with the chance that I may cause each of you to question my manliness, I'm actually enjoying aspects of "Glee", especially the way they handled body image this week.

If you can get past the sickening parody of what girls will do to stay skinny at the beginning of the episode you're in for a pretty powerful exclamation point of healthy body image. Yes, it's sad to see what girls go through to present themselves attractive, but the way the episode uses a little hyperbole really brings the issue to clarity. If you ask some, it really isn't THAT exaggerated.

So, every once in a while a show like "Glee" will surprise and get some things right. If you enjoy these kind of shows fine, but watch them through the lens of truth. In your mind make sure you're separating the truth from the lie and yes, most of it is a lie.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Student Ministry Transferables

I recently had a great time with some new friends in Austin, Texas. We spent the weekend together at their church getting to know one another and their youth ministry. They have the desire to build some foundations for their ministry that will be transferable even with different youth directors. I have the privilege of help them with this process.

The first weekend was all about observation. There was copious amounts of time spent with parents, youth committee members and students. As I listened to the heart cry of each group there were a few themes I believe to be true not only for this church but for almost every student ministry.

Here's a few...

Students want more than fun and games

As I spoke with these students it was obvious they were hungry for relationship. One theme that kept coming out was their longing to know each other. Every student is looking for community and will find it somewhere. It could be the lacrosse team or the band, but as youth workers our longing is the body of Christ becomes their most meaningful community.

The other comment that resonated with me dealt with wanting more than simply knowing about Jesus, they want to know him personally. In fact one student used the illustration of "knowing about Sam Bradford vs. knowing Sam Bradford. Unfortunate quarterback choice but I got the point.

Yes, there is a place for games but student need opportunity to get serious about relationships. Notice the nice segue.

Relationship is King

Students engage in activities where they know others and are know by others. "Sometimes you want to be where everybody knows your name" is a heart cry of every student. Students connecting with students and caring adult leaders must be a value of every student ministry.

Volunteer Leaders want to be equipped and supported

Adult leaders are busy. The delicate balance of providing support and training but not demanding too much time is an issue in my own student ministry and every student ministry I've seen. Leaders don't want to be dropped off at some island with middle school boys and told to fend for themselves. They also don't want endless meetings that bring little value.

It's more of an art than a science to figure out the balance, but it must be constantly discussed and tweaked.

Parents want their kids to want to go to church

Sure, parents have other goals for their kids, but if their son or daughter doesn't give them a hard time about going to church they're pretty much satisfied. I'm not real sure how I feel about this, I just know it's common to every student ministry situation.

That's my 2 cents worth. Are these observations true of your context? If they are what are you doing to address them?

See you later, I have a lot of work to do in my own student ministry.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Am I Fat? Part 2

Earlier today I mentioned some things we're thinking about as it relates to teen age girls and body image. Here's Shelley's thoughts on the weekend she just spent with girls talking about this stuff.

"Last weekend the 8th-12th grade girls loaded the vans and headed to Sky Ranch for a "girls only" retreat! We had a blast...lake and pool activities, ropes course, the land blob (a favorite for the girls), eating A LOT of junk food (so much so that we had a vomit from the top bunk @ 5 am and it landed
in another girls bag...I know...y'all wish you were in Student ministry),
and so much more! The focus of the weekend was "how our insecurities affect our relationship with God and our relationship with others." We spend time
meditating on Phil. 4:8 and Psalm 139. I was reminded throughout the weekend just how much pressure teenage girls face on a daily basis...pressure to be
the skinniest, the prettiest, the smartest, and the list goes on and on. God moved in some big ways! Here are what some of the girls are saying"

hey Shelley :)
I wanted to thank you for asking me to go on the sky ranch girl's retreat, I'm so glad I went !
I loved it and I had a really good time. I feel more secure with myself now, and I finally understand why God made us the way we are.

I am so happy I got to go Shelley it was amazing!!!! Thanks (:
and I have done from head to toe, thanked God for all of my body parts and why. Still two more haha(: ill let you know asap. Byeee

Hey Shelley! I just wanted to let you know I had a great time at the
retreat! I haven't been comparing myself to anyone and I've been looking in their eyes but I have been comparing my accomplishments to someone elses. But that was only once!

Don't you love their honesty! Attached are a couple of pics from the weekend...ENJOY!


Do You Think I'm Fat?

This morning I find myself burdened and frustrated.

If you work with middle school or high school students you know that teen aged girls struggle with body image at a deep level. The reality of this struggle hit me in a fresh way yesterday.

Our girls just returned from a retreat over the weekend. Shelley, our associate pastor, led them through a discussion of how God made them beautiful and valuable. For the most part our girls buy into truth when they're discussing it, but when their gaurd is down and boys aren't around it's easy to see what they're really feeling.

They play the comparison game, they talk about what they hate about themselves, from their hair to their toes. It seems there's a deep perversion of the truth that God made them beautiful and valuable on the inside and out. In reality 80% of American women say they're dissatisfied with the way they look.

What feeds this perversion? Where does it come from? After discussing this with Shelley yesterday it seems there are primarily 2 sources; media and words.

Our media sets a standard of beauty that's ridiculous and untrue. Our culture applauds the outward and rarely focuses on what's on the inside. Most girls fall victim to the lie that beauty is what you see on the front of cosmo. Take some time and watch some television. From Glee, to Dancing with the Stars to The Bachelor; these shows set a standard of beauty that's really just skin deep.

This is a great video article on media and gender issues. Warning: It's PG 13 stuff.!

The second cause for unhealthy thinking about appearance is words. Words from parents and friends. A mom says, "you need to lose 5 pounds" or a boyfriend says, "why are your calves so fat". When a person already feels insecure these "innocent" comments can send a girl to a very dark place.

So my question is this, how do we change the culture? How do we help young women see themselves the way God sees them?

I hope you have some good answers because I'm not sure I do. Here's a couple of thoughts...

Let's look for ways to compliment that have nothing to do with how one looks or what a person wears. We should go out of our way to share with our girls positive things that have nothing to do with appearance.

What about challenging the culture? I'm not sure the best way to do this, but somehow we have to open the eyes of our girls and all our students about the lies of media and culture.

I'm also thinking about ways to help the high school guys I'm around think differently about what makes a girl (and themselves) valuable.

Finally, make sure you have "Shelleys" around. If you're a man in ministry do whatever it takes to get women around to love girls well and see the body image issue clearly.

Do you have any input? I hope you do. This is a big deal for those of us who long to see students embrace Jesus and follow him well.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Somtimes You Need To Hear It (or read it)

So I ran into a student on facebook last night. To be honest we hadn't talked in 5 years. She was very active in our youth group her freshman and sophomore years but after that we kind of lost track of her...until now.

I'm not sure why we didn't peruse her better when she left (maybe we did and I don't remember) but as she told me about the next 4 years of her life it made me really sad and angry. She told me story after story of struggle and betrayal. People that should had taken care of her but didn't. I couldn't help but wonder "what if"?

What if when we didn't see her around one of our adult leaders had pursued her a little more?

What if she had felt such a strong community connection that she didn't wander off?

Here's the cool thing. As I told her I was sorry for things that happened in her life she told me she doesn't really regret her past, she actually appreciates it. It's as if she can see God's hand directing her on a journey, some of the journey enjoyable, other parts miserable but all for her good to get her where she is today.

She's now graduated from college and says she's fulfilling her purpose and passion in life. She's teaching special needs children. I could sense the joy in her words as I read them on the bottom right corner of my screen.

I'm so proud of her.

So, why did she "im" me last night? She just wanted to make sure I knew I had made a difference in her life, that's all.

Until she told me I didn't realize it. To be honest I really needed to hear that from her. It's funny how those we serve eventually end up encouraging us.

As I've thought about my chat with her last night here are 3 thoughts for you and me.
  • If you work with students you're making a difference whether you realize it or not. God gives the increase and many times we don't see it this side of heaven.
  • There's probably someone you need to send a message to today and tell them thank you for the difference they made in your life. As you know that little glimpse of how God has worked goes a long way.
  • God works in lives of those around us even when we're not there. Yes, God can get things done without us.
So today, be encouraged that God is working and make a phone call or send a facebook message. I am.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Are you lonesome tonight?

"It's at night when its' the hardest. When I'm alone, that's when it really hits me. I wish it was tomorrow already so I could be with the people"

Last night cruising through facebook I found this quote written by one of my students. If you were to casually see her around you probably wouldn't catch on to the fact that she is lonely. Many times I forget people around me are struggling with loneliness. This is true of adults I encounter but perhaps even more true for students. The truth is all people feel lonely sometimes and some people feel lonely all the time.

"The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for, and deserted by everybody"

Mother Theresa

Here are a few random thoughts on loneliness...

* Loneliness has little to do with the absence of people

Sometimes people who are the life of the party are the ones who feel the loneliest. Don't be fooled by the person who is in the center of everything. It could be they're trying to ease the pain by acting loud and together.

* Loneliness is many times covered up by busyness

People do a great job of medicating the things that hurt. It makes sense. You have a headache you take an aspirin. You feel lonely when you have nothing to do, you fill your life with all kinds of activity. Activity only eases the symptom. A person is truly healthy when they're comfortable alone and comfortable in a group.

* Loneliness is ultimately being homesick for God

This thought isn't original with me (like anything truly is?) but I love it. God has made each person with a longing for togetherness, to be together with Him and then together with one another.

For those of us who work with students it's our mission to connect students with God and with each other. It's become vogue in the last few years to speak of authentic, God centered community, but that's actually what the church should be about.

Keep pressing students toward intimacy with God. Keep encouraging students towards community with each other and the rest of the body. Your group is more than a high school band or middle school football team. Yes, students will find community somewhere but there's only one person and one community that meets the deepest longing of the soul.

It's hard to believe
that there's nobody out there
It's hard to believe
that I'm all alone
At least I have her love
the city she loves me
Lonely as I am
together we cry

Let's make sure students know there's more than a city that loves them. There's a savior and his people who become family for those without.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Do churched students understand and embrace the gospel?

Over the last few days I've been speaking with some students who have been in church for years.

As we begin to talk about God and the gospel it becomes clear they don't fully understand the story of God redeeming his people. Sure, many students cannot as clearly articulate the gospel as preachers or seminary professors, (well to be honest, some students can share it more effectively) but that's not the issue here. They truly don't seem to understand faith, sacrifice, repentance and the basic pieces of the gospel story.

So I'm curious. If you work with students when and how often to you talk about the gospel?

When sharing the gospel here are the major points I want students (or adults) to hear.

God created us for himself - Col 1:16

Often students see God as a cosmic Santa Clause. They treat him as if He exist for us to give us what we want. The truth is all things were created by God for God. The gospel must begin with God.

We don't live for him we live for ourselves - Is 53:6

God created us to live for him but we're like sheep, we go our own way and rebel against God. That's called sin.

There is a penalty for sin, death - Rom 6:23

Students seem to understand and long for justice. They also understand death, however this is a difficult truth to swallow; that the penalty for their sin is death, physical death and spiritual death.

At this point it's good to talk about how all this is bad news. To be separate from God and face the penalty for our sins is not a good thing, but there's good news.

Jesus paid our penalty - 1 Peter 3:18

This is when it gets exciting. Students light up when they think about Jesus taking the punishment we deserve. Sometimes it's good to give a corny illustration like "if you were caught robbing a bank and received a 25 year sentence and someone came and went to jail in your place, that's a microscopic picture of what Jesus did."

Our response, belief and repentance - John 3:16

At this point it's all about responding to the gospel. If a person believes and embraces the story of the gospel then they enter into relationship with God and their sins will be forgiven, not based on anything they have done but only based on the grace of God.

So I'm going to more often talk about Jesus doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. The gospel not only brings us into relationship with God but also gives the power we need to live for him but I suppose that's a entirely different blog post.

So, what am I leaving out of the gospel story? How often and how do you share the gospel?

Bad Friday?

My son Zach (17) just asked me if today was Good Friday and if this is the day we reflect on the crucifixion of Jesus. He then asked an even better question, if it's the day we think about the death of Jesus why do we call it "good"? It would seem that thinking about the torture of Jesus might cause us to call today bad Friday.

Today is the day we reflect on what I believe is the greatest collision of all time. The cross is the place where the perfect love of God and the perfect righteousness of God collided. God has a perfect love for his people so by his grace he made a plan to redeem them. God has a perfect righteousness and is just so he must punish sin.

These 2 pieces his character came together at the point Jesus was on the cross, in fact there is no event in history that more clearly reveals the true character of God.

The cross makes a way for us to receive forgiveness for our sins and enter into relationship with a holy God and his people. Without the cross we are still guilty in our sin and separate from God.

That's why this is a very good day. Wouldn't you agree?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Keep It Fresh

To be honest I've never been that great of a bike racer. I raced for 4 years and had a couple top 5 finishes. Our team did very well and won some races. It was great fun to be a part of a successful team but in reality I was pretty mediocre as a cyclist.

Even though I wasn't winning races I was fit. Saturday mornings would consist of a 3 1/2 hour training ride that was about 70 miles. The ride averaged about 22 mph which is actually pretty fast. When I was training I would ride around 175 miles a week.

That was 2 years ago.

Saturday I went on a group ride with some fast riders. At first I thought it wouldn't be a problem to hang on and enjoy the ride. You see, I haven't really been on a serious ride in about 8 months but something in me believed I still had "it" whatever "it" is.

Within 30 minutes or so I was suffering immensely. I couldn't hang on just because I was in good shape 2 years ago.

Here's the deal. It doesn't matter how fit you WERE. All that matters is how fit you ARE. This is true for bike racing and true for ministry.

Are you ever tempted to lean on how God used you in the past? Are you always telling stories of what God did a few years back but don't have stories about what God is doing now?

I'm not saying we should forget God's faithfulness of the past but if ancient history is what you remember most fondly perhaps it's time to do a serious assessment of your life and ministry in the now. It's often an uphill battle to stay fresh and live in the now. God longs to work in you and through you now, not just in the future or in the past.

So here are a couple of suggestions of how to stay fresh. I hope to apply them to my life soon...

Take a 1 day refreshment retreat

Go to your immediate supervisor and ask for permission to get away for a day to reflect and pray. When I do this I take a book, Bible and pen and paper. Sometimes it's great to go with no agenda. Just sit and listen to God. Take a nap, read or just daydream.

Go to a conference

Ok, you may not learn anything new, but being around people who do what you do is almost always energizing. You may not learn anything new but you may be reminded of something you forgot.

Visit another church

Worshiping in another setting where you have no responsibly is awesome. I need to try this a couple times a year.

I know you have some suggestions of what you do to stay current and fresh. Please post them for all to enjoy.

May we be pastors and leaders who experience the presence and work of Jesus NOW. Let's fight to stay fresh.