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?