Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Students and Fixed Hour Prayer

For over 25 years I've dreamed of ways to help kids connect to God in the Word and prayer.  Although I know people connect with God in different ways I'm not sure students can grow or be spiritually healthy without some sort of spiritual rhythm which includes Bible meditation and prayer.  By the way, this isn't just true for kids, it's true for all of us.

When you speak with kids you hear all kinds of good reasons for not spending focused time with God.  

*  It's boring
*  I don't understand the Bible
*  Nothing really happens
*  I'm way too busy
*  I'm too tired
*  I don't know where to start
*  I can't focus

To be honest, all those reasons make sense but I'm not giving up.  Part of the problem has been we've done a poor job giving kids tools that will help them develop a plan to spend time with God.  This summer we're going to try something a little different and radical for our ministry context.  

For all our kids and especially those who are leading or serving this summer, we're going to challenge them to not only spend time with God once a day but 4 times a day.  Crazy isn't it?

As a "non-liturgical" I'm coming to the party way late but here's what I'm learning.  The concept of "fixed hour prayer" dates back before the early church and has morphed over the centuries.  Many from liturgical traditions practice scheduled prayer and meditation today know as "the daily office", "divine hours" or "fixed-hour prayer".

For a brief but fascinating history check out this article by Phyllis Tickle.

We're using the devotions based on the daily office from the "Book of Common Prayer".  It's pretty simply.  You spend an extended time in the morning in Bible meditation and prayer and shorter periods of time around noon, early evening and right before you go to bed.  These times of prayer and meditation can be done as an individual or as a group.

I came across this great website which students can access on their phone or computer.  (A special thinks to the Church of the Savior in Allen, Texas)

Here's the plan for the summer.

A Short Introduction and Training

In a couple of weeks we're going to meet with our students who are involved in serving and leading.  As we introduce the idea and challenge them to jump in it's going to be important to focus on the heart.  Fixed hour prayer could quickly become a legalistic obligation if we're not careful.  It's always a challenge to keep spiritual rhythms fresh.

Daily Reminders From Your Cell Phone

We're going to ask them  set their phones to go off 4 times a day as a reminder.  Ok, I have no expectation that each student will do this perfectly.  In fact we're going to challenge them to walk in grace through this whole process.  But what if each student spends a little more time in the presence of God?  Even if they can't stop where they are and pray the office it still reminds them that God is present when the alarm goes off.  That's a good thing.

Implemented on Mission Trips and Camp

The daily office will drive our solo time for students and also small group time.  We're thinking creatively on how we can infuse fixed hour prayer into our trips where we have a little more influence on the schedule of students.  Again, the goal is that students would experience God's presence more consistently. 

I'm super excited about how God may use this in my life and the life of our kids.  My hope is that God will use this to connect them with himself, those close to them but also with the church around the world who consistently brings these prayer before the throne.

The Daily Offices are dedicated... to the informing concept of a cascade of prayer being lifted ceaselessly by Christians around the world; to the recognition for every observant of an exultant membership with other observants in a communion of saints across both time and space...

Phyllis Tickle

Am I crazy?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Adult Leaders and Summertime

Ahhhh, summertime and student ministry!!!

Mission trips
Texas Rangers Baseball
Slip and Slide Kickball
Bahama Bucks
120 Degrees

I can't wait!  But what about your adult leaders?

Our student ministry is based on "life on life" small groups led by Godly passionate adult leaders.  Our small group program takes the summer off because our leaders need a little break from the hectic school year.  

But there's tension, discipleship isn't a program but a relationship.  

Every spring we struggle with the question, "what's a healthy expectation for our adult volunteers through the summer"?  Summer doesn't weaken their heart for students but our summer schedule doesn't give our leaders a weekly small group setting in which to connect.

It's important that you give them expectations and ideas.  Without a "program" they're attending they may need help understanding what their role should be.  Communicate, communicate, communicate.

In an attempt to find balance with giving our leaders some down time but continue the rhythm of relationship here's what we're asking of them.  

In fact, here's a portion of an email we sent them yesterday.

We want you to have some time off over the summer but also know that relationship doesn’t take time off.  Here’s some suggestions.

1.  Swing by on Sunday nights as often as possible.

We don’t have life groups but we will be having our “What I wish I knew in high school series”.  Your presence is so important to kids.  Show up if you can.

2.  Go to beach camp.

Nothing says “relationship” like camp.  What do you think?

3.  Keep those twitter, Facebook and Instagram relationships going.

It’s not face to face relationship but it reminds kids there are adults who love them and are in the game.

4.  Plan a summer outing.

One time this summer plan something fun for you and your group.  If you need ideas reach out to Chris or Chelsea.

We’re in the process of finishing up our summer calendar.  We will make sure you get a copy asap.  In the meantime here are some dates to put on your calendar.

May 29 – Night to honor graduating Seniors
May 31 – Adult Leader’s Year End Cookout – Mary Ann Connor’s
June 2 – Last Life Group:  “Remember”
July 8 – 12 – Beach Camp
July 17 – Summer SWAG
August 17 – Fall Training (Mandatory for all Leaders)

My hope was to give them options without them feeling pressured.  Many of them will take initiative and go above and beyond.  Others really do need some time to breath and rest.  I hope they feel the freedom to take it.

So, here's to a great 3 months of fruitful student ministry.  

How do you utilize your volunteers through the summer months?  

We're all ears.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sticks and Stones - Really?

Every once in a while I’m reminded of how important words are.  There’s a popular rhyme we all know, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”.  I’m not sure the origin of this little saying but let’s face it, it’s a lie.

Words, positive and negative, have incredible power.  We have the potential with our words to lift the spirits of a person or add anxiety, to bring a person joy or create discouragement.

Proverbs has much to say about our words and how powerful they are.  Here’s just one example.

A word fitly spoken
is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.

Just last week I was reminded of how an encouraging statement can make all the difference.  I was struggling with a little discouragement when I received this text from my dad.  It’s as if he and God knew exactly what I needed.

It made so much difference in how I was thinking and feeling.

Students are especially susceptible to words.  They’re already feeling insecure and bad about how they look and behave.  A kind / encouraging word can act as a beacon in a world where they’re constantly hearing how insignificant they are.

When relating to others, my wife, kids, staff, students, I want to be intentional about using words to encourage and strengthen.  The power we have to influence those around us with words is huge.

As I’m thinking through growing in this area here are a few thoughts.

Be a truth teller 

Don’t try to make something up just to encourage someone.  There’s nothing worse than someone trying to blow sunshine up your skirt.  It feels cheap, manipulative and confusing.  As you observe others look for ways God uniquely uses them.  They may not see it unless you tell them.

Be specific

“You’re great” isn’t as good as “I love the way you served little Johnny other night”.  Specificity can help others see how God has uniquely wired them and is using them.  The depth of encouragement is proportionate to how specific you are.

Be consistent

Most people (especially students) already feel they don’t measure up.  They are told over and over that they’re not good enough and will never amount to anything.  As we create a culture of positive words it can act as a rhythm that balances out the lies they are hearing. 

So today as you’re interacting with those around you look for opportunities to use your words to build.  As you use words to encourage you will be lifting the souls of those around you, and that's a good thing.

To make an apt answer is a joy to a man,
and a word in season, how good it is!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Accepting Students Where They Are - 5 Thoughts

No 2 students are the same.

Chris shows up just because his girlfriend is there.

Jessica comes just because her parents make her.

Brandon is there just because he wants to study the Bible.

Lisa shows up just because she loves to sing worship music.

Jonathan comes just because he always has.

Peter is there just because he has fun.

Demarland is always around just because he has nowhere else to go.

Christy is there just because she has always felt loved there.

Encouraging students to move towards Jesus or deeper in Jesus is a value of every student ministry. Different students show up at different points in their spiritual journey which can make it difficult to plan and program.

Maybe you have students who have never heard the clear gospel. There may be students who have been hurt by church and have a deeper cynicism towards faith. Or maybe there are students who are growing and are hungry for the Word. All of us have students who attend church just because their parents make them or they feel it's their religious obligation.

How do we "accept every student where they are and help them move closer to Jesus"?

Of course, the solution is always to connect students in relationship with Godly adults and students but with so much diversity how do we make sure students have the greatest opportunities to move forward in their faith?

Here are 5 thoughts...

Provide Diverse Gathering Opportunities

No 2 pieces of programming should look the same. Most committed students will only give 2 to 3 time slots to your ministry a week. Make sure those gatherings have specific purpose and goals in mind. In other words, avoid having the same programming 2 different times a week.

Know Your Target Audience

Do you have space in your programming for students who have the time and desire to invest in their spiritual life? Do you have a gathering that is designed to engage the friends of your students? Sure, all that we do can impact most of our students, but having a focus will insure we are being sensitive to the issue of spiritual diversity.

Offer Different Size Gatherings

For some students a large group gathering is where they are comfortable "kicking the tires" and testing the waters of church. For others it may be a relaxed small group gathering that allows time to have honest safe discussion about God and faith. Thinking through "large, mid sized, or small" gatherings will insure more students get and stay connected.

Create A Diverse Adult Leadership Team

Some adult leaders are naturally drawn towards the unchurched, others want to take students deep in Bible study. Some adult leaders are athletic while others may love music or technology. Know the hearts of your leaders and place them appropriately. This should also be on your mind when thinking through who to recruit for next fall.

Make "Acceptance" A Core Value

In our church setting we feel the need to serve all our students and their friends. Our desire is to see each student through the eyes of compassion and accept them where they are. This sometimes gets messy but we believe it's the way Jesus sees us. To be honest, sometimes it's easier to love the student far from God than the one who grew up in church, however we're called to accept each of them where they are and point them to Jesus.

May we serve in ministries that recognize the diversity and value of each student. Let's plan and pray that our ministries reflect this desire.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Outgrown Costumes, a Princess and a Dad

I feel like a big 'ole bucket of emotion this morning.  Joy, pride, regret, hope, joy, sadness are just a sample of words that describe how I feel - all at the same time.

Today is my daughter's 18th birthday.  Just so you know, she's the youngest of our children with 3 older brothers.  You can see where this is going.

She's actually one of my heroes.  You see, Lauren has a special place in her heart for people with special needs.  Every day at school for the last 3 years she has spent part of her day serving other students.  She's not intimidated or repulsed, she loves her special class mates and genuinely respects them.  If she had her way she would spend the next years in Honduras or Africa caring for the least of the least.  Who knows what the next few years hold for her?

Lauren is a great friend, hard worker and joy to be around, well, most the time.  There's no limit to how God will continue to use her in the future.  To be honest, I can't wait to see it first hand.

By the way, time flies.  

If you're the parent of younger kids you've heard this before from old people like me.  You've probably responded with a respectful "I know" but trust me, it's really true.  It seems like just yesterday  Lauren was twirling around in her ballerina outfit like a princess.  Now she's a full grown woman.  Who would have thought?  Like you, I was warned.

Enjoy the now.  It won't be here tomorrow.  It's as it should be.

She's outgrown the ballerina costume but the princess part??


Happy Birthday Filia.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Can you hear me?

A group of middle school and high school students were recently asked a simple question.  Their answers were totally anonymous.

"What would you tell your parent / parents if they would simply LISTEN without any repercussion?"

Here's a sample of what they said:

Stop treating me like a child

Please stop looking at my text, they are personal to me!

I have a Facebook account and I still kept my Instagram account as well-without your permission.

Trust my judgment instead of looking through my phone.

I love you.

I love you not matter what I say or do, I always will.

Stop yelling

Please take my ideas and thoughts into consideration.  Consider my point of view more.

I wouldn’t really want to tell them anything important, because there really isn’t anything important to tell them.  I mostly like to keep my feelings to myself.

How hard it is to deal with life and trying to stay away from the guys I love.

I have thoughts about dying because of them. 

I have been thinking about moving to a group home.  I feel like it would be a good option.

I would tell them about my heart for missions and telling other people about God because God has been working with me about that.

I feel pressured by the family.  I was embarrassed as a child of certain things because of you all.

I would tell them to actually spend time with me and not ignore me because it hurts when they ignore me.

I would tell my parents to listen to me more, and not to yell at me.  Those kinda go together.

I would tell them that I don’t like when they blame each other for things that…

Listen to me and not yell at me.

About all my troubles and fears.

They need to understand more than yell at me about my grades.

Tell me truth.  Don’t hide things from me in order to protect me.

I try my hardest.

Believe in me.  Don’t doubt me.

I would tell them to please listen better sometimes.

Listen without arguing.

Give more privacy.

Stop controlling me.

Have strength.  I love you.

Stop being so critical when it comes to grades.

Give me more money.

Love you mom.

Understand me.

Why do you say you love me when you punish me?

You make me do so much!!!

Stop controlling.

I love you.  Thank you.

Get back together.

My life, not yours.

I watched porn.

Stop saying yes when you want to say no.

Please stop reading my texts.  They are privacy!  I do nothing bad and you know that.

I’m struggling in school and I try my hardest to pass.

I don’t like eating sometimes, but I don’t think I’m fat.

I’m bi-sexual.

Mom and Dad, I love you!

Mom-stop drinking and being mean.

Pay more attention to me.

Mom-stop being mean to me and yelling.

Stop screaming at me.

You shouldn’t be so overprotective.  I’m sorry for not doing what you say.

Over protective.

Stop yelling.

You should listen to my siblings and me.

Just listen.

Listen to me.

Stop judging

Thank you for being amazing and love me so well.

Don’t be so strict, it only makes me want to do bad things.  Strict parents create sneaky children.

I’m scared you are fan of Jesus with good morals and not actually a Christ follower.  You have never shown me what it means by the way you live your life.

I’m worried that if you knew everything about me, you’d hate me.

Mom, I am tired of you always getting on to me about little things.  I am not perfect nor are you, although that is what it seems like you think.

I would like to be left alone when I get angry or when you see me becoming angry.

You don’t have to yell.

I’m embarrassed to share my personal feelings with you because you aren’t understanding.

I am not comfortable sharing personal things with you, not because I don’t think you can help, but because I am embarrassed to.

Thank you for all you do.  I love you so much.  Thanks for always being here.

Thank you for everything.  I love you.  I know I don’t respect you enough.  

As a father, youth worker and person who advocates for the next generation this list was a lot for me to take.  Sure there were some positive comments, but for the most part kids don't feel heard and many of them are hiding their feelings and actions.  It's never good for kids to have secrets they are unwilling to share with a caring adult.

Will anyone listen?

Kids won't share if they don't trust.  They won't trust if there isn't relationship.  So whether you're a youth worker, parent or both, nurturing relationship with an emphasis on listening must be the highest priority.  

The hope is that we or other adults get to apply the power and beauty of the gospel to specific areas of their life.  Let's do the hard work of building relationship.

What do you think?