Thursday, December 31, 2009

Impossible is Nothing

"We're too young to know certain things are impossible, so we will do them anyway." (the William Pitt character in the movie Amazing Grace)

What a disservice we do to the world when we rob youth of their dreams and teach them what can't be done. What if instead, we showed them "Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine..." and helped them learn to fully love and follow His lead?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Too Easy...

I still remember the first time a teacher really joined my parents in pushing me to want to do my best. Mostly I'd been coasting through most of my classes - satisfied with doing better than others (instead of doing my best). I wonder who is pushing kids today to do their best? Who is coaching them to raise the bar of their own expectations?

It seems like everything is rewarded these days, to the point where very little is actually expected. Attendance awards, certificates of completion... I think I was in the first wave of recipients of the proverbial "participation ribbon". I was in about 4th Grade competing on the swim team. I did ok, but was definitely not culling a lot of blue ribbons from the pool! While my little brother won almost every backstroke race he entered, I mostly took home these ugly purple ribbons that boldly labeled me a "participant". (I have a theory that connects the genesis of Barney the dinosaur to the ubiquitous recycling of hordes of these purple "awards for showing up"... just a thought.) Who were they kidding? I didn't feel better because I got to take home such a "prize", I felt like a chump who didn't belong with the real swimmers.

I could churn my short little arms and skinny little legs as hard and fast as I wanted to, my ribbons were mostly going to have high numbers (or "participant") stamped on them. Then I discovered the long races. At every swim meet, there seemed to be a break time, where everyone just kind of sat around and did nothing. Long periods with no starting sounds, no cheering... maybe just a Popsicle and a wet towel to use for a bleacher pillow. One day I noticed that while almost everybody was sitting around, there were about 5 kids still in the pool - just plowing their rows back and forth in the water. These guys were doing what most of the rest of us wouldn't do... the longest races... the hardest races. I decided that was what I was going to do. If I couldn't swim faster than they could, I'd swim farther that they would. Suddenly, my ribbon collection was tinted blue. I was winning races.

But even that wasn't because I was a great swimmer... it was because I entered races that almost no one else wanted to do. They were too hard. There was little competition. It's easy to get the bronze when there are only 3 racers! Sometimes, you win by attrition... everyone else quits because it's too hard.

We need to be challenged to higher expectations - not just for young people, but for all of us. Just showing up is too easy. You can coast through life if you want to and stick to the status quo. That's exactly what a lot of people and churches do. But what if we didn't? What if we refuse to settle for the ordinary? What if we decided that the status quo is not good enough?
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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Things of 2009

No raindrops on roses here, or even whiskers on kittens... but since the year is winding down, here are a few of my favorite new and not so new things from 2009:

Experiences:
Lucid -WestWay hosted the 2009 rendition of the Spring Thing youth rally this year. The rain was incessant, and the attendance was low - but One Time Blind was awesome and God was simply amazing. It was a great weekend of worship and being challenged to deeper faith. Here's a post with some after thoughts regarding the weekend.
Catalyst West Coast - Immediately following Lucid, I headed to the west coast for Catalyst with my good friends, Jimmy and Rodd. (No that's not a euphemism for a couple travelling goodies packed away in my suitcase, it's the two names of two guys that I drug to California in April.) Catalyst was a great experience from which I took away so much that I'll spare you a rehash here.  But check out my posts from late April to see what we were gleaning from a great rented Mustang ride, Andy Stanley, Perry Noble, Guy Kawasaki (and the rest of an incredible speaker lineup), as well as In-n-Out, Jack in the Box, and Chick-fil-A induced euphoria.
The Coldwater Mission - This was the summer when I finally was able to pull together a group of students and adults to go on a mission trip to an unknown location with an unknown job to do.  We depended on God and got to see Him work in some exciting and wall-paper-scraping ways! Most of these posts from August revolve around Coldwater.

Books:
Sustainable Youth Ministry - A lot of youth ministry is not sustainable. It just can't keep going the way it's going. Youth ministers burn out, volunteers flame out, and students check out. This book will go a long way toward helping a church that wants to build a youth ministry with a larger view than the next big event. Any church looking for a youth minister needs to have the search team (or whoever is responsible for the selection) read and discuss this book early in the process.

PrimalWild Goose Chase - Goose Chase is a challenging look at the Holy Spirit as the guiding force of our lives. We don't need to be in control as much as we need to be responsive. Primal digs into what is really at the essence of Christianity - and what is all too often deficient in our day to day living: loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, & strength. I really appreciate how Batterson pulls together so many different fields of interest in illuminating Scripture.

An Unstoppable Force - The first book by Erwin McManus I came across several years ago, I still think it's his best. I don't re-read very many books, but this one is one of my annual favorites. The church can (and should) be so much more than what most people (even many of those on the inside) think it is. I gave away my copy this year, but will definitely be buying another in 2010.

Tribes - This book was a freebie from Catalyst this spring. Glad I got it! Lots of great stuff about how a group of people can come together with leadership. I'm still not completely comfortable with calling someone my "tribe" but there is a lot of wisdom to be found here.

Jim & Casper Go to Church - Henderson and Casper let us in on a great experiment: church guy and atheist visit churches together all across the country and share perspectives/observations with each other. Lots of eye-opening stuff.

They Like Jesus, But not the Church - Kimball shares the stories of a generation who has grown very skeptical of the church, but still have a pretty high opinion of Jesus (even if it's based on an incomplete perception of him). Enlightening thoughts about some areas where we (the church) may not be reflecting Jesus as well as we think we are.

UnChristian - Completing the "take of the insider-blinders" trifecta, this book, based on solid research, shares what young people outside the church see when they look at the church. Perception is important, and younger generations are not perceiving the church in a very healthy light - we need to do better.

Crazy Love & Forgotten God - Are we really in love with Jesus? Does our faith make too much sense? Francis Chan opens his heart and shares a glimpse of what it looks like to really love Jesus in Crazy Love. Forgotten God focuses on the "third person" of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit. Why is it that we don't seem to talk about Him near as much as the Father and the Son? Is He really just a "silent partner" in the Godhead? I don't think so, and Chan does a great job leading the reader into a deeper walk with the Holy Spirit.

Music:
new worship music - Steve Fee led a number of the sessions of worship at Catalyst West Coast with the Hillsong United crew leading a couple times. The passion with which these guys approach their craft sparked something within me that's been a little dormant for way too long. The church needs to continually create great art that is an expression of worship given to our Creator.

Websites/Tech:
NewSpring Community Church - After being so encouraged by their pastor in April, I began to dig into the website of this church in South Carolina. These guys are doing awesome stuff with technology and teamwork. Check out their services sometime (either live or archived).
Twitter - I'm usually way too wordy for only 140 characters, but decided to give this a shot earlier this year. It's a fun and interesting way to share thoughts. I've especially loved getting a peak into the everyday workings of some leaders I greatly respect. You'll find me as 6drews on twitter if you're dying to see if I can really say anything with such a restricted word count! One thought that twitter has brought to mind is that if I can't tweet a sermon (summarize it in 140 characters), the people I'm talking to probably don't know what I'm talking about either...
Friends Starting Blogs
Several friends have started blogging this year - some often, some not quite so often. I'm excited to see what will develop as my WestWay friends share what God is doing through this forum. I've gained a great deal from blogging and am praying they will too. Check the "Blogs of Local Friends and Family" area on the left side of this page to see what they're saying.  Feel free to castigate any of them who have not posted lately!

Family:
Mine is awesome! No additions this year, but Liz turned 3, Josiah is still hilarious, Dakota is the coolest 1st grader I know, and Emily is closer to the age I was when I got married than to the age she was when she started to walk! Their mom spent the year being incredible. She is definitely my favorite.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Things I Just Don't Get This Time of Year

Do you ever just step back and look at the way things are going around you and wonder why they're going that way?  I do.  And sometimes, like the end of every year, I just don't get it. Maybe someone can explain these things about the holidays to me...

-"The Sweater" - What is it about Christmas that makes people think it's appropriate to buy someone a shirt that looks like a pile of technicolor mohair vomit?

-Fruitcake

-Standing in line to buy stuff for people that don't really want it, who are also standing in line to buy stuff for you that you don't really want. What if we just spent that time doing something together for someone else who actually needs our help?

-Parents enduring untold stress to "protect" their children from finding out that Santa's not really a part of this whole thing we call reality. Santa's a fun character. Let him be fun, but ask yourself why are you working so hard to maintain a lie?

-"The Sweater Team Photo" - Sorry mom, we don't really want to look like the Partridge family in our matching mohair for the latest Christmas photo op.

-Adults fighting over toys in stores - and (the near tangent) parents desperately seeking "this year's Elmo". Seriously people, your child's Christmas will not be ruined if they don't get the poo-poo pet or PS720 or whatever else "the hot new thing" is supposed to be next year.

-Why no one ever does a Christmas play re-enacting the Revelation 12 account of Jesus' advent?  Really, go look it up. This whole Christmas thing isn't just about a baby in a manger and family time and presents and bowl games, it's about the winning salvo in a war much larger than we may imagine.

-Thinking that coercing someone into saying "Merry Christmas" is some kind of victory. We can't expect the world to tell our story. That's our job.

The baby in the manger came for a reason. He had a mission that he passed on to his followers, to be carried out until he comes again. Don't misplace your part in that mission among the tinsel and figgy-pudding.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Primal Book Review

A few months ago, I caught an invitation on Mark Batterson's blog to review his upcoming release Primal as part of a blog tour for the book. I signed up with the publisher, then sort of forgot about it. Over the next several weeks, Batterson had giveaways on his blog of his book to various groups; campus pastors, worship pastors, lead pastors... I eagerly waited for the book to be offered to youth pastors, but to no avail. Then an e-mail came from the publisher and I remembered I did indeed have a free book on the way, anyway!

I've enjoyed Batterson's blog and the other two books I've read from him, so I had high expectations for Primal. The subtitle of the book (A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity) really struck a chord with me. As a youth minister, I work with a lot of people who's faith seems to have lost (or never really found) its soul... so many people acting out what they think they "should" be doing and not really fully living.

The book digs into the question, "What is the primal essence of Christianity?" and discovers that at the heart of our faith is the Great Commandment: to love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. "We need to be great at the Great Commandment."  Batterson dives into what it means to love God in 4 parts within the book (heart, soul, mind, strength). In each segment, he weaves Scripture with research and stories from a broad range of topics to explore loving God completely.

All of this, for Batterson, leads to a new Reformation of the church. A reformation not led by powerful personalities or creedal figures, but by "millions of reformers living compassionately, creatively, and courageously for the cause of Christ. It will be marked by broken hearts and sanctified imaginations. And the driving force will be the love of God. A love that is full of compassion, wonder, curiosity, and energy."

I looked back over the year and found that the first book I read in 2009 was Batterson's Wild Goose Chase. It was a great place to start the year. Primal is a great place for you to start 2010. Rediscover your primal love for God.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Heard of Advent Conspiracy?

Some great stuff over at Advent Conspiracy. If you haven't heard of this, do the world a favor and spend a few minutes at their site. See what happens. Christmas CAN still change the world.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Frozen Walk with an Affirming Father

I need affirmation. Maybe I'm not internally motivated enough, maybe my confidence is not what it should be, but I need to hear how I'm doing from someone else's perspective. I settle sometimes for other people's perceptions, but what I really need is the affirmation of my Father. You do, too. There is a question in all of us that begs to be answered with God's "Well done. Come enter into my rest."

Last night after all the students had gone home, all the lights were shut off and the doors were locked, I headed home feeling as good as I've felt for a long time. The question we covered in our series last night dealt with the mystery of the Trinity - how can God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit be three and be one? The simple truth is I don't know how, but the question brought me to wonder again. If we stop wondering about God, we may begin to think we know all we need to know about Him - and that's a dangerous place to be.

God knows us more intimately than we can fathom, and He wants us to know Him more deeply as well. He is not merely a far-off overlord watching from a distance - He became one of us! He is not just an amazing teacher or caring humanitarian that used to live in the Middle East - He is THE creative power living inside of us!

I went for a walk late last night after I got home. Just a short walk - it was well below zero (about 20 below Celsius for my Canadian friends). Being that cold, there weren't too many dogs out barking, only a few vehicles passing by, and the more sane of our local species tucked away in their warm homes. It was incredibly still - a moment of rest. If anyone noticed me out there, they may have only seen some dope out wandering around in the cold, but I saw more. Fascinated by the God who made the cold, dry snow crunch beneath every step, who made every star I could see and every one I couldn't, and who drew out the longest-burning meteorite I've ever seen... I saw God.

It was as if He spread out His canvas for me to see and said "Look... I'm still here." And though I know there is much I can and should be doing better, it was a moment of affirmation. A reminder that I'm being obedient, and a nudge to keep being so. The designer of the Denver Art Museum, Daniel Libeskind said of the building "I hope the building has an openness that everyone can fill with their own imagination." I was reminded last night, in a frozen moment of clarity, that my life needs to have an openness, too. An openness to the mysteries of God. I hope my life has an openness that God can fill with His imagination. I pray yours does, too...

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Faith is measured by action, not attendance.

"I think many of us doubt Scripture simply because we haven't done it." - Mark Batterson

I came across this quote yesterday in Batterson's new book, Primal, and it made me think about whether I'm "doing" the Bible very well and how the church is doing in living out our faith. Too often, I think we measure faith by attendance frequency and coloring inside the lines - But the Bible has a whole lot more to say than "Be good and go to church."

My faith isn't measured by how many verses I can find faster than the next guy or my perfect attendance on Sundays (especially since that's pretty much a job requirement anyway). My faith is measured by the impact it has in the world around me. It's measured by how well I'm doing what Scripture says.

Last week a lady measured my faith by the fact that she didn't have to sleep outside in the cold... She called at about the single most inconvenient time in the week for me. It was Wednesday night about 5:30 or so - students coming at 7:00, music team coming in half an hour, lots of last minute things to get ready. But the phone rang, and I was the only one in the building, so I answered. For the next 25 minutes, I went through every option I could think of to steer this lady to someone else who could help her. "This place won't let me stay there because I'm not abused - this place won't let me stay there because I'm not bipolar - they won't help because I'm not just passing through..." On and on it went. She had sought solutions and found lots of closed doors, sending her back out into all 10 degrees. The desperation on the other end of the line didn't need me to go to church on Sunday - didn't need me to stand up and recite Psalm 23 - She needed me to take seriously what Jesus said in Mt. 25. She needed me to DO what Jesus says, not just read it.

As we talked I kept thinking about all the other things I had to get done in the next hour... but then the voice of Jesus broke through the clutter in my head and asked me "What good is it going to do to wish her well and send her on her way?" Then his brother James was a little more blunt: "Don't merely listen to the word... Do what it says." How could I stand in front of a group of students and worship and teach them how to help a friend in need (which was ironically the topic that night) if I just hung up the phone and did nothing? I couldn't. So I grabbed the first kid that showed up and we went on a little ride to find a total stranger and take her someplace warm and dry.

We grow in our understanding of Scripture only when we do what it says.

What are you doing today?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

It's All Him

I often wonder if I'm tragically destined to beat my head against one wall after another. It just seems like I often find myself compelled to beat a drum that no one really wants to hear. It's a frustrating way to live, but the alternative feels like disobedience or faithlessness or maybe even rejecting the God who made me & telling Him I know better than He does.

I found a great reminder reading Perry Noble's post today - Why I Am Frustrated. He lists some conditions that lead to frustration, and the fourth one is "Not Realizing That Zechariah 4:6 is True!!!" He writes that,

"So many times I will work myself into a frenzy thinking that ministry results are up to me (which is SO dangerous because it either always leads to pride or depression!) God said it's not up to me...but up to HIM!!! This means I am called to do my very best...and then know that HE is going to bring about HIS fruit in HIS time!!!"

The city of Jerusalem wasn't rebuilt because a couple guys became great leaders and were able to rally the people to complete the project. It was rebuilt because the Spirit of God was moving to have it rebuilt. I desperately need to remember that the results of my ministry are not up to me.

I've always been wary of becoming prideful at the work God has done around me. I'm careful to remember that it's Him who's doing the real work on people's hearts when I see things going well. I can't really think of a time where I pridefully took credit for what God did (thankfully)... But I haven't done as well at knowing that forgetting the fact that "it's all Him" can lead me into depression when things aren't going as well. It's easy for me to become frustrated at the change that isn't happening (or isn't happening fast enough) and get into a funk that spirals downward, robbing me of the hope that anything will ever change at all.

God is in the business of transformation, and I LOVE to see that happening in people and churches and communities. I love to be a small part of God's transforming work. I just need to remember that the results are up to Him.

When I start thinking too much about the lack of outcomes or the perceived slowness of transformation, I can get so dejected that I fail to do my part. "It's not working anyway... why bother... someone else is going to just undo whatever good this great idea/sermon/song/event is going to do... it's not worth the effort..." These lies sap the strength from our efforts to do our part. They keep us (or maybe it's just me) focused on what WE are NOT accomplishing instead of what God CAN do.

May I see again what God can do...
May I simply do my part...
Even if that feels like beating my head against a wall.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

So much to be thankful for...

I'm thankful that LuAnn and I were able to begin sponsoring children very early in our marriage. Before we had our own kids, before we had decent paying jobs, before we were even through our first year of college... For 15 years, we've been able to share a little of Christ's love and hope with kids all over the world.

Kids matter to Jesus. They should matter to us. Do something.

Sponsor a Child in Jesus Name with Compassion

Maybe you're afraid you can't commit to a monthly sponsorship right now. Try this for a start.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Quit whining and get back to work.

My kids sometimes do this thing when they don't get what they want, where their voices raise in intensity and nasality... Tears may begin to form beneath the raised brow of protest... This is often followed by subjective objections like "but, he got to..." Yes, sometimes my kids whine. I hate it.

When my kids whine about something - they DO NOT get what they're wanting. End of discussion. There have often been times when I may have changed my initial response if they had calmly requested it with good reason. But even if the reason is good and their logic is sound, whining will not result in a positive outcome.

Whining is a pathetic attempt at emotional manipulation. I hate it. My kids are learning quickly of its futility (mostly). They're figuring out that whining will change an 'I don't think so' into a flat out 'no' quicker than a well placed shoe turns a hapless spider into a smudge on the sidewalk.

I wish to live in a whine free world. It starts at my house.

I also long for a church that has excised every whiny knee-jerk reaction and replaced it with selfless desire to please God together. Church is not about what I want or what I like - it's about the mission of God to reconnect humanity with Himself.

May we have love enough to quit whining.

May we have grace enough to keep loving whiners.

May we have courage enough to call people to stop whining and get back to work.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

There's more that's changing than just the weather...

"...like a champion rejoicing to run his course."

This phrase really jumped out at me today as I was reading through Psalm 19. As David is describing how the skies shout out the awesomeness of the Creator, he likens the sun to a runner on race day - coming out of his tent ready and excited for the race, confident in victory. I remember waking up on gamedays ready to compete like that - practically jumping out of bed, excited for what lies ahead. I have to confess that I haven't bounced out of bed for quite a while. Staggered, rolled, stumbled... these words are much better descriptors of my morning departures from slumberland lately.

But I sense a change happening in our student ministry, in our church, and in me that's making it a little easier to drag my carcass out of bed... I'm learning again to see each day as an opportunity to display the awesomeness of the Creator. I'm excited about recent developments that will be unleashing ministry into our community. God is moving. We are seeing it - and lacing up our shoes to join Him in the work He's doing.

Don't miss your chance today to reveal God to the people around you.

Top 5 Things I Hate About the Holiday Season

5. Halloween.
aka Boot Camp for Greedy Young Consumers. Is it really a good idea to promote the idea that if you show up on someone's doorstep and demand something, they're obligated to give it to you? Do we really need to ingrain a deeper sense of entitlement into the collective psyche of our next generation? Maybe I'm just bitter because I was always the kid whose candy bag got confiscated at the X-ray machine because some jack-o-lantern hid a needle in my laffy taffy! No - that's not it. Halloween is dumb - playing dress up and begging for candy is not a holiday.

4. How Thanksgiving gets sandwiched between "More Sugar!" and "More Stuff!"
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. As a kid it was just because it was my birthday, but even now that birthdays have lost the sheen they once had, Thanksgiving is still my favorite. No one buying each other gifts they don't really want to give, great food and family gatherings, remembering the greatness of our Creator... Thanksgiving has gotten the shaft by getting stuck between the crappy candy holiday and the consumer driving (not driven) marketing blitz that has most of us ignoring the real Reason for the Season.

3. Black Friday
Just the fact that we've given this phenomena a name reveals that so much is wrong with our society. I wonder, what will the future's historians read into this bit of Americana long after we're gone? Having said that, I must confess, I'm being coerced into a 4 AM line for a miter saw next week. (Which I'm mentally justifying with the thought that I've put off buying the saw for a long time because they're so dang expensive, I really do have a lot of use for one, and by lodging this public complaint.)

2. Visitor giveaway trinkets that get marketed to churches.
Hate is probably too strong a word here, but I do not want to give my students little bookmarks with urban myths about candy canes and mistletoe. Their Christmas will not miss your baby-Jesus-scented-magnet or Bethlehem star pencil topper. Like I said, hate is too strong a word for this one, but these things are really annoying.

1. The annual "Happy Holidays" vs. "Merry Christmas" debates.
If you're a Christian and somebody says "Happy Holidays" - did it really hurt your feelings? Was Jesus really left out of his own birthday party by that statement - or is he left out when we spend money we don't have to buy crap we don't need while he sleeps on the street and starves to death all over the world? Come on church, we can do better than this.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Want to play?

When I was in college, the soccer team had a number of road games each year to destinations that were "less than entertaining". Some of the trips were close enough that we'd drive back after the game, but often we were left without much of anything to do but sit around some other school's empty dorm rooms.

I remember on one of those trips, a bunch of us were sitting around playing cards, having fun - until someone got mad. An argument got going, and got a little heated - I think someone tried to cheat (which is funny/sad all by itself because I think we were playing for toothpicks or something like that). Finally, one guy stood up off the scrubby carpet we were sitting on and shouted something like "Fine! I'm taking my cards - I'm not playing anymore." Just like the bratty kid on the sandlot that threatens to take his ball and go home.

Keep in mind, this is a bunch of Bible college kids sitting around killing time before the next day's game. I can't think of any of us who were sitting there playing who are not in ministry today. But something went 'off' and somebody got mad. I don't remember exactly who said what as the intensity of the disagreement escalated, but I do remember being shocked at the end result - one guy (who is a great guy) taking his cards and ending the game in anger.

At least it ended it for him - the rest of us just hunted down a new deck of cards, divided up his 'winnings' (which was toothpicks or skittles or something) and kept playing. His cards weren't the only cards to play with.

People in the church sometimes play this game. We can get bent out of shape about sermon topic choices, music selection/style/volume, class offerings, pie auctions, & fish fry's (and SO many other stupid issues)... so we threaten to take our "ball" and go play somewhere else. And by "ball" we usually mean "tithe" - and by "tithe" we usually mean "whatever negligible amount I won't miss too much". The thing we need to realize is our ball is not the only one. The church belongs to Jesus and His mission is much too important for us to be jacking around with emotional head games, making threats to leave. He's not going to put up with our tantrums. He's going to cut us loose and continue pumping life into the branches that can bear the fruit He wants to produce.

It's no wonder so many young people leave the church about as soon as they can: it's not what they like and they've spent 16-20 years watching people leave when they don't get what they like. We need to grow up - forget about ourselves and find out what Jesus wants for His church. Then remain in Him and let His life produce fruit in ours.

Check out what John had to say in Luke 3 to people who were feeling smugly self assured about having things their own way. Not only will Jesus be pruning branches, John warned of whole trees about to be cut down and burned up!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"It's not me, it's you..."

I don't have a lot of good break up stories. When you marry as young as we did, you're spared a lot of the crappiness of the adult dating world - so glad I didn't have to deal with it. And thankful God put me with the right person and we both recognized it without having to screw up our lives first. Perry Noble's doing a series on being single right now with some great stuff though. Check out this link to his blog post about reasons two people should break up - and check out Newspring's site for the online message videos.

Here's a line from one of the reasons:
"Dating was not created to be some sort of hobby/sport. So... when you KNOW that the relationship is NOT heading beyond its current condition... you KNOW that he or she is NOT the person God has for you... END IT! Don't date someone just so you won't be alone... this situation ALWAYS goes bad..."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Disconnected Church Kids

The Link Institute (which is a product of Huntington University's youth ministry program) and YouthWorker Journal teamed up for an essay contest (on the theme of The Church) for high school juniors and seniors. The winning entry was written by Ian Roseen, who shares a very insightful glimpse into what many students feel about the church.

You should go here to read his article. I wish I could thank Ian for sharing his brief sketch of a typical Sunday morning for many in a generation that is being spiritually displaced. Go read the article. And if you have any capacity to do so, make sure the Katys and Ians of your community can truly be connected in your congregation. In Ian's words:

"Engage us. Involve us. Depend on us. Give us responsibilities. Set high expectations. Let us use our talents. Help us feel like we belong to the church at large."

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*If you're a high school Jr. or Sr. (or know some) check out this page for details on how you can enter next year's essay contest. It could be worth a $16,000 scholarship to Huntington!

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Button Pusher?

Maybe it's because I moved a lot growing up.... (probably)
Maybe it's because I get bored easily... (could be)
Maybe it's because I'm pretty laid back and easy going... (ja, es stimmt)
Maybe it's because I like to eat pancakes... (pancakes?!)
Maybe it's because I'm a spineless chameleon that alters whatever is necessary to blend... (Ouch! hope that's not it)

I really don't have a good explanation, but change (in and of itself) hasn't really ever been a big deal to me. I don't mind when things change. I've come to expect it. There's no use fighting most of it. Often, I even like it. Sometimes I like it a LOT. In all honesty, when I listen closely to God, I frequently hear Him telling me to instigate it.

Which is where my trouble comes in... I like change. I love God. But I also care about people (and too often, about their opinion of me). And many of them don't like change at all. I'm especially averse to ticking people off - I don't like doing it. Except in extreme occasions where a carbon based being has reached a precipice of asininity - then it's fun. (Growing up that was my usually my brother - it was always entertaining to make him mad... but I digress. Sorry Dan - uh, and mom, dad, and any innocent bystanders...) I've found that anger is a common reaction to change, so the role of catalyst is not always (ever) the most comfortable.

This is when I hear God asking "Hey kid, when did I ever tell you you'd be comfortable?"

"Well there was that one verse... If I stretch the context a little bit... oh never mind."

"Yeah, I didn't think so. You think Jeremiah was comfortable stuck in the bottom of a well because He kept telling people to change their ways like I told him to tell them? You think John was comfortable in camel hair in the desert, telling people to change because my kingdom was right around the corner? Have you felt camel hair? I wasn't very comfortable in 1st century Palestinian diapers either, by the way. Do you know what kind of rash... never mind. Just push the buttons I tell you to push ok?"

Ok.

I don't want to change things just for the sake of changing things. But I serve the greatest Transformative Person ever - He changes things. EVERY thing. If change is a given (it is), then wouldn't it make sense to shape that change in conformity with Him, instead of just letting it happen? Change is going to happen. Let's make the right change happen.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

To Change...

I'm the kind of guy who likes to change things up a little bit once in a while. Just got my hair cut drastically shorter for the simple reason that I felt like it. One of the recurring witticisms of my childhood was "You should always try new things." So here, I offer to you, several reasons you should embrace change.

5 Reasons to Embrace Change

1. It's working great in the church down the street. Hey, if it's good for the Baptists, it's got to work here, too! Right?

2. It's working in the mega-churches. They're big and successful because they changed, so it follows that if we make the same changes, we'll be big and successful too.

3. It will make us more relevant to the culture. The world is changing, so we have to change, too.

4. Any change is a good change. The Bible says to "sing a new song". What that means is that anything new is automatically better than anything old. Shiny new stuff replaces old worn out stuff. It's the natural order God intended.

5. We don't want people to get bored. We need to randomly alter important things every once in a while, just to keep things interesting.

6. It will get rid of the dead weight. If we change the right things often enough, it will tick off the people who aren't really committed to Jesus. They'll take their hymnals and go play somewhere else, then we can really get things going here.

7. God is the ultimate transformer. He's "making all things new," so we should be changing everything too, you know... to help God out.

Here's to shaking things up a bit...

Or not to Change...

I've noticed lately that we humans can be very resistant to any kind of change. Recent changes to facebook have definitely brought out the best in us! Altering the tempo of a favorite song has been known to induce spasmodic hiccups. A little tweaking of vocabulary is enough to cause great consternation. So I thought I'd offer a bit of a defense for those of us who like to see things stay the same. Coming soon to an anti-change bumper sticker near you:

7 Reasons to Resist Change

1. It hurts - and everyone knows, God's highest value is your personal comfort. If it's difficult, it must not be what God wants.

2. Someone might be offended. Even if it seems like a good idea, change is sure to ruffle somebody's feathers. It's just not worth ticking people off.

3. Jesus already has the attention of everyone in your area that He wants. Those thousands of people in your community who drift through every day without knowing WHY... they need to learn to adapt and do things our way.

4. Young people don't really matter in the Kingdom. Our generation is the one doing all the work and paying the church bills anyway. They'll come around when they grow up.

5. All that new-fangled technology just gets in the way of the pure message of God, which he hand delivered to us with ink and leather-bound paper, not pixels and screens.

6. Everyone looks so favorably on you already. If you changed anything now, they might think you had some flaws or something. And if you have any chinks in that shiny armor, who will they look up to to lead them in the next round of "Just As I Am"?

7. It won't work here anyway. Things like that may fly in California, but around here people just aren't like that. Why go through the hassle of trying when we already know it won't work out?

Here's to keeping things the same...

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

WWmark 4 - Commitment to Local Service as the Church

A lot of churches think of service projects for young people as ways to keep them out of trouble, keep them busy, or to make them earn their way... If they'll work, they can get a camp scholarship, or we'll make a donation to the youth room, etc. There are a couple harmful byproducts of this approach.

1. The service is nearly always tainted with ulterior motives.
"I'll serve in the clean up day because I need money to go on the ski trip." Now, I fully agree that an important value to pass on to next generations is to not expect handouts. But it is very easy for students to get the message that if they'll jump through the right 'service hoops,' then the church will 'bless' them with assistance. This is a dangerously deceptive attitude that is often projected onto God, leaving students feeling like they have to live a boringly religious life of obligation in order to gain God's favor. Nothing could be farther from the truth of grace.

2. The church becomes the only place to serve.
Students begin to see service projects as something they do FOR the church. The yards we rake are usually the yards of the older church people. The families we do free babysitting for are usually church families. The garages we clean out are usually owned by church people. We are definitely called to "love one another" in practical ways like this, but if our service stops at the church membership list, we're missing a vital component of God's mission to reconcile humanity to Himself.

At WestWay, we want our students to develop a commitment to local service as the church. A comment from Rick Rusaw has really been sticking with me the past couple months. He said that we need to seek to be the best church FOR our communities. That's what I want for our student ministry. I want our Scottsbluff High School, Gering High School, Bluffs Middle School, Gering Jr. High, Mitchell Jr./Sr. High, and Community Christian School to be better places because our Wind and Water kids are going there to learn AND TO SERVE. (I hope I didn't leave any of our kids' schools off the list - Homeschoolers, make your home a better place, too!) We need to see service as something that the church does for the community, not just something we do for ourselves.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Unyielding Resolve...

"This essential energy of the soul is not an ecstatic trance, high emotion, or a sanguine stance toward life: It is a fierce longing for God, an unyielding resolve to live in and out of the truth of our belovedness." -Brennan Manning

What you really need for the ministry you are called to live out... is God.

There have been times when I thought "All I need for this ministry to really take off is ______." The blank in my mind has been filled in a number of ways at various times: better facilities, a few more adults who really love kids, a bigger budget, any budget, a better band, etc. "Maybe if I get another degree or use the right curriculum or set up the room in just the right configuration..."

The truth is that what I really need to lead youth to the destiny God has in mind - is more of Him. That doesn't simply come to us from a great camp or youth trip - a momentary mountain-top. It comes to us from - no HE comes to us through an unyielding resolve to know that I am loved by God and to live out the knowledge of that love. One of Paul's prayers for the early church was that they would "know this love that surpasses knowledge" (Eph. 3:19). When we know the love that is greater than we can comprehend - when we really live out of that love - His power is at work within and through us, doing more than we could ever ask or imagine.

Because I know that I am loved by Him, I can...
-love kids who just come to church to keep up appearances.
-love kids who make the same terrible choices over and over.
-love kids who make the same mistakes I've made because they won't learn from someone else.
-love parents who've spent years breaking their children's spirits and now just wonder why they're so unmotivated.
-love the church even when it too closely resembles our culture's abandonment of the next generation; and love her enough to challenge her to do better.
-love enough to tackle tough issues and tell students the truth (even when it hurts and I know they won't like it).

For over a decade, I've been learning and relearning this lesson. I would have never imagined myself doing any of the above. On my own, I am a small, self-protecting wuss standing on the sidelines watching the fray so I don't get hurt. Left to myself, I am an underconfident pansy resting in the shade where it's comfortable, I won't get stepped on, and no one's mad at me.

Thank God that He hasn't left me to myself... because in Him, I've found who I really am. Not insignificant, not vulnerable - I am His.

Never forget who you are.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

When They Like What I Like

I like it when my children like the things that I like. Last night, I took Emily out to run with me. Lizzie and Siah decided they had to go too! I can remember flipping through channels Sunday afternoons before Dakota really talked much. If I happened to come across NASCAR, his grunts made it very plain that he wanted the channel to be parked for a few laps! He'd climb up and watch with me for hours. Now he does this with football, and I finally have him convinced that the Broncos are the good guys.

I like how all my kids have enjoyed playing soccer. It's exciting to watch them develop and learn what they can do. Dakota discovered the thrill of dribbling this year and loves to change directions sharply and watch the other kids scramble and fall all over themselves trying to keep up. Josiah didn't have a very fun season, but the last couple weeks he decided he liked it and was going to have fun - and he did! Emily's not a big fan of extended physical exertion, but she's had fun being part of the team and developing relationships with her teammates (and anyone else on the field who will talk to her). Lizzie can't wait to get on the field and play - and she may have all the tools a girl needs to rule the pitch (definitely has the attitude)!

I love how my kids are always dragging books around. When kids disappear at our house, we usually find them with their nose in a book of some kind. I know this makes us a couple geeks raising a bunch more geeks - and I'm ok with that. I enjoy seeing my kids getting enjoyment from so many of the things that I also enjoy. I don't want to push my kids to be just like me only better and vicariously live through their competitive endeavors to surpass my own failures. I don't want to be "that dad" - but I really do like it when my kids like what I like.

I think this is a reflection of how God feels about us. It brings Him immense joy to see His children caring about what He cares about. As a child of God, I want His passion for humanity to be reflected in my own life. I want to be able to love the way that He loves. I want to live the life that He's crafted me for - and this brings Him great joy. Want to please God? Find something He cares about; pour yourself into it; & live the life you were meant to live.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pray for Ask Anything series

I've been studying and thinking about how to approach each of the topics in the Ask Anything series a lot today. I've haven't looked forward to any stretch of weeks in the four years that I've been here more than the next 8 weeks... or approached them with as much 'fear and trembling'. I want to ask any of you who read this to be praying for our ministry as we go through these tough questions. I challenged the students this week to bring people with them when they come because I know their friends are wrestling with similar questions, and I know that God is what they need. So you'll know what to be praying about, here's a rundown of the next 8 weeks:

10-28 Why would my life matter to God? Why would He care about me? Be praying that God would shed light on the fact that we are made by Him and for Him - He has a purpose for everyone of us, and none of us are insignificant.

11-4 How can we be accepted by God? The way this question was worded reveals a fundamental misunderstanding about baptism that many people hold. Pray that students will come to realize just what (and by what I mean WHOM) can make us acceptable to our Father in Heaven.

11-11 Can I get a second chance at life on Earth after I die? There's a really short answer to this one. Be praying that we'll be able to dig behind the question to understand where it is coming from and offer hope for this life.

11-18 Is my friend who committed suicide in Heaven or Hell? The student who asked this question is hurting badly. Pray that God would heal the residual wounds that suicide leaves so many to struggle with.

11-25 Where did cuss words originate? Just pray that I don't use words this week that will get me fired... Actually, this is a volatile issue for some people and it seems like everyone has their own list of words that are not ok. No matter what I say here, someone's not going to like it. Pray that we could get to the heart of the issue and offer a Biblical answer to the question of appropriate/inappropriate use of language...

12-2 How can I help someone with a dangerous addiction if they don't want help?
There are so many variables to this issue. Pray that we'd be able to address with God's Word the appropriate issues that lead to (and out of) addictions.
12-9 How is it that God is Jesus, who is God, who is also the Holy Spirit, who is also Jesus...? Don't worry about praying for this one, I'm sure explaining the Trinity to teens will be no problem - for Jimmy! Ok, really... pray that we'd be able to allow God to make Himself known as fully as our beady little minds can handle.
12-16 How old is the earth? What is Armageddon? Is everything in Revelation real? The Beginning and The End! Thought I'd combine a couple bookend questions to close out this series before Christmas. Please be praying that the students would get a good sense of the scope of history as we look at the issues of the world's beginning and its end. I hope we can bring some sanity to the whole End of Days issue. I'd hate for people to not recognize when Jesus comes because He doesn't do it the way they expect(ed).

WWmark 3 - A Passion for Revealing God

I can't force someone to Christ. I've been in ministry for over 10 years now, but I've never seen anyone forced into giving themselves to the mission of Jesus. I've seen kids convinced to be baptized because they were "old enough"; I've seen dads coerced to baptism and church attendance to set a good example; but I have never seen anyone truly give themselves to Jesus to be transformed for any other reason but that He called and they answered.

That is why it is so important to me to reveal God to students. He is the only one who can offer the life our world needs. Unfortunately, many of us spend so much time absorbed in our own selves that we stop noticing God. We stop seeing His work all around us. But we want our students to be passionate about revealing God to people who don't notice Him.

I've been reminded through the book of Haggai lately of the importance of this. The people of Jerusalem had forgotten God. His 'house' was in ruins while everyone just took care of their own. They stopped noticing that God wanted to be with them, so they settled for just scraping by through life. I think our world is like that today. Most people, even many who fill church seats on Sundays, go through most days without ever giving thought to the Creator who makes every breath possible - so they settle for something that is less than real living. I want to change that. I want to live my life in a way that leads people to think about God - to notice Him working. I want to challenge our students to do the same.

The reason this is so important to me is simple: God is what we need. I could cajole students into jumping through the religious hoops for a while. I could coax them into the baptistry and bribe them into Sunday School. But I cannot transform them. Only God can shape our lives to be what he intended.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ask Anything Promo

Upcoming Wed. night series: starts Oct. 28th.

video

Job Shadowing Guest Post

I've never had anyone guest blog here, but today I have Arron hanging out all day for a job shadowing project at school. I thought it would be a good idea to have him post a little something. So... here you go.
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Hey I'm Arron and today Mike has allowed me to come follow him around all day. I've never given a guest blog before so this is an experience I'll probably remember. I come to WestWay's Wednesday night youth group and listen to Mike tell all of us students about everything we should know, or at least part of it that is, about GOD. I'm 13 and in 8th grade at Bluffs Middle School in Scottsbluff Nebraska. My class is doing this Job Shadowing thing and it seems like an awesome opportunity and I'm glad Mike is letting me pester him all day. Mike and I are awaiting one of my teachers to just pop up and take pictures { OH JOY } . I hope that my Shadowing experience is going to end as well as it has started.
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Well, there you have it - the inaugural theoquest guest post. Don't let Arron fool you though - we spent most of the morning gluing trim around the floor of a classroom. It wasn't that exciting...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ask Anything

We're doing a series on Wednesday nights right now called "Ask Anything..." where basically the students put a question in a box and we'll discuss what God has to say about the topics in question each week. Last night, students submitted some great questions:

- If God is so big, then why does my life matter to Him and what could my everything be to him? Why would He care?

- How do you stop someone from a dangerous addiction even if they don't want help?

- What is Armageddon and is everything in Revelation real?

- If someone lived life bad even after they were baptized, would God still accept that person again if they change their lifestyle? Even if they did really bad things...

- When we die and meet God at the gates, if we ask for a second chance on Earth, will he allow us that chance?

- How old is the earth?

- When a person commits suicide, did they go to heaven or hell? (I've heard both from so many people, I can't figure which one could possibly be right.)

These are some of the questions our students are wondering about. Last night as I read through them quickly before I headed home, I got excited about Scriptures that came to mind regarding these topics, and about the prospect of digging in to God's Word with my students to hear what He has to say. I'll keep the boxes out another week or so for more questions...

I'm really looking forward to teaching through this stuff - if you have a friend that's not quite sure about your whole church thing, bring them Wed. night...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reconnecting

I returned last night from a good couple days at the state ministers retreat, hosted by CSF. Shane and I headed out after grabbing a quick lunch Sunday. The only disconcerting part of the trip was when the Broncos gave the Patriots a 10 point head start as we listened to AM sports stations across the state. We stayed in Lincoln Sunday night, where both Shane and I were able to reconnect with good friends from our various times on that end of Nebraska.

I hung out with Megan and Lee and Rachel for a little bit (harassing a pepsi serving coke employee), then got to stay at Hudson's house - which, by the way is in the northWEST part of town, nowhere near where I was picturing it! Once I eventually made my way there, I had a great visit with the Shires (well, at least the adults - the kiddos were already in bed). It was very exciting to be with Hudson again and see how God is continuing to use His talented and humble servant. I was glad to catch up, and am grateful to have played a small role in our Father's transformative work... excited to see what develops next as he works with Avant Ministries to support church planting in northern Africa! (If you're looking for a mission to support, let me know and I'll get you in touch with Hudson.)

The visit set a great tone for the retreat the next couple days and despite the lack of sleep, Shane and I got a good start Monday, checked into the monastery/retreat center and settled in to some great conversation with old and new friends and our shared Father. A few of the most important thoughts to hit me during the retreat:
- God is what we need for a life of ministry. (Duh! But never forget it!)
- "Keep in step with the Spirit"; What if this is more than 'walking' - what if it's dancing, keeping time with the music of His Spirit in our lives? This may not be a meaningful distinction to you, but I really appreciated this picture of how we follow His lead.
- If I want to lead more confidently, I need to follow Him more closely.
- I am not home yet.

It was a good time deepening my connection with God by reconnecting in conversation with other ministers, mentors, and friends.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

What do you do on Thursdays?

I had a student ask me last night, "What do you do on Thursdays?" This was a much better question than two weeks ago, when a student who is here every week asked me where I work! The Thursday question did seem a little random, but I've had kids do job shadows with me before, so I wasn't completely taken by surprise. It turns out, that's exactly what he had in mind, and he'll be hanging out with me in a couple weeks to find out what a youth minister does. My answer to him was that it really depends on what's going on that week. One of the things I like about ministry is the variety within any given day.

Today was a great example. I wish he could have done the shadowing today. After a little bit of follow up to last night's service, I met with a family to plan tomorrow's memorial service. This morning's time together was great getting to know the family a little bit (at least a couple daughters and a granddaughter). I've never had a funeral preparing conversation more encouraging than this morning's was.

After that, we finished up a re-wiring job here in the sanctuary for a projector that's been on the injured reserve list for enough time now. Back in the game, projector. I commented about how nice it was to have the lift we've been using to make jobs like this possible. After a lunch meeting with some people who are coming together to reshape our student ministry, I went back to my office to work on the funeral and Willie leaned in to mention taking down a speaker that's causing problems. I took a break from the funeral preparation and talked Joe into another adventure with the lift.

The speaker is a little higher than the projector and it hangs right above some steps, so I wanted to make sure someone else was around... just in case. Joe and I got it set up right against the steps and up I went. I'll just say that the lift was not nearly as comforting with the extra few feet of extension and the bulk of the speaker... But the speaker is down, and Shane and I are going to drop it off to be fixed later. That's all I have to say about that.

Now it's back to praying for and planning for the memorial service.

Yeah, it would've been a good day to job shadow. Too bad you missed it. We'll see what your day will bring...
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Quick question for other youth ministers who read this: Do you have students job shadow with you for school assignments? Do you 'save work' for the day they'll be there?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

WWMark 2 - A Global View of God's Church

A second attitude that we want to characterize the students in our ministry is a global view of God's Church. We want our students to see themselves as a part of something that God is working on way beyond our little corner of the world. It always stood out to me that when God blessed Abraham, and promised to make him into a great nation - He had the good of all nations in mind. The church is here today for the good of the world. We aren't just raising up a group of young people to keep our little club going - we are training students to alter the course of human history throughout the world.

Right now, we have a team of people in Haiti, working with the Northwest Haiti Christian Mission, that includes a couple of our HS/MS students (and the rest of their awesome family). I am really excited for them to get back and share their stories about what God is doing right now in Haiti. A former student of mine is getting ready to move his young family to Spain in order to be a part of a work that God is doing there. These students are getting a global view of God's church.

I am awestruck when I think about the way God moves in the history of nations and people, and the way He is working through His people all over the world to draw the nations to Himself. He is on the move in the world today. Are we watching? Are we prepared to follow His lead?

Friday, October 02, 2009

WWmark 1 - A Permanent Attitude of Worship

One of the marks of maturity that we want to develop in our student ministry is a permanent attitude of worship. Christians often tend to narrowly define worship in terms of Sunday morning sing-a-longs and sermons. But worship is much more than what happens on Sunday morning and Wed. nights in the church building. We want our students to understand that worship is the way we live our lives.

Romans 12 describes worship as offering ourselves as a living sacrifice to God. At its heart, this offering is the alignment of our lives with His mission. Taking into account the mercy He has shown us, what other response could be more appropriate than to give ourselves to His mission to restore humanity to relationship with Him? This isn't a once a week event - it is a consistent lifestyle of transformation. It is continually placing ourselves before God with humility, asking Him to shape us for His service. It is sincerely loving His family, including His missing children.

I don't think I'd be too far out on a limb to say that outside of this type of loving life of service, adherence to a Sunday morning ritual is pointless. It doesn't matter if you attend a 'worship service' every week of your life, if your life the rest of the week doesn't reflect His transforming work. It doesn't matter if you hear all the greatest sermons, if you don't ever let the Word of God come alive in your actions and attitudes. Real worship isn't about 'going to church'. In fact, I pray often that people would quit going to church - and learn to BE the church.

A permanent attitude of worship:
- Relies on the mercy of God - always
- Engages in a life-long process of transformation
- Works humbly with whatever gifts God has given for the benefit of His Kingdom
- Loves sincerely both inside and outside the church

May we learn to live as an offering to Him.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Streams of The Nines

For those of you who are interested: the videos from The Nines are now available online. (click the link) Great stuff to challenge you as you grow...

For those who are not interested: What's wrong with you?

Monday, September 28, 2009

An UnChristian Church...

I've mentioned here before how I grew up in the church. "If the church doors are open, we're there." was inscribed on the family coat of arms that hung above the fireplace, just below the swords and muskets. Ok, there was no coat of arms, but if there were... Being at church all the time shaped my view of Christianity very early. When I graduated HS, I got married and went to Bible College. Not too long after graduating there, I got my first 'real job' - in youth ministry, in the church. About 7 years after that, I moved to my second 'real job' - in youth ministry, in the church.

Being 'in the church' as long as I can remember has continued to shape my view of Christianity. I've always seen it from the inside. The church is my family. The church has been the environment where my greatest friendships have developed. I love the church. Even when the church misses the mark with crazy rules about where donuts and cupcakes belong, and with silly songs from the 70's, and with a deficiency of sugar in the VBS Kool-Aid... I will still love the church.

I just finished reading unchristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. Based on extensive research of people with a very different perspective, the book offered hard data to verify some of what I've noticed for a long time: A lot of people outside the church do not see what we should want them to see. At the risk of furthering misunderstanding, I will agree that "We have an image problem." When young people look at the church from the outside, they don't see God - and that is a problem that is not entirely their fault.

The subtitle of the book offers an explanation of what a new generation really thinks about Christianity... and why it matters. 10 years ago in my youth ministry, I determined that one of the biggest obstacles that I faced in trying to engage young people in the church was that many young people thought that church is boring. (To be fair, 'boring church' is all that many young people have ever encountered.) I have learned in my life that being connected and directed by the Holy Spirit of Jesus is anything but boring... so I determined to set about correcting that misconception. I still fight it, and will probably fight it until the day I die. Following Jesus is not boring... if the church is boring, you're not doing it right! {Note to students - I know I'm not the most exciting guy all the time, and I'm sorry for every moment I've ever bored you. Please dive deeper with me into Jesus and I promise HE will not bore either of us!}

When the young people I know think about the church, I want them to see Jesus. I want them to know the living, breathing Body of Christ that belongs to the mission of God. Unchristian is full of evidence that that's not what they see at all. I would like them to describe the church as compassionate and caring, loving and life-affirming, vibrant... Survey says... XXX

The most commonly used descriptions that Mosaics and Busters (the generations surveyed - generally between 16-29) used fell into 6 themes that are explored in the book:
-Hypocritical - Christians say one thing but live something entirely different.
-Too focused on conversion - Christians are insincere and concerned only with converting others.
-Anti-homosexual - Christians show contempt for gays and lesbians.
-Sheltered - Christians are boring, unintelligent, old-fashioned, and out of touch with reality.
-Too political - Christians are primarily motivated by a political agenda and promote right-wing politics.
-Judgmental - Christians are prideful and quick to find faults in others.

If "perception is reality", then this is a problem. Before you succumb to the knee jerk reaction, remember, these perceptions have come from somewhere. Real people have seen hypocritical Christians slam sinners, only to be revealed indulging in the very sins they railed against. Real people have felt like targets who were quickly dismissed by Christian 'friends' when it didn't look they'd convert. Real people have seen the churches holding 'God hates fags' signs - and rolled us all up into that same stereotype. This isn't always fair to all of us, but it's happening. And even if the perceptions are not true, we can't just let them persist... we have to give evidence that the perceptions are false.

Kinnaman and Lyons offer a great deal of hope for the future here. Each of the objections is buffered by a new reality - a new perception that we, the church, should work to create. We should be letting people see:
-"We are transparent about our flaws and act first, talk second."
-"We cultivate relationships and environments where others can be deeply transformed by God."
-"We show compassion and love to all people, regardless of their lifestyle."
-"We are engaged, informed, and offer sophisticated responses to the issues people face."
-"We are characterized by respecting people, thinking biblically, and finding solutions to complex issues."
-"We show grace by finding the good in others and seeing their potential to be Christ followers."

I hope you'll join me in revealing a church that is more like Jesus than many people are seeing right now. We can't just say it... we have to live it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Wind & WaterMarks

This is my entry for our church's newsletter sweepstakes, so when you get yours in the mail, just pretend you didn't read it here already...

I've had a number of discussions lately about just what exactly we're working to develop in our student ministry. What is Wind & Water Student Ministries all about? The short answer is discipleship. We are all about revealing the one true God to students and being disciples of His Son - but let me flesh that out a little bit.

We don’t just want students to show up. The world has more than enough pew-sitters content to be spoon fed once a week, pay their dues when it’s convenient, and sit back and wait for Jesus to return. I don’t need to train our students to do that. I don’t need to teach them to think only about themselves and what will make them the most comfortable with their church experience, never thinking about what kind of experience may reveal God to His missing people.

We ask more of our students. I’ve been thinking a lot and praying that 5 markers would identify our students. I pray that every one of our students would come to exhibit these characteristics:

- a permanent attitude of worship

- a global view of God’s Church

- a passion for revealing God to people who don’t see Him

- a commitment to local service as the church

- a hunger for depth in their relationship with God

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Nines Stew - Pt. 2

This is a continuation of reflections on my notes from The Nines. I heard this week, that the videos will be released next week: check out The Show on Tuesday for the details.
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One of the comments that I've really been thinking about was from Rick Rusaw. He asked the question "How can we be the best church FOR our community?" It's easy for churches to begin to focus on being "the best church in town" - what can we do/offer that no one else is doing? How can we set ourselves apart from the crowd of churches? But this is the wrong approach that only feeds people's consumerist nature. This question shifts the focus to being there FOR the community and re-engaging our community - not competing with other churches for people's attention. Brings to mind something about being "salt and light"...

Bil Cornelius talked about the power of mentoring. As a youth minister, I've been privileged to serve as a mentor for some awesome students. I just got off the phone with one of my students who's heading out next year to do missions work in Spain/Morocco and yesterday talked with one who is a youth minister in IA. It's so exciting to continue to pray for these guys and watch what God is doing in their lives. One of the things I love the most about youth ministry is being able to see students that I've invested in pour themselves into kingdom ventures like this! But as much as I've given in mentoring, I also need to be mentored. If you're a leader, don't ever think that you're beyond the influence of others. You are setting yourself up to languish in the status quo if you think you don't need coaching anymore. And you will take the people you lead down with you. Seek mentorship in relationship with other leaders, conferences, books "from those who've done what you want to do", coaching networks, etc.

I appreciated Pete Wilson's suggestion that "the greatest crisis in the church is lack of transformation". We are not just saved from something; we are saved to something. We are rescued from death in order to bring life to humanity.

Jon Tyson offered a great reminder that "the power for our leadership doesn't come from methods/techniques/strategies... it comes from God." I have a problem with writing in books. Even highlighting was a problem for me in college. (I know, I have issues... my therapist says it's getting better though!) One of the very first things I ever underlined or wrote in a Bible was at the National Youth Leaders Convention in 2004 in 2 Cor. 3 "Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant - not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." Tyson's 9 minutes was a great reminder of this life changing approach to leadership.

I love it when Sr. leader type guys champion next generation ministries. Youth ministers like me can talk all day long about the importance of stretching ourselves to reach the next generation, but we're often blown off because we're seen more as big brothers for church kids than as pastors who've spent years of our lives studying and training to be missionaries to young people. But when guys like Reggie Joiner talk about the importance of ministry to children and students, it sits differently with other leaders. He talked about how Nehemiah had a vision for the next generation and their perspective of God - and how today's young generation needs to see God in a new way. When Nehemiah rallied the people, it was to fight for their sons and daughters - outsiders began to see God differently, insiders began to pay attention to God, and His work was celebrated. Hey church... fight for your sons and daughters!

Mark Batterson shared one of his recurring themes: "I'd rather have 1 God idea than 1000 good ideas." I'm an ideas guy - I love ideas and am always wondering "what if..." Some of my ideas are pretty stupid (like riding my bike straight into a downed log or shooting the lock off a gate with a BB gun from about 6 inches away) and some are actually good. But "you can only get a God idea... from God." If I'm not spending enough time with Him, my ideas will always fall short of His.

Sam Chand offered some interesting thoughts regarding leadership pain. "You won't grow beyond your capacity to endure the pain of leading - and the only way to grow your pain threshold is... more pain." Leaders get hurt. Satan wants to take us down and unfortunately, some the of the people who follow are more that willing to let him use them to take potshots at us. But how we respond to the pain has a lot to do with whether our leadership will grow or stagnate. Stagnant leadership will cripple the growth of any ministry.

Dan Kimball stressed the urgency of God's mission. Eternity is at stake for the people we know and love - and that is something we should be desperate about. "Tradition should never get in the way of mission. If it does - it is sin." The problem is traditions are comfortable - it is soothing to know what to expect. So we settle into patterns and become numb to the need for God that abounds. But I don't think Jesus died to build us into a nice theological recliner where we can all sit back and think about God in predictable ways and annual cycles. He died to build us into a work force for His Father's mission - may we come to see the local church as a missionary training center.

There was so much else to think about... but I'll spare you. Check out The Show next Tuesday for details on how to get the videos (I know I will) and watch them for yourself.

One last thought that came from Brian McClaren's 9: "The gospel is not an evacuation plan - it is a transformation plan."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Back from a Break

Just got back from a couple days off. LuAnn's mom came and stayed with the kids and we went to Ft. Collins and Estes Park. This June was our 15th Anniversary, so we'd been planning a trip to celebrate. With camps and a summer full of youth ministry stuff, this was when we finally got to go. I am an incredibly fortunate man, to have been married to someone so great - and to have gotten married so young, saving me from the awkward freshman dating roulette (and college cafeteria food)!

It was cool to be back in the area where we lived for a while and see how much it's changed and what's stayed the same. We ate Sunday night at Smashburger (I know, I know... a very romantic spot, huh?!) - you probably should not die until you've had their 'smashfries', just sayin'... On Monday, we got to Estes just in time for the first snow of the year! There wasn't a lot, but it was pretty chilly - not premium for wandering the streets, but bearable.

One of the funny themes of this trip was how, on our kid-free getaway we were so often surrounded by kids. At Bob & Tony's (great pizza in Estes, but sadly, no more on-tap-root beer) a couple from Texas sat down next to us and apologized for sitting so close with their kids - LuAnn said, No big deal, we have four at home... The lady was surprised and told LuAnn she didn't look like she could have four kids... Didn't have the heart to tell her the oldest was almost 10 and we'd been married 15 years!

The theme was repeated when we showed up at the Loveland Chic-fil-A on what turned out to be the 'oldies/family night' sock hop! It was insanely full of kids dressed in poodle skirts and plain white t's.

On Tuesday, we hung around Ft. Collins. We went to a running store, where I found a pair of really good shoes for $30 - nice to have an extra, thank you to whoever delivered the wrong size to Runner's Roost! We wandered the old downtown and checked out some local galleries and the art museum, then headed home, with a detour through Laramie to say hi to my family.

It really didn't matter what we were doing or eating, or even where we were. It was nice to just get to hang out for a couple days with LuAnn. I'm very thankful for the years God's given us together. I love my wife and the family God's created through us. (I like them, too, so that makes it that much better!) Thanks God.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Nines Stew - Pt. 1

I have been waiting for a link to include here to the videos from "The Nines" last week, but I'm going to go ahead and post some thoughts now without the link. The Nines was an online teaching time where Leadership Network and Catalyst teamed up to make available some great and brief teaching/encouragement/advice/urging... clips from some of the most dynamic and respected leaders in the church today. It was a good day, and after a week or so of simmering... here's what The Nines has boiled down to for me.

Anne Jackson was the first video that I saw - with a great reminder that "Apart from me, you can do nothing." This was a recurring theme that I noticed several times throughout the day. THE vital relationship is with Jesus - without that, my leadership has no life to it. Sometimes, the demands of ministry can threaten to choke out that relationship; which is really stupid and backwards. If I put ministry first, then it will interfere with my relationship with Jesus and result in meaningless activity that is something less than the ministry God has called me to.

Perry Noble reinforced this thought of the importance of connection with God. "We should spend most of our time on our face before God seeking to find out what He wants to do." I have to admit, my time management has been next to crappy lately. Some days, I feel like I've been busy all day, but when I look back over the day, I can't see anything meaningful that's been accomplished. Maybe (duh) I haven't spent enough time with God to really see clearly... I don't want to do ministry from memory anymore. I need to seek to do ministry from the overflow of God's imagination poured into my life.

Stacy Spencer offered a challenging thought regarding not giving up on people when they fail. He mentioned the king's instruction to "get Jeremiah out of the pit before he dies." When people have fallen, are we helping them back up or leaving them on the side of the road to die? One of my struggles lately has been the high number of students we have who will come to our building on Sunday morning with their parents, but don't really have any other connection to our student ministry. Many of these students have made some pretty poor choices and, to put it bluntly, are spiritual failing. Without the connections that are built in the student ministry, I'm having a hard time knowing how to 'get them out of the pits' they've fallen into... This was a needed reminder to not give up.

I really liked Scott Wilson's thoughts on raising the bar of leadership in the church. He really seems to put a high priority on developing the leadership potential in those around him - i.e. helping leaders discover their calling, develop their gifts, and deploy. Their staff was offered a $500 bonus for reading 35 books to develop their own leadership over the year - I love that idea! Of course, the flip side he gave for that was "if you don't grow, you gotta go..." I like the high expectation/high reward...

Reggie McNeal defined the church as "The people of God, partnering with Him in His redemptive mission in the world." It's not so much that the church has a mission, but that God's mission has the church to carry it out. Are we working on God's mission - and if not, why are we calling ourselves His church?

Craig Groeschel's 9 minutes offered a good overview that sort of pulled a lot of things together from the day. (Each of these segments was independent from the rest, so I think it says a lot that so many of these leaders are echoing the same thoughts.) He talked about creating a culture of innovation, because "to reach people no one is reaching, we have to do what no one else is doing." I remember my Middle School years at this church that way. Bryant was a church that had a different flavor to it than any other church I knew of... and was reaching people that no one else reached. Innovation was valued - not just for the sake of something new, but for the sake of people knowing Jesus. Another point of emphasis for Groeschel was utilizing the gifts of the church - not just using the 'staff' to get work done. The work of the church takes the whole church. The difficulty is sometimes leadership delegates tasks, instead of delegating authority. We need to shift our focus from recruiting slot filling volunteers to empowering and releasing leaders into the ministries to which God is calling them. All of this is predicated on doing ministry from the overflow of the Spirit of God.

I'm remembering that the day was very full. I took 10 pages of notes, and what I've written here will have to serve as Part 1. More to follow...

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