Sometimes Churchy Answers Aren’t Needed

12.9-CompassionSo recently….OK, last night…I was having a crisis of faith.  Actually, not really.  It was more of a pity party.  It’s been a season of hit-after-hit-after-hit….you know the kind I’m talking about.  The weeks where people tell you “God is in control” or ‘All things work together for good” or “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle” or “God will bless your faithfulness”.   And I was just done with it – at least for a short season.  And I wanted to rant and rave and be mad and feel devastated and question God.

I’ve been a pastor for 25 years – and a Christian a lot longer than that.  So I know all the spiritual answers.  Most of them I agree with.  (Except that ‘God won’t give you anything you can’t handle ….not Biblical…and maybe that ‘blessings for faithfulness’ bit….those are posts for another day).  Aaaannnyway….fortunately I have a group of youth ministry friends who embrace it when we are authentically raw.  And none of them….not one….gave me a churchy answer.  They just laughed with me and cried with me and sat with me and prayed for me – albeit virtually – until I was better.  (Maybe because I threatened them if they gave me typical counsel….)

Here’s the thing (and it could be a youth ministry thing, too, I think.)  Sometimes we know the answer BEFORE our heart cries out in pain.  And we aren’t looking for someone to tell us what we already know.  We’re just looking for someone to sit alongside us in our pain, our grief, our crying out, our moment of despair.

I wonder how many teenagers I’ve trod upon with answers when they just needed compassion…..

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When the Center of Somewhere Feels Like the Middle of Nowhere

garmin_25651GPS.  Global Positioning System.  You would think from that vantage point, the dumb thing might actually understand where I REALLY am!

Sometimes the navigation system goes awry -and though you may not truly be ‘in the middle of nowhere’, you certainly do not recognize the middle of wherever it is you are.

More than once, my friend Gert (complete with Australian accent and vernacular) has led me to a place that was wholly unfamiliar.  Oh, sure, there were gas stations aplenty and paved streets (sorta)….but for me, it still felt like the middle of nowhere.  Desolate.  Disorienting.  Frustrating.  Frightening.

Navigating a faith journey sometimes feels like I’m on a trip with Gert.  I pull out of the driveway with complete and utter confidence.  I blindly follow the robotic ‘recalculating’ without question.  And yet, I find myself in at the center of somewhere that feels like the middle of nowhere.  I can see landmarks – proofs that I am going as I need to go.  But man, does it feel desolate sometimes…like the middle of nowhere…and no amount of recalculating will ever take me to the intended destination.

And, admittedly, I find myself doing what all frustrated drivers do….blaming the GPS.  Cursing her.  Wanting to rip her off my dash and pummel her droning voice into a million little technologically charged pieces.  Shut.Her.Up.  But I know if I do that, a) I will never find my way to the right location, and b) I have squandered my investment.

So I continue to make the instructed turns – “in point three miles, turn left” – and trust that, from a much broader perspective than the one I have behind the wheel, Someone knows where I’m going.

Create Student Leaders

program-guide-2The leaders in student leaders have developed this handy resource to help you be better at what you do!  Thanks, Leader Treks!

Growing Student Leaders is about developing students into leaders who own their faith and live out the ministry. We all agree leadership is important, but how do you actually develop students into leaders?

This free resource provides two proven strategies for how to create a culture of leadership development, walking you through the process in your own ministry context. Through either leadership teams or one-on-one leadership mentoring, you’ll be able to put in place a program that will move non-leaders to leaders.

Now is the time to develop students into leaders. LeaderTreks wants to partner with you to make that happen. We understand leadership development and the importance of it in youth ministry, and we’ll be with you every step of the way. You can download Growing Student Leaders for free at http://www.leadertreks.org/freebies/growing-student-leaders/

The Morning After…SYATP

syatp misc 1The flags are flying alone today.  The left-over doughnuts are stale or donated.  And students are wondering ‘what just happened here’?

What just happened, youth workers, is a chance for you to seize the day – yesterday, specifically – and capitalize on your little pole-prayers.

Don’t let yesterday be a one-time, drive-by prayer event.  (Especially if you had a heavy hand in organizing or executing it!)  Sending a subtle message to your students that prayer is a random, one-time event that requires a T-shirt, a slap bracelet, and all-you-can-eat Krispy Kremes is NOT the intention of SYATP or youth ministries anywhere…

Rather, the opportunity exists to help students see prayer as a daily, hourly, continual event that SPARKS a movement, doesn’t complete one.

1.  Remind your students TODAY, via text, tweet, post, smoke-signal – use whatcha got – to pray.

2.  Give your students a specific moment to pray each day.  Have them set a reminder on their phone.  Publicize it judiciously in your student area.

3.  Encourage your students to become involved in weekly campus meetings at their school.  Besides the weekly dose of doughnuts, they’ll also get encouragement, accountability, and spiritual challenge on a regular basis.  It also communicates that events like SYATP can be a life-style launch, which is what all youth pastors hope for.  It may also spark a passion and vision for their campus…which should always be a not-so-subtle hope & by-product of SYATP.

4.  YOU pray.  Walk the campus.  List out the schools in an area over your desk or on your screen saver.  Get a list of educators in your area.  YOU pray.  SYATP is not intended as your prayer closet – find yours and get in it!

Whatever you do….do not let SYATP feel like the morning after a regrettable event.  ‘Man – that was stupid and it didn’t really make any difference in my life over the long haul….definitely NOT doing that again….’

More Than a Cool #hashtag

cowtagYouth ministry needs to slay its sacred cows.

Youth workers gripe to high heaven about how church leaders are stuck in a rut.  I’m wondering when we’ll ever take a serious look at our own pavement.

Maybe it’s gone unnoticed, but the worship movement….not really connecting with the Millennial generation in a true and meaningful way.  Oh – and the props and backdrops we spend so much time and energy on….usually unnoticed beyond the cursory glance.  And youth ‘talks’?  Don’t even get me started.  Those aren’t talks…because talking implies conversation — and usually, we’re the only ones doing the talking.  They’re sermons.  We need to end the pastor-practicing and start engaging in conversation.

The days of hip, cool youth ministry are dead – because Millennials have actually made space for everyone at the table.  They don’t care if it’s hip, awesome, entertaining, excellent, or quippy.  (Actually, they do kind of enjoy quippy.)  But what they embrace most is authenticity, respect, conversation, community, relationship and the greater cause.

Sadly, many youth ministries are so busy riding our sacred cows….we aren’t even in the same pasture.  As long as we hashtag it…we’re good.

I’d love to see a youth ministry throw it all out and start from scratch.  Retool how worship gets accomplished….maybe it’s a little more scriptural than ‘relevant music’ and ‘youth bands’.  Maybe it’s life change.  I’d love to see sermons morph from one-way pipelines of information to a flood of honest, uncloaked conversations.  I’d love to see rooms more focused toward one another than the staging area…eliminating the need to props and backdrops.  I know – maybe we actually put something tangible and touchable within the grasp of students that might cause them to think, grapple, question, or reinforce.  And if we’re going to use hashtags for real – let’s make them something that matters, not just a tool for social promotion.

Someone has said ‘sacred cows make the best burgers.’  FALSE!  That meat is rancid and covered in maggots.  Just throw it out.

Stuff I Learned When the Electricity Went Out

breaker boxCity workers have been doing work in our area the past few weeks.  They keep knocking out our electricity for periods of time during the day.  Until today, I’ve known this because of the blinking tattle-tale of the alarm clocks in the house.  But today, I was at home when everything went dark….and I learned a few things in the hour our house was silent.

1.  Never put all your underwear in the same load of laundry….because sometimes a dirty pair is better than no pair at all.

2.  Don’t count on the local coffee shop for electricity to keep your computer going because a) their electricity is probably out, as well, and b) you didn’t learn lesson number 1 so you cannot leave the house.

3.  Silence is golden.  I was able to read a magazine cover to cover while I waited for everything to reboot.

4. Even on busy days, it’s OK to take a Sabbath moment.  Yes, I’m behind.  Yes, my unrealistic list of ‘must do’s’ may not get completed today (will not get completed today).  And yes, my soul found rest….and that’s never a bad thing.

Maybe I need to find the breaker box….I could get used to an occasional silence around here.  I should probably wait for the wash cycle to complete…..

Where Are They Now?

337_549927763798_344_nMeet Jake and Nicole…two grown ups I had the privilege of knowing as teenagers.  These high school sweethearts are now raising kids of their own, navigating the challenges of marriage, parenthood, careers, and all the things that smell so sweet as students…but really just stink of sweat, blood, and tears once you get there.

This week, Jake and Nicole passed through Corpus Christi (well, sort of….they actually detoured through Corpus) so we could have lunch together.  It’s always such an honor to spend a few minutes wading through the adult lives of teenagers who kept the faith and are walking it well.  And though their faithfulness to Him has everything to do with who they are and the investment made by their parents, there are a few things youth workers can do to help develop students who remain committed to Christ into their adulthood.

1.  Give them space to ask questions….and wrestle out their own answers.  (Even if those answers don’t always run parallel to your own.)

2.  Create room for REAL friendships that thrive on accountability and challenge.  (That means more than pizza, basketball, and Bible study.)

3,  Affirm and bless what you see.  (Your influence MUST go beyond a fist bump and stupid joke.)

4.  Make opportunities to serve.  (Both inside and outside your church – and then ask them about those opportunities.)

5.  Underestimate your influence.  (It’s always the work of the Holy Spirit that draws students into relationship with Himself!)

As we finished up our much-too-short visit, I thanked Jake for buying lunch.  (They rarely do that when they’re teenagers!)  He said something like “You paid for that meal years ago.”‘

No, Jake, those days were just redeemed by God – and I am beyond grateful that I just got to see God do His thing….