Youth Ministry. I know.

symc-2014-250x250Your conference budget probably turned over in January, right?

Request the money right now to go to Simply Youth Ministry Conference on Columbus, OH in March!

Quit making excuses.  There’s still plenty of time to make arrangements.  You aren’t leaving the country!  You don’t even need any special shots or pills for this trip.

I know.  You’ve been to every conference there is.  I get it.  I’ve been to a billion conferences, too.  And you’re probably right – there’s nothing really ‘new’ under the sun.

I know.  It’s Columbus.  I’m from Texas…Ohio is just some other state vaguely in the middle of the country.  And I heard it snows there…sometimes in March.  You’re probably right – not an exotic location.

I know.  It’s hard to get away.  You have to get 47 signatures to be gone, find people to cover your specific roles, find people to cover the roles you usually find people to cover for just in case someone needs covering.  And don’t even get me started on the kids and the babysitters and trying to get things ready for my wife.  You’re probably right – a lot of logistical church stuff to do.

I know.  It’s easy to sit at your desk and justify every reason on earth not to be at SYMC this year.  I also know it’s easy to sit at your desk, boring holes into your calendar through tears you are willing not to fall, simply because you’re overwhelmed.  I also know it’s easy to sit at your desk and wonder if you’re even getting any of this ministry stuff right.  Someone’s always complaining.  Some kids aren’t coming.  The ones who are coming don’t seem to get it.

I know.  It’s lonely sitting at that desk.  And that’s exactly why you need SYMC.

It’s not an exotic location at the perfect time in your schedule with guaranteed tracks that you’ve never heard before.

But it’s not lonely.  And you’re not alone.  There’s a nation of youth workers pushing back from their desks and up to the table as we embark on a week of transformation.  Wherever you find yourself and your desk this week….find your way to Simply Youth Ministry Conference.

Youth ministry.  I know.  We all do.  That’s why I want you to be there.

Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Columbus, OH, on March 7-10, 2014.

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Transformation Tuesday: Mr. Bill

I’m highlighting some youth ministry ‘transformations’ each Tuesday.  (OK – who are we kidding….it doesn’t happen every Tuesday.  Stop judging me.)

I’m sharing this story from my good friend, Bill Freund, with his permission.  Sometimes youth ministry transforms kids.  And sometimes it transforms us!

IMG_6171 (1)Not everyone knows, but leaving our last church really took a toll on me personally.
I went to that church to serve alongside one of my best pastor friends.  Two years in there was a coup because a few families wanted a different style of leadership. He ended up resigning (and not letting me resign with him) and going on the mission field – where his heart is anyway. Our church hired a new pastor who, from day one, wanted a different kind of youth pastor.  Namely…younger.  Obviously, that was an unrecoverable problem for me.  I tried for 4 years to accommodate his requests save moving out of student ministry (which I was asked 3 times to do).  In my final 6 months the relationship deteriorated as I met regularly with one of the elders pleading for them to intercede. After repeated admissions of ‘we have no idea what to do’, the time came to make a change. Finally feeling the Lord’s leading (and without any job lined up), I resigned and almost before I could finish talking they hatched a plan for my departure and severance.  It seemed much easier for them to ‘know what to do’ with that than trying to find a way to help us work through our differences.
This started a period of pretty deep depression for me that I had never experienced before. I kept doing the right things but just feeling numb. To feel unwanted, primarily because of my age; left wondering if God was through with me being in youth ministry;  was I washed up?;  was my resume being tossed aside just because I’m 51?…..
God was in the process of transforming me and I wasn’t really liking it. We kept praying and seeking Him and asking for clear direction – and God answered VERY CLEARLY.  But we didn’t like the answer. God asked us to leave a community we’ve poured 23+ years of our life into (for my wife, Jean, 30+ years)??? Take Jean away from her family for the first time ever? Take our son (with Asperger Syndrome), who needs familiarity and consistency, to a new place with a zero friend base? CLEAR, but clearly not what we wanted. Like Abraham (rather than Jonah), we left our people, our family, our land and went to follow God’s leading to Castle Rock to love on students at a church there. And it came with much pain: financially we have no idea each month how we’re going to make it. Jean had some serious medical issues the first six months we were there. We struggled to find any who would volunteer to help with student ministry.  And our son ran away three times.
In the midst of this, God began doing amazing things in the lives of students – students like Kendra* & Jaqueline* who have come to know Jesus; students like Phillip* & Casey* who had been praying for months for a student ministry for them to grow deeper & wider in;  students like Alex, Brianna, Max, Liddy & JoAnna who had been cutting and are now getting help.  God is transforming and I could go on & on & on & on!~
Transformation means change & reformation.  It’s painful, yet beautiful!~
I feel like this pic depicts my new life excitement after transformation….
What’s your youth ministry story of transformation?  Let me share it!!  Shoot me an e-mail!
And if you’re in need of some transformation – check out this year’s Simply Youth Ministry Conference!  (It’s not too late!)

Youth Ministry Tips I got from the Grammys

sara-bareilles-carole-king-grammys-brave-beautiful-mashup-at-grammys-2014-videoI love me a good awards show.  It doesn’t matter if I’m ‘into’ what’s being awarded or not.  (Like half the awards shows I watch I don’t even know what they’re for!!)  I like to watch so I can smack-talk the whole time.  One day, I want to have my own ‘can you believe she wore that’ show on some second-rate cable channel.

So, last night, I dutifully tuned in to the Grammys.  And I spent ample time on Facebook being silly and making jokes and marveling at the fact that Metallica got old and Willie Nelson is still alive.

But I also took away an amazing word-picture of what I believe most churches are missing in their youth ministries.

The Grammys has taken to some pretty amazing live performance mash-ups.  Techno with balladeers.  Concert pianists with metal heads.  Rap stars with rock stars.

But one of the more poignant performances in last night’s show was given by an old/new mash-up. Sara Bareilles joined forces with Carole King and gave us this amazing performance.  At the end of the performance, Ms. Bareilles is very obviously enraptured with this music icon and honored to have played alongside her.

We’re missing that in youth ministry when:

a) We just throw curriculum in the hands of leaders and say ‘teach this’.  Every leader has an experience to share – an expertise to wield – a story to pass down.  Make sure you teach them how to do that – and then give them space to do it!

b)  We only use one age group to lead.  It’s a knee-jerk reaction to assume that only 20-somethings and few hipster 30’s can get the youth ministry job done.  Age is a crown of glory – and if we aren’t utilizing leaders from every generation, we aren’t doing church biblically.

c)  We get caught up in our current culture and dismiss the cultures that have come before.  One of the most beautiful (and sometimes strange) parts of the 2014 Grammys were the unusual duets and trios comprised of artists from seemingly opposed musical genres.  It was a little messy at times – but it made for some very compelling performances and an awards show that was one of the best concerts I have ever seen.  To do less in our youth ministries is very one directional.  (pun definitely intended.)

So take a youth ministry lesson from the Grammys – and enlist a grammy or granddad to participate in the student ministry.  Mix it up.  Make a beautiful mess.  And see if your students don’t respond a lot like Sara did at the end of her riffs with Carole – giddy, enthralled, and amazed!

Spend the Day With Your Kid

1018He’s going to college in a few short months.

I always knew this day was coming.  And it hasn’t taken me by surprise – although I’m sure my checkbook will be hemorrhaging money and consternation in the not-to-distant future.

Today was a normal day….pick up some junk food for a movie party he’s having, order his glasses, grab a quick bite of lunch, head home so he can  finish last-minute homework.

And just like that, the mundane has become precious…and I wonder why these moments were ever ‘average’ in the first place.

The days are fleeting.  That makes them more than mediocre….everyday….all the years….every moment.

 

 

Transformation Tuesday

31864_401918224827_3062487_nYes – I know it’s Wednesday.  Someone doesn’t know how to accurately set his auto-publish feature.

If you read this blog much, you know I love youth ministry.  It was a life changer for me.  I was a kid who was drowning in an ocean of dysfunctional household and awkward hormones.  A youth pastor stepped into my life and God used him to change everything.  My life – my entire life – was transformed because of that relationship.

Tuesdays heretofore (whatever that means) will be dedicated to those stories of transformation.

Your story might be similar to mine – how being in a youth ministry changed you.

Maybe you’re a youth worker, and your story of transformation comes from serving students.

Perhaps you’re a senior pastor or a church janitor – I’m sure you’ll have profound stories of how youth ministry has altered you!   :)

I want to hear it!  EMAIL ME – let me share your stories of transformation.  Here’s mine:

 

My household was crazy.  My dad was pretty mean.  My mom was pretty victimized.  And we grew up seeing all of it.  Because of the impact of my grandmother and her little country church, I decided to be a Christ-follower at a pretty early age.  But as a young teenager, I found myself walking (probably tripping is more accurate – I was clumsy and growing) into a larger church that had a youth ministry – something I had never even heard of.

Most of the kids were jerks (hey – I don’t judge – it was the 80’s).  And I distinctly remember one evening after church calling my dad to see how he wanted me to get home.  He was at Elmer’s Tavern – where he was most nights – and I never thought two things about that.  Unbeknownst to me, some of the church kids had picked up another phone receiver in a different room and heard the barkeeper answer.  They descended like vultures – laughing, teasing, mocking.  It wasn’t uncommon – I was pretty awkward anyway and spent most of my time deflecting the crap my peers slung at me, church-goers or not.  Today, we’d most definitely call it bullying.  Back then, it was just kids being kids.

I left church feeling shamed and dejected.  I had kept my ‘so-called life’ out of the public eye and now everyone knew.  My family was crazy.  A lesser man would not have returned.

But the love and kindness of the youth pastor beckoned me.  I’d love to tell you it was all about Jesus and being holy.  The truth was – the leader was a man who was kind to his children and didn’t beat his wife – and that was a compelling story for me.  So I kept going.  I kept enduring the ‘cool’ kids so that I could get a glimpse of what real life could look like.  And somehow, those kids started being nicer to me.

About six months later, a confession was made.  I don’t remember the circumstances, but I’ll never forget the moment.  One of the students who had been my tireless terrorist had turned soft.  He (along with many of the kids) was befriending me.  And after Bible study one night, the truth came out.  The youth pastor had been ‘in the know’ about the night I called the tavern for my ride.  He had been watching how students were treating me all along.  This teenager confessed, “One night you were gone.  After Bible study, Mitch lambasted us and told us if we didn’t stop harassing you, you might not ever come back.  Then we found out you weren’t half bad.”

Somewhere in there I should have probably been offended.  But all I remember is how it felt to have a grown man advocate for me.  It was the first time in my life that an adult male had tried to create a safe place for me.  My life would never, ever be the same.   And I knew that God’s calling on my life would be creating that same space for teenagers.

I love Mitch Jackson.  He will always be my youth pastor.  And I am so grateful that he showed me (and all of us 80’s, snarky, apathetic, depressed teenagers) how Jesus advocates for us, loves us, holds us.  My life has been transformed.

How has youth ministry transformed your life?  Share your story!  And be a part of SYMC: Stories of Transformation!!

 

White Noise & Resolutions

television_staticI decided a few years ago that resolutions always make me feel like a failure.  And I don’t deal well with that.  So I have cut them from my life.  I wish ice cream made me feel like a failure.

But I do always take a stock of the year as it passes.  And as I have contemplated this past year, I realized something.

Noise is noise.  Doesn’t matter how distinct it is.

It’s be a rough year on the Sutton front – a rough three or so, actually.  And as I thought through the past year, I wondered if I had been too internally focused.  I mused that maybe I was self-centered and whiny.  Perhaps I zeroed in on things that were temporal.

I’m sure all those things are true.  And a sadder truth — that might not change.  Especially since I don’t do resolutions.  :)

More poignant to me, however, was this thought….it’s been a really LOUD year.  God was silent much of this year.  And I was not.  I asked and pleaded and begged and questioned and reasoned and prayed and thought.  Jesus didn’t say much.  But friends and family counseled and encouraged and sympathized and helped and gave and prayed.  The Holy Spirit was a whisper and everything else was a blood-curdling scream.

It’s not that any of those things were bad or wrong or louder than He can be.  It was all just…white noise.  Static – when I wanted to tune in to the station.  And it’s amazing how loud white noise really is.

More than anything, I want to tune in this coming year.  Push beyond the white noise of this life – of ministry, of family, of circumstance – and re-know that joy of finally finding some FM digits that actually broadcast clearly and surprisingly after you’ve been driving through the desert with nothing but static.

Happy New Year – I hope you hit the right station on your dial.

2013 Review

funny_blog_t-shirt_-_more_people_read_my_blog_tee_shirt_t_shirt_blogger_internet_geek_mens_ladies_womens_youth_kids_69aed43dEveryone’s Called to Youth ministry says Merry Christmas and thanks for reading this year!  All new posts heading your way in 2014!!  Until then, don’t make any resolutions you can’t keep!!   :)   Someone wake me on January 1st – I’m pretty sure I’ll still be in a carb-coma!

Most read posts of 2013:

5)  The Morning After See You at the Pole

4)  Why I Let My Kid Skip SYATP

3)  Youth Ministry Safety Starts With You

2)  10 Things Parents Wish They Heard From Youth Pastors

1)  If I Was Miley’s Youth Pastor