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….’

Best Thing I Heard at SYMC 2013: Day 3

figure-watering-grass1.  Water what’s strong.

Don’t waste time trying to nurse what’s dead – invest in what’s strong and allow it to overtake the weak areas.  LOVE IT!

2.  Sometimes the messenger IS the message.

Definitely sometimes the messenger enhances a message that might have otherwise been missed.

3.  I killed people in the Bible for lying to me.

Yep – God don’t mess around…so help me always be honest with you, Jesus.

4.  I don’t get carpet.

It’s a floor covering made of fiber, Matt.

5.  We shouldn’t be driven there.  We shouldn’t someday make it there.  We should start there.  (on our knees before Jesus.)

Bring me back to that place in my life, Lord, where prayer was the first thing – not the last.

6.  I am with you – even in the aftermath.

Thank God – I might even say ‘especially’ in the aftermath.

7.  God does say he care for the flowers – and they live in dirt.

God’s provision doesn’t always look the way we think it should.

8.  It’s time to focus less on the why and more on the who.

Amen!

9.  I’m flippin’ Phil Bell.

It sounds so cool with a British accent.

10.  Dad, can you help me with my NHS forms?

I’d rather do ministry with that kid (and his brothers) than any other kid on this planet!

What’s Wrong with See You at the Pole?

It’s just become another event – commercialized and stolen from the Holy Spirit and hijacked by youth pastors much like the WWJD movement of old.

This past week teenagers from around the globe gathered at their school flagpoles for prayer.  It’s a movement that began twenty years ago in Burleson, TX, and has swept the nation and world over the past two decades.  See You at the Pole.

So how could anything possibly be wrong with teenagers praying at their school flagpoles??

At its inception, See You at the Pole was a student initiated, student-led work of the Holy Spirit.  A small group of students, inspired at a Disciple Now event at their church (kind of like a mini-retreat) heard a call of the Holy Spirit to intercede on behalf of their friends, teachers, and administrators.  They gathered under cover-of-night to call out to God.  It was  a very organic, Spirit-led, heart-felt call to prayer delivered to TEENAGERS.

As the story spread and teenagers grabbed hold of the simple, yet powerful, call to intercession – high schools all over the country began to see groups gathering at their flagpoles for prayer.

Then youth pastors got involved.  (Here’s where everyone might get ticked off!)

Part of the beauty of SYATP is that it was student-initiated and student-led.  There were no gimmicks.  There were no bribes.  There were no cattle calls.  It was a just a simple ‘get on your knees before the Lord’ moment inspired in the hearts of teenagers around the world. 

In the past ten years, in some cases, that spirit of SYATP has been lost.  Youth pastors are showing up to speak, lead, worship, feed doughnuts – all the things that youth pastors do best.  And, in my opinion, some of the ‘hallowed holiness of the Spirit’ has been lost.  Student leadership has been pushed aside for more ‘polished’ delivery.  The organic prayer effort has become more ‘event’ and less prayer time.  Leaving with a doughnut and a cup of hot chocolate has replaced leaving with an urgency to cry out to God.  SYATP has become ‘just another youth event.’

My role in SYATP as a youth pastor is to resource and encourage my students to lead out a holistic prayer event that is impassioned and empowered by the Holy Spirit – not my creative genius.  My job is to give them the tools and know-how to approach school administration in a mature, thoughtful way.  My call is to instill a righteous confidence that they can do it – without my help or expertise – all on their own.

Instead, youth pastors – and in some cases, school personnel – are leading the charge.  And true to form, kids are showing up for the food and the show.  They’re punching their prayer ticket and going to class.  They ‘did’ See You at the Pole this year.  Wonder if they’ll have better doughnuts next year….

Now don’t get me wrong, I know there are authentic, genuine movements of God at SYATP world-wide.  I just heard about a middle school in Louisiana where attendance outnumbered all area high schools three to one – and where classes were nearly 100% devoted to sharing of the Gospel based on what was seen that morning at the flagpole.

But there are also events like the one at a junior high in Texas – where nearly 150 students showed up for doughnuts, had to be cajoled, screamed at, and finally called together with a stern blow of the dreaded coach-whistle just to get them over to the pole.  And as they circled to pray, students were overheard saying ‘this is so gay’ – just ‘doing’ See You at the Pole because someone brought the doughnuts….

It’s just become another event – commercialized and stolen from the Holy Spirit and hijacked by youth pastors much like the WWJD movement of old.

I love SYATP.  I think it can open doors  for hope and healing like few other events on local campuses today.  I hope we’ll equip our students to rely on and invite the Holy Spirit to open those doors in an honest, authentic way – without the motivator being the ‘next best creative event’ mindset.  I truly hope that youth pastors will allow this event to fall back into the hearts of students and the hands of the Holy Spirit.

Drive by and take a few pictures, youth pastor.  Don’t get out of your car – don’t offer to speak, contact school administration, or provide breakfast.  Just resource your kids with the information and tools THEY need to lead – and then allow the Holy Spirit to do His thing.

My MacGyver Wife & Our MacGyver God

Not because my wife is like the MacGyver of youth ministry spouses. Not because it was up to me to make something happen. Not because we had planned for every eventuality. Simply because God was in control.

Have you ever been out of town when it seems like all Hades breaks loose at home?  Our family always plans for the most unexpected things when I’m gone over the summer.  One year my wife went into pre-term labor while I was on a mission trip.  Another year the wheel fell off our car as my wife drove over the JFK Causeway, almost sending her and my two young sons over the edge of the bridge and into the Gulf.  One year our city was evacuated for a hurricane the day before we were to leave…

My wife has learned to be pretty resourceful in my absence.  She stopped her labor.  She towed the car.  She packed camp luggage amidst our evacuation supplies and left me there when she returned home.  She is a fully capable woman who doesn’t need me to fix one thing for her.  Usually she is fixing stuff for me.

But that never impedes my feeling like I MUST DO SOMETHING when things go amiss and I’m away from home.

This year, my wife didn’t go to camp with us.  She had an opportunity to participate in a ministry opportunity that we knew had been given by God – so she abandoned her plans join us in Colorado for a week of adventure camp in order to pursue a different call God had given her.  (Incidentally, in twenty years, I’ve done this trip five times and she’s never been able to attend…a fact she rarely lets me forget!)  The day before she was to fly out, she found out a clerical error had been made and her flight had not been booked.  Now in a normal city, this might not be such a big deal.  But we live on the edge of the earth.  It can be difficult to get flights to and from anywhere on any kind of time schedule that’s convenient for the receiving end of the flight.  Not only that, but she was FINALLY going to get to join me for this amazing camp opportunity – and it appeared that she had foregone that opportunity for nothing.

In addition, she woke up with an abscessed tooth.  I knew when I got the text saying she was going to the dentist, it was bad.  Have you seen those cartoons where the title character gets hit in the face with a frying pan and his or her teeth just crumble into a billion pieces as they fall out of said mouth?  Yeah, that could happen to Katie and she STILL wouldn’t go to the dentist.

So a perfect storm had ensued at home – I was stuck on the side of a mountain three states away and in roaming service, if I was lucky enough to have service at all.  There was literally not a thing I could do.  I was sharing this frustration with my leadership team…in a very frustrated way.  One of my leaders said ’Wow – my cousin works at such-and-such airline, but they don’t fly out of Corpus.  I wish I could pull some strings for you.’  Then, in an amazing display of wisdom, she said ‘I guess we just need to pull the right strings. We should pray.’

Duh.  What a doofus. Griping had been my string of choice.  Praying, honestly and ashamedly, hadn’t even occurred to me.  I didn’t need to fix a thing.  Not because my wife is like the MacGyver of youth ministry spouses.  Not because it was up to me to make something happen.  Not because we had planned for every eventuality.  Simply because God was in control.

I seem to forget – on a pretty regular basis – that nothing in my life takes Him by surprise.  All my days are numbered – he knows all my hairs, gray and otherwise – not a tooth falls to the ground that He doesn’t know about it.  He had it all under control – even if it didn’t turn out the way WE had envisioned it would.

So I just spent the next few hours praying in between hiking, luggage unloading, cooking dinner, and sitting in the Jacuzzi (hey – I had already spent my one night in a tent!)  When I finally got cell service again – a ticket had been purchased, a tooth had been pulled, a prescription had been administered and luggage was locked and loaded and waiting for the airport.  Apparently, not only do I have a MacGyver-wife, I also have a MacGyver God.  May I never forget it!