Monday, November 02, 2009

Called: Consider the Cost

What does it mean to be called to ministry?  How do you know?  Charles Spurgeon gave some help to his students regarding this very question.  Over the next four to six posts I will be going over some of the criteria for understanding calling.  Why should you read these?  There are two reasons, first, to evaluate yourself in light of these things, and second, to help you determine who in your ministry might be called into ministry.  Hear it goes.
                “The first sign of the heavenly calling is an intense, all-absorbing, desire for the work.:
                When I was nine, I wanted to be a fighter pilot.  To be honest, I still wouldn’t mind that line of work.  I love to fly and I would love to get my pilots license, some day.  When I was thirteen I decided to become a youth pastor or missionary.  Over the past 15 or so years of ministry there have been a lot of days where I wanted to quit and do something else.  I bet Spurgeon had those days too.  I can even remember a couple of weeks where the only thing that kept me in ministry was the realization that I was not qualified to do anything else.  I would have to start over in whatever profession I switched to. 
                Those days seem to pass and most of the time I get reenergized and the passion for ministry returns.  As we read the book of Acts I can’t help but think of the passion that kept the apostles and Christians going.  The days when I feel like quitting are usually because I got a couple of bad phone calls from some parents, frustration with “church politics”, or maybe I just flat out got tired.  A bad day for Stephen got him stoned, Peter and John were thrown in prison, others were beaten, and still others were dragged before ruling councils and the like.  Still their passion burned.
                This passion, this all-absorbing desire is not a whim or some kind of passing thought.  These desires are well thought out considering the costs of ministry.  Those costs can be significant.  Ministry is not only hard on one person, but it is hard for families.  It’s earthly rewards are, generally speaking, not significant.  When asking yourself if you are called, begin by considering the cost.


                There are all kinds of transitions.  This isn’t necessarily about a new church, it could be moving into a new position in the church you are in, transitioning your programming, perhaps you have a new boss, or maybe you are in transition in your personal life.  Transitions are always difficult to navigate, but they can also have a huge impact on you and your ministry.  This is not something I like to talk about much, because I don’t think it is necessarily good, but I have served under 5 different Senior Pastors (a few of those times, they changed, not me) and had one stint in church planting.  I have been in my current position for only 14 months not only in a new ministry but a new state (CO).  We are also in the midst of making some very significant changes in our programming.  We are in the midst of all kinds of transitions.

                Some of the transitions I have been through have been painful, but most of them have been positive and good.  I’m not going to go into great detail here, but I wanted to share a few principals I’ve learned regarding making successful transitions.

  • Don’t take it slow, but don’t go too fast either!

Yeah, I know it sounds like I can’t decide.  In reality, I can’t, at least not for you!  I have heard a lot of guys suggest that you shouldn’t make any changes in the first year.  I’ve heard others say you should make changes early in your transition when you are on your honeymoon. 
                I’ve actually done it both ways.  Both ways have some merit to them and depending on your circumstances both methods could work.  So what is the overriding principal?  Know your culture and know what is expected.  In my current situation change was expected.  I needed a little time to get my feet under me and begin to understand the culture, but once I did changes started to come.

  • Big change, Little change

There are different kinds of change.  Some changes might be small, like starting to use countdowns before a program or setting up tables instead of chairs.  These kinds of changes are relatively small.  Then there are changes more like what we are doing right now.  We have cancelled Sunday morning programming for our Senior High and we are changing to what we call “House Groups”.  It is important to think through the impact of the kind of change taking place.  If you are transitioning into a new ministry make small, high impact changes early and save the big changes for later when you have a better understanding of the culture in which you are now ministering.

  • Vision is Everything

Whether you are transitioning into a new ministry or considering transitioning to some new programs make sure you understand the vision of your church and how either you or the new programs fit in.  Once you understand that vision and how your vision fits in, communicate your vision endlessly! 
          Transitions are huge in so many ways.  A good transition gives you credibility and a bad one will raise questions about your leadership ability.  I don’t think I have ever made a perfect transition, but I have learned that there are exceptions to almost all conventional wisdom.  Know what is expected and what is likely to be the response by all involved.  Listen to conventional wisdom, but make sure it will work in your context.

Monday, August 03, 2009

A Smile on My Face

                I recently took some college/career types along with some High School Students on a trip to San Francisco for a mission trip with CSM (They did a great job).  The trip was really good.  You can read about it at the Theology, Lockers, and Life blog if you are interested.  When I arrived home I was faced with a tore up basement (it flooded while I was gone, thanks to one of our elders and some good friends for helping get everything dried up) and an empty house.  My wife and kids had left for Minnesota for two weeks.  I believe this is the longest time I have been away from them.   I miss my family.
                My personal thoughts have a purpose.  I sit here with my two dogs lying on the floor next to my bed with a quiet house.  No kids playing and no wife to cuddle with before falling asleep.  I have never really lived alone.  I went from a house with parents and four brothers to a college dorm with a roommate.  After a couple years of that I got married.  Perhaps for the first time in my life I am realizing how much God has wired us for relationships.  Earlier tonight I connected with my family through Tokbox a video conferencing web site.  It was great to see their smiling faces.  About twenty minutes ago I looked at a photo from our vacation early in July and saw my son holding a fishing rod with Mt. Massive in the background.  It put a smile on my face!!
                My family makes me happy (most of the time).  I love them and I know they love me.  In the midst of all this I hear the words of Jesus resounding in my head, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”  Some days that doesn’t seem so hard, but most of the time and especially during moments like this one it is not only hard, it makes me question my own love for Jesus.
            A little self reflection from time to time can be good for the soul.  I want to keep this short so I am going to wrap it up here.  What if you had to choose between your loved ones and Jesus?  What if you had to give up that which is most precious to you in order to follow Jesus?  At this moment the very thought creates pause in my spirit.  Yet, I want more than anything for my family to follow Jesus with that kind of love and passion.  Perhaps my own love and passion for Jesus needs to burn hotter.

Human Arrogance

I had an interesting conversation with one of my High School Students about the influence teenagers have on culture.  It was her belief that teenagers set the standards for culture.  They have more influence on culture than any other age group.  Certainly when it comes to pop culture there is some truth to what she thinks.  It is also true that pop culture has some influence on culture overall, but what kind of impact do teenagers have on the culture overall?

I think the popular thing to say here is that they are the trend setters and they determine where culture will go.  There influence is so significant and important that we must pay close attention.  I am not so convinced.
The title of this piece may have tipped you off to my view.  People are naturally arrogant, as a people we tend to think we deserve everything and the world revolves around us.  Actually the truth that mankind is arrogant is a Biblical truth.  Arrogance is why Satan fell from heaven (Isaiah 14:12-14) and it was arrogance that Satan used to tempt Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:5).
The truth is every age group has an impact on culture.  Parents raise kids and impact the current culture, teachers teach them, and so on.  Only adults can vote and impact the political culture and they pass laws and bills that impact us, impact teens, and impact our ability to do ministry.  Culture is all encompassing.  What students are taught in school has a huge influence on what they believe in almost every area of their life. 
For those of us in youth ministry we tend to have a passion for teenagers.  We love to hang out with them.  They are old enough to ask great questions and dive deeper into their faith.  They have the ability to begin owning their faith and they make decisions that will impact the rest of their life.  They are still young enough to be influenced and we want to be part of that influence and help them become men and women that honor God.  In the process I wonder if we sometimes unintentionally send the message that the world is all about them. 

So what am I saying we should do?  I don’t exactly know.  I know your not suppose to say that when you are writing something like this, but it’s true.  I think there are some things we should be doing in general, but I don’t know if our narcissistic culture can be easily changed.  Here are a couple general ideas:

  • Make sure when we worship it isn’t about what God has done for us as much as it is about who God is.  I realize the two cannot be completely separated and really shouldn’t be separated.  It is however easy to become too focused on the “what God has done for us” side of the equation.
  • When we teach, make sure we are teaching a God centered theology and not a man centered theology.  This Christianity, Jesus thing is not about living our best life now or figuring out how we can manipulate God to benefit ourselves.  It is about realizing that the God we serve is sovereign and deserving of worship in spite of what circumstances we find ourselves in.
  • Draw students to a cause bigger than themselves, namely the cause of God’s kingdom.  This is so countercultural that I believe they will be attracted to something so farfetched, so different, and so huge.
  • Be willing to challenge the cultural norms with Biblical truths.  I know it sounds obvious, but I think some of us don’t want to offend so we become shy with the truth.  Be kind and gentle, but don’t be afraid to be blunt.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Needed Vacation

                Recently my family and I took a much needed vacation which is why it has been a little longer since the last newsletter.  You know how everyone comes back from vacation tired and speaks of needing a vacation from the vacation.  Well, we actually made that part of our plan.  We came back a little early to relax and get some things done around the house before it’s time to go back to work.  One of the things I had to do was take my “Herby Blue Ramcharger” (as my son calls it) in to pass emissions and get plates.  Before I took it in I changed the oil and put a new air filter in to make sure it was going to pass.  I put the used oil in a container in the back to take it to the parts store (Yes, I change my own oil among other things).  On my way to get the emissions checked I got pulled over, then I failed emissions because of the gas cap, quick bought a new gas cap and went back to do it again (passed the second time), then trying to get to the doctor for a 3:30 appointment the used oil container spilled all over my vehicle.  I have to admit I kept going over my day thinking it was top 10 in worst days of my life.
                In the end I realized it wasn’t even close.  I’ve had much worse days.  I kept looking at the oil all over the floor and realized it wasn’t on the driver’s side, so at least it wasn’t getting on my shoes.  My truck did pass emissions and with a little power washing on the inside it will be just fine.  My wife ended up cooking some great chicken.  Last, I am still on vacation and tomorrow I will get all of that fixed up. 
                So why am I writing this.  I have had those days in youth ministry.  Days where I go home and if I was honest I would curl up in a fetal position or cry on my wife’s shoulder like a little baby.  More often than not if I think about the day and the things that went wrong there is a silver lining somewhere.  Things didn’t go quit as bad as I thought or at worst I learned some lessons that will help me in the future.  Sure, I feel like quitting, but if I just sleep on it for one night and get back at it the next day things begin to take care of themselves and after a couple of days or weeks it all gets worked out.  God is faithful and if we continue to work for His glory and trust in His provision it will work out.

The Boundaries of Truth

                I have two dogs, a Black Lab and a golden Retriever.  The lab we have had since the time it was a pup.  He now weighs close to 100lbs.  When he was a pup we had to lay down some boundaries.  There were certain things we wanted Crash (the lab) to do and not do.  There were also certain things we wanted Crash to believe.  For instance it was important for Crash to believe that I was the alpha male.  In order for me to train Crash he needed to know that I was the boss.  What crash believed was equally if not more important than his actions.  If Crash rightly believed I was the boss, I could teach and train him.  If He believed I was abusive and would do harm to him he might be obedient, but at some point it is likely that he would strike back.  He might attack me, or worse, someone in my family.  If he believed he could do whatever he wanted with no consequences, he would be untrainable.  What he believes is important.  What students believe is important.  Leaving them to find truth on their own while trying to get them to live moral lives is like training a dog that doesn’t believe there are consequences for disobedience and rewards for obedience.  I realize the analogy breaks down when taken too far.  I am not saying students are dogs nor am I saying that we need to train students in the exact same way we need to train dogs.
As it applies to students, some have taken the approach that orthodoxy is not really that important.   Instead praxis is much more important.  Words like Atonement or trinity have become the answer to trivia questions rather than important theological truths that must be taught to God’s people.  As teachers and pastors to students we have a high calling to help students find truth, understand truth, and believe truth.  Though some would say truth is subject to opinion, it is relative to one’s own experience, or at the very least it is flexible; it is not any of those things, truth is reality.  Orthodoxy could be defined as believing the essential truths of the Christian faith.
If we start with the premise that Scripture is true we must also conclude that teaching good doctrine (I would define that as what is orthodox) is of the utmost importance:
·         Titus 1:9 He must whold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in xsound5 doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
·         1 Timothy 1:3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not hto teach any different doctrine,
·         Ephesians 4:11-14 And mhe gave the napostles, the prophets, the oevangelists, the ppastors and teachers,3 12 qto equip the saints for the work of ministry, for rbuilding up sthe body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to tthe unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, uto mature manhood,4 to the measure of the stature of vthe fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, wtossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in xdeceitful schemes.[1]
·         Romans 16:17-18 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles xcontrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; yavoid them. 18 For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but ztheir own appetites,5 and aby smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.
·         John 4:23 But bthe hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father cin spirit and dtruth, for the Father eis seeking such people to worship him.
·         John 8:32 …and you will dknow the truth, and the truth ewill set you free.”
·         John 17;17-19  Sanctify them2 in the truth; myour word is truth. 18 nAs you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And ofor their sake pI consecrate myself,3 that they also qmay be sanctified4 in truth.
The list goes on, truth and doctrine are weaved throughout scripture.  Teaching Orthodoxy is an essential part of our jobs as people who love Jesus and love students.  That means helping students understand the boundaries of the Christian faith.  Certainly we cannot know all truth regarding God or even come to the same conclusion on every doctrine found in Scripture.  What we can do is teach the core essential truths of the Christian faith.  Those truths are defined for us in key scriptures like 1 Corinthians 15, Phillipians 2, and Colossians 1.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Just a cool Story!!

I went to a wedding today that was unlike any wedding I have attended or performed. I have had the privilege of officiating for some great couples. I have attended weddings of people that will go on to have great marriages, but todays wedding was unique.

The couple that got married today has been married each other. Almost twenty years ago they got married. They had two kids and then after about four years they were divorced. During the next 15 years (yes, that said 15) they remained divorced. First Bob committed his life to Christ, then the boys (one of which is my YM worship intern) and over the last couple of years Dorthy trusted Jesus and today (June 6th) they were remarried.

Collin and Terrance (their boys) sang "All The Way My Savior Leads Me" That is where I smilled big, these young guys get it. They understand the importance Christ plays in a relationship and much of that is by watching God work in their parents lives. The impact of family is undeniable, and the need to fight with everything we have for every family is great. The reward though not always seen in a day, month or year is always worth the struggle. Don't give up on God or families, He is capable of bringing back to life that which was dead. We must trust in the power of God to do what we cannot.

Youth Ministry needs to Push Back

I am anticipating that this blog post may get some negative reaction. Still I think it is important. This morning I watched some commentary on the "Jon & Kate Plus 8" television show. I have never watched the show and I am not sure what the actual circumstances are in that home. My purpose is not to actually talk about the family, but to commentate on the commentary. As I watched, thoughts I have been having about family and youth ministry for years rushed through my brain as a significant mistake was being made in front of my eyes. I wish it was a mistake exclusive to the media, but i fear it has found its way into our homes and our churches.

According to this commentary the couple has been having some marital difficulties. Of course the primary concern was the children and the impact this is having on them. Might I suggest that focusing on the children is mistake number one? Yes, I know we look at children and think they are fragile (in many ways they are) and they need our help to navigate difficult waters (they do). Perhaps what we should be worried about instead is the marriage of Jon and Kate. Wouldn't it be best for the children if the marriage was saved? Why do we write the marriage off as if it is no big deal? Still that is not the primary mistake that was made.

Mistake number two is significant because of the impact it has on our culture overall. Multiple times it was stated or insinuated that the difficulty the couple is having combined with the TV cameras is not really having an impact on the students (the one exception was the aunt and uncle). The way we know it is not having on impact on the kids is by simply asking them. That is mistake number two. I can't help but wonder how often we as a culture make decisions based on what kids tell us. My guess is we do this often. For our purposes in the church as youth workers, parents, pastors, and so on, how often do we make decisions based on what our students or kids want? Certainly there are appropriate times to do this, but I think we may be doing this in important areas. What curriculum we chose is based on what they will find interesting instead of what will give them a better foundation in their faith. Elements in a program are based solely on whether they are fun instead of what kind of impact they will have on the students. What is best for our students?

So, where is the push back? It is here. In my opinion Scriptrue provides significant support for the existence and practice of youth ministry. Scripture also lays at the feet of parents the responsibility of discipling their own kids. This means Youth Ministries should not be asking students and even parents (at times) what they would like, but instead they should be asking what is best! How can we best support parents in discipling their kids? How can we best equip parents to disciple their kids? Dueteronomy 6 makes clear important role parents are to play in their kids life.

The High School programing at our church is changing significantly this year. There are many reasons for the change. One of those reasons is our desire to push back a little. In many ways we have an attractional model of ministry, but there comes a time when attraction is just attraction and not ministry. Our desire is to encourage parents to take a more significant role in their student's life. A common worship experience is part of that. We also believe that this will help High School students learn how to go to church. Over the past several years there has been a buzz in youth ministry about the number of students leaving church when they graduate. Might I suggest that one of the reasons they leave is because we have made our programming and curriculum decisions based on what they like and not on what they need? We have specialized our programming in every aspect, because of that students have never learned how to go to church and they don't like the church they are face with when they leave the High School or college ministry. Our goal is to teach students how to attend "big church". You might say the church needs to be more relevant to a younger generation rather than teaching students to participate in something that isn't good. There may be some cases where that is true, but I can't think of a better way to do that than to get the students involved in the first place. We have several additional reasons for chaning our programming, but this was certainly in the mix.

The challenge for those of us in youth ministry is to ask different questions. These are some questions I ask regarding our ministry at The Rock:
  • How can I creat the best environments for God to work in students lives?
  • How can I equip parents to better disciple their own students?
  • What tools can I provide to both students and parents that will help them follow Jesus as a family?
  • How can we, through our programming, help students who do not have parents that will disciple them?
Ask these questions of yourself of some of your parents, your staff, and Senior pastor. See what you come up with and consider changing the programming to support the entire family.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Teaching Students to Pray

Prayer is one of those spiritual disciplines that most of us struggle with. This is especially true for those of us who seem to always be "plugged in". Our lives are filled with noise from our cell phones, computers, TVs, radios and so on. Over the past 15 years I have noticed a significant decline in the number of students who are capable of praying, much less praying in front of other people. So how can we help students learn to pray? I will address this on two levels, what am I doing with my own kids, and how we can help students learn to pray.

Every night we read scripture as a family. Currently we are reading through the book of Judges. it is a little grousome at times, but it gives us opportunity to talk about God in some interesting ways. When we are done we simply ask each other who each person is going to pray for. My ten year old often prays for her friends and our family. My three year old boy also prays. Lately he has been praying for lisey, one of our volunteer staff who is raising money to go over to Germany to work with youth. His prayers often go like this, "Dear Jesus, I pray for Lisey that she gets money." My daughter is a little more detailed in her prayers, but they are learning to pray and to do it outloud in front of other people.

So how do we help High School students learn to pray? Here are a couple small steps:

  • Model it, but don't make your prayers all glorious and majestic. Keep the prayers simple and achievable.
  • Ask students who are comfortable to pray publically to do so.
  • Ask students (probably in small groups) who they would like to pray for and have them pray simple prayers just like my kids do.
  • Take opportunity to teach through the Lord's Prayer
  • Do a concert of prayer where the students are able to pray in an interactive way that is less intimidating.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Honestly Evaluating your ministry

Have you ever watched a video of yourself presenting a message? How about listening to yourself sing? I have, and I don't particularily enjoy either of them. I am critical and can't believe the mistakes I make. Sometimes the truth is painful, but helpful. Every person who follows Jesus has been given gifts and abilities by God. We are also expected to use those things which God has given us to give glory and honor to Him. The parable of the talents makes this clear. I wonder, when was the last time you took time to evaluate your ministry? I don't mean last weeks program or talk, I mean taking a broader view. This is something I do every year in the spring. This has been helpful for me and I want to share with you how you can do this as well.

  • Do it in the spring or when your primary programs are slowing down or ending.
There tend to be natural breaks in ministry, take advantage of these. Sometimes we have a tendancy to get lazy and coast through the slow times, but it is much better if we can take advantage of those times to evaluate and plan. For me that time has always been the spring. In addition the spring give you time to make changes and communicate those changes for the fall. This year is especially significant for us as we are making some pretty big changes and we need time to work out all the details. This is also the time when everything is still fresh in your mind.

  • Go away
Johnny (the Junior High Director) and I went to a bed and breakfast in a small mountain town about two hours away. there were no phone calls, email, or other office staff distracting us from what we were there to do.

  • Have a plan
I have to confess here that I did not have a detailed plan, but I did have a basic idea of what we were going to do. The plan was pretty basic, we were going to evaluate both the Junior and Senior High programs regarding some key areas, go over the calendar through next May, and talk about ways we can do things better. The last thing we were going to do is just hang out and get to know each other a little more. This last item is often more valueable than the task oriented portion of the population gives it credit for.

  • Know what parts of the ministry you are going to evaluate
We did not soley focus on programming, we also talked about what kind of culture we were developing, general characteristics of our groups, and how we can better involve parents. you can narrow it down and focus on one area or take a birds eye view, both are valid and should be done from time to time.
  • Be brutaly honest
It may sound obvious, but being honest in both a positive and negative way can be difficult. People are usually either overly positive or negative by naature. Don't decieve yourself into thinking things are worse than they are or that things are better than they are. Every weakness provides unique and good opportunities just like every strength has the potential to become a weakness. That is part of the SWOP process.
  • Use SWOP or some other method that will help you develop some sort of action plan
We use a SWOP form. You can get this for free at my web site. It allows us to consider what our strengths and weaknesses are and think through the opportunities and potential problems we might have. I am sure there are other methods of doing the same thing, but this works for us. Here is how we do it:
  1. First we will think through the strengths and weaknesses of our ministry either generally or in a specific area. We make a list in those two boxes.
  2. Second we think through the opportunities we have because of the weaknesses. this is a very important step and the place where we get practical. Find a variety of opportunities and pick the best one or two to implement and turnt the weakness into a strength. Example: We do not creat a loving atmosphere at the level we need to. We have an opportunity to involve students and adult leaders in developing a strategy for being both welcoming and loving as a group. We have grown this pat year, but imagine what kind of environment we could create if we were to make this weakness a strength.
  3. Last we think through the potential problems we might have as a result of our strengths. For instance I have a very musically gifted worship leader for the Sr. High. He is young it is likely that he will not be around forever. I could loose him. That is a potential problem. This process helps me to be prepared for loosing him. In the mean time we can be raising up another worship leader to minimize the impact if it is necessary to replace him.
Evaluation is important!! Use whatever method you want, but if you are evaluating at all you will be miles ahead of most people. Take a day, half a day, or maybe a full weekend. Call in your key leaders and go through this process. We used a white board and helped eachother think through this process. In the end we walked away with a good understanding of what we needed to work on and how we needed to do that.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Understanding Your Context

A lot is made of understanding our cultural context. There are magazines like Relevant and people like Walt Mueller who help us in that area. There are web sites about how to use movies, music, Facebook and other cultural phenomenons to further God's kingdom. To all of them I am thankful, and I have learned a lot from many of those sources. There is another kind of context we must consider before we close the door on understanding out context. It is our church context.

In every church there is a culture that church has developed whether they have done so intentionally or not. There are values which have been lifted up above other values, commitments to programs or strategies, and a host of other cultural commitments. A lack of understanding in this area may be one reason that youth pastors sometimes have short stints at a given church. There are all kinds of ministry philosophies and strategies. For instance the church I am currently serving in talks about being "attractional" and "a real church for real people". These two things work themselves out in a variety of ways in our context. It is essential for me to make sure what I am doing with the students is consistent with these two principals.

This is important for a few reasons. The first is that my Senior Pastor will have my back if I am being consistent with the philosophy and strategy that he is implementing in the overall church. Second, this creates a consistency that help students integrate into the rest of the church. Third, when it comes to making changes I have an understanding of what kind of changes would be acceptable in this context and which changes would not be. This gives me a pretty big head start in making programing and strategy type decisions.

Context is not just about what students experience when they are not at church, it is also about the kind of experiences they need when they are at church. Here are some questions that will help you determine the culture at your church:
  • What phrases are repeated conistantly by the staff and expecially the Senior Pastor at your church?
  • What values or strategies consistently show up in other programs throughout the church?
  • How does my Senior Pastor run the ministries he has his hands on?
  • Has the church put printed values anywhere? What are they?
  • Are there values that I have that are inconsistant with the culture of the church?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Learning to Use Ministry Models

My Freshman year at Oak Hills Bible College in Bemidji (otherwise known as Buuurrrmidji), MN I began my paid youth ministry career. I was hired (along with the woman who is now my wife) to do youth ministry in a small town. At the age of 17 I began a quest to change the world for Jesus. I had huge dreams and a lot of energy, but I had no idea what I was doing. There were "kids" in the youth group that were older than I was. My model of youth ministry was to do whatever my uncle told me to do (he was a pastor in the area) and have a Bible study with the "students". Looking back that was probably a pretty good youth ministry model for that time and place. Ya, I said model.

You might be thinking, "that's not a model." It wasn't an intentional model, but it was a model. I didn't put a lot of thought into it. I didn't sit down and try to figure out what our mission statement was, what our ministry philosophy was, or what values we were trying to incorporate into the ministry. That was way beyond me! Still that model isn't that much different than what I have done for most of my ministry experience (except the part where I do what my uncle tells me to). Over the years I have become more strategic in how I approach ministry which has caused me to tweak and mess with various models of ministry in order to best accomplish the great commandments and the great commission in my context.

For the first five years of my ministry experience I really didn't know what I was doing. I was simply making it up as I went. The first time I received training that really helped me begin to think strategically was at a Sonlife Strategies Seminar (no longer offered). Many people don't look at what Sonlife taught as a model, but models were presented as a way to carry out the strategy which was being proposed. Later I would be exposed to the Willow Creek model, the Purpose Driven model, the Student Led Cell Group model, and others.

Recently "ministry models" as a whole have come under attack. This attack shows a lack of understanding when it comes to the value of models themselves. There is no perfect model which can transcend every cultural context. Chap Clark makes this very point in chapter six of Starting Right, "No one model should ever be revered as the model. In reality they all have weaknesses and strengths."

So what do we do with all of these ministry models? Can any of them be helpful? The simple answer is yes. Models are wonderful for the following reasons:
  • They provide focus.
  • They provide a way of thinking about ministry.
  • Good models are based on good theology and strategic thinking in relation to the context in which they were developed.
  • They provide a starting point for developing a model specific to your context.
A good youth pastor learns how to exegete his context for ministry and develop a strategy or model that will help him be successful in that context. This is not a new concept, but it seems that it is often forgotten. The incarnation of God the Son is based on this very concept. God had a specific mission in mind (Redeeming mankind) and a specific context in which it must take place. God then decided on a model (the incarnation) through which to accomplish His purpose.

"Every model, whether involving sweeping changes or prescribing minor adjustments, began with someone asking important systemic, structural, programmatic, or strategic questions in the light of a given need or setting." (Chap Clark, Starting Right, p. 110) Ministry should always be relational, but there will always be programs. Ministry should always be contextualized, but there will always be models.

The question is not whether we follow a particular model of ministry but whether or not we have rightly understood our own context and made the appropriate modifications to make a particular model work for us, making that model our own.

In my own experience understanding how others have approached youth ministry in their context has equipped me to think more strategically about how to approach ministry in my context. I have used bits and pieces from a variety of models over the years and it is my familiarity with these models that has allowed me to better use the tools available.

Use the following questions to help you begin to think through what your model of ministry will be in your particular context:
  • What is the model of ministry my church has subscribed to? (This is essential there should be continuity throughout all the ministries of your church)
  • What is the strategy behind that model? Will that strategy work with the youth?
  • What are the core theological and philosophical principals upon which you are building your model?
  • What needs to be tweaked in order to make that strategy work? (Don't confuse strategy with programming. There should be continuity in programming as well, but that does not mean the programs will not be executed differently i.e. music, drama, location, atmosphere, etc...)
  • What programs will make the overall strategy work? (small groups, large group, leadership structure, etc...)
These questions will just get you started. Don't stop questioning what you are doing. Every year I examine what we have done the previous year and how well that worked. I usually do this in the spring so I have time to make the necessary changes before the fall arrives. There is no perfect model and you can always make changes that will help you be more effective.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Essential Elements of the Gospel

Occasionally I try to put myself in the shoes of a non-believer who is "checking out" God and this whole "religion" thing. I wonder what goes through their mind as they drive into a parking lot full of cars at a place they at one time thought they would never go except for a wedding, funeral, or when their parents made them (Easter and sometimes Christmas). Maybe a friend invited them and they are looking around as the exit the car and walk into the building. The greeters welcome them and they aren't sure what to say back so they just smile and continue looking for their friend.

Eventually they find their friend. In a church that is paying attention they are introduced to 7 or 8 people who's names they will undoubtedly forget. So far things are good as they could be anyway. The non-believer (let's call her Angie) is nervous, her heart is beating a little faster, her breathing is slightly elevated, and just a tinge of adrenaline is flowing through her veins. Angie really isn't shy, but a crowd like this is a little overwhelming so she is relieved to sit down so she doesn't have to meet anyone else. Of course she only gets to sit for a minute and then it's time to participate in a game (which the regulars love, but she is kind of scared) or the worship starts in which case the people around her are singing and she doesn't sing well. After the music comes the message. She is thinking, "here comes that wacked religion stuff". Instead she becomes engaged in the message and hears about the difficulties of following the negative messages of the culture we live in. The speaker quotes some lyrics from a popular song to make his point. He opens the Bible and reads a passage that actually makes some sense. Angie had thought the Bible was irrelevant, but apparently there is some good stuff in there.

The message is coming to a conclusion and the speaker at the end of a stirring message about making good decisions in the face of a negative culture simply adds this:

Bow your heads and close your eyes; if you would like to accept Jesus
raise your hand and put it right back down. God bless you, you,
you, and you
and you."

The evening is ended with a prayer and Angie goes home wondering why she raised her hand. As she goes to bed that night she recaps the evening. It was fun, after being so nervous she actually enjoyed herself and thought the speaker made some good points. Still she isn't even sure what she committed to. She wonders what the big deal is about church, she has heard the same kind of message (minus the Bible) from her school teachers and commercials on TV. She wonders who Jesus is and what it means to accept Him; further what does accepting him do for her? Oh well, she had fun so maybe she'll give it another try if her friend invites her back.

  • Is this the kind of experience you would want a visitor to have if they visited your church or youth group? Why?
  • What good things happened in this fictional story?
  • What things didn't go the way they should?
  • What is wrong with how the speaker ended the message?
  • What are the essential parts of the gospel message? What does a person need to understand in order to make a decision to "accept Jesus"?

Thursday, April 02, 2009

What is Theological Ministry?

"Youth ministers have been on a long and frustrating quest of their own over the past two decades or so. Believing that a message wrapped in pop-culture packaging was the way to attract teens to their flocks, pastors watered down the religious content and boosted the entertainment. But in recent years churches have begun offering their young people a style of religious instruction grounded in Bible study and teachings about the doctrines of their denomination." (Time Magazine)

Some things never change and some things shouldn't. Ministry isn't about being able to keep up with the latest fads in an attempt to be relevant or using the latest and greatest curriculum it is about fulfilling the mission God has given to the church. Theological ministry is about making God's mission our mission and it is about staying true to those things that never changes. Just as God does not change so the truths of God do not change. In Mt. 7 Jesus the story of the man who built his house on the Rock and the one who built his house on the sand. In order to have a long lasting ministry or to last long in ministry it is essential that we build a good foundation for our ministry.

The first question that must be answered when we think theologically about ministry is this, "What are the foundational truths upon which a disciple and ultimately a ministry is built?" That is a loaded questions that demands a well thought out response. Time magazine made some great observations. Ministry and ministers are definitely becoming more focused on the deeper foundational truths of the faith, but they also made a mistake. The foundational truths of the Christian faith never changed and healthy ministries have always realized the significance of doctrine in faith and in practice.

The first step in building a theological ministry is answering the question I asked in the last paragraph. In my last post I mentioned something called a DDP (Discription of a Discipled Person). This document is one way of answering the above question.

For a practical approach to this issue begin by answering these questions:
  • What doctrines are non-negotiable? (This should not a be a long list, it is not a doctrinal statement)
  • What does a fully devoted follower of Jesus need to know?
  • What does a fully devoted follower need to be able to do?
  • How can we help students know these things and develop these skills in our ministries?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

How to Evaluate Your Ministry

Evaluating your ministry can be difficult and there are many who would rather not evaluate at all because it feels "unspiritual". The truth is we all evaluate our ministries based on our own ministry values whether we have taken the time to write them down or not. Does it not make sense to actually write these things down and be thoughtful about how we evaluate? I am going to lay out one approach I have used. There may be others, but this has worked for me. A lot of the concepts I will be talking about come from material Sonlife Ministries put out a long time ago. However, it is no longer available as far as I know.

If youth ministry is about making disciples it is a good idea to have a description of what a disciple is. A DDP (Description of a Discipled Person) not only helps in the evaluation process, but it helps on the programming side as well. I have made a DDP that I have used available on my web site on the free page: If you are going to make a DDP for yourself, let me suggest you keep it simple five or Seven characteristics at the most.

DDPs are a great start in thinking strategically about your ministry. Jesus gave us a DDP of sorts when He gave us the Great Commission, "teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you." KRAs (Key Result Area) are a way of thinking about how to accomplish the task of making disciples. For example one of our Descriptions of a Disciple is a person who reaches the lost. So a Key Result Area might be training 30% of our students to share the gospel. There may be two or three KRA's for each DDP. You might also use one KRA for multiple DDPs. The point is you are developing a strategy to make disciples. Jesus did this often, He would teach crowds and then teach the disciples how to minister to the crowds and then send them out to minister to the crowds. You might say KRA's are the programming side of the DDP. You can see a sample of a KRA Here

SWOPs (Strengths Weaknesses Oportunities Potential/Problems) are a way of evaluating your KRAs. Simply put you think through the strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and potential/problems in each Key Result area. If I was evaluating our small groups I might put strong leaders under strengths, limited by location and time under Weaknesses, Connecting with students under opportunities and Kids don't bring their Bibles under problems. You can find blank SWOPs here.

What this does is allow you to see where you are doing well and where you need work. Once you have figured that out you can begin to address the problems and weaknesses and turn them into strengths and opportunities. This process is difficult at times and requires being objective and honest. I will include my volunteer staff in this process when I think it will be helpful to them, but sometimes it is not helpful to have everyone involved. This is a basic look at this process and is not intended to be an exhaustive explanation.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Phones Are From Satan, but God Seems To Use Them

I hate phone calls, I can sometimes be found in my office spewing insults at the phone. It's kind of embarrassing to be honest. Last week I took the time to make a phone call. It is not something I do all the time, but if I know a student is struggling or there is something significant going on in their life I will call, text, or Facebook them and just let them know I care.

Most of you probably do this all the time. To you I say "Kudos". For me it is something I have to push myself to do, especially with those students who aren't asking for the attention. This particular student had been struggling with some of his friends. They had been making fun of him for not getting high or drinking with them. He responded by telling his parents and making some great decisions. I just let him know I was proud of him and we chatted for a little while.

A couple days later this student's mom came to me and thanked me for the phone call. If you have a large ministry don't give up on these personal touches and make sure your staff is doing that as well. If you are in a smaller ministry make sure this is part of your ministry, and make sure you are also teaching your staff to do this so when you grow in numbers your staff will be making those connections.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Preaching Jesus

God designed me as a coach. I have coached volleyball, basketball, and football at the high school level. My tendencies in youth ministry are to coach. It comes so naturally to me that I have to be very aware that I am not coaching in situations that require something of a different approach. One of the things I learned from my coaches in high school was to always focus on the basics. There have been times in my ministry when I have forgotten the basics.

Jesus is the most fundamental truth found in all of Scripture. Martin Luther said, "Scripture is the cradle of Christ" and Charles Spurgeon said, "“Nobody ever outgrows scripture; the Book widens and deepens with our years” For most of this year we have been doing a series on Jesus. We have been asking questions like, "why worship Jesus?" and "What did Jesus accomplish on the cross?" The amazing thing is this, my students have not grown tires of Jesus, and I have not grown tires of preaching about Jesus. Instead this has opened up my students minds. They have begun to understand that all of Scripture ultimately points to Jesus. We have grown significantly in numbers and in spiritual maturity. Students are bringing friends to hear about Jesus, not to hear me talk about drinking, peer pressure, or some other hot topic. They come to hear about Jesus!!

When we use gimmicks to attract students we may be successful, but gimicks cannot change a students life, only Jesus can do that. Let's stay focused on the basics preach Jesus from all of scripture!!

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Theology & Youth Ministry: A match made in heaven

Theology: the study of God.
Youth Ministry: the act of discipling Junior and Senior High students.

These definitions may not be perfect, but I think they communicate the basic premise of both theology and youth ministry. For some in the church these two things are mutually exclusive. Youth ministry for years was viewed as a stepping stone to becoming a "real" pastor. While this mentality still exists in some places, it has wained in recent years and youth ministry has begun to grow up. Today youth ministry is viewed as serious business. For this I am grateful. My purpose is to provide a theological basis for youth ministry. This has been done before by others, but my hope is that thinking theologically about youth ministry and leadership in a youth ministry context will not be something that takes place in the background, but rather it is brought to the forefront.

Theology is the study of God, but it has become a broader term that encompasses much more. God does not exist in a vacuum, instead we have a history of how he has interacted with mankind and with youth throughout all of history. This is part of thinking theologically. Modern youth ministry may be young, but youth ministry as a whole is not.

Genesis. ya, I know it's kind of canned to start with a book that literally means beginnings. But then again, there must be a reason it is called Genesis. I can't prove it but I have a theory about Adam and Eve. I think they were in essence adolescents when they were created. I think if we were there to see them walking down the street (clothed of course) a day after they were created they would look like teenagers. In essence, God created his own youth group by speaking them into existence (how about that for a growth strategy). I can't imagine why God would create them with older bodies, maybe they were the equivalent of a 17 or 18 year old. God in his wisdom certainly would have wanted to skip the diapers and having to do everything for them, but He certainly would have wanted to create them still in their physical prime.

Whatever your thoughts about the last paragraph, they were young in their appearance and they needed to be taught the ways of God. Thus God gave them freedom within boundaries. Wow, that might be profound. God also allowed them to endure the consequences of their choices. Of course the history of youth ministry goes on:
  • Joseph was young when God began to work in him, giving him dreams.
  • Samuel was very young when his mother dedicated him to the ministry and grew up around the temple learning the ways of God.
  • David was called by God (Through his youth pastor Samuel) when he was young and was probably a teenager when he defeated Goliath.
  • Josiah was 8 when he became king and Joash was 7 God used both of those boys as they became men.
  • some of the disciples were likely teenagers (they certainly acted like it at times).
  • Paul raised up Timothy who was a young church leader
  • etc...
God has interacted with people who were young for all of history. Not only is this youth ministry, but it is theology. Youth ministry and theology are meant to be together. More could be said about the numerous passages in the Bible that in one way or another address the issue of youth ministry.

Youth Ministry is not simply a response to a consumerist culture; however, just like the church as a whole youth ministry has responded to culture in negative and positive ways. Thinking theologically about youth ministry will help to differentiate what is good and what is not. Youth Ministry is Biblical and good, it is not a question of whether we do youth ministry, but how we do youth ministry.

  • As you think about scripture and the stories that likely involve teen agers what can we learn about how God interacted with young people?
  • How has youth ministry appropriately and inappropriately responded to culture and fads?
  • How have you responded appropriately or inappropriately to those things?
  • If youth ministry and theology are a match made in heaven, how might that impact our teaching? How can we help students develop good theology?
Coming up in two weeks: "Learning to Use Ministry Models"

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Measuring Spirituallity

I hear it all the time and I'm sure you hear it too. I think I've even said it in an attempt to convince myself. Numbers aren't that important. I've even had people try to tell me that Jesus wasn't concerned about numbers and the Bible really doesn't seem to care much about numbers. Unfortunately this simply isn't the case. Does God care about numbers?

Yes, God not only cares about numbers, He cares a lot. There is an entire book of the Bible about numbers, Jesus apparently thought it was important to know how many people he fed, in Acts we are told the number of those who came to Christ multiple times, in Revelation we are informed of the number that worshiped Jesus or the Father on several occasions. In the end numbers are important!!

Every number is representative of people and people are important to Jesus. Next time you are tempted to suggest that numbers aren't important, ask yourself why? Numbers may not be the only factor we should consider when measuring the health of a group, but they are important and I would suggest that they can be very important.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Relational Ministry

Fourteen years ago I was the half time youth pastor at a small church in Harris, MN. I was going to college full time and trying to support my wife. I remember trying to figure out how to do youth ministry. I hadn't really had any training, so I was just winging things. I had no idea what I was doing, I just loved kids and loved God.

Three weeks ago I received a tweet ( for those of you who don't know what that is) from a former student of mine. He simply asked if I was the same guy who was a youth pastor in Harris, MN. As we began to talk, he recalled how messed up he was back then. He also recalled that I treated him "normal". He even recalled a time when I picked him up at his house on my motorcycle and went to Dairy Queen where I sat and talked with him for an hour. I don't remember this particular event. I do remember doing this kind of thing with lots of students.
This past weekend at the National Youth Ministry Conference in Columbus, Ohio I had the privilege of sitting down with him and his wife A (way to go buddy!!). He pulled out his wallet and showed me a card I had given to the students that said, "If you meet me and forget me you have lost nothing. If you meet Jesus and forget Him, you have lost everything." I was blown away. All these years later he still has that little card I printed up on my printer. I am so proud of him and thankful that I had the privilege of being used by God in his life. Love God, love others, make disciples will always ring true.

Today he is being mentored by another youth pastor and wants to become a youth pastor. What is the moral of the story? Do the little things. Teach your staff to do the little things. Relational ministry is the wave of the past, the present, and the future. Whatever youth ministry fads come and go, relationships are what makes a difference.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Learning to be a General Contractor

I love students, I love God, and I love to teach and preach. I am not an organizer, or a detail oriented person. My guess is you may fall into this category or one similar. If you are like me you would like to have a large ministry, not for the sake of being large, but for the sake of growing the kingdom of God. No matter how large or small your group is, it is always important to build toward the next level.

One of my biggest struggles is feeling like I am not working hard enough if I am not hands on. This is a constant battle. It is often this very thing that keeps ministries from growing. In construction terms I sometimes feel guilty for being the general contractor. The general contractor might not screw on drywall, frame, do the electrical or plumbing, but without the general contractor none of those things happen. In youth ministry the same concept is true. In order for my ministry to grow I need to become the general contractor, I need to learn how to be a good manager of resources putting everything into place so that more ministry can be done.

Finding the right people with the right skills and helping them help you help students is a huge part of what youth ministry is all about. (Ya, I had to read that five times after I wrote it, but it does make sense!!) No matter how hard this is for me or how guilty I feel, I have to continue to strive to accomplish this for the sake of God's kingdom and my sanity. I must keep telling myself that this is what is best for the kingdom of God and for me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Using Social Networking for God's Glory

A few months ago i received a message on Facebook. It was a message from Susie (the name has been changed). She had recently broken up with her boyfriend and things were not that great. Susie was a former student of mine. She was out of High School by a few years. The message was very disturbing. She told me things were difficult and she was asking me some theological questions. These questions were good, but the word suicide was mentioned. This of course became a very different conversation as soon as that happened. I was now living a thousand miles away and I could not physically be there for her. I am pretty sure it would have been difficult for her to track down my phone #. Still there was Facebook, a social online networking community. A place for people to connect. I don't know how serious she was about suicide, but I do know that through Facebook I was able to get her connected with some people who could be there for her.

Let's be clear, Susie and I were never really close, but we had many, many conversations when I was her pastor. Still she knew that she could contact me and I would be there for her if at all possible. Like it or not Facebook, myspace, twitter, and possibly many other networks are impacting our culture in huge ways. As youth ministry workers it is imperative that we enter the culture and bring Jesus with us. These networks are not simply places to hang out online, they are places where significant ministry can and must be done.

I am not a young twenty something youth pastor who grew up with these things, I am a 35 years old and 15 year veteran of youth ministry. Why do I mention this? Because I don't want anyone who reads this to write it off because they are too old or because they don't think I am old enough. Jesus was incarnational entering the culture of mankind to save them from their sin. Should we not take that same approach to ministry? Shouldn't we enter culture and meet students where they are in an effort to reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ?

These technologies have infiltrated the culture very deeply. I use these technologies often and keep them up to date and still I do not have a full grasp on the power of the technologies nor have I fully figured out how to leverage that for the kingdom of God. What I do know is that I have been able to do significant ministry because of my activity on these networks. Don't stick your head in the sand, and don't wine because you don't like it. Learn to enjoy the benefits and leverage the power of these networks for God's glory.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Social Networking and Ministry: Are students being socially handycapped?

One of the complaints I have heard most about social networking is that it is impacting students ability to interact socially. Some of these complaints are the result of observing certain students who do appear to be socially handicapped. That said it seems to me based only on my own observations that the students who have a lot of online friends are very adept at interacting face to face.

None of us were around when the phone first began to take over the world, but I could imagine the same kind of concerns being voiced because of the telephone. Social networking is another way of communicating another way of keeping up with friends and family. I am baffled at why this would looked at in a negative way. The question is are people different online?

I have no doubt that people are willing to say things online they would not say in person and be part of things online they would not otherwise be part of. This certainly has both positives and negatives. The question then becomes who is the real person? I would suggest that more often than not the online person is the real person. Students need to learn restraint and judgment online just like they learn those things in how they communicate face to face.

I am not suggesting there are no challenges with social networking I am suggesting that there is nothing new under the sun. Social networking is here to stay and it will likely become more complex and pervasive not less. Instead of complaining perhaps we need to begin to think about how to use these technologies to honor God!!