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Every choice a youth makes – even choices on seeming insubstantial affairs like hairstyles and clothing – is part of a process in which he is learning to make choices that will make him (or her) what he will be in Christ.

I will blog on our next chapter later today. But first I would like to revisit I Samuel 3.

At my church (First Methodist) in Tulsa, for the next two Sundays I will be talking about adolescence and the issues of identity, autonomy/power, and belonging. You are welcome to come at 10:05 to the junior high room in the new youth wing. I Samuel 3 would be great reading in preparation.

Adolescence is a time of seeking identity. Who am I? Does this mask fit? But the common and well-meaning refrains of “be all you can be” or “fulfill your potential” or “you can do anything you set your mind to” are hollow and misguided. These mantras do nothing to help form true identity. And as Peterson points out, there is nothing of the Christian gospel in them.

Eugene Peterson: “…young Samuel is a paradigm for the adolescent experience: he hears his name pronounced in a new way, a way that calls forth his identity; eventually he recognizes that it is God who is pronouncing the name, that his new life is created in newness by God.” (p. 17)

There is a sense in which at each life stage we can understand and must claim anew the gift that God gives us – Himself. The child who has “received Jesus Christ into his or her heart” will need to rediscover Christ as a friend….and Lord…and so on.

The calling of Samuel by God reflects both that God is calling Samuel in a new way, and that it is God Himself calling. God knows Samuel by name. He calls him not as Elkanah and Hannah’s child or as Eli’s protoge, but as Samuel. “It is when he recognizes himself as one named by God that he finds the full content of ‘Samuel’” (p. 15)

In adolescence every system we have is in rapid flux. But we are not defined by any of them – not our sexuality or the development of our cerebral cortex or our social standing or our emotional well-being. We are ultimately defined by our most significant reality – our relationship with God. Does this encourage you? Does it help bring perspective? Does it seem scary? How does the story of Samuel in I Samuel 3 speak to you as a parent or as a friend of teens?

(This post is inspired by chapter 2 of Like Dew Your Youth: Growing Up With Your Teenager by Eugene Peterson. Get a copy of this great little book and check back each Thursday for the next 10 weeks to become part of the discussion.)

Adolescence is the time when we become ourselves,” says Eugene Peterson. I wonder…perhaps that is part of what unnerves us as parents. We are not completely at ease at who we have become…or are becoming. And so we hope to exert some control, some direction, so that our kids might turn out better than we did.

Yet we as parents are not done becoming. We have selective memory. And we forget how important it was to begin to decide things for ourselves. To become themselves young people need to make choices and to live into those choices as they are becoming. As “the young person develops the capacity to make responsible decisions, these decisions provide the raw material for self-identity.” (p. 12)

What choices did your parents allow you to make….or perhaps circumstances forced you to make…as a teen that helped shape you?

When my best friend’s parents began a mission organization and moved to Italy to be its first missionaries, I was in third grade. They invited me to come visit them anytime. My parents said that once I had earned enough money for my own plane ticket, I could go.

They should have factored in my determination and competitiveness. I immediately began a lawn mowing business and was soon walking my little lawn mower all over town, mowing over 20 yards a week. I saved everything after tithe and had my ticket earned by the summer after 6th grade. My parents stood by their promise and I flew from Lexington to Pittsburgh to JFK airport in New York and then to Rome without them to spend five weeks. The conversation I had with a Roman Catholic sister who was my seatmate from New York to Rome proved pivotal as I began to own my faith for myself.

I had to make a lot of choices on the road to that trip and during the five weeks I was there. My parents let me make them. I was reminded of this by my then 17 year old daughter when she wanted to take a gap year and head overseas a few years ago. She was right. I gave her my blessing!

I am still stunned sometimes to think of what my parents did for me in allowing me to earn and to take that trip. It can’t have been easy for them. But the process shaped me. It directly impacted my work ethic, my faith, my eventual parenting, my character, and a lot more.

That is a pretty dramatic example. Maybe you didn’t go to Rome in junior high, but your parents did let you make some choices that were significant for you. Would you tell us about one and the difference it made for you?

(This post is inspired by chapter 2 of Like Dew Your Youth: Growing Up With Your Teenager by Eugene Peterson. Get a copy of this great little book and check back each Thursday for the next 10 weeks to become part of the discussion.)

I love the story of Samuel responding to the call of God! (I Samuel 3) Take a few minutes and reread it with me. How can this great story be the story of adolescent growth?

(This post is inspired by chapter 2 of Like Dew Your Youth: Growing Up With Your Teenager by Eugene Peterson. Get a copy of this great little book and check back each Thursday for the next 10 weeks to become part of the discussion.)

What was the most incredible gift you have ever received? Was it for Christmas or a birthday? Or maybe no reason at all. Does it still bring back memories and feelings today?

On the other hand, have you ever received a gift that you didn’t fully appreciate until later…maybe much later? Now, I’m not talking about the hand-crocheted doll-size winter cap from Grandma or the decades old cassette tape from Uncle Tim. No, what about one you didn’t recognize its value….or took for granted…or even wanted to return?

Probably all of us who are parents remember the incredible joy of becoming a parent. What an amazing gift of God an infant is! But in his book, Like Dew Your Youth, Eugene Peterson describes adolescence as a “gift” to parents….a gift that Christian parents are “most advantageously placed to recognize, appreciate and receive.” When I first read those words, my reaction was a mixture of being startled, having questions, and at the same time sensing something stirring deep inside me that felt like relief.

How do his words strike you? Have you encountered “the gift” of adolescence? What has that gift looked like in your world?

This short chapter is a rich one! What impacted you the most as you read?

Peterson talks about grace, about developing new skills, about blind spots, about the danger of detachment. I especially had to chew on that last one for awhile. In any given area, what is the difference between being detached and having faith?

I just visited with two different people…one who eagerly was hoping to “get it right” parenting their budding adolescent, another who was mourning the pain and the sense of inadequacy that had come with their child’s teenage years. I identified easily with both. I have five children between the ages of 13 and 21. I have lived at times enmeshed in both those worlds….at the same time!

As I prayed over those conversations, I was encouraged by Peterson’s reminder that by God’s grace, parenting does not define who we are. “A parent’s main job is not to be a parent, but to be a person.” So the job I do as a parent does not define me, but it can shape me. Wow.

I know this: If adolescence is not a problem to be solved, but a gift, a sort of “living labratory” in which I have the “opportunity to take the data of growing up, work experiments with it in personal ways, and then reexperience it as an act of faith to the glory of God,” then by the grace of God I want to open the gift….and go into the lab…every single day!

(This post is inspired by chapter 1 of Like Dew Your Youth: Growing Up With Your Teenager by Eugene Peterson. Get a copy of this great little book and check back each Thursday for the next 11 weeks to become part of the discussion.)

1. Buy this book “Like Dew Your Youth: Growing Up With Your Teenager” by Eugene Peterson

2. Read the chapters 1 per week, starting on Jan 10th with Chapter 1. (They are short and well-written). Look at the questions at the end of each chapter.

3. Come to to comment. Please leave at least one comment/question and one response to someone else each week. Your online community will appreciate this.

4. I will read all comments. Generally, shorter comments with paragraph spacing are likelier to be read by the community.

THANK YOU for participating!

Push to Restart

Posted: January 5, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Did you miss me? Sorry for the long hiatus. I took a short break to think about blogging’s impact on the blogger and to teach a class at a local university and time got away from me.

This is the time for restarts though, isn’t it? How does that make you feel?

I think I have mostly looked at New Year’s Eve/Day with some annoyance and even a little foreboding. It’s full of unreasonable expectations and the idea of resolutions to change that are quickly broken. But this year I saw it with some fresh eyes. A time for restarts is a time of grace. A time to admit I fall short. A time to set my eyes afresh on the goal.

So this year I receive God’s grace anew and, by His grace, resolve to offer it for extravagantly to others. What do you think? Am I onto something?

Btw, starting Jan 10 I am going to blog here weekly (usually on Thursdays) on Eugene Peterson’s book: Like Dew Your Youth and invite any who will to join me in an online discussion. The chapters are short, well-written and have great questions.

Why don’t get on Amazon today…order the book and join in? I would love that!

I will continue to blog on other items as well on a less scheduled basis. I welcome your visits and your comments. Go receive God’s grace and start fresh in that area that has been bothering you!


Posted: August 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

This is good by Seth Godin.

I have seen this pattern as I have grown in youth ministry over the last 26 years:

The more effectively I have recognized and used my “down time” to plan, to strategize, to lay groundwork, to become intentional….both the more “down time” has been the result AND the more effective I have been with the the rest of my life.

The surprise was that this was not zero-sum economics! The extra down time did not come from “people time” but from time/energy/passion that was previously wasted by waiting until everything was urgent to invest.

My sense of busy-ness came from my own lack of perspective (see Seth Godin above), my need to feel important, and my pride in devaluing the work of preparation. There are caveats, but I don’t want to lose the point. Can anyone relate?

When you think of youth ministry, what sort of words come to mind?

I have a list. “Incarnational”, “shepherding”, “privilege” are three pretty close to the top. But I have some that are less obvious as well. In fact, as I was trying to explain two of my words to our summer interns I wondered if these words would make anyone else’s list. I believe that healthy youth ministry is both “prophetic” and “subversive”.

Let me explain. But first, a caveat:
I happen to belong to a great church who has both a history and a present of following God with a whole heart as we seek to discern where He is calling. So the church in these comments refers not to her, but to the church all over North America.

Youth ministry must be prophetic in this sense. For much of the last 60 years, there has been no other part of the body that has stood at the potential crossroads of Kingdom and culture as clearly – or as often – as the church’s ministry to teens. No other part of the church has been as incarnational. No other part of the church has been as comfortable with change, with disequlibirum, with adventure and risk, with doing whatever it takes to reach a person for Jesus Christ.

While this is somewhat overstated, the opposite is also coming true in places. Instead of a crucible of incarnational, transformational, redemptive encounters with Christ, youth ministry has too often become a comfortable template, a set of programs to give a local church an illusion that they are making a difference. In places, programs like Celebrate Recovery and ministry to children are taking the place. In others, the church is wandering into comfortable oblivion.

Youth ministry must stay prophetic….hearing from God, calling the people of God to align with His redemptive purposes, to take the Good News of His salvation out of the pews and gyms and auditoriums and into the world for the transformation of the world. Specifically, I believe youth ministry must now fight against it’s own “success” and call the people of God to stop surrendering their role to a hired few, obey the commission given to them and to make disciples of the next generation….starting with the teens already within their own sphere of influence!

Wish we could talk about this one more….this is probably a three cup of coffee discussion. What are your thoughts? Aside from the broad and general strokes I am using on this canvas, is this the right picture?

Oh yeah. And we must be subversive. This one is tricky. Any seed of rebellion or arrogance will destroy it. And subversive might not be the perfect word. Side note here….Subversive is the word I have always used in my head. A quick check at tells me that I may not have the right word. But here are my thoughts. Tell me what word I need instead!

Institutional change is hard. And slow. By the time some changes come to pass through all the proper channels, a generation might have moved through the youth group! I believe that the youth ministry exists as the perfect pilot “test group” to boldly go….and the church will follow. Even as the church as an institution seeks inexorably to codify and replicate behaviors, youth ministry can give the church (the people) the chance for life and transformation through taking them where they barely know they need to go. The institution celebrates attendance, but people are discipled as they disciple others. Progams cease to be an end, but the means for disciplemaking – of adults and teens. I have sought to be “subversive” my entire ministry.

Here are my own personal rules for being “subversive”:
1. Align with the work of God in redemption history and in my local context.
2. Align with the vision of the Senior pastor
3. Align with solid research.
4. Align with classic stories already in the church’s past or present DNA that reflect where God is calling us to go.
5. Network and build partners as you go. Disciple them and/or let them disciple you.
6. Humbly and boldly innovate, overcommunicate, and publicly celebrate so that the institution has the opportunity to follow.
7. Listen to the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of trustworthy saints along the way.

Primary pitfalls that I am aware of (there may be more)
1. Failing to understand or appreciate the local culture and context.
2. Substituting personal agenda or ambition at any of these steps.
3. Failing to have a mutual trust relationship with the Senior Pastor.
4. Substituting my wisdom for that of the Holy Spirit and/or trustworthy saints.
5. Not investing in volunteers and partners along the way.

This is long and could undoubtedly be said simpler and better. Care to help me flesh this out by leaving your thoughts, questions, disagreements, improvements?

One of the great joys of my last 18 years of ministry has been working with interns. My own experience of spending my first youth ministry position flailing wildly as I spun my wheels in sand with little observable lasting impact….and then spending my next six ministry years as a sponge, being mentored by a gifted and godly shepherd…..was my motivation for beginning an internship program. Maybe I could help others start strong, avoid pitfalls, and go the distance.

I am excited every season with the opportunity to pour into younger men and women who are exploring youth ministry as a calling. I am sharpened as a person and as a minister as I pour into them and learn from them. And there is almost nothing that brings as much life to me or our ministry as a group of young men and women passionate about Jesus, passionate about life, and eager to grow in their experience and understanding.

We have an outstanding class of interns again this year. Zack and Ethan are focusing on college, Eric on high school, Christina on junior high, Charideth on high school and college women, and Ike on media. It is a privilege to be iron sharpening iron together.

I wish you could have been there….. One of my favorite moments in our training/orientation time was after we had studied the tightrope of adolescence (thank you, Chap Clark) stopping to proclaim and remember together who Jesus is. We stood and agreed under a May Tulsa sun. Jesus Christ is who this world needs. He is Father, Comforter, Healer, Redeemer, Identity, Hound of Heaven, Faithful One, Mighty Warrior, Victor……

Wednesday is our next time to all be together in one place. Staff and interns will be talking about “theological antecendents” for youth and college-age ministry around a good cup of Joe. In other words, why do we do this? Is it more than pragmatism or a middle class cultural phenomenon?

Adolescence is a new invention of a modernized world. So where do we look for Biblical guidance for direction, vision, methodology, praxis etc?

Want to start the conversation here? I’d love to hear your thoughts…. In what Biblical principles and stories do you find theological grounding for youth and college ministry?

My 30s were an incredible decade for me, bursting with fruit and influence and opportunity. The ripples of that decade continue to bring me joy almost daily.

If I look back to my 20s, they were hard but rich as I sank my roots deep in the Lord and in understanding a relational, discipleship approach to youth ministry. Fruit from that decade continues to encourage my heart as well.

My 40s have brought opportunity and fruit, but they have been really hard years, punctuated by pain. Some of the pain has been needed pruning. Some has been my own failures and disappointment. Some has been disillusionment. Some has come from standing up, sometimes alone, to wickedness. Some has been the violent storms of others lashing out as they worked through their own issues and damage. And some has been the dismissive indifference of those who think that going gray means becoming irrelevant.

This morning I was thinking all these things and asking the Lord if I could just skip the rest of the 40s and begin my 50s early. And He seemed to say, “Read Psalm 92.”

Before I quote from Psalm 92, let me say that I have asked the Lord in recent weeks to give me an image for this season of our youth ministry. I have received the word “Refresh” and the picture from Psalm 1 of the tree planted by streams of living water that brings forth fruit in its season. That is my context for reading Psalm 92 this morning.

Psalm 92:12-15. “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, ‘The Lord is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in Him.'”

Staying fresh and green with God as my Rock…