Posts Tagged ‘youth ministry’

My taste in movies is pretty eclectic, but I’m a big fan of the Disney movie, Iron Will. There is a scene at the end of the movie that really inspires me and reminds me what a huge impact those who surround us, who believe in us and who are cheering us on have in our lives. I am reminded of “the great cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Scripture – those saints that have gone before us and I believe are cheering us on.

Last Sunday I had separate moments as a dad and a youth pastor that inspired me anew to be a passionate cheerleader for every person I can to run well and to finish strong. If you are interested, read on.

Preaching on Sunday I looked into the audience wondering if my children would be there. I hadn’t asked them to be. I hadn’t even thought of it until I sat down. But I was excited to be bringing the Word and couldn’t help but wonder. After all, there were two services offered that hour. And they had heard me preach dozens and dozens of times before. Why would they come?

Our executive minister was up before me and she complimented my family in her remarks and had each of the four who were in Tulsa stand. They were all there – and so were others. My eldest was there with her husband. A boyfriend had driven from Stillwater to hear me. Good family friends had come across town, missing attending their own service to sit with my family. A young adult from a former youth group was there. Other friends who normally attend a different service were there. It caught me by surprise, but I found myself so encouraged. I was humbled and grateful that my family and friends had changed their routine to say with their actions, “I believe in you!”

After the services, we had a leaders meeting for all those with whom we partner in youth ministry. As I looked across the room and saw table after table of young adults to aging Boomers who have invested themselves in the lives of teens, I was moved. Surrounding our youth were these adults who love them, who support them, who call them to walk with Jesus, and who run the race with them focusing their eyes on the finish line. Weekly, even daily, this group of men and women proves by their actions to our young people “I believe in you!”

That afternoon I went to the baptism of two young men. Friends, church members, other disciples surrounded the pool as these two proclaimed their turning from sin and their trust in Jesus. Those surrounding the young men called out words of affirmation and promises to continue to walk with them. Their attendance said “I believe in you” and their words echoed “I will be there for you.” I knew…and so did they…that there would be days (like in the story of Iron Will) where we would need each other for the strenght to take the next step, to persevere, to move toward the finish line.

Who are you surrounding? Who are you cheering on? Who have you told this week with your actions “i believe in you!” And who were some of those who were there for you?

Graduation season is in full bloom. Our youth group will graduate this month 25 seniors from thirteen schools and two homeschool groups. We hosted an 8th grade graduation (last Wed) and host an upcoming Senior Sunday (this Sunday). Personally, my youngest son’s eighth grade graduation from the school of dialectic at Augustine Academy was last night and my oldest son’s graduation from Jenks Public High School is Monday night. You might not be shocked to discover I have been thinking about graduation celebrations.

As I called a number of senior’s families this week and several 8th grade families last week, I heard their stories and was able to encourage and to pray for them. I was struck again – as I am each year – by the privilege of “coming alongside” and “being with” families in times like these. I jotted down some thoughts about graduations in the church. They are almost stream of consciousness. Let me know what you think:

Why do we celebrate graduations in the youth ministry and in the church?

It seems to me that the very heart of what we should be about finds its antecedent in the ministry of Jesus. He was WITH people both in the common times (along the way, at a meal) and at the celebrations (wedding, parties, Passover feast etc) and other transitions (funerals). It is interesting that His ministry both starts and ends with a wedding celebration.

How should we celebrate? The Incarnation as presented in the ancient Christ Hymn in Phil 2 calls us to not seek our own interest or agendas, but to value highly those of others. It calls us not to be grasping at position or power or role, but to empty ourselves and serve. It calls us to go on others turf and to experience with them their joys and sorrows. We have talked a lot this year in our youth ministry about Christ as a model of invitation and not exclusion. Scripture teaches us that we may choose to exclude ourselves, but that Christ gives us every opportunity to understand and respond to His invitation. As His ambassadors, we seek to operate the same way.

Graduation is a time perfectly created for youth ministers and other incarnational missionaries in our culture. The whole culture celebrates, but has no answers. They know this is a meaningful time. But they don’t really know why. That is a great starting point. Graduation provides a time for us not to preach or correct, but to join in with those that celebrate…to serve…to encourage…to alleviate stress for…and with our very presence in the parties as Christ’s ambassadors…to lift up Jesus Christ.

How does that work within our programming? I believe Jesus would be at the graduation parties. Jesus would be listening to the parents and grandparents brag. Jesus would take an interest in the half-formed dreams of kids. Jesus would show up….and lift up…and shower with love in all joy. And so…

We go. We attend every graduation and we connect with every graduating family. At least one of us is there. We cheer. We affirm. We ask good questions. And we listen.

We throw a party. Not only to celebrate, but to do the things that a rite of passage does – to offer “safe passage,” to provide significant learning, to connect to community, and to provide opportunity for transformation. But also to celebrate. As the First Family – the priority relationships for those who belong to Christ, we join graduates in their joy.

We invite. Every single phone call is a chance to share in the joy and to offer pray for this joyful, stressful and occasionally painful time. Every intentional personal invitation is a reminder that they are not forgotten. That they are loved. That we long to be included in their joy. So we call everyone. The program is announced. But the people are contacted. We invite. And we discover stuff. And so we pray.

We stay in touch. Because our sheep are not just the ones that find their way to the church each week. They are those we have been given to shepherd. We have compassion. We understand that they – like we – are just dust. We know how sin and busyness alienates. And we keep the bridge clean and the door open and the communication inviting.

Why do we celebrate graduations in the church? Because we are Christ’s ambassadors!

Authority loses its moral force and spiritual energy when it becomes authoritarian.” (Peterson, p.36)

A dictator in a home or in a nation chooses the way of quick returns…There can be a subtle parental pride in exactuing obedience, much like bringing a dog to heel. ‘Good’ children can be displayed, to the parent’s advantage.” (Lionel Whiston, quoted in Peterson, p. 38)

When I graduated from college I moved hundreds of miles from home for my first full-time job. I was engaged, but not yet married. I knew only one other person in the city. So I bought myself a puppy and began to teach him with my spare time. It quickly occured to me that if I trained him to be obedient, he could come with me to the YMCA where I was a volunteer soccer coach. It was rewarding to me to see how quickly he learned and how consistently he obeyed. As a result of significant and consistent attention for those first six months we were together before the wedding, I received praise for the rest of his life for how well mannered and well trained he was. I honestly enjoyed that and began to take some pride in what I good parent I would “obviously” be someday.

The Lord had to humble me after I had my first two children. One day He pulled back a veil from my eyes and let me see my pride and my foolishness. I was not training puppies, I was raising children. I had to weep and repent! He was the primary parent, not me. It was my privilege to join Him. I suddenly saw parenting in terms of stewardship and hospitality, not behavioral outcomes!

Peterson gets at this same issue, I think, when he quotes John Updike on the importance of seeing our children “not as our creations, but our guests, people who enter the world at our invitation…”

Do you agree? When we see parenting in terms of stewardship and hospitality instead of behavioral outcomes, how does that change things? Does that impact decision-making within the family? Does this mean we have to be willing to be embarrassed at times? What does this mean for allowing disagreement? How will parenting like this increase our own discipleship?

Erik Erikson suggests that the problem with forcing obedient behavior is that the parent does not have to become an adult to do so. You don’t have to grow up. You don’t have to learn courtesy or deference or understanding. You are in fact authorized to remain arbitrary and inconsistent. It seems to me that if authority is framed by “because I said so!” then the world view being taught is that whoever is the strongest wins. That may be practical in politics, but it is not a Kingdom worldview. And it is destructive to discipleship.

Peterson uses Luke 2:41-51 to demonstrate that authority when challenged does not bluster, is courteous and is not coercive. He also encourages us to meditate on the authority of our Heavenly Father. He disciplines, but He does not push His children around. How do you understand the discipline of the Lord from Scripture? Is the model craftsman with an apprentice a good model? What is the role of training and instruction? Do you agree with Peterson that “the heart of discipline, and the most biblical expression of authority, is careful attention that guides growth“?

(This post is inspired by chapter 4 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 8 weeks to become part of the discussion).

Any child of moderate perception, having lived for over a decade under the same roof with parents, knows that just because they are Christians and go to church on Sundays does not mean they are also saints. The child knows they sin daily. Now is the time to talk about that.” (p. 24)

Is Eugene Peterson right? Those of us with children have a lot invested in our kids. Is a polished image, an intense public relations campaign and a handful of success stories the best way to pass on our faith…to make disciples? Or does adolescence allow us as parents the wonderful gift of stripping all that away and becoming real again?

Who were some of the first adults who shared their authentic walk with you? How did that make a difference in your owning your faith?

(This post is inspired by chapter 3 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 9 weeks to become part of the discussion.

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!

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…

This morning I am teaching Confirmation class to some fifty 6th graders. So of course, I was thinking about basketball 😉

That much is normal. What is not normal is that I was thinking about North Carolina basketball….in a positive light! Some of you won’t understand, but members of Big Blue Nation (University of Kentucky fans) are raised from birth to understand that the Tar Heels are the enemy!

How did I get there? This morning’s class was on our doctrinal distinctives. I was thinking about how we are often able to see because we stand on other’s shoulders. For example, John Wesley brought to the church an understanding from Scripture of God as a loving Father, but standing on the shoulders of others helped him see. Luther and Calvin are examples of those who had gone before and given great insight to the church.

And so I was thinking about Dean Smith, past coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels. Dean Smith is credited with so many innovations we now take as normal:

  • Huddling at the free throw line before a free throw attempt
  • Pointing a finger at the guy who made the assist
  • Giving the “tired” signal to the coach when a player needs a rest
  • Using multiple defenses in a game
  • Using the point guard to call out the defensive sets
  • And perhaps the most infamous, the ball control offense. Dean Smith managed to make the game so boring by effectively running the four corner offense that the NCAA instituted a shot clock to speed up play.

The kind of basketball that I and countless other fans love today – that of aggressive, fast-paced offense would not have been possible without Dean Smith’s extremely effective use of the rules of that day. In fact, it occurs to me now that when Kentucky wins their 8th National Championship on April 2nd, they may owe a sort of a debt of gratitude to Dean Smith!

I stand on the shoulders of more people than I can count. My dad’s integrity and humility. My mother’s hospitality and passion for the overlooked and the outcast. Dr. Kinlaw’s preaching. Jeff Blake’s encouragement. Hule Goddard’s mentoring. Rev. Slone’s teaching. Annamarie Hamilton’s grace. And on and on. I did a Facebook post once mentioning many who had invested in me…and on whose shoulders I stand to see.

Whose shoulders do you stand on?

And this may be another whole post, but while Dean Smith changed the game for the better…the final result looks like nothing he envisioned. As others stand on my shoulders and on yours, can we let them improve on what we have created even when it feels like dismantling? Looking back, how do we learn from those who went before to allow others to come after?

I see that people from five countries checked in on this blog in the last seven days.  But since Suzanne Collins’ series on The Hunger Games has now been translated into 26 languages, I feel pretty safe in saying this pretty broadly: “You and I have been hearing about The Hunger Games for quite awhile now.”

Here in Tulsa and all over the U.S., people are camped out waiting for the midnight premiere to begin.  What are they waiting to see?

  • A cultural event (ala Avatar, Twilight or the Lord of the Rings)?
  • A film about teenagers killing one another?
  • A new teen romance?
  • Something more?
As uncomfortable as I am with a movie that normalizes teens killing one another, this movie promises to provide some rich opportunity for important conversation.  (If you are going to this film just for the entertainment value, I really hope you will check yourself and reconsider!)

I want to call your attention to three websites have done a great job setting the table for us to “plunder Egypt” on this film.

The first is Julie Clawson’s blog with the great article found here:

Julie’s insights are sharp.  To restate them in my own words,  I particularly appreciated her thought that this film event may create a unique opportunity to discuss oppression and and injustice in a context that has not been demagogued or dismissed yet.  I also enjoyed her highlighting the irony of making a film that fights against the exploitation of teens as objects while objectifying and exploiting the young teen movie stars of the film.  Julie has a book out on The Hunger Games and the Gospel.  I have not read it, but I’ll bet it is worth a look.

The second website is  Put together by Asbury Seminary, it promises to be an outstanding collection of blogs and posts.  J.D. Walt and others in the Seedbed Team have created a conversation guide for the Hunger Games ready for digital download.  It appears to be free.  Check it out here:

This last one (from Relevant magazine) focuses on community and faith as possible discussion points.

I’d love to hear your thoughts over the next couple of weeks as you engage with this film and with the young people in your sphere of influence.