Friday, March 22, 2013

How High or Deep Are You Willing to Go?

There is a very beautiful song by All Sons and Daughters called "Called Me Higher." The song is all about how we can rest in Christ, but that we are called to something so much more. Jesus is calling us to go higher and to go deeper. Jesus is calling us to something risky. Sadly, most of us are scared to see what it is all about.

As I've listened to this song and have been reading the book of Romans, I started to read some of the verses a bit differently. In Romans 8:38-39, Paul makes a list of things (life, death, angels, rulers, etc.) that cannot separate us from God's love. Right at the end, Paul says height and depth cannot keep us from God's love.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What if Paul listed those two things to let us know that we are to get risky? What if instead of just using these verses to comfort us (and they are comforting), these verses were written to spur us to movement, to get up and go higher than we've ever gone, knowing that Jesus' love is with us the whole time. What if we are to go deeper, know that no matter how deep we go, Christ is right there?

Knowing this, what heights or depths is Christ calling you to? How high or how deep are you willing to go with your ministry?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Five Awesome Ways to Find Youth Group Volunteers (A Parody)

Finding good volunteers for your youth group is a difficult thing. In a church of several hundred people, it can be hard to find two or three people that want to be involved. To that end, I have created this list of ways to find and recruit new leaders.
  • Put an article in the church bulletin. This will make the need known to the church and you can take anyone and everyone who shows interest. I mean, if you put it out there, they will come, right?
  • Hold a mirror under their nose. If fog shows up on the mirror, the person is breathing and ripe to be a volunteer.
  • Ask who isn't involved in a ministry already. The best candidates are those who have been asked to leave other ministries before. This shows their willingness to serve and the fact that they don't have a ministry already works in your favor.
  • Offer free donuts. You will get some awesome volunteers by letting them know that there are donuts in the youth room every Sunday morning.
  • Beg, borrow, and steal. Your children's minister or choir director won't mind at all if you take their volunteers. I mean, we are all one church, right?

What other ways can you think to get warm bodies for your youth group? I mean, all they have to do is love kids and eat pizza, right?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Are You Prepared to Answer the Rob Bell Question?

As many of you may be aware, Rob Bell, the former megachurch pastor and author of Love Wins, recently expressed his support for same-sex marriage. This presents us with a very sticky situation. While I am not going to use this platform to discuss my own opinions on same-sex marriage, it is important for us to know how to handle the discussion when the situation arises.

In a discussion that I was a part of the other day in regards to Bell and his comments, it became apparent that many youth pastors have used his materials in the past. This can be a bit worrisome because students are constantly bombarded with the idea that same-sex marriage is legitimate and those who are opposed to it are bigoted and ignorant. Now they are hearing that a pastor, one that they have learned from in the past, is promoting same-sex marriage. They are going to want to know what to believe and why some people are saying yes and some are saying no.

To that end, I highly recommend that you get a copy of Shawn Harrison's book Ministering to Gay Teenagers. If you have followed my blog for long, you know that I am constantly promoting this book (you can read my posts here and here). Shawn is a dear friend of mine, but I do not promote his book because of our friendship. The issue of homosexuality and how the church is dealing with gay individuals is a serious concern, one that we need to be aware of and prepared for. You will do yourself a huge favor.

I would also recommend that you read Shawn's blog on a regular basis.  It is a great resource for you and for parents.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Video: Making Time for God by Blimey Cow

The folks at Blimey Cow really nailed it with this video. This would be a great video to share with your youth group.

And if you want more videos to share with your youth group, please check out my Pinterest account for some great ideas.

Monday, March 18, 2013

My Favorite Memories from My Youth Group

As a youth pastor, my desire is for the students entrusted to me to have memories that last forever, much like I have of my youth group. When I was growing up, I attended Capital Baptist Church in Annandale, VA, and we had the best youth group possible. Yes, we fought and had tension, but we loved each other. In fact, I still keep in touch with many of my youth group friends to this day. Here are some of my favorite youth group memories.
  • Planning my first all-nighter at the church. We were raising money for the youth group to buy food for a rescue mission, so we called it the 16-Hour Starve or something like that.
  • Our youth group trip to Richmond. Our youth group did a lot of singing, puppets, and acting, so we did what we called a "tour." Our first trip was a weekend trip to the Richmond, VA area, where we visited a couple of churches and went to Kings Dominion.
  • Adam and the stink bombs. On our trip to Kings Dominion, my friend Adam had a fanny pack of stink bombs. As he was getting on a roller coaster, the lap belt came down and shattered several of the stink bombs, causing quite a smell.
  • The youth conference at Trinity Baptist College. Our youth pastor took me, his daughter, my friend Branden, and another girl to visit his college and to participate in a youth conference. This was the trip that I felt God calling me to preach.
  • Branden falling in the mud. It rains a lot in Florida and our van got stuck in the mud one night at the conference. Branden and I both got out to push the van. When the van started to move, I took a step forward. Branden did not and ended up face first in the mud.
  • Our youth group trip to New York. This was a long trip and a lot of things happened on the trip. Most of the time, after we performed our play or songs, our youth pastor would preach and give an invitation. On our last night, there was no time for him to preach, so we only did the play. A woman received Christ that night. It was awesome.
  • Our week of camp in Tennessee. Three things stand out from this week. First, my friend Tim accepted Christ. Second, this kid did not take a shower the entire week. It wasn't so bad until he fell in the muddy water. Finally, a guy named Larry told us all about his war stories from Vietnam...including the time he did a belly flop on the concrete floor. Then he did one. It looked like it hurt.

There are so many other memories I could share. However, the most important memory I have is of preaching my first sermon. I don't remember the text or anything about it. I remember that it was "Preacher Boy Night" and there were three of us who got to preach: Kevin, Branden, and me. And here's the cool part: Kevin is a pastor, Branden is a pastor, and I am a pastor (well, I will be one again when a church calls me).

What are your favorite memories of your youth group?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Five Books I Really Want

On Wednesday, Josh Tandy of The Rookie Pastor sent out this tweet:
Books I could buy are always exponentially more interesting to me than books I already own.

When I shared this with my wife, she said, "Are you sure that you didn't write that?" Sadly, she has a point. My bookcase in the basement is overflowing with books and I am constantly stopping by the library to pick up more. With that being said, I made a list of books that I really want.

What books would you like to add to your collection?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Three Ways to Tell if Your Youth Group is in Trouble

One of the saddest things in the world is a church that is dying. I think something that is even sadder is a youth group that is dying. Usually this is a symptom that the church is dying, but not always. Here are three things that you should be on the lookout for to see if your youth group is about to be place on life support.

  1. Your youth group is only interested in "what we've always done." There is nothing wrong with tradition or doing the same activities from year to year. Some of these activities become highlights or rites of passage. When I was in youth group, an annual activity called the WOL Superbowl was a huge part of our youth group. The trouble arises when people want to only do the same activities and have no place for changing things. There is a time when certain activities no longer work. You need to put those activities out to pasture for the health of your group.
  2. Your youth group only does "fun" activities. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having fun. Some of my favorite activities as a youth pastor or leader have been fun activities. Trips to amusement parks and pizza parties are a big part of youth group life. However, if this is all your group does, you are no different from a social club or a school club. Growing spiritually should and must be a part of youth group. Time in prayer, weekend retreats that focus on the Bible, and mission trips should be a huge part of a healthy youth group.
  3. Your youth group has not had any new people in a long time. If your group is healthy, the students in the group will have a passion for the group. They will be excited about what is happening and they will invite their friends. If the youth group is struggling to stay healthy, this passion will not exist. The students (and leaders) will only focus on themselves, desiring for the group to stay small and tight. New additions to the group will be looked upon as intruders and will not be welcome. Get the hearse ready...your youth group is almost dead.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

15 Ways to Build Relationships With Your Students

Building relationships with students is a huge deal these days. I'm not talking about trying to be friends with the students; I am talking about pouring into their lives. There are a ton of different ways to do this, so let me share some with you.
  1. Ask the student about her week when you see her each Sunday.
  2. Sit next to him in church sometime.
  3. Invite him over for dinner.
  4. Send her a text to say hello.
  5. Write him a actual pen-and-paper letter.
  6. Take her shopping at the grocery store.
  7. Let him help you change your oil...or ask him to come to the dealership while they do it.
  8. Let her babysit your kids...and pay her.
  9. Read a book together and discuss.
  10. Read through a book of the Bible together.
  11. Memorize a verse of Scripture together.
  12. Take him with you on a family outing.
  13. Plan a youth group activity together.
  14. Work on a project together at the church.
  15. Serve together in the church.

My friend Austin McCann has a great take on this topic as well.

What things would you add to the list?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Three Awesome Things I Experienced At SYMC

This past weekend, I had the opportunity (and privilege) to participate in the Simply Youth Ministry Conference. Wow cannot even explain the weekend. You have to experience it for yourself to fully appreciate it.

Here are three things that made the conference so meaningful to me.

  1. I made a lot of new friends. I won't name drop anyone, but I developed relationships with people I never thought possible. Some of my biggest "heroes" in youth ministry turned out to be very approachable and sincere. It was awesome just to be around them and pick up things that would never be learned in a workshop or interview. I will say this: one of them doesn't know how to appreciate a good corned beef sandwich (cough...Josh Griffin...cough).
  2. God used everything to heal my heart. I went to the weekend still grieving and hurting from being fired in January. It was amazing the way everything (the music, the speakers, the skits, the people I met) worked to help reorient me to seeing Jesus and not my termination.
  3. I was surrounded by like-minded people. It was awesome to be with people who understood what I was dealing with. It was refreshing to hear their stories and to know that I was not alone and that my experience was not out of the ordinary. I was understood and that was a great feeling.

I realize not everyone had the same experience I did. My prayer is that God used the conference to work in everyone differently, but all to His glory.

Did you attend SYMC 2013? Will you be going next year?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Good or Bad, Jesus is Holding It (and you) Together

One of my favorite passages in the New Testament is Colossians 1:15-17. I have preached a message about knowing God by looking at Jesus based on this passage. One thing that I never looked at before is a little phrase in Colossians 1:17. It says, “and in him, all things hold together.”

I always looked at that and thought that it meant that the universe and the world were held together by Jesus. It does mean that. But here is another way to look at it: everything you are going through is held together by Jesus.

That means

  • your good days are held together by Jesus.
  • your bad days are held together by Jesus.
  • that the argument you had with your spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend/parents/boss is held together by Jesus.
  • the horrible diagnosis from the doctor is held together by Jesus.
  • the day you were fired from your church is held together by Jesus.
  • your financial problems are held together by Jesus.
  • those students you pray for every single day are held together by Jesus.
  • the silence from the churches you are applying to is held together by Jesus.

Everything you are dealing with, good or bad, is held in Christ’s hand. What does this mean? It means that He knows everything you are dealing with. No matter how alone you may feel, He is there with you. He is holding you in His hands. He is holding it together.

Monday, March 4, 2013

How is the Gospel Like a Bowl of Ice Cream Covered in Mustard?

In his message to the group at SYMC, Jon Acuff shared the following story. Please note, this is a paraphrase as best I can remember it. Jon, if you are reading this (please comment and tweet the link), I apologize for any inaccuracies I may have in the retelling.

When Jon was in the second grade, he remembered going to Chuck E. Cheese for a birthday party and going to condiment line to put toppings on his bowl of ice cream. While standing in line, he saw another boy from his school who was in a different grade. The boy also had a bowl of ice cream. This boy approached the line with his ice cream, getting ready to load it up with sprinkles and other goodies. He pushed the plunger on what he thought was chocolate syrup. Instead, a huge rush of yellow mustard came out. A worker came over with another bowl of ice cream and offered to replace it. The boy was so embarrassed by what he had done, that instead of taking the new ice cream, he said, “It’s okay, I’ll just stir it up.” Then he turned and walked away.

This story is much like many of us live our lives. We have dumped bright yellow mustard (sin) all over our bright white bowl of ice cream (our lives). There is no mistaking that it is there. Jesus comes over and offers us a brand new bowl of ice cream (a new life), but instead of taking His offer, we try to fix it ourselves by “stirring” it, hoping to make it go away.

We cannot fix ourselves. It is impossible. The only way to get rid of the sin in our lives is to turn to Christ and get a new life. There is no amount of work that we can do that will remove it. Too many of us are wearing ourselves out trying to fix things, but it gets us nothing but tired. The free gift of salvation is the only cure.

Thank you, Jon, for such a simple and profound reminder.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

SYMC 2013 General Session 2 - Jon Acuff

The second General Session of SYMC was just as incredible as the first night. Jon Acuff was the speaker and worship was led by the Jordan Howerton Band. While this session was not as powerful as the first night, let me share three highlights with you.

  1. The Jordan Howerton Band led the group in the most incredible version of “Victory in Jesus” that I have ever heard.
  2. Jordan Howerton shared with us the experience of being a father for the first time. As the father of four beautiful boys, it struck home.
  3. Jon Acuff shared an amazing story about a fifth grader who put mustard on his ice cream and his pride would not let him get a new bowl. More on this later.

Here are the notes I took during Jon Acuff’s message.

  • Jesus had two favorite activities in the Bible: walking on water and journaling.
  • The world is perfectly okay with teenagers living completely average lives.
  • Youth workers have a job no one wants: It is considered a success when we have more teenagers.
  • God is not in the job of better; He is in the job of new!
  • Start before you are ready because being ready is a myth. We’ll never step into something that God’s not ready for.
  • Stop keeping score.
  • Always play to the size of your heart, not to the size of your audience.
  • Stop trying to fix ourselves in areas we feel broken.
  • Be sick, be loved.
  • We serve a running God (story of the prodigal son).

Another great session!

SYMC General Session #1 - Greg Stier

One of the amazing things about being at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference is the General Sessions that take place twice a day. There is a keynote speaker, a worship band, and other cool things that take place. The first night of the conference, the General Sessions was incredible. The worship was led by Shane and Shane and it was powerful beyond words. There was a skit done by the Skit Guys and they had the audience both laughing and (well, at least in my case) crying. Greg Stier spoke on prayer and Propaganda did a number of songs that blew everyone away. Here are the notes I took from Greg Stier’s message on prayer.
  • Revival will start with us on our knees.
  • Too many times we pray like wusses.
  • Jesus was always escaping ministry opportunities to spend time in prayer.
  • The Lord’s Prayer is not a liturgical reference; it is a guide to effective prayer.
    • Praise - approach God with intimacy and awe
    • Request - start with God’s list, not ours. Ask for His kingdom to come.
    • Admit - pray for the removal of the sin that is keeping you from God
    • Yield - yield fully to God and ask Him to lead us.
  • Make prayer the engine of the train, not the caboose.
Finally, here are three highlights from the first session.
  1. Shane and Shane leading almost 3,000 youth workers in “10,000 Reasons.” It was incredible.
  2. The Skit Guys doing their skit on prayer. As I said, it was funny, but it was also a punch in the gut.
  3. Greg Stier had all of the attendees in the room stand and pray at once for personal revival. We did this as loud as possible. I had tears running down my cheeks.
Overall, the first session was incredible. As Jason Ostrander said, it felt like the finale, but things were just getting started.