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    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    The Amazing Christmas Race

    It is that time of year again and my wheels have been spinning with some new Christmas ideas and I thought I would share what I'm doing this Christmas to see if it can help any of you all out there.

      First off, let me share an amazing resource with you.  Many of you may know this, but Minute to Win It hosted by Guy Fieri is a sess-pool of amazing youth group game ideas and there Christmas ideas are just as potent as their other games.  I grabbed some of my great ideas from this site here: Minute to Win It Christmas.

      Our theme this year is the Amazing Christmas Race (as you can see from the above picture).  BTW We created that logo here in our office, so feel free to steal it if you like.  The key idea of the race is that we all in our lives are racing for something, we live our lives racing around for more money, more gifts, more other stuff and we miss what our life race is really about: Jesus.  Jesus is what we should be living for, racing for and looking forward to.  We have a guest speaker coming in to give an evangelistic message about his race for fame and how God showed him the real race he should've been running for was for Jesus, not for fame.  He will then share about sin, the cross and the meaning of the Incarnation with our students.

      The theme is closely following the show "The Amazing Race" in that we produced a film series of our youth leaders going around our city (Pittsburgh) doing the amazing race.  This project was a lot more work than I anticipated and would've been impossible without our iMac, so just cautioning anyone from trying it without time and a Mac.  I usually would display the videos on youtube or something, but each of them are about 8 minutes long, which is a bit long...but I was stuck with what we shot...

      We will end the series on the night of December 22nd, which is our Christmas Party. Here is the layout of the night (with some descriptions)

    6:45-7pm- Registration, hang out, get some drinks listen to some Christmas music

    7-7:15pm- Grab food, eat, sit at tables and hang out

    7:15-8pm- Games
                      - Face the Gingerbread Man (from Christmas Minute to Win it)
                      - Wreath Madness (from Christmas Minute to Win it)

                      - Total Recall (A video based game where you have (2) 2 minute clips of Christmas films and after each 2 minute clip ask specified questions.  Leaders at the tables have the answer keys and will verify the person who gets all the questions correct)
                      - Santa Beard (A game where you have pairs (as many as you want) come together and one person is "Santa" and the other is the "Beard Builder".  The Beard Builder uses Foam Shaving Cream (must be foam, NOT gel) and they then attempt to build the best Santa Beard they can within 3 or 4 minutes
                      - Cookie Decorating (We are having 300+ cookies for each of our teens to have about 3 cookies per person to decorate)

    8-8:05- Move from Gym to 2nd Floor Fellowship Hall

    8:05-8:30- Evangelistic Message based on the "Amazing Race" theme

    So, that's our Christmas Party in a nut shell.  What are you doing?


    Tuesday, November 30, 2010

    Stereotypes and Why They Stink

       In my inner-city Youth Group, we've been discussing stereotypes, bigotry and racism.  We've been going through a series called Ethnic Mosaic where we've been trying to break down some of these walls.  Below is some insight I found in my reading on the subject of stereotypes;  Enjoy.

    One of the causes of stereotypes is called automatic processing. “Even further below awareness is something that psychologists call automatic processing, in which stereotypes are triggered by the slightest interaction or encounter” (Murphy Paul, Annie Where Bias Begins). This can happen to anyone at anytime where they have a poor encounter with someone of another race or ethnic background then themselves and they attach that experience to all people of that particular race or ethnic background. Dr. Dirks in his week 6 lecture defines out a bit more what stereotyping is: “Simply put it [a stereotype] is a generalization about a group of people. According to Wittmer (1992) when we stereotype someone we “hold a rigid and fixed impression of a group of people, which we then apply to all members of that group” (62). Martin and Nakayama frame a stereotype as, “Widely held beliefs about a group of people” (41). Or in other words we could say that it is a form of generalization” (Dr. Dirks, Week 6 Lecture 2010).

    This goes a long with what I said above that not only is the stereotype attached to the person who may have brought about a bad experience but the stereotype is attached to the whole race or ethnic group that person belongs to. This is a dangerous thing because a stereotype a person has forces that person to then encounter people of a certain race with a pre-judgment, not giving that person a chance whatsoever. I see this is my youth group a lot. I am a youth pastor of middle school students in the inner city, where there are also a fair number of suburban white students. The interactions between these two groups is harsh and very hateful. Although the teens don’t realize it they are pre-judging one another based off of their stereotypes.

    This is where the stereotypes become a prejudice. “How do we define prejudice? Calloway-Thomas, Cooper and Blake (1999) describe it as “negative attitudes toward others based on faulty and inflexible stereotypes” (98). It is a “negative attitude toward a cultural group based on little or no experience” (Martin and Nakayama, 43)” (Dr. Dirks, Week 6 Lecture, 2010). The problem with stereotypes is that once made they are hard to break, there are as Cooper and Blake say:“inflexible”. It becomes a solid belief a person has of another race and is hard to break down. In my own life, I had a prejudice against black people and it took several black youth group leaders in my life over years of time to help me break down my own prejudice. God is his sovereignty used these men to guide me down the path of love rather than the path of hate.

    Another cause to the forming of stereotypes comes from the environment and culture with which we live. “Much of what enters our consciousness, of course, comes from the culture around us. And like the culture, it seems that our minds are split on the subjects of race, gender, class, sexual orientation” (Murphy Paul, Annie Where Bias Begins). If we live in a culture (or a home) that has certain stereotypes within it, we are more likely to attach those stereotypes and prejudices to our own mind. When all we see are minority men and women going to jail on the news, our minds automatically say that all people of this race or ethnic background are bad…especially when that is our ONLY interaction with people of that particular race or ethnic background. This then forces a person to look at the cues their own environment are giving in way of stereotypes. What images are we exposed to daily that could assist us (or our children) in developing a stereotype? What shows, movies or news stations are we exposing ourselves to and what messages are they shouting in light of this idea of culture helping us define our stereotypes?

    Here is an eye-opening quote about the exposure our kids get when it comes to stereotypes: “We learn the subtext of our culture's messages early. By five years of age, says Margo Monteith, Ph.D., many children have definite and entrenched stereotypes about blacks, women, and other social groups. Adds Monteith, professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky: "Children don't have a choice about accepting or rejecting these conceptions, since they're acquired well before they have the cognitive abilities or experiences to form their own beliefs” (Murphy Paul, Annie Where Bias Begins).

    When talking about the causes of stereotypes, I think environment and culture are the strongest, especially since they happen to us so young. Once we have this stereotype, any interaction that proves it solidifies that stereotype even deeper. We must be wary and cautious as to what we expose ourselves to as well as our children. I believe so strongly in this that I am teaching my middle school students the importance of coming together and I am taking 6 weeks of teaching to share with them why stereotypes and prejudice is destructive and against God’s plans for mankind (especially within the church).

    Friday, November 19, 2010

    Uncommon Games and Icebreakers- Review

      As a Youth Pastor, one of the most annoying things for me to do is make up games week after week.  I love to be creative, I love to push the boundaries, but some weeks I lack motivation and quite frankly come to hate making up games.

      I used to be a "Lone Ranger" and try to develop all my curriculum and make up all my games...I've come to grips that although that is fun and can really challenge me, I don't always have the time to make all of that happen from scratch!

      I'm sure my sentiments are felt widely from those of you reading this.  I'm sure like myself you've tried a ton of game books, but some were harder than others to follow and a ton of the games required a ton of time to pull off.  Jim Burns has done a great job of making this game thing easier by writing the Uncommon Games & Icebreakers book.

      Not all the games are off the charts awesome, not all of them are easy, cheesy, peasy to get done but most of the games in here are pretty solid, well thought out and fairly easy to pull off in good time.  I enjoyed seeing some of the old classics, alongside some new ones.  My absolute FAVORITE part of this book is that it comes with a CD which you can print off all the instructions and details for each game!  I like to keep my leaders in the loop and if I can email them the directions for a game ahead of time, they love it...this makes that easier than ever.  Plus, if you have an intern (or yourself) setting up the game, you can easily print off the list of things needed and how to set it up.

      I appreciate the time this took to make and think it is a great resource for any youth pastor/leader to have.  I also like Les Christies book, but this one was much easier to follow and pull off then Les' book and the CD included is just plain amazing!

      If you're looking for a games resource and want something convenient , yet fun this is the resource for you!

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Fist Fights and Ripped Jackets

      On Tuesday night at Youth Group, we had an issue with some of our teens.

      Youth Group was over and outside a couple of teens were messing around slap boxing, when it got serious.  One of the kids hauled off and punched the other kid, which spurred some angry words and more serious fighting.  Three others jumped in on the one (much smaller kid) and began to punch him and drag him across the pavement by his jacket.  This action caused the young mans jacket to rip which really angered him.

      One of the youth leaders caught the scene at the end of the dragging and broke it up.  We called all the teens in to have a discussion about what just happened at the consequences of their actions.

      This is where I was shocked.  Fights break out and you have to deal with them so that didn't surprise me, what surprised me was the attitude of the teens involved.  When we were talking to them about the situation we shared the severity of what they did and asked them what a cop would've done if he'd have witnessed the scene.

      Shortly into this discussion some of the boys began to smile and laugh, having no sense of understanding as to what they had just done.  There was no remorse, there was no conviction just straight defiance.  We asked the young men what was so funny and how could they laugh at this situation.  They had no answers for our questions, only more laughter.

      We brought in some of our church security guards and let the young men know they aren't allowed on the premises for 3 weeks.  We shared with them the severity of problems if they violated this punishment and they still didn't seem to get it.

      This lack of care really re-woke me up to the grip Satan has on the city.  It's no wonder teens very similar to these young men get thrown into jail.  It's no wonder the city is in turmoil with theft and violent crimes; because most of the young men don't care.  I called the moms of these young men and they started to care then because they knew they'd be on punishment for what they did and they knew that their actions were going to effect more than just Youth Group but still, the attitude was there.

      I told the boys that its sad that I care more about their future than they do.  I told these guys that I loved them and I want to see God use them and that I pray for them to come to grips with how serious their decisions are for their future.

      I had the privilege of driving all of these boys home after all this long discussion about the incident.  I was able to speak with one of the teens moms face-to-face as well as one of the father (BTW the father could've cared less) and interact with their families on a deeper level which was one good thing I suppose.

      This blog is a bit more thrown together because I have tons of thoughts swirling around about this evening, I know however that this is the city God desires me to work within and even though its tough He can and will use me in this place in the lives of these teens!  I love what I do even when I see these crazy things happen and the lack of care or understanding I know these kids do have hope, they are not hopeless as many would write them off as.  God has the power to change them from the inside out and my job is to keep loving them and leading them towards the Father!

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    The Christian Life- Uncommon Jr. High

     Recently, I was asked to review some curriculum from Gospel Light and the first one up for review is The Christian Life.  This book is put together in a 12 week series, with 6 of the sessions being on the basics of Christianity: God the Father; God the Son; God the Holy Spirit; Our sinful nature; Our need due to this nature; and Our response to God. 

       The second half is 6 weeks on the fruits of the Spirit: Self-control; Joy; Peace; Faithfulness; Gentleness and Patience.  There is also a small thing in the end titled: How Do I pray?

      This is where the curriculum takes you and I must admit Kara does a great job of getting you there.  Each session is set up with several different options for ice-breakers and teaching interactions.  All of the lessons and activities are well done and very creative.  Something that did bother me slightly is that each lesson is so filled with activities, that the biblical points seem to get minor importance.  I know we're dealing with Middle School students and we need to keep them engaged but playing a huge game that takes about 10-15 minutes to only make one small point about a Bible passage seems a bit odd.  Don't get me wrong, the games all line up with the point being made and they do it well...I just don't want the Bible to be secondary to the teaching.  Remember, this is just "one mans" opinion.

      Like I said, this book is very well done and extremely well laid out.  The content is right on and the level is right at a 5th-7th grade level which will hit most Middle Schoolers, so I am excited to see that.  Some Middle School stuff is either too low or too high but Kara does a good job of getting to the right level.  I appreciate her insights and the time she took making each session have impactful interactions as well as teaching.  I must say my favorite part of this Uncommon Series is the front page of each session, because it gives The Big Idea; Session Aims, The Biggest Verse and Other Important Verses right up front.  It helps the teacher know whats coming, what they're teaching on and what point the lesson serves to drive at.  This is extremely helpful!

      My only piece of criticism (besides the minor role of Bible at points) is that to get the teaching materials, the teacher is constantly pointed outside the book they are holding.  Whether it is to get supplies or to go to a website or to get the DVD of the curriculum, they are asked each session to get materials not in the book itself.  This kind of annoys me because when I teach or hand a book to my Sunday School teachers, I would love for the majority of the stuff needed to be gathered in the book itself.  Now I know for activities there is always a need to get supplies, but the need to buy a DVD to get the certain PDF's or video intros is what I don't like.  I feel like the DVD should be supplied in the back of the book like in Novelli's Shaped By The Story.  This brings all things together for the teacher.

      I understand the need to sell a cheaper book to Churches, but if you're making them get the DVD anyways to fill most of the needed materials, have you helped?  If Gospel Light were to provide all the materials online in one location that too would long as it was easy to find and all in one location for each certain book.

      I do like this curriculum and think I will definitely use portions of it in my own teaching.  I feel it is better honed to a smaller church setting and is effective in helping youth pastors have good material on hand.  I enjoyed reading through and gleaning new insights on what kinds of activities we can have our Teens engage in.

     If you are interested in this material, you can buy it here: Uncommon: The Christian Life Jr. High

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    That Ain't Your Daddy!

    I work in an inner-city church with inner-city youth.  Over my time here, I've seen some intriguing things happen in the lives of the teens, and not all of them are good.

      One such time, there was a young man I'll call 'D' and D for the whole year was getting kicked out youth group left and right.  The teens were sick of him, my leaders were sick of him and I was starting to lose my cool with this young man.  He literally made it through the whole night 10 out of 35 times.  Finally I told him it had been enough and if he expects to come back to youth group, or do ANY of our church activities, he would have to bring in a parent and the three of us would have a sit down conversation about D's behavior.

       Well, the very next day after I have this conversation, I get a phone call on my cell phone from D.  He says he's going to bring his dad in so we can talk.  I say fine, come in as soon as you can. What D didn't know is that I knew his living situation and D would be lucky to have his dad come around for McDonald's, much less a meeting with the pastor.  This is a sad reality but a reality I was aware of in D's life.

      Shortly after the call from D, I get a call from the same number: D's cell phone and it is D clearly trying to pretend to be an older man.  D as the fake man says: "Yeah, I'm D's dad and I understand that D has been getting kicked out and stuff.  I wish I could come to your office but I'm in East Liberty and can't get there."  I tell D that he must come in.  I must talk to him face to face.  D confesses it was his voice (as if I didn't know) and admits that his dad is in E. Liberty and he will make sure he comes in.

      About 9 minutes later (too soon to have been from E. Liberty) a man walks in with D.  This guy is old enough to be D's father, but I knew right away that he wasn't.  We walk into my office and sit down and discuss D and his actions (I played into this fake father thing).  This grown man continuously tells me stories of D at home and how he interacts with him mom and such (clearly having NO idea about D nor his relationship with his mom, or even his living situation since dad didn't live with mom).  I let him blabber on and lie to my face about being D's dad and how we should give D another chance.

      Eventually the man leaves and I take D aside and say: "D, that isn't your daddy" and we called D's grandma to confirm and sure enough, that man wasn't D's Daddy!

      The really odd thing is that this was a turning point in my relationship with D.  He knew I cared enough to find out the truth.  He saw that I knew his grandma (which he was unaware of prior to his stunt) and that I cared to know enough about him that he couldn't lie about his family situation.

      Inner-city kids like D are clearly lost but just as clearly need someone who cares about them because very few people do. Teachers hate kids like D because he is so much work to control and so hard to get or keep on task. As we saw, in D's case, many inner-city fathers care very little about their children and their mothers in a lot of cases are working several jobs to make ends meet; which leaves very little time for their children.

      Since last year, I've invested in D by letting him come early to shoot hoops with me on group nights.  I've also warned him that I would contact Grandma if he was acting up (I could NEVER get a hold of his mother, so grandma seemed to work for him).  Moments of time spent with D have proved my care of him and my love for him.  These types of relationships are what these inner-city teens need and once they have something of this nature, they latch onto it and listen when you talk.

      I hope to see D come to truly know Christ and decide to not just know about God but to know God and then live his life according to this knowing.

      Cultivating this type of relationship was really hard, long and arduous but it paid off big time.  This is the reality of inner-city ministry: it takes a long time to make a difference but once you get there it pays off.

    Thursday, October 28, 2010

    Christianity Cults & Religions

      I was recently asked to review a curriculum on cults and other religions produced by Rose Publishing, so I accepted the opportunity to see what was out there. 

      Let me start by saying that this is not a YOUTH curriculum but I thought is prudent to share here so that my youth pastor friends can see the wealth of stuff that is out there.

      This curriculum has some good stuff and some bad stuff.  Let me start with the good. 

      The handout that comes with the DVD curriculum is well thought out, well organized and helpful for anyone who desires to understand the side-by-side comparison of other religions to Christianity.  It is super useful for teens who want to know how other religions compare to Christianity and desire to know why what they believe is the right thing to believe in.  It breaks down a side-by-side comparison on: The founders of each religion, the writings of each religion, who God is in each religion, Who Jesus is, Who the Holy Spirit is, what salvation means to each religion, what death signifies and the other misc. beliefs each religion may have.
      I highly recommend this handy hand-out because it is thorough and very interesting to see all of these religions side-by-side.  The content is rich and very well presented.

      This however, is where I leave the realm of what I saw as "good" because once we leave the pamphlet, we venture into the DVD.  I thought the DVD was abysmal.  The content was good, but the production and teaching was poor. 

      Each session opens up with a tall white guy with a huge beard standing in and obviously green-screened studio with a extremely fake background presented behind him.  Right away, I am turned off to anything he is going to say because of this poor display of technology usage.  He then is standing behind a glass, clear podium with his notes on it.  He paces a bit and reads his note a lot and teaches with a very boring voice.  His content is good, but you have to wade through all the negative audio and visuals to find that the content is any good.  Next, there are pans to an audience who is all white and their glasses reflect the green screen studio, which makes the poor usage of technology again horribly apparent.

      This continues throughout the entire clip of teaching for each session.  Needless to say, I was disappointed with the presentation of the DVD and would've just taken the hand-out.

      I think it is important to get the message across to teens and adults a like as to what other people believe and why so we have a better grasp on how to minister to them but the information has to be engaging as well as well done.  I would again repeat that the hand-out is worth the purchase...just leave the DVD.

      Hope this helps you as you too try to find ways to educate the teens God has entrusted to you with the Truth of the Gospel!

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Slippery Slopes

      In life, we all run unto slopes that are slippery; those slopes that trip us up and cause us to stumble and sometimes fall.

      The life of a Middle Schooler is no different, they too get caught on these slippery slopes of life and for them all too easily they fall and don’t even realize they slipped.

       This series looks at 6 common slopes that slip Middle Schoolers up: Trying to be something they are NOT, Giving into the fake culture hype, Temptation, The Company they keep, giving into the hype of sex, drugs and violence and lastly using their mouths.

      These are 6 common slopes kids slip and fall on. They are dissatisfied with life because it doesn’t look like TV, they want to fit in so they pretend to be something they aren’t, their friends are bad influences on them, they can’t handle (or even notice temptation), they believe sex, drug and violence are all part of a good life and they have no idea the power of their words.

       The hope is that at the end of this series they will be able to more easily navigate the slopes they find themselves on and rely on God; His Word and their Christian Community to help them find sure footing as they go down the slippery slopes of life.

      We've been running through this series for the past 6 weeks and desired to share this here with you all!  I heard an encouraging story lately of people using these lessons for their groups and desire to keep giving out these resources as we develope them here at ACAC.  Below are the links to download the stuff for this series!

    Talk Sheets

    PDF Questions


    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    Missions In Your Back Yard

     When I talk to my teens about service projects or missions projects they automatically think of somewhere else besides their own neighborhood.  When I mention sharing your faith or going out to proclaim the gospel, generally most picture themselves in a different city or country.

       I fear in many ways we have taken missions away from home and made it a thing we emphasize people do 'out there' rather than 'right here'.

      This then leads to churched teenagers, when asked if they desire to be a missionary to have a recoil and they say things like: "I don't want to live in the jungles" or "I don't think I could deal without clean running water".  This to me is a bit sad because Christ's "Last Words" if you will were for all of us to go and make disciples. 

    He says in Matthew 28:18-20 "And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

      This is a calling that every person who has been saved by Christ has.  It's not a thing just for those who go overseas.  We are called to live Missions focused lives, we are called to spread the gospel with our very lives and we are called to serve.

      As Youth Pastors/leaders we need to be about both and in missions.  We need to be about the 'out there's' and the 'right here's' when it comes to missions.  Teens are so trained with sharing their faith 'out there' that they become inoculated and dumb when it comes to sharing their faith 'right here'.  That's a sad testament to what we have been teaching.

      The church at which I am a pastor is passionate about the both and of missions.  My denomination started as a missions movement, so over seas missions is in our blood...but the church I am a part of also loves the city its in: Pittsburgh, PA!  We are passionate about our community and realize it needs a ton of help.  This passion for our community has leaked into Student Ministries and has infected us with a passionate desire to promote both and missions to our teens.

      Just a couple of weeks ago we did a service project on our church campus and in the government housing across the street.  We picked up trash, hauled metal, threw away broken up dry-wall, planted flowers, fixed up a local field and planted grass all while the community watched.  Several people talked to our teens and asked what they were doing and why, they were encouraged to see young people caring for their community and we were inspired as well by their encouragement!

      Last Saturday our teens engaged in a community project called Pumpkin Fest.  In this event, we the church buy, make and distribute food.  We sell it at a low cost but we work our tails off getting it all ready and then serving it.  Our teens served over 1,400 people and had a joyful time doing it.  The cool thing about this event is that the WHOLE community sees our teens serving and smiling and handing out food.  They (the people in the community) get to work face-to-face with our teens and see that these kids are different.  Also, with the proceeds of the event the community gets half and the other half goes to our summer missions trips (which are to different places).  It serves the dual purpose of both and missions!

      We, during the year do several other community service days to remind our teens that when it comes to missions it can happen overseas, in the next city or in your own back yard!

      What are some other ways we can promote the both and missions?  How can we start making teens think globally but act locally?  The changes we make should change the DNA of our groups and the thinking of our teens.  Nothing is more powerful a witness to a community than teenagers working hard to make that community better for the Glory of Jesus.  It shocks the system of many people and encourages others to take notice and ask questions.

      How can we as Youth Pastors/Leaders step up and change the way we've done missions and become missional minded people?  Remember, the way this generation thinks about missions will be how they act as its more than the "now" we're effecting...we're effecting tomorrow too!

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    Student Leadership- It's Important!

    Youth Ministry has been going through a big identity crisis recently.
      I'll say it has less to do with "Youth Ministry" and more to do with "Youth Pastors".  We've all been watching the generations change and seeing that they need different stuff in order to connect with or even hear about the Gospel of Jesus.  In the past 10 years, there have been different approaches and several different ideas as to how to fix the growing angst against formalized youth groups.  Many approaches have been tested, weighed and found wanting (that's from A Knight's Tale BTW).  Youth Pastors have seemingly tried everything and found themselves still being ineffective or slightly effective at best.

      When it comes to the paradigm discussion, I feel like few have gotten it right, with the exception of a couple, like Mark Oestreicher in his book Youth Ministry 3.0, where he expounds upon the shifts in youth ministry and why the older models are failing.  To see my 3-part review of this book go here: Youthmaster-Mark Oestreicher

      However, a new thing, which isn't really a new thing is coming into view for more and more youth pastors: Student Leadership is what should drive the ministry.  Part of the old model (Youth Ministry 2.0) as Marko calls it; is this myth that it's all about the youth pastor. 

    "He's the one being paid, so he must do all the work." Is a myth that many of us have bought into which has been perpetuated to us from our: Senior Pastor, our parents, our church board and sometimes from our leaders.  When we follow along with this type of ministry it gets dangerous.  We begin to burn out, we begin to offend our leaders and worst of all, we begin to push teens away.

      We must insist on Student Leadership, they must OWN the ministry they are part of so it can stop being a show for them and begin to be training for missional living.  The youth team I am a part of has started to really recognize this piece of youth ministry and has begun to make strides to put a lot of the ministry in the hands of our teens.

      I am blessed to have a Director who sees God's vision for our teens and is leading us down this path.  The idea of student leadership wasn't on my brain...I had fallen back into the Youth Ministry 2.0 model and made it all about what I could do, but he has re-directed my thinking and re-sold me on the need for student leadership.

      During this time of understanding student leadership and it's importance, I got an email from Leadertreks about student leadership which contained a free e-book written by Doug Franklin, President of LeaderTreks on Student Leadership.  The title is Student Leaders are Church Leaders. I have read this book and believe it to be a great manifesto for student leadership.  It provides reasons for student leadership and tools to begin handing the ministry over to them.

      Once teens own something, truly own it there is no telling how far they can make it go with the power of the Spirit of God within them.  I am excited to be able to offer the link to the FREE e-book, which is below.  I know the team I am a part of as well as myself personally will be wrestling with these principles laid forth in this book as well as the idea of Student Leadership in general...will you join me?  Because  Student Leadership- It's IMPORTANT!

    Friday, September 3, 2010

    Youth Ministry Linxus

    Links, links Links!  I recently got an email that had on a link to a great blog...which had links!

      All of these links are super sweet and have good Youth Ministry content.  I copied and pasted the notes and links from HERE to show you some really cool links!

      Some of these guys, if you've been in youth ministry for awhile you will know already, but this list has got some newer ones as well!

    10 Great Blogs for Youth Ministers

    The best ideas are often inspired by seeing someone else in action. That’s often especially true in youth ministry, where one minister’s approach will spur another to think outside the box, which in turn pushes another to look for new ways to engage with their students. With that in mind, here are ten great blogs for youth ministers, full of personal experiences and ministry insights.

    1. More Than Dodgeball

    Joshua Griffin serves as the high school pastor at Southern California’s Saddleback Church, home of pastor Rick Warren. His blog features books and podcasts for students and ministers, as well as general posts about life and culture. Includes helpful links to books and other media.

    2. Rethinking Youth Ministry

    Rethinking Youth Ministry is run by a pair of youth ministers in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Missouri, with one based in St. Louis and the other in Columbia. Their bio says that they’re “passionate about rethinking ministry with youth from a progressive Christian perspective.” The blog focuses on helpful ways to get teens involved with each other and with ministry, as well as how to avoid pitfalls that plague a lot of ministries.

    3. 100 or More

    As its name implies, this blog targets leaders of youth groups with more than 100 members, since working with that many kids can often present logistical challenges that smaller groups don’t have to worry about. You can also follow author Jeff Maguire on Twitter.

    4. Serial Youth Pastor

    Chris, a youth minister in Iowa, blogs about his work with students as well as the way issues of faith and spirituality pop up in modern culture.

    5. Confessions of an Average Youth Minister

    Shane, a youth minister in Alabama, grew up in a conservative Baptist church but now works at one that is “much more open to new ideas and new ways to express our love for God.” His confessional approach highlights his fears and worries as well as his successes, which can be helpful for ministers who are worried that they’re the only ones struggling with a particular issue.

    To see the final 5, go here:

    Monday, August 30, 2010

    Implimenting Small Groups

      I may be a young guy but I’m not so young to think I’ve invented the small group idea. Nor do I think that what I’m going to say will shock you so much that you break down like a charismatic and start convulsing on the floor. I do think however it’s worthwhile to share what God has done recently in my world so that my story in turn may be a helpful one for you in your context.

    In August I moved from a small church to a big church. My old Youth Group tapped out at 50 kids and now in my new position, I find myself in a Youth Group triple that size. In my old ministry, small groups were where it was at. We would take a group of teens and hash out the message and really work on it. It was a system that worked both for growth and outreach; it created a sense of ownership of the lesson/sermon (whatever you choose to call that thing where we talk up front to the teens) for the teens. It cultivated an atmosphere of authenticity and a wrestling I never experienced before with teenagers! This system was effective with Middle School and High School alike.

    Shortly before I moved church positions I read a book by Marko (Mark Oestreicher) called Youth Ministry 3.0 in which he celebrates and encourages Youth Groups to “Grow Small”. The small group paradigm that we set up did just that because it forced people to be in more intimate groups; groups in which each person belonged and had something to bring to the group. Marko’s book inspired me to go into my new position “thinking small”, so you know what I did? I set up the same small group paradigm in my current (significantly larger) ministry that I had in my older (smaller) ministry.

    When I brought the idea to my Ministry team, they said: “We’ve done that before. In fact we do it once a month.” My new leaders thought I was crazy to have our students (which are Urban teens) get into small groups and discuss the lesson/sermon. Most thought it wouldn’t work, many scoffed and said: “It’s gonna be bad” and others said: “We can try it, but let’s not be too hopeful.”

    I felt compelled to jump in and do it. I developed the small group questions 12 weeks ahead of the talks, I worked hard and fast to push the students into the small groups. I encouraged our leaders, got approval from my ministry team and made a big change quickly.

    Taking this plunge has paid off in many ways. I will be the first to admit that some of our teens still struggle to remain on topic and some honestly dip out of small groups altogether. However, I have seen some significant things happen during these small group times. These teens have discussed things that are going on deep inside of them that in the larger group could’ve never happened. Allowing this time also helped our leaders develop more meaningful relationships with the kids; they weren’t just there as police anymore (as they sometimes feel), they had a meaningful role in the shepherding of these teens…urban and suburban alike. The leaders began to see the importance of these small groups and have enjoyed discussing the lesson/sermon in more depth.

    I am not saying: “Copy what I do” but I must agree with Marko that thinking small is where we need to start moving as Youth Pastors…this I have found is powerfully and effectively done through the small groups, both in a smaller church setting and now in a larger church setting.

    For too long we youth pastors, (myself included) have been obsessed with numbers. We’re guilty of manipulating kids to help “grow the numbers”, yet we miss a gigantic part of our calling: Discipleship. When we worry about the numbers and “getting kids saved” we aren’t fulfilling discipleship, we are simply using our influence to make people come to Christ (which if we look deeper probably wasn’t a true conversion even though we count it in our numbers).

    This isn’t to say that I’m against evangelism, because I’m all for it, we just need to then disciple these teens and we need to bring Jesus to them in such a way that it’s authentic and not fake. I feel that this is best done in the “small” rather than the “large”.

    So, now how do you go about implementing small groups in your context? Here are some helping thoughts to get you on your way.

    - Know your context- get to know how your kids interact best in smaller settings. Should you do small groups the night of the talk? Should you do them another night? Should you do lesson-based discussions or something different? These are all questions you need to answer first

    - Ask good questions- Yes or No questions are no good. Time needs to be taken to craft thought provoking questions. If you design 5 questions and they’ve only gotten to answer 3, you’ve succeeded! If they breeze through the 5 questions and are picking their nose (or their neighbor’s nose) some work needs to be set aside in order to develop better questions.

    - Think small- to quote Marko-“smaller is better.” Try to force smaller groups and not always stay large. Also concentrate on being small, not “growing larger”

    - Train your leaders- This is where I need work. Our leaders need our help to guide them and show them how to be good question askers and good discussion guiders. This is on us to help them improve

    - Be Ahead- in order to be effective with small groups they have to be done with intentionality. It’s easy for us to “wing it” especially when we are 1 of 3 leaders…but don’t sell this short! Take time to blueprint out your lessons 2, 4, maybe even 8 weeks in advance. Then you have good questions and your leaders know where they’re going!

    Thursday, July 22, 2010

    Getting Healthy Feedback

    One of the words that gives me the heebie jeebies is the word “feedback”. Most of the time when we here that word it’s probably because someone wants to give us bad feedback. We all have those moments of feedback. They look something like this: you just experienced a great event that went off without a hitch save a small hiccup in the middle of it; a girl in your group got a little hurt. Bad stuff happens, right? Well, as is usually the case, the parent of the girl asks to come to your office later in the week so they can “offer you some constructive feedback”.

    For most of my time in youth ministry these types of situations are all I attached to the paradoxical word: “feedback”. However, recently I’ve seen a whole new side of that word, and it has heavily changed my perspective.

    We as a team decided we would start requesting people in our ministry to do survey’s after EVERY event as well as once a year for our normally scheduled programming. We used a simple online tool that allows you to set up a survey tailored specifically to the events and programming you’ve been putting on. People can anonymously fill out the survey and turn it back in to us with their feedback (we use Survey Monkey).

    At the idea of this new means feedback I was full of fear and trembling (you know that “holy fear” kind of thing?), yet I saw that this may actually have some merit. In the time since we began doing these surveys, several amazing things have begun to pop up.

    First, our leaders feel more appreciated, heard and respected. Surveys enable them to own a stake in what we put together, as well as an amazing opportunity to be honest about how they feel about certain things. It also provides us (from their perspective) great insight into what bombed, what was awesome and some possible ideas for what we can do next time we offer that particular event or program. Second, our parents (who hold a bigger stake in the Youth Ministry than do the leaders) also felt more involved, heard and better communicated with.

    Another new insight that we found was that we have been able to see with much more clarity our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (a.k.a SWOT). We can see what we do well so we can continue to improve those things. We also see where we are weak so we can build up better teams of people around us where we are weak as well as grow in the areas we need to personally work on. We can also see the things in our environment that are opportunities we can take advantage of (or things we are already taking advantage of) and lastly we can see the things that threaten what we do (like poor communication, which has been a constant feedback for us).

    God has used these insights to challenge and grow us in ways we never would have been without the feedback we’ve been receiving.

    So, how to get healthy feedback is simply putting some questions on a survey and asking leaders and parents to take it? Yes and no. I think the most important part of this healthy feedback thing is humility and the willingness to learn.

    One of my mentors Doug Bortner once told me that in order for me to be a great pastor, I would need to work on some things and get some counseling in certain areas of my life. At first when he said that, I was ticked off! I began thinking: “what will people think of me, a pastor who needed counseling? This feedback is not what I was looking for when I asked Doug: “how can I improve?” Yet, it was the feedback I needed at that time. For 24 hours I wrestled, toiled and struggled about his feedback. Thankfully, after much discussion and encouragement from family and friends, I decided to heed his advice and I am the better for it!

    I think we fear feedback because we don’t want to change or don’t think we need to change, but the fact of the matter is we can always grow and change in that growth. Will this getting healthy feedback also gain us some un-wanted, un-loving, just plain wrong feedback? Yes, it will. However, we must take this risk.

    Asking in advance for feedback is always a great way to go about seeking healthy feedback. When we ask for people to feed us insight they feel valued, honored and respected. It also says to them: “I know everything I do isn’t always amazing, help me become better for you and for these kids”.

    If we look at the Bible, we see tons of stories laced throughout Scripture where people got some healthy feedback. Probably the most famous story is that of Jethro giving healthy feedback to Moses in Exodus 18. Jethro sees all that Moses is doing for the people and asks him why he doesn’t delegate some of those responsibilities to other people. Moses displays a teachable spirit when he accepts the feedback and uses it to better himself (Exodus 18:24).

    To get healthy feedback, we first have to be willing to hear it. Next we have to seek out the feedback of those who hold stake in our ministries (i.e. parents, students, our Sr. pastor and our leaders). Finally we need to ask God for the humility to add some of the feedback to what we do; in other words we may need to change things, delegate things or improve things we weren’t previously inclined to change, delegate or improve.

    Gaining this healthy feedback will make us better pastors and will allow us to not get stuck in ruts we ourselves create. May we be like Moses by being teachable, humble people who willingly accept and readily offer opportunities for feedback!

    Friday, July 2, 2010

    Dealing with Conflict in Youth Ministry

    Sometimes in ministry we have things that pop up and those things cause conflicts.  I for one HATE conflicts and sadly I try to avoid them as best I can...yet they still happen.

      How do we handle this tension, especially with parents?  How do we bring up things in the lives of their kids that we know they are completely ignorant of?

      This was a question I had early on in ministry, back when Myspace was new and Facebook was only for college students. Myspace was home to much teenage craziness much like Facebook has today.  However, with Myspace it seems there is more freedom to display ...body parts? more so than with Facebook and some of my teens took advantage of this "freedom".

      One such student was a young, beautiful girl who was also an elders daughter.  She displayed some body parts that should remain hidden and teased as if she were to reveal more.  When my wife showed me the pictures, I was shocked that a young lady from the home in which she came could in fact take this step.  I wrestled for days as to how I would approach it.  Finally I took the young lady aside and shared with her that these pictures were not sending the right picture as to who she is.

      She of course could care less what I had to say and asked why I was "creepin on her page and looking at them (the pics) anyways."  I said "You're a friend of mine on Myspace and I was just browsing through your profile when I came across those pictures."  I then asked her to take them down or I would speak to her father about the pictures.

      Sadly, she didn't heed my advice and conflict was in my near future.  How do you bring something like this up?  How do you deal with this type of conflict...especially with an elder and his child?

      Eventually I grew a pair and one Sunday went over to the elder and shared with him the situation.  He of course was shocked, appalled and disappointed in his daughter.  We set up a meeting for directly after church so he could see the pictures for himself and make a better judgment.  When I was talking with him  his daughter saw and knew what was up.  She raced home after church and deleted the worst of the pictures...which I feared would spark more conflict with her father.

      Once we got to my office, I opened up my computer and went to her Myspace page and sure enough, most of the raunchy photos were gone.  However, some were left that her father was definitely not happy about.  We discussed what may have brought these things about and how we can help his daughter through this process.

      We eventually teamed up to share with her that the message she is displaying is one of a sexual being, rather than a human being.  She was advertising herself as an open, easy sexual target and in the climate of the current culture, this was a dangerous ad to be putting up for sure.  In the end, I think the message sunk in and the young lady took it to heart and eventually realized I wasn't out to "ruin her life" but that I cared enough to speak up on a potentially dangerous situation.

      This story is one that always comes to mind when I hear the words: "Conflict in ministry" because it, for me was a difficult hurdle to jump over in my second year as a youth pastor.  It could've gone much worse, the elder could've been in denial and charged me as a pervert for looking at pictures.  The daughter could've deleted all of the photos and the elder could've called me a liar.  Many scenarios "could've happened" but by the grace of God, the right scenario is what happened.

      Conflict is hard to deal with.  Sometimes its off to the side and other times it is in your face.  My theory now is to simply do what God asks of me in every and all situations.  Even though it hindered my relationship with that young lady for a time, I would do it again because I care to much for her as a person.  I care much more for her Spiritual, emotional and physical well being than I do for our "friendship".

      I love what I do, but sometimes the conflicts get huge and's then I turn to a youth pastor friend to lean on, get encouragement from and pray with. 

    God has called us to this mission and we must be faithful to that calling, even through and in conflicts.  Lean on your support systems of friends and the Lord and He will guide you in all truth through His Holy Spirit (John 16:13).  Don't be afraid to face conflicts (speaking to myself here!) because its through conflicts that we and others grow...just make sure the Holy Spirit is in it...because if He's not...the wrong scenarios is 100% guaranteed to play out.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    Youth Leader 101

    Some people have this weird idea that in order to be a youth leader you have to be this hip, cool, young, tattooed, earringed dude. 

    Some people believe that in order to be a youth leader you need to always be "up on what's happening" or you have to be at least young enough not to have kids their age...because who wants a youth leader that can be my mom, right?

      These are all stupid misconceptions,and many people have a misconception as to what a youth leader is.  As many misconceptions as one can think of for "what it takes to be a youth leader" can also be thought up of for "what the role of a youth leader is".

      Some think that a youth leader is the kids best friend, someone who just chills with the teens and listens to their problems, but is to afraid to lead and guide them because they don't want to ruin the friendship...or stop being important to the teen.

      Some think that a youth leader is a bouncer who stands at the door waiting for the kids they know messes up to mess up so they can chuck em out the door at first sign of mis-behavior.

      Some think a youth leader is a person who shows up, comes to youth group and watches the kids have fun and they are simply a warm body who stands off to the side and watches the revelry of the kids.  This also is a good way to make oneself feel good about "giving their time to the youth".

      As previously stated, there are several misconceptions as to what a youth leader is and sadly we youth pastors should get the blame.  If we have any of the above youth leaders within our ministry, we have failed to train them and we have failed to guide them towards what it is God has them here for.  One cares for friendship over leadership, the other cares for discipline and justice over grace and mercy, and the last cares for good feelings over true depth of purpose.  These choices were made and no one above them tried to steer them onto a new path...a better path.

      I will be the first to admit I struggle with this as well...I need to train my leaders better and love on them more! 

    So, with all of that said: what the heck is a Youth Leader?

      There are several things I could list but for me, this is a special person who has the ability to befriend and lead teens.  Someone who engages the teens on their ground even when it's awkward.  This person is someone who is sold out to Jesus Christ as well as the idea of making Jesus known.

      A Youth Leader is a person who desires to see teens come to know Jesus as well as grow in their faith.  This person has a desire to go deeper themselves with the Lord so they can then bring the teens deeper as well.

      This person prays for the teens they work with.  They play with the teens, they laugh with the teens, they worship with the teens.

      A Youth Leader is not a sideliner at youth events but a playmaker.  This doesn't mean I expect a leader to always play a sports game if they hate sports, nor always play an intellectual game if they prefer sports, but it means they engage. Youth Group is not meant as a social club for the adult leaders, but rather a place of ministering to the teens.

    Again, these things need to be communicated from the Youth Pastor.

    In one of my ministries, I didn't communicate well what I expected.  I was young and all of the leaders I had were my age or younger.  Week after Week, I had two of my youth leaders (one male, the other female) texting eachother during my talks.  After about 4 weeks of this, I was ticked and asked them why they would think that was cool.  They stated: "You never told us that we couldn't text during the talk."  I promptly told them to not do it again and to their credit they didn't.

      However, that experience taught me something: every expectation must be communicated.

      I've decided that I'm going to start doing a "Youth Leader 101" training...which I have never done, so that the above thoughts on what I think a youth leader are can be communicated.  I'm sure some will dispute my ideas of a Youth Leader and maybe they are a bit "strong" for a vounteer leader...but I feel in order to be effective in the life of a teen, these things must show up.

      If we are just their friends and are afraid to lead, we don't take them anywhere.  If we are a bouncer and only trying to get them to behave, we may say a lot of stuff, but it will fall on deaf ears.  If we go to make ourselves feel good, the only person we help is ourselves.  If we love teens but don't love Jesus, we take kids down the wrong path.

    God can use ANYONE to be a Youth Leader, no matter your age, gender, ethnicity God can use you in the life of a teen.  The question is: are we willing to do all that is required to be effective...this goes for youth pastors too...are we willing?

    Monday, May 31, 2010

    Discipline and Teens

    Being in youth ministry means that eventually we will run into disicpline issues.  No matter what your particular context've had to (or will have to if you're a 2 week noobie) deal with discipline.

      If I were honest, this is one of my top ten most hated things in youth ministry.  I wish it didn't even need to exist, but sadly it does and most of us hate it.

      During the talk time is when most of the issues arise.  Games, events and things categorized as "fun" usually don't get a lot of troublemakers in the mix...probably becuase those kids are actually doing what is "fun" rather than annoying the crap out of you with their junky behavior. Granted there will always be one (at least) who no matter where, no matter what there are issues with that student.

      How do we handle these always in our face issues of discipline, respect and behavior?  On the one hand we don't ever want to teach that Church and Christianity are a form of "Behavioral Modification" which sadly many youth ministries and churches alik have done causing a mass exodus of young adults.  On the other hand there is a strong desire for the teens present not to miss out on what God wants to say to them...whether its an evangelistic message or a message that causes them to grow.  When kids disrupt, it causes the whole crowd to miss out on the talk.

      So again, what do we do?  How do we handle this stuff?  These questions have haunted me this year because it seemed that whatever we did it didn't work.  Students would get kicked out, come back after they "served their time" and would then again get kicked out.

      One thing I found was if/when you could get ahold of the home (be it grandma, mom, dad, or other guardian) the students would change their tune, for the most part.  It was a tough year though so the ACAC Student Ministries Team is hitting the summer hard with ways we can improve our discipline and still make it a place where people of all backgrounds, ethnicities and the like can feel safe, comfortable and loved. 

      Below are a few ideas we're wrestling with in which we hope to impliment this coming school year.  Feel free to comment or add your own ideas because we are looking at all things to improve this segment of our ministry.

    1. Set up a booth and a notebook.  Here we will have a leader at the booth so if/when a student gets kicked out it gets written in the notebook by the student.  There will also be a line where they write in their home number.  They will then be told to call their parent/guardian to inform them they are being kicked out.  This will help us keep track of who got kicked out, how many times and will also give us the phone number to the family so we can follow up.

    2. Re-train (or Train) Leaders to be more incarnational.  We have GREAT youth leaders and I love them deeply, however sometimes they are afraid to engage with the students.  This can be true in the game time and in the talk time.  When leaders don't have at least a first-name relationship with these teens, they will not have ample respect from those teens, which in turn leads to defiance.  I will be writing a blog on "Youth Leader 101" where I will put all the training we will be doing with our leaders on this subject and others

    3. Set up a Prayer team.  I believe in prayer!  This year at the very end, I set up a time for leaders to come early and pray with me for the night.  This will continue but we will also be asking our current prayer team to either make a new team just for Students or to engage in some heavy prayer for these teens (more so than previously done).  This includes me praying more for them and the ministry.  I am guilty of not taking these matters before God.

    4. Hold strong to our system of the 6 R's.
                Respect the Leaders
                Respect the Property
                Respect Others
    and if you don't comply with the above we will:
                Remind you that you're in the wrong
                Relocate you away from where you are
                Remove you from the program

       Although this has been in place, we have not written down boundaries of when to progress to the next step.  No one has been on the same page and it causes issues.  Some people (like myself) are a bit more gracious and let some minor things sldie.  Others are heavy handed and come down really strong right away on things I percieve as minor.  Getting on the same page will go a long way to healing some of the issues we have.

    Well, that's the got any ideas?

    Thursday, May 27, 2010

    You've Got Questions week 6

    This was done a couple of weeks ago, but it was our Final week on "You've Got Questions" where we had the Middle School students ask any question they wanted! 

      This ended up being more of an "Apologetics" series but it was fantastic none-the-less.  The teens really enggaged the talk time and were listening intently for 40 minutes.  I would NEVER go that long normally (usually I speak for 15 min. tops) but in order to answer all the questions the teens asked I needed to take more time.

      Like I said though the students were deeply interested in the content and were willing to sit through the explanations and the answers to their questions.  I had leader after leader suggesting we do this again and one even said: "The whole year could've been a series like this!"  So I think it went very well and I will consider doing it again!  Below are the questions that were asked as well as the links to get the PDF of the answers and the WMV of the message as well, enjoy!

    Did Jesus Have a Lover?
    What is life all about?
    Why do you (meaning Pastor Marv) Believe in Jesus?
    Why does God sometimes test us in weird ways?
    Why does the church teach perfection if we can never be perfect?

    Week 6 PDF Download

    Week 6 WMV Download (Audio)

    Thursday, May 13, 2010

    You've Got Questions week 5

      This series has caused some of the most controversy of all series I have ever done. 

    I've had parents calling me asking me questions on why I've answered some of these questions the way I did.  I even recieved a phone call today saying that some kids who were debating a Jewish girl in their class were taken to the office for being "intolerant" because they were telling the girl that "Jesus is the only way to get got to get saved!"

      Although I am happy they've got the importance of Jesus, it's odd even though I shared in week 4 of the series not to argue with people.  It is odd they were labeled intolerant when the teacher themselves opened up the debate for class discussion...

      Even through the controversy, this series has been amazing.  As of the writing of this blog, we finished our last week (week 6) last night and it was great!  I'm a bit behind, so I am only posting week 5 right now.  Below are the questions that were asked week 5:

    Even though I believe in God/Jesus is it bad that I also believe in evolution/the process the earth was created opposed to Genesis?

    Jehovah’s Witnesses are always going around to houses, why don’t we do that?

    Did God really want some people to turn out different from all?

    Do new born babies go to heaven?

    Do Animals go to heaven?

    What’s it like being with God or Jesus, why?

    What would the world be like without Satan?

    If God was Jewish, why are we Christian?

    How Big was Eden?

    Here is the PDF download of the answers, enjoy!

    Week 5 PDF Download

    Friday, May 7, 2010

    Moving Up

    It's that time of the year again for Student Minstries...that time is: Transition time!

       5th Graders are moving into the Middle School Ministry, the 8th Graders are moving into the High School Ministry and the 12th Graders are moving away for college or staying local moving into the Young Adult Ministry.

      Things are changing, students are growing older and these transitions can be hard at times.

      My personal context is as a Middle School Pastor mostly.  I am on a Student Ministry Team where we are all part of the team and we all funnel in together, however, my primary focus is Middle School Students.

      This means, I am sending off 8th graders and welcoming in 5th Graders!  This is my first year in this particular context, so my first time really taking on such a big undertaking.  We have over 150 new 5th Graders moving up and the pressure is on! 

      Our Children's Ministry does an AMAZING job and for some of these upcoming students, they've interacted with CM their whole lives, as have their parents (the whole life of their child that is)!  They are stepping away from the familiar into the unknown world of Student Ministries.  This can be scary for both the student and the parent.  As I reflected on the seriousness of such a change, I realized that the best way to make this transition was not to wing it, but to actually have a Strategic Plan of Intigration!

    Here is the overall strategic plan:

    Tues. and Wed. May 11th and 12th During game time of Blast (our Middle School Mid-week event; it happens on Tuesdays and Wednesdays as does the CM mid-week event), I will head over to CM along with 2 middle school boys and 2 middle school girls to show myself, pump up the 5th grade Blast nights and to have the Middle School students share some of their Blast experience as well as Quest (our Sunday School) and Growth Group (our small group) experiences.

    Tuesday May 18th- First 5th Grade ONLY Blast night. we will be welcoming the new 5th graders with great food as well as a quick game, and a quick talk. Throughout the night, I will be doing a “talking walk through” explaining aloud all that we normally do on a Blast night.

    Sunday May 23rd - All of the Student Ministries staff will be visiting Jr. Worship 1st, 2nd and 3rd services to show our faces to the 5th graders and to engage on “their turf” along side of them. Also we will pump the 5th grade Blast nights, Growth Groups as well as Quest  to get them in the “know” about what we are doing in SM. (The reason we are doing this mid-week as well as Sunday is because the crowds can be different.  In our context more inner-city students show up for mid-week events and neglect Sundays.  Sadly, some of our churched kids show up only on Sundays and negelect the mid-week events)

    Tuesday May 25th- 2nd and last 5th Grade ONLY blast night. Here we will run a normal Blast, just like it will be when everyone is there together. We will also have a parent meeting during blast. Where the new 5th grade parents can come and get all the information they could download in one night. Scott (the SM Director) and I will be around so we can hang with both parents and the new 5th graders. We will do some Q&A with all of the parents and help them get acclimated to the change from CM to SM.  Here, I also invited some of our Vounteer Leaders (who have kids) to mingle with the parents and be there to answer questions as well.

      Let me note that most of the above has been Scott's strategic plan for YEARS.  The only addition I put into it was the parent meeting along with the leaders mingling with them.  I am so lucky to be a part of a plan that has been in action for years and has worked well at integrating the new 5th graders into our Ministry.

      I hope some of these insights will help all of us as we together trudge along in the murky waters of change and transition

    Friday, April 30, 2010

    Get Outta My Face!

    I recently came across this great resource and felt compelled to share it with all Youth Workers, Parents and basically anyone that will listen to me!

      I was asked to check this book out by the head of the Student Ministries department and so I dutifully did so.  To be honest, I wasn't expecting much when I began reading this book.  I thought I'd get a few good points, close the book and move on. I was however, pleasantly surprised by what I got.

    The book opens up with the importance of presentation. A simple story from the Cosby Show illustrates that the best content, if not presented well will never be well received. The book continues with great content on how to go about presenting our communications better, seeking to know what our teen really wants underneath all the angst we see and also gives advice on things we must understand in order to connect with our teens.

    From the idea of “quatements”*  to the biblical understanding of who our teens are, this book covers a wide array of content that will most assuredly help us in our communications.

    “…beneath the surface of actions and thinking are good desires that God has hardwired into teens. Teens will respond to adults who can identify these. A clear view of them will give the young person the energy to make changes, sometimes radical and rapid changes.” (Horne, 2009, p. 98)

    I was so inspired by this book that I took it upon myself to review it and summarize the entire thing.  I wrote up a chapter by chapter summary/review so our parents can use it as a tool right away with their teens.  We also encouraged the parents to pick up their own copy here:

      I highly recommend this book to you as well and I will at the bottom put a direct link to my review/summary so you can see for yourself just how good it is.  I hope the time spent doing this will be rewarded by many people getting a chance to use the good, wise, Biblically sound advice that author Rick Horne has given us!

    *“Quatements” are statements that are spoken somewhat like questions. To be effective, they must be sensitive to a teen’s thoughts, feelings, fears, disappointments, or frustrations.” (Horne, 2009, p. 82) An example of a good quatement is: “I give you the impression that nothing you do is good enough.” Said with gentleness and respect, but showing that you understand what they’re saying.
    My full 12 page summary/Review

    Here's how I summarized it for our parents:

    Anyone who has a teen or has worked with teens knows that communicating with them can be very difficult, especially if emotions escalate. Many people have discussed this topic and have hashed out their own ideas. Recently, we came across a resource we felt was worth investing time into as well as worth mentioning to you. It is a book titled: Get Outta My Face! By Rick Horne and is in our opinion a good resource for parents as well as youth workers. It is a tool that helps us to see our part in communication and presents things to watch for as we own our side of communications.

    Thursday, April 29, 2010

    You've Got Questions week 4

    We're journeying through a series called: "You've Got Questions". We asked the teens to write out questions they have about...whatever. We then compiled the questions, sought to answer them and then we shared our answers/advice/shoulder shrugs with the teens!

      This week was week 4 and happened...last week!  I've been a bit behind on putting this stuff up and have tons of blogs I want to write here on this page.  However, this was a good week of Questions and feel compelled to share it with you before I share all my cool blogs.

      Week 4 was mostly about apologetics and evolution.  The questions asked were very well thought through and very much interesting to answer.  As usual, below are the questions the teens asked and attached is a URL to get the PDF of the answers!

    How do we know that Christianity is the right religion?
    Where do evolutionists say life comes from?
    How did evolution come to be?
    What are some points that discprove evolution and point to Christianity?
    How do we share our faith in school?

      Again, like I said this was an interesting set of questions to answer.  There was tons of discussion in between these questions.  I can add the mp3 of the talk if you're interested...if you are, just comment below and I will add it in.  Below is the URL for download of the answers.

    PDF of "You've Got Questions" week 4

    Thursday, April 15, 2010

    You've Got Questions week 3

    We're journeying through a series called: "You've Got Questions". We asked the teens to write out questions they have about...whatever. We then compiled the questions, sought to answer them and then we shared our answers/advice/shoulder shrugs with the teens!

    I love this stuff because it's practical and it meets the needs of the teens. I have found them more engaging than ever before and I think it's because its content they asked about so they are invested personally!
    Weel 3 was a nice vacation week for me, but the other staff (the High School Pastor, the Worship Pastor and the Student Ministries Director) stepped in and pulled off a GREAT Middle School week (thanks guys!)
    The Questions asked this week were:
    Is the World supposed to end in 2012?
    People at school call themselves Catholic Christians, what do we call ourselves?
    Why did Jesus instruct some people he healed not to tell about him?
    Can you explain about the Giants in Gen. 6 “The Son’s of God”
    If church and state are separate then why do science teachers teach atheism?
    If people say we evolved from apes, what do they think we will evolve into?
    How old is planet earth, really?
    How long did it take God to create earth? Was it really a week?
    Why do they allow us to do book reports on non-Christian books and not Christian ones?
    I have uploaded the content in PDF format where you can find my answers and Bible verses based off of these questions.  There was no recording this week, but the PDF is up and ready for download:
    Week 3 Questions PDF

    Friday, April 9, 2010

    You've Got Questions week 2

     We're working through a new series called: "You've Got Questions".  We asked the teens to write out questions they have about their faith, life, love...whatever.  We then compiled the questions, sought to answer them and then we shared our findings with the teens!

      I love this stuff because it's practical and it meets the needs of the teens.  I have found them engaging like never before and I think it's because its content they asked about so they are invested personally!

      It's been GREAT and this is the week two stuff.  Below are the questions they asked, a link to the PDF of our answers as well as the talk itself.  Hope it helps!

    Questions asked for week #2

    Why does God show compassion to sinners?
    How did God take our sins?
    Why did God do this for us?
    Why was Christ’s death necessary?
    Could God forgive more than once?
    Why do I have to live a good life if I have already been saved?
    Are Jehovah and Allah the same god?
    Did God create cheese or was that just an invention of the good people in Wisconsin?

    Some GREAT questions and a ton of fun to answer!


    Week #2 PDF answers

    Week #2 Mp3 talk

    Wednesday, March 31, 2010

    You've Got Questions week 1

      The New talk series we're running through is titled: "You've Got Questions" and I am super stoked for it!

       What we did was we asked the Middle School teens to ask any question they wanted to about faith, love, God, Jesus...basically anything they had doubts about when it came to religion and church!  What we got was heaps and heaps of questions.

      We worked through all the questions and are going to take 5 weeks to answer (or admit we have no idea) to many of their questions.  This was week one and here were the questions:

    Why does God let bad stuff happen if he is Perfect and Good?
    What color/race was Jesus?
    Is God prideful when He asks us to worship him?
    If God created the universe, did he put life on other planets?
    Men wrote the Bible…How can it be written by the Holy Spirit?
    How do we know the Bible wasn’t altered of changed?
    Who do you Love? Do you love certain people?
    What does it feel like to be dead?

    We sought to answer these questions.  Below you'll find a link to the Word document with the written manuscript of the answers given as well as a link to the talk itself.  It was a good night and I'm looking forward to the rest of the series!!

    Questions Week 1 Talk

    Questions Week 1 Manuscript

    Thursday, March 25, 2010

    Working with Inner City Youth

    I am an inner-city Student Ministries Pastor. I work predominantly with Middle School students. This past week has been tough.
    My heart is to see these students (churched and non-churched) to grasp the depth of Christ's love for them, know Him and then in turn make Him known.

    Working in an inner-city context is rough. You hear about friends dying, drugs being sold and pregnancies happening. My heart breaks for these kids. I love them and care for them deeply. I desire to see kids who would normally be hopped up on drugs, hopped up on Christ.

    It is hard. Satan loves to stir the city. Satan loves to attack the city. The enemy wants to destroy the lives of these kids and they are letting him do it.

    I am under no delusion that I am Jesus and that I can in fact save them from the sin they are in, save them from the pain they face or even save them from themselves. That's God's job. It is however my job to be a tool and a willing vessel for Jesus to do those things through me.

    There are few books written about Inner-city Youth Ministry, fewer still about Inner-City Middle Schoolers.

    There seems to be a disconnect with authority with these teens. There seems to be a lack of respect for adults and a hatred for rules. This becomes hard when you are trying to create a safe, loving environment. Students buck the system, rebel against the rules, push the authority and their goal seems to be to so ruin the authority that they can then do whatever they want.

    With God's empowering grace, I will not budge, I will not break. I will continue to love, continue to care for and continue to preach His message to these hurting teens.

    I've been lied to, cussed at, laughed at and disrespected but man do I still love these kids. I don't let them walk over me, they know the boundaries...yet they continue to push, continue to pull and continue to disregard.

    I'm writing because its freeing for me. I'm writing because if I don't I may not let these things out.

    I'm sad for these kids. I hurt for them. I want them to know Jesus...but I am not Jesus. I can not force them to come take a drink of His eternal waters. I can simply be a voice, a life and a guide to lead them to the well. They must decide to take the plunge.

    I've only been in Urban Youth Ministry as a pastor (not including my intern days) for 7.5 months. I am not naive though in thinking this is the most pain I will feel. I know someday I will hear: "_____was shot and killed" or "______is in jail". This is not resignation to the bad things of the city, it's a reality. I will know a student who makes a bad choice that lands them in one of those places. My prayer it is jail, not death.

    I love my job, but ministry takes a toll on your heart. Anyone who says that ministry is a breeze and won't cause pain either: hasn't been in ministry longer than a millisecond or they are in denial.

    There is so much to say about inner-city youth ministry and I'm sure I will continue to write about it since it is my context now. I am lucky to have a 22 year veteran as my boss. A man who has heard both: "___has been shot" and "____is in jail". He knows the pain; he's lived it, felt it and probably even dreamt about it.

    I am lucky to have his wisdom, his shoulder and his leadership, it helps.

    Pray for the inner-city youth and pray for those of us who work with them. Satan wants to rip them away from Jesus and he wants to slay us for attempting to bring them to Christ.