Some of my best times in youth ministry is when I had exactly no idea what I was doing. I don't recommend going straight into a youth worship with no planning or anything of the sort. I saw this video the other day and it really got me thinking about how often, me especially, we try to be the cool guy and try to fit in with the students in our group. Watch this video and see how we can break the ultimate stereo type of being a youth pastors...
The video can be found here.
When we try so hard to be like students that we don't minister to them, we try to just be like them. I understand wanting to fit in and trying to relate to them, but here is my take on this: If we are ministering to students and loving them regardless, preaching the word of God to them and walking along side them trying to help them find their God given path, I say you are fitting right in.
I am no expert in youth ministry, but students will come because they already like you for who you are, not who you think they want you to be. Even though this video is a parody of what some youth ministers are like, try to be more like yourself and be responsible. Follow what you feel God is leading and make sure your ministry aligns with the vision and mission statement of the church. The youth ministry is a branch of the church, not it's own church.
Philippians 4:19 says, "And the same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from His glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus." Usually, when I scan this passage, I would think that God is going to take care of me in my hard times, never let me down, supply a roof over my head, food in my stomach, and clothes on my back. However, after listening today, it turned my perspective a little.
When this passage says that God is going to "supply ALL your needs" I believe that He is going to be faithful to walk with me through all my trials and mountain peeks of life. God will provide for me not only with the physical things of life, but with the mental parts, the heart aches, the joys, and all other emotional and mental needs of my life.
I know we can claim these kinds of things all the time. I know I have said, especially recently, that God is going to provide for us, look what He has done in the past. Yet, when I am living and breathing today, I see that God's provision and grace never leave. They also do not show up at random times.
I can't use God like a vending machine. I can't demand all of these things with out doing the things He commands me to do. I can ask God for things and be patient. In the stillness is when we can hear the loud voice of God.
Today, I am challenging myself and all of the readers of this blog to really see where God is providing for you. He is supplying everything we need, even when we think we don't need it. God has watched out for me and given me the things I need at the perfect time for His plan according to my life (that was a REALLY oddly worded sentence). God loves us all and we must share that love with those around us. Speak softly and Love greatly! These are things that God supplies me with even now as I write this blog post.
When my greatest commandment is to love God and love others, I have faith in my God that He will supply me with these things. We can't demand things from God, He is not a genie or a vending machine. I will not be perfect in this, but as John Wesley stated, "I can only strive for perfection. With God's help, I will achieve this goal on while working and walking with Christ for the rest of my life."
It's almost comical how churches treat those inside the church. People go through rough patches in life, but it is REALLY sad. When leaders of the church are bashing those around them, they are also bashing those who also work in churches or sit in their pews. It is a power play. They have the power from the pulpit to condemn all of their congregation and workers to do what they "philosophically" believe is right.
I have seen some pastors even near me right now use their power to degrade and disrupt what God has ultimately planned. And why you may ask? Well, it seems to me that they like to hear their own voice enough and if they can hear their voice in other areas outside their church, well they bring a traveling soap box with them.
Church leadership has changed. Since the economic downturn, churches have had a lot hard times. Fiscally, churches are probably the last places to be hurt. It starts in the retirement funds, the business' hurt, then churches. Due to this, churches don't prepare themselves ahead of time. I am not bashing all churches here. There are great churches out there with incredible leadership. However, when times are tough, turf wars start, and the leadership of the church watches out for numero uno in their eyes: themselves.
It's also funny to see how pastors who preach love, grace, peace and forgiveness in the pulpit do JUST the opposite of that. I am just an observer from the outside looking in. I will be working for a church soon and they have the attitude that should be in most churches. A team atmosphere that is still seeking to align all the ministries with the vision of the church. Everyone is supporting each other and comes to the care of those in need, NOT themselves.
What has happened is completely backwards of what Paul was doing in Acts. In the Bible, it says, "they added to their number daily." yet we are sitting on our hands and trying not to be bold for Christ. We will be bold in front of everyone, either from the pulpit or from the pew. We will do this when we get noticed.
You may ask why I am criticizing the church? I am just as guilty as the next. I have judged people from my position. I have said at one time, "I am better than them." Yet, I have been humbled and God has really shown me the direction to take my ministry to students, to my family, and to ALL of those I encounter. I am not perfect, nor do I claim to be.
All I can say to pastors out there is to really take a look at your own walk. Are you watching out simply for what you believe and then preaching your filth to the congregation on Sunday's for a show? Are you on your soap box claiming one thing and doing another? Slight of hand is cool for magicians and on TV; not for the behavior of the person who helps lead the spiritual lives for hundreds to thousands of people. Pastors know who they are. They know who they want people to believe they are. God knows their heart.
I know my heart. My heart has been damaged many times by my many short comings, failings and sins against God. I have been redeemed and changed from these past ways. Instead of us calling each other out, let us take the challenge set before us and lead people to Christ in any way we can. The way I know how? I lead people by developing dynamic relationships with them, living with them THROUGH THICK AND THIN, praying for them, and trying to really show them God in the situations of their lives (both good and bad). Again, I am not perfect nor will I ever be until I meet Christ face to face.
Are we going to answer the calling we were given? Are we going to REALLY answer the call or let it go to voice mail and get to it later? Quit preaching and teaching filth and blasphemy and start living a life worthy of your calling and your relationship with Christ. I try daily. I fail and succeed daily. Step up or step out of the pulpit. Step off the soap box and let's try to really start this revolution. Instead of listening to your own voice; via pulpit, podcast, tv broadcast, blog, video blog or your own notes, let's listen for the stillness of God. For it is there that we hear His thunderous voice.
I am going to take my travel size soapbox and walk away, but I know I am walking and living for a Christ that loves me and DEMANDS me to love others regardless. Am I showing it all the time? No. Do I try to? Yes. Where are you aligning yourself? With yourself or with Christ?
Isn't it funny that when we are listening to God, we can really start leading on the right foot? Funny...
First off, I was at a great church with great leadership. I had an amazing job that I really let my ego inflate. I wasn't grounded properly. One day in October, that all changed. My father called me one day and said he wanted to come by and say hey. I thought nothing of it, I was sitting in my office doing some planning and reading, so I told him to come on by. 20 minutes later, he arrived. I was excited! I loved my dad! I loved seeing him. However, that was a day I wish never happened.
My father walks into my office and we sit down and just start shooting the breeze about life. He asked about my then girl friend and my now wife. We were just talking like any father and son should, but then I asked him why he came here. I asked if he was in the area or if he really just missed me that bad. My dad sat there a second, about to cry, and I thought maybe a family member had died. Little did I know, one would be dead to me later. My father told me that he and my mom wanted a divorce.
I broke down into tears. Sitting in my office, I cussed at my father, I called him a quitter, I yelled at him. I begged him not to. I didn't understand why. I didn't even know that my parents were having problems. I thought I could help fix it. I knew it wasn't my fault, but why would this happen to me. I was talking with my wife's parents about marrying her, this couldn't be happening. I went numb. I cried and cried. After my father left, I ran down to my pastors office. I was asking him what can I do. I begged for direction. He helped calm me down and told me I needed to let them work it out. I still had a big ego, I could fix anything. I told him I was going to go see my mother.
I went to her house and she was on the floor crying. None of us could believe what was happening. Our seemingly happy family had suddenly become a statistic in a category that we thought would NEVER apply to us. I prayed with mom and tried to comfort her. Never once have I seen anybody so hurt in my entire life. I was a broken son in a now broken family.
I was determined that this was not going to effect my work or my personal life. I was just going to try to do my youth ministry, my rec ministry, my normal social life, and try to dodge questions better than a politician. All I did was sweep this under the rug. Never ONCE did I give it all to God and ask Him to take this from me or at best walk me through it. I turned my back on God to try to deal with this load myself. All I know is, if I was Samson, God had cut my hair because my strength and zest for life was suddenly taken from me. I was depressed.
I would go into work day in and day out feeling numb, tired, and that I didn't want to be there. My mind was in my work, but my heart was not. I was trying to juggle three different branches of ministry from the church, my personal life, and now the broken marriage of my parents.
It was not soon after all of this happened, that a friend of mine (Eric Hendrickson) talked me into going to the National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta. This is an event hosted by Youth Specialties. Eric was telling me about these courses we would be taking, the fun I'd have, and it would really get me excited about youth ministry again. It was something that I was looking forward to doing.
November came around the bin, and quickly approached the NYWC. I was getting more and more excited. Eric was going to be staying with me, we would hang out, worship together, take classes and just catch up on old times. It was fantastic. In the back of my mind, this was only a stop-gap between my parents divorce and the Thanksgiving holiday that was coming up. Also, during this time, my brothers and my mother were no longer talking to my father. However, I was secretly texted and calling my father with updates and questions, trying to figure this all out. I loved my dad. It hurt not to talk to him.
During the NYWC, my eyes were lit up like a kid in the candy store. I was grabbing as many free things as I could. I was bouncing from booth to booth signing up for everything. I was buying books, T-Shirts, hats, games, everything that I could grab within arms reach. I was getting so fired up about youth ministry again. This was the break that I needed from life to really get my spirits lifted. I heard speakers like Perry Noble speak about youth are the church of today and that we need to be more fired up than ever! I LOVED IT! I heard Andy Stanley talk about how important and vital youth ministry is and how the generation that was rising in youth leaders today were that of a servants heart. I ATE IT UP! I heard David Crowder Band sing in concert. I about fainted. I heard Donald Miller speak about his life without his father. SLAM! My world came crashing down and I literally felt and heard the words Donald Miller was speaking. I suddenly thought of my parents divorce. I thought of how my family was being torn into 5 fragmented pieces of a once great shell.
After NYWC, Eric left and I brought back some amazing ideas and curriculum from the convention. I was getting excited about my job again. I was praying more, living more in the word every day, journal, yet I still did not give my all to God. I was holding back.
Thanksgiving came and I was selfish. I was sad my father could not be there with us. I was sad that my family has been broken and hurt. It felt almost forced to be a happy family. It was great to see kin in TN, but it was not the same. During all of this, people would tell me they're sorry, they are praying etc. Never once did someone offer to sit down and talk with me about it. Never once did people say I know what you are going through. People would send their condolences via facebook, email, or a card in the mail. It's too bad that talking face to face or even on the phone would mean more to someone at this point in life. I got angry.
I was not angry at God, I was angry at myself. There were rumors that my father was having some affairs and this is the reason they were getting a divorce. I never thought that would be true. I got mad at my family who kept telling me that they had proof but couldn't show it to me or tell me where they got it. I was livid with my whole family at this point. I wanted nothing to do with anyone, but I still wanted to support both parents. I never thought my dad would do this.
I found out soon enough through the evidence that it was all true. My dad had multiple affairs throughout his and my mothers marriage. I was devastated. My own father lied to me in my own office. He sat cold like a stone and told me to my face that there was no one else. My life had come crashing down.
The only person that really knew all my pain was my girlfriend at the time. She had no clue how to react or what to say. She felt as numb as I did. We were both devastated. I had already come to the conclusion that she and I were going to get married. I prayed hard about that. I had to have some good to cling to. For me, during a lot of this time, it was her. She was and still is to this day my rock here on earth and my absolute best friend.
December rolled around. In 24 years of life to this point, I had always seen my dad's side of the family. Time for new traditions. I didn't see any of them. Christmas came and went, and I was continuing to down spiral. It was time I spent more time with God.
In January, I really hit the Word on a daily basis. Sometimes more than a few times a day. I was starting to get my life back on track. I even got engaged to my beautiful best friend. Life was really good. I felt like I was being myself again. However, I was harboring anger towards my father. More than anger at times. If I thought about him, my heart rate jumped. I would turn into the hulk, minus the huge muscles and green skin. It was more of high blood pressure and the flushing whiteness of my skin. I looked like a beefy Casper the angry ghost.
A few months passed and the problem was still in my heart that I could not let go of this anger. I was still trying to juggle three different branches of ministry, and I felt overwhelmed. The church and I came to an understanding and I left my position, effective immediately. I felt as though I had let tons and tons of people down. Worse, I felt I let God down.
The next few weeks were tough. I was lying in bed, sleeping in, not doing a whole lot of anything. Finally one day, I decided to get up and start gardening. I went and took out all my old plants at the house and started to put new ones in. These had to be nurtured. They had to be cared for in order for them to grow and flourish. It gave me something to look forward to.
I started to journal again. I started praying more and more. I took the quote from Beth Moore that says, "My life at the lowest point was a minute by minute battle with God. I would cry out to God in anger, frustration and heart break. The great thing, was the God always heard me and with my minute to minute battle, Christ was battling with me second to second."
I started to care for my garden. My garden was my retreat. I would work for hours in the sun, digging, slaving over root systems, knocking down dead and over grown bushes. I was giving my house some curb appeal. A friend and I were talking one day, and I would not get off the subject of gardening. He told me that he truly thinks this was the thing that saved me from my breaking point. He says God planted the seed in me long ago and it was NOW coming into fruition. It took your gardening to realize that. I was shocked and for one of the few times in my life, I was speechless.
Now we are back here in October of 2010. This year has flown by. I am now married to the most beautiful, wonderful, loving, cute, friendliest, kindest woman in the world. I now have a new job where I will be doing ministry in the church setting again. I am finally in a place where I am honoring God, giving everything to Him, and letting my life be honoring to Him. He has always been there with me. He never left me by my side.
Isaiah 55:6 says, "Seek the LORD while He may be found; call on Him while He is near."
Philippians 1:21 says, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."
2 Corinthians 7:1 say, "Since we have these promises dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God."
Psalm 143: 10 says, "Teach me to do your will, for you are MY God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground."
God never left me. The reason I wrote his novel of a blog post today is because I want people to know that there are all kinds of struggles out there. There are many that you may not even realize, yet that are hurting and waiting for that sign from Christ. We can be that sign that people are looking for. If our heart beats for God, it beats to serve God and those who love and need Him.
Watching this show, sitting on my bed, and now blogging to my 3 readers, I am realizing that we are wasting time in our lives. I sit here, glued to the tv screen and computer screen trying to pass the time by. What happens to the lives of those who step out? What happens to those who are not just sitting on their butts and hands waiting for life to come to them?
These circus people on Operation Repo have to face a lot of different people every day; all walks of life. We all encounter tons of people every day as well. What are we doing to help change the world for the Kingdom of God? We are letting time pass us by and letting the world get the better of those around us. It is time to change. It's time to wake up, we have things to do!
Matthew West says it best in his new song, "My Own Little World" off the album "The Story of Your Life" :
In my own little world it hardly ever rains
I’ve never gone hungry, always felt safe
I got some money in my pocket, shoes on my feet
In my own little world
I try to stay awake during Sunday morning church
I throw a twenty in the plate, but I never give ’til it hurts
And I turn off the news when I don’t like what I see
It’s easy to do when it’s
What if there’s a bigger picture?
What if I’m missing out?
What if there’s a greater purpose
I could be living right now
Outside my own little world
Stopped at a red light, looked out my window
I saw a cardboard sign, said “Help this homeless widow”
And just above that sign was the face of a human
I thought to myself, “God, what have I been doing?”
So I rolled down the window and I looked her in the eye
Oh how many times have I just passed her by?
I gave her some money then I drove on through
And my own little world reached
What if there’s a bigger picture?
What if I’m missing out?
What if there’s a greater purpose
That I could be living right now
Outside my own little world
My own little world
Father break my heart for what breaks Yours
Give me open hands and open doors
Put Your light in my eyes and let me see
That my own little world is not about me
What if there’s a bigger picture?
What if I’m missing out?
What if there’s a greater purpose
That I could be living right now
I don't wanna miss what matters
I wanna be reaching out
Show me the greater purpose
So I can start living right now
Outside my own little world
My own little world
My own little world
How many times are we stuck in our own little world? Oblivious to the things around us and those hurting around us. Sometime we are often so hurt ourselves, we let ourselves get down in the dumps of the world. We need a revival in our life.
Being in the absolute pits of life as I have been recently, God has truly brought revival into my life. I will be doing ministry in a church setting again. God has shown His provision to my family. Even in the darkest pit, God's light was still there. Genesis 1:4 says, "And God saw that the light was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness" NLT.
If you sit in a dark room by yourself, and you turn on a light, what happens? You are able to see the light and see the things around you. I believe in Christ as I believe in the sun; not because I see it, but because by it, I see all things.
However, today, we are seeing a youth culture that is craving more and more. In a microwave economy, we see ministries and students involved in those ministries want more and more at a faster rate. The demand for the product is higher than the producer can produce the product (that made sense right?). As youth ministers, we are asked by our churches to do a lot more and the students want more as well.
And now there are youth ministers rising up, and it is not in a good way. Youth ministers are getting defensive against the churches saying their demand is too high, their pay is too low, and we will do a little bit more than the minimum for the maximum result. Youth ministers are getting into a turf war with churches. One big reason is that older adult leaders in the church will see the youth as the church of tomorrow. However, you ask a youth minister, they will tell you the youth are just as important as the older adults in the church. THE YOUTH ARE THE CHURCH OF TODAY!!! seems to be a battle cry of a lot of youth ministers. Youth ministry culture is at a cross roads and some of us are not sure where to go.
That is why we lean upon the people who have helped pave the way. Most people will look at those before them to help pave the way for them, or to help that person form their own path. I can agree and disagree with the new turn that youth ministry is taking. I can say that the youth are just as important as the rest of the church; students are the church of today as well. The part I disagree with is that churches see youth as the church of tomorrow. The trend amongst pastors is that the youth ministry is one of the most vital branches of the church.
My call to youth ministers is this: even though we run a ministry, it is not it's own church. When youth ministers are entering this turf war between the church and them, it is a ground that starts to build the student ministry on their own foundation, thus building it's own church. I am a firm believer that the youth ministry is just a branch of the church. We are trying to align our ministry to the vision of the church so that we are not teaching against the vision that the church as a whole is trying to accomplish. Try not to enter turf wars. Sit down and talk with your pastor about direction of the youth and see what they have to say. Most pastors have worked in youth ministry, so they can offer some help in that area.
Be encouraged by the vision of the church. Be excited about aligning your self with the vision of the church. Be the branch that bears just as much fruit as other branches of the church. Support the other branches as well, but focus on how to grow your student ministry so that students follow through onto college and adulthood, loving Christ and following God's will for them.
This morning, I logged onto the Atlanta Journal Constitution's website (http://www.ajc.com/) and I came across an article that was written by an AP reporter on a teen suicide. However, this was one of 4 teen suicides that happened in ONE high school. Most reports would lead that these students were "bullied to death".
I sat and read this article, wide eyed at the fact that there is more bullying going on than people realize. I was bullied in high school as well. It never drove me to the point of depression where I could not go to school anymore, however in Mentor High School there have been 4 teen suicides due to "bullying" in the past 3 years.
Mark Matlock has written a book and a seminar called "Real World Parents". This is a seminar that helps parents be more involved in a students life. It helps them with parenting their children into believers of Christ, mentoring them, loving them through the hard times, and it also allows an open dialogue between parents and children that is more archaic than anything in today's families. Matlock likes to post on twitter, the Real World Parents Blog, and Real World Parents website articles and posts that can help parents understand youth culture more. Youth culture is constantly changing and the generation that parents grew up in share similarities but are way different to the standards of their children's generation.
Similarly, Youth Specialties likes to put on a convention twice a year called the National Youth Workers Convention, or NYWC. It is through this that youth workers and volunteers can get together, worship and learn new techniques to keep them up to date on how the youth world is revolving. It can also teach us, as youth workers and volunteers, new ways to reach students in their world, without changing our own view on the world.
Recently, at NYWC San Diego, Doug Fields was a speaker in one of the big room seminars. Doug Fields, who is probably one of the most famous youth pastors around and has helped shape youth ministry into what it is today, told a story referencing teenage suicide saying unless a student was going to kill himself he needed to, "go home". I was not there to hear the talk, but I do know that it was referenced as a joke. The sad part is, teenage suicide is not a joke. Youth ministers and workers alike can overlook this constant attack on students, even in their own groups. If we are going to speak to 3,000 other youth workers and help guide them and up lift them, do we really need to joke about turning students away from the church and tell them to "go home" unless they are going to kill themselves. Out of context or not, this made me sad to hear someone I look up to say something like that.
The reason I am writing this blog post today is because something very real presented itself to me in the article I read about teen suicide. Youth workers alike are not paying attention to the real issues that are hitting teenagers today. Another blog a friend of mine, Eric Hendrickson, showed me a few months ago talks about the mistakes a lot of youth workers make. One of the top five things was that we are relying on the newest book and curriculum to help us keep our finger on the pulse of youth culture. Youth workers are taking these books and curriculum as gospel and spilling it out on our students without really reading over things, and trying to relay it to our own group so that they understand. I am guilty of this as well.
We must really seek where we are getting our Gospel from. We must also try to dive into the youth culture head first and try to be as relational as we can with the students we encounter. The sad part is, as youth workers we sometimes get along with some students more than we do with others in our group. Without trying to show favoritism, we sometimes make fun of the odd students behind their backs. We want to fit in with our students and we really want to be funny and be the person everyone wants to hang around, but we can be just as much of a bully as people that students encounter at school.
A book that I would recommend to all youth workers is Unfiltered Relationships by Andrew Root . This book lays out in detail how a real youth worker should be. I was changed by this book, however it does not shape my life on youth ministry. It had a profound impact, but nothing more. I build my world around the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and I try to be the best youth pastor I know how, for Him.
This is not a smack in the face of youth ministers and workers that read this blog (if any do!). However, this is a time for us as youth workers to really rise up and see where youth culture is going today. We must equip ourselves and brace for impact as we jump into the deep end of youth ministry. We need to disciple students as Jesus did with His disciples. We must create and atmosphere that is inviting and loving to students of all kinds. We must try to have our hearts AND ears AND eyes open to all our surroundings to really understand youth culture. As a youth worker, minister, pastor, leader, volunteer, or warm body we must try to create an atmosphere that focuses on the students but also connects parents with their students. It is a true family environment that we must achieve to have successful relationships within and outside the church walls.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death*,
*the shadow of death =
fear of losing your job
the small group of parents who want you gone
budget cuts and wondering what’s next
I will fear no evil*,
the idea that you’re not good enough
the idea that maybe you’re not called to this
the idea that you’re too old, or too young, or too untrained, or too uncool
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies*.
*your enemies =
those who spread rumors about you
those who complain anonymously
the lies of the evil one who attempts to seduce teenagers away from the gospel
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
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