what is the gospel...

I was on twitter and I saw Bryan C. Bailey tweet this video. I am always a person who tries to think in the abstract (obviously because I own a macbook pro, iPad, and an iPhone). When I see this, I am seeing something that is artistic. I am hearing something that is spiritual. I can imagine the creator hearing this and loving what He is hearing. What an awesome video. Here it is:
What is the Gospel?

i am...

In trying to keep current with the times, I often find myself buying books that are the hot topic, reading blogs that everyone reads, and even trying to be the aspiring writer myself by writing these strange topics that come into my head. Better than that, I am always trying to keep current with youth ministry so I will buy the newest and coolest things to keep my youth entertained and to make my job just a LITTLE bit easier.

Horrible intro, I know! However, I did want to share a resource that I am finding AWFULLY AWESOME in the way that it is helping me view my own spiritual life and my ministry as a youth minister, husband, son, brother, cousin, uncle, nephew...you get the picture.

I am currently reading a book by Brennan Manning called, "the furious longing of God". First off, Brennan is someone I have a high respect for. Many years ago, maybe 4, I read his book called the "Ragamuffin Gospel". I was not sure how to read this book. Manning has a tendency to use big words and I am too lazy to look them up. However, reading this book, it has really transformed something in my heart.

At the beginning, Manning mentions about the story of God and how there are different parts to us, but it is not the whole story. I typed this out and placed it on my wall in my office, as a reminder of who i am. Here is what it says:

I am Mark. I am a liar.
How I got there, why I left there, why I went back is the story of my life.
But it is not the whole story.

I am Mark. I am a Methodist.
How I got there, why I left there, why I went back is the story of my life.
But it is not the whole story.

I am Mark. I am a youth pastor.
How I got there, why I left there, why I went back is the story of my life.
But it is not the whole story.

I am Mark. I am a thief.
How I got there, why I left there, why I went back is the story of my life.
But it is not the whole story.

How I got to those places, why I left those places, is the story of my life too.
But it is not the whole story.
I am mark. I'm a sinner, saved by grace. That is the larger and more important story.
Only God, in His fury, knows the whole of it.

At the bottom, I signed my name.

It is a very humbling experience to look at ourselves from another prespective. We all have our own stories as to how we came to know Christ. However, that is not the whole story. Only God, in His love, knows the whole of it.

I suggest taking a look at this book or even purchase it. After that, take it to a used book store or pass it on so that someone else may experience some of the same thrills in the spiritual walk I am finding out right now. Manning is really challenging in his book about finding where God is in your story and making THAT who you are.

What other resources/ books/ etc are out there that might be helpful to other youth ministers who may read this blog?

whats the big deal...

So many times in youth ministry, I and many other youth pastors have used the phrase "What's the big deal?" Youth ministry is the fun ministry in the church. We get to hang around students all the time that look up to us, they are down for pretty much anything, and we can always laugh and joke with them. I am wondering this morning, though, what's the big deal?

Looking back in my few years in the ministry I can't even imagine how may times I have said this. It can be in relation to almost ANYTHING! This blog post is to help those, who need to find a barrier between ministry, spiritual life, and normal life.

Sometimes as youth ministers, we can get so involved in the lives of our students, that our students become our friends. They are the ones we lean on for guidance and questions that we may have about things, in hopes that they do the same for us. Do not get me wrong, relational ministry is a timeless practice in the church that is proven, but we need to draw a line. When I was single and in youth ministry, I would make all the time in the world for students. I would often just go somewhere at the drop of a hat and hang out with them. This is good ministry, but there is also a very flawed portion of this thinking. When are you going to worry about yourself?

So many times we can look into the life of a youth minister and see a longing for being with the students. To just be around them, because this is where we thrive the most! Yet, for those that are married or about to be, or for those who have children and are already married, when do you make time for them? On top of that, when do we make time for God?

We can't mistake that developing lessons is our time with God. NOT EVEN CLOSE! Time with God is a sacred and spiritual moment in time. We need to find a time where we can pray and read book, journal, read scripture or just sit and listen to music. However you find a closeness and oneness with God, outside hanging with students, then do it!

We just came off the Lenten season and Easter, yesterday. We celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. I was on facebook yesterday afternoon and twitter at the same time. From the morning to that time in the afternoon, I counted 154 facebook posts about Jesus NOT being in the cave. Twitter, I counted 1,233 tweets about Jesus being risen and it being Easter. That is a lot. But I want us to think a little outside the box. Try not to make Easter a once a year tradition. The Jesus we went to pay our respects to yesterday was NOT there but HE IS ALWAYS THERE. The resurrection was not something God meant for us to celebrate once, it was supposed to be an explosion of love that changes the world. Yet, we box it in.

Try to celebrate the resurrection EVERYDAY! See what happens!

daddy...

I was told by my father many years ago that he swore my first words were the profain version of crap. He says that we were in the car, someone cut him off and he screamed...this word. Soon after, he swears I said the same thing. I was a baby. I do not know if this is true or not. What I do know is that when my father was around, I looked at him in awe. I love(d) my father very much. Today, I am reflecting on Jesus and God's relationship. There was a time where God abandoned Jesus. A time where sin had free reign over the world.

It's the time of Easter and a lot of people are reflecting on the death and resurrection f Jesus. As I read through Luke's Gospel, we see that there was a time where Jesus felt that His Abba had abandoned Him. "Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani" Jesus screamed from the wood he was nailed to. My God, Daddy, why have you abandoned me? This is so hard to read. Even God had abandoned Jesus for the short time.

There is a theologian out there who would disagree. He believes that God was speaking to Jesus this whole time. And for this, we look back to Song of Songs 2:10-14, which states, "

Song of Solomon 2:10-14 (New Living Translation)

10 My lover said to me,
“Rise up, my darling!
Come away with me, my fair one!
11 Look, the winter is past,
and the rains are over and gone.
12 The flowers are springing up,
the season of singing birds[a] has come,
and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.
13 The fig trees are forming young fruit,
and the fragrant grapevines are blossoming.
Rise up, my darling!
Come away with me, my fair one!”

14 My dove is hiding behind the rocks,

behind an outcrop on the cliff.

Let me see your face;
let me hear your voice.
For your voice is pleasant,
and your face is lovely.

God was welcoming Christ into heaven. He was telling Him that is was Okay. He had not left Him. There are many times in our youth ministry, our normal lives, that we will also cry Eloi Eloi, Lama Sabachthani! Christ has never left us. Christ will never abandon us.

Try this with me. Turn your palms upward and pray these seven sylobols, "Abba, I belong to you." Breathe in and say Abba. Breathe out and say I belong to you. This goes in perfect repetition with your breathing. God has been showing me many things over this past week. I have a renewed spirit. I have a spirit that God is transforming into something great. I am clinging to these words from Song of Songs 7:10 that says, "I am my beloved. His desire is for me." These words have never been more true for me and you.

Reflecting on Easter, let's look to the cross, hear the words Jesus spoke to Abba, and let's cry out to our Abba that we are his and his desire is for us.

invite me in...

Easter is the weekend. We all know this. This is the time that your church seats are going to be full. It will be full of people, some that have not been to church in a long time. What are we going to do to these people? Are we going to ignore them? tell them we love them? Make them feel like they are the only people in the world that matter? Are we going to snarl at them because they are in our usual seats?

Take the time to watch this video and think about the love of Christ that He freely gives us. Share that love. Invite them in.

Easter - Invite Me In

follow...

breaking tradition...

How many youth ministers deal with this; coming into a church and having to deal with traditions of the church and youth minister that was there before you? I have been thinking a lot about this lately. I just came into a new church about 6 months ago, and I have loved every minute. Sometimes you can come into a well oiled machine and it work out fine. Other times, you can sit down and put your hands on your head and cry because you can't break the walls down and you don't want to.

In my experience in youth ministry, and being a former active youth participant, I can see how tradition is a good thing. It can be good for a few reasons:
1. Traditions help carry us over and lead students to attend and keep a steady number coming through the doors of the church.
2. It helps youth ministers because they plan less. All you have to do is plug in and play.

These are only a few ways that being a traditional youth ministry is good. However, I see a lot of issues that come with being a traditional youth ministry.

As many youth pastors know, when you come in and you start you want to leave your mark on the ministry. I did this at a previous church. I scrapped all I knew that was the youth ministry and told people that I had to build this group from the ground up. I also told people that I was the one that was going to be changing things for the better, I was going to things that this group had never seen before. Do you see what is wrong with these statements? There is I too many times in these statements. I have said some of these same statements at my new church as well.

God has humbled me. Sometimes, it is my experience that we need to let go of ourselves and let God be the head of our ministries. God will break down walls, He did at Jericho. God will bring new traditions. We need to have a crock pot state of mind. Put things in the pot to make it good, give it some time, and soon enough it will be ready to eat and it will taste good.

That is my blueprint. I am about to start summer programming. I am going to work on relational ministry this summer. I am REALLY going to work on my relationship with God and I am asking Him to do things to this youth ministry AND MY CHURCH that we could never have imagined. Things will fall into place and soon enough, it will taste so good.

What are some traditions that you struggle with in your youth ministry? Are you struggling to rip out the trees and plant new ones? What lessons have you learned from breaking certain traditions that meant so much to the youth ministry?

Just remember this, even though we go through struggles after the honeymoon, God is still in control....if you let Him. He went through the same things we did, suffered first, and died for us to help us live new life. The new life will also come with our crock pot thinking.

hearing...

I have a lot of friends in youth ministry. My best friend, Eric Hendrickson, is my mentor in youth ministry. He is my go to guy, when it comes to questions or problems in my ministry. There are other friends I go to and call, but Eric is my guy! He has been in ministry for almost 15 years and he has experienced a lot. Yet, I can remember a time when I was so full of myself that I would ask him things, just to see what he would say, and do the exact opposite.

In youth ministry, we tend to hear what we want to hear. We can do the same with the Gospel. We say what we want it to say. I can easily manipulate the Gospel, stories of my life, and anything else, to get across my message. I hear what I want to hear.

How many times have you thought to yourself, after coming from a meeting with the senior pastor, "I could do his job. If only I were in his position, this church would be booming!"? I have said this a few times in my short career in youth ministry. When we come away from meetings like this, we are either being chewed out because the giant hole in the wall form the lock in, we said something to tick off a parent who brings in a lot of money, or we just didn't do our best at something. We get callous towards criticism or help, and we think that we ALWAYS know better.

I can claim I still think some of these things. I think that I am good at what I do. The reason I think this is because I have been trained to do so, but more importantly, I am blessed by God with great gifts and talents to help a youth ministry flourish. God places people in our lives, who have helped pave the way to where I am today. Eric has been through a lot of hell in his life to be at the amazing church he is in now. I have been through certain parts of hell as well.

I would only hear what I wanted to hear. That means that I would even shut out God and pretend that I was listening. We can all say that we are not the best listeners. Parents come to us and make suggestions, but they don't run a youth ministry, they don't know! The pastor makes a suggestion to help you grow your youth ministry, but he taught Fred Flinstone and Moses, his/her ways are old and archaic.

I want to encourage youth ministers to do three things:
1. ALWAYS LISTEN TO GOD! Seek God first. His ways are NEVER archaic. We need to CONSTANTLY stay HUNGRY for God to talk to us. He can speak to us through a concerned or ticked off parent, a senior pastor who is older than dust, or a friend who has been in youth ministry for a while and is battled tested and rested and ready.

2. Find a person to help you. Eric was my youth pastor. He kind of gave me the nudge towards youth ministry, and I thought he was NUTS! Now I talk to Eric at least 10 times a day about plans, questions and the crazy part is he values my opinion and will even ask ME questions. (Don't worry though, I don't have a big ego, but I can't control the size of my huge head.) Find a person in youth ministry who will hold you accountable. Eric asks me tough questions to keep me on my toes and he encourages me towards scripture.

3. BE OPEN! We MUST be open to criticism, complaints and yes even compliments. We have to be ready to not just hear people, but to listen to them. Listen loudly and only speak when it is your turn! I have learned to listen and man do my ears hear it! At my last church, I did what I wanted to and I went through a lot of hell that I brought on myself. I did not listen to God, Eric, or even my senior pastor. I listened to him when it mattered most and I was so beat up that I had nothing else to do.

Do you like to hear the sound of your own voice? Do you think...better yet, do you KNOW what is best for the church and youth ministry you work for? Do you wish you could run the church like you do the youth ministry because your group is constantly growing?

If you answered yes to ANY of these questions, it is time to step back. Clean out your ears and find a place and time to listen to someone with experience, your senior pastor, and JESUS MOST IMPORTANTLY! I still like to hear my own voice, but I have relinquished control to Jesus in my ministry. Sometimes I want to grab the reigns and drive, but I might drive it off a cliff with my huge ideas. I am nothing new to youth ministry, but I am unique in the ministry God has blessed me with. I will listen to those who have paved the way, I will listen to my pastor and even ticked off parents, but most of all I will listen to God. His ways are never old and never stop!

I want to encourage those who read this blog to try to hand over the reigns. Give the students in your ministry some leadership and control. Pray for the students. Find adults who want to invest in the lives of the students and pray for them. Develop and disciple students and adults alike in the group. Before all of this, listen to God and give Him ULTIMATE control. I have driven a ministry off a cliff before because I thought I knew what I was doing. I am only in ministry 5 years, but I know I still have A TON OF STUFF to learn. God will bless you when you listen to Him.

Do you struggle with listening to God or others? What are some struggles you have now that maybe someone else who reads this blog can help with? Comment below so we can foster a helping and loving community of youth ministers.

ego driven...

A few days ago, I came home to my wife (after my two hour drive) and I asked her where the mail was. She showed me the mail, and I had a letter in the mail from the "Cambridge Who's Who of America" company. I have heard of these things before, and I was pretty excited about the possibility of being chosen for this. Of course, I did no research on the company because I thought it was legitimate. I had a friend who graduated with a "Who's Who" honor from college. This is what peeked my interest.

I opened up the letter, read the information. I went onto the website, and filled out some online form. (AT THIS POINT THERE WAS NO MONEY EXCHANGED). I thought this was a huge honor. A way to show how I have earned an accomplishment of sorts.

This morning, Thursday April 14, I got a call from New York. I did not recognize the number, so I didn't answer. SOMEHOW this company got my work number, and was sent through to my office. I did a phone interview, and was told I was accepted. I was told I would get a plaque to hang on my wall. I was very excited. I have never been honored by anything before. Then came the drop. If I wanted to join, it would only cost me $759.00! WHAT?!?! I said no thanks I can't afford that. They lowered the price down to $99.00. I said I don't have a credit card (which was a lie) and the woman told me to find a credit card. Maybe someone would loan me the money. At this point, I said NO THANK YOU, and she said to me (verbatim), "Well you will miss out on a great opportunity and SCREW YOU!" She slammed the phone down and all I heard was a dial tone.

I did some research. These people are OBVIOUSLY scammers! How could I fall for something like this? I feel like such an idiot. Then I began thinking how I had an ego for a short amount of time. I thought I was being honored, how I could hang a plaque on my wall, I was excited to be recognized for my great work in the field of youth ministry. Then I thought, well, have I really done that much?

Sometimes our programs, as youth ministers, can be smoke and mirrors. All show and no substance. Am I really making a difference in the lives of my students. I have been in paid ministry for 5 years. I don't even know if I am out of the baby pool yet to make a big splash. However, that's not my goal. My goal is to serve God and make the best of this opportunity I have RIGHT NOW. I am not looking to write a book, be a big speaker, or become nationally recognized in the youth ministry world. At one time I wanted to. I just don't think I could handle it. My wife probably would leave me too, since I would NEVER be home!

Do any other youth ministers struggle with this? We have such big ideas and want to share them, but we aren't sure. We want to be big names and do something so great we get nothing but recognition? My recognition should come from God. I am striving to be the best I can through Him, but I fail and have a sense of vanity from time to time.

The point of this blog was to say that we can have smoke and mirror ministries all day, and leave it for nothing in the end result. We can fake ministry really easily. So, now I am curious; do any other youth pastors struggle with this?

Comment below and let's get some good discussion about this!

the dare...

I am currently doing a 30 day challenge devotional book, by Josh Mayo, called "The Dare". This book is REALLY kicking me in my gut, side, and knocking me around in my head. It is a challenge that is trying to break the chains and bondage that we currently have, that tie us down and bring us away from God.

Josh Mayo is a youth pastor out in Arkansas. He says, in his author bio, that he has over 100 students coming ON AVERAGE to his youth group each week. Now in Doug Fields' book, "My First Two Years in Youth Ministry" he tells us not to play the numbers game. Am I the only one that has a hard time with this. You see NUMERICAL SUCCESS in other youth groups and you wonder, what is it about mine that is not working?

I have thought about this a lot. Youth pastors try to compare and share youth ministries. Some churches have over 500 students come. Some have 5 students come. When we focus on things like this, we miss out on the relationships with the students that are THERE NOW!

It took Jesus 3 years to disciple 12 men that changed the world. Why do we want a microwave youth ministry? Why do we want everything now?

In recent months, I have learned to be patient. Being at a new church, I have to have time to develop the plan God has for this group, while also aligning the vision of the youth group to that of the church. We must all remember that youth ministries are NOT their own church. We are a branch of the "Big Church".

I am trying to find a balance that helps this ministry grow. Right now, I am not super focused on the numbers. One week we can have 50 and one week we have 23. We MUST find a balance to reach these students relationally and be where they are. Here are some ideas:

1. Eat lunch with the students at their school! I personally have not done this yet, but it develops a good bond with the students and also with the school. You never know when the students will call you from school because they need something. It also develops good relationships with the school.

2. Go to their games! Find out schedules and obviously you can't be everywhere because we have families and lives as well. Find adults that are willing to invest in the students and send them to games. It will mean more to them than you know.

3. You MUST have a good adult leadership team. This is my biggest struggle. The one thing I see missing is adult leadership and volunteers. I have college students that invest their time, and one intern I pay pennies to be here, but we must find adults who love students. This is what helps grow ministries numerically.

4. PRAY! Throw the hail mary every week and say to God that this is it! You, the youth pastor, may be the only way a student hears "The Good News". BRING IT EVERY TIME YOU SEE THEM!

These are steps I am taking. I am doing "The Dare" and I HIGHLY reccommend you read this and take the challenge as well. These points are nothing new, just helps me in ways and hoping I can help others that may be struggling with the same challenges.

What are some things you may be struggling with in your youth ministry?

children's coke chug challenge...

GAME IDEA

We played this game during our MYF program Sunday night. It is an easy game, and always fun that gets the crowd excited.

Supplies

3 Baby Bottles
Coke
Baby Bibs
A table to place everything on

The Game
Get three students to come up to the front. Tell them this is NOT a gross or messy game. Tell them to sit in chairs at the table. Before you place the bottles in front of the students, place the baby bibs around their necks. (Try to find ones with funny sayings on them). After that they must put their hands behind their backs.
Place the bottles in front of them. They must chug the coke through the baby bottle.

Depending on time, you can make them chug for a minute to see who wins or until they are finished.

Prizes
For prizes, we gave each participant something that related to babies. For third place, we gave little booties. For second place, we gave some baby food. for first place we gave them a baby easter basket (because of this time of year).

Make it your own and make it fun! It is a great way for students to cheer, laugh and be made fun of for a good upfront game!

Hope this encourages you in your ministry!

bath time...

Lately, I have been praying that God reveal some great things to me. It doesn't matter what it is, but it has to be something so astounding it will consume my thoughts. Oddly enough, I prayed this while I was taking a shower, it was raining outside, my dog spilled his water bowl on the floor that morning...do you see a theme here?

God has really placed on my heart about baptism. Lately, I have been just thinking about my own baptism. I have been "technically" baptized twice. Once as a confirmand in the Methodist church, before I really knew or understood what I was doing. The second was when I was 18. I had JUST become a new believer, and I felt I needed to be dunked! So, my girlfriend at the time took me to her Baptist church and down I went! What a rush! I came out of the warm water and people were clapping and cheering for me. It was a nice feeling.

Now I am looking back and I can see the importance of baptism. Not only that, I have also seen the huge struggle for youth pastors and students in baptism. It is also more difficult because we see students go off to college and FALL OFF THE RADAR OF CHURCH within the first few months!

Baptism is special. Baptism is a showing of your faith to other believers and to also be in a fellowship with Christ. For so long, I have strived for students to be in a relationship with Christ. I don't talk that way. We are called to be in a fellowship with Christ. We show a step of our faith by being baptized.

All this was fired up because of a video I saw where a woman was a non believer and took the step to be baptized. What a feeling! I had my feelings come right back to me.

How many youth pastors out there are really struggling or succeeding in baptism in their own student ministries? I am curious! Leave a comment below and let's start some chatter!
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