playing for 9...

A few years ago, I was at a small church in Dadeville, AL. I had just started and I was so excited to be at a bigger church from my first church. I was hitting the ground running. I did all I could to build a stage for the praise band. I got a screen and projector put in. I bought sound equipment. I did awesome games to bring more and more "fringe students" into the church.

After a few months, I started to develop good relationships with students in the area, the students that were already a part of my ministry and the other local youth minister in the area. After talking with my mentor, I decided that I needed to do something BIG to bring in the crowds to the church. So I called around and finally found an AMAZING Christian Rock Band (which really, no one has ever heard of).

I called them and worked the deal of a century! They would come out and do a concert for only $400! That was WELL within my budget! I also called a friend of mine who was a speaker and he would come in and give a talk in the middle. I had the WHOLE event  planned out. I rented lights!  I ordered concert tickets that looked like REAL concert tickets! I even rented a fog machine!

The only place that we could have this AMAZING concert, that was going to be packed FULL of people was in the sanctuary of the church. So we moved the pulpit and the alter table. We moved the chancel rail as well. We had the fog machine hooked up and ready to go along with the lights! And I had 4 weeks to promote the HECK out of this event! I made fliers for my students to hand out at school. Posted posters in local places. Even got them to announce it every week at the high school AND middle school!

I followed the guidelines to a T. I had crossed all the t's and dotted all the i's. The night of the event finally came! After hanging out with the band, talking with the speaker, I went UPSTAIRS to the sanctuary to open the doors! I was expecting there to be a line outside and around the corner. I opened the doors and no one was there.

I looked around outside and it was only 30 minutes before the concert! Finally I see some cars pull in. At 7:30, the band went on. There was ONLY 9 people there. 4 of them were the band and the fifth one was the speaker. Four total people in the audience. Where did I go wrong?

Too often, we can rely on the gimmicks of trying to top other ministries and churches. We get in the race of trying to show people we can be great and it's all for Jesus. Why don't we ever stick more to the gospel and less on our own attributes and ideas? I was able to justify this concert by the fact that it was a Christian band and going for a great cause!

After a while, we see a stagnant youth ministry if we keep doing event based models. We focus on how we can do bigger and better, then once the ideas stop, you scramble and have a concert for only 4 people! We HAVE to find ways to have our students be nourished.

To me, I don't see much nourishment in the event based ministry. After you reach a peak, you may plataue or fall down hard because you can't meet demand. Youth ministry is not based on how many fringe students walk in the door. Youth ministry is about making and developing disciples that are well nourished and raised in the gospel to go out and be a sign post that points others to Jesus!

Comment below on some MAJOR mishaps you have made in the past or share some concerns with others so we can collaobarate and encourage one another!

a ministry of words...

Yesterday, I wrote about how youth ministry and ministers/volunteers/directors/parents can all be preaching the gospel of morals. Where Jesus wants them to act better and be quiet in church rather than living and yearning for the Word of God. Also, I am the first to admit, I am guilty of this as well.

Recently, maybe in the past few days, I can see that God is wanting to do something big in me (not necessarily through me). For the longest time, I have wanted to have some kind of notoriety. I have wanted youth ministers to look up to me and say, he really has it all together! His ministry is FLOURISHING! He MUST be doing something right. I have found myself day dreaming of what it would be like to be on the national circuit of speaking. To be a presenter at the big conferences. I wanted the fame and glory in the youth ministry world.

Recently, I have seen some of my friends start to garner much success in the youth ministry world. They are starting to get published in their writings, they have many connections in youth ministry world, and I am more excited than jealous. In prior years I would have been jealous.

However, I want to focus on youth ministry as a whole, and in particular what God is doing in my heart and maybe will inspire you to the same joy I seem to be finding through reading scripture and following through with actual study of the scripture.

As youth ministers, we can all tell how bored youth can be. In services on Sunday morning, they may be texting or surfing social media sites, or just writing notes on the tithing envelopes. Now, churches and youth ministries alike, are trying to get more visual with things by showing video, paintings, and making a service more in-tune with the times. I am not against this, I do feel that as society progresses, so should the physical church to meet certain needs of people. However, when it comes time for lecture or lessons, we see that it is more story time with verses sprinkled over the story. We have gone against teaching the Bible and rather relating the Bible around us and not us around the Bible.

For starters, this week I mentally made a challenge to myself, to read several books this week. Maybe just a chapter a day, but just to spend time to read. I have not done this in a LONG time. However, I started having a YEARNING for reading less books and more of THE Word. I have found that I don't know as much as I thought. I have also found that I have interpreted things incorrectly, and that I throw myself more into the scripture rather than asking God for a joy about reading it. I will also be the first to admit that reading the Bible is NOT always the most exciting thing. Yet, I want to give us a few steps to look and see how we can throw our hearts and whole self into The Word and then how we can accurately execute those teachings and understandings of the Gospel to the youth you are entrusted with.

First, ask God to grant you a teachable heart. Let the Word shape and mold your way of thinking so that you renew your mind after the thoughts of God.
Second, read the surrounding text to get a sense of the passage and the context from the scripture you are studying to teach or for personal time with God.
Third, find an exegetical commentary that will help you find the meat of the passage and help you in the best way to interpret the passage.
Through this whole time, be praying that God will reveal his glorious gospel to you through the passage and through the interpretation and application of the text.
Let your lessons and studies drop with gospel love.  

I can find myself not always being excited about reading the Word. I will now be praying for God to grant me joy and to find Him in the passage(s) I am reading. The more you study in the Word, and see how God can reveal Himself not only to you but to those around you, you and will start to see a change in the presepectives we set in our ministries and our own personal lives.

Instead of always depending on the bigger stars of ministry for the newest and greatest lesson plans, focus on more Gospel and less story. See what happens. The Bible and A LOT of its books have been around and relevant for a long time; we have just taken the relevancy out of it and tried to put cool twists that attract buts into the youth areas of your church.

Again, let your lessons and studies drip with gospel love!

the gospel of morals...

For a long time, I have told students that the Gospel of Jesus is that He died for you, wants you to read your Bible, pray to Him, and seek Him often. That He loves you no matter what. I have been in youth ministry for seven years now and to me, I have been teaching students to act good for Jesus because He wants us to be quiet, behave, and live out or lives singing the latest Christian songs and wearing the coolest Christian swag. He even wants us to make sure we have stickers and icthus symbols on our cars to show people, that as we throw our arms up in the air, blare our horn, and shout things they can not hear to them; that we love Jesus and He loves them too!

Many youth ministers, me included, confuse the gospel for moralism. But the Bible is so much more than acting right in church, reading your Bible daily, and opening the door for the elderly. When Jesus encountered the Pharisees and teachers of the law, He knew that they have created a whole religion of works to merit righteousness. We, as youth ministers, relate to the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son. We teach, and think the same way, that we deserve our fathers good pleasure because of the good works we do!

If I were to ask you, "What is the gospel?" How would you answer? As a follow up, if I were to ask you, "What is justification?" How would you answer? Better yet, how have I answered in the past with students before? The Bible tells me and you that we are incredibly sinful. Yet, through faith alone in Christ alone, we are accepted and loved and adopted into God's family!

I have even told youth before that in the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17, that we are supposed to go defeat the giants of life! However, where the gospel breaks in, it shows us that Jesus is WAY better than David, who has gone before us as our champion and defeated the giants of sin, Satan, and death on our behalf! Our response is to trust in HIS finished work, not our weak slingshots.

I can find myself looking back and even to today, that I have wanted INSTANT fruit in my youth ministry. I never rested in the knowledge that Jesus WILL build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail it!

We need to NOT preach the ministry of morals, but to preach the means of grace that God has given us. We need to do this NOT just to reap the benefits of it, but to communicate and display it to the students in our ministry.

Let us preach Christ crucified to our youth and display HIM as the all satisfying Savior that He is!

view from "the mothership"...

A blog is a great way to vent, say what you want about any subject in the world, and have ALMOST no backlash (except in the comment section). I have been exposed to many things in my life. I have said A LOT of stupid things and done even DUMBER things! My problem is I let my heart speak before my thoughts can filter things out. I often don't think about the backlash of actions or words. I let the damage go and then see what happens.

The human mind and heart are funny things to think about. Outside of the battle between good and evil we Christians face every day, these two can often be at ends with each other. About a year ago, I wrote a block that was cause for shock and to bring attention to myself and a view I felt "passionate" about. I tried to call out some very large youth ministry leaders and even "the mothership" Youth Specialties. Thinking back on this, I could have never been MORE wrong about my approach to talking things out.

In youth ministry, age and wisdom can mean the difference between middle school and high school. Experience garners wisdom and wisdom helps you make the not so stupid decisions of life and ministry. Sometimes we can have a certain passion about an issue we see or ideas we have, and cram it down peoples throats. Sadly, this is how we do youth ministry too.

I am not going to write a shock blog where I refer to people as vader and YS at the darkside of ministry. What I am alluding to is that youth ministry is filled with much passion, a lot of inexperience, and multiple choices that drive and effect the youth ministry for days, months, or years ahead.

Often our own thoughts can be interpreted as the thoughts of God. We read our daily devo app, we cracked our Bible open for one or three verses, prayed a second and then go on to sin and lead youth groups the best way we see fit.

Youth ministry has become more about the youth pastor. Is he/she great? Do the LOVE youth? What awesome games do they have planned? What events can they make the most people come to? I feel, we have lost our integrity with Jesus.

I have slapped the name of Jesus' approval on MANY decisions in youth ministry. Doesn't mean it was. I want to encourage us to put down or smart phones, pull up our REAL bibles, and pray for hours on end about decisions and choices we make that not only effect us, our families, but the youth ministry you serve as well!

Instead of entertainment culture to focus students to coming to church, focus on the grace that Jesus offers. Bring students to know Christ through apologetics, greek, or even topical discussions that dive deep. No church wants an inch wide and a mile deep group, or a mile wide and an inch deep group. Youth ministry is meant to effectively serve youth and teach them to love Jesus in such a real way that it, in return, points them and others BACK to Jesus.....not your church or group.

Get rid of the "entertainment culture" where each event has to be greater than the next. Your budget or you can NOT handle that job. Also, though it is great to see what is going on in youth ministers who are "well known", try focusing on the group that God has entrusted you with. I used to want to be noticed, but I drew negative attention to myself because of my "views and passions". I took that focus off of God and moved it to me. NEVER do I want that to happen. That means that students hold up YOU over Jesus at times.

Lord, remove ME from  MYSELF and let you FULLY reign in me to do the ministry YOU need ME to do for the students YOU HAVE GIVEN ME!

commitment...

I remember that when I became a believer, I prayed a prayer. I asked God to forgive me for my sins. I asked Him to rule my life with as much of Him as He can. I asked Jesus to be Lord of my life. I was crying. I was in a room that was dark, with a cross at the center of a room. It was the perfect atmosphere for me to emotionally pray the prayer of forgiveness. I often wondered, even after this LIFE ALTERING CONVERSION, "Am I REALLY saved?"

So many times, I see people on twitter or facebook claim that they led students to Christ, or that at a certain event, over 100+ people, EVEN 1000+ PEOPLE turned their lives over to Christ. How did they do it? How did they make this choice?

In youth ministry, we can manipulate words and make scenes become more real and emotional to the heart to help people jump over the proverbial cliff and pray that prayer. I'll be honest with you...I am not sure the prayer is enough.

To be a Christian, one must be defined as a CHRIST FOLLOWER. Is praying a simple prayer, telling others they no longer have to worry about hell in their life of eternity, ENOUGH to make disciples? So often we can focus on leading students or a student to Christ by praying this prayer. I have done it on several occasions, but if I look back at my own life...my story does NOT lead that of a Christ Follower. Mine is the life of a man who does not have a handle on reality all the time, who fails constantly, who lets sin creep in, feels bad about it and prays for forgiveness, and then moves on like my slate is wiped clean. My life would not reflect that of a Christ Follower.

We can help students become believers, but are we setting them up for the journey that will ultimately change their life to die to their own life and live the life that Jesus has written out for them? Prayer is one part of the walk. Pastors and student leaders alike will tell you that even though we prayed a prayer, that is not the end....then that is the end. Where is the follow up? Where do they get the neccesary growth and attention details they need to become the best Christ follower that Christ beautifully and wonderfully made THEM to be?

Youth ministers, quit worrying about the prayer. Focus on the follow. We are called to FOLLOW Jesus not lead Jesus. I am not a leader. I never will be. I am intrusted to help students become believers and followers of Christ at my church. I am the director of the youth ministry. I still allow sin to creep in. I don't follow Jesus...except maybe on twitter. I have the Christian clothes, music, tags, and bumper stickers. I exude what an American Christian should be. I don't exude what Christ is and who He created me to be.

I battle many demons in my life. I think we all have those hidden secrets. Me...I have lots. I even tried to hide them from Jesus. Like I don't want Him to know. I sometimes altar information when praying, like He can't read my heart. How stupid of ME!

Youth workers, focus on the follow. Focus on Christ and not the number of students you helped lead to Christ. I believe the prayer is important because it brings to light the dark areas of their life....but it is NOT the end. That prayer did not make me a Christ follower. Me, finally accepting the beautiful creation that Christ created me to be, is when I became a Christ follower. That's when reality set in.

Focus on the follow.

tranceitiaonl ministry...

In youth ministry, we take time to sit back and hang out with students. We may take naps on the couches in our offices. We may stop to take an extended lunch to play some xbox. Other times we are diligent in our work, planning ahead, doing lessons, picking out games, etc. The life of a youth minister in their office is sometimes sacred.

Outside the office, we are supposed to be the young hip members of the staff at churches. We are supposed to be funny but relevant. Serious but sarcastic. A listener who has all the answers. The best talks that will bring students to Jesus ONCE if not TWICE a week! A ministry that booms and busts at the seams every week! This is what we are taught and told to have. We are also taught to bring in the most numbers and the more the better. We are taught to look at the larger groups/churches, adapt what they are doing to our church.

Lately there might have been a shift in the culture of youth ministry that tells us that it is good to be your own group. Today's churches have an identity crisis. Youth ministry has become such a huge, money making behemoth that it is hard to get back to the grass roots of youth ministry.

We connect, follow, download and buy all the big time youth ministry guys books and lessons. We often forget to see what is really working for our own group. Instead, we go with the big guns because they made the path nice, smooth and paved for all of us.

Today, I brought my son into work with me for just a little bit. My son, at 5 months old, has a hard time with change in the atmosphere he is used to. Something new often makes him fussy. He cries. It turns him off to the outside world and only wants to be where he likes to be. Where he is used to. When I started to feed him, to calm him down, I noticed that he was in a formula induced trance. He started to get glassy eyed. Focus on one point. He started to move less and just lay there while he ate.

Youth ministry has become like my five month old son. And I AM THE GUILTIEST of them ALL! I use the lessons I download or bought. I do a lot of things that the bigger churches may do, but I often forget the root of what youth ministry really is. Youth ministry is relational family building and bonding. It is putting MYSELF outside of MY COMFORT levels and LETTING CHRIST MOVE through the laughs, cries, talks, silences and brief moments I share with students!

I want to encourage youth ministers to continue doing the work that Christ has given you the gifts to do! I know several youth ministers looking for jobs, but continue to be faithful that God will bless them with the perfect church set for their spiritual gifts.

I am new in my current position. I am the baby where I work now. I have recently started only a month ago. However, from my last church to here, I can see how God used relational building to help me grow with my current group. I have matured from 2 years ago. I still have lots and lots to learn. Which is why I want to listen. I want to hear and cry out the aches, the joys, the depths of despair, the highest mountain top experiences. I want to share Christ in a way that Christ did, by speaking to students and loving them, regardless of what they have done or where they are in their spiritual journey. Discipleship starts with a seed the produces roots to grow.

Try to break the trance you are in (if you are in one). If you have joys, then SHARE IT! If you have sorrows, THEN SHARE IT! If you have struggles, THEN SHARE IT! Leave comments so I and others can encourage and pray for each of you.
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