Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Interview: A simple yet powerful tool that produces a great intergenerational win

We have an intercom system in our offices, but it's often a "Hey, come look at this!" moment that starts the creative process in our student ministry.  It was such a moment that began one of the coolest Fall High School Class Series--and it was Intergenerational!  The below slides contain a quote from MikeYaconelli (Getting Fired for the Glory of God, 108) that inspired the "Hey, come look at this!" moment and series.

We teach a lot on what it means, looks like and takes to be "different" from the surrounding culture--ad nausem--in our student ministry.  Still, we grieve like Yaconelli, that many of our student's behavior is often similar to that of the non-christian world.  Knowing that nothing beats the power of a good story, the decision was made to share the stage this fall.  Making use of the marathon metaphor (nothing original here--the title 26.2 was cool),we asked older runners (older, faithful Christians) if they would be willing to be interviewed and speak on the ups and downs of their running with Jesus.  We had no trouble enlisting the help of our Senior Pastor (who has just run his first marathon), Small Groups Minister, One of our Elders wives, a Senior Staff member, our Pastoral Minister and a retired Fighter Pilot/Author (check out  Depending on the conversation, we branched off of these basic questions:
  • How long have you been running with Jesus?
  • Have you ever wanted to quit the run?  Why/Why not?
  • What has been your greatest obstacle(s)? Success(s)?
  • What advice would you give young runners?
The simple questions were asked and the magic happened--generations of Jesus followers connected.  Some speakers had better "stage presence" than others, but ALL grabbed the attention of the students.  They spoke with passion, honesty (like a veteran speaks to a rookie) and loving recognition of the different challenges today's students are facing.  It was an awesome experience.

Question for Student Workers:  Interview formats are one of the easiest ways to bring an intergenerational aspect to the classroom/stage.  What ways have you incorporated "older-wiser" voices into your teaching? 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hand Holding Can Save a Teenager's Life!

This is one of my favorite pictures of my wife.  She and my daughter Shelbee are walking hand in hand to the babysitting cabin during a weekend retreat at the Hills.  As Children, love, confidence and security are gained by the holding of a parent's hand.  The holding of a hand can silence a child's cry, strengthen a child's resolve, calm a child's fears or simply make a long walk more enjoyable--hand holding is powerful! 

As children pass into adolescence,  they begin to crave the holding of the opposite sex's hand more than that of their parent's hand.  Even so, parents should not take this as a signal that student's no longer desire or need the calming, strengthening, and enjoyable presence of adult figures in their lives (some teenagers still love holding their parent's hand when talking with them).  The opposite is actually true.  Students may not say it, but they really do want to hold hands with parents and adults as they travel the road towards adulthood. 

Before you start asking students if they would like to hold hands with you as you walk (please don't do this--creepy), here are a few ideas of how adults can hold hands with teenagers.  The short list is a starting place for any adult wishing to impact the life of a teenager:
  • Call them by name.  This one is difficult for all of us who work with large groups of teens.  Still, we need to encourage all the adults in our churches to call students by their name.  
  • Ask questions about their world and listen.  Even though they can put up barriers and you DO NOT want to push too hard (I know this from personal experience--go figure), ask students questions about their life, experiences, day, activities, etc.  Get to know them personally and they will let you into their world quickly and trust you with information few adults get to hear.
  • Share your stories with them.  This is not, "when I was a kid..." type stories that negates or minimizes the challenges today's teenage population faces.  It is, "when I was kid..." type stories that are invited by the student and demonstrate how you survived the ups and downs, victories and failures of growing up in your day.  NOTE:  You will know when it is time to share your story in relation to the story you are hearing the student tell--listen carefully.  In other words, don't force it!
  • Be present in the life of students.  The notion of quality over quantity in relation to time spent with a student is irrelevant--both are significant.  Spending time with students (quantity) provides the opportunities, rather spontaneous, for meaningful conversation (quality).  
 Don't wait for a student to reach out and hold hands with you.  As when they were children, they are waiting for loving adults to reach out and make the first move.  Please remember, this is important, many of the student's you come in contact with have never had a loving, "physical" hand holding experience with their parents or adults in their childhood and/or life--be patient with these students.  Extra grace will be needed!

Okay, I have to say this. If you are an adult who will not allow your adolescent to fail and constantly intercedes on their behalf when they are not given adequate playing time, high enough grades, proper recognition, or they are experiencing a difficult relationship challenge (you know who you are), this type of hand holding will actually retard your student's development into Adulthood.  It is hard for all adults, especially us parents, who feel the student they love is being mistreated in some way.  Even so, hand holding during the teen years is intended to prepare the student for the road NOT prepare the road for the student (a wise saying I have heard many times--author unknown). 

Even if difficult, be encouraged.  The type of hand holding described above can save a teenager's life

Monday, December 12, 2011

Silent, Disconnected and Bored

I love to speak at student events!  As a matter of fact, years ago (it seems like only yesterday--all "old" people say that) I had the dream of one day being able to travel across the country and talk about my favorite subject--Jesus.  By the grace of God, He has given me many of these opportunities.  The "glamor" of travel fades quickly.  Instead, it is the passion and burden for fulfilling God's purpose on my life that motivates the time spent away from family, friends and the greatest group of students and families around (yes, I am a student minister that really loves my job--it is possible).  One of the things I enjoy most from all of my travels is the wonderful network of relationships I am blessed to have across the country.  My life is so much richer because of these relationships.  With the joy comes moments of heartache when a student from an event reaches out for support and counsel in working through crisis and/or painful circumstance.  Today was such a day. 

I got permission to share a portion of the Facebook message received and have changed names and locations:

Hey Dave, its Steve from the youth Rally, or if you remember me more by being John's nephew. Anyway, I'm coming to you for some advice, or your opinion maybe. I love The Hills Church of Christ, and all the ministries y'all create and are involved with. I attend a church near (Name withheld--it is not in Texas) which is struggling right now. I've attended this church before I was even conscious of my surroundings (baby). This is my home, and I have a lot of hope for my church. Especially being able to experience worship from The Hills Church of Christ, and other churches from across the west coast. I go to these churches and I love their worship, I love their environment, and I love their outreach. I go to these churches and they fill me with hope, hope that one day my church will be able to mature, and grow to an extent where we are confident and love what we do rather than complain and gripe over trivial things like a dress code...
Which brings me to the point of this message. Next Saturday morning, my church is hosting a men's meeting for the leading men of the church, and any other men who care to join. I am an acting song/worship leader at my church which means I am very interested in what this meeting is about... I have sooo many ideas that I'd like to bring to my church but feel like their is lack of support. I want our church to be a beacon of light, hope, and love to our community. But we continue to argue over things that are so against what Jesus would have taught. I've been informed that this meeting next Saturday will consist of our elders telling us we need to abide by a dress code, that they don't appreciate my preacher coming to Sunday or Wednesday night service in shorts and a Hawaiian button up shirt. For the longest time they've enforced a rule that I've hated: That no man would be allowed to lead worship or communion if he does not have a tie. Sooo I stopped wearing ties and began wearing jeans... besides when I lead singing. This decision gave me a lot of attention, I began to get comments from other people like "don't we serve on Sunday's." These comments made me sooo frustrated. But I had been meaning to talk to them about it. I understand the intention behind it, that we should bring our best to God, and I totally agree, but when we're commanded to do something rather than doing it out of the goodness of our hearts it becomes obligation. That's what's so great about Jesus' love, he loves us unconditionally, whether we choose to love him back or not. And I think the best way to show our love for him is to be the same inside the church as we are outside the church. What are we if we just bring out our Sunday attire and attitude on Sundays and put it away for the rest of the week. It's really hypocritical of us isn't it? Anyway what I'm asking for is your opinion. How would you deal with this kind of situation? What would you say? Please respond, I really look to you for advice, and I know its cheesy but you really are a role model to me.

Thanks Dave, hope things are well in Texas.

There are probably a few different reactions to the student's letter.  One, if you are not from the Churches of Christ heritage, you could be rather confused--don't be too critical, we all have our "issues."  Second, if you are in the Churches of Christ heritage, you may be thinking of a book, chapter and verse to support your doctrine of dress--don't go there, the problem is much deeper than dress.  Three, you are trying to figure out the name and location of the student because he may be wrong about the rumored topic of the meeting and you think it would be fun to attend the meeting and see what happens (some of you student minister's would love that)--interesting game, but you will miss the point of the blog. So, if you will, hold all reactions and vigilante investigations and consider the following.

The message from "Steve" is a glaring example of why some students choose to leave our Churches after graduation (yes, I used a big "C" to indicate all faith heritages).  When you read the student's words carefully and without "defense" you find a young man that wants nothing but the best for his church family and seems to understands their point of view yt fears his voice will not be heard.  Yes, he is idealistic (a gift youth bring to the Church) and is demonstrating his disapproval with a touch of dramatic flair (some would call that courage).  Furthermore, many of his points are valid and rather prophetic.  To be certain, "Steve" and I will talk over the next few days and sort out the best approach for voicing his concerns and such.  "Steve" is a strong Christian young man who I believe will continue to develop his faith.  Still, I fear, if the adults in his church handle this situation wrong, they will lose this young man to another faith community who will provide a vision worth his time and effort (a vision bigger than the upholding of a dress code).  I am certain, that many student's who believe dress code theology is all their church has to offer them are already leaving.  They are silent, disconnected and bored.  Here are a few things we have learned from the Sticky Faith Project at the Fuller Youth Institute (
  • 40-50% of students are leaving our Church communities after High School Graduation
  • Many leave because they are not able to free express and explore their doubts and questions
  • Many leave because they are being a taught a Gospel of Sin Management (Dallas Willard) that keeps them away from Hell and "morally" upright (dress code theology) yet leaves them without a passionate focus and purpose for taking the Kingdom to the world.  In other words, our student's are bored with a gospel that saves them "from" the world but has not prepared them "for" the world. 
  • Many leave because they do not have supportive relationships with the adult Church community.
With the Bullet points in mind, go back and read the young's man's message (I will wait).
Do you see it? "Steve" does not want to destroy his church family.  He wants freedom to express and explore doubts, feel a part of the adult community of faith and INSPIRED with a vision that will take his breath away! 

There are other sticky faith things adults have to offer and/or can place in a student's life (check out the above website) to help beat the 40-50% retention odds.   This is certain, if Church leaders worked towards providing these three, I would receive fewer letter's like this from the "Steve's" in our churches. 

Question:  How would you answer "Steve's" questions?  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I was wrong--the world's really short blog

I LOVE TECHNOLOGY in Student Ministry!  The lights, sound and setting can really help students focus on the message many of you are about to present (it's Wednesday Night in Student Ministry Land--Sacred!)  The more the merrier when it comes to technology! 

Warning, I am about to sound old--let's use the word "seasoned!" However, Let's not forget that all the technological bells and whistles can not replace adult/student interaction.  So, shoot for excellence, but don't spend all your time prepping the "program" (FACT--they don't remember too many of these anyway--I know, it hurts).  You are a "student" minister. Spend time with your students and the adults who interact with the students.  It really is about People over Programs

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hate the Sin NOT the Sinner--Is it the other way around?

 There are certain "BIG SIN" items that grab our attention.  For instance, some swear words are "little SINS" while other swear words, like (I won't go there), are "BIG SINS."  Despite our rationalization, we should remember, that no matter how acceptable, "BIG or little SINS" are still in need of forgiveness and our lives, all of us, need redeeming--thank you Jesus! Oh the joy of "there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).

You will hear Christian's say "Hate the sin NOT the sinner"  because we (church people and non-church people), if we are honest (yes, I used that word), know the destructive power of sin and its ability to make people unapproachable and, frankly, unlovable at times.  The statement helps Christian's remain lovingly focused on sharing Jesus with people caught in sin's destructive power. But what if the person is involved with a sin on our "BIG SINS" list?

How do you react to a student who reports being involved in a same sex relationship?  You know--homosexuality?  Are you feeling the "BIG SIN" radar turn on?  Theologically, we know, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).  Even so, the topic of homosexuality has so many levels of societal angst attached it is easy to feel backed into a corner  by those who believe, "If you can't accept the lifestyle then you can't accept the person."  As a result, there is often a polarizing hate thrown around by those on either side of the homosexuality argument. Hate that is unproductive and leads to a lack of  needed conversation on sexual topics (homosexuality is only one of these topics) with students who are continuing to develop their sexual identities.  Adults can not afford to be labelled as "haters" in such a tense sexual climate. We have to remain open to any and all questions related to sexuality and provide Godly advice while maintaining appropriate and loving boundaries for the student's we share responsibility with in our ministries.

My connection of the word "sin" with "homosexuality" has placed me in the camp of haters by some readers.   However, I am not in a position of hate.  As a matter of fact,  LOVE is the motivating factor for this blog post.  I received an e-mail this morning from a worship minister friend thanking our student ministry team for the difficult job we have in working with hurting students (these are the kind of e-mails you like to receive).  The e-mail contained a link to the video I have posted below.  It is a powerful video of a student named John who is clearly emotional yet resolute not to give into the bullying he has experienced. Upon further investigation, YouTube is amazing and  admittedly unverifiable at times, it appears one of the main reasons John is being bullied is because of a same sex attraction issue.  I don't agree with the lifestyle choice, yet my heart goes out to this young man who is being treated with such contempt and hatred because of his "BIG SIN." (Yes, there is some talk on the authenticity of the student's experience.  It is hard to determine the validity of such videos.  Still, this powerful video struck a chord with teenage viewers and has gone viral over the last few months--it has our attention).

Chances are, you have a student struggling with sexual identity and same sex issues in your student ministry.  The chances are even greater they need a conversation with a loving adult who can help them navigate these feelings.  I know there is a difference between attraction to and actual same sex contact. I also realize there is a whole other messy conversation on what it means to live in community with believers who struggle with same sex relationships. IT IS NOT my intent to get into any of this on this blog.  At the core, what you need to know is there are students in your ministry that really need you to "hate the Sin NOT the Sinner" and start the conversation. 

Question:  What resources, website(s), conferences, etc. do you recommend that assist student ministers, parents and adults in having a productive conversation with students concerning same sex relationships?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Shortest Blog Ever--You are a Human App!

I am constantly amazed at the number of apps and corresponding buttons that seem to be arriving daily.  Check out this advertisement from Google Trends--a site that is part of the Google Monster-- (BTW: I am not using this word as defined by Wikipedia--another cool button--I am simply referring to the social connection machine that is Google):

On one hand, I love all the cool choices.  On the other, it makes my head spin as I try to figure out which apps I truly need to be culturally relevant (whatever that means--it is a moving target). Apps are a great tool for connection (especially when we are distant from each other).  Still, here comes a reminder, students need physically present, interested and loving adults who are committed to sharing all the ups and downs of life with them--adults who love them for who they are and not what they produce. So, adults, remember, you are the greatest connection app in a student's life.  Yes, you are a Human App (feel free to pick your own button icon)