Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The 3 Most Powerful Words in Youth Ministry

"I like you!"
What if these were the 3 most powerful words in Youth Ministry?

Student ministers use the word "love" a lot-maybe too much.
"I would love to have lunch with you guys."
"I would love if you joined us at our church."
"I really loved the sermon today."
"I really love hanging out with students."
"I really loved that conference."
"I love this scripture, praise song, camp, mission site, preacher, blog...etc."

Oh, and there are given love statements students expect to hear from student ministers.
"God loves you."
"Christ loves you so much he died."
"The Spirit loves and lives inside of you."

Don't misunderstand.  These are all fine and appropriate things to say.  But what if students need to hear something else from you?  What if they need to hear words that would help them clearly understand and believe the love statements you are desperately trying to communicate?

Perhaps a disconnect comes from students wondering if you like them?
I would say, for the most part, student's know you love them (that's why you drive vans with stinky teenagers in the heat of summer and plan lock-ins).  But do your students know you like them?
Do you hang around with the same students, families, activities?
Do you talk about the same type of activities in your lesson illustrations?
Do you pass certain students to talk with others on a constant basis?
Do you have inside jokes with a limited number of students?
If you answered yes to a few of these questions, you may be communicating an "I don't like you" message.

Teenagers experience moments in which they doubt anyone likes them or that they possess a talent or ability that is likeable.  They go through stage(s) in their life in which they feel invisible or at best common among peers.  These are difficult times in which student's battle with tough developmental questions:
"Who am I?"
"Do my choices matter?"
"Where do I belong?"
These moments certainly call for a flood of love statements from caring adults and youth workers.  But, in my opinion, these moments call for an even greater flood of like statements to validate the worthiness the feel to receive words of loving guidance into their core. 

Let me give you an example (this example has been changed for confidentiality).
Years ago I had a young lady in my youth group that was difficult to like.  She had a disability that made her irritable, argumentative and pretty much unable to work with others (imagine how complicated work projects could be if you were on this person's work crew).  On top of all this, she came from a rough home situation and was often unkempt in appearance.  She heard many love statements from our youth ministry team which seemed to fall on deaf ears.  Why? She did not believe anyone liked or could like her.  However, a group of students decided to "include" this young lady into their group (I know...a clear breach of teen world protocol) and caring adults began to point out unique things to like about this young lady. This changed everything. In short order, the like statements made it possible for the love statements to sink deep into her core. 

I am certain we all have students that need a flood of like statements.  There are many things youth ministers and adults can do to begin a like flood, but here are a few suggestions:
  • Spend time talking with the "unlikeable" in the presence of more "likeable" students.  There is great significance and like shown when passing the students that get all the attention from adults for students that stand apart from the group or look for a place to hide in the crowd.
  • Go to all types of events to support your students.  As a youth ministry professional or volunteer, you will naturally feel more comfortable around certain groups of students (athletic, artistic, creative, alternative, etc).  Fight the urge to support one group over another.  Yes, this is difficult, but  a loud "I am likeable" message is communicated to students when you show up at games, concerts, performances, competitions or house.  Please don't be that, "I only relate to athletic (insert other comfortable) students" type of youth minister.  
  • Communicate like messages to students.  Old school works best here.  Send an email, text or write a note and put it in the snail mail highlighting something you have seen that is unique, praiseworthy and likeable about a given student (I recommend you stay away from tweets-those can backfire and become a self-esteem competition) . Students cherish such communication.
  • Share the praise from the stage.  It is easy to call to the stage as an example and/or volunteer the likeable students.  Why not share the stage with those who never or hardly ever share the spotlight? You will be communicating a strong like message. CAUTION:  Some students do not like the stage.  Do not embarrass a student-that message would change into an unlike message quickly.
Enjoy practicing the 3 most important words in youth ministry, "I LIKE YOU!"

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Impending, Unavoidable, Irreversible, Overwhelming Doom: Teenagers and the 24 Hour News Cycle

Have you ever really listened to the first few moments, top of the hour or commercial "tease" into the news?  If you listen carefully, each of these messages seem to indicate...

...impending doom
...unavoidable destruction
...irreversible damage
...overwhelming concern

Every major weather system is the worst ever.  Every election cycle brings our country to the brink of destruction. Every sickness is the president's fault.  Really?  By the way, after you are "teased" into viewing, the news channel's promise of impending, unavoidable, irreversible and critical doom is typically downgraded or reversed.

Certainly, there are real concerns that need to be addressed in our country and world.

However, a clear and sensible conversation seems terribly difficult to have in a culture that seems more concerned with market share and political affiliation (liberal and conservative) than covering the news and promoting dialogue.  This type of news coverage NEVER ENDS.  It is called the 24 Hour News Cycle and it creates opportunity for great misunderstanding and misrepresentation.

What does this have to do with teenagers? A great deal!

Teenagers have their own 24 Hour news cycle.  It is found on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other social networking locations.  Honestly, it NEVER ENDS and it creates opportunity for great misunderstanding and misrepresentation.

If you are an adult, think back to your teenage years for a moment.  If you had drama at school or an extracurricular activity, you could take a break from the pressure by going home or a trusted friends house for a while.  Even though a "tacky" note or picture could be circulating around your friend group, in many cases, those could be destroyed.  A moment of peace could be found.

Today, things are much different.  If today's student has drama at school or extracurricular activity, it can be hard to take a break from the pressure at home or a house of a trusted friend.  Why?  Unlike the "tacky" notes and pictures of the past, the world of Social Media NEVER ENDS.  The Teenage news cycle runs 24 hours.  A moment of peace takes intentionality-something teenagers often lack.

So what do we as caring adults in a student's life do?  Let me suggest two things:
  • Wait to introduce your younger children/teenager to Social Media.  I know, I am suggesting you become the uncool parent.  Remember, our job as parents is not to be cool but help our children become healthy, functional, productive adults.  I see a lot of elementary students with very expensive electronic devices.  And, even though age limits are set by companies, parents allow their children to be on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. because other kids are being allowed onto these sites.  Here is a fact, once you start, it is hard to say "no" to social media.  It really is alright to push back phone and media usage until later teenage years.
  • Do not let your student keep their phone (and other social media devices) in their room at night.  Yes, the uncool parent theme continues.  Especially with phone usage, a student will text, game, tweet and Instagram all night long if allowed.  This is not healthy and leads to a whole list of cascading consequences to mental and physical health.  Negotiate a time that is acceptable and comfortable for you and your teenager.  Oh, in the negotiations, you are the adult and always carry the majority. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cut the Shoot

It is time to share another video (I know...cheep blogging material, but I had to share)!

Tripp and Tyler are a well known (in Christian circles) sketch comedy duo (  Their material is fun to watch and often contains a gotcha message Jesus followers need (may not want) to hear.  This is one of those videos.

 (If it does not play, the link is Shoot Christians Say)

Whats the point?  Could it be that our language keeps us from communicating a clear message to the world ("christian" and otherwise) we are trying to impact with the message of Jesus?  Yes.

I love talking with those who are easy to read and communicate their feelings without the churchy qualifiers.  I find that type of communication authentic and reflective of many of the psalms that state raw, unfiltered truths about life and the experience of living in a fallen world.  That type of honest communication also allows for a deeper, more relevant discussion of faith.

Here are a few suggestions for dropping the Shoot Christians Say:
  • Don't defend. There are times shoot is shared because we feel like God is being attacked by someone we are talking to and we do not have an answer for their complaint.  Remember, it is alright to say nothing or...get ready..."I don't know" when God (or you) is being attacked. 
  • Don't deflect. There are times shoot is shared when we feel cornered by someone asking about (sometimes prying) our personal life and/or walk (used in the most authentic sense here) with Christ.  Yes, it is not responsible or recommended that you open up to everyone who asks you questions. However, there SHOULD BE someone in your life with a high level of clearance and openness is a given.
  • Don't destroy. There are times shoot is shared because we want to gossip about the evil in someone's life but we have no intention on talking with that person directly.  In short, don't talk about someone if you do not have the intention of directly visiting and/or finding help (that you are directly involved with) for that person. 
  • Don't discombobulate (sorry, I wanted a "d-word" for confuse).  It is easy to confuse the simple message of Jesus with a myriad of marketing angles. If you do not believe this, next time you are driving down the road, read all of the signs wanting you to come to their church. I am not against marketing!  I am against anything that discombobulates (confuses) the simple message of Jesus.  Oh, often more confusing than a billboard is the "insider" language we speak to each other about our programs and events. 
The world has enough conflicting and confusing messages floating around about Christ and His people.  Let's do our part to end the conflict and confusion by cutting the shoot.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Don't Get Worked!

I come across all types of messages, pictures and conversations while perusing (I have been waiting to use this cool word) social media sites.  The picture below is a dandy and highlights a way too common failure in parenting.

Staged?  Certainly (at least I hope so).

Exaggerated?  Certainly (at least I hope so).

Truth?  Certainly (I know so).

Kids of any age, especially teenagers, will look for ways to get what they want.  They will ask one parent and then ask the other if the answer they receive from the first is not the answer they wanted (read that sentence again).  While every home experiences this common kid/student practice, homes that are blended, single-parent, separated, grandparent and/or adult guardian led can be particularly subject to being "worked" by the students in their care. 

If you are reading this and are the parent/guardian who trumps the other parent/guardian with the "yes," this is a problem.  You are not being cool, better and/or more understanding.  You are causing damage to your student's future understanding of how the real world works and actually hurting your kid.  Oh, and you are being "worked."

If you are reading this and are the parent/guardian who is being trumped by the other parent/guardian, you have a part in this "working" as well.  Is there a reason you are being trumped?  Are you allowing for dialogue with your other parent/guardian or does everything have to be done your way?  This too causes damage and impacting your student's understanding of how the real world works. can parents/guardians prevent being successfully "worked" by their kids? Here are a few suggestions:
  • Check with the other parent/guardian.  It can be as easy as a phone call or text.  When asked by your student to do, buy, go, etc. something, take a moment to check with the other parent/guardian.  If there is disagreement, tell your student you will give them an answer later.  It is okay for your kid to wait for an answer.  You are the one in charge.
  • Talk with the other parent/guardian before a question is given.  What are your feelings on dress, parties, music, movies, friends, etc.?  Talk about your values concerning each of these topics before your kid asks to do, buy, go, etc.
  • Respect and support the opinion of the other parent/guardian.  In other words, if a student says, "Can I go...?" and you ask, "What did your mother say?"  Support your spouse/guardian.  Be on the same page. This is a particularly difficult thing to do if you are in a divorced, separated or single parent situation.  Still, it is important that both father and mother have a civil and productive conversation on what is best (yes, this can be subjective) for the student(s) you have a responsibility.  If respect and support are difficult, find a counselor or trusted adult that can mediate a civil and productive conversation so that both parents/guardians can be on the same page.
While being "worked" is a natural hazard of parenting a student, a little "work" by parents/guardians before goes a long way.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

I Hate to Bust your Bubble

"...for there were many who followed him."

What "type" of people followed Jesus?

Religious? Sometimes.

Rich?  Sometimes.

Famous?  Sometimes.

Disciples? Of Course.

" collectors and sinners..."? YES!

The quotation marks come from Mark 2:15.  Perhaps it is one of those verses we read too quickly because it is sandwiched between the calling of Levi and another controversy with the Pharisees.  However, it contains and incredible truth about Jesus; the Jesus I am suppose to walk through the world like He walked through the world.  Consider the entire verse:

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.

I highlighted the word that really jumps out at me-many.   The fact that many tax collectors (some of the most despised and subsequently marginalized people in Jesus' day) and sinners (no explanation necessary) followed Jesus may not seem like an earth shattering truth.  But in light of the whole "walk through the world like Jesus walked through the world" thought (Discipleship), it is huge and begs a few questions!   

How many tax collectors and sinners follow me?  

How many tax collectors and sinners do I know or spend time getting to know? 

After 26 plus years of student ministry (yes, I am "seasoned"), I remember one of the goals of youth ministry was keeping our teenagers away from and creating Christian sub-culture(s) that competed with and prevented contact with all those tax collectors and sinners.  Despite our best efforts, students still walked away from the Church (and continue to do so) when their Christian sub-culture(s) where punctured by the world and they did not have the ability to breath faith outside the bubble(s).  Yes, I admit, that last sentence reduces a multifaceted faith development problem to a single statement, but it highlights the failure of Christian isolationism to disciple our children.   

Related, how many times has a church's main tax collectors and sinners conversion strategy involved calling to them from within our highly decorated, competing, programmed and advertised bubble(s)? I have been involved in many of these type of events and really enjoyed the experiences.  However, very few tax collectors and sinners actually attended many of these events. 

Here are a couple of suggestions I believe can be made in light of these ministry experiences and 31 years of attempting to walk through the world as Jesus walked through the world:
  • One, a student's spiritual formation (Discipleship) must include instruction and experience on how to live among, thrive alongside and draw tax collectors and sinners from outside the "Bubble."  
  • Two, while I am not against highly decorated, competing, programmed and advertised invitation to "bubble" events (concerts, plays, conferences, worship services, movies, etc.), tax collectors and sinners will come to know Jesus (and more often attend these types of events) because a Jesus follower they know from outside the bubble invited them to attend. It may be painful to hear, but excluding the Billy Graham, Andy Stanley, Max Lucado type figures, a real-outside the bubble livin'-tax collector-sinner has little knowledge of all the "famous" Jesus presenters.  However, they have great knowledge of and watch those they know are Jesus followers.
So, with these thoughts in mind...

How many tax collectors and sinners follow you?  

How many tax collectors and sinners do you know or spend time getting to know? 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Auto-Correct Humanity

My dear friend Cindi Schrimsher (who loves her social media) shared this video with several of us last week.  The video speaks for itself and helps create dialogue on the use, misuse and overuse of technology in today's world.  If not careful, we will lose more than we know.

I told you.

Enjoy the dialogue...I am going to turn off my computer now.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Rules for Revolution

I receive a lot of forwards and Cc-s in my inbox.  Typically, they are rushed into the trash bin.  However, there are a few forwards and Cc-s I rush to read.  This is one of those.  
In no way am I attempting to make a political statement or liken any political party's agenda with Communism.   I am sharing the following newspaper clipping from 1919 (via 1970-1975) to help all of us evaluate our 2014.  

Feel free to make and/or share your own observations.  I suggest reading the article through the various lenses of faith and family.  NOTE:  Even though a rich conversation starter on current political topics, I do not welcome political observations on this blog sight and/or Facebook.  

I do invite you to share observations as they relate to faith and family.  

I do encourage you to use these "Rules" as a discussion starter with Adults and Students. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Lecture Little-Listen Lots


My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
- James (1:19)

What a great verse for all of us who parent or work with teenagers.  A difficult verse-but great!

Why is it difficult?

Because, like the adults who came before us, I believe I have something to say that is filled with wisdom and needs to be heard.  I no longer need to listen.  I need to engage.  

Did you catch it?  The word "I" was used 4 times in the last few sentences!   A moment of transparency-isn't this what gets most of us parents and adults into communication trouble with teenagers?  It is more about assuring that our words are heard than listening to theirs.  Pause and consider that last sentence again. 

I am not advocating a release of parental/adult authority.  I am suggesting that more listening actually enforces and/or regains authority and lowers the anger level (it is what the Bible says).  Here are a few better listening and talking (lecturing) suggestions:
  • Ask Questions.  Let me start by saying this step may lead to a high frustration level rather quickly (when a student answers a question with "I don't know" or "Whatever"-you may need to read the ONE of My Parenting Flaws post again).  Still, ask leading questions of students. Questions that invite them to express their opinions, thoughts, perspective or defense first.  Questions like...
    • Why would I have received an email from your teacher?
    • What happened that your were late coming home last night?
    • Did you know(name of friend)'s mom called me yesterday? 
    • (After emotions settle) What got you so upset this morning?            
          ...provide a student with a first response opportunity.

  • Let students finish their answer before you respond.  Responses naturally lead to follow up questions and need for further clarification.  Before you make a follow up move, be sure you let the student finish their answer. I know, easier said than done.  Students often spin a response and/or lie to protect themselves or friends.  Still, before the logical follow up moves, listen to their entire response.  Again, when you know the answer to the question before you ask, patience and calm is key and very difficult. 

  • Set the table. If you know the conversation you are about to have with a student is going to be difficult, say so at the beginning.  Statements like... 
"We need to have a conversation about your homework (just picked a difficult topic). We have talked about this a number of times and has led to a few arguments.  I believe neither of us wish to have an argument.  So, even though it may be difficult, I want to hear what you have to say and see if we can have a calm discussion about what we can do to improve the situation."

         ...can really lower stress levels and set positive expectations for the conversation and outcomes.

  • Use a "cheat sheet."  Before having a difficult conversation with your student and to assure you have your questions and information you wish to share prepared, write it down. Often, when the listening stops and the powerful "I" begins to surface,  it is because our emotions take us off script.  When this happens, the logical next step for parents/adults is to take an authoritative stance and take control.  
Communication is difficult in the best of situations.  I can tell you from personal experience that the powerful "I" reactions have surfaced on more than one occasion in my relationships with teenagers.  Don't give up.  Keep practicing those listening and talking (lecturing) skills.

Friday, September 5, 2014

ONE of My Parenting Flaws

Let me share one of my favorite concepts in working with people (parenting, teaching, youth-pasturing).

Non-Anxious Presence: The ability to remain calm when the situation and/or person you are interacting with has lost or losing their calm.  (This is a very condensed definition, gathered from a lot of sources and a key element in the concept of self-differentiation). 

As an adult, working with people and other people's students, I do a pretty good job of non-anxious presence-ing

As a parent, when it is my own people and student, my non-anxious presence-ing needs a little work. 

Anybody with me out here?

There is something about your own people and student that ramps up the anxiety levels.  Even so, if not managed, one will parent out of fear and rigidness instead of confidence and flexibility. 

So, if you are like me and need help with your non-anxious presence parenting skill, try one of these. 

  • Let Emotions Settle.  Before entering into a potentially heated conversation with your student, take a break, breath deep and settle.  Yes, there are emergencies, but most difficult conversations can wait until both parent and student emotions settle.
  • Make and Have a Plan.  Before the conversation, talk with your spouse (or trusted adult) about the situation and brainstorm ideas for engagement.  Emotions can quickly escalate in the simplest of conversations. Have a plan.
  • Take a Break.  The first two suggestions are easier done when NOT in the middle of a tense (nice word for arguing) moment.  If you find yourself in an emotional battle with your student, no one wins and things can be said that damage a relationship (remember fear and rigidness replaces confidence and flexibility in parenting when anxiety level rise ).  Take a break.  Develop a code word for either you or your student to say in order to withdraw and let the emotions settle.   With that in mind, remember that a break does not mean avoidance of conversation!
I hope you enjoyed a look into ONE of my parenting flaws.  Now, let's all breath deep...let it out...and get back to confident and flexible parenting. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"Your Parents are Wrong!"


"Your Parents are wrong!"  

I make this comment at least a couple times a year when speaking to students on the topic of moral decision making in the context of Discipleship (fancy word for following the example and direction of Jesus in how life should be lived).  The comment reflects a reality that parents, and surrounding adults, have the ability to negate and/or disqualify the moral directives of Jesus by the way they live their lives.  My wife Lisa and I often say, "We can not out teach what happens in the home or surrounding adult community. We are just not that good."  So, when teaching on moral decision making, the statement is a challenge for students (all of us actually) to follow the example and direction of Jesus over any authority that stands in contradiction with His lead.   Just in case you are wondering, I do not incite students to riot against authority (could be awesome but very irresponsible).  We are to honor our father, mother and those in authority over us (that is also part of discipleship-Ephesians 6; I Peter 2).  Still, as a Disciple of Jesus, his authority over our moral decision making is of first priority-we do call Him Lord of our life. So...

"What should I wear?"
"How should I speak?"
"What movie should I watch?"

"Should I do my own homework?"
"What music should I listen to?"
"How should I view authority?"
"How should I spend my time?"

are decisions that SHOULD be impacted by our commitment to follow Jesus as Lord.  Again, "Your Parents are wrong!" is not a statement derailing adult authority.  It is a statement highlighting the elephant in the room.  Adults (speaking to myself here) need to live with the weight that the way we live our lives before our students (our own and others) directly impacts the way they make moral decisions.  Check this out:

“the most persuasive moral teaching we adults do is by example: the witness of our lives, our ways of being with others and speaking to them and getting on with them—all of that taken in slowly, cumulatively, by our sons and daughters, our students.”
–Robert Coles, The Moral Intelligence of Children

Hard Reality:  Students with the very best, morally solid, examplar adults in their lives can make the worst decisions (it is all that free-will stuff).  

Harder Reality: If your student is making poor choices, the first place you should look is at the moral witness of your home and surrounding adult community.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Read this Church: A Sticky Faith Testimony

There is actually a joke that often circulates around my office and other church staff meetings. It is more of a comment concerning the number of times the word "Intergenerational" comes up when I am involved in ministry conversations.  To be honest, I love that the word has become a part of our church's vocabulary and love every time the word is used in any context.

David, "Why do you love being annoying?" (annoying may be a bad word, let's say persistent)

Because focusing on Intergenerational relationships in Youth Ministry create a wonderful tapestry of support structures that help students embrace and mature in their faith.

I want you to read the blog post from one of our recent 24:7 Student Ministry graduates.  I do not share this to "brag" about our church and ministry programs (I could brag about the greatest group of adult volunteers in the world).  I also do not share this to highlight one student above another (all of our students are wonderful).  I share this as a testimony of the impact a church with an Intergenerational focus can have on a young person's life.   By the way, I asked permission to use his post but you may want to make this young man's blog a regular read. Here is the link


Thank You

This blog really has a dual purpose. First and foremost, I’d like to thank everyone who has been involved with The Hills Church of Christ 24:7 Student Ministry, to any degree, for changing and shaping my life. The second purpose is to brag on what an amazing student ministry 24:7 has been, and will continue to be in the future. But first, a disclaimer..
*In no way, shape, or form does my declaration of immense gratitude to all 24:7 related parties signify  the end of my contact with said parties, or the participation in said ministry. I plan on staying active in the lives of those at The Hills, and will be as involved as humanly possible while living three hours away. You can’t get rid of me that easily.*
Now before the tears start flowing, thank you…
The Hills Elders and Senior Staff: Thank you for being possibly the most loving and caring church leaders on the planet. While The Hills is the only church I’ve attended regularly for the last 13 years, I’m well aware that many church leaders do not look upon the youth of their congregation with the same fondness and respect I have seen from you. I love that you have thrown out the old saying that “children are the church of tomorrow” and have actively sought to make us a part of the church today. I can’t imagine other churches having most of the senior staff speak for the youth group on an annual basis like Rick Atchley, Cary Branscum, Mike Washburn, Charley Taylor, and many others have now done the past few years. Even more incredible is the way you have attempted to integrate teens into the church wide ministry boards whether it be Men’s ministry, Women’s ministry, or Missions. Saying that we are the church of today is one thing, but asking us to take responsibility for what is going on in the church is another level of confidence that means the world to me and many others who want to feel like an important part of the church. Thank you to the elders who constantly prayed over us before retreats, camps, mission trips. The words of blessing sometimes spoken at 7am or earlier on a Saturday morning mean more than I can fully appreciate. Thank you for the way you treat the youth staff. From watching and hearing stories of how my dad was treated by elders and senior staff as a youth minister, I should have no desire to become one. But because of the love and respect I have seen you give Dave, Jason, Darin, Melanie, and Nicole, I have hope for my future church to want show Christ to all they meet, regardless of age.
The 24:7 Youth Staff: Thank you for literally changing the course of my life. I have no idea where I would be going and what I would be doing with my life if it wasn’t for your love and example. It was 8th grade when I first decided I wanted to become a youth minister. At that point it was just cause I loved worship and liked the idea of going to camps and retreats and getting paid for it. But over the last four years, especially this past year, you have taught me what being a youth minister really means. It is so much more than anyone on the outside could ever imagine. You have let me in on the heart of 24:7. You’ve shown me hearts aren’t always pretty; tensions flare, stresses rise, patiences are tested, and heartaches happen. But the joy I’ve seen radiate through you in spite of all you have seen is what is truly inspiring. Thank you Darin and Melanie for getting me hooked on 24:7. Until E-camp my 6th grade year I wanted nothing to do with 24:7 and the OKC and Little Rock mission trips made me realize the joys of serving others. Thank you Jeff and Jason Allen for being a light in my life from another campus. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with each of you on trips. Southlake and WFW are in excellent hands with the two of you at the helm. God is doing amazing things through you. Thank you Nicole for the impact you made on so many teens lives while you were here. I learned a lot from hearing stories of you counseling students and watching you work in the lives of many of my friends on incredibly intimate levels. Nashville is ridiculously blessed to have you changing lives there. You and Melanie have been shining examples that women are needed in youth ministry. Thank you John for all the things that you have done with the band and your creative inputs throughout the ministry. Also thanks for helping me realize I could sing. Leading worship with you is one of my absolute favorite experiences in 24:7. Thank you to Jason and Dave for putting so much into my life to help me grow foremost as a man of God, but also as a future youth minister. The experiences you have given me I wouldn’t trade for anything. Whether it was letting me on staff at e-camp, taking me on speaking engagements, letting me teach lessons, or just talking with me about life, you have shaped the way I look at life and at ministry specifically. If I could be half the men you are, I would be perfectly content with my character and my ability to minister. Thank you to all the staff on each campus for being an example of Christ to so many teens over the years and for years to come.
2013-07-05 01.44.12
The Adult Volunteers: Thank you for being what likely separates 24:7 the most from other student ministries. I have never seen such a large group of adults care so deeply about kids that were not their own. However, many of you have treated me like one of your own and because of that I am truly blessed. D-groups have shown me what it means for the body of Christ to raise children. The love that I have felt from The Wards, Halls, Peschells, Jones, and all the other parents of my class involved has kept me on the path for years now. I love knowing that just because I’m farther away the relationships don’t end and you will continue to make sure I’m on the path. Thank you to the Herrera’s. Brian and Angela, you have been actual family to me and I often forget we aren’t actually related. It feels like I have known you forever but its really been less than three years. But in that time you have opened up your home and opened up your lives for me and so many others. Your transparency is inspiring and your willingness to give advice and encouragement is wonderful. I don’t know what I would do without your family. Thank you to all the volunteers who have simply talked with me and encouraged me throughout my 24:7 experience. Without you 24:7 would not be the safe place it has been for countless teens who desperately needed caring and Godly adults in their lives.
The Students: Thank you. I am honestly at a loss on how to display the affection I have for all of you. I have been blessed by so many who have come and graduated before me but blessed my life and gave their friendship to me. I have so many dear friends in classes behind me who consider me a role model but I learn more from them than they possibly could from me. Awesome things are going to happen through 24:7 because of those of you who will be leading in the years to come. Thank you most of all to my fellow graduates. We did it. We made it through the hell that was middle school and thrived in the joys and pains of high school because of the bond we have with each other through Christ. I have no doubt that I have been a part of the greatest class to have ever gone through 24:7. The things that you all will do with your lives for the Kingdom are limitless. I don’t know what to say other than each one of you has my undying love and regardless of us going separate ways, we are still the body of Christ. In times of joy, we will be there. In times of pain, we will be there. In times of normality, we will be there. In times of uncertainty, we will be there. When time is no more and Heaven has come to earth, we will be there.

2014-06-28 00.08.27
“I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” -Jeremiah 24:7


As I look at the picture Jared shared above (Senior Class 2014), I am certain many, if not all, of these students could share stories of a church and adults who have impacted their spiritual journey in "Sticky Faith" manner.

Senior Pastors, Executive Ministers, Student Ministers, Adult Volunteers, takes effort, causes frustration and there are mistakes that can be made when in attempting to keep an Intergenerational focus in programming (I know, we make a lot).  Still, the results are worth the cost!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Satire is not a dirty word!

The Summer Student Ministry Season is coming to a close and the Fall is rapidly approaching.  If you are a Student Minister, Volunteer, Parent, Intern, Senior Pastor, Executive Minister...well...if you are anyone presently involved in Fall Ministry planning, I have a video and a few suggestions to share as you go through your planning process.  But first, a definition. 

Satire:  Satire is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government or society itself, into improvement Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon and as a tool to draw attention to both particular and wider issues in society. -The Wikipedia (My personal "satire" italicized)

I love Satire.  Yes, it can be painful when it hits close to home, but is helpful in exposing and starting discussion on issues that need attention and/or correction.  Get ready, this humorous satirical look at Youth Ministry is a toe stomper.


Perhaps OUCH, but awesome!

This satirical look at Youth Ministry can remind us of couple of things as we jump into Fall Ministry Season. 

The Authenticity, Motivation and Theological Purpose of Student Ministry programs are and will continue to be scrutinized by teenagers.  Teenagers are seeking authentic engagement with the adult community of faith.  Yes, they want to have fun and build great relationships in a safe environment, but they need Jesus.  Don't substitute the deep, radical, life changing call of Discipleship to follow Jesus with an invitation to a christian-based social club.  The numbers make us feel good, but they know the difference and so should we.

Teenagers don't want to be "talked down TO" they want to be "Invited to follow WITH."  Student leaders, if not careful, can reduce the radical call of the Gospel into a sin management plan (Dallas Willard had a lot of great things to say about this).  The Gospel is Jesus and Discipleship, at its core, involves a commitment to follow Jesus.  More than a good talking down to about their moral depravity and need for a savior (I am pretty sure they know the need), they desire an invitation to join other believers who know the cost and reward of following Jesus.  

Happy Fall Planning!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Seriously Playful Week of Camp

(In front of the selection panel on our ICE CREAM TRUCK!)

 Jesus called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. -Jesus (Matthew 18:2ff)

"This is the most fun I have had since I was 5 or 7!" These were the words spoken by a high school student last week at a summer camp.  What's the big deal? He was serious.  
It appears that scholars (Elkind, Clark, Hirsch, and others) are right.  The world in which we live is squeezing the life out of our students.  Much of what they do is judged, critiqued and then shipped back to them for improvement.  Everything (their words not mine) is a competition.  Last week, at a magical place called Pine Springs Summer Camp, we stopped the competition, critique and shipping and replaced them with play, creativity and worship.  
The result?

Our students (and adults) discovered or rediscovered what it looks like to have a child like faith in Jesus.  It was awesome and life changing!  

Why spend a week exploring child like faith? Read these words from Robert Capon:

We are in a war between dullness and astonishment. The most critical issue facing Christianity is not abortion, pornography, the disintegration of the family, moral absolutes, MTV, Drugs, racism, sexuality, or school prayer.  The critical issue today is dullness. We have lost our astonishment. The Good News is no longer good news, it is okay news. Christianity is no longer life changing, it is life enhancing.  Jesus doesn’t change people into wild-eyed radicals anymore, He changes them into “nice people.” (Episcopal priest Robert Capon used by Yaconelli in  Dangerous Wonder)

This past week, dullness was attacked and wonder pursued and nice people challenged to be radicals for the Kingdom of God! 

It was a Seriously Playful Week of Camp

Check out all the fun!


Thursday, June 12, 2014

If today where your last ...?

"Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." -James 4:14

When my wife Lisa and I received her original cancer diagnosis we did what came natural.  Understanding we would get both qualified and unqualified opinions, we got on the web and researched all the information we could find on her particular diagnosed cancer type (we found out later this is not necessarily the best thing to do).  It is a sobering experience reading treatment options and corresponding mortality rates.  Even though we attempted to practice, to the best of our ability, the wise suggestion to take "every negative thought captive" (that would included mortality rate statistics), there were moments when the reality of life's  mist nature hit home. 

"I may not be here for Shelbee's graduation." 
Tears filled my eyes as I listened to my wife speak these words and then watched her silently and somberly consider the words she had just spoken.  We were on our way to another doctor appointment and the seriousness of our situation was particularly heavy.  After a moment, we acknowledge the possibility, captured it (gave it to the Lord in prayer) and went on to another topic. 

To be clear, my wife was not expressing a lack of faith or focusing on morbid outcomes, she was articulating a reality we have faced many times in our marriage and ministry together.
Life is a gift of unpredictable length.  Therefore, the most should be made of every day! 

Truth:  One's unavoidable future reality (death) has incredible power to impact one's present reality. 

Whether young or old, ask yourself this question, "If today where your last day, what would you do?"
Would you...
  • ...spend all day with family and friends?
  • ...share those words?
  • ...have that conversation? 
  • ...ask for or offer forgiveness?
  • ...get your life right with the God?
Reach down and feel for a pulse.  

Do you have one?  Good. 

Now, let your future reality impact your present reality!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Cancer/No Cancer Experience: Lesson #1

The first time I had to "pull" a book back so I could read the words on the page created an interesting reaction  (for younger blog readers, it is rather humbling experience).  The blurred reading episode  shouted, "you are getting older and your existence will require assistance and will be different from this point on!"

Our journey with Cancer/Not Cancer was one of those "pull" back experiences that shouted "Life requires assistance and will be different from this point on."  In the next few blogs, I will attempt to share each of the "pull" back occasions in order to highlight a few that may impact your journey through life as well.

"Even if you don't need anything, let people do something for you and your family" were the words spoken by a dear friend (whose wife is a cancer survivor) at the beginning of our journey.   Even though, like most, we are more comfortable being on the helping others end, Lisa and I have been appreciative of the support and comfort we have received from friends and family.  Even so, we were not prepared for the level of extravagance poured out on our family.

We received gifts of
...prayer cards cleaning
...visits support
...kid taxi
...medical consult
...advice on treatment 
...tweets calls
...again, a lot of prayer

Our existence indeed required assistance from others. We are so thankful and blown away by the overwhelming amount of support received over the last few weeks. 

Extravagance is the word Lisa and I use to describe our experience of gift receiving.  And the recieving left us with two, won't go away, questions and one resolution that has impacted and continues to impact the future direction of our family.

Question#1Are we living a fiscally responsible lifestyle that supports extravagant giving? Yes, we can and will continue to give our tithe, our resources and time, but the key word here is extravagant.  We are wanting to keep our giving to receiving ratio in balance.  We want any imbalance to be on the giving side.

Question #2:  Are we living a fiscally responsible lifestyle that supports extravagant moments with family? We take vacations and have family time, but there were moments in our "pull" back that I really wanted to pack up the family and "refresh" for a day or two.  However, our financial responsibilities have a lot of our money committed before it is spent (I realize many of you reading this often find themselves in the same boat).  I did not like that feeling. 

Resolution:  We will explore and courageously make fiscal responsibilities adjustments in order to give and live extravagantly

After the "pull" back book moment, I went to the eye doctor expecting to get a prescription for contacts/glasses.  What I received was a "reader" prescription (actually, my doctor told me to go to a pharmacy and pick up a few pairs to throw around the home and office). I was ready for a full blown contact/glasses prescription to find I only needed "readers."  My existence with the assistance of readers gives me the ability to read books without the "pull" back and it is awesome! 

I have no idea, at this point, what level of correction to our fiscal vision these questions and our resolution will call for.   Regardless, we know something will be different.  We are seeing things real clear these days.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Cancer Free!

How do you write about the events of the past few days? Caution: This will be a long blog.

We were prayerfully ready for surgery--really prayerful!

The morning of May 28th began with last minute check of responsibilities, plans for the kids, paperwork and items to make an extended hospital stay comfortable.  The long ride was memorable and emotional.  We listened to Lisa's playlist (emotional in and of itself-check it out on Spotify-my wife's faith inspires me!), spoke "those" private, eternal words and while viewing the hospital that would be our home for a few days, shared prayer at a stop light.  With tears dry and hearts protected by the knowledge of prayer warriors surrounding us, we started through the pre-op routine.

Clothes switched to "the" gown.
Vitals checked.
IV Inserted.
Doctors and nurses asking questions and asking for any questions.
Friends Surrounding (awesome scene. The room was filled with a crowd of people ready to pray Lisa into surgery. A crowd the front desk referred to as the "party room.").
The time was 11:45 a.m.
They would take Lisa back in 15 minutes for a surgery that was predicted to take no less than 2.5 hours.
Then a phone call.

Let me pause the action to take us back through the events that brought Lisa to this pre-op room (very concise bullet points used).
  • Lisa has an appendectomy.
  • Pathology revealed the ruptured appendix was due to appendiceal cancer.
  • The doctor appointments began.
  • Incredible doors where opened to some of the finest doctors in the DFW area.  
  • The course of treatment was decided.
  • Surgery with Internal Chemo-the standard for Lisa's cancer.
  • Great doctor, great hospital, great staff, date of surgery set.
  • Caring Bridge activated and support plan in place.
  • Last post written on May 27th.   Here it is:
Hello Friends,
Tomorrow is the big day! Lisa’s surgery is scheduled to begin at 12 noon. As always, we know and are confident that the Lord goes before us in this surgery and that this journey through cancer did not catch him off guard. We ask that you remember the following things in prayer:

  • That the surgery be filled with great “surprises” of healing that only the Lord could receive credit. 
  • That the recovery will be quick and with as little discomfort as possible.
  • That Braeden and Shelbee be strengthened and comforted as their mom is in the hospital.
  • That I will serve my wife and children with great energy, passion and be a source of comfort for each of them.
  • That our journey will not be wasted as we press in close to the Father and develop greater character.
  • That the Lord be glorified in our family’s response to this journey
Again, thank you all for your love, patience and practical outpouring of love and support. We are indeed a blessed family.

We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! -Romans 5:3 (The MSG)

So, back to the pre-op room, May 28th, 11:45 a.m. and the phone call.

At 11:55 a.m. (minutes before Lisa is set to receive the anesthesia "cock-tail") the doctor comes into the room, dismisses the crowd (party) and asks to speak to Lisa and I privately.  He begins with "I just got a call from Pathology"(who had been feverishly trying to get a hold of him all morning-he was in surgery).   Now, considering Lisa's track record with health issues, we both expected the worst.  Then, with a smile (he said he was not use to giving good news) he informed us that there would be no surgery!  His pathologist (verifying the findings of another pathologists on his team) said that cancer did not destroy the appendix it was endometriosis and to stop the surgery! 

Lisa and I were both stunned and asked, "So, what do we do now?"  After the usual "technical stuff" he suggested she get dressed, go have lunch and celebrate!   So we did!


We are still trying to process the events of the last few days!  An event that will lead to a few what we have learned posts I am certain.  In short, we are thankful, amazed and give the Lord praise for answered prayer!

So, here it comes...
Was the original diagnosis wrong?
Did the Lord change the pathology?
Did the Lord lead you to the correct doctors to see the correct diagnosis?
I have no clue!

Let me use the words of the man, formerly known as the blind man, in John 9.  When people where questioning him about how he received back his sight, the man said, "One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”  

Here is what Lisa and I can say, "One thing we know, she was told she had cancer and was having surgery and the diagnosis changed." In dramatic, 11th hour, glory giving/attracting,  "surprise filled" (Check the above prayer requests again--amazing!) fashion.   
The Father not only answered the prayer. 
He answered the prayer and dropped the mic!


Let me be crystal clear (emphasis added by Lisa's request and my solid agreement)
God is good all the time!  His goodness would have remained if deliverance from surgery had not come or had resulted in death.  I am not wanting to sound dramatic but affirming the words of a friend who said, "God always gives his people a yes!"  This time, the Father 's "Yes" lined up with our "yes."

As we drove home (after getting Lisa lunch) here is the song from her playlist that caught our attention and created a thin-silence, tear filled, speechless moment.  Enjoy! (If the video does not appear, here is the link Whom Shall I Fear)

By the way, if you don't know the God of Angel Armies,  we would love to tell you about Him! He was and continues to be by our side!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Parent Goggles

"Dad, you are wearing Parent Goggles!"

I have heard a lot of strange and interesting words fly out of the mouths of teenagers, but this one left me a little confused. 

I was complimenting my son on, what I thought, was a job well done on an classroom assignment.  That is what parents do.  Right? 
Adults encourage students with positive words of affirmation.  Right?
Parents make sure their son or daughter know that you recognize their "special" achievements. Right?
But when I complimented my son, he accused me of wearing Parent Goggles.   What?
Here is what I learned from the obvious request for a definition and explanation.

Parent Goggles is a term used to describe a parent's or adult's over exaggerated compliment of a student's ability.  For instance, a parent who says, "My son is an outstanding basketball player" when their son is riding the pine on the B-Team is wearing parent goggles.   I am glad I could say to my son, that as far as I know (we all have blind spots I admitted), I have never provided a compliment via Parent Goggles  and that his level of achievement I praised was due to his own effort.  This led to an honest discussion of what I saw as his current state of ability regarding the various activities in which he is involved (don't judge-he wanted to know).  And you know what? He liked the honest dialogue. 

I believe the term Parent Goggles developed out of student reaction to the "everyone is special" culture (check out my last blog on that special word).  A culture, I argue, students' have always been able to see through and rebel against. the term parent goggles suggesting that adults not use positive words, compliment, or recognize a student's achievement?  No! 
The term is suggesting that parents and adults be more realistic in recognizing and highlighting their student's abilities and achievements.  They may not say it, but students (and adults for that matter) need honest feedback, direction and encouragement!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"You are not special!" and other truths our students need to hear!

Let me make an uncomfortable observation.

One of my favorite scenes in the Disney classic The Incredibles is the discussion Dash has with his mom about being special

Why is it one of my favorites?

Dash's mom, in an attempt to "settle" his desire to be involved with student activities and hide his incredible abilities says, "Everyone is special Dash"  To which Dash responds, "which is another way of saying 'no one is.'"

For as long as I have been involved in cultural studies, I have heard and read people bashing Disney for their "devious and hidden sexual content" messages in their animated films.  I find such allegations interesting, sometimes easy to see and always entertaining.  I am not sure Disney peeps sit around and think of where they can "hide" profound and cultural influencing, reflecting content in their films.  I am more interested in the obvious cultural messages.  This conversation Dash is having with his mom is a true window into today's, highly competitive, I-have-an-honor-student-sticker toting, trophy-handing-out culture.

When did we get the idea that everybody is special?

Before you stop reading, let me clarify.
Indeed, we are all special in terms of our value as a person.  A message that should be trumpeted from every adult and placed deep inside the heart of every student (and adult for that matter) is that every person is deeply loved for who they are and not because of what they do! 

Our culture communicates a much different message. A message that leaves people believing their worth (ability to be special and/or loved) is determined by what they do and how well they do it.  Therefore, Culture's attempt at correcting such an obvious injustice is to make everybody's "what they do and how well they do it" special (you may want to read those last two sentences again-they fly by really fast).

"What is the problem with that?" you ask.
A person's value is still being placed on performance.  And, like Dash, our student's soon realize that in a world where everyone's performance is special, no one's performance is truly special! Therefore, the natural process (interest, attempt, success/failure) of a student discovering their own, unique and special abilities is lost.

Hey adults, our student's know the truth.  They know...
...not everyone gets to be on the "A" team and/or be a starter.
...not everyone gets to sit in 1st chair.
...not everyone can make the cheerleader squad.
...not everyone can sing a high "C."
...not everyone makes the honor roll.
...not everyone wins the literary contest.

They know they are not special in everything and that is alright! Actually, they need to hear that more often.  I am convinced the one's who are often not "alright" with this truth are we adults.  Perhaps, the entitlement problem we say teenagers have is actually our problem.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

People Watching

After one of many appointments, Lisa and I were getting lunch in downtown Dallas.

It is one of the very special things we do these days.  We pray, talk, laugh, tear up at times and, almost always, start People Watching.  People Watching is like bird watching but a lot more fun.  Like bird watching, you do not want to spook the subject by revealing your "watching." To clarify, People Watching should not be confused with stalking--that is just weird.  Nor should it be conducted in order to validate a bias, position and/or person's value.  Done correctly, People Watching helps one appreciate the beauty, uniqueness and value of each individual person.  That was the case in downtown Dallas.

My wife and I selected a table next to a large set of windows.  It was an ideal People Watching position.  We saw some beautiful, unique and valuable people. 

We saw a street saxophone player (he was doing pretty well with his tips).

We saw cowboys (various hats and boots)

We saw business people (casual and suited up).

We saw students (you can tell by their back packs).

We saw homeless people (you can tell by their back packs as well).

We saw tourists (too many identifiers to mention).

We saw police officers (on horse back and scooters). 

We saw ourselves (glass reflects images).

It was an awesome time of People Watching.  I leaned over to Lisa and said, "I wonder if all of these people have families or those who care for them."  We concluded, that regardless of their situation, each of them needed to be loved by someone.  Then, in a moment of clarity (which often comes with genuine People Watching) we agreed that, at it's core, this is the message of the Gospel and the point of ministry.  Jesus put it this way,

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”-Matt 22:37ff

The thought I am about to leave you with is not necessarily a criticism of the way we "do church" in America (unless you need the prophetic correction).  However, it is a thought that draws our first fruit efforts and focus on that which I am convinced was the first fruit effort and focus of Jesus--people!
It is a challenge that comes from a lifetime of ministry experience and a lot of time with those "outside" the walls of our church whom we would love to have come "inside" the walls.  Here comes the thought:

What has the power, to bring a person "inside" the walls of churches?  
I know that cool paint, signage, songs, lights and comfortable pews have a certain value but NONE have the power, nor can replace, the impact of a Jesus follower who loves the Lord and their neighbor.  

Church leaders/members, where are we placing our first fruit efforts and focus?

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"If it bleeds it leads"

"If it bleeds it leads" is a phrase often heard inside today's 24/7 news cycle culture.  The phrase is used to illustrate the type of stories that grab attention and influence "viewers" to stay tuned, after the commercial break, for more information.  Before you get all defensive about your ability to deny media influence, let me ask a question, "Do you slow down, not for safety but strange interest reasons, when passing a wreck on the road?"

"See?!"  We all feel the leading of the bleeding influence. 

It is easy to understand why TV and cable providers would want to use stories that keep attention on their product--money.  Even so, such headline stories have the ability to create false or exaggerated perceptions of people, places and things. 

And...such my opinion...culture's false and exaggerated perception of teenagers. 

If you listen to several of the bleeding and leading headlines concerning today's teen culture, you may avoid and/or not talk to a teenager for fear they will pull out a weapon, steal your money and/or offer you an illegal substance. I am talking about adult reactions to strange teenagers in our churches.

Let me assure you!  There are weapon carrying, money stealing, illegal substance offering teenagers out there.  There are also weapon carrying, money stealing, illegal substance offering adults out there (which is most likely the reason we have the teen problems)! about a great, inspirational, the community got it right story of a teenager?  A story that I propose is more common than reported.

BTW:  This video was shared by a public school administrator. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

"Keep Your Breasts to Yourself!"--Beth Moore

Female dress code discussions are dicey topics for student ministry leaders. 
No one wants to be prudish, but no one wants to turn a blind eye and accept cultural norms that, at times, leave little to the imagination. That is why I want to share the following resource with you.

My wife shares my frustration of how to address "dress" in a culture where parents (especially dads) allow their daughters to leave their homes in "little imagination" wear.  She recently came across a Beth Moore audio in which Beth was speaking to women about dress and modesty (she actually woke me up to share the message with me). 
Beth hit a home run! 
Caution:  She is pretty fired up about this topic.