Christians, Church Is Not About You

“well, that’s unfortunate”.

yup, that’s actually what someone told me today when i explained that my church is laser focused and unapologetically in business for the people in our community far from God.

of course, this conversation was in a larger context of why our church does ‘this’ and doesn’t do ‘that’, and how those decisions happen to not line up with the style of worship they would prefer at the moment… yada yada yada.

to be honest these conversations weary me. i’d rather floss my teeth (something i really hate doing). i wish people who call themselves Christians would just read The Great Commission and take it literally. i wish they would look harder in the Gospels and somehow catch Jesus’ heart for the broken and the messed up. i mean, is it really that hard to see? he would spend hours talking to town prostitutes in the hot sun while his friends looked for funnel cakes, and he’d hang around money launderers with his own reputation on the line.  Jesus’ passion for people affected his everyday, operational decisions, and yet it feels today like so many long-time (mature) Christians love taking cheap shots at churches trying to get their hands dirty by making those same kinds of decisions.

i think it’s unfortunate that they think it’s unfortunate. it’s sad really. because the church is not about you, Christians. it’s not about what you like, or what you prefer. the minute you turned your life over to Christ you were given a job: to love without limits, to care compassionately, and to sacrifice selflessly.

so if you’re looking for a church, look for one that’s getting their hands dirty in the lives of people far from God. and put your personal preferences aside.

The Basics Of Student Ministry

been thinking a lot lately of what student ministry at its core really is. back when i was a student in high school it didn’t seem like youth ministry was as big a “machine” as it is today. what we have today is certainly not bad… in fact i’m thankful for the hundreds of conference/training options, books, resources, blogs, podcasts, etc. out there. but as anything grows and matures, it can lose (at least for me) the essence of what it was created to do in the first place.

here was my experience 15 years ago when i was in high school, and how our church’s non-complex student ministry literally transformed my life. this is what it’s really all about:

1. we had a bunch of caring adult leaders around, and one of them in particular pouring into me. they were there every wednesday night. playing ping-pong, joking around with other teens, introducing themselves to the new kid, asking me about my world, and organizing a pickup basketball game at the park right afterwards. most of them knew me and i knew they all cared about me. but there was one who went beyond the others. he took a special interest in me, met up with me every week outside of Wednesday nights. we emailed, talked on the phone, hung out, and simply did life together. rubbing shoulders together as we went through everyday life made a profound impact on me, greater than any one event or amazing youth talk.  and the coolest thing… he wasn’t even the youth pastor!

2. i was given chances to lead. our youth leaders saw potential in me, and created space for me to lead. i know many nights the program bombed because of me, and i dropped the ball. they could have done the job better and quicker without me, but they saw a value in me holding the mic or writing the encouragement card. i still remember giving the announcements, running tech, and greeting other teens at the door, and for a self-righteous stuck up teen like myself, i needed an opportunity to see beyond myself.

3. we had an extremely safe crowd program. wednesday nights at our church was the place to be if you were a teenager in our little city surrounded by cornfields. there were always new teens there, and i still remember our youth pastor arriving each week in his beat-up, old truck with a bunch of students from the community. he even transported a kid in a wheelchair more times than i can count. the crowd was everywhere on the spiritual spectrum, and i still remember the nervous looks on the some of the older church members’ faces from time to time when they would walk in. there was laughter, learning, worship, and a strong challenge to follow Jesus harder.

no matter how complex and involved student ministry today becomes, i hope we always have these 3 components coming through loud and clear!

I Love My Job

just got an email from youth specialties with this video. if you work with students, it’s totally worth the 3 minutes. we’re gonna show it at our next team meeting in a few weeks.

some of the most significant ministry to students really does happen between youth services.

thanks YS!

“I’m Here”

have you downloaded Marko‘s free e-book A Beautiful Mess yet? if not you can grab it over here, at least for now.  i just started reading it and fell in love with the story below. i love how as youth workers we often have no idea the impact we’re making and we’re so often in the dark, but underneath God is moving students’ hearts and answering big prayers.

A modern-day story, shared with me recently by a friend of mine, gifted veteran youth pastor Sam Halverson:Sam had a teenage guy in his group (we’ll call him Tim) who’d shown no spiritual interest whatsoever and was normally brooding and dark in his outlook. At a particular worship time, the students in Sam’s group were given some space to reflect on their spiritual lives. Tim sat by himself and was drawn into a very personal something. Sam couldn’t tell what was going on, whether Tim was having a profound spiritual moment, or was angry, or something else. He noticed Tim with his head down; as Sam moved around the room and neared Tim, he could tell Tim was in the midst of something intense. Sam said he had no idea what to do. Should he interrupt what was possibly a personal moment between Tim and God and ask Tim what was going on? Should he lay hands on Tim and pray for him? Should he leave Tim alone? Sam, feeling helpless and bumbling, lightly touched Tim on the shoulder and said, “I’m here.” Tim only nodded but said nothing. As he walked away, Sam felt he’d probably blown it, that there was likely something better he should have done (but he had no idea what that better thing would have been). A week later, Tim’s mom called Sam about another issue. At the end of the call, she said, “Oh, and I wanted to tell you thanks for what you did for Tim.” Sam was confused. Tim’s mom continued, “Tim told me that he was really struggling with whether or not God even exists. In that prayer time, Tim was begging God to reveal himself. He prayed, ‘If you’re real, God, then do something—right now—to say “I’m here!” ’ Tim told me that the second he prayed that, you put your hand on his shoulder and said, ‘I’m here.’ ”

Don’t Call Your Event An Annual Thing!

caution, rant coming!

why is it that we in ministry so often start a new event/program/initiative and right out of the shoot call it something like “the first annual pizza eating contest”?  when the event miserably fails, or even produces minimal levels of success, it makes it that much harder to kill it and channel resources to a more worthwhile initiative.  it’s funny to me how one word can keep dysfunctional programs on the calendar for far too long.

it’s always good to evaluate an event from top to bottom. and it’s certainly good to start by even asking the question whether or not the event should even continue next year.  the reality is, even if something’s been successful for 20 years, it still doesn’t mean it will be successful next year.

i guess this stuff has been on my mind more lately as i’ve been reading through necessary endings by henry cloud with the rest of our church staff. i’m realizing that as the leader of our student ministry, one of my primary jobs is approving what is allowed to go on our ministry calendar, and by extension, what initiatives are allowed or not allowed to get our attention. that simple yes that i give affects many families – my ministry volunteers/staff, our students and their parents, and other groups wanting to use our facility.  as a ministry we can’t do everything, and we must make sure our resources are being sent to initiatives that will truly produce results.

the next time you have a great idea, don’t call it an annual event! give yourself freedom to take it off the calendar and replace it with something else.