I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty

“I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security… More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, ‘Give them something to eat.'”

– Pope Francis

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Fresh Perspective From An Old Hymn

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This weekend is one of the highlights of my ministry year: spending a few days with some of our youth leaders at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Indianapolis.  It’s always such a refreshing and challenging time as God recharges us for the year ahead.
In one of the general sessions today, the Jordan Howerton Band was leading us in a powerful worship set, and then broke out in singing the old hymn, “Victory In Jesus”.  I know that song well.  The church I grew up in would sing it EVERY SUNDAY at the end of service.  Every Sunday.  Without fail.  I remember hating the song by the time I was in high school.  But hearing it today with fresh ears brought a wave of gratefulness over me.  I’m so grateful for the ministry of Second Baptist Church and how God used the community of believers there to breathe life into a stuck-up, self-righteous kid like me.  For any blog readers who happen to stumble upon this blog from time to time from my roots back at Second, thank you for caring about teenagers and not assuming that the church kids have it all together or are any less broken than the ones outside the walls.

When To Give Your Senior Pastor “The Heads Up”

as a youth pastor, good communication with your senior pastor (or direct report) is always wise and helpful, but there are definitely situations where a time-sensitive heads up is critical.  i learned alongside another youth pastor who was always great at this – it was always important to him that the lead guy never got blindsided by something under his area of leadership.
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here are the top 5 types of situations i’ve learned where “the heads up” is pretty much automatic if i want to save myself and my ministry from future pain.  the types of situations may definitely vary from church to church, and i’m sure i’ve missed some… so feel free to leave them in the comments!
  • WHEN A CHURCH MEMBER OR INFLUENTIAL PERSON MIGHT LEAVE THE CHURCH BECAUSE OF A DECISION YOU MADE.  leaders make decisions, and there’s no way to always keep everyone happy. from time to time, i’ve had to make an unpopular decision, and though it always bugs me that some church-goers’ commitment to a church is relatively fragile, it doesn’t help your ministry if the lead guy finds out about it from somewhere else before you.  their side of the story usually isn’t balanced, and the teeter totter certainly isn’t leaning towards your side of the playground.  let your pastor know what your decision was, the reasoning behind it, and offer to help bring clarity through any of the tough conversations to come.
  • WHEN IT’S TIME TO “RELEASE” A YOUTH LEADER TO A DIFFERENT MINISTRY IN THE CHURCH.  it always stinks, but not everyone that makes it on the team is a good fit. no matter how hard you try to help them transition into a different serving role in the church, conflict often emerges from these conversations. i still remember the youth leader i had recruited with seemingly good intentions, to later find out they were just trying to keep tabs on their own kids.  it was a tough situation to navigate because they made me force them out, and out of it i remember learning how much easier it is to say no to someone who wants on than to kick someone off.  let your senior pastor know you’re moving them off the team before the conversation happens.
  • WHEN A PARENT ISN’T JUST UPSET, BUT HOT AND ANGRY AT YOU OR YOUR MINISTRY. again, conflict is inevitable in leadership, but many times angry parents can be the worst because their protective emotions can fuel extra anger. unfortunately the immature will look to go over your head and take it up with your boss rather than dealing directly with you… and it will help you immensely to let your lead guy know in advance if you see it coming. give him the facts, let him know what you could have done to avoid the situation, and assure him that you’re taking steps to resolve the conflict. i remember a situation like this a few years ago. it still totally sucked, but at least i knew my senior pastor had my back the whole way through.
  • WHEN A STUDENT IS IN DANGER AND YOU HAVE TO INTERVENE. of all the things we do in student ministry, pacing with hurting students through messy situations is both sacred and scary. as pastors we are mandatory reporters, and from time to time we have to get the authorities involved. before calling CPS or setting up a 1AM meeting with the parents, get your senior pastor clued in on the important details. you don’t have to break confidentiality, but you do have to give him enough info to know you’re on it and doing your best to see it through responsibly. he’s probably got a lot of wisdom to offer in situations like this as well, and you can earn points by coming in with humility and glean from his experience.
  • WHEN YOU THINK YOU SHOULD BUT YOU’RE NOT 100% SURE. just do it anyways. i’ve learned the hard way that it’s better to over-communicate and have him tell you to keep it to yourself than to under-communicate and leave him grasping for answers when everything hits the fan. to make matters worse, the one time he DOES call asking for an explanation you’ll be out with a student at starbucks and your phone battery will be dead… or you’ll be snowtubing down a mountain and it’ll go to voicemail. no matter how “covered” you are in the situation, you WILL lose credibility points and make the situation worse.
what did i miss?

Always Have A Story Ready To Share

one of the things that drives me crazy about church and those of us who go to church is how we so easily associate big numbers (attendance, offering, etc.) with growth (and vice versa). while perception really is not reality, it really is for some people who walk in our doors, and i hate how people can leave with a perception that not much is happening simply from a 5 second glance in a room, all while critical life transformation and faith steps are being taken under the surface.

we have got to find ways to measure spiritual growth beyond numbers. i’m not saying that we should put our spreadsheets away (although i wouldn’t complain), but let’s add some things to the conversation that will never get charted.

i was listening to the youth ministry garage recently and a question along these lines came up. a ton of great things were said, but one of them was simply to always have a story ready to share. to change the perception you have to change the conversation, and a great way to change the conversation is to tell a compelling story.

don’t walk through your church lobby on sunday morning without a quick story of life change happening right now in your ministry! this has been so challenging for me these days and such a good reminder.

  • stories of the girl who just decided to give church a try.
  • or the high school jock who joined the football team not to show off but to connect his teammates to jesus.
  • or the girl who finally dumped her jerk boyfriend because he kept pressuring her to send him nude pics.
  • or the outsider kid who finally got welcomed by a regular and took a next step in the ministry as a result.

these stories will never show up on a graph in excel, and some may still want a number… but the life change is happening, and sometimes we just need to do a better (more creative) way of sharing it.

It’s Not The Healthy Who Need A Doctor

this week i had 2 conversations with 2 different people. one was expressing disappointment in our church and how our sunday services don’t go “deep” enough for the more “advanced” christian, and the other was expressing gratefulness that we were able to meet him where he’s at right now.  the first has been a christian for a long time, the second has just started giving church a try.  i tried to have compassion and grace with the first guy, but frustration quickly entered my heart.

i honestly wanted to grab him, look him in the eye, and shake him.  because it’s not about him.

if you’re growing and you’re “advanced”, that’s great! then you know how to keep growing and how to keep feeding yourself. and you know the importance of accountability, and bible study, and prayer.  so do it!  …make it happen.

but along the way don’t forget where you came from. because there’s probably still people back there that you can love on.

 

After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.  Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.  But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”  Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  Luke 5:27-32

Cheat The Church (Not Your Family)

i have been absolutely loving being a dad and this new season of life. so so so so fun!  the coolest thing lately has been watching adelina smile voluntarily (not that fake, “i-can’t-help-it” kinda way”).

but even as cool as it is, and even though when i’m home i never wanna leave, i know how easy it still is to overwork and give too much of my time to the church.  andy stanley summed it up a few years ago here by challenging us with this tension. here’s a small bit, head there for the rest:

I’d like to tell you about the best leadership decision I’ve ever made. It came back in 1995 when we decided to launch North Point Community Church. My wife, Sandra, and I had two kids at that time, both of which were in diapers, and she was pregnant with our third child.

If you’ve ever started a church, you know it is extraordinarily time intensive. You’re never done. Whenever you go home, there is stuff left to do. And yet I found myself in this stage of life where there was more to do at home than there had ever been. So I found myself in this awful dilemma. There was not enough time to do everything, and there wasn’t enough time to be who I needed to be as a leader of this brand new organization, as a father of two little boys, and the husband of a wife who was pregnant and doing her best to support me emotionally through a very difficult transition. I found myself sitting alone one afternoon thinking, I can’t do all of this.

The “Work” Paradox

Think of the dilemma: If you stayed at work (and the “work” could be business or church) until you got every single thing done that you needed to get done and were just far enough ahead to where you could actually enjoy the next day, you’d never go home, right?

If you stayed at home until everybody at home got the time and attention they wanted, you’d never go to work! Never once have my kids said to me, “Dad, I think we’ve played enough. Why don’t you go on in the house and see if you can get some work done.” That has never happened, and it never will.

i love the courageous decision he made to set a radical boundary by coming home every day at 4:30, and in these early days with adelina, the whole article was a good reminder and challenge.  you’re gonna cheat one of them… don’t let it be your family!

Adelina’s Dedication (& A Few Other Pics)

last week we were able to bring the baby up on stage at lakeshore and dedicate her with a few other couples. for us and our church, a baby dedication has little to do with the baby (directly) but more for the parents. it was an opportunity for us to stand up in front of our church and declare our desire to teach and model the ways of Jesus, as well as our desire for the church’s help in that process.  here’s a picture of adelina with pastor vince and one other from the dedication. i also threw a few other random pics in there just for free 🙂

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More Space For Our Students

it made my heart really happy to see so many students at church today for easter, and definitely that we had enough space for them all. this whole past year we had them crammed in the youth rooms (not designed for services) until the sound treatment of our gymnasium/multi-purpose room could get to an adequate level. the big crowd easter brings was the catalyst to really get the job done, and i’m so thankful for the resources, finances, and people that made it all happen.  there’s definitely still some more treatment to go, but phase 1 allows us to hear the spoken word without straining!

here’s a couple shots of the service this morning. i ripped them off facebook, so the quality isn’t great. plus it looks really dark due to the ambience/mood we’re trying to create so that the now “huge” space feels not quite so big.

it was super fun having my youth leader, mentor, and great friend todd bush preach again, and it was also fun to see both music teams join together for one big “all-student” band leading worship.

easter… the day that changed everything for me!