Streams of The Nines

For those of you who are interested: the videos from The Nines are now available online. (click the link) Great stuff to challenge you as you grow…

For those who are not interested: What’s wrong with you?

An UnChristian Church…

I’ve mentioned here before how I grew up in the church. “If the church doors are open, we’re there.” was inscribed on the family coat of arms that hung above the fireplace, just below the swords and muskets. Ok, there was no coat of arms, but if there were… Being at church all the time shaped my view of Christianity very early. When I graduated HS, I got married and went to Bible College. Not too long after graduating there, I got my first ‘real job’ – in youth ministry, in the church. About 7 years after that, I moved to my second ‘real job’ – in youth ministry, in the church.

Being ‘in the church’ as long as I can remember has continued to shape my view of Christianity. I’ve always seen it from the inside. The church is my family. The church has been the environment where my greatest friendships have developed. I love the church. Even when the church misses the mark with crazy rules about where donuts and cupcakes belong, and with silly songs from the 70’s, and with a deficiency of sugar in the VBS Kool-Aid… I will still love the church.
I just finished reading unchristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. Based on extensive research of people with a very different perspective, the book offered hard data to verify some of what I’ve noticed for a long time: A lot of people outside the church do not see what we should want them to see. At the risk of furthering misunderstanding, I will agree that “We have an image problem.” When young people look at the church from the outside, they don’t see God – and that is a problem that is not entirely their fault.
The subtitle of the book offers an explanation of what a new generation really thinks about Christianity… and why it matters. 10 years ago in my youth ministry, I determined that one of the biggest obstacles that I faced in trying to engage young people in the church was that many young people thought that church is boring. (To be fair, ‘boring church’ is all that many young people have ever encountered.) I have learned in my life that being connected and directed by the Holy Spirit of Jesus is anything but boring… so I determined to set about correcting that misconception. I still fight it, and will probably fight it until the day I die. Following Jesus is not boring… if the church is boring, you’re not doing it right! {Note to students – I know I’m not the most exciting guy all the time, and I’m sorry for every moment I’ve ever bored you. Please dive deeper with me into Jesus and I promise HE will not bore either of us!}
When the young people I know think about the church, I want them to see Jesus. I want them to know the living, breathing Body of Christ that belongs to the mission of God. Unchristian is full of evidence that that’s not what they see at all. I would like them to describe the church as compassionate and caring, loving and life-affirming, vibrant… Survey says… XXX
The most commonly used descriptions that Mosaics and Busters (the generations surveyed – generally between 16-29) used fell into 6 themes that are explored in the book:
-Hypocritical – Christians say one thing but live something entirely different.
-Too focused on conversion – Christians are insincere and concerned only with converting others.
-Anti-homosexual – Christians show contempt for gays and lesbians.
-Sheltered – Christians are boring, unintelligent, old-fashioned, and out of touch with reality.
-Too political – Christians are primarily motivated by a political agenda and promote right-wing politics.
-Judgmental – Christians are prideful and quick to find faults in others.
If “perception is reality”, then this is a problem. Before you succumb to the knee jerk reaction, remember, these perceptions have come from somewhere. Real people have seen hypocritical Christians slam sinners, only to be revealed indulging in the very sins they railed against. Real people have felt like targets who were quickly dismissed by Christian ‘friends’ when it didn’t look they’d convert. Real people have seen the churches holding ‘God hates fags’ signs – and rolled us all up into that same stereotype. This isn’t always fair to all of us, but it’s happening. And even if the perceptions are not true, we can’t just let them persist… we have to give evidence that the perceptions are false.
Kinnaman and Lyons offer a great deal of hope for the future here. Each of the objections is buffered by a new reality – a new perception that we, the church, should work to create. We should be letting people see:
-“We are transparent about our flaws and act first, talk second.”
-“We cultivate relationships and environments where others can be deeply transformed by God.”
-“We show compassion and love to all people, regardless of their lifestyle.”
-“We are engaged, informed, and offer sophisticated responses to the issues people face.”
-“We are characterized by respecting people, thinking biblically, and finding solutions to complex issues.”
-“We show grace by finding the good in others and seeing their potential to be Christ followers.”
I hope you’ll join me in revealing a church that is more like Jesus than many people are seeing right now. We can’t just say it… we have to live it.

Wind & WaterMarks

This is my entry for our church’s newsletter sweepstakes, so when you get yours in the mail, just pretend you didn’t read it here already…

I’ve had a number of discussions lately about just what exactly we’re working to develop in our student ministry. What is Wind & Water Student Ministries all about? The short answer is discipleship. We are all about revealing the one true God to students and being disciples of His Son – but let me flesh that out a little bit.

We don’t just want students to show up. The world has more than enough pew-sitters content to be spoon fed once a week, pay their dues when it’s convenient, and sit back and wait for Jesus to return. I don’t need to train our students to do that. I don’t need to teach them to think only about themselves and what will make them the most comfortable with their church experience, never thinking about what kind of experience may reveal God to His missing people.

We ask more of our students. I’ve been thinking a lot and praying that 5 markers would identify our students. I pray that every one of our students would come to exhibit these characteristics:

– a permanent attitude of worship

– a global view of God’s Church

– a passion for revealing God to people who don’t see Him

– a commitment to local service as the church

– a hunger for depth in their relationship with God

The Nines Stew – Pt. 2

This is a continuation of reflections on my notes from The Nines. I heard this week, that the videos will be released next week: check out The Show on Tuesday for the details.

One of the comments that I’ve really been thinking about was from Rick Rusaw. He asked the question “How can we be the best church FOR our community?” It’s easy for churches to begin to focus on being “the best church in town” – what can we do/offer that no one else is doing? How can we set ourselves apart from the crowd of churches? But this is the wrong approach that only feeds people’s consumerist nature. This question shifts the focus to being there FOR the community and re-engaging our community – not competing with other churches for people’s attention. Brings to mind something about being “salt and light”…
Bil Cornelius talked about the power of mentoring. As a youth minister, I’ve been privileged to serve as a mentor for some awesome students. I just got off the phone with one of my students who’s heading out next year to do missions work in Spain/Morocco and yesterday talked with one who is a youth minister in IA. It’s so exciting to continue to pray for these guys and watch what God is doing in their lives. One of the things I love the most about youth ministry is being able to see students that I’ve invested in pour themselves into kingdom ventures like this! But as much as I’ve given in mentoring, I also need to be mentored. If you’re a leader, don’t ever think that you’re beyond the influence of others. You are setting yourself up to languish in the status quo if you think you don’t need coaching anymore. And you will take the people you lead down with you. Seek mentorship in relationship with other leaders, conferences, books “from those who’ve done what you want to do”, coaching networks, etc.
I appreciated Pete Wilson’s suggestion that “the greatest crisis in the church is lack of transformation”. We are not just saved from something; we are saved to something. We are rescued from death in order to bring life to humanity.
Jon Tyson offered a great reminder that “the power for our leadership doesn’t come from methods/techniques/strategies… it comes from God.” I have a problem with writing in books. Even highlighting was a problem for me in college. (I know, I have issues… my therapist says it’s getting better though!) One of the very first things I ever underlined or wrote in a Bible was at the National Youth Leaders Convention in 2004 in 2 Cor. 3 “Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Tyson’s 9 minutes was a great reminder of this life changing approach to leadership.
I love it when Sr. leader type guys champion next generation ministries. Youth ministers like me can talk all day long about the importance of stretching ourselves to reach the next generation, but we’re often blown off because we’re seen more as big brothers for church kids than as pastors who’ve spent years of our lives studying and training to be missionaries to young people. But when guys like Reggie Joiner talk about the importance of ministry to children and students, it sits differently with other leaders. He talked about how Nehemiah had a vision for the next generation and their perspective of God – and how today’s young generation needs to see God in a new way. When Nehemiah rallied the people, it was to fight for their sons and daughters – outsiders began to see God differently, insiders began to pay attention to God, and His work was celebrated. Hey church… fight for your sons and daughters!
Mark Batterson shared one of his recurring themes: “I’d rather have 1 God idea than 1000 good ideas.” I’m an ideas guy – I love ideas and am always wondering “what if…” Some of my ideas are pretty stupid (like riding my bike straight into a downed log or shooting the lock off a gate with a BB gun from about 6 inches away) and some are actually good. But “you can only get a God idea… from God.” If I’m not spending enough time with Him, my ideas will always fall short of His.
Sam Chand offered some interesting thoughts regarding leadership pain. “You won’t grow beyond your capacity to endure the pain of leading – and the only way to grow your pain threshold is… more pain.” Leaders get hurt. Satan wants to take us down and unfortunately, some the of the people who follow are more that willing to let him use them to take potshots at us. But how we respond to the pain has a lot to do with whether our leadership will grow or stagnate. Stagnant leadership will cripple the growth of any ministry.
Dan Kimball stressed the urgency of God’s mission. Eternity is at stake for the people we know and love – and that is something we should be desperate about. “Tradition should never get in the way of mission. If it does – it is sin.” The problem is traditions are comfortable – it is soothing to know what to expect. So we settle into patterns and become numb to the need for God that abounds. But I don’t think Jesus died to build us into a nice theological recliner where we can all sit back and think about God in predictable ways and annual cycles. He died to build us into a work force for His Father’s mission – may we come to see the local church as a missionary training center.
There was so much else to think about… but I’ll spare you. Check out The Show next Tuesday for details on how to get the videos (I know I will) and watch them for yourself.
One last thought that came from Brian McClaren’s 9: “The gospel is not an evacuation plan – it is a transformation plan.”

Back from a Break

Just got back from a couple days off. LuAnn’s mom came and stayed with the kids and we went to Ft. Collins and Estes Park. This June was our 15th Anniversary, so we’d been planning a trip to celebrate. With camps and a summer full of youth ministry stuff, this was when we finally got to go. I am an incredibly fortunate man, to have been married to someone so great – and to have gotten married so young, saving me from the awkward freshman dating roulette (and college cafeteria food)!

It was cool to be back in the area where we lived for a while and see how much it’s changed and what’s stayed the same. We ate Sunday night at Smashburger (I know, I know… a very romantic spot, huh?!) – you probably should not die until you’ve had their ‘smashfries’, just sayin’… On Monday, we got to Estes just in time for the first snow of the year! There wasn’t a lot, but it was pretty chilly – not premium for wandering the streets, but bearable.
One of the funny themes of this trip was how, on our kid-free getaway we were so often surrounded by kids. At Bob & Tony’s (great pizza in Estes, but sadly, no more on-tap-root beer) a couple from Texas sat down next to us and apologized for sitting so close with their kids – LuAnn said, No big deal, we have four at home… The lady was surprised and told LuAnn she didn’t look like she could have four kids… Didn’t have the heart to tell her the oldest was almost 10 and we’d been married 15 years!
The theme was repeated when we showed up at the Loveland Chic-fil-A on what turned out to be the ‘oldies/family night’ sock hop! It was insanely full of kids dressed in poodle skirts and plain white t’s.
On Tuesday, we hung around Ft. Collins. We went to a running store, where I found a pair of really good shoes for $30 – nice to have an extra, thank you to whoever delivered the wrong size to Runner’s Roost! We wandered the old downtown and checked out some local galleries and the art museum, then headed home, with a detour through Laramie to say hi to my family.
It really didn’t matter what we were doing or eating, or even where we were. It was nice to just get to hang out for a couple days with LuAnn. I’m very thankful for the years God’s given us together. I love my wife and the family God’s created through us. (I like them, too, so that makes it that much better!) Thanks God.

The Nines Stew – Pt. 1

I have been waiting for a link to include here to the videos from “The Nines” last week, but I’m going to go ahead and post some thoughts now without the link. The Nines was an online teaching time where Leadership Network and Catalyst teamed up to make available some great and brief teaching/encouragement/advice/urging… clips from some of the most dynamic and respected leaders in the church today. It was a good day, and after a week or so of simmering… here’s what The Nines has boiled down to for me.

Anne Jackson was the first video that I saw – with a great reminder that “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” This was a recurring theme that I noticed several times throughout the day. THE vital relationship is with Jesus – without that, my leadership has no life to it. Sometimes, the demands of ministry can threaten to choke out that relationship; which is really stupid and backwards. If I put ministry first, then it will interfere with my relationship with Jesus and result in meaningless activity that is something less than the ministry God has called me to.
Perry Noble reinforced this thought of the importance of connection with God. “We should spend most of our time on our face before God seeking to find out what He wants to do.” I have to admit, my time management has been next to crappy lately. Some days, I feel like I’ve been busy all day, but when I look back over the day, I can’t see anything meaningful that’s been accomplished. Maybe (duh) I haven’t spent enough time with God to really see clearly… I don’t want to do ministry from memory anymore. I need to seek to do ministry from the overflow of God’s imagination poured into my life.
Stacy Spencer offered a challenging thought regarding not giving up on people when they fail. He mentioned the king’s instruction to “get Jeremiah out of the pit before he dies.” When people have fallen, are we helping them back up or leaving them on the side of the road to die? One of my struggles lately has been the high number of students we have who will come to our building on Sunday morning with their parents, but don’t really have any other connection to our student ministry. Many of these students have made some pretty poor choices and, to put it bluntly, are spiritual failing. Without the connections that are built in the student ministry, I’m having a hard time knowing how to ‘get them out of the pits’ they’ve fallen into… This was a needed reminder to not give up.
I really liked Scott Wilson‘s thoughts on raising the bar of leadership in the church. He really seems to put a high priority on developing the leadership potential in those around him – i.e. helping leaders discover their calling, develop their gifts, and deploy. Their staff was offered a $500 bonus for reading 35 books to develop their own leadership over the year – I love that idea! Of course, the flip side he gave for that was “if you don’t grow, you gotta go…” I like the high expectation/high reward…
Reggie McNeal defined the church as “The people of God, partnering with Him in His redemptive mission in the world.” It’s not so much that the church has a mission, but that God’s mission has the church to carry it out. Are we working on God’s mission – and if not, why are we calling ourselves His church?
Craig Groeschel‘s 9 minutes offered a good overview that sort of pulled a lot of things together from the day. (Each of these segments was independent from the rest, so I think it says a lot that so many of these leaders are echoing the same thoughts.) He talked about creating a culture of innovation, because “to reach people no one is reaching, we have to do what no one else is doing.” I remember my Middle School years at this church that way. Bryant was a church that had a different flavor to it than any other church I knew of… and was reaching people that no one else reached. Innovation was valued – not just for the sake of something new, but for the sake of people knowing Jesus. Another point of emphasis for Groeschel was utilizing the gifts of the church – not just using the ‘staff’ to get work done. The work of the church takes the whole church. The difficulty is sometimes leadership delegates tasks, instead of delegating authority. We need to shift our focus from recruiting slot filling volunteers to empowering and releasing leaders into the ministries to which God is calling them. All of this is predicated on doing ministry from the overflow of the Spirit of God.
I’m remembering that the day was very full. I took 10 pages of notes, and what I’ve written here will have to serve as Part 1. More to follow…

A Rambling Route to Goals

Running has been a cathartic experience for me. I enjoy the time when my phone is nowhere near, my e-mail doesn’t exist for a while and whatever I may have in my ‘to read’ pile is shoved aside. A great time to think and pray about what I’ve already read, experienced, and seen lately. It may sound odd, but for all the churning and puffing that’s going on physically, this is often a time for me to mentally “be still” and know God.

During the first mile today, this question kept coming to mind: Are you called to be a chaplain to church kids or an ambassador to the greater tribe of students that surrounds you? One of the greatest difficulties that I’ve seen youth ministers have is feeling called to one of these roles, but hired for the other. This may be a whole topic for another post, but the bottom line is that there are elements of both these roles that I need to embrace.
Another thought that struck me was just the thought of how my running time has become a meaningful prayer time. Before the specter of spiritual pride came up though, I heard this: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” As I thought about this verse, I wondered if my heart has been truly full of His word so much that its overflow keeps me from sin. It’s so easy to neglect the Word of God – to skim, relying on recall of what I’ve previously read rather than asking for fresh revelation as I pore over what He has had to say…
Later in the run, I began to think of goals. Today’s 7 miles brought me to just under 97 miles in the last 29 days. 29 days ago is when I signed on to a 100 miles in 30 days challenge. I’m going to make my goal. I like that. I remember when I first started playing soccer and read somewhere that a soccer player should be able to run continuously for 60 minutes. I thought that sounded crazy but figured lots of people played soccer, so lots of people must be able to do it. If lots of people can do it, surely I can do it, too. When I first started training for a marathon, some people saw it as further evidence of my lack of mental acuity. While they may be right, I was too stubborn or too stupid to know that 26.2 miles is too far – so… I finished a marathon. The funny thing about goals is, you can achieve a lot – if you’ll forget what you can’t do.
I don’t like to come up short in anything I attempt – it feels like failure. I don’t want to fail. Sometimes that keeps me from setting clear goals, but this running experiment has showed me how I need to do better at that. Maybe it’s the ‘bucket list’ phenomena, but over the past several months I’ve seen a number of leaders sharing about life-goals. A list of “100 things to do before I die” or a “40×40” (40 things to do before I turn 40)…
As I thought about it, here are some random goals I’ve had throughout my life: (due to the contemporaneous activity, there may have been a slight running slant to the list)
-Graduate HS with 4.0. I figured a college degree was a college degree regardless of GPA, but in HS I wanted to make sure to get the 4.0.
-Run a marathon. completed and amended
-Run a marathon in under four and a half hours. Hopefully this May.
-Stay married until 1 of us dies. Still in progress – and loving it.
-Run a six minute mile again. This is where being specific… hurts (and may not be medically wise).

-Send my 4 kids into adulthood knowing fully that they are loved – by God and by their parents.

-Visit every inhabitable continent (Antarctica can take a pass.) 4 out of 6, so far with Africa and Australia to go.

-Take LuAnn to see some of the places in Germany that I visited in HS.
-Hear “Well done – good and faithful servant.”
-Graduate students every year who are intent on taking life to the dying and who refuse to settle for a normal life.
-Finish my Master’s degree. This may not be so much a goal, as it’s just that I’m a nerd and like being in class.
-Write something worth publishing. 1 magazine article so far, but this is more of an ongoing thing (though set aside lately) than a one time shot.
-Have a book published. Currently working on something that would be more of a self-published thing for our youth ministry team here, but it could develop into something more…

Well, those are some of my goals. What are yours? And how can I help you reach them? (That’s another one of mine.)

Running Randomosity

I’ve really enjoyed running again.

My knee has not been bothering for a couple weeks now.
My legs have remembered how to store glycogen and get rid of lactic acid, my lungs are remembering how to squeeze out every bit of oxygen they can get – now if I could just get my mouth to figure out how to provide the right nutritional fuel… (I suppose the mouth is not so much the problem as the will – and it’s appetite for ‘less than healthy’ food!)
Running under a huge moon, with tons of crickets cheering for me is pretty sweet – until a crack in the sidewalk hides in a dark spot! (Maybe the crickets were just laughing!)
We have quite a few people running for Miles for the Mission… but very few who’ve actually been getting any pledges. (Good for health – not that great for the raising of funds.)
I’ve run just over 30 miles so far in September.
My 30 day challenge ends next week – I still have about 33 miles to go to meet the goal of 100 miles. My body is willing and increasingly able; my schedule has not been nearly so accommodating. (Gonna try to squeeze in a few miles before soccer practices tonight, though.)
LuAnn has officially accused me of an addiction.
She’s probably right.
Ran up and down the Bluff last week – had to walk a little going up! Forgot how bad a long extension of hill can suck the life out of my lower back. Has it always been this way? (Also, I did not get back in the car and leave, screaming like a little girl, when I saw a rather large snake at the base of the path.)

Back to School with the President

Last week, I kept hearing rumblings about the President addressing the nation’s schools tomorrow. A speech broadcast to a vast majority of our children. A lot of talk shows have been addressing the issue, a number of friends have become alarmed, and in general it seems like conservatives are panicking about the supposed insidious plan to brainwash our kids…

My first reaction when I heard a radio host advising people to keep your kids out of school that day was “Seriously? This can’t be the first time a president has given a speech to school kids.” I was right. Most recently, in 1991, the first President Bush gave a speech telling us (I was in school at the time) to work hard in school and stay away from drugs. Reading some quotes from back then, it’s interesting to see the charges from the left accusing the President of being politically motivated and attempting to sway young impressionable minds (just like the far right is doing now).

The funny thing is… I don’t remember that speech. No recollection of the great brainwashinig event whatsoever! (maybe that was part of the programming…) And I’m fairly certain that my kids won’t remember this one. But even if they do – I don’t think that’s a bad thing. The speech contains a good message for kids to hear. Basically: ‘You are responsible for you. Work hard. Don’t give up.‘ Here’s a link to the speech – please read it yourself before locking your children away.

I’m not a fan of the way Obama has been running his administration. I don’t trust the people he is choosing to listen to. And to be completely blunt, I believe that success for much of his agenda will be failure for our nation. But I’m not going to cower in the corner, covering my kids’ ears so they won’t hear the voice of Obama. I’m not going to send a note to their teacher to let them opt out of the first day of school just because the President is speaking to them. Actually, I haven’t even checked to see if our school is showing the speech because this is really a non-issue for me.

I want my kids to think critically. I want them to learn to recognize crap ideas, whether they come from a smooth talker with a nice white house or a beer guzzling biker with bug juice in his teeth. I don’t want them to be afraid to disagree with ideas that don’t seem right to them – regardless of the source. I want them to be salt and light wherever they go and whatever they may have to debate. They can’t do those things if they’re in some educational bunker where I never let them hear an idea I don’t agree with.

Let your kids hear the speech. Talk to them about it. Help them make the most of the educational opportunity they have in this country. I came across this response you may find interesting as well (thanks for the link Grace).

The Nines

Really looking forward to sharing this time with my staff teammates next week! Excited about taking in some great short messages together. If you’re leading, you should check it out here. By the way – it’s FREE.

The Nines from Todd Rhoades on Vimeo.