Building Momentum…

Momentum is a tricky thing… If you’ve got it going your direction, you’re golden. But if for some reason, it’s not rolling your way – watch out. I’ve been thinking a lot about momentum in relationship to student ministry lately. Our students are at a point in life where they’re gathering momentum in one way or another. The trajectory of their lives is being influenced by the momentum they’re gaining today.

While it may seem necessary for a ‘well-rounded college resume’ there is an inherent danger in the thinking that leads us to propel our kids in 30 different directions at the same time.  I wonder if all of our frenzied activity is really doing our kids the good we think it is.  What if competing on the debate team, and dancing in show choir, and playing for the chess club and the basketball team, all while maintaining good grades and learning to play the guitar and getting community service credits is leaving our students more tired and confused than it is preparing them for life after high school?  What if all the bake sales and school concerts and band tours of Europe leave our students with a lot of experiences to talk about, but less substance to really discuss?
I’m not saying any of these things are bad.  But the level of activity to which we as a society subject our kids is dangerous.  Instead of the momentum that a student can gain with a focused direction, they get so busy bouncing from one event to the next that they’re like a spinning top – lots of movement, but it’s not really going anywhere and it’s going to topple soon.  (And when that top ends up in a dusty pile in your basement in 10 years, it’s a little embarrassing and pretty depressing.)
Alternatively, I know some students who have gained a huge amount of momentum over the past few months.  They still run in cross country, play in bands, sing in choirs, and stay up way too late doing homework and playing video games – but there’s something different.  Their activity is gaining focus and direction because these students are getting God’s vision for what their lives could be! These kids aren’t just staying busy, they are actively infusing the kingdom of God into their lives.
I can’t wait to see where the momentum takes them…

Know God and Make Him Known

It was really cool this morning to see my 8 year old taking his Bible to school. He’s not trying to make a statement or stake a claim to some ‘right’ he perceives himself to have. He just wants to read it. He’s liking what he’s reading.

Too many times, we in the church become so concerned with staking out our territory in the public sqaure that we lose focus on what’s really important. We need to know God and make Him known.
That’s not going to happen just because we have a public platform. It’s not going to happen because I have a fish bumper sticker on my car, or because some famous athlete names Jesus as their hero. It’s not going to happen because I insist on my right to pray and put up giant billboards with crosses and “Jesus” on them…

God will be known when I seek Him. God will be known when we spend time with His Son in His Word. And we’ll make Him known when we actually love our neighbors instead of passing by on the other side of our garages.
I’m not advocating that we give up on our society. There is hope – only our hope is not in socio-political solutions. It is in Jesus creatively reconstructing lives to reflect His Kingdom. It is in the transformational lifestyle of knowing God and making Him known. Go ahead and take your Bible to school… Pray there, too… but do so in order to know God, not to make a statement.

Somebody Turn On The Lights!

It’s Homecoming week here in Scottsbluff, so that means several things. Parade… Theme Days at school… The big football game… and the Homecoming Dance…

In light of that timing, I found an interesting article from Jonathan McKee, a youth ministry leader/speaker who was invited to chaperon a recent high school dance. If you’re a parent of a high school student, you need to go read the article. This is not coming from someone who wants to make kids miserable or vilify them in their pubescent impropriety, but from a dad who has given his life to helping the next generation. He’s worked with teens for years and was caught a little off guard by what he saw.

He asks, “How stupid are we?
‘We’ being the adults who have been charged with raising the next generation. ‘We’ being the ones that tell DJ’s to cut out the “bad words”, but totally disregard the message of the music. (Like we don’t realize how nasty we can be with nice, pretty words.) ‘We’ who send the kids out to dance to songs telling them to drink it up, “get low”, and “back it up” while we tell them don’t drink, or “get low”, and only dance face to face with 4 inches between you.

I’m not suggesting that every school dance is as much of a ‘sex with nice clothes on’ party as the one McKee writes about, but check out the article and please consider what your sons and daughters will be doing before you send them out the door Saturday night. Help them make good choices.

My students will hate that I suggest this, but… parents – volunteer to chaperon. It’s not about spying on your kid or catching them doing something you don’t want them to do. It’s about helping a generation understand that despite what pop culture thinks of them, they’re not sex objects and they can learn to relate with each other without acting like them.

:::some further reading suggestions:::

In the Dark: A Sobering Look into a Public High School Dance (one more link to the article)
McKee’s blog
The Source4Parents

What’s a Good Parent?

I’ve been reading Reggie Joiner’s Parenting Beyond Your Capacity and came across a description of some Biblical parenting models:

“Noah had a drinking problem. Abraham offered his wife to another man. Rebekah schemed with her son to deceive her husband, Isaac. Jacob’s sons sold their brother into slavery. David had an affair, and his son started a rebellion. Eli lost total control of how his boys acted in church.”

He also mentions Joseph & Mary’s 3 day desertion of their son and Adam and Eve’s raising one son who killed his own brother.

Not what you expected at the words ‘Biblical parenting models’?

Joiner suggests that maybe God’s not trying to give us pictures of perfect families, but rather trying to reveal his redemptive work through families just as dysfunctional as ours. Those families had some messed up episodes! Which actually should give us hope: I’ve sometimes joked that our family is a sitcom where we’re both the characters and the audience – and we’ve had less than stellar episodes, too.

I try to be a good dad, but I’m not always great. The ‘end of my rope’ is all too near some days. Other days, I have to try pretty hard to stifle the laughter in order to muster up a stern rebuke! I don’t let my kids beat me at games. I teach my kids to jump off furniture and climb up walls, literally. We have lava floors, so this is an important life skill in my opinion. Anyone can find a spot behind the couch or under the bed to hide, but how many kids can hide at the hallway ceiling? Can’t reach something in the pantry? Stop whining and climb the shelves. [Incidentally, Liz fell off a shelf the other day and got a bit of a scrape on her back.  LuAnn told her that it was life spanking her for climbing where she shouldn’t have. (Which, just for the record, was on a shelf I had also told them NOT to climb.)]

Parenting isn’t about being perfect. It’s about being there. Being a family isn’t about having every day turn out like an after school special. It’s about watching God together. It’s about letting Him make art out of the broken pieces of us we leave lying around on the carpet.
So, got any good parenting stories/goofs to share? What do you think are some elements of good parenting? What does a good parent look like? How have you seen God work through the broken parts of your family?

Renovating Reality (pt. 2)

In part 1, I wrote about not liking to work my butt off for only small changes – I’d rather pour myself out in an effort at wholesale renovation. I definitely lean to the wholesale change side of the chalkline.

I’m realizing how that can cause some tension with people who have to work on the same team with me. What if they like to put that last little bit of polish on a project? What if they really value the minor detail that I completely ignore? What if their comfort comes from the familiar piece of life that I’m suggesting we blow up to start fresh?

A recent examples come to mind:

We had a staff discussion last week about something where my first reaction is to start over. We were evaluating something that’s been in place for almost 25 years (and has served the congregation well much of that time). My thinking is to start fresh, while others may lean toward a little tweaking and re-emphasizing and explaining. To me, the amount of effort that needs to be poured into this project makes more sense if the final outcome is something other than the original starting point. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the starting point, it just doesn’t make sense to me to break our backs to essentially spit-shine what’s already there. (Having said that, I also want to say that I have a great desire to honor the team of leaders with which I work, and if the decision is to revamp rather than renovate, that is exactly what I will work to do.)

I can see the benefit of starting over, but I also want to value people more than I value my own way. I pray that I don’t ever buy into my own way more than into the people I am with. There a many ways to get things done. Back to my house… I could have torn down walls and put in brand new windows with brand new frames. That may have even been a better way to go in a couple cases, but the cost of doing so made it necessary to merely paint. So, even though the incremental change is not what I may prefer, the work is getting done, because it needs done.

“I don’t mean to be corrosive,
but this acid in my veins keeps spilling out,
burning holes in what you treasure and your pleasures – 
what you measure – Keep spelling out.”
How have you seen the tension between varying methods of getting things done used to propel your organization/family/church forward?

Renovating Reality (pt. 1)

I spent much of yesterday afternoon on a ladder, painting window trim on our house. By painting, I actually mean priming, since we only got the primer done and still have the finishing coat of actual paint left to do. It was not the most pleasant way to spend an afternoon off, but it needed done. I really don’t like painting trim, but I realized something about myself as I was perched on that step that says “do not sit or stand” here…

Besides having good enough balance to sit where it says don’t sit (and not enough sense to follow the directions of the ladder makers), I realized that I don’t like to put a whole lot of effort into incremental change.
The trim was white. After hours of scraping and cleaning and painting… the trim will still be white! The end product is only marginally different from the beginning. I know, the trim will be much better protected and look nicer after the fresh new paint, but I have a hard time pouring out so much effort for such a seemingly small difference. If my energy isn’t really changing anything, then what the heck am I doing?

This may be a character flaw when it comes to home maintenance, but I also wonder if it isn’t also a part of what drives me in ministry. I love seeing lives being completely renovated in ways for which only Jesus can be given credit. I get frustrated when I see a maintenance approach to youth ministry that only seeks to keep kids busy involved for a few years until they get out of our hair graduate – just keep them from drinking and cussing and having sex out of trouble until they grow up are mature enough to make the choices I would make for them good decisions. That maintenance approach only results in incremental change… little modifications of behavior (that often disappear when no one’s looking anymore).

I want to serve in a ministry where bored and apathetic students are taken over by the passion of Jesus to reclaim hearts that have been stolen from their Maker and restore lives that have been broken beyond recognition – where dead students are brought to life. I want to pour myself into students who have been moved from “fishing and collecting taxes” to following Jesus in every moment and at any cost. I want to see students willingly “going under the bus” in order to help their friends who are hurting and hiding there.
I’ll talk about this more in my next post (which will go live Monday morning) but I want to know… are you more of a bit-by-bit incremental change type of person, or “tear it down and start over” renovator? What do you see as the pros and cons of each? (There’s no wrong answer, here, so jump right in in the comments section.)

Writing Better Stories

I’m stealing some statements from my friend Tory’s blog. These are statements from a training video he’s used in working on the San Carlos Apache Reservation.  Tory is working through an organization called 3:18 Ministries to bring hope where there is little hope.  These statements are the statements of a generation without hope. This is how so many of the young people in San Carlos view life:

  1. There is no future.

  2. I think I can’t.

  3. There are no boundaries.

  4. I messed up – it is over.

  5. Whatever it takes to stop the pain.

  6. I feel powerless.

  7. Anything to belong.

  8. It is all about me.

  9. It is hard to trust.

10. It is never going to change.

This is the heartbreaking story that God is re-writing through the ministry of 3:18. This is the reality that students on the reservation have accepted – the reality that we are working to change by bringing the Kingdom into view. Tory writes, “In the midst of wrestling with this list I continue to be drawn to one simple fact: Jesus is the only one who can redefine the students we are so privileged to walk alongside.” Check out the 3:18 site and see what God is doing. Pray for Tory and Kara as they offer hope to those without hope.

Why I Love Compassion

We Teach Children How to Dream (check out this post on Compassion’s blog)

Poverty isn’t just a lack of resources… it’s a lack of hope. I love how this article looks into a few examples of what Compassion is doing to bring hope to the hopeless. LuAnn and I have sponsored kids through Compassion almost from the very beginning of our marriage, and this is why. I know there are a lot of other child sponsorship organizations that do a lot of good things, but we’ve never been disappointed in our first choice. Look into it.

Fatherless Generation

One of the toughest issues I’ve dealt with in my years in youth ministry is the absence of fathers for so many of my students. I grew up with my mom and dad and big hairy case of being sheltered, so I remember being pretty floored within my first few months on staff at a great small town church, when I was confronted with the fact that so many of the students I was working with didn’t know their dads. Unfortunately, what was foreign to me then has become a theme today. The particular struggles that are associated with growing up without Dad around have become all too familiar.

When I heard about The Mentoring Project several months ago, I was immediately excited about what they’re doing.
They’re connecting fatherless boys with churches whose men are mentoring them, showing them they matter to someone – showing them they matter to God. At that point, TMP was still preparing to launch a nationwide movement from their Portland base, so I signed up to stay updated on the progress (and hope to continue to learn more).

The president of TMP, John Sowers, has written a great little book called Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story that I just finished. I was offered the book at no cost in exchange for agreeing to review it on my blog. I’m still not sure why someone would give me a free book in exchange for telling 6 people about it, but I’m glad they did. And you 6 people should get the book and read it because I know you care about the next generation!

In all seriousness, this really is a great book. Sowers hasn’t just done a bunch of study of fatherlessness from a distance (though the book was born out of his doctoral dissertation, so he certainly has done his research), but he’s lived it – growing up without his father around, serving as a mentor for fatherless kids, and now leading an organization dedicated to mentoring fatherless boys.

He paints a sad (but real) picture of the toll fatherlessness is taking on our young generation. It’s tough to grow up without Dad, and many people never recover. But Sowers doesn’t stop there.  He gives some very practical ways to redeem the story of the fatherless. By loving, modeling life, and coaching in well-developed mentoring relationships, the end of the story goes beyond the feelings of rejection and shame of fatherlessness. There is hope offered for the hopeless, because there is a Father to the fatherless. This book is a great motivator for those who want to do something to help reveal Him to those without Dads.
Check out Fatherless Generation online.