10ST – Copycat Church

10ST is an ongoing series digging into Geoff Surratt’s Ten Stupid Things that Keep Churches from Growing and how those stupid things keep youth ministries from growing as well.
Taking anything out of context is always a risky endeavor. Perfectly worded phrases in one book become nebulous mantras in another, devoid of the clarity that once was present. Appropriate attire for one occasion becomes awkward and even out of line for another. Best practices of one organization become the unexamined tradition of another.
In the church, this is stupid. We simply can’t expect what God is doing in one place to function identically in another. Just because Rick Warren wears Hawaiian shirts on the West Coast doesn’t mean the masses will come flocking to me in West Nebraska.
Yes, I know the shirts really have nothing to do with anything, it’s just an example. If we copy some growing church or youth ministry’s methods, programs, strategies, etc. without putting in the same thought, prayer, analysis, study, and more prayer that they put in prior to adopting those methods, we’re short circuiting the real process by which God has caused the growth. We’ll be left with a shell that looks similar in structure, with no turtle inside! No heart or soul.
But the power of a growing church isn’t in their programs or strategies. Look around at the diversity of growing ministries and it’s easy to see that there are a lot of ways to get things done. What works in one place isn’t necessarily going to work in another.
We also need to realize that even copying our own church of 10 or 20 or 30 years ago is just as stupid. In youth ministry, the curve may be even steeper. I feel like I need to be constantly re-inventing and evaluating just about everything I do in ministry. 5 years ago, the group that I primarily work with looked incredibly different than the group today. 5 years from now, the shapers and leaders of our student ministry will be gone. New students will have taken their places and the ministry will need to take on new shapes and forms and strategies in order to continue to grow.
The counter-side is important to note also: don’t just refuse to do something because it wasn’t your idea first. That kind of pride & vanity will cause their own set of problems, but don’t just copy another church or ministry. 
Don’t even just copy your past.
Look for what God is doing in the people of your ministry. Where is He pushing? Where is He going? Seek His direction with desperation and equip your people to follow His unique lead.

Sticks & Chisels 4.Bonus

I know about 20 people who started blogging (or significantly increased the rate of their posts) about 5 months ago. They were all in the course I took which led to this Sticks & Chisels series of posts. Some of them have blogged before, some of them set up their very first posts on our first day of class. It’s been fun to watch as they get into it (or don’t) and I always speculate about the fate of their blogs now that the semester is coming to a close.

We were assigned a total of 17 posts – and my guess is that for a lot of the students, 17 (or maybe something less) will be the total number of their post count for quite some time. Some of the students only posted because it was an assignment. Now that the semester’s done and the assignment due, the posting will stop. The motivation is gone.

Others will continue to post because they found motivation beyond the assignment. Maybe they’ve had something to say and blogging has helped them find their voice. Maybe, in writing out their thoughts and daring to share them, they’ve found a message worth repeating – and will continue to do so. Or maybe, they’ve been drawn in to a community of readers and writers who are enriching each other in the sharing of stories and struggles.

This has me thinking about 2 things: the church & my work.

First, the church: What is sufficient motivation for being a part of the church? Many people start “going to church” (a stupid phrase I wish I could strike from the contemporary lexicon and for which I will now loathe myself for using) motivated by curiosity, or nostalgia, or guilt. But are those motivators sufficient to sustain life as a disciple? What happens when the curiosity is satisfied? What happens when nostalgia is laid bare and revealed to be a self-centered longing for something that never really was?

Now, guilt I’ll admit has some staying power. I’d guess there are many churches that subtly use the pressure of guilt and shame to subjugate attendants into weekly (or at least bi-weekly as long as you don’t forget your offering) compliance. But that is not the same as truly being the church, so eventually the callouses born of constant guilt shield the heart from the true surrender upon which church belonging is really predicated.

Sometimes, I see kids grow up attending church functions only to walk away when life gets filled with places to drive, jobs to work, and colleges to visit/attend. Why do they leave? Despite “growing up in the church,” they never found the real motivation for sticking around. So sadly, when finals are done, their posts are abandoned.

Which brings me to #2 – my work. I can struggle with losing the motivation deep enough to sustain me in the work I have to do. When my vision strays from Who brought me to this life and why, I become frustrated with so many distractions and lesser motivations.
The drive to fix what’s broken…
The hope to show kids that church doesn’t have to suck…
The attempt to give kids something better to do…
The desire to attract that one special kid into the group…
The longing to be remembered for something worthwhile…

Some of these are good – but not enough.

What motivates you? Will it be enough?

Sticks & Chisels 4.4

This weekend, a couple van loads of WestWay students went to Cheyenne for a weekend focused on the Word – the emphasis was great and fits perfectly into the recent and upcoming flow of our student ministry. More and more lately, we’re sensing God’s challenge to dig deeply into the Bible and learn to recognize His voice there.

Weekend trips like that are almost always fruitful in developing relationships and intently focusing on spiritual development. But one aspect of these trips that always leaves me tired is this crazy thing that happens when you get to your housing assignment, throw down the sleeping bags, & turn off the lights on a room full of young guys: I’m still suffering the effects of a weekend of sleep deprivation!

This weekend I watched one Red Bull imbibing kid do everything possible to annoy another one, who returned the favor, another kid watch intently, while a fourth kid played with the dogs, another laughed at the whole thing (when he wasn’t crying about the death of his cell phone battery), and a sixth (the youngest of the bunch) actually slept through the whole thing. Flickers of wrestling broke out, rolled up sleeping bags and small pieces of candy became projectiles, and an aging youth minister had to wrestle the ringleader of the mayhem into submission. Literally – I reversed a hold and got the kid to tap out! (To be fair though, he killed me last time we wrestled.)

This all happened (fairly quietly, I hope) in a living room way past bedtime. Which has me thinking about sleep. I watched several of these guys intently texting way past late. The kid who’s battery was dying was frantic about the loss of his phone and several were obsessively compelled to check messages as soon as their eyelids fluttered open in the morning. And that part of the night was normal for them – they lose sleep to their phones, computers, and xboxes nearly every night.

Then this morning, I came across this:

Better grades. Better attendance. Fewer car accidents. Just because they’ve slept another hour or so…

I love the technology available today as much as the next guy. But don’t let it run your life guys. Turn stuff off and go to bed.