Trip-Notes at CIYmove

For those of you keeping track at home, we’re into the second day at CIYMove. Vehicles and weather have all been pretty cooperative to this point, and things are going well. I’m hearing some positive feedback already from the first elective sessions this afternoon. Please be praying for the 18 of us to be focused in on what God has to say and courageous enough to follow.

Last night’s session focused on young Eli’s answer to God’s voice: Speak, Lord – I’m listening. This fit amazingly well with what we’ve been talking about (and hearing) for the past couple months, getting into Filter! Our students are hearing and responding, and it’s exciting to think about where God is leading.

Today has been about trusting God when He calls us into something. We talked about Rahab this morning and the amazing change God brought to her life when she responded in faith. She went from “hooker in a town about to be destroyed” to “ancestor of King David – and Jesus, the Messiah.” If God can do that with her, there’s nothing the rest of us have done that places us beyond the hope He brings.
On a side note, the adult meeting this morning included a great reminder from Kevin Greer that we’re planting seeds that change the world. Some of you at WestWay may remember Kevin – he led adult sessions at Spring Thing several years ago. I always appreciate his long term perspective on youth ministry.

He also led a section later that reminded me of the importance of strategic thinking & planning in youth ministry. There are too many things that we do just because ‘that’s what we do’ in youth ministry. I’ve always hated that, even though I can fall into the same monotonous sinkholes of pointless activity, and it’s always good to be reminded to step back once in a while and evaluate. Youth ministry’s hard enough as it is, even when you do know exactly why you’re doing it. There are some things I need to do to stop making it harder on myself than it needs to be – hope you’ll help…

2 Obstacles & 1 Solution for Effective Preaching, Teaching, & Youth Ministry

If you’ve been involved in youth ministry in just about any capacity for very long, you know 2 feelings all too well… The feeling that nobody is listening & the feeling that you’re on your own. You can hear the words coming out of your mouth. You know it’s English (or whatever the first language is of the students you’re with) & you’ve even taken out the confusing words, but as you look at your kids, the glazed eyes looking back toward you (or not) cause you to wonder, “Is anybody listening?” Sometimes, I’m amazed when a student that seemed completely checked out was actually paying more attention than a hawk locked in on an absent minded jackrabbit. But still, the feeling persists that what I’m saying just isn’t getting through.

Img: “Let God Speak” via Justin Stagge on 

Couple that with another feeling I often come across and you have a train-wreck waiting to happen – the feeling that we’re on our own. It’s just you and a couple semi-neurotic volunteers to ensure the spiritual well-being of the next generation. Where is the rest of the church? Why don’t the other leaders care more about the teens? Why is the single ladies’ knitting guild so concerned about the 20 year old carpet? Stain is ok for the benches and windows, why not the floor, right?

I know that sounds a little over dramatic, but feelings aren’t objective. Feelings don’t just stick to the pure, untainted facts. Sometimes, they lie. But, the truth in your ministry is they ARE listening. They may not be hanging on every word you say, but they are hearing the message of your life loud and clear. The truth in your ministry is you’re NOT alone. The leadership may need some explanation of why you just spent $200 with your kids at a pizza place, but they’re not against you. The people in your church may not be knocking down your door to volunteer for the next youth group lake party, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care.

The Spirit pulled Ezekiel aside to begin his prophetic ministry and God gave him some words that we need to live by in youth ministry:

Do not fear them… Do not be dismayed by their dark scowls… You must give them my messages whether they listen or not.

To be clear, these messages that God wanted Ezekiel to deliver weren’t received as good news around the campfire. He warned of impending judgment and implored the people to repent of their rebellion and turn once again to their God. Ezekiel was opposed… fiercely. God told him people would reject what He had to say, their hard hearts unwilling to accept his instruction.

But look, I have made you as hard and stubborn as they are. I have made you as hard as rock! So don’t be afraid of them… Son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself. Then go to your people in exile and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’

I wish every preacher, pastor, teacher, youth speaker, & volunteer would hear that well. Let His words sink deep into your own heart first… Then go. Then speak. Then teach. We only have something worth saying after we’ve allowed His message to take root within us. Don’t just speak because it’s Sunday (or whatever your main teaching day is). Speak because His message has grown within you to the point where you can’t hold it in. Teach because there is no levy strong enough to hold back the grace you’re being given. Then, you’ll have something to say worth hearing and you’ll know you’re not standing alone.

WestWay Student Ministry’s Filter Update

As I write this, it is Day 23 of Filter – our summer Bible reading challenge. In case you don’t remember, I’ve challenged our students here at WestWay to read the Bible for 1 hour each day for 100 days. About a quarter of the way in, and some great discussions are already happening centered on what’s being read. Even those who’ve fallen behind keep moving forward and deepening their understanding of God through His Word. A large part of what has motivated this project has been this desire for depth.

I believe that students who have given themselves to Jesus are more than just the church of tomorrow. They’re the church, period, and they’re called into Christ’s mission, not just to hang out and be well-behaved together. Instead of teaching them to wait quietly on the sidelines until they’re “old enough”, what if we trained them to hear the voice of God today and equipped them to respond immediately? What if they began to see themselves, not as the church youth group, but as young, vibrant cells of the Body of Christ? What if we cleared the runway for them to launch their own new ministries, putting their passions and energy to work to make His Kingdom known?

These aren’t just hypothetical questions. I really wonder what the church would look like if all of us could see young Christians the way God sees them. I pray for His perspective. That’s really what Filter is about for us – understanding the mind of Christ like Paul mentions in 1 Cor. 2, knowing what He wants, walking in step with His Spirit to reveal His greatness to a world that rarely notices.

Please be praying for our students this summer as we dig into God’s Word together – and take a deep look into how you treat the Word of God in your own life. The church that can’t hear the Shepherd will wander aimlessly and ineffectually. Let’s not be that church.

4 Quick Thoughts about Being a Disciple

I’ve been hearing about and talking about discipleship a lot lately with friends in several different contexts and thought I’d share a few quick thoughts here that have come up:

  • Being a disciple is as simple as hearing the voice of God and doing what He says – seeing Him move and moving in response. I didn’t say easy… but simple. When did you last hear Jesus saying, “Come, follow me.”?
  • Discipleship is costly. It’s not supposed to be easy. Being a disciple does not mean you agree to give 52 hours per year to the practice of sitting on your butt in a church building taking notes you’ll lose in a few weeks and pretending to mean the words that show up on the screen. It means you’ve given every fiber of your being to the pursuit of Jesus. If your hobby gets in the way of that, get a new hobby. If your job keeps you from following His lead, find a new job, a new excuse for your disobedience, or a new label to wear besides ‘disciple’. Jesus didn’t just ask you to follow when it’s convenient, but to “take up your cross and follow…” Crosses are for dying. Discipleship costs everything. Are you ignoring His invitation to come and die?
  • Discipleship is rewarding. There is no life like a life lived in surrender to our Father and Maker. He knows His plans for you – to prosper, not to harm. He knows how your life would be best lived. So listen and follow, learn what you can in difficulty and celebrate the victories only He can explain. How’s life?
  • Making disciples is not optional. If you are following Jesus, you will be making disciples. If you’re not making disciples, you’re not being a disciple. That’s the standard He raised up; we don’t get to change the rules in the middle of the game to make discipleship something else. We need to refuse to accept anything less for our lives – even if the religious leaders of our day want to settle for attendance, compliance, and donations. God deserves more. Have you moved beyond making introductions to making disciples?
I want to challenge you a bit today. If you consider yourself a disciple, what does that mean? How does that play out in your life?
What do you think of discipleship?

Top 3 Posts of May

May wasn’t a very heavy posting month for me, but the top 3 posts here were all sort of ‘tying up loose ends’ kind of posts. If you missed them, (which you probably didn’t since they were the most visited posts) here’s a second chance:

1. The Envelope Fundraiser. We ended up raising just over $2100 dollars for our upcoming trip to CIY Move. This is a great start and our group is excited to go in just a few more weeks. Please be praying for the spiritual impact of Move to reverberate well past the week of conference. Also, Christ In Youth is based in Joplin, and while their offices are located outside the path of recent destruction, some of the staff have had heavy losses – be praying for their recovery as well as their efforts to help the rest of their community heal.

2. Sticks & Chisels 4.Bonus. For the last post in the series I did for class, I was thinking about the idea of motivation. My guess was that a lot of my classmates would not be blogging too much now that the external motivator was gone (the assignment done, the class finished). What is sufficient motivation for being a part of the church? For my job and ministry? For your job and ministry? What motivates you? Is it enough?

Ten Stupid Things That Keep Churches from Growing: How Leaders Can Overcome Costly Mistakes3. 10ST – 6 More Stupid Things In Youth Ministry. This was also a final post – the last post of a series I did reflecting on each chapter of Geoff Surratt’s 10 Stupid Things that Keep Churches from Growing. I’d talked about how each of those chapters pertained specifically to youth ministry, but felt like I should add a few more.

2 Keys to Making Disciples

This post is a summary of the message from Sunday for those who missed it (sorry for the delay).

Jesus told us to go and make disciples, but sometimes we settle for making introductions. We can mention Jesus, or invite someone to a church gathering, but how are we doing at actually making disciples? Last week Willie shared that here at WestWay we’ve had 370 baptisms in the last 10 years. That’s about 1% of our area population and should definitely be celebrated. But our average attendance this year has been about 350, so I wondered with the congregation Sunday, “Where are they?”

We have about 165 people in small groups and about 100 come to classes on Sunday morning (there is a fair amount of overlap in those numbers). I wonder, what would happen if each of those 370 had been plugged in to a discipling group or class? What if each of the 370 had been paired with a spiritual mentor to help them grow in their new faith? 

Why do we not do a better job discipling?

Are we lazy? Too busy? Is our faith just too weak? Are we just not bold enough in our faith and lacking confidence in our ability to do what Jesus has told us to do? We need to be a disciple making church. We need to go beyond only making introductions to making disciples. That involves each of us learning to boldly help people in our personal lives know Jesus more deeply. But a disciple making church can be bold only because it recognizes two things: Jesus’ Authority & Jesus’ Voice.

In Matthew 28, when the disciples saw Jesus, “they worshiped Him – but some of them still doubted.” Like Peter flailing away in water he’d just walked on, they were terrified at the impossible circumstances surrounding them. Jesus had taught them about establishing a kingdom unlike any other other kingdom… a kingdom that would turn everything upside down, making princes of nobodies and brothers of enemies. And now, He was leaving and the kingdom would be in their hands. How are we supposed to handle this? How can we make it without you here with us? Their doubt was a reflection of being faced with ‘the impossible’.

But Jesus’ answer to their doubt was His authority. It’s like Jesus sees his band of followers freaking out a little bit and settles them down. “Guys, I’ve got this. You just go teach people what I’ve taught you. Go make disciples.” This is the first key to being a disciple making church: recognize Jesus’ authority. This is His church, He is building it to prevail over even Hell itself – what can stop Him?

The early church made disciples against all odds because they recognized His authority and did what He told them to do. Which begs the question: How do you know what God wants you to do?” In Galatians 2, Paul said he’d gone to Jerusalem “because God revealed to me that I should go.” How do we gain that kind of clarity? Can we learn to recognize the voice of Jesus?

We definitely CAN. In John 10, Jesus talked about how He is the Good Shepherd and His sheep hear His voice and follow. One of my favorite passages, from Romans 12, contains a clue to learning to hear His voice when it talks about letting God transform you “by changing the way you think.” We don’t normally give a whole lot of thought to just how we actually do think, so this is where I had to get a little bit nerdy.

In the planning stages, I was a little afraid of people’s eyes glazing over and a spontaneous congregational coma overcoming us all, but it was interesting to see what actually happened next. When I said the words “Reticular Activating System”, it was like the crowd got a foot taller and two feet closer all at once. People perked up and leaned in… maybe they sensed an end was near! A few mentioned later they really liked the science part.

The RAS is a really dense bundle of nerves at the top of your spinal column that sort of acts as a filter, regulating which stimuli actually get your brain’s attention. We’re bombarded with more bits of information at any given moment than our brains can handle, so the reticular activating system keeps most of it at bay so we can concentrate on what’s important. We form categories in our minds for what’s urgent or important or meaningful and deserves our attention.

And the great thing is that we can influence how our RAS categorizes our lives. By spending time with His Word and giving it importance in our lives, your mind can build a category labeled “what God wants”. When you spend time listening to His voice in the pages of Scripture, you can learn to recognize His voice in the moments of your life.

What if you can’t hear the voice of Jesus simply because you haven’t formed a category in your mind for it? What if you could actually hear God’s voice? What if His voice broke through the clutter of your day? What would He say? What would He want? What would you do?

I ended by sharing the Filter challenge that I’ve given to our students. 100 days, 100 hours of Bible reading. Transformation… Depth… Voice Recognition… (Today is Day 7 by the way if you’re tracking your reading.) Our students are learning to hear His voice. They’re learning to be a disciple making church because they’re recognizing His voice and His authority – learning that the big picture isn’t really all on their shoulders, but on His.