Thoughts Sparked by Seth’s Blog: Do we have to pander?

Seth’s Blog: Do we have to pander?.

Read Godin’s post before you continue, so you’ll know where this is coming from. It’s ok, I’ll wait…

I think that one of the particular neurosis in youth ministry is the tendency to pander. More often than we should, I’m afraid, we make use of shortcuts that will get students to show up and make it look like things are going well. We dangle carrots to convince students to attend camps and events and conferences that they’re not really ready for – but it feels good to take a bigger group, so we do it anyway.

I’m not sure all the blame lies with the current crop of youth pastors, though. In many ways, it’s what we’re expected to do. If groups aren’t getting bigger, people wonder what we’re doing to earn our salary. If students aren’t having a good enough time to keep showing up, “what are we paying him for?” Sometimes, we pander to justify our own existence as youth ministers. Too many churches don’t actually want to minister to young people. Instead, they want to pay a youth minister to oversee a program that makes their church look like a young, exciting place to be. This is a pretty tenuous wire from which to find motivation in youth ministry… we can’t stay perched there for long.

So what can you do when you realize that even with your great intentions, you’ve stooped to enticements and spiritual chicken fingers for the kids menu? Where do you go when you realize the short-term gains have left a hole where your vision for ministry used to be?

I guess you could pretend to not know what you really do know and just keep pandering. That may allow you to run what looks like a very successful program… maybe even for a long time. But I wonder what the cost will be to you and to the next generation.

Or, (allow me to twist a quote from Godin’s post a bit)… you can acknowledge the truth that “if you want to build a reputation that lasts… this is nothing but a trap, a test to see if you can resist short-term greed long enough to build something that matters.” I know we’re not really talking about reputation and greed, but the truth is that building a ministry that makes a difference for the long-term requires us often to set aside what may produce short-term gains.

It’s a good deal; trading short-term success for long-term transformation. How can you make that trade today?

Church Vans, Hail, & What is Enough?

Last week, while LuAnn and I walked through a week in Durango, CO with about a thousand students and youth leaders at CIY Move, Emily went to a science camp at the University of Wyoming, and the other 3 kids got to hang out with Grandma & Grandpa for about 10 days. We dropped the kids off in Laramie before the weekend, headed back to Scottsbluff that same day, packed on Saturday, then headed for Durango on Sunday. After we got back late Saturday night, we unpacked on Sunday, went to pick up the kids on Monday and came back Tuesday after the science camp had officially closed. We’ve covered a lot of miles in the last couple weeks.

Which brings me to a place of gratitude for reliable transportation. I’ve been on trips where the church van didn’t make it back from camp or a conference or whatever. I’ve been stranded at a roadside stop with a van load of Jr. Highers in the middle of South Dakota, waiting for a ride to come from the other side of the state to rescue us because the transmission would no longer ‘transmit’. I’ve been changing tires on the side of the road in 100 degree weather in mid-July MO humidity because a rented trailer with no spare (which I was promised was in there) blew a tire. Then two hours later, I had to repeat the process on the van tire. On that one trip we had 2 blowouts, had to stop every half hour because of overheating for the last third of the trip, had no A/C, and finally ended with a deluge of fluids that stranded us about 3 hours from our final destination. (3 hours that ended up being driven with about 9 of us in a Ford Tempo in the middle of the night!)

So, here’s to the church vans that get you there and back. The seat backs may be a little bent up and the chirps & rattles may seem to increase with every mile… The interior lights may flicker at the oddest of times and the fuse to the lighter’s been missing for years… That funky smell is obviously never going away and the gum stuck in the carpet of the third row isn’t even sticky anymore… But the van just keeps rolling. Thanks Forrest and Otis (as our two Fords have come to be known) for getting us where we need to go – and back.

[I feel like I may be tempting fate a little bit here, with two camps coming up in a few weeks, so please pray that the vans continue to do what they do!]

On a personal note, we left our own vehicle parked in the church’s parking lot while we were gone. I didn’t want it to be in the way under the awning while we were gone, so I just left it out in the middle of the lot (safely within it’s own lines of course). Guess what? Those yellow lines offer about as much protection from hail as a life jacket protects you from a rabid platypus. Evidently, there was a freakishly fast barrage of hail while we were gone that did about $3500 worth of damage to our mini-van. Now we have to decide how much of it to fix and how much of it to live with. What’s a few dents (ok, a lot of dents) when it still gets us where we’re going? Is my pride too out of control to drive a dinged up mini-van? (I know it’s always awkward when someone laughs at their own jokes, but I just mentioned pride and mini-van in the same sentence… you should know I’m completely mocking myself right now.)

What about you… would you drive a crappy looking car that you knew would reliably get you from A to B? Check out what these guys have done with that idea at The Junky Car Club. What if we all lived with less, so we could give more?

CO2 from CIY Move – Day 4

The focus yesterday was Forgiveness, the code of relationships flipped upside down by Jesus. No more “eye for eye”, no more holding back and holding grudges, no more walls built between us and allowed to stand.

One of the dynamics that’s been different for me this year is the young age of a pretty good portion of our group. We have several freshman that were able to come, as well as several other students who haven’t ever been to CIY Move before. Couple that with the way this week started (check my post from a couple days ago) and it sheds a great light on the way the group has been coming together. At the beginning of the week, they didn’t quite know each other and were kind of keeping each other at a safe distance. It’s been awesome to see how that distance has decreased in just a few days as they trust each other more and more.

I’m keeping this post short, because we’ve got one more day to get to and it’s starting now. Please be praying for our students and adult leaders – can’t wait to see what God’s working on today as He makes all things new!

P.S. Our adult leaders are awesome and I’m so thankful for each of them. Did I already mention how much I love having my wife here this year? I really do.

CO2 from CIY – Day 3

Today was full of great conversations with students here at CIY Move. The focus today was the community that Christ creates in us and we talked a lot about the mission that He’s given His community. It’s been good to see our students begin to open up as they start feeling more and more trust with each other. Now, it’s important to keep that community centered on His mission. Really, the community is born out of His mission.

I also had a bit of an adventure this afternoon. For electives this year, CIY is using some video teaching from some great Bible teachers. One of my favorite teachers at CIY in 13 years of being a youth pastor, has been Mark Moore, so I gladly took the chance to serve as kind of a host for the room showing his message. I was supposed to introduce the concept & teacher, then after the video, draw out some quick application for students to grab onto and tie things together.

Mark Moore is with us all week here in Durango, so the intro went pretty smoothly. We got the video going, adjusted the audio and everyone was pretty well settled in for 40 minutes of great teaching from the words of Rabbi Jesus. About halfway in, however, the DVD stuck on a frame and went back to the menu screen. I tried to get it to flash past the point where there must have been a scratch on the disc, but it wasn’t happening. Several thoughts flickered through my mind at this point:

  • Just dismiss WAY early. (This thought didn’t get much traction.)
  • Sweet, I get to pinch hit for Mark Moore! (and he doesn’t even know it)
  • Crap, I’m standing in front of a couple hundred people who were looking forward to hearing Mark Moore talk about Jesus and I’m not Mark Moore.
  • Jesus, please keep me from saying anything really stupid, it’s time to improvise.

Overall, the elective ended up going pretty well. The students in the room did a great job offering their thoughts when I asked, and we had a pretty good discussion. I still would have preferred the whole video and a quick wrap up, but we all survived and we all walked away challenged to walk with a Rabbi that is unlike any other. Sometimes when you follow this Rabbi, you have to improvise.

P.S. I love having LuAnn here with me at Move this year! Thank you, children, for getting old enough to stay with Grandparents – and thank you, grandparents, for enduring the 2012 invasion of my children!

CO2 from CIY – Day 2

Today may have been the most emotionally exhausting days of any CIY conference I’ve been to. It was a great day, but there has been a lot of heartbreak to pile up and sort through as we seek the face of our King here this week. The focus today was on God as our Father. Not a distant disconnected father just waiting for us to mess up, but a Daddy bringing His kids home again. It’s impossible to have that discussion without talking about the issue of fatherlessness in our world today.

Millions of kids are growing up without their dads. And many more are living with dads that are there but aren’t really present for their lives. In a group of about a thousand teens, there are a lot of wounds that have been inflicted on these young lives in the absence of fathers. Just in our own group we have the full spectrum of relationships with fathers, from “My dad is awesome.” to “I don’t know my dad at all, I’ve only seen him a couple times.”

The day opened with Matthew 5-7, where God’s fatherhood is a central idea. (The whole week will revolve around these chapters.) A film that was put together by CIY and Jonathan Sowers of The Mentoring Project highlighted some of the results of fatherlessness in our society today and shared some stories of how God is healing the devastation.

It’s late, so to keep things short… words like mentor, foster, & adopt need to become more integral in our working vocabulary. If the church wants to share the love of God with people who don’t feel loved by God or anyone else, these words need to become more than theoretical actions that some agency should be taking care of. You are that agency, church. It is God who “sets the orphans in families.” And it is His people that should be on the frontline of this battle for the souls of a generation growing up without dads.

The afternoon was pretty physically tiring, too for a few of us that decided to go hike up a (sort of) nearby ridge. Once you’ve gone a certain distance… you have to keep going until you’re at the top, right? It wouldn’t have been so bad, except I had to keep telling the fast kid to slow down. Admittedly, this was not for the sake of the less agile kids, but for the sake of the aging youth pastor sucking a little high altitude wind!

Josh Finklea did a great job speaking at the evening session tonight. His challenge was to trust our Father. It’s not always easy, but definitely necessary for living the life He calls us to live.

Quick CO2 from CIY Move – Day 1

  • Durango is not very close to Scottsbluff. It’s a long drive, but a great place to get to.
  • When you drive through the mountains in CO, you will probably at some point get stopped at construction. Sometimes, you’ll be stopped for a long time. Just plan on it.
  • Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs is a great place to be quiet and notice God’s creativity. If you notice enough of it, you may end up being late for something. It’s worth it.
  • You know you go to great church when your pastor is willing to ride a bull to teach thousands of young people he’ll never meet what it means to go all in with Jesus. You also know you’re in for a great week when the conference starts with that video.


Self-Importance is Naught

A recent experience has me thinking about self-importance. If you can’t just say what needs to be said without calling attention to how important it is that it’s you saying it (as opposed to someone else with opposable thumbs and vocal chords) people are probably going to miss what you actually have to say. Most people find it incredibly difficult to pay attention to someone who has placed themselves on a perch from which they look down and talk to us peons once in a while.

By most people, I guess I just mean me and my competitive ego (with suspicions that I’m not really alone).

I understand having a proper introduction – and maybe that even includes highlighting some achievements that are relevant to the moment. But let someone else give that introduction. Don’t tell me how important is is for me to be listening to you and how fortunate I am to have the opportunity. If you have to tell me of your awesomeness, it’s probably not really that awesome. Let someone else be the one pointing out how great you are. It’ll mean a whole lot more, and you won’t look like such a pompous tool.

What Were They Thinking?

Every step & every whispered syllable echoed through the marbled hall, gaining an air of even greater importance with every new deflection. Everything felt bigger. A simple creak of an opening door blasted a call to attention. The gentle jolt of the same door closing sounded more like the slam of a gavel or a gun shot. Creaking and slamming while heels clicked as feet shuffled by. The hall was lined with shuffling people and with creaking doors, with labels like County Commissioner, District Court, Assessor, Attorney, Treasurer, Juvenile Court… the list was long because the hall was long. I wondered what people were thinking as we walked by.

I was still a teen, but I wasn’t headed for the Juvenile Court – I was looking for the County Clerk. The Clerk had what I needed. I knew that behind that door, I’d be able to procure a license to the one thing I wanted more than anything else in that moment. As I asked the lady at the desk for something they called a “Marriage License” I’m sure I remember her laughter causing her to fall to the floor. There was a scurry of big hair and brightly colored fingernails as her co-workers helped her up and joined in the giggling gaggle at such an odd request. That might have only happened in my insecure imagination, but the blank look on her face leaves me to only imagine what she was actually thinking. She probably thought I was working on some school ‘life-skills’ project or something. Like I said, I don’t know what she was really thinking.

But I knew what I was thinking. I was thinking, “I’m about to jump through a legal hoop that is the last obstacle to marrying my best friend, lady, just give me the papers and tell me where to sign!” Of course, I didn’t say that. I just sheepishly stood there with my boyishly swooping hair and glasses that looked like I’d borrowed them from someone with a face about 3 times the size of mine… and my best friend standing there next to me looking like she was probably about 14 years old… and her mom and dad standing behind us.

When I wonder about what people were thinking that day, I think I wonder most what her parents were thinking. They were about to sign a paper that allowed their baby girl to make what could potentially be the biggest mistake of her life. This wasn’t like signing for a class field trip or a grade report or something. This was giving their permission to let their daughter unite herself for life with some kid who still tight-rolled the cuffs of his jeans (I had a hard time letting go) and worked at Subway a few hours a week. This was consenting to a unification of their brilliant, beautiful little girl with a guy who had yet to graduate high school, who had no discernible career path, who may have had some potential, but hadn’t really showed anything with it yet.  See, my best friend was only 17 years old, and to acquire a marriage license, we had to have what they called “written parental consent”. What that means is that not only did I have to go through the throat lumping embarrassment of asking a dad if I could marry his daughter, I had to go through the humiliation of having to “ask for it in writing”!

I feel like it’s one thing to passively allow some schmuck to ask your daughter to marry him, but to be asked to actively do something to help him marry her??? “This kid is a few synapses short of a fully functional frontal lobe!”

Again, I’m not sure what they were thinking, but I know what I was thinking. I was thinking, “I’m going to get to go through life with my best friend! I don’t know where we’re going, but I know we’re going together. Maybe we are crazy, but I’m the luckiest kid alive!”

The license we received from that county clerk was put into effect 18 years ago today, on 6-11-1994. I know there were probably people that didn’t think we’d last long – maybe even the clerk that gave us the paperwork. But they didn’t know what we were thinking. I still don’t know where God will take us for the rest of our lives, but I know He’ll take us together.

Some days I still marvel that we had the guts to start what we’ve been living for the last 18 years. Was it naivety that gave us the courage to join our two lives into one? Did we just not consider the larger implications of following our impetuous infatuation with each other? No, it wasn’t any kind of ignorance or lack of thought. It was love – a love for each other that’s been given to us by God. Love does stuff like this. Sometimes it looks stupid, like me in my glasses that just didn’t fit – but it does it anyway because it doesn’t care what other people are thinking. Today’s our 18th anniversary, and I still think I’m the luckiest kid alive!

Love Does: Adventures with Kids!

One of my favorite parts of Love Does, from Bob Goff was a chapter when he talked about adventures he’d had with his kids when they each turned 10. He may have called them capers, but whatever you call them, they’re the kind of thing that God can use to draw the hearts of children and parents together. (Nope, I just checked to be sure… they called them “ten year old adventures.” He called other things capers, but these were definitely adventures!)

“The kids got to pick something in the world that captured their imaginations, fanned their whimsy, or sparked their curiosity, and then we’d just go do it together. There was no planning, no preparation, no thinking about all the details. We’d just go do it.”

As I told my family about the ten year old adventures… the eyes of my oldest daughter grew to about the size of a moon hung low on the horizon and she asked what I knew she’d ask, “Can we do that for 13th birthdays?” Guess which birthday is coming up for her in about 4 months? (Holy honeymoon! How can I have a 13 year old in 4 months!?)

I’m not sure exactly how or what yet, but we’re doing this.

Well… we’re doing something anyway.

It doesn't seem so far in pixels!

Emily’s thinking Italy.

I’m thinking I have 4 kids and a youth pastor’s salary… Bob Goff is a lawyer. Maybe some boundaries need to be set differently. Then again, that’s kind of what this is all about: recognizing how many of our self-imposed boundaries are so artificial and conquerable. As Bob writes, love “doesn’t recognize boundaries and never obeys the rules we give it.” It just does stuff that needs done.

What is your love doing lately?

Stay tuned to find out more about our family’s modification of the Goff’s 10 year adventures… (By the way, did you know you can subscribe to Imminent Crash via the RSS button at the top right of this page or the e-mail subscribe field right below that?)

Maybe we’ll have an October guest post from Emily, writing from the canals or the Coliseum!

VBS Week at WestWay

It’s Vacation Bible School week here at WestWay, so we have a ton of kids visiting our “Adventure Island” for 5 days exploring some promises of God. (To be more accurate, there are several tons of children bouncing around the facilities, but that’s not really the point.) I want to share just a few quick VBS related thoughts:

  • I’m really glad that I am not in charge of anything for the VBS. I love working with older students, but I am NOT good in the children’s ministry department. I think it’s because I have no idea where the right boundaries are… I mean, why can’t we climb on those pews and play dodgeball in the sanctuary, anyway? At any rate, I’m thankful that we have a great children’s pastor who loves little kids more than what is reasonable (What kind of love is really reasonable, anyway?) and is dedicated to sharing God’s Word with them in every way he can. Thanks, Joe!
  • My most vivid VBS memory is getting pooped on by a bird as I walked to the church building one summer. His Eye might be on the sparrow, but this was no sparrow paving the way for my flannel graph trip to Bible-land. I never got a good look at the bird, but I’m pretty sure it was the same eagle that gave Gandalf a rescue ride from the tower of Isengard. His splatter was HUGE! VBS has never been a bright spot in my life.
  • I found a picture once, of me with the Lollipop Dragon at a VBS when I was probably 7 or 8. My wife has one too, from the same week with the same church. I wonder if I pulled her pig-tails? I wonder if I should warn the kids that they could be sharing snacks with their future spouse?!
  • I love seeing so many of my students involved in everything from leading groups of kids from one place to another, to helping in the kitchen, to recreation, to counting nickels, to sound… One of the most growth inducing things I’ve seen in student ministry is when the teens are put into meaningful positions of service where they can put their faith into practice. I love watching them connect with the younger kids and realizing they have something to teach the next generation, too.
  • We had a chocolate fountain on Day 1! Ya gotta love a VBS with a chocolate fountain.
  • Youth ministers, never underestimate the power of a strong children’s ministry to launch kids into your youth ministry who are ready for whatever God has for them.