9 Square In the Air

In a bit of a counter move to my cruise director post, I want to mention a great game we put into use last night with our middle school and high school students.

We’d played 9 Square in the Air at camp this summer, and everyone had a blast with it. After worship last night, I asked a few of the students to stick around and help me with a project, and as soon as we started pulling out the PVC pipes, they knew what was coming.

9 Square banner

It took about 10 minutes to get everything out of the boxes and set up. 2 hours later, I had to shut the lights off to get the last people to go home! To be honest, the first time I saw the squares set up at camp, it was interesting… but I wasn’t that excited. As soon as the ball came out and the game got going though, it was awesome to see students drawn into the game together. Essentially, it’s like the old playground 4-square got jacked up on stilts and surrounded by another 5 squares. The game moves quickly and is easy enough for anyone to pick up quickly. Your middle school girls will be able to keep right up with the athletes in your group, and your sponsors won’t be begging for mercy and oxygen on the sidelines.

If you’re in some kind of youth work or youth ministry, this is a great game to check into. It does take up some space when it’s set up (an 18′ x 18′ square), but it’s totally worth the floor space (and it’s pretty easy to disassemble if you need to get it out of the way). There’s a $100 discount for faith based organizations, so be sure to ask about that.

Ok. That’s my commercial break for the day. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

What other games are your students loving right now?

Scuttling the Ship of the Youth Ministry Cruise Director

I was thinking about a friend the other day who is feeling a lot of pressure to make sure the kids in his student ministry are having a lot of fun. The thinking seems to be, “If they have a lot of fun, they’ll keep coming and bring their friends.” There is some truth in that. If we gear a youth ministry that is genuinely fun (we’re not always as good at this as we think we are), and aim it at a segment of people who’s over-riding ethos seems to be having fun at all costs, we will get kids to show up – maybe a LOT of kids. But our job in youth ministry is not merely to get kids to show up; it’s to show God. Only God can bring about the transformation in our fun-loving students’ lives that brings them to real Life.

What looks like a successful youth ministry (one with a lot of kids showing up) though, may in fact be almost completely ineffective at bringing about that type of transformation. The leader of that type of youth ministry can quickly begin to feel more like a cruise director for church teens than a maker of young disciples. Just out of curiosity, I looked up some job descriptions for ‘cruise director’. It’s more than a little disturbing how accurately these descriptions match a lot of common practices in youth ministry. Go ahead and do a search for cruise director job description, substitute youth minister and church and teens for words like director and ship and passengers… The bottom line seems to be, “Make sure people have such a good time that they’ll want to come back and bring friends.”

This is fine for a cruise, but is it enough for a youth ministry?

Into the Mist
Image from Deacon Ales at creationswap.com

Admittedly, I may swing the pendulum a little too far the other way on this issue, but it’s certainly not enough for me. If you have set up some kind of weekly transaction that trades 50 minutes of dodgeball and shaving cream shenanigans for 10 minutes of feigned attention to a brief message touching on an important issue or Bible passage, then you need to stop. It’s not worth it. My friend is hurting because he can see that it’s not a transforming ministry, but an entertaining one – He feels stuck in something less that the life and leadership he’s been called into.

So what is it that gets us stuck in this Youth Ministry Cruise Directorship? (Thanks for asking – I have a few ideas.)

  • Parents’ Expectations – Sometimes youth ministers feel like parents want us to fix their kids, or at least keep them so busy with church stuff that they don’t have time to get in trouble. Wanting to keep the parents happy, or maybe to prove ourselves to them, we fill a calendar.
  • Church Leaders’ Expectations / Job Insecurity – Churches like to be able to point to a large, active youth group as a sign of their health. This can result in a lot of unintended pressure on the youth minister to get kids to show up… or else. Often the youth pastor is a younger or newer staff member and feels like he or she needs to get a lot of kids to come to justify the expense of employment.
  • Peers’ Apparent Success – If we see the church down the road with 80 kids who really seem to love their youth group, it’s tough to feel good about the 8 that show up consistently at ours. We think that if we just had more fun, maybe others would come.
  • Ego – Let’s be honest (hopefully that’s already happening!)… Having a big group of teens that think you’re the coolest adult they’ve ever known feels pretty good. So we keep mixing up the greatest games and filling our barrel of tricks & treats, and they keep showing up on our doorsteps ready to post all the fun on Facebook just as soon as they come down from their sugar high enough to function.
  • Tradition – Sometimes, the fun and games model is the only one we know. So we just rinse, repeat, and clean up the meaningless mess week after week.

But (I realize I say this a lot) it doesn’t have to be this way. Maybe you’re tired of being seasick on the youth ministry cruise ship, too. So, I’m dropping anchor on a few lifeboats. You don’t have to stay in that ship. Grab a travel buddy and jump in the dinghy that’ll help you the most.

  • Partner With Parents – Instead of keeping kids busy, what if there was a way to equip families to integrate a Biblical mentality into their daily lives together? What if we could help kids learn discernment and how to make good decisions even when they’re not being shuttled from one of our sort-of-well thought out activities to the next?
  • Co-Leadership & Real Security – First, realize that if God has called you into youth ministry, that’s all the job security you need. Go make disciples there. Second, understand that youth ministry is something that is better done by a church than by an individual. They may need you to lead, but the church doesn’t need you to do it all for them (even if that’s what they seem to want). What if you could engage other church leaders in youth ministry & get them connected with the students.
  • Ministry Cooperation – This may be as simple as swallowing your pride and coming to grips with the fact that your ministry is not the one that is best for every student. What if you could work together with other area youth pastors to cast the net a little wider and serve the youth of your community together?
  • Assassination of Ego – Just kill it. Let God fill you and stop expecting your students to validate your existence. He is enough.
  • Imagination – Having been made in the image of the Creator, are you really going to just pull all your ideas from some book that was on the cutting edge of youth ministry 17 years ago? What if you didn’t just lead from tradition, but from imagination? What new ways could you come up with to engage students in an adventurous life spent in the passionate pursuit of Jesus?

What are some other ways you’ve seen youth ministries get stuck or unstuck? Is it time for you to put away the cruise director’s cap?

See Shane Run. See Clean Water Run, Too.

Clean water is often something we take for granted here. We turn on the tap, open a bottle, heck, even turn on the garden hose for a drink, and we can expect the water to not kill us. But in much of the less developed world, kids are walking miles to get jugs of water from ponds and streams that are filled with parasites and other impurities that will do just that. This often leads to sicknesses that are compounded with other ailments, injuries that just don’t heal, & poor education because there’s no time for school.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Active Water BannerIn many places, the clean water is there, it’s just buried in the water table & the people have no means to draw it out. This is where ActiveWater has been able to step into partnerships with other organizations on the ground in Africa and Asia to BOTH to provide bio-filters to clean the water they do have AND to dig wells for communities that need them.

So isolated from this problem, most of us in our part of the world will do next to nothing to solve it. But what if we were different? What if we did something? One of my students will be running in the inaugural Monument Marathon in just a few weeks to raise awareness in our community of this issue that affects so many in other communities. He’s set a goal of raising $4000 in the next 3 weeks. This is a chance for the Imminent Crash Tribe to not just say we love the poor, but to actually do something to help them (check out 1 John 3:18). To offer a “cup of cold water” in the name of Jesus.

The most simple & secure way for you to help Shane in his fundraising efforts is to go to Shane’s page on ActiveWater’s website & donate there.

You can even leave Shane an encouraging message to keep him churning through the miles. Also, if you’re also running the Marathon, consider setting up your own page and make a team of it with Shane to share the fundraising goal with all your friends & family, too.

Ready or Not? Dependent, Called, & Filled for Discipleship

Do you ever wonder if the first disciples knew just how difficult it would be for them to carry out Jesus’ charge to “make disciples”? I mean, even if you leave out the vastness of “all the world” and the comprehensive nature of the command to teach them “all things”, making disciples was (and is) bound to be full of difficulties. But this small band of 1st Century rebels, in the face of outright opposition from their native religious establishment and the dominating might of the Roman Empire, did just that. And still today, disciples of Jesus are being made in spite of (and sometimes even spurred on by) some of the most hostile oppression followers of Jesus have ever seen.

Films like Love Costs Everything and this Newsweek article describe some of the violence being committed against those who claim allegiance to Jesus throughout the world. In many places, being a disciple of Jesus is a very dangerous way of life. But the ongoing efforts of those first disciples, carried on in the lives of new generations of Christ’s disciples, continue to move forward still today. What keeps that going is in a lot of ways the same as what kept Joshua moving forward as he began to lead the people of Israel.

In Deuteronomy 31 -34, we get to peek in to Moses’ hand off of leadership to Joshua. In the process, we see Joshua learning to live in these 3 truths:

  • He was dependent on God. (31:7,8)
  • He was commissioned by God. (31:23)
  • He was full of the spirit of wisdom. (34:9)

When those 3 truths are evident in our own lives, we are enabled to lead people as we follow Jesus together. We are able to make disciples, even in difficulty. Our ability to lead well requires us to depend on God, respond to His call, and be filled with His Spirit.

Maybe you weren’t ready when you found out the baton was now in your hand, that it was now your turn to “go, make disciples”. If that’s the case, begin today to lean on His presence in your life more fully. Begin to listen to His call on your heart to move in this world to reveal His love. Begin to understand the power of the Holy Spirit living in the lives of His disciples still today.

Ready or Not? His Potential

In Numbers 13, Moses sent a dozen leaders (one from each tribe) into Canaan to check it out before the rest of the nation was to go in. They had some instructions to go on – “Enter the land boldly, and bring back samples of the crops you see.” Generations of Hebrew slaves had passed on tales of this great place, but I would imagine it would be hard to swallow as being much more than legend. These nomads, recently rescued from slavery, had heard how great Canaan was, but none of them had actually seen it, nor had the parents and grandparents that had been telling the stories.

So Moses sent the scouts ahead & as they explored, they discovered that this land, this promised home, was indeed everything they’d been told. But they also discovered something else. While the produce was unlike anything they’d seen before, so were the people. They “are powerful, and their cities and towns are fortified and very large… We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!” As the scouts brought back the reports of how great the place was and how impossible it was going to be for them to ever experience its greatness, the people grew more resentful of Moses and Aaron than ever. They even plotted to choose new leaders and go back to Egypt to avoid being killed by the stronger nations then living in Canaan.

Perhaps sensing an opportunity to gain position/power in the nation for themselves, perhaps just scared, the scouts “spread discouraging reports” among the people of how disastrous it would be to attempt to enter the land. Surely they’d all be crushed like grasshoppers.

But there were two of those scouts, Caleb and Joshua, who saw the same obstacles and still encouraged the people to prepare to go in to Canaan. Because they didn’t see only the obstacles, they saw God’s potential to obliterate those obstacles. Yeah, they’re powerful, but their power is no match for the power of our God who just parted waters and defeated kings to get us this far. 

Do not rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land… They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!

– Joshua (Numbers 14:9)

The sad truth of this episode is that because the people rejected God and bought in to the fear and discouragement, they failed to ever enter Canaan. Only Caleb and Joshua were preserved from that generation because they could still see God’s ability to overcome the obstacles. They’d later become the leaders who led the next generation into Canaan with that same vision and knowledge that “the Lord is with us” – and that’s all the strength we’ll ever need. A leader’s capacity to lead well is dependent on his ability to see God’s potential to obliterate obstacles.

I don’t know where you’re heading or what you may want right now (heck, sometimes I don’t even know where I’m heading and what I want), but I’d guess there will be some obstacles in the way. Be encouraged by His strength. He’s greater than any obstacle you’ll ever face.

Leadership Lessons from Mt. Sherman – Enjoy the Journey

Some days suck.

You’ve had those days, I’ve had them, & the crabby guy at the coffee shop has had them. But they shouldn’t define the pattern of our lives. Our tendency, however, is often to accept that ‘life sucks’ mentality as normal and plod along from one day to the next, trudging through life from one obstacle to the next. Sometimes, we even sort of make martyrs of ourselves, accepting crappiness as inevitable and just letting it sit there stinking up the place (and making sure everyone within reach of our facebook status knows the crappiness we “have” to put up with). But wouldn’t we enjoy life a little more if we could just clean up the messes and keep moving forward?

2 young 14ers enjoying the journey!
Two of our younger hikers definitely enjoying themselves!

As we set off for the peak, I knew in the first couple hundred yards that the physical demands were going to take a toll. The footing was good at first, but we all got the feeling that as the slope led us higher, that would change. There were going to be some struggles, but the experience would be so much more meaningful if we’d make sure to not wallow in those struggles. Imagine trying to hike up the mountain with a rock in your shoe. You’re not going to enjoy that journey at all – doesn’t it make more sense to stop for a minute and take the rock out?

Your life is like that. You’ll have some crappy circumstances come up, over which you really have no control. But you do control your response. Don’t let the frustrations and difficulties of life get in the way of enjoying your life. It’s a journey that’s not just about getting to the end – enjoy it on the way. Gather your tribe of friends and family often to celebrate the milestones and to help each other get through the tough parts. Eat together and watch games together. Get together to just hang out once in a while. Stop and look back occasionally to see how far you’ve come.

Enjoy the journey.


[Check out A Price Will Be PaidNo Substitute for Presence, and Keep Fueling for the rest of this series of lessons learned on a recent group hike to the summit of Mt. Sherman in CO.]

6 Ways to Make Sure Your Blog Fails

I’m no poster boy for pro-blogging, but I have been doing this longer than most of the real people I actually know. Some of those friends are splashing around in the blogwaters themselves, so I thought I’d pass on a few things I’ve noticed. If you want your blog to have the traffic of an Albequerque cul-de-sac, here are a few sure fire, can’t miss practices for you:

  1. Make sure every third post or so is a variegated explanation of why you haven’t posted lately and your promise to write more regularly in the future. Space these out in spurts that don’t come more than once or twice every 9 weeks so that the people who actually do want to read what you write won’t know when to check back.
  2. Moderate all comments. You can’t trust anyone and you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of everyone else’s sensibilities, so make sure to force everything that shows up in the comments section through a rigorous approval process. Also, be sure to leave comments in moderation purgatory for at least a week before you let them through, lest the commenter come to think you actually want to dialogue about something. Don’t ever respond directly to commenters.
  3. Fill your sidebar with all the sparkle you can muster. If you can dust off an old animated .gif or seven, you’re virtually assured a quiet day of rest in your little digital hammock. If anyone does happen to stumble in, your visual assault will send them away quick enough. Enjoy.
  4. Make sure the commenters who actually do work their way through moderation can’t easily subscribe to comments so they know where the conversation’s going. If they subscribe to comments, they’ll know when your wit has manufactured a reply & they may want some follow up. If that gets out of hand, you may be faced with a digital discussion going on and nobody wants to see that, right?
  5. Don’t use Standard Theme. It’s really good and will just make your blog better. The better it is, the more people are going to be showing up – probably with their friends and crazy relatives.
  6. Blog about a topic that no one else really thinks about. Youth ministry seems to be doing the trick for me.

Alternatively, if you actually would like your blog to not suck, decide why you’re really writing & who you’re really writing for. Then forget about traffic and write.

Ready Or Not? Young Leadership Lessons from Joshua: His Presence

…but the young man who assisted him, Joshua son of Nun, stayed behind in the tent of meeting.

I wonder what Joshua overheard as Moses hung out in the tent and talked with his friend, God. What was it that caused Joshua to stick around after God and Moses were done talking? I suspect that whatever it was ended up being critical to Joshua’s future as the leader of his nation. In fact, I wonder if Joshua would have ever become the leader he was to be if he hadn’t fostered this desire to be where God was.

Joshua learned that being in God’s presence changes us. A leader’s capacity to lead well is determined by his relationship to God. It’s being in His presence that shapes us to reveal Him to the people around us. If we want to be ready to make disciples as Jesus intends, we have to be in His presence. What are you doing today to spend time with the Potter, letting Him shape you?

Check out Ex. 33 & 34 for a look into the importance of His presence to Moses & Joshua.


Derek Webb’s “Ctrl” – Review

Buy CTRL on Amazon.

Full disclosure, here: This review is done in exchange for a free download of the album. (Want free books or music? You can often get in on deals like this, too, just for sharing your opinion.) Also, the image here, and the links below are affiliate links, which means if you click & buy through those links, I can by one of my kids a lemon drop or one of those really cool toys that come in a plastic bubble!

The first time I heard Derek Webb was with Caedmon’s Call, and I liked it a lot. I listened to the CD I got in college over and over and over. The disc was lost at some point before the advent of easy ripping, and I liked it enough to go buy another one. Some of the songs I consistently find rolling around in my mind are from that disc. That has nothing to do with my review of CTRL, I just thought you should know!

I really liked the acoustic backhand Webb presented in Mockingbird (and several of the other albums I have of his as well). Consistently smooth & soft with edges that cut to the heart. I love how he doesn’t ever shy away from asking hard questions. I also liked it when he started messing around with electronics… which leads to CTRL.

On CTRL, the acoustic, coffee house sounds are pressed into shape with a lot of electronic tinkering and a choir that sounds like a Bible thumping congregation recorded on location in some backwater frontier town of 1877. This sonic trinity won’t work for everyone. The dissonance probably won’t be met with acclaim by radio jocks anytime soon. Then again, when did Derek Webb aim to fit pop sensibilities? Which is why CTRL fits in well with his other works.

I realize that as far as an actual review of the album, this post is a little short on details. It’s pretty different than what you’ll find on the top 40 shelf, and I like that. You may not. I can’t quite figure out how to review it without sounding like some music critic snob trying to convince you how cultured and smart I am as I point out every little nuance and possible implication of Webb’s creative mix. So I’ll leave it at that. Enjoy…

God’s Grace is Bigger Than Our Stupidity

Yesterday, I put up a post that was born out of concern called Why It’s Stupid to Live Together. I probably wasn’t very grace offering (sorry), and I wanted to correct that. I’m not backtracking or trying to offer a dissenting opinion or justification, though. In fact, I stand by the statement: It’s stupid to live together before marriage. But I do want to offer hope. There is a better way.

Cohabitation is a social experiment that’s had horrible and painful results. It’s hurt people I care about deeply. I’ve seen far too many girls graduate and slide into a living arrangement that seems like it makes sense but ends up crushing her heart. I’ve seen too many guys who weren’t committed to a relationship leading a girl down a path that they know will end in sorrow because they didn’t have the guts to put on the brakes, either. Some of these have been students in my youth ministry, friends, & family members. They’ve been wounded and now carry the scars of their mistakes. Some still deny or have no idea of the damage they are causing or allowing as their character erodes grain by grain. I pray they wake up before the day when they’ll realize they don’t even know who they’ve become or how. This is not some abstract cultural phenomena – these are people I love.

I have also known a few exceptions who have lived together for a while, gotten married, and are still together. I wish them well, and am so thankful for the way God has poured His grace into their stupidity and built something good. It’s the same grace that makes something beautiful of my own stupidity. And in that grace, is the hope of all of us who are stupid.

That grace gives us the courage to look honestly into what our relationship actually is.

That grace is our comfort when we admit the painful truth that he or she is not really here because of love, but because they want something.

That grace gives us the strength to walk away from the expedient.

That grace is our wholeness as we pick up the broken pieces of our lives and put them back into His hands. Because He is here because of love.

Don’t buy the lies:

  • that living together is a good way to grow your relationship. There may possibly be nothing that could stunt the growth of your relationship more.
  • that it’s the only way you can really afford to make ends meet. The financials don’t actually add up in reality like we think they will.
  • that it’s the only way to make sure you’re really compatible. Commitment can lead you to compatibility.
  • that the heart wants what it wants and you have no choice. Put your heart back in the hands of its Maker and see what it wants, then.
  • that you’re too entangled to get out now. God has an amazing way of unraveling the messes we make of our lives. Please let him.

Instead of those lies, believe this truth: God knows what He’s doing with you and can build you into a relationship that is better than anything you could come up with on your own by following the pattern our culture is setting.

The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

-Paul, to the church in Corinth

Relationships are God’s idea. Let Him lead you into a relationship that only He, in His Grace & Wisdom, can build.