It seems like everywhere I turn these past weeks I have had conversations with those in ministry as to whether or not I will be taking students (or friends, or anyone) to see the “Son Of God” or “Noah, ” movies that are both sonofGodbeing released this month.

In the Christian community we have many thoughts on movies “like this.”  On the one hand they are big budget movies with a wide national release.  We love the movies like, “Facing the Giants,” but these are different.  They  are “top tier” movies that give us the ability to show our “unchurched” friends that these “stories” from the Bible are powerful and relevant.   However, I also have seen some annoyance at the continued portrayal of Jesus with perfectly white teeth and obviously blow dried hair.  In Noah, I have heard moans at the fact that Russell Crowe is playing a man from the Middle East.

noah_movie_poster_1It’s easy to either over or under emphasize movies like this. Churches are buying out entire theaters to encourage their patrons to attend and take friends. They want to show “Hollywood” that indeed those of us in the “Christian community” will make the time to see something like this. In contrast, I have friends who have declared they will not “give money to more misrepresentation of the Bible.”

I admit it, when “The Passion of the Christ” was released we took over 200 students to see it on the big screen. It is still a movie that shows a powerful representation of the days leading up to and the crucifixion of Jesus. While we all love to see Charlton Heston play Moses, (even decades later) there are some things we need to keep in mind when it comes to the Bible based movie and our students.

Personally,  I am not sure if I would take “ALL” of the students and their families to see these films, but I would (and probably will) take some. What do we do to prepare?

Educate:

Take the time to go through the actual Bible passages with those in your programs and tell them what might be coming. We know that Jesus didn’t “stand out” based on his ugly or gorgeous appearance. It was dusty and people walked everywhere, there wasn’t “Crest” to perfect the smile. Noah and his family did not have British accents (Can someone explain to me why this is the go to accent for all movies in history?). No, Hermione was not Noah’s daughter in law. What might they encounter that IS and IS NOT in the actual Word?

It’s A Movie:

There is a cool scene from the Noah trailer that shows the flood springing up from the ground and the sky. This is the first time I have ever seen anyone acknowledge that it may not have been just a lot of rain that brought water over the earth. No matter how awesome it is,  WE WILL NEVER REALLY KNOW what everything looked like. Someone told me recently how wonderful it was to see the way Jesus walked around on earth and interacted with people. Let’s remember, this is one person’s interpretation of that.

Great Conversation Starters:

Don’t throw the “baby out with the bathwater” as they say. These movies are great conversation starters, and people are interested. I think many of us are intrigued to whether or not the “stories” of the Bible could be fascinating on the “big screen”.  If nothing else they are epic stories. Go to the movie with some students and talk about it afterwards. Even if they don’t care what was “really” in the Bible, what are the concepts about faith and trust and God that you can use to get a conversation rolling?

Personally, I will take some students to see these movies. Actually, we had a great time in one of my small groups recently walking through the story of Noah, line by line. One of my Seniors actually declared, “I hope they show it took over 100 years for him to build that monster in the middle of a desert!”  It was a great time to discuss what “poetic license” is.  We don’t know any conversations Noah had with anyone outside of God during the building of the ark. We do know he was the ONLY person on earth listening to or caring about a relationship with God. We also know that God told him to do this crazy thing and he did it. Finishing up, I asked them, “Could you have faith like Noah?”  We talked about having a relationship with the Lord that is SO close you will do ANYTHING. It was fun and inviting, and they can’t wait to see it. We will go together. Then after we see it., we will make a “day of it” to go out and talk about it.  What a great way to really tell them what we think about the Lord and what a relationship with Him looks like. We get an inside scoop to hear their thoughts as well.

How about you?  How are you using these movies for the Lord?

Leneita

Hoy ha sido otro gran día!

(Yeah – I totally did a Google translate on that. My Spanish is improving, though – and by that I mean instead of only talking English I now talk English with an Antonio-Banderas-from-the-movie-Zorro accent.)

Anyway, today was another great day. There’s so much I can say about it.

Perhaps this video sums it up best, though.

And… you’re welcome.

20140318_094251We (obviously) connected further with the kids at the school the Honduran missionaries serve.Part of that included more work on the playground – from sanding down the climbing wall we constructed yesterday, to working on repairing a bridge.Other team members did some cooking and teaching, including one of our gals who is a computer major in the United States. She was able to give the kids some great instruction (via one of our translators, Christian) to the kids on what the internet, their operating system and more.

1236436_10202511273215716_103545513_nAdditionally, our team spent some time with two ladies who shared their stories of being blessed by God through the great work being done here. One of them is a widow (with four children) who has cancer, and she welcomed us into her home as we heard her story and prayed with her.

After a full day, our hosts let us pop into a local grocery store. People on mission trips at this point usually do one of two things:

  • Try as much of the local food as possible.
  • Get as many things that you can find that remind you of home in order to feel comfortable.

20140318_185449aMy son and I opted for a combination of both, getting soda and cookies as a special treat – but picking some flavors that aren’t readily available in our neck of the woods.

I think he’s going to be awake a while tonight.

It’s okay, though – he’s been amazing on this trip (as has everyone on our team). Tonight he said, “Dad, I want to do this trip again.”

We’re not even halfway through it yet. Wow!



Stepping out from the pages of Mark DeVries’ book, Sustainable Youth Ministry, comes this statement: sometimes it IS about the numbers. Churches that don’t set target attendance goals for their ministries wind up in more conflict, dissenting opinions and staff turnover than those that DO set commonly created, well-communicated attendance goals.

1st Measurable Marker of Ministry Success: How many students should be attending your church’s youth ministry? 10%. 

Of what? Members on the rolls? Active members and visitors? Youth rolls? The answer, long proven by research and Ministry Architects’ work with hundreds of churches is that the healthy youth ministry settles around 10% of the weekly worship average.

Start with this all-important concept: Its important for small churches to understand that youth ministry is WAY more than just those youth that come to youth group. In today’s crazy chaoticly calendared world, youth ministry is to any youth who comes to any part of the church’s programming. Whether you’re the youth leader or the choir director, if you’ve got a student in your programming-you’re in ministry to students. The golden-oldie days of youth coming to worship AND Sunday school AND youth group AND choir AND,etc….are a part of the past. Today, to give quality spiritual nurture to students, it has to be twice as fast because there’s half as much time to do it in.

So the number starts here: 1) Determine 10% of your church’s weekly worship attendance. 2) Count up how many individual students in 6th grade (or 7th-depending where your uthmin starts) thru 12th grade walk through the doors of your church in an average week. NO ONE gets counted twice and don’t count the children or post-high school. For example, your church’s weekly worship attendance is 105 and you have 13 youth living life in your church on a weekly basis. Its slightly better than 10%, so the number of students involved in ministry at your church is solid. Celebrate!

If the answer was “yes” to 10% or higher, chances are that your ministry has a lot of sustainable systems and processes in place. Things like a solid first-timer process, dead-on data management, reaching out to “missing in action” teens and a systematic contact plan greatly increase your critical mass. (BTW: churches rarely get beyond the 20% mark and if they do, its not without other weird circumstances coming up like a uber-unique community program or space/budget issues, etc.). Less than 10% means that something is amiss and usually its more than one thing.

Next number? How to staff your ministry for success coming in a few days. Feel free to ask away.

Stephanie

LehmanBabywithFamily

When we started raising our kids, it seemed like Rachel and I had an obvious decision to make: Follow somebody’s prescribed “steps to raising Godly children” or figure it out on our own with scripture, prayer, the wisdom of others, and our own common sense leading the way. We opted for option #2. We’ve never followed a pre-determined plan. We’ve made small tweaks and massive adjustments along the way. We’ve treated our two children very similarly in some ways and completely different in others. It’s been quite a journey, we’re not finished yet…but there is a sort of “finish line” in sight.

But we didn’t use a completely “off the hip” approach to parenting. Even though we knew we were going to take it day-by-day, we did have a goal in mind. In essence, we started our parenting journey with the end in mind. We knew what we hoped for our kids, even though we weren’t sure how (or if) we would see it come to fruition.

Our goal: To help Kayla and Cole become independent, life-long followers of Jesus.

Independent: We don’t want them living in our spare bedroom when they are 30.
Life-long followers of Jesus: Jesus. Not “god”. Not a denomination. Not a certain tradition. Not a denomination. JESUS.

College? We’d like it (Kayla is currently in her second year) but not a goal.
Marriage? Sure. If they marry somebody else who is a life-long follower of Jesus.
Financial Security? Beyond being able to provide for themselves and family? Nice, but not a goal.
Servants? Leaders? Contributors to Society? Integrity? Generous? We’re hoping being a life-long follower of Jesus will sort that all out for them.

I’m sure as you read this some are resonating with the simplicity while others are shouting at their computer screen, “Come on Johnstons, rais the freakin’ bar!”

Here’s some homework between now and my next parenting post (not sure when that will be…it’s not the only thing I’ll post about): Get together with your spouse and write a little “parenting purpose statement”, or one or two sentences that describe what your ultimate goal(s) are for your children. Yours may be much more detailed than ours, which is probably an okay thing! I think this exercise is important because even though there isn’t a perfectly prescribed parenting plan out there, you don’t want to shoot blindly in the dark, either.

Parenting 101: Start with the end in mind.

bold_parenting

Kurt / @kurtjohnston

P.S.- Here is a great new resource on parenting! Check out Bold Parenting by Lars Rood to learn more about raising your children to be more than just rule-keepers but have a deep faith of their own.



What’s the secret?

20140317_122949What is it that causes children to run up to strangers and give them hugs?

What is it that inspires Americans to come on out to a random school in the middle of a foreign land and hug those kids right back?

I mean, really… what’s the secret?

If you’re a cynic, you might say that everyone is just in it to get something from the other group. The kids want to feel supported and the missionaries want to feel useful.

Maybe. Maybe that’s as shallow as the world is.

Or maybe… maybe there’s more.

Maybe there’s something real about football a group of kids who can’t speak each other’s language somehow playing a spontaneous game of football together… then monkey in the middle… and then some other game that was invented on the spot, and somehow understood by all.

I saw that happen today.

Maybe there’s a reason why a group of Americans have callouses on their hands after helping rebuild a playground today… or why a group of Hondurans donate their time to invest into kids spiritually and academically.

I saw that happen today.

20140317_113421Maybe there’s a reason why someone brought a pack-and-play on a plane to bring to these kids… or why others brought coloring books, crayons and more… or why others brought a suitcase full of donated toothbrushes, shoes and other supplies.

I saw that happen today.

Maybe there’s a reason why everyone waves at you when you drive around the city. I mean… everyone.

I saw that happen today.

20140317_131302Maybe there’s a reason why I’m even trying to process all of this tonight. Maybe it’s not a secret, but it’s as obvious as Jesus Christ being real, alive and powerfully present.

We had a good “Day 3″ today.

God is on the move… not just good deeds… God.

I saw that happen today.

I’d recommend you have a few moments of holy trembling over that.

While you’re at it… how is He on the move where YOU are at today?

P.S. I saw something else today, too.

 

TightropeHave you ever been stressed out about ministry simply over the fact that you didn’t feel it was balanced? Well, welcome to the club. I think that a lot of times we over-value things that we probably could spend less time thinking about, and we probably under-value things we should be thinking more about. I think the solution isn’t necessarily balancing things out, but prioritizing them.

I totally understand that there must be some element of balance or else you will end up giving more attention to one area of the ministry over the others. What I also know is trying to bring balance doesn’t necessarily bring efficiency. As a steward, efficiency sometimes needs to trump balance. When your ministry becomes balanced efficiently, every area is receiving the same amount of focus and energy. But if we’re honest, in most cases, we are unable to efficiently balance everything.

Here some reasons why it’s hard to balance ministry efficiently:

  1. Lack of staff
  2. Lack of volunteers
  3. Lack of leadership support
  4. An abundance of “ministry is just not that easy.” haha

So we force programs and events for the sake of balance because we either feel guilty, or we’re trying to keep up with other ministries. For some of us we think we’re not believing God, because we are playing it safe. And that is just not true. I get the saying, “Set goals that you can’t achieve without God.” I agree with that wholeheartedly, but goals are one thing and trying to prove that you’re trusting God by over-extending you ministry is another. We are called to steward what God has given us and sometimes choosing efficiency over balance is the right choice. If you’ve found yourself in the space of trying to do too much too soon, then here are a few steps I would take:

  • EvaluateMake a list of all the things you’re doing in your ministry. It could be programs, events, missions, etc. And then ask yourself the question “Which ones can we maybe not do for a season, so we can strengthen the ones that our church value as a whole?”
  • Refocus – Instead of trying to balance the list you’ve come up with, prioritize the list you came up with based on the programs and events that the ministry values most. Then cut the ones for a season that may be great, but may also be hindering the ones you prioritized as core. 
  • Invest - Make those programs and events the best. Take the time you would be using to think and dream about the eliminated programs and events. Invest that time, money, and personnel to become efficiently balanced in those programs and events.

Again, I’m a firm believer that we should dream based on God’s ability not ours, but I also must balance that with wisdom. So here’s a few things to think about:

  • It’s OK not to do everything you want to do for the ministry all at the same time.
  • It’s OK to grow strategically.
  • It’s OK to plan.

I know that the goal for any youth ministry is to be all it’s meant to be. All I’m stating is be strategic about how you get there. You have nothing to prove to anyone. There is no single set way to doing ministry, but there are some principles. My one principle for you today is that it is OK to sometimes choose efficiency over balance.

hope it helps

ac   



City_Transformation

Recently, I finished an excellent book by Darrin Patrick called, Church Planter. In the book, Darrin speaks to not only church planters, but every person who calls themselves “pastor” – those new and seasoned. His intent is to equip leaders to be biblical pastors, carrying and imitating the mantle of Christ, thus bringing biblical and whole-life transformation to the cities where their churches reside. The book is an amazing read, that will definitely challenge your relationship with Christ and the calling Christ has given you to pastor others – be it students or adults.

I want to share some of Darrin’s thoughts on the influence churches have concerning city transformation. He writes the following (pg. 225-238):

“We desire not just to have great churches but to have better cities. ‘Would your city weep if your church did not exist?’ … a church [is] not just in the city but for the city.”

“It is strange the way many Christians give so much money every year to foreign mission efforts without ever considering the need to be a missionary right in their own neighborhoods. What would happen if we actually started seeing ourselves as missionaries to the people who live around us by being good neighbors? What would it be like if everyone in the neighborhood knew that if there was a need for peacemaking, kindness, hospitality, or refuge, they could come to our residence to find it?”

“… we can actually contribute to the cultural goods of the city by involving ourselves in the soil of what makes the city the city…This is the heart of what it means to be a Christian in culture: to participate in the creation and development of God-glorying relationships, organizations, academics, guilds, and businesses.”

“Many in the city will be more likely to listen to the message of the church because the members have invested themselves so deeply in the city. We can go from simply protesting all that is wrong in the city to actually bringing righteousness to the city. We can move from being among the many who are recognized as problem-finders in the city to being the ones who are recognized as problem-solvers in the city.”

“(1 Peter 2:9-12) … This means that when we encounter culture, we seek to be a blessing to the people in the culture. We have a unique and distinct identity as those who have been showered by grace; therefore we will seek to shower the city with grace as we sacrificially serve and work in it … (Jeremiah 29:7) So Jeremiah is not just saying that we should seek the spiritual welfare of the city, but also the financial and social welfare of the city.”

“The good news of the gospel is that we do not have to compromise biblical truth to be a blessing to the city … we can enter into the culture of the city and become agents of transformation. Being a blessing to the city means we take seriously the problems of the city. The gospel does not just need to be in word but also in deed.”

“What would happen if strong godly men and women were emboldened to use their gifts in the church, knowing that God is able to draw straight lines with crooked sticks? What if pastors were actually qualified in their character? What would happen if God’s people actually had someone to look at and imitate?

What if God’s people realized that the role of the pastor is to equip them to do ministry instead of doing ministry for them? How many nonprofits would be started by God’s people to address the broken areas of the city? How many at-risk children would be tutored, and how many fatherless teens would be mentored? How many single moms would be supported? How many immigrants would look to the church as a place of help and hope? How much more of God’s grace would we understand if we sacrificially served the poor and the marginalized? How many lost, broken people would cease being their own savior and trust in Jesus?”

To change cities, we need to change neighborhoods. This means we need to start with our own first. How is your neighborhood being transformed by your church and/or your youth group?

I’ve got the power!

(can somebody go cue The Snap, by chance?)

The power went out at our retreat center tonight. Keep in mind that we’re being incredibly spoiled by our hosts, from air conditioning in our rooms to an amazing fresh-cooked meal three times a day. It’s easily the kind of place you might spend $100 a night in if you were on vacation…so much better than any of us were prepared for.

Our team (l-r): Robin, John, Kristi, Cristin, Blake, Joshua, Tony

Our team (l-r): Robin, John, Kristi, Cristin, Blake, Joshua, Tony

While the power was out, our group hung out and got to know each other better. We busted out our flashlights, played a couple of games to break the ice, and kept waiting for the system to cool down and restart. Finally, it did – just as my son and I were wondering how our evening showers would pan out.

The deal is it’s about 100 degrees here in Honduras. I don’t mean that as an exaggeration, either -the temperature is literally around that all week long. We picked the hottest time of the year to come, not knowing it was the hottest time of the year to come. Nonetheless, God had plans for us today.

To save money on every house the ministry builds, they created a business that makes the blocks they use in building.

To save money on every house the ministry builds, they created a business that makes the blocks they use in building.

We kicked things off by hearing more about the ministry here locally and its connections globally. First, we listened to a presentation from our hosts, and then went for a prayer walk to see some of the local and global ways the ministry reaches out. They do everything from generate income through coffee sales to run a concrete business to fund their ministry to orphans. For example:

  • The concrete blocks are used to build homes, but they also sell 3,000 concrete each week.
  • The coffee business is now called “REVIVE Coffee,” but you can catch some of its vision and the people we connected with today through a slightly older video on it.

20140316_110602

This is the view from our retreat center. By the way, the cow’s name translates to “Little Table Cloth.” Just thought you should know that.

Within a stone’s throw of our retreat center is a village of 42 small stone shacks and homes that have been built to accommodate more than 100 people (many of them being children) who have no place else to live. Several of the kids come from situations where a parent died due to HIV/AIDS. We hung out here for a while, connecting with a couple of kids who were very interested in the “My Talking Ginger” app on my phone.

The hottest part of the day kicked in, so we hung out at the retreat center just a bit before heading out to serve at the orphanage our hosts minister through. I was again inspired by the hospitality of the Honduran people. One of the gentleman who takes care of the retreat center made sure I knew where to sit outside so I would stay out of the sun as it moved about the courtyard.

20140316_192458aBefore we knew it, we were off on our next assignment. This time it was building a fence to protect the playground area and offer more structure to the kids who use it. They certainly made the project come alive as they ran about, sneaking in a hug or wanting someone to play with them. We made some great connections, especially with a 14-year old boy named Danny who was one of our key helpers.

I’m not going to lie – it’s easy to high-five each other after a day like this. What we’re finding is there is more to a trip like this than a high-five. God is speaking to us through these events, and even the power-outage tonight was a reminder that He’s the God over everything we try to control. We’re not the “saviors” here – He is, and always will be. We’re some of His sweat and hugs, though.That’s a role anyone can fulfill wherever you’re reading this today.

20140316_171547aI’m so inspired by my son’s hard work, too. I’d appreciate your prayers for him – that God would speak assurances into him that would enlarge his world and spiritual journey. It would be easy for this just to be a “good deeds” experience, although I sense the spiritual wisdom our leader Robin is adding to the trip will ultimately guide that in a deeper direction.

I think we’re going to sleep well tonight. We’re likewise looking forward to what tomorrow holds.

Thanks for your prayers and words of encouragement!