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.

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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!



Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 11.10.30 AMYou may remember the Pick Punch I showed at SYMC.  It is one of my favorite gadgets and at $25 (depending on model), it may be one of your favorite tools too. I have had way too many students from our youth band asking me (a non-musician) for a pick. I don’t keep those things lying around…but now I can make them…FREE! (well free after my initial purchase). I just grab an old gift card or hotel key and Pick Punch away.

Would you like a FREE Pick Punch? Tweet that you would like a Pick Punch, tag @uthguy9 and @pickpunch.
On Friday, March 20th, I will pick a random winner from twitter.


If you don’t win, head over to Pick Punch and pick one up…$25 is so worth it!

20140313_134201Hola!

Don’t let my obvious command of the Spanish language fool you. I’m about as fluent in it as whatever secondary exposure to Dora the Explorer and Chipotle menus have made me.

Still, here I am writing you this quick post from the bed of my mission house. Perhaps that’s a bit too familiar, but it’s been  along day of travel for my 13-year old son and I.

20140315_091251It’s our first trip with Lifetree Adventures, and so far it’s been amazing. We left our schizophrenic Ohio weather this morning around 3am to get to our local airport at a reasonable hour. From there, we flew three hours to Miami, then another three hours to Honduras, and then drove another three hours by bus to our city. He’s been an absolute trooper, and our team has already started bonding.

Of course, there’s only so much you can do your first day.

20140315_141103

We did note how “American” the area around the airport felt. Right when we stepped outside we saw a Burger King, Little Caesar’s Pizza, Church’s Chicken, and a number of other chains. A huge “CINEMARK” movie theater was also within walking distance, connected to a huge mall that puts the closest one near me in Ohio to shame. The real takeaway was when one of our guides said, “What you’re about to see in the mall isn’t accurate to who we are.”

I thought, “That statement could be said even in America.”

20140315_165612

On the flipside, once we got on the road there were some notable hurdles to consider. For example, if you want to use toilet paper in a public bathroom you need to bring it in with you. That’s right – “personal budgeting” never mattered like this!

A big highlight was when we attended a local church service.

20140315_211053

It wasn’t what I expected… in fact, it was oddly familiar. We sang songs that my son and I know from the radio back home. I tried using the Spanish lyrics that were up on the screen, but ended up reverting back to the English version… tunes by Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Hilllsong United. I even had a person translate the sermon via an audio device and headphones. It was like my own personal Acts 2 moment.

I’m looking forward to what’s ahead and appreciate your prayers. We’re going to begin serving tomorrow. Any tips to make the most of this time?

 

 



apple_ipad_air_kbb_case_whinge_frt_lgI have been using Boxwave’s Buddy Case for about a week now and if you have been looking for a cool keyboard case it is worth picking up…literally, this thing is light, thin, and only $45.

Pros:
Looks great
Think Mini iPad Air…I Like!
Easy set up
Easy to use
Love the Fn Keys
Super price!

Cons:
No magnet on keyboard to auto sleep iPad
Would love to have a Fn lock so the top Fn keys can be one click.

Give and Take:
Small keyboard, obviously dictated by the size of the iPad screen (this is true for all keyboard case). The give and take is that it is small and not as natural to use as a standard sized keyboard, but if it were standard it would not be as light, clean, and portable.

Worth picking up! What is your favorite iPad case?

Brandon
@uthguy9

Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 4.41.50 PMI’ve had a few people ask me recently about how my kids are doing.  In each of those conversations the question is always phrased a little differently, but they all have stemmed from a concern for how my children are handling being a pastor’s kid, or a “PK.”

I appreciate the questions and concerns.  I know all too well that being a PK is viewed as a pressured situation to be in rather than a privileged one.  My wife and I are very sensitive to this issue.  As far as we can discern, at this time our children don’t feel pressure to be something they’re not simply because they are my kids.  We are constantly talking about how we can continue in this trajectory.

So, not that I have this figured out (by no means am I suggesting that!) and I certainly know that things can very well change as my children get older, but I thought I would list out a few things that my wife and I are trying to do to make being a PK more privilege than pressure for our children:

  1. We never ask them to serve at the church – or suggest that they should.  They certainly know what we are doing and we are very deliberate about explaining “why” we do those things, but never want to suggest they should do the same because “people will notice.”  Our children do ask to participate in ways.  For instance, rather than just going to the 11:30 gathering, they often ask my wife if they can go to the 10am gathering to help with nursery or with the toddlers and then stay for their class at 11:30.  We are also opening a coffee shop in our city and they have asked if they can come on the weekends to help out.  Those things are fun, but we leave that involvement up to them.
  2. We always talk positively about God.  We certainly talk positively about the church, expose our kids to amazing people…but we always talk about following God and joining in with what He is doing.  Regardless of what happens in the future, we want their focus to be on God, not the circumstances – good or bad.  My hope in this is that it sets a foundation that their accountability is it God, not others.
  3. We highlight the fun aspects of ministry.  For instance, we emphasize the beauty of helping the poor and often talk about ways in which we are doing that – we, of course, also include them in that.  When I bring them with me to speak somewhere, we always try to do fun things and somehow highlight the fact that we wouldn’t be able to do that if I wasn’t teaching.  I sometimes let them play in the church building on Saturdays – things other children don’t necessarily have the privilege of doing – although sometimes they invite friends to join in the fun. 
  4. Include them.  They don’t ask to be a part of everything, but the things they do we allow them to participate as much as they desire.  I also try to think of creative ways to include them.  For instance, when I have a new book coming out we do giveaways and allow my kids to choose the winners.  They also write a note to that person and “congratulate” that person for winning the book.  They find it to be really cool to be a part of that.  They will also run the “book table” for me sometimes – they really get a kick out of that.
  5. Celebrate their uniqueness.  We never want them to feel like they have to fit a mold simply because I’m a pastor so we make sure we encourage them on how they are unique.  We certainly work on character flaws as any loving parent would, but we are careful to not contextualize it as them being in a fish bowl.  That’s the last thing we would do.
  6. Encourage leadership.  We talk about leading people in the right directions, not behaving to please people.  That’s much more than semantics!

If you’re in ministry, what are some things you’re doing with your kids to make growing up in the church more privilege than pressure?