Some days, ministry has a weight to it that can overwhelm you.

Perhaps this is an odd metaphor, but when God gives me a heavy message to share or significant task to do I feel like I’m like a delivery man who is cautiously transporting nuclear energy. What’s in my hands will either fuel lives with power or poison them with radiation-all based on how I handle it…or if I somehow trip in the process.

This tension only increases when we work alongside people who seem on guard against God or church.

bdos_teamI’ve experienced that sensation while leading three different Big Day of Serving events in Ohio. There’s a sort of dangerous thrill that comes with working with people behind-the-scenes who may or may not know Jesus Christ…all while you set up some powerful service projects for students to serve Jesus Christ.

It all begins with the first cold call and continues into the relationship you form behind-the-scenes. You can usually tell how certain personalities or people will be easier to work with than others. It’s a hurdle common to church environments, youth groups, and more.

This is when we’re tempted to start telling stories of transformation.

Have you ever noticed how when we’re trying to convince someone that something is worth doing, we default to telling the positive stories of life change as a selling point? It’s just as tempting to avoid mentioning the details that didn’t turn out like we wanted them to.

What do you feel like telling your church when you or your ministry are being evaluated? Do you share how your efforts have failed, or at least one story that seems to make it all worthwhile?

bdos_akron2I learned something at the last Big Day of Serving that humbled me on this.

My team was blessed to work with the mayor’s office in Akron, Ohio. They did a phenomenal job of identifying projects we could sink our teeth into and make a huge difference in.

One of those projects came through the passionate suggestions of a local resident who has been a bit of a thorn in the side of the city for years. He often writes letters to the newspaper, criticizing how the city isn’t doing its job like it should.

I don’t know how you’d respond to such a critic, but my temptation would be to fire back some emails on all the things we’re doing right.

(Again, this would be the moment I’d want to amplify “stories of transformation” as a shield to help deflect the impact of what I was hearing.)

A city as large as Akron could do the same thing, telling a critic how “We’re doing what we can,” or “We’ll get around to that sometime in the next budget year.” Instead, the city invited this gentleman to take part in the Big Day of Serving with us as a project leader.

Instead of raising a shield, they let him use his sword to help cut through the problem.

dogI met the man and his three-legged dog (who, incidentally, isn’t named “Lucky”) as we walked around the week before to preview a particular park he wanted cleaned up. It was obvious that this was a guy full of passion who had much to share about how things just weren’t getting done according to his perspective. The City representative not only listened to him, but (while wearing his usual dress clothes) followed the critic into the muddy woods to see things first-hand.

The whole time this was happening, I again felt that tension of whether or not this was going to end up amazing or blow up in our faces. It was a risk putting this critic in charge of a site that we’d be sending youth workers and students to. It didn’t help my fears when he used some loose language that I imagined I’d later read about in the evaluation forms that our work teams fill out after the event.

On the other hand, this man was as much a part of the reason why we were doing the Big Day of Serving work projects themselves. Maybe his soul was the real thing that our students would be “working on.” Could you just imagine the type of passionate, “Peter-like” Christ-follower this man could be if God somehow got hold of his life?

Maybe I should tell you the rest of the story.

There is one, by the way.

Instead, I’m going to end right here for now and dare you to live in this dangerous, nuclear tension I’m outlining.

Thom and Joanie Shultz describe it in their book Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore:

  • bdos_workDivine Expectation: Realize that God is actively involved in everything, all the time. He has something dangerously thrilling for you to share and carry into the lives of other people. If you aren’t experiencing some “fear and trembling” in your ministry, quit being such an expert and remember how powerful the One you serve actually is.
  • Fearless Conversation: Make the cold call. Say several bold things in a message. Let others use loose, random language around you without you amplifying or mirroring it. Ask great questions, and let those around you do the same.
  • Genuine Humility: Carry a notebook and write down what you hear, seeking evaluation instead of praise. Be radically relational, honoring how God may be speaking to you through a voice you don’t want to hear.
  • Radical Hospitality: Make everyone feel as important as the world-changer Jesus says they actually are. Seek to understand them through the lens of caring curiosity, and create an on-ramp for them not to just join you…but so that you can also join them.

Carry and deliver whatever wild burden God gives you… hobble forward if that’s the best you can do.

hopeWhich reminds me of one last thing…

the three-legged dog?

Its actual name is “Hope.”

- – - -

I’d love to hear what you’re experiencing or learning in whatever your situation is. Please chime in.

Thank you for loving students!



*Love Tony’s insight on service and youth ministry? Receive his articles every Tuesday when you sign up for the SYM Today Newsletter!*


walter mitty

There are movies that are a great adventure.  Others make you wish you could get those minutes of your life back.  Then there are movies that teach you about yourself. The lead character resonates with you.  They remind you what you believe, who you are and why you have become the person you have. They may even teach us a little bit about ministry.

This is true of Walter Mitty, a 42 year old employee of Life Magazine.

You are on a path to be someone. There are dreams and convictions and passions. Then something happens.

Maybe, like Walter, you are 17 and your father dies.

Whatever it is, It changes everything. Responsibility creeps in, and you don’t take the chances you thought you would. It isn’t a bad life. You have love, family and even a purpose. However, it’s the moment we each realize that we just might not ever be a famous actor, professional athlete, or take the cover of a magazine. We just might be the “normal” we swore we would never be.

This is who Walter Mitty became. Working in the basement of Life Magazine, he is just sort of going through the every day. He loves, and laughs and day dreams. Then something pushes him out of merely existing. Adventure awaits, and he realizes what he has allowed to lay dormant for almost 20 years.

The Secret Life Of Mitty is a poignant, quirky, visually stunning story that unravels a journey that many of us have been through. It’s the moment in which we face the fact that the road we have walked in life may not be the one we desired. It’s the moment we know what we really want out of life is not about adventure at all.

This is not your “typical” Ben Stiller story full of crazy characters or even off-color humor. Instead,there is a part of each of us that deeply resonates with Walter and the world he interacts with. Broken relationships between men and women cause kids to get lost in the shuffle. Not every family deals with loss by becoming dysfunctional. Instead, sometimes we get “stuck.” We interact with trials, negativity and people who are mean.

Like the, The Way Way Back, this is a movie that shows us something about the way we approach life, and ministry. We must decide which “character” we want to be and who we know.

Do we take the journey? Climb over people? Do we just accept this is “how things are”?

Walter Mitty goes on a hunt for a lost picture. I wonder if we will be willing to take to the unknown to be with Jesus in the same way Walter wants to find this negative. In the end will we realize the journey teaches us more than we ever realize?  Will we learn to be present?

Will we realize as Walter did that sometimes it’s not about creating something, but it’s about savoring what’s right in front of us?

This is one of those movies you take your spouse or a friend to, and then you go and talk about it. I think Walter and the people in his path teach us a lot about who we are and who we might want to be.

What is a movie that has taught you about yourself?




The day starts out well—it’s a slow Saturday, and I’ve already spent some quiet time reading, then working out, then prepping for lunch with a bunch of my 10-year-old’s friends. My parents call while I’m in the middle of lunch prep—they want to stop by. I say, “Sure, come on over—after lunch.”

Meanwhile I hear my daughter Emma counting something in the other room—21, 22, 23, 24… Turns out, it’s the number of times the dogbroken flower pot we’re watching for friends has peed on our carpet. We quickly call our friends’ house-sitter to come get the dog. She shows up in the middle of the chaos of our lunch prep, which I had to put on hold so I could clean up some of the pee. My parents, who must not have heard “after lunch,” show up right behind her. And then Emma comes to confess she’s spilled “a little” dirt when the plant in her room fell over. I shoot down the hall to see what “a little dirt” looks like—and, of course, it’s a lot of dirt, along with muddy water staining the floor. A few minutes later Emma comes again to tell me she’s knocked over her glass gumball machine, shattering it all over her room. Shards of glass are mixed into a muddy-water-and-dirt stew on her floor.

Meanwhile, my wife has left to take our dog for a walk before a thunderstorm hits. I tell her to take an umbrella. She doesn’t. Five minutes after she leaves the skies let loose a downpour worthy of Noah. I jump in my car to go find her, but realize I didn’t bring my phone. I drive all over, but return to the house to get my phone. Meanwhile she has dragged herself back home, soaking wet. So we throw the dog in our sink to give her a bath, and I notice the gutters must be clogged because they’re pouring water onto our porch. In the driving downpour I go up the ladder to clear the blockage. Back inside, the dog is finally clean—she shakes off the water, right into the latte that was my one comfort on a terrible day… Inside I have a rage looking for a feasible outlet—there is nothing more infuriating than the relentless loss of control in our life.

The poet Robert Burns said: “The best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.” Do they ever! And when they do, our addiction to control is exposed… This addiction is, literally, the mother of all our addictions…


The Path of St. Dismas

The man historians often call Dismas is one of two thieves crucified with Jesus on the killing field called Golgotha. Very little is known about Dismas, other than the biblical account of his interchange with Jesus on the cross: “One of the criminals hanging alongside cursed him: ‘Some Messiah you are! Save yourself! Save us!’ But the other one made him shut up: ‘Have you no fear of God? You’re getting the same as him. We deserve this, but not him—he did nothing to deserve this.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise’” (Luke 23:39-43, MSG).

stdismasAncient historians St. John Chrysostom and Pope Saint Gregory the Great say that Dismas likely lived in the desert, robbing or murdering anyone unlucky enough to cross his path. He was suspected of killing even his own brother. As a thief, he’s a primary example of grasping for control in life versus living in an attitude of radical trust—thieves take what they can’t gain lawfully, rather than earn it. And, in the end, the Romans take from thieves the control they have stolen—crucifixion is an extreme example of the loss of control. When you’re crucified your days of controlling things are over…

            Haven’t been crucified lately? Well, it doesn’t take much to expose our own addiction to control, as my “Saturday from hell” reminds me. In Matthew 21 Jesus describes Himself as “the Stone which the builders rejected” who has “become the chief cornerstone.” Here He is naming a truth—He is the Stone. But who are the builders, the people who see themselves as boss, as in charge of things? That would be us. We reject Him because we assume we are the builders, the ones who are really in control of things…

From the time of Adam and Eve until now, the headwaters of all our sin has been this lie: “You can be like God.” It’s a virus in our system that never goes away, just as people who get Chicken Pox as children can get shingles as adults, because the virus has stayed in their system. Control is at the root of all our sin, and it’s at war with our trust in God. As long as we hold onto our control, we can’t/won’t release it to God.


The Person of Paradise

To find our way out, we return to the story of St. Dismas the Bandit. On the cross, one thief gives up and gives in to abuse in the face of his loss of control. The other thief, instead, gives himself in complete trust to Jesus. And in response, Jesus promises that He will be with him in paradise that day. And “Paradise” is just another way of describing our opportunity to be intimately close to Jesus at all times, in all circumstances. To be with Jesus is to be in paradise. To know Him is eternal life. Paradise isn’t a place, it’s a person. And the things that expose and frustrate and steal our control make it possible for us to find the freedom of trust. And, in the end, Jesus is the good thief, because He takes from us what we’re sure we need to give to us what we have to have—Himself.

Like Dismas before us, the path to freedom from our captivity leads to our crucifixion—and on that cross, when control is exposed as a joke, we give over ourselves to an abandoned trust in Jesus. If you’ve never laid down your control and given yourself freely to Him, I invite you to take a little walk with Him to Golgotha, where you will find your life as you’re losing it.




Most of us know that Jesus should be a central part of our marriage.marriage_triangle

We talk to our students about Christ-centered relationships using the image to the right; explaining that as a couple maintains their focus on God and moves closer to Him, they will also move closer to one another. But what does that really mean? How does that look in the daily grind of a marriage with all its ups, downs, joys, struggles, and mediocre moments?

Obviously, none of us will ever measure up to the ideal. God should be first in our hearts and our minds every moment. If this were happening, it would be easier to love our spouses. The love would flow from Christ, and we’d have a wellspring of compassion, forgiveness, patience, and forbearance. We don’t know for sure, but our guess is that you’re just like us—you try real hard, but sin and life just keep getting in the way! This is normal and okay.

A true Jesus-centered marriage is one where both spouses strive to keep Christ as the focus—strive being the key word here. What does striving mean in a practical sense? It means that you should be evaluating yourself and your actions, and taking steps to be closer to God and to each other.

Here are a couple of questions to help you discern where Jesus is in your marriage:

1) Where does your identity come from?

Your full identity should come from Christ—not from your spouse, ministry, children, or wealth (we know you youth pastors have so much wealth!). He is the one that we should be looking to for our sense of worth and belonging. Yes, your spouse can be a great source of encouragement and support, but their love will always fall short of God’s love. What they can tell you about yourself will always be less than what God can affirm about your worthiness in Him. It’s important to keep bringing this to mind over the years and make sure you’re not putting unreasonable expectations on your spouse in this area.

2) Where does your example of love come from?

1 John 3:16 says, “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (NLT) In marriage, it is easy to get caught up in a tit-for-tat kind of love—I’ll love you better when you love me more. This is especially true in rough seasons. However, Christ challenges us to love our spouse unconditionally, just as he loves us. This is difficult and will always be a work in-progress, but it is part of the Jesus-centered striving we should be doing in our marriages.

3) Where does your sense of hope come from?

Christ is the ultimate redeemer, rescuer, and rejuvenator. No matter how rough our marriages get, we can always hope in this promise: “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God.” (Romans 8:28 NLT) When life gets tough, it is far better to stand with your spouse and look to Christ for rescue, rather than putting pressure on one another to fix whatever isn’t going right. This does not mean that counseling and professional help are to be ignored, but that with a willing heart to seek help, Christ can work miracles.

Thanks for loving each other and your students,

Jake and Melissa Kircher


*Don’t miss another marriage, family, or ministry tip from Jake & Melissa Kircher or Tim & Tasha Levert! Get their posts emailed directly to you every Friday when you subscribe to the SYM Today Newsletter!*



It’s January 3rd, and you know what that means?

We are all making resolutions, setting goals, and becoming productive. Most of the country is losing weight, exercising more and giving up all of their bad habits: For at least a day…maybe two. We are trying new programs and deciding that THIS IS THE YEAR we will stick to our check list.

It is obvious that God is a “planner” when we look at the intricacies of Creation or the number of prophecies fulfilled just at the birth of Christ, not to mention his life, death and resurrection. There are verses about the plans God has for my life, the world and even “planning” the cost of following Jesus. Purpose, vision, plans, and goals are all important, and we use the “fresh start” of a “new year” as a time to look forward. I like order, and the feeling that comes with accomplishing said goals. Yet, as I have been praying lately, I have realized something about myself. I can have the tendency to focus on details and specifics when if I am honest those are not my true goals at all.

As I make a list of ways I will develop this year I am REALLY saying:

Maybe there’s a way I can figure out how to be less of a mess this year and a little bit closer to “perfect.”

As I set goals for ways the ministry will grow this year my heart is saying:

If I look successful to the rest of the world maybe someone will finally notice.

As I try to set ideals for ways to be a better spouse, parent & friend I wonder:

Who am I really doing this for: me or them?

As I set ways that I will read my Bible & pray more what I truly am thinking is:

Could there be a way to not have any trials this year?

In short I say I set goals for all the “right” reasons, however, I am really trying to take control.  Here’s the problem with that according to Proverbs alone:

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.”  Proverbs 16:2

   “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”  Proverbs 19:21

This life, my kids, my husband, my ministry–none of them are mine. There is only one thing I have: Jesus. So here is where I am starting, and I bring the challenge to you as well.

Can 2014 be the year that we fully belong to the Lord and be HIS alone?

That’s it. Even in this I won’t be the perfect parent, spouse or friend. I will still fall down, make mistakes and have trials. I have no idea if my ministry will “grow” or not in the eyes of anyone else. Yet, I have this sneaking suspicion this could be transformational.  I also suspect that the “other” stuff that I have been thinking about will come into line and those “goals” that I keep trying to set will be accomplished- because I have started and ended with Jesus.

Will I read my Bible, pray, worship, go to church, and serve?  Of course, those are all mechanisms to know Him better. I guess I look to 2014 as a year when I will FINALLY understand completely that being with Jesus far outweighs anything I DO for Him…

What about you?



Random Randomness

Kurt Johnston —  January 1, 2014 — Leave a comment


** Resolutions
I like dreaming, goal setting and making resolutions. I like having something to shoot for because as the old saying goes, “If you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”

So as I head into 2014, I’m setting a two goals, or resolutions that feel simultaneously easy to hit and very challenging.

In 2014 I resolve to be faithful and faith-filled.

- I will strive to live in the truth that God isn’t impressed with accomplishments and busyness; that what he simply wants is my faithfulness in all areas of life and ministry. He isn’t worried about how many students signed up for winter retreat or whether or not I went to the gym three times per week. But he is concerned about my faithfulness to my wife, my family, my friends, my ministry calling and my relationship with the Father. In 2014 I resolve to be more concerned about the things that concern him.

- I will expect students to come to faith in Jesus, I will expect adults to join our team and I will expect God to meet my family’s needs. In short, I will strive to live a life of expectancy; one that assumes God’s active presence in every area of my life, instead of being surprised when it happens!

** Five-word reviews of movies I’ve recently seen:
- Out of The Furnace: Heavy drama about family loyalty.
- American Hustle: Lived up to the hype.
- Frozen: Fun. Snowman was best part.
- Anchorman 2: Funny. Too crude for PG13.
- Saving Mr. Banks: Not what I expected. Enjoyable.
- Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas: Joking! Would never see it.

** Christmas Highlights:
- I recently learned that one of my best friends from Junior High lives 5 minutes from my in-laws so on Christmas afternoon I snuck away for 90 minutes to reconnect. The best part was when he busted out an old photo album from our Pop Warner football days!

- For the 8th year in a row, we left the morning after Christmas to camp and ride dirt bikes in the dessert. Instead of camp, I should probably say “glamp” due to the fact that a gracious family in our church gives us an incredible rental rate on 150K RV that is about the size of our first apartment…and way, way nicer.

** Hot Tip: “Youth Worker Discounts” membership
A buddy of mine is helping launch a fantastic new ministry called “Youth Worker Discounts” (Should launch by early February). Here’s the basics:
A $20 annual membership fee does TWO things:
1) Provides the Youth Worker Discounts member (that’s you!) with thousands of discounts nationwide on hotels, restaurants, movie tickets, youth ministry resources, etc.
2) Provides $10 of free youth ministry resources to small, urban, rural and under-funded youth groups around the country! You heard that right, $10 of your $20 annual membership goes directly toward providing resources for other youth groups! Stay tuned, because this should be pretty exciting.

** I’m jumping out of an airplane on Monday. Said I never would, but I am.

3 Lessons from 2013

Leneita Fix —  December 31, 2013 — 2 Comments



It’s that time again.  Every tabloid, television special, and post on the internet wants to take a look back at 2013. They want to announce their list of the “best” and “worst.”  We are bombarded with images, thoughts and opinions on what we were supposed to love and hate in the past year.

I look back at 2013, and in all honesty, it is not twerking or Duck Dynasty that affected me the most. I did not “like” the last year and that had nothing to do with pop culture. This was a painful year for me of stretching and trials. 2013 was a year when I “chose” Jesus more than I “felt” Him. Still, I had a mentor who gave me some really good advice long ago. She told me to ask the Lord in every situation, “Lord what are you teaching me?”  So before I run into the coming year I must look back and reminisce about the lessons I have learned.

Here are my top three:

1.  Jesus Wants & Requires My Obedience:

Faithfulness. That’s it. Every day He longs that I will choose Him again.  This year I have had a some friends and acquaintances who made the decision that following Christ costs too much.  In my own life I have realized this year that it “costs” everything that has the word me or mine involved in it.  More than anything I can “do” for Him, He  just wants me to be His.  Everything else is secondary.


2.  My ideas of success are different than God’s:

I wanted to climb the “ministry” ladder. I thought it would include notoriety and value. If you had asked me if I thought this, I would have said, “No way, my identity is in Christ, and I only do what I do for Him.”  However, in the secret places in my heart I also thought that the “blessings” that came from serving Him might include more Twitter followers.  When I show up and am faithful to what He has put right in front of me for today, loving Him most and others second, He calls that “success.”


3.  I adore my family & often underestimate them:

I am beyond blessed to have the spouse that I do. He has more integrity than almost anyone else I know.  He challenges me to grow closer to the Lord and be spurred on in all I am called to do.  My running joke in parenting a college student along with a 6th, a 7th and an 8th grader is that I live with a youth group.  I fear they will walk away from the Lord and make poor choices that will wreck their lives. The Lord has made it clear He is working in each of their lives as well.  In the midst of difficulty this has also become a year when we seek Him together, and that has made it all worth it. He reminded me that none of these people belong to me, and He will not let them go.

So here we are on the edge of the “new year,”  as you look back what did Jesus teach you?



It happens.

leaveachurchAround this time of year, various families in your church will simply leave and won’t return.

This type of exodus has no bias. They may have been irregular or regular attendees, some of your newest visitors or some of your longest leaders.

If you’re fortunate, you’ll get a phone call or be invited out to lunch so the break-up seems more empathetic and personal. Regrettably, it’s more common to receive a one-sided email or Facebook note explaining, “It’s not you, it’s me. So give me some space and don’t reply.”

There are other households who will be more aloof about it all. They’ll stop attending and count how many days, weeks or months it takes for you to notice they pulled back. If you don’t follow up quickly, it will only further validate the reason they began to leave in the first place.

I see this happen at the end of every December. While some use the “new year” to dig in and grow, others use it to fade off and go. You may see a few hints in what they post online or share socially, but it will still hit you hard as it happens.

I’m speaking from experience. Even though I know it’s coming, it always deflates me as it unfolds.

exitCan you relate?

  • They’ll begin to attend a different church, and you’ll wonder why. You won’t literally say, but you literally wonder, “Is that church sexier than ours?”
  • They’ll explain that another youth group is offering a unique program or class, and so they won’t be around for a season. “I hate that,” you’ll think, but instead you’ll force yourself to say, “Well, churches aren’t in competition with each other, so it’s no big deal.”
  • They’ll tell you that they’ve prayed about it and God led them to make this move in this timing. “Funny how ‘God’ always seems to tell people to do this in January,” you’ll further note to amuse yourself.

Make no mistake about it…this will hurt. You will take it personally. It will feel as if you’ve been betrayed. Cynicism will dominate your future.


Jesus Christ really is the center of your life and the ministry you serve.

I’ve already confessed that I struggle with this. Perhaps you do, too.

We tend to think that the biggest competition to serving God is sin (or our own carnal nature). Truth be told, church itself can become your biggest competition for a Jesus-centered life and ministry.

The question is if that’s how you’ll roll.

  • It’s easy to think of all the time you’ve put into “your ministry” and “your church.” It’s harder to realize that the ministry and church doesn’t belong to you (or even the students) but to God Himself.
  • It’s easy to spot the (alleged) immaturity of other people who pull out of your particular congregation for the wrong reasons. It’s much harder to admit there may be valid reasons for why they’re leaving…reasons that may or may not have anything to do with you.
  • It’s easy to be offended by how effortlessly someone can choose to not show up anymore. It’s harder to admit you’re simply jealous that you have to project more commitment and maturity than that.

I have no solutions for you other than Jesus Christ.

  • He hears our whining like he did when Peter complained, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27)
  • He enlarges our perspective like he did when James and John demanded, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” (Mark 10:37)
  • He remains faithful to us and carries his cross like he did even when the Bible says, “Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.” (Matthew 26:56)

God isn’t bound by time. I personally think it’s short-sighted when people use the calendar to make spiritual decisions. Maybe there’s some obscure Bible verse that you can use to correct me on this, but the fact that we use a certain time of the year to retreat from him, relationships or church seems lame. As Jesus said, “Deny yourself. Carry your cross. Follow me.”

On the other hand, my attitude serving Jesus isn’t to be bound by what’s going on in the church. Whether people are leaving or staying shouldn’t affect how faithful I am to Christ. Maybe it bears repeating that Jesus said, “Deny yourself. Carry your cross. Follow me.”

Can you relate?

Thank you for loving students!



*Love Tony’s insight on service and youth ministry? Receive his articles every Tuesday when you sign up for the SYM Today Newsletter!*