If a picture is worth a thousand words… how many characters is it worth?

Please tell me you see the irony in this photo.

texting

The fastest way to become a Pharisee… is to hate Pharisees.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45)

 

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   



The Pope.

And… here we go.

(ahem)

pope1Not that long ago, I raised a question in another post regarding the implications of the Pope being named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year.” It’s a topic I’m interested in not only as a Protestant pastor, but also as a former Catholic. I once had a lot of baggage in transitioning out of the Catholic church, but now only seem to have a “carry-on” about it I can’t seem to get rid of.

Please forgive me for being honest about that.

Maybe it’s why I was personally saddened by a recent blog post a friend shared with me where Pope Francis denied the existence of hell, declared that “all religions are true,” and other provocative things. Saddened… and yet, I didn’t question it. It seemed to affirm some of my old-school Catholic baggage and fears about how people are just waiting to hear what they want to hear from a religious leader so they can check out of a real journey with God. Here’s a quote from that blog attributed to Pope Francis:

pope3In his latest revelations, Pope Francis said:

“Through humility, soul searching, and prayerful contemplation we have gained a new understanding of certain dogmas. The church no longer believes in a literal hell where people suffer. This doctrine is incompatible with the infinite love of God. God is not a judge but a friend and a lover of humanity. God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace. Like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see hell as a literary device. Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God.”

In a shocking speech that is reverberating across the world, Pope Francis declared that:

“All religions are true, because they are true in the hearts of all those who believe in them. What other kind of truth is there? In the past, the church has been harsh on those it deemed morally wrong or sinful. Today, we no longer judge. Like a loving father, we never condemn our children. Our church is big enough for heterosexuals and homosexuals, for the pro-life and the pro-choice! For conservatives and liberals, even communists are welcome and have joined us. We all love and worship the same God.”

I came across the news when in the midst of a busy day a friend and congregation member sent me a Facebook note and asked me for my opinion on it. Wanting to honor his interest, I quickly read the article and became broken over it. I feel the tension all the time even as a pastor to honor they trust others put in me, and while I don’t have the corner market on Truth I believe God does and we need to figure out what that means:

  • There is truth: It’s illogical to say “All religions are true.” It’s a lazy cultural concept that does more harm than good, mainly because we’re so concerned about making sure we don’t offend anyone that we fail to realize how offensive that ideal is. People should be offended – laws exist to offend people away from breaking them; homes are built with locks on them to offend potential criminals from invading where they do not belong; Truth exists so that lies do not become dominant.
  • There is a truth about God: Either He exists or He doesn’t. If He does exist, our opinions of Him don’t define Him; rather, His revelation about Himself is what matters most, beyond opinion. No individual (including a Pope) can have the definitive word on this. If you believe God does not exist, you may gain some insight from Pascal’s Wager as a starting point.

Again… not once did I wonder if what the Pope said was actually something he said. He confirmed my worst fears about his potential role in Christendom, just as he would have likely confirmed some people’s best dreams for something he might say.

That’s really what I’m writing about.

francismask-255x144Twelve hours later, I realized that this was all a hoax. According to a Catholic media page as well as Snopes.com, the story was planted into internet circulation by the blogger of the Diversity Chronicle who claims (via a disclaimer) that his content is “largely satirical.”

“Twelve hours later.” Twelve hours. In that time, I’d shared it with my wife, formed conclusions about the Pope, replied by to my friend, entertained a Rob Bell reference, and tightened my resolve regarding what Christianity will look like in the immediate future based on the influence of one man. I had to go back and correct all of that.

I know I could have kept this a private matter, but James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

So I sincerely apologize, and I welcome your judgment – also, your prayers. As you prepare for that, I’d offer my motives:

  • My previously confessed Catholic baggage. I won’t go down that road with you here, but will happily talk with you one-on-one if it’s of interest.
  • The tension in Christendom of witnessing our heroes, frenemies and theological adversaries take a public nose dive that we’re left to sweep up the remnants of.
  • A passage in the back of the Bible (and always somehow in the back of my mind) that “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
  • An egotistical understanding that I am doing my best on a regular basis to be “theologically correct” in everything I do. Again… please note… an “egotistical understanding.” I so appreciate a Rich Mullins quote: “I think if we were given the scriptures it was not so that we could prove that we were right about everything. If we were given the scriptures it was to humble us into realizing that God is right and the rest of us are just guessing..”

worldbrokenThe world is changing… and apparently so is the local church. My wife grew up within the care structure of Christianity (whereas I came into it as a teenager). She once observed how it used to feel like when she was in a church gathering that it was a chance to feel camaraderie with like-minded people. Even if it wasn’t true, it “felt” like people were trying to hold the same Christian worldview. Now in any given church service you might be sitting next to someone who lives/votes/loves/hates completely different than you do – and we truly have to figure out how to forge relationships through tension.

I’d also point out one more thing – someone is waiting for you to say something that affirms their criticisms, baggage or beliefs about you.

Maybe this isn’t about the Pope as much as it’s about all of us. His sound-bytes have a louder echo, but so do yours and mine in our circles. Maybe this isn’t just about my motives for my reaction, but your motives for whatever your reaction might be to that… or even this.

Moving forward, you will have to decide more than which dogmas or religious rock stars you will be inappropriately loyal to or get inappropriately steamed over. You have to decide how you will be loyal to Jesus while giving space for loving others through your own biases.

Again, I welcome your judgment.

I likewise also welcome your confession…

but just so there’s no confusion, I welcome your confession as a Protestant pastor… with a Catholic carry-on that I can’t seem to get rid of.

9161284I’ve learned that the things that frustrate us the most as youth pastors/youth worker/volunteer are the things we can’t control in the first place. I believe that one of the top reasons we get frustrated is that we forget to remember the things that should keep us grounded in the mission of what we were called to do. So here are 6 we need to remind ourselves of on a regular basis:

  1. God called you to stewardship over the ministry, not ownership. Frustrated over things not going exactly your way. I think the frustration comes because we start to think the ministry belongs to us, and it doesn’t. You need to run, oversee, and manage out of stewardship, not ownership. It makes a big difference.
  2. Reaching the lost is primary, so don’t be apologetic about it. Frustrated over size. Strategize to reach the lost just as aggressively as the devil does to keep them lost. Stop believing the lie that numbers don’t matter, in the since that your job is to preach and serve the students in the four walls of your ministry only. We are commissioned by Jesus Christ to do both. So give both equal attention, and go aggressively after both. Don’t let the disapproval or criticism of those who preach “my four and no more” stop you.
  3. Leave God’s work to him. Frustrated over hearts not being changed. Know where your work ends and His work begins. Click here for more on this subject!
  4. We minister out of who we are. Frustrated over trying to be two different people. You should be the same person in your ministry life, as you are in your personal life. Inconsistency in the two will lead to frustration and eventually the destruction of the two. If you have to work at this then something is not right. I would find some counsel quickly.
  5. You are not bulletproof. Frustrated with temptation. Remember that you have the potential to screw up just as badly as the people you minister to, so you need to be fed yourself. You should be attending adult services and Bible study. You need accountability all the more being in leadership. Ministry does not exempt us from those things.
  6. It’s about purpose, not ego. Frustrated over the lack of recognition. So many youth ministry leaders fall because their stage is built on praise and applause, instead of purpose and the one true cause which is Christ being glorified in and through the lives of students. Appreciate the praise and applause when given, but build on the purpose and cause. Youth ministry is not a stepping stone for aspiring ministry star power. We have the honor and privilege to serve the church and world at the level that will affect future generations. It should be viewed that way.

When we (and I say “we” because we’ve all been frustrated at one time or another) are frustrated with ministry we should asses our own life, and see whats out of alignment, instead of looking for someone or something to blame. Try sharing this at your next staff meeting, and see what type of feedback you get. Would love to hear about it.

hope it helps,

ac



parableEvery once in a while you find a video that feels the perfect parable for just about anything.

I’m not sure if this one qualifies,but as I watch it I see so many analogies regarding how relationships can work.

  • Our relationships in the church
  • Our relationships in the home
  • Our relationships with those we serve
  • Our relationships with those we serve alongside of
  • Our relationship with God

Ignore the lyrics of this (if you can), and look for how the dynamics of this may speak to you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qJW0CgP-bA

Share your comments/insights as you do. Thanks!

burningmidnightoilHow much sleep did you get last night?

I’m not asking what you did last night or the night before that required you to stay up late. It was probably quite noble and likely “for the kingdom.”

Maybe this is even a pattern in your life. You have a bunch of work to do, but want to make sure you spend time with your family during the day. It’s why you put off some of your work until late at night…that’s why God invented laptops, right?

Still, how much sleep are you getting?

Or perhaps more clearly…when are you going to bed?

That alone is worth asking, even if you tend to get in your “eight hours” on a regular basis. Perhaps you’re getting the right amount of sleep, but you’re going to bed on a schedule that puts you at odds with others in your home or the people you see throughout most of your day. You snag a “fourth meal” at Taco Bell, or prep your favorite late-night snack, and plug into whatever you’ve been waiting to get to all day.

It could be for any number of reasons:

  • You’re trying to stay flexible: Ministry requires you to be available on the fly, and you know one of your prime times to serve others is late at night.
  • You’re trying to have some “me” time: Your DVR is backed up with shows you’re still waiting to catch up on, and maybe the only time you feel you can watch them uninterrupted is when everyone else has gone to sleep.
  • You can’t think during the day: It feels like whenever you sit down to get something important done, someone knocks on your door, calls you, or sends you an email that needs your immediate attention.

Maybe you can relate to all of this.

Maybe you can relate to none of this.

Let me ask one more question that goes just one layer deeper.

Who gets to decide what’s healthy in this area?

A friend of mine told me years ago that sometimes you need to give yourself a “fake heart attack.” He had a family member who had an actual heart attack and was told by a doctor to radically reorient his life. This meant new habits with eating, exercise, sleep, and more.

The doctor set the standard.

My friend shared how his family member struggled with this, and so the rest of the household decided to join him in the changes. Everyone had a “fake heart attack” and changed their patterns to help with the real situation.

As you might imagine, the entire family’s life became healthier through the process. Each person lost a lot of weight, had new energy, kept the same sleeping schedule, and consequently bonded more with others in the household than they ever had before. Their relationship grew by leaps and bounds, and they even became more involved in church and other charitable efforts.

Maybe that feels like a Cinderella story from where you’re sitting. “I could never do that,” you might argue. Maybe not.

Unless your doctor told you that you were on the verge of a heart attack. Everything would change then, wouldn’t it?

It’s ironic how we criticize people who only come to Jesus at the last minute because they want to avoid hell. Isn’t this exactly what we do with our health? Until there’s a real fear of penalty, we’ll just keep on pushing our bodies and schedules to their limits because we see no other option that we’ll actually stay consistent with.

Allow me to end on a confession.

burning-midnight-oilI’ve written this article to Tony Myles. If anyone else has read along, feel free to comment.

Me? As I write this, I have a doctor’s appointment in an hour. I’m curious, based on how that goes, what I’ll continue to get away with… and what he’ll tell me has to change in my life.

Can anyone relate?

“In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves. (Psalm 127:2)”

Thank you for loving students!

Tony

@tonymyles

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

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How to Make Teenagers Cry

Tony Myles —  November 6, 2013 — 3 Comments

youtubeTalk-show host Jimmy Kimmel has dared parents to frustrate their kids just after Halloween and capture it on video.

It’s an annual prank Kimmel has featured for the past few years as mom/dad tells their son/daughter how all the Halloween candy is gone… because the parent(s) ate it. The kid usually erupts with some sort of understandable tantrum, and the audience enjoys the gag.

Here’s one of the compilations:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOlpdd7y8MI

Of course, this seems absurd. Why would anyone who loves their kids put them through it? It could arguably erode trust and create suspicion of anything in the future.

Then again, we do this in ministry all the time, don’t we?

  • “Hey everyone, I know we’ve always gone to _________ every year, but this year I thought we’d mix things up and do __________ instead.”
  • “Hi! I’m your new youth worker. I thought since I’m new, it was a good time to change the name of the youth group… and what we do here… and when we meet… and what you call me… and the age groups… and…”
  • “I’m kind of tired of us always singing these songs. I just got back from a conference, and we’re now going to do some different worship music…”

Ever seen this?

Ever done this?

I’m raising my hand with a tinge of guilt.

Then again… sometimes change was needed, like pruning before the fruit could bloom.

What do you think –

when is it appropriate to rock a teenager’s world over something they’ll cry about…

and when is it equal to pulling an unnecessary prank?

UncommonWisdomfrontcoverWith your permission, I’d like to share an adaption of the introduction to my book “Uncommon Wisdom from the Other Side: A Senior Pastor Talks Youth Ministry.”

Not because I want to sell you a book
(although, feel free to buy one).

I want to share something so important that I wrote it there, and have written it here.

 


medic4Thank you for signing up to reach the next generation.

Your heart will gain scars.

You’ll be misled by others.

Close friends will seemingly abandon you.

The resources may run out.

You may fake your faith some days for the sake of others.

Simple things Christians say will annoy you.

The church you serve may appear two-dimensional in your three-dimensional stress.

Students will let you down.

You will disciple at least one Judas.

People will say all kinds of unkind things about you and your family.

And it is the best possible way to live.

medic3It would be easier to just pat you on the back, but you need to know what you’re being patted into.

The reason it’s called “ministry” is because someone is needed to “minister”-which implies a gap exists that needs filling. You may occasionally get applause for doing this, but if you’re looking for it you have things backward.

Trouble will hit.

Relational blood will be spilled.

People you expect to be medics will at times be holding the knife.

And you’ll at times be one of the guilty parties.

medic5If you can see this for what it is and enter the chaos glued to Jesus, you’ll unearth questions about church and ministry you didn’t realize existed.

You’ll also see some things about God you’d like to change, such as how he gets to call the shots on good days and bad days. You’ll later treasure these things because when you aren’t able to answer the “what happens next” question, you’ll start focusing on the “who can I love who is in front of me now” question.

That’s the question that really matters more, anyway.

It’s going to be ugly. Anytime something full of life is born,
there is a big, bloody mess.

Why do we forget this and whine about it when it happens?

Then again… perhaps you feel OK with ministry today and are nodding, assuming you’re ready for whatever comes next.

  • Will you keep nodding when your spouse is about to experience a nervous breakdown because of your “calling”?
  • Will you keep nodding when your own walk with God feels drier than it’s ever been and you have another message to deliver?
  • Will you keep nodding when the bliss of working inside the four walls of a church starts to feel like solitary confinement?

Such hardships may not dominate, but there will likely be seasons when everything seems crazy and Jesus will need you to help redeem even the “redeemed.”

  • This is where what you preach finally gets owned.
  • This is where your faith moves from practical ideas about living to oxygen when you’re suffocating.
  • This is where you take on Satan, not out of adrenaline, but out of Jesus.

medic2Consider this line from C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters where one demon counsels another on wearing down a man who has given himself to their “enemy” God:

“Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

It’s not my aim to destroy your faith but to ground it in the Lord before it gets destroyed. Ministry will give you every circumstance to abandon what you’re doing because there’s always a seemingly nicer job at a store or restaurant down the street where you can clock in and clock out.

Then again, perhaps you weren’t made to clock in and clock out.

Maybe (just maybe) you will deny yourself, carry your cross, follow Jesus, and experience a resurrection in this generation.

(Note the order of that sentence. It’s what turns you into a battlefield medic for the Church.)

Doing that will unearth more of God than you feel prepared for, which in turn will make you run off screaming or surrendered on your own cross, because you finally see students like he does.

Because youth ministry is ugly and beautiful… all at the same time.

 

Thank you for loving students!

Tony

@tonymyles

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

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