hellotagIn what it becoming a popular trend these days, another “live-coming-out” video has been posted on Youtube.

These stories will temporarily trend in social media feeds, including one in particular that Facebook highlighted this week: It features a teenager who hid a camera with just the right line of sight to capture his mom’s reaction to his announcement that he is gay.

There’s a lot to digest here, from the content of the post to why it’s even a trend to begin with. I asked Shawn Harrison, noted author of “Ministering to Gay Teenagers,” to give his perspective on the video concept itself. I also had a few thoughts to offer, not as an antagonist to his point but to supplement it from the ministry side of things. Here are two sides to gay teens coming out:

In terms of the content…

(via Shawn Harrison)

In terms of the takeaways…

(via Tony Myles)

For those that don’t know about these videos, check out Youtube and you’ll quickly see. Instead of writing letters, teens now hide a video camera in a room and film their parent’s (or family’s) response to them coming out as gay. A lot of these videos are hard to watch – some are deeply emotional and deeply troubling in how the parent’s reactions are brutally honest and some times come with the words, “Leave my house now.”

As youth workers, we need to familiarize ourselves with these videos, because they definitely give us insight into the personal lives of gay students – students who could at any time come through our doors.

As I’ve been watching these videos, I’m reminded of the time I came to my parents. I stayed home that day because the thought of coming out to my parents knotted my stomach up like never before. Not only was I physically sick, but emotionally and mentally “sick,” too. It is not easy to tell your parents you are attracted to the same-sex, let alone you have no idea why you experience these attractions, and you cannot seem to change the attractions you have. The stress and fear of becoming an embarrassment and a failure to your parents overwhelms your entire being. The fear of becoming homeless because of your “attractions” is a constant nightmare.

For a gay teen that either has come out or is about to come out, losing friends is one thing, but being rejected by family is on a totally different level.

Friends come and go, while family is supposed to be there no matter what. However, many of the teens in these coming out videos, and many who never make a video, face the unthinkable: parents rejection, homelessness, ridicule, and abuse that is physically and mental. I was fortunate in that though my parents and I never talked about my sexuality, they never stopped loving me.

Regardless of what personal stance you may have on this topic:

  • What did you learn by watching and listening to the kid?
  • What did you learn by watching and listening to the mom?
  • What can we learn about youth ministry from a kid who secretly video tapes his mom’s reaction to something?

Once upon a time, kids wrote something in a secret diary or journal so the rest of the world couldn’t see it. We’re now on the exact opposite extreme where students look for validation and affirmation in the global community, not realizing the bias that in itself creates. They may see how many “likes” or “views” their post gets on the internet and assume that’s what they’ll encounter locally among people they will actually interact with.

Maybe that’s not the end goal in their minds, though. Perhaps if they can just get one more “thumbs up” or “retweet” online, they’ll come up with the courage they need to talk to their family.

It’s why my favorite part in the video is when the mom fires back with her own disclosure… not because of what she says or how she tries to identify with her son, but because for those 10 to 15 seconds the teenager is absolutely out of whatever role he prescribed for himself in this conversation.

This “ad lib” is where real ministry happens… but what if instead of his world getting a little bigger that way there was something more Christ-centered in that moment?

Maybe that’s the message we need to remind students of in this moment. Life is larger than what they’re processing today. While culture is ready to rapid-fire validation or criticism to the latest feelings a teenager expresses, it isn’t dispensing context and wisdom.

What if a student isn’t gay in orientation, but is curious about the same sex? Will culture help them sift through that difference? Will you, with Jesus as your guide?

One way or another, this is a topic that must be explored honestly and unedited, even when we want it to feel one-sided and controlled. We all don’t have the means to package things the way we want to… but over time, context does form. For that reason, I’d like to give Shawn the last word on this – here’s some great wisdom:

shawnharrisonAnother thought occurred to me while watching these videos: Youth workers, what if a student filmed your reaction to them coming out, or what if a gay teen secretly filmed you talking about homosexuality during youth group? What would they record?

And before you determine, “this would never happen,” let me remind you that these parents being filmed most likely said the same thing. We cannot wait to decide what we would say or do concerning homosexuality and our students. We need to decide now how we would respond, how we would teach the subject, and how we would help families through the journey. This conversation is too important to put aside and wait for another day. For too long the church has practiced this approach, and the result is what we see today: we are “anti-gay,” gay teens are leaving Christianity, families sit alone in silence, and the church continues to miss the point about homosexuality.

I am not the “know-all” of this subject. I’m just a guy who personally lives out this journey, and I’m trying to help youth workers, families, and gay individuals navigate through their journey, too. For some practical help, let me suggest my book, “Ministering to Gay Teenagers.” I truly believe in this book, and by God’s grace, thousands of people have learned how to navigate this journey, unafraid and in community with others.

Leveraging Chaos

 —  August 25, 2014 — Leave a comment

chaosYouth ministry brings with it a built in level of uncertainty, disorder and chaos. While many youth workers feel the need to minimize these aspects (books have been written, seminars taught, and blog posts written to help), I think a better strategy is to leverage them to your advantage. Here are a few thoughts:

Leveraging Chaos

- Many people find that they are most creative in a crisis or under pressure. Use the most chaotic times in your ministry…when your brain is firing like crazy…to think of areas in your ministry that need an extra dose of creativity. When you are problem solving in one area, leverage that energy to problem solve in others, too!

- Make a change! Most people simply try to survive the chaotic seasons of ministry. But when there’s a lot going on, why not add one more thing…like a significant change or course correction. People like smooth sailing, which is why they dislike change. So, making a change when the water is already a little rough oftentimes is the most strategic time.

- Ask for more resources! Times of tangible chaos (high growth seasons, busy seasons, when your church is adding multi-site campuses, etc.) is a great time to ask for more help. Financial help, volunteer help, etc. It’s always good to be able to point to something obvious and tangible as a reason you are making an extra ask.

- Reassess. Use chaotic seasons to make a fresh assessment of things. What is causing the chaos? Is this chaos the good kind (the result of growth, God’s spirit moving in unexpected ways, etc.) or the bad kind (result of poor planning, trying to do too much, doing the wrong stuff, etc.)? Youth ministry is always going to be busy, but are you busy doing the right stuff, the stuff that matters to you, your church and the kingdom (and…do you, your church and the kingdom agree on what that stuff is!)?

Don’t fear Chaos; leverage it!

- Kurt / @kurtjohnston

ControllingChaos

 

 

Want to hear more on the topic of chaos in youth ministry from Kurt Johnston? Download his talk, Controlling Chaos here! 



I have one final thought for you.

First, we asked the question: Should I stay or should I go?

Next, we pondered a couple check marks that remind us what’s most important.

In a moment, I’m going to post some wisdom from the trenches. As far as my contribution, I’m ending on something so simple that it will offend you with its innocence.

Still, it’s truth.

Consider this picture that shows the innovation of man. It’s a way to take an old trampoline that’s lost its bounce and help it to find renewed usefulness.

trampoline

Now… if humanity is capable of that kind of innovation…

what do you imagine God can do in your life today regarding the clash you’re feeling?

Ponder that, all as you consider these thoughts from others in ministry:

If at all possible, “going” should be a planned act not a last ditch effort to maintain sanity or “peace.” Why can’t we leave as well (and as purposefully) as if we stayed, or even as well as when we came in? Leaving shouldn’t be the easy way out, but just as tough as staying because there is still some “umph” left in us and our ministry. We should leave well – not just leave and let some other poor youth worker pick up the pieces. How we leave (and how we stay) is a defining moment in our life, in our ministries life and in the life of the church. – Philip Allen

One thought: How do you help your kids in the process? Seems like they are left to survive or blow up as an after thought. They might not need to know details, but what and how do you include them? - Jon Batch

Family dynamics matter. Every time my dad moved churches as a pastor my parents created it as an adventure. For Chicagoland, it was the Hispanic culture, food and getting to go to Chicago. When we moved to MN they gave us Vikings sweatshirts and hyped up on the positives. They also coached us on how to say good bye to a friend. They definitely gave us time to adjust to the idea of moving and the adventure that was coming. – Kerensa Huffman

The clash can sometimes also be in understanding what your calling is and staying close to that… not that there may be times for that to change. An example is in my most last recent transition, when i went in as the Pastor of Student Ministries. In my second year, the Children’s Director resigned and I was now the Pastor of Children & Student Ministries. For a couple years I struggled through this as I was not wired to be a Children’s Pastor. I found myself treading Tuesday night “AWANA” and trying to survive it, but excited for Wednesday night Student Ministry. After a couple years of this, I felt like I was not doing anything well and that I needed to focus on what I believe God has called me to do and focus on Student Ministries. It was a very difficult decision because I did love the church staff, leaders, my Pastor and student ministry but knew that God had called me to serve full time in Student Ministry. There was not the possibility to stay where I was at because somehow I had proved to the leadership that I could pull off Student Ministry and another ministry so even if I was able to hand-off Children’s Ministry to someone there would be the expectation of “Well, what else will Scott do?”

It took a couple years of praying, looking and church interviews until we moved to where I am at currently. For me it came down to understanding my calling and finding a place where I can be laser-focused on how God has wired me. – Scott Tinman

I have a friend in our youth pastor network who floored me the other day. He said the good stuff happens after year 20. “Twenty?” I shuddered. I had only been at my church a year and 2 months and I was already looking at my watch, thinking “How long was long enough?” His comment made me realize that there is immense value in long-term commitment. Even if I don’t stay in the church as long as him, the commitment he had brought much fruit, and so I should consider this when constantly looking at the grass on the other side.

I told him that I am squirrely. That if things weren’t going quite the way I wanted them I would seek change. There must be “better positions, better churches.” But his comment reminded me that most likely it wasn’t the church that I needed to change, but my acceptance of it, for all it is. My perception was the thing preventing me from closer relationships to the folks I was serving and the commitment required to make an impact in our community and congregation.

I stayed. I still look to the other side of the fence. Not because I want to leave, or the grass looks greener, but I realize in my imperfection I may have chosen a place God wanted me for a short time, and I could also overstay. Only time and discernment will tell. - Ali Petrey

nowwhatAny thoughts?

  • If you stay, now is the time to invest and dig in. What do your goals look like? Is it time to make a new friend, venture into a new place in the community, create a five-year plan for youth ministry… one that you might actually see through?
  • If you go, now is the time to leave gracefully. What does it mean to communicate, communicate, communicate? How do you express your love and gratitude to your friends, volunteers and those who have poured into you? How can you speak into those you’ve had opposition with without bad-mouthing them?

What is your personal takeaway from this?

We’ve had this conversation already.

Haven’tpenrosesteps we?

Remember how we all took sides on the Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty thing a few months ago?

Some people in our churches said “blah, blah, blah.”

Others in our churches replied back, “Yeah, but blah, blah blah.”

Former church attendees and the world in general looked at us and just said, “Blah.”

Blah.

Perhaps this is why when I saw a “trending” topic on Facebook yesterday surrounding some “anti-gay activists” that HGTV has canceled hosting a show with, my first reaction was… well… fatigue.

benhams__140507192645According to Deadline Hollywood, a group called “Right Wing Watch” reported that the twin brothers starring in HGTV’s recently greenlit reality series “Flip It Forward” are anti-gay activists. The network, in turn, retracted its offer to move forward with the series. The article further explained:

Right Wing Watch reported Tuesday that David Benham had led a prayer rally outside of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC in 2012, in which he told conservative radio host Janet Mefferd that America’s Christian majority must repent for tolerating  “homosexuality and its agenda that is attacking the nation” and “demonic ideologies tak[ing] our universities and our public school systems.” He also said his brother had joined him in the prayer protest. The group also claimed David leads protests outside of abortion clinics.

I found it most intriguing that the article itself noted the irony of the situation. It ended with this line: “At the same presentation, HGTV also announced it had greenlighted a design competition show from Ellen DeGeneres.”

article1So…

don’t worry about this.

You’re busy. You “gave” to the Phil Robertson debate. You did just fine.

If anyone brings it up, just copy-and-paste your previous comments… i.e. “Well, HGTV is a business, so…” or “Well, we should practice free speech in both directions, so…”

lazychristianBut by all means…

don’t worry about this.

We used to be concerned with the cultural impact of people coming out of the closet. Maybe we should just join in with HGTV and shift into sweeping it all under a rug… be it the topic itself or the people involved.

That sure would make life a whole lot easier for everyone.

Ya think?



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