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

 —  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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It felt like I grabbed a can of Mountain Dew the moment I became a youth pastor. At first glance, it seemed like a prerequisite for ministry was a charismatic personality. Even the clarity of the Bible created some confusion, for the Apostle Paul said, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” introvert-extrovert

That’s the truth that caused me to lean into a lie. I wanted to see the people I cared about in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and assumed the only way I could do it was to become the life of the party.

I wonder how many of our students feel the same way.

Think about it: Is there a vibe that kids have to constantly bring their friends to youth group? What if they only have one really good friend who isn’t interested? How about if they don’t want to stand up and play your “stupid game”?

Time for a gut check. Does your ministry have as many on-ramps for introverts as it does for extroverts? Here are some ideas:

  • Before programs: Offer comfortable seating where quieter kids can come early, relax, or play video games. Provide set-up tasks they can help with (and give them a cool team name, like “Roadies” or “Techies”).
  • During programs: Help introverts take risks by not embarrassing them. Ask them ahead of time if they’d be willing to read Scripture, help with an object lesson, or do something significant behind the counter. Advance planning creates the runway for introverts to soar from.
  • After programs: Some introverts like to slip out fast when your program concludes. Assign at least one leader who will learn that student’s story and catch them with a simple question on a weekly basis, such as “How can I pray for you this week?”
  • On trips: Introverts may feel uncomfortable sharing a huge tent or being packed into a van with their peers. Let them bunk with their best buddy, and be sure to build in rest stops at malls, restaurants, or open areas where they can feel alone (yet always be within sight of the leaders).

Keep in mind that introverts may not fit the stereotype (and they may not want to). As I said, I became an extrovert for what I sensed were noble reasons. Even though I didn’t have the spiritual gift of evangelism I wanted to become more conversational and social in order to “do the work of an evangelist.”

How is this fleshing out in your church and youth group?

  • Do you see quieter kids “trying on” different personalities?
  • Has your personality (or someone else’s) become the “right” one to have?
  • Is there any kind of expectation that people have to become someone they’re not in order to communicate who Jesus is?

Introverts

What other things should we think about when it comes to serving students who may fall more into this category? For example, is it possible to swing too far toward introverts? I’ve seen a fair share of “postmodern” environments where all the contemplative prayers and incense make the extroverts run out the door to play dodgeball. I’ve even wanted to join them.

Share your thoughts, and thank you for loving students!

- Tony



Can we try it again?

Last week we had a great dialogue on the topic of gay youth, the Boy Scouts of America.and a new alternative called Trail Life USA. The ground rules were simple -

“Let’s see if we can keep this respectable and God-honoring. Remember, the eternities of students are on the line.”

The goal here isn’t a debate on homosexuality, but on what it means to be a youth worker in the trenches of this ongoing topic. Whether or not you have a student in your ministry who is actively walking in this tension, your teens likely know someone who is.

On that note, I’d like to share a link my friend Darren Sutton passed along. His comments under the headline were “Wow. Courageous and unexpected.”

My curiosity peaked immediately.

2012-09_LT-GayCatholicFine1

Especially when I saw the headline: Gay, Catholic and Doing Fine.”

You really need to read the whole article, although I will offer two quotes here:

I have heard a lot about how mean the Church is, and how bigoted, because she opposes gay marriage. How badly she misunderstands gay people, and how hostile she is towards us. My gut reaction to such things is: Are you freaking kidding me? Are we even talking about the same Church?

Actually, the only time I get shock or disgust or disbelief, the only time I’ve noticed people treating me differently after I tell them, is when I tell someone who supports the gay lifestyle. Celibacy?! You must be some kind of freak.

I’d like to again raise some questions in the vibe of what I did last week. For example:

  • How do you feel about this young man taking the approach of celibacy for the sake of his walk with God? In his words: “So, yes, it’s hard to be gay and Catholic — it’s hard to be anything and Catholic — because I don’t always get to do what I want. Show me a religion where you always get to do what you want and I’ll show you a pretty shabby, lazy religion. Something not worth living or dying for, or even getting up in the morning for. That might be the kind of world John Lennon wanted, but John Lennon was kind of an idiot.”
  • Is it healthy to loop “Catholic” and “gay” together? Hear me out on this – I don’t want this to become a word study of 1 Corinthians 6:9, but perhaps we do need to nod to 1 Corinthians 6:11 as we consider the implications for youth ministry. That verse comes after a number of things the Bible lists as sins, adding (emphasis mine), “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”So if your church or denomination takes a stance on something, might it confuse youth to say, “You can be a ___________ and a (Catholic/Methodist/Baptist/etc).” Is that one step away from “You can be a ____________ and a Christ-follower?” Should the target instead be, “Receive Christ. Embrace your new identity and Story. Your sin nature no longer has reign over you, and the Holy Spirit will help you face the temptations for sins that will still swarm in on you.”
  • Honesty time – how much of your first reaction to those last two questions was filtered through your personal view on this topic versus your willingness to walk into the grace and holiness of God? No, really… how much? Is it possible more people know your personal platform on this topic more than they do your walk with the Lord? Maybe we need to take a cue from the person who wrote the blog.

Quick tip – before you hit reply, sift through that last question a bit and remember the ground rules for our discussion here. This isn’t a post about homosexuality, but about how we minister to where students may fall on this as they process it all. Try to share Jesus and not your platform. Thanks!

Scouting for Alternatives

 —  September 12, 2013 — 17 Comments

Boy Scouts of AmericaYou probably have an opinion about this.

According to NBC News, a new Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts of America has started in response to BSA voting to drop its ban on gay youth earlier this year. The new organization – Trail Life USA – has the support of more than 1,200 former Scout officials, parents and youth from 44 states who attended a two-day national leadership convention for it.

The article quotes different fathers who are trying to voice their position on participating in the new group. One of them is John Stemberger, a former Eagle Scout, father of two scouts and Orlando Attorney:

“I want to have a prominent faith component that will be weaved in every fiber of the program… but at the same time, we are not going to become religious and churchy. This is not another church program. This is going to be a masculine outdoor program to raise young men… I want to be clear: We are not an anti-BSA organization. In fact, we are not an anti-anything or anyone organization.”

So… the story did make the news. Why is that?

I wonder if it’s possible for us to have a professional discussion here about this issue. Not a mean-spirited one where we jump into debate mode, but some observations and theorizing about how this might affect youth ministry.

For example:

  • Is a youth group allowed to create its own policies on expressions of sexuality? Can you ask a barely dressed teenager to not come into your setting or two heterosexual teens who are all over each other physically to leave anymore than you can discourage two gay students from holding hands?

    Keep in mind, I’m not asking if you should… I’m asking if you think you’re allowed to.

  • Has culture really turned the right for personal pleasure into a moral issue? If so, how in the world do you impart a higher value of listening to God on such matters?

Maybe you have some thoughts on that, or perhaps even some questions of your own.

Let’s see if we can keep this respectable and God-honoring. Remember, the eternities of students are on the line.



Twitter is full of parody accounts, including some that only those who serve in a church may fully appreciate.

For example, here’s “The Deacon.”

Committee meetings all weekend... wish I was the pastor. Then I could just preach and go home. #ifonlypeopleunderstood #hardwork

Or if you like your deacons a little more “surly,” try the “Surly Deacon.”

Don't start any trouble at my church. I'll be all over you like a worship pastor at a skinny jeans sale.

There are those who represent the grumbling we hear from the congregation, such as the “Church Curmudgeon.”

When we've been there ten thousand years, we may just get to sing Amazing Grace the normal way again.

Then again, it’s worth noting hard pastors can have it via “Unappreciated Pastor.”

Moses' staff split the Red Sea. Mine split the church.

The “Bad Church Secretary” fesses up a bit, too.

I reminded the youth pastor he's preaching tomorrow. He'll be to embarrassed to ask around and find out he isn't.

How about a “Mad Worship Leader?”

Sure we're taking requests for this Sunday morning service.... just a sec and let me put the Holy Spirit's leading on hold... we aim to please!

How about an “Uncensored Pastor“?

Thanks for telling me how unhappy you are at our church. I was just sitting here wondering if we were making you happy or not.

Another strong one is “Stuff Christians Say.”

Changed the Wifi network at church to 'Jesus is watching you'   Bet those teens think twice about where they go online now

 

Lots of fun, right?

Now…

how about those directed at the Youth Ministry nation?

There’s the “Mistreated Youth Guy

Met a lady today who says she goes to the church I work at but was surprised to hear I've been the Youth Minister there for a couple years.

Or the things a “Youth Pastor Says.”

You really need to cut a larger check for the youth designated fund...I looked

A “Hipster Youth Pastor” chimes in.

I lose followers when I make fun of church camp

As well as a “Bitter Youth Pastor.”

Hey Young Life! Heard your game last night involved twerking and eating Oreos out of each others' mouths. I'm sure Jesus was glorified!

There’s even a “Ghetto Youth Pastor.”

I HATE YOUTH - Every youth pastor immediately following all major events

Not to mention a “Smug Youth Pastor.”

Still looking for the ultimate.....full time pay w/part time effort.

How does this make you feel?

A few weeks ago, I shared a post about Christian Hipsters that had its share of support and criticism. I wonder if when we read about a niche group in the church we enjoy the laughter but feel even just a tad bit defensive when we’re the ones under the spotlight?

Got a thought on this? Know of another parody account worth taking a look at?

Chime in.

awesomeYou know that one thing you just did? Or that next thing you’ll do?

They’re the GREATEST things in the world, and you’re “incredibly humbled” to be do them.

Right?

Welcome to the “humblebrag.”

A Wall Street Journal article describes it this way

“Whether we like it or not, and especially on social media, we’re all self-promoters, broadcasting even our quasi-achievements to every friend and follower.”

The phrase was coined by Harris Wittels who explained that the “humblebrag” is when someone overtly boasts while covertly side-stepping coming across as bragging by wrapping it up in some type of humility

tweet

That’s something Christians can be culprits of just as easily as others.

And why not? Don’t we have the Greatest Message in the world to communicate? And aren’t we all “super excited” at the latest way we’ve found to share it?

  • “Hey, check out my YouTube video…”
  • “You should click on this link…”
  • “Read this post…”
  • “Could you retweet this…”

It’s what you say when someone asks how your last service or event was:

  • “Oh, it was incredible! You should have been there! God did something awesome! And, well… I was just thankful to be used by Him. I always am.”
  • “Well, the pastor was on vacation… and I don’t know if it’s okay to say this, but a few people told me they like my preaching a little better than his. I think a revival may break out soon.”

It’s how you describe the next thing that your name is attached to:

  • “Hey, you need to get your friends out to our next outreach thing. I’m going to bring my ‘A-Game’ and expect you to bring your school out to hear it… you know, so God can work through me.”
  • “I just wrote this blog post that I think just may change the future of how we do what we do. I’m super humbled to share this with you.”

It’s how you let everyone know your life is going well:

  • “Yay! We just became debt-free! It meant living off of croutons and Kool-Aid for six years, but we dropped a few pounds so it’s all good.”
  • “I’m soooooo grateful to have such a super-sexy, always-praying-on-the-knees-while-singing-worship-songs-and-writing-new-ones spouse who made me breakfast in bed today while writing out our tithe check.”

Granted, those are a little over the top and exaggerated. I’m guessing you saw yourself or someone else in them, though.

(In fact, it’s a whole lot easier to see this in others… isn’t it?)

tweet2

It’s worth a gut check:

  • How often do you look for a reason to talk about God and toss yourself in there?
  • How often do you look for a reason to talk about yourself and toss God in there?

I’d love to hear your observations or pet peeves on this.
Maybe even share a few creative youth worker “humble brags.”

Oh… and while you’re thinking of some, make sure you check out my new book Uncommon Wisdom From The Other Side that came out this week. It was a labor of love to write it, but I’m “super excited” for how it turned out.

(Ahem… see what I did there? And you’re welcome.)