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!

Screen shot 2013-09-17 at 11.30.50 AMLooking back over the last 14 years, I’ve realized I got married for the wrong reasons.  Well, not entirely, but let me briefly explain.  I was attracted to my wife and thought she was a good fit for me and thought she’d be a great mom…and I really enjoyed being around her.  Not bad things, of course.  Great things, actually.  But if I’m honest my thoughts were self focused.

I’ve since realized that self-focus doesn’t really work too well in marriage.  My wife and I had to make a decision years ago to not operate from a place of self focus if we really wanted the relationship we longed for in our marriage.  We certainly have not perfected this, but we are constantly working on it.

The same is true in our relationship with God.  If you’re like me you became a Christian because you saw it as a benefit to you.  That it is, by the way, true and beautiful.  But at some point we begin to feel like something just isn’t right in our relationship with God if we continue operating like this.  The love motivated sacrificial aspects of our relationship with God can’t just be one sided.  At some point, like in my marriage, we must work on moving away from self focus to really experience the relationship we want.

Here are 4 things I believe a follower of Jesus eventually comes to understand and because of their love for God inevitably seeks to do:

  1. Believes in the benefits of Jesus’ death (Romans 5:11; 1 Peter 3:18).  It can be boiled down to “relational reconciliation,” both in life and eternity.
  2. Embraces the call of Jesus’ death and God’s mercy (2 Corinthians 5:14-15; Romans 12:1-2).  It can be boiled down to “selflessly living for Jesus and his Kingdom.”
  3. Learns about and obeys Jesus’ commands in community with other disciples (Acts 2:44-47).  It can be boiled down to “evangelistic community.”
  4. Causes others to understand and embrace all three above (Matthew 28:18-20).  This can be boiled down to “discipleship.”



Everyone is ramped up for school to be back in, rhythms to be brought back…and to implement all that we have planned.  We have new volunteers, new roles for veteran volunteers and we’ve cast out new vision.

All that makes it really easy to forget these things:

  1. The head of your ministry is Jesus. We can’t fall into having a Messiah complex where we think everything falls on us.  We have a role – and it’s important – but we are not the answer.  Jesus is.
  2. Your ministry is a part of something bigger - a church or campus ministry.  We must be aligned with the bigger picture and create windows of connection into that.
  3. People just want to feel like they belong.  Whatever age of people you are focused on, the bottom line is they are looking to belong.  And here’s the thing: belonging doesn’t come through programs or events or good sermon messages.  Belonging only comes through relationships.
  4. Ministry is and should be simple.  I have a friend and in many ways a mentor that often says, “only people count.”  He is right and we cannot forget that.  And, we must realize that “people counting” is different than us counting people.

6 Things A Mentor Does

 —  August 28, 2013 — 1 Comment

Here are 6 things I believe a mentor does or should do:

  1. Gives timely advice.  Their advice seeks to encourage and guides toward Christ-likeness in all facets of life.
  2. Risks own reputation.  At times the mentor backs the mentee, putting his/her own reputation on the line.
  3. Bridges to resources.  Whether the resource is a book or a contact or an opportunity for ministry, mentors resource mentee’s for their growth.
  4. Sets the example.  In all facets of life mentors provide the model to follow – being honest about imperfections, of course.
  5. Shares ministry.  By co-laboring in ministry a mentor intentionally increases the credibility of the mentee.
  6. Pushes up.  Mentors seek to push mentee’s beyond their level of leadership and celebrates how that occurs.



 

Don't hate on the hair. My family.

Don’t hate on the hair. My family the 80′s

 

After watching the great video blog by Kurt and AC on the topic of special needs students HERE I was inspired to share some  more thoughts on this topic from a slightly different point of view.

My Mom suspected that the pregnancy wasn’t quite right.  She had chicken pox in her first trimester, but the doctors assured her everything would be fine.  Courtney arrived in 1975 as was one of 7 recorded cases internationally to be born with Congenital Varicella Syndrome. There was nothing about her that should have survived. . Here’s a quick run down of  how my sister entered the world several months early at less than 2 pounds:  She was blind, had one disfigured leg, no feeling in her left hand, urinary and digestive tract problems and was mentally delayed.  Yet, she was born a fighter and lived when the world said she should not survive.  To her doctors, teachers, caretakers and my parents she was a phenom. To me she was baby sister.

I want to contemplate for a moment if we had entered your youth group.  She would have been a Freshman when I was Senior.  What would you have done?

Here is what you would have seen from the outside looking in:

My Sister:

Here comes the sweet, vibrant kid in the wheel chair.  She was the outgoing one. She loved Anime and romantic comedies.   She was obsessed with country music.  However, upon meeting her you would not have immediately caught on that Courtney was developmentally delayed.  Maybe you would see a girl who was a little immature for her age. Then there were her medical challenges.  Her electric chair was huge and cumbersome.  She couldn’t see you, except out of the corner of her right eye.  Her left hand couldn’t grasp anything.  Someone,  a nurse, a parent or myself had to take her to the bathroom to deal with tubes and bags.

Me:

Then you would meet the highly overachieving perfectionist sister.  I loved my sister deeply,  but inside I struggled.  I grappled that I felt like I had to make up for what she could never be.  I wrestled with the injustice of both of our situations in life.  All Courtney wanted was to be a “regular” kid like me.  I always knew the attention my sister received was out necessity, yet it still hurt.  I felt left out.  I felt never good enough for anyone, because  I was  not born the anything “case” in the world.   You would not have ever guessed any of it.   At 17 I was entirely wonderful at keeping all adults at arms length.  If I was smart enough,  performed well enough,  and articulate enough,  then you would leave me alone.   I was very, very good at maintaining my polish.

My Parents:

Enter the parents. I read a statistic recently that 80-90% of parents with a disabled child end up divorced. By some insane miracle my parents have reached beyond 40 years of marriage. However, the pressure of living like today might just be the day that your child dies wears on you. My sister had numerous near death hospitalizations. Her leg was amputated at 2. Her eye was removed in her teen years and replaced with a glass one. All my parents did was give up themselves until they became a shadow of who they were.  They were physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted all the time.  However,  what you saw were these people who desperately wanted their daughter to belong. Could you give her a chance?  Could you let her be a part of your youth group?  I mean they were fighting for her in every other area of life.  Church should be a place where they could rest and well you, youth worker,  you just HAVE to love her.

You as the youth worker have no idea how to handle this. Larger churches have the luxury of separate ministries for “special needs” students.  Smaller churches rarely have this luxury.

Who gets your attention?  Who gets your compassion?  Whose needs get met?

Stay “Tuned” on Monday for some practical thoughts on approach.

definitionsOkay, so, we are making sure we are clearly defining terms we use in our ministries.  Using terms like “spiritual growth” without clearly defining them, in my opinion, can actually be damaging.  At best it’s ambiguous and confusing for those we lead.  If you missed my definition of “spiritual growth” click here.

In this post I will define “disciple.”  This is important to define clearly because:

1.  It is our identity as followers of Jesus – we are his disciples
2.  If we are to “disciple” someone else we must understand clearly what that means

Here is the definition I use in our church for “disciple:

someone who learns about and from Jesus so they can obey his teachings and teach others to do the same

We often talk about a “disciple” is a learner, but that’s just not good enough.  The goal is NOT to learn information!!!!!  The goal is to obey all Jesus has taught us (Matthew 28:18-20).  So, our definition must include more than just learning.  Secondly, the disciples that walked alongside Jesus were commanded to teach others, so our definition must include this aspect as well.  The goal is NOT to keep what we learn and do to ourselves, but instead to spread it as much as we possibly can.

Lastly, if we are to disciple people, this definition narrows our focus.  Our focus is on the teachings of Jesus, which the rest of the scriptures supports, and our goal is for those we teach to obey what they learn and then cause others to do the same.  If obedience and teaching others to do the same does not follow our “discipleship,” we are not truly discipling anyone.

May you continue to be clear and concise with what you say as a leader.



definitionsSome phrases or words or topics are commonly used in the Church:

  • “We need to grow spiritually
  • “We want to make sure everyone is being discipled…”
  • “We need to train people in evangelism
  • Spiritual disciplines are important for every Christian”

But using these phrases often doesn’t mean people actually understand what we’re talking about.  People might be able to use the terms in the right context and in the right ways, but if asked to define these things most would have a hard time doing so.  Well, I’ve realized more than ever we have to make sure these types of things are defined clearly and simply.  If not, all we do is train people in Christianese – a language we use that nobody really understands.

So, I thought I would do is provide the definitions I use in our church.  You might already have your own definitions that are concise and effective.  If that’s you, then maybe mine can just be something you compare/contrast yours with.  If you don’t have these defined concisely, I would recommend doing so immediately.  Leadership requires us to be clear.

The first word or phrase I will define in this series is: spiritual growth.

This phrase is tossed around a lot, but nobody really knows what we mean.  So I have defined it.  It may not be a perfect definitions, but I believe we can say we have grown spiritually

if the time it takes us to read scripture and embrace it is less than it used to be. 

This definition does a number of things other than just providing a definition:

  1.  It leans on Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:18-20 that says the goal of our teaching people about him and his ways is obedience.  We cannot feel like we’ve grown spiritually simply because we can regurgitate scripture.  Reading the bible makes us Christian as much as reading People Magazine makes us a celebrity.
  2. Implies that we need to be growing in our understanding of scripture.
  3. It insinuates actions need to be taken after reading.

How do you feel about that definition?  See any holes in it?  Any other benefits you see it having?  If you have defined it for yourself and ministry, please share it so we can all learn.

goodpastorskidLaura Ortberg Turner, daughter of John and Nancy Ortberg, has some great thoughts on what it means to be (but not really be) known as a “Pastor’s Kid.” One takeaway is the framework she felt her parents placed her and her siblings into. Turner writes:

“Had we not gotten freedom from our parents to be the people we were—to grow and learn for ourselves and even occasionally embarrass our parents, as good children do (a famed family incident at a church in Southern California that involves my then-5-year-old brother lying on his back, thrusting his pelvis to a children’s worship song called ‘Jumping Bean,’ comes to mind)—we would likely have ended up feeling like our only two possibilities in life were becoming the mantle-bearer or the rebel.”

I’ve spent a lot of energy making sure people know the first names of my family members aren’t “The Pastor’s wife” or “The Pastor’s kids.” So much of that can be overturned by a well-meaning youth leader who isn’t conscious about unconscious behavior.

Consider how we help or hinder this in youth group circles:

  • Do you unconsciously think it means more if a senior/staff pastor’s kids do/don’t attend the youth group?
  • When a “PK” acts up, are you quick to share about it with volunteers, in staff meetings or at home?
  • Are you eyeballing such students for the moment when they either declare their own calling to ministry or rebel like a pop star?
  • How often do you make sure we mention them as the “pastor’s kid” to new youth workers who jump in?

The list of negatives can go on, so let’s brainstorm some positives:

  • Let them be known for who they are versus who their parents are.
  • Allow them the chance to share their own stories and journey versus assuming things from illustrations shared from the pulpit.
  • Try not to put them in positions where they’re a secretary for you or one of their parents. (i.e. “Can you pass this key along to your dad?”)
  • Give them a safe ear to share their questions (or even disinterest) in spiritual things, even if it means moving your schedule around to meet with them in private.

(Maybe we should apply each of these to every other kid in the youth group, too.)

Got any more tips?

Share yours below.