I-am-wrongConfession…

my favorite part of being wrong is when I admit it out loud.

That may seem like the average person’s least favorite moment.

Let me explain why I feel the opposite about it.

When you’re wrong, there’s usually someone who is passionately trying to point it out to you. Perhaps they’re on a mission to highlight what is plain to them that you’ve somehow been blind to. They’re attempting to get you to be mature or responsible about something you may have been immature or shortsighted about.

This tends to amplify when they feel you wronged them.

On your end, it’s likely not easy to admit that you missed something or made another person feel awkward. This is why when you actually do own it as a genuine step of maturity to the situation or the relationship… something amazing and unexpected happens.

The other person is also now tasked to choose if they’re going to be mature or immature in response to your response.

coneofshameAgain, this individual was on a quest to point out something you missed. In doing so, they situationally claimed the high ground – perhaps for all the right reasons, or maybe for the wrong reasons. They may not have even expected you to own it.

Only… you did. They had a great point. You confessed it, along with a desire to grow.

This is where it’s revealed if that person truly is a friend who will stick with you into the next curve or simply was a critic who wanted to lay a zinger on you. You once were being small in not owning something big, and now that person has to decide what they’re going to do with your mature ability to own your immaturity.

Unfortunately, this is where many conscious accusers become unconsciously divided.

  • They have nothing new left to say… yet they don’t know what to now do with any remnants of the unspoken negativity they felt toward you seconds earlier.
  • They have nothing left to point out… yet find themselves still wanting to be a critical spirit when they generally look at you.
  • They have nothing left to get you to admit… yet find themselves wanting to become your personal “life coach” and show you other things you’ve been blind to.

I adore this moment, not because I’m waiting to see if the accuser will be hypocritical… but because what once was a one-sided pursuit in my direction gets to be a defining moment in every direction of the relationship.

Will the person who felt you were wayward choose to let it go and walk into the future with you?

(By the way – think about how you handle this when you’re the one trying to expose another person to something they’re blind to.)

Reconcile_With_One_AnotherThe reason this is a defining moment?

Because it shows what the relationship is really made of and if two Christ-followers will keep following Christ together. Jesus said in the Lord’s Prayer that we should pray for forgiveness from God that is equal to the way we’ve forgiven other people who have wronged us:

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12)

So the best part about being wrong?

It’s an opportunity for everyone involved to put Jesus on display in what happens next between those involved.

Then again…

I could be wrong.

Well, if you work with college-age people (or most anyone that breathes), these are “hot” topics to discuss. But they cannot and must not be dodged. For any reason. Yet, I’ve found most leaders dodge these subjects because they have questions and fears themselves. They are intimidated, at least, by the thought of leading discussions on these topics. This is just too far into the wilderness of the unknown, too deep into the chaos of more questions.

But beyond our fears, most of us can’t seem to reconcile these ideas personally. We simply can’t articulate how they fall in line with our ideas of the God we have come to love and serve. But what if understanding the larger story of scripture, who God is and what He does on an ongoing basis, actually lends to these ideas? And, what if, great exegesis (i.e. drawing truth out of scripture) and in depth theology/word study, actually leads us to conclusions that few, if any, conservative or liberal scholars have articulated up to this point?

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 8.52.47 AMWell, it’s of my opinion that Josh Butler articulates scriptural truth in these areas in a way that very few, if any, people have up to this point. Now, okay…I know the very idea that someone has articulated things that nobody has up to this point might be scary for some. But despite articulating unfamiliar conclusions in these areas, Josh has not only won theological awards (even from conservative seminary) for his work on these subjects, but in his book, Skeletons In God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, The Surprise of Judgment, The Hope of Holy War he writes with simple creativity that makes reading about these topics not only fascinating, but fun for the “average” church-goer.

There have been some books written lately on some of these subjects (especially hell), but this one lands differently in so many refreshing ways. From pastors on my staff, to friends who are theological geniuses, to my wife, to college students…everyone I know who has read this has said a very similar statement: “I’ve never thought about it like that.”

Because I know that could easily sound like a “sales pitch” for something let me bring full disclosure here: Josh IS a friend of mine and I have a ton of respect for him on a personal level. But that said, I have a lot of friends who write books…that I don’t post blogs like this for. And, to be 100% forthright here, Josh and I don’t know each other that well AND I was not asked nor am I paid to post this. I simply posted this because I mean what I’ve said. You may not agree with everything Butler writes (I’m trying to wrap my head around a few things myself), but I genuinely think this is a must read for anyone working with college-age people. No question. So, for whatever it’s worth, there you go.  Get it today. Seriously.



superbowl_snapshotHow did you spend your Super Bowl night?

It’s not uncommon for churches and youth groups to gather together for the big game. Some student ministries use it as an opportunity to serve others, while others make it a missional gathering one way or another.

This year’s game offered another opportunity… a rather unexpected one.

Putting it lightly, it wasn’t Denver’s night. That’s great news if you’re a Seattle fan, or salt-in-an-open-wound if you were cheering for the Broncos. Social media only amplified things, which may have even spilled into your party. You may have even found a tweet or two that resonated with you.

superbowl_tweet

Another site captured some of the quick retorts various companies used to leverage the game’s slant in their favor.

superbowl_summary

The summary of the game on news sites took on its own slant. For example, USAToday.com ran the headline “Peyton Manning, Denver can’t recover from Super Bowl mistakes.”

Really? That’s a powerful statement – “can’t recover.”

Granted, it was just a sports summary. We’re used to these types of post-game comments from 24-hour news outlets looking for yet another way to spin the game.

Still, might we need to seize this as a teaching moment?

  • How many teenagers (and adults, for that matter) have had moments where everything they planned to go one way ended up going another? What does the concept of “can’t recover” say to them, even subliminally?
  • When everyone at your church-sponsored-party was laughing at the first snap of the game that went over Peyton Manning’s head, did your guests take away a message of “works” or “grace?” Did you consider the kid who was sitting there because he hates being at home where his dad constantly berates him? How about the girl who never measures up against her more poised peers? What about the grown-up who gets bullied at work for poor performance just like the old high school days?
  • As the game ended up lopsided and every camera shot of the Broncos displayed their depression, was the conversation at your party, “Must stink to be them,” or did you stop a moment and say, “Let’s pray for those guys… for their spirits… for how Monday will feel to them and their families. Sound good?”

It’s ironic – you may have preached “Come as you are. God loves you just as you are.” on Sunday morning… yet promoted “IN YOUR FACE!” on Sunday night. Sure, it’s common… but might there be something more “Jesus-centered” you can foster?

Politics aside (let me say that again – politics aside), consider a pre-game quote from President Obama: “I try to focus not on the fumbles but on the next play.”

Admittedly, I didn’t claim all of these opportunities myself.

Awesome moment after the clock expired... Broncos players joined Seahawks LB Mike Morgan for a postgame prayer before celebrations.

Awesome moment after the clock expired… Broncos players joined Seahawks LB Mike Morgan for a postgame prayer before celebrations.

That said, is there still a teaching moment for the Super Bowl that you can instill in others today?

Thoughts?

Be reminded… following Jesus will never, ever make sense in a broken world.

Say AMEN to that, even if you want it the other way around.

As you do, listen to these insights from Frederick Buechner:

“God is the comic shepherd who gets more of a kick out of that one lost sheep once he finds it again than out of the ninety and nine who had the good sense not to get lost in the first place.

jesus with sinnersGod is the eccentric host who, when the country-club crowd all turned out to have other things more important to do that come live it up with him, goes out into the skid rows and soup kitchens and charity wards and brings home a freak show. The man with no legs who sells shoelaces at the corner. The old woman in the moth-eaten fur coat who makes her daily rounds of the garbage cans. The old wino with his pint in a brown paper bag. The pusher, the whore, the village idiot who stands at the blinker light waving his hand as the cars go by.

They are seated at the damask-laid table in the great hall. The candles are all lit and the champagne glasses filled. At a sign from the host, the musicians in their gallery strike up ‘Amazing Grace.’”

― Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale



Mondays on the SYM Today Newsletter (sign up here) will provide a focus on fueling your heart for youth ministry with encouragement from either Rick Lawrence or Jason Ostrander like Jason’s recent post on Jesus as Youth Leader.

 

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Only wretches need saving

 

If you’re not signed up for SYM Today newsletter, you missed out on opening your inbox today to “Only Wretchs Need Saving,” a devotional from Rick Lawrence about growing in gratitude for God’s amazing grace in our lives.

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Hope everyone had an awesome weekend! Praying for you guys this week as you love students well.

- Amber

I love visting other youth groups and seeing the different ways that each of them approaches ministry and seeing the different cliques and types of students that each group attracts. In the city I work, the diversity between each of the different ministries is pretty surprising but something I love to see, that students can find a place that speaks their language, with a community they belong to and feel safe in. Each group is a reflection of the the values and style of each leader and fulfilling the purpose of reaching different students.

When I visit a new group I am always on the look out for one thing, the awkward kids. The ones that don’t fit in a lot of places, the ones that maybe don’t have tons of friends and that might look and act very differently than other students. I am not looking for the jocks, the hipsters, or any sort of “cool” kid, in fact I think most youth groups have their fair share of those students, I am looking for the complete opposite. Show me your kids that like to use the coat rack as a light saber, show me your Zacchaeus’s, those are the students to help point to a healthy community.

It’s easy to create a space where social students can be social, but creating an environment where students that don’t fit in can fit in is what it’s all about. You show me a ministry that has no awkward kids, I would be able to argue pretty quickly that, that group is not a safe place. There are students that are reminded often at school that they are different and they don’t fit in, but there is no way that the same should be said of youth group. You belong here, you are safe here, you are one of us here, you are accepted here.

Awkward kids are a sign of health, a sign of a culture of grace for students of all kinds, where young people can feel that they belong, they are safe and are accepted when in many other areas of their life they don’t experience that reality. A group that is diverse, is a group that is experiencing authentic community and youth group is a great place for that to happen.

-Geoff @geoffcstewart 



This month I got to contribute another Slant33 article on the topic of leaving a youth ministry. There are a couple of great responses to the question, wise words from Tash McGill and Ian McDonald. Here’s a clip of what I shared there as well:

Leave at the right time. It isn’t always possible, but leaving at a natural break is best. The end of summer is ideal but not always possible. But even more than leaving at the right time in the calendar, pray through leaving at the right time in the church culture as well. Stay too long after you know you’re done, and it’ll be painfully obvious. Leave too soon, and you’ll blindside people.

Make the transition short. I understand the need for a transition time to help prepare students or ensure a peaceful exchange of leadership, but there’s nothing worse than a lame duck who is out but still in. Pray through the timing of your announcement and the timing of your last day. Typically I wouldn’t put these more than a month or two apart at the most.

JG

A few years ago, my wife Jennifer and I were asked to organize and lead a one-day children’s and youth ministry training for churches in our state that were part of our denomination. We invited a few speakers to lead different seminars throughout the day for both volunteers and staff members from local churches. My wife–who has a degree in human development and extensive experience working with kids and adults with developmental disabilities–led a seminar at the end of the day on how to minister to kids with special needs. During the break before that last seminar, a group from a church that had traveled a few hours for the training packed up to get a jump on their trip home. They explained that they didn’t need to attend the last seminar anyways, because they didn’t have any kids in their church who were developmentally disabled.

My wife handled the conversation very graciously, even though she can be quite passionate about caring for people with special needs. On the inside, however, she was thinking, maybe there’s a REASON you don’t have any kids with special needs! It’s very possible that a family may have visited their church, but left after one Sunday (or even before church was over!) because it was very clear that church would not be a good environment for their autistic or developmentally disabled child or teenager. In fact, it may be that a family has visited your church, but did not stay because they didn’t feel like it wouldn’t be a good place for their special needs teenager.

Not every church or youth ministry of any size is able to perfectly accommodate and minister to any special need teenager that walks through their doors. However, there are a few things every church can–and should–do to be ready to love and serve students with special needs. Here’s a quick list:

Be ready to serve. A teenager with special needs and her family will be able to tell right off the bat if your church and youth ministry is willing to serve them or not. While you and I both know that a teenager with special needs matters just as much to God as anyone else, most special needs kids are treated as an outcast in one or more areas of their lives. And what did Jesus do with people that the world mistreated? He loved them with open arms. You may not be a doctor or have a degree in human development, but anyone can serve by welcoming someone with open arms.

Educate yourself about different kinds of disabilities. Thankfully, my wife is a walking library of how to serve kids with autism, Down syndrome, and other special needs, and she answers a ton of my questions. Find a good book on the topic, or better yet, get to know a special education teacher in your church. You don’t have to be an expert, but a little understanding can help you be a better youth worker to kids with special needs.

Show a little grace to parents. Before they found their way to your church, chances are that the parents of a special needs teenager have had less-than-ideal experiences in how schools, churches, or other organizations have treated their son or daughter. So, if a parent has a few more questions than you’re used to, or if they seem to be checking up on you a lot, that’s okay. They’re just trying to make sure their son or daughter is being taken care of.

Help them know Jesus. If the Bible is to believed, then God wants every human being to be reconciled to him through a relationship with Jesus (1 Timothy 2:4). The last time I checked, an IQ test was not a biblical requirement for learning about Jesus. If you take the extra time to help someone who might have a developmental delay or cognitive disability to know Jesus, you’re being faithful as a youth worker. One of the highlights of career as a youth pastor has been baptizing a special needs student who was more excited than anyone I’ve ever known to be baptized.

Integrate them into the ministry wherever possible. The answer to helping a group of special needs teenagers is not to give them their own small group. Help them be a part of your family by actually making them a part of your family. Get them in a small group. Let them lead in some way. Pair them up with another student to help them have a great time during your large group gathering.

Be flexible. Be willing to go out of your way to help a special needs teenager attend a retreat or be a part of a small group. You might even need to make an exception to one of your rules. Parents of special needs kids are used to being told “no” when it comes to things their kids can do. Go out of your way to find a way to able to tell them “yes.”

Remember, you don’t have to be an expert on working with teenagers with special needs to be able to make your youth ministry a welcoming place for them. You just need to be willing to serve and go the extra mile.

Benjer McVeigh serves as a pastor to students at Washington Heights Church in Ogden, Utah. He resides in Ogden with his wife, Jennifer, and his two daughters, Bethany and Samantha. He blogs at www.BenjerMcVeigh.com.