Some days, ministry has a weight to it that can overwhelm you.

Perhaps this is an odd metaphor, but when God gives me a heavy message to share or significant task to do I feel like I’m like a delivery man who is cautiously transporting nuclear energy. What’s in my hands will either fuel lives with power or poison them with radiation-all based on how I handle it…or if I somehow trip in the process.

This tension only increases when we work alongside people who seem on guard against God or church.

bdos_teamI’ve experienced that sensation while leading three different Big Day of Serving events in Ohio. There’s a sort of dangerous thrill that comes with working with people behind-the-scenes who may or may not know Jesus Christ…all while you set up some powerful service projects for students to serve Jesus Christ.

It all begins with the first cold call and continues into the relationship you form behind-the-scenes. You can usually tell how certain personalities or people will be easier to work with than others. It’s a hurdle common to church environments, youth groups, and more.

This is when we’re tempted to start telling stories of transformation.

Have you ever noticed how when we’re trying to convince someone that something is worth doing, we default to telling the positive stories of life change as a selling point? It’s just as tempting to avoid mentioning the details that didn’t turn out like we wanted them to.

What do you feel like telling your church when you or your ministry are being evaluated? Do you share how your efforts have failed, or at least one story that seems to make it all worthwhile?

bdos_akron2I learned something at the last Big Day of Serving that humbled me on this.

My team was blessed to work with the mayor’s office in Akron, Ohio. They did a phenomenal job of identifying projects we could sink our teeth into and make a huge difference in.

One of those projects came through the passionate suggestions of a local resident who has been a bit of a thorn in the side of the city for years. He often writes letters to the newspaper, criticizing how the city isn’t doing its job like it should.

I don’t know how you’d respond to such a critic, but my temptation would be to fire back some emails on all the things we’re doing right.

(Again, this would be the moment I’d want to amplify “stories of transformation” as a shield to help deflect the impact of what I was hearing.)

A city as large as Akron could do the same thing, telling a critic how “We’re doing what we can,” or “We’ll get around to that sometime in the next budget year.” Instead, the city invited this gentleman to take part in the Big Day of Serving with us as a project leader.

Instead of raising a shield, they let him use his sword to help cut through the problem.

dogI met the man and his three-legged dog (who, incidentally, isn’t named “Lucky”) as we walked around the week before to preview a particular park he wanted cleaned up. It was obvious that this was a guy full of passion who had much to share about how things just weren’t getting done according to his perspective. The City representative not only listened to him, but (while wearing his usual dress clothes) followed the critic into the muddy woods to see things first-hand.

The whole time this was happening, I again felt that tension of whether or not this was going to end up amazing or blow up in our faces. It was a risk putting this critic in charge of a site that we’d be sending youth workers and students to. It didn’t help my fears when he used some loose language that I imagined I’d later read about in the evaluation forms that our work teams fill out after the event.

On the other hand, this man was as much a part of the reason why we were doing the Big Day of Serving work projects themselves. Maybe his soul was the real thing that our students would be “working on.” Could you just imagine the type of passionate, “Peter-like” Christ-follower this man could be if God somehow got hold of his life?

Maybe I should tell you the rest of the story.

There is one, by the way.

Instead, I’m going to end right here for now and dare you to live in this dangerous, nuclear tension I’m outlining.

Thom and Joanie Shultz describe it in their book Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore:

  • bdos_workDivine Expectation: Realize that God is actively involved in everything, all the time. He has something dangerously thrilling for you to share and carry into the lives of other people. If you aren’t experiencing some “fear and trembling” in your ministry, quit being such an expert and remember how powerful the One you serve actually is.
  • Fearless Conversation: Make the cold call. Say several bold things in a message. Let others use loose, random language around you without you amplifying or mirroring it. Ask great questions, and let those around you do the same.
  • Genuine Humility: Carry a notebook and write down what you hear, seeking evaluation instead of praise. Be radically relational, honoring how God may be speaking to you through a voice you don’t want to hear.
  • Radical Hospitality: Make everyone feel as important as the world-changer Jesus says they actually are. Seek to understand them through the lens of caring curiosity, and create an on-ramp for them not to just join you…but so that you can also join them.

Carry and deliver whatever wild burden God gives you… hobble forward if that’s the best you can do.

hopeWhich reminds me of one last thing…

the three-legged dog?

Its actual name is “Hope.”

- – - -

I’d love to hear what you’re experiencing or learning in whatever your situation is. Please chime in.

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!*

weekofhope-sandiego-ym-inline

3 Lessons from 2013

Leneita Fix —  December 31, 2013 — 2 Comments

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It’s that time again.  Every tabloid, television special, and post on the internet wants to take a look back at 2013. They want to announce their list of the “best” and “worst.”  We are bombarded with images, thoughts and opinions on what we were supposed to love and hate in the past year.

I look back at 2013, and in all honesty, it is not twerking or Duck Dynasty that affected me the most. I did not “like” the last year and that had nothing to do with pop culture. This was a painful year for me of stretching and trials. 2013 was a year when I “chose” Jesus more than I “felt” Him. Still, I had a mentor who gave me some really good advice long ago. She told me to ask the Lord in every situation, “Lord what are you teaching me?”  So before I run into the coming year I must look back and reminisce about the lessons I have learned.

Here are my top three:

1.  Jesus Wants & Requires My Obedience:

Faithfulness. That’s it. Every day He longs that I will choose Him again.  This year I have had a some friends and acquaintances who made the decision that following Christ costs too much.  In my own life I have realized this year that it “costs” everything that has the word me or mine involved in it.  More than anything I can “do” for Him, He  just wants me to be His.  Everything else is secondary.

 

2.  My ideas of success are different than God’s:

I wanted to climb the “ministry” ladder. I thought it would include notoriety and value. If you had asked me if I thought this, I would have said, “No way, my identity is in Christ, and I only do what I do for Him.”  However, in the secret places in my heart I also thought that the “blessings” that came from serving Him might include more Twitter followers.  When I show up and am faithful to what He has put right in front of me for today, loving Him most and others second, He calls that “success.”

 

3.  I adore my family & often underestimate them:

I am beyond blessed to have the spouse that I do. He has more integrity than almost anyone else I know.  He challenges me to grow closer to the Lord and be spurred on in all I am called to do.  My running joke in parenting a college student along with a 6th, a 7th and an 8th grader is that I live with a youth group.  I fear they will walk away from the Lord and make poor choices that will wreck their lives. The Lord has made it clear He is working in each of their lives as well.  In the midst of difficulty this has also become a year when we seek Him together, and that has made it all worth it. He reminded me that none of these people belong to me, and He will not let them go.

So here we are on the edge of the “new year,”  as you look back what did Jesus teach you?

Leneita

@leneitafix



stereotypes

I need to begin with context. Our ministry is a multi-site urban youth ministry. We work with a mix of “churched,” “unchurched,” “dechurched” and “overchurched” students. Our students are primarily African-American. My family and I have chosen to live in a neighborhood with some of the families that are a part of our ministry. That particular area happens to be a multi-ethnic community whose residents are primarily living under the poverty level. To be blunt we are known as the “white family” on the block.

At one of our small groups a couple of weeks ago we happened into a discussion that has left me thinking. One of my students made this statement:

“All white people are rich.”

I almost choked when 15 other High School students nodded their heads in unified agreement. I thought of the struggle to pay bills weekly in our own home, the one car we drive, and the “stuff” we don’t own. However, I also knew that many of these students didn’t have a car at all, and food in their cupboards is sometimes dwindling. My mind wandered to where this perception had been perpetuated.

“ALL is a strong word,” I said, “You do know we live three blocks from here?” (Intimating we live in the same neighborhoods they do, and they did not believe themselves to be rich.)

“Yeah, so,” was her response. I could see from the wheels turning that she knew we choose to live there. Even more so, it was her belief that at any point we could make a move to any other location, while she may never.

“ALL,” I pointed out once again is a strong word.

“When we start using that word we fail to see individuals.”  We talked about struggles, racism, and those who have fought for each student in that room to be able to truly be “anything” God has called them to be. I asked how many people in the room had cable or a flat screened television. All hands went up. I said, “We don’t, and this is a choice based on finances. As a matter of fact our television is 30 years old, and we have to use a pencil to turn it on.”  There was an audible gasp let out across the room, followed by perplexed looks. “Now don’t get me wrong,” I went on, “Our needs are met, however,  we are far from rich. My kids don’t get everything they want, and neither do we.”  We then talked honestly about barriers they might face that I might never know. I also let them know that Jesus came to overcome all of this. Their road might be difficult, however, this can’t be an excuse to give up now.

We talked about what a “stereotype” is. It is a negative over-exaggeration based on some common traits. In short, it takes the bad habits of “some” of a group of people and labels them “ALL.”  There are movies and television shows that perpetuate certain “stereotypes” based on our background and the color of our skin. There are others that are attached to our gender, size, hair color,  or geographic upbringing. Some of them make us laugh. Some of them we latch onto. However, I was struck with just how dangerous stereotypes can be.

For these students were using that statement as an excuse. They had already come to believe their lives were on track to be the same as most of those they knew. They would never attend college. They would exist day to day. They would struggle and be called “poor.”  Most of all they would be “stuck” in a life they hate, living in a place they despise and they would never have a way out.

“We can never know “ALL” people are any one thing,” I told them.”  They were shocked at the number of African Americans I am friends with who are married, living in suburbs and not struggling to put food on the table. I finished with letting them know it is about the willingness to get to know people and never looking at only the surface.

I got to thinking about when I was their age. I had made some connections and carried my own stereotypes:

“People in certain denominations weren’t really saved.”

“Kids from that side of town were “those” type of kids.”

“People from the north were ALL cold and indifferent,  people from the south were ALL shallow.”

I too used them as an excuse to not believe Christ can change everything.  I used them as a reason to never see or talk to certain people.  I used them as a reason to stay “stuck” existing in a box that couldn’t see the rest of the world.

Chew on this today. What are the stereotypes your students carry?

What are those we carry?

What will we do to stop using the word “ALL?”

Tomorrow, I would like to cover ways we can start a discussion to help students look at the stereotypes they carry and what we can do to help.

movie-reel-popcorn

I saw a movie last night. A really good movie. A tough movie. A movie about mostly good people simply struggling to find their way.

Somehow it made me think about the “movie” of junior highers. It’s a good movie. A tough movie. A movie about mostly good people simply struggling to find their way. Here are a bunch of random thoughts that raced through my head as I drove home last night:

- I wonder if the whole “entitled generation” thing is mostly overblown? Sure, the upper middle class teenagers in our culture have had a lot of stuff handed to them, and feel entitled in lots of ways and to lots of things. But a huge percentage of our population consists of people, junior highers among them, who are hard working, tough minded folks simply trying to figure out how to make their way.

- There’s almost always a story behind the “story”. There’s a reason a student is acting out. There’s a story behind her defensive posture. There’s something below the surface that manifests in his poor grades and distant attitude.

- Family is a big part of the story. For good and for bad, families carry the majority of the influence in the lives of the junior highers in our ministries. I wonder if we sometimes, while pushing the “good” families to have more and more impact, if we forget the fact that some of our students are being impacted in devastating ways by those who should love them the most.

- Life is a journey. Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong. And nobody has a more “up and down” record of getting things right, then wrong, then right, then wrong again than junior highers! We can help them learn how to make wise choices, but the realities of life and their immature brains often lead them to make choices they shouldn’t.

- We can’t fix every problem; even when we know how! This one is tough. But the reality is that there will be students, families and scenarios that are simply beyond your ability to fix. You may know what’s wrong, and how to help…but sometimes it won’t matter. Some students aren’t ready for help, don’t really want it, feel like they are beyond it or simply don’t know what to do with the lifeline we toss their way.

- I’m a wimp. Okay, this one has nothing to do with junior high ministry but it’s the first thought that popped into my mind as the credits began to roll, and it’s the first thing I admitted to my buddies: “Guys, one thing this movie taught me is that I’m a sissy…no matter how I act, I’m really just a wimp!” My life was a little bit of a struggle growing up, but not really. And any “toughness” I once had has been diminished by my upper middle class, Starbucks drinking, SUV driving, Orange County living, beach bumming, gym membership lifestyle. Compared to so many, my life is a picnic…all day, every day.

What’s the movie? I’m not gonna tell you because then you’ll go see it and walk away thinking, “Man, that movie had NOTHING to do with junior high ministry!” And you’d be right.

But the first person…other than my buddies or people who already know what movie I’m talking about….to correctly guess the title in the comments below will win a 5-pack of the great new book, 99 Thoughts for Junior Highers!



leading-leadersI went to a small private Christian school in Michigan, and for the most part I loved it. One thing I remember happening almost everyday was my principal whistling as he walked down the hallway towards my math class. It was one of the most nerve wrecking things I’ve ever experienced. As he would approach the classroom, everyone would be standing because this usually would happen in the morning as soon as we’ve gotten to class.

He would then go around randomly asking us multiplication problems. We would all be sweating hoping we knew the answer. I remember hearing him firing off questions and thinking I know that one. I should’ve gotten that one. It was the most intense part of my week, but there was one thing that stuck out to me and it has shaped how I lead/counsel/mentor students and volunteers. He would always pick a few of us and ask this follow up question. And the question was “how did you come up with that answer?” I always thought to myself “we got the answer right, what more do you want from us?” haha

Looking back on it, my principal was actually trying to teach us that it was not enough to just know the answer but how you formulate that answer was just as important.

There’s more to the great saying “you give a man a fish he’ll eat for one day, but teach a man to fish he’ll never go hungry.” Because you’re not just teaching him something for the moment, you’re teaching him a life skill that is duplicatable and manipulatable to whatever situation he can use it in. Because the principles of catching fish can be transfered to anything. Giving a man a fish just turns him into a follower who will always be looking for the next person who can give them something. Now, I’m not saying giving is bad in general but it is bad if it is not used properly.

Teaching a man to fish gives him 4 things that he will never be able to get being given everything:

  1. The dignity of not just receiving but being able to contribute.
  2. The confidence that comes with being resourceful.
  3. The value that comes with containing not just information but insight.
  4. A skill to lead and teach someone else so that his contribution out last him.

I would rephrase the saying “Give a man a fish and you create a follower, but teach a man to fish and you create a leader.”

I think we do ourselves and our ministries a disservice when we take the easy route and just tell rather than teach or give and not show. If we want to create leaders it’s going to take us caring and being more intentional about teaching and showing. It won’t happen any other way.

How are you training your leaders to lead?

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!



So I’m sure you’ve heard of the, “Story of the Starfish.” You know the little boy on the beach covered in starfish throwing them back into the sea one by one. His grandfather asks him, “Why bother you can’t make a real difference.” The boy answers, “It matters to that one.”

Confession time. My husband and I use the phrase, “It matters to that one,” as a sarcastic quip every time we have to do something for someone. We have realized that in a broken world people don’t think they can do “enough,” so they seek out the “professionals,” as the servants. Therefore, we are often asked to step in when others really could (and should.)

Then add to this that our work is with primarily unchurched students who come from shattered cities. Honestly, often I feel like I am sharing the Gospel with a brick wall. They absorb it, and then go back to living their “own” way. Change is so inconceivable, that we wonder, “Does it matter to “that” one? Does any of it matter at all?”

I learned a long while ago the moment we focus on what’s in front of us is the space in which we lose God’s perspective. The black hole of hopelessness can easily suck us in. It’s less about it “mattering” or not “mattering” and more about knowing the Lord is bigger than any of us. He’s working when we can’t see, don’t know, and believe He’s not.

Truthfully, we may never know the impact we have on the lives set before us. Like the grandfather in the story we may never lead because we can lead the masses. We are merely to be good stewards of where Christ has us today. As they say lead from where you are. After watching this video I had to wonder, when we get to heaven how many people will come out of the woodworks telling us we were the one that “gave them a lollipop.”

I think perhaps the point is to walk through each moment interacting with others in such a way that believes this matters. Maybe it’s less about the action that matters and more about time well spent.

You know, “It matter’s to that one.” It really does. God makes that promise.

Thanks for loving students,

Leneita

@leneitafix

parched

Dry seasons…we’ve all been there, and for a variety of reasons. And over the course of 26 years in youth ministry, I have found myself in quite a few, and for a variety of reasons. Here are some random thoughts about getting through the next one that comes along.

- Try to identify the cause. Sometimes dry seasons just happen…for no apparent reason. But often times they are caused by a specific event or triggered by certain patterns of ministry. For example, I almost always find myself in a dry season when I have too many things on my plate that I’m directly responsible for. A sense of being too busy or juggling too many plates is almost guaranteed to trigger a dry season for me.

- Notice I said “getting through”, not “getting over”. I think it’s a mistake to try to simply “get over” something. Dry seasons are a great opportunity to see if God is trying to get your attention, to see if there is something to be learned, adjusted or addressed personally. And if we try too quickly to simply “get over” it, we miss the power of journeying “through” it.

- Spend some time doing stuff that charges you up! I’m shocked at how often I find myself in the middle of a dry season and simultaneously find myself neglecting some of the most basic things that bring me joy and energy! When I’m dry, I have a tendency to quit exercising, quit calling my friends to go see a late-night movie, and quit being spontaneous with my family. Those are three things I love the most, but I often do less of them in a dry season when I would probably benefit from doing them more.

- Get spiritual…but don’t go overboard. Hopefully you get my heart on this one. Part of getting through a dry season is spending time with the Father, seeking his heart and asking him to search yours. But just because you are going through a dry season doesn’t necessarily mean there is something deep and dark wrong with your soul. It doesn’t mean there is something life changing that will only be discovered through prayer. It does’t mean you can somehow quicken your way through the journey by spending an extra 10-minutes a day in solitude. It may mean all of those things…but it may not.

There’s no formula for navigating the next dry season you find yourself in, but those are some things that have helped me. Anybody willing to share a tip or two from your own experiences?

On The Journey With You,
Kurt
@kurtjohnston