I was talking to a youth worker not too long ago who was considering moving back to the church he grew up in as the youth pastor and asked what I thought about someone returning to his home church. My first reaction was excitement – what an incredible honor it would be to return home after getting an education and experience to minister where you grew up. I can imagine how thrilling that would be! But with that excitement comes a caution: I promise you it isn’t going to be easy.

When Jesus had finished telling these stories and illustrations, he left that part of the country. He returned to Nazareth, his hometown. When he taught there in the synagogue, everyone was amazed and said, “Where does he get this wisdom and the power to do miracles?” Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things?”And they were deeply offended and refused to believe in him. Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his own family.” And so he did only a few miracles there because of their unbelief. Matthew 13: 53-58 (NLT)

So please know that when He went back to his home Temple it was beyond challenging. When he walked the streets of his childhood, they still looked at Him as anything but special – in fact, the exact opposite. They thought they knew him today because they knew Him the past.

Many people at your home church may think the same thing.

Here’s the good news: it can be done! It isn’t easy, but often times a returning to a home church can be an incredible experience. A few thoughts here, would love yours in the comments as well:

Returning to your home church is easier in direct proportion to the size of the church. Simply put, the larger the church, the easier it will be to come back. Larger churches have the propensity to absorb memories faster and chances are the congregation didn’t know you as well in the first place. Inversely, smaller churches typically remember the young you, which could make them more resistant to recognizing your maturity.

You have changed! In fact, everyone and everything has changed! You think you know the church culture and history but a lot has changed since you were there in elementary school. Don’t walk in with a false sense of history and be a learner. Take your time and reevaluate what you think you know.

Usually you remember the good and not the bad. Our childhood church memories tend to be a little more rose-colored than you would have seen if you were an adult. Ask some trusted friends about the current climate of the church. Take your time in the interview process. Don’t make assumptions.

You do have an incredible head start. While I want you to reread the caution about thinking you know too much – you know the streets, some of the key families, the needs and the neighborhoods. While there is certainly some things to be unlearned and reevaluated, coming home can probably give you a head start of a full year or more over someone from the outside.

Just a quick update – the youth worker sent me a reply earlier this week with an update: Thanks for the encouraging words. I am now the full-time director of student ministries at my home church and everything has been great so far. They really have given a lot of support and encouragement to lead as I feel led. Just trying to ease my way in with the students and work on some small things that can be modified or changed to produce big impact with parents and students. Thanks again for you words! Be blessed!

JG

Five-or-so years ago I was locked in what felt like an all-out war over a dream that was in danger of dying, because a man who was much shrewder than me was bent on stopping it. One day, in my grief and fear and anger over what was about to happen, I felt God sort of “sit me down” and challenge me—it was clear that my “frontal” way of dealing with this situation was not going to work, and He was asking me if I was going to have the courage to move more shrewdly. In the nicey-nice Christian culture that is promoted and perpetuated in most churches, shrewdness is anathema—worse, it’s entirely off the radar as a spiritual practice.

So, in an uncharacteristic spirit of desperation, I asked God to teach me what I needed to know about shrewdness—and He (of course) brought me to Jesus, the source of all good things. The point of Jesus’ “Parable of the Shrewd Manager” (Luke 16:1-8) is specifically to highlight the behavior of a lazy, lying, good-for-nothing servant who has no qualities we’d want to emulate except for one: his shrewd way of saving himself from the consequences of his terrible behavior. Jesus highlights this anti-role-model for one purpose: “The people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.” Later, in preparation for sending out His disciples on their first ministry journey without Him, He tells them to take nothing with them (no clothing, money, or “insurance” of any kind)—instead, He tells them they need just two things:

1. Be as shrewd as a serpent, and

2. Be as innocent as a dove.

The word He uses here for “serpent” is the same one He uses for Satan. And the word He uses here for “dove”  is the same the Bible uses to describe the Holy Spirit. Jesus is telling His disciples to be as shrewd as Satan is, but as innocent as the Holy Spirit is. Shrewdness, then, is a way of living and relating that Jesus first modeled for us, then commanded us to do likewise.

In Shrewd: Daring to Obey the Startling Command of Jesus, I describe “shrewd” as a way of thinking and acting that Jesus long ago urged His followers to use in their uprising against the powers and ‘spiritual forces of wickedness’ of this world. Shrewd people—and Jesus is the Exemplar—first study how things work, and then leverage that knowledge to tip the balance in a favored direction. Shrewdness is the expert application of leverage—“the right force at the right time in the right place”—as The Way Things Work author David Macaulay observes. Jesus is perpetually taking what His enemies intend for evil and morphing it into good—He uses their destructive momentum against them, like a martial artist. Most Christians have a negative reaction to the word “shrewd,” but Jesus not only exemplified this way of relating to others in His redemptive mission on earth, He gave us a mandate to grow much, much more adept in our practice of it.

Because I’ve had scores of conversations with people, both young and old, about the mechanics of “innocent shrewdness,” I know people of all ages have experienced repeated failure in their frontal, conventional approaches to problems and challenges in their life. They’re frustrated and lost. And when I simply walk them through a Jesus-centered process of thinking and acting more shrewdly, it’s like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz moving from her flat, black-and-white world into the 3-D colors of Oz. The process, simply, looks like this:

• Answer the question: “What do I really want?” Jesus habitually asked an irritating question of people with obvious needs who approached Him for help: “What do you want?” (e.g., Matt. 20:32; Mark 6:22; Mark 10:36; Mark 10:51; Luke 18:41). We must know what we really want before we can truly ask in faith.

• Answer the question: “Is my ‘want’ born out of innocence? Would I feel just fine asking Jesus for this ‘want’ if I was face-to-face with Him?”

• Answer the question: “How does this (person, organization, or process) work?” Shrewd living always starts with understanding how things work—so spend five minutes brainstorming (either alone or with someone you trust) an answer to this question.

• Based on your understanding of how things work, spend five minutes brainstorming a point of leverage to go after with a “sideways” approach. Sideways means the leverage comes from an unexpected direction—you find “sideways” by experimenting with approaches that carry the force to move the situation.

• Now, try one of your options and debrief the results with someone you trust. Decide whether to continue with that option or whether to try a new approach.

• Repeat steps #3, #4, and #5 in a continuous loop—until you’ve landed on “the right force at the right time in the right place.”

Rick Lawrence is the author of dozens of books, including Shrewd: Daring to Obey the Startling Command of Jesus and Sifted: God’s Scandalous Response to Satan’s Outrageous Demand (shrewdbook.com and siftedbook.com). He’s has been editor of Group Magazine for 25 years and is the co-leader of the Simply Youth Ministry Conference. Rick is a church leader, consultant to national research organizations and a frequent conference and workshop speaker. He and his family live in Colorado.



Youth ministry is not easy. Usually fun, often exciting, hectic, busy, sometimes frustrating, adventurous, tiring, but never easy. That’s why we need times to just get away and rest in the spirit of Jesus and His disciples.

In Mark 6:31, after some intense ministry adventures, Jesus said to His disciples, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” It’s easy to forget the importance of rest and relaxation in the business of ministry. But if we want to avoid burnout and want to serve Jesus for the long haul, we need to give our minds and our bodies time to rest and recharge.

I love retreats, especially with my adult leaders, because more than a time of rest, they are also a time of relationship building. In John 15:15 Jesus said to His disciples, “No longer do I call you servants … I have called you friends.” Do you think Jesus said that simply because the disciples were in ministry with Him? I don’t think so. All of those conversations walking from place to place, the conversations in the evenings when they couldn’t fall asleep, the meals they shared together, the getaways–these were the times during which their friendships were built; times of BEING together. While very important, the other stuff was doing-oriented. I have come to the place that I am simply not interested in just working together to get a job done. I want to be able to say, “I served Jesus faithfully, reaching students for the kingdom, and I didn’t do it with hired guns. I did it with friends. We worked hard. We played hard. We laughed. We cried. We prayed. We struggled. We learned. And through it all, we were friends.”

Today let me leave you with a Scripture to live and a statement to ponder.

“Serve the Lord with gladness” (Psalm 100:2).

Here is a rather full statement that I came upon recently in a devotional. Read it through a few times slowly. Meditate on it. Wrestle with it. Digest it in your spirit.

“In all the ordinary forms of Christian life, service is apt to have more or less of bondage in it; that is, it is done purely as a matter of duty, and often as a trial and a cross. Certain things, which at first may have been a joy and a delight, become after a while weary tasks, performed faithfully, perhaps, but with much secret disinclination, and many confessed or unconfessed wishes that they need not be done at all, or at least that they need not be done so often. The soul finds itself saying, instead of the ‘May I?’ of love, the ‘Must I?’ of duty” (Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911) in The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life).

Where are you at today?

Kevin Mahaffy, Jr. is a youth pastor from New York and blogs regularly at www.revkevjr.blogspot.com.