There is a reason.

  • uglychristmassweatersIt’s why people smile while wearing an ugly Christmas sweater, as if they don’t know they’re wearing an ugly Christmas sweater (even though we know they absolutely do).
  • It’s why someone feels the permission to smooch you under a certain configuration of dried leaves hanging on the ceiling.
  • It’s why families drive around neighborhoods, aimlessly looking at how someone else arranged the same lights they arranged on their own home in a lesser quantity.
  • It’s why an old guy with a white beard can earn some extra money by dressing up in a specific red suit this season.
  • It’s why you do your best Michael Bublé impression as he does his best Frank Sinatra impression, while singing Christmas songs you only know half the words to.

Some would say it’s the reason for the season… Jesus Christ.

Let’s be honest, though. The holiday of Christmas is more about presents.

(Yes, I just said that. It’s about time you did, too.)

Christmas is about presents. Stuff. More of what we want. Our traditions, favorite songs, special treats and preferred circumstances.

Even if we’re “open minded” and muse, “People celebrate differently during this time of year, and I’m fine with that,” we get a little wound up when we’re not able to spend this time as we think we’re entitled to.

If you can agree with me on this for a moment (even if it offends you), then perhaps we can talk about the power of a gift.

chicagotripI recently took my ten-year old son on a trip to Chicago. Our stops included heading to the top of the Willis Tower, also known as the Sears Tower. (You can still call it the Sears Tower if you want, but most Chicagoans will use it as the chance to say, “What you talkin’ bout, Willis?”)

I’ve never been in the building before.

Keep in mind, I grew up and lived in Chicago for twenty years. Nonetheless, I’d never entered it nor rode the elevator up to see the city from a top floor in one of the world’s tallest buildings. I shared that first-time experience with my son.

What caught me off guard was how caught off guard he was about hearing that. He asked, “You mean… you saved that experience for me?”

I paused, then replied, “I suppose I did.”

He paused, then replied, “Well… that makes me feel special.”

Talk about a Hallmark commercial moment. I never felt like I’d done something so right, yet so unintentional.

Later at dinner, we had another conversation about other experiences we should save in life, like certain things that are intended for the woman he might marry one day.

daniel_skydeckThe Willis Tower offered something else amazing we took part in together. The building has four completely-clear glass viewing decks that come out of the building four feet so you can look straight down while standing 1,353 feet high, as if you’re dangling in mid-air.

My son was a trooper on this. He walked right out, even laying down and relaxing on the platform.

And why not? He’s full of the kind of faith many of us have forgotten about or don’t even know exists. He trusted in his father to look out for him and introduce him into situations that he couldn’t handle on his own, but could with me by his side.

I believe that’s why Christmas has become about presents. Underneath all the wrapping paper is a desire to give something to someone else that’s meaningful to us and them.

  • Sometimes you give the perfect gift on accident: You offer someone something you thought would be received at one level but is enjoyed at another.
  • Sometimes you give the perfect gift out of relationship: You give the gift of genuine trust to another person where there is mutual love and respect.
  • Sometimes you give an imperfect gift that you thought was the perfect gift: The person who gets it will have to decide if they’ll receive it in grace or reject it as unwanted.

During the Christmas season, people give tangible things that create an intangible reaction. If you think about it, that’s exactly who the Baby in the Manger is – God in-the-flesh so you can know Him in-the-soul.

Yes, Christmas is really about the Present of Jesus Christ. What I’m proposing is we can use the natural thing this holiday has decayed into as a step of faith to the supernatural thing it is under the surface.

James 1:17 clarifies, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (NIV)

There is a reason.

  • It’s the reason you’ll be generous with what you can see by donating something to “the poor” you’ll never see.
  • It’s the reason you’ll join into tactile traditions today that remind you of emotional experiences from the past.
  • It’s the reason you’ll be physically sitting in church service to spiritually connect with your Heavenly Father.
  • It’s the reason you’ll even give up some of that in order to enjoy some extra time with students who need to sense God is there through your life… especially when you actually put on that imperfect, ugly Christmas sweater they give you.

chicago_skydeck

Step out in faith on the ledge of what Christmas happens to be today… then look down. You just might see something underneath you that is deeper than you think.

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

 

You just don’t have enough time for everything.

It doesn’t matter how well you manage your schedule. Someone is going to demand more of you than you’re able to give.Wasting-Time

One of the best books I’ve read is Choosing to Cheat by Andy Stanley. Its summary is simply that you’re going to cheat people out of your time, and you have to choose who that will be on a daily basis. The challenge is to make sure no one feels “cheated.”

I first thought that meant I needed to develop a personal value statement as my personal filter for how I spent my time. I later realized that the ministry I served in needed its own values statements for the same reason.

Note how that’s a plural concept. A good one-line mission statement will get you rolling in what you try to do, but several value statements help you foster the culture you’re going to do them in.

Here are our church’s 12 “Family Values” that help us figure out what’s worth spending time on.

    • We put God first in all things. God isn’t just the cherry at the top of our lives—he’s the spoon through whom we approach every part of the “sundae.” Instead of just turning to him about some things, we will follow him in everything.

 

    • We love people and will share Jesus with them. It’s up to us to make the next move that lets others experience God through us. We say nobody’s “no” for them—we give them reasons to say yes. Like Jesus, we receive people where they are and speak truth that guides them out of sin and into life.

 

    • We embrace the tensions of the Bible. The Bible wasn’t given to make us know-it-alls, but to foster wonder and wisdom that leads to conversation and conversion.

 

    • We reclaim what’s Normal and reframe what’s common. There is an “original good” in all people and things that we join our Creator in recovering…we won’t settle for the way things are. What’s common isn’t Normal; what’s Normal isn’t common.

 

    • We create as many on-ramps as possible. Everything we do will help outsiders become insiders so the lost can become found and the young in faith can become mature.

 

    • We learn how to feed ourselves and others spiritually. We’re not going to stay baby Christians but will take hold of what it means become disciples who make disciples who make disciples.

 

    • We own and overlap our circles. Every person has a unique life-calling and care-network they’re to discover, take hold of and overlap with others for an epic impact.

 

    • We form community instead of waiting for it to happen. Proximity doesn’t equal intimacy.  We won’t  wait for community, but will make intentional investments that make it happen.

 

    • We work stuff out with a stubborn love. When we get upset, we don’t exit. Reconciliation honors Jesus Christ, especially when it’s hard, in our relationships and church.

 

    • We are intergenerational and age-appropriate. Every person, regardless of age, has something to offer another person, regardless of age.

 

    • We spend our words and our stuff generously to further God’s Kingdom. We go above and beyond what feels comfortable to see life change above and beyond what feels expected.

 

  • We are a growing church. Our size is determined by God’s calling to reach more people with him. We cannot become small-minded or comfortably sit back when he’s called us to be open-hearted, carry our cross, and join him locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.

I’m well aware how hard all of that would be to memorize. Someone would argue that we should distill those down and have 3 to 5 phrases that sum them up. Perhaps one day we will, but right now we don’t need to. Our leadership team spent a year meeting with every household in our church and we discovered these phrases have become “sticky” church-wide based on messages I’ve shared, things others have said, and initiatives we’ve taken part in together.

cultureIn other words, everyone knows these values even if they can’t fully articulate them.

We’ve created a culture where we know what’s worth “wasting time on.” Where that comes in handy is if I have to spend time on one thing versus another thing, I have a community who understands why. They’ll compensate for me in other areas as needed so I can do what I need to do in what’s most needed.

Do you think this is possible in your ministry or church? What have you learned in this process? Maybe we can teach each other something.

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!*

10mm-justice-ym-inline

 



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!*

Spooky_Oct2013_630x200

It’s difficult to forget the smell of carpet that you’ve wept into.

My family had moved in with my in-laws—into a small modular home while trying to figure out my next step in ministry. The pastor at the church I’d just left said I hadn’t grown the youth group fast enough: his goal was 200 within two years… I’d only nurtured it from 35 students to 179 in that time. Apparently that was a failure, and I was now jobless.

To add fuel to the fire, I’d experienced a significant letdown in ministry three years before that. I was forced to resign from a church because I didn’t vote for a new senior pastor who’d forced his way into leadership from his staff role. Between both experiences, I had a lot of reasons to hate the idea of church, and ministry in general.

So why was I weeping?

carpetI’d just received a phone call from a friend who served at the church where the senior pastor had nudged me out years earlier. He shared how they were in an unexpected crisis since the senior pastor had just been mandated to take a leave of absence due to an addiction issue he’d been hiding. The church hoped he’d be personally and professionally restored, but had an immediate need for someone to fill the pulpit. My friend asked if I’d be willing to be a guest speaker for a few weeks.

“Absolutely,” I replied without thinking about it. As we hung up the phone, though, I found myself sitting in silence for a few moments.

  • I expected to feel justified.
  • I expected to feel judgmental.
  • I expected to feel like a Savior.

Crumbling to the carpet, I instead began to weep from a place deep inside of me that was surprisingly broken in all the right places. Even though I hadn’t been a part of this flock for at least three years, I felt its pain.

Apparently, I was having my own crisis.

During the three years that had passed (and including what had happened at the church I’d just left), I’d realized some things:

  • You can’t always control how other people respond to you, but you can control how you will respond to them: If another Christian chooses to act with immaturity or selfishness, that’s his/her sin; if I choose to hold resentment or gossip about it instead of work it out in accordance with Matthew 18, that’s my sin. It’s why I eventually had conversations with both pastors from those churches to resolve past issues.
  • Immaturity that you see in others may keep you from seeing immaturity in you: As I shared in last week’s post, it’s easy to become so self-righteous about what matters most that you become blinded to what actually matters most. Who really calls you out on your blind spots?
  • The local church is a part of the Church: Any Christ-centered congregation is a mixture of “God and humanity,” which means it has all the positive potential of God and all the negative potential of humanity. You have to choose which piece you will nurture. I get the sense the Lord loves it when we help his Bride stand up after she’s fallen over.

I showed up for my first week of teaching and loved on people. I did this again the second and third weeks. By that point, the former senior pastor gave every indication he wasn’t going to return. The church asked if I would be its interim senior pastor—a ministry that I took on for nine months. There was talk at one point about offering me the role of senior pastor, but I excused myself from that discussion to help clean the slate for someone else.

After that experience, another church called me up and asked me to serve them as an interim pastor. They had their own crisis and heard how I’d helped the other congregation. I served them for six months and watched God grow my heart even more for His Church and its future.

battlefieldmedicThere will be seasons of your life that you are a battlefield medic for the Church.

You may yearn to be a specialist who gets a nice office or a padded paycheck, or even a volunteer who finds worth in never going anywhere. Sometimes God simply wants you running from one random explosion to another in order to tend to the wounded and raise them back up to health. This is full of stress, but if that’s where you’re needed then that’s where you’re needed… whether you’re directly working with teenagers, or simply helping the Church itself have a healthier future.

That’s the ironic ending to this story for me… a new beginning. I’m now a Lead Pastor intent on helping adults care about students, while at the same time volunteering in my church under our youth pastor’s leadership in order to still personally impact teenagers. Your story may not end up as mine did, but I wonder if it will end up as you’re planning it to.

Let the next crisis break you in all the right places… even if it means you end up smelling Jesus in the carpet.

Thank you for loving students!

Tony

Psst! He’s also a breakout session leader extraordinaire at Simply Youth Ministry Conference

@tonymyles

LIVE-apologetics-ym-inline



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

Top Model: Ministry Edition

Tony Myles —  September 16, 2013 — 6 Comments

Youth ministry is safe.

Before you reply back with a counter-thought that puts me in my place, hear me out.

Youth ministry is safe because it gives you a reason to not do what you’re asking students to do.

Role ModelEver notice how easy it is to spend all your time trying to get teenagers to take a bold step with God that you don’t actually take yourself? We say things like, “Share Jesus with your friends! Bring them with you to church!”

How often are you regularly doing those things with your own peers or neighbors?

Maybe you feel you’re too busy serving students that you don’t have time to sit in “big church.” Perhaps you feel so called to your niche that you don’t know where to start with other adults.

Students don’t need another pep talk from you on how to serve their generation. They need to watch you be an example in serving your generation.

Here are some ideas:

  • Print out a Google map of your neighborhood. Write down the names of the people in each home, and learn the names of those you haven’t yet met. Begin praying for everyone by name.
  • Install a basketball hoop so the neighborhood kids feel free to play on it. Use it as an excuse to meet their parents.
  • Instead of reading a book on the couch, head outside and read it outside. Be sure to say “Hi!” to those who walk by.
  • Crank up some familiar music when you’re working on a project outside. Music can help people feel you’re approachable.
  • Share chores with your neighbors, like helping them with a big project or asking them to help you with yours. Spring for lunch either way.
  • Set up a “grown up table” outside for things like Halloween when people will be walking around the neighborhood. Have bottled water and granola bars available for the adults.
  • Get a dog and walk around your neighborhood each day. It gives you the chance to linger without looking like a creeper. Just make sure you pick up your dog’s “deposits.”
  • Do thoughtful things for your neighbors, like mowing their lawn when they’re at work. (Just avoid trimming their hedges to look like a silhouette of Moses.)
  • If a neighbor has said, “If you need anything, just ask,” go ahead and ask. Sometimes you build a friendship by helping someone else feel needed.
  • If you’re not in a situation where you’re close with neighbors, such as apartments or homes that are far apart, organize a board game night in your home or a community room where you provide ice cream sandwiches and the games.

I think you get the picture. The point isn’t to regard your neighbors as a project so you can get them to church and say, “TA DA!” It’s about loving your neighbor as you love yourself so the Holy Spirit can use your example to change more than one generation.

You know this won’t be easy, and you probably have all your excuses lined up. Feel free to comment and share them so we can sort them out together.

I will say this with full confidence, though– this will be more fruitful than you think.

Teenagers aren’t just looking for a great youth worker… they’re looking for a Christ-follower who is leaving footsteps they can step into.

Thank you for loving students!

Tony

@tonymyles



Howdy friends!

Take a look at the Top 3 Articles from this week! We encourage you to check out all of our articles and awesome authors, but here are the highlights this week from Kurt Johnston, Brooklyn Lindsey, and Tony Myles.

 

1. 3 Reasons It’s Good that Your Senior Pastor Doesn’t Think About You by Kurt Johnston

3 reasons

 

2. 5.5 Ways to Really Connect With Others  at Work by Brooklyn Lindsey

 

5.5 ways

 

3. Scouting Alternatives by Tony Myles

 

Scouting for Alternatives

 

Have fun reading and engaging homies! Enjoy the weekend.

- Amber

 

#PastorProblems

Tony Myles —  September 8, 2013 — Leave a comment

Being a pastor isn’t easy.

problems1Whether you’re a youth pastor, assistant pastor or lead pastor, we all have a unique set of problems that we deal with. Some of these can be serious, while others are rather tongue-in-cheek:

  • Sunday afternoon: “Just realized I forgot to share a funny story this morning. Wondering if it’ll still be as funny next week.”
  • Monday morning: “Oh, great. Someone took a picture of me teaching and tagged me in it. Why THAT picture?”
  • Tuesday lunch: “Hoping Taco Bell messes up my order so I can make a sermon illustration out of it.”
  • Wednesday night: (thinking) “What’s that kid’s name? What’s that kid’s name? What’s that kid’s name?” (says) “Hey, bro!”
  • Thursday morning: “Yeah, it is my day off… fine, I can meet up with you.”
  • Friday evening: “How did I forget I was officiating a wedding tomorrow? Can I share the same message I shared at the last wedding I did? Hope the sound guy doesn’t rat me out.”
  • Saturday night: “What is the proper shout out on Facebook and Twitter to get people to come tomorrow?”

Of course, this is the dumb stuff. We all know there’s more to it… suicidal students, confused parents, pregnant teenagers, hypocritical leaders, exhaustive situations, physical abuse, emotional bullying and more.

I shared it in Uncommon Wisdom from the Other Side in this way:

Thank 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 2-dimensional in your 3-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.

What are some of the goofy or serious “pastor problems” you’ve seen or experienced. be it as a volunteer, part-time or paid minister?