My daughter, Kayla, is 19 and a sophomore in college. She has become a big fan of the writing and speaking ministry of Bill Hybels’ daughter, Shauna Niequist. So I really wasn’t surprised to see her mention and link to one of her recent blog posts. But I have to admit, I was a little surprised, and almost instantly started sobbing like a little baby, to see which blog post she linked to, and her comment about it.

Screen shot 2014-03-12 at 8.52.31 AM

Raising children in church ministry is tough, and there is no perfect formula. But there is hope! Your church isn’t perfect and neither is mine, but there is hope! Your parenting style and skill set isn’t perfect and neither is mine, but there is hope! Your children aren’t perfect and neither are mine, but there is hope!

For years, people have asked Rachel and I for insight into raising kids in a ministry setting, and for years we’ve been having little coffee shop conversations with couples here and there but hesitant to do much more than that. But with your permission, which includes an understanding that there is no prescription to healthy parenting and our way is only that….our way…and that our kids our still wrestling through what it means to follow Jesus as young adults, I’ll begin from time to time to post a few things we’ve learned over the years that may serve as some hope and help for you as you attempt to raise your children while ministering in a local church setting.

The Pope.

And… here we go.

(ahem)

pope1Not that long ago, I raised a question in another post regarding the implications of the Pope being named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year.” It’s a topic I’m interested in not only as a Protestant pastor, but also as a former Catholic. I once had a lot of baggage in transitioning out of the Catholic church, but now only seem to have a “carry-on” about it I can’t seem to get rid of.

Please forgive me for being honest about that.

Maybe it’s why I was personally saddened by a recent blog post a friend shared with me where Pope Francis denied the existence of hell, declared that “all religions are true,” and other provocative things. Saddened… and yet, I didn’t question it. It seemed to affirm some of my old-school Catholic baggage and fears about how people are just waiting to hear what they want to hear from a religious leader so they can check out of a real journey with God. Here’s a quote from that blog attributed to Pope Francis:

pope3In his latest revelations, Pope Francis said:

“Through humility, soul searching, and prayerful contemplation we have gained a new understanding of certain dogmas. The church no longer believes in a literal hell where people suffer. This doctrine is incompatible with the infinite love of God. God is not a judge but a friend and a lover of humanity. God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace. Like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see hell as a literary device. Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God.”

In a shocking speech that is reverberating across the world, Pope Francis declared that:

“All religions are true, because they are true in the hearts of all those who believe in them. What other kind of truth is there? In the past, the church has been harsh on those it deemed morally wrong or sinful. Today, we no longer judge. Like a loving father, we never condemn our children. Our church is big enough for heterosexuals and homosexuals, for the pro-life and the pro-choice! For conservatives and liberals, even communists are welcome and have joined us. We all love and worship the same God.”

I came across the news when in the midst of a busy day a friend and congregation member sent me a Facebook note and asked me for my opinion on it. Wanting to honor his interest, I quickly read the article and became broken over it. I feel the tension all the time even as a pastor to honor they trust others put in me, and while I don’t have the corner market on Truth I believe God does and we need to figure out what that means:

  • There is truth: It’s illogical to say “All religions are true.” It’s a lazy cultural concept that does more harm than good, mainly because we’re so concerned about making sure we don’t offend anyone that we fail to realize how offensive that ideal is. People should be offended – laws exist to offend people away from breaking them; homes are built with locks on them to offend potential criminals from invading where they do not belong; Truth exists so that lies do not become dominant.
  • There is a truth about God: Either He exists or He doesn’t. If He does exist, our opinions of Him don’t define Him; rather, His revelation about Himself is what matters most, beyond opinion. No individual (including a Pope) can have the definitive word on this. If you believe God does not exist, you may gain some insight from Pascal’s Wager as a starting point.

Again… not once did I wonder if what the Pope said was actually something he said. He confirmed my worst fears about his potential role in Christendom, just as he would have likely confirmed some people’s best dreams for something he might say.

That’s really what I’m writing about.

francismask-255x144Twelve hours later, I realized that this was all a hoax. According to a Catholic media page as well as Snopes.com, the story was planted into internet circulation by the blogger of the Diversity Chronicle who claims (via a disclaimer) that his content is “largely satirical.”

“Twelve hours later.” Twelve hours. In that time, I’d shared it with my wife, formed conclusions about the Pope, replied by to my friend, entertained a Rob Bell reference, and tightened my resolve regarding what Christianity will look like in the immediate future based on the influence of one man. I had to go back and correct all of that.

I know I could have kept this a private matter, but James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”

So I sincerely apologize, and I welcome your judgment – also, your prayers. As you prepare for that, I’d offer my motives:

  • My previously confessed Catholic baggage. I won’t go down that road with you here, but will happily talk with you one-on-one if it’s of interest.
  • The tension in Christendom of witnessing our heroes, frenemies and theological adversaries take a public nose dive that we’re left to sweep up the remnants of.
  • A passage in the back of the Bible (and always somehow in the back of my mind) that “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
  • An egotistical understanding that I am doing my best on a regular basis to be “theologically correct” in everything I do. Again… please note… an “egotistical understanding.” I so appreciate a Rich Mullins quote: “I think if we were given the scriptures it was not so that we could prove that we were right about everything. If we were given the scriptures it was to humble us into realizing that God is right and the rest of us are just guessing..”

worldbrokenThe world is changing… and apparently so is the local church. My wife grew up within the care structure of Christianity (whereas I came into it as a teenager). She once observed how it used to feel like when she was in a church gathering that it was a chance to feel camaraderie with like-minded people. Even if it wasn’t true, it “felt” like people were trying to hold the same Christian worldview. Now in any given church service you might be sitting next to someone who lives/votes/loves/hates completely different than you do – and we truly have to figure out how to forge relationships through tension.

I’d also point out one more thing – someone is waiting for you to say something that affirms their criticisms, baggage or beliefs about you.

Maybe this isn’t about the Pope as much as it’s about all of us. His sound-bytes have a louder echo, but so do yours and mine in our circles. Maybe this isn’t just about my motives for my reaction, but your motives for whatever your reaction might be to that… or even this.

Moving forward, you will have to decide more than which dogmas or religious rock stars you will be inappropriately loyal to or get inappropriately steamed over. You have to decide how you will be loyal to Jesus while giving space for loving others through your own biases.

Again, I welcome your judgment.

I likewise also welcome your confession…

but just so there’s no confusion, I welcome your confession as a Protestant pastor… with a Catholic carry-on that I can’t seem to get rid of.



9161284I’ve learned that the things that frustrate us the most as youth pastors/youth worker/volunteer are the things we can’t control in the first place. I believe that one of the top reasons we get frustrated is that we forget to remember the things that should keep us grounded in the mission of what we were called to do. So here are 6 we need to remind ourselves of on a regular basis:

  1. God called you to stewardship over the ministry, not ownership. Frustrated over things not going exactly your way. I think the frustration comes because we start to think the ministry belongs to us, and it doesn’t. You need to run, oversee, and manage out of stewardship, not ownership. It makes a big difference.
  2. Reaching the lost is primary, so don’t be apologetic about it. Frustrated over size. Strategize to reach the lost just as aggressively as the devil does to keep them lost. Stop believing the lie that numbers don’t matter, in the since that your job is to preach and serve the students in the four walls of your ministry only. We are commissioned by Jesus Christ to do both. So give both equal attention, and go aggressively after both. Don’t let the disapproval or criticism of those who preach “my four and no more” stop you.
  3. Leave God’s work to him. Frustrated over hearts not being changed. Know where your work ends and His work begins. Click here for more on this subject!
  4. We minister out of who we are. Frustrated over trying to be two different people. You should be the same person in your ministry life, as you are in your personal life. Inconsistency in the two will lead to frustration and eventually the destruction of the two. If you have to work at this then something is not right. I would find some counsel quickly.
  5. You are not bulletproof. Frustrated with temptation. Remember that you have the potential to screw up just as badly as the people you minister to, so you need to be fed yourself. You should be attending adult services and Bible study. You need accountability all the more being in leadership. Ministry does not exempt us from those things.
  6. It’s about purpose, not ego. Frustrated over the lack of recognition. So many youth ministry leaders fall because their stage is built on praise and applause, instead of purpose and the one true cause which is Christ being glorified in and through the lives of students. Appreciate the praise and applause when given, but build on the purpose and cause. Youth ministry is not a stepping stone for aspiring ministry star power. We have the honor and privilege to serve the church and world at the level that will affect future generations. It should be viewed that way.

When we (and I say “we” because we’ve all been frustrated at one time or another) are frustrated with ministry we should asses our own life, and see whats out of alignment, instead of looking for someone or something to blame. Try sharing this at your next staff meeting, and see what type of feedback you get. Would love to hear about it.

hope it helps,

ac

epic_fail_new_years_resolution_post_cards-rb0055f24b83b4a4c93c79fca74d2918c_vgbaq_8byvr_324I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions because it seems like they only produce guilt. Everyone that I know who sets a new plan for the new year starts strong and then fades off into the abyss of nothingness. They end up never fulfilling the goals for the new year and it all fades because they never set themselves up to win in the first place. So I thought I’d share a few things I do at the beginning of the year. I can honestly say that this has helped me a lot over the years.

Spend time seeking God.Now, this is not bible study or quite time. This is laying your wants, desires and needs out before God in grave detail in four areas of your life.

 

  1. As a Man/Woman
  2. As a Husband/Wife
  3. As a Father/Mother
  4. As a Youth Pastor/Volunteer/Youth Worker

I know how easy it is to forget that even though we are in ministry, we are still growing. And no matter how many times we preach, teach, encourage and be used miraculously by God we need to remember that we haven’t arrived yet. We need to be pursuing a Christ centered life just as much as those we minister to.

Start new habits. – Here’s a question to ask yourself: What are somethings you think would enhance your life if it became a habit? There a three things that should shape the habits you start.

  • Should be realistic. - The habit should be something doable to some degree. It should also stretch your world in some way. My wife and I started praying for one another before we left the house. We would just take a few seconds and recognize God as the protector of our family and ask for his traveling mercies. We started this a long time ago and now even if my wife or I forget one of my kids will come and pray for us. Even my 18-month-old will pray and the only word she can say is amen. My kids will even remind and/or initiate the prayer. So it was a stretch because it was something we had to start but it was also doable and it has become beneficial in more ways than one.
  • Should challenge you. – In order for the new year to be better than the year before you must step your game up. Especially when it comes to personal life and ministry life. When Paul talks about qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 he talks about qualifications for an overseer, but as you can see they are pretty intense. I definitely think it should be the type of life anyone in ministry should exemplify. So you should ask yourself, how can you challenge yourself to grow in light of scripture, also, just life in general.
  • Find accountability. - Take the power to anonymously quit away by telling someone. And let that person hold you accountable to change.

Switch up a routine or two. Force yourself to think different in the new year. In order for that to happen you will have to stimulate the brain differently then you did last year. I believe our creative muscle must be worked just like our regular muscles. If you keep doing the same workout your muscles will become immune to it. If you switch it up you burn more fat and build new muscle. If you continue to work your creative muscle the same way, you will get the same results. Switch it up.

  • Instead of it just being you coming up with ideas, grab some volunteers or students and let them throw some ideas out there.
  • Meet at a different place that could possibly get your creative juices following.
  • Maybe you need to be more strategic in how you brainstorm.
  • Instead of working in the office, maybe work from Starbucks or find a way to work from the park for a day.
  • On Fridays, let each family member pick a restaurant. Write it on a piece of paper and then draw from a hat the winning restaurant.
  • Start family movie and popcorn night in stead of just watching TV. Make it an event.
  • If you are a runner, run a different route.
  • etc…

I hope this encourages someone who struggles with new years resolution like I have in the past. Now, I just follow this formula and it has helped me tremendously. I don’t see it as a new years resolution anymore, but more of a new years new perspective. I hope it helps you the same. So how do you handle New Year resolutions?

hope it helps

ac



How to Create A Sermon

 —  November 25, 2013 — 2 Comments

sermonA pastor was working on his weekly sermon one day while his son watched.

“Dad,” the boy asked, “how do you know what to say every week?”

“God tells me,” he answered, writing some more thoughts on his sketch pad.

The boy watched for a few minutes more and asked, “Are you sure it’s God?”

“Absolutely,” the dad replied.

Finally, the boy asked what he’d been wondering the whole time. “Then why do you keep crossing things out?”

I’m curious… how do you go about creating your messages?

I approach my process differently every time, but I did write down some common things I tend to do. Here are the first five:

  • Write down the themes of the past sermons your congregation has heard over the past 6 to 12 months. List the strengths and weaknesses of each message to determine how the people received or rejected what was shared. Pray and seek discernment regarding how your congregation needs to most be challenged by your next sermon in order to grow spiritually.
  • Expose yourself to an assortment of books, magazine articles, videos and other media that offer a variety of perspectives on your potential sermon theme. Evaluate the materials for insights and illustrations, then use a word processor to type and save what you’ve identified as relevant to your sermon.
  • Search the Bible for stories and verses that speak to your sermon theme. Use resources like Biblegateway.com to type in keywords in a variety of translations, then save the most relevant results in your file.
  • Dialogue with trusted members of the congregation or church leadership about the direction of your sermon. Ask for their input and any stories from their lives that may complement what you will be preaching on. Interact with other people you regularly encounter in your week, asking what their thoughts and questions are on the theme you’re exploring.
  • Write down a list of any thoughts or questions you have from all of your research. Refer to this list as you read the Bible passages you’ve previously identified while looking for the specific texts that you are most drawn to for your sermon. Deepen your understanding of these passages through the commentaries, word studies, maps and historical background provided for on Blueletterbible.com. Pray that God will help you understand His truth before you share it with others.

There are a number of other things I do after that, including how I approach actually writing out my sermon. (You can read the rest of the article here.)

What does your process look like? What’s working for you, and what could you do differently?

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!



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

busyYou know the temptation.

It goes something like this:

  • Plan for your program.
  • High-five some kids as they come in.
  • Say something profound in your message or class time.
  • Talk up the next big event.
  • Run the next event.
  • Over-hype everything you did so your church is glad they hired you.

(I hope that last one rubbed you the wrong way. Either you aren’t doing that, so you’re offended… or you are doing that, and you’re offended.)

That list as a whole may be a stereotype of your pattern. If you’re a good youth worker, you’re obviously doing more than that.

  • You have a broken heart over the phone calls you get from students.
  • You have run out of words from the conversations you’ve had with parents.
  • You have yet another meeting to explain to your church leadership something they don’t yet understand.
  • You have no room left in your schedule for something you know you need to do.

(Keep in mind, some youth workers like advertising the martyrs they feel they are. Don’t become a stereotype on purpose.)

Whatever you’re doing, and whichever version of a youth worker you are, there is one potential downside to all of your effort.

You may be overlooking the opportunities you have for real, generous ministry.

Uncle Leo - helloThink about the moments you remember most about different people in your life. These are the times when they either made you feel alive with encouragement or depleted with criticism. You may also remember when someone snubbed you because they were too busy to even say hello.

It’s an ironic moment in ministry when a kid walks in, and we’re busy prepping for the program. Our lack of availability seems to say, “Right now, I don’t have time to have a relationship with you… because I’m doing this other thing so I can have a relationship with you.”

So what does it look like to be generous with how you invest into the teens and preteens in your ministry?

Here are 20 things you need to tell students this week (in no particular order):

  1. generousHey… thank you for sharing the cool and random stuff from your life with me.
  2. I love you all and always look forward to this time with you.
  3. I can’t believe how many things we’ve laughed about and cried about as friends. It feels like we’re really on a journey together.
  4. I like seeing how you each listen to each other. Do you know that’s one of the ways God uses you to show one another His love?
  5. You are going to change the world somehow. You’re a leader somehow. The question is how you’ll change the world and what kind of leader you’ll allow yourself to be.
  6. I know some of you have it rough in life somehow. The fact that you come here and are looking for a deeper Story to live in is a miracle. Whether you realize it or not, that’s one of the ways God is answering the very prayers you pray.
  7. You know how we talk about those experiences from stuff that we’ve done together? Those “Remember that one time…” moments? By all means, let’s celebrate that stuff – but let’s also look for ways to let some of our newer friends form some memories with us, too.
  8. I learn something from you all just about every time we hang out.
  9. The questions you guys and gals ask? Wow. They’re amazing.
  10. Some of the things we talk about here won’t feel like they apply to your life. It’s because those nuggets aren’t for you, but if you remember them you’ll be the one to share them with your friends.
  11. Listen, I know each of you are going to blow it at some point. That won’t get in the way of our friendship. On the other hand, you also need to know that I will as a friend try to point you right back in God’s direction.
  12. If you ever need someone who will just hear what you have to say, I want to be one of those people.
  13. You will have moments that you feel weird with your parents. Don’t stop being a part of your family. You will also have moments when you feel weird with me or others here. Don’t stop being a part of church.
  14. I mean this as a legitimate compliment: You’re one of the most unique people I know. God poured some of His best work into you. Don’t ever doubt that.
  15. Some day, when you’re ready for it, I want you to ask me to sit down with you and have the most honest conversation about what I think about you. It will involve some of the best encouragement I can give you. It will also involve me talking with you with complete honesty about your blind spots, too. When we’re done with that conversation, it will be the beginning of a new friendship between us.
  16. How can I better understand your ideas and dreams? What can I do to listen to you better?
  17. There will be times that I will have your back. There will also be times that I will have your front, trying to lead you somewhere. I’ll always have your side, though – we’re on this journey together.
  18. You want to play a game? Let’s do something together by doing nothing together.
  19. One thing I really respect about you is that you’re not just putting God first in your life, but are trying to put Him first in everything. There’s a huge difference.
  20. You’re important. This group wouldn’t be the same without you. But never forget this – it would be nothing without Jesus. Any of us can leave and this will continue, but without God we’re just a church club, you know?

Jesus told His disciples that they were the light of the world. He also knew and proclaimed that He was the light of the world.

Application?

If you want your kids to shine, do it first… generously light them up.

(Maybe even share some of that with your fellow youth workers.)

Got any other good thoughts? Comment and add yours to the mix.

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!*

wc-flood-ym-inline