Almost every day I hear a different youth worker complain about a parent who doesn’t really “care” about their child. Have you ever done that? I know I have. The “untraditional” family has become the norm with divorce rates continuing at 60% (in and out of the church), parents cohabiting, and grandparents raising grandchildren.

Then there are the struggles our students are facing.  Bullying, abuse, and identity are universal.  However, there are also drugs, violence, eating disorders, cutting, and just generally being a teen.  We keep saying it’s “harder” for this generation.

Why do we think that? 

There was a time when truthfully by looking at someone’s fashion, taste in music, family make up, or “issues” it was easy to identify where they “lived.” There were definitive “sides of town,” with the particulars of what went on there. Now we have come to live in a “mash-up” society of culture, challenges, and tastes. Our idea of who is sitting in our pews, attending our youth groups or living in our community is no longer easily defined by how much money they make, location or the color of one’s skin.The other side of the tracks with their common misconceptions and problems are moving, and reaching each of us in ministry in some way.

Regardless of where you are currently located, I would venture I could place you in a room with 50 other church leaders from anywhere in America and there would be common stories to tell.

As I have had the opportunity to speak across the country I often talk with youth pastors who have students who have some families they struggle with. Everyone has a different “label.” Here are some of the labels I have heard:

Inner city- at-risk-urban- unchurched-spiritually immature- dechurched- and “The Community”Everybody's Urban

The common threads I hear are families living in some form of “survival mentality.” They just are trying to get through the day and “live their life.” You might choose a different term, but my ministry partner Jeff Wallace and I use the term, “new urban.” It does include demographic area, culture, multi-ethnicity, social ills, and socio-economics. However, we would argue, in terms of the Christian community, this title blurs those lines and moves beyond them. Families are dealing with deep-seated issues all around; honestly, some are just better at hiding it than others. Our book Everybody’s Urban can help you delve more into this idea and on how to reach your “new urban” students who are in a survival mindset and quite possibly stuck there.

It’s time for the Body of Christ to stop making assumptions. It doesn’t matter what we label we give, or what we see with our eyes; too many are stuck existing to survive the day when they need to know Christ wants them to thrive.

The question we must ask ourselves is will we stop thinking “those problems aren’t ours” or thinking some families are just too broken, and instead intentionally let compassion move us to action?

This is why Jeff Wallace and myself are partnering with LeaderTreks on April 29 – May 1 for a “Refuel Retreat” at Pawley’s Island in South Carolina. We want to help you embrace and support who is in your group. How do you partner with a generation of parents that seem more distant than ever?  How do you help students genuinely step up and know what it means to belong to Jesus? (For more information click here.) (It’s alright if you don’t want to talk to us just enjoy the free time and being at that beach.)

Won’t you join us in the conversation?

Unpacking Noah

Leneita Fix —  March 31, 2014 — 9 Comments

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****Warning: Spoiler Alert****  If you haven’t seen it,  or don’t want to know details, avoid reading on.

There has been a lot of controversy in the Christian community as whether or not to see the “Noah” movie. I thought we were prepped and prepared for what we would see and feel. The articles suggested that this movie account of Noah, deviated from the Biblical account a little. So many “details” are missing in the Scriptural account that we expected there to be some “poetic” license, but we felt like after seeing the trailer, the movie would do the story justice.

The movie is extremely well-made and acted. The cinematography is stunning. My fourteen-year-old put it this way,  ”It’s like when they make a movie of your favorite book, and they get all the details wrong. It’s a shame that it got so off course, because by itself the actors were amazing and it was fun to watch.”

On the one hand we see the depth of human wickedness. Genesis 6:5 tells us, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.”  It is obvious in the portrayal of violence, hurt, and the strange post-apocalyptic wasteland everyone lives in. I can only imagine how horrific it must have been to hear the cries of the dying as the flood waters over took the earth, and then to be cooped up inside while it rained and rained and rained.noah 2

On the other hand, I spent 2 1/2 hours in confusion. It began when the rock-like “Watchmen” appeared with a story that totally deviates from who they are in Genesis 6, and ran through most of what I saw. (Tubal- Cain is in Genesis 4, but did not kill Lamech, Noah’s father.) I could pick apart the details, however, there is a great article I found answering questions around the Noah “controversies”  HERE.

It wasn’t the misrepresented facts that troubled me though. Does anyone remember the Noah television mini-series that also held Sodom and Gomorrah from years ago?  What hurt my heart was the representation of “The Creator” (as God is called).

The God of Noah and the people of the earth is silent, confusing, and distant. It misses that in Genesis 4, Seth and his son Enosh began to worship the Lord by name. Yes, it depicts Noah as a “righteous man” but it misses a key part to Genesis 6:9, “This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God.”

Noah had a deep relationship with the Lord. God spoke with him clearly in the details of what he was doing, why he was doing it, and how to carry it out.  On at least two occasions in the account the phrase, “Noah did everything as God COMMANDED him,” is used. God closed the door to the ark, and GOD TOLD Noah when it was time to leave. He was close to Noah and clear about His desires.

Instead, in this account God is described over and again as being almost cruel. The Watchmen want to know why God stopped talking to them. Tubal-Cain screams at Him to say anything. Noah is left to his own devices to interpret God’s words and actions. It troubled me deeply though that Noah thinks he and his wife can override God’s will, and when they get it “wrong” it will nearly torment them to death.

My 13-year-old son summed it up this way, “If I was a teen who was struggling with my faith with God and I saw this movie,  I might give up on Him.  I would walk away thinking God is heartless, distant and down right cold. It missed the faith of Noah that held him because he knew God.”

So should you see it?  Some say a resounding, “YES!” so you can talk about it. Although, I had already re-read Genesis 5-9 by myself, with my children, and in my youth group to get ready,  I went back to my Bible again after seeing it. This is good. It forces you to really know what God’s Word does and does not say.  (Read it for yourself HERE.)

I would say this, be very careful about bringing the “unchurched” to see the film. The reality is when we see a movie “based on real events,” we take what we see to heart. There is a lot off in the film, and honestly the “themes” I expected to stand out did not.  Noah is supposed to be righteous, but allows a young woman to be trampled to death, almost kills his granddaughters, and lives in shame for a period of time? In addition, the graphic nature of the film can be difficult to watch. My 6th grader struggled with a lot of it, she spent more time with her eyes covered than watching it.

So what to say?  Weigh the facts before you go.  If you have a friend who desperately can’t wait to see it, then go and discuss it with them. If you are thinking this is the perfect evangelical opportunity, it’s not. The director is a self-proclaimed atheist, and it shines through in the back drop of the telling. In the end, I was struck with the realization that the best tool in telling people about Jesus is in relationship with them. For that matter then it’s time spent,  and really almost any movie can be a catalyst to a deeper conversation about God.

If I had to choose again I might skip Noah and see something else.

Have you seen it?  What are your thoughts?

Leneita / @leneitafix



I was doing some research for a study I was writing and came across this video from The Skit Guys called, “The Mourning Booth.”  It is a very powerful look at how we handle the “valley” times in our own lives and that of others.

I was convicted deeply that when the tough times arise how often do I try to “do” something to try and make it better. I lend a word of advice or push for the person to “get over it.”  Instead, do I take heed to the command Christ gives to simply be with the hurting? Could simply allowing someone to know they are not alone be the most powerful response?

When our youth, family or friends are struggling, will we see their pain and know offering our presence be more than enough?

I think perhaps I need to be a little more quiet when others are hurting and just learn to “mourn with those who mourn.”  Maybe being near is a “holy response.”

Who are you in this video?

Leneita / @leneitafix

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If I ask you why you care students are in your youth ministry, you will probably say something about helping them growing in “their faith.”  I inquire, “Okay, who do you want them to be?” You say something about them being fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

Yet, if we are honest when we take a step back and look at how we RUN our ministries, it is not always with the end “result” in mind. We plan a calendar, take trips, run small groups, and do activities. Some of us will say our focus needs to be helping parents disciple their children, others say we need to build student leaders, outreach, share the Gospel, or simply pour into our youth. However, I would contend there are two questions that should drive everything we do in our ministries.

1.  When a student leaves us, what will they look like?

I, of course, am not talking about their voice and body changing into an adult. Let’s say a family enters your church and has a baby. This baby grows up in the church through all the ministries and then graduates, leaves home, and heads out into the “real world.” Who is that young adult? A fully devoted follower of Christ? What does that mean? Do they read their Bible everyday, tell others about Christ,  pray often, and enter the mission field?  What is it? How is everyone in your church working together to see this happen?  The time of the “siloh” between nursery, children, youth and adults needs to be over. What are we doing to work together to grow our children?  Let’s stop “starting over” every time our kids enter a new phase of life, and instead see each of us as part of their journey into their lives as a someone taking the world for Christ.

2.  How does what we are doing “influence” who they are becoming?

The second question has to do with our programming and approach. There was a time where I would say the main question we needed to ask before embarking on anything was, “How does this build a relationship?” That is still vital, and it’s a great filter. Yet, still we have a tendency to make plans based on who is standing in front of us today,  not in the future. When we plan this way, we run everything we do through a sieve of purpose. It helps us know what not to take on, and what might need readjusting. So you take students on a missions trip yearly. Why? How is this part of the journey in the Lord? What do you need to do to get them ready or to follow up with them afterwards? Are you teaching them about service and why that matters when they are 8 or 9-years-old and again and again before the trip ever happens? This helps with equipping parents and growing the body of Christ as a whole.

These are not questions we can ask once, but often. I contend they should be asked anytime the church does anything. At least quarterly, sit down as a full staff and see how you are working together. It doesn’t really matter if a student jumps in when they are 5 or 15-years-old.  When we do ministry this way we are all about moving with Jesus all the time.

Are you asking these questions?

Leneita



 

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It could be shoddy workmanship or a graphic designer hopped up on Red Bull and no sleep.  However, in the last month three retailers have come under attack for their “photoshop fails.” Target took a  giant chunk out of a bathing suit’s backside. The Limited took so much “meat” off of the arms on a shirt model that her elbows appear broken. Old Navy created “thigh gap” in plus-sized jeans.  (You can read a great article summing it up Here)

In early February American Eagle Outfitter’s lingerie company “Aerie” announced they would not be photo-shopping or air-brushing models in many of their campaigns. They wanted to represent “real” bra sizes, shapes and sizes. (I am not posting pictures of young girls in panties and bikinis to show you, sorry.) On the one hand I am excited that the young women appear to actually have texture to their skin, on the other they are still ridiculously tanned, toned, and thin.

Yesterday a friend of mine posted an article on what “actresses look like without being touched up.”  Who knows if any of the pictures were real, but they sure did look like the famous. It was actually nice to see that indeed it is true: None of us look anything less than dazed and crazy when we stumble out of a swim in the ocean.

Mash these together and sprinkle in the attempt to teach our young people about modesty and body image, and it still feels like a mess. I think we have forgotten that real people look real…and what on earth that could even mean?

Here’s what we forget: We were created naked. In our nakedness there was no shame. Why?  There was innocence, and we understood we were created in the image of God. We make a really poor decision that we need to learn the difference between good and evil. In the moment innocence is lost,  what do we do before anything else? We cover ourselves. We put on clothes. We forget who we look like. Male and female, we are a reflection of the Living Lord. Before we hide from His presence,  we cover our skin. That is the day looking like God became less important than presenting our bodies to each other.

Try this exercise with your small group this week:

Ask them each to take a selfie without thinking. They are only allowed to take one.  Notice that they will flip their hair or position their head to take it an angle they think they will like. Have them look at the picture. What do they like about it?  What do they hate?  Do they want to retake it?  Would they post it or make you promise it will never see the light of day? Ask them if they took the picture in a certain way so they would like it?

We want to use these media examples to show our students what we are comparing our selves to. However, the reality is they will look at that selfie and compare it to the world, not to the image of God. We all do it. We are still attempting to cover ourselves with fig leaves, as they say.

So as you talk to your students about modesty and body image, remember this: Real people are created in the image of our Risen Savior- not on a computer screen. We are not objects to be seen, but a house for the Holy Spirit. I am not so sure that God sees our freckles and crooked teeth, and dimples and fluffy eyebrows as a bad thing. He isn’t sitting around saying,  ”I wish I made that guy over there with a smaller nose.”  He’s laughing and saying, “That girl has my smile.”

Instead, teach them to take a look around. If we all carry the Lord’s DNA and not one of us looks alike, can you even fathom what God looks like???

Happy Friday :)

Leneita

 

Be Careful How You Teach

Leneita Fix —  March 20, 2014 — 1 Comment

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Today I was looking through some really excellent small group curriculum. I loved the way it dug into lead students in going deeper with their relationship with Christ.  However, it also held one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to pre-written curriculum:

It was really written for an adult, not a student.

The subject matter is excellent. However, the way it is written asks questions in a way that an adult who is a fully devoted follower of Christ would understand. Since this has annoyed me for years, I went through a period of time where I wrote my own stuff. In my pride, I went and looked if my stuff was any better. Truth is I did the same thing.

We think adding in engagement, activities and perhaps a video or two solves the  problem of drawing in teens. This isn’t it either. If you merely hand off any curriculum to your team they think the point is to get from the beginning to the end of the lesson. Therefore, they stop ask these “grown-up” questions, get blank stares they think is boredom, and move on.

If there are unchurched students in your group, these concepts are totally foreign to them. When students have grown up in the church they have been “told” but often are not “taught.” Just because they have heard about concepts doesn’t mean anyone has stopped and asked,  ”Do you know what any of it means?”

Recently, I was probing my own three Middle School age kids as to what Grace really is. The idea that it is Christ’s “free gift” that we “don’t deserve” and what that means eluded them. These are three kids who have grown up in Christian school, in youth group, in church, in Christian programming, with two believing parents who talk to them, and still they couldn’t explain this simple concept.

I don’t think the answer is writing our own stuff, or adding any more hands on games. The answer is in the way we teach, and teaching our teachers to teach. Connecting students to the truth is NOT intuitive for everyone. Knowing how to strategically pull apart a lesson and get to the heart of the issue does not make sense to all of us. We don’t always know how to keep bringing it all back to Jesus. It’s not about the lesson at all, it’s about asking, “How will this deepen their relationship with the Lord?”

So STOP!

As you go through your curriculum and look at questions, think before you ask, and spend the time training your team to do the same.

Look at the lesson:

If you think about it, can you easily understand and articulate every concept in front of you?

Chances are if you have to think more than a moment or are pondering, “I know I just am not sure how to say it,” the teens in your group have no clue at all. They need you to let them ask more questions- about the questions.

Could someone who doesn’t speak your language understand all of the words?

A Dutch friend of mine pointed this idea out.  If you were trying to teach this lesson to a person who had just entered the country,  how would you break it down? You would use easy concepts and small words.  Do the same with your teens.

Are you stopping along the way?

Don’t go from start to finish of the curriculum just to get through. Go through it line by line. Make absolutely zero assumptions that they ALL get it. Our unchurched students are sometimes vulnerable enough to say, “I don’t know.”  Many times though they think everyone else knows when they don’t. Our “churched” kids think they are supposed to know this stuff.  They aren’t going to stop you and say,  ”So listen I’ve heard about this Armor of God thing a lot. As a matter of fact, when I was little I even owned the play set from the Christian book store. I think I understand that armor is protective, but can you give me a clue as to why wearing my salvation like a hat really is helpful, and you know what Salvation is also explained as something I only have to do once, so really I am not getting this. While we’re at it can we talk about how we wear shoes of peace or what righteousness has to do with living my life today?  Did I mention I have no clue what righteousness really is and how on earth to wear it like a breastplate, I mean practically speaking. Can you tell me how this has anything to do with following Jesus?”  The discussion question read, “How can your “helmet of Salvation” protect your thoughts?”  Line by line ask them,  ”DO YOU GET THIS?” and “DOES THIS MAKE SENSE?”

Personally I think maybe teens should be writing curriculum for other teens. Therefore, we are left with the adults trying to think like an adolescent. Maybe instead we need to ask, “If I’m honest, do I know what walking with Jesus means at all?”

How are you teaching your students?

Would love to hear your thoughts,

Leneita / @leneitafix



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Recently, I finished an excellent book by Darrin Patrick called, Church Planter. In the book, Darrin speaks to not only church planters, but every person who calls themselves “pastor” – those new and seasoned. His intent is to equip leaders to be biblical pastors, carrying and imitating the mantle of Christ, thus bringing biblical and whole-life transformation to the cities where their churches reside. The book is an amazing read, that will definitely challenge your relationship with Christ and the calling Christ has given you to pastor others – be it students or adults.

I want to share some of Darrin’s thoughts on the influence churches have concerning city transformation. He writes the following (pg. 225-238):

“We desire not just to have great churches but to have better cities. ‘Would your city weep if your church did not exist?’ … a church [is] not just in the city but for the city.”

“It is strange the way many Christians give so much money every year to foreign mission efforts without ever considering the need to be a missionary right in their own neighborhoods. What would happen if we actually started seeing ourselves as missionaries to the people who live around us by being good neighbors? What would it be like if everyone in the neighborhood knew that if there was a need for peacemaking, kindness, hospitality, or refuge, they could come to our residence to find it?”

“… we can actually contribute to the cultural goods of the city by involving ourselves in the soil of what makes the city the city…This is the heart of what it means to be a Christian in culture: to participate in the creation and development of God-glorying relationships, organizations, academics, guilds, and businesses.”

“Many in the city will be more likely to listen to the message of the church because the members have invested themselves so deeply in the city. We can go from simply protesting all that is wrong in the city to actually bringing righteousness to the city. We can move from being among the many who are recognized as problem-finders in the city to being the ones who are recognized as problem-solvers in the city.”

“(1 Peter 2:9-12) … This means that when we encounter culture, we seek to be a blessing to the people in the culture. We have a unique and distinct identity as those who have been showered by grace; therefore we will seek to shower the city with grace as we sacrificially serve and work in it … (Jeremiah 29:7) So Jeremiah is not just saying that we should seek the spiritual welfare of the city, but also the financial and social welfare of the city.”

“The good news of the gospel is that we do not have to compromise biblical truth to be a blessing to the city … we can enter into the culture of the city and become agents of transformation. Being a blessing to the city means we take seriously the problems of the city. The gospel does not just need to be in word but also in deed.”

“What would happen if strong godly men and women were emboldened to use their gifts in the church, knowing that God is able to draw straight lines with crooked sticks? What if pastors were actually qualified in their character? What would happen if God’s people actually had someone to look at and imitate?

What if God’s people realized that the role of the pastor is to equip them to do ministry instead of doing ministry for them? How many nonprofits would be started by God’s people to address the broken areas of the city? How many at-risk children would be tutored, and how many fatherless teens would be mentored? How many single moms would be supported? How many immigrants would look to the church as a place of help and hope? How much more of God’s grace would we understand if we sacrificially served the poor and the marginalized? How many lost, broken people would cease being their own savior and trust in Jesus?”

To change cities, we need to change neighborhoods. This means we need to start with our own first. How is your neighborhood being transformed by your church and/or your youth group?

The Productivity Vacuum

Leneita Fix —  March 13, 2014 — 1 Comment

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I work in what one would call an “open office.”  For some it would be a “good” thing not having walls around their desks, giving them the ability to be highly relational and creatively collaborative all of the time. When I come to the “office,” I am there to get the administrative “stuff” out of the way. I have tasks I need to get out of the way. This would be fine, except I work with others who see “office time” as “connection time.” What this means is that I rarely feel like I can be productive in getting my “check list” accomplished.

Fortunately, I figured out how to remedy this atmosphere that is a “productivity vacuum” for me. It involved communicating with my staff about our different office time needs. I also need to take the time at least once a week with my team, to meet that relational need. It got me thinking about those universal ways we can be unproductive:

Plan Your Work & Work the Plan

A mentor of mine taught me this awesome saying, “Plan your work and work your plan.”  The “plan” is not the accomplishment. We have to take steps to FINISH the plan. Follow through brings momentum. I actually believe that getting the admin stuff under control gives more time for relational building.

 Tyranny of The Urgent:

We are working our plan when BLAM something blows up. All attention is diverted to put out the fire. This is fine in times of crisis.  However, it’s easy to never work our plan and ONLY be a firefighter. Learn the difference between a real and perceived emergency.

Prioritize:

This can be the hardest part of all we need to get done. There are times when we people need us and it’s true that they are more important than the “stuff” that needs to get done. HOWEVER, we also need to learn what should be at the top of the list and order what needs to be done well.

 

Jack Of All Trades and Master of None: 

It’s my job to do it all!  An inability to delegate is one of the worst blows to productivity. No one person can accomplish everything. Nothing is getting done with excellence while everything is a little bit mediocre.  Make a list of all of your responsibilities.  What MUST you do yourself?  What does your leadership say HAS to be in your hands?  Then what is left?  This is what you delegate. You’re right no one will ever do it as well as you do. However, the more you give away, the more others become invested.

There are so many other ways productivity is lost. I can think of times when my vision for ministry wasn’t clear or when I failed to communicate that vision.

The point is to identify what gets you “stuck” and then to work on that ONE thing first…

What is your productivity vacuum?

Leneita