Thursday, March 29, 2007

Way too Cool

Have you seen this article from the NYT? Brittany Bergquist, 16, and her brother, Robbie, 15, started "Cell Phones for Soldiers" three years ago (when they were middle school students) and since have raised more than $1 million for phone cards for soldiers. WOW! I love stories like this. Students who do make a global difference in a big way.

Volunteer Staff Team

One of the things I have always known, but often times have neglected anyway has been investment into our volunteer staff team. Now, I’m not saying we’re miserable or anything, in fact, I think the team we have in place right now is the best team we have ever had. I would say that more of our volunteer staff understand genuine ministry and love students more holistically now than at any other time in my ministry life. That being said, if ministry really does center around relationships with adults who love Jesus and love students, than, it’s extremely important for those adults to be equipped and trained to use those relationships to help students live in the Kingdom of God.

I must ask myself and evaluate myself and my own leadership in this area of training staff. I would contend that I have a long way to go in developing people who are powerfully impacting teens. I would say that those on our current team who do this well are natural at it and would do well with or with out me. What will I change when I get back to the helm of our middle school ministry that will allow be to better lead, train, and equip our volunteer staff team?

So, how are you equipping your team? What has been the best thing you’ve done or taught in the last year? What has been a valuable resource for you in this area?

A New Kind of Youth Ministry

I don’t know about you, but I always have more books on my list to read than I actually can get read. Even now, when I am on sabbatical, I’m finding it hard to get as much reading done as I would have liked (although I’m not complaining, I’m doing a lot of reading). So, you may understand why it has taken me until now to read Chris Folmsbee’s “new” book “A New Kind of Youth Ministry.” WOW! This is a great book. I liked it because it was fresh and easy to read (I read it in one afternoon). Yet, I also liked it because, even though it was easy to read, it will be a source for chewing on for quite some time.

Interesting, one of the things I am really enjoying on my sabbatical is the opportunity I have to visit other ministries in our area. It’s great to see my friends in action and experience their context. Yet, with Chris’ book as a backdrop, I would say that every church I have visited (mine included) has a long way to go if we are to really be “new kinds of youth ministries.” There are a number of things many are doing well and a number of things that I would suggest we need to rethink.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Fun Game

My six year old is adicted to this game (he's gotten the daily high score on the site a few times). It's pretty fun.

What's our Responsibility?

As youth workers, we may be more in tune with things like this (an NYT article about a Texas Teenager who died and came back to life after playing a choking game), than the parents of the teens we serve. So, if we are more aware of some of the things that go on in youth culture, what is our responsibility in getting the word out. On the one hand, we don't want to be alarmists and cause unneeded worry. On the other hand, we don't want to neglect the fact that teens in our ministries do stupid stuff all the time. What do you think?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Want to help?

If you have been reading my blog at all, you know that I am in the middle of a 12 week sabbatical (this is awesome and I feel incredibly blessed to have a church which grants this Sabbath rest). One of the things I have been wanting to do for some time is to think about the future of young teen ministry. Part of my sabbatical, as I proposed it, is to be spent thinking about this in the context of my church and ministry. For this reason, I have put together a set of questions that I have been wrestling with.

This is where you can help if you want. I am in the process of setting up one hour phone interviews to talk through these questions. If you would be willing to give me an hour of your time, I would love to ask for your thoughts on my thoughts. The only requirement is that you are in full-time junior high ministry. You can be in a church or para-church or some other ministry. As long as you work with young teens, I’d love to talk with you.

If you would like to see the basic questions prior to talking with me or deciding if you want to talk with me, you can find them here. I will not get through all these questions with everyone, but you’ll get an idea of what I’m looking to ask.

If you would like to participate, please leave me a comment and give me your email address. We’ll go from there.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

I have finally finished my struggle through a very THICK book. Not thick in terms of pages (although it was not thin there either), but THICK in terms of content. WOW! What a ride. I’m sure I’ll be digesting this one for a while. The book is “Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity” by Nancy Pearcey. This was not an easy read for me, but well worth it. Let me try to explain why without boring you.

In our church, we have come to adopt a four chapter view of the Gospel story. This is not our idea and not a new idea, but it makes a ton of sense to me. The story the way we understand it starts not with the two story idea of sin and salvation, but with Creation. We and the world are created by God and the way God created us was good. The way things were created was the way it “OUGHT” to be. We came into the world, however, and took God’s plan into our own hands and did our own thing. Thus, sin enters the world and screws things up. This is the way it “IS” but not the way it “OUGHT” to be. The solution is redemption - God’s plan for resorting not only man, but the world to Himself. When we look at this plan, we see the way the world “CAN” be if we follow God’s plan. Finally, we look down the road to a new creation. A time when God’s plan will again come to perfection and the world “WILL” be the way it was created to be once again. As creations of God, we are called to live within His plan, to help fulfill His plan, to help restore the world and all that is in it (including people). Nancy Pearsey uses a three chapter version of this message (she combines chapters three and four) and explains why it is so compelling and why it is so helpful in her book.

A bottom line is summarizing this book might be to say it helps one form a more complete Christian worldview. I know that this may not sound fun and to some, it may even sound ugly (the notion of worldview is often misrepresented and therefore discarded). Yet, I believe Mrs. Pearcey is right on track in saying that everyone has a worldview and we must not only understand our view, but know more about how that worldview answers some of life’s most important questions. As Christians, and as youth leaders, we have done a good job of helping people know “the facts” but we don’t always help people connect the dots. Let me explain a bit more…

A helpful insight that Mrs. Pearcey brings out is the bifurcation of the mind. Our world (and Pearcey traces the roots as to how we got to where we are today) separates life into to realms, fact and value. Facts are the things that deal in science and empirical evidence. These are the things that can be “known.” Values are connected with religion and are held as subjective. Our culture has made the realm of “fact” to be what we talk about in the public square and the realm of “value” to be confined to the private life of an individual and the two have no connection, no relevance to one another. Therefore your private value system has no business in determining the public policy for this or that. You can see examples of this everywhere, from President Clinton’s scandal, to the “battle cry” discussion on marko’s blog. Of course the problems raised by ron luce and his ministry are a problem for the city of san fran. But the city is not going to listen to what ron has to say because he is dealing in value and they have no traction in the public square where fact rules the day. As ministries we must reculture and re-architect our language and the arguments we have in order to be heard in the public square and ultimately make a difference in redeeming our world.

How is this relevant to junior high ministry? Good question. I need to process this a lot in order to be equipped to answer that fully. However, if we are not helping students see the dichotomous life they are living when they place their faith in that “value” realm and pull it out only on Sunday, then we set them up for a miserable failure in post high school life when they are picked apart by people who can pick apart some of the “holes” in their faith system. If we don’t show students how to connect their faith with every part of their life and how it answers all of life’s hardest questions what good are we doing? If all we’re doing is transferring information, we may create good Bible quizzers or “good Christian kids” but will we see life transformation? Will we see students fall in love with Jesus? Will we see students really know whom we are asking them to love? Will we help students see that life with Jesus is about living in His Kingdom now, not gaining access to heaven later?


I just finished a novel called “abduction” by Robin Cook. It was entertaining, but had some of the interesting view of a “brave new world.” A world is “discovered” beneath the ocean floor and five members of a drilling crew are abducted into it. The story is easy to read and follow. What was more interesting was the type of society that lived in this new world. This world (atlantis is described as a part of this world) has no violence and no death. People’s “essence” is extracted from their bodies and placed into a new body when one is ready. The new bodies are grown in a hatching center. I loved the author’s thoughts on some of the world’s myths, like Atlantis, and the ending was a good twist. However, I felt like it ended without much closure.

Monday, March 12, 2007

What a Weekend...

This was a crazy weekend. My parents were in town for a visit (a lot of fun, but the usual stress on my wife having the in-laws stay the weekend – nothing bad, just the normal stress – perceived or real). We had some fun plans for Friday night and then my older daughter got sick, so we modified the plans a bit. However, on top of that, my friend Sean Meade was in town for ENCORE, an event by Stuck In The Middle, Sean’s ministry. Anyway, I was on the docket to do a seminar for volunteers on Saturday afternoon (not hard – he asked me to do the same gig on small groups I did for YS in the fall). So far, nothing too out of the ordinary. Enter the weird phone call on Friday morning. Sean calls me at 9:00 am and says, “dude, Jason (main stage speaker for Friday night) had outpatient surgery yesterday and can’t come for the weekend, can you speak at TONIGHT’s general session?” Holy Cow! Now, it’s important to note that after speaking to junior high students for sixteen years, this is not real hard, but 650 kids who are paying to be at a conference and are expecting someone really good and really funny adds a bit more stress to the deal. Well, after about 90 minutes of preparation (remember my parents are here and we had a bunch of plans for the day already), I got up and did the opening session for Sean. You’ll have to ask them how it went – I thought it was pretty good – but I’m a bit bias.

On a sad note, but another factor in our weekend, a great lady in our church (and also our small group) passed away Wednesday after a ten-year bought with cancer. The services were this weekend adding yet one more item to the plate (again, not lamenting the services, but rather the irony of “when it rains, it pours”).

Last night as my wife and I were lying in bed (for the hour I was there before my six year old got up and I had to move to the living room floor with him up half the night), we were commenting on how full we feel like our schedule is on my sabbatical. I guess, for some dumb reason, we thought our lives would slow down for these weeks. What were we thinking – we have four kids who are involved in stuff.

Interesting Article...

Saw this article this morning on teenage moodiness. It was an interesting read.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Dead Sea Scrolls

Yesterday I had the chance to spend the morning with our church staff downtown at an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was in some ways less than what I expected, but in most ways, it was truly awe inspiring. There are over 100,000 fragments of scrolls that were found in the caves of Qumran. Yet, most of them are small pieces and therefore are not impressive in size. However, when you think about the fact that you are seeing a fragment from the Bible that was written over 2.000 years ago, that's really impressive.

One other thing that was way different than I expected was how small the writing on the scroll was. I guess I assumed that because everything was copied by hand, the writting would be a "normal" written size (maybe around a 12 to 14 pt font). Yet, the scrolls had what I would classify as more of a 9 point font with all the intricacy of Hebrew and Aramaic lettering. WOW!

KC Brigade

Sunday my two sons and I hit Kemper Arena here in KC for the home opener of the arena football league Kansas City Brigade. Last year, the Brigade was 3-13 and very pathetic. This year, with a less than impressive "grand enterence" the Brigade came out and kicked some Chicago butt. It was a ton of fun.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Family Ministry

This has become more and more of a buzz word in youth ministry circles, but what does it really mean? It has been something my heart has been beating for, but I’m not really sure how to “take it to the next level.” Currently, in our ministry, we seek to help, equip, and encourage the family by…

  • providing weekly resources for communication between parents and teens
  • providing weekly communication to families through our website and broadcast emails
  • providing periodic parent forums for training and development of parenting and communication skills
  • providing a few fun moments where parents and teens can connect in a friendly environment

What I would like to see happen is to bolster these efforts. I’d really like to see students and parents talking more. Some of the reasons I think many do not communicate would include…

  • parents may not really know how or where to start
  • parents may actually be scared of communication
  • students view it as boring and irrelevant
  • students feel threatened because every time a parent tries to communicate it turns into a “grip” session where they are in trouble

So, as a ministry leader, one of my burdens is to see communication strengthened. Is this realistic? Is it possible? What is the role of the church in this process? How do we go about really helping instead of playing lip service to the entire idea? If you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them. If you know someone who is doing this well (or some part of family ministry well), I’d love to get their name so I could talk with them personally.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Damnation Street

Last night I finished a new mystery novel called “Damnation Street” by Andrew Klavan. I have not read any of his other books, but he has won a few Edger awards for his mystery writing, so I thought I’d read this newest effort. It was engaging, but I’m not much of a literary critic, so I don’t know if it was well written. I did enjoy the twists and the unique writing style. It was a bit more “edgy” than I expected. Pretty racy and crude, but still a very engaging story.

What I liked the most about this novel is Andrew is a Christian and the book was not a Christian book. It seems that, as an artist, he has been able to engage the world and live the Christian life without swimming in the mire that often is bad Christian literature. Here’s an excerpt from an article in World Magazine about Mr. Klavan.

Andrew Klavan is an unusual combination: He writes detective novels filled with depictions of human depravity, and he's now a Christian. It shouldn't be an unusual combination, because an understanding of man's sinfulness, along with a glimpse of God's holiness, often makes us realize our desperate need for Christ. And yet Christian fiction has a reputation for being too nice to take on vice.”

I’d recommend the read just for the fact of finding good work done by a Christian that is not so “Christian.”