Monday, April 30, 2007

What will they think of next?

Amazing what teens will think of to try and "get ahead" in the world today. The question for me is "what kind of pressure do I place on my own kids that might contribute to them feeling like they must do well all the time?" Read this article here.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Volunteer Training – Community vs. Equipping

One of the things I wrestle with is how to fill our volunteer training times. Now, I’m not saying I don’t have anything to say – I always have plenty to say. Rather, I’m talking about content management. What should our times together look like. I’m wrestling with the fact that so many of the volunteer teams I have seen in the past three months and so many of the volunteers I have talked with seem ill equipped to do what we ask them to do. Let’s be honest here. We desire a relational ministry because it’s through relationships that significant ministry can take place. So, we ask our volunteers to hang out with students in and out of our program times. We desire the students in our ministry to learn, to be discipled, to grow in their faith, and some of that happens in our large groups, but we really rely more on our small groups to accomplish this. Yet, how well trained are our volunteers to lead these kinds of small groups? Is it happening? I would say that in many cases, the answer is “no, it’s not.”

Listening to volunteers has taught me they feel ill equipped to do what we ask of them. The feel like they are failing with their small group. They are stretched thin and need some help and leadership. So, when they come to our training time, what do we give them? The tools they need to successfully lead a small group, or food for their own soul, or both? Question: What would it look like if we stopped giving our volunteers another tool for their ministry toolbox, stopped giving them answers to problem a, b, and c? Instead, what would happen if we met their needs, discipled them, helped them grow closer to Christ? Would they naturally be better at doing this with students if someone did it with them? Maybe!

What role does the rest of the church play in this process though? If the volunteers in your ministry are involved in an adult small group of their own (a healthy thing to be involved with people older than 12) and they found the encouragement they needed and the soul food they needed within that context? Would you need to fill this role? Maybe we need to spend our time trying helping them learn to translate what we have gleaned as adults to the lives of the young teens they work with. Would this accomplish the goal of helping volunteers be better at discipleing students?

Now, the bottom line is there are some volunteers who do this very well (either as a result or in spite of what we have done with them). There are others, however, who may not ever be good at it no matter what we do. There are still others who, with a little push, could become great. The question is what does that push look like? We want to move our volunteers to become better at reaching our overall goal of making disciples, but we don’t want to be trying to move them to an unattainable place.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

What I'm Learning

Things I have been learning on my sabbatical – simple statements that I’ll seek to elaborate on later.

  • Training our volunteers is highly valued, but not well done
  • Volunteer leaders need to be super-human to do what we ask of them (this makes those who actually do what we ask amazing)
  • Ministry assessment is not happening very well – how well do you confront the brutal facts of how your ministry is doing?
  • Discipleship is not happening as well as we might think it is
  • Our small groups are not really accomplishing as much as we thought they would
  • Junior high students are very capable of diving into the spiritual disciplines (the old and “new” ones) as long as they are lead well
  • There are not a lot of good resources out there for junior high students. There are plenty of not so good things, but not many that are really worth much. If a student is looking for a devotional booklet or some help with a problem, don’t hold your breath for the answers to come with a simple resource

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Book Review

Just finished Walt Mueller’s book “Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture: Bridging Teen Worldviews And Christian Truth It was about what I expected having sat in on a few of his seminars though the years and regularly read his newsletters, blogs, and publications. I highly respect Walt for his approach to engaging culture. I know some would disagree with, what I would consider to be, his conservative approach to life, but I find it refreshing. I resonate with someone who can have a more conservative theology and outlook on life, and yet still has the ability to engage culture, seeing it as God sees it. As Christians we can not run and hide from culture, nor can we simply immerse ourselves blindly. We must engage it, learn from it, and work to redeem it. My biggest tension in this area how to keep up. Culture changes so fast and Walt would seem to advocate digging in to that culture for the sake of reaching those lost within it. Yet, as I look at the kids in the schools we minister to, their tastes in music and such are all over the map. It’s would be a full time job trying to understand every kid’s music. Even trying to map out the subgroups within the school is hard, there is so much diversity. It’s funny to say that when we work with middle school students who pack together, but what they like changes so fast, sometimes your head can spin. I also am not always convinced that young teens are listening to music for it’s message. Some are, but because they are so pack oriented and long for acceptance so much, I think they change what they listen to often because of who they are trying to be like or accepted by this week. They don’t listen because they connect with the lyrics, they listen because someone they want to be like likes the music. Did that make any sense? Anyway, this is a good book to read, especially as a suggestion for parents or volunteers on your team who could use a shot in the arm for understanding more of the culture their kids swim in.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Who Says Middle School Students Aren't Great?

Check out this 11 year old girl who saved her mother, brother, and herself from serious injury by stopping her mom's van when she was sick. Read it here.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Taco Bell Reflections

Last week I found myself sitting in Taco Bell with Steve Friesen (a self-proclaimed taco bell junkie). As I waited for Steve to arrive, I was listening to two cable guys talk about their jobs. They are talking about how they don’t like to work in the “rich” neighborhoods because the home owners treat them like crap. They are wondering why when they try to be so nice and go the extra mile to resolve a problem, do people treat them like dirt and call in to complain. I’m reminded to be a person of compassion. How do I view the people in life who work minimum wage jobs? Do I look down on them? Do I feel like I am entitled to something because I make more money than they do? Are they not created in God’s image just as I am? Are they not “the least of these” that Jesus talked about? How are you doing? I can do better.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Size Doesn't Matter

This past weekend, I had time to ask all my sabbatical project questions to Scott Reuben of Willow Creek. Now, I have known Scott for a few years and he has always impressed me as someone who thinks and really seeks to excel in ministry. My conversation with him this past weekend confirmed these feelings even more. One of the things I really like about Scott is his genuine humble attitude. This manifested itself this weekend in a few simple ways. First, he was willing to take time with me (okay, we have a low level ministry related friendship, but still, he has a monster of a ministry to run and probably gets a ton of requests for his time). Second, he gave me a sneak peek into some of the inner workings of the junior high ministry at Willow and he did not need to do so.

I think, for me, the thing I was most reassured with in my time with Scott and his team this weekend was size does not make things easier, it just takes the problems we all face and compounds them (in fact my group is about 15% of Willow’s and I would say that we have the same difficulties, but I deal with about 15% of the breath of those problems in comparison to Willow). Let me do what I can to challenge those of you who dream of huge ministries to stop dreaming J If God desires to entrust you with so many students, great, but don’t wish for it. The problems you face now will not run away when you have ten times the kids, ten times the staff, and ten times the budget. You’ll just get ten times the problems and you’ll still be pulling your hair out trying to be a good steward of what God has called you to do. I am glad to be serving where I am!

BTW - MarkO posted on the numbers game a few days ago, read his comments here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Have you Ever?

Thought about what a sixth grader coming into your ministry can and can’t do? I’m not sure I have given this a ton of thought. This weekend was an eye-opener for me in a few small ways. You see, as I traveled with my soon-to-be-sixth-grader-in-my-ministry son, I noticed he was not ready to do a few things I routinely ask new sixth graders to do - assuming they can do them. The most interesting of these little realizations was the fact that he has never ordered his own meal at a restaurant. Now, I know that is a sad reflection on him and even a more pathetic reflection on me, his father, but it’s true. When we go out to eat, and it does not matter if it’s a fancy place or McDonald’s, it’s always been easier for me to order for all the kids (I have four of them). It’s a pragmatic thing – we talk about what they want and I communicate it to the waiter or waitress. However, now I am just realizing that my son does not even really know how to do this. So, this weekend I made him order everything. It was quite an experience. At times, he did fine and at other times, he had some trouble. One thing was consistent – he was nervous. Can you believe that? He was nervous about ordering a chicken sandwich at McDonald’s. Now, extrapolate that to a bunch of your sixth graders and that “deer in the headlights” look when your standing at the counter on that first trip with them makes a whole lot more sense. I’m sure you are better than I in this area, but I plan to pay more attention and be much more sensitive to these sixth graders from here on out.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Very Special Weekend

I have been promoting parents talking to their kids about adolescence for a long time now, but this weekend, the talking hit home for me. My 11-year-old son, Ethan, and I embarked on a trip to Chicago together. The purpose of the trip was two fold. First, I had a few meetings with junior high pastors for my sabbatical project, but second, we were going to have a “man” weekend.

Our weekend started with Ethan getting out of half of Thursday and all of Friday from school (he did not complain). We hit the road to Chicago and began to listen to Dr. Dobson’s “Preparing for Adolescence” CD series. I will say that I don’t think there is a lot of good material out there to help parents navigate this important transitional time and although Dobson’s stuff is horribly dated (he recorded it in the late 70’s) it is still, I think, some of the best stuff out there. To clarify, what I like is that he does not just cover sex and the physical changes that will occur in the years to come (and I must say, I think he covers this subject very well), but he also talks about inferiority, conformity, love, and friends. The dated side of the material shows up in his examples and statistics. I would love to see him update these (or have one of his staff do so).

Friday put us at the Cubs game. Ethan has always been a Cubs fan (influence of his grandfather), but he had never been to Wrigley. So, naturally, we needed to get this done while we were there. It was a great day (except they fell apart in the 5th and lost by one run). We got to the stadium at 11:00 for b.p. and Ethan was initially not excited about standing around for two hours prior to game time. However, after 90 minutes he got a ball and that made everything worthwhile. An added bonus and totally a coincidence, Ethan’s grandpa and uncle were at the game and we were able to sit with them and enjoy our special day together.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


One thing that I don’t think we have enough of is good resources for junior high girls. This is a broad category because I’m talking resources for parents of teen girls, resources for youth workers about teen girls, and definitely, resources to give junior high girls weather they be devotionals that are good or just books that they can read and interact with that will help them through this turbulent time. I just finished Heather Flies’ entry into the “I Want to Talk With My Teen About…” series put out by Standard Publishing where she talks about "girl stuff". Heather is a very thoughtful and insightful female junior high youth worker. I love her stuff and have had her in for a weekend to talk to my staff about middle school girls. Her book (well, more of a booklet) is a great resource that I will pass on to my staff and parents, but what else is there? Give me your best suggestions.

(NOTE: I am currently reading “Teenage Girls” by Ginny Olsen and look forward to being able to add this to my very short list of good girl resources. I'll post on it when I'm done.)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Teenage Boys

I finished “Teenage Guys” by Steve Gerali yesterday. This is a great book worthy of recommending to your parents and staff. There are some parts that I would not totally agree with, or indorse, but, it is non-the-less a great resource for those who work with teenage boys. I hope “Teenage Girls” is equally as good.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Rained Out

Well, my lifelong dream was rained out (at least for now). My wife and I had a great few days in New York, but the highlight of the trip was to go to a Yankee game at Yankee Stadium. I have seen the Yankees play many times (in fact, they are in KC for 7 games this season), but I have never been to Yankee Stadium. My hope was to get into the stadium and absorb some of the history etc... The game was less important than the stadium - well, it was not meant to be. The rain came hard and all day and they never even opened the doors :( Bummer! My tickets are good for a year, so maybe I'll get back out there sometime.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Impacting your Neighborhood

This artilce appeared in a recent issue of "World" magazine. It's really prompts us to think about our neighborhoods in a new way. Do we really think whoistically in our approach to ministry? What do you think?

Man about town
Urban planner Christopher Leerssen sees caring about the built environment as one way Christians love their neighbors | Mindy Belz

"As a Christian architect I try to reflect the order and the creativity of our ultimate creator—to somehow point to hope and faith and many times humility through our edifices," is a straightforward statement of purpose from prize-winning architect Christopher Leerssen. The Georgia Tech graduate specializes in architecture both vertical and horizontal, serving as an urban planner in Atlanta with expertise in designing infill and urban mixed-use developments around the Southeast. Planning communities, he says, should include a biblical expression not only of beauty but also justice and mercy, where justice can be a sidewalk and mercy a bench for the homeless.

WORLD: What makes for a great community?

LEERSSEN: Some folks would say that community is only people, and I would agree partially, but I would also forward that the form or shape of the place will influence and affect how great that community can be. Truly beautiful, lovable places have both a visual loveliness and an experiential charge to them.

I would say what makes for a great community is a respect for the human. It comes from an understanding, written or unwritten, that we are image bearers of a Divine Creator. From that knowledge stems great people places: places of worship, discourse, learning, and market. My view of greatness entails well-roundedness. While rare, a free democracy is paramount; greatness cannot come on the backs of others.

WORLD: How do you translate those abstract ideas into concrete reality?

LEERSSEN: I am certain that participating in public life is a must for believers, and if there isn't that sidewalk or park or space where people rub shoulders, either start one or move to some place that has a real community. Also, when the time comes for a vote on community plans and zoning, don't be afraid of people different from you (smaller houses) or of density (apartments). A compact urban form is necessary for an ecologically sustainable future and fiscally, a dense city is easier to service, police, and beautify.

WORLD: How does the design of traffic flow patterns and streetscapes advance the kingdom of God?

LEERSSEN: Traffic can either give or take away time to be with other people—family, strangers or otherwise. And streetscapes and their sidewalks are the bedrock to good public space—they are the glue that holds diverse neighborhoods together.

WORLD: Are big-box stores and mega-malls then unbiblical?

LEERSSEN: No, not really. They certainly serve a purpose in commerce; however, their deleterious impacts on community, traffic, other businesses, and the environment should not be overlooked. As with any business you should ask if the manner in which they deliver the product is ethical and in line with what you believe. We all can display a slick form of greed when we price shop to an extreme. Price warring has resulted in shopping centers that look like they dropped from outer space—they are entirely auto-oriented and far from a beautiful or uplifting human environment.

WORLD: You have said, "A powerful tool for the spread of the gospel is lost when our public realm is dismantled." What do you mean by dismantling and what can be done to reverse it?

LEERSSEN: Dismantling the public realm starts with building inward-looking, privately focused developments, be they single-family homes with garages at the street or gated apartments, all linked by roads that have no sidewalks. Or take the schools that are only accessed via automobile, fenced in and off limits, having no real connection to their surrounds and engendering no other public activities at any time of the day.

Where do religions have their greatest impact? Dispersed through the countryside or in the network hubs where new ideas and change are a given? Where did the early apostles go—to the outskirts or to the center? Reversing our inward-focused mindset entails loving to be with other people at the park, on the way to work, at the school. Loving to know your neighbors and to have the opportunity to serve them is paramount to spreading the gospel.

WORLD: Is there a specific role for churches in this process? Do churches resist civic engagement as "not direct ministry"?

LEERSSEN: Certainly, churches and their buildings should be less clubby, private affairs and more of that common ground for "the Church" proper to interact with the outside world and skeptics. Churches could open wide their doors by hosting art shows, financial seminars, offering mercy, and musical performances—invite the public in and create that haven for public discourse.

Churches are also buildings. Congregations must have a very good understanding architecturally how their master plan contributes to the fabric of the community. The church could regain some of her stature and prominence in our communities if congregations would locate and design their site in such a way to be less insulated and boring.

Many churches these days, when expanding their facilities, look for the 10-20 acre site on cheap land with good access (Sound like a familiar story? Think big retail). This ensures the church is only accessible by automobile and probably nowhere near any preexisting human activity in the community—it's no wonder we've lost some of our connection with the world.

The better scenario is to look for the spot near some nexus of human energy and build a church which fits into that context. The really exciting hybrid of that positive scenario is when churches also play developer (likely through a partnership of sorts) and add housing or major mercy facilities into their master plan.

WORLD: Since Atlanta is your hometown—and to many a maze of overbuilt freeways and endless shopping meccas—how do you interact with locals to improve your own public realm?

LEERSSEN: Hotlanta—the city too busy to hate. Its energy and youthfulness are intoxicating, but from a planning and architectural standpoint we've grown inebriated with our success and grown too fast. It really is a fantastic laboratory to test out various patterns of building a city: solid intown neighborhoods with transit, walkability, historic properties, and decent retail; first-ring suburbs that are for the most part imploding due to an exodus of fleeing families and downward real-estate values; second-ring suburbs that seem to do OK but are stiflingly boring; and the exurbs, which is a horse farm next to gated cul-de-sac that could go on quite literally till Tennessee. Frankly, due to our abuses of the land, we are returning back to time-honored principles of city building.

We all have to help locally, and for me that means serving on the board of my neighborhood and chairing our zoning committee. There very local decisions about density and design and streetscapes are made as we negotiate with developers and landowners. I attend planning workshops and interact with the process, and many times end up angling for the rights of the poor, the elderly and car-less.

My family also sits on our porch a good bit; we take walks and are available for neighbors. We make use of our parks and sidewalks and trails so that we can enliven and reinforce the idea of being with other humans. We walk to dinner, to shopping, and to transit, saying hello usually to more than one neighbor. Once the coffee shop opens up, we'll be there, too. We don't watch a lot of TV—we'd prefer to interact with ruddy faces, not glowing ones.

WORLD: What can fellow Christians do to improve the growth of their communities in meaningful and practical ways?

LEERSSEN: Be more mindful of the physical spaces around you—begin to ask yourself some questions about the places in which you dwell. Are your daily places those where you have the opportunity to interact with other image bearers? What does your commute do for you? Are you active in your neighborhood—allowing you to more fully know and love your neighbors? Is your church active in its (maybe the same) neighborhood? Community is both physical and nonphysical, but God gives us the capacity to dwell in and improve both.

Monday, April 02, 2007

New York Here I Come

I head to New York with my wife tomorrow morning for a three day get away. The highlight of the trip is heading to see my beloved Yankees play on Wednesday. I have like the Yankees since I was a kid and have never been to Yankee Stadium. I told our executive pastor this (another Yankee fan) and he got me tickets to a game in New York for a sabbatical gift from our church staff (another reason why my church rocks). Although the weather looks to be mid 50's and raining, we are really excited (you need to understand that my wife is a bigger baseball fan than I am, so she's really looking forward to the trip as well).