Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How Blessed am I.

After watching this, I am again reminded of just how blessed my family is. In fact, I had to get another box of tissue. How often we take life for granted.

Lord, thank you for my wife, thank you for my children, and thank you for another Christmas to enjoy.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Deep Question

Today, I'd like to pose a question.

Not just any questions. It is a deep question, I pose not only to, but for myself as well.

Begin to imagine with me that one day the US government comes on T.V., much like they do, and say "Word from the White House." Imagine that we were to see our president step behind that podium and tell the American people that we are forbidden pray for the next three days.

Reactions might vary from "No big deal right? I mean, it's just three days?" to "What, what is he talking about? Our government can't control us like that. They can't tell us what to do. The president shouldn't be able to take away our rights to religion" and everything in between.

So that brings me to a couple questions. If that scenario were indeed true, would I be more concerned that the government was trying to control me or would I be more upset with my legal inability to communicate with Jesus Christ? Now you take a second to think about that. What would your response be? If we are upset that our legal rights are being infringed more than we are heartbroken over the loss of freely communicating with our Savior - who gave everything for us - then the question should be - who are you worshipping?

Next question. If our government were to take it a step further, and say that if anyone is caught praying, he/she would receive a 2yr prison sentence, how would you then react? Would you react in the way I wrote earlier - no big deal right? I mean, it's just three days? Or would you take the risk and go ahead and pray? 2 years is a long time to be away from your kids, parents, spouse, your bed, your stuff, your freedom.

Lest you think this is just some silly analogy, this scenario has not only been a reality, it was strongly enforced.

Let's take a look into a part of Daniel's life.

Daniel 6:1 -3 Darius reorganized his kingdom. He appointed one hundred twenty governors to administer all the parts of his realm. Over them were three vice-regents, one of whom was Daniel. The governors reported to the vice-regents, who made sure that everything was in order for the king.

6 -7 The vice-regents and governors conspired together and then went to the king and said, "King Darius, live forever! We've convened your vice-regents, governors, and all your leading officials, and have agreed that the king should issue the following decree:
For the next thirty days no one is to pray to any god or mortal except you, O king. Anyone who disobeys will be thrown into the lions' den.

8 "Issue this decree, O king, and make it unconditional, as if written in stone like all the laws of the Medes and the Persians."

9 King Darius signed the decree.

10 When Daniel learned that the decree had been signed and posted, he continued to pray just as he had always done. His house had windows in the upstairs that opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he knelt there in prayer, thanking and praising his God.

11 -12 The conspirators came and found him praying, asking God for help. They went straight to the king and reminded him of the royal decree that he had signed. "Did you not," they said, "sign a decree forbidding anyone to pray to any god or man except you for the next thirty days? And anyone caught doing it would be thrown into the lions' den?"
"Absolutely," said the king. "Written in stone, like all the laws of the Medes and Persians."

13 Then they said, "Daniel, one of the Jewish exiles, ignores you, O king, and defies your decree. Three times a day he prays."

14 At this, the king was very upset and tried his best to get Daniel out of the fix he'd put him in. He worked at it the whole day long.

15 But then the conspirators were back: "Remember, O king, it's the law of the Medes and Persians that the king's decree can never be changed."

19 -20 At daybreak the king got up and hurried to the lions' den. As he approached the den, he called out anxiously, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve so loyally, saved you from the lions?"

21 -22 "O king, live forever!" said Daniel. "My God sent his angel, who closed the mouths of the lions so that they would not hurt me. I've been found innocent before God and also before you, O king. I've done nothing to harm you."

Oh to have a heart like Daniel. A heart that quickly obeys without question or concern.

So here's yet another question: Would American Christian be upset if our government took away our freedom of religion and open prayer? Or is it even something we deem worthy of standing for?

Its easy to say we'd stand for our right to pray, but I would venture to guess that most of our stand would be based on our feeling of political infringement. Research shows that 4 out of 5 adults claim to have prayed ONCE in the past week. Alarming statistics that should make us all tremble. That statistic alone shoes an attitude of lukewarmness, and not a desire to be with Christ or the very least, a desire to connect with our Savior. We lack a desire to be like Daniel.

I leave you with the deepest question of them all - How's your prayer life?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Philosophy of Ministry

Just last week, a prospective church asked me to BRIEFLY write my philosophy of ministry.

This posed quite the challenge for Meredith and I.

Not because we don't have ideas and methods that we believe allows ministry to be most effective, but because we had to do it BRIEFLY!

But here it is. We tried our hardest to give the church an idea of who we were while emphasizing our strong love, desire, and heart to see families working together to fulfill the Great Commission.

At the age of 15, God placed a call on my life to surrender wholly to full-time ministry. Since that fateful day, as a young teenager, my passion and surrender to ministry has never wavered. My ideas and philosophy of ministry, however, has altered, grown, and deepened with each opportunity, as I strive to minister more and more as Jesus would have. While I do not have all the answers, and while I continue to learn more and more about how to reach the unreachable, I am encouraged as I strive to do ministry as simply as possible, and with one main target in mind – the family.

Typically, in most American churches, ministry venues are segregated - Children, youth, singles, seniors, etc. But in recent years, I have studied Reggie Joiner’s Think Orange concept and have come to agree with it. No longer should ministries function as separate entities, but rather, we should be placing our focus on putting all ministry areas under one banner – the family. I believe it is the responsibility of every minister to use his/her ministry focus as a portal to reaching the entire family. God has established the family as the first institution. Therefore it is our responsibility and privilege to equip the family in biblical truth and discipleship methods in order to change the world for Jesus Christ.

The children’s minister has the opportunity to use his/her influence with young children as an avenue to reaching that child’s entire family. A recreation pastor has the chance to show the love of Christ to mom, dad, sister, and brother, through youth summer soccer programs, adult basketball leagues, or running the church gymnasium. No matter the calling, each minister should use his specific focus of ministry to help reach an entire family.

In my personal calling to students, I have tried to focus every intent, activity, and event with the purpose in mind of reaching the entire family. During summer camps, I encourage parents to come to early morning prayer meetings at the church to specifically pray over their student. I give parents curriculum parallel to what students are learning, in hopes that continued study will go on within the home. I have sought counsel from a youth parent advisory board, set in place to keep me accountable and be the voice of parents. These activities, and others, are just examples of ways I have had the opportunity to see my philosophy of ministry put to work.

It has been said that if you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time. It is my desire to not only set in place a direct purpose for ministry, but to aim at hitting it with excellence. As I strive to use my God-given opportunities to reach families for Jesus Christ, I am setting in place opportunities for God to change an entire generation.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Toys & Heaven

Last night, my wife had planned a Girls Night Out at our house.

Now, if you are like me, when you hear the words "Girls Night Out," images come flying to mind of women chatting a hundred miles an hour, watching cry-your-eyes-out-movies, discussing the latest good read, and eating piles of chocolate. Well, this girls night out was no different.

Of course, that is no safe plae for a husband - of his three kiddos.

So I did what any good dad would do - I took them to parooze the aisle of Target.

Now, I hope you aren't like my wife and are distracted by the children standing in the cart that you miss the cuteness of this photo.

I love this photo for so many reasons.

First of all, I love that it provides me with a visual memory of a great evening. I love when I get to spend time with my family. Besides my relationship with Jesus, they are the most important things on the list. Hanging out with my three children is one of the most rewaring responsibilities I have ever been given. I am thankful everyday for God giving me the divine priviledge of being their daddy.

Secondly, I love the awe-struck looks upon all of their faces. They stand in wonder and amazement as their eyes take in all the colors and beauty of the new toys just within an arm's reach.

I couldn't help but imagine what my face might look like someday, as I embrace Heaven and an eternity with my heavenly Father. I imagine it might look much like my kids faces tonight. Standing, quietly, soaking it all in. Wanting to scream and yell at the top of my lungs and shout for joy at the beauty of it all.

My kids had seen commercials for these very toys. They have flipped through Toys'R'Us catalogs, and made their Christmas wishlists. But there is nothing like seeing them, upclose, to truly appreciate how wonderful those toys really are.

I have read descriptions of Heaven in the Bible, and imagined what it might look like. I have seen paintings from world-renowned artists depicting their prognosis of Heaven. And yet, until we reach it, we will never full know. Never fully comprehend. Never fully understand what God has so perfectly prepared for us.

All I do know, is my heart aches for the day when I will meet my Maker face to face and truly understand His great love for me. In the meantime, though, I will keep enjoying nights like tonight and doing my best to raise three children that will change this world for Christ.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Q & A

Because one of the reasons for starting this blog was to give prospective churches a better understanding of who I am and my heart for ministry, I, from time to time, like to post applicable questions and my answers to those questions, to help achieve that goal.

So here are a few. Feel free to leave feedback on your own ideas and answers.

(*Disclaimer - all these questions have been asked of me in the interview process, I can't take credit for the questions!)

How would you “in a nutshell” describe what a “successful” student ministry looks like?

Youth groups are often measured by the number of people in attendance; however, I feel it should be measured by the number and depth of changed lives. Youth ministry is an on-going process where the goals and tasks are constantly changing and there isn’t a finish line on this side of Heaven. However, there are key things, as a student minister, that I am always striving to see amidst my students and amidst my ministry.

First and foremost, I long to reach students and bring them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I pray that the student ministry is equipping disciples to further the Gospel and reach their schools and communities for Christ. A God-centered student ministry should be reproducing itself, not by my works, but by the passion of excited and energized students, on fire for Christ. A thriving ministry has students who pray, speak truth, ask tough questions, show love, desire life-change, and are reaching and making a true impact on a community.

I personally believe a successful student ministry should be reaching not only the student, but the entire family as well. It is my job, as well as the other adult volunteers, to walk alongside the family amidst this daunting task of raising teenagers. I want to see life changes in students, but also see families being strengthened in Christ.

How are you growing personally as a leader?

Of course, within my ministry, I am always striving to grow and mature as a leader. I meet with fellow student ministers, gather new ideas, attend enrichment conferences, and submit myself to the accountability of a mentor. I am always striving to better myself in every area of ministry from administration to sermon writing.

In my personal life, I am listening to pod casts (Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, David Platt, etc) keeping a journal, reading books, and getting involved in ministries away from my own church ministry. I strive to be a godly husband and father as I lead my home to be one that is centered upon Jesus Christ. It is my goal to never be satisfied with performance, and I long to constantly better myself in every area of leadership – both personally and professionally.

What is your process for recruiting/developing adult volunteer leaders?

Proverbs 11:14 says, “Without wise leadership, a nation falls; with many counselors, there is safety.” I cannot imagine a student ministry without adult volunteer leaders. Each one plays such a key role in helping make decisions and in making an impact in the lives of students. It is impossible for me to have deep relationships with every student, so I rely heavily on my adult volunteers to help in any and all areas of ministry.

I once heard a wise youth communicator give a model for adult volunteer leadership. The leadership cycle: find them, train them, empower them, challenge them, and find more. It is my desire to perfectly emulate this cycle.

For recruiting volunteers, I begin to look for people who are called to minister to students. I extend a personal invitation, cast a vision for where I see the student ministry going, and invite them to join us. I have developed a checklist of Biblical requirements that each volunteer must adhere to and standards by which they must abide. Examples of requirements are having a personal relationship with Jesus, being able to share with others the plan of salvation, attend church regularly, thoroughly prepare for each lesson, be in good standings with the church, and submitting to volunteer development. Once a covenant, agreeing upon those terms, has been signed, I would immediately begin putting their talents into action.

After an initial group is formed, I begin asking my already-established volunteers for recommendations and suggestions. I want all who are willing, able, and meet the requirements to find a place to serve within the student ministry.

Developing volunteers is most effectively achieved with constant, ongoing communication. I like to hold monthly meetings to make sure we are all on the same page. I like to meet one-on-one (or with my wife when meeting with female leaders), so that I can have a better understanding as to the heart of each volunteer and the progress each one is making. I believe it is also important to hold a biannual evaluation of adult volunteers. It is a time for me to evaluate them, as well as a time for them to cast light onto my weaknesses and to expose areas of growth and potential.

*This an area I am striving to improve on, and I hope with each experience, that I am becoming more efficient in this area.

What is your process for developing student leaders?

Matthew 20:26 says, “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” This is often a very difficult principle for Christians to understand. Most students want to become leaders because they want to be in the limelight or the center of attention. However, this is not Christ’s example. If you want to be a leader, not just a student leader, but a Christian leader, you must learn to lead like Jesus and serve others.

Therefore, I strive to develop student leaders through discipleship and accountability followed by finding a place to serve. Whether it be outside the walls of the church - through service projects and mission trips - to right in our own ministry by running the sound booth or stacking chairs – finding a place to serve is essential. Those who are doing the work of the ministry by serving others – that is a true leader.

As always, feel free to contact me or leave some feedback! Hope you found this helpful.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Who are we kidding?

Have you ever been sitting in church and there is someone, not too far away, being a little disruptive? How about a student across the room that seems to not get the "subtle hint" from the usher? Or that teenager that is too busy texting on the phone or passing notes to his neighbor?

Yeah, I know! When I'm sitting in church, I want to hear the sermon, I want to get the the points down on my outline, I want focus on what I can get out of it, and I want...

So, my next question would be this - As Christians what/who is church for?

I think, so many times we get caught up in what we can get out of church that we lose one of the purposes of church. Now remember I didn't say "The Church." There is a difference: "The Church" is a group of individuals, gathering together, who all have one thing in common - a saving knowledge of who Jesus Christ is. On the flipside, church is a place that people, unbelievers and believers, meet and hear the Gospel.

That's right, unbelievers. And what can I expect from one that doesn't have a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ? With years of experience dealing with teenagers, and many coming for their first time, they are walking into a place that is intimidating. "The Church" can sometimes do a poor job of welcoming one who doesn't look or act like them. But why should they? Remember they are not; they don't have a relationship that has transformed their life. Some churches have traditions and rituals that can easily say to an unbeliever, "I have to do this," "I have to remember these," or "I have to look/dress this way to be one of them," and that to a non-believer is an unobtainable expectation.

The question is: What or Who is church for?

If you will, let me break it down to two different types of people.

The unbeliever or non-believer come in with very little "church manners," if any. Why do we hold them to this standard of knowing how to act? It reminds me of my own children. I know I have told them how to act. I know I have told them to obey the first time. Do they always do it? NO! Why, because they are still filled with a sin nature. And because they are young and don't have a relationship with the Savior, Jesus Christ, which means they don't have the Holy Spirit guiding them and giving them discernment. Just because I have told them once, doesn't give me the right to belittle or scold them when they don't live out the standard I expect from them. Instead, I gently and patiently walk with them and guide them. I want them to know I love them and I accept them. Now I don't like or accept their behavior, but I want them to be around me so I can point them in the right direction on a path that will hopefully lead to a personal relatinoship with Jesus.

Now, the believer. What is the role of the believer in church? Okay you ready for this? Because, according to Scripture, you have a huge responsibility. After this you are going to wish I hadn't posted this for you to read. But it is pretty simple: Serve, Pray, Give, and Understand.

You say, "I do all those things." I believe you. I do! I think that most true believers are doing all those things. But we are going about them all wrong.

Did you know that statistics say that this Millennial Generation, some 75 million, only 4% have a relationship with Jesus Christ? Let me help you out, 9 out of 10 people, 25 yrs old and younger, will spend eternity separated from God. And we are concerned about how they are dressed, how they act, or how loud they play their music. Seriously, is that what we are so concerned about? Forget the fact that 9 out of 10 of them are going to spend an eternity in Hell. Churches have gone about it wrong for years now. The church has been more concerned about "whats in it for me," that we are watching a generation come and go without a Savior. But as long as I'm comfortable. Yeah, as long as I'm comfortable!

I said it's simple; but yet there is a lot of responsibility.

Serve: As a believer God has not called you to sit in a chair (pew) and be comfortable. Get out their a make a difference. Volunteer, lead small group, provide doughnuts, or drop a note in the mail.

Pray: Believers need to be praying for each other and for the next generation.

Give: Time, Gifts, and Abilities. What is it going to take to reach the next generation? What can you offer to reach them?

Understand: Here is where a lot of folks are going to click the red X at the top right corner of the screen. But as believers we have to understand that church is for those that don't have a relationship with Jesus Christ. If you church is not trying to reach the lost, than I would say that you are amidst a church filled with a bunch of warm, comfortable bodies. We have got to UNDERSTAND that we have to be a house all about reaching the next generation.

Matthew 19:13-15 paints a great picture of who Jesus is drawn to.

"Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

"The Church" has abused church for far too long and has made it a place where they are comfortable. Church needs to be a house for the next generation. For the 9 out of 10 to come and hear about the power that can transform their lives.

I know that Matthew 18: 2-5 is about spiritual birth. But who did Jesus pick? A child. Why didn't he call out an adult?

Don't kid yourselves any longer - be "The Church" that is really reaching the next generation.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Burning Question: Do You Hate

As I was surfing the world wide web, I came across this video. Now, please hear me when I say, I don't support nor would I recommend you watching or listing to any stand-up material that comes from Mr. Penn and Teller, but in this rare instance, Mr Teller speaks truth that I think we can all learn from..

Knowing that Penn is not quiet about his Atheistic views, the title had me thinking; "Has he given his life to Jesus Christ?" "How awesome would that testimony be?"

Well, I didn't hear him profess to giving his life as a believer, nor did I hear him say that he believes in Christ. But what he does say makes me think about the way I see others.

Take about 5 minutes and listen to his experience with a professing Christian, and then the point he makes about sharing your faith.

"How much do you have to hate someone, not to tell them about eternal life..." As I watched this and listened to his comments I began to see people in my own life that I love and care about very deeply. How much it would pain me to watch them suffer. How I would do anything to keep them from getting hit by a bus barreling down the street. How I could never just sit back and do nothing. All these thoughts. All these questions. All these images of desperate attempts to reach out. And yet, one thing kept resonating with me; "how much do you have to hate someone?"

I wouldn't say that I hate anybody. Maybe just the NY Yankees, but who doesn't? But I honestly can't think of anybody that I hate. Now, when Penn says, asks the daunting question of hate, my mind immediately began asking a burning question that I would urge you to consider. If you're a follower of Christ and have this free gift of eternal life; if you know the power that is in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, what is stopping you from sharing it? You may never sit and watch someone get hit by a bus, but everyday we sit back and watch our neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family take one step closer to a forever in Hell.

I was saddened to not hear Mr. Penn say that he had given his life to Christ. But don't miss this point.

Those people you talk with on a daily basis, the ones that live as though God doesn't exist, that family member that you know isn't a believer, or that neighbor that sleeps in on Sunday; how much do you hate them? Before you answer, contemplate your actions, and then ask - What's the difference?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Back to School

This past weekend, I had the privilege of helping my brother-in-law move in to his freshman college dorm room.

To be honest, it made me feel old, knowing that most of the kids on campus were a good ten years younger than me. It also made me feel claustrophobic. I mean, have you seen the size of dorm rooms these days?

It brought me back to my days in college and how different times were - just a mere 6 years ago. I watched these incoming freshman bring in their Mac Book Pros, their high-tech refrigerators, and their 52" plasma TVs. I quickly recited the tenth commandment.

Ironically, I didn't see many backpacks, alarm clocks, and pencils. When I asked my brother-in-law about it, he responded, "My backpack is my computer bag, my alarm clock is my phone, and I haven't owned a pencil since the 5th grade." Duly Noted.

It is more than just technology that has changed since my days in college. Students these days are facing more and more challenges emotionally and spiritually, than even my generation did, and unfortunately, statistics are proving it.

According to recent research somewhere between 70 and 88 percent of Christian teenagers are leaving the church by their second year in college (Voddie Baucham, Family Driven Faith, 10).

As I sat on that campus last Saturday, I couldn't help but ask myself, someone who is devoting his life into making statistics like that disappear, where am I failing? What am I, and my fellow youth pastors doing wrong?

I wish the answer was an easy one. I do think, there are some changes that the American church can make, however, to see this number dwindle. And it must first start at home.

As stated earlier, the importance of colliding ministry and family is key to any successful student ministry. We as youth pastors, must reach out and minister to the student, and extend it further to mom and dad. At best, I might see a student three times a week. Twice at our weekly meetings and once at a function, sporting event, or other gathering. This leaves a lot of room in between. But imagine the impact if mom and dad were on God's side. If a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a healthy relationship with the church is important to mom and dad - chances are, they will have a strong sense to pass that along to their child.

Now before you starting calling me naive and simple-minded, I know that not every family situation can be like that. But shouldn't we try? "Well, he doesn't come from a good home, and mom and dad don't stress that as important at home..." I bet I hear something like as an excuse for a child's behavior on a daily basis. And while some of that is true - let's get in the business of changing the home then! Give me an address and let's go make a house call. If nothing else, you will have begun a relationship with a parent and further gained trust and support.

So, how else can we keep those college freshman in the pews?

Get them out of the pews.

Or in my case - get them out of the horribly uncomfortable metal folding chairs that seem to follow me to EVERY youth ministry I have been a part of.

With every passing generation, it gets to be a little more "me" focused. What can you do for me? What can I get out of it? Well how is that going to help me? Me Me Me....

But, I can't say that American church does much to change that.

Over the past few months, as my family and I have been searching for God's next place for us, we have had the awesome opportunity of visiting several thriving, growing churches and it is our desire to learn from as many places as we can. We take notes, pick up the brochures, hold on the the flyers, etc. We especially love to pour over the calendars, scouring ideas for events and functions. We love to get new ideas on how to reach the unreachable.

After investigating these calendars, 90% of these functions are over the top, crowd-pleasing, flashy events that individually probably cost more than my first house. Now don't get me wrong, I love big events. I love Summer Camp, Disciple Now, and the annual Back to School Bash. Not only do I love them, I think they are a great addition to any student ministry. The problem doesn't lie in these events, but rather the absence of other events. Where are the service projects? The volunteer nights? Or the mission trips? They are minor additions to these elaborate student ministry calendars, and it is affecting our youth.

When these graduating students leave the comfort of their "bubble" youth group, and are thrown into a world in which they have to find their own NEW church, it is, well...uncomfortable. And let's face it, we have conditioned these kids to be anything but uncomfortable. Instead, they come to these free events (to which they rarely bring a new guest), sit back, relax, and enjoy the hard work that someone else put in. And honestly, they don't think twice about it.

We, as youth leaders, must encourage these students to get off their rear end's and do something. Schedule a day for all the youth to put on a back to school bash for the entire incoming 7th graders. Encourage students to provide lunch for the staff. Host a Valentine Banquet where students set up, cook, and serve a meal to their well-deserving parents. Sign the kids up to come and spend a summer afternoon painting the worn down men's bathroom in the back corridor. These are just a few examples of the kind of activities that need to be plastered all over the grids of the student calendars.

I believe when students see the importance of serving and are taught to serve, they will be more willing to get plugged in and be used at a new church. I will admit, though, it is something I am working on improving, and something I want to see take great strides within my new ministry.

Lastly, and single-handedly the most influential piece of the "don't drop out of church when you go to college" puzzle, is this: Students have to own it. It is our obligation as impacters of the next generation, to teach students to ask tough questions and find out for themselves. We must encourage students to not take our word as fact, and point them to the answers in the Scripture. Answers from their Heavenly Father. Answers they will need to know for themselves, as they will be questioned on a daily basis.

One of my favorite tools to be used as I strive to get students to take on Christianity as their own is Youth Evangelism Explosion. It is an excellent foundation of Scripture memorization that builds and eventually acts as a tool for students to relevantly share his/her faith with a peer.

Let's face it. Going to college is hard. These once sheltered teens are inundated with new pressures, big decisions, and tough professors. It can often be a recipe for disaster. And professing Christians, walking away from the church, is a disaster. Should we be surprised? Probably not. Should we do something about it? Absolutely. So get on it. Let's all work together to change this daunting statistic, and instead, make Generation Y one that stands firmly and leads courageously - in the name of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Another Ramsey blog...

For those interested, my darling wife, Meredith, also has a blog. It mostly tells the tales of our amazing children and the joy, and sometimes trouble that comes with raising them...

Ellie Kate and Peyton

She has been at this blogging thing for a little while longer (ok, 3 years longer) than I have, so prepare yourself for a good laugh.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Think Orange

When Meredith and I entered this journey last September, we knew God had big things in store.

We knew that he had called us away from a wonderful ministry and wonderful students and parents, and was calling us to something even greater. We knew it would be difficult - although, we never knew it would be quite this difficult - but there was no place we would rather be than in the will of the Lord.

While we had no idea what the future looked like for us, we wanted to be very purposeful during the transition. We wanted to make the most of this opportunity to strengthen our family, our personal relationship with Jesus, and our ministry, as well.

When it came to maturing in our mindset of ministry, we began to turn to look at every opportunity as a chance to grow and learn.

We had the wonderful opportunity of interviewing with a "mega" church this past Winter. When we were first contacted by this church, Meredith and I were a little skeptical that it would have the same goals and mission that we were so desperately seeking. It is Meredith and I's desire to find a place that is interested in working as a team to minister to the entire family. We no longer want to do ministry as numerous small entities, all working on their own. We wanted to find a place that was interested in restoring the priority of the family and that was focusing all their energy on that purpose.

As we were leaving the interview time, one of the pastors handed me a book and told me that it was the book their staff was currently going through. He asked that I look it over and see if it was something I could see myself agreeing with. I took it, put it under my arm, and honestly, didn't think much about it. I shook hands with these men, and left pretty encouraged.

Needless to say, that church hired another godly man that is doing amazing things there, and they are daily in our prayers. I believe God gave me that opportunity, however, for one very important reason.

Think Orange by Reggie Joiner

It wasn't until I was on the way home from that interview, that I looked over in the passenger seat and saw this brightly colored hardback. I mostly blame my parents, who raised me to be a faithful Oklahoma State fan, for my uncontrollable nature to look at things that are colored Orange (GO Pokes!). I saw the tag line - "Imagine the impact when church and family collide."

Over the next few weeks, Meredith and I poured over the pages of this incredible book. We were so heart struck and convicted by the amazing testimonies of these churches who had one purpose - minister to the family. This is exactly what we had been looking for. Someone had written onto the pages of a book our hearts and our desires in ministry. We were so encouraged.

Here is what the publisher says:

Founder of the Orange Conference, Reggie Joiner looks at what would happen if the church and families combined their efforts to create a revolutionary strategy to affect the lives of children.

Families and churches are each working hard to build faith in kids, but imagine the potential results when the two environments synchronize, maximizing their individual efforts. What can the church do to empower the family? How can the family emphasize the work of the church? They can Think Orange. Former family ministry director Reggie Joiner looks at what would happen if churches and families decided they could no longer do business as usual, but instead combined their efforts and began to work off the same page for the sake of the kids. Think Orange shows church leaders how to make radical changes so they can:

• Engage parents in an integrated strategy
• Synchronize the home and church around a clear message
• Provoke parents and kids to fight for their relationships with each other
• Recruit mentors to become partners with the family
• Mobilize the next generation to be the church

With a transparent, authentic approach that gives every family and church hope for being more effective in their common mission, Think Orange rethinks the approach to children’s, youth, and family ministry.

This book has become our guide as we have begun praying for our future place of ministry. It is my prayer that we have the opportunity to not only minister to kids, but to their families as well. We are, even now, praying for those families, that the Lord would begin preparing and softening their hearts for a revival.

I would encourage any and all church leaders to read this book and to be encouraged. So many American churches have lost it's focus. Putting value on numbers, buildings, and programs - we have lost sight of the people involved and the true commission we have been called to.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Good Question...

Over the past few months, as my wife and I have been fervently seeking out the place God has for us, we have been contacted by an array of churches asking for our information, our resume, or other tid bits.

Most churches, after viewing resumes, will ask the candidates to whom they are interested in, to fill out a questionnaire - mostly to get a better understanding of the individual, I would imagine.

While I understand the purpose of these surveys, many of them are very involved and I find them to be a bit impersonal. How can you really tell the connection a prospective candidate can have over a piece of paper?

Many of the questions are simple, yet require quite a bit of time to discuss, especially when a candidate is trying to truly convey hopes, dreams, and aspirations. "Tell us your testimony," is often the first question, followed by, "What three books have you read recently?" "What are three strengths you possess?" etc. etc. etc.

While most of them are very time consuming, and can take days to complete, it has been a nice time to discuss with Meredith what is important to us in ministry. Youth ministry is our passion and we both get so excited to discuss new ideas and approaches that will enhance our ministry. It reminds me of the sovereignty of the Lord in bringing my family together.

One question in particular, really got us thinking:

"What area of student ministry excites you the most?"

I know what you are thinking. Simple question. Well, that is what we thought when we first read it, but when we began to discuss and formulate our opinion, it became a deep meaning that challenged our hearts and our emotions.

Here is how we eventually answered it:

"I get so excited to see a life radically changed by Jesus Christ. When faith becomes something more than just words on the pages of an old book, and it becomes something alive and thriving in the hearts and minds of students, I get ecstatic. There is nothing more awesome then when students start inviting their friends and sharing with their neighbors, because they are so energized about what Jesus Christ is doing in their lives. When students finally understand that Jesus wants a personal relationship with them and they are excited to walk with him on a daily basis, those are the moments that keep me going. Those are the moments that make every over night lock-in, every 8 hours in a passenger van, and every junior high swim meet worth it. Student ministry can be daunting and draining - but the moment a student understands the true meaning of being a Christ follower, all I see is the life change."

This simple question, that took 3 seconds to read, took us 3 hours to discuss.

If most youth pastor were honest, they would tell you that it is so easy to forget the true purpose of ministry. It can be tempting to fall into the mundane life of the everyday happenings of ministry, that you forget what is important. You do a program, because you have always done that program - and you have even forgotten why you started doing it in the first place. You complain about the stinkiness in the church van after riding home from the lake with 15 sweaty 7th graders. You complain at the 500 Krispie Kreme donuts piled high in your front yard because the neighbors might complain. (yes, that really happened to me).

So maybe not EVERY youth pastor would have those same complaints, they only sounded familiar because they have been uttered from my mouth. I had been that guy. I had allowed myself to get to the point where I had forgotten about the true beauty found in seeing someone come to know Jesus.

While God continued to allow lives to be changed in the student ministry, it wasn't because I was pumped, jazzed, and ecstatic about winning lost souls. Youth ministry had become a job and after Meredith and I's discussion we began to see our young inhibitions and aspirations were lost in the fog of parent permission slips, staff meetings, and reaching numbers.

Maybe that is what this past eleven months has been about for us. It is a starting over. A chance to redo. An opportunity to be rejuvenated and refreshed and begin anew with excitement, love, and thrills of seeing students come to know Jesus.

We both made a commitment that day. No longer would we ever do ministry for ministry's sake. Rather, we would live life hopelessly reckless to bringing students to Jesus. Future ministry of ours - watch out - this youth pastor is steppin' aside and letting God do His work.

Monday, August 16, 2010

In the meantime...

SO it has been a year now, that we have been in this transition period. That makes it about eleven months longer than I ever thought I would be here.

When my wife and I left our church, we imagined that we would send our a few resumes, get the word out in our ministry community, and we would have multiple offers by the end of the week.

Boy were we wrong.

We did, however, take a position as an interim youth pastor at a budding young church plan and we had the awesome opportunity of serving there for eight months. While most of our experience has been with large 100+ youth groups, this was an opportunity to begin a youth ministry from the ground up. It was often challenging and often difficult, but the rewards were immense. We saw young, unchurched teenagers begin attending our weekly Wednesday night service and we saw lives transformed.

I wish I had began this blog at the beginning of our journey so that I could have captured for myself, and for my readers, the amazing things God has done for my family and I this past year.

Do not be fooled. It has not been all smiles and roses. In fact, it has been anything but. There have been moments of true despair and weakness as we have felt hopeless and without direction. It has been those moments, of pure desperation, that have brought us to the most vulnerable times with the Lord. Time were my wife and I have cried out to him and surrendered our hopes, our dreams, and our desires. Times when we have begged him to show up in our lives and to give us direction.

While this journey is not over for us, we are encouraged. We are encouraged that God has already established, even before our being, His will and plan for us. We are going to remain faithful to Him and to His purposes until the end. Things are always looking up when you have God on our side.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Welcome to my blog

Nearly a year ago, when God moved us from our current place of ministry and onto something bigger and better for my little family, I never imagined I would be where I am today.

I thought I would be serving at a growing church booming with excitement and passion.

I thought I would be making deep lasting relationships with students and watching as the Lord transformed one life after another.

I thought I would be taking my kids to Summer camp and planning for our Fall schedule.

I thought I would be attending weekly staff meetings and working as a team with pastors of kindred spirits.

I can honestly say, I never thought I would be here. But it is exactly where I am suppose to be.

God has me exactly in the palm of His hands. Exactly in the ministry He has called me to. Exactly in His will, and there is no other place I would rather be.

In the past year, I have had opportunities to make an impact in areas beyond my imagination. I have spoken at an array of churches to students from all different backgrounds and walks of life. I have watched a group of inner-city students walk into a church building because of "free pizza" and walk out with Jesus in their hearts and new Bible in their hand. I have watched those same students begin a revival as they have taken their new relationship with Christ and shared it with others. I have watched the Lord do unthinkably more than I could have ever imagined. And I have watched the Lord stretch and grow me into a more efficient tool in his hands.

I have learned more about myself and more about who I am in Christ in the past twelve months that I ever have before. And while I am readying myself for what God has next for me and my family, I pray that I remain teachable. I pray that God continues to use me in ways outside of my own thinking. I pray that I would never become comfortable with the ministry God has blessed me with but that I would always be looking to expand my borders. I pray that I would always be looking for life change. I pray that I would always be willing. I pray that I will always be ready.

So ready I will be.

It is my desire that this blog be a resource and a journal containing my ideas about ministry and my ever-changing strategies of reaching the next generation. May God always keep my heart in the right place and my mind on things above. May I always be willing and ready for what lies ahead.