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.