Thursday, June 1, 2017

Top 10 No or Little Prep Youth Ministry Games

Often times, games and activities fall by the wayside during a youth group night. We get swamped during the week, we spend much of our time planning the lesson, we focus on counseling students, or we have just gotten back from a retreat...err umm sorry vacation, and games are the last things on your mind as you prepare for the evening.

But the reality is that we can only default to dodgeball so often due to the amount of bloody noses. Sharks and minnows will become old soon. Students will no longer want to participate in ultimate. And let's be honest: floor hockey has left too many dents in the wall to be a valid option.

And therein lies the problem: what do we do when we need a game...NOW? Well living in the Midwest where you can only be outside for a few months of the year we have learned to have group games that are applicable to both inside and outside environments, but that can also be done with any size youth program. These games all require little or no prep and can be an easy go to for anyone crunched on time, or looking for a little change to what they currently have.

Top 10:
  1. Pull Up
    1. Requirements: A sound system and music.
    2. Rules of play: Have your group sit on the floor in a circle facing inward. Then choose an odd number of boys and girls to be in the middle. When the music starts the students in the middle must go to a member of the opposite gender, extend a hand, and "pull them up". They then sit in the open spot and that new student in the middle continues by pulling up a member of the opposite gender. This continues until the music stops and the gender with the most people in the middle loses. Play for as long or short as you would like.
  2. Drip, Drip, Drop (May get carpets a little wet, so be on good terms with your janitor)
    1. Requirements: Paper cups and water...maybe some towels.
    2. Rules: Players sit in a circle facing each other much like Duck, Duck, Goose. Pick on player to be it. They stand outside of the circle and are given a cup with a small hole in the bottom. Have them place their finger over the hole. When they start they go around the circle saying "drip" and dripping a small amount of water on the students' heads. When they yell "drop" they turn the cup upside down on the person and have to run around the circle while being chased by the person they dropped on. If they make it to said person's spot they are safe. If they are tagged they are it again. Feel free to use as little or as much water as you want!
  3. Egg, Chicken, Dinosaur
    1. Requirements: An emcee.
    2. Rules: This is a great alternative to Rock, Paper, Scissors and is really easy to pull off. Explain how to play Rock, Paper, Scissors to the group. Then explain that in this game you can only play with people who are the same as you: i.e. an egg, chicken, or dinosaur. Eggs can only play eggs, chickens can only play against chickens, and dinosaurs against a dinosaur. The kicker is they must walk or waddle in a manner that is befitting of an egg, chicken, or dinosaur. Participants all start as eggs. They must find another egg and play a best 2 out of 3 round of rock, paper, scissors, and if they win they become a chicken. When a chicken wins they become a dinosaur. If they lose a round they go back one level. 
  4. Lightsaber Duels
    1. Requirements: A sound system, music (epic music or Star Wars music is great here) and emcee.
    2. Rules: Participants must all place one hand behind their back. They will then join in a battle with another person by locking their one hand with the other person's hand. They will then extend their pointer finger as their lightsaber. When the music starts they attempt to touch their "lightsaber" to the other person. They can "zap" them anywhere. If they are zapped they are out. The winner keep advancing until only one remains. **Note: this can go on for a while depending on your students. Some battle for long periods others for a matter of seconds.**
  5. Bucketball
    1. Requirements: Buckets, cones, pinnies/colored shirts, and balls.
    2. Rules: Prior to dividing students place bucket in the middle of a ring of cones (we usually make it about a three feet in each direction from bucket to cone). Divide your students into groups (we usually just do two but having more groups makes it interesting) and assign each group colored pinnies. The game is played in the same manner as ultimate Frisbee where the students must pass the ball down the field and are only allowed three steps with the ball. We have a rule where if playing co-ed, ladies must have two touches on the ball before a point can be scored. Points are scored by players throwing the ball (after three or more passes) to their goal keeper. The goal keeper will hold the bucket within the ring of cones and attempt to catch a ball in the bucket. Only balls that stay in the bucket count. The goal keeper may not go outside of the cone ring and the defense and offense may not go inside the cone ring. Feel free to add as many balls to the game as you would like. 
  6. Hot Seat
    1. Requirements: One chair, people, emcee (can also be played in small groups)
    2. Rules: Chose a person to come up and sit in the "hot seat" for 30-60 seconds. During that time the audience can ask questions of the person and they will need to answer. This can be as surface, deep, or bizarre as your group would like. However, make sure you have a good emcee to filter some of the more awkward questions because we all know that will happen. At the end give the person in the chair a candy bar for being a good sport. 
  7. Seated Basketball/Soccer
    1. Requirements: Chairs, pinnies, balls, and extra leaders/students to collect stray balls
    2. Rules: Explain that the game you are playing will be played like soccer or basketball in that the goals are the same: obtain points how you would normally (kicking a goal, making a basket). Divide your students into two teams and give them their pinnies. If you are playing soccer have the students remove their shoes to prevent potential injuries from kicking one another. Have your students then grab a chair and give them 15-30 seconds to place their chair. Explain that this is the only place they may sit for the first half/quarter. Once they sit they may not move from that spot. When everyone has sat down introduce the balls for the game and explain that students must remain seated all the time, and failure to do so will put them in a penalty box. Explain that if no one can reach a ball it will be placed back into play by a leader. Assign times for your halves/quarters and then when a new one begins allow students to find a new spot to sit. 
  8. Cat and Mouse Tag
    1. Requirements: A large room 
    2. Rules: Have students pair up and link arms at the elbows. I would recommend not allowing them to hold hands or wrists as it can lead to injuries. Ask for two volunteers (or four depending on your group size) and explain that one will be the cat and one will be the mouse. The cat will be it and will need to chase the mouse. At any point during the chase the mouse can link up via their arm with a group and the person who is now on the outside is the new mouse. If the mouse is tagged then the roles are flipped and they are now the cat, and the cat is the mouse. There is no winner to this game, it is more just an active game to engage students with.
  9. Octoball/Gagaball
    1. Requirements: 8 rectangular tables and a ball that bounces (we have used an indoor/outdoor volleyball and it worked very well)
    2. Rules: Set up the tables in an octagon shape by placing them one their sides and extending the legs to help keep them upright. You can interconnect the tables however you would like depending on size you would like your court to be. Students then can enter the octagon (make sure to keep the number of students proportional to the size of the octagon) and begin play. A player serves by allowing the ball to bounce three times while everyone chants "ga-ga-ball" in time to the bounces. The ball is then live and players may go for it. Players may hit the ball with their hands in an attempt to elimination other players by having the ball hit them below their knees. Doing so eliminates the player who was hit. If someone hits the ball out of the court they are out. If they hit the ball in the air and it is caught the player who hit it is out. If it is caught out of play that player is now in. There is no double-hitting allowed and a player can only hit the ball again if it hits someone else or a wall. When two people are remaining they are allowed to have double hits on the ball. Various other rules can include: no ball carrying, no punching the ball, no shielding of one's self, no teams, etc. Last person standing wins the game. 
  10. Death Sticks
    1. Requirements: Pool noodles cut in half, music, and chairs
    2. Rules: Place an odd number of pool noodles on an equal number of chairs in the middle of a large circle of chairs. Have each student pick a chair and remove any chairs that do not have a student. Then chose an odd number of students to stand in the middle that is equal to the number of chairs with noodles. Explain that this is a guy versus girl game (or however you would like it to be) where when the music starts the guys must take the noodle and bop a lady on her legs, and ladies must do the same to guys. Once someone is bopped the person with the noodle must return the noodle to the chair they took it from (no throwing it must be placed) while being chased by the person they bopped. If the person who was bopped manages to retrieve the noodle when it placed down and bop the person who bopped them before they sit down in the vacant chair that person returns to the middle. If they cannot they are now in the middle and can bop someone. Winning team is the team with the least of their gender in the middle. And remember that bop = soft hit, not smacking someone in the head with the noodle.
  11. Mingle Mingle
    1. Requirements: Pre-scripted get to know you style questions and an emcee
    2. Rules: This is a get to know you game. Explain that on "go" students are to walk around the room mumbling "mingle, mingle" until you yell out a number. Once you yell a number students must get into a group and share "their name, their grade/school, and your get to know you question." Give them 30-60 seconds and then repeat the game. 
These are some of the best go to games out there, and I hope that these can be used to help you in reaching and serving students! A few things to help make any game time even better:
  • Music (keep it fun and upbeat)
  • Prizes (candy bars or cheap gift cards are great, or leftover holiday candy if you are in a pinch)
  • Have a good emcee - someone who knows your audience and can keep the energy and fun levels high
  • Relational leaders - games are great but having an environment where students feel loved, welcomed, and valued will make these games a true success

 Have a blast with these, and feel free to share your own favorite no prep game in the comments!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Time Management Tricks

Too often it seems like a day, then a week, then a month, and so on flies by. If you are like me and serving in ministry it can seem as if there are not enough hours in a day to figure out how to get everything done and still have time for yourself.

I am not time management specialist, I am still learning how to do this effectively. But along the way I have picked up some tools and resources that have greatly benefited me, my relationships, my marriage, the ministry I work in, and ultimately my relationship with God. Some of these ideas have been around for a while, some have been given to me by men and women who have served decades longer than I, and others are my own thoughts.

Take these as you will, knowing that all do not have to apply to your life, these aren't some magical fix all, but they are here to be shared and utilized as an encouragement.


1. Make time for Jesus 

*This should seem like a non-issue for those of us serving in ministry. We espouse this principle on a weekly basis to those we minister too, but let's be honest, sometimes that snooze button is all too handy. Some weeks it is easy to say "I study the Word...I prepared my lesson." Other times we just get distracted. But how can we effectively manage our lives if we have no guiding principles or truth. Christ offers many examples of time management and shows us what is important, but if we do not readily and daily engage with the Word our time will be for naught.

2. Be protective of you time

*This is something I learned very quickly in ministry. I started off serving in a small church in a small town (a mile and a half squared) as the only pastor. Being young and full of energy I began to do whatever I could to serve the church. I was regularly putting in 40-50 hours a week meeting with people, crafting Bible studies, creating new member classes, counseling parishioners, engaging in local outreaches, meeting with pastors, oh and did I mention I was only part time and held a full time job down as well? This lasted for about a year until I went to the elders and explained I needed help, that I couldn't do it all. Their response: Why didn't you say so sooner? The reality is that we cannot do everything on our own, and we must be protective of our time. Time to relax, decompress, to process, to enjoy life. If we don't we will burn out, become bitter and resentful, and maybe walk away from ministry. It took me a year of healing and recharging from my first church before I even considered ministry again.

3. Have regular office hours

*For some this is a no brainer because your church requires it, for others your hours may be more flexible. But having set hours in the office allows for meetings to happen, parishioners to drop by, purposeful planning to take place, and for your congregants to see you at work. Sure the local coffee shop is a better place for you to get work done for so many reasons (like your pastoral discount, or the wifi that actually works) but being at your place of employment is huge because this is where people expect you to be. Our team has a monthly whiteboard calendar that we all put our hours on and mark where we will be. This has helped so much in keeping us all on the same page and knowing where we can find people if needed.

4. Be protective of your family

*This is one I have to be constantly reminded of. So often on date night my phone will buzz with a text from someone, and I am ready to respond at the drop of the hat. But my wife will often remind me that "It is date night, I am your priority." Its true. Date night is our time. It isn't to be interrupted or removed. Rather it is to be protected and revered, because our marriage comes before our ministry. Our families come before our ministries. Because these are to be a representation to our ministries of what God is doing in our lives. If we cannot be protective of the things God has given us charge of, how then can we lead a church or ministry? A good couple of things to do on date nights, family nights, or vacations:
~Put your phone on airplane mode or do not disturb.
~Set up auto-replies for your email and phone.
~Turn off your cellular devices.
~Don't check your email or social media.

5. Find out what helps you to decompress

*This may sound easy, but this is hard for some people. It is difficult to find what helps you process and think through the day or week. For me I like to cook, clean, write, make candles, or watch COPS. I know it is a weird conglomerate of things. But all of them help me to decompress. Cleaning, cooking, and COPS helps me to just zone out and relax because they are fairly mindless things for me to do or watch. Writing and candle making helps me to process and think. This is necessary in any job, but especially ministry. We need to think through what we are doing, why we did it, and not get caught up on the mistakes but rejoice in the victories and what God is doing.

6. Create a Google calendar

*This sounds simple enough, but in the busyness of life sometimes we fail to communicate to those in our lives that we should be communicating with (like our families). I realized this roughly a year into my current ministry position when I proudly declared to my wife that I had to work all day on a Saturday for a ministry event the Thursday before. She was shocked and bewildered that she didn't know and further that I hadn't told her. So from that point on we created a shared calendar on Google where it has everything that is happening. On my end I input all my meetings, work schedules, activities, vacations, retreats. You name it I put it there because I know I will forget. My wife inputs her work schedules and important dates like vacations, birthdays, trips, etc. The point is with us working together we don't miss much anymore and we are both on the same page.

7. Have an unplugged night

*Have you noticed how technology has taken away interpersonal communication? Just people watch the next time you're at a restaurant or maybe even around your own dinner table. Count how many people are on their phones versus how many are having an actual conversation. Our current society dictates that the majority of our conversations happen through a cellular device and as such our ability to actually engage and maintain relationships is faltering. My wife and I have started to run with the idea of what we call "unplugged nights." Too often we found ourselves sitting around the television while eating dinner instead of communicating. And more often than not we would do so with our phones in our hands. So we said "enough is enough" and turned one day a week into an evening where we do not use our phones unless for an emergency, we don't check email or social media, and we do not watch television or movies. Instead we read together, we play games, go for walks, or just have conversations. For some people this may be a once a week thing, or it could be monthly, but I would definitely encourage these times!

8. Take a recharge day

*I had never heard of a recharge day until I started working at my current job. What they are is once a month we are allowed to take a paid work day to physically, mentally, and spiritually recharge. We aren't supposed to do office work or meet with people, instead we are to do whatever we need to be recharged. For different people it will look differently. In my case, I retreat to my favorite coffee shop and get a nice French Press and read different books or write. This helps me reconnect and strengthen my relationship with God. Other people on our team recharge by spending time with their kids and spouse. Still others go and read ancient church history and theology books that go over my head. All this in the name of recharging our lives to better serve the people God has called us to.

9. Prioritize

*So often our days can seem to be overwhelming. The amount of work that must be completed is daunting. Many of us take work home after hours and on weekends. The truth is that this will mentality deflate you and will lead to burnout, stress, anxiety, and performance based self-worth. This is not healthy, so we must prioritize what is important. I suggest making two lists, one of work priorities, and one of your life priorities. For the first categorize what needs to be done soon and work that out and then focus on what is further out. When it comes to the second list prioritize what is important and what should have the majority of your time. Share this with your spouse, or someone close to you, and have them honestly answer if your life reflects this.

With all of these suggestions a lot of them can be dependent upon your workplace and those who are in leadership over you. You could try to make changes but ultimately they may rebuff your suggestions and attempts. So what then? Are we to simply exist in a burdensome world where work and the stress of life are destroying us? The answer is a resounding no! We must always find our worth and value within the love and redemption of Christ. When work becomes too much to bear, when life gives you lemons, when you have just had enough, hit the pause button. Step back, reassess where you are at, check your spiritual walk, and if need be make a decision. Take a vacation, perhaps speak to your boss about what is going on, maybe look for a new job, make sure your heart is in the right place. The long and short of this post is make sure you are being cared for spiritually, physically, and emotionally. When your priorities flow out your relationship with Jesus then you see what is important and what can be cut back, so that you can feel more at peace with life and all it throws at you.

What I learned from attending NYWC

The National Youth Workers Convention is always a treat, and always promises and delivers so much to those who attend. Coming away from this year’s conference it did not disappoint, and there are so many takeaways that attempting to cover them all won’t be feasible but I will attempt to hit on some that I personally walked away with, and hope that they will bless those who didn’t attend and hopefully drive you to attend next year’s!

  • In order to be used by God we must submit to His timing. Which means acknowledging that when we ask God why He is waiting, perhaps He is waiting on us. So GO!
  • Our view of heaven is directly reflected in how we live our lives and do ministry. If our view is small our ministry will never grow because we are not letting there be room for God to do great things.
  • Youth ministers come in all shapes, sizes, genders, ethnicities, and denominational backgrounds.
  • There are tons of resources out there to help you succeed in youth ministry, and a lot of them are free! 
  • If we can’t imagine how we will spend time in the presence of God in heaven, we will not live on earth like we are spending time in God’s presence.
  • Youth workers totally fangirl over Josh Griffin, Doug Fields, Greg Stier, and many more.
  • Youth workers love free stuff (that’s a given but if you are in desperate need of a new wardrobe, unlimited candy, and tons bracelets then come to NYWC).
  • The church of God is the only plan, and there is no other option! What are we doing to unite the Bride of Christ to reflect what it will be in eternity?
  • God is not done with you or your ministry. As long as He sits on His throne He still has a move left and He will move through you! Be encouraged that this isn’t it and that God will work through you.
  • Sand art is visually stunning.
  • The church of Jesus Christ is “plan A”, there is no “plan B.”
  • God has a long history of using broken people for His honor.
  • Good neighbors don’t drive through, they journey with.
  • Worship is meant to be the force that shoves us outside the church, not the doors that keep us inside of it.
  • By loving students and spending time with them, this is how we will impact our schools and neighborhoods. This will be how we make a transformational difference in the lives of students.
  • Eugene Cho is not Francis Chan.
  • Worship does not need to be and shouldn’t be stagnant but full of vibrancy, joy, and praise.
  • Racial reconciliation is something we must be pursuing in our youth groups and churches.
  • Youth workers love Instagram and Twitter but spelling and grammar can go unheeded…mostly because we type too fast and our thoughts run together.
  • The LGBTQ community needs to know that the church extends love, grace, and reconciliation for past wrongs, future poor choice of comments, and the alienation they have received.
  • Concrete can do lots of damage to your face if you fall and don’t catch yourself.
  • God has a heart for students.
  • Programs don’t change people, Jesus changes people.
  • Youth leaders must do more to engage their schools and neighborhoods.
  • The Download Card from YS is the best offer out there. Most of the sessions are on there with the ability to listen, take notes, and have them at your disposal.
  • The YS Blog is a phenomenal resource for youth leaders.
  • DYM has a lot of fun games for youth groups and youth leaders alike.
  • Youth Specialties will not shy away from talking about the hard topics.

The joking and humor aside, NYWC is something that every youth worker should attend at some point in their career. It provides resources, rejuvenation, lasting friendships, networking opportunities, and invaluable teaching and education. My advice to those who budgets cannot support them in going to the conference is begin saving for the future. A little money put away at varying times will accrue and allow for the funds to develop. Also, ask Youth Specialties if there are any opportunities for a scholarship or volunteering at the conferences that will help to supplement the cost. NYWC is completely worth it, and is life and ministry changing. Hopefully we will see you next year.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Post-Election Thoughts

Waking up this morning I was greeted with the headline "President Trump". I wish I had stayed awake last night to watch the turn of events, but my warm and comfy bed was calling my name, plus I am getting older.

To be perfectly honest, I had thought Hillary was going to win the election and I had already prepared myself for that. I had voted not for either of the main candidates because morally I could not align with their views, policies, speech, or denials, so instead for the first time in my life voted third party.

This morning was vastly different from what I expected. I had thought I would see the normal post-election celebrations, the rejoicing among the party's supporters, boisterous parties after the victory speech, but instead there seemed to be two things that stood out. Fear and peace.

Together they seem like an odd coupling because when one normally fears, peace is not in direct sight. But these emotions came from opposite ends of the spectrum. Democrats and Republicans alike expressed both emotions and feelings. Neither party rested upon either one reaction but instead these feelings were expressed by people of all walks of life and political affiliations.

Too often I fear that we allow our political parties to define our faith. We place our faith in politicians. We place our faith in security that political policies will offer. We place our faith in change or hope. We place our faith in something tangible. We place our faith in something fallible...mankind.

My heart broke this morning as I witnessed young women I work with saying they were now scared of what this election meant for them. Scared that a president who advocated for using and assaulting women was now in control. Scared that they would become a victim and a statistic. Scared that they were once again marginalized and forgotten.

I cried as I saw many friends who are first generation immigrants wonder if their families would be torn apart. They questioned if they should move from a land they had fled to for freedom, because they now feared persecution. They feared that what happened to the Japanese Americans in World War Two may happen to them.

I watched in wonder as many people thanked God that "His candidate had won." I saw many pastors proudly post that "God placed the right man, and not the corrupt woman where he belonged." I read rants about how those who voted for Hillary needed to be expelled from the country and how America is once again God's chosen nation.

Is this truly the culture that we have allowed to become reality? My friends, have we allowed the political institution of one country to define how our lives are run? Do not hear me as advocating for some type of uprising or anarchy, but instead please pause for a moment and think about what would happen if we treated the Gospel the same way we treated this election.

Instead of posting constantly about the election on social media perhaps we should post about the Gospel. Instead of proclaiming God's candidate maybe we should proclaim the King of Kings. Instead of lambasting the evil political party that you oppose perhaps extending an olive branch and bringing cookies and coffee to those who differ in opinion and praying together may change something. Instead of stating that the president elect will turn back the dial on change for women, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community perhaps we as believers should do better to initiate change within our own churches and congregations.

When did it become politics that changed the world? When did politicians begin to instill fear or peace in the hearts of man?

There is only one Man who brings both peace and fear. One Man who will change this world. One Man who died so that you may live, not in fear but in the glorious hope He offers.

Let us not rest in the fear or peace that this election has supposedly brought. Instead let us live in confidence knowing that Christ is alive, Christ died so that we may live, Christ will come back, and Christ most assuredly is in control yesterday, today, and forever.

Do not let this election define you or your mission. Let the Gospel always do that. Let the Gospel not our political stance be our voice. Rest assured that no man or woman, no country, no political stance, no policy will define you. It is the grace and restoration of the Gospel that defines us. Today, and every day, we should stand for the Gospel and its mantra.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Politicis - Get past the temporary and look to the eternal

Politics. Bleh. That very word brings such disdain right now. In case you are reading this and missed it, or maybe this is way past this time and years away in the future (if so I am hopeful it is better than now), but we are in the midst of the 2016 Presidential Elections, and it has been one for the record books.

I cannot adequately summarize the way this election has gone other than to say it has been one filled with anger, deceit, name calling, questioning of one's moral compass, and deep divides within friendships and families. And to think that is just within the church.

"Oh no," we cry out in protest. "It isn't us, it is the candidates who throw out all that verbal hate speech." Is it though? I abhor this time of year because of what it does to the body of Christ. I feel that during this time of year people become brazen, foolish, outspoken critics of one another with little fact or basis for what they do.

Never once do you see Christ champion for a political candidate throughout the entirety of Scripture. Of course Jesus and the Apostles argue for following our government and paying taxes, but never do you see Jesus hitting the streets proclaiming Caesar as the correct leader. Never do you hear Him champion for taxing the rich and giving it to the poor. Never do you hear Him advocate for either small, large, or no government. He simply says "give to Caesar what is Caesar's" and challenges us to think of things eternal.

Our red--and blue--flags go up and we huff and puff because we point to statements Christ made, people He cared for, His calls for social reform and we proclaim loudly, "See! There, that is why I vote..." you fill in the blank. But let me ask you something: Are you simply trying to shape Jesus to fit your political beliefs and ideologies, or are you allowing Jesus to formulate your political beliefs.

I would assert that all too often we fall prey to the former. Whether it be from parental influence, socio-economic status, the state we live in, a disillusionment with a political franchise that has distanced itself from its original stances, we allow our own self-righteousness and desires to shape how we view Christ in order to use that as our platform for change.

How dare we?! How dare we try to contextualize the King of the universe into so small of a box. To truly try to declare God to be a republican, a democrat, an anarchist, a green party member is to say, "God here is where I have contextualized You to be. Step into my confines and fit my mold." My how arrogant we have become.

I would dare to assert that our God, the Creator and the Alpha and Omega, is far greater than any political establishment, and we as Christians have a moral obligation not to any party but to glorify God Himself and proclaim Him crucified, dead, and alive. To proclaim He and He alone will save our country, our world, through His shed blood because no politician, no broken promises, no audio tapes or emails will ever bring salvation, it is only the Son of God who died in our place who will bring social justice, restitution, and healing to a hurt and broken world.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, "He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that He cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end." I believe the reason we are so frustrated with this election and its candidates is because we are crafted for so much more than a career politician or television star. We are designed to long for eternity. We are formed to long for something past the temporary.

The disillusionment after November will come no matter which party succeeds. Whichever wins the race the other side will protest, and a few years later even the candidate's party will protest certain policies because we are never satisfied with the temporary. We always want more. We have an innate longing for the eternal. We have a desire to see God come and rid this world of its immoralities and failures. To see a kingdom where Hispanics and Caucasians live together without a wall. To see a kingdom where black and white are no longer racial divides but instead a declaration of the craftsmanship and beauty of the Creator. To see a kingdom where sin no longer causes divides and rifts in denominations but instead is wiped clean by the precious blood of the Lamb.

Brothers and Sisters let me implore you to not vote for a party this election. Do not vote simply because you believe in a political scheme. I encourage you to vote out of what will glorify God the most. I cannot tell you who to vote for, but I can ask you to saturate this election in prayer. To call for unity not divide. To treat others as your brothers and sisters not the enemy.

Neither candidate is perfect by far. There is a misogynistic reality star on one end and a habitual liar and cheat on the other. Both are so far removed from the Christian perspective that neither stands for Christ in my opinion. This is not a call to choose the lesser of two evils, because to do so would still allow for evil to win. In this case I do not know who to vote for. In many ways I am considering a third party candidate which many say is a vote against my past political party. But is it entirely wrong to say I am considering writing in the name Jesus Christ as my candidate?

This world is not my home, and praise God for that. This political circus will not define me, my beliefs, or my desire to proclaim Christ. In fact it has created a desire to distance myself from politics and instead seek to see God change hearts that will then change this country. My prayer today is that we unite and build the Body of Christ not our political parties. Keep God in the pulpit, politics out of it, and let us hope Christ returns soon.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Break the Mold

Back in the 90s there was a stereotypical youth pastor. He was a young, hip, 20-something who had just graduated from Bible college or grew up in the church he was now serving. He was loud, played guitar, and had a stellar video game collection. He introduced students to games that today would lead to a lawsuit, drove the church van like it was a hot rod, and only stuck around for 2-4 years. He typically got talked to by the elders at least once a month about the students' and his behavior that the church didn't like.

Fast forward to today and youth pastors look exceptionally different. We come in all different shapes, sizes, personalities, ages, and backgrounds. And not all of us are male either. We live in a very different world where youth ministers have changed and grown into capable leaders and servants who remain in with youth ministry for years, even decades. But the reality is that the perception of a youth pastor has not changed.

There are still those who look at youth pastors as assistant-level staff, who do not function in the same capacity as senior-level staff. They still see a youth pastor as the immature and brazen young person looking to make a name for themselves. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Many of today's youth pastors look exceptionally different and conferences like NYWC, Simply Youth Ministry, and Orange are helping to showcase that.

Yes, many youth pastors will be young and fresh and looking to take the world by storm for Jesus, but that doesn't just describe youth pastors. I became a senior pastor when I was just 23 and I will tell you, that was a challenge. I was seen as the young and rash pastor who was trying to move in on the turf of the veterans in town. But the truth is that there a variety of styles, shapes, and personalities when it comes to being any type of pastor. It isn't an age or maturity issue, it is a calling.

So what makes a youth pastor? The calling and passion that God Himself has instilled in someone's life. I have had the pleasure of learning under, working with, and witnessing youth pastors of all different types lead and care for students. They were loud, soft spoken, energetic, reserved, up front people, the behind the scenes type, gifted in speaking, a counselor, a Disney movie lover, a cat hater, a big kid, a theologian. But most of all, they were men and women who above all else loved Jesus and loved students as He did.

Today, youth pastors are vastly different than they were back in the 90s. They aren't looking to use youth ministry as a stepping stone to being a senior pastor. They aren't looking to break all the church rules and upset the elder board. They aren't looking to be everyone's best friend. They are looking to love students where they are at, to be a beacon of light in a dark world that tells students God doesn't matter or care. They are ministering to students who have been hurt, abused, told they aren't worth anything, forgotten, cast out, and left alone.

Youth pastors stand together under the banner of Christ to care for the upcoming generations that are hurting and broken. They are old, young, short, tall, black, white, Bible school dropouts and seminary grads. They are dynamic speakers who draw crowds and quiet disciple makers who draw 4-5 students. They are musicians and people who sing poorly and loudly proclaiming the salvation of Jesus. They are fallen people who would do anything to be the hands and feet of Jesus today to the students they serve.

I am proud to say I am a youth pastor. I am not a silicone mold, I am my own person. I do not fit the stereotype. I am broken, I am sinful, I am forgiven, I have a calling, and I love students. To all my fellow youth pastors: you matter more than you know! We may never hear it, but the impact we have on the lives of the students we serve is greater than we will see this side of heaven. Fight the good fight brothers and sisters, and never fit the mold! Be you, be unique, and be the hands and feet of Jesus to students you serve.

I am a youth pastor! What's your story?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Fallen Servants

I had just returned home from a mission trip to Central America and I looked at the trending news and saw a headline that read "Megachurch Pastor Perry Noble Removed From Church." My heart sank, and inwardly I cried out "God not again!" As of late it seems too often there are church leaders failing in their leadership.

Darrin Patrick was removed from his position in the Acts 29 organization and from his pastoral position in the Journey Church for running over people and pushing his own image and agenda. Mark Driscoll was forced to resign from Mars Hill Church after allegations of plagiarism, belittling staff, and misappropriation of funds.  Perry Noble was dismissed by his church for his alcohol abuse and issues within his marriage. Tullian Tchividjian was let go for infidelity and dismissed from his ministries.

These are just some of the latest pastors to fall in their positions of leadership, and I must be honest these are only the ones that we hear about because they are the high profile leaders. The statistics for senior pastors failing in or leaving ministry (for moral, ethical, physical, or spiritual reasons) are startling to say the least. But what was even more startling is the amount of pressure that is placed upon these leaders to heed the calling God gave them.

Simply looking at the link above for statistics shows the undue stress these men and women are under and one can only imagine the added pressures of caring for an entire church body. That is not to say that simply because someone is a pastor they will fail, but we must acknowledge that as purveyors of the Gospel of Christ, it is easier for that to happen to those in ministry for these reasons and more:

  • We tend to believe that whatever happens in a ministry is because of our works not God's.
  • We convince ourselves that the ministry is ours not the Father's.
  • We believe that without us the ministry will falter.
  • We take all of the hurts, needs, and desires of our parishioners and place them on ourselves. 
  • We become convinced that we can do all things through me who gives me strength.
  • We become the end-all and be-all because people trust us and give us the room to do what we see fit.
The sad reality is that failing in Christianity is a part of life. We are sinful in nature and because of that we will fall, but too often we say "no not me." I am guilty of that. When I read of Noble's removal not only did I say "God not again," I also inwardly said, "God thanks that I work in youth ministry where this won't happen to me." 

How foolish am I to believe that this is a problem strictly associated with those in senior pastor roles? Sin afflicts us all, and we must take steps to combat sin in our lives! We must look to having the proper safeguards in place no matter if we are a volunteer, an elder, a youth pastor, a children's worker, or the executive pastor. Sin will always look to corrupt what God has necessitated for good, and we must not allow for that to happen. Satan would love nothing more than to see the Bride of Christ falter and fail. So what can we do to safeguard the church of God? First let's look at how to protect the ministries we serve in, and then how to help others - especially senior pastors - in their ministries. 

  • Always cover the ministry you serve in prayer. Jesus constantly prayed for His disciples and the calling God had given Him. We should do likewise.
  • Have accountability within the ministry. Allow for other leaders to speak into your life, your leadership style, and what you do. This helps to keep us humble and focused on the reality that these ministries are not about us but about the Father.
  • Ask yourself if the ministry would succeed without you, and why or why not. A good ministry will carry on without you because it is God-centric not you-centric. 
  • Do you find yourself calling it "your ministry?" Maybe practice calling it God's ministry and yourself the servant.
  • Take regular breaks from your ministry. Our staff team takes a monthly recharge day. It is a paid work day where we do not come into the office but instead make sure our spiritual walks are where they should be. It looks different for each person. For some it includes reading their favorite Christian books, others take prayer walks or some take time away to pray, and others just get the rest they need to recharge. 
  • Be willing to accept change and critiques. One of the hardest things to do is change, but we must be willing to because God calls for us to be vulnerable and eager to hear the Father's direction.
  • Talk to and listen to your spouse and children. Ask them for their honest input. Have you changed since being in ministry? Do you find joy in what you do? Do you spend enough time with them? Are they resentful of the ministry you serve?
These are just some ways we can safeguard the ministries we serve, but what about our senior pastors? These men have such a weight on their shoulders that can be understood by only those who have held these roles. I stepped into such a role at 23 and held it for roughly two years, and it almost made me walk away from ministry. To those men who serve faithfully in this position day in and day out for years on end: THANK YOU! The stress these men face is huge and daunting; we must fight for and with them as they face daily attacks from the evil one. So what can we do for them? Here are a few ways to love and support your pastor:
  • Send them a note of encouragement and thank them for what they do.
  • Take them and their family a meal or dessert and thank them for their sacrifice and love for you and others. 
  • Stop into the senior pastor's office to talk. Ask how they are doing, how you can pray for them, or ways that you can help outside of the ministry you serve. 
  • Ask your senior pastor to go on a prayer walk in the community and pause to pray for them specifically. 
  • Regularly engage with your senior pastor. So often it is easy to revert to our silos and rarely interact with other ministers, but we must engage! Have lunch together, take breaks together, have dinner at your homes, go on double dates. 
  • Ask your senior pastor to be your accountability partner. Go beyond Covenant Eyes, and actually sit down and share life together. Encourage one another and pray together.
  • Pray for them daily. These men of God need our love and support, but also heavenly support. 
To say that we are above failure is foolish and asinine. That is a lie of Satan and must be met with the truth of the Gospel. We are all fallen but we are redeemed in Christ and it is only through His power that we can accomplish anything. We must stand firm and not lambaste or lament these men who have fallen but pray for restoration, reconciliation, and protection for our ministries and those who lead them. Let us rise up in prayer and humility to serve the bride of Christ and honor the Great Shepherd who allows us to tend His flock.