All Roads Go Through Bethlehem

There’s was a road I hated driving in in my town. It’s a narrow double lane, no passing. I really like driving it because of the differing kinds of trees. I hated it because, if there was an accident, I couldn’t get to my house. There was no other road that I could take to get home.

It’s the advent season. Christmas is less about Jesus and even Christians are putting less faith in the the actual Christmas story.

The problem with that is that all roads run through Bethlehem.

Think about that road you hate driving on, but its the only one that get you where you want to go. There is something at the end of that road you want to get to. Your destination may be something like home, school, work, etc. or it could be success, joy or purpose.

We, as humans, are trying to make easy roads, short cuts to the places we want to go. We want to get there faster with the least amount problems. Think of that last short cut you took and thought it would be faster but it actually took you longer.

It’s the same with faith. For the follower of Jesus there are no easy roads, no shortcuts. Every road we try to take or create to get us off the road of faith in Christ runs right into or intersects with the road to Bethlehem.

God’s desire to bring the world back to Him, to restore peace in the human heart, was born in manger. His announcement was not to the powerful, but to poor Shepherds. The birth of Christ was the start of the road back to God.

The Shepherds heard the good news and immediately went to worship the Christ child,

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. Luke 2:16

Many hear the good news and spend the rest of their lives building new road, seeing short cuts, try to find their a to what they want out of life. All the foot dragging, stalling, and avoidance will do us no good because, even at the end of our lives, hoping to get into heaven (or to whatever you think lies beyond) you will finds yourself on a road with a manger with a small child in whom you tried to avoid.

Jesus said,

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Even in death, and our hope for something more, all roads go through Bethlehem. It’s the only way home.

You can watch my online devotion below for more context

 

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Cell Phones Aren’t What’s Wrong With Your Youth Meeting

I hear about kids being on their cell phones during youth meetings and ignoring what is going on. I have not had that experience.  It could be because we have smaller group (15-20) and they are far more noticeable in a small group, so they don’t risk it. I also think there are a few things that I do, intentionally, to keep kids from checking out on their cell phones and they may help you as well.

I work hard on my messages

If kids are checking out  on me, it’s because I’m not saying anything interesting. I work hard only messages so they will be engaging, thought provoking, and sometimes interactive. I want every kid to be invested in what I am going to say, but more importantly, I want them to know that the Holy Spirit has something to say to them.

I make eye contact

I don’t use notes any more, I use the slides I create as my notes. If I buries in my notes, that gives kids permission to be distracted and check out.

I walk around

Once again, if your group is larger, this may not be an option, but if I see someone talking or I see two kids sitting together that looks like they are Russia and the U.S.A colluding to make trouble, I walk over and speak right in front of them. This lets them know I am aware without being rude or calling them out.

I ask them questions 

So, I just said I don’t call kids out, and I don’t, but, the next best thing is to ask a question. I try to make the question and honest one, that has to do with the message, and I watch my tone of voice so they don’t think I’m being mean. I am genuinely trying to snap their attention back to what’s going on rather than trying to embarrass them (btw, this does not work).

I get them involved in the message

I love illustrations. I love getting kids up and letting them help me make my point. Kids could help you by holding signs (your points) or by acting as props (you be Jesus and you be Peter, etc.) and have them act our the story as you tell it.

I also have kids ready to read scripture so they can’t veer to far from the notes otherwise they will be unprepared.

I have them use their cell phone in positive way

If I think someone is having a problem with their cell phones, I ask them to help with my message. I ask them

  • Would you take notes tonight so I can see how effective I am
  • Can you take some pics of me preaching for the website or social
  • Can you make a few memes

I know this sounds crazy and even counterintuitive, but I find that kids would rather feel useful than just sit and listen to me. If we are measuring how good we are by how well kids sit quietly, pay attention, and fawn over our presentation I am afraid we all lose. I

I foster mutual respect

I have never had to take a kids cell phone away during service. If I think their is a problem, I will talk with kids during the week or after serve and let them know I love them, I saw them on their cell phones and I ask them “What can I do to help you get more engaged?” or “Hey, I know your cell phone is important, but I really need you to be an example to others” . How I approach them depends on my depth of relationship with them, but it is always respectful.

So, what distracted kids before cell phones? Everything else. Their friends, some thing they fidget with, etc. At least today, we can use these distractions and turn them into tools of engagement.

Cell phones are not the issue. Our attitude towards cell phones, and sometimes the kids who use them, are the issue.

 

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Free Course: How To Disciple Teenagers

A few months ago I finally pulled the plug on an idea I had called Youth Pastor University. It was my plan to offer courses to youth workers on how to do various things in youth ministry. Sadly, I had neither the time or energy to do it well, so I dropped it. The great thing is, the course is now available for free.

I have posted all the videos on my YouTube channel and are in a playlist where you can watch the videos in sequence.

You can download the fill in the blank notes HERE .

So, take the course and let me know what you think.

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The Best Supporting Actor Award Should Go To… You

I was recently reading about a youth worker struggling with how much time they DO NOT spend with teenagers. Sounds odd right? I mean, youth workers spend time with teenagers to build relationships, impart spiritual truth etc, right?

This post was not written by some “old fart” youth worker complaining about having to spend time with teens. This was a fairly young youth worker contemplating how much time they should spend with students and should they feel bad if they did not. He and I are in similar boats.

After 28 years working with youth, I find that this generation needs me in smaller doses and bedsides, Google (right or wrong) answers most of their questions now. They don’t want a 49 year old guy trying to be their friend (that’s just weird) or creep around at events unless they are invited.

I went to one of our kids plays the other night even though she was only part of the crowd scenes. I left right after the play and texted her what a great job she did. I was there to support her and that is the role I now take, that of best supporting actor in the dram-edy that is a teenagers life. I  like being the supporting actor. In the past I thought I had to be the star, the leading man but now, like this young lady, a familiar face in the crowd sounds like the right role for me in this stage of my career.

The kids I serve are good kids, very little in the drama dept. I have good young adults who take up the slack and an Intern who does a great job at all the small things I’m not particularly interested in.

Essentially, I have worked myself out of a job, and I’m ok with that. Maybe it’s time for new challenges . So, do I think this guy was slacking? Nope. I think we should follow the lead of the students we serve as to how much we should be involved in their lives, regardless of what our church board says our involvement should be.

Parents, not youth workers, are the stars of the family. Youth workers are extra’s. We stand in the background adding value to the scenes being played out before us. Occasionally, we get a spoken line and maybe a credit in the end scroll that says “Guy on bike #1”.

I am not saying youth workers do not play an important part in the lives of some churches, some families, and some kids, what I am saying that we shouldn’t try so hard to be the stars when best supporting actor are being called for.

We should always be intentional, discerning and present at critical times in a students life so we can offer wisdom and direction.  You know, the stuff Google can’t do.

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My Top 17 Christian Albums of 2017

This list is not in any particular order and includes bands you’ve probably never heard of. I love extra-ordinary artists that do not get the hype of average artists industries push as the next…

I scoured the release list provided by Jesus Freak Hideout and listened to many artists I had missed and I’m so glad I did because I found some gems. Enjoy.

Manafest –  Stones

Manafest has been around a while,  I found him in his rap days and he has matured to quite the rocker. This is great album with smart lyrics and get riffs.

Demon Hunter – Outlive 

Looking for a little thrashing with a lot of conviction? These veteran rockers have not lost their edge or their mission. Jesus Wept, The End, and Raining Down are some of my favs. Some good keyboard work in this as well.

As We Ascend – Farewell To Midnight 

Has an old school rock feel that you’d want to play with a Beats headset while playing air drums. This is not to say they don’t have something to say with songs like When The Gun Goes which deals with suicide.  Good keyboard and killer guitar solos. Feel free to crank Watch The World Burn up to 11.

Ce Ce Winaans – Let Them Fall in Love

This may be the most perfect album of the year.  I could listen to this album all the way through. Ce Ce’s rendition of Kris Kristofferson’s Why Me is worth everything. Other standouts include He’s Never Failed Me Yet, Hey Devil, Dancing In The Spirit, and Marvelous.

Hollyn – One Way Conversations

Simply a breath of fresh pop air with a raw honesty about relationships but plenty of room for being fun and young. Awe is a stand out track for me.

Steven Malcom 

New school hip hop with a touch of the old school. If you have seen his video for cereal…where you  been? It’s this generations Cartoon Network (KJ52)

Mercy Me – Lifer

This was a surprise for me. Mercy Me has been going though some musical changes that I’ve enjoyed. They’ve been playing with abandon and it shows on songs like Happy Dance, Life, and the solemn Even If.

Army of Bones – Army of Bones 

What is not to like about this Martin Smith (Delirious?) led band? Absolutely nothing. Although not listed in the Christian section of iTunes, you can still feel the passion and Spirit behind the lyrics. Dead In The Water is my jam.

Zach Williams – Chain Breaker 

Blues, Rock, his rendition of Midnight Rider and the song Freedom. That is all. You’re welcome.

Bethany Barnard – A Better Word 

A beautiful and simple worship/country-esque album that hits all the right notes. If you use this as an entry to your prayer time (and I recommend you do) I would suggest keeping a tissue box handy as many of the songs will strike a chord as the Holy Spirt beckons you deeper.

Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black 

This Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) produced album is jam packed with blues guitar and positivity. The political tones are not so much avert but are hard to miss in the times we live in. The album is a gentle nudge (but a nudge none the less) to live  wide awake, take action, love better, and love more.

Krum

If you like your rap old school with some progressive blues sensibilities, this is your jam. I loved the rhymes, the jams, and the message behind the whole album. Lots of honesty and heart. The songs Blue Eyed Devil, Dougie With The Devil, and Oddball are stand out tracks.

Beautiful Eulogy – Worthy

At first glance of the Spotify pic I thought I was looking at a Beastie Boys photo. The dreamy beats, the smooth flow, and the direct message all make for a great album worth listening to all the way through. The songs If.. and a killer version of the Doxology are some of the highlights.

The Welcome Wagon – Light Up The Stairs 

I can’t tell you the last time I listened to a Tooth and Nail record, but it was definitely in the 90’s. I’m glad to have stumbled on this T&N album because it reminds me of the quirky-ness I remember from bands like Havalina Rail Co. or Morella’s Forrest. Light Up The Stairs is something you want to listen to when everything starts sounding the same. They will cleanse your music pallet and maybe a little of your soul as well.

Matt Mahr – Echoes

Oh Matt, what have you done? You made an album that makes me think about this world and my part in making things right. Matt’s call is to all believers is to get off the bench and engage with the world around them in a civil and Christ-Like manner.  Not only does this album prick my conscious (and my heart)  but it makes my foot tap along while it’s happening. God has the front row seat in every song and had me wishing, “I wish they’ play this in church”.

Jordan Feliz – The River

Jordon didn’t initially make my list. Maybe because at first blush I thought this was a copy of a copy album but, with several listens, I’ve changed my mind. The lyrics are strong, not sappy. The vibe is fresh not re-hashed. Jordan puts his heart into each song. Hope is a strong theme through out. He reminds me, a little,  of Eric Champion in his freshman and sophomore albums, and that’s a good thing. Put it on, and just enjoy and let Jordan’s vocals sweep you into better mood.

Andy Mineo  and Wordsplayed – Magic and Bird

Pure fun. Take the Way Back Machine to the 80’s and 90’s with this clever rap take on basketball legends Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

Did a miss one? Share in the comments.

Here’ my playlist with 17 of my favorite songs, one from each album so you can get a taste.

 

 

 

 

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Are You Healthy Enough For Youth Ministry?

This is the fifth and final post in my series on re-evaluating your youth ministry volunteers, and it may be the most important.

Often times a person will hide their health (all kinds) to keep their job. People want to keep their job so they’ll hide or mask the fact that there is something wrong so they won’t be fired, demoted, etc.

Think of football players. They know that their is a second and third string right behind them. They know that if they go down, someone could take their place. Commentators and the general public reward, with praise, this kind of sacrifice.

I remember Robert Griffin III playing one night. He was really injured on a play, coach Mike Shanahan put him back in. Everyone could see that Griffin was really injured, but out he went, only to get injured even further.

Our volunteers are the same. It’s possible that they, in their minds, have a “powerful” position. It’s a role that gives them purpose and hope and if they were to lose it, it would crush them.

Now, there are various levels of “injuries” a football player can sustain and still play. Broken fingers, strained wrists, etc. None of those are optimum but guys are taught to “play through the pain.”

As believers we can and do sustain “injuries” and can still function. We are wounded healers. We have to deal with unhappy people, jerks who hurt our feelings with their opinions, and just plain mean people who do not like us. Youth Pastors have to shoulder on and get results, but we should do our volunteers one better.

We should offer our volunteers a no fear evaluation. Out evaluations should be a kindness, a check up to prevent any injuries or sickness.

Evaluations shouldn’t be solely performance reviews. If we are the leaders we are also the team doctors. We determine if a player can or should play if the are not 100%

The kinds of injuries I look for are Mental, Emotional and Spiritual.

Mental 

I’m not a psychiatrist or psychologist but I still have to evaluate someone’s mental capacity to drive a bus, teach a lesson, etc. Mental capacity does not mean I am seeing if the person is “crazy” but rather has the fluidity to perform in certain roles.

There are some leaders who lack a filter. The spout off whatever they want whenever they want to whoever they want. These kinds of leaders might be great for tasks at events, but not for a small group leader.

Emotional

People carry wounds in their hearts like many carry around scars on their body. People who are constantly bringing up how people have hurt them, slighted them, left hem out, etc. are not well emotionally, They haven’t dealt with the hurt and the pain they received.

Leaders are there to minister to kids, not rant on about their lives and how unfair life has been to them. People who are not emotionally well suck all the oxygen out of the room and make every thing about them through rehearsing how they received their injury.

Much like athletes who never got their shot at greatness because of such and such (think Kevin from This Is Us) they re-tell the stories of what could have been. The live in the past rather than the present.

Spiritual

Some wounds go deeper than our emotions and drip, like poison, into or spirits. These are the worst kinds of injuries. They are life debilitating because they tint how we look at life.

Spiritual wounds often look like bitterness, un-forgiveness, easily offended, unable to receive instruction, love, or discipline. These are the kinds of wounds, if left unattended, will sideline them from doing the kinds of ministry they would like to do.

We have to be prayed up and perceptive. Some youth workers see their goal as running a great youth program because they were hired to. Be that as it may, God asks us to, occasionally, play team doctor and evaluate those playing on our team, offer prayer, advice, support, therapy, etc.  whatever we can to help our volunteers become the healthiest people they can be. Healthy people make great volunteers.

Although the football player doesn’t like when the team doctor tells them they cannot return to the game because of a concussion and they feel that the doctor is ruining their career, that doctor may be saving that mans life so he can have a life after football.

Listen, it’s only youth ministry, it’s not life.  My role as believer supersedes my role as a Youth Pastor. If I have to sit someone out (including myself) and “the game” suffers, so be it, but I have to care more about that persons well being than I care about how well the program is running.

We cannot fix or cure anyone, that’s Jesus’ job but we should always take stock of the mental, emotional, and spiritual well being of our team. Failure to do so means their will be a lot of “time outs” for injury and we’ll see our youth programs suffer and our kids not receiving the best care from healthy people.

Internally, with a small team or with your Pastor, evaluate those you lead with questions like,

Are they healthy enough to lead a small group?

Are they healthy enough to mentor someone else?

Are they healthy enough to preach?

While we’re at it, we should also put ourselves though the same kinds of injury protocols. After all, youth ministry isn’t life, is it?

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Can You Tell me A Story?

My 4th question in this series  for re-evaluating volunteers is, “Can you tell me a story?”. Every youth ministry has a narrative. We are a collection of stories but we tend to focus on numbers, activity, and logistics.

Stories matter. Stories tell me what kind of impact you’re making. Stories reveal the characters you are impacting and might reveal the plot that that is developing,  I don’t even mind if they brag a little, boast in Christ’s name of what God has been doing in them and through them.

The other half of this story is about “How is this youth ministry is impacting you?” I want to know who’s touching your heart, what are you learning (from students) through the ministry, and what is God teaching you in the midst of your ministry to students?

I could go deeper into story and ask them to each share how they would like their story change. What twist would they like too see and maybe how they would like to see their story in youth ministry end.

This last question is important because I am asking them to dream and then embrace practices that will increase the chances that they are getting the ending they are looking for. In addition to getting what they want our students are going to get motived leader seeking to write a better story for themselves and, ultimately, our youth ministry.

The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals. – Melodie Beattie

What’s your story?

Join me tomorrow for part five.

 

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Is Your Mission Big Enough?

This is the third post in my series about evaluating your youth ministry volunteers. If you do not happen to have a team, this would be great questions to ask yourself if you feel your own commitment slacking.

Small church youth ministries struggle because the mission isn’t big enough not only to keep kids engaged, but to keep kids growing. I find this also to be true with volunteers whose commitment is waning.

This is not only a question for my volunteers but for me as well as I set the pace for our youth ministry, Posing the question to my volunteers may be the key to finding our where I need to broaden their vision as to the importance of why they are there.

This personal mission statement may reveal new roles and responsibilities I need to create which give them a greater satisfaction and a greater sense of purpose.

I may start with the question: What do you believe your personal mission is when you walk into the youth room? My guess is, non one has one, which means I need to help them craft one. This may be taken care of in one of our month LIFT meetings.

I will ask our volunteers to prayerfully consider what their personal mission and, once that is established, ask them how that fits into the overall scheme of things. It will be interesting to hear the answers but here are some that may come to their mind

To help you help the youth

To help kids find Jesus

To do whatever you ask of me

Now, I’m giving the basest of answers, they could surprise me and I will let you know if they do.

Once we have cemented personal missions of each of the volunteers, I may ask our students to do the same.

My missions has been the same for 28 years

    1. Create an an atmosphere to know God (worship, fellowship,)
    1. 2. Create an environment to serve God (se
    rvice, leadership)
    This has kept me focused and has kept me in the game when I felt like quitting.
    If you have a personal mission statement each week you walk in to serve young people, what is it?

Next Question: Can You Tell Me A Story? http://thediscipleproject.net/can-you-tell-me-a-story/

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What’s Your Passion Level?

This is part two in my series on the seven questions to re-evaltuate your youth ministry volunteers. In my last post, I shared the first question: Who has the leverage? My next question is, “What’s your passion level?”

Let me offer a caveat before I get rolling. I understand that many youth groups do not have a wealth of choices when it comes to volunteers. You may not be able to recruit because your congregation is smaller and/or older and the desire for people to work with the youth is limited. That being said, we still have to be willing to evaluate our volunteers even if that means we have to change the way we do youth ministry.

Here are some passion signs I am look for

Are they showing up?

If I have leaders who are simply not showing (no work or illness) then  their commitment is in question. By not showing up, this tells me they are not interested or invested in the youth ministry. Once again, choices may be limited, but no example is still better than a bad example.

Are they participating/engaging?

I have a couch in our youth room. It’s where the adults sit during worship while kids worship to the side. I want to burn that couch, but  I’ve had to shift my mind from “Why aren’t you with the kids? to “Are you and God engaged?”

I think we can make mountains out of mole hills. There is nothing spiritually significant about adults standing or sitting with kids in worship. Our kids are not becoming “better worshippers” because our adults are standing or sitting with them.

If there were disciplinary problems, I could see where adults sitting with kids would be of value; but our kids are good kids. It’s my job to say something interesting and keep students engaged, not my volunteer’s job to keep bored kids interested.

In the end I ask, “Are they worshipping or are they disengaged?” It’s important that I not judge them. These are grown people with jobs and lives, but I must always remind them that they are examples.

I’m also looking at the kinds of conversations they’re having with kids. Are they seeking to uplift kids or are their conversations about nothing? Are they having intentional relationships in order to lead kids further along in their relationship with Christ?

Engagement is, ultimately, in the details and visible in the fruit that is being produced. My eyes are drawn to progress and not just activity.

Am I asking them to fulfill roles and responsibilities?

I text my team a couple of times a week, letting them know about what’s going on. I offer several opportunities on how they can add value to the meeting or certain jobs that need to be done. I also call them individually if I feel like someone on my team would fit a particular activity such as games, food, etc.

I’ve been to several bookstores lately, and it’s the time of the year where bookstores collect books for school, hospitals, etc. The girl asked me “Would you like to purchase a book for X?” She continued, “If you’re feeling extra generous, this is the last in this particular series of books.” I wasn’t feeling extra generous but she had me because she asked.

What I understand is that I cannot hide behind technology. I cannot lead by text. I have to lead face to face, with human connection. It’s easy to say no to or ignore a text. It’s much harder to say not to a real person or to a real need.

Stay tuned.

Question number three What Is Your Mission?

 

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5 Questions To Re-Evaluate Your Volunteers

I have great volunteers. They’ve worked hard with me. Some have been with me for a year, some have been with for eight years. Part of my role  is to re-evaluate them to see if they need to make a shift in the ministry laterally to another position or if they need to make an exit to another ministry.

Lately I’ve been thinking hard on how to re-engage them. Our youth ministry is pretty loose. It’s pretty loose because our church is pretty loose. That’s the culture of this small, southern church.

We average around 15-20 kids a week. We have events. Our weekly meetings are almost self starting because kids come in, know what to do, and they generally and genuinely love each other.

Because we do not have a large group and because of the culture, there isn’t a ton of stuff for volunteers to do and creating more work for the sake of more work just wouldn’t work.

So, here at the end of the year, I am doing some re-evaluating of the ministry and our volunteers and there are some questions I am needing to ask. If you’re in a similar situation, I hope my thinking out loud benefits you too.

Do I have too much leverage?

This is a strange question, right? Yet I have to ask it. Volunteers have leverage if I absolutely need them to run the program I’ve designed or if the kids needs are so great they need other adults in their life to help them along.

I have leverage if the task side of the ministry is so small I could do it myself. In other words, If I am creating jobs for them to do, I can also uncreate job too and not lose anything by doing so.

At this moment, I have too much leverage, and that’s a bad thing. Much of what can be done in our youth ministry could be done by our college students or younger. It’s possible that I could just scale the ministry down and phase out the few volunteers I have, but that would also be a bad thing, in my opinion.

Some of my volunteers are going through a season; a season of personal battles, a season of kids, a season of job change, and season of working hard to make ends meet. I am empathic to that and I have to make graceful decisions in light of that.

At this point, after some though and counsel, I need to put the leverage back in their court. I need to build more value into the program and give them a sense of pride and meaning again. I want, scratch that, I need them to feel like their contribution matters.

The process continues.

Question number two: What Is Your Passion Level?

 

 

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