The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities. – Benjamin E. Mays
The first tragedy of complacency is regret. No one says at the end of there life, wish I did less. I wish I wouldn’t have been so daring. I wish I hadn’t taken so many chances. There will come a day where we’ll beg for one more opportunity to make a difference.
in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. – John Krakauer, Into The Wild
The second tragedy of complacencyis that our adventurous spirit shrivels up and we condition ourselves to pursue what is comfortable and secure. To prevent this kind of tragedy we must regularly do something where the outcome is unsure.
Christians are as subject to complacency as anybody else, and we can certainly settle into repetition and forget that something radical and extraordinary is being asked of us – Francis Spufford
The third and final tragedy isthat we traded God’s call to be extra-ordinary for a life of predictability. We went to church but we did not become The Church. We sang songs, but we did not worship. We gave in the offering but we did not go and help the people ourselves.
A tame faith is not what God created us for. Let’s get back to looking and listening for God’s next great adventure for our lives.
In my very first post on this blog, I share about graduating seniors and wondering what kind of questions we should be asking to make sure kids were spiritually ready of the world.
The article was not meant to encourage some kind of spiritual purity test for graduates but rather an encouragement for youth workers to create a way to judge their own effectiveness as they launched kids into this thing called life.
Example: By the time a student graduates, what should they know about the Bible, God etc. and can they explain the plan of salvation, the timeline of the end times and quote Numbers with poetic flair.
If you think these subjects are important for graduating seniors to know, you should start teaching it to your freshmen or middle school students now.
No matter what the questions are, our students may not (read as: more than likely will not) be able to answer all your questions (or even one) due to the fact that they may not find the material relevant ( now) or they’ve just forgotten.
Teens want to know, “Is it on the test?” because if it’s not, they need the space for…well… anything else.
Most of my students will not quote chapter and verse upon graduation, so where does that leave me? Ultimately, my hope is that my example and, more importantly, the example of their parents, will lead to their understanding of often hard and complex spiritual truths.
This thought brings me to the seven things I want my students to understand before they graduate, but in asking the questions, it’s led me to examine my own life and ministry. It’s not just about what I am teaching but how and if I am living what I am teaching.
Do you understand that God loves you, no matter what?
“Did I loved you no matter what? Did I love you when you snuck out of the cabin to launch all the canoes into the water? Did I show grace and mercy when you blew it big time and I did’t cast you away? Did I affirm God’s long suffering and patience? Did I forgive and ask for forgiveness? Did I
Do you understand the Bible is where you find truth?
Did I show you that I loved God’s word? Did I show you it was my go to book for wisdom? Did I treat the scripture with care when I spoke? Was scripture integrated and foundational to the counsel I gave you? Did you see me read the Bible when I wasn’t preaching?
Do you understand that Church is about community and connection?
Did I bad-mouth our church to score points or did I do my best to explain that we’re not a perfect group of people and we’re all on this journey together? Did I participate in service rather than spectate? Was I engaged or aloof? Did I integrate you with the adult congregation enough so that some of that ancient wisdom rubbed off on you?
Do you understand that prayer is a conversation?
Did I demonstrate that you ought to listen more and talk less? Did I show you how to pray for and through hard things? Did I pray with you as well as pray for you? Did I show prayer as a joy or as drudgery? Was prayer just something we did before we ate pizza or went on the mission trip? Did I show that our Heavenly Father desires to hear from, and to fellowship with, us?
Do you understand the difference between believing in God and following Jesus?
Did I show you what a disciple looks like? Did I show you that when I got it wrong I didn’t quit but pushed on? Did you see that you can mess up and continue to follow Jesus? Did I show you what sacrifice looked like? Did I live like God was real, Jesus was my only hope and not just a nice idea? Did I show you that their was more to the Christian life than coming to youth group, church, reading your Bible, and giving in the offering?
Do you understand that you are called to influence others for good?
Did I tell you over and over again that God can use your talents and gifts to make an impact on the world around you? Did show you how to us influence to glorify God rather than yourself? Did I give you every opportunity to use your gifts and talents? Did I crest space for you to rap, draw, paint, and create for God?
Do you understand how to come back to God, should you wander off?
Was I grace filled? Did I make it easy or hard to come back from the brink? Did I reveal a pattern of how God gladly receives us when we are repentant and contrite? Did I show you that humility goes a long way and that pride is a killer?
And how does a student understand? Was it because of my great talks or the epic game nights? Probably not. Their understanding of a big concept came through the examples of the people around them.
Graduation is not about just about the things they know or learned, but it’s about the things they have been shown and experienced, the examples they’ve been given. What did they see and remember versus what they read or heard and forgot.
This is why Jesus not only taught in parables, but was a living parable. The disciples only “got it” when they saw it, was a part of it, and experienced it.
My graduates may not recall my messages and lessons but they will remember my example.
Every parent and youth worker are asking this question. If you are youth worker, we’ve all been down that path where we are looking for that something special and wind up giving out graduating seniors a bible and card. There’s nothing wrong with that but I think you have way more to offer your seniors.
Each of us have our own gifts, talents and abilities. Why don’t we use them to bless our kids?
If you write music, compose and record a song for each of them.
If you’re good at graphic design make each one of them their own super hero logo.
If you’re good at sowing, make them a special stole for grad day.
In my latest video, I share our unique gift and how you can create the same for your students.
We all have goals, but we don’t all reach them the same way. I should have titled this Are SMART Goals A Dumb Idea For Certain Kinds of Youth Pastors, but that was too long . Certainly, the SMART Goals system will benefit some youth pastor but maybe not all.
Youth Pastors on the whole, tend to be outgoing, gregarious, big picture kind of people, not so concerned with the details of…well, anything. That’s not to say we cannot or should not change, because details are important.
It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen. John Wooden
SMART goals are just one we we can put emphasis on and flesh out the details of our biggest goals.
If you’re not familiar with SMART goals, SMART goals is a system to improve your performance and productivity.
SMART goals stands for (with additional options in parenthesis)
Specific (simple, sensible, significant)
Measurable (meaningful, motivating)
Achievable (agreed, attainable)
Realistic (relevant, reasonable, )
Time Bound (time based, time/cost effectiveness, time limit)
Now, why would I think that SMART goals were a dumb idea for youth workers? Well, as I said earlier, youth workers tend to lean to big picture kid of people and some youth workers may say, “This would only slow me down”. Although this might be true, slowing down, making sure you have your bases covered and your goals fleshed out is not a terrible idea.
I’ve tried SMART goals and it is a valuable tool, but I was hit and miss on them due to that, “slowing me down thing” and my somewhat ADD personality.
I have been creating events and programs for a long time now, but when I started, I had plenty of events go to crap because I forgot a detail like
getting the check to pay the band
getting the flyer proofread
building a team to promote
follow up material for new converts
and the list goes on and on.
I’m an outgoing person. My gifts are in speaking, motivating, etc. On the Briggs Myer personality scale I am a ESFP (Extravert, Sensing, Feeling, Perceptive) the near opposite of this is ISTJ (Introversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judging). This is the personality that is geared toward details. Details is no where to be found in my ESFB.
So, what are you to do if you are the fun loving, big picture, extrovert? Well you can’t just ditch the details just because it’s not in in your personality profile. By the way, Lead/Sr Pastors do not favor the “that’s just not personality” excuse.
Using SMART goals to dig deeper, to bring out what you really want to accomplish in your youth ministry, is a discipline, a habit we make. No matter what personality you are, you can learn to do something that is not natural to you, it just takes work. No excuses.
More templates will be made available and the good people of the Fresh Impact newsletter will be hearing about the first so don’t forget to sign up. in doing so, you’ll also receive my 7 Secrets To A Successful Youth Ministry ebook.
In my last post I talked about what I hated about 13 Reasons Why. The series was not devoid of meaning or purpose, the message was loud and clear: kids are killing themselves and it’s preventable.
There are no new revelations as far as youth culture goes. Stereotypes, acting out, drinking, smoking, sex, have all been a part of growing up in some form or another. Her are my 13 take aways from the show and why they’re important to me as a youth worker.
Attention: Possible spoilers ahead
Gossip is as deadly as anything
It’s easy to look at the drinking and drugs and think. “This is what’s killing our kids.” It’s actually not. The drinking and drugs are simply methods of dealing with or staving off other kids from talking about them. But talkers are gonna ‘ talk.
Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler. Proverbs 20:19
And Solomon lists it as one of God’s top six hates
There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. Proverbs 6:16-19
We should all address the symptoms, but we need to get to the root.
Teenagers are complicated
Duh Paul ! I know, but the show reminded me of the politics of teens and the manuvering each of them has to do to avoid unwanted attention and to stay atop the food chain.
The show also reminded me that what I am saying to teens is not as clear as I think it is. I have to get better at communicating the gospel and what hope looks like.
I also understand that no matter how well I communicate, what I say could have no relevance or meaning to a kid. I have to let the Holy Spirit do his job of touching and changing hearts.
Teachers are busy running their classrooms. Administrators are busy running a school. Parents are busy running their families, I get busy running a youth program. These are the excuses we use for not paying attention.
I have to pay attention to the signs, but beyond the signs I have to listen to my heart and the Spirt. After Hannah was done talking with the guidance counselor she waited outside, hoping he would come after her. He did not. We have to pay attention to our gut not matter how stupid or weak it may make us look.
These kids weren’t just mean, they were cruel. They acted out of their own insecurities and did everything they could to protect themselves. I have to remember that the kids who enter our youth meeting have been chipped away at by many hammers by the time they enter my room.
Cruel words can crush you. I know. I had a substitute teacher tell me one time that I would not about to anything. Silence is equally as deadly. I had a Pastor one time refuse to answer me when I asked, “Do you think I am the best person for this job.” Crushing.
Words can be like hammers pounding at our souls until it break or words can be the balm of healing that covers the wounds.
It’s Still Far Worse For Girls
I can’t imagine being a girl in today’s society. It must suck. As a youth worker, I cannot completely identity with all the struggles of the girls of my youth group but I can be like Jesus to them.
Jesus defended the woman who was to be stoned
Jesus talked to the woman at the well
Jesus defended the woman who washed his feet with her tears
There are times I have to stand up for the girls in my youth group because no one else will. I have to be a ‘dad” of sorts when their real dads are not being the father they should be.
I have a daughter. She’s the greatest thing to me. I have always tried to be careful with my words but I know I have failed. My words have had an impact on her both for good and bad. She is married now and still text her I love you and do my best to affirm her in every way I can.
Work Harder, Talk Less, Observe More, Pray Always.
These are simple phrases that I have to practice if they are to have any impact. Platitudes are useless for handling the serious matters of teenagers.
Pain is compounded
I have to remember that pains is multiplied. Pain at school, pain at home, pain online leaves a kid no where that is pain free.
I have to remember that the life of a teen is attacked from all sides and I have a chance, every week, to not only create a pain free environment, but a healing place to put that pain.
Life is demanding. Friends demand us to be like them. Parents demand that we get our crap together. School demands we get good grades. What does God demand? If we keep is simple it should be
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30,31
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humblywith your God. Micah 6:8
If a kids is already feeling like he is failing everyone, the last thing I want to do is make him feel like he is failing God.
I Was A Jerk
I was sadly reminded of what a jerk I was in High School. I was very much like Clay from the show. I was way awkward and both, as he put it, “The bully and the bullied.”
When someone dumped on me I had sure to pass it along. I was not like this all the time, but I can remember a few key moments.
I wish I could back and apologize to all the girls I dated and say, “I’m sorry, I had no clue.”
Remembering who I was is helping me more empathetic and less self-righteous.
Good Parents Are Not Enough
Of the families featured on the show there were five families that had two parents in the mix. They were not enough. Hannah, the girl who committed suicided, had a great mom and dad who had normal struggles. They loved their daughter and did anything they could for her, but it was not enough .
Kids need all kinds of people in the life to make it. Teens need good parents, good teachers, good coaches, and yes, good youth workers to help them through, what is for many (it was for me ) a miserable stretch of life.
I have a FB group for our parents and I do my best to not only put event stuff but links to culture and parenting articles. I cannot afford to only be a youth pastor, I have to be a family pastor whether I am any good at #adulting or not.
If I’ve learned anything from almost 30 years of work with teenagers, is not to hype the culture. Yes, many teens have watched this show, by many or even most of the teens in my youth ministry have not.
I don’t want them t watch it. It’s horribly graphic and it, in some ways, romanticizes the notion of suicide as being a noble deed.
The 22 year old me would be tempted to do a 13 week series on the show or suicide or to over blow the use of show quotes or clips for street cred with the kids. This is not good. To glorify the show could do more damage than good. I’ll stick with overhyping Guardians of the Galaxy instead.
Moral Relavatism Still Does Not Work
In the show there is a character named Tony, In discussing the tapes, he refers to the as “her truth” . The truth, the absolute truth, of God’s love for and her worth and value were never shard with her. She had only her own thoughts and the thoughts of others to form and opinion.God’s word is Truth. All the small “truths” are only revenant as to how they connect with the absolute truth of God’s word and character.
If any of these character had the absolute truth spoken to them, the story changes drastically. Clay and the guidance counselor talk towards the end of the series. Clay says, “We have to do a better job of loving each other.” The guidance counselor responds of our (his) inability to be be perfect (since he was one of the reasons), and he is right, we are flawed. But Clay comes back, “But can’t we try harder?”
Yes Clay, we can. When we get grip on what real, absolute love is, we can.
It Will Never End
Sadly, for every day a kid watches 13 Reasons, another teenager commits suicide or attempts suicide. You can get more facts on suicide
Five minutes into the Netflix series 13 Reasons, I was hating it. If you’re not familiar with the show, 13 Reasons is based on the book of the same title, written by Jay Asher.
The 13 episodic series tells the story of Hannah Baker’s suicide, why it happened, and who she thought was responsible. Hannah recorded 13 tapes and were given to one of the people she blamed for her death. Once they were done with the tapes they were to pass the tapes on to the next person.
Hate is a strong word, but, what I hated about 13 Reasons is based on my 26 years of working with teens and parents as well as being an ardent observer of teenagers and their culture. There are some things the series got right and some they got wrong. I will be posting another article on my take-aways from the series, but for now, these are the things I hated.
Warning: Potential Spoilers
Every teenage movie has dumb or absentee parents because the movie needs a foil for the jokes. I hate the way many of these parents are portrayed. Th only thing words than parents who are portrayed is buffoons (think almost every sitcom) are parents who are absentees.
Of the families featured, three of them that had a nuclear style families with mom and dad being present including Hannah Baker’s family. One family had two dads who were responsible and caring. If the series shows anything, ti shows that no matter if you have a nuclear, blended, or alternative, family, no one is exempt from the distress of adolescence.
The rest of the families feared, or not, were helmed by a tiger mom, drug addicts, or were, in many cases, non existent in the show at all.
For all those absentee parents there’s an army of caring parents doing their best to care for their kids. These parents are engaged,, have late night talks with their kids, talk about culture and it’s effects on their kids, and yes, talk about suicide and depression no matter how uncomfortable with their kids. These parents pick up on signals and signs of disturbing behavior and act on it, which Clay’s mom eventually did.
Snappy West Wing Style Dialogue
Kids do not talk like this. The content is real but the delivery is not. I understand that this is a scripted show meant to deliver a certain cadence and pace to audiences. I am not saying that students are not articulate or snappy, but when it come to real life, communication is more awkward than awesome.
Devoid of God
Let’s face it, if Hollywood had put a Christian in this movie, the believing student would have been represented by a stereo type rather an empathetic student of faith. In fact, my guess is there would have been an angle about some Christian kid preaching about suicide and hell (not that this doesn’t happen…) rather than a caring believer trying to make an impact.
It’s my belief that if you put one caring, Christian teen in this series, we may have a very short series with Hannah Baker finding hope instead of death.
Romanticizing/Revenge Aspect Of Suicide
I didn’t read the book so I was shocked at the tapes being used as a plot device. When I first heard Hannah speaking, is when I started to hate this show.
On the tapes, Hannah is heard to be calm, cool, and collected. It’s also where I heard the tinge of revenge in her voice. I started to feel like I was watching the movie The Ring. where if you watched (or in their case, listened) to the tapes, your death (or something really bad) would be imminent.
I get it. She wanted the lives of others to be destroyed the way her life was destroyed. Mission accomplished but he best revenge would have been to graduate, become successful in life, married Clay, ultimately to say, “You didn’t beat me” .
The Plot Mechanism of Tapes
Hearing Hanna’s voice was like listening to a sick version of The Wonder Years. In today’s world of social media, there are more than enough ways for a teen to communicate their pain and suffering, and they often do behind selfies and smiles.
I would hate to think that some kid right now is making YouTube videos and scheduling them to post every day after his or her death so they can make their point to those who’ve harmed them.
Suicide Wrapped in Narrative
Watching Hannah suffer day after day, knowing the outcome, was just heartbreaking. I would have rather watched a documentary with facts and stats than the gut wrenching downturn of a young soul.
No kid really wants to die. Hannah didn’t want to die, but every suicide has a story. Maybe I just hated the fact the story had to be told at all.
By episode 3 I knew that nothing good was going to happen to Hannah, or anyone else, in any episode. I just waited to see what terrible thing happened next. It felt, almost, sadomasochistic. You knew the bad thing was coming and you just couldn’t look away and you couldn’t stop it.
If the goal of 13 Reasons Why was to show that high school life is pure crap. they succeeded, but don’t kids already know that?
The types of kids, in 13 Reasons Why, existed in my high school universe. None of them were as extreme as the ones shown in the series. The producers, and writers are much like the caricature artist at the fair.
The artists job is to offer a
a picture, description, or imitation of a person or thing in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a comic or grotesque effect.
I have had several students tell me, “These kid are not real” and this is true. In actuality, these characters are not true, or meant to be true, but their cruelty, their apathy, their insecurities, are all true.
I hated 13 Reasons Why because, although the characters were not real, their conversations, motives, and fears were real and nothing as gong to stop them from acting on them.
In real life, we have to look past the stereo types and look a the heart of a person. Sadly, the script only showed the malevolence of the teenage heart instead of it’s capacity for mercy.
I hated this series, not because the moments were real, but because they were too real. Nothing is left to the imagination. It was raw the way Passion of the Christ was raw.
The rapes, the sexual assault, the bullying, all too real. I had to fast forward though much of it and I’m glad I did. I hated that the directors and producers had to be that graphic to get a point across. Some may need the wake up call, but most don’t; especially students.
A Map For Middle Schoolers?
Another point I had not considered, was brought to the front by the CPYU podcast. This movie acts like a distorted map for middle schoolers. If I were a middle school kid, this series would scare the hell out of me.
“Is this what life is really like? ” and “Am I going to commit suicide because I can’t handle the pressure?” would be just a few of the questions I might be asking if I were a middle school student.
At the end of the series there is a suicide attempt. One of the main characters is seen being rushed the hospital.
Were we supposed to see this coming? Was this the shows way of showing that another attempt was right in front of our eyes, that we had somehow missed the Easter eggs they planted?
I hated that it was this character. There was, to me, no reasoning behind why it should have been this character or that there should have been any attempt at all.
Why didn’t the show take a positive take at the end? Because life just sucks? I think they did a good job of showing that for 12 episodes. Why not show a kid making a difference? Why not draw a map for those middle school kids that leads them to taking positive action?
Yep, there’s enough loose threads to lead us to believe there will be a second season. 13 Reasons Why is the most watched show in Netflix history. If they plan in cashing in on a second season, I think they will have devalued what they tried to say in this series.
Magnified the Negative
I listened to a podcast by CPYU (Center for Parenting and Youth Understanding), and they brought out why I felt terrible with every episode, no one was having any positive happen to them in High School.
I can relate. I hated High Schoo. I don’t go back to any reunions because I felt my four years there were a compete waste from both social, as well as, academic reasons.
Maybe I hated 13 Reasons because it was too close to my real high school days. I had several flashbacks to the days I was bullied or left out of life. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that suicide crossed my mind as an opt out, but I think I respected my opportunity at life more than I hated it.
Let me break it down
Should parents watch 13 Reasons Why?
Yes, if they want to (and they should want to ) have a discussion with their kids about the subject matter of the series.
Should students watch 13 Reasons Why?
Many have already watched it but for the few that haven’t, real life is hard enough with our watching others be destroyed episode to episode.
Re-Brandng a ministry sounds daunting, and it is, if you don’t know where to start. In this episode of the Youth Ministry In Motion podcast, I share how I started the rebranding process with just three questions.
What do you do when a kid (or kids) from a fellow youth workers youth group comes to your youth ministry?
If you’re in a small town, like mine, you’re going to have kids church hop. Kids will make the rounds from youth group to youth group. You know those kids, they come for a few months and then they’re gone,. Trying to get them to commit is like trying to nail snot to a door.
Then, there are those times when a kid who attends. another youth group regularly shows up at your youth meetings. This can be a little awkward if you’re friends with the youth worker of that church. It’s even more awkward if you’re not friends with them.
So, do you tell that youth worker their kid was in your youth group the night before?
I have a standing rule, if I know the youth pastor, and I know one of their kids has attended my group, I give them a heads up the next day. It’s what I would want them to do for me. I would want them to tell me if one of my students was at their group because
That student may have a personal issue with me and is avoiding me
I may be doing a poor job of helping that student plug into our ministry
I would want to know the kid is at least going somewhere
I consider it a professional courtesy to let the other youth worker know that their kid has been showing up to my group. I believe that youth worker needs the chance to investigate why their kid would be checking out other youth groups, especially if that kid is a leader.
I would not say that snatching other kids from other ministries is the unpardonable sin of youth ministry, but if you believe in reaping and sowing, I’d watch how you handle other church’s kids.
What do you think? Has someone ever “stolen” one of your kids and never told you? Would you (have you) stolen someone else’s kids and never told the other youth pastor or at least let them know they have not dropped out of church?
Making life-long followers of Jesus. It’s kind of the point of my blog here. Every idea, video, etc, is meant to encourage you to think long term. To change something about yourself, your program, or even your theology when it some to making disciples.
I want you to become life-long disciple makers, not just more creative youth workers. Playing better games is a means to an end. Being an awesome communicator is not the end game . It’s not about tactics, it’s about the lifestyle.
“But making disciples is far more than a program. It is the mission of our lives. It defines us. A disciple is a disciple maker.”
― Francis Chan, Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples
My hope is that every post, every video, every resource, leads us all to becoming lifelong disciple makers and not just better youth pastors.