3 Ways To Not Be A Leader

In the battlefield drama, We Were Soldiers there is a mountain training scene a little more than fifteen minutes into the movie where Lt. Col. Hal Moore (Mel Gibson) looks to Sgt. Maj. Plumley (Sam Elliot) and says:

Moore: Now that young man is a leader. (referring to Lt. Geoghegan, played by Chris Klein)

Plumley: Yes sir. (looking through binoculars in a different direction)

Plumley: But that other fella. That big strong one there.  He wants to win medals.

Moore: (Picks up the binoculars and looks at Sgt. Savage, played by Ryan Hurst)

Moore: He’s eager.

Later in the movie, the men get dropped off behind enemy lines by helicopters. As they set up an initial field base, the battlefield is eerily still, the enemy attacks from what seems like every direction.

Lt. Col. Moore, in the thick of the fire fight tells his radio operators: “Hey! Hey! Calm down! Understand the situation and communicate clearly!”

I believe that is a message that any leader, whether in the military, the schools, corporate world, or church need to take to heart.

Calm down. Understand the situation. Communicate Clearly.

Let me suggest three ways to not be a leader…

1. If you want to not be a leader, sabotage your credibility with social media posts

In some ways I am sure that every modern President is jealous of Franklin Roosevelt.  The reality of his life bound to a wheelchair hidden from public knowledge.  That’s just not true today.  We know when the President makes a run to Starbucks or to grab a hot dog.  We know how many rounds of golf he has played and how many vacation days he has taken.

The technological revolution coupled with the explosion of social networking has had an unavoidable impact on the platform of our public leaders.  Political, athletic, entertainment, or religious leaders all feel its impact.  Think about some leaders who have fallen due to social networks.  Anthony Weiner, Ray Rice, David Petraeus, and more come to mind.

Might I offer three suggestions?

  • Ask yourself: “Am I saying something publicly that has the potential to affect my personal influence?”
  • Recognize that the things you say have the ability to alienate someone from your church/ministry.
  • Remember to check who/what you follow…because it is a reflection upon yourself.

2. If you want to not be a leader, act like Chicken Little

Do you remember the story of Chicken Little from elementary school or bedtime stories with your kids?  An acorn falls from a tree hitting Chicken Little on the head.  He surmises that the sky is falling and sets off to warn the king.  On the journey to the king, he warns everyone he comes into contact with.  In the more popular renderings of the story, a fox lures the group journeying to the king into his lair and eaten.  Because Chicken Little panicked and no one stepped up to lead, people died–ok, that may be a tad on the dramatic side.

Here’s the thing, even if the building is on fire, leaders don’t panic.  When leaders panic people get hurt; people get lost; people get left behind.  Solomon reminds us that “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (KJV).

One final note, in the book Next Generation Leader, Andy Stanley notes that leaders need: Competence, COURAGE, Clarity, Coaching, and Character.  Courage is not the absence of fear, it is moving forward in the face of fear.  Courage is not panicking.  Even if you have to manufacture courage, do it: fake it, ’til you make it.

3. If you want to not be a leader, always never be grateful 

I should begin by acknowledging this is perhaps the area where I need to grow the most.  I need to thank my volunteers more…we all do.  Think about it: when someone thanks you for doing something, how does it feel?  Why would it feel any different for the people you lead?

I don’t have the research to back this up.  But I think it’s safe to assume that there is a direct correlation between the gratitude you show towards the people you lead and the rate of retention you experience.

I believe that these two words will transform your leadership platform more than any others: Thank You.

Say it often. Say it sincerely. Say it publicly

Let’s wrap it up this way:

  • Leaders have integrity
  • Leaders have courage
  • Leaders have gratitude

A Letter To My 22 Year Old Self

A letter to my 22 year old self.

Dear Geoff,

In 2014 you’ll be 30 years old, have an amazing wife, and have two awesome kids! You will have experienced a lay off and find yourself serving parents and students in Texas. You will have seen a lot–suicide, drug addiction, leadership conflicts, and more–in student ministry, but will have more to learn.

Why not go ahead and get a jump on things? I want you to do four things: Serve. Learn. Read. Grow.

Serve, serve, serve. Serve everywhere you get the opportunity. Lead a small group–maybe even a small group of students you wouldn’t think you would connect with. Disciple a student. Plan an event. Clean coolers, clean the bus. Ask what gaps you can fill. Serve wherever there is a need.

Learn. Learn all you can, any way you can. Set up meetings and ask questions. Learn from past experiences and best practices of veteran student pastors and volunteer leaders. Ask parents what it’s like raising a teenager today and what they need from you as a student pastor.

Read. Read often. Follow quality ministry blogs, not just student ministry blogs. Read books, again, not just books about student ministry. Don’t worry about reading what is trendy, read quality.  I am sure these (non-comprehensive) lists will change, but here’s a start…

Grow. Grow as a Christ Follower. Read and study your bible constantly, buy a journal and jot down thoughts and prayers. If you’re not growing, you won’t be going.

Grow as a man. Take responsibility. Assert independence. Leave behind the things of your childhood and college years. Step up. Lead. There will be a time where the little boy needs to sit down and the man needs to stand up.

Grow as a friend. Don’t just acquire friends; be a friend. Be loyal. Love. Give. Listen.

In 2014 you will not be where you thought you would be, but you wouldn’t have it any other way.

 
What would you say to yourself at 22?

Three Conversations Every Parent Must Have With Their Teenager

When you hear the phrase: “Family Meeting” do you get chills, do you roll your eyes, or do you hide?  Family meetings don’t always get the reaction they should.  They don’t have to be ominous and fear-laden.

I bring up family meetings because when I was growing up that was the cue for a serious conversation.  I think that there are three vital conversations that parents need to start having with their teenagers; and the younger the better.

THE SEX TALK

Dun, dun, duuuunnnn.  Sweaty palms. Cotton mouth.  Avoiding eye contact.  Stumbling over your words.  Fear. The parent feels awkward; the student feels grossed out. (I even feel a little awkward writing this.) This is how the typical sex talk begins…but it doesn’t have to be this way. Sex is a gift from God that we treat as taboo.  Let me say that again, God created sex; and what God creates is good.

Any conversation you have with your teenager about sex should begin there: Yes, God created sex, but God created sex to be shared in the context of marriage between husband and wife.  But if you wait until your child is a teenager to talk about sex you may have waited too long.  Did you know that the average age of first time exposure to pornography is 11 years old?  11. Not 18.  11.  That’s the average sixth grader.  With the onset of mobile technology what was once restricted to behind the counter at a convenience store is now in their pocket!  I would not be surprised at all if the number of younger children with smartphones increases that the average age for first time exposure to pornography becomes younger and younger.

Here’s the million dollar question: How do I talk with my teenager about sex? I think it’s vital to remember that this is more than just a conversation about sex; it’s a conversation about biblical love, making wise choices, and open communication between parents and students.  It is also not just one conversation, but the opening conversation in an ongoing dialogue between parents and teenagers.

  • Be honest.
  • Be real.
  • Listen.

Before you have the sex talk with your teenager it is wise for the parents to get together to make sure they are on the same page. You may disagree, but I believe that it is best for the same gender parent to initiate this conversation (if possible); I also think there is an appropriate time to have the opposite gender parent join the conversation as well.

Harvest USA and XXXChurch have some resources that could be very helpful.

The sex talk seems obvious, right? In theory, parents have been having this conversation with their little raging ball of hormones (teenager) for generations.  However, the next two conversations may not be as obvious, but they are nonetheless important.

THE TECH TALK
When was the last time you asked your teenager spell “kick?” Do you know what #tbt or #mcm or #wcw mean? What is an IGFollower?  What does #s4s mean?  If you’re asking any of these questions, you may have some homework to do…

If the sex talk is characterized with sweaty palms and cotton mouth, then the tech talk is marked by overwhelming confusion.  There are several social network and social media apps available for smart phones.  Here are a few off the top of my head:

I doubt many teenagers are on the last three networks.

As many as 25% of teenagers get their primary internet access via mobile device.  That means having the family computer in the living room isn’t enough. This conversation is greatly needed.  One of our obligations to teenagers is to help them navigate the digital terrain.  In a lot of ways we are like Lewis and Clark blazing a trail for others to follow on the digital landscape.

Here are someone suggestions for the tech talk:

  • Establish the desire for open communication between parents and teenagers
  • Once it goes online, it’s there forever
  • Go over the laws for your state for sexting
  •  Have a family charging station for mobile devices and tablets each night
  • Get all usernames and passwords
  • Establish criteria for the “friends” or “followers” on social networks

Do they know them?
How do they know them?
Are they friends in real life?

X3Watch

Covenant Eyes

I would have this conversation before they get their first smartphone.

The last conversation in my list is in that position intentionally.  Ideally the previous conversations would happen early on in the teen years.  But this next conversation is a sort of manufactured 21st century rite of passage.

 THE DRIVING TALK

I would guess that this is the conversation parents are most comfortable having with their teenagers.  But that doesn’t mean that it is any less significant.  There are huge ramifications for how your student drives–their lives and the lives of others are at stake.  This conversation should happen sometime between the 15th and 16th birthdays.

Here are some tips for the driving talk:

  • Driving is a privilege
  • Safe driving is an expectation
  • Don’t text and drive
  • Limit phone calls while driving
  • Text blocking apps while driving
  • Who pays for the ticket
  • Who pays for insurance increases after tickets or accidents
  • Who pays for accidents
  • Who pays for the car
  • Who pays for gas
  • How many strikes are allowed
  • How do grades impact driving privileges

Do you have older teenagers?  Have you not had these conversations yet?  It’s not too late! Carve out time this week to talk with your teenager about sex, tech, and driving.

Even though these conversations cover some serious content that can affect teens for the rest of their lives, try not to be too serious. Share some of your mistakes and funny story or two.

  • What was your first ticket for and how much did it cost you? In case you’re wondering mine was $395 for going 75 in a 60 construction zone from state trooper Billy Brown (his real name) in 2003.
  • How awkward was your first date?
  • What was the most embarrassing picture of you from high school?  Show them!

The key thing to remember in these three conversations is that you, as the parent, are trying to open–and keep open– the lines of communication with your teenager. Don’t worry about having the perfect script; just talk.  Ask questions. Listen.

Be real.

Be honest.

Listen.

Market Driven Youth Ministry by Dr. Richard Ross

The following article was originally posted on September 10, 2013 from Theological Matters, a blog of SWBTS. The article is written by Dr. Richard Ross, student ministry professor.

Teenagers and Market-Driven Ministry

Three documents have crashed into each other on my computer. Their composite message is both troubling and hopeful.

First

Christian Smith is the researcher who coined the phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism” (MTD) to describe the “faith” of most church teenagers. His seminal National Study of Youth and Religionresearch sent shock waves through the youth ministry world.

A church teenager might express MTD this way: “God exists. He is nice and wants us to be nice. He doesn’t bother me about my life. But since I’m very special, He’ll show up whenever I call. But as soon as He does something to make my life happier and easier, He goes away again—so I can live my life my way.”

Smith and his team of researchers have continued to research the students who made up the original sample. They have just completed Wave Four interviews with those subjects, who now are ages 20-24.

Last week Christian Smith emailed me with the initial results. Even with their church backgrounds, Smith found that about 90%:

  • “Know absolutely nothing about what the [churches] they grew up in believe theologically,
  • Have no understanding whatsoever of the ways that faith is not just an instrumental help but is something that might drive and transform one’s life, and
  • Think religion is totally about the basic moral orientation it gives (most of which they agree with but say they are not living by).”

He summarized by saying, “Only about 10% remain what we called ‘committed traditionalists.’” To use the vocabulary of evangelicals, that means about 10% can express their core beliefs, can lead someone else to saving faith, and embrace Christ’s mission for their lives. Ten percent!

Second

Blogger Matt Marino has generated lots of conversation with his post, What’s So Uncool about Cool Churches? Marino wrote, “What is the ‘pill’ we have overdosed on? I believe it is ‘preference.’ We have embraced the idea of market-driven youth ministry. Unfortunately, giving people what they ‘prefer’ is a road that, once you go down it, has no end. … In an effort to give people something ‘attractive’ and ‘relevant’ we embraced novel new methods in youth ministry, that 20 years later are having a powerful shaping effect on the entire church.”

Near the end of that post, Marino says, “In summary, ‘market driven’ youth ministry gave students a youth group that looks like them, does activities they prefer, sings songs they like, and preaches on subjects they are interested in. It is a ministry of preference. And, with their feet, young adults are saying ‘Bye-bye.’ What might we do instead? The opposite of giving people what they want is to give them what they need.”

Third

Writing in The Atlantic Monthly, Larry Alex Taunton summarizes a study performed by his Fixed Point Foundation. They conducted extensive interviews with collegiate members of atheist organizations that Taunton calls “the atheistic equivalent of Campus Crusade.” He found that almost all the young atheists had backgrounds in the church and in youth groups. Here are some of the conclusions of the study:

  • The mission and message of their churches was vague.
  • They felt their churches offered superficial answers to life’s difficult questions.
  • They expressed their respect for those ministers who took the Bible seriously.
  • Ages 14-17 were decisive. For most, the high school years were the time when they embraced unbelief.

Taunton wrote, “Without fail, our former church-attending students expressed [much respect] for those Christians who unashamedly embraced biblical teaching. Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told us that he is drawn to Christians like that, adding: ‘I really can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.’”

Eric Metaxas adds, “Much of what passes for youth ministry these days is driven by a morbid fear of boring our young charges. As a result, a lot of time is spent trying to devise ways to entertain them. The rest of the time is spent worrying about whether the Christian message will turn kids off. But … young people, like the not-so-young, respect people with conviction—provided they know what they’re talking about.”

In the last two years I have read 60 books from the clearest thinkers in youth ministry. I have studied summaries of 14 research projects related to youth ministry. The major themes that emerge are these:

  • Teenagers are transformed primarily through their relationships with adults who themselves are deeply transformed. Teenagers begin to live for the glory of Christ as they walk beside others who live for the glory of Christ. Baptist Press editor and youth volunteer Art Toalston recently tweeted, “Even middle school boys drop their silliness and tune in when Scripture flows from our souls.”
  • Teenagers are transformed through heart connections. The stronger the relationship is between a teenager and an adult, the stronger will be the transmission of transformation.
  • Teenagers are transformed by the Spirit through the truth and power of God’s Word. Teenagers respect and are drawn toward adults who joyfully proclaim with full conviction, “Thus saith the Lord.” The youth leader who spends 15 minutes preparing his Bible talk and two hours on a creative video might actually increase attendance by reversing those time allotments.

I celebrate any church willing to spend a million dollars on a youth building. It can be a useful tool. But no one should assume that’s the key to getting teenagers willing to live or die for the cause of Christ for a lifetime. The key is:

  • Leading parents, youth ministers, and disciplers to fall more deeply in love with Christ and to transparently exude their passionate desire for His glory and the coming of His kingdom on earth. Who in your church is gathering parents and youth leaders with the specific goal of leading them into a deeper relationship and walk with King Jesus? How often do they meet?
  • To equip parents, youth ministers, and disciplers to know how to build deeper heart connections with teenagers. Busy adults can have life-on-life discipling relationships with about three teenagers. What is the adult-student ratio in your church’s Bible teaching groups? Who is regularly challenging adults to put down their lattes, leave their comfortable adult groups, and invest in the next generation?
  • To equip parents, youth ministers, and disciplers to know Scripture, assimilate Scripture, and confidently proclaim Scripture to teenagers. When your average dad pictures himself with his family and Bibles open, does he feel competent to share the Word? Who is taking the lead in equipping him for this role? When do they meet and how often?

Churches that have depressing answers to the questions above—BUT have some great facilities, programs, and trips for teenagers—should NOT expect most of their teenagers to walk in faith for a lifetime. Facilities, programs, and trips have a role and they are a helpful supplement to ministry, but they are not the core issues. If we do not shift much more of our focus to the core issues, we will continue to lose most of a generation after high school.

Challenge Your Youth by Dr. Alvin Reid

The following post is taken from The Gospel Coalition by Dr. Alvin Reid

 

CHALLENGE YOUR YOUTH

 Posted By Alvin Reid On September 3, 2013

Morgan introduced herself after I spoke at her church. She enthusiastically described the ministry she and her friends had started to fight the blight of human trafficking. They were seeking to offer gospel hope to girls vulnerable to the industry and those rescued from it. At the time I met her, she and her friends had raised almost $4,000 to send overseas to rescue young women. Now, nearly two years later, they’ve raised more than $40,000 to build a safe house in Calul, Moldova, a nation whose number one export is trafficked women.

[1]

Did I mention Morgan was only 14 when I met her? Morgan and her friends Brianna, Maleah, McCall, Claire, Kristie, and Elise launched a movement propelled by the gospel. A bunch of middle school girls decided not to waste their high school years in order to make a remarkable impact for Christ.

Open Your Eyes

Morgan gives credit for this ministry to her family and to her church—a congregation serious about taking the gospel to the nations. At 13, she and her mom went on a church trip to India. Morgan would be the first to admit their ministry never could have taken off without their parents, student pastor, and congregation encouraging and supporting them. The ministry these girls birthed (Save Our Sisters Today) is just one example of believers living the mission while they’re young. Virtually every church has youth like Morgan. But are the churches doing what they can to find these youth, direct their passions, and commit to encouraging them?

Parents who love Jesus yearn for their children to love Jesus as well. Student ministries seek to engage students with the gospel and help them live out the gospel. But there’s a problem. Too many churches assume a posture toward youth more reflective of MTV than of the Bible. Too often, and with little reflection, we view teens as adolescents in a timeout between childhood and adulthood. “They are just kids,” we say. “Boys will be boys.” Youth ministries are often pressured to offer events more than engagement, trivia more than truth. But if students can learn trigonometry in high school, they can certainly learn theology in church.

Extended Boyhood Epidemic

Our culture today teems with immature young men: the average 21-year-old male in the United States has played 10,000 hours of video games [3]. When you consider, as Malcolm Gladwell has shown, that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert at something, no wonder so many 20-something males struggle in the adult world. Moreover, the National Study of Youth and Religion found young adults in churches have often been taught the Bible from the perspective of what sociologist Christian Smith has termed “moralistic therapeutic deism.” The cumulative result is a generation of churched youth marked more by activity and moralism than by the mission of the living God.

But what if we stopped this trend? What if we challenged the youth in our churches to live missionally?

Often in Scripture we read of remarkable young people. Sold into slavery at 17, Joseph lived for God regardless of his circumstances. Samuel heard God’s voice as a lad when God’s word was rare. David killed Goliath as a teenager, the youngest and scrawniest of many sons. Josiah led a revival, and God called Jeremiah, each while they were young. Daniel and his friends were possibly as young as today’s middle school youth when they were deported to Babylon, yet they stood for their faith. And in the New Testament, we encounter Jesus’ disciples—young men themselves—as well as Paul’s specific exhortation to Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because of his youth. This array of evidence must not be ignored.

Jonathan Edwards said the Great Awakening was essentially a youth movement. Less than a century later, in 1806, college students sitting under a haystack sparked a worldwide missions movement. Near the end of the 19th century, a student volunteer movement saw thousands of young people take the gospel to the nations.

So, granting the vast changes in the past 200 years, how should we see youth today? Not as children finishing childhood but as young adults entering adulthood, capable of understanding and living out the gospel as missionaries in an increasingly unChristian culture. We who lead youth as parents and student pastors must see ourselves as missionary strategists equipping students to live on mission now, not later.

Five Suggestions

What does this transformation look like?

1. Build your student ministry and your parenting on the gospel. Show them, as Tim Keller observes, that the gospel isn’t merely the ABC of salvation but the A to Z of Christianity. A missional vision that doesn’t arise out of response to the gospel leads to legalistic activism, not biblically driven ministry.

2. Involve them in the mission locally. We’ve tried to help our own children, now grown and married, to see how this mission looks through simple things—from how we engage our next-door neighbors to how we treat servers at restaurants.

3. Don’t keep them in the dark about the mission globally. One of my mantras is, “Get your children out of the country before they finish high school.” By the time our daughter Hannah was 18, she’d been on mission trips to four continents. Our son Josh has traveled to three continents and done mission work in several major U.S. cities. These trips help teenagers see that the gospel isn’t just their parents’ home-brewed superstition; it’s true and worthy of proclamation to everyone, everywhere.

4. Demonstrate missional lives. Let them see you living missionally while you teach them how to do so. Discipleship is usually more caught than taught.

5. Believe in them. Youth need three things: a vision for their lives as big as the gospel, encouragement to live radically for Jesus Christ now, and the permission to do so.

Missionary statesman Stanley Jones was asked once how he helped so many young people become effective missionaries across the globe. “I take a young person,” he replied, “and I put a big crown over their head. Then, I help them to grow into it.”

If we’re centered on the gospel and committed to living missionally, we can do the same with today’s youth as well.

Faith

FAITH…

  • Believes without seeing
  • Acts without all the answers
  • Hopes in the cross
  • Lives in the resurrection
  • Grows in the field, not the classroom
  • Enables my steps
  • Conquers my fear
  • Requires true belief
  • Pushes me beyond my abilities
  • Mandates trust in the power and sovereignty of Jesus
  • Trusts that His ways are always better than mine
  • Knows that He will never leave me or forsake me
  • Understands that you may not know all of the answers on this side of heaven
  • Leads you to places you never dreamed
  • Makes your feet move to His heart beat
  • Moves mountains
  • Awakens the heart
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance of what we do not see. Hebrews 11.1
How do you define faith?
Where has your faith (or lack thereof) lead you?
Enter your comment below.

Not The Brightest Crayon In The Box

I like the disciples. No, really, I like them. Mainly because they do some pretty dumb stuff and then I’m dumb enough to think that there’s no way I would do that if I was in their shoes. Think about it: these guys are rabbinical school dropouts, they couldn’t make the cut; academics weren’t exactly their strong suit. Yet Jesus saw something in them, some intrinsic value that he knew he could mold and shape into an unstoppable force.

The disciples had their highlights:

  • When Peter responded to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”
  • When Peter walked on water
  • When the disciples left everything to follow Jesus

And then they had more than their fair share of lowlights:

  • When Peter continued his reply to Jesus’ question and he was called Satan
  • When Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and sank
  • When they couldn’t heal the boy possessed by a demon because of a lack of prayer on their part
  • When James and John argue about who is the greatest
  • When Thomas doubts
  • When Peter denies Jesus not once, not twice, but three times
  • When judas betrays Jesus
  • When They don’t see how it is possible for Jesus to feed 5000 hungry men, plus the women and children with them

And there was the time that Jesus fed 4000 men, plus women and children. In Mark chapter 6 the disciples watch Jesus take 5 loaves of bread and 2 small fish and after praying there’s enough food for everyone to be comfortably stuffed and still have 12 baskets full of leftovers. Fast forward to Mark chapter 8 and the disciples find themselves in a very familiar situation…you could almost call it déjà vu.

Except this time there are fewer men, 1000 fewer to be precise. One would think that if they found themselves in a similar situation they would respond differently the second time around…not so with this band of ragamuffins. They had the exact same reaction this time as the first.

I imagine it like this:
Jesus: Alright guys, here we are again. A large, hungry crowd at a remote location and it’s the end of the day. What should we do?
Disciples: Jesus we’re more tired and more hungry than they are because we had to put up with them. Let’s send them away and let them fend for themselves.
Jesus: Guys, have we ever been in a situation like this before?
Disciples: Yes…..siiiiiiigh
Jesus: Well guys, what should we do?
Disciples: Let’s see what we can find and we’ll bring it to you.
Jesus: Well?
Disciples: So, last time there were 5000 men plus women and children and we had five loaves of bread and two fish. This time we found seven loaves of bread and a few small fish for 4000 men, plus women and children.
Jesus: In a similar situation, guys, why did you think I was incapable of providing for you again? You have to believe. You have to trust. It is in my nature to take care of my people. Don’t you remember what Abraham said after my Father provided the scapegoat for Isaac? Abraham said: “The LORD will Provide.” And he even made an altar there. Don’t you remember what Moses said as Joshua was set to assume leadership? Moses told the Israelites, “He (meaning Me) will never leave you or forsake you.” And guys, seriously, what about when we were on that huge grassy hill beside the Sea of Galilee where I said: “If my Father takes such good care of birds and flowers why would he not take even better care of you.” Guys, believe in me.

The timelessness of the bible is beautiful. The timing of God when he speaks through the bible is perfect. I find myself in a situation I experienced a few years ago. Except this time I had the audacity to think that there was no way God could provide in a similar way in a similar situation. And then, in the perfect timing of beautiful timeless truth, God spoke. I read Mark 8 that day in my time with Jesus; not because I remembered the story being there, but because I am working my way through the gospels. The moment I thought there was no way God was capable of providing this time, He, in His infinite wisdom and complete sovereignty led me to read this story.

The next time you-as I often do-find yourself held hostage by a lack of confidence in the abilities of God to provide for his people, remember that Jesus once fed over 5000 people and then followed it up by feeding over 4000 people on a separate occasion just days apart.

Often the disciples were not the brightest crayons in the box, but then again, neither am I. Indeed, the LORD will provide and He will never leave you (me) or forsake you (me).

Mission Trip Bingo

Now that the summer is winding down and students are getting back into their routines, I thought we could have a little fun.  Keep this in mind for your next mission trip.

Enjoy!

Image

Like A 2×4 To The Face

This year in our life groups I have the privilege of leading my seniors. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the guys and girls better. This Saturday I will watch them graduate from high school. I can’t help but think of that awful purple cap and gown with gold trim that I wore over ten years ago (I feel old writing that).

At the beginning of the school year I let them choose what book of the bible they wanted to walk through on Sunday mornings. They told me their choice was Revelation. They did that to see my reaction. They saw it. Laughed. And told me they were joking. They were serious when they said Romans and I smiled a bit inside because this book is no cake walk.

Several months ago we got to chapter 4 of Romans. Personally, I have been stuck on Romans 4.17 ever since. I can’t shake it. It consumes my thoughts, imaginations, wonderings.

The last part of Romans 4.17 says, “the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.”

I knew that. I knew both parts of that verse to be very true. I have read through Romans and studied Romans personally and academically. I had never seen chapter 4, verse 17 before. It was like a 2×4 to the face. It connected two key dots. That Sunday we were to cover chapter 4, we actually just covered verse 17.

Stop. Go back and re-read verse 17. Now do it one last time. Sit there. Let it soak in. Now, think about it, ponder it, delight in it. That smile that you feel on your face, it’s ok. That quiet laughter in your soul, it’s ok, too. Now let’s look at the last part of Romans 4.17: “the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.”

Our God is the God who brings dead things to life. Literally, God has the power to bring dead things to life. He has the power and ability and history of bringing physically dead people back to life. Don’t believe me? Go read John 11 and the story of Lazarus; or Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20 to read about Jesus’ resurrection. God also has the power to bring spiritually dead people back to life, look at the Apostle Paul, or me, or perhaps yourself. The result of my sin was my spiritual death and separation from God. But God fixed that through Jesus.

The last phrase of that verse says that God is the one who called into being things that were not. Literally, God created everything out of nothing. He is the God who spoke into being everything that we know and see in six days and rested on the seventh. He is the God who put the sun and moon and stars in the heavens. Who created the universes and galaxies that are beyond our comprehension and that we are still discovering. He put the birds in the air, the fish in the sea, and the animals on land. He is the God who took two fistfuls of dirt, molded it, and breathed life into it to create man. Then he caused man to go into a deep sleep, took a rib out and fashioned woman. He is the God who has created e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

When life spirals out of control…
When you’re compass leads you to the wrong north…
When the GPS doesn’t get a signal…
When the fog becomes normal…
When 2 + 2 = 5…
Then delight in the God of Romans 4.17; the God who is in charge, who creates, and who gives life.

“When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, Lord God Almighty.” Jeremiah 15.16

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?” Isaiah 40.12

Which part(s)of God do you delight in?

The Hardest Week In Student Ministry

One unavoidable aspect of ministry is walking with people during dark days. It means that when they “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” we are walking beside them. In student ministry this is amplified when it is the unexpected death of a teenager by suicide.

In less than six short months the small community I live in has experienced teenage suicide twice. One boy. One girl. Both high school sophomores. Different schools. Same hurt.

As I heard the news of the second suicide last week my heart sank. It brought up memories from six months ago: countless conversations with hurting, grieving, angry, and confused students. I cleared my schedule and spent three days in the high school library talking with any student who needed someone to listen. That Wednesday night we partnered with some local churches and opened our door to the community–parents and students alike.

That night I shared the gospel with over 200 hurting students. In each of these cases both students were believers and that is where we find comfort.

That night I spoke from John 14.1-8, a familiar passage read at funerals. It is a passage that I tearfully read at my grandfather’s funeral six years ago. The hook for my talk that night was: “Jesus is our hope. Jesus is our strength.” These truths are what we and our students must cling to when we face tragic, hurtful circumstances.

Many of my students (I view myself as having a multi-site student ministry: church campus, middle school campuses, and high school campus) were hurting, confused, and grieving. Many of them were looking for hope and strength…believer and unbeliever alike. Most of them were looking for answers to tough questions–I know because during my days in the library I was asked several of them. And here’s the thing, the beauty of the bible is that it speaks to many issues. The bible doesn’t mention sexting, it does tell us that there shouldn’t be even the smallest hint of sexual immorality amongst us (Ephesians 5.3). It may not talk about the speeding, but it does address obeying the laws of the land (Romans 13.1-2). The bible does not speak directly to suicide, but it does talk about life and death and heaven and hell.

John 14.1-8 begins by telling us to trust in God. By calling on us to trust in God, Jesus is making three succinct statements:

  • We can COUNT on God.
  • We can RELY on God.
  • We can LEAN on God.

A few verses later Philip, who’s brother Nathanael was the disciple who’s initial response to Jesus was bewilderment that anything worthwhile can come from podunk, backwoods Nazareth, speaks up. Philip states that he wants to see God and that will be enough. Indeed, it would. What Philip is saying is that he believes that if he can just see God, for a moment, that all of his problems will disappear. While this seems certainly true, Jesus’ response is intriguing: “Philip you have seen God because you have seen me!”

This passage reminds us, student pastor, student, and parent alike that Jesus is our hope. Jesus is our strength. You see, hope is the ability to see beyond right now. We have to remind our students that there is more to life than the next fifteen minutes and what seems like an apocalyptic catastrophe will only be a blip on the screen of life. We have to be honest with them and inform students that there are going to be tough days ahead. But it’s a process…sometimes they will have to take it second by second…others, day by day. They will get through it. Strength is the ability to get through today. And this strength doesn’t come from a bench-press. This strength comes from resting in the grace, mercy, and peace of God that is beyond our understanding. Remind students to get back into a routine. Go to bed that night. Wake up the next day. Eat breakfast. Shower. Go to school. Go to extracurricular activities or a job. Come home. Eat dinner. Do your homework. Go to bed. Repeat. And yes, you may have to get that basic with a grieving student.

I love how Jesus reminds the disciples that they know the way. He reminds them of all they have done with him and seen him do. He then tells them: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Again, succinctly Jesus makes three statements:

  • He is our LINK to God.
  • He is COMPLETELY RELIABLE in who he is and what he does.
  • He is our EXAMPLE for life on earth, but also the GIVER of eternal life.

And for these two sophomores in high school death, although as tragic as it was, was not the end of the story for them. Not in the least! No, they are now face-to-face with Jesus in heaven for eternity. This is not to glamorize suicide, but to provide comfort in grief. I believe that there is no situation for which suicide is a viable option. Yet, that does not mean that God, in his infinite wisdom and sovereignty, cannot turn tragedy into beauty. As pastors to students that is our job in every situation: point them to Jesus.

You see, these students realized several things about a relationship with Jesus.

  • They realized that Jesus loved them and wanted a relationship with them.
  • They realized that they were sinners…rebels instigating a coup against God.
  • They believed in who Jesus is and what he does and that he is the only one who could pay the penalty for their sin (death on a cross).
  • They gave control of their lives to Jesus.

And because of this they are in heaven with Jesus, right now.

Seminary did a great job of teaching me the content and theology of the bible as well as how to teach it faithfully and accurately. However, one area where I feel that seminary needs improving is in training ministers in ministry. I learned theology in the classrooms and ministry in the trenches. In the last six months I have been increasingly frustrated with this void in seminary instruction. I have come to the conclusion that the reason seminary education lacks a course or even a lecture in counseling people in the wake of a suicide is because it is literally impossible to recreate in a lab/practicum format. I would have gladly given back my degree for some talking points; things to say and not to say, questions to ask and not to ask.

Walking with students. “through the valley of the shadow of death,” I discovered the following and I pray they will help you should the day come in your ministry:

  • Find out if the student (or person) who committed suicide was a believer. More than anything this vital information will determine the direction of your conversation. In my context, fortunately both students were, in fact, believers.
  • Explain to the person you are counseling that Gods grace is sufficient; i.e., it covers all of our past sins, present sins, and future sins once we place our faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. They need to know that the method of death has no bearing on their eternal security.
  • Ask them how they are feeling.
  • Ask them what is going on in their heads.
  • Ask them if they could paint a picture of their heart and mind right now, what would it look like.
  • Ask them to describe the person who committed subside to you in 3 words.
  • Ask them to give you their favorite memory of the person. Then have them give you a second.
  • If they are an introvert, consider that they may prefer one-on-one counseling.
  • Again, if they are an introvert it may be easier for them to express themselves through journaling. Encourage them to journal for the next 24 hours, then meet with them again and discuss what they have written.
  • Learn everything you can about teenage brain development. You can check out a blog I wrote titled: It’s Like TNT or read A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Teenage Brain.
  • Remind them that everyone grieves at a different pace. And that’s ok. Give them a heads up of what they’ll likely face in the grieving process (Elisabeth Kübler-Ross):

DENIAL. Shock. This didn’t happen. This isn’t real. They’ll walk down the hall any minute.

ANGER. How did this happen?! Who caused this?!

BARGAINING. What if…. Or I’d give “x” to have that person back. Or why not me? Or I should’ve done “y.”

DEPRESSION. Too sad to focus. No hope.

ACCEPTANCE. It’s real. It happened. I won’t forget, but I can get through this.

  • Encourage them to get back into a routine as soon as possible.
  • Do not use the word “successful” in context with the suicide. Rather, use “completed” so as not to glorify the act.
  • Ask them if they are thinking about hurting themselves. Even if they say “no,” probe this for a moment to be sure. If they are thinking of hurting themselves refer them to a professional counselor immediately. Also, see if you can find out their plan and even take possession of the item that they intend on using to take their life.
  • Pray with them.
  • Pray for them.
  • Follow up.

Lastly, some additional resources:

Confronting suicide in student ministry is never easy, but our job does not afford us the luxury of skirting difficult issues.

“We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.” 1 Thessalonians 2.8 (NLT)