Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Resting while climbing

Lately I have had a real busy season in ministry. So, I went to Vital Bouldering Gym in Carlsbad and I was challenged and humbled. Bouldering is like rock climbing without any protection. There is no rope, no harness, no belayer and no rest. When you are on the wall it is either up or down.

However as I watched others boulder, I saw their technique to be fluid and light. My style is more like a bulldozer trying to stay vertical. I am used to having a rope and harness to fall back on.

Then I started watching more closely. One guy would lock his leg and "rest" while still on the wall. He took the time to catch his breathe while still hanging there.

In the same way, through busy times do we build in "rest"? God commands us to take time to renew and recreate. Even in the busiest times we need to take this time. Jesus went away to lonely places. I go to bouldering gyms.

What do you do to rest while you are in the middle if the battle?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Confessions of a Reluctant Fund Raiser

In building relationships that change eternity I do much of my work in the non-profit realm. That means I  work for an organization where I raise my own support to fund my position.

I must admit, fund raising is one of the hardest jobs I have ever undertaken. However, since my job depends on raising funds,  I am working on my attitude and sharpening my skills. One book I came across was "the Spirituality of Fundraising," by Henri Nouwen.

In his book Henri deals with the heart it takes for a believer to enter into fundraising and how to build partnering relationships.So here is what he says on building partnerships to fund ministries.

1. To ask securely you must be secure in Christ.
It is all about my relationship with God. If I am secure in the knowledge that God loves me and provides for my needs I will be able to freely ask others for support.

2. Love must be the aim of fund raising
Fund raising is developing a relationship between two people. I must seek to build relationships with those who I choose to ask to partner with the ministry. If I am not loving the person then I am using them.

3. Minister to the needs of the donor
Donors are people too. Each of us whether rich or poor have needs and experience loneliness. Raising funds give the opportunity to serve those who I am asking and allow them to fulfill their dream by supporting a ministry they believe in.

In all this I realize that by my choice of asking others I allow God to work through me to give others the opportunity to be blessed. Fund raising becomes a partnership and not a contract.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Presence vs. Presents

If you know me you would realize I am a kid at heart. I love getting presents especially at Christmas. That is one bonus I have from having to go to so many family Christmas parties. However, one thing more desirable than presents is presence. It is being there with somebody who I love. It is sharing a story, climbing a rock together, or just being in the same room.

So what is presence and how does it impact our lives and those we lead?

Presence is Present
Now I know that sounds either trite or very profound. What I mean is when we are with people, we need to be with them wholeheartedly. In our technological age we have many ways to distract ourselves from the very people we seek. Cell phones, Ipods, Internet... all are mediums for communication that can get in the way of being there with someone. I have seen the perfect example of this by watching one of my teenage relatives plugged into their Ipod at a family dinner. They are physically present but their heart is miles away.

A mentor of mine said "Ministry is for the person right in front of you." To serve others we need to be present. Listen and observe the people who are right next to you. What do they need? Give them your undivided attention. Are you too busy for those you lead? Then it is time to reassess your priorities.

Presence is Yielding
Yielding is active waiting. At a yield sign my car is ready but I am waiting for an opportunity pull into the intersection. To be present is to surrender all else to the person at hand. Christmas is the most spectacular celebration of yielding.  The God of the Universe yields himself to become a baby in a manger so that He can serve and save us all.

In the same way do we empty ourselves to serve those under our care? Does their agenda become our agenda, if only for the moment? Do we actively wait on them to serve their needs?

Be Present
Jesus gave the greatest Christmas gift. He is "God with us, Emmanuel." In the same way we can be gifts to those around us. Today give your presence to your loved ones and those who you influence. Be there for them and share with them what God has given you. Give them your "presence".

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

One step further than you can think

I love encouraging students in rock climbing. There are many spiritual breakthroughs that people accomplish on the side of the rock. They are stretching their mind and bodies beyond their perceived limitations. I have been privileged to be a teacher's assistant for climbing classes through Biola University for the last five years.

We take groups of students out to Joshua Tree National Monument where everything is a climbing wall. However, the bigger obstacle is not the rock. It is fear. Many students hit their mental limitations way before their physical ability. One phrase I use to help is "Go one step further than you can think." It is reaching for that next ledge or trying one more time after you think you are done.

The same principles hold true for students in our youth ministry. Life pushes them further than the limits of their faith. So how do we encourage students in our ministry to go one step further?

Encourage Them Every Step
Students have so many negative images in their lives both externally and internally. We need to create safe relationships for them where they feel loved and accepted. This helps students experience security, belonging and significance in their relationship with Jesus. With our climbing classes we encourage students every inch of the climb. My greatest sense of accomplishment is when someone who never climbs before reaches the top for the first time. Experiencing the joy, the exultation and glory with them is the best feeling.

Hold the Rope for Them
When we are doing our climbs everyone has a belayer. This person holds the rope for the climber and protects them when they fall. In youth ministry, we need hold the rope for teenagers. Be their greatest supporter. Give them everything they need to succeed. We become the coach and students become the stars. In this way youth ministry moves from entertaining teenagers to equipping them for a life of evangelism.

Allow them to Fail
Freedom to fail is vital in equipping students. The image students sometimes have of Christianity is a list of rules and laws that they must not break. We need to overcome this legalistic perspective and help youth embrace the relationship Jesus desires to have with them. By allowing them to fail we give students grace wrapped up in a relationship of love. I love Thomas Edison's perspective on failure. When his laboratory went up in flames with his life's work he talked about how all his mistakes were burned up and he was ready to start fresh.

Go One Step Further
In helping students reach their potential we need to do the same. It is valuable for youth leaders to have a team who encourage us as we equip students. That is why I am such a huge fan of local youth worker networks. The youth leaders in those networks hold the rope for one another. If you are a youth worker and not in a network I would encourage you to go to and get involved.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Starting well in a new youth ministry position

I saw a post on youth leaders only from a youth leader wanting advice on starting a new ministry and it started me thinking. I have had made quite a few mistakes in youth ministry (at one church I only lasted 6 months). However, I have learned some valuable lessons from my experiences and here are some ideas that have helped me.

1.      Listen well and make change slowly. There is a reason why the church does things the way they do.

2.      Get the lead pastor and board behind any major changes that need to be done. The more the church leadership owns the ministry the more effective it becomes.

3.      Be an equipper before being a doer. It transforms your students and adults from consumers into workers.

4.      Align the vision, missions and goals of the youth ministries with the vision of the church. In this way the youth ministry becomes a part of the entire church body. Teenagers need many significant relationships with adults from all walks of life to become healthy, well-rounded Christ followers.

5.      Encourage the entire church body to invest into the lives of teenager. 50-80% of them already have a significant relationship with a teenager as a coach, relative, teacher, co-worker, etc.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ministering to the whole teenager

We are multidimensional beings. Now I am not going to launch into a Star Trek episode to boldly go where no one has gone before. What I mean is we are created with different facets of our being. Even Jesus refers to this when He says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength." In leadership literature the same concept is shared by Stephen Covey in his "7 Habits for Highly Effective People."  He speaks of the "4 Dimensions of Renewal" being Physical, Spiritual, Mental and Social.

As we look to deepen teenagers relationship with Christ and maturity in life, we need to interact with all four attributes. Youth are growing in wisdom and stature just like Jesus did. So lets take a deeper look.

We are obviously dealing with the brain on this one. It is developing the intellectual capacities of students in thought and action. Our time with students need to help students to think and build their ability to learn. We need to help students struggle with the reason to believe and not just give them pat answers.

The vehicle for encouraging the mental development is discipleship. Discipleship is characterized by life to life ministry interacting with the truth of our faith. It is applying truth into the lives of students and our own lives. The real question becomes, "How do I live my new life in Jesus?" In our teaching and ministry we need to engage their brain. Don't just preach at them, involve them in what you are saying and have them teach you. Students need to be equipped to learn by teaching others.

We not only worship God with our brain but our body as well. Scriptures say that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. In developing disciples we need to focus on how students use their physical nature to glorify God. You see this at work in the lives of Junior Highers especially the ADD ones. They have a hard time sitting because that is how they are wired. By engaging students physically in what they are learning we go beyond their limitations and have the teaching stick. For instance, rather than just preach on serving, involve them in serving others.

I went to Cal Poly SLO where the motto was "Learn by Doing." In my agriculture classes we would go out of the classroom and work hands on with tractors, concrete, cows and crops.  Jesus mastered this concept by using what was in his environment to teach. "Fish" became "Fishers of Men." He sent out his disciples to do it not just talk about it. So the question becomes, "How can I involve students physically in what we are learning?"

In dealing with the physical realm we must focus on the need for healing and growing. Many students are broken and hurting and need healing. Youth need to experience the reality of truth lived out in relationship. It may be giving them a meal or a listening ear or even a ride home. It is also getting onto their turf at their school or neighborhood. Youth workers need to be physically present to show that they care. As the saying goes, "I don;t care what you know until I know that you care."


The spiritual component deals with the unseen realm. God created us with a soul that dwells in a higher plane of reality. On that plane is where angels and demons also dwell. There is spiritual warfare that is happening all around us. Most youth (and adults) are oblivious to this world. Many students are being influenced by spiritual forces they do not even comprehend. My hair stylist once shared with me that she was hearing voices in her room that were scaring her tremendously. And then someone shared Christ with her and she gladly accepted. She was literally scared into becoming a Christian!

While all experiences are not so extraordinary, each of us deal with spiritual realities on a daily basis. God has placed in our soul a spiritual longing to be with Him.  At one time we were all spiritually dead and in need of deliverance through being transformed by Christ. And every choice we make to be in community with Him or live like a practical atheist has spiritual ramifications. So the question becomes "How do I minister to the soul of the youth with whom I work?" Even closer to home is the question, "Does what I do minister to my own soul?"


Teenagers are social beings. They have multiple opportunities to connect with others each day. Our ideal is to have socially and emotionally mature youth who can develop healthy relationships and teach others to do the same. Sadly, many teenagers have the same track record as adults with broken relationships and emotional issues. We live in a society with dysfunctional families, relational conflict and pressures on teenagers to both grow up to fast and not grow up at all.

A well rounded ministry creates an environment that serves the relational needs of teenagers. If you look below the surface you will see their need for wise counsel.  They need mentors who care for who they are.  Kara Powell from the Fuller Youth Institute talks about the idea of "Sticky Faith." In her research she finds that students need 5 significant mentoring relationships to make their faith "stick."

Also, youth workers need to know when to counsel students and when they are in over their heads. It is always good to refer to a counselor who understands the needs of Christian teenagers. in conclusion, the question becomes, "How could we more effectively minister to the social and emotional needs of teenagers?"

The Whole Teenager

When we serve the needs of the teenager in all dimensions, our ministries will produce well rounded students that will be effective leaders in their church and community. They will develop the attitude, skills, knowledge, and relationship necessary to love God and love others with their heart, soul, mind and strength.

Monday, October 10, 2011

What's the point?

Too many times in youth groups I have seen teenagers tune out. When I ask them about it they share in words or actions that they were bored with it all. "There is no purpose in it for me," is what they might say when pressed. And sometimes I agree! Many times in our youth ministries we do not focus on the individual's needs and maturity. Some seek to build a good, entertaining program with the mentality that "If you build it they will come."  However, effective youth ministry is not about good programs. It is about equipping teenagers to reach the next level of their maturity. So how do you go about developing a purposeful  ministry to teenagers ?

Establish your purpose
Why were you put here on the earth?  God created us for the purpose of being in relationship with Him. He loves us unconditionally and desires us to grow. He has uniquely endowed us with talents and abilities to love and serve others. In the same way, your ministry has a unique purpose. As you align yourself with God's intended purpose it will kindle your passion and influence. What do you do well? What makes your heart break? These are some keys to your purpose. I am reminded of the Caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland demanding, "Who are you?!"

See if you can write your purpose for ministry down in one sentence. For instance, my wife and I often share that we are "Building relationships that change eternity." or it can be as simple as "Loving the person right in front of me." One of my coworkers, Aaron Babyar, shared, "To glorify God by helping ministry leaders survive and thrive as they glorify God in making disciples for his kingdom." Or another is "Equipping leaders and teenagers in their relationship with Jesus to be disciples makers."

Move from entertaining to equipping
Many times in youth ministry we set our sights on the wrong goals. We look to do the bigger and better to attract more students. We look online for a better game or illustration.We play the numbers game and desperately want more students to "come to a gathering" or "make a decision." Numbers or decisions are just markers for what is truly important; maturity in student's lives.

To illustrate, a couple years back my wife and I went to a renaissance faire with our friends.  Our friends' daughter wanted to to archery. She was too young to shoot on her own so I helped her to shoot the bow. She was so excited when she hit anything because she was the one holding the bow. In the same way the goal for youth ministry becomes equipping teenagers to mature in their relationship with God. We want them to hold the bow and hit the target. In this way students become participants in ministry not just consumers.

Answer the "Why"
As I shared before, I define, "Boring," as "There is no purpose in this for me." We need to define the reason why we want students to participate in ministry. Even better, we answer the question, "Why will a teenager want to participate in our ministry?"  This puts the focus on the needs and desires of the youth. In order to do this we need to get inside teenagers' lives and assess who they are and what is important to them.  Then change your programming to emphasize ways to equip these students in their areas of passion to live and share the good news.

As we establish our purpose, equip teenagers and answer the "Why," teenagers will respond by engaging with their hearts and minds to own the ministry. It will no longer be your ministry to teenagers. I will become a youth ministry team working together in the disciple making process.