Newsletter of the Future

I'm devouring this book:  Hatch!  Brainstorming Secrets of a Theme Park Designer by C. McNair Wilson.  Seriously, if you've ever wanted to be inspired to get a group of people together and seriously come up with some great, off the wall ideas and actually put them into action, GET THIS BOOK!  In no way am I getting any profit from pointing you to this book.  Maybe it's just me, or maybe this is something you're struggling with in your ministry, your job, your life - coming up with new ideas that will excite, motivate, inspire, and answer that constant question, "What's next?"

One of my favorite chapters is about generating WILD ideas - those ideas that seem CRAZY when they pop into your head, but just might be THE idea that sparks the answer to those illusive questions, "What's next?  What will really grab people's attention?"

Somewhere in the chapter he talks about writing a Newsletter of the Future (an idea he has apparently trademarked, so don't go stealing this!).  Here's the concept:  Fast forward 20 years.  A newsletter is released describing your life, your company, or your ministry's program or focus.  What are the headlines of that newsletter?  What do they say?

Think about it.  What do you want to accomplish in 20 years?  Personally?  Professionally?  In your family?  Financially?  Spiritually?  Where do you want to be in 20 years?  What will the headlines say?

Here's why this is part of the brainstorming process:  Don't think about HOW you're going to get there.  Don't think about what needs to happen to get there.  Don't 'block' yourself; that is, don't think of why you can't accomplish these things.  That critical thinking comes later.  What would you do, seriously, if $ didn't matter, and ideas that would otherwise be considered CRAZY were considered normal, encouraged, allowed?!

I think all of us should consider making our own Newsletter of the Future lists.  What do you want to accomplish?  What are the TOTES CRA CRA (that is teenage speak for "totally crazy" I'm told) ideas floating in that brain of yours that you're afraid to tell someone about because what if...what if they said, "LET's DO IT!"  Think crazy.  Think big.  Think WILD.

Here's what's on my list right now, and this list will surely grow.  It's the year 2032, and I'm 52 years old.  This is what I'm dreaming of:
1) The McDaniel family has spent a year or two living overseas.  The McDaniel family is fluent in Spanish and it greatly impacts their cross-cultural ministry in the U.S.
2) Chad has been a speaker at an event like CHIC.
3) Began a non-profit business with Jodi's knowledge of management, marketing, and the non-profit sector that supports ministry to the homeless and children on the margins.
4) Own a house on a lake that is used regularly by ministries and family.  A place of hospitality, generosity, and community.  We want to be in a place where we can be insanely GENEROUS and BLESS other ministries as we've been blessed in ministry.
I'm still dreaming.  What about you?

And here's why this is a GENIUS part of brainstorming:  Look at your list.  I bet you can do these things.  I bet if you grabbed this book and went through the whole brainstorming process you'd realize, "I can do this.  I can accomplish even some of the WILD-est ideas on my list."

So do it.  Make the list.  Start thinking WILD.  Start dreaming big.


Gap Year

There are some dismal, scary statistics out there regarding the lack of "sticky faith," or faith that lasts, among our Christian young people today.  By and large the data overwhelmingly suggests that youth ministries and churches are failing at encouraging and cultivating a faith that lasts.  If you have yet to come across these studies, and what I've said above is "news to you," here are some books to add to your reading list:
Almost Christian by Kenda Creasy Dean
Sticky Faith by Chap Clark and Kara Powell
Souls in Transition by Christian Smith
You Lost Me by David Kinnaman
These are not easy reads, nor are they fun and inspiring.  The data is sad, and sorta scary.  If what these studies suggest is true, we need to wake up and make some changes.  I'm encouraged by the conversations I hear in churches and amongst youth workers who are taking these studies seriously, but I'm wondering what other ideas are out there...Is there hope that we can turn the trends in the other direction and put our energy and efforts into ministries that will cultivate lasting faith in the lives of the young people with which God has entrusted us?  Will we be honest about ministries and programs of which we are a part that desperately need to be changed or ended?  In the world of youth ministry, "That's the way we've always done," just isn't cutting any more.

I have an idea.  It's not a fix, not fool proof, and not the end all be all.  It's an idea.  It's something that could address this concern for some students, and it has to do with the concept of a "Gap Year."  A Gap Year takes place between high school graduation and college studies, and is not a new idea.  Let's face it, some of, if not most of, our students are not immediately ready for college or "real life" after high school.  And apparently they aren't prepared and equipped for life after youth group either.

The Evangelical Covenant Church used to have a solution of sorts for this; it was called Covenant Bible College, and it was successful for many years serving students on 3 campuses.  Unfortunately, as you may have deciphered, these campuses are all closed.  What can we offer students today?


A People of Fascination

“God would save the world through fascination, by setting up an alternative society on the margins of the empire for the world to come and see what a society of love looks like.”
-Shane Claiborne, Jesus for President

Are we, the people of God in the world today, a people of fascination?  Are we even interesting, remotely relevant, or somewhat important to our communities?  I'm not asking these questions of our worship services, programs, or preaching, I'm wondering whether we, as the people of God, are living lives that reflect God in us.  Are we fascinating?  Are we interesting, inspiring, encouraging, resilient, faithful, loyal, people of integrity?  

I'm wrestling with this personally.  Have I risked anything for the Gospel?  In what ways am I fascinating, interesting, encouraging, and making a difference for Christ in my community?  I try to do this through the influence I have in coaching.  Because I coach in the public school, my influence is mostly subtle and almost entirely through my actions alone, but I believe Jesus is working.  

I have a desire, however, to pursue this idea further.  Where else can I be fascinating, or can I be pointing people to the God of fascination?  

Here's where I'm going with all this:  I would contend that the reason we're not as fascinating as we once were, is that we've lost our imagination, or ability to be creative.  Our ideas have dried up or are stuck in a foregone time.  We fight culture wars to preserve what once was.  We argue, "Well, we've never done it that way before!"  Or, we look to the culture around us and try to spiritualize good ideas already in existence.  We aren't using the brains our ever so creative Creator gave us!

I'm reading a book that is both challenging and encouraging me to think up new thoughts about Church.  Specifically, I'm reading a book that is teaching me how to think up new thoughts; that is, how to create a culture of imagination and fascination within the Church.  The book, Hatch! Brainstorming Secrets of a Theme Park Desginer, by C. McNair Wilson.  What a book it is!  I recommend reading it if you have ever been frustrated with brainstorming gone nowhere or planning sessions that are all planning with zero implementation.  I'm challenged to both create and participate in a place where creativity and curiosity is encouraged, and particularly in youth ministry, I think this could be HUGE!

I hope you'll consider grabbing this book.  I also hope you'll consider using your imagination and God-given creativity to examine, brainstorm, and launch some big ideas in your context.  Let us once again become a people of fascination, that the whole world would take notice and be pointed to God, the Creator of all things.


Me 3

Have you ever heard the saying, "Me 3"?  It's a catchy little thing reminding Christians to put God 1st, others 2nd, and me 3rd.  The idea of putting others first, looking to the interests of others, and refusing selfish desires is all over the Bible.  We are a people called to love other people above ourselves because we serve and follow a Savior who modeled this very thing.  As Paul said, "Who being in very nature God...made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant."  Jesus is our model for the "Me 3" attitude.

Check out this video before reading on...

While I watched this video I kept waiting and waiting and waiting for something.  Can you guess it?  What would it be?  I kept waiting for the reporter to say something like, "Tom is a Christian!"  I kept waiting for the "Good Samaritan" to say he does this because of his faith.  But there's no mention of faith in this story.  This man is putting the "Me 3" idea to work because of his concern and care that others were treated like he was treated years ago.  Hmmmmmm.  Seems like a biblical concept to me!

So why can't we grasp this?  Why is it so hard for us to regularly put the "me 3" attitude into practice?  My recent posts have centered on this very idea, "What if Christians lived as Jesus taught us to live and became identified as a 'me 3' people; a people know by their love for others?"  


What can we learn from this man's story?  What are we missing?  Why do I remain so selfish when God has been so self-less with me?

"They'll know we are Christians by our LOVE."

Not by our bumper stickers.  Not by our t-shirts.  Not by our ability to memorize Scripture or perform miraculous signs.  Not by our morality or rule following.  The world will know we are Christians by our love.  Will we give ourselves, and others, enough grace to follow through on Jesus' command to love as he loved us?


Truth Telling

I have a degree in History.  This, you might think, it worthless and silly considering I never considered a career in teaching with this degree!  If I had the chance to do it all over again, I'd choose History every time.  I learned a lot about critical thinking and analysis as a History major.  I'll never forget these words from one of my profs:
"Just because someone says something, doesn't make it true."
Simple enough, right?  "Just because someone says something, doesn't make it true."  As I read through the post-election articles, reflections, and musings, I can't help but be reminded of this statement: "Just because someone says something doesn't make it true."  Just because we are told something about a political candidate, doesn't make it true.  Do some fact checking.  Do some research.  Learn.  Read.  Listen.  Check out FactCheck.org to see what is truth, half-truth, and flat out bull.  It's sad that fact checking sites need to exist, but I wonder, how many people even care?  I believe we would believe almost anything if the right person says it.  Why?  Fear.


The Election and Technology

If you were like me, you were both horrified and mystified by your Facebook and Twitter feed Tuesday night as the world closely followed the Presidential Election.  The rhetoric and emotion I witnessed by supporters of both sides was fierce.  There were those who promised to move to Canada if Obama was elected.  I even saw a few more enlightened folks, those who realized Canada isn't a conservative playground, threaten a move to Russia or other far away places.  And there were those who were simply saddened by election results; saddened by the weakening of our morals, our values, our heritage as a free people.  There were nasty exchanges between people of opposing views.  There were flame wars that erupted at the mere mention of the words Obamacare, taxes, small business, gay marriage, or the national debt.  I don't think I need to tell you, reader, just how heated and divided we are.

Okay.  Enough about that.  This isn't a post about politics.  It's about technology.  As you might be able to predict, a good percentage of those whom I follow on Twitter and my Facebook friends are Christians.  And Christians  on both side of the political aisle had a lot to say about this election.  And it wasn't all pretty.  In fact, most of it was sort of sad.  At least, it made me sad.  It spoke of hopes erased, dashed, destroyed for one side, and hope restored and fortified for the other.  And we choose to communicate these sentiments through Facebook.  We choose to communicate these fierce emotions through social media.


Jesus and Tables

"Tables can create societies; tables can also divide societies."
-Scot McKnight, Jesus Creed

While teaching through the Jesus Creed in our high school Sunday school class this year, I came to chapter 4, "The Jesus Creed as A Table."  The quote above stuck.  As in Jesus' day, tables can be unifying and dividing; tables can be places of wonderful inclusion and/or intensional exclusion.  Tables, it turns out, have a lot to say.

Two examples with which most of us can relate.  We are in the holiday season.  Starbucks reminds me of this fact as I order my Thanksgiving Blend coffee which is placed in a Christmas cup.  The holidays are full of tables.  Eating is a big deal during the holidays.  Who is usually invited and present at your holiday table?  Who is absent?  Tables communicate who's in and who's out, who's welcome and who's not.  If you need further proof, check out a school cafeteria during lunch.  Here, maybe more than any other place in our society, can one see the truth of the statement above, "Tables can create societies; tables can also divide societies."  It can be really ugly in the school lunch room!  Tables have a lot to say.


How Should We Love?

Follow up from last post, "How Are We Known?," where I reflected on Brennan Manning's observation - well, I guess Jesus' command really - that Christians will be recognized by their love for others.  In reality, I think we're more often known or characterized by those things we stand against.

The post begs the question, "If love is to be the one thing that makes a Christian identifiable, what should we do to show love to others?"

Now, I realize there are a lot of ways to show the love of Christ to the world, but for this post I want to specifically reflect again on Manning's book, The Furious Longing of God, to help us see that it doesn't have to be that hard.  If you look back at the previous post, you'll see that Manning said, "You are going to leave people feeling a little better or a little worse.  You’re going to affirm them or deprive them, but there’ll be no neutral exchange."

So about these exchanges, how do we make sure we leave people feeling better; how do we affirm people?


How Are We Known?

Brennan Manning's book, The Furious Longing of God, found it's way into my Kindle reader when I snatched it up as a free ebook download awhile back.  I enjoyed his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, so I jumped at the chance to read another.

I just returned from a weekend retreat with our Junior High crew where I was reminded of the simplicity of faith.  Oh how we love to make faith more complicated, more rigorous, and more based on following human rules than on the love of Jesus Christ!  The speaker did a fabulous job speaking on the story of the Prodigal Son, or as I have learned to call it, the Forgiving Father.  Some have said this is The Story in a nutshell.  That is, in telling the parable of the Forgiving Father Jesus summarizes the Good News: there is a God who longs, even waits, for each of His children to come home, to receive the gift of forgiveness, and come to a party for them!

In conversations I have with students, it's always fascinated me to me to hear what they have to say to the question, "What does it mean to be a Christian?"  They often talk of things they need to do and things they need to refrain from doing.  The list usually consists of:  read the Bible, pray, go to church, don't have sex, don't drink or do drugs, don't lie, cuss, cheat, or steal.  It's telling really.  It shows what they have learned growing up in church, or for those who haven't been raised in Christian homes, what they perceive Christianity to be all about.  It's all about following rules and keeping track of spiritual progress by showing up at Christian events, checking off boxes on our Bible reading plans, and filling the required time quota in our quiet times.  What does it mean to be a Christian?


Who Is Jesus?

Have you ever thought about how easy it is in churches, and especially in youth ministry, to forget to talk about Jesus?  Don't get me wrong, we love to point people to Jesus as we talk about obeying his commands, committing our lives to him, and securing eternal life.  But I fear that we forget to talk about Jesus.  We forget to tell the story, the story that reveals the mystery of God, the Creator of all things, putting on flesh, walking among us, teaching us, dying for us, and rising from the dead that we might have eternal life.  I'm struck by the number of times I hear messages, or craft my own messages, around obeying Jesus and encouraging listeners to make him Lord in their lives without explaining who he is or what he's done to deserve obedience and Lordship.  We forget to tell the story in our eagerness, my eagerness, to get people to behave better and believe quicker.

Scot McKnight's book, The King Jesus Gospel, addresses this issue.  We are more concerned, he says, with getting people to be part of the "decided," and have ignored making "disciples."  He writes, “When we separate the Plan of Salvation from the story, we cut ourselves off from the story that identifies us and tells our past and tells our future.  We separate ourselves from Jesus and turn the Christian faith into a System of Salvation.”    


Pursuing Creativity

I ran across a video on creativity shortly after my last post, "What if Money Was No Object?," and I believe there is a connection.  I wonder, how many of us give ourselves the time to actually think about our passions, gifts, and desires in life?  How many of us will really allow ourselves to consider the question, "What if money was no object?"


What If Money Was No Object?

A lecture from the late Alan Watts that I stumbled on at David Lose's blog the other day.  Take a look and ask yourself, "Seriously, if $ didn't matter, what would I do with my life?"

This is about searching the depths of your soul for your passion, your gifting, your calling, your talent [whatever you want to call it].  I believe that God has given us gifts - God has given each person something that makes him uniquely him, and her uniquely her.  I had a great conversation with a group of guys the other night on the topic of "giftedness."  What is it?  Is it something from God, or is it quantifiable, something the school system and others can calculate, formulate, and define?  If our true "giftedness" comes from God, don't we have a responsibility to do something with those gifts?  I believe we do.


Hope Divided

Watch this video clip of Francis Chan speaking at a youth conference I attended this past summer:

We looked at this video a few weeks ago at youth group.  We did the Lemonade and Mocha illustration for the students.  It was powerful.  Students were moved.  But as students processed the illustration and text Francis Chan quotes, many felt as though they no longer measured up, they weren't good enough, and they certainly had too much Mocha in their life.  Self-examination, it turns out, isn't always fun.

Psalm 139:23-24 reads:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Is this prayer of David supposed to be negative?  Is David praying these words because he feels as though he isn't good enough or doesn't deserve to be heard?  I have to wonder whether David isn't instead praying a very real, introspective prayer trusting that the God who hears him can change him, forgive him, and make him new.  I have to believe - to HOPE - that the God to whom David prays is the same God who, when he considered the sins of the world, my sin, your sin, sent his Son to make us new and make a path for everlasting life.


Worship "Sneakers"

i have two points to offer on conversations i've had concerning worship.  they don't necessarily make sense together, but i'm putting them into one post anyway as they're fresh on my mind!

1)  as we've kicked off our Student Ministries program, i've found myself involved in many a conversation on the subject of worship.  over the past two years, the the worship life of our Stu Min program has matured with the dedication of volunteers and student leaders; this year, with the addition of a full-time pastoral intern dedicated to worship and student ministries, students are being encouraged to participate at an even higher level.

as i've met with leaders to plan and dream dreams about how we will encourage and lead students in worship this year, i'm struck by how often the conversations revolve around what songs we'll sing and what musicians we have available to lead said songs.  let me tell you, i'm one of the first to say, "worship is more than music," but as much as i remind myself and others of this truth, it's much easier to plan a 3 song set than to try and incorporate other elements of Christian worship into a youth ministry setting.

in one of my conversations, a leader said something that blew my mind and helped me develop a new appreciation for the task of worship leading.  he said, "the worship leader is responsible for putting words into people's mouths."  think about that for a moment.  when songs are chosen for a particular worship experience, the worship leader is choosing to put the lyrics of those songs into the mouths of the worship participants.  this statement has caused me to consider anew the songs we sing at youth group, and to reflect more closely on the songs we sing on Sunday mornings as well.  are these the words that make sense for us - for this particular group of Christians gathered in this time and place?

2)  i read this short essay/article posted in Scot McKnight's (Jesus Creed blog) "Weekly Meanderings" post from last Saturday.  the article is called, "Sneaking Into Worship," and it's worth your read.  i resonate and deeply identify with the group of people described in this article.  one particular section stood out:
They’ve grown up being urged, “Now, everyone can just worship God however you might want.  Just let the Holy Spirit move you.  We are all different.”  So now some are seeking worship where the implied advice is, “Now, everyone leave your hyper-individuality at the door.  Let’s say words together.  Let’s make gestures together.  Stand together.  Kneel together.  Let’s listen to the wisdom the Holy Spirit has given over the centuries."
this is what i want to be about when it comes to worship.  that is, i long to check my personal preferences, or my "hyper-individuality," at the door and melt into the body of believers gathered to worship the Living God together.  i long for a time and place where conversations in the church about musical preferences are no more, where organs can stand alongside drum kits, and where young and old worship together in spite of generational differences.


What is Hope?

like every other Youth Ministry out there, we are about to kickoff our Fall programming.  there has been so much momentum created through Summer trips and events; there is a lot to anticipate!

this year our theme for our weekly Youth Group meetings is, "Agents of Hope," or something like that.  as i listened to students share their stories after one of our major summer youth trips, i was struck by the number of kids whose lives have been changed because they found HOPE in Jesus.  when they didn't have friends, didn't want to live any longer, or were looking for fulfillment in destructive behaviors, they found HOPE in Jesus.  they found that Jesus could offer them what all these other things could not - a bright HOPE for tomorrow!  what a concept?!  Jesus offers hopes to the hopeless and help to the helpless.  we see this in his ministry as described in the Gospels, and know that his ministry continues today, 2000 years later.
my question, before i give away our whole "curriculum" for the year:
What is hope, and why do you have it?
i ask this question because 1 Peter 3:15 says, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."

well, what's your reason for HOPE?  are you prepared to give an answer?  because i'm asking!

i'm concerned that we aren't ready.  i'm concerned that i haven't thought this through enough.  i know i have hope in Christ, but why?  what experiences have given me hope?  how has Jesus been my hope in times where i've needed him?  

why do you have hope?  what's your story?


i remember the first time i met one of my brother-in-laws.  he was dating my wife's sister and they were in college.  we all met at a Pizza Hut.  when he introduced himself i asked, "So what's your story?"  it was sort of funny.  it was sort of rude.  but it was honest.  who are you?  where are you from?  what gives you life?  where are your hopes; your values; your priorities?  

what's your story?  what gives you hope?  how do you define hope?


Hope and Fear

Had a strange incident occur today.  I was having coffee and catching up with another member of our church staff at Starbucks.  We were in the middle of sharing prayer requests and about to pray – we were the only people in Starbucks at the time – when a man walks around the corner and asks, “What’s going on guys?” 

Neither of us knew said man.

He then says, “Do you guys have jobs?”

Strange question.

I respond in typical Chad McDaniel smart-aleck fasion, “Nope, just hanging out!”

To which he says, “You and 47% of Americans who are on welfare.  Can you believe that?  47% are on welfare and living off the rest of us.  Seriously though, where do you guys work?”

We admitted that we’re pastors, which really got him going.  Now, he didn’t get fired up about Christianity or the problem with the Church today.  Nope.  Instead, he told us that churches, pastors in particular, really need to take a stand these days.  We need to get more political and tell everyone that if we don’t take action soon, we’re going to lose our freedoms and we’re going to be persecuted by our government.  This was important to him.  So important that he interrupted two dudes drinking Starbucks about to pray.

Now, I’m NOT writing about politics.  This is not my time to critique what he said.  What I realized as he went on and on is that he is afraid.  His politics are based on FEAR.  His life is based on fear.  Sure, he was passionate - he was trembling as he spoke.  He is afraid, and this bothered, frustrated, and in the end, angered me a lot.

Why?  Because this man also admitted he was a Christ-follower and attends a well-known church in our community.  That being said, I have to ask, “What is he so afraid of?”  What are he, and others like him on either side of the political aisle who claim Christ, afraid of?  Honestly.

Is our faith so shaky, so flimsy, so pathetic that a government’s policies would instill fear in us?  I’m not being naïve.  I’m being serious. Governments have tried to stifle Christ in the past and governments will do the same in the future, and yet the Church lives on.  The Church, Jesus Christ, the Triune God, is bigger than any government in any time and in any place.  Do we believe it?

I asked myself, "Where is this guy’s hope?"  Is his hope in Christ – the one who has “overcome the world”?  Didn’t seem like it.  Jesus talks about love casting out fear.  Jesus talks about overcoming the world. 

Will we believe Jesus?  Seriously.  Can we believe Jesus’ words and reject fear mongering?

As for me, call it naïve, call it what you will, but I really don’t care about the 2012 election.  I’m tired of the fear mongering.  I’m tired of people telling me we need more guns, we need less guns, or we need different guns so that our government won’t rise up against us.  I’m tired of the nonsense.  I choose to believe Jesus.  I choose to trust him.  I choose to believe that Jesus truly has overcome the world, defeated death in rising from the dead, and can deliver us from all kinds of evil – even evil that may or may not come from politicians and broken policies.  I choose to believe that THIS changes everything.  It changes the way we live; the way we interact with people; the way we talk about policies and politics.  Jesus' resurrection from the dead changes everything.  It FREES us from FEAR.  It GIVES us HOPE.  Will we believe it?  Will we live it?  Will we be so passionate about HOPE that we will stop two dudes drinking coffee and tell them about something that really matters; that is, will we tell someone about Jesus?

I leave you with the words of a classic hymn:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.


"You're Not Special" - Really?

Maybe you've heard about this recent high school graduation speech gone viral; the one where the teacher says, "You're not special!"

In case you missed it, here are two links:
1) Full speech (almost 13 minutes)
2) CNN short report (about 2 minutes)

Part of me gets it - today's youth have inflated self-egos and that makes some of them really hard to be around.  We all have a little sense that the world revolves around me, but for many students today that attitude is on steroids!

Another part of me is frustrated by his comments - I keep hearing that today, like never before, kids are alone, without adult support, and in need of people to tell them, "You ARE special."

What's the truth?

I read about "helicopter parents" talking on the phone with their college aged children 6 or 7 times a day!  Yet I know kids who have zero parental support and are trying to navigate the waters of life after high school on their own.

What's the truth?

Are kids more pumped up on self-esteem than ever?  Well, yes!  But are kids more alone than they've ever before?  Well, I guess I'd say yes to that too!

The Sticky Faith folks are pushing for churches to get more adults involved in the lives of our kids, and I'm pushing for the same thing - for more adults to be present to tell kids, "God loves you; you are special."

There is a balance to all of this that is found in that tough biblical concept of speaking the truth in love.  Students need to know that when they fail, and there are times they need to fail, it's going to be ok.  We are there for them.  God has not abandoned them.  And they need to know that when they succeed, we are proud of them.  They need to know they are special - but special because God has knit them together, and God has given them gifts to use for His glory and our neighbor's good.

So what do you think?  How would you have reacted as a parent to this speech?  How would you have reacted as a student?


why WILL we worship?

Timely piece written by David Lose that you can read here.  It’s really about the future of the church as it pertains to worship, and whether the so-called next generation will continue showing up every Sunday like their parents and grandparents did if things don’t change.  Just to let you know how relevant this article is, you should know I've had conversations about this very topic about 3 times in the last week alone.  And all 3 have been with people of different ages and church backgrounds.

Two paragraphs in particular caught my attention, though the entire article is worth a read:
We need to rethink how we “do church” in relation to a changed cultural context where fewer and fewer people go to church just because their parents did. Instead, people want church participation to mean something. They want, in other words, to get something out of it
There’s little doubt that this represents a generational sea change. If I were to ask my parents whether “church worked for them,” they would likely not understand the question. They didn’t expect church to work. Or, more accurately, they went to church out of a sense of faithfulness. That’s just what you did on Sunday morning. Sure, sometimes it was more uplifting and inspiring than others, but that wasn’t the point. They didn’t go with the primary expectation that church would “meet their needs,” but rather attended out of a mixture of faith, habit, and duty. 
I have tons of questions regarding this topic, and I think that's where we are and need to be right now; that is, we need to be asking questions.  And we cannot fear the answers.  Are we willing to “rethink” church?  Are we willing to do things differently so that the next generation will choose worship over all the other really cool, fun, important things to do in the world today? (I’m not being sarcastic; there are plenty of really cool things people can do on Sunday mornings that don’t involve church!)  Will the generations that show up faithfully, out of habit, faith, and duty, be willing to give a little in order that the next generation might feel empowered and heard?  Finally - well barely finally, the list of questions could go on and on - what is the change that will make church mean something to those disillusioned with church? 

Here is the area I’m wrestling with – if church matters, and gathering as the body of Christ matters, why is it so hard to compel people to place value on attending church?  I don’t think the issue is that people are walking away from faith per se, but that they are walking away from the church as an institution.  Church programs are still relatively well attended, but the value placed on Sunday morning worship is definitely on the decline.  And the answer, I believe, isn’t going to be found in simply making worship more exciting, dynamic, or stylistically palatable.  It’s somewhere else.  Where?  Well, that’s the million dollar question!

I’m with Lose – I’m excited to see what it will look like to worship and be in community with a group of people who truly want to be there – not out of obligation, guilt, or duty – but because church is like breathing; it’s something we can’t live without.  

There is really only one place to start when it comes to tackling this tough topic – we must begin to LISTEN and try our best to withhold judgment on a group of people who love Jesus, are are at the least interested in spirituality, but just don’t value attending church in its current form.  Are we willing to listen?  Are we willing to process what we hear and do something that makes people want to worship God together?  Or is this just an issue of a generation that is selfish and hard-hearted?  So many questions, and too few answers.  That's why I'm convinced listening is the only way forward.



Watch this short video with Ken Burns explaining the power of story.

What can we learn as those telling The Story of God and the world?  How can we, or do we, use "positive manipulation" in our telling of the Gospel story?  It seems strange to use the word "manipulation," but isn't that what we want?!  We want people to respond; to be captivated; to be so moved and caught up in the Gospel story that they put their trust in God!

Feedback.  What else caught your attention in this video?


Grief - Part II

How do we help kids process grief?

In the Nooma video, “Matthew,” which addresses grief and loss, Rob Bell says,
“I do know that you and I have choices about the kinds of people we are; the kinds of people we’re becoming.  We have a choice whether or not we’re going to become bitter.”
We have a choice.  This is what we see in Job.  Job’s family is dead, and he responds, “The Lord gave and Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”  A chapter later his wife tells him to “curse God and die,” and Job responds, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”  Job mourns.  He wails.  He tears his robe.  He weeps.  He grieves, openly.  Job is angry.  Yet Job joins those in Scripture who choose not to become bitter with God.

We look at the Psalms.  Psalm 13 asks the question, “Where are you Lord?”  Wow!  I remember being shocked reading that for the first time and realizing I was allowed to express my anger at God and not be immediately removed from the earth.  Even the Psalmist, who feels the enemy all around, feels death on his doorstep as the enemy approaches, says,
“But I trust in your unfailing love.
            My heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the LORD’s praise,
            for he has been good to me.”
Really?!  My enemy is all around.  Where are you God?  How long will you forget me?  How long will you hide from me?  But I choose to trust in you and worship you, for you have been good to me.

And finally, there’s Jesus.  John 11:35 says, simply and profoundly, “Jesus wept.”  God weeps.  Jesus responds to the news that his friend Lazarus has died; he empathizes with his friend, and Lazarus’ sister, Mary; he openly weeps.  He weeps even though he knows he is going to bring Lazarus back to life.  He weeps with his friends over the death of their brother and friend.  It is appropriate to weep.  It ok to cry.  It is normal to have emotions.  But we have a choice.  Will we become bitter?  Will we “curse God and die?”

Last night was powerful.  I could go on, but I’ve already written enough.  If you stayed with me this long, thank you.  I hope for those reading this you can make yourself available to our youth, and more importantly, you can LISTEN.  Withhold judgment.  Bite your tongue.  Listen.  Respond with compassion.  Respond with love.  Let your presence speak more than 1000 words. 

To any adult reading this:  Our kids are hurting, and they need loving, safe adults who are willing to be “dumped” on and keep coming back for more.  If this is you, if you are willing to step into this area of need, be willing to do a few things:

1) Sit in silence - Listen.  Some say the worst thing Job’s friends did was open their mouths.  They came.  They sat with Job for 7 days and 7 nights.  No one said a word to him.  And then they started talking.  Why?  They felt as thought they needed to set Job straight; to help him move beyond his grief; to help him process his grief.  They talked.  They should have kept quiet.

2) Admit you don’t have the answers.  It speaks volumes to kids when adults can be honest and admit that we too have more questions than answers when it comes to difficult issues like death and dying.   As much as we want to, we cannot fix the situation.  Instead of being paranoid or freaking out about this fact, take comfort, for kids are looking for a quick fix.  They will appreciate your honesty and listening ear more than they will appreciate your attempts to “fix” the situation.

3) Pray, and expect God to answer.  God’s Word promises peace that passes understanding to those who pray (Phil 4:6-7), and comfort for those who mourn (Matt 5:4).  Be ready to be crushed a little yourself, and be ready to feel God’s healing, comforting touch.  Pray boldly.  Pray specifically.  Pray for

4) Help them Hope.  In the end, kids need to know that God is present, God has not left.  Help them hope.  Help them identify the times in their life where they were certain of God’s presence and knew his love.  Help them remember these times.  Help them hold on to these memories – the memories that give them hope.  Remind them of God’s future as described in Revelation 21 – that future where there will be no more tears and no more mourning.  Talk about your hope.  Tell them why you have hope in spite of the craziness of the world.  You do have hope, right?!


Grief - Part I

Last night’s conversation at youth group confirmed what we all already know:  death and dying, loss and sadness – it sucks.

There have been numerous deaths in our community in the last month – both in our church and in our county.  Two teenage boys from the same school district drowned within two weeks of each other.  Two amazing men of faith from our congregation succumbed to illness and cancer.  Death and dying sucks.  There’s really no nice way to describe the feeling. 

Last night was tough, but it was important; it was important for our students to have opportunity to vent, talk, and for others to listen.  It was important because it confirmed 2 things about today’s teens:

1) There is a shortage of adults who are willing to really LISTEN.  I was impressed with my team of volunteers last night.  Last night wasn’t really fair to them.  I sort of threw them to the wolves, so to speak.  They weren’t prepared ahead of time for the topic.  Some weren’t aware of the latest tragedies.  They sort of got dumped on last night, but in some ways it was absolutely appropriate.  We had to address the pain, the reality of death, the elephant in the room.  My volunteers were rock stars last night!  They listened.  Kids shared about the lack of safe places where they could be heard.  They shared that there were plenty of people telling them how to feel or saying, “I’m sure you feel like this, and that’s normal, but tomorrow everything will be ok.”  There are plenty willing to say, “It’s all going to be ok.  This is God’s plan.  He’s in a better place.”  The list of niceties and platitudes goes on and on.  And there are fewer willing to listen – willing to listen to kids who are hurting, confused, angry, pissed off that there friends are gone.

2) Kids are HURTING.  A few years ago Chap Clark wrote a book based on his interaction with teens entitled, Hurt.  The title of the book gives away the conclusion of his research:  Kids are HURTING.  There is great sadness, sorrow, depression, anxiety, confusion, and anger in our youth today.  Families are in crisis.  Loved ones are diagnosed with and dying from cancer.  Almost everyone knows a family member or loved one who has gone off to Iraq or Afghanistan.  There are many students who have lived through a parent or both parents losing a job and the uncertainty and fear that can accompany that reality.  The world is messy.  The world is confusing.  Kids are hurting.  Enough said.

Wrestle with those ideas.  Tomorrow I'll post a follow up with some conclusions/suggestions.


conform or transform?

Following up my last past, the “Demise of Guys,” where a commenter asked, “What are verses that can help with this issue?”  Another suggested Romans 12, and since I had a post sitting in my brain featuring Romans 12, leggo!

What I love about Romans 12:1-2 is Paul’s juxtaposition of the words “conform” and “transform.”  Do not conform; instead, be transformed.  This, I would argue, is the heart of Christian living.  Don’t conform.  Be transformed. 

In recent years, the hot topic in youth ministry has been the fact that too many students are graduating high school and leaving church behind.  The numbers reported are alarming; it is a legitimate issue.  And even if it’s only 20-30% of high school graduates who are leaving the church, I believe that’s too high.

Two of the books I’ve read on this topic specifically address how parents can model faith and walk with their teens in order to produce, as one book suggests, Sticky Faith – a faith that lasts.  Isn’t that what we’re after in youth ministry – faith that lasts?  The consensus in these two books (Parenting Beyond Your Capacity and Sticky Faith) is that too many Christian parents are settling for the appearance of faith in their children.  That is, they are happy so long as their children conform to the rules of Christianity and play the part.  Upon graduating, these students quickly find new roles and new parts to play.   In the same way, youth ministry is to blame when we teach “behavior modification” rather than transformation in the likeness of Christ. 

We are teaching conformity rather than transformation, and conformity doesn’t always stick.   Here is where I pick up my argument from the beginning:  The Christian faith isn’t so much about “conforming” as it is “transforming.”  I believe there is a difference, and that difference speaks to issues present in my previous post on the “demise of guys.” 

Paul says, “Do not conform to the patterns of this world.”  Resist the temptations the world provides!  Flee from evil.  So we in the church say, “Here are some new patterns to which you need to conform.”  On one hand that doesn’t sound so bad, but conformity isn’t the same as transformation, is it?  The Gospel is about transformation!  A relationship with Christ is about being changed, so that the believer can “test and approve God’s will.”  Conformity is about doing things without really understanding the meaning or reason behind the doing.  This may be fine for the beginner in Christ, but transformation is the goal. 

My desire for my students is that they would resist evil desires and sinful living not because of sheer determination or “conformity” to a religious code, but because their desires have been transformed to imitate those of Christ.  My hope is that the student confronted with temptation would begin to naturally resist the patterns of the world because she has been transformed and trusts in the power of the Holy Spirit to deliver her from these temptations.  

The power of the Gospel story is that Jesus death and resurrection has made change in the world.  Things aren’t the way they used to be.  Death is defeated.  Sin is overcome.  And the power that raised Christ from the dead is available to those who seek God.  Conformity says, “Keep trying to live up to the rules, be a good person, and hopefully you’ll learn self-control and earn salvation.”  Transformation says, “Salvation has already occurred, Jesus already did the work of defeating sin, now submit your life to Christ and let Him do the work of changing your heart and mind.”

There is a difference, and it matters.


Demise of Guys

This is an alarming article and a must read for anyone working with teenage boys or raising boys.  Read it here:  “The Demise of Guys”

There were a number of sentences that grabbed me.  Such as,
“This new kind of human addictive arousal traps users into an expanded present hedonistic time zone.   Past and future are distant and remote as the present moment expands to dominate everything.”
We’ve been talking about this at youth group over the past six weeks.  Fact is, today’s youth are all about living for the “present moment.”  No regrets is the mantra.  That’s why trite phrases like “YOLO” (You Only Live Once) are on the tip of our teens’ tongues, and as dumb as they claim the phrase is, it pops up on my Facebook feed quite frequently.  It’s what makes Whiz Kalifa’s song, “Young, Wild, and Free,” so popular.  The lyrics: 
“So what we get drunkSo what we smoke weekWe’re just having funWe don’t care who seesSo what we go outThat’s how it’s supposed to beLiving young, and wild, and free”
So what?  So what we watch porn.  So what we play violent video games.  So what?  Get over it.  YOLO.

That is what I consistently hear not only from today’s teens, but from my generation as well.  I’m 31.  I remember when Grand Theft Auto was all the rage!  I remember when we, yes even we good Christian kids, spent hours with the PS2 stealing cars, shooting people, and sleeping with prostitutes because that’s how you were rewarded in the game.  But it didn’t affect us, right?   

So why is my generation finding it harder and harder to grow up?  Why is my generation finding it harder and harder to keep a job, find stability in relationships, and stay in one place for longer than a year?  Does it have anything to do with the instant gratification we’ve taught ourselves through video games and other online escapades?  Surely not!  These are just for fun, right?

It’s a scientific fact that our brains can be programmed by our actions, and that repeated actions begin to wire our brain.  This is the danger in any addictive behavior – it will change you, reprogram you, and next thing you know, it’s out of control.  Yes, even addictive behaviors such as playing video games and watching porn.

In John Medina’s excellent book, Brain Rules, he has a whole chapter on “Wiring.”  He writes, 
“Our brains are so sensitive to external inputs that their physical wiring depends upon the culture in which they find themselves.”   
Did you really read that closely?  Our brains are super sensitive to external inputs.  Ok.  So sensitive, in fact, that their physical wiring depends upon the culture in which they find themselves.

Well then, that begs the question:  What is the culture in which our teens' BRAINS are hanging out? 

Church?  Gaming?  Pornography?  Sports?  Music?  Movies?  

If the wiring of brains depends on the culture in which that brain finds itself – depends on the external inputs – then what are we doing to help or hurt our kids as they navigate this messy world?  As Christian parents and youth workers, will we encourage and attempt to create healthy boundaries in regards to internet use, video game use, and types of games played, or will we simply continue to ignore the science and take our chances?  After all, “Boys will be boys.”




This weekend was our annual men’s retreat.  What a great weekend!  One of the messages was about being “servant/leader” in the likeness of Christ, the ultimate leader (King of kinds, Lord of lords) who came to serve and spend time with the least of these - those on the margins of society.

During the message, our speaker mentioned that when doing a Google search for the word “servant,” Google autofills the word “leader.”  In other words, Google assumes you are searching for “servant leader,” for no one would simply search for the word “servant.” 

During the discussion time, one of the men noted this as being a strange thing.  As he stated, it’s as if no one wants to be a servant unless they can also be a leader!  Isn’t this true in our culture?  Corporations preach the concept of servant leadership consistently these days.  Again, the message seems to be that those in leadership ought to have a servant’s heart so long as the serving produces a desired outcome of increased productivity and job satisfaction.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but is this the biblical model of servitude?

Which leads me to ask, what are we teaching in our churches?  We talk servant leadership quite a bit these days, and appropriately so, as Jesus himself modeled servant leadership.  But do we preach and teach servitude without the leadership piece?  It’s the question of whether someone can truly serve and give of their time, talent, and treasure without expecting something in return.  Are there any truly altruistic acts?

I believe there are, but only when we have the same attitude of mind Christ had, as Paul describes and begs us to adopt in Philippians 2.  Though we find ourselves in positions of power and privilege, of prestige and importance, we are not to use it to our own advantage.  Rather, Philippians 2 shows us that Jesus was exalted by God only because he exhibited humility, obedience, and servitude on earth.  This is God's economy:  the humble are exalted, the meek are rewarded, the peacemakers inherit the kingdom.  I'll leave you to wrestle/reflect on Paul's words:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 
Who, being in very nature God, 
did not consider equality with God something to be
used to his own advantage;rather, he made himself nothing 
by taking the very nature of a servant, 
being made in human likeness.
 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death —
        even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, 
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, 
    to the glory of God the Father. 


the future worship wars?

Two online headlines caught my attention this week:

The first, a blog post responding to a recent talk Francis Chan gave where he stated, 
If I just read the Scriptures, I wouldn’t even think so much about the gathering. You know–Like, my first thought wouldn’t be, “Let’s have a gathering.” Out of the Scriptures, I would think, “I’m on a mission. Like, I love this God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and now I’ve got to go out and make disciples.”
The second, a post poking at the topic of preaching.  Will preaching be the same lecture based, 20-40 minute talk in the future?

Both articles really provoked me to think about the future of worship. 

I get what Francis Chan is saying.  We focus so much on the gathering, on the Sunday morning event, that we can easily lose focus on living for Christ the rest of the week.  We focus so much on what has become a production of sorts that we’ve lost focus on the mission.  I agree with that.  But…I also think he’s sort of created a false dichotomy between worship and mission.  We can’t have one without the other.  

So what is the future of the two held in tension?  This is something my generation struggles to understand, grasp, and see in the church today.  To be sure, there are many churches who get this tension and see worship and mission as both being vital to healthy Christian living, but there are so many others still caught up in worship wars or in trying to prove they are doing the most ‘missional’ work in the community. I’m asking, how can we move forward in worship and mission so we don’t lose even more young people to cynicism and doubt in the leadership of the church?

Though I preach only 7 times per year or so in “big people church,” I have often thought about the future of preaching.  Can we continue to expect people to sit and listen for 20+ minutes without interaction, dialogue, or opportunity to discuss/interact with the biblical material?  What is the future of preaching?  As I process my experiences with today’s youth both in youth ministry settings and “big people church,” I see that they are extremely distracted, easily lose focus, and aren’t afraid to show that by texting, surfing the web, or playing games during worship.  Again, will we continue to preach and teach in the same way and risk losing more young people?

I don’t have answers.  I’m asking questions, and in some ways that’s safer, easier, less risky.  However, I know that a generation MUST eventually answer these questions.  We must critically evaluate what we do in worship, and how we model and lead in mission, if we are to further the kingdom and keep each others’ eyes focused on Jesus.


Don't Tell Me What to Do

A student asked me this morning, “Do we ‘tell people what to believe’ when they come to youth group?” 

Interesting question.

“What do you mean?,” I asked.

“You know, do we tell people what to believe.  Like, do we hope that people will just do as their told if they come to you group and church?”

“Well,” I responded, “I guess in some ways, yes.  But why are you asking?”

“I have some friends I invited to youth group who said they wouldn’t come because the church would just tell them what they’re supposed to believe.”

Turns out these kids went to a youth group once and this is what happened.  They were told what to believe and why they should believe it.  And, believe it or not, this doesn’t sit well with today’s youth.

Why?  What’s going on?  Has something changed?  Is there some reason that teens today aren’t interested in hearing what they are supposed to believe, or in receiving the 7 steps to a better life as defined in Scripture?

Here’s what I think is really going on.  Kids today believe in experience, feeling, and story.  You can’t deny someone’s experience, or someone’s story.  If they said it, it must be true - at least for them.  If you hear someone say something happened and you don’t believe them, well…that’s messed up.  You can’t do that.  Again, this is all according to kids today.

Well, guess what?  We have an opportunity to speak into youth culture using these same tactics if we can do something very simple:  Get back to telling the Gospel as a STORY with an invitation to participate.

Currently, over at Internet Monk, there is a series going called “First Things First,” and it’s all about this very thing:  putting the Gospel story first.

The problem:  for too long we’ve been teaching, preaching, running spiritual formation in churches based primarily on Paul’s teachings and other Epistles.  We teach behavior modification before we teach the Gospel.  Some are beginning to note that we have abandoned the story in favor of explanation or application.  This is a modernist approach.  In doing so, we are losing postmodern thinkers, or the next generation, who tend largely to identify not with a black and white, do-this and do-that, don’t do this and don’t do that mentality, but instead identify with story, experience, and feelings. 

The answer:  get back to telling the biblical story, specifically the story proclaimed in the Gospels/Acts.

Given this argument, here are my questions for youth ministers, and even for myself:  
What is the role of Scripture in your ministry?  If you're honest, do you tend toward using “proof texting” to tell kids what to do or not to do?  When was the last time you simply told a story about Jesus for the sake of talking about Jesus and not to of ask kids to change their behavior or attitudes?  
 As I said before, I believe we have an opportunity and the tools necessary to speak to the current generation about faith and salvation in Jesus Christ if we are willing to change our tactics.  And, I believe that this change in tactic does not ask us to compromise anything; instead, it asks us to focus on Jesus, and he is someone worth focusing our attention on.

Anyone had luck with this approach?  Anyone struggled to teach the Gospel story to youth?


I Deserve This

News about Jesus spread quickly.  People heard about his healings, his miracles, and his way of teaching with authority and wisdom.  On one occasion, a centurion, a Roman military man, hears about Jesus and sends for him that he might come and heal his sick servant.

The centurion himself doesn’t go and talk to Jesus; instead, he sends “elders of the Jews” to come and plead with Jesus to come and heal the man.  In inviting, or should I say, begging Jesus to come, the language they use is quite interesting.  Their words, one in particular, JUMP at me.

They come to Jesus and urge him, plead with him, beg him saying:
“This man deserves this.  He loves our people.  He even built our synagogue.” 
Did you catch that? 
“He deserves this.”
Jesus goes.


The Culture

Culture is scary, messed up, leading people astray, and we’re all part of it.

It is too easy to attack culture.  I do it all the time.  It’s sort of become a “go to” thing for Christians today.  Attack the culture; that always gets people on your side.  In fact, I did it in a sermon this last weekend.  It was appropriate.  Everything I said was true.  But let’s be honest, it’s just too easy. 


If we’re honest, we are as much wrapped up in and influenced by culture as folks outside the church.  Maybe not you.   Maybe this isn’t a post for you.  But the kids I work with are influenced by culture.  They are culture.  Yes, they love Jesus, but they also love Justin Bieber, The Hunger Games, “Red Solo Cup,” How I Met Your Mother, and countless other songs, movie, television shows out there in the mainstream.

And you know what?  I do too.  I don’t listen to Christian music exclusively or even encourage people to watch Christian movies.  I couldn't handle that.

We need to strike a balance. 

And we need to remember that the Church is strongest when it doesn’t just stand against the culture, but offers a better way. 

Shane Claiborne says it this way in Irresistible Revolution,
“You don’t get crucified for being cool; you get crucified for living radically different from the norms of all that is cool in the world.  And it’s usually the cool people who get the most ticked off, since you are disturbing their order, for it was indeed the cool religious leaders and the cool politicians who killed the Lover from Nazareth.”
We have a better way.  We have a legitimate opposition and critique of the greater culture to offer.  We know culture is messed up, chasing after satisfaction and things to save us that cannot satisfy nor can they save us.  We know it, and yet we all too often are caught up in culture.  We cannot entirely escape culture for we live in it, but we need not be of it.  That’s just straight up biblical!