Junior High Retreat 2014

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Last weekend we took our junior high students to the annual Middle School Retreat held at our church camp Butler Springs. We had a good weekend playing some pretty messy games, hanging out, singing together, listening to some good messages and just having a good time.

The leaders of the weekend did a good job unpacking the theme Messy Spirituality.  We started the weekend by admitting that we are all a mess – we all have our shortcomings, we all fail, we all mess up. The good news is this:  Jesus knows that and He gets in the mess with us and helps us clean up and move forward.

There were two phrases that they used during the weekend that I thought were helpful for our students.  The first was this:  “Say ‘Yes’ until you can’t.”  The idea behind that phrase was to encourage the students (and adults) to simply try.  Whatever task or challenge that was presented, we should say “yes” until we couldn’t anymore.  Rather than decline an invitation because we didn’t know if we could handle it or accomplish it, we should simply say “yes” and give it a try.

The second phrase made sense to Star Wars fans.  It was this:  Yoda was wrong.  In the movie The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda has a conversation with Luke Skywalker.  Luke is faced with a challenge and tells Yoda, “I’ll give it a try.”  Yoda says, “No. Try not. Do…or do not. There is no try.”  The invitation in following Jesus is to try, to trust in His power to help us when we need it and to depend on His grace when we mess up.  The invitation to follow Jesus is to be faithful, not to be perfect.

It was a good retreat and gave our leaders and students a chance to spend time together outside of our regular student ministry programs.  I’m grateful for our leaders and the time they invest in our students.

Here’s a short video with some pics from the weekend.  Special thanks to Dale for putting it together.

3 Questions for the School Year

3 QuestionsWe kicked off another year of small groups Sunday night. I love the excitement and anticipation a new school year brings. It’s a new start and a time for groups that met last year to get back into the routine of meeting again. It’s also a time to welcome new students into small groups and help them connect with each other.

One bonus this year is that we have some new leaders in our groups. We have two of our young adult/college age guys that are helping with two groups. We also have two high school senior girls who will be co-leading a girls group.

As we begin a new season, we are striving to keep three questions out in front of our students. We want these questions to be a continual reminder to our students (and adults) that we all need to see where we need to make progress in our spiritual journey. The three questions will hopefully be a source of challenge when we need that kick-start or need to get back on track.

1) How are your growing? We want to help our students to take steps where they are growing on their own, outside of the church or small group environment. Are they reading the Bible on their own and spending time in prayer?

2) Where are your serving? Our desire is for our students to be an active part of our church family, not just showing up and being present, but serving in some area of ministry.

3) Who are you reaching? Everyone has influence on someone else. We want to encourage our students to use their influence in the lives of others to point them to Jesus.

The school year is underway and we don’t know what the coming months may bring. We can strive to grow, serve and reach. Here’s to a great school year!

Red Letter Revolution

red letter revolutionRed Letter Revolution is probably one of the most interesting books that I have read this year. It was both interesting and challenging as the two authors approached life with the question, “What if Jesus really meant what He said?” They didn’t shy away from any topics, but dealt with the issues of women in the church, racism, being pro-life, politics and many more. Even though I was reading a book, I felt more like I was sitting in on a discussion the two authors were having as they wrestled with each subject.

Tony Campolo is a name I’ve been familiar with for many years as I’ve been exposed to several of his books and have heard him speak both live and on video. Shane Claiborne is less familiar to me, but reading the authors’ conversations was engaging and challenging. On many of the issues I appreciated their insights and how they had dealt with the topic thoughtfully and thoroughly. It appeared they had spent time working through the issue in light of what Jesus would have to say about it. I doubt any reader would agree 100% with everything they said, but I didn’t get the impression they were making statements in an effort to be divisive or even judgmental. I came away with the impression that they were taking seriously the challenge to live life based on what Jesus said.

A main takeaway from this book would be for the reader to think through his or her convictions on these (and other) issues and compare them to the words of Jesus. If Jesus is the One I am following, am I allowing His words to direct how I respond to these various issues? Red Letter Revolution is a thought-provoking book and would be a good read both for an individual follower of Jesus and a group to discuss together.

Here is a brief video of the authors explaining the background to the book. I thought it might provide additional insight to what they wrote.

(the publisher provided a complimentary copy of this book through BookSneeze®)

The Radical Question A Radical Idea

David Platt is the author of the New York Times bestselling books Radical and Radical Together. The Radical Question A Radical Idea is actually two books in one. While I have heard about Radical, I have not read it. This two books in one presents the basis of Radical and seeks to make application to the church today.

To introduce the radical question, he shared some statistics of those suffering around the world and compared that to some of the churches in the United States today.  He pointed to an article in a magazine where a church spent several million dollars on a new church building and a few thousand on a missions effort in another country.  One of the questions Platt asked was this:  “The cost of discipleship is great.  But I want to propose that the cost of nondiscipleship is far greater.”

In A Radical Idea, Platt looks at the church investing in people, not buildings and programs.  He shares stories of individuals and churches who have redirected their spending to focus more on reaching people rather than acquiring possessions and buildings.  I recall one church that moved out of their building and met in a parking lot so they could use the funds they would have spent on rent to reach people.

One of the things I appreciated about Platt is that he was asking the questions, while not acting as if he had all the answers.  He shared that his church is still in the process of what it looks like to live out this radical question.  I didn’t feel it was a condemnation of the church today as much as it was an effort to refocus our efforts.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to read Radical, this easy to read book will give you an overview of the concepts and challenge to implement them in your current culture.

I received this book from WaterBrook Multnomah in exchange for my review.

After Summer Camp Talk

One of the challenges that youth ministries face after a big summer event (camp, conference, retreat, etc) is the emotional letdown.  We use phrases like “spiritual highs” and “mountaintop experiences” to describe the emotions and experiences from the event.  Then, we come back to “real life” and have the challenge of putting into practice what was committed during the week.  Josh Griffin, High School Pastor at Saddleback, posted this video on his blog.  Kurt Johnston is the speaker and he does a good job of helping students work through the “after camp” experience.

This is good advice for both students and adult.

Love Does by Bob Goff

Whim·sy [hwim-zee, wim-] noun:  capricious humor or disposition; extravagant, fanciful, or excessively playful expression

Throughout his book Love Does, Bob Goff uses the word whimsy to describe the kind of life that love does.  After reading some of his stories and escapades, including running up the hotel bill of his friend by ordering lobster from room service (without his friend’s knowledge), buying a skateboard to ride to work instead of a motor vehicle and pretending to be a part of the Easter Egg Hunt on the White House lawn (on the outside of the fence), Bob Goff lives a life of whimsy.

Love Does is a book full of stories and experiences that draw the reader in and gives a different perspective on how life can be lived.  Goff’s stories of getting into law school through sheer perseverance, traveling to Uganda to help kids caught in a non-functioning judicial system and the memory making trips with his own children give the reader a visual of a life of whimsy and living a life of love might look like.

Love Does also introduces the reader to people from Goff’s life who are living a life of love.  There is John, a young ma who helps build and run a school in Uganda for kids who have no place to go for education.  There is also Randy, a man who showed Goff during his teen years what it looked like to stand alongside another person and to be with him and for him.

Amidst the stories and adventures, Goff also provides some great statements like these:

“(Jesus said we) should think of ourselves more like the ushers rather than the bouncers and it is God who decides who gets in.”

“You become like the people you hang around, and to a great degree, you end up going wherever they’re headed.”

“Bible verses weren’t meant to be thrown like grenades at each other. They were meant to point each other toward love and grace.”

I enjoyed reading Bob Goff’s stories and were drawn into his experiences, especially his involvement in Uganda.  Love Does gives a unique picture of what it means to live a life of love.

(I received a copy of this book through my participation in the Book Sneeze program)

The Future of the Church

I receive a daily email called Simply Youth Ministry Today.  The writers offer insights on various aspects of youth ministry and the church.  This week they have been writing about the future of the church.  I thought what Josh Griffin wrote yesterday was good.

The future of youth ministry sure is a topic that has been getting some play for a while. And while that is very interesting to me, I thought it might be interesting to think about what we know is going to happen to the whole church in a few years:

The students in your ministry will be the parents in your church in 10 years
The students you are counseling, nudging and caring for are the parents in your church in a few years. These kids will be having kids (if you’ve been in youth ministry a while, it is a disconcerting feeling to say the least) and they will be the parents.

So? Teach them well. Step in as a role-model in single parent homes. Nudge students to honor and love their parents a little more this week. Help them realize that in the not-so-distant future they’ll be the mom and dad their teen is frustrated with. Oh, and help them stay pure in the meantime so parenthood doesn’t happen earlier than it should.

The students in your ministry will be the missionaries of the world in 12 years
The students who are on your Spring Break trip or with you in Costa Rica this summer are going to be the missionaries of the future. They are the ones to take the Gospel to the last people groups who haven’t heard and translate the Bible into the final most obscure languages.

If that’s true … Get as many of your students to experience missions as possible. Model servanthood to them. Fight for more scholarship money to get kids on these trips. Don’t hold back when it is time to push them.

The students in your ministry will run the church in 15 years
The students you are mentoring, discipling and reaching for Jesus right now are going to be the elders, deacons and pastors of the church. They are going to be making game-changing decisions about the standards of the church and the interpretation of the Bible. They are going to be hit with a myriad of huge decisions (our generation wrestled with but will largely leave to them).

My point? Disciple your students well. Make sure they are grounded in the Word. Make apologetics a priority. Give away leadership to them now so they have some experience when the church is given to them.

So what is the future of the church? Look no further than your own youth ministry to see it today.

Living Close to God review

Mr. Edwards begins his book in a different manner that one would expect. Rather than describing his qualifications for writing a book, he highlights his lack of ability to do what he is writing about. He points to the fact that he is not naturally a spiritual person, yet had the desire to grow in his relationship with Christ. The book is a description of how a person, even one who is not naturally a “spiritual person,” can grow closer to Jesus.

Reflecting a desire to make the pursuit of Christ accessible even to those who are illiterate, Mr. Edwards keeps things quite simple and practical. He uses his grandfather as an example that even uneducated people can live in close relationship to Jesus. While his grandfather didn’t have benefit of formal education, he displayed a deep relationship with God. Mr. Edwards’ desire was to have a relationship with Jesus similar to that.

Instead of focusing on the extensive reading of the classic writings of Christian authors or long hours in Bible study, Mr. Edwards talks about taking moments during the day – when one first awakes, when one gets in the car to leave for work, at lunch time – to touch Christ. Sometimes it is just taking 15 seconds to recognize God’s presence in the middle of a busy day.

One of the aspects of the book I appreciated was the use of scripture to connect with God. Rather than regale God with a long list of prayer requests, the author suggests slowly speaking a passage of scripture back to God. Using scriptures, such as Psalm 23, to speak to God, and slowing down before God creates an opportunity for the unspiritual person to experience an intimacy with his Creator.

This book offers some simple. practical steps for any believer to grow in his/her relationship with Jesus. It would be a good read for both the long-time and more recent follower of Christ. The real challenge will not be in reading the book; it will be in the slowing down enough to put these principles into practice.

(I received this book from WaterBrook Multnomah in return for my review of it. You can find more about this book and read an excerpt by clicking here.)

Great Year of Small Groups

We just concluded another year of small groups in our Student Ministry. It has been great to see our students grab a hold of the idea of meeting together each week with their group. This year, we decided to end the school year of small groups with a celebration. So, we went skating! Not all of our members were able to be there, but we had a great time. One of the cool aspects of the afternoon was to have eight of our seniors there.  It is sometimes hard to get our busy soon-to-be graduates at events.  It was a great afternoon celebrating a great year of small groups.

Thanks to all our small group leaders and members for a great year!