Wednesday, December 03, 2008

It's a cold world we live in...

RIP Abraham Biggs.  Most of you probably don't know Abraham Biggs, but you might have heard his name.  In November, Abraham Biggs became famous for committing suicide live online.  His web cam recorded the incident while almost 1500 people watched and chatted about it. 
(You can read a story here) 

Now, being a youth pastor, it hurts me when I hear about students who felt that the only way to get relief in their life was to end it.  Within my first 2 months at PWUMC, I had to deal with 2 suicide's by father of teenagers.  I had heard the story about Abraham shortly before Thanksgiving, but what I didn't realize was what I found out when I got to my mom's house.  The day I arrived, my brother was at a memorial for Abraham.  He was my brother's friend.  My brother knew him.  Here is a somewhat anonymous person I heard about, and I find out that he is connected to me.   Needless to say my brother was heartbroken about it.  He couldn't believe it.

I continued to follow the story and couldn't believe the stories I was hearing.  The stories of people in the chat room cheering him on, telling him he wasn't doing it right and no one taking the time to call the authorities.  I know the online world has a small level of anonymity and that we see things online that are staged/fake/not-real all the time.  I can't imagine what it must have been like to sit in a chat room and encourage someone to kill themselves, whether you believed it to be true or not.  It chills me to think that there are people who knew it was real and still encouraged him.

How sad that we value human life so little, that people actually cheer when others die?  How sad it must have been for Abraham to feel so alone, that he saw no way out except to end his life?  My heart goes out to the Biggs family.  I can't imagine the pain they have felt.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Day 21, Loving the fundraisers

It seems that my 30 days of blogging is failing big time.  I haven't blogged in a few days becomes my world has been consumed by our Turkey Dinner fundraiser this weekend.  This fundraiser takes over 600 people to make happen.  Over 450 people make/deliver over 600 items of food and 150+ work the day of the event.  Planning for this event started in March or April and we started advertising in September.  Currently we have sold over 300 tickets and given away 130-150 tickets to our community.  We are hoping to feed over 700 people by the time it is done.  This is a major event for our church, one of the biggest we do, so we have to make sure it is done right.

This event has been a 30+ year tradition at this church.  I am thankful for the opportunity that the youth ministry has to put this event together.  All that to say that I have been busy this week, not doing anything major but just taking care of the little things.  I am not the biggest fan of fundraisers but I know they are important in most ministries.  Our ministry is lucky enough to only have two fundraisers to do.  These events have been a part of the church for many years and we greatly benefit by getting about $15,000 per year from our two events.  I know most youth ministries don't have this kind of opportunity but I think with the right mixture and help, you can pull off a great fundraiser.

Here are a few tips that I have learned in working with churches of various size and budgets.

  1. Get parents involved.  This may seem like a no-brainer (or something you hadn't thought of) but I know many youth pastors who take on the full responsibility to raise money for students who need it.  Most of the time all the money goes to the students who help, so why not get the parents involved.  I mean, involved as in leading the fund raiser.  A friend of mine got tired of having no help at fundraisers, so he told his parents that he wouldn't be doing another one, ever.  His parents got the idea and now all the fundraisers are done by parents and he helps when he can.
  2. Involve the Community.  Both fundraisers we do involve the church and the community to make them happen.  By expanding your base to include your community, you expand your opportunity to make more money.  This can be anything from car washes at a local fast-food place to a garage sale.  Involving the community also takes pressure off the church to help the youth ministry beyond their normal tithes.
  3. Determine the Most Bang For Your Buck.  When we think of fundraisers, we normally think of fast and easy.  Things like bake sales, car washes, etc are events that are easy to organize and easy to run but are not always the most effective when it comes to raising money.  Remember, you get out what you put into a fundraiser.  Do some research to find out what other groups might be doing fundraisers, what kind are they doing and what has worked best.  I remember at our last church we did a car wash on a Saturday in the summer and within a 1 mile radius, there was 6-7 other car washes going on and one less than a block from us.  We made a total of $60 that day.  Doing some prior planning will go a long way in making a successful event.
  4. Create a Tradition.  I have said already that each of our fundraisers bring in a good bit of money, but that is only because they have been going on for 30+ years.  Find a fundraiser that you can do each year around the same time and build on that.  Our two fundraisers are summer garage sale called Trash-n-Treasure and a Turkey Dinner.  Both of these started out small and grew over time.  By creating a tradition you build anticipation during the year, people begin to look forward to your fundraiser.
  5. Most importantly, Do Something People Need.  Todays students have been turned into little Amway sales people.  Between school, sports, clubs and church, they spend a good deal of time asking people for money.  When planning your fundraiser, try to create an event where people need what you have or create something they will normally do.  Our Turkey Dinner fundraiser works because everyone eats and we provide a good meal at a reasonable price.  Work with your senior pastor to talk about the needs of the church and plug your group in.  Maybe you have a church with an older generation that needs help doing things around the house, create a Student Auction where students are "sold" for a per hour fee.  People are more likely to help when they get something good in return.
Fundraisers can be great events or they can be horror stories for youth pastors.  There are very few churches that don't have to do fundraisers.  If you are that church, great for you, enjoy it.  Churches from the smallest groups to the largest usually need some extra help for their students.  We can serve our ministry well by having well-planned fundraisers.  Be creative.  Make the fundraiser fit your group and your setting.  I remember one summer I did two car washes, one made around $50 per student, the other made $5.  

Youth Pastors fight all the time with parents over money.  I have had parents tell me they didn't have money for a specific event, but then the next week their student comes in with an iPod they just bought.  We need to help educate our parents that youth ministry events are just as important, if not more, than the other activities their students are involved in.  Good luck to you all.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Day 8, Twittering

I do everything I can to stay on top of technology.  In my previous life I was a programmer and was learning new languages every couple of years because it was changing so fast.  As a youth pastor, my need to learn is just as great because I have to keep up with what my students are doing online, via text message or however they might communicate.  Back in the day I jumped on Myspace to see what my students were up to, I joined Facebook once the Myspace fad started fading and a few months ago I joined Twitter to keep up with other youth pastors.

Twitter is an interesting tool to use because most students don't use it.  I have 1 college student that is on it, but no Sr/Jr Highers.  I use Twitter to keep up with mostly youth pastors and friends who might have one.  If  you aren't sure what Twitter is, it is micro-blogging.  You can write in 140 character increments, usually just enough to state a single point or idea.  I follow people who use it for personal updates of what they are doing in their life or they use it to talk about what is going on in their ministry.  I am mixed on how I use Twitter.  I write stuff that I am doing at the moment, promote my blog and also talk about ministry.  Twitter also updates my Facebook status through an application in Facebook.

I talk about Twitter because of a link I found that talked about different ways that people have used Twitter to get help, products, etc.  Here is the link from Mashable,

I got a kick out of some of the stories.  It is amazing that something that seems to be very early in its growth, can be used to do some great things for people.

How do you use Twitter in ministry or in life?
Do you feel it works for you or do you use it just because?

Day 14, Radical Hospitality

When I originally started working on the Five Practices with our church there were a tons of ideas that came to my mind.  I looked around at our church and remembered my own first Sunday there and the trouble we had finding the children's area (no one seemed to know).  Since our church is larger than most, we have different problems because the building is more spread out, different groups meet all over the place and you are less likely to know everyone.  In his book, Bishop Schnase defines Christian Hospitality as "the active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ".  This gives us a good idea of the direction he is going.  Radical Hospitality is more than just having coffee and donuts for visitors but having an attitude whenever we think about our church, we are focused on how to make visitors feel more welcome and safe.  Jesus says, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me" (Matthew 25:35).  "Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40).  When looking at Radical Hospitality, we need to remember that we were all visitors once and our goal is to make EVERYONE feel more than welcome in our church.

When you take Radical Hospitality into a youth group, it almost changes the way you think because most of the time you can't control the way the building looks, signage, or where your youth room is.  Since you don't have as much control, you really need to be creative in how you practice Radical Hospitality.  Let me also point out, Radical Hospitality isn't just how people see you when they walk into the door of your church, but also how they see you in the community.  As a youth group, do you market yourself?  Do you have t-shirts that you students wear?  Buttons, fliers or other marketing material?  Do you have a good logo for your group?  What about a website or Facebook?  

Marketing is something that churches don't seem to always embrace.  Churches think it is for business' only but we must remember that todays generation, especially teenagers, will do their research before they get to your group whether it be hitting your website for more information or looking at who is on your Facebook group.  When I was interviewing for the job here at Platte Woods, I immediately went to their website and tried to find information, pictures of staff and ministry information before I came to interview.  I can tell you, our website needs a lot of help because finding information was difficult.

When I first started at Platte Woods, even before we started talking about the 5 Practices, one of the first changes I made was to move the youth ministry from having 3 separate rooms (Jr High, Sr High and a game room) in two different parts of the building to having a single meeting place (or wing) for our group.  We have our own entrance so students aren't wandering around looking for where the youth group meets.  I know that not everyone can do this but we need to think BIG first, then the little things are easier to accomplish.  You can also start looking around at small things you can do to make your youth group meeting place more inviting to students.  As we talk, we are going to have hundreds of scenario's because each of our churches are different but I will try to make any suggestion generic enough to be adaptable to everyone.

Radical Hospitality is more than marketing and building looks but also about how students are accepted when they come to your church.  Is your group inviting their friends?  Do new students know where to go and what to do?  Are you students social enough to talk with visitors they don't know?  Are your adults willing to talk to new students or do they huddle together?  I have found, for us, that this was a problem, not because my kids weren't friendly but because they weren't used to looking for new people.

All that said, how can we practice Radical Hospitality in our youth groups?
  1. Get your adults/church staff/student leaders on board.  Radical Hospitality takes a whole youth group.  Talk to your leaders and brainstorm the best way to practice radical hospitality.  Make sure you have the help you need.  You can't do this alone.  Radical Hospitality is an attitude change that must occur in every member of your youth group, from the adult leaders to the youngest student.  This may include changing some job descriptions (or writing some), asking adult leaders and students to be specific about looking for newcomers to your group.  This may take some training sessions, use your teaching time to talk about hospitality and getting out of your comfort zone and educating everyone involved.  Once you get everyone together, lay out a plan for what Radical Hospitality will look like.  Use "secret shoppers" to give your feedback on how your group is doing.
  2. Market Yourself Online & Offline.  In youth ministry, we compete with a world that spends billions of dollars to make itself look good to teenagers, but with a little creativity we can do our best to capture the attention of our students.  When you send out postcards or letters to perspective students, make sure they are well thought out and visually appealing.  If you aren't a creative person (like I am not) then find a parent, student or church member that is and let them help you.  There are many free tools out there to help you do this.  Programs like, Gimp and Scribus replace tools like Adobe Photoshop and Publisher.  Besides print materials, get online and work every angle.  Websites, Facebook, Myspace and Twitter are all tools that students will use to find out more about a group.  Again, if you aren't good at using these tools, find someone who is.  Students are great at being online, so utilize them the best you can.  There are many free website templates and hosting companies out there that can help you have a visually appealing website that students will want to come back to.  MAKE SURE YOU KEEP IT UP TO DATE.  This is my biggest pet peave, to go to a site with information on it that is days, weeks or months old.
  3. Make your youth room as inviting as possible.  This can have the most impact of all.  Youth Rooms are notorious for being some hole in the wall room that no one else wanted.  Sometimes they have outdated equipment, couches and ugly paint on the wall.  When designing the youth area for Radical Hospitality, start by making sure that students can get there.  If you need to post signs or change some verbiage, then do it.  Students can't join your group if they can't find the room.  Make sure also that your meeting times are posted in all the right places around the church or in your bulletins.  Once students get to your room, make sure it doesn't smell and has decent furniture.  Paint is relatively cheap, so paint the room (if possible) in a way that draws students in.  You would be amazed at how much a coat of paint can change the attitude of a room.  Put some posters on the wall of Christian bands or upcoming events.  Ditch the old couches...  I know this seems cool to some but it isn't.  Having a 15 year old hand me down couch isn't cool, its cheap.  If you can, buy some decent couches or have someone in the church make couch covers or visit garage sales and look for GOOD used couches in a single color.  Make sure to have publications in your area that promote your group.  Information about upcoming events, different ministry teams and registration forms can be used to draw students into conversation.
  4. Create a Hospitality team.  We are still in the process of putting this together, so I am going to give you my dream idea.  When students enter the door they are greeted by an adult or student leader that welcomes them and takes their information for follow-up use.  We give away lanyards with the youth group name on them to each visitor, so they have a reminder of their visit.  Once that student have been signed in, they are handed off to a student leader who then takes the student around and introduces them to other students, the student leader stays with the new person for the remainder of the night and helps them through the service.  While the student leader is with the newcomer, they are trying to find out as much information as possible in order to help connect that student to the youth group.  Our follow-up would be 3-fold.  First, would be a phone call/email/postcard from the youth pastor.  Second would be a phone call/email/postcard from someone on the hospitality team, preferably a person who met the student.  Third, a student at the school of the new student would try to track them down and thank them for coming to their group.  This might not be possible for every school but you probably will cover most.  Each of these contacts will let the students know they have connections for the next time they visit your youth group.  Our hospitality team is also responsible for remembering birthdays and special occasions.  There is great benefit in having student on student contact.  Students are more able to talk with one another and share their joys/excitement for the youth group and what is going on.
These are just a few ideas of ways that you can use to build Radical Hospitality.  Each church is different and will need to adjust them for your own situation.  We must do everything we can to build welcoming youth groups.  And this goes beyond newcomers.  We must continually work to make our group welcoming to everyone who steps through the doors, whether they are brand new or have been in your group for years.  Work with your senior pastor and staff to see what changes the church is making and maybe get them to adjust, if it helps the youth group also.

Our group took on the task of painting the original church sanctuary because that was where we worshiped.  We worked with the staff on coloring and how it could be done since we shared that room with many other groups.  When we redid the student area, we renovated that area to work for all groups that might use it but still had our own little touch on it.  Remember to be creative.  Talk with your students about what will attract their friends.  They are your best resource for ideas.

What ways does your group exhibit radical hospitality?  What areas can you improve on to make students feel welcomed?

Day 13, The 5 Practices of a Fruitful Congregation

There is a book that has been written that is making the rounds in the Methodist church here in Missouri and beyond.  Bishop Schnase is in charge of all the churches in the state of Missouri.  The 5 Practices of a Fruitful Congregation is a book that talking about the 5 areas that a church needs to be excellent at if they are wanting to reach unchurched or underchurched people.  Like all books of this type, I think this is a good start and our church has really taken this book to heart and has worked in each of the 5 areas.  I don't believe this is the end all but I know that you can change your church for the better by putting these practices into place.

Since our church has started working on the 5 Practices, we as a youth group has also been making adjustments to put these 5 Practices into place.   Over the next 5 days I will be blogging about each specific practice and how we have adjusted our youth ministry to become better at each practice.  Let me talk a little about each practice.

  1. Radical Hospitality - How people feel when they walk into your building
  2. Passionate Worship - Creating an environment that allows people to worship God in the best way possible without distraction or pressure
  3. Intentional Faith Development - Creating a path for church members to become deeper in their faith with God
  4. Risk-taking Missions and Service - Doing everything possible to reach the poor and needy locally, country-wide and worldwide
  5. Extravagant Generosity - Giving as much as you can, not because of a request from the church or pastor but because God is asking you to.
Each of these practices can help a church become a place where visitors want to come and members want to come back.  The Bishop has some great ideas and for our ministry is was almost a no-brainer to adopt these practices and do everything we can to put them into place.  I have taught these practices and they work for a youth group of 2 students to over 2000 students.  You might read these and think they are common sense, but once you start looking around your church, you will be surprised at how bad some churches do at each of these practices.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Day 11 - What happens when you get yelled at?

(this is in response to Tim Schmoyer's 100 Things I hope you write)

If you have spent anytime in youth ministry, you have probably been yelled at by someone.  It could be your senior pastor for not turning the lights off after an event, or a parent for not being home on time, from the janitor for leaving a mess in the fellowship hall or from your spouse for being out too many nights last week.  Youth Ministry just breeds itself to have others tell you what you are doing wrong.  I have been in youth ministries that weren't much more than babysitting jobs, so whenever I tried to do something with students, I was yelled at.  Right now, I am at a church that knows the importance of youth ministry in the lives of students, so I am given a much longer leash in which to mess up.  I have been in the middle also.

Criticism is something the church isn't short of.  Everyone has an opinion of how you should be doing your job, whether good or bad.  Our biggest job is discerning what to do with that criticism and how to keep it from dragging us down.  Youth Pastors are known as risk-takers and that leaves us open to more criticism.  We might not think that is fair but it is the nature of the beast.  Most youth pastors are younger, so that also adds to it.  So how do we handle criticism?  What is the best course of action when someone comes into your office and lets their opinion fly?
  1. Be Courteous - Bite your tongue.  The person in your office has a passion for what they are talking about, so listen to them.  Whether you agree or not, let them get things off their chest.  You won't win by arguing or telling them they are wrong, even if they are.  If you become combative, the person will only get more upset.  Listen to them intently, take notes if you have to, be responsive to what they are saying and thank them for coming to talk to you.
  2. Pray for God's Help - Once you are done talking, get on your knees and pray.  Bring the matter to God and get His guidance.  Resist the urge to email, twitter or text out bad things about the person or to complain to fellow co-workers about that specific person.  Remember, we are the body and we need to act like it.  Ask God to help you work with that person, to change yourself if need be or to work to change the person who criticized you.  Only God can fix this, so let Him fix it
  3. Talk to a Senior Pastor/Mentor/Friend/Adult Leader - Talk with your close friends about the issue.  Let them give you their honest opinions.  This will help you filter through any pain or hurt in the person who criticized you.  Talking with a friend will help you get a handle on the criticism and give you an outside opinion. 
  4. Make Changes If Necessary - Once you have brought the issue before God and talked with friends, make changes if necessary.  If there was something you did wrong, apologize and promise to never do it again.  If it is a ministry change, make a plan to change for the good.  Not all criticism is about change.  If possible, bring the person who criticized you into the planning process.  Maybe it is a program you aren't offering, let that person help lead it.  Turn your "enemies" into ministry partners.
  5. Let All Criticism Bounce Off You - This is the biggest thing you need to remember.  Criticism is a part of being a youth pastor (or senior pastor).  It is sad that people in the church can be mean about things but we must respond with love.  Do you best to let any issues become motivation to do a better job.  You can't let criticism bring you down.  Know that most of the time, people really are trying to help but can't express themselves correctly.  Do your best to deal with the situation and then forget it.
When I lived in Nashville I would meet weekly with my best friend who was also a youth pastor and we would sit and complain, laugh and plan the entire time.  We would both bring issues to the table to get help on.  He was a great sounding board for me and help me deal with tons of criticism.  Do your best to keep your Senior Pastor in the loop also, they hate not knowing what is going on.  Don't bog them down with details but give them a heads up email or voice mail.  You will earn brownie points for it.  My pastor is always great full when I let him know of any potential issues that might come up.

Remember that God is in charge and knows what you are going through.  His power will help us overcome any problems, criticism or obstacles in our ministry.  Keep Him first and the rest will fall into place.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Day 10, So grown up...

Tonight marked a milestone in my daughters life.  She know has her green bracelet for the YMCA.  This is a big deal because we have been pushing her to get it since we started our membership at the Y.  The bracelet signifies that she allowed to do whatever she wants.  In order to get the green bracelet, you must swim the entire length of an Olympic size pool.  Abigail struggled with this for many reasons.  She has never been a big swimmer, not sure why but she never got into it like her brother.  Timothy on the other hand, got his when he was 7 years old.

I pushed her tonight to get her green bracelet.  I know she was worried about not completing the lap, but she had done it before so I knew she could.  She got up the courage, talked to the lifeguard and completed her lap.  I was so proud of her.  I was at the end of the lap ready to give her a hug and let her know how happy I was.  Up until this point, whenever she wanted to swim, either Beth or I needed to be in the pool with her, but now she is free to swim as she wants.  This is a big step for her.

I began to think about how fast Abigail is growing up.  She is 10 years old and growing.  I find it hard to think that come June, she will be a part of my youth group, as a member and not just the youth pastors daughter.  I can't believe she is already at this age.  I still remember when she was born and bringing her home to our house in Murfreesboro, TN.  How the time flies...

Last March I got the opportunity to talk with Kurt Johnston about how to handle having a daughter in his youth group.  His oldest daughter was just getting ready to graduate out of his ministry, so he knew what to do.  I had fun talking to Kurt and asking him questions about dealing with a child in the group.  Let me see if i can recap for you what Kurt told me.
  1. Talk to your child before they come into the group - Kurt told me he and his wife sat their daughter down and talked about her being a part of the youth group and the boundaries for both of them.  One example he gave was in disciplining her because of something she did during youth group, he never brought it home because no other parent would have that opportunity either.
  2. Let them know they are responsible, no special treatment - Kurt said he made it clear that his daughter would receive no special treatment in regards to event planning, small group setup or anything.  If she missed a deadline for an event, he didn't try to work around the situation.
  3. Don't use them as sermon illustrations - I am not sure if this is something that Kurt said specifically or if I heard it from somewhere else but it stands to reason.  Always get permission to use your own students in a story.  I know it is easy to bring funny stories up, but to your children it could be embarrassing and hurtful.
I still feel crushed by the thought that my daughter is old enough to be in my youth group, but I am getting over it.  I love her energy and her kindness towards other people and hopefully I can help shape her to be a Godly woman.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Day 9, Funeral Road Trip

Over the last two weeks I have attended 9 different funerals at our church.  Luckily I only knew one person that had passed away.  You might be asking why I attended so many funerals for people I didn't know, well I was just running our sound and media.  Nothing major but still had to take the time out of my own schedule to do it.  We are in the process of putting together a good sound team, so hopefully this will all be temporary.

So back to the funerals.  A couple weeks ago, our church hosted 6 funerals in 7 days.  This is the most I have seen in my 18 months there.  Up till then, we would only have 1 a month, maybe.  But it seems like we have had a lot of people pass away in the last couple weeks.  Some of the funerals only had a handful of people, to today, where our entire church was full and we probably had almost 500 people there.  During most of the funerals, I would spend my time catching up on my blogs or blogging myself.  I wasn't really into the funerals because I didn't know the people.  Today's funeral was different though.  The funeral was for a man named Sam Cross, a grandfather in our church who was in a horrific tractor accident that put him in the hospital for two weeks before he finally passed away.  Again, I didn't know Sam, but I knew the way people felt about him and it made me sad.

I sat at his funeral and heard his sons talk about him and I kept thinking back to my fathers funeral just two years ago.  Sam's boys told stories of the good times and the great person their father was.  I sat back and thought about my father and how similar the stories where.  I was saddened by it.  I thought back to the one big question unChristians ask Christians, "why do bad things happen to good people?".  Here was a good Christian man who was tragically taken from his family.  A man who treated everyone with great respect.  A man who spent two weeks in the hospital before going to meet his God.

Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why does it seem so hard for us to understand the world we live in and the God who loves us.  We can't change the world we live in or the consequences of living in the world, but we can remember that we have a God who cares and loves us very much.  Sometimes I envy the people at the funerals I attend because they are now singing with the angels in Heaven.  RIP

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Day 5, Turkey Dinner

Every year Flite Ministries hold two fundraisers.  One is Trash & Treasure which takes place the first week of June, the other is the Turkey Dinner.  The Turkey Dinner is just what the name says.  We invite the entire church and community to come out and have dinner on us (of course they pay for it).  

This years Turkey Dinner is going to happen on Saturday, November 22nd from 4 to 8 PM in the gym.  This event takes lots of preparation and support from everyone.  We have over 400 people prepare and cook the food, plus another 150 actually working the day of the event.  This is a great tradition in the church and has always produced great times of community. 

This year, Flite Ministries is fully in charge of this event and any monies raised will go toward our mission trips in 2009.  If you have never been a part of this event, you are in for a treat.  I have never seen so many people, eating so much food.  We have made some changes this year that will make the event better and easier to put on.  We eliminated using roasters to serve the food and went to using sterno's, which will save on electricity.  We are using warmers to cook the beans and corn, which will save time and energy in the kitchen.  We will also be recycling as much as we possibly can this year, to eliminate our carbon-footprint for this event.  We are also going to be going out into the community and inviting everyone to join us and giving tickets away to those who would like to come but cannot afford the ticket cost.  We are hoping this opens up doors for our church to reach out to those who might be hurting financially.

If you are a member of the Flite Ministries community, then we need your help the day of the event.  We need 150 people to help us prepare, serve and cleanup for this event.  You can view all the jobs here including a description of each job, time commitment and short description of what you will be doing.  Please contact me view the comments on this blog, or email @ to let me know what times you can fill in.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The wait is over...

The day has come and gone for me (I know it isn't over but my voting is).  Beth come home at lunch, picked me up and we headed to Prairie Point Elementary and voted.  We were worried about having to wait in line forever, and once we got there we saw the line was out the building.  The cool thing was we only stood in line for like five minutes.  Funny story, a man popped up behind us and started making small talk about hoping to beat the lunch rush.  Then a lady came out of the building looking for people whose last names started with L - Q, bingo, that was us.  We followed her into the building, walked right up to the lady checking ID's and handing out ballots.  We were done in less than 15 minutes.  We took longer to fill out the ballot than actually waiting in line.

As I filled out the ballot, I realized how little I had followed the other races going on.  Some of the names I knew, some I didn't.  Another funny story, I actually wrote myself in as a write-in.  I think it was State Administrator.  The only other candidate was a democrat and since I was in a funny mood, I wrote my own name in.  I am pretty sure I won't get elected, oh well...

My vote for president was the last choice I made on the ballot.  I wasn't really sure who to vote for because to me both candidates are the not the best candidates for the job but the best candidates the two parties think can win so they can be in control.  I did really struggle with this decision and probably still not sure I voted for the right person.  I just pray that whoever is elected, that they will allow God to lead them rather than the money in Washington.  I think that is a tall order on the part of McCain or Obama, but with God all things are possible.

If you haven't voted, get out and vote.  If you have, continue to pray as the results will start coming in within the next few hours.  God help us...

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Day 12 - Anti-God Ad Campaign

Atheists Plan Anti-God Ad Campaign on Buses  
London buses have God on their side — but not for long, if atheists have their way. The sides of some of London's red buses will soon carry ads asserting there is "probably no God," as nonbelievers fight what they say is the preferential treatment given to religion in British society. Organizers of a campaign to raise funds for the ads said Wednesday they received more than $113,000 in donations. The money will be used to place posters on 30 buses carrying the slogan "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." Fox News, October 23

I read this article a couple weeks ago and found it kind of funny.  I have had many conversations with atheists bad-mouthing on Christians for wanting to "convert" people to their faith, pointing out that we are pushy and annoying, yet this article is no different than a church posting an ad on the bus.  Doesn't this strike you as funny.  Have you ever encountered someone who didn't believe in religion and then spent the better part of the conversation trying to convince you believe like them?  Does having no faith keep you from trying to bring others to your level?

I spend a good deal of time on reading the articles and comments.  Almost 95% of the time, the topic comes back to religion.  No matter what the original article was, the conversation will almost always turn to religion and the hatred of it in any form and how the whole world needs to be void of any religion.  Know that digg is very left leaning and almost anti-religion.  I read the comments and laugh because some of them sound like child is talking, but then will pound on a Christian and call them uneducated and closed-minded.  I consider myself to be open-minded, in that I will listen to other points of view and usually agree to disagree.

My faith is questioned all the time.  I have read books by leading atheists and religion haters.  I have been called a homophobe (still not sure what this means) because I believe homosexuality is a sin, ignoring the fact that some of my good friends are gay.  I have struggled with my faith and will continue to struggle with it.  I remember talking to a friend of mine who was an atheists/agnostic and he told me that he believed people used religion as a crutch because it was easier to believe in God than not.  I highly disagreed with him, stating that it was harder to believe in something you cannot see, hear, touch or smell than to  not believe altogether.  Faith is the evidence of things not seen.  

Sorry, decided to rant a little today. 

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Day 6 (late), Cheap Thrills

The best part about being a youth pastor is all the stuff we get to do outside of the church.  This year alone I have been to Guatemala, Colorado and all over Missouri doing youth ministry.   This upcoming year will take me back to Colorado, to Texas, more places in Missouri, Chicago and California.  I love doing events with our students.  The ability to hang out, spend raw time with them is invaluable to building relationships.  You learn a lot about students on an 11 hour overnight bus ride to Colorado.  

For most youth groups, putting events together greatly depends on the amount of money that event is going to cost.  I have worked in youth groups that had no money, some money and plenty of money for events.  I have dealt with students who never had to worry about an event cost to students who could never afford any event.  I have run events that ranged from free to $30,000 plus.  I love putting events together and seeing them accomplished.

I want my blog to be a place for everyone to get some help with youth ministry or personally, so today I am giving you my cheap thrills list of events.  This events are free or really cheap (sometimes a relative term).  These events can be good for any size group.

  1. Camping - find a close state park, grab some tents and head out for the night.  The rental on tent lots is usually less than $10.  Bring a football, Frisbee, marshmallows and you are all set for a great night of hanging out and building relationships with students. [National Parks]
  2. Video Scavenger Hunt/Mall Hunt - Most of your students have cell phones that have either photo or video capability, so needed video cameras isn't necessary.  Think of some landmarks in your area, or some silly task for your students to do (ie Have your name paged over the loud speaker of a local grocery store), add some points to it and give away a silly prize.  The Mall Hunt is easier because you are in a confined area, but the Video Scavenger Hung gives you more options. 
  3. Movie Night/Game Night - visit your local blockbuster, grab some popcorn and just hang out for the night at the church or a students house.  Or you can just grab some board games, setup some tables and play.  This leads to a very relaxing time to just hang out and visit each other.  Word of caution: always pre-screen EVERY movie you watch and make sure it is appropriate. [Pluggedin Online]
  4. Hens & Roosters - this is our girls and guys night out.  We separate each group and let them go off and do their own thing.  The girls usually do some makeup/pedicure/movie thing at the home of one of the female adult leaders and the guys can raid the house of the student with the best video game system.  This night has great opportunity to be creative
  5. TPing Senior Pastors house - if you are a brave soul and your senior pastor loves practical jokes, then go for it.  The students will love it.  Just make sure to have your resume up to date and have hit to look for a new job.
There are tons of things you can do with a group of students.  Some other ideas could be bowling, roller skating, hanging out at the local mall, heading to a downtown area or renting laser tag equipment.  We had laser tag at our church last week.  It cost us $10 per unit and we rented 30 units, we then charged each student $20 to play (we included food).  The students loved it and we saved money versus going to an actual laser tag place.  We had so much fun.

When planning events, here are a few tips to remember.
  1. Make sure to go through the entire event in your head to make sure you have all the bases covered, especially when talking about over night events like lock-ins or camping.  I know there has been times when I thought I had everything planned out only to miss a couple hours of dead air times where the students weren't sure what to do and I wasn't sure what to do.
  2. Plan for more students than you expect.  It is easier to cancel than it is to try to scramble to find a place to go.  Adults have no problems with me canceling them from an event but getting them at the last minute is like pulling teeth.
  3. Add a cushion into your cost for unexpected expenses.
  4. Be flexible - don't plan out every minute of an event and expect students to follow.  As much as we plan, there is always some student who is slower/had to go to the bathroom.  Build in a little time cushion
  5. Always arrive home when you said you would.  A major pet peeve of most parents is that organizations (school, church, scouts, etc) never return when they say.  I have had many compliments from parents when I arrive back on time.  If you are going to be late, use cell phone technology to have all the students call their parents as soon as you know you are going to be late.  Parents appreciate it.
Event planning is one of the biggest tasks that youth pastors do.  Some of us are good at it, and others of us are horrible.  We need to remember that we have enough trouble getting students to choose youth events over everything else in their life, so with a little prior planning and research, we can make all the events we do worth their while.

Keeping Your Sabbath Holy...

I enjoy what God allows me to get paid to do. I believe youth ministry is one of the best professions out there. What other job pays you to go skiing, spend the day at amusement parks, lead students to God and watch how God transforms their lives. I went to a place called Jaeger's to play paintball one weekend with students and started talking with one of their employees about his getting paid to work at a paintball field, I told him that I actually got paid to shoot my own students with a paintball, he became jealous. Life in youth ministry isn't all wine and roses, but there are some trying times.  I have been yelled at by parents, criticized by pastors and had students leave my ministry because they didn't like what I was talking about.

The bad part about loving your job is that you don't always see when you are spending to much time doing it.  In a book by Doug Fields (I think), I remember reading a story from a youth pastor wife who ended up leaving her husband because he thought ministry was more important than family. Since going full time just 18 short months ago, this has been a hard lesson to learn. My wife has gotten in the habit of telling me when I spending to much time in ministry. There was a time a few months back where I was out of the house at night for 3 weeks straight. Boy did I hear about it.  Since then I have learned to love my day off. Each Monday I relax and rest myself from the week before and clear my head for the upcoming week.

Here are a few things I do to relax from ministry. This isn't anything amazing or groundbreaking, but sometimes it is the smallest nudges that move us along
  1. Sleep in - This is something I only get to do on my day off.  I think sleeping in helps me just to relax and get some needed shut eye.
  2. Spend the day with family - On my day off, I usually keep my 3 year old home from PDO and we spend the day together.  We like to watch Disney channel, walk to McDonalds or the park or just hang out.  During the summer my wife is off on Mondays, so we spend it together running errands or going on adventures.
  3. Find a hobby and do it - Having a hobby helps you to keep your mind off of youth ministry for a while.  This can be anything really, just something that keeps you busy.
  4. Eat lunch with a friend not connected to ministry - Take some time to be with someone where you won't talk about ministry.  I know this is incredibly hard for those of us who love our job, but sometimes we need to do it.
  5. Talk a walk and let God refill you - Spending time with God on our day off is the biggest refiller we can get.  I know for my normal week I am so rush sometimes to study for lesson or small groups that I don't take the time to spend it with God.  Use your day off to quiet your mind and allow God to lead you places.
Like I said, none of this is groundbreaking thinking. My best advice to you is to slow down at least one day a week. For pastors, our Sabbath is not on Sunday but sometimes Monday, Friday or some other day of the week. Use that day to let God revitalize you so that you are easy and able to talking the busy week ahead.

Nov. 2nd, Pray for our leaders: Election Prayer Stations

Today we are 2 days away from electing the next president of the United States. Some say this is the most important election because we will either have a black president or female vice-president. I think that is important but this isn't the most important election ever, in my opinion. My youth group has no one who is able to vote, student wise, but we have talked about the election and even had a mock debate with some of the students. I know that some students don't care because they don't see any implications to their own life but we have talked about it none the less.

Tonight we are doing something different than our normal worship service, we are doing prayer stations for this years election. Each station we have will last 5 minutes and focus on different aspects of the elections. I hope that students understand the importance of praying for our government officials. Whether we like the person who is the president or not we must pray for them. Our world is dictated by the laws they sign and the actions of their life. We may not like that bit it is the truth.

Below you will find the 12 Prayer Stations and what each station represented and a short description of the supplies needed.  I know this is late in the election season, but maybe you can use it for something similar.

1. Obama & Family - Printed out pictures of all for candidates (and their families), list of policies & stances, pens & notepads
- Have students hold each picture and pray for that specific candidate and their families
- Have students read each policy and pray for each stance the candidate is taking, whether they agree or not.
- have the students write letters to the candidate letting them know that they prayed for them
2. President/Congress/Senate/States - Print out of Congressional and Senate Members, Governors, etc
- Have students read through the name of the members and pray for each one, the upcoming election and decision they might have to make
- Possible ideas might be staffing, foreign policy, war and local issues
3. Economy - Monopoly money, house pieces, and game pieces (car, dog, etc)
- Have the students hold the money and think about the financial issues going along
- Pray for their parents who might be struggling
- Use the houses and game pieces to pray for specific pieces of the economy
- Ex. gas prices, stock market, housing market
3. USA - small puzzle of the United States
- Have the students put the puzzle together and pray for each state as they do it.
4. God Bless - Bibles, Candles, various prayers of blessing
- Print out 5 or so prayers of Blessing for students to read 
- Use candles for students to light to represent their life in the whole world
- Have the Bibles open to Matthew 5 and have students read the sermon on the mount
5. World - world map or globe, push pins or sticky notes
- Tell students to choose a place on the globe that may be going through a natural disaster, political trouble or just a place where friends and family live
- Let them know that we are not an independent country but one connected to the whole world
6. Church & Youth Ministry - directory for church & youth group, symbols of the church, pictures of pastoral staff
- Tell students to flip through the directories, pictures, symbols and pray for the church and youth ministry (could also use other ministries in the church)
- You could highlight the ideas of the church, how they might differ from the candidates
7. Self - mirrors, dry erase markers, markers and erasers
- Have each student look at the mirror and either circle or write out things they don't like about themselves or traits that they believe holds them back
- Once they are done, have them erase the marks and pray to God to use them in spite of their perceived problems.  Remind them that God uses everyone and all of us have problem areas
8. Worship -  ipods/mp3 player/CD player,  worship music, headphones (over the ear)
- Tell students to put the headphones on and listen to the music, allow the music to relax them and let them listen to how much God loves them.
9. Braided Life - string to be braided, many different colors
- Have students create a bracelet out of the string on the table
- Tell them to pray for everyone they are connected to (ie family, facebook/myspace, school)

I ended the night with Jesus for President: Litany of Resistance.  I think it gives a great idea of how we should be living our life.  This is a responsive reading that you can either put on a projector or use a handout.  I did the projector but think the handout would be good because the students can take it home and think about it.

I want you to know that I didn't come up with all of these by myself.  Some of them I got from  They have some great ideas that you can use and modify like I did.  My kids really enjoyed this and took it seriously.  I had fun watching the way the Jr High went through the prayer stations and then how our Sr High did it.  I was impressed with both groups and glad they liked it.  

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Nov. 1st, 30 Days of blogging

I have been blogging for a few years now.  I started a blog just because it sounded good, and to share my thoughts of various things.  I never intended to write anything amazing but just to share ideas with other people.  I have never been consistent at it, going weeks if not months between blogs.  

Well, I am making a commitment to blog for 30 days straight.  Each day of November I will type out an article from either personal life or youth ministry.  Not sure why I picked 30 days or even November.  I just figured that if I am going to blog, then I need to commit to it.  I have tons of stuff I would like to get out (just for me), so this is how I am going to do it.  Below is a tentative list of the topics I will cover.  I am going to try to stick with the schedule but some of it may change, who knows.

Anyways, read on to see if anything interests you or if you have any ideas or suggestions for an article, let me know.  I have a couple spots open.

30 days of blogging, list some of the upcoming blogs
1 Intro/Pledge
2 Election Prayer Stations
3 Keep Your Sabbath Holy
4 The Wait is over, Election 2008
5 HSMTurkey Dinner
6 Cheap Youth Events - How to have them and Succeed?
7 Response to the Election - Jesus for President
8 Twittering -
9 Reflections on funerals
10 Dealing with your own children in your ministry
11 71. How to respond to criticism (
12 Atheist ad campaign
13 5 Practices of a Fruitful Congregation 

14 5 Practice - Radical Hospitality
15 5 Practices - Passionate Worship
16 5 Practices - Intentional Faith Development
17 5 Practices - Extravagant generosity
18 5 Practices - Risk-taking Missions and Service
19 92. How to partner with parents in youth ministry (
20 Transitions - Moving from one state to another for God
21 Loving my iPhone II - new applications (fring, remote, shazam)
22 Grief: Dealing with the loss of a parent
23 Turkey Dinner: Running a $10,000 fundraiser
24 College ministry, reaching to those out of high school
25 Going Green in Ministry
26 Working with a council & adult leaders
27 Thanksgiving
28 18. Addressing porn and masturbation at youth group (

I hope that I write some articles that people can actually use.  I have tons of ideas in my head that I know God wants me to share with the world and those that can use them, I just need to sit down at the PC and do it.