Wednesday, December 31, 2008

No more stepping away...

Have you ever been stuck in a place for a while where you feel like nothing is growing or changing or anything? A place where life feels boring? I think that is where I have been lately.

There have been a few things that I have read, and a few conversations I have had with people that were exciting, but really it just seems like life has just become plain.

I struggle to be inspired.
I struggle to be challenged.
I struggle to inspire.
I struggle to challenge.

I really feel as if I have stepped away from my relationship with God.

God has always been my inspiration, God has always challenged me, but now I have stepped away from that.

It was not intentional, I did not plan on doing this, but here I am.

Now that I know where I am, I want to step back; I want to grow, be challeged and inspired, I want to challenge and inspire.

If I have one purpose for this next year it is to "fix my attention on God, and I'll be changed from the inside out." Romans 12:1-2 (MSG)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Book Review: Youth Ministry 3.0

I honestly could not wait to get my hands on this book. I heard Marko speak at NYWC 2007 in Atlanta where he spoke on this idea, and it really hit home with me because I was in the same place he was with struggles in youth ministry. This book lays out so clearly where youth ministry came from, where it is right now, and challenged us to move on to where it needs to go.

What I appreciated:
- I really appreciated the length of the book, only 150 pages or so. I have a little trouble with finishing longer books so this helped a lot.
- I liked that Marko did not try to answer what the future of youth ministry, YM 3.0, would look like because by his own explanation it will be different everywhere, there is not longer a “right way”
- I really liked how he laid out the history and present and future parts of youth ministry; it was very simple and profound. The chart was great!
- I truly appreciated that Marko did not knock on the church and tell us that we are all wrong, but approached it as we were right and now we need to continue on our path of change to meet the new needs. It is far to easy to just say: “You’re all wrong and I am right;” but Marko does not do this, he simply pushes us towards a new journey.
- I appreciated the stories told by Marko and others on the sides of the pages; it put a “real” sense to the whole thing; even including people who did not agree with what he was saying.
- I appreciated that Marko, the president of Youth Specialties, a company based in YM 2.0 wrote a book that is even going to challenge his organization greatly as well.

What I struggle with:
- I almost wish that Marko did not include the chapter on how do we get there. I know that he did not give too much, but people will still get stuck on it as the “way” again. I do understand, however, the need for this chapter for people to begin a discussion.
- I wish that Marko did not give a verse to describe YM 3.0 as it is somewhat against what he is talking about, I wish that he stuck with his first thought, the whole Bible, I believe that would show how much of a change that we need to make.

My Fears:
- I fear that too many are so stuck within the YM 2.0 program mindset that they might be unable or unwilling to move beyond it.
- I fear that there are too many who are going to make this book the “new way” and miss the whole point altogether.
- I fear that there will be many struggles with even small communities with how youth ministry is done.
- I fear that church leaders may slow the progress of this new era of ministry, and that it might simply be because we have not communicated to them what it is we feel called to do.
- I fear that the professional youth minister has gotten so good at “ministry” that they no longer seek God; which I believe is the only thing we need to do to transition to YM 3.0.
- I fear that our youth ministries may shrink, but our effectiveness with grow exponentially within those who are left in our care; which might bring on many conflicts and possible people let go.

- I would give this book a MUST READ status. I truly believe that Marko put into words what so many of us have been struggling with for some time now.
- Even if you do not agree with Marko it is going to challenge you to check yourself and the ministry the God has place you in.
- I love that there is a facebook group to discuss this with other people in ministry, which is where you will find me…

Friday, November 28, 2008

NYWC and YM 3.0 and A New Kind of Christian...Part 2

This is a continuation from the previous post, you may want to read it first in order for this to make more sense. That being said away we go...

Reflecting back on all of these things, there are a few observations I want to share.

I have found that God never leaves you in a place all by yourself; especially if He wants something to be done because He knows how much we need a community to join with us. This was true for me with my struggle with the church. When I went to NYWC 2007 where I heard Marko's talk on Youth Ministry 3.0, it was so encouraging to me because it was not a hate church speech or a we need to start a new church, but simple we need to realize where we need to take it next. This was so refreshing to me, especially since I work in a mainline church. There was a HOPE within his talk that what we have been doing was good at that time, but he encouraged us to realize that it needs to change because people have changed. In fact, McLaren's book had the same feel; the pastor is ready to give up on the church and go teach in a school, but the professor engages him in a deep conversation aimed at keeping him in the church. This feel like I am not alone, but God has placed others around me to encourage challenge and guide me is what Marko calls "Communion" a community with Christ in our midst.
Marko's book YM 3.0 carried the same tone as his talk at NYWC, hope that the church has done well, but also that it needs to change. There was even a facebook group started to engage people in conversations about YM 3.0; I was really excited! I found out that so many other felt the same way about needing the church to have a shift, but I also gained new struggles from this group too. This group helped me realize how hard this shift is going to be from programs to presence, from driven to not driven, results based to God based. To me, it seemed like person after person was feeling like there was something not quite right about the church, but the same we unable to get out of the mindset of where the church is now.
I guess for me, since is spoke so directly to me, I was ready to try anything even if i meant getting beat up about it because it was not how we had always done it; but it seemed like so many others were taking the surface points of the books and trying to fit them into the current church setting.
It was at this frustration and excitement communion that I entered into NYWC 2008.
I was so excited to have brought five volunteers with me; one of which is my wife who is also called to youth ministry! I cannot imagine going this journey without her!!
Upon getting into the conference, we went one day early so our females could go to HERstory, a day of pouring into women in youth ministry. Seeing the ladies excitement from that might have been one of the highlights from the weekend. My wife and I also sat down to coffee with Marko, the author of YM 3.0 and President of Youth Specialties. It was great to sit down with the one who really started me on this new part of my journey (Ok so God had a lot to do with it too :-) ) From here, everyone started showing up for the main part of the conference. From this time on til the end of the conference, I felt like my group and a few others we in such a different place than a lot of the rest. This is not saying better or worse, just different.
Within the conference, you have the option to really go to or not go to everything or anything in between. There is a full schedule for the whole time, and I really felt pulled not to miss anything because there was a lot of good stuff, but also pulled to miss most of it because I just needed to sit down with God.

I ended up only going to one breakout session, the main sessions, and the sanctuary. The sanctuary was something new this year and i have to say it might have been my favorite part, outside of my ladies reaction to HERstory and three of the main sessions! In the Sanctuary, there was just an atmosphere where God was present, sitting among us. Another reason I really resonated with it is because I feel a HUGE pull towards the Christian Disciplines and spending more time with God and resting in Him. There was even a part called "Nap Time" where there was just a light guitar and singing and you were literally encouraged to lay down and nap!! It was so refreshing.

I was still struggling as always with the consumeristic feel of the conference. The booth area with all the vendors is like wading through a small pond with 200 sharks; I hate it because I know several of the vendors. At each of the main sessions there were about 2-5 products and events being advertised. This is tough for me because I have a marketing degree, and actually went the other way to be against being sold anything and just loving people.

Ok so I hate when you have to say it, but I needed to wrap it up, also I know this is really only the beginning, but oh well.
I am learning more and more about the great NEED of Communion, community with Christ in our midst. Not only should we seek it for ourselves, but we should try to encourage it with youth.
I learned the NEED for God sized patience, a patience that as Marko put it is "so patient it is annoying"

I continue to learn the NEED for God. I know this sounds funny, but I think that we forget sometimes that when we do it on our own (which happens a lot in ministry too) we are forgetting we need God.

I cannot wait to see where I, the church, youth ministry, Youth Specialties, and everyone else end up! What and exciting journey we get to be a part of!!!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

NYWC and YM 3.0 and A New Kind of Christian

It is hard sometimes for me to collect my thoughts enough to feel like I have something "postworthy". I don't know if this is or not but it is stirring in my mind, and I maybe if I write it down it will help....maybe not :-) Here goes nothing:

There are a few things that have really been working on me in the past month or so.

One is a book I read called "A New Kind of Christian" by Brian D. McLaren which is a conversation between a pastor and professor about where the church is and where it needs to go.

Second is the book "Youth Ministry 3.0" by Mark Oestreicher (Marko)the President of Youth Specialties(YS) who writes about where youth ministry was, is, and need to be.

The third and final thing has been the National Youth Workers Convention, the annual gathering of youth workers through YS to be challenged, encouraged, and refreshed.

What I love about how God works is that He finds a way to weave the seemingly unrelated events in our lives into a perfect cohesion of love and grace, and through it all it stretches us to be molded into what we were created to be. Such is the case with these three things...

About a a year and a half ago, I was in BooksaMillion and saw the Brian McLaren book and picked it up because I loved the idea of it being a conversation, not just another book. About a year ago, I was at NYWC and heard Marko speak on what is now called YM 3.0. And about three months ago, I finally pick up and started reading the McLaren book. About a two weeks ago, I finished it and got a copy of YM 3.0 and starting reading it. Last Thursday, I finished YM 3.0 and left for NYWC. I got back from NYWC last night.

So why does any of this matter?

For almost two years now, I have really struggled with the church, youth ministry, Christians, and myself. I really felt and feel like where we are as a Christian Community and where we are called to be are two different places; how we are approaching church and youth ministry and the world are for the most part not really working.

My personal struggle was that most people get to this point and leave the church or maybe start thier own. For me, I really felt this was not answer; why would God want us to give up on the church?

So I am really struggling with this when I go to NYWC 2007 in Atlanta. The whole weekend is great, and Phyllis Tickle addresses it some, but there is still this underlying struggle in myself. The final talk is by Marko on the last day. His talk is about Youth Ministry 3.0, where we have been, are and should go in youth ministry. As he talks, he is explaining exactly what was going on in my heart and soul for the past year. How Marko explains it there is a HOPE that the church WILL change, from here I am really changed to start look to where we need to go.

So I have struggled with this and worked on it for about seven months, and I am seeing progress and struggling at the same time, and at this point I pick up the McLaren book. This conversation between a pastor and professor is basically like I was the reason they wrote the book. The pastor is in a place where he has all but given up on the church and is asking the professor how to become a teacher. The professor does not just tell him, but engages him in a conversation that lasts the rest of the book, and apparently through two more books too, which I have not read yet. In the conversation they address the struggle we have in the church, politics, programs, the whole nine yards... Anyway, it really affirmed me to read the struggles that they had gone through the same things that I was in...

It was right at this time that I received the new book, YM 3.0; which is about the same thing but in youth ministry. Marko even adds comments from people who commented on his blog to engage all sorts of opinions. In the book, he lays out the YM 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. Describing each by the drive and purpose and verse and youth struggle for either identity, affinity, and autonomy. It is basically his talk expanded with a few more thoughts on what it 3.0 might actually look like.

What has been interesting has been reading on the facebook group for this book, all the thoughts and struggle and ideas from the youth ministry community. It seems as though so many are in this same place of struggle with the Christian Church and Community. What I find so fascinating is how even though so many are struggling with the current system, they are unable to see past it to a new way. (I use "way" meaning different from the previous, but I don't believe that there is really even a way meaning certain way to do it) Each are struggling with making YM 3.0 fit into a YM 2.0 church.

So I head to NYWC 2008 in Nashville, and actually have coffee with Marko. We really only have a few minutes to get to know each other, but I really feel like he was on a similar page. What I find compelling about what Marko is expressing in the book is that it should no longer be about curriculum and books so much as it should be about seeking God and responding to that. This is easier to believe, not only because I have the same feeling, but also because curriculum and books are almost all that Marko company does.

At NWYC, I felt several things:
One - I felt like there was an almost divide. Like there was several different places people were in. Some were here for the first time and could not believe that there was such a community of youth ministers! Some were here, same as every year, to get the newest program or curriculum for the next year. Others were hear because they needed to get away from their setting and desperately needed to be healed and restored. Maybe I was more in the last group, needing to get away from the set ways and dream about where we could be and should go. In fact, I only went to one breakout session the whole weekend out of about 15 I could have gone to.
Two - In the main sessions, I had very mixed emotions after leaving each one. Some I felt really encouraged and refreshed, others I felt challenged, and others I felt like I was being blamed fro why the church was the way it was. I struggled with how a few speakers approached their topics, with a the church is doing this and it is wrong approach. We all work in churches in some fashion and I took some of it personally because as stated before I really feel like abandoning the church is not the answer; not even that they said this or meant to but it came off that way. I loved the idea that we need to open up to the ideas that maybe science and faith can get along! I loved the idea that we are sent to love not judge or condemn! I loved the idea that we are called to do youth ministry WITH students not to them! I want to join the slow club, and restore my soul!!!!
Three - The feeling of consumerism in the main area was crushing me. The booths area I actually tried to avoid after being jumped by vendor after vendor of stuff I do not want, and felt really weird that they each felt they needed to give away something to even get me in their booth.
Four - I LOVED THE SANCTUARY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It may have been my favorite part other than three main session. It was an intimate room which just overwhelmed you with the presence of God! Not tvs, computers, loud music.

Ok, so this is like the longest post ever...I know. So I am going to post it and come back and post again with why any of this matters

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Dialogue with a good friend...

In our youth group, we are teaching each youth how to discover who God is through the Christian Disciplines. The current discipline we are experiencing is meditation. Last Sunday night we had a guided meditation in which we were lead down a path, a path of our life, along the path we meet Jesus who takes our burden from us, and we continue to walk down the path together, holding a conversation. It ends here and you were prompted to write the conversation you and Jesus had. (If you would like to follow what we did there is a link on our youth website)

Anyway, I wanted to share what I conversation

Me: Hey
Jesus: Hey, how have you been?
Me: Good, I guess. I mean I really have nothing to complain about. I have food, clothing, shelter, and a beautiful loving wife.
Jesus: So why "I guess"?
Me: I mean I just want so badly to do something HUGE with my life. I know that you have me here to help impact these kids, but I wish there was just an easy way to tell if they "get it". I mean I can see lives moved and changed but what about the group? Is the whole group changed? Is it supposed to be? I think it is, because through a changed group of Christians you can change the world...
Jesus: Yes, but do not feel that it is all on you shoulders, I am here
Me: I know. I guess I wish I could just change it all now. RIGHT NOW. I wish the church reflected God like you did and do
Jesus: You know, when I came I was not loved by all, not even really liked, in fact some hated me as you know. But when I said my yoke is easy it does not mean it will always be a walk in the park, it means you won't have to go it alone. And you can have HOPE that in the end, we win!
Me: My struggle is that even I get sucked into the world's version of church: numbers, size, programs even sometimes the need for people to understand...
Jesus: Much of what I taught was not understood, and the rest that was understood was not easy to many to do.
Me: You see that is just it. I feel your message is simple, but so hard to do. "Love God, love others because you are first loved." But it is so hard to not make it more complicated. It seems everything else is, shouldn't the one thing that involves eternity be too?
Jesus: That is just it. I am not of this world. My way is that simple, but also that hard to do. You must be constantly filling your self up so that I might use you. The way to fill yourself up is not complicated either. LOVE is about a relationship. Filling yourself up is just like being with a good friend who when you leave being with them, you feel good and like everything even for a moment doesn't matter as much because you have a good friend; only this relationship with me fills and fixes even the most broken pieces.
Me: So how are you?
Jesus: Why do you ask?
Me: I want to be filled so that we can heal the world
Jesus: Well, let me tell you about my friend Sally........

Maybe It is time we took out all the complications and just sat down with Jesus...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

That Simple?....

As promised, I am going to elaborate further on the idea: "What if it is really intended to be that simple?" I must give a bit of background from an earlier post:

"I see God as I refer to it from a Christian perspective, that Christ is the only way to God. But I don't see this as exclusive, but inclusive. Let me give you an example:If there is one word that I would describe God by that word is LOVE. Not a romantic or sexy love, but an unconditional accepting everyone wherever they are, but loving them too much to let them stay that way LOVE.
I believe that God is LOVE ( 1 John 4) and that God, LOVE, is the one TRUTH that has the opportunity to be a part of everyone, everything, and every situation.
Perhaps, when Christians exemplify this LOVE, they are actually sharing God. My friend, Jeff and I were talk earlier today, and we were talking about this idea, and he brought up baptism and said that maybe it has nothing to do with the water at all, but that "to baptize" is really just to surround someone with God; and if God is LOVE, then when Jesus calls the church to "...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:19) Perhaps what he was really saying was, leave your comfort area, and make followers of Christ (Luke 9:23), surrounding them with LOVE, which is the ultimate TRUTH, a.k.a: God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit Jeff and I looked at each other and both at the same time said: " What if it really is intended to be that simple?"

I have been struggling with this thought for a long time, way before I was full time on a church staff. I think that "Christians" have gotten to a point where we think we have all the tricks figured out; we have all the formulas down; and you can too...
We have a certain way you have to understand scripture
We have a certain way you have to pray
We have a certain way to lay hands on people
We have certain church words that are never explained (I may elaborate on this one too ;-) )
We have certain songs or ways of playing songs
We have certain ways that the church service must be done
We even have certain clothing as seen as acceptable to wear at certain church functions!

It seems to me that there is this kind of different society that church folk live in and if you did not grow up in it then you will never really fit in or even understand it, and if you did grow up in it you see everyone else as weird or second class.

It seems to me that through all of this we have made following Jesus very very difficult, and not in the way Jesus intended.

Jesus was sent because God loves the world (John 3:16) The things Jesus was recorded doing in the Gospels made a relationship with God available to everyone because in that time the religious leaders were the only ones who were able have that relationship. (kinda sounds like church now) Jesus came to break that and allow each person to have a relationship with God, not just as an individual but as a collective, a church.

When we have certain things expected from you before you even become part of the group, then we are missing the point.

Jesus LOVED and LOVES everyone right where they are right now, without them changing anything first. It is through this LOVE that we are all changed from the inside out.

What if this is how the church reacted to "non church" people. What if we LOVED them, however they looked, acted, talked, did for a job, or even smelled; and then pointed them to a relationship with God to allow God to work on them? What if we, as a church collective, went from making people try to change and then letting them into church, and let them come, knowing God will do what needs to be done.

What if all we are called to do is go out, meet new and different people, LOVE them as God has LOVED us, and introduce them to God? What if this is it? What if it is that simple?

What if we lived out the verse 1 John 4:19: "We love because God first loved us."
And we taught people how to "fix our attention on God. We will be changed from the inside out." (Romans 12:1-2 MSG)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Who is the TRUTH...

I am going to come back to the question: what if it really is intended to be that simple?, but for today I wanted to continue on the journey of TRUTH.

Through the last few posts, we have been seeking TRUTH, that which is considered to be the supreme reality and to have the ultimate meaning and value of existence. TRUTH is the thing that is deep within each of us.

I have gotten to the point where I believe that the TRUTH, and maybe the only TRUTH, is LOVE, an unconditional, selfless love.

So all of this is great, but what does this look like? Has anyone ever displayed this? Who could be the example of TRUTH? Being as I am a follower of Christ, I believe that Jesus is this example.

Jesus even describes this in the Gospel of John: Jesus answered, "I am the way and THE TRUTH and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

I believe that Jesus is the perfect example of LOVE. The whole purpose God sent His son was because God LOVED the world (John 3:16)

Jesus, not only through his life and work, but through his death exemplified the greatest LOVE; "greater LOVE has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)

Maybe if each of us attempted to get beyond ourselves, to get beyond what other people think, to get beyond the unreal and shallow expectations we put on ourselves; and concentrate on LOVE, maybe the LOVE would change the world. If we could all concentrate on the thing that deep down inside each of us knows, desires to experience and give, the things that actually fulfills our every true need: LOVE, " uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God." (1 Timothy 1:5 MSG)

Monday, October 6, 2008

The TRUTH that binds us...

On this journey, I constantly find that so many things tie together. In fact, I might, from time to time, argue that everything in some way or another is tied together by the exact same thing.

I believe this one thing to be God. But as I work in a church, I have found that just saying God can make some people shutter or even be turned off altogether, or sometimes even feel guilty.

I see God as I refer to it from a Christian perspective, that Christ is the only way to God. But I don't see this as exclusive, but inclusive. Let me give you an example:

If there is one word that I would describe God by that word is LOVE. Not a romantic or sexy love, but an unconditional accepting everyone wherever they are, but loving them too much to let them stay that way LOVE.

I believe that God is LOVE ( 1 John 4) and that God, LOVE, is the one TRUTH that has the opportunity to be a part of everyone, everything, and every situation.

Perhaps, when Christians exemplify this LOVE, they are actually sharing God. My friend, Jeff and I were talk earlier today, and we were talking about this idea, and he brought up baptism and said that maybe it has nothing to do with the water at all, but that "to baptize" is really just to surround someone with God; and if God is LOVE, then when Jesus calls the church to "...go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." (Matthew 28:19) Perhaps what he was really saying was, leave your comfort area, and make followers of Christ (Luke 9:23), surrounding them with LOVE, which is the ultimate TRUTH, a.k.a: God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit

Jeff and I looked at each other and both at the same time said: " What if it really is intended to be that simple?"

But that question is for another post...

Monday, September 29, 2008

These Three.....but the greatest....

In this journey of questions...seeking TRUTH. I find that it is good to start with those who have gone before. The one I am going to focus on this time is Paul, from the Bible. Paul, through his writings shows that he was working through this issue of TRUTH: what are the few things that lay underneath everything?
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13 about how Love should be the point behind everything we do, as Christians. It should be a heart things, not a law thing. At the very end of the chapter, Paul writes: "And these three remain: FAITH, HOPE, and LOVE. But the greatest of these is LOVE."
Paul reveals what he feels as the underlying TRUTH. He feels that through these things all of everything else can be understood. But Paul does not leave it just in this life, but the next. With his final sentence calling the greatest LOVE. He has taken it all the way through as these types of TRUTH must be done. By taking the first and last and most extreme situations, we can narrow from a large list of truths into the actual TRUTH. Only TRUTH will hold in every situation. Paul says that FAITH, HOPE, and LOVE are the final three, and when he takes it based on eternity he finds that even FAITH and HOPE are no longer applicable. You see FAITH and HOPE are no longer needed when you are with God in eternity because both of their purposes are already fulfilled with being with God.
I believe that Paul really worked it all the way through. Perhaps, when you test truths to find TRUTH all you end up with is LOVE? For me, I still have a lot more questions that remain unanswered, even if this is TRUTH there is so much further to go....let us continue the journey

Friday, September 26, 2008

What is truth?

TRUTH is what we are on a journey for...all of us in one way or another is looking for our version of TRUTH. I am not talking about when you want someone to tell the truth, this is something so much bigger.
American Heritage Dictionary refers to it as "often Truth That which is considered to be the supreme reality and to have the ultimate meaning and value of existence."
TRUTH, as I am referring to it, is the deepest realities, "supreme realities," the things that lay beneath all and everything. TRUTH is the few things that hold true in everything and everytime for everyone. TRUTH is what is universal to all people everywhere, everywhen. TRUTH is simple but often tried to be made complicated.
Galileo put it this way: "All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them."
This is why we are on a journey, each of us, searching for our version of TRUTH.
We must search with more than our heads though, because as "We know the truth, not only by the reason, but by the heart." - Blaise Pascal

Come with me on this journey of questions, seeking TRUTH... maybe we will each in our own way and own time find the same TRUTH lies within everything... "the point is to discover them"

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Journey of Questions... The Beginning

In life, there are so many questions; questions that often times go unanswered, or even unasked. I believe that a lot of times it is because they will take too much effort, be too difficult to answer, or might change how we live.

I believe it is these questions that will guide us to the truths that lie in the deep; the few truths that make up the basis for everything. These truths will bring us to the true understanding of God. In understanding God, we may more understand who we are and are created to be. If we all do this, we would have a love filled world.

Come with me on this journey; one that will bring more questions then answers, but through it all maybe the truths that line beneath it all. The truths Jesus was refering to when he said, "I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life."

Let us begin, or more accurately continue, the journey of quetions...