hitting the sweet spot

Several months ago my good friend and fellow youth pastor Jarrod Sechler suggested that we simplify things of our Metro Worship nights. We’d been trying to include a game, worship, teaching, and prayer as part of every united youth group meeting, and that seemed like a lot to throw into one night. So we opted to focus on worship and prayer, giving students more opportunities to pray together. That means less time for one of us youth pastors to spend talking to them.

And that’s been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

Tonight’s attendance at Metro was a little lower than we’ve been seeing. That’s to be expected. A few of the groups we usually see weren’t able to join us tonight. It’s summertime, which means lower attendance for youth groups in general as families hit the road for vacation, students forget that it’s Wednesday, and other conflicts arise.

But the general feel in the room tonight was good. Lots of students spent a good portion of the night actually praying together. And the worship was sweet! As Jarrod and I sat on the edge of the stage watching our groups mingling, praying together, asking God to move in our town, praying for renewal in the Church and revival in the town.

This is the good stuff–our sweet spot.
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rolling out the welcome mat

I’m the old youth pastor in town. That’s a fact I’ve come to face, and a role that I embrace. I’ve been a youth pastor since my college days at good ol’ Hill Street Baptist Church (Hello Toccoa, GA!) in 1988-89. I’ve been the youth pastor for most of my 17 years here at Calvary, and I’ve seen some really good youth pastor friends pack the moving van and head for other locales. I’ve also had the privilege of welcoming loads (seriously–they’d fill a small bus) of new and aspiring youth pastors to our fair town.

Today was a welcome mat day. The Assembly of God hired a young man not too long ago to be their youth pastor. David Culbertson and his wife have moved in and are getting settled. We grabbed a bite to eat today and swapped stories about our growing up, the ways that God has shaped our hearts, and what we are praying about as it relates to the teenagers in our town.

My motivation for trying to meet with all the youth workers in town is a bit bigger than my love for wings and welcoming newbies. I want to get all of us on the same page, at least as far as cooperation and partnering and unity goes. I believe that it’s vital that the Church (big C meaning more than just our little congregations) work together. God calls us to be unified, and promises to bless our unity.

There’s lots of division in the air these days. I want to remind us about the things we have in common, the CORE of our beliefs as followers of Jesus, and the centrality of our mission to share the good news–the HOPE of REDEMPTION–with the folks in our town.

This message has been at the heart of my pastor’s call to our town for the past 21 years, and it’ll be our priority until they drag us out of this town. From Psalm 133 to John 17 (esp vv 20-24), it’s clear to us that God blesses unity, and we want to be right smack in the middle of what God’s doing.

So the first Wednesday of every month I’ll be found wherever the youth groups are gathering for worship and prayer. As the old guy, I’ll likely be hanging out in the back, looking for the new youth pastors, watching to see who’s connecting, who needs a word of encouragement, and who’s emerging as a leader here among us. I love being the old guy in youth ministry!Metro logo

25 years ago

Kim and I had the opportunity to get away for the weekend to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Some friends were exceedingly and abundantly generous with the loan of an apartment in downtown Lancaster, and we spent the weekend walking around the city. It’s a wonderful downtown, filled with artsy eateries and quaint little shops. It rained most of the day Saturday, but we didn’t mind. Other than church trips, I can’t remember the last time that Kim and I got away just the two of us. (That’s probably not good.) We had a great weekend of talking and reminiscing and dreaming together of what the next 25 years might bring.

Our lives look drastically different than what we might have expected coming out of high school. By the time we were finishing college, I think we had some idea about what our lives might hold, but there have been some radical and surprising turns along the way.

The bottom line for me is that I am more in love with Kim now than I was 25 years ago. Way back then I was as much in love as I knew to be; I just didn’t know a whole lot. We’ve lived a lot of life over the past 25 years. We have a much deeper understanding of what love means, and how much sacrifice and commitment a healthy marriage takes. I’ve also learned to laugh more, especially at myself! God has used Kim to help me grow in innumerable ways. Of course, I am all too aware of the areas I still need help and grace.

My heart still leaps when Kim walks into the room. If I’m on stage speaking or leading worship, I know exactly where she is. I am absolutely certain that everything goes better when she’s in the mix–from our lifegroup to the largest worship gatherings I’ve been part of. She is a great mom, an incredible intuitive counselor, a mentor who brings grace and wisdom to every conversation. She’s beautiful and kind and fun, and she is the glue that holds our family together.

I can’t imagine what my life would look like without her. I am a man truly blessed.
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sweetFrog for the win

We wrapped up Sports Camp tonight. There’s always a closing ceremony that involves each sport group leading a song from the week–with accompanying motions! It’s fun to see big high school/college guys leading motions with the littlest 4 year olds. The leaders who run the camp do an excellent job of from start to finish, and every camper seemed to have a great week. We are truly blessed to have great folks who jump in to lead this camp every year, and every year it runs a little smoother, and is a little better.

The camp director gave all the volunteers a gift card to sweetFrog, which was a pleasant surprise. DId you know that (according to their website) The F.R.O.G. in sweetFrog stands for Fully Rely On God, and we show that by being a good neighbor everywhere we move into. Through local partnerships, fundraisers, and much more, our stores become part of the fabric that wraps their communities. That’s pretty, um, sweet, isn’t it? We didn’t waste any time with those gift cards–we drove there right after camp closed.

When we walked into the store we immediately spotted the bright orange shirts from camp. There were already a couple of other families closing the day with a little sweetness. More folks trickled in as we made our way through the line. By the end of the night I’ll guess that 20 camp shirts showed up at sweetFrog.

We had an excellent first trip to sweetFrog. Charlie had a simple chocolate with chocolate shavings, but he’s already got plans for his next visit–peanut butter and chocolate!

your life is a mist

Those were the words that Andrew Wingert wanted us to consider tonight at XStream. We read Psalm 39, where King David is asking the Lord to help him understand how fleeting life is, and how that knowledge should affect the way he lives.

Thousands of years later we find that not much has changed in some respects. Our lifespan is still about the same as it was in the days of the ancient Hebrews. Even with the advances of modern medicine (and all the health and  fitness posts on facebook!) our lives are still incredibly brief in light of eternity.

Right in the middle of the psalm (which is a song) David sings the line:
Now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you.

He knew–he understood–what really mattered. When our lives are focused on loving God and loving others, when our hope is tied to our relationship with our heavenly Father, we truly find ourselves living the life God dreams about for us.

Life is short, no matter how long the days seem. I want my life to count, and want to make certain that I’m focused on the things that matter most.
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one of the best weeks of the year

About half of my leaders will miss youth group this week. A good chunk of students won’t even bother to show up. And I couldn’t be happier.

This is SPORTS CAMP!

A few years back our church started offering a sport camp as an alternative to the traditional vacation Bible school. Our town is a sports camp town, so it was a good fit. We have coaches working with campers to learn skills in football, basketball, soccer, and dance. There’s also a gospel lesson, and the message of Jesus will be presented this week.

Each year the camp draws more campers, and a good number of them aren’t connected to any local church. This might be the first time that they ever hear that Jesus loves them!

Josie, Lilly, Isaac, Annabelle, and Sadie are helping staff the camp. And they’re loving it! It’s been fun seeing them studying the lessons that they’re teaching, learning the choreography for the songs that they’re singing, and praying for their campers.

Kudos to Calvary’s Kid’s Ministry leaders and the plethora of volunteers who make this camp happen. It’s a good thing!

This is a shot of some of our teens sticking around after camp Monday night to pray together. As a dad and the youth pastor, I have to admit that I got a little choked up seeing this take place. I love these young’ns.

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Psummer in the Psalms

XStream has moved into summer mode. That means we’re meeting outside at Harvest Fields, playing a lot, swimming in the pond, worshiping and teaching around the campfire, and soaking up all the sunshine we can! Each week a different leader will be sharing a little from a Psalm that has been meaningful in their spiritual development. Tonight was my night to share, and I chose Psalm 27, which begins with these words:

The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?

As we go through life, we’re going to face enemies–real and imagined, physical and spiritual. King David was all too familiar with people trying to kill him. Jesus warned his early followers about the spiritual enemy (I almost typed enema) who is determined to kill, steal, and destroy…The danger is real. But Psalm 27 holds two promises for us.

Verse 5 states that in the midst of the conflict, God holds us safe and secure. The storm may rage around us, but God is our shelter, our savior. And when that PROTECTION (salvation) breaks on us, our right response (v6) is to WORSHIP.

The second promise is equally amazing–PRESENCE! And if you read verses 8-13, you’ll see a veritable truckload of life-altering effects that come with the presence of God.

That’s what God wants for us. Even though the danger is real, when we have a right relationship with God, we don’t have to be afraid. We can live in the confidence of the God’s protection and presence. That was enough to change David’s perspective, and it will be enough for us. I want that kind of faith!
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lifegroup should give you…

LIFE! Ours has found it’s rhythm over the past few weeks, and it’s an encouraging thing to behold.

We’ve recently added some new folks to the fold, and we started reading/discussing the New Testament portion of the LifeJournal Bible reading plan. It’s the most simple of structures for lifegroup. Each day we read and journal about the passage. When we get together on Tuesday we each share the verse(s) that stood out to us in our reading.

Last week I was called to another meeting, so I asked our newest Youth Min staffers to lead the group discussion. Ali Bruce and Jake Nold did such a good job that Kim couldn’t wait to brag on them to me.

Tonight’s discussion was supposed to center around Ephesians 5-6 and Philippians. We managed to cover 4 chapters of the reading, which led to so much good discussion that we hated to stop for the night. Some of our big takeaways for the night included

  • a renewal of our effort to pray more
  • an increase in intentionality/awareness of spiritual warfare
  • a call to live as missionaries in and to our present culture

I am loving what I see in our lifegroup, and can hardly wait to see what the Lord has for us in the weeks to come!

let the good times roll

Tonight we kicked off our first installment of Club56, which is our attempt to help rising 6th graders bridge the gap between elementary school and middle school, at least as it pertains to youth group. We have 3 events planned for 5th and 6th graders over the summer. Tonight we took them bowling.

We had a few great leaders on hand to connect with the students, and the bowling was flat-out fun! We hooted and hollered every time someone got a strike or spare, and groaned with every split.

I believe that the tide is turning as far as the youth leaving the church. Oh sure, there will always be some portion of the graduating class that decides to explore other options, who want to check out of church. But for those students who are loved and encouraged, given a safe environment to ask genuine questions, taught to study the Word of God, mentored and given opportunities to lead…for those students who come to know Jesus personally, find a community to grow with, and discover their calling in life–those students are going to find a faith that lasts a lifetime.

I think we are on the path to creating a place like that for teenagers right here in Happy Valley. And I get excited when I think about the future!
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the start of an XStream summer

School’s out for the summer. We’re looking forward to a summer of playing hard, growing closer together, and living the life God has called us to live. Kim’s got a list of things that she hopes we accomplish as a family, everything from weekly chores to playing games together to taking a walk with her every day. This is going to be a good summer.

We have 5 high school kids now. 3 rising 9th graders and 2 seniors. This could be a wild summer.

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We kicked off the summer for the youth group tonight with a big night of outside games. We had a huge slip ‘n slide, some water balloon games (yay), a dumb flour-in-socks game that may have left bruises (boo, my idea), and a messy food crawl. All of the messy & wet came before a quick dip in the pond and a hasty retreat to the firepit for s’mores and hotdogs. Ali and Jake did a great job of organizing and mobilizing us tonight, and the rest of Team XStream was stellar in our first night out at Harvest Fields. They did a great job, that is, right up to the point they conspired to clobber me with a pie to the face! Jake distracted me while Ali slipped in behind me with 2 plates full of whipped cream!

That’s never happened before, in all my years as a youth pastor. This is going to be a great summer!

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