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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a little night-walking

Ponder the path of your feet;
    then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
    turn your foot away from evil.

Those were the helpful words that I heard as I listened to some Scripture tonight on my walk home from XStream. We dropped the truck off at the garage last night, so Kim and I had one vehicle for the day. She expected me to get a ride home from church with someone. I forgot that I didn’t have my truck until after everyone was gone for the night.

So I walked. And it was actually kind of fun. Over the 2 miles home I got to listen to Psalms 4-6 and Romans 8, and the night was just about perfect for praying as I walked.

I don’t know if I’d want to walk everywhere, but it definitely wasn’t a wasted night!

One another note, Ali Bruce shared the talk tonight at XStream. She talked about how God can use our acts of service to help us grow spiritually. I didn’t get to hear her speak, but I got lots of good feedback from folks who did. Ali is one of our key leaders, and is part of our youth ministry staff. She is the real deal, loves Jesus and teenagers, and I couldn’t be happier to have her with us.

Ali & Josie Ali, Josie, Annabelle

God uses people to push us

Tonight at XStream I talked about how part of God’s plan for us to grow and develop in our faith involves the people he brings into our lives. We’ve got to be open to their influence, and there are certainly some folks in everybody’s life who wouldn’t be a good influence. But if you’re paying attention and willing to be teachable, there are people around you who will shape and sharpen you, making you a better person.

I told XStream about a few of the people who have shaped my life. This list is by no means complete, but I thought I’d post a public “thank you” here.

Charlie Walker was my 7th grade English teacher. It was 1980 in Warner Robins, GA, and Charlie started the year by introducing himself: “My name is Charlie Walker, and I’m your English teacher. You might not learn a lot of English, but you will learn two things: 1) Jesus loves you, and 2) I love you.” Turns out he was right about that. Over the next few years Charlie showed me what it meant to live simply, radically, humbly, loving others more than self, and loving Jesus more than anything. He’s a large factor in why I’m a youth pastor today.

A few years later at Toccoa Falls College this kid from Nyack, NY heard my boom box blasting Petra tunes and stuck his head in my dorm-room doorway. He saw my nerf-hoop and made himself at home. Phil Human was a loud, large Yankee who liked basketball and loved Jesus. Over the next 3 years he’d become a brother to me as we shared lots of stupid, funny, serious, and spiritual moments. We talked about everything. He challenged me to grow as a man of God. I could call him right now and it would be like no time has passed in our relationship.
Us at Kings Kids Kamp Phil and Jody

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andy Mylin is–other than my wife–my best friend. We’ve played in the outdoors, traveled the country talking to middle school boys about sexual purity, and had countless conversations about adoption, parenting, and being a godly husband. He knows all my secrets, and I trust him with my soul.
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I am grateful for the men God has given me over the years to mentor and shape me. They have prayed for me, laughed and cried with me, modeled righteousness and grace, and challenged me to be the man God has called me to be. They inspire me to lean into God’s provision, to walk in a manner worthy of God’s call on my life.

Who has been influential in your life?

winning the busy war

I like being busy. Check that–I like being productive, being fruitful. Too often I settle for being busy. Sometimes I wonder if I’m quietly trading one for the other. Am I fooling myself into thinking that busy will lead to productive? Or that I’ll at least convince people that I’m headed towards fruitful if I’m busy…

If I know you like I think I do (and you know I do, don’t I?), you’ve got a lot on your plate. You’re working hard for the man, running kids to ball games, rehearsals, and part-time jobs, “helping” with those 4th grade science fair projects, puttering around in yard, waiting on the repair guy, trying to get the van fixed…you’d like to take a vacation, but you’d come home tired from all the vacationing!

As summer approaches, I’m spending some time thinking through all the things I want to do, all the things I want accomplish. I’m more excited about my role at Calvary than I have ever been, and I don’t imagine the pace slowing down. I’ve also come to realize that the work is truly never going to be done until Jesus returns–literally.

Instead of bemoaning our busy-ness and comparing schedules to see who wins the “oh man, I’m busy” award, I’m proposing that we take a more proactive approach. This excerpt from Reggie McNeal’s book Practicing Greatness landed in my inbox today. It’s just what I needed to read.
Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 11.41.32 PMSo my short list involves getting out into the wilderness more, and spending more time playing in the backyard with my kids. Work and all the rest of the stuff will still be there. I only have so many days with my kids.

Who’s with me? Charlie’s a mean bocce player!
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the kids from my first youth group are old

Out of the blue, he shot me an email. “Hey, I’m in your town for a conference.” I was totally surprised. He followed that with an invitation to revisit our glory days–He wanted to find a church van and renew a timeless tradition. Back in the days before seat belt laws (and common sense) every youth group trip to Norwin’s Skateland featured a no-holds barred steel cage match, with me and Jason each looking to drop the elbow of death or force a submission from the other. He’s a middle school principal now, and I’m not as spry as I used to be, so we opted for wings.

I was only his youth pastor for about 2 years and 9 months, but those were magic days. I was green and thought I had all the answers. I tried so hard to be the cool youth pastor. I couldn’t sing and play guitar at the same time, so I had to have some of the kids sing while I hacked away at G-C-D-Em on a beater acoustic. We played the lamest games. My teaching was clunky, awkward, and centered around CCM lyrics. I didn’t know a thing about leadership development or the purpose-driven youth ministry or much anything else.

But something worked.

Jason and I shared 2 meals over the course of the past few days. He reminded me that God has been gracious to use me to shape the lives of many teenagers over the past 25 years. It’s not about flash or style or cool or polished preaching. It’s not about fabulous facilities or great games.

God will always use people who are desperate for him, depending on him to move, committed to helping others connect to the Kingdom life.

So whether you’re 22 or 47, if you know what God has called you to do, do it with everything you’ve got. Get after it, and trust God for the fruit of your prayer, desperation, and hard work.

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this one rides in my guitar case

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we got better, I promise

And maybe, some day when you’re old, your old youth group kids will show up and remind you of how blessed you are. And how they grow up to be real men and women.

best day of the week

Thursday is quickly becoming one of my favorite days of the week.

Around noon every Thursday a bunch of us youth worker types get together to pray, plan, eat, or work on our youth ministry skills. I love the community that I find there, and always come away feeling refreshed, renewed, and challenged to keep gettin’ after it. The conversations that flow are real, vulnerable, encouraging, and deep. And I’m blessed to call these crazy folks my friends.

Then to top the day off, I get to meet with a bunch of the leaders who work with Calvary’s teenagers. Most Thursdays it’s our lifegroup, which is mostly comprised of Team XStreamers. But once a month all of Team XStream gathers for prayer and planning, with a side of Kim’s mac ‘n cheese. Tonight was that night, and it was solid. These men and women are the real deal. They love Jesus, love teenagers, and are committed to leading teenagers to love Jesus.

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Kevin and Brandon are twinsies in their new Team XStream shirts.

I’m amazed at the growth that I have seen in our team, and in the unity that is developing in our town. I have to believe that God is doing good things, and that the best is yet to come.

I think we survived

It might have been the most awkward night of their lives, but nobody left the room screaming tonight when we talked about pornography.

The female leaders (led by my lovely wife Kim) shared some of their own experiences dealing with body image, acceptance, and lies girls believe/the truth that God wants them to know. These leaders are the real deal, and we are blessed to have them working with your daughters. The big idea is that when we understand and know God’s truth we can discern the lies and live according to the truth. I know that the young ladies were encouraged.

The young men met with me and the other guy leaders. I did most of the teaching, but the other leaders chimed in with some very wise and on-point comments. You could have heard a pin drop when I said the word PORNOGRAPHY. I don’t know if they’d ever heard that word in church before (although some of them pointed out that Pastor Dan mentioned it Sunday in his sermon.) We gave them the opportunity to write down questions, but the bigger opportunity for follow up is going to come in the conversations that will happen in small groups.

One young man came up to me at the end of the evening with a big smile on his face. “That’s the most awkward conversation I’ve had since I was 13. That’s when my dad gave me ‘the talk.'”

I’m ok with awkward as long as it leads to future conversations, hope being born in the hearts of young men and women, and freedom being celebrated.

i’m a sex talker

Yeah, that might get me screened by your internet filter.

There’s an old youth pastor’s joke that goes something like this: Do you know what the top 3 topics teenagers want to discuss in youth groups?

  1. Sex
  2. End Times
  3. Will there be sex in the End Times

At one point in my youth ministry career I felt the nudge from the Lord to be more intentional about teaching and talking about sex, both with students and leaders. Not long after that, Bob and Dannah Gresh invited me to be part of their Pure Freedom team, speaking to hundreds of teenage boys across the country about God’s call to purity.

Each year after that I’ve presented a series about love, sex, and/or dating to the students at XStream. Now we’ve got a house full of teenagers, and it seems like we’re always talking about some aspect of dating relationships, love, or sex.

We’ve been working our way through a series on dating, or the dangers of being OBSESSED with dating/relationships. Tomorrow night the young ladies will be discussing Body Image/Body Issues with the female leaders, while the male leaders will be talking about the lies of pornography with the young men.

As a youth pastor, I look forward to sharing some hope for freedom with the young men.
As a dad, I look forward to my sons and daughters hearing truth and being encouraged.
As a man, I look forward to sharing my story of freedom and trusting God for a breakthrough in the lives of our young men and women.

Here are the outlines we’ll be using tomorrow night. OBSESSED Session 3 Girls outline OBSESSED Session 3 Guys outline

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If you want more resources, click over to the youth ministry announcements page from the tab at the top of the page.

a break or a breakthrough

Moses can’t seem to catch a break.

I’m working my way through the LifeJournal Bible reading plan, and Moses has just led Israel (650,000 men and their families) out of captivity, out of Egypt, out into the wilderness. He’s faced down Pharaoh, court magicians, and an elite army bent on his destruction. He’s wrestled with fears and doubts, naysayers and obstacles. He’s literally seen God part the Red Sea and deliver Israel, drowning all those Egyptians who tried to follow them through the sea. Just after this God sends quail and manna to sustain the wandering tribes.

Now Israel is on the other side of the Red Sea, still wandering in the desert. People are thirsty. They begin to complain against Moses, calling for his head. Moses reacts by asking, “Why are you complaining against me? And why are you testing the Lord?”

In yet another episode of ridonkulous provision, God gives Moses the authority to smack a big honking rock, and promises to give Israel water from the rock. Sure enough, everybody drinks their fill, and their anger passes.

Just when you think Mo’s going to catch a break, the warriors of Amalek attack Israel. Moses now has to coordinate a national defense strategy, run a feeding program, and navigate through the desert to a destination yet unknown to them.

Moses can’t catch a break.

And do you know what I learn from this? God’s not really interested in me catching a break, either. In fact, he likes to let us wander through deserts of desperation. He knows something we don’t: When I don’t need him, I live like I don’t need him.

And he knows that my life is better when I am connected to him. So he lets me (us) go through difficult days to make us grow, to make us lean into him, to develop a trust and a dependence and a hope that endures.

God doesn’t want me to have it easy. But difficult days can still be good days.

Maybe it turns out that I don’t need a break; I need a breakthrough.