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The journey to inclusion is the road less traveled. It’s a road I didn’t even see until I had my own wrestling match with God. I’d been traveling a safer road of ministry. This safe road led me to teens who were like me, where I challenged students and didn’t allow them to challenge me. This was a road with no room for detours or curves. When I realized the road of exclusion I was on was a dead end, it broke me. All along I thought God led me to this safe road and that on it I would experience successful youth ministry. But the heart of God was leading me to a different road, the road of inclusion. See the safe road I was traveling before avoided dangerous students, neglected hurting students, and was afraid of students who didn’t match the Christian profile.

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What happens when three youth workers, who have never met, meet at Starbucks? A trifecta of encouragement, unity, and collaboration. I experienced this trifecta at SYMC just over a month ago. I met complete strangers who were excited to swap youth ministry stories and their passion for God over a grande vanilla blond roast.

It’s been over a month since SYMC, and I’m determined to continue seeking friendships with my fellow youth workers. So here’s what I did recently. I goggled churches I pass on my daily drive and wrote their youth pastors an email. In the email I introduced myself, and Dave, the new youth pastor at my church. I explained that we’re both new to the area and want to be connected to other youth workers.

Steven from victory church in Westminster was the first to agree to meet with us.Thank you Steven!

Steven reached out to two complete strangers. He poured his heart out about student ministry. He also gave us better understanding of the demographics and realities that create awesome ministry opportunities in our area.

Here are 3 reasons I walked away from our youth pastor Starbucks hang totally refueled for ministry.

1. Iron sharpens iron.
Hearing someone else’s passion for youth ministry is inspiring. It makes you want to get back to your church and re-energize your efforts.

2. Steven shared reminders we needed to hear.

“We’re called to lay a biblical foundation where there is none.”

Information Steven has learned about our area has made him aware that many students don’t have the opportunity to receive a biblical foundation or worldview at home. Steven reminded us that we could offer a biblical foundation and worldview to students where there is none.

“Worship and God moments are key in our relationship with God.”

The closeness students feel to God during worship and special moments like a spiritual retreat, will be something they can hold onto for life. It will draw them back to God in their darkest moments. We should do everything we can to provide a solid worship experience and God moments.

“Spend time with God and do what he tells you to do.”

This is probably the thing I’ll remember the most. I lean on my experience a lot. I never want to forget to get on my knees and follow the leading of God’s spirit. Thanks for saying it Steven.

3. We left the meeting with a new ministry friend and a heart to support one another. Dave and I are praying for Steven and his team and we know he’s doing the same for us.

I love the words written by poet John Donne:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

Great things happen when we get out of our office and off our church campus. Two other youth pastors answered my email and I can’t wait to hang out with them and grow my group of ministry friends.

Reach out to a fellow youth pastor this week and make a ministry friend. Start with the church across the street.

1 Corinthian 12:12
The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ.

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Check out my guest post about Redefining Urban over at Simply Urban Ministry!!!

Thanks to Leneita and Jeffrey for letting me have a voice over there!

 

The government of Mali gave French president François Hollande a camel for helping them repel Islamist rebels. The president was not able to transport the camel home, so he entrusted its care to a local family until he could make arrangements to bring the gift home. The Malian government was embarrassed to discover that the family entrusted with the camel’s care later ate it! Upon the discovery of the eaten gift, the Malian government promised the French president a bigger and better camel hoping to redeem an awkward situation. I’m serious.

I heard coverage of this story on the radio yesterday after dropping my son off at school. I couldn’t help but think this isn’t the first time someone entrusted another to care for a gift only to have that trust broken (or, in this case, eaten)!

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I’m about to Jesus Juke, but stay with me…

Everyday teenagers take the gift of love and give their heart to someone, only to have their heart returned to them in pieces.

Everyday teenagers take the gift of friendship and dive head first into relationships, only to be pushed out by the same group of friends that once invited them in.

Everyday teenagers take the gift of honesty and share things about themselves, only to have trust shattered into a million pieces. Instead of support and acceptance, they receive disappointment and rejection.

We all know teenagers who have entrusted people with these gifts. Like president François, they’ve discovered that trust is easily broken.

When a series of broken trust inflicts hurt and confusion on the teens we know, we must encourage them not to lose trust and hope in God.

+Allow God to love through you as a reminder that God can be trusted with their heart, their friendships, and their faith.

+Demonstrate God’s unfailing love and restore their hope in the church by facilitating healthy and inclusive community. God can use you to restore a broken heart.

When gifts are stolen, God graciously restores what was lost. In Christ all things are made new. Hurting teens are seeking restoration. May they find restoration through the body of Christ.

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Jesus announced to his hometown that he was their long-awaited messiah. The people were excited and proud. That was until Jesus announced he was also messiah to the Gentiles. The Jews, having no desire to associate with Gentiles, were outraged. They took Jesus to the edge of town with the intention of throwing him over a cliff. The announcement Jesus shared was welcomed, but not if it meant associating with outsiders. The disciples lived in this tension as they urged the Jews to embrace the message of Jesus. He did not come for one, he came for all – both Jew and Gentile.

Are we living in this tension today? Does the church desire to know the Messiah while not wanting to associate with those who need him?

Maybe you’ve echoed the announcement Jesus made by extending your ministry beyond the walls of the church. When you connect your church to hurting teens, homosexuals, or the non-believer, do you feel things get a bit dramatic? Have there been attempts to throw you over a cliff?

As a youth pastor at a local church, I gathered a team of volunteers to reach out to youth in our community through basketball. We were meeting teens who had never stepped foot into a church. They were foul mouthed, competitive, and loitered in the church parking lot for hours. It was spectacularly messy!

We were thrilled, but not everyone shared our enthusiasm. One night, a church member made a bee-line for me and asked two questions I’ll never forget:

“Why are they here?”
“Are any of them even our kids?”

I’m sure this member didn’t love my response,

“They’re here because we’ve invited them to be here. And yes, they are all our kids.”

Are you confronted with tension when you invite non-believers to your campus? This is a tension we must be willing to live in and handle with grace if teens beyond the walls of the church will be reached. We must constantly go to God in prayer and keep his heart for all his children central.

What can we do when it seems our heart to reach beyond the walls of the church creates tension?

Focus on serving.
We are not called to fight God’s battles. We’re called to serve.
We must focus on serving those God loves with humility, passion, and laser focus on Jesus. Let God fight his own battles in the hearts of others.

Embrace collaboration.
By embracing collaboration we share the burden for the lost.
Many of Jesus’ accusers, after stalking Jesus and trying to trap him, walked away believers. It’s hard to witness Jesus at work without experiencing our own transformation. Invite the involvement and collaborative efforts of your accusers.

Take risks.
When I began inviting teens to join us for basketball, I knew there would be trash talk and competitiveness that could lead to fights. Calculating that risk allowed me the foresight to recruit volunteers who had experience on the court. When the competition got heated, leaders would step in and assist in the situation. They didn’t just break up fights. They prevented them from happening by modeling and teaching great sportsmanship and promoting Godly character.

Let people wrestle.
Sometimes people need to wrestle with change. This doesn’t make them the enemy. Not every Jew wanted to throw Jesus over a cliff, and not every Jew yelled, “Crucify him.” Some of them went through the process of wrestling. Those who wrestle with the truth will embrace your vision and passion to reach the lost. They just need time to process.

Share stories of transformation.
People can’t support what they can’t see. It is up to us to share the stories of transformation our teens are experiencing. Thank your community for being a part of the transformative work of God.

TAKE AWAY: Many of us have managed the expectations to grow our youth programs and the tension that exists when we associate the church with Gentiles. You are living out the good news. The good news is, Jesus came to be Messiah to both Jew and Gentile, believer and non-believer. Continue to be courageous, even when you find yourself at the edge of the cliff. God is with you.

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hoops

March Madness is on! And I love every minute of it. Why? The game of basketball has had a huge impact on my life. Through it I’ve learned many valuable lessons that I apply to my everyday life and ministry.

Passing is better than dribbling.

I’m a guard. And every guard loves to dribble. The truth is, dribbling is the ugliest part of basketball and accomplishes very little. Passing however accomplishes a lot. Passing utilizes the entire team, and moves the ball a whole lot faster. During my basketball career I learned that the longer I held onto the ball to dribble the more I dismissed the help and talent of my teammates.

You get out what you put in.

Good basketball players don’t just shine on game day. They shine during every practice, every drill, and every work out. The game will give to you as much as you give to it. Half-hearted effort throughout the week will not return rewards on game day.

There is no I in team.

Sure, it’s cliché, but basketball is a team sport. It’s always five on five. No one has ever won or lost a game alone. No one is sent out onto the court to face an opponent alone. A strong team is made up of people who trust in each other’s game.

Vision is important – look up!

A good basketball player sees the entire court. Only seeing what’s in front of you places you in constant threat of being trapped by the defense. Seeing the entire floor makes you an offensive threat. You can see things before anyone else and make good things happen for your team.

Some days I find myself falling into old basketball habits coaches worked hard to break me of. I try to control situations and do everything myself when I have ministry teammates waiting for me to pass the ball. Sometimes I refuse to see anything but the obstacle in front of me and forget to look up. And at times, I don’t trust in my co-ministers the way I could.

I don’t shoot a hundred free throws a day, or run lines until I’m blue in the face like I once did, but I can still improve my game by remembering the lessons the game taught me and applying them to my everyday life.

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Delayed and On Time

March 25, 2013 — Leave a comment

flight-delayedIt’s midnight, the night before a trip. I’ve got an early morning. My alarm is set. My pick up service will be here at 5:30 am. I managed to get enough laundry done to pack. I’ve done everything I can do to have a flawless travel day.

I arrive at the airport and find self-check in. I’m feeling smart because I’ve packed light to avoid additional baggage fees. No set backs at security as I go through the routine of taking my shoes off, taking my computer out, and emptying my pockets. Every thing runs smoothly until I get to my gate and see that familiar word I’d hoped to avoid today. The D word.

DELAYED.

I quickly review my options…

Option One: Panic. Will I make my connecting flight? What if I don’t reach my destination on time?

Option Two: Become demanding. I’ll go to the counter and demand a flight that will get me to my destination on time. I can take control of this situation.

Option Three: Trust. Trust that everyone is doing everything they can to get me where I’m suppose to be. Know that a delayed flight is not the end of the world.

As I review my options, my traveling experience reminds me that option three is the best option.

The D word means my flight is delayed, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t reach my destination on time. Once up in the air, the captain makes an announcement that I’m happy to hear:

“Well folks, even though we had a delay, looks like we’re actually going to get you to your destination a few minutes early. We’ve got a good tail wind blowing us in. Looks like we’re delayed and on time.”

If you’ve traveled recently, you’ve likely faced the frustration of being delayed.
Delays are common in flight travel. They are also common in ministry. When we are faced with delays in ministry, we can choose to panic, become demanding, or we can choose to trust. Trust that everyone is serving together and doing all they can. Trust that God is in control. Trust that we can be delayed and on time.

Have delays frustrated your ministry efforts or changed your attitude toward the team you are working with?

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imagesI remember it like it was yesterday. I sat on the steps and looked over the empty space; it felt like it went on for miles. God was preparing my heart for ministry with teens in my neighborhood I had never had the opportunity to meet inside the walls of the local church. Alone in that empty building that would soon open as a student ministry center, I cried and prayed over these kids. I was excited, I was scared, and I was ready. Ready to treat each person that walked in the door with dignity and respect. Ready to hear what was on their hearts, and ready to see past the exterior and love beyond my own understanding. Ready to sacrifice and give more to reach out and love students than ever before.

​On November 6th, 2009, we opened the 13,000 sq. foot student ministry center.  I was excited to be part of founding this ministry that had a vision to reach kids in our community. Over 700 people in the community came to visit that opening day, including the Mayor who declared, “this is the most important thing happening for the teens in our community.” The mission was simple: Love and introduce students to Jesus through relationship. The building would host a skate park, music venue, coffee bar, and programs in hopes of attracting thousands of teens to the center and into relationships with loving, God following, adults.

​I remember being shocked and proud of what happened during those first couple of months. In a single event I would meet more teens than I had in my entire youth ministry through the church. Six months in, our team had been invited to enter the stories of hundreds of teens. It was amazing! One of the local youth pastors remarked to me that he was amazed at the opportunity he had to meet and connect with so many teens on a consistent basis.

​I’d like to continue this post writing that for years to come teens will meet and know Jesus because we came up with a ministry model that was a home run. I’d like to write about our board and staff living out the mission together in perfect harmony. But I can’t. There is no longer a student ministry center in Pompano Beach, Florida. After years of developing, dreaming, and praying, serving and raising money, our youth center had the life span of 3 years.

​What does it mean when ministries fail? What do we take away from this other than disappointment? Did we set ourselves up for failure? Did we work hard enough and care deep enough?

​Disappointed doesn’t begin to express the sorrow that many involved felt upon the closing of the youth center. But when ministries fail to stay open, fail to find sustainability, we must remember a few things.

​God does not do miracles or share love through buildings, program agendas, or mission statements. He does this through his beloved children. Through us. We are not confined to ministry titles, buildings, or organizations.

​God does not call ministries to love their neighbors, he calls individuals to love their neighbors. It would be prideful to think that God would not continue to reach out to these students through the very ones that live right next door to them. God will continue to love teens in South Florida through neighbors who call on the name of Jesus.

God does not stop loving and calling us when the ministry we’ve served has closed its doors. We are loved. We are called. No matter where we work or whom we are employed by, we are loved and called by God. Our desire to love those whom God has placed in our lives and given us the opportunity to serve is not contingent upon “ministry opportunities.” Ministry opportunities are everywhere and all around us. If we look for them only through our work we will miss many divine appointments.

​God does not close his doors. I could write a book about all the things we could have and should have done to keep the student ministry center open. And some of it would be helpful as a postmortem. But truer than anything I could say is this… when ministries fail, God does not. He is calling believers everywhere to rely on his love to reach those with whom we share this life.

​Have you experienced or felt the weight of a ministry fail? I have good news. God is working in and through your life. He is in the journey. Ministries fail, but he does not.

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Jesus Invites us to Be

March 12, 2013 — 1 Comment

red door

I hung up the phone and ran to my dorm room. This was by far the most surprising phone call I’d ever received. My first thought was, “If I do this, my father, a big fan of me finishing college, would disown me!”

Just a few days before, I’d opened for a Christian band at a concert at my college. It was my first time opening for anyone. I was nervous but I made it through the few songs I’d written. The next day one of my roommates told me that the phone was for me. It was a member of the group Truth calling to ask me to audition for the group. I was shocked! How did my nervous attempt to open for a real touring group turn into an invitation like this?

This unexpected invitation was weighing on me, but it was what I wanted to do. I would sing all over the country and get a chance to record albums. After a stressful audition process and being grilled by the founder of the group, I accepted the invitation to do what I’d always wanted.

Many times I’ve sought my purpose in life through the scope of two questions:

What do I want to do?
Where do I want to be?

I admit that I’ve been driven by these two questions, as I’ve eagerly sought out “what” and “where” invitations.

But there’s one invitation that has recently been catching my attention, this is an invitation that has been overshadowed by the “what” and “where” invitations for too long. This invitation knocks on our door every single day. It is the simple yet powerful invitation from Jesus to be. To be connected to him, to be loved by him, to be one with him, as he is one with the father and the Holy Spirit. This invitation to be is not about what we do, or where we’re going but is fantastically about who we are, his beloved.

Challenge: As we think about the group of teens God has given us to lead and encourage, will we do more than invite them to be a part of what the ministry is doing or where the ministry is going? Jesus invites us to be. To be fully loved, to be fully accepted, fully forgiven, and fully his. How will we extend this invitation to the teens we serve?

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Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares is one of my all time favorite shows. In this reality show classic, famous chef and restaurant guru, Gordon Ramsay, visits failing restaurants and tries to turn them around in just one week. The show is appropriately titled. Every situation Ramsay steps into is a total nightmare on the brink of closure. Chef Ramsay points out that a restaurant can serve the finest food, display the most beautiful decor, and still fail because of bad customer service. Ramsay insists on superior customer service and experience. This fiery chef won’t be found filming your youth ministry, but I’ve often wondered what he would find if he did.

Here are some things Chef Ramsay insists on that might help us move towards being youth ministries that keep students coming back for more.

+The moment a customer walks in the door their experience begins. When entering our space the customer should be noticed and welcomed right away.

+Once customers have been greeted and welcomed, service and care for the customer experience begins and should continue during their visit. No one likes to be welcomed, seated, and forgotten.

+The menu should be the customer’s best friend not their worst nightmare. Chef Ramsay has proven time and time again, a busy menu is not a good menu. Customers get lost when a menu is busy and have a slim chance of ordering the best meal the chef has to offer. A busy youth ministry does not equal quality and relational youth ministry. It’s okay to take things off the menu. If 40-minute lessons put your kids to sleep, take it off the menu. If small groups are not helping students connect and focus, take it off the menu. If games are not helpful in building community, take it off the menu.

+Every customer is the most important customer.
My students figured me out a long time ago. When I say, “You’re my favorite” to a student, they quickly respond, “You say that to everyone.” I never miss the chance to confirm, “but it’s true you are.”

+You can’t serve quality food from a disgusting kitchen.
Space matters. Serving kids in an unorganized, messy, dirty, dingy space, does not contribute to a safe and welcoming environment. No one wants to eat out of a kitchen that has roaches. It doesn’t require millions of dollars, just time, care, and elbow grease.

Care for a customer goes a long way. In the restaurant world it means success and longevity; in the youth ministry world it means relationships that lead students to Jesus. When we think through hospitality and how we serve our teens, can any adjustments be made? Maybe an honest look at our customer service can turn our ministries around and help us reach the students we’ve longed to serve.

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