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 in The Fringe

March 19, 2013 — 2 Comments

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I’m drawn to Jesus for many reasons: His compassion for the weak and hurting, his radical ability to forgive his enemies, and his bold love of the marginalized. It’s the way he interacts with the fringe that I love the most. See, I love teens that many have deemed unlovable. I love offering support to teens who find themselves robbed of support they should have. I believe Jesus has a lot in common with these teens. This helps me identify my passion for those who have found themselves on the outside looking in. By recognizing the fringe in Jesus, I can also recognize Jesus in the fringe.

I recently facilitated a workshop at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference on strategies for reaching fringe kids. Based on the collective experience of the workshop participants, we composed a list of traits we find in the fringe kids we’ve worked with.

Traits of Fringe
They often move at their own pace and not the pace of the group.
They isolate themselves and like to stay hidden in the corners of the room.
They often have their own dress code and don’t always embrace fashion norms.
They usually lack a solid support system.
They are silent and they are disruptive.
They generally feel unaccepted or cast off by their own community.

The Fringe in Jesus
He was a child with a different focus than most children. He moved at his Heavenly Father’s pace, which was sometimes hard for his earthly parents to accept.
Jesus went away to pray. Those who knew him perhaps felt like he was isolating himself.
Jesus claims to be the Son of God, a King, yet was not dressed like one. On his journey to the cross he was mocked.
Jesus spent time in silence. But he also disrupted the norm for many with his message and miracles.
Jesus made it through childhood and his teen life as that kid whose mom claimed to have been a virgin at the time of his birth. He has no biological father.
Jesus was not accepted in his own community.

Jesus understands what its like to be different. He identifies with those who feel secondary and pushed out by their own community. Of course we can look past the traits of fringe in Jesus and see him for who he was, and is – Lord of our life. But can we look past the traits of fringe in the teens that make ministry just a little bit more challenging, and require a little more risk? They too are sons and daughters of the living God.

Challenge: See Jesus in the fringe. Who do you need to recognize as a son or daughter of the living God?

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Check out my guest post about Transformational Youth Ministry over at More Than Dodgeball!

Thanks to Josh for letting me have a voice over there!

 

Jesus_writing

In 1983, I was 7 years old. My second grade teacher at Mira Mesa Christian School asked a question that made my little heart race.

“Would any of you like to invite Jesus into your life today?”

My mind quickly went to the amazing stories I’d heard about Jesus. He fed thousand people, he healed the sick, he died on the cross for my sins. Did I want him in my life? YES! My teacher knelt beside my desk and led me in prayer. I invited Jesus to be the Lord of my life. I confessed that I was a sinner, and I declared, “I believe.” 

Twenty six years later, I still believe. Studying scripture strengthens my faith and compels me to ask questions: What does scripture reveal to me about who Jesus believes in? The answer takes my journey from belief in him, to an unfathomable quest to risk, love and serve those he would embrace.

Jesus believes in the outcast.
In the gospel of John Jesus risks his life to save a woman accused of being an adulterer. The accusers leave when Jesus challenges, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Now the woman finds herself alone with the only person involved in this situation who really is without sin. Did he stone her? No. He believed in who she could be, when no one else believed in who she was.

Jesus believes in thieves.
In the 23rd chapter of Luke, Jesus is enduring the most painful death imaginable. Yet through his suffering, he is still attentive and hears the request of the thief next to him, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Everyone else had given up on this thief. Had Jesus given up on him? No. Even when the thief’s crimes had sentenced him to death, Jesus believed the thief had chosen him over the sin that sentenced him.

We can look at Jesus’ life and see it as the proof we need to believe in him. But we can also look at his life and see it as proof that he believes in us, in our darkest hour, when everyone else has given up, and sentenced us to death.

I do believe in Jesus. But I pray for his strength and love to consume me, giving me the audacity to believe in those he believes in.

Challenge: Jesus was willing to risk his life for those others had given up on. Take a risk on a teen you’ve been tempted to give up on.

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believe

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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SYMC PARTY

This week has been a mountain top experience. But as I have always shared with my students during spiritual retreats, we don’t live on the mountain top. We have to take the mountain top experience down to the valley where we live.

And this is my personal challenge now – not just to you but to me as well -because I feel like I’ve been on the mountain taking in God’s breathtaking view, seeing his glory from up high (and I don’t just mean my 28th floor hotel room – I was on the boring side of the building).

So what will I take down to the valley where I live?

Seeking Community – Not a second after I put my bags down, I met up with new friends and started sharing the life of youth ministry together! Thank you Leneita, Josh, Chris, Mark, Eugene and so many others! This kind of sharing life was so refreshing. It encouraged me to be with people who understand my mission and would commit to pray for me.

Commitment to Worship – Soaking in God’s presence and giving my all in worship brought me to God like a little child. I felt my spirit recharging in his presence. And it was like falling in love with God over and again every session. I need moments of honest worship to continue.

Hunger to Learn - I’ve taken away so much from workshop leaders and fellow youth pastors this week. I want to continue to look for opportunities to learn from others.

Eagerness to Collaborate - One of the things that blew my mind during this conference was the way youth workers were working together to share solutions! I think for some (most?), they learned more from the conversations they had with peers than any workshop or general session could hope to teach.

My challenge: SYMC did a wonderful job getting us to the mountain top. But it wasn’t the Harlem Shake or the perfect choice of keynote speakers that made this weekend powerful. It was our willingness to experience! What did you allow yourself to experience? My challenge is that we would all keep giving ourselves permission to experience God in these ways.

If you missed SYMC this year, register NOW for 2014! And check out my notes from my conference workshops. Connect with me on Twitter and let me know in the comments what you’re taking to the valley!

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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