Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Monday, December 29, 2008
When I was a kid, I used to spend time in the summer at my aunt's house with my cousins who were a few years older than me and who happened to be female. So, you can imagine the things I "learned" hanging around them. One thing I was introduced to, though, was soap operas. I don't remember much about them, but I do remember a few things about the plots that seemed pretty odd to me. Fast forward about 25 years and as my wife is now a stay-at-home mom, I've come home for lunch at times and found myself watching one of a couple different daytime dramas. So, I thought to myself, "What is it that makes a soap, a soap?" So here are a few character traits of a soap opera.
1. An evil twin with an eye patch
2. Someone everyone thinks is dead but is really alive
3. A rich person who always tries to buy everyone's affections
4. Someone with severe amnesia
5. Someone who is in, about to go in, or has recently been in a mental institution
6. Someone or someones who are still in love with someone who is deceased
7. A money-grubbing floosy who just wants some guy for his money
8. A young person dying
This is by no means an extensive list, but these items, I think, pretty well run true in daytime detergent dramas. As I thought about this, I asked myself, what are the staples of a spiritual life? There was a time when I would have made a list to include the following items and possibly a few others.
1. Regular prayer
2. Regular personal Bible study
3. Regular church attendance
4. Regular group Bible study
5. Regular tithing
But, as I looked back at my own life, I realized, the times where I had the most spiritual growth were times when many items on this list took a backseat to a lot of other pressures, stresses, and issues in my life (maybe during a time of divorce, losing a job, having financial woes). The late Youth Specialties president and founder Mike Yaconelli adresses this in his book, Messy Spirituality. This book breaks down the difference in being religious and being spiritual and looks at several biblical examples. Don't misunderstand me. All 5 items on my previous list are VERY important, however, sometimes we get so caught up in the disciplines of Christianity that we miss the rhuah of God moving in us. The book is a pretty quick read. Check it out! If you feel like you don't pray enough or read the bible enough or don't "have it all together" there is hope for you yet!
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
1. Get excited about your facilities and your kids will follow suit. Whether you're meeting in the Taj Mahal or a converted broom closet, try to unlock the hidden potential of your meeting space and do what you can to make it a cool place. Our building before. Our building after some TLC.
2. Go to bat for your program with your trustees or other decision-making people in the church. Many youth programs are treated like red-headed step-children because either people assume youth enjoy things like ugly, worn-out sofas; they assume the youth will just tear up anything new; or they never go to the youth building/room to see what needs to be done. This doesn't just apply to facilities but all aspects of the program.
3. Find the right people in your congregation to help make things happen. No youth worker can do it alone, so find the right people to help you accomplish certain goals. This year, I had help from a church member who was a contractor, as well as our trustees chairman who were able to do some things for us, and parents who were constantly bringing food on a rotating basis.
4. Advertise your program to the congregation. This sounds egotistical, but the more the church knows what you and the youth group are doing that is positive, and spiritually enriching, the more they will support you and the program. Use your newsletters, websites, and if you know how to edit short videos you can run them during the services showing people in about 90 seconds what you and the kids did at your event last week.
5. Stay busy and be visible. It sounds like a political statement, but there is some truth to being visible in the congregation. If you can work from your office, do that, rather than "working at home". For me, this is more productive anyway. If your congregation sees how hard you work, they will support you.
6. Enlist and utilize your volunteers. This one has been beaten to death, but we all know the value of good youth workers.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Anyway, I went to my supply closet and got out a set of congas that haven't been used in at least 3 years. Our guitar player (I play drums) is very reluctant to play without a bass player, so he opted out for our Sunday night worship time. What happened was just an amazing, acoustic, unplugged type feel with me on acoustic and our bassist doing a pretty good job considering she'd never played a pair of congas before. Then by Wednesday night, our guitar player decided he wanted to join in the fun and he was playing a tambourine and a rainstick.
The change was nice, even though we didn't have a chance to rehearse the new format. I hope we can do it more in the future except under different circumstances. How has adversity, or unexpected change, forced you to be more flexible as a worship leader/band and what were the results?
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
But somewhere in all the loud guitars, lights and sold out arenas there runs a danger of something getting lost. With all the T-shirts and shameless plugs for the upcoming album Christian music begins to look a lot like non-Christian music which in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. But I've been to many shows where the artists didn't speak much or talk about what their relationship to God meant to them. At these shows, the band came out, sang and played for 2 hours, and we all went back to buy shirts and CDs on the way out. But last Saturday, Oct. 11, I experienced a breath of fresh air amidst all the tyranny of contemporary Christian music. I went to Christ United Methodist Church in College Station, TX to see Building 429 with opening acts After Edmund and Addison Road. The experience was as spiritually enlightening as it was pleasing to the ears.
We paid a modest price of $10 for our tickets and were in a church that seated about 1500 that was maybe 2/3 full. So there was plenty of room to get up by the stage and get very close to the performers. After Edmund had done a show the previous spring here in Palestine and our kids were so crazy about them...they are a great band and put on a great show. But when the guys in the band realized that our kids had been at the Palestine, their memories were jogged and they remembered them. It was so nice to see this band who was touring across the country to remember a bunch of jr. high kids from Palestine. Jason Roy, the lead singer of Building 429 served as emcee for the whole show. Many times the headliners stay tucked away until the big finale, but he wanted us to experience God's love and worship him at that concert. So the concert was about Christ, not about them. They also did a few worship songs that were not orignally written or performed by them to lead the congregation in worship. I wasn't really surprised, but yet, I wasn't expecting it either. I mean nobody is going to be able to go to the back table and find the Building 429 CD with the Matt Redman song on it--it doesn't exist. But their heart was for worship and community and I felt that superceded any agenda for record sales.
I realize that record sales are a small portion of what funds these cross-country behemoths as they go from town to town with huge trucks filled with lights and sound equipment and in order for them to do what God has called them to do, they have to make money. However, it's good to know that amidst all the bright lights, record sales, touring, merchandise, and everything else that bands are still doing the Lord's work by lifting people's spirits and leading them to the throne of God.
(Below, my youth group kids with members of After Edmund)
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
I was so excited at the beginning of the season--every time I turned on SportsCenter, my Dallas Cowboys were getting tons of air-time discussing how they were the most talented team in football. and favorites for the Super Bowl. I've been a Cowboys fan as long as I can remember--my Mom even tells a story about us driving past a Holiday Inn (back when they had a big white star on their sign) and I shouted from the back seat in my best baby talk "Dadda Cabboy". From the days of Staubach, Dorsett, and Coach Landry, up through the Danny White era, I watched it all. It was a tough pill to swallow when Jerry Jones bought the franchise, but when the triplets (Aikman, Emmitt, and Irvin) and their supporting cast started making a run for the championship I quickly came around. But the events of the last week have been disturbing. Our all-pro quarterback has a broken pinky along with our punter who has a broken foot. Our #2 running back is out with a torn hamstring and many of the players are just "banged up". But the one inactive player that tops the list is not due to an injury. Yes, the gamble that team management took in acquiring Adam "Pac-Man" Jones under the condition that he would behave himself did not pay off in a positive way. He had some drama at a hotel in Dallas two weeks ago and is now in an indefinite suspension for a minimum of 4 weeks. I felt Pac-Man should have been suspended by the team regardless of what the NFL decided to do, but it seemed that to the management that winning was more important than discipline. In other words, it was like the Cowboys were saying, "We don't care how you act off the field as long as you put up big numbers ON the field." Add to all this the constant ego issues with Terrell Owens who never seems happy with the amount of passes thrown his way. As I thought about the team's situation, some thoughts came to mind as well as some scriptures.
If we are in Christ, we are new creations, right? Paul says in Romans that we are to be "more than conquerers." But I think many times we are a lot like the Dallas Cowboys--a team that has a ton of talent, but whose egos and injuries get in the way. They can't seem to be successful right now because of all the drama they experience off the field. Paul says this is the human condition in Romans 7, beginning in verse 7. He says "what I want to do is what I do not do and what I do not want to do are the very things I do." Our lives are bogged down by sin. Even though we are new in Christ, we still deal with our sinful nature. How would our lives and ministries look if we put all the personal drama aside and lived as new creations...as conquerors? For seasons it seems we do that, but a lot of times we spend our time and energy chasing futile goals--either in ministry or in our personal lives. We are trying to get to another rung on the "ladder" or trying to make enough money to afford the payment on another car. If we would learn to run the race God calls us to run, we will live like champions, not like banged up "coulda beens".
Monday, October 13, 2008
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Fast forward 2 days to Sunday School this past week. The lesson was centered around the story of David and Jonathan. (short Bible story paraphrase: Jonathan's dad, Saul, was the king and was jealous of David and had been trying to kill him. Jonathan made an oath to God that he would be loyal to David no matter what.) We studied about how some friends bring us up while others bring us down. What I began to realize in that study was that for some students (and adults) Christianity is just another thing they have in common with their friends (they like the same movies, video games, sports, sports teams, etc.) Then their are others for whom faith isn't just something that they have in common with their friends--faith is the foundation of that friendship!
Sunday night, we were doing a small group guys study called "Becoming a Young Man of God". One of the questions posed was, "What do you think it means to be a real man?" Many people would say that 2 guys dressed in camoflauge and toting bows and arrows in the woods and talking about their love for the Dallas Cowboys and all things football would be very manly. But I think that true manliness is when men can have a friendship that is built on their faith in God through Jesus Christ. "Jonathan said to David, "Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, 'The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.'" (I Sam. 20:42) Pretty manly, huh?
Thursday, October 2, 2008
A drummer doesn't have a commanding presence over the rest of the band. Unless the band members are intent on watching you for cues it's difficult to have that nonverbal communication you have when standing up and playing guitar. With a guitar you can move around, bob your head, and even turn and show them your fingers on the fretboard. From a drumset, you are limited to really only being able to control the tempo and texture of the song.
It is difficult to interact with the audience/congregation from behind a drumset. In worship circles, we talk about the invisible wall between the stage and the audience. As a worship leader, that wall really gets bigger when the "leader" is at the back and tied to a chair.
Having a band leader on drums puts more pressure on the singers because there is no one standing up beside them singing with them. Although you may be singing from the drumset, they still feel isolated from you and can make younger singers more nervous.
Leading singing and playing drums can be challenging in itself. This may just depend on the person doing it, but certain instruments, like rhythm guitar, really lend themselves to accompanying singers. I find it easier, in fact, to sing from behind my guitar than without it (if it's a song I know). Drumming and singing don't always blend, especially if the drum rhythms are not right in sync with the vocal lines.
As I said earlier, I'm considereing getting a drum machine for our worship band and going back to guitar. What have your experiences been with drum machines? Is it a good thing, or is it too "canned" where the kids don't really connect? Also, would I be better served having another student learn to play djembe or cajon? My guitar player doesn't have an acoustic, so I don't think that would blend very well. What do you think?
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
1. How long is the study? How many lessons does it contain and how many weeks will the study last? Is that too short or too long of a period to study the particular topic? Will you have to break up the study for Christmas vacation or cut it off when summer starts?
2. Is the curriculum doctrinally sound? Different churches have different teachings about a variety of topics. Is this a curriculum that your Senior Pastor or others in your church would want you teaching? Will you have to edit the material to make it line up with your tradition? Some churches will authorize you to teach anything from the denominational publishing house (i.e. Lifeway for Baptists, Cokesbury for Methodists), but will also allow things from interdenominational publishers such as Group or Youth Specialties without having anyone screen your curriculum. Check with your senior pastor or church board to see about accountability standards for curriculum.
3. How long will it take to get through each lesson? This may be difficult to determine until you've actually done the first lesson, but needs to be considered. If the lesson will take over an hour to cover everything, the kids will be restless (especially jr. highers) by the end of the lesson and you won't have much time for announcements, worship, or games, if those are normally part of your program. Also, can you shave off some of the content in the interest of time and still get the message across?
4. Will the material in the curriculum be relevant to your kids? Sometimes Bible studies are developed to address certain issues in the lives of teenagers. Are these issues really relevant to YOUR kids? Once I purchased a curriculum that was great in and of itself, but it dealt with very heavy issues that many of our kids didn't face. Consequently it was really heavy and somewhat depressing in our context, even though it was still a very well-done curriculum with some of the foremost speakers, teachers, and writers in youth ministry today. I didn't finish the study because I felt like 13 more weeks of this would bring down my kids.
5. Does the curriculum fit your format? Do you want it for a small group study or for more of a sermon-style teaching format with more one-way speaking and less discussion? Many small group curricula can be adapted for the latter style of teaching, but there might not be enough usable material to justify buying a whole study.
6. How much does it cost? Depending on the size of your church and your curriculum budget cost may be a large or small factor. Video curriculum can cost more than just printed material, but will make up for cost in terms of holding the students' attention. Another thing technology has made available to us is downloadable Bible studies. By bypassing the cost of publishing the print media and the costs of shipping and making the material available directly to your computer, you can print and copy it yourself for a fraction of the cost of ordering a book. Some of the best (and cheapest) material I have used is available at Sycamore Tree Publishing.
What would you add to this list as important factors in purchasing curriculum? Have you ever neglected an aspect of curriculum and had negative repercussions? Have you ever purchased a curriculum that really was a home run? What factors made that study so successful?
Monday, September 29, 2008
1. Dont compare your new pastor to your old one. If you really liked your former pastor and got along with him well, don't immediately look to find the flaws in your new pastor or expect him to do things exactly like his predecessor. Likewise, if you did not get along well with your former, do not automatically assume things will be the same way with the new guy. Don't get caught up in playing the comparison game. This will only put him in a box in your eyes and limit your perceptions of the effectiveness of his ministry.
2. Be helpful. Chances are that your pastor moved in from a new community. One of the easiest things you can do to build a positive relationship with him is to help him get oriented to your community and the church. Let him know where he can go in town to get things done or who you would recommend for various professional services or where the good places are to eat. Also, let him know who the key leaders are in the church and also which members he should approach with more caution.
3. Focus on his strenths. Every pastor has a completely different make-up of strengths, weaknesses, and spiritual gifts. More likely than not, your new pastor will not be as skilled as your previous pastor in some areas. However, there will be many things that he may do better than his predecessor. Be on the lookout for those qualities. Learn from the way he does things then you can do tip number 4!
4. Be positive with your church members. Being on staff, many members of the church will follow your lead in determining whether or not they will get on board with the ministries of a new pastor. Often times they will ask how the ministry is going under the new leadership. If our previous pastor was admired by many church members, the more we say, "Well, he's not like _____", inadvertently we are destroying the ministry of our new pastor before it ever really gets started. Find some of the strengths he has and build him up to your church members. This will help them get on board with what God is doing through him in your church.
5. Be a team player. Help your pastor know that you are here as a spoke in a much larger wheel and that you see the youth program as a vital part of the church. Many youth programs are run as a kingdom unto themselves rather than as a part of the church as a whole. Letting him know that you want the youth involved in all the ministries of the church, not just the ones for teenagers, helps him to see that you are here to build the church with him, not to be divisive.
What things have you done to build a relationship with a new pastor? What lessons have you learned?
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
You see, with different types of parents and volunteers who use different styles of parenting and different ways of relating to the kids, these parents and workers have different ideas of what should and shouldn't be done at meetings. Ultimately, though, they need and to know what we and the church expect of them. So, here are three things we need to do with our workers:
1. Give them clear guidelines on discipline and expectations. Make sure they understand what behavior is inappropriate and acceptable. I'm not a big fan of placing rule posters all over the room...I think that sends the wrong message to the kids. So make sure youth workers know where the lines are and give them the freedom to enforce them. Ideally, these guidelines can be decided by the team of workers who attends youth meetings, but if it will be a while before your next meeting, the guidelines may just need to be given to them from you. This will be easier if the rules are more tangible (i.e. nobody outside the building unless we all go outside as a group or your ride is here to pick you up). The more vague a guideline is, the more reluctant your volunteers will be in enforcing them.
2. Make sure they understand that youth ministry is relational--you WANT them to interact with the kids. They need to know they have the freedom to engage the students, ask them about their day at school, and build those relationships with them. It may sound obvious to us, but many youth volunteers may not realize they need to do this or that we want them to do this. Help them understand that you as a youth minister cannot personally get to know each kid in the program and that your personality will click more with certain kids. Help them understand that you need their help to build relationships with kids in the group.
3. Thank them for their time in volunteering. For some who feel obligated to help, it may be an uncomfortable experience to get involved with the kids. It doesn't hurt to pat them on the back for a job well done. This can be as quick as an email, a note in the snail mail, a "thank you" announcement from the pulpit on Sunday, or maybe take them to lunch with your robust professional expense budget! Whatever you do, make sure your youth workers understand you appreciate what they do for your teens.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I have called, emailed, texted, and myspaced all these kids, and visited with their parents (if their parents regularly attend church). I've had kids in the group contact them. And we still haven't gotten those students back on a regular basis. So, I have two questions for you, my colleagues. 1) How do you keep that momentum going during the end of summer and into the beginning of the school year? 2) What do you do aside from the above contact methods, to reach out or get in touch with kids who have not been coming in a while?
1. Pray about the issue and pray for your critics. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, with prayer and petition, submit your requests to God."--Phil. 4:6
2. Approach the situation with humility. Unfortunately, more often than not, you will get an email or overhear murmurings that Mrs. Jones is not pleased with the job you are doing. At that point, after praying about the situation, think of ways you can contact that person. Remember that we as youth ministers have a widely diverse job description and will not do everything well. You know, all throughout scripture, there were men who couldn't do it all--Moses had Aaron, Paul had Barnabas, Silas, Mark, and Timothy, David had Jonathan, Joshua had Caleb. So we should have the humility to realize our weaknesses and find people to help us in those areas. We should also help our church members understand that we can't be great at everything we do.
3.Determine if your critic has a valid complaint. This will have to be done with some sort of meeting with the nay-sayer at hand. Ideally, meet with this person face to face--nonverbal communication is lost over the phone and even more so over email. Some people will always find something to gripe about, but when you come under fire, determine if this person has a legitimate concern. If they just want to gripe, ask them for their opinion as to how you should fix the problem. Sometimes people don't have a gripe necessarily as much as they just want to be heard. Other times a person is looking at a situation through a colored lens and perceive actions completely differently from the way you intended them. So it's important to find out if their complaint is justified. If there is a true issue, then proceed to step 3.
4. Get a the opinion of others in the church to see if they will affirm or reject the criticism. I wouldn't go to your inner circle for this, but rather go to the people who you know will be objective and honest with you--including your Senior Pastor. Tell them the nature of the criticism and ask them if they think you've been negligent or lacking in the area in question. DO NOT TELL THEM WHERE THE CRITICISM CAME FROM, AS THIS MAY CAUSE MORE DIVISION. (Many times they know the source anyway, but do not use this tactic to be divisive). Listen to their responses in a constructive way and use this as an opportunity for personal growth. It may turn out that they want to reaffirm you and will tell you that you don't need to listen to your critic(s). If you need to continue addressing the issue, proceed to step 4.
5. Work with your critics and others to determine a solution to the perceived failure. Often times when people share their concern for a ministry their tone will change when they are asked to lead out in that area. Or, they may find that they can work alongside you in this area for the benefit of the youth program and the church.
Rally a "camp" of people to take your side
Tell a bunch of people what Mrs. Jones said about you and your ministry
Do anything that will further divide your church.
What suggestions would you offer in dealing with conflict?
Monday, September 22, 2008
I currently contribute to a blog at http://www.forkintheroadmusic.org which is a blog site for my friend Russell Martin. This is a blog site dealing with thoughts on worship, leading worship, working with youth bands, and other related material. I will continue to contribute to FITR as well as post some more general ministry related material on this site. I hope you will check back or subscribe to this post.
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