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Dear Senior Pastor, would you please…

Whether you call them senior, lead, brother, apostle, bishop, El Jefe or prophet, the primary leader of your church can embrace or alienate the youth in a few small steps. Clearly the pastor is to care for the entire flock, and we sheep will never know the enormity of that calling. Yet a busy pastor can make consistent small investments in the lives of students that will yield great fruit.   1. Come to a mission trip/retreat send off to pray for us and stay behind to tell our moms that it’s all gonna be ok. 2. Tell stories from your teenage years as you preach. 3.  Stop saying, “a better translation of this is…”  or diving way deep into Hebrew and Greek when you preach. When you do that from the pulpit, you take the Bible out of the hands of the teenager and add to the distrust and confusion of Scripture. 4. Come to 3 youth gatherings a year. Don’t just go and speak, but allow the students to ask you questions. This not only builds trust with students, but the youth ministry staff and volunteers as well. 5. Randomly pop in to a youth gathering. Interrupt the program quickly to bless the youth minister and volunteers in front of the kids. 6. Get on the bus! While going with the youth on a week long mission trip can be tough, I know a pastor who rides on the bus with the kids to camp and then flies back the next day. This builds incredible social capital. 7. Teenagers don’t want to hear just how you did it right. They want to know how you messed up and then they need to hear how you moved forward. That said, I need to address my youth worker friends with two thoughts: 1) We have a great role in playing the “agent” in this necessary endeavor. As we look down the road at our calendars, let us find ways for our pastor to spend time with our young people so that the interaction builds trust and yields fruit. 2) At heart, lead pastors are either theologians, missionaries, evangelists or youth pastors. So we must be aware some pastors will be as nervous coming to youth group as a home-schooled 6th grade girl would. Teenagers intimidate people. We as youth workers can lessen the intimidation. What have you seen pastors do to bridge the gap between them and the students of the church?

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Underneath that (robe, Hawaiian t-shirt, v-neck) Your Pastor is Really a…

Think about a pastor at your church.

rickwarren3Pastors often have a little descriptor (lead, senior, head) before their title that basically informs the congregation where the buck stops. The title “pastor” tells us something about function, calling and purpose and yet those little words at the beginning can often overshadow the richness of the word pastor (conclusion of baby soapbox).

Moving beyond titles, we can benefit greatly from understanding what makes each pastor come alive. This “thing” that makes them come alive also shapes the flock or the ministry area they oversee. So without further rambling, I propose that many pastors fall into one of several categories or flavors of “pastor.” These flavors shape how they not only read the Bible and how they live it out, but how they spend their time and efforts in certain areas of the church.

So think about that theme or emphasis that can sneak its way into every one of your pastor’s sermons. Also observe the areas where he or she spends most of their time. Now read the descriptions below and decide where your pastor may fit.

The Missionary- this pastor loves preaching the Great Commission and talking about places like the “ends of
the earth”, but they would rather “do” the Great Commission than preach about it. When you walk in their office it looks like National Geographic. The Missionary pastor goes on as many mission trips as they can to model a value to the congregation, but also to reignite a fire in their own souls.

The Eternal Youth Pastor- this is more than a grown up version of the Chuck Taylor wearing, guitar strumming, egg tossing, burrito gorging youth leader. This is the pastor who truly believes that young people are a precious asset and resource in the church. They get energy from young kids and their parents. This type of pastor often uses “family” type language when referring to the entire church. I know some senior pastors of larger churches who ride on the bus almost every year with teenagers on their way to camp. They spend that time getting to know some of their favorite people for a day or two and then fly back to the church. These pastors are making investments into an age group that they believe is crucial towards spiritual vitality in the church.

The Theologian- just walk into their office. In a youth pastor’s office you will see figurines sandwiched betweenshutterstock_94915312 really snazzy looking books, but not so with the Theologian. The Theologian’s office smells like dust from the long and thick volumes of commentaries. If they are a fun Theologian pastor, they will have a Luther or Calvin bobble head in their office. This pastor is not simply an introvert, a nerd or a librarian in waiting. The Theologian has a deep respect for those who have gone before and have wrestled with the deep and rich themes of scripture. They aren’t showing off when they drop names like Zwingli, Kierkegaard, Barth, Calvin or Luther. There is simply a deep belief that the findings of great theologians can guide us into the future as the Body of Christ. Most likely the Theologian will not be found on a global mission trip or a youth event, but they will jump on the opportunity to be an adjunct at a seminary, take a tour group to Europe or listen to Greek and Hebrew lessons while driving in their car.

The Pastor Pastor- you may never remember something the Pastor Pastor says from the pulpit, but you will never forget how they sat with you, wrote you a letter or gave you a call. When you are laid up in a hospital, you don’t won’t the Theologian and you sure don’t want the Eternal Youth Pastor. You want the Pastor Pastor. This type of leader will listen and listen and listen then hug and listen then write you a card a week later. When this type of pastor preaches, they often choose the  stories where Jesus demonstrates the ministry of presence to those in need. If you dig around in the Pastor Pastor’s office you will find a miniature communion set, a clergy name badge, some healing oil, a bunch of books by Eugene Peterson and most definitely there will be a picture of a Shepherd on their wall.

This is not my attempt to put people in a box, rather I see this as identifying a pastor’s passion. It can also be helpful in discerning how to build a team to make up for areas that are weaker or absent after you have identified what makes a pastor come alive.

What am I missing?
Which one is most common in churches today?

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Reclaiming the Prophetic Role in Youth Ministry

Full disclosure: Most of my life I have maintained a negative reaction to the terms prophet, prophecy and prophetic. We didn’t use words like that in my flavor of church and as a teen I thought those that did flew on carpets, carried wands and spoke in made up languages. The truth was that I was afraid of what I didn’t know. On top of my ignorance, I watched my fair share of televangelists on obscure channels as I was growing up.

Long story short, I no longer think prophets are scary.

It has taken years, but I have reclaimed this biblical word (prophet) like I have so many other words in scripture that have become bad words in our current culture. Without a doubt, prophets were the mouthpieces of God and they often spoke of things that were to happen in the future. But, but, but that does not mean they were merely future fortunetellers who would proclaim mind blowing facts about the days to come. In the Hebrew, the word prophet or prophecy meant to bubble forth the declarations of God. Read this short little section of 1 Corinthians 14 as Paul talks about prophecy:

“But everyone who prophesies speaks to men (and women) for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” 1 Corinthians 14:3

While the OT prophets often said “get your stuff together or you’re screwed”, there are so many more prophetic messages we find throughout scripture. shutterstock_46966321Think about your ministry right now. Imagine what it would look like if you became the chief bubble forther and recruited and equipped a gaggle of bubble forthers? I know that I can get lost in the programming, preparing and procrastinating of youth ministry, which can often keep us from speaking life and hope into the lives young people and their parents.

Here is a simple example of a prophetic or bubbling forth statement:

“Hey _____, I just wanted to let you know that I have been watching you for a long time, not in a stalker-ish way of course. I really think God has given you such a gift of compassion. You really care about people, especially those who have been overlooked in life. I’ve seen you show great compassion on mission trips, in the stands at football games and with students in the ministry who feel like they are on the outside. I’m not sure HOW God will use your gift of compassion in the future, but I know he will in one-way or another. Just wanted to let you know that.”

I can vividly remember adults who prophetically spoke truth and hope into my life as a rowdy teenager. They had the ability to see through my rough exterior and identify unique ways in which God had crafted me. They were prophets. They bubbled forth statements that spoke to the way that they saw me and the way God saw me. There has never been a time in history where young people hear as many voices telling them who they are and who they are not as they do right now. As I sit here writing this, I am deeply convinced that being a prophet and affirming the gifts God has given to each young person may be the most important thing I can offer young people in my midst.

Dear God, Would you give us the words to share with young people so they may realize they have been wonderfully made in your image and for your purposes. -Amen

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3 Types of Away: What I’ve Learned about Time Off

Expectations, Expectations, Expectations.

Whether I’m doing premarital counseling or sorting out conflict at work or at home, I seem to always come back to expectations. The older I get, the more I realize that I have so many expectations of others without even realizing it. The same can be said of those I work, live and play with. They have expectations of me as well. Some expectations are fair and some are unfair. Regardless, when expectations are not met, I (we) tend to get sour and smelly.

For me, expectations and time away from work go hand in hand. 

Early in our marriage I remember being exhausted and spent after coming back from vacation. I also remember being super frustrated each time we visited family members. I wanted to go see and experience a bunch of new things and my wife wanted to actually stay and visit. It would be fare to say that each member of my family has different expectations when we pack up the car and head out.

shutterstock_113247892So here are the 3 categories I use to manage my expectations in terms of time away.

1. Vacation: this type of time involves my wife and 2 daughters, with the expectation of fun for the whole family. Sometimes it costs a bit of money and sometimes it doesn’t. Our hope is to create some fun memories, laugh a lot and see something new. This is not rest. We always come back exhausted, but grateful.
P.S- I think the idea of “stay-cations” is awesome and a savvy way to have fun.

2. Visiting: the primary expectation here is to spend quality time first and foremost with those we are visiting. Now that we don’t live near any of the grandparents or family, we must be intentional with our visiting time, knowing that time away from work and money can make this difficult. I find visiting more restful than vacation, but when I get urges to just hop in the car and explore by myself, I must remember that spending quality time with those I am visiting is number one. Visiting can be challenging for me because I like to be on the go. One remedy my wife has suggested over the years is that my adventures included the nephews and nieces, creating little outings that are relational and fun.

3. Rest: In my life, this is the endangered and most rare species of time. For us, rest means that our children are not present, our phones and computers are at a distance and generally off. Our expectations for rest include little scheduling, lots of freedom to listen, chat and relax with my spouse. At this stage in our life, rest is difficult in terms of finding sitters for a longer period of time, yet it is the key to our spiritual and emotional health. Right now my wife and I are in Naples, FL resting from and celebrating 10 years of marriage. We figured out how to do it on the cheap and it has been life giving. We actually think our kids benefit from time away from us as well.

In the 5 days away, I have grown in gratitude toward my daughters, my ministry and my wife. Rest has always been a scary concept, but I have slowly come to love not only the concept of rest, but the fruit that comes from resting.

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The Church Needs More Cake and Bubbly.

One of our student ministry staffers has a response to every youth ministry initiative; more cake.
When we brainstorm anything, Scott always says that we need to get a cake. At first I thought the dude was Man-eating-cake
just being a goober until I truly understood what he was saying. The church needs to slow down from our program running and take time to celebrate. Cake-eating allows us to highlight those rites of passage and moments in a teenager’s life. It is a time to pause and thank God for what he has done, is doing and will do.

And if you are no fan of gluten or calories, then you can always celebrate with bubbly.

Several times throughout the year, a group of Young Life leaders gather near Denver to participate in something that I think is vital to ministry.
They champagne_toast1-1gather round with champagne glasses and sparkling cider to make toasts to God for what he has done in the hearts of teenagers and throughout the ministry. 

I. Love. This.

I believe that God is a celebratory God.
There is a time to be serious for sure, but I think celebration in the church IS serious business.

“Eating cake and making toasts to God reminds us that He is still on the move in our midst, something we in the church can often forget in the rapid pace of our schedules. “

In the words of Kool and the Gang, “let us celebrate good times!”