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My Day in Palestine

I’m sitting in a hotel in downtown Jerusalem reflecting on a day that I will never forget.FullSizeRender_1

Can I tell you about it?

First a little context. I am in a land where it is almost impossible to not talk about faith and politics. Two topics that can quickly clear out the cocktail party. I have friends who are pro Israel and those who are pro Palestine. I’ve never been comfortable with these terms, I guess because they are too simplistic for a complex situation.

As I sat with a new friend this week who does great ministry with Christians, Jews, Messianic Jews, Muslims and the non-religious, I loved hearing what he was “pro” or for. Essentially, he was pro human. This is not a cop out or wishy washy leadership. The Way of Jesus is his model, so being “con” to a people group makes little sense to him.

My Day: our tour group had a free day today, so some went to the Holocaust museum here in FullSizeRender_2
Jerusalem while several others rested. I had the chance to go back over the border to Palestine with some incredible men who serve Christ by serving teenagers through Young Life here in the Middle East. They had to sign some papers with government officials to make Young Life a recognized group in Bethlehem. Pretty big event.

Throughout the day I met many Palestinian Christians who touched me in a deep way. They were kind. FullSizeRender
They loved their families, their land and Jesus. While sitting in this home, I totally forgot I was in Palestine. I just felt like I was in any other home (yet this one looked out over the field where the story of Ruth and Boaz took place) The story I kept hearing and feeling throughout the day was that the Palestinian Christians have felt little support from American Christians. A dear woman had tears in her eyes as she told me “the Americans think we are beasts.” I caught a glimpse of this pain. The number of Christ followers in this land dwindles away year by year. Has our support of Israel been to the detriment of the church in Palestine? 

Later in the day we visited a place called House of Hope that ministered to special needs kids who had been abandoned by their families. One blind boy was very eager to sing several of the Christian songs he had learned. My friend Yousef works with Young Life and he comes to have “club” with them twice a month and these beautiful people go to Young Life camp every year called Capernaum.

These are just a few of the events of the day. It was rich.

A young Palestinian man made a comment to our group that really stuck with me. He said that FullSizeRender copyAmericans now come into Palestine very quickly to see stones, but he urges us to spend more time in the future with the living stones to hear even more stories of God’s faithfulness.

I sat with some living stones today in a land of beauty and turmoil.
While some things are still complexities in my mind, others are not.
I ask that you join me in praying for the Shalom and Salaam of Jesus to all nations.

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Youth Ministry: Golf Club, Not Golf Set

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Before youth ministry receives any criticism or praise, I think it is only fair to clarify what youth ministry is and what it is not.
Specifically, what is the primary role and function of a youth group?

The youth ministry at your church is a wonderful golf club (hopefully), but it is not meant to be an entire set of clubs.

Like a 9 iron, youth group has a certain ability to influence teenagers, yet it needs the other clubs to play the whole “game” of discipleship. Many parents rely too heavily on the 9 iron which makes for a pretty frustrating game of golf. I have actually heard parents say that the youth group should not only “turn their son into a Christian”, but also make sure he knows about sex, the danger of pornography, drinking, drugs, dating, sexual diseases, tithing, apologetics and chivalry. Is this too much to ask of a 9 iron? Is this even the function of the 9 iron?

Yet those parents who see the church youth ministry as one of many discipleship experiences or those who use several clubs often have a more holistic journey raising their kids in the faith.

So what are the other clubs in the bag?

Driver- You (parents)
3 Wood- Young Life, FCA
9 Iron- Youth Group
8 Iron-
A Mentor
7 Iron- Corporate Worship
6 Iron-
Bible Study
5 Iron-
Sunday School
4 Iron-
Missions and service experiences
3 Iron- Online resources for specific topics (rightnowmedia)
Sand Wedge- retreats, camps and conferences
Putter- Participate in music, worship band, choir 

So who provides all the clubs?

Good question, if I don’t say so myself. I would say that the local church can provide many of these clubs, but some clubs will be in better shape than others. I believe it is the responsibility of the parents to know what clubs exist and then to help the student decide which club they should “use” at any given time.

If a student is “using” every single club I mentioned at the same time, then they are OVERLY PROGRAMMED in Christian activity, which can be a dangerous bubble. Focus on the few clubs that make the most sense right now and then get out on the course and play.

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What Can You Say To A Teenager?

When I get outside of my bubble, I frequently find myself in conversation with adults who think talking to teenagers is as scary as confused-face2approaching a wolverine. They ask me “what do I say?” or “how do I approach them?” (when you talk about approaching a teenager, it does sound like you are stalking a wolverine..FYI)

There has been a bunch of talk over the years about the words we adults say to teenagers or the words we use to address them. Mark Oestreicher at The Youth Cartel posted a great little blog or rant about some of the words we in youth ministry and the church need to quit saying. MarkO talks about words that make teenagers seem childish, or titles that are unwelcoming in terms of gender and finally he addresses the creepy statement  “we need to go LOVE ON teenagers.” There has been great discussion and Mark brings up some great thoughts.

So what do you say to a teenager?

Here are a few thoughts and bits…

1. Cut ’em From the Herd- even if you are the teenager whisperer, you will have a hard time engaging in a meaningful relationship while they are “herded” up and on their turf. For most humans in general, timing is pretty important when it comes to dialogue. If you make a beeline for Sarah while she is in the middle of her friends at a football game, rest assured you will most likely get the head nod or the quick hug/high five. Many volunteers have good luck talking to teenagers in appropriate places, yet situations where they aren’t distracted by their peers.

2. Act Your Age- it is absolutely painful when adults attempt to learn teenage lingo and then use at as means to be “cool.” No need for trendy language or complicated handshakes. If you look like an uncle/aunt or parent to them, then they probably expect you to act that way. Now this does not mean you are automatically lame, it just means that you aren’t 15, so don’t talk about your swagger. Dress, talk and interact the way that is most natural for you and nobody else. Laughing at yourself can be helpful as well.

3. Delight- when any person with a heartbeat is genuinely delighted in….well….they like it. I have written about this word before, because I love it. Some of the most rebellious teenagers are willing to trust and engage in a conversation when they realize you delight in them….not for how they should be, but for how they are.

4. Show Interest- this sounds like a no brainer..but it is not. Asking questions is a lost art these days. You don’t want to interrogate nor do you want to blabber nervously. Show genuine interest in the things that interest them. Be a learner and not always an advisor when you are in conversation with a teenager.

5. Know When to Fold ’em- sometimes it is best to head ’em up and move ’em out. I remember a girl who was standing with all her friends who I happened to know. I just walked up to say hello and one of them said…”you can leave now!” So I did. And rolled my eyes internally. And pouted in my office.

Teenagers will often feel as awkward as you do in a conversation. Yet I believe each person really has a need to be known and taken seriously, so cracking the code on teenage conversation is of great importance.

I know that a few teenagers are reading this post….so give us adults some pointers. Am I way off?

 

 

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So You Wanna Be A Youth Pastor?

Just about every week I talk to someone who says they want to be a youth minister. There are so many responses to this statement that I would love to share and hear from others as well. This will be another “All Skate” post where I ask some of my ministry friends to share their gut reactions, statements and questions in response to the person who inquires about youth ministry as a vocation.

Let me (Nate), take the first crack at this;

Gut Reaction: That’s rad! Do you know what you are getting into?

Statement: I get the feeling that many people want to lead a youth ministry because they liked their own experience as a teenager in youth ministry. They loved their youth group and their youth leader. This is not bad, nor is it great. I make this statement based off of my gut reaction above. From the periphery, many observers see youth pastors going on trips, teaching, playing guitars and hanging at Starbucks. Don’t get me wrong, these things are fun and life giving for me, but they are only part of the job.

A wise sage once told me that if you love Jesus and want to share that love with students, then you should be a volunteer. If you love Jesus, love students and their parents and the church and creating structures and environments for other adults to love students, then you may want to consider vocational youth ministry. I personally think every follower of Christ is called to youth ministry and most will never receive a penny for their efforts. Yet the small percentage in youth ministry who get a salary realize they must function as a coach not just a player or an architect and not just a builder. A player, builder, volunteer is no less important than a coach, architect or a paid youth pastor. They are just different roles requiring different gifts and wirings.

Questions: What type of volunteering or interning could you be doing now to explore youth ministry on a deeper level? What God given gifts do you have that would serve students and their families? Have those close to you affirmed this gifts you just mentioned?

Full Disclosure: If I come across a bit snarky, it is because I think youth ministry can play such a vital role in supporting parents and students as they journey in faith. Yes it is fun and yes it is serious.
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Mark the Oestreicher- The Youth Cartel
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Gut Reaction: Sweet! Youth ministry is awesome!

Statement: (well, usually I think “sweet.” But there are times when I think “oh, uh, I think you probably have a whole raft of issues you should seek professional help with before you jump into youth ministry.”)

I agree with Nate: a significant portion of college-age people heading into youth ministry are doing so because they had a great youth ministry experience. That’s not a bad reason. Frankly, it was my reason, initially. My youth workers had a huge impact on me, and gave me meaningful responsibility and leadership opportunities (including opportunities to fail) in the context of mentoring. My youth workers pointed out what they saw in me—calling out gifts and strengths, as well as areas I should work on developing. Really, in many ways, I think that’s the question I ask young adults who tell me their thinking of heading into youth ministry: in what ways have you tried it out, and who is mentoring you and helping you identify your calling?

When I was picking a college, youth ministry degrees didn’t exist. But today, there are well over a hundred schools with a youth ministry major or minor. This is good and bad. The ‘bad’ is that youth ministry has proven to be a popular major; so plenty of schools have added majors simply because it will help enrollment. And future youth workers would be better to major in something else, than to attend a school where a youth ministry major simply reinforces a ‘fun and games, drive-by missions, isolate those crazy teens’ approach to youth ministry. BUT, there are some world class youth ministry programs these days, teaching exceptional thinking and practice.

So if it’s a high school student asking me about going into youth ministry, I usually move to a conversation about which schools could really help prepare them for this calling and career.

Questions: The primary question, really, is “why?” I pursue an answer (or answers) to that question from a hopeful and encouraging perspective, usually – because I love that someone would be considering vocational youth ministry. So I’m not asking ‘why’ with a skeptical, cynical set of assumptions.

If the aspiring youth worker is 16 – 20, that ‘why’ question is usually my single line of questioning (other than talking about schools, if they’re still pre-college). I don’t see any great reason to pop the bubble of positivity and excitement they have, and don’t think my ‘here’s what it really looks like’ counter-arguments will be all that helpful at the tail end of middle adolescence. But if I’m talking to someone 21 and over (rough guideline – really this is about maturity and adultness), I’ll also push in a little on their assumptions about what youth ministry looks like in the real world. I meet with too many youth workers in soul-stealing, humanity-diminishing contexts, and want those with a bit more maturity to understand a more complete picture of the youth ministry landscape.
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April Diaz- The Youth Cartel
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Gut Reaction: I couldn’t imagine anything better giving your life to. Let’s grab a cup of coffee with Nate and talk more about that!

Statement: I’ll build off Nate’s wisdom and thought process. And I’d add to the conversation digging into matters of the soul. Some of the unhealthiest people I’ve seen in life are pastors and ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Somewhere along the way they’ve lost their souls. They’re unaware of their pain and how it leaks in leadership, their life stories, their true spiritual giftedness, and their relationship with Jesus. Maybe their souls were never healthy to begin with, but the crucible of ministry has a way of bring that to light.

I was highly unprepared for the spiritual intensity full-time ministry would bring with it. The spiritual warfare, increased spiritual activity, pressures from the church, and every other kind of stress are really intense in Jesus-kinds-of-work. For example, for years I was told I needed to build a prayer team for my family, my leadership, and myself. It wasn’t until about 14 years into ministry when I finally heeded this recommendation, and I cannot begin to describe how different my soul’s health and ministry effectiveness is. Something different happens when a shield of protection cover your ministry.

Finally, I’d want to talk about how much work you’ve done in your life when it comes to dealing with your junk, your pain, your brokenness. Yes, we are all a work in progress, but you can only claim that if you work on progressing into your fullest self. Have you ever gone to therapy? (I think every pastor needs to have a therapist available to them.) Do you have a spiritual director or coach? What kind of mentors do you have in place for your development? What does the accountability structure look like in your life? We’ve all seen far too many leaders fall or burn out. It doesn’t have to be like this. So, what measures are you taking for your health and wholeness?

Questions: “What’s the benefit if you gain the whole world and lose your soul?” (Mark 8:36) How is Jesus becoming greater and you’re becoming less show up in your leadership (John 3:30)?
What does a rich and satisfying life look like for you (John 10:10)?

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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?