Posts Tagged ‘youth ministry’


In so many areas of life/culture, groups of people are divided and set against each other.  By race, understandings, generations, cultures, experiences, etc.  The Church is always to be the place that no matter what your defining characteristics – we are ONE in Christ.  No matter what definitions the world gives you, the foundational characteristic of “Beloved by God, in need of His Grace” is enough to build on for the Kingdom.

Even in the midst of this, there are understandings that improve our ability to serve and work and celebrate life together as one body.  Overloading our accounts and pockets with grace, love, humility, and inviting the Holy Spirit to enable us to live/love like Christ are great places to start.

For years now, our culture seems to LOVE age-specific ministries. It’s great developmentally to focus on Jesus and life experiences in ways that are appropriate and easily assimilated into knowledge & life.  The problem is when we make these the primary focus of doing church well.  We have great kids’ programs for earning important badges.  Next, we have a youth group experience with mountain tops and focusing this highly emotional season of life on Jesus.  Next, we have students who enjoyed youth group so much – they want a similar experience with their peers as “College Age Ministry”.  When that goes well, it seems successful and natural to provide a “Young Adult Ministry”.  At some nebulous point after significant life events like owning a home, moving, getting married, etc…a person might simply quietly acquiesce into a “Regular Adult Class”, but not without first attempting a “(age range) Group”.

Like I said – some of this desire is good, and should be harnessed toward life transformation.  But some of this simply provides a false experience of a Biblically diverse community made from several generations contributing to life together in the name of Jesus.  Church is meant to be inter-generational, not just multi-generational.  It’s not enough to say, “Wow, our church has a lot of (desirable age group here)!”  Is that group integrated & connected with the other generations, self-identifying as a contributing and valued part of the whole?

Thankfully, many have been realizing this – and some never forgot it.  The warning I’ve heard in their writings have been – don’t assume the Love of Jesus will simply wash away the varied (and beautifully important) differences each generation brings to the table.  So in closing, I’ll include a chart here that I created after reading some articles/books on the topic.  I found it an interesting study, as an artist might appreciate the palate of colors available before beginning a new painting technique… (although I’m more of the artists’ admirer, as Jesus holds the brush) ( (Side note: The authors often indicated that any discussion on generational descriptions is an exercise in Fiction. Of course, we cannot say that all (generation) are like this. But as they’ve studied, certain characteristics seemed common, and worth noting.)




Sunlight breaks through hotel window.
A building crescendo toward a week to come.IMG_0807

Youth & beyond, a pond teeming
With life, some life anew.
So few moments
but filled with
Something esoteric to this umwelt.
As felt need meets prayers from home
That intercede
For transformation.

For some, simply vacation
But even this offers to displace
The patterns and anxieties normally served
God uses such a swerve
Even as they work up the nerve to speak.

And peek through clasped hands
A glance at a future yet undecided
Confided only in quietest of moments,
After noises fade, we find He has made

New Creation.

And I get to watch them take
first wobbly steps.
Get to speak Hope.

Someday they will run and dance.

And I will too.


Flight Check…

When I was in High School, I was able to attend “NYC 99” with the Nazarene Church in Toronto, Canada. It was pretty awesome. There were humbling times where a young deaf girl taught me how to play “Simon Says”, & blessed times where I met the woman I would eventually marry (even gave her a rose, only to realize it was her way after we began dating in college!).

In 2003 I was able to join with the worship team of NYC 03 in Texas, to lead over 10,000 teens in worship with Bob Diehm & team. I was just beginning married life after college, and I remember how awesome it was to help lead so many young people into moments of worship and surrender.

Fast forward a few more years, over a decade of youth ministry in the Free Methodist FMYC2017_logo_cChurch and this week I’m flying to Colorado to meet with other FM leaders to plan our next national youth gathering (FMYC) later this July. Teens from all over the US will gather at CSU in Fort Collins, and participate in a short term community life of young worshipers.

I know it can be done wrong. Neuro-chemistry tells me that experiences during our time together will raise levels of dopamine & oxytocin to trigger feelings of addiction and relational bonding. That can be unhealthy, if we’re not pointing such experiences to the realities and Spirit of God.

But if we release all our preparation and direct our desires into the powerful use of the Kingdom – all the neuro-chemistry research could never endeavor to explain or comprehend the ways these moments can be used by God. To build friendships and a familial bond that stretches far beyond superficial topics our young people may stick to on a regular basis. To connect students with a God who wants not only to Love them – but wants to love their family/friends/neighborhood/enemies through them.

As I look at my own experience of having gone through a youth ministry, I’m reminded these things are not finding their “end” in the teens who attend. Our goal is not to build successful events for teens to attend and enjoy. Our “end goal” is seen decades later, as these moments have simply become milestones on a much larger journey of God’s children growing and serving God in their context. As they are transformed, to continue becoming those through whom transformational love of Jesus arrives and is shared/proclaimed.

May we become as relentless as our God’s Love, when we hope, pray, and work toward the changes that can come as we offer who we are to His mission of redemption for all humanity and creation…



image116I remember working at Youth Haven Ranch as a teenager.  Waking early to shower, and walking on my own to the giant red barn, a new addition to the campground since I’d attended as a camper.  The dew on the grass competing with the beauty of the steam rising out over the field in the distance.  The birds calling out to welcome anyone willing to rise early enough to wish them good morning.  Coffee was not yet in the vocabulary of my palette.

With difficulties at home, it meant the world to have the confidence of Kyle, Mike, Bob, Dave, Joe, Scott and the others.  These men who were leaders of the camp, placed me in oversight of the “Petting Farm” for the entire summer of 1998.  Each morning I’d rise early to great the midwestern Michigan beauty that exists as an island between streams of somewhere in the sprawling farmland, otherwise known as a “campground”.  I, neither “city kid” nor “country boy”, but rather a conglomerate of “raised by church-going single mother” and “growing up on a highway”, would open up the barn every morning.

Thomas Merton echoed the Psalmists who spoke of all creation having special knowledge of God, and an awareness of the divine.  The personified versions of these animals knew not only God, but could have significant discourse with me on passages of scripture, drama from home, or the latest girl counselor I might be crushing on that summer.  Norma, the cow, was particularly wise and would share her insight with me – providing I allowed her to escape to the grassy fields before Jack – the lone donkey.  As you might expect, he was little help anyways, always laughing when I’d ask his opinion.

The exuberance each animal met the dawn with, running out of their stalls to stretch, run, and snack, was equaled each week by new sets of young people – each eager to pretend for a week – that life was simple.  It was a campground for economically and socially disenfranchised kids.  Shedding the fear, the instability, and the harsh climates of home – by the 3rd day most kids understood they were safe and loved here.  The animals knew the same as I entered the barn each morning, to care for their stall and feed them.

I attempted to begin most mornings, once the animals had been let out and immediate needs cared for, soaking in the silence of the big red barn.  Breathing slow at the start of the day, I would go over the schedule of what groups would visit, and read some of the scripture from a recent message at the chapel times.   I was experiencing for an entire summer, what many of the children there tasted for only a week – the desirable simplicity of life.   To understand sabbath was less a day of the week, and more an invitation to rest and be content.

I want my kids to know that contentedness.  Shoot, I want the world to know that contentedness.  In my best moments today – I have it.  The contentment Mary and Joseph felt when they laid their firstborn son in an animal food-trough, surrounded by the sights and smells of the barn.  The breathing slow.  Not knowing what tomorrow might look like, but holding enough in this moment to outweigh any anxiety that may threaten to surface.

There is so much to hold in this moment.  You are beloved.  You are enough.  You are capable.  You are able to contribute to the lives of others.   Your smile can be a candle-light in the dark day of another.

There may be weeds growing – but there is so much wheat.

May you discover how it grows even today.


I’m giving this one up. (a youth ministry post)

There are a lot of ideas and programs I come across as a youth pastor.  Some of them inspire me, some of them challenge me, and many of them don’t interest me.  But some of them are so incredibly good that I want to take a time set aside with our youth group and gather as many teenagers as I can around it.  I want to infuse so much about who we are, and what we’re doing with that resource, and enjoy the fruit of what can happen from it.

But not this time.

This time I’ve found a resource that is too great for me to shape a youth ministry night around.  Something that you should be upset if I stole these moments from your family.  It comes from what you might consider a surprising source…me being a 32 year old cynical yet starry-eyed youth pastor.

That source?  Billy Graham.

In advance of what airs tomorrow night (Thursday, November 7th, 2014) as “My Hope America“, Graham has pre-released several smaller programs that present invitations to Christ.  I’ve only watched one, so it’s the one I’m recommending today.  But I’m sure there’s great content in many of the other programs, and the primary show being aired tomorrow evening.moment

My challenge to you as a parent is this:  If you’ve got kids….or grandkids….aged 11 or 12 or above??  Watch this together.  Watch it first yourself, and then think of what questions God might want you to ask, to connect to their hearts.  It’s a short program…only about 24 minutes.  Also plan on having at least a half hour afterward to talk about each of the 3 characters, and close in prayer together as a family.

This short video, combined with you communicating how important this moment is to your family…can be used by God to do something very important.  Both in connecting your heart with the hearts of your children, and especially connecting the heart of your family to the heart of God.

Simply put: This is an amazing youth group moment that I’m giving up – because I believe it was meant to be even more amazing in YOUR home.  Please, please please…..take it.  Whether you think your kids are doing fine….or you and your family have nothing to do with God….these are still important conversations to have.

“But what about the kids in our youth group without parents who will do this?”  I’m glad you asked.  As you put this night together, ask your kids/teens if they have friends who they’d want to invite to watch a short message from God with.  Or ask your youth pastor if there are any teens who’d benefit from coming to watch this with your familiy….I’ll bet they could offer a suggestion or two.

So there’s your assignment.  You can stream the video live from here.  Or you can download it quickly and easily and watch on your own/burn to DVD.  (Or ask your youth pastor to give it to you on DVD…I think he’s making a few copies…)

asking for saints.

“Daddy, “dead” means “died”.”  My 4 year old was talking to me from the back seat of our mini-van.  She’d just internalized a basic truth about the end of life, and was repeating it back to me.  She said it confidently, but still with a slight question mark waiting for me to confirm what she’d said.  So why was our 4 year old talking to me about such a weighty topic?

The girls had helped me get the candles out for youth group this past week.  They asked me what it was all for, and I told them I’d explain after evening services.  So as we gathered in the minivan after church and kids programming, I explained.

“Tonight I invited the teenagers to come and light a candle.  They would each light a candle for someone they wanted to remember, who had died and gone to be with Jesus.  We talked about the people we loved, who were not with us anymore because they were with God now.”

It’s true.  For our monthly scheduled “prayer experiment” this month, I offered our teens almost an entire night where we gathered chairs in a circle, and just remembered together.  Some chose to remain quiet, but obviously reflecting on someone meaningful.  Others may have been bored off their rockers, but at least they were respectful of the moment.  But several chose to step out and light a candle, and share with us a memory of someone who’d made an impact on their life.  I’d been nervous and not known what to expect…but felt God was smiling on the idea.  (probably even gave it)  We thanked God for these people, and closed in prayer that someday, someone might remember us as having made an impact on their life for God.

The good news is…I was way ahead of schedule.  We’ve got an “All Hallows Eve” party next week with pumpkin carving and what-not.   So you’ve still got plenty of time to ask the people/youth group/children in your life:  “Who is someone you’d like to remember, who’s gone to be with God?”

For my kids….it was Grandpa Nicol.  They knew his smiles, his laugh, and how much he loved baseball.  Then, they went through a short list of relatives they haven’t seen in a while….and I confirmed they weren’t dead yet. 🙂  Here are a few words that might make you thankful for someone…

gym night.

I have a confession to make – I’m a youth pastor who hasn’t been a big fan of “Gym Night”. The one night each month where I don’t get to talk in depth about scriptures, or spend time in small group conversation, or lead teens in extended moments of prayer.  The purpose is plain: invite your friends, reach out relationally, play together.

But God’s been reminding me of some important aspects of what “Gym Night” can offer.  In a world that increasingly treats our bodies as objects that we’re meant to/encouraged to shape and mold as we see fit.  Where pursuits of beauty and athletic ability make any pain and sacrifice worth the “gain”.  Where we’re encouraged to prove we’re not aging, and our young people are encouraged to prove they can ______ better than ________.bowling

There are very few, if any, places our young people (or older people) can go these days to simply have fun.  Places where it’s safe to fail, and you’re embraced as one who is beloved.  Youth group gym nights at their best can be a safe place for play to happen.  Often providing games/experiences that are either too unique or goofy for anyone to brag about their innate or developed skill at them.  (Sure, they’ll still try to brag they’re the best at smacking your feet with a pool noodle….but just stare at them and smile for a while….they’ll come down from the pedestal.)

In his book “Ethics of Hope”, Jurgen Moltmann reminds us: “People who feel that they are accepted and loved can also accept themselves and their bodies as they are, and as they become as time goes on.  The experience of the divine love makes the believer not only ‘just’ but also beautiful……The incarnation of God has really already given us a counterimage to the modern ‘human being as machine’ and to the artificial products of ‘performance’ and ‘beauty’.  God became human so that we might turn from being proud and unhappy gods into true human beings.”

This hits home also as a parent, watching my daughters learn to play games and dress-up.  They’re so talented and beautiful.  But not because they can do an amazing “grande jete'” or because they share a rich inheritence of physical beauty from their mother. (although both are true)  They are beautiful and valuable because they are loved by God.  To pursue beauty or value from any other source is to participate in a reality we don’t believe exists.  An economy already proven bankrupt in the broken and ugly crucified Christ.

So if you come to one of my gym nights, you’ll probably find more pool noodles, balloons, and nasty foods than basketballs.  If you visit my home you’ll probably find my daughters dressing up like Fancy Nancy more than Barbie.  And if you stick around either, you’ll find people who are learning how to exist genuinely as those Christ has called His “Beloved”…

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