Throwing Out the Template

Think creativity and new!
Think creativity and new!

What would happen if we started over every time we came to a new ministry event?  What if we looked at each new event as a fresh start, a clean slate?  What if instead of laziness and routine we found ourselves in a creative and cutting edge place?  Maybe there needs to be more done than just changing the dates on a flyer in order to remain fresh and moving in ministry.   People need creative thinkers right now who are willing to step into each event with fresh eyes.  I am not saying that we can’t use some of the same stuff we have already created.  What I am saying is that each event needs to be put together with intention beyond just getting it done and over with.  We need vision for true impact on lives for eternity.  With that in mind, I offer three indicators that it is time to start throwing out some templates in your ministry.

You routinely have missed errors because of the date

If you know what I am talking about, then you need to throw out the template.  These are those times when you come to a meeting or some other event and you realize that the printed materials have the wrong date because all you did was print out last year’s materials with a slight change.  I know creating something new can feel daunting, but give it a try.

Creativity is lost

If you have not had a creative idea in years, it is time to throw out the template and to start brainstorming again.  Creativity will only come with time and collaboration.  I know the best events are those that are planned over a period of time with many people.  The worst ones are those thrown together at the last minute.  We need to dream again in the church and use the talented people right there!

You don’t know why this program is going on

We are all busy enough without adding programs that just fill time.  This can be a difficult place to be because the programs might be a lot of fun.  Over time people get very comfortable in their routines.  Still, that is not a valid reason when it comes to deciding what is done and when.  If you don’t know why a program exists, it is time to take a step back and consider what direction you need to be heading.  Sometimes the best thing that can happen is to stop a program.  When you do that, the things that are important become better because more time is invested in doing those things well.

I know that ministry planning is difficult, but we do want to leverage the influence we have in order to make the most impact.  I believe there are many creative ideas out there that would help us reach our communities for Jesus.  It is time to ask the question: “why”  and be willing to throw some programs out in order to do what God is calling.  Have you asked God in a while to clear the clutter in your ministry?  Have you looked at your calendar with fresh eyes?  Have you inquired of the people serving as to their level of energy and commitment?  When we evaluate, we  learn and the church is better for it.

Do you have any methods or tools you use to keep things fresh in your ministry or life?  

Time to Lead Not to Excuse

time to lead
time to lead

In about a month I am taking a group of 16 teenagers on a trip to St. Louis for a conference.  There is so much that goes into trips like this that it is hard to believe it is actually that close.  As with any retreat, there are always real concerns that I have for these events.  This conference brings in something like 7,000 high school students to one location which makes it quite dynamic.  This is enough to scare most people from coming within 100 miles of the city due to the many perceptions of high school groups. I know that there have been instances of groups getting into trouble and even adults encouraging it.   I don’t believe it has to be that way if adults are proactive and truly acting like adults.

There was a story in the news this week of 100 students ejected from a plane while on some school trip.  They would not comply with flight crew instructions and were kicked off.  The school administrator said, “it does not appear that the action by the flight crew was justified.”  Really?  So we are to believe that they just kick people off the plane because they don’t like them?  I find it to be discouraging that someone working alongside teenagers would not be able to help them see the need to comply with instructions.  I find it even more disturbing that they did not respond to directions.  That mean old airline and its rules I guess.

I realize that there will always be people who push the limits a bit.  I just let my group know in advance that there are always issues with some groups and that our group will not be that group.  Taking students on a trip is always a risk.  My policy is to let them know right away that they are expected to respect other people and honor Christ in their interactions with people.  If they can’t do that, then they can go home at their parent’s expense.   I don’t know about you, but if I had called my mom and told her I needed to come home while on a trip like this I would have been scared for my life.  There are consequences for actions and the sooner people realize that the better off they will be.   Adults need to wake up and stop making excuses for their poor leadership.  Teenagers are more than able to behave appropriately; they are not the out of control mass of humanity so many people believe.  They are people who desire to be challenged and will respect boundaries like anyone else. There is no reason to make a scene or blame an airline for having rules.  The rules are not the problem here.

I guess my concern is that we are getting too affirming of disrespectful behavior.  Our children deserve higher standards than that and will thank us for it later.  It is time to lead not excuse.

If leadership is influence, we need some real leadership.

leadership“Everything rises and falls on leadership”  This quote from John Maxwell has a poignant ring to it today.  I say that because there seems to be such a lack of leadership on display that it is astounding.  Leadership has nothing to do with a position; it has everything to do with integrity of heart.  Honesty cannot be separated from a true leader.  Leadership is not about passing blame or deflecting criticism.  Leaders know what they are doing and why. Leaders accept responsibility when they need to and never throw others under the bus to do it.  I know as a ministry leader it is important to lead with grace and intention.  What I mean is that when there are issues that come up, I take the heat and train my leaders in how we could do that better.  It means that I, as the leader, need to know what is going on with those directly under me and stay involved in the process.   We need leadership, not arrogance.

“People emulate what they see modeled.”  The point being that the best way to develop leaders is to model what the developing leaders are to become.  Jesus did this everywhere He went with His disciples.  One of the more vivid examples comes in John 13 when Jesus washes His disciples’ feet.  It says, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.”  (John 13:3)  The next statement is incredible.  It says, “so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.”  (John 13:4)  The way that is worded states that as a result of His position and authority, the natural place for Him to be was serving.  Of course, this was a vivid example for His disciples, who were perplexed by this.  Jesus tells them, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.”  (John 13:14)  He wants them to continue His ministry by doing for others what He has done for them.  Danny Thomas says, “ Success in life has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself.  It is what you do for others.”  I agree.   This is what Jesus modeled in His ministry.

Leaders
People emulate what they see modeled.

My concern is that those in positions of leadership today are not modeling true leadership.  This is happening all over the place in government and in business.  The prevailing mindset places the emphasis on the position held and not on the people they are serving.  I believe this is a fatal flaw in any leadership.  As soon as the leader loses sight of the people, they push people away.  Pride is no friend to someone who has a position of power and it will take people down.  At the same time, they are passing this mindset on to others.  None of the influence on potential leaders by current leaders will have any lasting impact without the context of relational, shepherding, leadership. This was true with Jesus’  disciples as they left everything they had to follow Jesus.  Of course, in the process they gained a lot of insight from that personal relationship with Him.  One example of this is Luke 11, where Jesus is praying and one of the disciples ask to be taught to pray.  There was a relational context here that allowed Jesus to teach them and also correct them when they were being foolish.

Christian leaders are called to a different way of life and leading.  It is leadership that shepherds people rather than forces them into some standardized scale.  It is leadership that values the people over the process.  It is not about becoming the greatest, but becoming the least, and serving the most.  This kind of leadership grows others and causes the world to stand up and notice.  All glory, then, goes to God, where it belongs.

It is not what you are doing – It is why you are doing it.

Why do we do what we do?
Why do we do what we do?

Why do you do what you do, or serve where you serve?  I don’t know that we ask this question enough in our lives.  There are people who are very willing to serve and will then serve in any available spot.  They feel fulfilled, but their answer to this question doesn’t lead to anything very deep.  They serve because there was a need.  I know for those who serve in the ever-changing landscape of youth ministry, serving might have started with a real calling to it only to have that calling move to a prison sentence over the years.  That is not a healthy place to be.  In fact, it is not a Biblical place to be.

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be, not greedy or money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrust to you, but being examples to the flock.” – 1 Peter 5:2-3

Do you notice why this is such an important question?  Because as a shepherd you are not entrusted to watch over your own sheep but God’s flock.  This very concept gives me pause as I plan for events because I want to do the very best I can to be a shepherd to God’s flock.  This is a place He has placed me and I know that I need to take that seriously.

I love the next part too because it is the exit out of a ministry that so many people need.  The motive for serving is not our of obligation, but rather because you are willing.  In other words, God calls and you respond to it.  It is completely His work.  I love this because so much of what is done in churches, or non-profits, revolves around volunteers.  I know there are many people who never help at all, but I also know that there are many people who should serve in areas they might not be now simply because they see a need a want to fill it.  It is a nice gesture, but if we all pay attention to our passions, gifts, and God’s calling in our lives, we can then respond to what He is asking us to do with the willingness God desires.

Notice also the motivation is not out of some sort of power or money grab of some sort.  It is not about being upfront.  It is about being an example to those who look to your leadership.  They are watching and looking for some direction. Don’t waste it.

Let’s translate this into the workplace now.  If you have a job, there is a reason why you have landed there.  Is it because you needed money and it was the only job?  Is it because you have a sense of joy, purpose, passion, or calling in what you do?  There are times when we need to be in that first category for sure.  If you need to supply for your family and there is only one job available at the moment, by all means take that.  I have been there.  But it would seem to me that there cannot be a sense of satisfaction in that until we find ourselves in a place where our gifts, passions and purpose is being utilized.  That could be working on a line in a factory as easily as it could be some big executive. The point is not what you are doing but why you are doing it.

How about at home?  Why do you live where you do?  Why do you buy the things you do?  Why do you have the friends you do?  Is it because the place you are at now was the easiest place to end up?   Again, I am not saying that anything you are doing is wrong.  What I am saying is that we ought to actually think about why we spend time doing what we do.  It matters.  Our lives are not just a bunch of random events thrown together, but an opportunity to make a difference with the time and resources you have.

My oldest son came home with a book order form a month ago.  He had taken the time to circle all of the books he wanted to buy and was happy to show it to us.  I looked through it with him and saw the prices and told him that we did not need to buy those things from that book form.  We could buy them from other places and save money in the process.  I also told him that he did not have any gift money left to spent and that we were not buying him books at that time.  He was not happy and told me that we were “wasting the book form.”  I was not wasting anything.  Could I have purchased a book for him?  Sure.  Was I really wasting the form?  No.  The reason is because I was not willing to spend the money there and I did not feel as though I must do that out of some obligation.

We don’t have throw-away dollars anymore than we have throw-away time.

What is your passion?  How are you living it out? Do you agree with the phrase: The point is not what you are doing but why you are doing it? 

Throw Out The Box

throw the box away
throw the box away

One of the most annoying things heard in ministry is: “this is what we have done in the past.”  There is something to be said about history and how things have been done.  There is also something to be said about thinking about how things ought to be done over how things have always been done.  Rather than simply taking the template from the prior year and just changing the date, what if ministry was about not only thinking outside of the box, but rather throwing away the box entirely?

When I was first starting in ministry I asked these questions often.  At the time all I heard was “we like the way it has always been.”  I know that change is hard for people, but what happened to dreaming?  What happened to thinking about how we can better do what God has called us to do?  Here are a few questions I am asking this year as we look at our church’s ministries after our building burned down.  I encourage you to consider the same for whatever you are involved in- ministry or just life in general.

Why do we do this? 

This seems simple and straightforward.  In my expeirence, this question gets easily overlooked in the deisre to simply replicate what has always been done.  It is the same concept I have found with some people who have a desire to go into youth ministry.  They have had a good experience in youth group and now want to continue that.  The problem is that the desire only lasts until the first angry parent calls. This question brings out purpose.  What is the purpose and is it the right purpose?

Where have we gotten lazy?

Somewhere along the way people may  have gotten a little too comfortable in the program.   It becomes easy just to let the curriculum writers do all the work or to throw together some mediocre activity that you have loved to do.  This works great if the goal is simply to fill time.  But what if it is life change we are after?   That probably needs more thought and prayer than just taking an old lesson and changing the date.   It involves reading the Bible and praying for your students.  It involves considering how to get the people engaged in the lesson so that the lesson sticks.  This is somewhat of a gut check and is essential to throwing away the box.

Are we using resources properly? 

Large programs might be fun, but they sure do take a lot of resources to pull off.  I am not saying I am against programs.  What I am saying is that we do not need to spin our wheels to keep something going that isn’t working or maybe is too vague in its focus.  We can throw a lot of time and money into anything and make it happen.  Throwing away the box asks us to consider how things are being used and wondering what the actual results are.

What is God calling us to do, as difficult as it might seem? 

I know that changes are hard and new ideas come with a lot of anxiety.  God might be calling you do do something completely different in your community.  What if it seemed difficult because it was really difficult?  Does that eliminate it from the possibilities?  If something is difficult that does not necessarily make it the wrong idea.  It does make us go to our knees in prayer, which is something we should be doing anyway.

God is bigger than your box anyway
God is bigger than your box anyway

What do we need to let go of? 

Even the most sacred of programs likely need to end at some point.  These programs fulfilled the purposes of God for a specific time.  This is something to be celebrated   It is possible that something just needs to be let go of because it is just not where God has you right now.  I know that I cannot do everything.  Instead I realize that I need to do what I am called to do and nothing more.  It might mean that things are dropped.  But the benefit of that is that we are able to focus more energy on that area we are supposed to be focused on and we become more effective as a result.

It might be time to forget about the box and just dream a little.  God is bigger than your box anyway.

My School Bus Youth Ministry – The Unexpected

IMG_2086Most days of our life follow a fairly predictable pattern.  I know that doesn’t mean that every day is the same.  I get that.  I work with teenagers and have children of my own.  Within the realm that we work in is somewhat of a predictable day.  One afternoon I arrived at the elementary school with my school bus to a normal scene.  As I sat there,  a car approached and stopped.  This car was  being chased by a police car.  Well, that is interesting.  The car came into the school parking lot and stopped.  The police got out and drew their weapons.  I had a front row seat to my very own episode of “Cops.”  I suddenly realized that in just a few minutes they were going to let the school kids out of the school.  There was a potentially dangerous situation in the making.  We quickly alerted the school and they kept the kids until the situation was resolved. There are often no well-defined processes for what you should do in situations like that.  You need to be ready to act in the unexpected.

Youth ministry is no different.  I have had those phone calls when someone in the community has committed suicide or someone’s family is having serious problems.  The question that I ask God is: “What is my response to this?”  Ministry doesn’t always happen in the predictable   Sometimes the most meaningful ministry you can have is in those unexpected moments.  It is when God speaks through you  words of hope to someone who needs it and is often ready to listen.

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This is part of The Sunday Series “My School Bus Youth Ministry.”  If you missed others, check out The Sunday Series tab above.  

Pride and Humility- Yes, they matter!

Don’t vote for these people

If you are reading this in the United States, congratulations you have made it to election day.   It seems like it takes forever for it to get here.  We endure hours of debates, ads, more debates, more ads, phone calls and knocks on the door.  This is done in an effort to get us out to vote and of course it matters.  I find it to be  truly amazing that we get a say in our government.  There are many countries that don’t get that right.  It is something we need not take lightly.

You know what excites me even more is that God is in control of it all.  We know we can trust Him! Somehow imperfect people, with ideas that are all over the place, are used by God for His purposes.  They might not even realize it, but God has allowed them to serve.  Yet, how many people even acknowledge it?  The human heart is very prideful.  Scripture gives us at  look at the difference in leadership.  When David was appointed king, he was humbled that he would be chosen and he praised God.  He was a great king and had a legacy as a man after God’s own heart.  Conversely, King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4, looked out at the kingdom with pride.  He was so impressed with himself that God humbled him, making him eat with the animals.  Sure he got the message, but it took a little more time. Humility matters!  Somewhere along the way we have lost humility as a value in politics and life in general.  It starts young with the “my do it” approach.

If you want to see an example of a leader who is actually humble, look at Jesus Christ.

 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,  being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself  by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! – Philippians 2:6-8

That is incredible!  Jesus became low for a time and was exalted forever!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name, – Philippians 2:9

In an instant God did what mankind had been trying to do for years!  He had reconciled His people to Himself.   It was not cheap, but it was worth it.

Today, as in every other day, we look to Jesus Christ.  He is the only Savior and He is the only one worth following wholeheartedly.