convention evals
Wednesday October 26th 2005, 11:31 am
Filed under: youth ministry, youth specialties

yesterday, i sat in my office for an hour or more and read through the 1000+ evaluations we got from the sacramento youth workers convention. somewhere along the line, i started noting the comments that made me laugh out loud (at least a chuckle). if it only made me smile, i didn’t write it down.

no, these weren’t all from the same person…

what would you like to see added to the convention? the bible

what are some of your comments about the week? outlets weren’t covered - very dangerous for children

what would you like to see added to the convention? where was the techno music?

some comments about the week? need to back off on the volume for Lost And Found to offset their pitch

who is someone you would like to speak at a future general session? bono

who is someone you would like to speak at a future general session? mel gibson, tom cruise, the pope, jim cavizel, johnny depp, kevin turner (colorado christian university youth ministry prof). [um, one of these things is not like the other]

who is someone you would like to speak at a future general session? burt reynolds (if he gets saved)

random comment: what’s the etymology of “jacked”? tic shouldn’t say jesus was “jacking” with them…

who is someone you would like to speak at a future general session? laura bush

what would you like to see added to the convention? a woodworking shop or something where people can use their hands or something

dinner conversation last night
Wednesday October 26th 2005, 11:27 am
Filed under: personal

it was a cold day in san diego (though max — 7 years-old — and i had a great time on his first time to a golf course). so soup was the right choice for dinner. liesl was eating corn chowder; jeannie and i, butternut squash soup; max, chicken noodle.

liesl and i were both adding grated cheese to our soup, and putting in a lot.

jeannie: neither of you know the meaning of the word moderation.
liesl: what’s moderation?
jeannie: see?

made me laugh so hard, butternut squash soup almost came out my nose.

eats, shoots & leaves
Tuesday October 25th 2005, 1:07 pm
Filed under: books

a panda walks into a cafe. he orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

“why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. the panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“i’m a panda,” he says, at the door. “look it up.”

the waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

panda. large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to china. eats, shoots and leaves.”

i read lynne truss’s this past weekend (subtitle: the zero tolerance approach to punctuation). never in my life would i have imagined it would be so much fun to read a book about punctuation (and learn a bunch in the process!).

i’m no grammarian. karla yaconelli loves catching me in an email slip up, like using “their” instead of “they’re”. frankly, that kind of stuff totally bugs me too — i just get sloppy in emails sometimes. i will say, i’m more of a stickler for punctuation than i am for grammar. it drives me up a wall when i see misplaced apostrophes. emails with no punctuation other than elipses (…and dozens of them…) tempt me to locate the sender and personally smack him around a bit, all in the best interest of society.

not that i’m error-free! please! everyone is allowed punctuation errors. it’s the consistent — or clearly clueless (even if it’s a single useage) — punctuation error that causes me to grind my teeth, and, as my irish friends say (as does author lynne truss, once in the book): leads me to go a bit argy-bargy.

on a positive note: i really like good and creative punctuation. astute readers of my blog will know i have a fondness for colons, semi-colons and dashes. i have to be careful not to overuse them (a stern warning in the book). but it would really be a shame if we lost these beautiful little bits of our punctuation arsenal.

a favorite paragraph:

it’s tough being a stickler for punctuation these days. one almost dare not get up in the mornings. true, one occaisionally hears a marvellous punctuation-fan joke about a panda who “eats, shoots and leaves”, but in general the stickler’s exquisite sensibilities are assaulted from all sides, causing feelings of panic and isolation. a sign at a health club will announce, “i’ts party time, on saturday 24th may we are have a disco/party night for free, it will be a ticket only evening.” advertisements offer decorative services to “wall’s — ceiling’s — door’s ect”. meanwhile a newspaper placard announces “FAN’S FURY AT STADIUM INQUIRY”, which sounds quite interesting until you look inside the paper and discover that the story concerns a quite large mob of fans, actually — not just the lone hopping-mad fan so promisingly indicated by the punctuation.

on becoming an icon
Tuesday October 25th 2005, 11:08 am
Filed under: thinking...

rosa parks died yesterday (news story here). she was such a clear example of the ordinary becoming an icon. many times, throughout the rest of her life, rosa parks would be asked, “what motivated you to sit down on that bus?” interviewers always assumed she would provide an answer about how she wanted to start the civil rights movement or that she wouldn’t tolerate any more bigotry and racial inequality. but her answer was, “my feet were tired.” rosa parks ran out of steam, and it turned her into a flashpoint, a hero, a tipping point that changed our nation. how does someone who’s just tired and needs to sit down on a bus (in a way that was illegal, of course) become an icon?

an icon is something or someone that becomes an image of, or represents, something else — usually something bigger. the cross represents so much more to us christ-followers than the literal execution device used on jesus.

human icons, i think, are particularly interesting. no one can make herself into an icon. icon status is something that happens in the collective conscious of a group of people. they don’t have to be as universally known or adopted as rosa parks (even her icon status would mean something very different to an african-american than it would to most sympathetic anglos, and even more different to some, less-sypathetic anglos).

this is particularly interesting to me this week, as this coming sunday is the two-year anniversary of mike yaconelli’s death. obviously, mike never got even close to the broad cultural awareness of rosa parks’ story. but for those of us who know him (personally, or even, through hearing him speak or reading his books), mike stood for stuff that few seemed willing to stand for; mike said things few seemed to be willing to say; and the whole while, we could tell that mike was just one of us — he had tired feet just like us. no one would have expected mike to propose a purpose-driven nation, or be asked to meet with the president (or even bono), or take over the presidency of a college (ha!). but his combination of penetrating message and broken normalcy have made him somewhat of an icon for those of us who knew him. seeing a photo of yac brings back more than memories of fun stories (though it has that effect also). seeing a photo of yac, for me, brings up that whole embodiment of brokenness and truth and humor and passion and frustration and eagerness. and childlikeness.

worst church junk idea of the month
Monday October 24th 2005, 8:33 pm
Filed under: faith, church

some days i’m just embarassed by, well, things like this

yes, it looks like a joke. no, it is not.

and the marketing copy: just toss your old cap habit, pop on the divine iBelieve and rejoice!

back in the day, this would have won the wittenburg door “green weenie” award, i Believe.

finally, a kilt photo
Monday October 24th 2005, 12:12 am
Filed under: personal

the man-skirt many have asked for this; but i have still not learned to upload personal photos to my blog (sorry, more important things in life for me, i guess!). but, thanks to jeff and his splendidly mundane life blog photos of the pittsburgh convention (the password is: photo), i can now post one (i do know how to link to a photo somewhere on the web). manliness, be thyself now visually defined.

blog recommendation of the month
Saturday October 22nd 2005, 7:50 pm
Filed under: faith, blogs

first of all — when i say things like “bad church idea of the month” or “blog recommendation of the month”, don’t take me literally. don’t confine me to your literal interpretation of the calendar, man!

but seriously.

i just reconnected with an old friend, and she sent me the link to her blog. and it’s just freakin’ great reading.

here’s my short version of her story — as i remember it (but, i could have some pieces wrong). it’s an amazing story of god’s grace — and she knows it (grace, that is).

ok, so - years ago at lake avenue church in pasadena, i had a secretary for a short bit of time who has one of the wildest stories of a christ-follower I have EVER heard. raised in a psycho blue collar family in pittsburgh, she went bad: topless dancer, drugs, crime. had a boyfriend (now her husband) who was basically her common-law husband, who wanted to be a rock star. they moved to hollywood in search of fame. he’s also an artist, and was making a modest living with his sculpting work, while gigging on the side in various bands. she went deeper off the deep end, got way into lesbianism (though they never separated during this time!), witchcraft, and all manner of other stuff. then, through a four spiritual laws tract, she had a massive and complete come-to-jesus conversion in her apartment one day. her “husband” soon followed (and he soon became her real husband). somewhere along the line, they ended up at lake ave, started a christian punk group (called fire engine red — they had more stage presence than any band i’ve ever seen in my life), and had a promising future in that world. ‘til they became absolute fundamentalists. they left lake ave because they thought we were too soft, and starting attending a hyper-conservative mennonite church. last time i saw her she was wearing the menno outfit, little head gear and all. they decided they needed to learn what it really meant to be a man and a woman, and moved back to pennsylvania and became full-on amish (i’m not kidding). they lived there a couple years, had a couple kids with amish names. they finally reached their goal of becoming rock stars (in a sense), as they were the celebrities of the amish world - never had the amish had a couple like them in their midst, and their testimonies were copied on tapes and circulated, and amish girls would ask my friend for her autograph. they felt the pull to move back to cali, and their amish group of churches decided this was from god, and it was time to bring “plain people” to the west coast (there had never been amish in california until this couple moved back). they moved to a mountain community north of LA, along with a few other families who were sent by the church to start an amish presence there. then, my friend had a terrifying encounter with a deranged man who killed some of their animals, broke into their house (when she was alone) and threatened to rape and kill her. somehow, she was able to talk him out of it (if i’m remembering the story correctly). her husband was wracked with guilt over his anger at this man, and didn’t know how to justify it with the amish teaching that he should have done nothing even if he had been present during the break-in. he met with the elders, and they basically told him that they wouldn’t have held to the teaching if it were them. that was the crack in their belief system that unraveled the whole thing, and led to them leaving the amish, and slowly emerging back to some sense of normalcy. her husband teaches art at a christian school, and she raises their kids and various barnyard animals. their band, fire engine red, continues to exist in one form or another. add a few life-threatening health issues in there for extra fun along the way, and you have the amazing story.

what a beautiful and wild ride. they could not escape the smothering, persistant, relentless grace of god.

travel can certainly suck
Saturday October 22nd 2005, 7:36 pm
Filed under: personal

last week: stuck overnight in denver; missed the emergent gathering.

now: pulled away from the gate in atlanta; engine issue. pulled back to gate. sat. unloaded half an hour later, with the word that it would take an hour to fix (”you’re welcome to stay on the plane, or go sit in the waiting area!”). well — no thank you very much — that would have resulted in me getting to DENVER again, and missing my connection; and, yup, spending another unwanted night there. so i’m sitting in the airport, after consuming a highly suspect cheese dog, waiting for my newly booked flight on a different airline, that will — in theory — get me to san diego at some point in this square on my calendar. i lost my upgrade to first and am now in the cattle section. i know i sound like a spoiled baby.


the same 21 kids
Friday October 21st 2005, 12:08 pm
Filed under: youth ministry

michael lukaszewski has a great list of the same 21 students you’ll find in any average youth group on his blog:

I read somewhere that the average size youth group in the US is 21. The more places I go, and the more students that I meet, the more I am convinced that there are really only 21 different teenagers in the whole world. They just keep moving around from city to city. Here’s my breakdown.

1. Weird Home school Kid. I’m sorry, but I’ve been a youth pastor for 13+ years, and most home school kids are kind of strange.

2. Star Wars Freak Boy. This is the kid that dresses up and buys lightsabers off eBay.

3. Christian Band Groupie. They have lots of t-shirts, CD’s and autographed paraphernalia and strangely refer to members of the Newsboys by their first name.

4. Facial Hair Guy. This guy could be 12 or 18, but he’s got that scruffy patch of something occupying space on his chin. It doesn’t look very good.

5. Super spiritual girl. Sometimes known as “I’m dating Jesus” girl. She likes to read books like lady in waiting and usually closes meetings in prayer.

6. The IT specialist. He will have a promising corporate career or become an underground hacker. He illegally downloads things from the Internet for his youth pastor so his youth pastor doesn’t have to break the law.

7. The “I refuse to leave” individual. This person graduated from your ministry at least one year ago, but tricks himself into thinking of himself or herself as a chaperone so they can stick around. The will
be in your youth service for some time.

8. Overdeveloped Middle School girl. That’s all I need to say about that one. This group of students did not exist when I was in middle school.

9. The Bible Scholar. This person likes talking about Calvinism and other topics. They are the first to look up verses when called for and like to share their deep thoughts.

10. The Christian School Only Person. Closely related to weird home school kid (see #1), this person will go to Christian elementary school, a private Christian high school and when it comes time to go to college, he will only consider Christian colleges. This person can make it through life without ever talking to a lost person.

11. Little Drummer Boy. AKA Rock Star. Very proud of their $150 acoustic guitar, they are experts at leading worship and being part of a youth praise band.

12. The Event Addict. This person keeps their youth group event t-shirts color coded in their closet. They show up at camps, ski trips, weekends, conferences and every other event known to man.

13. The hoochie. If unchecked, overdeveloped middle school girl may develop into hoochie. This girl rarely wears enough clothing.

14. Smothered by Mother. No matter where this person goes, they can’t do anything without checking in with their parents every few minutes. Their parents require extra information on every event and activity.

15. Middle School Cheerleader. Usually traveling in packs of three, these are very small girls, typically wearing braces. They show up to any event wearing cheerleading shorts.

16. The forwarder. This person will forward you at least four or five e-mails every week. Thanks to him or her, you’ll know about all the companies supported by Mormons. This person might be associated with the IT specialist (see #6)

17. The EO. EO’s only show up to your fun events. They don’t care about anything you have to say, but will surface several times a year. Due to the massive amount of events attended, they have amassed a large quantity of t-shirts, which they use as rags or to mow grass.

18. FBI Parent Agent. While this is not technically a student, this parent is always there watching your every move. They probably have a “Smothered by Mother” (see #14). They want to know who will be driving and will question your word choice in your messages. Even though they are not a teenager, go ahead and include them and count them, because they will always be around.

19. The Drama Queen. This girl is usually the center of attention and needs lots of counseling. They are always involved in a major event or scandal.

20. The Questioner. The questioner will ask you if they can read their poem at your next youth service. They may have a painting or a song that will really encourage everyone else. They want to lead worship even though they can’t really sing and lead a bible study, even though they don’t own a Bible.

21. The all American. These are your regular, everyday teenagers. They don’t fall into any particular category.

Any more you’d like to add?

24 hours in gainsville & middle school missions
Thursday October 20th 2005, 4:24 pm
Filed under: youth ministry, church, personal

tomorrow morning, i catch a 6:20am flight (again i say, a flight with this departure time is clearly a result of the fall) to atlanta, through somewhere (denver? chicago?), for my last board meeting with adventures in missions (they’re actually located in gainsville, georgia, about 90 minutes northeast of atlanta).

when i was a part-time junior high pastor in wheaton, illinois, back in the middle ages, i was a regular attendee at the local youth ministry network meetings. but i was the only junior high guy who attended. at one meeting, we were talking about youth missions, and i stated that i’d been thinking about taking my junior highers on a missions trip. the strong and unanimous word back was that missions trips should be reserved for high school ministry — that it didn’t make sense to take young teens. it didn’t sit right with me, but i left it at that for the time.

a couple years later i was working in a church in omaha, and decided i just had to try something with junior highers. this was a time (like i said, the middle ages) when pretty much no one was taking young teens on missions trips. so i looked through our denominational church directory, and found a native american congregation in northern minnesota called the mokuum indian chapel. i called up the pastor, and the rest is history. we took a dozen kids that first year, and it was both fantastic and a total nightmare. planning all the aspects of a missions trip on my own, when i had no idea what i was doing… well, it’s a miracle i didn’t start a whole new level of agression between native americans and “the white man”. but it convinced me: young teens are especially ripe for missions trips, since their natural inclination (due to the massive amounts of change in their lives) is self-focus; and a missions experience forces their hand (and heart) to notice other needs, as well as to experience what it’s like to have god use them to meet someone else’s need.

i came home and stumbled on an article, in good ol’ youth worker journal, about junior highers and missions, by some guy named seth barnes (who was writing a youth ministry and missions column in the journal at that time). i called him up and we instantly connected. seth had just recently started an organization called adventures in missions, helping facilitate short-term missions trips for youth groups (over the years, AIM has greatly expanded their ministry, and really see themselves as a discipling ministry now, not merely a short-term sending agency). we planned a trip to reynosa, mexico, for the following summer, and seth himself led our trip. the following year, we took 60 junior highers to the same place, and opened the trip up to other churches in our denom. during this time, i landed on a handful of non-negotiables about young teen missions trips, like:

1. no airplanes. adding air travel to a young teen trip adds an element of intrigue and glamour that colors kids’ motivations. so, even from omaha, we drove two 12-hour days to get to southern texas/mexico.

2. tons of prep. we always had a stringent application process (more for the refining of motives it brings) and a whole series of hurdles and preparation steps. months of prep meetings, memorization of simple spanish (for our mexico trips), scripture memory, testimony telling, prayer (including enlisting a raft of prayer supporters), financial support raising, tons of team building stuff, cultural sensitivity training. for our mexico trip we even had a required prep retreat for a whole weekend.

3. at least one adult leader for every 7 kids of each gender. any less adults would cause us to limit the size of the group.

4. stepped approach. before we would take a kid to mexico, she had to have been on a shorter and less intense trip — like a weekend-long service trip to a rescue mission in the city we lived in. these entry-level trips only expected kids to use their hands to help others. the more extensive trips added relational stuff and more cross-cultural intensity.

5. make it young teen appropriate. we watched the length of the trip, the activities on the trip, all that stuff. for instance, our work in mexico was intense enough (at the time AIM didn’t have a camp in mexico to house kids) that we came back accross the border every night to sleep in a camp on the US side. we wanted to make sure there was “down time” and an opportunity for kids to not be overwhelmed. once, i took a select group of students on a 2nd week further into mexico — and it was clearly a bad choice. the 2nd week was just too much for them, and the experience was a bit lost on them.

6. be careful of stewardship. a friend of mine wants to take his junior highers to ireland on a missions trip. this is just bad stewardship, in my opinion. there’s nothing a junior highers can learn in ireland that she can’t learn in a mexico border town or an appalacian rural zone or a hurricane recovery area.

7. the trip must build the local church, and be in tandem with the local church, and not only the sending church. this is a lesson i learned along with AIM, over the years. lots of us did drive-by missions back in the day. it might be great for your kids; but it’s somewhere between insensitivity to the broader kingdom of god and downright cultural rape. any work of our kids must be an extension of local church who will be there long after we’re gone. part of our goal is to build up that church.

all that said, i’ve seen more long-term spiritual transformation take place in a compact period of time with middle schoolers on missions trips than anything else i’ve ever done in youth ministry.

so, back to my trip tomorrow. i have an obvious allegiance to AIM, and love for seth barnes, a visionary, brilliant, humble and godly leader who continues to blow me away. AIM is now hundreds of staff, with work in dozens of nations. i’ve been on their board for 5 years, which is the max (3 year term, with up to 2 one-year extensions). so this is my last meeting. my dad joined the board a couple years ago, and has brought his considerable expertise in fund development to AIM in a way that makes me really proud. plus it’s been fun to get to see my dad a couple or three times a year!

i fly home late saturday night, and will head straight from the airport to our junior high guys overnighter at my church. oh, and my 6th grade guys small group just kicked my butt with their talking and farting last night - i might try to send a few of them on a missions trip (that i would not be on!).

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