I’m very tired today. I was at the church for about twelve hours yesterday. I realize that most people with my job do that or more every week so I’m not complaining just explaining. I love speaking to Middle School students. They are so stinkin random. I also love being a ridiculous fool. I struggle with this though. As my wife so eloquently put it recently, “you are an incredible communicator and you are a very funny and talented entertainer but you have to decide in which role you believe God can use you most.” My problem is, I want both. The dangerous ambition in me contradicts the lack of confidence and vice versa. But I do want to be the communicator and the funny guy. What is it in us that drives us to want to be considered? Is it just me? I feel that way sometimes. I feel like I’m a self-serving jerk who wants the world to know who he is and thinks he’s the best at it. At the same time, ask anyone close to me and they will tell you that I need to have more confidence and give my self some more credit. I envy those people who just “do” with such ease seemingly unaffected by the “consideration” of others. I realize of course that I have but one audience; but even then, does God expect me to “settle down” in my adulthood. Is there a balance to be reached? I hope that I can do everything God has gifted me and enabled me to do. So I suppose that my prayer shouldn’t be “God give my a discerning spirit,” but instead, “God give me a peace about who You’ve created.” I am a complex weird and unique creature of God. We all are. The struggle comes when we don’t trust God’s design.
I felt like I could get away with not posting anything today since Sunday is a busy and exhausting day for church staff. However, due to my new found addiction to blogging and the guilt I still feel working at North Point knowing that most guys with my job (Student Pastor) haven’t even gotten to the real meat of the day, I will post a thought or two. I recently read the blog of a cellmate in the asylum of Middle School workers Alden Ellis, and was impressed with his volunteers. You see he was just sharing about some frustrations about his car and while he was gone they went and pampered his car to what is the equivalent of a car spa day. It’s one thing to say thank you and a completely different thing to “do” thank you.
I say this not to convict anyone else but only to show my own conviction. A few days ago I wrote a blog entry thanking and praising the volunteers in InnerMission. Woop-dee-freakin-do!! That was my way of thanking people who work week after week with students who won’t say thank you until they’re adults, and if then. I stink at thanking people. It’s a bit of a paradox. I crave encouragement and praise but I am terrible at giving it. Sure, I could chalk it up to the difference in the language to receive and the language to give love, but that is mostly an excuse. So what am I going to do about it? I don’t know. Hopefully I am going to stretch myself and begin to show appreciation in ways that speak to the individual. It’s a funny thing, appreciation. It’s almost an after-thought until someone realizes that they haven’t been appreciated or is appreciated in an impressive fashion. Anyone know of any great systems to appreciate people more regularly? I suppose the real reason I am so bad at this is the way my brain works. Once one task or event is finished, my mind begins thinking about the next. Regardless, I’d still like to give a kick in the teeth to the person that invented thank you notes. Does that make me a bad person?
Today I feel like my ancestors. Now that I have given you the history of St. Patrick’s day, let me give you a play by play of my day. To start things off, I had to get up at 7:30am (amazingly enough, all the girls were still sleeping) to get ready for my U8 soccer game at 9am. (no they don’t let me play in that age group because of my size; I’m coaching… haha, frickin hilarious) As I emerged from the bathroom my wonderful wife and oldest daughter with breakfast in hand greeted me. They had made green pancakes for me. A wonderful surprise but a bit weird. I felt a little like the other guy from “Sam I am.” At any rate, they were delicious. After coaching my boys to another humbling loss, I went to a family members house for the afternoon. While Savannah Grace and I were away from the house, my wonderful wife Anita began her plans for our evening. I came home to a dinner of steak and baked potatoes. And not just the “on sale” meat that we usually buy. No, no…this woman bought me a big juicy Porterhouse. The meal was transcending.
So today my wife did what my good friend Pastor Furtick told her to do. She made me feel like a King. Thank you Anita. You are my Queen.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!! I love this day. I hope this finds you “in” great spirits and not overcome by them. Wink, wink. (did I just say “wink, wink”?) Anyway, if you know me at all you know that I am incredibly proud of my Irish heritage. If you don’t know me that well, you be surprised to know that while I am a Notre Dame fan and extremely passionate about Ireland, I am not Catholic. And despite my extreme celebratory nature around our holiday today, I don’t drink alcohol. I realize this makes me a bit of a stereotype contradiction. However, the idea of the world celebrating Irish traditions about an English Missionary is a bit contradictory as well.
While I’m giving you information you never asked for let me tell you about my frustration with the lack of knowledge as it pertains to some of the St. Patrick’s Day traditions. As I mentioned above, I’m not Catholic. The problem this presents on this holiday is something I’ve dealt with all my life. You see, not a lot of people know why the colors of green and orange are associated with Ireland; or for that matter why the flag is green, white and orange. The colors actually stand for and in opposition to one of the great conflicts of the Irish people: Catholic verses Protestant. Catholic Irish represent themselves as Green Irish and Protestant as Orange Irish. This goes in religious and political circles as well. This is where my problem is found. As a Protestant (any Christian group outside of the Catholic religion: and yes Catholicism is a religion and not a denomination) I am Orange Irish. But you try telling hundreds of people in your schools, jobs and social circles that as they try to pinch you if you’re not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day. So with a defeatist attitude I wear green today. However, you’ll notice a bit of orange right along with it.
Sorry, I never explained the flag and why it stands for and in opposition to the conflict. The flag has a bar of green (Catholic), a bar of orange (Protestant), and a bar of white between them representing peace. For more on the conflict, check out wikipedia. They have a lot of information. Try searching Michael Collins or rent the movie. Another movie is coming out about Irish Republicanism called “The Wind That Shakes the Barley.” Now I’m not saying that I endorse the tactics or ideals of groups like the IRA. I’m just a messenger of information.
Despite all of that and what happens in the years to come, I am thankful for Patrick and his amazing compassion to come back to the country that abducted him as a boy. He is someone worth celebrating, but his heart was to see people connected with God. I don’t know of any other Missionaries who are so celebrated or remembered world wide and I’m thankful and hopeful that through the cloud of drunkenness and immaturity that people are pointed toward the beauty of Ireland and the God, whose imagination and craftsmanship created her. Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone. Éireann go Brach!!
Okay, I struggled with whether or not to even discuss this issue. I even asked Anita if I was being “that guy” or not. She understood what I was saying and didn’t think I was being ridiculous. So here goes.
I had a little issue… well, not issue but more of an odd feeling during a song at Unleash. It was a good song (some Avalon song from the nineties or something). They showed some very moving scenes from “Passion of the Christ.” Now before you get all presumptuous and defensive of either the song, the movie or NewSpring let me say that my issue is not with any of that. The issue is with the reaction of the audience. This was a very powerful combination of music and imagery. And I understand that we can celebrate in the victory that Christ’s crucifixion won; but there was just something weird about people (and not a ton) standing up and cheering at the high points of the song while a depiction of Christ’s murder was being shown.
Then at the end of the song, the movie faded to black and the stage lights went down while a segment of the audience stood and cheered once again. Again, I understand that this is something that gives us life, but this seemed like a solemn moment. A reflective time for us to consider the fact that this is why we do what we do. I’m not sure what the ideal response NewSpring had in mind for the attendee was but all I could think about was the fact that it was my fault that happened to Him. It was my sin that was killing Him. There is “beauty in the body” but I didn’t see any “beauty in the beating.”
I figure there will be some people that have a different point of view about this, but I just had to share my thoughts. God, I’m sorry for my crappy, self-centered, uncontrolled behavior and choices. Forgive my constant rebellion and lack of respect and appreciation for the price you paid and the pain Your Son endured. I love you and I want celebrate all you’ve done for me. Thank you for making us different and creative. You are incredible!
Just ran across this in another blog and just had to share it. Very creative and quite amazing!
A church on the move.
It has been a crazy three weeks. I had the great opportunity to visit and observe three churches and the middle school ministries that accompany them. I’ve also had the chance to attend the Unleash conference at NewSpring. With that said, I have way too much to talk about. How do I even begin?
Let’s start with what I feel is the most important thing apart from God’s leading in constructing a successful church or student ministry.
A lot of people ask us what it is that makes North Point successful. Having Andy Stanley speak thirty some odd times a year is certainly a crowd getter but it isn’t the reason thousands of adults and even more thousands of children and students keep coming back week after week. Andy and our Leadership Team teach us with action that simplicity is huge. And simplicity in our strategy is where you find the answer to the previously mentioned question. Our strategy is simply focused on small groups. We believe that “life change” (where God works most effectively) happens best in the context of a small group of people who are continually pouring into each other’s lives.
This is “our” strategy and it works for us. I’m not foolish to dictate that this is “the” strategy. But strategy is the thing of which each successful ministry, whether student or adult, has a clear picture and definition. North Point, NewSpring, Willow Creek, Saddleback, Elevation, Life Church; they all have a strategy and they communicate that strategy to all environments and attendees. If you find yourself frustrated and a bit lost in your area of service, ask if you have a clear understanding of what your strategy is. Can you explain it to someone in one sentence? Do the people who are involved in you program know it? Is every activity, hire, program, and goal driven by your strategy? If not, take some time with some trusted leaders and volunteers and figure it out. Then, do it again in about a year as an evaluation. Take it or leave it, but I search Jesus’ ministry and I guarantee you’ll see His strategy.
What a freakin day!! To much going on in the brain to download after being in two states and up since 4:30 this morning. In short, Unleash was pretty cool even cooler to see all my “ministry” friends from across the country. Perry was hilariously challenging; NewSpring is going to blow up even more. Dave Lewis is the man: and if you’re married you need to do the couples study “Intimate Encounters.” It’s more challenging than you’ll ever be ready for but it will be the best thing to happen to your marriage since sex. Okay, I’m exhausted. More tomorrow. Peace!
I’m sitting here reeling after one of my favorite shows: “Lost.” I should be asleep. After a weekend of travel with my family and the small quantities of sleep I have gotten with a three year old and an eight month old in my house, you’d think I’d go to bed. You’d be wrong though. Even the haunting knowledge of a 4:30 am alarm isn’t sending me to bed. The reason you ask? Sleep is for the weak! Or because tomorrow I’m headed to the Unleash conference at NewSpring church in Anderson, SC. You see the very same people that encouraged me to start this blog are going to be gathering to share and learn together. Oh yeah, and about 897 other visionary psychos along with us.
Over the last few months God has truly opened my heart and eyes to some difficult realizations. While in the process of revamping, rethinking and re-launching our Middle School Ministry strategy, our team has been researching many other “teen targeting” organizations. While awe and wonder are typical when you start looking at the Mtvs and Nickelodeons of the world, I’ve been struck by the silent but present arrogance that has been making a home in my mind over the past two years.
North Point is an amazing church! I can’t say that enough. And I’m quite sure that I serve under some of the most… no, THE most amazing leadership anyone could hope to have. At the same time I have to be honest that numbers are dangerous. After working at churches with less than limited resources being dwarfed by crowds of students growing from 4 to 75, I found myself fat and happy by the thousands of students we reach at North Point each week with resources that allow us to be creative and relevant. My surprise and conviction came when I noticed myself being wowed by other churches. The arrogance wasn’t born out of some self-serving pride for what I created (I was merely hired to carry out someone else’s creation). It came from a lack of being in community with fellow servants. Because I work and attend a church that feeds me spiritually consistently, I stopped looking for inspiration and challenge.
Be on guard everybody! Success is the thief of dreams. As soon as a dream begins to materialize, success creeps in and robs you of your drive. Not a drive for bigger, better and more. Just drive. That thing inside that knows God has more planned. He didn’t stop “Pharaoh, Pharaoh” and He’s not planning on stopping with “We Shine.” Let us “forget what is behind, and strain for what is ahead.”
I have the luxury of working at a very encouraging church. Almost every week someone is always quick to tell me, “Thank you for working with Middle Schoolers” or comment on my gifts. These people are impressed with the ability God gave me to connect with a group of Middle School students and keep their attention while actually teaching them something. The problem with all of this is that what I do each week isn’t nearly impressive as what happens after I’m done.
Getting a room ready for 300 – 400 sixth graders each week and preparing a highly engaging talk is my job. If I’m able to keep their attention for fifteen minutes then I’m merely fulfilling my duties to the expected level. The truth of why that many sixth graders show up week after week has nothing to do with me. There are far more interesting, funny, and smarter people all around Atlanta not to mention television and movies. If all students wanted was to be entertained or have their attention captured, church wouldn’t even be on the list. These students come because of the forty or so Small Group Leaders that show up week after week. After a week of work at what probably makes my job look like play time and a weekend of family time and catch up on anything that needs to be done at the house, these men and women come early or stay after a church service to hang out with any of the one to twenty students that happen to show up that Sunday. And after that treacherous week of life how do we set them up for meaningful conversation with students? We hype them up with loud exciting music, give them access to sugary doughnuts and make them sit still and quiet for fifteen minutes. Then we send our leaders to a small room with a lighted stick of dynamite. Well, that’s what it feels like.
Here is where you find the real heroes. Have you ever tried to capture the attention of a young teenager who has been sitting still and quiet for fifteen minutes while a sugar high mounts inside of him? I’d say this is insane to say the least. Yet week after week our leaders make it happen. People like Brandon, Alfred, Blake and Morgan sit these young men of tomorrow down and carefully and patiently (okay maybe not every week) wait for the right phrase or circumstance to quickly point them to a truth about Christ. At the same time women like Georgia, Meredith, Rachel and Paula gently guide these little girls through the dangerous path of becoming a woman of God. These men and women are the people who inspire me. They are the ones that encourage me. Not with words but selfless action week after week. I am thankful for my church. Yes I have a great job and incredible leadership to serve under, but I am thankful because one day my daughters (and hopefully sons) will begin this horrible process of adolescence. I am thankful because these Small Group Leaders will surround them and teach them that our God is a god of truth and process. They will help my children know that they are children of royalty. Thank you Small Group Leaders. I’m honored to serve with you.