Changing Perspectives on Youth Ministry and Parenting

20 Jan
January 20, 2016

calvin hobbes

I will have been in full time youth ministry for fifteen years this coming April. It’s gone by fast. When I arrived at my first church, Heather and I had just married half a year before and were a few months into her pregnancy with our first son. I was young, inexperienced, and in some ways over confident. Fifteen years later, I have two of my own children in the student ministry I lead. My perspective in many areas of ministry has grown and changed over the years.

One area that has always struck me is how my perspective on parents of adolescents has dramatically changed over the years. As a new youth pastor, I was often times frustrated by them. In many ways, I avoided having too much connection with them, and often times found myself questioning or wondering at their decisions regarding the youth ministry, reactions to my leadership, or how they responded to their children.

Then I had my own.

Fifteen years ago I had no idea how unnerving, confusing, overwhelming it is to parent teenagers. I am considered a professional youth worker. In youth ministry circles, I’m a veteran. I have read more books on adolescence than most people, I’ve gone to school for it, I’ve attended conferences, gotten further training, had countless hours of experience, walked with students and their families through just about every adolescent scenario you can imagine, I’ve written articles, spoken at training events, the list goes on. And apparently almost none of that translates to parenting my own teenagers!

Talking to countless teenagers about sex does not make it one bit easier to view my own children as sexual beings and have those conversations with them. Coaching parents on dealing with hormonal children and all of the associated mood swings does not somehow magically translate to me always being understanding with the adolescents I live with.

Last year, I actually punished one of my sons by not allowing them to go to a youth group fun event (that I was leading!). After more than a decade of being frustrated with parents for using youth group as a consequence, I did it.

Last week I had one of those moments where one of my children clearly thought I was clueless. That somehow in their handful of years of experience they had more knowledge and wisdom to bear on the topic than I could possibly have. And it hit me … perhaps the biggest reason I had a bad perception of parents fifteen years ago was that I was more friend to the students in my ministry than I was pastor. Yes, I discipled teens. I taught the scriptures. I led small groups, challenged them to go deeper, and saw tremendous fruit. But in many ways I tried to be cool, to build friendships, to identify with them. When I was a teen I thought my parents were idiots, completely clueless. It was not until my early twenties that I really started to change that opinion! My primary source of information about parents was from teenagers! Of course my opinion began to mirror theirs.

I am the parent I was so irritated with fifteen years ago. I will complain if someone springs an event on me with little notice, just as I used to do to parents. I am the youth pastor and I don’t treat youth group as the most important thing for my kids. Yes, they are involved – and love it – but it is one small piece in a much bigger picture that is their life. I don’t bother keeping up on current trends anymore; it’s too much work, and I’m never going to be ‘cool.’ I’m a forty year old man with kids. Cool went out the window a long time ago. Turns out teens aren’t as impressed with adults who know the latest bands, movies, and books as I thought they were fifteen years ago – but they are desperate for caring adults who will love them and see their potential. And as much as it may bother them in the moment, it is quietly reassuring to young people when the adults in their lives communicate with, and support, their parents. It brings stability. I think recognizing that paves the way to transition from being a friend to a pastor.

Time of Reflection

18 Jan
January 18, 2016

abstract tree

The more I think about it, the more I realize that 2015 was a year of reflecting and calming for me. Which is weird to say. The last several years have seen a lot of transition and challenges, both difficult and rewarding. My church spent the last few years transitioning from a senior pastor who first started there in 1975, I have been a full time student pursuing a Masters of Divinity, my own children have become adolescents – forever changing my perspectives on student ministry, I became an adult child of divorce after my parents separated, as well as other heartbreaks throughout the extended family. For the first time in years we have begun to feel like our son’s battle with localized scleroderma has become manageable. Heather and I celebrated our fifteenth anniversary. I turned 40.

I’m still recovering from that last one.

In some ways it has been a wild few years.┬áIt’s not so much that the last year has seen those things lessening; there is still a lot of transition surrounding me. But my focus has settled and broadened, if that makes sense. There is a different level of peacefulness throughout, which is probably weird to say considering my house is full of LOUD boys. It has been amazing to see God working through the circumstances. My sons continue to grow into young men that I am proud of. Heather and I still are building and collecting memories – fifteen years already?!?

Even the transitions in church have given new perspectives; during the six months between senior pastors, I was pulled away from the student ministry a lot. Thankfully, our church has an amazing team of youth staff and volunteers that really stepped up to enable me to be able to help in other areas of the church. The biggest unexpected fruit for me, however, was that in being pulled back a bit for a season meant that I gained some different perspectives on our student ministry as a whole – I’m excited about some of the behind the scenes conversations I’ve been having with our new senior pastor and youth ministry staff about how we can really take our program to another level, both in developing disciples and seeing the students integrated even more so in our church as a whole.

All that to say, this post is a couple weeks overdue, but I’m excited about 2016. I’m excited to see how things continue to grow in develop personally, in my family, and in the ministry.

 

Thoughts on God’s Protection

29 Dec
December 29, 2015

protection

So often it seems our understanding and God’s understanding are far removed from each other. The Christmas season highlights that thought in so many ways; no one would never have expected the promised messiah to come in the form of a humble, completely dependent baby to two poor teenagers, in such a way that would have people still mocking Christ about the timing of His birth and His parents wedding decades later.

If there is one thing that is consistent with the characters throughout scripture it’s that their expectations, interpretations and opinions on God and scripture always resulted in them being surprised at how and when He actually moved. It was never how they thought it would be. Hopefully, we can have the humility to recognize that things have probably not changed much – that’s God wisdom and approach is still far removed from our wisdom and approach.

I can’t stop thinking about that in light of God’s protection and a shocking portion of the Christmas narrative. In Matthew 2:13-23 we read a horrific tale. Herod, feeling his position threatened by the prophesies of a new King sends his soldiers to kill all the males under two years old in the region in which Jesus was born. Mary and Joseph were given a warning by God to flee to Egypt for their safety, where they stayed until after Herod’s death. Some look at this passage and see God’s protection in that warning.

But then, if it’s just a warning about a physical threat of death, then it wasn’t much protection since the rest of the community saw their sons brutally murdered with no protection granted to them. For me, it feels like hearing the survivor’s of a tragedy marveling at how God delivered them … while grieving friends and family stand to the side wondering why their loved one was not delivered. My family was thrilled to see my father-in-law survive a severe bout with cancer; but I find myself choosing my words about it carefully when so many others prayed the same prayers we prayed for their loved ones and saw a different result.

If we reduce protection to simply avoiding pain, death, financial tragedy, or whatever the case may be, I think we trivialize what God intends in His protection and hurt the many around us who by default of that kind of definition, were not protected by God. In reality, our present suffering does not seem as though it is actually high on the protection priority list – in James 4:14 our lives are called a ‘vapor,’ something that comes and goes quickly. Throughout the scriptures devoted followers of God see incredible suffering. Even the chosen nation, the Israelites, saw long periods of time where they were enslaved, conquered, and God was silent – I doubt they felt much protection during those centuries.

But when God refers to our lives as a vapor, He is not describing them as meaningless. Far from it; instead He is pointing out that in the light of eternity, this time we spend on earth in physical form is just a fraction of the far greater whole we will experience. In the light of that, being protected from suffering here is a meaningless exercise – our only real focus is to be worshiping God and reaching the world for Him.

I don’t think God was protecting Jesus, Mary and Joseph from death by Herod’s soldiers. If that’s all it was, then the others who were not warned were wronged by Him. Joseph is no longer a hero saving his wife and son – he is the monster who knew his community was in danger and did nothing for anyone but his own immediate family. God was protecting His plan for saving people from spiritual death. In that perspective, in the moment God did in fact protect everyone, but not in the way that we normally think of protection.

I am not trivializing suffering. I actually think we do that when we loudly celebrate those who avoid physical suffering as being protected by God because the message we send to others is that they are not. And the scriptures are full of God’s heart for those who do suffer during this ‘vapor’ of a life. He wants us to experience comfort, support, love, grace. His heart breaks when our hearts break. But when it comes to the idea of protection, perhaps His focus is on eternity, not the immediate.

I’m honestly not sure if I’m articulating my thoughts the way I want to. I’ve been wrestling with this passage and the idea of protection for the last couple weeks. I don’t think I’ll even begin to fully understand how or why God works and how we best communicate it until I am with Him in eternity.

A Treelot Christmas

28 Dec
December 28, 2015

Caleb, Noah and Zachary were all in this year’s children’s Christmas choir and the performance of “A Treelot Christmas” at our church on Christmas Eve!

Micah and Caleb’s Homeschool Choir Christmas Concert

21 Dec
December 21, 2015

Micah (our 8th grader) and Caleb (our 6th grader) have been performing all over the place this Christmas season with the homeschool choir they are a part of! This is Caleb’s first year, Micah’s third year. This particular performance is the one they did at Brandywine Valley Baptist Church on December 3rd.

Philly Blitz with Noah

04 Dec
December 4, 2015

Noah Philly Blitz

Last month Noah (my almost ten year old) and I went on a weekend mission trip with our church’s children ministry to Philadelphia with the Philadelphia Project. It was a pretty amazing weekend; the age group was third through fifth grade, which was a first for me. Noah was really excited for the trip and even with his broken arm never held back from jumping in and working.

We spent the weekend in a combination of great worship times put together by Philadelphia Project, education about inner city Philly, and serving on various work sites. Noah and I were were with a group working to gut a room so that future groups could come in and do the actual remodeling. Which meant we spent the day scraping, pulling down a ceiling, cleaning, and generating a lot of dust. It was pretty impressive to see what a group of nine to eleven year olds can accomplish when they’re given the opportunity!

All in all, it was a great trip. It was fun to build some memories with Noah as well. Out of my four sons, the only one left who hasn’t gone on a mission trip with me yet is Zachary! But we’ll let him get a little older, first …

Living with Scleroderma

26 Nov
November 26, 2015

I really appreciate this video from Jason Alexander (of Seinfeld fame) explaining Scleroderma and his family’s experience with it. It is an often times unrecognized and misunderstood disease. My son Noah was most likely born with localized scleroderma; we noticed symptoms we couldn’t explain by the time he was two years old, but it was another two years of constant doctors appointments with different specialist after specialist until someone finally figured it out – and that was only because they did a biopsy on part of the affected area of his face. Building awareness and understanding is important!

The Small Town America Tour recap

09 Oct
October 9, 2015

fire2 small

Last weekend we had an amazing concert night with the Small Town America Tour. It was also our first foray into pyrotechnics in the sanctuary …

The concert itself was a blast. Openers Scarlet White and Shonlock were both amazing, with Shonlock really winning over the teens – they’ve been begging me every time they see me to bring him back for another show where he can have more time and really go to town! Seventh Day Slumber is definitely a rock band. They came out hard and it was amazing. I have to admit, the flame throwers were really, really cool. The lead singer also gave a powerful message that saw a number of kids raise their hands to commit, or recommit, their lives to God which was an incredible thing to witness. Fireflight finished out the night strong, belting out songs from their new album as well as older favorites.

I have to admit, our attendance was not where I was hoping. Usually the bulk of the online ticket sales happen in the days before the show … which this time around was when all the weather reports were saying a hurricane was going to blow through Wilmington the same time as our concert was. Instead of fielding calls about the show, I was answering the question over and over as to whether or not we were going to cancel. The storm never actually hit, but it did damage none-the-less! The bands told me that was the challenge they were running into all that weekend. Even so, they rocked the room like it was packed – I’d definitely recommend ANY of the acts to anyone looking to work with great bands and host an awesome concert!

I Make Kids Fly

28 Sep
September 28, 2015

I look forward to the blob all year long. Because I make teens fly.

Anyway, here’s the music video/highlights video from our 2015 Student Ministry Retreat! It was a blast!

Thoughts on Biblical Authority

26 Sep
September 26, 2015

The following is a short post I wrote answering the question, if we don’t have any of the original documents that comprise the Bible – we only have copies – how can we claim it has authority and is of God?

Having been a student of history before entering ministry, I have always found this conversation fascinating. The challenge is in communicating authority of a document without citing the document itself; if someone does not believe in God or the authority of the scriptures, citing scripture’s claims to authority is a circular argument that carries no weight with the skeptic. Fields is right in claiming this is a critical issue when he sums up “the situation.”1 I instead like to focus on standards of authority outside of scripture over time. History absolutely supports the existence of Christ, who in turn gives authority to the Old Testament through His use of it during His time one earth. More significantly, is the sheer volume of copies of scripture we have.

Historians consider what we hold today as representative and authoritative from Plato, yet there are only seven copies of his works, dated 1200 years after the originals, and vary significantly. We have eight copies of Herodotus’ works, 1300 years removed from the originals, which also vary significantly. Similar results are found in the works of Pliny, Suetonius, Euripides, and many others. Aristotle is an improvement with 49 copies of his works existing, but even they are removed by 1400 years.2 Even Shakespeare, removed from us by only a handful of centuries, has significant debate amongst historians about the accuracy of what we hold today and the question of whether or not they are what the performers recited in the Globe Theater under his direction.

And yet, we have thousands and thousands of the Old and New Testament. We have copies within a few lifetimes of the originals. With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we have copies of Old Testament works with prophecies about Christ that are positively dated before Christ’s time on earth. Fields points out that the Old Testament copies line up 90% of the time, with only a fraction of a percentage of the difference being words that are not grammar/spelling related. The New Testament copies, thousands of them, line up 99.5% of the time. Other religions have to revise their works or come up with complicated explanations and rationales as modern historical discoveries contradict what is recorded in their scriptures. The Bible, however, is primarily a work of history, poetry and prophesy. In the past there have been critics of its accuracy, questioning some of the historical claims in the scriptures that had not yet been substantiated – yet over time, as we continue to make new historical discoveries, find cities previously unknown, etc., they only serve to confirm scripture, not contradict it. As time goes on, the authority of the documents are only strengthened, not weakened like other religious documents.

For me, the only explanation for the sheer volume of copies of scripture, preserved so well over history – unlike any other major writer or religion – points to a supernatural intervention that can only be explained by God. The scriptures have authority based on secular man’s historical standards. Because of that authority, scriptures claims regarding God carries a weight that no other religious writing does.

 

1. Lee M. Fields, Hebrew for the Rest of Us: Using Hebrew Tools Without Mastering Biblical Hebrew (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 44.
2. Nicky Gumbel, The Alpha Course Manual (Colorado Springs, CO: Alpha, 1995).