Over Christmas we traveled to a galaxy far, far away.
It was unreal.
We spent the day exploring Disney World’s new Star Wars land, Galaxy’s Edge. Here is my lifelong fan opinion …
Smugglers’s Run. The Millennium Falcon ride. Wow. So cool. Was it worth waiting in line for hours? Yes. That’s why we did it again. The attention to detail was wild; the halls, the rooms – it was like we were on the Falcon. So cool.
Rise of the Resistance. Wow. I mean, seriously wow. Disney has done some amazing rides … and this is lightyears beyond them. I don’t even know how to describe it. The scale of it was just unreal. Seriously, the best ride I’ve ever been on.
Oga’s Cantina. Oh my word, I thought I was on Tatooine. The drinks and snacks were so alien, the atmosphere was perfect.
Star Tours. It never gets old. They keep updating it with new stories, and they are always fun. So good we did it twice.
Galaxy’s Edge. It is not surprising that the Star Wars land, Galaxy’s Edge, cost over a billion dollars to make; it feels like you’re in a galaxy far, far away. It is separated from the rest of the park in such an immersive and incredible way. It’s unreal. The staff are all in costume, there are storm troopers, Kylo Ren, and Rey, all in character roaming throughout Galaxy’s Edge. So much fun. Heather tried to use the force on the storm troopers – they roasted her. It was fantastic!
Chewbacca. I was surprised but just how much I lost my mind at the sight of Chewbacca roaming through Galaxy’s Edge; checking on an x-wing, evading the storm troopers, gassing up the Falcon … I flipped every time I saw him. Seriously. I mean, how could I not? I’ve been a fan for four decades …
The fourth edition in the First Testament series I’m writing for the Youth Cartel is out! It’s a four week small group resource on the book of Ruth. I really enjoyed putting this one together; the story of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz fascinates me to no end. Ruth, a Moabite woman, who likely had no say in her marriage – the typical marrying age for girls was 12-15 years old, and would have been arranged by the adults in her life – demonstrates powerful love and commitment to her mother-in-law. Arriving in Bethlehem, her ethnicity that of a enemy, her husband dead after a childless marriage, every card was stacked against her. Yet her reputation for deep love and loyalty spoke to the community in a powerful way. The book of Ruth is a beautiful story, one that teaches us even now, thousands of years later. Click here to check it out, and let me know what you think! It’s four weeks of curriculum for less than six bucks!
Mark Stuart’s Losing My Voice to Find It is such a great book! I picked it up a couple weeks ago at Youth Specialties NYWC conference; I actually got to meet Mark at the Interlinc booth and get my copy signed.
I should probably preface this review with the fact that Audio Adrenaline has long been my favorite Christian rock band. I’ve always enjoyed their music; when I was a student at Gordon College in the late 90’s their tour came to my school. I was dirt broke so I volunteered to be one of the security people so I could get in the show. I did my job while All Star United opened, however, there is a slight chance that I forgot about it when Audio Adrenaline hit the stage. I also may have abused my position to sneak backstage and meet the band. If you’re ever in my office, I have a shelf that is dedicated to things that make me love student ministry – 99% of it is gifts from students. The other 1% is a beat up copy of Audio Adrenaline’s “Bloom” cd with all their autographs – I got their signatures that night at Gordon. I’ve seen them other times since, but that night was amazing; they brought it big time. One of my all time favorite concert experiences!
So I’m biased.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I loved discovering how the band came together, the struggles, the process behind the music I’ve listened to for decades. An unexpected bonus was an inside look at the Christian music scene in general; of course their story crossed with the major bands of the 90’s and early 2000’s, and it was fun to see those stories play out.
Reading about Mark’s personal story; the challenges of being a pastor’s kid and missionary kid (something I personally related to), his struggle with confidence, his first marriage’s struggles – and the pressure to hide his imperfections from the Christian community, all of this was both fascinating, gut wrenching, and beautiful to see the thread of God’s hand in his life and calling. To see his frustration with losing his voice and the breakup of the band as a result, to his joy in finding a bigger mission through the Hands and Feet project in Haiti, was beautiful.
The book is so good. I thought it would be a fun exploration of my favorite band’s story, but it’s much more than that. There is a deeper message about our desire for control and the power that comes from letting go and letting God take the lead. You don’t need to a fan of the band to be moved by Stuart’s story. The writing is strong, the book flows well – I couldn’t put it down. It’s definitely worth grabbing, especially if you’ve ever enjoyed Christian rock.
One of the strengths in our student ministry is the variety of volunteer teachers we have. I’ve always believed that if a student or adult is willing to do the hard work of student ministry, they should also be able to have the spotlight as well. For some people, that means being up front; our volunteers teach in our weekly meetings, our retreats, and even in conference events we host. Anyone who wants to teach can become a strong teacher, and we give them the opportunty; here is how we help that happen:
- Regular opportunities. No one becomes a strong teacher overnight. It takes time and practice in front of groups to become confident and capable. The reality is, the person who learns the most IS the teacher through their preparation; the more you can get students and adults up front, the more growth you will see in them.
- Set them up for success. I don’t need curriculum to teach; after more than two decades of regularly being up front, if I’m honest, I can coast on experience if I need to. I deeply enjoy the creative process to writing a message. But for the rookie teacher, that’s a lot. I regularly buy strong curriculum for my teachers to use; this accomplishes a couple different things. First, it helps create a strong connection from week to week even with different teachers. Secondly, it allows the teachers to focus on their delivery. I tell them they’re allowed to use as much or as little of it as they want as long as they stick to the key points – as teachers gain experience, I regularly see them move from leaning heavily on the curriculum to showing creativity and letting their own style come through.
- Positive reinforcement. Odds are, they are over thinking and already self critiquing – I know I do. It is incredibly rare that I give negative feedback; I’ll only do it if I see the same bad habit happen for multiple lessons in a row. Instead, I try to find at least one thing to praise. Emphasizing what they’re doing right helps build their confidence and make them better teachers for the next time. I’ll also on occasion – after pointing out several things done right – suggest something they could have added to the lesson to make it even stronger. For example; I have a young leader who did a lesson and I knew had the perfect example from his own life to illustrate the point but didn’t do it. I mentioned that as I was listening, it occurred to me that it would have been a great illustration and it would have helped connect people to him. The next time he taught he used a great personal story.
- Let go of the ego. I’ve had volunteers who are stronger teachers than me. It could be easy to feel threatened by that. But the reality is, the more capable teachers you have, the better YOU look as a leader. The more you share the spotlight, the more your leaders appreciate being on your team. Having great teachers makes the ministry as a whole look better, not the leader weaker. And here’s the thing; my teaching improves dramatically the weeks I’m on because I’ve let others teach as well.
One more thought; teens in particular can be intimidated to get up in front of their peers. We’ve helped set them up for success in a couple ways that we don’t usually do with the adults. First, we have a couple series we do every year (HABITS and our purpose series); we usually recruit older students to teach this one because they’ve heard variations of it over the years and feel more confident with it. A second thing we do on occasion with students who are really intimidated but want to try is take a lesson and split it into it’s different points and recruit a different student for each point, giving them five to eight minutes each.
The third edition in the First Testament series I’m writing for the Youth Cartel is out! It’s a four week small group resource on the book of Zephaniah. I did something different with this one; it includes 60 photos and discussion prompts to lead off each week with. With Zephaniah being a book of poetry to create images and feelings in the reader, using the photos to create thoughts and get the ball rolling on the discussion seemed a great way to launch each week. Zephaniah is short, yet powerful book, that speaks a lot about the coming Day of the Lord. It’s one that teaches students about judgement, salvation, hope for the future, and urgency for our world today.
Click here to check it out, and if you want to grab a copy use promo code ‘2bucksoff’ to save two dollars and get it for only $3.99 by December 15th!
The second edition in the First Testament series I’m writing for the Youth Cartel is out! It’s a four week small group resource on the book of Leviticus. I really enjoyed putting this one together; Leviticus intimidates people, but once you get some of the context and what was going on in ancient times, the underlying messages really begin to shine through. Did you know that this book of the Bible that so many Christians save for last was actually the first book that Jewish children studied and memorized? It’s important and provides many of the principles that are repeated throughout scripture and culminate in Christ.
Click here to check it out, and if you want to grab a copy use promo code ‘aaron’ to save a dollar and get it for only $4.99!
I am particularly excited about this new resource I wrote; it’s a four week small group resource on the book of Judges, the first in a series of small group Bible studies being published by the Youth Cartel! The series is called ‘The First Testament.’ Why that title? Words carry weight, and our labels of ‘Old’ and ‘New’ for the two testaments has the potential to, however unintentionally, communicate the idea that one is no longer relevant. A more accurate set of labels would be ‘First’ and ‘Second’ Testament. Eventually, the First Testament Bible study series will span Genesis through the minor prophets. I’m excited about it because it combines several of my passions; youth ministry, writing & and the Old Testament!
If you click through now, this first edition is on sale for only $3.99 (less than a dollar per week!)! Here’s the description from the Youth Cartel:
The book of Judges was written for the Israelites as a reminder of the consequences of rebellion against God. Judges does not claim an author, and while the Jewish Talmud (collection of ancient Jewish teachings) hold that Samuel wrote the book, there is no evidence to support such a claim. It was most likely written around 1000 B.C., but even that is not known for sure.
What we do know is that the book of Judges records a dark time in Israelite history. In many ways, it was like the American west; with little governmental structures in place, people were largely on their own. A reoccurring theme throughout the book of Judges is found in the closing verse of the book; “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25, NLT) Judges records a downward spiral of fighting, spiritual and moral depravity, and the repeated breaking of the covenant with God. This resulted in judgement, cries for help, and then the raising of judges who would lead them to deliverance, only to see the cycle repeat itself.
Judges emphasizes God’s faithfulness; both His judgment and forgiveness displayed time and again. Twelve judges and one king are recorded, but in the end, the reader is left with an unsatisfying conclusion. The Israelites have left God again, with a need for godly leadership plain for all to see.
- Week 1, Othniel & Ehud
- Week 2, Deborah & Jael
- Week 3, Abimelech’s Rise
- Week 4, Horrible Times
About this Series
Why is this series called “The First Testament”? Words often communicate unintentional messages. While we have called the testaments “Old” and “New” for centuries, these labels have had an unfortunate consequence: for many, the word “old” conveys the ideas of irrelevance and being outdated. Nothing could be farther from the truth! Paul wrote, “Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.” Romans 15:4 (NLT). When he wrote this, he was speaking of the Old Testament! Perhaps a better set of titles would be the “First” and “Second” testaments; together they give us the message of hope! The First Testament, two-thirds of the Bible, gives us the foundation from which Christ fulfills God’s will!
Last March we launched the Renew Student Conference, a local discipleship event hosted at Brandywine Valley Baptist Church, with two goals; (1) to get young people from all over the region in the same space worshiping and learning together, and (2) to see it led by voices from leaders from a variety of churches and student ministries.
Our first year was a big roll of the dice. The goal was to see if we could 150 people to come out; that felt like the threshold for pulling the trigger on future years. We brought in Illijam, a hip hop artist, and the Skit Guys, as well as invited four local youth workers to teach and two local student worship bands to lead worship.
We were blown away by the response; 19 churches participated! 320 students and youth leaders came out! We had an amazing two days … and learned a LOT about how to organize a conference event and where we could improve.
The 2020 Renew Student Conference is going to be March 6-7. It’s still five months away, but I’m starting to get really excited. We’ve added breakouts this year which opens the door to getting a lot more local youth workers leading, as well as more opportunities for teens from different churches to connect. With Andrew Stanley coming to do a comedy set and Propaganda (!!!) coming to do a concert and be one of our speakers, it’s shaping up to be an even more amazing year. I can’t wait to see how it comes together!
My eighth (!!!) resource with Download Youth Ministry has gone live! It’s a two week message series that includes PowerPoint, handouts, and small group discussion guides. Acts 4 & 5 have always been my go to for talking about New Testament teachings on giving; I really think they capture the heart behind how we worship God through our tithes and offerings. You can find the resource here. Here’s the description from DYM:
Editor’s note: Solid content … easy to teach.
Details: A two-week series on worshipful giving based on the contrasting stories of Barnabas (Acts 4) and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). Through these messages, students will learn about the heart of God behind giving and how it communicates love and worship to Him.
Week One: “Giving Faith.” In Acts 4:32-37, the themes in this lesson are the unity and mission of the early church, how that impacted their view of possessions and giving, and is exemplified through the gift of Barnabas who sold his property and gave the proceeds to the church.
Week Two: “Honest Faith.” In Acts 5:1-11,we look at God’s desire for honesty in our worship and the betrayal of Ananias and Sapphira’s lie (both to Him and the church). Peter makes it clear that they were never required to give a specific amount, but that their attempt to manipulate their image to the rest of the church and to God was a lie that corrupted worship.
This Resource Includes:
• Complete message manuscript for each week (Word files)
• PowerPoint presentation file for each week
• Small group guide for each week (Word file)
• Student handout for each week (Word files)
• Series graphics (jpeg files)