Twenty Years

Twenty years. It goes by fast.

In March, 2001, I became a full time youth pastor.

Heather and I had been married for a handful of months and had just found out we were expecting our first child. He would end up being two days old at our first anniversary – definitively NOT part of our five year plan, but we like him so it turn out okay. My youth group at the time thought they had input in naming him and seemed to think “Cletus the Fetus” was a legitimate option. We politely declined. You’re welcome, Micah. Now he’s in college and some of those teens have kids closing in on youth group age. It goes by fast.

We have four sons total. There was a brief window last summer where they were all in the youth group at the same time; our youngest moved up to sixth grade, our oldest hadn’t left for college yet. Having my own kids in the group is amazing. I like to joke with other youth pastors that it’s like having my own brutally honest focus group.

I feel like I should be listing all of the things I’ve learned over the years. Honestly, though, it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. I’m still learning, I’m still figuring it out, I’m still wrapping my mind around what youth ministry is.

As a parent of teens now, I have to confess that young youth pastor me would have driven current me crazy. Lousy communication, last minute notice about events, a little too confident at times. I had a lot to learn.

But there’s also an incredible nostalgia that comes with watching the old videos from those days and looking at the photos. It was such an exciting, new time.

Probably the biggest difference now is perspective. Youth ministry is a long game. I think I used to believe too much rode on each meeting, I took it too personally when kids were kids and broke the rules, I thought too much hinged on me. It’s really about being a stable, consistent presence, gently pointing young people to God, showing grace, not panicking over things that may seem huge in the moment but in reality fade away quickly. I love that I still love doing it.

Youth ministry is a marathon, not a sprint.

But it does go by fast.

Jesus and John Wayne

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, Kristin Kobes Du Mez.

Wow. This is an important book.

I attended a boarding school in South America during my high school years. During the few years I was there, multiple missionaries were removed from the mission for sexual abuse of children. For close to twenty years I genuinely believed I had happened to be at the school during a weird time and that that kind of abuse couldn’t be the norm. Then a decade or so social media changed the conversation. Hundreds of former students came forward, revealing that in reality, the school had been the site of rampant abuse for decades. What I had thought was a blip was actually a systemic failure. It was a gut wrenching realization.

I had the same experience reading this book.

So many of the stories shared in this history of Christian nationalism in America were moments I remembered being uncomfortable with at the time, but then moving on and not considering their lasting impact. Having it all laid out reveals a far more serious picture of spiritual unhealth and spiraling patterns. Du Mez has done an incredible job of presenting history, walking the reader through the progression of dangerous trends in the American church.

This book is an important one. It would be easy to ignore or reject it because of the uncomfortable realities it reveals, but my hope is that it will spark conversations, trigger questions, and drive critical self evaluation. The church has reformed in the past, something we celebrate and honor. We can do so again.

All that to say, yes, I highly recommend this book.

Book Review Roundup

Some short takes on four books I’ve read over the last couple months:

God and the Pandemic, N.T. Wright. I really wish I had read this when it first came out! Wright does such an effective job of both navigating scripture and addressing the real pain of the pandemic. He challenges the reader to respond like Christ, while cautioning that sadly, for too many “the coronavirus is providing people with a megaphone with which to say, more loudly, what they were wanting to say anyway.” (p.7) He challenges readers to be humble, to have perspective, and live out God’s calling to love our neighbors even if it means sacrificing our preferences. He askes the questions, “Who is going to be at special risk when this happens? What can we do to help? and who shall we send?” (p.32) I really appreciated the heart in this short book; definitely worth checking out!

Gay Girl, Good God, Jackie Hill Perry. Perry’s book was not what I expected; it was much more than a discussion about her transition from being a lesbian to marriage to her husband. It is the story of her life, the abuse she endured, how she navigated sexuality, the story of her coming to know Christ, and eventually the story of the relationship with her husband. She writes that “being born human meant that I had the capacity for affection and logic. Being born sinful meant both were inherently broken.” (p.21) I thought how she told the story of addressing her brokenness was beautiful. My one frustration was that for much of the book it came across as though becoming a Christian meant a natural transition from gay to straight. It wasn’t until the end of the book that Perry acknowledged that while that was her experience, it certainly isn’t true of everyone. Rather than being a book about sexuality, Gay Girl, Good God, is the story of Perry’s faith journey, and as such it is moving to read. I highly recommend.

Embodied: Transgender Identities, the Church, and What the Bible Has to Say, Preston Sprinkle. I’ve enjoyed Sprinkle’s writing over the years (Erasing Hell is one that stands out), but I was frustrated with this one. Sprinkle’s strength is in humanizing the stories of transgender people, but by his own admission, his weakness is that he is neither a doctor or a psychologist. Too often I felt he was either picking the research he agreed with and ignoring the ones he doesn’t, or attempting to interpret complex medical research that is above his pay grade. Having said that, I was surprised on his stance on pronouns and names (given the preceding chapters and his conclusions in general about transgender issues). I appreciate the argument he makes from scripture on why using someone’s chosen pronouns is both respectful to the person and in line with scripture. Overall, though, if someone is going to read just one book on this topic, then I would recommend Mark Yarhouse’s Understanding Gender Dysphoria. As a theologian and a practicing psychologist, Yarhouse does an incredible job of balancing both scripture, science, and his decades of direct experience working with people.

Engaging Generation Z: Raising the Bar for Youth Ministry, Tim McKnight. I found myself highlighting a lot of passages in McKnight’s book. It’s a great resource for learning more about Gen Z, how they think, and ways to reach them. I appreciated his comments on page 83 that teens want to be challenged with spiritual meat; that we don’t need to be dumbing down the material for them. He addresses an issue that I think is particularly relevant for churches to confront; he points out that Gen Z is the most “racially and ethnically diverse generation in American history.” (p.36) As such, they are that much more aware of how the church responds to race issues – and it has become a major stumbling block for them. I know I’ve seen this directly with the teens in our church and their frustration on how they’ve seen many adults in our congregation interact around this topic and other topics over the last year on social media. McKnight gives a lot of great insight on healthy approaches to student ministry, practical tips, and more. It’s definitely worth checking out if you are in student ministry.

2020 Writing in Review

2020 has had a lot of challenges … but it was a fun year for being published! I had a chapter in a book, saw sixteen curriculum resources release, and had nineteen games and other media type resources release. I should probably clarify that I did not create all of this in 2020; some of these were resources I had submitted in 2018 and 2019. It takes anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple years for things to go through the publishing process. Another fun development this year was teaming up with different family members; both Noah (Hua Mulan) and Zach (Guinea Pig Party) had ideas for games that we put together during quarantine. Heather was the brains behind the Caption Challenge and Hashtag games, both of which have been far more popular than anything I have come up with, as well as the one who came up with the idea for Insta Devos. And Micah helped me with Actin’ Sus, which will probably retain the title of best selling youth ministry resource by a McNutt until the end of time. Anyway, if you’re interested, click on them to check them out!

The Book:

Available at Download Youth Ministry:

Curriculum

                

Games & Media

                                    

Published with The Youth Cartel, now available at Download Youth Ministry:

         

Zach’s Insta Devo

Our student ministry has been posting short devos called “Insta Devos” to our Instagram and Facebook pages. It’s been a fun way to see students interact with scripture and share their insights with one another. This week, our youngest – Zach – who is moving up into the youth group in a few weeks, did one as well! I’m super proud of him … it’s my favorite Insta Devo!

First Testament: 1 Kings resource

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My ninth First Testament curriculum resource was released last week by the Youth Cartel, this one on the book of 1 Kings! First Kings is a fascinating book to study; the historian in me loves the stories of the different kings of Judah and Israel. It is history with a purpose; the stories are chosen by the author(s) to demonstrate God’s power and His desire for us to follow Him alone. It is very applicable to today – and each lesson has connections to the book of James. Like the other First Testament curriculum, it is a four week small group guide full of discussion questions and lesson ideas. They’re only $5.99 each, or you can grab five of them for only $19.99 (that’s twenty weeks of material for a buck a week!). Here’s the official description:

First Kings is history written with a theological purpose; the author(s) wanted the readers to know there is one true God. Despite the covenant between God and His people, the Israelites fell into a downward spiral of increasing sin and death. Their constant selfishness, idolatry, and fighting with one another, resulted in the nation splitting in two, Judah and Israel, and a long list of evil rulers. Only a handful of the kings followed God, but even through all the failure, First Kings is an important book for believers today.

Through the stories of the different kings, students learn important lessons about God’s power, our dependence on Him, the hope we have in spite of failure, and the incredible love God has for each of us.

  • Week 1, Solomon the Wise (1 Kings 3): A challenge to look to God for wisdom.
  • Week 2, Solomon the Fool (1 Kings 11): Solomon allowed to sin to creep into his life; this lesson challenges students to keep their focus on God.
  • Week 3, Asa the Good (1 Kings 15): In spite of failures, Asa was able to be righteous before God.
  • Week 4, Ahab the Evil (1 Kings 16-18): Idolatry was not just a danger for the ancients, it is a real danger today as well.

First Testament: Lamentations resource

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My eighth (!!!) First Testament curriculum resource was released last week by the Youth Cartel, this one on the book of Lamentations! I’ve always loved the book of Lamentations; in many ways I believe our culture pushes us towards unhealthy ways of handling sadness, grief and suffering; Lamentations models a far healthier way to process difficult times. It’s beautiful poetry, haunting and terrifying imagery, and fascinating that it doesn’t have a happy ending. I think for many, this current season is a perfect time to embrace the five laments of Lamentations and work through them. Like the other First Testament curriculum, it is a four week small group guide full of discussion questions and lesson ideas. They’re only $5.99 each, or you can grab five of them for only $19.99 (that’s twenty weeks of material for a buck a week!). Here’s the official description:

Lamentations is a collection of five poems, or laments, that wrestle with the pain, grief and horror the ancient Israelites experienced at the hands of the Babylonians. Their nation conquered, their temple destroyed, and their children taken captive, they were a devastated people. Lamentations was written and/or collected by the prophet Jeremiah and read in unison every year on the anniversary of the destruction of the temple. Lamentations teaches the reader how to grieve. It also teaches lessons about God’s judgment, compassion and sovereignty.

Included with this study is a collection of 60 images to be used as a discussion opener for each study. Lamentations uses word images to convey message and meaning. In the same way, use the photos to get the participants to think abstractly, to identify and communicate message and meaning.

  • Week 1, Family (Lamentations 1): The importance of family and connections in the grieving process.
  • Week 2, Judgment (Lamentations 2): What does God’s judgment mean? What is its place in our lives?
  • Week 3, Compassion (Lamentations 3): Even when the end is not in sight, it is possible to see God’s compassion and hope in our suffering.
  • Week 4, Sovereignty (Lamentations 4-5): God’s power and authority is absolute; what does that mean when we suffer?

First Testament: Daniel resource

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My seventh First Testament curriculum resource dropped a few weeks ago with the Youth Cartel, this one on the book of Daniel! And yes, I was working on it BEFORE I heard of the Tiger King. I love the book of Daniel; it’s one that we may feel so familiar with after years of Sunday School lessons … but it’s far more edgy and thought provoking than our third grade teacher led us to believe. Like the other First Testament curriculum, it is a four week small group guide full of discussion questions and lesson ideas. They’re only $5.99 each, or you can grab five of them for only $19.99 (that’s twenty weeks of material for a buck a week!). Here’s the official description:

Perhaps one of the more well-known names in scripture, Daniel was a prophet trapped in a foreign land. Captured as a teenager when his nation was conquered and his family most likely killed, he was taken away from all he knew and forced to live in Babylon where he was castrated and given a new name. He should have lost his identity through all of that, yet he remained powerfully committed to God through a lifetime of captivity. His life teaches young people powerful lessons in God’s sovereignty, what it means to be faithful, and opens the door to conversations around ancient prophecies.

  • Week 1, Babylon (Daniel 1): A challenge to recognize God’s control and have the faith to stand for Him.
  • Week 2, Belshazzar (Daniel 5): A warning about pride and how it can negatively impact decision making.
  • Week 3, Lion’s Den (Daniel 6): A powerful lesson in just how important prayer is in the life of a believer.
  • Week 4, Prophecy (Daniel 10-12): A reminder that we are precious to God and have overwhelming victory in Him.

First Testament: Hosea resource

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The fifth 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 Hosea. Hosea, the first of the twelve minor prophets, is a fascinating and somewhat disturbing book. It’s one of those ones that forces the reader to think, brings up questions, and allows groups to wrestle through some difficult passages together. It’s famous for it’s opening chapters about Hosea’s marriage to Gomer, a prostitute who is unfaithful to him, but there is a lot more to this book even beyond those surprising chapters. Hosea contains powerful messages relevant today on the dangers of allowing idols in our lives, the need to use leadership and influence for God’s honor, the importance of being intentional with our actions, and most importantly, an incredible look at God’s limitless love. Click here to check it out, and let me know what you think! It’s four weeks of curriculum for less than six bucks!

First Testament: Ruth resource

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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!