Monday, October 29, 2018

Notes to my young self- Introduction

I unlocked my office door and dropped my church keys on my desk. Starting my first youth ministry job had my head spinning with questions:
What do I need to know starting out?
How can I best minister to the youth in my care?
Where do I learn to handle all the pressures that immediately come to me? Balancing parents, church leadership, pastoral staff and the church secretary is already a struggle.
Now, looking back as a 30 year ministry veteran, what advice would I give to that guy standing in his new office?

I began youth ministry in the early 1980’s at the “wise old” age of 19. Like most my age, I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do career-wise. I leaned toward an occupation as a Ranger working in a nearby National Park, but my pastor and youth pastor had a different plan for me. In between my freshman and sophomore years of college my church took me on as a summer intern. Like many interns I loved it and thought, “I can get paid to do this fun stuff?” This experience kindled an interest and passion for ministry that has carried me through to this day.

After a 34 year ministry journey, which includes a wide variety of ministry roles, I am now in my mid-50’s and invest in training and preparing people for entrepreneurial ministry as a faculty member at Tabor College.



Looking back I feel like I have learned a few things over the past years, and this post is the first in a blog series called, “Notes to my younger self.” In future posts I plan to share stories from my Youth Ministry past and offer insights I wished I would have known back then. Hopefully, by listening in on this conversation, it will also help you who read it today.

Before jumping into the series, first a bit about me. When I was starting 7th grade, my parents moved us to a new community. With the move came a new church which became a vocation-shaping place for me. I met pastor Bob Clayton and youth pastor Carman Ruggeri, who were to have a life-long impact on my call and vocation. During those years Bob and Carman began to invite me into the vocation of ministry. They modeled what the book Growing Young identified in chapter 2 as “unlocking keychain leadership.” Bob and Carman continually called me into ministry leadership, even when I initially resisted. When I finally accepted their “summons,” they provided access to get involved right away, which led to the summer internship.

I graduated from Fresno Pacific, a Christian college, with a Christian Ministry degree. However, I did not feel adequately prepared to launch out and run my own youth group so I joined “Christian Service,” a two year peace-corps type program run by the Mennonite Brethren church for young adults working in a variety of ministries. For me, this was an excellent way to get youth ministry experience and learn under the watchful eye of Bruce Porter, a youth ministry veteran. When I completed the 2 year program, I felt better prepared to launch out and serve on my own.

I spent an additional two years as a youth pastor then transitioned to Seminary where I also worked part time in a church. During that time, ministry expanded to include worship leading and involvement with general church leadership. After graduating from Seminary, my wife and I moved to England to work with Youth for Christ. More on that experience in future posts.

Along the way I have had other great youth ministry mentors. Still, there were tough things I learned along the way that in hindsight I want to reflect on. The next blog posts will do just that.

For this first post, a couple of questions to ponder:

  • Who are the people in your life who have encouraged you into ministry? Have you thanked them? If not, send a note or text today.
  • If you “hold the keys” at your ministry, with whom are you sharing them? See the book Growing Young from Fuller Youth Institute for more info.
  • Even if you’re new in ministry, what have you learned that you would share with an earlier version of yourself? Write that down and share it with someone who is newer than you in youth ministry.



Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Considering the Unexpected, in a Graveyard, in the Dark.


Do you like surprises?
Scary movies?
How do you deal with the unexpected?

For me, I’d rather follow the Scouting motto and, “Be Prepared” than face anything that might disrupt my day.

What if I asked you these questions while we were walking in a graveyard in the early morning before dawn? Would your responses change?

When I was a pastor I recall a graveside service I was leading on October 31st. It was early afternoon, but standing next to an open grave on that Halloween day did cause me to pause for thought. I definitely wouldn’t have liked a “surprise” of any sort on that day.

In general, when unexpected surprises in scary places come my way I respond with fear.

In Matthew 28:1-10 we read the same reaction from those at the tomb of Jesus.

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

When we read this story in our day it’s easy to think, “Why were the women so afraid? They knew Jesus was going to rise from the dead.” But did they? We have the benefit of knowing the full story. To get a “feel” for the situation we need to recapture the utter astonishment these women felt. If we try and put ourselves in their shoes, we can feel a bit of their experience.

The truth of our human experience is we live in the moment. We can look back and make forecasts, but we really don’t know what is happening next. We try and figure it out and make plans based on predictions, and for the most part that works pretty well. For example, right now it’s raining outside. It was raining while I drove to work and the weather report for today says it will shower all day. I won’t be fearful of the rain or if a thunderstorm appears, I’m expecting it. In fact, to see sunshine today would be unexpected. I’m living today based on this prediction.

The resurrection of Jesus is a central proclamation of the early church. And looking back in time as we get to, we can miss the awe and wonder that it brings. I like to think if I were there I wouldn’t be afraid but would have walked boldly up to Jesus given him a high five and said, “Welcome back.” However if I’m honest, I know I would have been just as afraid as those who were there that day.

However, notice there is also a different emotion present. Joy. In verse 9 the women hurried away afraid, yet filled with joy.

I love it that in the midst of the unexpected, there was a profound sense of joy that Jesus was alive.

This Easter, try and put yourself in the shoes of those first responders. Allow yourself to feel the fear of a graveyard in the dark and seeing things you don’t expect to see. And because of the fear, then allow yourself to experience the tremendous joy of discovering that Jesus is there and he is alive.






Friday, March 03, 2017

MOOC Resources





On March 3rd I lead a session for educators at the iTrac Kansas conference on the usefulness of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC's) for personal and professional development. Here are some of the organizations offering MOOC's that I refer to:



https://www.edx.org/


http://plusacumen.org/courses/
https://www.coursera.org/





https://www.futurelearn.com/courses

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Revisiting Lament on the Youth Specialties Blog



A couple weeks ago I had a blog post published on the Youth Specialties website. I thought it turned out really well if I do say so myself.

If you didn't see it you can read the post here: https://youthspecialties.com/blog/revisiting-lament/

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

New Tabor Ministry Entrepreneurship and Innovation video released today

We just posted a brand new video about the Tabor MEI program. Have a look and let me know what you think.




Tabor College Wichita M.A. in Ministry Entrepreneurship and Innovation
from Tabor College on Vimeo.


If you'd like to talk more about this degree. Please message me. I'd love to chat with you.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Wandering "Okies" today


I recently finished The Grapes of Wrath, one of the most difficult-to-read novels I've picked up in a long time. For me, it was a difficult book, not due to the grammar, although the way Steinbeck quotes the "English" spoken in that time is very hard to comprehend, but because I had a very personal connection with the story. In many ways the difficult journey of the Joads' was also my grandparent’s story.

With fear that my High School English teacher will see this, I admit that this was the first time I had read this classic novel. And as I read about the Dust Bowl from Steinbeck's perspective I was shocked by the amount of total devastation in that region; as well as the ways the sharecropping farmers were kicked off their land to make way for "progress." The description of the automobile drive west and the family’s hopes of a new and blessed life in California was painful to read. The terrible treatment of the "Okies" by the Californians was also appalling.



But why was it painful for me? I've read hard luck stories before; this time it was different. This time this was ‘my’ story. My mother’s family moved out from Oklahoma in the '30's, not due to the Dust Bowl but due to my grandpa's ill health. He had tuberculosis and needed to move to a drier climate. Unfortunately they picked a terrible time to move, when the ‘Joads’ and others were also on the road and seeking work in California.

As a result of reading this novel, I now have an image of my sweet, tiny grandma picking fruit, cotton, and working long hours in a cannery or the walnut house. I discovered my grandparents lived with their seven children in a two-room "house," which was actually a converted chicken coop, for nine years! My mom was the only one of the kids born in California.

Their dreams in migrating were for a better life. As I think about my family, for many of us the dream has come true. All of us are better off than my grandparents.

The dream was fulfilled, just not for the first generation.

Stories of refugees are common in our world today. Numerous people are moving from their homes to try and find a better life someplace else. Like the Joads, though, people don’t just move unless they are forced to by dire circumstances. Last June I was in Turkey about 20 miles from Aleppo, a city on the front pages of the news at the moment. While there, the group of students I was leading was able to meet with a number of Syrian refugees living in that region. We were treated to immense hospitality by these people who had fled their homes due to fighting; none of them wanted to leave, but were forced to due to outside circumstances. As I read how the Joads' maintained their humanity, even in the face of extreme dehumanization from the Californians, I was reminded of the beautiful Syrians we met in June.

As I write this, the city of Aleppo has been retaken by government forces. At the same time, a 7 year old girl in Aleppo has been tweeting her story- Bana Alabed escapes East Aleppo

Although not connected with the rebels, her home has been destroyed by government forces. Like the Joads', will her family make the move to a neighboring country to find a better life? (The link above shares how this family has been relocated to Turkey)

We’re currently in the season of Christmas, a time when Christians reflect on the birth narrative of Jesus. One of the interesting parts of Jesus story is the flight to Egypt shortly after the Magi leave. Jesus was a refugee. What if Egypt had closed their borders to immigrants and migrants? If Mary and Joseph had returned, would Jesus have been killed?

13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, 15 and they stayed there until Herod’s death.

Knowing my families story makes me much more sympathetic to the plight of those who experience loss and hardship right now. Knowing Syrian people who have fled, hearing their stories and their desire to return home, and knowing Jesus and his family experienced the same trauma and hardships makes me long for a world where peace is seen. What can I do? How do I keep from becoming one of the oppressors? If we stop to think about it for just a few minutes, the story of migration is the story of almost all Americans. At some point our ancestors were in the same circumstances as the fictitious Joads and the very real Syrians like Bana.

I invite you to join me in one way to respond, by giving to the Mennonite relief agency MCC: https://mcc.org/learn/more/syria-iraq-crisis-response


Friday, December 16, 2016

The sad death of Christmas Cards

Here we are in an old Christmas card photo

Has the giving of Christmas cards died a quick and sad death?

I awoke with the song “White Christmas” playing in my head the other morning. One line kept repeating over and over, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, with every Christmas card I write.” As this line kept looping I thought about how far from reality this seems. I admit that my wife and I no longer send Christmas cards and the majority of our friends don’t either.

I’ve also had a question rattling around in my thoughts, “How can I find ways to fully live the hope and expectation of the season of Advent, rather than stress and ‘Christmas’ for 30 days prior to the actual Christmas day.

These two random thoughts collided and I was left with a bigger question, “In previous generations, were writing and addressing Christmas cards one of the spiritual acts of Advent?”

As I understand it, Advent is a season of preparation, of spiritual and moral self-reflection in anticipation of entering the Christmas event. Christmas day is the culmination of that self-reflection capped off by the 12 days of Christmas. It seems to me this has completely flip-flopped. Christmas begins at the end of October and the entire season is a race up to the finish line- Chrismas day. I wonder if in the past taking the time to write and address a stack of cards helped slow down the pace and provide an opportunity to reflect on the season, rather than race through it.

Growing up, I remember receiving cards from family and friends and as a child I remember especially loving the ones that came with a photo of the senders family. Most of the time I knew the people in the image and sometimes I’d ask my parents who the people were. Other times the cards would have beautiful scenes and encouraging words on them. If we were lucky, they even had a check or a dollar or two for us kids.

Fast forward a bit to when my children were small, Christmas cards still were sent and received. As a family we added a “twist,” we place all the cards we got in a basket on the dining table and would  pray for the family from one card each night.

Nowadays, we only receive a handful of cards each year. More and more of my friends post a Christmas photo on their Facebook page and wish their followers Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Facebook has killed Christmas cards. Time to write an obituary I suppose.

Thinking about how Facebook has replaced Christmas cards gave me an idea of a spiritual practice to recapture the slowness and mindfulness of addressing numerous cards. I decided to go through my Facebook “friends” list  and pray a prayer of blessing over each one. I sat last Saturday morning with this list and if you’re one of my friends I prayed for you.

Here’s what I prayed:
Numbers 6:24-26
24 The Lord bless you
   and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face shine on you
   and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord turn his face toward you
   and give you peace.


May you experience peace and blessing this Christmas season. And if you’re not sending cards, I invite you to the practice of passing on the prayer and blessing to your Facebook, and wider, friends.





Here’s the version of “White Christmas” I had playing in my head that day. I had this album on cassette back in the 90’s and wore it out playing it in the minivan with my kids.