“You’d better sit down for this one…”

Spring has sprung and that means one thing:  yard sales.  My wife and I hit a community yard sale this past Saturday and while most of what we saw was better suited for the donation box than the yard sale box, I did see a really nice looking recliner….that swiveled…..and rocked…..and reclined…..all in leather.  And the seller even knocked $5 off the price when she found out I bought her couch the year before.  Not sure how I feel about my “frequent buyer” status at a total stranger’s house, but the discount was a nice thought and made the deal even more tempting.  Still, I turned it down. I did buy a classic game “Pit” (harkening back many childhood memories of the adults yelling from the livingroom, “Two! Two! Two!  Three! Three! Three! One! One! One!….DING!”) and “The Diary of Anne Frank” for my 8th grade daughter who is currently reading it and doing a project on it for school.  I figured $.25 wasn’t too steep a price for her to have her own copy.  So even though I left the recliner behind, I did hold onto my “repeat offender” status in this woman’s front yard.

I sit at a desk a fair amount of time when I’m working in the office.  There is quite a bit of administrative work to be done and even with an administrative assistant (who rocks), there’s plenty of screen time in the life of a youth pastor–and I’m not talking about video games.  Emails, reports, publications, curriculum writing, promotion of upcoming events, video editing, social media, and countless other ways that put my duff in a seat looking at a screen.  And that doesn’t even touch the meetings and the sit-time they bring.  Or the time in the car.  Or the couch.

A few years ago, I tried to acquire a stainless steel stand-up height desk for my office.  Its still around, but being used somewhere else and I still have my eye on it.  I’ll keep you posted.

You know how it works…the longer you sit, the longer you want to sit.  The less active you are, the easier it becomes to be less active.  And I can tell you personally that while I can accomplish a whole heck of a lot at work while sitting on my can (yesterday is a great example), I feel much more alive and even stronger when I limit my time on my derriere.

I wrote an article months ago called “Ministry Saddlebags”.  It is about the dangers of a sedentary ministry lifestyle.  Of course, there is by nature a demand to sit down, pound the keyboard, and get stuff done but it seems the larger the ministry, the more demanding the desk chair is for my rear end to be in it.  The bigger the ministry (I moved from medium-sized to larger-sized nearly 7 years ago), the more administrative work seems to be necessary…and that leads to one thing: “saddlebags”.  And not the leather pouches you throw over the horse, but the fatty cellulite ones attached to your (my) outer thighs.

So all this to say that I’m currently looking for creative ways to get off my butt and onto my feet more and more, especially at work.  Just a century ago (you remember those times, don’t you?), America wasn’t as physically stagnate as we are now.  Who knows what trends we can reverse if we get up and move more than we do?  And as strange as this may sound, I’m not even looking at this strictly from a physical perspective, but from a spiritual and ministry perspective.  And I’m looking forward to seeing what develops.

For more on what sitting does, check out this link.

The power to stay

After 16 years in fulltime ministry to students, I can still hear my professor-turned-friend-turned-ministry-partner-but-still-friend Dr. Len Kageler say, “Make every effort to stay at your current ministry position longer than you stayed at your previous ministry position.”  Through all the lectures in youth ministry class at Nyack College, and even through all those casual conversations, it was obvious that Len had (and has) a heart for longevity in youth ministry.  And he was more than successful in instilling that same passion within me.

I’ve been more than “fortunate” in the ministry positions I have held to date.  Since my graduation from Nyack College in 1995, I am currently in only my 3rd position.  My first position in Winchester, VA was 2 years and 1 month, start to finish.  Quick, but I packed a lot of learning in.  And heck, 25 months is still a chunk over the national average for length of stay for youth pastors, which is an 18-month stay.  My second ministry position was in Nyack, NY.  I stayed there from July of 1997 to August of 2004.  For all you non-pencil-pushers out there, that’s over 7 years.  Not too shabby.  And at this writing, I am less than a year away from being at my current position longer than I was at my previous position–a dream come true for both me and my beloved Len.

But as I stare down this milestone, I have to look back and take stock in just what makes a youth pastor last at any given position.  Now, I know there are a lot of “yeah, but’s” that youth pastors could spew at me, and some rightfully so.  But I’m not going to get into all the external factors that often bring about the conclusion of a youth pastor’s stay; those things we can’t control.  I’m going to instead focus on the internal factors–the things I/we DO have control over–that help me stay where I am longer than where I’ve been.

First, I’ve gotten over the fact that I’m never going to do it all. When I started in youth ministry I had the proverbial cape on my back and chip on my shoulder, thinking that I was God’s answer to youth ministry as it had been.  I hit the scene kickin’ down doors and eradicating every existing notion that “Chubby Bunny” was ever a good idea.  However, my first ministry position taught me that I’m not impervious to being damaged in ministry.  So the principle here would be to “get over yourself” as quickly as possible.  Know who you are and be that person.  After all, we only need one Jesus.

Secondly, I’d say that striving for excellence in every area is a non-stop journey.  As I’m sitting here typing I can think of how things I’m currently doing in ministry could be done differently or even–gasp–better than they’re being done.  I truly desire everything I do in ministry to be dripping with excellence.  I fall woefully short of that mark many times, but the desire is still there and that desire drives me every day I hold this position.

Next, I would fly the flag of rest.  There will be some weeks that seem endless due to the overwhelming needs that surround you as a youth pastor.  But if I don’t keep an eye on my disciple of rest, I’m not going to last very long at all; not at this church or at any church.  Leading from a rested spirit is essential to long-term effectiveness in student ministry. There have been many times that I’ve counseled fellow youth leaders with this advice: “Ministry is a lot like working on an assembly line. There will never be an end to the work coming your way.  You have to have the guts to simply step away from the line for a while.”  Inevitably, I get the response, “But what about what doesn’t get done?!?”  And I say “Yep.”  If we base our schedule on what needs to get done in ministry, nothing will…at least not for long. Rest is vital in youth ministry.  Unapologetically disconnect from your office, from your task list, from your students, and from your expectations.  Any senior pastor who tells you differently should be a senior pastor you leave in your rearview mirror.

The next principle is to cultivate the ability to be flexible. A couple years into my ministry here at my current church, I boldly told the Executive Pastor, “I could be the last youth pastor you hire.”  I wasn’t trying to be cocky, and I definitely wasn’t trying to be God.  It’s just that I made a conscious decision early in ministry that I would be willing to do what the ministry called for.  Anything less is a “Yes, but…” to God.  I’m committed to skill development, character growth, continual education, and any maturing that needs to take place in me so that I can be the youth pastor this church needs. There may come a day when–despite my greatest attempts–it becomes clear that God is done with me here, but until that day comes you better believe that I’m committed to doing what the ministry here calls for.

(I should have mentioned that this list would be in random order, as evidenced by the next thing I’d like to share.  It would definitely have been placed near the top of the list!)

One of the most critical principles I can give to my fellow married youth pastors is to constantly date your spouse. Flirt, woo, romance the pants off the helpmate God has blessed you with.  Not only is that some of the most fun you can have as a human being, but it will safeguard your marriage and ministry in ways you’ll never fully know.  As much as you can help it, never let your spouse feel like they’re in competition with your ministry.  There are obviously times when you must be away at conferences, on mission trips, for speaking engagements, etc. but those times are more than bearable when you have a spouse who already knows that all you want to do is get back home to be with them.  In my own ministry, I’ve had more students and other adults make comments on my marriage than on any message I’ve delivered or event I led.  Everyone who cares to look knows that I am 1000% head-over-heels crazy about my wife.  No joke, I’m one of the happiest married men you know. There’s simply no way around this truth: The investment of your marriage will spill over positively into your ministry and the people you’re called to lead.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s the other way around.

This next one is one that I’m just now coming to grips with.  I’ll put it this way: “Look for the blessings more than the bookings.” For many of the years I’ve been in ministry, I’ve had a bit of an ache in the back of my mind.  It’s something I don’t readily share with many people (yes, I know this is a blog on the internet).  It’s the idea that the farther into ministry I go, and the more “successful” I become at it, the more invitations I should receive; invitations to come and speak, to write, to share advice, to take a stage, to be more “known.”  And while there is more to divulge than that, I’ll suffice it to say that God has shown me that He is much more interested in His fame than He is in mine. Years ago I gave a gift to my Mom.  It was a potted plant that said on it, “Bloom where you’re planted.”  I have to admit that I’ve been guilty at times of thinking grass was greener somewhere else.  Well, it’s often the case that the grass is greener because of all the “fertilizer” over there!  Be thankful for where you are, welcome opportunities for God to expand your influence, but be so careful about prying doors of notoriety open.

Next, you need to remember that nothing will do for you what humility will. Now, humility is like a wet, slippery bar of soap.  Once you say you have it, you don’t.  Humility isn’t something you put on a resume.  It isn’t something you decide for yourself, and it isn’t something that comes naturally to most people.  But if you want to stick around longer than the church van, you’d be wise to seek a heart of humility.  It’s been said that “humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, its thinking of yourself less.”  Humility will be the stabilizer that keeps you from bitterness, from resentment, from defensiveness toward criticism, and from many other ills the enemy wants for your ministry.  Humility begins with a deep heart recognition that God is God, God is the potter, and you are the clay.  It’s not cliche’, its Scripture (Is. 64:8).

Finally, and really the greatest piece of advice for youth leaders who want to stick around is this: Don’t teach theory. Lead from who you are, where you are, and from an authentic spirit.  Get in, be in, and stay in love with Jesus your Savior.  Don’t let anything come between you and Him.  Let people see that you’re not leading/teaching/preaching from a textbook or from some idea book; let them see you walking hand-in-hand with Jesus Christ, the love of your life.  From that relationship will flow every resource and supply you’ll ever need, no matter where you find yourself in ministry.

Whether you’ve been in youth ministry for half a century or half a day, I pray that these few tidbits might spark a desire within you to, God-willing, send down your roots right where you’re at and stay put for a long, fruitful ministry.

Just another manic morning.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is recorded to have said, “The prayer of the morning determines the day.”

But for most people, it’d be more accurate to substitute the word “prayer” with “crisis”.  Yesterday, as we were in the final moments of getting kids (we have 4) out the door for the school bus, we decided that our youngest would wear his new slip-on style “Crocs” sandals to school.  Halfway to the bus stop I realized that was a mistake the would shape my next hour or so.  My youngest loves to run and his sandals (with no backs) were not allowing him to run like the wind the way he wanted to.  He’d take a few schlepping steps, get frustrated, stop and cry.  He’d take a few more schlepping steps, sandals scraping the ground as he tried to run and also keep them on his feet, get frustrated, stop and cry.  I soon learned that the sandals weren’t the best idea.  After all, shoes that are “slip-on” must also by their very nature be “slip-off”.  But finally we made it to the bus stop.  He had stopped crying, but was still not too keen on the sandals.

Now, I want to stop here in the story and point out a type of parenting that I call “helicopter parenting”.  When any crisis arises, some parents (myself included at times) swoop in and save the day, providing the perfect solution/rescue from trouble  just in the nick of time.  In that vein, I leaned down to my son’s level and said, “Hudson, would you like me to go and get your sneakers for you?”  Through whimpers, he quietly said, “Yes.”  So I fired up the rotors of my parenting helicopter and flew home as quickly as my feet could carry me, only to see the bus coming up the street as soon as I reached our front porch.  I knew instantly there’d be no way on God’s green earth that I’d make it back to the bus stop in time.

Now, I had a decision to make.  Would I shut down the blades of the helicopter; the parenting helicopter I’d come so accustomed to flying, or would I go the distance and ultimately bring the sneakers to the weeper?  What would you have done?

That’s what I figured.

Since going back to the bus stop would have been useless, I went to his room, grabbed his sneakers out of his closet, grabbed some socks, and climbed back into my parenting rescue copter, which looks suspiciously like a minivan.  Off I drove to the elementary school parking lot, landed the rescue copter, and walked over to where I figured his bus would stop and let him out.  Yep, “Plan B” was working out just fine.  I’d see him get off the bus, swoop in with socks and sneakers, and fly off into the clouds until the next crisis arose. 

And as I stood there for what seemed like an eternity, I thought about what other parents in their parked copters must be thinking while looking at me standing there near that bus loop, under that tree.  Here was a dad who, from all indications looked quite sane and yet was standing in a bus loop holding a pair of child’s socks and sneakers.  I can’t help but think that someone must have seen me standing there and thought, “Oh good Lord, that dad is so inept, he didn’t even put shoes on the kid before sending him out the door!”

So, I finally see buses start to roll in and I keep my eye out for my youngest son’s bus.  There it was!  Rolling in, and rolling by way too quickly to be stopping anytime soon and anywhere near me.  I watched it finally roll to a stop at the opposite end of the bus loop from where I was.  Undaunted and still committed to save the day, I started hoofing it down the sidewalk and into a sea of children, in the hopes to find mine or one that looks like mine.  By that time, I was tempted to grab any kid wearing sandals, sit him down, take them off, and squeeze my kids shoes onto his feet.  But while I was having that thought, I heard a stern, “May I help you?”  But while those were the words coming from this militant mother’s mouth (volunteering as security guard), I was reading between the lines; what she was really saying was, “You don’t belong in this sea of children. I don’t like the looks of you. I don’t trust your intentions. You make me uncomfortable.  You’re not supposed to be here and the fact that you’re here makes me feel and act like a mother hen.   No, a mother mongoose.  No, a mother bear.  No, a mother dragon.”  I quickly tried to explain myself, and the sandals, and the shoes, and the helicopter, but she didn’t care one bit about the sordid details.  She just wanted me to march my trespassing heiney to the front office, go through the retinal and rectal scan like every other visitor has to, and hope to gain entrance into this fortress of security.  So I did.

Did I mention that at this point I’m still a grown man carrying a child’s socks and shoes?  So, I get to the office, punch my name into the computer, sign some legal documents that I think contractually obligate me to surrender my soul to gain entrance, wait for my picture badge sticker to print out, slap it on, and head toward my son’s classroom. 

And then came the payoff.  I walked through the door of my son’s classroom, he looked up from his morning work, and……wait for it…….smiled.

There it was.  There was the sole reason any of us parents do anything.  All that work, that running, that dragonfighting, all for that one moment when my son looked up at me with eyes that said, “I recognize the lengths you have gone through to bring me my socks and shoes.  I esteem you highly and vow from this moment on to never take you for granted, always to appreciate and respect the position of loving authority you hold in my life, and to constantly remind you of just how wonderful I think you truly are.”   But it sounded more like “Hi Dad.”

With pride in my heart, joy on my face, and I think maybe my chest puffed out a little, I took off those dastardly sandals and replaced them with soft warm socks, and lace up sneakers, double-tied.  Now my son could face the day not having to schlep.

Fast forward 24 hours to this morning.  We’re at the bus stop (sneakers on this time), and my two youngest are playing tag while waiting for the bus.  Just as I heard the roar of the bus engine around the corner, I look down just in time to see my son trip and fall on the asphalt street.  Immediate tears and crying ensue.  I think to myself, “Oh good Lord, can I have a normal morning, please?!?”  The answer clearly being “Nope”, I picked him up, tried to convince him all was well and quickly realized he wasn’t buying it.  So, while all the other children climbed aboard the school bus, my youngest and I begin the walk home, with one out of four knees bloodied and needing a band-aid.  After peroxide and some attention from mom, he seemed no worse for wear.  So we got in the minivan once again, put it on auto-pilot from the day before, and enjoyed a nice ride to his school.

I’m not saying that as parents we’re supposed to save our kids everytime they fall, forget, or fail.  In fact, I’d contend that there are definitely times when the good ‘ol “you made your bed, now lie in it” method is completely appropriate.  But at least for now and in instances like these, I’m enjoying building that foundation of trust with my youngest son.  So that in the future when he needs to stand on his own, he’ll know he can do so with the love and support of his parents.


I was relaxing for a few minutes late tonight; unwinding in an armchair, unaware that I was about to be appalled by a documentary that was spotlighting the deepest type of hatred a human being can have; that of another human being.

I watched in horror as the program “20/20” did a brief news piece on a church with the name “Westboro”. Perhaps you’ve heard of this church.  They are well known for their picketing and demonstrations in places like funerals for fallen soldiers and where they will be in direct public opposition to homosexuals, Jews, and other subcultures of our society.  They spew their message of hatred, claiming to speak for God and rightly upholding God’s Word.

The most disturbing aspect of the brief documentary was the use of the children of this church as pawns in their agenda of hatred.  7-year-olds and younger standing with their parents, holding signs saying things like “God Hates Fags”, “Jews Killed Jesus” and other unspeakably hateful words. 

And in the midst of this news piece, I found a ray of hope and a cause to celebrate.  The producers of “20/20” spotlighted a daughter of one of the married couples who are members of Westboro Church.  Her name is “Lauren” and she at one point questioned the teaching of hatred, and pointed out a hypocrisy in the Westboro Church.  She was quickly ostracized not only from the congregation, but from her family as well. The ironic thing was that Lauren’s attitude was so much more Christlike and biblical than those who cut her off for not believing the Bible.  She was compassionate, forgiving, and gracious toward her parents and her former church who continued to be cold, unwavering, and pious toward her.

When I teach from God’s Word (and I do regularly), I challenge the students to search the Scriptures for themselves.  To never EVER “take my word for it.”  I urge them not to believe something simply because they’ve heard me say it.  

To my own children, I gladly welcome them to search for and learn about and investigate other “religions”, (though I hesitate to call Christianity a religion), because I know and have learned for myself that God’s truth can stand on its own.  Scrutinize it, inspect it, test it, dissect it, do whatever you’d like to do to it, and it will come through completely intact.  It’s not the truth because I believe it, I believe it because it’s the truth.

And I cringe, to put it mildly, anytime I see “Christians” (though I’d never call the members of Westboro Christians) are represented by a small group of nut jobs who stand on street corners for no other reason then to spout hatred.  Its reprehensible and nauseating.  But I must say that I’m thankful to live in a country where nut jobs are free to say whatever they like.  How ironic that they stand and picket and protest at the funeral of a soldier who died defending their freedom to protest at his funeral.

“Beloved, let us love one another.  For love is of God, and everyone that loves is born of God and knows God.  If we don’t love, then we don’t know God because God is love.”  1 John 4:7-8

What the church in Westboro fails to do is what God does perfectly and continually…he loves me and you, His creation while abhoring the sins we commit.  He looks at those who love Him and sees the righteousness of Jesus, and at those who don’t love Him with compassion, patience, and a willingness to forgive and restore.  Nowhere in the Bible am I, as a lover and follower of Jesus, commissioned to hate anyone at anytime for any reason.  Search the Bible cover to cover and you simply will not find anything that even slightly resembles the sanctioning of hate-speech toward those who do not embrace God and His grace.

And so I am compelled to pray for those connected to Westboro.  I believe that the grace and love of God is strong enough and broad enough to reach even them.

Delete the Llamas

I was working on a new blog post, minding my own business when all of a sudden my sister who lives in CA sends me an instant message, trying to reach my Mom who is visiting us for the weekend.  Apparently my Mom asked my sister to take care of her “farm” in “Farmville” for her.  My sister apparently had a pressing question that needed an immediate answer.  And as it turned out, the answer was “Delete the llamas.”

So, here I am finding myself a go-between for two virtual farmers talking about where to put the “market stand”.  It seems that a market stand is more important than llamas, at least in Farmville; at least on my mom’s farm.

I should say here that not only do I not have a farm of my own, I don’t understand the phenomenon of Farmville.  On top of that, I tend to mock those who do.  As I’m typing this blog, I keep getting interrupted by having to be the messenger of my sister’s maniacal questions and my mom’s nonsensical responses.  “Move the fence.”  “Kill the chickens.” “Put the donkey by the tractors.”  “Replant the lavendar.”

Are you kidding me?!?

There are some things we’re just not meant to understand.  But many people have a hard time accepting that.  As humans we demand answers when things don’t make sense to us.  Especially when we feel a wrong or an injustice has happened.  When the scales don’t seem to us to balance, we quickly cry “foul” and demand an explanation.  And since God is the biggest thing we can think of, we often point our finger of blame at Him, and insist that He explain Himself.

Long ago, my dad taught me that above every human being’s head is a steel bar.  Anything below the bar is our business, our responsibility, and within our grasp to act on.  Everything above the bar is God’s business, God’s responsibility, and ultimately God’s prerogative.   And so when we have a situation in life or a question that seems to not make any sense to us, we tend to try and stick our head into God’s business and put our hands into what He’s working on.  And consequently we end up with a splitting headache from banging our head into a steel bar.

Let Deutoronomy 29:29 be a guide for you when you’re faced with unanswered (or unanswerable) questions:   “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

On many occasions, I’ve counseled people who were frustrated, wearied, bewildered, and even angry at God because of a situation they were in where they couldn’t make sense of what was happening and why.  And I have many times directed them to this verse.  I know it’s a verse that demands trust and faith, but that is precisely what God is seeking to foster and cultivate within us through the difficulties we face.

So, the next time you are faced with a crisis and everything seems upside-down and inside-out, making no sense, trust God and His ability to handle the things that belong to Him.  And while you trust Him, you handle the things that are within your grasp to handle. 

And stay below the bar.

My Bus Station

I’m going to launch this site with a frightful admission.  It’s a confession to you that I fear will sound quite egotistical, or even self-glorifying.  I can only say that I in no way intend that to be the case.  If you know me, you know that.

I have been in student ministry for 16 years now.  I have spent most of those days on the front lines of mentoring, investing in, connecting with, influencing, and leading both students and adult leaders alike.  This life all began in my second year of college when I officially accepted God’s call on my life to full-time student ministry.

Upon graduation, I felt a deep sense of purpose, confidence, and even bravado.  I stepped into my first ministry with passion, fire, and determination to let the world see, no–BEHOLD the glory of the pioneering youth pastor I thought myself to be.

So, for the past 16 years, I have been doggedly seeking to be the best at everything I do relating to ministry.  And as I have grown older, I have begun to wonder more and more about what real difference I’ve made in anyone anywhere. 

And as I tried to stumble through an illustration that could explain what’s been going on in my head and heart, I shared with my wife the mental picture of a bus station where I feel that I am and have been for quite some time.  A bus station where I watch people in ministry come and go, departing for destinations far more significant than mine, with more appeal than mine, and with more shine than mine; all the while wondering when is it going to be MY turn to climb aboard a bus, or worse yet, did I MISS the bus I was supposed to get on?  I have always suspected that there would be a bus that would take me to greater influence, broader horizons, and even *gulp* more notoriety.

And even as I am floundering through these thoughts, my wife gave me a different perspective; a much better one.

She said, “But the way I see it, YOU are the bus station.  And God has brought you a constant stream of students like buses in and out of a bus station.  They’ve come in contact with you and gone out from your ministry to be who God made them to be.”

Is it any wonder why I’m so crazy about this woman of God?

I don’t know that I’ll instantly stop wanting greater impact, broader horizons, or *gulp* more notoriety.  But when I think about blessings, I need to remember that God usually blesses those who aren’t doing it for a blessing.  God blesses those who are humble, content, and grateful for who He is and all He has done.  And THAT is what I need to allow God to work on in me.