Thursday, September 29, 2011


At some point, it's time to look in the mirror and ask, "Why do I feel this way?"  Really, what is going on in me and why am I so wrecked?  

This isn't solution finding.  It's soul digging.  It's in search of the reason behind the reason.  It's not about why did so-and-so say that thing or what could I have done to make this different?  This is not a "How can I fix this?" question.  This is a "What is going on in me?" question.

I can't answer that for you, but I can tell you that when I've been the most wrecked... when I've walked into my senior pastor's office and tried to quit.  When I've cried myself to sleep or screamed at the sky in angst or just crawled in bed hoping today was a bad dream... when I've felt seriously discouraged... the most loving people I know have gently, and sometimes firmly, sent me tracing back on my steps in search of truth.  

So, I can't answer the why question for you.  But I can suggest some places to go looking- places I've found the answer before.  

BUSYNESS.  Busyness has a way of destroying our souls.  It has a way of wrecking us inside by causing us to focus on everything but the inside.  The tyranny of the urgent starts to pay it's toll and somewhere, the doing too much bug started eating away at the foundation of your life and it needs fixing.  We start getting too little sleep.  We take on too much. Life starts to fall apart and our priorities get all out of whack.  When this happens, discouragement can be the visual symptom of this often invisible cancer many times. 

CALLING.  My youth pastor once sent me on that trail as a youth pastor myself.  He told me, "Brian, this is about your calling.  You need to go back and ask yourself why you got into this in the first place."  When you struggle with purpose and meaning, sometimes the solution is go digging for your calling.  What was it that moved you to move in the first place?  When you find the answer to that, you can climb out of discouragement on the ladder of God's call for you. 

FEAR. Sometimes I'm wrecked because I'm simply afraid of what's ahead. Sometimes I'm afraid of being a failure.  Fear can be crippling and it tends to discourage easily.  When you're scared of the unknown, be cautious of giving too much credibility to the emotion of discouragement.  You're already leaning in the direction of defeat and discouragement only fuels that downward spiral.  

PLEASING PEOPLE.  Oh my, if there's ever a disease in the church that brings on the discouragement is the desire to be at peace with people that so subtly leads to the passion to please people.  And it's toxic.  It will leave you happy one day and brutally disappointed the next.  If you're discouraged because you're trying to please people.  Call it out.  

ADDICTION.  When you're defeated in one area already, it's super easy for discouragement to become a pattern.  If you secretly are losing in one area, and then anther wounds you, it's easy to cast blame on the wrong thing.  If deep inside me I'm struggling to let the Holy Spirit win in one are of my life, it's easy to get discouraged all the more when another area of my life begins to fall apart.

How about you... what other areas have you found tend to be the source of the source of discouragement?  What has tended to wound your soul and set you up for the emotion called discouragement?  


Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I used to watch "The Practice" religiously.  It was a tv series about a law office that constantly was hired to defend thugs and guilty men and women accused of the worst set of crimes. Their anti-thesis was the District Attorney.  Being a D.A. against "The Practice" was gut-wrenching work and unlike Bobby Donnel's Law Firm, no defendant paid them double if they won cuz they were court appointed. The D.A.'s job was thankless.  Maybe it was why I found camaraderie with them in moments of discouragement.

But I'll never forget this one episode.  One of the District Attorneys, Helen, wants to quit.  The trial went bad, the public is not happy, they probably just lost and let a guy everyone knows was guilty go free and the thankless factor had hit an all-time high. So in the very last scene of the episode they're in restaurant and eating dinner when Helen puts down her fork and says to Richard:
Helen Gamble: I need it, Richard. Give it to me. 

Richard Bay: What? 

Helen Gamble: The speech. Why we do what we do. 

Richard Bay: Oh, I am not really in the mood after... 

Helen Gamble: PLEASE, Richard. I NEED it. Please give it to me. And don't just phone it in.

Richard Bay: Helen... 

Helen Gamble: Please! Can't you see how demoralized I am? 

Richard Bay: OK. (takes a deep breath) There are heroes in this world. They're called District Attorneys. They don't get to have clients, people who smile at them at the end of the trial, who look them in the eye and say, "thank you." Nobody is there to appreciate the District Attorney, because we work for the state. And our gratitude comes only from knowing there's a tide out there. A tide the size of a tsunami coming out of a bottomless cesspool. A tide called crime, which, if left unchecked will rob every American of his freedom. A tide which strips individuals of the privilege of being able to, to walk down a dark street or take twenty dollars out of an ATM machine without fear of being mugged. (entire restaurant has stopped eating and is now listening) All Congress does is talk, but it's the District Attorney who grabs his sword, who digs into the trenches and fights the fight. Who dogs justice day, after day, after day without thanks, without so much as a simple pat on the back. But we do it. We do it, we do it because we are the crusaders, the last frontier of American justice. Knowing that if a man cannot feel safe, he can never, never feel free. 

Helen Gamble: Thank you. 
Truth is, we all need "the speech" every now and again.

If you're a parent and frustrated:  maybe you need the why your kid still needs you, even if they don't know how to say that speech.

If you're a couple struggling and considering divorce: maybe you need the you walked the isle and said divorce is not an option speech.

If you're wondering if your life will ever get better, maybe you need the God is not done with you speech.

And if you're in youth ministry, and you are feeling discouraged: then maybe you need "the why we do this speech".  And if you can't muster up the energy to give it to yourself, here goes. In honor of students and "The Speech", I'll give it to you:

There are heroes in the world of today's youth. They are called Youth Workers. They are a rare breed. They are the ones who walk into the turmoil of teenage life when everyone else is walking out. They stand in the face of countless statistics that warn of the ills that this generation will have to endure. They know what's at stake and they fight for the lives that lie behind every number. Where others merely see rebellion, they see a generation in need of hope. 
They love God and love students and they'd do anything to see those two loves meet. They give up weekends and luxury retreats to sit on busses and take vacation time to invest in a week of camp or tent-filled missions instead. They lose sleep in prayer, give money in scholarships, and invest time in just simply being there. Youth workers invest in a generation with all they have, all the time. 
Youth workers know intrinsically that quitting won't solve anyone's problems- least of all those of our young people. They don't need a survey to them that families struggle because they see it on the faces of those they minister to all the time. Teens need a mentor and far too many have already quit on them, so as a youth worker, they step up. They listen when others judge. They cry when others just rant. They see potential where others only see pain. 
Youth workers are rarely thanked. Rarely paid well. And even rarer understood. They are both living on the front lines of the battle and are our last line of defense before full fledged adulthood. They are a God-given gift to students, to families, to the church and to the culture. 
We cannot afford to lose even one for the harvest is plentiful, but the youth workers are too few. 
So if you're a youth worker.  Your work matters.  Students need you.  Families need you.  I need you.  Please don't quit.  You're making a world of difference and one day... your Savior-  and if you're lucky, your students- will thank you face-to-face saying, "Well done. Thank you for staying the course.  You are a good and faithful servant."  


Tuesday, September 27, 2011


After you've given yourself some time to de-emotionalize the funk you're in, you might be in a better place.  But if you're like me, you're probably still pretty discouraged and honestly, a bit wounded.   The images of discouragement and the voices that cut might be a bit dimmer than their immediate circumstances, but you can still see and hear them clearly.  Maybe they've been there for a while, but you're trying to give yourself some space to process, but it's hard.

  • If it was an e-mail you got that tipped the scales, then you probably haven't mustered the courage to just deleted it forever yet.
  • If it was an angry coworker, friend, parent, boss, etc.. you can still hear their tone, voice, and words.
  • If it was a small thing a long list of things that haven't gone right, the long list is still long and the small thing still feels monstrous and like one more person you can't please.  
  • If it was an event or talk or a program that that bombed so bad you wanted to just call it quits, then you still can relive the moment if you let yourself go there.  
So what now?  

SURROUND YOURSELF WITH THE GOOD.  This might seem impossible, but there is good going on around you and you need to find it.  Look for small things to celebrate.  No, don't make stuff up or try and talk yourself out of your funk. Just go looking for the good.  It's in there.  I promise.  The next 3 thoughts are ways to do this.

ASK OTHERS TO HELP.  Don't say one word to your critics.  Don't go searching for a better day or to see if they really don't feel the way you do or if you've blown the thing way out of proportion.  Not yet.  Right now just go to your biggest fans- the 2 people in the world you know love you unconditionally, even if one is your mom- and ask them what they think is going right.  Tell them you're wounded and you need to spend some time in the good.  I confessed my funk to a few people on Sunday and found 3 e-mails in my inbox reminding me that it's going to be ok.  It doesn't always happen like that;  in fact, it rarely does.  But it reminded me that when you're discouraged, we all need some encouragement. And if it isn't coming accidentally, we need to go searching for it.

MAKE A LIST OR PRAY OR JOURNAL OR WHATEVER.  Take some time to thank God for things that you have to be thankful for.  We all know we could make a rant.  And maybe you should make a rant list, but only so it can lead you to a thankful list.  It's the promise of Philippians 4:6-7.  It's the road to true inner peace.  You've told students to do it before.  Now it's your turn to practice what you preach.  Think about a friend who stuck by you in the funk, the breath in your lungs, the computer you're reading this on, anything. Think about the situation or circumstances that have brought you to the place you're in and ask God to show you where He's at in it.  Look for small things somebody said, the little changes for the better, or the places you can see a glimpse of God.

TAKE A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE.  This is easier to do if you have a few habits from the good days.  I have a file and now an e-mail inbox that I stick encouraging e-mails and notes in.  After a really good youth ministry event, write down a praise and save it.  Compile the best pictures and moments of your life and keep them in a shoebox or a slideshow on your computer.  Then sit your butt down and flip through them.   There's some great things God has done in and through you.  Let God remind you of that.  Remember, he's not the God of discouragement.

Ok.. tomorrow is part 3. I really want to give it now, but tomorrow will do. If it's a mountain of discouragement you're trying to conquer, Part 3 takes us to the summit.  It's the last climb before we start making some amends.  It's epic.  I can't wait.


Monday, September 26, 2011


Ok... so I tried to let it sit for a day before I blogged about it.

But frankly, yesterday was one of those days where when you're done with teaching high school as a pastor, you want to crawl in a hole and not come out. Several students texted and talked and passed notes during my message.  Some walked out before it even began. The room lacked life.  The whole thing seemed like going through the motions and like the complete opposite of the 3 weeks before it. I could have just stopped mid-sentence and said, "My bad. Something is severely wrong and it just might be me.  Let's all go home and try again another day."  It felt that way during our 9am service.  It felt that way again at 11.  Was it a full moon? I dunno.

But I do know this feeling. In the grip of years I've been doing high school ministry, I've experienced it on more occasions than I care to really admit.

I remember one Wednesday night in Nor. Cal about 10 years ago.  I came home after youth group when I felt like this... like I was a failure and that I should just quit.  In an attempt to just drift away into brainless activity, I crashed on the couch and flipped on David Letterman.  He was doing his monologue and it was bombing.  I was feeling a bit of camaraderie with him in a twisted sort of way when all of a sudden he broke out of his monologue and turned to his sidekick Paul and asked, "Hey Paul, how many shows do we do a year?"  Paul said, "I dunno, something like two or three hundred".  Letterman said, "That's a lot right?"... Then in a moment of improv, Letterman walked straight for the camera and stuck his face in the screen.  Then he said, "Hey people, with 200 shows, you can't be good all the time" and went back to making fun of himself and his audience and how bad his jokes were bombing.  It was beautiful.  I laughed and said to myself, "If David Letterman can't be good all the time with an entire staff of writers, surely I can bomb a few myself and keep going." I remember laughing at God for speaking to me through David Letterman.  I still think that's funny.

For like the entire first year here at Journey our second service in high school had about 25% of the numbers from our first service... and all of them looked like they hated it.  I mean really, I think they were all forced to be there and I wished they would just flip me off or tell me why they hated it so we could talk for real.  Every day- I'm not joking -every Sunday I would walk into the bathroom between services and look myself in the mirror and say, "you can do it.  you can do it.  you can do it" and then pray and walk out with a smile on my face and thank students for coming and try to give them my best.  It was brutally hard and coming on the heels of a great season of ministry, it was steadily trying to eat away at my confidence in my calling.

So this week, in honor of my own dysfunction and for anyone who can identify with it, I'm doing 5 posts on dealing with discouragement.

So here goes.  If you feel like a loser and like you might want to quit any minute. Here's what you might want to do.

CALL IT OUT.  Discouragement is not from God.  Correction might be.  But kick you down and tell you "you suck"is not.  It won't change how you feel.  But it will begin the process of recognizing that what you feel is not from God.  Ponder Philippians 4:8.  You won't find discouragement in that list or in the list of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 either.

WALK AWAY.  For a long time after second service I'd quit every Sunday. I'd walk out the door and quit.  Then I'd walk across the parking lot and get in my car and drive home.  On Monday night, I'd re-hire myself again.   Before you do or say anything you're going to regret, give yourself some time to think and pray and de-emotionalize the moment.  Time heals a lot of stuff... especially the emotional stuff.

PRAY.  Spend sometime asking God to show you what is truth and what is lie in the voices and images that are banging around in your head.  I'm positive there is real stuff to repair.  But if you're like me, then you're your own worst critic.  Ask God to separate the truth from the lie... even truth from the lies you own because you said them.


Thursday, September 22, 2011


This fall there have been 3 things that I've had happen or observed that are worth stealing if you want to make a difference in the lives of students or families or even your friends.  I can take credit for none of them.  But all of them both inspired and challenged me. 

CALL PEOPLE TO BRAG ABOUT THEM.  No joke.  2 days ago my oldest sons public high school english teacher called the house.  We were not home. So she left a voice mail.  It was not because he missed an assignment or because he had a problem.  It was just because she wanted to brag on him.   Are you kidding me?  

I figured out how to make a voice recording of it on my iphone, but I have no idea how to post it here. But I wrote it down.  Here's what she said:
Hi, this message is for Mr. and Mrs. Berry.
 This is __________, TJ’s English teacher.  And I’m just calling to let you know what an awesome student your son is.  I like to call parents and give them some feedback on how their kids are doing.  TJ is not only a leader in the class but he’s also a delight.  He has a great sense of humor.  He’s getting an A- in here just a wonderful wonderful boy.  I’d like to commend you and also commend him.  If you have any questions, you can give a call at _______________.  
Ok... so honestly, when was the last time you called a parent to brag about their son or daughter?  Crazy simple.  Crazy impactful.  

TEXT A NOTE:   My wife texts love notes.  My kids small group leaders text the encouragement notes.  You should do this.  I should do this.  It really makes your day.  

What could you text someone and say today that would light up their world and make them smile? 

WRITE STICKY NOTES:  The office across from mine is our college pastor.  Her sister came in and wrote stupid sticky notes on stuff.  Not like annoying 5000 of them on everything.  I had that done to my office once.  More like... one saying "your awesome". a silly one saying "this is your door".  And a bunch more. I'm sure it took like 5 minutes and made her day.  It made me smile. 

Go ahead, write a sticky note reminder for yourself to use sticky notes.  The use them in your friends houses, cars, and work places to stick amazingness everywhere.  It will be awesome.  


Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Two of my friends, Adam McLane and Mark Oestreicher recently formed a little company called "the youth cartel".  Well, apart from doing some coaching that I was the beneficiary of and apart from them both volunteering in our student ministry and apart from being just good friends, now they also are making my convos with students waaay easy too.

Seriously, there is this little gem they send out every Monday called "Youtube You Can Use".  And let me just say, it's cheating.  Seriously, if you have a small group Bible Study you're responsible for, you might not need curriculum anymore.  If you're a youth pastor, you might actually get fired by your boss when they decide they don't need you to write Bible Studies anymore either.  It's ridiculous how simple it is- unless your e-mail freezes or they realize what a steal this is and start charging you for the brilliance of it- then you might be able to keep your job.  But until then, um... you should really slyly sign up and use your non-church e-mail to get it all sneaky and stuff.

Anyway, the third week of this e-mail just came out and each week it basically has 3 elements.

A VIDEO: 1 to 2 minutes via Youtube- which is uh... free.



I decided that I'm just going to bust out my iphone and use this video and the questions with my high school son during our Wed. am breakfast chats.  Bammo!  Instant fun and reason to talk about something significant.

What's that you say?  You have not subscribed to this e-mail yet.  Oh.. I see, you like doing stuff the hard way.   For the rest of you people who believe you should work smart not hard... Well for you, you can subscribe here.  Just don't tell your senior pastor or your elder board about where you get your free brilliance :)


Monday, September 19, 2011


I'm really praying that we are trying to invite a generation understand, own, and live out a life-changing faith in Jesus.  To that end, I don't see our high school ministry as a place of protection from the evil world, but rather a place of equipping for students who want to engage their faith in the real world.   This means if you're a "bunker parent" who believes that we should keep our students safe in church from the evil influences, then we will be at odds in philosophy.  I don't try and drag the evil from outside in, but I also don't talk to my students about Jesus without addressing as much of what they'll hear elsewhere as I can.

In this current weekend series, we've been asking students each weekend to ask their honest questions.  We've asked them to share with us what they've been wondering and we are addressing them little by little each weekend.  This coming weekend, we are actually spending the whole teaching time on them.  

Before I give you the list my students have turned in so far... here's a few things to remember:
  • These came from the church setting, not the mall hall.  So if they shock you, know it's not the ones "out there" who are confused.  It's those who came inside the church walls too.
  • If you don't know the answer, don't fake one.  Acting confident about a really tough question only hides the reality that many of these questions have been wrestled with for centuries.  We don't have all of them answered today.  Tomorrow is not looking that good either.  Join them in the faith journey instead of pretending to be an expert guide.  
  • Every question comes with a story.  Never answer a question assuming you know the motivation of the one asking the question.  Even if the answer is simple or clear, the issue that caused the question may not be.
  • "It's a Mystery"is the "Because I said so" of theology. It doesn't answer anything or give anyone any confidence you are thinking either.  Don't dismiss a good question with a cliche answer.  Yes, some things are mysterious... but work your way to that conclusion, don't lead with it. 
  • We must create an ethos that welcomes questions and the doubt they often reflect.  Choosing to not do this doesn't erase doubt or build confidence, it just reinforces pretending and ignorance.  
That said... here's some stuff my students are wondering- in no particular order. What about yours? 
  • Why is life so hard?
  • In our time now, many other religious people date other types of religious people. But say it’s okay…but what about agnostic/atheist people?  Is it okay to date them?  Or is it completely against the Bible even if they have good morals?
  • Why do we pray to a God we can’t see?
  • Is it wrong to defend homosexuality?  
  • How am I supposed to think about divorce?
  • Why do bad things happen to good people?
  • There is a really nice guy who asked me to start dating him.  He’s not Christian though and is averse to starting a relationship with God.  I’m thinking about saying yes…what do you think?
  • Why does being yourself make you an outcast?
  • Where did the concept of haloes on angels come from?  That’s not in the Bible.
  • If you commit suicide is it true you won’t go to heaven?
  • Why is it that teens and adults these days when put into a leadership role, don’t live as a good godly example to others?
  • Is there life on other planets?  Did God only make the earth?
  • What’s going to happen when the world ends?
  • Who do so many bad people seen to be doing so well?
  • No matter what, God still loves us…right?
  • Why does God stay in heaven…does he stay in heaven because He’s afraid of what He made down here?
  • Why do some people believe that when you are baptized as an infant that you were saved?  Where did that idea come from?  Because the Bible says in Romans 10:9 that you have to confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord; and when you are a baby you can’t do that; so how would being baptized as an infant make you saved?
  • Why does it so consistently seem like God is not there?  I’m trying hard to find Him but it doesn’t seem like He is there.
  • Is Islam evil?
  • Do you still know who your friends and family are when you get to heaven, or does everybody have a mutual feeling for everyone?  Would you love someone you met once on earth the same as you love your family?  Is there a difference?
  • If we ask God to come back as human, would He?  Will He ever tell me my purpose?  Will I find out?  In Genesis, God made people then Adam and Eve, why do we think Adam and Eve are the first humans made?  Do I call myself a follower or a Christian?
  • Since Jesus was a Jew when Jesus comes down like Christians will they go to heaven?
  • How do I know if God is listening when I pray? Why do we sometimes rush with God? Why can’t we hear God? Why can’t we see God?
  • Why did God take away my daddy?  Why cancer?
  • I was wondering if you had doubt would you want to achieve what you doubted?
  • Is any prayer a good prayer?
  • Do kids in like Africa or some place where people don’t know about God go to Hell?  Even if they’ve never heard of him before?
  • What does the term “God-fearing” mean?  God doesn’t seem scary, like he should be feared? 
  • If God is so perfect, why does he get pissed off?  Why did he send a flood that wiped out almost everyone, etc?
  • Psalm 115:3- “our God is in heaven, he does whatever pleases him.”  If he does what pleases him, why is there sadness and disaster.  Isn’t our God good? 
  • What is holiness?  How can I be holy? 
  • Since God created everything and everyone… can he speak to us through secular ideas, art, music, etc?  
  • Is it normal to have ungodly desires?  


Thursday, September 15, 2011


I have been trying to get a book published under the title "You Suck: enduring, learning from, and responding to your critics".  But I can't get it passed the world of christian publishing.  Everyone I pitched it to loves the concept, and the book title is tentatively in the contract, but I can't get it to go- because of one thing: the word "Suck".

I have taught seminars at both the National Youth Workers Convention and the Simply Youth Ministry Conference under the above title and gotten rave reviews from those who came and found the content to be honest, authentic, and helpful.  As a youth pastor for the last 17 years, I've had some crazy things said to me from both students and adults and experienced criticism at levels that at times make you just want to quit and become an arborist- cuz plants don't talk back.  I wrote an article in this months Group Magazine entitled, "You Suck"- but they edited it to say "You Stink"- I found this out by reading the article.   I had a friend of mine get told by the publisher that he had to remove the word "suck" from the inside of his book- like in a single sentence.   I recently wrote a magazine article that I wanted titled "I suck at ______ " (I'll leave the rest blank to avoid giving away the article) for a different magazine.  They told me they also understood why I titled it that but that it would be offensive to some and cause those same people to not read it or to pass judgment on it for it's shock factor.  I've been told "Christian Bookstores" won't stock a book with "suck" in the title and that evidently, a lot of people still buy books in "Christian Bookstores".  That thought blew my mind, but ok.  My local christian bookstore I think is owned by whoever makes trinkets of all things Max Lucado, Thomas Kinkade paintings, and testamint gum- but that's a different blog post.


Who out there are the rhetoric police on the word "Suck"?  Please call yourself out so we can actually talk.

Let me tell you why you should stop banning the word suck.

SOME THINGS SUCK.   Vacuums suck.  Everyone sucks on straws.  Suck is a legitimate verb.

WORDS CHANGE IN MEANING.  Ok... even if there ever was a generation that thought the word meant a sexual act, no real walking talking human being today does.  Interview 1000 people at the mall and ask them what they think of when they hear the word "suck".  My money is on they don't think porn.  If you want proof that meaning changes over time, here it is.  For some reason which I cannot explain, people felt it ok to at one time shorten Richard to a name that has nothing to do with Richard at all really.  I actually cannot write that word on this blog.  Why?  Because clearly, words must change in meaning.  Nobody names their kid this anymore.  And no student or adult I know of thinks that the word "suck" has anything to do with the porn industry.  They however do think that guys first name does.

SOMETIMES LIFE FLAT OUT SUCKS.  Please tell me, what word do you describe the total loss of your home with?  What do you say to someone when their car is totaled?  What do you call it when a student is diagnosed with cancer?  Maybe you call it tragedy or horrible.  Most people I know say, "well that just sucks" or "this sucks".

In the end, I don't care if you tell your kids to say sucks or don't.  Honestly, we did not teach our 8 year olds to use it in their vocabulary either.  But the book in question is not written for 8 year olds.  I'm writing a book for adults who know that sometimes, life sucks and know full well what it's like to be told "You Suck". When they are, they also know that no one is speaking of your sexual experiences, but rather your inability to meet their approval.

So there you go.  When life hands you lemons, go ahead and call it out.  This sucks.  Then go make lemonade and suck it down through a straw in protest.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011


There's a fine line between ritual and the sacred.  Ritual is all about doing something because you "ought to" or because it's what you're "supposed to do".  Sacred is holy.  Sacred is something you do because you know you're called to.  It is set apart as something different and unique- something that is treasured.  

When I was asked to take over the leadership of our kids ministry team, one of the sacred/ritual lines we were faced with evaluating was that of Baptism for kids.  We began to ask, "How do we help kids understand baptism in an authentic way?  How do we help them to honor and understand a sacred moment and not settle for just a religious experience based on the desires of others?"

We had 3 main concerns:

#1. At what age, can a child actually understand the concept of "symbol"?  Baptism in the Scriptures is a symbol, and by definition, it requires abstract thinking skills to comprehend.  A child must be able to understand that Baptism symbolizes Jesus' death and resurrection, but does not require them to actually physically die to experience it.  It's a complicated concept for a child.

#2. How do we help parents to share in this role, helping their child to embrace baptism without being forced to do that which they are not ready to do out of ritual expectations?

#3. What rules should we set up and at what point are we actually imposing our opinion on a family/child's decision?  Like, who are we to tell parents when and how their kid can get baptized?  For me, our family has set 10 at the minimum age.  Jake has been asking get baptized for 2 years, but we don't think he really understands it yet.  In the case of a baptism policy, essentially we were trying to dig for the lowest common denominator- the point where we felt like we were not doing something a kin to solely a parental decision like infant baptism and yet not being some kinda pharisee gate keeper either.

Last weekend was our semi-annual church baptisms.  So, here's what we decided for now:

How old?  We chose third grade.

What do parents need to know?  We wrote this letter.

What do kids need?  We made this worksheet that a kid fills out and goes over with their parent.

How about you?  Does your church have a policy on this you like that is similar or different?


Monday, September 12, 2011


I grew up on the proclamational form of church.  This is where the one on the mic speaks.  The crowd listens- usually with notes of some kind that the speaker wrote.  I've done ministry like this for literally decades.  I still love it sometimes- especially when the communicator and the message are dynamically delivered.  But last year, something flipped in me and I said, "this is not working in our high school ministry anymore".

Dynamic messages are not necessarily transformational.  It's time to ditch this model for my students.

But if I'm going to stop talking at students and seriously start engaging them in the learning process, then some significant things are going to have to change.  If I want to put my money where my mouth is and stop telling students what to think and actually engage them in the process of learning how to think, then this will require some significant shifts.  I can no longer delegate an interactive learning style to the small group setting only.

Here's 3 I'm in the midst of:


I've never done youth ministry without one staple in my weekend program.  It's always been (and still is) called, "the mingle".  It's some silly or significant question that students ask/answer during a fairly unstructured conversation space in our program.  Sometimes it's about some culture thing like the superbowl.  Sometimes it's a light intro to the topic of the hour or so we're together.  Currently, it's when we also encourage students to get a drink from our deck cafe and welcome anyone who is new too.

But lately, I've decided that's not cutting it either.  So I've added having students engage one another in conversation 3-5 times during a 35 minute talk.   Most of the time it's a multiple choice question that is answered in 2 minutes or less.  Sometimes it's deep.  Sometimes it's silly.  I try and make them safe and when asking for deeper stuff, I usually ask them to talk about "teens today" instead of "struggles they each can identify with".  But if I don't break up the convo and have students start interacting with one another and the adults around them, then in this season of my student ministry, I'm pretty sure we've missed it.

I don't know that we're there yet, but it's a start.  Here's 3 examples of questions I asked last weekend.


I think students get bored with faith because it's predictable- which really isn't faith at all.  That's religion- but that's a post for another day.  Anyway, one great way to engage them again is to flip a rock over.  Play the role of devil's advocate if you will.  Again, it's subtle, but this last weekend we did this in 2 ways. 

 #1. We changed the title of the message from "How do I find God's will for my life?" to "Is God's will worth searching for?"  The first is predictable, but the second has a little bit of teeth to it.  

#2. After presenting what I thought was an affirmative response and probably a predictable set of answers for why God's will is totally worth searching for.... then I turned the tables.  It was the 10 year anniversary of Sept. 11 so I asked this question to create tension and keep them engaged and wrestling.  

Then we showed this video.  You want to know if that creates some tension and grabs some attention?  Yes... yes it does.


Lastly, if I don't want students to sit and listen and not engage God or me or anyone in the tension, then I can't let them sit by themselves.  We sit around smallish cafe tables already- with like 4-6 students or so at them. But that doesn't stop someone from trying to nab a table to themselves. Which we are slowly trying to outlaw in our ministry.  As best we can, we are working to make it totally taboo in our environment to come and be alone in our space.


Sunday, September 11, 2011


We're in a new series in Encounter called "Say What?" where we are encouraging students to ask hard questions. Real questions that students and pretty much any thinking adult would ask about faith.

Today we asked, among other things, "If God's will is good, and God is all powerful, then why does so much chaos and evil exist in this world?"  We wrestled with the dichotomy we find in the Scriptures.  We affirmed that God's will is good and  that God is all powerful. However we also reminded ourselves that he permits individuals to rebel against that power.  This is crazy talk really.

We discussed the power of individuals to shape their own personal kingdom and to decide who will rule in their heart.  We talked about the domino effect we all have on one another in those choices and about the danger and ironic subtlety of evil.  We reminded one another that Jesus was right- there is a thief that comes to steal and kill and destroy the good things God wants for us.  That thief is evil.   There is no greater reminder of this in recent history than the events of Sept. 11.  Evil put up an international billboard that day saying, "here I am."

On this tenth anniversary of Sept. 11, I'm reminded of a few things along this line. I remember very distinctly driving to work when my intern told me to turn on my radio.  I remember listening in my office and going home to watch the events of the day unfold on TV.  I remember wrestling as a church about how to respond and I remember being angry and confused.  I was angry that someone could do this. I was confused as to how this could be even remotely good.  I was not in a good place.  So, looking back on it, here's 3 things I've concluded on this 10th anniversary.

LEADERSHIP IS MOST NEEDED IN CRISIS.  Leaders prove whether they are about leadership or just about position when crisis occurs.  When things are not going well, leadership shows it's true colors.  The events of 9-11 caused those with a leadership calling to clearly rise to the top.  When my family or ministry and friendships are in crisis, my true leadership colors shine- for better or for worse.

GOD DOES NOT PROMISE ME A LONG LIFE.  This was the hardest piece for me to wrestle to the ground at 29.  A lot of people who died that day did so without achieving what I thought God should give to those who love him.  A lot of kids lost their parent. I was not prepared for that to be me.  Truth is, a lot of believers died 10 years ago today.  This fact messed me up for quite some time and forced me to re-examine my Bible and to go seeking for answers.  As I studied and prayed and wrestled, I was reminded then and am reminded again today, that while God may promise me eternal life, there is nothing saying that this side of eternity will grant me any number of days.  My days are not numbered by me and following Jesus with my life does not ever promise me I won't be on a plane or in a building when a crisis like this occurs.

NORMAL IS OVERRATED.  Normal- quite frankly- sucks.  The sad reality is that on Sept 12, we were a better people in the United States that we were on Sept. 10.  We worked together.  We cared about one another. We were patient and gracious and loving.  We looked out for our kids together and created neighborhood watch programs.  We were a better people.  I'm not sure when, but somewhere along the way, we gradually warmed back up to normal again- probably back to Sept 10 relationships. Maybe the airport check in will never go back, but a lot of people have.  But I'd rather live in Sept 12 reality than a Sept 10 one.  I don't want to live in normal.  I'm just praying it won't take a crisis in my life to remind me of this truth.


Wednesday, September 07, 2011


Several times this week in conversations with other adults, I've brought up something that we have taught our summer camp counselors for years.  It is that as mentors, we need to wear at least 4 different hats or roles as we invest in students.  Sometimes these hats shift in a moments notice, sometimes they go in seasons.  But nonetheless, we all need to be all four at various times.

PASTOR:  this is the role when you're the spiritual advisor.  You're directing them back to God's Word, the leading of the Holy Spirit, and how faith might play into their life at this juncture.  Every Christian parent, mentor, and coach wears this hat when they guide their child or player into the image of God.  When we delegate this hat to only those with this as their professional title, we abdicate the power of God in us to shape the life of a student.

PAL:  everyone loves this role. It's what sometimes a younger leader working with teens may default to.  It's mistakenly seen as the goal quite often.  However while it's not the summation of what a mentor is striving to be for a student, there is great wisdom in being a trusted confidant and friend.  The pal role is fun, it's just not the only role we have.

PARENT:  even if your'e not actually the parent, you're sharing the wisdom of life.  This is what parents do.  Parents provide and protect for their kids, often relying on the wisdom of their own experience to guide their actions. When a mentor shares their "been there, done that" wisdom with a student so that they can move their life towards a preferred future, they are acting like a loving parent.  Every student needs this kind of wisdom from their mentor.

POLICEMAN:  no offense to cops- but in mentoring, no one really likes this role.  It's the "I'm sorry, but you can't do that" role.  It's the "because I said so" statement of a parent.   It's the laying down of the law, the correction of the wrong doer, and the disher-outer of consequences.  It's not fun, but it's also not negotiable in leadership.  Every loving mentor has to draw lines and say, "I'm sorry, but if you want to do that, I can't go there in support of that with you."

So, if you're a mentor of any kind, here's a couple of questions to process these roles:

1. Which role do you most naturally default to?  What does that tell you about your own passions?

2. What is the hardest role for you to embrace?  What steps do you need to take to increase your effectiveness in that area?

3. Can you think of specific times when you've had to wear one of these hats for a season?  How do you know which role is most needed and when?



Last Friday I had the privilege of hanging out with Kurt and Jake- two friends who work for Saddleback Church about 2 hours North of us.  We've known one another for years now, crossing paths from time to time at conferences and training events for youth ministry.   They are now filming a weekly podcast through Simply Youth Ministry- the same publisher that I'm currently in the process of writing a book for that is due out in early 2012.

It's entitled "As for Me and My [Crazy] House.  - guarding your heart, marriage, and family from the demands of ministry"

So that, among other things, led them to call and ask me if I would be a guest on their show and talk about this juggling act we all do in ministry.  Since I was local enough, I drove up and hung out with them for about a 20 minute interview and some chattin' off camera afterwards.

It was tons of fun and a joy to do.  It's "Episode 6- released Sept 4, 2011" and if you want to give the interview a listen, here's 3 ways you can do that:

#1. Subscribe or download the video here on itunes.

#2. Subscribe or download the audio here on itunes.

#3.  Skip itunes and watch it directly on their website here:  simply youth ministry show.  Fast forward to minute 12 or so if you wanna just cut to my interview.

If you give it a listen, I'd love to hear your thoughts and perspective on the issue too.


Thursday, September 01, 2011


YES!  I'm so glad.

Here's what you need to know if you wanna volunteer in our student ministries... [besides the fact that WE ARE SO EXCITED to hear this and besides the fact that we NEED YOU]  you should also know that:

YES IT WILL TAKE SOME TIME AND PREP.  No, you don't have to do all the work yourself.  We give you everything you need to prep in 30 minutes so you can spend all the rest of your minutes loving on Students and helping them study their Bible as they connect their life with God and your small group.  But it does take some time and devotion to be fulfilling.


  • HOW'S IT GOING?  just keep us in the loop so we can pray and help you.  E-mail, txt, carrier pigeon, note pinned to your kid's shirt... u name it... we're good with it.  
  • TEAMWORK ROCKS... especially when you communicate with you co-leader and agree on a plan.  Then communication is really quite lovely- like English tea and crumpets.  
  • DATABASE STUFF... we'll teach you, but it's a cool online resource we have to connect you easily with the life of your small group. Oh you're gonna love this communication tool.  It's so easy a freshman can do it. 
  • IF YOU ARE CONCERNED ABOUT A STUDENT... especially if you think there's abuse or danger that needs professional or special attention, let us help you make the right choice.  You don't have to stress or go it alone.  Communicate your concerns with us. 
  • WITH FAMILIES... You'd be surprised how much you might understand and know how to help a student by understanding their family life.  So don't hang up on mom, ask her about her day.  She'll send you flowers for Christmas... I swear it's true. 
KNOW YOU'RE PASTORING TEENS... and we're super proud of you for stepping up. We want you to know we believe that the pastoral role is not a position certain people hold, but instead the calling God places on a Believer's life.  We believe we are all called to be a priesthood of believers and you're a key part of that.  So thank you so much for stepping up and stepping into that calling.  

GET RID OF THAT SUPERHERO SMALL GROUP LEADER GUILT TRIP.  No, we do not issue tights, underpants, boots, capes, and super tight shirts to our small group leaders. It would cause the students to be distracted by our beauty and because it's ridiculous.  You have a life.  Live it.  Let your small group be part of it, not the whole of it.  It's ok to say no and to not do everything. So shut down that voice that says you don't have what it takes and comes serve with us.  

There you go.  If you want to volunteer in our guys or girls small groups, then e-mail "brian at journeycom dot org" and we'll get you dialed in.

If you want to just steal our official list of small group leader requirements for your fridge or for your own youth ministry because this post way inspired you...  Well you can download the pdf right here.  



We had our small group leader training last night for our middle and high school ministry.  It's always a couple weeks before the launch of small groups and each time we do it, we tweak it a little.  We have new ministry changes to communicate and a variety of things that are important to us that we communicate to them.

I'll take the next 3 blog posts to unload a few of the things we pass out.

Here's FOUR REASONS WE DO SMALL GROUPS.  What are yours?

QUESTIONS:  Small groups are a great place for students to express their doubts and ask their questions about faith.   A good leader is one who flips a faith rock over and causes students to wrestle with the real questions of life.  If our small groups are not asking the hard questions, they're missing a huge piece of their potential.  This requires intentionality on the leaders part, asking wise questions, and giving students enough time to both think and ask their own.

IDENTITY:  Our church and our student ministries are too large for everyone to be known by everyone.  So, small groups are an intentional space for our students know and be known by a few.  Small groups are a place where people can truly know they matter and their story has a place in God's Kingdom.

BONDING:  There is nothing like a shared experience for bonding.  When you share food, stories, activities, and life together, small groups thrive and students bond.  Small groups can and should be fun spaces for students to grow.

SPIRITUAL GROWTH:  The best place for us to consistently and specifically impact the life of a student in regards to their spiritual development is through small groups.  The chances we have to consistently encourage and challenge a student to continue to grow in their faith are unparalleled in our ministry through this context.



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San Diego, CA
Husband. Dad. Jesus Follower. Friend. Learner. Athlete. Soccer coach. Reader. Builder. Dreamer. Pastor. Communicator. Knucklehead.

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