Monday, October 31, 2011


I was at my son Tyler's soccer game on Saturday when the referee walked to the center of the field to do the normal pre-game check with my team.  I lined them up at center field facing him and he checked all 13 of them for their equipment.  He checked to make sure they had shoes on, their shirts tucked in, and their shin-guards on.  He told 2 of my boys they could not play with the "drug free week" red plastic bracelet from that week at school, claiming they once broke another player's finger when caught in them.  So we cut them off,

All of this was normal until he said this:  "You all know how to play this game.  So have a good time and play well.  I just have one rule that you need to know about.  There is no vulgar language on this field.  If you can't say it in church, you can't say it here.  You got it?  If you do, I'll kick you off the field."

Really?  I'm sure his intentions are pure enough and I'm guessing he must go to church somewhere.  But really?  

This has bugged me for 3 days.  Here's why. 

IT IS NOT THE CHURCH I KNOW: At least 75% of these 10 and 11 year-old boys on my team do not go to church and neither do their families.  They have no awareness of what church is, and now their myths have been reinforced.  I'm trying desperately as a pastor to love and encourage these kids and their families and do a job that honors God.  I would love for them to come to our church, though I don't push it on them.  In 30 seconds, this guy told my players that you better clean up your mouth first before you come to church, or like the soccer field, we'll kick you out.  They were told that what God really wants from them is to not cuss.  This is not true of my youth ministry.  I'd rather you came with your junk as you are than hid it in the car and faked it as you walk in the door.  

IT'S AN EXERCISE IN MISSING THE POINT: Many, if not most of my players haven't thought at all about following God this week and probably are not thinking about it on this day either.  I'm guessing they're just trying to figure out how to get the most door-to-door candy.  But if they did, they would know that God cares about their mouth and behavior modification... and it the process, they completely miss the point. 

Jesus said this:  "A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of."  (Luke 6:45)

God doesn't want these boys mouths, he wants to inhabit their hearts.  If that happens, then they're mouths would follow.  Getting the order wrong, however subtle, is to miss the point.  

IT'S ALSO PROFOUNDLY NEGATIVE.  One myth about God and the Bible, it's that it is mostly concerned with telling you what NOT to do.  Albeit subtly, this referee perpetuated that myth with his statement. He said that God doesn't want you cussing.  He didn't say, "Hey team, let's have a great game and let's make this an encouraging place.  I'm trying to follow Jesus and as a referee I have a passion to avoid vulgar language in my life.  I won't cuss at you.  Please don't cuss at me or your teammates either. Let's make this field a place of soccer and positive words.  Can we do that?"  That would have been profoundly different and rooted in the encouragement he's trying to promote instead of the negative consequences he threatened to gain compliance with.  


Thursday, October 27, 2011


Last weekend we did this crazy experiment with pumpkins and a foaming mouth in the desert.  It was gross and the perfect illustration for a conversation about the power of the tongue.  We got the idea from Dangerous Devotions for Guys and is only dangerous cuz of nasty chemicals.  There's no fire or explosions this time. This one does say you should measure stuff out all official like with a gram scale and stuff, but we just guessed using the estimated portions they suggested on some stuff and got close with others and it worked perfect.  Here's how:

Have students carve a pumpkin- make sure to give it a big mouth.  Place it on a rock or bucket or something with a glass jar inside.

Add some liquid soap, food coloring, and some 30% hydrogen peroxide- which is essentially pool shock that you buy at a pool cleaning supply place- to the glass jar.  Then you mix some crazy chemical powder  that I bought online at the place the book says to get it.  You dissolve it with water in a separate container and then quickly pour it into the jar of other junk already in the pumpkin, then put the lid on the pumpkin fast... and almost instantly, the foam comes spewing out and it's gross and it makes a big nasty toxic mess.

Which is just exactly what you want it to do when you're talking about the power of our tongue and a lie. What more could you ask for to get students talking about how powerful our words are than a pumpkin spewing powerful foaming chemicals out it's mouth?  Genius I tell you.  Sheer genius.

Add a healthy serving of James 3 and maybe a little John 8:44 and Isaiah 29:13 and maybe finish it off with with Ephesians 4:29 and bammo.  You have yourself a conversation about the power of the tongue and the danger/power in the word's we speak for good or evil.

That my friends, is a great small group study in the bag.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011


There's something beautiful about an object lesson that begins with, "Don't try this at home."

I really don't know how Tim Shoemaker managed to get them to publish this, but his book, "Dangerous Devotions for Guys" has several cool object lessons that proved spot on for our man trip to the desert- cuz they live up to the name.  They are dangerous and dangerous was just what we were going for.  It was the perfect place for these object lessons too because there's nothing to catch on fire, no carpet to worry about destroying, and no shortage of open space.  There is however a shortage of hospitals near by, so reading the fine print is kinda important. :)

The first night's lesson would be after dark so we took advantage of the lack of light and taught our students how to use a coat hanger, a squirt bottle, a candle, some duct tape, and a bottle of Isopropyl Alcohol to make a flame thrower.

I didn't have any time to test any of these experiments out before I did them, so I was concerned that one might bomb and then I'd be stuck with a lousy object lesson.  But not one proved to be this way.  And the personal flame thrower turned grown men into kids again.  It was legit and so much fun!

And this led perfectly into a conversation about the power of our choices.  We talked about how our decisions we make are powerful and dangerous.   We challenged young men to be dangerous for the Kingdom of God in all they do and to lead lives that were worthy of imitation.
1Timothy 4:12  Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.  (niv)
1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1  So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.  Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God—  even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.  Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (niv)
1Corinthians 11:1  Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.  (esv)
As we challenged students to submit their lives to God, so that he could direct their power and infuse them with a power for good, I was reminded that each of them is less than four years away from telling them they have full power to direct their own life.  This weekend was about giving them the keys to do that, long before they are 18.

Thanks Tim for the object lesson.  I owe you one. It was nothing short of an epic memory maker for sure.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Last week a column I wrote for Slant 33 went live on the web in the subject of "Tradition in Youth Ministry."  Myself and two others wrote about the inherent dangers and strengths that tradition hold. 

In light of our weekend retreat a couple of days ago, it proved a timely reminder of both the benefits and dangers of doing the same retreat in the same location over and over again.  

For our women, their retreat has followed a similar format, but never the same location two-years in a row.  Their trip has both some tradition and some constant movement, but not enough to give a sense that things will be radically different.  This both helps us and hurts us. 

For our men, their retreat has been in the identical spot for 5 years straight now.  We go to the same piece of sand, drive the same route often in the same trucks, pitch the same tent, and even eat almost the same menu.  We do change the team building exercises, some of the activities, and the content of our talks every year, but much of it is tradition that remains the same.  In fact, some who even had a great time last year told us this year that, "I went before and so I don't need to go again."  

In both cases.  Tradition has strengths and weaknesses.  

Here's some things I wrote about on Slant 33 that were absolutely true of this tradition for us too:     
SHARED STORIES: If you do an event or have a ritual or keep a tradition over the long haul, then your ministry has a consistent shared journey. Students and staff can say, “Remember that time at summer camp…” and they all have an instant shared story. Sure, each year was different, but there’s camaraderie and unity and ownership in shared language and experience, all of which are like gold in youth ministry.  
THE LOGISTICS CAN BE DONE IN YOUR SLEEP.You already know the family that does the food. You know who plays the music and who your leaders will be. You just call them, confirm a couple of things, and move on because they already know what to do, what to expect, and how to help. The logistics are virtually done before you even start. Tweak the flyer, fix two things you learned last year, make some phone calls, put it up on Facebook. Done.  
WE GET PREDICTABLE.  Tradition can also lead to predictability in a bad way. Instead of keeping your students on the edge of their seats, wondering what will happen next, they start to ditch stuff because they’ve already done it. Even if it was amazing the first time, the second time was okay, and the third time was, um…predictable. When we do and say what everyone thinks we’ll do and say, we lose our leadership edge in the lives of students. 
If you want to read more of what I said, plus Adam and Michelle's thoughts, you can go hit them up here.  

If you want to throw in your own thoughts on tradition, by all means, drop a comment.  


Monday, October 24, 2011


Our annual desert weekend man trip retreat is now complete and what a BLAST it was.  We took 57 adults and students from 2 churches to the desert for a weekend of bonding, Bible study, and things that go BOOM.

We did the usual stuff like a huge bonfire and shooting ranges for both rifles and shotguns.  Yes, we blew some stuff up. We ate like kings.  We enjoyed one another.  We had some great conversations and saw some students take some renewed steps back to God.

But this year, there were 3 things that really stood out to me.

I love doing life with the men in my ministry.  I'm so thankful for Godly friends who are willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with me and call teens to step it up into manhood.  I loved listening to their conversations, watching them model ministry, and serving along side of them.  I really could not ask for a greater compliment to my own ministry than the character and integrity of the friends and mentors who have willingly chosen to unite with us.  It means the world to me.

This year we used a book called "Dangerous Devotions for Guys" and seriously, it was worth EVERY PENNY we paid for it.  In each of our large group conversations we had we used a visual from this book and had the guys make them in 8 small groups.  I'll go into more detail on the 4 that we used that were epic in future posts this week, but suffice to say, the visuals were amazing teaching tools.  These images might not mean much to you right now, but trust me, none of the men on this trip will forget them or what they stood for.

Also, on the first night, we gave every guy on the trip a block of wood as a memory tool.  Then for each message or conversation time, we created a "brand logo".  There were 5 plus one danger symbol that we used for each talk and to shape our weekend.  Jason, our resident metal worker, used a water jet to make steel logos which we heated with torches and branded into their board after each talk.  Epic.  Seriously Epic weekend of POWERFUL visuals.  Here's my board:

I think this is my 6th year to the desert with our men in Encounter and each year it gets better.  The men get more confident, the students get more involved, and manhood is literally growing all around us.  Not because we blow stuff up, but because we're consistent.   The men that go with us to the desert and stay plugged into our small groups through the year are slowly but surely changing into the image of God and it's powerful stuff to watch and see.  This year, my oldest son TJ got to join me for the first time as well.  That is longevity of another fruit that I'm so blessed to now enjoy.  I've waited 14 years for this season of ministry and I'm so blessed beyond words at the long term fruit in my own son's life at this stage.  I thank God for the way time and the Holy Spirit together change lives.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011


At the last NYWC in San Diego, myself and Nate Rice and Matt McGill hosted a panel discussion entitled "Retreat Planning 101" and in it, we discussed the what, when, where, how and such of planning your own retreat verses just using the already done program of a retreat center who runs their own camps and subcontracts out spaces to groups.

We decided to do a brief overview and then we selected on person from the audience who had a retreat to plan and we used him as a guinea pig and tried to apply the basic retreat planning process to his one retreat.  That gave us an immediate way to make it practical and a fun way to help someone out.

But before we dug in, we started asking the basic question:  "Why bother?"  I mean really, think about it.  No one has extra time or money these days and planning your own retreat will require both.  Volunteers will have to take time off work, families will have to find room in their budget for the retreat expenses, the work load of the one(s) planning the retreat just went sky high, and the list could go on.  If you were trying to make your life easier or not put pressure on the budget of any family, then you would surely NOT plan a retreat at all.  So again, "Why bother?" Are retreats stills worth it?

I asked myself this question again this week as I'm planning a retreat with our students this weekend.  It's our annual fall retreat and the guys are going to the desert about an hour east of us and the girls are going to the beach at Carlsbad about an hour north of us.  But while both trips have promising experiences laid out, both trips have also already proven to be a lot of work and a financial hardship for families and even my own church budget. We're not planning a $300 weekend, but still... everything ads up when I'm calling students and writing on Facebook walls and trying to convince all kinds of people that it will be worth the sacrifice of time and money, I find myself again wondering... am I just trying to convince myself it will be awesome?  Maybe the retreat model is dead for a season and I should quit planning stuff like this.

So for what it's worth, here's 3 reasons I think planning a retreat is worth it.  Despite the fact that my week is harder than normal and my weekend waaaay busier, here's why I would still do it again:

GET AWAY & GET OUT OF TOWN FACTOR.  There is no changing it.  When you get away, the mindset is different.  There's anticipation in the air.  Students listen different. Adults engage different.  I could paint the whole building every weekend and change decor into some new theme, and it still wouldn't compete with the power of a new environment off our church campus.  When ever we get out of the normal space and into a new one, God meets us there.  Maybe he gets bored just like we do with monotony. Retreats break that up.  Retreats are powerful ethos changers.

BONDING.  There is nothing that can promote bonding like a shared experience.  Go on a road trip.  Build a bonfire.  Have something break and something go ridiculously wrong.  All of it adds up to a memory that again, will always trump whatever stuff happens in our church on Sunday. Getting away creates a community in ways that staying at home simply can't compete with.  It's true of family vacations. It's true of student retreats too.

LIFE CHANGE.  I know it's cliche to think that when we get away, people connect with God. This truth has gotten a bad rap actually because many times the results are hyped up and short lived.  But the flip side of this coin outweighs this possibility every time.  The fact of the matter is when we take a risk and pour into one another and God like we do when we go on retreats, God does great things.  Sure, you could argue that if we did that each time we met at home, God would do that there too.  It is true God is not spatially impaired.  But you'd also be arguing against reality as well.  The truth is normal is normal.  If you want the abnormal to occur, you have to take a risk and get abnormal.  Retreats set up amazing opportunities where God constantly and consistently works in the lives of those who join God in the abnormal experiences a weekend or weeklong retreat lends itself too.

So go ahead, work hard, pull out your hair, stress over the money, beg spoiled students to go with you, take a risk, trust God, and remind yourself that it's all worth it.  Every minute and every penny.  Retreats are a great investment of both.  Give it 2 weeks.  It will all be worth it.  Give it 2 years and it will definitely prove to be worth it.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011


This year we're trying something new and we put our small groups all in the same space on campus.  We have a dinner and hang out time with volleyball and basketball for 40 minutes from 6:30 to 7:10ish pm.  We come in for a 20 minute large group co-ed time to set up the topic of discussion.  Then we head to gender specific small groups for the remaining hour till 8:30pm in various places on campus.

Tonight, we were talking about money and stuff.  So to start us off thinking about what you would buy if you had the money, we asked 2 questions in our large group.

  1. what did you have for lunch today?
  2. what was the last fast food item restaurant you went to? 
Then we showed this video just for fun.

And to follow it up, we told them to tell someone at their table this:  

Before anyone else could speak, some guy tells his group in the split second moments of silence before anyone else can speak up... quickly and confidently he says "SEX" loud enough for the entire room to hear.  


Note to self: "Dude, you're getting old. You should have seen that one a mile away."

I then had to clarify.  Um... "maybe think of stuff you might buy in a legit store, not on a street corner." :)

Welcome to youth ministry.  


Tuesday, October 11, 2011


I was teaching at Recess at Mt. Hermon this last weekend for some youth workers in Nor Cal and during a Q and A session, the subject of being restricted from youth group came up.

Whenever this comes up in my ministry or in a question from another, I have 2 primary thoughts.

FOR PARENTS:  A parent restricts their son or daughter from youth group because their child likes it.  If they didn't, they wouldn't restrict them from it.  It's not like anyone is ever restricted from math class or from eating their vegetables.  But I would say that like grape flavored cough syrup, just because your kid likes it, doesn't mean it's not helpful.  If you tell your student they can't go to church when they are telling you they want to, this will eventually backfire when they don't want to one day and you try to force them to go.  It is also totally possible to be an A+ student and a D+ Christ-follower.  Take away their cell phone.  Unplug the computer.  Ban them from the school football game. Give them chores at home.  Just don't tell them they can't go to church.  There are tons of families who are forcing their son or daughter to go because they won't go on their own who would trade seats any day of the week.

FOR STUDENTS:  So glad you you like our youth group.  So glad you come.  But evidently whatever is making it fun is not making a transformation at home either.  If every time you came home from being at youth group or small group, your parents saw a difference in you, then you probably wouldn't be restricted from it.  Oh, and it's not possible to be an A+ Christian and a D+ student.  Just because you are striving to love Jesus doesn't mean you can fail at home or at work and God doesn't care.  Faking that you hate it won't help either.  Just put away your cell phone, lean into youth group, and go home a different person.  The more transformational your faith becomes to your real life, the less time you'll spend fighting your parents over it.

So then what?  What should a youth pastor do when a student is restricted from youth group?

  • Talk to parents.  Find out what really is going on at home. Don't tell them they are wrong.  Just shut up and listen.  You don't live with their son or daughter and it's totally possible they are different at home than they are with you.  Be a learner. 
  • Commit to praying for their family.  Be sympathetic to the difficulty of raising a teen who loves Jesus in the midst of the world we live in today.  
  • Meet up.  If you can, offer to meet one-on-one with the parents or their student.  Meet in a safe public place like starbucks and talk about life.  Let them know you care and that you want to be a help to making youth group not just fun, but helpful too.  See if you can't agree on some good action steps together that could bring about mutual benefit to their home, the student, and youth ministry too.  
  • Keep at it.  When they get to come back, don't assume things will just automatically changed or are fixed because they came back.  Keep asking how things are going and give reminders to the student when it's appropriate.  Like when they walk out the door every week to go get in their parent's car!


Thursday, October 06, 2011


Keeping my marriage a priority is constantly in tension with the pull of work, family, and life.

We could probably make a long list of reasons for this tension, discussing the demands of the church, the difficulty of separating work and home life when your calling as a pastor is a 24/7 reality, the needs of people, etc. But, regardless of the reason, if you want to stay in ministry and stay married to your spouse, then my observation and experience tell me it will require intentionality.

Here are five things we’ve tried to do as a married couple that I think have been strategically helpful. Sometimes we’re better at these than others.

Interested in my list?

You can read my five thoughts and several others from Lars Rood and Brooklyn Lindsey on Slant 33 here.


Wednesday, October 05, 2011


This weekend we launch a new series in Encounter.  It's called "CRAVE" and is about the urges that drive us and how to discern what we should do about them.  I'm really stoked about it and how our series is being crafted.  We've done some things a little different with this series- trying to reorder some stuff, change our outline format, and add a target feeling to each service.  We'll see how they work.  But each week as we've prepared has 3 staples as a starting point.

  1. a specific week's title to guide us
  2. a feeling we're trying to invoke in someone who engages with our service.
  3. and a focus issue we're trying to challenge students to apply to their life.
Here's the 4 weeks broken down:

October 9
  • TITLE: I want it
  • FEELING:  A deep yearning, craving, reaching for something
  • TOPIC: Discerning if I really want what God really wants
October 16
  • TITLE: I'm stuck in it
  • FEELING:  Angst- a refusal to accept life as is.
  • TOPIC: Getting out of the patterns and ruts we get stuck in that keep us from our full potential
October 23- FALL RETREAT

October 30
  • TOPIC: I want out
  • FEELING:  Hope- there is a way out.
  • FOCUS: Freedom from bad relationships
November 7
  • TOPIC: I'm free from it
  • FEELING:  Joy- the freedom to move
  • FOCUS: Ditching Addiction 

Pray for us. Pray that this series inspires lives, transforms hearts, and removes a ton of sin in our high school ministry.  Pray that we CRAVE the things that honor God and build up students to their fullest potential. 


Tuesday, October 04, 2011


Ok.. got swamped with the NYWC and never finished this series.

The last thing I would say about dealing with discouragement is simply that it doesn't have to be this way.  Discouragement doesn't have to be our reality, but to get out of it, we have to turn the corner towards a better future... and that doesn't happen accidentally.  It's not super easy, but it doesn't have to be complicated either.   It requires us to intentionally choose to tell a different story with our lives.   I'm not sure what that means exactly for you, but here's a few things that means for me.

NO MORE PITY PARTY:  Life might suck and it will continue to do so until I intentionally choose to say no to depression and funk.  As long as I keep fueling the fire, discouragement will continue to burn bright.   Perhaps we can't change other's behavior, but we can decide to not make it worse.

START OVER: maybe I can't start over fully. Like I'm not recommending you quit your job or ditch your ministry or something radical like that.  I'm just saying that when I need a do over and a better day, I need to do some things over.  If I had a really bad day at work, I have to start today with a clean slate.  If my last teaching bombed, then I must be as resilient as my audience and start over today as if that last experience was not as bad as it feels.

CUT YOURSELF SOME SLACK:  ok, so maybe you are discouraged because of something you did.  But if you're like me, you might be your own worst critic.  Cut yourself some slack and start over.  Try again and decide to say no to discouragement.

RE-READ PARTS 1-4.... if you're in a cyclical funk, it might help to start a new cycle of defeating that funk by re-reading and re-thinking this issue in your life for a season until you can find a new normal.



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

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