I’m Thankful For the Emerging Church Movement – Thanksgiving Series – Post 2

Last week I made a list of what I was thankful for. There were the obvious blessings like my faith, my family, our dear friends and our new transition here in MA to name a few. After that, everything seems trivia so I made sub-categories – what tangible physical things was I grateful for (hot water, being a 2 car family, the internet, which led to which technologies I was grateful for, cell phones, macbooks, Facebook (that’s the next post) to eventually what ideas/concepts/mantras I was thankful. The emerging church conversation was at the top of the list.

Now, many of us know that the “emerging church” is a bit of a fuzzy term and unfortunately I don’t have the time, space, ability or willingness to “define” it adequately so I’ll reference you to Scot McKnight’s “5 Streams of the Emerging Church” article that was posted on Christianity Today.

I am aware that others may have found these blessings below via another route. This is part of my experience.

1. The emerging church conversation was the first place that I felt that really appreciated and valued non-believers and the over-churched young people. As one in his twenties, new in ministry primarily serving the millennials, this was refreshing. It felt to me that until then, the answer was, “Well these kids are getting worse and worse, they need us to be even more forceful/adamant about Jesus!” I sensed a willingness to engage and contextualize with others that informed and shaped my soul and my ministry.

2. The emerging church conversation forced me to work on my theology. It was from Tony Jones that I first heard that we tend to see Christianity through the eyes of Paul rather than Jesus. That was a pretty arresting moment for me at the National Youth Workers Convention in 2003 in Charlotte. IN ALL HONESTY, this helped me discover and worship a “better Jesus” – a more Biblical one. There were a number of other moments that helped me to see the beauty and depth of Scripture and I know I am a better pastor, Christian, person for it. Still have a long way to go though. After i finished my MAR, I knew i wanted to go back to pursue my MDIV. It’s truthful to say that my experience at Biblical Seminary was truly enriched by all of this.

3. The emerging church conversation introduced me to the missional-church conversation. These years, I have resonated more with the MC but I would be in strong denial (and I believe others would too) if I didn’t acknowledge that this was emerging church conversation that introduced me to the concepts and virtues of the missional life. (Raise your hand if you owned a Brian McLaren book before an Alan Hirsch book – I see those hands :).

4. The emerging church conversation celebrated my appreciations for postmodernity and plurality. I’ve always felt that that I wasn’t conservative enough for the fundamentalists, progressive enough for the liberals and moderate enough for the moderates. Words like “conversation” and “friendship” have gone a long way with me. Not only have I felt welcomed to conversations where I previously didn’t, I welcomed others that I previously didn’t.

5. The emerging church conversation helped spiritual formation by emphasizing the importance of the ancient church. I’ll admit prior to the year 2001, my church calendar skipped from the second century to the start of the Protestant Reformation in 1517. I gained so much by celebrating and learning more about the history and practices of the Church.

So much more I could say, but this is enough. But if you would like to learn more about the emerging church movement through the lens of one of its biggest contributors, check out Tony Jones’ The Church Is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement. Kindle edition is only $2.99.

How about you? What have you gained from the emerging church conversation or if more relevant, what concepts and ideas have shaped your journey?

Check Out 58: A Film Focused on Ending Global Poverty & You Can Download It For Free

This past week, our church held two screenings for the film 58: as part of our Global Awareness Week. According to their website, it’s “the inspiring true story of the global Church in action. Witness bravery and determined faith in a journey from the slums of Kenya to the streets of New York. Confront the brutality of extreme poverty and meet those who live out the true fast of Isaiah 58 and create stunning new possibilities for the future.” Read more here.

First, let me say that missions films have come a long way. If A Thief In the Night scared the pit of death out of me (which was its intended purpose right?), most missions films bored me to death. Now when I hear there’s a Missions “something”, I’m pretty interested. (Please don’t pull out those slideshows, my trust is fragile).  Based on Isaiah 58, it tells a powerful story.

Here’s what I appreciated:
… that it was rated PG-13. They showed extreme poverty and there are parts that are uncomfortable to watch. No violence, no blood, nothing gratuitous but tough to watch.
(Side Note: There were more children in our screening than I expected, many under 10. I sat in the back and tried to gauge some of the children’s reactions which is hard to do with the back of their heads in the dark. I would say many of the little ones were bored, which was a relief to me in some sense but I imagine parents had some tough and hopefully powerful conversations with their children afterwards. Still, consider the rating.)

… the issues were discussed: In addition to extreme poverty, trafficking and bondage labor were addressed.
I loved the interview with International Justice Missions worker who found his anti-trafficking job so fulfilling. One of my favorite parts of the film.
Enjoyed the storylines of what some people in Western contexts   are doing to help. Fashion designer, coffee-shop owner, youth pastor – these people are showing us how we can be involved.

My heart broke for:
… Workitu (7months pregnant) said that her husband abandoned her and children because he didn’t want to die like this.
… one child born into forced labor said that he had dreams but wished he didn’t … because they can’t come true.
… the Images for the girls rescued from trafficking.

Is solving global poverty possible in our generation? It is possible to solve it ever?
This is a tough question. Indeed so much energy, time and money has been wasted (or resources ending up in the wrong hands). Indeed handouts are not sustainable or nor life-giving on a long-term basis. However, I did appreciate what Dr. Scott Todd from Compassion International said. Among the stats mentioned were the work has cut in half the number of children who are dying per day (was 40,000/day, now 21,000. Among the reasons is more access for more people to clean drinking water). If we can think through the gravity of that statistic, there is work to be done here.

So much more to say but check it for yourself – watch the trailer and here’s the link. from Wing Clips who have posted the full download, along with a study guide for free.

58: THE FILM Trailer from LIVE58NOW on Vimeo.


Reflecting On the Nassau’ Mission Trip 2 Months Later

This past Sunday, the students and leaders from my previous church shared about the week that we spent in Nassau serving at the All Saints AIDS Camp. Though I wished I could have been there to see and be a part of the presentation, I was confident that the MEFC community were going to have a great morning together.

Not too many days go by when I don’t think about the “All Saints AIDS Camp”. I think of the residents, I think of the missionaries Tim and Felicia, I think of the organizations that are serving there, namely Next Step Ministries (but I know there are more), I think of the various staff people and mission teams (Minnesotans!) that we got to connect with as well and a host of others. I remain unmoved by how important short-term missions are. While there are bugs to work out in these types of missions and while there are numerous bad stories out there, these experiences are extremely powerful and they do so much good on numerous sides.

So here’s what I am thinking about today. My hope is that residents of the camp think of the couple hundred people that came through this summer and remember that many care about them. I love that they post our pictures in their cabins and I hope they remember the prayers, the laughs, the hugs, the awkward moments and the kind gestures – I know I do.

I hope we never forget what we experienced through our senses – the smell, the heat, the dirt, the sounds and the things that our eyes see that don’t come through our pictures.

I hope my young little family serves together on a mission trip (like our friends did from Minnesota). I am among those that could not care less if they make it to the “Big Leagues” and I don’t care to see their names in lights. I know Susan and I would be grateful to see them choosing to live a life that is faithful to the unique calling they received from the Lord (whatever that means, accounting, the NHL, non-profit work, whatever).  As we hope to get there I pray that we are always involved in the mission of the Kingdom of Jesus. I hope we are always loving and serving “the other”.

I hope our leaders lead their own trips. I’ve recently filled out recommendations for two people who will be serving in a leadership position with a missions organization next summer. I can’t tell you how excited that makes me feel. And while I know the Lord would have led them to this one way or another, it’s so good to be a part of it.

I hope our students never just see this as an “amazing trip” as if it were a sight-seeing adventure. I hope it continues to shape them. I hope they always wrestle with the superficialities of the world and the realness of what they encountered. I hope they struggle with that feeling of wondering if they are the only one who cares and I hope that moves them to action, sharing the message, and praying to the Lord for strength.  I hope their character grows, their humility deepens and their faith grows.  And I hope they are always willing to labor for those that God cherishes.

Reflecting on Our Trip to the All Saints AIDS Camp Part 2 – What We Found This Time Around

Monday morning, almost 60 of us (2 youth groups and Next Step Staff) crammed onto a bus and headed to the All Saints AIDS Camp. I sat on a cooler in the back wondering about a few things. One, this is going to be the coolest I’ll feel all day. Two, I wonder what is going on in the minds of our first-timers and lastly, I can’t wait to see how the camp is different since we left, how much work has been done since two years ago, and how much we’ll get done this week, and what about the feel of the camp since the missionaries arrived and … my mind kept racing (It’s been like that for months).

If I can be honest, upon surveying the camp, I was a little disappointed. Not the type of disappointment of “I can’t believe this is all that got done – they should have a Starbucks here by now!” But more the disappointment of, “Wow, none of the cabins are completed and none of the residents can move in yet.”

The reality started setting in and I realized that I was thinking like a typical Northeastern American with my unrealistic expectations and projecting my sense of suburban entitlement in the middle of a forgotten AIDS Camp. As I looked around, I realized a good amount of work had been done and heard about some of the developments
like how the “model house” that we first worked on was now going to be a Nurse’s Station. Three other houses could be completed by the end of this summer if electricity and plumbing can get figured out. The sidewalk is becoming safer (my crew helped was putting in a handrail. I’d say at least a third of it is completed). Another of our groups put in a small parking lot that can fit about 5 cars for deliveries, work crews and visitors. And more plans are in the works but of course it highlights the need for volunteer groups to keep coming and hustling.

There were some other developments that I was discouraged about. Like when I heard how one set of parents abandoned their 4 year old to what is believed to re-enter a life of drugs and prostitution. Last time we were here, we spent a good amount of time talking to this family and playing with their daughter. We also started to understand a little more about how the camp is organized (or unorganized). This led to a few other questions speculating about motives and such. It reminded us of how poverty is always punctuated by among other things, broken relationships and oppressive systems.

I was happy to hear of some of the other improvements. The new missionaries (Tim and Felicia who moved from Wisconsin and arrived just after our first trip in the summer of ’09), have arranged for clean water to be delivered throughout the week, organized hot meals, have advocated for better medical care, have connected the camp with more local organizations and have prayed/ministered at countless opportunities.

Then there were some things that haven’t changed. Like our friend Arthur still sings hymns to all who come to visit him on his porch (if you could hear this man with HIV sing “I Am the Lord Your Healer”, it would bring a tear to your eye). Miss Moxie still hugs everyone who comes in her door and asks for Psalms to be read and Brother Vincent is still listening to his Bible and preaching as often as he can. Wheelchair bound, malnourished and blind, they are still praising the Lord.

Earlier this post, I mentioned the need for volunteer groups to continue to come to help with the construction, but that’s only half the story. They are also needed to help with relationship-building. They are needed to help bring a sense of justice to this camp and they are needed to share the hope of Jesus to these souls. We’re glad that we have discovered the virtue of returning to the same places on our short-term mission trips. Because although we’ve been here before, it was a different experience this time and I am sure it will be different the next time too.


Reflecting on Our Sr High Mission Trip to the All Saints AIDS Camp, Nassau Bahamas – Post 1

We just got back from our student mission trip to the All Saints AIDS Camp located in Nassau, Bahamas and I have to say it was fantastic. We had a great experience the last time we went as well and deep down inside, a few of us feared that it wouldn’t be as special as last time. But we also knew that we don’t go on mission trips to simply “get special feelings” and I think that’s why we ended up with one. That makes sense right?

If this is your first time reading about this here’s a bit of context. About 15 miles from the beautiful beach resorts sits this camp for about 30 people who have HIV/AIDS and/or have no other place to turn. Their conditions are deplorable and a couple of organizations like Next Step Ministries and missionaries (like Tim and Felicia who arrived a couple years ago) are committed to improving their living standards while serving in the name of Jesus. (You can check out my other posts for more starting here).

As I have been thinking about the trip these last few days, I find myself grateful that a number of concerns that I had been praying for worked out as well as they did. As mentioned, our group was here two years ago and it was such an incredible experience that I know I was not the only one who was afraid that the glory of old would potentially become a stumbling block for us. I am grateful that it wasn’t. It seemed to me that the returning students were intent on letting this year’s trip be this year’s trip.

Another concern was our first-timers.   They’re usually young, idealistic, and I still like them.  It’s exciting to have them but there is always concern if they believe the trip is going to be something that it isn’t. I am grateful to say they came ready to work and build relationships.

Then there was my concern/hope that all would work out with our leaders. Because of the way things went, we ended up bringing 7 leaders. Each of them are wonderful and have great hearts. Each of them different, each of them opinionated like most Northeasterners (yeah we definitely lack that friggin’ Midwest charm), and then add me to the mix :). All I know is that we have the best leaders a youth pastor and his students (and a church family) could ask for. Amazing and wonderful people and I continue to be so grateful for their sacrifices and hearts.

I get very sensitive regarding short-term missions. I was not always a believer of them and I understand the concerns/objections some have towards them, especially if the trip is reduced to a form of “poverty tourism” and the theme becomes, “We don’t have it so bad where we are from – aren’t you glad you’re not them.” (But if you are not careful, you might be even worse off – more on that in a future post that might morph into next week’s sermon). But that didn’t happen either, instead I felt that we were truly broken for the hurt we saw as we asked God to help us see everyone the way He saw them (and may we have the courage to see ourselves as He sees us).

We absolutely loved the Next Step Staff. The recruiting they do is pretty impressive. A bad staff could potentially hurt a trip but between their talents and their hearts, they really were an incredible blessing to all of us. I hope they have a great rest of the summer and find ways for God to continue to use them so powerfully. What was also great about it was there was 8 of them this year (as opposed to 4 the last time. And for the record, the 4 last time were amazing and I know the Lord multiplied their efforts. But a bigger staff was really helpful, especially since there more than 50 us this time as opposed to 17). So fellow youth pastors, please consider this a strong endorsement for Next Step Ministries – check them out here.

Then there was the “other youth group”. Raise your hand if you have ever served with another church and that be …. hmm … looking for the right word … “interesting” experience (I have a few of my hands raised ;) and I am sure we can be that group for others too).  That said, a very special aspect of our trip was sharing this week with the youth group from Minnesota. They were a great bunch of students and they had a wonderful leaders as well. We were broken up into crews and our projects included roof work on two cabins, demolishing an old one, cement mixing for a parking lot, painting, and construction of a handrail to make the new sidewalks safer (I was on the handrail crew). All of us felt a great connection serving and talking with each other. The only lamentable thing about them was that they are Twins fans – Oh well :)

There were a few other things to highlight and I’ll begin there tomorrow as I can not wait to write a good bit about the residents, the missionaries, and the video series Next Step created and showed us this week. Thanks for reading!

Our Student Mission Team Is Returning to an AIDS Camp

If you know me or if you have been following this blog for a while, you know I am a believer of short-term missions. While I see some of the shortcomings of these trips, I have also experienced the virtues of these weeks.

This year, we are returning to the All Saints AIDS Camp with Next Step Ministries. We will be headed to the Nassau, Bahamas this weekend and be there until the 17th. Our main objective is to do what we are told to do cheerfully and effectively in the name of Jesus (If you have worked on a short-term trip, you’re probably smiling and know exactly what that means). What I believe we are actually doing is building cabins for the residents of the camp. Two years ago, we worked on cabins and spent the other half of the time destroying sidewalk and repaving a new one. The sidewalk was completed last summer and most of the projects are focused on cabin building, a new bathhouse, kitchen-cafeteria and perhaps a chapel.

It’s always been interesting to me that the All Saints AIDS Camp used to be a leper colony. The camp sits on a ridge on the opposite side of the resorts, down a long winding dirt road overlooking a cliff and a cemetery. There is a little bit of electricity and access to water. Other amenities include a picnic table.

Still, we found most of the residents to be cheerful. One woman we made a connection with frequently asked us to read Scripture to her and she would love to sing hymns. There were many like her which we found to be incredible. There has always been a Christian presence in the camp and many of the residents are professing believers. After our trip, the camp received resident missionaries whom we have been praying upon hearing the incredible news. I am curious to how the camp feels since their arrival.

Upon hearing the possibility of this place (at the National Youth Workers Convention in Pittsburgh of ’08), I was quick to dismiss it. I mean taking high school students to an AIDS Camp and hearing all the jokes of a mission trip to the Bahamas is a tough sell. That day, had you told me that it would have been one of the most meaningful experiences of our lives, I probably would not have believed you.

It’s become a very special place to me. You pray very different when you’re at a place like that. Last time I was there, my wife was pregnant with Dylan and she’s now pregnant with a little girl. I’m telling you, you think differently about life when you’re there. It’s a special place and our students were very moved by the experience. And one moment I’ll always remember is one of our girls turning 16 there.

There are countless things to remember but one of my another highlight was getting a tour of the island on our free day by one of the residents … who was blind. I’m eager to meet up with him again and though I expect that he won’t remember me, we certainly remember him and his story of God’s deliverance.

If you would remember to pray for a few things that would be great.
– Pray that we would be “agenda-free” and only focused on serving in the name of Jesus. One of our collective concerns is the temptation to recreate our previous experience (which would be like us making an idol and worshipping that memory instead of God).
– Pray for our safety and health. It’s extremely hot and we’re building cabins, tools are sharp, wood is heavy, and though we are very safety conscious, please pray for God’s hand to be upon us.
– Pray for those we will be serving and serving with. As wonderful as it is for Americans to come and help build a new home for you, it must get a bit exhausting talking to a new group each week. We do our best to communicate to our team that we are not tourists but there is obviously a relational element to these weeks. And so we pray that those who we are serving would be blessed in many ways by us. We will also be serving with another church (from Minnesota) and we’re looking forward to meeting them.

I’d like to think that post a thought or two next week but I’ll be more committed to being there, so we’ll see.

For more context, you can about our trip two years ago here and here.

Can We Drink Starbucks and Not Donate to Japan …

or to Haiti or to the local agencies near us like in Paterson, Harlem, or even Camden? I’ll be the first to admit that questions like this are difficult and perhaps even unfair. I think the goodness is more in the process of answering this question than in the question itself and it’s something that I ask our youth group students reguarly. What should we be doing in times of crisis, dirty water and disease epidemics, global poverty and so forth?

We got serious about these topics a few years ago when we did a series that focused on poverty, suffering, entitlement and how we are called to serve the world. We talked about how 2.3 billion people live on $2 a day and asked is it godly for us to buy a drink that costs more than that? Should we boycott Starbucks? What about our many friends that work there (like our PT Jr. High Youth Pastor, a couple youth leaders and others whom we love and value)? Do we tell them to get new jobs that might not provide health insurance? Should we provide it? I remember someone saying, “I’m getting a headache” and someone saying, “Well, coffee helps with that but don’t do it” – lol.

Our youth group has a little coffee bar in the back of the youth room. We used to charge for the coffee, tea and hot chocolate but then we thought better that it should be a “Freely give, freely receive” tip jar. Some are extremely generous with it and some are still working on it. We know things like this are small tokens in comparison to the needs of the world but I am hoping that these little things help us in seeing how things like money control us and will continue to until our generosity liberates us from that control.

This conversation goes in so many directions. Tithing, missions, mission trips, volunteering, vocational ministry, non-vocational, bi-vocational, suburbia, urban ministry.
Other practicalities like what about our schooling? Can we go to the movies, can we go on vacation, what about things like prom, birthday parties and weddings? Jesus went to weddings right?

We said things like, you can’t watch action movies and romantic comedies and not watch documentaries. There’s a time for vacations and mission trips, going and sending, celebrating and serving. We talked about how even Jesus didn’t heal everyone during His earthly ministry and nor does He now. We talked about being faithful, Jesus-like, compassionate, and prayed that we would learn what it mean to be humble and self-sacrificial.

I believe there is a time to wash dirty feet and a time to feast. It’s very biblical. But the moment we think we have done enough is the moment our entitlement and self-righteousness overwhelms our generosity. So back to the original question*, the answer is yes to both. May we seek the Lord’s wisdom and may we desire to do more for others than we do for ourselves.

*Btw, we can’t just donate money to Japan and expect that to be enough (even if it’s a generous amount). They lost more than homes and buildings. Similar to Haiti, New Orleans and countless other tragedies, supporting the rebuilding of Japan will require much and we should spend time reading, researching conversing and doing. May the Lord give us strength.

Can a Youth Ministry Be Missional When We …

… irregularly participate in local service projects, not be Jesus out in the world and neglect our spiritual formation. Can we be missional and donate inconsistently to clean water projects and anti-trafficking campaigns? Are we missional because we want to do these things, talk about them frequently, and hope that we one day will be more consistent? These are questions I regularly ask myself but not because I’m mad/disappointed at our students/church/myself but with the hopes of being faithful with the calling and opportunities the Lord has placed before us.

Here’s our context. We are an evangelical, suburban church 20 miles outside of NYC. We haven’t gone bowling in years, never have seen a Mercy Me concert, and if you ask them who Josh McDowell is, they’ll likely tell you that he was a inconsistent attender who graduated the other year. There’s so much I love about our ministry: We have committed volunteer leaders (some have been serving for more than 10 years), some awesome students (I mean that), and a church leadership/congregation that highlights student ministry regularly. We have amazing movie themed retreats, youth group gatherings that tackle tough issues, go on life-changing mission trips, lead music on Sunday mornings, and have gone the second mile, individually and collectively on numerous occasions.

Among many things, we have students run their Invisible Children Schools for Schools campaigns at their public schools. They’ve hosted screenings, walk-a-thons, benefit concerts, and have sold shirts they’ve designed. It seems everyone has a story of being thought of “weird” or “crazy” for being a Christian by friends in their schools. I’ve heard their regrettable confessions and have witnessed many moments of them being “salt and light” in needed and dark places.

So obviously, I’m proud of our students, grateful for the ministry but still wonder are we being faithful to the mission God has called us to and secondly, can we attach the adjective “missional” to our name?

Here’s what I know – our students and families are busy. Everyone is. It’s unfair to label us as self-absorbed, undisciplined, forgetful (although which one of us doesn’t suffer from any of these?) but guilty more regularly than we wish to admit. And we are discontent and are constantly at war with this reality.

I look at my own life and wonder things like “Am I missional enough?”, “Am I serving efficiently and effectively enough?”, “Am I Christian enough?”. These are often very humbling moments for me and from numerous conversations, I am grateful that our students, leaders, and congregants wrestle with the same questions. I suspect that numerous other youth pastors, senior pastors, and all who serve the Kingdom vocationally or not wrestle with this too.

I know a few more things – we care and want to care more. We try and wish we could do more, we fail and beat ourselves up and then pick ourselves up and plan new things. We’re overwhelmed at times, disappointed with ourselves and are self-aware enough to know that we drop the ball from time to time. But we don’t wallow in our missed opportunities but ask the Lord for strength to be faithful in the next one.

I am not sure if we are missional, I don’t know if we are not. I know I have wanted us to be growing followers of Jesus serving in the Kingdom and I know we collectively want this. As a youth pastor, as an individual, I submit this question to the Lord Himself. He will judge us, He will forgive us, He will empower us. This is perhaps my favorite aspect of the time the Lord gives us in this world. We don’t know the number of our days, there’s next week, next month, and tomorrow and in the meantime, may we pick up our crosses and follow the One who has asked us to be, serve, love in the name and way of Jesus. May He find us faithful.

Come see the new Invisible Children movie Tony next Wednesday

Our youth group has been involved in Invisible Children for the past few years. In addition to hosting screenings at our church, in their schools, creating School for Schools campaigns, this tragic issue of trafficked and abducted children forced to become child soldiers has been on our hearts.

Next Wednesday (March 16th, 7:30p), we are hosting the new Invisible Children film, Tony at our church (141 W Grand Ave. Montvale, NJ). If you have never seen an IC film, consider coming, they are well-made documentaries that have an incredible soul to them.

The event is free and there will be tshirts and dvds for sale to help support the cause. Hope you can make it and hope you bring a friend.

You can learn more on their website – www.invisiblechildren.com


Youth Ministry and the Future of the Church Part 6

Primary Audience – Local Context
Secondary Audience – Fellow youthworkers and Kingdombuilders

This is probably my last post in the “Youth Ministry and the Future of the Church” series for a while but I have enjoyed putting these thoughts out and have especially appreciated my local context friends expressing their thoughts (and at the very least … reading! – Seriously thanks). Be warned, I’ve tried to not be too provocative on these but I am finishing this post while listening to the new Radiohead album (really good).

Had I finished this series without the mention of the word “Missional”, it would only be a matter of days that someone from my beloved seminary would have contacted me for failure to apply practical objectives. But even with that lurking threat, ;) I sincerely believe that youth ministry will need to evolve and become more missional.

Before we dive in to that, a brief recap – My hope is that we will always support parents in the raising of young followers of a more Biblical Jesus with theological integrity. I hope we always provide opportunities for worship, community, learning and serving. Ultimately, I hope that the church will strengthen for the sake of the Kingdom.

That said, there’s only so much parents and youth workers can do for students, and there are some things that a student must see and do for themselves. At some point, students need to read the Bible for themselves and not just be taught about it. At some point, students must pray for themselves and not just be prayed for. And at some point, students must participate in mission and not just be the object of it.

It’s been my experience that if you want to convince a student to become less self-absorbed, you need to show them the physical/emotional/spiritual poverty of others. It’s among the reasons we believe in short-term missions and trying to create a sustainable and more consistent missional culture. This has been among the better aspects of our ministry.

To be completely honest though, I join the many who have always been concerned with the virtues of the short-term missions experience. Looking back on the last five years however, I think our response to the concern has been part of what has made these opportunities helpful. We tell students that they need to share their summer with others. We tell them to be faithful with the opportunities provided on the mission trip and to allow their hearts to be broken. We tell them later, that they can’t care for the homeless in New Orleans or the HIV patient in the Bahamas and curse their mother under their breath and ignore the socially marginalized in their school. In leaving our zip code, God has taught us a great deal about the people in it.

Now “being missional” is more than participational, it’s formational and communal as well. But among our problems is that our youth ministries are limited by the participational aspects of joining in service in the Kingdom.

We use a fair amount of sending language in our youth ministry. We even have students who say things like, “I am salt and light on my team/group/band.” That’s a great starting point for a young Christian and my hope is that we serve our community as individuals, families, and as a local church. To do this, I think a few aspects are needed.

One we need to be missional church-wide. Like many things, it must be part of our culture to serve and not just a “hobby” that the students do.

Two, we need to confront and dismiss the consumer culture that exists in many of our suburban churches. There’s a lot written about that on this blog and so many other places but consumer culture is suffocating us.

Third we need a new metrics of measurements. I know of some larger churches that are doing great things, some not so much. I know a few mid/small being very faithful and powerful and many not so much. Large/Small expired a long time ago, it’s about fruit, power, transformational difference. Instead of “How many are attending this week?” It needs to be more like, “How many new are coming in this year? How many are being sent out? What are they doing/saying/thinking/worshipping in here/out there?” etc. What is the fruit of our discipleship from our homes/churches?”

Finally, and I know how general this sounds, we must collectively pursue the mission of the Kingdom in the way Jesus modeled – liberation, provision, healing, sacrifice, forgiveness, redemption, all in the name of God’s love.

In the ministry I am serving in, we have had some amazing moments, some terrible ones, mediocre seasons and some real beautiful ones too. We are praying that we are on the Spirit-led road in being a strong church following Jesus. I truly believe that what we are doing today not only matters for now but for the evangelical church 30, 40, 50 years from now. Thoughts?