Reflecting on Why I am Teaching on "Unity"

Still trying to figure out how/what to blog.  I think all I’ve figured out is the “when”.  The answer is, “right after I hit the ‘post’ button.” (lame, I know.  That’s why I’m in student min).

Supposedly blogging is about writing whatever you feel like talking about today.  But with such great blogs out there, it’s hard to enter the conversation.  Still, the interent can afford one more lame blog and so feel free to start one.  No, no,  I mean, happy reading.

Today, I’m airing out some of my thoughts on tonight’s lesson on unity, why I am teaching it, what I hope to avoid and what I hope to land on. 

Given my context, my interests, our recent history, and present circumstances, here’s some of the why.

1.  We had a number of influential seniors graduate this past May.  This year’s class is less than half their number, their personalities are more introverted, and my impression is that they “don’t feel like seniors” (whatever that means). 

2.  On the flip side, we have a good amount of new 9th graders.  Almost enough that I feel we have a “young youth group” in relation to high school age.  Also factor in the beginning of the school year (which in some ways is the toughest time in the inner dynamics), their insecurities, and the potential snobbery of the upperclassmen.  

3.  Like most youth groups, we are susceptible too clichés.  Not like “Mean Girls or “Gossip Girl” (not even like “Golden Girls”)  but we talk about community and many times we have a culture in our student ministry that not only impairs community but does the opposite and encourages clichés.  That’s a longer story. 

As it worked out, the first seminary class this fall is about relational community.  Reading Organic Community by Joe Myers has been a great blessing to me.  I wished I had listened to Charles Zimmerman and Todd Hiestand before. 

Tonight we’ll be covering the second part of “Our Unity.  What It Is and Why We Need You”.  Among communicating the Scriptures, keeping their attention, setting up small groups (which will happen in tandem with the lesson.  Which every time I see this at a conference, I love it.  Every time I try it, I regret it.), etc.  I also want to  avoid overboarding on our unity that we make ourselves even more inward focused.  Judging from our few visitors (although last week we had quite a few), we seem to have the inward thing already focused.  Nor do I want to go on the other side of being so outward focused that we lose our identity and our bonds.  Truthfully, I don’t see a risk of that actually happening anytime soon but I think that message but be a turn-off, reject the message, abandon their faith, become drug addicts and fundamentalists and thus be, counter-productive.  

I joked on my twitter that I don’t want to use “missional unity” because I was fasting from using that adjective.  I am tired of it but it is a great adjective.  

Studying Ecclesiastes

Tomorrow for Sunday School, we will beginning a study on the book of Ecclesiastes.  

Like so many brothers and sisters who flirt with feeling jaded and frustrated when reading the Bible, the book of Ecclesiastes is as comforting to us as the Psalms are to others.

“Everything is meaningless!” Hyperbole alert:  I think if you asked some in this generation, they would tell you that they are the most cynical, the most angry, the least hopeful, and in fact are the creators of despair. Please also check out their other creations, sex, drugs, rock’n roll, among others.

If I knew I wouldn’t be burned at the stake by fundamentalists, I would create an abridged Bible (and if I knew I wouldn’t be burned at the step of the church organ with propane and left-over bulletins I would).   It’s genesis would be Ecclesiastes.  It would be followed by  John, Romans, some epistles, and flashback to Genesis, etc.  That sounds like more of a seeker’s Bible to me.

We’ll be using IBS’s “The Search”.  Which is a Ecclesiastes in pamphlet form void of the text references in the TNIV language.  (Very inexpensive too.  Check out the link).

Among my hopes, I want students to know that they are not the first to feel despair and have to reconcile that with their love for God.  I want them to enjoy the struggle, embrace the tension, appreciate the paradox, etc.  It’s ok to talk like that.  We didn’t start the fire you know.  


In need of "Renaissance"

Our senior high student ministry, Fusion, kicked off this past Wednesday night. Most days, I love what I do, and I had been looking forward to this night for the last half of the summer.

Let me tell you a youth pastor story that isn’t true. After spending a solid 10 minutes or so (but each moment was prayerful), God spoke to me and said, “Tim, my favorite son, I want you to tell my students that I love slightly less then you because you’re such a good Christian and youth pastor, that they must experience a reawakening.”

In my best King James heavenly language, I spoketh forth and replied, “Yea Lord, thy servant heareth thee.” I went to explain that I was ready to share a series on Jesus being awesome. I had a whole bunch of passages from Paul that I was ready to use. (Didn’t really want to use the Gospels since it gets soo complicated and who wants to study the text?  Don’t want them me or them to think too much, you know).  Anyway, I digress.

I guess I write that because I have an extra 5 minutes to share my angst with my impression of how youth ministry has been done years ago (and still is in some places). Indeed, I did pray, meditate, etc. on what we should discuss this fall. Most of our students have been raised in the church. Many of them feel lonely in their faith while walking through their high schools, they complain of feeling somewhat sheltered, and generally, they know God is good but admit to being frustrated from the clichés, the need for discipline, their failure, their youth pastor, their parents, the self-righteous kids on the other couch, and about 248 other teen-age related reasons. I feel we as believers, as a Church, specifically ours in Montvale, are in need of a season of “Renaissance”. Though I typically conjure up feminine and other related ideas of that time period, after some time, I’ve come to appreciate it’s meanings, “a new beginning” and “rebirth” (among a few). Yes, I need a “renaissance”.

My hope is that others connect to this too.

Revelation Generation

Once again this Labor Day Weekend, we took our youth group to Revelation Generation.  Now their third year doing this, I must say that it’s a fantastic event.  Granted the first year got drowned in a terrible rain storm so I wasn’t really expecting much last year.  However, comparing this year to last year, there was improvement.   They have 3 stages at RevGen:  The Nashville Stage, Philly Stage, and NY Stage.  Nashville’s headliners were Shawn McDonald, Bethany Dillon and Phil Keagy.  Philly had August Burns Red, Devil Wears Prada, the Myriad, Flyleaf, and As I Lay Dying.  Those that performed on NY were Robbie Seay, Skillet, Sixpence, Toby Mac, and Newsboys (among others).

What I liked:

–  that my students were very excited about the Philly stage line-up

–  that they told the crowd how to mosh.  Pick people up immediately when they fall down, no crowd surfing, practice doing moves (instead of just flailing your arms, which I think is a move but anyway).

– that Toby Mac always puts on a  good show.

– the variety of food they had

– the pastor/youth leader tent with water and coffee.  Thanks for taking care of us youth pastors.

– the nice job on the signage

– the big screen next to the stage

– the section for tents and blankets (behind the soundboard).

What I didn’t like:

– the “preferred viewing” section for $10 more.  It’s like first class seating.  Seems so unChristian to reward those who pay more.  Why not give the preferred viewing to the old or short or at least to those in that band’s fan club.  

– the overpriced food.  Though water was only $2, I thought the food was a bit much.

– the fact that Newsboys did the exact same set as last year, with the same stories and even prayers!!!  Peter, you’re so much better then this.  You ought to know if you are the headlining band for the second straight year that you can’t do the same set, with the same jokes, and again the same prayers!!!  One thing is to have the novelty of the spinning sideways drum kit thing but this was a little … dumb.

We left during Breakfast in Hell.  Once again, our students had a great time.  And we’ll probably come back unless it’s a bad lineup.  And if Newsboys are headlining, I’ve already memorized the Isaiah 40 prayer, I’ll recite it on the walk back to the vans.

Post-NOLA Trip thoughts 1 – Why New Orleans?

We’ve just returned from our trip to New Orleans and the Desperation Student Conference.  Really grateful for so many aspects of this trip.  Here is some of how and why we got there (and here).

I thought twice about planning a mission trip to New Orleans.  In fact, I thought twice about having another student mission trip. Though they have their flaws, I really do see the value of these trips and believe them to be worth having.  Will probably share more about that as time goes on.


One of my hopes in our student ministry is to have a Christ and others-centered, mission approach where we go and serve local and further out domestically and internationally.  This past year, among the best things we’ve done was skipping our traditional fall retreat. Instead, we went out and did local mission projects in Paterson, NJ, Harlem and Queens, NY.  Frankly, we need to find ways to do more of these types of things as a student ministry and as families and believers.  We’re taking steps.

Anyway, it’s a long story but New Orleans became the place.  I couldn’t really avoid it, these opportunities kept coming up, the need is great, turn on tv and from PBS to even the Edge having a charity devoted to saving the music, it was everywhere so it got my attention.

As I was praying about it, the idea of not going because it was too cliché seemed more superficial and compelled by the need of New Orleans (and much of the Gulf region), I found myself planning a mission trip. Time went on and I got excited about the opportunity. In college, I connected with classic jazz and some friends turned me to Harry Connick Jr. – a son of New Orleans. Dealing with the aftermath of Katrina, the rebuilding, the non-rebuilding, the corruption, the hurt, the politics, the culture of New Orleans, Cajun, its symbolic presence in the South, and then there was us. I am not handy. Most of my students aren’t either. This was going to be tough – for all of us. As you could see, things were falling into place in terms of a mission trip. I was getting excited to do something that we weren’t that good at. Something that would make us uncomfortable as that would force us to keep focused. As many know, it’s when we are uncomfortable and not in control that we hear God’s voice. I doubt it’s because He is speaking any louder but more that we are listening so much more intently. Next thing I knew, friend, fellow seminarian and blogger, Evan was bringing some students as well. God truly seemed in the midst of this. For if it was me, we’d be in Vegas. Hmmm, that’s a great idea for next year.


Are Great Adventure Trips Missional?

Yes they are! There are certain rides like Kingda Ka that are very much a spiritual experience. The speed, the anticipation, the relief that you are still alive – praise Jesus. Ever get to the top of a ride like Nitro (which is a fun stand-up roller coaster) and pray that everyone is doing their job? Similar to praying for the pilot and his family and confessing unconfessed sin upon take off, I am praying for the 17 year old operating the controls, the maintenance guy in charge of seat restraints and praying that the team of engineers are all happily married with well-adjusted children being and being fairly compensated.

In fact, the next time a roller coaster gets retired, I’m going to suggest to our elder board that we consider purchasing it and throwing it in the back of the church. Not so much to thrill teen-agers but to convict those older. Imagine sending up that guy who complains after every worship service or the “just a suggestion” lady (that suggests that you were a different person – LOL). We could strap them in, play sermons of kindness, edification, complaining, giving! And you don’t get off the ride until you repent (Now that’s a suggestion). Truth be told, that’s just where some people are at and I find it fun to joke about (You don’t expect me to take it too seriously do you? And this is a blog not Christianity Today).

But over to my context, I enjoy taking our students to things like G.A. One reason is because I am normal (somewhat) and I like having a good time. Among my concerns and frustrations with some parts of student ministry is this cool, fun Jesus thing. I guess that’s really a different type of post but here’s the issue with Great Adventure. These trips of become so cliché. We ask ourselves, how can a student ministry NOT go to an amusement park? It’s like a church without a cross in the sanctuary. Has anyone heard of such a thing? Yes in fact, we have. And there are many successful student ministries that have given up on trying to entertain their students and have focused more on ministering to them. And many more that are trying to find the balance in between (like ours).

What I like about trips like these is standing in line, talking (except when it’s ridiculously hot, which it wasn’t yesterday), getting to know students and leaders. Truth be told, I do feel closer to our students after these types of trips. Not really sure that counts as being missional though. Perhaps we should pick up the trash, free the dolphins and tigers, and evaluate their energy efficiency. But spending time conversing in the lines is better then turning kids loose in the park and deluding ourselves into thinking that this is youth ministry.

Go to the YS CORE

Hey youth workers,

In case youth speciatlies has not found you, I highly recommend the YS Core Training Day.  Our youth leaders enjoyed going last year and were excited about the new theme this year.  It’s called “Generation Change” and it is obviously seeking mission, justice, and your ministry.Budget money well spent if you follow up with the purpose of it.  Besides, you know how it goes, you announce to your youth leaders that you need to be more missional, there’s yawning, protests, accusations that you’re not fun.  Let the YS guy say it, they’ll love it, you’re still lame but your ministry is better.  Win-win.  Seriously, sometimes people need to hear the right thing from a different source.     

Info here.




A great weekend … thanks youth leaders.

I truly enjoyed my time during my seminary retreat with my wife and fellow cohorters.  Felt that I was able to get to know them a little better and was glad that Susan could gain an appreciation of what our group is like.  Glad you came along, Honey. 

While I was away, our Jr. High group went to Metro Maryland’s “Alive” Retreat.  The group was led by some fantastic youth leaders who I am very grateful to have them.  Not grateful because it’s Thanksgiving; I’m sure that I’d feel the same even if it was in May.  

Like everyone, I teach that our ministry isn’t just about what the youth pastor can do (regardless of how wonderful and charming he is), and so I am glad that we have able and enough leaders to make these kinds of contributions.  

 I could say more but since I am not in the habit of sharing these blog posts …   




Hotel Rwanda – Movie-Discussion Night

Hotel Rwanda Last night our youth group watched Hotel Rwanda for our movie and discussion night. I was thrilled that we had about 15 students spend their Friday night doing this. (Intentionally no sign up to discourage the, “It depends who’s going” attitude.) If you have seen this movie, you know that’s pretty intense.

One of the major themes we have been discussing as a student ministry has been that we need to cultivate a heart for others. We need to see people as God sees them. We need to focus more outside of ourselves and outside our inner circles. Hotel Rwanda does a great job in illustrating some of this.

I was really pleased and I hope we continue on this path. Our next movie discussion night will probably be different (and probably a little more light-hearted)