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In the current issue of the Christian Chronicle, there is a two-page advertisement concerning a cappella music. The ad is presented by a group who identifies themselves as “younger ministers under the age of 55” who are concerned about the growing threat of instrumental music in the Churches of Christ.

I have so much to say about this ad but I think Mike Cope says it best when he writes,

“The world is disoriented, hurting, and lost. God is seeking to restore and repair what’s been broken. And someone is paying for a two-page ad in the Chronicle for this?”

My thoughts exactly.

As a youth minister I’m dealing with students who are disoriented and confused about who they are and struggle with questions and doubts about whether or not God really cares about them. I meet students and families who are hurting because of loss or because of sin. Turn on the news and watch as students are harassed or monks are shot dead in the street or entire ethnic groups are obliterated and you don’t even get a glimpse at just how lost this world is.

We are desperate for God’s healing and grace and yet… this ad.

I am not saying that this issue shouldn’t be discussed. I’m not dismissing deeply held beliefs on either side of the aisle.

I just want us to put as much time and energy in promulgating the gospel message of Jesus Christ as we do in pointing our fingers at each other and devouring one another.

I am not ashamed of the gospel. However, I am more than a little ashamed of that ad.


It All Comes Down To Risk

Thanks to everyone who weighed in on the first Wrestling With Scripture post. Hopefully we can do this every week.

I think that the reason that I have spent so much time on this passage is because I marvel at the risks that Jesus took in his ministry. They pale in comparison to the risks that we take today.

In fact the only time I hear people discussing risk is when it comes to money. For shame!

Philippians 2 reminds us that Jesus risked leaving an exalted seat in heaven for the life of an itinerant preacher who was obedient to a criminal’s death even though he was innocent of any and every crime. Matthew tells us that Jesus risked leaving his ministry to fishermen and unskilled, ordinary men and women. the Gospels point out that Jesus risked giving glory to God and bringing life to the marginalized and broken even though his methods lay outside the box of tradition.

Part of me is just enamored and challenged that Jesus might have risked being labeled as an outcast by touching and healing the leper.

That is where I want my faith to be. Am I risking it all to remain faithful to the things that God is calling me toward? Do I care more about my safety, my status, my reputation, my tradition than I do about seeking after the glory of God?

It all comes down to risk.

The Three Questions

Every person on the planet deals with three basic questions:

  • Who am I?
  • Do I Matter?
  • Am I loved?

In youth ministry I see students trying to answer these questions everyday. I see it in the way they behave, what activities they pursue, the way the dress, and the way they interact with one another. However most adults still wrestle with these questions too.

To be completely honest we never stop trying to answer these questions. It isn’t as though one day we wake up at 27 and we no longer have acne and suddenly have all the answers to life’s journey. The acne still crops up every once in a while and these queries still stare us in the face every single day.

The problem with these three questions is that they rely on us to answer them by ourselves. It is up to you and I to indiviualy answer these questions under our own power. I have a hard time making a decision at the gas pump whether or not I want a receipt after my transaction. I cannot even begin to answer these life-defining questions on my own. I’m limited.

I have been working through Rick Lawrence’s newest ministry book Jesus-Centered Youth Ministry and Lawrence reframes these three questions in a way that turns the focus away from ourselves and send us running to Jesus for the answers.

Here are the questions I am now asking:

  • Who Do I Say Jesus Is?
  • Who Does Jesus Say I Am?
  • Who Do I Say I Am?

I have been working through these questions for the last few weeks. Tomorrow we will look at the first one: Who Do I Say Jesus Is? I hope that you can join in on the conversation. See you tomorrow.


Seth Godin has made a living on encouraging businesses, churches, teams, and individuals to give people something truly Remarkable. You don’t attract new business by being as good as the other guy. You don’t make an impact on someone’s life by doing the ordinary. You can’t create a culture of winning by going through the motions. You can’t stand out by just getting by.

I believe in being Remarkable. I don’t like doing the same old same old and I tend to steer clear of organizations who do. My time and my efforts are precious commodities. If you want them you have to show me that you are at least willing to become Remarkable.

Example of the Remarkable:
There was a white box waiting for me in my office this morning. I noticed that the Catalyst logo was on one side and so I immediately tore the box wide open.

I have attended the Catalyst Conference for 4 out of the last 5 years. It has been one of the highlights of the year for me because each year it gets better and better. The conference delivers big time in content and character. I hear amazing speakers and see amazing things which in turn feeds my creativity so I can be a better leader. Since Catalyst always aims to surprise I wondered what would be in the box.

The Tube

What I found inside was a brightly colored metal canister. This year’s theme is Reverb. The art work featured noise lines and loud colors and the words “effect big.” One side of the drum had instructions on how to register and another side listed the featured speakers. I was already excited about this pacakage and I hadn’t even fully opened it yet!

A Whole Mess o' Catalyst

Inside I found a whole mess of Catalyst swag.

Window Stick-Ons and Reverb Magnets

There were window clings and those rattle magnets.

The World's Longest Event Poster

Inside I found atomic fire balls and 8 of the World’s Longest Event Brochures.

Catalyst Calendar

There was also a calendar poster so I can count down the days until Catalyst begins.

On top of all this there were also a couple of other little items and an event DVD.

They could of just sent a brochure and a registration card. Instead they sent a story.

Instead of sending me what was expected they sent me something Remarkable.

I Am Insert Your Ministry Here

Ultimately, Starbucks can’t flourish and win customers’ hearts without the passionate devotion of our employees. In business, that passion comes from ownership, trust, and loyalty. If you undermine any of those, employees will veiw their work as just another job. Their passion and devotion is our number-one competitive advantage. Lose it, and we’ve lost the game.

Today we continue thinking about the latest Starbucks corporate initiative focusing on the unique talents that each partner brings to the coffee-table and what that could do for your ministry.

The I Am Starbucks campaign is truly inspired. Giving your employees stock options can make them feel like they share in the ownership of the company but highlight who they are as individuals and celebrate their strengths and you’ve got wildfire of loyalty, passion, and excitement that has the potential to sweep the entire organization.

When I read the words I Am Starbucks I immediately began thinking about my ministry. One of my non-negotiables is that I want and desire that every student that comes in contact with our ministry to feel that they are an important part of what’s going on. The ministry rises or falls on who they are as individuals and what they bring to the collective.

To clarify, I’m not talking about an individual’s worth being tied to what they contribute.

No, I simply mean that who they are is the contribution- their presence, involvement, ideas, passions, gifts. Who they are at their core means a great deal to our ministry.

For many teens this idea could be revolutionary. Teens have been conditioned feel as though adults only care about what they can do. They have a hard time believing that they could loved because of who they are.

I hear things like:

“My coach only cares if we win state.”
“My parents expect me to be perfect.”
“Every teacher thinks that their class is the most important and deserves the most of my time.”

I understand that this feeling is somewhat oversimplified but perception is the truest reality. Students need to be told that they are loved because of who the are and that our love isn’t a condition of what they can or cannot do.

So, starting an I Am insert your ministry here campaign begins with loving your people as individuals. If you jump into highlighting talents in an open forum your effort will reek of trying to profit off of their efforts. Students can see right through that and if we’re honest with ourselves so can most adults.

Long before Starbucks began this new campaign they built trust and loyalty with their partners by creating health plans, 401k, and Bean Stock in essence telling their people that they care about them personally above and beyond the corporate bottom line. The result is that this ad campaign has an air of authenticity behind it. That’s something many ministries struggle with.

You want to reach people outside your church walls? Start loving the people that are there now.

You want to highlight people’s gifts and talents in front of the entire body? Start highlighting people’s gifts and talents quietly on your own.

You want people to feel like they are responsible for the direction and success of your ministry? Make people more important than the specific ministry.

Start doing these things and pretty soon your people will begin proudly saying,

I AM Insert Ministry Here & YOU CAN BE TOO.

Tapping the Talent

skinny.tiffSometimes I like it when things don’t go according to plan.

I had wanted to get into the office a little earlier than usual this morning but as I was trying to leave the house I couldn’t find my keys. I looked in the places where I usually leave my keys but after a few minutes I knew exactly where they were.

In my wife’s purse. At her job. 40 minutes away.

After calling her to confirm that they were indeed inside her purse I knew that my plans for the morning would have to change. While I do have a spare car key I do not have a spare to the building or to my office. I could leave my house but I had no where to go. Thankfully, I do have a spare Starbucks card for this very occasion.

When I got to Starbucks I ordered a tall mocha and I also purchased a copy of Off the Clock: Vol 1.

Off the Clock is collection of new music from “up and coming Starbucks artists.” Translation: The music is from actual Starbucks partners. You could have been served a drink made by someone featured on this album! How cool is that?

According to the liner notes:

For years Starbucks Entertainment has been asked by just about everyone who works here how to get their music heard. So we decided in 2006 to see what the partners had to offer by launching our first-ever Partner Music Contest. (Partners) were invited to submit solo or band recordings of original songs.

We ended up receiving more than 800 submissions.

Yes, these artists work at Starbucks, and they are also amazing musicians with great songs that deserve to be heard. We back their music wholeheartedly. While we strive to support our partners, ultimately it is our goal here to introduce you to astonishing music from exceptional artists.

Starbucks has always been known for standing behind their employees. The company consistantly ranks at or near the top of the world’s most respected companies and that is due largerly to the way that it treats its employees.

I think that highlighting the talents of the baristas around the country is a win-win for everyone. In a country that is focused on some guy named Sanjya with zero talent this album showcases 15 very talented singer/song writers or bands that sling joe in the morning and rock out at night.

The stores are also putting the spotlight on some baristas who are artists allowing them to create artwork for ceramic mugs, journals, and prints that are sold in store as well.

All of this falls under a new campaign titled, “I Am Starbucks.”

So, I’ve got a few questions that I want to discuss the rest of the week.

1) What could this kind of campaign do in our churches? How can we highlight what our people do “off the clock” (Monday-Saturday)?

2) What would this look like?

Goodbye Goodbuy

Hello simplicity and integrity.

In September I wrote a post lamenting that Chase Banks had co-opted one of my favorite songs for their credit card commercials. The song was “All You Need Is Love” by The Beatles and I was frustrated that the commercial was selling the idea that love equals stuff. Call me naive. Call me idealistic. I don’t care. The commercial made my stomach turn.

Well it has happened again. This time by a company that I frequent quite often.

No doubt that you have seen that Target has featured the Beatles’ hit, “Hello Goodbye,” in their latest round of advertisements. Except they have changed the lyrics to Hello Goodbuy again preaching the idea that love equals stuff. They have even spelled out the Good Buy in Jell-O and in other products so that the viewer doesn’t miss the pun.

When I first saw the ad a few months ago, I merely rolled my eyes and quickly forgot about it. (I figured that Michael Jackson simply needed money again.) I only saw the ad once and thought that the campain was over. Then while on spring break, I popped a Beatles mix into the van’s CD player on our ski trip with the youth group. From the back of the van I heard, “Hey, this is the song from the Target commercial!”

This student had no idea who the Beatles were. They had never heard the song before seeing it in the commercial. How tragic.

Way to go coporate shills. You have once again managed to take something beautiful and turn it into a mindless, soulless peice of garbage that you can use for your own benefit.

I am not buying. In fact, I’m not going to buy from Target for a very long time. I have managed without Wal-Mart for over a year (only 4 unavoidable visits) and I will manage without Target.

My Experience

As repeated polls have revealed, when asked what they spend most time talking about with their child, her As, Cs, or Fs, more than 70 percent of parents say the Fs.
-Marcus Buckingham

Was that your experience because it was mine? Everytime I brought home a report card or a progress report hardly two words were spoken to me about my good grades. The conversations always revolved around how bad one grade was and what I must do to turn it around.

Usually that wayward grade would be in some math class. My English grades were always high and I did very well in Science and in History because it is in those subjects that my strengths lie. I knew deep within my heart that I would never excel at math. I could only get a little better.

However, that isn’t what the world believes. Maybe it isn’t what you believe.

According to Marcus Buckingham, formerly of the Gallup Organization, 61% of people believe that you will grow the most in your areas of weakness. Really? I will grow the most in my areas where I’m weakest?

It has been my experience that simply cannot be true. My weaknesses shouldn’t be ignored (I would have failed if I had completely ignored those math grades) but they cannot be my focus. According to Buckingham, a far better use of my time would have been spent working on my strengths. That what I kept yelling whispering to my parents all those years ago.

Maybe that is why Buckingham’s work has really connected with me. Last October, I heard him ask the grades question. Twelve years of arguments and frustrations all came flooding back to me in that instant. It all made sense to me. Instead of being encouraged to focus on my strengths I have been told my entire life that I need to focus on the areas where I’m lacking. While the motivation behind this belief is all well and good it is merely a wild goose chase.

According to Buckingham, to learn about success you must study success not failure. Studying failure will teach you more about, well, failure.

I’m more interested in success anyway.

Check out Marcus Buckingham’s Go Put Your Strengths to Work. Click on the link to watch a preview video.

Also check out Trombone Player Wanted. A great video resource to supplement this great material.

I will be attending another seminar with Buckingham on Wednesday. I am absolutely stoked about this event. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Until then- focus on your strengths not your weaknesses!

Don’t be an Eliphaz

Last night I was going through some of my files on teenagers and grief. I came across this article from Youth Specialties written by Renee Altson. The main thrust behind the article is walking students through the process of grief and disappointment and frustration with life sans the pat answers.

As ministers we like to have answers-the right answers.

People expect us to have answers-the right answers quickly.

As Alston says in the article, we are a culture of quick fixes. While I’ve only been doing ministry for a handful of years, I know that nothing in this life or in adolescence or in the journey of faith comes quick and easy. Pains aren’t quickly forgotten. Wounds don’t heal over night. Blurbs about faith and purpose and God’s will ring hollow in the ears of teenagers dealing with loss.

The youth pastor patted me on top of the head—not with tenderness, but with a dismissive, condescending motion. Tap-tap-tap. Tap-tap-tap. “Just remember,” he said, “God causes all things to work together for good. God won’t give you anything that you can’t handle.”

I wiped away the tears that had started to form and forced a smile. Walking away, I thought, “Dude, you have no idea what I’m going through. I don’t even know if there is a God anymore.”

We live in a world of instant gratification. We can have almost anything we want on demand. Fast food, fast Bible lessons, fast relationships—everything comes with a money-back, feel-good, 30-minutes-or-less guarantee.

Today’s Christianity has bought into that kind of mentality,as well. Got a broken heart? Jesus can fix it. Feel overwhelmed by sadness? Cast all your cares on him. Feeling stuck between two decisions? Just trust and obey.

What are we offering our students when we give them pat answers and tired clichés? Are we teaching them that we buy into the notion of instant pleasure and quick fixes? Are we setting them up for a life of disappointment and doubt?

The pat answers given to me throughout my lifetime, particularly during my adolescent years, almost did me in. They brought guilt and shame—a sense of never being good enough, of never being godly enough. I struggled constantly with these quick fixes that just didn’t work for me. I’d confess, repent, and accept Jesus into my heart—I really would. And nothing would feel any different. So I’d do it again, repeatedly confessing and repenting in an attempt to feel the answers that were supposed to be there. I’d pray for hours, asking Jesus into my heart again and again. Why didn’t he fix me? Why didn’t God give me strength? What was I doing wrong?

In the end, swamped with frustration and sadness, I didn’t blame God or suddenly decide it was Jesus’ fault. I blamed myself.

One of the problems with pat answers is that they’re usually taken straight from Scripture and therefore contain some element of truth—enough truth to distort; enough truth that, when offered, seems real.

We don’t offer lies to our students, we offer half-truths. We offer the resurrection without the agony of the cross. We offer the ascension without the garden of Gethsemane. And we end up with students with half-truth lives—students who won’t know how to survive the difficulties they face; students with weak faith that is easily uprooted by winds of disappointment and doubt.

What can you do to help ground your students? How do you get beyond pat answers? Do you even want to?

Face Pain

You must befriend the reality of hurting people; you must acknowledge some wounds that are so big they may make you ask, “Why, God?” and even “God, are you there?”

One of the problems with Christians is that we feel we must constantly defend our faith so zealously, we don’t know how to let God handle the huge issues. We try to minimize our situations and lives so we don’t need a big God. Big pain requires a big God.

Embrace Unknowing

A million years of theology doesn’t speak to the heart like a genuine “I don’t know.” And let’s be truthful—there are some things we don’t know.

We can guess. We can come up with alliterative phrases that describe the atonement, the purpose of sin, the meaning of redemption; but when it comes to this student in this moment in this situation, we all too often just don’t know. Pretending that we do leads to pat answers and dishonesty.

Allow for Process

There’s a lot of pressure in the church to be okay. It’s subliminal, from upraised hands during the worship chorus to kneeled moments during the altar call, but it exists.

Many people will expect you to fix the hurting kids in your ministry. After all, you’re the youth pastor. But it’s important not to rush the process. We don’t serve a God who expects us to be put together; we serve a God who suffers with us in our sufferings, who weeps with us in our sorrow.


Sometimes the best words are no words at all. A lot is unsaid in those quiet, intimate moments. Much is conveyed in quiet breathing and simple sharing of space. And in that silence, you won’t damage someone’s heart. You won’t minimize his pain or tell him what you think he needs to hear or what you want to say.

Just be with her. Be with her without feeling a need to fix her. Listen to the cries of her heart. Offer them up to God.

Pat answers are dangerous. They minimize our God and they minimize us. They turn our religion into something that God never intended. And they diminish our light.

I’ve been reading through the book of Job this week.

What has struck me is how quickly Job’s “friends” resort to offering up the pat answers. One minute they are they sitting quietly and comforting Job (11-13) and the next minute they are offering up “explanations” and “remedies” for the cause of Job’s calamities.

I know why Job’s friends felt the need to speak up. I’m sure that the silence was deafening. The weight of the situation often compels us to speak. We have a need to rationalize and explain away things that we can’t/won’t understand.

Grief is hard enough without us adding the pain and shortsightedness that pat answers bring. Teenagers feel everything so deeply. Walk them through it slowly.

I can’t explain the reason behind what happened to those students yesterday in Alabama or what happened to those basketball players in Atlanta this morning.

What I can do is offer a shoulder for crying, an ear for listening, and a whisper for a prayer.

When people are dealing with grief and junk that the world has dumped on them I am reminded of the words of St Francis of Assisi:

Go into all the world and preach the gospel and use words if necessary.

Time over quickness. Walking over running. Presence over pat answers.


Life is Meant to Be Lived in Connection

There are two over arching themes that keep popping up in and around everything I am watching, reading, listening to, and talking about. You could chalk it all up to coincidence but I believe that it is God whispering something important to me.

He’s saying, “Don’t miss this! If you didn’t see it there, watch this! If you couldn’t hear me there, how about this! Check this out. Did you see it?” God wants me to know something and he doesn’t want me to miss it.

The first whisper that I’m hearing is that Life is Meant to Be Lived in Connection.

In What I’ve Been Watching
The entire third season of Grey’s Anatomy has revolved around connections.

George’s father died and his need for connection sent him and Callie running to Las Vegas for a weekend wedding. Izzie is still reeling from losing Denny and struggled with losing the only connection she had left with him: an 8.7 million dollar check. Burke and Christina spent the first half of the season in an intense secret that kept their relationship intact but their pride has kept them from reconnecting since their secret was revealed. Merideth and Derek’s relationship has grown over the last few weeks but death threatened to take that precious connection away. And in the latest episode Merideth and her mother were finially able to connect if only for the last time. And these are just the main story archs.

Heroes has proven that the world hinges on our ability to connect with one another.

Even the producers of Lost have come to this realization and have tried to reconnect with their audience. When Lost returned this February, the producers were featured in a “here’s-where-we’ve-been-please-don’t-quit-watching-we-can-catch-you-up” special. It seems to have done the trick.

We are all connected. We are called to connect.

In What I’ve Been Reading
Andy Stanley has done it again with his book Creating Community. The book has me rethinking what I’ve traditionally called community.

We are all connected. We are called to connect.

In What I’m Listening To
I’ve been listening to Pink Floyd’s Is There Anybody Out There?. This live album is the audio chronicle of one of the wildest musical concepts in rock ‘n roll. During the concert, a wall was constructed that seperated the band form the audience. Talk about losing connection.

We are all connected. We are called to connect.

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