Category Archives: personal

Waiting for Spring

March 20 was the day I’ve been waiting for – the first day of spring. To be honest, this date has been circled on my calendar since the end of October. You see, I’m not a huge fan of Winter.

Growing up in northern Indiana afforded me many opportunities to enjoy winter as a child. We had numerous hills on which to sled, friends with frozen ponds or small hockey rinks in their yard, and even an ice skating rink in the mall. Though I enjoyed spending hours with my friends playing in the wintery goodness, I never woke up hoping there would be a foot of snow on the ground. I guess you could say winter was not my favorite season, I simply tolerated it.

When I went to college, in Cincinnati OH, I found a whole new reason to like winter less and less – driving on slippery hills. Driving on icy roads is bad; driving on icy roads at a 60 degree incline is just plain miserable. Again, there were many opportunities to enjoy the wintery weather with friends. But this time, I participated a lot less. I simply waited for the snow to melt and the warm weather to begin.

Over the past few years something has changed. I have become more intentional and focused on making the most of the cold months and not living as though I’m just waiting for them to be over. I finally accepted a truth you probably already know, when you focus too much on the future you miss out on the present. Focusing on Spring to arrive without enjoying Winter is simply wasting 3 months of your year (do this for 4 years and you have wasted away an entire year of your life).

I have found the same thing to be true of the Christian life. At times, it can be easy, even natural, to focus your energy on the future. It could be focusing on Christ’s second coming, avoiding spiritual change until “such and such” happens, or waiting for someone else to take the first step. If you are waiting for a better day to take your next step of faith, you might not ever start moving. Instead of tolerating your current spiritual status and longing for change, make today the first day of a changed you.


Thoughts on SYMC 2011: the before edition

This weekend I am attending Simply Youth Ministry Conference (SYMC) for the second time. This might be the second time, but there are going to many “firsts” for me this time around.

I’ve been to about a dozen youth ministry conferences over the past dozen or so years. So, in that regard, this is anything but new. Although I’ve been to these training events so many times, I keep going back because a conference like this is more than a training event. Getting together with 2600 other youth workers can be quite overwhelming, but as I prepare for this year I am not at all feeling overwhelmed. It feels like I’m going to some big “youth ministry family reunion.”

I usually get pretty excited about conferences like this, but this year the excitement/anticipation has been kicked up a notch. Here are a few reasons I’m super excited about SYMC (also the “firsts” for me this year).

1. Traveling with a friend

Unless I was attending the conference with my wife, I have always traveled alone. This may not seem like much, but I’m not a huge fan of driving 4 or 5 hours by myself. So getting to drive up with a friend is going to be awesome!

2. First time to attend, be in full-time ministry and not be volunteering at the event (since my very first one back in ’01).

Almost every convention I’ve attended has been as a volunteer. And while I love serving fellow youth workers (which I’ll still do some this weekend – see next point) I’m looking forward to spending more time talking and listening than moving boxes and stocking shelves.

If you are going to be there, I’d love to chat!

3. Thanks to the team at Simply/Group I (along with others) got to help be part of planning different aspects of the weekend.

This conference is very much “for youth workers, by youth workers” in almost every sense of the phrase. This fact alone helps make SYMC stand out and raise up to a different level.

I get to help in a couple areas and I’m excited. I am going to be part of a couple peer panels (ghosts of leaders past & leaving a ministry well). I will be part of “The Shelter” team (very excited about this). I will also be volunteering throughout the weekend trying to make sure little details are taken care of when needed.

If you’re going to be in Chicago for SYMC, I pray God shows up in a big way. If we run into each other, let’s talk.

next up: packing, driving, saying goodbye to my family :(, & arriving in Chicago before the end of the day!

aging out of youth ministry

I’m reading a book on church leadership and the author (a senior minister) made a statement early in the book that I disagree with. I’ll let you read the quote first, then I’ll give my quick thoughts.

“In the spring of 2001, I sensed God’s call to lead a church. The voice of God’s Spirit was clear, and to be honest, it really made sense. I was starting to age out of youth ministry and (like multitudes of youth pastors before me) the next professional step was to seek an associate or senior pastor position. I clearly felt that God was leading toward a senior pastor position.” (emphasis added by me)

As a youth minister who sees myself involved with youth ministry until I am no longer able to minister, I have a hard time believing that it is possible to “age out of youth ministry.” This statement is even harder for me to believe when I consider the author was in his thirties at this point in his ministry career. I am in my early thirties, but I do not feel that I’m aging out of youth ministry. In fact, I feel that I’m a better youth minister now than I was when I was 22 and fresh out of college.

By saying a minister can “age out of youth ministry,” does the author mean youth ministry is for the immature minister who is not ready to do “real” ministry? Does it mean that when you are old enough, you can handle more ministry responsibility? Or could it mean that youth ministry is not as important as the next-step ministries you should aspire to? Maybe it means that as you get older, you cannot relate to students anymore. Or it could mean that if you do well as a youth minister (let’s not even start that conversation of determining who is a “successful” youth minister) then you deserve to get moved up the minister ladder. Then again, it could not be saying any of these things.

I have known many ministers who wanted to be senior ministers, but no one would hire them without the right experience. So what do they do? They work as a youth minister until they get the “required” number of years of ministry experience, then they move to what they really want. I know others who have had their passion for students morph into a passion for another area of ministry.

I do not think every person who starts as a youth minister needs to remain a youth minister until they retire. If this was the case, we would have very few senior ministers or associates or discipleship ministers. But I do not think you can “age out of youth ministry.” If you have the passion, desire, and calling to work with students then it does not matter how old you are. But, at the same time, I do not believe you can simply “age out of youth ministry.”

Where do you stand?

Do you feel too old to be a youth minister?

Do you think it is possible to age out of youth ministry? Or are there other, stronger factors that lead to that decision?

SYMC: a few pre-conference thoughts

This weekend, I’ll be in Chicago with a few thousand other youth workers at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference.

This is the first time I’ve been to SYMC, though I’ve heard great things about the last ones I’ve never been able to attend. As I prepare to travel a few hours north (and a few degrees colder), I thought I’d share a few pre-conference thoughts.

1. I’m really looking forward to meeting some of the other youth ministry mentors who will be there.
2. Normally when I go to NYWC I’m volunteering in the store. This means I do not get to experience the convention as an attendee. So I’m looking forward to being just an attendee – which means I can go to what I want and skip what I want.
3. I’m blessed to be able to stay with a good friend from college and his family. I don’t get to see Kevin as much as I want to, so this will be a great chance to hang out with the best Deputy RA in the world. (Maybe I can convince him to start blogging more while I’m there)
4. I’m signed up to go through the “Secrets to a Healthy Youth Ministry” deeper learning track with Mark Devries. I am excited about this.
5. Taking a tip from a friend and “conference expert” (Mindi), I’m going to try to take in one of the “Chicago-only” experiences and visit Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs.

If you are going to SYMC, I’d love to meet you. Maybe we can get some lunch or just sit and chat about ministry. See you there!

Best of ’09: Random Favorites

The year 2009 A.D. is over. The past 12 months have brought with them many new things; some good, some bad, and some not worth mentioning. I would like to take some time and highlight some of my favorite parts of 2009. I will call this list the “best of ’09” – which simply means that, in my opinion, these are the best items in a certain category. I fully expect you to disagree with some of my choices or to be upset I did not add other items to the list. If you feel this way, please add your “best of ’09” ideas in the comments.

The eighth, and final, list will be a collection of random favorites. This is a list of anything that does not fit in one of the other categories, but I really like. Maybe this jumbled assortment of stuff will spark some thought, maybe a laugh, or maybe you’ll just get a better glance at who I am. Without any further wait, here is a list of my favorites from TV to parenting (in no particular order).

Community on NBC
I find myself laughing more often than not when I watch Community. Though I do not think every episode is a home run, I do not expect it to be either. My favorite part of the show is the interaction between Troy and Abed – simply hilarious. If you need a good laugh, this show might just help.

The Office on NBC
Simply one of the best shows on network television, in my opinion. I’ve been a fan since episode 2 (I didn’t like the pilot on the British version, and since the American version was identical, I didn’t like it either). Consistently funny. I do have some fears about where the writers are heading with Dwight’s diabolical plan – I hope he doesn’t become super vengeful (it would ruin the “feel” of the show for me).

Watching baseball (on TV) with my boys
As my boys are getting older, they are starting to want to watch baseball more. This means I get one more thing I can share with my sons. One funny thing about watching baseball this past summer was that they would ask to watch it, then after 2 or 3 innings, they would begin to complain about watching it. They aren’t quite ready for a full game, but just watching baseball with them is good for me. And if I have an option – it would be a Cubs gave every time.

Star Wars
Star Wars has taken on a whole new level for me this year, because my two boys are starting to really get into it. We’ve watched all the movies, save Episode 3. We have read Revenge of the Sith (with some editing) to them, though. They love playing Lego Star Wars on Gamecube, playing with their action figures, coloring, pretending to be in Star Wars, and talking about the Star Wars universe. This has brought up many opportunities to talk about right/wrong, choices, good/evil, anger/love and a plethora of other topics.

Plus, I have to admit I really like the Clone Wars cartoon. Working my way, with the boys, through season one.

Being a father of 3
There is nothing like being a father and this year I have enjoyed being a father to three small children. As my youngest grows from baby to toddler, the level of play increases – which can cause friction when all three want to play with the same thing. But overall, it just means we get to do more things together as a family.

Writing more
I enjoy writing and this past year I got the chance to do more of it. I was honored to get the chance to contribute to some cool products (like SYM’s Live Curriculum) as well as a couple youth ministry projects (YM Blog). I hope to be able to continue writing, plus to improve my writing in the coming year.

Spending more time with my wife
I purposefully tried to spend more time doing things with my wife this year. We tried to read through a book together, but that didn’t last too long. We watched some shows together, spent time talking, played games, and went on walks. I want to spend even more time with her this year.

Substitute teaching
I like teaching and I like students – so substitute teaching is a great way to combine the two. Every day I sub brings a new adventure. I never know what the lesson plan will be until I get there and I don’t always know who I will interact with during the day. As a youth minister, it is also a great way to get to know more students. I hope to be able to continue subbing for years to come.

Sam’s Cola: Cherry
My new favorite flavor of pop. You need to try it – that is all.

My favorite board or card games include: Dutch Blitz, Boggle, Battleship, and chess.

What are your favorite things?

Other posts in this series:
Best of ’09 – Music
Best of ’09 – Youth Ministry Books
Best of ’09 – Non-Ministry Books
Best of ’09 – Websites
Best of ’09 – Blog posts
Best of ’09 – Web Apps
Best of ’09 – Ministry Moments
Best of ’09 – Random Favorites

NYWC 09: Thursday

First full day of the convention for me (as a volunteer).

Today was a good day. Store is set up and ready to go. I got to hang out with some old friends and a few new ones. Since we (the store volunteers) are so good, we got done early today – so we got to check out a early bird seminar. I sat in on the Real World Parents seminar, taught by Mark Matlock. I got to sit next to and talk with Patti Gibbons. Nice to actually meet her in person.

Then I got to hang out with some old college buddies (Bill being one of those guys) – a great “get away” for me. We went to LaRosa’s (I highly recommend it for anyone visiting Cincy) and got some ice cream at Graeter’s. I think it is good to get together and talk and laugh. Especially for me right now.

A rather good start to the convention and it has not officially started yet 🙂

On another note:
I am a big book reader, so I intentionally left all of my books (except my Bible) at home. I want to use my free time to either read my Bible, pray, talk with other youth workers or interact with someone.

I believe this weekend is going to be one of the best ones in a long time and that has nothing to do with what is going on with YS, but on the fact that God is bigger than anything that is going on with YS, you, the economy or your congregation. Come expecting God to be God and you won’t be let down.

NYWC ’09: The Variations

This week’s NYWC in Cincinnati will be the 9th convention I’ve attended. And as I think back to the past 8, I realize just how much each convention is unique.

I went to my first NYWC while I was a student at Cincinnati Christian University. (This year will mark my third time going to Cincinnati.) At this point, I had no idea what the next 10 years would hold, but I was encouraged and challenged to minister to students. I gained insight from the classes and enjoyed hanging out with a friend from school. Oh, and I first experienced hearing Mike Yaconelli speak. His ministry was such a blessing to me those first few years.

Shortly after starting my first full-time ministry, I attended convention in FL. Somehow I had managed to become overwhelmed with youth ministry within the first few months. (something about me being naive to what would really happen…) I attended this convention with my wife and a few other couples from college. It was a breath of fresh air in my youth ministry lungs. I still remember a few of the talks (first time I ever heard Rob Bell), seminars and resources I picked up during this week. A great way to encourage my first year in ministry.

The next convention I went to as a volunteer. This is the year I truly learned that YS is not about “business” as much as it is about ministry and people. I experienced the convention in a whole new way: behind the scenes. This new perspective allowed me to experience the people behind YS. (And it is these people that make YS what it is!!) I also learned to juggle, thanks to Glenn. Sadly, the biggest memory from this convention actually happened a few days afterward. This was the last convention Mike Yaconelli was ever at, as he was killed in a car accident a few days later.

How would the convention ever be the same? Simple answer – it wouldn’t.

The next year was tough. It was strange to be at a NYWC and not see/hear Yac in the halls and on the stage. But Yac’s absence did not mean the convention was not encouraging and uplifting. YS is so much more than just one person, even if that person is the co-founder/president. The convention was not the same, but God showed Himself in a mighty way – at least to me.

Always Something New
I’ve been to convention in various stages of ministry. Like I said, I started going while I was still in college. I attended as a full-time minister. And I’ve attended while I was out of ministry. And each year I’ve learned a ton and benefited more than I thought I would. Each year I leave the convention blessed and grateful that I went.

Going into this year’s convention, I was already planning for it to be different. When I signed up to volunteer a few months ago, I was really looking forward to some of the new changes – like the Open Space Saturday, and the modified “Big Room.” Plus, I always look forward to hearing God and talking with others who are passionate about students. But I was not looking forward to a few other changes, mainly the absence of some of my YS friends. Over the past year (like in previous years) some of my friends are no longer working for YS. I miss not seeing my friends when I go to a convention like NYWC.

On top of this, last week, a new change was added. Marko is no longer president of YS and at this point, the future is unsure. This change will be one seen by more people (unlike some of the other friends I will miss seeing), as Marko was the face of YS and a constant stage presence during the conventions. Even though I, nor you, do not know details about the situation I am confident that God is in control and that the convention will still be a place of rest, encouragement, challenge and safety.

Changes are inevitable – as I have found out attending the NYWC’s over the years. But change is not always bad.

I am a different person this year than I was last.
YS is a different company this year than it was last.
You are a different person this year than you were last.
But God is still the same this year as He was last – and that is what we put our trust in, isn’t it?

See you in Cincy!

NYWC ’09: The Preparation

As I get closer to attending the National Youth Workers Convention in Cincinnati, OH, I thought I would share a few tips for getting the most out of the convention. These are tips I have used and benefited from in the past and/or things I want to do this year. (These tips can also apply to other conventions and seminars, too – well all but #9)

9 Things You Have to do at NYWC

1. Filter out the noise
There will be a lot going on. Most of it will be good and most of it could be beneficial to you. BUT if you want to hear God’s voice, you’ll have to filter out all of the other noise. You might need to avoid going to the store, the hall of booths, a class or the main sessions. Do not allow the busyness (business side of ministry) to grab your attention.

2. Know what you are looking for
This goes for resources and for the overall convention. You will want to know what types of resources (books, curriculum, tech support…) your ministry needs and stick to those items. Do not venture off into buying stuff you do not need. Also, you should know what you need to take home spiritually. If you are feeling drained, you need to spend time getting refreshed and recharged. If you need some fresh ideas, you should talk to as many people as you can about ministry. If you need some rest, you should do whatever you can to get it.

3. Talk with a convention pastor or counselor
YS provides pastors and counselors free of charge. Did you catch that, you DO NOT have to pay to talk to someone about your ministry or yourself. These pastors/counselors want to help you gain some understanding and leave a healthier person – take advantage of this opportunity.

4. Listen with an open heart and mind
You will encounter more opinions than you thought possible. You will hear differing viewpoints and beliefs. But do not tune anyone out. Listen to what they have to say with an open mind and heart. Listen without preparing your arguments. Listen. And then think about what they said.

5. Do not be conformed by the schedule
You do not have to go to everything on the schedule! (reread that sentence) The schedule is provided so you have options, not to cause stress when you can’t make it to everything. When you arrive and register, sit down and look at the entire schedule. Decide what you really want/need to attend. Then allow yourself the freedom to “miss” the rest of the stuff. Make your own schedule and allow the convention to be beneficial, not burdensome.

6. Get rest
You worked hard so that you could be gone for this Sunday. When you get back, you will work hard trying to make sure everything is ready for the next weekend. So during these 5 days, relax. Find – no take time to rest! Your bodies needs it. Your mind needs it. Your soul needs it. You will feel more relaxed and refreshed when you leave, if you take the time to get some rest while you are at the convention.

7. Do something out of the ordinary
How many times each year do you get a chance to experience new things? At this convention, you should take advantage of the opportunity. If you usually go to bed early, attend a late night session. If you usually sleep in, get up early and meet another youth worker for breakfast. Attend one of the prayer services. Go to the labyrinth. Sit down next to someone you have never met and start a conversation. Yell down the hallway. Skip down the street. Whatever you do, find someway to get out of your comfort zone and do something new.

*You need to participate in the Open Space Saturday. It is new for everyone (its the first year YS has done it, so LA is the only experience anyone has had with it), but I have heard only positive comments from people who were a part of it in LA. You would benefit from carving out some time to take part*

8. Find a new friend
At a convention for youth workers, you already have a point of common interest. Early in the convention make a new friend. Then make it a point to connect with this new friend multiple times during the convention. This way, you will go home with a new friend and someone whom you can talk to about youth ministry when you need an ear or an idea.

9. Meet Mike in person by finding him in the YS Store and striking up a conversation. (Free “high five” if you mention this blog post)
This one is rather self-explanatory. If you are coming to the NYWC in Cincinnati, I would love to meet you. Leave a comment and let me know you are going or just say “hi” at the convention. Either way, I would love to meet another youth worker with a passion for reaching students with the message of God’s love.

What do you do to get the most out of a convention?

Learned from Twitter: week ending August 8, 2009

This week I did not really learn much from Twitter, at least not from the actual site itself. This week, I took a sabbatical from Twitter. I did not tweet, check tweets, respond to tweets or anything related to Twitter. I took the week off from staying up to date with what people were doing, 140 characters at a time.

And I learned a few things along the way…

1. I am very relational.
I like interacting with people, knowing what is going on in their life and being able to quickly communicate. This is one aspect of Twitter that I truly enjoy. I know this fact because it is the one thing I really missed during my Sabbatical. I do not have as much regular “relational” interaction with people as I have in the past and I think I find this void partially filled in with Twitter. I know some of the people I interact with on Twitter I have only met once in real-life (and some I have never met), but that does not mean there is not a friendship in place. Most of the people I follow on Twitter are youth ministry-minded folks – and those are “my people.”

2. Twitter is a great way to stay up to date with friends.
People use twitter to update the status of their job search, vacation, prayer needs, or new addition to the family (rather it be human or animal). Without making numerous phone calls every day, I would not be able to keep up with all of this information. Twitter is the central meeting place for all of this information, and I’m glad it is.

3. Twitter can be very time consuming.
Depending on how often you check Twitter or how long you stay on the site, it can eat up a few hours of your day without you realizing. On the other hand, if you use mobile devices for your updates, you can add up your time just as quickly and become distracted from your surroundings. It is easy to “just check” for new updates every half hour while working on something else that you never really get in a “groove.” But this is not a problem with just Twitter, it can happen with anything in your life (see point #4 & #5).

4. Even if you take Twitter away, you can find other ways to “waste time.”
There are many other websites that can take over your time: Facebook, myspace, YouTube, ESPN, or TMZ to name a few. I’ve heard many people (esp. people on Facebook) mention how silly they think Twitter is or what a waste of time it is. Yet, as I think back to my pre-Twitter days and my Sabbatical I can honestly tell you that anything can be a waste of time. I think things become a waste of time when we use them to avoid what we need to be doing. Some people use music or TV to avoid talking to someone (maybe its your spouse). You can read to avoid household chores. Anything can become an avoidance technique, which then becomes a waste of your time.

5. I need limits to everything I do, or I’m bound to become consumed by anything.
It doesn’t matter if its Twitter, video games, TV shows, reading or exercising – I tend to take everything to the extreme. Personally, I struggle with finding balance in areas of my life. I start to do better in one area, which means I do worse in another one. This need for boundaries/balance is an ongoing struggle, which I assume will stay with me until I need someone else to do stuff for me.

6. I like technology.
Nothing much more to say – I really like technology. Case-in-point: I have been on Twitter since March 2007 – well before it became popular.

A prayer during communion

I was sitting by my boys (5 and 3), one on each side of me during service. Nothing unusual was happening, mostly the same routine for us during the service. Then came the Lord’s Supper. This part of the service is always interesting for us, because it can be difficult to quietly concentrate on Christ’s sacrifice when your child is asking you to get him a crayon or help read a book. Over the weeks/months, we have been trying to teach the boys what the Lord’s Supper is about and why we partake each week.

Before I continue the story, you need to know that we pass the bread first and then pass the juice separately.

Well, on this Sunday, something unusual happened. On this Sunday, after I ate the bread I decided to go ahead and just pray silently. It’s not the first time the boys have seen my wife or I do this. But, on this occasion, my oldest did something different. While I was praying, he started to ask me a question. I do not know what the question was about, because he stopped himself mid sentence. And without opening my eyes, I continued to pray. Then, less than a minute later I heard him quietly talking to himself (which is not that unusual). What was different was that he was not talking to himself, he was praying.

He began to pray and this is a paraphrase of what I remember him saying:

“God, thank you for dying on the cross for me, so that I can have eternal life and live with you in heaven. I’m glad you did.”

Then, when the juice was being passed and I took it and then prayed, he did the same thing. He prayed pretty much the same prayer again.

After I was done praying, I opened my eyes and looked at him. He asked if I was praying, to which I said “yes.” Then he told me that he was too. (I did not tell him that I heard him or was so proud of him – I’ll save that for later). I told him that it was good to pray during the Lord’s Supper and smiled.

My son understands the connection between the Lord’s Supper and Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. I mean, he could have prayed about anything, but he chose to pray about Christ’s death and eternal life. He prayed a simple, genuine prayer of thanks – a great reminder of the simplicity of what Christ did for us on the cross.