Staff Thought of the Week: Connecting with Visitors

stotw_edited-1New visitors need to be greeted, welcomed, and connected. We are responsible for reaching out to them and connecting them with the group. Let’s make sure that when a new-ish student walks in the door, he/she is pursued and welcomed. Let’s make sure we:

WELCOME THEM to the youth group. If you’re having a conversation with someone who’s well established in the youth group, politely break off the conversation so you can go talk to the new person. Or better yet, bring along the person you were talking with.

INTRODUCE THEM to some students. Especially those of the same age and gender. We want them not only to connect with the staff but with their peers. Might be good at some point to talk with your M3 about how to greet and welcome new students.

CONNECT THEM to an M3. If the person doesn’t have an M3, seek to connect them to one. If they have friends in the youth group, put them with their friends. If they don’t know anyone, then you’re their closest friend and you should take them with you.

INVITE THEM to whatever’s next. Tell them you want them to come next week! Or tell them about the upcoming thing you’re doing with your M3. Or tell them about Summer Camp, or broomball, or whatever’s next on the calendar.

THANK THEM for coming. This is not only polite, but it shows genuine care. It shows that you noticed their appearance. It shows that they didn’t just blend into the crowd.

Staff Thought of the Week: Give Them Specific Tasks

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(Matthew 10:5-15 ESV)

[5] These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, [6] but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. [7] And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ [8] Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. [9] Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, [10] no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. [11] And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. [12] As you enter the house, greet it. [13] And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. [14] And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. [15] Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

Jesus included his disciples in his ministry not long after he called them. Part of their training involved doing very specific tasks Jesus gave them. At this point, he didn’t give them a choice about what kind of ministry they wanted to do– they weren’t ready. He gave them very clear and delineated instructions and sent them out.

We do believe that being the right person comes before doing the right things. But Jesus knew that specific direction accompanied with input and correction brilliantly wedded the thinking and doing parts of being a Christ-follower. This is an important way to shepherd and disciple. This is how an M3 mobilizes.

Give your group a specific task. Here are some ideas:

  • Go visit some elderly shut-ins and give them each specific Scriptures to read. Assign certain students to pray.
  • Go over to Regal and strike up some conversations about the gospel. Tell your students to be bold, kind, respectful. Make sure they’re praying. And then grab lunch afterwards.
  • Choose one Sunday morning to serve as a team of greeters. Gather at the church early, pray together for the sermon, the congregation, and visitors, and as people start coming head out to the lobby and shake hands.
  • Bring a few students to your shepherding group and ask them to simply observe. Spend a few minutes afterward and get their thoughts.

Got any ideas of your own?

Staff Thought of the Week: “Relentlessly Loyal”

stotw_edited-1In Matthew 15 the Pharisees accuse the disciples of breaking the “tradition of the elders.” This was a big deal in the culture at that time, and the disciples probably felt a considerable amount of pressure to fit in with the cultural norms. It would have been easy for our Lord to agree with the Pharisees and go along with how difficult and unruly the disciples were, but he wouldn’t.

Instead he opposed the Pharisees and was relentlessly loyal to his disciples. They weren’t perfect, there’s no question about that, but Jesus stood against their attack and protected them. They were his sheep, and he loved them in spite of their flaws. He was zealous to guard them from their accusations, which could have very easily discouraged and confused them. Jesus could have pointed out how the disciples were hard-hearted (which they often were), or impetuous (they were), or self-centered (they very much were) or thick-skulled (which, again, they were), agreeing with the Pharisees and easing the tension. But he didn’t. He stuck to his less-than-perfect guys.

Be loyal to your students. They will be wrong– a lot. They will do foolish things. They will not progress exactly how you think they should. But they already have an accuser– his name is Satan– and you need to be their advocate, and consistently bring them to the Advocate. Show them loyalty, show them love, show them grace, show them gospel.

It’s been said so much it’s somewhat cliche, but there’s a reason people keep saying it: “They won’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Let them know you’re with them for the long haul, through thick and thin, rain or shine, ups and downs. Be relentlessly loyal.

There is a time and place for tough love. You will have to do that too. But by and large, Jesus’s commitment to his disciples was one of grace and patience and teaching– working with them through their sins and struggles and failures.

Be relentlessly loyal to our drifting, wandering, learning, struggling, young friends.

 

Staff Thought of the Week: “A Powerful Question You Should Ask”

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Here’s a powerful question you should be asking your M3 (small group) regularly:

What can we do to…” and you fill in the blank. It’s especially effective to do this in response to the sermon that was just preached. For example, if the sermon was about the power of Scripture, it would be good to ask something like:

What can we do to make sure we’re all reading the Word? What can we do to become more consistent in our devotions?

But there are a multitude of good questions to be asking. Like

  • What can we do to make the new people around here feel welcome?
  • What can we do to help out that single mom?
  • What can we do to become better at sharing our faith?
  • What can we do to get to know each other better?
  • What can we do to help each other stay pure?
  • What can we do to meet this need in the church?

As the students begin to answer these questions, opportunities to teach and shepherd will abound. Talk about what our ultimate goals are, what the mission of the church is, what means God has given us to accomplish those things. With your guidance and oversight, run with their ideas.

This is powerful for several reasons.

First, it teaches them to think about ministry. Most students are not doing this yet. With your guidance, they will start imagining how they can use their gifting to serve others. All believers are to be engaged in the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12). This is how we help them think in those terms.

Second, it opens up new venues of creativity and gifting. The students who are saved have the Spirit’s indwelling and gifting, with different talents and abilities. They may think of doing things we could never have imagined.

Third, it gives them ownership. When they come up with the ideas they tend to be more passionate about them, and this enables grassroots ministry to flourish.

 

Staff Thought of the Week: Helping Them Own It

stotw_edited-1Much of the success of our M3 depends on the students– especially the upper classmen, owning their responsibility to create a culture of openness and acceptance. New students and younger students will be intimidated, maybe even scared, at the thought of meeting with a close-knit group of older, more secure, more comfortable, more “belonging” students. So we must teach our upper class students hospitality (welcoming people who feel uncomfortable). We must help them own their M3. Here are a few tips:

Model it. Engage the new student. Ask him questions, get to know him. Make him the center of attention for a little bit. Give him attention so he knows he’s cared for.

Create links. Look for things he may have in common with other members of the group. Try to facilitate relationships and make connections.

Talk about it. Never stop accentuating the need for Jesus-like kindness– the type that reaches out to the fringe, the neglected, the hurting. Talk about how it is not Christ-like to only associate with the popular. Get together with just your upper-classmen and talk this through.

Pray. True and genuine love is a blessing from God. No system can create it; if our students would show this love toward new students, God must do it. So pray.

 

2012-2013 Grace Student Ministries Music Video Introduction

I just got back from a trip to inner city Philadelphia with a team of Grace Student Ministries students and staff. It was a great trip, we able to serve and be challenged to walk nearer and more faithfully with our Lord Jesus. But not only that, we had a lot of fun.

We decided that over the next 12 months we’re going to be shooting a music video (how that fits into a missions trip, I’m not sure). At every big youth group event, we’ll get some footage of students and staff singing along to the song that we chose for 2012-2013. In the end, it will look something like this. It will be an awesome way to remember the year, and a memorable gift for the seniors. Our first shot was in Philly, on the “Rocky” steps (where Rocky Balboa ran to exercise). Here it is:

Last words, lasting words

Last night was my final youth group meeting with First Baptist Church Canoga Park. Most of the time we celebrated– which, of course, means we got extra pizza, candy, and a ton of soda. Sandy brought in homemade cupcakes that we gorged ourselves in. I gave my final talk, which was short and periodically interrupted by Emma saying, “Hi daddy!” Then we all prayed together and thanked the Lord for the time he gave us.

I started my talk by telling them I had three goals for them. More than anything, I wanted them to love three things. Having heard me speak to them over the last year and a half, I hoped they would be able to identify these things. If they couldn’t, I knew I hadn’t done well in communicating them. But they did not disappoint. Here are the three things:

1. Love Scripture. They got this one right away. My conviction is that you love Jesus to the degree that you love his Word. The two cannot be separated; anyone who professes love for Christ must to desire to hear from Christ. That’s why Jesus said, “Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (John 14:24). Isn’t, then, the opposite true– “whoever does love me will keep my words”? My goal was not to make them legalistic, thinking that reading the Bible every day would guarantee them a spot in heaven, but to remind them of the truths of salvation– that whoever has been converted has been regenerated, and whoever has been regenerated, has new tastes, loves, and affections. And there at the top of the list of new affections is love for Scripture. So I told them, over and over again, love Scripture.

2. Love the Gospel.  After we talked about loving Scripture one last time, I asked again: What’s the second thing I want you to love? It took them a little bit, because they kept saying “Love Jesus” or “Love the Lord” to which I would say, “Yes, but be more specific!” The reason why I wanted more specificity is because it’s popular to love Jesus, and nowadays it’s possible to “love Jesus” without actually being a Christian. When they finally got it, I said, “Yes!”

Once they got this one, I did what I do often: I asked them the ever simple, ever pressing question: what is the gospel? I never assumed they understood it. I’ve explained it countless times to the same students. I do this because you never know when it will hit them with Holy Spirit power. I remember being a senior in high school, sitting in Mr. Nandor’s Bible class, and finally understanding what Jesus’ death had to do with my salvation. I knew Jesus “died for my sins” by I didn’t understand what in the world that meant, and how the transaction occurred, or how it was effective.

So when I speak to these students, I address the great doctrines as much as I can (without using the hard-to-understand theological jargon). I’ll make sure they understand how the active obedience of Christ is imputed to us, how Christ’s death was a penal substitutionary death, and how God’s wrath was poured out on him instead of us, and how the resurrection guarantees our future hope. I’ll mention those terms briefly, so that they become familiar, but it’s the concept I’m most concerned about. And last night they did surprisingly well in explaining the gospel to me. Sin, judgment, Christ’s perfect life, Christ’s sin-bearing death, his resurrection, God’s justice and mercy were all mentioned. I’d say they were pretty thorough.

But I didn’t only want to them know the gospel. I wanted them to love it. So I constantly told them how practical it is. I (hopefully) taught them how to preach to themselves.

3. Love the Church. I don’t want to produce theological eggheads who are too sophisticated for the church. I also don’t want to breed individualistic spiritualists who see no purpose for the church in their walk. I want them to love the church as they love Christ, because the church is Christ’s manifest presence on earth. After speaking on this point for a bit, I read them Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” What a sweet way to end our time together– hoping in the risen Christ to build his church!

I hope these last words are lasting words– that they stick for a long, long time. May God use them, and every other word I’ve spoken to the students, as a means of grace. “The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed”– and I pray that mine have been driven deeply into their hearts.

I am thankful for each student in the youth group I’ve been able to serve. Many prayers have gone up for them. I trust the Lord has much good for them in the future, and I look forward to continuing our relationships, and seeing how the Lord grows and uses them in the future.

 

The Grace of God in My Life Lately

God has been gracious in answering prayers. The biggest, most obvious one has been the renewal of my prayer life, revitalized by The Autobiography of George Muller that I’ve been reading lately.  Seeing the greatness and faithfulness of God in Muller’s life is one of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever read.  I’ve never come across a book with such an impact on my heart, Bible aside.  It has driven my to my knees with an inflamed passion to pray and draw others to prayer.  If you’ve never read it, you need to.  It will change your life.

Secondly, our meet on the Fallbrook High School campus, IMPACT, was highly attended.  This was a gracious answer to prayer.  Many students got to hear the gospel.  My prayer is that the seed of the gopsel that has been planted would flourish, and that many would be saved.  Nothing is too hard for God.

Also, last night five of us prayed for the youth ministry like we usually do on Wednesday nights.  As soon as we were done praying, several Jr. High students burst into the room, two of whom we had just been praying for by name.  We played a few games and then went and talked about the gospel.  There was one little boy named Louis, who was so afraid of hell that he started to cry and I taught.  His brothers tried to cover his ears, but I told them to let him listen.  I have never seen such a young boy so afraid of hell before.  Eventually I was able to tell everyone about Jesus Christ.  The boy listened intently.  Afterwards, I had him sit next to me.  He began asking questions like “What if I forget?” and “What if I still sin?”  We got to talk about eternal security, and how God forgives our sins and give us the righteousness of Christ.  I told him that the Bible is God’s word to us, and it tells us how we ought to live.  The boy, who was hispanic, and was young enough that he was still learning to read English, told me he would get his brother or his mom to read it to him.

After the meeting ended, the kids left and were beginning to walk home when suddenly I heard them running back up the stairs to our meeting room.  The boys again burst through the door with little Loius, tears now dried up.  He intently asked me, “Can I have a Bible?”  I rejoiced in my heart and gladly gave him one.  And as abruptly as they came, they left.

I am going to finished with a quote from George Muller’s autobiography, which has been a source of encouragement to me:

“It appears to me that believers generally have expected far too little present fruit from their labors among children. They hope that the Lord will some day confirm their instruction and answer their prayers which they offer up on the children’s behalf.  The Bible assures us in that everything we do for the Lord, including bringing up children in the fear of the Lord, our labor is not in vain. We have to guard against thinking that it does not matter whether we see present fruit or not.  On the contrary, we should give the Lord no rest until we see fruit.  Therefore, in persevering yet submissive prayer, we should make our requests known to God.  I am now looking for many more children to be converted.” (pg.  132-133)

The Little Things

I have always been wired to want more.  That’s the way I think.  More is better.  More power.  More influence.  The bigger, the better.  The mindset comes out whenever I go backpacking.  It is always my goal to climb the highest peak, to get to the tip of that tree branch.  I love being at the top.  I love “conquering” things.  I love winning.  My “bigger is better” mindset has helped me in some ways, it was a pressing motivation in my sports career, to be the best I could be.  I think it contributes to my hatred of mediocrity, and my frustration with people who “just don’t care” about their lifestyle.  To me, if it’s not MORE, if it’s not BIGGER, if it’s not the BEST IT COULD POSSIBLY BE, I’m not satisfied.

But I’m not sure God always thinks like I do on the subject.  Is bigger really better?  Of course God desires ALL to be saved; that NONE should perish.  The gospel will to to ALL the nations, and then the end will come.  It’s obvious he has an incredibly enormous plan for the entire universe, involving not only America but the entire world and not just the entire world, but all the universe.  God is big, his plan is big, his church is big– does that mean MY ministry should be big too?

I can’t control size, but faithfulness is in my hands.  I can’t make things bigger and better, but obedience is my perogative.  Thankfully, the things that are out of my hands are resting in God’s.  I am continually thinking of what Jesus said in Luke 16:10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.”  I’ve found that there are some thoughts that continually help me in ministry.

The first is this: be faithful with what you’ve been given.  Invest in it, do your best with it, but don’t devalue it by always seeking the bigger and better.  Take it slow.

Second: Have an eternal perspective.  Think about heaven often.  Heaven is the catapult I use to launch my anxieties to God, because he cares for me.  In heaven, all will be resolved, so take risks and aim at things that are eternal.

Third: Have fun. Enjoy the kids. Make jokes. Stop being critical, pessimistic, and worrisome.  Do things that you enjoy.

How we deal with the little things in life is indicative of our faith.  It’s my goal to joyfully labor for the Lord being faithful with what I’ve been given.  And rest in God.

Radical Ministry?

set_apart_logoI feel a call to radical ministry. I always wonder what that looks like in youth group terms. And it’s hard to feel like you’re doing something radical when you spend most of your time planning. Whether it’s messages, meetings, or minutia (alliteration is always sweet). I think my idea of what is radical has a lot to do with its ties to mission.

Here are some things I’ve done recently:

1) Build up a kind of strategy for organic, personal outreach and emphasized it with the group. The series went something like this:

* What is an oikos? (Focused on teaching what an oikos was–an oikos is 8-15 people God has placed in your sphere of influence so that you can minister to them– and how to identify yours)

* Why an oikos (Focus on why oikos evangelism is effective)

* How does it all work (Focused on the heart behind the evangelism-what is the motivation?)

* How it can fail (Focused on how outreach will fail without first being true followers of Christ)

2) Organized a mission/vision statement that focuses on the three aspects of the youth ministry, which would look something like this:

* Set Apart (this is who we are, who we want to be)

* Operation Infiltration (this is our mission, our two-word summation of the Great Commission to go. Our goal is to infiltrate our worlds (oikos) with the gospel.

* Oikos (this is our mission field. It’s our 8-15 people God has strategically and supernaturally put into our lives.)

3) Everything we do is based around cultivating these things.

* Sunday mornings are focused on biblical teaching as to how we are to be Set Apart for God’s use.

* Our small prayer group meets before every Wednesday night to pray for the kids in youth group.

* Wednesday nights are an outreach program that kids can bring their unsaved friends to. It’s intentionally programmed to be made for unsaved kids to come (but the gospel is not watered down!)

* Other events are opportunities for kids to invite their friends (oikos) so we can build relationships and extend our sphere of influence.

The kids in the youth group are responding with enthusiasm with the right motivations (I think) but we have yet to see numerical growth…Which is okay!

1 Corinthians 3:6-7 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”