Youth Ministry Nuggets: Things I Learned From Great Youth Ministers, pt.1

I was at Hills Alive festival in Rapid City, South Dakota.  They asked if I would speak to their local youth ministers.  I gave them a few topics to choose from, and they chose “Things I Learned from some Great Youth Ministers… and a few Bad Ones.”  I figured I’d choose 3 things I’d learned over the years, because God has given me the gift of knowing some great ministers.  I stretched it to 5, then to 10.  I ended up with 21.  I don’t know how many I’ll share them here, but it seemed that I should at least start a new blog series.  So in addition to walking through Romans, I’m also going to start a new series on Youth Ministry.  So for my loyal readers, you can send your church’s youth minister to check these out.  Who knows?  They might even help.

Youth Ministry Nugget #1: Love your kids.

I know this one sounds obvious, but you can’t overlook it.   I think many times we look for the newest games or videos, the coolest talks or worship bands, when our students really just need to be loved.  They need us to show them the love of God by loving them ourselves.  We cannot compete with the world’s entertainment.  And our students have already tried that and found it lacking.  They are still seeking fulfillment from it, but they have not found it.  They will not find it in our entertainment either. However, they do have a deep need to be loved, whether they know it or not, whether they act like it or not.  And in receiving love from us, hopefully they will turn to Christ and finally find the One who fills their emptiness.  Love your kids.  Love them individually and specifically.  Love them with the love of Christ which is above and beyond anything you or I have to offer.

Youth Ministry Nugget #2: When you have a student that is hard to love, pray.

I promise, no matter how loving and kind-hearted you are, eventually you will have a student in your ministry that is hard to love.  They may be angry; they may be distant.  They may be arrogant; they may be unkind.  Pray.  Don’t just ask God to make them different; ask Him to give you His heart for them.  Ask Him to show you their value.  Ask Him to stir affection for that student in your heart.  I believe He will.

Youth Ministry Nugget #3: Create environments where students can be known and loved.

This is almost a corollary to Nugget #1, but is important enough that I felt it deserved its own number.  Loving students is almost an abstract concept.  But creating events and environments that are purposely geared towards that is very concrete.  How can we create a ministry where the focus is not that students are entertained but that they enter into community, that they are known and loved?  Now obviously this can’t be forced.  You can’t welcome a visitor into your group and then make them tell you their darkest secrets and force them to believe that you love them anyway.  That won’t work.  No one will ever come back to your group.  But I do think we can make this a priority.

When I was in youth ministry with my friend Matt, who is now my pastor, we had college interns every summer.  We would usually have 4 college students come in for the summer to do ministry alongside us.  Matt would sit them down day 1 for orientation.  His talk went something like this: “Your basic day here is going to look like this.  Show up at 8:30.  From 8:30-9:30, study your Bible and pray.  From 9:30-11, get on the phone and set up times to meet with students.  After 11, I don’t want to see you again.  Be with kids.  Lunch meetings, frisbee golf games, anything.  Find what it is that makes that kid tick and connect with them.  Go shopping or play video games.  Find a door into that kid’s life.”  Now to be honest, the job of most youth ministry interns is to do all the stuff that the youth minister doesn’t want to do.  They have to carry and clean.  Come early and stay late.  And our interns did some of that too.  But their primary job was to connect with students.  They had the time and opportunity that we often did not, to pursue a kid on their own turf.  To dedicate hours, days, months even to building up trust with someone who desperately needed to trust someone, but couldn’t find any reason to do that.  Looking back at that time, I realize that those were some of the most important things we did.

If the only time you’re spending with your students is from a stage into a dark room, I doubt they are feeling loved or known.  To be honest, I don’t remember a single lesson any of my youth ministers taught.  I do remember going to a new church and the associate youth minister taking me to lunch.  In just the last few months of my senior year, I built a closer relationship with him than I had with any youth minister before.  Because he took the time to spend with me.




Romans 2-3: Commending God’s Righteousness

I want to dig into a thought of Luther’s on the three ways we commend God’s righteousness. Now just to be clear, this is not Luther Vandross, but Martin Luther.

“Our righteousness commends God’s righteousness in three ways.”

Obviously, if you have read these chapters in Romans, you will already know that we are NOT righteous.  So, we are talking about the good things we do, our attempts at righteousness.  These things bring attention and glory to God’s righteousness in three ways.

1) God is proved righteous when He punishes our unrighteousness.

So, when we fall short, God’s discipline of us points to His righteousness.  He is perfectly just, not according to what we think is fair, but according to His standard of perfect holiness.  Therefore, He is righteous when He punishes the unrighteous, and He can only be righteous by punishing them.  A God who lets sin go could not be considered righteous..

2) Our righteousness commends God’s righteousness by comparison.

The greater His righteousness shines forth, the more wicked our righteousness appears.  When compared to each other, the lowliness of our righteousness draws attention to the heights of His.  A skyscraper may look tall, but directly compared to an ant next to it, its height is even more distinct.

3) God’s righteousness is commended by His work in us.

When we, who have no capactiy for righteousness, are righteous, it is revealed to be His righteousness active in us.  Every good act I commit is God working through me.  He gets credit for all of it.

God will be shown righteous by our lives, either at work in them, in comparison to them, or in punishing them.  All three ways reveal His righteousness.  I’d prefer to be a part of the first.



Camp Songs, Student Life Durango

Hey all you campers.  Thanks for worshipping with us this week.  It’s been a great week.  If you are a worship leader and want to use any of the songs we did this week, the charts are on the Resources page at the bottom under Summer Worship (2012).  If you want  to find the songs to listen to, you can head to iTunes or your local Christian bookstore and look for these CDs.

God Undefeatable, Love Shines       Austin Stone Live

Song of Moses       Unhindered – Unhindered

10,000 Reasons       Matt Redman – 10,000 Reasons

God Undefeatable, You Are Good         Todd Agnew – How To Be Loved

Unfortunately, my friend Chris Collins and I wrote New Every Morning last week before we came to camp.  So it’s not available anywhere.  But I posted the chart and you’re welcome to sing it wherever you want to.

Most of the rest of the songs are commonly used, and you probably already have them, or can find them easily.

The Stand, Mighty To Save – Hillsong

Our God, Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) – Chris Tomlin

How He Loves – John Mark McMillan

Again, thanks for worshipping with us.  We’d love to hear about your camp experience.  Comment below and let us know what God did in your life this week.  See you next summer.


Todd, Brian, Rob, and Jody


God is a great option

This week at camp, I was talking to Chris, a representative for Compassion International who is from Kenya.  We had a large response from the students the night before, and he was saying how impressed he was that the students would respond when they had so many distractions.  I looked at him and encouraged him to continue explaining this thought.  He said that here in America, youth have so many options, so many demands for their attention, that he was happily surprised to see them choose to focus on God.  Here, if you are sick, you go to the doctor; if you are hurt, you go to the hospital.  If you are in danger, you call the police.  If you are hungry, you go to the store, or just to the refrigerator.  He explained, in Kenya, if you are sick, you pray.  Because there is no doctor, God is your only option.  If you are hurt, you pray.  If you are in danger, you pray.  If you are hungry, you pray.  There is no other rescue.  You must turn to God.

In that moment, I realized one of the greatest detriments of our wealthy Western culture.  We have other options.  In Kenya, they pray continuously, like the Bible instructs, because they have to.  Here we try to, but we always get sidetracked, distracted, by our other options.   I don’t want God to be an option; I want Him to be the solution, always.  I want to turn to Him first and only.  When I am sick, I want to pray, and if God answers and wants me to go to the doctor, awesome.  When I am in danger, I want to pray, and then call 911.  When I am hungry, I want to pray, then go to Whataburger.  Although I think God might lead a different direction.




P.S. We are getting back to Romans soon.  I got a little overwhelmed by the beginning of Romans and then had to get ready for camp.  It’s coming this next week.



Things I learned from Little League coaches

Now these are not lessons I learned when I was 9 and sucked at baseball.  These are lessons I’m learning now as my kids play.  Because let’s be honest, I listen to the coaches better now than I did then.

1) Spend more time encouraging your kid than correcting them.

It’s not that “training your child in the way he should go” is not important.  I’m just learning that a kid needs to know they are loved before they know they are wrong.  Being wrong can still be a safe place if you are loved.  So if I’m throwing with my kids or helping them in batting practice, I need to find more good to say than bad.  Which is a feat.  It’s not part of what we know as coaching.  It wasn’t how I was coached.  Maybe that’s why I was lousy at baseball.  If a kid is encouraged, then the sport can be fun.  If it’s all about correction, then we end up creating 10 year old stressballs.  Why would anyone want to play, if it’s just another time to get in trouble?  I want my kid to walk out of a day at the park knowing firmly that they are loved, and maybe to have learned something helpful about sports.  Their identity is more important than their ability.

2) Scolding your child in front of everyone does not accomplish what you want it to.

I cringe every time a parent yells at their kid from the bleachers.  It makes my stomach churn.  And yet, if my kid is playing third base, and is looking at a jetstream in the clouds instead of the ball, I have this urge to yell at him.  Mainly so he doesn’t catch a line drive in the face, but I’m sure some of it is that I want him to do what is right in the game.  However, the goal of correction is that they do it correctly the next time.  That they hear what you say, remember it, and change their actions.  But if you are humiliating them in front of their friends and everyone else, I don’t think they can hear what you are saying.  They are not receiving your instruction.  They are just shamed in front of their peers.  They may be hurt.  They may be angry.  But they are not thinking about how they can do a better job next time.

3) There is something to celebrate in everything.

We were lucky and our team was really good this year.  Not championship good, but solid second place, win most of the time good.  But even in the losses, maybe especially in the losses, our coaches still sat everyone down afterwards and told them what they did well.  They still gave out a game ball.  They still pointed out the positives, the growth, and the small successes.  And I think it’s in those times that we need to hear those things the most.  It’s when it’s dark that we need the smallest lights.  It’s when we’re sad that we need the smallest joys.  I’m sure the coaches were disappointed in those times too, but they took more time away from their families, more time until they got to eat dinner, more time until they were alone, to invest in these kids.  To say, “hey, you did a good job of….”

There are probably a lot of other things I should have learned.  Maybe next season.  Or maybe you have some to share.



Getting To The Point: Romans 1

Todd, to everyone who reads the blog, Greetings.

This is how letters started in the days of Paul.  The sender to the receiver, greetings.  A to B, hello.  At the beginning of his letter to the Romans, Paul follows this tradition, but adds his own flair.  His A section is 6 verses long!

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,”          – Romans 1:1-6 (ESV)

When you read commentaries on Romans, they give many reasons for why he did this.  Many are complicated, and most are conjecture.  Good logical conjectures, but guesses nonetheless.  Rather than trying to explain all of them to you, and then telling you why they are each right or wrong, I am merely going to share with you what jumped out at me as I read this.

I think Paul, as quickly as possible, got to the topic of Jesus and the gospel.  Even in the introduction, the definition of himself,  the real subject is Jesus.  “The Content Object Subject of the Gospel is Jesus Christ,” (Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans).  Paul moves the discussion in the letter away from him and to Jesus as fast as he can.   I don’t think he is minimizing himself, just that he knows what is important and is getting to it.  His identity, the only way he can introduce himself, is in his relationship to Jesus.

“To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints,”  – Romans 1:7 (ESV)

And when he finally moves on to the B section, the “To” section, he defines them according to their relationship to Jesus as well.  They are Christ’s beloved.  They are called to be His saints.   I love that description.  They have to respond to the calling to become saints, but they are loved no matter their response.  And the love precededs the calling.

What an opening!  Here is who I am in Christ and what is most important to me about Him, and I recognize who you are in Him as well.   For us to have this discussion, I must be defined in Him.  This discussion must be about Him, who He is and what He has done. “Romans is ultimately a book about God: how he acted to bring salvation, how his justice is preserved, how his purposes are worked out in history, how he can be served by his people,” (Leon Morris, The Theme of Romans).




Technological Hypocrisy

Okay, I just wanted to clear something up from yesterday’s blog.  If you missed it, you can go back and read it, but the basic idea was that I’m considering moving away from a smartphone and why.  What I wanted to clear up was this… I’m not against technology.  I’m not saying that iPhones are evil, or that everyone should get rid of them.  I just think that they dominate our time more than we would like to admit and I think we might make better decisions if we didn’t have them.  Maybe I’m not even saying that.  I think I’m just saying that I would make better decisions without it.  I waste too much time on the phone.  I let a text message take the place of conversation.  In fact, even last night, after I had posted the blog, I found out one of my best friends had been in the hospital getting tests done.  My wife asked if I was going to call him and I said…, “No, I’ll text him in a little bit.” I changed my mind and called.  And left him a voicemail.  And he texted me back.

All that really happened, but I just shared it to be funny.  He had been in the hospital.  I didn’t expect him to answer the phone, or even to text back really.  I just wanted him to know that I cared what was going on in his life, and I cared enough to call.   Because if I get right down to the real core reason why I text instead of call, it’s that I don’t want to have the rest of the conversation.  I want them to know I reached out.  I want to get the answer to a question.  But I’m not trying to be known.  I don’t want to answer any questions.  I don’t want to struggle with what to talk about.  I want them to feel connected without much real connection happening.

Wow, this blog has really taken a left turn.  I just started to write it because I wanted you to know that while I may choose to get rid of my iPhone, I’m not getting rid of my iPad.  It’s awesome.  But I’m not as likely to take it out when I’m at the playground with my kids.  At a time when I should be playing with them.  And even if it’s one of those days they’d rather play with their friends rather than their dad, I want to pay attention to them.  When my kid draws a picture of me at school, I don’t want it to be a  stick figure with a phone in his hand.

But I’m not against technology.  I love my iPad.  I read on it.  I study on it.  I research on it. I’m writing this blog on it right now in the corner at Whataburger.  That’s all I’m trying to say.



Considering Buying A Dumb Phone

I don’t know if that’s the politically correct term, but I’m about tired of smart phones. Have you noticed how impatient we have become? Because it takes a few extra seconds to connect to a worldwide system of computers with access to most of the knowledge in the known world from our phone in the middle of a grocery store. And it’s hurt our relationships too, for two reasons I think. One because we substitute a misspelled sentence containing an emoticon for time together. And two because we get upset at people over this faulty form of communication. We’re upset because they didn’t respond fast enough. Because we read one meaning into the sentence when they meant another (no tone of voice). I think it’s really because this was never meant to be the main way we communicated. And if I’m honest, the main reason I’m considering getting a dumb phone is that I waste too much time.

I saw a young man in an airport, traveling with his girlfriend. He was on his phone for their whole layover, never spoke to her. What could he possibly be doing on his phone that is worth more than her? I wanted to walk over there and let her know that she is worth more than that, that she deserves better treatment than that. But you know? I see it all the time. I see parents ignoring their kids because they are on their phones. Because Angry Birds is more interesting than playing with their real kids. Because celebrity gossip is more entertaining than invest in a real person. And I’m afraid that I’m falling into the same trap. When I have a free moment, I pull out my phone. Honestly, how often do I need to know the scores of every game in every sport on the planet? But I check them. There is no margin in my life anymore. Not because I’m too busy (although I may be, but that’s not what this blog is about). Because I fill every square inch with junk.

I need some space to be quiet. Too listen. I want my first inclination when I have a free moment to be to pray. Or to study. Or to love someone nearby. And for me to accomplish that, I just might need my phone to be dumber.