Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Good Friends Do Count

Every parent, every youth pastor prays for the ones they love to find good friends who offer encouragement and growth in their spiritual life throughout the college years and beyond. In this challenging world there are no guarantees.
Four years ago, my wife and I released our oldest daughter to begin her young adult life at Seattle Pacific University. At this stage of life some may feel their parenting responsibility has eased. In some ways "yes," in most ways "no." Our prayer, in the launching years, was for our daughter to land well.
Over this past weekend we celebrated her graduation but more than that, we celebrated her life. Through her time in college she found those friends every parent desires in the life of their emerging adult. By their junior year of college the girls had moved into a house where they lived, laughed, loved and longed together for the eternal values found in living for God.
In the near future they will begin going their own ways with an indispensable core and a deeper understanding of community. They each know what can happen when God's kids take the time to authentically care for one another.
To LeAnn, Courtney (not pictured), Paige, Jungwa and Alex, the five "sisters" of our daughter, we say "thanks." Your investment in Kelly's life is a gift of joy and hope to us and for that we are eternally grateful.

Friday, June 4, 2010


Today as I write this, John Wooden, former coach for the UCLA Bruins basketball is very ill and in the hospital. In my lifetime I have had a few sports heroes. Coach Wooden is at the top of the list.

At thirteen years of age I was given a little paperback book entitled, “They Call Me Coach.” It is the story of his life. I lived on the east coast but became a long distance fan of this growing legend. In his lifetime he is the only person to ever be elected to the College Basketball Hall of Fame both as a player and a coach. His teams won ten national championships, seven in a row. This, however, is only a piece of the man John Wooden.

After reading a few more of his books I came to understand his accomplishments were great but they flowed out of his character. He once said, “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” (HOW TO BE LIKE COACH WOODEN, p. 5). What Coach Wooden was could not adequately be explained in a short blog. Simply put, he was a man of honor, integrity, grace and he invested in youth!

Coach Wooden’s entire career was spent teaching and building the character of young men on his basketball teams. He cared about them as whole persons, let his love for and faith in God shine as he taught them enduring principles for life.

As a youth pastor I have the great opportunity of making an eternal investment in the lives of teenagers. Every year I attend a few graduation ceremonies of our seniors. I hear speakers talk about the teachers who went beyond just teaching facts and truly cared for students. I am inspired and reminded why I love working with youth.

John Wooden is now ninety-nine years old. His longevity has mentored me in my own life. Someone once asked him the secret to his enduring journey. He said, “Moderation in all things. Be concerned for others and stay around young people.” Yes, those words are hanging on my wall.

Monday, May 31, 2010


Maybe it’s because I’m getting a little more “experience” in life but I seem to also be getting more sentimental on Memorial Day. Let me throw out a few reasons in no priority order:

1) The most significant Memorial Day ceremonies happen around Washington, D.C. Watching the remembrance on C-span made me miss my “homeland” and extended family there. Watching the ceremony and people furiously fanning made me not miss the obligatory heat and humidity of a D.C. summer.

2) On this day I am thankful for all who have served in the military for our freedom. I am grateful for their courageous sacrifice. I am most grateful for my grandfather, “Pa” (pictured with my mom) who fought in World War 2 Battle of the Bulge. Most of his unit was killed while he and few others were captured by Germans and held prisoner for the duration of the war. I am grateful he served but more thankful he came home to hold me in his lap, whittle toys from sticks and tell me stories of my ancestors.

3) While Memorial Day may be about our “decorated soldiers” it also reminds me of how good it is to remember. I am thankful to be loved by God who was willing to sacrifice His Son for me and challenges me daily to never forget the wonderful gift of life He offers.

Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, where it was so hot and dry. He gave you water from the rock! He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.

Deuteronomy 8:11-18 (NLT)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

GROWING TOOL #2 - "Live Life"

Over twenty-five years ago Nancy and I made the decision to pack up everything we owned (which wasn’t much!) and move across the country to begin an adventure in youth ministry with the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara.

With my family in Maryland, hers in Indiana and no extended family west of the Mississippi we were most definitely striking out on our own.

Though we initially felt “lonely” we were quickly embraced by a loving congregation and friends in an apartment complex. We were invited to be in a small group with three other couples. Weekly we ate and studied together. One couple eventually moved away and the rest of us began having kids. Before long the little group of six grew to a group of 14, including parents and children.

The other couples also had no extended family in California. In time we made the prayerful and intentional decision to be family for each other. We decided to “live life” together.

The longer I have been a youth pastor the more I realize the importance of “living life” with students. Yes, it is our role to equip and lead them. In this we are able to help build a foundation and plant a seed but when asked what they remember most about their time with us, the consistent answer is almost always about a leader who took them out to eat or invited them to hang out or traveled with them. The quantity of time spent produces the quality and depth we seek.

How to do this?

1) FOCUS – One youth pastor/director cannot “live life” with an entire youth ministry so other adult leaders must understand their need to be more than a “chaperone,” “counselor” or leader. Encouraging leaders to invest in two to three youth gives them the time to go a little deeper.

2) BE PRACTICAL – Youth and adults have limited time. Find ways to merge your normal life with their normal life and invite them to join. Some moms take students along with them to go shopping. Some guys invite youth to go do errands with them or fix something. One of my own youth leaders was asked by some Jr. High girls if she could “hang out.” The leader was short on time but invited the girls to come over and watch her iron clothes. I still have the funny picture of three girls sitting on the other side of an ironing board chatting with the leader. This was one teaching time they will likely never forget.

How are you living life with youth and helping them to grow in their faith?

Thursday, April 15, 2010


In recent weeks I have been working with some youth leaders to help develop a workable list of character traits found in the person who can effectively guide youth in their spiritual growth. We developed a list of five. Over the next several posts I will expand on these.

Number one on the list is “know your kids.”

As youth pastors/leaders we are responsible for the souls of our teenagers. Christ does the inward work but we are called to be “shepherds.” To know our youth we must go beyond showing up and leading a group. Youth ministry is far more than a mid-week or Sunday experience. I recruit volunteers who understand their presence at a “spiritual growth event” is merely the beginning of their work of actively caring for these youth.

When we begin knowing our kids we are more able to provide a growing environment for them. We understand more of their culture, their family systems, and their responses to life. This gives us the tools to authentically invest in their lives and to discern whom it is who really wants to grow and who does not. As we sort this out we are better able to provide opportunities for youth at their spiritual level of interest.

Choose a workable curriculum. Over the years curriculum has gotten a bad reputation. Those who say, “I never use curriculum” misunderstand its purpose. Good curriculum provides balance and gives us a clear objective. The wise teacher will use the pieces of a lesson working best for their group. There is no rule dictating we use an entire lesson. Quality curriculum saves me time, gives me a “running start” and frees me to do the greater work of being a loving shepherd in the lives of youth. This is the ultimate curriculum.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Recently I have been reminded why I am not just a “youth pastor.” Don’t get me wrong . . . I still love being a youth pastor. When I am asked, “What do you ‘do’?” the first words out my mouth are, “I am a youth pastor.” I do many other things in the life of the church but the role of “youth pastor” is my first passion. Why would I not want to be this and only this?

Holy Week in the life of our church is very busy. Over the course of the week I coordinated or participated in seven different events. Another piece of my role description is to lead the worship ministry as well. With that piece I counted my involvement in performing or leading 40+ songs from Good Friday through Easter.

During the course of all this work I realized, again, I am far more than a only a “youth” pastor. In this week where helped youth serve Seder dinner to the adults, coordinated them volunteering at a benefit run, involved them in worship leadership and more, God reminded me of how my reach extends beyond the youth and to their younger siblings, their parents, aunts/uncles, grandparents, to the elderly lady who faithfully prays for them every day, the couple who were never able to have children who loves our youth ministry, the young parents who tell me I have to be around when their kids are teenagers and the recent college graduate who has a small interest in joining the youth ministry team.

To limit myself only to investing in teenagers is to miss the bigger picture of ministry God has for me. My willingness and ability to be a pastor to all the people allows them to know me as one who loves the youth, loves the church and ultimately shepherds all, who in one form or another, bring care and spiritual direction to our teenagers. I love our youth best by loving and caring for all His people.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Beginnings are hard, re-starts are harder

So . . . I basically took a three month break from the blog. I didn't plan it. It just happened. I do a lot of writing for stuff here at my own church, Interlinc in Nashville and other organizations. I felt like I had said it all in other places so chose not to add another "assignment" in keeping up with this blog. I began the blog as a way to write about the life and times of me and youth ministry on the "frontlines" in Santa Barbara. I still like the purpose so with a new vision and determination I will begin again.

Chaim Potok, in his book, "The Chosen," begins the book by saying "All beginnings are hard." I agree but I have decided that second beginnings are even harder. When we begin something there is definitely a challenge (ie. a diet, an exercise program, a discipline in our spiritual walk, etc.). When we fail to keep it going, starting it again seems even more difficult.

Years ago I and one of my volunteer youth leaders were training together for a run called "Tough Enough." It was relay race spanning about 40 miles to the peak from sea-level to the peaks of our local mountains and down again. We trained together and our commitment was not only to train together but to be committed in picking it up again even if we missed a few sessions in row. I have missed a few "sessions" in this blog. I'm picking it up again . . . starting now but more creatively, next week.

Good Friday is all about picking it up again. We "drop the ball" in our sinful lives but Christ died so we could "pick it up again." Accepting His forgiveness, mercy and beginning again is humbling. The re-start may feel "harder" but the reward is resting in His grace. May you rest in Him on Good Friday and celebrate new life this Easter. Let's "pick it up" together.