Thursday, December 31, 2009

CCM Countdown: 50-46

Every Thursday for the next few months I will be counting down the 50 CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) albums that had the most impact on my life and ministry.  No "live" albums or greatest hits packages will be included.  (FYI, I never owned any of these on vinyl.  Some were on cassette, however!) Every week I will also include a link to a classic CCM song from an album that will not make the countdown. Most of the songs mentioned can be purhcased from I-Tunes or Amazon.  Click on the links provided to learn more- and enjoy!  

50)  GROWNKendall Payne- 2004
Having already worn out her song Supermodels,  I was excited to hear some more from Kendall Payne.  I was not disappointed.  With balladslike Pray and Aslan (an awesome Narnia song!) and rockers like Rollercoaster, this is a very complete project.  We used her song Stand on a Quaker Lake DVD in 2006.
Download thisRollercoaster
49)   ADVENTURES OF THE O.C, SUPERTONES-  O.C. Supertones- 1996
The Supertones were one of the "Ska" bands to hit the CCM scene in the mid-90's, and
to me they were the best.  The reggae rhythyms and blasting horns reached out to kids
who previously had no interest in the genre.  Includes the masterpiece Who Can Be Against Me?
Download thisAdonai
I hesitated to put this on the list because it has been out of print for so long, but back in the day I literally wore this album out!  Sounding a little like the early Beatles, this British duo never failed to bring a smile to my face, and they were door prizes at many an early TNT.  This is the only album on this countdown I no longer own.  If you find it, buy it!  And check out their cover of (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.
47)  BLOOMAudio Adrenaline-  1996
Audio A. was already hugely popular with youth groups due to their classic hit Big House by the time Bloom was released, but this took it to a new level.  Songs like Never Gonna' Be As Big As Jesus and I'm Not the King rocked, as did a cover of Free Ride.  They went on to have many more hit albums, including several more on this countdown.
Download thisWalk On Water
46)  SPEECHLESS-  Steven Curtis Chapman-  1999
So many CD's from the crown prince of CCM could be on this countdown that there would be very little room for anyone else- so I limited myself to two!  This project gets the nod for the great worship refrain in the song Speechless, and for the incredible tour de force that is Dive.  A great Christian "pop" album.
Download thisFingerprints of God

This week's song to enjoy:  Read the Book (Don't Wait for the Movie) - White Heart- 1986

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Brief History of CCM

Contemporary Christian Music  (CCM) has played a major role in my life and ministry, and starting tomorrow I will begin a countdown of the 50 CCM albums that have had the most impact on my soul (to this point). The countdown will continue each Thursday until it is finished. Some of the artists will be famous; others will be very obscure.  This will not be a list of the 50 most successful albums.  This will be MY list!

The music we now refer to as CCM has been around since the late 1960's, but the concept has been around much longer.  It is said that early hymn writers like Martin Luther and Charles Wesley took tunes from bar songs and turned them into hymns so the tune would be familiar.  The classic "We praise thee, O God, our redeemer creator" once was sung with the lyric "I once knew a girl and her name was Matilda."  Elvis recorded very popular gospel albums.  Still, in the late 60's most church music was provided by choirs accompanied by organs and pianos.  The Hippie movement was also in full swing, and disaffected young people were abandoning the church in record numbers.  At Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, CA (and many other places like it)  Pastor Chuck Smith was reaching out to these young men and women, many of whom were on the streets playing folk and rock music.  This was the Jesus Movement.  As they came back to the church, or to church for the first time (1000's were being baptized in the Pacific Ocean or Pat Boone's pool!) they wanted to express their love for God in their own style.  This became known as Jesus Music.  Most historians of the genre date the birth of CCM to Larry Norman's 1969 album Upon This Rock (see cover art above).  Most of the Jesus People didn't record their music at first; they simply played in churches and on the street for love offerings.  In those early days CCM was never a business, it was always a ministry.  Aside from Larry Norman (whose 1972 classic Only Visiting This Planet will be very high on my countdown!) other pioneers included Randy Stonehill, Barry McGuire, Church Girard, Evie, Second Chapter of Acts and Love Song.  More hard rock style bands came along in the early 70's, including Resurrection Band and Petra.  The music started spreading.  Most churches resisted this new style, but the kids were listening.  Churches had associated rock music with Satan since its beginning.  Larry Norman himself asked the key question: Why should the devil have all the good music?

1977 was a pivotal year for CCM.  I graduated from high school (OK- so that was not a big deal!).  The phrase "Contemporary Christian Music " began to catch on as a label.   Three major events helped begin the transformation from church music to a genre that now outsells everything but country, hip hop and pop/rock.  Keith Green released his first album.  CCM Magazine began publication.  And a 16 year old from Tennessee released her first album.  Amy Grant would change the perception, the audience and the quality of CCM over the next 30 years in ways no one could imagine.

That brings us to my countdown.  The oldest album on my list is from 1972, and the newest are from the last year of my ministry, 2006.  I hope you will enjoy the list, check out some of the music, and let me know about some of your favorites.  See you tomorrow- and every Thursday!

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Start of Something Big

In the early days of professional youth ministry it was commonplace for summer to be downtime for the Youth Pastor.  This never made any sense to me.  We would take three months when students were usually available and often bored and churches would slow down their youth ministries.  Many youth workers were not paid during the summer months and had to find other jobs.  By the time of my first summer at Springfield Friends Meeting in 1987 all of this was changing.  We planned events on Wednesdays and Sundays and our first trip to Disney World.  At the 1987 NYWC I attended a seminar that challenged me to expand our summer ministry and to improve our communication.  The summer of 1988 was my first shot at doing both.

The programs and events for that summer seem very tame by my later standards, but they were the start of something big!  We continued to meet on Sunday afternoons and Wednesday nights (giving TNT the summer off).  We took trips to Myrtle Beach (That's Amy, Lavonia, Andi & Heather pictured at The Betsy B in 1988) and Atlanta.  We had our first ever Youth Week, with events every day, including a trio to Carowinds and a concert by me at the Covered Bridge Pizza Parlor in Archdale.  We had our first ever Breakfast Club; our first ever trip to feed the homeless of High Point at Our Father's Table; our first ever end of the summer Luau!  We collected cans of tuna to help Urban Ministry feed the hungry.  We attended Quaker Lake together and had our own class at VBS.  Every ministry and event that would come in the later years got a start in the summer of '88.

It was also the year of the first Summer Ministries Booklet.  This picture is the cover from 1990, but the little guy, Zed, was on the cover for the first four years.  In 1988 he was carrying a surfboard.  The booklet laid out the plan for our summer, giving details and sign-up deadlines.  Students and parents alike loved the concept; looking back, it was a website in print years before anyone had a website!  In the years to come the summer info packet would grow and the schedule would expand, but it all started in 1988.  Nothing I ever accomplished in youth ministry created as much of a buzz or brought as much praise my way as my summer schedules over the years.  And no one enjoyed the hectic pace, the frantic planning and the incredible amount of time spent with students any more than me!  I thank God every day for the many blessings I received through the ministries, events and programs I led for all those years.

Because of Jesus,

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Betsy B

The Betsy B is just a building. I know this is a true statement, but it somehow does not do the "old girl" justice. For too many years- from 1981 until 2000- she was a huge part of my life and ministry. Today I want to tell you our story.

In 1980, Martha Ratledge Farlow and I were working as youth leaders at New Garden Friends Meeting, and we decided to put together a reunion for the folks we had been in youth group with during our high school days. We researched and found a house at North Myrtle Beach, and we rented it. The following year we did it again, but decided on a different house, oceanfront in the Ocean Drive section of NMB. This house was The Betsy B. The "B" is a three story house, and each level is rented separately. Each level sleeps 14, as long as you really like each other! In those days we never needed the whole thing, so we often had neighbors. There is nothing fancy about the "B." In fact, after doing the reunion there a couple of years, some of our group wanted to stay at a nicer place, so we quit using it.  

In 1988, the summer after our first Walt Disney World trip from Springfield Friends Meeting, we decided to take the group to NMB. I called about the "B" only to discover that the realty company no longer rented to groups or house parties. After some negotiating, they agreed to "grandfather" me in. We could rent the house; but if we ever messed anything up it would be the last time we would stay there. We stayed at the "B" in '88 and '89 with Springfield, and returned in 1995, 1997, and 1999 with First UMC-Kissimmee. All of those trips are filled with memorable stories that you will read about later. The highlight of The Betsy B for me was the same no matter which group I was with.  I loved that you could sit on the big wrap-around oceanfront porches any time of day and see amazing things. During the day I could see the crowded beach, the beautiful Atlantic Ocean and the bright sunshine while the kids' boom boxes blasted out great music. At night I could sit out on the porch and see the moon reflect off the ocean, or watch amazing thunderstorms out at sea. I could sit quietly and wait in the cool ocean breeze and eventually youth would come out to sit and talk about life, faith, relationships and heartache. I could take my guitar out and began to play and write songs, and eventually a crowd would come out for some spontaneous worship. Students tell me quite often that their favorite memory of our youth ministry was singing with me on the porch of The Betsy B. It's near the top of my list as well.

The Betsy B was so important to so many of us that Jim & Karen Fry, who chaperoned several of the Kissimmee groups, started taking their own kids and their friends after I left for Chicago. They were still able to use my "grandfather" status- a real testament to all the kids who kept our reputation in place over the years. Marilyn, Will and I came down from Illinois and joined them in 2000- my last trip to the "B." I miss the place, but the memories are rich and plentiful. And I haven't given up hope that one of you will decide to buy it for us so I can put my Hall of Fame there someday...

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Youthquake '88

Youthquake was (is?) a gathering of young Quakers from all over USAmerica that took place every three years is a different location.  In 1988 it took place in Denver, Colorado the week after Christmas.  Marilyn and I would be taking a group of students from Springfield Friends Meeting as part of a large group from North Carolina Yearly Meeting.  More significantly to me, I was to be the music leader for the general sessions of this huge event, and I was really excited about it.  We were going to fly out the day after Christmas, from Greensboro to Denver by way of Chicago.  If only it had been that easy!

As our large group gathered at the Greensboro Airport, we discovered several major problems.  A blizzard had grounded everything in or out of Chicago.  Because it was the day after Christmas, other flights that might get us to Denver were full.  People were sent home for the night and told to show up the next morning to see what could be done.  The next morning was not much better.  We were now almost certainly going to miss the opening session, which was bad for everyone and horrible for me.  I was being paid to lead music, and it would be very hard to do from Greensboro!  Times were very different in youth ministry in 1988.  I wasn't part of a band that would lead worship.  Me and my guitar WERE the band that would lead worship!  I was Plan A- and there was no Plan B!  I had to get there.  So Marilyn and I split off from the rest of the NC group and got our own flight out, stopping in 3 or 4 places along the way but eventually getting to Denver just after first time I was supposed to play.  That, however, was small potatoes compared to what the rest of our group would go through.  They were routed through Atlanta, would up spending a night in the airport there, and did not arrive at the event until the second day. 

Youthquake '88 was a wonderful event once we got there.  I was reunited with old partners-in-crime like Tom Klaus and Brent Bill, and found new co-conspirators in Bruce Bishop and Royce Frazier.  It was the first time I ever did Refrigerator Box Races, which would later become a very popular event in my own ministry.  The speakers were excellent (including Ann B. Davis, who played Alice on The Brady Bunch) and the kids were great.  I had a blast leading music for such a large crowd.  It was a real honor to share the stage for the closing worship event with Thom & Joani Schultz, the head honchos of Group Publishing.  Lives were touched and changed by the event, and it was a true blessing to be a part of the team that led it.  God blessed with so many such opportunities over the years, and I am forever thankful for that.  And it's true what they say- getting there is half the battle!  See you tomorrow!

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Not a day goes by that I don't miss youth ministry.  Some days I miss the late night phone calls, the romantic dramas and the petty disputes between youth.  Some days I miss the energy and the creativity that student ministry brought to my life.  Some days I miss the planning and the programs and the events.  Most days I miss the teaching, the counseling and the worship.  Every day I miss the students and adult volunteers who were such a huge part of my life over the years.  I miss something every day.  Most days the memories are a blessing.  Some days I miss it so bad that it hurts.  Today is one of those days.

The week after Christmas was always a big week in my ministry, and as I sit here today with nothing on my schedule and Marilyn and Will gone to NC, I miss it.  I think back to Winter Camp at Quaker Lake in the old days.  I remember Youthquake '88 in Denver, and Youthquake '91 in Vermont.  I remember Youth Tremors at QLC on many of the in-between years.  I remember ski trips and square dancing and Winter W.O.W. (Week of Wonder) and spending time with so many special people.  Twenty years ago this week a group from Youth Tremors saw The Little Mermaid (in a theater) together; something that simple became a moment I will never forget.  Today I remember all of these things, although I would rather not.  Tomorrow I can tell you funny stories about Youthquake '88- but today it hurts.

It hurts because I cannot have it back.  My sins have been forgiven by the grace of Jesus Christ, but forgiveness does not always mean there are no consequences for our sins.  Grace is free, but it is not cheap.  Jesus died for our sins.  There is nothing cheap about that.  On days like this I remember the consequences of my own actions and praise God that He chooses to love me anyway. 

Sometimes remembering hurts.  But the good news- no, the GREAT NEWS- is that every day people sin, and every day those who profess Jesus as Lord and Savior are forgiven.  God loves us every single day!  And that is really something worth remembering...

Because of Jesus,

Friday, December 25, 2009

You Gotta' Get Up....

You Gotta Get Up

I thought Christmas day would never come
But mom and day, it's over now
the waiting's finally done
So you gotta get up, you gotta get up, you gotta get up...
It's Christmas morning!

Last night I heard reindeer on my roof
Well you may think I'm exaggerating but I swear I'm telling you the truth
And you gotta get up, you gotta get up, you gotta get up...
It's Christmas morning!

Did my sister get a bay doll?  Did my brother get his bike?
Did I get that red wagon, the kind that makes you fly?
Oh I hope there'll be peace on earth,
I know there's good will towards men
on account of that baby born in Bethlehem...

Mom and Daddy stayed up too late last night
I guess they got carried away in the Christmas candle light
And you gotta get up, you gotta get up, you gotta get up...
It's Christmas morning!
-Rich Mullins from his album A Liturgy, A Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band

EmmanuelGod With Us.  That is what Christmas is all about.  God came to earth in the form of a baby so He could be with us.  As my old buddy Curt Cloninger says "He didn't look like a Messiah.  He looked like a baby!" But that baby was here to change the world and to save my life- and yours.  God is on our side, and Jesus is the ultimate proof of that. Enjoy the food, the gifts, your families and all the rest.  Celebrate the day. But never forget that it is all "on account of that baby born in Bethlehem!"    Merry Christmas to one and all!

Christ the Savior is born!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

One More Sleep 'Til Christmas...

Andrew Lewis was Organist and Interim Youth Minister when I was hired at First UMC-Kissimmee in 1994.  He eventually became the Minister of Music and Worship there, and also became one of my best friends.  Andrew had many gifts; a beautiful voice, a loving spirit and servant's heart.  In all my years around churches he was the best worship designer I have ever been around, although he got to use those skills on a very limited basis  (I have to admit that the worship planning team at Van Dyke Church, where we now attend, is pretty dang awesome too!).  One particular Advent season Andrew, Pastor John Willis and the rest of the worship team outdid ourselves.  We took the One More Sleep 'Til Christmas theme from the movie The Muppet Christmas Carol and started our "sleep" countdown a month before Christmas Eve.  Pastor John, his famous infamous puppet Hollywood (who will get his own posting here someday!) and I would weave the impending arrival of Santa Claus into the Children' Moment each week along with the excitement over the coming of the Christ child.  By our Christmas Eve "family services" we had built to a fever pitch. Those kids and their parents had gotten the message- it was the night before JESUS!   That night Andrew sang the Muppet song and had me sing the Rich Mullins classic You Gotta' Get Up (more on that tomorrow).  Children performed a nativity play.  Hollywood and John closed the series by reminding everyone that the coming of Jesus was an even more exciting event than the coming of Santa- although Santa rocks!  It was an awesome service.  Then everyone went outside to witness a Living Nativity performed by our youth.  God spoke in many ways that night.

Every year Marilyn, Will and I (and my Mom) attend a Christmas Eve Candlelight Service.  Every year I am moved by the music, the lifting of candles as we sing Silent Night, and the Christmas story itself.  And every year I think of Andrew, John, and Hollywood and all the time, effort and creativity that went into making that night in the late '90's one that will stay with me forever!

I hope that for each of you, tonight will be a Holy night. My family will attend the 6 PM service at Van Dyke, return home for hot dogs and a viewing of The Muppet Christmas CarolWill gets to open one present from my Mom.  That is Christmas Eve at the Jones' house.  Whatever your traditions may be, please don't forget the original Christmas tradition-  O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining; It is the night of our dear Saviors' birth...  Merry Christmas to all.  Today it is finally true again-there's only one more sleep 'til Christmas! 

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Grand Floridian Christmas

Upon moving to Kissimmee, Florida in 1994 after spending most of our lives in North Carolina, Marilyn and I noticed some serious cultural differences in the way Christmas was celebrated.  The warm weather you find most years during the holiday season causes many Floridians to go completely nuts when it comes to decorating.  With no chance of snow, creating an artificial atmosphere becomes more important, I guess.  The youth group Christmas party tradition was also kicked up a notch.  The students were accustomed to dressing up and having the party in a fancy setting, and so we adapted to their tradition.  We had our first party in a motel ballroom at a Best Western between Kissimmee and St. Cloud, and it was fun.  We had many of our parties over the next few years at the exquisite lakefront home (see picture with Bethany Esry, Isabelle Davis, Victoria Cottam, Brittney Herder and Julia Pribyl) of the Karr family, where 100 youth could be together and yet never feel crowded.  These were catered affairs that were very upscale but somehow never felt stuffy.  But even those parties paled in comparison to the one year we booked our Christmas party at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort.

A church member who was also in management with Disney (I believe his name was Jeff) somehow booked us into one of the grand ballrooms at the Mouse's most exclusive resort.  As you can tell from the picture, this was not a quaint little hideaway; this was the big time!  Princess Diana, Michael Jackson and almost every celebrity you could name had stayed there; and now the youth ministry of First Methodist Kissimmee would party there!  It was a great night; the catering, the service, the karaoke and the elegance were perfect.  It was a truly magical night. 

I can tell you that it is the people (like Andrew Lewis, Sara Thacker and Cathy Thacker, pictured at left) that make a Christmas party, or any youth event, great.  But those "uptown" parties from my days in Kissimmee will always be special because they showed how important the youth were to that church, and how much that ministry meant to those students.  It was an honor to be a part of something that special.  To all of you who may have been a part of those days, many more stories of your exploits will be told here in the months to come.  For now, I just look forward to a reunion party at the GF-  valet parking included!  Merry Christmas to all, and remember-  Only three more sleeps 'til Jesus' birthday!

Because of Jesus,

Monday, December 21, 2009

Party Time!

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Our youth group Christmas parties became the stuff of legend over the years, even though they have been very different from one place to another.  One of the first years at Springfield Friends Meeting we had a Christmas dance in the Fellowship Hall at the church,and a big crowd showed up.  We had had great food, decorations and music- Jamie Robinson was our DJ- and absolutely no one danced!  But we had a great time anyway!  After that, the party moved into our little house across the street from the church. The group didn't actually fit in that house (see picture) but we celebrated just like it was a mansion.  I would fix my world famous sausage balls (not to be confused with "Sweddy Balls") and fudge, and we would play Dirty SantaDirty Santa is the game where everyone brings a gift, you draw numbers to determine the order you pick in, and then you can either open a new present or steal an already open gift when it is your turn.  I have played this game for many years on many occasions, but the gifts the Springfield kids would bring (had to be under $5) were always the most interesting.  Food gifts were always the most popular, because if you didn't get food you might get feminine hygiene products, used chap stick or some other completely worthless item.  It got really bad some years, but it was always hilarious. 

In the later Springfield years we would have the youth party from 7-9 PM, followed by a Youth Group Alumni party for college students.  Those were always a blast as well, catching up with old friends and telling the old stories.  I looked forward to those times with great anticipation.  For Marilyn and I it was like a Christmas family reunion, because the students we served became our family. We missed them when they were not around, and we loved having them in our home anytime.  We thought we would always host the youth Christmas party in our home...but our move to Kissimmee changed all of that.  It would still be a highlight of the year...but it sure would be different!  Come back tomorrow and read all about how we did Christmas "uptown!"

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Countdown

I'm going to spend the next few days looking back at some Christmas memories from Christmas Eve services and youth parties. To kick the week off right I want to remind everyone that Christmas is all about Jesus.  Not just about His birth, but about his life, death, resurrection and His love for us.  I share this video with you to remind you of these words:
"Hear the angels as they're singing
On the morning of His birth,
But how much greater will their song be
When He come again to Earth...
When He comes to rule the Earth!"

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Christmas Bonus

I worked for churches for a lot of years.  You would think that if any organization would understand the significance of Christmas and the birth of our savior, it would be the church.  And for the most part, that is correct.  But while the corporate world often gives a monetary bonus to their employees during the Christmas season, none of the churches I worked for ever did.  I received all kinds of gifts from youth and their families, and I never actually felt cheated.  But still...

There was one quasi-exception to this.  While I was at Springfield Friends Meeting, every year a wonderful older lady named Margaret Ellington would give a cash "bonus" to staff members.  Margaret was not some wealthy widow who liked to throw around her money to impress people.  She was a secretary for a furniture company who was still working at the time.  She shared her money from her heart- and as such, it was both significant and generous.  There were people in the church with a whole lot more money who would have screamed to the heavens if the church tried to give a bonus.  Margaret just took matters into her own hands and shared the love and the spirit of the season with us each year. 

The gift of the Christ child was one of unconditional love.  Margaret's gifts to us were the same.  I pray that this Christmas season I will give from the heart and honor the birth of Jesus and the gift of grace that He gave me.  Thank you, Margaret, for all you gave and all you taught me.

Because of Jesus,

Friday, December 18, 2009

All Grown Up

Have a great weekend everyone, and get ready!  Jesus' birthday is coming!!!

Marilyn and Will after Will's band concert last night, with the Jones' family tree.  Will is not 7 feet tall- the tree is just that short!

Jones...Will Jones.  This was his first time in a tux at age 14.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Choose Jesus

I have received a few e-mails asking me about a phrase I have used a couple of times over my last few posts.  The phrase is "getting fired for the glory of God."  This is not original with me- I learned it from Mike Yaconelli.  His article by that name first appeared in Youthworker Magazine (I believe) and was included in his posthumous book Collected Writings. I was never fired for the glory of God- I was fired for my own sins and stupidity. I was, however, persecuted by churches for the glory of God, so I do have some thoughts on the subject. Today's post will mix Yac's words with my own thoughts, so to keep it simple, his words are blue and mine are black.  Red is still reserved for Jesus!

Mike begins by saying "there is no question in my mind that our calling to youth ministry and the current condition of the institutional church are on a collision course.  I am beginning to believe that if those who are called into youth ministry follow the lead of the One who called them, getting fired is inevitable."  I think this is more true today than it was when Mike wrote it.  Youth ministry is becoming more and more about "fixing a hole" in the church and less and less about the needs of the students the ministries are supposed to reach.  It is more about "church" and less about Jesus.  The principles below actually apply to most positions in a church, volunteer or professional.  "You disagree?  Why don't you try these seven suggestions, and see how long you keep your job."

1)  Keep Jesus #1- Dare to make your relationship with Jesus the most important thing in your life and in the lives of those you serve.  More important than programs, or money, or numbers, or anything else.  When you gather to do church business, who takes center stage? Your church?  Or Jesus?  The Quakers have it right- you can't separate church business and worship. 
2)  Be Still- Learn to value silence, meditation, prayer and  time alone with God more than you value the "busyness" of your ministry.  Take time to "soak" in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
3)  Ignore Corporate Values-  Don't worry about size, efficiency, productivity or success.  Worry about worshipping the Good Shepherd and taking care of God's people.  David Stone taught me a long time ago that "we are called to faithful, not successful."
4)  Think Small-  Tell your church it's all about quality, not quantity, and see how long you last!
5)  Be Real-  Let the youth and the church see your struggles and realize that everyone you work with (and for!) has their own issues.  Everyone needs grace.
6)  Put Your Family First.
7)  Seek Kingdom Values-  What are kingdom values? 
* Time- Always make time for the people you are in ministry to and with.  Be available one on one even when it seems a program or meeting might be more important.  There is no substitute for this.
* Awareness- sensitivity, empathy, noticing
* Audacity- risk, courage, resistance
* Intimacy with God
* Humility
* Grace- We live in a world where people, even Christ-followers, look at their neighbor and ask "How can I forgive them?"  Be the person who looks at what Jesus has done for you, and so asks "How can I not?"

Notice from Yac:  You don't have to confront the system.  You can just get close to Jesus, seek intimacy with God, follow kingdom values...and it won't be long until you are out on the street.  And guess who will be there with you?  You got it...Jesus.

If your situation has you choosing between being a faithful worker bee for your church or being a radical follower of the Christ, is there really any choice?  Choose unemployment- choose Jesus!

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Influences: Mike Yaconelli

There was only one Mike Yaconelli.   Mike Yaconelli was the co-founder of Youth Specialties. He spent 43 years of his life in ministry to youth, and 20 years as a pastor of a small church in Yreka, California (Mike called it "the slowest growing church in America").  Mike and his wife, Karla, split their time between Yreka and San Diego.  He helped found The Wittenburg Door, a magazine of Christian satire. His work with Youth Specialties not only changed student ministry, in many ways it created youth ministry as we know it.  If your life has ever been touched by a youth pastor or a youth ministry you owe a debt of gratitude to Yac.

Mike and his partner Wayne Rice were responsible for the Ideas Books, the National Youth Workers Convention and many other tangible ministry tools.  But for those of us who knew him, it was his constant support, love and inspiration for those in student ministry that truly changed our lives.  He was constantly reminding us of God's love for us.  He never backed down from the concept that student ministry was important- just as important as anything else the church did.  I remember so well his rants about the "Jones Memorial Carpet."  This was his phrase for any scared cow that churches would try to "protect" from youth.  The stories would always go something like this: The church board is freaking out because a student spilled a Coke on the Jones Memorial Carpet.  Mike always said the church should be shouting "WHOOO-HOO!  We have youth in our church!"  I remember him each year at the opening of the NYWC going over the schedule and telling some of us that we needed to skip all the workshops, grab our spouses, a bottle of wine, and go spend the weekend in our rooms, because our marriages needed more work than our ministries.  Mike had a way of cutting through the BS and speaking God's truth.  He believed and trusted in the grace of Jesus Christ, and had little patience for Pharisees in the modern church.

Mike was nothing if not unconventional.  He was a major Christian leader who had been kicked out of Bible college.  He launched "Fingerblasters" in the lobbies of some of the nicest hotels in USAmerica (once hitting a desk clerk in Denver while she was checking me in!).  He cared deeply for "the least of these," and is a hero with the folks at World Vision.  He once forgot the Communion elements at his church in Yreka and served frozen hot dog rolls and orange juice instead.  His rants on "getting fired for the glory of God" were controversial- and right on the money.  He was a member of the evangelical establishment, yet one of its strongest critics.  To anyone who ever shook his hand or got a pat on the back from him, he was immediately your friend.

Mike was killed in October of 2003 in a car wreck.  We were never close friends, yet it always felt like we were.  I think of him everyday.  I think of his rants, his smile, and his incredible heart for Jesus.  His books Dangerous Wonder and Messy Spirituality are still among my favorites.  Shortly before his death, I had arranged for him to come speak at Wesley Memorial UMC in February of 2004.  I regret never having the chance to have him to myself for a day, just to pick his brain and soak in the Light of Christ that just beamed from him.  My feelings for Mike and the impact he had on my life an thousands of others can be summed up in the following statement:  There are only two people I have ever met who, upon their deaths, I think made Jesus yell "WHOO-HOO!  He's finally here!"  One was Rich Mullins.  The other was Yac.  Heaven's gain was certainly our loss, and I feel it everyday.

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"There's A Blue Pick-Up Truck Where My Heart Used To Be"

In the late 70's or early 80's (those years really run together in my mind!) Alan Brown showed up at my house one day having written most of a song about a blue pick-up truck. It was the type of song where heartbreak is all around- a true parody of country music.  I helped him finish it, and it became legendary around Quaker Lake Camp and NC Young Friends events.  As time passed, Alan was not around those events much and I took to singing it by myself.  In 1986 I sang it at New England Yearly Meeting and it killed.  It seemed that people everywhere could get into this song.

At the 1987 National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta there was going to be a "talent show" at the annual Wittenburg Door Banquet.  I had brought my guitar with me, and at some point Terry Venable, Ray Luther and I decided we would audition for the banquet and sing Blue Pick-Up Truck.  The three of us had never performed the song together before, but we would be bound together by history.  Ray would follow me as Youth Pastor at Springfield Friends Meeting, and they would follow Terry as Senior Pastor. He is still Pastor there today.   Ray was by far the best singer of the group; I knew the verses; Terry was there for moral support!  We auditioned under the name The Country Quakers.  They let us sing part of the song and then told us we would get a call letting us know if we were in.  The call came, and we would make our debut in front of 800 or so youth workers. 

The Wittenburg Door Banquet was a wild affair each year, and 1987 was no different.  We were sharing a table with some Mennonites who were wearing hotel shower caps.  People dressed crazy, acted crazy and had lots of fun, all without the benefit of alcohol!  Wayne Rice did his Sinatra impression ("I did it His way...") and Mike Yaconelli made fun of everyone.  Before we knew it, it was our time to take the stage, one of the final acts of the night.

I introduced the song in my usual way- "How many of you like country music?"  After the cheer went up in response, I said, "Well then you will hate this..."   We got a good laugh and started the song.  The first verse and chorus passed with some laughter, but we had no indication of what was about to happen. People began to clap along with the music.  After the second verse, as we started the chorus again, I jokingly yelled out, "Sing it if you know it!"  To our shock, they did!  The place was now rocking, and we were really getting into it.  Everyone in the room was standing and clapping along.  The room itself was pretty dark, with candles on every table.  Sometime during the final verse we noticed that someone at one of the front tables was standing in a chair and waving a candle.  Others began to copy him, until he and some of the crowd were actually on the tables singing and waving candles.  We couldn't really see at the time, but when the lights came up we discovered it was Tony Campolo, world renowned speaker and teacher, who had been our biggest fan!  We received a huge standing ovation, and Wayne Rice told me he thought we might be the biggest hit in the history of the banquet.  Tic Long, who selected the acts for the night, told us later he had chosen us because he thought we would get booed off the stage; we were supposed to have been the "Gong Show" act of the night!    I just hate that this was before the days of video phones; I would love to have a tape of it all!

The next day we were full blown celebrities.  Everyone wanted to say hi and offer congratulations.  Yohann Anderson wanted to publish the song.  Tony himself stopped me in the hall to tell me how much fun it had been for him.  The Wittenburg Door Banquet was discontinued shorty thereafter, so that was my one and only bit of  NYWC fame.  It was also the one and only performance of The Country Quakers.  Always leave 'em wanting more, right? 

Because of Jesus,

Monday, December 14, 2009

Atlanta, 1987

Since you are already here, why not leave a comment or sign the Guestbook?  To quote Bluto, "It don't cost nothing..."

After a five year absence I returned to the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention (NYWC) in Atlanta in the Fall of 1987.  This time, however, I did not go alone!  Terry Venable, Ray Luther and I made the six hour drive south and shared a room together at the Westin Peachtree Plaza (pictured above).  This was a very eventful trip in many ways, so I will I share a few stories today and one big story tomorrow...

We checked in and began to explore this huge tower of a hotel, riding the elevators to the top and checking out the rotating roof top restaurant (which, after checking the prices, we knew we would NOT see again!) and the indoor swimming pool.  We entered the pool area (fully dressed) and found one guy swimming.  He saw us and asked if we were youth workers, and we proudly proclaimed that we were.  Without hesitation, he took his hand and splashed water all over the three of us!  We laughed and moved on, but we also thought him to be somewhat of a jerk.  Later, we found out we had just been splashed by Rick Bundschuh, noted author and illustrator of youth curriculum and a seminar leader at the NYWC. For years after this we would pronounce his name Bund-is-shuu-shuu-shuu, with much the same attitude with which Seinfeld would later say "Newman!"  Rick later became a friend of mine, and as I got to know him I understood that we could have suffered a much worse fate!  Rick was one of the great examples of what it meant to live on the edge for Christ, once losing his job for giving away pew Bibles to youth that didn't have any.  To this day I still refer to it as a "Bundschuh" when someone is fired for the glory of God.  He also wrote the brilliant book Don't Rock the Boat- Capsize It! in 2005.  The book is subtitled "Loving the church too much to leave it the way it is."  Rick is currently a pastor in Hawaii.  It's a tough gig, but someone has to do it!

At some point during the NYWC I took a seminar on publicity and promotion led by Greg McKinnon.  I came out of the session making two promises to myself.  The next summer I was going to program in a brand new way, taking advantage of the free time and the boredom most kids have during summer break.  Secondly, I was going to take our communication with our students to a whole new level.  The direct results of this seminar were the summer booklets I would do for the next 15 years, and the infamous Youth Group Hotline.  In all my years at the NYWC, only a couple of seminars had greater impact on my ministry.

The real story of Atlanta, 1987, however, was a performance by a previously unknown band called The Country Quakers that led to a most unlikely audience member dancing on his table at the Wittenburg Door Banquet.  But that's tomorrow's story!

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Ministry of Pizza Inn

When chronicling the history of my time at Springfield Friends Meeting, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the impact of Pizza Inn.  I am aware that every youth ministry is impacted by pizza is some way.  I know that food is an important part of most every ministry.  Why do you think churches love potluck dinners so much?  In some ways our attraction to Pizza Inn was not unique.  In some ways, however, it was an amazing part of our success.

The Pizza Inn located in High Point was only about a mile from Springfield (as the crow flies!) and so it was convenient.  They had a wonderful lunch buffet at a reasonable price. The words "all-you-can-eat" are always good to hear when feeding teenagers!  We would go, eat salad, pizza, pasta, dessert pizza and bread sticks. And we would drink sweet tea.  The sweetest sweet tea you have ever tasted.  And we would drink it by the gallon!  In the beginning it was just something we did every now and then as a group for Sunday lunch, and we called it Pizza Break.  Eventually it became the place where groups of us would eat most every Sunday.  During school breaks and summers I would often eat there 4 or 5 days a week, usually with a different person or group each time.  It was such a safe place for all of us.  Some days we would laugh so loudly that we expected to be thrown out.  Some days my lunch partner would share deep pain or hurt, and tears would be shed.  Some days we would just bask in the glow of spending time with people we loved.  In the truest sense of the word, Pizza Inn became the place where we would have Communion. We would pray around the table; we would break bread together; and we would share our lives.  When students would go away to college, they would come home and call and want to go to the Inn.  The managers and wait staff knew us and loved us.  It was truly a second home for our student ministry.

Although I shared this experience with many students over the years, when I think of Pizza Inn my mind first jumps to Ken Hill, Todd Farlow, Danny McCorquodale and Jamie Robinson.  We ate there together so many times over so many years, sometimes staying for hours.  I cannot even imagine how much tea we drank or how much pizza we ate.  I do know this- we could all walk into to Pizza Inn today and it would be just like no time had passed at all.  Communion is like that.  It is never ending, not just a sacrament to be shared on special occasions.  It is unfailing.  Because Jesus is the same today, yesterday and forever!  Just like the Pizza Inn buffet...

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I Celebrate the Day

Christmas is less than two weeks away, so it is time to focus on what makes this day special.  Want to more fully understand what we are actually saying when we say Jesus is the Reason for the Season?  Check out the song I Celebrate the Day from the band Relient K.  The song is written by Matt Thiessen, and the lyrics are below.  To listen for free, click here.  May God open all of our eyes so that we may see the gift of the Christ child for what it really was...the gift of salvation!

And with this Christmas wish is missed
The point I could convey
If only I could find the words to say
to let You know how much You've touched my life
Because here is where You're finding me,
in the exact same place as New Year's eve
And from a lack of my persistency
We're less than half as close as I want to be

And the first time
That You opened Your eyes did You realize
that You would be my Savior?
And the first breath that left Your lips
Did You know that it would change this world forever?

And so this Christmas I'll compare
the things I felt in prior years
To what this midnight made so clear
That You have come to meet me here

To look back and think that
This baby would one day save me
In the hope that what You did
That you were born so I might live
To look back and think that
This baby would one day save me

And I, I celebrate the day
That You were born to die
So I could one day pray for You to save my life
Pray for you to save my life
Pray for you to save my life...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Old Enough To Know

Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) became such an important part of my ministry later on that is it difficult to remember that there was a time when I was totally unimpressed by the genre.  My introduction to Amy Grant, who was CCM in the late '70's and early 80's, was through my friend Sandra (Punky) Payne  (Punky was also Dopey, one of my 7 Dwarfs during my senior year in high school.  That's a story I need to flashback to at some point...).  She and Sabrina (Sis) Perry made me listen to Amy and another singer named Evie, and to me both of them seemed like they were singing Jesus Loves Me with electric guitars.  Punky and I even sang an Amy song as a duet at a wedding, but that still didn't light my fire for the music.  In 1983 Michael W. Smith came along and had a hugely popular song called Friends.  It was performed at almost every graduation and by every youth choir for a 5 year period (or so it seemed!).  Other than those brief instances and the few artists I had heard at the National Youth Workers Convention in 1982, I knew very little about CCM when I arrived at Springfield in 1987.

Several things happened to change that.  TNT was underway, and I was desperately searching for door prizes to give away each week.  I attended the NYWC in Atlanta that November and heard lots of good music I had not been exposed to before.  While there, I purchased a new curriculum called Old Enough to Know, based on The Big Picture album from M.W. Smith.  A copy of the cassette tape came with the book.  The music was fun and stuff I thought our youth might enjoy.  The lyrics spoke to the teenage condition.  We used some of the lessons, and they went over well, as did the songs that accompanied them.  I decided that tape would make a good door prize for TNT.  In those days, there was only one place to buy CCM, and that was at Christian bookstores.  I went to our local store and found they did not have any copies of The Big Picture, but they had another project called The Live Set with many of the same songs performed live.  I got a couple to give away- and I was blown away!  These were serious musicians who were rocking the house with some great songs.  My favorite was Old Enough to Know, which talked about the sexual pressures on teens.  I have included the original live video below. The song is great, but it's worth watching just for the 80's hair and clothing! 

Eventually most everyone who was a regular at TNT won a copy of that tape.  Michael went on to become an icon of Christian music who is still doing it today.  His next tape, Eye 2 Eye, was one of two 1988 releases that changed the way I listened to music completely.  Other CCM prizes followed, and the music became a part of my ministry.  Over the coming months I will feature other artists and albums that had an impact on us, as well as some life-changing concert events.  I thank God for the many artists who have inspired me and the students I served over the years, and for their faithfulness in singing for God.  Enjoy the music!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Naked Truth

In October of 1987 the youth ministry of Springfield Friends Meeting was just starting to take off.  We had taken our first Walt Disney World trip; TNT had begun; and we were growing spiritually and in numbers.  Hard to believe I almost killed all the momentum with a movie rental...

I scheduled our second "lock-in" around Halloween.  We played games, had devotions, and or course, spent a couple of hours playing Sardines! To wrap up the night, I rented a couple of scary movies for us to watch while people fell asleep in the wee hours.  One of the movies I chose was called Ghost Story.  I had seen the movie in theaters in the early 1980's and remembered it as suspenseful and scary without being a slasher flick.  It starred some old pro actors, including Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Fred Astaire.  I rented it, took it home, and then very late that night popped it in the VCR and sat back to watch with my youth group.

I made several mistakes that night, and I share them with you now so that if you ever find yourself picking out a movie for a youth group you will not share my fate.  First of all, ALWAYS preview a movie just before showing it.  I don't care how many times you have seen it, if you haven't seen it recently you may not remember everything.  Which brings us to the second point- do not rely on memories from your college days to be accurate!  Things that didn't phase you then might not be appropriate now.  And finally, don't try to impress the youth by finding something they will find scary for Halloween.  Stick with Ghostbusters.  Trust me.

The movie got off to a good, creepy start and the kids who were still awake were into it.  As the ghost begins to haunt the men who had killed her and hidden the body years before, someone can't take it and kills himself by jumping from a skyscraper.  Naked.  For what seemed like an hour (but was probably more like 8 seconds) the camera follows his descent to death.  Eight very long seconds of full frontal male nudity.  I was horrified.  I jumped to my feet, stopped the movie and apologized.  Fortunately, the biggest part of the crowd was asleep.  Those who were awake were laughing at me because I was in a total panic.  They were sworn to secrecy if they wanted me to keep my job.  Thanks be to God, it never became an issue, only something we could tell stories about later.

I hope someone who was there that night will let me know what they thought or remember.  I have never watched the movie again, because after having survived that night I don't really need any more scares!  Aren't we fortunate that God blesses us even when we are stupid...

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Youth Group of the Month

Twenty-two years ago this month (1989) I received a phone call telling me that because of our new TNT program, the youth ministry at Springfield Friends Meeting was receiving an honor.  YOUTH! Magazine, a publication of the United Methodists, was going to feature us in May of 1988 as their Youth Group of the Month.  We would be featured in a full page article and two pictures.  This created a great deal of buzz in our church and our community.  The following is a reprint of the article, written by Mariellen Sawada of YOUTH!  The pictures are from TNT, but are not the same ones that accompanied the original article.  The first photo features Shelley Godwin, a mummy, Jon Moran and Robin Simmons.  The second is of Todd Farlow in one of our famous pie eating contests.  The last pic is of a 60's Revival Night held a few years later.  Enjoy this piece of history!

TNT explodes each Monday night at the Springfield Friends Meeting in High Point, North Carolina.  TNT or "That New Thing" is "an outreach program to the local high schools that has our group growing," wrote Carl Jones, Director of Youth and Christian Education.

Each Monday, the Springfield Young Friends Youth Fellowship hosts an evening of singing, skits, devotional time- and perhaps a little pie-throwing.  "It's a time to get away from school and all the pressure," said sixteen-year-old Todd Farlow.  "It helps get the books off our minds and that time together makes it easier the rest of the week." 

Sixteen-year-old Amy Simmons describes TNT as "a social outreach for other high schools students in our area.  We try to get them involved.  We want them to know other people care."  Caring has been a big factor in the group's growth.  TNT started with a core of fifteen to twenty youth.  After only 6 months, the group has "exploded" to sixty or seventy participants.  "It's been exciting to watch as more people have gotten involved.  The kids are responsible for that," said Carl Jones.  "We can advertise events, but the real publicity is from the kids."   "It's like a chain reaction," explained Amy Simmons.  "Our friends that we brought in have started bringing in friends."  Why do the TNT youth involve others in their fellowship?  Amy Simmons responded, "We want everyone to experience the love and family-like atmosphere we have at TNT.  We care about other people."

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

That New Thing

In October of 1987 the youth ministry of Springfield Friends Meeting began our new outreach program,which we called TNT.  What TNT stood for was a little up for grabs!  Sometimes it meant "That New Thing."  Sometimes it meant "The Next Thing."  For the most part, we just stuck with TNT!  We had spent a month advertising and talking about it, building interest and enthusiasm throughout the community.  Some of the Trinity High School cheerleaders, friends of our own Robin Simmons, were coming to be part of a pie eating contest (see picture- that's Todd Farlow!).  Not much else about that first Monday night stands out in my memory.  There are a few things I am certain of.  I am certain that we sang, and that one of the songs was the old Olivia Newton John classic Let Me Be There.  The song became a theme song of sorts for us, and was also the last song I ever played and sang with the youth of Springfield at our farewell party in 1994.  I am certain there was a melodrama, and that it almost certainly included a character named Pup (which, spelled backwards, is Pup!).  I am certain we played several games, including our own version of the MTV classic Remote Control.  And I am absolutely certain it was the start of something wonderful.

That first TNT did not attract huge numbers.  That came later.  Eventually we would pull in non-Springfield students from Trinity, Southern Guilford, Ragsdale and High Point Central High Schools, as well as from the middle schools that fed them.  Students and leaders from Archdale Friends Meeting and High Point Friends Meeting became regulars at our Monday night event.  There would be times when we would draw as many as 80 youth to TNT.  In later years we would drive 30 minutes to Greensboro to take kids home after the program.  TNT did the three things we wanted it to do almost immediately.  It connected us to lots of new students in our community and helped us to connect them with Jesus.  It put Springfield on the map as "the place to be" for student ministry.  And it gave our students an outreach ministry.  TNT would have never succeeded if our youth had not invited their friends.  Amy Simmons, Todd Farlow, Jennifer Wood, Laurie Rees, Heather Beggs, Jill Gilbreth, Mike Mercadante and many others were much more responsible for our success over the years than I was.  And we had a great time doing it!

I often think about those days at Springfield and all of the wonderful people I came to know and love.  It always strikes me that so many of the youth who were a part of my life I would have never even known were it not for TNT.  You will read more about some of the people and special nights as this blog rolls along, but for today just understand this:  TNT was used by God to change all of Springfield Friends Meeting, not just the youth department.  We were faithful, and God blessed us.  Tomorrow you can read about how it put us in a national spotlight and headed us on to serving God in new and better ways!

Because of Jesus,