Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Here's wishing everyone a safe and (reasonably) sane Halloween!  May the Goblins be festive and the candy be tasty!  I also want to wish a late happy birthday (Oct. 30) to my good friend Jerry Hanbery, the best underpaid, slightly crazed youth ministry intern anyone ever had.  I'll be back tomorrow to tell you about the passing of yet another great man from High Point, NC.  Heaven's getting crowded... 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saturday Shout Outs!

Also Pictured:  Marie Allen, Ashley Goad, Carrie Burton
 Ryan Simmons & Natalie Whitaker
Today my Shout Outs! begin with a special holler at Springfield Friends Meeting in High Point, NC.  This morning at 10 AM there is a memorial service for Max Rees, who passed away on October 25th.   So many people had their lives touched by that great man of God, and Marilyn and I are saddened that we cannot be there today for this time of remembrance.  I find myself missing all of those folks so much this week- especially Max's grandchildren who were such an important part of the student ministry there from 1986-1994.  In the classic picture you see above there are several members of the Rees clan, including Stacy Gilbreth, Beth Brown, Mary Mercadante, David Mercadante and Ben Moran.  I love and miss all of my old SFM family, and my thoughts and prayers are certainly with you all this morning.  But I do have a few other things to shout about as well...

  • Happy Birthday today to Kelly Jeck Trace and tomorrow to Jerry Hanbery (both FUMC-Kissimmee.  Kelly is 26.  Jerry is not.  :)
  • Congratulations to Lindsey Joiner Bennett (FUMC-K) and her hubby Stephen, who became the proud parents of baby Oliver on October 18th.  He weighed 7.4 pounds and was 20 inches long.  Everyone is doing great!  In other baby related news, the Kissimmee crowd just continues to procreate!  Among the couples currently expecting are Jerry & Melissa Hanbery, Todd & Kristin Willis, Nate & Amanda Hill and Jacob Lupfer and his wife Cara.   If all of the old FUMC-K gang still lived in one place the church would have to add on to the nursery!  
  • Had long phone conversations over the past couple of weeks with Ashley Goad Broadhurst (SFM) and Teresa Reep Tysinger (FUMC-K) that shared one thing in common- neither were long enough!  :)  I would love to be able to have those kinds of chats with all of my former youth- so call me!  Email me for my number!
  • I have to sneak in one of my favorite stories that Max Rees used to tell.  He got a golfing lesson at a church auction one time, and went to take his lesson with a local course pro.  At the end of the lesson Max asked the pro what he thought about his golfing skills.  The pro responded that he thought Max should take one more lesson- and then quit.  When Max asked why the pro said, "Because no one should quit when they are this bad!"  Classic Max...
  • Because I know you all care (LOL), Game 6 of this year's World Series (played Thursday night) ranks #3 on my list of all-time great WS games, behind Game 6 of the 1975 Reds-Red Sox series and Game 7 of the 1991 Braves-Twins series.  And congratulations to the Cardinals for winning it all.
  • Ben Thompson (FUMC-K) is engaged.  More details to come!
  • Laurie Rees (another of Max's grandchildren) sent me a really nice note about my blogs this week, as did her brother Will and her mother Judy.  I love that family, and it meant so much to hear from them.  Here'a quick note about Laurie- she was one of the prettiest girls I ever had in any of my youth groups, and she is now involved in Roller Derby.  YES- Roller Derby!  How cool is that?  I have got to get back to North Carolina!!!!
  • And finally- if you are planning on coming to Tampa for Thanksgiving, I need to know now.  Space in the house is filling up fast, and I need to know how much SPAM to buy!  :)  
That's it for now.  Hope you have a blessed day and better tomorrow!

    Because of Jesus,

    Friday, October 28, 2011

    Starting Over: "Strategery"

    This is post #2 in my series attempting to address the question, "What would I do if I were starting a youth ministry from scratch- today?"  To read the introduction to this series simply click here.

    Youth Ministry is not a simple thing.  There is no straight path guaranteed to produce the desired results in the students you work with.  The trail is filled with twists, turns, hills and roadblocks.  Our message- the message of Jesus - should never change.  But the way we deliver that message, the students, their families, their schools, their friends and their culture are constantly changing.  So if I begin a new ministry without a plan of action, without a method to my madness, then my chances of success are very low.  It is difficult to get where you re going if you have no idea where you hope to end up.  You've got have goals and a strategy.  Or as someone famously said, "Strategery."

    There were really two concepts that formed my "strategery" for student ministry over the years, and the combination of those 2 would still be at the core of any ministry I was starting now. First of all, the ministry would be WHOLISTIC.  This made-up word simply means that we would attempt to set up the ministry in recognition that following Jesus involves your whole life.  This concept comes from the scripture found in 1 Thessalonians 2:8- "We love you so much that are delighted to share with you not only the Gopsel, but our very lives as well, because you have become so dear to us."  Our goal is to have students follow Jesus, not be religious.  When youth ministries focus entirely on "church stuff" they too often unwittingly teach the students they serve to put God in a box that only opens on Sundays.  We need to to teach them scripture and basic theology; we need to worship; we need to serve others.  But we also need to play together, to socialize together and to teach our students life and relationship skills, recognizing that "all good things come from God."  My new ministry would be no different.  We would be wholistic.

    We would also be PURPOSE DRIVEN.  Not in the whole Saddleback model kind of way, but in the sense that we would put forth a vision that would establish goals and guide our programming.  By running every idea through our vision statement (like the one here from 2006 at TUMC-Waycross) before putting it in to practice, we know WHY we are doing what we do.  We would include the 5 essential purposes of the church- Fellowship (Connect), Evangelism (Refect), Service (Offer), Discipleship (Grow) and Worship (Praise).  We would begin to establish a lead program for each area.  This will insure that we remain wholistic while never ceasing to focus on Jesus.  

    And finally (for today) I would need to recruit a team of volunteers to help carry out our vision.  In the case of a new start up like the one we are imagining, I would seek out some young adults I know (such as former youth) or students from a local college with a ministry program.  Over the years I found non-parent volunteers to be preferable to most parents- although some of my best team members were parents. Parents of teenagers often come with some baggage.  But whoever it winds up being, you need a team.  That's one huge difference from when I started 30 years ago.  Not only were you encouraged to be a "Lone Ranger" youth pastor, it was expected.  They were paying you to do it- why would you need help?  Now a team is mandatory.  And finding good help is a key to getting this new ministry up and running.

    So we've got a "strategery" and we've got a Youth Ministry Team.  Next Friday we'll take a look at how I would put programs into place and get the word out that there's a new youth ministry in town.  I hope you'll join us!

    Because of Jesus,

    Thursday, October 27, 2011

    Let Me Be There

    In light of the passing of Max Rees on Monday I have spent the better part of the past couple of days thinking about the years (1986-1994) I spent as the Director of Youth and Christian Education at Springfield Friends Meeting.  Lots and lots of stories from those great days can be found on this blog- explore the Springfield label if you'd like to read some of them.    As I thought of the wonderful people that were a part of our youth family in those days and the great memories we share together, there was one song that kept coming to mind over and over again.  We sang it all the time at our events, and in fact it was the final song we ever sang together at the going away party the church threw for Marilyn and I.  The song was Let Me Be There.

    There are several interesting things about the song, which was a pop hit back in 1972.  First of all, in today's world it sounds more country than most country music.  It was never intended to be a spiritual song, but when sang in our particular setting, it was perfect.  Olivia Newton John, who sings it, had a much bigger impact on our group through her performance in Grease.  I'm not even sure the youth knew she had been the original recording artist.  But despite all of that, Let Me Be There became our signature song.  It proclaimed our love for one another and desire to live life together as the family of God.  As I remembered Max and his family,  looked through the old stories and old pictures from our days together and felt a little sad about not being able to attend the memorial service in NC this Saturday, I realized only one thing could really express my emotions and my love for those folks.  One YouTube search later, and here it is- the original recorded version of Let Me Be There.  Even though we cannot be there Saturday in person, we will be there in spirit.  And I hope that everyone from our Springfield years knows that we think of you often and love you bunches.  Even from way down here in Florida- "All I ask you is let me be there..."  Now welcome to TNT- everybody sing!!!

    Wednesday, October 26, 2011

    Remembering Max

    Max & I
    Today I want to remember one of the most special men I have ever known.  I knew that I was going to write about someone who had been a spiritual influence and inspiration in my life as part of the Blog Challenge, and when I received word from my dear friend and former secretary boss Millie Simmons that my friend, pastor and mentor Max Rees had passed away I knew who I would write about.  I served under Max as Director of Youth & Christian Education at Springfield Friends Meeting from 1986-1994.  Max had a remarkable influence on so many, and today I remember the love and faith of his wife Avis, his children Bob, Barbara, Tom, Margaret, Rachel, Becky and Cathy and the impact they had on my life.  Some of this appeared previously on this blog under the title Influences: Max Rees.

    When Marilyn and I arrived at SFM in 1986, Max Rees had already been there over 2o years.  The Meeting was coming out of a very difficult time.   Attendance was down, and so was enthusiasm.  But Max did not waiver in his faith in God or in the people of Springfield.  And his wife Avis was just as strong.  Both of them were of great encouragement to Marilyn and I, and we worked as a team to help bring Springfield back.

    Max had a classic preacher's voice and total command of a pulpit.  My dear friend Patsy Hill once told me that "when Max doesn't preach it's like a PTA meeting instead of church."  Unfortunately, she said that right after I had filled in for him! (HA!)  He visited the area hospitals every day; he visited people in their homes on a regular basis as well.  I not only worked along side him for those 8 years, but Marilyn and I lived across the street from them during that time as well.  He and Avis called the police and kept our home from being robbed one Christmas Eve.  He had a great sense of humor.  I remember one morning, after he had been in a very difficult discussion with one of his daughters, sitting across from him as he looked at me with a straight face and said, "Carl, women are not our kind of people."  He had a witty comment for most every occasion, but was never silly.  And perhaps most importantly, he trusted me with guiding his grandchildren by encouraging their participation in our youth ministry.  Jon, Stacy, Laurie, Mike, Beth, Ben, Jill, Allison, Mary, Erin, Will and David were the heart of our student ministry, and I love them all.  He welcomed us into his home from the very beginning, and his family became our family.  To read more about that you can visit another vintage post, Sunday Dinner.  

    That is not to say that Max & Avis were perfect.  They had been there a very long time and had many preconceived notions of how everything should be done. They were in bed by "Quaker Midnight" (10pm) and up before the sun.  Avis never threw anything away, so we had Sunday School materials dating back to the Ice Age!  Max often disappeared in the afternoons to go feed his cows.  These were minor flaws.  The fact is, they gave their lives each and every day to serve the people of Springfield, and in doing so set a standard for me to live up to.  Through blessed times and struggles their faith did not waiver, and their love for God, for each other, for their family and for their "flock" never changed.  They were indeed the "First Family" of Springfield.

    The late Rich Mullins wrote a song about his family in 1989 called First Family, from his album Never Picture Perfect.  In the early 90's I rewrote part of it to fit the Rees family, planning to sing it when Max retired.  He was still going strong when I left in 1994, so I never performed it.  But I would like to share the words now.  They don't all fit perfectly- and some of it is how I imagine things might have been- but they express how I see Max and Avis...

    Those folks they were always the first family to arrive
    with 9 people jammed into a car that seated 5
    With one bathroom to bathe and shave in eight of 'em stood in line
    There was no hot water for laundry, but they all did just fine

    Talk about your miracles, talk about your faith
    Max, he could make things grow out of Indiana clay
    and Avis could make a gourmet meal out of homemade bread and beans
    They worked to give faith hands and feet, and somehow gave it wings

    I can still hear Max fussing, he's working late on on the farm
    the cows are out of the fence again and the tractor just won't start
    and Avis is doing laundry, I can see it waving on the line
    They just counted on Jesus through the pain and strain of hard times

    Talk about your miracles, talk about your faith
    Max, he could make things grow out of Carolina clay
    and Avis could make a gourmet meal out of pecan pie and beans
    They worked to give faith hands and feet, and somehow gave it wings

    Somehow they raised 7 children, and you know that some things went wrong
    but the pain didn't leave them crippled, and the scars just made them strong
    Never picture perfect, just a preacher man and his wife
    who somehow knew the value of hard work, good love and real life

    Talk about your miracles, talk about your faith...

    Max has now joined the "great cloud of witnesses" I heard him preach about so often.  He will be missed by his 7 children who called him Daddy; by his over 20 grandchildren who called him Papa; and by hundreds of friends who knew who him simply as Max.  His life inspired me to want to be more like Jesus by being more like him.  There is no higher compliment.  My prayers are with the family- we love and miss you all.

    Because of Jesus,

    Tuesday, October 25, 2011

    Occupy My Heart

    Dear Jesus, please occupy my heart today...

    I've been thinking a lot about the Occupy Wall Street protests these past few weeks, in part because I have been trying to decide what their message is and in part because the Tampa version snarled the already hideous Tampa traffic a couple of times last week.   As I have reflected on both of those things, I have come to a conclusion.  The message these protesters are attempting to impart to the nation is a very inconvenient one.  And because it is so out-of-step with our society, there's a good chance that at least part of it is in step with the biblical teachings of Jesus.  Let me explain.

    Jesus talked a lot about the difficulty and responsibility of being wealthy, and the leaders of his day hated it when he did.  Let 's face it- pretty much everything Jesus said rattled the cages of the rich and powerful.  He said it was "easier for a camel to pass through they eye of a needle that for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven."  Contrary to popular opinion, it was not Spiderman's uncle who first said, "With great power comes great responsibility."  It was Jesus.  In Luke 12:48 he reminds us that "to whom much is given, much is demanded."  Same thing.  Jesus told the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 to remind us of our responsibility to take care of those who have less and suffer more than we do.  He warned us that in the Kingdom "the first will be last and the last will be first"- which is not good news for the Donald Trumps of this world.  And when he found people using his Father's house to put cash in their pockets, he went all Chuck Norris on them.  Jesus preached equality.  Jesus preached the right sharing of resources.  And then Jesus cut to the chase:

    Luke 18:18-23  (NIV)
      A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’ 
     “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
     When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
      When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.

    It's not really about the money, is it?  It's about being willing to let go of the things that become false idols in our lives- and so for people who have money, it often IS about the money.  I know almost nothing about finance, I know absolutely nothing about Wall Street, and having been unemployed for 4 years now, I am one of the 99%.  I have to believe that in a country where the average CEO makes 475 times the salary of the average worker, the Jesus Revolution calls for things to change.  But I'm not talking about politics or financial systems.  I'm talking about our hearts.  I believe that you cannot be truly following Jesus if your primary question is, "What's in it for me?"  I believe the OWS protesters (and the people protesting the OWS protesters!) are missing some key points that we Christ-followers need to bring to the party.  There can be no trickle down economics without trickle down LOVE.  There can be no right-sharing of resources without RESPECT.  And there will be no JUSTICE without Jesus.  Want to initiate change in this world?  Let Jesus occupy our hearts.  Viva la revolution!

    Because of Jesus,

    Monday, October 24, 2011

    Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction #1

    When you work for a church- and especially if you happen to serve the church as a Youth Pastor- the true stories of the things that happen around you are often stranger than any fiction you could write.  Today I want to share one such story with you.  It first appeared on another of my blogs this past May.

    Lost And Found in Concert
    I was serving a church in Florida when I arranged to bring the great band Lost And Found to that church for the second time.  The were coming in early October, and there was great excitement around their visit.  The excitement was soon tempered by a series of hurricanes that caused us to cancel Sunday services twice in three weeks, thus putting quite a strain on church finances.  Being friends with the band, I explained our situation and they told me I could mail them a check in a week or two later.  Not only that, but because their travel costs had been less than expected, they wanted to knock $500 off of their fee.  It was an awesome gesture on their part.  They came, played a killer show, and everything went off without a hitch.  Until...

    Several weeks later, after we had payed them, the Chairman of the church Finance Committee came to my office.  He had the contract for the concert and a copy of the check we had mailed them.  He seemed to be accusing me of wrong-doing, but I could not make any sense of his words.  It soon dawned on me that was because his words made no sense.  Since the check had been written for $500 less than the original contract called for, he thought I had done something wrong.  I explained the situation to him, but he would hear none of it.  He was from the business world and simply could not believe that we had renegotiated the contract with a handshake.  We called the band's management, and they explained the situation as well- and he would hear none of it.  He seemed to think that the band and I were in cahoots in some grand scheme- that had saved the church $500.  He ranted, raved, and moved our "discussion" to the Senior Pastor's office- where my boss proceeded to throw me under the bus and tell me I needed to make this right.  I was laughing.  I had saved the church $500, and now I needed to "make it right."  So over my protests- and the protests of the band- the church sent them a check for $500.  It was money they would have loved to have back a year later.  The next time I ran into to George and Michael (they're the guys in the band) they were like, "Dude!  What's up with that wacky church?"  But by then that story seemed pretty tame.  Life working for a church is often nothing short of bizarre.  Truth really is stranger than fiction...

    Because of Jesus,

    Sunday, October 23, 2011

    Psalm 150

    Psalm 150  (The Message)
    Hallelujah! Praise God in his holy house of worship
          praise him under the open skies;
       Praise him for his acts of power,
          praise him for his magnificent greatness;
       Praise with a blast on the trumpet,
          praise by strumming soft strings;
       Praise him with castanets and dance,
          praise him with banjo and flute;
       Praise him with cymbals and a big bass drum,
          praise him with fiddles and mandolin.
       Let every living, breathing creature praise God!

    King David has given you your orders.  Now get out there and get your praise on!  Have a blessed Sabbath, my friends!

    Because of Jesus,

    Saturday, October 22, 2011

    Love One Another

    Every time a new season of campaigns for national elections comes around I am reminded of how easily I am ticked off by political opinions that are different from mine, and therefore simply ignorant (HA!).  I get irritated with people who don't understand that baseball is THE beautiful game.  Rude people make me angry.  There are plenty of people I don't really care to be around.  And yet- Jesus calls upon us to love everyone, including those people we may not like very much.  1 John 4:7 reminds us that "if we don't love, we don't know God, for God IS love."  Jesus said that others will know that we are His disciples by the way we love each other.  Most people outside the church don't see much of that love demonstrated.  They see us fighting, name-calling and disrespecting one another as we dwell on issues that we are against.  It's time to stop focusing on being "anti-everything" and start focusing on being "Pro-Love."  So today, show love to someone with whom you have issues.  Be it a co-worker, a neighbor, a sales clerk, a sibling, a spouse, or even a Cardinals fan- give them a smile and a friendly greeting.  Wish them a blessed weekend.  Help them to see the love God has for them by showing them the love of Christ.  Maybe they are real jerks and do not deserve your love, but that is the beauty of God's grace- none of us get what we deserve.  We get love instead.  And if that's not good news on a Saturday, I don't know what is!  Now sing along with me- "They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love- yes they'll know we are Christians by our love..."

    Because of Jesus,

    Friday, October 21, 2011

    If I Were Starting Over Again...

    Me at work, NYC- 1978
    I first became a youth pastor when I walked into the fellowship hall of Centre Friends Meeting outside of Greensboro, NC in September, 1978.  I was 18 years old.  I knew absolutely nothing abut youth ministry except the things I had learned by being part of a youth group and a Young Life group that together had changed my life.  In the 28 years that followed I did manage to learn a few things.  I served churches in 3 denominations and one para-church organization.  I served as a trainer of youth and religious education workers in a 6 state area.  I made as little as $50 per month and as much as $70,000 (plus a house) per year.  I taught many seminars on youth ministry.  I spoke at (and led music for) national conferences for youth and their youth pastors.  Youth ministry and I have a history.

    The other day when I posted 5 Things I'd Change About Youth Ministry I got a lot of positive feedback from a lot of folks who thought I had some good ideas.  I also got one real pain-in-the-butt question from a regular reader, Chris.  He wanted to know this- "What would you do right now if you were starting a student ministry from scratch?"  Wow.  I hate it when people ask for concrete answers instead of philosophical pontifications.  Other questions immediately flooded my brain.  What did I learn that is still important to me about helping teenagers find a relationship with Jesus?  When, where and how often would my group meet, and what format would those meetings take?  How would I use today's social media to help my cause?  Is there anything I would change dramatically about the way I did ministry?  These questions just came flooding into my mind, and I was intrigued by the thought of answering them.  So much so that I feel a blog series coming on!  

    The 4-Way Grinder in action!
    For the next several Fridays I will be attempting to format a new student ministry, just like I had been hired at a new church with no history and no traditions.  For the purposes of this experiment, the church will be located in the same neighborhood of Tampa in which my family currently resides.  It is obviously a fictional scenario - I will most likely never be in student ministry again- but it will be my way of trying to give Chris (and anyone else who cares!) some real answers to his most excellent question.  And BTW, the first thing I would do- before ever having a meeting or recruiting a volunteer- would be to break out the 4-Way Grinder that is in my garage, set it up in my front yard and let the neighborhood teenagers play.  Almost none of their families go to church, so if (with my son Will's help) I can get the 12 or so of them interested I'd be off to a flying start.  So get ready, my friends.  The old Youthguy is going back to work!  But only on Fridays...   :)

    Because of Jesus,

    Thursday, October 20, 2011

    Welcome To the Sit 'N' Stick

    When last we paid any attention to my life story, I had arrived in Waycross, Georgia in 2006 as the youth pastor at Trinity UMC.  Waycross is a unique place, and my early impressions were a mixed bag of special...and strange.  Today I remember a couple of the things that made Waycross unique.

    Waycross is a "big" small town.  There are several nice motels.  It had all of your standard fast food restaurants (as a side note, the Hardees and Wendy's had signs when I arrived indicating that soon they would no longer except personal checks.  I never knew any fast food places accepted personal checks!), plus a KFC,  KrystalSonic and an Arby's.  It had a couple of very nice seafood restaurants, a great Chinese buffet and Wong's, which may be my favorite Chinese restaurant ever.  It had Dick's Wings & Grill, which I have mentioned in previous posts was a huge part of our student ministry.  Waycross provided me with my introduction to Zaxby's, which was a favorite hang out for lots of the youth.  In fact, I think I met students and families at Zaxby's 5 times during my first full week in town.  Waycross had plenty of food.

    Waycross also had a multiplex movie theater, the Waycross Mall Cinema 7.  The complex was not actually in the mall, but behind it.  My friend (and Associate Pastor at TUMC) David White informed me that the theaters were more commonly known as the Sit 'N' Stick - because you did!  The floor was covered in soda spilled sometime around 1987.  Whole sections of seats were roped off because of water damage.  When the air conditioner came on, the noise reminded me of the rumble you hear at the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular at Disney's Hollywood Studios when the giant ball rolls after Indy.  The theater did not except credit cards, and there was no means of buying tickets online- in 2006.  And I don't think I ever saw a movie there when the projection equipment didn't malfunction at some point- usually between the coming attractions and the actual movie.  Nonetheless, every weekend the theaters were packed, because it was the only game in town...

    I mentioned there was a mall.  Kinda sorta.  Again, I was informed early on that the locals called it The Small.  There just wasn't much there other than the town's only Chick-fil-A, and when it moved out to new facility it felt The Small just completely died.  The youth did a scavenger hunt there one time, and I promise you that the 20 of us doubled the crowd that night.  At various points in time they had a music store, a Chinese restaurant and a sporting goods store, as well as several places that sold some pretty ridiculous clothing styles that even my youth found to be over-the-top.  There was seldom any reason to visit The Small.

    Waycross has much more to offer.  If you love trains, it's hard to find a better place to see them.  The Okefenokee Swamp is located just down Highway 1.  They have their own Christmas Parade and their own racetrack.  And Swampfest is a great festival of food and music held every April in downtown.  There were things to do in Waycross- and Jacksonville, Florida was only an hour away!  :)

    It was a long strange trip that led to Waycross, and an even stranger path that brought me back to Tampa.  If you ever find yourself lost between I-75 and I-95 in south GA, check out Train Town.  Just stay away from the Sit 'N' Stick!

    Because of Jesus,

    Wednesday, October 19, 2011

    Youth Group of the Month (A Vintage Post)

    This post originally appeared on December 9, 2009- back when 10 readers a day seemed like a lot!   It is re-posted here with minor changes.  Enjoy!

    Twenty 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 UMC, was going to feature our little Quaker group in the May, 1988 edition as their Youth Group of the Month.  There would be a full page article and two pictures.  This news 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 Jennifer Simmons, Jeff Byrd, Heather Beggs, Keri Vinson, Patrick Tillman and Geoff Coltrane.  The second is of Todd Farlow in one of our famous pie eating contests.  The last pic is just an average night at TNT.  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, October 18, 2011

    5 Things I'd Change About Youth Ministry

    I've been out of student ministry since 2007, but that doesn't mean I've been away from it.  I read everything I can, I talk with lots of friends who are still employed by churches and I have watched as a large church youth ministry left my own teenage son feeling disenfranchised.  These experiences, as well as my own 28 years as a youth pastor, lead me to this post.  For those of you who are professional youth pastors, you may find these statements to be simplifications and exaggerations.  I can live with that.  Let's get started...

    1. We need to quit jumping on every new bandwagon that comes down the trail.  Churches in general, and youth pastors in particular, tend to overreact to every criticism we receive.  As a result, we have little respect for history.  Someone once wrote that "history wouldn't repeat itself so often if we would just listen the first time."  In every church, in every youth group, there is much to learned from what has happened there before.  Ignore it at your own peril.  Yes, we need to be willing to change, but we also need anchors- traditions and cornerstones for our ministries.  Jesus should be our primary mooring; but there must be others as well.  And we must develop a respect for moderation.  Why must we change the focus of our youth meetings, the method in which we present the lesson and the night we meet all at the same time?  If it's because that's what they did over at Church World, then you're making a major mistake.  Change can be a wonderful blessing, but not if understanding WHY we need to change is a lost art.
    2. We've got to stop pretending that we have easy answers to the questions and disagreements surrounding Christianity.  In fact, we need to learn (and learn it from Jesus) that questions are often better than answers.  We need to stop settling for simple cliches in areas of faith that are very complex.  Exploration is good.  And we need to accept the fact that Christianity comes with built-in gray areas.  Your students already know that.  To try and convince them that faith should be doubt-free and absolute in nature is a lost cause.  I always said that if a student's answers about faith sounded too much like mine, I had failed them.  They need opportunity to grow and develop a faith of their own.  There is joy in the seeking, and growth in the questioning.
    3. Youth Ministry is not now and has never been about systems.  I know of a church that brings in "experts" (strangely they have never asked me!) every couple of years to tell them which system and what staff people they need to reach this generation for Jesus.  Does it really take a new system every 2 years to be effective?  No.  Student Ministry is about relationships.  If your church has forgotten that fact in the mad-dash to install a new system every time attendance drops, then you need to trash it and start all over again building relationships.  Leave room for excitement and mystery.  Create space for differences in theology.  Make everyone feel loved and appreciated.  And most importantly, make sure everyone encounters the radical, amazing, crazy, indescribable love of Jesus Christ.  It's not about a scheme; it's about sharing life together.
    4. Help your students understand that following Jesus is more important than theology (I can feel the stones bouncing off my computer screen even as I type).  How do we do this?  By teaching that we are connected by the Cross of Christ.  Baptists and Catholics?  Connected by the Cross.  Lutherans and Pentecostals?  Connected by the Cross.  Quakers and Methodists?  Connected by me (HA!)...and the Cross!  Our orthodoxy and our practices may vary wildly, but our Savior does not.  Churches are not autonomous.  My church is not "more correct" than yours.  We should not be divided by the style of music we sing or the manner in which we receive communion.  We should be bound together in Christ's love. It's not about loving A church, it's about loving THE church!  We should all be a part of the same Jesus Revolution, and if a church or youth group is hindering that pursuit...then something is terribly wrong.
    5. We must return to the biblical concept that says bigger is NOT better!  We certainly don't believe that now.  We spend our time copying big churches, thinking that's the way it should be. Our church leadership is often totally obsessed with business leadership models.  Face it friends- when we reached the point where someone thought it was a good idea to sell student ministry franchises, we jumped the shark.  Mega-churches seldom have any grasp on what will work for your group of 10.  And trust me on this one- there are a hundred groups of 10 for every one mega-church group.  You should not feel inadequate with a small group- you should feel normal and blessed!  Faithfulness is not measured in numbers.  Jesus chose to work with a group of 12.  He then broke a small group of 4 (James, John, Peter and himself) out of the twelve.  I worked with some very large youth groups, and you know the first thing you have to figure out?  How do I make this group feel smaller?  Trying to achieve "big" makes us jump on bandwagons, focus on systems not relationships, and implies that our way of "doing church" is the very best one.  Of course we all want to reach new people for Jesus.  Just not because it will make us big.
    As long as you're already mad at me, here are 2 more quick bonus tweaks for you: (1) Every student ministry should have a gathering of some sort on Sunday evenings, because that is when the most students have the most available free time.  I know all of the excuses not to, but I'm telling you that not meeting on Sundays means you are missing lots of students.  (2) Youth ministry was never meant to be about games and silliness.  But no student ministry is complete without games and silliness.  In this day and age, more than ever, teenagers need to learn how to play.  Trust me on this.  I'm old.  You should respect your elders- or so I'm told!  :)  Have a blessed day!

    Because of Jesus,

    Monday, October 17, 2011

    You're Soaking In It

    Some of my older readers may remember the old Palmolive dish washing detergent in which clients of a manicurist named Marge would discover they were soaking their hands in the detergent.  She would always reveal her secret by announcing, "You're soaking in it."  From time to time I like to provide you with inspirational readings- Scripture, song lyrics, poetry or some other devotional reading- so you can just soak in it.  Treat the words like a hot tub.  You don't have to DO anything; just sit, soak in them and let them wash over you. Stay WIDE OPEN to what God has to say to you. Today's words come once again from Lois Cheney's 1969 devotional classic God Is No Fool.

    "Be still and know that I AM God."
    The hymns rise and fall.
    The organ lifts and uplifts.
    The choir is practiced solemnity focuses its praise.
    Standing at the sound of prayers, we hear the chants of Scripture fill the nave.
    The sermon adds its one-voice contribution.
    All, all in reverent noise.
    The meeting turns on Christ.
    The conversation patters to Christ.
    The laughter smiles with Christ.
    The daily devotional drowns out the Christ.
    All, all in reverent noise.
    The first bird is heard.
    The baby's cry is heard.
    The embarrassed cough is heard.
    Who is silent?
    Who is waiting for Jesus?
    Who is listening to God?
    "Be still and know that I AM God."

    Because of Jesus,

    Sunday, October 16, 2011

    Happy Birthday, Marilyn!

    My lovely wife is celebrating her birthday today.  She's 29- again!  :)  I hope you will join me in wishing her a blessed day.  She is my soul mate, my confidant, my best friend and the love of my life.  We spent yesterday celebrating at Downtown Disney with Jerry & Melissa Hanbery, and then later shared dinner with our dear friend Lisa Jewett.  Today will be spent with family.  Happy Birthday, Boo.  May this coming year be full of joy and blessings. 

    Because of Jesus,

    Saturday, October 15, 2011

    Saturday Shout Outs!

    It's time for another edition of my Saturday Shout Outs!  Today's post will be a bit brief, as Marilyn and I are headed over to Downtown Disney to meet Jerry & Melissa Hanbery for lunch at Planet Hollywood.  Ready to get started?  Here we go!

    • Tomorrow (Oct. 16) is my wife Marilyn's birthday.  I hope all of you will be sure and send her birthday wishes either here or on her Facebook.  She's simply the best!
    • In honor of my Twitter friends Jason Huffman and Robert Damron (among others) I have shifted my allegiance to the Texas Rangers for the remainder of the baseball playoffs.  I love this time of year!
    • I got a comment this past week (full of typos) from someone claiming to be my dear long-lost friend Denise May Langley (New Garden Friends & Quaker Lake).  Denise, if you're out there, e-mail me at 
    • Ashley Goad Broadhurst (Springfield Friends Meeting) is still in Haiti, working to bring clean drinking water to the people of that country.  Please continue to pray for her.
    • Please pray for Stephanie Greife Owens (Wesley Memorial UMC) whose husband Rod is away at boot camp.  We love you Stephi-Bob!!!
    • Just because it needs to be said- Teresa Reep Tysinger (FUMC-Kissimmee), YOU ROCK!!!
    • Saw the movie Moneyball with Jerry on Thursday and loved it.  I have to see it again and let a little time pass before I decide, but it may well crack my list of my Top 10 Baseball Movies.
    • Thanks so much to everyone who left me birthday wishes and participated in Comment Day back on October 6th.  I had a great day and felt the love.  My friends are just awesome!
    • Marilyn and I love sharing Taco Tuesdays at Tijuana Flats each week with our dear friend Lisa Jewett (Wesley).  We'd love to have any Tampa folks who are reading join us sometime.  Just don't try to take my Cookie Dough Flautas!  
    • And finally...I have been sitting on some big news for a couple of months now that I am finally at liberty to announce.  The Hanbery's are expecting a second baby!  How cool is that?  :)  The babies just keep on coming!!!
    So there you go!  Hope you all have a great Saturday and a blessed Sunday!  See you soon!

    Because of Jesus,

    Friday, October 14, 2011

    Rock the Boat, Baby!

    A great read...

    I grew up believing that "rocking the boat" was a bad thing.  Songs told us to be careful- "Rock the boat, don't rock the boat baby.  Rock the boat, don't tip the boat over"- or to "Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down you're rocking the boat."  Teachers told us to learn to go with the flow so we wouldn't rock the metaphorical boat.  It was the best way to stay out of trouble and keep things under control.  We were even warned at Disney World-  "Please keep your hands and legs inside the boat at all times."  And since the advice seemed to come from so many places, I accepted it as wisdom.

    Jesus, on the other hand, was the greatest boat rocker who ever lived.  He rocked the boat by teaching the old men in the Temple when he was 12.  He rocked the boat by preaching and healing in ways no one had ever seen before. He rocked the boat by telling the Pharisees they were "a brood of vipers."  And he rocked the boat by proclaiming himself the Son of God.  As a matter of fact, Jesus rocked the boat everywhere he went simply by BEING there.  No custom, no leader, no law and no assumptions were safe when Jesus was around.  In fact, in the words of my friend Rick Bundschuh, Jesus didn't rock boats- He CAPSIZED them!

    So how did his followers become so lame?  When did our focus change from rocking the world to be being "nice people?"  I don't know the answers, but I do know this- I spent nearly 30 years working for churches and spending way too much time trying not to upset anyone.  It seems one of the main goals of many churches is to not rock the boat.  I don't work for churches any more, I just follow Jesus.  What difference does that make?  I'll tell you.  If you want to ride in a boat with me now, wear a swim suit.  Because we are all going in!  If the boat is a rockin', then Jesus must be in it.  And that's where I want to be...

    Because of Jesus,

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    10 Things I Miss About Student Ministry

    FUMC-Kissimmee Youth Ministry Team, Christmas Party 1998
    at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort
    I've been out of youth ministry for nearly 5 years now, and not a day passes that I don't yearn for it.  Today I want to share with you 10 things that I miss.  These are not the general "I miss the kids" or "I miss seeing students come to know Jesus."  Of course I miss those things.  These are a bit more specific.  For those of you who were students or volunteers in one of my groups, I hope these will remind you of some great times gone by.  For those of you who currently work with teenagers, I hope these will urge you to treasure the moments you share with them.  Here we go:
    1. I miss praying for a group, loading the vans, and cranking up the traditional trip starting tune- Bohemian Rhapsody!  Even though they were a tremendous amount of work, I miss every minute of every trip.  I was a trip junkie, and I have so many incredible memories.
    2. I miss sitting in the youth room an hour before anyone else arrived on Sunday or Wednesday or Monday- praying for that night's program and the students who would make it special.  I miss the buzz that happened every week as students arrived and waited to see what surprises awaited them.  And I miss the overwhelming excitement I would feel at every church when someone new would come through the door!
    3. I miss sending out the famous Summer Packets that were always loaded with contests- and then waiting for the Youth Group Hotline to start ringing off the hook or the hits to start piling up on the website with excited students trying to win prizes- most of them worthless.
    4. I miss school holidays when my office would be so full of students that I couldn't get anything done- those were some of my best days.
    5. I miss those moments- you know the ones- when all of you realize that you will never, ever forget what just happened to you.  They are etched forever on your brain.
    6. I miss sitting around the table with Youth Ministry Teams, brainstorming the wildest, craziest ideas we could come up with, and then running them through our Purpose Statement to see if they would help us accomplish our goals. I LOVED my volunteers!  Oh- and I loved our Christmas parties!  We had great YMT Christmas events as well as wonderful youth group parties!!!
    7. I miss sitting around the table in a restaurant sharing a meal and talking about life, understanding in those precious moments that we were bound together in God's love. Our relationships ran much deeper than that of just student and leader.  Many of those former youth are still some of my best friends.
    8. I miss standing in front of a youth group playing my guitar and listening to them sing, for fun and for worship.  I can still feel youth rooms shaking as we rocked out to Lahina.  If I close my eyes I can still hear groups split into parts and singing Prince of Peace & Sing Alleluia.  And I got to stand up front and soak it all in...
    9. I miss those moments at events and on trips when you manage to surprise your students in a big way, and they look at you with eyes that say "I can't believe you did this for us..."
    10. And finally, I miss the phone calls.  The ones in the middle of the night after something had gone terribly wrong.  The ones when a student had just been dumped.  The ones when they just heard an old song on the radio and they know I would know what it was.  The ones to tell me that they just made the team or just got a new car.  And especially, the ones when I knew Jesus was working in their lives.  I miss being someone they knew they could count on.
    I could go on and on, and I probably will at some point.  But that's all for today.  I'm off to pray for a whole bunch of old friends...

      Because of Jesus,