The Summit

The SummitYou should join me and a bunch of other youth workers at The Summit. It’s a new youth ministry training event – sorta like TED for youth ministry. It’s happening in Atlanta November 9-10. I am really excited about this! It’s going to be a smaller, more intimate gathering which will give me more space to think and dialogue. It’s perfect for this year as I couldn’t afford to travel all the way to Dallas (I’m in North Carolina) for the NYWC.

Where did this come from you ask? The Youth Cartel. You know, Mark Oestreicher and Adam McLane, both formerly of YS. They have some amazing folks like April Diaz, Brock Morgan, and Andrew Marin coming to speak.

Of course, I’m most excited about the networking. It’s going to be at a church rather than a conference center and I’m going to be meeting up with a friend and mentor, as well as colleagues from the Princeton IYM Forum on Youth Ministry. I’d love to meet you there as well!

Register here: http://www.eventbrite.com/event/3085317267/insiders2012/36844839026

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A Lesson in Negotiation

Time Warner Cable Building

This is my first new blog post in a long while. Trying to get back on the horse. First up is just some thoughts about one of those necessary evils in life in America: dealing with my internet provider.

I get my home internet through Time Warner Cable. I personally have found that at modest speeds, cable broadband is more reliable than DSL and in my home town of Asheboro, NC, if you want internet faster than 10Mbs (1Mbs up), TWC is your only choice.

My first year promotional pricing just expired and thus my internet bill went up. A lot. As in a 75% increase from $40 per month to $70! After fuming a bit, I called them and after talking to two different customer service reps for about thirty minutes (altogether, which isn’t half bad for this sort of thing), TWC conceded to set my price for Road Runner with Turbo Boost (20Mbs down, 2Mbs up) at $52 per month. Charlie, my business major roommate for two years in college would be proud of me. (I have a BA in youth ministry and have never taken a business class and rather cringe at the idea of one.)

Lesson of the day: prices are usually flexible. If you think you are paying too much for something, especially internet or phone service or something. Call your provider and talk with them. Ask them what they can do to get you a better price. Make it about business. You want the best price possible. Don’t be afraid to ask for a lower price or to change companies. Be polite. Respect the person on the other end of the phone. While it’s not their goal to give you the best deal possible, they don’t want to lose your business either. Work with them. Thank them for whatever concession they make, even when it is not enough. Be straight forward.

As a Christian, this sort of thing has been difficult for me. Part of me wants to just turn the other cheek, but I don’t think that’s what Christ had in mind when he instructed us to do that and he also told us (his followers) to be shrewd as they deal with others (Matt. 10:16 and possibly Luke 16:1-13). Righteousness must be maintained in our dealings.

So, what deals have you got in your personal or company business by asking? Is there a time that you wish you would have asked, but didn’t? Let me know in the comments.

Wrestling with Divided and Family Ministry

The thesis of the documentary Divided (available to watch for free here, and I encourage you to watch it before reading any response to it) is that the standard models for youth ministry are unbiblical (meaning antibiblical) and the mass exodus of teens and young adults in the church is either a direct result or a divine judgment upon parents and the church for a mutual failure in following scripture’s instructions for how to disciple the next generation (I didn’t know the Bible had instructions for that).

I found Divided through this blog post from Mark Oestreicher which also linked me to Walt Meuler’s thoughts here. While I fully agree with the criticisms of these two men and disagree with many of the film makers’ theological assertions what I have not seen yet is a synthetic solution to some of the film’s criticisms.

First, there is the idea that age segregation is anti-biblical because it is not seen happening in scripture. I would acknowledge that it is abiblical. We don’t have any evidence of children learning together with a single adult, but the film contends that this is borrowed from public schools which borrow from evolutionary theory and manufacturing processes to produce adults out the end of the school/sunday school/youth group chute. The way to bring this back within the guide of scripture is to eliminate all of these things. (They didn’t specifically address homeschooling, but I bet these people are proponents of homeschooling to the exclusion of public/private schooling.) They want discipleship to be done by parents and led by fathers. For those who do not have a father or do not have a Christian father (or just an inadequate/lazy one?), the other fathers in the church need to step up.

I take issue with some of this (okay, a lot of it), but what I agree with is that (1) the congregation should not be divided in worship beyond having different service times to handle larger numbers than a building can support in a single service and (2) parents need to have an active and primary role in discipling their children. As a youth director, I will NEVER, NEVER, NEVER have a regular youth worship service. I believe that the church should worship together and I will always encourage families to sit together during worship services. I also am trying to figure out how to support parents in their roles as primary disciplers of their kids as well as how to incorporate more family activities into our ministry. I am currently being inspire by Mark DeVries’ work at First Presbyterian Church in Nashville through him books Sustainable Youth Ministry and Family Based Youth Ministry. My other challenge is how to interpret scripture in such a way that avoids the same trap of biblicism (read Scot McKnight’s first article of eight on The Problem of Biblicism) which the makers of Divided and the NCFIC fall into, but still regards its authority and inspiration.

My personal and professional plan of action is to read A Weed in the Church, a book prominently feature in the film. I also am working on ways that our youth ministry at FPCA is failing to disciple kids or stealing parents’ thunder (whether by commission or omission). Not necessarily this year (being my first here and as a director), but I intend to evaluate consistently what we are doing, why, and how it promotes or hinders the ministry of parents to their children. Mark DeVries wrote in Family Base Youth Ministry that things bear fruit through either growth or pruning. What do I need to grow in my ministry? What do I need to prune out? What about you and your ministry?

More New Beginnings

I’ve been in Asheboro, North Carolina for about two months now. I moved here, following God’s call as the Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at First Presbyterian Church. After a crazy introduction which pretty much has just thrown me into the middle of the current, I am really starting to settle in well. My apartment looks mostly lived in. (Although the couple of students that have popped by pointed out my lack of a TV immediately.) I know my way around town. I am a member of the church, have been through committee meetings, sat in on session, assisted in worship, played softball, been in a car wreck (everyone was fine), partnered with Young Life, and fellowshipped with several other youth pastors in town.
I have such a confidence in this being the place to which God has called me, am enjoying the people at FPC and the broader Christian community. I love it here!
Tonight is huge for me. I will be kicking off the school year with the parents and students in a meeting, which I wish was going to be longer and more fun, but paperwork has to get done at some point. I am excited and certainly feel prepared, but at the same time I am stressed. This is my kick-off here and my first one as a director, so that is understandable. I am also wrestling with the weight of my call, and while I accept that whole-heartedly I am humbled that I am being entrusted with the lives and souls of these teenagers and in some senses, their families. Not that I bear that primarily or solely, but I bear it.
It is a burden that in the room tonight share. The primary responsibility parents to guard and guide their children’s spiritual upbringing. It is the same as every other area of a child’s development.
I am here as a resource to them, to help them parent better and to be there for the kids as a partner with their parents to disciple them and to foster a corporate environment where they might be drawn nearer and draw themselves nearer to Christ.
By the grace of God I go unto this great task.

New Beginnings

Things Fall Apart.

This is a book that I read in high school. One that I don’t remember particularly fondly, either. It also aptly describes my life from my last post through the end of 2010. The last several months of 2010 were the hardest -of my life. But I have found before that the hardest times in life – the deepest pains, the toughest situations, the greatest sorrows, the biggest frustrations, are the places where God is teaching me the most. These last several months have been no exception.
The new year has been a sort of new beginning for me. A fresh start. I was on top of the world last July and overcome by it in December, but the time for my mourning is over, though some sorrow will linger.
For many months, even years, God was teaching me to trust him. And now I am in the season of practicing that trust.
I may or may not choose to discuss details of what specifically happened, but rest assured that I am going to be posting again with some frequency and a renewed sense of purpose. I am getting back in the saddle and hopefully be back in ministry before too long, God willing.
Until the next post.
Jeff

Worship Music

Worship is one of those things about church, if not the thing. Americans (maybe others too) obsess over the style, quality, production, lighting, sound equipment, arrangements, volume, distortion, hymns vs. praise songs/choruses, liturgical vs. not, structured vs. free (in the Spirit, of course…), and the list goes on and on and on and on…

Everyone has there opinions, including me, but more often than not, our opinions are merely our preferences and have little bearing on what is honoring to Christ, truly worshipful, what others may find helpful to them, reflect good/bad or mere/specific theology, etc.

All that to be said, the one thing that I absolutely love about certain worship songs, regardless of age, style, or anything else is their focus on Christ. Not all songs fit into this category, but I recently stumbled upon www.reformedpraise.org while reading through my RSS blog feeds on Google Reader. Justin Taylor, a blogger from the Gospel Coalition, posted about them. I was intrigued, so I followed the link, eventually downloading both their albums and linking to them here, on Facebook, and Twitter.

I don’t usually promote things for sale here, but I love these albums and will put them in my regular rotation of worship music listened to, alongside Stuart Townend, Keith & Kathryn Getty, David Crowder Band, Chris Tomlin, Passion, and old Vineyard stuff.

Here’s a link to their new album, which just dropped three days ago: http://www.reformedpraise.org/store/albums/merciful-to-me/

Five Questions with Timothy Eldred

Read this brief article first: Five Questions with Timothy Eldred | Youth Specialties. Then read my reaction and commentary.


I just read this article on YS and was hit with this statement: “Never do anything for a young person they can learn to do for themselves, and young people can make the same commitment to follow Jesus Christ as an adult.”


I am in full agreement with the second part of Eldred’s statement, but the first has me scratching my head a bit. I find it intriguing, but I also am asking myself if this is true the way that he and Endeavor (Eldred’s organization in Michigan) believe this so profoundly and if it has been working for them for the last 129 years, then why haven’t I come across the concept before? Why wasn’t this a part of any of my youth ministry classes in college? Why have I not tried this approach? It’s not revolutionary. It’s merely the logical end of the idea of integrating student leadership into a youth ministry. Instead of mini-leaders or assistants, the students become the primary leaders of regular programming, both upfront and behind the scenes.


I lied to you a second ago. I said that this is not revolutionary. It is. It is the logical end of the student leadership concept, but it is terrifyingly revolutionary. I am reminded of the late great Mike Yaconelli and his concept of messy spirituality (the concept within the book of that title which you need to read if you haven’t already). Placing this amount of responsibility and authority in the hands of high school students, and dare I think it – middle school students(!), would be messy indeed!


If this model of ministry is to be embraced, then the church (or organization) must be committed to it’s success from the onset as success may not be quick or apparent as adults adjust to their new support roles and students adjust to being the leaders. Students leading worship, Bible studies, giving messages, etc will be unpolished and must be given encouragement, support, and freedom to fail. They may say the wrong thing, misinterpret a text, use a terrible illustration, be awkward, and much more.


I think that those drawbacks (not risks, as they are sure to happen) are worth the exploration of this concept in integrating it within the current framework of the ministry. I don’t know that adults should never speak or pray or lead. We need to be good examples to our students and I don’t like the idea of relegating myself to a coach and supporter only. That said, I also believe that there is great merit here and that this could be the best way for students to grow and for the group of students to take ownership of the ministry in ways that will be conducive to their making it a priority in life and I think that it will, as Eldred says, foster students being committed members of churches beyond high school and throughout life. And that is the ultimate goal of youth ministry: to create lifelong disciples of Christ.