Archive for the ‘soul care’ Category

Every once in a while I hear something that gets my brain buzzing about middle school ministry, and even more scarcely I actually have a unique idea of my own. Some of these may need full blog posts, but others just need a “simple thought.” Thus, here is the inaugural “Simple Thoughts” blog post.

  • Today we had an extended time of leader training for our volunteers in student ministries. For the last two hours Brooklyn Lindsey joined us and shared some of her own thoughts. We were definitely spoiled to have her at Southland. One of the things she said that stuck out to me was a good, simple reminder: Middle schoolers don’t need us to be like them; they want us to like them.  While it’s important to get excited for the things that are special to our students, we don’t have to pretend to be someone we’re not. I have never been (and will never be) a big video-game guy. If I try to carry a conversation about the newest video game, whoever I’m talking to will quickly realize I have no clue what I’m talking about. I simply need to be me but also validate the middle schooler’s experience and excitement.
  • We did the Interlude dance during leader training today… and it was amazing. Even though Brooklyn was introducing it to some of the crowd, I’ve made my leaders do it at our middle school services many, many times (side note: I really do mean it when I say “made.” For some reason, some were reluctant to dance!). I think they finally appreciate how much fun it is! It’s become our own little tradition. I’m wondering how valuable it is to have these traditions with our leader teams. As we create “backdoor community” with our volunteer teams, we have to play together and celebrate traditions like a family. (Also, if you haven’t introduced the Interlude dance to your middle school ministry, do it.)
  • I am finally taking some vacation time starting this Thursday. I am definitely ready for some rest. This has been one of the busiest ministry seasons since I started doing youth ministry, and I’m excited to sleep in and read a lot of books. At the end of my vacation I am going to the Middle School Ministry Campference in Indiana on October 26-28, and I could not be more pumped. I have nothing but good things to say about this event. If you are in middle school ministry, either get there this year or put it on your schedule for next year. Let me know if you’re interested in coming this year!

Whether you’re a youth pastor, a volunteer, a teacher, or a parent, you know that investing in middle school students can be a difficult experience at times. It’s not always hard, and it shouldn’t be, but there are times when everyone wonders, “Is this worth it? Am I making a difference?” I go back to those questions at least a couple times per year. Only by the grace and power of God do I persevere and remember this important truth:

I am a seed planter.

When I meet with a small group of middle school students and teach them the truth from Matthew 5:11, does every student go to school the next morning and seek to be persecuted because God will bless them if they are insulted for His name? No! (But wouldn’t that be cool?!) I have to lay the foundation before truths start to translate into action and fruit in their lives. Listen to this quote from Eugene Peterson, who writes of pastoral work within his congregation:

“The person…who looks for quick results in the seed planting of well-doing will be disappointed. If I want potatoes for dinner tomorrow, it will do me little good to go out and plant potatoes in my garden tonight. There are long stretches of darkness and invisibility and silence that separate planting and reaping. During the stretches of waiting there is cultivating and weeding and nurturing and planting still other seeds.” (Traveling Light)

We need to remember our roles in middle school ministry as seed planters. It is easy to get frustrated and question our effectiveness when we see little change. But reflect on what Peterson says in the quote… If we want potatoes for dinner tomorrow, it doesn’t do us any good to plant the potatoes tonight! Of course, as Americans we start to think about the other option to just go buy potatoes at the grocery store, but that’s not how the Holy Spirit works. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but the norm in our kind of ministry is of long waiting and often long suffering. So you have to choose if you’re willing to be faithful in the ministry of seed-planting: watering, nurturing, weeding, planting new seeds… It’s not easy business. But trust in the Lord and His work – It’s not about ME or YOU, but only about HIM.

Some people have asked me how I measure success in middle school ministry. I always tell them, “Ask me again in 10 years.” I know that for many of the students I have been in contact with over my years in middle school ministry, the change won’t happen until later in their lives. Now, that doesn’t excuse us from teaching, exhorting, and even rebuking sin in their lives today, but it does release us from expecting results immediately. One of my favorite things in ministry is when one of my former students contacts me and tells me about the Kingdom-things they are doing in the name of Jesus now in college or even in high school. Just recently I’ve been inspired by a former student of mine named Karly, who courageously faces a difficult immunodeficiency called Dock-8 everyday and still gives praise to God. She writes a blog for others to see for themselves how she maintains her faith in Christ. You can see that here:

The truth is that one day we might even learn from our own students if we give them the time to grow in the knowledge and love of Christ. Be patient. Love deeply. Trust in the Lord.

How do you plant, water, nurture, weed, and plant again with the students in your influence?

A Middle Schooler’s Psalm

Posted: November 28, 2011 in creativity, soul care, worship

Yesterday at our middle school service, we decided to mix it up for worship. Instead of having live music from a band, we opted to have worship stations. Each station was designed to help the students creatively express their worship to God. It’s not a revolutionary idea by any means, but it was the first time trying this with the middle schoolers, so I was a little nervous. But WOW, they responded so well! There’s nothing more heart-warming and humbling than seeing middle schoolers praying for each other.

One station we put together was centered around the students reading Psalm 139, answering a few reflective questions about the Psalm, and then writing their own personal Psalm to God. I told the students that it didn’t need to be poetic or rhyme or anything like that; it simply needed to be their own expression of who God is to them. I want our students to understand that worship is both a communal and personal spiritual discipline. I wanted their personalities to come out through their writing.

Today I got to read through several Psalms that our students wrote. I was so moved by them that I decided to post a few on here to both encourage you, and to get some great insight into the worshipful heart of a middle school student. Enjoy!

Number 1 – Very poetic and rhymes, but also very honest.

God, you are everlasting love, shining down from above.
God, you are never-ending care, compassionate beyond compare.
God, you created me and this earth, you knew me before my birth.
God, I give you my heart so full of sin; you take me still, you are the most loving member of my kin.

Number 2 – Love the ending of this one

Lord, how can I rise every morning and know the evil I have made and looked for.
Sometimes I believe there is a place to hide from your grace, but there is none,
And I’m so exposed, feel meek and small,
But with you I feel as courageous as a lion.

Number 3 – This one is painfully honest and really reveals the struggle within the flesh

I look around, I see His beautiful eyes, ever perfect on the outside a normal man, but on the inside I can here him say: let me in there, it’s dark and cold, let me in, I will shine your world. I go to school and forget all about him. When I turn around I see a nerd get pushed around, I thought nothin I can do then I hear him sayin: let me in there, it’s dark and cold, let me in, I will shine your world. I run and let God in and help those in need

Number 4 – I like how this one expresses who God is to the student

You’re always there
I shall never fear
For you are always near

You always care
When I cry
You are always by my side

You know what’s best
God, you are always to be Lord
To be Lord through night and morn’

You are my Father,
my Savior,
my healer

You love forever
You’re here forever

We need to create space for middle schoolers to express their pain, their doubts, their joy, their excitement! I think too often we count our 6th, 7th, and 8th graders out because, as one middle school volunteer in a different church told me, they “don’t have enough life experience to understand real pain or joy.” Well, if you read those middle schooler’s psalms, I think you see plenty of pain and joy. We need to be more creative to help our students express their emotions and thoughts about God and faith. And when we do… well, we might experience our own kind of pain and joy as we enter the story of a teenager.

Dryness. This is the best word I can think of to describe my spiritual state last week. All of my attempts to create spiritual growth in my life and our students’ lives felt like they were coming up short. Combine that with the sad news of the budget cuts at Vanguard Church and the pink eye I contracted from a roommate of mine, and it was a rough week. I knew I needed a mini-retreat.

When Friday rolled around, I removed myself from all my responsibilities and all people to dedicate the day to God. It all started with reading half of A.W. Tozer’s book God’s Pursuit of Man. It doesn’t matter what Tozer book I read; I always come away with a fresh insight about who God is and what my relationship with Him looks like. I highly recommend his books to anyone looking to be challenged with some classic Christian writing. Something in particular he said really stuck with me:

“He must count no time wasted which is spent in the cultivation of His acquaintance.”

Immediately I was struck by the amount of time I spend pastoring students in comparison to the amount of time I spend cultivating His presence in my own life. I wasn’t neglecting my own spiritual walk by any means, but I’m not sure if I was seeking Him with the fervor that is necessary for daily ministry with middle school students. But God continued to teach me more…

As I spent the afternoon praying and reading through scripture, God directed my attention to John 15, which incidentally was a passage I taught in the middle school group a couple weeks ago. Rather than summarizing the passage, I want to write it out for you so you can grasp the absolute importance of what Jesus is saying here:

 1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

    5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Jesus is saying clearly and simply that any fruit we produce is because the Father produced it first. A branch alone cannot produce fruit; it is dependent on the vine. Similarly, we cannot presume to produce fruit (i.e. spiritual growth, character, Spirit-filled life, kids that love the Lord, etc.) without abandoning all our efforts to the Lord in order to allow HIM to make the fruit.

When I’m working with middle school students, occasionally I catch myself becoming over-confident in my abilities. It is hard to admit, but I know there are times when I believe my relational and teaching skills will make me an effective youth pastor. I wouldn’t ever vocally admit this, but it’s amazing how those lies will creep in and set up camp if we don’t address them. Satan will tempt us into worshiping the gifts instead of the Giver of the gifts.

As I was reading the John 15 passage, I felt God speaking clearly to my spirit, “Remember that you are a branch; you are not the vine. You cannot produce fruit in your ministry or your life if you do not remain in me.” I almost feel silly talking about this “new” revelation I received from God, as if I didn’t know it before. But for me it was one of those “AHA” moments that I won’t quickly forget. I must be completely dependent on the Father if I ever want to see fruit in the Hive Middle School Ministry of Vanguard Church. I can’t make it happen. Our leaders can’t make it happen. Our parents can’t make it happen. It is the ability of Jesus alone.

After coming to this re-realization on Friday, I was excited to give up control to the Father. Yesterday’s middle school service was one of the most encouraging and exciting services I have ever been a part of in youth ministry. I stopped worrying about what I could do to create fruit and started praising God for what He was doing. Students were lifting their hands praising God in worship, learning what it means to live their lives as a living sacrifice for God, discussing the need for justice and involvement in Swaziland, and talking in the 8th grade small group about what it means to be a leader and influence the younger students in the youth group. I left Sunday morning with so much joy and excitement for the fruit that God is growing in our students.

Now, in the influence you have with middle school students as a parent, volunteer, pastor, teacher, or otherwise, can you genuinely say that you completely depend on the Vine to bring fruit in the lives of your students?

Do you feel as if your attempts to create spiritual growth in your student(s) are coming up short?

Do you consistently lift up your student(s) in prayer to the Father?

Are you trying to be the Vine in your students’ lives?

Are you content with being a branch?

 My prayer is that we all (pastors, volunteers, parents, etc.) begin to recognize our ever-present dependence on God to bring fruit in the lives of our students before we exhaust ourselves with man-made attempts to transform. Our lives and ministries will only wither and die without the Vine.