Thursday, May 31, 2007

Thinking Out Loud: The Flip Side

Yesterday I asked a very serious question about establishing a presence in the Christian publishing industry, including Christian retail. From what I can gather, the industry is in serious decline, anyway, with each publishing house depending on a runaway blockbuster to maximize profits while most other books break even.

So, I gave some examples of thinking out loud on a philosophy of ministry that would involve an "end run" around the industry in order to do ministry. Today, I'll give the counterpoint to what I brought up yesterday.

First, I mentioned the idea that it would be presumptuous of me to assume that people would want to pay for what I wrote. Well, the first counterpoint is that any writer, Christian or non-Christian, lets the market bear that responsibility. In other words, nobody's putting a gun to their heads (like college professors kind of do) to buy any book. And, if it's good, got something to say and adds to the big world of ideas...well, folks usually get around to financially rewarding those who are truly innovative and creative.

Secondly, "self-publishing" has drawbacks (namely the initial financial commitment from the author), but it also has some plusses. Innately, those seem to be that if you truly believe in your message, you'll want to get it out there to people that need it...and Christian publishers can take a lot of time from the initial acceptance to putting the book on the shelves. Sometimes that can take two years. You can do it in half the time yourself...if not a quarter of that time. Also, this gives you and your creative friends a chance to collaborate--everything from the cover art to the layout to the editing to the photography of the author. It's a little-engine-that-could kind of fun thing that might be worthwhile just going through the process...profit margin or no.

Blogging is limited in scope. It might be cost-effective, but there's only so many blog readers. Sure, you could be aggressive and advertise (although it would seem somewhat weird to put ads in our church bulletin for links to our staff's blogs) but that still doesn't have the broad-based appeal of books/retail. Besides, you can do both.

Complete creative control can be a negative. Editors are extremely helpful, and professionals can take a very good idea and turn it into excellence.

Comments do allow for interaction, but if you set up a web page to support the book, you can get that same thing accomplished. This, too, would allow more of your friends to be involved in the process. As for the "in person" thing, I'd imagine you'd get a lot more "in person" if you went on the obligatory "book tours" where you signed copies. Especially in Christian pubishing, you could increase that exponentially by touring churches and such.

It might not be daily...but it becomes timeless if it's in book form. It'll sit on library shelves or exist in homes or friends will loan it out or it'll find its way into folks' hands in a variety of ways. There's still something to holding a book in your hands that will never go may change but books will always be around.

And, finally, to the point of a writing ministry "collective," well, you can still have books published and join other writers to form collectives and get together and drink coffee and critique and run ideas past and still have time to use a web collective for other endeavors big and small. If it were an in-person collective, much more the better.

So, that's the flip side of yesterday's thoughts...
A Disturbing Trend

Got the latest version of Christianity Today magazine. It's web tagline says it's a "magazine of evangelical conviction."

Now, I do understand that magazines make money by selling advertising.

But this month's edition was in my box at work, with the cover showing actor Steve Carel dressed as the Biblical character Noah underneath the CT logo. It had little snippets that looked like they were telling you what was in the articles, but they were really just ads for the upcoming movie "Evan Almighty"--a follow-up to Jim Carrey's "Bruce Almighty"--in which Morgan Freeman, as God, interacts with people on earth.

But it wasn't really the cover.

It was a special advertising supplement. Underneath the pseudo front and back, there was the "true" cover, which, interestingly, had an article about the director of the movie and how he viewed his profession. That article was a good one, as was the one about Donald Miller (which I couldn't find on the on-line edition yet), as was the one about the future of Christian publishing.

Listen, the magazine has sold itself for years.
And I understand you need to turn a profit.
And I liked the first movie and will see the movie you're promoting--in fact, the director is very much salt & light (just listen to the director's chat over the Bruce Almighty DVD if you weren't aware).
And I don't care if you sell as many ads as you want inside the cover, or the back cover for that matter.
And your I get your niche marketing...and Hollywood's, for that matter.
And maybe this special cover went only to subscribers and isn't on the newsstands.

But, no matter what...

...the cover is yours. It defines your magazine and what it's about.

And I don't think it's about a movie. Any movie, no matter what the content of that movie.
And I don't think it's about advertising. Any advertising, no matter whether or not you're paying the bills.

But, CT, you've set a very dangerous precedent.

Be very, very careful.

And maybe apologize and promise never to do it again.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Thinking Out Loud

Several people have been commenting, in this forum as well as by other means, that I should write a book. Some in response to my "19 Things I Learned In 19 Years of Youth Ministry" series and others just on sheer volume of blog entries and stuff like that.

And I'm wondering if there has to be a book.

I mean, isn't there some way to have a writing presence in Christian ministry without using the vehicle of the "Christian publishing" or "Christian retail?"

Sure, I could use the extra cash. Who couldn't? But that's awfully presumptuous that what I write is worth reading to the degree that people would pay for it. And, extra cash, in and of itself, is a lousy motivation to do anything.

It seems to me that "self-publishing" a book is a financial outlay early in the hopes of recouping the investment through your own marketing and such. I've had friends do that, and they got a book out and sold enough copies to make a little bit of dough, most of which was just enough to push them into a little higher tax bracket and the government got most of it. Most of their books now sit in boxes in their garage and they mail out 4 or 5 per month after initially strong sales a few years ago.

So, maybe blogging is the best way to do ministry.

It's free...for the service and for the "end-user."

It allows me complete creative control.

And it allows for interaction through comments, both on the blog and "in person."

And it's daily.

So, I'm sincerely asking if there's a more creative and innovative way to have a writing ministry. Maybe through a local "collective" or some other similar activity.

Anyone? Anyone?
Bedtime Stories

I have an affinity for children's books. In fact, there's a shelf in our home dedicated entirely to those that our children enjoyed for whatever reason or the ones we liked to read to them for whatever reason.

And last night my 4 year-old neice gave me the perfect opportunity to pull one off the shelf and read. Hey, she's going to be here for the rest of the week so there's no need to go all-out with more so early in her visit.

I chose Bentley and Egg. It won some award from the people who give out awards to children's books. The art is excellent and the story uses big words (like "pandemonium") and nice phrases (like "the ship sat amid ships shimmering") and has all the elements kids love: frogs, ducks, stuffed animals, drawing, singing and loads of imagination.

My neice liked having me read and listened to the story. It's a good one, too.

But what was really the highlight to me was that my 15-year-old and 13-year-old came into the room and listened to the story once they realized which one it was.

They made the faces in the pictures like we used to do.
They sang the songs to the tune we made up...and remembered most of the words.
They sat and listened, even if they weren't in the sight lines of the pictures.

And it made me glad that we read to them every night before bed time when they were 4-year-olds.

I think bedtime stories should be a Parents United official mandate. And I think there should be quality control on the reading list of which I, as benevolent dictator the organization, will oversee. Nominations will be accepted.

Tonight's agenda: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day. I'm already looking forward to it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Places I've Lived

Tracy spent a great deal of time yesterday putting the finishing touches on the house before the in-laws got into town. They're here for Kid2's ballet recital Wednesday night, and that spurs my wife on to finish up those projects that were all 80% completed and straighten up those areas that we're okay with leaving as is when it's just us.

And somehow I wound up thinking about all the places I've lived in my whole life.

The first house I lived in was in Fairfield, Alabama. A blue-collar community that housed a LOT of steelworkers who worked for U.S. Steel. Primarily, my memories are stirred by Super8 mm movies my parents took...but one really good memory was that you could ride Big Wheels at full-speed in the carport even if it was raining. I also remember my dad let me help him wash the Chevy II every Saturday.

My parents moved to the suburbs where, apparently, everybody who got promoted at U.S. Steel moved to. My dad and his friends met at Bill Taylor's gas station for coffee every morning and carpooled to work. It was a two story, three bedroom deal that my Mom lived in for nearly 35 years. The suburb was called Bluff Park, which was appropriate because it really was near a bluff that had a historical marker calling it Lover's Leap. I'm not sure I buy the story. It was a park, too, because there were plenty of "woods" near the house that allowed for shooting tin cans off the back fence with BB guns or playing army or large hills for top biking speed (or sledding or skateboarding). It was a land of little league and consistency. It was Alabama, and nobody moved in or out. My room was loaded with posters of Suzanne Sommers, Bo Derek, Loni Anderson and Kiss. I also had the same poster everyone else had with Terry Beasley and Pat Sullivan sitting together on the sideline (they were Auburn football legends). The music that came out of that room was a mixture of Van Halen, AC/DC, Ozzy, Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin.

My first place at Auburn was an apartment in the same complex my uncle lived in some 20 years earlier. We furnished it with the stuff that college kids scrounge up and all three of us moved out to move into various fraternity houses.

The fraternity house was everything you'd see in Animal House, except pledges kept the place looking somewhat respectable. Hollywood and I lived in room 12 at the end of the hall. Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" album cover was poorly painted on the door and we had homemade bunk bed and desks. We put a ton of corkboard on the walls so we could put all the "zaps"--the pictures a photographer takes at your parties and sells them to you with the little blue writing on the bottom--we had on them. Our room had premium cable (rent was REALLY cheap as our house had been paid off years before) and we had community showers and you never knew when someone would have a couch throwing contest or throw a keg through a window. The place really came to life on Thursday nights and AU football game days. It was truly a zoo, and the music that came out of that room was after the heavy-metal/punk phase out of 1984 and into the college rock phase: Talking Heads, R.E.M., B-52's and stuff like that.

I did live in two different apartments in the summers. In both, me and roommates decorated the walls with magazine covers or newspaper photos that we'd fake autograph. You know, like boxer Ray "Boom-Boom" Mancini in the cover of GQ and it would say, "To Brent and Ron, You Guys Knock Me Out. Sincerely, Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini." We had easily 100 of these things. I made C's. Ron made A's.

Tracy and I have lived in an apartment complex for a year...

...the we bought our first home. It was back when you got a starter home and worked your way up. Folks these days start out better than where I am now, but we loved that little house. It had our first nursery...but no central air. Window units, man. We didn't have much to redecorate with but we did our best. And teenagers were over CONSTANTLY, which is why we bought the house. Most of my memories there are from kids coming over pretty much all the time. They even got into croquet, reading the rules and developing strategies. There were times when games would take two hours or so, and they'd come over right after school to play before it got dark.

We moved to a place we never saw in Mesquite to go to seminary. DTS recommended it and we snapped it up. It was nice, but the heater was a radiator in the hallway, which you've got to keep little kids away from that. What I remember most about that place were the neighbors, Rusty and Penny. They couldn't have been more sterotypical Texan, with old cowboy boots as planters on their porch and constant invitations to tractor pulls or dirt-track racing at Devil's Bowl and Rusty (a former employee of the cable company who left on sketchy details) pirating cable "for a birthday present, and you can't get caught because I stole a bunch of their own equipment when I left and they only detect Radio Shack filters to catch people." Rusty also put a golf ball in a sock to simulate hail damage so he could get his truck re-painted.

We then lived in a duplex in Rowlett with neighbors Jerry and Sally. That time in my life was a blur because of working at a sports memorabilia store, and a growing student ministry that was supposed to be 10 hours a week but evolved into 40 with no increase in pay, and going to DTS full-time. It was the first time we had a fireplace and, if memory serves correctly, a dishwasher.

We moved to Flower Mound and lived in a rental house for a year. It's where the CBC kids came over all the time and invented Full Contact Uno, a voracious appetite for Pop Ice and chocolate (a nice lady at our church was a grocery store rep for M&M Mars and would pull the candy off the shelf if it wasn't "fresh" but was still "edible" for another two months or so and gave me all that for free, which never lasted the two months) and post-Wednesday night Bible study hang-outs where parents called at 10PM to ask where their kids were. We were their first call, too, which is a great youth ministry tribute.

Finally, we moved into our current location and have lived here nearly 11 years...which may explain why it feels so cluttered at times. The yard is huge, but impractical (think three long, thin rectangles) for much of anything out there. We have a fireplace (real wood only, please) and a dishwasher. We've converted one of the bedrooms into a studio with mirrors we got from an area orthodontist who was putting them by his dumpster. It's great for ballet, but apparently the flooring we have there isn't up to standards anymore so it's pretty much evolved into a paint studio. Tracy has her photography office where a dining room used to be (who uses those anymore, anyway?). I have my favorite La-Z-Boy lounger which is nearly 25 years old and I read my paper at the breakfast table in the kitchen and the girls' rooms have morphed several times and we've decorated in early IKEA fashion--high function/minimal space/average quality/nice affordability--since the place opened in Frisco. It's got lots of original art on loan from Kid1's gallery. And, it's the kind of place that when something breaks and you need a repairman, he starts with, "Wow. I didn't know these things were still functioning. They don't make replacement parts for it anymore so you'll need an entirely new one." Doesn't matter what the "one" is. We replace it with the great advancements made in whatever it is over the last three decades.

I have no idea why I told you all about this. I guess I'll consider it personal record-keeping...

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words

from yesterday's "Opus" by Berke Breathed

People have died for freedom.

Their families have suffered.

I remember.

And I'm thankful.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...that this spring we've had so much rain that people are starting to complain. It makes me terribly happy, and I really do think I could live in the PacNW and still enjoy that amount of rain/drizzle.
...that by Monday night, I will have attended 83 job-related graduation ceremonies. students gave me a leather case that you can keep your journals in and re-fill it. I enjoy it when my teens "get" me. New Year's resolution to eat well isn't holding up so well, but I still haven't had any carbonated beverages in 2007.
...Doonesbury, the cartoon strip, gets Memorial Day "right" every year. You may disagree with his politics, but you can agree with this sentiment.
...I watched part of a PBS documentary on famed photographer Annie Leibovitz. I like it when I see her talk about the things that make her "tick" and see those very same things in my wife.
...the first few days of summer vacation in my little burg are peculiar because it seems like nobody knows what to do with newfound "down time."
...the in-laws are coming for Shelby's dance recital next week and I'm looking forward to it. I have been blessed with a good family to marry into.
...bathroom redecoration is nearly complete and that's very nice. For some reason, I get very annoyed when works are "in progress" even though I know that it'll be great when it's done.
...piggybacking on what I heard some radio DJ's talking about: I think we "over-graduate" so much in our society that it de-values the worthy ones. You know, the kindgergarten, elementary school and middle school ceremonies have watered down the important ones. I've always thought graduation ceremonies prior to university were for the parents, anyway.
...I think Jerry Jones has put something in the water because I've never really wanted to go to a Super Bowl before. I enjoy the idea of the USA sitting down to watch a game together in various sub-groups and like being a part of that relational venture, but with the 2011 Super Bowl coming to the Dallas area, I actually think it'd be cool to go. Of course, the way that event works is that NFL sponsor corporations will get the $900 seats anyway. But for some reason I think I'd like to go.
...there are few things worse than watching the local baseball team circle the drain BEFORE FREAKIN' MEMORIAL DAY.
...the Dallas Morning New religion section (which comes out every Saturday) has gone downhill since they put it in the Metro section instead of it's own pull-out section.
...all of you who keep harping on me to write a book on youth ministry obviously didn't notice the extreme drop-off in comments at The Diner over the last three weeks. There's just not that much interest to publish in that niche market unless you're already a "name" youth minister.
...I read that if every driving American cut one gallon a week from their gasoline usage, it would cause a drastic drop in prices. It's discouraging that it never hit my brain that our citizenry would willingly slice some 25 miles from their personal routines. I don't know if my 4 mile commute is a big culprit and most weeks I don't even drive 25 miles, but there are still some ways I could cut it if I thought about it.
...Mother's Day this year wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be.
...I don't think it's good for me to have a friend as a tattoo artist. reading has slowed considerably, but that's actually kind of a good thing because work is excitingly busy and new challenges have my mind hopping with all sorts of creativity. Not to mention the reality that Christian publishing is in some kind of funk or something because I couldn't find one good book published last year worth giving to my seniors. I gave them Green Eggs and Ham because, well, they'll probably learn more about evangelism, perseverance and trying new things from that than anything they'd buy at a Christian retailer.
...that having a rainy Sunday morning with a cup of coffee (Chock Full O' Nuts brand!), with the newspaper and church services to look forward to are really a nice start to a day.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Proud Dad Alert

I know.

I know.

Coming off a three-week series devoted to one topic many of the patrons are expecting a bit more diversity today, but I really have been waiting to put this out there.

First, Kid1 comes home from her last day of school loaded down with her portfolio of art from this year...much of it I had never seen. I could literally load 10 pictures in here, but I chose the two that struck me the most:

First, her art "final": 24 x 18 oil on canvas.

And this one she titled "Ode To A Water Bottle": 12 x 16 watercolor.

I could boast...I mean, POST...more. That portfolio had a LOT of stuff in it, and I'll leave it to her to post what she wants and put it on her painting site...of which those of you who are interested can track it down I suppose. Apparently, my tax dollars were used well in that arena at good old M.H.S.

And, then, there was even more good news: Turns out the day she brought home that portfolio from good old M.H.S. would be the last day she'll be attending good old M.H.S. We got a phone call that morning that the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts would like to add her to their sophomore class beginning next fall. She's already been down there and picked up her summer assignments and seems excited about it all. I'm excited for her.

I do indeed lead a charmed life.

Friday, May 25, 2007

19 Things I Learned In 19 Years Of Youth Ministry, Part 19

In our state, the government has a test which high school students must pass in order to fulfill the graduation requirements. That test is quite the political football but the idea behind it is that there are certain things that our state feels that every student should have in their educational tool belt before we confer accolades on them. I can't say one way or another if that's what that particular test does, but I can say they are trying to ensure that Texas students have a base-line of things they learned.

In many businesses, when an employee leaves, the company has something called an exit interview. You know, the kind of thing where a boss or H.R. rep will sit down with a former worker and discuss how they were treated, what could've been done more efficiently, what was done well, what the terms of severance might be, etc. It's a chance for the employer to find out what they do well with regard to the people they hire for the work they do as well as the chance for the person to let the company know why they aren't staying.

(Side note: I had a seminary professor do this with people who left his church. He wrote a book about it, too. I think that should be a requirement for church leadership to execute exit interviews, but I've found that most people I've asked are polite but don't tell you the whole story, so maybe it's a time waste.)

Most of my student graduations take place some time this weekend...and if I were to give them an exit interview on what the primary elements of a walk with Christ that I was trying to teach them, I'd hope they'd come up with something of the neighborhood of the following:

First and foremost, Ephesians 2: 1-10.

"And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved!-and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them."

The reason this one is first is that how we see ourselves affects how we live. For example, ever seen someone who views themselves as a guitar player? Sure, they'll practice and listen to music and hang out with other guitar players and go to guitar shows/stores and maybe even dress like their heroes, but it'll even affect the little things. I noticed this when a teen who'd recently picked up guitar started doing similar things but was looking for change for the soda machine and reached into his pocket and mixed in with assorted coins were two guitar picks. When I asked him about it, he said, "Well, you never know when you'll have a chance to play a guitar, so I have these just in case." He'd only been playing two weeks and his view of himself changed how he lived, even to what he put in his pockets.

And to know yourself, you have to know where you came from. You were dead. You needed life.

And to know yourself, you have to know your motivation for living. You respond to God's love. His mercy. His grace.

And to know yourself, you need to know your new identity. A masterpiece. Well, that's what the Greek word "workmanship" means, anyway. A work of art. (Imagine if we all viewed ourselves and others as God's works of art how much different our church, and our world, would be.) In other places, we learn that we aren't even citizens of this world...that this eternal life is lived as an alien and a stranger. In other places...well...Walvoord did a study on our new identity that is legendary, so I won't even bother to go further. It's been done better by better than I can give it.

And to know yourself, you need to know your purpose in life. Good works, which the God of the Universe has prepared for you.

It's all there in that verse, and if a teen understands them at a fundamental level, it'll affect them profoundly far beyond carrying picks in their pockets.

The second one is Galatians 5. The whole chapter is in view, but I'll focus on the vv. 13-25:

"For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God! But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit.

Bob George, in his book Classic Christianity, uses the illustration of someone who was homeless and living that lifestyle--eating out of dumpsters, scrounging food. Then a restaurant owner catches him, brings him into his home, gives him a room, gives him a job, and lets him eat at his table with he and his family. Later on, the restaurant owner catches the former homeless man eating out of the dumpster again...and, of course, is incredulous. Why in the world would he choose to behave this way when an obviously more abundant life is offered? It doesn't make sense. When I use this illustration with teens I use the phrase "drinking dumpster juice." They remember that.

But we don't have to drink dumpster juice. Sure, we can choose to if we want to...and we do. All too often.

But if we live a life in the Spirit...if we don't quench Him...if we live the exchanged life offered by Him, then we won't drink dumpster juice. And, just in case you aren't sure what spirit-led exchanged life looks like, these verses provide a handy-dandy reference list built right in.

Finally, I emphasize Romans 12: 1-2.

"Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect."

Remember that movie The Sixth Sense? The one where that kid told his psychologist, "I see dead people?" Yeah. That one.

When you think of it, that's pretty much an analogy for living the Christian life, except backwards. See, this little kid was dead but didn't know that he was actually walking among the living. We're living but walking among the dead.

I want my teenagers to realize that, because they are NOT of this world, they should try to see this world the way God sees this world. (Feel free to insert your favorite reference to The Matrix right here) When they look at the world the way God looks at the world...well, that's worship. That's prayer. That's inside-out transformation, which will last. As opposed to behavior modification, which won't. It fixes the problem at the very heart of the problem instead of putting a band-aid on it.

This means they have to think Truth, which requires infusions. Personal time in God's Word. Sermons. Sunday School and C.E. opportunities, Mp3's and podcasts...then the living and active breath of God can show us life among the dead... when you start praying that your grade will be an accurate reflection of what you learned instead of praying for an "A." (I can't tell you how much my senior guys' study loathes this one) when you start praying that God will impress upon you that the girls around you are sisters in Christ and that the very hairs on their head are numbered by the Lord of Lords instead of as objects. (I can't tell you how much my senior guys' study gives lip-service to this one...but they grasp the concept, at least) when you watch a show or movie and spot the lie. when you get serious about what's going on in Darfur or some other way to do justice and show mercy as you walk humbly with your God. when you realize that the values of suburbia and the values of Scripture aren't one in the same and you make real world decisions on that little piece of reality, well, let's just say that the kid gets the lecture and the youth pastor gets the phone call on that deal. when you begin to veiw your classroom, sport, job, home, driving habits, whatever, as a chance to be salt and light instead of the next thing on the checklist. when you...well...


Remember the goal of our instruction from 1 Timothy 1:5?


In whatever form it takes at whatever moment in time you happen to be in.

The identity as a work of art.
The motivation of His mercy, love and grace.
The choice to live free in grace through the Holy Spirit.
The transformation.
The love.

And, today, as I wrap up 19 full years in student ministry, well, that's my base-line standardized test. My own little exit interview.

The grade? The report?

I'm not qualified to do that. But I do know The Professor who will be doing the grading. That's the 19th thing.

And that's really all that matters when it comes down to it, isn't it?

P.S. Thank you to all the students I've served over these last two decades. It truly has been an honor to serve you during that stage of your growth in Him. And, don't worry, either. I'm not really going anywhere...just changing the focus of my ministry some. There will be many more students at CBC in the future (as long as CBC will have me, anyway), and some in my care will have less hair, energy and enthusiasm than my past student age-range...but they'll have wisdom and experience, and if we can put the two in a blender of sorts, this should be a beautiful thing, and one that excites me beyond words.

P.P.S. Thanks to all The Diner readers who have patronized me during this three-week bit of indulgence. We'll be back to business-as-usual tomorrow.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

19 Things I Learned In 19 Years Of Youth Ministry, Part 18

My senior pastor called a meeting.

A couple of parents were upset. With me. Not my ministry. Not my teaching. Me. Personally. They'd called my boss. My boss felt he should moderate because my version and their version were different.

And, man oh man, did the meeting start out heated. The mom was crying. The dad was trying to calm her down so she could express herself. By the time she was finished, the reason for her emotion was on the table: I didn't take her kid to breakfast on her kid's birthday and "you take each and every kid to breakfast on their birthday and it ruined my kid's day!"

One problem: I don't take any kid to breakfast on their birthday. If it's ever happened, it's been coincidental. Mom was apologetic and encouraging. It ended it should've. It was simply miscommunication.

Another time, after a parent came to me to say thanks for my involvement with their child. They said they were surprised at how much time I'd given their kid given that I disliked and mistreated their older child three years ago.

Funny, too. Because I admit that sometimes kids can have a negative experience at any church, school, game, event, thing. But this kid I remembered specifically because I'd used her as an example of how perfect a welcoming situation could go and the kid could still not come to your ministry. She'd been greeted by our most friendly teen, introduced by her to several kids who had her sit with them...she laughed during the meeting, she told me that she enjoyed it, too. Later I saw her at church and she told me that "youth group wasn't her thing" and she appreciated me checking up on her.

Turns out she told her parents I was mean to her and so were the they told her she didn't have to come to Sunday School or Bible study or mission trips. But they never checked with me...until two years later when their next kid had such a positive experience.

I've been told that I teach too deep from the Bible all the time...that I should be more practical and topical. I've been told somebody started going to another church because "they needed more depth in Sunday School." Parents never talked to me...and, frankly, it wasn't depth this kid was looking for. Unless the pretty girl he was chasing was a deep thinker...which, now that I think of it, she might be. So maybe that's not the best example.

I've been told that I need to establish a better greeting system because "my kid needed to be formally welcomed, with a name tag, and given a 'buddy' to introduce them around." I've been told I need to get the staff away from the doors because "kids these days don't want to be greeted, they just want the freedom to come in and get lost--or get involved--at their own pace."

I've been told the Mexico mission changed their life. I've been told it's a waste of time and they weren't sure that it accomplished "one reasonable objective."

I've been told that my growing my hair out for charity is the sweetest thing they've heard of. I've been told that I should cut my hair to line up with Scripture.

I've been told how "refreshing" it is to have a pastor that's so "real." I've been told that my "authenticity" makes people "uncomfortable" and that I should think more about what I tell my teens.

I've been told that I program entirely too much and that our youth ministry schedule is an unreasonable expectation what with every Sunday and Wednesday night. I've been told that we don't have enough programs to keep kids and that we should add more "fun" stuff because there's "way too much Bible for a teenager to enjoy." (But it's Crossroads "Bible" Church...I mean, I think it's right there in our name.)

I've been told that our students are cliquish and that a kid who didn't grow up at CBC can't "get into the group." I've been told that this is the first time that their child has fit in any time, any where, and it's because the students invited her places and made her feel so wanted.

I've been told that I should be fired...or at least move to the west coast where "my type of ministry might fit in better." I've been told I should "pastor my own church."

I've been told that my students are the type of kids who "look down" on kids who aren't as spiritual as they are and that our ministry is a tough place for "kids to fail." I've been told that the students in our ministry are "way too into the grace thing" and have few, if any, standards.

I've been told I'm the most approachable pastor on our staff. I've been told that I'm completely rude and inaccessible.

I've been told I'm a great youth pastor who has time for any kid--from the cheerleader to the punk. I've been told I'm a terrible youth pastor who plays favorites--who doesn't have time for the cheerleader or the punk.

I've been told that the staff I've surrounded myself with are some of the most gifted and talented people they can imagine being a part of one ministry. I've been told they're a bunch of ragamuffins who pretty much goof off all the time.

I've been told that people are stunned when they hear how many seminary students, missionaries, youth workers & staffers, and the like that our church has produced through the years. I've been told that number is below what a church of our size and resources should be cranking out yearly.

And... know what?

There's a bit of truth in all those statements.

I have been a little bit of each of those things from time to time. Most days I'm somewhere in the middle.

And, you'll take heat in youth ministry, brothers & sisters. You're dealing with precious cargo. And mama bears with their cubs. And that's the way it should be.

And, you'll "win" some.

And, you'll "lose" some.

And, some people will like you no matter what you do. They're "in" on you. You'll need to guard your heart with that stuff.

And, some people will dislike you no matter what you do. They're "out" on you. You'll need to develop a thick skin with that stuff.

You'd better not let the praise tickle your ears because, frankly, you're not really deserving of it, anyway.

You'd better not let the unwarranted criticisms (some of them are warranted--so listen intently when they are and act on the information lovingly given) bother you too much because you're not really deserving of them, either.

The only way to survive the warps and woofs of ministry is to do the 18th thing I learned: Live your life and do your ministry for the Unseen Audience of One. You can't live your life worried about the P.R. from your church because that ebbs and flows. Same for your ministry.

All you can do is be faithful to what He is asking you to do. All you can do is be faithful to who He is asking you to be.

And the only words that matter are, "Well done, good and faithful servant." And mere people won't have any say in that matter, one way or another.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

19 Things I Learned In 19 Years Of Youth Ministry, Part 17

It was all new to me.

I had been out of the church for about three years. And even when I was in church, it was serious business on Sundays, what with Sunday School, silver chalices with real wine, stained glass, kneelers, what to say back to the pastor and when to say it, sit it down and shut it up. I was even an altar boy.

But Wednesday? Nope. We lived kind of far from the church and we didn't do that much. The rest of the week? Nope. Not at all, although my mom taught me the Lord's Prayer at an early age and I said that before I went to bed.

So, when I came back to Christian circles about three years after my dad's death, I was literally starting from an elementary understanding. My mom even had to buy me a Bible to take to Bible study. I mean, we had a family one, and a Living Bible was in the den, too. But she had to buy me my own. At age 16.

I found out we got the "wrong" version.
I didn't know where Thessalonians was, either.
I got raised eyebrows if I mentioned that I'd never heard the word "justification" before.
I was questioned on my purchase of the new Ozzy Ozbourne record ( for my younger readers, a "record" was a method of recording music for playback on a piece of round vinyl, used before something called a cassette tape and requring a "needle" on a "turntable" to play).
I was never really afraid to ask questions, and I could tell that sometimes this made the other guys roll their eyes before they laughingly answered (it was all in good fun, too, because sometimes they knew the answer but had trouble getting the right words to tell me) if it was something basic that they'd known since the nursery, or get uncomfortable because we weren't supposed to talk about fears or doubts or weakness or controversial interpretations. Coming from a "liberal" church could sometimes be more dangerous than being unsaved when it came to interpretation.
I was asked if I'd had my quiet time that day. A lot.

So, I learned to lie.

It was safer. It saved time. It made other people happy.

I got the "right" version of the Bible. A man named Ryrie was easier to find than I thought.
I learned that the New Testament "T" books are alphabetical and/or longest to shortest.
I looked up words when I got home instead of bringing them up at the time.
I didn't mention my record purchases much, either.
I asked the right kind of questions, which didn't take too terribly long to grasp, and people commented on how much I was "growing spiritually." I replaced, "Noah got drunk?!" with "If that's what Jesus did, how do we do that now?" You'd be amazed at how others notice that subtle change.
I learned the there were good scholars and bad scholars. Same for politicians.
I said I'd had my quiet times so much that if the askers had paid attention to the answers, I'd likely have set a record for a high schooler having the most consecutive quiet times ever.

Please don't misunderstand me. It wasn't the fault of the guys in my study. It wasn't the fault of the people in my church. They all meant well. They all cared about me...dare I say even loved me. They all wanted my spiritual growth to happen. But I picked up on subtle nuances and codes in my new tribe. They had no idea what an outsider was picking up, and I wanted to know Christ, and this seemed like the best way.

Then I met Charles. The guy that would disciple me all through the university years.

Charles asked me a lot of questions.

Like, "Why?"
Or, "Who told you that?"
Or, "Are you sure that's in the Bible?"
Or, "Where?"
Or, "Why didn't you ask that question at Bible study two nights ago?"

And he shared with me a saying that I've never forgotten. While other ministries at college went on these elaborate ski trips for "evangelistic outreach" our goofy little ministry went to farms in rural Georgia and prayed and asked hard questions. Late one night after a few games of basketball, Charles and I were talking about our spiritual lives. I don't remember specifics on that, but I remember this word for word:

"Brent, you know something? I can fake being a Christian better than most people can be one. And that thought terrifies me."

I'm sure I said something to deny that he was a fake Christian in any sense of the word as a reply. One, because I don't like dead spaces in conversation unless I cause them, and two, I didn't like the reality of fake Christianity. I'd been there. Charles spent an awful lot of time pointing us to Scripture and teaching us what an authentic walk looked like some 1900 years after the books were written on the subject...and I didn't want anything else other than a genuine relationship with the God of the Universe.

And the conversation after that went somewhere in the direction of Charles feeling the responsibility (I think he used the word "steward" which I had to go look up later--old habits die hard) before God for our discipleship and he knew that he would reproduce what he was. Hence, if Charles was fake, we'd be fake.

Now, there has to be some truth to that. He had Matthew 10: 24 & 25 to back it up.

And I don't want to deny personal responsibility in that. He could've walked authentically and we could've faked it.

But there's a truth all around that reality that I learned in my 19 years: You will reproduce what you are.

Now, I don't mean that in a "micro" sense. Such as in my case, you won't have an army of long-haired, tattooed, Mississippi Delta blues loving, baseball watching, disc golfers. It's funny because I've been told I have a tendency to draw "edgy" kids when most students in my ministry are wonderfully "normal." They clean up nice.

I mean that in a "macro" sense. If you focus on the things that tend to be measurable, like quiet time duty, or what movies/music/television they're into, or political issues, or what questions are "okay," or what clothes to wear...

...that's what you'll get.

But if you point them to Christ (the One found in Scripture, not the cartoon one American suburbia has neutered) and teach them to abide in Him and His Word...

...they'll be authentic. And revolutionary. And loving.

Because that's who you really are in Him. And who He really is in you. Anything else is trifling with God.

And I don't want to trifle with God with the students under my stewardship.

I won't fake this...and more on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

19 Things I Learned In 19 Years Of Youth Ministry, Part 16

"Good morning. We're with the Internal Revenue Service. We'd like to ask you a few questions regarding the accounting practices of this organization, especially regarding Mrs. Jane Doe."

That's how it started.

Three months later, we'd lost four full-time employees, and were $138,000 in debt. Mrs. Jane Doe was never found guilty, the I.R.S. agent-in-charge mentioned that it was either very shrewd embezzling or incredibly ignorant accounting. Oh, yeah. The health insurance hadn't been paid for any of the employees and it wouldn't become active until we'd paid up the last 6 months. Oh, yeah. The 3% fee to our national organization hadn't been paid in 2 years, either. Hence, your 501 (3)(c) tax-exempt status was in jeopardy. For those of you that don't know, that's the death knell of any fundraising ministry.

Tracy and I spent two-and-a-half more years resolving the debt incurred by others. They were very long years, too. Short on pay. Long on ministry. Exhausing emotionally, physically and spiritually. It wore us out. It ended well, though. The ministry bank account was at zero when we left...but we left with no juice.

That was one of the biggest ones. There were lots of others.

Such as when my executive director my first year in ministry told me to go ahead and put Christmas gifts & presents on the credit card because "we always get a nice Christmas bonus." Well, we didn't that year. In fact, we missed a paycheck that December.

Such as when a colleague in my community acted as my friend, sent "spies" to a meeting, intentionally misquoted me and misrepresented me in a letter he sent out on his church's letterhead to his entire student ministry mailing list. The church, nor the individual, never apologized but agreed that mistakes had been made. The solution was to let the youth minister find other employment out of state.

Such as when I went on a job interview the morning after Shelby was born. It was a weekend in North Carolina and the pastor and I hit it off incredibly well. The search committee and I hit it off incredibly well. The teenagers and I hit it off incredibly well. The church wowed me, too. The sermon was excellent. The people were nice. They were doing some incredibly unique and exciting things. The city was beautiful. They took me shopping for real estate the morning before my flight left. It was a done deal. Until a week later when they told me they had to blow the process up because I didn't have a seminary degree, which had caused some dissension after the interview. Yeah. That was visible from my resume.

Such as the church that you adopted your junior year and considered your church home wouldn't even take your resume for their vacant youth pastor position. It was that incident that had Tracy and I heading off to seminary some 7 months later.

Such as when we got our first student ministry here in Texas and it paid $100 a week. The pastor promised that "as the ministry grows, we'll bring you on full-time as soon as we can afford to." Well, the ministry grew. Big time. They voted to purchase a riding lawnmower once instead of helping Tracy and I with a $100 payment for our health insurance. Then they hired another part-time guy without giving us a raise...and he made more than I did, too.

Such as finding out the leader of a prayer ministry encouraging other church members to pray that "Brent would get another job somewhere else."

Such as the mean seminary professor.

Such as hearing news by telephone call that you never in a million years thought you'd hear by telephone call. Or at all for that matter.

And don't even get me started on the day-in, day-out complaints.

But there's also a flip side:

Such as finding out that the I.R.S. folks respected your integrity and enjoyed working with you because you weren't running from anything. Such as hearing the members of the board of directors thanking you constantly for your diligence and attention to detail. Such as other ministers calling you out of the blue telling you they were pulling for you. Such as your regional director calling to let you know that the folks at the national office were taking notice of your work and were making their legal counsel available to you at no charge. Such as when the ministry was reaching unprecendented attendance figures, both at large group and msall group discipleship. Such as when those kids raised the money for your moving van when you moved, even as it broke their hearts to be doing it.

Such as when the times were tough and there was literally no food in the house...and some complete strangers drove up and said, "Are you Brent and Tracy who work with Campus Life at Huffman High School?" Upon hearing an affirmative answer, they said, "Well, we're representing the prayer ministry at Parkway, and we prayed for you during lunchtime today and we felt the Lord wanted us to shower you with two weeks worth of groceries." They did. The good stuff, too. Not store brands.

Such as when families in our community bent over backwards to express their appreciation for you and your wife in their community, and apologizing profusely for their church body and hoped they would honor Christ by how they handled "that situation." Such as your own church body teaching you all about how to give grace as well as accept it during that same time frame.

Such as the head of the search committee asking for your forgiveness with how they hadn't defined their non-negotiables as it related to any pain they had caused me. The pastor calling to make sure we were okay and being apologetic himself.

Such as the senior pastor, who you knew relatively well, calling after it was all said and done to tell you that the reason he wouldn't take my resume was because he couldn't tell the congregation that he was stepping down and he wanted the new pastor to have the decision over the needed upcoming hirings. It really wasn't anything personal at all...he just couldn't tell me that information at that time.

Such as those kids at that part-time church. Their spiritual growth at that time was amazing to watch. Their spiritual growth after that time is even more amazing to watch. There are seminary grads and youth pastors and computer folks and homemakers and the whole lot of them are being precisely who God created them to be. They're certainly NOT of this world. And that part-time music guy they hired? Pretty much one of the best friends you ever had since you got married. The times you had with their family in that duplex were some of the most enjoyable times of your life.

Such as being at the wedding of one of the kids of that lady who prayed for you to leave and she talked about how much she missed you later, largely because you loved her kids and she was sorry she didn't see that sooner.

Such as the other 10 or 12 seminary professors you knew who you admired for their faithful and consistent walks with Christ, which was evidence of their love for Him.

Such as the love you've experienced by a congregation that seems to have made it their business to encourage you, to ask how you're doing, to let you know they liked when you preached last Sunday, who seem concerned about your new job description and want to know how that's going so far, who let you know that they're glad you're there. Such as the co-workers you've seen the very best in. Such as the elders showing you how much they love Crossroads.

And don't get me started on the day-to-day e-mails, phone calls, baked goods, MySpace comments, lunches, coffees, pats on the back, laughs & jokes, blog comments, hallway chats that start with "I read your blog but never comment, and I think..."

I've learned, unequivically, no matter how unfaithful people can--and will--be, Christ is always faithful. And the most common way I see that is when His people follow Him, and show me that He is alive and well, and at work through His Body.

He never leaves me nor forsakes me.
Nothing can ever separate me from His love.
He never fails.

The ways He shows me that might be very common.
The ways I experience that are extremely uncommon.

Monday, May 21, 2007

19 Things I Learned In 19 Years Of Youth Ministry, Part 15

They were a once-in-a-decade graduating class. They were the perfect storm of parental involvement, excellent timing (our church was growing so much and we were moving into our new building), teachability and servanthood. They'd been small group leaders in our middle school ministry for two full years. They were plugged into other areas of our church. They were the kind of teens who pursued me for coffee, breakfast or lunch continually. They went on mission trips. They showed up at Sunday School. They didn't miss their mid-week Bible study. They made it their goal to make the younger teens feel welcome and offered them rides wherever the group was heading after school.

In short, they were the kind of class that an elder told me something like this in a hallway right after my senior sermon for them: "Listen, we all see the work you did. We all see the difference they've made in this church. I really just wanted to let you know that we don't expect these kinds of results every year. At my other church, the youth minister had a class like this and walked away three years later because he didn't see those kinds of results again. Thought he'd lost his touch. So, enjoy them. They're great. But don't put that kind of pressure on yourself. Let God be God and you just be faithful to Him."

Think about that for a second.

A graduating class of seniors so impressive that "outsiders" were letting me know not to have that high of expectation! How staggering is that?

Depends what side of that fence you're sitting on, doesn't it?

A big transition time for our ministry is seen on our early-summer trip to Juarez. It's a time when the outgoing graduates usually get plugged into our college ministry and the new senior class asserts itself. Add to that reality it's also the first thing that the incoming freshmen get to attend...and...


Entirely new student ministry.

And those new seniors really tried to ramp-up, too. They were vocal. They were visible. They were active.

But they weren't the previous class. For one thing, they were smaller in number. Their personalities were different, too. Their giftedness was in other areas. There were signifcantly more boys than girls this time. And the previous class had sorta "hogged" all the service opportunities for the better part of two years while they waited their turn...which usually they only have to wait one year. So, they were also a few spiritual steps behind, too.

And the incoming class was extremely large. Fruit of a successful middle school ministry. But they were still freshmen. They still hadn't learned the ropes yet.

And they were the first group to have a full year in a shiny new building with all the bells and whistles we'd never had before.

But it was an extremely fun year, all-in-all.

Sure, we had challenges in all sorts of areas as we adjusted as a staff to the new dynamics. We'd have to remind the middle school servant team to vacuum the room. We even posted a schedule on the wall so they'd know what their responsibilities were. The previous class just did those things without being reminded. We'd have to put more adult staffers around the room to help keep order during large group teaching time just for crowd-control. We adjusted to more "guy humor" out of necessity...and also the overall dynamics of being bottom-heavy when it came to age dynamics. We were top-heavy the year before.

But, they grew their own time and their own way. It was just different. Not really better. Not any worse. Just different.

And they graduated. They've since taken the lead in missions and seminary training and God has worked His time and His way with them. It's really cool.

But they graduated.

And we repeated the process. The next year we had an extremely mature group of freshmen come in. Some of those folks who came because of our shiny new building with all the bells and whistles went other places once the shiny bells and whistles wore off.

More change.

And it isn't just people, either. We've changed the decor of our student ministry room 7 times in the six years we've been in the building. We've adjusted mission trip plans we'd been working on for a full year in one afternoon after seeing that what we'd planned wouldn't accomplish what we'd hoped to accomplish. We've had Sunday School moved to a stand-alone night service in the old building to two classes, one morning, one evening, in the new building. We've cut a video we spent three weeks making because worship ran long and we didn't want to force the video, no matter how good it was. We've had summer trips cancelled due to hurricanes so we developed a week's ministry replacement in 24 hours. We've had four major outreach methods try and fail, only to add one that required a major addition to our ministry area and to pay people to staff it. We've had talented staff move on to other places because that's what talented staff have the opportunity to do (I'd be upset if other ministries weren't going after my staff--they're good). We've had volunteers come and go. We've changed fundraising methods for trips. We've changed teaching methods--from notes to power point to neither.

And most people in the rest of the church don't do change that often. Services look alike for years. The people don't really rotate in or out unless there are job transfers and the like. Music styles are more constant. Your friends are your friends. Just a lot more set in their ways.

But if you want to be in student ministry, the 15th things I'd tell you is that your ministry, and your life, will be in a constant state of evolution. There's simply no way around it.

Whether it's people.
Or methods. I've been around long enough for some methods to be in fashion and back out of fashion twice.
Or staff.
Or the nature of trips.
Or philosophy of ministry.
Or styles of teaching.
Or things you learn along the way--for example, I identify with parents so much more now that I've got teens in my own house.

And others won't quite get that.
And they certainly aren't as adept at changing on the fly as you you'll need to be sensitive to their insights.

But change will be your lifestyle, and you will be in a constant state of evolution--personally and professionally. So get used to it and embrace it.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

19 Things I Learned In 19 Years Of Youth Ministry, Part 14

It was inspirational. No question.
We responded enthusiastically. Standing ovation.

The Scene: Rockford, Illinois. My first staff training session for the ministry I was working for. I'd completed my year-long internship and was now going for two weeks to finalize becoming a full-time staff member.

All the big guns were there. We heard about the battle for this generation...because if Satan won this one, he won all the rest. We heard all the statistics on drug use among teens. We heard all the statistics on alcohol abuse. We heard the teen pregnancy numbers. We heard how many didn't go to church at all. We heard of those that did, only a small percentage of that number was "evangelical." We heard that 85% of the people who ever accepted Christ did so before their 18th birthday. Phrases like, "I can't enjoy the high school graduation ceremonies I go to because I wondered if that kid had accepted Christ. Because I knew that if he hadn't, a spiritual door had just slammed shut instantaneously with his had grasping that diploma."

The statistics were in, Jack. This generation = hell in a handbasket. The sky was falling.

But, we were there. We were youth pastors. The guys on the D-Day front lines storming those beaches. It was as noble a cause as there had ever been.

And those sessions had a profound effect in my life: Pride.

See, I believed that stuff at the time. I was all in. I loved youth ministry and everything about it. I'd always been a champion of the underdog and it seemed that being included among this underpaid, overworked, underappreciated, ragamuffin, noble group of folks was really about as good as it got. It was a pretty nice chip to have on the shoulder, too.

You could bash parents, because you could see their mistakes first-hand.
You could bash churches, because it was obvious their methods were dated and they were irrelevant and ineffective.
You could bash other youth outreach organizations.
You could bash school systems, teachers, administrators, coaches.
You could bash...

...pretty much whatever you wanted.

You had the moral high-ground cause and irrefutable evidence that you were needed.

But then you met other Christians with other passions.

You met the guy who had tons of medical school debt to pay off headed to the Congo because of the shortage of doctors there despite that nation torn due to civil war.

You met the guy who loved the senior citizens homes and established worship services in each and every one of them because he felt this group was neglected and wanted to do something great for them.

You met the girl who has a passion for translation of languages and was so adept at it she wanted to go spend 10 years to translate the Bible into a tribal language in New Guinea.

You met the girl who loved kids and had a vision for children's ministry.

You met the nice lady who loved the nursery & toddlers and wanted every one of them to have a ministry to come to, not a babysitter to kill time.

You met the guy who led worship on Sundays and recruited & trained volunteers.

You met the 70 year-old former pastor who still had the juice to preach, so he volunteered in the community, filling in any pulpit that needed a fill-in for a month or so.

You met the lady who loves to write curriculum and has a real knack for it, too.

You met the grandmas that got together to work on quilts. And, oh, yeah. They prayed for the church while they worked.

You met the people who rallied the troops for the poor in your own community and had creative and innovate ways to reach out, whether or not those people would ever darken our congregation's doorsteps.

You met the recent college grad with a heart for the Russian people...or the Czechs...or the Greeks...or the college kids in their own college town.

You met the lady who does the missions board every week at your church, putting up the new letters or adding a new photo or new thumbtack in the map.

You met the lady who loved to organize the kitchen at church.

You met the guy who really does love to greet newcomers and make them feel welcome.

I could go on and on with this...but what I realized is that those training days were a bit too laser-focused on student ministry. Sure, I was passionate about teenagers and the messages resonated within me to inspire me and spur me on. It really just threw gasoline on the flame that was innate.

And the 14th thing I learned is that Everybody's ministry is just as important as student ministry. When you start seeing that the lady who baked brownies and cookies and dropped them off every Sunday afternoon to the seminary dorm so we could have a touch of home, well, her ministry meant something.

It's the same for everyone in the Body. I mean, God wired them a certain way for a certain purpose, and if it's businessmen or ballplayers or little old ladies or toddlers or teenagers or criminals or artists or coffee crew or bulletin printers or some tribal part of the globe or saving the earth or U.N. delegates or whatever else God puts in people's hearts...

...that's noble to follow your passion for God's glory through His Kingdom.

No more than student ministry.
No less than student ministry.

And I wish I'd seen that earlier, because I missed out on the beauty of God at work in the world. It doesn't all happen with teenagers, man. It's cool when it does, and I'm drawn to it. But it's better when you see where you fit in the big picture rather than focusing on one slice of it. Trust me on that one.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

19 Things I Learned In 19 Years Of Youth Ministry, Part 13

We truly didn't have much of a choice.

See, we were a smaller church then, but growing very rapidly. Our meetings were less formal because they didn't have to be that "far out" from whatever we were discussing at that time. Lots of times, these meetings happened in hallways and something popped into your brain.

Well, what popped into one of our Sunday School volunteer's brains one July morning was an exciting review of attendance the Children's ministry came across. Turns out that 35 fifth-graders were moving into middle school in the fall and there'd be 50 coming into 5th grade! She was pumped. My brain went into overdrive because I'm not that strong in math.

I began computing the outgoing 8th graders, which was about 15. This meant an increase in 20 teens even if we didn't have any growth, and our church was growing quickly. This meant that we'd now be having nearly 70 middle schoolers meeting weekly. This meant that we'd outgrown the area home we were using for our Wednesday night meeting. There was no room at the church because the children's ministry needed the entire building that night.


Meetings ensued.

Ultimately what evolved from those discussions was a plan to move the middle school program to Tuesday nights. There would be a staffing issue since so many adults were already recruited & had begun training to support the Wednesday night children's ministry.

I felt pretty confident that we could staff the middle school minstry with high school seniors. It seemed feasible. Sure, they'd require lots of training and oversight, but that's my job for cryin' out loud.

I met with some area youth ministers to get their feedback.

"No way. They're not ready."

"Are you crazy? Think of the liability issues!"

"Can't really be done. It sounds great. It's even idealistic in the best possible ways. I love the idea. I just don't think it'll work."

"Good luck with all that. I'll be praying for you, brother."

Maybe my old seminary advisor would be more encouraging:

"I've seen similar things tried a few times. Some went well. Others not so much. If you can get it to work, we'll bring our classes up there to check it out."

Since we didn't have much choice, we got our seniors and started training. They gave it the old college try that first year and our ministry grew and the high schoolers experienced more growth because they were now leading their own small groups. They were in the Word on their own because they had to be. They were being asked questions they didn't know. We had others who were leading the worship. Others were setting up sound. Others were putting together our audiovisual stuff. Some set up chairs. Some worked the greeter table. Others were arranging the snacks. Others cleaned up after it was over. We gave them bowling shirts with their names on them.

It was an army of high schoolers...pretty much all the actively involved ones were a part of the middle school Tuesday night thing. They were excited because they were all using their gifts and talents in a meaningful way. We had unity in our ministry. Then they started leading service projects for their groups.

Our students became ministers. It spread throughout the church, too, because some discovered that teaching wasn't their thing. Or they liked greeting so much they wanted to be on the Sunday morning team, too. Others liked the behind-the-scenes stuff so they joined the coffee crew on Sundays. Others liked the set-up and take-down, so they plugged in other areas.

This year we're graduating some 25 seniors. 10 of them will graduate having led a small group for two years. Another 6 were involved in the worship ministry in either sound or on stage. One of our elders noted that his 7th grade daughter started telling him that she couldn't wait to get into high school so she could "spend two years on the service crew and get her own small group her junior year." He told me he was encouraged that our middle school students even thought in those terms. He told me that it's a pretty cool culture that we've created. He told me that everybody really starts growing spiritually once they serve others using their gifts instead of sitting around in Bible studies all the time.

And, yes, the seminary has called a couple of times to come visit. They've not been able to arrange a time for the field trip, but several individuals have come up to see how we do it.

And, yes, we've had growing pains. Like I said in an earlier post, we've had all sorts of moments of brilliance and all sorts of moments of stupid-head. You get that with high-schoolers. But overall, both middle school and high school ministries have benefitted greatly.

And it's cool to serve at a church that believes the 13th thing I've learned in 19 years: Teenagers are not part of the church of the future, they're members of our Body right now.

Our student ministry has been a vital cog in our church's missions program. We were the first group to go to Europe. We've taken the largest short-term team in our history to build homes in Juarez. We've sent two full-time missionaries from our church who got their start on a student trip. It'd take too long to round up the list who've been gone for a month or more during the summers. One just told me Sunday she's off to Greece for her full-time assignment.

Just this year, we've got 4 former students starting at seminary. I had two former students graduate this year.

Look around our church on any Sunday morning. Students are in the nursery. They're serving as assistants in the children's C.E. department. Some are on the coffee crew. Some hand out bulletins and greet. Some are in the missions meetings. Some are raising funds for the upcoming Juarez trip. Some were part of setting up the chairs. Others clean up between services. Some are on the worship team leading that morning. After that, some middle schoolers will be sitting in a group and taking notes on the sermon. They're imitating their high school leader, too, because they think that high schooler is "awesome" and they want to be like her.

Student ministry has to be more than having your church provide a really cool room and really cool stuff for the kids so they'll stay occupied until they're "old enough" to join the congregation. There's not some kiddie-table where they sit until they can carry on conversations with the alleged grown-ups. They need to sit at the big table. They're part of the church RIGHT NOW. We need their gifts and talents being used to help others mature.

Want proof?

Try 1 Timothy:

"Let no one look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in your speech, conduct, love, faithfulness..." Granted, "youth" there likely means late-thirties/early forties, but the point is the same. A 12-year-old is capable of being an example of growth in Christ. They can control their speech. They can control the way they act. They can love. They can be faithful. If they're growing in Christ, I can't find where there's an age limit or starting point. Just do it.

Try Ephesians:

"But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he captured captives; he gave gifts to men.”...It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature." If they're saved, they've got a gift. They don't get it when they turn 22. They have it now. They need to be using and developing it now. And you can learn an awful lot from middle schoolers.

My students have sharpened me and helped me grow.
My students have encouraged me when times were tough.
My students have shown me how to have a deeper walk.
My students have been...

...well... teacher.

And they can teach all of us.


Friday, May 18, 2007

19 Things I Learned In 19 Years Of Youth Ministry, Part 12

It all seemed so cool to me.

Duffy would walk into a lunchroom and it was kind of like having a celebrity walk in. Lots of people waved to him. He'd stop by and chat at as many tables as he could. Our friends would want to meet him so we'd introduce him. Everybody knew who he was.

He could show up at a sporting event and at some point one of your friends would say, "Hey, Duffy's two sections over. Let's go see him and Cynthia." We did.

We'd go to his weekly meeting, which had to be moved to a country club's meeting hall because we'd outgrown the homes we'd been meeting in the year before. He was really funny during the crowdbreakers and a good listener during the discussion and he seemed so wise during the wrap-ups.

His wife was pretty. His kids were cute.

Our group would join other groups at regional ministry events and all the other youth ministers there knew him and made a big fuss over him. He might be giving the instructions for the breakout sessions or saying the prayer before the meeting, but he was on the stage, man.

Duffy and his staff were all judges at our school's annual air-guitar competition that raised money for Toys For Tots.

From a teenager's point of view, I thought being a youth pastor was just about the coolest job you could have.

And, yes, it can be at times.

Early on in the gig, in our little community, Tracy and I had the same thing Duff & Cynth had. We'd go to the grocery store and know 3 of the 5 kids bagging the groceries and they'd all give us the "cool nod" and wave. We'd have been stopped on our shopping spree by a parent thanking us for our involvement in their kid's life.

Other youth ministers called us to train their staff on how to lead small groups or meet kids. On one occasion, the pastor of the church called me to replace their youth minister. No, I didn't take it.

Some of our students had parents that were involved in state politics, and they'd comp us with tickets to sporting events or set us up with some lunches with people who had deep pockets and might be interested in hearing what we're doing.

One time I got asked to sit on a town-hall Q&A panel on the state of local teens in which two politicians (one a U.S. representative, the other a high-ranking state official) were also invited. I got applause a couple of times during my answers because I'd been a bit less...let's say...ummm...political than my fellow panelists. I once was introduced by the principal at one high school (a Texas A&M grad) as "the twelfth man of his faculty" at the year-end PTA meeting. I got a plaque thanking me for being the chaplain of the high school football team.

Parents often thank you for your work.

Teens afford you all sorts of respect and admiration even if the expression of that is awkward sometimes. Sometimes it isn't awkward at all--it's beautiful.

There are a lot of strokes in this gig, man. The spotlight can shine on you at times. The praise after the mission trip. The hugs. The dads thanks for taking he and his daughter through True Love Waits together. The parents who tell you that you need to be preaching more.

But, between you and I, those moments in the spotlight are not nearly as common as...

...the stares into your fishbowl.

Your life is on public display...24/7/365 (366 in leap years).

My neighbors have compared me to another minister in my neighborhood with regard to doing our yardwork. I do my own, and this was viewed as good by the observer rather than paying someone. Never mind the other minister had a back condition that prevented him doing his own lawn, huh?

People walk into my home and take a long look at the CD rack to see what's in there...and ask questions like, "Do you think it's wise to keep this music out there where kids can see it? I mean, who's T-Bone Walker, anyway? Some rapper? That doesn't sound like it could be good?"

I've had glances coming out of a movie theater where the superhero nixed the bad guys that maybe I shouldn't have been there. People have once-overed my selections in the video store while trying to make small talk.

I've had my parenting skills called into question in public forums.

I've had my husbanding skills called into question in public forums.

I've had my professional skills critiqued in public forums. Never mind that my wife and children were privvy to every single word of it and the person in question couldn't have cared less about that reality.

I grow my hair for a charity for largely sentimental reasons and I've had my Biblical interpretive skills called into question. I got tattoos for very specific reasons, very deeply personal reasons that I'll still gladly share with anyone that asks, but yet I've been vilified for that, too.

I've had a letter written about me and sent out to some members of my support base by an area youth pastor who sent "spies" to my meeting, misquoted me, and literally slandered me (one of those parents I mentioned earlier who were involved in state politics were both lawyers and they took up the fight unbeknownst to me) all for teaching grace. My wife got to read the letter. Thankfully, my kids couldn't at that time. Interestingly, I was called responsible for "breaking down the moral foundations of the family." I was kind of excited I'd gotten that kind of power. Not really.

I've been told I'm a terrible small group leader/Bible teacher. I've been accused of playing favorites. I've been the victim of teenagers lying to their parents and the parents never questioning me or getting my side of it. I've been told I'm the reason people are leaving the church.

People compare the car I drive to what other pastors in the community drive.

So, my advice to anyone thinking of a career in the youth ministry gig? Be very aware that your life will have infinitely more fishbowl moments than spotlight moments. And, don't get me wrong, this is not negative at all. It's just the reality you'd better prepare for. To whom much is given, much is required. Peter Parker's grandfather was right on that one.

Of course, so's the Bible.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

19 Things I Learned In 19 Years Of Youth Ministry, Part 11

It was kind of a big deal.

Tracy, for her 21st birthday, got an airline ticket to visit me in Dallas. I was in seminary after I'd graduated from college two months earlier, and she wanted to visit.

It was in my brain that we'd be having a very big D-T-R discussion that weekend. For the uninitiated, that's a "define the relationship" conversation that many people have once they're into a relationship for a significant length of time. We'd been dating 10 months or so, and I really wanted to put all my cards on the table.

I loved her. This much I knew.

She loved me. This much I felt pretty certain about. Tracy's not the kind of girl to say words like that and not mean them.

At issue was whether or not we should get married. I was thinking we should. I felt pretty certain she was thinking along the same lines. We'd had some preliminary discussions.

Her flight got in on Friday afternoon. By the time we got her checked in to the LaQuinta and settled, it was close to dinner time. There was a restaurant in Dallas called Chili's that lots of locals liked and we went there. Funny how 20 years later there's a Chili's almost everywhere that lots of locals liked and go there. At the time, it was a Dallas area chain getting a pretty good local following. We were more of less getting caught up on lots of stuff...this was before e-mails and cell phones and other stuff that shrinks the world. We actually mailed letters and, while we called every night, we kept it short. Long distance fees can add up.

Saturday she watched my intramural flag-football game, met some of my new friends, and we grabbed lunch. We watched some college football that afternoon. Then it was off to the restaurant in the local landmark lighted ball that is the signature of the Dallas skyline. The restaurant rotates the view. Slowly, but you get a different view of the city throughout the meal.

We discussed marriage. But more than that: Marriage to a youth minister. I figured love wasn't the issue at this point, but rather that she understood the reality of what she was getting into.

We talked about the traditionally low pay and accompanying low prestige.
We talked about the long hours.
We talked about the fishbowl (more on that tomorrow--the fishbowl, not the discussion of it) life.
We talked about the good stuff, too: Relationships, watching people grow in Christ, having a church family, etc.

And, we concluded that it would be worth it.

And, you know what? We were right. I know a lot of discussions about marriage at that age are pooling ignorance or loaded with idealism or romanticism, but we hit that main issues.

My wife knows what it's like to juggle bills. This one's only 30 days past due, but this one's 60 so we gotta pay that.
My wife knows what it's like to do without the latest fashions.
My wife knows what it's like to re-decorate on a shoestring.
My wife knows what it's like to hear her husband ridiculed or criticized by others.
My wife knows what it's like to have her husband come home an hour after he called from his office desk because some mom wanted "just a minute" in the parking lot before she went into her meeting.
My wife knows what it's like to have teenagers barge into her home unannounced and unfed right at dinner time.

But my wife also knows what it's like to have a church family be there for you in the good times and the bad.
My wife knows what it's like to have relationships that aren't built on what you have.
My wife knows what it's like to not care about getting new carpet because the kids'll spill cherry Kool-Aid on it anyway.
My wife knows what it's like to hear her husband praised in public circles.
My wife knows what it's like to have some flexibility in his job so he can grab lunch with her sometimes.
My wife knows what it's like for her house to be a home to more than just her family--from teenagers playing full-contact Uno to sharing their college acceptance letters to prayer to Bible study to friendly visits, our home was home to tons of others.

Our girls have never known anything other than having sets of older brothers and sisters that rotate every two to four years. They had teenagers visit the hospital after each of their births--and generally, teenagers are unaware that hospitals have visiting hours so they come when they feel like it. They've been going to high school events before they were even in school. They've had babysitters in excess. They've had teenagers give them advice on the teachers and schools they were going to before they went to those schools. They've had surrogate grandparents in excess. They've never known life without a church family. They've had opportunities that Tracy and I never had because of this gig. Of course, now they realize that sharing your bathroom with the senior guys' Bible study isn't that great of a thing...

But my point is this: Your Family Is In Youth Ministry As Much As You Are.

If you really believe effective discipleship is going to be life-on-life, you have to have a family that buys into that, too. And your family is going to be in that mix.

There will be E.R. nights with brownie mix at the ready because that's what the girls do. You'll have to go to the back for those.

There will be months where your wife will make more dinner than your family needs because she's observed the dinner-time drop-by habits of one teen who's single mom worked nights and his visits were regular. She'll also make every teen that is there at dinner time eat and play "hi-low" just like one of the family. She won't gripe to you later about it, either.

There will be times when students occupy the guest room and stay for a while. But she'll appreciate that other families trusted us with their own children.

There will be full-contact Uno. There will be guys having red-meat grill & movie night and they'll eat Brats for dessert. There will be extra junk food added to the grocery cart. Pop Ice wrappers will be written on the grocery list on the counter in handwriting that isn't indicative of anyone in your family. You'll have cabinets just for student ministry food because they ate the rest of your food, and your dishwasher use can double or triple with just glasses.

There will be nights you hurry home from your own children's sporting event or dance recital because the kids are coming over in their prom clothes in 20 minutes.

There will be dates interrupted because the kids pull up chairs next to yours at the restaurant or surround you at the movie.

There will be anniversaries missed because your husband is off in Holland, or Haiti, or a lock-in or whatever.

There will be times when a teenager spends 3 hours making small talk before they get to what they came over to talk about.

There will be times when a teenager comes by and says for you not to speak or talk to him. Just go on doing what you were doing because he just wants a reminder that all families aren't like his family. Your heart will break but you won't show it.

There will be nights where your husband is "there" but he isn't "there" because of what he talked about with a teen over coffee an hour ago.

There will be times when a teenager tells the deepest, darkest moments of life in your living room when three minutes before you were watching the hockey game.

There will be nights when your home and family has missionaries pull out the map and give your family and geography/history/culture lesson first-hand.

There will be times when the planned family night gets interrupted by another family's unplanned crisis. I could go on and on like this, too...

It will be great.

It will terrible.

It will be normal.

Surprisingly, we covered much of that in one sense or another during our dinner...which, by the way, allowed us to see the State Fair fireworks display as we spun around Big D...and I'm glad she "gets" it.

But make no mistake, your family is in this gig with you. Full throttle. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

19 Things I Learned In 19 Years Of Youth Ministry, Part 10

Once I started going to Campus Life, I was pretty much "at" everything. I didn't miss the Monday night large group meetings too often. Our small group was a high priority with me, too. I went to church on Sunday mornings and the Sunday School class more often than not. More not than often I went to the Sunday night service, too. When it comes down to the bottom line, there were nearly 400 lessons I could've heard. Let's say I went to 275 of them.

What do I remember about the specific lessons?

Well, from the large group meetings at Campus Life I distinctly remember an anti-abortion film that was pretty graphic. After that, I got nothin.'

Our small group all went to hear an NFL kicker give his "testimony" at some other church's week-long revival held at our high school's stadium. I distinctly remember an old-style southern preacher giving the sermon titled "One More Night with the Frogs." The crux of it was the Pharoah chose to spend one more night with the frogs from the plague Moses initiated instead of letting the people go. The next thing me and my friends knew this guy was hollering the sermon title after a listing some sin or gray area. It went, "And you keep saying you'll start going to church more often next week. ONE MORE NIGHT...


...THE FROGS!!!!"

This went on for about 10 minutes. But I think the reason I remember that sermon was because my friends and I would mockingly use that phrase for a week afterward any time we deemed it appropriate. Put in a cassette of heavy metal. Eyeball a cheerleader. Say a cuss word. Get a large order of food at McDonald's. We'd do our very best fire-and-brimstone imitation of the phrase.

I do remember one Bible study we had on a covenant and how it worked. I don't remember many details of the particular study but I remember our discussion on how much work it would've taken to cut that many animals in half with the tools they had at hand. That discussion went on for 10 minutes, too.

I don't remember any of Bob's youth group lessons. Really, I don't. I just remember that his illustrations never had him failing. This affected me profoundly in that I wanted to make sure my students never said what I said...that I couldn't be a youth pastor because I'm not like him and he's got it all together. I talk a great deal about my weaknesses to my students. I want them saying that "if that clown can do it, I'd be incredible at it." I think they do.

What I remember most is that Bob took us to see Dawson McAllister at a conference and he'd just written a booklet called, "A Walk with Christ to the Cross." The conference teaching I remember as it was an hourly breakdown of the events leading to Christ's crucifixion. We went through the workbook again on Sunday nights one summer.

Pastor Mickey gave me one sermon that I remember, which is ironic. It was a Christmas sermon called "Gifts for the King." This involved gold, frankincense and myrrh and what gifts we would give to the king. Mickey was the first person I ever heard teach exegetically through a book (that more or less means verse by verse) of the Bible. The reason my remembrance of the Christmas sermon is ironic is that his main application points had little, if anything, to do with exegesis. It simply "fit."

And that's about it. 25 years later I could type in 19 minutes everything I remember about specific student ministry lessons. I was there and doing my best to pay attention, too.

I figure my students are not much different.

I have two lessons that I think they might remember years later...mainly because I teach them annually, and they're back to back. I teach on the Triumphal Entry and it uses a lot of math and I give them a marble at the end of it. I also teach on the crucifixion (coincidentally, using Dawson McAllister's time-line. I still have my workbook.) and give them a nail. Outside of that, I'm not sure there are many specific lessons they remember that I taught them.

So, what do I think they remember?

My stupid catch phrases that I usually pilfer from some obscure movie or television show. Right now, everytime I enter a room that students might be in, I bark, "I'm back, baby dolls!" that I got from "How I Met Your Mother." I used to chant the secret password that would get you into Pee-Wee's Playhouse or say Merry Christmas in Hawaiian.

Or my goofy actions, like saying, "Ow my eye!" and grabbing my eye if anyone threw anything that remotely came anywhere near my head. Or came anywhere not even close to my head.

Mr. Bother. Mrs. Bother. Sgt. Bother. Kids don't oversleep on my trips.

Or some moment where I did something stupid. The list is too long, but they seemed to happen the most when Katherine was around. I knew something stupid just came out of my mouth when she'd lovingly, but condescendingly, ask,


...are you...


These moments would be followed by uncontrollable laughter. Her at me. Me at me.

They might remember some bit of scriptural advice we talked about over coffee or while we had some down-time in an airport or a long bus ride. The funny thing is years later they'll tell me about how they're still applying that little nugget and I don't even remember the conversation until they remind me of it.

I know one group remembers yelling at an ocean. I think I learned more on that trip than they did, though.

And most of my teens aren't that far removed from my ministry, either. They're still within a decade.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I certainly believe that exegetical teaching of Scripture is vital to a teenager's growth. Even knowing what I know now. I can't explain exactly the "how" but the "why" is that somehow, someway, the Holy Spirit manages to use the living and active Word to transform hearts and minds. The timetable He uses and the circumstances He uses remain a mystery to me.

So, I study. A lot. And I never fall back on my 19 years of files for notes no matter how many times I teach a subject. I always want it to be fresh to my students and it won't be if it isn't fresh and real to me. In fact, most times I want to torch notes on the subject from 10 years ago...or even last year. I do compare my "fresh" notes to the older ones to see if there's something key I left out. But I take exegetical teaching pretty seriously...and I write my own curriculum. I think my students "get" that.

But I know one thing:

Teaching Scripture is most effective when taught in a life-on-life context.

The meaning is simple. They'll remember the big picture long after they've forgotten the specific lessons. Because the specific lessons were mixed in with your relationship with them.

The joy.
The peace.
The patience.
The kindness.
The goodness.
The faithfulness.
The gentleness.
The self-control.

The bottom line: The love.

They saw them lived out when they were at your house and watching you raise kids right in front of them. They saw them lived out on the bus when the freshman was having a hard time leaving home for the week. They saw them lived out when you crashed on the ski trip. They saw them lived out when you disciplined the kid in the back of the room because he was disruptive. They saw them lived out when you'd worked 45 hours that week and still had the lock-in beginning in two hours. They saw them lived out when you celebrated their state championship with them. They saw them lived out when you listened to them after the break-up. They saw them lived out...

...well, I could go on and on.

But it happens life-on-life. That's what they remember. The lesson, lived out in the relationship.

Want proof?

Name 5 SPECIFIC sermon lessons you remember.

Because I'd bet that any growth that resulted from that came from, at the very least, a discussion ABOUT that with someone else.

The relationship is more important than the lesson plan. Always. But never cheat the lesson plan, because it enhances the relationship. Symbiotic. But don't ask me to explain it...