Thursday, August 19, 2010

Writing A Better Story: A Chance To Win A Free Trip To A Conference In Portland!

I’m in very real danger of becoming the cliché I used to mock: A dinosaur of a youth minister who is coasting by running the same year of youth ministry 25 more times before he dies.

Don’t misunderstand me. It’s been a pretty good two-decade run, IMHO. If it weren’t, I’m sure the higher-ups would’ve said so. Indications to date lead me to believe that they still want me around and, well, I still like—no…love—working with teenagers in the slow-growth business of spiritual formation.

These days I look in the mirror and my face reminds me that I need to hit the treadmill to lose 25 pounds. Neurons fire that cause visions of shaving my head to beat the punch of my hairline’s recession. The Eddie Vedder inspired wardrobe that didn’t work in my 30’s may look even sillier in my mid-40’s (nor did it come back in vogue, dangit). Throw in a dash of suburban empty-nester comfortable homogeneity and the cliché rounds out quite nicely.

The personal side of my life’s ledger is weighted further by the ballast on the professional side. See, there are all sorts of people who study and measure suburban American teenagers who were active in youth groups. The bottom line is that churches are pretty good with cultural conformity to behavioral mores but not so effective at fostering an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. The reality is that I do think I’ve had more than my share during my pretty good run (IMHO), but I’m confident I’ve contributed to the statistical findings of the people who study and measure suburban American teenagers who were active in youth groups.


I could be a doughy, balding, flannel-wearer with a (Talking Heads reference upcoming!) beautiful house, with a beautiful wife and asking myself how I got here.
I could run the same year of youth ministry 25 more times and…


…be successfully mediocre.

It’s high time to start writing a better story.

The cosmetic changes seem obvious enough: Fire up the magnetic strip on the gym-membership card again. Shop the edges of the grocery store instead of the middle. Get to bed at a decent hour. Hope dearly that some TLC-driven makeover show comes calling with haircuts and clothes and such. Rejoice in the wife of my youth. Remain gratefully skeptical about suburbia and the role I’ve been asked to serve His Kingdom within it.

Obvious enough. Easier said than done, mind you, but obvious, nonetheless. And safe, in large part because the resistance is internal..

But the professional side of the equation is silently volatile. See, it’s kind of like (Terminator: Salvation reference upcoming!) when John Connor got on the radio to encourage mankind to rise up against the machines and said, “If you can hear this, you ARE the resistance.”

Well, if you’re reading this, it’s highly likely you ARE the resistance.

Here’s why:

The solutions to conventional & safe suburban American Christian student ministry require changes in the way all of us associated with student ministry currently do business.

We’ll get flak from student ministers because we’ll have to shift the paradigm from a charismatic leader with an endearing case of Peter-Pan Syndrome who becomes the focal point of the ministry to spreading the work among entire congregations for maximum effectiveness (more on that in a second). The strokes we get from being the leader of the band will get lost in the muck.

Parents will resist because the bulk of the discipleship of their teens will fall on them. Let’s be honest: No youth minister can be as effective in the 3 hours a week they get with a teen as a parent who gets the other 165. Granted, no youth minister can love a teen or have as much emotional investment as someone who shares their DNA, but most parents don’t know what they don’t know. And, well, it’s a lot easier to manage a schedule than to “raise a child in the way they should go.”

Church staffers will resist because it will detract from classes and programs (many of them successful) and main worship services to focus on everybody using their gifts and talents rather than learning in a classroom or simply being a part of congregational worship.

The average Joe or Josephine in the pew will now have to roll their sleeves up and get to work. The day of the churchgoer as an observer-participant will be over. So is the idea of retirement from volunteering your time for church service, BTW.

Teens will find themselves uncomfortable because there will be more accountability and expectation. We’ve failed to give them the tools they need to make their faith their own by dressing up Pablum by putting the word “X-treme” on it and passing it off as meat. Moving from well-intentioned conservative behavioral modification to a truly transformed life can’t be easy.

Again, it’s high time I started writing a better story…

…Like author Douglas Coupland once wrote, “A collapsed view of heaven is the price you pay for your comfort.”…

…because I’ve been comfortable for far too long.

…and it’s possible I have a collapsed view of heaven.

…and this conference could help out by reminding me that my cause is worth fighting the resistance. By rubbing shoulders with others who can inspire me. By talking with others who are working through making their story better. By hearing from people who have written better stories and can stoke the good stuff in my story and throw an editorial wet blanket on the stuff that isn’t worth it. By giving clarity to the areas that are opaque. By reminding me that it isn’t at all about me, anyway.

But, conference attendance or not…

…it is high time I started writing a better story.

Don't you think?

For more information about the conference, you can check it out at

You can also check out this video from author Donald Miller:

Living a Better Story Seminar from All Things Converge Podcast on Vimeo.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hipster Doofus

Provocative article from last Friday's Wall Street Journal (don't judge!) entitled "The Perils of Wanna Be Christianity" is worth your while to read. It's about how young people in the church are rejecting what older people are implementing to try to be "culturally relevant" to younger generations.

Here's a quote to have a cup o' joe and mull over this morning:
"But are these gimmicks really going to bring young people back to church? Is this what people really come to church for? Maybe sex sermons and indie- rock worship music do help in getting people in the door, and maybe even in winning new converts. But what sort of Christianity are they being converted to?

In his book, "The Courage to Be Protestant," David Wells writes:"The born-again, marketing church has calculated that unless it makes deep, serious cultural adaptations, it will go out of business, especially with the younger generations. What it has not considered carefully enough is that it may well be putting itself out of business with God.

"And the further irony," he adds, "is that the younger generations who are less impressed by whiz-bang technology, who often see through what is slick and glitzy, and who have been on the receiving end of enough marketing to nauseate them, are as likely to walk away from these oh-so-relevant churches as to walk into them."

If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that "cool Christianity" is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don't want cool as much as we want real.

If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it's easy or trendy or popular. It's because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It's because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It's not because we want more of the same."

Love the words "we don't want cool as much as we want real." The problem is that when "real" hits the equation, most folks begin to get VERY uncomfortable. It's easier to try to be cool, right?

Have at it, patrons!

Monday, August 09, 2010

Virginia Is For Lovers

We've all seen photographs or video of soldiers returning from war to the women they love, right?

Rarely is it personal for me, though. Rarely do they evoke much in me other than trite sentimentality. Rarely do I give any of them more than a passing glance on the paper or the nightly news.

But yesterday, all that changed.

See, we met this couple largely because our daughters were good friends. They danced at the same studio and ran across each other at school. This started the moms to become friends. Turns out this was a rare occasion that the wives' being friends turned into the husbands being friends, too (open note to wives: this almost never happens, so be prepared if it goes awry). One time, after getting the kids to school, we planned a double date at Six Flags just to ride roller coasters all day. The Clemons' are our kind of people.

A few years ago, Steve transferred to Hawaii largely because they could. We've kept in touch via social networks and mobile phones and drop-everything visits when they return to see family and friends.

So, we sympathized when Steve went off to war. We got it, though. He's got "soldier" (probably better described as "warrior") hard-wired into all his DNA. He left for Iraq last November to do what he loves to do and what he's hard-wired to do.

His wife did what women who marry warriors do: Juggled everything with the kids and the homestead and supported and encouraged and worried about and missed her husband.

Steve's deployment ended and he returned to Virginia two days ago.

But here's the backstory to the photo: The plane lands, and for two hours the warriors did whatever it is that their leaders tell them to do. Meanwhile, the wives are in a reception room where they count off every single one of the 7,200 seconds they have to wait wearing the dress that he wants to see her in killing time by making sure the punch is full and the cookies are in rows and chatting with the other family members and any looking for any other distracting task they can take on.

After the warriors do whatever it is that their leaders tell them to do for two hours, they get to come in and see their loved ones.

Here's Steve and Malia after their 24,364,800 seconds apart:

Granted, it probably isn't personal to you. It probably only evokes trite sentimentality for you. It's probably something that's only a passing glance for you.

But to me... reminds me that love between a husband and wife is a beautiful thing.
...that "for better or worse" means something significant.
...that sacrifices warriors and wives make for freedom is something we forget to appreciate.

And that, at the end of the day all the high-minded ideals this photo represents pale in comparison to a simple reality:

He loves her. She loves him.

So, Steve, welcome home, my friend. And, it'll never be enough to say thank you...

And, Malia, it'll never be enough to say thank you to you, either...

Thanks for the sacrifices you both made for all of us here in the good ol' U.S. of A.

And for a reminder of the best and highest ideals we have in this world.