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Youth Ministry and Missions Trips

August 5, 2010 2 comments

It’s that thing that every kid loves to do: missions trips. At least in my brief experience with youth ministry, everyone wants to do a missions trip. Everyone wants to be involved in going somewhere else to work. In fact, I love missions trips.

My first was in 1996 at the age of 10, when my dead led the youth group to Mexico. I still remember those experiences. Seeing kids stricken with poverty. Praying for a Hispanic lady from our church who was having border issues every time we went in. The size of the roaches in our dorms. The lack of communication and the frustration I felt.

In 2000, I was able to go to Puerto Rico, experience things I would have never imagined experiencing, and again, being left in awe at poverty. In fact, while I was there, we canvassed an 18 story apartment building that was essentially the projects. While there, I saw three drug deals and a teenager waving a pistol around. I was 14 years old at the time, and the only adult in our group of 14, 17, 17 year old boys, was a 75 year old former missionary to Uruguay. Safety was of concern.

In 2001, I went to St. Croix, Virgin Islands and fell in love with the place. Yes, the tropical paradise was sweet, but the people – they impacted me. I felt touched by their desire to know us. I can remember returning after the trip, looking up at planes, and wishing I was a passenger headed back to the V.I. because it was such a great trip.

Then I entered college in 2004, and things were different. Not in a bad way, but instead, I was just busy. I was working full time my junior and senior year. I was poor, because I was a college student. From 2001 til 2007, I was uninvolved in missions. Not that I didn’t take notice or lack the desire to go, but I just didn’t have the finances or opportunity.

Then, in 2007, my life changed as I entered the country of Haiti for the first time. The love for the people quickly grew. In 28 days, I’ll go back for the 4th time, and now as the director of our children’s home for Mountain Faith Mission.

Needless to say, missions has played a big part of my life. Even in 2009, I was able to visit some FWB home missionaries to just outside of Pittsburgh, PA, and be greatly impacted by their service, dedication, and the excitement of new converts.

I have been fortunate.

But now that I am in the role of planning and executing trips, I have to question: are we always doing things right?

There are multiple articles out there that suggest maybe some things should change. What is the lasting impact on the students who attend missions trips? How does it increase giving? How many students who attend missions trips end up being missionaries? How many students who attend missions trips pay attention to missions the rest of their lives?

Now, this might be overthinking, but my wife and I are fortunate to know quite a few people on the mission field. When I look at them, I have to ask: Are groups really of great benefit to them?

I asked one friend if they had been having groups come up. He said yes. Then I asked if any ever came up and just didn’t do anything. He quickly said yes again. It broke my heart at that point. Have we lost the vision of missions even within our own church? What do missionaries think of groups that come in to “help?” What percentage of groups leave the missionaries with a sense of accomplishment? What percentage of groups leave missionaries with a sigh of relief when that church van goes over the horizon?

How should we go about planning trips? Should we go about it focused on how it will impact our students? Or should we go about it on how it will impact the missionaries and their work? Should we always have a trip planned, even when in the end, the money it costs to go will outweigh the lasting impact? Or is that even able to be quantified?

There are a lot of questions running through my mind, but the one thing I feel that I have going for me, is that maybe a lot of youth ministries go about it the wrong way.

Praise God when students go on missions trips and maybe a specific student is so impacted that he/she answers the call to full-time ministry. That’s awesome! But honestly, should we always be focused on what will impact our students? Because this is the way that it seems a lot of ministries focus on their missions trips. The focus and result is placed upon the student. How will it change them? How will it impact them? Whereas, I feel the better questions will be “How will we impact the world we are visiting with the message of Christ?” Now, I know that’s cliche and every youth group thinks that is what they are doing – but honestly, are we?

Thoughts? Suggestions? Input?

Categories: Missions, Youth Ministry

Fatigued and Loving It

August 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Almost two months ago, my wife and I left our first ministry in Indiana and drove five hours west, just outside of St. Louis to pursue our second ministry. You can read back through this blog to read about that adventure and to see how God had coordinated numerous steps for us to be able to make the journey here to pursue His will. I am still in awe at how obvious His hand has been throughout this entire ordeal.

Today, I find myself in the office, officially feeling like the new youth pastor at my church. Not that the past two months have NOT felt like me being the youth pastor, but things have just been so busy. For the first three weeks, there wasn’t a whole lot going on while I was here. I wasn’t teaching Wednesday night youth group, as they were preparing for VBS. Then, VBS week came, and Lindsey and I enjoyed the socks off of it. Then we were on vacation. Back home for a week and I taught on a Wednesday. Left for a convention. Came back home and slept a billion hours. Last week, we split between junior week at state youth camp and the teen missions trip to downtown St. Louis.

I’m fatigued.

But the fact is, I’m loving it. I’m worn out. Today, I slept through my alarm, woke up 6 minutes before 8:00 am, and rushed to be in the office by 8:15 (the joys of living about 3 miles from the church…).

This is ministry. As I prepare here for Wednesday’s lesson, I am having the opportunity to minister.

On Sundays, my pastor has begun a new series out of Romans called:

As we were talking about this series he would be pursuing on Sunday mornings, I couldn’t help but think about youth group on Wednesday nights. We began to talk about how many times in youth group, or even adult classes, we are hit with numerous different sermonettes throughout the week. You get Sunday School where you get one little nugget. Then the morning worship service where you get another. If you have Sunday night service, you get another one. Then mid-week, you get another one. So I thought, “What if we were on the same page? What if I took Wednesday evenings with the youth group to still teach them and disciple them, but we’re on the same page as the Sunday morning worship?”

It’s going to stretch me. It’s going to fatigue me. But in the end, I think the payoff will be good. What are the benefits?

  1. Students will see one cohesive church, instead of numerous nuggets thrown at them every time they come to church. Why not? Why not show them that on Sunday morning, as my pastor is preaching Truth, it is directed at them, too! Why not bring consistency to give them a double dose of what the church is about?
  2. Make parents do work. Since the move, my attitude has become harsher. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a jerk. But I think I’m tired of playing the game of church and youth ministry. Deuteronomy 6 calls for parents to disciple their children. I want to empower the parents to disciple their kids through teaching the same things on Wednesday night. We won’t examine the same passages, but instead, we’ll take the theme or a point and look at it from a different aspect of Scripture. Then, I’ll be expecting my parents to take it home, talk about it, reiterate it, and use it for a teaching point. There’s been a movement of churches pushing parents into the light of their children’s lives, and I love it. But, I think we need to be bold enough to let parents know that God’s plan is for them to teach their students at home. If God commanded it, then when they don’t, that is called sin. Call it what it is.

Yeah, I’m worn out. Yes, I’ve slept more in other places during the month of July than I have in my own bed. Yes, I’ve travelled over 3,000 miles in the month of July in a car. But would I have it any other way?

No, because I’m right where God has called me. This is ministry. I am learning and growing in ministry and seeing God work in the lives of those who need it. I have a ministry that God has placed me in, where I recognize it is my job to teach youth and empower their parents to raise them at home in the Word.

So no matter how tired I get, I can always put a smile on my face.

There’s no other place I’d rather be. (Except maybe asleep….)

Categories: Church, Youth Ministry

What Role Do You Play?

May 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Yesterday was Mother’s Day. My mother might be one of the six people in the world who accidentally stumbled upon this blog in the past, so “Happy Mother’s Day Mom! You’re like a mother to me!”

Regardless, with all of this hoopla concerning honoring our mothers on this one special day, I’ve been thinking a lot about parenting. Now I’m not a parent, and my wife and I don’t plan to be for a while. As a youth pastor though, I get to deal with parents quite often. Sometimes, I deal with parents more than I want to. Other times, I get to deal with parents less than I want to. Either way, understanding parenting is something that I have strived to do since I entered ministry.

Simply put, most parents don’t play the role that they should in their child’s life. For us “traditional” Christians, who have grown up going to church and it is all that we know (such as my wife and myself), Sundays were a day that we woke up, went to church, no questions asked. In fact, most of the time, there was no argument from me. I never asked if I had to go as if it were a chore, but instead, I loved going to church because this is where my close friends were. For a lot of my friends, it was the same.

Others though, I look and wonder where the priorities lie. I’m not just talking about church attendance (although, I do believe this is essential in parenting, as well as for the children), but instead, just the role that parents play in their lives.

As I interviewed for the new position in Missouri last month, I was asked the question: What discourages you in ministry?

Like a big emotional baby, I began to get emotional as I explained how it truly breaks my heart to see some kid’s parents show no interest, not only in their lives, but in the church. There are simply too many parents who strive to be the politically correct friend to their children instead of leader and mentor.

I’ve done no research, I have no statistics, and I don’t really care what you think about my opinion, because I’m pretty sold on the fact that if parents do not raise their children with the priority to follow Christ above all else, then they are not parenting according to the Biblical model. When parents do this, then it is not their fault if their children grow up to reject church, Christ, or anything else surrounding their upbringing. People make decisions. I made the decision to follow my upbringing. Others, instead, turn their backs upon this.

Yet, I will throw this statistic out there (which is made up on the spot): I believe that 90% of the cases we see of people not in church today, even though they grew up “going to church,” is to be blamed on parenting. I look at my upbringing in the church. Again – my parents had me there. There was no choice. Sundays, there was nothing else that came before church. Wednesdays, we were there. Revivals, we were there. This is not be confused with church attendance equating the totality of our relationship with Christ, but instead, the priority that was placed upon commitment to Christ. I look at others I grew up with who were in the same boat that I found myself in.

Then, I look at others, whose parents did not fulfill the role of raising them to see the importance of commitment to the church and to Christ. Thus, my statistics come – those who were committed to church as youth because of their parents commitment to church still find themselves committed. It’s amazing – as parents actually parented their kids – and weren’t just the cool-go-to-parent, their kids are still in church, if not SERVING in a church. In fact, Thom Rainer in Essential Church has plenty of statistics to back up the role that parental involvement in the church versus students being committed to the church in adulthood plays.

While I have rambled throughout this entire post, what it all boils down to is understanding that as parents, it is YOUR role to fulfill to teach your students to follow Christ above all else. The best way to do so is by setting that example. Your child watches you.

But, when your half-hearted devotion is evident, your student will follow those footsteps, too.

As a youth pastor, I love working with students. But I am not their rock. I am not the one who trains them day in and day out the importance of Scripture. I should be the one who is reiterating what they are learning at home.

Unfortunately, the roles have changed.

What role do you play?

Worldview

March 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Since I really began to study into apologetics over the past few years, I’ve philosophized about how to do ministry and teach and whatnot. Now that I’m in ministry, I’ve figured out that it always looks a little different than the ideal.

I’ll be honest, I just finished The Faith by Chuck Colson and am presently reading Already Gone by Ken Ham and I am thoroughly enjoying them because of one reason: they reaffirm my philosophy.

Honestly, that’s how we are – we agree with those who agree with us most of the time. But as I have gotten into ministry and tried to implement a philosophy and apologetic approach, to see some of the great Christian minds also share that same view helps me to be confident in my approach and views.

The fact is, when it comes down to it, according to both of these books, as well as my philosophy – if we teach Christians how to view all of life through the scope of the Bible as the ultimate authority and God’s true Word, then we teach them how to live a life that is pleasing to God.

Instead of giving them “helpful tips for living” and being afraid of stepping on their toes because society says to not step on their toes, I’ve began to realize that we ALWAYS have to give the hard truths of Scripture. It’s an issue of eternity. It’s an issue of pleasing God. If we choose to ignore those things when it comes to teaching and discipling people, then we miss the point of the message of Christ.

To think like Christ is found right in the pages of Scripture in Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. In chapter 2, Paul speaks of having the same mind as Christ, who came as a servant and was humble. I mean, first off, that’s a lesson in and of itself to today’s society where everything is “me-driven.” But secondly, to engage our minds to think as Christ thinks could revolutionize not just American Christianity, but honestly the entire world.

So when it comes down to it, I fully 100% believe that the Church has no choice but to take a step back and ask, “What are the people in our congregation learning?” If they’re learning cute and convenient nuggets of faith that make them feel better – I’m not convinced that’s appropriate. We need to teach the hard truths of Scripture so that people begin to wake up and realize – “God has called me to a life of surrender. Everything that He desires for my life will be implemented.” No longer can we teach “Jesus loves you just as you are and you can even stay that way and do what you want….” because that has led to an exodus from our churches.

You get what you expect, after all.

American Christianity

March 4, 2010 2 comments

I haven’t posted for a while. With Mountain Faith Mission still dealing with the earthquake in Haiti and whatnot, my mind has been elsewhere. To keep track of those things, check out Run 4 Haiti that I keep updated with Haiti stuff.

I don’t pretend to have it all together. I’ll go ahead and tell you now, when I get mad, I say stuff I shouldn’t. There are a lot of days when I’m in a bad mood, I treat my wife like crap. And, there are certain people that make me want to punch them in the face. That’s who I am. And honestly, I hate those characteristics about myself. I don’t brag or boast about any of that, but I feel that this is a necessary element to this post in order to show you I’m not pointing fingers at people and claiming that I am holy, when I clearly have work that needs to be done.

In the past few weeks, while studying about the Church with my youth, God has really just gripped my heart at my attitude towards church and my life. I find that I fall into the same traps that the Israelites did in the Old Testament. Such as:

Malachi 3:13-15

13 “You have said harsh things against me,” says the LORD. 
“Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’

14 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.’ “

The Israelites were only worshiping God to see what they could get out of it. If we were honest with ourselves, we could look back at how many times we’ve attended church to “worship” God, and the number would be astounding at how many times we had vain worship. By vain, I simply mean, empty worship. It was nothing. We went through the motions. And why? Because we simply wanted to put the check mark on our list so we could say we’d been to church.

THIS IS NOT WHAT CHURCH IS!!!

Or, how about this one:

Isaiah 58:3-6

3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, 
‘and you have not seen it? 
Why have we humbled ourselves, 
and you have not noticed?’ 
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please 
and exploit all your workers.

4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, 
and in striking each other with wicked fists. 
You cannot fast as you do today 
and expect your voice to be heard on high.

5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, 
only a day for a man to humble himself? 
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed 
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? 
Is that what you call a fast, 
a day acceptable to the LORD ?

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: 
to loose the chains of injustice 
and untie the cords of the yoke, 
to set the oppressed free 
and break every yoke?

The Israelites again are simply making God ANGRY because they are going through motions that they think will please Him. And yet, they are leaving off so many other commands that He has given – such as loving other people!!!

We all fail when it comes to this. We’re sinful people who fail. But, the question is: What are we doing to make sure we are following God closely?

You see, I look at Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, blogs, etc. of people I know who are professing Christians, and I see so many of them living lives contrary to the Gospel, and yet they say, “God will bless me, etc.”

I’ve got friends who got pregnant and are now living, unmarried, with the fathers of their children. They live a life that I believe is clearly contradictory to the way that God has established for man and woman according to the Bible, and they flaunt it for all to see. And in the same breath, they talk about how good God is and whatnot. 

Or, my other friends who post on people’s pages – “I’ll pray for you because of this or that…” and then you glance at their pictures and see the type of lifestyle they lead is completely contrary to that of Scripture.

And I pick on these instances, because they’re EASY to see.

The problem here is that people are either Biblically ignorant, or simply picking and choosing what they want to live by. Inconsistent Christianity is not Christianity.

In America, we have struggled with this issue. We have removed the offensive parts of Scripture – namely the “Follow God with everything you have by dying to yourself” – in order to please man and make him feel better. But that’s where I struggle. The Bible clearly states the call of Christ as taking up one’s cross, an instrument of torture and death, and following Christ. It’s no longer about us and what we want, but it’s all about following Christ.

Because we have softened the call of Christ to nothing more than “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so, so now I can do whatever I want…” it has permeated the attitude of Christians to make them nothing more than social club attendees who want a gold star. And this is not following Christ.

It effects me every day. I consistently have to ask myself, “Ryan, why are you doing this? Is it for you or is it for God?” Because my flesh is so weak. I love attention. I love people to comment on the things that I do and say. I love getting bragged on. I am self-centered. And yet, if I claim that I follow Christ – I am dead and Christ lives in me.

You see, I’ve come to realize that I cannot live a life that is contrary to Scripture. When the Bible says that “x” is wrong, then I must be obedient to this way of thinking. When the Bible tells me that sex outside of marriage is wrong, I cannot say, “Well, God will forgive me…” When the Bible tells me that blessings and cursings shouldn’t come from the same mouth, I cannot say, “But I was really mad…” I am dead. I have died. I let Christ live in me. And I follow Him according to His Words that are contained within the Bible.

Why have we missed this point? Why do we find so many people in the church who live lives according to their own Gospel, and then just pull what feels comfortable out of Christ’s Words?

The call of Christ is not one that leads Christians to comfort. In my opinion, the call of Christ will always lead us to discomfort, because we are battling our flesh in order to be submissive to Christ.

How uncomfortable are you?

What Is Discipleship?

February 8, 2010 1 comment

In the never ending quest to study the church and what makes it up, we hit on discipleship last week. What does God expect?What does He want from Christians? Do we just become Christians and then suddenly, we’re good to go? We can just come to church (and even only when we feel like it at that) and sing and go home? Or, is there something deeper?

Anyone who has read this blog for more than 5 days knows that I loathe Biblical Illiteracy. The statistics on Americans who claim to be Christians and their knowledge of the Bible is nothing short of embarrassing. We have tons of education, so what’s so special about learning the Bible?

But, the case can easily be built that God expects a Christ follower to grow in their knowledge of who He is – and never stop growing.

There are a few different points and aspects that Scripture builds as to what a Christian’s life should look like once he or she makes that profession of faith in Jesus Christ.

  1. Growing from a child to an adult:
    Let’s begin here.

Ephesians 4:14-16 – “Then we will no longer be immature like children…Instead, we will…grow in every way more and more like Christ.”

1 Peter 2:2-3 – “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness.”

Hebrews 5:12-14 – “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, Read more…

The Importance of the Church

February 2, 2010 1 comment

It’s been three weeks since I’ve posted here. I’ve posted almost every other day on Run 4 Haiti with the recent earthquake. Head over there if you’re out of the loop about the mission I work with. Lots of updates on the page.

Last week I started a new 6 week series with my youth on the church. For a long time, I had struggled with the importance of the church – not so much in the sense of where I wanted to do my own thing, but really as to what the Bible says about being a part of a local church. 

Let me first say that I disagree completely with the notion that the traditional way of doing things is automatically the best. I don’t mind doing things traditionally, and in fact, I prefer some things to be done traditionally, but I have come to realize that all of those things are simply traditions.

For instance, why is Sunday morning worship usually beginning later in the morning? 10-11am? Because the 11 o’clock hour was originally chosen to accommodate the milking schedule of dairy farmers. So, it’s stuck. This doesn’t bother me, but it’s an illustration that will be referenced later.

So, what does the Bible say about the church?

Well, let’s look at what Christ says about the church. In Matthew 16:13-20 we see Christ talking to Peter and saying that He will build His church on this rock (read: Not establishing Peter as the first Pope). Whether building the church on the rock means on the faith that Peter exhibited, or through the future actions of Peter as a follower of Christ (see Acts 2:14-36 & Acts 10), we do see that through the action of faith and the messages of Peter that a gathering of believers begins to build.

These local gatherings (Greek ekklesia) is simply that. A local gathering of believers. It means “those called out.” Thus, it’s a local gathering of believers that have been called out from a life of sin.

So if Christ is going to build His church, we find ownership which is then reiterated through Paul in Ephesians.

  1. Ephesians 2:19-20: Paul establishes the point that Christ is the cornerstone of the church. The foundation of the church is the prophet’s teaching and the apostle’s teaching. What do these teachings focus upon? Christ. Who is the cornerstone. And the cornerstone of a building is that very first stone that every other stone is placed into line because of. Everything else is where it is because of the cornerstone.

    Thus, I’m sensing this whole church thing is Read more…