Sunday, May 24, 2015

Memorial Sunday Night Reflections

Some random thoughts running through my head this evening:

- I crashed hard this afternoon after preaching.  I once heard someone say preaching a message is equal in energy to running a marathon.  I think that is a load of hooey, but I will say that preaching three messages in a row brings on a unique level of exhaustion.

- I'm looking forward to grilling some bbq pork tomorrow.  

- With Graduation Open Houses and Summer Camps, this is my final "free weekend" where there is nothing pulling me away from family/home until July 17-19.  This is the final weekend I will basically lounge at home until August 14-16.  Suummers be crazy!

- As I watched the Class of '15 being honored in each service, I experienced an extremely vast amount of thoughts and emotions.  I'd love to say I'm confident in the spiritual state of this class as a whole.  I can't.  There are several individuals I believe are in a great spot and will thrive in the next season of life. As a whole, I find myself praying they will learn through their struggles, doubts and failures in the next phase. 

- Memorial Day is clearly a time dedicated to remembering those who have served and even given their lives for our country.  I am forever grateful for them.  At the same time, I have found myself remembering my Dad this weekend... A LOT.  For his life and investment in me, I am forever grateful.

- Highlights from this weekend included a lot of laughs and time with my son. I am so glad God brought us on a journey to have him part of our lives.

- I am currently watching a movie... and it is a reboot.  Robocop.  Reboots, adaptations and sequals.  Just summed up 90% of hollywood's releases.  This is probaly why I'm really looking forward to watching Tomorrowland.

- Tuesday 5 individuals start working with us for the Summer. 4 are NMC grads.  The 5th is a SOAR alum. I can't wait to see what God has in store for us this Summer.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

New DYM Resource: The Senior Superpack

For the last 4 years we have been trying to really step up our focus on the transition time for our from the Senior year through the first year post-graduation.  It's a part of something we've dubbed our Sticky Faith Initiative* We've had some things go really well, some things not go really well, and a lot of things we've built and tweaked over time.

Last year around this time I started taking some of the various games, devotionals, experiences, and other resources I've developed over the years, adapted them to make them less NMC-specific and make them available to other ministries through the super-awesome, ridiculously affordable folks at Download Youth Ministry (downloadyouthministry.com).

As I was working on what we call our "Senior Sundays" this Spring, it dawned on me that there are many of my youth ministry friends who are in the same predicament as I was 4 years ago...

Flashback to 4 years ago...
It was really settling in.  I was preparing to graduate out my 12th Senior Class since going on fulltime at NMC.  12 Classes, average (on the low end) of 50 students each class who call NMC home... that's a lot of kids through our doors, which is truly awesome and humbling to be a part of.
At the same time, there were two burdens eating away at me:
  1. The statistics on the amount of active youth groups kids that were choosing to be spiritual dropouts during the college years, and more specifically the actual names and faces of students who I could identify fitting in with those statistics.
  2. The seeming impossibility of adequately walking with and ministering to students after graduation.  Just stop and think about it... with every graduating class there is a new class of students stepping into the Student Ministries.  I was living with 14 years of awkward conversations with former students (having trouble remembering names or details of what was going on his/her life), hurt feelings (more than one student contacted me to let me know how hurt they were by the lack of continued care/communication after graduation) and good old-fashioned youth pastor guilt (I'm not doing enough, I'm failing, I have to find a solve).I was also living with 14 years worth of realization that I could only do so much.  Ultimately, I felt it was time to find a way for that "so much" to include a better approach toward the post grad years.
So, in a lunch meeting with some Senior leadership in the church, I bore my soul over these burdens and the wheels started turning.  3 months later with the blessing and resourcing of some amazing church leadership, we had made some adjustements in staffing and focus to move ahead with a significant focus on creating a better bridge from the youth group years to life after.
Back to this Spring...
 So I'm sitting there reflecting on the 4 years worth of experiences and programs we implemented, it dawned on me, "Why not let others benefit from this stuff?"  I contacted my friends at DYM and pitched the idea of putting together a set of resources all centered around working with grads, and they loved it!

After 2 months of late nights and off-hour work to deeply edit and turn the materials from NMC-specific to ministry-neutral and adaptable products, I submitted 9 different resources to be considered.

This past Monday, DYM released all 9 products for individual purchase, but also made them available in one purchase (at about 50% less) called The Senior Superpack.

As I scrolled through the product description late Monday Night, something really settled in with me... this stuff has the potential to be a game changer for youth groups, and ultimately individual students.  So humbling, and so exciting!

If you're a youthmin person, I'd encourage you to go check out the Superpack.  Take the stuff and make it work for you in your context. 


*Inspired by the fantastic book and research by the folks at Fuller Youth Insititute:  check out stickyfaith.org

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

38 Reflections For 38 Years

On this  the eve of the 38th anniversary of my entrance into the world, here are 38 thoughts, opinions, reflections, or memories from the time tread on this Earth:
1. When coming up to multiple choices of lines, always go left.
2. There are two types of people in this world... Those who love country music and the rest of us.
3. The two most overrated events in my High School career were commencement and prom. 
4. Until I'm content that I'm complete In my relationship with Christ, all other relationships are a hopeless attempt to fill that void.
5. I am a product of some amazing heritage on both sides of my extended family.  If you see something of deep character In me, it likely has something to do with the Prenkerts and Wislers.
6. I thought I had parenting all figured out... then I became one.
7. If you are wanting to go into youth ministry for the long haul, you have to be ready to do more than just spend time with teens.
8.  There is nobody on this earth that has a sweeter jump shot than my oldest brother.
9.  U2 has been and always will be the greatest musical influence on my life. 
10. In the first month after his death, not an hour would go by without me thinking about my dad. For the first year, not a day.  In the years following, it was sometimes a week, but never more.  I thought of him three times today and all three involved my kids.
11.  I am not a big spender, but I'd be willing to go into debt for the sake of a family vacation.
12. I have less faith in politics solving world issues than I do in getting a meal at the Nappanee KFC/TacoBell drivethru in under 10 minutes on a Sunday.
13. I've been in a lot of dark places, but nothing has rocked me to the core to the level of the genocide memorials of Rwanda were I stared at tens of thousands of skulls of victims in a completely senseless "war."
14. I believe Jesus is more than a church answer.
15. Soemtimes, people need to just shut up on social media.... And I am a member of "people."
16. Instead of being offended by sin, I want to be provoked to do something.
17.  My salvation was not merely meant for myself.
18.  Adoption is the most beautiful, most mysterious, most confusing, most faith-building, most frustrating, most rewarding process I have ever walked through.
19.  Every year I want to look back and say, "I wish I would have spent more time at work" over saying,  "I wish I had spent more time with my family."   I can't say I've succeeded, but I can say I'm striving.
20.  Sometimes we have to say no to the good things in order to say yes to the God things.
21. Seinfeld is the one show I could watch episodes over and over again and not be bored.
22.  Christians need to stop expecting nonChristians to act like Christians, but should start holding other Christians accountable to live more like Christ.
23.  I am blessed to call NMC my church.
24. I'm even more blessed to call Janelle my wife.
25. Disneyworld and Ludington, Michigan are two places that immediately make me think of and value my family.
26.  Terry Bley looked at me as a scrawny 7th grader and saw something. Because of this, I'm constantly asking,"Who do I see something in?"
27. I consider the Kids in Need initiative to be the most significant ministry accomplishment I have been a part of. 
28.  Whenever I hear someone talk up a former NMC student or intern, I light up inside like a proud Dad.
29. There's times Moses looks up at me and smiles, and I'm completely blown away by the transforming power of a loving mom and dad.  If you only knew...
30.  Absent, aloof and stoic Dads will set their daughters up to struggle with their identity during their teen years.
31. The Pizza Puff may be the most valuable thing the convenience store has offered the world (or maybe the Slurpee).
32.  The more I think I know, the less I know I know.
33. There is always room for ice cream.
34. If you're having trouble sleeping,  close your eyes and try to name every NFL starting Quarterback... Works every time for me. 
35.  "Busy" may be the most relative concept and lamest excuses in the world. 
36.  If you have the hiccups, try to swallow three times while holding your breath.
37.  Life is a series of events that prepare you for the next event.
38.  Jesus. Simply Jesus.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Tonight at NMC

I shared a message tonight that has been brewing in me for many years.  Here's some of the biggest thoughts from it...

  • Have you ever felt used in a relationship? I know I have.   I had my license early in my Sophomore year, and it was amazing how many people became friends with me at that point. We can run a risk of doing this with God. When our main reason for following God is out of a desire to get something from him… heaven, feelings, a supernatural move (miracles, gifts, etc.)… we are missing the point. 
  • The reason we follow God because He is God. 
  • Tonight, we did not sing "You are here for us".... we sang, "We are here for you."  BUT, which version are we singing in our everyday life?
  •  The idea of seeking God over God’s move is laced throughout scripture... 
    • In Amos the people were seeking the places of worship over God.  He had some harsh words to say to them in Amos 5:4-6.
    • We love the promise of Jeremiah 29:11 (For I know the plans I have for you) but that promise is incomplete without Jeremiah 29:12-13 (You will seek me and find me when you seek ME with all your heart).
    • Philippians 4:13 is grossly misquoted.  Check out Philippians 4:11-12 sometime.
  •  Some of you may be saying, “Wait a minute? So I shouldn’t want to see God move? I shouldn’t want to get to heaven? Is it bad to want to feel God’s presence?” No, I’m not saying that. What I’m trying to get at is this… 
    • Let’s be careful that we are seeking the Creator and not his creation. 
    • Let’s worship the Doer and not the things he’s done. 
    • Let’s place our trust in the Giver and not in His gifts.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

New Resource on DYM: What Happened? What's Next?

As mentioned in a previous post, I have some resources that are going up on Download Youth Ministry, a site dedicated to provided resources to Youth Workers at an affordable price.  My first non-game went up on the site today.  What Happens?  What's Next? is a missions trip debrief packet.  I am incredibly proud of this resource due to the major role it has played in my ministry context.  We place a high value on debriefing the short term missions experience.  On more than one occasion, I have had students come to me and say thank you for walking through our debrief experience.  The reality is that a lot of youth groups do short term missions very poorly and it results in more harm than good on the place visited and the students visiting.  We have learned a lot of key elements to ensuring this does not happen through our IMPACT experiences.
 What Happened? What's Next? has been our key tool in making sure the short term missions experience is more than a moment for the student participating.  Here's the opening statement from the packet:

 It’s likely going to happen within an hour of your return home. Someone who knows you’ve been gone is going to approach you and say, “So, tell me about your trip.” 

What do you say, where do you begin, how do you explain everything that you have seen/heard/experienced, and how do you even know what or how much info the person is looking for? 

Because of these questions, you might be tempted to go with a response like these… 

RESPONSE 1 – “It was good/great/awesome/life-changing (or some other adjective).” 
RESPONSE 2 – “I can’t even explain it. You just had to be there.” 

Response 1 gives no justice to our experience. Response 2 is almost insulting to the person who is inquiring about your trip. So, where do you begin? How could you respond? What if you could find a way to sum up your experience in one simple but descriptive sentence? 

In the following pages, you are going to recount your experiences and eventually narrow them down to one clear, concise sentence that describes your experience. More importantly, in the process you are going to be able to see the major themes, lessons and experiences God has allowed you through this trip. 

To get there, let me ask you to do a few things… 
  1. Give this your best focus and effort. This whole packet is going to help you take what God has done on this trip and see how you are going to take it home. 
  2. Don’t jump ahead. You may be tempted to just jump to the top 3 and sentence. If you do, you will likely miss out on some lessons God taught you that you didn’t even realize. 
  3. Take your time. We have given you plenty of time to work through this. 
  4. If you get stuck, talk to a leader. We want you to make this your personal exercise, so allow your other teammates to work through their debrief materials. 

So, here we go. Let’s take time to see “What Happened” and what God has taught us! 

Check out the resource here.  Check out my other resources on the site here.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sow Seeds. Sow Lots of Seeds.

The Benediction I shared at the close of NMCs August 31 Message out of Luke 8:4-15

NMC, let’s sow seeds.
Let’s sow lots of seeds.
In our homes.
At the dinner table.
In the family room.
In our conversations.
Sow seeds.

In the cubicle.
On the production floor.
In the boardroom.
In the break room.
And in the bathroom.
Sow seeds.

In the classroom.
In the Hallways.
At the Lunch Table.
In the locker room.
On the field.
And yes, fans, in the stands.
 Sow seeds.
Sow lots of seeds.

In the produce aisle.
In the checkout line.
On our phone.
On Facebook.
In our tweets, our TBT’s and texts.
Let’s sow seeds.

To the masses
And to the one.

When everyone is looking
And no one at all.

With our actions
And with our words.

With our families,
With our friends
And even our enemies.



To a world that is LOST.
YOU are the one God is calling to
SOW SEEDS.
SOW LOTS OF SEEDS.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

18 Lessons Learned in 18 Years of Student Ministry

This week marks 18 years that I've been a part of the Student Ministries Staff at NMC.  I have now been involved in Student Ministry for as many years as I have not been involved in Student Ministry!

 In the Fall of 1996, I came on as a very part-time (5-10 hrs a week) Junior High Intern.  At that time, I was excited to get my feet wet in Youth Ministry at a healthy and growing church while getting my degree at Bethel College.  I would have never guessed that internship would turn into a full time position after college.  I'm blown away at the fact that God has allowed me to stay at this same place for these past 18 years.  Just think about that... the students who will be graduating High School this year were born the year I started in.

A lot has changed personally and professionally over those years and a lot has stayed the same.  As I was driving in to the church and walking into my office (which is the seventh office space I've had since starting here), I found myself reflecting on some of the more significant things I've learned over these past 18 years.  With it being year 18, here's 18 lessons I've learned:
  1. Students have blown me away.  They are naive and willing enough to take the Bible at it's word and step out in faith.
  2. Students have broken my heart.  I've watched destructive decisions as well as just downright hurtful things said or done to me.  If anyone goes in this hoping to see everything go perfectly and everyone like you, be prepared for disappointment.  There are a lot of painful pit stops along this 18 year road.  
  3. I can't fix people.  If I were to be honest, I think I initially stepped into ministry with this being the motivation.  I was going to fix the world's problems due to the calling God had placed on my life.  I can't fix people.  That's God's job, and sometimes, he doesn't even want to fix the things I think He should fix. 
  4. Fruit can't be judged on my feelings. I've had moments I've walked off a stage and whispered "Nailed It!" under my breath only to realize students weren't tracking at all.  I've had other moments I felt like everything was a mess and even wondered if I committed heresy only to have a student (or even multiple students) share how much they were challenged or how God used my words.
  5. Ministry is full of seasons... I have to embrace the season I'm in. 
    I started  as an older friend then moved to big brother.  Now I play a bit of a Dad role. 
    I was hands on with students, then hands on with volunteers. Now I'm hands on with Staff. 
    I was Junior High, then High School.  Now I'm a little College and a little Middle and still a decent amount of High School.   
    I could go on and on.  Each season had it's major bonuses as well as it's shortfalls and trials.  The biggest shortfalls were when I found myself longing for a different season instead of leaning in to the season I was in.
  6. Teenagers can lead the charge for the entire church. I've personally seen student movments in worship, evangelism and justice set a tone that the entire church body has joined in on.
  7. There is always more I can do. There's always one more call, one more project and one more student slipping through the cracks.  Sabbath is key.  You have to say no.
  8. Youth Ministers will be misunderstood... Deal with it. You will get labeled disorganized, lazy and/or immature. Student Ministry does not fully fit inside a nice tidy box.  You can only plan ahead so much with teenagers.  Organization has to be thrown out the door at times.  It takes a little bit of crazy to stick with Middle and High School students.  Some people won't "get it" when it comes to what you're doing.  Keep moving forward.
  9. The role of the pastor's spouse is under-appreciated, overlooked and invaluable.  I'm dead meat without her.  She always has my back.  She has more to do with what's going on than anyone realizes.
  10. There is no such thing as balance in the immediate.  Ministry is no doubt a marathon, but it is not one that is run at one even pace.  It's sprint, rest, sprint, jog, walk, sprint, rest big time, sprint, sprint some more, walk, sprint again, rest...
  11. The Senior Leadership/Youth Pastor relationship is the key to longevity.  I am very blessed to be under the leadership structure I am under.  I'm loved, encouraged, resourced and empowered by a Senior Pastoral team (namely Dave, Joe and Terry) and an amazing Church Board.  I've seen far too many youth ministry casualties in my SM friends along the way due to unhealthy relationships between the Senior Pastor, Church Elder, Direct Supervisor, etc. and the Youth Pastor.
  12. Overnighters are from hell. Enough said.
  13. Occupational Ministry is one of the loneliest professions out there. I am so blessed to be a part of a church where there is multiple staff.  Still, the fences have to be high at times on who you "let in."  Satan also loves to beat the crud out of you and convince you that you are alone in the journey.
  14. The longer I do this, the more I realize how little I know. 
  15. There is no profession tougher than parenting.  I used to get so ticked at how I saw parents handling situations with their kids... then I became the parent of 3. 
  16. I am broken.  I have so little to offer left to myself.  He (the one who is in me) has more to offer than anyone could ask or imagine.  This is the reason my ministry cry is the same as John the Baptist, "Less of me, God.  More of You."
  17. Methodology is way overrated.  I'm all about excellence in programming and relevance. The message must be packaged in a way that it can truly take root (read the parable of the Sower).  However, we spend far to much time in the church world debating large v small, attractional v missional, progressive v traditional.  Kind of makes me want to puke writing it.  Jesus.  Simply Jesus.
  18. The Holy Spirit is way underrated.That moment when the Spirit of God breaks through.  When light overtakes darkness.  When chains are broken.  When life overtakes death.  When hope is restored.  When a Middle School student "gets it" for the first time.  When a High School girl leads her best friend to Christ.  When a student returns 10 years later and shares what God is unfolding in his life.  When you see what's happening and you all you can say is, "No way... only God could do that!"  That's what I long for.  That's what keeps me going.
I'm praising God for the privilege and responsibility he's allowed me over these past 18 years.  I'm looking forward to my August 2054 post, "58 Lessons Learned in 58 Years of Student Ministry."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Download Youth Ministry

This last fall I got the chance to connect with Josh Griffin, the High School Pastor at Saddleback Church in California.  He and his friends have created Download Youth Ministry, a website that provides all kinds of downloadable resources for Youth Workers at a very affordable price.  Josh challenged me to consider taking some of the resources I've created (TAWG Journals, Experiences, Teaching Series, and Games) and make them available to the youth Youth Ministry world.  Right now, I have a few games up on the site with several other resources coming out in the weeks and months to come.  I'm really excited about this opportunity as I sensed back in my SOAR internship days that God wanted to use my creative/writing abilities to impact the Kingdom in a broader sense.  This seems to be an oppportunity to do so.

Check out the entire library of resources here.  They are all tested and true resources by youth workers for youth workers.
Check out my page of resources here.
If you're in Youth Ministry, be sure to check out the DYM Membership.  It's a fantastic deal.

*Full Disclosure: I do benefit financially from every resource I have placed on the site.  I do not, however, receive any income from other resources or the membership.  I don't care if you buy my stuff or not.  I highly recommend going there to check out resources for your sake, not mine!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Leadership Summit: Final Session - Louie Giglio

"All the glory goes to God, all the honor goes to people."
  • Louie takes a moment to honor Bill Hybels.
  • What is your "mountain?"  Something you see that nobody else sees? What are you seeking to tackle.
  • Sometimes we're trying to lead, but we just don't know what to do.
  • 3 things a leader needs to breathe in:
  1. Life is Short.
    • Most people don't feel much urgency about the things of life.
    • The stakes are too high to die with a small vision.
    • Matterhorn.  Start at 4 a.m., climb the equivalent of 3 Empire State Buildings in 4 hours.
    • What is it that God wants us to conquer?
    • We have to say not to complacency and the status quo.
  2. God is big.
    • Whatever that step is, you can do it, but you can't do it. He can do it.
    • God's power is very sufficient to take the very next step He has for you right now.
    • There are lot of exceptional leaders at this Summit, but there are no saviors. 
  3.  Take a Step.
    • God's grace is enough.
    • The goal is not to get up mountains.  The goal is to fall into the arms of Jesus.

Leadership Summit: Session 5b - Erica Ariel Fox

Closing your performance gap:
  • Look at yourself in a new way... "I am plural."  
    • Brain scans show us as more like an orchestra than a soloist.
    • Look at them as inner negotiators.
      • The Dreamer (Your inner CEO)... Creates Possibilities, Sets strategic vision, senses a path forward and gives direction.
      • The Thinker (Your Inner CFO)... Clarifies Perspectives, Analyzes data, Manages risk and considers consequences
      • The Lover (Your Inner VP of HR)... Cares about people, Feels emotions, manages relationships and colaborates with others.
      • The Warrior (Your Inner COO)... Catalyzes Performance, Takes action, reaches goals and speaks hard truth.
  • For the developing the Dreamer, do I continue to push toward the dream or do I stop and ask, What is the "dream beneath the dream?"
  • For developing the Thinker,  Learn how to create a compelling evidence argument for your case.
  • For developing the Lover, consider how to care about people as the end to itself rather than the means to an end.  Call the name and face of someone you love into your heart before having to step into a tough situation.
  • For developing the Warrior,  Find a place where you are saying yes today, but tomorrow need to say, "Thanks, but no."