An Open Letter to Students on Identity

Dear Student,

I see what is going on.  You might think it’s invisible to the people around you, but I see it.  I see how you are working so hard for approval from those around you.  I see the clothes you wear, the things you buy, the music you listen to, and the way you act around others.  Sometimes, I wonder if these things really add up to equal YOU or just some version of you that is “presentable” to the masses.  You have so much of your identity wrapped up in what others think of you, and I want you to know that what they think really doesn’t matter.

You might wonder how I know these things.  Well, it’s because not that long ago, I was like you.  I know you probably think I’m way too old to understand, but I remember going through Middle School and High School.  I remember entering the school every day, hoping that I didn’t do anything stupid that would draw the ridicule of the “popular kids.”  I remember the uncertainty of the lunchroom, a virtual gauntlet, the caste system with tater tots.  Where do I sit?  Who are my friends?  Who can I trust?  I know it’s sometimes overwhelming, and I know you want so badly to fit in, but I think I’ve found a better way.

Instead of wrapping your identity around clothes, music, popularity, and how many “likes” you get on your Instagram, why not try putting your trust in Jesus?  You might think that sounds hokey or ridiculous, but here are some truths that I have come to find pretty powerful from God’s Word.

1.  God created us in His image.  We are His.


Genesis tells the story of Creation.  God crafted the world in six days.  Everything we see around us was crafted by Him.  Yet only one thing He created was confirmed as being “very good.”  It was us – humanity!  So, the solar system, the beautiful sky, the most incredible animal you can think of…all of it pales in comparison to you!  God created you, and you are His!

2.  God’s love for you is unconditional.


1 John tells us that God is love.  John 3:16 reminds us that God loves us so much that He sent His Son for us.  But I think Romans 5:8 says it best.  “God demonstrates His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  The world is all about what you bring to the table, what you provide.  God loves you unconditionally.  God’s love isn’t dependent on what you do, He loves you for who You are.  You can’t earn more of God’s love, and you can’t escape it.  God loves you…period.  Read Romans 8:38-39 if you don’t believe me.

3.  Trusting in God gives you purpose and direction.


One of the best truths that God gives us is that of purpose.  When we trust in God, we believe not only in His unconditional love, but also His divine plan for each of us.  God has something in mind that only you can accomplish, that only you can do.  He created you, He crafted you to be the person you are, and gave you your gifts, abilities, and personality to accomplish His purposes.  Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  God has a plan, so you have a purpose.

I have found great joy and solace in knowing that I have a God who loves me unconditionally, who created me in His image, and who has a plan for me.  With these truths firmly in place, I am free to follow Christ, to focus on what He has in store for me, and to rest my identity in the One who will never let me down.  And that, dear student, is a beautiful place to be.

In Christ, Your Youth Minister

An Open Letter to Students on Identity

Dear Student,

I see what is going on.  You might think it’s invisible to the people around you, but I see it.  I see how you are working so hard for approval from those around you.  I see the clothes you wear, the things you buy, the music you listen to, and the way you act around others.  Sometimes, I wonder if these things really add up to equal YOU or just some version of you that is “presentable” to the masses.  You have so much of your identity wrapped up in what others think of you, and I want you to know that what they think really doesn’t matter.

You might wonder how I know these things.  Well, it’s because not that long ago, I was like you.  I know you probably think I’m way too old to understand, but I remember going through Middle School and High School.  I remember entering the school every day, hoping that I didn’t do anything stupid that would draw the ridicule of the “popular kids.”  I remember the uncertainty of the lunchroom, a virtual gauntlet, the caste system with tater tots.  Where do I sit?  Who are my friends?  Who can I trust?  I know it’s sometimes overwhelming, and I know you want so badly to fit in, but I think I’ve found a better way.

Instead of wrapping your identity around clothes, music, popularity, and how many “likes” you get on your Instagram, why not try putting your trust in Jesus?  You might think that sounds hokey or ridiculous, but here are some truths that I have come to find pretty powerful from God’s Word.

1.  God created us in His image.  We are His.


Genesis tells the story of Creation.  God crafted the world in six days.  Everything we see around us was crafted by Him.  Yet only one thing He created was confirmed as being “very good.”  It was us – humanity!  So, the solar system, the beautiful sky, the most incredible animal you can think of…all of it pales in comparison to you!  God created you, and you are His!

2.  God’s love for you is unconditional.


1 John tells us that God is love.  John 3:16 reminds us that God loves us so much that He sent His Son for us.  But I think Romans 5:8 says it best.  “God demonstrates His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  The world is all about what you bring to the table, what you provide.  God loves you unconditionally.  God’s love isn’t dependent on what you do, He loves you for who You are.  You can’t earn more of God’s love, and you can’t escape it.  God loves you…period.  Read Romans 8:38-39 if you don’t believe me.

3.  Trusting in God gives you purpose and direction.


One of the best truths that God gives us is that of purpose.  When we trust in God, we believe not only in His unconditional love, but also His divine plan for each of us.  God has something in mind that only you can accomplish, that only you can do.  He created you, He crafted you to be the person you are, and gave you your gifts, abilities, and personality to accomplish His purposes.  Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  God has a plan, so you have a purpose.

I have found great joy and solace in knowing that I have a God who loves me unconditionally, who created me in His image, and who has a plan for me.  With these truths firmly in place, I am free to follow Christ, to focus on what He has in store for me, and to rest my identity in the One who will never let me down.  And that, dear student, is a beautiful place to be.

In Christ, Your Youth Minister

The first step is always the hardest

What is God stirring in your heart?

The first few verses of the book of Ezra open with the king of Persia essentially granting freedom to the exiles of God that are within his reign the freedom to go home and to rebuild the temple of God. As Christians, we know the God we serve is great and able to do anything; for example, having the king of the nation who is holding captives, who just 70 years prior was responsible for the destruction of the temple and city, issue a decree setting those captives free to go rebuild.

But from a purely human perspective, how terrifying would this have been to live through? What if it was all just a trap? What would possess the king to issue this decree?

It’s one thing to have faith that God can do; it’s a completely different issue to have to actually take action on that faith, to take the first step into the unknown.

What I love about the first verses in Ezra is in verse 5, where it says

 [quote align="center" color="#999999"]Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose heart God had moved, to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem. [/quote]

I love that part: everyone whose heart God had moved; because I know how God has moved my heart and the passions he has put on me that are unique to me, and I also know there are passions he has stirred within you that are unique to you. When I read this verse, it’s the implication of the ones whose hearts hadn’t been stirred and who saw this decree go out and were content to sit on the sidelines, that leaves me with a greater sense of purpose.

Has your heart been stirred up by God to do something? Do you see a problem that needs attention, and are you willing to take a step of Faith to act on it?

There are students in our youth groups who need to develop the faith to take that first step of action, to stand up for what is right and what God has stirred in their hearts. As we shared last week, many of these students are probably the ones who are the hardest to talk to, but are the ones who will be the first to move.

Others of us have had our hearts stirred up to do something wild in our ministries, build a new tradition, or destroy an old one. Sometimes God moves in us and shows us where we need to go, but we get paralyzed with fear in that first step: what if this wasn’t God showing me this, what if the church hates it, what if I lose budget money, if this goes wrong could I lose my job?

I can’t tell you what God is stirring you to do, but I can tell you that you shouldn’t let his voice stop at moving your heart. Take action.

The first step is always the hardest. But the hard steps that are certain to be on His path are far greater than a million easy ones not on His path.

What camp/retreat center do you go to?

When I moved to Massachusetts, our youth ministry already had a retreat booked at a retreat center, and it was only a few weeks after I started, so I wasn’t going to even think about changing it. It was nice, the retreat went alright, but there were some things that made myself and several leaders ask “I wonder if it could be done just as good somewhere else, for cheaper.”

I was blown away with how many Christian camp grounds or retreat centers there were within 2 hours of our town. In New England. Yet when I talk to other Youth Pastor’s out here, sometime’s they have never heard of several of them, and most are content to just keep going to the same place year after year.

With one of our contributors moving to a new ministry in a new region in the next few weeks, it got us talking about how hard it can be to find a good retreat center when starting new. So we decided maybe we could help out with that.

We’re compiling a directory of all the Christian camp grounds and retreat centers, and we need your help getting that initial list together. Soon, it will be a page attached to our site that you can view regions, states, and all of that, with a place for submissions to continue to come in.

But again, we hope to have a starting list.

So help us out! Leave a comment with the name of the Retreat Center you go to, and what city/state it’s in. If you want to leave more than one, that’s great, but if you could try and do it in a separate comment, that would be even better!

Thanks!

 

Tips for When In-Between Ministry Positions

Looking for a ministry position can be a lengthy process, and it feels even longer.  I know this personally; yet, as I look over the last nine months of my life outside of a church ministry position, I realize that there were a lot of things I needed to do and learn in order to prepare for the next stage of ministry.  Even if you’re not like me and don’t think you need the extra time, there are still some things you can do while you’re waiting anyway.

Do some self-reflection.

Make sure you are healthy. Sometimes we think the church was unhealthy and that the church was the problem to cause us leaving or for our termination.  Just like in any relationship, we need to step back and look at ourselves and make sure that didn’t do anything wrong.  What are some areas we need to work on as a leader, or even as a Christian in general?  Where do we need to grow?

Heal.

Most of the time, we carry “baggage” with us after we leave a church.  We need to take some time to heal.  I know this sounds corny, but I look at the stages of grief and think it’s the perfect picture of the series of emotions we go through and need to go through in order to heal from a church: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  I add reconstruction to that mix, because in order to heal, sometimes we have to reconstruct a few things.

Read.

This is for a few reasons: It is not uncommon for a church to ask you what the most recent book you read was, and  you want to have the best answer!  Also, they may ask you what you’ve been doing to grow as a minister.  But most importantly, reading keeps you sharp.  Maybe books aren’t your thing–maybe you don’t have the attention span?  Don’t be discouraged.  Read blogs, keep caught up in culture and news.  Read for both education and fun. Pop open the Hunger Games, or I strongly recommend the Divergent series.    Also read for personal spiritual development.  Take some time to remember how much you love reading the Bible because you love God, and not because you have to get a lesson done.

Take a break.

You may be so hurt or burned out that you need to take a break, either from youth ministry, ministry in general, or even the local church.  I know that many of us say, “Well, God called me to Youth Ministry, so I need to find a new church as soon as possible.”  I don’t think that’s always so.  Youth Ministry can look a lot of different ways in many different forms, and working full-time in a church isn’t the only way to fulfill this calling.  Remember that if believe that youth ministry is your calling, it isn’t just a vocational calling, but a calling of a lifestyle.  You may be fed up with the church and need a break.  Everyone needs a sabbatical once in a while.  But try not to be disconnected for too long. God loves His body and calls you to love it too; and just like with your best friend, spouse, or kid: you might just need a little break to cool off.

Keep social media clean.

Don’t rant about how crappy your old church was on social media.  Don’t post anything you don’t want a potential employer to see, just because you’re not currently employed by a church.  I’ve had churches recount some of my blog posts from like two years ago, which shows they were mega-creeping on it.  One of my favorite youth minister friends told me that a potential church gave him a gift basket complete with all of the things he had Instagrammed about.  This shows that potential churches are watching!

Keep connected to teenagers.

Volunteer with a local youth group.  This keeps you sane as one who loves working with teenagers, but also shows potential churches exactly that: You love teenagers.  You can work with teens in a variety of ways, too: coaching a team, substitute teaching, local youth organizations or group homes, etc.

Work on the resume.

Update it, make it classy, show some personality.  There are a million resources out there and a plethora of people within our YouthMin Facebook Group who can help you make your resume too legit to quit.

Love on your family.

Love on your spouse and your children. Rekindle friendships. I needed the time to build up my little sister, who is going through some crazy transitions in her life.  Show your family that they are number one in your life.

 

What other tips do you guys have to add to this list?

Brokenness – How can God let these things happen

Once more this week, our hearts are broken over the loss of innocent life taken by a monster. As news updates kept coming into my phone today, I couldn’t fathom the loss and the pain of the families, specifically those of the 18 kindergartners who had their futures stolen from them.

We are painfully aware of the brokenness in our world. Days like today, it doesn’t matter someone’s religious views, we can look at the headlines and every human can agree: this is not the way that life is supposed to work. Men aren’t supposed to be able to go into schools, what should be one of the safest places for a child, and open fire. Students, regardless of grade, should not ever experience fear in a place they are required to go, especially where they have been promised safety. Parents aren’t supposed to get a phone call saying their sweet and innocent child is never coming home. Things are broken.
I recently had the privilege of attending a funeral of a woman who died in her 70’s, and at this funeral, many members of her family spoke, 11 in all, wrapping up with words from her husband. My wife and I never had the privilege to meet this lady, she had been battling cancer since before we arrived at our church. But I was moved to tears hearing the legacy this Mom had left in her children, her grandchildren, her nieces and nephews, and how much her husband loved her.
Today, 26 people had their legacy’s stolen from them.
It was a Monday night that this woman had died. That following Saturday was her youngest daughter’s wedding. When the Husband got up to speak, he asked “What kind of God takes the mother of the bride from the wedding?”
What kind of God let’s these things happen, that families tonight don’t get to go into their child’s bedroom to tuck them in and read a goodnight story? What kind of God steals little brothers and big sisters? How can he sit idly by and let horror’s enter our school and strike fear into our students?
I’ve seen hundreds of youth workers today ask “How do we approach this with our students?” Parents around the country who have asked “what do I say to my children?”
For me, today has been a painful reminder that we live in a Broken World. But it’s also been a reminder that there is a God who’s desire is to restore it.
When Job lost all of his family, his friends came and sat with him, in silence. When Jesus’ good friend Lazarus died, he came and wept with his sisters, despite knowing it would all be ok. Our world is Broken, it has been for a long time.
What kind of God lets these things happen? A God who is broken hearted the same way we are. A God who has plans beyond what we can fathom. A God who still sits on the throne in Heaven. A God who heals the brokenness.
For myself, as a Christian, my heart is broken, but my faith is not. I cling to the promise of God that in all things, he works for our Good (Romans 8:28). As a Christian, I know that God did not cause this brokenness, and if he had his way, it would not have been necessary to have happened. Don’t get me wrong, he is Omnipotent and capable of stopping it, but for reasons unfathomable by our finite minds, he didn’t.
I know that can be seen as a weak answer. You’re still left with the Question: How can God let these things happen? Good is supposed to come out of this?
Our God is the hope of restoration. The hope that someday, there won’t be anymore hurt, or pain, or loss, or tears. Our God is the God of peace, that says in Him, Death has lost it’s sting. The God who has said this world is Broken, but I offer a way of restoration. This tragic event can be redeemed.
My brain can’t fathom why a loving God would let this happen. My brain can’t fathom how that same God can redeem a situation like this.
But that is where I find hope. The Brokenness on display this week is bigger than one man in Connecticut, and one man in Oregon. It takes a big God to heal big things, and that’s the God I want to serve.
These events were not allowed by a God who is Angry at us like some Christians will try and tell you. God didn’t have a bone to pick with us, he wasn’t unleashing punishment.
These events were allowed by a God who is in Heaven saying “I love you and I want to make things right.”
The wrath of God is not a punishing blow on us, it’s him letting us destroy ourselves. He doesn’t want to send us a message that he is unhappy with us, he want’s us to come to him and be restored.
Our world is broken. It doesn’t always make sense, but don’t get mad at God, thats the easy way out. God is the one who is trying to restore it. As a Dad, one of the craziest thoughts to me is that God loves my son more than I do. I know this to be true and have to remember that. God is just as brokenhearted tonight as the parents of all of those children. But he wants to make all things new. Trust him to do so.