Archive for July, 2008

Small Group Question

I received a question via Twitter from Matt Henslee of Temple Baptist Church regarding how we do small groups at our church.  Going on the idea of Tim Schmoyer, I thought I would share my response here on the blog to help answer the questions of many.  So, here you go:

 Our small groups are the life blood of our church as a whole.  We have adult small groups as well as youth small groups.  We are a very relationship focused church and the small groups are the best way that we have found to take a large church and make it feel small.  We didn’t come across small groups as an afterthought to growth though.  11 years ago when this church began we were a small group based church.  The church actually began with a group of 9 people sitting in a living room.  Over the past 11 years we have grown to just over 1000 people regularly and the small groups still remain the focus.  

The adult groups meet throughout the week on a weekly basis.  We have groups that meet every day of the week and they meet every week together in the same location (typically in someone’s house).  The groups are open for new people to join at any time so when we have a new person come into the church on Sunday morning we regularly plug the small groups.  As each individual group grows to a consistent number above 12-14 we look to multiply the small group in order to create more space for new people to join the small groups.  There is a constant wave of leadership development taking place to make ready the new group leaders.  
The youth small groups used to meet in the same way but about 3 years ago I made the change to centralize all the youth small groups to meet at the church building on Wednesday night.  By doing this we are able to have families with multiple teens all come to the same location (with gas at just under $4.00 a gallon right now parents love driving to one spot) but they are able to be a part of different small groups – which can create more transparency in the level of what they share with their small groups (they don’t have to worry about their sibling sharing with their parents about what they may be going through)  By making the switch to a centralized location we saw tremendous growth in the number of kids that were attending.  I chalk this up to the excitement level that some teens find in a large group.  
Each week we meet as a large group and worship together with a student led worship team.  After worship there is a short message based on a theme that we as a church are going through – youth and adults all stay topically together which creates opportunity for parents to talk to their teens about the stuff they are working through.  A great book to read on this idea is called The Big Idea by Dave & John Ferguson.  Once the message is done the youth are dismissed into their small groups.
We reach the ages/grades of 6th grade – 12th grade.  Each small group is broken down by grade and gender.  By doing this we create an environment where one message can be discussed with specifics to each age group.  A 6th grader may be dealing with stuff that a 12th grader doesn’t need to work through or vice-versa.  By keeping the small groups gender specific we can also address stuff that guys are dealing with without having an awkwardness of girls in the room and vice-versa.
One of the challenges that this method presents is the amount of space that we need.  With a small group for each gender grades 6-12 we need 14 places for the groups to meet.  Along with this we need at least 14 leaders.  We also try and develop student leaders who will lead a group at least 2 grades below their current grade.  By keeping a student leader apart from leading their own grade they are more recognized by the younger grades as a leader rather than a peer and it makes it easier for a rookie leader to lead without the struggles of challenges from a student in the same grade.  This model does not work in all church settings as churches vary by size and style.  In a smaller church you may want to look at splitting the small groups by Jr. High and Sr. High.  Mixed gender groups also have a value, we have just chosen to keep them separate to create more intimacy in the discussions.

Violent (Silent) Man Prayer

The room was set for Violent Man Prayer this evening.  The lights were dimmed, the music was cranking loud, people were beginning to come in for prayer – and then it happened.  I opened my Bible and began reading from Acts when a verse jumped out at me.  Acts 10:33

“and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”

I walked towards the soundboard and muted the audio that was playing through the room.  I shared with those that were there that I believed the Holy Spirit wanted to speak directly to us during our time and that this was not an evening for loud prayer but a time for quiet.  There are times when great music can be distracting.  There are times when we create noise that keeps us from hearing what God wants to whisper to us.

As the room went silent we each took a moment to cry out to God – “speak Lord, we are listening.”  I sat quietly for about 20 minutes just waiting for what God wanted to reveal to me tonight.  The Holy Spirit will never let us down.  He spoke and I listened.  It is very comforting to hear confirmation come in the whispers of God.  

Quiet times can be uncomfortable.  Tonight was a great exercise for each person that attended VMP and I am sure that each person heard what they needed to in relation to what they were seeking.  May you each be encouraged to unplug and sit quietly.  Removing distractions from your life, even for a short time, can add to the depth of your time with God.  Many times we spend a lot of time speaking to God but then expect an instant answer from Him.  Find the time to be quiet and wait on Him.  Sit and listen – He will speak.

Cruise Control…

Something I have really been challenged with lately is the speed that I drive.  It seems as though the trip down the highway to the office each day has become a speedway to me and I always end up exceeding the speed limit by far too many mph.  A recent message series that we had at GCC – the secret of more – addresses the idea that we have every thing that we need in life to grow in our faith.  The Scripture that we referred to was from 2 Peter 1:3-8

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The issue of self-control is the area that I have struggled with.  I seem to be able to control most things in my life but when I get behind the wheel of my car my foot grows heavier.  The past couple weeks I have made it a practice to use the cruise control feature in my car.  Surprisingly this is the one option that my car came with that still works!  By using the cruise control feature I have regulated my speed to stay within the limits of the law and gained control of my driving.

Now, some may feel as though this is such a small thing that I am making an issue over but for me I feel as though it is an integrity issue.  If the law states one limit for speed and I exceed that limit I am making the statement that I don’t care or respect the laws that are set.  By gaining the control over my speed I feel like I am keeping my integrity in check as well as serving as an example for others.

Cruise control may seem like a crutch that I am using to keep my speed under control but I believe it is a tool that I can use for help.  We all have tools in our lives that we can use to keep areas of our lives in check.  Yes, “his divine power has given us all we need for life and godliness”, sometimes those things are people in our lives, filters on our internet, or cruise control.  Today I am thankful for the simple victory of two weeks of controlled speed…

Top 10 Facebook Groups

It’s no surprise that this generation of young people are socially conscious.  But what are they putting their energy into?  A look at the top 10 activist groups on Facebook seem a bit alarming to me…

  1. Reduce the Drinking Age to 18! – 82,009
  2. Legalize Same-Sex Marriage – 81,516
  3. Americans for Alternative Energy – 72,333
  4. Support a Woman’s Right to Choose – 69,911
  5. Support Stem Cell Research – 58,305
  6. Abolish Abstinence Only Sex Education – 52,847
  7. Government + Religion = Disaster – 49,102
  8. AIDS / HIV research – 26,819
  9. Equal Rights for Gays – 24,912
  10. Pro-Life – 22,699
So where are we headed?  How can we help steer this generation in a direction that will make a positive change in this world.  When I look at these activist groups I see inward thinking.  It all seems selfish.  Where are the groups that strive to end poverty, hunger, or provide education or clean water?  We’ve got lots to do…

I Kissed A Girl

There is a song that has been playing on the radio for a few weeks now that is creating quite a buzz in the youth ministry world.  Katy Perry’s song, “I kissed a girl” has been in the number 1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 for the past 10 weeks.  The song, I have to admit, has a great sound.  I find myself getting “jiggy wit’it” when it plays as I drive along in my car (notably the only place you will find me ever getting “jiggy wit’it”)  What has been stirring up all the dialogue about this song is the content of the lyrics.

This was never the way I planned
Not my intention
I got so brave, drink in hand
Lost my discretion
It’s not what, I’m used to
Just wanna try you on
I’m curious for you
Caught my attention

I kissed a girl and I liked it
The taste of her cherry chap stick
I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it
It felt so wrong
It felt so right
Don’t mean I’m in love tonight
I kissed a girl and I liked it
I liked it

No, I don’t even know your name
It doesn’t matter
You’re my experimental game
Just human nature
It’s not what, good girls do
Not how they should behave
My head gets so confused
Hard to obey

Us girls we are so magical
Soft skin, red lips, so kissable
Hard to resist so touchable
Too good to deny it
Ain’t no big deal, it’s innocent

Needless to say, this song shows the culture of curiosity that is prevalent among teenagers.  The real kicker of this whole story is that Katy Perry was once Katy Hudson.  In her former persona she was a Christian artist with a very promising debut album.  Her bio shares of her upbringing in a Christian home and being the daughter of two pastors.  Somewhere along her journey something happened that caused a disconnect.

I see this happening more and more among teenagers as they head off into the world after high school.  There seems to be a point where they begin to doubt all that they have acted on in their younger years and, when challenged about their beliefs, drop their values and follow the loudest voice.  Are we as a ministry creating this culture?  Am I contributing to a shallow faith in young people?  These are the questions that I wrestle with.  What will be the lasting fruit of my ministry?

As a student ministry we try and focus more on what God says about who we are and can be than on what we personally think.  We attempt to root the young people into God’s Word, knowing that it is His word that renews and transforms.  We aren’t heavy on fun events, games, and messy food races.  If kids want to shove lots of marshmallows in their mouth and try to talk they can do that on their own time.  Our prayer is that students would connect with the love of Jesus and enter into a deep relationship with Him that would radically alter their life and help them with their personal struggles.

Walt Mueller, founder and president of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, makes a few observations about our response to this song:

  • Because it mirrors our culture, “I Kissed a Girl” offers those called to love and lead kids an eye-opening glimpse into several rapidly developing mainstream cultural realities. Homosexuality is no longer stigmatized, but is now accepted and celebrated as normal. Feelings are the guide for life. Girls are taught to assume the role of objectified boy toys. Our teenage boys increasingly enjoy watching girl-on-girl sexual activity. Our teenage girls – even those void of lesbian leanings or feelings – are engaging in what we might call “experimental homosexuality.” While it’s not pretty, these are realities that we must recognize and understand if we hope to address them.

  • Because it serves to direct young viewers and listeners, “I Kissed a Girl” is more than a song kids will listen to. It actually serves as a map to life, guiding impressionable kids into accepting and practicing the values, attitudes, and behaviors that are depicted and promoted in the song. This includes a postmodern ethical relativism, and homosexuality.

  • The song and video should be played for parents and youth workers. Use it to spark discussion on evolving values, attitudes, and behaviors, along with how to bring the light of God’s Word to bear on those realities in our day to day living with and ministering to kids.

  • Since Katy Perry and her music are finding their places in the collective consciousness of today’s youth culture, she and her music are realities that we can’t ignore. Kids are seeing and hearing the music of Katy Perry. We suggest that after securing parental permission, youth workers view the video and deconstruct its message with their middle school and high school students. The exercise will not only offer opportunities to bring the light of God’s Word to bear on the song’s faulty messages, but will serve to teach kids how to think Biblically and Christianly about their media choices.

  • Katy Perry’s own personal story and transformation can be used to spark a discussion on the true nature of being a Christ-follower, how to integrate faith into all of life, and how to guard ourselves from falling prey to dominant cultural values that oppose the way and will of God.
That is the challenge that I want to take up more and more.  Not that I want to create a discipleship program but that I feel the call to discuss with and help youth and parents understand how to integrate their faith into all areas of their lives.  
Suggestions???

Youth Camp Revealed…

It’s been a few days and camp is over.  The dust has settled.  Most people have recovered from the loss of sleep.  The “hangover” is subsiding.  I’m left here with a pile of thoughts that I have been chewing on, here they are in no apparent order:

 

  • Camp isn’t for everyone.  Some of the youth that attended camp this year just did not enjoy it.  I’m understanding more and more that camp is not for everyone.  This gets me thinking more creatively on how we can create experiences for everyone in our ministry that help them connect with God on deeper levels.  No matter how nice it would be to have a one-size-fits-all ministry event I know that will never happen (I’m smarter than I look…)  More to come on this in the next few weeks, hands on experiences!
  • Camp is intense.  I was speaking with Foursquare’s Next Gen Director, James Craft, last night and he listed a statistic that one week of camp is the equivalent of one full year of student ministry services in the local church.  While I do acknowledge that our time at camp can be very directed and intense in ministry I also know that it can not replace the fifty-one other weeks in the calendar year.  Camp should compliment what we do throughout the year.  
  • Camp needs to be a tool for evangelism and for discipleship.  Each year we see many of the same kids attending.  Many of them have had a salvation experience early on in their camping years.  I know that there is a value in youth rededicating their lives to the Lord – I heard Gordon MacDonald one time say that he gets saved every morning in the shower – we are called to die daily to our fleshly desires and offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to the Lord.  With that in mind the kids that come forward and recommit their lives to the Lord are doing a good thing.  This year we had many first time salvations (15).  I praise God for those lives that were transformed and reconciled in relationship with Jesus!  But I also have to look to the other 135 students who were in attendance at the camp.  How can we better equip them to live out the daily life of following Jesus?  
  • Journaling is huge!  We create custom journals each year for camp and we incorporate the Scriptures from the morning speakers into the journals in order to give the Holy Spirit a chance to massage into the lives of the youth and leaders what He wants to say to them before ever hearing a word from our morning speakers.  After journaling for 6 years now myself I fully understand the value of this daily habit and know that if each of the youth who attend camp and are journaling would continue this practice they would grow tremendously year after year.
  • Camp creates community.  Relationships happen at camp because you can not escape them.  When you want to be by yourself it is next to impossible.  Each cabin holds 6 – 8 people.  The bath houses are shared.  You can not isolate yourself at camp.  Where ever you turn you see people and they are usually jacked up on some form of sugary, caffeinated drink that gives them the ability to speak at a pace that is barely understandable.  This all sounds like a recipe for brawls and massive arguments.  Not so, year after year I have seen kids learn how to handle conflict with others, I have witnessed relationships grow and people regard others above themselves.  Each year I get to view kids growing in relationship with God and others at camp – each year I get to grow in my relationship with God and others!  Many days I don’t have the time to sit and talk with small groups of youth.  Camp creates an atmosphere where I can sit in a rocking chair on the farmers porch with a small group of kids and laugh with them, cry with them, pray with them.  Relationships grow at camp.
  • Camp brings freedom.  Many youth find freedom at camp.  They pull away from the distractions that they face in their homes and they are able to deal with some of the struggles that they have.  Camp pulls them away from the hurdles that they have to jump over in their everyday lives and gives them a chance to strengthen their walk with Jesus.  This year I was very clear in the fact that they would all be going back home to these struggles and distractions and gave them some simple ways to build quiet into their everyday lives.  We will all have tough times.  Knowing where to run during these times is too important to miss.  Again, that is why the community we surround ourselves with is so valuable.  We need each other in our lives to encourage, support, and carry us through.
  • Communication and Good Training for leaders in advance of camp is vital.  We did this very poorly this year.  We had quite a few first time leaders this year and the first night of camp when we do leader orientation is not enough time to adequately communicate the importance of the role that each leader as at camp.  We are tweaking this and making changes for the future years.  We need to do more to communicate the expectations for each leader and we can’t be afraid to turn away those who are not willing to fulfill this role.  Each year we say, “Camp is for the campers”.  If we have a leader that is attending camp with the mindset that this will be a relaxing week away from the office – we have the wrong person.  My desire for each of our leaders is that they would be connecting with the campers on deeper levels and helping them to connect with God on deeper levels.  Patience and stamina are two characteristics that are needed for each leader – the foundation of a leader must be their love for God and their passion for young people.  Warm bodies only need not apply…

 

Here’s the bottom line figures of this years camp:

 

Campers – 150
Leaders –  27
Staff – 14
Participating Churches – 12
Salvation – 15
Recommitments – 16
Baptism of the Holy Spirit – 32
Call to Full Time Ministry – 17
Commitment to seek Water Baptism in their local church – 14
I love camp and will continue leading as long as the Lord allows me to.  Each year I grow in my leadership and am so thankful for the prayers of each person who lift up the camp to God.  I am also thankful that He gives us the security in our calling to have a critical eye for everything that we do so that we can continue to improve all that we do.

Youth Camp Video Day 3

Youth Camp Video Day 2

NNE4 Youth Camp

I’m still digesting all of camp and trying to get my head around the whole experience.  While I do I will just be posting some of the daily videos from this past week.  Enjoy!