If you work with middle school kids and don't read Mark Ostreicher's blog, you really need to. His post yesterday was a great reminder of why I respect him so much and enjoy reading whatever he writes.

I'm thankful for the friendship we have forged over the years, and even more thankful that it isn't a "cookie-cutter" relationship of complete like-mindedness. We differ theologically and methodologically (not even sure he knows what a "method" is), and he is one of the sharpest minds in youth ministry while I am one of the more simple-minded guys out there. A conversation between us is likely to look like this:

Marko: "Dude, (he'll start with that word to make you think he isn't all that smart), what do you think about the emerging, post-emergent, incarnational, communal, ecclesiastical, eschatological and formational implications of the current state of young teen ministry?" Note: I'm not sure I spelled all those big words correctly.

Me: "Dude, (I also start with that word to make you think I'm not all that smart) you wanna play dodge ball and then eat stuff?

Now THAT is an iron-sharpening iron relationship! This morning I'm thankful for Mark Ostreicher. I'm thankful that God is using him to shake me up a little bit and make me think outside my box. I'm VERY thankful that God is using him to do the same thing to the youth ministry world at large.

My question to you is this: Who do you have in your life who challenges you, forces you to question things, shakes up your paradigms and your status quo?


Things I'm Thinking About

I have no answers, and I'm not even sure WHAT I think about these things, but this is stuff on my mind today:

- Where is youth ministry really headed? Does it have to be headed anywhere specific? Is it our role to try to figure that out and direct it that way?

- When does being pragmatic become a liability? To me, theology and doctrine without practical application is somewhat pointless but I wonder at what point pragmatism gets in the way?

- If Christ were to whisper into my ear his top 5 priorities for youth ministry, what would they be (pragmatism at it's finest!)?

- If I eat two chili dogs for lunch, what are the odds I will suffer from heart burn later?


Random Randomness

- Last weekend was a fantastic one in our junior high program. We wrapped up our Three-week "Made" series with a lesson on 'becoming sheep'. The band did a fantastic job....led by a 9th grade guy who has one of the best/coolest/strongest/grungiest/ voices I've heard in a while. The only hic-up of the weekend occurred during our really large 6:30 service Saturday night. 6:30 on Saturday night is THE service to go to and is full of most of our highly connected and core kids plus a ton of community kids. Of course, it's our 'core' kids who can often be the rowdiest, not because they're punks, but because they are just so dang happy to be there, to see their friends etc. Anyway, I had to pause the program in the middle and give them a 5-minute "reminder" about appropriate behavior, respecting their peers who are leading the music, etc. IT WAS A TOTAL DRAG, but had to be done.

- I'm really excited about the GROUP conference this upcoming weekend! I think our 8-hour junior high ministry track is going to be super fun. Scott Rubin, Katie Edwards and I have planned some fun stuff.

- On a side note, Katie won't be able to join us which would be a TOTAL bummer if it weren't for the fact that she and her husband were given a foster child on Monday night so she needed to pull out of the conference.

- In two weeks, we start SCHOOL WARS which is our first-ever multi-week evangelistic push at our weekend program. We've put a ton of time and effort into the "series" and hopefully our students will respond by bringing their friends. The best way to describe it is a 3-week school-based competition (think American Gladiators meets Mad Max type atmosphere). The lesson each week will be a super short evangelistic message....same basic message all three weeks wrapped up a little differently.

- The latest SJH podcast is online now. You can watch it here.


Caption Winner...

Top 5 captions as judged by....well as judged solely by me:

"The coach said we were going to a 'bowl game', but this wasn't what I was expecting."

Sounding much like his wife, the Defensive coordinator was heard yelling, "Who left the Toilet Seat wide open?"
-Ryan Stone

"When you're going for the hit but the toilet makes you slip, diarrhea, diarrhea."

Vigilante fan gets fed up with the "potty humor" during the half-time show.

My mom always told me toilet training wasn't easy, but this is ridiculous....
-Jordan Lyons

congratulations! If the five of you will please email me at kurtj@saddleback.net with your mailing address, I will mail you your copy of the new HSM3 DVD compliments of Disney Studios.


Caption Contest

The good folks at Disney sent me a handful of High School Musical 3 DVDs to give away. So, stealing a page from Marko, let's have a caption contest. The top 5 captions submitted for this picture will win.


Back In The Saddle(back)

After a really great vacation, I'm feeling refreshed and excited to be back in the saddle. The last season of ministry (the last year or so...) has been an extremely busy and taxing one and I allowed myself to go far too long without taking care of myself physically, emotionally and, to some extent, spiritually.

I may have shared this before and if so, consider it a reminder that you may need as much as I have recently: "TIME OUTS" ARE A REALLY IMPORTANT THING!

Think about a football game. In each game, teams are given three timeouts per half, or a total of SIX per game. When used wisely, these timeouts help teams re-group, re-fresh, re-strategize and re-focus for the task at hand. I think the same is true in our personal lives....we all need to call Time Out once in a while. Admittedly, I'm not the best at taking my timeouts, but I do have a strategy I try to follow and it looks something like this:

Daily Time Out: Two or Three short, 20 minute breaks each day to clear my head and think about something....anything....other than the daily grind.

Weekly Time Out: A true sabbath every week. Not checking emails, not "dropping by" the office for an hour. A day to relax, refresh and re-coup.

Monthly Time Out: One day a month to escape from the office for a "mini-sabbatical". I read, pray, dream, journal etc.

Yearly Time Out: Actually, I try (but don't usually succeed) to take three weeks off per year: Two traditional vacation breaks with my family, and one that is "Kurt focused". This past vacation was an example of a Kurt-focused timeout. I went on two separate camping/dirt bike trips, laid around a lot, and took my wife on dates to restaurants of my choosing.

Your Time Out plan certainly doesn't need to look like mine, but I would encourage you to have one.


What? Josh Griffin Didn't Already Blog About This?!?!

Our leadership team has been asked by Pastor Rick to focus a great portion of our ministry energy this year in two key areas: "Connecting" and "Equipping". Josh Griffin, our high school pastor and blogger extraordinaire, and I have spent some time brainstorming creative new ways to connect students to each other and our ministry and to equip parents, students and leaders. Our goal was not to simply create new programs, but larger strategies that will stay in place as various programs come and go.

I'm almost certain Josh will post about this stuff in greater detail, but I thought I would steal some of his thunder and beat him to the punch! Of the eight or nine ideas we came up with, here are my three favorite:

- An Online "Campus" For Students: Our church has four physical campuses, but we want to create an online "campus" for students who have to miss a weekend due to travel, blended families, etc. Our hope is that students will be able to tune into a live feed of our JH and HS programs complete with an adult volunteer "pastor" to interact with. Stay tuned.

- Parent Campus Connections: Certainly some of you are already doing this and can give us some input. Our hope is to get parents of "Same grade/Same school" to form little prayer/support/school action/etc. groups.

- The Starting Five: We want to strategically partner-up brand new volunteers with a veteran volunteer for the first 5 weeks in our ministry.

There's much more to share, and I'm sure Josh will. But he will do so knowing I am the superior blog updater guy.


Vacation; Day One

It's been well over a year since I've taken a true week-long vacation, so I decided now was a good time. Kayla is in Kenya, and Cole is in a cast due to a broken wrist (a wrist we waited about TWO months to have checked out by a doctor!) so we really don't have anything planned. Just some lazy days followed by a dirt bike trip with some buddies. Today was my first official vacation day and it was action packed (insert sarcasm).

- Woke up about 9:00 a.m. and laid around watching news and ESPN until Rachel got back from a morning coffee date with a friend.

- At 11:30 we went to Chick-Fil-A for our usual Monday morning date...I drank way too much sweet tea.

- Over lunch I began to warm her up to the idea of purchasing a used pick up truck to haul our bikes around. I had a truck for years and about three years ago I donated it to our church thinking I had outlived my need for a pickup. Of course, that was before we started dirt bike riding. Doh!

- This afternoon we picked Cole up from school and took him to get a cast on his broken wrist.

- A few minutes ago I got back from test-driving the truck I have my eye on. I highly doubt I will end up buying it (or any other one for that matter), but it was kinda fun. My environmentally-minded, global warming sensitive friends will be disappointed in my vehicular choice should I make a purchase.

- Now I'm getting ready to eat some chili, hang with the family and gear up for 24.

Dear vacation,
I think I love you.



What happens when there are tons of homes in foreclosure in Southern California? According to this article, skaters from all across the country and even from overseas are staking out communities with lots of empty homes......with empty swimming pools.

(Thanks, Jason.)


Gaining Trust

Three key tasks of a communicator are to convince the listeners you care about them, to convince them you know what you're talking about and to convince them that what you are saying is worth listening to.

The last two are easy....simply know what you're talking about and communicate in an engaging way!

But the first one is a tougher challenge. How do you let listeners know you really care about them? How do you, in essence, gain the trust of your audience? You can begin earning the trust of your students in a few fairly simple ways:

- Be yourself...students can smell a fake.
- Be consistent...students can smell a flake.
- Be vulnerable...students trust people who are willing to share failures and struggles.
- Be fair....life isn't fair, but young teenagers think it should be.
- Be involved long-term...students in 8th grade will more quickly trust leaders they've known since 7th grade.

As you begin to build more and more trust, your students will more easily believe you truly care for them, and they will be more likely to pay attention and put your bible studies and lessons into action.


A Few E.Q.U.I.P.ing thoughts

If you are the leader of your ministry, one of your primary roles is to equip other godly men and women to share the ministry load. But what does it mean to "equip" somebody? Here are some thoughts:

Empower: Give them the freedom to minister and lead.
Quietly correct: When correction is needed, do so privately.
Unlimited support: Become their biggest cheerleader.
Invest time: Follow Christ's example...he invested time with those carrying out his ministry.
Provide tools: Make sure training, seminars and resources are available.


Investment VS Impact

Ever wonder whether something is worth the time and effort it takes? Is it really worth it to spend a full day making a 5 minute video that your students don't seem to care about? Is it worth it to spend two days making a 3 minute video that they absolutely love? How much time should be spent creating cool graphics? How much money should you spend on your summer calendar?

A few of us on our team recently made a commitment to try to run the vast majority of these types of decisions through this little grid. Basically, I want our team to avoid doing things that are high in investment and low on impact. However, I would love for us to focus on things that are low in investment and high on impact.

A few examples of things that might be high investment/low impact:
- A game that takes an hour ahead of time to set up, 10 minutes to explain but only TWO minutes to play!
- A 5 minute story/illustration that is funny but doesn't tie into lesson well.
- Running every aspect of your own camp instead of letting the camp do the programming (maybe the same impact but much different investment....)

A few examples of things that might be low investment/high impact:
- Borrowing ideas from our ministry friends.
- Repeating really good lessons and series from time to time.
- Buying pre-produced videos instead of creating our own.
- Less time spent creating promo and fliers and more time "talking it up" with students.


Weekend Wrap Up

A pretty good weekend, especially considering the fact that things felt a little "cut N paste" together due to so much attention on our Believe retreat.

ATTENDANCE: Attendance was a little low. Again, I think this may have been due to lots of kids who went to the retreat may have skipped church upon their return.

FUN FACTOR: Pretty high. Our lesson was around the idea of learning to grow on your own and we did a good job of tying much of our program into the theme.

LESSON: David Hughes, one of our college-aged volunteers taught the bulk of the lesson after a short video set-up by me. He did an AMAZING job; one of the best JH lessons I've heard in a really long time.

MUSIC: Music was great! Probably a little mellower than usual, but the band was tight, the kids singing blended well together.

VOLUNTEER INVOLVEMENT: Very low. Because so many leaders went to Believe, most of them didn't show back up for the weekend program which made things a bit rough around the tables.