The Power Of A Caring Adult

I was in a short, spontaneous meeting yesterday with a guy from our church who is getting married on Saturday and then, immediately following his honeymoon, heading off to a church in Iowa to become its Youth Pastor. Our initial discussion was on the usual topics: When to implement change, how to develop a team, how to build excitement, when to split junior and senior high etc. All of which are important things to think about when going to a new church. However, we found ourselves camped out on one topic in particular; the power of caring adults. At the end of our time, my friend summed it up perfectly. His statement is one that will stick with me for a long time and one I wanted to pass along:
"I guess you can never out-program a caring adult".
Videos, drama, good music, fun games, funny messages, lights, camera and action are all okay. But none of that stuff means as much to a student as the simplicity of a caring adult. I told him I would steal his quote. He said that was okay. You can too.

Oh My Dog!

I don't know which is more hilarious: The dog itself or the fact that its owner actually put a diamond collar around its neck!


Retreat Highlights

We got back from our Student Ministries retreat at about 6:00 p.m. last night. A few highlights:

* Watching Doug Fields, who golfs about once every three years, hit a golf ball 300 yards!
* Playing Bunko for the first time.
* 3 Fantastic team meeting times served as great reminders of our values, purposes, goals etc.
* Stephen, a junior high intern smashing the church Suburban into a planter in front of the hotel.


Not New, But Good

Here's a great book I read about a year ago that I think is a must-read for anyone who works with young teens. I'll never again ask the question "What were you thinking?"



According to the book, 'Being God's Man in Leading a Family',
Women are:
100% more likely to be involved in a discipleship program at church.
54% more likely to be in a small group that meets regularly for Bible study, prayer, etc.
46% more likely to spiritually mentor someone else.
39% more likely to spend time alone reading the bible or praying.
29% more likely to share their faith with others.

I'm certainly not a radical fundamentalist, but it seems like men could and should step it up a bit.
(so to Jason Pogue)


Hook, Slice, Whiff, Fore!

We're at our annual student ministries staff retreat until Wednesday. This 3-day escape has become a highlight of our ministry year. Basically, it's a time to relax before the the summer crunch hits. I'm posting late Monday night because I'm teeing off at 6:00 a.m. Tuesday for a round of golf. Because it's about 105 degrees in Palm Springs, we can play a super nice course for $20.00. We played today and had a great time...with the exception of the sand trap that took me SIX shots to get out of! Despite that, I had a decent round.

Question: If you could play a round of golf with anybody in the world, who would you include in your foursome (they must be living)?

My Answer...I think:
1) Myself
2) Tiger Woods (gotta have a golf legend in my dream group)
3) Bill Gates
4) John Elway

How about you?

Weekend Wrap Up

Attendance: Above Average
Lesson Topic: Week One of 'In Motion' (Teaching fruit of the Spirit all summer)
'Fun Factor': Above Average
Volunteer Involvement: Above Average
Music: Average
Lesson Quality: Average
Length of Lesson: 15 minutes
Student Response: Way Above Average

This weekend was our official promotion weekend so there was TONS of energy and we had a lot of new 7th graders attend for the first time. Normally, 7th graders seem to gradually slide into our ministry over the course of the summer, but it felt like they all decided to show up for promotion weekend this year. We had a little too much programming 'stuff' so I was forced to hurry through the lesson which was okay because it was really just an intro to a nine-week study of the Fruit of The Spirit.


Problem Parents

We opened our registration for summer camp last night. YIKES! Hundreds of parents showed up to get in line before the 6:00 p.m. opening. Because our camp usually fills up very quickly, we've been forced to create a 'hard start time' to make it as fair for everybody as possible. Now that registration is open, they can sign up whenever they want, but for opening day, it's 6:00 p.m......period.

Of course there are always parents who think simple guidelines and structures don't apply to them (and we wonder why we have students who think the same way...but I digress). Last night, we had one parent who simply couldn't accept the fact that we wouldn't allow her to drop her registration off before 6:00. Despite the fact that there were parents waiting in a long line, she insisted she be given the right to drop her daughter's registration off early so she could get on with her other plans.

I find parents like this to be hilarious. Why do they think church is going to operate entirely different than every other part of society? Target opens at 8:00 a.m. Showing up at 7:45 a.m. and demanding they open the doors early for you because you are in a hurry doesn't make any sense. Soccer sign-ups start on a certain day and a certain time. You do it their way or you don't play. But the church does operate differently...and we should. And as a result, those of us in leadership often find ourselves in tricky scenarios. Should we have let her drop her forms off early? Maybe. Did we? No. We just didn't feel like it would have been the right thing to do. My wife was actually the volunteer who was dealing with this parent and she did an excellent job. By the end of the conflict, she was actually thanking Rachel for such excellent service.

I'm not sure when the next time you'll deal with an upset parent will be, or for what reason. However, I do know it's going to happen. Here is one approach to handling their concerns. I've used last night's situation as an example:

SITUATION: Parent is upset because she wants to sign up early.

"I Can Understand Why You Feel This Way": I understand that you're frustrated and in a hurry. It makes total sense to me that you would want to drop your registration off early and, if possible, avoid waiting in this long line.........

"In Fact, Others Have Felt The Same Way": You're not alone in your frustration. Each year we have parents who want to do the same thing. In fact, some have even talked to Pastor Rick about their concerns.....

"Here's What We've Discovered": We've learned over the years that this is the most efficient and fair way to open up registration. The overall frustration caused by letting people drop stuff off early is much worse than you would imagine. We've discovered that when parents know we have procedures for a good, logical reason they actually appreciate the organizational efforts...

This 3-step approach will work in almost any situation. It won't always bring about reconciliation, but at the very least it will give you a strategy for navigating the conflict.


WARNING: Junior High Guy Humor To Follow.

When I saw this, a spontaneous giggle squeaked out of my mouth. I'm thinking this is a hilarious gift to give to junior high guys at summer camp. Of course when you get a bunch of irate phone calls from over-protective moms you can just tell them you got the idea from some dude's blog....then give them Marko's blog address!

And They're Off! Here They Come!

Just returned from sending a ton of our 8th graders off to 'Freshman Frenzy', a 12 hour event that marks their official entry into the High School ministry. This group of kids was one of our best classes in a long time and as I mingled around the check-in area I realized how sad I was to see them all go (with a few exceptions...if you work with students you know how that goes). Tonight we get a new crop of 7th graders and the cycle starts all over again. It will be my daughter's first night in our ministry. Believe it or not, we've never allowed her to 'sneak' into one of our programs early so she really is getting a fresh junior high experience beginning tonight.


A Little Embarrassing

A friend of mine, Josh Treece, has a fun feature on his blog. Every Friday he asks a friend to hit 'shuffle songs' on their iPod and send him the first five songs that show up. We aren't allowed to edit the list...we have to send him what comes up. Today was my day. Click HERE to see my five songs.


Good or God?

When I was in college I heard a sermon that has stuck with me ever since. Like most, this one pretty much lingers in my mind’s archives until an idea or opportunity presents itself which forces it to the forefront. In a nutshell, the sermon revolved around the idea that ‘Not every good idea is a God idea, but every God idea is a good idea!’ In the past 24 hours, I’ve had plenty of chances to ask myself “Is this a good idea or a God idea?” Ideas? It seems like I come up with a hundred a day! Opportunities? There’s no shortage.

I want my life to count. I want God’s kingdom to be a little broader because I chose to engage in his work. Bad ideas don’t slow me down; I’m smart enough to spot one and avoid it (most of the time). It’s the good ideas I want to steer clear of. That’s a big challenge in a ministry setting because just about every idea and opportunity seems like a good one. But I want to avoid settling for good ideas so I have time and energy to focus on God ideas…because God ideas are the best ones.


Two Thumbs Up

I'm going to give Nacho Libre two thumbs up for three reasons:

1) It was good.
2) It was, in a really fun and cute way, very pro faith.
3) I like the return of the family friendly PG movie that isn't a disney cartoon or a goofy 'homeward bound' type film. Nacho Libre isn't the first, but I think it's the best of the bunch so far. I'm not sure when it started (maybe cheaper by the dozen????), but in recent years it seems like Hollywood has finally realized that they can make really good movies that everybody likes. My whole family went to see Nacho Libre together and we weren't the only ones. The theater was full of middle-aged families...40 something parents seeing the movie with their teenage children. I think when producers decide to invest in a clean, fun movie that truly is for the entire family, parents should step up and support the effort.


Surf's Up

I'm heading out the door in just a few minutes for what should turn out to be a fun day of surfing. We bought a soft-top surfboard for my nine year old son who insists this is the summer he's going to learn to surf. My wife and daughter are away on a little girls trip so I'm spending the day with Cole. I'm also taking one of our interns from Oklahoma who bought a board and has gone a few times as well as another guy from our team who has grown up in California but will jump on a surfboard, and hopefully stand up, for the first time today. Needless to say I won't be spending much time surfing myself...just pushing people into waves and cheering them on.

Of course, we'll try to fit a little 'work' into the day by talking about our summer series(In Motion), our beach camp and our summer camp. But that's really just to keep us from feeling too guilty about skipping a day of work.


Weekend Wrap Up

Attendance: Below Average
Lesson Topic: The Big Three
'Fun Factor': Above Average
Volunteer Involvement: Below Average
Music: Way Above Average
Lesson Quality: Above Average
Length of Lesson: 18.5 minutes
Student Response: Way Above Average

This was our annual '8th grade weekend'. 8th graders planned the enitre service and were the only ones on stage until the lesson. Usually, an 8th grader gives the lessons, but this year we didn't have anybody who wanted to to that. It was Father's day, so our attendance was down a bit. My lesson revolved around 'If you only remember three things from junior high....these are the Big three: Love God, Love Others, Never Give Up'. All in all, it was a really good weekend. Seeing our students lead music without an adult and running the entire program was really fun.


Which Theologian Are You?

Take this quick little test. You may be suprised to find out which theologian you are most like.
(so to Sean Mead)


An Exciting, Strange Day

Today is the day. I've been waiting for it since I began working with junior high students back in 1988. It's always seemed so far off but, in reality, arrived in what seems like a blink of the eye. Today my oldest child, Kayla, is 'graduating' from 6th grade and officially entering the world of junior high. It also happens to be her 12th birthday which makes it a pretty significant day for her. I know all dads say this but I am so proud of her and am thrilled by her journey thus far into young womanhood. The next two years will, I'm sure, be a wild, wonderful ride as we get to experience together what I've so confidently helped other families experience for the past 18 years. For some reason, I no longer feel like an expert....just a fellow journeyer!


Now I Understand

I have heard that players in the world cup have had some issues with a new ball that's being used. I don't know anything about soccer, but I can understand why they'd complain.

Up A Croc Without A Paddle

By now you've certainly seen them. Crocs are those really goofy looking rubber-like sandal/boat shoes that come in all sorts of crazy colors. I have, for the last several months, been an outspoken mocker of anybody I know who owns a pair. I mean, really, should any adult male be seen in lime green rubber sandals! A couple of nights ago I went to a buddy’s house and saw a pair sitting by his door. I mocked him. I then tried on his crocs. They are, without doubt, the most comfortable shoe I have ever worn. Unbelievable. He then proceeded to tell me that they come in brown and black. This was news to me because all I had ever seen were the obnoxiously loud crocs. I now find myself in a terrible spot: How can I possibly purchase a pair of black crocs when I've spent several months using them as fodder for my lame stand-up routine? Will Croc wearers welcome me to the family or will I be shunned because I have been so harsh? I must have a pair...but I can't, can I?



I'm no criminal, so it's hard for me to sit in judgment of the decision that this was a crime worth attempting. I like Steve Martin, but I don't think the demand for his movies are huge on the black market!

Curriculum Woes

Our goal is to have a completely overhauled set of small group curriculum ready for the fall. We've created four categories or 'styles' of curriculum and are trying to create somewhere in the range of 80 small group lessons!

"Multi-week series": These will be four or five week studies covering books of the Bible, Bible characters etc.

"Video Lessons" These will be one-week lessons that are video-driven that still have lots of discussion.

"Talk It Up Lessons" are one-week lessons around a topic that are super heavy in questions and discussion.

"Experience It Lessons" are one-week lessons that revolve around some sort of experiential learning or group field trip.

This all sounds good, and I'm super excited!

-We already filmed 9 of the 12 video lessons (which is a good thing) and found out that a good portion of the footage needs to be re-shot for one reason or another.

-We are up against tight writing deadlines and I'm already way behind!

-We are discovering that even the old curriculum we thought only needed 'minor adjustments' actually needs to be completely re-written.

-I really don't want to spend my summer locked in my office writing curriculum.


Tag...You're It!

Will Tagworld chip away at the myspace dynasty? Rumor has it that Tagworld is more user friendly (especially for video, photos, music etc.) and is gaining momentum. The word on the street is that students have created cleaned-up myspace sites in an effort to fool mom and dad while using Tagworld as the site they frequent with their friends.

On The Hunt

We have a massive slope in our backyard; a slope that has been really tough to maintain over the years. Because it's so large, doing any formal landscaping is way too costly so weeds have been the ground covering of choice. About a year ago I finally broke down and had a company come in and hydro-seed it with some 'elephant grass'. It actually looks okay, but now I've got a new problem: Gophers! I've got three massive gopher holes and have seen as many as three of the little critters at one time digging, tearing up the grass and making themselves way too much at home.

If any of my Southern California Junior High girls were to read this next part, they'd break down in tears: I borrowed my friend's BB gun and have been having the time of my life trying to shoot the little guys. Unfortunately I'm a terrible shot and have had no luck. I'm about to go to Home Depot to buy some traps (why is it that using a BB gun sounds so harsh, but breaking their neck in a trap is perceived as humane?). Before I do, I thought I'd toss it out to anybody reading this to see if you have any other tried and true method of getting rid of gophers. If the traps don't work, I'll rent the original Caddyshack to get some tips from Bill Murray.


Weekend Wrap Up

Above Average
'Fun Factor': Above Average
Music: Average
Lesson: Below Average
Volunteer Involvement: Above Average
Student Response: Below Average

We decided to do something different this weeend and I'm not sure it went as well as we'd hoped. Over the course of the year, we teach on our five purposes in one way or another. This weekend we were teaching on the purpose of worship and decided that, in order to help our students gain a broader understanding of it, we wouldn't have any music. Our students, like most people, define worship as singing songs at church. Our hope was that a weekend without music would help them re-define the act of worship. We broke our lesson into three teaching slots and had a different person teach each time. In between we had games, videos, group discussion and some other stuff. While I think we reached our overall goal, I feel like the program was way too choppy and broken up which made it tough for students to track.
But we tried something new and I'm glad we did.


If You Care...

Every month or so, I create a short video podcast that is geared to encourage jr. high workers as well as provide a tiny bit of training. Feel free to pass it on to your volunteers or to other guys and gals in junior high ministry settings. It's nothing formal, just me being me and trying to share some encouragement.

Oh, That Clears Everything Up!

I think This is an interesting article about purity pledges, but I'm not sure because the more I read the more confused I get! After I read it a few times it became clear...kinda. I think I'd summarize it by saying that new research seems to indicate that students who take sexual purity pledges aren't always honest. A dishonest teenager...who woulda thought?

so to Doug Elliott (note my first official 'shout out' since my post a couple weeks ago)



My mind is spinning! I just wrapped up day four of my grad class on 'Marketing the Christian Organization'. Its really just Marketing 101 in a Christian context. If you have any level of business training, it would all be super elementary. However, for guys like me who have spent our entire careers in a ministry context it's been packed with new vocabulary, new ideas and new principles. Not sure what I'll do with what I've learned, but I do know how to create a sweet marketing strategy for my next bake sale (get it...'sweet strategy' because it's a bake sale....)!


Room For Improvement

This morning while I was driving, I spent some time thinking through various aspects of our ministry and came up with four areas that we aren't being as effective as we could be. In no particular order, these are what I came up with:

- Ministry to Parents. We do okay with this, but it's mainly by default and not as a result of good strategy.

- Follow up with Weekend Guests. We've tried lots of stuff and have, actually, been fairly creative in some of our approaches to making guests feel welcomed and valued. This falls into the 'room for improvement' category not because we haven't worked hard at it, but because we just haven't landed on something that feels right and works well.

- Campus Presence. Matt Hall, one of the ministers on our team, just came up with a great new idea called 'Wildside on Location'. We go to a different campus every Friday after school in our jr. high Suburban and hand out cokes, say hi to students etc. While this has been great, it's opened my eyes to the fact that we really could, and should, be doing more.

- Volunteer Community. In the past, this has actually been one of our strengths. However, in the past couple of years our volunteer team has doubled in size and we just haven't been able to hold onto the sense of family and community that we had as a team when we were smaller in size.


Lawsuit VS. Genious

Sometimes the line between a genious jr. high game and a lawsuit waiting to happen is paper thin!

Happy Birthday?

This morning I heard a couple news stories about parents who are refusing to give birth today. They don't want their child growing up with the stigma of having been born on 6-6-06. Talk about being labeled! Hopefully this date and some of the talk about it will open the door for spiritual conversation with those who are seeking. Of course, that won't happen for me because I'm locked in a grad school class all day with a bunch of Christians.


Surf Bums Can't Afford To Surf!

Read this article just long enough to see the price of one of these new carbon fiber surf boards. I saw one the other day and they are unbelievable, but cost about 3x the price of a normal board! Surf bums better get a raise.

Weekend Wrap Up

Attendance: Average
Lesson Topic: Power of Strong Connections
'Fun Factor': Above Average
Volunteer Involvement: Below Average
Music: Above Average
Lesson Quality: Average
Length of Lesson: 19.5 minutes
Student Response: Above Average

I wasn't there this weekend which may explain why we had a better than average weekend! Our lesson was geared to help raise the interest in small groups.


Santa Barbara Revolution

Didn't go to church this morning, so I sat on the balcony and read Barna's book, Revolution. I'm definitely going to need to digest it some more, but my initial thoughts are that it paints a pretty drab picture of the current way most of us go about doing church.

A few highlights from our short weekend away:

- Dinner at L&L Hawaiian BBQ:there's a bunch of them on the islands, but I'd never seen one on the mainland.
- The dog parade: A really big deal with thousands of spectators and hundreds of people parading their dogs in goofy costumes.
- Spending 30 minutes at an Open House: We visited a 4,000 square foot home on an acre of property in the hills of Santa Barbara. List price: only 3.2 million! We decided to go just to see what the house looked like, but we must have looked like rich people who don't like to look rich because the realtor gave us the royal treatment. If he only knew my car at home is a 1991 Toyota!
- Dinner at Joe's Crab Shack: Not because the food was great, but because it took us about 30 minutes to find the place even though we were only a mile away....don't ask.


Mountain And Valley Views...

Rachel and I are spending a couple nights in Santa Barbara in a hotel on the beach. We couldn't afford the room with the ocean view, but mountiain and valley views sounded pretty good to us. When we got into our room yesterday, the first thing I did was hustle over to the sliding door to check out the view. Our mountain and valley view is really a view of the alley, dumpsters and run down apartment buildings behind the hotel. If you wretch your neck far enough to the left, you can catch a glimpse of the mountains...the 'valley' is nowhere to be seen.
No big deal, the hotel is fine and we really aren't in our room much because we're taking advantage of the beautiful weather and the convertible we borrowed from a friend.


Mini Rant!

I'm not sure when it happened and I'm not sure how it happened. I imagine, like most shifts, it was a slow process that nobody really noticed: The Pastor has been replaced by the Leader. To many church workers, including myself, have elevated the gift of leadership to staggering new heights. We don't want to be pastors...we want to be leaders. "He's not really a leader; he's more of a pastor" and "She's not the type of leader we're looking for; she's more of a shepherd" are comments I've heard in the recent past. What? When did being gifted as a pastor and shepherd become a scarlet letter? I'm as guilty of it as anybody else. In fact, it was my uttering of one of the above statements that woke me up. I'm through with it (I hope)! With God's help I will strive to value his gifts equally. More importantly I'll strive to value the people he's gifted equally!


Rachel Dawn Johnston

She was born Rachel Dawn Salzman, but fifteen years ago today she became my wife. I was recently asked what the most significant event of the past year has been and my answer came super easily. The most significant event of the past year is simply that I've fallen more in love with Rachel. Rachel is a strong, independent, gentle, wise, and godly woman who brings out the best in just about everybody her life touches. I'm so thankful God has allowed us to journey together.
A year has gone by since our last anniversary, but my love for Rachel has grown much more than a year's worth over the past 12 months.