Simple Thought #1: Organized Religion

I've decided to add a new feature that will show up once every....well, once every time I get the urge.

I'm a simple, pragmatic thinker. This serves me well for the most part, but has it's share of disadvantages. Disadvantage #1: Nobody has ever said to me, "Kurt, that was a really deep thought." Because of my pragmatic bent, I often look at somewhat deep issues and jump to super quick, pragmatic, not thought out and oftentimes totally lame assumptions or solutions. But, they seem to work for me. So, today I offer you my first 'Simple Thought' on a very complex topic.


People who are really smart use things like history, context, theology, human nature, etc. to rally against or defend organized religion. The truth is, organized religion has very few defenders these days. I don't know if I am one, but here is my very pragmatic defense of organized religion:

To me, it seems like most things function better when there is some sort of organizational effort going on. What would your education have looked like or be worth if there was no organization behind it? How about AYSO Soccer? Can you imagine trying to get from point A to point B without some sort of organized transportation system and laws? What would youth ministry look like without organization (uh...bad example)?
My point? Sure there are lots of problems with 'organized religion' but I often wonder what sort of problems we'd have if we quit trying all together.


Summer Debrief

My quick assessment of the key components in our junior high ministry summer:

- We decided to do lots of small, cheap, 'just show up' type of events to make it easier on families. For the most part, I think this worked pretty well. Every Tuesday we had what we called 'Meet Us @' where students could pick one of three locations/events and simply meet us at that event for a couple of hours. Places like the park, the skate park, a local pool, an arcade, a service project etc. all served as Meet Us @ locations.

-Every Friday we hosted a game day at the park for a couple of hours. We found this attracted almost the exact same group of students every week....mostly athletic type.

- Our first ever Beach Camp was fantastic! an event we'll keep on the calendar.

- Our annual Summer Camp was pretty good. We've been going to the same camp for nine summers now and it feels like our relationship with them is beginning to strain a bit. Not sure, exactly, where the root of that lies. They run a good camp (not quite as good as they used to...), but it feels like the customer service side of things has slipped in recent years.

- Our Guys and Girls day (two seperate events on the same day that we call 'Burly' and 'Girly') were probably our best ever. They used to be two or three day events, but the cost was so high that it kept a whole bunch of kids from being able to attend. Now, they are just one day jam packed with all sorts of events and our attendance was way up this year.

- Our 10-week Summer theme 'In Motion' was pretty good. This was our fourth year of wrapping a theme around all of our Summer weekends and, to be honest, they always begin to feel a bit too long (a 10 week series on the Fruit of the Spirit). But this year was one of the best to date and, overall, I like the themed Summer idea.

All in all, a good Summer. Now it's time to gear up for Fall....volunteer leader training, small group kick-off, Youth Specialties, moving into new offices etc. The fun never stops!


I Didn't Think It Could Happen

My wife is in Tennessee, my daughter was at Disneyland, so I took my son out on a little 'dude date'. He wanted to go see the movie Zoom. I'm a movie buff and I hadn't heard of this one, which is always a bad sign. The easiest way to describe it would be a cheap, low budget rip-off of Sky High, Disney's somewhat decent superhero movie starring Kurt Russell. Zoom stars Tim Allen and Courteney Cox as a former super hero and scientist who are given the assignment to find and recruit a new batch of young heros.

It is, without question, the worst kids movie I've ever seen. TERRIBLE!
To make things worse, my son wanted to eat dinner at the movies. My choices: Nachos or a a hot dog. I choose the hot dog. Bad choice.

I didn't think it could happen, but my movie/hot dog combo was so bad it really did seem to ruin my date with Cole.

Of course he loved the movie and ordered the Nachos so it was a great night for him!


Mr. Mom

Rachel has been in Tennessee since Saturday morning, so I've been playing the role of Mr. Mom all weekend which has been pretty dang easy for a few reasons:

- Our friends have been planning all sorts of fun stuff for our kids to do while I'm at church and in the office, so they are probably having the best 3-4 days of summer yet!

- My kids are older now and totally independent so 'Mr. Mom' really isn't all that taxing.

- Today my daughter is off to Disneyland with some friends and Cole and I are going to a birthday party then going to drive some go-carts.

- The three of us will hang out together tonight, get the house back in order and then mom comes home at noon tomorrow.


Weekend Wrap Up

Attendance: Average
Lesson Topic: Week Ten of 'In Motion' (SELF-CONTROL)
'Fun Factor': Above Average
Volunteer Involvement: Above Average
Music: Average
Lesson Quality: Above Average
Length of Lesson: 21.5 minutes
Student Response: Way Above Average

We didn't know it was going to be this way, but we seemed to have saved the best for last. We wrapped up our TEN week summer series around the fruit of the spirit and it was a really fun weekend. Our student band featured two new 7th grade guy singers, our games were fun, we had our 76 year old volunteer, John, dressed in a Darth Vader costume, the message was strong and the students were totally into it all. A fun, strong way to wrap up the summer series.


Feeling Burly

Not much time to post today because I'm off to our annual boys-only 'BURLY' event (the girls are doing 'GIRLY'). The day will be packed:
- Pump It Up (a big indoor place with tons of cool inflatable stuff)
- Lazer Tag
- Ultimate Frisbee at a local park
- going to see Invincible
- Lots of very unhealthy food

Then I'm off to a quick church staff overnight retreat followed up by our first-ever junior high beach baptism on Saturday before the weekend programs start.


A Renewed Belief In Spiritual Warfare

'Renewed belief' is probably the wrong wording. It's not like I used to believe in spiritual warfare and then didn't and now do again. Rather, I think because so much of my early exposure to, and growth in my faith was in a setting that overused the term (everything was spiritual warfare...failed a test, spiritual warfare! Stubbed your toe...spiritual warfare!)I backed off of it for a while. So, I don't think I'm experiencing a renewed belief in spiritual warfare, but maybe just going through a season that has served as a reminder to me that there is an enemy who is hard at work trying to mess up people's lives and kingdom stuff. In the past two days, in my little corner of the world, I've experienced the announcement of a moral failure of a fellow youth worker, the discovery that a friend of mine is involved in some seriously stupid lifestyle choices, hearing stories from a friend who returned from an Aids infected region in Africa, seeing numerous good, hard-working friends get laid off and getting a phone call that one of my wife's closest family members is gravely ill.

I'm no theologian and nobody has every accused me of being a deep thinker, so I'm not likely to try to wrestle this one to the ground. I know stuff happens, I know God's in control, I know the Devil isn't to blame for everything.

My favorite verse is John 10:10. "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."
I almost always focus on the second part of the verse, the fact that Christ offers life in the fullest.

The past couple days have been a reminder that the power of the second part of the verse is best understood in light of the first part.


Arranged Marriage

My son, Cole, and I are going to an Angels game tonight with my friend, Ron, and his daughter. Abby is a super great little girl who is about 3 years younger than Cole. Their family has been one of our best friends for years. I'm thinking tonight could be the night Ron and I shake hands and finalize the arranged marriage.

- I will have good relationship with my son's in-laws.
- Cole won't have to go through all the dating junk.
- We can set a wedding date now and have about a dozen years to save and plan.

- Our kids will resent us.
- What do we do if they don't like each other a few years from now?
- Arranged marriages are soooo last year.
- They want 13 heads of cattle as a trade, and I only have 10.

I guess we'll just watch the game instead.


I'm No Neat Freak, But...

...The next couple weeks are going to kill me. We were slated to move into the new offices on Thursday, so I came in yesterday on my day off for a couple of hours to get a head start on cleaning out my office. I took all the stuff off the walls, dug through my drawers, made various piles of junk etc. Then last night we got an email saying our move has been delayed for a couple of weeks (something to do with fire/safety/who knows what...). I'm no neat freak, but trying to live in an office that has all my junk all over the place for more than a couple days will drive me crazy. I'm not about to try to re-organize it, so I'll be spending more time at Starbucks than usual, which A)isn't a terrible thing because I actually get quite a bit of work done there but B)is a terrible thing because I'm really trying to cut back on the amount of junk I ingest.

Snakes In A Theater

Somebody released some real snakes in a theater during Snakes On A Plane.
That bites!


Weekend Wrap Up

Attendance: Below Average
Lesson Topic: Week Nine of 'In Motion' (GENTLENESS)
'Fun Factor': Average
Volunteer Involvement: Average
Music: Average
Lesson Quality: Above Average
Length of Lesson: 24 minutes
Student Response: Above Average

We are definitely suffering from the end-O-summer blues. Lots of families out on vacation, our team is tired, and the 10-week fruit of the spirit series is beginning to feel old. The highlight of the weekend was that Jason, one of our core volunteers, was our 'guest' speaker and he did a really, really good job! He had lots of energy, a fun object lesson and was well prepared, which helps when teaching a room full of students about a thrilling subject like gentleness!


As Promised...

'Something totally shallow'

Really Sad

I'm feeling really sad this morning. I made a bonehead decision that hurt a good friend. I'd feel better if the decision I made was the right one, but that's not the case. I made a dumb decision that was the wrong decision that ended up hurting a friend. It wasn't intentional, wasn't thought through, and made in a moment of desperation brought on by procrastination. While that might make some people feel better about it or excuse it, for me it only makes me feel worse because I want to be a man who is intentional, thoughtful and certainly not desperate.

I feel like the guy who rages at his wife when he's drunk or causes an accident while speeding. The "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do this...forgive me" line doesn't quite cover it.

But that's the only thing I knew to say.

Okay, enough transparency! My next post will have to be something totally shallow.


Experiment In Progress

One of my long, boring meetings yesterday revolved around our pending move into new office space that is being completed for our Children and Youth departments. The primary topic of the meeting was to determine who 'qualified' for their own office and who would either need to share an office or have a cubicle. Our junior high team has been given 5 offices which is enough for each person to have their own. However, in the meeting I found out that I'm the only person who fits the qualifications for a private office (the process of who does and who does not qualify is a long, detailed one that actually makes quite a bit of sense). What doesn't make sense, however, is to cram two people into a tiny office...they don't qualify for their own, so the traditional practice has been to share an office between two people. Thus, in a moment of creativity mixed in with a twisted sense of adventure I decided to try propose something new.

When we move into our new space next week, NOBODY on the junior high team (including me) will be in an office. We'll all have private cubicles which we can make our own and we will have access to 5 open offices that any one of us can pop into at any given time for an hour or two or eight. Family pictures, knick knacks etc. will remain in the cubicle. We're going to theme each office and decorate accordingly. We'll have the 'big city room', the 'surf room', the 'garage room' , the 'locker room' and the 'global room'. If somebody is feeling beachy, they just pop into the surf room to work. Feeling like visiting New York or London? Then head to the big city room. Nobody will have their own office, but we'll all have 5 offices to chose from.

It might be really cool. It might be a disaster.


I Hate Meetings

No post today because I have been in lots of meetings. Lots and lots of meetings. Lots and lots of long, boring meetings. Lots and lots of long, boring meetings that don't seem to have anything to do with youth ministry or things I care much about. I hate such meetings.

Gotta run....off to another long, boring meeting.


A Shout Out Movement?

Hmmm...check out the August 8th post on Mike King's blog where he posted a video clip. Is it possible that the 'Shout Out', or SO, (an alternative to the dorky Hat Tip) is catching on?

Who Would You Draft?

I'm in a fantasy football league and have never participated in the draft. I've always gone with the 'automatic draft' option and allowed the host site to pick the best available player for me each round. This year, I'm diving in and making my own selections. I usually end up in the middle of the pack at the end of the year and feel like by drafting my own team, I have a better chance of a winning season.
My question: Assuming they are available, who would be your first three picks? Why?

Here are mine:
1) Larry Johnson (RB)
2) Peyton Manning (QB)
3) Antonio Gates (TE)

Kill Some Time

I've only tried this game a couple of times. They say it's tough to get to 20. I've only reached 11.


I've Been Tagged

Because things have been a bit crazy the past two weeks, I haven't been reading too many of my friend's blogs. While I was catching up on Marko's, I saw that several days ago he 'tagged' me for his book meme. mine certainly won't be as deep or inspiring as some of the others, but here we go:

1. One book that changed your life: Not a very spiritual answer, but I'll go with Lincoln on Leadership. I read it for the first time about 10 years ago and have read it several times since. It breaks leadership down to bite-size, tangible principles.
2. One book that you’ve read more than once: Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry. Come on, I had to say that!
3. One book you’d want on a desert island: Can I say the Bible? Since that's probably not allowed I'll go with My Utmost For His Highest.
4. One book that made you laugh: Letters From A Nut
5. One book that made you cry: Most of the books I read for grad school this year...text books always make me cry.
6. One book you wish had been written: "Balance, and The Pursuit Thereof"
7. One book you wish had never been written: Harry Potter. Only because the Christian reaction to it by so many made all of us look so stupid. Come on, aren't there more important things to get worked up about?
8. One book you’re currently reading: Reimagining Evangelism
9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: Purple Cow
10. One book you’d like to write: "101 Ways To Remind Yourself How Blessed You Really Are"

Okay, I'm now going to tag Josh Griffin, Matt McGill and my brother-in-law, James Ridgers


Weekend Wrap Up

Attendance: Below Average
Lesson Topic: Week Eight of 'In Motion' (FAITHFULNESS)
'Fun Factor': Above Average
Volunteer Involvement: Above Average
Music: Average
Lesson Quality: Below Average
Length of Lesson: 17.5 minutes
Student Response: Above Average

The weekend right after Summer camp is always an interesting one. It's usually either really good or really bad...this time it was both. There was tons of post-camp energy which worked for us and also worked against us a few times. We had a bunch of our camp counselors, who aren't typically there on the weekends, show up to say hi to their students and sit in on the program. The energy was so high that we had a tough time settling kids down when we needed to. Our staff was dead tired and really we just kinda went through the motions hoping to survive the weekend and make it to Monday for a little relaxation. Even though they were dog tired, the team put together a great weekend. I think what suffered most was the lesson. I wrote it about three weeks ago so I wouldn't have to worry about it heading into camp. Unfortunately, I really didn't look at it again until I stepped up to teach! It was decent, but certainly not one of my best.


Why I Play Softball

I'm pretty burned-out from a fantastic, but long, week of camp. I want nothing more than to go to bed very early and sleep in really late. But I play on our church softball team and we have our final game of the season tonight. We're already in the playoffs, we don't need to win, I'm one of the less skilled players on the team, and I'm having a pretty bad season. But I will be there tonight. I will play softball tonight, just like I do almost every Friday night because:

- I paid $65.00 to join the league and I want to get my money's worth (oohh, that just reminded me that I still owe my $65.00).
- Softball makes average athletes look better than they really are.
- One of my life-long goals is to hit the ball over the head of the outfielders (I'm not even close...any tips?).
- I get a kick out of the guys who take it super serious. You know, the dudes who show up in matching uniforms, sporting sliding pads, wearing TWO batting gloves when they hit, whooping it up after a victory.
- It serves as fun family time. Weird family time because I'm playing, my wife is in the bleachers talking to friends and my kids are running around the park.
- We usually go have really good pizza afterwards.

I wil play softball tonight.....I MUST play softball tonight.


Beginning Of The End

It's Wednesday morning and we are officially on the 'second half' of camp. So far it has been a fantastic week. We have a young, but really energetic, group of counselors mixed with a fair number of parents and even a 76 year old gentleman who are really stepping up to make camp a great experience for our kids. We've attended Thousand Pines camp for about 9 years now and it continues to be a great fit for our ministry. Mountain bikes, paintball, ropes course, zip line, swimming, off road tours (in these super sweet off road golf carts), skate park and a really good craft shop are just some of the activities the students can chose from. They also have a disc golf course that is absolutely killing us! It's cut out of the forest and unless you can throw perfectly straight, you spend half your time searching for your disc among lots of bushes and dead trees (bushes and dead trees that I'm convinced are home to bears and snakes...).

I'm praying that this year's camp will be a spiritual marker in the lives of our students that they'll remember for years to come.


A Few Firsts

This week marks a few exciting 'firsts' for the Johnston family. All of which revolve around Summer Camp:

- My son, Cole, leaves today for his first church camp experience. He's finally old enough to go to elementary camp. We're frantically trying to get him packed right now.

- My daughter, Kayla, left yesterday with our junior high ministry. As a new 7th grader, this is her first 'youth group' camp. She's been going to camp with us her entire life, but we've kept her from doing most of the stuff so that when she finally got to junior high it would be a fun, 'first time' experience for her.

- Since we've always had our kids staying with us at camp, this week is the first time in twelve years that Rachel and I will experience junior high camp without having our own children to think about.

Internet access will be pretty limited but I'll try to post occasionally.


Crazy Weekend

This week's weekend wrap up looks a little different because it's been a different kind of weekend. Speaking in the adult services combined with sending off 8 buss loads of students to camp has made for quite a weekend so far. It's 3:40 right now and I still have the final two of six services to come. I told a couple people today that I couldn't wait to get to camp tomorrow to relax, which strikes me as super funny considering there's nothing relaxing about camp. However, compared to what I've put myself through this weekend camp sounds like a week in the bahamas right now!

I won't bore you with details of the weekend, but I do want to share one funny story:
As part of my introduction, I asked everybody in the auditorium to make me feel at home by sticking their pen through one of the holes in their outlines and twirling it around. It was really fun and I was shocked at the level of participation. Anyway, in between services this morning I was informed that our health ministry actually had to administer First Aid to a woman who got pocked in the eye by a message outline that had flown off someone's pen! I totally feel for her, but that is stinkin' hilarious. Just another reason they don't let us youth people speak in big church very often.


Open Mouth....Insert Foot

Yesterday, I was reading Marko's post about being recognized in an out of state Starbuck's and how weird it feels when that happens. As I read it I thought "ooh, that is kinda freaky, I'm glad that's never happened to me..." Because I've been hanging around the youth ministry world for 20 years, I tend to be a somewhat familiar face at youth ministry happenings, but nobody has ever 'recognized' me outside those settings. The closest thing would be a couple of years ago when my wife and I were walking around Target. A junior high boy came up to me and said, "Hey, you're the host of Wildside!" He didn't know me by name and didn't know that I'm a Pastor...he just knew me as the "Host". Very funny.

Anyway, today as I was ordering my iced tea at Starbuck's (unsweetened), the barista looked at me and said "I know you, you wrote a book my youth pastor made me read before I could start working with junior high students". It was busy, people were waiting and I shot out a quick, totally stupid reply. "I'm glad you liked it." She NEVER said she liked it! She just said she was forced to read it. I'm an idiot.


Shuffle Up and Google

I just turned in my final outline for the adult worship service and I'm feeling like I need to do something entirely brainless. So, I'm going to enter my name into google to see the first 5 Kurt Johnston images that pop up. Who else out there has my name?

(5 minutes later)

Never mind. Apparently I'm the ONLY Kurt Johnston. There are several Kurt Johnson's (note the missing 'T') and Curt Johnson's, but none others just like mine. Wow, my mom always said I was special and unique.
(so to Rob Cunningham)

I'm Not A Drinker...

But this seems a little over the top. It better be the good stuff!



A couple months ago I decided to give up what is one of my biggest vices: Sweet Tea (specifically from Chick-fil-A). I've been doing pretty good....until today that is.

I was on my way to a far-off Starbucks to work on my worship service message for this weekend when I remembered that Chick-fil-A now offers free Wi-Fi. Call it a lack of discipline, a serious case of the 'nerves' with the weekend approaching, or both. But I couldn't avoid the temptation to work on my message while ingesting delicious Chick-fil-A sweet tea. I feel ashamed for this sudden relapse. Oh, but relapse has never tasted so sweet!

Terrified of Jesus

I heard a devotion this morning in our staff meeting that focused on a pretty familiar theme from Mark 4. The focus was on the story of Jesus calming the storm while he was in the boat with his disciples. However, Buddy (the pastor sharing the devotion) spent just a second pointing out something that I've been chewing on ever since.

After seeing Jesus calm the storm, the disciples became terrified and asked 'who is this....?' They were afraid of the storm, but TERRIFIED of Jesus after seeing the wind and waves obey his voice. Just before Buddy spoke, we sang a song called 'Friend of God'. It's such an interesting balance: being terrified of the awesomeness of God while also being his friend. Personally, today was a good reminder that I need to remind myself regularly of how terrifyingly awesome God really is. Maybe the most terrifying part is that he's willing to be my friend.


End Times?

I really like reading articles and interviews concerning Christianity in secular publications. This article is in recent Newsweek, and I found it interesting. Where do I stand? I think I'm 'pan-millennial' meaning I simply believe it will all pan out in the end (I stole that from Rick W.)!

A True Day Off!

Because the next couple of weeks are super crazy and won't allow me any down time, I decided to make yesterday, my day off, a TRUE day off. My idea of a true day off doesn't include crazy family plans like packing the car up for a two hour drive to the mountains for a picnic and then a hike followed by trying to feed live bears. Those types of outings only serve to leave me more tired than when we began. My idea of a true day off consists of doing a bunch of random, primarily lazy things. Thus, yesterday was a really good day off! My day:

- Slept in until about 9:00 and then laid in bed until about 10:30 watching television.

- Volunteered to drive my daughter to her friends house.

- Came home and laid in bed with Rachel and Cole until about noon.

- Drove Through McDonald's to get something for Cole and then took that to Charro Chicken.

- Walked around a used furniture consignement store.

- Went home and spent two hours cleaning nasty dog hair out of the used car we just bought.

- Hung out with the family until about 7:00.

- Went to see Miami Vice with some friends (I liked it....for what it was).

- Came home and spent some alone time with God.

- Fell asleep.

- Had a dream in which I had 'Taylor Hicks' hair.