We can't! We will! We did....kinda!

Yesterday, our junior high team holed up for about 8 hours worth of long term planning. We talked about virtually every aspect of our ministry but camped out for a significant amount of time discussing and, to some degree, debating our approach to 'educating' our students. We talked educational philosophy, learning styles, content, scope and vision, large group learning, small group learning, helping kids grow on their own etc. Several times throughout our conversation, Jaime would interject something along the lines of 'There's no way we'll all agree on this....entire school systems can't agree!' or 'Jen (his girlfriend) and her teacher friends have this exact same discussion all the time and they've never figured this out...that's why we have public schools, home schools, charter schools etc.' I would reply something along the lines of 'Sure we can!' or 'We'll figure it out because we have to figure it out' or some such arrogant statement.

In the end, we figured it out....kind of. I think (because it's only kind of figured out, I'm still not exactly sure...) we decided a few things when it comes to how we'll approach Christian education in our ministry:

- The 'feel' of junior high ministry is more important than the formal teaching time and content of that time. In other words, creating a safe place for students in early adolescence may be the best lesson we could teach.

- Our ministry is always teaching. Formal or not, just about everything that happens in our ministry is teaching our students something.

- We decided to begin the process of pinpointing the 10 topics that we want every junior higher to be exposed to in their two years in junior high. These topics will each consist of a three week large group curriculum, a 1-3 week small group curriculum and materials that students can use on their own for deeper learning. The rest of the curriculum will vary from year to year as we see fit.

So, instead of totally random/felt-need stuff or a concrete 2 year comprehensive curriculum we landed on a 'both/and' that has some stuff set in stone from year to year and other stuff that is much more flexible.

Here's where I'd love to hear some input: What are your 10 non-negotiable topics that you would want every junior high student to learn about over the course of their two-three year experience in your ministry?

A Historic Day!

Today, after several years of planning, funraising, planning, fundraising, planning and fundraising, the first beams of our future Student Zone were raised into place! Seeing the building actually beginning to take shape is going to be a huge boost to our congregation. I can't wait until this weekend when carload after carload of families drive onto our property and see the progress. This afternoon, a group of us gathered together to pray for God's continued blessing on our ministry and the construction.


Energy Zappers

Shaun Blakeney, our high school Pastor, just handed me a copy of his new book Energy Zappers...Dealing With People Who Drain You Dry. I'm really intrigued by the subject matter and look forward to reading the book.


Volunteer Retreat

This past weekend we took about 55 of our junior high volunteers and spouses to our annual volunteer leader retreat in down town San Diego. We charged $25.00 per person and picked up the rest of the tab. The schedule looked like this:

Arrive any time after noon for hanging out, shopping etc.
4:45 meet in lobby and ride trolley to dinner
8:00 'Generational Olympics' (goofy olympic competition by age brackets)
10:00 Late night movies, card games etc.

8:30-10:00 Walk over to the French cafe for Breakfast
10:00 - 11:30 Group time with prayer stations, 10 minute challenge, communion

We didn't talk about junior high ministry or do any formal training. The retreat is our way to simply say thank you and to love on our volunteer team.


A Long Ride

I'm posting late today because I was on the road at 6:00 a.m. for a day of dirt bike riding with some friends. The day consisted of a two-hour ride through the desert, over foothills, and through ravines and river beds to an In-N-Out Burger in Barstow. We ate, relaxed and then rode 2 hours back to our truck.

Right now every bone in my body aches and my arms feel like spaghetti.

Weekend Wrap Up

Attendance: Below Average
Lesson Topic: STUFF week three(toast)
'Fun Factor': Above Average
Volunteer Involvement: Below Average
Music: Average
Lesson Quality: Above average
Length of Lesson: Longer than usual
Student Response: Above Average

We were away at our annual volunteer leader retreat this weekend so Josh Griffin and others stepped up to run our programs. From what I've been told the lesson was a little longer than usual but that was partly because Josh crammed it full of creative elements that the students loved. This week was the toughetst/most abstract lesson of the three and going into the weekend I felt like it could be a tough one for the kids to grasp. I talked to my 7th grade daughter about it and she felt like it was really good, but a little hard to understand. For toast, we used the idea that when you mess with the timer on the toaster, the toast never turns out quite right.....the same is true in life: God has perfect timing and trusting it helps life turn out better. There was more to it than that, but that was the basic idea.



A friend of mine made me an offer I couldn't refuse on a Honda XR250. I don't ride a ton, but it is something our entire family seems to enjoy so I'm beginning to buy used gear when I can afford it. We're heading out for a ride on Monday.


Simple Thought: Budget Allocation

If your church operates on a fiscal budget, you may be heading into 'budget prep mode'. Each year at this time I spend way too much time trying to figure out the best use of the resources our church gives our ministry. Here is my super simple breakdown of what I think may be the best way to spend the money your church provides...we don't do it exactly like this, but I probably would if I could:

10% Tithe/benevolence: Give a portion of your budget to a needy church, ministry etc. or use it as scholarship money.

40% Volunteer appreciation: underwrite the cost of their trips so they can go for free, take them to coffee, pay for a date-night, buy them a Christmas gift.

40% Weekly programs: prizes, decorations, snacks, curriculum etc.

10% Personal growth: training events, conferences, books etc. for the point person of the ministry.


New Office Look

I have a brand new office look that I really like. While I was away on a trip, my assistant spent hours giving my office a make over. The desk is gone, replaced with an old dining table. The walls are painted a soft brown and there is warm decor all over the place. I've taken a little heat from colleagues and friends who think it's a tad too feminine and not quite 'kurtish' enough. Here are three pictures that give the best look. What say you?


Myth Buster....Or At Least Myth Checker

In the current issue of Group Magazine Tom Carpenter, a Senior at Bethel College, takes a crack at finding the truth behind the much hyped youth ministry drop-out statistic. You've probably heard different variations of it, but the popular opinion is that a shockingly high percentage of High School kids drop out of church after they graduate. Tom used the 88% drop out statistic as his starting point for the article. He traces the origins of this statistic back to the Southern Baptist Convention's Council on Family Life which released a 2002 report that found roughly 88 percent of evangelical young people leave the church after they graduate from high school. Tom states, "That number is not only shocking and upsetting, but my analysis of its substance shows it's also false." He then spends the next two pages doing a pretty good job of building a case for why, in his estimate, the actual drop out rate is closer to 40%.

I've never been a huge stats follower. They always seem to get inflated, deflated, twisted or tweaked to prove some body's point (look at the current state of the global warming debate as an example). Because of that I've never really bought into the hype around the various drop-out stats that have been passed around as fact lately. So, I'm not convinced this article puts the issue to rest, but I do think it's good to see a thoughtful response to a really important youth ministry issue.

I'm not sure if Group makes back issue articles available later, but if they do this would be worth reading when available. Heck, if you don't subscribe to Group Magazine you really need to. It's a valuable ministry resource that all youth workers should have sitting on their desk.


Weekend Wrap Up

Attendance: Average
Lesson Topic: STUFF week two (trash)
'Fun Factor': Above Average
Volunteer Involvement: Average
Music: Average
Lesson Quality: Above average
Length of Lesson: 19:21
Student Response: Average

This series is shaping up to be one of my favorite in a long time. The lessons have been super junior high friendly and we've done a great job of working the theme throughout our entire program each week. Next week, Josh Griffin is going to fill in because we'll be on our volunteer staff retreat. His topic: Toast


Me Likey This CD

I realize that this may simply be because I'm buddies with Brandon and that I think he's a great person, musician and junior high youth minister (he leads worship for Willow's middle school ministry), but his new CD is what I'm finding myself listening to more than anything else right now. I know I mentioned it briefly as part of another post a few weeks ago, but it really is good! Brandon wrote every song but one, so you won't recognize 'em but I think the vast majority are songs that translate really well to a junior high ministry setting.

My three favorite songs on the CD:
1) He Made a Way
2) Father of Glory
3) You Are The Same (Scattered Around)

My least favorite song:
Dancing Generation (the one song he didn't write!)

You can purchase it through the willow creek association, Amazon or at simply junior high.


Here kitty kitty kitty....

I don't like cats. This article is for everybody who has ever questioned my position.


Random Ramblings

- Don't know why I didn't post yesterday. Actually I do know: The thought never crossed my mind.

- 300 may be the best 'manly movie' I've ever seen. It probably isn't what you want to see on your next date night, but if you're looking for a great movie to see with the guys, this is it!

- Is it consistent to be concerned about the environment but not really concerned about global warming? Because I am and I am not really.

- Just got word that 'My Faith' is already in its second printing. I thought it would sell well because of the subject matter, but this still feels surprising. 'My Family' isn't selling as well which isn't as surprising.

- A whole crew of ours is preparing to camp out all night at a grand opening of Chic-Fil-A. The first 100 people in line get 52 coupons for a free combo meal. That's one free meal a week for an entire year! I love Chic-Fil-A, but the idea of camping out in a parking lot all night just doesn't sound fun to me any more. Certainly a sign of middle age.

- I haven't had a soda of any kind in over a month. I've lost a few pounds and feel amazing. Now, if I can just get off the sweet tea. Wait, free combo meals at Chic-Fil-A means free sweet tea. I gotta grab my sleeping bag!


Weekend Wrap Up

Attendance: Above Average
Lesson Topic: STUFF week one (toothpaste tube)
'Fun Factor': Above Average
Volunteer Involvement: Below Average
Music: Below Average
Lesson Quality: Above average
Length of Lesson: 22:00
Student Response: Above Average

STUFF is my adaptation of a series idea that Ryan Nielsen shared at a recent junior high pastor's gathering. The idea is to take common household items and use them as the object lesson for the teaching time. He called his series 'The Law Of...' and used different items than we are using (actually, he did use toothpaste tube, but the next two weeks will be different). I called the series STUFF because it felt a little more JH friendly. Upcoming STUFF topics: Trash and Toast. It was one of our best weekends in a long time.


Transitional Period

Mariah Miles, who has served on our team for about 2 years as our small groups coordinator recently became engaged to John, a former intern now serving at a church in Oklahoma. They are an amazing couple and I'm excited to see what God does in and through their lives. For the past several months my team and I have been interviewing candidates hoping to find a good fit for this super important role on our team. It feels like we've narrowed it down to two, one of whom is flying in this afternoon to spend the weekend with us. She is currently the junior high director at a fairly large church, so it feels like she would be giving up quite a bit to join our team. I'm looking forward to getting to know her this weekend.


Feeling Sad

The father of a girl in our junior high ministry passed away this week. He was only 42 and had been fighting cancer for quite a while. I'm meeting with the family this afternonon to work through the final details of tomorrow's memorial service. Obviously I want the formal memorial service to go well and be a good celebration of this gentleman's life, but more importantly I hope our ministry and other support systems can rally around his daughter.

A good friend of mine passed away a couple years ago at the same age. His daughter was also in junior high at the time and it was such a devastating loss. My heart is hurting today knowing that another young teenager is facing the loss of her dad.


Simple Thought

Simple Thought: Maybe better isn't always
It seems like many youth workers (myself included) have bought into the idea that newer, cooler, more expensive, fresher, flashier stuff is always better. If having lights is good, then better lights must be better. If playing games is good, then better games must be better. If having our own youth room is good, then a better youth room must be better.

About 6 months ago, I broke the bank and purchased four brand new X-box 360's to replace our old X-box systems. Nothing was wrong with our old ones, but hey 'If an X-box is good, than a better X-box must be better!'. Not even close! Sure, the graphics and games were a bit better, but we have had problem after problem after problem with the new systems. We've returned a couple only to have different problems with the new ones.

Our solution? We decide to buy a bunch of $20 plug-n-play games at target...there is a whole isle of them to choose from. My logic was that when these broke, we could easily replace one for less than the price of a single X-box game.

Two interesting observations:

1) They haven't broken! They are pretty durable.
2) Our students love them and we haven't had a single question about the whereabouts of the X-box systems.

Maybe better isn't always.


Wow! Interesting.

Here's the current top 10 praise and worship songs in America this week according to CCLI. Interesting that Chris Tomlin has 5 out of 10. Has that ever happened in secular music? Did the Beatles ever have 5 top 10 songs at once? Madonna? Michael Jackson? The pool of people contributing to the praise and worship genre is probably quite a bit smaller, and I imagine the shelf life of a worship song is much longer, but it's still an amazing feat.
(so to Josh )

1 How Great Is Our God / Tomlin, Reeves, Cash
2 Blessed Be Your Name / Redman
3 Here I Am To Worship / Hughes
4 Open The Eyes Of My Heart / Baloche
5 You Are My King / Foote
6 Holy Is The Lord / Tomlin, Giglio
7 We Fall Down / Tomlin
8 Forever / Tomlin
9 Lord I Lift Your Name On High / Founds
10 The Wonderful Cross / Reeves, Tomlin, Walt

A Safe Return

At 3:30 p.m. yesterday, my daughter walked through customs and into our lives once again! The next three hours were spent listenting to story after story and adventure after adventure from her experience in Kenya. We looked at loads of pictures....a few of which were actually in focus! :)

She's already talking about the need to spend three weeks there next year because two weeks wasn't enough. Not news her mom was ready to hear!


Weekend Wrap Up

It was a unordinary weekend, so I won't have the ordinary wrap up today.

First, It was our winter camp weekend so our junior high department headed up to Thousand Pines. We joined three other churches, all of which are led by guys who have served with me at Saddleback at some point. It was a fantastic weekend...there was actually quite a bit of snow on the ground....which for our So. Cal. kids is a big deal.

Second, Jason Pogue, one of our key volunteers stayed back and led the weekend services at church. as usual, when he fills in for us the weekend doesn't skip a beat. His lesson was on 'You Are A Masterpiec'. The whole time he spoke he had an artist on stage painting a picture. Very cool.

Third, I wasn't at church or at camp. For the first time ever, I missed on of our camps (I did miss a Mexico Mission trip once, but that's a story for a different time). One of my best friends, who is a youth pastor in Carlsbad (beautiful beach community about 30 minutes south), was speaking in the adult services and I wanted a chance to hear him. That, combined with the fact that I was late with my book deadline with Marko, made it seem okay to escape for a personal retreat of writing and going to my friend's church. I was glad I did. His message was fantastic (he's one of the most creative communicators I've ever heard) and I was able to finish my portion of the books and send them in.

Next weekend things will return to normal as we kick off a new series: STUFF


Sweet Spot

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Here's how I typically advise younger ministers and leaders:

- Spend the first 10 years of ministry (say from ages 22-32) becomming as well-rounded as possible. Discover your stengths, identify and work on your weaknesses. Have your hands in lots of different 'pots' so you get a variety of experience and allow yourself plenty of opportunities for growth, especially in your areas of weakness.

- The rest of your career (say from 33-60) are best spent and most fruitful if you limit your focus to your sweet spots (your areas of strenght and passion). Don't worry so much about improving your weaknesss; focus on your strenghts.

The idea that a 45 year old should still be making great efforts to become more organized if he's not, or to become a better speaker if she isn't, doesn't make a ton of sense to me.


My Lunch Table Memoir (warning: name dropping ahead)

Donald Miller is quickly becoming one of my favorite Christian leaders/speakers/authors. It's not because I've read his books or because he's an incredible communicator. He is a wonderful writer, and a gifted speaker, but he is becoming one of my favorites because of who he seems (I say seems because I really don't know) to be when he's off the stage and not hidden mysteriously behind the pages of a book.

Yesterday I found myself at a lunch table with him. I really shouldn't have been at a lunch table with Donald Miller, but there I was. Since I really shouldn't have been at a lunch table with Donald Miller, I decided not to talk.....only to listen. What I heard, and what I didn't hear, was refreshing. I heard humility, gentleness, vulnerability and honesty. I heard him asking more questions than he answered. I didn't hear arrogance, hyperbole, brashness or sarcasm.

He was such a regular guy that if I didn't know he was Donald Miller I know myself well enough to know what I would have thought: "How did this guy get a seat at MY lunch table?"