Groundhog Day

- Woke up at 5:30 a.m.
- Drove to Airport to catch flight (to las vegas)
- Put my suit on upon arrival
- Hung out for a few hours
- Performed wedding for close friends
- Attended a long, but wonderful reception

- Woke up at 5:30 a.m.
- Drove to Airport to catch flight (back home)
- Put my suit on upon arrival
- Drove to San Diego
- Hung out for a few hours
- Performed wedding for close friends
- Attended a long, but wonderful reception

Oh, and took great picture with Kayla (world's cutest 7th grader)!

Weekend Wrap Up

I wasn't there this weekend, and only have partial information:

Attendance: Average
Lesson Topic: Week 2 of 'ONE...because change begins somewhere' (focused on local missions)
'Fun Factor': Above Average
Volunteer Involvement: Above Average
Music: Forgot to ask!
Lesson Quality: Above average
Length of Lesson: Forgot to Ask!
Student Response: Above Average

Apparently, I missed one of the best weekends in a long, long time. I received two separate phone calls telling me how fantastic it was. A few of highlights:

- Austin Gutwein, The 7th grade founder of Hoops of Hope (he founded it as a 5th grader!), flew in from Phoenix to share his story and challenge our students to do something...anything...to make a difference.

- For our 'Impossible Shot' we brought in a basket ball hoop (it's usually a big hole in the backdrop of our stage) and let four students from each service take a shot from 3-point distance. If they made it, our ministry would donate $200 to Hoops of Hope. 2 students made the shot which was awesome. In addition, at one of our services, an adult volunteer said he'd give $200 if Austin Gutwein could make it...which he did. All in all, we were able to give Austin's ministry a gift of $600!

- As a takeaway, we gave each student a one-dollar bill with a list of 25 possible things they could do with that dollar. We've asked them to write down what they did and share it with us. I'm excited to see how creative students got with a buck.


Three Weddings In Seven Days

It's going to be an interesting stretch. I'm performing three weddings between today and next Friday night. Here's what this weekend looks like:

This afternoon: Drive to San Diego with my family for wedding rehearsal for wedding #2.
Tomorrow morning: Fly to Las Vegas for wedding #1 which takes place tomorrow night.
Sunday morning: Fly home from Vegas, pick up kids and drive to San Diego for wedding #2 which takes place at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Next Thursday is the rehearsal for wedding #3 followed by the ceremony on Friday night.

I really don't like performing weddings (way too much pressure), but all three of these couples are super special to me and I'm thrilled to be part of their big day.


What A Character!

Our kids' school has a neat tradition. At some point during the year, each student receives a character trait award from their teacher. We've noticed that the teachers really seem to take this seriously and put quite a bit of thought into what character trait they acknowledge. Today in his fourth grade class, Cole received the character trait award of 'flexibility'. She listed a dozen ways he has shown flexibility this year at school, which was fun to hear.

I love that his teacher gave him this award. Cole is super strong-willed and stubborn which would seem to go against the trait of flexibility. However, Cole has been working hard to go with the flow and be more flexible. I'm proud of my boy for beginning to develop a character trait that doesn't come naturally for him.


Valuing Volunteers

Once a quarter, our church staff attends a half day training day in which we can pick two workshops that are taught by fellow staff members in their area of expertise.

Today I went to a workshop on volunteers lead by Erik Rees and got some pretty good stuff. One thing that stuck out was his training on how to Value volunteers. His acrostic:

Visit (one on one coffee, lunch etc.)
Affirm (cheer them on, lend them support and encouragement)
Listen (be available, be open to input and suggestions)
Update (keep them informed and in the loop)
Educate (train them)
Shepherd (care for them)

I think our team does a pretty good job in most of these areas, but we aren't doing so strategically. Today was a good reminder that being intentional in these areas will help ensure all the bases are coverd.
Bottom line: If a volunteer feels valued, he or she is more likely to stick around for a while.

As I was finishing up this post, Josh Griffin informed me that he posted on the very same thing!
a) I'm too lazy to change my post
b) Maybe it's an important concept....at least two of us think so!


Simple Thoughts

Several very simple ministry thoughts I've grappled with lately.

- Don't bother with a website if you aren't going to update it (ours is totally outdated...)
- Cool looking promo rarely seems to get more kids to your event.
- If parents are for you, who can be against you?
- Junior high ministry is simple, but not easy.
- It's easier to say 'no' to a potential volunteer than to try to get rid of him later.
- Every lesson needs some sort of 'thought for the week', 'final thought', 'sermon in a sentence' etc. to help students hold onto it and apply it once they leave church.
- One of the best parts of junior high ministry is watching the transition from children to young adults over two short years.
-They really just want to be liked!
- Being a leader who is young, cool, athletic, and funny is way over-rated.
- Paying attention to the little things makes a huge difference.
- Don't take yourself too seriously.


Weekend Wrap Up

Attendance: Average
Lesson Topic: Week 1 of 'ONE...because change begins somewhere'
'Fun Factor': Average
Volunteer Involvement: Above Average
Music: Above Average
Lesson Quality: Above average
Length of Lesson: 31 minutes
Student Response: Above Average

A really good weekend! Katie Edwards is teaching the entire three week missions series. Instead of games, we did a little extra music and a great activity that allowed students to look at 20 different missions/ministry/service scenarious and decide which opportunities they were most drawn to. It really seemed to set the stage for the lesson and the series. Music was strong, the lesson was great and I think this series will be a highlight of our school year.


Missions Update

We start our three week missions series this weekend. The series is called "ONE...because change has to start somewhere". We're going to focus on three areas of change: Personal, Local and Global and try to begin helping our students develop the desire to be change makers as part of an ongoing world view, not just as something that happens when on a missions trip to T.J.

I have really enjoyed reading the comments on the 'new paradigm' post. Your comments have fueled my thougts. I feel like this series is a significant launching pad for an interesting journey in our ministry.


Free Gift

I received this book in the mail today, but have no idea who sent it to me. Most likely from somebody who knows I like to read leadership material and could use a few more lessons! I look forward to reading it.


My Thoughts On An Awkward Award

For the second year in a row, The Church Report has put me at the top of their list of 'Top 20 Youth Ministers'. I didn't mention it to anybody last year and wouldn't have this year if not for the fact that it is the topic of conversation on a couple of blogs. Let me give you a little history and my thoughts.

Last March, my assistant received a phone from The Church Report Online asking for a bio because I was being listed as one of the top 20 youth pastors. I was surprised that I was on the list, and even more surprised and slightly concerned that such a list was even going to be published, so I asked my assistant to call them and ask how the list was compiled, what the criteria was etc. Their response was basically this: Each year they do a massive survey asking church leaders to list the most influential churches in America. They publish this list each year. From that list, they create their list of top 20 youth pastors, top 20 worship leaders, top 20 children's ministers etc.

They said that they took a quick look at the health of the youth ministries and the reputation of leadership to make their list....that the list didn't match the top 20 churches exactly, but came from the top 50 churches, and that I was being named #1. In hindsight, I wish I would have declined the award right then. But I guess my thinking was that if such a list exists, I may as well be at the top (I recognize the arrogance and insecurity in that statement)!

I heard nothing, got no phone calls. I began receiving emails this week from people offering me genuine congratulations as well as my friends mocking me for my 'repeat', my 'dynasty in the making', my 'back to back championship' etc. I went to the current issue of TCR and compared it to last year's list. IT WAS EXACTLY THE SAME! Nobody was off the list, nobody had moved up or down a spot and there was nobody new added.

I could probably right a book about my thoughts! I'll make them bullet points and try to keep them brief:

* I dislike anything in ministry that pits churches, pastors etc. against each other. Creating a 'top 20 list' seems to go against kingdom economics.

* I found last year's list and methods to be suspect at best. Just because a church as a whole won an award from a survey of peers somehow means the youth pastor at that church automatically wins the same award?

* I find this year's list to be completely invalid (again, I think the whole concept is questionable, but much more so when it has no integrity). I think that by cutting and pasting last year's list, the organization hurt it's own credibility and also hurts the credibility of youth ministry (at least it feels like it hurts our credibility....although I'm not quite sure why).

* The question has been asked: "Why Kurt and not Doug Fields?". While I would like to say that it is because I'm obviously a much more gifted and talented youth worker, I have a feeling it happened like this:

Church phone rings and is answered by receptionist who happens to know me better than Fields...
TCR: "Hello, can you please give us the name of your youth pastor?"
Church receptionist who happens to know me better than Fields: "Uh, Kurt Johnston?"
TCR: "Thank you."

And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how I have become America's Top Youth Pastor two years in a row.

Random Randomness

A few thoughts and happenings from my Thursday:

- Played an early round of golf this morning. Had a decent round, but stuck my hand in some kind of wild shrubbery looking for a ball and my arm from elbow to wrist began burning and stinging instantly. Three hours later, it still hurts.

- We're kicking off a three week missions series this weekend (which is what got my mind going yesterday...). I'm not teaching at all for three weeks, which feels really weird, but kinda nice.

-I drink lots and lots of sweet tea from Chic-Fil-A (I have one on my desk right now). It's interesting to me that no two batches taste exactly the same. Fries always taste the same, chicken sandwiches always taste the same, but something as basic as sweet tea seems to vary quite a bit.

- Not sure how, or if, to address the Virginia Tech incident this weekend. On one hand, it feels like it will be old news by Saturday, but on the other hand I'm sure some kids haven't talked about it with anybody and would welcome the opportunity.


Time For A New Paradigm?

I'm going to acknowledge from the get-go that this post is simply a reflection of some of my current thinking. I've got tons of questions and very few conclusions. My question is this: Is it time for a new paradigm for youth group missions projects?

Others have raised this question and it has been addressed in numerous articles, forums and youth ministry circles, and my response has been what it typically is when people begin to question long standing institutions: 'Show me something more effective, and I'll consider changing'.

But for some reason, I am beginning to feel a strong desire to change how we do missions sooner rather than later, to begin to move toward change even though I'm not sure what the 'something more effective' is.

I believe in short-term missions. I know first-hand the impact they have on the lives of our students (I felt called to youth ministry while on a short-term missions trip). I recognize that the efforts of students on these trips does impact those we serve. But is there more to it than that? Could there be more to it than that? SHOULD there be more to it than that? Certainly Rick Warren's PEACE plan is one effort at a new paradigm, but I'm struggling with how to flesh it out in a youth ministry setting.

Like I said, I haven't reached any conclusions. My only conclusion is that there must be a more effective strategy than a youth group showing up in a bunch of rental vans once a year to run VBS and paint houses. I know this isn't the only paradigm, but it seems like it's the prominent youth ministry strategy. In fact, I'm not sure if 'strategy' is even the right word. 'Tradition' is probably a more correct word. I think it's time to question the traditional approach and come up with a new, more effective, strategy.

Cute Little Cusser

Cussing made cute.


Weekend Wrap Up

Attendance: Average
Lesson Topic: One Hit Wonder: WORSHIP
'Fun Factor': Average
Volunteer Involvement: Average
Music: Average
Lesson Quality: Above average
Length of Lesson: Shorter than usual
Student Response: Above Average

Lots of things made this past weekend a little bit unique.
- The week after Easter is always tough because we cancel for Easter and for some reason it takes a couple of weeks to re-gain momentum.
- We are in between series so we did a 'one hit wonder'. Each year, we try to teach through our purposes a couple of times. This week we taught on the purpose of Worship.
- It was Mariah Miles' last weekend with us. Mariah heads up our small group ministry and is getting married in a couple of weeks and moving to Oklahoma. She taught the lesson and we built much of the weekend around her.


Flat Thursday

I'll post more thoughts about my Mexico Scouting trip yesterday later on, but this post is in honor of several girls in my youth group who declared yesterday as 'Flat Thursday'. I've posted the pictures of Flat Kurt's day in Mexico that included arriving early to drive, purchasing Mexican insurance, a delicious lunch in Ensenada, a visit to the High School tent city and a thrilling wait to cross back into the U.S.

By the way, I uploaded these pictures in reverse order....sorry about that!

All in all, Flat Kurt had a fantastic day!


Funny, But Sad, But Funny

After reading this news story I can imagine some of the water-cooler talk:

"When this trial goes to court, the judge is going to tell the guy he doesn't have a leg to stand on."

"His partner in crime might get off though because he seems to have a leg up on him."

"The whole story is strange. To be honest I'm totally stumped by it."


"Flat You" Day This Thursday

On Easter Sunday, my daughter Kayla thought it would be fun to make a 'Flat Stanley' and take him with us on our various festivities. A friend of hers read her blog post about it and, together, they decided to make Thursday 'Flat You' day.

Here's how it works: just draw and color a little, flat 'you' and take him with you Thursday taking pictures at your various locales. Then post them on your blog Thursday night.

I'm going to Mexico Thursday, and I'm taking my 'Flat Me' along! I won't be able to post my adventures until Friday afternoon. If you or somebody you know wants to participate just reply in a comment so we know to check your blog for pictures.

That's a picture of 'flat me' all ready for his trip to Mexico.

Why Didn't I Think Of This?!?!

I fancy myself an amateur inventor. How did I miss this one!'
(SO to Jaime)


Choose Your Own Adventure

Because we didn't have youth services this weekend, our family had all day together on Saturday with nothing planned. So we decided to have a 'choose your own adventure' day. Each member of the family got to choose something they would like to do and we'd all do it together before heading off to the next destination. Here's how we spent our day:

Brunch at The Pancake House (Kayla's Choice)
Looking at Model Homes in new development nearby (Kurt's Choice)
Walking around shopping Center and stopping for Coffee at The Coffee Bean (Rachel's Choice)
Going to the movies to see 'Meet the Robinson's' (Cole's Choice)

Very fun.


Lessons From The Office

After over a month of repeats, The Office made its return last night.
Some life lessons I learned:

- If 'the man' is keeping you down, it may be because 'the man' is actually being kept down himself.

- Somebody always has to speak first.

- If you want 12%, ask for 15%.

- Three grown men don't fit in the front of a pick up.

- I'd rather be hit with num-chucks or a karate star thingy than sprayed with pepper spray.

- Never buy a suit in a hurry.

- I'm a very gruntled employee.


The Middle School Blogosphere

A few months ago I read somewhere (how's that for credible research?) that only 2% of young teens have ventured into the world of blogging. For a while that stat felt about right, but it seems like, at least in our youth group and within a certain group of kids, the number is rising. I wouldn't call my daughter, Kayla, an early adaptor but she created a blog this week and seems to really be into it. She even has a little journal where she writes down her ideas for upcoming posts.

I'm interested to see if blogging becomes a middle school trend.


36 Hour Retreat

The core leadership of our student ministries team is away for a quick overnight retreat. Other than just a chance to hang out and have fun, our time is focusing on two questions:

1) Share a time you felt proud to be 'one of us'
2) How would you describe the past, present or current 'culture' of our student ministries team?

I'm excited to see where the conversation takes us.

Makes Me Wonder

If you haven't read the article I linked to in my last post, you really need to! If you know me at all, you know that I tend to err on the side of simplicity and pragmatism. So, even though I was fascinated by the conversation between Rick Warren and Sam Harris, I found myself frustrated at the whole thing. Here's why:

- Rick's core belief is that God created man. For him, everything flows out of that.
- Sam's core belief is that man created God. For him, everything flows out of that.

Since theism and atheism are both faith-based belief systems, how do you prove the other guy wrong in a debate?



A couple weeks ago, Rick came into a staff meeting just a few minutes after he had finished his discussion/debate with leading atheist Sam Harris for this Newsweek article. He shared just a few highlights that left me starving for more details! I'm running out for a date day with Rachel, but can't wait to read this in it's entirety.

Weekend Wrap Up

Attendance: Average
Lesson Topic: Why Easter Matters
'Fun Factor': Above Average
Volunteer Involvement: Average
Music: Above Average
Lesson Quality: Above average
Length of Lesson: 24:00
Student Response: Above Average

Each year, we cancel our youth programs on Easter weekend, so we built this weekend around Easter. Our games were Easter themed, Our songs were Easter themed and the Message talked about three reasons Easter and the empty tomb matter (the empty tomb is proof, the empty tomb is powerful, the empty tomb is permanent). All in all, it was a great weekend. One of the highlights was the music. We sang several older, classic worship songs and learned a new one that students seemed to really like.

If you are looking for an Easter message for mid-week or this weekend, you can download the free outline and audio from the lesson I taught this weekend at www.simplyjuniorhigh.com. It should be up by late this afternoon or early Tuesday.