My Moleskine, My Friend

For years and years I carried around a bulky day-timer because I liked having the feel of 'paper' in my hands and enjoyed the ease of jotting down notes on a whim etc. But then, like most other people, I got sucked into the world of Palm Pilots and then smart phones and felt the pressure to get rid of my old-school ways. Recently I decided to take a half step back in time and bought several Moleskine notebooks. I opted for the smaller-than-usual ruled soft notebook (192 lined pages @ 3.5 x 5.5) because they fit so well in my pocket.

I have to say, my world has been changed...or changed back. It's already hard to imagine not having one handy in my pocket.


Monday Miscellaneous on Tuesday

I realize it's Tuesday, but figured I'd go ahead with my new Monday Miscellaneous tradition:

- Didn't post yesterday because, frankly, I forgot. I got up fairly early to head out to an all day golf tournament for my kid's school. A friend of mine owns the insurance company that insures the school so he always buys a foursome for the otherwise way-too-costly-for-me event. We had a great time. He also bought us each 10 raffle tickets for some pretty cool prizes which, of course, I didn't win.

- The weekend in Junior High was an interesting one. Really good in some areas and not so good in others...very much a roller coaster of sorts. Music was probably the best in a long time. One of our games was great and the other really struggled (even though it was a great, creative idea...). In fact it struggled so much that we tweaked it for the second service and then totally eliminated it from the third. Our new series "Simmer Down...three emotions that will get you into hot water" seems like it will be pretty fun. This week the topic was Anger; and more specifically how to deal with dangerous anger.

- Our Student ministry program at our new regional campus in Irvine kicks off this Sunday. Leo, our youth pastor at that campus, has been working like crazy recruiting volunteer leaders, setting up the youth room etc. I'm excited to see what God is going to do at the new campus.

- Our junior high and high school departments are in a little bit of controversy because we have decided to post-pone all of our missions trips to Mexico for the next 6 months due to the increased danger. Mexico always has certain risks, and many feel like nothing much has changed other than media attention but our missions department feels like violence has increased enough to warrant not taking students. Some families are are thanking us for our cautious approach and others are frustrated by it.

- Incredible progress is being made on our new student facility, The Refinery. All signs still point to a June 21st grand opening which happens to be promotion weekend so we are getting really close! The building is amazing.


New Middle School Curriculum!

One of the biggest frustrations in leading a junior high ministry is the relatively small amount of resources and curriculum written specifically for young teens. So, I am excited to see that Youth Specialties is releasing four new 8-week middle school studies around really crucial topics. Ken Rawson and his wife, Jen, told me about this project a while back and I am really glad to see these great studies available for folks like me and you! The four studies are:
Becoming a Young Man of God
Living as a Young Man of God
Becoming a Young Woman of God
Living as a Young Woman of God


Culture Wars

I've been thinking a lot lately about organizational culture; how do you define it, who sets it, how to navigate it etc.

Every church in America has it's own culture. Your church has yours, my church has mine, and chances are they are fairly unique. When talking to fellow youth workers who have had bad experiences at a previous church, I've come to the conclusion that one of the biggest contributing factors is a failure to navigate the culture of that particular church. It's really tough to pin-point or define the culture of any particular church, but it exists and the ability to recognize and function well within it is one key to longevity and success in the church setting.

- Is the work environment casual or formal?
- Are you expected to tell your supervisor where you are during the day?
- What meetings can you afford to miss and what ones must you make sure to never miss?
- What type of humor is allowed in what settings?
- Is the church led by type 'A' personalities or not?
- How loosely or tightly are office hours tracked?
- Is there an expectation that most good work happens when you are in the office?
- Does your church value 'sacred cows' or is it open to lots of changes?
- Are there certain leaders who expect to be treated in a certain fashion?
- Is email the preferred method of communication amongst staff or face-to-face?

...and the list goes on.

Try this exercise: write a one paragraph definition of your church's 'culture' and ask others you work with to do the same. Then, spend some time together and identify the areas that were common to everybody. Chances are those areas are the true culture of your church and the less common areas may be individual values or experiences.

What I've learned and what I've seen others learn is that one person rarely changes the culture of the church. Culture is developed over time; for better and for worse and the wise youth worker is one who can appreciate it, understand it and navigate it.


Full Service Summer

Our Summer Theme this year is "Full Service Summer". This morning we went to a local gas station to take a bunch of pictures for our Summer Calendar that is due to go to print in about a week. We've always had a 'theme' for the Summer, but it wasn't until a few years ago that we actually started creating 10-weeks worth of lessons around it. In recent years our themes have been:

10 weeks on what it would look like if you actually put the fruit of the spirit in motion in your life

10 weeks using a different famous land mark such as great wall of china, mt. everest etc. as backdrop for an object lesson.

10 weeks of character traits such as honesty, loyalty etc.

For "Full Service Summer" we are hoping to use a different car part each week as an object lesson. It was a great idea at the time, but now I'm struggling. Anybody have any creative ideas for me?

Let's do this....post an idea to help me out, then post any Summer-related topic you could use help on. Camp ideas, activity ideas, promotion weekend ideas....you name it. We can all chime in.


Monday Miscellaneous

Weekend Wrap-Up: This weekend was great. Our attendance was a bit down, but energy was high. Our friends at Elevate, Willow Creek's Junior High ministry, "loaned" us an entire weekend program. I was out there last weekend and really enjoyed the program and asked if they would send us the games, the message, the videos etc. They did, and it was really a good fit for our kids.

Street Kings: Saw it last night. Typical "bad cops" movie but way over the top. Don't think I can recommend it.

Carpet Ball: I saw this game at another youth group and fell in love with it. John Allen, our 78 year old volunteer, built the one pictured above and we unveiled it this weekend. At one point, I counted 27 kids standing around the table.

Birthday Boy: My son, Cole, turned 11 a couple weeks ago but we held his birthday party last night. A crew of his closest buddies went bowling and out to pizza. Sad to see him growing up so fast, but also glad that the days of clowns and balloon animals at parties have passed.


Hurts My Heart

Over the past year or so, God has really begun softening my heart for single moms and the struggles they face. To be honest, much of my thinking and praying has been on behalf of the moms and not on their kids. A good buddy of mine just passed these stats along to me which served as a reminder of who the real victims are when no dad is present.

63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes--U.S. D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census
85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes--Center for Disease Control
80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes--Criminal Justice and Behavior, Vol. 14, p. 403-26
71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes--National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools
70% of juveniles in state operated institutions come from fatherless homes--U.S. Dept. of Justice
85% of all youths sitting in prisons grew up in a fatherless home--Fulton County Georgia jail populations & Texas Dept. of Corrections

Translated, this means that children from a fatherless home are:
5 times more likely to commit suicide
32 times more likely to run away
20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders
14 times more likely to commit rape
9 times more likely to drop out of school
10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances
9 times more likely to end up in a state operated institution
20 times more likely to end up in prison


I accidently deleted my entire post regarding this book, and can't figure out how to recover it, but I liked the book enough to re-post it. Sorry!


Really Good Stuff

Brandon Grissom, the worship leader for Willow Creek's junior high ministry, just released a new E.P. As usual he wrote a good portion of the songs, and as usual it is really good stuff. The most junior high friendly, I think, are Brighter and Liberty.


Monday Miscellaneous

- I was traveling yesterday from the Willow Creek conference so didn't attend our junior high program but heard it was a great weekend.

- I did get home just in time for our annual small group frisbee golf tournament. Kids sign up to play with their small group and we make a nine-hole course around the campus. Good time.

- Today my son, Cole, turns 11. He has really taken to guitar and we were told that a great way to encourage practice is to play along with favorite songs, which makes sense. We would never buy our 11 year old an iPod but that seemed like the best way for him to find individual songs that he would like to play along with without needing to buy an entire CD. So, we have an 11 year old with an iPod (but purely in the interest of encouraging his love for guitar).

- Has anybody out there played much of the Xbox 360 game 'Skate'? Cole showed me a demo of it last night and it looks amazing. Way better than Tony Hawk from the little I saw. Is it worth buying?

- Was very odd to board the plane yesterday morning in snow flurries and land in 91 degree heat wave sweeping So.Cal. I'm really not ready for Summer quite yet, but the heat does feel kinda good.

- Heading off to date day with Rachel which usually includes Chic-fil-A, walking around the mall and being lazy. I'm quite the romantic I've been told.


Willow Creek Days 2&3

I'm in the coffee shop outside Willow Creek's auditorium enjoying my Chai Latte (which happens to be much better than the one I usually get at Starbucks. Not sure why....) and reflecting on my experiences and learnings.

- Brian Mclaren was great. I was expecting controversial statements and attempts to rattle our cages, but didn't get any of that. He shared a really, really great presentation about the possibility that the church is busy addressing lots of issues that don't matter a whole lot. Good stuff.

- Had dinner last night with a student ministries team from a multi-campus church in Canada. They may have been the sharpest, nicest group of youth workers I've ever met. Some of their approaches to the multi-campus structure are quite interesting and I found myself taking mental note after mental note. I would have actually taken written notes, but both hands were busy cramming Chicago-style deep dish pizza down my throat.

- This morning, Kara Powell made a case for 4 ingredients of a youth ministry that produces students who remain Christ-followers as they enter college. Her 4 (in my words):
* A clear understanding of the gospel.
* A ministry that welcomes and provides opportunities for doubts to be shared.
* Opportunities for inter-generational relationships.
* Students learning how to feed themselves spiritually.

- Right now I'm heading in to hear Dan Kimball who is my favorite of the emerging thinkers and leaders. Partly because he has cool hair.


Willow Day One

Just getting ready to head into the first general session. Brian Mclaren is the speaker so it should be interesting and enjoyable.

Two highlights from last night:

- On the drive in I found myself tuned into a country radio station. I never listen to country and I'm not sure what possessed me to do so last night. The first song I listened to had lyrics in the chorus that went something like this... "I want to kiss you way out in the sticks, I want to walk with you through fields of wild flowers, I want to check you for ticks." Seriously.

- Because of the time change I wasn't tired or ready to settle in when I got to my hotel so I went across the street to see the movie, "Drillbit Wilson". That isn't the actual title, but I know it had Drillbit in it and starred Owen Wilson. It was actually a pretty fun little flick and one that youth pastors should see.


Willow Bound

I'm in the airport waiting to board my flight to Chicago for Willow's SHIFT conference. I don't teach until Thursday, but wanted to catch the entire conference from the beginning because it's always a great one.

Been pondering this today: What Kind Of Leader Am I, and What Kind Of Leader Do I Enjoy Following?

SELF-CENTERED LEADER focuses purely on his or her agenda and the tasks to fulfill that agenda. People are simply tools toward that end. If somebody can't help the leader achieve the agenda, the self-centered leader sees little use for them. People are only empowered to the extent that they are freed up to fulfill agenda of the leader. Ultimately, the completion of the project and the recognition of the leader is what matters most.

OTHERS-CENTERED LEADER focuses as much, if not more, on the people and the process as the actual agenda. People are viewed as team mates and considered to have just as much value, input and decision making power as the leader. People are empowered to think outside the box, make decisions, move forward. Ultimately, the completion of the project and the fulfillment and recognition of people on the team is what matters most.

It isn't always easy to break leadership down into those two categories, but I do think they are where most leadership starts...one or the other is usually the foundation for how one leads.

What Kind of Leader are you?
What Kind of Leader do you work for?
What are strengths and weaknesses of each type?


Weekend Wrap Up

Lesson Topic: Week Two of our Series 'Strange But True' (Jacob wrestling the Angel
Attendance: Average
'Fun Factor': Above Average
Volunteer Involvement: Above Average
Music: Above Average
Lesson Quality: Below Average
Length of Lesson: 21 mins
Student Response: Average

Another interesting weekend! I'm beginning to think the "Strange But True" stories we picked were the wrong ones...we are having a real tough time turning them into Jr. High-friendly lessons with good application steps. If my only concern was giving out information, then these stories are amazing and great to tell, but I want all of my lessons to have some "handles" for my students. It's creating the handles each week that has been tough in this series.

On Sunday, one of our key volunteers taught the lesson (he has to teach X number of times for a seminary class he's taking)so it gave me the freedom to check out our newly opened Irvine Regional campus (Irvine is a community about 15 minutes North of our Lake Forest campus). Our youth programs don't kick off in Irvine until May but our Irvine youth Pastor is hard at work getting stuff ready to roll. It was really fun to see the energy around the new campus.


Teens and Activism

You may have seen this already, but I just stumbled upon it today. Here is a link to 81 pages of information from a 2006 survey Mtv conducted concerning teenagers and social activism.
(S.O. to Ypulse)


Confident, But About What?

A group from our student ministries team recently set a little time aside to pick one of the four gospels and from that gospel, read only the words of Christ. We then spent some time discussing what popped out.

I read Christ's words from the gospel of Mark. What I couldn't shake was the level of confidence and authority with which Jesus spoke. He knew what he was saying was true, and boldly proclaimed it. He upset people, he confused people, sometimes he explained what he meant and sometimes he didn't. But he was always confident when speaking what he knew to be true.

After spending some time reflecting on this, I came to the conclusion that I probably need to be more confident when speaking God's truths and less confident when speaking my own.

It seems much more popular in ministry/theology discussions today to get fired up and make declarations about a whole bunch of stuff we think we know (by the way, much of theology is just stuff we think we know)than to stand firm on the stuff we know for certain based on God's word.

Not sure where I'm heading with these thoughts....but I've been pondering them.


A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

I've always been a visual learner, and lately I've been trying to be more of a visual teacher; using simple pictures to illustrate deeper points. I haven't been doing it real well; but trying.

Then, coincidentally, I ran across this book and am totally loving it. It makes a science out of the art of visual communication.