High School Musical 3: CONTEST!

If you work with students, you understand the juggernaut that High School Musical has become! Disney Studios and Grace Hill Media asked if I would be willing to work on a project to help youth workers take advantage of the fact that virtually every kid in their youth group is going to see HSM3.

The Ask: Would I write a FREE Bible study around some of the major themes in the movie that youth groups can use after their kids see the film.

I will post more about that in a few days when the website is live and will give you directions to access the materials; most likely early next week.

But...to get us in the HSM3 mood, we have a little contest. Above is a photo-shopped picture of my head on Zach Efron's body (much of the movie revolves around preparing for graduation). The top 5 creative captions submitted will win a whole bunch of HSM3 promotion materials.

1st place will win:
1 HSM3 Banner, 1 HSM3 Movie Standee, 25 full-sized movie posters and 100 mini-posters.

2nd place will win:
1 HSM3 Banner, 1 HSM3 Movie Standee, 15 full-sized movie posters and 75 mini-posters.

3rd place will win:
1 HSM3 Banner, 10 full-sized movie posters and 75 mini-posters.

The contest will end this Friday, October 3rd at 5:00 pm Pacific time.


Slow Blogging Week

I haven't blogged much this week because my wife, Rachel, has been in the hospital with a pretty severe kidney infection.
Last Friday, she started complaining of some pain in her side and had a bit of a fever, but she wasn't feeling too bad and we figured it was just a small bout with the flu. This continued over the weekend and when things got a bit worse she went to see her doctor on Monday. He said she had a kidney infection and prescribed some antibiotics.
By Monday night, Rachel's fever was higher, and she couldn't keep anything down so we took her to the ER first thing Tuesday morning. That's when they discovered that her kidney infection was quite severe and admitted her, hooked her up to and IV and began pumping her full of 3 different types of antibiotics to fight the infection.

She came home yesterday afternoon, and as we were leaving the doctor told us, "If you had waited another 24 hours before bringing her in, she would have been here for several weeks". It was weird because we didn't feel like she had waited or tried to "tough it out"...we just thought she had a flu bug.

Anyway, she is home now and resting. Starting last night, we have had really yummy meals showing up at our door. Not sure it's worth what we've been through the last several days, but it sure is nice to see the body of Christ in action.


Handling Conflict

I've mentioned our new monthly outreach event that took place last Friday night called "The 3". It was an amazing event that turned out almost exactly how our team envisioned it would. However, while parents were picking up their kids, a very upset mom grabbed one of our volunteers and frustratingly blurted something along the lines of, "I thought this was a church event! Why was there freak dancing? My daughter won't be coming back!" By the time the volunteer leader found one of our paid team, the mom was long gone.

But she wasn't gone for long. The following morning she shot an email off to Pastor Rick who forwarded it to me. I share the following email exchange in the hopes that it will encourage you as you deal with conflict in your ministry setting. while I've certainly learned that not everybody response the way we hope they will, this exchange was a powerful reminder of the importance of quickly dealing with concerned parents.

Pastor Rick,
Why are our youth leaders allowing "freak dancing" at the youth activities??? My daughter was at the Refinery last night and came home with this disappointing news. She won't be going back.

Dear Mrs. O’Brian,
My name is Kurt Johnston and I’m the junior high Pastor here at Saddleback. I wanted to shoot you a quick note thanking you for expressing your concern over the dancing at last night’s junior high event. You would be surprised at how few parents are willing to let us know when they have a concern. I’m the parent of two young teens myself and, like you, I expect church events to be an appropriate place for them to attend.

It’s important that you hear from me personally that our ministry in no way “allowed” freak dancing to be part of last night’s activities. There were leaders in the room and whenever we saw anything that bordered on inappropriate, we addressed it right away (in fact the dancing was a very minimal part of the night…maybe 50 kids participated). Obviously with over 700 students at an outreach event, many of whom have never stepped foot in a church before, there will be some students who push the envelope and who don’t have the same boundaries as our “church” kids do.

In fact, that’s why last night’s event was created; as a monthly front door experience for un-churched kids. If, out of 700 students, there were zero instances of cursing or rebelling or even freak dancing, then I would be a bit saddened because it would mean that we did an outreach event and nobody showed up who needed to be reached. Our student ministry department is committed to helping junior highers grow in their faith and in their walk with Christ, and we are also committed to reaching out to students who have yet to experience God’s amazing grace. In an interesting twist, I asked two first-timers last night if they had fun, and their response was a strong “NO!” When I asked them why they said because we played music that was too clean and didn’t let them dance the way they wanted.

Last night was an amazing night. We had food, a skate park, smores at the fire pits, a scavenger hunt, giant earthball games, outdoor volleyball, and classic tv shows in the theater. Yes, we had a few students who danced inappropriately at times, but our staff worked hard to keep that to a minimum. I understand your decision to not allow your daughter to return to “The 3” next month, but I also ask you to pray for our junior high ministry as we continue our efforts to expose lost kids to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Please feel free to call me should you have additional questions or concerns about our junior high ministry.

God Bless,
Kurt Johnston
Pastor To Students

Hi Kurt,
Thanks so much for your reply. I appreciate the time you took and the information you gave. I feel a lot better about our church and youth group now that I have read it. My daughter brought three girlfriends last night to "The 3" and we brought the same girls tonight to the 6:30 service. Hopefully they will continue to attend, hear the power of God's Word and have changed lives!
Thank you for your commitment to the youth and thanks again for your response. I will definitely be lifting you, your team, and the jr high ministry in prayer.
In Him,

WOW....3 friends to church last night, awesome! Hopefully 'The 3' will continue to open doors like that. Please tell your daughter that wildside is proud of her...that is exactly what we hoped students would do. Good for her!


Monday Miscellaneous

- Our first "The 3", a new monthly outreach event, was big success. We had way more students than we anticipated and everybody seemed to have a great time. Here are a few details:
* The 3 happens on the 3rd Friday of each month, for 3 hours and costs $3 to get in.
* Includes dinner and a variety of activities such as skate park, earth ball games, smores in the fire pit, dancing, scavenger hunt, classic t.v. shows in the theater, volleyball, giant twister and more.
* It is meant to simply be a front door event. We didn't gather students together for a message or anything like that...just a place for students to come and have good, clean fun. The hope is that un-churched students will come to "The 3"and decide they want to come to one of our weekend services. The plan actually worked! We had about a dozen or so first time visitors this weekend at church who had attended "The 3" on Friday night!

- We had a roller coaster of a weekend. Our 4:30 Saturday night service was a disaster. Probably the worst we've ever experienced. One of the videos was edited wrong and left a sexual reference in place (nothing crazy, but not church friendly). Another video had such poor sound that it was inaudible. We didn't think through the game and as a result it took about 3 times longer to play than it should have. The songs that were picked for worship were WAY to slow for a junior high "seeker-friendly" church experience.

- BUT....we re-tooled the service and the rest of them went really, really well.

- I had to respond to two parents over the weekend who were concerned about something in our ministry. One was actually quite irate (in fact, I'll post on that tomorrow), and the other was super cool...just concerned.


New Hobbie....Maybe

In a used book store the other day, I found an old copy of the Reach Out new testament. I remember as a kid,and even when in junior high,
seeing people with this bible.

I had to buy it and thus started my new (but not very cool or very seriously pursued I'm going to guess) hobby of collecting older bibles. I think I'll focus in on student bibles, various "slang" bibles etc.

Thinking About Parents

I was recently doing some writing on the topic of Middle School Ministry parents...what parents need, how to best minister to them, how to get them on board etc. Here are a few random tid-bits from that writing session.

- The key to getting parents "on board": Earn their trust.
When parents trust you and your ministry, it is as if you can do no wrong. When they don't trust you, it is as if you can do no right. Trust is often earned in the littlest of things such as getting home from trips on time, not changing dates and prices of events, making sure there is plenty of supervision at activities, communicating regularly with them and allowing them to have a "voice" in your ministry.

- One thing parents secretly think about jr. high youth workers: "If you haven't raised a young teen, you don't know squat."
They know that you understand youth culture and that you are an expert on adolescent development and that their child respects you etc. But deep down they also know that until you have a junior higher living under your roof 24/7 and until you experience your own flesh and blood going through the angst of early adolescence, you really don't understand the plight of parents.

- What do most parents need? Hope and Help.
That's it...just a little bit of hope and encouragement thrown their way. Reminders that they aren't the only ones struggling, that they will live through this, that much of what is happening is totally natural etc. Just a little hope. And a little help. A book sent to them in the mail, an email with a link to an article, getting connected with another couple who has already raised young teens for some support. As a youth worker, you don't need to have all the answers, and you can't fix all the ills the parents of your students face. But you can provide a little hope and a little help.


A Hidden Jewel?

I was browsing through a used books store the other day and stumbled upon Suddenly They're 13, a book for parents of young teens. It's about 10-years old but at first glance seems to have some very practical tips. It could be full of nuggets to pass on to the parents of your students.


Monday Miscellaneous

-We kicked off our new, church-wide, emphasis on love this weekend. We are calling the series "The Face Of Love" and spending the next six weeks helping students think about what love looks like in the daily life of a junior higher. I wasn't here this weekend, but word on the street is that it was a great weekend.

- The reason I wasn't at church is because I was in central California checking out an action sports camp that we are considering as a second camp option next summer. SevenOne is located about 20 minutes from Pismo Beach and focuses on wake boarding, skate boarding, mountain biking, surfing, photography, graphic arts and music.

- How 'bout those Broncos. Hey, anything is possible with the help of a referee or two.

- We're hosting our first of four men's Monday Night Football parties in the Refinery tonight. Should be a good time.

- Anybody going to be at Y.S. in Sacramento? Should we plan a JH workers meal together?


Andy Stanley On Leadership

At the Drive conference several months ago, Andy Stanley shared some "Random Thoughts About Leadership" that I found to be really good. I posted about them here, here, here, here, and here.

North Point has now made the message available here. I highly recommend it.

Up and Coming Journalist

A former student in our junior high ministry is jumping into his journalism career and I thought we could all help him out! Currently, he writes for the online edition of the Orange County Register. The more people who click on his stories, the better his next assignment becomes. If you want to help him out, just click here for his article and get his 'hits' up.


99 Thoughts About Boys...For girls eyes only.

Just wanted to take a second to thank you folks for all the great "thoughts" you submitted for my short little book. I used several of them, and the ones I didn't I probably should have!

I'm actually pretty excited for this project because I think it is chuck full of little tidbits that will be helpful for young teenage girls as they begin to navigate the world of guys. Plus, a companion book, 99 Thoughts About Girls...For guys eyes only will release at the same time! Both books should be available in late October.


Confidence and Comfort Counts!

This past weekend was a great reminder of the importance of feeling confident with your lesson and how confidence, or lack thereof, in a lesson has a huge impact on how well it is received.

The lesson this weekend was first and foremost a gospel presentation. We had told our students that if they brought a guest with them, their friend would hear a clear presentation of the Gospel and would get one of life's biggest questions answered: "Is it really possible to know for sure that you are going to heaven?"

We planned a really fun weekend and I felt like my talk was pretty decent, but I wasn't sold on it. It felt too long, too complicated and not easy to understand by un-churched 13-year olds. But, I had it prepped and ready to go so that's what I went with at our first service. Then, at the last minute (as I was literally walking onto the stage) I decided to try to tweak it a bit which made me feel even less confident. Nothing disastrous happened, but the lesson simply fell flat. I lacked confidence, I struggled to move quickly through too much material etc. As a result, students were not well engaged and what should have been the highlight of the weekend, actually turned into on of the low points.

In between services I decided to make one of my stories the entire focus of the message. I yanked about half my content out, made the lesson much more narrative in nature and felt WAY more confident and comfortable when I was speaking. As a result, students were totally engaged. They were making eye contact with me, listening intently and responded very well. The attendance at the second service was almost three times that of the first, but the level of chatter, and the amount of distractions was cut in half.

It was a really tangible reminder of the importance of thinking through my lessons, being comfortable with the content and remembering my audience.


Monday Miscellaneous

- Our Junior High program this weekend was one of our best in a long time. It was nothing fancy, just jam-packed with lots of elements and variety. Attendance was up with the start of school, and lesson focused on a short, simple gospel presentation. Next weekend we kick off our church-wide "40 Days Of Love" series that we are calling "The Face Of Love". We have some fun stuff planned and it should be a good series.

- Saturday was our community-wide grand opening of the Refinery and it was a huge success. Approximately 4,000 (of which at least half were on our campus for the first time)people showed up for a three-hour open house. Good stuff.

- Our high school ministry is kicking butt! I technically oversee High School as well a Junior High, but have very, very little to do with anything going on in that department. Josh Griffin has been leading the charge for about 9 months now and, in my opinion, the team and the high school programs have never been stronger. The brand new auditorium that was built for their use in the new building is already too small to handle their Saturday night crowd...a great problem to have but also a bummer in a BRAND new building!

- It rarely happens, but this weekend a junior higher tracked me down after service to tell me that she spent some time telling her parents about my talk from last weekend and how she will always remember it. Of course, the part she remembered and shared with her parents was the goofy story I told to set up my talk. It didn't seem like she actually remembered what the lesson was about. Oh, well...baby steps I suppose.

-We learned a lesson this weekend that I would like to pass on; one I'm sure you already know: Junior Highers love rubber bands. To promote our new program, The 3, we put stacks of promo cards on each chair. It made sense to rubber band them together, but we didn't consider the fact that having rubber bands in the hands of hundreds and hundreds of junior highers could have an effect on our program!

- Guilty pleasure of the weekend: A group of "The Guys" went to see a late night show of 'Death Race' last night. Totally lame, but totally awesome guy flick.

- Painful moment of the weekend: Before the movie a few of us "old fellas" went for a late night skate at our new skate park. There is a new 5-foot half pipe that I have been promising to drop into and last night felt like a good time to fulfill said promise. I finally made it on my third try, but slammed really hard the first two times. Hard enough that my 42-year-old body is feeling it this morning.


Kicking Off A New Program

In an effort to bolster some of the in-roads into our community and to leverage our new building, our junior high ministry is kicking off a monthly outreach program this fall. We've never done an ongoing program of this sort, so we're super excited.

We're calling it THE 3.
- The 3rd Friday of each month.
- 3 hours long (7 - 10)
- 3 bucks to get in.

This part isn't part of the promotion, but we are also challenging each of our 'church kids' to invite 3 friends each month.


Food For Thought

A few things I have been thinking about and/or working through lately...

- I'm not entitled to anything.
Entitlement has never been a struggle for me. I grew up in a poor, but loving family and my dad had the best work ethic I've ever seen. But as I've gotten older, become a bit more "successful" and as my tenure at my current church grows, I've noticed myself slipping into an entitlement mentality every once in a while. I don't like it, I think it's immature, it wreaks of arrogance.

- I'm no different than the next guy.
I've had a few mentors and a few colleagues step away from ministry far too early because of missteps that should have been avoided. I often find myself slipping into a judgemental mode or becoming angry at the dent they put in the reputation of ministry leaders. But then I realize that I'm really not a whole lot different than the next guy...any of us are a few dumb decisions away from the same paths.

- Life is short.
How cliche is that! But man is it ever true. This week I performed the funeral of an 84 year old man who lived a good life. I'm exactly halfway to that age and it's hard to fathom that my life really is halfway over. It might be time to start a bucket list.

- Very little matters.
At the funeral, nobody talked about this gentleman's accomplishments, wealth etc. The conversation totally revolved around memories, impact he had made into the lives of others and words of wisdom he was known for. Why the heck do we try so hard to achieve that which nobody really cares about?

- I think I'm going to get an iTouch.
Had to have something light weight in here! Plus, I've been thinking about it like crazy and it sounds like something that I'm entitled to, that the next guy already has, and will make my short life a little more meaningful.


Monday Miscellaneous

- Junior High Ministry had a great weekend this past weekend. We started a short, two-week, series called "New" and highlighted all the new programs and opportunities happening in our ministry this fall. We tied it all around the Newness that Christ offers. We had a hilarious, 4-part video that consisted of four different infomercials. A good weekend.

- Last night I saw "Traitor" with a couple of buddies. I actually really liked it and found myself having a tough time figuring out the direction it was taking. It's probably worth seeing in theater and certainly a good rental recommendation.

- Man, are the TV networks working overtime to try to convince us that "Gustav" is the next Katrina or what? Obviously it needs to be taken seriously but it feels like they are trying to create news instead of simply reporting it. But what's new?

- Anybody have an iTouch? I can't get an iPhone because I can't switch service providers, but I'm thinking about an iTouch....any thoughts?

- Off to spend the last day of Summer with Cole at the Vans Skate park...his favorite place to skate.