Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thankful for my amazing wife!

With it being the week of Thanksgiving this week I'm going to blog about things I'm thankful for in ministry.

The first thing I'm thankful for is my amazing wife Jamie.  Here's why:

1.  I'm thankful that she supports me and is my biggest cheerleader!  I look for her affirmation more then anyone and her support means the world to me.

2.  I'm thankful she does the ministry with me and loves it.  Jamie is not sitting on the sidelines of ministry, she is in the game!  Not only is she the worship director of People's Church but she is also involved in Epic!  I'm super thankful for her involvement and that she loves ministry because it is such a major part of our life.  I'm thankful for every student's event she has gone to me with, supporting me on Wed, attending leaders meetings and listening to all my thoughts, dreams, struggles and victories in youth ministry!

3.  I'm thankful for her love of God.  My wife is super sexy (probably not the next words you were expecting to read, lol) but the most attractive thing about her is her love for God.  Take notes fellas, beauty with no love for God is ugly!  Her love for God, for me and ministry is an example for our students and she has impacted many lives with her love for God.

4.  I'm thankful for her love for our kids.  She's a amazing wife, worship leader and mom.  It's not easy to be amazing at all 3 and she does a terrific job!

5.  I'm thankful for her feedback, both the compliments and critiques.  Jamie has always given great insight in my ministry and I appreciate her taking the time and loving me enough to do so.  She will tell me when something stinks and even though it may be hard to hear I appreciate her honesty and I know she does it to be helpful and out of love.

A big part of my success in ministry is due to my wife!  Unfortunately I have seen guys step down, walk away, not get hired or even get fired from ministry because of their wife, I'm so thankful that is not the case with Jamie.  She is a total blessing to my ministry and I'm so thankful God sent me the perfect wife to do ministry with.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Better Safe Then Sorry May Have Saved My Life

On Wed of last week as our vacation was wrapping up in Indianapolis my stomach started hurting real bad to the point it woke me up at 2 am and I couldn't go back to sleep.  My entire stomach hurt with sharp gas like pains so I thought I had a virus or a stomach ache from all the junk I had been eating on vacation, lol.

Thursday morning I went to the doctor and he thought it might be an appendicitis but wasn't sure because I had a stomach virus in the past that felt like the one I was having at that moment and I didn't think I had an appendicitis.  So we decided to wait and see how I felt after a day of meds and rest.  The meds cleared up my stomach and helped a ton but I still had some discomfort on the right lower side of my stomach but the pain had gone down a ton.  My thought was I was paying the price for eating junk and would be a cleared up in a couple days.

Friday morning we were packing up to drive back to OKC from vacation, when the doctor's office called and told me my white blood cell count was up and he wanted me to get a cat scan to see if I had an appendicitis.  Again I told him I don't think it was an appendicitis because my pain decreased, he then told me to come in so he could check a couple things and I agreed.  I went and after talking with him he convinced me to get the cat scan because it was better to be safe then sorry since I was leaving on a 12 hour trip.  I went for the cat scan thinking the whole time there is no way I have an appendicitis but I'd like to have peace of mind and would rather be safe then sorry.

A few minutes after the cat scan was done I got a call from the doctor and he told me I had an appendicitis, that my appendix was swollen to double it's size, inflamed and filled with infection and that I was within the 36-48 hour time slot when the appendix would rupture.  Not the news I was looking for, 2 hours later I was in surgery having my appendix removed.  As I reflect I'm very thankful for a few things:

1.  I'm thankful I had to drive back for vacation, if I was in OKC I probably would have said I'm fine I don't want a cat scan and I'll get back with you if the pain gets worse which would have happened when my appendix ruptured and I would have then been in the hospital for two weeks with them treating the infection that was now spread all over my body.

2.  I'm thankful I finally gave into the thought of I'd rather be safe then sorry.  If I would have gotten on the road who knows how bad of shape I would be in right now with my appendix rupturing somewhere on the road, it could have been very bad even fatal.  Even now I'm blown away about how everything went down.

3.  I'm thankful God gave me a doctor who was a believer that encouraged me to be faith based not fear based as I was dealing with the anxiety of the surgery.  The doc was preaching to the preacher and God used him to give me great peace.  Thank you Lord.

Lastly I am so thankful for God's grace, provision, for the doctors, technology to detect and remove my appendix, for a successful surgery and recovery.  I'm also thankful for my wife and family who helped take care of me, a church that cares and supports me and a son who has been praying for me with great faith.  This has truly been a humbling experience.

I hope sharing this helps someone else who may go through something similar to what I did.  It is always better to be safe then sorry!  God gave us doctors and technology for a reason and I was healed by Him through them.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Things I found to be most effective as a youth leader

Alright I shared my blunders yesterday and today I want to share things I did that were effective when I was a youth leader.  Let me say that by no means was I the perfect youth leader and if you read my last blog you can clearly see that, but in my desire to impact the lives of students I did found some success.  Here is what I found to be effective:

1.  I went to a ton of students events.  I went to games, concerts, award ceremonies and visited them at lunch.  I remember that it not only meant a huge deal to our students but it also meant a lot to their parents, especially as a volunteer youth leader.

2.  I gave students rides to church.  I drove all over the city to help students get to our youth group.  As I mentioned yesterday I gave rides to female students without anybody with me, when I was corrected on this I did whatever I had to do to get another person to ride with me so I could keep giving rides to students that needed it.

3.  I attended all youth events outside of church, these were great times to connect even more with our students.  My favorites were camps, missions trips and retreats where I got to pray and do ministry with students.  Some of my greatest memories with students were times outside of the church.

4.  I personally planned events for our students and even planned a camp one year.  This freed up my youth pastor from doing these things and it was an amazing experience for me.  The stuff I learned from planning these things are priceless.

5.  I volunteered in the office during the week.  Whether setting up chairs, doing paperwork or making phone calls I wanted to help in every way in the youth ministry.  Again this freed up my youth pastor to focus on his message and other things but also gave me time to connect with him, help us reach more students or even something as simple as the opportunity to pray over every chair that I set up.  Being in the office also gave me random opportunities like going on a hospital visit with my youth pastor.  If I wasn't in the office I would not have gotten this opportunity.

6.  I was at youth every Wed and I came early.  There is always stuff that pops up in youth ministry and I was able to help with that by coming early, I also gave my youth pastor the peace of mind of knowing I was going to be there every week.  He never had to wonder, "Is Chris gonna make it this week?"  This also helped me build greater relationships with our students, if you miss one week that is 14 days before you see them again, basically half a month, that's a long time.

7.  If I noticed a student had missed a week or two I would call them, let them know we missed them and hope to see them next week!  If my youth pastor didn't notice or make a call I had it covered, if he did then a student got two calls, either way that student knew they were missed.

These are some things that I found to be effective but I need to point out that the greatest part is that my life was changed.  With every opportunity to serve I was stretched, grew and my life was impacted.  That's the greatest part about serving, we not only impact the lives of others but our lives are also impacted.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Major blunders I made as a youth leader

I first started serving in youth ministry when I was 18 years old a few months after I had gotten saved.  Here are some major blunders I made for your enjoyment:

1.  I pelted a new student with ice over and over again because she was throwing ice at people.  I thought I was teaching her a lesson with tough love, needless to say she never got plugged into our ministry.  I had to apologize 3 weeks in a row in front of the entire youth ministry for my actions.

2.  When I was the youth worship leader I got so frustrated at practice that I punched the wall and put a dent in it.  Not good!

3.  I got into a huge argument in my youth pastor's office with another youth leader.  We were yelling so loud students could here us in the next room.  I even more embarrassed to say the argument was over a girl we both liked who was a senior in the youth ministry.  I was highly embarassed and ashamed when my youth pastor walked in.

4.  I gave rides to female students without another student or adult in the car.  I was naive and just thought I was being helpful.  When i was first corrected I was upset, thinking no one else is bringing them to church, then I saw the perception of it so I got a student or leader to go with me and I still helped provide rides.

5.  I was way too competitive and lost my cool way too many times in bball games or any other sport.  Notice the trend of anger issues.  I've grown a ton in this area.

6.  I tried to fight a guy who was the boyfriend of my ex-girlfriend at a major youth outreach.  I just lost my cool, it was not a good moment.

Needless to say I gave my youth pastor a few headaches, lol.  However I'm very thankful for his grace, mercy, patience and correction.  You may think why didn't your youth pastor kick you out?  If you asked him I think he would say I would always repent and correct my mistakes.  My heart was in the right place I just had some issues and I learned from my mistakes.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Youth Leaders/Pastors: Our students deserve the best and nothing less

Jesus gave us his best and nothing less and I believe every youth leader/youth pastor should also give their best and nothing less for our students.  Every Wed in our experience we strive to give our students the best and nothing less and because of this...

1.  We expect our leaders to serve every week.  Every Wed matters and every leader matters and when a leader is missing we aren't giving our best.  I understand people have to miss for vacation, sickness, work, family emergency and similar things but other then that we need all hands on deck every week!

2.  We expect leaders to be on time every week and if they aren't to notify their team leader.  Every minute counts and we need every leader in place before our students arrive so we give them the best experience.  If leaders are late that means some area of ministry is short handed for that amount of time and we are not giving our students the best.  We will do whatever it takes to get it covered but it's still not better then that leader being on time and ready to roll.

3.  We expect our leaders to be on point in their area of service.  Sloppiness, being unprepared or carelessness leaves an impression, a negative impression and we want to give the best impression every week.  In order for this to happen we train our leaders in their area of ministry and if anything is off point we correct it, learn from it and make it better.  Our goal in this is not to nit pick or single someone out but it's to give our students the best.

4.  We expect all of our transitions and media to be flawless.  Again we want to give our students the best experience possible not average or just above average.  In order for that to happen we must do a run though, cover every detail and be very focused for the entire experience so everything runs smoothly.  With that we also strive to start and end on time every week.

5.  We plan our messages and series 3-4 months in advance so we aren't whipping something out last minute for our students.  The deserve the best so we plan and pray well in advance on what we are teaching.

6.  We are constantly recruiting and training new leaders.  In order for us to grow and give our students the best we must have plenty of adult leaders to run these experiences and love on our students.  

7.  If something is not the best we don't turn a blind eye to it, we address it, tweak it and do whatever we can to make it the best.  Every week we critique our experience to make sure we are giving our students the very best and nothing less!

Disclaimer: Hear my heart we are by no means perfect in these areas but this is what we strive for every week.

Now you may be thinking "Man that's a lot" and to that I say our students deserve the best and nothing less.  Give me your thoughts!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Incorporating the Arts into our worship

At Epic we are moving towards incorporating the Arts into our worship and last week we had a first experience where we went from a hip hop performance into our worship set.  In the future we are also looking to add percussion, dance, stomp and special songs into the mix.  I got this idea from Youth Explosion which is led by Chris Durso, check them out at www.youthexplosion.com.  Here is a clip of a song that Donelle Cole (youth leader) and J'Juan Roberts (Epic student) specifically wrote for our Psalm 23 series.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Psalm 23 Recap

For the month of October we went through the entire chapter of Psalm 23.  It was awesome teaching this chapter verse by verse to our students and it had a major impact on their lives.  A couple cool elements we did for this series was every Wed night we started off the message reading out loud the entire chapter of Psalm 23 together and we put out a challenge for our students to memorize the entire chapter.  To help with the challenge we made a card that said Epic on the front and had the chapter of Psalm 23 on the back that we gave to all of our students.  We also are throwing a pizza party for all the students that can quote the entire chapter to us, it was really cool hearing about students memorize the chapter!

We also ended the series with our annual costume party, enjoy some pics of our best costumes!  The one in the black box was a vending machine with a claw inside of it but you can't see the claw.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Youth Leaders: Relationships + Trust Leads To Discipleship

In my opinion the greatest way to disciple a student is through a relationship build on trust.  Students are like Shrek, they are onions with lots of layers and we can't truly disciple them until we get passed the layers.  If we spend all our time focusing on the content and it's depth without building relationships a lot of times our words and what we teach or share will fall on deaf ears.  Their ears and hearts will open up when they trust us.  With that it's important to remember that trust is not given it is earned.  Here are some keys to earn our students trust:

1.  Love them unconditionally - When a student sees we love them and all of their mess it will definitely tear down some layers.  It will also open them up to allow us to help them with their mess.  This is huge!

2.  Longevity - The longer we are present in their lives the more layers will come down.  Our students are sizing us up, are we their for the long term or short term.  Longevity goes a long way to building trust with our students.  Also some students have more layers then others so it's going to take longer to build that trust, they only way to get their is through longevity.

3.  Consistency.  Not only do we need to be apart of their lives for the long haul but we need to be consistent, trying to build a relationship with a student only once or twice a month is very difficult.

4. Transparency - Share our stories and life experience with them, especially our failures.  When students see we trust them with our story they will start to open up and trust us with their story.  If we try to be all holy and act like we have no issues they will see right through that and the layers will stay up.

5.  Go the extra mile - whether it's visiting them at a school lunch, going to their event, buying them lunch or their favorite drink, a random text or phone call, this kind of stuff helps build trust.  It shows the students we care for them and their interests.  When I was a student I was always meant a lot to me when my youth leader came to my event, called me to check up on me and bought me lunch.  I knew he didn't have to do those things and when he did it showed he truly cared.  These things tore down my layers with the quickness.

To disciple our students we must pull back the layers and the best way to do that is through a relationship built on trust.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Youth Leaders/Pastors: Watch out for wolves!

I would classify the students that come into our youth ministry in 4 categories.

1.  Christian students.
2.  Students who are whoever they are hanging around with.
3.  Unsaved students.
4.  Unsaved students who want to attack the rest of the students.  These are wolves!

The students that are wolves are out to do damage and can hold your youth ministry hostage or scare students away.  We must not only watch out for wolves but if a wolf won't change into one of the other 3 categories we need to remove them.

Here are some characteristics of wolves so you can identify them:

1.  They have zero respect for authority and are defiant.  This student won't listen no matter what you do and will get very loud and ugly.  As soon as you identify them suspend them from your ministry.  We can't protect the rest of our students or ensure a safe atmosphere when we have a student that won't listen to anyone.  (this is huge, a student's response to correction is what we use to gauge are they a wolf or just a student that got out of line)
2.  They only listen to the youth pastor.  Wolves are crafty, they will act up until the youth pastor addresses them but as soon as the youth pastor is out of their site they are looking for their next victim.  Our students need to have the same respect for my leaders that they have for me.
3.  They are repeat offenders.  Again they try to be sneaky by spreading out their attacks.  We take notes on students we have issues with to catch this.
4. They attack other students.  If they start a fight, talk about fighting, bully or threaten another student they are a wolf and need to be suspended.

You may be thinking, "doesn't every student count," yes they do but we can't sacrifice all of the other students for the wolves.

In our eyes suspending them is ministering to them.  When we suspend a student here are things we do to minister to them through the process:

1.  We explain to them why they are being suspended and how their behavior is appropriate and that this kind of behavior will not help them in anyway.  They need to understand the why versus "because I said so."
2.  We notify their parents and ask them how can we minister to their student and offer to meet with them one on one outside of Wed night.
3.  After a student is suspended we follow up with them to see how they are doing, let them know we love them and are praying for them.
4.  Lastly before a student can come back we meet with them and their parent to set up a plan of action to ensure they don't revert back to wolf like behavior.

Lastly let me say I'm all about grace, Lord knows I was a heathen dog when I was a student so their may be exceptions to some of these rules but I still think it's something we need to be aware of and address if it comes up versus turning a blind eye and allowing a wolf to ravage our youth ministry.