Category Archives: Youth Culture

Zoom Zoom… Back in Time

Mix Leadership Team Zoom Zoom

Sometimes you don’t know how amazing a group of people are until you are no longer together. I felt this way the other night while on a Zoom call with my former youth group leadership team. We were missing a few characters. But these people all in some way impacted my life and the lives of many amazing students.

Doing youth ministry is a calling, but it is also a blessing — especially when you get a chance to share unforgettable experiences with young people who you know are going to leave a legacy in the world.

So, I wanted to just brag a little bit on my old team.

PD (Daniel Susenbach) – He was the leader of the pack, the eternal optimist. Daniel has never met a stranger. He is the kind of guy who can make you bust a gut laughing and then believe you can do almost anything the next minute. He is one of my best friends, and if I had to be stranded on deserted island with a group of people, I certainly would want him there.

Tim Matthews (Timmmmmm!) – I think he could literally preach the cover off a Bible, and the young people would be like, “Oh man! Do that again.” Tim knew how to say something that you never forget. He also has an amazing life story, and is a ton of fun. With Tim, you know that following Jesus is never boring. {Tim is not in the picture, nor was on the Zoom call 😦  } Next time Tim, next time.

Joanna Fowler (Mrs. J) – She was always the cool mom and administrator. She made us all look good by being prepared for almost anything. Some people who had her job would be kind of by the book. But she always laughed and made everyone feel special. Mrs. J. was the adult in the room who knew how to keep everyone safe. At the same time, she was able to connect with students.

Jim and Melinda Patterson – Yes, these are two people not one. But they are such a great team. They are an amazing couple who I count as very good friends. I love so much about them, especially how different they are from each other. If I was going into spiritual warfare, I can’t think of a better servant and prayer warrior than Jim (P. Diddy). He knows how to get to the root of the matter, and he is willing to go deep and be there for youngsters. Jim is very wise and loves to pun. I even love that about him (just don’t tell him). Melinda is always the voice of reason in the room. She loves people enough to tell them the truth. And she never seems to let much get to her. Oh, and the Pattersons are hilarious when you see them interact together. I chuckling just thinking about some of my discussion with them in their kitchen.

Mama Karen – She was like a mother or older sister to so many of the Mix students. She has always been a youth worker rockstar.  Oh, and she is a great cook. Three words “Baby Angel Cake.” Inside joke, but trust me… so good. Karen is full of love and her name should be caring because she is like 90% heart. Karen knows how to be a safe person in a world full of unhealthy people.

Heidi – Speaking of funny. Literally, I don’t know if I have ever laughed around somebody so much as Heidi. She always knew how to put the truth in a joke. But don’t let her shenanigans fool you, she was wise and knew how to see through student’s crap. Plus, she has this way that her eye twitches when she is upset. It’s sort of like a super power that keeps her from going insane. Heidi connected well with students and is an amazing friend.

Mike Jefferson – Mike really loved the middle school students. In the dictionary under the word “Faithful” is a picture of Mike. Full of the Spirit and always willing to forgive, Mike is one of those guys who makes a bigger impact than anyone realizes. I learned a lot from his gentle demeanor and approach to ministry. He does have a mental disorder because he is a Washington Redskins fan. But nobody is perfect. 😉

Diane Burns – Always represented how parents might feel well in our discussions. She is an amazing prayer warrior who was willing to be there for students. She raised three world-class kids, who are now adults. She has been a super volunteer for years.

Bryan and Darla – Students loved Bryan, and he connected well with some of the outsider kids. Super witty and smart, Bryan is very competitive. He challenged me to be a better youth leader… just don’t tell him I said that. Darla is also competitive and smart. We once played a game of assassin with rubber bands, she killed me by pretending she wanted to have a spiritual discussion. {I never forgot that Darla.} Darla is very logical and dependable. She is just a super solid person who will do what she says she will do.

Super Honorable Mention: Charlie Coker, Emilie Hyatt (Coker) and so many others…

 

 

 

 

 

 

His Image, My Image

“Who am I?” has become the question that shapes our world. Most people are on a search to discover their own unique identity, and this is especially true of adolescents. Young people are apt to try lots of things to discover their passions, giftings, preferences and values.

When it comes to the issue of identity, I believe there are four different kind of people from a Biblical perspective.
• Those who don’t ever really think much about their identity.
• Those who are defined by everybody else around them.
• Those who look only within and still find something missing.
• Those who have a healthy self image founded in Christ that reflects their own unique callings and giftings.

Many smart people say that the key to this process of finding your identity is to look deep within to find the true you. And while this advice sounds good, it is missing something very important if God exists and He created each one of us. We are asking the wrong question. Looking deep within is just as wrong as looking around to everybody else to discover the real me. The best question to ask is, “What does God say about me?”

Since God is our Creator, only He can give an accurate estimation of our worth and value. Only He can ultimately answer our longings for acceptance and love. We are made in the image of God, which means getting to know God will help us discover ourselves. If you are a Christian, think of this another way… Jesus Is My Self Image!

Noted theologian and author, C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become.” While there is nothing wrong with seeking the opinions of others or looking within to explore issues of our life, these are limited in their effectiveness to answer our deepest questions on our journey for self discovery.

“Having a healthy self image is not the ultimate goal. Knowing Jesus in all His fullness is,” wrote Josh McDowell, Christian apologetics expert and author in His Image, My Image. Developing a healthy self image is the byproduct of chasing after Jesus and discovering just how wonderful He is.

I love what Corey Russel, author and iHOP-KC leader, said, “There is a whole generation running around asking, ‘What is my identity? What is my calling? Who am I?’ God says if we would just seek to know Him we would discover who we are…You want to know who you are – Go after Jesus. You will run right into yourself.”

Unfortunately, too many people are defined by lies that they have believed. These may be statements made by others or our own assessment of our failings and “negative” traits. These thoughts may be inspired by demons to rob us of the true identity we have when we see ourselves as God sees us. If we are defined by a lie, we will never know the real us!

Your identity development does more than just affect your self esteem. Our sense of identity is a lens that impacts how we look at the world and ourselves. If you have a healthy self image, you will be able to look at both the good and the bad in your design. But too many people can only see the negative or the ways that they don’t measure up to others. Developing a healthy self image happens as we explore the depths of Jesus Christ and realize that He is the key to our quest for discovery. And this process happens best in community because we are called to be part of a living body of believers.

Along this process of self discovery, I found out that rejecting who God designed me to be is a sin. It is actually rebellion against God. It is in essence saying to the Creator, “I know better than you how I should have been made.” While we may all have something we would like to change about ourselves, we should not strongly dislike who we are. This includes our physical design as well as talents, abilities, personality and our life situation. We were born where we were for a reason. We were placed in our families for a reason. We look a certain way for reason. We have to embrace God’s design or we can become miserable in the pursuit of becoming someone else. While there is nothing wrong with changing some things that we don’t like or are not good, there are some things we just need to accept and embrace because we can’t change it.

Having a Jesus-inspired self identity starts with searching the Scriptures to see what God says about His love and purposes for humanity. What does the Bible say about our self image and value?

God loves you more than the best parent does a treasured child.

1 John 3:1 (NIV)
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
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You were created in God’s image and bear the mark of a grand design.

Genesis 1:26-27 (NIV)
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

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God has crowned man with honor and glory. Thus, you have value and worth because God says so. He sacrificed His Son to save you.

Psalm 8:4-5 (NIV)
What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.

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Key Questions to Consider

• What is the basis of your identity?
• Is there somebody you would rather be than you?
• How do you think God sees you?

Divide and Conquer

Satan’s playbook is fairly simple. He divides and conquers. This includes churches, cities, races, people groups, families, God and man, and the generations.

Over the last year, I have become increasingly convinced that a key to revival in this country is connecting the generations to appreciate, pour into and learn from each other. Churches divide people into age and interest groups in a move to appeal to consumerist tendencies. Give people what they want, and then they will come back. But what if what we want is not the thing we really need?

Now, I am all for youth groups, seniors groups, MOPS, the choir and so on. But there need to be more, intentional efforts to connect these various groups. I know what you are thinking. Yeah, we do that every Sunday. It is called a church service. But realistically, it is hard to connect on a personal level with others at church service.

I believe churches that are intentional about connecting the generations will see greater moves of the Spirit.

Craig Groeschel, lead pastor of LifeChurch.tv, spoke at last year’s Catalyst Conference on this topic. Groeschel, said, “Generational division is bad although generational tension can be a good thing.”

He admonished the audience, “Don’t resent, fear or judge the next generation. But pour into the next generation. Let the young folks lead. They are different and supposed to be that way. Don’t get hung up on style.”

In reality, many older folks in our churches eel insecure around teenagers and young adults. Groeschel suggested, “Recognize this tension and manage it by letting go of it… You can be uncool all day long. The key is to be real.”

I believe that there will be an exchange of grace that will annoy the “hell” out of our enemy if we realize what the older can give to the younger and visa versa.

Groeschel encouraged younger folks to honor those older than us publicly because honor publicly leads to influence and respect privately. He explained, “When we truly honor those authorities that God has placed in our lives, we honor God.”

From the Greatest Generation to the Boomers and the Xers to the Millennials, we all can learn from each other. But this doesn’t happen by accident. We have to start somewhere. I think the best place to start is to give those different from you a chance. Don’t just think they are an old geezer or a young punk. Consider this advice offered by Groeschel, “Honor believes the best. Dishonor thinks the worst.”

Drivers Ed Class

Have you ever felt like you were living through a Saturday Day Night Live sketch? I felt that way today as I attended a court-ordered driving improvement class in the Mechanicsville area. I went to help erase my recent speeding ticket (first in my life).

I dreaded going. I figured it was going to be a waste of eight hours. In some ways, it was. I probably could have learned everything in half the time. But then again, those “wasted” moments is what made the entire ordeal worthy of a blog post.

I have changed names to protect the identity of the innocent, notorious and downright unforgettable. But I promise that all the stories are mostly true. I may have not gotten all the dialogue 100% right.

The class started out with Larry telling everyone before the class that he was there because he had fallen asleep behind the wheel. He then proceeded to doze off about six times through the eight-hour course. There was one time that his eyes rolled back in his head while he was sitting straight up. I looked at the older gentleman next to me, Roy, who motioned to his daughter, Connie. We all looked at Larry and rolled our eyes as if to say, “There is no way this guy should be behind the wheel of any vehicle.”

Students started to fill the small classroom. Then, our instructor, Bart, proceeded to give a quick intro to the course and ask each student a few questions. Bart wanted to know our name, why we were there, and our job. One of the first guys he asked to respond was Larry. He responded by telling the class that he had just got out of prison for a six-year term. He then detailed his crimes of writing bad checks, his legal proceedings, a short comment or two about his former career as a tradesman, and then described his recent wreck. The woman sitting next to Larry moved over a bit as soon as he admitted his recent stent in jail.

The rest of the introductions were fairly normal. There were a few family members who attended. One mother/daughter tandem came together. The 17 year-old girl, Lisa, proceeded to rat out her mom (Mary) as a speeder. Lisa admitted that her father had signed them both up for the class to reduce their insurance costs since they had both recently received speeding tickets. Lisa told how her father was just as reckless as them, but he never seemed to get caught by the cops.

Lisa commented how she had been a fairly safe driver all her life. The entire room erupted in laughter when Bart said, “All two years you have been driving… right. I know that seems like a long time. But Roy back there has been driving a lot longer than you have been alive.” Roy was in his late 60s. He said that his last ticket was 30 years ago.

Lisa’s youth and inexperience became a running joke for the group the entire time. She proceeded to explain that she was safer than most of her friends who thought she was a kill joy. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was saying these things because her mother was sitting right next to her. Bart told a few blond jokes through the lesson. She never got em.

Then, there was the film student from Boston College, Julie. She had recently moved downtown. She asked the best question of the day. With a completely straight face, she asked, “Some of my friends told me that the reason the state troopers always put their hats on when they get out of the car is that they can’t write you ticket unless they have their hat on. Isn’t that a strange rule?”

Bart said, “That is a new one. I never heard that before. I can assure that there is no such rule like that. Are you sure that your friends weren’t trying to pull a joke on you?” Julie responded that she had been told that by ten different people and that they were very serious. I asked, “Did these people also ask you to go snipe hunting?” She had never heard of snipe hunting either.

The entire room had a good laugh.

When Bart made fun of my salad for lunch, Julie mentioned that she was a vegan, which completely astounded Bart. He couldn’t understand why somebody would not eat meat. I agreed and said that I like both meat and salads. I especially like salads with meat. Anyway, throughout the class, Bart tried to convert Julie to the dark side of the meat eaters. She stayed a vegan and even talked about eating rice milk flavored icecream substitute. Yuck!

Bart showed a number of videos and did a good job of covering the basics. He even offered to show us his certificates because he knew that somebody as rough looking as him seemed to be an odd character to be teaching a driving school. Bart was funny and kind of raw. He’s the kind of guy that I would picture one day on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour.

His stories about the horrors of insurance, stupidest things he had seen in his driving experience and how to talk to cops was worth the price of admission.

Later in the day, Bart allowed us to try on goggles that demonstrated how your vision can be impaired when you are legally drunk. We all marveled at the effect. All expect for Larry. He said, “Wow, that ain’t nothing. You should see what happens with your driving ability when you are lit up on crystal meth!”

To which, Bart said, “What did you just say? No, never mind. I don’t want to hear it.”

Another fond memory occurred when Lisa tried to blame her speeding habit on her parents. She said that she picked it up from them. Bart responded, ” You can’t inherit bad decisions from your parents like you do hair color, facial features or height. Those decision belong to you. Sure, they may not have provided the best example. But you have to take responsibility for your decisions.”

Bart got Lisa to semi admit her guilt. But I still think if she was honest, she would point as much blame back at her folks.

Those were my funny moments from the driving class today. My experience convinced me that there are a lot of characters on the road today.

Is It Cool to Be Hip These Days?

Brett McCracken’s recently released a book titled Hipster Christianity: Where Church and Cool Collide. It details the stories and pitfalls of attempts to be relevant to the 20 and 30 year olds who have left church after adolescence not to return.

McCracken recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that ‘cool Christianity’ is a sustainable path forward, they are severely mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.”

McCracken added, “If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it’s easy or trendy or popular. It’s because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It’s because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It’s not because we want more of the same.”

I agree with McCracken that attempts to play the hip game will always come up short for churches because they can’t out hype Hollywood or the latest must-listen-to band. And that shouldn’t be the goal. Being different in a good way is what will make a difference.

Young people want relevant, connected and authentic expressions of worship and journeying through life together. Attempts to market Jesus will only backfire. If you remember Jesus wasn’t big into marketing. He would do great miracles and then tell the recipient not to tell anyone. At the end of the day, it really comes down to helping young people feel connected to a story bigger than themselves that still seems relevant to the world in which they live.

I think that any time we set out to copy what others have done in a church setting we have to be careful. There is nothing wrong with learning from others. But you have to first know who you are as a local body of Christ and what makes you unique. A church can’t steal the identity of another congregation and expect it to work.

In the end, a local church has to first know itself in relationship to Christ before it can truly benchmark from others. If you try to benchmark first, you will only end up copying someone else’s dream.

Here are two interesting articles on the book and topic of Hipster Christianity.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111704575355311122648100.html

http://www.religiondispatches.org/books/atheologies/3142/cooler_than_thou%3A_will_hipsters_wreck_christianity/

Surrounded By A Cloud of Witnesses

Hebrews 12:1
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”  (ESV Translation)

It was a night that testified to the potential of the individual and yet the power of a Biblical community. I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed as I participated in another blessing ceremony for a family at my church. This one was for Adam Watkins – the youngest of the Watkins boys. I have participated in three of these ceremonies with this family. And they have all been special. And as great as it is to see how these young men are turning out, I can’t help but think this didn’t happen by accident. These guys are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. They know that they are part of something bigger than themselves. They know the legacy they come from and the potential that lies ahead of them. They are loved and accepted not because of what they do but who they are.  

Thinking specifically about Adam, here’s a kid with a God-loving heart, a creative mind, a truckload of potential, a friendly face and a big supporting cast. Adam is a goofy genius of sorts. All you need to do is check out the Cheese Grows on Cows clips(http://www.youtube.com/user/cheesegrowsoncows) on YouTube to see what I mean. He has a lot of musical talent and is picking up new stuff each day. From his service as a worship leader for the youth group to the way he dispenses hugs and smiles to everyone he meets, here’s a young man who is moving in the right direction. Yeah… he’s had some very difficult times, especially the death of his father at a young age. But he has found a way to write hopeful melodies despite his losses and struggles. While he’s far from perfect, I get the sense that he knows that he doesn’t have to be because Jesus is the author and finisher of his faith.

While at the ceremony, I was struck by the power of story in our lives. When we know the story of those who came before us, we can be free and encouraged to live our story the best way we know how.

The ceremony is fairly basic and yet quite profound. A group of people come together in a surprise party to speak works of affirmation over a young person who is reaching a milestone. In this case, Adam was turning 16. Some people come with an object lesson. Others come with a prayer of blessing. Some bring a gift or make something to show how much the person means to them. Frequently, adults will tell stories about when the person was younger. Some of these can be kind of embarrassing. Others are just good times remembered. Adam’s mom had put together a slide show of pictures showcasing some major moments of this young man’s first 16 years. We ended the entire thing focusing on Jesus by taking communion together. This helped to make sure that Adam knew his story is first about Christ not himself.

Every time, I attend one of these ceremonies I am reminded of the power it can have to help a young person know that they are not alone. It may seem simple. But it provides a marker that they likely won’t forget. If you have a teenager in your house, consider celebrating a major life marker with a moment of affirmation, blessing and celebration. These moments come and go. You will never get them back.

The older generation needs to speak words of affirmation. I’m not talking about flattery or undeserved praise. We need to let young people know the truth. We need to let them know that their actions have consequences. We don’t need to sugar coat life for them. Yet, we also need to remind them that their choices matter and that they are not alone. Life is a story, and we all have an opportunity to live better stories.

Generational Disconnect

There’s a big hole in the middle of most churches and nobody seems to want to talk about it. Oh, there are a few who get it. But there are so many that refuse to face the future and the past. And if we don’t do something about it, we’ll all miss out on what could be something beautiful.

I am talking about the disconnect between generations. It seems like youth culture changes every year. Technology is driving a wedge between many parents and children. From the greatest generation to the baby boomers to gen-x to the millenials, each new demographic seems to be further from the other.  But the truth is that we need each other more and more.

Teenagers need godly adults who will demonstrate a dynamic faith, committed relationships and strong morals. Authorities need to live in such a way that those underneath them willingly submit to their leadership. At the same time, younger generations needs to realize that not everything worth knowing came about in the last few years. We  need to appreciate the legacy and lessons of those who have gone before us, and we need to learn that not everything is handed to us. Sometimes hard work and failure is the necessary path to success and accomplishment.

We could learn a lot from each other if we would only stop and consider what other generations have to offer. I have been thinking about this generational disconnect after reading an article in Harvard Business Review. The February issue featured a case study on generation-y in the workplace. I thought the article really nailed the core issues.

Older generations feel that younger workers don’t respect authority and are impatient. They see the younger generation as pampered needing quick praise and fast opportunities for advancement. Younger people feel like they are closer to culture and know what works today in terms of marketing and technology. They feel like the older leaders won’t listen to them. They are bored at work and feel like they have sold out their dreams for a paycheck and an opportunity sometime in the very distant future.

Obviously, the above is a gross generalization. But it happens to be true in many organizations, churches and businesses. The fact is that change is moving at such a pace now that young blood is needed to stay current. At the same time, younger people are not learning valuable skills at home that they can pickup from older people if the proper relationships can be fostered. This is hard for many business environments where competition can become a major concern. But it should be a non-issue in churches. Sadly, churches may be just as competitive as Wall Street.

Here’s my challenge to those who read this. Over the next month, connect with someone knew who is from a different generation than you. Be intentional about it. See what you can give, learn and experience. You’ll probably be glad you did.

Harvard Business Review article on generation-y.  http://hbr.harvardbusiness.org/2009/02/gen-y-in-the-workforce/ar/1

Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle made some great points about the future church leaders. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJXpo0xfUnA