October 31, 2011

We Need More Builders

Yesterday I was in a meeting with some of my student leaders about some of the things we're looking at implementing in our student ministry in the near future. As the excitement in the room became more & more apparent, one of my seniors said, "We need to do this now so that I get to do this." It was at this point that I said something that had to have been from God because I'm not smart enough to have said this completely off the cuff. This is what I told that student & all the other older students in that room.

"You May Not Get To Reap All The Benefits From These Plans But You Get To Be A Part Of Actually Building It, & I'd Rather Be A Builder Than Just A Consumer."

Here's the thing: Builders make a difference. Builders leave a mark. Builders lay the foundation & build something that others enjoy, & oftentimes, builders are the ones who are remembered.

However, building is more difficult. Building is risky, but being a builder is an absolute necessity. No matter what arena of life we're talking about, if all we have are consumers, things eventually implode. One the other hand, if a generation or group of builders rise up & take the risk to move things forward, they can propel a business, a ministry, or a nation into a new season of growth & transformation.

Be a builder. Invest in builders. Challenge the next generation to be builders, not just consumers.

October 14, 2011

A Huge Blindspot In Student Ministry

I've been working with students for over a decade, & in my opinion one of the biggest blind spots & most neglected areas in most student ministries is in the area of teaching & equipping students to be good stewards financially. Thinking back over my own experience as a teenager, the only time I ever heard this brought up was in October which was always "Stewardship Month" in my Baptist church. That of course was likely due to the fact that the new budget would be proposed in November, & leadership wanted to either guilt or motivate everyone to support the upcoming budget.

However, I can never remember hearing it taught within the student ministry or hearing why financial stewardship & wise handling of money was so important. Honestly, I could understand why so many people think that the church is after their money. Too often I've heard preachers & teachers discuss money & stewardship divorced from the real spiritual issues involved. When we do that, the message is cold, forced, & too often manipulative. However, when we set financial stewardship in the greater context of the stewardship of one's life, it begins to make more sense. And when we go a step further & connect how that stewardship with our lives & our stuff connects to our mission as God's people, it can actually become compelling.

Recently I broke the ice with our students on this issue & much to my surprise it was really well received. In fact, I even had a 7th grader say, "I want to hear more about that." That blew me away, but it also opened my eyes to how big a blind spot this is. Think about it: If we have adults who are poor stewards of their lives & their finances, where do we think those habits were cultivated? Those patterns were developed when they were teenagers & got that first job & just assumed that every penny that they earned was just for their consumption. The result is that years later they are greedy people, no matter what tax bracket they are in. Then we have the difficult task of breaking those habits & attitudes. The real problem isn't financial; it's spiritual. They are serving their stuff & not God. As a result they don't invest in God's Kingdom. So instead of trying to get them to invest in God's Kingdom first, we have to tackle the real spiritual issue: where their devotion lies. Then we can give the prescription to fight greed: GIVING.

This fall our students are going to be challenged in this area through both teaching & in some opportunities to partner with our entire church as we begin a capital campaign that will allow us to continue to pursue God's vision for our church & student ministry. I would encourage all student pastors to figure out how to lead their students down this same path. Who knows, it may pay big dividends in the future as they become adults who have refused to let the pursuit of stuff to dominate their lives.

October 12, 2011

Jesus' Weirdest Sermon?

Monday I wrote a little about the small group of students I meet with & invest in on a weekly basis. One of the tips I gave about building such a group was to "Focus On Discipleship First & Leadership Naturally Develops". This time around, our group is going through the entire Gospel of John in detail this semester. Each week our students study two chapters of John's Gospel. Then we all come together to discuss it & work on Scripture memory.
This week our reading takes us into what has to be one of Jesus' weirdest sermons. To some people who have been in church for years, it may not seem weird because you have heard bits & pieces of it over & over, but put yourself in the place of a 1st century Jew. It's obvious from the passage that this was a really weird sermon. So what was Jesus' main point?

"Eat My Flesh & Drink My Blood"

Let's face it, that's weird. This is Jesus' Dawn of the Dead/Twilight sermon! As a result of this sermon, the Bible tells us that many people stopped following Jesus. It was too weird & too hard for the big crowds to handle. And here's the thing, I think Jesus did this on purpose. He preached a hard message & one that was almost impossible to ignore so that people would be forced to make a decision. Two times prior to this message in John 6, John makes sure to point out that the crowd was following Jesus because of the miracles & that they were asking for even more. Jesus wasn't going to let this crowd dictate His ministry to Him, & He didn't want their trust & faith in Him be built on how impressed they would be by His latest trick. The miracles served a purpose, but ultimately, everyone had to place their faith in Jesus, not simply His miracles.

At the end of the day, people aren't just trusting a miracle worker. They are being asked to put their faith in the Son of God. As someone who teaches God's Word regularly this reminds me that even though we do teach people how to live in a way that aligns with God's word, at some point we have to preach the hard message that it's not just about living a "good life"; it's about putting our faith in Jesus & Jesus alone.

October 10, 2011

The Best Thing I Do As A Leader

There are a lot of people that think they are leaders, but here's a defining trait that sets true leaders apart: Leaders Replicate Their Vision In Others. If you want to be a leader, you have to lead people & not just a big group of people. If a leader wants to truly lead, he or she has to invest himself or herself directly into a small group of people. I believe this is true in any area of leadership whether it be coaching, parenting, business, or ministry. When you're a coach you need to replicate your vision for the team in your assistants & in some key players so that it trickles down to the 3rd string punter & the waterboy. If you're a parent, it should be obvious who you need to be investing yourself in. Parents need to have a clear vision for their families. Then it needs to be communicated & demonstrated to your children so that they will eventually understand & adopt it themselves. In ministry you have to invest in a small group of people who can help you implement & achieve the vision God's given you as the leader.

As a leader, I don't know that there has been anything I've done that has paid off more than investing in a small group of my students & replicating the vision in them. Then I just unleash them to pursue it with their lives. I've been asked a lot how I do it, so here it is, & it's incredibly simple.

1) Make It Available To Anyone
When putting a group together, I always make it available to anyone who wants to explore the opportunity. This does two things. First, it might draw in someone that I may not have recruited myself. Secondly, it defuses any accusation of favoritism because in the end the student decides whether they will be in the group, not me.

2) Create High Expectations
Even though I make this small group available to anyone, I know it's not for everyone. I intentionally set the bar high for the group I'll be working with. They know upfront what's expected of them, & some simply won't want to do it or aren't ready. And there's nothing wrong with that. I'd rather someone realize this isn't for them than for them to commit to something that they won't be able to complete. Also, contrary to what some may think, teenagers want to be challenged & rarely are. Challenge your group to go farther than they ever have.

3) Focus On Discipleship First, & Leadership Naturally Develops
I have said for years that discipleship is leadership. If a person is growing as a follower of Jesus, she will become a leader because she will begin to use whatever influence she has in order to lead people toward Jesus & to bring Him glory. Every follower of Jesus has the potential to lead. They may not lead a church or a ministry, but they can influence & lead those they interact with everyday outside the walls of the church. Yes, I create leadership projects for my group, but the overwhelming content of our time together is focused on growing as a disciple. So utilize the classic spiritual disciplines: Bible study, prayer, Scripture memory, & fellowship among believers.

4) Don't Give Everyone Everything All At Once
One of my mentors told me that the quickest way to kill a ministry is to "give everyone everything all the time." What that means is that if there is no levels to your ministry, a 7th grader & a 12th grader are treated exactly the same & have access to the same things. As a result that 7th grader who has had access to everything from Day 1 will likely drop out around 10th or 11th grade because they've "been there & done that". On top of that, would any of us really argue that you should develop a 7th grader boy the same way that you would 11th grade boy? My small group is open to both middle school & high school students, but the specific leadership track is only available to high school students.  In the end the students who have been in the group as middle schoolers will be better prepared to handle the leadership track than they would be if I had let them have it from the beginning.

5) Turn Them Loose
You can't hang on to a group forever. In fact, you probably can't hang on to them until you think they are "ready". You have to unleash them to do ministry. It may be small but you have to turn over responsibilities & appropriate authority to them. A group that stays in training too long usually stagnates & isn't as useful as one who is trained & then released, even if they might be a little rough around the edges. Look at Jesus' disciples. They weren't really "ready", but it was time for them to lead, so Jesus unleashed them.

That's pretty much it. That's what I have done with my student leadership groups over the years, & over & over again, I've seen God use these students to do some amazing stuff. I wish there was a way that I could invest like that in every individual student, but it's not just not realistic. No leader can individually invest in every person under their leadership, but they have to be investing individually in someone.