Category Archives: Ministry

#GardnersGoPA

Wait, we live on the EAST COAST?!

I have always strived to prioritize my life in this way: (1) God, (2) family, (3) ministry. Based on these priorities, my wife and I have longed to be closer to family. And for this reason, we began looking at the possibility of moving away from Coeur d’Alene and closer to family, which currently reside in New York and California (the two extremes!).

Once we began looking, God made it quite clear that He was moving us on. Doors opened, conversations happened, and the house sold. Fast. In fact, we had two offers on the table almost before the “For Sale” sign went up. So now I’m one week away from starting as the High School Pastor at Faith Church in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a short drive from Emily’s parents in Burlington Flats, New York.

GardnersGoPA

This past month has been crazy. Like I said, the house sold faster than anyone (other than God) could have imagined. We also sold a car and appliances like they were the last on earth. At the end of this week, we’re going to move into a beautiful townhouse in a great neighborhood. And I doubted God every step of the way.

Apparently, I have a memory problem. I know God is faithful. He has always been faithful, and I trust that He will continue to be faithful. And yet, my anxiety and fearfulness of the unknown creeps in, probably thanks to the fact that I am human, and I worry about what’s going to happen.

 

ME: What if we can’t sell the house? We can’t afford a rent and a mortgage at the same time!

GOD: Don’t worry.

ME: What if we don’t break even with the house? We don’t have money to pay the bank!

GOD: Do not fear.

ME: Ok, the house sold. But what if the inspection doesn’t pass? This is an old house!

GOD: Be still and know that I am God. 

ME: Ok, the inspection passed, but there’s still a lot that can go wrong! Ahhh!!!

GOD: I work all things together for your good according to My purpose.

ME: What if what You see as good doesn’t match up with what I see as good?

GOD: Trust Me.

 

Why do we do that? Why do we constantly forget that God is good and He works ALL things together for good according to His purpose. If I’ve learned anything from this adventure called following Jesus, I have learned this: God is faithful, and I mess up. God is perfect, and I have flaws. God is good, and I need to remember to rest in His grace.

This new adventure is exciting and scary. And I am so glad that I get to follow my Savior through it all!

Advertisements

leading change

Change.

This word can invoke two powerful emotions in people. Change can lead to excitement, positivity, and a renewed passion for what’s coming up. Change can also lead to fear, resistance, and a sense of being out of control. And as leaders, we have the power control which of these reactions the majority of our followers feel.

Leading Change 1

It’s hopefully a leader’s goal to seek a positive reaction to change. The question is, if a leader can control the majority of people’s reactions to change, how do we lead change well?

First, we have to understand why people resist change. Church leaders often joke that if change is coming, people will fight, and that’s just the way it is. No effort is given to figuring out why change is so uncomfortable. But if we are going to lead change well, figuring out the truth behind why change hurts is crucial.

I love the resources that have come out of the partnership between the Fuller Youth Institute and Fuller Seminary leadership professor Scott Cormode, specifically the Fuller Youth Institute’s Sticky Faith Launch Kit. In it, they guide churches through a process of leading change.

From their expertise in the field of leadership and change, they have found that “fear isn’t primarily about change; it’s about loss(Launch Kit, page 33) So often, we try to navigate change out of the felt reality that people’s resistance to and fear of change comes from the change itself. However, people’s resistance to change actually comes from a resistance to loss.

  • CHANGE: When I “canceled” high school Sunday school, parents resisted the change, not because it was simply a change, but because they felt a loss associated with their children’s spiritual development.

So if fear of change is from a sense of loss, it’s important that a leader is able to “anticipate the losses involved and prepare a response” (Launch Kit, page 34). There are two main components to this task: (1) listen to those you lead and anticipate their felt loss, and (2) cast a vision for what is possible.

I believe casting a compelling vision is crucial to leading change, and I love Bill Hybels’ definition of vision in his leadership book, Axiom: Vision is “a picture of the future that produces passion in people.”

Leading Change 2

If leadership can cast a picture of the future that is clear and compelling, followers will gladly weather change to reach that future. It means calling out the losses and sharing why you think the future goal is worth experiencing this loss.

  • VISION: We see students leaving the church and their faith after high school, and we’re not okay with that. One of the biggest factors that develops a faith that sticks after high school is intergenerational experience. So in order to see our students grab onto the hope found in Jesus, we are integrating them into the life and ministry of the church. For this reason, we’re taking our Sunday school model and integrating it with our adult Bible studies. We’re welcoming our high school students to worship, learn, and serve alongside multiple generations each Sunday morning and throughout the week, resulting in a greater chance for our students to develop a faith that sticks.

If the vision is clear enough and communicated properly, passion will keep people on board. This is a daily task of leadership.

I know I haven’t mastered the art of casting vision or leading change, so I’d love your feedback! What do you do to lead change well?  

doing it all (7 deadly sins of youth ministry)

I’ve got something to prove. In the world of church-work, I’m new at this and I need to make a splash. I need to be noticed. Therefore, the more I do, the more I can produce; and the more I produce, the better I will seem to those around me.

7 deadly sins title

There’s a lot wrong with the opening paragraph. I hope that’s painfully obvious.

Unfortunately, this is an often unspoken reality in the lives of youth workers. We are often seen at the bottom of the totem pole of church hierarchy, “serving our time” as youth pastors before we can graduate to a more glamorous, higher paying senior pastor position (check out this blog post by Amy Jacober on this very topic!). Even if you’re not in youth ministry as a stepping stone (and I pray most youth pastors today are not), this mentality brings with it the often subconscious thought that we have to prove ourselves worthy of our calling.

I’ve been guilty of this, and I’ve seen people guilty of this. So what do we do?

I think we have to come to the realization that we’re not Jesus. I think we need to understand that being good at a lot of things keeps us from being great at a few things. Less than ten lines into the first chapter of The Next Generation Leader, Andy Stanley spells out what he calls the “two best-kept secrets of leadership,” which are:

1. The less you do, the more you accomplish.

2. The less you do, the more you enable others to accomplish.

7 deadly sins content

If we try to do it all, our underlying goal is to please people instead of God. In trying to do it all, we take on roles that don’t necessarily maximize our gifts and calling when we could be delegating to others and thereby helping them fully live out their own calling. Not only have we hindered ourself, we’ve hindered others.

If we acknowledge that we’re not Jesus, release control, and involve others in the mission of seeing youth experience the life-transforming power of God, we accomplish more.

Live out your calling, accomplish great things, and don’t do it all.

get messy

Jordan had just poured out his heart to Frank. He hadn’t felt God’s presence in weeks, and he was still struggling with an addiction that had haunted him for years. And Frank stood there, astonished that this teenager would be so open about such vulnerable stuff in his life. Not having the words to make it all better, Frank thought, What do I say? How do I respond? Not knowing the right answer, Frank uttered the words he had used so many times before in similar situations, “I’ll be praying for you.”

Jordan stood confused. On the one hand, he was thankful that his youth leader was willing to pray for him and the stuff he’s going through. On the other hand, he felt gypped. Why did Frank have to leave so quickly? And what was he supposed to do now? He felt alone with his doubt and lost in his struggles.*

Get Messy

We’ve probably all been there, whether we were Frank (the youth leader who was caught off guard and didn’t know how to respond) or Jordan (the teenager who was confiding in Frank about his doubt and struggles and left still feeling alone).

It’s easy when life gets tough and situations get messy to not know what to do or say. Unfortunately, well-meaning Christians often close conversations like the one above with a simple, “I’ll pray for you” or “I’ll be praying for that situation.”

Don’t get me wrong, I believe prayer is powerful. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus illustrates the power of prayer to his audience:

“Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8, NIV).

Prayer is huge, and I think we often miss out on the power of prayer in our everyday lives with God. But when it comes to situations where we find ourselves faced with a Jordan, lost and seeking someone to help him, I would argue that prayer is not enough.

We often use prayer as a way to avoid getting messy, using it as a way to end an awkward conversation or get out of an overly involved situation. However, Jordan desperately needed Frank to dive in to his life, explore Jordan’s doubts with him, and journey alongside him as they pursued God together. Frank didn’t know the answers, and, when it comes to ministering to and with teenagers, we really don’t need all the answers (READ THIS!).

But Frank was nervous, afraid of getting messy in the uncertainty of Jordan’s life. And for Jordan, a well-meant “I’ll pray for you” was not enough. He needed presence.

Because PRAYER + PRESENCE = TRANSFORMATION

Prayer Presence

Presence is powerful. Mark Yaconelli, a well-known youth worker and author, points out the importance of presence in the lives of our youth:

Study after study in the field of youth development makes it clear that the single most important thing that can make a positive difference in the life of a young person is the PRESENCE of a caring adult.

Teenagers need you [youth workers, parents, and everybody] to get messy with them as they explore their place on the journey of faith. It’s not always going to be easy, clean, or barrels of fun, but it’s worth it.

So go ahead… Dive in. Get messy.

 

* This story is fictional. Names, characters and incidents are products of my imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. 🙂

envy (7 deadly sins of youth ministry)

I legitimize my time spent on social media for ministry two ways: (1) I love to see what other ministries and churches are doing on facebook, twitter, and instagram so I can steal… err… borrow their ideas if I believe it would translate to our ministry culture and context, and (2) being the social media manager at my church, it is beneficial to view others’ posts to better my own content and strategy.

This leads me to long minutes turned hours of viewing the latest and greatest ministry strategies, events, and gadgets. I get to see what the church down the street did for their end-of-summer bash and what the biggest churches get to do with a budget that is exponentially larger than my own.

It starts out innocent, enjoying what I see and being thankful that God is at work in our world. It doesn’t take long, however, to let my mind get the best of me, feeling like everyone else does ministry better than me, and that I’m not good enough in ministry. This even leads to doubting God’s call on my life.

We’ve all been there. It’s called envy. And it’s toxic.

7 deadly sins title

I recently talked to a youth pastor I know and admire. He’s the kind of guy I want to be when I grow up, leading a thriving ministry and fathering a stellar family. I have to admit that I’ve viewed his instagram account with an envious eye, seeing what he and his ministry team have done and being downright jealous.

We sat down for lunch a few weeks ago and he confessed to me that he had been guilty of letting social media make him envious of others’ ministries, including mine.

Wow… we need help.

envy

Those of us in ministry have (hopefully) felt God’s call on our lives to enter into such a profession. He has given us unique gifts and abilities that are specific to us, and I trust that God leads us to a ministry context where He will best use us. Just as we are. Of course there is room for growth (spiritually, emotionally, professionally, and even physically!), but God has created me to be me exactly where He wants me. And God has created other youth pastors to be them where they are.

Proverbs 14:20 says, “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot” (ESV).

Jesus himself puts envy in the same list as sexual immorality, slander, theft, and even murder (Mark 7).

So what do we do with that? I don’t have this thing all figured out, but I know when I need to stop trolling instagram for ministries and churches and remember to be thankful for how God has wired and gifted me.

How about you? What do you do when envy creeps in to your heart? How can we collaborate in ministry without letting envy get the best of us?

Explore the other 7 Deadly Sins of Youth Ministry.

serve seattle 2014

This summer, I took 19 students and 4 adult leaders to Seattle, Washington on a seven day mission trip with Youth For Christ. It was a long week filled with hard work, community building, laughs, and even tears. I am so very grateful for my leadership team and each student on the trip.

For the first couple of days of the trip (day 1 & days 2-3), I was able to log onto the church’s wifi and get an update on that day’s activity and where we saw God at work. I quickly realized that this was not a sustainable practice while on the trip. However, once we returned home, the team was able to reflect and share about the things they saw God do in Seattle.

Here’s a glimpse at our trip in the form of a short video and some students’ stories…

Serve Seattle 2014 from Hepburn Creative on Vimeo.

Student Stories

At the YWCA, a women’s shelter, me and the group I was with organized a lot of clothes. It was pretty entertaining to say the least, and we came across a couple shoulder pads and a dress that “Fits most”…but I realized that the women coming here weren’t picky. They needed clothes, and they would take what the shelter provided. It made me feel too materialistic to say the least. Definitely not going to take my closet for granted now!

The most challenging thing about serving in Seattle was the fact that I’m introverted, so working, serving, and basically staying with a group was not something I was super comfortable doing. But I was able to get out of my shell as the week progressed by learning to work with my group members, opening up and talking to people. During our last night together, we had communion, and that was, honestly, one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had. I got to go up to people, hand them little pieces of bread, and tell them how great they were. I loved doing that. I loved seeing them smile. And the best part was: I got it back! I had so many people saying so many kind things about me. And it was one of those things that made the entire week, all the working, all the getting out of my comfort zone, totally worth it. That was the biggest impact of the trip.

In Seattle, we saw loneliness, heartache, and brokenness, but we aimed to create community. At a community dinner that we were serving at there was a man named David. He was open, friendly, and seemingly happy even in his situation. He told us that he had an uncle that once lived in Coeur D’ Alene and that he remembered how beautiful it was here. He also shared his story with us. David wrote down the story of his career as a roadie for different bands and his adventures out on a napkin. His story is amazing and he has quite the repertoire of different experiences that were interesting to read. David was a person that does not fit the stereotype of the homeless. He was grateful for what he had and thankful for the meal we gave him.

Many of the projects did not go as I had expected them to. Each night after worship we would talk about the projects for the next day. I would immediately start picturing what I thought the day would look like, but God had a different plan most of the time. At the Union Gospel Mission’s Youth Reach Out Center, they were remodeling and I had hoped that I would get to paint, but I ended up cleaning out a storage area that was infested with mice. That was a lot of hard work, but we accomplished a lot and made it as fun as possible. They coordinator appreciated it so much and because we had done the dirty behind the scenes work the staff got to spend time with the kids and attend their graduation. Another example is at Mary’s Place where we were all expecting to get to play with kids and we brought balloon animals, crafts, and Lincoln Logs. We ended up making thousands of newsletters. More behind the scenes work. We were disappointed, but it was an important project because the newsletters went out to donors to get more money for Mary’s Place. Everyone stayed positive and worked really hard. We got so much done that we did end up getting to play with the kids and dance and make balloon animals. I learned that behind the scenes work is challenging and not at all glamorous, but it is important. I also learned to trust God because he always has a plan.

job vs. calling

Disclaimer: There is no original content here.

I often put pressure on myself to come up with the best “5 steps to something random in ministry” post or a gut-wrenching, tear-jerking post about God.

Tonight was one of those nights.

But as I scoured my brain and the variety of draft posts with ideas that have yet to be fleshed out, I came across a quote. A quote that needs to be shared. It’s not original content, but it’s an important topic/question that any pastor needs to come back to over and over again. Maybe I’ll write a post about this sometime soon, but not tonight.

I enjoy Eugene Peterson’s insight and candor. I hope you do too.

I can be hired to do a job, paid fair wage if I do it, dismissed if I don’t.  But I can’t be hired to be a pastor, for my primary responsibility is not to the people I serve but to the God I serve… In our present culture the sharp distinction between a job and a vocation is considerably blurred.  How do I, as a pastor, prevent myself from thinking of my work as a job that I get paid for, a job that is assigned to me by my denomination, a job that I am expected to do to the satisfaction of my congregation?  How do I stay attentive to and listening to the call that got me started in this way of life–not a call to make the church attractive and useful in the American scene, not a call to help people feel good about themselves and have a good life, not a call to use my considerable gifts and fulfill myself, but a call like Abraham’s “to set out for a place…not knowing where he was going,” a call to deny myself and take up my cross and follow Jesus, a call like Jonah’s to “go at once to Nineveh,” a city he detested, a call like Paul’s to “get up and enter the city and you will be told what to do”?

How do I keep the immediacy and authority of God’s call in my ears when an entire culture, both secular and ecclesial, is giving me a job description?  How do I keep the calling, the vocation, of pastor from being drowned out by job descriptions, gussied up in flossy challenges and visions and strategies, clamoring incessantly for my attention?

Eugene Peterson, The Pastor