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.

god threw a stone

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

John 8:10-11 (ESV)

You’ve probably heard this story before. It’s the woman who was caught in the act of adultery. CAUGHT IN THE ACT. Yikes. Can you imagine what might have been going through her head in the moment? She probably expected Jesus to be the first to throw the stone, the first to make sure she knew that she was going to die alone… but that’s not what happened.

First, Jesus tells the woman that he does not condemn her, which doesn’t mean he condones or approves of her sin, but he doesn’t condemn her. He, being the only one able to stone her to death according to his proclamation of the ones without sin able to throw stones, doesn’t do it.

Instead, Jesus extends grace. Through this one-on-one experience with Jesus, this woman is forgiven. And only then, only after she has already been forgiven, does he instruct her to sin no more.

This is huge.

He does not make his love conditional on her behavior. He does not say, “Go, sin no more, and check back with me in six months. If you’ve been good, I won’t condemn you to die.” No, Jesus creates new life in the woman by loving her unconditionally, with no-strings-attached.

And by refusing to condemn her, he sets her free to do what she has probably already pledged to do on her own: leave her old life behind. She has been set free, as Paul puts it, to live a life free of the yoke of slavery. And because of this interaction with Jesus, she CAN live free.

God gives us the power to live a life free from slavery to the law and free from the shackles of sin through the Holy Spirit. When David wrote Psalm 40, he knew this truth: He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand” (Psalm 40:2). We have a firm place to stand in the grace and forgiveness of Christ.

But, unfortunately, it comes at a price. You see, for the woman, for you, and for me, there is a penalty for sin. A clean, holy God cannot be in relationship with unclean, broken people. But God loves each and every one of us so much that He wasn’t okay with that reality. 

And while no one on earth can throw the first stone, God can.

stone

You see, a stone was thrown, but it didn’t hit the woman, it didn’t hit me, and it didn’t hit you. It hit Jesus on the cross, with all of the sin and the shame of the world upon him. He was the sacrifice for our brokenness so that we can be forgiven.

This woman had an encounter with God through the person of Jesus that resulted in grace and forgiveness. And our God wants so desperately to have an encounter with you. 

It doesn’t start with getting your own life in order so you can be good enough and go to church every week and sing the right songs to be acceptable in God’s sight.

No, grace is not something we can earn. It comes from simply coming to God, having a heart-to-heart, agreeing with God that you need Him. And from there, like with the woman in this story, He will transform your heart, your desires, your actions, to align with Him.

The best thing that can happen to us is to stand naked in front of Jesus. No hiding, no pretending everything is ok. It’s just you and him. And Jesus will look at you with his perfect love, with perfect compassion, with the ability to forgive and make you clean.

NOTE: This post was taken from my sermon on John 8:2-11. Feel free to watch the sermon sometime!

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

book review: guy’s guide to god, girls, and the phone in your pocket

I’d like to introduce you to a new favorite book for teenage guys: The Guy’s Guide to God, Girls, and the Phone in Your Pocket, by youth ministry author, speaker, and leader Jonathan McKee.

McKee writes to teenage guys in a creative and captivating way. He covers a wide range of topics, from proper use of cologne to nudity and sex. Each “chapter” is titled with the bottom line advice and is followed by stories, personal insights, scripture, questions, and final thoughts.

Guys Guide

Some of my favorite pieces of advice for teenage guys that McKee includes:

  • “God wants you to enjoy a naked woman… one naked woman.”
  • “Learn a skill that would help you survive a zombie apocalypse.” (A clever reference to McKee’s zombie apocalypse devo for teens.)
  • “Don’t text and drive until you’ve learned how to juggle straight razors nude.”

One of my favorite aspects of the book is the opportunity for reflection included with each piece of advice in the form of questions. It would be a great book to explore with a guys small group or even as a father and son study. It could get awkward, but it can lead to very important conversations.

It’s a great read for any teenage guy, but I would say that it would be best for guys ages 14 to 16. At the same time, anyone who reads these pages are bound to learn something useful. I found the advice about sleep and smartphones profound. I know the consequences of looking at your phone right before dozing off to sleep, yet I keep doing it. I also know that if I want to live a healthy life and be an example to the students in my ministry, I need to follow McKee’s advice:

“Turn off your phone at night. The consequences of leaving it on are pretty straightforward, and let’s be real: you aren’t going to miss much if it’s off. Do yourself a favor and power down when you brush your teeth” (McKee, page 20).

hsm serve seattle – day 2 & 3

Wow. The last two days were so full of amazing things! Lots of work, lots of laughs, lots of fun.

I was going to write a post about all that we did, the projects we did, and the people we served, but all that matters is simply this: God is at work.

Our students are engaging in community. We’re serving with joyful hearts. We’re seeing God at work, both in the city and in our hearts. I’ve had multiple conversations about how God is wrecking our students for Him. I’m so excited for you to hear more, but for now, we’ve been going non-stop for the last 17 hours, and it’s time for bed.

Thank you for your continued prayers!