Come Again?

I’ve noticed a recent flood of student ministry events happening around the area recently aimed at drawing a big crowd. That isn’t surprising. Usually toward the beginning of every school year student ministers are trying to pump up attendance. Start big that way the end of the semester dwindle is less painful.

This isn’t a post against programs that are aimed at bringing people in. I think those programs are needed and necessary. Some students wouldn’t think twice about darkening the door of your church unless you had a DJ or local celeb or messy games blowout. These things may even draw back those students who were active last year but you never saw from June through August.

When talking with people about these type of events they are well aware of their aim. Draw people in. Hope some of them stick. Say your event draws in 100 new faces (for the sake of simple math). What would you consider to be a successful return rate? 10? 20? 25? So, if 25% of those that come for the first time return that would be great. A chunk of those students could get plugged into small groups and begin to develop deep relationships aimed at Christ.

The question that kept nagging at me last night as I was trying to get some sleep was, “What about the other 75%?”. I know that drawing in the 25% is worth celebrating, but have we done anything for the 75% to change their mind about church? What does giving away iPads/money/etc say about the desire (envy) for more stuff? Does it do anything to offer an alternative to the insatiable beast that our consumer culture creates? Sure, you may have an easily digestible message about the fulfillment Christ can bring, but everything else we’ve done up to that point has pointed to the contrary.

So, what about the other 75%? Do we write them off? Focus on the 25%? I don’t have an easy answer. I still struggle with these things. What are your thoughts, whether student or adult ministry? How do you handle that tension?

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Celebrating the Past :: Moving Toward the Future


I recently returned from a trip to San Francisco with the above group.  The group is comprised of, mostly, recently graduated seniors from the youth group at Arborlawn UMC.  We do a trip like this every year as an end of the year/farewell to our seniors who have served in many different capacities.  We have a leadership program that we base a good deal of our programming around at Arborlawn that helps lead our students into service in the church in the hopes that when they go off to college they have a better sense of how to be a part of a church instead of simply being a religious consumer.  They serve in a variety of capacities from helping with all ages of Sunday School classes to volunteering in the church office.

The trip is a big “thank you” to them as well as a time to remember the past and look toward the future.  I always have mixed emotions on these trips.  I really enjoy spending time with these students that I have grown closer and closer to over the years; but I also know that, come fall, they will be off to college and no longer be a regular part of our program.  I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to get to know each and every person on this trip.  I’m thankful for the lives of other students that they have invested in as they grew through the program and I am excited for what the future holds for them.  God’s kingdom is definitely enriched by the lives of those willing to selflessly serve and willing to pour into the lives of others and these students are a testament to that.

How do you make space for the students or people in your ministry to pour back into the lives of the people that come after them?  How have you been training up leaders?

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Closing Prayer for Monday’s Worship

This is the closing prayer that we used for our Monday worship service on our Senior High Mission trip yesterday. We used it in conjunction with 1 John 3:16-18

O God,
Let something essential happen to me
Something more than interesting or entertaining or thoughtful
Let something essential happen to me
Something awesome, something real
Speak to my condition, Lord,
and change me somewhere inside where it matters
a change that will burn and tremble and heal
Let something happen in me that is my real self.

-from Guerrillas of Grace by Ted Loder, LuraMedia (1984)

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Summer Reading List

Every summer I set out with the goal to read a handful of books.  Being a seminary student the majority of my reading during the year is dictated by the syllabi handed down by my professors.  Summer is a nice respite and an opportunity to knock out some of the books that have been on my ever-growing “to read” list.

I set a couple of rules for myself to make the experience productive, enjoyable, and manageable.

1) Don’t overestimate your free time/reading pace/desire.

2) Read at least one book that is entirely for pleasure.

3) Carve out specific time in the schedule in which to read

Here is the list I came up with for this summer:

the Ignatian Workout: Daily Spiritual Exercises for a Healthy Faith – Tim Muldoon

    I took a class this past spring entitled Spiritual Life and Leadership.  This was definitely one of my favorite classes I’ve taken thus far in seminary. It opened my up more to spiritual practices and a life formed by spirituality.  We discussed many different spiritual leaders past and present, one being Ignatius.  The book approaches spiritual disciplines from an athlete’s perspective and relates the practices to athletic training.  This appeals to the mediocre athlete in me.  I’m starting with this book because it lays out spiritual practices and has a step by step guide for them. My hope is to begin the summer with them and have the time to explore while classes are out.

Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today – N.T. Wright

     I really like N.T. Wright.  When this book came across my desk a couple of months ago I immediately put it in my summer stack.

The Slow Fade – Reggie Joiner, Chuck Bomar, and Abbie Smith

    I work with college students as well as junior high and high school students.  It is a constant goal of our ministry to develop students with an active faith.  In some cases with college students there isn’t a foundation from the start.  I’m hoping this book will set out to challenge how I approach ministry as well as provide a bit of encouragement.

Life Together – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

   I’m a big Bonhoeffer fan.  I chose this one because it is one of his smaller works.  I will have to set aside an entire summer at some point for The Cost of Disicpleship.

The Ice Man: Confession of a Mafia Contract Killer – Phillip Carlo

    This is obviously the pleasure read.  I’ve always been intrigued with the world of organized crime. I took an elective in my undergrad on the subject and found it absolutely fascinating.    My wife thinks I’m weird because I will watch hours upon hours of Gangland.  Maybe if I’m reading about it instead of watching it on tv it will be more acceptable.


What books are you reading?  What should I start putting on my list for next summer?

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Inspired Life

The proper tools in the hands of an inspired person can yield magnificent results.

If you give me a bicycle the odds of my doing a backflip off of a large tree are slim to none.  Most likely I will ride and wobble around in an attempt to not fall on my face.  In my younger years I was fairly skilled at out-running neighborhood dogs on a bike, but I never had the courage or inspiration to jump off an awning on a bike.  The proper tools in the hands of an inspired person can yield magnificent results.

What tools have you been given?  What is your inspiration?

Life is the most important tool you have been blessed with.  What inspires your life?  Are you simply riding through life avoiding failure and folly or are you taking your life and pushing the limits of what it means to truly live?

The thief enters only to steal, kill, and destroy. [Jesus] came so that they could have life–indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest. – John 10:10

The proper tools in the hands of an inspired person can yield magnificent results.

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A Challenge Ahead

I’m starting a Sunday School series with the Juniors and Seniors at Arborlawn that looks at the book of Revelation.  I feel like this is a topic that many people tend to avoid because we’re not sure what angle to take.  I’m in that camp.  I have found a great book that makes the book a lot more approachable (it also happens to be written by one of my seminary professors) and that I will be using to frame the lessons.  I know the study will be tricky, but I also know that it will be worth it to have the students thinking about what we typically hear something is “about” and being able to shed conventional thinking and open their minds to something different.


Are there topics that you generally avoid teaching?  What are they?  What’s holding you back?

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…some are better than others. Some are more important than what you “should” be doing.


I Want to Fail


I want to fail.

Not a very common phrase, especially in our culture.  We thrive on and worship success.  In doing so we often ignore one of the best avenues to attain success–failure.

Now, when I say, “I want to fail,” I am not talking about colossal fails  (i.e. life or death, marriage ending, childhood ruining), but minor to moderate failures.

Willingness to fail means that we are willing to risk and chance.  It also shows an awareness that our worth and value is not based on our accomplishments or prior successes.  I have played it safe most of my life.  I applied to one college out of high school (and got in) mainly because they sent me a special application that was as much of a guarantee that you could get.  I didn’t expend much energy pushing myself beyond what was certain or comfortable.  This approach worked for a while, but I have come to the realization that this approach doesn’t move you forward very far.  It relies on baby steps and certainty (the later of which is somewhat laughable).

Stepping out in faith (trusting in things unseen) requires us to be open to the possibility of failure.  Learning to discern God’s voice takes practice and failure is a vital part of practice and learning.  In life, in love, in ministry we are called to step beyond what we know and enter into a world that is better.  In finding our way into this world we will take wrong steps, but the beauty is that we aren’t defined by our wrong steps, but rather our failures provide a springboard for a greater success.

So, may you fail and fail forward.  Be willing to step out in faith and realize that God is calling you to bigger, greater, and more.

Where is your fear of failure holding you back from the potential God has blessed you with?


Worth the Wait


So Abraham obtained the promise by showing patience. (Hebrews 6:15 CEB)

Late Night Pleasure


One of my favorite hobbies would definitely be cooking. I love the process and preparation required to put a meal together than balances flavors and textures. I can be somewhat of a food snob (as my wife likes to point out), but I can’t really help it. Once I was bitten by the epicurean bug there was no turning back.

Tonight I’m partaking in one of my favorite cooking methods-smoking. I’ve fired up the smoker and put 30lbs of beef on it to feed a group of 120 people tomorrow. There’s something about the long process of this preparation that speaks deeply to me. Tending the fire. Anticipating the outcome. The smoke covered clothes. Waiting anxiously for the tough cut of meat to yield to the heat and become tender. I love it. Every second.

Arborlawn UMC, where I serve, holds a series of Lenten concerts and lunches leading up to Easter. They feature various musicians and music types that highlight the preparation of Lent that looks toward Easter. What better reason to fire up the smoker?!? (really any reason is a good reason…I’m not picky).

So, I will dutifully tend the flame and guard the meat through the night to feed the hungry masses tomorrow. It’s a labor of love. And I love every bit.

So, if you are in or around Fort Worth tomorrow I encourage you to come by at 11:00 am for some music and grub. Take it as a mid-week pause and breath (and bite).

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