Archives For June 2013

I really hope this blog entry doesn’t get you fired if taken to heart. What I’m about to say might come across to some of you as mild heresy, or as a sign of weakness. Perhaps it might be exactly what you needed to hear, to know you are not alone in your doubts, but you think, “Werner, yeah I have my doubts, but if I bring this up to my supervisors or those whom I minister too, I am for sure getting fired!”

Let’s start of my admitting something, we all have our doubts. We all experience times of unbelief and vulnerability. There are times that we feel forsaken by God and feel completely alone. But we are in places of leadership and we best not show this weakness to those we minister too, right?

I remember being a college senior and talking candidly with other ministry majors about our doubts and struggles. It was refreshing to know that I wasn’t alone.  Then someone chimed in and said, “but we can’t talk like this to our Pastors or to our congregations, we would look weak.”  Which begs me to ask the question, is that such a bad thing?

We see many leaders in the Bible cry out in times of struggle and doubt.

 How long, Lord? Will you forget meforever?
How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1)

Doesn’t even the Son of Man quote Psalm 22 during his execution on the cross?

 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1)

We have plenty of examples in which brave people in the bible experience doubt and struggle, so why can’t we? Peter Rollins in his Book Insurrection argues that doubt is actually essential and should be part of our ministry.

In order to participate in the Crucifixion, we must find leaders who openly experience doubt, unknowing, and a deep mystery, leaders who see these as a part of Christian faith and important to our ongoing development of a healthy and properly Christian spirituality. The problem is not that there is a lack of leaders who have these experiences; rather, there is a lack of leaders who can admit to these experiences.[1]

Rollins reminds us that in 2007 there were letters that came into light between Mother Teresa and her spiritual directors in which it was revealed that even she had great experiences of doubt. She experienced great pain, loss, and an exceptional longing for God because she did not feel him near. She experienced great doubt, but still kept her ground. [2]

So let’s start something completely different, let’s not be afraid to be weak.  Let’s not be afraid to doubt, and let’s not be afraid to admit our doubts. For some of you, the establishments you work at might not allow for doubt, find some people you can vent too. Find some people that experience your doubts as well and can journey with you; we’re all out there! Let us not be afraid to be like father of demon posed son who was willing to admit his unbelief,

I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief! (Mark 9:24)

I’ll close with this; let your ministries be places of doubt for your students.

Its ok, let them doubt, this is essential in their journey!

Be a presence to them as you walk with them in their doubts. Do not just tell them what you think they should believe, but actually listen to them!

The fine people at the Fuller Youth Institute and Sticky Faith have told us that about 70% of students doubt their faith in high school, but of those students only half of them actually talk to someone about it.[3]

I wonder if part of the reason that students do not feel comfortable talking about their doubts is because we as leaders are afraid to share our own doubts. Isn’t it time to set a better example? Isn’t it time to let our students doubt at our places of ministry? Instead of making students feel stupid for asking questions, instead of manipulating students into believing YOUR views and YOUR theology, instead let’s listen to what they have to say before they walk away.

After all, what a better place for students to express their doubts than at the Temple. And by the Temple, I mean the Church. And by the Church I don’t mean your fancy (or not so fancy) buildings, but the community of believers (and doubters) that make up the Church.

 

**Werner Ramirez is one of my best friends and favorite people on this planet. He is a great youth pastor at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Long Beach. 


[1]  Peter Rollins, Insurrection (New York: Howard Books, 2011), 65.

[2] Peter Rollins, Insurrection (New York: Howard Books, 2011), 77.

[3] Dr. Kara E. Powell & Brad M. Griffin, Sticky Faith: Teen Curriculum (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 59.

Advertisements

As much fun as ministry is and can be there always is a time in which you need to confront a student with life choices they are making or they are being disruptive in service. Let’s be honest, no one loves confrontation. It can be very hard at times. Even though it’s tough it is important in ministry to handle conflict with students well. A confrontation handled well can help launch them into the next level of personal growth in life and with Jesus. A confrontation handled badly can cause way more damage to the situation than their was before you entered into the situation. Hence, the importance of handling conflict well.

I have had quite a few times where I have needed to confront and I thought I would write down some practical tips in doing so, and doing so well that is beneficial to both parties:

  • Pray before- Seems obvious but if I do forget to one thing the most, it’s this one. It’s so easily overlooked but it really is the most important. There is nothing better than going into what can be a very difficult conversation than going in knowing that you went before the King and gave Him the situation before you even began with the student. I pray that He gives me the correct words to say in ministering to the student and discernment when counseling them.
  • Be up front- There is no use to dancing around the situation. I would always try to “warm them up” before actually getting to the meat. As soon as they sit down, I lovingly let them know that I want to talk about something that can be hard to hear but it important because I love and care for them, then I go into it.
  • Be on their side- Confrontation is exactly that when two people are going head to head. If you can’t confront someone with love and with a positive end in mind for them (redemption, restoration, growth), you shouldn’t be confronting them in the first place.  Remind them of this as well—that you’re on their side—and that you want to see this issue resolved in a way that everyone learns and grows through it.
  • Go in private-  Go in private according to Matthew 18:15. A one-on-one conversation. If you cannot overlook the issue then attempt to resolve the conflict or misunderstanding by applying God’s principle of going one on one whenever possible. There is no benefit in calling them out in front of their friends after service or small group about something they have been doing (Finish reading Matthew 18 if one-on-one doesn’t get through).
  • When it gets heated, slow down -When things get heated it can be really easy  to get revved up with them. The other week a had a student sit all the way in the back of the room when their was plenty of seats closer. We had the entire back blocked off and I went over and kindly asked him if he would be willing to move up to join us. With a rude response back that took me off-guard I asked him again to come up just to the last row of the blocked off area at least. More disrespect back, yelling back at me at this point about how he did not want to be there and didn’t know anyone and to leave him alone. I didn’t. Instead, I took a breath, sat down next to him, eye level, calmly said, “Have you ever thought the reason why you don’t know anyone is because you sit all the way back here? If you want to know people, I know almost everyone here, I will literally walk around and introduce you to everyone we come in contact with. Then you will be the most popular guy here. Even more popular than me. I’m not trying to be “that guy” to make you do something but I’m just asking you to move up a few rows so you’re not the only one back here.” With a different attitude, he said, “My name is Even” shook my hand and moved up. And after service we went around meeting people. It was awesome.
  • Point Them To Jesus- Overall, you are to point them to Jesus. As ministers that is what we are supposed to do. We need to use these times of confrontation as teaching and learning for our students and for us as pastors as well. If we can leave the conversation with the students leaning on Jesus more, than it is a success.

What else would you put? Add to the list?

SUMMER TIME! That means Summer Camp!

For both students and for leaders, there is always a camp high when we come back from a camp. It is during those times in which we feel so much closer to who God is, what He is doing in our lives and it always seems to be a rekindling  of a relationship between us and God. So how do you keep that? How do you not lose that when you come home and have it fade away?

If you really think about it, there are 5 major things we do at a camp or retreat everyday that we tend to not do when we get back. 5 things in which we are supposed to do on a daily basis which we tend not to do at camp or retreat. It is these 5 things that give us that spiritual “high”, but if we were to do these everyday we would be able to have that feeling everyday.

  • Pray- We pray everyday at a camp or retreat. that communication between us and God is key to our closeness with God. If we are having a struggle on determining where God is wanting you to go, what better way than to have a conversation with the One who made you.
  • Quiet Time- At a camp or retreat you have a quiet time with God every single day. You study the Bible for at least 30 minutes everyday you are there. This is something I myself struggle with on a daily basis and I know it is a reason in which the “camp high” fades when I come back.
  • Community- You are in a great community of people everyday. You are around people who you are comfortable talking to and opening up to and being able to talk openly about struggles that you are having and being able to pray with them right then and there.
  • Worship- There is worship session every single day (usually in the form of music). But its time where you and God connect and you can just worship Him for who He is.
  • Laugh- We let loose at a camp or retreat because we are not worrying about anything besides just being there with God. Jesus says why worry about tomorrow, today has enough worry for its self. When we are at camp or retreat we can just have fun and laugh with everyone around us and not worry about anything.

All of these things happen at retreats and that’s why we get that extra close feeling to God. Because these are the things that we are called to do on a daily basis, so that “camp high” doesn’t need to go away…ever! We have to stop doing these things just at camps and retreats and not on a everyday basis. No wonder we don’t have that feeling when we come back because we forget to do this when we are back.

 

encouragement003

I do not know why but this last week I have been super down. I have had the dumb thoughts of self-worth in ministry and asking myself, “Am I really making a difference here?” It was just one of those weeks, I’m sure you know what I am talking about.

Then randomly when I’m sitting in the middle of this self-pity party I get a random text from a friend in ministry who I have not talked to in a while saying something that was a game changer for me and my mood. The text simply said, “Hey Justin. You randomly popped in my head and I wanted to let you know I have been praying for you today. You are doing awesome things for the Kingdom.” BOOM! I was out of my funk. That is all it took.

It got me thinking about how many times I have just fully ignored a nudge from the Holy Spirit to just send a simple text to someone who just popped in my head and I just kept on working. It got me thinking about how life changing a simple text of encouragement can be. It got me thinking about what would happen if I were to send one of those a day to someone? It got me thinking about why us in ministry are not doing this more. If it was a day changing text for me, why wouldn’t it be for another pastor?

I think we, as youth workers need to be the most encouraging group there is because lets be honest, sometimes working with teenagers is not easy! We do not know if we are getting to them, if we are doing what we are supposed to be doing, if we are being used to our full potential. What if we were intentional with encouraging our friends in ministry more often? You never know what a simple text can do. It could spark something huge in someone who is feeling down and second-guessing.

Let us be the person who intentionally encourages our friends in ministry. I bet we would see a difference. Why don’t you send an encouraging note to someone right now?

Hebrews 3:13

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

I had my small group end of the year party last night. I am so excited about it. This is just a time in which we get to celebrate, hang out, eat tons of food and have absolutely no agenda for the night. I think it is really important to have fun. There is just something about a good ol’ time with your group that is able to bring you to a closer level.

When you have fun it breaks down walls. I don’t think there has ever been a student who was able to have a wall up and smile at the same time. When we take breaks from the curriculum and just have a night of eating, swimming, and messing around it is amazing how much closer the group feels when you are done.

Conversations happen when they have fun. Just last night, the whole group is jumping around in the pool and I hear the conversations happening. They are talking about friends, about someone who they need to reach out to, their future, etc. One of my guys was sitting in the spa with me and we were able to have an amazing conversation about his future and what he feels God is calling him to do. It was amazing. There was no setting for it. There was no curriculum that had me ask him. It just naturally happened because all were having fun and we were just having a good time.

Fun is good for the soul. When is the last time you just stopped the planning, preparation and organizing and just had fun with your group. I’m telling you right now, it is just as healthy for the students as it is for you. Just stop. Have fun. You will see how much closer you become with your group when they can see their pastor, leader, mentor have a great time with them.

Now go have fun going into summer!

3qks0f

2 Corinthians 3:2

The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. 

HEY EVERYONE! COME SEE HOW GOOD I LOOK!

One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies, Anchor Man. Even though it is a funny line I sort of feel like this is the truth to a look of people. I feel a lot of people, including myself, try to get the attention of how good I’m doing or what I wrote or what I came up with or what sweet project I’m doing next. We post it on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram to see how many “likes” we get. We try to get all these “letters of recommendation” from others around us trying to validate what we are doing as “good”.

This verse in 2 Corinthians rings true. We do not need any other letter recommendation other than our lives and how Jesus has changed it. Your life is a letter. People read letters. Students read letters (or more realistically, students read texts now but you know what I’m saying). What are people reading from you? Is it Jesus? Or is it something else?

I want my stuff to get noticed. I won’t lie to you. It’s when we want it to matter to people more than we want it to matter to God is when we need a heart check. I want everything I do, every act, word, blog, resource, whatever… be a letter that reflects Jesus and my ministry to share Him over anything else.

I think some of us need to do the same thing when it comes to our home life, ministry, side-thing, whatever.

What does your letter really say?

We always tell our students to be a light. For different students this means different things, being a light in different places in different schools with different friends. This last weekend one of our students was just that.

This student was on the the senior panel. He became a Christian last summer, just got baptized and is on fire for Jesus. He joined a small group of one of our amazing volunteers, Chip, who is a stud. Chip lives out a Christian life and is a great example of what a man of God looks like and his boys mimic him and it shows. The senior panel was a group of students who all had a 2 minute snippet of wisdom to share with their younger class-men and this one student posted that he was speaking on this panel on Facebook. He got a text during our first service from a friend of his asking to come to service because he heard his friend was speaking on stage so they met up for the second service on Saturday night.

This friend has never stepped foot inside a church before, and he was one that they thought would never, ever come to church. He came in a suit. Now I’m not knocking wearing a suit to church, because I think it’s awesome, but if you know our Saddleback culture, we are pretty laid back and casual in dress. He just thought that’s what you were supposed to wear because that is what he saw it on TV. He got to hear his friend speak, he got to hear the Gospel being preached by some of his senior peers and at the end of the night when we prayed over all of the seniors and their last weekend in HSM, he accepted Jesus. Praise God! We got to go to dinner with him afterwards and talk to him, exchange numbers, and scheduled to hang out to talk and hang out about the decision he made that night. Amazing.

All of this because his friend posted that he was speaking at church and he was living a life that was changed by Jesus. Incredible. My friends, this is why we do what we do.

Disciples make disciples. We live it out, our students live it out. They live it out, they bring their friends to Jesus. What an amazing reminder.

Ministry Is Ministry

June 6, 2013 — 6 Comments

As I we are wrapping up this year’s small group season and breaking for the summer I have already been preparation for next school year. I have been able to talk to a bunch of other student pastors from a few different churches (LifeChurch.tv, Newspring, etc) and see how they set up their smal groups for the years. It’s awesome to see how other ministries do what we do just in a different context and setting. It got me thinking.

Ministry is ministry. I would assume that all of us believe in reaching students, or even just people in general, for Jesus. I would also assume that we would agree there is more than one way in doing so. As long as the truth of the Gospel is being preached, and it is doctrinally sound, ministry is ministry but the context changes. The Gospel will never change, it will always change lives and it is timeless. Ministry, depending where you are, will change. The context will always be different.

The moment we believe our way of ministry is THE way of doing ministry is the moment your ministry will become stagnant.

Your philosophy and methodology might change based on the area, church, culture you are in, but the theology should never change. As long as we don’t base our theology off of the culture we are in, what does it matter the whats, hows and whys of ministry? The way we do ministry in Southern California here, a lot of the things won’t work in the Mid-West and what works in the Mid-West probably won’t work in the South. But you know who knows? The people who are living there and doing ministry there.

I love looking at other pastors and how they do ministry from all across the nation. I want to learn what works best for them but realize what works best for them might not work best in my context in ministry. But it could spark some other idea in which would work.

Let’s just realize ministry is ministry. That never changes, but context does. Let’s be on the same team and reach students for Jesus, that’s it. Let’s be aware what is working and where and let us learn and adapt. The Gospel is an unstoppable force and it will change lives.

I want to be in the know. I’ll admit it. I like being a part of things. I like being at events. I like talking to people. I like planning things. I know how I work and I know that when I am excited about any of these things I can go all in 100% without skipping a beat and work on them until they are done and good to go. I think that is the way I am wired. I love my job, I love my students, and I love providing and planning, being a part of ministry in which students learn about Jesus more. I love it and am good it to a fault sometimes. I have learned (and am still learning) I need to relax sometimes. It is okay to get excited about new projects and ministries and ideas, there is nothing wrong with it. Here is the question we all need to learn to ask ourselves when there seems to be a bunch on our plates:

If I were to say no to this thing, or stop doing this thing, will it benefit me, not professional or ministry level, but on a personal level?

Let me ask this.

If I were to say no to that last minute meeting, would I be able to get home to my wife on time like I said I would? If I said no to that speaking opportunity at that awesome camp this month because I know that the next few months for me are going to be insane and I will run myself ragged and I will not be able to spend that time at home with my wife because I know our time will be shorter later? Even harder sometimes, saying no to that student who  “needs to talk RIGHT NOW” during dinner time with your spouse? I love how Doug Fields explains how he handles it.At the FAM Conference at APU he said he asked the student who came to his house to talk to talk to him, “Hey buddy… are you doing to kill yourself or anyone else?” Student: No. Doug: “Awesome, I love you, but I’ll call you tomorrow.”

The realization is saying no to some ministry stuff will help you win at home. What is the purpose of us doing well in ministry if we are sucking at life at home? Are we really doing our ministry a favor if we are tired, run down and mentally exhausted? What is the purpose of doing a ton of things “good” when it is far better to nail down a few things “very well”?

What is my point? I’m learning how to say no to somethings. Is that hard? Yes. Do people get upset? Sometimes. Is that better than having my wife hate my job? YES! Is it better that I’m healthy on a personal level? Yes! Because if I am healthy on a personal level then I can be the best I can be on a ministerial level.

When I’m good on a personal and spiritual level, I’m a better husband, friend and pastor. Plain and simple.

It’s a big deal. I’m learning how to do it. I hope you can ask yourself these questions too.

Just this last year we decided to write our own curriculum for our students. We took all of last summer and wrote and wrote and wrote. The end product was a 4 tear curriculum for each grade, going through what we feel our students need to hear during each grade of their school year so by the time they leave they have an understanding what the Bible is, says, and what it’s about. It was a team effort, all of us worked so hard and are happy with the end result. There are still some kinks that we need to work out but this year we have a gotten really good feed back from our small group leaders.

We wanted all of our curriculum to be Gospel driven (naturally) so here is the basic breakdown:

  • Freshman- Foundations and Doctrine
  • Sophomores- New Testament Survey
  • Juniors- Topical, using Old Testament Scriptures
  • Seniors- 1/2 year on Jesus (all jr. high is focused solely on Jesus), 1/2 on life skills (how to find a church, how to be a good steward of your money, etc.)

Wanted to give you the philosophy and tips on how we formatted our curriculum to help our leaders lead our students in small group. We broke it down into 5 sections.

Expose. This a little something the leader reads to set up the night’s study. It usually has a story or a little bit of background of the book they are going through or the topic they will be going through. Example on FAITH: The Bible says that we cannot please God without faith. If we don’t believe in Him and what He’s doing then we aren’t pleasing Him. He wants us to have a live and active faith so that our relationship in Him can grow. This study will examine what faith is and how we can grow. 

Examine. This is where we dive deep into the text that they are going though. It usually involves reading verse by verse, section by section. In the leader’s notes there are sections labeled: Read this, ask this, emphasize this. Leader’s lead the discusion and go through the material they have scheduled for that week.

Everyday Life. This is a section in which we take what we just went through in the Bible and apply it to an everyday life. How do we take what we just read and put it into action in our lives now. Example of some questions: Would people in your life call you a “person of faith?” What is your witness to others in your reliance on the Lord? Have you ever felt discouraged when things don’t happen on your schedule? Have you felt impatient with God when you don’t get things you want on your time table? Is there a person in your life that you look up to for their faith in the Lord? (This can be a great time of encouragement for the students.)

Experience. This section we want our students not only to learn and study, but then experience something in life as well. It can be either an activity the group or an individual assignment. Could be prayer, could be prayer in a group, going to a Starbucks and doing study their, a group project, etc.

Extras. This is anything extra to the study that would help. Any extra Scripture, YouTube videos that have to do with the subject, etc.

If you were were ever going to write your own curriculum, hopefully this can give you a structure on how to do so. I understand that not all have the time in which to do something like this. If you were to ever want some great, quality, cheap curriculum for you and your ministry you can find some on Download Youth Ministry. There is a ton of great stuff on there: sermon series, small group curriculum, games, forms, etc. You should go and check it out. Or if you want to check out my stuff on that site, you can click HERE.