Monday, November 07, 2011

You're Still Losing Me

So, I'm reading another book that is talking about the fact that today's church is losing university students in droves. Honestly, I can't disagree, but I don't think we are losing college students, I think we're losing Jr. High students.

One of the things I was always aware of as a youth pastor were the relational warning flags for students in my ministry. You know, it was that shift that takes place where their friendships change, their sphere of influence goes from their more committed friends at church, to their friends at school, or from church that support their chosen new view on life.

I used to say, that if I could keep students connected and active in our youth ministry through the 10th grade, then chances of their faith sticking beyond the high school years jumped incrementally. Notice I said connected and active, not attending. The reason is that I think we lose students in Jr. High, emotionally, and then they start voting with their feet once they can drive.

I mean, for most Jr. High and young High school students, they'll put up with bad preaching for 30 minutes to be able to see their friends. Chances are, if they have begun to check out the party scene, their experimentation began with the friends they hang around with at church anyway. So their church can still meet their needs socially, but somewhere along the line they have checked out spiritually, and I'm growing more and more convinced that it happens at a much younger age than some are suspecting.

So, how do we address the Jr. high disconnect? Not the answer-all, but from this youth pastor's perspective, these three wouldn't hurt.

One, engage their parents. If you have their parents, if they buy-in to what you're selling (maybe a bad metaphor, but you know what I mean) your chances of keeping their students around increase. But parents can't do it alone, and statistics also show that you can't do it without them.

Two, connect them relationally with an adult, who isn't their parent, of the same gender, that is a strong person of faith. Three of the four of those should be fairly easy, the last being the most difficult, but not impossible. They need an adult that invests in them, mentors them, loves them, allows them to question, make mistakes, and chases after them when they try and walk away. Adults that don't give up on Jr. high and early high school students are crucial to saving this generation of college students. Listen, the day of teaching one hour of Sunday School, and believing that is enough is gone. It's time for adults to step up, and fight for our students like a lioness for her cubs. If we don't, someone else will.

Three, have this adult live in community with them, and two or three of their peers. I believe in the importance of community, and the role their friends play in their lives. I don't believe, anymore, in student-led small groups until college. Jr. high and high school students need adults investing in their lives, mentoring them, showing them what it means to be men and women of faith in this world, because they don't know, and somebody has to show them.

Now listen, this isn't new. I'm not saying anything radically different than what has been said over the last ten years. It's basically what every book I've been reading is saying, from Christian Smith's Soul Searching to David Kinneman's You Lost Me; to just name two. So why aren't we doing something about it?

Now, that's a good question.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Lowering Our Standards?

I was in the car Friday night driving to talk with our football team, while listening to ESPN1000. The talk show host this particular night was talking about the growing situation at Miami U. I jumped on at the tail end of his conversation, so need to give that disclaimer, but heard him finish his comments by saying:

"Is it fair for us to think that any 18-22 year old young man, if put in the same situation, wouldn't have done the same thing. Isn't that what you do when you're 18-22?"

I shouldn't have been, but I am still amazed at the lowering standards we have for our university students and the group commonly called "Emerging Adults". I realize there is a lot going on related to university sports, standards we have related to the mixed messages being sent by a billion dollar business that won't give their students a meal stipend, but really, that is what 18-22 year-old young men do? Is that where we have landed?

I want to think that isn't the case. I want to think that we have handed some young men in our culture over to "men" who aren't mentoring, but are piling on to an already disintegrating situation in college sports, football in particular, and life in general for emerging adults. I don't consider what has happend in Miami, Ohio State, and other places, as mentoring. So I told 105 young men last Friday, that they don't need to go that way, as if they needed my permission to make better choices for their life. There is another way; isn't there?

What should our expectations be for the young men on our university campuses? How do we align what this talk show host said, compared to Jesus saying that he wants us to experience, "life to the full"? Is God just a cosmic killjoy, wanting to keep us from "having fun", or is the life he calls us to really one that leaves us feeling complete, satisfied? Maybe that is "life to the full"? Could there something more?

My opinion is that we have just to continued to lower our standards for young men, and actually young adults, who can be trusted and invested in. We don't need to throw our hands up in the air, believeing there is nothing we can do to turn this tide, that all emerging adults are destined to live this life to some degree, but instead can let them know there is another way to live, different than what this talk show host insinuates, any red-blooded american 18-22 year-old would do. Or, maybe we don't believe that anymore.

Now, I rant.

The 25 years I spent in youth ministry, I actually believed that the life we call them to live, they could actually experience, here and now. They didn't have to go the way of places like "the U", or "the Ohio State University". I actually believed high school students didn't "have" to drink, and they could live lives of purity, not perfection, but desire other things for their lives than what our culture says is out there for them.

I also don't believe that as university chaplain we have to throw my hands up in the air, saying, 'boys will be boys" or, "that's just the way girls are". If I was 20, and I know I'm not, I would be insulted with some of the attitudes that are pervasive in our culture. I don't buy this, and I don't believe, deep down inside, many of our 18-22 year-old university students do either. I believe they all sense there is something inherently wrong with this. I believe there is something that causes them to long for more. I believe they can live from a different place, listening to a different voice, living a different life.

Or, we can just choose to continue to lower our standards, believing the life we call them to is beyond them, not possible, too difficult, accepting that is just the way it is. We can do that, I'm just hoping we won't.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Thanks Dad

My dad taught me to ride a bike. . .
My dad taught me how to collect sap for maple syrup. . .
My dad taught me how to ride a horse. . .
My dad taught me to fly a kite, kind of. . .
My dad taught me how to use a hammer. . .
My dad taught me how to build and drive a soap box derby. . .
My dad taught me how to use fiberglass. . .
My dad showed me how to live in a house with women. .
My dad taught me to love the Ohio State Buckeyes. Period.
My dad taught me how to drive a motorcycle. . .
My dad taught me how to hunt. . .
My dad taught me how to drive a clutch. . .
My dad taught me how to play basketball, kind of.

My dad showed me how to love God. . .
My dad showed me how to love my neighbor. . .
My dad showed me how to love a woman. . .
My dad showed me how to be a man.
My dad showed me how to shepherd people. . .
My dad's been gone for almost 8 years now, 7th fatherless father's day. . ., kind of.

Because. . .
I see my dad in my grandsons,
I see my dad in my daughters ,
I see my dad in my wife,
I see my dad in my sisters,
I see my dad in my mom,
I see my dad in my nieces,
I see my dad in my nephews,
I see my dad in my brother-in-laws,
I see my dad in his friends,
I see my dad in the mirror.

Thanks Dad. I love you too.

Monday, May 16, 2011

It's a thumb ring!

I have a thumb ring, which is a ring you, or I, wear on your, or my, thumb. So, I have a friend that looked at the ring, and said, "what's up with that, trying to be hip".

And of course I said, yep, cause that's what I do. And if you know me, you know I didn't say that, wanted to, but didn't. My wife says I'm just too nice.

So, then I have a relative look at it and ask me when the tatoo is coming? People, it's a thumb ring. It's a ring I wear on my thumb.

Then last week, I had someone look at it, and ask me what it meant. I told them that when I was in Brazil, I was hanging out with my friend who is a pastor down there, and we went shopping. They had these really cool rings, that were stainless steel for only $10. I'm not a "ring" guy, but thought for the price, I'd get one that fit on my thumb, so that every time I spun it, played with it. took it off, looked at it, or heard annoying comments about it, I would pray for the church in Brazil. That's it, it reminds me to pray for my friend and the church in Brazil.

Man, was I ever relieved to have someone actually ask for the explanation of what the ring meant. It's a thumb ring!

I was thinking about that, and some of the conversations we are having in the church; er, not really conversations, because those have to go two ways. So for the sake of argument, and since I'm the one writing, we'll just call them conversations, even thought they're not. Anywho, before I digress too much, let me just say that my thumb ring makes me think of the way we communicate these days in the church. We don't seek to understand by asking questions, or getting to know someone, because we're not concerned with understanding or knowing, we're just concerned about being right.

Let my thumb ring serve as the example; very few people start with asking the explanation of why I wear a ring on my thumb, they just guess, or accuse, or imagine, which for many is very, very dangerous. When it seems to me it would be much easier to just ask, they choose instead to speculate. Instead of conversing, they do all the talking. In place of entering into relationship, they choose instead to stay away because, well, the wierdo wears a ring on his thumb!

Maybe the next time you wonder why someone says something, and you wonder what they meant, you should just ask them? Or if someone who claims to believe like you says something that sounds nothing like you believe, how about calling them instead of posting it on facebook or twitter? Or, if you claim you want to be in a dialogue or conversation with others, how about you make room for those you might not agree with, you might just learn something new about them and yourselves.

So, the next time you see me, and you see the ring on my thumb, you can feel free to ask me why I wear it, cause there might be more to it than a guy wearing a ring on his thumb.

Saturday, April 30, 2011


A Story, a Song, a Verse, and a Dance.

We just finished our academic year, including chapels, at Olivet, and it was a year that I think can be summed up in four words; story, song, verse, and dance.

It all started with a story, the story of the Prodigal, where we found ourselves dealing with the question, "who has our heart".

The song that was helping to shape our semester was, You've Stolen My Heart by Leland. A story, and a song helped us to discover that we don't have to move God's way, because he is constantly moving our way.

The verse we have been living in this semester is Philippians 4:8, responding to the call to think about and be shaped by words like truth, purity, honor, excellent, and humility. These are words we don't sit in a closet and think about, but words that shape how we live in relationship with each other. It's a call for us to "be" these things as we "think" about them.

There were many other "moments" this year, and this doesn't do justice to any of them; but it was capped off the last day of chapel by a dance; actually two.

One was an interpretive dance by 7 ladies to the song, You Are For Me by Kari Jobe. The other, a flash mob that interrupted me as I was closing my last message of the year, but there was no better way to end the year than watching 150 of our seniors dancing in the aisles of our new Centennial Chapel, celebrating their time at Olivet. It's worth the watch by the way. Check it out on youtube.

It was a day; it was a year. Story, song, verse, and dance. Not a bad rhythm to life.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Better not to write when tired.

I'm tired. I have some strong opinions about some things going on in my world, but I'm tired tonight, and want to be a person who writes with care, brings dignity to the conversation, seeks common ground, with the goal being to love.

So, I won't write what I feel like saying, because I'm tired, and don't want to be thrown into the same camp as some I've critiqued. I don't want to be misread, or not be able to think things through well enough so I don't misrepresent what I'm trying to say. Know what I mean?

Cause when you say something and post it, or tweet it, or update it, you can't take it back. I mean, you can delete it, or edit it, but some will have read it, and then your stuck with what they read. When you're tired, if you're like me, you can get the stupid's, and say things when you're not real concerned with what you're saying, or how you're saying it, you just say it. The stupid's are dangerous. I get the stupid's when I'm tired.

Tonight, I'm tired, and the best thing to do when tired is to sleep. Makin' me wonder if what we say, and how we say it, would change if we just took a good nap, or got a good night's sleep. So I'm going to stop typing before I say something dumb, that I later regret, and take a long, early spring, nap.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

When is Opinion not Enough

I find myself thinking about this comment this week because of two different current debates in my world; heaven or hell, and homosexuality. Now that I have your attention, I just want to say that there are times when opinion isn't enough.

I'm sitting here as I type watching the NCAA tournament, the Florida/UCLA game to be specific, with my brackets filled out. NCAA brackets are choices based on opinions. Do these opinions matter when concerning issues in life; I say no. My rabid basketball friends from Kentucky, Duke, Ohio, or Kansas might not agree, but can we at least agree that in these cases, opinion is adequate. But that isn't always true.

The halftime report has just come on concerning the bombing taking place in Tripoli, Libya. There has been much discussion between multiple countries, opinions shared based on shared beliefs. There are differing opinions here as well, but they are based on a set of fundamental beliefs that are more important than how I fill out my brackets.

Regarding the debate about a book that we can now read, before we could read it, opinion just wasn't enough. Protection of doctrine, that often time is based on "opinion", or at least "interpretation" of texts, when done in a vacuum, or outside of community, just isn't enough. Especially when we really don't know what is said. But I'm not sure that matters anymore, does it? Or does it.

Regarding the conversation on homosexuality, can I just say that semantics matter. In regards to a topic this important and volatile, words used in a way to reflect opinions just aren't enough. Saying "defer", in place of "refer" (see article) really makes a difference when commenting about how we treat each other.

Let me explain why these thoughts today.

Our campus newspaper that is full of opinion (I think I can say that, since the University's stand on homosexuality was called opinion in the article), needs to be careful and wary to how words are used in our text-driven society. For instance, using words like "quarantine"(see article), or phrases like finding someone to "deal with him" (again, see article), can sensationalize and escalate an already difficult topic to discuss in evangelical circles. I don't want to think I'm indifferent to those struggling with gender identity, or with those choosing homosexuality outright, I'm just indifferent to bad journalism. I'm indifferent to the careless misuse of words to make a point. I'm indifferent to absolute claims based on ones opinion or choice. (note to self on both sides of the argument, since there are real people involved).

I wonder how Rob Bell felt when he was being banished from the orthodox church because of a two-minute video. I wonder how he felt about being quoted from a book that hadn't been released.

I also wonder what the banishers were thinking by their banishment. Doesn't something like this justify at least an e-mail or a phone call before going viral? Is this all we care about each other anymore? Am I misreading Matthew 7 and James 2? Somebody help me, cause I'm asking?

I think my greater concern is that we live in a time when we're content to swim around in a pool of opinion. It's my opinion against yours, so, like the Buffalo Springfield song says, "nobody's right if everybody's wrong".

Well, everyone can't be right, and everyone can't be wrong. I think that is a true statement, that happens to be more than just opinion, cause in things that matter most, opinion just isn't enough.

That's as much a caution to me, as it is to those reading and reading into what is being written here. May I just say, this is my blog, these are my opinions; I own them. The quotes here are taken directly from an article, or are my words. Can I also say, that I need you to be in this conversation with me. I can't do this on my own, because, what if my opinion is wrong? Then I'm boogered!

So, like Paul admonishes us all, we continue to work out our salvation with reverence (fear) and humility (trembling). Because in things that matter most, opinion is not enough. At least I'm aware that mine isn't.