Archives for category: youth ministry

Being in town meant that I would not be missing our Sunday at church. While there is a definite downside to not getting away for the weekend, I could sense how God was using the words spoken through Francis Chan and Doug Fields to enlarge my heart further for my students. Maybe it was nothing revolutionary for them — I’m sure I still managed to lull them to sleep during the sermon today — but I’m praying that, by the grace of God, my love and prayers for them would ever increase.

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After a full day at church, I hustled over to the Town & Country and caught the Q+A part of Shane Hipps’ first seminar. I chatted briefly with him and wandered with him over to his next seminar (which turned out to be a good thing, because I never would have found the seminar room on my own. I’m really bad with maps and have managed to get lost several times this weekend) which expanded on several of the ideas in his book The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture, which I highly recommend.

One of the most important things Shane discussed was the oft-referenced idea, “The methods change but the Message stays the same.” This speaks to our efforts to adapt new ways of bringing the timeless, eternal Truth of the Gospel to different peoples and cultures. Unfortunately, though the sentiment is sincere and well-intentioned, it is also false.

As Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.” Shane did a fantastic presentation of McLuhan’s life, thoughts on media and the future and how this impacts us as followers of Christ. We must be clear-eyed about the ways in which the media we use — and not only Media Shout or MySpace — fundamentally alters the message we are trying to convey. I saw this illustrated at every general session — although I was often sitting only several yards from the speaker, I found myself (and saw most of those around me) watching the giant screens rather than the actual person in front of us. Shane gave a great quote about this: The screen always wins — it’s almost a creepy, bizarro take on “Love Wins” but it’s so true.

Although this seminar was very much about our current media culture, Shane was really addressing worldviews. And, even to take a step back further from that, Shane was addressing the forces at work that shape our worldview. Another McLuhan quote is helpful here: “We become what we behold.”

The printing press ushered in an age of linear, sequential, uniform, repeatable thinking as normative. And, in the modern world, we find this repeated in unexpected places — from the assembly line of cars and cookies, to the orderly, linear pews in our churches, to reducing the entirety of the Gospel into a sequential formula (e.g., Repentance of sins + Acceptance of Christ = Salvation to heaven).

However, the world in which we live changed long before the advent of the internet. Shane argues that the invention of the telegraph, photograph and radio began a dramatic shift in how we see the world. The telegraph, or “Victorian Internet,” broke the relationship between transportation and communication. The photograph recalls the stained glass of the Middle Ages — consider the difference between seeing the printed words, “The boy is sad” versus this photograph of a sad boy. The words are rational, linear and left-brained; the photo is intuitive, non-linear, right-brained — qualities that describe the shift toward postmodernism.

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I will interact more in the future with some of these thoughts. Shane’s seminar today triggered quite a few thoughts that I’d like to work through — especially regarding the built-in fluidity and ability of Asian Americans to navigate between and through different cultures. He was extremely gracious in fielding all manner of questions, and taking time out to chat with me a bit before leaving to catch his flight. It was interesting to listen to the line of questions that people raised afterward — questions about doctrine, defending our faith and jumping straight to the “take-home” revealed their linear, sequential, rationalistic mindset.

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I’m getting packed up just in case we need to clear out of here because of the wildfires raging around here. Please keep us in prayer.

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I am worn out after day three of NYWC but, finally, in a good way. I always have difficulty articulating my inner life but I have been in a particular state of disorder in the weeks leading up to NYWC. In the midst of busyness and weariness, I have not been listening well for God’s voice. Today, at the convention, the fog began to lift in myriad ways. This was a full day of getting to sit under some great teaching, and Mike shared about building a holy rhythm to our lives.

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I have been looking forward to hearing Francis Chan since I saw that he would be a main session speaker. He is a dynamic and gifted communicator — and, as an Asian American, it is so encouraging to see a face to whom I can relate up on the main stage. I am sure, though, that his words spoke to everyone there this morning. I won’t attempt to recap everything Francis said (although I’m sure I will wear out the CD of his talk that I picked up), but God was definitely speaking to me through his words this morning. Several times, I found myself in tears as I listened.

When Francis began to share his heart, as a parent, about what he wanted from his daughter’s youth pastor, I was completely convicted. More than programs and messages and the big show, he is looking for a youth pastor who will love and pray passionately for his daughter. I know I would wish the same thing for my daughter — and, if that’s what I’m looking for, then I cannot offer any less.

Francis’ words about actually believing the Bible and living it out — not mediated or filtered through someone else’s lens, but engaging, living and breathing the Word of God in real life. The consequences in the life of Francis and his church have been nothing short of revolutionary.

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In the afternoon, I went to a brilliant seminar by Mike King. His words gave voice to so much of that with which I have been wrestling over the last couple of years. He exhorted us to find out what makes us feel fully alive, and to incorporate those things into our everyday lives. I am looking forward to reading his book Presence-Centered Youth Ministry. He gave several practical, creative, engaging ways to incorporate a rule of life into our daily living.

In particular, his words about community spoke powerfully to me. Not just community as a concept, but the physical, proximate community of people with whom we actually live our lives. The commuter church has not been kind to our family in terms of building and maintaining these kinds of meaningful friendships — I feel my heart gravitating more & more towards this friendship and proximity.

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Tonight’s main session was brutal in all the right ways. Doug Fields spoke about his deepening concern for the heart of youth workers and he identified ministry envy as a primary killer of our hearts. While we might be good at masking the obvious envy we have of others, it comes out in the way we talk about and criticize others. Sure, we might try to disguise the envy by claiming that we’re just pointing out our differences, but it looms large in many of our lives.

In a powerful exegesis of the Genesis account of Joseph and his brothers, Doug showed us the crippling effects of envy — and ways in which we can combat it.  By celebrating others and their accomplishments we are protecting our own hearts.  Celebration counters our tendency to turn those who should be colleagues and friends into rivals.

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Doug’s words caused me to reflect more deeply about what I recently wrote about the American worship music industry.  My words might have come across as an unfair attack against Matt Maher, in particular.  I sincerely regret speaking quickly and foolishly.  There is plenty of room for legitimate criticism when it comes to the worship industry, but I want to be much more careful with my critical words — not to speak out of envy, bitterness or cynicism.  I want to spend more time celebrating those things I genuinely love and appreciate than in criticism (legitimate or not).

I missed the second half of today’s NYWC because our family went up to Disney for their annual Mickey’s Halloween Treat night. If you have the chance to go, it is lots of fun — games, crafts, dancing and, of course, tons of candy. In any case, that’s why these are my reflections from Day 2A at NYWC.

The running theme throughout the convention is “Storyline” and the YS team has done a fantastic job so far in pulling together the idea that we are all part of God’s larger meta-narrative story. I love that in the room where we meet for the general sessions, they have even played with the way we sit — kind of an “in the round” experience. I was half-expecting one of those U2 circular-type stages where Crowder could run a circuit through the crowd :)

For me, Joe Castillo’s artistic presentation of the Creation story was totally new and unexpected. I can be kind of a cultural Philistine when it comes to art, but my heart was definitely moved by his “SandStory” presentation. Joe has a SandStory video clip of the Passion on his site, which will give you an idea of what this was all about. Marquis Laughlin presented a powerful monologue from the book of Revelation — what a voice! If I had a voice like his, I would talk all day long (not that I don’t already!). I love the fact that to kick off the first general session, we were immersed in the beginning and the end, so to speak, of The Story.

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I’m a sucker for old-school punk rock. I grew up skateboarding to Minor Threat and The Pogues, so getting to hear Flatfoot 56 for the first time today at the general session was really nice. I mean, seriously, how can a band with a bagpiper not put a smile on your face? I really appreciated the video clip in which Tic interviewed them and they had a chance to share their heart. They are reaching kids who might feel utterly rejected by the church by literally meeting them where they are — for example, opening for Irish-punk heroes Flogging Molly. I commented to the bagpiper afterward that this probably isn’t their usual crowd, but he smiled and said they knew this wouldn’t necessarily be their typical audience but that they still had lots of fun performing.

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Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil gave a stirring talk which used The Lion King as an extended metaphor for reclaiming our identities as the people of God and our role in pointing youth back to their true heart and calling. It will probably take a couple of days to interpret the scratches and doodles I wrote in the dark in my notebook, but I will share soon about some of the great things Dr. McNeil shared about the global story in which we, and our students, find ourselves.

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As I’ve said before, I’m a big fan of the David Crowder*Band. And, from what I could see today, it appears that so are most of the 4000 or so of us gathered here this weekend. From the opening quarter-note hoedown clapping of “Undignified” to the really green keytar and the exhortation that our singing was “pretty” but need to be much louder, it was classic Crowder — which is to say, the man really has a knack for leading groups of people into the presence of God. The Super Mario synth jam and the (somewhat frightening) video of Crowder as Mario were bonuses.

Singing “Remedy” this afternoon was particularly powerful for me. I think people who have criticized the Remedy album for being too simple have missed the point. I think David has always been an incredible lyricist — pushing the boundaries of our imaginations in corporate worship — and his skill has only grown over time. He evokes so much through so few words. Those of us in ministry (or who have suffered through the “sermon that never ends”) know that it is much more difficult to preach a meaningful short message than it is to drone on & on for an hour.

These words came to life as we sang:

Here we are / Here we are

The broken and used / Mistreated, abused

Here we are

Here You are / Here You are

The beautiful one / Who came like a Son

Here You are

So many of us in youth ministry are hurt, wounded and weary. That’s why I appreciated Marko’s words about the “holiness of wasting time” so much. We need to be honest about our brokenness, not hiding it by working even harder. But it’s not just a story of our brokenness; rather, as we view our frailty and limitations, “We lift up our voices / We lift up our hands / To cling to the love that we can’t comprehend.”

I joined the National Youth Workers Convention last night after a full day at church. While having the convention in town means I get to sleep in my own bed, it also means that I’ll be running back & forth from church and and a few other things. So, apologies for a somewhat less-than comprehensive look at NYWC.

A little while back, I had visited the Children’s Pastors’ Conference at the same location (the Town & Country) because my wife was attending. It was at the same location, but right off the bat I could tell that NYWC was going to be different. I’m guessing it was the giant screen Guitar Hero battles being waged in the ballroom hosting the YS store. While I was getting my convention bag, I was wondering why I kept hearing Rage Against The Machine.

Speaking of the bags, YS has done something really incredible. The convention bags come from a company called Freeset, who are “in business for freedom.” Each bag tells this story of freedom in North Calcutta. For 6,000 women, poverty no longer dictates that in order to provide for their children they have no other option but to sell their bodies in prostitution. Now, because they are paid fair wages and work decent hours through Freeset, they can break free from the cycle of degradation and poverty. As their site says, “Freedom has been passed on to the next generation.”

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As I wandered through the massive exhibit hall, I tried to find the fine balance between looking at each booth long enough to figure out if I was interested not looking long enough to make eye contact with the people there in case I wasn’t interested. But, like a good youth pastor, I do love the freebies — and this exhibit hall is a treasure trove of freebies! I gathered a nice water bottle, two t-shirts, a couple of pens, several devotional books and magazines and even a DVD in my first day of hunting-gathering. I’m also entered in several drawings to win an iPod.

An aside: The only time I’ve ever won anything in a contest was in high school. I was listening to the local alternative radio station when a contest in which the tenth caller would win an awesome prize would win. Eagerly, I called into the station. I was surprised when I dialed the phone number and I heard ringing rather than a busy tone, even more surprised when someone answered. Breathless, I asked whether I was the tenth caller. Confused, the DJ asked to which contest I was referring. I explained what I had heard and we put two and two together and realized that I had been listening to a program I had taped (perhaps a primitive form of podcasting?). The DJ got such a kick out of the mixup that, although the original prize had long been claimed, he offered me an alternate prize — an Anthrax VHS cassette. Embarrassment won the day, though, and I never went in to pick up my winnings.

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I had a great conversation with the good people at the Invisible Children booth. Invisible Children began when three college students filmed a documentary giving a glimpse into the horror of the twenty-year Ugandan war, in which children live daily in the real fear of being abducted and forced to fight and kill as part of these warring armies. You can see an Invisible Children clip online here.

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The late evening Worship Together concert featured Matt Maher and Michael Gugnor. While I have seen their names around, I haven’t really had a chance to listen to either one of them. [edit] It seems that Matt Maher’s big hit is his version of Tomlin’s “Your Grace Is Enough.” Matt is best-known for the song he co-wrote with Chris Tomlin, “Your Grace Is Enough”

Before Marko pointed out that Matt was actually the co-author of “Your Grace” and not just someone re-doing the song, I was thinking about the American worship industry’s strange fascination with making big hits out of cover versions of current praise songs — particularly when there is not much substantively different between the versions. Blessed Be Your Name, Here I Am To Worship, Beautiful One and Hang On To You immediately come to mind as recent examples.

The fact that I did not feel a connection with Matt’s songs does not reflect on the level of his performance or execution. His songs are great and he has a nice, clear voice. Rather, I think my heart has been moving in different directions when it comes to worshiping through music. While Matt was leading, I tried to reflect on what songs I do help me worship God. My mind wandered over to Sufjan Stevens’ rendition of the hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

So, it was with great pleasure that I received Michael Gugnor Band’s first song which was, of course, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” It was nothing like Sufjan’s pared down, intimate take; no, this take featured drum loops, soaring guitars and sweeping synth lines. They took to the stage with passion, and were greeted with folded arms and what appeared to be mostly scowls. I think the youth pastor crowd is pretty tough. In fact, after their concert, I told the band how much I enjoyed their set — but what I really wanted to say was, “Tough crowd, eh?”

But they certainly won me over. I love the fact that they seem to genuinely enjoy playing, and they wore their hearts on their sleeves in worshiping God. On their most recent CD, which I picked up at the merch table afterwards, the track “Fly” features what I imagine must be the only banjo solo meets Queen-referencing harmonized guitar solo in the worship industry. It didn’t hurt their appeal to me that their t-shirt I purchased doesn’t even say their name. It simply reads, “God is green” — incorporating a tree and recycling symbol. Gotta love a worship band that promotes stewardship of the earth!

The National Youth Workers Convention begins here in San Diego tomorrow, instantly tripling the concentration of goatees per capita in town. I kid, I kid! I’m just jealous because my sparse facial hair only makes me look suspicious — not remotely hip, or even ironic.

I am looking forward to hearing from Brenda Salter McNeil and Francis Chan, among others. I’m also eager to hear Marko’s thoughts on the future of youth ministry. I will be among those blogging from NYWC (although I’m not sure I’ll be able to live-blog). My notetaking skills are a bit rusty, so I might just be posting my impressions — but I’ll do my best!

Marko has written a great post about the future of youth ministry [a link! let’s get those Technorati stats back up!]. He asks this vital question:

if youth ministry past was “proclamation-driven”, and youth ministry present is “program-driven”, what’s our hopeful ‘driver’ in the future?

And Marko takes the conversation deeper with this question about how we would shape the character and ethos of future youth ministry:

if youth ministry past was focused around key themes of EVANGELISM and CORRECTION, and youth ministry present is focused around key themes of DISCIPLESHIP and POSITIVE PEER GROUP, then what would be the key themes of this preferred future?

I love the discussion this has generated in the comments section of this post. It is beautiful to see the hearts of so many people dedicated to serving youth and the passion with which they love them. I really needed to hear these words; I have been pretty worn out lately, and it does my heart good to get my nose off the grindstone for a moment and walk alongside others, even if it’s just to listen in.

I think the amount of conversation this has generated also speaks to significance of asking the right questions — and Marko has given a wonderful example of how people come alive not through yet another top-down, I’m the expert with all the answers lecture but through excellent questions that get to the core of who they are and what they’re all about.

While I can’t say that I agree with everything in the comments (and, really, when does that ever happen?), I appreciate the deep engagement so many people have shown with theology and praxis. Of course, whenever I enter these discussions, I automatically begin filtering and re-processing my thoughts to contextualize it to Asian American youth ministry.

If we want to revitalize Asian American churches, so much of it begins with youth. This is part of what drew me back into youth ministry after several years of serving an adult congregation. Asian American youth (Korean American kids, in particular) are so churched, and yet this does not result in healthy churches. In fact, many young people end up leaving the church in droves, a silent exodus of thousands.

In the next couple of weeks, I will try to put together some thoughts about how I see the future of Asian American youth ministry — or, at least, how I would like to contribute towards building a better future.

A note of disclosure: I am a big fan of David Crowder’s work. My wife and I once took a couple of college students and drove two and half hours from northern Jersey into the wilderness of Long Island to attend one of his concerts. Like many others, I was thoroughly impressed with their last release A Collision — for its epic scope, indie rock ramblings (and extra long titles!) and for the circumstances under which the album was released (the album as a response to death, just as the band lost their close friend and pastor Kyle Lake).

The highly anticipated follow-up to A Collision (if we skip over B Collision, the ’06 EP of B-sides and other miscellany), Remedy, was released on September 25th. Though I understand the sentiment behind CCM Patrol’s review of Remedy — and I definitely appreciate their honesty (and, often, bluntness) in reviewing much of the music that is released in the Christian market — I was certainly not disappointed with this album.

Reviews are highly subjective. In fact, part of the fun of reading reviews is vehemently disagreeing with them (and later grumbling about what a bunch of cultural Philistines those reviewers are). As Marko wrote in his review of Remedy, when I listen to this album, I picture myself singing this in company of those who love the King (to borrow a Crowder phrase). One of my most powerful times of worship in the context of singing along with other people happened several years back at one of the Thirsty conferences. DC*B was leading their version of Thank You for Hearing Me, and right at the moment in which the distorted guitar kicks in (if you’ve heard the song, you’ll know what I’m talking about), thousands of earnest worshipers lifted their hands in unison. So, you will not read an impartial, detached, “pure” review of the album from me — it is virtually impossible for me to separate the experience of listening to the album from the experience of being there.

One interesting phenomenon surrounding DC*B is their popularity among Asian American youth — Korean American kids, in particular. As Andrew Beaujon writes in his book Body Piercing Saved My Life (which I also recommend), “…for some reason its members don’t fully understand, the David Crowder Band is huge among Korean Americans. They were due to play a large Korean church in New York City a few nights later and had recently played for a mostly Korean crowd of eleven thousand in Los Angeles.”

I actually had a short email correspondence with Crowder, which included a brief discussion of their popularity with Asian American kids. DC*B puts on a high energy show with lots of goofy fun. I was at their concert in LA that Body Piercing mentions, and one of the highlights of the evening was when Crowder broke out his shiny red keytar and challenged the crowd to make a louder noise than the Neil Diamond concert in town. You have to love a worship leader than gets all up in Neil Diamond’s grill. In all seriousness, though, I believe it is precisely this goofiness, freedom and spontaneity that appeals to Asian American youth. At home, for so many Asian American teens, their value is in direct proportion to their performance. There is very little room to make mistakes — after all, Johnny Kim down the street plays first-chair violin, is president of his youth group, and won a governor’s award for academic excellence — and he does everything his mother tells him to do, and he’s waltzing into Harvard a year early… on a full scholarship, no doubt.

So, when Crowder urges these kids to whistle along and get a little undignified as they connect with our God who loves them just as they are, something deep within them responds. Remedy therefore is an appropriate metaphor for our community as well — despite the veneer of perfection and achievement, we are an awful mess on the inside. For too many of us, the internal pressure builds up until it explodes in rage, binge drinking, or worse. What a sight it is when captives are genuinely freed in the presence of the King!

Remedy is definitely simpler in approach than A Collision — no rock operas or postmodern parenthetical asides on this album. However, Crowder continues to write simple lyrics that are deceptive in their depth. Take this beautiful line from their reworking of O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing, “There are so few words that never grow old… Jesus.” Or these words, from the title track:

Oh, I can’t comprehend / I can’t take it all in

Never understand / Such perfect love come

For the broken and beat / For the wounded and weak

Oh, come fall at His feet / He’s the remedy

Plus, how can you deny a worship album that features a track with the Nuge himself melting faces with his song-length solo in the background?