Parents, do you remember what it was like? When you watched in wonder as he grabbed ahold of that edge of the couch and with incredible effort lifted himself up? Held up by those wobbly and chubby little legs, he swayed for a bit and then started bouncing up and down. Suddenly he took his one hand off the couch and turned. The world looked so different from up here. There were now new opportunities to be had. Then you watched in wonder as he took one foot, lifted it up off the ground, and then moved it forward as it came down.
His first steps!
That first step was followed by another one and then another one and then gravity caught on to what was transpiring and decided it was time for the young adventurer to be brought back down. With a flop he hit the ground, but with confidence that he had accomplished something significant. His first clue was probably how excited you were! Just look at your face! Your enthusiastic smile and cheers were like rocket fuel behind this momentous “first.”
A lot of time has passed since then. Steps soon turned into walking. Walking then turned into running. And now, your teenage child seems to be running all over the place. And sometimes, if you were to be totally honest, you’re not sure where they’re running.
It’s no secret that the teenage years can be one of tumultuous development, wild temper tantrums, and a fair amount of screaming that could easily remind you of those terrible 2’s you experienced more than a decade earlier.
I’ve seen how exhausting and demoralizing it can be for parents. This came out of nowhere, it seems. She was so sweet before. He was so innocent and kind. What’s going on? What happened?
They’re back to taking steps. These ones aren’t quite as obvious as the other ones in your first house’s living room. These probably aren’t getting the smiles and cheers from the spectators. But these are still steps. They’re taking steps to figure out their identity as an individual, as a unique person. Hormones are triggering new levels of feeling. Cognitively they’re growing quickly and finding that they know a lot more than they did just years earlier (and yet still don’t quite know enough to know how little they know!).
Everywhere they look there is change. Like the infant who, upon standing, sees a whole new world for the first time, here are our teens.
And like those infants, this new perspective will lead to stumbling and falling. They won’t become instant experts on walking through it. They’ll go for a while and then fall down. Walk a little further and then fall down. There may be some cheers but there will also be tears along the way.
If you find yourself in the midst of this kind of situation right now I simply want to encourage you. You’re not crazy. This isn’t just your child. Nor is this the end of the world. And I’d like to offer you a few quick thoughts of encouragement:
Remind yourself that we’re all in the process of maturing.
Just like it’s a new world for your teen, realize it’s a new time for you. This is likely new territory you’ve never personally set foot in before. You’re not expected to be perfect. You’re not a bad parent if you find this incredibly difficult.
But don’t lose those eyes. Those eyes that watched your child crawl and saw that they would one day take steps. Those eyes that saw single steps and knew that they would lead to running. Those eyes that saw potty training and could believe in a future where bathroom activity wouldn’t have to be celebrated.
Don’t lose those eyes that can see an unforeseen future at a time when that kind of hope is so important!
Lovingly communicate your expectations to your child.
“I’m sorry, but you won’t talk to your mother like that.” “I don’t expect you to agree with this decision, and we can talk about it, but this is still a decision I’m responsible to make for you.” “I’d like to talk with you about what happened last night. And I promise to listen to everything you have to say about it without interrupting you. After that I expect you can let me have the same respect in telling you what I’m seeing.”
The complaint I hear a lot from teens is that they don’t know what their parents want from them, “gosh!” Now I don’t pretend to imagine this means parents haven’t told their kids what they expect. I just think it goes to show how clearly and repeatedly these things need to be said.
And when you speak, speak life into your child. Let them hear about the hope and belief you have in the great future that awaits them. Speak of their potential and the good they’re doing. Cheer on the steps and not just speak up when they fall. Your patient anticipation and clear depiction of your child’s future will help lead them into the next stage of it.
Don’t give up.
Please don’t give up. It’s terribly difficult business raising a godly teen in this day and age. No one is expecting this to be a walk in the park for you. But we’d sure like if you would still take the walk even if it’s through the dump. You’ve been given the unique privilege of shaping the future of the world we live in through your child.
This is the most important job you will ever have. Give it your best effort and you’ll likely get one of the best paychecks you could ever get: grown, godly, responsible adults you can proudly call yours.
If you’re in a church that seems to keep on doing well and you just don’t know what to do, you’re not alone. There are a number of people in churches out there who find themselves in your shoes. I must be honest with you, you may not be in the majority here. But there’s still hope.
If you’ve been wondering if there are any simple ways that you can see your church get worse – simple things you can do even in tiny ways to dramatically decelerate your ministry – then allow me to offer some solutions.
1 / Worry more about the trivial rather than the eternal.
This first one here is one of the most tried and true methods the church has ever known. I can’t even take credit for thinking it up first because it dates back to the very beginning of church history. It’s so easy some churches can even find themselves doing it rather on accident.
The key is to get your eyes fixed off Jesus and living to please Him, and off your Christian brother or sister and loving them like that brother or sister, and off the unsaved in hopes that they could find salvation, and instead get your eyes fixed on wonderful things like carpet color, teaching styles, the pastor’s outfit, policy, or popularity – to name just a few.
2 / Love your methodology so much you keep it as long as you can.
Think about it. You wouldn’t have done it that way if it didn’t work… at some point… perhaps… for somebody. And so your way of doing ministry has worked. It has a proven track record. And even if that track record is gaining a little dust it doesn’t mean you need to go crazy like some of those churches who feel the need to adapt to the culture.
Make those people in your community fall in love with your way of doing things! Don’t go trying to see where they’re already at and see how the gospel can meet them there. That’s a lot of work at times for you, isn’t it?! The simple solution is to keep doing what you’ve been doing no matter what the results are.
3 / Care more about your precious programs than those pesky people
It’s been said before, but allow me to say it again: “Ministry would be great if it weren’t for the people!”
However, many folks in ministry have found a loophole that is much easier to focus on, and that often yields amazing results. These things can easily consume a 50-60 hour work week and cause church people to tire themselves down to the bone sacrificing time, energy, and sanity. And they’re not always about those pesky people, either! What are they, you ask? The programs!
Every church has them. But some lose sight of them in the light of the people in their church and outside their church. They even sometimes table great ideas, scrap longstanding ministries, or adapt their entire way of doing things simply because of people. Don’t they know you can get the satisfaction of working hard for people without ever having to work for people!
4 / Try to do the work of saving the world all on your own.
People love to watch heroes do their thing. They single-handedly raise falling bridges, rescue damsels in distress, and smile the whole time they’re doing it. Some seem to have forgotten how great it feels to know you’ve accomplished something heroic all by yourself. Instead, they seek God’s help relentlessly and lean on His power to do the work of ministry rather than their own.
But it takes a lot of time to seek God for what He’s calling your unique church or ministry to do. It takes energy to do things you maybe haven’t seen done before. It takes trust to rely on what God says without concrete proof it’ll work. It takes relationship to even hear from God in the first place. It is much much simpler to maybe go to a conference or two, then figure it out on your own, and get your team to just work work work!
5 / Seek relevancy over renewal.
Many seem to believe that the church is here to encourage and equip believers for living victorious lives in Christ, to mobilize believers for loving the lost, and to show the world a different way of living altogether. That’s great. Sounds like a novel cause.
However, if you want your church to get worse you’ll want to watch out for all that renewal stuff. It gets messy! Instead you can actually find quite a peace and satisfaction in just seeking relevancy. Don’t get this confused with earlier when I warned about adjusting ministry to the people around you. This is so close to that it could almost be confused.
It’s actually about making sure the church looks cool and looks like it fits in well with our world. It’s about even adapting belief (not just the methodology we mentioned earlier) to cater to the immediate desires of the people. It’s where focusing on looks trumps striving for substance, and it works!
If you find yourself in a ministry context where things just keep getting better and you’re not sure how to stop them, I hope these tips helped. For the rest of you who may wish, instead, to grow your church and see it thrive as God intended, I suppose you could probably reverse each of these and that might help!
No, that’s not a typo.
If you drive around right now it’s like a bad iPhone game where you have to avoid the small canyons in the road or feel the vibration. And sometimes it’s more than a little rumble and more like a jolting shock. Driving around these pot holes can make for a real challenge. But it got me thinking the other day about how the effectiveness of our lives can be hampered by the simplest of things.
These are what I call plot holes. And I’d like to look at four of the most common ones we face on the road of life.
1. Complaining: Can I just say…
It’s remarkable how much we love complaining. There’s something cerebral about venting our frustrations every moment we feel them that just makes us feel this release. However, I’ve argued before that I just don’t think venting really works. It actually becomes a place where countless people have gotten stuck at in life.
The truth is that your life does pose some unique and terribly unfair and difficult challenges. I’m sorry. I truly am. You shouldn’t have to deal with that rude customer or that terrible business or that sickness or that unkind family member or that unexpected expense or that inconveniencing situation. You get the idea. You shouldn’t have to deal with it, but it seems like it has come into your path anyway and you’ll have to.
What we lose in complaining is the understanding that we are in control of so much more than we realize. We are writers of our stories. We are the ones who can face challenges and be stronger because of them. We can grow through adversity, be strengthened through trials, and learn through our complicated circumstances. This is all possible so long as we don’t settle for complaining instead.
Complaining allows us to feel as though we’ve dealt with the situation without ever actually dealing with it at all. Our energy is better spent actively looking for solutions to life’s difficulties rather than passively wallowing in self-pity over them.
2. Laziness: Why do today what I could put off till tomorrow?
The writer of Proverbs once said: “Those too lazy to plow in the right season will have no food at the harvest” (Prov. 20:4, NLT). They probably thought they could wait just a little longer. They probably felt exhausted from all they felt they’d already done. They probably just didn’t feel in the mood.
However, we put ourselves into so much unnecessary trouble and also miss out on so many great opportunities when we produce only when we feel like it. I’m speaking from experience because I literally had to force myself to write right now. I was able to come up with a litany of reasons why I should be allowed to just sit and do nothing. But that list wasn’t fighting for my best interest at the moment.
Our struggle with laziness is almost always connected to the next plot hole.
3. Excusitis: If only…
It’s a terrible disease affecting a wide variety of people. No matter what age, gender, race, or religion, it’s infected every kind of person. And at times I too have had cases of excusitis.
While it’s main symptom may be the obvious – making excuses – it has some other side effects that keep us from the great plots our lives could be writing. This problem causes us to take our situations and place them over our willpower, determination, and desires – as if heroes haven’t risen out of the slums, as if winners haven’t had to practice tirelessly, and as if things just work out for the successful.
You can win. I really believe it. But as long as you and I seek to make excuses for why we struggle, faint, or fail, then these must be all we ever hope to experience from life’s challenges. It’s when we fight through the sickness, the boredom, the critics, the inexperience, the ignorance, the adversity, and the apathy that we will taste the sweet nectar of the victory!
4. Lack of Vision: It’s just another day
We used to sing this cheesy song when I was a little kid in children’s church. It went on about how this is the day that the Lord has made so I was supposed to rejoice and be glad in it. Kids song or not, it’s totally true. And if you know the song, and the melody is getting played in your head right now, maybe it needs to be played.
You were given today as a gift. The present moment is a present from God to you to use wisely and make much of. Sometimes that means consistently and faithfully repeating actions yet again. But sometimes it means exploring new horizons, challenging the norm for yourself, and believing for the impossible. When we lose sight of the potential of our lives we get stuck in the monotony of our days like they were from the movie “Groundhog Day” rather than “The Bucket List.”
Life is full of plot holes that would love nothing more than to take you off track, get you to quit, or get you distracted. They have the potential of messing up the plot of the story of our lives which has such great potential! So acknowledge them for what they are. Spot them quickly on your life’s journey. Avoid them whenever possible. And when you dip down into one come right back out as quickly as possible. Make your story count for something!
You’ve probably heard it said for some time now that there is a difference between good and great. You’ve probably even heard it said that good is the enemy of great, because we’ll get comfortable in good and then never feel the angst to strive for more. I think we pretty much know this to be true.
So I want to challenge the leaders out there to go for great in one area where, while many are stuck in good, some are even stuck below that in not so good. The area I’m talking about is asking questions.
I think great leaders ask great questions. (more…)
I’m a big romantic. For a guy, I love all the mushy-gushy stuff quite a bit. I’ve been known to write a love poem or two…dozen. And I have been in some really great relationships in my time. But currently I’m single. And that’s ok.
Our current culture has erected this god that you’ll see worshipped all the time in our popular movies, TV shows, magazine covers, and of course song lyrics. Romance or “true love” has become the pinnacle of existence. And without it millions of people are made to feel inadequate, somewhat empty, maybe even purposeless. What is life if you have no one to love romantically? (more…)
As different as we all are, it’s amazing how similar we can be at times. We may eat different kinds of food, but we all need and appreciate food. We may listen to different kinds of music, but we all enjoy some type of music.
Likewise, I’ve found that at some point we’ll all be corrected by someone, and our response ends up being nearly the same. We don’t like it. But not only do we not like it, our actual immediate response for the majority of us also tends to be the same. What I’m referring to is the fact that we immediately go on the defensive and think about what’s wrong with the one confronting us.
It’s true, isn’t it? (more…)
As a young kid, if you would’ve told me that my dad would be putting mud all over me I would’ve thought you were crazy. I wouldn’t have minded too much, really. After all, I’m a young man child; mud is great! But my dad wasn’t exactly the type to just randomly put mud all over me. So if you would’ve told me that one time he would do just that and that it would be a sign of his caring love, I wouldn’t have understood and I probably wouldn’t have believed you at all.
It all started when we had gone on one of our numerous family camping trips. We’d take weekends, find camp grounds, and then let nature work its magic around us. My brother Matthew and I especially loved it because we were close in age and could make any hike a wild adventure. (more…)
In my early years of youth ministry I did some stupid things. Looking back now I smile at one in particular and shake my head in wonder at my naiveté. And I wanted to share it with you because I’m hoping that the lesson it’s taught me is something that will help you in your particular context.
You see, our youth ministry’s name was Tidal Wave. The whole church was water-themed and with “Tidal Wave” as our name, it gave us the water feel as well as a beachy/boardwalk feel. So I got it in my head to do something creative.
Nearly every youth ministry has some way of signing their students in and getting information on new people who show up. We had info cards that covered the basics of name, age, contact info, and a bit more. New students would fill them out and in 3-5 minutes they’d be back in our hands for record keeping purposes. This is where my bright idea comes in. (more…)
I guarantee you that any youth pastor who’s been doing this thing for more than a single year has been asked this question…
“What do you…like…do?”
It’ll usually be asked rather innocently out of sheer lack of knowledge of what else a youth pastor could possibly do once that half hour of sermon preparation time is done with. (I’m joking here, by the way.) Other times it can come from a student, parent, or even leader in the church who is convinced that their youth pastor is a glorified, paid, Call of Duty expert, at best.
However, there’s so much more to youth ministry than meets the eye. And what I present to you here below is probably just scratching the surface of it. But I wanted to take an opportunity to answer this important question of what a youth pastor actually does. (more…)
Do you remember the first time you saw snowflakes make their way down from the atmosphere and gracefully fall onto the ground? Those of us here in the north are probably less likely to actually remember that first time with much detail. Yet I can imagine what it must have been like for me on that day when I watch little kids look out the window at snow. There is wonder.
They stand with wide eyes and gaping mouths at the backyard they’ve played in countless times suddenly being turned into a gigantic snow globe. They marvel at the way the snow can cover everything and make for a completely different world. They get giddy at the thought of running out into the winter wonderland and creating snow forts, having snowball battles, and maybe even taking a stab at making a snowman too. (more…)