Tuesday, April 29, 2008

My Redeemer Lives - Team Hoyt

A friend of mine sent me this video clip today...what a great reminder of how incredible our God is, and how incredibly frail we are...I mean who am I that God would not only care about me, but know me, love me, have a plan for me and send His ONLY SON to die for me!

This video clip is a visual analogy of God's love for us and His daily relationship with us...good or bad, easy or tough, rough or choppy - He is There with us, every step of the way!

Enjoy and thank Him for His love for you, I know I am!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Love God - Love People - Lesson Learned Series

Ever since 2004 the month of May has been a bitter sweet month for me. On the one hand May 2004 was the most amazing month I have ever seen in my Youth Ministry career and at the same time one of the most difficult as well.

May 2004 began a series of reflections for me as a Youth Pastor, that have continued on to this day, especially as I pause and contemplate the whole idea of leaving a legacy that will continue to draw people to a relationship with Jesus.

To fully grasp the events of the May 2004, you need to understand that as a Youth Pastor I’ve been trained on various tools and techniques that work in the world of teenagers, and in many ways am viewed in the church context as the “resident professional” when it comes to reaching teens for Jesus. Whether it’s a fair assumption or not the Youth Pastor is usually perceived as the “hired gun”, “top dog”, “answer guy” or whatever label you want to put on him. He’s the guy who gets “the big bucks”, so he must have it all together…Right?

Now I believe that Youth Pastors need to be trained to do the very best job they can in understanding and reaching out to youth culture with the truths of Jesus, but it has always bothered me that many times in church circles the volunteer youth leaders are often overlooked, and underappreciated because after all they don’t have the piece of parchment from Bible College X hanging on their wall.

I’m only one guy with a small sphere of influence, if all the gifts, talents, abilities, resources and energies that are represented on the team are funneled in my direction to help me reach my sphere of influence, that’s a waste isn’t it?

So, all that to say, I’ve always been about doing ministry on a team that is passionate about who they are in Christ, and passionate about loving students in the name of Christ.

Insert a ministry we started at my former church called Hang Time.

Hang Time was a ministry that began out of a seminar I did with our core students on spiritual gifts and personality styles. The seminar was all about turning the mirror on ourselves to discover how God had designed us, and then asking the question “how does God want me to use my design for Him?”

One of the students at the seminar named John came up to me at the end and basically said “Pastor Brent according to this seminar I learned a bunch of big terms and concepts, but to me the bottom line is I love to skate, I’m good at skating, I love my friends, and I want them to know Jesus, what should I do with that?”

It wasn’t long and the answer to John’s question became very obvious to us. Build a skate park that is led by a student who is a skater that also has a passion to reach his fellow skater friends for Jesus. So, that’s what we did. We basically opened up our facility and made our trash cans, orange cones, metal pipes and our broken pool table from the game room available to the skaters to come and do their stuff on…we had a skate park!

Hang Time was built on this motto, “No-one else wants you to skate…We do! You’re welcome here, it’s not much but all we have is yours…enjoy Hang Time!”

It didn’t take long and the small beginnings of a student who wanted to be obedient to God’s design for him started to see his friends coming out week after week to skate, hang out, laugh, listen to music, eat pizza and have meaningful conversations on a quarter pipe with volunteer youth leaders, and fellow student leaders who loved God and loved people.
Hang Time was fulfilling its purpose.
Insert a volunteer youth leader named Larry.
Larry was the guy on our team who was always behind the scenes, he loved doing things that enabled the “up front” leaders in our ministry to have the opportunity to share Jesus with the skaters. He did things like, set up and tear down skate ramps each week (Hang Time grew to the point where we invested in making some sweet ramps), stirring large coolers of lemonade, Cool-aid, and iced tea for the guests, ordering and picking up large quantities of pizza and snacks and basically doing everything and anything that needed to be done behind the scenes so that the skaters not only felt welcomed, but also knew their presence was vitally important to us!

Hang Time worked like this…skaters would show up and have the options of skating indoors or outdoors on our ramps, hanging out in our game room and listen to music, play video games, plug in their guitars and rock out or just sit with friends and talk. Then about halfway through the evening usually about 7pm we would take a break and everyone would gather around the “fun box” which was the best ramp we had, and was the center point of the ramp configuration.

At the fun box, I would gather everyone to do the one “spiritual” thing we did at Hang Time each week…ask God to bless the food, the FREE FOOD that we were about to devour (I’m serious one time there were like 300 skaters at Hang Time, and I personally witnessed 25 large pizzas disappear in like 3 minutes!). The whole food thing was based on this concept…it’s free, because God’s love for you is free!

As the weeks went on, I started asking if any of the skaters had any prayer requests that they wanted me to offer on their behalf before I thanked Him for the food. I would always say some thing like “ok, guys we’re going to talk to God for a second and thank Him for the food, does anyone want me to mention some stuff on your behalf, while I’m talking to him?” I remember one day one of the skaters mentioned that his friend was in a serious car accident, and another mentioned that a friend was sick, and before you knew it, not only were we thanking God for food we were bringing requests to Him.

It was so cool because it gave me an opportunity to tell them “you know guys, I’m more than happy to talk to God on your behalf, but you know what, you don’t really need me to do it, you can do it on your own.” The early seeds of God’s desire for relationship were being planted in the minds of our skaters.

Week after week we would do this, then once a quarter we would bring in some bands, do a competition, do demos or whatever we could think of to take Hang Time to another level with the skaters. We would always promote in advance that at the event someone was going to share their life change story. We did this so they didn’t view Hang Time as a “bait & switch” deal.

It was at one of these quarterly events where we brought in some Christian pro-skaters who were in our city doing a show at the civic center that week. They had heard about Hang Time and asked if they could come and do some stuff and skate with the kids. It was at that demo where the events of May 2004 became bitter sweet for me.

The pro-skaters did their thing, the tricks and jumps were amazing, and they definitely had the attention of the Han
g Time crowd. Then the leader of the skate troop asked everyone to gather around the fun box and have seat on their boards for a minute. I looked around the building and there were skaters everywhere sitting down and listening to this guy who had grabbed their attention with his abilities. He then went on to tell his story of faith, and how he had accepted Jesus’ free gift of salvation. It was incredible to watch him be so honest and open with guys who totally related to him. At the end of his talk he said, “So if any of you would like to know this Jesus I just told you about, and would like to invite him into your life, just get on your board and ride to the middle!”

It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen in ministry, there were about 350 skaters there that night and our best count was that 60 of them rode to the middle and responded to the invitation to receive Christ!

Larry and I were in the back of the gym in tears! This is what it was all about; this is why we worked so hard at providing a place for John’s friends. It was a great moment for our team.

That was May 3rd, 2004. On May 8th we rented a bus and took a bunch of the skaters to the civic center to see the demo and 10 more skaters accepted the invitation that was given that night as well. We were on a major high in our ministry.

At this point you’re probably thinking that is all sweet, I thought you said May 2004 was bitter as well.

Insert Larry’s legacy.

What I didn’t mention was the fact that Larry not only had kidney problems where he needed to go for dialysis treatment each week, but also had been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. Larry was dying, in fact the Hang Time on May 3rd was his last Hang Time, he was admitted to the hospital a couple days later and wasn’t given long to live.

I went to visit Larry, and man what a great time of praising God we had, I mean we had just seen over 70 skaters accept Jesus in a week! Talk about a miracle!

We spent a long time together reminiscing about all the missions trips, pizza parties, all nighters and Bible studies, but then Larry said to me “Brent, this week at Hang Time, I want you to share my story with the skaters, tell them what I was like before Jesus and what I was like after…make sure you tell them that I love them, and want nothing more than to have them know Jesus like I do…tell them that I know where I’m going when I die, and want them to know for sure as well…tell them my story!”

Talk about a heavy load. I hugged him, and told him I loved him, and was so thankful that I had the honor of serving the Lord with him, we prayed together, and I left his room…for the last time.

On May 15th, 2004 Larry went home to be with the Lord, and in doing so left a legacy that was as simple and yet complex as Larry himself. In my mind Larry’s legacy was Love God, Love people!

On May 17th, 2004 the skaters showed up for Hang Time just like they had done every week for the last 4 years, and on this night we welcomed about 70 new followers of Jesus, and at halftime I asked everyone to gather around the “fun box” and for the next period of time I shared the news about Larry, and told his story.

The place was silent; you could’ve heard a pin drop. I saw hardened and streetwise skaters openly crying because they loved Larry so much, and were sad to see him go. At the end of the talk I closed with a simple invitation to anyone who would like to know the assurance of faith in Jesus that Larry knew to come talk to any of the leaders. That night we saw about 20 more skaters put their faith in Christ!

What a month, 90 skaters put their faith in Jesus Christ…90...SKATERS!
So, as I think about May 2004 it is with mixed emotion, but it is also with the reality that God isn’t just looking for the “American Idol” youth leader. You know what I mean, cute, fun, popular, good singer, excellent communicator. No He’s looking for Larry’s who live a legacy of Love God, Love People, and he’s looking for students like John who say, I’m good at ___________ and I love my friends, what can God do with that?
He’s looking for us to know who we are in Christ, embrace it, and then passionately and authentically Love God and Love People.
Lesson Learned

Monday, April 21, 2008

Why Global Youth Ministry is Important

I was in a church in Cuba where the average person makes less than $20 a month, and the sign on the wall says “A church blessed to be a blessing.”

I’ve always believed that we receive blessings (finances, opportunities, resources, etc) in order to be in a position to bless others.

The profession of youth ministry has been blessed to be a blessing. Many of us who are in youth ministry have received numerous opportunities. Some of us have been educated in youth ministry. We have experience in ministering to young people. We have learned a lot and been offered a lot. Now it’s our turn to be a blessing to others around the world.

Global youth ministry is important for many reasons. Here are some of them.

Because of the need

When we talk about the need for international youth ministry, I am often reminded of the statistics that I first heard when I was a youth ministry student at Liberty University.

Ninety-seven percent of the world’s trained youth workers live and work in the United States, ministering to less than 3% of the world’s youth population.
In the United States, there is one trained youth worker for every 600 young people. In the rest of the world, there is one trained youth worker for every 400,000 young people.

While I’m not denying that the young people of America need youth pastors, the American church, who has focused on missions for quite some time now, has not yet turned its focus towards impacting the next generation with trained professionals in youth ministry.
Because of the blessings we’ve received

Training in youth ministry at either a graduate or undergraduate level is available from more than 140 accredited institutions in the United States (link). There are countless conferences, training sessions, and resources for youth workers. However, there are very few organizations who are focused on training and resourcing those outside of the English speaking world.

Because of invitations
New requests come in every day for training in other parts of the world. Youth Ministry International could use full time youth ministry trainers in all of the countries in which we are working right now, and there are other countries asking for our help.

We have invitations from at least three other countries in Latin America alone who want youth ministry training, but we are unable to respond to these requests for lack of trainers. There’s just not enough time or personnel to keep up with the invitations we are receiving.

Because of the commands.

God has commanded us to make disciples of all nations. Youth workers are doing their best to obey God and bring young people to follow Christ. If you’re a youth worker, I commend you for the work you are doing. I believe youth pastors are some of the most under-appreciated people on the planet. Thank you for doing what you do.

Now I’d like to ask you to consider what you are doing to be a blessing to others in the world who could benefit from your experience and training. We are praying that the Lord of the harvest will send out workers into His field. There are multitudes of young people who are in desperate need for people who have the ability to come alongside them and help them.

You have been blessed. Now be a blessing.

Article written by: Dennis Poulette - YMI Director for Latin America

Follow his ministry at

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Lesson Learned - The polls are closed

Hey everyone, thanks for taking the time to read the Lesson Learned articles to date and voice your opinion, as to which ones you think I should submit.

It's been alot of fun reading your replies! It's amazing to me how each article received some votes...that tells me that God is using each of them in His own way to encourage and challenge those who take the time to read them.

I've "closed the polls" but if you haven't voted yet I would still value your input, so go ahead and submit your thoughts.
Based on your feedback here's the top 3 that you suggested that I submit.

1. Are you Satisfied?
2. Every Scar tells a Story
3. Anything Broken?

Here's a link to the series of articles Lesson Learned and a link to the form where you can submit your votes click here to vote for your top 3

I'll keep you posted on what the editors decide. Thanks for your prayers, and support, it's going to be fun to see what God does with all's in His hands!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Lesson Learned - Feedback

I was wondering if you could take a minute and give me some feedback...

I had a phone conversation today with the Product Development Director for a nationally known Youth Ministry resource company.

In short, they are interested in the Lesson Learned Series, and have asked me to submit my 3 favorite articles to them for review.

To date, I've written and posted nine of them and have a sketch pad with about 4 more pages of ideas for the future (what can I say I got lots of stories!)...

anyway, rather than me send them my favorites, I thought it would be fun to gather some input from others to see what they would suggest...So, here is a link to the series Lesson Learned

If you could take a look to jog your memory or read them for the first time and then click here to vote for your top 3 I'd appreciate it.

I need to get this info to them pretty quickly, so if you could submit your responses sometime this weekend, that would be awesome!

They were very intrigued with what we're doing with YMI, and this could really help us get the word out about the need for more trainers in Youth Ministry worldwide, encourage others with Lessons Learned, and challenge youth leaders to continue to help students navigate through the confusing messages they face every day!

Thanks everyone, you're the best!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Watch your Words - Lesson Learned Series

I have this little problem that has haunted me for years. It’s a problem that has gotten me into lots of trouble. I used to think that it was just a problem of immaturity, you know when I grow up to that magical age of “whatever”, it will go away.

The older I get though, the more I realize that it’s not a matter of physical and emotional immaturity it’s more a matter of spiritual immaturity.

You see, my problem is that I often say the first thing that comes to my mind, and even though I can come off as witty and clever at times. There are other times where the statement forms right about at the top of my cranium, and like a bolt of lightning flashes down to the tip of my tongue, and if I’m not careful before I know what’s happening, boom…the statement is out there, flapping in the breeze!
Now, I’m not talking about vulgar language or curse words, no that’s never been an issue with me…I’m talking more about other kinds of statements that usually come from a situation that I’ve seen in my lifetime that seems to fit the current situation that I am experiencing and takes place in a split second flash back that seems to play in my mind like a high definition flat screen, surround sound personal movie theatre. It could be lines from movies, TV shows, songs or whatever.

The only problem is that without a spiritual check, the thing that I say next could either be hurtful or uplifting.

As a Youth Pastor it is very important that I watch what I say and how I say it, because the students I work with look up to me and respect what I say.

Well, one time when my little problem became a big problem was when I was newly into Youth Ministry. I was brand new at my church, and of course, wanted my students to actually like me, want to be around me (good goal), and plug into our ministry.

The incident in question took place at an amusement park event about 1 month into my new ministry.

The students were all riding rides, spending money and having a good time at the park. It was a beautiful day. I had just visited the Italian sausage and Funnel cake vendor and was getting ready to nestle into a comfy park bench to enjoy my delicacies, when all of a sudden I heard a screech filled yet muffled cry of “Pastor Brent, Pastor Brent” emanating off in the distance, but getting louder as it came towards me.

I looked up to see one of the girls from my new youth group running across the park with her hands cupped over her nose, tears flowing down her cheeks, and her voice crying “Pastor Brent, Pastor Brent, I think I broke my nose!”

Now maybe it was the glare of the sun, maybe it was the way she was crying, or maybe it was the slow motion flowing of her auburn hair in the breeze, I’m not sure, but whatever it was I had a flashback in my mind to the Brady Bunch.

Remember the scene where the boys are tossing the football in the back yard? They are having a great old time playing catch and all of a sudden there is an overthrow at the exact same time that Marcia opens the sliding glass door and walks onto the porch. What happens next has been etched into my brain for decades, yet in a split second I recalled what happened like it was yesterday.

The ball hits Marcia right square in the nose, and what she says next is a classic Brady quote, that would have been fine if it stayed in the TV, and not morphed itself onto my tongue and then into my current situation.

Marcia screams out with all her pain filled TV sitcom might and says “Oh no now I’ll never be a teen model!”

Yep, you guessed it…here I am brand new youth Pastor, brand new group, brand new opportunities to share God’s love with my teens, and when face to face with a situation to put my Youth Pastor school skills to work, I blow it!

Come to find out she and her boyfriend were in the house of mirrors, and apparently were going to fast through it, and POW! She ran right into a mirror and broke her nose. She and her boyfriend were standing in front of me waiting for me to do my thing…you know be an encourager, call the doctor, pray for healing, share my funnel cake etc. Any and all of those responses would’ve been just great in that circumstance.

Anything except for what I did next. She came running across the park yelling “Pastor Brent, Pastor Brent I think I broke my nose”, I had a flash back to the Brady Bunch, and before her boyfriend could say “is that Italian Sausage?”, I said “OH NO, NOW YOU”LL NEVER BE A TEEN MODEL!”

Yep, you heard me, that’s what I said, and immediately, I went from well respected new Youth Pastor to unbelievably insensitive jerk! To the girls anyway…the guys (including her boyfriend) thought that was the funniest thing they had ever heard! I went from new guy earning his spot on the respect chain to instant classic right to the top!

The next six months were very interesting in our ministry, as every girl in 3 counties hated me, and every guy in the same geographical area couldn’t get enough of what our ministry was doing…word spread like wildfire, our ministry was growing and growing (among the male population), and girls avoided us like the plague!

To quote another famous line, “Regrets, I’ve had a few” (see there I go again), I couldn’t believe it! What had I just done? I felt terrible.

I don’t know about you but regrets, dumb mistakes and poor choices have always been used by the enemy to distract me from what I know God wants me to do. You see that same quick wit that has gotten me into trouble over the years, has also been used of God to encourage and share the good news with tons of people.

I guess it comes down to a choice, a choice between using our “gifts” for God’s glory or our glory.

I’m constantly learning that I need to check my motives, thoughts, and priorities, so that my words are words of encouragement that flow from the overflow of God’s Word in my heart, and not just obscure quotes and lyrics from pop-culture.

God’s Word is true, and when I listen to His voice, and speak His words...I can never go wrong!

Lesson Learned

Friday, April 11, 2008

Isn't it nice when things

I've been thinking alot about what makes a good team lately. I guess after watching the Kansas vs. Memphis game the other night, where the championship could have gone either way, I began thinking about the whole idea of a successful team.

If you watched that game you know that one of the reasons that Kansas won the game was because each player knew his role, embraced his role and passionately followed through on his role.

I'm sure the coach had spent hours and hours defining the goals, roles and expectations of each of his team members throughout the season, and on the national stage, when it counted the most each team member delivered in his own unique way...the result was a National Championship.

Another reason I believe Kansas was successful was because they listened to and followed through on their coaches game plan. It was obvious that they believed they could win. I'm sure the coaches also spent hours and hours challenging the players with truth filled statements that encouraged them to leave it all on the floor. The bottom line though...the players needed to believe and apply the coaches strategy and plan to succeed. They had a choice to listen to the input of others or the input of the coach who knows what he's talking about.

One of the things that I love to do in Youth Ministry is encourage students and leaders with truth filled statements from God's Word. Statements that will help them clarify the confusing messages that pummel them every day, because if we're not careful we can begin to believe the twisted lies of the enemy, and short circuit God's plan for our lives in His big picture strategy.

This video clip is a great visual example of what it means to know your role, embrace your role and passionately follow through on your role in the body of Christ, because God has a spot for each of us on His team, and when we're all functioning on the level in which the coach has designed it...Great things happen for God's glory.

So, what's your role on the team? Are you following through or getting sidetracked by twisted input?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"Be The Change" Seminar Series

“Be the Change” Seminar Series
Presenter – Brent Carl, M.S., BCCC

1. Personal Leadership Development
“God has given you each some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other”
(1 Peter 4:10 LB)

The purpose of this seminar is to help you discover your own unique style as a leader,
and based on the findings begin to lead through passion and giftedness . We will utilize 2
assessment tools to help determine how God has designed us as leaders, and seek to gain
an understanding of how others are designed as well.

Our goal is to discover some specific ways in which we can make a lasting Impact for
God's glory through our leadership.

You will discover:
• How to fulfill God’s plan to make a lasting impact with your life
• Your own unique gifts, impact style and talents
• How to put passion to work in specific areas
You will receive:
• Seminar notes
• Spiritual gifts discovery guide
• Personality profile

2. Forum Discussion - "Closing The Gap"
In the past thirty years, American churches have seen an explosion in the number of
youth ministries that are available. Christian Colleges are offering degrees in Youth
Ministry, and more and more students are graduating as professional Youth Pastors. The
majority of the focus of these programs is on the development of age specific ministries
for the church. In other words, many of these Youth Pastors are trained to focus
specifically on either children’s ministry (typically through 6th grade) or youth ministry
(typically through 12th grade).

The underlying assumption that the church has as they hire a professional youth
Pastor is that the Biblical truths that are imparted over the period of years that the student
is involved in the youth ministry will be applied for a life time, and will result in church
attendance and involvement consistently throughout the students’ lives. It is a good
assumption and is definitely a driving force with most Youth Pastors, but it is becoming
more and more obvious that once a student graduates from High School they “graduate”
from church involvement until sometime in their early 30’s.

The churches that have invested in youth ministry are seeing this problem as well as those churches who have done no intentional youth ministry focus.

At the "Closing The Gap" Forum we will focus on the 2 questions "Why the gap?" and
"How can the gap be closed?"

Brent Carl did his Master's Degree thesis work around this topic and his research and
conclusions will serve as a backdrop for this discussion.

3. Growing a Healthy Youth Ministry

"Healthy Things Grow", this statement is true of many things such as plants, bodies,
relationships and Youth Ministries...The goal of any youth ministry should be health not
numbers. The bi-product of health will be numerical growth but should not be done at
the expense of health.

This seminar is designed for...
* Youth Pastors
* Volunteer Youth Leaders
* Church Leaders who are considering starting a youth ministry

This seminar looks at the Biblical model of ministry and how the principles that are
spelled out in Scripture take shape in Growing a Healthy Youth Ministry.

4. Missionary or Tourist? - Training Your Team for Mission Impact

In this seminar we take a look at who we are and how God has uniquely designed us for
ministry. The seminar includes some tools that help each team member turn the mirror
on themselves and discover how God has designed them and what that means as they
launch out into ministry.

We look at Spiritual Gifts, Personality Styles, God-given abilities, Different experiences
we've had and try to understand how God could most effectively use the whole package
for His glory in ministry (whether it be short term trip or long term ministry life).
If you would like more information, or would like to book a BTC Seminar contact...

Monday, April 7, 2008

It's all About Perspective - YMInsights Series

One of the things that I get to do a lot of in my ministry is travel. I love to travel, in fact I was curious the other day so I did some calculating, and realized that, I’ve been to 15 countries and 34 states in my lifetime.

I also realized that the majority of these trips were for the purpose of ministry. Ministries such as, building projects, evangelism, discipleship, basketball camps, speaking, training, youth programs, leadership development and encouragement, to name a few.

God has really blessed me in terms of ministry opportunities that, with His life changing power are going to make a difference in the lives of people for His Kingdom, and to me that’s what it’s all about.

I recently had a conversation with a former student of mine that reminded me again that it’s about perspective in life. You see, the world says that in order to be happy, and experience success one needs to have a lot of stuff, you know…Money, Power & Fame. The only problem with that is you can’t take any of that with you when you leave this earth.

The conversation I had was so encouraging to me as I realized that this student really understands that to experience God’s kind of blessing, we need to live counter culturally.

He told me about a recent trip that he had taken, where he had an opportunity to tour some pretty amazing places in Europe, and had a ton of pictures of things that most people would love to see in their lifetime. Places that have incredible historical value, and structures that have stood the test of time, and are simply breathtaking to behold. As I listened to him talk, I admit I was a little jealous, as the places he said he visited were places I’ve always wanted to see and experience as well.

He then said something that totally amazed me, and made me stop and thank God for His work in our hearts, minds, and perspectives. He basically said “You know, all that traveling and sight seeing was great, but all I came back with was a really cool photo album…when I sat and compared my photo album with my friend’s photo album I changed my perspective about what really matters.”

He went on to tell me that his friend had recently returned from a missions trip to Africa, where she was used of God to meet physical, emotional and spiritual needs of children in God’s name. He said that every picture she showed him had a lengthy story attached to it. A story of what God was doing in their life. He told me that as he sat there and took it all in, He realized that all he had were stories of buildings and places that will someday pass away, and she had a treasure box of children whose lives will never be the same because of Jesus!

He gets it…It’s all about perspective!

On my recent trip to Kenya, I had some perspective shaping happening in my life as well. Below is an excerpt from a series of articles I’m working on called “Three Weeks in Kenya…Being The Change”

This excerpt is about things I saw, feelings I had, and things I was processing as I began my ministry of teaching, preaching, training and Leadership Development in Nairobi, Ruiru, and Limuru, Kenya.

To help with the context…Willis was my driver, Sylvester is the Youth Pastor that I worked with in Ruiru, and the BTL was the place I stayed for about a week while in Ruiru.

1. On the way to Nairobi I saw lots of beautiful rolling fields of coffee plants, flowers and other kinds of agricultural farms that are so critical to the survival of the Kenyan people.

2. It was pretty peaceful along the way as we took a road that isn’t traveled much because it used to be in such bad repair that nobody likes to take it, but Willis was so proud that he knew a short cut that no-one else knew of (I’m like that as well, When I lived in DC I used to drive into the city and get lost on purpose so I could find a way out that no-one else knew…I know I’m twisted, but it was fun…I tried that once in NYC but the thrill wasn’t there anymore when I ended up somewhere in the South Bronx!...I took the train after that…Another time when my youth budget was low I tried that again and just called it an “Extreme Destination Unknown Youth Extravaganza” or something like that, the kids finally realized I didn’t have a plan when we ended up at Sam’s Club just in time for the free samples…hey it was cheap, and fulfilled the purpose of fellowship…so it worked!)

3. One of my friends wrote me an e-mail prayer that really struck a chord…he prayed that God would really allow me to feel the pain of the people and “taste the salt in their tears”…that’s a pretty tough thing to pray for but is really at the heart of what I would like God to do...on the way to Nairobi today and around Ruiru He did just that…Here’s a few things that moved me today…

4. Kids everywhere just wandering around aimlessly (like sheep without a shepherd)

5. Old woman carrying huge piles of hay, wood, fruit etc. with children on their backs on the way to a market where they sit and hope that someone will stop by and buy something…with what?

6. I thought to myself, these people have nothing? I kept thinking of the words to a song called “Boulevard of broken dreams” all day I couldn’t get it out of my mind (actually the same friend who wrote me the e-mail and I used to think about that song when we walked the streets of Pittsburgh from our cushy hotel room about 6 or 7 blocks to a Youth Conference as we passed broken person after broken person on the way…interesting).

7. A huge Hindu temple… very fancy, very ornate Mahogany I suppose…I’m sure it cost millions to make and right in front of it along the road is shanty after shanty filled with people just trying to survive…I can’t judge people’s hearts but the gap between very wealthy and very poor seems to be extremely wide here…

8. I remember thinking the same kinds of things the first time I was in Kiev and saw the huge ornate cathedrals with their solid gold domes surrounded by people begging for food…I was just struck with the importance of God’s church reaching out to the less fortunate and making it a priority to not be all about building kingdoms on Earth, but rather be about building God’s kingdom in the lives of His people.)

9. Tons of make shift houses fashioned with whatever people could find…Tin, scrap wood, straw, cardboard, wrapping paper etc. – I’ve been to Mexico a bunch of times and helped build houses for people who have nothing…If the people I saw today had a house like we built in Mexico (12x16 tool shed basically) it would be like a huge mansion to them.

10. I Had lunch and rested at BTL while Sylvester & Willis went into Ruiru to try to get the water company to open a line to the church so they could have water in the church’s tank for camp…think about that, they had to make a special appeal for water so the campers could wash, the mothers of the church could cook, and the campers could h
ave something to drink…man that broke my heart to hear that.
11. I Went back to the church to greet arriving campers, I spoke briefly with Pastor Christopher and asked how I could pray for him…he asked for wisdom as he deals with the amount of deaths that the church has experienced lately (he said they’ve had 5 people die in the last 2 months in his church!)…he said the people are very sad and hurting and he (like a good Pastor should)…feels their pain and is trying to help them through it.

12. I met a lot of the teens as they arrived and basically hung out and watched them play basketball and tried to get to know as many as I could.

13. One of Sylvester’s youth leaders and also one of his YP students at KBTC named Lincoln sat next to me (we were right next to the “Be The Change” tree), and started asking me questions about, the Bible, Youth Ministry in America, God’s plan for our lives, basketball, movies, girls, stereotypes, peer pressure, God’s call to ministry…you know important topics to a teenager/young adult…It was so cool for me to just sit and talk one on one with a guy who has been so impacted by his Youth Pastor’s ministry in his life that he wants to go and train to do the same thing as him…

14. I had some serious flashbacks to my “Be the Change Tree’ conversations with my Youth Pastor when I was his age...I was reminded again at how mentoring is so needed in youth ministry!

15. I was reminded of the times when I would sit and talk with skaters at our weekly outreach event called Hang Time…They would come up with all kinds of questions about God, Christians, The Church, why we built a skate park, welcomed hundreds of them each week into our church when they were kicked out of every other place they tried to skate, and give them free pizza.

16. I loved being asked why we did it for free because it gave us such an opportunity to give the priceless answer…”Because God’s love for you is free”…It was a tool in our toolbox to reach students for Christ and as I sat there by the ‘Be The Change” tree looking directly at a basketball court full of teenagers I thought to myself “there’s a tool in Sylvester’s tool box, and I’m sitting next to a guy who came to the church because they had a hoop! And look what God is doing and is going to continue to do in his life and the lives of others!” WOW, that was an incredible moment for me!
17. I could go on for hours about the things we talked about, but the bottom line is here’s a guy whose life has been changed by God and has been built into by a dedicated Youth Pastor, and who wants to impact the lives of others with God’s love…that’s what it’s all about!

18. As I sat there talking with Lincoln I began to wonder when the evening program was going to start and when I would have an opportunity to give the opening challenge and overview from God’s word…it was beginning to get dark and Sylvester came over to me and said that campers were still arriving and he didn’t want me to have to travel back to BTL at night as it can be dangerous, so I’ll just do an overview in the morning and then give both of my messages and part one of the leadership seminar tomorrow afternoon.

I came back from that trip, a totally different person. God really used the sights, sounds, smells and everything I experienced to help solidify my belief that it really is all about our perspective.

I don’t know about you, but I need to continually sharpen my focus so that my perspective is in alignment with God’s perspective. It’s not about stuff, it’s about lives, lives that have been changed by the Power of Jesus!

So, as I keep traveling, and sharing that good news from NY to Nepal and everywhere in between, my prayer is that my perspective would stay sharp as well as those with whom I come in contact with.

It really is all about Perspective…GOD'S PERSPECTIVE!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Are You Satisfied? - Lesson Learned Series

His name was Todd, and he was one of those students that I had been trying to connect with for several months in my new ministry.

I had started my ministry as Student Ministries Pastor at the church in the Fall and had begun building some good relationships with students with whom I had common interests…mostly the jocks… because, until I reached 30 and realized I wasn’t cool anymore (trading my sweet red pickup truck for a mini-van was the final straw). I used to think of myself as an avid sportsman who could talk a good game with the best of them…notice I said “talk”.

Well anyway, the relationship building was going well, the students were excited to have a Youth Pastor and I was equally as excited to minister to them, and had big plans for how we were going to change the world for Jesus through our ministry.

As I was connecting with the students and praying about how God was going to use us, for some reason I kept noticing that Todd wasn’t really joining in. He was there but he was kind of disconnected, almost like he was in his own little world. He wasn’t into the fun stuff we were doing, the dodge ball, basketball, volleyball, weight lifting etc. just wasn’t his thing. He would show up and just take a back seat and observe.

He intrigued me, as I kept thinking that even though the relationships with my fellow “wanna be” athletes was progressing, there was a dimension that we were missing by not engaging with who Todd was and where he was coming from.

I tried to strike up a conversation with him, and it went pretty much like I thought it would…no where. I did find out though that he was into video games, and punk music…hmmm, there’s a starting point I thought to myself.

Now you need to understand something, I like video games as well, but my vast experience with the gaming industry began to slow down when Nintendo 64 hit the scene. Those intense graphics in Super Mario were making me nauseous (I know I’m a wuss), and when I thought of punk music I thought of guys in multi leveled red hats singing “Whip It”. I was out of my league for sure, but there was something about Todd that I wanted to get to know, as if God was saying, “engage him where he’s at, he’s got a lot of potential.”

Well as any good Youth Pastor worth his salt would do I invited Todd to go grab some salad & yogurt after school…Yeah right…It was more like “dude, wanna get some pizza after school?” to which he said “nah, I’m not really into pizza.”WHAT?!” I thought to myself, “you gotta be kidding me”, and just as I was about to say something that would’ve for sure blown any kind of opportunity with this kid (I mean, come on, you can disrespect subs, burgers, maybe even pasta – but not like pizza? I’m sorry - that’s an affront to every thing any self-respecting professional youth pastor believes to be an effective tool in his toolbox. Not like pizza? Give me a break!)

Sorry about that, anyway what he said next was even better than…(just double checking to make sure I really mean what I’m going to say next…) yeah it was, even better than pizza. He said “dude, how about stopping by the house and playing some video games sometime?” Ahah, now we’re getting somewhere. I said “sure, man when would be a good time?” He said “how about now?” God was working for sure. To get an open invitation on the spot like that is almost unheard of in this day and age of planning and scheduling…it was incredible.

Now, I know that some of you are thinking “what’s the big deal, you’re a Youth Pastor, you don’t do anything all day when the students are in school.” To which I would say my favorite line from that great scholar Doug Fields, when he’s been asked that same famous question over the years…”Dude, what do you do all day?” Doug says, (and I’ve adopted it into my repertoire as well) “I pray…for you… all day…and if you’d stop sinning, I’d get more work done!”

Anyway, it was a big deal for me to get that kind of invite. I dropped everything I was doing (proper pizza calculations for the youth event that night, taste testing soda to see if I should purchase styrofoam, paper or plastic cups…you know important Youth Pastor Stuff), to hightail it up to Todd’s house.

I got there in about 10 minutes and as I turned into his driveway, I realized that either I was at the wrong address or Todd was absolutely LOADED (with money, not anything else that connotation might also mean in some circles). The driveway seemed to go on forever, as off in the distance I saw one of the five houses that dotted the property (all 100 acres of it). The main house looked like an English Castle and blew me away. I drove carefully as I kept looking for a draw bridge and a moat.

I parked the…min-van, went up to the front door (which was this ginormous solid oak monstrosity that took 3 butlers to open…kind of). We went in and he showed me around this palatial palace he called home. He was very gracious, almost embarrassed that he lived this way. I caught a glimpse of what I would come to really appreciate about Todd, he was truly humble.

Todd and I started playing some video games, listening to music, hanging out, and for the first time actually talking about stuff. It started when I asked Todd what he was doing on Saturday. You see, we had a missions trip lined up to go feed homeless people in the inner city that day. We had gathered donations to make lunches and hand them out to homeless people that we encountered as we visited various parks and neighborhoods in our city. I will never forget the look that Todd gave me after I invited him to be a part of that trip.

He looked at me as if to say, “Now why would I want to do anything like that? Look around, I’ve got it all.” To which I responded with a “well crafted” retort.” Man, I know you’re probably thinking, ‘why would I want to do that’. I just want you to ask yourself the question, ‘are you satisfied?’”

I know that was a risky thing to say, but I really sensed this guy was tired of all the stuff that the world points to as success. It was just a hunch I had, so I said it.

Todd called me the next day and said he’d be coming on the trip. I was ecstatic. God was working!

The day of the trip came, and we loaded into the church vans and headed to the big city to change the world for Jesus one lunch at a time. It was an awesome day, and as it went on, I noticed that Todd was really getting into it. Then came the moment of truth. the moment that I will always remember as one of my all time favorite memories of youth ministry.

Our guide on the city mission trip was a missionary who was well acquainted with our church and leads missions trips like ours all the time. He is very well known in the city, especially by the homeless community. He is kind of viewed as a modern day Robin Hood (except he doesn’t steal from the rich, he just organizes church groups to help the poor).

Well, he was talking with a homeless guy named Frankie, who was asking him all kinds of questions about Jesus’ love for him. He was very open to everything the missionary was saying. A nice sized group of us had begun to gather around the missionary, and it was so cool to watch him engage this man who had nothing (from the world’s perspective).

The time came, and the missionary ask
ed Frankie if he’d like to receive Christ as his savior, to which Frankie said “Yes I would. What do I have to do?” The missionary looked around the group that had now gathered and said to Todd, “Hey Todd, do you want to explain to Frankie what he needs to do to be saved, and lead him in a salvation prayer?”

I couldn’t believe my ears. I didn’t think Todd would do it. I knew he was a Christian, but this? Todd looked at me, and then at Frankie and said, “I’d love to!” He proceeded to the center of the circle and explained to Frankie what he needed to do to be saved, then he embraced him with a full hug and led him in prayer!

(Think about it, rich kid who has it all, embraces a homeless guy who has nothing, and leads him into a relationship with Jesus, who gives him what really satisfies). The rest as they say, is history. By the way, at that time, Todd was a freshman in high school. He went on to be one of the driving forces behind many of the future ministry opportunities that we undertook.

Todd answered the question “are you satisfied?” with an honest NO, and went on to be an integral part of helping other students find what really satisfies, a relationship with Jesus. Todd was used by God to lead missions trips locally, regionally, nationally and internationally with a passion that was contagious. He used his connections, resources, abilities, skills, everything he had access to, in order to help students around the world find out about Jesus.

Todd was the kid that every youth ministry has, and every youth ministry needs to connect with, because God can change the world through kids like that!

My ministry definitely changed because of Todd. I realized that even though it was easy for me to relate with certain types of students, if my ministry was going to be effective and really expand for His glory, I needed to be willing to reach out to the “unreachable” with what really matters – satisfaction through Jesus!

Lesson Learned.

Special Treat - Lesson Learned Series

Last Summer, I came face to face with how God must feel when He has something cool to show us or give us but wants to "toy" with us a little bit first so we'll really appreciate it when His timing is just right, has that ever happened to you?

Here's how it went down...

I wanted to take my kids out for a "special treat" (in our family a special treat can be anything from a dum dum lollipop to a full blown all expenses paid vacation to the zoo) so whenever I drop the "Hey kids you better be good or you're not going to get your special treat" card it usually gets their attention, and they stop pulling each others hair for at least a second to find out what it is.

So, I said to my kids, "hop in the van we're going for a special treat", to which they said "what is it?" and I said "it's a surprise, just get in the van, and stop picking your nose." So they got in the van and kept asking what it was and if we were there yet and all kinds of annoying questions that made me want to not follow through on the special treat because I wanted it to be a surprise.

Now mind you, I'm not God...but I wonder if that's how God feels sometimes when we don't appreciate the waiting period before the blessing.

Anyway, it got to the point where I started messing with their little minds by saying things like "hey kids see that tree over there with the bird perched on the branch? That's your special treat, take it all in, don't waste the visual beauty that is before you...enjoy" To which they would say "No it's not, what is it really?"
This went on for several minutes and included such fake special treats as orange construction cones, potholes in the road, a big rock on the side of the road, a kid walking with crutches (the crutches were the special treat) etc. etc. until finally we got to the special treat place which was the movie theater.
We went to watch the movie Ratatouille which of course is all about appreciating the great gift of food (special treat) and not settling for the garbage that everyone else settles for (great spiritual message there).

I did find it ironic though that I was watching a movie about a rat who is an amazing connoisseur of great edible delicacies and I was sitting there munching on something that takes 45 seconds to make in my microwave, and as a side dish I held 3 of the most teeth rotting, dentist loathing, diabetic monitor spiking, sugar filled items known to mankind...I almost made a suggestion to the manager that they should've offered filet mignon and seared scallops instead of my combination of skittles, juju bees and goobers...but after the last "demand" I wanted to make to him (after seeing Pirates of the Caribbean 3 I didn't want my money back... I wanted my 3 hours back!) I thought I should keep my comments to myself and enjoy the special treat with my kids.

They were grateful that their special treat was actually fun and special, and it gave me a great opportunity to talk with them about how God has so many special treats prepared for us but we need to be patient and not settle for things that are less than His ideal for was a pretty cool conversation, but I'm not sure if they totally got it because a few days later as we were driving down Lake avenue right by a huge building that was recently imploded, I said "hey kids look at that huge pile of rubble" to which they both groaned in Unison..."Is that our special treat?"

Just something to think about...God has only what's best for us in mind, and He wants us to be patient and trust Him that He knows what He's doing.
Lesson Learned