You Have My Attention: When God Breaks In

image26About 2 months ago, I remember thinking to myself, ‘I can conquer the world!’

I honestly believed there was nothing that could hold me back and nothing that I could not accomplish. I felt like I had the ‘correct’ answers to everything.

Don’t get me wrong, I have seen God do extraordinary things this past year – some of which I cannot even explain! I have been a part of a student ministry that is absolutely flourishing! There is a barely a week that goes by that we do not see students come to know Christ or baptized! Our numbers have drastically increased and our leadership is stronger than I could ever imagine!

On a personal level, 2014 was a challenging year, but also a fruitful year. Our family saw God work in ways that did not make sense – many times when we least expected it. We saw a 3-year debacle over our house on the east coast of Florida end via 2 phone calls over the course of 48 hours. We proceeded to sell the house  for more than we were asking within 4 weeks! We feel blessed beyond measure for the health and joy we have experienced this year!

I truly believe that there is nothing impossible for God, but my pride often gets in the way. I fool myself into believing that there is nothing too powerful for me to accomplish as well. I take the place of God and attempt to accomplish things on my own, ultimately missing what He has for me.

I like to think I am a strong leader – organized, efficient, capable, empowering, and competent. I also tend to think that my character and integrity is most often Christlike. Now, yes, there are those times that my pride and arrogance gets the best of me and, just like Paul, I struggle doing what I know I am not supposed to do and not doing what I know I am supposed to do.

About 3 weeks ago, I was quickly reminded that my ability, my strength, my energy, and yes, even my mind is a blessing from God, the one who gives and takes away. There is nothing I can accomplish outside of who He is. There is no fruit I can produce outside of His love, His character, and His will!

At 1:55 pm on Sunday, December 14th, I came stumbling out of my bedroom and went into a grand mal seizure that lasted about 3 minutes. I tripped over my 4-year old son and ended up falling onto our tile floor. In the process, I also dislocated my shoulder, which is causing me constant pain. As a teenager, I was diagnosed with adolescent epilepsy and was on medication for about 16 years. This past year was the first year that I have not taken any medication, and I was under the assumption I was in the clear – until about 3 weeks ago.

I feel like I have been to more doctors over the past 3 weeks than the past 10 years combined. My wife has become my chauffeur, because legally I am not allowed to drive for 6 months. I am also dealing with the effects of my body getting used to epilepsy medication again, which has caused me to be an emotional basket case on more than one occasion.

It has been a rough few weeks, one that has humbled me and opened my eyes to where my priorities need to truly be. I have been forced to do nothing. My wife even went to the extent of asking me how it felt to have my independence taken away. If it were not for the inability to process my thoughts into words quick enough, I would have responded with some sarcastic comment back at her.

I have realized that I do not have this thing called life figured out. I do not have this thing called leadership figured out. I do not have student ministry, family ministry, or my own relational life figured out. Unfortunately, I have not reached perfection, and if you ask my kids, I still have a long ways to go!

But I do know one thing for sure – God has EVERYTHING figured out!

His love casts out all fear

His grace His sufficient

His mercy is new every morning

Great is His faithfulness

He is MY rock and MY redeemer

He is the beginning and the end

He is the Good Shepherd

He is the great I AM!

And at the end of the day, He has all the answers to all the questions. He has my future in His hands. His purpose for my life far exceeds anything I could ever desire or imagine. I am His vessel, living out the life He has called me to live!

There were several factors that went into me having a seizure and there are still physical, mental, and emotional consequences I am working through. But I truly believe it was God trying to get my attention. I veered off course just slightly and was allowing my pride to take the place of what God had in store for me.

It doesn’t take much of a change in direction to miss what God has for us. For Peter it was taking his eyes off Jesus’ eyes. He was walking on water, with Jesus in his vision, but his eyes were not focused on the Savior’s eyes. For David it was a quick second glimpse off the patio that caused his eyes to lose sight of God’s eyes. For many of us, we feel like we are right there, doing exactly what God is calling us to do, but our pride has caused us to veer just slightly off course. God is in our vision. We believe we are moving towards Him, walking with Him, and living as He has called us to live. But, there is a difference in focusing on the direction of Jesus and focusing on His eyes.

Think of it this way… if I want to drive from Cape Coral, Florida to Buford, Wyoming, simply heading west may not get me to my final destination. Even though Wyoming is constantly in the direction I am headed, getting to my exact location takes more precise accuracy than simply heading west. God is not generic, He is specific. He has a clear plan for each and every one of us that requires us focusing directly on His eyes!

As Christians, we cannot get caught up in our own abilities that we miss the priorities God has mapped out before us. Our first step (or in some cases 5, 20, or 50 steps) often has to be backwards. We must reset our priorities and schedules in order to focus on what is most important.

We have to remain faithful to God’s leading, no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient that may be. And at the end of the day, we must never forget that no matter what happens, God is in completely control and He has EVERYTHING figured out!

God has my attention, and my prayer is that He either already has or gets yours! We not only need Him, but we must want Him more than anything this world has to offer. I am committed to seeking Him more this year than ever before. My Lead Pastor put it perfectly, ‘Our faith becomes stronger through our intimacy with the Father’

May this year, we grow more intimately in love with Jesus. May He truly remain our first love in everything – every situation, every event, every circumstance, and amongst every relationship!

Teaching the Next Generation: 9 Concepts for Effective Communication

teaching-children-the-word-of-god-imageWhat are we communicating to our kids, students, and parents? What do we want them to walk away with each and every time they sit under our teaching? How would we define a win when it comes to our messages?

The goal when teaching is never to impress. Instead, our goal must be to connect and communicate clearly the truth contained in the pages of the Bible. When we allow our ambition to drive us to impress we often miss the goal of clarity!

Matthew 13:10-15 (The Message) – “10 The disciples came up and asked, “Why do you tell stories?” 11-15 He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again: Your ears are open but you don’t hear a thing. Your eyes are awake but you don’t see a thing.
The people are blockheads!
They stick their fingers in their ears
so they won’t have to listen;
They screw their eyes shutso they won’t have to look, so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face and let me heal them.”

Jesus told stories to create readiness. He understood that people needed help in order to be ready to digest the truth He was teaching. Jesus understood the need to connect in order to reveal truth. Many of us who communicate need this reminder often. When we step up to speak we have to remember to put time into creating connection moments as we teach the Scripture with faithfulness.

Each of us may get anywhere from 10-30 minutes each week to communicate God’s Word to the next generation. Are we doing that in the most effective manner – in a way that is going to draw attention to who God is? Here are 9 key concepts that will lead to excellent communication…

1. God’s Word and the Holy Spirit are more powerful than you – Are you relying on your own words or God’s Word to see lives transformed? God will speak through you in ways you can never imagine! So many times I have walked away from speaking not remembering what I said. These have been the moments where God is completely speaking through me. His way with words is greater than anything we could ever say!

As you study and prepare, make sure you are not missing what God is saying. Look to His Word for the majority of your message and not culture, history, or the latest idea that may draw emotion. Rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to speak through you!

2. Keep it clear and simple – The next generation does not want deep theological messages based on the Greek text, historical documents, or the separation of modern religion. They are not concerned about dispensationalism, the difference between humanistic theology and Christlikeness, and the views of premillennialism, postmillennialism, or amillennialism.

While I believe our kids and students need to understand theology and teaching theology is very important, our messages cannot get bogged down with the theological debates that go on in the religious world every day. Our kids want to hear simple and clear truths from God’s Word that they can take and apply to their lives! What are you doing to keep your communication simple and clear?

3. Talk with, not at – Have you ever sat in a conversation in which the other person had totally disengaged? Kids feel like they get talked at all the time – lectured by their teachers, yelled at by parents and coaches, and talked down by those around them. They need to be talked with. Whether it is your physical approach or the words you use, make sure you are communicating to and with, instead of at.

For years, I refused to even stand on a stage and talk above our students. Our physical demeanor says a lot about whether or not we truly care about those we are communicating with. Kids and students need us to step down to their level and talk to them, not at them. It is the image of us getting our knees and talking with a child as opposed to standing above them and pointing our finger at them.

4. Less is more – We must make sure our message is focused on the bottom line. Cutting out material is a difficult process but less is more when you want kids to walk away with the main point. Never have a message that has ten points in it… kind of like the one I am doing right now.

Our rule with students is never go above 15-20 minutes with MS and 20-25 minutes with HS. The less application points we communicate, the better chance we have of seeing lives transformed. When we teach on multiple points, students typically walk away with nothing.

5. Be relatable and culturally relevant – This does not mean we have to strive to be as hip as possible! But it does mean, we have to communicate in a way that is going to make sense to today’s younger generation. Talking about toaster ovens and 8-track players is not very culturally relevant. But using terms that kids can relate to causes God’s Word to become more relevant to their situation and circumstance. The words we use will often determine whether or not kids see us as authentic. If we try to use big words that don’t make sense, we will lose attention. When we use language that makes sense, they will grasp the truth of God’s message!

6. Use invitation and challenge – God invited the disciples into an awesome relationship with Him. He had compassion, fed them incredible meals, traveled the world with them, and built incredible bonds with each one of them. But he also challenged the heck out of the disciples. Kids will react as we approach them with this same mindset. Don’t be afraid to open up your life – be real and authentic, while at the same time using God’s Word to challenge those around you to live as He lived and talk as He talked!

7. Think outside the box – There are many different ways of learning – audio, visual, sensory, question & answer, etc. Do not just think in the parameters of the words you use. Never limit yourself to what you have available at your fingertips! Always think outside the box when communicating God’s Word!

8. Be prepared to fail – There will definitely be times when you say something you shouldn’t say or misspeak. There have been times where I have misquoted Scripture or even somewhat taken it out of context. We have to be ready to not only accept failure, but also accept the critique of others. I have people who I go to every time I speak that evaluate every aspect of my message – stage presence, word usage, application, content, and voice influx. There are also times that we will walk away discouraged, feeling like we completely bombed the message. I have lost count of how many times that has happened to me. You will not always present things perfectly, but these are moments that God will still use and that we can grow from.

9. Never lose sight of the end goal – Our end goal must always be transformed lives. We must never lose sight of our God-given purpose – to make disciples who are making disciples! Your communication is not about you obtaining the spotlight, but about Christ shining through every word!

Connecting is not always easy work but it may just be the difference maker when it comes to people taking forward steps in their spiritual journey!

Celebrate the Little Things: Measuring Success Within Student Ministry

peanuts-celebrate-the-little-thingsThis past Wednesday, we had the privilege of celebrating our largest youth service in the history of our church! It is incredible to sit back and see what God is doing in and through our student ministry! Lives are being impacted and countless students are becoming connected into the culture of our ministry!

Although numbers help measure success, they cannot be the main determining factor. We must take time to celebrate the small victories that help us accomplish our overarching goals. Not only are we celebrating the incredible numerical growth we have seen, but also the little things that have helped us get to where we are!

Luke 16:10 says, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Although Jesus is talking specifically about money here, I believe we can take this and relate it into our individual ministries. When we are successful in the small areas, we will see God bless us with incredible growth. When we fool ourselves and miss celebrating the small things, we will struggle to see large numerical growth.

I have spent quite a bit of time evaluating every aspect of our student ministry over the past couple of weeks. I challenge every church leader to assess and celebrate the small victories taking place within your ministry! As you do this, it will open your eyes to where God desires to take you and I guarantee you will success in ways you could never imagine! Here are four small, yet very important, areas that have helped get us to where we are today.

1. Transformed Lives – This past Wednesday we saw an 8th grade guy give his life to Christ and 2 other middle school students rededicate their lives to Christ! There is a barely a week that goes by where we do not see lives drastically changed for the cause of Christ! Our ministry is filled with leaders who are passionate about seeing students impacted by a life with Christ. They are not afraid to ask the serious questions, challenging our students spiritually! We must approach the heart of our students to see lives truly transformed.

How are you seeing lives transformed for the cause of Christ within your ministry? Even if they are not taking place in large numbers, are you celebrating the victory of each student impacted by a relationship with Christ? I often become jealous of gigantic student ministries that see 20-30 students come to know Christ on a weekly basis. Although we must strive towards big victories, we cannot miss each individual life transformed by the love of Christ!

2. Culture of Discipleship – If you have read any of my other blogs on student ministry, I am sure you have picked up by now how passionate I am about creating a culture of discipleship within student ministry. I would love to say the majority of our students are actively being discipled, but I cannot lie. However, I can celebrate the discipleship culture we are working to create within our ministry. We are spending a great amount of time and energy on our discipleship process. We have brainstormed what it looks like to live, eat, and breathe discipleship, how we measure success, and the difference between coaching, mentoring, and discipleship. We have one key volunteer who leads the charge as our Student Ministry Discipleship Coordinator. She has worked diligently on a follow-up system that will help establish accountability amongst those discipling students.

I recently wrote an article on Leading with Grace. In it I talk about one of our high school students who began teaching at our middle school weekend services. I am proud to say he also began discipling a middle school guy a couple of weeks ago! While many look at this as a small victory, I look at it as a large step towards creating a culture of discipleship! Here is a junior in high school who not only was discipled, but has caught the vision of discipling others! We have developed the system to keep him accountable and help him through the entire process. How are you celebrating the small victories of discipleship within your ministry?

3. First Impressions – I received a phone call this past week from the mother of one of our new students. She was very leery about dropping her 9th grade daughter off to our church on a Wednesday evening. I had goose bumps as I shared with her our passion to see students and families welcomed and connected into our weekly youth gathering! When a new student walks on our campus that are immediately greeted by our First Impressions Team. A New Student Host connects with them, walks them around our entire campus and introduces them to key leaders, their Small Group Leader, and several students who will be in their small group. We want students to feel as welcome as possible as they become connected into the culture of our youth ministry.

We intentionally fill our First Impressions Team with some of our most welcoming, full of energy leaders! Those first couple of minutes on campus for a new student are often the determining factor of them opening up during small groups or coming back the following week. What are you doing to welcome new students? Is this an area you are able to celebrate?

4. Leadership Teams – We often celebrate the leaders who are front and center or the ones who spend the most time impacting students. When was the last time you celebrated those who don’t necessarily lead from the spotlight? We have an incredible team who sets up our environments each and every week – moving chairs, setting up computers, printing out check-in sheets, and putting together leaders’ folders. Our technical arts team spends a few hours each week putting together the technical production aspect of our weekly youth service. Our café team is their week-in and week-out serving coffee, smoothies, pizza, and snacks! Our ministry is made up of so many other leaders who pour into the background and organizational side of our ministry! I am blessed to see their hearts, serve alongside them, and celebrate the awesome love they have for our student ministry!

Do you have leaders who have caught on to the vision of your church and ministry? Are they passionate about what they do or do you just throw them into positions? Celebrate the leadership teams that don’t often experience the spotlight! I truly believe they are just as important as the speaker and worship leader. Without the time and energy these teams spend each week, ministry would not be possible and growth would not take place in the capacity that we desire!

Never miss the small wins that take place within your ministry on a daily and weekly basis! Celebrate the accomplishments of your students, leaders, and families. Never become so wrapped up in the large number of attendance that you miss the little things that help get you to where God wants you!