Saturday, September 13, 2008

Jasper Speaks:

Back to the world of "lifestyle change" I go. In about a year or so I lost 140 pounds. I was still very big because I was GINORMOUS before but I was feeling good and liking the (still fat) but slender me. Well, then we got Jackson and crazy schedules and I fell off the wagon. I have gained about sixty of those pounds back and it is time to stop. So Matt McNutt is offering this challenge:

So, Kendra (who had lost 80 pounds herself) and I are going to get back to it by trying to use this as an accountability program. Matt was on The Biggest Loser and a fellow Youth Pastor in Maine. He is an honest, good, regular guy who has succeeded at his weight loss goals. If you read this before Tuesday I encourage you to hop on board.

Maybe I will post some of our before pictures on here and keep track of the loss online for all of you to share with us! Scary but accountability is the key I think! We'll see! We did go and stock up on our healthy options today. I had forgotten what it was like to buy healthy food. I is more expendsive but I actually had a great time getting it!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Jasper Speaks:

Top Five Things to Help Build Student Ministry Unity

A huge struggle in student ministry is unity. How do we take a group who
seem to be totally different from one another and make them a unified
Christian front? How do we foster a caring community that has residents
who are all on the same page and know and care for one another? I have
been in student ministry nearly two decades and I have found some
fundamental things to be true when thinking of student ministry unity.

5. Unity comes when there is a leader who is welcoming and loving of all students.

It is important that the primary leader of the student ministry
do all he or she can to reach out to all students in the group.
As leaders of students, it can be very difficult not to spend most of our time
with the outgoing, charismatic leaders and/or the students who are
drawn to us. Still, if unity is going to be achieved, the leader has to
set the tone. If we are going to preach love and tell students to welcome
everyone, we have to be the best example of that. Greet new students.
We have to involve the fringe kids. We need to celebrate the lesser known
kids in our groups and get to know who they are and their abilities. For unity
to begin, the example of how to show love and find unity has to be us.

4. Unity comes when we encourage student leaders to embrace all students in our ministry.

There is a scene in the movie NEVER BEEN KISSED when I
think that one of the truest statements about teenagers ever
said on film is made. David Arquette says to "Josie Grossy" Drew
Barrymore that all it takes is for one person to think you are cool
and you are in. I have seen that time and time again play out in
student ministry. It only takes one person. I think because we are
naturally drawn to the outgoing, charismatic leader type students (and
often them to us) we need to take advantage of the relationships we have
that come easy. We need to encourage those students to do what
we are doing in our attempts to build unity. We need to encourage
(and sometimes prod) them to be a warm, welcoming force in the group.
Encourage these students to talk with new or fringe students. Challenge
them to sit with someone who is not their close friend in student meetings.
Challenge them to learn something new about a different person every week.
It is a lofty goal but I am all about raising the bar and watching students
consistently fly above it. Students like it when an adult leader makes them
feel known but they love it when that comes from their peers.

3. Unity comes when we offer a strong identity of our student ministry that helps
students embrace a team attitude.

In most student ministries, we have students coming from so many
different places. We have public school
students (and many times
several different public schools are represented). We have private
school students. We also have homeschool students. Often this
diversity only adds to the lack of unity in the group. Two years ago,
when we were praying the week before See You At The Pole, we
split our group of about 40 kids that night up by their educational
similarities. When we counted out of just forty students we had fourteen
different groups represented!

I would like to think that we are rare, but I am somewhat certain that
big numbers of various designations are becoming more of the norm.
So, in order to combat the lack of unity this may bring naturally, we
need to offer to students a place where they can come together and have
a common ground.

One of the best ways to make that happen is to have
a strong student ministry identity. Make students feel, as soon as they
walk in the door, that this is a place that knows who it is and why it exists.
Some people look down on naming your ministry but I think that a strong
name and and identity that is frequently referenced helps tear down the
walls of natural segregation in the group. My goal for our group is that when we
come together we are no longer students at Parkway North or Lafayette
High School but we are now, Get Real Student Ministries. We proudly display
our logo on everything from our welcome table to our projection screen and
every correspondence and t-shirt that we put out. Having a strong identity
helps students feel that they belong to something. That sense of belonging is
crucial to teens. Let's give them that within their student ministry.

2. Unity comes when we intentionally create a unity fostering atmosphere in our ministry.

Years ago I stopped letting students pick which van they ride in on trips.
Sure I get flack from time to time but as I personally assign each student
to a van before we go somewhere I can intentionally breed unity. I always
make sure that every person has someone they are comfortable with to ride
along with them but I also make sure that I break up cliques and disburse
them evenly throughout vehicles. Students may groan when they aren't
with their friends but I have found that there is nothing like a long van
ride to force students to get to know people they might not have the
opportunity to get acquainted with at a regular student group meeting.

Shared experiences are the crucial element in creating unity. You can have a
great identity and encourage people to reach out within the walls of your church
to begin the unity building process but until your students have things that
make shared memories, it is often superficial. Things like mission trips and camps
go along way in making shared memories. Inside jokes are created, dreams are
shared, guards are down and hearts are open in these types of environments.

In our ministry we do Monday Mystery Trips in the summer. We take the
students in vans to unknown destinations about three hours away. It is
a fun filled time but the underlying reason we do it is to offer time in vans
for students to talk to one another and a random shared experience at the end to
help establish memories that move us toward unity. [This past summer
we went to Metropolis, Illinois --- the home of Superman and Santa Claus,
Indiana, Both completely random but both are some of the highlights
of the summer that students are still talking about]. Shared experiences breed
natural unity.

1. Unity comes when we cover it all in prayer.

This may seem cliched but it is the very foundation of unity building.
You can foster unity in your group but it is the Holy Spirit that breeds
that unity. You have to continually seek His guidance as you seek ways
to create a unified group. Also, in praying for unity, you are following the
example of Christ. In His high priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus takes
time to pray for the church. What is His petition to the Father? Make
them one. Unity. If Jesus thought it was important enough to pray for us
to obtain unity, then I think we should make it a priority in our prayer life as well.

Finally, I am not saying that I have all the answers to the unity issues that we
all face in student ministry. I do know however, that these things have
worked together to transform disjointed ministries before my eyes. I, too.
pray that all our ministries would be havens of unity in a world where unity
is hard to find.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Jasper Speaks:

One of the reasons I love Student Ministry is that I get to spend vocational hours just hanging out with kids. Tonight after youth group it was great to just hang out in the youth hall with a couple of my students and talk. It is in those quieter moments that you really get to invest in a kid.

I love the way bonding occurs during this time. Inside jokes are referenced, secrets are told and fellowship truly occurs. Investing in students is an incredible thing. I just love sitting and talking with a kid and finding out about them. Tonight it was as simple as a girl telling us that she had written a metaphorical poem about her struggles with God last school year and the way He revealed Himself to her in a new way this summer. She used one of her favorite pass times to describe that struggle and victory --- swimming.

Now, I remember those struggles she went through last year. It hurt my heart to see her rebelling and pushing the envelope of her faith. Now, after a talk tonight, I see how God had His hand over her as she walked away. He lovingly taught her things even in spite (and possible through) her sins. She realizes the err of her ways now and appreciates her relationship with God on an entirely different level.

Don't get me wrong. I am not advocating teens walking away from their faith at all. The ideal is that they would stay on the righteous path and grow without any huge hiccups. I was just encouraged by this girl tonight as she reminded me that God's plan trumps ours every time.

God is really reminding me in this season that it is all about Him. He makes things happens. He keeps things from happening. He designs all things and I am just an instrument for His will. I need to learn to walk closely beside him as he guides my paths. He wants me to trust that He has placed me in this position for such a time as this and leave the results to Him. He proves this to me time and time again. It seems that honestly, when I am at my weakest, He is at His strongest and he uses me to do amazing things in spite of myself. That is exciting and mysterious to me.

Deep ponderings can come from sitting next to a senior in high school and listening to her seemingly random conversations. In those moments I hear God's laugh. I sense His presence. I listen to His voice. He is saying, "I have an amazing plan and I love you enough to let you be a part of it". Personally I think that is pretty cool.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Jasper Speaks:

So, I was feeling a little guilty this summer. There is a guy in our youth group named Aaron. I had shared the gospel with him in May or so and he told me at the time he was not yet ready to make a commitment. I respected that and continued to pray for him. I wanted to get him alone all summer long and just kept getting pushed into the "stuff" of ministry and week after week opportunity slipped by and we didn't talk.

At the first Reality Check of the year I made a point to make a bee line for Aaron right after the service. We sat down and I simply asked, "What is God doing in your life"? He told me God had given him a job. It made me happy that he was acknowledging that but not really where I was going. About that time my two year old son ran up to me. I love that kid and want to devote all my time to him but realized that this conversation was important at the time. I also realized the conversation would be VERY difficult if I tried to have it with Jackson sitting on my lap. Kendra called him over to her and I asked Aaron to join me in a quieter place than the Youth Hall.

As we talked, I asked Aaron if he had thought more about our conversation about salvation. He said yes. We talked and he said he had a time over the summer when things were really bad and he broke down and realized he needed God. There was something in the phrasing that made me wonder if he had made a commitment but he said he had. So, we discussed baptism and talked about Church membership. I assured him that baptism was just the first sign of a Christian life and nothing more. I also tried to explain that membership was all about accountability and nurturing and not about salvation. We prayed together and he left. I was very excited.

Then on Sunday he came forward in church to make public his decision. Because of that dreaded piano side organ side seating arrangement that fills most churches he talked with another one of our pastors when he came (because I hold down the organ side and Aaron sits on the piano side). One of our deacons took him out and I was proud. It was also joy filling to see so many of the kids in the youth group get excited about it. Aaron and his friends mostly sit alone and I hate that our kids haven't reached out more to them.

Anyway, after the service Aaron and the deacon came to me and told me that during the counseling session, Aaron prayed to receive Christ! See I was worried but God knows timing WAY better than I do. Aaron just kept saying, "I'm just so happy!" Me too! Now I have to get him into my small group. He really wants to come, so I have to find a way for him to get to me without having a car.

Then this past week, I was in the second week of our three week series on evangelism. We were talking about attracting your friends with your lifestyle. The sermon went okay and as I started down the steps a seventh grader named Ryan approached me. He simply said, "Jasper, I was wondering if you could lead me to the Lord". Of course I said I was really busy and needed to talk to the worship team about next week's worship set.


We immediately went to the same room that Aaron and I had talked together in the week before. Ryan had prayed a prayer once but realized it was just words before. When I asked him what made him choose tonight to talk about this, he said, "Just the things you were saying tonight". WOW! We then prayed together and as his mother came to pick him up she was SO excited! Woot! I got him a Bible and we headed on our way.

I love what God is doing in this group right now. It is amazing all He is accomplishing. We had four guys surrender to the ministry in just over a year as well. We have girls that are seeking how they may be used full time too. I am overwhelmed that God is using simple, sinful Jasper to affect lives for teens. WOW! This is the best job in the world!
Jasper Speaks:

One of the hardest things for me is to manage my time in a work day. I try but I can be so undisciplined! A few weeks ago I began keeping track of my tasks in Outlook. I did really well the whole week. Then I crashed and burned and didn't enter in a new group of tasks. So I have a wonderful list of things that have been marked through to make me feel like I am accomplishing something when I am not.

This has been a lifelong problem. I have struggled with it for years. Even in Kindergarten I would get an N (for needs improvement) on my report card for the space marked "Uses Time Wisely". UG! So, today, I did a lot but accomplished a paltry sum. I need to take my sermon for tomorrow night home to work on it tonight. Kendra will be at handbell practice so after Jackson goes to sleeep I will have some time.

I think it is funny that people write time management books. If I can't manage my time well already, how am I supposed to fit reading a book on time management into my day? So, as I sit in my office with about sixteen minutes left of the work day, I am again procrastinating and blogging instead of working. So, I guess I haven't changed much since Kindergarten afterall.