Faith Lab:prodigals leave

empty road

In our student ministry we are beginning a series called “Home” from now until Christmas.  The series is all about the prodigal son parable and where we fit in the story and where God is when we go off the ranch.  With this I thought that I would shape the next couple of Faith Lab posts to reflect the different characters in the story. 

Our character today is the younger son with the mentality that he is leaving. 

There are times in the lives of our ministry where we will see our students making decisions that we know will come back to bite them in the rear.  These could be decisions about partying or not, who to date, what they believe about the trinity, how many stuffed animals in the bed constitutes a suffocation hazard…whatever and we long to help the situation before it happens.  What we learn from the father figure in the parable is that there are times where we have to let to poor decisions be made by our students, but we can always do something. 

We can:

Pray: we are always able to prays for our kids, weather they like it or not.  They don’t even have to know we are doing to.  Be through prayer we can intervene on their behalf.

Help them fail forward:   when they make the poor decisions, I told you so is not always the most compassionate responses.  Yet we can unpack the situation and experience with them.  Lets use the mistakes as teachable moments and give God thanks that they didn’t make the decision while at college where there is offer much less accountability and time for reflection.  Failing forward enables our students to make mistakes and learn from them before they become a pattern of life. 

Hang in there: When students fall away from our ministry or make poor choices we want to continue to remind them that we have a place that they can call home.  continue to invite, encourage and love on the students that are hard to love at times.  Student ministry is a lot of ground breaking, soil preparing and seed planting, so don’t lose hope if you don’t see things sprout. 

Faith lab: tradition


A couple of weeks ago we had our ecumenical service for thanksgiving. This year we hosted the service at MUMC. It was a great time in part because I had to do little when the serivce came about. I had to make a number of the arrangements before the service, but when the time came to worship it was great to see the community come together. Each of the congregations that were represented came to worship with a little bit different posture. As the cathloic church and the Lutherans came with more of a high church metality, my congregation and the ucc church had came to worship as if we were meeting with a friend. I don’t know that either is better than the other but there is some great bennifit in changeing our approach to worship and our understanding of who God is.
During this advent season time some time to go to a worship service or two that are not like your weekly experiences. Bring some of your students with you and talk about what was the same and how things were done differently. Avoid using language of right and wrong or better and worse. Remember that we all encounter God in a different way and to belittle one experience over another could makebour students feel like they are doing something wrong in worship if they don’t connect like us and adds to the growing feelings tthat Christians aare just a bunch of bickering hypocrites. 
Enjoy the diversity this season. You may find renewal in the most unlikely places.

Faith Lab: wallflowers


You know at the school dance the people that lean up against the wall with no one to dance with.  That was me, but I like to think of my leaning as a safeguard against the walls falling down.  I was a wallflower.  I don’t dance, and I was perfectly content just taking in the scene.  I didn’t feel like I needed to be on the dance floor and I didn’t long for the courage to ask a girl to slow dance.  I was content just watching the interactions of my classmates (perhaps my love of sociology as well).

I love people watching.  I was having coffee with a student in our ministry the other week and just stopped talking because I was wrapped up in watching a couple trying to decide if they were going to come in for a bite to eat or go somewhere else.  While people watching is fun, expert watching is way better and more productive.  Today Katie and I took our daughter Eden to the dentist.  Eden has already has some extensive dental work done and I was nervous for her, and for our wallet. There was a little spot on a front tooth that Dr. Kim wanted to fix or “put a Band-Aid on” as he put it.  So as Eden was in his chair he showed her how he was going to polish, “shampoo” and “paint” her tooth.  This is a guy who loves his job and all of the love, care and experience he had amounted throughout his practice is now being lived out by teaching and setting at ease my little girl. 

I sat and watched in awe! He was amazing.  When we watch excellent people do what they do we can learn so much.  Weather it be watching  doctor, teacher, even a great Chick-fil-a manager at work it is a great thing.  I would encourage you to go become a wallflower and become an “expert watcher”.  Take a notebook and write down some of the things that strike you as improving the experience or interaction.  It might be the smallest thing, but it can make a huge difference.  After writing some of the things down think about how you might be able to incorporate them into your ministry or leadership style.  What would work in your setting, what wouldn’t, what could you tweak to make an exponential impact? 

One of the things that I learned today is that taking a little bit more time to explain what is going on will not only save time in the long run, but it makes the experience so much more positive.  Eden was all smiles when we were done.  Thanks Dr. Kim for taking care of my girl and teaching me too. 

Faith Lab: 40 percent less


As you look around you will being to see the signs beginning to crop up with slashed prices, announcements of big savings, markdowns of up to 80% off. 

These are great deals they are things that entice us to buy goods that we might be thinking about or that we don’t really need at all, but how could you turn away a deal like this or like that.  We love it when we get 40% off of something, but what if the tables were turned?  What if 40% of something of yours was taken away?  How would you feel if 40% of your time with your best friend, spouse or pet was gone?  Not too great!

This is exactly what is happening to our young people.  In Andrew Root and Kenda Creasy Dean’s new book, “A theological Turn in Youth Ministry,”  They report that research has found that parents spend 40% less time with their teens than the previous generation.  Now we have known for a long time that there has been a decline in parent teen relationships, but 40%!!!! WOW, that is staggering to me. 

Parents are still the primary faith mentors of the family.  They are the ones who pass on faith to their kids.  As kids become teens, though the relationships may become strained, parents are still the big faith influence (with peers closer behind). 

So how does the church respond to this?

  • We first have to realize that we cannot duplicate the role of parent in the teens lives.  Yet we need caring adults to realize that our students are in need regardless of their home situations.
  • We have to take the baptismal covenant seriously and remember that we (the church) promised to help raise up these young ones in the faith. 
  • In our programming we have to be aware that the church can add to the noise of disconnect.  Maybe plan some intentional family time opportunities where students and parents can be in faith conversations. 
  • We need to be intentional to pray for students and their families and faith may be passed down from generation to generations. 

  I am running on coffee fumes at the moment and I am sure I have left some things out that I wanted to include.  These are my initial thoughts but I would love to hear yours.




Faith Lab: Fine Print

imageIf you look at newspaper headlines on the front page you will notice that font size makes a big difference on how important the paper feels a story is.  After all the larger the headline,the less room for other stories on the page.  The things deemed less important thus get a smaller font.

We do the same thing with our biblical witness.  We give greater importance (in one way or another) to the more “important” things while the hard topics, or the things that we are not so sure about or that don’t line up with our understanding of God take on a barely visible font size. 

How do you deal with the tough stuff in the Bible?  How do we deal with the things in the Bible that make us uncomfortable?  What about the things that cause us to stumble?  So we just tip toe around them or do we slowly make our way over them? 

Lets face it there are parts of our scripture that we are more comfortable with.  This says a lot about the way that we prefer to view God.  Yet it short changes and stunts our growth as people of faith when we are only willing to look at God through a portion of scripture.  Also, if we are teachers of the word we are giving those who have been entrusted to our care a slanted or partial picture of faith.  It would seem that the parts of scripture that are though are the ones that we are always called to defend.  The parts about God ordering the decimation of whole people is something that we would like to give a very small font size, whereas people asking questions about Christianity make it of headline proportions.  Other questions become like the role of women in the church, issues of sexuality…and the list goes on. 

Just keeping these parts of scripture to the fine print does a great disservice to ourselves, those in our ministry and those who are asking the questions.  So how do we being to wrestle with the head text? 

  •   Make a teaching plan:  When we just pick up the Bible and teach whatever we would like we tend to go to the “softballs”or the headline fonts catch our eyes.  Teaching plans ensure that we cover the topics we need to cover (both large and small) and it gives us enough time to faithfully prepare.
  • Continue to do personal study.  When we come upon some of the fine print we shouldn’t just let it pass.  Because the fine print is like the tip of an iceberg.  We have to, first, do the hard work of digging out the issues to get a fuller understanding of the bigger questions and issues at work. 
  • Don’t just give answers.  Have the students dig in and get their hands dirty too.  Teach them the process of learning and biblical study.  Don’t just give them the fish, teach them to fish. 
  • Don’t ignore the fine print!! It is tempting to give a stock answer or a nice one liner, but it does no one justice in the long run. 

these are just a few of my thoughts.  What are some ways you deal with the fine print?

Faith Lab: Icebox Insight

DSCF1491When we have large gatherings at the church there is a ton of ice that is used.  The past couple of special events have caused panic with the ice machine minders because it is thought to be broken during the heavy use.  Water found under and around the ice machine causes widespread panic within those who like their beverages cold. 

The thought is that where there is water on the floor there must be a leak.  However 95% of the time, in the haste of slinging frozen relief to the masses there are cubes that drop onto the floor.  Ice, when not kept frozen, has a tendency to change states and become water if left unattended.  The thawed cubes make a puddle and the puddle leads to concern about the proper functioning of the machine. 

I have learned an important lesson form the icebox incidents.  We have to be able to discern the difference between an event and a trend.  An event, like a few cubes falling to the ground, may cause temporary concern but can be over come or recognized as something that is passing.  Events need to be acknowledged, but perhaps we don’t shut down or turn off the ice machine because of this event. 

Trends however are lasting and continue even after the melted cubes are wiped from the floor.  There is a leak in the system and evaluation and response is needed. 

The ability to discern the difference between events and trends will save us from chasing ice cube puddles in order that we can better address any cracks that are causing leaky trends. 

Some guiding questions may be:

How long has this been happening?

What variables have made this event/trend appear?

If it is a trend how may we ebb the leak? If an event how might we respond or plan differently for when it happens again. 

Faith Lab:Interchangeable


The past few months have been filled with computer issues.  We had a hard drive go at work with some really important data on it (thankfully it was backed up), there have been a couple of bad viruses that have gotten on a couple of others of my friends, the power connector inside the laptop, memory has gone bad, another bad drive in an xbox, even printers have been acting up. 

As I learn and dabble more and more with computer repair (because I calling repair guys is really expensive) I have come to realize that interchangeable parts are such a blessing. 

Working on my last project I thought about how we need to have interchangeability in ministry.  Maybe redundancy is a better term for it.  But how are we backing up our programming so that it will not crumble?  If you have something that takes you are another leader out of the picture for a week, month or year how will that impact the ministry. 

I am striving to be better at this and thinking about how to make more interchangeable (or place sharing) ministry.  One of phrases we talk about in camping ministry and in our Safe Sanctuary conversations it is: “don’t be the last to know.”  Always tell someone else what is going on, so that there are others who can fill in details or know what is going on.

How are you making your ministry redundant?