I read a fascinating book recently about management and performing well at your job called First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham.  It is written from a business perspective and is about managing people and helping them realize their full potential as employees.

If you are employed at all, it is worth reading from cover to cover, but he laid down a quote on the last page that, I feel, has implications for those of us who disciple students.  He said this,

“Don’t try to put in what was left out.  Try to draw out what was left in” (pg. 245).

So often, discipleship becomes about cramming in bits of information to students to help them know how to “be good” and “follow the rules” (don’t drink, don’t party, don’t watch rated R movies, etc.), but I have been in ministry long enough to see this form of discipleship fail.

I wonder if, instead of focusing students on what they should not do, we should draw them to their potential in the Spirit of Christ inside them. Some thoughts:

  1. Jesus did it. With those he discipled, he said very little about “following the rules,” in fact, many times he actually told them to break them.  He sent them out in pairs pronouncing the kingdom, he called him to walk on the water, he spoke at length about the Spirit who would give them power when he left.  He enabled them to focus, not on what they were doing wrong, but on what they could do so right.
  2. Those times when students don’t “follow the rules” were died for.  Our goal is not to try to turn bad people into good people, it is to try to help turn bad people into saved people.
  3. Any behavior change will likely be intrinsic. A heart in love with Jesus is the best help for students to follow the rules I have ever seen.  If people are going to change, it has got to come from the inside (a heart which has been redeemed).  Words of Paul ring a bell here, “Let us live up to what we have already attained” (Philippians 3:16).
Perhaps, our goal in discipleship should be to help people realize that a follower of Christ is less pushed by following rules and more pulled into the salvation they have already attained.
Thoughts?
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Last week, I was the event coordinator at a week of Jr High Camp.  As I have been out of camp for about a decade, I did a lot of things wrong, but I think there are a few things that I did right.  Here is a list:

  1. I Used Mature High Schoolers on my Faculty – Though it was a bit hard to get them to get out of bed on time, I found them to be spectacular when it came to relating their stories to the Jr. Highers.  Not to mention, the late night mentoring discussions with them and the chance for them to flex their spiritual muscles in real ministry was great for their growth in Christ.
  2. Campfire – Many have given up on this old fashioned event at camp, but I embraced it and did one every night even though it was insanely hot outside. It is so different from anything the students experience on a weekly basis; this makes it that much more powerful.
  3. Balls and Music – As I said, it was ridiculously hot, so much of what was planned outdoors had to be cancelled so no one died of heat exhaustion.  We found that free time with beach balls and music went a long way in helping students, not only cope with the heat, but in giving them a chance to burn energy and “hang out.”
  4. Affirm the Faculty – I recruited many people to serve as faculty for my week.  They performed so well and many went above and beyond their call of duty.  I affirmed them every chance I got.  This contributed, at least in part, to a week virtually free of any faculty controversy.
What ideas do you have in planning a successful camp or retreat?

I ran across this picture of the “Perfect Employee” on Guy Kawasaki’s blog.  This guy has a, “Modern haircut with a touch of gray that boasts of knowledge and wisdom,” a, “Family picture . . . always in his front pocket,” and, my personal favorite, he, “Wins the air-guitar contest evey year at the company picnic – last year’s song: ‘Sweet Child of Mine.'”

This reminded me of a blog I read once called, “The Perfect Youth Ministry Leader” – a quiz one takes to find out if they are “An Intern” or an “Epic Legend” in youth ministry.  In this list, the youth worker must have, “. .  .the ‘side hug’ down to a science,” and have, “. . . a verse tattooed somewhere on his body (+2 points for Hebrew words).”

Satire aside, what attributes would you place on the perfect youth minister?  Here are a few that I came up with:

  1. Knows that he/she is not the Savior of students.
  2. His/Her investment in students is long-term; knowing that fruit takes a good deal time to grow.
  3. Knows that the “perfect youth worker” does not exist and he/she determines their worth based on what Christ thinks of them, not the points on the “cool scale” they can accumulate by having the proper amount of facial hair or Christian t-shirts.

Shake the Dust

April 27, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 7:21-29

Poet, Anis Mogjani, in this video, calls his listeners to action after they hear his words:

This is for you…
Just like the days I burn at both ends,
and every time I write, every time I open my eyes,
I’m cutting up parts of myself simply to hand them over to you.

So, shake the dust and take me with you when you do
because none of this has ever been for me.
All the pushes and pulls, pushes and pulls, pushes and pulls,
It pushes for you…

For this is yours. This is yours.
Make my words worth it.
Make this not some poem I write…
Walk into it, breathe it in.

Now, Jesus . . .

Calling those who hear what he says in the Sermon on the Mount to be people who not only “say” (Matthew 7:21-23) and “hear” (Matthew 7:24-29) what he preaches, but to construct their metaphorical houses on the rock these words impart.

Build your foundation on the pieces cut from Jesus found in his brilliant sermon meant to inspire you and ordain you to be flava and gleam in a world that is tasteless and dark.

Build your foundation on the rock of these words of Christ, for when the storms of life come, they will give you strength to stand.

Work in his words.  Breathe his words.  Live his words so well that dust does not have a chance to settle.  Or, as Mogjani states:

Let it crash into the halls of your arms…
Making you live, so that when the world knocks at your front door,
Clutch the knob tightly and open on up and run forward and far into its widespread greeting arms with your hands outstretched before you,
Fingertips trembling though they may be.

Thanks to Aaron Monts who turned me onto this video on his blog and for being an all around good man.  Check him out here.

Dentists and Pearls

March 17, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 7:1-6

I dread going to the dentist.  It is not the stylings of Celine Dion in the waiting room, the metal scrapers or even the screams of the children in other rooms.  It is the judgments towards my personal hygiene I receive.

“You need to floss more . . . drink less coffee . . . go to the dentist more . . . etc.”

I understand it is a dentist’s job, but the problem is, the only thing I want to hear them say is, “No cavities today!  Great Job, Mr. Tomeo!”  I don’t need a lecture.

I wonder if the same reason I don’t want to go to the dentist is the reason many people don’t want to go to church?

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, just got done teaching us how to entrust ourselves to God (don’t worry, don’t store up treasures in heaven, etc.), now he teaches us how to entrust others to God.  Essentially, he says:

  1. God’s job is to judge (make eternal decisions about peoples’ souls); let God be God (v. 1-2).
  2. Only when your desire to be God is gone, can you help someone get rid of his or hers. (v. 3-5)
  3. Some people cannot appreciate the pearls (truth) you have, so don’t throw any to them (v. 6).

How are you making eternal assumptions about people in your life?  What planks need to be removed from your eye so that you can help others remove their specks?  Where are you throwing pearls to people who have no idea what to do with them?

What Matters?

February 15, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 5:38-48

I think it wise to review Christ’s counter-intuitive teachings so far in Matthew 5.  A few weeks ago, we looked at Jesus’ words on anger and lust in Matthew 5:21-30—your actions matter and they are born in your mind; a citizen of heaven must work on his mind and, if necessary, take drastic measures to do so.  Last week, we discussed his thoughts on divorce and oaths in Matthew 5:31-37—God is in a marriage, but actually, he is in everything we do and everything we say; a “blessed” one knows this and lives as though it were true.

Now, we come to Jesus’ teaching this week (Matthew 5:38-48) on revenge and love for our enemies.  He calls us to the impossible.   Not only does he call us to turn the other cheek to someone has struck us, but he follows it with this thought: “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly father is perfect.”

Seriously?  Who can do this?  What man or woman can claim that they are perfect?  Does this not go against his earlier thought of us being, “Poor in spirit?”

When looking at these teachings of Jesus, remember the following:

  1. Jesus fulfilled the law.  You are not under law, but grace.  God looks at us and see Jesus’ blood, not the ways we do not measure up.
  2. We are called to be imitators of Christ who when he went to the cross and endured, not just humiliation and physical harm, but the sins of all mankind.  And, what better way to bring the flava and gleam of the present tense kingdom of heaven than to imitate the One who bore such shame and pain on our behalf?
  3. Jesus’ interest is always that our hearts be tuned to him.  These teachings, when brought into our hearts, allow us to be pulled by Christ into the people we are supposed to be, not pushed by our past sins (which is harder by far).

May these teaching be accepted into your hearts and may you allow them to draw you closer to Christ’s heart.  May you not see them as more ways in which you do not deserve to be called “blessed” (you will never deserve that).

Divorce and Oaths

February 7, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 5:31-37

Jesus has pronounced us “blessed” (Matthew 5:3 – see teaching here) and has turned his attention now to dismantling the “ladder to God’s blessings” set up by the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.  Since, as we learned a few weeks ago (here), Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, and his blood has bought our righteousness in the sight of God and makes us “blessed” already, this ladder they wanted set up does not exist.  The ideas Jesus is putting forth do not give us more law, they give us freedom to live in such a way that we can spread the blessings of God to everyone.  Having dealt with the thought life of followers (here), he now speaks to how we should deal with people.

On divorce (Matthew 5:31-32 and Matthew 19:1-12): The teachers were obsessed with how to obtain one, but Jesus says, “Your spouse is not a piece of property to be done away with on a whim.  Marriage was ordained by God at creation and almost nothing (with the exception of adultery) should separate two that God has joined together.”

On oaths (Matthew 5:33-37): In Jesus’ day, if two parties were making a deal and a person said, “I swear by God’s name that I will follow through on the terms of our agreement,” the person felt an extra push to come through on his part of the bargain.  However, if a person did not invoke God’s name, he did not consider his part of the deal to be binding.  Jesus is saying here, “You cannot take God out of anything you do; he is in everything already even if you don’t want him to be, therefore do what you say you are going to do.”

Recognize the progression here: God is in a marriage, but actually, he is in every conversation we have and a “blessed” one should know that and live as though it were true.

I recently read Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again) by Wayne Rice (co-founder of Youth Specialties and one of the true pioneers in church youth ministry today).  It has inspired several thoughts in me about student ministry from which I plan to write (the first of which can be found Here).  This quote and this list combine to make another:

God never gave to youth workers the responsibility for making disciples of other people’s kids . . . God gave that responsibility to the parents, not the local church or the youth ministry (page 24).

Rice also puts forth a pragmatic list for why the above quote is true (page 28-30):

  1. Parents love their kids more than anyone else.
  2. Parents care about their kids more than anyone else.
  3. Parents have more time with their kids than anyone else.
  4. Parents have more authority over their kids than anyone else.

We all know this to be true and student ministers should see it as one of their main jobs to encourage parents in their call to make disciples of their children.  The question is how do we do this?  Here are a few ideas I have had to encourage parents as the true student ministers:

  1. Embrace a discipleship strategy which includes parents in the discussion. I try to put into the hands of parents resources which help them progress the conversations I am having with their student.
  2. Favor parents in volunteer roles within the ministry. If I am in need of volunteers, I seek out parents of students in my group first to fill these roles.
  3. Find areas of the student ministry in which the interests of the students and parents intersect. As you seek to help students find service  roles in the youth ministry, seek students whose parents have expertise in those areas and can help their student fill those roles.  For example, if you need pictures taken, find a parent who has an interest in photography to take their son and daughter out to take them.  This gives them time together, creatively exploring how to serve the church and the ministry.

What are some methods you have used to empower parents as disciple-makers?

Drastic

January 25, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 5:21-30

Jesus calls disciples “blessed” when they are “poor in spirit,” but he refuses to leave them in that state.  The moment we receive salvation, Jesus starts to pull us out of our poverty towards his heart.

Having called the disciples to a righteousness that surpasses the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20), Jesus goes on to explain how they should go about living this life in a 27 verse long debate with the teachings of these men.  In each of the sections, he quotes them (“You have heard that it was said . . .”) and follows with his thoughts (“but I say . . .”).  In each, he turns their attention to what really matters: their hearts.

In Matthew 5:21-30, Jesus breaks the sins of murder and adultery down into their most fundamental state: emotions.  He states that our thoughts, not just our actions, matter and they are subject to judgment too.  One cannot say, “Yes, I hated him, but at least I never murdered him,” or, “Yes, I desired her in an ungodly way, but at least I never committed adultery with her.”

Jesus is not being literal with his suggestions for how to deal with sinful desires, (i.e., leaving our worship service to be reconnected with our brother whom we have slighted, and gouging out our eye/cutting of our hand if they cause you to sin).  Rather, he is prescribing drastic actions be taken on our part to dig these seeds up before they are allowed to grow.

What drastic actions do you need to take to uproot the seeds of sin in your life?

Fulfilled

January 18, 2011

Scripture: Matthew 5:17-20

Followers have been blessed and have been given a charge (salt and light).  One might think at this point that Jesus is doing away with the old ways of law.  Not so.  Jesus must have anticipated people thinking this because he immediately points out, all of history (the law and the prophets) were not now abolished; all of history was pointing to himself.

Then, he talks, in verse 18, of a time when “everything is accomplished”, where the law, heaven and earth will disappear.  He is saying here that he is leading us to another destination; one that is different than everything we know to be true.

In the verses following, Jesus sends us back to the law, not so we can earn our salvation, but so that we can allow the Spirit to bring our hearts closer to the heart of Christ.  As John Stott says, “The law sends us to Christ to be justified and Christ sends us back to the law to be sanctified.”

Bottom line: God created us good, we fell, Christ redeemed us on the cross and brought us in to live in his kingdom.  We should not view the law as a checklist of things to do or not do to get saved (Jesus already paid that debt), but a way to join Christ in his ongoing work to shape us, form us and call us back to the people we were originally created to be.

Beautiful.