Monday, April 30, 2012

Why I Will Be the Associate Pastor at Charles Town Baptist Church

For those of you who may not have heard, I was recently hired as the Associate Pastor for Children and Youth at Charles Town Baptist Church. My family and I are extremely excited about this opportunity and look forward to all that God is going to do through our new church family. I wanted to take a few minutes and lay out why I am so excited about this new position.
  1. It is obvious that God is in this decision. While I don't have enough time or space to lay out all of the details, it was clear from the beginning of the interviewing and hiring process that God was in the decision. The fact that the church is located in my neighborhood comes to mind. We will not have to relocate our family or get acclimated to a new area before we begin ministering. God worked out so many details, little things that played a huge role in the overall decision.
  2. The church has already made us part of the family. We have been well-received, even before the final vote was taken. My wife and I have received many encouraging messages and friend requests from people on Facebook. The process of coming on staff was long and, at times, stressful, but everyone was so excited and their love for us was apparent. When the final vote was announced during the service, there was a roar of approval and many, many hugs were exchanged.
  3. Pastor Brian is excited about mentoring me. One of the things that my pastor made clear was that he was going to mentor me, especially in how to "maintain" in ministry. He wants me to be a part of the team for a long time and is going to meet with me regularly to make sure that I am taking care of myself and my family in order to stay in ministry for as long as the Lord will have me there.
  4. The ministry opportunities are wide open. Charles Town Baptist Church has a strategic plan and a group of individuals that we are working to reach. As a result, we are working to build excellence in those areas, particularly in youth and children's programs. I have the opportunity to work with some great individuals and put in place some programs and plans to reach our community and to impact the surrounding areas as a result.
  5. The ministry I will have here will impact the rest of the world. I know that sounds a bit grandiose, but there are a large number of individuals in our community who commute from West Virginia to Washington, D.C. The influence that our ministry has on them will then be carried with them to work in D.C., where they will influence others. One of the great (and not-so-great) things about our area is the transient nature of the people. Many people are here for a short period of time before moving on. Those we minister to in Charles Town will minister to those in Washington D.C. who will then minister to other around the country and the globe.
These are just a few of the many reasons why I am excited to serve at Charles Town Baptist Church. I couldn't be happier to be right where God has placed me.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How God Answers Prayer

There are times when we see God work in very easy to understand ways. We pray for something and it happens almost immediately. There are other times where that isn't the case. We pray and pray and ask and ask and the thing that we are praying for does not come to pass. Such was the case over the past year.

As many of you know, I am just a few days from a church voting on whether to call me as their associate pastor for children and youth. My family has been at the church several times and we have begun making friends and participating in church activities. I am very excited about what the future holds and the adventure that God is taking my family on as members of the church staff.

Before we got to this point, though, I was actually hoping to be on staff at another church, the church that I was attending. The church had recently lost two staff members and there was an opening. I spoke with the pastor and things seemed to be progressing. I was praying for the opportunity and it seemed like things would work out. I had several meetings with the pastor and he even mentioned to the church the possibility of calling me to be the associate pastor.

Then things changed.

Suddenly, the pastor was no longer interested in calling me. The church began talking with another individual and he was hired instead of me. Needless to say, I was devastated. Why hadn't God answered my prayers and given me the staff position that I had been praying for over the past months?

As it turned out, this was how God answered my prayers. While the church I was attending is a great church, it would have been the wrong fit. I love many of the people there, but the pastor and I see things differently and that would not have been good for anyone.

God answered my prayer for a pastoral position by moving us to a new church. The new position is exactly what we were praying for and the way that it came to be was too remarkable to be a coincidence. It is obvious to us that this is where God wants us to be. We are just a few days from the church voting to confirm that call.

Sometimes God takes us through difficult and discouraging times because He has something much better for us. If He were to always give us what we think we want, we would quickly come to understand that what we think is best is not always the best that God has for us.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Importance of Mountain-top Experiences in Youth Ministry

I was recently listening to a podcast on the importance of having "big events" in youth ministry. One of the speakers was saying that it is vital for students to have "mountain-top" experiences during their time in a youth group, something that they can return to years down the road and remember the way it felt to be that close to God. As I was listening, I began to remember a few of the mountain tops that I had been on growing up.

The Youth Conference to Trinity Baptist College - One year, my youth pastor took me and a few of my friends to a conference at Trinity Baptist College, the school he had attended. We had a blast together and there was some great preaching. I don't remember what was said, but I remember Branden falling in the mud, I remember eating a chapstick to impress a girl, and I remember that I surrendered to preach while I was there.

Our youth group trip to Rochester, NY - Each summer our youth group took a trip to several churches to perform a play and sing some songs. While we were on our trip to New York, we had the opportunity to serve in a rescue mission in inner-city Rochester and we performed at a church where a woman accepted Christ. This was the first time we had done the performance without someone preaching afterward. An incredible experience!

Planning my first youth activity - Just before I left for college, my youth pastor allowed me to plan a youth activity. We raised several hundred dollars for a local food bank and we had a great time. I still have a scar on my right elbow from playing dodgeball. It was during this activity that I felt a confirmation to continue what I was doing.

There are so many other "mountain top" experiences that I could share. The important thing is not the event, but rather the time that I had with God and with others. I look back on these times and they always make me smile.

Do you have any "mountain top" experiences from your youth group days?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why I Didn't Like The Hunger Games or Cabin In The Woods

I am a huge fan of the movies. I love the entire experience. I love driving to the theater, buying my ticket, getting popcorn and a soda, and watching the movies. Well, I don't enjoy the ridiculous prices, but there is a family-owned theater near where I live, so that helps. Most Friday nights (after the boys are tucked into bed), I'm at the movie theater. I love movies.

With that being said, I did not like the last two movies that I saw. This past weekend I had the opportunity to see Cabin in the Woods and The Hunger Games. You may not be familiar with Cabin, but unless you've been under a rock or in a coma, you know about The Hunger Games. Here's the deal: both movies were incredibly well-done. The acting was top-notch and (at least in regards to The Hunger Games) there are characters that you care about.

Here's my problem with the movies (potential spoilers):

Each movie was based on the premise that there were individuals betting and orchestrating the death of others. Each of the films had individuals who were causing situations that would result in the physical harm and potential death of innocent individuals. And, at times, when one of the characters died, there was great pleasure shown at his or her demise. In one of the films, there was a huge party taking place while one of the characters was being brutalized on-screen.

I had a very hard time with this. I nearly walked out of both films and am upset with myself for not doing so. It is no wonder that we hear stories of brutality and violence taking place and learn that there were bystanders who were cheering the aggressors on. I understand that both films were attempting to critique the nature of such films, but it seems odd that they would use the very same techniques in order to offer criticism.

As a youth pastor, I do my best to keep abreast of what is going on in pop culture. I am concerned about the rash of movies that are coming out that seem to glorify senseless brutality for the pleasure of individuals watching. I pray that it ends soon.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Guest Post - Raising Up Young Leaders

As I prepare for my new ministry, one of the things that I am looking forward to most is having the opportunity to pour into the lives of young men and women, particularly those who will go on to serve in ministry. Here is a post from Ron Edmondson dealing with ways to help foster growth in young leaders.

Posted by Ron Edmondson on his blog on March 12, 2012

I talk to pastors and leaders my age and older who want to see a new generation of leaders, but either don’t know how or can’t seem to find them. Frankly, some pastors I talk with are frustrated with what they see as a lack of leadership among the newer generations.

I’m frequently asked how we have managed to find so many talented young leaders at Grace Community Church. Much of the work God has done among us has been done through the leadership efforts of people 10, 15, and 20 years younger than me. I’m not the oldest guy on staff anymore, but I’m definitely outside the mode, mean, or median average.

Here are 7 ways to raise up young leaders:

Give them opportunities – That sounds simple, but it’s not. Many leaders are afraid to hand off real responsibility to leaders half their age. I understand, because I made some huge mistakes as a young leader, but at the same time, that’s how I learned. Younger leaders want authority and a seat at the table now, not when they reach an expected age. Is it risky? Of course, but it awesome has the potential for awesomeness to occur.

Share experiences– Young leaders are open to learning from a mature leader’s successes and failures. They enjoy hearing stories of what worked and what didn’t. That’s actually one of the beauties of the newer generations. The young leaders on my team actually seek out my personal experience. They will still want the chance to learn on their own, but they are ready to glean from the wisdom of those who have gone before them, especially in the context of relationships.

Allow for failure– People of all ages will make mistakes in leadership, regardless of their years of experience. For some reason that seems magnified for the younger leaders, which is one reason older leaders sometimes shy away from them. An atmosphere which embraces failure as a part of the growth process, invites younger leaders to take chances, risking failure and exploring possible genius discoveries.

Be open to change– More than likely, younger leaders will do things differently than the older leaders did things. They want more flexible hours, different work environments, and opportunities to work as a team. It may seem unnatural at first, but let their process take shape and you’ll have a better chance of leadership development occurring.

Set high expectations– Having different working methods shouldn’t lower standards or quality expectations. The good thing is the younger leaders, from my experience, aren’t looking for a free ride, just a seat on the bus. Hold them accountable to clearly identified goals and objectives. Applaud them for good work and challenge them to continually improve. It’s part of their growth process.

Provide encouragement- Younger leaders need feedback. They seem to want to know how they are doing far more often than the annual review system of the past afforded. They are looking to meet the approval of senior leadership and the organization. Keep them encouraged and they’ll keep aiming higher.

Give constructive feedback- Again, younger leaders appear more interested in knowing they are meeting the expectations of senior leadership, so acknowledge that fact by helping them learn as they grow. Don’t simply share “good” or “bad” feedback. Rather, with the goal of helping them grow as leaders, give them concrete and constructive reviews of their performance. Help them understand not only what they did right or wrong, but practical ways they can get better in their work and leadership abilities.

Raising up younger leaders is crucial to a growing and maintaining healthy organizations and churches. We must be intentional and diligent about investing in the next generation, understanding their differences, and working within their culture to grow new leaders.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Thank You, FBC Kingstowne

Over the past two years or so, I have had the opportunity to preach at First Baptist Church of Kingstowne. I was called and asked to preach there yesterday. As always, it was a wonderful experience. There are some great people at this church and I always leave feeling encouraged from being with them. Even though I don't see them but every couple of months, I feel like the members of the church are good friends and I look forward to the next time I can be with them.

I would ask that you pray for the church. They have been looking for a pastor for some time and I believe that the right pastor is out there for them. Please pray that God shows the church leadership who that individual is. They are located in a great area and it is my belief that they will continue to be a light to their community, one that will glow even brighter in the years to come.

Thank you, FBC Kingstowne, for your friendship and encouragement. I am truly blessed from my time(s) with you.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Your Students Want YOU

In just a few weeks I will be beginning what I hope will be the adventure of a lifetime. As a result, I have been praying and thinking and fretting over what it means to be a children's/youth pastor. What programs do I need to establish? What will my discipleship material look like? How do I build a seamless bridge from elementary to middle school to high school? What can I do to keep my students from walking away when they enter college?

Seriously, I'm going to have to shave my head just to hide all the gray hair that I now have.

I went to coffee with my new pastor a few days and talked all of this over with him. He listened and gave me some great advice: "The only thing you need to do right now is build relationships. You need the people. Without the people, there is no church."

Here's the thing we need to remember: Programs are great. Games are enjoyable. Discipleship is important. However, at the end of the day, your students want you. They want to see you. They want you to be there for them at their games and programs. Your students want to know you care about them and are praying for them. We all want to have the youth group described in Purpose-Driven® Youth Ministry, but the reality our students probably don't care.

They just want us to be there for them.

(HT to April Perry for the inspiration)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Some Thoughts from Onward by Howard Schultz

Over at one of my favorite blogs, there is a post about the 12 books a youth pastor should read in 2012. One such book is Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul. I recently began reading the book and I must say it is quite remarkable. While I am not finished with it yet, I did come across two great quotes that have made me to do a lot of thinking about the way that I would like to do ministry.

There is a word that comes to my mind when I think about our company and our people. That word is "love." I love Starbucks because everything we've tried to do is steeped in humanity.
Respect and dignity
Passion and laughter
Compassion, community, and responsibility

(Onward, pp. 4-5)

When we love something, emotion often drives our actions.

This is the gift and the challenge entrepreneurs face every day. The companies we dream of and build from scratch are part of us and intensely personal. They are our families.
Our lives.

But the entrepreneurial journey is not for everyone. Yes, the highs are high and the rewards can be thrilling. But the lows can break your heart. Entrepreneurs must love what they do to such a degree that doing it is worth sacrifice and, at times, pain. But doing anything else, we think, would be unimaginable.

(Onward, pp. 8-9)

While I cannot tell you that this is a great book or a terrible book, I can tell you that I am enjoying what I've read so far, even if I did feel a bit disingenuous reading a book about Starbucks while drinking a delicious frozen coffee from Sheetz. My review should be up soon.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Book Review - Enemies of the Heart by Andy Stanley

In his book Enemies of the Heart, Andy Stanley discusses the four emotions that many individuals face that can be destructive to their hearts and to the relationships they have with others. These emotions include guilt, anger, greed, and jealousy. Stanley begins by addressing the symptoms that many individuals have that indicate that there is something terrible taking place. He lets us know that some of the indicators include statements like “I can’t believe I just said that;” “I don’t know where that came from;” and “That’s not like me.”

After addressing the four deadly emotions, Stanley then provides the reader with four spiritual exercises that can be implemented to combat and neutralize the emotions. He also provides a discussion of lust and why it is important to fight these emotions for the future of our children.

I found this book to be an easy read, but it was not one that I found to be particularly enlightening. I am a fan of the books that Andy Stanley writes that deal with leadership and youth ministry. This book came across as being very shallow and, at times, a little sugar-coated. While I did not research it, it would not surprise me to discover that this book was based off a sermon series that Stanley did at his church. Others may find this book beneficial, but I did not. It was not a bad book, but it was not something that I typically read.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. The thoughts in this review are my own and I was not asked for a positive review.

Signing Up for Texting - An Incredibly Hard Decision

I have been a customer of AT&T for over 11 years. I still remember getting my first cell phone, having to put down the deposit, and carrying this giant brick of a phone around with me. After I got married, I added my wife to my plan. Fortunately, the school district that I teach for has made discounts available, so we were able to go with a bare-bones plan that typically cost us about $70 a month. The catch was that we could only talk. No texting. Any time we received a text message, we were billed for it. Of course, the idea of no texting was extremely strange to the rest of the world. People could not understand why we did not text.

I am about to begin my ministry as a youth pastor and one of the things that I am learning is that teenagers do not make phone calls...ever. They send text messages. With that piece of knowledge, I knew that it was time for me to enter the world of texting. I went to our local AT&T to see about upgrading our phones and adding a text messaging feature to our calling plan. After hearing what it would cost, I dejectedly walked out of the store with no new phones and no text messaging. That afternoon I made a phone call and was able to get the activation fee waived, but our monthly bill was still higher than I wanted it to be.

I spent most of the evening doing some research and came to the realization that it might be time to switch carriers. After looking at all of the available plans, my wife and I have decided to switch to T-Mobile. With this company, we are able to get mobile-to-mobile calling (so we can call each other), plus texting for about $80 a month. It also turns out that my employer has a discount available that gives us an additional 12% off the monthly bill and waives the activation fees (a savings of $70). We are getting new phones and texting and our monthly bill is staying almost what it was before the switch.

It is my understanding that this may not seem like that big of a deal to some folks, but it was a huge thing to me. First, it was a huge deal because it meant the possibility of a larger cell phone bill. My wife and I are doing our very best to decrease the amount of money we spend each month. Second, it was another indication that I am moving closer to my dream and calling of ministry. From talking with some individuals on Facebook, it was made quite clear that texting is vital to having a strong ministry to students. I am just thankful that the Lord provided a way for us to acquire this necessary tool without having to increase our monthly spending too much.

We serve a great God.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Free Kindle Books Worth Looking At

In light of my post about preaching from a tablet, here are some Kindle books that may be worth looking into. The price can't be beat: all of these books are being offered for FREE (at least for a limited time).

Heaven for Kids by Randy Alcorn

Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity, and the Things We've Made Up by Francis Chan

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan

Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit by Francis Chan

And, for those of you who haven't gotten your Kindle yet, you may want to think about picking one up. It is a great ministry tool and good item to have in general (at least in my opinion).

Kindle Fire

(HT to Tim Challies for the book list.)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Preaching from a Tablet - Yes or No?

There has been some discussion as of late as to whether a preacher should use an iPad or other device when speaking to a group. Some say yes, some say no. Personally, I nearly always preach from either my Kindle or an iPad. Here are some reasons why.

  1. Preaching from a device keeps me on track. I type up my notes and load them as a PDF onto the device. This prevents me from losing my notes or having the pages get mixed up. There is nothing worse than losing your place on the paper or having one of your sheets fall out.
  2. The device is more efficient. With just a swipe of my finger, I can go to the next page or go back to a previous page. There is no shuffling of notes or pages to drop.
  3. Putting my notes on a device is more economical. Let's face it, paper and ink cost money. The average sermon outline is around 4 pages and the average manuscript can run up to about 10 pages (well, if you are verbose like me). Those little ink cartridges are expensive and they always seem to run short on the day I am supposed to preach. Putting my notes or manuscripts on my device lets me use as much color and "ink" as I want without the fear of running out or having to shell out $20 just to print my maunscript.
I have had the privilege to preach from a Kindle, Kindle Fire, and an iPad. All have their benefits, but I think the best option is the iPad. The screen is bigger and it is much easier to flip to the next page just by swiping. The Kindle Fire is also a good option, but the screen is a bit smaller.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tips for Pastors With Potential Preachers in their Churches

As a seminary student and man who felt the call on his life to serve in vocational ministry, I felt that it was important to be actively involved in my church. While my wife and I have been in several churches over the years, we have taken every opportunity to be as involved as possible with the ministry of the church. Here are a few tips that I would like to offer to pastors in order to help them cultivate the individuals in their church who may be seeking God's will.

  1. Help these men determine their calling. It is vital that, as pastors, you help individuals determine if the ministry is truly for them. Some individuals may feel a call, but do not have the necessary gifting to be a pastor or preacher. Help them determine this right from the start. It is vital that they know if they are truly called in order to prevent heartache and devastation later down the road.
  2. Give them opportunities to preach. The pastor of my last church was good about this one. Many pastors are very stingy with their pulpits, using the excuse that God has called them to be responsible for the flock and the teaching that takes place. While this is true, it is also necessary to give others an opportunity to preach as well. There was a time when someone did the same for you, remember? If the individual goes off the deep end, well, it was only one sermon.
  3. Offer feedback on what they are doing. Young preachers (experience, not necessarily age) need to know what they are doing that is right and what needs to be changed for the next time. Let them know what was good and what was not. The members of your congregation are only going to tell them that they did well or they aren't going to say anything at all. It is your responsibility to help them grow and mature as communicators of God's Word.
  4. Please don't make promises you aren't willing or able to keep. Speaking from experience, seeking God's will and looking for a ministry position can be a time-consuming and patience-trying practice. As young preachers, we want so badly to be in the ministry because we want to follow the call we believe to be on our lives. Young preachers believe that their ministry position is right around the corner. Every preaching opportunity or submitted resume is going to lead to the desire of their heart. With this in mind, please do not lead the young preachers of your church on. Do not let them believe that they will be a pastor in your church if there is no likelihood of it coming to pass. All this does is lead to hurt feelings and will cause your church to lose good leaders.

I realize that this may sound like a lecture, but my intent was offer some advice to help pastor already established in the ministry in ways to nurture those who are rising up right now. The business world is excellent at this type of thing; shouldn't the church be multiplying pastors as well?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Three Things Every New Dad Needs to Know

I'm not really very old. I turn 33 on April 11, 2012. I do, however, have three children with a fourth on the way. My wife and I have a big family and we love every minute of it. Here are a few things that I have learned from being a dad for the past 6 years.

  1. Your boys always watching you. Your children see everything you do. They want to be just like you. This is a wonderful and terrifying thought all at the same time. Your children see you caring (or not caring) for your wife. They see how you interact with other people. They see how you love God. It is your responsibility to make sure they are seeing the right things.
  2. You need to make your children tender and tough at the same time. I realize this sounds like a contradiction, but hear me out. You need to raise your children so that they can roll with the punches of life, but still know when they need a shoulder to cry on. Your children need to see you stand tall under pressure, but they also need to see you weep from time to time. It is perfectly legit to cry when your dog gets put down.
  3. You need to teach your children that everyone is the same and different. I know, another contradiction. God made us all the same, but He also made us uniquely different. That is what makes our world such an incredible place. We are all created in His image, but there are awesome varieties in the human race. It is an absolute sin and tragedy to teach your children to discriminate against someone else. Don't think you will? See Item #1 from the list above.
Bonus Item: You need to pray for your children. They can know you are praying for them or you can keep it a secret. The reality is that being a father is the greatest and most challenging thing you will ever attempt. You cannot do it without the help of God. (By the way, I realize this has nothing to do with being a youth pastor or ministry, but I was reading a blog post and felt a little inspired.)