Search This Blog

Who I amReside in St. Louis Missouri currently, Lived in California & Colorado.Husband.Father.Pastor.Football Enthusiast.Teacher.Learner.Dreamer.Reader.Friend. [thoughts & comments blogged here are my reflections living life trusting Jesus as God]

Monday, August 25, 2014

Missions Trip Done Right Part 1

I started my 14th year in youth ministry this past summer and I've lead at least one foreign soil mission trip EVERY year of youth ministry.  England, Mexico, Uganda & Costa Rica are all the locations we've been.

I have held to this conviction for a long time; if you want to see a students life changed allow them to see a close friend begins relationship with Jesus and take them on a missions trip.

Over the years I've found a system that works well for me in how we accomplish a healthy initiative led trip.  Each trip brings a few adjustments but the base principles stay the same.
I have two blog posts to share these personal learnings that will hopefully help you with a new idea or encourage you to expand on your own process.

The key to any healthy trip is Organization.  Youth Leaders you will save yourself hours of sleep, you'll gain parents confidence quicker, minimize tough conversations en route & allow students a better experience if you are organzied.
Take the time to gain as many details before the trip as possible.  Be anal retentive about the details you need or think you'll need!  Do you have all legal documents with you & at home?  Do you have transportation covered?  Do you have petty cash because that church credit card won't work overseas?  Do you have a emergency contact system?
This organization factor is also have a backup plan to the "what if" scenario.  What if you miss your flight?  You are stopped & separated at an international border?  A student or leader gets severely sick?

Give ample time to publicize all the "W's".  The Where you are going? Why you are going there? When you leave? Who is leading the trip? What students can expect to experience before, during as well as after the trip?
Field questions ahead of time but thinking through the questions people will have and provide those during information & training meetings.  Post it socially as well as through email updates to families.

Recruit well for Missions trips.  You do not need nor do you want a leader on the trip who will add stress or be high maintenance for you.  Your time and attention is critical and you need adult leaders you can trust and share the ministry with.
You also need to train, inform & include your leaders with as many internal conversations as possible.  Be sure they know their boundaries of what is expected of them but also be sure to give them freedom.  Care for them well on these trips as most of them are leaving family, taking vacation time & sacrifices the same thing you are for the sake of students.  Take leaders with you who you can trust a peer leader.

I've always sorted students into teams with 1-2 leaders per team.  This allows you as the youth pastor to leverage several possibilities.  Your "team leaders" just became small group debriefing leaders.  When teams need to own a specific event, serving function, through border customs, out to eat or anything else you now have the power of sending teams that you already have divided up.
Splitting up into teams also allows you & the other leaders to do a head count a whole lot easier which let's be honest seems to be a factor with every plane change, bus transfer, taxi cab ride from the moment you leave until you get home.

Plan Z
If you don't know it let me be the first to tell you, your trip will NOT go as planned.  You need to talk through the serious what if factors.
For example: On a missions trip we had a motor vehicle accident that affected 3 of our leaders.  Now the injuries were minor but they were still a factor.  We didn't plan that.
On another trip I had a student make a poor judgement call that forced us to sit at a border crossing for almost 2 hours being inspected.  I definitely did not plan nor want this issue!

These couple incidents as well as others were easily handled for the rest of the group to keep moving forward because of the pre-planning PLAN Z we had already in the group plan & strategy.
Take some time with your team before you leave to know what the plan is & the parameters of how to enact the plan if a issue arrises.

Next post we'll talk about some ideas to do while on the trip & post trip followup~

Friday, August 15, 2014

Wholly Crazy Summer!!

That's right...WHOLLY!
Everything.  All of it.  Personal, professional, public & private...all of it has been a full summer of craziness.

To recap the last 4+ months of our families lives here is the bullet point version:

  • March 2014 I had personal & professional reasoning to leave a church we were at in Southern California for 6+ years
  • April 16th 2014 moved to St. Louis MO to begin a new chapter of life & Cole turned 10
  • April 17th began looking for a rental
  • April 21st moved into our new rental & started at a new church
  • April 23rd moving truck showed up
  • May 30th Our sons finished their school year in Missouri after only 5 weeks of going
  • June 3 2014 the home we were renting had a faulty electrical outlet that didn't like my surge protector and our garage & laundry room was burned with severe smoke damage to the house as well as our belongings
  • June 4th we were homeless
  • June 16-20th Student Ministry Summer Camp
  • July 14-21 High School Missions Trip to Costa Rica
  • July 27-August 1st Middle School Mission Local serving & Missions trip
  • August 6th our Boys began their first Day of School
  • August 8th we moved back into our rental home ending an 8 week displacement living in hotels, with family (impromptu Virginia Trip for Kim and the boys) & friends.
  • August 11th part of our contents were returned from a restoration company & I turned 34
  • August 13th all of our fabrics & clothing items were returned from a restoration company
  • August 15th....i finally get back to blogging
Needless to say it's been a wholly crazy summer.  All of us have had a ton of emotions and experiences throughout this whole transition.  
Some of those emotions have been pain, anger bitterness, tears, joy, humbling moments, experience love & care by strangers, we all miss So Cal, we are trying to adjust to humidity & we know it's a process. 

We knew the reason we had to move as well as this move was bringing challenges but we never thought any of these challenges would be magnified by so many other issues and scenarios.  
And through it all I have felt like a broken record saying "day at a time, step at a time".  
Because that is all we really are able to navigate.  We couldn't control anything that pushed us out of Southern California, we couldn't control the fire, we couldn't control issues trying to get back into our rental home & so much more.  All we can do is "day at a time, step at a time".

As a Dad i've tried to care for my boys with as much conversation, fun moments & giving them space to process freely without begin forced to "deal with it".  As a husband I've tried to listen closely to Kim, care for your emotions as well as taking whatever I can off her plate in those moments she just needs a break.  
As a follower of Jesus I've prayed, and prayed....and prayed for wisdom & also the ability to take it "day at a time, step at a time".

To be honest there is still so much we are having to manage in our lives.  Insurance claims & paperwork, a new school system with an entirely new school calendar, our boys trying to develop new friendships, Kim and I trying to create a new rhythm for our family, learning the ins & outs of working in a new church, trying to learn how to balance being outdoor people when humidity makes you wanna stay inside and that list keeps going.

So today I leave with you with this; this summer we've really had a chance in life to practice what we preach.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:25-34 ESV)

Monday, July 07, 2014

Driven Leaders and Selfish Ambition

One of the highlights about being a leader is you get to see & experience things many other people do not.  From lives being changed, traveling around the world with people, creative planning processes and first hand being an influence for someones or an organizations life.

However, with leadership comes power and the ability to make executive decisions.  There is no doubt that certain leaders make some of those decision based on personal preferences or biases.  And leaders are hired and given the opportunity to lead with their own convictions, strengths and drive.  They are hired for a reason.

So when does healthy leadership and selfish leadership have noticeable differences?
I've often thought this is a tricky question because the filter of what is healthy and what is selfish can be subjective to an individual response.  What I may perceive as healthy another can interpret as selfish or biased.  But even with that I think there are some general guidelines for healthy leadership vs selfish leadership.

-- Healthy leadership leads from a place of collectiveness for the sake of the team, organization and greater drive to accomplish the goals without running over people.
-- Selfish leaders makes decisions based on being right or winning the argument.

-- Healthy leadership care about productivity as well as the employee.
-- Selfish leadership cares more about the productivity than the employee.

-- Healthy Leadership is contagious & attractive.
-- Selfish leadership burns people out

-- Healthy Leadership shows genuine care.
-- Selfish leadership cares genuinely about their agenda.

--Healthy Leadership serves before dictates
--Selfish leadership sits on the sidelines before serving

-- Healthy Leadership cares about longevity
-- Selfish leadership is short term & often reactionary

I know these are general statements but for me I've seen both the healthy & selfish side of leadership in those I've worked with as well as at times in my own leadership.  I also know that the leaders I respect, am drawn to learn from and willing to go the extra mile with are those who carry attributes of healthy leadership.  Leadership is not an easy road but whenever you have the chance to lead my hope is we lead well and care about the bigger picture and not just our own personal bias.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Independence Day or Life?

Happy 4th of July! 

    This week, we will take time to celebrate the freedom we enjoy as a nation. We will eat too much food, watch fireworks, maybe attend a parade, and will thank God that we live in a country founded by men and women brave enough to win that freedom over 200 years ago.

    But the longer I reflect on the freedom we enjoy, the more amazed I become with the actual date of Independence Day.
    As we all know, on July 4, 1776, the second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence, claiming legal separation from the British crown. The Brits, however, didn’t quite see it that way, and so the formal beginning of the American Revolution was born.
    What I had forgotten from my school days was how much time passed between the day we declared independence and the day we actually secured it.
    While the Revolution began informally in early 1775, it didn’t end until the final treaties were ratified in November of 1783. That makes the American Revolution a longer war than WWI, WWII, the Civil War, the Korean War, and the conflict in Vietnam.  During that period of nearly a decade, Americans (who the British considered still Brits) wrote songs about their new nation that hadn’t yet won the war. They stitched national flags for a country that didn’t yet exist. And they fought for a freedom they had declared but had not yet experienced. There’s a key lesson from that decade of struggle:
    There was a long time between declaring independence and securing freedom.
    And that’s the way it often is in the spiritual world.
    Freedom has to be declared before it can be secured.
    The pattern is clear: God longs for and uses people who will declare their victory long before they see it come to pass.
    Think back to the Israelites, who marched around Jericho long before the walls fell. Remember Noah, who built an Ark while the sun was still shining. Remember the prophet Isaiah, who said a Virgin would bring forth a child, our Redeemer, 600 years before it happened. And remember Jesus saying that he would rise again once he was killed.
    Now think through your life. What victory should you be claiming, even though you haven’t seen it yet? What independence from a bad habit can you declare today? It may take years of fighting and hard work, but if you will consistently name your freedom, and believe in the freedom that has already been won at the Cross and Empty Tomb, you’ll discover a life that’s greater than you can possibly imagine.
    Declare your freedom before it has come to pass. It’s the American thing to do. And it’s the spiritual key to tapping into the power God has in store for your life.
    Happy Independence Day!

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

When Will It Stop?

Each day awakes to a new horizon of hope
Each day awakes to the truth that what was future just became present
Each day awakes thinking that today is the today when everything comes closer.

As well each day a cruel reality sinks in somewhere between the snooze button & the french press.  
Or maybe it is happens between the garage door & the office door.
Regardless of where it occurs, it happens.

A yell or a scream can signify it's presence.  
Tho not always audible but definitely always alarming.  
The presence of brokenness.

A broken this or that doesn't matter cause at some point it all breaks.  
Pieces are strewn. Value seems lost. What once felt secure really is shattered.

More you say?  More of "this" is what I get to experience with each new day?
How generous...How fulfilling.
How NOT WORTH IT is the sentiment I want to express.

But isn't worth a value that is conditional based on my own filter?
Why is it that when I cry "I'm done" my cry seems unheard and yet my life still moves from present to future to present?

And the whole key is my life is still moving.
Moving towards a new horizon of hope.
Moving towards a present awareness not of myself.
Moving towards a closeness that only can be eternally WORTH IT!

On Days like today Psalm 138 isn't just a PSALM but it is an echo my soul enjoys the sound of.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Youth Pastors, We are Being Watched!

Youth Pastors here is an honest truth all of us can embrace. What we do & what we say is only a part of our ministry influence. How we act at all times, in all ways, will also be noticed!  
How we drive, How we treat waitresses/waiters, How we talk on our phone, How we work or the effort we put forth, How we speak to other adults, our whole life is being watched.

This past week I received a note from a former student that blessed me. It blessed me because of the detail the student put into the note as well as the implications of the students life.  Here is one line from the note;

I saw how you treated Kim and your boys, you loved them and never hurt them. In the beginning that didn't really matter to me because sometimes families are different behind closed doors. But your kids weren't scared of you and neither was Kim.
To be honest it blew me away that how I treated my wife and kids was such an impact for this student. I've always tried to be conscious of how I treat my family when I am around students to be the same that I do privately. I believe in consistency and authenticity.  
I'm thankful that modeling to students what a healthy marriage can look like has helped many see their is hope for what they want out of life. I'm grateful that how I interact with my own children is noticed and can be an encouragement to other students as well.

I needed this encouragement this week but more importantly I'm grateful that this student is following Jesus. Continually healing from some serious life hurt & not quitting on pursuing health.

The last line of their note that brought some mist to my eyes.
I am so grateful for all you have done. For not abusing my trust, for helping me find God, to LISTENING to me, for caring about me. Back then I had no one, not even my mom. Student Ministry gave me a safe place and without it I know that I would not have made it. So once again, thank you

Youth Pastors & ministry leaders do not forget that who we are is watched at a great detail that just what we say.   

Friday, June 27, 2014

Know the Facts Before You React

Many different times throughout the yearly calendar of working with students there is an equation that can make youth pastors like Youth Ministry = Handling Problems

The problems that we are involved with range from disgruntled volunteers, post camp learnings, small group issues, registration mishaps, family counseling, absent student leaders, hurting students and many others.

There can be a pressure to resolve the problem or issue as quick as possible because life is moving at a quick pace and we know there will be another issue around the corner that we'll have to wrestle with and we don't want the current issue to drain us from our pastoral role.  However if we do not have all the details and all the accurate details how to handle one issue it could actually create many other issues.

Younger in ministry leadership I did this more than I care to admit.  I acted with a knee-jerk response making an assumption I had all the facts when really I didn't.  The relational hurt, the misguided words and the "discipline" handed out were nothing but more problems added to an already uneasy situation.

Thankfully I've learned through my own ignorance & mistakes how to lead with more efficiency & care for people.  Whether young in ministry or a seasoned veteran how we lead through problems & issues will speak volumes to those around our life as well as the incident.
Key factors for me are:
  • Pray for wisdom & Discernement
  • Ask Good Questions.  Ask questions repeatedly of all the parties involved to help clarify everything.
  • If possible write down the notes of the key things that need remembered, followed up on or detailed out.
  • Speak with Grace first but do not minimize the issue.  People need to feel heard & cared for, not swept under a rug.
  • Do not let rumors win.  Quiet any lingering rumors that will lead to gossip.
  • Protect the character of those who are innocent.  Allow sin to be confessed & effective accountability to model for others how issues can be resolved well.
Handling problems is a part of our role as youth pastors but it isn't all we do and it shouldn't be what we are known for.  However when we do handle problems lets lead well so we build high trust for those whom serve with us.

Monday, June 16, 2014

How to Help Your Kids Through a Crisis

Experiencing a house fire as a family created a moment in life where we collectively have encountered a crisis.  Kim and I have been wanting to accurately, intentionally & loving help our kids process through this family experience but also not push them.

Here are a few things we've done to help our kids:

How Are You?
Daily since the fire we've asked two questions that are "How Are You?" & "What Are You Thinking?".  This allows us to just get a surface read on both the boys.  Now these questions have been asked while driving to football camp, during lunch, walking the dog and hanging out before bed.
We've tried to daily check in with the boys as well as share with them how we are doing? I want them to hear that mom and dad are processing as well and we need each other to support one other through this event.

Conversation, Conversation, Conversation.
We have not shied away from conversation, in fact I feel we've stepped up some of our conversations.  I want to create as much family chatting, laughter and consistent family time in the midst of all of this.  Some of these conversations are as normal as we've always been but some are intentional to just bring our family together.  Kim's done a great job of this especially during meals or a family game at the end of a long day.

Key Words
We took the boys out to breakfast last week and we went around the table summing the fire experience up in a key word for each of us.  Our words were;
Cody--Chaos, Cole--Sad, Kim--Chaotic, Danny--Uncertain
The rest of the breakfast was us sharing about our words, our feelings and how all of our words we've all experienced and it helps us all have a common experience.  It was encouraging for each of us to share our word and hearing everyone else share how have felt that emotion as well.  I think this was a huge help for both of our boys as we affirmed their feelings as well as allowing them into what we've been feeling.

Tears Are Ok
We have not shamed or made our boys feel bad for tears they emote.  We've allowed them to see us cry and be emotional as well.  We've never said "grow up, suck it up or man up" in the midst of this experience. Tears help us process.  Tears help us feel alive.  Tears also bond and right now family bonding is crucial.

As a family our praying together and individually has increased in the midst of this life experience. I've tried to be very conscious of modeling for my boys the words as well as my heart of really living out saying, 
"God you are God and we are not and we want to trust you in the midst of anything we go through."
If we do not depend on the power of God with any and every situation then we are going to be trying to do it on our own and that is not the model I want for my sons.