My Top 5 Thanksgiving Memories


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Some of my Thanksgiving Memories:

1. Turkey bowl flag football games with teenagers and frozen gamehens.

2. Turkey Bowling with large birds, bowling pins and angry church custodians.

3. Tossing “butt-rolls” to my kids at the Thanksgiving table, (with corresponding screams).

4. Stabbing my brother’s hand with a fork during the Thanksgiving meal prayer, knowing he’d get in trouble if he made a noise.

5. Snowboarding at Silver Mt., with 2 ft of fresh pow, then coming home and eating turkey.

Today will be the first Thanksgiving that both our boys are not here with us… so thankful for the past but a new season of life is here. Enjoy your memories, but refuse to live in the past! Make new memories today!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

-Mark

Will you toke up now? Retail Pot stores open today in Washington State


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Today is the day that many have been waiting for. Pot is now legal and available in Washington State. Two stores opened this morning in my city of Bellingham. (6 more have been granted licenses for my town of 80,000 residents, and a total of 300 will eventually pepper the entire State. The laws in Washington governing pot are similar to alcohol’s open container laws. You can’t smoke in public, on the sidewalk or in your car, however you can light up on your property in plain view of the rest of the world. You can carry up to 1 ounce and anyone over 21 from any state can purchase pot from a retail store here, but once you transport it into another state obviously you are bound by the pot laws of that state. Be prepared to pay more for your pot though, and maybe a lot more. Cost will likely be several times higher that what it costs on the street currently. According to the Price of Weed.com, high quality pot is an average of $232 per ounce in Washington. Some retail pot stores in WA will be charging $25/gram or $700 per ounce (28 grams/ounce)!! If you’re under 21 you’re not supposed to be able to even go into a store or purchase pot or smoke it, and hopefully that will be enforced.

As a guy who’s spent his entire life working with teenagers I’m more than curious how this will impact our teens. It’s not like teens have had any lack of access to pot before it was legalized today, and that black market pot will certainly continue to be available and still be lots cheaper too.

What will be harder to judge will be the long term impact of legalizing this drug on society, and how it’s acceptance will change our culture. As a Christ follower it will be interesting to see how the Church and Christian attitudes will morph and change towards pot as well.

A few in the church already feel it’s God’s plant and He created it for our use. Other’s feel it’s okay to use, but only to relieve chronic or terminal pain. In general, most Christians today are against pot and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. But over time, a new generation will rise up, one that’s only known it as legal, and my guess is that the Church’s attitude towards pot will eventually mirror it’s attitude towards alcohol; outwardly discouraged by the devout, but used by many in the privacy of their own homes. An “everything in moderation” attitude will settle in.

What no one can predict is how this will trickle down into the fabric of our society, and the butterfly effect that will take place. As a lifetime youthworker, I’ll be watching it closely from the inside and praying that it doesn’t fall into the hands of more teenagers, doesn’t create more addicts, and doesn’t dumb down our society any further. God knows we can’t afford that, no matter how much tax revenue it generates.

Growing Leaders


Yes. I feed them both my leftover coffee. It's a little cannibalistic, I know.

The bamboo plant in my office used to be the size of the coffee plant on my desk…

So, I have this bamboo plant in my office…

It sat on my desk for several years in a 4” pot. It grew to a certain height and stayed that way forever. Then one day I had an idea. What if I put it in a bigger pot? Would it grow? Would it die? I decided to give it the opportunity to grow. And did it ever!

Today that bamboo plant is too big for my desk. Actually it sits on the floor and is now taller than my desk by a foot or more. All I did was give it room to grow, (and a lot of cold coffee).

In Youth Dynamics (YD), we try to do the same thing with teenagers. It’s easy for people to get stuck.

Teenagers especially get put into a box, told by someone that they are this or that, defined by words that people threw carelessly at them.

In relational youth ministry we give students an opportunity to break out of those molds. As we build relational trust with kids, we challenge them to grow beyond where they find themselves.

Adventure ministry often times gives us a framework for those break-out moments.

It’s so great to see students step outside themselves, to risk failure only to find that they can do way more than they ever thought they could, and grow in the process.

In the 6 years that I’ve been with YD, I’ve seen our YD kids blossom and grow. Some have grown to the point where they’ve become interns, others have joined our summer staff teams and a few even have joined us as full-time missionaries. We try to do the same thing with our staff. Create a culture where they can step outside themselves and grow. We desire to create an atmosphere where it’s okay to make mistakes, to dust yourself off and to try again.

Parents and organizations alike would benefit from creating a culture that provides enough relational security for people to feel safe to step out and try things; to know that their acceptance does not depend on perfection.

One must do this with an open hand however, and a Kingdom mindset.

Your staff may outgrow your job and your organization. Is that okay with you? Your child may grow to become something that you did not have in mind for them to be? Are you alright with that? If you have a Kingdom mindset you will be. You will recognize that Christ has designs and plans for their life that likely differ from your hopes and dreams for their life. Hold them loosely. Develop people anyway. It’s what Christ calls us to do. “Go and make disciples.” And let them go take their place in God’s Kingdom, wherever that may be.

~Mark

Is your teen suffering from “Affluenza?”


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Lawyers for a teenager in Texas whose blood alcohol was more than three times the legal limit when he crashed into a group of people, killing 4, claim the teen was a victim of “affluenza.” Having grown up in a home where he was coddled by his wealthy parents, he developed a sense of entitlement and poor judgement, they theorized. His defense team even produced an expert witness who claimed the 16 yr. old was a victim of “affluenza;” spoiled to such an extent that he had never before faced legitimate consequences for his actions.

Dr. Richard Ross, professor of Youth Ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a legend in youth ministry circles, spoke on this very issue this week, in a Ted-Talk style presentation to the Youth Ministry Executive Council (YMEC). ymec2014

Dr. Ross contends we are raising a nation of wimps, with parents who have removed all consequences from their children’s lives. We have reared a generation who all got a trophy for participation, where everyone’s always a winner, and where the possibility of failure has virtually been eliminated from their lives. Helicopter moms of university students will even call professors to argue grades for their adult children. Is it any surprise then, when asked the question, “Are you an adult?” that 50% of all 25 yr olds responded definitively, “No.”

As parents of two young men, (now 19 and 22), my wife and I have learned that failure can be a fantastic teacher, if processed appropriately. In fact, some lessons, can only be learned through failure.

When parenting, you must resist the urge to protect your children from the natural consequences of their actions. Of course, there are times where wisdom dictates that you step in and keep your kids from drowning, but children must learn that there is a cause and effect to their actions. Christian parents especially tend to attempt to over-control their teenagers lives, to protect them from everything bad. But too much protection can actually harm your teenagers ability to succeed after they leave home, (if they ever leave).

Teenagers need to experience risk and reward, failure and consequences in appropriate ways. Richard Ross asks the question: “Where does risk and challenge exist in our society today for teenagers?” I agree with Dr. Ross. It is the reason I so believe in Adventure-Based Youth Ministry. Teens need to get out and experience the challenge of doing something outside their comfort zone. White Water Rafting, Rock Climbing, Kayaking, Hiking, Mountain climbing, Horse pack trips, Ice Climbing, Snowshoeing… Youth Dynamics and YD Adventures do all these things and more. I’ve watched my own boys grow in their confidence in themselves as well as deepen their personal relationship with God through adventure ministry. Let’s get our kids out from behind their screens, to experience LIFE and LIFE TO THE FULL!

~Mark

Read more about the story…“Teen paralyzed in ‘affluenza’ case to receive millions” by Todd Unger, USA Today, May 6, 2014

 

Leader: When facing a fire do you add fuel or water?


Youth Leader, has this happened to you? A student comes to you with a secret.  A parent calls and is concerned about kids smoking outside the church. The pastor is angry about the mess you left in the kitchen after your event. What do you do? As a leader you carry a bucket in each hand. One bucket is full of water, the other is full of gasoline. The job of a leader is to determine which bucket to pour on each fire that arises, and to train your volunteers to do the same. Some leaders always use the same bucket. To them, every situation is an emergency, and they add fuel to every issue that arises. Other leaders try to minimize everything. They pour water on every issue that is brought to them. Both of these leaders are exercising  poor judgement. A wise leader has learned which situations need fuel and need to be ramped up and which situations need water, and need to be diffused.

Once as a youth pastor I was running a HS Camp where one of my volunteers came to me with a concern. A volunteer was seen giving an extra long hug to one of the teenage girls.

Decision: Fuel

I confronted the volunteer, without accusation, “This was seen… it is true? What is the extent of your relationship? Don’t do it again. Stay away from her.”

End result: The volunteer continued to exhibit physical behavior toward this minor. The leader was sent home from the camp and removed from leadership. It was discovered soon after that they had a sexual relationship prior to the camp.

Fuel was the correct bucket for this situation.

Most other times a hug is just a hug. How do you know when to add fuel and when to add water?

1. Fuel – Don’t ever ignore safety concerns. If someone brings you a concern regarding safety or health, treat it seriously. If after investigation you determine that the issue is overblown, then you can add water. But always err on the side of protecting students.

2. Water -In general, I pour water on issues of conflict between people, where motives are being assigned and assumptions are being made. I pour water on gossip and slander when it comes to me. I do not allow an atmosphere to be created that allows or encourages that sort of fire to smolder under the surface. Pour water on the gossip and actively engage in resolving the situation where appropriate.

3. What if I’m unsure which bucket to use? Solicit advice from an older / wiser figure in your life. This may be your pastor, or a mentor, or simply a parent you respect and trust. Ask around “Wisdom is found in many counselors.”

Part of developing as a leader is knowing which bucket to use when. To make a mistake in this area can have a high cost attached to it. Take the time to seek wisdom when you’re unsure. And maybe even when you are…

~M

The “Be-With” Factor


How many pancakes does it take to make a disciple?

How many pancakes does it take to make a disciple?

A few years ago I was taking a bunch of Middle School boys to play Laser-tag.  As we exited I-90 we came upon a homeless man at the stoplight.  The boys were in a goofy mood like teenage boys are apt to do at times.  One of the boys asked if he could “give the guy a toothpick,” since his sign said “Anything will help.”  The boys were all laughing as we pulled up next to him, and I seized the teachable moment.  I rolled down the window and said, “Hey, I don’t have any cash, but I’ll buy you lunch at Dick’s if you’re hungry.”  His eyes got as wide as saucers as he vigorously shook his head, “yes, please!”  We pulled into the parking lot and I walked over and shook his hand and asked him what he wanted.  “Just a hamburger would be great.”  We ordered our food plus an extra hamburger, shake and fries for our new friend.  The boy who had originally made the toothpick offer was the first to volunteer to take the man his food. The man was very appreciative and we talked for a brief moment before we hopped back in the car. As we started down the road I asked the question, “Why did we do that?” I let them kick it around a bit before landing on the passage in Matthew 24 where Jesus tells us to take care of the poor.  “I was hungry and you fed me…”

As parents and youth workers we must always be on the lookout for teachable moments… they are easily missed. Boys especially are active learners and retain lessons longer when they are brought into the real world. But often we are too hurried to notice those moments and they quickly pass us by, a missed opportunity.  Often times we think of discipleship as a Sunday School class or something similar. But life transfer does not happen in a class. How did Jesus disciple his boys?? Mark 3 says: “After spending the night in prayer he chose those he wanted to “BE WITH’ him.”  Ministry of presence.

As parents and youth workers alike, our greatest desire is to pass on our faith to our kids.  It’s not rocket science; and it’s not as complex as we often make it. To effectively mentor or disciple a student we simply must “BE WITH” them.

We only have a few short years with our children and the rest of our lives to work. The greatest gift we can give teenagers is to “BE WITH” them.

As youth workers many of us have been lulled to sleep by the siren song of technology, incorrectly believing that if we put on a more relevant service with flashy video and a hot band that we will change more kids lives.  It’s not true.

There is no replacement for quantity time.  Not quality time, QUANTITY.

Flashy services aren’t inherently wrong, but they are not the end in itself… they must be the means to an end… which is simply this:

TO GET TEENAGERS INTO AN AUTHENTIC RELATIONSHIP WITH A CARING ADULT.

Jesus modeled for us his method of discipleship.  How did he transfer his values to a ragtag group of teenage boys??  He simply hung out with them.  As youth workers or parents our goal must be the same.  To walk the road of life with our kids and to look for teachable moments where they watch us live out our Christian faith.

I heard Jeannie Mayo once say…. “Whoever spends the most time with a teenager… wins.”  

And that’s the truth whether you’re a parent or a youth worker.

 For more on this topic read Bo Boshers book, “The Be-With Factor.” Zondervan.

Why aren’t there any HS Seniors in the Youth Group?


grad ballonsAre you asking yourself this question as graduation season is in full swing? Where are all the HS Seniors? Why don’t we have any upperclassmen in our youth ministry? It’s a legitimate question to ask if yours are absent.  It’s not just that they get girlfriends, jobs and driver’s licenses. There are other reasons our HS Seniors have left the building.

Here are a few diagnostic questions to ask yourself:

1. Have you involved Upperclassmen in the leadership of your Youth Ministry?

Is it realistic to think that kids are going to come into your youth ministry at 11 or 12 and sit and watch for 7 years? Upperclassmen must be involved in leadership to stay engaged or youth group gets old for them. Youth Ministries that unlock this key will find that students who take ownership of the youth group, will grow faster personally and help the group grow as well. High School’s trust upperclassmen with leadership. Are you secure enough in your leadership to do this? Or do you want to do everything yourself? You say its about quality control, but what if it’s just about control?  Do we want a student’s greatest leadership challenges to come only from their coach or their teacher?

2. Have you been in your church for less than 3-4 years?

Youth Pastors in transition are one of the most common reason that youth ministries don’t have upperclassmen in them. When a new youth pastor comes, it’s easy for the older students to disconnect. It’s nothing personal, you just aren’t their youth pastor. Their’s just left. Meanwhile, the middle schoolers who felt second class to the old youth pastor, often seize the opportunity to have a youth pastor of their own. These 7th and 8th graders will be the nucleus around which your youth ministry legacy will be built. If you stick around 4+ years, it’ likely they will as well.

3. Is it possible that they might not need your youth group to be spiritually healthy?

It almost seems sacrilegious to say it, but is it possible that all teenagers need to come to your youth group to be spiritually healthy?  Do you believe that? If so, you are mistaken. I remember when I came to grips with this thought years ago, that every kid may not need my youth ministry to grow mature in their faith. It was a hard pill to swallow. But strong families, private schools, para-church youth ministries, serving opportunities, even being involved in the main congregation can provide fantastic opportunities for teenagers to find community, accountability and spiritual growth. Do not try to guilt those teens into coming back to youth group, rather try to discover what they are missing, and fill in the gaps. Maybe they have enough big group stuff but are lacking accountability. Maybe they would like to be in a small group with you and a few of their friends, or simply meet with you for coffee occasionally. Yes, culture has changed the youth ministry game in our country. People are busier than ever, and there is nothing busier than a High School senior. My wife and I have one of our own graduating next week. He is one of the more mature spiritual kids I’ve known, and I’ve watched him slowly disconnect with his high school youth group, and the youth pastor he loves, as he moves to the next phase of his life. And it’s normal stage of adolescent development…

1 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV) When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

 ~Mark

Pregnant for 2 yrs? You gotta be kidding me.


A few years ago I had a kid from one of my old youth groups track me down through social media. “Hey Mark, this is James, can I buy you a cup of coffee?” I remembered James well. His single mom had drug him to youth group and church every week when he was a teenager. He had a tear drop tattoo near his eye, and fashioned himself as a tough kid. He went with me to Mexico on a missions trip once. He played bass in our little band. I remember the day he brought a huge bag of weed down to the church during lunch because the school was doing locker searches next door. I helped him get rid of it. And no, we didn’t smoke it. 🙂 I hadn’t seen or heard from James for a dozen years. “Sure I’ll let you buy me a cup,” I told him. So, the very next morning he drove 5 hours so that he could talk with me. As we sat down, He began to share his story, “I was a punk a** kid in High School. I only came to youth group because I had to. I’ve been in and out of jail for the last 12 years. I have 3 kids from 2 ladies. I was addicted to drugs. But I want you to know that I’m clean now. I’m in AA. I’m playing on the worship team for 2 churches. And I love Jesus. I felt like I needed to track you down and tell you thanks. Thanks for loving on me when I was a punk, and didn’t want to hear it. Thanks for not giving up on me.”

We talked for a while more, and when we were finished, I gave him a big hug and he drove the 5 hrs home. I haven’t seen him since.

One of the blessings of being in Youth Ministry for over 25 yrs is that stuff like this happens to me every now and again. The problem is it doesn’t happen until years after the fact. Its easy as a youth worker to get frustrated because you don’t see the results you were hoping to see. You wanted to change the world, but nothing seems to change except you. You’re tired and disillusioned, and for good reason, it’s a tough job. The average youth worker only stays 3.9 yrs in this carreer field. And it’s too bad, because the chances are you’re doing a fantastic job, but you won’t know it for years. Galatians 6:9 comes to mind, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (NIV)

The gestation period for a rabbit is 31 days, for a cat it’s 63 days. Horses are 330 days, and elephants are an unbelievable 616 days. Can you imagine being pregnant for almost 2 years before finally giving birth?

The gestation period of faith in teenagers is unpredictable and varies from kid to kid. Don’t give up. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean God isn’t doing something in their life.
Their faith may be germinating somewhere there under the surface.
-Mark

I’m so tired – How long can I keep running like this?


Soulitude: A retreat for Youthworkers Apr 28-30, 2013

How are you really doing?  When I get a chance to ask a friend this question, it seems like more and more the answer is something like: “I’m good, busy, but good. I’m tired, really tired.” Whether you’re a mom or a student or a youth worker… western culture today is unreal. We are running ourselves ragged trying to do it all. The expectations that we place on ourselves can be overwhelming. Smartphones have made us accessible 24/7 and that’s both a wonderful thing and a horrible thing. I can respond to an urgent email or text right now, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. And on the other hand, now people expect me to. Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, are all fantastic to a point, but how much dissatisfaction is it creating in me because my life is not as good as everyone else’s seems to be?

We are so busy. Where is the margin in our lives? Where is the white space? It’s like our lives are a Middle School band on crack. Noise, noise, all the time, noise. Not to malign Middle School bands, but most have not yet learned to let the music breathe. From the first note to the last measure, every instrument seems to be in and running at full speed. Have you ever sat in the audience at a Middle School band concert and wanted to claw your eyes out? Why is it that a symphony can play the same piece of music, and it so beautifully gives life to the room, and to your soul?  Pauses, rests in the middle of the piece, let the music ebb and flow. Music’s life is found in it’s breathing. We are no different.

Have you forgotten how to breathe? When was the last time you took time to rest, really rest?

Rest and renewal is a principle that is found in all of life. The earth does it with it’s seasons. The calendar does it with weekends. Our muscles even need it to build strength: workout, rest, renewal. God tried to embed this in our culture from the dawn of Creation, literally, by creating the Sabbath. The Sabbath wasn’t for Him, as much as it was for us. He knew we needed to rest. I’m not promoting that you try to go all Old Testament here and do NOTHING one day a week. No cooking, no cleaning, nothing that even sniffs of effort… I’m not suggesting you do anything that radical.  But what would it look like to incorporate the Principle of Rest and Renewal into your life? What would that look like?

There are busy seasons in our lives, no question. When I worked harvest in the wheat fields of E. Washington, we’d work from sun up to sundown, 15 hours a day, 6 days a week, until the harvest was in. But you only did that for weeks at a time, not for months or years on end. 

If you are in a busy season, hang on. This too shall pass. If your busy seasons tend to go on indefinitely, then “Houston, we have a problem.” And it’s likely you. Maybe it’s your job, or your career field, but maybe the truth is that you kinda like running this fast! The question is: “How long can you run like this?” “Is this pace sustainable?” How long can you keep this up?

When I ran X-Country in High School, inevitably in every meet  there was a jackrabbit who would sprint as hard as he could right from the starter’s pistol, while he was in full view of the crowds. And every time, the pack would eventually catch up to him, a mile or less into the race, doubled over in pain, unable to continue.

Is this you? Are you running at a pace that is unsustainable? Is this a sprint or a marathon? Only you can decide which it’s going to be.  You cannot sprint forever. There is a price to be paid for your lifestyle. 

What is the real cost? Who’s paying it?

Is it your health? Your family? Your future? What is the real cost of your lack of boundaries?

Do your future self a favor and set aside a day, or an afternoon, in the next week or two, to rest and renew you soul. Do something that feeds you. Go for a walk in the woods, sit at the beach… read a book, sleep, breathe deeply. Turn off the world, just for a day or two, or even just for an hour or two. It’ll be there when you get back.

This is my 28th year of Youth Ministry. I decided a long time ago working with teenagers was going to be a marathon for me and not a sprint. If you are a youth worker, we have a Soul Care retreat you should come to. It’s called Soulitude. It’ll help. 

I know, you’re too busy, there’s no way you could take some time off right now. Sure, I get it.

If you don’t start now…. when? Put something on your calendar today… somewhere in the future, anywhere in the future. And STICK to it! Trust me, you need the rest.

~Mark

 

(Soulitude: A retreat for Youthworkers in the NW Apr 28-30, 2013)

To the mom of the toddler who won’t stop crying on the plane…


I know it seems unbearable right now, with your toddler crying and you feeling like everyone is upset and frustrated with you and your kid. But that’s not what I’m feeling. I’m not mad at you at all. In fact, I’m sad. Not sad for you, sad for me. Your crying little boy reminds me of my own and the fact that my kids are almost grown. Believe it or not I’m actually a little envious.

I have so loved being a parent. I can’t believe this chapter of life is nearing its end. Our youngest son is graduating this year. It’s gone by so unbelievably fast. Like a paperback read far too quickly, I can sense the end of the story is near, as the number of pages remaining are far too thin in my hand. And I’m sad. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I started this book? Wasn’t it just yesterday I was hurling throw pillows at my boys as they ran across the living room squealing with joy? How can it be that my little man will never again jump off the top of the couch onto my back while I’ve got his brother pinned to the ground?” I remember wondering each time I tossed him up on my shoulders as he grew bigger and bigger, “Is this the last time I get to give one of my kids a piggy back ride? Somewhere along the line that last one finally did happen, and somehow I can’t remember it no matter how hard I try.  How is it possible that I’ll never have to threaten to pull the car over, or tell the boys to go to their room? When was the last time I made them apologize like they meant it? “Say it again.” “Say it again.” “Say it again!” “Now hug.”

How I loved reading a chapter of Narnia each night until they drifted off to sleep. How great was it to lay next to them in bed in the pitch dark and answer random questions that suddenly felt safe to ask? How wonderful to try to explain how big God is and how great His love for them.

There’s plenty I wish I had done differently. I wish I hadn’t been a workaholic for a few of those years. I wish I’d had family devotions more often. I wish I’d taken them to see their grandparents more. There were so many times I had no idea what to do, and it’s scary to think how much we actually winged this parenting thing. But I refuse to beat myself up for mistakes made, for opportunities lost. We did the best we could, with what we knew to do at the time. And somehow, the kids turned out okay. Even the teenage years were way better than advertised. It hasn’t been anywhere near the nightmare that others warned us about. In fact, it’s been exactly the opposite.  We’ve loved parenting; every chapter, every page of their childhood.

Now, I know that parenting doesn’t stop when the kids leave home. And I know there will likely be grandchildren in our house someday, with toys on the floor and smudges on the windows. And I suspect we will always have teenagers in our lives and in our home.  But let me grieve the ending of this story, just for a moment.  What a fantastic book.  And I can’t wait for the sequel.

And mom of the crying toddler? I hope you enjoy your story just as much as I did. Because it won’t be long till you’re sitting in my seat.

~Mark

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