Witness to an Adventure


BakerRailroadGrade

Michael had it written all over his face. He was done. Ninety minutes into our four-day hike, he was whipped. Michael was not really an athletic kid, a tad overweight and sweating profusely. He was wearing blue jeans and seemingly unprepared to climb a mountain. As an at-risk high schooler on our 12-day adventure called Leadership Pursuits, Michael already had accomplished way more than he probably dreamt he could. He’d gone whitewater rafting and kayaking. He belayed off a rock face, ridden horses, built a campground, and now was on a four-day ascent to the summit of Mt. Adams, a 12,280-foot volcano in Southwest Washington, adjacent to the infamous Mt. St. Helens; and he was ready to quit.

Greg Johnson, the trip leader and our most seasoned mountaineer in Youth Dynamics Adventures, pulled the group of 12 into the shade of some old-growth cedars for a short break and went over to Michael to assess the situation. Michael plopped his 60-pound pack onto the ground and collapsed in a heap onto a log. After we had rested for 10 or 15 minutes, we needed to get back on the trail, but we had a decision to make. Should we continue on with Michael or without him? It was to be a four-day hike to the summit and back. We really only had two options: Either we could pull one of our leaders off the trail, and he and Michael could sit in the parking lot and wait four days for us to return, or we could try as a team to get Michael through the next several days. We let the team decide. They rallied. The team wanted to help Michael complete the journey to the summit and back.

Greg immediately began to rummage through Michael’s pack. He discovered a family-size Bible, some blue jeans, some other heavy items he wouldn’t need, and promptly buried them. (We retrieved them on the way back.) Other members of the group volunteered to take some of his other gear so Michael’s pack would be lighter. Would it be enough? Would he last the day? Would he last four days? Only time would tell.

Our little caravan started back on the trail with me in the lead, followed by six high school boys, with three leaders interspersed, and Greg planted directly behind Michael bringing up the rear. What followed was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. From one pit stop to the next, Greg was right there with Michael chirping in his ear. “You can do this. It’s just around this next bend.” Or, “Let’s make it to that big tree. Just 10 more minutes, then we can rest.” Sometimes Greg would encourage Michael; other times he was stern with him, prodding him forward. Step by step, Michael walked up that mountain. We hiked through the trees in the morning; beautiful forests of pine, cedar, Douglas fir and blue spruce. We emerged through the tree line just after lunch. We were encouraged, spirits were high. Then we encountered a section of the mountain that might as well be Mordor. Straight out of Lord of the Rings, it is a large field of lava rock, and it is brutal. Michael persevered and made it to our campsite above the lava rock at the base of mountain’s face. We spent the night at the snow line with our tents pitched mostly on rocks.

We took most of the evening and the entire next day with lessons about life and leadership and how God fits into the whole picture. We also spent a significant amount of time in snow school, learning how to climb safely in the snow with boots and crampons, how to properly use our ice axes, and most importantly how to stop ourselves if we fell, while not stabbing ourselves with our axes in the process!

The morning of the third day, we awoke early for a mountain ascent, leaving at 2 a.m. so we could summit and climb back down before the snow got soft and dangerous in the afternoon sun. We set out with our headlamps in the dark of the early morning, climbing in a line, one after the other, in a zig-zag pattern up the steep face of Mt. Adams. The face itself is about 1,500 feet of vertical, and it feels as if it’s straight up. Each step was taken carefully, with our ice axes in our uphill hands, planting them firmly in the snow, then scraping out a level foothold before taking our next step—then repeating the process. After three or four hours of climbing, we reached the top of the face, exhausted, coming to grips with the reality that we had only reached a false summit. False because if we hadn’t known better, we would have thought it was the summit while we were climbing only to reach the top and realize the summit was still beyond us, and we couldn’t see it from where we were climbing. While we waited for Michael and Greg to join us, we enjoyed a snack and took in the expansive view of the mountains below us as the sun had risen during our ascent. After a good rest, the team was eager to take on the final push. We set out on a free for all, traversing horizontally across a ½-mile flat field of snow and reconvened at the base for a final ascent of the last couple hundred feet of vertical. The team decided to wait and let Michael lead the team up from here. As we made the final push, here was Michael, the kid I thought was going to quit an hour into our hike, leading the team to the top. As he reached the summit first, a wide smile came across his face as he jumped up and down and shouted at the top of his lungs. It was in all aspects a pinnacle moment in his life. He had accomplished something well beyond what he believed he could do, something no one ever would be able to take away from him, and learned some things about himself that no doubt will stay with him for the rest of his life.

I have witnessed moments such as this again and again with teenagers while climbing mountains, whitewater rafting or rock climbing. The medium really doesn’t matter as long as the elements are the same. Take someone outside his or her comfort zone, include challenge and some risk, create an environment where he or she must exercise faith and dig down inside him or herself to accomplish something that previously seemed impossible, while a team of people surround and support the person. It’s an amazing thing to watch.

~Mark

Originally Published in YouthWorker Journal, March/April 2016

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


20140708-154845-56925349.jpg

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

Leader: Are you coasting?


20140121-111353.jpg

“Mailing it in” is what we used to call it in sports. Its the term you use when you get to the place in your life where you’ve done all this before, and honestly you’re bored. You’ve stopped pushing, you’ve stopped growing, you’re leaning hard on your vast experience, and you’re not giving it your best. You’ve starting repeating old messages, not prepping like you used to. You’ve begun a new habit of leaving a little early from work, and you’ve started coming in late. You’re basically going through the motions. You’ve stopped dreaming. You’re clocking in and clocking out. What used to be a dream job, had become just a job. It’s a horrible place to be in life, but especially sinful in a ministry context. Remember what it was like to be nervous to stand in front of a group of kids and deliver a message? Remember when you led your first parents meeting and the feeling you had in the pit of your stomach that someone was gonna figure out that you didn’t know what the crap you were doing? What happened to that? You used to dream about God doing stuff, but reality has sucked the life out of you. You no longer have any dreams. You’re mailing it in.

As a veteran youth worker I’ve been there a time or two. It’s natural to get comfortable with things after you do them over and over. And it’s okay to not get as nervous as you used to. But you must fight the urge to let lethargy creep in as you gain experience. It will lull you to sleep like anesthesia. And your people will follow.

I remember when our youth ministry had grown to a place where it needed another level of leadership. I had some very talented youth workers that were trained up and ready to take over both the Middle School and High School programs. I wasn’t really ready to let go, but they were chomping at the bit, young bucks with talent, energy and passion. I knew as a leader, I needed to step aside and let them run. So I added an extra layer of leadership, and put each of them in charge of Middle School and High School respectively, and I oversaw the vision, mission, direction of the whole thing. My mistake was not holding onto any direct contact work with teenagers. I didn’t mandate that I speak every month. I started snowboarding more. I let the youth workers dream about the youth ministry, and I started dreaming about fresh powder. My create energy and passion migrated to this new area, while my heart for youth ministry languished. I got bored with my job. Something else had captured my heart. Here I was at a megachurch, one of the most influential churches in the Northwest, and I was bored.

By the time I realized my mistake, it was too late. I had given the keys to the car away to the new youth guys, and there was no taking them back. And after several conversations with my boss and Sr. Pastor, who were both close friends of mine, with tears in our eyes, we realized that I needed to move on. I resigned, and started the process of dreaming again. I left the comfort of the big church with the nice salary and good benefits and started over.

It was terrifying. I had to ask the question, “What would I want to do if I could do anything?” I had to reengage my heart and connect it to my mission again. While it was scary and uncertain, it was exhilarating at the same time. We are not designed to mail it in. We are designed for greatness, to achieve more than what we thought we could. We were created to chase dreams, God’s dreams, to grow and develop, to do hard things.

If your heart has become disconnected from your job, you owe it to God, to your people, to your family… Most of all you owe it to yourself, to re-engage. Start the process today.

Your life depends on it. You were not created to mail in a mediocre existence.
You were designed to dream God dreams. Get to it.
-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.

Youth Dynamics Infographic


Youth Dynamics Infographic

Here is a brand new infographic with some very interesting stats about teens. Did anything surprise you? Help YD with their scholarship campaign to get 2500 teens in need on adventures this summer.

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

Tips for Parenting Teens from a Veteran Youthworker


Aaggghhh!

For the last time… Do your homework!

As a youth worker, I’ve always kinda avoided speaking about Parenting. I didn’t want to jinx it. But now that we’re almost empty-nesters, there are some things that we’ve learned from raising our own teenagers and through having a front row seat to the literally thousands of teenagers and their parents over the past 27 yrs of youth ministry. I spoke on Parenting this weekend and here are a few things regarding parenting & discipline I thought I’d pass along.

1. Don’t Freak out about the wrong things  – Be more concerned about your kids character than their behavior.

Too many parents freak out about stuff that really doesn’t matter in the long run. Dirty dishes left in the sink, unfinished homework, unapproved hair color. I’m type A, I get it. I understand that things belong in their place, but save your real freak outs for character stuff: Lying, Stealing, Immorality; those kinds of things. Parents who go from zero to lit in 2.3 seconds for every infraction, leave no room to ratchet up for the big stuff. You’re response should fit the crime.

2. Discipline should be consistent – A foul is a foul.

Be as consistent as possible. In sports, it really doesn’t matter whether the ref wants to call the game tight or loose; good players find a way to win regardless. But when a ref is inconsistent with how they call fouls, it’s impossible to figure out a way to navigate successfully. It’s the same way with kids. Parents need to be consistent with what they call a foul. Unpredictability just frustrates everyone and drives them out of relationship with you.

Be consistent, but parent each child differently.  This sounds hypocritical as first glance, but it’s not. Each teenager is different. Each teenager is wired differently. What motivates one kid, doesn’t motivate his sibling. Learn what motivates your teenager and use it to get the behavior you are looking for.

3. Don’t make idle threats  – Always follow through on what you promise

Some parents of teens make the mistake of making their punishment over the top and nearly impossible to enforce. “You’re on restriction for life or until further notice! No TV for a Year! You can’t leave the house all summer!” Teenagers cannot see very far down the road, they plan and live for today. Discipline that goes too far risks breaking the relationship. It can push a teenager away and at times over the edge. Most parents don’t have the fortitude to see long punishments through either. So, try to make discipline short, and for sure NO LONGER than YOU can endure!

4. Make your home a safe place.  – Physically, emotionally and every other way.

Encourage your teenager. Speak life to them. Everywhere else in the world teens have to be on their guard. The world can be such a hard place. Make your home the one place where it’s safe, and both your teenager and their friends will want to hang around you and your house long after they get a driver’s license.

5.  Make time for them now  – don’t wait for later.

As a youth pastor I can remember many times when I had parents come into my office with their teen and say something like: “You fix them!” I wanted to tell them, “You weren’t around when they were little and you feel them slipping away and now they don’t want anything to do with you. You should have hung out with them when they were 4, 5, and 6 yrs old.”

If this is you… there’s nothing you can do about the past except apologize and attempt to move forward from there. Whatever age your kids are, don’t put off connecting with their heart till tomorrow. Start now.

I heard Josh McDowell tell the story one time of his basketball star son greeting him during halftime of a homecoming game at his college in front of a packed house with a hug and a kiss. A mom in the stands approached him later and asked, “How in the world did you get that kind of relationship with your son?” He replied:

“If you spend time with your kids when you don’t have to,     they will spend time with you when they don’t have to.”

Josh McDowell

Don’t wait. If you want a good relationship with your teenager, spend time with them now. It’s hard, I get it. But it is possible. And as a dad who has a great relationship with his teenage sons. Do it.

It’s worth the effort.

“The Antidote for Tech” – How to minister effectively to an over-stimulated generation of teenagers.


 

Image

 

I am not a luddite. In fact I am a BIG tech consumer, and just as over-stimulated as the generation of teenagers I work with. With so many distractions clamoring for our teenagers attention, how does a youth worker (or parent) minister effectively to teens in this culture? We will look at the science behind where we are and discover what you can do, to leverage the holes that the tech platform has given us to minister to the teenagers we love.

This will be my topic for Open Seattle next weekend. I’m really interested in your thoughts as I prepare mine. Is this a good subject matter? Do you have any resources you’ve come across? Things that work for you? I will post a more thorough blog on this after my talk next weekend. Here are the four points I am working with as of now:

  • Nature
  • Deep Relationship/ Discussions
  • Active Learning
  • Adventure Programming

Since this is a new type of conference, I thought I’d try open sourcing my talk a little. Give me your thoughts / feedback! What do you think? What can you add to the discussion?

~Mark

%d bloggers like this: