I have a confession to make. Last week I bought a $35 guitar pick. Yes, that’s right … a guitar pick. I don’t think I have ever paid more than 35 cents for a guitar pick in the past. In fact most guitar picks, I get for free.

How did this happen? Why would I spend $35 on a guitar pick? I have no other way to explain this except to say that it was peer pressure, pure and simple. Here’s how it happened: I walked up to a booth in the exhibit hall of the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) last week in Nashville. The booth was “Blue Chip Picks,” a company based in Knoxville, Tennessee which makes picks primarily for professional guitar and mandolin players. Several bluegrass “stars” endorse Blue Chip picks and probably get them for free in exchange for their endorsements. I have wondered for some time what all the fuss was about.

So I’m at the Blue Chip booth and ask the obvious question. So how much do these picks cost? “Well, the one you’re holding there is $35.00.” I quickly put the pick down. Wow. I had no idea a pick could cost that much. Of course the man behind the table went on to explain to me all the desirable qualities of a guitar pick, how they are shaped, what kind of material they are made of, and how these picks never wear out but if they do, they can be returned for a new one. My problem of course is that my picks never have a chance to wear out. I lose them right away. They magically disappear after each use. Or somebody borrows my pick and that’s the last I see of it. So I’m standing there watching other musicians casually laying down some serious money for these picks. “I’ll take three,” says one. I do the math in my head: that’s $105 for three guitar picks. Holy smokes.

“You can’t beat these picks,” says Bull Harmon, a flat-pick guitar champion from Missouri. “Just like a tortoise shell pick.” Of course, I’ve never played guitar with a tortoise shell pick, since they are illegal and also very expensive if you know where to get one illegally. I’m not sure what makes a tortoise shell pick so much better than a plastic pick. I’ve actually made guitar picks out of old credit cards.

Several other musicians are there at the booth just raving about these picks. Before long, I’m starting to want one. I try out a couple of thicknesses. They even have picks that have been shaped a certain way depending on whether or not you are left- or right-handed. I finally settle on the TD-40 (which sounds pretty impressive for a pick — it’s pictured above). I hand the man behind the table my credit card and say, “I’ll try this one out and if I like it, I’ll order more.” I think I said that to make him believe that I did this all the time, and that $35 really didn’t seem all that outrageous to me. I get my receipt along with the pick, which is in a little plastic zip lock bag. It doesn’t come in a fancy case or anything. Just a guitar pick in a plastic bag. I put it in my pocket, hoping I won’t lose it before I get out of the building.

On the way out of the IBMA exhibit hall I stopped at the Martin Guitar booth. They had free guitar picks on the table. “Take all you want,” the man said. But not to be greedy, I took two and put them in my pocket, right next to my $35 guitar pick.

As I was walking back to my hotel room a few blocks from the Nashville convention center, I suddenly came to the realization that I had just spent $35 for a bleeping guitar pick! What in the world made me do that?

All I can say is that it is the exact same kind of peer pressure that we warn our kids and grandkids about. While I was standing in that booth, with all those other musicians encouraging me to “try it, you’ll like it,” I did. I couldn’t just walk away. When I got home, it took me two full days to confess to my wife what I had done. She wasn’t too upset as she admitted that she had been a little extravagant herself while I was away and bought a new purse.

So, next time you hear me playing my guitar, I know you’ll be impressed because I will be using a $35 Blue Chip TD-40 pick. If I don’t lose it first.

 

 


Category: Bluegrass, Ministry

I’ll be heading off this week for a conference in Dallas which is called D6, named after the oft-quoted passage in Deuteronomy 6 which commands parents to know the commandments of God and to “impress” them on their children in the normal routines of daily life (6:6-9). Several of us from College Avenue Baptist are going and I’m looking forward to hanging out with them and some of my friends who will be there like Doug Fields, Tim Smith and Mark Matlock. There are quite a few good speakers lined up for this conference and I’m looking forward to hearing them and attending some of the seminars. I’ve been asked to be on a panel for one of the sessions, to talk a little bit about how youth ministry intersects with family ministry today. Should be a good conversation. If you would like to peek in on the conference this week, you can do that online by visiting http://d6conference.com/.


Category: Ministry

If you want a good excuse for a party this Tuesday, it’s Bill Monroe’s 100th Birthday. “The Father of Bluegrass” was born on September 13th, 1911. He passed away on September 9, 1996.

In case you aren’t familiar with Bill Monroe, you are most certainly familiar with the music he created. He was a singer and mandolin player from Kentucky who in 1939 formed an ensemble called the Blue Grass Boys (named to honor his home state) and after experimenting with various combinations of instruments and vocal styles, he found success with his legendary 1945 combo which included Lester Flatt on guitar, Earl Scruggs on the banjo, Chubby Wise on fiddle and Cedric Rainwater playing bass. The early recordings and performances by that band took the world of country music by storm and spawned dozens, then hundreds, and today thousands of bluegrass bands all over the world.

Bill Monroe wrote hundreds of songs and instrumentals which form the canon of bluegrass music today. He single-handedly established the mandolin as a solo instrument in American popular music. He was one of the early inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was the first inductee into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, and he was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Many of the early rockabilly stars of the 1950’s like Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley were huge Bill Monroe fans. Presley’s first single was Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”

Well, I could go on and on about Bill Monroe (“On and On” is the title of a Monroe song, by the way), but I’ll let you look him up on Wikipedia or something. I’m just honored that I had a chance to meet him and work with him on a few occasions. One of my prized possessions is a photo of him that he signed for me which hangs on my wall at home.

When I was in the band Brush Arbor, I’ll never forget the night in 1973 when we opened for Monroe at the world famous Palomino Club in North Hollywood. The room was packed with celebrities and many of my musical heroes at the time who had come to hear Monroe, not us. I remember seeing Clarence White of the Byrds sitting up close and Carl Jackson, who was playing banjo with Glen Campbell at the time. Backstage I chatted with Del Shannon who had hit songs like “Runaway” and “Hats Off to Larry.” Of course, the biggest thrill was hanging out with Big Mon himself, who was bluegrass music royalty. I remember just how kind he was to us despite the fact that we had drums and steel guitar in the band (a no-no to most bluegrass fans). He gave us an open invitation to play at any of his bluegrass festivals around the country. We did get to play at one of them.

L-R standing: Me, Ken Munds, Monroe, Dale Cooper, Joe Rice. L-R kneeling: Jim Rice, Dave Rose

When we took the stage at the Palomino, we kicked off with our version of “Proud Mary” which is really really fast. I kicked it off on the banjo and about four bars into the song, my thumb pick just popped off my thumb and flew out somewhere in the audience. I was stunned. Everyone looked at me like “what are you going to do now?” and I really didn’t know. My brother Jim grabbed a thumb pick out of his stash on stage and I was back in business right away and the song went on. But I broke into a flop sweat that just soaked my rhinestone-covered Nudie suit. Sooo embarrassing. I never got my thumb pick back.

Happy birthday Bill Monroe! Thank you for the amazing music you created which absolutely swept me off my feet almost 50 years ago as a teenager and which continues to bless my life in so many ways today. I thank God for you and remember you with deep appreciation on your centennial year.

If you would like to hear my radio show which I did Sunday night (9/11) to celebrate Bill Monroe’s 100th birthday, go to www.kson.com/bluegrass. It will be there for about a month so if you are reading this after October 15, you probably won’t be able to hear it.

 

 

 


A few weeks ago I got a shiny blue package in the mail from Zondervan Publishing House containing a prepublication copy of Sticky Faith, the new book for parents by Kara Powell and Chap Clark. The book has a catchy title and from the looks of the fancy packaging, it’s going to be marketed pretty well by the publisher. That’s a good thing if you’re an author!

I was eager to read my copy of Sticky Faith not only because it’s a topic I’m interested in, but because of who wrote it. My package included a nice personal note from Kara who I’m proud to say was a very bright student of mine when I was teaching youth ministry classes at Bethel Seminary in San Diego about 15 years ago. She went on to Fuller Seminary, got her PhD and now heads up the Fuller Youth Institute. There’s no question that she has become one of this generation’s most respected youth ministry voices.

Chap and I go back a long way, having worked together for many years at Youth Specialties. He also teaches at Fuller Seminary and his 2004 book Hurt has established him as one of the leading authorities on adolescent culture.

Simply put, Sticky Faith is a book for parents on how to pass lasting faith on to their kids. It’s not the first on this subject of course. (Ahem, now would be a good time to plug my book Generation to Generation, right?) There are quite a few good books coming out these days to help parents raise their children up in the faith.

The unique spin that Powell and Clark give this topic is found in the word “sticky.” They express concern, as we all do, that faith just doesn’t seem to “stick” with kids who populate our youth groups. “Our conclusion is that 40 to 50 percent of kids who graduate from a church or youth group will fail to stick with their faith in college.” Some researchers have put this percentage a lot higher (anywhere from 65 to 80 percent) but Powell and Clark, while being a bit more optimistic, make it clear that “a 50 percent rate of Sticky Faith” is unacceptable.

I found their chapter titled “A Sticky Web of Relationships” to be especially good and affirming in my current ministry (Pastor to Generations at College Avenue Baptist Church in San Diego.) For the past couple of years, besides working with parents I’ve been trying to help our church take some baby steps towards becoming an intergenerational church, which is what this chapter is all about. Powell and Clark write about the importance of connecting kids with ordinary adults in the church (not just the trained youth workers) and creating what they call 5:1 (a reverse in the typical ratio of adults to kids in the church).

I’ve advocated something along those same lines for many years. In my mind, the first youth group in history was the one found in Luke 2:46. That verse pictures Jesus as a 12 year old, sitting in the temple with a group of elders (“teachers” in the NIV). Rather than a bunch of kids with one adult in charge, here we have one kid with a bunch of adults. I’m not sure how many elders were actually there with Jesus at the time, but I do know he had more than one overworked, underpaid youth worker.

The basic idea behind 5:1 is to intentionally and regularly integrate young people with the adult population of the church so that faith can be passed along from one generation to the next in a natural and dynamic way. Powell and Clark offer several examples of churches that have successfully made this transition and some of them reflect our experience so far at CABC. Like this one:

“So they canceled Sunday youth group. No more Sunday meetings. Instead, kids are now fully integrated into the church on Sundays. Kids are greeters, they serve alongside adults on the worship music team, they are involved in giving testimonies, and they even give chunks of the sermon from time to time. The youth pastor described the power of this 5:1 shift: ‘We knew that this would change our kids. What has surprised us is how much this has changed our church.’”

We don’t have the teenagers preaching sermons yet, but our pastor frequently uses them as sermon illustrations.

Intergenerational churches are not new of course. What’s new is that churches over the past 50 years have intentionally and regularly segregated kids from the rest of the church. “And that segregation is causing kids to shelve their faith,” say Powell and Clark. Not the only reason, perhaps, but certainly a contributing factor.

I suppose my only nit-picky criticism of the book would be the authors’ overuse of the word sticky—sticky findings, sticky identity, sticky Gospel, sticky justice, and so on throughout the book. The book started to even feel sticky. No wait, I think that happened after our 5-year-old grandson Jack used the book as a placemat. Still, this is a good book, one that I’ll definitely be recommending to parents and youth workers.


Category: Ministry, Parenting

I am an avid reader and admirer of author and Princeton professor Kenda Creasy Dean. In response to a question “What’s the biggest challenge facing youth workers today?” on the Youth Specialties blog, she says:

The biggest challenge might also be the best thing to happen to the church since the apostles and that is the fact that, even though 3/4 of American teenagers say they are Christians, most people in our culture really haven’t got a clue what the church is about, or why Jesus matters, or what on earth the Holy Spirit is doing in the world.  The fastest growing religious preference among Americans—especially among young people—is “none”.  And the “nones” aren’t in other people’s families or churches—they’re in ours.  Churches are going to keep shrinking and the “nones” are going to keep growing, at least for another 10-15 years, mostly because churches are now so darned hard to distinguish from any other well-meaning institution in middle class American culture.  It’s very hard for kids (and if we’re honest, for us) to figure out why we should follow Jesus Christ when Christians are caught up in the same rat race as everyone else.  So what does that mean for youth ministry?  We can either spin our wheels trying to stem the decline of any number of wobbly Christian entities or we can go out and do ministry among the “nones.”  If the church depends on Jesus Christ instead of on us, I think maybe it’s time to spend less time worrying about dying and more time hanging out with young people who are dying—literally—to live.  It’s never occurred to most of them that Christianity has anything to offer in the “get a life” department, much less that we might offer something that is distinct from what is offered everywhere else.  I think one way youth workers will serve the church in general in the next generation is to re-weirdify Christianity, and remind young people, and the church as a whole, that we live by distinctive standards, standards of grace, humility and hope, that make no sense in a world where the primary objective is to “get ahead”.

Good stuff. If you haven’t already, you might want to check out Kenda’s book Almost Christian. It’s the best book I’ve read on youth, youth ministry and the church in years.


Last week Marci and I were finally able to take a week off and go on vacation, something we haven’t been able to do for a couple of years. Last summer we were stuck in a local hotel most of the summer (with people who were vacationing here) and I had a bout with Bells Palsy. All that to say that last summer wasn’t so great for us, vacation-wise. So we made sure to plan at least a week this summer to do something fun.

As we were considering options for our vacation week, we got the crazy idea of visiting our good friends Gary and Georgia Bell who moved to Belize (Central America) earlier this year. I checked on flights and the airfare wasn’t too bad so we decided to throw caution to the wind and just go. We had no idea what we would find in Belize (other than the Bell’s) since we had never been there before, but it sounded like an adventure.

And it was. We booked a first night hotel room on a Belize island called Caye Caulker. The island is small, reachable only by water taxi, and there are no cars on the island–only bikes and golf carts. We stayed at a nice little hotel and enjoyed the island atmosphere. We even went snorkeling with stingrays and sharks swimming all around us.

After a couple of nights on Caye Caulker, we headed to a place called Placencia which we heard had the best beaches in Belize. We took the water taxi back to Belize City, rented a car (a real clunker as it turned out) and drove about six hours to a wonderful hotel called The Inn at Roberts Grove. We stayed there for three days and just took that time to relax. We didn’t do any sightseeing at all but just stayed put and enjoyed the beach. This being the off season for tourism, we literally had the place to ourselves and it was fantastic.

After our time in Placencia, we drove our sputtering rental car to San Ignacio, an major inland city in Belize close to the Guatemalan border. Our friends the Bell’s were gracious hosts. We loved staying with them even though we found the heat and humidity somewhat suffocating. They have a very nice home by Belizean standards but it was not air conditioned. Thank God for fans.

Gary Bell has been a dear friend of mine for many many years. As a high school student, he attended a Campus Life Club that I led back in the 1960’s. Ten or fifteen years later, his graphic design firm was hired by Youth Specialties. When I started Understanding Your Teenager in the early 90’s, Gary did all of my graphic design work. He’s a talented guy and a committed Christian.

For several years, Gary has served on the board of a mission organization called Sparrows Gate and in January, he and his wife Georgia moved to Belize to work with children. They opened a children’s center in downtown San Ignacio called “Kid’s Corner” which offers homework help, tutoring and lots of fun activities for kids who need a place to hang out after school. They are also helping Sparrows Gate set up a mission home base for short term missionaries who come to serve in Belize. After visiting with them and seeing what they are doing first-hand, we are even more impressed with the work they are doing and amazed by the sacrifice they have made to pursue this call of God on their lives.

San Ignacio is also a wonderful place for tourists to visit, so the Bell’s gave us a tour of the area. We visited Mayan ruins (archaeological sites) and an Iguana preserve. We ate in some very nice restaurants and truly enjoyed spending time with our wonderful friends.

Sometimes when you plan a vacation like this one, there’s no way to predict how things are going to go. “The best laid plans …” and all that. But this trip definitely lived up to our expectations. As they like to say down there, Belize is unbelizable.

If you would like to see more photos of our trip, click here.

 


What is it with worship leaders who don’t know when to quit?

I attended a meeting recently (to be kind, I won’t mention where) which was nearing its conclusion. A few opening songs had been sung, Scripture was read, a lesson was taught effectively, all good stuff. The meeting was attended by around 75 adults, youth and children. Then the speaker asked the worship leader (actually, make that “the guy with the guitar”) to lead us in a little worship time while we reflected on the meaning of the lesson we had been taught.

Okay, I thought to myself. Maybe I do need to reflect a bit.

My head is bowed, eyes are closed. I’m reflecting. The first song has a chorus that I’ve heard somewhere before. “Oh … how he loves us so … (repeat over and over).” I sing along. But then come the verses. I notice that not too many people are singing the verses. That’s because not too many people know words. The lyrics weren’t being projected for this impromptu worship time. This is a hard song to sing. There are too many words to fit into the rather unpredictable melody line of this song. And who wrote these words? I sure don’t feel like a tree in a hurricane nor is my heart jumping violently out of my chest. I’m not singing now, just listening. And I’m second-guessing the worship leader’s choice of songs.

That song ends and then comes song #2. Not sure I’ve heard this one before. Can’t remember the name of it. Then comes the third. The chorus of each song is repeated … how many times? Three? Five? No, make that twenty times. A fourth song (sounds a lot like song #2). Now five songs. I’m not counting but I’m sure this is song five. The worship leader is really into these songs. My guess is that he’s trying to sound like Chris Tomlin. Or is it David Crowder? I’m not sure because I’m not too familiar with all the latest Christian music. I’ve heard some of these songs before but not all of them. I don’t know the words or melody lines to hardly any of these songs. Apparently no one else does either because the only one singing right now is the guy with the guitar. I’m looking around and notice some folks are getting restless. How much time has gone by? Twenty minutes? Thirty? I can’t believe that he is still singing away at the top of his lungs, oblivious to what is going on around him. Besides, that guitar is turned up way too loud for any kind of reflection to be going on. I’m getting a headache. Why is he doing this to us? Is it simply because we are a captive audience? Does he think this is a concert? Why doesn’t the speaker just get up and stop him? Just shoot me. What I’m reflecting on right now is that I would rather hear fingernails on a blackboard. I’m also reflecting that I’m too much of a coward to get up and walk out, although I notice a few others are not afraid to do so. One more chorus and I’m out of here too.

The mini-concert finally ends. A check of the wrist watch shows 40 minutes have gone by. Thank God it’s over. My time of prayer and reflection is done for tonight. Thank you Jesus.

I go to bed. During the night, I keep waking up to a song going off in my head: “GREATER THINGS HAVE YET TO BE DONE IN THE CITYYYYYY!!! …” Lord, please make it stop so I can get some sleep.

True story.

 


Category: Ministry

Each month I try to feature a live bluegrass band on my radio program–usually whoever is appearing at the local San Diego Bluegrass Society’s 4th Tuesday event at the Boll Weevil Restaurant. I heard that a group from Orange County called the Wimberly Bluegrass Band was going to be appearing at the June SDBS event, so I wasn’t real sure if they would be coming down to appear on my radio show or not. I wasn’t familiar with them and I hadn’t heard anything directly from them (or the SDBS) to confirm their appearance on my radio show. So when I arrived at the radio station Sunday night, I wasn’t absolutely sure if anyone was going to show up.

But there they were! What a surprise to find this young, good looking group at the front door of the radio station ready to play! The Wimberly’s are a family group, three brothers and a sister ranging in age from 13 to 19 who are self-taught and have already recorded two CD’s. Mom and Dad accompanied the group to the studio and unlike many “stage parents” I’ve been around, they were extremely calm and content to let the youngsters speak for themselves and do their own thing. I was very impressed with them and wasn’t surprised at all to hear that they were home schooled. That certainly explained why they were so articulate and comfortable around an old codger like me, and how they developed a fondness for bluegrass and country music rather than what’s being marketed to the teen population these days.

If you would like to hear them on my show, visit the kson.com/bluegrass web site … it will be there for a month. They will also be appearing at many Southern California bluegrass events, so keep an eye and ear out for them. This is a group with a lot of appeal and I think they will have lots of success coming their way.


Just returned from another Huck Finn’s Jubilee in Victorville which is how I have spent Father’s Day weekend for the past 20 years or so. I have been involved with this event either as a performer with my band Lighthouse or as the main stage emcee or both.  I also serve as a consultant to the show’s producer (helping with talent selection) each year and I host the Sunday morning chapel service which is where my two worlds (ministry and bluegrass) collide in a big way.

The festival went great this year with a large turnout and great weather. The idea of going to Victorville in June sometimes scares people away because they think it’s going to be too hot. But we have had moderate temperatures and cool nights for several years in a row now. The music was wonderful with outstanding performances by the likes of Sierra Hull, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, Rodney Dillard (of the Dillards), NewFound Road and Roy Clark. It was also great to spend the weekend with my wife, daughter Amber, and our three grandkids Nick, Maddie and Jack. They all had a good time.

I’m always amazed and a bit conflicted that I get to live in two completely different worlds. Throughout most of the year, I’m a pastor, serving on a church staff, doing rather mundane (yet significant I hope) ministry tasks. But on a weekend like the one I just had, I’m not a pastor but a bluegrass music insider, radio personality, stage announcer, friend and colleague to some of the most talented musicians on the planet. I’m amazed by it all and grateful to God that I get to do this.

But I got a quick return to reality when I got home Sunday night. The water supply to our home had been shut off by our neighbor because of a pipe break at the water meter on the street. I spent all day Monday getting it fixed and somehow strained a muscle in my back in the process. But the repair was made, the water is back on and except for the sore back, life is pretty much back to normal. See you next year, Mr. Twain.

 


Category: Bluegrass, Personal

I just returned from a wonderful week of ministry in Mexico with 25 College Avenue Baptist Church parents and their kids. We built a very nice new home for a poor family and we conducted four days of Vacation Bible School (VBS) in two separate villages involving more than 150 children.

Since I joined the staff of CABC as Pastor to Generations, this mission trip has been a dream of mine. I’ve participated in dozens of mission trips with youth groups over the years but have always felt like something was missing from them—namely the involvement of parents. Even though I believe in youth short-term mission trips and the powerful impact they can have on kids, I think they fall short just a bit. Typically when teenagers return home from a mission trip, their parents rarely understand the significance of what their kids experienced. (“Now, if you’re through changing the world, how about cleaning your room?”) I exaggerate here, but not by much.

So this family mission trip to Mexico was something I was really looking forward to doing for a long time. There is much processing and reflection that still needs to be done but so far there is a feeling of euphoria that makes me want to think this has been somewhat of a high water mark in ministry for me. Watching moms and dads serving together last week in Mexico was absolutely thrilling and I’m so looking forward to seeing how God will use this experience to change those families forever. One parent told me that his family has already decided to start serving meals on a regular basis at a local homeless shelter.

We arranged the trip through YUGO Ministries and stayed at their Ensenada Outreach Center (EOC) near Estero Beach. They set everything up for us and provided us with supplies, meals, the program for the week and very nice accommodations. One parent commented that she felt a little bit guilty staying in such a nice place while serving the poor. I understood completely what she meant but reasoned that since our trip was only a week long, it was such a blessing to have our needs provided for by YUGO so that we could concentrate on meeting the needs of the people we were there to serve. It’s a great introduction to the mission field and a wonderful ministry that YUGO provides for churches and individuals who want to be challenged and stretched.

The only negative of the week is that several of our people got sick. I don’t think all of the sickness was Mexico-related however. We were doing ministry during the week jointly with another group of families from Memphis, Tennessee, and apparently one of their families came to Mexico with the flu. (We started calling it the “Y’all Flu”). Fortunately, it was not too serious and did not hamper our efforts too much. But it’s never pleasant to be sick while you’re far away from home.

I posted some photos which I took on my Flickr page. Since I spent most of my time with the VBS team, they are mostly photos of our VBS activities and lessons. You can view them here.

If you would like to go on our next trip, just let me know! We’d love to have you.

 


Category: Ministry