Tag Archives: Ministry
With so many graduations going on this month, it occurred to me recently that I graduated from high school FIFTY years ago. Yep, a half-century ago, I marched with the Camarillo High School class of ’63.
More significantly, it also occurred to me that it was fifty years ago that I started doing youth ministry. I wrote about it briefly in my book Reinventing Youth Ministry [Again]:
My call to youth ministry came in the form of an actual phone call.
After I graduated from high school in 1963, I went to work for the architectural firm that gave me a job after I won the drafting contest. After several weeks working for the architectural firm I was absolutely bored to death. On top of that, I noticed how bored (and boring) everyone else there seemed to be. I wasn’t so sure I wanted to become an architect after all.
A few weeks later Don Goehner, the executive director of Ventura County Youth For Christ, called me and wanted to know if I’d be interested in working part-time for YFC as a club director. My responsibilities would include running one of the high school clubs, helping out with Saturday night rallies and doing some graphic design work. He also wanted me to help start a new junior high club program. The pay would be $50 a month.
I was stunned and absolutely overjoyed. It took me all of five seconds to say yes to Don. I definitely wanted that job. The pay didn’t matter. I was only seventeen years old, and gas was only thirty-five cents a gallon. What mattered was that I got to do something I really wanted to do, what I believed God was calling me to do.
While there have certainly been times when I’ve wondered what my life might have been like had Don Goehner never made that phone call (Would I have become a world famous architect, designing impressive buildings and making millions of dollars …?), I have no regrets whatsoever. Youth ministry has provided for me a very rewarding and fruitful life. I met my wife in youth ministry. I learned how to preach, teach, write and play music in youth ministry. I made a lot of dumb mistakes and learned valuable lessons and leadership skills in youth ministry (as my old friend Bill Wennerholm was fond of saying, “Learn to run a junior high group and you can rule the world.”) I got to work alongside a lot of amazing and inspiring people in youth ministry. And I learned to follow, serve, trust and love Jesus more authentically in youth ministry.
So here I am, fifty years later, Pastor to Generations at College Avenue Baptist Church. Am I still in youth ministry? Of course I am. It really doesn’t matter what your job description is. Once you’ve been called into youth ministry, you’re in it for life.
After being assured that receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award doesn’t necessarily mean your lifetime is over, I was pleased to accept a LAW from Youth Specialties at their recent San Diego National Youth Workers Convention. From what I hear, this was the first of many that will be given to individuals who have contributed in some significant way to field of youth ministry. In my case, I co-founded the organization giving out the award, so I suppose that’s the secret to getting the first one! Regardless, it was a very special night for me and I am very grateful to the staff of Youth Specialties and all who contributed to making it happen. The presentation was captured on video and posted by Youth Specialties on YouTube as well as their web site.
After the presentation, several people said they were surprised to hear that I gave up a promising career in music to pursue youth ministry. Actually, that’s not quite true. I tried to explain it in the interview but I’m not sure I explained it very well. So let me explain it a little better here.
First, I was in youth ministry before I ever started playing music. In fact, it was youth ministry that prompted me to take up music in the first place. As a Youth for Christ staff member in the 60′s, I was trying to figure out how to reach kids for Christ. Folk music was pretty popular at the time, so several of us learned to play guitars and banjos and we formed folk groups. Our YFC rallies became “hootenannies” and believe it or not, they were pretty cool.
My first group was a folk trio with my wife Marci and another YFC staff member Dave Sheffel called “The Accidents.” That was in 1966. I played bass. Later, I learned banjo and formed a bluegrass group with my brothers and wife Marci called The Rice Kryspies. We recorded a couple of albums and played for churches, youth groups and two summers at Forest Home Christian camp. I really got into bluegrass music and my obsession with the banjo kept growing, but it was a hobby, a part-time thing while I was working for YFC and doing youth ministry in my church.
I was still playing with the Rice Kryspies AND doing youth ministry when Mike Yaconelli and I started Youth Specialties in 1968.
Then, in 1972, my wife Marci contracted pregnancy and she had to quit playing bass with The Rice Kryspies. My brothers and I continued along with two new members of the band, Ken Munds and Dave Rose. We changed the name of the band to Brush Arbor. After winning a local radio station talent contest, we were signed by Capitol Records and before long we were hearing our music played on country radio stations. One thing led to another and we ended up on the Grand Ole Opry, doing some network TV shows, touring with people like Johnny Cash and Marty Robbins (my favorite) and then winning a couple of country music awards including Vocal Group of the Year (Academy of Country Music). We had a manager by then and a booking agent, both of whom were expecting us to become the next big thing in country music. Capitol Records called us “The Voice of the New Country.”
All this happened very quickly and I have to admit, it was a whole lot of fun. But in December of ’73, while taping an NBC TV Special with Johnny Cash at Rockefeller Plaza in New York (on the same stage that later became the home of Saturday Night Live), I realized that I just couldn’t keep on playing with Brush Arbor. Our booking agent was telling us that he was going to put us on the road for over 300 dates per year. Youth Specialties was just getting some traction. My son Nathan was two years old and needed a daddy at home. I was torn between too many things and putting too much stress on my wife and partners in ministry. So I quit the band in New York. Our manager told us (while we were in New York) that he had booked us on the Hee Haw TV show and wanted us to fly to Nashville immediately to tape three shows. But I just couldn’t go. I had already made plans to go from New York to Atlanta to meet up with Mike Yaconelli and Denny Rydberg for a YS event.
So, I told the band I didn’t want to hold them back and they would need to replace me, which they eventually did. I played out a string of dates in Las Vegas in early 1974 but that was the end of my music career. Brush Arbor ended up going through a few more personnel changes after I left and while they never became the next big thing in country music, they had a good run and ended up being a top Christian country band. My brother Jim kept it going for quite a few years and they made some really good records.
I never felt like I gave up anything to do youth ministry because (1) youth ministry was what I had been called to do all along and (2) I was a very mediocre banjo player. I knew I would never make it as a professional musician. I would have starved to death.
But the time I spent with Brush Arbor (and since then, playing with other bands and doing my radio show) has been wonderful. I’m very blessed and thankful to God for all the opportunities that he has given me to do what I love to do.
I just got back from a week in Mexico with a group of families from my church, the first of two trips that we are doing this summer. Thirty-three moms, dads and their kids spent July 17-20 at YUGO’s Ensenada Outreach Center (EOC), a terrific base for short term missions in Baja. I’ve been there many times over the past 15 years or so with both youth groups and family groups and YUGO’s staff is always helpful and accommodating.
I have to admit that on the first day of the week, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through the week. Normally, my wife Marci goes with me and we arrange to get a private room at EOC rather than sleeping in the dorm rooms. Marci had back surgery the week before the trip so she couldn’t go on this one. So I stayed in the dorm room with all the other guys (16 of them) on a corner bunk in the back of the room. It brought back memories of being a cabin counselor at junior high camp, except there was a little more snoring from the adult campers. But as the week progressed, I got used to it and really enjoyed the time bunking down with all the other guys.
In just four days, our team built a beautiful new home for the Aparicio-Lopez family (mom, dad and two kids) who had previously lived in a borrowed home of one room and a trailer. They had no furniture, so we outfitted the home with three beds (a double and two singles), linens, a table and chairs, rugs, curtains and shelves filled with dishes, pots and pans and other cooking utensils. Our dedication ceremony and presentation of the keys to the house to the family was a powerful experience for all of us. “This is our dream come true,” they said as they entered their new home. As one of our team members commented afterwards, “We built them a house, but it became a home very quickly.” One of the children, a teen girl, jumped up on her bunk bed and just stayed there for the longest time. She couldn’t believe she now had her own bed.
While half of our team built a house, the other half conducted VBS programs in two locations near the construction site. I spent most of my time with the VBS team. I’ve done this many times and over the years I’ve built several carnival-type games which are always a hit with the Mexican children. They love to win dulce (candy) and play juegos (games.). About 80 children came to our programs and memorized key Bible verses in Spanish. They also heard Bible stories about Jesus. Our team did a great job of presenting the Gospel in a very clear way and almost all of the children prayed to receive Christ as Savior on the final day of VBS. They heard Good News and they wanted it right then and there.
On Wednesday night, we visited a small Mexican church, the home church of the Aparicio-Lopez family. The pastor preached a short sermon on John 4 (the woman at the well) and during his sermon pointed out that he was about 10 years old when he found Christ at a VBS just like the one we conducted. He came for the candy, he said, but found Jesus also.
I played my banjo for the church and they loved it. I called it a “bano” and got a few laughs.
I am always deeply touched by these mission trips. Since moving from youth mission trips to family mission trips, I am even more deeply committed to them. It is a powerful thing to watch families serve God together on the mission field. Rather than having kids go home and try to explain what they did to their parents (which they almost never do very well), the family has a shared experience which powerfully impacts their family for years to come. This is our second year doing this at CABC and almost all of the families who went last year came again this year. And we have another trip planned for July, made up of entirely new families. Last year we took 25 people; this year we have 50. I’m hoping that this momentum continues.
I was very happy that this year, nobody got sick. Last year, there was quite a bit of illness which spread through the camp. But last year, a group from Memphis Tennessee was in the camp and we believe that they imported the illness from Tennessee. We called it the “Y’all flu.” The only mishap this year was the breakdown of one of our vehicles in Tijuana on the trip home. But they made it across the border and everyone got home safe and sound.
If you want more information about our family mission trips at CABC, contact me anytime.
Pastor Carlton Harris (College Avenue Baptist Church) just completed a powerful series of sermons on the Seven Deadly Sins. One of my takeaways from the series was that the Seven Deadly Sins are particularly troublesome for Christians, for those who are inside, not outside the flock. In other words, they are the sins of the church. Truth is, they originated not from the Bible but from the church fathers, most of whom lived in monasteries with other monks. While monks weren’t likely to kill, steal, tell lies or commit adultery, they apparently struggled quite a bit with anger, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. And I have been reminded by Pastor Carlton that I do too.
What strikes me as unique about these sins is that they are all more or less acceptable. They seem rather benign on the surface. Take anger. Who doesn’t relate to that line in Broadcast News “I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!” We don’t really consider anger a sin. We think of it more as a natural and sometimes necessary response to disruptive events in our lives which deserve to be called out. Anger doesn’t need forgiveness, it needs management.
But why stop at seven? Seems to me there are other sins which produce just as many sinister consequences as the classic list of seven. Some have suggested these:
- Leaving the Toilet Seat Up
Personally, I’d like to nominate Busyness as the Eighth Deadly Sin. It’s one that I deal with every day and I hate to say it, but I’m somewhat addicted to busyness. I don’t like being NOT busy. I really don’t know what I would do with myself if I weren’t busy. I like doing things, creating things, solving things, running things, um, writing things. I sometimes brag to people that I am not retired. “But you’re getting up there in years, aren’t you?” they think to themselves. “Well, it’s not biblical to retire,” I assure them as if I’m not being sinful but obedient.
Busyness is a sin, no question. Certainly the consequences of busyness are pretty much the same as the other seven. When you’re too busy you experience anxiety, shame, aloneness, guilt, broken relationships including one’s relationship with God. Maybe Busyness didn’t make the original list of seven because monks by definition lived a disciplined, unhurried life. They didn’t deal with the demands of modern life that we have to contend with in today’s fast-paced world. Well, the probably did, in their own medieval kind of way. But apparently they didn’t see any real harm in it.
My old pal Jim Burns is fond of saying “If the Devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.” That sure sounds like a sin to me. Busyness is a sin for which we need forgiveness, healing and the power of Christ to overcome. I myself have been way too busy these last two years while serving on a church staff. The problem for me is that most people don’t see my busyness as a sin at all. They simply cheer me on and admire all that I’m doing for the Kingdom. This is not their fault or the church’s fault. I was already busy when I accepted the call to CABC. I had plenty to do even without the ministry that God called me to do at the church. Fortunately our senior pastor is one who knows the danger of busyness and has urged me to be very careful with my schedule, to set limits and priorities on my time, to erect fences around my soul so that the Devil won’t gain a foothold. I have found it hard to follow his advice (it is so counterintuitive to me) but I am taking steps … slowly but surely … to un-busy myself. I want more than anything to be fruitful for God and to please him in all that I say and do but I can’t do that if I’m just too busy.
How about you?
One of the great things I get to do at College Avenue Baptist Church is to plan and promote intergenerational short-term mission trips. Here’s a video we showed in church this past week:
I recently finished Roger Steer’s biography of the late Anglican pastor and renowned author John R.W. Stott titled Basic Christian. Thank you InterVarsity Press for sending this book to me during the Christmas season. What an amazing, full and exemplary life was lived by this giant of the evangelical faith. I have read several of his books over the years, most notably his The Cross of Christ (several times) which I learned in this biography was the book he considered his greatest work. But I regret that I never had a chance to hear him speak nor to learn more about his private and public life. I am especially intrigued that he was an avid birdwatcher and always took time to enjoy his hobby all over the world and sometimes at great personal expense and risk. This encourages me somewhat as I also have some obsessions (like bluegrass music) which is sometimes hard to explain to people in ministry circles. I have often suggested that people who do ministry should take up a hobby, an “other life,” a passion outside of ministry that is healthy, invigorating, fun and irrational. I’ve discovered that pastors and ministry leaders who do not have such an “other life” often become full of themselves and are more likely to burn out or fall into an other life which is more often than not self-destructive.
One big take-away for me from this book about Rev. Stott (and there are many) is his morning prayer which Steer reprints and notes that John prayed it daily. “Each morning (usually before five a.m.) John swung his legs over the side of his bed and before placing a foot on the ground started the day (whenever possible) with this Trinitarian prayer.”
“Good morning heavenly Father, good morning Lord Jesus, good morning Holy Spirit. Heavenly Father I worship you as the creator and sustainer of the universe. Lord Jesus I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world. Holy Spirit I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God. Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Heavenly Father I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more. Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you. Holy spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me, Amen.”
I want to make this prayer mine also. And I want to go back and read more of Stott’s books now that I know more about the man. I am at an age when I am seeking out contemporary mentors–dead or alive–who lived their lives completely dedicated to God with immense integrity all the way to the end of their lives. I have found one such mentor in the life and ministry of John R.W. Stott.
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/.
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.
If you would like to go on our next trip, just let me know! We’d love to have you.
Last week I accompanied the middle-school group from our church to summer camp at Forest Home. I really can’t remember the last time I spent a week with a group of junior high boys as a cabin counselor, but the sounds, the smells (especially the smells), the cabin discussions … they all felt strangely familiar to me.
It was a good week. The kids really had a blast and I enjoyed very much watching my son Nate (who directs the junior high camps at Forest Home) at work. Later this year, he and I are going to do a seminar on camping at the YS National Youth Workers Convention, so it was helpful for me to observe and be part of an actual summer camp program at least once this year. I used to do quite a few camps, either leading them or speaking at them … but that was a long time ago.
I was very proud of Nate … he was the camp speaker and did a great job. I know my presence there made him a bit uncomfortable but he persevered and from all I heard, the kids responded well to his messages. I was also impressed with the team of leaders Nate assembled to run all the activities and programs. By my count there were more than a dozen staff. It amazes me that we used to run those camps with a staff of four. Times have definitely changed.
Meanwhile … back at home … we are still living in a hotel room, now into our fourth month. The restoration company has held our stuff hostage waiting for insurance money. This has been the most difficult experience I’ve gone through since my wife’s brain tumor almost ten years ago. We are praying that maybe this week we will be able to return home.
Since the middle of last year I’ve served as a family ministries coach (consultant) for College Avenue Baptist Church in San Diego. The church has caught the vision for becoming a more intergenerational, family-friendly and unified kind of church and they have asked me to help make that happen, particularly in regards to the youth and family ministries. My observation is that for quite some time this has been a church somewhat divided along generational lines with at least two distinct congregations—one that has clung desperately to the traditions of the past and another that has embraced the informal and edgy styles of the contemporary church. There are two services on Sunday morning for these congregations: the “sanctuary service” and the “gym service.” You can guess which is which.
Being a divided church hasn’t worked out too well for CABC. Attendance declined significantly over the past decade and for several years the church was without a senior pastor. Many of the staff left or were let go. Four years ago the church called a dynamic new pastor, Carlton Harris to lead them out of the wilderness and as he has implemented his vision for unity and change, the church has experienced even more losses in staff and membership. While this is not untypical, it can be difficult for a church to endure.
Against this background I’m happy to announce that I have joined the staff of this historic yet historically forward-thinking church. I have been asked to serve as Pastor to Generations—a position that didn’t exist previously. I’ll be ministering to parents and older generations in the church, while at the same time providing visionary leadership for the middle school ministry, which has always been my heartbeat. I even have a new office at the church with a big picture window! The church wants to do a better job of serving youth and families and connecting the generations, something I’ve been speaking and writing about for the past twenty years. So this seems like a perfect fit for me, a chance to put my words into practice. The church is only a few miles from my home so we don’t have to relocate and the job is part time for now, allowing me to continue conducting parent seminars, playing bluegrass music and pursuing some of my other interests.
It’s definitely going to take some time for me to learn how to be on a church staff again (I haven’t done that in, well, decades), so I’m certainly going to make a few mistakes. I’ve already made some. But along with the struggles that CABC has experienced in recent years, I’ve felt some positive momentum just in the last few weeks that I have a hunch will blossom into something really special, a significant piece of what God wants to accomplish in San Diego. I’m excited about this opportunity.