I’m Not a Boat Builder

Courtesy of zazzle.com

They say that two things impact who we are today: what we read and who we know.

Today, I feel like I made great strides on both accounts.

At the Share 2012 Conference, I’ve had the chance to spend time with authors Christian Piatt and Carol Howard Merritt. In addition to being leaders of Christianity’s next great movement, they are wonderful new friends who are a whole lot of fun to be around.

I hope to be in further conversation with Christian and Carol in upcoming posts and events but in the meantime there is plenty to read up on. Christian, author of the Banned Questions series, just released his latest book, “PregMANcy: A Dude, a Little Man, and a Due Date.” Carol’s book “The Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation” is also one that I will be adding to my must-read-soon list.

Tonight, Christian challenged our group to reconsider our Christian mission to be followers of Christ as opposed to those stuck in the boat – the traditional way of doing ministry/the church/our thing – based on the story in Matthew 14 where Jesus calls Peter out of the boat.

May we hear Christian’s interpretation (excerpts from another event):

and then have the courage to in the name of Jesus, get the heck up out the boat before we sink ourselves in the theobabble and antiquated ministries of the past.

I don’t want to be stuck on the boat that represents all that we thought was cool, effective, relevant, and meaningful yesterday. I want to move so that I am in where God has called me to, today.

I don’t want to be a boat builder, I want to be a follower of Christ.

Time to stop working on the boat and move out into the crashing waves.

What then should we give up? What then is important today? What do we do with “the boat”?

Where to next?

Why Are Christians So…?!

You know, it’s never a good thing when a Youth Minister is sleep-deprived and homesick, AND still coming down from his MissionTrip mountaintop when starting to blog. As if I didn’t have enough trouble making a point…

This past week, while at Franklinton Center at Bricks, we had the opportunity not only to do missions (in its most traditional sense) – painting, restoring wheelchair ramps, resealing windows, etc. – but we were also able to design our own small group and large group programming and daily themes. Our theme for the week was “Raising the Bar.”
And our students most definitely raised the bar.

See, prior to this trip, reflection was something that our students would do while I talked or showed the next video clip. Prayer was a time when we would mention those in our life we were thankful for and then awkwardly wait while nobody volunteered to do the actual praying on behalf of the group.

So you could imagine my surprise when on Night #5, our students not only went through the meditation walk that lasted for an hour and a half and pushed them to dig deep to acknowledge guilt, accept/offer forgiveness and identify their core feelings but also went out of their way to thank their leaders for the experience.

And you can imagine the humbling joy we felt on Night #6, as we watched our students on the following night walk up to the communion table serve one another the elements, hold hands and pray for one another only to go back to the group, select another friend, and do the same with them.

I must admit, however, even from cloud nine, I began to feel guilty that this spiritual push and this community focus had become such a focus while on a “mission trip” which had always been used to help understand the needs of others outside our group.

And then I met Rich McCullen.

What is Our Mission?

This week I am in Orange County, California as a resource person for the SHARE 2012 conference put on for UCC/DOC college students. At tonight’s worship, Rich McCullen shared his thoughts about the future of the church. And somewhere between there and his thoughts on the current state of the church, it all became crystal clear.

Rich began with this video:

In an hour that felt like five minutes, Rich shared personally and passionately while urging the new leaders of the Church to make sure the good news is heard by all so that the message is clear: nobody is lost. He challenged the students to reclaim their Christianity to be true followers of Christ.

Though I had already understood the need to evolve church from being as Rich called it, a “behavior modification system”, I had in many ways overcorrected to guard against the emotion of the evangelicals that I have grown weary of, such to the point that our ministry ran the risk of becoming stale, intellectual, boring, and skin deep.

After seeing this video and listening to Rich two things have become clear.

First, the Church (Capital “C”) is doing a piss-poor job of being agents of hope, joy, peace, and love.

Secondly, it is as necessary as it has ever been that, whenever we act in the name of Christ, we embody the greatest commandment to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves.

It is indeed our mission to do justice, love one another, and walk humbly with our God. So even (or especially) as our teenagers learn to serve and work alongside others – like most good church kids do for one week every summer – we have to also challenge and guide our youth to love more sincerely and deeply and to seek God with confidence and vulnerability.

I am thankful for being able to work alongside those who understand and support that community and spiritual growth are as vital to the workmanship when it comes to what the “mission” of our church is going to be.

Based on the video shown tonight, we who identify as Christians face an uphill battle in the attempt to demonstrate the true nature of the living Christ. These teenagers this past week made great strides to not only be able to work with humility and appreciation for those around them, but also love and seek God within and around them too.

For when they are able to experience the joy and spirit when loving fully and seeking earnestly, that spirit then goes with them whoever they go. So as they hammer a nail, make a new friend, start a new job, move to a new city, and continue their journey, the mission of Christ continues.

I am thankful for Rich’s commitment to be a progressive who reaches out into the depths of the margins to spread the good news who need it most while also claiming the emotion and sincerity that are evangelical brothers and sisters seem to do so much more willingly.

I am thankful for the way our students raised the bar. Therefore, our mission in the name of Christ continues.

May it be so, Amen.

Stuck in a Stinky Cabin

I’m stuck for the night in a stinky, STINKY cabin, full of boys, and their socks.

I look back on the day:

Today we left, 14 7th grade students, 9 High School leaders, and 3 adult chaperones for our Confirmation Retreat. The start of the confirmation year – the ritual start of the seeking process.

I’ve seen kids too scared to introduce themselves, begin to break down walls around them with laughter, talking, sharing, but mostly laughter.

I’ve seen friendships form where strangers once existed.

I’ve heard the 13 year-old boys share their high point/low point, and goals for tomorrow with one another. (One boy in the cabin: “My goal is tomorrow is to have fun and grow 10% closer to God.)

I’ve seen middle and high school students partner off and head towards the cabin as weekend “brothers and sisters.”

Today we’ve begun to ask some questions, and in other ways we’ve begun to embrace and be at peace with questions. We are seeking the face of God as we look to stretch the tiny box where we used to keep it.

I’ve heard a brand new crop of leaders share that they feel themselves to be “In the absolute right place at the right time” and “more capable to help these students” than they first assumed.

I think to myself, “Teenagers get it! They are hungry for God with the same appetite that craves acceptance and love. Teenagers bring a sincerity that is so much closer to what we ought to be when seeking and sharing the face of God. Teenagers…”

Two boys calmly walk out to the tree in front of the cabin, at their chaperones’ direction, and take a knee.

“Are you guys okay?” I call. “Need Something?”

“Nah we’re good. We’re looking for acorns and twigs to use as chips for Texas Hold ‘Em.”

Teenagers are Teenagers.

I’m stuck in a cabin with stinky, STINKY, boys.

And, I know I’m right where I’m supposed to be.