I read this in an email from one of our mission trip leaders this afternoon:

"Part of mission trip is to get kids away from their normal environment. Another part is to help them realize that their whole life is a mission trip. For this latter training I think we need to look at some opportunities to perform missions here in St. Louis. I'd arrange them into 3 categories: a service mission to the church itself, a service mission to some of our members and a service mission to our community... I do believe that we lose something with our mission groups by not reinforcing the experience regularly when we get back or building up to it enough."

This is the natural next step to short-term missions, turning them into a lifestyle by serving the community where we missioners live rather than only the ones we travel to. For a lot of people, this is even harder than committing to a mission trip far away. But it's what we're called to: serving "Jerusalem, Samaria and the ends of the earth;" not just one of those places!

It also makes me do the "I love my job" dance because I love having so many people around me who get it, and who are willing to work to help our youth develop the full service life that defines being a Christian.
Last night I read an article about this group, Laser Monks, a Cistercian monastery that sells ink and toner refills and office supplies as part of their ministry. They make money that supports their order, give part of their proceeds to help good causes, and take prayer requests along with orders for supplies.

This strikes me as a unique way to combine spiritual practice and practical service to people, and I wish them the very best as their business grows. They remind me a bit of the monks who run the Jampot in Eagle River, MI, a bake/jam shop along the highway.


Power in the words

If you didn't know this already, you are about to find out that I have strong feelings about Christian music and a number of pointed and entertaining theories on why more people don't listen to it or take it very seriously. In a nutshell, I find praise choruses too simple to be interesting, hymns often too slow to get my students excited about singing them, and radio-type Christian music too syrupy and sentimental to relate in any meaningful way to real life. The hymnbook of the Bible, the Psalms, never pulls any punches when it comes to how the author is really feeling. When the singer is deep into God's love, the words show it. When life is a cesspool of awfulness, the Psalms are never afraid to ask "Why, God, why aren't you doing something about it?"

This past week on the mission trip to West Virginia, I thought a lot about music in youth ministry. The collection of songs we used during the evening programs was very limited, generally repeating the same ones each night, maybe in a different order.

One that we frequently used was the ever-popular "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever," and this one raised the most questions in my mind. Where is the committment in the words, really? Of course I *could* sing, but the song doesn't ask me to say I *will.*

To be part of the whole theological equation, the music youth ministries use needs to challenge the students who sing it in two ways:

The words need to challenge the students to change their lives so they're truly ready to sing words like "forever" and "I will" and "every" anything.

And, since we never quite reach the point in our limited human lives when we can truly do that, it needs to inspire us with a wish to make those words true in our lives, so we have something to look forward to.

Music, like Scripture, must comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It must show the commitment we already have, and fill us with a desire to commit more and more. It's not there to make us feel like wonderful people; it's there to stretch us. It's not to prove anything to God; it's a cry for help for Him.

If there are any songwriters reading, I call for more challenging music. For worship leaders, I call for more study of theology. For all youth ministers, I ask you to carefully pick and match the music to the message you're teaching at each event; don't recycle songs just because people already know them-- use them the way they're most powerful; when they're part of a system of Scripture, teaching and song that expect to change lives.


Praise without Pressure

Whenever I go to a place where large groups are singing together, I feel a lot of pressure from the people who immediately jump up and run toward the stage to wave their arms around and compete to see who can sing "I love God, I love God, I love God, I love God" the loudest. Generally I'm one of the few people still sitting down, hearing the music and singing, but quietly, without a lot of show.

Music is one of the most personal parts of worship, to me. It's one of the most direct ways God can reach me, sending me the words of songs at just the right moment, whether it's on the radio on my drive to work or through the organ while I'm slogging through Episcopal hymns, or in the middle of a concert with a thousand screaming disciples all around me.

I always feel like people are looking at me and thinking "Well, he can't be very faithful" when they see me letting the music wash over me and feed me through the roots, like a plant. And I wondered if my youth group felt the same way. So on our mission trip this last week, I gave them the following permission:

"When you sing, react to the music the way you react to it. If you need to sit still and let it wash over you, then sit still. If you need to jump and dance, then jump and dance. But don't feel any pressure. You're not proving to me how faithful you are by being the first one on the floor with your arms up. And you're not proving it to God either; He already knows."

Several of my students came and thanked me for this little talk afterward. I'm suspicious of youth ministries where faithfulness seems to be judged by sheer enthusiasm, which can be faked, especially in the presence of great pressure from people we see as more faithful than ourselves. And if worship becomes a competition to prove to the other worshippers that we're just as devoted as they are, what good is it? Worship is for God.

I strongly recommend that we as youth ministers offer our students this permission in plain words. Don't hope they'll get the message if you imply it; say it straight out. It will give our students more room to explore how God reaches them in worship, and what they need to do to be open to that experience.


Back from the Field

The mission trip crew from CSMSG pulled in Saturday evening around 7:30, and I've never seen a group of parents so excited to see their kids (although I'm sure within a week I'll get phone calls asking if I can set up another trip until school starts!)

Here's the stats from the trip, a Group Workcamps site:
Around 400 campers
divided into 59 crews
worked on 61 sites
contributing 9600 man-hours of work to the community of Buckhannon.

A few personal highlights:

My crew met a dog named Freckles, who did not know how not to be in the way; whenever we were there working, he was excited and happy-- when we needed to put a board down or work in a certain spot, he was there, asking for some love.

The resident my crew served (although we never got to meet her) had a baby a month early, on July 7th, and was in the hospital until the Friday we finished on the site. But she came home to a new porch, new windows, seams sealed and wasps sprayed.

The a/c in the van we rented broke the first day we drove, so the trip to WV was a very hot one, since almost none of the windows on new vans open (because you can depend on the a/c). When we arrived, we called the rental place, who set us up with a dealership who picked the van up every morning after we used it to drive our crew to the site, then returned it before 3pm, when we needed to leave. Way to go, Jenkins Ford!

All my kids returned safely and in one piece, and two that I'd been concerned about committed to being more involved in the church this coming year-- the power of service in Jesus' name hooked them, just like it's supposed to!

I've had a bunch of time to think about various questions this past week, so look for some longish serious posts soon! I'll also have some photos/videos.

For now, if you'd like to take a look at photos of our trip, click here!


Mission Trip 2006

Hi Everyone:

It's 5:30 in the morning, and in two hours CSMSG's youth mission trip leaves my dear friend and colleague Marty C's house for West Virginia. I won't be able to blog this week-- if you're new to the Rookie, I suggest using that time to read through the archives and unearth the treasures that are there, or take a look at the excellent blogs I recommend in my links.

Your prayers for this trip are also really appreciated, as I have the following potentially amusing situations in the van with me:

A guy who's crushing on a girl who I'm positive has a thing for a second guy, all mission trippers.
Three students who before last week had never met the rest of the mission trip crew.
A guy I keep getting told doesn't like (as in, angrily doesn't like) another guy on the trip.
And a girl who's scared-to-death intimidated of another girl, although she keeps telling me it's okay now.

As I keep telling Marty, God will draw to each event the ones He wants to be there, and will help us to discern His purposes and minister with them all, so we'll definitely come back different people.

All God's blessings on you this week!


Click here to see where we're going...


Read It: "What's Your Power?"

CSMSG's mission trip crew takes off tomorrow for West Virginia, and the amount of work that trip takes is keeping me from having much original content this week, but I did find a good post over at Rev. Michael Blewett's blog, called "What's Your Power." It talks about the X-Men movie that came out earlier this summer and asks this question:

"Are Christians mutants? I think we are; if we aren’t, then we should be. I had a daydream leaving the movie theatre. People were milling about in coffee hour asking each other, “What’s your power?” Some had gifts of healing, prophecy, or mercy. Others manifested powers to calm distress, access abundance, and hear into the hearts of others. Still others did things that are only known within the creative Mind of Christ. Everyone had power, everyone knew their power, and everyone used their power."

Check out Michael's post today; it's worth the read and I wish I'd written it myself!


These photos are scary to me

In the car the other day, I accidentally made a comment about "When I'm a pastor..." and then I got all red-faced and quiet for a long time. These three photos are from my vacation: preaching June 25th at the Community Church of Calumet.

"Youth ministers don't get to preach very often," I said, "Churches worry, 'What might he say to fire up those youth and make their parents look bad?'"

Youth Minister as Lion Tamer

From an article at the New York Times titled "Modern Love: What Shamu Taught me about a Happy Marriage:"

"I listened, rapt, as professional trainers explained how they taught dolphins to flip and elephants to paint. Eventually it hit me that the same techniques might work on that stubborn but lovable species, the American husband."

Reading the article, which both intrigues (because I know the techniques would work) and vaguely bothers me (because I disappreciate experimenting on people when they don't know what's going on) it strikes me the same practices could be applied to youth groups, and so we should all read the book. Check it out; I think we've all felt like lion tamers now and then!


The Rookie's Library July 11, 2006

What I'm Reading:

"The Non-Runner's Book" by Vic Ziegel and Lewis Grossberger, (C) 1978 Collier Books ISBN 0020409206

"A Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy" by Miyamoto Musashi, (C) 1988 Gramercy Press ISBN 0517415283

"Bert Bacharach's Book for Men" by Bert Bacharach, (C) 1953 Barnes ASIN B0007E4KSC

"The Hero Within: Six Archetypes we Live By" by Carol S. Pearson, PhD (C) 1998 HarperSanFrancisco ISBN 0062515551

What I'm Hearing:

Jonathan Rundman and Beki Hemingway, "Tennesota" album

John Reuben, "The Boy vs. the Cynic" album

K.T. Tunstall, "Eye to the Telescope" album

How many times I got lost on my vacation: 0
How many times I got lost in St. Louis after vacation: 2

What I'm Sending to Camp:

Fudgy Oatmeal Bars-- the classic, and what everyone asked for when I was there


The Rookie Reviews: Superman Returns

Please note: This post contains plot spoilers to the movie "Superman Returns." If you haven't already seen it and wish not to know what happens in it before there's butter flavor on your fingers to go with it, you may want to not read beyond this point.

Name a story with more in-your-face, in-your-space Christ references and Messianic imagery than Superman, and I'll buy you lunch. This is the classic hero-who-saves-the-world-from-its-fallen-nature flick, and so it was promised to me, and so I went to see it last night.

What's playing right now is a very postmodern interpretation of Superman. Good characters (like Lois Lane) have serious flaws and wrestle with whether or not the world even needs Superman. The Man of Steel himself is a conflicted character, frequently seeming to ask if what he does for the human race really benefits them-- in fact, there are moments when the audience is forced to think "Why is Superman making it worse?" They're valuable questions, but as is typical with postmodern anything, they're asked too often and the answers proposed by the story get questioned just as much, so all the angsty chest-beating never actually benefits anyone.

Lex Luthor doesn't come across as quite evil enough to be Superman's nemesis; in fact, all the characters give off this vibe of having the events of the movie act on them, rather than really causing any of them. I never felt truly drawn in by the story; the script is weak and the acting doesn't do anything to redeem it either.

In my most cynical moment, I was summarizing the movie in the following three lines:
Lex Luthor: I have discovered the secret of Superman and I will now rule the world!
The Audience: Yeah, yeah, we knew that part already...
Superman: Look at me! I can fly! Kiss me, Lois!

The main worthwhile question in "Superman Returns" is "Does the world need a savior?" As Christians, we know the answer to this-- its yes, we do. But Superman falls way short of what that savior should look like, and we won't be doing our mission any favors by using this movie to advance the point.


Jesus said to them, "There was a widow who lived in a certain town and used to go to the judge in that town every day to ask for redress of her grievances. The judge was hard-hearted and respected neither God nor man, and would send her away. But finally he said to himself "Before she wears me out by constantly coming to me with these complaints, I will give her what she wants."

I remembered this story because I spent yesterday evening visiting bowling alleys trying to find one that was open, because a major goal of my vacation this week was to go bowling, since I would have people handy in every town where I stopped to bowl with.

We checked six of them, all of which were closed and one of which literally closed and turned its lights off as E and A and I were pulling in. But today my persistence paid off, since C and E had one handy that was not only open, but also very non-busy.

Small things amuse me and make me think about God. Many blessings on all of you today!


World Traveling

In the past weekish, I have passed by/through the towns of:

Peru (IL)
El Paso (IL)
Normal (IL)
Bangor (MI)
Shelbyville (MI)
and Atlanta (MI)

I am world traveling in just five states, and that makes me happy!


Happy Fourth of July, everybody!

These guys, the Scottville Clown Band, marched in the parade I saw today, in Manistee, Michigan, so check them out-- they're neat! Sort of like the Polyphonic Spree with clowns.