My New WordPress Home

Well, after months (maybe years) of debating, I finally did it. I have officially moved my blog from Blogger to WordPress.

From what I hear, a lot of bloggers out there really don’t like Blogger, but I always liked my site there. It was nice looking and easy to use, but there’s just so much more I can do with this site. From the better, shorter URL to the tons of customization options, there are a lot of advantages to this site.

Also, in case you haven’t heard, I’m doing some freelance graphic design work (check out my site at Websterville.net) and one of the ways that I’ll be designing websites is through the Headway Theme for WordPress. Headway is a framework for setting up and laying out sites that will allow me to really cut costs for web design, especially for small businesses. You might be wondering how a blog site can be used to make real non-blog sites, but if you browse the showcase at Headway’s site, you’ll see that you can do a ton of different things with the framework, with or without a blog. This site is a Headway site, and the more I play with the framework, the more excited I am about the possibilities!

So there you have it… new blog, new site, new job, new directions. Life has been pretty interesting lately, but man I’m loving the possibilities out there.

The Care and Feeding of Your Youth Minister

To avoid any confusion, here’s a quick disclaimer: this is not based solely my personal experience though that has definitely colored my perception. From what I’ve heard, this can apply pretty much across the board.

So you’ve decided to add a youth minister to your life… Congratulations! Your life is about to get a lot more exciting. Youth ministers can be wild and unpredictable, but also very loving and affectionate. Taking care of your youth minister does entail some special considerations. Left on their own, the average life-span of a youth minister is frequently only 18 months or less, but with proper care, your youth minister may last much longer. In the right circumstances, some have been known to thrive for 20-30 years!

Bringing Your Youth Minister Home

• Be careful of the environment where you place your youth minister. Make sure that the environment is open and comfortable, allowing your youth minister a lot of freedom. Youth ministers thrive in environments with a high amount of freedom.

• If you have had several youth ministers in a row, all with short lifespans, it may be that the environment has been poisoned. Don’t place all the blame on the youth ministers that haven’t lasted. Though it may look like a good environment from the outside, some seem specifically designed to kill youth ministers.

• Do not isolate your youth minister.

• When pairing your youth minister with a pastor, a good match can greatly enhance the life of your youth minister by adding companionship and support. Be warned though, a bad pairing can greatly shorten the youth minister’s lifespan. In fact, if they don’t get along, pastors often are the ones who kill the youth minister.

• The office may be your pastor’s preferred habitat, but too much time in an office may make your youth minister suffocate.

Feeding Your Youth Minister

• It is often assumed that your youth minister will feed himself. While this is true to a degree, youth ministers still need to be fed by others. Many people simply drop their youth minister off in their environment and then ignore them until they starve or until something goes wrong.

• Youth ministers can be fed on the job in many ways: encouragement, listening, support, prayer, volunteering, and others. Make sure you also feed them outside of their job through friendship and relationship.

• Youth ministers often spend so much time feeding students that they forget to eat. Make sure that they have plenty of meals and plenty of time to eat them.

Important Considerations:

• Remember that your youth minister is an individual and may be very different than other youth ministers you’ve had before. Don’t expect two youth ministers to do things in exactly the same way, even if one had success with their methods in the past.

• While youth ministers and senior pastors share many similarities, they are not the same thing.

• Youth ministers love building relationships with students, but just being with students is not enough. Though they may be close to students, they also need close relationships with adults.

• Following these tips does not guarantee that your youth minister will have a long life, but they will greatly increase the odds that your youth minister’s life with you will be happy and healthy.

So youth ministers (and youth ministry supporters), anything else you’d like to add?

Random Thoughts on Calling

Well, today was my first official weekday at home since I submitted my resignation as youth minister a few weeks ago. Being asked to resign shook me up pretty bad, and since that time, I’ve done a lot of thinking about calling. I’m not sure yet exactly what to think about it all right now but, here are some of the random thoughts I’ve been having. Feel free to add your thoughts to the mix.

When God calls you to something, does he necessarily call you forever? I feel very strongly that I was called to youth ministry almost a decade ago and I always assumed that was a lifelong call. However, I also feel like I was called to both of my last churches and those calls were only for a certain period of time. Could my call to youth ministry also be for a particular period of time after which I will be called to do something else?

Sometimes calling feels like a cage. Sometimes when somebody reminds me that I’ve been called to youth ministry, I hear, “You are stuck doing youth ministry until you drop over dead, whether you like it or not.”

There are times when I know that I was made to do what I’ve been doing. Yesterday night, my last youth service at FBC, was a really tense, emotional time for me until I stepped up on the stage to speak. When I preach, I’m in my zone. The tension vanished and I preached. I love preaching.

It’s easy to look at your future options when you feel like God is saying, “Do this.” It’s much more complicated when he says, “Look at the gifts and talents I gave you. Listen to the desires I placed within you. Now, what do you want to do with these things?” I’m not sure which method he uses more often. I definitely feel like I’ve had those “do this” moments, but I’m not sure that’s the way it always works.

I do believe that God has a plan for each of us, I’m just not as sure that he always lets us in on it. If God gives a direct “go” or “stop”, you should definitely listen, but I think sometimes, he’s a lot more subtle, drawing on your own talents and desires to show you his will.

Am I done with youth ministry? Probably not. I still feel called to reach out to young people, but I’m not sure exactly how that’s going to look.

Customize Your Desktop with Rainmeter

I just finished completely redoing my and Alanna’s desktops using Rainmeter and a skin called Omnimo UI. If you’ve never used Rainmeter, it’s very easy to install and set up (step-by-step instructions are on the Omnimo link) and makes your desktop endlessly customizable. There are tons of skins out there providing tons of functionality. Give it a try sometime!

Click here to view on my deviantART page.

I’ve made a few changes to my desktop since putting it on my dA, so I wanted to add a screenshot of that one too…

After putting Alanna’s together, I was a little disappointed because I liked hers better. (So did most of the deviantART community apparently.) But now that I’ve updated, I’m pretty happy with mine as well.

More From Mike Yaconelli

I ran across another great quote from Mike Yaconelli at the close of Getting Fired for the Glory of God. I may come back to this with some commentary later, but for now, I’ll let it stand on its own.

When I was 20, I knew everything about Jesus. I swaggered into high schools afraid of no one’s arguments. The Bible was true, Jesus was God, and we all needed him. I still believe those things, but the swagger is more like a limp now. I know Jesus, but I don’t know much about him. I love the Bible–it’s even more true to me today than it was 40 years ago–but the truth I see is now more complicated and mysterious. Jesus is very real to me, but he’s also very elusive. Sometimes I wonder if I’m following him, or he’s following me. Life has left its scars on me. My soul is thick and leathery, faded and torn, knocked around a lot. I’m not as sure about things as I used to be.

Yet here’s the amazing part, the one absolute I cannot shake: Jesus.

As many times as I have disappointed him, as often as I have run from him, he hasn’t given up on me. Every time I turn around, he’s there. Every time I run from him, he’s there.

I don’t know as much about Jesus as I used to, but I know one thing for sure: He’s closer.

The Truth Shall Make You Odd

Okay, so I didn’t actually write this post but it was so good that I had to share it. I’m spending this morning reading some writings by Mike Yaconelli from Getting Fired for the Glory of God. Unfortunately I didn’t discover Mike until after he had already died in 2003, but his words have touched and inspired me more times than I can count. Mike was the kind of wild, messy youth minister that I would love to be. Read the article (written to youth ministers) and if it resonates watch the video clip below to get a peek at this crazy man who challenges and encourages me every time I hear him.

The Truth Shall Make You Odd
Mike Yaconelli

What characterizes Christianity in the modern world is its odd-ness. Christianity is home for people who are out of step, unfashionable, unconventional and counter-cultural. As Peter says, “strangers and aliens.”

I pastor the slowest growing church in America. We started twelve years ago with 90 members and have un-grown to 30. We’re about as far as you can get from a “user friendly” church-not because our congregation is unfriendly, but because our services are unpredictable, unpolished and inconsistent.

We’re an “odd-friendly” church, attracting unique and different followers of Christ who make every service a surprise. We refuse to edit oddness and incompetence from our services. We believe our oddness matters. We want our service filled with mistakes and surprises, because life is full of mistakes and surprises.

One Sunday morning, during the time for prayer requests, a member began describing the critical illness of her father. Because she was close to her father, her request for prayer was frequently interrupted by tears. Those around her reached out a hand or nodded with sadness. Some found their eyes filling with tears as well. The woman finished her request as best as she could.

Seated in the front row was Sadie-a young woman with Down’s syndrome. Sadie stood and walked up the aisle until she saw the woman in the middle of her row. Stepping over the feet of other people in the aisle, Sadie reached the woman, bent down on her knees, laid her head on the woman’s lap, and cried with her.

Sadie “inconvenienced” an entire row of people, stepped on their shoes, and forced them to make room for her . but none of us will ever forget that moment. Sadie is still teaching the rest of us what the odd compassion of Christ’s church looks like.

Someone said “you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.” Whoever made that statement understood what it means to be a follower of Christ. Followers of Christ are odd. Oddness is important because it’s the quality that adds color, texture, variety, and beauty to the human condition. Christ doesn’t make us the same. What He does is affirm our differentness.

Oddness is important because the most dangerous word in Western culture is “sameness.” Sameness is a virus that infects members of industrialized nations and causes an allergic reaction to anyone who’s different. This virus affects the decision-making part of our brain, resulting in an obsession with making the identical choices that everyone else is making.

Sameness is a disease with disastrous consequences-differences are ignored, uniqueness is not listened to, our gifts are canceled out, and the place where life, passion, and joy reside are snuffed out.

Sameness is the result of sin. Sin does much more than infect us with lust and greed; it flattens the human race, franchises us, attempts to make us all homogeneous. Sameness is the cemetery where our distinctiveness dies. In a sea of sameness, no one has an identity.

But Christians do have an identity. Aliens! We’re the odd ones, the strange ones, the misfits, the outsiders, the incompatibles. Oddness is a gift of God that sits dormant until God’s spirit gives it life and shape. Oddness is the consequence of following the One who made us unique, different . and in His image!

May our youth ministries be the home of oddness, the place where differentness is encouraged, where sameness is considered a sin, so that the image of our holy and odd God will be lifted up for all to see.

Anybody Want to Buy My House?

For my friends who don’t go to First Baptist Lebanon and for those of you who missed the service tonight, I want to let you know that at the end of this evening’s service, I resigned from my position as Youth and Children’s Minister. I did so after talking with the pastor and the personnel team who felt that those ministries needed a fresh start. Despite the fact that I was not expecting this decision, I have no hard feelings towards anyone involved. They are simply doing what they think is best for the church and, in the end, I believe that this could be best for me and my family as well.

I’ve enjoyed my time on staff at FBC and the friendships I’ve made there, but if you’ve been reading my blog lately you know that I am not your typical youth pastor and ultimately we simply had too many differences in ministry philosophy and style. Like I said, and it’s worth saying again (in bold font), I am not upset with anyone at the church nor do I have any hard feelings towards any of the church leadership. They are all great men and it has been a privilege to work with them. Resigning this evening was hard and I’m sorry for the people who were shocked or hurt by my announcement, but I do feel that it was the right thing to do.

So what’s next for me? Honestly, I have no idea.

I do know that despite not having a job, I do have some pretty great things going for me right now. I’ve got the God who will never leave me or forsake me. I’ve got my amazing wife who has been right by my side through this whole thing. (Read all her blogs from the week leading up to this announcement here, here, here, and here… she’s awesome!) I’ve got three smiling happy kids who help me keep my perspective. I asked Ben the other day if he wanted to go live in a brand new house and said, “Yeah!” jumping up and down and laughing the whole time. For him, change, even big change, is just the start of a new adventure.

Alanna and I are looking at the possibility moving back to my hometown of Sparta. Houses cost a lot less there and we have lots of friends and family nearby to help us get going. Since graduation I have lived wherever my career has taken me, but I would like to put down some roots now, choosing where to live first and then seeing what jobs are available in the area. Thanks to a particularly crappy job market at the moment, I can’t afford to be picky with where I find my paycheck though. For now, I’m open to anything. So (again in bold font)…

If you live in or around Sparta (or anywhere else in Middle Tennessee) and you know of any available jobs, please let me know immediately.

Seriously, I am open to any and all suggestions. As far as credentials go, I’ve got a B.A. in History and English and seven years experience working with teenagers in ministry. I am skilled in digital desktop publishing and graphic design (but no coding yet). Also, I can make some pretty awesome coffee drinks that end in “cino.” For now though, I just need to find a job, so I don’t have to work in those fields if that’s not where the jobs are.

Also, another big deal coming up in the near future will be selling our current house. It’s a great little house but it’s more than we will be able to afford soon, so we really need a buyer soon. Next Saturday (March 20), we’re going to have a painting party to bring back the beige that seems to be all the rage with house hunters. If you’re in the area, we’d love to have your help. Just bring a roller and a paint tray and we will find you a wall. I’ll be cooking up a couple of awesome homemade pizzas as payment for your hard work so come out and help us get this place in shape.

It’s pretty weird to be floating freely like we are right now, not knowing where we’re going or what we’re going to do when we get there. I’ve gone through plenty of other major life transitions in the past, but in those cases we were always transitioning from one place/position/paycheck to another one that was already waiting. Now, I just have to trust that God is going to provide for our needs.

And I do trust Him. Most of the time. As the great Rich Mullins said, “Surrender don’t come natural to me.” Man, I struggle with this one sometimes, even though I know God has never let me down in the past. Sometimes I trust people too easily (like the guy who managed to get $80 out of me for his “broken car”) but I struggle to trust the one who always keeps His promises. If He cares about feeding sparrows and clothing lilies, I know He’ll take care of me.

I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know he watches me

The Great Adventure?

“We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think what anybody sees in them.” – Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit

Saddle up your horses!

Life can surprise you sometimes. You can look at those surprises as nasty dark things designed to destroy you or you can look ahead and embrace the adventure that awaits. A brand new adventure coming soon…

Odd Man Out: God Bless the Weirdos

Main Entry: mis•fit, n. 1: something that fits badly 2: a person who is poorly adapted to a situation or environment. See also: outcast, outsider, oddball, weirdo, fish out of water, square peg

One of my earliest clear memories was when I was a little boy, probably around six years old, and one of my friends said to me, “You’re weird.”

I said thank you.

I still like being weird. You probably wouldn’t know it by looking at me, but I still don’t always fit in very well. I never really have. That doesn’t really bother me 99% of the time. I like being different, charting my own course, marching to the beat of a different drum, [insert cliché about being different here]. In high school, the land of the cliques, I was much happier floating around on the fringes of a bunch of different groups without ever landing in any one of them. Drama, chorus, yearbook… not exactly a recipe for coolness, but I loved it.

The only time this “otherness” bothers me is when I come to church. In my last post, I talked about how people with political views that aren’t GOP have trouble finding their place in many churches, but you don’t have to be a socialist to not fit in in church. I have been in Sunday morning services where I feel like a band geek in a room full of jocks and cheerleaders. I don’t dress the same, act the same, listen to the same music, read the same authors, or watch the same movies. I couldn’t care less about sports but the sermon is filled with football analogies. I’m quiet a lot of the time, not working the crowd shaking hands and filling up the air with small talk. During handshaking time, friends seek each other out and say they’re glad to see each other while I shake hands with the pastor. After church, everybody goes out for lunch together while I head home.

I want to be part of the family but sometimes I feel like the black sheep.

And I know there are other people just like me. They visit a church and before the organist has finished playing the prelude they already know that they don’t fit in. They’re (let’s just say “we,” not “they,” cause I’m part of this group too) the artists, the poets, the creative types who think out of the box, and we just can’t seem to find our place among other Christians. This doesn’t mean that we don’t love Jesus madly. We do. And it really doesn’t even mean that we don’t love the church. We do, but often we feel like the church doesn’t love us back. We feel like a kid who has just been told he’s not cool enough to sit at the lunch table with the popular kids. Church is about the only place where I really do want to fit in, but that just doesn’t happen very often.

Out of context or not, I like the Bible verses that say that Christians are “peculiar people” and “aliens” (thanks, KJV!) That resonates with me. I Iove the others out there like me. Jesus said that all could come to him, not just the ones who have managed to navigate the complicated social waters of the church. Who did Jesus spent most of his time with? Outcasts. Loners. Losers. The people shunned by society and rejected by the church.

So God bless the weirdos, the freaks, the non-conformists, the band geeks and yearbook nerds, the kids in all black and dark eyeliner, the hippie girls who wear organic cotton skirts and don’t shave their legs or under their arms, the indie music snobs…

God bless the kids who would rather be on stage in a costume than on a court in a uniform, the guys who know fashion and the girls who fix cars, the artists whose work will never be sold in the front of a Christian bookstore…

God bless the guys who can’t stand to wear a suit on Sundays, the church members who don’t vote Republican but don’t put bumper stickers on their car for fear of being branded a heretic, the A/V guys who hang out in the back of the sanctuary and run the soundboard…

God bless the sinners and the Samaritans, the unclean and the lepers, the tax collectors and the prostitutes, the “peculiar people,” and the “aliens.”

When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2:16)