Developing Leaders in Student Ministry

A leader is only as good as the others who they are empowering to lead. 

Over the past month and a half, God has placed this truth on my heart in a way that I cannot ignore. I am a task-oriented person, and take pride in a well-managed, productive day or an event that goes off without a hitch. However, I have become convicted that an organization developing new and future leaders is better than an organization that only appears to be functioning properly.

The less you do, the more effective you are. 

Why is this so difficult for many of us? It’s because we are control-oriented people. One of the biggest lies we tell ourselves on a daily basis is, I can do this myself. Not only is this an egregious form of self-denial, but it is also unscriptural.

Paul wrote the book of 1 Corinthians to a church running rampant with disfunction. One of their obvious blemishes was that they had overvalued certain spiritual gifts – namely the gift of prophesy and speaking in tongues – at the expense of other necessary tasks. As you can imagine, the things they prided themselves on were the gifts or tasks that were more visible. They craved exposure, but they lacked leadership. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-14, Paul wrote the following message to this church:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

In other words, not only is it God’s design for each individual in the church to work together, alongside one another, but it allows each person an opportunity to express their unique spiritual gifts.

I have some spiritual gifts – I believe that we all do – but I do not have every spiritual gift. And neither does anybody else. If I am the only leader in my ministry, then my ministry may have some strengths – that reflect my own strengths – but it will also have my weaknesses. I know myself to know well the areas which I am weak, and i don’t want my ministry to be limited by my own shortcomings. Therefore, I must create opportunities for others to express their strengths. By doing so, I am able to train future leaders and utilize each person’s individual talents for the overall health of my ministry.

So how does this happen? How do you help students recognize their full potential as leaders? How do you create opportunities for students to express their talents?

Allow me to share with you a few ideas I’ve had. Some I’ve implemented well, others are still a work in progress. This list is not exhaustive – in fact, I hope that this post generates responses from others with their own thoughts and suggestions. After all, you may be strong in an area that I am not!

  1. Recognize that ALL students can be leaders, but remember that some will lead differently than others.
  2. Start encouraging your students to lead earlier rather than later. Don’t wait until students are juniors and seniors before giving them opportunities to lead.
  3. Ask students questions about what they are passionate about. This may help you imagine areas where they might be able to contribute.
  4. Complement students on areas in which you see strength, or when you see them make an effort to step out of their comfort zones.
  5. Spend extra time with students who are ready to make the jump into greater leadership. Encourage them, disciple them, and ask good questions that guide them to greater leadership opportunities.
  6. Lead through other students in your ministry. Encourage your seniors to mentor freshmen and sophomores, or encourage sophomores and freshmen to invest in the middle school group.
  7. Pray OFTEN for your current and future leaders. I have to remind myself almost everyday that God is the one responsible for changing hearts, not me.

What did I miss? What has worked for you? I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Note: This post is in response to http://www.studentministry.org and their list of “100 Blog Topics I Hope YOU Write.” For the whole list, which contains many other fantastic posts, see http://www.studentministry.org/100-blog-topics-i-hope-you-write/.

Faith, Fitness, and Finding Myself: How Discipline (Twice) Changed My Life

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They say, “act like you’ve been there before.”

I couldn’t do it.

As I crossed the finish line, an hour and 22 minutes after the start of the first annual Cottonbelt Classic Sprint Duathlon, tears were beginning to fill my eyes. Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I’m not a crier, but as I finished the final leg of my first-ever duathlon, I was coming unglued.

To many of the other racers, it might have just been another Saturday morning. To me, it was a life milestone, a crucial moment on a six-year journey full of peaks and valleys. It’s an important chapter in a story that I can’t describe myself without telling.

It’s not just the story about how I got in shape. It’s a story about how I found myself.

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Very rarely does anything happen instantaneously. I used to think that successful people were always winning and unsuccessful people were always failing. That’s simply not true. Life is a journey, a roller-coaster in many respects, and anybody who is moving forward will also occasionally take a step or two – or several – backwards.

My story is no different. I can’t tell you what happened to me with just a “before” and “after” picture. It’s more complicated than that. Instead, I’m going to walk you through four seasons of my life – Denial, Discipline, Disappointment, and Discipline (Part Two). Each represents a chapter of my story that has led me to where I am today.

Chapter One: Denial

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Growing up, I was always a bigger kid. On my first day of eighth grade as a 13-year-old, I was already six feet tall (basketball came pretty easy that year – most of the other players hadn’t hit their growth spurt yet). Like most teenage boys, I loved to eat…and I didn’t always know when to stop. Calories were not just “fuel” for me – eating was an experience. Whataburger and Buffalo Wild Wings were two of my favorite stops for fried chicken, double cheeseburgers, and don’t forget the dipping sauce.

As I continued to grow – both in years and in pounds – my body started to experience the effects. Our bodies are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), but mine was not created to withstand the negligence and abuse I was putting it through. Every step I took was putting over 250 pounds of pressure onto my knees, and they weren’t responding well. Soreness turned to pain and pain turned to injury, that surgery was the only answer for. My first operation was February 8th, 2008. My second was February 26th, 2010. My third – and first on my right knee – was September 30th, 2010.

No torn ACLs. No blow-outs. No collisions or impact injuries. Each surgery was the result of repetitive motion of knees asking to carry a load they couldn’t bear.

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I never wanted to admit this to myself. It probably would have been more painful than any of the surgeries. I claimed I had “bad knees”, and used my mom’s one knee surgery to provide an explanation for my three. All the while, I continued to pack on the pounds and ignore what the scale said. My doctor suggested that, for my own safety, I no longer play sports. I was sad, but I understood his reasoning – I didn’t want to have surgery #4 either.

With my newfound free time, I became more involved in church activities (more on that another day) and I got a part-time job at Fazoli’s, which meant free food at work 3-4 nights a week. For many people, a free meal at Fazoli’s might be a bowl of spaghetti and a single breadstick on the side (or two if you’re “splurging.”) For my 17-year-old self, as I exceeded 260 and 270 pounds for the first time, a “free meal” meant bowls of baked pasta covered in handfuls of cheese, countless breadsticks, and large sodas (a quick check on MyFitnessPal.com calculates this meal at around 2,500 calories and over 100 grams of fat).

I graduated high school in May of 2011. I was 285 pounds, wearing 2XL shirts and size 40 pants. Even after three knee surgeries, I was in complete and utter denial about the shape I was in. I looked forward to reaching 300 pounds. After all, most NFL offensive lineman weigh around that much, and I lifted weights every once in a while. We weren’t that different, right?

Chapter Two: Discipline

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Fast forward to the beginning of my freshman year of college. I had just moved into the dorms at Oklahoma Christian, and several of my friends were making plans to go to the gym for an afternoon workout. Like most guys, I had lifted weights on-and-off since I was in middle school. So I went with them. And we went back the day after that. And the day after that.

It didn’t take long for a daily trip to the gym to become a habit. It was always easier if I had a friend going, but I would occasionally go by myself. My eating habits didn’t change much – I spent most of my money on late-night Taco Bell runs before curfew – but it felt good to be active for a change.

After Christmas Break, I hit a true milestone. I can’t point to the exact day (which is strange because I usually remember dates well), but it would have been shortly after we returned to school for the spring semester. I really didn’t want to work out that day. 

I had been lifting 3-4 days a week, but wasn’t seeing any results. I was getting busier with homework and other obligations and was questioning if working out was really worth it. But, because I had friends that were going, I couldn’t say no – I didn’t want to be the only one who skipped the gym.

That day, forcing myself to work out even when I didn’t want to, taught me a lesson that has changed my life. Working out feels good. And, more importantly, treating my body the right way feels good.

It was a weird feeling. I had played sports in middle school and high school (until the knee surgeries forced me to stop), and had been lifting for a while, but I had never felt the way I did on that day. I’m not sure why this day was unique, but I knew that from this point on that I had to make the gym a priority.

As I quickly learned, the best way to ruin the feeling of a tough workout was to eat food high in fat and sugar. I knew it was pointless to make the gym a priority without making other important changes to my routine. So, I cut back. Way back. For the first time in my life, I preferred the increased energy and focus that came from working out and eating right over the taste of a five-layer burrito from Taco Bell or the satisfaction of eating an entire bag of Sour Patch Kids in one sitting. There were still days where I gave into the cravings, but more often than not, I was fighting to make the right choices. And this represented – for the first time in my life – progress.

As I continued to form better habits and make better choices, I started to see tangible results for the first time. I was so used to weighing over 280 pounds that when I first saw 260 on the scale, I thought it was a mistake. When I saw the number 250, I knew it was more than a coincidence – it was the result of hard work and sacrifice.

My body wasn’t the only thing changing. As I pursued discipline and found a new sense of motivation, I realized how driven I could be when I set my mind to a task or goal. My grades improved. My time with God became more frequent. My relationships strengthened.

Working out and eating right changed everything about me, and I loved it. I never wanted to go back to the person I was before. God was helping me reach my full potential, and using the weight room – of all places – to display his transformative power in my life.

After my sophomore year of college, shortly before my 20th birthday, I weighed 215 pounds. was lifting 5-6 days a week, and had dreams of competing in a triathlon. I had taken huge steps forward, but no amount of success could make me immune from future setbacks.

Chapter Three: Disappointment

I thought I had it all figured out, but I didn’t truly know myself yet.

 

I was still doing well in my fitness journey. I was still hitting the gym. I was eating good…kind of. I had spent enough time in college that I was getting tired of cafeteria food, and had enough money from working various part-time jobs and internships that I could afford to get fast food or, as I’ve heard it called recently, “fast casual” food, fairly often.

I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t you already cross that bridge? Didn’t you swear off all the unhealthy food when you first started working out? I did…for a little while. And then I had an excuse to justify eating (almost) whatever sounded good.

My friends will tell you that my catchphrase at the time was, “I earned this.” I would get in a morning lift, followed by a quick run, and walk into lunch armed with the ammunition to consume anything I desired. “Oh, it’s okay. I worked out this morning.”

So, what was my problem? I can point to it easily now, but back then, I didn’t know myself well enough. I had a food addiction. 

Even now, it feels weird to use that word. It’s so dirty. When we talk about people who have “addictions,” we’re referring to people who do hard drugs or watch pornography. You can’t possibly be addicted to food…after all, we have to eat to live, right?

My problem was, I wasn’t just eating to live. I was living to eat.

The effects of eating the food I had “earned” snowballed over the next two years. I went from 215 to 225 to 245 all the way up to 265. I had lost 70 pounds over two and a half years only to put 50 pounds back on in around six months.

On the outside, I was handling it okay. I hid behind a mask of confusion. I would ask my friends, is it normal to gain this much muscle weight in such a short amount of time? Is it the new protein that I’ve been taking? I should write the testimonial! 

Unfortunately, the mirror told the truth I couldn’t bring myself to admit. On the inside, I was facing new levels of disappointment. I thought to myself, you came so far, only to throw away all of your progress. You had a great story, but you won’t be able to tell it anymore – you ruined it.

Chapter Four: Discipline…Continued

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Even in the midst of that disappointment, I never hit rock bottom. Looking back, maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. I don’t think it’s representative of my character.

I’m an overly positive person. It drives my wife crazy. I always tend to look for the good, even when it would probably be more responsible to understand the real implications and consequences of a situation.

This season in life was no different. The more I realized I had let myself go (again), the more confident I was that I would be able to make things right. I didn’t know if I would ever be able to get back into the shape I had been in before. Still, I had decided that living a disciplined life was more enjoyable than the alternative.

I’ll be honest, progress came much slower the second time. I had been lifting even while I was gaining weight (which gives you an idea of how terrible my diet was), so I couldn’t just start going to the gym and expect all my problems to go away. I was already doing that.

I had to change something else, so I changed portions. I began to realize that I didn’t have to stuff myself at every meal. I discovered an app called “MyFitnessPal” that helps me see exactly how many calories I need to have per meal and per day. This app has changed my life, empowering me to eat smaller quantities and lose more weight than before.

265 turned back into 245. 245, with several months of “chipping away,” turned into 230. 230 turned into 220 and 215 and, for the first time, 210. That was a huge day, because it meant that I was – once again – making new progress and setting personal records.

Losing 60 pounds is an accolade few people can boast, and I’ve done it twice. As cool as it feels to say this (imagine me pausing to pat myself on the back), I know that this was only possible because of setbacks I had experienced based on my own bad choices. I’m the one who let myself get into such bad shape – twice. I’m the one who spent months and years in denial about what I was going through. However, I know what it feels like on both ends of the spectrum, and it gives me a greater appreciation for how far I’ve come.

It’s also why finishing my first duathlon on September 30th was such a major accomplishment in my life. From walking out of a hospital on crutches in high school to “earning” my way to an awful diet in college that could have erased this entire chapter, there were so many moments in my past where I never would have dreamed that such a moment was even possible. All of these defeats, still fresh in the rearview mirror, made this victory taste even sweeter.

I’m honestly still relishing it to this day.

God’s Story Found in My Story

In 1 Timothy 4:8, Paul writes the following words: “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

It would be easy to tell this story with the focus on me instead of God. It would also be inaccurate and foolish. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that my story has very little to do with me and much more to do with what God has done in me.

I could write a book on what God has taught me on this journey, and maybe one day I will. However, for today, I’ll defer to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

One of the underlying causes of a heart in denial is an inability to admit weakness. After all, nobody wants to be weak, right? Have you ever walked into a job interview and immediately started bragging about your weaknesses? (Unless you’re Michael Scott in Season Three of “The Office,” the answer is probably “no.”) Have you ever gushed over your inadequacies on a first date?

No. Nobody does that. But maybe we should.

In his book #Struggles, Craig Groeschel writes that we impress people with our strengths, but we connect with people through our weaknesses. I would take this another step further and argue that we connect with God himself through our weaknesses. Our weaknesses remind us of how great our need for God is, and that we experience his presence in our lives as he empowers us to overcome our weaknesses.

In my weakest moments, God has taken over my life and empowered me to make better choices. In every valley and in each defeat, God has walked alongside me and helped me overcome my obstacles. I believe the words of Paul in 1 Timothy, that physical training is of some value, not because I think muscles will get me into Heaven, but because I have encountered God’s transformative power through my physical journey. By transforming me physically, God has displayed his power in my life and increased my faith, making me a believer in his power to transform others – both physically and spiritually – and influencing my ministry in more ways than I can describe.

Simply put, God transforms people’s lives. He transformed mine. And he can transform yours.

My name is Brady Ross. I’m 24 years old and this morning I weighted 202 pounds. I’m a duathlete. I’m also a recovering food addict. Most importantly, I’m a child of God, under his grace, with a future undefined by my past and countless reasons to believe in his transformative power.

And the victory I have found in Jesus still tastes sweeter than them all.

 

An Open Letter to First-Time Ministers

Note: I enjoyed working on this post with my good friend and college roommate Payton Minzenmayer. Payton works as the Connections Minister at the Alameda Church in Norman, OK. Go check out Payton’s site at paytonminzenmayer.com – I think you will enjoy his work!

Churches need ministers who are in for the long haul. Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Resources, believes that a minister’s most productive years are often years six through ten of his or her work with a particular church. By this time, Rainer writes, “Both parties have worked through the tough times. They now trust each other and love each other more deeply.”

Unfortunately, ministry is hard, and this kind of longevity isn’t normal in most churches today. Ministers often go into a new job or role with high expectations that don’t last long past the end of the “honeymoon” period. Many struggle to get off on the right foot and leave their church after only a couple years, some walking away from ministry entirely. Deep wounds turn to scars that cause animosity towards the church as a whole, acting as a deterrent to faith itself. What can we do to fix this problem?

Before you can make it to year six, you must survive year one. Thanks to the grace of God and churches committed to our longevity, we (Brady and Payton) have both recently crossed the one-year benchmark. Today, we join together to reflect on the successes and failures of our first year, hoping that you may learn something (good or bad) from what we have experienced.

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For readers who may not be familiar, can you share a little more about your context?

Brady: I am the Youth Minister at the Crestview Church of Christ in Waco, TX. I spent two years in part-time youth ministry before beginning my full-time ministry at Crestview. Crestview is a 600-member church that defines itself as “the church that loves kids” and “the church that helps people.” These two statements drive our mission as a church family. For more information about our church, visit crestview-church.org.

Payton: My current ministry title is “Connections Minister” at the Alameda Church of Christ in Norman, OK. Isn’t that great? My job is all about connecting people. I organize guest services, develop outreach efforts, and organize our small group ministry. My mission is to provide avenues where our members can be actively involved in the lives of other members, but, more importantly, in the lives of those in our community. Our church vision is to “develop committed followers of Jesus Christ,” and I have not known a church who is following that mission more than Alameda. To learn more about us, visit alamedacofc.org.

What can you share about your hiring process?

Brady: Crestview’s process was simple, informal, and very refreshing. My first interview was over breakfast with one of the current ministers. For my second interview, my wife and I met with the entire group of existing ministers. As we spoke with them, I could tell that they truly loved Crestview and were excited about its future. On my final visit, I met with the elders and answered questions they had emailed me a few days before we came to Waco. Seeing these questions ahead of time allowed me to come into the meeting more relaxed and prepared. Per my request, I was also able to spend time with parents and students on this visit. Throughout the entire process, I always knew where I stood – they communicated clearly and openly with us, and made Crestview seem like a wonderful place to live and work. I honestly can’t say there’s anything I wish they would have done differently.

Payton: My hiring process at Alameda was fairly unique, compared to others. I now know that the process usually involves 1) meeting with the staff, 2) meeting with the eldership, and 3) attendance to a regular Sunday morning service, in that order. I remember on the weekend of my interview there were tornado risks sweeping through the Norman area. So, what should have been a three day process was condensed to a single afternoon. Though the circumstances were not ideal, the process was seamless. My interview, which my wife joined me for, was held in a cozy room tucked away in our church building with both the ministry staff and the eldership. They asked us general questions, caring more about our own spiritual health than anything else, and kept the rest of the conversation focused on the body of Christians there (the journey of the church, the vision of the church, etc). I felt that the eldership at Alameda cared about me before they even really knew me. I felt that I was trusted and that by hiring me they were empowering me, not using my role to further some predestined agenda. My hiring process was an encouraging venture and one of the reasons I had no hesitations in accepting their offer.

Did your new church family welcome you in a “special” way?

Brady: Our moving truck – which we spent eight hours loading in Oklahoma City – was unloaded in no more than 45 minutes by the twenty church members waiting for us in the parking lot of our new home. The timing was perfect – we had spent the past several hours on the road and were exhausted! On our first Sunday, the elders gathered around us on stage and prayed over us. We were also given a gift basket containing several gift cards to Waco-area businesses as well as invitations to participate in various activities, such as golf and Baylor football games, with church members. Later that night, we had a special church-wide welcome party, featuring several food trucks in the parking lot as well as a grocery “pounding” (more on that here – and here). As quoted in my dad’s Christian Chronicle article, Mary says it better than I could – “Their welcome has made us want to bless others and welcome them just as we have been welcomed.”

Payton: It depends how you might define ‘special.’ Did they shower me in gifts and glory, lifting me high on a pedestal, proving my worth, before I even had a chance to do anything substantial? Well, no. And I am glad they didn’t. However, if you would define ‘special’ as a group showing up at our door on move-in day to help unload our furniture (including my outrageously oversized refrigerator), then yes, it was special. If by ‘special’ you mean being surrounded by the entire eldership in front of the congregation so that a prayer of blessing could be made over our life and ministry, then yes, it was special. I think so often we get caught up in the ‘rolling out of the red carpet’ that we forget it is the welcoming hugs, the taking out to meals, and the showing around town that we are really hoping to receive. My welcome at Alameda was very special to both me and my wife and I would not trade those moments for the world.

How has your experience in full-time ministry been similar or different from what you expected?

Brady: Ministry is weird. In my ministry “career” (it feels strange to use that word – I still feel like I’m new at this), I’ve gone from intern to part-time youth worker to full-time youth worker, and I’ve always falsely assumed that with a “better” title comes more glamorous responsibility or greater importance. And today, almost two years into full-time ministry, I now believe that my role has a lot more to do with the position (or lack thereof) that Jesus describes in Matthew 20: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” In other words, it’s not about me. There have been times where I’ve put my heart and soul into an event, expecting the accolades and high-fives to pour out endlessly on behalf of a job well done, only to hear nothing except a complaint about a miniscule detail that wasn’t even something I had control over. And, in those moments, I’m forced to remind myself of what my role is – I’m not seeking honor for myself, I’m laying out the path to the One who deserves much greater honor. I work with others, but I work for God himself, and his approval forever takes precedent over theirs.

Payton: I knew my job involved working with broken people, but it can be easy to lose sight of the importance of your own spiritual health in the midst of helping others with theirs. Many times it is difficult, as a minister, to pour into people who are spiritually empty if you yourself are spiritually empty. For that reason, taking care of my own spiritual, mental, and physical health are crucial in my effectiveness as a minister. Another aspect I took for granted was how many hats a minister must wear in a week. Even as the newbie, you have to learn to meet people where they are and adapt to their needs. Somedays your job leads you to a hospital waiting room praying with broken families; other days you are sitting at your office desk all day writing sermons. One day you are wearing blue jeans and cleaning up tree limbs in the neighbor’s yard, another you are wearing a suit and tie attending a member’s funeral. Being able to adapt to the needs of your church is crucial regarding your effectiveness as their minister.  

If you could re-do your first year, is there anything you would do different?

Brady: If I could do it all again, I would spend more time with people than working on programs. You think you’re going to win people over by putting out a new innovative, flashy program, but it’s relationships that really matter. I have realized that many churches will put up with below-average programming and poor organization if a minister genuinely loves and cares for people. While programs and organization are still important – and both areas I spend significant time on – I do a much better job of caring for people today than I did in my first few months. As Jesus says in Matthew 23:23, “You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

Payton: If I were to do something different it would be not to rush to change everything. As the new guy on the team, many are looking to you to provide the fresh energy and to be a catalyst to the church’s momentum. That is a lot of pressure. From wanting to prove your worth to your new team, to wanting to fulfill the expectations that you perceive others have of you, there is a new weight put on your shoulders. What I came to find out is many things are the way they are for a reason. I know that sounds simplistic and faintly cliché, but when you are in the mindset of self-proving it is easy to fall back on a desire to change things. If I could do something different it would be to spend more time observing and learning about why things are done a certain way. By doing this I believe I would have come to appreciate the way things are and would have been able to use this new perspective to ‘improve on’ versus simply change.

What encouragement would you give a new minister in their first year?

Brady: Ministry is tough, but it’s so worth it! People are going to complain. The to-do list is going to be more than you can manage. You’re going to encounter brokenness (in others’ lives and in your own). And that’s okay – God made us to be broken. It’s often where he displays his greatest strengths (see 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 – one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture.) Trust God on the good days and on the bad days. Believe it or not, God cares about your ministry more than you do. That’s something I have to remind myself of on days when I get worked up or frustrated about my ministry, and it really puts my role into perspective. It leads me out of worry, anger, and depression and into prayer, which is far more effective in bringing about righteous change in myself and in others.

Payton: You are changing the world. When we get stuck in a routine, we often lose sight of our vision, but the gospel is a counter-cultural message and one by which our entire career (and life) is built. You are going to have critiques and you are going to be unpopular by many worldly standards, but you are entering into the most rewarding calling I believe one can receive. My encouragement to you would be to develop a habit early on of reading God’s living word every day, spend ample time in prayer, and lift others up any chance you get. I believe these three things will get your further in life than anything else.

What advice would you give a new minister in their first year?

Brady: Even if you think it’s going to be the “silver bullet” that causes your ministry to soar to new heights…hold off on making significant changes. I always heard this said by my professors and older youth ministers with more experience. Then, I got to Crestview and immediately assumed that I was the exception to the rule. I didn’t make any massive changes (Crestview already had a tremendous ministry in place when I arrived so I didn’t need to), but I did pull the trigger on a few things a little earlier than I should have. Truth is, even when change is good and necessary, it’s going to be met with great resistance. Change is hard! And when you’re a new minister, you’re better off developing trust and building relationships than trying to tweak the system or push your agenda. There’s usually a reason why things are a certain way in churches. Take some time to figure out what those reasons are before potentially throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Payton: Soak it up! That first year of ministry is thrilling, hectic, and humbling. Especially if you are coming out of seminary (or some other means of religious education), it is an unbelievable experience to put some of the things you have been training for into practice. Don’t move too quickly, though. You’re most likely going to make a couple mistakes. You might have a discomforting conversation or two with your lead minister or eldership. You might even have a day or two of questioning your decision to go into this line of work, but that is all a part of the learning curve. You are answering a call into a vigorous line of work, and that first year is all about acclimating to the culture of your new church.

What advice would you give a church that has recently hired a new minister?

Brady: Remember that moving to a new place is difficult. I can still picture the moment we dropped off the empty UHaul and reality finally set in that we had moved to a new city and state, away from our family, friends, and comfort zone. I thought to myself, what in the world have I done? We can’t go back now! However, after just a few weeks at Crestview, we quickly had no problem calling Waco “home”, thanks to the love and support we felt from our new church family. So, if you’re bringing on a new minister, make every effort to help them feel welcome and comfortable in their new environment. Don’t just give them a paycheck – give them a family. God designed us to live in community, and ministers shouldn’t have to sacrifice living in God’s family because they’re working in God’s fields. Help them build relationships. Invite them into your home. Show them around their new hometown. Support them, even when they make mistakes (as we all do). Tell them that you believe in them and in their ministry. Offer to help them when they ask. Pray with them. Pray for them. Look for opportunities to compliment them publically and privately. Doing these things won’t just make your new minister happier or more comfortable, but will improve the quality of their work and prepare them for a long, fruitful career in ministry.

Payton: I agree with everything Brady said there. I would simply add: set up easy “wins” for your minister. Being the new guy/gal in your church means it might take awhile for their personality and impact to show in their work. However, if you set up easy wins for them early on, this not only boosts their confidence, but it also shows off their abilities to the rest of the church and gives you an idea of how they do things. I know this had a huge impact on the way I would continue in my ministry. I knew I had the confidence of the eldership, the support of the ministry staff, and the love of the congregation early on.

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The first year is a roller-coaster ride. It is filled with peaks and valleys, highs and lows, it is both exhilarating and challenging. You will have some of your greatest victories and experience some of your greatest defeats in your first year. Through it all, never forget that starting on the right foot is important, both for your long-term health as a minister and for your relationship with your congregation. So, take your time, love people, serve your communities, and enjoy the wonderful ride that is ministry!

Just For Fun: My 2017-2018 NBA Predictions

I know, I know – I’m probably eight months away from seeing* Golden State play Cleveland for the fourth year in a row, so why even bother making any other predictions? (Using the word “seeing” probably isn’t fair, because I can’t pretend like I actually watched any of those games last year).

But let’s pretend that this season is a bigger mystery than it appears to be on the eve of the regular season. What if?

What if Paul George isn’t a better player than Kevin Durant, but is a better fit alongside Russell Westbrook, and the two partner with Carmelo Anthony to raise this team’s ceiling to new heights?

What if Chris Paul and James Harden find a way to click and they become the best backcourt in the NBA, playing alongside a supporting cast that grew stronger this past offseason? 

What if the Spurs surprise us all and figure out how to win 55 games again? Spoiler alert: They’re the Spurs, so they probably will.

What if Isaiah Thomas returns to the court in December and has another top-five type season, leading somebody to dare to ask the question: did Cleveland get better when they traded Kyrie?

What if the future is now in Boston, who brought in four new starters to play on last year’s #1 seed in the East? 

What if the new-look Timberwolves – with a new superstar in Jimmy Butler, a new max-contract player in Andrew Wiggins, and a budding all-star in Karl-Anthony Towns – are the NBA’s next big thing?

What if the Raptors and Wizards – two talented teams from last year that bring back similar core units – take the next step and give Cleveland and Boston a run for their money?

What if Giannis Antetokoumpo has a usage rating that resembles ’16-’17 Russell Westbrook -plus a few triple-doubles of his own – and steals an MVP trophy for himself?

What if Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins prove that big men still have a place in this league and turn the Pelicans into a true two-headed monster?

What if Lavar was right and the Lakers somehow make the playoffs? (Don’t hold your breath on this one)

As you can see, there’s still plenty to watch in the upcoming NBA season, even if the Golden State/Cleveland four-peat seems like a sure thing. There’s plenty of mystery and no shortage of interesting storylines to follow.

The NBA is back. And I couldn’t be more excited.

I can’t wait to tune in tomorrow night and watch Kyrie’s return to Cleveland. I’m even more excited to sit in the cheap seats at the ‘Peake on Thursday night with my brother, Keaton, and hear Paul George and Carmelo Anthony’s names called with Russell Westbrook’s and Steven Adams’ for the first time. Honestly, I may even be excited to show the newest Knick, Enes Kanter, a little love as well.

As I try to survive the last day until next summer with no NBA basketball, I thought I would share my division and conference predictions with you. Some may agree. Many may disagree. Whatever you choose is fine, because like I said – basketball is back, and we can all agree that it’s good news.

*Note: I haven’t done the math on my win/loss totals to find out if each prediction is literally possible. So, my chances of going 30/30 have likely already gone by the wayside. But I’ll strap in and enjoy the ride anyways.

Northwest

  1. OKC Thunder – 58-24
  2. Minnesota Timberwolves – 48-34
  3. Denver Nuggets – 46-36
  4. Portland Trailblazers – 43-39
  5. Utah Jazz – 37-45

Pacific

  1. Golden State Warriors – 70-12
  2. LA Clippers – 44-38
  3. LA Lakers – 34-48
  4. Phoenix Suns – 28-54
  5. Sacramento Kings – 23-59

Southwest

  1. Houston – 56-26
  2. San Antonio – 54-28
  3. New Orleans – 42-40
  4. Memphis – 38-53
  5. Dallas –  35-47

Atlantic

  1. Boston Celtics – 56-26
  2. Toronto Raptors – 51-31
  3. Philadelphia 76ers – 44-40
  4. NY Knicks – 31-51
  5. Brooklyn Nets – 13-69

Central

  1. Cleveland – 53-29
  2. Milwaukee – 47-35
  3. Detroit – 36-46
  4. Indiana – 28-54
  5. Chicago – 21-61

Southeast

  1. Washington – 49-33
  2. Miami – 46-36
  3. Charlotte – 38-44
  4. Atlanta – 30-52
  5. Orlando – 24-58

West

  1. Golden State – 70-12
  2. OKC – 58-24
  3. Houston – 56-26
  4. San Antonio – 54-28
  5. Minnesota Timberwolves – 48-34
  6. Denver Nuggets – 46-36
  7. LA Clippers – 44-38
  8. Portland Trailblazers – 43-39

East

  1. Boston – 56-26
  2. Cleveland – 53-29
  3. Toronto – 51-31
  4. Washington – 49-33
  5. Milwaukee – 47-35
  6. Miami – 46-36
  7. Philadelphia – 44-40
  8. Charlotte – 38-44

First Round – West

GS beats Portland in Five

OKC beats LAC in Six

Houston beats Denver in Six

Minnesota beats SA in Six

First Round – East

Boston beats Charlotte in Four

Cleveland beats Philly in Six

Toronto beats Miami in Seven

Washington beats Milwaukee in Six

Second Round

GS beats Minnesota in Six

OKC beats Denver in Six

Boston beats Washington in Five

Cleveland beats Toronto in Five

Conference Finals

GS beats OKC in Six

Boston beats Cleveland in Seven

NBA Finals – Golden State beats Boston in Six (Final Score of Game Six – GS 112, Boston 104)

Children in Community: A Push for Intergenerational Ministry

NOTE: This post was originally written for a graduate class I’m currently taking at ACU: Engaging Adolescents in Spiritual Formation. Although this was a required writing, the topic is one that I have a strong passion about, and felt it was important to pass along. 

It’s clear in Scripture that young people matter to God. In 2 Kings 22, in a time of intense turmoil and disaster, an eight-year-old named Josiah becomes king and does such an admirable job that he is compared to King David (cf. 2 Kings 22:2). In the Gospels, Jesus offers both blessings for children (cf. Mark 10:14-15; Luke 18:16-17) and strong warnings for those who might attempt to lead children astray (cf. Matt. 18:6; Mark 9:42). In 1 Timothy 4:12, Paul reminds a young Timothy that he has an opportunity to lead other believers by example in righteous conduct. Because children and teenagers clearly have a place in God’s kingdom, they have a key role to play in the life of the church.

Children remind us that theology is not only taught in a classroom, but learned through real-life experience, specifically in the context of community. As Andrew Root highlights, it’s the church who will walk alongside young parents raising a child for the first time,[1] or who will move past theology into the theological as a young child wrestles with the death of their beloved pet.[2] Christianity is not learned from a book, it is experienced through the ups and downs of life. And because children are experiencing many of these “ups” and “downs” for the first time, we must stay aware of their vulnerability and impressionability.

This presents a key opportunity for us to minister to children in the context of community. By integrating children into the community of believers, we can teach them about faith in two specific, meaningful ways. First, we must find appropriate ways to engage them in dialogue. How can we help them process their life experiences in light of God’s greater plan for them? How can we encourage them to see God’s hand at work in the world, through both blessings and trials? Second, we can create opportunities for them to develop meaningful relationships with adults of different ages. I remember my parent’s church friends from when I was a young child. I still talk with some of these people today. The importance of these relationships cannot be diminished. There is a popular saying that people will “fall in love with Christians before they fall in love with Christ.” There is truth in this statement, even for children who grow up in the church. Positive relationships with adults intentionally living out their faith will lead to a greater curiosity about God in children that can ultimately point them closer to the cross.

Furthermore, we can find ways to integrate children into the activities of the church. I have to take this opportunity to brag on my own church. We are known in Waco as “the church that helps people” (at the risk of sounding arrogant, this was the reputation of Crestview LONG before I came on staff). Our leadership has a heart for responding to needs caused by natural disasters, and we are well aware of what is happening in Houston and South Texas right now. Immediately after the disaster happened, we went to lunch as a staff to discuss what we could do to help the affected areas. One of the first questions raised at the lunch was, how can we involve our children in the response? As a church, we believe it’s important to not only teach our children about the importance of loving others, but to also give them a practical opportunity to demonstrate God’s love in a time of severe need.

As somebody who does youth ministry full-time, I am both encouraged and challenged to consider the ways in which our ministry to children can grow to become more effective. Scripture makes it clear that children belong to the body of believers. As we move towards a greater inclusion of children and teenagers into the church family, we become more like the family that God has called us to be. As we read in Psalms 8:2, quoted by Jesus in Matthew 21:16, “From the lips of children and infants, you, Lord, have called forth your praise.” Children are called to be in community, not only with fellow believers, but with the one true God. And we, as church leaders, get to be co-participants with them on this journey. What a great blessing!

[1] Andrew Root, Bonhoeffer as a Youth Worker (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2014), 52.

[2] Ibid., 66-71.