General

Gearing up for VBS

It’s only two weeks away.  I have a love/hate relationship with Vacation Bible School.  I love that you get children and families into Church that otherwise wouldn’t attend.  I hate the prep, the stress, the always-never-enough volunteers, and the hectic week that VBS is.  Don’t get me wrong all of the headaches that come with VBS are worth it.

Recently, We got brand new padded chairs for our fellowship hall.  We had the metal folding chairs; about three different colors, uncomfortable, and half broken.  A member of our church decided that enough was enough and bought nice new stackable black padded chairs.  It was a welcome improvement.

Knowing our VBS theme would be “Colossal Coaster World”  I saved the boxes.  I  could see that they would make great looking roller-coaster cars with some paint and imagination.  Yesterday (Wednesday) we had a small group of only five youth, it’s summer and as a whole we’ve been hurting in the numbers department since graduation.  I decided that after our lesson we would make a quick trip to the store and get some spray paint and have the youth decorate the boxes to look like coaster cars.  They loved it, and it was an easy way to get them involved in something outside of the youth program.

 

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Year to date: Wrapping up Spring and Heading into Summer

We’re halfway through Revival.  Surprisingly, I have extra free time this week.  We’re not having our Youth’s Wednesday Night service tomorrow, so other than running sound I don’t have much to do.

That seems to be the thing with ministry.  Leading up to Revival I was busy promoting, making posters, etc. (Youth Ministers in small churches are the default IT/Advertising/Promotions guys).  That’s done, so now I wait.  I finally extracted camp forms and releases from my students, and mailed it in.  VBS is coming in August.  We’ve got our materials, set the schedule yesterday, and some new members have stepped up and said they would work!

I’m running sound again with my wife for Revival, so I’m making sure that we have all the tracks, songs lyrics in our presentation software, etc.  We have the same man leading worship this year, I think he read my Tales from the Church Soundbooth post.  This year he’s been much better letting us know what songs he’s doing before worship starts.  [He also has a Corvette that was a blast to drive!]

Basically, in the boom and bust cycle of ministry, I’m about to hit a bust after Wednesday (the last night of Revival).  Yay.  About the middle of June we go to camp #1, then July is camp #2, finally VBS is in August.  Then vacation to the Grand Canyon.

Overall, Spring was better than Fall in attendance.  Many of our kids that were uninvolved have come back, and we’ve added about 4 new regulars.  Our association does what we call “Teen Evangelism Nights” (TEN) where students share there testimonies, or whatever God has led them to say.  These are refreshing events, last time 6 students accepted Christ during a student led invitation.  How awesome is that!?  I didn’t do a Disciple Now this spring, but I think I’m going to plan one next spring.  Now we’re just gearing up for VBS.

We chose to do VBS at the end of Summer this year.  This is mainly to build momentum heading into fall.  If we have the numbers last year we can incorporate this kids and their families into our Fall ministries.  My thought process is that when you do VBS at the beginning of summer you get people into church, but then they go on vacation, they visit relatives, and since they didn’t really have the habit of coming to church they don’t pick it back up in the Fall.  At least that’s my theory.

So now it’s just the calm before the storm of summer.

Thanks for Reading,
Robert

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I’m Horrible at this Blogging thing…

For 2014 I set several goals.  They were as follows.

  1. Read through the entire Bible this year
  2. Blog at least twice a month
  3. Lose 20 pounds
  4. Walk my dog “Starbuck” (Lt. Kara Thrace from Battlestar Galactica) at least once a week
  5. Read at least one book a month
  6. Make enough items to sell at the craft show in September (Dailey Woodworking this is basically my “small business”)
  7. Get my yard and garden looking healthy
  8. Become a licensed foster parent and foster a child with the goal of adoption

Well it’s now the middle of February and this is my first post of the year.  HA!  I haven’t walked my dog once.  But she did get out a week ago and had a good run before coming home.  Last night at a Baptist Men’s Rally I went back for a second helping of brisket and sausage so Number Three isn’t looking so well.  I paid some kids wanting to work (shocking for kids nowadays) to rake my yard, but I’ve still got a ways to go on the yard looking like how I used to keep my Gran and Papa’s.  I’m making progress on the craft show thing (#6) but other things are taking precedence.

I’m doing well on a few things.  I’m almost done with the Minor Prophets and a few of the smaller books of the New Testament.  My Pastor gave me a nice little Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) for Christmas.  I’m liking this translation so far, it seems to be both accurate to the original languages and very readable.  As far as reading 12 books I’ve finished two and have about 3/4 of one and 1/5 of another.  I’m mixing it up I’ve read Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper a Men’s Living type of book.  Divergent a distopian fiction that is going to be a movie soon.  It is a great novel and I’m excited to get the next book of this trilogy.  I’m almost done with Si-cology 1 by Si Robertson of Duck Dynasty.  It’s a light read that is funny and mostly ghost written by someone else.  I’ve got a few others on the docket.  One is The Jesus Survey, it is the results of a survey about what “Christian” youth believe.  It is recent and has interesting data.  The other on my list is Baptist Confessions of Faith, this contains historical writings from Baptists since the days of the Reformation, and I really like Church history.  My Wife and I also picked a book over Marriage to read together, but I don’t remember the name.

The main thing my wife and I are focusing on right now is becoming foster parents.  We suffer from infertility, and our goal is to “foster-to-adopt” through what is called a “legal risk adoption.”  This has been a hard and difficult journey, there is a verse in Proverbs that says that “an empty womb is never satisfied” unless you have been down this road you truly don’t have a clue on how hard and painful these last few years have been for us.  Becoming a foster parent, has involved lots of training, we’re getting ready to pay people to come into our home and determine whether or not it’s “safe enough” for a child to be placed with us.  It’s been hell but we’re almost there.

I may blog more about the infertility and foster care thing in the future, I’ve just now got to the point that I’m even OK mentioning it.  As for blogging, I have a lot to write about.  We had a fun Christmas Party with the youth, a break in at the church where we were relieved of our sound system, I just wrapped up a series on the Five Solas, I thought it went great.  And now we’re going to do a series over Christian Marriage.

Until next time (probably June)

Peace be with you,

Robert

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We’re in Trouble…

This post has been a long time coming.  I’ve been praying about this issue since the beginning of the School year.  But the gist is this: The Youth Ministry in my church is in trouble.  

Let me explain. I’m in a small church that runs about 50-75 on Sunday Morning, our sanctuary could hold 250 by my estimation.  I’m in a community of 5714.  There are about 10 Christian Churches in town, and at 75 average attendance we are one of the bigger churches.  So on a “good” Sunday there may be 500-600 people attending church.  That’s right, all the churches in this community are reaching AT BEST 10% of the population.

The first year I was here we started at about 12 as our average attendance.  By the end of the school year we were averaging around 20(+/-), we had seen a couple of baptisms and I could see some real growth in some of our teenagers.  Then summer came; vacations, trips, camps, jobs, etc,  but through this attendance remained fair, we averaged about 10 and got to do some good bonding.  Toward the end of July early August, things slowed down and we entered our slump.  I thought at first it was a good thing, a breather, as we were gearing up for the new school year.  But things didn’t pick back up…

Sure I could draw in 60+ kids at a 5th quarter, we had 120+ at our denominational Saw You at The Pole event in September.  But at our Wednesday night worship we were running about 6 (that’s less than half of the previous spring).  In Sunday School, a staple in Baptist Churches, I go weeks without anyone.  I’ve now got two coming semi-regular.  Disciples aren’t being made.

Now I’ll share some facts about my group

  1. Our core group is made up of entirely Juniors and Seniors.  That means without any changes our youth group will shrink by 1/3 by they end of the 2014 School year, and by graduation 2015 there will not be a youth group.  There are some younger siblings that tag along from time to time but getting them plugged in has proved difficult.
  2. There is ZERO parental involvement.  I am not arrogant like some youth ministers who don’t want parents involved.  Parents are vital.  Before I came here I helped the Youth Minister at the church we were members of.  He had involved parents at every level.  He left about the time I was called here.  The youth ministry of that church thrived during the interim period, because the parents of youth took up the mantle of leadership.  I’ve two families of youth that value church.  One only comes to Sunday Morning Worship, the other family are members of a very small church.
  3. Parents don’t come. To church, to their kids games, school productions, or Baptisms.  Yep, one young man was Baptized and asked his parents to come, and was answered with; “That’s your thing.”  That still makes me want to cry.  In fact a lot of my youth are the only members of their families involved in Church.
  4. What is the deal with High School students taking all of these night/online college courses?  I substitute and I see some of my former regulars and they are just run ragged.  I asked one how she was and what was new, this is her list; Four AP Classes, Band, Student Counsel, 2 College Courses, and her parents want her to get a job.  She’s on the verge of a melt-down, but Church and Worship which restores one’s soul are cut to make time for “priorities.”  She’s one of many in our group.  The good thing about small schools is you can be involved in everything, the bad thing about small schools are sometimes you are involved in everything.

So as of now this Church’s youth ministry will be dead in a year and a half.  So my question is how do I reach the youth and parents of this community?  How do I get a mostly retired congregation to engage and help with this mission of making disciples?  What’s missing? How do I plug in younger youth with a group of upperclassmen that are annoyed by them?

My vision for this Church is for it to reach 10% of the town’s population.  There are about 600 Jr High and High School Students, even with 10 churches, if I had a youth group of 60, there are plenty of lost sheep for Jesus to save.  Why aren’t we reaching them?

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How to Maintain Discipline with Youth

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Giving youth a ride home is just part of the job.  My wife and I are constantly taking youth to and from church. It is a good thing we have an explorer that seats seven.

The car and/or church van is no place for horse play.  Today I ended up taking three young men home after church.  They fought over who got the front seat, so I told them to play Rock, Paper, Scissors.  One of my youth feels a sense of entitlement (we will call him “Shortround,” or at least I do) and refused to play and insisted that he deserved the front seat.  I was honestly getting a little annoyed so I unlocked the back doors and told them to get in.  The Ginger got in the back seat and we waited while the other two fought.  He then asked, “So do you care if I just crawl over into the front.”  “Not at all,” I replied.  Oh the joy of natural lessons! By the time they realized what The Ginger was doing it was to late, so they begrudgingly got in the back seat.

Shortround was still being..well..himself.  So I redirected him to quit playing around.  He did not.  I redirected him a second time, his behavior continued.  The third time I had to redirected him I told him that if he continued horseplaying I would throw my cup of ice water on him (it was 40 degrees tonight).  He didn’t believe me, because, “Your wife would be so mad if you did that.” He was ok until our first stop.  He then continued his folly.  He then got very wet.

I firmly believe that follow through is the key to discipline 😀

Also, turning on the rear a/c and rolling the windows down helped drive home an important life lesson.

PS: My wife thought it was hilarious.

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Jesus, Our Great High Priest

This is a sermon I preached while our pastor was on vacation.

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Embracing the Summer Slump

I read a post over this subject on http://www.theresurgence.com, and I thought I would share what my Summer has looked like for my youth group and my church in this small town.

I haven’t felt much of the “Summer Slow Down.” In fact this is one of the busiest summers I can recall.  Our Church had VBS, then a week later the youth and I went to Super Summer at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.  Another week past and my wife and I headed home for a week of Vacation visiting family.  While it was good to see everyone it was far from refreshing as I returned even more exhausted.  Then after another week and a half the Youth and I went to Paisano Baptist Encampment in Alpine, Texas.  Our church owns a cabin there so we can take up to 17 people to camp for free.  Alpine is beautiful, and the camp was structured in a way that allowed me to relax, do some reading and take naps (I took at least a two hour nap everyday, it was amazing).  In the mist of this last camp my wife and I are beginning the pre-service training for a “foster-to-adopt” program.  I can’t believe I’m saying this but I’m ready to slow down and plan 5th Quarters.

During this crazy summer my average attendance has been cut in half.  Some have jobs, others are on vacation with their families, and some have just disappeared.  Total Church attendance has been down about a quarter to a third.  To be honest this was a little discouraging at first but honestly it has made my job easier.  So therefore I’m going to embrace it.

Being your attendance will be down over the summer, and will be inconsistent people wise (as in different people will be in-and-out of town), it’s the perfect time to take a week or two off.  When I first went into ministry I had the immature notion that a pastor should be at his post at all times.  Well, God saw fit that I should spend 3 years outside of ministry working a “real job” so that I could learn some valuable lessons.  One of these is that everybody needs a break, even pastors.  Also, I believe its good to have someone else fill your pulpit, or even in the case of Youth Ministry cancel services from time to time.  You become stale and your church can fall into a rut.  I read a book by David Platt this last week called Radical, it was refreshing to me that I was able to climb onto a rock be alone and do some good reading.  Also, by not having Youth Church on Wednesday night it gave my youth a break.  My hope is that they will miss not having Church, and it will renew their desire.  Also, I feel as though it removes the sense of “obligation” from coming to church.  So by having a few down weeks, I think it will bring about a healthier Youth Ministry.

I have planned zero youth activities outside of camp this summer.  Except for our once monthly game nights, and of course our camps.  Some of my only-ever-come-to-game-night people haven’t been to fond of this, but I’ve been clear that we meet on Wednesdays and have an open gym after Bible Study.  And as a side rant it wouldn’t break my heart if they just quit coming, or get serious about following Jesus.  I’d prefer them getting serious about following Jesus, of course.

So in planning less, and by being awesome and planning ahead for the camps, I have had a lot of free time at my office.  This has been filled mainly with fall planning, reading, and reading.  I’ve also listened to a few sermon podcasts here and there.  I wish I had been more intentional about the variety.  I’ve read Purpose Driven Church, Synergistic Evangelism, Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business, Radical, many blogs, and a good deal of the Bible.

I get to preach this Sunday as my pastor on vacation, it will be the first time that I’ve had an opportunity to teach the whole church.  This Sunday (8/4/13) will mark my first full year of service here.

In closing here are a few tips for your “Summer Slump”

  1. Plan Less, and plan in advance
  2. Take a Vacation
  3. It’s probably not the best time to start a 10 week study over the Trinity, as people will be in-and-out.
  4. Read Books
  5. Focus on reading large portions of Scripture. (I really like the youversion app, and the plans they offer.  I read ahead and I’m really liking the plans they offer.  I also have my phone with me at all times.
  6. Evaluate your ministries and programs
  7. Plan out your goals for the next year.

Peace be with you

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Consecrate Yourself

I was reading through 1 Chronicles today and came across this verse “So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord, the God of Israel” (1 Chronicles 15:14 ESV).

The question came to my mind: “Do I consecrate myself to the work that God has called me to?”  “What does consecration even mean?”  Before looking it up context points toward setting myself apart for a religious work.  The Levites would consecrate themselves before doing what God had called them to because the work of God is sacred.  I got to thinking about my primary religious work, preaching and teaching.  How often do I just get up and teach a lesson or Bible Study but fail to recognize the sacredness of being giving the privilege of doing such a task?  I feel convicted because this Sunday I didn’t even look at my Sunday School lesson until Sunday Morning.  That would be the opposite of consecration.

Now it’s time to do a word study.  If you’ve ever gone through Francis Chan’s BASIC Series (you should) he talks about how goofy Christians get with their word studies.  The example he gives is telling his daughter to go clean her room.  She get excited and goes to her friend “My dad told me to clean my room.  We should get together one night and pray about what it would look like to clean our rooms.  Let’s find examples of people cleaning their rooms.”  All the time the dad is like “GO CLEAN UP YOUR ROOM!” So I’m trying not to fall into that trap.  But I honestly have never studied up on what consecration is in the Bible.

Merriam-Webster’s: Consecrate: 1) dedicated to a sacred purpose. 2) to induct (a person) into a permanent office with a religious rite; to ordain into the office of bishop: to make or declare sacred; to devote irrevocably to the worship of God by a solemn ceremony.

I looked up the Hebrew word and the Greek Septuagint

HB: qâdash
kaw-dash’
A primitive root; to be (causatively make, pronounce or observe as) clean (ceremonially or morally): – appoint, bid, consecrate, dedicate, defile, hallow, (be, keep) holy (-er, place), keep, prepare, proclaim, purify, sanctify (-ied one, self), X wholly.

GK: hagnizō
hag-nid’-zo
From G53; to make clean, that is, (figuratively) sanctify (ceremonially or morally): – purity (self).

(as a side note e-sword is a free program that is very useful for studying the Bible)

My ESV Study Bible has note that says “David’s instruction to the priests and Levites to consecrate themselves denotes not only ritual actions and abstinences but also the internal attitude that should accompany the handling of holy things” (ESV Study Bible p724)

So if I am to consecrate myself before preaching, or other ministerial duties.  I need to set myself apart and devote myself to God.  So some questions I must answer.  Do I pray for God’s anointing and power before preaching and teaching?  Do I prepare sufficiently? Am I changed, convicted by the Word of God? Or do I just give a clever lecture? Do a maintain my holiness before God or do I have unrepented of sins in my life and heart?  I’ve been called by God to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. I must therefore take this great task seriously and consecrate myself to the work of the Gospel.

Peace be with you,

Robert

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Leading My First VBS

2013_club_vbs_logo_4cVacation Bible School.  The event almost every single church (in Texas at least) has every summer.  Vacation Bible School (VBS) is for children in 6th grade and under.  It is a week long 2-3hr a day outreach for children in the community where we teach them about the love of Jesus.  This is usually done based on a them.  This year my churches theme was Lifeway’s Jungle Jaunt.  Many different Christian publishers put out VBS material to use.  This is important in a town with 3 Baptist Churches because we all do VBS and many children attend more than one.  We also try to make sure we don’t overlap dates.

This year we broke our attendance records with 58 children (give or take) each day.  This is a big deal for a church that normally runs 10 kids or less on Sunday Mornings.  Needless to say we were a little overwhelmed, we were planning for about 30 which is our average.  I must brag on my youth, they have been phenomenal this week.  They are on time, do their job assignments well, and are loving on these little kids.  They are also sacrificing their first week of summer by waking up and coming up to church at 8:30, some even walking to church.

Like everything in life, it’s always a learning experience so I’m going to share some frustrations and lessons learned with my plethora (sarcasm) of readers.  To be honest things are going better than I thought.  The weeks leading up to VBS had my wife and I in a panic.  It didn’t seem like we were going to have enough teachers, I made a big miscommunication on the way we were breaking up the classes and we just went with it rather than trying to fix it.  We had teachers quit, not show up to the training meetings, and we honestly don’t have all the material we need, due to an itty-bitty budget.  My wife and I took the lead for organizing and planning VBS because we believe VBS is an amazing outreach opportunity to families in the community and I didn’t see anyone else taking the lead.  It would be better not to do VBS at all than do it poorly.  Most VBS curriculum, planning seminars, etc say you should plan VBS six months in advance.  We didn’t even start unless after our DNOW in March.  The church we came from normally has everything planned for next year planned by the start of the school year.

First thing for next year.  Plan ahead.  I’m going to get together all the money we spent, all the materials we used to decorate, and all the things we should have had but didn’t like name tags.  This way next year I can have a legitimate budget.  I’ll know what supplies we will need to have on hand.  Little things like having lamination film, butcher paper for decorating.  Also nail down the order of service in advance and make sure that the pastor knows about it, or he will disrupt the closing rally every day!  I was unaware of little sacred VBS cows that were apparently part of VBS that I was unaware of.  Things were a treasure chest for those who brought friends on the 2nd and third day, prizes for those who came everyday, and a random group picture that was announced as we were trying to conclude on Friday.  None of that was bad, I would have just liked to have known and planned it within the schedule, we’ve only got 2-3hrs with these kids.

Overall this was a stressful VBS, but it was completely worth it.

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Run Away… I should have handled it better

I had a call from a scared and concerned mother today.  It stared with “How could a minister have a run away stay at your home and not even call his mother?”  Well that caught me off guard.  For the record I have not heard from or seen the kid for a few days.  Apparently she had heard that he either had been, or is going to stay at my home.

Nevertheless, I did know this Youth had run away from home since Wednesday Church.  I will not go into all the details of the situation.  But this town has been a series of firsts for me, and I wish I would have handled things differently.  To be clear I did offer to allow this youth to stay at my home so that he would not have to sleep on the street.  I stand by this, I’m not a parent, but if my kid did leave home I would hope a responsible adult would care for them.  I would also expect a phone call, as this mother rightly expected from me (even though she was misinformed).  I also offered to go with this youth to his parents, so they could talk.

Now for the coulda-shoulda-woulda:  When I learned of the situation the first thing I did was go to my pastor for his advice.  The family has been occasionally attending our church.  He advised against me immediately contacting his parents and to allow the situation to resolve itself and people to calm down.  Maybe he was right, he has been doing this for a long time, but I am still upset that I didn’t follow my instincts and go visit the parents.  What I’m really beating myself up about is that I didn’t follow up at all with the parents.  Which resulted in a misunderstanding that resulted in a loss of credibility with this family.

I do know what I’ll do next time:

  1. I will contact the parent(s) of the runaway as soon as I learn of the situation to know both sides issue.
  2. I will still extend an invitation to the youth to have a place to stay, with the understanding that I will let the parents know their child is safe.  (I think this condition is the main reason that the offer was not taken up on)
  3. I will try to facilitate communication between parent and child.
  4. I will do everything I can to ensure the safety of the child.  If necessary by contacting CPS, or Law Enforcement.

I’m going to write out a very clear policy for myself, so that if this kind of thing happens again I can handle it better.  I’m now just praying for all involved.

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