The Power of Stories

We have incredible small group leaders in LifeLine.  Our volunteers are simply the best.  One of the things we are doing this year is highlighting our leaders by sharing their stories. I’m a big believer in stories, whether students or leaders. We, as people are captivated and moved by stories. We’ve done our best to leverage this phenomenon in our ministry.

Here’s a story video of Katie Turner who is one of our top notch volunteers.  Props to Ryan Humm for shooting, Al Shepard for editing this and Lindsey Bandy’s apartment for uh…hosting the shoot.

Katie Turners Story from LifeLine Student Ministries on Vimeo.

Stuff I Learned from a Guy who Eats Bugs

John the Baptist was a weird dude.  He broke all the rules on how to build a platform or create a following.  Essentially, he dressed weird, ate weirder, neglected his hair and alienated everyone off with his abrasive speaking style.  And yet, he created a huge following and Jesus himself said that there has never been a greater man.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about this strange bug eating man from the desert and I guess if you’re reading this you’ve been roped into my musings.



One of the things that strikes me about John the Baptist is that he knew exactly who he was.  He fully understood his role in God’s mission in the world.  He was making a splash with his ministry (get it?) and the religious leaders from Jerusalem were impressed enough to send out a delegation to see who exactly he was and what he was up to.  Here’s how it went down:

This was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Temple assistants from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?”  He came right out and said, “I am not the Messiah.

John knew what he was about.  He was quick to point out that this wasn’t the “John show.”  We wasn’t building a platform for John.  He was building a platform for Jesus.  He wasn’t the Messiah and he wasn’t about to try on the Messiah sandals.



It might sound dumb but I wish I had that degree of clarity in the early days of my student ministry career.  Go ahead and judge me but there have been times in which I acted like I thought I was the Messiah.  What I mean is that when serving a troubled student or a kid going through a rough time I have started to believe that what they needed was me.

The truth is that it feels good to be the spiritual “go-to” person.  It feels validating to be a student’s rock in the midst of a family storm.  It feels nice to be the person that students come to for wisdom and advice.

It’s a very subtle thing but I think it’s easy to cross a line here.  It’s so natural for student ministry to become about you.  The students like your teachings.  The group is beginning to take on your style.  Look, I’m not accusing you of anything.  I’m simply drawing attention to a mistake that I made and hoping you don’t fall into the same trap.

How do you know you’ve crossed this line?  How do you know when you’ve placed yourself in the role of “Messiah?”  I believe it is when students struggle without you.  If your students go off to college and fall off the map spiritually it may be because you inserted yourself into a “Messiah” role.  If you leave your church for a new position or a change in career and your students falter spiritually it may be that you crossed a line and took on a role not designed for you.

The truth is that we live in a celebrity driven culture and it’s easy to fall into the same model in our churches and student ministries.  There is immense value in influence and the authority of pastors and youth workers, but the point is Jesus—not us.  Jesus has the power to heal, to transform hearts and to bring light to the darkness.  We are his ambassadors but like John, the story isn’t about us.  We aren’t the Messiah.

John was quick, incredibly quick to shine the spotlight on Jesus.  I want to learn to do the same.  My dream is that my students would be drawn to Jesus rather than me.  My hope is that they would continue to pursue Jesus whether or not I’m in their life.  Why?  Because I’m not the Messiah.


image credited to bobzee666

Why I Love Orphan Ministry

If there’s something followers of Jesus ought to care about it’s orphans.  Check out James 1:27.  I must confess that I never really cared about orphans until I met an organization called Radooga.  Orphan ministry in Ukraine has transformed me.  I’ll never look at the world the same again.

Recently, Radooga posted this video about partnering with local churches to impact the lives of orphans.  I’d love it if you watched it.  Also, Radooga’s orphan camp ministry would be a fantastic mission experience for church.  Just sayin…


What GQ Magazine Is Saying About Porn

This morning I ran across a post on one of my favorite blogs.  A guy named Walt Mueller has a great site for youth workers and parents.  You should really check it out.

In his latest post, Walt links to a GQ Magazine article by Scott Christian.  The article describes how even secular culture is beginning to admit that pornography might not be so great for your mind.  Here’s the link to Walt’s post:  Learning My Lines… 

You can check out the GQ post itself from Walt’s blog but it has a rather provocative picture in it.  Just giving you a heads up.

Also, Walt’s The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding is a great resource.

Lastly, I’ve personally blogged quite a lot about the dangers of porn.  You can check out a few posts if you’re interested:

Real Talk about Pornography

4 Traps That Will Derail a Girl’s Dreams

Pornography Will Find You


image credited to

7 Reasons You Should Do a Youth Group Reunion Event

One of my passions in student ministry is to remove the cliff–the graduation cliff.  Student ministry is at it’s best when it bridges high school and adulthood.  I’m done with the days of graduating students and forgetting about them.  That was one of my greatest mistakes as a new youth worker.  Now, I believe in equipping students for the transition to adulthood and setting them up with mentors to walk with them through the process.

One of the ways we work toward this goal is hosting a reunion event over Christmas break.  Basically we’ve invited all of our 2013 graduates and their small group leaders back for an event. I’m so pumped for this event that I’ve come up with 7 reasons why you should do it too.

1. Reconnect Students and Mentors

The best reason for putting on a reunion event is to reconnect students with their mentors.  Our graduates, even though they are freshmen in college, still need quality adults in their lives to mentor them.  And, truthfully our adult mentors need students in their life too.  Mentoring brings life to both sides.  Anyone who has ever mentored a student knows this is true.  You always get more out of it than you give.

Relationships are the key to growth.  Rekindling the relationship between students and mentors is reason enough to do a reunion event.

2. Evaluate Your Ministry

Getting graduates together for a reunion event is a great opportunity to listen.  We are very intentional about creating a curriculum for our senior class that will help them transition.  Did the curriculum work?  A reunion event is a chance to ask our graduates, “What surprised you?  What do you wish you would have known?  How could we have prepared you better?”

If many of your graduates are struggling in their faith maybe it’s time to rethink how you are doing student ministry.  But, you’ll never know unless you ask students who have graduated out of your ministry.

3. Reorient Your Graduates

A reunion event is a great opportunity to speak truth to your graduates.   Getting them together over Christmas is like speaking to students at Winter Retreat.  They are out of their normal environment.  They are more open to truth.  They are evaluating their first semester choices.  Take advantage of this to remind your graduates of what is important.

4. You Still Belong

It’s terribly disorienting to go off to college.  Even after only one semester, your hometown feels different.  Church doesn’t quite feel like home anymore.  You’re not really welcome in the student ministry and your old friendships have changed.  A reunion event is a great way to tell your graduates that they are still a valued member of the community.  They still belong.  Their small group leaders and mentors still care about them.

5. Evaluate Your Church/Ministry Recommendations

One of the things we do in our student ministry is connect each of our graduates with a church or ministry wherever they are going after high school.  Our goal is that the church or ministry would connect with them before they arrive on campus.

A reunion event is a great time to ask about these recommendations.  Were a few of your recommendations duds?  It would be good to know.  I love it when a student falls in love with a new church in their college town.  That is a great feeling!

6.  Encourage Your Graduates to Plug In

So maybe a few of your recommendations were duds.  Or, maybe you didn’t make any recommendations.  Get on it for next year!

We know how crucial community is to growth.  A reunion event is a good opportunity to remind our graduates of how important community is.  Encourage them to plug in.  Maybe Christmas break is new opportunity to help them find a good ministry.

7.  Remind Yourself of the Goal of Student Ministry

Hanging out with graduates of your student ministry will force you to grapple with the outcome of your work.  It isn’t about numbers.  It isn’t about great bands, environments or talks.  It’s about students pursuing Jesus after leaving your ministry.

Listening to graduates talk about the joys and struggles of life after high school will help you better understand what topics you need to address while they are still in high school.  It will remind you of the importance of mentors.  It will remind you of how powerful inter-generational church is.  It will remind you of the goal of all we do and will help you reorient your practices around these goals.


So, schedule a student ministry reunion event.  There’s still time and your graduates will be bored over Christmas break anyway.  It doesn’t have to be fancy.  Bring together your graduates and their small group leaders.  Encourage them, listen to them and reorient them.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on how it went.


Why I Care About Ukraine

If you’re like me you barely noticed that there have been protests and violence in Kiev, Ukraine.  Most of the time news like this only holds my attention for the 2 seconds it takes to read the headline and think to myself, “Wow.  Another country going crazy.  Where’s the sports section?”

For me, this situation is different.  In fact, I’m supposed to be in Kiev right now, staying in an apartment overlooking the square where the largest of the protests have been taking place.  The truth is, I’ve fallen in love with Ukraine, mostly against my will.  I can’t say that I’ve fallen in love with borscht but I did fall in love with the church in Ukraine and the orphans that it is struggling to serve.  You can read all about my experiences, including our failed adoption in a series of posts titled:  When Injustice Gets Personal.


If you haven’t been paying attention or if you’re still in a turkey coma, the people of Ukraine are rising up.  You see, Ukraine has been oppressed long enough.  The last 500 years have not been good to this nation and you’d be hard-pressed to find a country more devastated by the 20th century than Ukraine.  I’m no expert on Eastern European history but here’s a quick summary:

As WWI broke out, Ukrainians were caught on both sides of the conflict.  Some were fighting for the Russians and some for the Central Powers.  In essence, it was Ukrainians fighting against each other.  Civilians on both sides were victimized and killed.  After the Russian army collapsed and the Bolshevik Revolution began, Ukraine fell to pieces.  The conflict is so confusing, with so many different armies and political organizations fighting for power that I can’t keep it all straight.  The end result was that most of Ukraine fell into the hands of the Soviets and parts of Western Ukraine were annexed by Poland.  To be sure, the country suffered terribly.

Once Stalin consolidated his power he began implementing the cruel system of communism.  During 1932 and 1933, somewhere between 3 and 7 million Ukrainians died of starvation during a terrible famine.  Meanwhile, most of the grain produced in Ukraine was exported to other parts of the Soviet Empire.  Some historians have argued that there was plenty of grain and this was deliberate genocide orchestrated by the Soviets.  These events have been called the Holodomor which means “extermination by hunger.”  Deliberate or not, millions of people died of starvation.  We’ve never seen suffering of this magnitude in the United States.  I visited the memorial to these events last summer in Kiev and was stunned.

Ukraine suffered terribly during WWII.  16.8% of the population was killed in the conflict.  5.2 million civilians were killed as the Germans and Soviets battled back and forth through the country, devastating the country as they retreated.  Entire cities were destroyed.  The countryside was burned to nothing by both armies.

By comparison, approximately .3% of the American population was killed during WWII.  Almost 20% of the population of Ukraine was killed in WWII and this was after the suffering of 1932 and 1933.  The numbers are not even comparable.  This level of suffering and devastation escapes my understanding.

From WWII until the early 1990s Ukrainians lived under Soviet oppression–lack of freedom, no rights, secret police, massive corruption and constant fear.  And now, although “free,” Ukraine is a society riddled by corruption and poverty.  Based on national resources alone, Ukraine ought to be a world power.  Instead the nation is struggling terribly.  Part of this is inevitable after the devastation of the 20th century and part of this is due to mismanagement by the nation’s leadership.

All of this breaks my heart and makes me angry.  And yet, I don’t have a clue what it is really like.  I don’t live in Ukraine.  I don’t have to pay bribes to the police.  I don’t know what it’s like to suffer like the Ukrainians have over the last 100 years..  All I know is that it is wrong.  This is unjust.  People shouldn’t have to live like this.  This is not what God intended.



Now, when it appeared that Ukraine was about to create stronger ties with the European Union which would have meant greater traveling freedom for the people, international pressure for the end of corruption and wider economic opportunity, their president, under pressure from Russia breaks off the deal.  The people are protesting.  Hundreds of thousands of people are demanding a reversal on the EU deal and new elections.  Wouldn’t you? Wasn’t our own country born as people demanded freedom and stood up against injustice?


But, the truth is that Ukraine is a country deeply divided.  For the most part, those in Western Ukraine speak Ukrainian and want stronger ties with Europe and those in the south and east speak Russian and want stronger ties with Russia.  The nation is not united.  There is no quick political solution to this quagmire.  In fact, I’m not sure there can be any political fix to appease everyone and end the corruption.



So, is there no hope for Ukraine?  Is it doomed?  I don’t think so.  In my opinion, the hope for Ukraine is the church.  The church is the presence of Jesus in Ukraine.  What I do believe in is the community of Jesus I have met in Ukraine.  I believe in Oleg, Lena, Sergei and others and the work they are doing to introduce students to Jesus and empower the younger generation toward a society marked by compassion and justice.  I believe in Alina and Anya who have quit their jobs to establish a ministry to love orphan kids and help them find a healthy place in Ukrainian society.  I believe in Slavic and Sasha who invite orphans into their churches and connect them with mentors.  The church in Ukraine is alive.  It is growing.  It is gaining influence because of generosity and love–because of the Gospel.

The church has transformed cultures and nations many times since the time of Jesus.  I believe it can happen again in Ukraine.  Jesus is the hope of the world and He is the hope for Ukraine.  My prayer is that the people of Ukraine would continue to rise up and demand justice and that the government would respond appropriately but even more than that, I pray that the church of Ukraine would rise up and live with generosity, love and justice.  You, church, are the light of the world because of the presence and power of Jesus.  Be the light.


image credited to markwinnipeg


You Were Born to Obsess

Worship is something that we talk about all the time at church.  We’re always singing.  Every time we get together its 3 or 4 songs about God.  Worship is core to who we are as followers of Jesus.  But  it’s deeper than that.

Worship is core to who we are as people—whether we are followers of Jesus or not.  We are always worshiping.  How do I know this?  Because we are constantly freaking out about stuff.   We are forever going overboard.  We are prone to obsessions.



Are you a football fan?  I don’t mean you occasionally watch football.  You schedule your Saturdays and Sundays around football.  When your team is playing you plan your day around the game.  You get a text from your friends asking you to go to a movie, dinner or to go see the alien spaceship that just landed at the end of your street and you’re like, “Uh, sounds fun but I gotta watch my team.”

Or maybe for you it isn’t football.  Maybe it’s a movie, a book or a series of books and movies like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars the Hunger Games or Twilight.  When the newest movie comes out (cough Girl on Fire) you wait in line for hours to see the very first showing and you’re wearing a costume!  You know everything there is to know about the series.  You know all the characters, their special powers, what their weapon of choice is, and what their favorite flavor of ice cream is.  You have a poster of Edward in your room!  You are a HUGE fan.  You might say you worship Star Wars or Twilight.

Or maybe you’re a gamer.  You play Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo, Final Fantasy or something like that.  When the newest game in the series comes out you will be (air quotes) “sick” on that day and be forced, against your will to stay home from school and play ALL DAY.  You are so into CoD or Halo that you might say you worship it. Or at least the 5000 hours of game play and your golden assault rifle would argue that you do.

Or maybe you aren’t a gamer, a nerd or a football fan but wow is that guy in English class attractive.  In fact, he’s so good looking that you’ve thought of nothing else for the last…when did school start again?  And you think to yourself, if only he was mine!  Then I would be happy…and you continue to obsess over him and occasionally stalk his Instagram.  You think about him so much in fact that your friends would say that you worship him.



We worship all the time.  We were created to worship.  How do you know if you are worshiping? Is your attention captivated?  Does your heartbeat pick up?  You might be worshiping.

When we devote ourselves to something we are probably worshiping.  It’s the difference between using Google search for 5 minutes to find information for a school project and using Google search for 5 hours to scour for information on the possible characters and plots of the new Star Wars movie coming out in 2015.



I know what you’re thinking.  So, now it’s time for the guilt trip. It’s wrong that I like video games.  I shouldn’t have that Edward poster in my room and now I feel bad for saying that guy in English class is hot.  Nope.  No guilt trip.  I’m not saying it’s wrong to get excited or even a little obsessed with stuff.  God has given us a lot of great things that He wants us to enjoy–like Starbucks.

The issue, is whether or not something is worthy to be worshiped and whether or not our affections are in the right place.  I just wonder if what we spend our time worshiping is really worth all that devotion and passion.  Because…

Football…let’s be honest for a second.  Football is actually a bunch of guys wearing really tight pants running around chasing a ball.

And Twilight…[whispering] vampires aren’t real.  Werewolves aren’t real.  Stop freaking out about it.

And Call of Duty…no matter what way you slice it, you still just spent 12 hours straight in your mom’s basement.  I’m just saying.

And that hot guy…he’s human.  The truth is he’s like you.  He drools in his sleep and gets a little gassy after eating Qdoba.  He’s human–a really good looking human, but he’s human.

When you get to the core of what we are so obsessed with it kind of feels dumb.  The question is:  are the people and things we are so devoted to really worth our time and attention?  Is what we are worshiping worthy of our worship?



Let’s take a field trip to heaven.  Weird, I know but I’m serious.  The very last book in the Bible contains visions of heaven.  It’s pretty wild stuff but I want to look at what they do in heaven.

Revelation 5:11-13

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”

Angels, 10,000 x 10,000…if you’re not strong at math, that’s  2 million wings.  1 million beings are constantly worshiping Jesus because of what He has done for humanity.

In the previous chapter the author of Revelation describes a scene in which angels sing:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.”

And they sing this all day everyday…forever.  Now that’s some serious worship.  These people really know how to do church.



The truth is that there is nothing or no one in our lives who is more worthy of worship than God.  He created everything.  He set the universe in motion.  He hung the planets.  He invented all the animals and He breathed life into us.

He is infinitely powerful.  There is nothing He cannot do.  He is perfect in every way.  He is justice and love.  He is infinitely creative and good.

And, when we rebelled against Him, He rescued us from ourselves and from the disaster we had created.  He became a man and died in our place to restore us to Him.

This is God.  This is why they praise Him constantly in heaven.  This is why the angels never cease singing.  He is AMAZING.  There is nothing like Him.  Absolutely nothing can compare to the majesty, power and love of our God.

I’m not saying you need to burn your Twilight poster, crack your CoD game in half or stop having a crush on that guy on English class.  I’m simply saying that maybe we need to create space in our lives for the One who is infinitely more worthy of our worship.  You see, you were created to worship Him.  There is a very real sense in which life is as it is supposed to be when we are worshiping God.  Life is found when our affections are focused on Him.