Why I Haven’t Been Blogging

Recently my family was hit with a tragedy.  My younger brother was involved in a bad car accident.  Receiving a call from the police on the scene was terribly difficult.  At that point, he was barely conscious and trapped in the car.  Even more difficult was having to call his wife and tell her the news.  It was a very bad night but thankfully he survived the crash.  As I told his wife repeatedly as we drove to the hospital, “He’s one tough kid.  He’ll be alright.”  He is a tough kid.  He’s been through a lot and he’s always pulled through.  I wouldn’t dare wrestle him either.  He’s probably 4x as strong as I am.

Although he escaped injury to most of his body, he sustained a serious brain injury.  It’s been incredibly emotional and difficult for us to watch him struggle through the confusion and the fog.  Thankfully, he remembers who everyone in my family is and who he is.  He can complete basic motor movement tasks and eat and drink with a little help but getting himself back to the wickedly athletic, strong and hilarious self that he was before the crash is going to take a long time.  He’ll be in in-patient or out-patient rehab for months.  I’m confident that he’ll make it though, he’s one of the hardest workers I know–full of grit and determination.  But, it’s going to be a long a difficult road.

Through this ordeal I’ve learned a few important lessons.  I’ve learned a little about what strong and sacrificial love looks like.  My brother’s wife has been an incredible servant through this ordeal.  She hasn’t left the hospital yet.  She is constantly present when he awakes to help him understand where he is and to relieve his anxiety.  She has been a pillar of peace and strength for him.  Her kindness and strength has been beautiful and inspiring to watch.  Sometimes tragedy brings out the best and people and all I know is that she must be one of those people.  I’ve rarely seen more selfless and sacrificial love.

Secondly, I’ve been reminded of the importance of family.  Through this ordeal our family has pulled together.  My sisters, parents and all our spouses are functioning like a team right now, caring for each other, watching each others’ kids and carrying each others’ loads.  Family matters.  Sometimes I wish extended families functioned like they did in ancient times or still do in some parts of the world–with extended families living and working together.  All of our American individualism isn’t always a good thing.  There’s no one like family to care for you and rescue you when life falls apart.  This tragedy has reinforced this reality for me.  Family is worth investing in.

Lastly, I’m learning that life is fragile.  My brother was inches from death.  I saw his car after the crash and the image struck fear into my heart.  I don’t know how anyone could have survived, but thankfully, God spared him.  I’m realizing that what James said about life is true:

“How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog–it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:14)

We can never foresee the plot twists that will unfold in our lives.  Our lives are fragile.  I want to learn to live life to the fullness, take advantage of opportunities, say the words that need to be said, invest in what is worth investing in, and to be with the people I care about the most.

So, this is where I have been lately and where I’ll be for a while.  I may not get to my blog for a bit while my family and I care for my brother and help guide him back to health.  If you find a spare moment, pray for my brother–that God would bring his mind and body fully back.  Thanks.

Orange Books!

My friends at reThink have launched Orange Books!  I’m super pumped about this.  Many of the books by reThink authors like Reggie Joiner have deeply influenced the way I think about student ministry and family ministry as a whole.  I’m a huge fan of the Orange philosophy of ministry–it’s all about churches and families partnering together to promote and elevate spiritual growth in our kids.  I love it and we’ve done our best to implement these ideas in our church and family ministries.

You can check out their latest books at orangebooks.com.  Also, they are running a promo that runs through tomorrow in which you can score sweet prizes for buying one of their books.  You can check out the promo page here.  All the books at the site are great but If you’re looking for a recommendation for student ministry, I would tell you to read Creating a Lead Small Culture.  Here’s a little blurb about it.


Creating a Lead Small Culture from Orange on Vimeo.

Where I’m Taking My Students Next Summer

Earlier this summer, I did something rather crazy.  After a 10 day mission trip to Malawi, Africa, I flew directly down to Knoxville, Tennessee to check out a camp.  I mean, I flew from Malawi to Johannesburg to New York, ditched my team, flew to Atlanta and then on to Knoxville where my boss Brian picked me up in a rental car.  Then, we drove to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  If you’re keeping score, that’s 15+ hours of layovers and 20+ hours of flying.  I was beyond exhausted and I’m sure I smelled beautifully.  Oh, and I’m pretty sure our team made it home safely.  I think.

Normally, after a long mission trip I fly directly home, climb into my bed and sleep for three days but I just had to get down to Tennessee to check something out.  What was that, you ask?  High School Camp.  Starting this summer, reThink started putting on their own high school camp and I just had to see it.

I was impressed.  So impressed, in fact, that I’ll definitely be bringing a coach bus or two of high school students with me down to Tennessee next year.  Here’s why:

1.  reThink gets the power of small groups.

I love reThink as an organization because they are smart and strategic.  They are driving next gen. ministry forward.  They are helping us all think better about what we do.  They understand that small groups are the backbone of student ministry so everything about High School Camp is built around small groups:  housing, meals, programs, activities, experiences, etc.  It’s the perfect camp to elevate groups and capitalize on existing relationships or, to forge new ones.

2.  The Orange Tour for free!

If you’ve never been to the Orange Conference or the Orange Tour, this is your year!  The Orange Conference is the best conference out there for student ministry and children’s ministry.  Also, if you plan to be at the Orange Tour in Troy, MI, look me up!

My favorite thing about High School Camp is that the Orange Tour is essentially built into the camp schedule.  Youth pastors and volunteers get an hour a day with Reggie Joiner.  His content in these sessions is fantastic.  I’m pumped for my volunteers to receive some of the best training out there as part of the High School Camp package.


3.  Zero Prep

We put on our own middle school camp and it is amazing.  I can say that without feeling like a bragger McBraggerson because I have very little to do with it.  Our team did an incredible job putting on the best camp I’ve ever been a part of.  With that said, we’re all in a coma now.  I don’t think we have the capacity to pull off another camp for our high school students.

The awesome thing about reThink’s High School Camp is that you show up with your students and volunteers and simply pastor them.  No prep required.  Beautiful.

4. Ginormous Water Slides

Spoiler alert:  The camp isn’t housed at a camp, it’s at a resort with ginormous water slides.  The resort also includes a huge arcade, several mini-golf courses, a mini-bowling alley, a rock climbing wall, a for reals grown up golf course, a ropes course and a million other fun elements.  Pardon my terrible photography…


5.  Dollywood

Did I mention that Dollywood is right down the road?!?  Actually, that’s probably not helpful.  My bad.

6.  Epic Lights

Maybe it was because I hadn’t slept in 2 days or that I had just returned from Africa but the light show that accompanied the large group programming blew my mind!  What I mean is that the stage and production quality was on par with what you would experience at an Arena concert.  The students were LOVING it.

7.  Professional grade communications

I’ll be honest, at first I wasn’t sure about the teaching quality because I kept falling asleep.  I assure you it wasn’t the teacher!  It was that I hadn’t slept in 30 hours and I was sitting down in a dark room.

However, I did listen to a second teaching after a good night’s sleep and it was fantastic.  reThink writes the curriculum for High School Camp (think XP3) and it is delivered by a national level speaker.  It was great, and of course, it is designed for great small group conversation.  I love this because, in the past, it has seemed like any time I take my students to a camp, I either get great music or a great speaker.  Here, both were A+.

8.  I can worship to that!

Speaking of worship, if you’ve been in church work for a while you can probably relate to how critical I am.  It’s hard for me to really engage church services without evaluating the programming or noticing what is wrong or cheesy.  It’s one of the curses of working at a church.  What I loved about High School Camp is that the quality of music and production was so phenomenal that there was nothing to complain and I could relax and just engage in worship.  Maybe now you think I’m a horrible person.  Or, if you work at a church, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

9.  Limitless Options

Pigeon Forge, the closest town to High School Camp is one of the strangest places I have ever been to.  There are literally limitless options for things to do…go carts, music, restaurants, giant dinosaur statues, shopping, a Titanic museum, amusement parks, theater, golf, and weird combos of all the previously listed options–think dinosaurs living on the titanic which is actually a large amusement shopping mall.  You really have to see this place to believe it.  My point is that if your group gets bored with the ridiculous amount of options at the resort, there are a bazillion things to do in Pigeon Forge.  Or, you could plan a fun excursion before or after camp.

10.  I thought the Smoky Mountains would be a lot more smoky.

I love mountains, camping, hiking, and natural beauty.  Pigeon Forge is situated in the Smoky Mountains.  First off, the scenery is amazing and secondly, if you or your group hate touristy things, there is plenty to do in the Smoky Mountains.  You could take your group camping after camp for crying out loud!

All this is to say that I’m going to High School Camp this summer.  I’m wickedly pumped about the impact the experience will have on our students and volunteers, and how easy the experience will be to plan for.  Maybe I’ll see you there.

If you ant to check it out, here’s a link to reThink’s High School Camp page.  Fear not, if everything I said about camp in Tennessee sounded terrible, they are holding camps in Florida and Texas as well.

What I Read in July


This is the best book I’ve read in a long time. I could go on and on about it’s sheer awesomeness. I’ve been annoying my friends for weeks with stories about Pixar’s organizational culture. As a creative thinker who leads a team of creatives this book was right up my alley.

Because I’m a big fan of Pixar’s movies, I thoroughly enjoyed the back story on Pixar’s origins, where the ideas for their movies come from and also a different perspective on Steve Jobs. I can’t recommend this book enough for leaders and creatives.



My friend Matt is a big fan of Scot McKnight–his books and theological approach, and that’s how this book found it’s way to my reading list. To be fair, Matt told me I chose the wrong McKnight book but oh well, I enjoyed the book. For one thing, it helped me survive a 15 hour flight to South Africa.

I appreciated McKnight’s argument about how we are to interpret the Bible today.  The story of God doesn’t end with the pages of the New Testament.  We, as followers of a Jesus have been granted the privilege and responsibility on carrying the story forward.  This is a vision that draws out my most passionate and driven self.

On a side note, to my discredit, I have continuously ignored the “women in ministry” debate because, well, it’s difficult–not a very compelling reason, I know.  You see, I hail from very theologically conservative roots.  I was raised in a group of churches called the IFCA, Independent Fundamental Churches of America–the name sort of speaks for itself.  Anyway, the good news is that I’m finally beginning to think deeply about the subject and engage in the debate.  As I think things through, I found McKnight’s arguments to be very helpful.



If you read my blog regularly, you know I’m a huge fan of reThink. I love the Orange philosophy of ministry. This book is a fantastic blueprint for how to build a lead small culture–that is, a culture in which small groups are the primary mode of discipleship and small group leaders are empowered to be the spiritual mentors of students. I deeply believe in this philosophy.

As always, reThink books are fantastic–elegant, strategic and artistic. If you’re involved in children’s or student ministry, this book is simply a must read.


This book wrecked me. I read it while living in a creepy hospital room in Malawi, Africa, perhaps that had something to do with the level of emotion in which I engaged the story.  I was terrified!

The story is deeply moving. I hesitate to inform you that I cried like a sissy. It’s the kind of story that motivates you to live a more meaningful ife.  You should probably just read the book.


Lessons from Africa Part 3: Relationships

Earlier this summer, I co-led a team of students on a mission trip to Malawi, Africa.  Here’s the third installment of what I learned:


Things move slowly in Africa.  By that I don’t mean that Africa is backwards or inferior.  What I mean is that conversations, business exchanges and encounters with people on the street move at a slower pace.  You might say they linger.

I’ll be honest, there’s part of me that hates slow, and if I’m honest that part is the larger part of me.  I’m very task oriented.  I don’t like it when people trap me in conversation when I have places to go or things to do.

While we were in Malawi, the CURE hospital staff assigned us the task of redesigning and decorating a playroom for the children.  We really enjoyed painting cartoon animals on the walls and creating a warm and embracing environment (when I say “we,” I mean the students who had artistic talent).  However, in my estimation, the entire project took about three days longer than necessary.  The reason was that every little decision had to be consulted by 19 different people.

“Have we decided on where to hang the TV?”

“Hello Aaron!  How are you?  How was your evening?  Did you sleep well?” …15 minutes of conversation later…

“So, where should we hang the TV?”

“Well, we really need to consult with Joe because he is the one who leads the ministry with the kids.”

So, I go and find Joe.

“Hey Joe, where do you want to hang the TV?”

“Hello Aaron!  How are you? [shakes my hand and then continues to hold my hand throughout the rest of the conversation] How was your night.  Did you sleep well….” 15 minutes of conversation later,

“So, where should we hang the TV?”

“Well, we should consult so and so because of some random reason.”

For the record, we never actually hung the TV.

The funny thing is that the Malawians actually care about listening to everyone’s opinions and truly care about the questions they are asking you.  And, if you don’t reciprocate the questions you are perceived as a jerk because you aren’t valuing the conversation and therefore the relationship.  Which, if I’m honest, is probably true.

For crying out loud, even the peddlers in the market asked me how I was enjoying their country, told me their names, shook my hand for about 50 minutes as they inquired about my family all the while gently leading me to the stalls containing their mahogany wares.

I learned that Malawians value relationships more than anything else.  When a Malawian invites you into their home, they literally wash your hands for you.  In everything, task is secondary and relationship is first.  So what if the playroom is behind schedule?  We connected and cared for each other.  That’s what friends do.  And, if you’re wondering, the project was completed on time…ish.

Like I said, at first I hated the pace of everything but then we began to recognize the value of their way of life.  When asked how she planned to change her life based on her experiences in Africa, one of our students explained that she planned to take time to actually answer her mom’s questions after school instead of spitting out a quick “Fine” before running to her room to watch Netflix.  She realized that Malawians value relationships in ways that we as Americans don’t.   That realization alone is probably worth the cost of the plane ticket

I can’t help but think that we, in the US, have some things to learn about listening, asking good questions, putting people first and valuing relationships.  I’m attempting to slow down, listen a little more and value the relationships God has gifted me with.  Just don’t interrupt me while I’m doing something or try to hold my hand while we talk…

Lessons from Africa 5: Love


I experienced something profound in Malawi. I treasure Jesus’ commandment, “Love one another.”  I believe that it truly is the greatest commandment. It is the pinnacle of what Jesus embodied and taught.

I vividly remember an Andy Stanley sermon from the Orange Conference a few years ago, in which he stated that whenever the church leverages love it advances and whenever it leverages something other than love it gets off-course. I’ve observed the Church “leveraging something other than love” over and over again in American culture as churches align themselves politically or engage in cultural wars over various issues. It seems that we too often get sucked into leveraging “being right.”

This time, though, at a small hospital in Blantyre, Malawi, I observed the church leveraging love.

You see, I spent a week serving at CURE hospital.  CURE International in an amazing organization. It is overtly Christian. It unabashedly promotes Jesus as Savior and King but it leverages this message through the gifts of physically healing children and treating people with dignity and respect.

CURE in Malawi employs several Muslims and they love working for CURE. There are prominent Muslim families who support CURE financially because they believe in their values and mission. Did you catch that? That just doesn’t happen! They donate their hard earned money to support an infidel hospital because it loves children so well.

Muslim families have become Christ-followers because CURE representatives came to their villages, professionally and relationally demonstrated how they could heal their child’s club foot or cleft palate, and then did so–caring for their family with dignity and love throughout the entire process.

Across the world, Islam and Christianity are at war.  The news in Iraq is particularly disturbing.  And yet, here is an overtly Christian organization in Africa, a region that has repeatedly been torn apart by religious wars, that employs, services and receives financial support from Muslims and in the process, has demonstrated the beauty and power of the Gospel in such a way that it has become compelling to Muslims. This is an incredible story and we have much to learn from it.

As Andy Stanley said at the Orange Conference, when we leverage love, the church grows and advances. What if we just loved? What if we simply served with no strings attached?

What if Christian organizations were the type of organizations that Muslims or, perhaps a better example in American culture, homosexuals wanted to work for them because they were treated so amazingly well? What if, because we loved homosexuals so well that Jesus became compelling? What if Christian organizations behaved so lovingly that Muslims or homosexuals willingly donated their hard earned money to supported their operations?

What if we simply loved people so tangibly and powerfully that they couldn’t help but notice our good deeds and worship Jesus? I think there’s something about that in the Bible…


image credited to Michiel Van Balen via Flickr

Lessons From Africa 4: Students


“Students are the church of tomorrow.” I hear this line all the time but is it true?  Are they the church of tomorrow?

A few years ago, you may have heard me make this statement, but now I embrace a different belief about students. Students are the church of now. Not only is this true, but the Church desperately needs students right now for their unique insights, passion and ways of approaching the world.

In addition, research and experience have shown that students who are entrusted with the mission of the Church now are far more likely to stick with following Jesus in life beyond high school. Like in sports, if we keep them on the sidelines, they’ll likely lose interest and quit.  But, if we dare put them on the field, there is a chance that their insights and passions might just change the game.  The truth is: the Church needs what they bring–not tomorrow, but right now.

A few weeks ago, I co-lead a team of high school students on a serving trip to a CURE International hospital in Blantyre, Malawi. While we were there, our students helped uncover a new approach for the hospital staff. You see, the hospital staff was completely focused on the children under their care, and for good reason. They were healing children physically and doing their best to impact them spiritually. Our students, many of whom have years of experience leading small groups of 2nd or 4th graders jumped right in, helping to lead a VBS, and just loving on kids like pros. But, they took it one step further, they invited all the mothers and guardians who were there with their children to participate. They pulled them into the crafts, gave them toys and prizes, painted their nails, and encouraged them.

At first the hospital staff resisted and requested that our students focus on the children exclusively but our students insisted. Our teenagers intuitively understood the value of a family based ministry model, even if it meant accidentally giving the Muslim family a beanie baby pig.  Oops.

It was incredibly moving for me to watch the transformation that took place in the hospital ward over the course of the week. All these children and women were terrified. Many of them assume that this is the last stop for their children. The traditional remedies didn’t work, the village holy man couldn’t heal their son. This is a last ditch effort. There were very few smiles and the level of anxiety was palpable.

Over the course of the week, purely through expressions of love and generosity, the atmosphere transformed. There was dancing, laughing, hugging and play. In the end, a few members of the hospital staff pulled us aside to share how thankful they were that our students had revealed the importance of loving and serving the mothers as well as the children. This wasn’t something we planned to do. It wasn’t part of the ministry strategy. It was simply something our students observed and acted on.

It was beautiful. I was so proud of our kids and it reminded me of how valuable our students are, not 10 years from now but right now. Put them on the field.  Let them into the game.  It’s the best thing for them and for the church.  We need their fresh approach, passion and ingenuity.

Lessons From Africa: Gratitude

Earlier this month I had the privilege of co-leading a team of high school students to Malawi, Africa. We served at a CURE International Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi. It was a life-changing experience for many of us. My next few blog posts will be devoted to sharing a few things I learned in Africa. I hope you enjoy.


I live in an isolated, suburban corner of the world dominated by chain restaurants and malls.  My life is built around working toward the next best thing–video game, car, vacation, appliance or experience.  My typical hardships include such astounding tragedies such as losing a clan war on Clash of Clans, finishing 2nd in a beach volleyball tournament, feeling bloated after eating a burrito or waiting an extra hour for delinquent parents to pick up their students after a retreat (OK, that actually is a tragedy).

What I realized while serving at a CURE International hospital in Malawi, Africa, is that my tragedies aren’t tragedies at all.  I’m rather embarrassed by what brings out my crabby side.  Most of the time, the hardships of my life would be welcomed as blessings by many people in the world.

I think that we American Christians are often lulled into a sense in which we believe that everything is basically decent in the world and that things just keep getting better and better.  I know I’ve been guilty of this at different phases of my life.  When all I focus on is the world immediately around me, I develop a myopic understanding of the world.  Sadly, I’ve done enough reading and traveling to learn that things are, in fact, not decent in the world.

While I can’t figure out how to stay within my budget making thousands of dollars a year, many of the people I served in Malawi earn around $1 a day.  The disparity is insane.  I regularly spend a Malawian’s weekly wage on a single cup of coffee.  I can’t get my mind around this.

Speaking of disparity, while in Malawi, I learned about the desperate shortage of doctors in the country.  According to World Health Organization, there are .019 doctors per 1000 people in Malawi.  That amounts to 2 doctors for every 100,000 people.  My hometown is Grand Rapids, MI.  The entire metropolitan area includes 1 million.  If the doctor per capita rate of Malawi played out in Grand Rapids, that would mean we would only have 20 doctors for the entire Grand Rapids area.  20 doctors of any kind!  Can you imagine?

My point is that the world is not as it should be.  Malawi is but one small example of desperate need and disparity.  A lack of clean water, preventable diseases, unchecked HIV/AIDS, war, and brutal poverty characterize so much of our world.  This experience in Africa shook me and my students.

We asked ourselves, “What exactly are we doing with our comfortable lives in the USA?  How could we better use our time, resources and talents to help bring the Kingdom of God to the neediest of places in the world?

If nothing else, a few days wandering through Blantyre, Malawi reminded me that I am EXTREMELY privileged and I have so much to be thankful for.  I am among the tiniest fraction of humanity who lives with clean water, adequate healthcare, sufficient food, housing and transportation.

Today I choose to be grateful.  I choose to live with gratitude because I am immensely privileged.  May God teach me to be more and more content and more and more generous.