Was I hired full-time to tell families they don’t need to go to church?

It’s pressure time in youth ministry where I live. Met with a mom today who is questioning a 4-year commitment to Confirmation for her high schooler. Don’t I know how busy high schoolers are? Don’t I understand her kid gets Christian instruction at her school? I get her questions. I do! We had a great talk, and in the end, I might have done the stupidest thing, but i consider it probably the wisest thing. I set her free. And i set her kid free. Grace. You’re baptized. You don’t have to do this. If i had my druthers, we’d “affirm” baptism at the START of the process and invite you into on-going instruction all the way thru middle and high school. Unit-style, probably… so you can learn in parts about what Lutherans confess, and we’d have the relational stuff and the service/mission stuff and it’s the what-we-do bc of who-we-are stuff. But that’s not tradition, and that’s not the class picture for grandma, and … whatever.

Then this afternoon, I had no-duh thought. The one thing i didn’t talk to her about was Search Institute and research that shows these years really matter for teens. We put a lot of investment into kids sunday school, and also the youth ministry because the research really does show how families live during these years make an impact that goes all the way to the grave. I really believe that. It’s why i serve. I didn’t think to share that. I could have. Then, grace came over me, and said, friend, it wouldn’t have mattered. Love is the higher law, and freedom is the best alternative to bondage.

At the beginning of Confirmation, maybe i should say, I’m here because moms and dads, YOU made a promise! Parents promise at baptism to live this stuff out, and it’s not a “get it done” thing… it’s a life thing. And it is a church thing. it is! I serve because as a church we have your back on that promise. We want to help. We want to make church cool, in a sense, for kid to prioritize it. What i mean by “cool” is inclusive and multi-generational and counter-cultural. If you’re looking for a fast track, tell me how many other commitments your kid is making 8-days a week that offer a fast track? What do you want for your child’s faith? Why did you baptize her? What did your promises mean? If it was dead empty religion, think again. I think God was in those promises and it’s not too late. We together can do this ~ for life.

I was honest. I told the mom, we don’t make adults do any of this. If they come to us from any other church or any other faith or from no-faith and they want to be members, they go to 3 or 4 sessions, take a tour of the building and they get their little welcome packet. That’s it… I think that’s deeply flawed. And I hope to be an influence in that. I’d love to see intergenerational Confirmation. Progressive or stupid, call it what you need to. There are glaring inconsistencies and we do a lot of this bc it’s always been done. THAT i don’t like, at all.

Today when I left that meeting, i remarked to a colleague, was I really hired full-time so that i could tell families they don’t have to go to church anymore? Has it come to that? Have we given it all away in youth ministry? What year did this shift happen and could we have stopped it? Should we have? What is counter-cultural anymore? I’m all for changing paradigms and blowing this thing up. If Wednesday nights are dead, will you give me a Saturday morning? Will you give me a Monday before school? We need to be together. I want to pray with your kid. I want your kid to give a damn about another believer and invest in learning the creeds and putting some stock in their faith bank. I think it matters and I believe they want it to matter. So we have to get together on this. 

This only encourages me to get out of rusty thinking and re-invent. Reform, and pray more.


Taking my own youth ministry temperature tonight.


Free flowing thoughts about the values i bring to youth ministry ~unranked.


+ Intergenerational – There must be multi-age approach to formation.


+ Educational – We are teaching people something. We do want them to learn.


+ Belief – Belief that young people matter and they bring a needed voice to the church.


+ Music and the Arts – Two languages the church is not good about incorporating for the sake of youth. If employed these are too quickly marketed stupidly.


+ Prayerful – A good youth minister is always beckoning people to pray for the youth and their families.


+ Process vs Program – We may even say we want to be process-driven, but how much of our time is actually spent modifying and healing systems instead of running a stale program?


+ Money – Youth ministers have become very creative in not requesting or expecting money from the church. Is this a bad trend? 


+ The Cross – Not ashamed of the Gospel. Not just not ashamed of some nameless gospel, but not ashamed of the gospel of JESUS CHRIST. Say his name. The cross is everything.


+ Relational – Relationships between peers, kids and parents, and kids and leaders. Not just acquaintances. Real deep connections.


+ Serving – The priesthood of all believers. All of them. Priests. Serving one another. Ministers not above but alongside.


+ Humble – Listen louder than you speak.


+ Prophetic – Youth ministry always stands with the possibility of being a prophetic call to the world. Must have a pulpit for proclamation.


+ Vision – Always going somewhere, and knowing where it is going.


+ Wholistic – Think of the Wellness Wheel. Ministry hits all targets.


+ Inclusive – All are not only invited but are welcome and re-invited. We don’t just make space for others, we include include include. This can be costly.


+ Creativity – Gotta do things in your own way with your own voice into the culture and specific personality of your own church. What worked in California probably won’t work in Minnesota. It could, but start with YOU.


+ Surrender – You can’t hear the Spirit if you’re gonna be so set on your own agenda.


+ Pastoral – When’s the last time a parent felt welcome to sit in your office and cry? When that happened, how did that make you feel? Do you embrace it? Are you sad it doesn’t happen more often?


+ Available – ministry is all the time. But you are not a doormat. Good youth ministry has boundaries but is available often.


+ Unleash the gifts of everyone.


My dad won’t believe he’s a “Good Catholic.”


When we were admitting my dad to the Hospital for his 1st carotid artery surgery, first of all, i didn’t even know what a carotid artery was, and when i saw it in writing it just looked “carrot” spelled wrong. And it sound gross like a blood clot. Doesn’t “blood clot” sound disgusting?

It was him, my mom and me in this really tiny admitting room at a Catholic hospital in Manitowoc, Wisconsin; dad in a wheelchair and mom wanting to be in one because of the stress she was under, but she got up to go in the room.

The sister who was in charge of the process asked routine questions and one of them was asking if he’s still a member at such-and-such Catholic Church, and if he wished to receive Holy Communion while he was there. Dad said yes that was his church, and he declined Communion because, “I haven’t exactly been a shining example.”

Sting. A burning feeling in my lungs and chest. What the hell? This man is one of the most humble generous men you’ll ever met. Yes he’s got dementia, yes he hasn’t taken very good care of his physical body, but what the *uck kind of religion taught him at the end of his days to feel like he wasn’t worthy of the sacrament?

Sadness. Anger. I wanted to console him and tell him that’s not true, dad, you are a shining example. You’ve done so much for so many never asking for anything in return. You may not be a Bible banger but you somewhere deep inside believe there’s a Creator and there’s good in this world and it’s because of that Creator Spirit.

Instead, the routine went forward and she entered something in her computer. 

I believe I’m called to preach the gospel. I guess i do it in new or unconventional ways, but I pray I can carry this story with me and that I won’t forget it. There are tons of elderly people who live in the shroud of shame because they didn’t give enough money to their parish, or they didn’t do this-and-that or didn’t go to confession enough. My heart breaks for the hope they can’t express like I can. And we are all saved by grace… 

It’s hard to teach about the Holy Spirit

But it was the 3rd article of the Creed last night for Confirmation. We did something i’ve never done at this new church I work at … after i gave this very short talk, and before their small groups… we sat in a darkened candlelit room and just sang some easy echo songs about the Spirit. Here’s what i shared:

The Holy Spirit is God. The Holy Spirit is the action of God and the voice of God to all creation. 

If we say we know or believe how God works, we know or believe that because of the Holy Spirit.

We believe it by the Holy Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit is the action of God. The Spirit is God working in our world. 

The Spirit is the voice of God. You’ve heard Jesus referred to as the Word of God -I call the Spirit the voice of God. 

When I think of words and voices I think of language. The Spirit can be communicated to us through languages. And I also think that music is language. Many times throughout Scripture believers are commanded to sing. We are commanded to worship and praise through song and music. 

I think music is a channel, it’s like part of the way the voice of God – the Spirit of God – speaks to and through us. 

So if you ever wondered why we sing so much in church it’s partly because we believe the Spirit gets stirred up among us when our voices get lifted together.

Some people say they feel the Spirit in art artwork like paintings or drawings and some people say they see the Spirit in numbers and science. One of the ways I personally experience the Holy Spirit, the action of God, is through music. 

The Spirit is not a feeling but sometimes feelings show up when we experience God’s Spirit. 

What we as believers do when we sing together is we unite our hearts and our voices to say one thing together. Tonight we’re going to try just a little bit of that. I’m going to ask all of us to do something that only some of us are most comfortable with!

We are going to sing. We aren’t going to sing for a really long time, in fact we won’t even saying all the songs on this page. But what I want us to do is to mix our voices together and just say our praises to God through song. It is one of many gifts we’ve been given in the church to grow our faith and to expand our imagination.

Outline of the Epistle of Straw

A text i’ve been assigned for my preaching course is James 3:17-18. I guess I’d argue that this passage is a summary of the whole epistle, but whatever. One of my assignments leading up to the big speech is to make an outline of James. Here’s what i did.

An outline of James

  1. Be Genuine
    1. Overcome trouble through trust (1:1-11)
    2. Overcome temptation through truth (1:12-18)
    3. Put God’s word into practice (1:19-27).
    4. Follow the law of love and freedom (2:1-13)
    5. Let your works match your faith (2:14-26)
  2. Standards for Leadership
    1. Teachers have a higher standard (3:1)
    2. The tongue needs control (3:2-12)
    3. Spiritual wisdom means humility (3:13-18)
  3. Be Godly
    1. Resist jealousy (4:1-6)
    2. Resist pride (4:7-10)
    3. Resist passing judgment (4:11-12)
    4. Resist flippant predictions (4:13-17)
    5. Resist reliance on riches (5:1-6)
    6. Resist impatience (5:7-11)
    7. Resist double-mindedness (5:12)
    8. Be a person of prayer (5:13-20)

“Equality shmality” I always say

Just kidding. It seems like every breaking news story on my phone lately is about marriage equality. Well it was the superbowl and maybe some olympics … but other than that, the sport of love and love making hits the news. Like this clip from Ellen and this sports reporter who speaks the truth.


 I led a sexuality retreat last week. One our guys has two moms… a few of the leaders had trans* or gay family members… gave a lot of great points to wonder and think about to my students. Talked about baptism and how we are all included and all made unique and how the Spirit works in weird ways and how we need to stick up for the marginalized and fight so everyone is welcome.

It’s a hard message for a 12 or 13 yr old. Or is it? They told me what they think their parents or grandparents might have thought about sex when they were the same age… They talked about racial inequality, and how the role of women has changed. These kids get it.

Many of my ministry colleauges might disagree with full inclusion of lgbtq folk in the pulpit and in ministry. Times are changing and it’s changing all of us. I know for some reason for this time it’s such a hot topic with adults. But kids are just getting this and they already seem beyond it. Maybe i’m just too much in a city setting with a lot of diversity and my church has been Reconciling in Christ for a long time. My own journey of coming out and figuring out how to share God’s grace as a human being is still taking shape. And that’s good and it’s to be celebrated. 

A bigger deal for me? Beyond sex? Is helping kids realize as part of God’s loved creation we have a mandate to reform and impact the world with the good news of God in Christ. I pray they rise to it again and again. This being Valentines day… The love God sprinkled all over our weird world should cause us to pause and give thanks ~ and give it away.

I dropped another seminary course today

I was set to start sem in 2007. I delayed it a year. Then i was full time for 2 years (while working full time). Went 2 years at half time (one course at a time) and now i am not sure what I’m doing but maybe i’ll graduate next spring? They’ve changed my program so many times. Higher education is flexing (or not) it’s muscle as it tries to grow wings and lungs and … I’m just along for the ride as long as i can so i don’t have to pay back the loans. 

The course I dropped was American Christianity. I think i’ll really like that class when I can take it and consentrate on it. Way too much going on right now with my dad’s health and work [ministry] stuff. It seems like the things ministers were supa’ concerned about in the 1600’s (that’s as far as I got before i dropped it) are stuff people still write books about today. And the books sell. Will our children believe? How do we discipline our members? Should we be members? How do we play nice in the religious sandbox with all these other people who are obviously wrong (lol) but still live near us? Is so-and-so watering down the gospel? Will our vision change our country? Is our nation going to hell? Is there a hell?

Basically, if you can muster up a worry, someone back then on this continent or the 1 we came from toiled over the stupid thing too. I am one of the weird ones who find this stuff interesting and also … comforting. I see the Spirit. And i don’t understand it when people don’t see the Spirit in all of this unsettled aching division. How did the gospel, the “pure” word of God’s favor and the smile of Christ reach any of us with so much poop in our past? Salem witch trials. The Massachusets Bay Colony. People were hung and burned. For purity’s sake? We didn’t like the natives so we tried to convert or kill them… name your crap… and somehow the good news still reached your ear and mine. 

Church history is worship to me. It causes me to say, wow God… you must be all-powerful. To put up with us jerks and still let us think we’re doing you a favor by telling others about you. Bless the Lord O my soul.