Why We Do What We Do

6 01 2012

One of our High School students recently showed me the essay he wrote for his college application. I asked him if I could post it on my blog because of how much it encouraged me and the reminder for us “why we do what we do.”

Here it is:

Pepperdine University is a Christian university committed to the highest standards of academic excellence and Christian values, where students are strengthened for lives of purpose, service, and leadership. How are you prepared to contribute to Pepperdine’s mission and community of faith, learning, and service?

“What? Why?” my mother said. Her question was not rhetorical. I had just announced my plans to go Haiti. I hadn’t even approached my father yet. Telling them why I wanted to go, I heard myself professing faith.

Although raised in a Catholic family, I was not actively involved in the church until I began attending a Christian church with my best friend. I was 15 and attending church with my friend was more an act of fun than act of faith. Before I even realized it, I was embedded in the system, frequently attending trips, activities and retreats with the youth group. I hadn’t recognized the progression in how or why I was choosing church events over other activities. Over time, I was choosing events with less rock walls and sports courts and more food banks and shelters. Service had become a part of my personal pursuits and I had not recognized the changes in how I felt or acted toward others.

On one retreat at Hume Lake I was up late staring at the sky waiting for my personal burning bush. I acknowledged in the night’s quiet, there would be no sign. I realized that an emptiness I had never named, was now a presence. That was the relationship with Christ people spoke of, the feeling within. I said to myself in that moment, I am a Christian, now what? I began wondering about values and commitment. I knew that I needed to discover more, and try to live life for the man that died on the cross for me. So, I brought my church to school where I founded a faith leadership chapter at my public school focusing on service and leadership and continued to attend church and youth group service activities.  The Haiti project was soon realized and I worked to raise money for a building project and service trip.

Once in Haiti I wasn’t off to a great start. I wasn’t taking things seriously, was obnoxious and had accidentally broken the only Haitian toilet leaving everyone without a restroom for two days. The Pastor sat me down for some re-direction. I questioned him, “What is the big deal? I didn’t do anything.” As if that wasn’t making his point for him? That was a long night in one of the poorest countries in the world, realizing that it is ridiculously easy to be ridiculous. It is so easy to get caught up in your own reality, to be afraid and dismissive instead of kind and curious. As Charles Hall, Dean of Seaver College wrote in an article in Pepperdine magazine (2011, Vol 3, Issue 3 p.5), “what people do most when they are confronted with difference- they stay with each other”…you could live a whole year in another country without knowing anything about people outside your own group”.  Faith shouldn’t be insular or afraid. Service is an act of faith, it has heart. Faith is an act of love, it has arms.  Leadership is loving with that heart and helping with those hands.


10 Reasons Why I Am THANKFUL for Our Volunteer Staff

22 11 2011

  1. They are consistent. There are so many inconsistencies in the lives of students that the church better be consistent. Our volunteer staff is one of the most consistent things in our students’ lives.
  2. They are selfless. Students and their needs are constantly put in front of the needs of our staff. I love seeing our staff serving in this ministry because they care about our students and not just because they want to be a part of the team.
  3.  They are active. About once every day I hear a story about one of our staff taking a student out to lunch, going to his/her sporting event, recital, play, or show, or driving countless miles just to hang out with them. These aren’t passive relationships, they are very ACTIVE.
  4. They are present. Students know that when they come to our staff they will encounter someone who is FULLY there. This is another one of those things they don’t experience very much.
  5. They are concerned. Our staff not only cares for our students but they really want to know what is going on in their life. If there is a problem they want to fix it and if there is a joy they want to celebrate it.
  6. They are an example. The lifestyles our staff projects are of lives fully committed and centered on God. They project and live it!! Enough said.
  7. They are good. Our staff is really good at what they do. I would take a lot of people from our volunteer staff and put them up against full time, paid youth pastors around the world.
  8. They are strategic. Our staff puts a lot of time and energy thinking through how to be effective. Their thorough thought process makes our ministry way better than if there were just a few of us trying to figure out how to reach students.
  9. They are compassionate. I can say without hesitation that our staff really does LOVE our students. It is a love that communicates the value and worth of a teenager and it creates a healthy environment for students. The community our staff is building goes deeper than most communities I have experienced.
  10. They are leading the next generation of the church. I know I may be a little biased here but High School and Junior High School students are the most important group to be investing in. These students are not only the next generation of the church but are the next leaders that will do MIND-BLOWING things for the Kingdom of God.


I don’t like mom all the time…

17 05 2011

Here is a staff email I shared with my team this week:

Hey team,

I’m sure you’ve seen this video but if you haven’t watch it again real quick:

As I watched this a few things came to my mind:

1. Kids are hilarious. Enough said.

2. Sometimes I feel this way about our students. Not that is has anything to do with cookies (I mean that helps), but there are times where I definitely LOVE our students but don’t like them. I mean there are times where they bring my joy and laughter and I’m so proud of them, but they can be frustrating, irritating, and annoying. In the midst of all that, if I ever feel like I don’t LOVE our students I will step down from any sort of paid ministry position. I don’t care where I’m at in life and where I’m at in the church, if I don’t love students I know I will be living outside of what God has called me to as His follower. This generation is the next generation of the church and we should always be caring for them. I hope you continue to love our students. Your presence, your commitment, and your care has shown them that you do. Keep moving forward with them even during those “I don’t like you” times.

3. I know our students feel this way about God sometimes. Some of our students think God is just there to give them a cookie. They love Him and they are thankful for Him, but they are young and don’t have a full grasp on who God is or know how we respond to our Father. I hope we are communicating a God of love, sacrifice, presence, wisdom, power, Knowledge, grace, abundance, etc. that is worthy of our praise and worship. Not a God who is there to give us a cookie when we want it.

4. I hope there are times you feel this way about me. Again, probably doesn’t have too much to do with the cookie. I hope you feel the freedom to disagree with me, but I also hope you trust me through the process. I want to do everything I can to earn your trust and if you don’t agree with me on certain things, I’m totally ok with that and we can talk through those things. But I hope you trust that I am trying to make the right decisions for the ministry and our students. I hope you know that I care about you and love you enough to be open to conversations that involve healthy conflict or disagreement. I want us to be a team that relies on one another and has the freedom to be in healthy dialogue with one another. We are different and we each have strengths we bring to this team. Let’s make sure we get all those strengths working together to make the best HSM possible.

We are already doing a good job you guys. God is working and moving in this ministry. Let’s continue to grow together while we invest in our students and care for this ministry and church. I love you and am blessed to serve with you.


Hesitations 19:16

28 04 2011

I was reading through Genesis 19 today and came across the story about Lot and his family. The city they lived in was about to be destroyed and when the angels (or “the men”) told him to leave, we read:

16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the LORD was merciful to them.

This makes me wonder. When God asks us to move, why do we hesitate? What makes us wait? I think there were a few things causing Lot to hesitate when God told him to move on. Whether it’s a new opportunity, a new direction, or a new vision, when God asks us to move I think we struggle with some of the same things…

Risk- Lot had to leave in the midst of turmoil and move towards something new and unknown. People are comfortable with the familiar. Change isn’t always easy. Especially if it means packing up your bags and leaving everything you know. There are even times where God is calling us to something and we literally have no clue how we are going to get there and that risk can be scary.

Relationships-Lot had future son-in-laws in Sodom. Not that I’m saying we should leave people behind to die. It’s never easy to leave community. We are designed to be connected to other people and when God tells us it’s time to move on from those relationships, we hesitate. We are also very aware of how many people are dependent on us within those relationships. We are also nervous about burning anyone through the process. Maybe what God has called us to do is differs from what someone else expected. Definitely a potential problem.

Responsibilities- Lot was a good man. I’m sure he wanted to save the people of Sodom. A lot of us have that same hero mentality. We think we are the ones who are going to take care of it all. “I will save the people, I will make them change.” We don’t like leaving things unfinished and we think there are still responsibilities we HAVE to control/lead/take care of. I’m sure if God is asking us to move on or work towards something new, He’s got the rest of it covered.

Risk means movement, relationships and community can be formed elsewhere, and we can’t save or change anyone. That’s God’s area of expertise. I don’t want to minimize these reasons (they will undoubtedly be a struggle), but so much of our hesitations are rooted in fear, which is probably why we constantly read “Fear Not” in the Scriptures. When there is clarity in what God asks of us LET’S GO!! I hope we don’t hesitate and I pray we are not afraid. Salvation is real, obedience is key, and as we live out of the abundance of God’s grace and provision let’s always remember that He can do immeasurably more than we could ever imagine!!

I’ve FAILED as a youth pastor…

22 04 2011

… if I put the ministry ahead of my relationship with God.

… if I put the ministry ahead of my relationship with my wife and family.

… if don’t invest in meaningful friendships outside of youth ministry and/or the church.

… if I don’t continually work to grow closer to my Creator.

… if I allow my identity to be found in my work.

… if I allow the numbers to discourage me OR make me feel good about myself.

… if I become jaded towards the church because of envy or pride.

… if I allow people’s view of me get in the way of God’s view of me.

… if I allow how the church/leadership values me to define my worth.

… if I am not a disciple AND a disciple maker.

… if I constantly look beyond student ministry towards “the next big thing.”

… if students feel like a number and not an individual.

… if the work I’m doing “for” God doesn’t align with God’s desire for me or the ministry.

I’m sure there are others we need to be aware of as pastors/leaders/volunteers. Any others that come to mind?

iPhone Present

11 02 2011

For the past year and a half I have had the pleasure of owning an iPhone 3G S while my wife carried around a Nokia Brick. Ok, her phone wasn’t that old but it definitely had it’s moments. The little ball on the front wouldn’t really work, the screen would freeze constantly, and it didn’t really like making phone calls or receiving text messages. It got so bad that I sent an e-mail out to our entire staff and asked if anyone had any old AT&T phones she could use (yeah, we don’t have service either). She had a replacement Blackberry for a while but it didn’t really do the trick.

Well, just this last week while we were visiting friends and family down in San Diego Amanda decided it was her time for an upgrade. That’s right, she bought an iPhone. She knows how competitive I am so she decided to go with the same model I have instead of one upping me. Actually, the 4G cost about $100 more but I like to think I was the focus of all her thoughts during this particular purchase.

We had planned to spend some time with her family before we left and as were sitting there talking I noticed something. Amanda was really quiet. Now, this comes as no surprise to those of you who know my wife, but she’s usually extremely talkative around her family. Not today. She was so locked in to her phone that she didn’t even know what was going on around her. I guess we could call this “being iPhone present”.

I’ve written before (read it here) about how the faults we see in others are really the faults we see in ourselves, and I’m not saying my wife has any faults (don’t want to come home to that train wreck… “hey honey, i read your blog post today…”), but this was one of the first times I noticed my wife not being fully present with someone as she talked to them. Her intentional presence with people is one of her strongest qualities and it’s something I wish I was better at. I can’t really blame her because come on, she just got a brand new iPhone, but I learned why it bugs her so much when I’m not fully present with her.

I’m horrible at this. I feel like I’m the king of “being iPhone present”. I always have my phone out and have a very difficult time giving others my full attention. When I don’t give people my undivided attention I know I’m communicating a few different things to them:

1) You’re boring. If you can’t hold my interest for a couple minutes then I’m moving on to something else. When I do this I’m showing people how selfish I am.  If you’re guilty of this some people will try and do or say things to gain your acceptance, while others shut down and write you off as a rude person that doesn’t have anything to offer.

2) You’re not as important as whatever is happening on my phone. People matter and ministry flows through relationships. When we invest more time into our phone then the people we are leading, counseling, or investing in then we’ve told them they don’t matter. We might as well put a little note on the back of our phones saying “I don’t care about you.”

3) I’m better than you. Not only are we telling people they’re boring and unimportant, but essentially we are communicating a sense of superiority over them when we don’t listen. I hope I’m not arrogant enough to think that God can not or will not teach something through a conversation with someone else no matter who it is.

Leaders need to be fully present with those they are leading. If we don’t know them how are we going to direct them? I’m sure I’ll get back from a mission trip or something in the near future and be even more disgusted with myself and this struggle, but for now I will work towards being truly present with those I come in contact with throughout my day.

What students taught me about Trust and Unity…

26 01 2011

This past Friday and Saturday we took 52 staff and students leaders to a cabin in Twain Harte for our 2nd Annual Student Leadership Retreat. We get them away from their friends, families, cell phones, and computers.  The purpose of this retreat, as stated by my good friend Matt Van Cleave,  was to “become vulnerable with one another so our students  grow to understand each other and learn to trust each other. This opens the door to unifying our team around a common purpose and direction. A community of leaders united around a common purpose will accomplish great things for the kingdom of God.”

As Matt led this retreat last year, this purpose became very evident through our time together. Students and a few of our staff shared their deepest secrets, pains, failures, and regrets and came together unlike any group I had ever seen before.

This year was a little different. Matt had to stay in the East Bay to perform a wedding, we had about twice as many people there, and the questions we asked the students were a little bit different. But the results stayed the same: students talked about their doubts and regrets and character flaws, they were honest and sincere, and they grew together like I had only seen once before.

I left last year saying, “We need to find a way to get all of our students on a retreat like this.” And I was saying the same thing this year but in a different context. I began to think about trust and unity in every area of my life. We can be more vulnerable at work, with the teams we lead, with our families, and with our friends. I know there are people in each of those settings that I don’t know a lot about.

“What is their biggest regret? What is their biggest failure? What do they doubt? If they could change one thing about their childhood, what would it be? What are they afraid to tell God? If they could do anything for God without failing, what would it be?”

There is so much I don’t know about the people I do life with and so little they know about me. I had a good friend tell me once that people in our generation are waiting for a pastor who isn’t perfect. I think this is true, but I also think our generation is waiting for a community of people to show weaknesses and imperfections without fear. We have  struggles, addictions, pains, regrets and even joy and things we celebrate that no one knows about. If we knew more and understood more and actually let people in a little bit, trust might mean more than something that just gets broken.

There’s not a huge difference between High School students and those of us who are a bit older than them. We are also broken and hurting people in need of a little depth. Hopefully we can experience healing the way I saw our students this past weekend, as a community united with a common purpose that WILL do amazing things for God.