The Back To School Post.

This is the time of year where most of the people in my ministry, parents and teens alike, are focused on heading back to school. A lot of my conversations with teens revolve around preparing for the start of a new year, and laying a foundation for healthy, balanced growth. Here are a few things I like to share, divided up by grade/age group.

To parents:

Put the big rocks first. If you feel the faith development of your child is a priority, make it a priority. Often, that means putting church on the calendar first before extra curricular activities. It may mean saying no to other activities that are more ‘fun’ or ‘college-friendly’. Your kids will find a way to have fun; over-scheduling their lives is not the way to achieve that goal. Also, many colleges like seeing a well-balanced applicant, and “this teen has consistently been a great leader in our youth ministry” looks awesome on a college application. Either way, sending your kid off to college with a solid faith should be priority number one.

Tweens:

Heading into Jr High may seem scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Right now is a great time to decide how you are going to make and keep friendships. Be kind to people, watch out for those who are being made fun of, and don’t worry too much about being ‘different’ (embrace it!). If you need any help on how to treat people, now is a good time to read up on how Jesus treated those around him.

Jr High kiddos:

You’ve got a ton of energy, and the instinct will be to move first and think things through later. Take a minute to think about what you’re about to do or say, and ask yourself, “is this right?”. You should have a pretty good handle on that by now. And for those situations that you don’t know, or have made a mistake, own up quickly and take the chance to learn. The consequences for learning these tough lessons without serious ramifications is going to run out soon. Start praying on your own, without a prompt from your parents or YM. Taking the time to pray is often the exact type of slowing down that you’ll need to make wise decisions. And if you need help, ask.

9th graders:

It’s okay to be a little overwhelmed by High School. The workload is tougher, the expectations are higher, and there’s this whole figuring-out-who-I-am thing going on the whole time. Take time to play, and take time to be still. Our culture has a set of expectations for high school that are propped up by Hollywood. Very few of them are true, and you don’t have to fit into their stereotypes. Your true identity is found in your faith, so give your faith some exercise… daily. The basis of your friendships will likely change from proximity to deeply shared beliefs. Develop your beliefs, speak about them, and learn how to share them with others without demeaning others. Read Romans a few times and let it challenge you and help you figure out who you are.

10th and 11th graders:

Your parents love you. Remember that.

You’ve figured out that High School is so much more than what you learn in class. Congratulations. You’ve probably also started to narrow down your interests to a few things, which is great. Dive into your hobbies and passions, they may be the key to finding a career that you’ll love later on in life. Yes, decisions you’re making now may affect the rest of your life. Try not to stress out about that too much, focus on making good decisions today. Jesus himself said that every day has enough worries of its own, and there’s a good chance that you’re right in the middle of that statement. The cool thing is, when you focus on making wise decisions on a daily basis, the days start to add up to a lifetime of wisdom. Draw that wisdom from God and you’ll navigate whatever the next few years throw at you.

Treat homework like a job. The more homework you do now, that more that will pay off, financially and from a discipline standpoint. I once estimated how many hours I spent doing homework, and how much money I received in college scholarships, and figured that I made about $15/hour. That was back in the 90’s. And not taking into consideration how much I would have saved paying off interest on student loans. The bottom line: put your work in now, it pays off later. But don’t break yourself in the name of good grades. Good habits > good grades. That means spending time on your faith too. It also means going outside and playing every once in a while. That’s right, it’s still okay to be a kid once in a while.

Seniors:

Congrats on being at the top of the food chain! (don’t laugh college kids, they’ll know soon enough). This will be the year that will bring the most temptations to check out of church. Don’t. Your presence and maturity can be a huge blessing to the younger crew, even on the toughest of days. You know your right from wrong, and it’s time to lead others. Wether that’s serving in the children’s wing, or just providing a good example for those a few years behind you, you have a unique opportunity to bless others.

Don’t get caught up in the pressures of your Senior year. Academically, you should know that the work load is going to be difficult. You’ve probably also figured out how to balance that work load with the rest of life. There’s this amazing word ‘no’ that you’ll have to use with your friends every once in a while. Fear of missing out is real, but don’t fall victim to FOMO. Nobody can say yes to every opportunity that comes their way and survive. No, not even the busiest of your friends can do it all.

Start up on the search for college as soon as you can. Figure out how you’re going to search for colleges. (Here’s my post on how to tackle this beast.) Set aside time with your parents (they’re the ones that still feed you when you check in at home every once in a while) to talk college, or whatever plans you have for after high school. Treat your college search like a job and make progress weekly, so you’re not overwhelmed when all of your Senior projects are due the same time as your applications.

College freshmen:

Find a church home. Plug in. Serve. Say yes to what you can, and don’t regret saying no to things that you can’t do. Make friends with people who bless your life, and avoid those who only add drama. Take the time to re-adjust who you are. You’ve got the opportunity to start over and learn from your high school mistakes. Do it.

Don’t get any tattoos. As much as you’ve changed since you were 12… that much change is about to happen in the next few years. And then it’ll happen again around the time you graduate. Seriously, this is the worse time in your life to get a tattoo. If your idea survives the next few years, get it then.

You may notice that your parents may not seem as smart as they once were. You’re wrong. They’re about to become geniuses. Be sure to thank them every time you come home with truckloads of laundry, and sleep for days on end.

Take advantage of the opportunities that will come your way. The world loves to help someone who is actively working hard to make their life better. That ends once you graduate and you’re another person looking for a job.

Most importantly, remember your faith, and put it into action. That whole serving part I mentioned before… it’s the best way to grow your faith. Putting your faith into action is putting flesh onto your beliefs, and will make the words of Jesus pop off the pages like never before. You’re at the cross section of life where energy and opportunity intersect, and God has amazing things for you to do in His name.

One love, one heart.

I was just thinking about you…

Today marks seven years since the passing of my youth minister, John Austin Smith. It’s a bittersweet day for those of us who knew him, because the memories of joy, deep conversation and massive bear hugs associated with him are in stark contrast to the feelings of sadness that comes from missing our dear friend. I suppose as always the best place to find peace is in the comfort of knowing that he is in the full presence of our Lord, whom he served so openly, and with complete abandon.

When people ask why I got into youth ministry, I often joke that its part of a penance program for what I did to my old youth minister. The truth is, John called all of us into ministry in different ways. He serves as a constant reminder of what it looks like when we completely give our hearts over to Christ, and look for ways to constantly and creatively love our neighbors in a powerful way.

Today, that’s what I’m missing most about John Austin, I miss deep conversations about things that matter to the soul. I miss hearing him laugh, and I miss the way that he would articulate Godly wisdom in a way that provide the push that we needed to hear.

I wish that my current youth ministry could meet him, and hear his crazy stories. I wish that the young man at our church who is named after John Austin could meet the man behind the stories. I wish that he could have met my wife, and bless her with the kind words I grew up with. As with so many of our fallen friends, I wish that we could have that one more conversation.

So tonight, a group of us will gather in his honor. We’ll catch up, share stories, pictures and jokes from back in the day. We’ll spend most of our time laughing, and enjoying being in the presence of friends, because that’s how we want to remember our John Austin Smith. My prayer is that we also search our hearts for the presence of Christ, and fully embrace living from that place where he lived, in a way that he lived, and for whom he lived.

One love, one heart.

From the YM: Choosing A College

One of my favorite parts of youth ministry is sending graduates off to college. It’s bittersweet in a sense, because I’m sad to see kids go, but that is easily trumped by the joy that comes from watching students head off for their next big journey. Wether it’s a local community college, an Ivy league school, or a prestigious institution of higher learning like Oklahoma Christian University (Go Eagles!), college has the potential to be a pivotal time in our student’s lives. Here are a few things that I’ve tried to pass on to students and families in regards to the process of choosing a school.

  • There are over 5,000 Colleges, Universities, and Community Colleges in the US alone. That number can be staggering, like drinking water from a fire hose, and can scare some people off from starting the process early. Start with narrowing down your field to a select few. There are six processing factors that I recommend to students and families when it comes to narrowing their list of potential schools. Rank these in order of importance to you and your student for a streamlined search:
    • Location. Do you want to stay close to home, or head to the other side of the country? Do you want to be a road trip or a plane trip away from home? Do you prefer somewhere by the beach or near the mountains?
    • Cost. What are you willing to spend on an education? Are you willing to go to a dream school and do the work for more financial aid? How much debt are you willing to take on? Is it important for you to graduate debt-free?
    • Size. Do you prefer the feel of a small campus or a large campus? Do you prefer smaller classroom setting or large lecture style? Would you prefer to know everyone on campus, or have the opportunity to constantly meet new people?
    • Atmosphere. Doe the school have a Christian atmosphere? Is it a party school? Is there plenty to do on, or near campus, or is there something nearby? What is the housing situation like? What kinds of activities are popular with the student body?
    • Major. Are you looking for a specific major, or a school with several options? If you already have a specific career path in mind does this school offer your program? If you don’t have a major in mind, does the school have a reputation for a specific degree?
    • Recruiting. Are you going to compete collegiately in a a sport? Are you a stellar musician? An actor? Are there schools vying for your attendance?
  • When I was looking for a school, location was a big factor for me. Every school I applied to was more than 1,000 miles from home. Next was atmosphere. I knew I wanted to be in a Christian environment, and wanted to be active on campus. I had two majors I was interested in, so that came next, with cost, size and recruiting rounding out the list. The level of importance of these determining factors varies for every student, and may change over the course of time, but it helps to keep a clear view of what is important in mind when beginning the initial search.
  • Visit as many schools as you can, even ones you are not necessarily interested in. Visiting non-recruiting schools can give you ideas on what to look for in schools you are looking towards. Also, familiarity with the questions recruiters ask, and the type of things tours show-off can help you determine what is important in your decision-making process.
  • Consider this a part-time job. Routinely dedicate specific amounts of time towards the college search process. I’ve encouraged families to take a couple of hours once a week to dedicate to college related work, or a whole day out of the month.
  • Start your search early. It is never too early to start saving for college, and it is never too early to start the search process. While the crux of college planning lends itself to junior and senior year of high school, taking a freshmen to a college campus to familiarize themselves with the environment can do wonders for motivation, and may take away some of the fears that come from trying to figure out what direction to head after high school.
  • Ask a lot of questions. Wether it’s talking to your local guidance counselor, a college recruiter, or a family that has been through the college process, feel free to seek as much advice as you can.
  • Pray. Choosing a college has the potential to be one of the biggest decisions you make in your life. I can’t imagine making that big of a decision without seeking the counsel of the Great Counselor. While you may not get the specific name of a school, humbling yourself before God and asking for wisdom in the process carries with it the promise of God’s blessing wherever you choose.

 

One love, one heart.

Ramblings: The Super Bowl, Hot Tamales, and Leadership Development.

The whole aftermath of the Super Bowl focusing on Cam Newton would make me really mad if I was a Broncos fan. Manning is the sentimental story, this moment should be about him riding off into the sunset. And about dropping Budweiser and God both into his post-game speech.

The real story of the Super Bowl should be Von Miller. Yikes. All of the sudden I don’t feel so bad about the Charger losing a couple of games to Broncos this season. Miller is a beast, and I’m glad he got MVP.

The advertising background in me always gets excited to see what the best and brightest come up with for the big game, so this year was an overall letdown. What a waste of Anthony Hopkins selling out. I’m guessing ad agency talent is being directed somewhere else besides tv commercials at this point.

The whole Chargers thing is a mess. Committing to another year in SD the same day they sign an agreement with the Rams ownership is like telling your girlfriend you want to stay together right after signing a lease on a new place with someone else.

I’ve been pretty vocal about how much of a tool Spanos has been in this mess, but make no mistake, the city of San Diego needs to share in the blame. Both sides have shown little regards for the people of San Diego, and one side is going to end up looking like a hero if the Chargers do manage to stay.

Buying new tires may be on of the most frustrating car maintenance purchases. Normally, something that expensive means it’s too complicated to understand if you’re not a mechanic. Tires go in circles, it’s pretty easy.

I can’t wait for baseball season. I know the Padres are in unofficial rebuilding mode, so my expectations aren’t that high. Hopefully this will make the season that much easier to enjoy. Also, we have the All-Star Game this year. I went in 92 and have plans to go this year as well. Stoked doesn’t begin to describe my excitement for those festivities.

What kind of 7-11 doesn’t carry Hot Tamales?

Pacystace and I have found ourselves really interested in the People vs OJ series. I can’t begin to explain why. I didn’t realize that we have that trial to blame for the groundwork of the Kardashian family mess taking over pop culture. Now I don’t like OJ even more.

I’ve been listening to a lot of indie-punk lately. Everything from late 90’s Piebald to the latest Prawn album. There’s something so appealing to about listening to music that could have been written by the guys in the garage next door.

90’s Ska/Punk is still king of my iTunes though.

A couple of weeks ago our staff did some leadership development training with Eric Metcalf from Community Christian Church based out of Chicago. One of the big takeaways for the process of developing leaders was the three-step process of: Identify potential, give a task to complete, then give something that stretches abilities. Seems so simple, but I can see where I, and other leaders could easily skip one of those. If you miss out on identifying abilities, you assign the wrong things to the wrong people and it won’t stick. Not giving an initial task can cause someone to be overwhelmed by going immediately to something over their head. Not stretching someone leads to complacency and boredom.

Instagram is making it easier to switch between multiple accounts. That’s actually been my only frustration with app. I’m declaring them the winner in social media outlet of choice (sorry friendster). Representing a few distinct entities (church, camp, myself) got a whole lot easier to keep separate. Now, if they would go back to only square photos.

Undercover Boss: Kylo Ren may be the funniest SNL video short of the 2010’s.

One love, one heart.

Thoughts From Yard Duty

For the past couple of years I’ve been volunteering as a yard duty at one of our local K-8th grade schools. Twice a week I head to the school for a couple of hours and stand watch while the 4th/5th & 6th/7th grades eat and head out for recess. To say that it’s been fun is an understatement. Beyond the joy that comes from hanging out with a bunch of my kiddos a couple times a week in the (usually) beautiful SoCal weather, my time as a yard duty has repeatedly taught me quite a bit, and reminded me of things I’ve long since forgotten from Jr High. Here are a few things that I’ve learned/ been reminded of in my time working the yard:

Jr High crushes are a big deal. At least they are when you’re in the middle of one. I think as we grow older we forget how utterly confusing it is navigating your way around a crush for the first time, or the first few times. Without the benefit of perspective that comes with age, kids are simultaneously trying to express their hearts, guard their hearts, and grow their hearts. All of this with the potential pressure of friends that have no basis for comparison when trying to offer advice, and adults that can easily limit their influence to ‘you’re just a kid’. A few weeks ago I watched a jr high boy break down because he didn’t like his crush anymore ‘like that’ and had no idea what to say. His tears were only matched by hers when she received the bad news. Hollywood writers can’t even begin to capture this type of heartbreak.

The Breakfast Club begins a lot sooner than High School. It’s amazing to watch kids start to splinter off into different groups and personality types so young. The brain, the athlete, the basket case, princess and the criminal are all right there. It’s surreal to watch these traits develop. Knowing some kids are going to coast through school (and probably life), while seeing signs of kids that are on a much more difficult path, maybe even dangerous, is heart wrenching. The youth pastor part of me is so used to being able to speak into kids lives, to have a certain degree of comfort knowing that they’ve at least heard a Godly path presented to them. Not being in a place to speak into their lives is by far the most difficult transition.

Kids are hilarious. On any given day one of the kids will say or do something that catches me totally off guard. The Yard Duties laugh a lot. Despite some of the difficulties and frustrations that come with the role, any given day has it’s fair share of quotes and memorable moments. My favorite quote comes from the week when the kids were in a Heath & Wellness class, and they were telling me about the film they were viewing. “We had to watch Puberty. It was awful.”

The happiest kids are the ones that just want to play. I’ve always been a big proponent of not burdening families with a crazy youth ministry calendar, and working with kids that have so much of their time structured really drives that point home for me. On any given day I’ll run into a kid stressing about everything they have to do after school. Hint: it very rarely involves the dreaded word ‘homework’. Usually, it’s a sigh followed by the mention of a practice, or rehearsal. I’m all for kids playing sports and being involved in theater and music, but I think given a choice, most kids would be happy with the chance to simply play with their friends. In no way am I in favor of abolishing organized sports or art programs, I’m just saying we as a culture might want to back off the throttle a little bit when it comes to filling up our calendars.

The most prominent, and most convicting observation is how much their home life affects kids ability to navigate the day. Between the classroom, interaction with the teachers, interaction with other students, friends, crushes, homework, recess, who to sit with at lunch, dealing with bullies, and the millions of other difficulties that come with growing up, our kids do have lot on their plates. A solid home, and healthy relationship with both parents provides the foundation that kids need to navigate the day. You can see it in their eyes when things aren’t good at home. You can hear it in their words when they haven’t talked with a parent in a while. You can tell by their walk when they’ve been an afterthought.

My prayer is that we as adults can remember the joy and pain of growing up, that we can speak wisdom into the lives of kids, and have the wisdom when to let them figure things out on their own. May we value their time, thoughts, sense of humor and energy, and respond in kind. May we draw on the Lord for strength when things get difficult, and teach them to do the same. Oh yeah, and may we give plenty of high-fives. Kids love high-fives.

One love, one heart.