This matters. Stay on your pace.

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Does your ministry lose steam at the end of the year? We all know that finishing well is important, but like a fatigued runner, we often lose our stride a bit at the end of the program calendar.

Now we have a fabulous group of youth workers. They love God, one another, and they really care for our students, most of whom are the entry point to the church for their families. But it is the end of the year and…

  • Games become a little less purposeful…and a few kids stop coming.
  • Instead of carefully planning the meeting so that all things work together to build Christian community and take kids deeper in their faith, the various components begin to stand alone…and a few more kids drop off.
  • Bibles aren’t opened and read by students quite as much.
  • Leaders start doing more – more sharing, more preaching. Students start doing less – and passive kids quickly become disengaged kids.

This happens every year in youth groups all across the country.

For us, this came to a head at our end of the year badminton tournament last week. The kid across the street, a young man we have been inviting to youth group for three years, showed up. O, he joins us occasionally for games and food, but he skips out when students go inside for worship through song and scripture…after eating, of course. Last week he handed me a badminton racquet and asked if I would be his partner for the tournament. I am not a youth leader and had a bunch of stuff to do, but one look at his insistent face and I heard myself saying, “I would love to. But if I do, you stay for Bible study.”

“Deal!” He said, sticking his hand out to shake.

Two leaders were standing behind me. The older one had missed the planning meeting. He whispered to the younger one, “What is the Bible study?”

“We are just having fun tonight.” She said.

His reply, “Hey, our core values include ‘don’t waste kid’s time’ and ‘have fun with a purpose.’ A kid we have been inviting for three years just said he would stay for Bible study. You get a song. I’ll do a message.”

In a highly unlikely turn of events, the neighbor and I won the tournament. As the mob tromped from backyard to living room, the neighbor kid proudly paraded the trophy inside over his head.

When the song finished we passed out Bibles and students read the story of Jesus preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30). The older leader retold the story of Jesus angering his home town to the point that they took him to the edge of a cliff to toss him off when he turned around and walked away through the silenced mob. He concluded with Jesus, the God of the universe in human form, whose life, death, and resurrection offering us the opportunity to be a Kingdom bringer (a Luke 4:18 life of bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and letting the oppressed go free“). He asked if anyone who hadn’t yet was ready to have “the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19) by allowing the Lord, Jesus, to become their savior (John 1:12). Three hands shot up. One of them was the neighbor kid’s. He was waving and pointing to himself. The same young man who ignored three dozen invitations…who snuck home early another two dozen times…who had told us repeatedly, “I’m not into God.” That kid, with tears in his eyes, was smiling ear to ear, waving, and saying, “Me! I’m ready.”

And by letting our core values slip in end of the year fatigue we almost missed it.

“how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him?                                                                      And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?”    -Romans 10:14, NLT

So stay on your pace!

Three students had what they experienced as their first God moment Wednesday night. And we darn near dropped the baton in the relay between them and our God.

In track and field finishing well is called having a strong “kick.” Races are won or lost on the final straightaway. Most runners fade. Champions find another gear and shift into it, pulling away from the pack.

The baton we pass is nothing less than the Gospel of Jesus. So end strong friends. Find your kick. Because this race really does matter.

 

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Illegitimacy: A far bigger “fiscal cliff”


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Soon, we are told, we will go over the “fiscal cliff.” When it happens our politicians and corporations will make a beeline to our tv screens and exhort us to do our part: spend money.

No one is talking about it, but we have a much bigger drag on our economy than the fiscal cliff. It drags our nation down every minute of every day. It is children born out of wedlock, what used to be known as “illegitimacy.” 42% of American children are now born out of wedlock. Why is this a problem? Because, generally speaking, 3/4 of children born OUT OF wedlock are born INTO poverty.

I have spent 30 years in youth ministry. Largely this amounts to being a friend and a mentor…sort of an uncle to young people during their critical adolescent period. What I have seen time and time again is that to successfully make the jump to adulthood means making just a few big decisions right. With those few big decisions, people generally end up in a pretty good place. You don’t have to be anywhere close to a perfect person, but for life to go fairly well for most of us, meant three choices:

  1. Don’t do anything in which the worst thing that could happen is for you to like it. (ie. addiction)
  2. Get an education (in something that will get you a  decent paying job)
  3. Get married.

In the absence of someone else to pay the bills, if you don’t make the Big Three major decisions in order, life gets very difficult, very quickly. 

You might ask, “Where is faith in this equation?” Faith is the fourth predictor. My son is in Student Council at a Title IV high school. Of the students whose homes kids go to for events, it is the 1/3 who are church members whose homes are invariably used. That is because they tend to be the ones at the school with homes large enough to use. Their faith gave them a moral framework and supportive relationships to make the Big Three! For me, the Big Three decisions are 2nd, 3rd, and home plate. First base is faith. In baseball if you don’t get on first base nothing else really matters. Yes, someone can have a decent life in the here and now without faith because, as Jesus said, “The rain falls on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) People can engage the faith decision anywhere around the Big Three and end up fine. But without the Big Three young people send themselves into poverty and set up their children to continue that dangerous cycle.

We have to help young people know the consequences of their life life choices. Here is a web link to a NJ news article that describes the connection between poverty and out-of-wedlock childbearing: (http://blog.nj.com/njv_editorial_page/2012/11/qa_why_marriage_may_be_the_str.html) It is controversial if you are a progressive, but in my experience, spot on. Helping young people with the other big decision, education, is controversial if you are a conservative and want to cut funding for public education. Isn’t it time we put our young people ahead of our politics?

Amare Stoudemire used to have a non-profit called, “Each one. Teach one.” I have no idea what that organization did. But the idea is right. If every person who reads this blog forwards it to your fb friend list and every one of us mentor one young person of poverty, from today until the day they graduate from college…we will have done far more to help our nation’s future than anything else in our power. So forward this to your friends and then become a Big Brother/Big Sister, a Young Life leader, join Mentor Kids USA or become a volunteer in your church’s youth ministry…find a way to longitudinally follow a young person as a wise aunt or uncle.

It will matter to them. It will change you. And the nation you save may be your own.

Won’t you join me and find a young person to share your life and wisdom with?