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An indiscriminate farmer tosses his seeds every which way. He scatters in front of him on the path, right in front of some hungry birds, he seems foolish as some are tossed amongst the young weeds and in the gravely dirt. None of these seeds end up bearing fruit. It seems like such a waste but for the incredible harvest from the few that land on good soil.

Jesus told stories about seeds growing and being sown, telling us that these pictures are what His Kingdom is like. Another picture shows a farmer scattering the seeds, then patiently waiting while the earth produces of itself, wholly without his aid. He simply stands by waiting for the moment when he sees the signs of ripening, when he can only run out and harvest as quickly as possible. This farmer’s job involves scattering, waiting and finally harvest, but he must have a lot of patience and faith or else he would go crazy.

I think ministering to youth is sowing. We might pretend we know what we are doing and are experts, but really, all we can do is sow. We sow foolishly, anywhere we can, whether the soil looks good or poor, and then we wait. We must wait patiently and faithfully in an increasingly impatient and incredulous world. As one of these sowers, I pray God would grant us patience, the ability to sow foolishly, and great faith – that He who created all things by speaking them into existence is also able to grow any seed, in any soil and that He will.

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Today at church Sean preached. Since he normally leads worship he asked me to lead for him while he preaches and to bring a couple of our super talented high-schoolers with me. I was very excited to do this and so I agreed. We practiced on Thursday and warmed up early this morning and played through our opening set nicely. Then it happened (this moment will probably forever stick in my mind as it’s that embarrassing).

I should mention, that although Sean has previously given me the lead for a couple songs while he and I have ledworship together, this is the first time I was leading the whole shebang by myself. I should also mention that Sean’s preaching topic today was, in fact, worship itself. I should also mention that we celebrated communion this Sunday and that, as usual, we do that after the message during the final worship set. The perfect storm is brewing, you see.

Anyway, we went to play a contemplative-Crowder-esque All Creatures. We play this in “C” (Crowder plays it in “D”) and it’s great to have an acoustic guitar play capoed on the 5th fret in “G” to add a nice high-end bounce to the song. I was responsible for that, and also for starting the song out with Brian, our talented HS pianist/guitarist. The only problem was that I was capoed on the 4th fret and actually playing in “B”. I could immediately hear the grating and assumed I was at fault, so I had to stop, ask our bassist, Joanne, for a “C,” in embarrassment plainly see my fault, and capo one fret further. At this point there is nothing I can do to save face, anyone who can hear notes knows that the guitarist and the pianist were playing in different keys and everyone watched the guitarist humbly correct himself. All I could do at that point was say, “Sorry, let’s try that again,” and then take it from there,

I know you’re thinking that sounds too similar to many people’s nightmares and it was pretty bad, though not mortifying. You see, while Sean had been preaching on worship, he had not been preaching on forms and styles but rather the heart of worship; the heart of surrender, adoration for and glorying of God (specifically NOT for music itself) and all these other incredible impactful things that made every brother and sister in the congregation very forgiving and patient and focused on God and not on my terrible rookie mistake.

On top of all that, the set finished and I was getting ready to leave the stage when Beth, one of our sweet church secretaries bounded onto the stage, gave me a big kiss on the cheek and nearly tearing up told me how wonderful the worship was, and how great it was to see our teens leading worship. And again I was reminded in such a powerful way that God doesn’t want or need perfection in our service, rather God wants faithfulness. God doesn’t need me to lead worship like Crowder or Tomlin or Stanfill, God wants me to lead worship like imperfect Groves, and to point others to God in my weakness and imperfection.

I am so blessed by today; by my opportunity to lead our body, by the message I heard, by the humility of imperfection, and by the gut-wrenching grace and heart of God that Beth showed to me (and so many more, its a lifestyle for her).

I sit typing this at midnight on late-night number 3 of 4 this week. Monday through Thursday are late nights for me and that rarely happens. Typically youth night is the beginning of our workweek, as Tuesday is usually our “Monday,” and therefore we are energized and pumped. This week it was the hardest night (the penultimate is almost always the hardest). I knew this going into it and have been praying that God would make up for my weakness.

This brings me to tonight. God showed up. God showed up in a deep and real and big way. I can’t explain it here, Annie and I spent 1 1/2 hours remembering and discussing and aweing. All I can say is that tonight God worked and ministered,and it was like we were the hand-tools. I don’t write this to tritely convey the fact that I brought God’s message as if I’m some modern-day prophet. In fact, God’s message was brought wholly without me and I actually just got to enjoy it.

The hardest thing for me is that I am always surprised that God answers the prayers like that. I pray that God would speak and work and then act amazed when it happens. I wish I lived as one who merely expected God to show up (when that’s what God wants to do anyway) but even if I never do, it doesn’t change the fact that God showing up is how this ministry thing is supposed to work, and I still continue to be grateful for my part in it.

Youth Specialties is a company dedicated to training, education and equipping youth workers to best minister to teens.  We love YS, we go to their conferences, use their products and follow the wisdom of its president, Mark Oestreicher or Marko (here’s his blog – he’s done with it for a while, but you can still get to the good stuff in his archives).  Annie, Sean and I have recently read Marko’s latest book, “Youth Ministry 3.0” and we are processing through some of the implications of his findings and arguments, which is essentially (this is probably a gross overstatement) that what we are doing in youth ministry is already not working (he supports that statement by acknowledging the research – most of us have heard these findings already) and that we need to dramatically change what we are doing to better minister to these teens.

Anyway, Marko talks through the phenomenon of adolescence and addresses what many have concluded are the “three tasks of adolescence” namely identity (who am I?), autonomy (what is my role in this world?) and affinity (where do I belong?).  The deal is that during adolescence teens are subconsciously working on these three tasks simutanouesly but also in a little bit of an order.  They are trying to figure out who they are, what their place is in this world and where or to whom they belong.  Part of what happens during this process is that the teens “try on” or “try out” different selves, roles, and affinity groups throughout these adolescent years (I say adolescent rather than teen because adolescence now continues into the mid-to-late twenties).

YS also hooks up youth workers by sending out weekly informational emails to us with different links to articles pertinent to teens and youth ministry.  This week’s email links to an article on Reuters examining Morgan Stanley’s paper by their 15-year-old summer intern.  He writes about teens use of and affinity towards all manner of technology including facebook and twitter. Here is a quote from the article:

The most memorable moment in the report is its discussion of the irrelevancy of Twitter to teenagers:

Facebook is popular as one can interact with friends on a wide scale.
On the other hand, teenagers do not use twitter. Most have signed up to the service, but then just leave it as they release(sic) that they are not going to update it (mostly because texting twitter uses up credit, and they would rather text friends with that credit). In addition, they realise that no one is viewing their profile, so their ‘tweets’ are pointless.

Many of the issues higlighted(sic) in the 4-page report are obvious: Teenagers are consuming more media, but not prepared to pay for it. They resent intrusive advertising, while print media and radio are largely irrelevant to them. These observations may be nothing new to anyone who bothers to ask kids what they are up to.

What I find most interesting and disturbing about this article is that neither the people at Morgan Stanley, nor the article’s author understand the basics of adolescence.  This article takes the findings of this young man as the definitive word for marketing to younger generations when the report focuses inherently on teens (read: adolescents).  It is also disturbing that what the readers (atleast those who commented) took from the article was that twitter is a waning fad (apparently since teens signal what is cool or not, no thought or mention to the fact that teens were actually behind young adults in accepting facebook, many preferred [and many of our teens tell us they still do prefer] myspace).

So, where does the “three tasks” discussion come into this?  Simply that, when one examines the three tasks of adolescence one can clearly see that each of the three tasks are self-focused.  If you are a teen or a parent of a teen and are getting upset here, please don’t think I am calling your son or daughter selfish, because I am not.  The fact of the matter is that the whole purpose of adolescence’s “three tasks” is defining one’s self, and therefore much of the psychological, emotional and even physical work of adolescence is focused on the self.  Understand, now that teens can be very selfless, and that many are desperately looking for a venue to selflessly devote all of themselves to (see autonomy), but the very reason that much of their psyche is self-focused is why teens don’t care for twitter.  Twitter is, in it’s essence a pretty selfless application; it may seem selfish upon first glance (ie. what are you doing right now?), but the foundation of the community is that you follow others’ lives.  You can find all sorts of articles telling you to be focused on others in your tweeting (responding, quoting or linking to others) to build a following.  They talk about how self-centered tweeting will lose  followers quickly and how the beauty is in the actual simplicity of sharing what you are doing (not who you are).

Facebook, on the other hand (like myspace) is a self-focused app.  Facebook gives you the opportunity to create your profile and identity from the ground up; it allows you to identify yourself however you want to be seen.  Once you sign up for facebook, you can pimp your profile with all sorts of songs and apps and everything else under the sun.  You can spend a lifetime taking quizes to find out what “Friends” character you are, or what your smile says about you (then you can commment on the results whether you aggree or disaggree). You can explore deeper into your friends lives and interests than a microblog allows, and therefore adolescents would/should absolutely like Facebook more than twitter.  Twitter has the full strength of popularity in post-teens because twitter is about affinity (where/to whom to I belong?) and for anyone to really love twitter, they must have moved past the identity-formation task of adolescence and into the affinity task (or past that also).

The sad thing about this is that what is gleaned from the study is simply first-hand market research.  There seems to be no desire for the health or betterment  or better understanding of teens, but simply of what they like to get their money.  The sad reality is that the culture we live in both idolizes and preys upon youth.  Often teens are seen as little more than dollar signs to adults, when this report could be used to usher and encourage adolescents into adulthood, it seems to be little more than market research.

Also something to think about and note is whether or not twitter will become popular with teens.  If teens completely reject the app and notion of microblogging, what affinity tool will they cling to when they are finished forming their identity?  If not, will they come back to it recognizing it’s value in their lives?   Something to think about.  It seems fairly clear that older millenials and gen-xers have a pretty solid love for twitter, so it may not die off like many of the commentors are predicting.

I have been thinking alot about worship lately, specifically musical worship services in church.  Part of this is because while I was in the Philippines they asked me to run sort of a worship workshop for their local church’s worship team (that thought in itself is pretty amazing to me but I guess that’s the type of thing that happens on mission trips).  So, I was thinking about the worship leader’s role and listening to some live Passion and David Crowder* Band music and the thought occurred to me that ideally, the worship leader should function as a more traditional choir or band director.  As the worship team leads their brothers and sisters in in song, it’s not a performance in any sense, but rather, they are the accompaniment for the large choir of the congregation.  So as the worship leader sings and plays, his or her main role is specifically directing and leading the crowd in song.

This means the worship leader has the responsibility to explicitley direct the body in singing, clapping, dancing, shouting, praising, praying, silence, reflection, meditation, scripture reading and all other ways that we corporately worship God.  It was sort of an “Ah-ha” moment for me as I realized all the more that on stage, the leader should clearly communicate musical and spiritual direction to the body just as a choir director would with a choir.  Its such a blessing to see and hear other leaders understand and lead this way, I hope and pray to become this type of worship leader here in my community at FBC.  hope you enjoy these thoughts.  I am writing out an update from my short term mission trip to Cagayan De Oro in the Philippines, and will try posting some of the pics and thoughts here.  May God Bless and Keep You.

Sunday afternoon we went onto a couple of seminars in a row.  The first seminar we went to was from Sean Dunn, a speaker from Colorado.  He shared some really cool things about youth pastors’ need to show kids to The One God and God’s earthly manifestation in Jesus of Nazereth.  He argued that the reason kids do not continue in a relationship with Jesus after high school is that we ministers fail to really show Jesus to them.  He argued and showed that we absolutely need to introduce teens to Jesus and then continue to push them into a closer relationship with him.  He did a great job showing his point and challenging us to point kids to deeper relationship with Jesus.

After Dunn’s session we moved down and grabbed some coffee for a quick break before we headed out to our next session.  The session I chose was called Creating Our Own Middle School Curriculum and it was in this track called Open Source.  I was super excited about this seminar because I read about the idea previously on YS president Marko’ blog.  Marko actually led this seminar and it was so great.  We spent at least half the time discussing and working together and we actually went through the process of making a middle school lesson.  So not only did Marko teach us the processes of making a lesson for youth (though it emphasized a middle school age group), but we actually made one together in the session.  I applaud Youth Specialties for their innovation and their quest to better minister to youth ministers, I personally thought the open source format was awesome and hope they continue doing both that and the discussions during the general session.

After that session we went back to the hotel room and hung out with Pops and Mommom (Annie’s parents) and some friends and family came by to visit.  We went out and said sad good-byes to Mommom and Pops and went to dinner with Sean, our buddy Niko, my sister, Auntie Monica, and our friends Auntie Teddy, and Auntie Cait. We went for a late dinner at the Pyramid Brewhouse over by the hotel on K street.  We had an awesome meal, enjoyed a couple delicious brews, and just had a great time catching up and joking around.  We actually we having so much fun and hanging out that we decided not to try running into the evening’s general session late, and by the time we finished it was pretty far into the session so we just called it a night and got some rest.  I did hear that the evening session was totally killer and Tony Campolo rocked everyone’s face off.

Sorry folks, but I have to break Sunday up into 2 parts so here is the first part of the day.

We started off Sunday with a slower morning with Ellie.  She got tons of sleep and so did we.  We headed over to the convention for the morning general session and I got to see my first session of worship led by Starfield.  Those guys have such awesome hearts and a wonderful ministry.  They are just a killer band and led us in worship in a really cool way.  I’m jumping ahead of myself though, the morning’s artist was Shane and Shane and they actually also started the time in a worship-ful way.  We also loved these guys because they are some awesome, burly men.  If you hear their music you may be tempted to think they are small, sickly, whiny guys, but they are quite the opposite.  They are fun, funny, burly men who have some killer tenor voices.

The morning’s speaker was Mark Yaconelli.  Mark has a really cool, interesting relationship with youth ministry and with YS.  Mark’s dad, Mike, founded youth specialties with another guy 40 years ago this month, and youth ministry has not been the same.  With that history, one would expect this guy to rebel against ministry and youth ministry and probably YS, but instead he champions youth, ministers to them and participates in YS conferences every year.  What a cool story.

Mark is such a godly man, and he has a beautiful gift and heart for tending souls.  He ministers to souls getting people to experience God in deep, impacting ways, and Sunday’s message was about the soul.  It’s quite interesting and coincidental (I don’t think God makes coincidences, I think they’re purposeful) that Phyllis Tickle’s message the day prior mentioned how one of the issues our generation must wrestle with is that of the soul.  She talked about how our generation must decide what constitutes humanity, and if the soul is where the imago dei resides and if so, what that soul is.

Mark talked about what the soul is.  He talked about the soul holding our sense of wonder, our grief and mourning, and underlying, infiltrating joy.  He showed how his young son started “the slow club” and taught him to slow down and wonder at God and creation.  He talked about his own experiences of grieving over his parents’ divorce, and how he found joy in listening and dancing to disco music in his room.  He finished by sharing how he felt God and God’s joy while ‘boogying’ to that disco music.  He closed up telling a story about a jr high dance, and how no one danced (typical of a jr high dance), and how he was shocked by that, since his only exposure to dancing was his innocent and joyful boogying alone.  The DJ finally stopped the music and turned the lights on, announcing that since no one was dancing, he was going to end the music.  Mike tells how he went and pleaded with the DJ for one more song, that he would dance his heart out if even if no one else would..

He then described the situation, “ The lights went back out,” then the lights in the hall we were in dropped out.  “The disco ball lit up,” then the disco ball on the bands’ stage in our hall lit up.  “The music started bumping,” a disco song was cued up in the hall, and the lights came back up to reveal Mark changed into a disco shirt and pants, and he started dancing his heart out!!!  He was boogying classic, joyful, disco moves with a giant, sincere smile on his face.  The moment was so moving that about a dozen people in the crowd made their way up to the stage and started dancing with him.  As the song finished and the dancers started moving off the stage, you could still see Mark Yaconelli with a giant smile on his face, high-fiving and hugging the other dancers he’d never before met.

Starfield was on stage, and the leader singer said, “How do you follow that?” and simply began the worship set.  It was a great time of worship.

We started off our National Youth Workers Convention experience on Friday just after noon.  We started by experiencing a couple really cool and worshipful art experiences, one of which was a really cool dramatic reading and monologue by Amena Brown.  I personally think she just tore the roof off and started the convention off with a bang.  Her readings absolutely infuse excitement and weight into a crowd of people.  We also watched as Joe Castillo performed some sand art.  He made beautiful and intricate pictures out of sand on a light-box, and we watched and were absolutely moved as he told the story of the prodigal son through sand pictures.  It was powerful and moving.

We then had the privilege of hearing a performance by Mercy Me.  We didn’t know what to expect form this, and we were really floored by the way that this “Contemporary Christian band” led us in worship.  I think we were expecting more of a concert and they really started the convention off with a cool worship set.

Joe actually performed after Mercy Me and then from there we went into a time of worship led by Lincoln Brewster.  I am already personally biased as I own a live-worship album by Brewster and love it, but actually getting to be led live by him is a different story in that he totally exceeds my expectations.  He shared some really cool things and I think did an awesome job of engaging a bunch of kooky youth pastors.

If you don’t know anything about Lincoln Brewster, he leads on an electric guitar, and is the only guitar in the band.  It’s a rocking four-piece band and he leads singing while playing screaming lead guitar.  He also has pure-melt-your-face-solos and throws those in.  Now there are many who may deride someone who solo’s their guitar in as showy and boastful, but Brewster describe it this way, “sometimes I have these feelings of worship in my heart that I can’t express by words or singing, but I can express it with my guitar;”  (or something along those lines) what a cool and beautiful statement.  Anyway, the worship was great and he led us into a time of speaking with Bishop Sherwood Carthen.

Bishop Carthen was awesome!  He gravely and seriously started by sharing the seriousness and significance of our roles as ministers to youth.  He spoke about the cost of leadership and pointed us to Jesus’ own ministry and his time in the wilderness prior to beginning his ministry.  He showed us that God was the one who led him into the wilderness and then he was tempted and tested.  He told us that if we are called we will go through the wilderness and that we probably will be led there by the spirit, not the devil.  He gave us a powerful message and call and I loved it.  He challenged us to authenticity, brokenness and continual dependence upon God.

The evening session was just as innovative and challenging.  Worship was again led by Lincoln Brewster, and was awesome.  We went into the speaking time with a very cool and different format where three speakers spoke.  Each speaker has 18 minutes to speak, then we, the crowd, would discuss for 8 minutes then we would go back to the speaker where they would answer on-the-spot questions that were texted in.

The three speakers, Jared Stevens, Andrew Marin and Shane Claiborne each spoke on hard and even controversial topics.  Jared talked about our need as ministers to constantly examine our means of showing people to God even if it means shutting down good and successful things.  Andrew talked about and encouraged the church to reach out to the lgbt community.   Shane, as ever, encouraged us to live peculiar and love-filled lives that are markedly different and peace-filled than the consumeristic and selfish world we live in.

Well I was trying to blog from Youth SpecialtiesNational Youth Workers Convention this past weekend in Sacramento, CA.  My plan was to try to get daily recaps and updates out but for some reason I could not get any internet access.  It was incredibly frustrating to see anywhere from 15-20 public-but-locked wireless networks on my screen and I complained about it alot.  So much so that my wife, Annie, made fun of me, and my buddy Sean told me to write a song about it.

Anyway, now i am back in th eworld of the world wide interweb and will be posting my reactions and thoughts from this year’s NYWC.

as an incidental side note, I have very fond and wonderful memories and associations with NYWC in Sacramento as 3 years ago, Annie and I were there togther as volunteers for Bel Air Pres youth min and that was where I began to realize that I really liked this girl, and maybe even where I knew that I wanted to marry this girl.  And now, three years later, we are back at the Sacramento NYWC, we live in Hawaii, work together in YM, have started a beautiful family and are growing along in our path following Jesus.  What a cool deal, I bet Marko and the YS guys don’t really know that their convention is so influential.  anyway, more to come.

So this weekend I will be in Sacramento at the National Youth Workers Convention and I will actually be trying to blog about my experience so keep an eye for updates.

Additionally I have quite a few pending blog posts as I finished three books in a week and recently got some new music as well, so look for reviews to come on

Lit:

Richard Llewellyn’s, How Green Was My Valley

Rob Bell’s, Jesus Wants To Save Christians

Music:

David Crowder Band’s: Remedy Club Tour,

Jon Foreman’s Fall Winter, Spring, and Summer

Peace

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