Today is the last day of school. There is a part of me that is very excited and relieved, and there is a part of me that is very reflective. This seems to happen almost every year. I wonder if this mixture of emotions happens to other people?

First, the part of me that is excited – I made it through another year, in another new building, with another new principal, with two new grades. Plus, I still have my sanity. I have found a niche teaching elementary music and I love the addition of the older kids. I feel like I connect with the older kids better but I love them all.

Second, the reflective part of me – Part of it is just my personality. I am a bit melancholy. In the past, however, I have always finished the year wondering if that one would be my last. Because of my work with church ministry and my work with teaching I can never decide what I am going to do when I grow up. I have always committed to God that I would be available to do whatever He wanted me to do, whether that was teaching or working with a church full-time.

Thirdly, for the first time in over a dozen years I do not have a summer job – yet. In the past I have worked with band camps or at the church. This summer I am totally free of any of that responsibility. I’m not even taking summer classes. It is a very weird feeling. There’s a part of me that wants to do something else and there’s a part of me that is saying just enjoy the time at home with your family. A refreshing summer might be exactly what I, and my family, need.

When all is said and done the job will sort itself out on its own. What I know for sure is that I have one more day to finish up school.

“Heigh ho, heigh ho, It’s off to work I go, Heigh ho, heigh ho, heigh ho…”

All of the recent discussion regarding teachers, unions, and education has been very interesting. Unfortunately it has not been very enlightening. It seems as if the conversation has divided into two sides that are pitted against one another. I find it very disappointing that while both sides have good points both sides also wildly manipulate information. In addition, they use biased information. It is supposed to be research but it hardly qualifies as such. How a union gains credibility by promoting “research” put together by their own self-funded organizations is beyond me. How legislators can promote the value of charter schools when they score among the worst, at least in one state, is also beyond me.

I believe the best comment about education was stated very clearly in a recent broadcast by personal finance leader, Dave Ramsey, well-known for helping people get out of debt and “act their wage.” His comment went something like this, “The best indicator of successful schools is the involvement of parents.”

Yes, yes, yes! Absolutely! Active involvement by parents is the deciding factor in a child’s personal growth. Parents cannot rely on schools, the church, the government, or anyone else to do the job they have been given to do.

What kind of change would we see if our conversation was not about unions and test scores and charters but about how to help parents be wildly successful?

Why is this happening?

That’s where we left it with part 1 of the post. On to part 2…

Our culture has changed and many of our methods have not. We have to take responsibility as educators and youth workers for what we need to do differently and what we need to do better. We have to take responsibility for becoming better teachers and better students.

In what areas have we become stagnant?

In what areas have we always done it that way?

In what ways are we allowing current culture to distract us from what is best for our audience?

In our changing culture everyone seems to be busier. One of the most damaging effects of busyness that I’ve seen is in the parent involvement. At such a crucial time we are seeing less and less positive modeling for our youth. Maybe some of the parents don’t know any better. Maybe some of them don’t care. Maybe some of them are doing the best they can. Maybe some of them don’t think it’s their job. Isn’t that why they pay teachers and clergy?

I am a strong advocate for families being the primary influence in the lives of their children. With that being said, when you take into account the scrutiny that schools and churches are coming under, how do you respond? It’s my belief that schools and churches will increasingly have to take on the burden and responsibility of “parenting” if we are to achieve the goals we desire. I realize this is a dangerous statement. Because it is such a dangerous statement let me reiterate – I do not think it is the responsibility of churches and schools. However, something must be done to make up the ground that is being given away.

“How do you motivate the unmotivated?” I don’t know where this comes from originally, but it is something I hear frequently at school. And that question also isolates the core issue we deal with in youth ministry.

How do we equip, inspire, or motivate students to live the truth? Admittedly, this presupposes that we are actually teaching the Truth in a way that is meaningful to our youth. My personal opinion is that we’ve done a great job with “meaningful” but we have a ways to go with “Truth.”

But anyway…

Can one “make” youth have the right heart attitude?

Can one “make” youth live out the truth they know?

Can one “make” youth care enough about church to make it a priority?

What can I do? I can only be responsible for them to the extent allowed by God. It sounds a lot like parenting, doesn’t it? It breaks my heart that I have to see them struggle to make it their own (or not).

Pray for our youth and their families like life and death depended on it – it does.

Create opportunities for meaningful relationships. Treat it like it’s important – it is.

Teach the Bible like as the ultimate source of authority – there is no other way.

Be at peace and trust that God knows what He’s doing – He does.

There has been a lot of talk in different places lately about the idea that youth ministry isn’t working as well as it should anymore. For the most part, this idea has been promoted because so many youth are leaving the church when they leave high school.

Some people suggest that people are leaving the church because of a lack of relationship within the church.

Others suggest that the church is too consumer-driven and the youth go looking for the next bigger and better thing.

Still others think that the parents are responsible.

The flip side to that is that some think that the youth group doesn’t do enough. Not enough games, too many games, not enough Bible, too much Bible…

Our youth are isolated from the rest of the church.

Our youth don’t have facilities of their own.

The preaching has too much fluff.

The preaching is too high and lofty.

The music is ancient and doesn’t connect.

Church is boring.

The pastor is boring.

The youth pastor is boring.

No one cares about me.

I just plain don’t care.

And no one really knows the answer…

Is it that way with adults and what some people mockingly call “big church?” Is anyone looking to see if there is any correlating information about adults coming and going out of churches? Are they asking the same questions and making the same comments?

Let’s take it a step further. For some time the public schools have struggled with rising expectations and trying to equip students to meet those standards. Ask people why the schools are failing and you are likely to see a list of things similar to the list above. This has become such a major issue that the government has started to step in, replace teachers, and close down schools. Admittedly, there are a lot of arguable issues here such as funding, how scores are created, how students are measured, and “No Child Left Behind,” to name a few. In theory, however, these are all issues related to helping the students.

Few of these things seem to be working. Why?

Why is this happening?

To be continued…

The start of another school year has come and gone…

It’s hard to believe that I’ve already been back to class for four weeks. I’ve started up tennis and I’m already wondering what I’ve gotten myself into.

While the start of the school year is a kick-off for many youth groups it is a time of stabilization for me and the youth ministry at GEC because of my dual role as youth pastor and teacher. This has proven to be a frustration in the past and this year is no exception. There is so much to do and not nearly enough time to do it.

Tennis and school eat up a huge chunk of my energy and time. When I arrive home I’ve got a beatiful wife and daughter who deserve the rest, if not the best, of my remaining time. Add in ministry responsibilities, food, and sleep, and you have a very tired teacher.

My daughter recently asked me when it would be May again. She likes May because that’s when daddy is at home when she gets up in the morning. You’ve got to love such a precious heart.

One verse that encourages me if from Psalm 46. It speaks truth and helps me to refocus my priorities on the eternal.

“Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10, ESV).”

Lord, teach me to be still and rest in knowing You. Help me to place the right importance on the right things.

Recently I’ve been struggling with being “content.” I’ve been trying to decide if that is a good thing or not.

Is it a good thing to want something different? I believe we were created for something great. To what extent should we pursue that?

When do we stop and allow ourselves to rest?

What does it look like to pursue what we were created for?

If you know me, it will probably come as no surprise to you that I love what I do. I love being a teacher and a coach. I enjoy my subject material (music) and I absolutely love teaching, hanging out with, talking to, and even disciplining the students. I value and respect them. I have an opportunity, like few others do, to shape and mold hearts. However, like tennis, the sport I coach, it only lasts for a short season. Then they move on. That’s when I wonder how much lasting influence I really have.

Of course, there’s my position as youth director at Grace Evangelical Church. I’ve been there for almost 8 years serving with primarily the youth and some with the music. We’ve seen both the church and the youth grow. We’ve seen some of our youth head off into ministry (and some the other direction). I love being at GEC. I wouldn’t trade my time there for much of anything else.

These are the things I am wired for. I have no doubt about that. I see both of these positions as something God has created me to do. I realize they both have their ups and downs but what job doesn’t? In spite of that I love what I do!!!

Here’s the rub… if you know me you’ll know that I often feel a little overwhelmed with the responsibilities of both positions and my family. My family will remain first so that leaves me to ask how long I can sustain both jobs.

I do not feel led to leave what I’m doing currently but I do have lots of questions. Would I have more influence in a full-time youth position? Would my family benefit from me being in one job? Am I wired to function in a full-time youth ministry setting? Is there something else out there that will better suit me? Should I be proactive or am I supposed to just be content and allow things to happen?

Is my pursuit of contentment selfish? Could I be pursuing a bad contentment? Is it even right to be pursuing this kind of contentment in the midst of war? According to the Bible we know that we are in a battle:

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8 ESV).”

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12 ESV).”

Is this something that is given to me as a distraction? To tell the truth, I don’t know. I do know, though, that I need to be watchful and sober-minded. The mind can be quite a battle ground. My mind reflects my heart. The best way to protect the mind and the heart is through the Word of God, guided by the Holy Spirit.

Let me say again, with joy, I love what I do! That’s what makes these kinds of questions so difficult to answer.

What struggles have you had with questions like that? What conclusions have you come to?

Through great thing through all of this is that God remains faithful. Will you?