Helping Your Group Experience Worship

We’ve asked YLO’s editor Ken McCoy and his wife Jeannie (who’s the Modern Worship Director at their home church) to answer a group of questions about youth ministry and worship – questions that are fairly representative of the ones we get often here at interlínc.

“What’s happening around here?”

If you went to one of the many Christian Music Festivals around the country this summer, then you probably have experienced it. If you attended a Christian concert recently, you’ve likely been involved with it. Youth Rallies. “See You At The Pole” events. Camps. It’s a big part of all those events, and the momentum for it continues to grow.

It’s “worship” — which in the context of those events usually means “singing praise songs” — and it’s a movement that has been gaining momentum in youth ministry for several years. Kids all over the place are discovering the experience of praising God through music.

“Worship” is hot in today’s Christian culture. People don’t ask me, “Where do you go to church?” — they ask, “Where do you worship?” Everywhere I turn, I’m confronted with more and more “worship” opportunities, resources, albums, seminars, and gatherings.

However, there are many misunderstandings circulating in our Christian family concerning worship. In our zeal to connect with God we sometimes cross a line and give worship a place and power that God’s Word never intends it to occupy. Worship is not some magical experience that calls God out of Heaven and into our midst. “Worship” and “music” or “singing” are not synonyms. Worship is fulfilling the “first commandment” — to love God with all our heart, (contrary to popular belief, “heart” isn’t emotions, but our entire being or character), mind, soul, and strength. Worship is a thoughtful and emotional response to God.

Let us equip you all year long with “Equip Your Worship Band” articles like this one.

Worship is all about communicating. In a worship service we communicate with God, we communicate truth to others and to ourselves about God, and God communicates back to us. I have come to believe that the reason people are drawn to a church worship experience is that they are longing to connect with God. If they have tasted this connection just once in a worship service, they come back looking for it.

Music has a unique ability to go past the head straight into the heart. God uses this special communication tool to get personal with people at the heart level in a way that almost nothing else does.

Although you can, and should, learn some “techniques” for putting a worship time together, there will always be a definite spiritual aspect to how it comes together – an feature of the planning that is almost impossible to define until you experience it. I have narrowed down what I want to accomplish in any worship service to this: My goal is for participants to feel at some point in the service as though they heard personally from God and felt connected to Him. This is done most effectively when the entire service — music, activities, and message — is communicating the same topic or focus.

“My kids sing GREAT at camp, but not at home. What can I do?”

A rub comes when you try to implement the “worship” experience (we use quote marks because we all realize that worship of God involves far more than merely singing) of a large event into your weekly youth ministry meetings. You might be able to gather a couple of guitar instrumentalists and put together a “worship team” — but you wonder why the singing doesn’t feel the same as it did at the big event. Here are a few ideas to get your group singing like they did at camp:

Work Into It— Many youth groups don’t plan for when the singing happens; they just put it at the front of the meeting and go from there. One reason that worship singing during a major concert is so powerful is that it’s such a change from the loud and rowdy show that precedes it. As with anything, you will want to plan what happens before you start singing, so that the group will be of a mind to get involved. Use games, skits, video clips and student testimonies to get your group thinking vertically if you’re making a point that emphasizes God’s character. Then sing songs about God’s character.

Emphasize Familiar Songs— There are so many great songs, with new ones coming along every day, that trying to learn too many too fast is an easy trap to fall into. Teach the group only one or two new songs a month, especially if the songs are used at a camp or concert so that the group has an experience they can tie to the song. Use available resources to familiarize your group with a song before you ever ask them to sing it.

Use Easy-To-Do Songs— Use songs that don’t need a professional band to be able to play them. The way to choose a song is to listen to a worship album and then see which song you end up humming to yourself during the day.

Take Advantage of Available Resources— The Chord Charts that are included in every issue of YLOare invaluable resources for your young musicians. Use the resources to encourage quality music leading from your kids.

What if you could give articles like this to your worship band each week? You can!

“What a great song! I want to use it in my group! How?”

All kinds of other songs can be used in youth ministry worship experiences, if…

…you realize that a recording isn’t like a youth meeting. Albums are well-produced efforts by extremely talented musicians. You can’t hope to reproduce the sound of an album with any worship band you might have. A lot of what we respond to when listening to an album is the excellent production of the music. The guitar tones, the equalization, the mix, the drum mic’ing, the effects, and much more are the result of hours and hours of work — and tons of expensive equipment. So, set your expectations according to the talent and resources you have available to you.

…you rework the arrangement for group use. With most worship-music albums, you need to chart the songs into their basic components: verse/chorus/verse/chorus, etc. Several recordings have a vocal and/or an instrumental solo in them – sections that make for awkward worship leading. Those solos need to be “removed” from the song to make the song work as a worship singalong. Many songs have verses that are designed for a lead vocal, verses that would be tough to pull off with a group singing them. In those cases, just sing the chorus. The key is to simplify what an album presents rather than try to recreate it.

…you can figure out the chords, or use the lead sheetsin YLO. You may not have the blessing we do — Jeannie has “Perfect Pitch” and can tell what the musical chords are just by listening to the song. Most of us have to work laboriously to figure out what the chords are before we can use the song with our groups. Another excellent resource is the Internet. Make sure you are within the copyright laws for anything you reproduce or download.

“My Group doesn’t like to sing. What should I do?”

Like any good answer, this one begins with, “Well, that depends.” What is causing the lack of enthusiasm for singing among your young friends? Here are a few causes that we have seen and some thoughts on what to do about them.

We four and no more. Singing as a group pretty much means you need a “group” to do it well. There’s a world of difference between four or five people singing together while sitting in a circle around a fire at the beach and four or five kids at church trying to sing together. The dynamics of group singing require that there be enough people so that no single voice is dominant. If your group is too small to have high-energy singing, you should consider cooperative worship experiences with other youth ministries in your area. Some cities are reviving the old “singspiration” monthly youth gatherings – maybe you can spearhead one where you are.

Didn’t we just do this last week?Falling into a predictable pattern in our singing times is way too easy to do. In many instances, the group has become so accustomed to the routine that all the life has gone out of the singing. Read the “What makes a worship experience work?” section for concepts that will help you breathe fresh energy into your singing.

I me mine.Because of the me-centered society we live in, worship singing can easily become self-focused rather than God-centered. Even a lot of “worship” songs are thinly disguised songs about how great we feel, how blessed we are, or how cool it is to be us. Be careful of songs that have a lot of “I me mine” words. At the end of your singing session you want your young friends to be excited about God, not simply pleased about how they feel.

Yeah yeah yeah. Yadda yadda yadda.Many times a lukewarm opinion of singing God’s praises is an indication of a lukewarm spiritual condition. Psalm 63says clearly that our natural response to seeing God for who He is will be “with singing lips my mouth will praise You.”The cure for this condition is to build the spiritual strength of your group. You don’t do that through singing; you do it through teaching God’s Word and praying for His Spirit to work.

You can be a hero to your worship band with articles like this one!  Let us help you!

“What makes a worship experience work? Ours seem to be ‘average’.”

Here’s how I (Jeannie) plan a corporate worship experience. Although this is not the definitive way of going about this, I’ve learned that these are the basic issues to cover.

Sing two or three up-tempo and well-known songs.I have noticed that more often than not, people are not ready to sing from their heart when they first arrive — they are still reacting to their day and adjusting to this new situation. They need time to really “be” there.

Go smoothly and quickly from one song to another.Be prepared musically to keep things going; keep between-song talking and pauses minimal; the songs should speak for themselves. Have the group standing and clapping, like the worship leaders on stage. Bring some high-energy kids up front to help make this happen – they don’t have to be singers on mics, they just need to be enthusiastic and naturally energetic.

Introduce a new up-tempo song.By now the group is settling in and will be tracking with you. Teach them a new, fast song. The songleader should sing the verses alone, and then bring in the group on the easy-to-catch choruses. Read the “bridge” section* of the song after singing the first two verses and choruses. The band can continue to play softly while the leader reads. Then, sing the chorus again

*The “bridge” is usually a short “summary” section in a song, different sounding from the verses and choruses. It’s the “heart” of the song.

Transition the group to more thoughtful songs.Have the group sit down. Read some Scriptures that reinforce the topic of the meeting. A short personal example or word picture is a great way to get them to think about the songs that they are about to sing. This transition section should not last more than two or three minutes.

Sing two mellow songs. Choose a couple of songs that are familiar and fit with your topic. You need to use easy songs with few words at this point so that the group can focus on what is happening between them and God, rather than struggling with singing the song.

Finish the singing.Conclude this section with a song they know well rather than a new one. Rather than just going straight into the next item on your program’s schedule, end the worship singing with a heartfelt personal prayer that speaks for the entire group. 

Some Final Thoughts

An important point to remember is this: your youth worship service should not replace the “church” in the lives of your young people. Yes, you can do things in a worship service with kids that would never fly in “big church.” In many ways teenagers can enter into worship more fully when they’re with other young people. However, you don’t want your students to graduate right out of their faith when they graduate from high school. You want to build into their experience and expectation a love and desire for multi-generational worship too. So, you may need to throttle back on some of your worship efforts in order to encourage your kids to experience worship with the rest of the church.

Take time to go through what you have planned ahead of time and “feel” your way through the worship service. You may find that you will make changes to your plans according to how the songs will flow together. Be aware of where you are leading your group spiritually and through the emotional impact of the music/songs.

Transitions between songs are very important — practice your transitions.

Use Scripture to introduce a song. Many songs come from the Bible, and showing the group that the song is from God’s Word will have an impact. After all, God speaks to us through the Bible. Either read the verses aloud, or have several kids read them out loud, or have the words on a projector for all to read together.

Choose songs that are easy to sing. Too much syncopation and too many words combined with a tricky melody will hamper the success of any song.

Avoid songs that are too high or too low for the average person to sing comfortably.

Introduce a maximum of two new songs at a session. Any more will be frustrating to the group at large and hamper any chance of worship.

At the same time, don’t overuse songs. They will become redundant and meaningless.

Although not absolutely necessary, tying in the singing with the topic of the speaker is most effective. A song performed by your musicians or by watching a video can also accomplish such a tie-in.

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Tips For Forming A Youth Worship Band

By Jim Murphy | Forest Lake, Minnesota

There’s nothing that’s quite as exciting for kids as the idea of being in a band. To strap on that sweet cherry-red Strat and make it wail, drive out a slick new beat on the drums, slap the bass to a funky new groove and everyone making a loud noise of some sort – maybe it’s music, maybe not – but to them it’s great.

The thought of beltin’ out a joyful song of praise, leading a throng of other kids in the jump-head nod-hand wave, or whatever other crazy actions you can come up with is deeply inspiring and giddy. For youth pastors – wow! To have a youth worship band – how cool is that? The kids in the band love playing! The kids in the youth group love singing! The youth pastor loves to see it all happening for God’s glory!

On the other hand, forming a youth worship band and creating a musically worshipful experience is not as easy as strapping on a guitar, hittin’ the drums, or throwing a couple of singers on stage. It’s a long, intentional, and Spirit-led process that requires prayer, leadership that combines great humility with certain confidence, and a ton of mercy and perseverance.

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I’ve been leading worship music with students for a while now and I’m only just beginning to really catch a glimpse of what forming a good worship band requires. I’ve also learned a few things along the way and would like to share some of them with you. These thoughts are in no particular order of importance.

There are a lot of musically talented kids out there. Don’t underestimate their abilities because of their age. Furthermore, don’t underestimate God’s plans for your group.

Kids are very passionate about their music. Though they may not be as refined in their presentation as mature adults might be, it all comes from the heart – and you know what God thinks of that! Some kids take the responsibility of being on a team well; others don’t. Be prepared for both.  

The band needs a mature, experienced leader to guide them both spiritually and musically. Letting the kids just form their own band and take over at youth group meetings is tempting, especially for the non-musical youth leader. But having an adult be the leader is important.

The drummer has to be really good! Timing, tempo, volume, and rhythm are all dependent on the drummer. If he/she can’t do well with them, then it’s better not to have a drummer at all.

Be a hero to your worship band with training resources, chord charts, and Bible studies!

Vocals always have to be heard above the instruments; even kids who like to have their music really loud want to hear the singer(s). People want to hear what’s being sung, how it’s being sung, the rhythm of the words, the timing, etc. Vocals are one part of the music that everyone can be a part of. If people can’t hear the vocals enough to know what to do, they’ll be lost!  

Moral and spiritual character really does matter. We all make the automatic connection that if someone is up in front on the stage, they must be a leader. But if we see them being morally questionable outside that setting, we see hypocrisy. Never mind consideration of how new a Christian that kid is, or that he’s growing and requires great mercy on our part. The simple fact is that moral character matters for anyone who is in an up-front position.

Practice, practice, practice! Youcan never practice too much! Meet together as often as schedules permit. If schedules do not allow practice, then perhaps participation needs to be reconsidered. Make rehearsal tapes and CD’s far in advance (if you have a CCLI license) – be sure to collect the tapes/CD’s once they’re learned.

Be prepared. If you use presentation software to project the words of the songs, take care to have the order of the slides prepared in advance. There’s nothing more annoying than trying to sing a great song of praise to God but the slides keep jumping around to the wrong part of the song. What about being Spirit-led? Well, first priority is being prepared (which should be Spirit-led anyway). Set up the slides in the exact order you’ll be singing them, complete with the repeats, multiple versesand tags. The slide operator should be able to use one button forthe entire presentation: forward. Then,if you feel Spirit-led to go in a different direction, give gentle instructions from the mic letting everyone, even the kids or the congregation, know what’s happening and give them time to follow you. 

Tardiness is of the devil! There are few issues more detrimental to a band or a team’s cohesion than tardiness. Being late causes stress, deprives your band of much-needed rehearsal, and in the end makes for a lesser worship experience. I say it’s of the devil somewhat facetiously but with a hint of seriousness. Tardiness is most often caused by laziness or lack of concern to be responsible. The Bible speaks often against this situation, and we should be ready to address it and not to tolerate it.

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Why Movies Matter (in Youth Ministry)

by Mark Pittman

Transported to another place, moved to tears, scared out of our seats, or actually clapping in excitement, there’s no doubt that movies can have a serious impact. As a youth pastor, there were usually two ways I would use movies in my ministry. First, during a talk, I would play a movie clip that I knew would help drive home a point. This can be a little tricky, but most of the time the clip did exactly what I needed it to do. The second way I would use a movie is just as a fun event for a big group of students – this usually was few and far between, because it’s hard to find a clean/fun movie that you can take everyone to.

Then The Passion of the Christ came along, and suddenly we had a whole new animal on our hands. Here was a movie that could be a ministry event. Since then, we’ve had a number of movies that have been more than just clips or fun. (The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Amazing Grace, Prince Caspian, Soul Surfer, etc.) There are a couple great things that happen when you use a movie as a ministry event.

Movies “Stick”
All it takes is a hand reaching for a hat under a closing garage door to make us all flash to Harrison Ford running with a whip in his hand. And let’s face it, Hollywood does a great job of melding story, character, image, and even music to fuse a clear image in our brains. So when I talk about being a “slave to sin” (Romans 6:18) I can put on my best Morpheous voice and ask, “What if you were born a slave and you didn’t even know it?” – and transport students right to that scene—and even better, take that scene and attach a Biblical thought to it.

The bottom line is that your students are going to go see movies. If we can use things that they are already putting into their lives to help communicate truth, then we can be a part of Ephesians 5:16 and be “… making the most of every opportunity”. Of course you have to exercise wisdom (there are going to be movies you say “no” to even if they have a good clip because you don’t want to endorse the whole movie) and there will be even fewer movies that get the “ministry event” title. But when they come along, let’s use them to the max!

You get to “Post Game”
Most of the time the post-movie conversation goes something like, “That was so funny when…” and everyone gets a recycled laugh. But if we have our ministry eye/ears on during a movie, we can eventually get to “What did you think about…” at the post-movie fast food joint.

Another great thing about movies is that they are usually embedded so well in our brains that we can have discussions about them well after we’ve seen them. Make sure you’re ready to do way more than just watch a movie. A few great questions can lead to some life-changing discussions (and back to God’s Word).

“Total Recall”
For some reason, movie quotes seem to stick in our heads. (I’m pretty sure that most junior high guy humor is just a series of recycled movie lines!) But, when we take movies or scenes and tie spiritual lessons to them or even just have good discussions around them, what you do with the movie becomes tied to the memory of it. It’s almost like you’ve taken what Hollywood wanted to say and turned it for the kingdom. Then you get the spiritual recall whenever they see, hear or even think about that movie.

Movies do matter – and wise youth leaders know how to make the most of them!

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History Of Thanksgiving – The Secular And The Sacred

By Bill Petro (a long time friend from Cal Berkeley days) billpetro.com

The origin of Thanksgiving Day has been attributed to a harvest feast held by the Plymouth Colony. In 1621, Governor William Bradford of the Plymouth Colony proclaimed a day of “thanksgiving” and prayer to celebrate the Pilgrims’ first harvest in America the year after their arrival on the merchant ship Mayflower.

The picture you usually see of a few Native American men joining the Pilgrims at the feast is a bit inaccurate, however. From original settler Edward Winslow in a letter to a friend in 1621, we know that some 90 men accompanied the Wampanoag Chief, Massasoit, to visit at Plymouth for three days of fish, fowl, and venison. But of the roughly 100 English settlers who had spent their first year on the Massachusetts coast, about half had died by this time. This would have left about half the 52 survivors as English men. So the Native men outnumbered the Pilgrim men by over three to one!

Motivation
The idea of the Pilgrims fleeing England due to persecution to come to America is not quite historically accurate, at least as the starting point. Rather, over a decade earlier they had already left England for Holland as Dissenters of the Church of England. They were not willing to comply with obligatory Church of England worship practices and were therefore subject to fines if they stayed in England. These Pilgrims were Puritan Calvinists in their theology and found the Dutch Calvinism more tolerant of their religious practice. However, they found that in Holland their children were forgetting how to speak English and were adopting Dutch customs too liberal for their sensibilities.

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Destination
Therefore, they intended to remove to America, having heard of successful settlement in Virginia, and hoped to arrive north of Virginia at the mouth of the Hudson River, in an area chartered to be called “New England.” The Mayflower was not a passenger vessel, but a merchant ship. The Atlantic passage was difficult, one passenger and one crewman died, and one baby was born.

Voyage
The Pilgrims disembarked Holland by way of England departing from Dartmouth, Devon and spent about two months crossing the Atlantic for the American coast. Weather was not their friend.

Plymouth Rock
They landed at Cape Cod. They tried to sail to the Hudson River but were prevented by currents and shoals, landing at Provincetown Harbor. Ultimately the ship’s complement disembarked at New Plymouth, at “Plymouth Rock.”

Controversy
There are several other accounts that compete for “First Thanksgiving” in America both in terms of date and location.

  • Puritans: this group arrived in America from England 9 or 10 years after the Pilgrims and claim a thanksgiving holiday in Boston in 1631. Despite the two groups’ similarities, there are several notable differences and motivations for why they came, as I describe here.
  • Irish: on February 21, 1621, a ship arrived from Dublin with food stocks at Plymouth Rock for the starving Pilgrims. The date differs from the aforementioned Autumn thanksgiving feast date.
  • Spanish: more a religious service than a holiday, explorers in San Elizario, Texas held a thanksgiving feast in 1592. Other claims point to a Spanish celebration on September 8, 1565, in St Augustine, Florida.
  • Virginia: the founding charter in Charles City County, Virginia by the Berkeley Hundred — the early Virginia Colony’s Berkeley Plantation land grant — pins a thanksgiving service to 1619.

Presidential Proclamations
One of the first general proclamations was made in Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1676. President George Washington in 1789 issued the first presidential Thanksgiving proclamation in honor of the new constitution. During the 19th century, an increasing number of states observed the day annually, each appointing its own day. President Abraham Lincoln, on October 3, 1863, by presidential proclamation appointed the last Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day, due to the unremitting efforts of Sarah J. Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book.

Recent
Each succeeding president made similar proclamations until Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1939 appointed the third Thursday of November, primarily to allow a special holiday weekend for the national public holiday. This was changed two years later by both Congress and the President to the fourth Thursday of November. Now you understand that scene in the movie Holiday Inn where the confused turkey jumps between alternative Thursdays in the calendar in November.

Gratitude
The idea of a day set apart to celebrate the completion of the harvest, and to render homage to the Spirit who caused the fruits and crops to grow, is both ancient and universal. The practice of designating a day of thanksgiving for specific spiritual or secular benefits has been followed in many countries.

Thanksgiving Day remains a day when many express gratitude to God for blessings and celebrate material bounty.

P.S. I’ve often been asked if the British also celebrate a day of Thanksgiving. They do, but they mark it on July 4th.

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Everything is OK, or Not.

October 28, 2018. Sunday afternoon in the ‘Burgh. Gray skies with the occasional peak of blue. 48 degrees and a bit of wind. Battling my usual fall change of season sinus infection. “Stillers” are up at the half against the Browns 14-6.

Just a normal fall day in our corner of the country in Southwestern Pennsylvania? It is NOT a normal fall day. It is a horrific day. The gray skies above seem like a pall that has been draped over our city symbolizing our sobriety and our wound because our city, the city of neighborhoods, experienced a mass shooting yesterday inside a synagogue. As worshippers were gathering to celebrate the Shabbat 11 precious souls were taken from their families, taken from their community, taken from our city. A man spewing anti-Semitic vitriol and armed with 4 weapons entered this holy place and began shooting, killing these 11 and injuring 6 others including 3 law enforcement officials.

Mayor Peduto called this “the darkest day in Pittsburgh’s history.” He is right. Tree of Life synagogue, located in Squirrel Hill, is in the heart of the tightly-knit Jewish community here in our city. A community that cares for its own and serves others freely. Generations have lived here and are pillars of good for our region. Today they are shattered and grieving. And we are too, with them.

We can ask why this kind of gratuitous violence happens. We can ask what brings a man to such a state of mind, that his only solution is to take the lives of others in such a vicious manner. But I am not sure we will ever get good answers, other than to know that it is overwhelming fear and enormous pain—physical, emotional, mental, spiritual—that brings out the very worst evil in a human being.

There will be much speculation and politicization of how this happened. In this polarized and hostile election cycle, there will be blame and shame cast widely from all sides, and this will be used for political expediency. This is not at all helpful, but it will happen just the same. I wish it wouldn’t but I know it will.

So, what are we to do? We grieve, we lament, we mourn and we come together. Even as the community reeled, young people organized a vigil. Held outside the Jewish Community center at the intersection of Forbes and Murray Avenue hundreds, maybe thousands, gathered last evening, Saturday. And tonight another, larger interfaith vigil is planned at Soldiers and Sailors in Oakland.

In the shadows behind the interfaith vigil, loomed Sixth Presbyterian Church, where Fred Rogers worshipped for many years. He gave us some of the best words to remember in times like this,

“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

At the essence of this message is love. The apostle John taught us that “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18) Perfect here does not mean faultless, for we are all with fault. It means wholeness. To love whole heartedly, without fear. We saw evidence of that love yesterday, and more love will come. To the families of the slain, to the mourning community.

As we enter our week, let us show up with love. Love for the loveable, but also for those with whom we differ, those who view the world from another perspective or those who stand on the opposite side of something for which we feel strongly. In doing so, we will drive out fear.

And, as we drive out fear with acts love, let us join with our Jewish brothers and sisters, in their mourning custom of “sitting Shiva”, the week-long mourning for the dead. Let us lament this horrific event. Let us respect this age-old tradition that allows the grieving to adjust to the loss, however devastating. Let us respect the customs and observations that help to make meaning out of death.

Though we have hope that the world will be made right one day when Jesus brings his kingdom into its fulness, Every thing is NOT OK in Pittsburgh today. Today, let’s choose to be with one another, bear one another’s burdens, grieve with one another, care for one another.

Pittsburgh will never be known for God until we are first known for our love for Him and for our neighbors.

 

Grieving and praying,
Lisa, Jim, Rick, Herb, Katie, Erin and Jay

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Full-Size Candy Bars

By Rick Bundschuh, Kauai Christian Fellowship, Poipu, Hawaii
from his book Don’t Rock the Boat, Capsize It

I think it is the solemn duty of all pastors to pass out full-size candy bars on Halloween.

Yes, I know that for many Christian folk this holiday is one born out of the depths of hell, and we must protect our children from it by wearing our costumes and passing out our candy in the safe confines of the church building. But in spite of the best efforts of our alarmists, it seems nobody has gotten the message about the evils of Halloween to the droves of grade school vampires, Spider-men, fairies, and witches who, with bulging pillowcase in hand, tromp up our porch steps on the thirty-first of October.

I live in an actual neighborhood. Unlike some anonymous and sterile suburbs, ours is an old-fashioned kind of place where people actually are acquainted with each other and give a wave when they drive by. Our children co-mingle for water balloon fights, birthday parties, and bicycle expeditions to the end of the block.

Most everyone around knows that I am a professional religious guy—a pastor, reverend, priest, voodoo cult leader, or something like that. Out here in the neighborhood I’m never asked to give a message—I am the message. My integrity and authenticity are judged in a different way here than church folks judge it.

So if I stop and jump out of my car to retrieve a neighbor’s empty errant trash can from the street where it’s been blown on trash day, I give a message. If my kids trudge off to the same public school as the rest of the lads, I give a message. If at school I volunteer to chaperone field trips or be one of the guest classroom speakers on “Career Day,” I give a message.

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We Christians give messages all the time. Sometimes they are not very good ones.
There was a family in the neighborhood who always made Halloween a goofy, fun, quasi-spooky time by turning their front yard into a maze of tombstones, spider webs, black lights, blazing jack-o’-lanterns complete with cheesy-creepy sound-effects CDs. Their efforts were guaranteed to terrify any kid under the age of three. For everyone else the haunted house decor just provided a bit of sea¬sonal excitement and joy.
Then the mom became a Christian, and all fun ceased.

Her kids, to their horror, were forbidden to decorate or go trick-or-treating. Instead, they were forced to suit up as Bible characters and be dragged off to a Harvest Party instead. The house that had once been festive and ablaze with creepy fun would remain dark and abandoned on Halloween. The rest of the neighborhood didn’t really know what had happened, only that the woman had “gotten religion.” And the results were no fun. Her family would no longer play the game everyone had so enjoyed.

The terrible thing about this turn of events was that we (my newly converted neighbor and I) were supposed to be on the same side of all the issues—and we were not. The alarm inside me was starting to go off. I recalled that when I was a kid roaming the neighborhood on Halloween, there was a sense of judging the heart of the occupants by their willingness to play the game well. If the wife answered the door she would coo about the cute pirates (Cute pirates? Who ever heard of a cute pirate?). If the man answered the door he would mumble something, dole out the demanded bribe, and get back to his sports program.

This was the norm. But among those playing the game there was always someone in the territory (all kids have a territory; it enlarges a bit as they get older but it still remains their domain) who really loved kids. Someone who understood and gave out the currency of a kid’s Halloween kingdom: fun and loot. These were the folks who did one of two things: decorated their homes in a cool, creepy way, or gave out full-size candy bars rather than the little cheapies most people gave. Sometimes, on a rare occasion, they did both things.

Now I’ve got to tell you: kids remember. They remember things for a long time. They spread the word about those who are benevolent to the values of kid-dom. They hold those households in honor. Months after Halloween my childhood gang would bike past a home where full-size Snickers bars had been handed out and someone would say in hushed reverence, “That’s the house where they gave out big candy bars.” And everyone would smile and nod with greedy approval.

So I decided that our family would be that house now that the new Christian lady on the block had put the kabash on Halloween. I wanted kids passing by in the school bus weeks after Halloween to point to our home and say, “Those guys gave out full-size candy bars.” I want the goodwill and praise of children—and their pagan parents. I want them to think of us as fun. (We are.) I want, if even in a backhanded way, to give them the message that God is generous and fun as well.

To give our Halloween presentation a little more finesse, I replaced the outdoor lights with black lights and hid a fog machine under the stair landing with the controls running clandestine into the house. The squeal of delight that came from kids traversing the driveway was part of the payoff. The widened eyes as I held out a cauldron of full-size candy bars was another return on my investment.

But it is knowing that with mere candy bars I may be paving the road for future willingness on the part of these kids and their families to listen to and
experience the reality of Jesus that really gets me excited.

Because kids do remember.

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The Great Pumpkin Talk

Yep – Halloween is just around the corner. Longtime Team interlínc dude Mark Pittman created this talk when he was a youth pastor in San Diego. We’ve posted it before, and thought that now’s the perfect time to get it back in circulation. You’re welcome!

Theme:

What do I want them to do? To keep on seeking meaning in our lives or find meaning in a relationship with Christ.

Intro:

(Or your story own involving someone stuggling with not getting what they want, when they want it.)

Connor loves to play & watch movies. Simpsons and Legos are big in our house! His life pretty much revolves around half/hour spans. ‘Daddy, I want to ____.’ Whatever he wants to do right now is the most important thing to him, most of the time its okay and we do what he wants to do or watch. Sometimes, like right before bed, he’ll ask to do something and we’ll have to say no, “it’s time to get ready for bed”. Then come the tears, he’s sad and disappointed because he didn’t get what he wanted. It’s tough to get him to see through that disappointment and into the fact that he needs rest. It’s tough to get him to think that we will allow him to do this thing tomorrow, but for now, he needs to sleep.

Transition:

We all lived like that when we were two, but then we started to see past the disappointment of the immediate.

Some times we got what we wanted – only it took a little longer and learning we could work toward the things we wanted. We could do chores for our parents and earn an allowance; we could save that up and buy the things we wanted. Life then became more than just stuff.

We learned how to do and say things to get friends. We learned how to interact and decide we needed to be liked. We started working on the need to be liked – The right conversations, humor, etc.

Meaning:

The bottom line is MEANING… How do you give your life meaning?

We all look for things to place into our lives to make our life meaningful and worth living. We have no choice than to deal with the issue of meaning:

  • To search for it
  • To fight for it
  • To envy it in others
  • To react against those who might take it from us
  • To grieve when it has been lost

Let me read to you about a guy who dedicated his life to look for meaning in things.

Ecclesiastes 2:17-23
So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless.

There are some pretty strong words from this Scripture: Life is meaningless.

People work their whole lives thinking if they get to the next rung, then they will be happy and their lives will have meaning – yet when they get there they find they are still empty inside or there’s another rung to climb.

We can end up just like Private Ryan. Not sure if he’s lived a life of meaning or not – “Tell me I’ve lived a good life, tell me I’m a good man.”

The Pumpkin:

So what makes life worth living… a relationship with God?

God created us to have a relationship with Him! That’s what we’re here for – Audio Adrenaline has a really cool old song I love. The premise of the song is simple – there’s a God-shaped hole inside of each of us – we can try to fill it with all sorts of stuff, but there’s only one thing that fits!

Same principle as a jack-o-lantern, other than pumpkin pie, the purpose of a pumpkin is to be a jack-o-lantern after you scoop the junk out.

Listen to what your life is like with a relationship with God

1 John 3:1
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him

Ephesians 2:4-10
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

We can choose to live life with the meaning of having a relationship with him – our meaning is being a child of God… we are his work!

Just like the pumpkin that sits, waiting to fulfill it’s purpose, someone change us…

Cut into it, remove the smelly junk from inside

A light is placed inside of us…

God does that in our lives: First

God cut & sacrifice was made by his son, death on a cross to remove the sin (smelly stuff) inside us,

God gave us his spirit inside us & we become a new creation… God’s hand made work.

Ending:

Tonight, choose to live… find meaning on your own and that life is meaningless. Find the perfect meaning by having a relationship with God. Maybe you have it and you have just covered up the light… remember what you were created for – Remember, your meaning is found in and through God.

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Balancing Act

By Rick Bundschuh • Kauai Christian Fellowship • Poipu, Hawaii

Early in my youth ministry career, I used to get a little guilty as I drove off for a couple hours of surfing in the morning. On the way to the beach I would pass all the suited up businessmen, harried moms with school kids in the van, and everybody else who lived a “normal” life. I’d paddled out to sit in the line up with waiters, beach bums, retired old guys and a few guys supposedly on disability leave.

You see, my day started much later than most people’s and came to a fever pitch once the end-of-school bell rang. Dragging into the house at 10pm or later was common many days of the week. Most of the other guys on the church staff showed up to their desk around 8:30 in the morning. I stumbled in after lunch, maybe — unless I was running around with a pack of kids.

Going surfing in the morning was — and still is — a way that I balance my life. So, I don’t feel guilty anymore. The idea of sitting down to a nice relaxing family meal five or six nights a week was foreign to me. The more common scenario was to horse down something quick, kiss the kids goodnight (’cause I wasn’t going to tuck them into bed) and bolting for the door. And this was on the lucky nights when I wasn’t out on the road picking up kids.

But, I was there at lunch. Even when they went to school, I could show up and have lunch with my kids. Not too many other dads could pull that one off.

I worked hard and put in lots of hours when students were available; I made up for all those hours when students were in seasons where they were busy. Even to this day, I barely work almost the whole month of December. My kids think this is normal. This is just the balance of family and ministry.

Doing youth work well is all about balancing the various things in life and ministry. In fact, I’ve found that, because of all the various elements that most youth workers must deal with, the ability to handle the spinning plate balancing act without losing any of the fine china is often the difference between burning out of youth ministry and having a nice long run.

  • It is about balancing wife, kids, and ministry.
  • It is about balancing the need to have a private adult life with the public mania that comes with knowing every kid in the mall.
  • It is about going after the unwashed kids in the neighborhood without losing the church kids.
  • It is about loving and serving the geeks as well as the jocks.
  • It is about having the cutting edge renegade sassiness that brings fun to the church community and at the same time being able to carry on a meaningful conversation with Mrs. Methuselah.
  • It is about knowing when to control the kids and when to let them go nuts.
  • It is about figuring out how much abuse one should expect the church van to suffer, and when to strap all the kids onto the roof rack.
  • It is about being able to have fun, and to have impact.
  • It is about knowing what about your ministry to tell the congregation and what to keep quiet about. (Wiping the four letter words written in shaving cream off the bathroom mirror would be one of those adventures not worth mentioning.)
  • It is about having to be tough and loving at the same time.
  • It is about having the trust of the kids, but being an advocate of the parents as well.

Balance is not always easy. We often let the demands of the squeaky wheel, the whims of our emotions, or unrealistic expectations tilt us. Balance means learning to say “No.” “No, I won’t take on the college-age class as well as the youth ministry.” “No, we won’t be coming to Saturday morning mens prayer breakfast because we will be playing paintball with a bunch of ruffians.”

Balance also means learning to say “Yes!” “Yes, I think we can find a night to be part of a small group even if it means I will be out five of seven nights most weeks.” “Yes, I will try to find some high school girls to babysit for the women’s ministry — and yes, I will ask them to ‘do it as unto the Lord’.” (But I hope the Lord is planning on at least tipping them.)

Dig in your heels and refuse to meet in the middle. Go overboard on one thing or another while neglecting other vital areas of youth ministry and you won’t last long. But learn balance, negotiation, the art of win/win, and the skill of an ecclesiastical shortstop — and my guess is that your career in youth ministry will not only be long and fruitful, you will enjoy the heck out of it.

Photo credit: © Dwphotos | Dreamstime.com

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Wisecracking Wiseguys

Through the wonder of technology, we were able to assemble this star-studded cast of Christian funny people – err, funny people who are Christians… umm, Christians who make people laugh. But they weren’t in the same room at the same time. Amazing! So listen in as we try to stump them with thought-provoking questions that are sure to generate some awesome conversation.

TH = Tim Hawkins
MJ = Michael Jr.
T = Tommy and E = Eddie (The Skit Guys)
TWP = Team WordPlay (Chris and Ryan)

What lets you know that a particular “concert” is gonna be a good one?

TH      When people know who I am. That’s always a plus. It beats all those banquets I’ve performed at where I’ve had to prove I’m more interesting than lasagna and cheesecake.

T         I guess it would depend on what kinda music you like. I’m fond of mostly 80’s music so I know it’s gonna be good if it’s REO Speed Wagon or Journey. Oh, and TobyMac – ’cause I’m a Christian.

E         When the seats are all filled up, there’s been somewhat of a line that has been waiting, and then the anticipation is at fever pitch. You step onstage and you can do no wrong. That’s a good one. Our videos have really helped propel our “live” shows. People watch these videos and they want to see us live. It’s as if we’ve developed a relationship before we get to town.

T         Ed, I think you misunderstood the question.

TWP   There are so many factors that come into play. But it’s usually not about numbers of people, but how they are situated. Like cold sores, comedy is contagious, and the closer people are packed together, the more the laughs seem to come. Also if, at the appropriate time, the host holds up the “LAUGH NOW!” signs we always ship ahead, that usually helps.

MJ      Most of the time if there is praise and worship beforehand, it is always a good one. And if people are laughing before I hit the stage. And if people are laughing during the show. And if they are laughing after the show. And if I get my money. And if the check clears.

At the end of the evening, when you’re back in your room or in your car headed home, what makes you think, “Whoa! That was GREAT!”?

TH      I don’t need to think it. I’ve actually hired a guy who sits in the car and says, “Whoa! That was great!” It’s just how I like to do it.

T         When I’m standing in the mirror sporting my Styx concert shirt. I usually think, “Whoa!  That was great!”

E         After one of our shows, we almost always stay and sign stuff and take pictures with people. That’s when the audience shares their stories – stories of how a particular skit, a certain phrase or sentence touched them or helped them through a difficult time. Again, it’s the relationship we have with these wonderful folks from city to city that makes it great.

T         Seriously – who came up with these questions? They are confusing!

TWP   We love having time to interact with the audience, not only during the show, but especially afterwards. Nothing makes us happier than when students come up to us and say, “I never thought about my Christian life in that way, but your sketch really made me think.” Also when the youth pastors tell us that the kids stayed up all night talking about whatever we spoke on that session. We love torturing the youth pastors.

MJ      People’s stories about how they really needed laughter at that particular time really blesses me on the ride home, at my hotel room, and beyond.

“Christian Comedy” can be kind of like “Grape Nuts” – which is neither grapes nor nuts. What makes your comedy “Christian”?

MJ      I don’t know; you tell me.

TH      I kiss my finger and point to heaven after a joke goes well.

E         There’s a definite message. It’s normally a “Christian” message. Our goal is not to be cheesy. We make no apologies about being “Christian”– we want it to be some of the best “Christian” stuff they’ve seen.

T         Christian audiences don’t expect much. Sad to say, but it seems that the bar has been lowered when it comes to comedy and expectations in church.

E         For too long, Christians have played it safe way too much when it comes to comedy. We try to have someone sitting out in an audience or in front of their computer to go, “I wasn’t expecting that!” Sometimes that’s the best compliment.

T         We are Christians who do comedy. So that makes it Christian comedy by default. Much like jumbo shrimp is both large and small because it’s – never mind. That analogy didn’t work.

TWP   Our comedy is Christian because we really don’t do anything in our act that is not designed to bring students into a closer relationship with their Creator. Laughter for the sake of laughter is great and there’s a little of that if we do an improv comedy concert but if, at the end of the day, we just made kids laugh and didn’t encourage them to grow closer to Christ, I think we’ve done them (and our ministry) a disservice.

Read the complete Wise-Cracking Wiseguys interview and get all the other humor-themed resources (from Tim Hawkins, Michael Jr, Skit Guys) in the new Youth Leaders Only Digital Box!

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Mark Hall on why music matters


Casting Crowns has had an enormous impact on Christian music. We love their music, but what we love even more is their passion for students. Lead singer Mark Hall and other band members are actively involved in the student ministries in their local churches; they’ve made it a priority to invest in the lives of students.

Mark is a long time friend of interlinc, as well as a Youth Leaders Only member. Here’s what he said when we asked him why he uses YLO:

“We know how important music is in a teenager’s life. Their music’s either urging them toward the life they’re trying to live or it’s dragging them back toward the life they’re trying to leave. So my conviction is, if a youth leader can show students that Christian music has totally caught up culturally and encourage students to give their music to God and to let Christian music be what they go to for their entertainment as well as for their growth, it will change everything about them. It’s hard to do that if you don’t have all different styles of music available, which most of us don’t. To me, YLO has been a great resource to find out what Christian music is out there that I might not find on my own. And, with YLO, I get to hear the heart of the band and what they’re about. YLO has definitely been a great tool for us.”

Mark understands that the 9+ hours each day that students spend with music and media can be a positive thing … if they’ve been introduced to great Christian music and artists.

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