Books I’ve Read Recently

jesus-continued-cover-largeJesus Continued by J.D. Greear. I have read a lot of books recently and this one was by far one of may favorites. I’ve always enjoyed reading J.D.’s books and they have played a big part in shaping my faith and ministry. In this book J.D. deals with the topic of the Holy Spirit and how believers have the advantage of not having Jesus beside them (like the disciples in the Gospels) but instead, through the Spirit, they have Jesus presence inside them. Not only that, but J.D. helps believers understand how they can experience the Holy Spirit in their relationship with God. J.D. says, “The Holy Spirit tends to be the forgotten member of the Trinity. Most Christians know he’s there, but they are unclear about exactly what he does of how to interact with him-or if that’s even possible. Yet something was so important about the Holy Spirit that Jesus told his disciples it was to their advantage that he go away-if his departure meant the Spirit came. The Spirit’s presence inside them, he said, would be better than himself beside them” (page 13). This is one of the most insightful and practical books on the subject of the Holy Spirit that I have ever read. It has a great balance of theological content (which is very much needed in the discussion of the Holy Spirit) and practical application (which is just as much needed in this topic) in regards to the Holy Spirit and how Christians can experience the Spirit’s ministry in their life. J.D. does a great job in this book building a foundation of what the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit and explaining how believers can experience and seek the Holy Spirit. This is a great book I would recommend to anyone who wants to understand the Holy Spirit better and how they can experience him more in their relationship with God.

51VrdA14sfL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Prayer by Tim Keller. Prayer is an area of my Christian life where I struggle the most. I go through seasons where I feel like I’m a “strong prayer,” but many times I feel like I am coming up very short in this area. This is one of the reasons I wanted to read this book. Also, I haven’t read many books devoted entirely to prayer so when I heard about this book I knew I had to read it. Keller has managed to put together one of, if not the most, thorough books on the topic of prayer. This book really does serve as a modern day handbook for what prayer is and how does one go about practicing prayer. The first part of the book is very academic and philosophical. Keller does a great job as painting the landscape of how people and religious groups view prayer. But this isn’t where Keller spends most of his time in this book. Once Keller helps the reader establish a definition and view of what Biblical prayer is in the Christian life he quickly moves towards helping them see how Christians can practice prayer. The rest of the book, and majority of it then, is a practical guide on how to practice prayer. Keller explores the prayer habits of early church fathers as well as walking through many Scripture passages on prayer. He also offers many practical tips on how Christians can practice prayer in their daily lives. If you want to grow in your understanding of prayer and how to practice it, read this book.

6a00d83452063969e20162fef31dc1970dThe Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. I haven’t read many marriage books (even though there are many out there right now I want to read), but out of the ones I have read this was has been my favorite. I read this book along with a few other men in a men’s group I am a part of at my church. I really enjoyed this book because of Keller’s approach to the topic of marriage and how to do marriage well. He quickly admits and helps the reader see that marriage is impossible to do well apart from God. Throughout the book Keller keeps the Gospel at the center as he shares how marriage is only possible through having a personal relationship with God through the Gospel that helps you truly love and serve your spouse. Keller spends a great amount of time explaining and applying the main Scripture passages on marriage. I also enjoyed how his wife wrote parts of the book and brought another persecutive to this topic. I believe this is a book everyone who is married (or one day hopes to married) should read. It’s practical but always keeps God and the Gospel at the center, which is the only way to do marriage well.

I am currently reading What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung and 30 Events That Shaped the Church by Alton Gansky. I plan to review those when I am done reading them.

How To Pull Off An Amazing Student Mission Trip

11539570_790252937762379_9192139287700663945_nEvery summer we take our students on mission trips. For the past few summers we have been taking two trips. One trip is for middle school students and the other one if for high school students. These trips are always the highlight of my summer as I get to see God work in and through our students. I want to share a few tips on how to pull off an amazing mission trip with your students. I hope this will be a help to any student pastors or youth workers out there who may have the opportunity to take students on mission trips.

First, partner with a missions organization, ministry, or a missionary for your trip. Don’t try to pull off a mission trip on your own. It’s not worth it. You will just make it harder on yourself and will keep your students from experiencing the most out of the trip. Instead of going on your own partner with either a missions organization, ministry, or a missionary. For example, for the past few years we have been doing our student mission trips through LeaderTreks. LeaderTreks does a lot of different things but one of the things they do is short-term student mission trips. When you go through LeaderTreks you have the opportunity to partner with an organization that knows the area where you are going, has a few staff people there to help lead your trip, and are trained in the work projects you will do on the trip. By partnering with LeaderTreks we have been able to take our students on mission trips to Dayton, OH, Memphis, TN, Pawley’s Island, SC, Manchester, Kentucky, and Chicago, IL. I’d encourage you to check LeaderTreks out and think about using them for your next student ministry trip. Also, instead of partnering with an organization like LeaderTreks, you can partner with a local ministry or missionary in the area where you are going. Find a ministry or missionary your church supports and have the host and help lead your trip. Serve along side them for the trip and let them lead your group in serving Jesus in that area. They are already doing ministry there and know what is working and what isn’t working. Also, they will be there to continue doing ministry when your team leaves. Whatever you do, don’t do a mission trip on your own. That’s the first step in pulling off an amazing student mission trip.

Second, have pre-trip meetings with your team. Don’t have students sign up, pay, and then a few months later jump in a van or on a plane to head off for your mission trip. Spend time as a team months before the trip to get to know each other better, learn how to work together,  and plan for the trip. We always have four pre-trip meetings with our student teams where we do a Bible study, learn about the area where we will be serving, and planning ministry things we will be doing on the trip. These meetings are key to pulling off an amazing student mission trip.

Third, take enough leaders. Recruit a few good adult leaders to go on your mission trip. The number of students you have going will determine how many leaders you will need. However, don’t be afraid of taking too many leaders. More leaders will help with things like driving (if you are driving to your location), keeping students safe, building relationships with students, and allowing other leaders to take a few breaks from the craziness of leading teenagers on a mission trip. Make sure you include the trip leaders in your pre-trip meetings and things like that. They are not just chaperones they are a vital part of your team. Taking enough leaders is key to pulling off an amazing student mission trip.

11200803_1137477229599673_2704302959920021548_nFourth, do a variety of ministry. Plan to do a variety of different ministry things on your trip. You want to expose your students to as many types of ministry as you can. For an example, our Chicago mission trip this summer with our middle school students had a variety of ministry. For the first part of everyday we did construction. It was hard work and very physical. Then in the afternoon we would do different things each day. We did things like a prayer walk in the neighbor where we were staying, VBS in a local park, and a community outreach cookout. This is one of the benefits of going through an organization like LeaderTreks. They plan and allow your students to be a part of different types of ministry throughout the trip. Doing a variety of ministry is always key to pulling off an amazing student mission trip.

Fifth, have fun! Student mission trips should be fun. Don’t get so focused on “getting work done” that you forget you are leading a mission trip for teenagers. Have them work hard but also play hard. When there is free time let them be crazy! Take some time on the trip to explore the area you are staying and do some sightseeing if you are in a major city or out in the mountains. Spend some time on the beach if you are on the coast. Have some fun with your students. They will appreciate it. Having fun is key to pulling off an amazing student mission trip.

These are a few things I have seen work for us over the past few years as God has blessed us with some amazing mission trips. I hope they help you lead students on amazing mission trips in the future.

Book Review: Counter Culture by David Platt

41O76wsT0VL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Recently I finished reading David Platt’s new book Counter Culture. I’ve always enjoyed reading Platt’s books and found this one to be my personal favorite. It’s a timely book that speaks about major issues we are facing today as a church and as a culture.

In this book, Platt urges and shows how we as Christians must be counter cultural when it comes to the various issues that are in our world today. The issues Platt hits in this book are poverty, abortion, orphans and widows, sex slavery, marriage, sexual morality, ethnicity, and religious liberty. Platt dedicates a whole chapter to each one of these issues. Within these issues other topics that show up are same-sex marriage, immigration, persecution, and more. Platt bookends these issues with a chapter on how the Gospel is the great offense and calls us to be counter cultural. Then he ends the book with an urgent plea to not loose sight of the unreached world around us. Instead of going into detail about what Platt says about these issues (I’ll let you discover that on your own when you read the book) I want to share five things I really liked about this book. These are just a few of the many reasons I believe this is a “must read” for Christians today.

Boldness and humility. Throughout this book Platt balances boldness and humility well. There isn’t a page in this book that doesn’t have one or more bold statements that calls the reader out of complacency and indifference on these important issues. However, Platt’s boldness is balanced by a deep humility. Throughout the book Platt shares how he hasn’t always responded to these issues in the way God expects. He also shares how he doesn’t have all the answers and is seeking answers alongside the reader. Platt’s boldness for the Gospel and his deep humility is clearly seen throughout this book.

Gospel-Centered. If you have ever read anything about or by Platt you know he is a very Gospel-centered leader, writer, and person. It would be easy for anyone to write a book about social issues like these and do so in a way that isn’t Gospel-centered. However, Platt realizes and shares how the only real answer to these issues is the Gospel. That doesn’t mean he ignores the practical and gives us a pass to not take action, in fact, Platt shows us how the Gospel fuels action and demands we live counter culturally as well as doing something about these vital issues. Platt shows how the Gospel is the foundation and key to addressing and fixing these social issues. He also shows how the Gospel itself transforms Christians and how they see and act towards these issues.

Practical. Platt not only tackles these issues with a large dose of Bible and theology, but also shares a lot of practical things the reader can do in response to these issues. At the end of each chapter, Platt shares a list of things the reader can do in response to that particular issue. There is also a helpful website for this book that has more resources on each issue and more.

Focuses on the local church. The call to live counter culturally and respond to these issues is something that is not just given to the individual Christian, but to the church as a whole. The entire body of Christ has been called to counter culture and to respond in a way that God expects when it comes to these social issues. Platt keeps the local church at the center of how we should respond to these issues. He calls the Christian to partner with their local church in doing something about these issues. I believe that’s the way God wants it. God doesn’t want “lone ranger” Christians working their tails off alone against these issues. He wants Christians to work together as a church to counter culture and through the Gospel make a difference in the world around them.

Timely chapters for the American Christian on racism, homosexuality, and religious freedom. I’m not suggesting these issues don’t exists elsewhere in the world or that they are not timely for other countries, but I do believe these are very timely chapters for Christians in America. Our country is facing racial issues, a redefinition of marriage, and freedom of religion becoming less of a reality. Platt takes these issues head on and shows how the Gospel ascends race and breaks down the racial walls. He shows how homosexuality is wrong and against God’s design for marriage. He shows how religious freedom should be given but how we much approach such an issue. These chapters are needed for American Christians today.

As you can probably tell I really liked this book and would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand more about these issues as well as how to respond in a God-honoring way. It’s a powerful book that packs a much needed punch.

What Our Student Ministry Looks Like During The Summer

31When it comes to the summer our student ministry looks a little different than it does during the school year. We don’t have our weekly gatherings, we don’t have small groups, and we don’t rely on volunteer leaders too much. However, even though it looks different, we still do great ministry in the summer. So here is what our student ministry looks like in the summer.

Community building events. Each summer we plan a few events that could be called “social events” or better yet “community building events.” These are events where students and their friends are invited to come and just hangout. We do things like house parties, pool parties, giant slip n’ slides, cookouts, outdoor movies, and bonfires. These events are great because it allows us to just hangout with students and get to know them and their friends better. These are easy to pull off events that have great impact for our student ministry.

Mission trips. One thing we don’t do in the summer that many student ministries do is camp. We do two retreats (Fall and Spring) during the school year so our students get the “camp” experience during those weekends. When it comes to the summer then we like to focus on taking students on mission trips. Right now we do one trip for middle school and one trip for high school. We have been doing our mission trips through LeaderTreks and we love it! We love the way LeaderTreks combines serving, spiritual growth, and leadership development on their trips. Mission trips are always the highlight of our summer and our students love them!

Give leaders a break. As I mentioned earlier in this post, we do our best to give our volunteer leaders a break. They work hard during the school year and we want to give them a few months to refresh and hopefully gear up to join us again for the new school year. We do take a few leaders on our mission trips and have them help at our summer events but for the most part we try to give them all a break. I have been a part of student ministries that use leaders year around and I have seen how easy it is to burn them out. It’s been beneficial for our leaders to have a few months off for the summer.

Get ready for the new year. We use the summer months to do a few things to get everyone ready for the new school year. We have auditions for our high school worship band, we have a vision meeting for our student leadership team, and we have a training day for our adult volunteers. All these things, and more, help us get everyone from students to leaders on the same page and ready for a new school year of ministry.

That’s a little glimpse into what do during the summer in our student ministry. We are always open to changing things up but for now this has been working for us.

What We Did This Week

This week was our last mid-week gatherings for the school year. Over the summer we take a break from our weekly programs and do other various events throughout the summer months like pool parties, cookouts, and other stuff. We also do mission trips during the summer and this year will be taking our middle school students to Chicago and our high school students to Memphis. We are taking both trips with LeaderTreks. Both of our nights this week were extremely different than normal. You will see this in the details below of what we did this week.

Last Night of Porch Social MediaWhat We Did at Porch (High School)
Pre-Party: We threw a pre-party an hour before the normal start time of our service. We rented a mechanical bull and had Chick-Fil-A and Insomnia Cookies. The pre-party was basically designed to have students come early, hangout, and build excitement for the night.
Worship Set List:
 In Tenderness (Citizens & Saints), Psalm 18 (Citizens & Saints), Unstoppable God (Elevation Worship), All Things New (Elevation Worship), How He Loves (David Crowder Band), Man of Sorrow (Hillsong), Raised to Life (Elevation Worship), Jesus I Come (Elevation Worship), Oceans [Where Feet May Fail] (Hillsong United), Take the World But Give Me Jesus (Ascend the Hill), and Sweetness of Freedom (Citizens & Saints).
Videos: Now is The Time (Remix) and God Loves You
Highlight: Being able to stand among our students and simply worship. Most nights I’m consumed with my talk or with details of the night so it’s hard to stop and worship with the band. Since all we did this night was have the band lead in worship I was able to stand shoulder to shoulder with our students and sing to Jesus with them. It was a blast!

Last Night of Edge Social MediaWhat We Did at Edge (Middle School)
Intro Video: Street Fighter Bonus Stage in Real Life
Upfront Game: Weiner Head. How could I not play a game with middle school students called “weenier head?” This game requires a bit of prep work but is worth it in the end. You get a few construction hard hats and drill a few lines of screws in them from the inside out. Then you will need to buy hotdogs. Students play in teams of two while one student places the hard hat on their head while the other student throws hotdogs at them. The goal of the game is to be the team with the most hotdogs stuck to the top of your hard hat. Click the link above to read more about this game and to download the graphic we used.
Group Game: Scatterball. We play this game at least twice a month and our students love it. It’s basically dodgeball but with only one ball (we throw in more as the game goes) and when you have the ball you can only take a limited amount of steps. If you get hit you are out and if you catch a ball the person who threw it is out. Click the link above to download the graphic we used for this game.
Teaching: We didn’t really have a talk like we normally do but we did do a short Gospel presentation and gave students a chance to respond. We wanted to end the year off reminding our students of the most important thing ever and that’s the Gospel.
Highlight: Hanging out with students before the service in the inflatables that we had set up. We own a few inflatables as a church so we had a giant slide and bounce house set up for students to enjoy. It was a blast getting to let loose and have fun with them on those.