Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien. This book was one of the best books I have ever read when it comes to the topic of reading the Bible. The author’s goal in this book is to help Western readers understand how their Western context impacts the way the interpret the Bible. They point out that often we miss things (some small and some big) in Scripture that people in Eastern cultures as well as during the time when the Bible was written wouldn’t have missed. The authors chose to focus on nine major differences between Western and Eastern cultures that impact the way we read and interpret Scripture. By doing this they help the Western reader understand the Bible in the culture it was originally written. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to grow in their understanding of Scripture and how to read it well.
The Self-Aware Leader by Terry Linhart. As a leader there are times you need to step back and evaluate yourself. This book was helpful to me in doing just that. As I lead others I often neglect myself and who I am as a person and a leader. I’m glad I took some time to read this book as it served as a helpful tool is evaluating myself and helping me grow. In this book Linhart helps leaders see the blind spots they often miss. He covers areas like the leader’s past, temptations, emotions, pressures, and more. In each of these areas he helps leaders see where they can go wrong but also how they can manage them well. I really liked how there was a focus on Scripture and what it says about leadership and these blind spot areas. I also liked the practical “self-check” sections inserted throughout the book to help the reader think about and apply what they are reading. I’d recommend this book to anyone who finds themselves in a leadership position.
Facing Messy Stuff in the Church by Kenneth Swetland. Churches are messy because people are messy. Sin has caused major brokenness and people bring that brokenness into the church. In this book Swetland provides several case studies to help pastors and churches think about how they should deal with messy situations. Each chapter is it’s on case study and provides no instruction on what a church should or shouldn’t do. This allows the reader to think about their own situation and how they should handle in within their own church context. There are helpful questions at the end of each chapter to guide this process. The topics covered in this book through the case studies are – depression, sexual harassment, gambling, pornography, divorce, suicide, AIDS, grief, abuse, alcohol abuse, adultery, child molestation, homosexuality, miscarriage, murder, and abortion.
One other book I read recently I chose not to review was A Little Book on the Christian LifeA Little Book on the Christian Life by John Calvin.
12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke. Smartphones have changed the landscape of our culture. Phones have impacted the way we communicate, view ourselves, work, and even interact with the Bible. All these things and more are discussed in this helpful book. In this book, Reinke walks through twelve ways the smartphone is changing us. Before getting into the twelve reasons he offers a very insightful and helpful theology of technology. As far as I’m aware that isn’t something that has been written about that much in other places. He does an excellent job of laying the foundation and then diving into the twelve reasons. I’m not going to list all twelve reasons here but there were a few that stood out to me as they where the most convicting in my own life – ignore people around us, loss of literacy, and are comfortable withs secret vices. My favorite thing about this book is how Reinke never encourages the read to just get rid of their smartphone as a way to fix the problems and issues it had created. In some cases that might be a good option for people (Reinke helps the reader walk through a few questions to consider if that should be their next step or not) but it may be that many people just need to make changes and adjustments to use their smartphones more wisely. Overall this was an excellent book I would recommend to anyone who uses a smartphone (which is almost everyone).
Conscience by Andrew Naseli & J.D. Crowley. I’ve never seen or read a book on the topic of conscience before so when I saw this book I knew I had to read it. As someone who grew up in a culture that I was very legalistic I have always struggled with matters of the conscience and the Christian life. This book was extremely helpful in my journey out of that culture and into a better understanding of the freedom we have in Christ. The first few chapters of this book deal with defining conscience and tracing it’s appearance throughout the Bible. Once the foundation is laid the obvious questions about living as a Christian with a conscience as well as how to relate to other Christians when our consciences don’t agree. In this book the Christian is encouraged to not ignore their conscience but to calibrate it so it’s in line with God and His Word. The authors rightly point out that people tend to have one of two extremes when it comes to their conscience – insensitive (they ignore its warnings and end up with what Paul calls a “seared” conscience) or oversensitive (they pack it with more rules than God intends and make it more about matters of opinions rather than truth). Neither of those are good. God has given us a conscience and we should use it rightly, which requires us to calibrate it with God’s Word. I’d encourage every Christian to take the time to read this important book.
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson. I’ve aways been a fan of Peterson. His consistency and commitment over the years have been something of a model of what a pastor should be about. He is a man who loves God and His Word. These things are evident in this classic book. The book serves as almost a practical commentary on Psalms 120-134 (Songs of Ascents). Peterson points out that “these fifteen Psalms were likely sung, possibly in sequence, by Hebrew pilgrims as they went up to Jerusalem for the great worship festivals” (page 18). Peterson walks through these fifteen chapters and explains what each ones teaches us about an area of following Jesus. As with all his writings, these pages contain a pastoral tone from Peterson and the reader will finish this book convicted for sure but encouraged to continue walking with Jesus.
Two other books I recently finished but chose to not review here are Zeal Without Burnout by Christopher Ash and The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Both were great read I’d highly recommend.
Volunteers are a vital part of having a successful student ministry. Student pastors cannot effectively run their student ministry on their own. They need a team of committed volunteers who love Jesus and love students. Once a student pastor gets a few of these volunteers on their team they then have to decide how they will go about training and coaching them.
I use to get so overwhelmed with thinking through an effective strategy for training my student ministry volunteers. Part of the problem was in how I was assuming that training had to take place. I assumed the only way to train them was to have weekly or monthly meetings where the training took place. I even tried this during one of my first years in student ministry and found out very quickly how difficult it was to get all my leaders there and to actually make it enjoyable for the ones that did show up. After that I went to the other extreme and pretty much did no training. Both were not good and certainly not healthy for our volunteers or the student ministry. I have now found a decent balance in how I train and coach my volunteers. It involves less consistent meetings (who doesn’t love less meetings) and instead a focus on a few major training events throughout the year, ongoing coaching via social media, and the use of helpful resources. Below are more details on those things.
Two major training events. Instead of meeting consistently throughout the year we hold two major training events. One is called Equipped and happens before the school year program kicks off. The second is a mid-year training (we don’t have a catchy name for that one) that happens in January. Equipped is a half-day training event that involves fellowship (we provide food and time for leaders to connect with one another), worship, training sessions (both live and via video), and of course a bunch of free gifts (we try and shower our volunteers with gifts as a way to say “thank you” in advance for the work they are going to put in during the school year). The mid-year training event is shorter and more about touching base and seeing how everyone is doing. We do this one following Sunday worship services and provide lunch for our volunteers. We debrief the year so far and talk about what’s coming up. We also do one training session that is sometimes live and other times done via video. Doing two major training events has been a huge hit with our volunteers. Many of them have very busy schedules and this allows them to actually be at our training events. It also helps us plan these events out and do our best at making them quality events for our volunteers.
Ongoing social media coaching. A few years ago I created a Facebook group just for our volunteers. One of main reasons I created it was to have a quick way to communicate details about upcoming events and such with my leaders. I’ll be honest, the group tends to be used mostly for just that type of thing still. However, one thing I have done and plan to do more of is use it to coach up my volunteers. I can do this through posting articles and videos that may help them minister to students. I can also post quick notes of encouragement to them throughout the year. There are many ways to use a Facebook group like this for our volunteers.
Helpful resources. It’s hard to come up with new training material yourself. There is almost too many resources out there to even try. In addition to great books (that most or not all of your volunteers will probably never read) there are some great online resources that you can use to train your volunteers. You can use these resources at training events (as we did this year) or as an ongoing thing throughout the year with your leaders. Here are some helpful online resources you can use – Download Youth Ministry (grab a DYM silver or gold memersbip and get access to a library of training videos) DYM University (not free but worth the cost), and LeaderTreks. There is more stuff out there but these are three places I go consistently for resources to use when training my volunteers.
Training and coaching volunteers looks different in every student ministry. Student pastors will do well not to just copy what another ministry does but instead find a plan that works for their ministry and volunteers.
Recently I went to Honduras with a group of our high school students. I have been using my site as a place for them to write about their experience. If you missed the previous three posts in this series be sure to go back and read them. Below is a few thoughts from another student who went on this trip named Lexi Gray.
“Purpose. When our missions trip group went to Honduras, we stayed at a place called La Providencia. La Providencia is an organization that wants to give the orphans and widows the best, not the leftovers. Our team got to be apart of helping these people for the week. I really wanted to go on this trip to build my relationship with God, my team, and the kids in Honduras. God has allowed me to do all three of these things.
Prayer. Prayer played a very important part during the week. Before our team would start on our worksite each day, we would pray. Also after every water break our groups would come together to pray. This taught me that I can pray in any situation at anytime.
Effort. Extra effort was required in order to accomplish what God had already prepared for us to do. Our team gave 110% to everything we did. Also we encouraged one another and stayed positive throughout the highs and lows of the trip. This has shown me that I need to give all of my effort and energy to everything I do because it is all for God. In addition, God has shown me that I need to complain less because this is God’s plan for my life, and he is in control.
Connect. I connected really well with the kids at the VBS we set up. One girl specifically stood out to me, her name was Alma. Alma loved making bracelets with me during the free time at VBS. Also she could speak a lot of English, so it was easier to communicate with her. One time I asked Alma who her best friend was. She said that I was. This showed me how much our group meant to each of these Kids and how much they loved us. Another thing that stood out to me was how happy and grateful these kids were for all the things they had. Several kids would come up to me to say thank you for the VBS. This has helped me to understand how much more thankful I need to be, because these kids do not have much.
Protection. God showed how much he really protects me while I was on this trip. One specific time was when I got extremely sick on the bus ride home from our adventure day. Once I began throwing up, I started to hyperventilate. I can’t move my hands or my feet, and the rest of my body gets tingly. I get stuck breathing in short breaths. But during the whole time God helped me to remember that he is always with me. Also God has given me an amazing brother to be right by my side. I am so thankful for a brother to be there when I need him, and to help calm me down. Also God has blessed me with Crystal McCann to help take care of me and help me know that everything is going to be ok. God has showed me how much he loves me and help me know that he will not give me anymore than I can handle.”
Recently I went to Honduras with a group of our high school students. I have been using my site as a place for them to write about their experience. If you missed the first post in this series be sure to go back and read it. Below is a few thoughts from another student who went on this trip named Abby Camara.
“This summer I took on one of the most challenging adventures of my life, I accomplished a mission trip to Siguatepeque, Honduras. I learned many new things on this trip which God taught me and I would have never been able to learn in the states. God also helped me take many new risks as His follower. When I was on this trip the team quickly became my family and we were as close as could be. During this trip I shared my testimony out loud for the very first time. This was a huge step in my life because some things that are in my testimony I don’t feel comfortable sharing with everyone. Although on this trip I felt like I belonged with everyone on my team in Honduras. I learned many different things throughout the week as I started to tell my story to others, I learned that you cannot be a superhero all by yourself. You cannot change the world, only God can do that. You cannot be your own superhero, God is your superhero. Sometimes you have to totally rely and trust in God, while I found myself only giving some parts of my life to God, I needed to start giving it all to him. I could trust my Savior with anything I needed in my life and he would take my trials and make something good out of them. I also realized on this trip that God will use many situations that he gives you in mysterious ways to help you and others throughout your life. As I shared my testimony with my peers and leaders I ended up helping other people as it proved to others that if you worship the Lord, you can get truly get through anything. All you need is the constant love of the Lord and you can make it happen. God gave me so many blessings on this trip by meeting amazing people such as a women named Elsy, a mother of 6 orphans who lives at La Providencia with her family. Elsy inspired me not only as an incredible mother but in her walk with God, there was a language barrier between me and Elsy but you could see Jesus shining through her wherever she was. She is an inspiration to me as I grow older and want to adopt my own children. Another person who I was completely blessed to meet on my trip to Honduras was JG. JG was my LeaderTreks leader who lived in Honduras and did trips all summer. He changed my way of looking at many situations. As I started to share my testimony and open up more throughout the week he non- stop showed his compassion and love for me. Whenever I needed help he was always there for me, and constantly challenged me to grow spiritually. He saw parts of me that I couldn’t see, such as my ability to be a leader even when I would get stressed very easily and want to give up. Thank you JG for not only changing my perspective on the role of God in my life, but also on myself and how I affect a team. In Honduras I learned a lot, but mostly I learned that I need to sometimes give it to God. Where a problem that I will be keeping for myself to try and figure out, I need to give it to God and have him help me through it. Which made all of the difference of my trip.”