Honduras In Review (Wes)

This summer our high school ministry partnered with LeaderTreks for a short-term mission trip to Honduras. It was an incredible week that allowed our students to serve and grow in big ways! I wanted to give a few of the students a place to share what they learned and how they grew. Wes Gray is a rising senior in our high school ministry. He has been on a few trips with us in the past but this was his first international trip. Read his thoughts below as he shares about his experience in Honduras.

20229857_1929660103714711_5823704956355675678_o“My first missions trip out of the country is definitely one that I will not forget. There is so much that God did through the team during the week. We stayed at La Providencia, which is an organization who cares for widows and orphans. They have taken James 1:27 to heart: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” They don’t give them the leftovers like most cultures do but they put their needs first.

Our team got to be apart of this through manual labor on a worksite and caring for the kids by having a VBS (Vacation Bible School) for them. On the worksite we were hauling dirt to a section to eventually make it the right height to make it into a patio. Also there was a giant trench we had to dig around this area where we would eventually put supports in. On a normal day we would spend 4-5 hours on the worksite. There were so many awesome team bonding moments on the worksite as well. Like when we would try and get everyone excited to go back to work and we would all scream and do something crazy. Also there were great conversations going on as we shared with each other what God was teaching each of us as well. Prayer was a very important part of our days as we very nearly did it before we did anything. This was a key takeaway for me, just how important prayer is and how it is something I should regularly be doing during each day. We saw so much progress throughout the week on the worksite as well which is a big encouragement especially as this was some of the most physically straining work I have ever done. My legs cramped up on a couple different occasions but with encouragement from the team and God given strength I was able to push through.

The VBS was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. Everyday as soon as we were done on the worksite we would leave to go to a church about 20 minutes away to hangout with 30 kids. We played soccer with them, jumped rope, colored, made bracelets, and played tag. After a while we would call everyone in and give them a snack and perform a skit for them. Our skits were on the life of Jesus. You would think the language barrier would have been a lot more of a problem than it was; however, we had several team members who could speak spanish quite fluently. The kids were such a joy to be around; even when they didn’t have much they were still overflowing with happiness and that really hit home.

So I have talked about all of the encouraging and positive ways God had connected with me during my trip… Now for the not as fun ways. Three days before we were supposed to leave ⅓ of our team got sick some worse than others. I happened to be one of them. Thankfully I didn’t throw up like some of the other team members but I had other side-effects that we do not need to get into. Lol. Anyway I did not feel my best but when I woke up the next day I was feeling better to some degree and did not have a fever anymore. I was able to work my hardest on the last day on the worksite before we had our day of fun ziplining and going through a waterfall. By the end of the day our team was wiped, but we still finished strong. On our day into the city Lexi (my sister) started feeling awful on our way back and she started throwing up. Then she started hyperventilating. She did it once before when we got rearended together. What happens is her hands clamp up and she loses feeling there and her whole body gets really tingly. The only way to fix it is for her to focus on taking deep breathes but it is hard to do that when you are freaking out. Luckily a US doctor was close by so we were able to load her into a van and take her back to La Providencia. She threw up two more times as well on the way back. Eventually we got her back and she was feeling again and was done thoughing up but she was really tired so she went to bed. Then we both weren’t feeling good on the plane ride back as well. So it seems like I’m just going on a really long rant about why I’m never going to go on a trip like this again, but really it is quite the opposite. God taught me this lesson through it all: He is going to give me strength when I need it and rest when I need it as well, but it is all according to his plan with his mission coming first. So that is the hard lesson I learned, but it was a very important one!”

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Book Review: Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry

gospelcenteredym_205_316_90There are a few books I consider “must reads” for people in student ministry (if you want to know what they are ask me). Recently I read a book I would add to that list and it’s called Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry. It’s one of the most theological and practical books I have ever read in regards to student ministry.

One of the strengths of this book is the variety of voices. Every chapter focuses on a different area of student ministry and each chapter is written by someone who has a passion and gifting in that area. Each chapter is written pretty much in the same way – a section on how the Gospel informs and shapes that area of student ministry and a section on how to practically grow in that area of student ministry. Also, at the end of each chapter there is a list of recommended books on the subject of the chapter.

Two of my favorite chapters were Eric McKiddie’s chapter on expositional teaching and Tom Olson’s chapter on singing. All the chapters in this book were excellent but these two were the ones that impacted me the most.

In McKiddie’s chapter, he argues that teaching the Bible is the main task of anyone in student ministry. He says, “While fun is an indispensable part of youth ministry, your main task is to convince your students, week after week, why they need Jesus and to show how the Gospel profoundly after every area of life” (page 55). He believes expositional teaching is the best method for this. After giving his reasons for expositional teaching in student ministry he gives some practical steps in how to craft a Biblical expositional sermon for students. His steps serve as great reminders for people newer to writing sermons as well as to seasoned veterans. Olson’s chapter on singing was another one that I really enjoyed. He argues that corporate worship should be vital a part of student ministry. He says, “It’s not just a warm-up for the message or a means to corral hyperactive teenagers. God has made singing important. Singing is vital for the health of our students and the strength of our ministries and, in harmony with strong teaching, singing will get the word of Christ dwelling richly in their lives” (page 142).

I could say more about these two chapters and the rest of the book but I’d rather you grab a copy and read it for yourself. If you’re in student ministry I’d highly suggest this book for you and your team.

Book Review: The Most Excellent Way to Lead by Perry Noble

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I read and reviewed this book before the news came out about Perry Noble no longer being the Senior Pastor of NewSpring Church. However, my opinions on this book, what I learned from it, and what I liked about it, hasn’t changed. I am heartbroken over the news and what has happened in the life of Perry as well as NewSpring Church but believe we can all still learn something from this excellent book.

One of the books I just finished was Perry Noble’s newest book on leadership called The Most Excellent Way to Lead. I have always enjoyed Noble’s leadership stuff as well as his books (his book Overwhelmed was a game changer for me personally) so I was excited to read this one.

When most people hear “1 Corinthians 13” they automatically think of the “love chapter.” It’s a chapter that is usually tied into the topic love in the context of marriage or a relationship. However, Noble argues (and I would agree with him) that it seems like this is chapter is better suited for the context of leadership. As Noble says, “In 1 Corinthians 12, the emphasis of Paul’s writing to the church is on spiritual gifts, leadership, and the importance of working together. In 1 Corinthians 14, he continues this line of reasoning as he encourages leaders to sound a clear call for their followers. But right in the middle of these two chapters we find 1 Corinthians 13” (page 5). Noble continues by arguing the context of chapter 13 then is leadership. He says, “Paul is continuing his discussion about leadership here, and when he says he’s going to show you the most excellent way, I believe he’s saying, ‘I will show you the most excellent way to lead” (page 6).

Throughout this book, Noble uses Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 13 to show his readers how to become better leaders. In this book Noble addresses the heart of the leader. Like Paul shows us in 1 Corinthians 13, the heart of the leader is most important. The way to become a better leader is through having the right heart attitude.

I want to change up the way I do the rest of this review. I want to share three things I really liked about this book.

First, it focused less on what leaders do and more on who leaders are. This book focuses on the heart of the leader. If the heart of the leader is in the right place than correct and loving leadership will flow out of them. Noble shares very practical leadership advice throughout this book but the theme throughout is the heart of the leader. Through this book, God showed me a lot about my heart in regards to my leadership. I was encouraged, challenged, and convicted. It was just what I needed for this season of my leadership journey.

Second, it included a ton of great leadership one liners. One of the things I have always enjoyed about Noble’s leadership stuff (podcasts, articles, etc.) is his great leadership one liners. These are simple statements that contain a wealth of leadership knowledge and advice. At the end of each chapter this book includes a page of “summary statements” from that chapter. Just having these pages to look back on and read the leadership one liners is huge!

Third, I appreciated Noble’s honesty and humility throughout this book. Noble shares a good bit of his leadership failures and mistakes. He even shares about seasons in his life that were very dark and things that most leaders with his platform would like to keep quiet. I was encouraged by his authenticity and humility. He isn’t a guy who is claiming he has it all together and he has done it all correctly and we should follow him. He shares his failures, faults, and mistakes but continually points to God and how God has continued to shape him into a better leader.

The book is very straight-forward, easy to read, and will impact those leaders who take the time to read it. I’d encourage anyone who finds themselves in a leadership position to read it.

Book Review: Storify by Rachel Blom

51cjoMnENiL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Communicating the truth of the Bible to teenagers in our culture is not an easy task. To make it even more difficult, the approach that may have worked in the past is not guaranteed to work in the present or in the future. So what do we need to do? Instead of doing what we have always done and expecting new results, we should take a step back and rethink our approach. When it comes to communicating the truth of the Bible we need to ask ourselves, “Is our current method of teaching really working?”

In her new book Storify, Rachel Blom helps us rethink how we communicate to teenagers by promoting a style (or method) of teaching that she refers to as “storify.” Storify is all about “using principles of story to empower our message” (page 15). Later in the book, she says it this way: “Storifying means using the principles of story-the characteristics that make stories so effective-throughout your talk” (page 90). Blom believes that our modern approach to teaching teenagers isn’t cutting it in our postmodern culture, which is also heading towards being a post-Christian culture (if you don’t fully understand the idea behind postmodernism and post-Christianity no worries, Blom does an excellent job at explaining them both and what they look like in this book). In order to teach teenagers effectively in a postmodern culture we must use a postmodern approach. This is where the idea of “storify” comes into play.

As I read through this book, two big ideas kept surfacing. I think these two ideas sum up what Blom is trying to communicate in this book.

First, we must make good use of the element of story as we teach teenagers. Stories are excellent ways to communicate truth in a way that sticks. Blom spends several chapters on the idea of using stories well in our talks. She gives very practical tips on how to use and tell stories in our teaching. This by far was one of the most helpful things for me personally about this book. I often spend too much time and preparation on content while neglecting the time it takes to think about and craft good stories to include in my teaching to better communicate what I’m trying to teach.

Second, we must structure our talks (or messages, sermons, etc.) like a story. A few chapters of the book are dedicated to just this idea. Blom encourages us to think about the structure and flow of stories and how we can follow that same flow and structure in our teaching. This section of the book is sure to rub up against anyone who has taken homiletics courses or read any preaching books by anyone other than Andy Stanley. As someone who has taken many courses in homiletics, read many books on preaching, and tends to take a more traditional approach to preparing and teaching the Bible, this section was tough for me. There where times I loved what Blom was saying and then there were times I am not so happy with what she was saying (probably because what she was saying went right up against my traditional approach that I have been taught and tend to use most of the time). However, I appreciated what she brought to the table on this topic and how she gives a clear argument for the benefit of structuring our talks like a story. I came away with some things to think through and apply in my approach to teaching teenagers.

There has been many books written on the topic of speaking to teenagers. However, Storify challenged me more than any other book on this topic has in awhile. I would highly encourage anyone who regularly teaches teenagers to read this book.

Books I’ve Read Recently

Catalyst-Leader-BookThe Catalyst Leader by Brad Lomenick. I decided to pick this book up and read since I haven’t read a leadership book in a while. Brad Lomenick wrote this book while he was the leader of Catalyst, which is an organization that equips and inspires young Christian leaders through events, resources, consulting, and community. In this book, Lemonick puts forth eight essentials that are required for what he calls a “change maker.” The eight essentials (which could also be called characteristics) are: called, authentic, passionate, capable, courageous, principled, hopeful, and collaborative. Each chapter covers one of these essentials. In each chapter Lemonick explains why the particular characteristic is important to leadership as well as ways leaders can grow in that area of leadership. Two of the things I really liked about this book was how practical it was as well as all the stories Lemonick includes of people who demonstrate each characteristic. The stories are inspiriting and serve as great reminders of what being a “change maker” really means. This is a great read for anyone in leadership who wants some practical tips on becoming a better leader.

Amish-Values-for-Your-Family-195x300Amish Values for Your Family by Suzanne Fisher. I have always been intrigued by the Amish. Their simple life and faith has always been something I want to learn more about. One of the areas of the Amish I have always admired is how they view and go about family, which is why I decided to read this book. The point of this book is not to encourage people to “go Amish.” It’s an encouragement to look into the family life of the Amish and see what values we can take from them and apply to our own families. Fisher says, “There is much we can learn from these gentle people about raising our families well: to help prioritizes what’s truly important, to simplify decision making, to slow down as a family, to safeguard time together, and when age-appropriate, to let go” (page 13). The book covers four broad “values” the Amish have in regard to family: children are love but not adored, great expectations, daily bread, and letting go. Each chapter gives a short story of a family living out one of those values. The section I really enjoyed and learned the most from was “children are loved and not adored.” As a culture parents put their children at the center of their life and their family. Everything seems to revolve around the child. However, this doesn’t always proceeds the best results. In many cases this hurts the family and the child. The Amish have figured out a way to love their children but not revolve their whole life and family around those children. Instead, those children become a vital part of the family and benefit the family. Also, each chapter ends with a short summary of how families can take that story and the value it teaches and apply it to their family. This is a book I would highly recommend to parents of children of any age.

41wF1qfueZL._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_Beyond Small Talk by Rachel Blom. This little book contains extremely helpful information on how to have conversations with teenagers. As the title suggests, Blom helps the reader understand how they can move from “small talk,” which is actually important and needed, to more meaningful conversations about God. What I loved about this book is how Blom doesn’t paint “small talk” as a bad thing or something we should look down on because it’s not “spiritual.” Instead, Blom shares how we can actually become better at “small talk,” which will set us up to move into those deeper conversations. This book contains very practical tips on almost everything someone needs to know in order to have good conversations with teenagers. There are chapters on things like building trust, getting small groups talking (which is a must read for anyone who leaders a small group made up of teenagers), and knowing what to say/what not to say. I’d encourage anyone who deals with teenagers often, especially parents and youth workers, to read this book. It’s short and simple, but very helpful. Talking with teenagers is important and those of us who deal closely with them should strive to grow in this area. As Blom says in the introduction of this book, “It’s imperative that we talk with them, that we succeed in opening up a real dialogue.” This book will help you do just that.

Two other books that I also read that I chose not to review were A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer, which is an older book but is still a great read that I would recommend to all Christians, as well as The Divorce Dilemma by John MacArthur, which is a very helpful book in understanding what the Bible teaches about divorce.