Making a Difference in Lynn, MA – DUMC High School Missions Trip…

July 20, 2011

This past week I had the privilege of leading my first Missions Trip with my new youth group. Five of our adult leaders and I took a group of 39 High School-ers to serve the community of Lynn, MA (right outside of Boston).  It was a phenomenal week and one that I will never forget. I was blown away (again) by the way my new students welcomed, supported, and loved me. I wasn’t sure of what to expect going into the trip, but now that it’s over I realize that I had no reason to worry. I believe that bonds were formed, friendships were strengthened, and lives were changed because of this trip and I am so thankful that I was able to be a part of it all!

The leaders and I picked up the vans the day before we left and we had the students meet at the church the night before to load the vans. This was an exciting time because we all knew it meant that we would get to leave soon! We also spent some time decorating the windows of the vans to let people know who we were and what our purpose was (to spread the love of Jesus)! Once we had the vans packed, and the names checked off on the list of attendees, we all got to go home and get a good night’s sleep before we embarked on our journey to Massachusetts. We pulled out of the church at 8:30 AM and after two bathroom stops, one of which was extremely long (on account of the Starbucks that distracted our kids), and one lunch stop, we made it safely to the church we stayed at in Lynn, MA.

On our first night in Lynn, we had a leaders meeting where we spent time assigning all of our students into the work groups/locations that we thought would best fit them. Being that this trip was my first time meeting some of these students; it was a very difficult/stressful thing to figure out where they best fit. Thankfully, I had some veteran youth leaders there with me who were able to help me out.

Surprisingly there were no problems with the groups or who the students were paired up with. A few of the students weren’t happy with the work that they were actually doing and expressed to me that they would rather have been doing something different but I just used that as an opportunity to stress to them the importance of stepping out of their comfort zones and sticking it out to make a difference in peoples’ lives! I told them that we weren’t there that week for us, but for the people of Lynn, MA. These students really stepped it up after this and I was very impressed with them.

Being that I am the youngest leader in our group, I got assigned to do sports camp where we played football with community kids aged 10-14 all week. I got to take 6 of my students to the sports camp to help lead with me. It was great to see my students stepping up and being a positive influence in the lives of these community kids. I saw tremendous leadership qualities in all 6 of those guys and I think they learned a lot from the experience. Some of the community kids we worked with were tough and did not want to listen or follow rules, but overall it was a great experience for everyone involved. After we were done with sports camp each day, both I and Steve (the youth pastor from the church in Minnesota who was on the trip with us) drove the community kids back to the church. This was one of my favorite times of each day because as the kids were piling out of the van and we were waiting in the parking lot, I had the opportunity to sit and watch/take pictures of some of my other students loving on their group of community kids. It is great to see true ministry taking place and the love of Jesus being shown!

Each night, after we finished our work for the day, we got to do a fun, evening activity. On Monday night we got to go to Nahant Beach. It was a beautiful beach and provided for a great group photo.

If I could do one thing differently about this beach trip, I would make sure guitars do not get left at the beach. We had an incident where a guitar was left at the beach and no one told me it was missing until three days after the fact. By that point, kids had convinced themselves that it was brought back and was either stolen or hidden in the church somewhere. Long story short, the guitar was found and turned in to the police station and the student’s father will be picking it up during his already scheduled trip to Boston in August. On Tuesday night we got to ride the subway into to downtown Boston and spend an hour shopping and exploring the city. This was probably one of my favorite evening activities that we did. I got to walk around the city with 17 of my students and see all that that part of Boston had to offer. We also got a plethora of pictures and videos of a few of my students doing “The Bernie.”

For those of you that don’t know, “The Bernie” is based on the moves of the dead guy Bernie from a movie made in the 1980’s (Weekend at Bernie’s). Apparently it is a new dance craze that is sweeping the South…and apparently it has made its way to Doylestown, PA and now Boston, MA! Our group loves “The Bernie” so much that we got all of us together for a “Mass Bernie-ing” and recorded it with an intro tutorial! And yes, it will make an appearance in church whenever we talk about our trip!

On Wednesday night we got to go have dinner with people from the community at a soup kitchen called “My Brothers Table.” It was great to see my students and leaders sitting and eating with the people we were working with all week. And on Thursday we got to go to Gloucester, MA for a cookout/hangout time at the beach. We got to swim, play football, play volley ball, and climb rocks. It was a beautiful place and everyone had a blast. I treated everyone to ice cream in Gloucester and I think I won everyone’s heart because of it! haha

After we got back from the beach cookout, we had a worship service followed by a foot washing ceremony. This was one of the most powerful things from the entire week. YouthWorks washed the adult leaders’ feet and then we washed our students’ feet and prayed with each and every one of them. After some of the students’ got their feet washed, they went around the room and prayed with their friends. It was a very powerful and emotional evening and I was blown away by it.

A parent of two of the girls in my youth group asked me if I would have done anything differently. Now that I think back on it I realize that I wouldn’t change a thing. It was a great experience and a huge trip for me in terms of getting to know the students and building relationships with them. I am so thankful that God had His hands all over this trip!

A Special Thanks to Katie, Joel, Dan, Meredith, and Jenna!

Special thanks to Katie, Joel, Dan, Meredith, and Jenna for providing an amazing trip for us!

Now I have the Middle School Missions Trip to Charleston, WV to look forward to. We leave this Sunday. Woooohoooo!

–          paulg


Blown Away: The First Five Hours In My New Ministry

July 7, 2011

I’ve had many memorable moments with students in the past. All of these youth have impacted my life in a major way, as I hope that I have with theirs. I will cherish some of these memories for the rest of my life. As some of you know, I have recently been hired by a new church after a long (in my eyes) 14-month hiatus from youth ministry. It wasn’t my choice but it is what it is and I feel that God definitely had a reason for taking me out of full-time ministry for that amount of time. I won’t touch any more on that for now but rest assured that I will definitely be writing about it as soon as I can. Anyway, I got hired at Doylestown United Methodist Church on June 12, 2011 and my official start date was to be July 1, 2011. I left Belle Vernon, PA on June 30, 2011 and headed down Interstate 76 (the Pennsylvania Turnpike) to start my new life and new ministry. On my way there, I stopped at a huge Christian music festival called “Creation” that my new youth group and leaders were attending. And when I say “huge,” I mean 82,000 people HUGE! Creation is a four or five day festival. I only planned to stop for one day to get to know some of the youth and leaders that would be my new family. Stopping at Creation was key and had potential to be an extremely beneficial way to begin my new ministry. The reason for this is that I will be taking 39 of those students on a High School Missions Trip on July 10-15 and then 20 or so more of them on the Middle School Missions Trip on July 24-29. So breaking the ice, getting to know them, and getting them to know me was an extremely important thing that needed to be taken care of as quickly as possible since there is no youth group and no other way for me to meet/get to know them before the trips. I was blown away as soon as I pulled up in front of our groups’ camp site.

Looking down on Creation Fest from overlook mountain...

As I was driving the two and a half hours it took to get there, I couldn’t help but to feel nervous. I wondered how well the students would like me, if things would be awkward because no one knew me and I didn’t know them, would they want to meet me, would they be mad/hurt that I was the guy replacing their old youth pastor, etc. All kinds of scenarios were running through my mind but the conclusion that I came to was that I would have to just leave it in God’s hands and wait and see what would happen. And that’s exactly what I did. There was nothing else I could do.

As soon as I stepped out of my truck, I got “attacked” by my new youth group. All of the kids that were there (some were at concerts or at the various other attractions that they had at “Creation”) swarmed to me around my truck and started to introduce themselves. They were excited to meet me and it was such an amazing, warm, and welcoming feeling when all I expected was shyness and awkwardness. I was so blown away/overwhelmed with joy because of this. This took away all of the nervousness, uncertainty, questions, and broke the ice. I was able to focus on building relationships with them the rest of the time since this initial part was knocked out by them. God’s hands were definitely all over this and I am so thankful for that.

A small group of my youth on overlook mountain...

There was one other amazing thing that these students and leaders did for me that I didn’t quite pick up on right away. As I was meeting them I noticed that they all had some form of a temporary or henna tattoo on them. Some had them on their necks. Some had them on their arms. Some had them on their stomachs, backs, legs. And one even had so many of them on one arm that it looked like a sleeve. I noticed it but I didn’t put much thought into it because I was so amazed at how awesome these kids were. Later that night at one of the sessions/concerts one of my leaders was talking to me and she asked me if I noticed everyone’s tattoos. Then it hit me: it wasn’t just a coincidence! She told me that they planned it and all of the kids and leaders wanted to make me feel comfortable (since I have tattoos) so they went out of their way to put all of those tattoos on…AMAZING! I ended up staying for two nights because my students wanted me to stay longer.

So if all of this awesomeness took place within my first 5 hours of being there, I can’t wait to see what else God has in store for me, this youth group, and this church. It’s going to be good!

–          paulg


What Mask Are You Wearing?

November 3, 2009

On Saturday (Halloween) night, I took some students and leaders from my youth group to my home church for a lock-in/all-nighter. The youth pastor there is one of my good friends whom I have known ever since I was in 8th grade. We had been working together to plan this event for a few months and we were both excited that it was finally happening! There were between 50 and 60 students and 10-15 leaders there and we all had a blast!

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The lock-in was called “Unmasked ‘09” and was a perfect message for Halloween night. The message that my youth pastor friend brought was not to condemn Halloween but to illustrate the fact that we ALL wear masks to hide who we really are from other people and God! We often get comfortable putting on this façade that we have our lives together and that we are perfect, when in reality, we are not perfect, we don’t have our lives in order, and we are hiding who we really are from God and the rest of the world.

The night began with a video I put together, which included a sweet three-minute countdown, an animated announcement puppet, rules given by the announcement puppet, and a video about all-nighters. After that, everyone played a game of “Deal or No Deal” in the church sanctuary. The announcer for the game was one of my friend’s energetic/crazy youth group members. He dressed up in a Mexican sombrero, a cape, and some strange facial hair (it was actually drawn on with a sharpie)! The kids love it and had a chance to win up to $50. Two of them won prizes: one won $7 and the other won $5. Both of their winnings basically off-set the cost of the lock-in! Needless to say, my friend wasn’t too upset that he didn’t have to give away $50. After the game show, everyone went across the parking lot to the event center, where we would stay for the remainder of the night. For me, the cool thing about being in the event center was that I helped build it two summers ago when I did my internship there! It was awesome to see the finished product of what used to be a big mound of dirt and rocks!

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After our arrival at the event center, we had the opening service. The service was entitled, “LOL,” which stands for “Live Out Loud.” It is the service that my friend does every Saturday night and Sunday morning at the church. The service opened with some up-beat/energetic worship led by a high school student who God has gifted with an amazing voice. After worship, we heard from a heavily tattooed man named Tom. Tom was a 50-something year old man who was a drug addict and dealer from the time he was 12-years-old until the year 1991! He told his story of how God continued to save his life over and over again, even when he felt that he was unworthy of living and meant to die. He told stories of getting stopped at customs when trying to re-enter the country with hundreds of pounds of marijuana in the trunk of his car, and how he didn’t get caught. He told the story of how he tried to end his life by shooting himself in the chest, and how he lived. And he told the story of how he got busted by the DEA with $70,000 worth of cocaine taped around his stomach and back. God saved him from all of these things and he finally gave his life over to Him. His message was to encourage the kids not to get involved in things that are ungodly, and to teach of God’s grace and mercy. Everyone in the room was silent throughout Tom’s whole testimony. For lack of a better phrase, you could have heard a pin drop in that room!

After Tom was finished speaking, everyone clapped and some gave a standing ovation. Then my friend started praying before he jumped into his message. Throughout the prayer, I was trying to figure out why my friends’ voice was muffled, but I just couldn’t figure it out. At the end of the prayer, I looked up and saw that he was wearing a mask. “Genius,” I thought! He then began to teach from Genesis 3 about the deception that took place in the Garden of Eden. He talked about how Satan deceived Eve and convinced her to disobey God and eat from the tree in the middle of the Garden. He tied this in to the unmasked theme by saying we all deceived ourselves, each other, and God by pretending to be something we are not and hiding behind masks of alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, pride, jealousy, etc…

He ended by telling everyone that there is freedom from the bondage that is created by the masks that we wear, and that freedom’s name is Jesus. He took his mask off and then told the story of salvation and let the kids know that we (the leaders) are there for them if they needed to talk or if they had any questions. It was a powerful message and it inspired me to get more creative with my teaching and to re-think the way I do things in my youth ministry.

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For the remainder of the night, we had the option to play basketball, dodge ball, video games, board games, group games, and watch movies. It was a long night. We ended the lock-in with a short LOL service that served as a reminder to the students to keep their masks off and turn to Jesus whenever they feel the need to create one or put one on.

This message/theme for the event got me thinking, and I would like to hear from you. What kinds of masks have you seen students and leaders wear in your youth ministries (or other professions)?

–          paulg


Ways to Connect with God…

October 5, 2009

The denomination I work for (The Christian and Missionary Alliance) requires its official workers to be licensed and ordained. I received my licensing while still attending Nyack and the Ordination process officially starts once you are placed in a church (February 2009 for me). It is a long and strenuous process filled with monthly reports, going on in-service retreats, meeting with mentors, attending seminars, reading numerous books, reading a few different translations of the Bible, writing numerous papers, etc.  This past weekend, I attended on one of those above-mentioned retreats. Luckily for me, the retreat was held relatively close to home (38 miles away) at the camp I have been going to for the past 8 or 9 years.  I also have a trailer there (Note: It isn’t officially mine yet, but I am currently making payments on it and I will own it in a few months)! Everyone else attending the retreat had to stay in one of the dorms and share a room with someone. Being that I have the trailer, I had my own solitary place to go to. That is where I wrote most of this from…

I’ve enjoyed my time on the retreat so far and I got to sit in on teaching/training from some of the leaders who work in the District Office of my denomination. I’ve learned a few things about myself and my leadership style as well as heard a few things that got me thinking and provided me with things to chew on and consider. I also had the opportunity to meet and have lunch with three other youth pastors from this district, two of which I have never met before. We discussed ways to get plugged-in to the schools in our ministries cities/areas; which is something that I’ve been thinking/praying about a lot lately. I’ve been looking for some ideas and in the course of 15 minutes, God gave me three great ideas through talking to those guys. But that is for another post…sacred pathways bookOne of the speakers this morning taught the session on Spiritual Formation. She taught some key principles from a book written by Gary Thomas called “Sacred Pathways.” The first question she asked us was:

Remember one or two times in your life when you felt especially close to God…What were you doing?

This encouraged us to think back to a time in our life when we felt particularly close to God and made us think about what we were doing. Some answers given were:

“Being on a retreat designed for the purpose of making you get close to God,”

“Going through trials,”

“Being at the beach where she (the person who had this answer) gave her life to Jesus,”

Etc…

The speaker then began teaching about things called sacred pathways. A sacred pathway is a means by which God draws a believer into a closer sense of spiritual intimacy and relationship with Him. The remainder of the session was going through the different types of spiritual pathways that exist and determining what we could most relate to. Those pathways were: Naturalists, Sensates, Traditionalists, Ascetics, Activists, Caregivers, Enthusiasts, Contemplatives, and Intellectuals. Before she even started, I looked ahead and pinpointed what I thought I was and it turned out that I was right.

I won’t go into much detail about what each one entails, but I will give a few characteristics of each pathway.

Naturalists sense God’s presence when experiencing God’s creation and can visualize scriptural truths, see God more clearly, and learn to rest. Their temptation is that they can get too carried away and begin to idolize nature (worshiping creation instead of the Creator)!

Sensates are individuals who love God with the senses (sound, smell, touch, sight, taste). Ezekiel is a Biblical example of this type of person (Revelation 1:13-17). Their temptation is that they can often worship without conviction but by emotion (based totally on sensory things). They can also worship worship…a.k.a. – they can get too carried away by the experience of worship rather than the object of it (Christ)!

Traditionalists express love for God through rituals and symbols. A Biblical example of this type of person is Ezra and Abraham. They enjoy celebrations and observances. Scripture meditation is an important source of nourishment for them (rightly so!). Their temptation is that they can often serve God without knowing God (1 Samuel 3:1,7), they judge others, and repeat things mechanically (often prayers)!

Ascetics are individuals who love God in solitude and simplicity. They enjoy disciplines of fasting, obeying as a means of honoring God, hard work, taking retreats, living simply (eliminating distractions), enduring hardships. Their temptation is that they overemphasize personal purity (spiritual refreshment must be balanced with ministry to others) and that they can seek pain for its own sake.

Activists are individuals who love God through confrontation (righting wrongs and social injustices). They stay active because they feel it is the best way to express love for God. Biblical examples are Elijah and Moses. Their temptations are: ambition and sexual sings, elitism and resentment (of others not like them), preoccupation with activity and statistics, lack of emphasis on personal holiness.

Caregivers express love for God by loving others. A Biblical example is Mordecai (Esther 2:7). Their temptation is that they are judging, they serve themselves by serving others, and they neglect those closest to them (family).

Enthusiasts love God with mystery and celebration. Their temptations are that they seek experiences for experiences’ sake, they are independent, and they equate “good feelings” with “good worship.”

Contemplatives love God through adoration. A Biblical example is Mary (when she sat at the feet of Jesus). These types of people rest in God’s presence. Their temptation is that they lose balance (they want to be alone with God and avoid being with people), they absorb the ego (God is always God and we don’t become absorbed into God), they forget virtue (need to develop self-discipline and self-control), and they get addicted to spiritual experience (not feelings, but God).

And lastly, intellectuals are types of people who love God with the mind. A Biblical example is Solomon (Psalms 49). They love intellectual training (church history, Biblical studies, systematic theology, ethics, apologetics, and creeds). Their temptations can be: loving controversy, knowing rather than doing, and being proud.

At the beginning, I guessed that I was a contemplative and an intellectual and based on the results of my assessments, I was right. After each category, the speaker gave us a 6 question quiz to assess if we fell into that category of sacred pathways. I scored the highest on those two categories.

After the session, we were given free time to go off on our own to think about, pray about, and think about these things some more. The way I process things is to write them down and sort through them in that manner. This is why I wrote this. Before I started writing and sorting, I went for a walk up into the woods behind the camp. I went to do some praying, enjoy nature (am I a Naturalist?, and shoot my gun. I had an excellent walk, did a lot of praying, but only got to fire one round from my pistol due to the sound of a chainsaw nearby (loggers).woods pathWhen I began to write and sort through some of these new concepts, I learned/recalled that there were certain aspects of each of these sacred pathways that I could relate to but there were only two that I scored highly on.

I learned that I am a contemplative and an intellectual. The main thing of a contemplative sacred pathway is that the individual loves God through adoration. This made me think back to one of my first posts on this blog “Reasons to Praise Him” Another reason that this means of connecting with God relates to me is that I often put a lot of thought into things. One of my friends (and former boss) used to tell me that he enjoyed reading my writings because I’m always thinking and bringing new concepts to things. I don’t always agree with this and sometimes feel like I’m just regurgitating what I’ve heard/read from others, but it’s a cool compliment to receivet. Thanks Dan!

I also learned that I am an intellectual. I sometimes don’t agree with this, but the more I think of it, the more real it seems to me. One of an intellectual’s main things is that the individual loves intellectual training (reading, studying, Biblical studies, systematic theology, apologetics, church history, etc..). I can relate to these things. My bookshelf at home and in my office is another confirmation to this intellectual sacred pathway. I am constantly purchasing and reading new books; I can’t seem to get enough!

In no way am I saying that these are the only two things I use to bring me closer to God, but they do seem to be two of the primary ones.

The reason I am writing is to: 1. Process my thoughts and 2. Find out what types of sacred pathways others use. Maybe there are some that I am missing, or maybe there are some corrections or new additions to the ones that I have listed here.

So, what are some ways that you are drawn into a closer sense of spiritual intimacy and relationship with God? I would love to hear your thoughts/ideas!

–          paulg


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