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

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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


Perry Noble’s Prayers for Youth Ministry…

November 25, 2009

By far, my favorite thing about the National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta was Perry Noble’s message to youth workers. Perry spoke on Saturday morning and left most people in the room feeling encouraged, energized, and pumped up for youth ministry. Perry Noble is a 6’ 6” 230 lb. Senior Pastor from New Spring Church in South Carolina. He started off by making a joke about his southern drawl. He said that in heaven, everyone will have a southern drawl, if you don’t believe that, you may not be going to heaven!

Perry’s message was based out of Acts 20:7-12. I’ve spoken to a few different youth workers at the convention and have heard mixed reviews/feelings about this message. The reviews/feelings ranged from “he nailed it,” to “he took the passage and made it apply to his topic!” When someone takes a passage and make sit say what they want it to say, it is known as “eisegesis.” Eisegesis is when you put your own ideas into the text to make it mean whatever you want it to.

For the record, I do not know where I stand on this matter! I loved what Perry had to say but I am not a Bible scholar so I don’t know if it was eisegesis or not.

Anyway, regardless of how you interpret the passage and the message he gave us, it’s time to move on. Perry went on to tell us that he believes there is a breakdown in communication with youth pastors and the church in general. He and many others believe that youth pastors are viewed as glorified babysitters in that we are supposed to watch the kids, teach them a few things, and when they are old enough to attend big people church and tithe; then they matter to the church. This is not the case and it should never be viewed as such. Perry was not saying that this is the case in all churches, but it is definitely something that he has seen happen occasionally. But regardless of whether your church falls into either of these categories, an alarming statistic is that around 80% of students are walking out the door when they turn 18, and many of them are never going to come back!

Youth ministry is a hard and vital job. Most people will disagree with that, but that is because they have no idea what it means to be a youth pastor. They think we get paid to hang out and play video games all day, but that is 100% inaccurate. There are days when we go home from youth ministry and it isn’t “Thank you Jesus!” it’s “Help me Jesus!” Rest assured…there is hope! Perry said that we, as youth workers, are game changers. We work in the ripest harvest in the world and if we can get our minds (senior pastors, youth pastors, volunteers) around several of these soon to be mentioned concepts, we could see a revolution in youth ministry and the local church. When youth ministry catches on fire through the local church, nothing can stop it!!!!

Perry and many of the other speakers who were senior pastors were very much in support of youth workers. Perry has four prayers that he is praying for youth ministry. Those prayers are: For Attention, For Submission, For a Biblical Foundation, and For Stewardship.

For Attention:

In the Bible passage that Perry spoke from (Acts 20:7-12), Paul was speaking to a group of people late into the night (because he intended to leave the next day) and basically had a long message planned for them. There was a young man (a youth) sitting in a window seal in the back of the room who fell into a deep sleep as Paul was preaching. Eutychus fell to the ground from the third story and died. Yikes! Perry said that in this story, Eutychus fell out of the window because no one was paying attention to the youth ministry of that church. When a church refuses to pay attention to the youth ministry, kids fall out of the window and die (a.k.a. – leave the church and never look back) each and every day.

Youth ministry is important, not just for the teenagers but for also for the church as a whole. The youth aren’t the church of tomorrow, THEY MATTER TODAY! Perry said “The kids that we are called to ministry to matter today and the church better wake up and smell the Starbucks because if not, the kids will fall out of the back window and die.” Perry’s philosophy is that you can tell if a church is paying attention to the youth by looking at how much money they spend on them. He says that you can never spend too much on your youth and children. I understand the premise of what he was saying, but I don’t know if it applies to every circumstance. Some churches simply can’t afford to put a lot of money in the youth fund, and they could be the church that supports their youth way more than the church with the large youth fund. Money shouldn’t matter and shouldn’t be a deciding factor on whether or not a church is paying attention to their youth (my thoughts).

Perry does something cool in his church. I don’t think it would work at every church, but it is something to hope for I guess. Perry believes that a youth group should never be asked to do a fundraiser for anything. He doesn’t allow the youth group at his church to do fundraising because he believes that the church and the older people should support them to show that they care.

If we want attention in our youth ministries, we need to start reaching kids for Jesus and seeing lives change! If the adults come into the sanctuary and have no place to sit because of the youth, the older people will pay attention and take them seriously. The last thing that Perry said about this first prayer for youth is that we need to not bang the budget drum, but we need to bang the kids need Jesus drum and change their lives!

For Submission:

The way a youth group gets noticed in the church is when they are completely submitted and sold out to Jesus! Perry says that we need less strategy and more spirit in our youth ministries, and I couldn’t agree more! Not only do we need submitted and sold out youth, but we need leaders who are as well. When God asks us to do something unbelievable, we need to say “Yes Lord!” In the Bible passage, Paul was so submitted to Jesus that he was willing to declare the impossible (that Eutychus was alive). We need to have complete submission.

In order to be completely submitted to God, according to Perry, “you have to be you!” We shouldn’t have the desire to be someone else or do ministry as they do it because you think they’re better than you. When you do this, it is known as ministry envy. You can read a post of mine about ministry envy by clicking here. Perry says that the problem with churches today is that there is too much imitation and no more revelation. He also said that youth pastors have a disease that he invented called “destination disease.” Destination disease is when people in ministry want to be over there (at the other church/ministry) because they think it’ll be better there. This is not true though because you take you with you and it will be exactly the same. You are you!

When we get to the point where we get it all figured out in our ministry, God will say “you don’t need me? Fine…go ahead!” We need to be in complete submission to God. When we do this, it is unbelievable. Leadership is as easy as listening to God and doing what He says! Perry’s prayer is to have a generation of youth pastors and workers completely sold out for Jesus. We are the ones who set the pace for what youth ministry will look like in 10-20 years!

For a Biblical Foundation:

After Paul (with God’s help) brought Eutychus back to life, they went upstairs again and broke bread. Paul got carried away preaching, the youth died, Paul declared something supernatural and brings the kid to life, and then comes back up to keep the focus on Jesus. Paul never stopped focusing on Jesus or teaching about him. This is an example to us. We need to never quite proclaiming who Jesus is to students. They need to know who He is and it is our job to tell them. Some people think that if we focus on only Jesus, then we won’t be relevant. Perry says that we won’t be irrelevant, we will be impotent! We’ve watered our youth ministries down with these next three things and the kids don’t even know who Jesus is when they graduate from or leave our youth groups. 1. Morality – we teach our kids to be good…problem is, if we teach our kids not to watch rated R movies or listen to “bad” music, they can become morally superior to everyone and no one likes them…we can’t teach them to be moral without Jesus. 2. Compromise – Everyone gets caught up in this game. We think that if a lot of kids come to our group and we do all kinds of fun things, we have a great ministry. But in reality, we are compromising who Jesus is to have a great crowd show up. Sometimes, youth ministries let kids show up and say it’s ok to do what you are doing and not repent. When they do this, they are leaving Jesus out of the picture…allowing compromise to creep into that ministry. 3. Personal Agendas – Don’t ever let your personal agenda trump the Gospel! We make our own personal agendas the agenda of the youth group. If we put anything in front of the cross, it becomes an idol in our ministry. Let’s worship God in splendor and majesty rather than trying to boil him down to fit into our social agendas.

For stewardship:

Perry’s prayer is that our prayer would be that we look at God and say “give me the ball…I’ll be hurt and play hurt, but I’ll do whatever it takes to push the ball down the field…I want the ball!” Perry said that in Acts 20:12, the youth ministry got brought back up and the church embraced stewardship…they said they want the ball.

We can do it, no matter how small our budget is. But if our attitude is that we want the ball, money doesn’t matter. It doesn’t happen because of lights, sound systems, looks, but because there is a sold out man and team saying give us the ball…and they are sold out for Jesus. Perry says that the senior pastor needs to make sure the youth ministry has everything they need and the youth pastor needs to sit down with his senior pastor and find out what his vision is…and then line up with that.

God’s plan is that youth ministry will thrive in the context of the local church to make a difference. When the church gets that right, it is on fire and is an unstoppable force!

Perry closed with the following comments:

“It’s always hard when we do what Jesus calls us to do. When we think it’s hard, may we think of Jesus hanging on the cross and bleeding! If no one else tells you this, I (Perry Noble) believe that you are the difference makers. Out of your ministries will be the next Billy Graham and other amazing church leaders! We will not fall…we want the ball!”

–          paulg


Uncertainty, Clarity, and Flexibility…

November 21, 2009

This is part two of my day one blog. Later on in the day, at the Big Room event (the main session where everyone is together), Andy Stanley brought an excellent message about uncertainty that I will not soon forget! Now I know that Andy usually preaches pretty fast, but what he brought was like a machine gun with the trigger held in. It was non-stop goodness. I typed over four pages of notes on my computer and my fingers were aching afterwards.

Andy started off by giving us the following statements: “I may be in charge but I don’t always know what to do. I may be in charge but I don’t have all the answers. If I knew what was going to happen, then I’d know what to do. Every leader to some extent is clueless (we just don’t want the people following us to figure that out). When it comes to leadership, there is so much uncertainty and it never ever ever goes away!” He went on to say that we will always have limited information and we will never know what the future holds. And then he had us repeat the following statement: “I will always be uncertain, I’m certain of it!”

One of Andy’s main points was that we will always face uncertainty as leaders. It is a normal and permanent part of leadership. If everything was predictable then there would be absolutely no need for pastors (leadership). God always got the best mileage out of uncertainty. When God does amazing things, it usually isn’t during a day when nothings is going wrong…it’s usually when there is some degree of uncertainty.

In the midst of uncertainty, Andy said that there are two things we should turn to: clarity and flexibility. In times of uncertainty there is a need for leadership to retreat back to being clear and flexible. Clarity trumps uncertainty in an organization every single time. When times are uncertain in our local church, family, organization, etc…that is the time for the leaders to step up and be absolutely crystal clear about what God has called us to do. Clarity in the time of uncertainty is what positions and surfaces leaders in an organization. An illustration of this comes from the scriptures in the transition between Moses and Joshua. Joshua was good at wondering because his mentor was (Moses). And then God wanted him to lead an army into battle. Talk about uncertainty!

Joshua had no clue what to do so he told the people that there is stuff that he doesn’t know, but in three days they would be crossing the Jordan and taking the land that God has promised them. That’s leadership in uncertain times! It’s the definition of pure leadership! Next, Andy gave us a quote/philosophy/vision from Steve Jobs (former owner of Apple) that said: “We’ve got to focus on what we can be good at and stop everything else…we are going to build easy to use computers.”  Steve Jobs did what every leader has to do in times of uncertainty. He stepped back into what he knew for sure…stepped back from the numbers and chaos of a hurting/dying company and reinvigorated them!

What has God called us to do in our ministries? What has God called our student ministries to do in our communities? What has God called our church to do in our community or our world?

Andy said that clarity in times of uncertainty will move your organization forward. You don’t have to have a cute phrase for your vision, but you also shouldn’t have a huge paragraph. We need to figure out what the one thing that God has called us to do is. For Steve Jobs, it was to build computers that are easy to use! Certainty around the calling of God is extraordinarily powerful, and that’s where we have to retreat. It has to be crystal clear what God has called us to do, in our mind and on our lips!

Next, Andy talked about flexibility. In times of uncertainty, there needs to be incredible flexibility. Plans change, but vision should stay the same. What Andy said next was great. He said: “Fall in love with your vision, but date your plans. Marry your vision and just fool around with your plans. You’ve got to stay extraordinarily committed…plans are going to change!” If we ever confuse our vision with our mission, we are sunk…because plans WILL fail!

Another quote that jumped out at me was: “Fundraising is a plan; church planting is a mission and a vision…if you get them confused, you’re in trouble!” We can’t abandon the mission and vision because of a failed plan.

We must help our leaders, elders, and deacons to understand the difference between vision and approach. Approach may change numerous times…plans change…but vision always remains the same! Andy says we need to be stubborn with our vision and flexible in our plans.

There was so much good content in Andy Stanley’s message to youth workers but one of the most important things that I snagged up from it was what he said about leadership. He said that leadership is not about making decisions on your own, but standing up and owning the decisions as a team. He went on to tell us about the wisest man in the world (Solomon) who had the most to say about seeking counsel from others. Even though he knew the most out of anyone ever, he still saw it wise to seek the teams’ advice on things. Leadership is about owning decisions once you made them with a multitude of wise counselors, not alone!

–          paulg


Story, Experience, and Collaboration…

November 21, 2009

Wow, what a day! I won’t be writing about everything in this one post. That would be way too lengthy. So I have decided to break it up into a few separate posts.

Today was the official first day of the youth specialties convention in Atlanta. I have been here since Wednesday night though. I planned to arrive early so I could attend the pre-convention intensive training seminar that was offered. The one that I chose to attend was taught by Mike Novelli, Mark Novelli, and Kelly Dolan and was called “Story, Experience, and Collaboration.” It was a six hour course (split up in to two three hour courses), thus the term “intensive” before the training seminar! I chose this one because one of the presenters was the guy that wrote the book (Shaped by the Story) that I recently bought and started reading. This new method of teaching has intrigued me for some time now and I was continually told by many of my youth pastor friends to get the above-mentioned book. Whenever I found out the author of the book was leading the seminar, I knew that it was the one for me.

Mike and Mark are twins so half of the time I never knew which one was speaking, which is why I liked when Kelly spoke; it was easy to distinguish who he was! The seminar started off with Mike showing a clip of Louis CK from Conan O’Brien called “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy.” The clip was a comedic one that basically stated that we live in a world where everything is amazing (we have everything at our fingertips/disposal) but no one is happy. He showed this to illustrate that this emergent generation are not idiots, but their expectations have changed. How we learn things, how we view the world, and how we interact with each other have all changed. Typical forms of worship, engagement, faith formation, and spiritual community do not work well with these students. As a result, this should change the way that we do ministry.

Mike told us a story of how he noticed that most of his students were very busy, but not very deep. To try to solve this, he tried his favorite method of inductive Bible study (an analytical method of looking at a specific text). In this method, you ask specific questions to learn. Mike then told us a story of one of his students that when asked what he thought about the new method of learning, said: “I like that we are learning the Bible, and I think that it is important that we do, but I don’t think that this is the way that I learn!” This blew Mike away and got him to start thinking: “Is the Bible intimidating, boring, or irrelevant?” and “when do they begin to experience, interact with, and enjoy this story (of the Bible) for themselves?”

At Mike’s next church, he tried a new form of teaching with them that he learned form a missionary in Uganda. He tried a method of teaching known as “storying.” In storying, learning is now the hearer’s responsibility. Storying is not about memorizing Bible stories, but it is about it becoming their own story! They can see themselves in the people in the story and how they should and shouldn’t live! One student’s comment about storying is as follows:

“It made me realize…I need to live for the author! God has a story for my life and I am excited to discover and I want to share it with others. God’s amazing story is what we’ve been waiting for our entire lives.” – Michelle (High School Junior)

Mike saw a breakthrough and that the story was really rooted in these students (like Michelle). The students knew where they fit in to the story and that they are a continuation of that story. Something changed in his students; something lasting…there was formation in it!

This idea of storying has really got me thinking and trying to find ways to incorporate it and use it in my youth ministry. One of the main reasons I want to try to implement this is because of the following statistics:

We retain:

  • 10% of what we read
  • 20% of what we hear
  • 30% of what we see
  • 50% of what we see and hear
  • 70% of what is discussed with others
  • 80% of what we experience personally
  • 95% of what we teach someone else

If our students can experience God’s story personally and then teach it to others, imagine how drastically different our youth ministries, churches, and world would be!

– 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


Night of a Thousand Memories…

October 26, 2009

Last night was the yearly pastor appreciation service that my church holds for its pastors. Being that I have only been on staff here since February of this year, I have never experienced one of these services (or maybe I should say “roasts”) before. The theme of the night was, “Night of a Thousand Memories,” and it definitely did provide a thousand memories for me. Some were scary (as you will soon read) and some were encouraging, but they were all good!

The evening opened up with a dinner (soup and salad) and then moved into the sanctuary for the pastor appreciation service. The worship band opened with a song my senior pastor picked (God of This City) and one that I picked (Revelation Song). Then one of the MC’s for the night (the head elder) read through and spoke briefly about each pastor’s favorite Bible verse/passage. After the serious stuff was out of the way, the laughs began!

Two of my youth group leaders came out and said a few nice things about me and how they’ve enjoyed working with me for the last 8 months. After they were done with the nice compliments, they presented me with my gifts. I got two garbage cans, some hand towels for my bathroom, some hand towels for my kitchen, and some sponges. I received these “gifts” because I let the girls in my youth group and the female leaders use my apartment a few weeks ago for a “girls only dinner and a movie night!” Apparently, they were not too impressed with the cleanliness (or lack thereof) of my apartment. What did they expect? I’m a 24-year-old dude that lives alone!! It seemed clean to me! Everyone at the service got a good laugh out of my gifts and the stories behind them. After that, a parent of one of my students (also one of my leaders) introduced the next guest. She started out by saying that it was one of my favorite artists/movie stars and that I have been in the fan club for quite some time. She then announced that this artist/actor was a teenage girl named Hannah Montana. After that, our office manager came parading out dressed up as “Olga Oklahoma” (Hannah Montana’s made up cousin)!

Some background info:

I will admit (and am not ashamed to do so) that I went to see the Hannah Montana movie when it was in theaters. I took my friend (now girlfriend) to see it in exchange for her going to see a manlier movie with me sometime. I saw it as an opportunity to hang out with a potentially awesome girl, and to get two dates out of one!!! It was our first time hanging out and the movie wasn’t as bad as people make it out to be. There were a few different country stars that made a cameo appearance in the movie, one of which was one of my favorite groups (Rascal Flatts)! In the movie, Rascal Flatts performed their hit songs “Bless the Broken Road” and “Backwards,” which are very good songs! I really like movies with a down home, country feel to them, and this movie provided just that.

Now that the background info and mini movie review is out of the way, allow me to get back to the service recap from last night!

After Olga Oklahoma made her parade around the sanctuary, I got called to the front to receive a hug from “her.” She then said, “Pastor Paul, is it true that you need a little help with your Sunday wardrobe?” To which I answered, “hmmm…not that I know of!” “She” then went out of the room and came back with a brand new suit that the church purchased for me.

Side note: I do not need help dressing nicely for church. Olga Oklahoma was just doing ad lib and had nothing planned to say. I learned this today when the above mentioned parent/leader called me and made sure I wasn’t offended by Olga’s comment!

Regardless though, it is a very nice suit and I’m happy to have received it.

This was the last of my humiliation for the night. Oh wait, no…it definitely wasn’t!!!! After I got my suit and Olga thanked me for being a fan of her cousin Hannah, “she” put her hand on my shoulder, paused, and then gave me a kiss on the cheek! It was very sweet of “her!” How many other youth pastors can say that they got a kiss from their male office manager while they were dressed up as a female?

At the end of the service, the head elder had both of the pastors come up front and take our shoes off. He then asked those from the church who are willing to support us and go on the journey with us to bring their shoes up front as well. Everyone in the church was shoeless to show that they are along for the ride, no matter what! They showed that they are willing to follow their shepherds and walk with us on the journey. Then he had everyone gather around their pastors to pray for them! It was an excellent ending to an excellent service. It was awesome to see and experience the support that my church shows to its pastors!

I am extremely blessed to be a part of a church that loves its pastors so much. I’m glad to be here and I know that I am where God wants me to be! Thank you!

– paulg


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