Thursday, January 8, 2015

Explorative Theology: Helping Students Embrace What They Believe

I recently had lunch with Joe, a former youth group member who had just graduated from college and was living at home again while trying to figure out what he was going to do next. We reminisced about old times, talked about his time in college, and he shared about some of the opportunities coming his way and how he was hoping a full-time job would be right around the corner. About three-quarters of the way through lunch, I turned the conversation to faith and church, wanting to know where he was with Jesus. As it turned out, he really hadn't been to church much at all in the four years he was away at college except when he was home and his mom invited him. He explained that he believed in God but also had some disagreements with Christian beliefs—and he was more concerned with having fun.

This was not the first conversation of this kind that I've had with former students, and it won't be the last. A lot has been said during the past few years about high school graduates walking away from the faith during their college years. It seems as if many youth workers are wrestling with how ineffective our programming is at helping teens keep their faith in college. Despite all the negativity this is drawing from so many in youth ministry, I have concluded that it's a good thing.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Importance of Perspective

A couple weeks ago, I (Jake) was at a Youth Ministry conference and on Friday night, I was chatting with a couple of people when the topic of our book, 99 Thoughts on Marriage and Ministry, came up. One of the youth workers got a little excited and expressed that her and her husband had been married for a little over a year, and she asked me to give her some nuggets of wisdom from the book.

I smiled and asked her how her first year of marriage had been. “Oh, it’s been great,” she replied. So I began to share that our first year of marriage had been anything but great. I was open and honest about some of the struggles and pain we went through in our first year of marriage, along with some of the subsequent lessons that we learned because of those things.

Keep reading at

Monday, December 1, 2014

Sermon 11/30/2014 - Yeah, Right!?

The story of Jonah is one of those funky stories in the Bible that make some people discredit the entire Bible. A man being swallowed by a fish is certainly hard to believe. Is it possible that the story of Jonah is fictional though, and does that change anything about the Bible as a whole? Or is the story definitely historical?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Sermon 11/16/14 - Angry at God

What are the things that usually make you angry? Going deeper, WHY do those things make you angry? What can we learn about our anger from the story of Jonah?

Bringing Home Difficult People

Whether you have been in youth ministry for 5-minutes or 50-years, it doesn’t usually take long to figure out that there are some difficult people within our churches. You know, that parent who always seems to have an issue with something you’re doing. That elder who seems to never be satisfied with youth group attendance. Or that pastor who just can’t understand why you do what you do with students.

In our experience, it’s these difficult people within our churches that can be one of the biggest threats to our marriage. Jake has had countless times, especially early in his career, where he has come home frustrated and short due to a difficult encounter that day. We’ve had pending decisions from church leadership that impact our family’s wellbeing that seem to drag out forever. And we’ve had demanding parents interrupt family time because they want something now or else…

Difficult people are a guarantee in our line of work, but how do we avoid bringing them home all the time to our families?

Keep reading at:

Monday, November 3, 2014

REVIEW: Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker: A Manifesto of Integration

NOTE: This review was written months before I signed a publishing contract with the same publisher as this book.

With the growing tide of books addressing the changes in youth culture today, The Youth Cartel continues to release highly practical books at the forefront of changing the way youth ministry is operating. April Diaz'sRedefining the Role of the Youth Worker: A Manifesto of Integration is a highly personal story of how she and the leadership at Newsong Church completely re-wrote their youth worker job descriptions.

REVIEW: Youth Ministry in a Post Christian World

NOTE: This review was written months before I had a publishing contract to write the sequel to this book.

It seems as if the youth ministry world has been talking about the epidemic of high school students walking away from their faith after graduation forever. There have been countless books citing research and observations about the changing trends of how students approach faith and where things could be heading.

Brock Morgan's Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World is an amazing addition to this topic that is refreshingly different.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Listening to God's Voice

Conventional Biblical wisdom says to have advisors when it comes to orienting your life and ministry. To listen to your family, friends, peers, elders, and church leadership—and this is in fact a very prudent track to take. When living amidst the demands of ministry, you want to have trusted people around you who can help with making big decisions, make sure your life is balanced, and support you through trying times.

For many of us in ministry, the issue isn’t so much about having voices involved in our life and ministry; we typically have more than enough! The question we all need to be asking though is whose voice is, and should be, the loudest? Is it your senior pastor’s voice? Is it your spouse’s? Is it the church board? Or your children? Who do you listen to as you plan your schedule, as you live out your professional and personal life?

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Sermon 9/14/2014 - How Do You See Yourself?

How we see ourselves is a crucial issue that dictates our ability to give and receive love to both God and others.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Questions Before the Holidays (Even Though It’s September!)

Some of you may have read the title of this piece and said to yourself, “Holidays?! It’s only September! We have plenty of time before we start having to deal with the holidays!” On the one hand, yes, you’re right! Thanksgiving is a few months away, however we’ve learned that now is just about the right time to start having some conversations to have the best holiday season your family can have. (Case in point: Melissa’s father and Jake’s mom have both asked about our Thanksgiving and Christmas plans already!)

Here are some important holiday expectations to start talking about now:

Monday, July 14, 2014

Surviving Vacation

It’s summer—the time of year when most of us ministry workaholics finally take a vacation. And while vacations are supposed to be times of relaxation, rest, and rejuvenation, they can often become just the opposite. Especially if you have kids! During our nine years of marriage we’ve experienced some awesome vacations, and plenty of hellish ones, too. (Once, we spent an entire week in Florida with another couple, all puking our guts out together. There was a trip to the hospital…it was kind of epic.)

So what can you do to make sure your time away is as enjoyable and restful as possible?

Continue reading at:

Friday, July 11, 2014

Why I Won't Sign the Gordon College Petition

Gordon College president
D. Michael Lindsay.
This past week my Facebook feed erupted with status and comments about the recent letter sent to the White House by Christian leaders requesting religious exemption in regards to hiring GLBT individuals. The reason it was so prominent on my feed was due to the fact that my alma mater was front and center in the letter, as Gordon College's President, D. Michael Lindsay was one of the signees. Numerous students took to Facebook to share their opinions, and soon enough an online petition surfaced that asks Lindsay to rescind his name from the letter. Around the same time, Lindsay responded himself to the criticism with a letter on Gordon's website. (Updated 7/14/14: The Trustees of Gordon College have also since sent a letter to the student body.)

With all of this, I have been silent on my thoughts so far other than private conversations with my wife (also a Gordon alum). However, as I have wrestled with my own thoughts and gone back and forth, I can't fight the nagging push to throw my two cents into the conversation.

One of my first observations, is that (at least in my Facebook feed) all of the comments concerning this issue have been posted along with an article that was in The Boston Globe and I haven't seen one person post a link to the actual letter written by Lindsay and the other Christian leaders. Which leads me to a question: if you haven't read the actual letter in it's entirety and are solely basing your response from a skewed article pushing an agenda, how is that responsible? If you sent an email to a friend, and then that friend took two lines out of your email and wrote a blog about it presenting you in a certain light, and then others started painting you in a certain light based on those two lines being taken out of the context of the whole, you'd be pissed! And you should be!!

I am not for one second saying that everyone has to agree with Lindsay's decision to include his name on the letter, however I am suggesting that if you haven't even read the original letter to the White House, to go and read that before saying anything else. Perhaps you will find that your response actually doesn't fit with the original text and instead is responding to something out of context and skewed by a media outlet with an agenda. And you know what, perhaps you will read the full letter and still feel the exact same way, which is fine and leads me to me next observation.

One of the things that I love about the religious freedom in this country is the ability to disagree with one another. For those of you who know me or have my Facebook statuses pop un in their feeds will know that I love debating and discussing theology. I just wrote an entire curriculum for students based around the idea of helping them explore their faith and come to their own conclusions about theology. And at the core of it, is the idea that I think it is more healthy for faith development to have a student disagree with me on a theological opinion, but be able to articulate and defend their position. This opposed to being able to regurgitate the "correct" answer that I have taught them out of my own opinions.

This same thing is one of the things that I loved about my time at Gordon. I loved the fact that Gordon didn't just accept students from the exact denominational background. Heck, it would have made things a lot easier to put everyone with the exact same beliefs on the same Christian campus, but it wouldn't have been better. A very large part of cementing my faith and current views was the debate that took place during meals, in classes and during late night conversations in Gillies about baptism, GLBT, communion, dancing, swearing, men bouncing their eyes versus women covering up, and more. And, again, I loved that people (for the most part in my experience) were able to disagree with one another on certain issues, sometimes very loudly, and yet not lose their friendship over it.

While I was a student at Gordon, I had the amazing privilege of spending a few days with John Perkins, a civil rights leader and racial reconciliation activist who worked hand in hand with Martin Luther King Jr. The biggest takeaway I took from our time was how he viewed the issue of tolerance. Numerous times he told me, "True tolerance is: you believe what you believe, I'll believe what I believe and we won't kill each other." Now keep in mind the context that is coming from. It is from the heart of racial discrimination, of African Americans being treated as less than human. I was blown away that here was a core leader, who watched (not literally as far as I know) his friend be assassinated for his beliefs, take this strong position of saying that segregation and racial prejudice was wrong, yet at the time allow for people to have a differing opinion on it.

It is with this in mind why I won't be signing the petition going around and I would strongly consider others to think through what their signature really means. In my opinion (and you are free to disagree), when you read the original letter, and you read Lindsay's response, the intention isn't about taking away GLBT rights or asking for permission to discriminate. Yes, it does impact that discussion about the school hiring GLBT staff or allowing openly GLBT students to attend. But I think that is an entirely different debate, one that I am all in favor of people fighting if that is what you believe. 

However, what I hear in the letter is a petition for religious freedom, asking for the allowance and freedom to interpret Scriptures, to determine how those Scriptures dictate right and wrong, which then impacts how we live. I hear a letter asking the President of the United States, to allow for the religious freedom to disagree with others. The mere fact that you have the freedom to sign the petition in the first place and to speak your mind about your theological conclusions concerning GLBT issues, again in my opinion, is the exact thing that Lindsay and the others are going after.

And let's please keep that in mind too: there are others who signed this letter. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church and author of Purpose Driven Life. Gabe Lyons of Q Ideas, Andy Crouch of Christianity Today, and Jenny Yang of World Relief. So if you do decide to take a strong stance of Lindsay's decision to sign this letter, please make sure your response is consistent. Boycott your local bookstore to get rid of copies of Purpose Driven Life. Cancel your subscription to Christianity Today. Stop giving money to World Relief. By all means you have the right do do all those things and disagree with how all of these organizations interpret Scripture.

However, by signing the petition, again it is my opinion, that you are fighting to have your right to disagree taken away. This time, you may find yourself on the winning side and feel you have gained a victory in freedom of expression. However what happens when the issue tomorrow is the right to believe that Christ is the only way to God (as he says in John 14:6)? Or the week after when the issue is about the freedom to worship openly? Or next month when a Christian church's right to deny hiring a Muslim Imam as their pastor is legally questioned?

Yes, I know there are so many other facets of the GLBT debate and conversation...however, again in my opinion, that is that is exactly the debate that Lindsay and these other leaders are trying to protect. They want and welcome you to have different opinions, however they are asking for the same liberty and freedom they are fighting for you to have. To disagree with your opinion.

And that's something I can't help but agree with.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sermon 6/22/14 - What Makes Someone An Adult

What does it really mean to be an adult? Being financially independent? Having a job? Having a GOOD job? According to some of the leading phycologists and sociologists, it really can be boiled down to one main thing. And unfortunately, the struggle to embrace that one thing dates all the way back to the Garden of Eden.