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Archive for January, 2009

I am addicted to connection.

The more I wrestle with this whole issue of being fully present vs. always available the more I am beginning to discover the root of the issue.  And I honestly don’t think that naming it an “addiction” is going to far.  Dictionary.com defines an “addiction” as “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.” So, I suppose the question then becomes whether or not this practice of “connection” is something to which I am enslaved.

Sure, everyone needs to be connected to something, or someone.  That is human nature, and it’s how God created us to be. We need to be connected to God and connected to people around us.  But is there a point at which that need to be connected becomes so habit forming that we are unable to be alone?

Our society and its instant gratification culture have made it possible to get anything we want whenever we want.  Along with that, we can generally get a hold of anyone we want whenever we want.  Between e-mail, instant messaging, facebook, cell phones, and “crackberries” we can connect with any person anywhere in the world at any moment.

And so, I am a product of my society.  Back in the day I used to crave solitude.  I can remember having the express desire to spend days alone – no computer, no cell phone – just alone.  Lately, though, I can’t handle being alone.  I am constantly connected to the internet (unless I am travelling from one place with wi-fi to another place with wi-fi) and when I’m not conected to the internet, I’m most likely texting this person or that.  It almost seems like I need to be connected to someone at all times.

So, what is it that causes us to need this connection?  Why do we have so much trouble spending time in solitude anymore?  Will we ever get back to the point of choosing solitude over connection?  What will it take to get us there?

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So, it’s surprising me a little bit that the transition from full-time youth ministry at Grace Lutheran Church in Fremont, OH to my current part-time position at Parma Lutheran Church has actually gotten harder instead of easier.  Back when I started in Parma, I was loving the fact that I had dropped from working 40+ hour work weeks down to 20 hours a week, but lately it’s seeming like those 20 hours are never enough.

In a lot of ways, it’s helping me identify some of the differences between  a “job” and a “vocation”.  Dictionary.com defines a “job” as “a post of employment; full-time or part time position”.  That makes sense to me… I’ve had a number of “jobs” during the course of my life: concession stand worker for the City of Mayfield Heights, filing and for Shuttler’s Uniforms, birthday party hostess for Chuck E. Cheese’s, camp counselor for Camp Mowana, and most recently Director of Youth & Education Ministries (at Grace) and Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries (at PLC).  All of these “jobs” have fit the dictionary definition, but only the last few have qualified as fitting the Dictionary.com definition of “vocation”:

  1. a particular occupation, business, or profession; calling.
  2. a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career.
  3. a divine call to God’s service or to the Christian life.
  4. a function or station in life to which one is called by God: the religious vocation; the vocation of marriage.

See, vocation is far more than a job.  And for me, youth ministry is far more than a job – it’s a vocation, a calling from God to pour Christ into the lives of youth, and to walk alongside them on this journey of discipleship.  So, in essence it’s a lifestyle (and I’m sure most of you in any form of youth ministry would agree with that – or any form of ministry for that matter).

So, maybe that’s my struggle in transitioning from a full-time youth ministry “job” into a part-time youth ministry “job” – my calling remains the same, and the more time I spend investing myself in that calling, the more joy I find in it.

So, what do you do when you’re confined to part-time hours in a full-time vocation?

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I’ve been really challenged and convicted the past few weeks to examine the differences between being fully present and always available.  Are the two mutually exclusive or is it possible to balance the two?  This is a tough call for me, because I am a strong believer both in being fully present to God and people and being always available to a friend, youth, family member, etc. who is in need.  I credit some of my appreciation for being fully present to my time spent working at camp and touring with Spoke Folk.  These were both situations where we were strongly encouraged to be fully present in everything that we were doing, whether porch-sitting on a Saturday with whoever was hanging around at camp, or staying up late into the night getting to know the intimate details of a friend’s life who you’ve just met.  There is power in being fully present, and I strongly feel that the best relationships develop out of being fully present (that includes relationships with God as well as with other people!).

We live in a society today that practically makes it necessary to be always available.  We carry cell phones with us at all times (and really, who turns off their cell phone anymore?), update friends with the little details of our lives using Facebook status messages and Twitter, and are connected to the internet nearly 24/7 with high-speed internet access available pretty much anywhere we go.  So, where do we draw the line?  I’ve always been one to tell my friends/youth/etc. that they can call anytime if they need something, whether that’s in the middle of the afternoon or the middle of the night.  I try to make myself as available as possible for friends, family, etc.  I make it ridiculously easy to get in touch with me (I’m a (newly) avid texter, keep my cell phone with me at all times, spend far too much time on Facebook, am nearly always connected to Instant Messenger, and even update Twitter fairly regularly).

I’ve recently been giving some kids in the youth group a hard time about texting during youth stuff – it’s not so much a problem during “official” meetings, but when we’re in the car driving to an event, or hanging out playing games, or having coffee… it seems like our culture has taught them that interrupting any conversation to answer a text message/phone call/etc. is the norm.  It struck me the other day, though, that if I’m going to keep giving them such a hard time about it, then I should probably be able to articulate my reasoning for it. Especially since I’ve been guilty of doing the same thing with friends, and even during classes (shh! don’t tell!) lately.

I’m beginning to realize that it is absolutely appropriate to be “unavailable” sometimes – healthy, even.  Where do we draw that line, though?  Part of me wants to say that if I’m with a person (hanging out, having coffee, on a date, etc.) then I’m available to that person and that person only.  But is there ever a time in which it’s appropriate to allow for interruption?  Is it even possible in today’s society to be fully present without having our attention in some way distracted?

I think I’m going to continue wrestling with this.  I’m not even sure that there’s a black and white solution (in fact, I’m sure there’s probably not).  I think it’s an important discussion to have, though – with friends, with the youth I minister to/with, with family, etc.

What do you think?

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I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, and there’s been lots of really quality stuff floating around in the blogosphere.  Here’s a bit of a peek at what I’ve been consuming lately:

  • Josh over at morethandodgeball.com posted some really great thoughts on Youth Ministry Fumbles.  After making a fairly big blunder on Friday it was an encouraging read to come home to.
  • A 14-year old girl made national headlines after sending 14,528 text messages in one month.  I immediately went online and checked my texting balance.  I pale in comparison at a measly 561 this month.  It did make me wonder how many some of my youth use, although I’m pretty sure they’re not anywhere near what this girl has “accomplished”. (ty stuart)
  • Craig Groeschel shared some great thoughts on Sharing Your Passion in ministry.
  • Tim Schmoyer had a great post on the benefits of Combining Jr. High and Sr. High in Youth Ministry.  It kind of makes me thankful for my small church in which this is basically the only option.  He makes some really great points.

So, there’s some of what I’ve been reading.  I’ve got some thoughts brewing for blog posts this week, but until then, enjoy this.  Here’s to another week!

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I’ve been trying to shift my priorities in youth ministry for a while now with little to no success.  I’ve had the tendency for the year and a half that I’ve been in ministry to spend more of my “work hours” sitting behind a desk than actually spending time with youth (yikes!).  This week, however, I’ve taken the leap – and I love it!  Why didn’t I change my priorities sooner?

Because of the size of the church I’m in now (relatively small, and much smaller than Grace was), it’s pretty manageable for me to get to know all the kids in our ministry fairly well.  So, for the time being (until we start to experience some growth), I’m taking advantage of that and making it a top priority to do exactly that.  I want to know the kids that I’m ministering to and with.

In Matthew 22:37-39 Jesus says these words when asked about the “Greatest Commandment”:  “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” So, if Jesus said that these are the two greatest commandments, I’m realizing that I should be doing ministry in that way.  So, the new priorities for youth ministry:

  1. Relationship with God: Deepening my own relationship with God and helping our youth to deepen their relationships with God by supporting and walking alongside them in this journey of faith.
  2. Relationship with Others: Seeking to develop relationships with youth both in and outside of our congregation by meeting them in “neutral” territory (such as coffee shops, fast food restaurants, etc.) and on “their turf” (i.e. school programs, athletic events, concerts, etc.).

That’s it.  Everything beyond those two things is gravy.  These two things will be the meat of my youth ministry, and I’m excited to say that my schedule this week has already begun to reflect the shift in priorities!

Shifting Priorities in Youth Ministry

How does your schedule (ministry or otherwise) reflect your priorities?

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I’m going to try and make a (fairly) regular habit of updating progress on my 101 Things in 1001 Days venture: partly for accountability, and partly simply to document progress.  So, since beginnin on January 1st, here’s what’s been accomplished:

#52: Read and Finish 101 Books
I finished reading both The Shack by: Wm. Paul Young and The Synoptic Problem by: Mark Goodacre – 2 down, 99 to go!

#54: Watch 101 Movies I Have Never Seen Before
Thanks to Saturday’s snow day and my canceled weekend class, I was able to watch Sex and the City (The Movie) and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants II with my mom and Kristen.

#55: Write a letter to myself to be opened on the last day of the challenge.
Finished!  It was kind of weird writing a letter to “future me”, but I think it will be really rewarding come 9/24/11 to look back at what life was like at the beginning of 2009.

#58: Blog at least twice a week.
So far so good!  I’m enjoying keeping up blogging on a regular basis.

#93: Knit 4 scarves and give them away.
I broke out the knitting stuff this weekend and picked up work on an unfinished scarf that I hadn’t worked on since last January-ish.  I had forgotten how much I enjoy knitting, and I can’t wait to give this one away!

#99: Donate 1,000,000 grains of rice.
I’ve been spending a lot of time over at FreeRice.com – I love that I can brush up on things like basic math, French vocabulary and English grammar while helping to contribute to the fight against hunger.

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The Shack I’ve been looking forward to reading Wm. Paul Young’s The Shack for quite some time now, so when I received the book for Christmas this year I couldn’t wait to get into it.  There’s been quite a bit of controversy surrounding this book, and since it had been recommended to me by at least 5 people I figured it was one I should pick up.

Basically, Young weaves for the reader a tale of Mac, a man who, having faced incredible tragedy in his life, ends up encountering God (the trinity) for a weekend at the place that most represents the pain of his past.

I think the most important thing to keep in mind when reading The Shack is that, while based on Christian Theology, it is still a fictional book.  Young paints a beautiful and mesmerizing picture of the trinity – Papa (God the Father), Jesus and Sarayu (the Holy Spirit) have conversations and interactions with Mack that brilliantly portray the beauty of the Trinity.

I was slightly disappointed with the ending of the book (which I won’t reveal for those of you who haven’t read it), but I still highly recommend it.  Anyone who needs a bit of new life breathed into their understanding of God should pick up this book.  It will challenge you and it will inspire you.

There’s a reason why it was a #1 New York Times Bestseller.

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