Thinking Out Loud

October 6, 2017

Teenage Rebellion is not Mandatory

It didn’t happen to our kids — now 23 and 26 — and it need not happen to yours, but many parents take the perspective that teen rebellion is simply to be expected. It also didn’t happen to Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, author of the book Why I Dind’t Rebel: A Twenty-Two-Year-Old Explains Why She Stayed on the Straight and Narrow and How Your Kids Can Too (Nelson Books) which released in paperback just a few days ago.

First, the story of how the book came to be. You need to know that Rebecca is the daughter of Sheila Wray Gregoire, a Canadian author whose work includes 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex and To Love Honor and Vacuum; the last title also being the name of her popular blog.

In the winter of 2014, Sheila asked daughter Rebecca to write a blog post for her on why she didn’t rebel. At first Rebecca said no — yes, I supppose you could call that small scale rebellion — but later changed her mind. Rebecca dashed it off in 20 minutes, and within the week it had been seen a quarter of a million times on the blog and over a million times on Facebook. You can read that article at this link.  Her mom then suggested she turn it into a book proposal.

Next, I need to explain why I wanted to read this book. Although we’ve never met, Sheila is a neighbor, inasmuch as last time I checked, we live in the same part of South Central Ontario. Or maybe we’re Eastern Ontario. It’s a big place and I’m never sure. I haven’t heard her speak but I’ve been aware of her traveling with Girls Night Out, a relief-and-development awareness program for women which tours Canadian cities. So there was a local-interest factor here, but honestly, I figured I’d read a chapter or two and then leave it there. As often happens, I ended up reading the entire book.

Like your first year Psychology textbook, this book relies highly on anecdotes from two dozen Millennials reflecting on their childhood years, with a very generous helping of Rebecca’s own family memories. Today she’s married and is considered a “self help blogger” at her website, LifeAsADare.com. So while everyone contributing to the book has the perspective of a few year’s distance from adolescent events, the voices in the book are all young.

This brings me to where I’ll probably depart from other reviews and publisher marketing on this title. For example this one: “Why I Didn’t Rebel provides an eye-opening way of raising kids who follow God rather than the world.  It should not be expected that teens are going to rebel, especially if you start to teach them the right way young.  The big key is to teach them right from wrong and consequences from a young age.”

I agree wholeheartedly, but I think there’s more potential here. I think that other Millennials might want to read this, and dare I say it, I think some teens could benefit from this; especially those whose home situation is not exactly perfect. I believe some — not all — adolescents might benefit from seeing some ideal family dynamics, and might also identify with the stories of those who persevered and survived amid family chaos.

Was Rebecca’s home situation the exception to the rule? She’s quick to point out that it wasn’t perfect, but it obviously provided her the security or stability which ruled out going through teen rebellion. In ten chapters she deals with the contributing factors and because of her age provides a refreshing perspective against a backdrop of more mature ‘experts’ writing parenting books.

I’m glad I chose to read all the way through; it’s a book I would recommend.


Read a sample chapter at proud Mom Sheila’s blog.

 

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October 2, 2017

My Sunday School Memoir, Part One

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:07 am

The church in which I spent my teenage years ultimately left me with a stronger memory of testimony than teaching. The various guest speakers who came through always had a story to tell and while I can now name-drop so many North American pastors and musicians to whom I was exposed, I think I experienced that at the expense of some Bible learning I would need to catch up on later.

In our Junior High, Sr. High and College and Career Sunday School classrooms, Christian businessmen from the congregation would drop in to share something with us; either a testimony of how they came to Christ, or how they are able to honor Christ in their workplace.

One in particular was a frequent guest. He worked in an industry that was known for its propensity to corruption. I was too young to appreciate the nuances of the term “money laundering,” but if that was that your goal, his vocation would be the career of choice.

So as a Christian, he always told us about the various ethical temptations which confronted him on a daily basis and how he always had to choose to do the right thing. “I am a Christian;” he would tell his customers, “So I can’t write up an invoice for a different amount than what you’re paying.” I think we teens and twenty-somethings were suitably impressed that he was an excellent Christian.

On reflection, many of the aspects of owning a business were lost on us kids. This weekend, his various appearances in our Sunday School rooms came to mind, and for the first time I considered the possibility he was speaking to the other teachers and not to us at all. He might have been saying, “I know what you think of people who do what I do, and I just want to tell you that I don’t compromise my Christian principles even though I’m in a usually shady line of work.”

Was he really all he said? I have no reason to believe, or even suspect otherwise. I think as Christians we have to take these things at face value. “Love,” said Paul to the Corinthians, “Believes the best.”

I just wonder why we we were exposed to this every couple of years. Did he approach the people in charge of the Sunday School and say, “I’d like to come and speak to the High School kids;” or did he simply do a great job the first time that led to other invitations? “We’ll get _______ to come; he’s really good in front of the students.”

I wonder where was the man or woman who could have come to us and said, “I was just reading something in Luke’s Gospel this week that really struck me as appropriate to the things you face at school every day, and so I asked if could come for 2-3 minutes and share it with you.” Who instead of radiating the joy of maintaining great moral standards in the face of a slimy business environment could have radiated the joy of discovering something in scripture he or she had never seen before. Who could have given us an overview of how the books of the Bible were arranged and how to interpret different genres. Who could have explained what made our church different than the ten or twelve churches we had to drive past to get there.

It was always testimony over teaching, but without a strong foundation, the problem becomes, ‘a testimony of what exactly?’

More on this in Part Two.

 

July 24, 2017

The Office of a College Campus Minister

Regular readers here will remember Jeff Snow from the three-part series about how divorce affects teens, which we actually ran twice. If you missed it, click this link and scroll down to Part One. Jeff is currently serving bi-vocationally doing campus ministry as part of Mission Canada, an initiative of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (what the Assemblies of God churches are known as here.) The University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) shares a campus with Durham College, so Jeff interacts with people studying at both levels, not to mention that this campus is more culturally diverse than anything our American readers might imagine.

He shared the following in a recent newsletter and as we do have readers here involved in student ministry, I thought it was worth presenting.

I get the feeling I like to work when there is food around.

I’m sitting in my favorite corner of the local Subway restaurant on a sunny but cool day working on this letter and it makes me think back to last semester, my first full semester of ministry through Mission Canada at UOIT/Durham College, and consider my favorite place to work on campus.

The cafeteria.

Last year, as I shared my ministry plans with a colleague, one of the first questions he asked me was would I have an office on campus? I just smiled. I knew I would have an office, but not in the way he was thinking.

My office is the cafeteria.

In my years of high school ministry, we would at times hear stories about youth pastors who had developed such a well-respected ministry at a high school that they were given office space. This does speak highly of the respect given to a youth pastor, but an office is something I’ve never aspired to for a couple of reasons.

One is that on a secular campus it puts a bulls-eye on your back for those to aim at who don’t want a Christian presence on campus. One principal told me years ago, “You fly under the radar. We like that.”

Secondly, being in an office means you are but one more person that a student has to go TO in order to get help and support. It takes more time and patience, but the payoff is greater if we are able to travel in the young person’s world, become accepted in their universe, and, by being on their turf, be more accessible when they need help and support. The goal is to try and be where the young people are.

Like in the cafeteria.

Over the past semester, the two places I spent most of my time on campus was at Campus Church, the Friday night student-led campus ministry, and in the cafeteria. Usually I will make an appointment to meet one student for lunch, with a plan to stay in the cafeteria the whole afternoon. I bring a laptop to do some work and look studious during downtime, but more often than not there isn’t any downtime, as students that I’ve gotten to know through the Campus Church ministry will stop by, pull out their lunch, and start chatting.

The conversations usually start off light, and sometimes stay that way. But most of the time the conversations move to deeper issues. Relationships, school pressure, dorm life, church life, world issues, the future, ministry opportunities, prayer for family and friends. All have been topics for discussion. I have found myself being a pastoral presence on campus for a number of these students. Many of them have home churches and pastors, but my presence on campus gives them accessibility to a listening ear and support right there on their turf. And they don’t have to go to an office and make an appointment. They can find the support they need.

Right there in the cafeteria.

My desire as I look forward to the coming semester is to find ways to connect with students who aren’t necessarily Christians, connect with students who are not yet part of Campus Church. That is where an office could come in handy for the few who might seek out spiritual support. It would be a formal way of identifying where to find support rather than talking to some dude in the cafeteria. But until the school reinstates the chaplaincy, my best bet for meeting students is through my office in the cafeteria. Whether it is meeting pre-Christians through their Christian friends or through other means, I’m looking forward to opportunities to meet pre-Christian students on their turf and help them see how the Gospel connects with where they are in life.


If you’re interested in learning more about Jeff’s work or providing financial support, click this link.

July 11, 2017

Post-Camp, Post-Festival Spiritual Highs: When they Crash

From the moment she got in the car for the one hour drive home, she didn’t stop talking. It had been an awesome two weeks. God was doing incredible things. She started talking about the people she wanted to take from her home church the following year. She described the insights the weekly speaker had shared on one particular Bible passage. When she got home she went into her room and for another hour worked out the chords for various worship songs she’d learned that week. 

So what happened? Over several days she got very sullen. On Sunday she seemed a little unsure if she even wanted to go to church. “Don’t you want to tell your friends about your great week?” you asked her. She had come down off the spiritual high and simply crashed

image 073115…Over the next few weeks, teens in your church will return having spent some time this summer

  • going to a Christian music festival
  • attending a Christian camp
  • working at a Christian camp
  • serving on a missions trip.

They return spiritually energized only to discover that their church experience now seems rather flat by comparison. Suddenly, business-as-usual or status-quo church holds no interest. I say that from personal experience. One summer, after the spiritual high of 13 weeks on staff at large Christian resort, by whatever logic it seemed to make sense, I simply dropped out of weekend services for an entire month, until a friend said something that gently nudged me back.

On the other hand, there are other teens in your church whose summer experience has not been so positive. They’ve been negatively influenced through contact with people

  • hanging out at home
  • vacationing at the campground, cabin or RV park
  • met on a road trip
  • interacting in the virtual world online

For them, returning to church has lost its appeal because they’ve either backslidden a little, or taken a nose dive into the deep waters of sin. Perhaps they’ve made new friends outside their Sunday or youth group circle.

Either way, summer is always a transitional time for preteens and adolescents, and while that’s true of mental, physical, emotional and social development, it’s also true in terms of spiritual development; and while some have soared spiritually, others have taken one step forward and ten steps backward.

The first challenge is knowing the difference between the two types of summer experiences. Identifying the source of the first type of disillusionment is easy because you probably already know the youth went to camp, the music festival or the mission field. It’s then a simple matter of probing what is they are now feeling after having had such an inspiring and uplifting summer experience. That might consist of finding ways to get them soaring again, although here one is tempted to caution against having teens live a manic life of going from spiritual high to spiritual high.

The group in the other category might not be so willing to open up. There may have been factors that drove them away from the centeredness of their past spiritual life. Perhaps their summer has been characterized by

  • a divorce in the family
  • an experiment with drugs or alcohol
  • delving into alternative spiritualities and faith systems
  • a loss of someone they loved or a pet
  • depression following a regretful first sexual experience.

They are dealing with pain, or doubt, or guilt, or uncertainty. Restoring them gently, as taught in Galatians 6:1, is likely your strategy at this point.

The second challenge is that many of these youth were, just a few weeks ago, on a parallel spiritual track. In post summer ministry, you’re reaching out to two very different types of kids: Those who prospered in their faith and those who faltered. Either way, they now find themselves back into the fall routine and the spiritual spark is gone.

A temptation here might be to let the first group help and nurture the second, but I would caution against that. The first group needs to sort out their own spiritual status first. They need to process how to return from what they did and saw and felt and learned and apply it to life in the real world. (One only goes on a retreat if one expects to go back to the battle and advance.) They shouldn’t live off the experience, but rather try to keep the closeness they felt to Christ during their time away.

The group which experienced everything from a lessening of their faith to a spiritual train wreck need a lot of love. They need to be reminded that their church or youth group is a spiritual home to which they can return, no matter how they feel, what they’ve done, or where their summer experience has left them.

Youth ministry is not easy. I only worked in it as an itinerant presenter, not as someone facing the same group of kids over a period of several years. If you were to graph their spiritual life, some would present an even line rising to the right, while others would show erratic ups and downs.

Either way, I think the greatest challenge would be those critical roundup weeks in the early fall when you’re trying to assess where everyone is at, and then try to collectively move on. For teens, and for all of us, the spiritual landscape is always changing.

March 7, 2017

Unequally Yoked: Advice Not Taken

dating-tipsWhile going through boxes of old books, I came across a 1962 publication by Back to the Bible Broadcast, Dating Tips for Christian Youth. Though only 64 pages in length, the booklet has no less than five authors dealing with the following topics at the length indicated:

  • Relationships with parents, 11 pages
  • Making sure you date the right person, 17 pages
  • The myth that “everyone is doing it,” 8 pages
  • The dangers of physical intimacy, 6 pages
  • Committing to a single person to date, ie. “going steady,” 11 pages

In other words, the chapter given the greatest weight in this 55-year old title has to do with the Biblical principle of not being “unequally yoked” which was and still is generally interpreted in this case to mean that Christians should not date non-Christians.

I have not spent a lot of time reading more recent books either written for teens or for people in youth ministry, but I would like to think this is still a rather important theme. Trying “unequally yoked” at CBD did not produce any youth titles, and “dating a non-Christian” only revealed a 2002 IVP booklet. On the internet however, “should a Christian date a non Christian” revealed 12,800,000 results. The phrase “unequally yoked” brought 345,000 results, and just to be sure I checked every one of them. Or maybe not.

Still, I’d like to think that youth pastors continue to advise the tweens and teens to make lifelong connections through church, youth groups, Christian concerts, church-based summer camps, and yes…with certain caveats…on Christian dating sites. In other words, not necessarily at school, their part-time job or, once they reach the legal age, at a bar.

So…

…I have to wonder if Christian kids grow up hearing this message over and over and over and over again, why is it that each week, in the context of my work, I hear the despairing voice of a parent lamenting that their teen or twenty-something is dating, is engaged to, or has married a non-believer. There are no words to describe the disappointment these moms and dads feel when, after a lifetime in church, their son or daughter has made a decision that they feel is the opposite of every core value they tried to instill in them on the subject of choosing a mate for life. Often, for this or other reasons, the relationship is currently in crisis.

The thing is, when a male and a female live together or get married (a choice that needs to be the subject of a different article) if one of them is not a Christian, while it’s sometimes the case that the non-Christian is willing to check out their partner’s church, the greater preponderance seems to be that both stop going to church.

recessive-faithI know nothing about biology but I remember hearing someone using genetics to explain how blue eyes are a recessive trait and as blue eyed people continue to crossbreed with non blue eyed people, the number of blue eyed people declines. I sort of feel like church attendance and faith commitment are recessive traits and as theological mixed marriages take place, we see the decline in church attendance and/or people identifying as Christian.

In other words, there’s more at stake than just the underlying reasons why Paul makes the statement in 2 Corinthians 6:14, though the context is quite broad and marriage is not mentioned specifically. (If you’re in a business partnership with an unbeliever, the principle would appear to apply equally.)

What’s at here stake seems to be the future of the church.

 

March 6, 2017

If Jesus Attended My High School

rene-schmidtToday we have a guest writer. René Schmidt wrote the following in the context of his role as the Director of The Beacon, a youth centre in Brighton, Ontario where he is on staff with Quinte Youth For Christ.  He’s also a published, award-winning author. Learn more at writersunion.ca or read his blog at booksbyreneschmidt.blogspot.ca.

• by René Schmidt

With some teenagers I have been discussing what Jesus may have been like as a teenager, or today, what Jesus would be like if he was a student in one of our local schools. What clothes would he wear? Who would be his friends? Would he seem ordinary in some ways?

So this is a poem I wrote about that…

If Jesus Attended My High School

I look at my high school and see the big crowd
There are so many, some shy and some loud
I wonder of all things how Jesus would be
If he were at my school – a student like me?

Maybe young Jesus would be the total sports achiever
Who could anticipate passes as a football receiver
Would his game-skills be awesome or his skating the best?
Would he be faster and smarter than all of the rest?

Would he be good-looking for the girls to admire?
Strong and handsome and he’d never perspire?
Or would he be a joker, the best kind of class clown,
Witty and smart, someone cool to be around?

When I try to fit in I wonder how Jesus would fare?
Would he buy the latest styles or blue-dye his long hair?
Would Jesus the teenager even think of these things?
Like who to ask to the semi, or perhaps the spring fling?

Would we be friends on Facebook or would he tweet on Twitter?
Would he wear clothes with pinstripes or glitter?
Maybe Jesus would avoid social media so speedy
And instead be spend time with a friend who was needy

Maybe Jesus would be a studious guy off in another zone
Reading dusty old textbooks in the library alone
He’d surely be smart, especially in History,
And know all the answers – to him nothing’s mystery!

He would know me, right down to my middle,
But would I know him? Recognize him, a little?
Jesus on earth wasn’t automatically respected
Born to poverty, not influence, and often rejected

WWJD says try to do what he would do, live as he did
But we imagine him a grownup man, not a teenaged kid
Because as a teenager in my school, I’m guessing that rarely
The day would go by that a Jesus would be treated fairly

Maybe teased for being good or the way that he talked
Or who really was his father, was he born out of wedlock?
Maybe he’d be short and ignored, not allowed in the club
Because those shy quiet types are the ones people snub

If a kid was friendless Jesus would text that kid’s phone
And he’d talk to that strange kid who is always alone
Jesus had a purpose and wouldn’t be embarrassed
To be seen with me when I’m being harassed

So maybe not fitting in at school isn’t the worst thing ever
Not belonging with the cool groups, or being thought clever
If Jesus went to my school, I hope that I’d recognize
Him for his goodness and kindness not his beauty or size

I look at my high school and see the big crowd
There are so many, some shy and some loud
I wonder of all things how Jesus would be
If he were at my school – a student like me?

April 29, 2016

Camp Memories (4)

The camp that I worked at was large enough that the food services operations had been contracted out to a catering company. Some of the teens who got hired were friends of other people on our junior staff, but there was no screening of anyone in the sense that our staff had to have a recommendation from a pastor, a youth pastor, and enclose a copy of their personal testimony.

All this meant that our dishwashers and housekeeping staff — who were Christians — regularly interacted with non-Christians who were cooks and bakers. Furthermore, the cooking staff got to attend any of the special events that were taking place in the evenings — special speakers, concerts, etc. — which meant that over time they had a number of questions about what we believed.

Evangelizing the people from the catering firm became a priority for the dishwashers (guys who fell under my supervision) and the housekeepers (girls who lived with the female bakers and cooks).

As Labor Day approached, two of the bakers were close to crossing the line of faith, but there was no indication that this was happening anytime soon. This increased the level of concern — and prayer, I hope — on the part of the housekeeping staff to the point where they upped their game in terms of pleading with the two who had expressed some interest.

img 042916I will say this: Regardless of your views on soteriology, or any aspects of the monergism/synergism debate, there is something to be said for the line from the Billy Graham radio show, “This is your hour of decision.” And there’s, “Now is the accepted time; today is the day of salvation.” And don’t forget, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” Even if you believe that salvation happens as process and not in a moment of crisis, I believe there is still always a defining moment.

Then, on Labor Day Monday, in other words on the same day, and possibly within an hour of each other, the two girls decided it was time to make that commitment.

So the housekeeping staff were ecstatic.

And they ran and got me.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I had never been in the spiritual delivery room before. I just thought it was interesting that after evangelizing and sharing their faith journey all summer with the two catering staff members, they felt they needed a professional to lead the actual conversion moment. And they thought that I was that professional. (We did have people with theology degrees on staff, but…)

So, not knowing what I know now, I felt it necessary to have them “pray a prayer” because that’s what the Bible says you do when you want to enter into eternal life, right? (Well, it does and doesn’t.)

Girl One joined me in the dining room, which was an appropriate setting given their summer had consisted of preparing the food which was eaten there. I told her that I was going to give a line and she simply had to repeat it after me. She did. Smiles. Hugs and high fives.

Then Girl Two came in and after a brief discussion, I told her to simply repeat the prayer after me. I was on a roll now. Any chance there’s a third person waiting outside?

“Dear Jesus;” I said.

“Dear Jesus;” she repeated.

“I acknowledge that I’m a sinner;” was the next line.

Silence.

“I acknowledge that I have sinned;” I repeated with slight editing.*

“I can’t pray this;” she said. 

Wait, what?

At this point I could have concluded that she just wasn’t ready; or that she’d felt coerced into this moment; or that peer pressure had resulted from the other girl’s decision. Or perhaps she just couldn’t give intellectual assent to committing to follow Christ. Or maybe I’d worded it wrong and she didn’t want to think of herself as a sinner.

For all those reasons, I could have just suspended this and suggested she think about it and get back in contact with the camp or her new friends at some point in the fall.

But I didn’t go that route. Instead I opened my mouth and this came out:

“Then just tell God, in your own words, what you want to say to him right now.”

I have no idea what she said next; I only remember that it was sincere, it was beautiful and it passed whatever was my ‘sinner’s prayer’ litmus test. And there were more smiles, more hugs and more high fives…

…Today I know so much more. Entering into new life is more than a prayer; it’s a commitment to live a new life in a new way under the Lord-ship of Jesus Christ even when the cost is difficult. But for that day, that would have to suffice.

There was little time to arrange for follow-up, but I heard some encouraging news in the short-term through my housekeeping contacts, and we did have monthly camp reunions — this was a huge camp — back then which kept some staff in touch in a world before email, texting and social media.

In the years that followed, I got to pray with other people while doing itinerant youth ministry** as a guest speaker in various churches; but there was never another moment like this one.

I’m just so thankful that I was there when needed and when the opportunity arose.***


*After 11 weeks at camp, I think the doctrine of sin had been clearly defined, but today, if I was going to introduce a prayer at all, I would probably word it differently.

**I got to experience some interesting situations and meet some great people in itinerant ministry, but there is something to be said for working in a local church environment where you really get to know the same people over an extended period of time. At camp, working and living and sleeping in community created some close relationships, but eleven weeks seems like such a short time and the nature of the organization made follow-up challenging. I love the context for ministry that camp creates, but it’s important to recognize the shortcomings of any evangelism model.

***It’s easy for an organization to miss the importance of ministry to its workers. Some of the greatest life-changes are taking place at the staff-level and it’s important for senior staff to see the summer as a two-pronged program.

 

April 28, 2016

Camp Memories (3)

Filed under: Christianity, parenting — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:58 am

parent child - Wikipedia commonsThere are certain junctures in life as one emerges from girl to woman or boy to man where one finds themselves in a middle ground between adolescence and full adulthood. A person is perhaps in a place of leadership and yet they are forever the child to their parents. One of the lessons I am learning now that my own kids are in their 20s, is the axiom that you never stop being a parent.

At the camp I worked at, the junior staff had varying degrees of relationships with their families. Many went back to the city on weekends; others had family cabins — what we refer to as cottages — in proximity to the camp. My objective during the three years I was on senior staff was to spend every possible moment on the camp property. Summers are short in Canada and what we call “cottage country” in Ontario is beautiful, and I didn’t want to miss a moment of it.

In my first and third years there I was able to accomplish this. But in the middle year, I had to return to the city to complete some obligations I had with the individual who was employing me through the fall and winter months; the first time to catch a train for a week Winnipeg, the second time to catch a flight for eight days in England.

At all other times though, I was happy to spend my time at camp, and missing home never entered my head.

On the other hand though, while it was rare for me as a senior staff member to meet the parents of our other 160+ staff, my own parents had their own relationship with this particular ministry organization. This camp had in previous years got themselves in some trouble with various levels of government concerning reporting procedures, which is a nice way of saying they hadn’t filed any paperwork for over a year. People were paid, taxes on accommodation were collected, but the federal and provincial (i.e. state) revenue departments weren’t seeing a penny of it, and they were threatening to shut the whole operation down.

That’s where my father stepped in. For Americans reading this, keeping your tax information in a shoebox and reporting certain deductible items on an honor system may be common, but here in Canada shoebox type accounting doesn’t make the cut, especially at a business or charity level. So over many months my dad did the forensic accounting needed and implemented systems where each department had a cost code and the government started smiling again. The accounting supervisor he hired and trained works there to this day.

For this reason, he and my mother often showed up at camp — there was even a designated cabin for them to stay in — but because I never called home, I never knew they were coming until they had already arrived. “Your parents are here;” someone would inform me; to which I would reply, “Okay, thanks;” and carry on with whatever I was doing.

So now we return to the meat of this discussion as outlined in the first paragraph above.

Closest thing I could find to what we used that year. By the following summer the bikes had mysteriously disappeared.

Closest thing I could find to what we used that year. By the following summer the bikes had mysteriously disappeared.

One summer the director, having served in ministry in Africa, thought the best way for us as senior staff to get around the property would be to purchase a “fleet” of four gas powered minibikes; what I think were called mopeds at the time. They certainly were convenient, and we kept the keys where the campers would never find them. (I’ll skip the story of the day I let a camper ride on my back and we hit a giant hole in the middle of a field and were both thrown off the thing.)

On a particular afternoon, I was riding one of the bikes back to the main office, when at the same moment my parents were arriving from the parking lot. My mother had no idea the camp had even purchased the bikes, didn’t know I knew how to ride one, and totally freaked out, speaking loudly over the sound of the bike’s engine, “Paul! What are you doing? Get off that motorcycle!”

I know those were her words because there were just enough staff members around to hear it that it became associated with me for about a week. Even junior staff who were on their day off that afternoon were walking up to me saying, “Paul! What are you doing? Get off that motorcycle?”

To her credit, I learned many years later that there was some story in her family involving her brother and a motorcycle — a real one, not a little dirt bike — which may have instilled some fear in her. To my credit, I shut off the engine, told her not to worry, started the engine again, and drove off…

…Even when you have your own children, you never stop being your own parent’s child. Furthermore, you never know when parental instincts are going to kick in, even in that moment where you are in a leadership position and don’t see the potentially lethal moment of embarrassment sneaking up on you.

Still, I hope I never do that to my own kids. That’s why I don’t have Facebook. I can’t comment on their status updates or photos. I can let them be themselves as they jettison childhood and embrace adulthood, right?

Well, not entirely. Because the axiom is true, you really never stop being a parent.

 

April 26, 2016

Camp Memories (2)

“This is Natalie. She has no English. She will learn, yes?”

With that, her mom left the registration desk and drove off leaving her little 11-year old girl in our care for six nights.

But we didn’t know the registration story until three days in.

Natalie (not her real name, at least I don’t think so) turned out to be a handful, but not in any hyperactive or disciplinary sense. Simply put the girl appeared to be a young nymphomaniac. She was very affectionate to the male sports instructors. She was very touchy-feely with some of the male counselors. She seemed to have no limits in rubbing against male senior staff members like a cat.

Not having the vocabulary to verbalize even the most basic things, she communicated physically. In ways that were inappropriate. In ways that suggested there was lot more to this than just a language barrier.

Today, we have the internet. Simple searches can reveal patterns. We know that sometimes a child that young has probably had their sexuality button switched on by abuse of some type. We talk about those things more freely. The internet, in many respects, makes everyone an expert on subjects that formerly have been left to the professionals.

middle school youth ministryBut flashback a few decades and those supports didn’t exist. In fact, it took several days for our assortment of instructors, counselors, kitchen crew, maintenance workers, and senior staff to combine their stories to form an overall picture of what had been happening at camp. People started comparing notes, and the anecdotal base grew rapidly.

Fortunately, this was an era where the staff, though very large, had a strong sense of morality and ethical integrity. These days, it seems that everywhere you turn there are stories of people in children’s ministry or youth ministry landing on the front pages of local newspapers. It would not surprise me to hear of camps hosting children like Natalie with totally different outcomes.

I got invited to the senior staff meeting. I mostly sat in silence except to say, “I’m not sure how she knows the difference between a 16-year old staff member and a 16-year old camper.” I went on to say, “I think we’re okay with our staff because they’ve been screened carefully, but don’t know that a camper might not take advantage of her.”

The meeting continued and eventually it was decided to quietly communicate the situation to the entire staff base — some 150 people — to make sure staff kept their eyes open; to make sure that any and all contact with male campers was being supervised.

Another half week later, Natalie got picked up and the staff breathed a collective sigh of relief as her mom’s car drove out the front entrance. In the ten minutes that followed I heard at least three people simply say, “It’s okay; she’s gone.”

I know this camp, and I know that in the intervening years there were probably a few more Natalies. I would wager to say that the number of kids who have been in abusive situations, even in seemingly-respectable upper-middle class homes is probably slowly increasing, and the number of adolescent and pre-adolescent kids acting out their sexuality is growing accordingly. But liability concerns dictate that camps, Christian and otherwise, make sure that staff at all levels are trained in negotiating various complex situations. For the most part, camp staff are doing the right thing.

For our camp staff, what was the issue here? Was the problem Natalie, or Natalie’s mom; the way she simply dropped her off and made a hasty exit off the property?

I went about 20 years and never thought about Natalie. But recently, as online reports about crises in youth ministry and children’s ministry seem to get darker and more frequent, she came back to mind, as my personal poster child for post-abuse. Sure, maybe some of it was hormonal, and I know that there are occurrences of kids acting out in this way simply because that’s how they’re wired, and I know that the lack of verbal communication messed up the dynamics that week; but despite that, I remain convinced that something in her past had triggered her precocious behavior, though our summer staff that year never knew what it was, and never will…


…On Saturday morning the kids leave and just hours later, you’re hosting a new batch of children, and dealing with different issues…

April 8, 2016

You Have This Moment

The Set Free Summit taking place in North Carolina wrapped up last night. For an overview of what you/we missed, check out the hashtag #SetFree2016. We’ve devoted three of the five weekday posts here to this one topic, but when I started scrolling through old posts here and discovered the one I re-posted yesterday, I was also reminded of this one.

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With the kids now older and facing high-school homework after supper instead of the early bedtimes of former years, Patricia donned an light jacket before heading out for her weekly Wednesday night coffee shop ritual with Julie and Deanne. Well, almost weekly; there were frequent cancellations in the past three years, but they tried to meet as frequently as possible.

“So when are we leaving?” her husband Rick asked.

“What do you mean we?” she responded.

“I thought it might be fun to crash your little group; as an observer or like those war reporters who are embedded with a platoon. Unless, of course it’s me you talk about every week.”

“No, we tend to talk about church, and politics, and raising kids.”

“So is there room for an extra body?”

“You’re serious?”

“Absolutely.”

Patricia texted the other two, “What do u feel about Rick joining us 2night?”

Julie didn’t answer, but Deanne texted, “Sure Y not?”

And so for an hour, Rick sat with the women and talked about church, and politics and raising kids.

On the way home, Patricia said, “You’re not going to want to do this every week are you?”

“No; it was a one-off thing.”

“So Rick, I know you, what was this about really?”

“Honestly?”

“Yeah.”

“Honestly? I didn’t want to be home for a full hour with the computer. When you go out, it never ends well.”

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Isn’t it ironic that the very technology that offers you the option of reading Christian blogs like this one, downloading sermons, looking up Bible verses online, etc., also offers both men and women the ease and convenience of experiencing sexual temptation like we’ve never known before.

Knowing as I do the various search terms that will find you all manner of websites, I can honestly say that every time I approach the machine — and I do business online all day long, plus prepare three blogs — I am reminded that each visit represents a choice: Choose things that will strengthen spiritually, or choose things that will do spiritual harm.

Like the goaltender in a hockey game, we can’t always block every “thought shot” that is fired toward us, but I believe we can exercise self control on a minute-by-minute or even second-by-second basis. I am always reminded that:

You have this moment.

You may not have won an hour ago, and you might slip an hour from now, but you have this moment to make the individual choice that affects this moment.

Right now, it’s a rainy day as I type this. It was a weather cancellation nearly a decade ago that found me with idle time typing a random phrase into a search engine that led to a random chapter in the middle of an online erotic novel. That’s right, it was text, not pictures. It wasn’t pictures for quite some time.

Idle hands. The entire universe-wide-web at my disposal.

Even today, I admit that search engines permit all manner of random thoughts to be explored online with varying results. I often find myself like the guy who loves to join his buddies on fishing expeditions, but actually hates the taste of fish. It’s about finding the fish, but not necessarily enjoying or consuming the fish.

I suppose it’s different for everyone.

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I think it’s interesting that Genesis 2:9 tells us that the original source of temptation — the fruit of a tree in Eden — was found in the middle of the garden. Not off to one side. Not hidden behind other trees.

In the middle.

For men men — and women — reading this, your tree is right in the middle of the family room or living room; or it’s a laptop that is in the middle of wherever you find yourself.

Maybe your tree and my tree are different, but the result is the same: Temptation never disappears.

I looked at this a different way in a devotional at Christianity 201. There’s a link to a song, and a specific point (about 70 seconds) in the song you can fast-forward to.

I’ve found it to be helpful.

Feel free to share what works for you.

You have this moment.

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