Monday, June 29, 2009

summer of service 2009

Whew.

Last week we got back from Ireland on Thursday night, spent the next day scrambling to write a message for the weekend, spoke on Saturday and Sunday, then SOS ‘09 kicked in on Monday. Summer Of Service is a weeklong servant-oriented student conference. Over 900 students and leaders from fourteen states came (we cap it off at 900); it’s an amazing combination of passionate worship and serving others.

Sounds curiously like “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength…and love your neighbor as yourself.”

SOS pursues that combination for middle school and high school students. In this me-first, ├╝ber-consumeristic, entitlement-driven, earth-bound culture that we carbon-based bipeds have created, try to imagine the spiritual booster rocket it takes for a young person to escape this powerful inward-focused gravity. SOS is designed to be that.

This year the theme was What About Now? and focused on Micah 6:8: He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Nearly 1500 adults volunteered to make it happen.

Typically, each day began at 9am in the main auditorium with one of our own student ministry worship bands (these guys were amazing…including a killer thirteen-year-old drummer!). And, of course, some fun stuff. I’ve never seen jelly-filled doughnuts shot from a water-balloon launcher at a youth leader in catcher’s gear with two cops and a radar gun clocking it at over ninety-miles an hour. And then the outreaches for the day started.

All students cycled through four different kinds of outreaches throughout the week: First was participation in a huge free block party in a lower income area—we held eight of these. Second was building walls for four Habitat for Humanity homes and then passing out free water bottles at busy intersections. Third was participation in a program we’ve been doing in the public schools called Be The Difference…a self-revealing encounter focused on respect, bullying and how to treat fellow students, breaking through stereotypes. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen students break down and weep over buried issues in their lives. And then last, everyone had an E2 session: the Evangelism Experience. In this segment, each group of students learns how to hear God’s voice. They learn to pay attention to impressions and pictures. After being trained, they’re given a list of five questions to ask God, the group prays, listens, compares their “words” and then their leader attempts to design an outreach on the spot...then they take off with a certain amount of money given to them.

The stories were amazing. After feeling led to visit “tent city” (a homeless camp on the river in Cincy), one group of kids from Michigan pooled the money they had saved to go to Cedar Point amusement park on their way home…and drove back down there to give it to them on their free time. Regardless of outcome, you have to admire any student that denies themselves anything for someone else. When it comes to giving, we obviously want to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, as Jesus said. But I think we spend way too much time worried about getting ripped off rather than the danger of selfishness.

Check out Student Ministries Director Pete Bryant recapping the stories and watch this amazing band of students leading worship in this weekend's celebration.

After the afternoon outreaches, students would come back for an evening of fantastic worship music (Phil Wickham, Jeremy Riddle, Robbie Reider and our own Zak Stegman). To see nine-hundred students and leaders all singing to Jesus at the top of their lungs is brilliant. A short teaching followed that.

One night, instead of worship we held a luau for over seven hundred special needs adults, complete with games, dancing, a pig roast, dinner and more. It was fabulous watching students escorting our special needs friends around the building, dancing and playing games. Our guests had the time of their lives.

We finished the week on Friday night with baptisms; it just doesn’t get any better than that.

It makes me wonder: what would an SOS for adults look like?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

vineyard u.k….the irish tribe

We flew over from Basel, Switzerland to Dublin on Thursday. Turns out Ryannair only allows about thirty pounds per checked baggage…as opposed to United’s (and everyone else in the universe) fifty pound limit. You can pay extra…like, twenty Euros per extra kilogram. We were all at the fifty pound limit, so we jettisoned clothes (I dumped all my t-shirts) and crammed as much as we could into out carryons, and just made it to the gate. Turns out everyone here makes fun of Ryannair—they charge for seatbelts. Okay, I made that part up.

There are now six Vineyards in Ireland. They had their regional meeting in Dungannon—five were able to make it. We did two sessions together; I spoke on developing outward-focused churches, had lunch, and then an extended Q&A time. Great guys…all with similar hearts.

Sunday morning I spoke at the two services at Vineyard Dungannon. My buddy Jason Scott (lead pastor) wanted to launch a new series: The Apprentice, about discipleship. Apparently there’s a British version of Trump's show with a hyper-successful, self-made businessman named Alan Sugar who doesn’t have a comb-over, but he does have an attitude. Jason asked me to speak about surrender…so I spoke on three levels of surrender in a person’s life: surrender for survival (“Lord, help me!”), surrender for service (“Lord, what can I do?”) and the surrender of self-denial (“I am crucified with Christ.”). Afterwards, we had lunch with all the ministry leaders.

A very, very cool thing has happened here. Last year they launched a campaign called Leaving a Legacy and raised over a 180 thousand pounds to create a great space for kids in after-school programs and teens on Friday nights, a center for ministry to the poor called The Storehouse, and their ongoing ministry to the Dalits (the lowest caste in India—“untouchables”). Remember, this is a church of only 130-150 people or so. I’m so proud of these guys.

Plus, a few weeks ago they launched their second service on Sunday mornings. Last October they were averaging 75-80 people on a weekend, so doubling their services nearly doubled their attendance. I love it when leaders move beyond what some consider “facility restrictions” or worse, “lack of volunteer leaders”. We decided recently that we would not launch a new ministry or program without asking the question, “What’s the maximum number of volunteer roles we could create for this?” I think people want to play in the game…and often they’re not asked.

Anyway, it’s been good to connect with our friends here and hopefully bring a little encouragement. What they’re doing ministry-wise is certainly encouraging to me.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

more in schweizland

part 3:

Spoke Saturday night at the Glaube in Bewegung Conferenz—Faith in Action Conference—on leadership. This was my third session and even though the conference was a general conference, I felt I should speak on the issue of leadership and organizational health. I had a few pastors thanked me for the message; I hope “civilians” could make use of it.

On Sunday late afternoon I spoke on social justice. There’s an odd dynamic here is Switzerland; the government’s social care system virtually eliminates any homeless issue; we could learn a few things in America. But that can create other problems according to our friends here: a “hiddenness” of the people who are taken care of from the community. Yet it does makes for an odd slant when talking about justice issues—in general, people’s health needs and housing are practically taken care of here. Obviously there are cracks in the system and people are people anywhere on the globe. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs eventually comes into play, particularly in a country where only 3% of the population attend church.

But we also live in a global community that is shrinking rapidly. The needs in third world countries shout at us. The Pharisee’s question, “Who is my neighbor?” has gotten more difficult in this information age, and the only way to avoid it is to become hermitage monks and totally withdraw from society.

I don’t think that’s do-able if you have the heart of Jesus and understand the generosity of God.

It was a more serious talk about systemic poverty. I was reminded of the dilemma a few years ago in Nigeria. Nigeria will spend more on paying off its debt to Western industrialized nations than health care. The tsunami in 2005 took over 150,000 lives, but that’s how many Africans die every month of AIDs. And get this: Nigeria has already paid over 15 billion dollars on the original 5 billion dollar loan. It’s all interest—and they still owe $32 billion. Interest on international bank loans can fluctuate wildly. Something’s not right. You and I have Christian brothers and sisters in those nations. The Bible has some of its harshest words for those who will not fight against social injustices.

Anyway, it was a difficult talk to give with a translator, but we made it. Looking forward to a couple of down days.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

outward-focused life in switzerland

part 1:

I’m writing this from a town called Whylen, Germany, directly across the border from Basel, Switzerland. Last night I spoke at a conference called Glaube in Bewegung or Faith in Action in downtown Basel, a beautiful city that’s a striking combination of old world architecture and postmodern capitalism. You might see an H&M store in a four hundred year old building. The downtown streets are vibrant and crowded with people shopping and eating in cafes (and Starbucks). It’s on the Rhine River, which is light green and clean; the Ohio River looks like chocolate compared to this. We saw swimmers, even though it was a little cool. Imagine people coming to the Serpentine wall in Cincinnati and swimming.

A banner over the doorway of the church hosting the conference says, “Small things done with great love will change the world” in German. The conference started with a bang: a quick welcome and then—surprise! —everyone goes out to serve. I loved it. The Vineyard here has such a good relationship with the city that they have a key to the city’s sanitation department and can take several hundred bright yellow vests, “trash” pickers and gloves to clean the city for outreaches. Sweet.

For the first hour of the conference we walked the streets and picked up cigarette butts and litter. The streets are actually quite clean, but this is really a nice touch. Afterwards, my friend and host Martin Benz spoke (in German, of course) and then I spoke with a translator. People seemed to respond well; Martin called it refreshing. I think that’s good. Later we walked to a restaurant called ZicZac’s with concert posters of B. B. King and Junior Walker serving food entrees with names like “San Antonio Chili” and “Louisiana Ribs” all in German. Plus, top it off with a Swiss microbrewery beer. Huh?

part 2:

Finished the morning session speaking about what Outward Focused Churches look like. Again, a bit difficult to do with a translator. Not her fault; Nina has done a great job. It’s just finding your rhythm and tempo that’s hard…and self-editing as you go. I’ll speak again in a few hours and then again tomorrow night for the fourth session. Did another outreach today; cleaned windows in a senior citizens center apartments and got to pray with a woman in her nineties through a translator.

I had interesting conversations with several pastors who seemed spun by the talk. They are in the process of discovering their church's soul...which I talked about this morning. I also met a very sharp Christian psychologist named Dr. Samuel Pfeifer who spoke as well. I felt a connection with him; we had it interpreted in English for us...and well worth it. Shared an interesting lunch with him.

Getting here was an experience; we got stuck in Washington D.C. in a thunderstorm and sat on the tarmac for nearly five hours before we could take off for the eight hour flight. I was in the middle of the center row of four seats next to a large gentleman. Big deal…we’re flying, for heaven’s sake…and not taking a boat. I’ve got no room to complain.

Anyway, after this conference, midweek we fly to Dublin to meet with the Vineyard leaders there and speak in my friend Jason Scott’s church in Dungannon. Looking forward to seeing all our friends there.

Enough for now. Spread the love.