Remember That and Remember To …

sticky-post-remember-595x240The other day I woke up in the middle of a dream in which I was facilitating a discussion with my leadership team. (I’m weird, I know.) I was asking everyone to finish two simple phrases:

  • Today, as we go about our tasks, let’s remember that … (fill in the blank with a truth).
  • Today, as we go about our tasks, let’s remember to … (fill in the blank with a value).

Thinking these would be some great statements to consider each day, I quickly jotted them down. So, maybe today, fill in the blanks and allow statements of truth, your values guide you. 

New Painting to Honor Grandparents: Legacy

In honor of my Grandma and Grandpa Larkin’s 60th Anniversary, I painted this rock to be presented to them at our family reunion this weekend. They have 8 daughters, 29 grandchildren, and 38 grandchildren (and one on the way). They have served the Lord faithfully and left (and are continuing to leave) a legacy all over the world as pastors and missionaries, and I am so blessed to call them my Grandparents.

4 Ways to Make Small Groups Attractive to Students

Claudia for President!

On Wednesday we were very excited to see Claudia in her first meeting as the Roslyn Christian Club president! We are very proud of her and praying for a great year of students coming to know Christ and being encouraged in their faith.

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Small Groups Kickoff Night!

Last night we had our Delta Small Groups Kickoff Party. We all met at the church, had food, played some dodgeball, then I cast vision for small groups and our dream to see every student connected in a group. We introduced all of our incredible small group leaders then showed a preview video for Youth Alpha, the curriculum we are using in our groups this fall. (Yes, I know … there are a lot of Greek letters flying around here. I should tell you that before deciding to do Alpha in Delta, we ran a Beta test.) Finally, the students got into their groups to get to know one another and their leaders. I am very, very excited that we are adding two more groups this year, for a total of 7! I dream of the day we have 50 all over Long Island! Next week the groups begin meeting in homes, and I am praying and believing for an amazing year of connection, decisions for Jesus, and spiritual growth. If you are a student or a parent and you want information about groups, click here for times and locations.
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5 Things to Do When You Meet a New Student or Parent

What should I do questionIt’s that time of year when everything is ramping back up again in youth ministry. Here are a 5 things that I communicate and resources that I want to get into people’s hands when I meet them on a Sunday morning; and I want all of our adult volunteers, student leaders, other church staff members, and greeters/ushers to do the same.

  1. Give them our Student Ministry Calendar. The calendars have our regular gatherings listed on them, but are general in nature (Dates and Events intended as “Save The Date”). Tell them to use the e-mail address listed on the bottom to Signup for the Student Ministry Weekly Update E-mail which has the specifics (Times, Locations, Costs, etc.).
  2. Give them a Delta Small Groups Locations Card. Our goal is to get every student connected in a small group, and this card contains all of the addresses for the homes in which they meet. (Note: Small Groups do not meet during the summer.)
  3. Give them a Student Ministry Newsletter. We publish a quarterly newsletter that is full of stories and pictures that gives people a sense of who we are and what we’ve been doing.
  4. Invite them, or even better, Escort them to our Sunday Morning Program. Our Sunday program meets each Sunday throughout the school year except on Family Sundays.
  5. Introduce them to a Student Ministry Adult Leader and Another Student. This is the most important thing we can do for new people. Connect them with one of our youth leaders who can welcome them and introduce them to other students their age. This is reassuring to both parent and teen that there are other students in our church and that there is a place for them.

Courageous Parenting: The Sisterhood Challenge

Two young girls, 15 and 11 years old from suburbia.

On their way to New York City.

Alone.

If you were one of the girls, how would you be feeling? What would you be thinking? Hopefully you hadn’t watched the movie Home Alone 2 recently.

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Looking at this scene as a parent, what would you be thinking? What would you be worried about? What would you think of these girls’ parents?

What if I told you that this was the parents’ idea? What if I told you that this true is story? What if I told you this is exactly what happened two-and-a-half years ago? What if I told you these two girls were Claudia and Natalia, and these parents were Adriana and me?

What if I told you it was one of the greatest parenting moves we ever made?

Before you start freaking out, let me tell you how it all came about.

It was December 20, 2013. It was a Friday. Adriana and I were both off from work. We had tickets to go see the play A Christmas Story in Manhattan. When I woke up that morning I had one of those ideas in which every detail just came together in rapid succession in my mind. But just as quickly as I got excited about it, I started to feel bummed out. There was no way my wife would go for it. I knew it was the kind of thing loaded with the kind of adventure I crave; but Adriana is not as adventurous as I am. Still, the idea was nagging at me because it was loaded with opportunity. While I knew her initial reaction was going to be to reject it, I also thought perhaps there was a slight chance she would go for it if I could get her to hear the whole thing out, and my reasons for wanting to do it. A parenting principle I live by is:

Protection is important.
Nurture is more important.
Equipping is the most important!

To that end, I made Adriana the best cup of coffee imaginable (I may or may not have sweetened the environment with some flowers), and I worked up the courage to share the idea with her, knowing full well that the delicious coffee she was drinking might end up all over me if she reacted with one of those ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!! kind of responses. I was about to make a big ask. I was about to ask her to consider doing something that would stretch our whole family. Here’s what I asked her:

What if we create a challenge for our girls to exercise their maturity? What if we head into the city together, and leave Claudia and Natalia to make their way into the city on their own to meet us?

(Insert ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!!! about here.)

“Wait, wait,” I told her. “Hear me out.”

“We will leave them detailed instructions and resources. I will write out everything they need to do, exactly as they need to do it. I will secure someone to come and pick them up at the house and drive them to the train station. I will leave them money and tell them how to buy train tickets. We will tell them where to meet us. If you stop and think about it, we’re only asking them to listen and follow instructions, and really the only thing they are doing is going from our house to the train station, riding the train directly to Penn Station (which is the last stop, so there is no chance they will miss their stop), and walking up the stairs to find us at the Starbucks in Penn Station. It’s really very straight forward and simple, but for them it will seem like a big adventure, a daunting undertaking, and it will instill in them some very important life principles and confidence. So, what do you think?”

“Who will pick them up? But what if …?” she asked.

I assured her we would get someone they knew to pick them up. Someone safe. And I answered her other questions sufficiently enough that Adriana finally, nervously, a bit hesitantly, said Yes. Like I said, this exercise was going to stretch all of us, not just the girls. And with that, I got to work.

Here is the actual letter I left them:

Welcome to …

The Sisterhood Teamwork Challenge!

  • It should be about 3:20pm
  • Rules:
    • Rule #1: No Whining or complaining!
    • Rule #2: No Fighting!
    • Rule #3: No Phone calls unless it’s a real emergency!
    • Rule #4: No Fear!
    • Rule #5: Work together!
    • Rule #6: Be confident!
    • Rule #7: Stay together at all times!
    • Rule #8: Stay together at all times!
  • We Believe in you!
  • After you finish reading this, get ready. Dress warmly. Warm pants, good walking shoes, coat, hat, gloves, maybe a scarf.
  • Make sure to take the envelop on the table.
  • Don’t forget your phones.
  • A safe car is coming to pick you up at 3:45pm. It will take you to the Manhasset train station.
  • Use the cash provided. Go to the Ticket Machine that accepts cash. (Some only take credit cards.)
    • Select Round Trip – Off Peak from Manhasset to Penn Station. 1 child and 1 adult. Select None. Pay with Cash.
  • Get tickets, and your change.
  • Get on the train when it arrives. The train is scheduled to leave at 4:13pm. Make sure you get on the train to Penn Station.
  • Send a text to us simply saying, “We are on the train.”
  • During the ride use the sheet provided to interview one another.
  • When you arrive at Penn Station, walk upstairs and find Starbucks.
  • Remember, always look confident, not scared!
  • When you arrive at Starbucks you will be greeted by your parents and something special that you will love.
  • Smile & celebrate when you arrive! You did it!

Adriana and I were sitting in Starbucks that afternoon, anxiously checking the time and carefully watching the Starbucks entrance. Finally, we saw them. Two young ladies walking toward Starbucks, wide-eyed, hoping and praying that they would see their parents. They had done it. After the old Why did you do that? We can’t believe you left without us! rant they smiled, realizing they had done it; that it wasn’t as insane or as dangerous as they had imagined it would be, and we laughed and debriefed the experience together over dinner before going to the play. It was awesome!

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Our girls are now 17 and (almost) 14. Now Claudia asks us if she can go to the city without us all the time. Natalia isn’t yet asking to go to the city without us, but she does ask if she can venture locally with her friends. I thought of this story last weekend. Both of them came to us asking if they could go to Hillsongs Church in NYC with a few of their friends. There was no unhealthy fear in their voices. They were confident. Because of our little “experiment” a couple of years ago, Adriana and I knew this was not too big a thing for them to do. They knew how to buy train tickets, read the signs in Penn Station, and get around, so we said they could go. When they got home they told us how they ran into one of their friends and her mom in line for church. The mom, who is a good friend of ours, was in amazement that they were there without us.

When we were together the other night after one of our youth events I recounted the above story for this mom, and explained that it was because of little challenges like that through the years that we were able to have confidence in our girls to do bigger things now. He who is faithful with little can be trusted with much.

Remember, parents, give your kids some controlled challenges while they are young. Safety is important. Providing for your kids is more important. But putting them in challenging (not dangerous, but not completely risk-free) situations that will stretch them and help them be able to face the challenges of their lives ahead with knowledge, wisdom, and confidence is the most important thing. Don’t let unhealthy fear set the agenda for your parenting. Be courageous. Your kids will thank you for it one day.

10 Ways Youth Leaders Can Have Impact During Summer

stock-footage-two-girlfriends-lying-on-beach-and-chattingYesterday I wrote about why we change things up in the summer, pausing our regular weekly programs and offering fun events and a different discipleship venue. One of the reasons we stop our regular weekly programs is to give our adult leaders a break from the grind of prepping and leading lessons and so forth. BUT, that doesn’t mean they should totally disengage from students. Here are 10 ways adult youth workers can have an impact on students during the summer.

  1. Go to camp or on a missions trip with students. One week at camp or on the mission field can offer as much (if not more!) relational time with students than a full year of seeing kids once a week for Bible study, or before and after service.
  2. Attend summer events. For us, most of our summer events are designed to be fairly low-prep and to simply have fun together. As far as discipleship, I personally lead our summer Bible study. As such, adult leaders can simply come and be with students without the burden of prepping and facilitating.
  3. Lead summer events. If you happen to be an adult with the extra time on your hands during the summer, why not volunteer to help lead one or two or ten of the events.
  4. Champion summer events. Probably 75 percent of our summer events are planned for the evenings, but a couple of them do happen during the day. That inherently means many of our adult leaders can’t attend because of work. When that is the case, adults can still serve and have impact by championing what is happening with students. Shoot the kids a text and encourage them to attend, share the event on social media, etc.
  5. Take a student out for ice cream. Who doesn’t like ice cream during the summer? Whether ice cream, frozen yogurt, Italian ice, or (we’ll even expand it to …) coffee, breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert … take a few students out one-on-one. They will never forget it! I even offer to reimburse our leaders. (If you’re one of my leaders, I am reminding you of this.)
  6. Take some students to the beach. If you’re inland, take them to the lake or river or pool or water park. While you’re driving and hanging out, engage them in conversation about God.
  7. Have students over for a BBQ. Why not invite a handful of students to your home and grill out? Perhaps they’ve never been to your home. This is a great way for students to see you in another context. Plus, who doesn’t love grilling out in the summer?
  8. Do one-on-one mentoring with a core student. If your schedule permits, and you have the passion to do it, invite one or two of your core students to meet you for a Bible study or for mentoring in an area of their life over the summer. One thing I like about summer is that kids have more availability to meet during the day. Perhaps they can meet for breakfast once a week.
  9. Send notes. I am a big fan of snail mail. Everybody loves to get something in the mail. Whether it’s a card in the mail, a message on Facebook, a pic on Instagram, an e-mail, a text … pray for your students, then send them a little something to let them know you are praying for and thinking about them during the summer. Encourage them to be connecting and growing, and let them know you are cheering for them.
  10. Grow Yourself. Invest in your own spiritual growth and development so that you have more to offer students. Pick a book to read at the beach or on vacation that will help you grow in God and as a leader. Listen to a leadership podcast while you’re driving to Florida.

Expressing Gratitude for Great Leaders

At the end of each school year, we always take time to thank the great team of adult youth workers who serve students with us. This year we catered a nice dinner, hired a jazz band, and invited our team and their families for a pool party. Good youth ministry is impossible without a team of adults who love Jesus, love students, and love connecting students to Jesus. I am so grateful for the wonderful adults God has surrounded me with to minister to our youth! If you are a lead youth worker, invest in and appreciate your leaders! If you’re going to spoil anybody, spoil your volunteers. They deserve it!

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Passing the Leadership Baton

Many of you may remember the excitement we experienced 8 months ago when our youngest daughter Natalia started the first-ever Christian Club in her middle school. All year they averaged almost 30 students in weekly attendance, and it was awesome watching the influence they had in the school and beyond. A few weeks ago, they received a Certificate of Merit from the New York State Assembly for their project of sending Valentines to Veterans which is going to be framed and displayed in the school!

After an amazing school year, yesterday we attended the final club meeting of the year. We have been so proud of our girl for all of her hard work and leadership. She assembled a great team of her peers and led them as together they led the club all year. Perhaps the most impressive part of her leadership is that right from the start she recognized that as an 8th grader this was her final year in the middle school, but she wanted the club to continue long after she was gone, so she was looking for future leaders from day one.

About 3 months ago, she and her team really started praying, watching, and talking with the younger students who had been faithful and active in the club, and who had a desire to be lights in their school. Two months ago she approached two 6th graders and asked them about the possibility of them leading next year. After they accepted, she began training them, giving them opportunities to lead, and giving them leadership feedback. Yesterday, as we celebrated a great inaugural year for the club, Natalia and her team formally handed the baton of leadership to the aforementioned students and prayed over them.

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