Back to Basics

from our weekly newsletter
It’s been about six months since I have been part of the VUMC family. I’m also heading towards the end of my life, because I mean, what’s to life after 30? About a week before I left for Ohio, I’ve been in a very reflective mood. I have been thinking about my time here and the good things I may have accomplished along with the mistakes I’ve made.

I can’t help, in reflection, think of Paul’s words to the Galatians when he said, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Gal. 1:10) And Christ’s words to the Church in Ephesus, “You have forsaken your first love” (Rev. 2:4).

Here’s the thing. Our youth ministry will never be flashy and attractive. Mainly because your pastor is not flashy and attractive. But enough about Pastor John. (I kid, I kid because I love.) I’m not flashy. If I were a worship celebration, I wouldn’t be the one with smokes, lights, stadium seats with drink holders, top of the line sound audio and visual systems, and an iPad lectern. I wouldn’t know how to be flashy and draw people into me. I’m a dork. And I embrace my dorkiness and am proud that I understand some of the references in The Big Bang Theory. And am looking forward to reading Superman: Earth One where Clark gets a make-over and looks like a vampire from Twilight or Vampire Diaries. (Oh. Just FYI. The 3rd Christopher Batman movie is entitled The Dark Knight Rises. How cool of a title is that? July 2012. I can’t wait! GAH! But I digress.)

What I can be, what I try to be is authentic and transparent. Who my wife, family and close friends see me, I hope is who you see as well.
I tell you this, because looking back at my six months, I’ve made one critical mistake. And a really huge one at that.

In a new job, you want to make the best of impressions. Since I’ve been here, I realized my focus had been, “How do I get the kids here?” “What programs would make the kids have fun?” “What would be a big draw for the kids?” And to be even more honest, there were times where I’ve been a bit disappointed at things here and there.

It wasn’t until about a week before Ohio, as I was praying, the words “You’ve forgotten your first love” started ringing in my heart. I instantly knew what that meant. I’ve been focusing too much on trying to win kids into a program.

Programs don’t make a healthy ministry. Relationships do. God-centered relationships. Building relationships is something I am good at. Building programs is a skill I sorely lack. Pouring out my heart to the people of God is something I can do. Pouring my heart out into programs only leads to disappointment.
I’ve been putting my focus and attention in the wrong things. Relationships comes first. Real, authentic relationships. “Programs” will flow from there. Ministry moments will flow from authentic relationships based on the grace and love of God.

So. Here’s a warning. To parents, to youth, to unpaid servants and everyone else. There’s going to be a shift. Whether it’s a noticeable shift or not, there’s going to be a shift, because there’s a shift within my heart. The Next Generation Ministry of Valencia United Methodist is going to be slightly different. We’re going to be intentional in building authentic God-centered relationships rather than building a mini version of Boys & Girls Club sponsored by a church. Not that Boys & Girls Clubs are bad, but we, as a church, (should) have a slightly different focus. To those who may worry that there won’t be anymore fun… That’s silly. We’ll always have fun. It may not be the fun that the world may offer, but we’ll still laugh, enjoy each other’s presence, find joy in the silly things we do. Yea, the church won’t be able to offer you the kind of fun and crazy things that the world can, but the church can give you something that our culture cannot give(or more like, usually does not): deep, sacrificial love.

It’s going to be a wild journey. Are you with me?

2 thoughts on “Back to Basics

  1. I think you are correct, Pastor Joe. The youth programs that I have heard about where the kids flourished spiritually were ones where the leaders really got to know the kids. They attended their events. They inquired about their school work and their friends and their concerns. They cared about the kids, and talked to them about God and God in their lives.

    In my mind, the same holds true for adult programs. When we reach out and get to know people one-on-one, we all feel more connected, more like true Christian brothers and sisters, rather than just students in the same class/group. I remember one teacher appreciation breakfast I was invited to at a former church. The people who were hosting the event either stayed in the kitchen or just waited on us (i.e. pouring coffee, offering muffins). No one ever sat down by me and asked about my Sunday School kids, or about what we were learning. I don’t think some even knew the kids’ names, and there weren’t very many kids! There wasn’t any relationship being built with me or the kids. It was just busyness, just another event, just another “to do” to check off.

    Being new to SCV, like you, I know how hard it is to build close relationships. My daughter faces it at school. Dirk & I face it, too. People are busy. People already have a circle of friends. Kids have commitments and playdates and events lined up every night of the week. Few people have time or energy to reach out to even one more person. I understand it.

    I also understand why kids look at me funny when I try to interact with them on a personal level. I’m basically a stranger to them. Why should I be asking about their lives, their events? Why should they even think of inviting me to attend something?

    I pray about these connections all the time, and will pray that God shows you how to bring about this shift.

    And I will look forward to the day my daughter can enjoy the youth relationships at VUMC. 🙂

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