Sunday, July 14, 2019

Spiritual Disciplines of a Leader: Community

Today's post is part 6 of our Spiritual Disciplines of a Leader series. Previous posts in the series include Spiritual Disciplines of a LeaderEliminating HurrySabbathSolitude, and Prayer.

COMMUNITY

I have found that I can’t be a very good disciple on my own. The life Jesus is leading me to live is one that needs to be lived with other people. "The Jesus Way of Life" requires community.

Not too long after hearing the voice of the Father say “I love you and I’m proud of you,” Jesus went about gathering a group of people to practice life with. He didn’t go alone. Before He went out to perform miracles and help people and teach, He intentionally chose friends to do all those things with; people with whom He would share His very purposeful journey.


Community Is Intentional


In the 4th chapter of Matthew (v 18-22) Jesus approaches Simon, Andrew, James and John, saying “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” This wasn’t a chance encounter. He went to these friends and intentionally chose them to go with Him and to live purposefully together.
Jesus didn’t wait for his community to come to Him or just appear. He went and made it clear that he wanted to live life together. 

Like Jesus, let’s be intentional about and with our community. Sure, circumstances and random encounters might be how we first meet life-giving people, but we can’t count on those same serendipitous happenings to maintain our friendships. So, instead of waiting for chance to set you up for time with life-giving friends, help make it happen. For me, this has meant using a calendar. Consider doing the same. That might mean you buy one made of paper (if you are someone who hates trees and loves pictures of adorable kittens and sunsets). Or maybe you can use the calendar on your phone, laptop or tablet. Once you’ve chosen which calendar to use... start mapping out your communal life.


  • When does Young Life club meet?
  • When is Campaigners?
  • If you attend a Bible study, when does that happen?
  • Does your church have a retreat planned? Mark those dates.
When are the people who are following Jesus with you together? Get those things on the calendar so you can be there, too.


Then, make a list of folks who are following Jesus with you and contact them to make some plans. It can feel weird at first, I know. But I can tell you from experience that, as you get older, it only gets harder to make time with life-giving, loving and wise friends. Practice being intentional now. Be sure to keep a YL leader or pastor or spiritual mentor on that list and get regular time with her or him.

I’ve used the phrase “life-giving friend” or “life-giving people” a few times and should probably clarify what that means in my mind. A life-giving friend is someone whose concern isn’t what they can get from you. A life-giving friend wants to see you live a full life. A life-giving friend is someone who will give their time, energy and resources to help you live well and follow Jesus.

Good Questions

But perhaps the most consistent hallmark of a life-giving friend is someone who asks good questions. Anyone can talk about themselves and there’s nothing particularly wrong with doing that. But a life-giving friend asks questions that make help their friends think about their lives and live more like Jesus. Here are some questions life-giving friends can ask:

  • What’s the best part of your life right now?
  • What’s the hardest part of your life right now?

  • What are you learning right now?
  • What are you seeing God do or hearing from Him?
  • What are you going to do about what you’re seeing, hearing and learning? 
  • How can I be praying for you?
I want to have people around me who ask me these questions. I also want to be someone who asks them. I’d bet the same is true for you.

Having asked these kinds of questions, a life-giving friend takes the next step and follows up. In my practice, that has meant keeping notes in a journal. Then, when I see my friends during one of the times we’ve calendared together (or when circumstances allow), I can ask them about the things I’ve been praying for. It can be a real gift to me when I hear that things have changed form them or that God showed up in a unique way. 

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Written by Justin McRoberts

A long-time Young Lifer, Justin is a singer/songwriter, author, and speaker. His book, Prayer, was recently a part of our Summer Reading Giveaway. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Highest Highs and The Lowest Lows


How do you tell the story of an entire year of ministry in a Young Life area? 

This year our weekend camping was record-breaking, we saw new ministries opened, older ministries revamped, and some ministries struggled while leader teams stayed faithful. Main Stream kids. Middle School kids. Teen Moms. Students with special needs. All had specific Young Life ministry this year! On paper, it was another wonderful year. But the story on paper is not the whole story.

While the highest highs were incredibly high the lowest lows were things we’ve never experienced before — and I pray we will never experience again.

Two school shootings in one year.

In October at Butler High School, where we have had YL for almost 8 years, a freshmen boy brought a gun to school to confront an older boy about a conflict that had spilled over from the weekend. It is said that he never meant to use it… however, in a crowded hallway before first period he did use it, shooting and killing the older boy. A community was shattered, lives were changed, there was a vigil.

Young Life leaders were there to pray and weep alongside kids.

Then, on the last day of classes at UNC Charlotte this year an angry student walked into the Kennedy Building, to a full classroom and opened fire with a pistol killing two and wounding four others. A community was shattered, lives were changed, there was another vigil.

Young Life staff and leaders were there to pray and weep alongside kids.

For the second time in a year we found ourselves saying the same thing that everyone says after one of these school shootings: “I can’t believe it happened here

I don’t point to these tragic bookends to solicit pity or sorrow but rather to share how the events reframed our mission and how we talk about it. My frequent temptation when communicating with friends and donors is to overstate Young Life’s impact in our community by pointing to secondary things.

Usually, we show you pictures of crowds of kids as though that was the end goal. We tell stories of important conversations where kids discover that they too “were made for this” — a relationship with their creator and savior as though that is what we spend all of our time doing. Crowds are cool and we hope for meaningful conversations. But the truth is that our calling, is not to bring a crowd to us but to go to the crowd and to faithfully wade through a hundred trivial, surface level encounters to see the moment where a student encounters the one whom their soul was made for.

The truth is that our main impact is simply in trying to be there on the best days, the worst days, and the every-days. We want to be there at football games cheering in the student section. To be there at pre-prom pictures. To be there at the before-school breakfast bible study. To be there in the parking lot after school. To be there so much that we are a part of the scenery. To be there for the after-school coffee shop meet-up with a kid who texts a leader and says “I’m in a dark place, I need someone to talk to”.

In the midst of trying to be there we also give the invitation to come here — to clubs, to Campaigners, to fall weekends, to summer camp trips. We commit to be there with kids in their world in hopes that they might hear the good news.

And for eternity, they would be there.

With us.

With Him.

Thank you all for going to be there with kids.

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Written by Cliff Wright.

Cliff Wright serves as the Metro Director for the Charlotte University Metro area in North Carolina. Cliff is married to Laura and they have three remarkable children: Keller, Asher, and Pryor. He has one poorly behaved dog, Levi.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Spiritual Disciplines of a Leader: Prayer

Today's post is part 5 of our Spiritual Disciplines of a Leader series: Prayer. Previous posts in the series include Spiritual Disciplines of a LeaderEliminating Hurry, Sabbath, and Solitude.

During the fall of an election year, I was invited to speak on prayer to a group of university students. On the same night, a presidential debate was taking place on their campus. As I approached my destination, I began to see the extraordinary safety measures being taken to protect the two candidates. Police officers, Secret Service agents, and other law-enforcement personnel were positioned just about everywhere.

Observing this impenetrable shield of protection, I was struck by the contrast between it and my unrestricted access to God. This Holy Other, this Lover of my soul, invites me to share in continual and unguarded dialogue with Him. Nonetheless, I struggle with prayer.

Some of my difficulty is that I’m often in a hurry, and God never hurries. I also want to be in control. I want God to move at the pace I set. I much prefer prayer to be like driving through the pickup lane at a fast-food restaurant. I want to place my order, drive around and be handed, in a convenient package, exactly what I ordered. (Ordered is an intriguing word to use when speaking with God, don’t you think?) If there are two things I don’t like, it’s having to wait and not getting what I order.


Prior to offering His friends a model prayer known today as The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus said:

“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to roleplay before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense His grace”(Matt. 6:6).

We’d be foolish to ignore Jesus’ straightforward wisdom. He eliminates any doubt about whether He wants us to pray by saying, “Here’s what I want you to do.” Then he focuses on where to pray. I don’t believe He’s saying there are places where prayer cannot occur. However, the setting can be an enormous help or hindrance. Cozy, quiet, removed, and comfortable are words that come to mind when I’m considering the ideal setting for getting away together.

Beyond the setting, it’s important to consider the form of prayer and the substance it reflects. Openness and vulnerability are crucial. So is availability, however, sometimes the simple act of “being there” is the greatest challenge. So much of my life is focused either on the past or the future. Yet, prayer requires us to be in the present moment.

Just as it’s easiest to learn a foreign language when we’re forced to speak it, we learn most about how to pray when we’re praying. And there are as many ways to pray as there are moments in a day. Every moment is a moment for some kind of praying and every form of prayer is acceptable. How we pray isn’t as important as that we pray. The saints don’t teach us a specific form for prayer; they simply teach us to pray.

The Scriptures chronicle an endless variety of forms and styles and approaches to prayer. Some prayed in sacred places and on secular streets. Some prayed with the language of angels while others stuttered and stammered. Walking, wobbling, or wallowing; standing, kneeling, or dancing they offered their prayers. Speaking their own words, using other’s words, or without words, they prayed. Raising their hands, clenching their fists, or clasping their hands in humility, they prayed. With full or empty stomachs, with full or empty hearts, they talked with God.

Perhaps the most important prayer we will ever pray is: “God, give me the desire to pray.” On other days it might be: “God, give me the desire for the desire to pray.”

Points to Ponder

  • What forms of prayer are most natural and meaningful to you? Which ones seem to rob you of motivation?
  • How open and honest are you with God? Do you find it difficult to be yourself God? Do you find yourself trying to hide things from God?
  • How would you like to pray? Do you find it easier to maintain a habit if it’s something you find meaningful and enjoy?
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Written by Fil Anderson.

Fil Anderson is a spiritual director, conference speaker, writer and retreat leader. He served on the Young Life staff for 25 years.

Fil is the author of Running on Empty: Contemplative Spirituality for Overachievers and Breaking the Rules: Trading Performance for Intimacy with God. 

His brand-new book "Blindspots: What You Don't See Can Hurt You" comes out at the end of July, but you can pre-order it here.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Free Chick-Fil-A: Cow Appreciation Day

Grab your middle, high school, and college friends and head to Chick-fil-A next Tuesday, July 9th, for Chick-fil-A's annual Cow Appreciation Day. If you partially dress like a cow, you get a free entree!

If you go with your Young Life friends, email us a pic and we'll share it on social media!

Some ideas for dressing up from CowAppreciationDay.com

Start With What You Already Have 
Cow-printed accessories stashed in your closet will work perfectly. Hats, vests, scarves, neckties, pants, shoes, pajamas - just about any cow-spotted item will work. Just make sure you're covered head to toe. 

Wear White & Just Add Spots 
Throw on a white T-shirt with white pants (even sweatpants) and stick on your spots using black contact paper. If contact paper is not easily accessible, you can cut spots out of construction paper and tape them to your shirt and pants. If nothing else, you can grab an old white T-shirt and color black spots all over it with a sharpie - and you'll still get a free entrĂ©e. 

Paint Store
Go to local paint or hardware store & get a white painter's hat and overalls. Then decorate yourself with spots made out of contact or construction paper.

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Written by Drew Hill.

Drew is a pastor in Greensboro, NC and also on staff with Young Life in the Global Innovation and Training department. Drew started the Young Life Leader Blog in 2010 and has written an award-winning book for Young Life leaders called "Alongside: Loving Teenagers with the Gospel."

Monday, July 1, 2019

When Kids Back Out of Camp


I met Alex in August of 2011, his freshman year of high school. He was a stud athlete and undercover smart. He would show up every now and then at club, but was mostly consumed with school and sports. In the spring, I made it to a few of his track meets and we slowly began a friendship.

The next year, Alex got plugged into Campaigners, went to camp, and even started mentoring some guys in the grade below him. His maturity and initiative had me thinking this guy was going to be on Young Life staff someday.

The summer after his sophomore year, everything changed.

Alex got his license, a girlfriend and a job. He ended up making some new friends that were not the best influences on how he spent his free time. Pretty soon, my text messages and phone calls weren't being returned. I even got blocked on Twitter. I felt frustrated, defeated, and heart-broken. 

For his last two years of high school, I couldn't break through the walls he had built up. Alex stopped caring about grades. Stopped coming to Young Life. And his reputation had gone from goodie-two-shoes to the first kid you call when you need a quick fix.

I remember our encounter at his high school graduation. As he walked past me, our eyes met and we both paused. It seemed his eyes were filled with such confusion. It was like seeing both a stranger and a dear old friend, wrapped up in one person. Trying to figure out the appropriate interaction for the moment, I gave in and offered a hug. His mom took a picture. And that was that. 

Another eighteen months went by with no communication.

Last year around Christmas our family was eating out at a local spot. I heard my name and recognized the voice. It was Alex. Seemingly sincere, he offered a gesture. 

"We should get together, man. Like old times." 

I told him "I'd like that. Call me tomorrow and let's set it up. I'm not going to call you. If you really want to hang out, you call me." 

I didn't hold my breath.

When his name popped up on my phone the following day, I still remained guarded. I wasn't getting my hopes up. We didn't talk long, just enough to set up a time to grab lunch a few days later. 

I arrived at the restaurant a few minutes early and Alex was already there. We small-talked over chips and salsa and before the waiter even took our order, I just bluntly laid my cards on the table. 

"Why did you want to meet with me?"

His demeanor immediately changed. He dropped the cool guy cloak. His eyes got glossy. And he just said three words, "I'm tired, man." 

"Tired of what?" I asked.

"I'm tired of this life I've been living. I remember how things used to be. I remember how I felt at camp. I remember how close I used to feel to God. But, now. Now, it's just a memory. And I think I'm finally ready for a change."

I was stunned but eventually replied, "I've been waiting to hear you say those words for the last three and half years. And if you're for real, I'm going to walk right beside you through this."

I read him some of Luke 15 out loud. Our waiter came and Alex didn't even want to order food. He just wanted to talk. He was for real. 

Over the past six months, we've met together almost every week. He just finished a month of summer staff at a Young Life camp. This summer he's in a Campaigners group with other college guys.

But then today, I found out another high school guy I really love just backed out of camp. Getting that text felt like a punch in the gut. I've been doing this almost two decades and it never gets easier. You give your heart away and then it gets handed back to you.

Finding out he was no longer going to camp, I felt so frustrated and hurt I didn't know what to do. So I just sat down at my desk and prayed. And then I remembered Alex. And I just started typing out his story. 

And as I typed, the confusion faded from my own eyes.

I remembered that God's ways 
are often much slower. 
And way more beautiful. 
Than my ways will ever be.|| 

"The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord." Lamentations 3:25-26

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Written by Drew Hill.

Drew is a pastor in Greensboro, NC and also on staff with Young Life in the Global Innovation and Training department. Drew started the Young Life Leader Blog in 2010 and has written an award-winning book for Young Life leaders called "Alongside: Loving Teenagers with the Gospel."