Category Archives: Uncategorized

my schedule in new zealand (pray for me!)

i’m flying to new zealand tonight for a crazy-short and insanely full weekend. i love this country and its people, and have great friends there. but i could use your prayers for stamina and impact this weekend; but here’s what it looks like:

  • tuesday night (west coast USA) through thursday afternoon (NZ): fly san diego to los angeles to sydney to auckland
  • thursday afternoon: get driven to hamilton (should be 1.5 hours, but it’s a holiday weekend, and could take twice that)
  • friday: two main session talks to 5500 teenagers at the north eastercamp, and one seminar
  • friday night: immediately following my evening main session talk, get driven 6.5 hours down to wellington, arrive in the middle of the night and sleep a few hours.
  • saturday: two main session talks to 1600 teenagers at the central eastercamp, and one seminar
  • saturday night: overnight at a wellington airport hotel
  • sunday morning: early flight to christchurch
  • sunday: two main session talks to 5000 teenagers at the south eastercamp
  • sunday night: overnight somewhere
  • monday: fly back to hamilton for debriefing and hangout with organizers, then get driven back up to the auckland airport
  • monday night: overnight in auckland airport hotel
  • tuesday morning: fly home, auckland to sydney to san francisco to san diego

whew. i’m winded and jetlagged just typing this!

Hopecasting excerpt: Post-Zombie Soul

hopecasting.coverhere’s a li’l tasty appetizer from my brand new book, Hopecasting: Finding, Keeping and Sharing the Things Unseen

The 2013 zombie film Warm Hearts was extremely unique for this weird film genre: it’s a zombie love story. I remember watching it on a trans-Pacific flight in the middle of the night, having not heard of it before finding it on my seat-back on-demand video screen. And I remember being very pleasantly surprised.

The film’s tag line summarizes the plot, in a sense: He’s still dead, but he’s getting warmer. Basically, it’s the story of a zombie guy whose heart gets a super tiny jump-start when he sees a live (non-zombie) young woman. He ends up saving her, and they’re forced to spend a bunch of time together in his proto-hipster bachelor pad while the zombie hordes move on by. But, of course, she begins to see the flickers of life in him just as he starts to feel them in himself. And love ensues! Yay!

What I found particularly unique about this zombie movie is that it was not about gore or horror or creative sound and visual effects (which are called for, I suppose, when the script calls for the eating of humans). At its heart (ha!), Warm Hearts is a film about feeling. It’s not-so-subtle message is “to be dead is to feel nothing; even those who no longer feel anything can come back to life, to feeling.” There’s also a subtle message, an exploration of the soulless zombies that only commodify others for consumption, and how some of the nonzombies in the film fit that description just as easily. Hopeless people are hollow people, zombie or not, and they use others to stave off their emptiness.

In my own mini-exile, I came face to face with the fact that I had developed a zombie soul. In order to press through a horrendous season of life, I had shut down my feelings. And while the soul and feelings are not synonymous, I’m not sure it’s possible to have a vibrant soul without authentic feelings. They’re both symbiotic prerequisites of one another.

Lots of people, I’ve found, live with a zombie soul. They’re going through the movements of life. They may even be going through the movements of a spiritual life. But there’s no blood pumping. And there is—by choice or external force—a complete shutting down of honest feelings.

In my own little way, I lived the story of R, the zombie in Warm Hearts. The rekindling of my soul was a love interest, just like his. But it wasn’t a girl. My love interest—the gentle and present heart sparker of my story—was none other than the Creator of my heart.

Thanksgiving Myths

here’s a great list of thanksgiving myths, from uncle john’s bathroom reader

MYTH: The settlers at the first Thanksgiving were called Pilgrims.
THE TRUTH: They didn’t even refer to themselves as Pilgrims – they called themselves “Saints.” Early Americans applied the term “pilgrim” to all of the early colonists; it wasn’t until the 20th century that it was used exclusively to describe the folks who landed on Plymouth Rock.

MYTH: It was a solemn, religious occasion.
THE TRUTH: Hardly. It was a three-day harvest festival that included drinking, gambling, athletic games, and even target shooting with English muskets (which, by the way, was intended as a friendly warning to the Indians that the Pilgrims were prepared to defend themselves.)

MYTH: It took place in November.
THE TRUTH: It was some time between late September and the middle of October – after the harvest had been brought in. By November, said historian Richard Erhlich, “the villagers were working to prepare for winter, salting and drying meat and making their houses as wind resistant as possible.”

thanksgiving dogsMYTH: The Pilgrims wore large hats with buckles on them.
THE TRUTH: None of the participants were dressed anything like the way they’ve been portrayed in art: the Pilgrims didn’t dress in black, didn’t wear buckles on their hats or shoes, and didn’t wear tall hats. The 19th-century artists who painted them that way did so because they associated black clothing and buckles with being old-fashioned.

MYTH: They ate turkey …
THE TRUTH: The Pilgrims ate deer, not turkey. As Pilgrim Edward Winslow later wrote, “For three days we entertained and feasted, and [the Indian] went out and killd five deer, which they brought to the plantation.” Winslow does mention that four Pilgrims went “fowling” or bird hunting, but neither he nor anyone else recorded which kinds of birds they actually hunted – so even if they did eat turkey, it was just a side dish.

“The flashy part of the meal for the colonists was the venison, because it was new to them,” says Carolyn Travers, director of research at Plimoth Plantation, a Pilgrim museum in Massachusetts. “Back in England, deer were on estates and people would be arrested for poaching if they killed these deer … The colonists mentioned venison over and over again in their letters back home.”

Other foods that may have been on the menu: cod, bass, clams, oysters, Indian corn, native berries and plums, all washed down with water, beer made from corn, and another drink the Pilgrim affectionately called “strong water.”

A few things definitely weren’t on the menu, including pumpkin pie – in those days, the Pilgrims boiled their pumpkin and ate it plain. And since the Pilgrims didn’t yet have flour mills or cattle, there was no bread other than corn bread, and no beef, milk, or cheese. And the Pilgrims didn’t eat any New England lobsters, either. Reason: They mistook them for large insects.

MYTH: The Pilgrims held a similar feast every year.
THE TRUTH: There’s no evidence that the Pilgrims celebrated again in 1622. They probably weren’t in the mood – the harvest had been disappointing, and they were burdened with a new boatload of Pilgrims who had to be fed and housed through the winter.

hey, whatever myths you do or don’t embrace, i pray you have a wonderful and thanks-filled week!

the #1 song the day you were born

here’s a very fun, simple site that allows you to enter your date of birth–or any day, for that matter–and find out the number 1 song on multiple charts.

on my day of birth, may 24, 1963, the #1 song was jimmy soul’s “if you wanna be happy,” which i didn’t recognize from the title. but when i played the video (yes, the site offers up videos!), i certainly knew it, and was quite pleased to have this as my birthday song!

comment with your birthday song!

a meditation for youth workers: BEAUTY

many years ago, i decided the staff of youth specialties were super tired. we were about to head into a busy season, and we were all running on fumes.

sounds a little like coming off a busy youth ministry summer and jumping into a new school year, right?

we decided to give everyone a 7-day weekend, a mini-sabbatical. our amazing spiritual director beth slevcove wrote some beautiful meditations for those days, and i’ve just rediscovered them. i’m going to share them in a series here on my blog, and hope you’ll take ten minutes to rest and soak in god’s love for you as you read them. here’s the third one:


rise up, my beloved, my fair one, and come away.
for the winter is past, and the rain is over and gone.
the flowers are springing up, and the time of singing birds has come,
even the cooing of turtledoves.
the fig trees are budding, and the grapevines are in blossom.
how delicious they smell!
yes, spring is here!
arise, my beloved, my fair one, and come away.

song of songs 2:10-14

Beauty. Find some.
Take a long drive on a beautiful two-lane highway.
Hike in the mountains.
Sit at your favorite beach.
Go to an art museum.
Play beautiful music.
Eat wonderful food.

Notice the beauty in yourself.
Look at the people around you and recognize the beauty in them.
Breathe it all in…deeply.

(photo credit: jonny baker)

thoughts on returning to haiti

IMG_0043a little over three years ago, and less than a month after the earthquake that devastated haiti, i rolled over the border from the dominican republic in a minivan full of 8 youth workers. over the next several days, our team encountered pain and devastation and suffering like i never seen in my life. but we also encountered a well of hope that surprised me, and in many ways, completely reoriented my understanding of what real hope looks like.

in fact, the experience of that first trip has been germinating in me, showing up in blog posts and sermons and talks and other opportunities to beta-test ideas. and it’s now the subject of the major book i’m writing for IVP. i would not be writing this book were it not for that week in haiti and what i experienced.

i went back a second time, a few months later, with a group of pastors. one of those was the senior pastor of my own church. and the result of that trip was the establishing of a church partnership between my church and a wonderful church in carrefour, haiti. in the years since, the pastor of that church has been to our church twice; and my church has sent 4 – 6 teams to haiti every year. it’s been transformative for my church, and we’ve been able to be a part of helping this wonderful church in haiti bless their community.

i’ve wanted to return to haiti, since those two experiences were, and continue to be, so profound for me. and i really wanted to find a way for my 15 year-old son max to get to haiti. he’d done a school project on haiti a few months before the earthquake, and has had a big heart for the country even before the challenges created by that devastation.

so, it’s with major excitement and a good dose of trepidation that i fly to haiti tomorrow, bringing max with me.

we’re going with Praying Pelican Missions, to see their work. The Youth Cartel and PPM have been partnering on a few things over the last year or two; but adam has been the point person on that (he’s been to haiti with them, even, and will be with us there this coming week also). i’m really not familiar with their work, but have heard such positive responses from youth workers who have worked with them on short term trips.

PPM will have 170 participants from multiple churches in haiti this coming week, so we’ll be very much observing them in action.

i hope to be reporting on the trip here on my blog, sharing my impressions and what god is stirring in me. i also have great expectations about seeing everything through max’s eyes.

anyhow: pray for us. i expect to sweat off about 10 pounds, be uncomfortable in all sorts of ways, get stretched, be moved to tears, and–please, god?–have another encounter with the sort of hope that only comes from god.

photo in need of a caption

don’t know the story behind this, but it sure could be a youth group photo scavenger hunt! so, in honor of a holiday week and summer youth ministry craziness, let’s have a caption contest!

whatcha got for a caption? i might make it worth the while for the winner (depends how awesome your caption is!):

drive thru


the upside: i had a great weekend, unplugged from the internet mostly, focused on preaching in my church and resting.
the downside: i completely forgot to pick a winner (which i should have done on friday. my bad!

first, some contenders:

“And dad thought taking away the car keys would slow me down!”

Eat here and get gas!

meals on wheels took some budget cuts this year.

Brian Aaby

Aaron Geist
Churches just don’t pay for 15 passenger vans like they used to.

Kevin I
The car promised in the youth directors contract proved underwhelming. The meal plan however balanced it out

the cool bus

Jesse R
They have a bumper sticker that says my other car is a fridge box…

and the winner…

well, while there were many fun captions (many more than are listed as contenders), there was caught me off guard and caused an audible guffaw, so the win goes to jess for “meals on wheels took some budget cuts this year.”

kevin i, however, was a close runner-up; so we’ll go for BIG PRIZES for you also!

and just, you might ask, are those BIG PRIZES?

jess, you get to pick a digital book of your choice from The Youth Cartel.
kevin i, you get a digital copy of jonathan mckee’s soon-to-release The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenagers: 27 Principles of Wisdom When You’re Running for Your Life!

a hopeful imagination for youth ministry

chris folmsbee was sick as a dog at The Summit last year. he somehow made it through a full day on friday with the 25 or so people in his Pre-Summit Session. but when it came time for him to take the stage on saturday at the main event, i wasn’t sure he was going to make it. i seriously wondered about him passing out or having explosive diarrhea on stage. i gave him an out, but he wanted to power through.

so it’s pretty amazing that chris was able to present this really wonderful presentation on the topic “Hopeful Imagination” (a topic i’d asked him to address). this will get your spirit stirring…

early bird pricing for this year’s Summit only last for another few weeks. jump online and plan to join us now! it’s the most diverse and potent roster of presenters i’ve ever seen at a youth ministry event!

photo in need of a caption

came across this beauty the other day and thought it was just begging for the creativity of the fine photo captioners who particpate in this occasional meme on

BIG PRIZE this time. the winner gets the videos of the session of their choosing from The Summit (just released this week!).



e. sutter
And on your left you’ll see our monument to the Prosperity Gospel.

Bob Karr
Four simple steps to youth ministry success!

Cartel Culture: We take wrapping a pastor’s office to a whole new level.

Shane Mulin
This is what happens when you allow skater kids on the the building committee…

As the stairway neared completion, lo, the Lord smote the building committee and confusedeth their languages.

Uhh… how else were we going to change that lightbulb?

“I’m just glad we got the bathrooms.” Church split negotiations gone bad.

How you know you’re fired on Monday after the middle school retreat the previous Saturday.

Wes Pardue
“Complaints Department: Upstairs”

Chris Marsden
The prank war escalation took a bad turn when the worship pastor’s study simply disappeared. We’re still not sure where his intern is.

and the winner is…

lots of the captions made me smile; but the only one that actually made me laugh out loud this time was chris marsden’s gem (maybe because it’s just a shade too close to potential!).

The prank war escalation took a bad turn when the worship pastor’s study simply disappeared. We’re still not sure where his intern is.

chris, you win The Summit video from the session of your choice! email me ([email protected])

the power of small

small groupin the little book i published last year called A Beautiful Mess: What’s Right About Youth Ministry, i included a little section where i riffed on the power of small. and a couple weeks ago at the SYMC, i led a half-track seminar (4 hours) called “six values great youth ministries embrace,” and included this idea as one of those six.

actually, now that i think about it, the section in the book and the seminar was actually “the power of small churches.” here was my summary statement from the seminar:

Since small churches often don’t have the resources to develop impressive programs fueled by amazing technology, they are often forced to “settle” for the core of what really works in youth ministry: a caring Jesus-following adult engaging a small group of teenagers.

i’ve seen this over and over again in the past few years, particularly since i’ve moved out of a role that was primarily about “developing impressive programs fueled by amazing technology,” even if it was for youth workers instead of teenagers.

and when we talked about this value in my seminar, we went a step further, and asked people to wrestle with what this means for medium-sized and large church youth ministries. how can they embody a value of small, even though they’re not a small church?

i was struck by this over the weekend in terms of my own practice. sunday morning, as i was making my way into church, a dad approached me. he’s the dad of a college freshman guy who was in my small group as a 6th – 8th grader. the dad said something like, “i was thinking of you just this morning! i was thinking about what an amazing young man my son has become — with strong character, an active faith, personal practices and boundaries that naturally flow out of who he is — and i thought to myself, this all traces back to marko and that small group.”

of course, i was wonderfully encouraged and flattered. and of course i took a minute or two to tell him how he and his wife have had a greater impact on who their son has become than i could ever hope to have had (which, as an aside, was a surprise to him — a reminder to me that we have to keep telling parents that!).

and as i took my seat and waited for the service to start, i reflected on what it was that made that particular small group so rich. and the small group that followed that, with another set of guys i met with weekly from 6th grade through 8th grade. i see those guys — from that second small group — now sophomores in high school, and how active their faith is, how much they’re holding each other accountable, how much they’re stepping into leadership.

and then i compared that to the group of guys i have now, currently in 7th grade. they are awesome guys, and i love them. but, i was thinking, something’s not the same. it feels like our weekly small group has primarily become a christian education endeavor. but i don’t remember many recent wednesday nights when someone really opened up with doubts, or with hurt, or with questions, or with confession, or with a request for help. i realized that i’ve started measuring “good nights” as the ones where we talk about something spiritual and the guys engage to some extent. that’s not the same thing.

it might be that i’m exclusively remembering times from the 8th grade years of those two previous groups. after all, i’ve often felt that leading a small group of middle school guys is a couple years of building relationship and trust, and a third year where the return starts to show up.

but at the end of the day, i can only chalk it up to the size of the group. they guys i have in my group right now have every bit as much potential as the guys in the previous groups. but they’re getting ripped off. that first group — with the son of the dad who talked to me sunday morning — had five guys in it. the same five guys for three years. the second group had six guys in it. the same six guys for three years. but my current group had about 12 guys in it last year (when they were in 6th grade), and runs between 14 and 18 most weeks this year (7th grade). we’ve talked about splitting the group; but there either hasn’t been enough leaders, or enough will power, or enough urgency, or something. i’m not putting the blame anywhere other than at my feet. in fact, there’s probably even been a little ego satisfaction in having a larger group (i get to feel simultaneously self-important, and permitted to whine and expect sympathy).

how can i really create a place of honest life-sharing with 18 guys? how would any but the exceptionally bold and verbal among them ever feel that it’s safe enough to ask a tough question or offer up a genuine hurt or verbalize an honest doubt?

i’ve got to figure out how to re-embrace the power of small. funny, isn’t it, that i have to wrestle with this in the context of a “small group”? my goal: by next fall, i’ve got to find a way to make this two small groups. that will mean loss for me, because i have no interest in not being the small group leader for all the guys. i mean, i’ve invested two years into these relationships, and am stoked about what next year could be for all of them. but i’m ripping them off. we must get small. if i give a rip about the spiritual formation of these guys, we must get small.