11 years of youth ministry – 20/28

Over the last 11 years I have volunteered in different youth groups; inside the church, outside of the church, high school, as well as middle school.

The first youth group I helped out with was with a Jr. High youth group at my former church which went by the name CHAOS.

Truth to be told, it was.

I remember how naive then, calling the shots and acting like an authority figure without having a relationship with my group of guys. Yeah, that didn’t work out that well. But I quickly surmised that Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights were not enough, and so I found ways to connect with my group of guys outside the designated times. We had video game nights, my invented sport of “formal basketball”, and a Proverbs Bible study. It was outside the box, it was quirky and it was messy, but those guys I knew back then in my early years of youth ministry, I still keep in touch. In fact, one of my earlier youth ministry students is a guy who has introduced me to his trivia league at a bar in my area (he’s over 21 now so it’s all good) which I try to go to every Wednesday.

I do admit, that there have been times where the CHAOS was more internal or external. When I first started high school youth ministry it was with Young Life. I needed a 2 year internship when I was once a youth ministry major in college, and my bro from community college days hooked me up with the youth group he attended and went on to lead in. I was stoic and reserved, and I kept to myself as a leader because I think I honestly didn’t know how to come across as a ‘type a extrovert who dives into the games headfirst with reckless abandon.’ At that time I didn’t know how to utilize my strengths because I perceived them as weaknesses; I am a type b ambivert who is good with leading a small group. I am also someone who’ll ask the designated questions, and ask more pertinent questions than the ones provided to me. I am also one to call out students who give me answers they think I want to hear rather than the ones that they really want to give.

***

As a result of my strengths and weaknesses in the context of youth ministry, I know where my place is and I am okay with that. Too often ministry in any context appears to be an Anglo-Saxon W.A.S.P. extroverted males club ONLY, but I thank God for diversity and the ability to use my strengths accordingly. I also am thankful that youth ministry isn’t about me, and that I don’t need to put on an air of ‘look at what I am doing’ but rather ‘look at what God is doing’ and I see that on a regular basis.

Youth ministry isn’t where I’m going to end up work-wise, and I’m okay with that. I will still invest in the lives of others but in a different context because I realize where my strengths lie and I’m going to give it all I have.

~Nathanael~

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Unity, Liberty, Charity

In the last few weeks with my youth ministry students we have been going The Apostles’ Creed, which in most churches and among most followers of Christ this is a creed that is a unifier. How fortuitous that shortly after starting this series I have found a quote from a 17th century Lutheran by the name of Rupertus Meldenius who said the following; “In essentials Unity, In non-essentials Liberty, in all things Charity”.
The various students that make up my small group bring a lot to the table. I recognize that a lot of them ask questions that I didn’t think of at that age and at the same time I don”t think that I was allowed to vocalize such questions. In my younger years I realized that my questions and doubts weren’t going to be allowed, or they would be and I would be looked upon as a decenter. I realize that in some Christian circles questions and doubting makes you out to be rebellious, or perhaps even a heretic when you think outside the box , but in the church I’m a part of now there is liberty and freedom to think differently and even bigger.

Yes there are parts of the Bible that are certainly black and white, but there is a lot of grey. I recognize that where I’m at as a follower of Christ has been shaped in part by what I learned growing up but there’s also what I have experienced in my life, hence the grey areas of the Bible that I am led to lean on in faith.  The experiential model is the way most people read and engage what the Bible has to say, and granted there are times I scratch my head and wonder “how the heck did you get THAT out of reading the Bible?” For instance, when people speak of a vengeful God, a God who’s out to “get them” in anger and in fury…really? Have you read any of the New Testament, or are you still offering up regular sacrifices of grain and livestock…Still, some people make God out to be feared to a point that’s very unhealthy, but it’s views like these that only the person can resolve and workout on their own with the help of God.

I think that’s why there’s over 30,000 denominations across the globe. That differences are maybe not allowed and so a new denomination starts, and maybe sometimes differences are allowed but some individuals would rather split than be united despite the differences…these are mere guesses as to what might cause schisms amongst followers of Christ.

Still I believe in diversity and sharing from one’s perspective of what one believes about, well, pretty much anything. Yes there are times I do not agree with other followers of Christ’s views but I am sure others can say that about some my beliefs as well. I meditate on St. Francis of Assisi’s “make me an instrument of your peace” prayer when I am faced with the differences of views of others often, because I am prone to foot-in-mouth disease and I need to listen more than talk in such circumstances.

This quote is something I need to dwell on because it will help me out as a follower of Christ in my interaction with those who views differ from me. I need to be charitable in differences, and as a work in progress I am not there yet, but I’m getting there slowly but surely.

~Nathanael~

Whatever dude; the Epitaph of my and the next generation (debunked) – 17/28

https://nathanaelvitkus.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/matthew_mcconaughey.jpg?w=225

When I was a youth ministry major 8 years ago I was informed that my generation and the generation afterwards would be very casual, that truth couldn’t be spelled with a capital T, that relativism and all things spiritual would be a touch-and-go matter and as long as values didn’t step on the toes of others “whatever dude” would be the mantra.

I write as one who is a follower of Christ, so if you’re from a different faith system, your input would be nice, because I don’t know your side of the coin as well as you do so please contribute by commenting. 🙂

While I do see that there’s a bit more of a liberal nature to my generation, I don’t see the concerns of my professors truly come to be. The thing is as I consider myself post-Evangelical and more in the Emergent camp than not, and my days when I self-identified as Evangelical don’t come back to haunt me (at least, not too much), the time that I was an Evangelical served me well and was a building block in my faith and not a stepping stone; that is, it helped me to where I am currently and going over a means from one side of the pond to the other, something that doesn’t get looked back upon.

So this “Whatever Dude” approach to my generation to things of God and spirituality? Not necessarily so, in fact I think that if anything my generation is doing what can be engage it more on their terms and not going by “tradition” or “we’ve always done it this way, so why change?” means. There is nothing innately wrong with tradition, but not willing to explore deeper waters and being comfortable closer to the shoreline…not quite what I thought of when Jesus described the nature of following him, or even how Dietrich Bonhoffer put it; When God calls a man [or a woman] to himself, he bids him [or her] to come and die.

Even for those in my generation who aren’t followers of Christ, I see a re-reading of religious texts and it not being read for face value either. My Muslim friends aren’t out to kill me or convert me, there’s an understanding and there’s dialogue, and it goes a lot further any day of the week than debate – whether them to me or I to them. I think my generation has a pretty good handle on talking, and even listening for that matter! I’m proud to hear the questions and conversations happening 🙂 To God be the glory in all things!

Lastly for this “whatever dude” debunked post, there’s the nature of doubting and questioning. I truly believe that doubting and questioning walks hand-in-hand with faith, because if one’s able to sum up the entirety of their belief system in an unflinching manner, that’s belief in the belief system and in many ways faith exits the scene. As a follower of Christ I can only speak on behalf of my brothers and sisters in Christ, so here’s something Jesus told his Disciples prior to him going back to Heaven; John 20:29 – Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Faith is one of those things you can’t really have a grasp on, you really can’t, but then again that’s why it’s faith. You take your life, your journey, and you take God and matters of faith in faith. I am a follower but I am a doubter and very very much a questioner, and I have faith that God will meet me where I am at, but I also have days where I doubt it. But God is bigger than me, God is bigger than my questions, my doubts, my unanswered prayers and questions…and sometimes, not all the time, I am okay with that. I am okay with a God I don’t believe in inasmuch as I have faith in.

~Nathanael~

My personal rules of engagement

Earlier today one of my former youth ministry students informed me that he will be visiting a Hindu temple in my area, he asked my insight since I visit different places of worship every now and then. He asked me my insight and I gave it to him, I asked his permission to repost what I sent him and here it is.

1) Take time to listen – it might be obvious, but I truly believe it needs to be done.

2) Look for common ground – I think too often followers of Christ (I speak as one of them) are under the impression that people of different belief systems are 180 degrees from Christianity. Yet as you listen to their stories, you’ll hear how they want to do unto others, they want to feed the poor, they want to honor God, etc. As followers of Christ as we listen, we can find out that we have so much many more commonalities than differences!

3) Dialogue over debate – If you think about how debate works it’s about 2 sides coming up with the most compelling argument so as to defeat the other, the one who has the better argument “wins” and the other person “loses”. In life going by that model will only take you so far, and it will actually be the grounds of alienation between yourself and others. When you dialogue with others, regardless of where you’re at and wherever they’re at, it allows room to talk despite the differences that are present. Dialogue isn’t about about “winning” it’s about communicating, it’s about expressing yourself and allowing others to express themselves as well. It is better to make peace than be “right”.

4) The norms of other belief systems are their own norms – When you think about the Hindu belief system, one thing that you’ll get pretty quickly is their polytheistic belief system. As followers of Christ we might perceive that as wrong, but is it “wrong” or is it fact their norm? It’s what they perceive as normal, so who’s to tell them otherwise? Instead of going with the models of missionaries and colonists in the past of having a particular group of people go with their self-imposed norms, why not engage people where they’re at. Surely, God is big enough to work within the framework of a polytheistic society. Be with people; true incarnational ministry isn’t about bringing in your model of thoughts and ideas and discarding what their norms are will not go over well, let God lead you and guide you, don’t leave your faith at the door, but sometimes you need to step back from Christianity in order to move forward with God and those you’re interacting with.

5) Engagement over judgment – Avoidance is sometimes a problem for followers of Christ; instead of engaging the people around them, they choose to come up with assumptions and sometimes hurtful statements without actually getting to know that group of people. Walking a mile in someone shoes, getting to know them on their terms and in their territory needs to be done. Too often I see followers of Christ who sit on their haunches and wait around with the air of “well when you get your act together, we’ll help you out then”, but as I read the parable Jesus told of a Prodigal Son, it is the father who sees his son off in the distance and runs to him and embraces him. The son’s the one who screwed up royally, in fact he was going back to the father to simply see if there was an opportunity for him to become one of the servants, he didn’t come back with the expectation of being taken back in as the son, of being in good standings with the father, he was expecting to be treated as the lowest. Yet the father takes him back, takes him in as he is and not as how he should be, and if we as followers of Christ can emulate that behavior, our witness will go a lot further in a positive way.

6) Love wins – 1 Corinthians 13, while so often deemed The Wedding Chapter because it’s used as such, should really be a checklist for followers of Christ. By going by what Jesus said as recorded in John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” We are called to be his witnesses, not the jury or the judge, because God alone knows our thoughts and our hearts. We at the very core of our beings should live out that love to everyone, not just among those who get along with us, but to EVERYONE! It takes time, it is very difficult, but we are instructed by Jesus to do so.

7) It begins with God and it ends with God – I believe in a God who is so big that he will meet us where we are. I am not saying that all roads lead to God, because I believe we have to go through Jesus to get to God, but within that framework I don’t believe it’s tied down to Christianity exclusively. We as followers of Christ do not bring anyone to God, God alone brings people to God, and it is our freewill to accept or not. But when does the average person run out of chances of making that choice? I honestly don’t know, some people might speculate and say the obvious answer is that someone dies, then and there is the “last time”, but again, we don’t know from this side of eternity if death is indeed the final call, that is God’s business not ours. Should we share what we have faith in with others? Absolutely, we’re called to be disciples and disciple others, but again it begins with God and ends with God. When it comes down to it, God doesn’t need us to help him out, but he invites us to! Ministry shouldn’t be so much wrapped up in the person who’s leading it, it should be about what God is doing through the ministry, and sometimes that means stepping out of the way and letting God do what he’s going to do. That might be a hard pill to swallow, but I’ve been learning in youth ministry, that sometimes that is the place I need to be.

Lastly I say this; when you choose to interact with people who might not be coming from your viewpoint, don’t go at it with “Christian eyes” but with the eyes of God, with the ears of God, and with the heart of God. If you don’t have love, what good are you? I don’t say that accusing you of something you’re doing, but keep your reasons in check, if it’s not out of love, then you will only go as far as a mere human being can go…but if you go with the love of God, you will go a lot further than you imagined, it might frighten you because at times that can lead to unexplored territory at times, but it needs to be done, following the tracks of what “everyone” else is doing will leave you with the same results. Choose to be a leader so that others too can learn from your example and blaze an unmarked path of their own, to God be the glory in all things!

~Nathanael~

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I don’t thrive off of compliments (but it’s nice to hear praise for what I’m doing every now and then)

The other night I had an awesome meeting, and while that might sound like an oxymoron, I did.

The high school and middle school leaders of the youth ministry I’m a part of got together to just hang out, eat dinner, do some team building exercises and discuss the future of our youth groups together. It was a very good time for me as well as my fellow leaders, my friend of 18 years oversees the high school and middle school youth ministries, but the guy who oversees all the children’s ministries is a great guy as well!

Near the end of the meeting one of the middle school leaders approached me and thanked me for my involvement in the high school youth group that two of her daughters attend, she thanked me for the rapport I have with them and the friendship I’ve extended to them as well. I was a bit surprised to have someone’s parent thank me for my involvement in youth ministry and in the lives of their kids, I hear it every now and then.

Thing is, I don’t thrive off of compliments, but I do appreciate a kind word every now and then, it validates what I do and it certainly lifts me up and fuels me a little. 🙂  I like how Solomon worded it in Proverbs 16:4; Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. I recognize the power good words in someone’s life has, it can help them out if social justice isn’t required, it gives them that extra push and I enjoy complimenting people where compliments are due.

Take it from me when I say that those in ministry need to hear our thanks for what they’ve done, they need to hear it more often than not. So if you want a challenge, tell your spiritual leader[s] thank you for what they do, I’m sure they will appreciate it greatly.

~Nathanael~

11/30 – Getting my undergrad in Psychology…7 years later

I started my undergrad career in 2003, and and didn’t wrap up till 2010, it was a long and arduous journey but I made it. 🙂

I started off my college career at a community college the autumn after I graduated high school, I kinda had my mind made up in thinking that I would pick up as many gen-eds in 2 years as I could and then transfer out to a school in the area that had an undergrad program in Youth Ministry and finish up in 2007 or in the spring of 2008.

But…life and other things got in the way…

I did pull off the first 2 years without nary a hitch, but when I transferred over I didn’t stay in the youth ministry program for long, and so I was forced with starting over to square one or picking up an undergrad in Biblical Studies or Psychology, I decided to go with the latter.

It was also at this time of switching majors that my parents separated (blow #1) and then my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer (blow #2) and then my father decided he was going to bail on her (blow #3) to which I stepped up to the plate to be my mom’s primary caregiver, which meant I took a year off of school.

Other issues arose, primarily financial difficulties which meant I didn’t jump back in the saddle of school as quickly as I got out. I also for a while had a hard time managing my time, and there was a stretch where I was taking on 19 credits in one semester while working a 29+ work week…for those of you had to balance both full time employment and full time being a student, my hat’s off to you, I didn’t do well doing both at the same time despite not working a full time job.

But things picked up, I was able to get back on track, to manage my time properly and take a job (not so much a better job than the one I had before, but there weren’t too many demands like the other job had) and in 2010 I graduated 7 years later.

***

I realize that there were many things I could have avoided which would have shortened my stint as an undergrad student, but some things required me stepping up where others just backed down. It was stressful and had I known what I know now I probably would have been in a Psychology undergrad program and then picked up a Masters in Divinity at a later time, but it is what it is and I’m glad that my undergrad days are done. I didn’t make a lot of friends in college but the few that I made are very good ones, I look forward to attending the wedding of one of my best college friends this summer, it should be a lot of fun!

All in all I can’t change my past, I only can change now and the future, and things look good! 🙂 7 years to finish an undergrad is a lengthy time, but I made it and I have a sense of accomplishment every time I look at my diploma.

~Nathanael~

27/31 – My vocation (why are I here on earth)

 

My vocation (why are I here on earth)

Since I won’t be the next Valentino Balboni (former test driver for Lamborghini) I might as well be me…

My vocation, my calling, is youth ministry. God put it upon my heart in my Senior year of high school, and I have been active with different youth ministries some 9 years later. I don’t aim to reinvent the wheel when it comes to youth ministry, but I do desire to engage students in helping out others, that is social justice; to which I consider myself blessed to have had some students of mine help me out at the local soup kitchen, getting to know the homeless and poor in my hometown and feeding them has made my perspective change 180°.

I do know that some things with being a part of the Emergent church does spur me on in a different way than my Evangelical upbringing. By no means am I dropping Evangelicalism altogether, but there’s a bit of a progression, and so on the shoulders of Evangelicals I’ve become an Emergent. Instead of making “getting to Heaven” the drive for one’s actions, I hope to express and instill in students that while Heaven is part of the equation, the nature of “getting there” isn’t where I’m putting emphasis, but rather living out a life faithful to God, “on Earth as it is in Heaven”, kingdom work here and now, reconciliation and restoration, being part of the process that ushers in perfect shalom…because I think Heaven, for what it’s worth, might not be what Evangelicals have told and sold over the years, and I want to present a dynamic reality instead of a static one.

I also want to further my education by way of getting a Masters of Divinity (M. Div) in either Ireland or Scotland; I want to get some studying abroad as well as traveling abroad in my lifetime, I think this’ll help me get both in, in the proverbial killing two birds with one stone kind of way. I love learning, and I think expanding my education in the realm of what I find my calling to be will serve me well.

I also think and believe that part of my vocation is to build bridges between the Christian community and the LGBT community, not that there isn’t any overlap but there needs to be more. I have written quite a bit about that, and at the risk of beating a dead horse, I will just say this; Christians aren’t overall bad when it comes to engaging the LGBT community in a Christlike manner, I just think that we can do more. I also think about who Jesus spent his life on earth with, the ones in his day and age who were people that were marginalized, people who were looked down upon, people who were ignored…if Jesus spent his years here on Earth right now, I think he would spend a good deal of his time with the LGBT community. I think if we’re called to be like Christ as followers of Christ, stepping out in faith and building friendships and loving on the LGBT community is a very good and Godly thing to do.

I also like to write, I don’t know how that works into my vocation at this point, but down the road I might have some clarity that I don’t have at this present time.

~Nathanael~