On the minds of students

Wednesday nights, after work, we spend two hours at church, mostly with middle school students.  Most of the time they are like separate piles of uranium-235, situated just far enough apart that the critical mass reaction hasn’t happened yet, but James Bond would know it is time to leave the secret Soviet weapons factory because the explosion is inevitable.

Some of those nights we get through the entire lesson, even through a few discussion questions (“we can’t hear you unless you raise your hand!”), and then they start furtively checking the time on their cell phones (“I’ve gotta meet my mom right after!”).

It is at this point of the dance that the magic happens.  We ask them what their prayer requests are.  “What did you say?”, they ask.  Prayer requests, we adults answer, reminding them that we don’t make fun of anyone, and we try to remember these things during the coming week.  ‘We are a family, and we have to take care of each other’- our weekly mantra.

Here is what was on their minds last week (you can guess which ones weren’t told to us publicly):

  • her dad and brother got into a fist fight, so she thinks she’ll be moving soon (high school)
  • she didn’t have to wear a back brace after all, but they still have to fix something(middle school)
  • my friend’s parent has cancer (several)
  • I don’t want to trip on the risers at the choir concert; I’m the first one on the stage (middle school)
  • I’ve started looking at porn (high school)
  • I want to cut myself (high school)
  • I love someone who doesn’t know I’m alive (high school)
  • we are moving this weekend, and  there is lots of work to do (middle school)
  • my grandma died (middle school)
  • I am getting bad grades, I’m grounded, my phone’s been taken away (middle school)

I’m just sayin’, these kids need SOMEONE, ANYONE to tell them it will all work out fine.

Reclaiming the Holidays

Family.  Friends.  Health.  Vitality.  Babies.  Soul mates.  These are the reasons we celebrate our significant holidays.  We gather together to give thanks for each other, and to look forward to more precious time together.  One more year has passed, and we count the blessings that we have all shared.  We can’t wait to see that new baby, or meet the new wife/husband, or see Mom and Dad again.

If this is the first year you’ve been without a lifelong companion, take heart.  Invite your cherished family and friends to your place, and let them fill it with new memories full of laughter and tears.  Show them your sadness and let them weep with you.  Likewise, when the joyous show up, listen to their stories of happiness, praise, fulfillment, and soak in the healing.

If you are the one with joy, praise or excitement over a great year, make a point of attending the family reunions on the calendar.  There is a way to share all of you without gloating or just bragging.  Joy is unmistakable.  Joy is a sincere state of being; an observer can tell the difference between true joy, false happiness, and vicarious boasting.  Carry the joy around with you, and leave the rest at home.

Being with family, and being with friends who truly know you means getting to take the masks of perfection off.  Don’t we all wear them?  By the way, ask the teenagers who gather with you if they can guess how you really are feeling.  If you can get them to engage, they will speak truth to you.  They have a sense about people, especially those they love, and teenagers can’t be fooled.

Make a new friend this holiday season; go sit at the kids table.  Get the kids and young people to go around the table and tell a ‘high’ and a ‘low’ for the year.  Or, go with the ‘rose’ game.  Ask them to tell a rose (a good thing), a thorn (a bad thing), and a rosebud (something they are looking forward to).

Ignore the dollar signs of the holidays.  Embrace the deeper, tougher side of the next few months and make memories.


I realized, while walking my daughter to the bus stop, that I should talk as little as possible in the morning until after I’ve finished my first mug of coffee.  Seriously, I don’t make very intelligble sentences.  It is a feeling like, ‘wow, I used to be able to speak this language, but I’ve forgotten it all overnight’.  That first mug, while brewing is still happening – black gold.  That’s all there is to it.  Can I get an ‘amen’?

The reason why

Hi. I decided that since I have so many theories and opinions about life, and since I love to write, I’d just plain old start a blog.  If you’ve made it this far, you have a computer, so are part of at least the 20th century.  If you actually did the clicking on the links that you had to use to get here, then welcome to the 21st century!

I have always been one of those ‘write-the-paper-at-the-last-minute’ kind of guys.  I have an ambition to turn in to a real writer, but the problem is that there is never a due date for ambition.  No teacher is ever going to say to me, “OK, Locke, your writing career starts tomorrow or your fail”.  It’s like college, but even less structured.  No one will criticize me for going to my day job, working hard, coming home and starting the whole thing over tomorrow without any attempt at launching this writing career.  But, this will help me get started (even if it isn’t pass/fail).

All that to say, I may as well write down what percolates through my head anyway.  Thanks for reading, and God bless you.

Why I am tethered to Youth Ministry

God makes addicts of adults who belong in youth ministry. Let me explain. Even when my wife or I have WANTED to quit serving as part of our church’s Youth Ministry Team, we just haven’t been able to entirely pull the plug. Every year, a handful of kids inject themselves into our reality, and allow us the privilege of having a relationship with them. Crisis to a teenager is just as major to them as crisis is to nations, families or governments.

Middle school kids are squirrelly. That is a fact of life, and a truth that youth workers must know before they enter the room. Kids hardly ever settle down enough to listen to the words that we as teachers and mentors speak to them. That makes God’s call on our lives to have RELATIONSHIPS with middle schoolers all the more important. They will only remember us because of the friendships we had with them, and probably won’t remember any of the biblical lessons we tried to teach them. Sometimes my most valuable ministry time is throwing pillows at all the boys in the ‘couch-pillow fight’, or listening to the girls explain the latest fight between different friends.

High school kids aren’t squirrelly anymore, but they are mostly bored with adults trying to tell them stuff. Why listen to one more adult on Wednesday night or Sunday morning? They listen to teachers five days a week, and their parents nag at them all the time. Again, our CRITICAL MISSION with high school kids is to establish relationships with them. The reason we need the relationship is because when that student needs a shoulder, or needs compassion, or needs biblical counsel, we have earned the right to fill that role. Establishing ‘cred’ is as easy as stopping to talk with them over donuts on Sunday, or asking various students about classes, hair cuts, new shoes, or a new cell phone. I get lots of interest when I ask a group about texting; as in, “how many texts do you send a month?”.

We can’t offer advice, counsel, or compassion unless we’ve inserted ourselves into their lives prior to their point of crisis. Teenagers don’t listen to people they don’t trust. They don’t believe people who don’t believe in them. They also don’t trust people who walk into the room and announce that they have to listen now, “because an adult is speaking”. Oh, sure, they will listen, but only like they listen to the principal at the mandatory school convocation in the gym. We need to demonstrate OUR belief in them (by hanging out with them, for instance) before a student will trust us.

God’s plan for youth ministry is simple. We model and we teach two things: love God, and love people. Start with what Jesus said was the greatest commandment, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, strength”, and continue with, “and the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself”. That is a story for another day.