Category Archives: Thoughts on Youth Ministry

Summer Update

It’s a Thursday afternoon in late summer.  I’m ready for the college bible study tonight and I’m well on my way to being ready for Sunday morning.  Add to this that the combination of Mexican Food (Thank-you Jalapeno’s), a Nestle Crunch Bar and a really hot day leave me no choice but to blog so that I can avoid being caught napping at my desk.

I know it’s been a while and I really should be blogging over at the blog of more importance.  Thus far my summer has involved one camp in West Virginia, one VBS, two summer colds and a marathon golf day consisting of 45 holes.  I grew up here and Savannah and I’m sure it was always hot but I don’t remember being quite so uncomfortable.  In the summers of my youth I walked 18 holes every afternoon in sweltering heat and was thankful for it.

OK.  On to something interesting.  I’m beginning my tenth year of youth ministry.  I should probably put together another one of those “Things I’ve Learned in 10 Years of Youth Ministry” series.  If nothing else it would probably help me keep my blogging certifications active.  A lot of people don’t know this but if you let those blog licenses expire you have to reapply.  Having spent yesterday at Water Park #86 or thereabouts I can say that not all water parks are created equal.  I won’t name the park but I will give the hint that it rhymes with “Bummer Caves.”

First of all, the pavement was devastatingly hot.  My feet, blistered already from a rough and tumble game of Bookman ball in the pool a week ago, probably needed emergency medical care last night. With all of the advances in outdoor recreational technology I don’t get why someone hasn’t figured out a way to keep the decks cool.  Either that or let me where my shoes on the slides.

 Second, not all lazy rivers are created equal.  I’ve loved lazy rivers from the moment I first saw one.  There’s one at Aquatica (sounds really cool when whispered with emphasis on the caaaaaa) at Sea World that moves you at a much faster pace.  Everyone must wear a life vest which, as we all saw last year in West Virginia can be humiliating for a chubby guy.  Yesterday’s lazy river was somewhere around #85 on the DCLR world rankings.  The most fun to be had was placing oneself in front of one of the jets and allowing said self to be propelled a few yards forward.  All of this did remind me of my once-upon-a-time dream of living in a neighborhood connected by a lazy-river in everyone’s back yard. “See you later Mom!  I’m riding the lazy river over to Mikey’s!”

Third, I think dipping dots are over-priced and over rated.  They charge $5 for a large cup that isn’t very large and isn’t very good.  And then there’s no real ice cream to be found in the whole park.

I just reread my three points and it sounds like it wasn’t very nice but overall I’d say the day was enjoyable.  On a much more serious note the whole issue with modesty continues to befuddle me as a youth pastor.  We can (and should) beat that drum about modest one pieces but the truth is we’re (rightly) protecting our young women far more than our young men.  I’ll always remember the beach trip when someone came up to me and said he could tell we were a church youth group because our girls were the only ones on the beach in one pieces. Sigh.

Some Thoughts on Colleges

Every year about October I start getting this question: “Dave (or here in the south – Mr. David) would you mind filling out this recommendation for college?”  Most of the time I do so without comment.  Because of my close association with so many who are soon to be college bound I have formed some opinions about college in general.  I actually have some very strong opinions about so-called “Christian” colleges which I won’t go into around here except to say that I think there are very, very few actual Christian colleges and I’m not sure I’ve filled out a recommendation to one of those in the last 6 years. 

This post about “The Coming Meltdown in Higher Education” was linked to by Challies sometime this week and I thought it was interesting.  From what I can tell this guy blogs about marketing so a lot of what he says comes from that perspective.  But there are a couple of points that concur with some things I’ve observed as I’ve watched young men and women get put through the college machine through the years.

In his fifth point he says that the correlation between a typical college degree and success is suspect.  Here’s the pertinent information: The data I’m seeing shows that a degree (from one of those famous schools, with or without a football team) doesn’t translate into significantly better career opportunities, a better job or more happiness than a degree from a cheaper institution.

First of all I’ve thought for a while that many teenagers are being pushed toward college who have no business continuing to sit in a classroom.  Just prior to the quote I copied above the author says, “College wasn’t supposed to be a continuation of high school.”  And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with learning a skill and working hard.  There are many examples of men just in our church who never went to college but have been hard-working and successful.

Second, I agree with his point about the perceived correlation between success and attending a well known school.  Having a Division I football team or being established before the tree that became the paper on which the Declaration of Independence was cut down doesn’t guarantee much except that you’ll probably be leaving school with a lot of debt. I’ve had students graduate from distinguished private schools and from community colleges and as of yet their success after college correlates more with what how disciplined they were in high school than it does with the name on the degree.

Third, it seems like many Christian parents these days throw discernment out the door when it comes to college.  Important biblical issues like debt are ignored because the end of graduating from a prestigious institution justifies the means.  And then there’s the issue of influence.  Too many teenagers are having their faith undermined by professors with cool glasses and fancy hair product whose goal it is to challenge the biblical convictions (or sadly the lack thereof) of first year freshmen.  Who wants to stand up and challenge the guy with the Ph.D. in the middle of a really cool and smart sounding lecture? Mom? Dad? Then why in the world would you expect your 18 year old to do so?

I could say more but I have to go back to obsessing about long blog posts.  If you thought this one was too long go read a shorter one at the better blog.

What’s going on Around the Clelands?

I know it’s been a while.  A lot of times I get a burst of blogging enthusiasm that begins to wane.  As I feel this waning I begin to wonder which post will be that one that sits there for 3-4 weeks.  This time it was “30 minutes after swimming.”  Could have been worse I guess.  OK.  So here’s what’s going on:

1. Harry was in the hospital again with severe respiratory difficulties.  He came home a week ago and is doing well.  I’m finding that having a kid in the hospital for days at a time becomes all about management.  I have to manage time, “Who’s doing what and when?”  I have to manage Lucy, “Who’s got her now?  Where’s she going next?” We really have to work at managing the emotions.  Mornings are better because you feel a little fresher. Evenings are the worst, especially when he’s in ICU and we have to leave him there at night.  It’s also important to keep making time to pray and meditate on scripture.  Sometimes I start to go on auto-pilot and it’s easy to start to just coast through.   

Speaking of the ICU, what a great group of people.  We love all the nurses up there.  One thing to be thankful for is that we get to see all of our friends there.  Not that we wouldn’t be happy not to see them and they us.  But they love Harry and take great care of him.  We always can feel confidant that he’s in excellent hands.

2. Two days after Harry came home I left for West Virginia for summer camp.  Erika and the kids were supposed to come but Harry’s condition prevented it.  I missed them a lot but it was a great camp.  Alpine Ministrieson the campus of Appalachian Bible College provided us with lodging and daily adventures.  We went white-water rafting and did all kinds of ropes things (Well, they did.  I’m not much for rope events so I sat and read Atlas Shrugged.  More on this later).  Any camp where 14 year olds are asking if they can go to bed at 9 is a great camp in my opinion.

There’s really nothing better than the feeling I get after leading a good camp.  It’s hard work.  There are late nights and early mornings.  My room looked like a disaster area within 3 minutes of setting our stuff down in there.  It was like the guys walked in, opened their suit cases, dumped them on the floor and said, “There, now I’m unpacked.”  The second night they ordered pizza which caused the room to smell like an Italian pig pen.  But it’s really a lot of fun.  And there’s nothing like spending a week together to really get to know one-another.

3.  Next up: our niece comes to visit and out friend Kim is coming from Hungary.  Then I’m off to children’s camp.  July is a big month.

Teens and Evangelism

Why is it that so many who lead churches believe that the youth group should be a hot bed of evangelistic activity and service even when the rest of the body reflects very little enthusiasm for reaching the lost?  I’ve dealt with those who thought that youth ministry needed to spread a “wide net” (their term, not mine).  The program needed to provide a place where teenagers could feel comfortable bringing their friends.  And if the teenagers weren’t bringing their friends it must be a problem with the program right?  Isn’t it at least a strong possibility that if teenagers aren’t bringing their friends to church they are just reflecting their parents’ enthusiasm for outreach?


Has anyone ever been at a meeting where people were standing up and yelling because the young married class wasn’t spreading a wide net?  Has anyone ever been to a special meeting to discuss whether or not the senior adult ministry has too many cliques and isn’t welcoming to newcomers?  Why have teenagers been singled out as the only age group that should be aggressively inviting their friends to church?


And just so you know, I’m not suggesting that youth ministry shouldn’t be evangelistic.  I’m suggesting that in a church where the members in general are enthusiastic about evangelism the teenagers will also be enthusiastic about evangelism.

Let’s be Honest

I’m back in youth ministry and so I’m teaching through James.  It’s been good to get back to James as it was one of the first books I preached all the way through back in the JH Pastor days. (Can anyone forget Bob the Bass?)  James 1:2-4 contains a command that can only be obeyed by one who has met the Lord Jesus Christ, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”  Not if you encounter various trials…when.

James is being frank with his readers.  A believer in Jesus is going to experience a myriad of different trials in this life.  They know this.  He’s writing to Jews who have lost everything because they repented of their sins and followed Christ. And what you need to understand is that those trials are given to you by a sovereign God whose purpose it is to make you more and more like His son Jesus Christ.  If you’re a Christian that’s a good thing right?  So consider it all joy!

Some would prefer that we hide these kinds of exhortations from those who are new to the faith or may be considering Christ for the first time.  Teenagers especially are often shielded from the fact that while the way of the cross and glorious it is also fraught with suffering.  Jesus Himself said that the disciple is not above the master.  If they persecuted Christ then they’ll persecute His disciples. But by hiding the fact that the bible promises trials to those who follow Christ we also fail to point out that trials are actually a good thing.  In suffering we are disciplined by our heavenly Father who loves us.  In trials we find our faith being strengthened.  Paul prayed that he might know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings (Phil. 3:10).  In Acts 5:40-41 the apostles who have just been flogged for preaching Jesus Christ left “rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.”

So let’s be honest.  As a Christian you will experience trials in this life and that’s a good thing.  How are you going to respond and why?

An Unexpected Season of Ministry

A little over 5 months ago now our family moved back to Savannah to pursue planting a church.  Part of that plan involved becoming a part of Ferguson Avenue Baptist Church.  In the last 5 months I have had opportunity to preach and teach in a variety of settings ranging from the pulpit on Sunday morning to a Saturday men’s prayer breakfast. 

As of last night I have agreed to serve Ferguson as their interim youth pastor over the next few months.  I’ve been a youth pastor for most of my adult life.  Teaching teenagers about Jesus Christ is something I love to do.  Now I get to do it on a weekly basis here in Savannah.  I’m excited. I got to meet with them last Wednesday night.  So far they seem like a great group of kids.  We’re going to be going through the book of James together. 

If you’ve been following along and praying for our vision for church planting please don’t think that this represents a step away from that.  I have prayed that God would allow me to serve Him in Savannah, GA and as far as I am concerned everything is still moving forward.  In the meantime, I get to do what I love to do.

Honesty Without Truth

In I Samuel we see King Saul spiraling downward into sin that begins with s ingle suspicious thought about David in 18:9.  From there his sin moves from a thought to secret plotting about how he can end David’s life without anyone knowing he was responsible.  He actually uses the old “send the boy to the front lines” approach made famous by David himself a few decades later. Finally, in 19:1 Saul speaks of his desire to murder David.  Sin has so deceived him that he can speak openly about it and not feel any sense of shame.


Phil Johnson has a post this morning at Pyromaniacs titled “Honesty Without Truth?”.  After I looked up “querulousness” I understood Phil’s point that the internet has become a place where Christians gather to tell there deepest and darkest secrets in the name of being honest.  Phil says:


To the postmodern mind, “honesty” has come to mean the uninhibited venting of every egocentric feeling, every nagging doubt, every petty complaint, every subversive thought, and every negative passion. Maturity and discretion used to keep people from indiscriminately expressing certain potentially-destructive thoughts aloud, much less broadcasting them to the world.


This willingness to broadcast the worst about ourselves is tied among Christians today to the idea of confession.  In a world where seminary students gather in circles to learn how to emote it shouldn’t surprise us that churches are filled with “accountability groups” where men and women can share all of their hurts and struggles in a “safe” place.  The key word here is of course “safe” because we get to wallow in our honesty and no one had better take issue with anything we say.  Just like Saul we have the ability to speak openly about sin without any sense of shame.


J. Budziszewski in his book, What We Can’t Not Know, says that our conscience functions as teacher, judge or executioner.  The teacher mode is cautionary in that it alerts us to sin.  The judge mode is accusatory in that it indicts us for sin we have committed.  Finally, the executioner mode is avenging because “it punishes the soul who refuses to read the indictment.” Budziszewski places this need to “be honest” within the avenging mode of the conscience.  The soul that has refused to hear the conscience is seeking relief through false confession.  He writes:


In its broadcast mode, it is the staple of talk shows like “Jerry Springer,” which has featured guests with such edifying disclosures as “I married a horse.”  But the tell-all never tells all; such confessions are always more or less dishonest.  We may admit every detail of what we have done, except that it was wrong.


Saul’s sin was like a snowball gathering size and speed as it rolled down hill.  Having allowed hate and jealousy to become the controlling thought in his mind he couldn’t help but speak of it.  This is true of anyone.  At some point, sin will consume their hearts to the point that they just can’t keep it in.  Jesus said so in Luke 6:45:


The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.”


Today, these internet sites and “safe” accountability groups where everyone enages in honesty are simply granting a place where the heart can speak of its “evil treasure” without shame and without fear that there might be some confrontation with truth.