REAL Holy Week…As Told Honestly by Your Pastor & DCE.

26 04 2013

Get enough complaints about not blogging, and guess what?

You get back into it pretty quick.

Suffice it to say it’s been an extremely busy couple of months for me. I’d bore even myself trying to recount everything that’s been going on, so I’ll stick to one humorous reality I faced for the first time this year: Holy Week with as a church work duo.

We’re both church workers at the same church this year, for the first time–my husband as a pastor, and me as a Director of Christian Education.

What does this mean during the average week? We’re co-workers, and live and breathe church at work and at home. In fact, if we didn’t have two dogs to care for, we might occasionally forget we have a home away from church.

It also means we’re pretty well-prepared in jumping in to do mostly anything at church. Watering flowers? Rearranging furniture? Running registration tables? Creating dessert trays? Dusting shelves? Running screens? Organizing files? Trimming poinsettias? Making coffee? Guiding campus tours? Cleaning bathrooms? Serving meals? Leading chapel? Making hospital visits? Writing or leading devotions, lessons, or Bible studies at a moment’s notice? We got it covered, no sweat.

Holy Week, however, is a different beast entirely.

What might seem like a cheerful holiday for most–yellow bunnies! pink marshmallows! foil-wrapped chocolate!–is nothing short of laborious torture for those of us in church work.

Picture this: seven church services in eight days.

That means bulletins, flowers, communion set up, musicians, announcement slides, song lyrics, lights, candles, service order, sermons, readings, ushers, banners and paraments, food and coffee–times SEVEN.

This year, my husband and I started a new tradition to commemorate our first year in church work–our Real Holy Week picture diary, capturing how we felt at the end of each day. And rest assured, friends, those were some long days we worked–along with our dedicated staff–to prepare for Holy Week 2013.

So here’s a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes in the lives of two brave church workers during Holy Week:Photo 1

Day 1 (Palm Sunday)

Cassie: Optimistic

Tyler: God save us…(We’re Gonna Need It)

Day 2 (Monday)

Cassie: Seriously? It’s only Monday?!

Tyler: The calm before the storm…

Day 3 (Tuesday)

Cassie: And we thought tax season was stressful…

Tyler: Kickin’ it into high gear!

Day 4 (Wednesday)

Cassie: I just got home…it’s MIDNIGHT…but holy cow, I love my church!

Tyler: Zzzzz……

Photo 2

Day 5 (Maundy Thursday)

Cassie: Holy  Guacamole!

Tyler: Bringin’ it, Maundy style!

Day 6 (Good Friday)

Cassie: I love the most depressing service of the year!

Tyler: And He saw that it was GOOD.

Day 7 (Saturday)

Cassie: I. am. so. tired.

Tyler: This. Is. It.

Day 8 (Easter Sunday)

Cassie: Hallelujah! We survived Holy Week 2013!

Tyler: Thank you God!

And now….you know the real story behind Holy Week.

Next time you ask us why we look tired after Easter, you’ll know exactly why.





7 Observations about Today’s Middle School Kids…

8 11 2011

I’m still recovering from our annual confirmation retreat, which was a few weekends ago.

Yes, still recovering. I’m old. My 26-year-old self can’t pull those all-nighters like I could just a few years ago in college.

Earlier this month, I spent my beautiful fall weekend running a huge retreat for our 7th and 8th grade students, at a camp about an hour and a  half away from our church. I spent pretty much the entirety of my waking moments meticulously running through checklists, transportation arrangements, schedules, songs, props, and handouts…not to mention constantly giving direction and instruction, problem-solving on the fly, breaking up rowdy fights between 7th grade boys, hugging crying girls, speaking and teaching, checking in with leaders and musicians and tech people, shouting through a megaphone, and acting as liaison between our group and the camp staff (translation = every time a kid wanted to go shoot arrows at the archery course, I had to stand and supervise to make sure no one came home missing an eye).

It was a great weekend. I managed to get about three whole hours of sleep each night in my room of non-stop hyperactive girls, I only got hit in the face with a dodgeball twice, and only one student dared pull a prank on my water bottle.

I use this time, each retreat, to scrutinize each wave of students. I love to learn their culture, their norms, and their group’s personality, as well as what they struggle with, what they need, and what they’re growing up to be.

Here are 7 of the observations I made about this particular generation of students:

  • We are, without a doubt, seeing the impact of strictly scheduled kids who are completely immersed in technology. Kids don’t really know what to do with true free time. These kids are so used to being told what to do, every second of their day, that they don’t understand how to think on their own or structure their free time at all. They also wouldn’t stop asking about the schedule. It’s clear that they are used to keeping their own schedules and knowing what’s happening each day, and even though we told them “not to worry about the schedule”, they did.
  • I think these kids crave a release from their technological world. We don’t hear many complaints about it not allowing cell phones at our retreat anymore, whereas it was a constant complaint just a few years ago. Kids seemed all too happy to be away from the “stress of keeping up with Facebook and their texts from friends”. I just wrote an article about this at my youth ministry column at thESource, if you want to dive into this topic more here.
  • These kids are more noticeably distant from adults and older teenagers. Even our high school students, who helped out as leaders at one of these retreats for the very first time, noticed this and commented on it. Our middle school kids were polite, but distant. I wonder if this is a reaction to the fact that they are constantly ordered around by adults, with their highly structured teams, clubs, and other organizations—and deep down, maybe unknowingly resentful that these adults don’t care enough about them to force them to unplug, take downtime, and quit the activities that they can’t mentally and physically keep up with.
  • This group of students is losing the ability to read and write at the level that should be standard for their age group. Many was very rudimentary in their ability to think critically, fill out answers, and spell. I know this is the generation that is the techie generation, and it’s clear to me that using autocorrect and not learning how to write things out by hand is eroding their ability to spell, construct sentences, and even their handwriting itself. I fear for their college professors–and the future of literature.
  • Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. The old adage I’ve heard that a student has about a minute of undivided focus for each year old they are (so, about 12-14 minutes at a time for these kids) seems to be shortening. They want everything instantly, and they get antsy even if they have to wait in line for something. They lose focus in the amount of time it takes to hand something out to their group.
  • I think these kids are absolutely dying for individual attention. It’s a trademark of their age, of course, but it seems like even the smallest amount of personal, one-on-one time just completely lifts them up. One really cool thing we did this year was have all of our small group leaders pray individually with kids, while we were doing our closing worship service—so each student there was prayed for personally by an adult. Many kids were crying, even though most of the adults spent only a few moments praying with them. I wonder if this is another effect of them feeling like they are over-programmed and expected to produce results in most everything they do—that simply by having an adult love them, without expecting anything from them in return, is something they aren’t used to.
  • At one point, when I told the entire room that we had had a prayer team of 80 people (including 60 teenagers who had gone on the retreat before), praying for them by name for the entire month of October, I saw jaws drop open. I think the idea of being a part of something that’s a legacy is something that’s important to this group–which makes perfect sense, because the technology they’re so used to is so temporary that they crave something that lasts for a long time. Kids were coming up to me and telling me they were excited to get to pray for this group when they became teenagers, and many were asking me if they could come back to the retreat as teen leaders in the future. I think this wave of kids will be very interested in their personal genealogies, and will be captured by the idea of being a part of something that’s bigger than themselves.

All observations aside, I need to add one purely emotional statement that comes straight from the gut:

I love these kids and leaders.

Even with the kids’ wild dodgeball-chucking energy, and that twinkling in their eyes that indicates that they just poured a cup of sugar into my ice water, and their insistence that we stay up “just a little bit longer” to tell stories in our room late at night, and our leaders’ good-natured assistance with pranks, stealing creepy dolls out of rooms when no one is looking, and hiding candy bars in their Bibles…they make retreats like this a blast.

And now, for the first time in weeks, I can relax…and leisurely sip my sugar-free water.





The #1 Sin of Church Workers?

27 05 2011

I know, you haven’t heard from me in a while. I’ve been busy.

This whole spring-rolling-into-summer-rolling-into-summer-camps-and-VBS-and-mission-trips-and-confirmation-stuff thing is pretty much the most chaotic time of year for those of us in youth ministry.

But trust me, things haven’t slowed down in my mind at all, even though I’ve neglected my blog here in the last month.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about ministry and what sort of legacy I want to encourage my youth to have in their own lives. I happen to have a couple of kids who aspire to be in ministry someday, so I’ve been pondering what the most important bit of wisdom I could possibly impart on them could be, in view of this long-term goal.

After a lot of careful thought, I think it comes down to this single shred of wisdom:

Remain humble.

It seems so simple. Anticlimactic, almost.

Yet I think that the sins of pride and arrogance are the ones that cripple church workers the most.

The very nature of a pride issue cuts one off from being teachable or moldable. From ever admitting wrongness or failure. From sharing the credit with others. From truly connecting with other people. From ever apologizing. From rolling up the shirtsleeves and doing the gritty, hard work that’s required—because, after all, it’s beneath you or it’s not your thing.

Pride makes it impossible to try someone else’s idea. It isolates from being open to God’s promptings. It makes it difficult to work with others. It prevents others from coming to you—because who wants to confide in or seek counsel from someone who sneers down their nose at you?

Most shamefully, arrogance can lead us off of the real path of God’s work and instead focus our eyes inward, on our own kingdoms, accomplishments, and successes—whether actual or merely perceived.

By the very nature of the problem, it’s impossible to try to convince someone that they do have a pride issue. Anyone who offers an honest opinion, a helpful remark, or even a harsh criticism is brushed off by those who think they know better than anyone else.

Pride says that people are just bodies to control. Pride whispers falsity. Pride dominates and boasts and refuses to actually care about anyone but itself.

I definitely know that there are incredible, humble, servant-hearted people out there. I thank God for those people—they are the salt of the earth. I have many of them in my ministry, and I absolutely couldn’t function without their constant encouragement, love, and care for others.

But lately, I’ve realized more and more that pride is a stronghold for many in the ministry. Pastors, youth workers, students across the board seem to struggle with being possessed with an arrogance problem.

In fact, in my opinion, pride is the number one sin that has a grip on those in the ministry.

Is it possible to start out with the purest of intentions, and become something that does a disservice to our loving Savior?

Absolutely.

Which is why we must constantly be on guard with our actions, and aware of what we’re allowing into our hearts. We must regularly and honestly evaluate ourselves, and ask those we trust to evaluate us. Sin can—and does—swallow us whole, without us being aware that it’s happening. And only our ever-patient, ever-loving, ever-forgiving Savior can help us guard our hearts and minds from this deceit.

Jesus had the harshest criticisms for the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law. When I was younger, I didn’t understand that. Now that I work in a church, I completely understand. As people charged with the task of sharing Christ with others—with leading and teaching and exhorting—we should be the biggest proponents of humility.

Instead, it’s the trap that Satan has carefully laid for those in the ministry—and he has snared many in its deadly clutches.

When I was in college, I was a resident assistant for two years. During our month-long training in the summer before school started, we were asked to help prepare the school for the arrival of students by cleaning the dorms. On a skin-searingly hot summer day, we spent ten hours scrubbing mold from refrigerators, plunging toilets, mopping floors, painting hot metal railings, moving back-breaking piles of mulch, and repainting parking lines in the student lot.

As I stood with a gallon of bleach in one hand and a brush in the other, panting in the heat, I kept looking over at our directors. Although they were the loudest cheerleaders for doing this service project, they had been sitting all day in the shade, sipping their ice waters. They didn’t do a thing the entire day—in other words, their talk didn’t even come close to matching their walk.

And when we had finished up what later became known as “Slave Labor Day”, they were the ones to receive the accolades from the university for working so hard.

Their arrogant pride ultimately turned an entire staff of student leaders against them, in pure disgust. And no amount of team building or pep talks could ever restore the respect that was lost in one day.

If that can happen, I shudder to think how many people we’re turning off from Christianity because of our pride issues.

People’s eternal lives are being impacted.

All of those people in the world that shout “hypocrites” to us? I get it.

Pride. It’s a dangerous pitfall—and that’s why I tell my student leaders over and over and over again that they must remain humble.

I recently saw a quote online that said, “We’re called to be fishers of men, not keepers of the aquarium.” I’ve found myself repeating that constantly.

He didn’t call me to lord over a church.

He didn’t call me to put myself up on a platform.

He didn’t call me to consider myself better than the rest of my synod, other churches, my staff, or the students and families I work with.

God didn’t call me to be a keeper of the aquarium, but to be a fisher of men.





A Reminder About My Calling…from 7 Years Ago.

7 04 2011

Sometimes being in ministry gives me a feeling like I’m pounding my head into a brick wall continually.

It reminds me of this weird habit my little brother had, when he was a toddler–he’d bang his head against a hard surface repeatedly, trying to get attention. I mean, it worked. Every person in the room rushed to save this poor deranged child who was bent on smashing his tiny little head into the wall.

He’s fine now. Don’t worry. He even started talking when he was ten.

I’m kidding. I only tease because I talked plenty for both of us, as we were growing up. That kid didn’t have to ask for a single ketchup packet from a McDonald’s employee as long as I was around.

You know, I take it back.

It’s not just ministry that gives me that feeling. It’s life in general that makes me feel that way.

Sometimes it seems like every single day can be a struggle. We battle irritations, frustrations, changes, discontent, resentment, readjustment, and a whole host of other emotions on a regular basis.

However, I experienced a moment this last weekend that reminded me of something important–something I’m quick to forget, in the hectic chaos of my job.

God reminded me why I went into the ministry in the first place.

I helped take a group of adults and middle school and high school students to a large Christian concert on Friday night, an event called Winterjam. This was the second time I’d been to this particular concert, and even though I knew the adults would all be holding down comfortable seats in the stands, I was determined to spend this year’s concert down on the floor.

Why did I feel so strongly about standing for five hours straight? I don’t know. I think I’ve just been hankering for a good concert for a while, and my old bones don’t often get the chance anymore to get rattled from insanely loud subwoofers.

I know. Sometimes I forget that I’m an adult.

Our kids rocking out to KJ52's raps at the concert...

Anyway, after getting chased away from the main stage by security, we settled on standing halfway back in the auditorium, right next to the speakers’ stage. We got to talk to Tony Nolan and KJ52, and were just out of the camera’s reach when they filmed all the speakers who came up on the stage. It was awesome.

But what was even more incredible was watching the kids I was with, and realizing through silent observation what God had been doing in them.

In one particular moment, while Newsboys was singing “Mighty To Save”, I stopped singing and listened to my students singing out behind me. I had tears streaming down my face as I listened to their voices, pure and passionate, mingling together and rising up to God. I thought about each one of them, and how powerfully I’ve personally seen the Holy Spirit working in their lives over the course of the last few years, and I was floored.

The whispers of all the negative emotions that I encounter so often seemed to melt away completely in that moment. And I realized that even the worst days of my job (and life!) can’t change the calling God has given me–that calling to glorify Him in all that I do and to be used by Him in any way He wants.

It’s so easy to lose sight of why I went into this profession when I’m caught up in the busy day-to-day.

And the reasons why I went into it in the first place–this “Director of Christian Education” career that I literally knew nothing about, but knew with certainty that that was what God wanted me to do–didn’t make sense to most of my friends and family.

I certainly had no desire to go into the ministry as I was growing up. I had applied to colleges with the hopes of pursuing totally different career paths. I wasn’t a prim and proper “holy roller” in middle school or high school. I cared about my faith, but our church had a dysfunctional youth ministry and I never really connected with any religious leaders or influences in my life.

But God changed all of my plans and ambitions in one afternoon, and planted this calling in my heart. And over the course of several years, it was affirmed and nurtured. God led me the whole way.

And guess what I happened to be listening to, at the time that God planted this glimpse of my future to me over seven years ago?

Newsboys’ “Mighty To Save”.





Murphy’s Law Strikes Again…

9 03 2011

Murphy’s Law has been in full effect for me this week, it seems.

You know, that whole thought that “anything that can go wrong will go wrong”? Yeah, I think I can confirm that it’s true.

It’s been a frustrating, sad, and grueling couple of weeks for me. I have an incredibly heavy plate of events to manage in the spring and summer, so my workload is increasing steadily. It’s the time of year where our 8th grade confirmands are submitting their written testimonies of faith, so I’ve been reading and editing up a storm.

On top of that, I’ve had a number of kids confiding serious feelings and problems to me. Several things in our apartment have failed and have had to be replaced. We had a serious storm that damaged our apartment complex and forced us to evacuate and hide in the church basement at midnight one evening. Friends from my workplace were let go. My boss’s son was tragically killed in a car accident last week, and our entire staff is heartbroken over his family’s loss.

This weekend didn’t make things much better.

Due to a mistake in our calendar system, I found out at the very last-minute that our entire youth event I had been planning all week would have to be shifted to an entirely different building, as our student center was booked for a private event. I stood outside in 40-degree weather, in the middle of a thunderstorm and a tornado watch, shuffling dozens of kids from one building to another. By the time I got inside to lead the event, I was soaked to the bone.

Not only did I have to come up with an event and new devotion on the fly, I also had to discipline some of my favorite students harshly–which is never fun.

And then I snapped my key to the church off in the door, thus locking myself out when I needed to get in to set up for a class I was teaching.

Apparently I have superhuman strength?

Good to know.

The next time someone needs to lift a tractor trailer off of a preschool playground, I’ll volunteer.

I spent literally all day at church on Sunday, worshipping in the morning, teaching a Communion Instruction class to families in the afternoon, and leading our senior high small group in the evening. Somehow, I managed to get a horrific papercut on my finger, which was only made worse by the object lesson I did on Sunday afternoon that involved me plunging my hand into a basin of vinegar and salt.

As painful as it sounds? Yes.

Yesterday, I ate a salad at my desk and dropped a large chunk of bleu cheese on the floor under my desk. It promptly rolled to some unknown region of darkness, and is now lurking there, out of my reach and likely to stink abominably for the next few days.

Oh, and I also got my pant leg stuck in my desk chair so badly that I had to cut the hem of my jeans in order to extricate myself.

See? Murphy’s Law.

I am completely and utterly demoralized and drained.

But you know what? I received this text this week, from one of my high school students:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

I realized something: in the midst of all that frustration and pain, I hadn’t given much attention to the amazing things that God was revealing to me in the last week.

I had the opportunity to worship on Sunday with three college boys–kids from the very first youth group I’d ever volunteered with, when I was a college student living in Florida for a summer. They took a long roadtrip just to see us this weekend and hang out with us in St. Louis.

As I sat with them, head bowed, reciting the Lord’s Prayer, I had tears in my eyes as I remembered sitting with them at a different church four years ago, praying with them there. I was only a college student then, but I was just as passionate about reaching people and sharing Christ’s love with them. Even though I didn’t know them very well at that point, I loved them fiercely.

I remembered going to bed every night, praying for these teenagers by name and trusting that God would guide them through the difficult years of high school and college that were just ahead of them.

I remembered sitting up with them in the hallways at the National Youth Gathering in 2007, counseling them as they worked through some serious doubts about their faith–talking and praying for hours into the night as they wrestled with challenging feelings and difficult questions.

I remembered them gleefully throwing me into a pool when I was fully clothed…and then sharing their towels with me when I climbed out of the pool, shivering.

This weekend, I sat with three former students who are now incredible men of faith. And as I sat there with my head bowed, it was if the Holy Spirit was whispering to my heart, “See? This is what I do. This is what you get to have a small part in. I’m reaping a harvest. Don’t give up. I’ll be your Strength. I’m working here.”

As distracted and busy and worn out as I get, I know God is still working in mighty ways. And it is my true privilege to get to have a small role in His incredible work.

And when Murphy’s Law strikes again–as I know it will–God will still be working then, too.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)





“This Moment Is Unlike Any Other Time In History”

1 03 2011

Recently, I was chatting with my husband about literature. The conversation occurred when he stood looking at my office bookshelf, which is quite tiny and so crammed with books that I can barely pull one out without ripping my fingernails off.

Would that count in a worker’s comp lawsuit?

If so, I better note all those papercuts I get from doing mass postcard and letter mailings, too.

Tyler gazed over the titles of my books, and said to me, “Some of these books are probably the life’s work of some of these people. Do you think that their life’s work–their legacy in ink–matters to anyone else?”

Good question.

I think the real question is whether or not a book can truly transform your life. If so, the hard work and sacrifice to write the book is definitely necessary.

In my humble opinion, my life truly has been impacted by literature. I’ve been deeply provoked, challenged, comforted, and inspired by countless authors. In fact, I’ve written to a few authors over the last few years and told them how much their books have meant to me. I’m convinced that some of these authors and I would be kindred spirits if we actually knew each other.

One such book that has impacted me is Gabe Lyons’ book, The Next Christians: How a New Generation Is Restoring the Faith (I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for a review).

Holy cow, people. If you read one book this year, make it this one.

And trust me, I’m quite the book critic. I don’t highly recommend any old book–only the truly outstanding ones.

Lyons writes brilliantly and clearly, with honest passion and intensity as he tackles a complex subject: the future of Christianity in the upcoming generations. His optimism and belief that the younger generation desperately wants to be a “force of restoration in a broken world” and is embarking on a revolution to rebrand the name “Christian” as something that stands for authenticity, truth, beauty, and intelligence resonates completely with what I’m seeing in the world of young Christians around me.

Lyons states, “I believe this moment is unlike any other time in history. Its uniqueness demands an original response. If we fail to offer a different way forward, we risk losing entire generations to apathy and cynicism. Our friends will continue to drift away, meeting their need for spiritual transcendence through other forms of worship and communities of faith that may be less true but more authentic and appealing.”

Preach it, brother.

Through statistics, stories, and personal reflections, Lyons weaves together a gem of a book that hit the nail on the head so many times that I literally stopped and pumped my fist in excitement in a few places…however endearingly nerdy that may sound to actually admit.

Fine, I may have a bit of a geeky streak. Proof? I was in marching band, love musicals, and adore art history.

Counterproof? I hate Star Wars, Star Trek, and video games.

Let’s get back on track.

Lyons gets it. He has his finger on the pulse of young Christians. He knows what he’s talking about.

One of the most compelling chapters in this book was where Lyons explained the different types of Christians and the way they generally interact with the world. I read through the entire section, and started getting worried–none of these descriptions fit me. “Am I a total misfit?” I wondered.

Lyons then went on to describe what he calls “the restorers”:

“I’ve observed a new generation of Christians who feel empowered…They have a peculiar way of thinking, being, and doing that is radically different from previous generations. Telling others about Jesus is important, but conversion isn’t their only motive. Their mission is to infuse the world with beauty, grace, justice, and love.

I call them restorers because they envision the world as it was meant to be and they work toward that vision. Restorers seek to mend earth’s brokenness. They recognize that the world will not be completely healed until Christ’s return, but they believe that the process begins now as we partner with God. Through sowing seeds of restoration, they believe others will see Christ through us and the Christian faith will reap a much larger harvest.

They are purposeful about their careers and generous with their time and possessions. They don’t separate from the world or blend in; rather, they thoughtfully engage. Fully aware of the seachange under way, they are optimistic that God is on the move–doing something unique in our time.”

It’s amazing, really–not only that Lyons described me and many of my young Christian friends to a “T”, but that Lyons echoed a sentiment here that I’ve been preaching to my middle school and high school students for a year now: God is doing something unique in our time.

Trust me. This is a must-read. It will challenge and inspire you, and give you hope for the future of our faith.

You can always judge how much I truly liked a book by how vigorously I wrote my notes in the margins. I circle, highlight, draw arrows, write my reactions and observations, and disagree with the text all the time–and leafing through, you can see just how much I wrestled with the text and therefore let it saturate my brain.

Guess how jam-packed the margins of this book are?

You got it: full.





4 Hours of Sleep + Russian Accents + Raps about Nuns = Quite the Memorable Weekend

21 02 2011

It’s a rare thing for me to get only four hours of sleep for two nights in a row, and still come home so amped that I can’t even calm myself down enough to sit down and relax.

Unless it just so happens that I’m involved in something that is my absolute passion.

Like this last weekend, when I was at the 2011 Peer Ministry Training Retreat.

Oh, goodness. The glory of the weekend was unparalleled—except, perhaps, if I would’ve spent an entire week in Venice, eating sushi and listening to piano solos while sitting outside in my flip-flops and drinking caramel macchiatos.

Not possible on my paycheck, friends. Don’t worry. I’ll settle for what truly was an incredible weekend instead.

Imagine 23 of the brightest, most compassionate, caring, driven teen leaders you know, coming together alongside a team of committed, knowledgeable professionals for an entire weekend away at a retreat center out in the country.

Picture all of these kids learning practical counseling skills, coupled with intentional leadership development techniques, and watching them practice what they’re learning on each other, right in front of you.

Visualize all of these teens sitting together in a darkened chapel, singing “Amazing Grace” together, praying for each other, and sharing the Lord’s Supper together.

Envision these strangers becoming close friends in just a few days, hugging each other on the last evening and exchanging phone numbers and Facebook names and posing for goofy pictures—all while lingering, because they don’t want to go home just quite yet.

Oh, forget it. I can’t even paint a picture of how wonderful and inspiring the weekend was with mere words. Just trust me—it was amazing.

I don’t often get the opportunity to immerse myself completely in something I enjoy so much. I’m always racing around, running events and preparing leaders and making copies and instructing kids, juggling the responsibility of big programs and lots of leaders. It’s not that I don’t like my job—I do.

It’s that I’ve found something that gives me life, something that I could do every moment of every day and I would never get tired of doing it…and that thing is investing in this next generation of student leaders.

As trite as it may sound, I can’t think of any better way to help make this world a better place than by investing in shaping the future of our teenagers, who are our hope for the future.

And honestly, I think we are at a pivotal brink in history where our most important focus should be on our future and the future faith leaders of this world. As Gabe Lyons says in The Next Christians, “This moment is unlike any other time in history. Its uniqueness demands an original response. If we fail to offer a different way forward, we risk losing entire generations to apathy and cynicism. Our friends will continue to drift away, meeting their need for spiritual transcendence through other forms of worship and communities of faith that may be less true but more authentic and appealing.”

After all, if we don’t care about this next generation, who will guide them in an increasingly complex and muddy world? How will they grow into morally upright adults in an age of no absolute truth, no expectations, and no direction? How can we expect them to influence the world positively when they’ve never had someone tear them away from their texts and their laptops and their iPods and plant a serious thought in their brains?

That’s our calling.

I realized this weekend that I’m willing to give up every dream and aspiration I’ve had for my life, in order to empower this future generation—if that’s what God requires of me.

Besides, how often do you get to see students speaking in horrible Russian accents, break dancing in conference rooms, climbing trees like monkeys, throwing each other into the pool, rapping made-up songs about nuns, and crying as they pray for each other and hugging like best friends all in the course of one weekend?

Not too often.

Oh, and the now infamous nun-rapping student, whose hit ditty is being quoted by every student at the retreat?

One of mine, of course.