Staying Creative in Student Ministry

If I am completely honest with you, ministry can be monotonous at some times.  The same can be said for weekly message preparation, but I don’t believe it always has to be.  I’m of the mind being created in the image of God means He shares certain attributes with us, and one of my favorite attributes of God is His creativity.  In essence we were created to be creative for His glory…I like that.

I have to keep this in mind when studying, preparing, and dreaming for messages or message series.  There’s a lot involved in prepping for these things but I love the fact that I can dream big dreams because that’s how we are designed.  My encouragement for student pastors would be to dream big when studying and developing a message or series.

Here are just a few helpful thoughts that have helped me along the way:

DON’T BE AFRAID TO GAIN INSPIRATION FROM OTHERS – There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being inspired by the works of others.  There is; however, everything wrong with stealing from others.  Some give full freedom to use whatever you want to, but that’s not a universal rule for everything you find online; but I do believe you can be inspired by someone else’s creativity.  Let’s be honest, Pinterest is a great resource.  If you’ve been avoiding Pinterest like the plague for fear of what men with mustaches might think of you, then it’s time to grow yourself a beard and join the movement.  Go take a gander at my boards if you feel the urge.

READ SOMETHING THAT STIRS YOUR IMAGINATION – History, a biography, fiction…what stirs your imagination?  I like to sit down next to a fire and read some good fiction.  Right now I’m reading The Fiddler’s Gun by A.S. Peterson, but I also enjoy anything by Ted Dekker.  It’s fun to get lost in a world that is not your own while living the life of another, even if it is only for a glimmer of time.  The sole purpose of this is to remain creative.  I’m good with reading books that are helpful for your line of work, but that can sometimes get stale and stunt creativity.  It’s when I’m imagining that I find myself being more creative, so enjoy some books that bring about something new.

LISTEN TO NEW MUSIC – Sometimes it’s a good thing to try something new.  I for one get a little tired of listening to the same thing all the time…unless it’s overwhelmingly good.  I’m just saying try it, if you don’t like it move on, but sooner or later you will find someone else to add to your playlist.  I really like listening to strong song writers like Ben Rector, Andrew Peterson, Aaron Ivey, and NEEDTOBREATHE, but sometimes I branch out and find something different that I don’t normally listen to like Justin Timberlake (I’m late to the party) or Bruno Mars (amazing voice, lyrics need a little toning down).  I would also suggest getting Spotify and listening to some of their suggestions (then going out and buying some of that artists music).  Spotify can be a great resource for trying something new.

HAVE A CHANGE OF SCENERY – Get up and get out of the office!!  If you’re always looking at the same wall, same art, same desk, same books, it’s no wonder you’re creative genius is stumped!  Get up and go somewhere.  A park, a local coffee shop, your back yard, a movie (this serves two purposes); I don’t care where, but get up and go!  You’re office can be a lonely, boring place sometimes…make it interesting!

CARRY AN “IDEA” NOTEBOOK WITH YOU – You never know when you’re going to be hit with the greatest idea ever!  We all have one of those ideas that would be revolutionary, but we forget it within 10 minutes never to be thought of again.  Sooner or later I’ll have one too, but I’m gonna write it down.  I also like to draw out designs and write down quotes that would go great in a message or a series.  I never know when I’m going to be inspired, so it’s good to have something to record that inspiration in.

KEEP THE GOSPEL AT THE CENTER – Don’t lose sight of this one.  You can be the most creative person in the world (and you may even see fruit from your creativity), but it’s in vein if you forget the Gospel.  Are you trying to show others how creative you are or are you showing others how creative God is!  Let’s face it, there’s nothing more out of the box then God becoming flesh to save His creation and bring them back to Him.  That’s the story we are telling…nothing more, nothing less, so do not believe the lie that you can make it more creative and pretty!

Stop saying you’re not creative!  You’re the most creative person I know, so use it for God’s glory!  Maybe these will help you…maybe they won’t…but at least give it a try!  You have been created in the image of God…be creative!

JM

What helps you be creative?

Stop saying “Jesus Loves You”…

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…before you label me a heretic or burn my likeness in effigy (you’re gonna need a XXL dummy for that so it’s not really worth your time or money), allow me to explain myself. There is truth in the statement, “Jesus loves you.”  We can’t argue Jesus proved his dedication to our salvation on a cross 2,000 years ago, and I for one am extremely grateful for his sacrifice and atonement.  I understand what he did for me, but a world in which the majority doesn’t really believe in the truth found in Jesus, it’s hard for them to grasp the concept, “Jesus loves you.”  Why would they want to grasp it in the first place?

I can’t really blame them.  Many in our westernized culture only see Christians as biggots, racists, and anti-Obama.  The faces and voices of the Christian faith are those who scream the loudest; and for many, they don’t want to hear our screams followed by our soft and often scripted proclamation, “Jesus loves you.”

“Does he love us, because it sure doesn’t seem like you do.”

Re-worded and used in the right context, this could be a very effective “Jesus-Juke.”  But let’s imagine for just a moment this truly might be the the thoughts of those who don’t believe (or don’t care to believe) in Jesus.  It’s very possible.

But to not say “Jesus loves you” goes against every fiber of the Southern Gospel singin’ womb I was created in.  Let’s face it, it was a solid way to end your answering machine message for those who missed catching you on the phone.

“Hello, I’m sorry I missed your call.  I was either away from the phone or I saw your number on the caller ID and avoided your call.  Please leave your name and number and I may or may not call you back ASAP…and don’t forget…JESUS LOVES YOU.” 

It has a ring of nostalgia to it, doesn’t it?  I think at some point or time, you or your family probably had some form of this message on your answering machine.

I don’t really ever remember Jesus telling his followers to go out and tell everyone, “JESUS LOVES YOU…go ahead Peter, say it…tell ’em I love ’em.”  However, He did tell them how others would know they were followers of Jesus…by their love for one another.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. John 13:35

They will know you are a follower of Jesus by the way you love.  What a novel idea…genuinely love people.  Now does this mean we are to trash our theology and run with love and acceptance of the world around us…no, it simply means, people need to know that you love them before they will even care about whether or not someone who lived 2,000 years ago loved them.  How is anyone going to understand Jesus’ love, if we who follow him don’t love like he has loved us.

Do we abandon the phrase “Jesus loves you?”  No, I don’t think so…but in many instances, they want to know that you love them, then they may sit and listen as you tell them how Jesus loved them first.

What if you went out today and told others that you loved them?  What would happen?  You may get some weird looks, but it’s a very disarming phrase.  In verse 34 Jesus says that we are to love others because He loved us first…and he followed that up with telling the disciples to love each other.  Jesus taught us how to love others so they can see him in our love for them.

If we love like Jesus loves, we don’t even have to say “Jesus loves you,” because they would’ve already seen it in the way we love.

By the way…I love you!!

-JM

How can we love others like Christ loves us?

The struggle…

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…There is a struggle between words and thoughts on a day like today.  The struggle comes, mostly due to the fact words cannot truly express my thoughts so I sit in silence and struggle with emotions that run wild, because I simply do not know what to say.  It’s not like people were waiting around for me to say something profound to bring resolution to their struggling minds, but I was…I was waiting for my own words of truth and comfort.

I was in my car holding a dog in my lap as my family was driving around Knoxville running an errand.  As has become the norm, Twitter broke the news.  Two bombs had just exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  My mind immediately rushed to a beautiful day in September 2001.  I can guarantee I’m not the only one who thought the same.  Life as we know it changed that day and my mind found itself on the edge of thinking the same thing.  Is this another one of those America altering events.

Without a doubt many are broken for life that was lost and the carnage of so many injured.  We seek answers and maybe restitution.  Whomever is responsible for disaster deserves disaster.  But how do I respond as a follower of Christ?  How do I love?  How do I help?  What can I do?  Only one thing comes to mind…Love God deeply.  It’s only in that love I find hope for those affected by this tragedy.  It’s in His grace I find hope for us all.

Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight. – Ps. 3:5-6

I don’t have answers (outside of the fact we are broken and in need of restoration); therefore, I cannot lean on the things I understand, but I can trust in the Lord.  This is the answer I need…this is the rest for my struggle.

JM

What’s a picture worth…

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…I’ve heard it said that a picture is worth a thousand words…I’ve also heard it said that a picture just doesn’t do it justice…when in Montana, I’m going to agree with the later. It’s not the camera’s fault…I can’t really say it’s the photographer’s fault either…I guess I blame God…He’s the one that created something that simply can’t be duplicated…so yeah…it’s God’s fault.

I’ve learned not to expect any less from God…a lot of people question that…I simply do not. I choose to believe in a creator who creates masterpieces. And i believe he created this for me at this time…and in this moment there is no doubt these rocks would surely like to cry out the glory of God…They reveal His beauty and originality…it makes the reality of this world being flawed seem like a distant truth.

I can’t imagine what Eden looked like…I’m guessing it’s more beautiful than this…I don’t know how, but it had to be. This must be why we don’t have a picture of Eden…it simply could not do it justice.

Do you have pictures that speak a thousand words or do they not do it justice?

I find it funny…

…how the smell is the same in Knoxville as it is in Waverly.  Waverly, TN, isn’t known for many things, and in many ways it is a town which could easily go by as unnoticed.  If it weren’t for a massive train explosion in the mid-seventies and a modern day police scandal, I would dare say Waverly wouldn’t be known to many outside of it’s “county seat” status in the Tennessee archives.

As I opened my window in my Knoxville office, I was reminded of Waverly because of a familiar scent.  It reminded me of the time of year right before people started mowing their grass for spring.  It’s when Little League baseball teams had been formed and the first practice was about to get underway…yeah…this time of year has a specific scent, and today I find it pleasent.

I like to be reminded of home.  In my mind I can still look outside and see my father’s Tiger Lilies blooming and yellow tulips around every corner waiting to be picked and handed to my mother as I sought “Favorite Son” status.  I can see where my baseball glove is sitting in wait, longing to be spat in and molded into the shape of my hand after what seems to be a years worth of rest.

It’s funny what a smell can bring.  Yes, some smells bring a sense of nausea, but some bring a sence of calm and beauty.  This is where I find myself this morning…kinda.

Did I mention is FEBRUARY TWENTY-SECOND AND IT’S 72 DEGREES!!

I like the memories of new life in Waverly, but I sure would like to see some Winter in February.

and you will be hated by all…

…but we have it all wrong.  Jesus said we’ll be hated for His names sake, but it seems as if we (believers) are hated for all the wrong reasons.  We’re hated for our own sake.  Allow me to give you some background so you will know where I’m coming from…because right now it seems like left field.  Yesterday a tweet came up on tweetdeck that caught my attention.  It was titled “10 Worst TV Role Models,” and it was tweeted by LifeWay Girls Ministry .  A group (CommonSense Media) wrote an article on the worst “role models” on television.  That’s an ambitious feat if I do say so myself given there is such a plethora of examples to choose from; however, I’m not sure if Strawberry Shortcake really fits the bill.  Here’s their reasoning for Strawberry Shortcake’s fall from grace:

Why she’s bad:OK, she’s not actually that bad. But her character has morphed from a cute, plump kid in baggy jeans to a svelte tween with a glamorous hairdo. What’s up with that?

Why it matters: Girls are increasingly being sexualized in the media at a younger age, leading to a limited sense of self.

Is that not laughable?  Well it is to me, and I’m a father of two 6 year old girls…who, by the way, enjoy their guilty pleasure of an episode or two of Strawberry Shortcake.  I hope we don’t have to start shutting our blinds so the neighbors can’t see and judge us.  I guess I’m not sure we (believers) should be throwing our support behind an article so critical and so judgmental.  Some of them I can understand and yes, “common sense,” but it’s easy to see why the world hates us for all the wrong reasons.  Is this done in Jesus’ name?  Can we, in good conscience, say that Strawberry Shortcake is a bad role model because she “grew up?”

If the world’s gonna hate me, it better be for all the right reasons…not because I’m picketing a soldier’s funeral or passing along an article discussing why you shouldn’t like an individual or cartoon.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m tired of giving people a reason to not follow Jesus rather than showing the grace offered at the cross.

Then again maybe Strawberry Shortcake was wrong when she sang about you being beautiful on the outside because you are beautiful on the inside.  That’s not a message I want my girls hearing or knowing.

JM

it’s a new week…

…and I kinda want to let you know what my thought process is this morning. I’m reading about the inspiration of scripture and it’s innerrancy. It’s crazy good stuff, but it really slows me down ’cause I’m thinking way too much. With the Bible comes a circular theology, because we depend on the Bible and it’s authors to defend the Bible…you see how that’s circular? Most people would look at that and say you can’t depend on “it” to defend “it”self. Well, in most cases that’s true…except this case.

I’m about to go to court because of something that happened with the company that moved our furniture to Maryville. I’m probably going to be asked some questions about my case. Well, people are going to hear my account of things and hear that…my account. It’s the same way with the Bible…that’s just the Bible’s account of itself.

But I see the Bible a little differently than the world sees it…I see it as inspired by God. God used 40 different authors from 3 different continents from a 1500 year time span and He inspired them to write about a central character and event. They were all inspired by the same God (at different times) to right about the salvation offered in the death and ressurection of Jesus. Now that’s what I call inspiration.

If this thing is inspired by God…then it has the authority of God! I hope you didn’t miss that. I hope I don’t miss that. Authority is defined like this: the right to command belief and action. So, if you put 2 and 2 together we realize that the Bible has the right to command what we believe and the way we live. Maybe we forget about the authority of Scripture…the weight that it carries. If we are honest, we don’t live like it has anything beneficial to tell us. We live like it’s just another book with a lot of authors forgetting the One who inspired them.

See it as inspired…see it as authoritative!