Picture
So, maybe you've heard that I took a job overseeing the youth ministry at a church here in DC - well,  you heard right!  
We're super excited to continue to build our non-profit, Generation514 while having a laboratory to invest into the hearts, minds, and souls of students and youth workers alike.  God is too good!  And this church is amazing with a grand history - one being, it's the church George Washington was a part of... that's pretty darn awesome!

I wanted to tell you that just yesterday our NEXT youth group curriculum came out, and its all about the Church.  we know that students are disengaging from church and from youth groups all over the country, for a variety of reasons - the main one is that they are so busy and they don't see the point or the relevance AND what they do see in the church isn't all that attractive - at least what is being conveyed to them through social media, etc...  They see a group of people who can't even get along with each other let alone be a blessing to the world... this is a major problem and we wanted to tackle it with this months teaching. 

Picture
But I have to tell you, I have struggled at times with the same feelings.  But I have sensed  a calling to the Church and to the local church that my prayers have been at times overwhelming for me.  
A while back I wrote this in my journal:

I long for the CHURCH to be a place of grace, love, tolerance, and warmth - and not just to the world, but to each other.  
I long to minister without fear, where God's people are known for kindness and where everyone is fully embraced, especially the marginalized and the hurting.
I long for the CHURCH to be slow to speak, slow to anger, and quick to listen.
I long for the CHURCH to be a place that is fully committed to orthodoxy but also isn't ever threatened by or afraid of questions.
I long for the CHURCH to be committed to robust intellectualism while at the same time embracing  mystery, being wide open to the power and presence of God's Spirit.
I long for the CHURCH to be a place where people experience the warmth of God and where they sense God's pleasure.
I long for the CHURCH to be a people who are fully committed to truth but never at the expense of love.  Truth and love must always go together.
I long for the CHURCH that is more committed to people than programs.
I long for the CHURCH to be a blessing to the world - to be a city on a hill, salt, light, and to be sanctuary.  
My hope is that the CHURCH becomes known to the world for the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.


The good news is that I am seeing the Church waking up and doing wonderful things in the world.  I'm so encouraged and extremely pleased by what I am seeing in young people and their heart for what God is longing to do in the world and how they want to be a part of it.  But this teaching series is our shot at showing how vital the Church is, what it's called to do, and how they, as teenagers, can play a vital role.  We are super excited about it!  Check it out here.


 
 
Picture
So, last year we put together the greatest Christmas music playlist of all time here.  Now, I know that it's not quite Thanksgiving, but I thought I'd give you a head start - plus put a little non-political controversy into your life, because I'm sure, there could be some disagreement.  
So there are a lot of great Christmas movies (especially all of those Hallmark Christmas specials), but I'm limiting myself to just 5 films (which honestly, is almost impossible and even caused an argument for me at home =)  
Anyways, here goes:

Picture
#5 - Scrooged
This is one of the most underrated Christmas movies of all time and has one of the most fun and moving endings ever.  When I saw it in the theater as a kid I was 16 years old and with my family - at the end of the film the whole movie theater stated singing together the closing song, Put a Little Love in Your Heart.  It was a classic Bill Murray moment and I'll never forget it!  A very cool memory!





Picture
#4 - Die Hard
Not a Christmas movie you say?  I beg to differ!  The opening song in the movie is by one of the greatest Christmas acts of all time, RUN DMC =)  
But for me, this has to go on the list!  I not only love this movie, but just think for a minute about this very christmasie plot - Officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) takes on a group of highly organized criminals led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), who perform a heist in a Los Angeles skyscraper under the guise of a terrorist attack using hostages, including McClane's wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), to keep the police at bay.  What couldn't be more Christmas than that?! 

Picture
#3 - Elf
So this is probably the first obvious one on the list.  
I love, love, love this movie and as a family we could and have watched this thing over and over again.  It's just so darn funny!  I actually met someone yesterday who said that they haven't seen Elf yet.  I think that this must be the unpardonable sin!

Picture
#2 - Christmas Vacation
For the longest time, this was my favorite all time Christmas movie.  A staple in our house.  I loved Chevy Chase growing up and in this film, he's at his best.  I think this is even my favorite of all of the Vacation movies (definitely better than Vegas Vacation!).  Any way, my dream is to have my home decorated like theirs - too funny!  

Picture
#1 - It's a Wonderful Life
It's a Wonderful Life is a 1946 American Christmas fantasy drama film produced and directed by the legend, Frank Capra. This movie is on my all time greatest film list - not just Christmas movie list.  I'll even watch it when it's not Christmas time.  But because of the film, I know, that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings... so there's that. 

OK, OK - I can hear it now, "Home Alone 1 or 2 isn't on the list??!!"  "What about A Christmas Story, White Christmas, The Polar Express, or Miracle on 34th Street?!"  
Listen, I love all of those movies, and this was painful leaving some of them off, BUT, it's my list =)  
What would be your top five and in what order?   
 
 
Picture
When we started Generation514 we knew it would be best to have the ministry connected to a local church, but we weren't sure how all of that would work out.  I've always had this sense of call to a local congregation and over the past year have have felt even more strongly about this.   I am convinced that national ministries, who are training and equipping people, need a local expression - a laboratory to try out the things they are speaking about.  It keeps you humble and in touch.  Culture is moving so fast and in a blink of an eye, it just too easy to become out of touch and irrelevant.  So here's the big announcement:  I have just accepted a position at Falls Church Anglican here in the DC area. I'll be overseeing the youth ministry and we are super pumped about this!  So we will continue to build Generation514, but we'll do it while ministering locally to students, parents and youth workers in our region.  
Please be praying for this  transition - as you know, they are never easy.  Be praying for favor and that God would continue to use us in the lives of those we come in cantact with, and in particular at Falls Church Anglican. 
By the way, the picture is of my first day at work (yesterday).  The 8th graders in the youth group wanted to give me a warm welcome by decorating my office.  YES! =)      

 
 
Picture
We are so excited about the NEXT Curriculum we've been producing all year.  The most recent one is called, The Gospel Reframed.  It's our passion and calling to help students, who are growing up in this very difficult culture, discover the Good News in a fresh and new way.  That the gospel really is good news.  I really hope you check out this stuff - I've been thrilled to be a part of it!  Check out NEXT here.

 
 
Picture
I wrote an article for a magazine called, Youth Worker Journal.  In the article I tried to give some helpful tips for navigating this complex world as parents.  YWJ also just recently posted my article on their website.  Here's the link to the article.  Hope you enjoy!

 
 
Picture
Recently I had coffee with a young youth pastor here in the DC area.  He had just started working at his church and he wanted to get off to a really good start.  He asked me this basic question, one that  I rarely hear asked anymore, "So what exactly should I be building so that our youth group is healthy?"  I just walked him through, what I believe, are some things to shoot for that will lead to a wholistic and healthy youth ministry Culture (excluding the obvious programmatic ones like: weekly meetings, retreats, missions, service, monthly activities ...) So here's my first priority -not exhaustive- list:

Build a Warm, Accepting and Loving Culture A new study is hot off of the presses right here concerning this,  but basically students who stay connected to church and faith, stay because they sense the adults really enjoy, like, and accept them - no matter what.  Now this seems like a no duh, but you wouldn't believe what I've heard come out of youth workers mouths about the students who struggle or who are somewhat difficult.  See, kids are asking us, "do you like me?" And ""Will you still like me when I mess up, when I question my faith, or question you?"  And our answer must be a resounding, "YES!"  
Now, I know this a a difficult one - especially for certain types of students - but this is why we rely on the Holy Spirit - not on our own abilities.  It's easy to like students when they like us, or when they "behave", or seem like they have a mature faith...  So the question is, are you building into your ministry culture (and it all starts with the adults) the enjoyment and the warmth of God? Every time a students runs into one of our adults, they must experience the warmth of God, through us.   

Build a Culture of Cared for and Well-Trained Youth Ministry Teams 
It all starts with leaders, both volunteer and paid.  Healthy well trained adults in the lives of students has to be a key priority and its why small groups ministries are so vital.  For our adult leaders, we have a rule that helps us - if an adult on our team is having a busy week and has to choose between attending youth group or a leader's meeting, we'd rather have you at the leaders meeting.  We have to be one, and healthy, and what we are wanting to see happen in our students lives must first begin in us.  I remember Chap Clark telling me years ago when I worked for him in California that any decent and respectable youth ministry volunteer team should have 2 meetings per month (short meetings before youth group do not count).  I know this is a hard one to accomplish in today's world, but I've made it a priority ever since. Here's my rule - don't waste adult volunteers' time - you better make those meetings amazing!  
Here are three goals I have at every meeting:
1. Grow closer to each other (we eat together, share our hearts, pray for each other, play together, etc...)
2. Grow closer to God (open the word, worship, prayer exercise, etc...)
3. Get some training (give them something that they can use that will benefit their ministry to students - think about giving them a binder where they can keep all of the notes your giving them and the information they need like calendars and rosters)

Build a Culture of Prayer
Don't skim over this one, because I want to challenge us for just a minute.  When I say a praying youth ministry, I mean constantly praying across the board.  Prayer is happening everywhere - yes - before a program, of course - at leader meetings, but also in the midst of our weekly regular youth group times.  I travel around the country and I see a lot of youth groups and I rarely have seen prayer taken seriously.  I have rarely seen a youth ministry truly teach students how to pray or encourage regular  prayer times, or even to come up front or whatever to receive prayer.  Kids today are more stressed out than ever before and they desperately need to experience God's life-giving presence.  Heck, one of the markers of the fruit of the Spirit is peace - they are desperate for peace, yet we rarely provide opportunities for them to pray with a leader or, even better, empower them to pray for each other.  Why? Because lets be honest, we don't value it (at least enough). 
The students in our youth group starting a thing called, Prayer Posse.  One kid would go pray for a friend, then the two of them would go pray for another friend and then on and on they'd go slowly growing this huge prayer posse.  I loved it and they would do it in the middle of worship or at the end of a talk because we left room and space for it in our regular programming. A healthy youth ministry is one in which students are regularly being taught how to listen, interact, and seek after God - and not just for themselves, but on behalf of others.

Build a Culture of Thinking Students 
What I've discovered is that kids thrive in certain environments - but be careful because it can be deceiving.  Let me explain.  At camp or on a mission trip the gospel resonates and makes sense to them.  They hear the gospel being preached and they see it being lived out and it all begins to sink in.  But when they leave that environment and are in a completely different environment, where people around them are cynical of the faith and are making intelligent and thoughtful arguments, well, that too clicks for them and can make a lot of sense.  Its one of the reason why students struggle in college.  What we have to be working on is teaching students how to think, not just what to think.  Now this requires trusting the Holy Spirit in their lives - but we must prepare them so that when they hear things that are challenging to the faith, they don't just immediately buy it (or reject it without a thought) - but we are preparing them to go through a process of finding the truth in whatever is being said and disregarding the lies.  This is a messy way to teach for sure, but what we've been doing is no longer working - maybe it never worked.  Question based teaching is key.  Want help for that?  Click here

Build a Thriving and Empowered Student Leadership Culture
This has become a lost art in youth ministry.  In fact, as I've traveled around the country I rarely see student leadership teams at all - and the ones I do see are really struggling. I get it, kids are super busy, we really don't know how to use them (besides worship band and tech teams), and often the "big church" does not support integrating them into their regular services.  
A couple of thoughts here though - youth ministry MUST be about developing and empowering students.  If we are not doing this, then we are failing!  Go to a local middle or high school - students are running the place.  Go watch a play, not a single adult is performing or running the sound or lights or...  This, I believe becomes the most important thing we can do - if there's no time for student leadership, then cancel youth group and just develop students.  Students are tired of siting and watching and if students don't see a need to be a part of the church - if they don't see a way that they can contribute or play a role- then they will soon discover (and many are) that there's really no reason to come to church at all.     If you have any questions about this, let me know - I'd love to help. 

Build a Parenting Ministry  Culture
Most youth pastors get out of and quit youth ministry before parents actually start listening to them.  You know, why would a parent listen to someone who has never raised a teenager before?  I've found that the sweetest part of my youth ministry has been in recent years because parents are actually showing up to parent meetings.  
YES!  It's the best!  
I remember my first parent meeting ever - 2 moms and me... ugh!   The most successful parent meetings have been training events done monthly during youth group.  This was a huge success - and parents wouldn't miss it.  I spoke but I would also bring in experts to speak on relevant topics.  This has to become a priority - we know that parents are the number one influence in a student's life - so let's help them.

A Serving Presence on Local School Campuses
I've written about this extensively in a chapter of my book, Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World.  So I'll be brief.  Don't try to get on campus to promote your youth group (under the guise of meeting your students' friends) or even to visit your students on their turf.  Just be a blessing and a serving presence.  Go to the office, fill out a volunteer application and start serving.  If you read my chapter on this you might discover that this very likely could open amazing doors for you.  It will also provide more roles for your students leaders to begin to serve at their schools.

Build Connectedness with the Larger Church Body
Just this past week a youth worker told me that they were going to start a high school meeting during the main service.  So the high school students are no longer going to be worshiping with the larger church family.  It's really too bad because it seems that study after study shows how vital it is that students are a part of an intergenerational group of people - that their identity comes from being a part of this diverse group who are being salt and light in the world together.  This particular church has really youth friendly church services, so I am not sure of the reasoning.  But the question is, how do we connect students to the larger church family? We have to answer this. 

Build a Culture of Continued support for Post High School Graduates
We know that students struggle when they go away to college 
- so here are a few things to  try:
1. Get a volunteer team to focus just on supporting and ministering to your graduates (this must be their sole focus, so that the ball doesn't drop).
2. Contact a college ministry that your students are attending and get them connected.
3. Have activities, services, and meetings for when they are home.
4. Involve them as youth leaders. 
5. Make sure that are serving somewhere.
6. make sure you do number one on this list =)  
 

OK, so here are just a few things that can help build the kind of culture that will create health in a wholistic way.  Please remember, this is a slow build - be patient with it and with yourself, because as they say, Rome wasn't built in a day :) 
Blessings!

 
 
Picture
By: Kelsey Morgan

I really enjoy where we are living in the DC Metro area. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve looked at Brock and marveled that this is our turf, our playground.  It has been such a pleasure to explore DC, which brings me to the realization that we have only been living here for one year. Wow! Time flies when you drop everything and invest your blood, sweat, tears, and finances into a crazy big dream! Believe me, it has been in incredible journey on every level: 
incredibly fulfilling 
incredibly scary
incredibly challenging
incredibly frustrating
incredibly faith filled
With all that “incredible” stuff taking place I have had moments when God has shown up in the midst, speaking my language and ushering me into a place of centeredness. 

Because, let’s face it, sometimes it’s really just about God showing up.  Like one of those 5 year olds playing soccer, it’s not really about winning so much as the people cheering you on from the sidelines.  People showing up, people you love and people you want there whether you win or lose the game.  I think that has sustained me over the past year, when God just showed up and spoke to me and I knew he was there with me, win or lose. Which brings me to a couple of stories of God just showing up when I needed him.

As a part of being a healthy human being, I have taken up riding my bike across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.  The bridge connects Old Town Alexandria, VA with The National Harbor, where we currently live.  The path itself is really cool and takes you up and over the bridge to a park area on the Maryland side where you can look down at the traffic (yuck) and the lovely water way.  As you continue on the path you run parallel with the car traffic in a divided lane.  This path is almost always busy, with people from both sides of the water coming and going.

Picture
As I rode and prayed, I noticed a butterfly about 3 yards ahead of me aligned on the path.  As I drew close, the butterfly flitted up and ahead of me, always staying within the boundaries of the path.  Every so often it would land in front of me, but as soon as I thought I had caught up it would take off again.  Always staying within the walls of the path, it flew high and could have crossed over, but it wouldn't.  The path it made was erratic and yet always pressing forward, always leading out in front of me.Hmmm.  Could this be like the Holy Spirit in our lives?  The ways in which God works in our lives can sometimes seem sloppy, like the erratic path of the butterfly.  I, like so many of you, like things neat and tidy - planned out and linear.  And yet, the Spirit never departs from the path, the story, the objective.  There’s just a lot of space in there to move around, soar, zig zag.  The Holy Spirit will not be pinned down, will not stay put, will not be content to stop working all together.  Always leading, showing the way, encouraging us to follow, but never so far out in front that he disappears completely.

This reminded me of two things: First, I can trust the leading of God’s Spirit in my life even when it doesn't fit into the nice, neat paradigms I have invented to contain and make sense of my life.  Second, I can trust the Holy Spirit to work in other people’s lives even when it looks like they are a little bit, well, crazy. The Spirit might be zig zagging in their lives right now, and who am I to judge that? I have to accept the fact that I am neither the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. 

What I have discovered is that launching out and starting a new ministry has made me desperate for God - which leads me to this - our conference, The Amazing Next, is happening Sept. 23-24 in Oklahoma City.  We are so excited, but as you might guess also combating fear and doubt on a daily basis.  As the date looms closer, the desperate prayers for peace cry out of one’s soul.  I hopped on my bike again to make that stress work for me and to center myself on a particularly windy Saturday as the tropical storm Hermine made her way up along the coast.  The winds were anywhere between 15-25 mph, but I needed desperately to burn some rubber.  The trip over the bridge toward Alexandria was filled with prayers that sounded something like this, “Oh Jesus! Oh Jesus!  Help me Jesus!” That mixed with the tears that flowed freely down my face made me look like one crazy windblown lady on a bike. The wind at my back, I enjoyed the descent into Old Town, then turned to go up the hill and back over the bridge.

Oh. My. Word. The wind was now combative toward me, pelting me, making my ride incredibly difficult.  The pent up stress that had aided my ride so far had left me and now it was a mental battle to will my self forward.  As I shifted from 2nd into 1st gear, I was tempted to quit, give up, walk it.  This is just too hard! I heard myself think. Whoa. Right then is when God showed up. “What’s too hard? This is not too hard.  Sometimes you just have to stay the course, woman!”  Stay the course. Because life is hard, but you have to stay the course.  There will be payoff for your faithfulness, your perseverance even if you cannot see it now.

Our daughter had a discussion in her Psychology class last week about whether or not they would spare their children certain difficulties.  For instance, would you take a pill that would eradicate all cancer from your unborn children?  The teacher, obviously knowing what a thoughtful and amazing person Dancin is (a little brag there), called on her.  Her response was unresolved, she said, “Having pain and difficulty is part of growing up and developing character.  Why would you need God if you never suffered or had to walk through hard times?  You would never learn to depend on God and I want my children to know what it is like to depend on God.” She is a witness to the life well lived, even in the hard times, and she likes the fruit of that life and where her own suffering has taken her.  I love that life has become more gray for her, that it is not a pat answer which satisfies her.

And I love that God meets us where we are, responds when we call out, kicks our butts when we need it, and is palpably with us as we stay the course.   

 
 
 
 
Picture
When we launched Generation514, just over a year ago, we were jumping into the deep end of why students are walking away from church and faith.  

After praying our guts out we set up brainstorming groups, interviewed students, youth culture experts and youth workers around the world - from all of that we landed on a few initiatives (The Amazing Next Conference, Teaching Curriculum, A Gap Year Program, and more recently - Parenting Seminars, and a Generation514 Retreat - you can read more about all of that that here.)

Last October we gathered a group of thinkers, futurists, theologians, and writers and began the process of putting together teaching curriculum for youth groups around the world.  See, we all know that students are living in a very complex world and our teaching must rise to the occasion and help guide them through the maze of culture's complexities, to engage students in a new and deeper way.  

Well, so far we have put out a three months worth of teaching - each topic actually contains 5 full lessons - take a look at the different topics here.  

I'm super excited at the fact that this third one just came out - it is called, A Dismissed Faith.  It is our attempt for youth workers to have real authentic conversations with students about why many walk away from church and faith, but why the faith is worthy of giving your life to.  We couldn't be more excited about this super relevant topic!

If you have any questions about the teachings or about our conferences, please let us know by email us at info@generation514.com

 
 
Picture
Tomorrow we are driving our daughter and dropping her off at Lee University for her freshmen year of college.  Honestly, when I think about it, I'm a bit emotional (some of you who know me are thinking, "no duh Brock").  Man, we love that girl but it's a kind of love I never knew existed until she was born (parents, you know what I'm talking about).  But I remember 19 years ago when I became a father -> I had no earthly idea what to do... no seriously, not a clue!  You'd think I would know because I had wonderful parents -  but for whatever reason, when the doctor looked at Kelsey and I and said we could leave the hospital and take our newborn baby girl home, I immediately thought, "Oh #@#%!  I. Do. Not. Know. What. I'm. Doing.!!!"  But we put that little girl in the car seat and on the way home a peace-filled thought came over me. See, I had never been a dad before, but I had been a youth pastor for quite a few years.  And this thought came to my mind, "I could just be a youth pastor at home."

Picture
I mean think about it -  what do good youth pastors do?  They plan activities that cause the group to grow closer to each other?  They listen carefully.  The pray and dream and strategize and implement.  They create environments where everyone can experience God's warmth.  They plan retreats and missions that causes the group to become aware of God's overwhelming presence and for their heads and hearts to be lifted towards the needs of others.  This was a revelation to me, and so I drove the rest of that drive home with a sense of purpose and peace, knowing what the plan was: I'd be a youth pastor at home. 

Picture
Now being a youth pastor at home is no easy task.  Sometimes you just want to come home and let your hair down - just veg and do absolutely nothing except eat potato chips and watch Sports Center.  So one day I asked my father how he was able to come home after really long and hard days at work and give so much to us as a family - and honestly, he was a remarkable father!  He told me that he would pull the car over on the side of the road before coming home and just pray that God would empower him to love his family well, to speak his words, and to be his touch.  For me this was again, revolutionary, even though I had done this as a youth pastor.  Before I spoke or before youth group, I would pray that God's spirit would animate me and would use me to be his voice and his listening ear to the students around me.  Why didn't I think to do this at home?  So that's what I started doing: preparing my heart, mind, and soul to come home empowered by God to love my family well.

Picture
I think back on these years of being a dad and a youth pastor at home - it really has been my greatest joy!  And I think about each day living on purpose, coming home and being God's hands and feet to my wife and daughter - it has been the greatest challenge of my life and probably the biggest tool God has used in his sanctifying work in me. Because I know me, this stuff just doesn't come natural for me - but God...  Isn't that a great phrase in the Bible? But God.   There will always be circumstances, situations, or people who trip us up and make us grouchy, but God shows up and works, intervenes and transforms our lives, so that we are salt and light in spite of ourselves.  Even at home.  Wow, his grace and his calling has been amazing!  

Picture
Tonight we are having another ceremony for our daughter.  We've done these rights of passage moments throughout Dancin's life and so tonight will be another one.  A ceremony of blessing and sending and I can't wait!  See, she's ready to be commissioned - she's ready to be sent.  I've watched her closely and I see who she has become and while it's difficult to send her out - God has prepared her for this day!  Honestly, as a youth pastor I never knew how difficult this day was for parents.  I always knew it was hard for me to say goodbye to our graduates, but for a parent, it's a deeper and more profound experience.  Yesterday my wife and I were finishing up planning for this ceremony and we both just started crying.  We know full well that these years of have led to this point.  Now, it's not like parenting is ending - I gather from my parents that parenting adult children is actually much more difficult.  Sending her out and letting go isn't easy but, again, she's just so ready.  We believe in her.  We believe that she's ready to lead and lend a hand in bringing change to this world.  We believe that God's hand is upon her and his favor is with her.  We believe she's ready for hard and difficult times, ready for good times, and for anything that life throws at her because God has invested so much into her.  The cool thing that I've discovered is that God believes in her as well.  He has faith, in her.

So I apologize for the sappy family emotional stuff in this post but I really wanted to remind you that as a parent or a future parent, you play an amazing role and God is and is going to use you in mighty ways.  Just don't forget who you are - you are a shepherd, a priest, and a youth pastor at home.