It is still so amazing to us that we started this journey about a year ago, and now we are just 57 days away from experiencing what we've been dreaming about and praying for.  
On September 23, hundreds of teenagers will come together for the very first ever, Amazing Next Conference - and we just can't wait!  

This whole thing really began with some of us asking a few questions like, 
How can we be a part of seeing students today thrive in their faith rather than just slowly check-out, fizzle-out and drift-away from faith and church?  Is there a way to show students an intellectual faith that is big and broad, but also deeply spiritual and one that brings light to darkness?  Could we show students that God has initiated a movement that calls us to join Him in bringing goodness to the world?

This led us to develop a few things - one of which is a re-imagined conference that has a youth worker track, a student track, a years worth of follow-up curriculum, as well as strategies that we are praying will lead to a new thing in our nation - and it all begins in Oklahoma City, moves upward to Boston, and then around the nation - city by city.  Yes, we know, it's a bit audacious (actually, really audacious), but we like that and we are just giddy about maybe playing a small role in seeing this generation take their place in God's movement here on earth.

So, please be in prayer as we and our partners get ready in these last few weeks before the conference - there still is so much to be done.  If you live anywhere near Oklahoma City, register your group (spots are already going quickly), and then, if you are at all interested in bringing the conference to your region, please let us know.  We'd love to hear from you! 

Click here to email us.  

I am a part of some youth worker Facebook groups and recently I've been seeing quite a few youth pastors doing polls and surveys at youth group to gage what is working, what isn't, etc... When I started seeing this, it concerned me a bit and so I had and try and think through why it was bugging me.  So I just want to try and give something useful here and to think through this a bit with you.

We lived in the Los Angeles area for years.  One of the very cool benefits and perks of living there was getting to see pre-released movies for free - it was absolutely incredible!  The only catch was that after the movie, you would have to answer some questions so that the movie company could poll early feedback and possibly make changes before the movies release.  They would ask you questions around the characters, the music, the plot line, how the story made us feel, what was funny, what moved us, etc... The curious thing that I noticed was that answering those questions would put me in a kind of a critical mode - like I know anything about making movies, ya know? - but I would judge something that I really had no stake in and each time I'd answer their questions, I wondered if they'd actually listen to any of my uninformed and rather ignorant opinions. Occasionally I'd go back to see the movie when it was released to see if they made any of the changes I'd suggested, and just as I suspected, they never listen to a single idea I gave. =) How dare they!

When I see polls being conducted at church or at a youth ministry it immediately reminds me of the entertainment industry.  I've even heard churches call parishioners, patrons, call church members, clients, and view them not as fellow laborers, but as consumers.  This business/entertainment mindset that the church has is one of the reasons churches are losing people today. Why?  Because the shopper has found a better product.  

This whole philosophy of many churches really sticks in my craw - it bothers me - and I believe it should - which is why I've argued for us to move away from youth ministry to youth IN ministry.  Where the student doesn't just attend and watch us on stage, but are leading, contributing, using their gifts, and where they have a full stake and role in the movement. [Side-note: Most youth groups have moved to the "come and watch" model - and why I believe is one of the reasons why 70% of students, by the time they finish 10th grade leave youth group/church - they are tired of sitting, listening, and watching - they actually want to do something.  Along these lines, try going to your student's schools - students are running the place - using their gifts - they are the stars on the field, on the stage, in the band, behind the sound board, etc... They have a major role at school...]  

Surveys: Motivation is Key
Now I realize that this isn't completely fair, nor is it the full story.  There are good reasons to conduct a survey - like maybe around what students believe and how they might shape what topics we cover in our teaching.  Although, I've always used a different method than surveys to gather that information.  There are good reason to maybe conduct one - motivation is key.  But when a survey is around enjoyment or any kind or "does this entertain you," "will this make you come more," "how can we get you to invite your friends," "do you like the youth leader?" then I believe we are heading down the wrong path.  WARNING: I've seen these surveys used to get rid of youth staff.  

About two years ago I was talking with a fellow youth worker whose Executive Pastor had asked her to conduct a survey at youth group.  He made up the questions and handed them to her to pass out and have the students fill them out.  Some of the questions were quite loaded - really setting up the students to think and write very negative things. This student pastor walked away from that experience demoralized and shortly after was asked to step down from her position.  The crazy thing was that the students absolutely loved her - loved youth group - the youth group was actually growing, but these loaded questions gave the executive pastor the ammunition he had desired the whole time - a reason to get rid of her.  

I would just say, please be careful.  Don't contribute to the entertainment/business model of church.  Remember that the students who are at youth group are your teammates.  Do whatever you can to get them on the playing field and out of the stands.  If a survey will help you do that, then wonderful.  Otherwise, please be careful.  I realize there's much more to be said here, and maybe I'll do that in a future post - but here are my quick two-cents.

In college I was on a debate team for a couple of years.  The enlightening thing about debate is that it humbles you - you discover very quickly that there are legitimate arguments on both sides of the debate.  You discover that most of life, and most issues, are not black and white, cut and dry.  There really are two sides to every story.  The choice, then, is which side will you argue from, if you decide to argue at all. 

In youth ministry one of our major goals is to help kids learn how to think, not spoon feed them what to think from a particular theological, political, and philosophical viewpoint.  We get the privilege of showing them how big and wide and generous orthodoxy really is.  We reveal that there are many legitimate perspectives and a humble posture in life is super key.   Though all things are not equal, there is room for them and their voice in the faith.  But this is a very messy way to do Church and it gets really difficult, especially when cultural issues come booming onto the main stream.  Our students, and their leaders, have to try and navigate a very divided world.  Our world isn't very good at seeing the other side.  Heck, neither are our churches.  But it is critical that we help our students exercise that muscle - learning how to spot truth wherever they see it.

But then there are times when a side actually does need to be HUMBLY chosen.   A good example of this is the Black Lives Matter movement.  A friend of mine posted on Facebook how she felt that this movement wasn't a legitimate movement and how it's grounded in false assumptions.  She stated a study that showed how only 31% of people killed by police officers are black.  That there really isn't a racial problem, since more white people are killed by police officers (around 49% of the police killings).  She made an argument, an argument that had compassion and understanding for the police officers.  

Now, I need to hear her, I do need to have compassion for the police officers - to understand that they are desperately trying to get home safely to their families everyday.  I totally get that.  But I also need to understand that she left out the other side of the coin - the fact that black people only make up 13% of the population while white people remain the majority at around 62% of the population - and she didn't mention the harassment that many blacks experience by cops on a daily basis that leads to their running from or not complying with the police.  There is an entire segment of our population that feel powerless, alone, marginalized, abused, and defenseless.  See, what we have here are two sides of a story.  It's a very divisive topic - just bring it up and see what happens - or... 
maybe you shouldn't =)  By the way, there are plenty of people who have done the math, so don't just listen to what I say.

As I've tried to navigate through some of the hot button issues in the world today and help our students see both sides of so many of these things (including theology and religion), I've been challenged personally in immense ways.  So what is true?  What side should I argue from or should I argue at all?  What's my responsibility?  Where do I stand?  What am I modeling to our very diverse youth group?

For me, I try to always look to Jesus.  He always seems to be on the side of the weak, vulnerable, and the outcast.  Oh, he could have argued from the side of the religious.  They had a legitimate side.  They were trying to keep God's people holy.  They longed for the Messiah to come - to free them from oppression.  Jesus wants his people holy and free  and he could have easily argued from their side of the coin - it would have made sense for him to.  But he didn't.  He chose a different way.  He chose a more encompassing and whole way.

When I'm in doubt, I choose Jesus.  As youth workers in a very complex and toxic world, we must show kids the heart of Jesus.  
Which is:
Full of Hope
Joy filled

its slow to speak, quick to Listen
its Kind
very Good
full of Faith
and its laced in Self-control

That is some good stuff, but it's difficult and it requires guts.  Guts not to create more division.  Guts to choose love instead of hate.  Guts to choose to listen rather than to speak.  Guts to choose hope instead of fear.  Guts to be a peace maker - to stand and see the whole and to be a part of what God is longing to see happen - bringing heaven to the whole of the earth.  

These are not easy times for sure - So, may our lives be marked by prayer and communion with God and may his Spirit animate us to be his perspective to a world that is dying for a better way.  And may our students join this movement of Jesus with us.  May those who feel unheard be heard.  May those who feel powerless, may we rise up to support and join them. May we be light in very dark days!

On the last day of camp this year we did a really cool thing.  After all of the students went home, we gathered as a team of adult leaders and shared what we saw God doing over the past week.  Now, I have to tell you that all of the leaders, including myself, were fried (you know you're tired when your hair hurts) and we all really wanted to just go home and sleep for the next 72 hours.  But most everyone stayed, and the stories I heard just blew me away.  But what really stood out were the story tellers.  

Now it's just an unusual thing to hear in today's world a group of adults cry over students - cry as they express how much they love these kids and cry over what many of them are going home to.  As I listened, I heard the heart of God being expressed through each story told. 

But that is what a youth worker is - we are God's skin, his voice, and his vision in the world - we see what many can't - we have been given his heart for the next generation - and there's no escaping it. If you're a youth worker, you know exactly what I'm talking about. 

I love students, I've given my life to them for the past 26 years - BUT, I really love youth workers.  Why?  Because they love students!  

See there's this beautiful and mystical exchange between us and God.  God calls us to particular kids in a particular place at a particular time and to make sure we love them well and represent Him well - he gives us a love for them that comes directly from his heart to ours. It's a crazy kind of thing... It's mysterious!

Many have thrown this generation away - they've given up on them, dismissed them, complained about them, are annoyed by them, and this has marginalized teenagers today.  But youth workers stay in there, because of what God has given them and what he has shown them.  Oh, it's not easy, trust me, but there we stand WITH them, like God has with us.

See, when others look at today's student, they see Saul, but we see Paul.
Others look and they see the woman at the well, but we see the first missionary.
Some look and see Simon, but we see Peter.
That's God vision and that's youth ministry.  

We see what God is doing and what he's doing is just so stinkin' beautiful!  We've been given glimpses of what the future holds for our students and what God's Spirit is working out in each of them. And I trust him - I trust him to carry it out, to continue to work, to sanctify them, to produce a choice fragrant fruit in each my students.

And when I grow weary, when I lose the vision, I ask God to remind me - to show me again... and then back I go to remind students who they really are.  What an honor, what an absolute honor to speak God's vision over them - what a tremendous blessing!

I spoke at a high school camp a couple of weeks ago in Oklahoma.  The amazing youth worker in this picture with me is, Sherri Pat Rockwell. She has been investing in the next generation for many years and as soon as I arrived, I noticed her.  She's that rare youth worker who has that special magnetic pull - kids are just drawn to her and she to them.  It was amazing to see.  
Some youth workers like to hang in the back, or sit with other adults (if they're not on stage) - not Sherri Pat - she was always, and I mean always, right there in the midst of the action with the students.  I immediately loved her! 

I thought of two things watching her all week WITH the students.  The first is that we are never too old to invest in the next generation - it isn't a young person's game my friends.  Even David wrote in Psalm 71:18
Even when I am old and gray,
    do not forsake me, my God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
    your mighty acts to all who are to come.

David, even in his older years still was declaring the goodness of God to the next generation - it was his passion, his heartbeat!

But the other thing that stood out about Sherri Pat was how she demonstrated God's withness.  After all, his name is Immanuel.  And she was never aloof, distant, passive aggressive, stand-offish, too tired or too busy.  She was constantly WITH them.  The students got the idea of how passionate God was about their journey and their stories and their predicaments by seeing his passion in Sherri Pat.  His passion for them just flowed thru her directly to them.  She was the conduit for God's heartbeat.  Even though she is a little old and a little grey, she was declaring who Jesus really was by how she was listening to them, playing with them, worshipping right alongside of them, praying over them, speaking loving truth to them =>  Amazing - it was amazing to see!  

May we be demonstrators of who God really is - may our lives reflect him and be his conduits -  his vessels of love that he flows through, directly to those around us.  May we become aware that he is not only WITH us, but demonstrate his WITHNESS to others and especially to those incredible students around us!  Amen

I remember seeing the Demi Moore movie, The Scarlett Letter. It's not that it was a brilliant movie (the book is definitely much better), but I remember walking out extremely troubled.  This idea that a woman commits adultery and is required by her community to wear a scarlet A on her dress - the symbol of shame - she has to wear it, everywhere she goes.  
That judgmental community - I just couldn't shake it - in fact, I think that this kind of thinking - intolerant, small-minded, ugly judgmentalism -  it's one of my most hated attributes about much of our culture.  I believe it's why I am so drawn to Jesus - he's the great clarifier of who God really is.  He shows us who God really is and how he sees us and those around us.  Whether it's a scarlet A for adultery, or an A for addict - we tend to label ourselves and others by our and their mistakes... but that is not how God works.  

I love how Jesus responds to the judgmental crowd and the woman caught in adultery in the Scriptures - what he says is just SO SPECTACULAR and he sets us all free from the plague of judgmentalism when he speaks these words: "Whoever has never sinned, let them throw the first stone."  

I remember a friend confessing that he had committed adultery.  As he told some of us this, he was weeping, I cried right along with him.  Some of my friends there, they became angry with him, but I just couldn't.  My thinking was, "If John can't stay faithful to his wife, then I don't have a chance."  John was and is an amazing man and his royal mess up, reminded me of my own fragility, my own tendencies.  I left praying that prayer, "But for the grace of God, there go I."  I like John, desperately need grace.  I stood with John as a friend like Jesus stands with this woman.  In fact, Jesus, in the story, is the only one with her at the end.

But I actually find that I am much more generous with other people than I am with myself.  I have sinned throughout my life - lies, lust, anger, outright intentional disobedience... you name it!  But there are about 3 or 4 things that I've done in my life that I just can't shake - I can't seem to forgive myself of.  
Many of us sit as prisoners of our past.  
We are plagued by the things that we've done, and we can't seem to offer grace and forgiveness to ourselves. We join the crowd of judgers - labeling, disregarding, throwing away, speaking and thinking terrible things - but its all aimed at ourselves.

The only way out is by believing the life-altering truth that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  None. Like, at all!    

Now those 3 or 4 things that tend to creep up into my mind occasionally - I know that those thoughts aren't from God.  I've confessed those things, repented, even gone to certain people and made them right - but for whatever reason, they will once in a while, creep into my thought pattern and I begin the ritual of hating on myself... again... ugh! 
Honestly, I think it's the enemy - he wants us to sit in judgment of ourselves, to disqualify ourselves, to become consumed by our own failures.  It's funny because he leaves the things that we haven't confessed or made right  - he leaves those things all alone.  He wants those unconfessed sins to just fester - he won't bring those things up.  He'll tell us they aren't a big deal.  But the ones we've taken care of, those things that we've repented of - he beats us up with those mistakes, getting us to believe lies - and then he completely undermines the fact that God is FOR us!  Then we join him in beating ourselves up: "Maybe the people who sit in judgment of me and have thrown me away are right, maybe I'm not worthy of forgiveness or of a second chance, maybe I truly do suck..." and the lies go and on and on... discrediting the truth of Jesus that we are loved, accepted, fully forgiven, redeemed, treasured, we actually are God's workmanship - his masterpiece and he is longing to use us!  We aren't disqualified!   

I am truly challenged by this, but I have a feeling that I'm not alone.  I'm really hoping that today God speaks some loving truth your way.

May we love, be gracious and kind and patient with ourselves and receive the truth of how God sees us.  And may this amazing reality bleed onto how we view others - and may we be known for how we people with amazing tenderness - being full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.  After all, all that stuff is what God is forming in us, because he finds us worthy of it.  Amen


Hey, if you haven't signed up for the blog, go ahead and click the subscription button on the side or at the top. 

So, here on the blog I like to occasionally try the impossible.  Best movies, best songs, best whatever... so I'm going to try to give the best albums of all time (according to me and me alone) to help you on that summer road trip you'll be going on (there's even some hip hop thrown in for good measure).  I think its sad that people don't buy whole albums anymore.  I remember holding them in my hand and reading every square inch - the lyrics, the band member's thank you,  etc...  It was amazing to get a new record.  So I'm going to give this a shot.  Now, I'm very sure I'll miss many of the great ones - this is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination and it is not in any particular order.  I even end with some of my favorite Christian albums .  These are just records that I keep coming back to.  I have one rule - only one album per artist or band allowed, which is very difficult...  Here we go!

Beatles - SGT Peppers Lonely Hearts Club
How do you pick just one of their albums, right?! 
 Impossible really.  But if I had to, this is the one.  It really changed the way records were even made.  

Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
Just brilliant!  Drug induced, but brilliant!  We forget how cutting edge this is.

U2 - Joshua Tree
Hard to pick just one U2 album, but every single song on this record is amazing! It's almost like a "greatest hits" album.  Take a listen - you'll be singing along with just about song.  It's insane!

Stevie Wonder - Innervisions
Again how do you pick just one.  It was a toss up between this one and Talking Book...

Nirvana - Nevermind
I am a true fan of 90's music.  Rock music in the 80's almost killed the genre.  Thank God for the 90's, bringing thought and depth back to music.  This whole record is just so very good.  We need another renaissance in music like Nirvana and the 90's brought us.  Please!

Michael Jackson - Off the Wall
OK, I know Thriller is an incredible album and I love much of his other recordings,especially Dangerous, but Off the Wall, in my humble opinion, is his best.  It was a game changer!

Pearl Jam - Ten
Their more recent record, Backspacer almost took  the spot here.  Honestly. That's what's been so amazing about them - they just keep making really good music. But, Ten- how do you not put it here?  I love Pearl Jam and they still have one of the best live shows on the planet.  Pearl Jam and Nirvana were the top two of some really good music in the 1990's.  Pearl Jam, to me, is the better of the two.

Fleetwood Mac - Rumors
A highly dysfunctional band in every way - relationally and with the use of drugs during the recording of this record - but this is a gem!  Many put it on the best records of all time.

Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
What an amazing and thoughtful record the whole way through - even the little skits or discussions with some teenagers.  As a youth worker, I loved it!  The only downside is that it ends and she didn't continue giving us more of the same.

Amplified Version - Alive
Best band of all time and not just because my parents were in it (ok, maybe because they were in it).  Their previous album, Watcha Gonna Do?, had a top ten hit on secular radio, but I just love this one a bit better.  My early years were all about being on the road, watching my parents, and being in awe of what and who they were.  They blow me away and my mom is still singing.  Occasionally I'll run into people who were big fans - it is just so darn awesome!

Bob Marley - Legend
...and not just for when you're in the Caribbean. 

Marvin Gaye - What’s Going On
Perfect example of an artist stepping up and using their art to move a culture's thinking forward.  

Beastie Boys - Pauls Boutique
It's a really interesting story because, Paul's Boutique was initially considered a commercial failure by their label, as its sales did not match that of the group's previous record, Licensed to Ill - gotta love that name =) But the label eventually decided to stop promoting the album. The album's popularity continued to grow and it has since been touted as a breakthrough achievement for the Beastie Boys. Paul's Boutique secured the Beastie Boys' place as critical favorites and pioneers in the hip-hop genre.  Plus they reminded us that, you indeed must fight for your right to party!  RIP Adam Yauch

Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run
Born to Run garnered widespread acclaim when it was first released and it has since been considered by critics to be one of the greatest albums of all time. I love it!

Coldplay - Viva La Vida
There's been recent push back against Coldplay - which I do NOT understand at all.  To me, they are simply one of the best, ever!

Eminem - The Eminem Show
Love him or hate him - either way, he's undeniably just so very good!

Neil Young - Harvest
The father of The Grunge Movement

David Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
The album tells the story of Bowie's alter ego Ziggy Stardust, a rock star who acts as a messenger for extraterrestrial beings. So 70's!  =)
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars has been consistently considered one of the greatest albums of all time, with Rolling Stone magazine ranking it the 35th greatest ever.

Talking Heads - Remain in Light
Sometimes you just have to throw on some Talking Heads, ya know?!

N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton
Many have mixed feelings about this group, they really did usher in gangster rap.  But you can't deny their influence and this album in particular is regarded as one of the best all time hip hop albums ever recorded.

Blondie - Parallel Lines
This is so good and Deborah Harry really shines.  Parallel Lines contains several of Blondie's best-known hits, including "Heart of Glass", "Hanging on the Telephone", "Sunday Girl" and "One Way or Another."

Oasis - (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
Idiots but incredibly talented.  I only wish they would have made more music than what they did.

The Dave Matthews Band - Remember Two Things 
This is a great band with a lot of amazing records.  But this is the album that drew me in.

Bob Dylan - Bringing it All Back Home
The first folk-rock album?  Yep!  
There's even some wordplay kind-of-ish rap stuff in it.  Basically, on this album and on his next, Bob Dylan invented modern rock.  Plus he loves Jesus, so there's that =) 
Extra point:  He plays harmonica on his good friend Keith Green's record a few years later after he comes to Christ.

Alanis Morissette - Jagged Little Pill
I love all of her stuff!  This album was huge but the cool thing is that all of her other stuff is really good.  But you gotta love Jagged Little Pill!  

Jay-Z - Reasonable Doubt
Reasonable Doubt has often been considered by many fans to be Jay-Z's best record. He himself deemed it his best.

Johnny Cash - At Folsom Prison

Counting Crows - August and Everything After
The whole record is incredible.  I'll never forget when Letterman booked them for 5 nights straight on his show - so stinking' amazing!

Radiohead - The Bends
Almost too brilliant ;)

OK, so I'm a big Chicago fan, especially of their earlier stuff- anything before 17 or 18 or maybe 19... 20 isn't bad... 

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Chronicle Vol. 1
This album contains every one of Creedence Clearwater Revival's original 19 hit singles -- including "Proud Mary," "Bad Moon Rising," "Green River," "Down on the Corner," "Travelin' Band," "Up Around the Band," and "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" -- plus "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," which became a hit at the same time this double-record compilation was released. It is just a really complete compilation that demonstrates how amazing this band was.

Carole King - Tapestry
You can't forget the brilliance of Carole King - she has written so many hits, many of which she never recorded herself.  But this album, Tapestry is a standout among greats

Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Sometimes you just HAVE TO throw some Elton John on and sing along. Yes you do.

Adele - 21
This album was praised by critics for its vintage aesthetic and of course for Adele's vocal performance, which is absolutely amazing!  That girl can sang!  =)  21 defied the expectations of her record label.  The album topped the charts in more than 30 countries and became the world's best-selling album of the year for 2011 and 2012.  Incredible!

Eagles - Hotel California
I'm still not over the fact that Glenn Frey passed.  Still not over it...

Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation to Hold Us Back  
Public Enemy set out to make the hip hop equivalent to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, an album noted for its strong social commentary. 
It has been regarded by music writers and publications as one of the greatest and most influential albums of all time.

Foo Fighters, Sonic Highways
We can thank them for keeping Rock alive!  This album was their attempt to take their unplugged stuff - which garnered so much praise - and make a whole album the was melodic, but still kicked ass.

Simon & Garfunkel - Bridge over Troubled Water
Coming out of the beatnik folk music genre, they reigned through the 60's and even into the 70's - this was the best of that whole era.

Taylor Swift - Red
Shut up! 
Even Ryan Adams is a fan - click his name to find out why.

Arrested Development - 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of
I continue to listen to this one enough that my daughter knows all of the songs - so fun - as well as thoughtfully and socially challenging. 

311 - Greatest Hits '93-'03
Sorry, I couldn't pick one album and this one gets played in my house consistently - so much fun and you can't help yourself - you have to dance.  

Kanye West - College Dropout
Forget the recent years of ridiculousness - this was such an amazing recording from start to finish! Even the skits are hilarious

Rage Against the Machine, The Battle of Los Angeles
Hate that they are no longer together!  Hate!

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Greatest Hits
Crazy fun!  Living in LA and listening to this on the radio.  Great memories for this guy.

Imagine Dragons - Night Visions
Maybe unexpected, but I love it!  My family finds them truly fun and inspiring.

and here are some of the greatest christian rock albums of all time: 
Altar Boys - Gut Level Music
This band was cutting edge for Christian music in the 80's.  Heck, they still are!  I'll never forget them playing at a local high school to a packed auditorium and yelling like only they could, 
"You Are Loved!"  Check it out here.

Kings X - Faith, Hope, Love
I've seen them live - they were unreal!  When I first heard the song, Over my Head, I was completely floored (here's the video).  They are such an incredible and underrated band, who is still doing it to this day.  Rolling Stone Magazine lists them as one of the best rock bands of all time - which is awesome!  =>Here's a video of them on MTV back in the day - they play live at around the 4:15 minute mark - WOW!  They are so good!

Stavesacre - Speak Easy
Mark Salomon is one of the best frontmen of all time - at least in christian rock music.  Man, he is good!  Stavesacre attended our church in Long Beach, CA.  They once played for just our youth group  and it was amazing.
If you have forgotten how good they were, just 
click here

Switchfoot - The Beautiful Letdown
I had a very hard time picking their best album - all of them are just so stinking good!  They have kept me listening all of these years and I'm all excited about their next one coming out soon!  
Here's a fun video of them.

Plankeye - Relocation
This one has a special place for my wife and myself plus their lead singer attended our church in Long Beach, CA.  We especially resonate with the song, 
I Can't Complain.

MuteMath - MuteMath
In 2000, before Mutemath even existed, I loved a band called Earthsuit, a Christian rock-jazz-rap band.  Three years later,  Earthsuit member Paul Meany formed Mutemath, and he was intentional about the new band’s music not being marketed as overtly Christian, opting instead for a freedom of artistic expression but with a freedom to express faith in ways that were more freeing.  Mutemath has gone on to produce music full of angst and about relationships, failure, loss and love - and, when you listen closely, their engagement with each of those themes intersects with faith. So good!

Sixpence None The Richer - Sixpence None The Richer
They were the best!  When I first saw them they did a late night at #NYWC and no one had heard of them.  They were edgy and artistic and out of the box.  A breathe of fresh air.

Dynamic Twins - 40 Days in the Wilderness
With all of the crappy christian rap music at the time, The Twins were amazing and absolutely the best!  I still will listen to this one!

White Heart  - Freedom
This was my favorite record my freshmen year of college.  To this day I listen and it's still so good!  It totally holds up.

DC Talk - Jesus Freak
Yep.  Had to...
Actually, their album, Live in Concert - welcome to the Freak Show - is really really fun!

Jars of Clay - Jars of Clay
Again, I like quite a few of their albums, especially Good Monsters - but this one started it all for them.

Delirious? - King of Fools
Their album, Cutting Edge may have single handedly changed worship music forever, moving it to the forefront of the christian music scene (for this I'm not super happy).  King of Fools is just an amazing record.  I still listen to all of their albums - their Farewell concert album is so very good! Take a listen

Steve Taylor - I Want to be a Clone
I still love him! Just saw him recently with his new band, Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil.  He's just so brilliant!  Plus he produced Sixpense, LA Symphony, Burlap to Cashmere, Newsboys...

Supertones - Supertones Strike Back
Ska?  Yep, and music in the 90's was so bad and so good! 

Burlap To Cashmere - Anybody Out There
I saw them the first time at NYWC - they blew us all away!  I was standing next to Tic Long watching them (he helped so many bands make it - including Crowder), Tic looked at me and said, "These guys are simply the best!"  And they were. 

Allies - Long Way From Paradise
This band was one of my favorites when I was in middle school and high school.  Rock n Roll.

David Crowder - A Collision (or 3+4=7)
Just so stinking' good!  This is an amazing and thoughtful record.
I'm looking forward to his next one.  Maybe it's just me, but I feel like more recently his Texas accent has gotten thicker?!?  Not that I mind that, but it's really noticeable.  He's embracing #mypeople  =)

Audio Adrenaline - Lift
Love me some Audio-A!  They were more than the song Big House (which was written for children in Africa at a VBS).  Honestly, no one could lead a crowd like Mark Stuart.  I had the privilege of introducing them at a concert and was standing on the side of the stage watching next to an influential producer.  He looks at me and says of Mark Stuart, "Wow, now that's a rock star!"  He was. Its just sad he lost his voice... ugh!   But here's live footage of them in concert.

MXPX - The Ever Passing Moment Alone 
No one played faster.  And this album was my favorite of theirs!  So fun with songs like, Responsibility.

Amy Grant - Lead Me On
Her best album... by far

The Prayer Chain - Shawl
In the early to mid 90's I had a terrible time getting our youth group to listen to christian music - but The Prayer Chain did the trick. They were a gateway drug (band) into the world of christian music for our students.  Seeing them at Creation Festival in 1992 was a highlight for our group.

Russ Taff - Russ Taff
I loved his record, Medals - but every song on this record is just so strong.  And who could forget, Down in the Lowlands with Rebecca Sparks.

Michael W Smith - Big Picture
The first time I heard this record (it was actually live concert footage), I was really young and it blew me away!  Yes, it's very 80's, but I loved it

Jennifer Knapp - Kansas
Game changer at the time for christian music

Galactic Cowboys - Galactic Cowboys
  Loved this album. They were such naturals at harmonizing. And with brutal metal underneath

Third Day - TimeThe first two records were very good - maybe better than Time, but I just personally loved this one!  The album features ten songs chosen from more than 30 that the band had managed to write during their tour the previous year. Some of the songs left out can be heard in the album Southern Tracks.

We are thrilled each month when a new series of our NEXT Curriculum is released. Yesterday the second month came out by our publisher, The Youth Cartel.  Last month was Evil & Suffering and this month is Science & Faith and I have to tell, Leah Knight, one of our authors, put together the best stuff I've ever seen on the subject.  Here's the write up on the series:
Long gone are the days of shallow and pat answers that have been common in our teaching. Students today live in a complex world and our teaching must rise to the occasion and help guide them through the maze of culture’s complexities. Brock Morgan, along with this dream team of authors and thinkers, have put together what we believe is NEXT in youth ministry teaching and engagement. Through a more holistic manner, we have addressed the topics that are key in a student’s burgeoning faith and crafted a series that will direct investigation and appeal to the heart. Connected to The Amazing Next Conference, this series is meant to empower students and to help them have a sustainable faith that lasts; a faith that is thoughtful and engaged in what God is doing in the world.

Can a Real Scientist Believe in God?  The narrative today seems to suggest that science and faith are in conflict. This lesson focuses on exploring the reality that if we take the time to deeply understand science and faith, we can learn the ways in which they complement and differ from each other. We want to help students navigate the felt tension between science and faith guided by Scripture, discussion, and God’s spirit. 
Some of the most pertinent questions are:
• Can I love science and love God?
• Does science disprove Christianity?
• Why does the church seem to hate scientific facts?
• Do I have to choose between science and faith?

The amazing thing is the cost - only $5.99 for 5 weeks of thoughtful and interactive teaching for your youth group.  You can check it out here.

I just finished speaking at an incredible camp this past week in Oklahoma.  The thing that I kept hearing over and over again from adult leaders was that students were opening up in ways that they  had never seen before.  Which is exactly what a camp speaker wants to hear.  Oh, don't get me wrong - I love the altar times, the times when students respond corporately to Jesus in passionate ways - but really, my ultimate goal is to set the leaders up, who have been in the trenches with their students all year long.  And I love hearing how after the message, students head into their small groups and are finally feeling free and safe enough to open up.  

The essence of youth ministry is creating environments where students experience the warmth of God - and camps, retreats, and mission trips are the perfect place for kids to, in a daily way, experience the reality that God not only loves them, but his heart is with them.  His name is Immanuel!  They are safe.  It's a judgement free zone - and his response through us is always Grace.  Even when students share things that shock and terrify us - Our response?  Grace.  Why grace?  Titus tells us:
Titus 2:11-12
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age

Grace is the right answer.  Love is always the right response.  It was for you, it was for me.  Grace and love taught us to submit our lives to God.  All of the struggles, all of the pain...

And students who sense this warmth will open up - and we know that when we verbalize our struggles, our pain, our junk -> freedom will come.  We invite people and God into all of the mess - vulnerability is just so key in transformational ministry. 

For us leaders, it's just so important that we are in tune with Holy Spirit.  That we are aware of what is really going on and when students begin to share, we then are ready to become God's listening ears, his touch, and his words -> Deeply listening to him as we are also deeply listening to our students stories - this can help us respond in a truly empowered by him kind of way.  

I love the summer.  I love what God does in our ministry this time of year.  
May we learn the art of simultaneous listening.  

I'm speaking a lot this summer at different youth camps and events.  I love getting away with students and youth leaders to seek God and be renewed, re-visioned, and restored.  

Right now I'm in Oklahoma and after this mornings session a few students came up to me and began to share their very real heartache, pain, and difficulties that they're living with.  Honestly, I just felt so honored that they even approached me.  But it reminded me again why we do this.  Adolescents is no easy task, especially in today's culture - the world is harsh, difficult, full of pain - and yes much joy -  but when students are in the middle of the painful hellish stuff, we can't forget to join God in just being there - sitting with them, carefully listening - not trying to solve their stuff - but instead allowing the Holy Spirit to guide, lead, and direct.  

May you be sensitive to the Holy Spirit's leading as you encounter students in these wonderful summer months - joining God in lifting their heads - restoring hope and gifting them with listening ears and loving words of beautiful truth.