August 2008 - Posts
Tonight is the first night of Elevate with a new batch of 5th graders. So today, in my preparation, I am praying a lot and throwing down on some serious caffiene. Some will be excited, some scared, but most will be just plain hyper. I've got to match the intensity. I've got to bring my A game. But I'll need one more thing.....your prayers. Pray for SHBC *** ministry tonight, that God would be glorified, kids would be loved on, and that me and my team could point them to Jesus.
I recently noticed an abundance of "<><" popping up in my inbox. At first I thought nothing of them. They seemed small and harmless, cute little Christian emoticons thrown onto the end of emails. It's only a couple of symbols that are supposed to look like an Ichthus, or what people call a "Jesus fish." No big deal, right? I started to find more and more of them in emails. And then I realized, that "xoxoxo," long used to symbolize "hugs and kisses" was starting to disappear, replaced by "<><" instead. "<><" was eating "xoxoxo."
What was next? I envisioned entire emails without words, Christian emoticons just filling subject lines and text messages and twitters and facebook pages. I dreamt of a day where instead of saying, "I am a Christian," I would have to say, "I am a back arrow, forward arrow, back arrow" or worse yet, I would be forced to make those symbols with my fingers like some religious gang symbol, yelling "Fish Side" instead of Dr. Dre's "West Side" as I drove by rival churches. My world started to crumble.
I faced a crossroads my friends, embrace "<><" or form a resistance group. I decided to create a set of emoticons.
Here they are:
This means, "I stayed in bed this morning and accidentally missed church. Please don't judge me if we see each other at a restaurant on Sunday afternoon and I am clearly wearing clothes that indicate I did not go." (Also known as "bedside Baptist.")
This means, "Our church had to install speed bumps in the parking lot because despite what the sermon said, I will run you over if you get in my way when I am trying to leave church.
This means, "I am a Christian with a halo and a unibrow. I wear both proudly."
This means, "I drink coffee during church! Lots of coffee!"
This means, "Our small church is becoming a megachurch."
Y Y Y
This means, "You will see lots of people sing with their hands raised at our church."
This means, "I am a bald worship leader."
\_ \_ \_
This means, "Our new church building has movie-theater style seats."
This means, "We handle snakes at our church during service."
o o o o o o o
This means, "I am not afraid to throw skittles in order to wake up a crowd of people."
This means, "I tip with tracts instead of money at restaurants." (Shame on you.)
[ --> <-- }
This means, "I can't clap on rythym during worship songs. When I try to bring my hands together, it's like one hand is thinking one thing and the other is thinking something completely different."
Those are my top 12. I couldn't think of a good one for side hugs or metrosexual worship leaders. I trust you'll have better luck and hope that today, on an otherwise ordinary Monday, we can all create an extraordinary emoticon conversation in the comments.
So what would your Christian emoticon say?
From: Stuff Christians Like
It would be awesome if youth group was a safe haven free of cliques and gossip and all the other things that seem to first blossom in junior high and high school. I wish we all did fire drills together at gas stations and had walkie talkies to chit chat between the vans on the way to retreats and that the cool kids were evenly dispersed and we all got ponies and pants made of cotton candy. La, la, la.
But we don't. There is a distinct caste system when it comes to which van you ride in. I can't change that with this post. What I can do however is reveal to you the secret techniques I used to get on the cool van when I was in youth group.
1. Bring snacks
Cool kids are often easily tricked with snacks. Become the "gum guy" or the "candy chick" or the "lollipop lad." (OK, that last one is probably going to require you wearing brightly festooned, stripped pants. Scratch that.) But eventually, once you have established that you travel with delicious treats, cool kids will start actually recruiting you for their van. That's a great feeling. Whatever you do though, make sure you don't give away your bag of food before everyone picks vehicles. If you do, you might find yourself on the uncool van while your bag of deliciousness lives it up on the cool van. On the highway you'd just see your big bag of tootsie rolls pressed up against the window of the cool van mocking you as it learned all the "you had to be there jokes" that are going to dominate every conversation during the retreat.
2. Be the first on the van.
Typically, before a retreat, we all stand around in the parking lot waiting for everyone to show up. People just casually hang out and load their bags. This is your moment to strike. While everyone is distracted, go ahead and get on the van. I don't care if you have to sit in there by yourself for 45 minutes. Get in, buckle up and claim your spot. Which van do you get on? Do your homework. Get on the one that the cool kids sat on the last few retreats you went to. Chances are it's the van that doesn't regularly break down or have engine fires. Every church has at least one of these vans. You know which one I am talking about.
3. Smell nice.
I only buy deodorants that have a combination of some sort of the following words in the name, "Xtreme," "Zone," "Power," and "Thunder." Why, you ask? Because the smelly kid rarely gets to ride on the cool van. And sweating is apparently one of my spiritual gifts. But be careful on this one, don't overdo it. Smelling nice also means you have not drowned every inch of your skin in Axe "Dark Temptation" body spray. (I wish I was making that scent up, but here's how Dark Temptation is described on Wikipedia, "A chocolate smelling fragrance that implies that because women like chocolate, they will find men who smell of chocolate irresistible.") Trust me on this one, don't try to get on the cool van by smelling like a candy bar made of chocolate and nougat. Keep it simple. Just shower regularly and wear a normal deodorant. "Xtreme Thunder Power" works pretty well for me. (If you don't have access to fancy deodorants, simply hang around the nicest smelling person in youth group. It's like drafting, or running behind someone so that they have to do all the work of fighting wind resistance. You will smell nice just by association.)
I could share more of the secrets that helped me have an 87% percent cool van success rate over the years but I'm a youth pastor myself, I might have to use them again. For although youth leaders might pretend that they are immune to the cool van phenomenon, they are not. They just call it the "chill van phenomenon" which refers to the van that has all the kids in it that are just going to chill on the ride up instead of lighting fireworks, throwing a variety of things out the window, and bouncing off the walls from 19 energy drinks. Or basically, acting like us pastor's kids.
From: Stuff Christians Like
I am not good at closing my eyes during prayer. I know that is something that should be amazingly easy to be good at, but I've still found some way to suck. I only have two moves. One of my moves is to do that thing we all did as little kids, where you press your hands against your eyes so hard you see little fireworks and dazzling colors inside your eyelids. The other is that I close them just enough to look holy but still keep them open. Why do I do this? I don't want to miss anything that's happening up on the stage.
Watching the people in charge of transforming the stage for the next portion of a service is one of my favorite parts of church. Like a hidden culture or long lost tribe, they materialize from the shadows, carrying guitars, moving drums, switching out sets. And then, like the Keebler Elves they return back to their lair, never to be seen again. They are elusive my friend, they are a secret and private people. But after years of studying them, I am finally ready to reveal what I have learned about what happens on the stage while your eyes are closed in prayer:
1. Musicians magically appear.
There are primarily three people groups that inhabit the shadows of a church stage. The stage hands, the pastors and the musicians. Of the three groups, I find the musicians to be the most entertaining to watch. It's fun to try to guess the songs they'll sing simply by observing who is coming out and what instruments are present. "Is that the angry girl singer? The one that I love but kind of sings like she might fight me in the parking lot?" "Ohhh, multiple guitars, that increases our chance of hearing 'Blessed Be The Name' by 37%." "Interesting, only one piano and one musician. Cue dramatic spotlight, it's serious, sad song time."
2. The pastor materializes from the crowd.
I don't care how many times I see it, every time a pastor walks on stage from the crowd I am surprised. I guess I sometimes think pastors are kept in secret rooms in the back somewhere or hyperbaric chambers during the worship. And then when the singing is over, they get a call on a red phone like old school Batman. I know that's dumb but when I see them walk out of the crowd, I always have an US Magazine moment, "Hey, the pastor is just like me. He sits in a seat, in an aisle, just like me. Yay!"
3. That table and chair appear. It's the little set of "sermon furniture" that the guy who once sold hymnals has been forced to sell to churches across the country now that praise songs are so big. If I could invest in those tables and chairs I would already be a Christian thousandaire, but nobody really knows where they came from. I always assume that the stage hands have like a Navy Seals training course they have to go through if they want to be one of the elite members of the team that is allowed to actually touch these pieces of furniture. Anyone can carry a microphone stand. You gotta work your way up to "that table and chair." That's the big leagues son.
4. Stage hands have animated conversations.
Sometimes a piece of equipment is missing. And you'll see an excited, completely silent conversation happen on stage. It's kind of like that old kid's show where two people say pieces of a word until they build a complete word. You'd see the silhouette of one person start a word and then the silhouette of another person finish it. "Ch", "air," "Chair." I like to write those conversations in my head and pretend that they are saying things like this:
Stage Hand 1: "Where are the drums?"
Stage Hand 2: "What drums?"
Stage Hand 1: "The drums we've had every Sunday for the last 14 months."
Stage Hand 2: "Oh those drums. We sold them."
Stage Hand 1: "What? Why?"
Stage Hand 2: "We needed to buy a new plexiglass fishbowl to keep the drummer in."
Stage Hand 1: "You sold the drums to buy a plastic wall for the drummer. That's ridiculous. What's he going to play now?"
Stage Hand 2: "The triangle. We're moving to an all triangle worship format. It will be very relevant. This culture is desperate for more triangle."
Stage Hand 1: "Please don't make a cowbell joke."
Stage Hand 2: "Too late. Cowbell!"
I know what you're thinking, all of those things sound pretty delightful but your church has a fixed stage. The pastor sits in a big chair, the organ is nailed down to the floor. Fear not, I love traditional churches too. I suggest you start moving stuff around on stage by yourself. Just bring an extra candle or a small framed photo of a waterfall or sunset (we love singing songs with those backgrounds). Then when everybody has their eyes closed praying, sneak quietly up on stage, do a few quick rearrangements and sit back down. I don't know your church personally but I don't think they'll mind