Tuesday, July 26, 2011

It's Been Over 9 Years

The above picture is me on my very first Sunday at Grace Community Church  (I'm the good looking one, by the way.)   It's hard to believe that I've been here over 9 years now.  It really hit me when I realized that I baby sat and changed the diapers for one of the students that just entered our middle school ministry this year.  Yikes!  But, these 9 years have been an incredible ride and I've seen my walk with God grow more in these 9 years than in the previous 31 years of my life.  One of my desires has always been to stay in a ministry for a long time.  Some people are "starters."  They can move from place to place, get things rolling, and then move on.  Nothing wrong with that, but that's not me.  I've always had a desire to stay at a ministry and invest as much time as possible in the people there. 

I've been the youth pastor here long enough to see many things come "full circle."  For instance,the very first student I met when I came to Grace Community is now married, in my adult small group, and is serving as one of the volunteers in our ministry and is doing an amazing job!   I love seeing that!

I think longevity gives you some credibility.  It lets people know you're committed to them and to the ministry.  It allows you to lay down some roots in the community.  It helps you (especially in youth ministry) gain some respect from parents and add a sense of "professionalism" to the position of youth ministry.  They see youth ministry is not just some young guy playing C.O.D. and eating pizza with teenagers all the time (although that can be part of it).  And, I think it adds a sense of trust for teenagers.  Whether they admit it or not, teenagers, I believe, long for a sense of security and stability.  In an interpersonal world that is experiencing so many changes, it's nice to have a sense of security at home and at church.  Staying in a ministry for a long period of time helps students feel secure and be more willing to trust you.

The picture below was taken just a couple of weeks ago.  Personally, so much has changed for me.  Since that first day over 9 years ago, I've become a husband and a dad.  I have a few more ... OK ... a lot more gray hairs, and although I weigh the same, the weight has positioned itself a little differently now.  But, the one thing that stays the same is my love for and belief in teenagers.  I have no clue where I'll be at 9 years from now.  But, if I'm still effective and still being used, I believe I'll still be working with a group that so often gets overlooked ... our teenagers.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What's In A Name

My wife's birthday was on Sunday and some friends of our got her this necklace for her birthday from a place called Etsy.  On the necklace are the names of our kids and I thought it was a great gift.  They actually put the necklace on the Etsy website, so guess I'm not the only one who likes it.

I love our kids' names and Carol and I really try to put lots of prayer behind choosing the names for our kids.  Here's why we chose the names we did:

Ezra - His name means "helper."  Our prayer for him is that he would be just that ... a helper to others.  Something really cool is we chose that name months before he was to be born.  When Carol was 9 months pregnant I was diagnosed with cancer.  In the midst of a really difficult, heart wrenching time something that brought joy to both of us was knowing we were going to meet our first born in just a few short weeks.  I wanted him to be a helper to others, but never imagined how much help he would be to me in one of the most difficult times of my life.  God answered that prayer even before Ezra was born.

Mercy - After going through 7 months of chemotherapy, doctors told me that most likely I would be infertile and we wouldn't be able to have any more kids.  But, even 7 months of chemotherapy couldn't keep the Yauger genes down.  :)  We found out we were pregnant and really just felt like God lavished his mercy on our lives by allowing us to get pregnant again.  It was also a time when Carol and I were both being faced with so many injustices in our world.  We had made a connection with Feed My Starving Children and learned how to help world hunger in one small way.  I went on a mission trip to inner-city San Francisco to an area called The Tenderloin and spent a week helping homeless people.  It's also the same year that, as a church, our hearts were broken for orphans.  We started an orphanage called Asia's Hope and also saw teenagers (yes, teenagers) at the Momentum Conference raise over $90,000 in one night to give toward Asia's Hope.  We saw God's mercy in so many ways that year and honestly knew that had to be our daughter's name.  Mercy can be translated as "kindness, goodness, grace, favor, and compassion." and we pray that our daughter will always be a picture of God's mercy to everyone she meets.

Torah - The "torah" is the Hebrew word for the first 5 books of the Old Testament.  In those books is the story of where God first reveals Himself to mankind.  He revealed Himself and shared His story with man so that we could realize that He longs to have a relationship with us.  I believe God is all about relationship and longs for us to know Him.  The idea behind the word "torah" is to inform, instruct, direct, and guide.  Our prayer for our beautiful daughter is that her life will always reveal God to others and that she can inform, instruct, direct, and guide people to a relationship with Him. 

If God chooses to bless us with more children, I really look forward to praying over the names that we'll choose for them and to continue to pray for them for the rest of my life.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Back from Momentum

Got back Sunday afternoon from a week long youth conference called Momentum.  It's the annual youth conference we attend as a youth ministry and is associated with our fellowship of churches.  Did a little math and this was year 23 for me.  That officially makes me old. 

A couple of take-a-ways for me:

- There's nothing like spending a week with teenagers to help you get to know them more and really dig deeper in to their lives.  I really tried to be intentional about that and encouraged our adults to be intentional about it as well.  Don't be afraid to dig a little deeper and ask the harder questions ... questions that will help you get beyond a "surfacy" conversations and help you see what God is really doing in a teenager's life.  I loved the conversations I had with kids and there's just something about being away that helps kids feel a bit more comfortable sharing.  Love that!

- Our worship times were incredible!  Man, getting nearly 2000 people together focusing on God and singing all out to him ... it was a cool picture of heaven to me.  Below is a pic of our band, which was able to lead worship a couple of days at the conference. 

- One of the things I love about Momentum is that it's not just a conference where we sit and listen but we sit, listen, and then go out and do.  The speakers were great!  Jeremy Byng and Aaron Keyes were incredible worship leaders.  But, what I loved seeing our kids go out and serve.  We volunteered at a nursing home, worked at a community center and also help bust up a house that will be turned in to a youth center.  Below are three pics ... one of one of our kids helping demolish the inside of the house, the other of our kids praying over the house when we were finished working,  and finally one of us helping fill 300 back packs with school supplies for school kids from hurting families.

- I just love our teenagers.  We had so much fun on our trip!  As a group we decided to have a "mustache" day an "ugly hat" day and also an "80's" day.  It really helped bond our group and just allowed us to have fun together.

I've gone to Momentum for 23 years because I believe in what happens there.  I've been impacted not only as a student there, but also as a leader.  And, I love seeing this conference have an impact on my students as well! 

Monday, July 11, 2011

To Be Told ...

Had the chance to share at Grace Community yesterday from John 9:1 - 38.  I believe that God is active in our lives and that the story of how He is active in our lives may be exactly what someone needs to hear.  John 9 is one of my favorite stories in the entire Bible and I love the fact that when this guy was being hounded by questions ... questions he didn't have the answers to ... he didn't freeze up.  He simply shared his story.  "I was blind, but now I see."  And, that, I'm sure, is the story he shared the most for the rest of his life ... I was blind, but this is what Jesus did for me ... I can see. 

I also 3 people to share their stories with us.  We had 3 people from various walks of life and various backgrounds all share how Jesus has made a difference in their lives.  It was powerful!

Your story may be exactly what someone needs to hear today.  Take time to reflect on the difference God has made in your life and don't be ashamed to share it.  Our personal story is woven in to God's greater story and it may be what God uses to bring somebody to faith in Him. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Another Reason Why I Love Our Church

I love that fact that our kids are surrounded by so many positive influences at our church.  Below are just a couple of pictures of that going on.

Galen is in our small group and Ezra just loves him because he thinks he looks like Peter Parker (which he does, by the way.)  Ezra is always trying to shoot him with his Spider Man web. 

Katy is one of the girls in our youth ministry.  Ezra just had a blast with her at our Fireworks Party.  You can see why.

Kelsey and Lauren are both in our small group and also on our youth team.  I loved the fact that our kids just felt comfortable enough to go up and sit on their laps and also that Lauren and Kelsey really enjoyed the time with our kids.

This is a picture that was taken by Rusty.  I just love the fact that he was sensitive enough with taking pictures at our Fireworks party that he didn't just take pictures of our youth ministry but looked for great family pictures like this one of my wife and our daughter Torah.

There are so many other people I could mention that have impacted our family so much ... the ones who primarily watch our kids when my wife and I both work on Tuesdays, the Hilers, are from our church and formerly in our small group.  Pastor Jon and his wife and Pastor Jeremy and his wife have spent signifcant time watching our kids.  And, our primary baby sitter when my wife and I go out on dates is Alaina, a girl from our youth minsitry who our kids just love and we simply trust with our kids.  Coni, who often gives our kids gifts out of the blue.  The list could go on and on. 

I am just so thankful to be a part of our church and see more and more each day how the church can truly be family and can truly be the hope of the world!

Our Youth Minsitry Summer Strategy

Summer has always been a challenging time for our youth ministry.  We don't take the summer off as a youth ministry, but our numbers have always gone down dramatically during the summer.  And, in my 9 years at Grace Community, I've tried to do different things to bring more kids in over the summer and nothing has really worked incredibly well.  But, I believe this summer has been our best to date ... not because of having more kids come, because we haven't, but because of what we've been doing with the kids that have come. 

I focused my summer strategy on 5 core values that I have in youth ministry ... 1) have kids serve 2) have kids develop a sense of community with each other 3) have kids plugged in to the church as a whole 4) have kids share their faith and 5) have kids seek to know God more.  I feel we've been doing that well this summer.  Those are my only core values, but they're the three I focused on this summer.

We've done several different things to have kids develop a sense of community in our youth ministry.  This was one of our best ... the Fireworks Party.  Everyone had a great time and it was fun for me to see kids enjoying each other and enjoying being with our adult leaders. 

We didn't know it when we moved there 9 years ago, but our house is at the perfect location for our local 4th of July fireworks.  We have the party at our place, cook out, play lots of fun games, and when it finally gets dark, we sit back and enjoy the show. 

We've killed two birds with one stone at Summer Soak.  I prepped our teenagers weeks before the summer began that in the month of June we'd be serving our church through Summer Soak.  Summer Soak is a once a week ministry we have for elementary aged kids the month of June.  We play a ton of water games and kids just have a blast.  Any of our teenagers who came on a Wednesday night were plugged in to helping lead a team.  It had our kids serving and it also had them involved in the church as a whole.  Teens were serving side-by-side with other adults from Grace and it was awesome to see.  Below is a picture from the Bible study time at Summer Soak.

First Wednesdays is something our church does once a month in the summer in order to develop a sense of family with each other.  We cook out, play games, and have other things going on for adults and kids.  It's a fun way to spend an evening in the summer.  Our youth ministry plugs right in to this.  It not only has them rubbing shoulders with the entire church, but it's also given us an opportunity to serve.  We've had kids helping serve food and also organizing a dodgeball tournament and a 3 on 3 basketball tournament.  Below is a pic of some of the kids getting ready for 3 on 3.

We've had a mission trip to Nicaragua in which kids shared their faith as well as served and we'll also be going to our summer youth conference next week giving kids and opportunity to learn more about God, serve, and share their faith.  And, we have a something called Bibles and Donuts ... pretty simple ... we study the Bible and we eat donuts.

Our summer strategy has been fairly simple and yet pretty effective for us this year.  I think I've tried too hard in the past to get fancy with what we've done and this year I tried to stay simple and true to some of my values in ministry and it's worked out great for us.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Promise

This is one of the most inspiring and challenging videos I've ever seen.  It speaks of commitment and dedication and simply holding true to a promise ... something each of us could learn from.

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