Your mother and I have been very worried about you!

Ok, so I really haven't been all that diligent with the blog. I can explain!
First things first:

GO PENS GO! I've been a little bit pre-occupied with the Penguins. Yes, we should have won it in 5 games rather than 6, and yes, I'm still a bit skeptical of us going all the way this year. But let's bask in the glory of beating up on the Broad Street Bullies a bit this year, eh?

Plus, I have had a couple of other projects going on:
  • Just last Sunday, we wrapped up our Confirmation process for the year. I have to say, it nearly killed me. We made it longer this year, which at first seemed like a good idea, but as I lie on the couch coughing my lungs out I'm beginning to think there may be a correlation. More on this later...
  • I picked up another sort of blogging gig at The Examiner. The tone over their is going to be a bit more formal, since I think it's kind of more like a news paper than a blog, but you get the idea. Don't worry loyal bloggers, this site will be up and running for a long time comin!
  • We're still recording. Really I only put this up because I like three bullet points. We haven't done anything with the new CD in weeks!
Many people have requested the video of the LOCKumentary. It is in the oven right now, and when YouTube approves it, it will appear in this spot right here. What should I put here in the meantime? Hmmmmmmmmmm.....

As for me, I'm taking this week off to 1) Hopefully shake this freaking cold that won't leave me alone and 2) just kind of push the reset button. I've been going and going and going and going to the point that I think I've just worn myself out, so I need to take some time to remedy that.

More to come!



Don't Call Me Contemporary...

I remember a Sunday in 2004 all too well. I had just started working as an intern at Westminster Presbyterian Church (a career choice that obviously would have no consequences for the rest of my life...). I was standing in Jeff and Justin's office, gripping very tightly to a cup of Blue Horse Coffee (and feeling very "screw you Starbucks" about it). Justin asked me to bring my guitar to help out for their worship service in the morning, and so I was pumped. We left his office and made our way down to just outside the sanctuary and listened as the 8:30 service was ending. What followed was a precision drill team to say the very least. In time that I couldn't measure, a handful of volunteers pulled a couple of speakers out, ran some cables, set up projectors, and sound checked microphones. Precision I tell ya!
Justin turned to me and said "The Bridge has always had technical issues..."
No kidding. Even today with a somewhat more permanent home, the set up process involved for the Bridge is nothing short of painful. But I was thinking about how far this little up-start contemporary worship service has come. 
But then there's that word. When people ask me what the Bridge is like, what it's all about, my brain goes on a 3 second scavenger hunt. Contemporary makes me think middle age people rocking out to songs from the mid-70s. There are words like Modern, or Post-Modern, or Emergent, but all of those words make me feel like I should be leading worship with a buret and a cup of coffee at my side. (Oh...wait...)
(uhhh...dude...let's like...have a call to worship...)
I simply don't know what to call us! And this is a problem, because Upper Saint Clair Township zoning laws prohibit the girth required to put "Worship in the round with two guys who play guitars and their friends who play other instruments like banjo and violin and drums and keytar" on a sign. 
I don't know. I just don't know what to call us. People keep asking, and I keep stuttering. If you have any experience with out little service, I emplore you to leave a suggestion in the comments section. Because everyone benefits from an open discussion.

What? You still read?

Alright, I said in January that I was going to read at least one book a week. Had I stayed on course, this means I would have finished 14 books. This is my 3rd...
Things are piling up.
But do not fear! I have in fact just now finished my third book of the year. Truth be told, I didn't even really intend to read it. This was one of those Amazon shopping trips that said "Hey, the cover of that book they're recommending to me looks kind of cool. I'll get that." Obviously I'm a very complex and well researched reader. 
Dave Browning is the pastor of a collection of Churches called Christ the King Community Church. I say collection of Churches because Browning has created a very effective (from the sound of things) multi-church movement, rather than having one big mega church. The premise of the book is that the mega church actually leaves people feeling cold and left out, and often gets too tripped up in leadership bureaucracy before they can effect any substantial change. Browning suggests ditching all that in favor of a much more simplified church (as should have been painfully obvious by the title). The whole book seems to be an incredibly well written and well thought out rendition of the KISS principal. (Keep it Simple Stupid)
Things I Liked:
CTK Church really has it's priorities well identified and sorted. They are all about seeking out and saving the lost, and Browning has outlined three ways they seek to do this. I won't give away his whole game plan on my very free blog, because this is certainly a book worthy of your purchase. Go to Amazon. Do it now.
I really liked his dedication to small groups. As we are continuing to figure out how we're going to enact this plan of ours for next year, I found his insights into the world of small groups really helpful. Westminster is by no means a "mega church", but there are 1700 members here. It would be nice if we would be attentive to making such a big thing feel a little bit smaller. I think that this applies to our youth ministry as well, as Browning argues it's much easier for someone to join something small and fit in than it is to try to assimilate into a bigger church group where you may not know anyone at all.
(You are here)
Browning laces stories from the business world throughout the book which support and back up his claims for the church. In my mind, this is one of the best ways we can "be in the world but not of it." If outside groups are being successful at selling products like hamburgers, shouldn't we apply similar principals to selling the salvation of people's souls? 
In this  time of planning for us, it was also particularly helpful to learn about solving problems by subtracting the over-done rather than adding to something. This has been a theme that has been going on in my head for a while the last few weeks, and so it was really reassuring and beneficial to have someone affirm that for me. 
Browning also has a vision of the Church which seems to come heavily from the first couple of chapters of Acts, where we are given a vision of how the Church looked in it's infancy years. I have always been fascinated by that model for the Church, and Browning seems to have found some wonderful ways of translating that into our post-modern context. 
Some things I didn't like:
Towards the end of the book, at lot of the ideas that had been written about previously started to come back again, often times in very similar wordings. I'm not wild about 200 page books that could just as easily have been 150 page books and conveyed the same message. Maybe it wasn't 50 pages of repition, but you get the idea.
I also felt at times as though this book was the field manual for CTK church. While there was a TREMENDOUS amount that I could pull out and put into my own ministry's use, I felt at times that Browning was focusing on things that were beneficial to CTK that might not translate well to other church settings (say, those of us who are in a denominational system). However, Browning owns up to that right at the beginning of the book, so it's pretty easy to look past that issue. 
This book has some outstanding insights, even if they may not all be translated well into your particular church setting. If you're willing to be creative, this book is a treasure chest of fresh ideas for today's ministry setting.
Go out and get yourself a copy today!!

More reviews later!


He is risen!
He is risen indeed!
I have always loved that saying we toss back and forth to each other on this day! Just something about it reminds me of how great our God is. 
It is incredibly early. 4:46 AM to be exact. I'm about to go preach at the sunrise service, but I thought I'd pop on and wish everyone a Happy Easter, because we all know that after four services today I'm going to drop dead on my couch. 
Go Geno go!
Playoffs start soon. You better believe there will be some blog posts!

Apparently I'm Metro?

Greetings friends!
I am so super happy to have a day off today. It's been an incredibly long couple of weeks, and I can tell that the remainder of the Veritas Schedule is going to be physically demanding (lock-in, followed by confirmation retreat, followed by confirmation sunday, followed by student leadership interviews, followed by student leadership retreat, followed by Ed's backpacking trip, followed get the idea). So I'm sitting at home being a boring slob.
So I made a cup of French Press coffee, sat down to my computer and started getting caught up on blogs. There is one that I've been reading lately that is absolutely hilarious. It's called Stuff Christians Like, and if you haven't been there, you need to go right now. Like right now.
But anyway, I was browsing some of the older stuff on that blog, and came across a quiz about whether your worship pastor was metrosexual or not. I thought, ok, I'll bite, because this is the man I most frequently emulate on Sunday mornings: 
How metro could I possibly be, right?
I scored a 29!!! 
So here's what I need bloggers. I need a recount. Most of you go to Westminster or First Presby Murrysville, and thusly have had some sort of access to my worship leading prowess. I would like you to go here as well, and take the quiz for me. Let me know if you get me to score any lower. This will certainly boost my self esteem, which currently resides around my ankles. 
If of course you find me scoring higher, keep it to yourself. 

Plans (Part Two: The Playbook)

Welcome back bloggers!
As we left at the last post, we realized that we had significant goals for our kids when it came to what we would like to see in them when they graduated.  The goals ranged in variety from a willingness to pray out loud to an absence of jail time, and everything in between. The question that naturally followed was if we knew where we wanted to go, how are we going to go about getting there?
("A Garmin costs how much?")   
And so Ed and I put our heads together over a couple of hot dogs and quite a few laps of Mario Kart and came up with four main focuses for next year. Now, of course I'm taking advantage of you the blog readers, as I assume you fall into one of three categories. You are either A) a fellow youth worker, whose input I would value tremendously, B) a friend or family member of mine who doesn't work in the church, but has a fair amount of opinions as to how a church should work, thus making your input also highly valued, or C) one of the youth from my youth group, whose input would be valued above all. So no matter what group you find yourself in, would you be a dear and weigh in on what I'm cookin up here?
(Oh boy)
Focus One: Small Groups
This idea got traction at the National Youth Workers Convention this year I think, as everyone seemed to be reacting to the mega-church model that has over-run the Christian culture. It seemed as though everybody was talking about how to make bigger groups seem smaller, and that really resonated with us. 
We have two things working (either for or against us, depending on your perspective): a really healthy 5th and 6th grade program, and a very small amount of seniors. This means that we are super bottom loaded. The first year we will graduate any significant number of seniors will be when this year's freshmen graduate (2012). Each year from now till then, our 5th and 6th will give us roughly 15-20 students a year. We currently have about 35-40 on an average Wednesday night. Assuming a ton of stuff that we seem to think will happen, that means that by 2012 our youth group will contain anywhere between 100-120 kids. Can you say mosh pit?
So we want to be intentional about getting the kids involved in small groups. This of course doesn't happen by saying "Hey kids, get into small groups". We'd really like for them to know how to make their own small groups, for that day when they will be off in college. We're still planning that out, including some heavy reading on my part. Hopefully we'll have some answers by June or July, so we can start recruiting more leaders. 
Focus Two: Testamonies
Let's face it, we as Presbyterians (if not all protestant faiths) have the hardest time when it comes to sharing our faith. Personally I think we hide behind the "If I act nice enough and am very different from the rest of the world, people will assume I love Jesus" battle plan a bit too much.
("Can I introduce you to my friend Jesus?")
So we want to get kids in the habit of sharing their faith. Not in the same old traditional ways either, as if sharing your faith doesn't count if you're not doing it with a megaphone and some handouts. We're hoping to bring in some special guests to share their faith, and talk about how they view sharing their faith. Then we're hoping to create some space to share our faith in house a little bit to get us geared up to share our faith on the outside world. Again, there are people who think this is a horrible prospect, but our hope is to show them that sharing testamonies is a terrific joy, and less like a root-canal.
Focus Three: Mission
This one has been well in the works for a while, we just want to build on it a bit more and make it a bit stronger. Ed's mission trip sold out a week before the deadline. Are you kidding? That never happens! On top of that, we have kids who do things like this:
As I've mentioned in previous posts, I am convinced beyond all doubt that our kids could change the world. While other people seem to think that youth are incapable of behaving like adults, I see things differently. I see endless potential in each of our kids here at Veritas, and I'd like to tap into some of that potential.
(Climbing off my soap box)
Focus Four: (Deeper) Prayer
There was a Sunday in youth ministry that will stick with me for all of my days. It was day one as a "professional" youth pastor. We were gathering for our evening meal, and we asked if anyone would like to offer up a blessing. One girl raised her hand faster than I'd ever seen someone raise it before. I was pumped! Then she proceeded:
"A B C D E F G...Thank you God for feeding me. Amen."
So needless to say, I was thrilled to come to Westminster and see kids who were absolutely awesome about praying for each other throughout the week. Sometimes on Wednesday nights, Ed or I have to step in and stop the prayer so it doesn't take all night. This is wonderful.
However, there's so much more to prayer than just praying for and about each other. We want to make sure we spend some time this year teaching about the other kinds of prayer (examine, centering, lectio divina, etc), and equipping the students to do so on their own. We have some specific plans to do this, but we'll talk more about that later.
This of course is all in addition to the things we're already about. I'm super interested in your thoughts, so if you would be so kind as to leave a comment and let us know how all of this strikes your fancy, that'd be stupendous. 
More later,

Studio Blog Day Four: Maybe I'm too close to the Bridge...

While I'm at it, I'll share a little bit about my day in the studio yesterday.
It was not fun.
I have a simple goal this week for our worship team's album: I have to finish my stuff by Sunday. If I can do that, I think there will be relatively smooth sailing between us and the finished album. Right now though, I just seem to be all kinds of in my head, and it's making it hard to wrap up my set up stuff. 
Yesterday morning though the computer was malfunctioning all over the place. For some reason, the hard drive on which all of the recording thus far is stored decided it would become a read only drive. This made recording impossible, only I didn't know it was the hard drives fault. I thought it was an issue with Garageband. Thankfully, I wasn't as dumb as I could have been. I nearly erased all the album I had been working on thus far from garageband, and was completely ready to work in Logic (a much better program, granted, but one I also don't yet fully understand). So from 9 AM until noon, I didn't record a single note. Disapointment City. 
After I had figured out the problem and got things going, it was smooth sailing. I laid down some initial vocals (I realize I will likely come back and do these over again, but at least the rest of the band will be able to tell where they are in the song) on Chemwehmweh, Loving Wings, Hold Me Closer, and Lights of Eden. Lights of Eden though is interesting, because I realized it might be a great place to plug in some of the special guest vocalists. More on that later I'm sure. Then I wrapped up guitar parts for Heart and Soul. Then I went home.
I'm going to be in the studio a bit the next few days, hoping beyond hope to get finished by Sunday. Tune in for another blog post later today!

Plans (Part One)

Greetings bloggers!
Ok, I seriously am back to the blog. Things have just been crazy busy around here lately. I'm going to do my best to keep up with the madness, and keep you all up to date. 
The biggest reason that we're so busy is that we're in the middle of a massive, church wide planning session right now. All the program staff have been sticking around for a couple of minutes after our normal staff meeting to discuss where we're going, what we're up to, and what our vision for the coming year is. The idea being that if we all do this together, when the church kickoff in September comes around, we'll all be running in the same direction. Maybe we'll even kick the ball...

If your church isn't doing this, you really should. For starters, it is an absolute affirmation into what you're doing if the whole church staff is involved and supports your work. Secondly, it gives us youth folk, who are often mis-understood by the rest of the church, a chance to display our plans and point out that there actually is a point behind going paintballing on a Friday afternoon. 
Anyhow, we took a new approach to our yearly planning this year, and I think it's the right way to go. We sat down with our commission (read: the greatest people on the planet) and we asked a simple (but long) question:

If "Jimmy" enters our program in 7th grade, spends six long years with us, graduates, and at the end we say things like "Wow, he is a true sign of the strength of our program", what kinds of things would we notice about him?
Right away someone from our group suggested that we wouldn't see jail time. 
Our guys are so honest...
But anyway, that picture above is what came out of that conversation. I think some buisness man somewhere made a million dollars talking about "beginning with the end in mind." That's what we're trying to do. Really, this isn't a one year plan so much as it is a six year plan, and probably a lot longer than that.
But in reality, this is only part one of the planning process. Tune in next time to discover how we take that incredibly messed up white board and turn it into a six year plan!

Sunday Post Game: The Mind of Christ

Hey kids!
I thought I'd write something that didn't involve a video of me dancing. You can thank me later.
Honestly, there might not be much of a "Post Game" to speak of today. I had absolutely no responsibilities for the Bridge today. Ed was the worship leader. Jim was preaching. Elise did the prayers. I have to say, it was really nice. We went with a much more chill worship service today (more on this in a minute), so I just pulled out the olde acoustic guitar and fiddled around. It was quite fun. Set list action:
  • Here is Our King (Crowder)
  • Mighty to Save (Hillsong)
  • Hosanna Song (Sutter) 
  • Your Love is Extravagant (Darrel Evans)
  • I Could Sing of Your Love Forever (Martin Smith)
  • Sing to the King (Billy Foote)
As I mentioned, it was quite a chilled out week for us.  At first, this just didn't seem right to me for a Palm Sunday celebration, right? We're supposed to celebrate the parade aspect of this particular holiday, right? Join in the celebration of a joyous King on his way to save us, that sort of thing. Some how a two acoustic guitars and a cello don't seem to convey that point. But as we were playing through the soundcheck, it occured to me that a donkey probably wasn't the most ruckus and party inspiring method either...

Jim preached from Philippians 2, about how we are to have a like-mind to that of Christ. What an awesome responsibility for us! Most of us can't even claim to know what would be going on inside the mind of Christ, let alone agree to share a like mind. What would you act like if you knew the people who were cheering for you and laying their coats down at your feet were going to betray you in less than 7 days? Would you go through with it? Would you love them anyway? Do we love them today?

Just some good food for thought I think. Tomorrow morning I'm heading back into the studio. I only have 5 more songs of my own to set up on the acoustic, and then I'm going to lay down some scratch vocals. If I could get all that done this week, I think we're going to start seeing some huge progress made on the CD. Either way, tune in tomorrow for another Studio Blog.
Good to be back with all you bloggers,

J And Ed Variety Show Episode 21

Oh my.
The last two episodes were too big for YouTube.
I kind of which this one was.

Full length post comin soon!