Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Real Me

I've always found it rather cathartic to sit and type or write out feelings when I am burdened or feel overwhelmed. Silly? Not if it helps. Our family has currently found itself in a definite shift in life, in ministry, in perspective. Over the past month, we've seen some (as our Pastor calls them) "opportunities" (he doesn't use the word problem because everything is an opportunity for growth) come down the pike into our little hamlet that is Tanner Tornado Alley.  Through this journey and many opportunities, KT and I have had to take several serious looks at life, ministry, and my personal perspective. Many times over the past six weeks, I have wanted to simply throw my hands up in the air and say, "That's it! I am through with it. I no longer want to serve in ministry - it's just too hard." Or maybe, "Hey God, it's me. Remember me, the guy down her struggling every day to make ends sort of meet financially, physically...yeah that guy?" In times down in the valley of life, I have often found comfort into reaching out to those closest to me - Men and Women of Faith - to find confirmation in what I am doing and why I do it. One of these such exchanges happened just last night. A former (I use the term "former" only to describe the fact that this individual has aged out of youth ministry because once in the FHSM, you are always part of our family) student contacted me out of the blue just to let me know they had been sitting in traffic and felt burdened to pray for me...yeah me, the same guy who just a few lines ago was ready to throw his hands up in the air and find something else to do with life. I won't share the specifics of the conversation, but sufficed to say, through this conversation with an individual three hours from my location, I was simply reminded why it is I do what I do with my life.

I invest in students. I don't do it because it is easy - cause let's be honest, students are some of the most rambunctious, moody, hard headed....people you could ever find to love in life. This individual, along with several others just yesterday, helped to square my head on my shoulders and remind me who God called me to be. I am not Billy Graham. While I admire Dr. Graham greatly for his stance in life and his unwavering pursuit of the lost for the Kingdom of God, I will never be him - God doesn't want me to be. I am not Adrian Rogers. While his sermons always bring me great fire, passion, and zeal to my own spirit, God didn't create me to be him. God created me to be Josh Tanner, a country boy from a small town some of you have never heard of, nor probably ever will. I was raised on a farm in the country, learned how to drive before the age of ten (seriously, like a car to the store...it's that small of a town), and I left a career as a firefighter-paramedic - a career I loved, and was good at - to enter into vocational ministry. I use silly games to help students "get" the message of a lesson. I don't usually wear a coat and tie, unless it's a funeral. You will often find me wearing flip-flops, shorts, and a batman t-shirt. Why, am I trying to be disrespectful to God's House? No. Actually I am honoring the very person He alone created me to be. Many times, you will see me say something silly to "bring" another student into the conversation. Youth need to trust you...without seeing you as a human who can laugh at themselves, they'll never trust you and confide in you when it really matters. I've led students to Christ at bowling alleys, motel room floors, beaches, winter retreats, McDonald's restaurants, and yes, even in sanctuaries. To this day, I still have students who were in my first youth group from back in the mid-90's who reach out to me when they don't know where else to turn. Am I trying to put some kudos on my own shoulders...if you know anything about me, you know that is not me, I had rather be behind the scenes serving in the kitchen than getting the limelight. What I am trying to show you is that if you let students in, and they see the real you, it has a far greater impact than taking them on a wonderfully huge trip somewhere. You see, student relationships are built around bowls of ice cream, buckets of soapy water, and sitting in an empty classroom just talking. Am I perfect? No. Not even close. I fall short everyday. But I have found out, that it is okay not to be perfect. Has it always been easy. NOPE! Were there times in ministry where this position or that position I felt qualified for didn't work out? Yep. In hindsight, I know why now. It's all part of growth. I was called to New Faith Community Church to lead the student ministry. My background for my Master's degree is in evangelism and church growth - that's what God created me to be passionate about and use. NFCC needed someone who has those gifts. Is it because they did not already have people gifted in those areas? No. We actually have some of the most passionate individuals I have ever had the privilege to be around when it comes to sharing their faith and doing what it takes to lead others to know and experience a love like no other. But what NFCC needed was me - not the big headed pride filled me - but the me who has experienced hurts in ministry, the me who has faced adversity in ministry...the real me. Even more than that, my family needed them....every last, crazy, and fun loving one of them.

Over the last few days, I was burdened (still am in a lot of ways). But, what I do know for certain is that no matter what comes down the mountain towards me, I can "do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Now to many of us, that sounds like a bumper sticker or a picture that might hang over a desk. However, when you begin to examine it for what it really means - you'll see it is much deeper. It isn't just a rallying cry for those in adversity. It isn't just a platitude that pastors tell congregants facing adversity. It is more personal than that. It uses the word "I" and that means it is personal. It is definitive. It uses the word "all." It doesn't say some things or most things - all things. For this 18 year veteran of ministry service, I had an "a-ha" moment just recently. While everything is not hunkydory in this season of my life, I know it is going to be okay. It may seem like you are inundated today with cares, concerns, and strife. You may feel overwhelmed with a plate full of things going on. Remember this, God loves you...just as He loves all His own. There's nothing or nobody who can remove you from His Hand. I don't know what you are facing, but I do know this. If the mountain was smooth, you'd never be able to use it to climb out of the valley.

Serving others because He lives today,

J.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Blessing of the Backpacks

Hey there FHSM'ers...

It's time for our second annual Blessing of the Backpacks at New Faith Community Church. This is the annual event where we set time aside in the worship service to pray for the students, teachers, and staff who will soon be returning to school for another year of school. This is for ALL students. For those who are young enough to take a backpack each day to school, please bring it with you. Even if you don't take a backpack, come so we can pray for you as an individual. This event is always a very meaningful service to the church and the students. Please share this event so we can make it very special for each and every person affiliated with our local schools. Invite teachers, staff, neighbors who may have children - this is a great way to make a difference in YOUR community!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Days of Summer...Where Have They Gone?

It is so hard to believe that in just about a month, our students will be getting back into the daily "grind" of school. This summer has passed so very quickly. For our family, it was a different summer of sorts as we had several unexpected events and things happen. While we didn't know they were coming, God certainly did and He has been faithful to provide for our needs thus far...and I know He will continue even more as we go.

A few things that I wanted to send out to folks just as a means of keeping us all on the same page:

1. We have had a very successful summer season of fundraising this year and the youth council, the adult leaders, Kim, and myself want to thank each of you for taking the time and effort to participate in all the fundraising activities we had going on this year. Through your work, and the support of our church, family, and friends we will be able to complete Phase One of the youth room renovation in time for school to start back! I know you all are excited to see how everything has come together. It truly has been one of those "God things," to see how He orchestrated events, supplies, work days, and the effort that went into this remodel project.

2. As a way to say thanks to all of you for your hard work and dedication this summer, FHSM will be hosting it's 1st Annual Belly Flop Invitational on July 16, 2014 from 6:00 to 8:00 at the Burns' house. Even if you don't want to participate in the belly flop competition, please come on out for a night of grilled hamburgers with all the fixings, pool games, and some awesome fellowship time together.  I never want us, in the hecticness of fundraising, to lose sight of why we do what we do - pointing others towards Christ and growing our own level of discipleship every opportunity we get.

3. We are still planning on trying to get a date nailed down to attend a baseball game and also we are still looking at trying to have a weekend campout. I believe we have most of the family vacations taken care of now for the summer so we can hopefully squeeze both of these events in before we get back to the school year schedule.

4. Please take every opportunity to be inviting your friends to church with you. As I have said many times before, you guys are the best publicity we can get for the program at New Faith. You guys are literally on the front lines of making a positive impact and inviting others to be part of what we have going. Start inviting folks today so they can get plugged in before the new school year. The pool part will be a great way to do that. Invite a friend....or 99.


5. Finally, thank you all for your devotion and dedication to the student ministry this summer. I know there is a lot vying for your attention each week and it makes me really proud of each of you that you make it a priority to be at church and participating. You guys are why Kim and I continue to do student ministry after all of these years. We've now been in student ministry longer than the last graduating senior class has been alive. Wow.

I am very excited for all of the things that are happening at NFCC. I hope you all are as well. It's about to be even more fun than it has been with the addition of new ministries, the completion of the remodel, and the new technology we will soon be able to tap into each week to make your opportunity at discipleship even easier if you have to miss a week of service. Never take for granted how important each of you are to the life of New Faith and to Kim and I. Without you, there is no future. Hang on friends and enjoy this ride....it's gonna be thebomb.com!

Serving others because He lives today,


Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Two Headed Monster...

Most adults already look at today’s teen demographic as if they have two heads and purple eyes so I’m fairly certain we can all agree today’s youth are vastly different from those in the past. Not only are youth today able to access baseball scores and highlights on their smartphones, but they can also ask it where the closest pizza place is…and have the phone respond.

Even more than these “technological” differences, teens today experience more difficult choices and circumstances far sooner than previous generations. Compound these facts with the constantly changing social landscape that is adolescence, and it doesn’t take a smartphone app to tell you that growing up a teen in today’s world is tough – very tough.

Students, and inherently, the ministry to students have evolved greatly during my 18-year tenure of leading them. When I first began in ministry, all one needed was a hot dog supper to get the youth to come to church so you could share the Gospel. Today, in stark contrast, the same endeavor of outreach often requires advanced planning, budgetary considerations, resource management, and a marquee worthy element to get students to want to come – because as all parents know too well, there is a lot vying for the attention of our youth.

This paradigm shift, of sorts, has caused many churches today to no longer pursue American youth. Why you might ask? Financial burden, youth pastor burnout or stress, even liability could all be correct. However, the heart of the issue is that most modern churches do not recognize the vastly important role age-specific ministries play in spiritual growth and discipleship. This fact only further exacerbates a teen’s issues – “Yet again, no one understands me…not even the church.” Too often, the words, “You are important,” and “We want you here,” are met with the actions of, “Your music is too loud,” and “No it isn’t okay to wear jeans to church.”

In a society where single parent homes are prevalent and the days of the nuclear family of four having supper is replaced with a single Mom working three jobs just to keep a home over all of their heads, the church must step up. It is imperative that we reach out to today’s youth if we hope to show teens they are important. I’m not saying doctrinal beliefs should be compromised. What I am saying is that there is a distinct difference between biblical mandate and personal preference. Let’s not forsake an opportunity to engage today’s youth for Christ because of our preference.



Thursday, April 10, 2014

Where Commitment Collides...With Reality

I absolutely love this time of year in our fair part of the world - pleasant evenings on the porch, more daylight after work, and spending time outdoors with Kim and the kids.  It truly is the best time of the year.  

I've noticed over my tenure in ministry (about 18 years total now) a weird little thing that has always amazed and perplexed me when this time of year rolls around - it's like clockwork.  About this time of year in student ministry, the spring sports schedules fire up with baseball, softball, soccer, and a plethora of other after school activities.  When those schedules begin to fire off, you'll notice the attendance at church begins to wane.  You can watch the trend as it slowly begins around March when practices begin to get into (pardon the pun) full swing.  One Wednesday night is missed because you have baseball practice the other four nights of the school week and just need a night “to yourself.” Another Wednesday night is missed because you have to make up the rained out softball game from the week before and Wednesday is the "only" day that it could be scheduled.  From missing Wednesday nights, it will typically then rock on into the month of April when the Sunday missteps begin to take shape.  First a Sunday will be missed because Mom and Dad are tired from having three games last week and practice the other two nights. Everybody just wants to take a break...to catch a breath of fresh air.  A few weeks later, another Sunday is missed because you are part of the "traveling" soccer team that has a tournament to play in Saginaw, Michigan.  Look, I'm not new in ministry - you can count on this happening and it's not something new.  

Now before everybody gets the bills in their baseball caps in a wad, let me explain to you why this is a very dangerous line to walk.  In life, there will be many things that will vie for your attention as you grow older - sports now, girls and guys in a few years, trips as you age into adulthood, along with many other things.  You ask me today why is it dangerous for me to miss out on an opportunity to be around like minded believers on a weekly basis and I will simply say one word, a name really - Jason.  

Jason was a young man by name and an excellent baseball player by trade.  He was a 16-year-old Sophomore in high school who was a wide receiver on the football team, pitcher on the baseball team, ran track, and was the point guard on the basketball team.  This young man was 6 foot 4 and weighed 215 - from daylight to dark all he dreamed of was being in the "big show" after high school and play college ball.  Jason was active in his youth group...when sports weren't taking up all of his time.  Jason comes from a "church" family.  His Dad was a deacon and Mom was a Sunday school teacher.  Jason would miss Sundays and Wednesdays when his "lifting" schedule or practice was taking place at the same time.  Jason was a smart young man - made A's, active in several service groups through his school, and was well liked by most everyone.  Jason really had the potential to go very far in life with sports and likely would have gotten the scholarship from the school that had been scouting him since his eighth grade year.  Jason considered himself a member of his youth group..., which is to say he attended when it didn't conflict with his seasonal sports.  One Friday night, following a big win versus a cross town rival in football, Jason and several other young men and women were out to celebrate the victory.  Unfortunately, the four guys and two girls riding in the SUV along with Jason had the radio too loud and did not hear or see the train coming towards the crossing.  At the moment of impact, a bystander later told the police that the young boy who was driving never slowed down before speeding through the crossing.  Seven lives of young men and women were immediately snuffed out.  Parents were left to ask questions like - What could we do differently? How did this happen? Why is God punishing us?  Jason, along with his six friends, was killed instantly the autopsy later revealed - in an instant...no time for goodbyes, no time for prayers, no time for pleas for mercy.  Jason had never made any sort of public profession of faith. He often attended church with his parents, but he never took that step of faith.  A joint funeral was held for all the students and was led by the pastor and youth pastor from Jason's church. At that service, the youth pastor said, "Seven lives were taken from us recently who had hopes, dreams, and aspirations for a very bright future. Each one was gifted with academic and athletic prowess.  Each would have likely signed Division One scholarships. But unfortunately, we will never know what could have been.  You see, each one of these students were expecting a bright happy future....they thought they had all the time in the world.  A few were believers in Christ - which is to say they had made professions of faith in Him as Lord.  Others of them didn't. Am I to give the families of these other students false hope in that they will one day see these children again - I can't. What I can say is that some of these students stored for themselves their treasure in heaven...not just in a high school trophy case. Further, I would say to each of you gathered here today that we who remain are to make the most of every day and opportunity you have to learn more about Christ because He is the one award that will never fade, never tarnish, and never grow old." While the pastor and the youth pastor could not definitively say Jason and some of the others were not believers in Christ (because ultimately that is between an individual and God), they could see the spiritual fruit in their lives...or the lack thereof. While this story was not from this particular time in our ministry....it very easily could be...in just a matter of seconds. 

So what does all this mean? Does this mean that if I am active in sports and participate in every one of them I am not a Christian? No.  Does this mean that if I play in sports and participate in every one of them that I will die early? No.  What this means is that each and every one of us will be called into account for and give a reckoning of what our relationship and commitment was like in regards to Christ.  One of you reading this could very well be the next Joe Montana or Serena Williams and go on to make millions of dollars playing a sport.  But, each and every one of us are one heartbeat away from being the Jason in our area. Christ has called us to a level of expectation and participation – a level of commitment.  To grow in your spiritual walk requires participation....participation requires devotion....and devotion requires choices - sometimes tough ones about what is truly important in this life and the next.  

Please understand, I write this blog post with no one particular student, sport, family, or person in mind. I am simply speaking from experience...life and ministry experience.  I hope you all take it in the manner it was written - with Ephesians 4:29 in my heart and edification for us all in my spirit. One thing I have learned in all my years of ministry service is that life is short - sometimes very short.  I’ve had to be the youth pastor to deliver the news to a parent that their child is never coming home. I have had to be the youth pastor who has been called on to speak at a funeral for a teen.  I have been that youth pastor who had to tell “Jason’s” parents there would be no wedding in his future.

Never take for granted an opportunity to spend time with a group of God-fearing, Jesus believing, Christ loving friends and adult leaders.  You never know from where your life "train" may come...or at what time it will arrive.