Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Year of Accountability

This year in our small groups, we're really stressing accountability. Each week every person is encouraged to set "specific spiritual goals" to help them continue to grow in their relationship with Jesus. Knowing that the following week we will check up on how they did encourages them to be faithful in fulfilling their goals. Well...that's the idea, at least. I thought I would anonymously share with you some of the specific and not-so-specific goals that have been shared over the past few months.
  • I'm not going to be rude to my mom this week by calling her names like "poopy-head."
  • Read my Bible in the morning and in the evening every day this week.
  • I'm going to stay away from the friends that are bad influences on me.
  • I want to pray every night before I go to bed, but I keep forgetting. So to help me remember, I'll put a reminder note on my dresser drawer so I'll see it when I get ready for bed.
  • Memorize a verse about anger and say it when I get angry. (We helped this student choose James 1:20 which tells us that our anger doesn't lead to the sort of right-living that God wants for us, so we should not get angry quickly. The following week the student exclaimed upon arriving "I did it! I learned that verse and I said it a LOT!")
  • To say nice things instead of snapping at my brothers.
  • I'm going to not fight back when Kevin* and Joseph* try to pick fights with me.
  • I'm plan to read my Bible four times this week and I'm going to spend quality time with my Mom three times this week. I also am going to have a talk with my boyfriend. Oh yeah, and I'll pray about it before I talk with him.
  • I'm need to make a list of ten things I appreciate about the parent I've been having a hard time getting along with, and I'm going to pray about it too.
  • I'm setting a goal of not hitting any people in the head this week when they cuss. Usually I just smack them in the head whenever they say stuff.
  • Start up a conversation with my friends about what I believe. (Came back the following week talking about how she had talked with her friends about creation in a social studies class and was mildly reprimanded by the teacher.)
  • This week I'm not going to call Kristen Congdon* a walking zit. (When asked next week if they'd been able to refrain from name-calling, the student exclaimed, "Yeah! Kristen* got kicked out of school, so I never even saw her!")
  • To not gossip (We get this from several students every week--often it's accompanied by a plan such as walking away when friends start gossipping or saying one true nice thing about whoever is being talked about.)
  • Read my Bible (also set by most students each week, goals range from three chapters a day to 1 verse five days of the week).
  • Pray (another common spiritual goal that ranges from twice this week to three times each day).
  • To show love better to my dad by praying for him and by not being disrespectful even though he's making bad decisions by doing drugs.
  • To help me be less superficial I'm not going to wear any Hollister clothes for a week.
  • There's a kid who my friends and I always look down on, but I'm going to be kind to them this week by having a friendly conversation at lunch time.
  • I'm going to pray for patience for my sister so I don't yell at her and get grounded from coming to youth group.
  • This week I'm going to try to live for God. (When asked for specifics she said,"I've been doing bad stuff and not really caring much, but now I want to follow God again.")
  • To do better on my algebra test so that my Dad won't get mad at me again.

Some of these goals seem spiritual and some seem not so much so. Some are very specific and some are very general. The common theme: each student is recognizing that God wants them to move on from where they currently are. Although they may not have realized it yet, maturity is not so much a destination they should aim for as a path they should continue on. Whether their steps be small or large, continuing to take them each week moves them along the path of maturity. What step is God calling you to take this week on your path of spiritual maturity?

*Names have been changed to protect students' privacy.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Text-Message Ministry

I've been wondering about itinerant preachers who traveled through the western settlements in the 1800's, preaching and performing religious ceremonies as needed. I mean, can you imagine the isolation they probably felt? They most likely experienced hours of travel uninterrupted by the ring of cell phones or the jingle of their iPods. Imagine the time they would have for Bible study and meditation! They probably truly did "pray without ceasing" as they traveled through the tall grasslands, riding a horse or steering a wagon--maybe sleeping under the stars in between towns.

Although their job was probably very demanding and required great personal sacrifice, I can't help but wonder if in some way they had it easy. I mean, since they didn't stay in one place they didn't have to get involved in all the nitty gritty details of the people to whom they ministered.

Not that I would trade with them. Although Jesus was in some ways an itinerant minister himself, I believe that those people he affected the most were those who he shared his life with. He saw them at their best as they professed his messiahship, and he saw their worst as they quibbled over who among them was the greatest. Because he lived his life with them and before them, he was able to turn everyday experiences (paying taxes, herding sheep, drawing water) into teaching moments. But the wisest of all Teachers--the only perfect One who has ever lived--realized that since he would one day no longer physically be with his students, he needed to give them opportunities to go out on their own (under his authority, of course), so he sent his disciples out to minister to the surrounding countryside.

In my own feeble way, I try to pattern my ministry after the great Teacher. Unfortunately for my students, I am not always wise, not full of gentleness and patience, not astute enough to see the teachable moments in many mundane aspects of life, and I often fail to love them as I should. Fortunately for my students, the great Teacher has given to his followers his Holy Spirit to continue to teach our hearts and consciences. And just as the great Teacher weaned his students off of his presence, but left them in the cabable presence of the Holy Spirit, I want to make sure that I wean my students off of feeling as if they need me, since they have the same access to that same Spirit that the disciples of the first century had.

One of the distinctives of twenty-first century ministry is that due to current technology, the students to whom I minister have 24-hour access to me via the cell phone. This is something that can get tiring, but ultimately I am glad that the students know they can call me at any hour of the day or night if they need help or someone to talk to or pray with.

Well, there is one student in particular (I'll call her Sarah Jane) who calls me or text-messages me usually two or three times a day. Often it is just to say "Hi," but she also lets me know whenever she's feeling low or experiencing emotional crisis. A couple days ago, as I was at work mid-morning I received a text message from her that indicated she wasn't doing so well. I decided that since I had already worked through one or two previous Jr. High crises with her, it was time to coach her through this one on her own. The result was that I spent the rest of the morning like this:

(Photo credits to my friend, Ibraheem Alhashim)

Our texting conversation went something along the lines of this*:

Sarah: Hi Kristi whats up how are you 2day.

Me: I'm ok. Just at work, working. Aren't you at school today?

Sarah: No I had 2 much on my mind so my mom said I could stay home...I'm just goin crazy.

I asked her what was going on and she listed off to me several of her problems which included a relative making bad decisions and a boyfriend moving far away. My practical side wanted to point out that the she would get over this boyfriend within a day or two just as she did the last one, and that their relationship wouldn't have lasted much longer as it was already at the three week mark. Realizing, however, that no matter how trivial her relationships seem to me, they are very real to her and that makes the pain she experiences very real as well, I decided to try to minister to her pain rather than try to reason with it. I also decided that this time rather than reading her Scripture and praying with her, I would try to coach her to turn to God on her own for comfort. I figured that it was great timing since the previous week in our small group the fruit of the Spirit we had studied was peace.

Me: So what are you doing while you're at home to help you find peace in the middle of all this sad stuff?

Sarah: Talkin 2 my bf [boyfriend] and goin crazy. That's pretty much it.

Me: Maybe you could try reading the verses we read about peace last week at life group, and then try to do some of the things those verses say will help you experience God's peace.

Sarah: Ok. If I try to read right now I'm crazy so I can't think straight.

I wasn't sure if this excuse was because she really didn't want to read the Bible or if it was because she had no clue where to find the verses we had read the previous week.

Me: I wasn't sure if you remember the reference. It's Philippians 4:6-9. Some other good ones I read when I need peace are John 14:27 and 16:33.

Sarah: I will try to read those later. I'm so stressed out over this its crazy.

At this point it became clear to me that she was behaving as a crisis person. Crisis people feed off of the crises in their lives. Big or small, any issue is made out to be a huge issue in order for them to gain attention and sympathy from those around them. You can tell when someone is behaving like a crisis person because they aren't looking for a way out of their crisis. They want you to feel sorry for them, but they are not interested in taking steps to alieviate their stress because they feel like their stress somehow gives them importance. They usually don't realize what they're doing, and they make excuses for why they can't take steps to be helped. I realized that at this point she would not be able to deal with her pain unless God worked in her to empower her to do so.

Me: Pray Sarah Jane. God made you and he knows you're hurting. He is strong enough to calm your heart and your mind--even now. Ask him. He is always with you.

Sarah: I will and thx. Im gonna go to my bf's house now to talk.

I could tell she was feeling uncomfortable and was beginning to shut me out, but I desparately gave it one final shot.

Me: Just be careful Sarah that you aren't turning to people instead of to God. People will always make mistakes (like your relative) or they will have to leave you (like your boyfriend). If you rely on people for your comfort, you will end up discouraged because God is the only one who will NEVER mistreat you or leave you. I love you so much Sarah. I will be praying for you that God would bring some good from these hard times by using them to help you experience the peace that he gives.

Sarah: I know. It just makes me feel better because he [her boyfriend] is always so positive and he cheers me up. I luv u and I will pray that God will show me why life is so hard and why the people u luv the most hurt u the worst.

She didn't get it; she was too preoccupied with being a victim to see how God could use her pain to teach her about his grace. I so badly wanted her to see beyond herself to see his plan.

Me: Life is hard because people sin. But when life is the hardest it makes me the most excited for a world without sin...and in God's presence!

Sarah: Ok. cool beans. cant talk no more. im sittin here wit my bf so talk 2 ya 2maro.

Me: Ok...see you tomorrow.

You know, an itinerant preacher would not have been accessible during one of his congregants mini-crises, which means he would not have felt the disappointment I felt the other day. I made a concious effort to coach "Sarah" to turn to God for peace and her unwillingness to do so made me feel like a failure. But you know what? Just like an itinerant preacher, I really can do nothing more than speak truth, point her to the Truth and then entrust her to God to let his Spirit work in her heart and her life. And because I'm not an itinerant preacher and because I have this lovely little piece of technology called a cell phone, I'll be here the next time she's in crisis to once again encourage her to turn to the Source of all comfort for peace.

*I received permission from the student to post excerpts from our text conversation to give you guys a sneak peek into this aspect of my work with youth.


When I was little I had a recurring nightmare. I would be walking down this dark hallway in my grandparent's house. There were two large furnace vents--one on each end of the hallway. In my dream, as I walked down the hallway a wolf would come out of the vent in front of me and start coming after me menacingly, fangs bared. I would turn to flee only to see a ferocious grizzly bear crawling out of the other vent (okay, the vent wasn't that big, but hey, it was a dream). Both animals would advance with hungry looks in their eyes and then I would jerk awake just prior to being mauled.

Shaky. Sweaty. Heart pounding. Nightmares may just be stories in your mind, but they certainly are convincing to your body. At my house we had a particular protocol for nightmares. There was a spot on the floor to the left of my parents' bed that was the "nightmare spot." If I felt scared I could drag my blanket across the hall, tell Mom I had a bad dream and she would let me spread my blanket out on the floor and sleep right there next to her and Dad. Something about being near them made me feel invincibly safe. Wolves, bears and bad guys were no match for my parents! Of course, I think I realized even then that my parents couldn't necessarily protect me from everything, but there was something about being near them that helped ground me in reality when my mind was terrified by my imagination.

I don't have my recurring nightmare anymore--maybe because wolves and bears are no longer my greatest fears. Tonight my nightmare involved an armed predator taking hostages at youth group and assaulting some of the students. No matter what I did to try to fight him off, he seemed able to outsmart me and overpower me. I finally made it to a phone to call for help, but panicked and couldn't remember the address for the church (stupid dreams!). The bad guy found me on the phone and was going to kill one of the students as punishment for me calling 911. He pointed the gun at her head and cocked it. That's when I jerked awake. Sweaty. Shaking. Heart pounding.

I can't help wishing tonight that I had someone else here with me to help ground me in reality and make me feel safer. I hope that those of you whom God has blessed with a spouse feel thankful the next time you wake up feeling frightened and are calmed by seeing them sleeping next to you. But I'm not writing to throw a singleness pity party. :-) My nightmare protocol is pretty much the same as it was when I was little, only I go to a different Parent and I only spread my blanket out next to him figuratively.

Lord, thank you for being with me always. Please calm my heart tonight. I know that all things are in your hand--including the youth group kids. Please protect their bodies and their spirits and help me to rest in the fact that YOU are a much better protector than I could ever be. Thank you for giving me your peace. Please help me to experience restful sleep knowing that you are near me.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Chuch Update

Many people have been asking me how things have progressed at my church with the possible merger. Everything is still pretty much in limbo. People from both groups are meeting weekly with the goal of discovering if we have compatible ideas about church doctrine and structure. My understanding is that once that study is complete (probably sometime in December) leaders from the two groups will decide whether or not they feel that God wants us to join into a single community of fellowship. As such, I do not expect to have any more news about the situation or about my position at the church until the end of this year. Thank you to those who have been praying. God has been so faithful to grant me peace midst my current uncertainties. Please continue to pray for wisdom for the leaders involved in the decision-making process.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

2007 Passion Awards

Each year thousands of people are killed in collisions due to drunk driving. With such serious statistics, why do so many people continue to get behind the wheel after they've had several drinks? Because their judgment is impaired. Too much alcohol causes you to overestimate your abilities. Sometimes even without alcohol in the mix, we tend to overestimate our abilities. At least I sure do. God has warned us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but to consider ourselves with "sober" judgment.
There's nothing that snaps me out of "drunken" self-evalution quicker than a conversation with Jr. Highers. I teach lessons each week to our various youth groups and I have to admit, I really enjoy preaching. I enjoy the preparatory study, and then the presentation even more. Maybe because I enjoy it so much, I've "drunkenly" deluded myself into thinking that I'm good at it. Then came my sobering conversation with a sixth grader. Last Thursday I mentioned to one of the students that the lesson that evening was going to be really short. Immediately her face lit up, "YESSSS!!" I smiled half-sadly and she quickly backtracked, "No, no--it's not that I don't like the lessons, it's just that I don't have very good attention so it's easier for me to learn when you don't talk much." Ouch. And yet I know it's true. The lessons that the kids really remember from the past three years tend to be the lessons that were associated with creative activities.
The last several weeks I spoke to the kids about passion, and about how God wants us to be people of passion, but that passion misdirected can have disastrous results! We talked about four particular passions God's Word instructs us to cultivate: a passion for God, a passion for other people, a passion for truth and a passion for continuous growth. Last Thursday I spent about 3 minutes reiterating these ideas to the kids, and then we commenced with the 2007 Passion Awards.
I had wanted the kids to see specific examples of what it would look like to cultivate these passions in their lives, so Eric and I went through the youth group roster thinking of specific examples of how particular students had demonstrated love for God and people or a pursual of truth and spiritual growth. We wanted to encourage and challenge the students by sharing those stories so that they could see concrete ways they could live lives of passion--even as youth. We created special award certificates, lit the sanctuary with stage lights only, and made a "red carpet" down the center aisle using butcher paper. The kids were so excited that they decided to sit in the back pews for the awards so that they could walk the full length of the "red carpet" when their name was called. (We discovered part-way through the awards that Butcher paper makes a very slippery carpet!)
Above: A student walks down the aisle to receive her award.
Below: Members of the awesome small group from the other week pose with their certificates awarded for demonstrating a passion for truth and growth.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Nerd in Each of Us

My hypothesis is that everyone is a nerd about something. Several years ago a group of people from our church wanted to redesign the exterior landscaping to make it look more attractive and inviting. I thought it sounded like a waste of time. Who cares about shrubberies, anyway? But the landscape work was done and to my surprise I heard several first-time guests comment on how nice it looked. That's when I understood. Some people are landscaping nerds and a well trimmed lawn surrounded by symmetrical shrubs and small boulders really shows them that people take a place seriously. Some people are interior design nerds, feeling the need to put up wall-paper and paintings in a restroom furnished with wicker chairs. Me? I'll just share one of the many diseases of nerdom from which I suffer: I'm a paper design nerd. Again about the church, I couldn't care less how the lawn and landscaping looks or how the bathroom is decorated. But the paperwork--you know, like the logos and letterhead and business cards--that's the stuff that shows me how serious people are about the structure and well-being of an organization. It's dumb, I realize. Most people feel the way about logos and websites and business cards the way that I feel about shrubberies and wall-paper. But then, I guess that's why God makes us all different. Not that ANY of those are the heart of a church, but it just is one silly example of how each of us are different and play a different part in the body of Christ.

Okay, so that was a little bit of an explanation to why it makes me feel so loved people take the time and energy to make me laugh with nerdy paper things! :-) My poor friend, Amber, sent this to me in the mail very soon after the postcard from Eric, but I didn't check my mail for over a week, so she had to wait patiently for me to find it! Anyway, I received notification of my acceptance into the BHCC (Baby Holding Crazies-Club), as well as my very official-looking, laminated membeship card complete with a fake barcode on the back.

This paper-product and graphic-design nerd is signing out saying thanks to the people who spend time and energy making life fun. I love you guys!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Fruit of the Spirit's Work in Their Lives


According to my statcounter, this is one of my most recently looked at blog entries found by people who are searching for "Fruit of the Spirit Lessons" or something like that. If it is helpful to you, I wanted to share a link to the study guides that I found to be a very helpful resource. It was written for families, and I when I used it I adapted things slightly to better fit the youth, but it is an EXCELLENT resource. The best I found on the topic. You can download their study guides for free at: (If you don't mind leaving a comment if you found the link helpful, I'd enjoy knowing.) Okay, back to the blog entry I wrote about a year ago -- Kristi Smith (September 29, 2008)


I never know quite what to expect in our Life Groups (small groups with 6th-8th graders). I meet with two groups of students each Tuesday consisting of a total of 11 students who are interested in accountability and Bible Study. Each week we encourage one another to be consistent in meeting our spiritual life goals, and report to one another on how well we showed our love for God and others the past week. The second half of the meeting is dedicated to studying how we can apply God’s Word to our lives; we’re currently studying the fruit of the Spirit.

While preparing, I generally have a picture in my mind of how students will respond to the lessons/discussions—it’s never accurate. Sometimes I’m disappointed, but recently I’ve been encouraged by the willing hearts of these students.

Last week we talked about love and how God wants us to show love to all people—not just the ones that are easy for us to love. At the end of the night we asked ourselves, “Who can I work on showing love to this week?” I expected the students to talk about enemies and bullies at school—wouldn’t you? Instead I found that the overwhelming majority of students I work with have the hardest time showing God’s love to their parents. Okay, you’re thinking, so maybe that fits the years of adolescent angst. Sure it does—if we’re talking about loving our parents despite the fact that they set boundaries and make us do chores. But these students were sharing prayer requests about showing love to their parents who have abandoned them, who struggle with mental illnesses, who consistently choose substance abuse over the good of their children. Imagine being a middle schooler and trying to figure out how to best honor both parents if they’re in the middle of a bitter battle and are constantly trying to get you to agree with them about how terrible the other one is. There are no easy solutions for these kids—just lots of prayer and turning them to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

Today the topic of study was joy. Well…it was supposed to be. In the first group we never got around to our study because instead the students engaged in theological discussion on everything from gender differences and similarities to evolution to salvation of babies and the mentally challenged. I was amazed at the wisdom and insight that these students shared with one another—it was truly discussion (not me teaching them a lesson), and boy did they make excellent points!

In the evening group we did manage to get around to our discussion on joy. It went well, despite the fact that two girls spent half the discussion coloring their fingernails and purses with permanent markers (a distraction easily remedied by removing the Sharpies from my pen jar so that they won’t be available next week). There’s one student in particular in the evening group who is a new believer and seems to be soaking up everything she can. I love watching her make the connections in her head and then her hand shoots up as she “gets it” and she shares the exact point that I hoped she would get from reading a passage. Even one of the Sharpie girls made me grin tonight as she announced before leaving that she hadn’t been “very serious about religious things recently” but that she wanted to “make some changes and seriously follow after God.”

Okay, so I know from first-hand experience that ministry isn’t always like this. I mean on Thursday night I was vehemently told “I hate you!” by a student. But then, the same student told me as I was saying goodbye later that night, “We love you too, Kristi.” So…whether they’re loving me or hating me, I have to say that I sure am LOVING these kids! I am so privileged to have the opportunity to be a part of their lives, and there is nothing more encouraging to me than seeing the Spirit stir in their hearts, drawing them closer to God.