Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Retrospect, Glory, and Being a Tool

Dude, where did the year go? I feel like last week was August and we were stressing about getting back in to school, but the students just finished finals and we're talking about the New Years Eve Lock-In and all the big plans for 2014.

In retrospect, this year was chaotic and frustrating. Scary and uncertain. Full of disappointment and anxiety mixed with fear and a dash of anger.

But look where we are.

Look what God has done.

It reminds me of that worship song called Never Once:

Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far we’ve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us

Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own

You are faithful, God, You are faithful

So PJ wanted me to think through the year and consider all that Christ has done and talk about some of the things that God has been teaching me and showing me.

I'm guessing he was hoping I would talk about it with him in person, but maybe if I do it this way he'll actually read my blog. 

So let's think back a year ago...

When I first moved up here, I was terrified of my own inexperience. I had never lived in a state by myself much less started and led a youth group. I was living with the massive and attractive Ben Mackey who is not only an American hero, but a star on National Geographic's Inside Combat Rescue, I was working at Starbucks in the mornings and doing youth stuff in the evenings, I was the youngest leader in the youth group. 
Wait... I still am...

Anyways! I was so terrified of messing anything up. I knew what was at stake and the importance of what we were doing, and I was so afraid of failing. 

If we're being honest and completely genuine, I thought Pastor John was wrong when he first hired me on.

In my head I told myself "What could a twenty one year old, single, college drop-out, camp counselor do to contribute to this beautiful spiritual community?" and I almost discouraged myself. Before moving up here from Arizona, I was praying more than talking. I was terrified. 

In every way possible, God was telling me to move up to Las Vegas and pour myself in to this ministry. All the Godly counsel I sought out, all of my prayer, all of my reading, it was all pointing me to move to Nevada. 
I guess I was just waiting for God to recant His command, "Just kidding, Nate! Gotcha!" But no such luck.

But God was in control every step of the way. In struggles and trials and painful learning situations, God protected, provided, and progressed. If someone were to ask me how I put Ridge Uth together, I would just shrug. God put this youth group together. And he has grown it and blessed it. All glory and credit goes to God alone. 

I was trying to think of all things I've learned,  but there's no way I can put all the information that I have received in to words enough for this blog. All of these thirteen blog entries are my thoughts and my heart of the last thirteen weeks, but even that isn't the full year. 


I guess if I was going to sum up everything I've learned this last year, I could say something to the effect of...

In all situations and circumstances, God is sovereign and powerful. Everything is created by Him and specifically for His glory, ergo, everything has purpose and is usable to bring God glory. Especially us as human beings. We are the unique creation created to worship God and bring glory to our creator. God's sovereignty is best observed in the lives of His people. He provides, intervenes, and guides constantly. Through biblical discipline, we learn more of the character of God. The more we know about God, the more reasons we find to love God. The more we love God, the more passionate we are to serve God and share the gospel. God wants to be relied on and leaned on and trusted. The intensity of God's love and perfection is so beautifully appreciated when we look at the depravity and brokenness of ourselves. God is perfect. We are gnarly. In our sin, God loves us so so so much. So much, He endured death in the form of Jesus and was resurrected for the sole purpose of redeeming us and glorifying Himself. You are worth Jesus' life to God. 

Holy cow I could keep going, but there's not enough room in the internet to write all that God has taught me this past year. And I didn't even begin to talk about the tidbits and knowledge associated with leadership skills and leading a youth ministry in general. 

God is so good!

Looking forward to this coming year, I can't wait!

I've begun to tell people "I'm not blessed; I'm spoiled."

This past year has been so difficult, so stressful, so intensely chaotic and frustrating, and I am so thankful for it.

God is faithful, so I know that God is glorified in everything. Even in the terrible, horrible, despicable situations, God is glorified. 

And isn't that what we all want?

Isn't that what our entire existence is all about?

We can trust that in all situations, no matter the circumstances, God is being glorified. 

So in every situation, I am thankful. 

I believe that God created us as temporal beings so that we could look to the past and see how God had grown us and blessed us, how He had delivered us and saved us. God sees our future, present, and past all at once. He designed it that way.

Looking back the very first blog, we, as trees, have grown so much in the past year. Look back and remember yourself as that tiny pinecone, rough and tiny, insignificant, but so full of life and possibility when all of a sudden you are poured in to and explode in to growth. You are transformed from that tiny, rough, dirty shell into a growing, vulnerable, beautiful creation. With everyday, you have grown and struggled. You fought the push and harsh chill of the winter winds and survived the overwhelming flood. Not only did you survive the flood, but you used it to grow stronger and stronger with each passing hour. Every moment you endured was another moment you grew stronger. You relished and rejoiced in the light of the sun and allowed it to fill you and empower you. Now look at you. Look how far you've come. From that rough, insignificant, dry shell to the massive, ever growing colossus. What does this coming year hold? 

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him, all creatures here below
Praise Him, above ye heavenly hosts
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

If you serve the God of the bible like I do, you are on the winning team. You are victorious in Jesus Christ. Praise God for all of His victories and blessings that are coming this year. Prepare your heart to be used. We are all tools to be used by God. So go ahead and announce to the world I am a tool

I bet I'll get in trouble for that. 

Gosh I am so excited to watch God work and be glorified this coming year!

Nate T B

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Camp Names, Grave Stones, and Legacies

So this blog gets kinda personal in to my thoughts as a minister. This week is super important to me! This week is Ridge Uth's one year anniversary for our first ever youth meeting.

One year ago, on December 12, 2012 (12/12/12: rad, I know!), a couple of kids and a few excited adult leaders met in PJ's living room for Summit Ridge Church's first ever Ridge Uth youth group. It was scary! I had never spoken to a group of high schoolers before! My oldest audience before Ridge Uth was my junior highers at camp, and those kids thought I was awesome.

At Prescott Pines Camp, all summer staff adopt a camp name. The reasoning behind this is 30% some vague safety regulation, 70% awesome camp tradition. All the camp names are western in origin and carry some odd generational connotation.
For example, the name Davy Crockett: the name of a leader and strong personality.
The name Billy the Kid: a name of rough-and-tumble rebellion mixed with multiple levels of hardcore.

Along with your camp name, you're encouraged to make this back story for your new alter-ego and wear a costume to go with it.

Ya, I know, camp culture is weird, but that's the point! Camp is a whole different world! Camp really is an escape from reality. As a camper, for a week, you are living in a teepee in a forest with these story book characters and experience God in this extravagant way that changes your life forever.

When I first started working at Prescott Pines, I was a quiet and nervous fourteen year old boy who was self conscious about his physical changes and socially awkward tendencies.

Ya camp kinda stripped me of that...

Towards the end of my formal camp training, we had the naming ceremony where all of the old staff declared their names and all the new staff were given new names either thought up by the veteran staff or given an old name of a former staff.

I was given the name Johnny Ringo.

Before my time at camp, there was a staff member who bore the name Johnny Ringo who had given that name quite the reputation. My predecessor was famous for his witty pranks, satirical apathy towards his campers, and prolonged periods of not bathing.
Everyone loved the old Johnny Ringo! but nevertheless, the name carried a rather significant reputation that I could not compare with.

When my camp career began, nobody knew the new Johnny Ringo. I was a new guy with an old guy's name.

Seven years later...

Everyone knows Johnny Ringo. There are staff at the camp who still refer to me as Johnny Ringo because they don't know my real name. There are legendary camp stories starring Johnny Ringo, camp rules and traditions that were established and carried out by Johnny Ringo, kids who, years later, have stories about their counselor, Johnny Ringo.

I'm not bragging. I'm getting ready to make a point.

I refer to Johnny Ringo in the third person because, in a lot of ways, I left that behind. Johnny Ringo is the name of the legacy and impact that I wanted to create not only in the lives of the thousands of campers that I had the opportunity to minister to, but on the camp itself. My goal was to create a legacy.

When people think of Johnny Ringo, I want them to think "he was a dude after God's own heart who was never hesitant or ashamed to live out the gospel in every aspect of his character. He was outrageous and wild and unpredictable all for the sake of making a Christ-shaped impact on those campers' lives"  and I know for a fact, that is the goal of every single counselor at Prescott Pines Camp.

Every year, after summer camp had ended, I always ran in to this predicament: Camp is over. Put Johnny Ringo in a box, and get back in to the real world. The real world... Like somehow my living out the gospel and being radical for Christ all summer was a fantasy. But this was my mindset. In my opinion, Johnny Ringo
was way cooler than Nathan Barreras could ever be: Johnny Ringo was the Assistant Program Coordinator  and hero of Frontier Village at Prescott Pines Camp. Nathan Barreras was an employee at GameStop who had good numbers and sales. Johnny Ringo was charismatic story teller who always had something witty or wise to say. Nathan Barreras worked two jobs and lived at home. Why couldn't I see that I was wasting my time?

As I write this, I'm kicking myself. I look at the impact I had made at Prescott Pines, and I see the missed opportunities I passed up in the "real world" because Johnny Ringo was in a box in Prescott. I was passionate and crazy for three months out of the year, but the other nine just reminisced over the summer ministry. I could have been making an impact in my community in the "real world" too! But I missed a lot of opportunity...

Maybe you're reading this and it makes no sense to you, or maybe you know what I'm talking about. I guess this blog is more personal than some of the past ones.

What can I say? I'm feeling very reflective today. And why shouldn't I? This is a great time of year to look back over the past year and see what impact you've made. Every step you take is like a foot print in sand. If someone followed your footprints, would it lead them to Christ?

As followers of Christ, we have this calling to leave a Christ-shaped impact on everyone we meet, to leave a legacy that points to the gospel.

A few weeks ago, in the dead of night, I was in a cemetery with my boss, PJ.

Creepy, right?

We weren't there for a funeral, we didn't know anyone there; we were just visiting.

Even creepier...

We walked the rows and aisles of grave stones and read the names of people past and the short notes on their graves. These grave stones were a carved illustration of what their loved ones most identified them as.
These short sentence-long memoirs best summed up the impact they made in life.

Pastor John challenged me: "I like to read these and think 'what will my gravestone say one day?'"

And that got me thinking. I'm not a negative dude. I don't dwell on death or anything like that, but I began to think what will people think of you when you are gone? 

I've learned from Johnny Ringo. My time to minister and live radically for Christ is not just when I'm teaching in front my students or playing on stage on Sunday mornings. Ministry is not something you do. It's an attitude. My entire life  is my opportunity to show Christ. My everyday existence is a loud outward shout that joyfully and boldly declares "I AM FEARFULLY AND WONDERFULLY MADE, REDEEMED AND JUSTIFIED BY JESUS CHRIST'S DEATH AND RESURRECTION, AND I WILL BE THE IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD, REFLECTING HIS GLORY AND LOVE IN EVERY ASPECT OF MY LIFE" and I guess that's an okay legacy to leave... 

Whether we want to or not, we influence the people around us. We make impressions on people and we don't even know it. Our kids at home, the baristas at Starbucks, our coworkers, our bosses, the person awkwardly waiting for the bus with us at the bus stop, the person standing behind you at Walmart, people are watching us all the time.

As a follower of Christ, am I showing people that I am a follower of Christ?

Goodness gracious, I'm getting emotional. Time to wrap it up.

Nate T B

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Veterans, Life Expectancy, and Burnout

In nine days, I will officially be a one year old youth minister. I know that seems like nothing, and comparatively, it's not. 

This weekend, I got the opportunity to talk to and get to know a ministry veteran named Don Engram. 
Don Engram has been involved in every form of ministry that a church can offer from bible smuggling to youth ministry.
Don was spreading the gospel behind the Iron Curtain and rescuing pastors in unfriendly countries before it was cool. 
He's been over the Atlantic Ocean almost eighty times all in the name of ministry and spreading the gospel.

Don is the type of man who, when he begins talking, everyone stops and listens because whatever he has to say, it is valuable and worth taking note of. 
I would go as far to say that they don't make men like Don anymore. He is a front-line ministry veteran who has more miles and experience in ministry than a twenty year old church van. 

Part of me was very intimidated by Don as he talked while the other part of me marveled and drooled over his wisdom and ministry insight. It was like sitting next to and listening to Batman talk about being Batman!

PJ, family, Don, and I all went to dinner, and PJ and Don talked about ministry and missions and church structure and theology, and I sat there, ate chips, and listened. I didn't have a lot to say in general. I mean, c'mon, what could I add to this conversation? That'd be like Luke telling Yoda how to be a jedi. Occasionally, Don would turn and look at me and ask me a question, and I would mini-panic and hope I gave a good answer.

After I got home, I kicked myself. I might have been slightly overreacting. I look at these older ministers and I'm so blown away by their humility and experience and knowledge. I look at them and think when I grow up, I want to be just like them except taller. 

When I was but an intern, PJ had me read all kinds of books on youth ministry. All of them had facts and statistics about students and leaders and churches and what to expect and blah blah blah. They all had different opinions and facts that usually contradicted each other, but one statistic I found scared me.

It didn't just scare me, it worried me.

Not just because it was a bad statistic, but because most of the books had the exact same statistic:

The average life expectancy of a youth minister is eight months.


That's insane! At first I didn't believe it, but once I read it several times in several different books, I started to think about it.

It gave different reasons: under-funding, doctrinal differences, parental conflicts, promotion to head pastor, burnout--
What's burnout?

Burnout is a term often used by church leaders to describe an emotional and mental exhaustion caused by overexertion. 

A dictionary would describe burnout as burning "until the fuel is exhausted, and the fire ceases."

It is the crippling and debilitating state of stress and exhaustion that robs an effective minister of their passion for the mission and love for people. 

This isn't just for church leaders either! Burnout can overtake anyone who is mentally and emotionally invested in the church in any way.

And that's what got me thinking! How can Don Engram serve for so so long, and still be burning brighter than ever?? 

So I sought out my go-to resource that has led me out of many a jam in the past: google.com

I did hours of research on burnout; what it looks like, what causes it, how to avoid it, what to do about it, etc.
In my research, I found a list on how to avoid burnout that I want to share with you guys.

1. “Take heed to yourself” in accordance with Paul’s exhortation to Timothy (1 Tim. 4:16). Paul was first concerned with Timothy the person before he was concerned for Timothy the pastor. Many pastors are reluctant to take an honest look at their own lives. Paul understood the wounds, discouragement, and fears that besieged Timothy and afflicts many pastors. Accordingly, pastors should heed Paul’s wise command to pay careful attention to yourself. This includes remembering your calling and the redemptive story of God’s hand in your life, taking an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, and wisely providing care for yourself and your family.

2. Cultivate dependence on God for the strength and power needed in your ministry. Remember, your ministry is not yours – it is God’s. He has called you, and He must accomplish His work in you. Therefore, stop trying to control what you can’t control and manage what you have no business managing. This includes managing other’s opinions of you and their reactions to you.

3. Lower your expectations (and those of your congregation). Learn to say no and to delegate by asking others to employ their gifts. Biblically speaking, being a pastor is not a one-man show. Have you turned it into one?

4. Learn to balance your life and pace yourself. Ministry is not a sprint; it is a marathon. Take the long view and realize that sometimes slowing down will make you more effective. Create margins of time so that you are not always rushed. Take frequent breaks. Give yourself permission to take a nap and to rest.

5. Create time away to get refreshed. When I coach pastors, they often look at me incredulously when I tell them to include time spent in solitude, recreation, and refreshment as part of their working hours. Why? Because your “job” requires you to be spiritually fit, and you can’t be in good spiritual condition by always being on the go. Jesus often “withdrew to a quiet place” and effectively said “no” to ministry opportunities. You should do no less. A practical way to actually implement this suggestion is to regularly schedule your times of refreshment on your calendar and treat them as “real” appointments. If you are asked for a meeting at that time, your honest response will be, “I have an appointment.” Protecting these “appointments” is not being selfish, it is exercising good stewardship, will increase your effectiveness, and will protect you from burnout.

6. Cultivate interests that are not directly related to your work as a pastor. It is refreshing to engage in activities where you are not the one in charge, the one in the know, and the one who must make it happen! Sports, gardening, fishing, carpentry, reading, biking, camping, hang gliding, kayaking, bird watching, and stamp collecting are just some activities that offer healthy distractions from ministry that will refresh you. An added bonus will be the metaphors and illustrations that will later aid you in sermon prep and counseling.

7. Develop a sense of humor so that you can laugh at yourself and difficult situations. Laughter is an antidote to cynicism and sarcasm.

8. Pay careful attention to your diet, exercise, and sleep patterns. Don’t underestimate the importance of staying physically healthy and daily exercise. Endorphins are God’s natural high achieved by sweat and hard work!

9. Seek intimate fellowship with pastors and others with whom you can share your burdens. A common theme I see in counseling pastors is their sense of isolation and loneliness. There are likely many other pastors in your city or town who endure similar struggles. Seek them out and cultivate deep relationships with them. Share your successes, challenges, and struggles. Don’t buy into the lie that you “have to keep up appearances” and “protect your turf.” Protecting your reputation is often used as an excuse to stay entrenched in isolation. By developing peer relationships, you give God an opportunity to create friendships, alliances, and ministry opportunities that may surprise you.

10. Get help if you need it. I know that you are used to being the one in control, doing the counseling, being there for those who are hurting, and keeping everyone else all together. I also know that some pastors don’t believe in being too “introspective” and see counseling as something that “other people” need. Those who are in the helping profession are most at risk for burnout. Recognizing that you’re getting burned out shouldn’t require anything as dramatic as almost getting hit by a bus. In his provocative article “Death by Ministry,” Pastor Mark Driscoll stated that it might be wise and appropriate to “meet with a Biblical counselor to get insight on your own life and tendencies.” One of the best things you can do for your ministry, yourself, and your family may be to visit with a trusted counselor who can be there for you, provide insight and feedback, and help you along the way.

Burnout is to ministry as the boogie man is to a six year old boy: you know that it's really not going to get you, but it's good to check under the bed just in case. 

I know this entry is not as entertaining as some of the past ones, but this has been something on my heart and mind for the past few weeks. 

Personally, I don't see myself in danger of burnout in the near future, but I think this is valuable information to know and apply in to your own personal ministry. 

Heavenly father, most high God, I pray that we as a united body of Christ would rely on you for our strength. I pray that we would trust in your faithfulness and lean on you because you are always faithful. I pray that you would give us the wisdom we need to be the leaders you designed us to be. I pray that you would give us the humility we need to be the servants you designed us to be. I pray that would project and reflect your glory in all that we do, on stage, at home, at work, surrounded by Christians, or alone. I pray that our thoughts and words and actions would magnify your character, and we would emulate Christ in all that we do. I pray that our lives would be worship to you, that we would present ourselves as living sacrifices to you. You alone are worthy to be praised. I pray that we would praise you and look to you in all circumstances. Thank you for the countless ways you have blessed us and for your innumerable graces.

Nate T B