Browsing all articles by James Hooper

Our son is now six years old. I am marveled at the changes I see in him everyday. In the busyness of building furniture, being a father, a husband, a pastor, and a friend I must carve out time to lead my wife and son into a growing relationship with Christ.  I am not perfect. I’ve made mistakes. And for me, it’s an everyday necessity to ask God to come into my life and have him be in control of every thought and action.

Here are some pivotal questions for Christian couples to ask each other for a healthy family.

1. How do you feel we are doing in expressing our own personal faith in Jesus Christ as a living reality in front of our child (Children).

2. Are we praying for our children’s future and for the mates God is preparing for them? Allow me to say, that when I was a child my grandpa would pray for my future wife (Rachel), every time he prayed for the meal.  It does matter.

3. Are we sometimes allowing our children to play one of us against the other, and if so, what adjustments do we need to make to avoid that?

4. Do our children understand that our marriage relationship is the priority in our family?
5. How are we each doing individually and together as a couple on building our spiritual lives?

6. Is the atmosphere of our home one that is filled with joy and expectation? if not, what adjustments need to be made?

7. What are we doing to make sure that we are growing together, as opposed to growing apart?

What questions would you add?

 

 

 

With building furniture with my hobby,  being a husband, a pastor, a father, and a friend

There were a few subjects I was thinking of blogging about today, but couldn’t decide on just one. I poured myself a cup of coffee, (with Vanilla creamer and whip cream, sprinkled with Cinnamon) and walked out to my back patio.

A thriving plant that I had transplanted from the front yard to a pot for the patio caught my eye. It had started to bloom some bright colors and I had thought that placing it in the backyard would make it a nice bright focal point. However, the plant is wilting and not looking so healthy.

I starred at this plant and I started thinking……

You and I were ultimately created for one purpose, to worship God. He also created you to be you, and me to be me. I’m not sure if it’s what God intended, but we have specific churches that appeal to the individuals of our world. There are the traditional, the contemporary (is that phrase still being used?), the “non-denominational”, and etc; each to serve the different person that make up the Church.

Now for those inside the ministry and part of the leadership team, we see a little more of the “behind the scenes” of church. We truly see how staff conflicts are dealt with, how people are treated, and several other elements that make up of the church.  This I believe, changes my perspective just a little.

When you are attending and serving (and yes, you need to be serving), all what that church is about either feeds you or does not. But listen, if you are not serving you are not adequately giving that church an opportunity to feed you!!

Back to the plant. The difference of the backyard is more sunlight. The plant calls for partial sun. I had taken a plant that was created for shade and placed it in an environment where it didn’t belong. I’m watering it, I’m doing everything I can to make it work, but it’s still wilting.

If you are in an area that is different than what you are created for, perhaps you’re created for a different environment and here is nothing wrong with wanting to thrive. Sometimes we think it will be better in one place, but through time and trying to maintain, we begin wilting.

A thriving body of believes will have more impact in our communities and in our cities. Attend the church where you know that you will bloom because it’s the setting you were meant to be in.

Thoughts, leave a comment. :)

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve noticed that there are several books on Christianity, which is probably a good thing because I think everyone at one point or another asks the BIG question: What is the point of all this?

Check out Luke 8:45; And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!”

Jesus was on his way to perform a healing at the house of a man named Jairus, but He was interrupted by a woman who touched Him. At that moment Jesus stopped everything and exposed her act by asking who touched him. This woman has TRIED EVERYTHING to get better, to get healed.

What can we learn from a woman who has done everything she could-fighting all the obstacles in her in order to come in contact with Jesus?  We can learn that our purpose is the same; to do everything we can to be with Jesus.

How would life be different if this was our purpose?

For the last several months since January, we’ve seen a HUGE increase in the number of students who attend our student ministry. And I’m not talking about those that lurk on the sidelines, who aren’t involved, aren’t connected. I’m talking about our visitors who are checking us out and come back the next week “all in”.

I had someone ask why is our student ministry growing?  First off, do you notice how I said “our” vs “my”? I’m not a big fan of saying it’s my ministry, because in the trenches, it’s really not my ministry but a combination of awesome leaders who work ALONGSIDE me. But I guess that can be a different post.

If you’re a progressive leader (in which I would consider myself) you may not like my answer. In January I STOPPED focusing on how to build an ATTRACTIVE MINISTRY and STARTED focusing on building ATTRACTIVE RELATIONSHIPS.

As I looked at the ministry as a whole, I stayed at church real late after a youth service to debrief with me, myself, and I. My heart was aching for the students that were faithful in coming but I didn’t feel  complete me as a leader. I have a heart for outreach, for the broken hearted that don’t attend church, for the ones walking in the  school hallways that are dealing with issues that even their closest friends don’t know about.

So I made a shift in our strategy.

After spending some time in prayer, I grabbed a legal pad and began writing down as many students that I knew off hand. Then I went to our online data base and grabbed all the students who have been coming.  For the next few weeks I wrote notes on them from the outcome of conversations. Sports, favorite things in life, biggest hurdles, biggest wins, schedule for school, life events, etc.

I shared these with the rest of the leaders.

Every Monday I would begin to pray for these students BY NAME! We started asking questions ABOUT THEM. We started investing our conversations that pertained to THEM.

We changed our sermon series to things that came about in our conversations. (We never picked out a specific conversation, but when planning our series, we would notice specific themes and those would be concentrated on).

After a month with this change of mentality. I got a phone call from a parent. A parent who DID not go to our church (Say what?!) She had heard from another parent of what we’ve been talking about in youth and that her daughter really never fit in anywhere. She said she had been hearing great things about our student ministry and they were praying that her daughter would find a place to connect.

I forwarded that e-mail to my leaders. She was there the next youth night. The week after that, she brought a friend. A week after that they both brought a mutual friend. And that is only one story. When I had e-mailed that mom after the first week, I wanted to see how it went. I wanted honest feedback on how a visitor perceived our ministry. This is what she wrote:

“Thank you so much for having our girls last night! ###### could not stop talking about the wonderful new friends she has met and how fun her evening was. ########  felt at ease and exceptionally welcomed! she even promised new friends she would see them next week! You may be used to hearing this, but it’s huge for us in our search for a place for her to belong! I am beyond thrilled to finally get the excited feedback I received last night and into today from #######. Her heart has been guarded because of some past experiences, so to feel so welcome is a blessing she has been praying for!

Thank you for your email and for checking on us. Taking the time to do so reflects your caring and compassionate nature, and means so much to our family. ####### cannot wait for next week! I too look forward to becoming a part of your church community and building new relationships.”

So friends started bringing friends and our group tripled since January. I can’t exaggerate the power of relationships. We’re wired for relationships. We all don’t need them to the same degree, but we all need them. Students (Whether Middle or High School) are no different. Making it a priority to build into our student ministry the value of “helping students develop healthy relationships.” Helping them understand the importance of meaningful relationships with their peers, with adults, and with Christ.

Middle School students, specifically, are facing the most tumultuous years of life alone.

So why has our youth ministry grown, because we stopped focusing on what they were attending, and started focusing on those who attended.

 

 

Have you ever had a meeting with someone and you start sharing things you’ve learned from God lately. But really it’s the first time you’ve articulated out loud. You begin to smile on the inside as the truth of the reality of God in your life sinks in and above all else, it makes sense. Then you go back to your home or office and try to remember how you said it so you can write it down.  Yea, that’s me right now.

Reading 1 Samuel today 19  I love the fact that you have a guy named David, who a while back fought a bear, and a lion. Two bad separate situations. And those two bad situations prepared him to fight a Philistine. He was favored among God and roused jealousy among men, more specifically Saul.  Even though David benefited Saul, Saul grew angry at the popularity of David.
And when Saul tried sending a group of men to David, the Spirit of God came upon them. Saul tried sending another group….same thing happened. A third time and again, the Spirit of God came upon them. Then Saul thought he’d go himself and kill David. But what happened? The spirit of God came upon even Saul.  I would venture out and say that God is great at intercepting!

I think back of the hard times that David went through. The Bear. The Lion. Goliath. His friend Saul trying to kill him. Not just kill him but hunted to find and kill him.

David heads to someone who is a pillar in the faith (Samuel) and is totally protected. At that moment, David was in his sweet spot. At a place to see those who are against him being overcome by the Spirit of God.
Perhaps the issues you’re facing today is only the sweet spot God is preparing you for.

1. A team approach should be fun.

I often hear how churches are ran like businesses. True. Granted I think The Church has a long way to go to lead like Christ and we can learn from successful businesses, but that’s a different post.

I’ve been in too many meetings where it’s way too serious. Ministry should be fun! Yes, there are things on the agenda and at times there is a level of serious discussion. However, if your meetings are serious 100%  ALL the time, then you are leading wrong. If you’re only talking about spiritual matters more than practical matters then you’re leading wrong. Strong statements to write and say, but it’s needed to be said.

Everyone should enjoy what they are doing and enjoy hanging with one another. It’s about having fun. Take your team outside of the church walls and have the meeting over coffee or breakfast (or lunch). Invest in your team!

I remember the day I started leading my team differently by first moving the meeting away from the office.  It was an overnight success.

Get to know them and invest in their lives!

2.  To keep volunteers, connect them to their passions.

People will excel at what they are passionate about. Give tasks that will facilitate their gifts.  If you connect them with what they love and want to serve, they will stay for the long haul.

We need to help them find their sweet spot, that area where they walk away and say YES I want to go back and do that again.   Reward with affirmation. Don’t treat the staff like an employee. Whether it’s a paid staff member or a volunteer. And…yes, even if it’s an employee, treat them like an asset!!  Don’t manage your team, lead your team.

3.  You have to have a mental shift in yourself. 

We need to have a mental shift from ‘I have to do everything myself’ to ‘Who is going to help and who am I going to do this through?’…That is the mental shift that will take youth ministries from 30 kids to 50 kids  to 100.”

4.  Share your visions and dreams.

You don’t have to sacrifice your vision, you just have to share it with the rest of your team… He (God) didn’t give it to you for you to do it alone.

If you are not giving away ministry on a regular basis, your ministry is going to fail if something happens to you and you leave.”

 

Thoughts contributed by Real Life Youth Ministry.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve taken a new approach to the way I journal, using the S.O.A.P. (Scripture, Observation, Application, and Prayer). If you don’t know about S.O.A.P. you can check it out here.

Today I was reading 1 Samuel 17. The story about David and Goliath. If you’ve been brought up in the church or went to church when you were a kid you know the story, or the gist of it; Small guy beats big guy.  End of story.

But in reality, it’s not the end of the story.

For a minute, let’s leave the story and think about where you are at, spiritually and in life.  I think of the things that my wife and I have been through. I think of the hard places in ministry, I think of all the times I ask God, “Why”? And I think of all the times I yell, stomp my feet, pound my fists at God and shout, “really:!

David was asked by his father to take some items to his brothers and check in on them. When he was seeing all that was going on (war, a challenge by the Philistines) David simply started asking questions to “the men standing near him” (v26). All he was doing was trying to figure out the status of the situation. His brothers didn’t think he belonged there, they were angry.

When there are negative people around you who think they know better, move on.

I love what it says in vs 3o; “He then turned around to someone else and brought up the same matter.”

Not everyone will be pleased with you for getting involved. I wonder if they were looking at David as the least of them. He didn’t belong there (according to their eyes) We often look at people through our own lens instead of the perspective of Christ. How many times do we think that someone can’t participate in ministry because we have our OWN standards.  And if they don’t line up to those standards they are not allowed to be involved.  I wonder how many time as pastors, we miss our David’s, and hence missing out on victory in the places we’ve been praying for.

When word got to Saul, he too had his doubts. vs 32; “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” Again, Saul was looking through the perspective of the world.

The Aw Ha moment….

Then David remembers some of the hard things he had to deal with. When he was tending the sheep. A bear came. He fought the bear killing it. What do you think was going through his mind?   I bet he was asking “are you kidding me?  How come I just can’t tend the sheep without being threatened. What have I done to bring this about?”

Sound familiar? You’re going about your day and something happens that knocks you off your feet.  The day does not turn out the way you expected.

Then it happens again.

This time a lion came.  Come on already. David kills the Lion. Already there two separated incidents that would cause most to give up or question their calling.

In addition, David already does the impossible. He killed these two obstacles with his bare hands.

David then tells Saul, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.

Then Saul allowed David to fight the giant and we know the rest of the story.

David was merely a boy, in comparison to the rank of the Israelite army. But He knew his place with the Lord, which provided the confidence needed to beat the enemy. An enemy that event the strongest and biggest of men were afraid of.

The world outside God’s kingdom looks nothing alike in shape or size. God uses the least of humanity to fulfill His promises. And the least of these really can not be defined by you us.

God wants you to be part of something bigger. Don’t fall into the trap of what those around you try to dictate who you should be.

So here’s the question:

What paws are in you life? What is it that appears to be negative or dangerous when really, it’s preparation. I don’t think the lion or the bear was meant to destroy the sheep or David, but was meant for preparation for the day that God had appointed him for his true calling.

After David won his case and defeating Goliath, David wasn’t the only one that won that day.

 

Wednesdays are my favorite day right now! It’s not because of my tasks at hand that I have to do. It’s not my preparations that excite me. It’s the aftermath of my Tuesday nights. On Tuesday nights are our middle school nights. Since January, we have doubled in size with visitors bringing visitors. I’m humbled, I’m shocked, and I’m thankful. These students aren’t coming just to sit on sidelines but they’re participating! They’re involved! They’re asking questions!

So yes, Wednesdays are my new favorite day as I feed off the energy of the night before. Wednesday is our High School night and I’m excited for what God is doing there too!!

When I come into the office on Wednesdays I find myself in a  reserved mood. I’m thinking. I’m praying. I’m thinking of how to connect with our students more effectively. I’m thanking God for what he’s doing in the lives of this generation.

As I sit this morning I picked up a book on my shelf. Used mostly for decoration but will pick it up on occasion. It’s an old book.

I love old books.  This book sits  near my desk that is a daily prayer book called God’s Minute. Copyright is 1916. It has a bunch of handwritten notes inside it.  Earliest note is dated 1934.  Here is a handwritten prayer that is glued to the back of the book titled: MY Prayer:

“To be ever conscious of my unity with God, to listen to His voice and to hear no other call. To separate all error from my thoughts of man, to see Him ever as my Father’s image, to show him reverence, and share with Him my holiest treasures.

To keep my mental home a sacred place, golden with gratitude, redolent with love, white with purity, cleansed from the flesh. To send no thought into the world that will not bless or cheer, or purity, or heal. To have no aim but to make a fairer, holier place, and to rise each day into a higher sense of life and love.”

-Unknown

That is my prayer today.

 

If you are a high energy passionate person like me ,than you’ve got to admit that it can be hard at times to sit still while the excitement of ministry builds up side you. That’s why I write down my thoughts on a white board or something so I don’t forget about what I dream up.

Last week I had my first vacation since my wife and I have been married, which is almost 10 years.  I tried not to think of ministry on my trip but of course once in awhile a thought would sneak in.  But on the way home I started thinking about three basic questions for student ministry.  This is feeding from the fact that my middle school ministry is booming! There is energy, momentum, excitement, and it’s awesome to be in that zone. And while in this zone we’re seeing many new faces.

These questions are being asked to myself and my staff.

1) Where does the new guy/gal go? (are they accepted, do they feel a sense of belonging, can they buy in and feel a sense of immediate ownership?)

2) What happens when he/she develops? (Are we just reaching the newbies without a plan in place that will build discipleship, growing them into more than just Christ-followers, but leaders?)

3) What does their environment look like? (Does it match who they are, do they feel excited about attending, do they get a buzz from being there?)

I believe these questions are the 3 basic questions.  How would you answer them in your ministry? Would other questions would you ask?

 

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