Community is Messy


In spite of her gifts as a communicator and writer, Heather Zempel is truly humble. She admits her mistakes and paints a picture of stumbling through the maze of small group ministry and leadership, but her passion and heart are also very clear. She loves people and isn’t afraid of a little mess – and in some cases a lot of mess. She doesn’t try to prescribe any particular model for building community but rather draws on her experiences (sometimes very funny) to give the reader some helpful tools for gaining a better perspective on your particular situation.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“I decided a couple years ago to stop trying to strike a balance [in my life] and to pursue life in rhythm instead.”

“People can find legitimate community and be discipled outside our structures.”

“Most people come into groups looking for social space; we encourage leaders to aim for taking their groups [beyond that] to personal space; and we hope individuals will look for intimate space opportunities with a select few inside the group.”

“We need to ensure that our routines don’t become routine.”

This is the best book I’ve ever read on small group ministry! If you’re a part of a small group or want to be, you should read this book!

Heather is actually a family friend, (As a child, Miranda played football with her every Thanksgiving. Mike was the all-time quarterback.) but. . . . well, nevermind – I can’t deny that I’m biased to this book, but it’s still the best I’ve ever read on community groups.

Pick up a copy here: Amazon Link

Wave Links – Draft Written in Aug 2010

Here are some links that are associated with an old ministry I was involved in called “The Wave.” If you were a part of it, you should check out these sites and go down memory lane a bit.

A Perfect Ministry Storm

We were a part of an amazing time of ministry while we were in Tomball. It was a perfect ministry storm. No man could have orchestrated it, but God’s ways are higher than ours. (Is 55:9)

Here are some of the pieces I’ve been able to assemble:

  • He used Pastor Mike Mathews to begin a process of teaching and training/opening up the eyes of leaders (including myself) in the church. Mike was also the man God used to safeguard the work He was doing with the students.
  • Through Mike, God exposed me to a few different ministry models which resonated within me. (Experiencing God, Saddleback’s Baseball Diamond model, and the Navigators leadership training) He also began to reveal a specific group of students that He wanted to reach. He was birthing a vision within me. God was inviting me to join Him in His work.
  • He worked within the community to place a longing for real spirituality within a group of students – some of them were skaters.
  • He assembled a group of adult volunteers who would connect with students and have a real heart for reaching these “tough” kids. They would also eventually rise up to defend the ministry against all kinds of critics. God worked to make these adults into a real family – they shared more than ministry but their very lives together.
  • He gave a special group of students a passion for doing ministry to their peers.
  • He used a few fringe students to invite their skater friends and spark a movement of students to become a part of “The Wave.”
  • He moved the right people into financial positions within the church who got behind a vision for reaching these students and tripled the youth budget – eventually even adding another part-time youth position.
  • He used the week-in/week-out efforts of preparing for this program to help raise up students who would develop into servant-minded leaders. Most are very involved in ministry even now. A few of the current roles that these students are involved in are: Pastor, Worship leading, church planting, small group leaders, missions, Christian artists, Sound/Video/Photography tech, etc.
  • He used the program to reach some of the toughest students in the community. We saw the fruit of some of these efforts during those days, but many have tracked me down and contacted me since that time to express their thanks and tell how “The Wave” impacted them. Some who were lost have been found and are following Jesus now.

I recently attended a wedding for one of the students who came to Christ through this ministry. The wedding was full of students who were a part this special time. The pastor, the worship leader, the wedding party, etc were all familiar with this ministry storm I’ve described. Each one of them was another piece of the “Perfect Storm” that God created. Many expressed their gratitude to me that day so I wanted to paint  more realistic picture of what really happened. Yes, I was a part of the storm, but it was truly God’s work. I’m grateful to God for inviting me into His work and feel like I’ve been able to see some of the fruit of my labor – however, my labors were only worthwhile ’cause they were joined with His labors. In reality, it’s the fruit of His labors that I’ve been able to witness and because I joined Him, it feels like my labors were fruitful. Truth is: They were.

Because of Him, they were.

And I am grateful.

20 Years of Youth Ministry

I have been a youth minister for 20+ years. Due to a financial struggle in the church, this past week was my first week away from it. I have many memories (both good and bad) – many friendships – many lessons-learned during this time. Here are a few of the most important things I learned:

1. Those rough students who really need Jesus, really need you to defend them, stand up for them, love them. You might even have to protect them from the church people.

2. Quality moments happen randomly in the most unexpected moments during quantity time.

3. Seeds planted where you never see fruit may become fruitful after a student leaves the youth ministry.

4. It’s the church people who will hurt you the most.

5. You’re having an impact on kids that you didn’t even know were paying attention – even those who don’t show up to your events.

6. Some of the strongest students in a youth ministry will also have parents who are modeling a life of loving Jesus. These students are the ones who always say, “No, don’t let my parent volunteer.” But the ministry can’t happen without those parents and the students are inwardly glad their parents are there.

Some of the strongest students in a youth ministry will have parents who are not even Christians. These students have “done it all” and know they need Jesus desperately. They will be the ones who will be your greatest evangelists.

Most of the students who are nominal Christians, have parents who are nominal Christians.

7. Confirmation should not be the end of a student’s time in ministry. Parents who come to you for help when their 16-yr-old son is in trouble with the law have unrealistic expectations if you haven’t seen him since confirmation. Do your best to help anyway, ’cause God can do miracles, but. . .man, it’s a tough spot to be in. It’s always best if a student has a healthy relationship with the youth minister.

8. Dads who play golf (or fish or whatever) to “be with God” are still the spiritual leaders in their homes. They still lead their children. They just lead them to the golf course instead of into a community of faith.

9. Mission trips do more for the missionaries than for those being reached.

10. “If you sleep with someone you’ll wake up friends.” (Thanks Kelly) Retreats and over night outings are important for true community to develop.

11. The size of the youth ministry budget is a better indicator than the church’s words about their commitment to youth. What a church is willing to sacrifice is directly related to their true concern for youth.

12. The future of a youth ministry is directly related to the health of the youth minister’s relationship with the Sr. Pastor (or his supervisor).

13. There will be some people who you will never make happy. Heck, they’re not even happy with Jesus yet.

14. Students will learn how to push your buttons. If you’re able, you should let them push and then show them grace. They’ll be walking down the aisle and never know what hit ’em.

15. Jesus is always relevant.

16. Students who hang out with you will be your greatest supporters. If they keep hanging out when they graduate and go to college, you should consider them “family.”

17. Don’t let ministry get in the way of family or a healthy marriage. Your commitment to them may be the greatest thing you’ll ever teach a student.

18. There are some families who are actually living out God’s call for parents to lead their children. These students may not “need” the youth ministry, but they can be great assets.

19. The greatest youth ministry is the one that can run itself when the youth minister is gone.

20. If you love Jesus and you love students, you’re qualified for youth ministry.

Some other stuff I’ve learned: (Some fun. Some really sad.)

1. Even if your budget is small, don’t try to make your own “bungee-run.” It’s been at least 10 years, and one of my students may still have whelps on his. . . oh nevermind.

2. Even if drawing maps of Israel is not your forte, you should do it anyway. It might end up as an inside joke which unites the group.

3. Even people who don’t like being with students can be involved in praying for the ministry.

4. True community can be mistaken for cliques. Sometimes people want to feel like they’re on the outside.

5. Christian magicians might smoke weed behind closed doors.

6. Pastors might be having affairs behind closed. . .well, out in the open.

7. A good youth minister is not usually “real surprised” by how a student ends up as an adult. Habits are formed early and usually continue into adulthood.

8. Even your finest student athletes can be putty in your hands on a ski slope.

9. Spittoons in the sanctuary make people nervous.

10. Potty breaks on the road are important for maintaining dry car seats.

11. Too much hiking can cause feet to look like pudding under a thin layer of skin.

12. When mama (or the business manager) is happy, everyone is happy. Keep your receipts or she might not be.

13. Laughter is better than chemotherapy. (idea from Anne LaMott)

14. Dog bowls aren’t intended for serving eggs to students.

15. Youth Ministry Rules work for all of life too:

1. Represent Jesus.(1 Peter 2:21)

2. Stay in groups of 3 (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

3. Have Fun.

Right Now Conference

right nowMiranda and I went to Dallas last weekend for the Right Now conference. It was a perfect way to get away and refocus ourselves on God. It just seemed like a good time to get away to think and dream and pray and talk about our future a bit. At this time in our lives, with our future so up in the air, we know we’ve probably got some tough times ahead of us. We wanted to use this time so that we could enter this time as healthy as possible so we can be more prepared for whatever the future holds. The conference helped us to get confirmation about a few things and God used many of the speakers to really encourage us on a deep level.

right now2Here are some of the quotes I wrote down from the conference: (They may not be exact quotes – some are, but some are ideas expressed by the speakers which I wrote down as closely as I could.)

“If people follow you, will they get to Christ?” – Tim Ross

“Is there anybody in your church who is your written epistle?” – Tim Ross

“Small group = the purest form of the church. And the church exists for the world. Therefore, our small groups should exist for the world. Why do we build them for the benefit of the church?” – Alan Danielson

“Jesus’ small group met on the streets, in the bars, everywhere they went. It was the exception, not the rule to meet in a home.” – Alan Danielson

“If we aren’t traders, we are traitors to God.” – Alan Danielson on trading in the american dream for God’s.

“Leaders lean in to their strengths.” – Heather Zempel

“We like leadership where we can act as travel agents who sit in their offices and make decisions for others, but we should be more like tour guides who travel with their students.” – Heather Zempel

“I like the term ‘editor’ better than ‘accountability.’ Editors look for the good stuff and improvements as well as mistakes.”  – Heather Zempel

“Carrots that reproduce have to stay in the ground an extra year. Farmers have to leave their best carrots in the ground. Stay planted so you can reproduce.” – Heather Zempel

“Lead with your ears.” – George Barna quoting Ken Blanchard

“I never learned anything talking.” – George Barna quoting Lou Holtz

“Leadership is about bringing the danger with you.” – George Barna quoting Erwin McManus

“Get them out of their comfort zones and believe in them more than they believe in themselves. Anyime you push an individual toward greatness, it’s because you believe he or she is capable of greatness.” – George Barna quoting Lou Holtz

“Scripture doesn’t say anything about a middle road. It’s clear there’s a narrow road and a broad road, but no middle.” – Francis Chan

“Imagine the fellowship you’d have if you were actually able to be crucified and suffer next to Jesus – looking Him in the eye as you suffer together.” – Francis Chan

“It doesn’t matter how many people are in a church or how great the worship is. God asked for a family – a body. That’s what we should strive for.” – Francis Chan

“There are ways to do church that no one has thought of yet.” – Mark Batterson

“Unbelief = putting circumstances between you and God. Faith = putting God between you and circumstances.” – Mark Batterson

“Neurology shows that the older you get, most people shift from right brain thinking to left brain thinking over time. Kids don’t have much experience stored in the left brain, so they live their lives in their imaginations.” – Mark Batterson

“God doesn’t fit in our left brain!” – Mark Batterson

“Don’t let an arrow of criticism pierce your heart unless it first passes through the filter of Scripture.” – Mark Batterson quoting Erwin McManus

“Sometimes criticism from a poor source should be received as a compliment. Sometimes a compliment is a criticism.” – Mark Batterson

“You’ll never be more than 80% certain.” Mark Batterson quoting Andy Stanley

“9 times out of 10 the answer to our prayer will come out of nowhere.” – Mark Batterson

“Compassion (International) is helping rescue us from the poverty of wealth.” – Anne Jackson

“The most Christian thing I’ve ever done is to give.” – Anne Jackson quoting Francis Chan

“A generous heart is never foolish.” – Tim Ross

“We may live like we’re gonna die tomorrow, but we should learn like we’re gonna live forever.” – Mark Batterson

“Like a watchman on a wall, prayer lets us see what other people can’t see.” – Mark Batterson on Col 4:2

“If it doesn’t seem crazy then God might not be in it.” – Mark Batterson

Powerpoint Games

Thought I’d post some of the powerpoint games that I’ve created for our youth group. Feel free to download them and use them however you’d like. I’ve attached zip files with all the pics and the photoshop template so you can add to it and make your own questions. The “Would You Kiss?” game is one of our favorites – especially when I add pics of some of our own youth.

If you click on the pic, the download should begin.

If any of you have more games like this, I’d be happy to include them here. Let me know.


ocdI had a thought today as I was reading a post on friend’s (Heather Zempel) blog. She was talking about how messy ministry can get due to what I will call the “human” factor. Anyway, I was just thinking about how God seems to like things to be a little messy. It seems like everywhere Jesus went, there was a bit of a mess that he left behind. People didn’t know what to think of Him. Anyway, I was just thinkin’ that maybe we’re all a little OCD compared to God. Now, let’s be clear, I’m not calling God a “slob.” You might be saying, “God is not a God of chaos but a God of order.” (that popular saying comes from I Cor 14:33 which affirms that God is not the author of confusion but of peace – and it’s speaking to a very specific situation regarding worship.)

Anyway, here’s what I’m trying to say. Maybe God’s work only seems messy to us because we’ve gotten so used to our junk piles. I mean, if God breaks our paradigms and changes things up on us, it’s gonna feel messy simply ’cause it’s new and we don’t know how to navigate the new as well. We’re OCD in the sense that we like things to remain in the places where we put them. We even like putting people into boxes so we can categorize them and place them in the right places in our lives. But if we’ve truly surrendered to God, then we’re seeking to make conscious choices to allow Him to do the arranging in our lives. That’s when things start feeling messy. The interesting thing is that God is actually “cleaning” up when He starts rearranging. OK – now I’ve gone full circle – It looks like God is the one who is OCD now. Maybe you guys should all just ignore me. . . I have no idea what I’m talking about.

Oh well. . .my random thoughts go in circles quite a bit. Maybe some of this will still be interesting to someone. I hope it at least makes you think a bit. Anybody got any other thoughts that can help clear this all up for me?

Extraordinarily Mundane

lifeI was sitting in a meeting the other day when this thought struck me. I’m normally a pretty shallow thinker, but for some reason this particular moment was different. This thought is actually worthy of receiving “quotes,” so I present it here with them and a citation of my own name at the end. It makes me (normally a dumb guy), feel like I have something worth saying.

“Hidden within the mundane, we encounter the extraordinary.”

Life is found in the desert. Jesus came to the earth. And the extraordinary is within the mundane.

Knowing that God has promised, “I am with you always” (Mt 28:20), how could we dare to consider one moment more sacred than another? Aren’t they all lived out in His presence? Aren’t they all opportunities to honor Him and worship Him with the decisions we make and the activities we involve ourselves in?

In ancient culture, all of life was considered sacred. Even the mundane, was sacred. The word “profane,” came about to describe when someone took the sacred and treated it with irreverence. In many ways, the ancient idea that all of life is sacred has done a 180. Today, most people live as if the only sacred moment they have happens during the one hour of church they attend each week – with a few notable exceptions for weddings, funerals, and holiday services.

Brother Lawrence’s “Practicing the Presence is all about reclaiming this ancient way of life – where every moment is sacred.

Anyway, I think this quote applies to life in so many ways. For example:

Maybe I’m a heretic, but I believe that when the family is together to celebrate Christmas (or any other holiday), it is a sacred moment – God is no more present in the worship service which seeks to celebrate the same holiday, than he is around the dinner table in your home. “Within the mundane, we encounter the extraordinary.

I’ve heard many people complain about these social networks saying that they don’t care to know every detail of everyone’s life. “It’s just too much noise,” they say. But I feel very differently. Leonard Sweet refers to these networks as a “global commons.” I’ve also heard it described as the modern “water cooler.” Yes, it’s true that some “tweets” seem insignificant, but that doesn’t mean they’re of no value. These short updates reveal our lives to one another. “Within the mundane, we encounter the extraordinary.” Many times when I run into people (face to face), they refer to something I tweeted and begin a conversation. Prior to these networks, these moments were awkward. People didn’t know what to say (or know what we had in common). Within these mundane updates, I have encountered God and He has used them to impact my life. 140 characters or less is enough to encourage, express love and concern, pray, teach, rebuke, correct, train in righteousness, etc. These updates are “extraordinarily mundane.

Ministry Experience:
In my 20 years of ministry experience, I have often said, “We want to spend ‘quantity’ time together so that we can experience ‘quality’ moments.” The real ministry moments can’t be scheduled. In general, you can’t plan for them, orchestrate them, or manipulate an environment enough to create a real ministry moment. They just happened whenever God grabs a person. Since our lives are filled with the mundane (which is still a sacred moment), these times usually happened while you’re driving down the road together, or sitting at a fast food table, or when someone seeks you out and drives over to your house while you’re doing the laundry. “Within the mundane, we encounter the extraordinary.

Anyway, these were just some thoughts than ran through my head today.

New Old Videos

I just uploaded some some old videos that some of you may enjoy: Mexico Mission Trip 2000, Mexico Mission Trip 2003, Summer 2003

Mexico Mission 2000 pt1 from Steve Corn on Vimeo.

Mexico Mission 2000 pt2 from Steve Corn on Vimeo.

Mexico Mission 2003 pt1 from Steve Corn on Vimeo.

Mercy Ships XTreme Teams trip from July 2003

Mexico Mission 2003 pt2 from Steve Corn on Vimeo.

XTreme Teams (Mercy Ships) – summer 2003

Tomball Youth Summer 2003 Montage from Steve Corn on Vimeo.

Mr. Corn’s Opus

I had a bit of a “Mr Holland’s Opus” moment this past weekend – you know. . .the moment at the end of the movie where all his ex-students come together to honor/minister to him.

Sonya and Tori playing with Kasen
Sonya and Tori playing with Kasen

Some ex-youth (Is that OK Lorel?) drove down to Lake Jackson to hang out. Sonya Wiggins Hunt and Tori Gracey had heard about our job situation and decided that they would drive down to support Miranda and I. Wow! It’s a beautiful thing (and humbling) to have the very same students that you poured yourself into years ago show up to minister to you. In the past, I ministered to them. Sunday, I was the recipient of their ministry. The script may have been flipped, but the author if that script is still the same – and He’s a great writer.

He has truly done some incredible things in and through their lives.

Sonya has finished school, gotten married and is incredibly active in her church. The pastor has even asked she and her husband to help them plant another church. She has also been a part of a program which works to create community in apartment complexes – taking the Good News to her own neighbors. She told an incredible story about her brother-in-law. He is in the hospital in critical condition after being beaten and shot by members of a gang. She and her husband stood at his bedside and shared the gospel with him. He was unable to respond with anything but his eyelids, but when given the opportunity he gave his life to Christ literally with the blink of his eyes. Sonya is a minister. She takes Jesus to everyone she touches as she lives her life.

Tori is now a teacher in one of the most difficult school in Houston. Her students include a 16 yr old girl who had a miscarriage after 8 months of pregnancy. One day, some students were asking her where she kept her Bible ’cause they wanted to look something up. She asked what they wanted to know, and by God’s grace, it was a verse that Tori and had memorized in her Jr High years when we did a specific study together. She quoted the verse to them and they were shocked. These students come to Tori to talk about their lives. They know she loves and cares for them. They know she’s a Christian. They trust her. She has earned their respect. Tori is in full-time ministry.

Tori and Sonya may not work in the church, but their work is more like that of a missionary – one who takes the Gospel to the people.

Anyway, spending time with Sonya and Tori was truly a joy. As they shared the things God has been doing in their lives and a few of the stories where they were able to be a part of His work, I felt like Mr Holland. I was proud. Proud of who they had become. Proud that I was able to be a small part of their lives. Proud to serve a God who is so active in our lives. Excited to imagine what the future (which is in God’s amazing hands) holds for each of us.

Prayer: God, thank you for Sonya and Tori. Thank you for revealing yourself to them and for the commitment that they have for you. Thank you for your presence and guidance in their lives. Thank you for the opportunities that You give to them. Thank you for placing them in these jobs/positions where You can use them in such mighty ways. Lord, continue to be with them and make your presence known so they can operate in confidence throughout their lives. Keep them close to You and to each other. AMEN.