Why do we do SUW?

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If you’ve been following me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram over the last couple weeks you’ve noticed I’ve been promoting an event called Straight Up Weekend (SUW). Well, the promo is over. It’s here! SUW starts tonight!!

So what is it?

SUW is a weekend dedicated to helping students grow in their relationship with Jesus. It’s similar to a D-Now, and has been happening at Bell Shoals for over 2 decades under the leadership of Victor Flores. It goes Friday night through Sunday afternoon. There are main sessions that include teaching and worship. Service projects on Saturday. Something we call “Point Beyond” that allows our students to connect with local non-profit organizations. And students are placed in small groups while being led by volunteer facilitators. Those groups are then hosted by families who open up their homes for the weekend.

We spend money. Facilities are completely transformed. Hundreds of hours of preparation goes into pulling it off. It requires well over 100 volunteers who sweat a lot, get sore, lose sleep, etc. But one thing is certain…

It’s all worth it.

Why?

Because students matter.

They were worth Jesus dying for!

They are not the generation of tomorrow.

They are the generation of right now!

We are called, as the student ministry at Bell Shoals, to help students follow Jesus. And we will do WHATEVER it takes to accomplish that.

For some students, they will begin a relationship with Jesus for the first time at SUW.

For some students, they will grow deeper in their faith.

For some students, they may confess to a facilitator something they have been struggling with for a long time and find help.

For some students, SUW may be a time to escape a difficult home situation and find hope.

I don’t know all the details of what every student is facing. But I know lives WILL be changed!

So to all of our AMAZING volunteers–thank you! We cannot thank you enough. You are the heroes. Whether you are serving in Point Beyond. Dishing food. Working security. Being a facilitator or Host Home. Helping to transport students. Thank you! You are a significant part of preparing the way for God to move in the lives of our students.

If you aren’t a part of SUW, please pray. Pray for all the unique elements that make SUW tick. Pray for families. And most of all, pray for God to do what only he can…to use SUW to help students follow Jesus.

Students matter. Let’s never stop doing whatever it takes to help them follow Jesus.

Sometimes the Bible is Boring

I’ve always enjoyed watching movies. They draw me in and excite me. The story. The characters. The music. The emotion. The images. It’s quite an experience. Some movies are better experiences than others. Some I’ve seen several times and others just once. I don’t discriminate based on the genre. I’m open to sci-fi, romantic comedy, suspenseful action-packed thrillers, animated films, etc.

In the past month I’ve seen two movies in theater: Interstellar and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1. These 2 were hyped a lot, and in my opinion, they didn’t disappoint. I have no desire to do a movie review, but Interstellar in particular was quite the experience. It delved into some of life’s biggest questions. It took you on an emotional roller coaster. It was one of the most visually stimulating movies I’ve ever seen. The music was heavy, uplifting, engaging and overwhelming. It brought you in close to the story it was telling.

When I walked out of that experience my mind was racing. I thought about many of the different ideas and questions the movie raised. And then I had a question myself:

How do I get students to read their Bible when they are watching movies like this?

Now before you think I’m one of those bible-thumping-narrow-minded-movie-hater Christians, hear me out.

See, I work with students. I’m constantly thinking, praying and strategizing about how best to connect this generation with Jesus. And as technology continues to broaden the realm of experiential possibilities through movies, it makes it more difficult for someone like me to say to a student “read your bible.” I mean before we even get to “how?” think about “why?” a student would even want to.

Why would they want to sit down and read a book with black letters (and some red letters if they have a certain translation) on thin, white paper when they can go watch a movie like Interstellar?

Why would they want to read a book that was written a long-time ago and is sometimes difficult to understand when they can go watch a movie like Interstellar?

Why do they want to read something that seems boring like the Bible, when they can go watch something exciting like Interstellar?

Why do they want to read at all, which takes effort, when they can go and passively watch a movie like Interstellar?

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for a few weeks, and it’s one that isn’t going away. It’s one that’s in a category of questions the church has been wrestling with forever. And the answer is not to condemn movies or to try and sway kids not to watch them. That’s a losing battle. The answer lies in our approach. We have to listen to what is going on in culture and then begin speaking into it.

Because the question is not just “how do I get students to read their Bible?” It’s more than that.

How do we do ministry?

What does church look like in our current culture?

How can I explain the significance of following Jesus?

How do I do________ in an “Interstellar” culture?

As I’ve thought about this and talked with others, here are 6 suggestions that I think can help this generation connect with Jesus.

1) Bring out the life and energy found in the Bible.                                                                                               

Notice I didn’t say, “Bring the Bible to Life.” That would assume that it really is boring and we have a lot of work to do as ministry leaders. But it isn’t. It’s exciting! There’s action. Drama. Scandal. Murder. Miracles. PG-13 type material. Dead people come back to life. People walk on water. And a central figure named Jesus who comes on a rescue mission to save all of humanity from the consequences of their sin. It’s incredible!
“Boring” and “Bible” should not be synonyms. If you teach or preach, commit to bringing out the life and energy already there. And oh yeah, bring your own energy to it!

2) Engage as many of students’ senses as possible when teaching.

This generation experiences sensory overload on a daily basis. With computers, phones and televisions in front of them constantly, it’s good to give them a break. However, it’s also influenced the way they learn and gives teachers other means of connecting with them. Show movie clips. Show pictures. Use props. Draw a diagram. Tell stories. It will make your teaching more effective. CS Lewis was maybe one of the best to ever engage the whole person. Read any of his fiction, especially The Chronicles of Narnia, and you will see how he used many different elements to engage the senses.

3) Help students see the sustainable fulfillment that comes from a relationship with Christ.

Movies, video games, etc. has made us believe we have to always be having an experience, and if we aren’t, we’re missing out. But that’s just not true. High experiences are temporary. Life is lived in the mundane. And in that mundane comes a fulfillment that can be found through a daily relationship with Christ. Through that relationship lies a greater future than anything on this earth could offer.

4) Encourage students to use their God-given talents and gifts.

There are a ton of opportunities for this generation to express themselves in creative ways. We do a disservice to the God who made them when we discourage creativity. We must encourage it! Help students figure out who God has created them to be and celebrate as they live it out.

5) Connect them to the larger story of God on a regular basis.

One of the amazing things movies can do is cause people to long to be a part of the world that the director has created. They can make people feel like they are a part of something bigger. And more, they cause people to feel like they can make a difference. We have largely underwhelmed people with the Gospel if they do not grasp many of those same truths when they read the Bible or hear someone teach from it. Because we are a part of something HUGE—the redemption of all humanity. And we all have a part in that mission. We must connect students to the reality of what God is doing and wants to do in their lives.

6) Allow them to ask questions.                                                                                                                                    

This generation is Bible illiterate. And that’s okay. If we act as if it’s not okay to ask questions about their faith it discourages growth and eventually belief altogether. I’ve written more about that here.

I’m going to keep watching movies. They’re pretty great. Maybe another suggestion could be “Take a student to a movie.” I don’t know. What others suggestions do you have?

Do They Know You Care? The Church and the Buccaneers

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Last night I had the honor of serving as the emcee for an event our church hosted called “Sports Talk: Going Deeper with the Bucs.” Four Tampa Bay Buccaneers players—Gerald McCoy, Josh McCown, Clinton McDonald and Alterraun Verner—spent time sharing how their faith impacts their life on and off the football field. And it was awesome!

Each player volunteered to be at this event and it was clear they wanted to be there. They were real and down-to-earth guys. They were honest about their team and personal struggles. They were genuine and humble. And they boldly shared about their faith in Jesus Christ. And I mean BOLDLY. I was challenged and encouraged in my faith throughout the night and I know everyone else there was too.

We could not have asked for a better group of guys to be with us. They represent the best the NFL has to offer and they served their community well.

Community.

That’s the area where you live. It’s sometimes defined as a small area and other times as a large one. Where I live, there is the greater Tampa Bay community and then smaller communities within that larger one. Last night the event was held in one of those smaller communities of Tampa Bay—Palm River.

See Bell Shoals is a multi-site church with 4 community-focused locations throughout the greater Tampa Bay community. This event could have been held at any of our campuses, but Palm River was strategically chosen.

Why?

Because Palm River needs hope. It’s one of the poorest areas in Tampa. It experiences quite a bit of crime. Many people continue in the same cycle of unwise decisions their parents made. Many lack education. Thousands need Jesus. And every person who lives here is precious and loved by the God who created them.

Palm River has often been forgotten or avoided by those who do not live there, but last night a statement was made: a church and a group of NFL players love them. And that’s huge. Because a community like Palm River often doubts whether the outside world even cares.

There was one young boy in particular who I know doubted last night. This boy was a Bucs fan who came with his dad, but once arriving at the event, wouldn’t get out of the car. One of our volunteers went over to the boy to encourage him to come out and see what was holding him back.

He said, “They wouldn’t come to my neighborhood.”

Those six words played over in my head all night. There had been tons of publicity in the community, but that didn’t convince him. He didn’t believe the Bucs were coming to Palm River. And he had every right to doubt based on what his experience told him. He may have never seen high-profile, successful, well-to-do people in his life come to his neighborhood. Thankfully he got out of the car and he saw that the Bucs really did come!

But how many people just like him think the same thing? Not just that the Bucs wouldn’t come, but that people of influence who can make a difference really wouldn’t come and ultimately don’t care?

There are thousands of communities all over the world that are forgotten or avoided by the church because they are unattractive or unsafe. But those communities, those neighborhoods, are exactly where the church needs to be.

It’s exactly where Jesus went when he was on this earth.

He ate with sinners.

He talked with prostitutes.

He touched lepers.

He healed the sick.

He helped the poor.

He went to messy, tough, unpopular people and places.

And if the church is going to shout the message of Jesus we must go to the people Jesus would be going to if he were here today.

And I think he would be at a community like Palm River.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I’ve heard that said a lot in the past, but it was more true to me last night than ever before.

The church has to stop yelling at people the truth about Jesus without showing the love of Jesus. We must lovingly share the truth. We must show we care. In the process we will look a little more like Jesus than we ever have before.

I don’t know where the needs are in your community, but find where they are and go to them. Serve those people. Love on those people. And show them that you really do care. You never know. There might be a young boy who doubts whether anyone really cares. And you could be the difference that God uses to redirect his life.

What are some ways you could reach out to your community?