Spiritu AL: My 5 Favorite Places to Pray in Cleburne, TX.


Jennifer and I have lived in Cleburne for 3.5 years now and we have come to enjoy exploring all the mom and pop shops and local restaurants that Cleburne has to offer. Something that has also been fun is exploring the parks and scenic areas that lend themselves to spending time with God Almighty.

Thought I’d share 5 different places that have become great places for me to spend time with God in prayer, meditation, or just quiet time. Please comment and share your favorite places to pray and spend time with God!

silver bullet

#5 My Car

This one might seem like a cop-out but some of my best praying happens in my car. The appeal of the car prayer is not the luxurious interior of my 2000 Honda Accord (AKA: the Silver Bullet). The appeal is that my car takes me to the places where the people I care about are. Somedays, I find myself parked in front of other churches where some of my friends in ministry work and I’ll stop and pray for them and their families. Somedays, I’m parked in front of one of our schools where our students attend and I’ll pray for their safety and their courage to live out their faith in their classrooms. Many time, I have to approach God in prayer when I’m parked in front our Westhill Church building. Whether it’s before class, morning services, a special event, or just another day of work I often pray for God’s blessing on our many ministries, our leadership, and our members.

There’s just something about sitting in a parking lot, the physical building that represents the people I care about in front of me, and having a solitary moment to pray before going on with life. Plus, this is a place anyone can approach the Almighty!


#4 Lake Pat Cleburne

I think being near a body water brings to mind how often Jesus taught near (sometimes on) water and used water multiple times in his teachings.
There’s something about being near water that is soothing and offers a sense of tranquility. Lake Pat is pretty full right now and it’s a perfect place to get away for a quiet lunch at one of their covered picnic table areas. Ideal for having a bit of God time. It’s usually pretty quiet and offers nice views to take in while you commune with the Almighty.


#3 Church Sanctuary
This one seems almost too obvious. This is the place we are almost guaranteed to pray in at least once a week. And it’s for that very reason that the sanctuary or auditorium seems like the perfect place to pray during the week. Ever notice in the movies when the troubled protagonist (Clark Kent in Man of Steel for instance) goes to an empty church sanctuary to commune with the Almighty over a very tough issue or loss. Why don’t we do that more? The church sanctuary is already typified as a “holy place” and they are made to be aesthetically pleasing.

I remember being a young man and getting chills walking into our auditorium back home in Wichita, KS when it was empty and the lights were off. It always felt like God’s presence had saturated the walls, the pews, the very air in that room.

I encourage you to give it a try! Maybe even try visiting some different church sanctuaries during the week. Some are very beautiful and can be a great deal more ornate than the typical church of Christ auditorium.

McGregor Park

#2 McGregor Park (Hulen, Buddy Stewart, and State Park)

Cleburne features a handful of beautiful parks. Some are better for walking and some are better for mountain biking. But the most convenient one for prayer, in my opinion, is McGregor Park.

While the whole park is beautiful and makes for a nice walking trail, my favorite spot is underneath the tree in the center of the “maze”. Makes me think about the Garden of Eden somehow with the tree in the middle. Awesome place to sit in quiet and be with God.

Which park is your favorite?

Prayer Garden

#1 Prayer Fountain


First one is the prayer fountain on the North side of First Christian Church on Nolan River Rd. It features a well-kept garden that serves as the home of three wooden crosses with three stone benches. The fountain and babbling stream is soothing as it fills your ears. There are “memory stones” that are available to be tossed into the stream and are meant to represent God’s past blessings. Plus, the fountain was dedicated in the name of one “Bob Middleton”. Pretty sure there is no relation but I’d like to think he was a kindred spirit.

I confess that I don’t know First Christian’s visitor policy but they haven’t ran me off yet. Great place to quiet the mind and connect with God!


Thanks for reading! 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says to simply “pray continually” and it helps me to remember that prayer can happen at any time and any place. Please share your favorite prayer spots below. In doing so you just might be encouraging the prayer life of a fellow Christian!

“Ready Player One” Review AL


I can read, but just barely. When I force myself to partake in this arduous task it’s either to take in a dose of God’s Word or to better myself in regards to youth ministry and deepen my own spiritual walk. Rarely (or more like never) do I read for recreation. Fiction, for me, has always been a dish best served with popcorn and soda at the theater. Despite this tendency, I had heard stirrings about this book and my interest was piqued when I learned that Steven Spielberg was brought on board to direct the film adaptation of this book. My good friend Matt (who is much better read than myself) had “Ready Player One” on his bookshelf and when I asked him about it, he recommended it to me. I decided to take him up on his offer to lend it to me. See, this is the problem with reading, way too much exposition. On to the review!

WOW (inside joke for those who have read the book intended)

This book enthralled me! The page count is just over 350 (might as well be 1,000 for a slow reader like myself) but I zoomed through the book in a mere 10 days. Set in a grim future where society have neglected the real world and opted to spend the majority of their time in a virtual “oasis” where people go to school, shop for clothing and accessories for their avatars, play games, and visit amazing worlds. The main character, Wade, finds himself in the middle of an epic adventure. And it all starts with a death.

James Halliday, the creator of this virtual reality, has recently passed away. Upon his passing, he released a message indicating that he programmed a hidden “easter egg” inside the massive virtual world. To find it, egg hunters must solve clues to find three keys that grant them access to three gates that contain complicated challenges. Collect all three keys and clear all three gates and you will find the egg that will grant the one who finds it the Halliday’s entire fortune and ownership of his company. Pretty cool right?

The greatest thing about this book is that Halliday grew up in the 80’s and was an avid fan of the music, movies, tv shows, and video games that shaped the pop culture of the decade. All egg hunters, or “gunters”, have to now familiarize themselves with everything from Rush songs to Pacman to try and win the prize for themselves. The book is packed full of 80’s references. I found myself listening to all the songs that Wade, the main character, listened to and felt myself immersed in this future world where knowledge of the right lyrics, movie lines, or arcade game strategies could lead you straight to fame and fortune. Even as I write this review, I’m watching “War Games” with Matthew Broderick for the first time.

It was a delight to decipher some of the reference clues from some of the knowledge I already had and put myself to building on this knowledge as the plot unfolded. All the while, the virtual world in which this easter egg hunt takes place has entire planets dedicated to fictional worlds like Middle Earth as well as real ones like the town Halliday, the creator, grew up in. All the while your avatar can go from planet to planet in an x-wing or a supped up DeLorean time machine.

The 80’s references were endless and the story was compelling. The book is well written and describes the world it takes place in with amazing detail. I cannot wait to see this story adapted for the big screen.

Review AL: “The State of Youth Ministry” by the Barna Group


The Barna Group has been instrumental in putting out a handful of books, few of which that have found a home on my bookshelf. I remember reading “UnChristian” by Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman for the first time and being impressed with the data they were able to present and interpret thanks to the Barna Group. Same goes for “You Lost Me” and “Churchless”. When I heard they were putting out a book specifically geared towards youth ministry I was quick to find room in my budget to purchase it. As a service to my fellow youth ministers, or anyone who might be considering purchasing this book, I’ll tell you what I discovered from my reading experience.


The information communicated is helpful. It really does help in envisioning a broader perspective on how youth ministry is being handled beyond your congregation or your denomination. It is comforting to see that other youth ministries are struggling with the same issues your youth ministry is struggling with; but on the other hand, it is a little disheartening that no solution to these issues is presented.

I was surprised at how many times the youth ministry goals and perceptions of all three surveyed parties (parents, youth ministers, and senior ministers) actually matched up. The default perception seems to be that there are huge disagreements between the youth minister and parents or the youth minister and the senior minister when it comes to the “why” of youth ministry. Barna shows that that perception is for the most part quite negligible. Now, the “how” of youth ministry definitely remains a source of disagreement amongst these three parties, but that probably doesn’t come as a surprise to any youth minister. Those disagreements, however, pale in comparison to what youth ministers reported to be their biggest obstacle.

The biggest obstacle youth ministers say they face in their youth ministries?

Busyness. The biggest obstacle youth ministers say they face in their youth ministries is the busyness of their teens. The percentage did have a declining trend in 2016 at 74% as compared with that of 2013 at 86%. However, this is still the main obstacle that youth ministers report. There is little surprise in that result as we’ve all seen our society pressure our students to do more and elevate “achievement” as the greatest good.


As per usual, Barna was sure to add many aesthetically appealing illustrations and graphs that illustrate the survey results of hundreds of protestant youth ministers, senior ministers, and parents of youth group students surveyed in 2013 as compared to those surveyed just last year. These illustrations are a great aid in visually understanding the numbers they discuss. I do get somewhat frustrated when I’m taking in the same information two times (one via illustration and one written out) but that is a minor qualm.


Overall, this book was helpful to read as a youth minister. Getting to understand the perspectives and issues of youth ministries in churches both large and small, suburban/urban or rural, white or not was beneficial. In truth, it gave me a sense of solidarity and kinship with my fellow youth ministers throughout the nation. It’s undeniably true, the data can be a little dry, but it is interesting and beneficial.

Perhaps the biggest benefit to me was the message towards the end of the book where youth ministers are challenged to think beyond perpetuating the status quo of youth ministry and to purposefully look towards the future of youth ministry. It lists the following as the top 8 challenges we will be facing (if not already) in our youth ministries:

  1. Rising Bible skepticism
  2. Increasing loneliness
  3. Pervasive Pornography
  4. Confusion regarding human sexuality
  5. Me-first morality
  6. Pressurized Christian identity
  7. An era defined by achievement
  8. Conversation-challenged disciples

This list is spot on. Each of these categories is briefly fleshed out. They don’t go so far to pretend to have the answers for every youth ministry in regards to these challenges but they do point towards some of the important questions that we should be asking and discussing as youth ministers (or even volunteers, parents, and Christians). I would definitely recommend this book to anyone connected to youth ministry and anyone at all who concerns themselves with the spiritual upbringing of the church’s young people.

Thanks for reading! If you’ve read this book and would like to add your views, please do so by commenting or message me directly!




This past weekend, the wife and I caught M. Night Shyamalan’s latest movie. This is going to be a review on that film WITH SPOILERS. This review will be spoiling the ending and important plot points of the movie, “Split.” Do not read this review if you have not seen the movie. The ending is such that you’ll likely enjoy seeing the movie with no spoilers. You’ve been warned!

It seems like the marketing for this movie started in the early fall last year and ever since my wife saw the first trailer, she was very intrigued and really wanted to see it. This desire came more out of an appreciation for James Mcavoy’s acting chops than a trust in Shyamalan’s directing track record. In fact, it’s that track record with such stinkers as “The Last Airbender”, “The Village”, and “The Happening” that has caused me and many casual movie-goers to avoid his films. I’ve heard some say that “The Visit” that came out a little while back about the creepy visit to the grandparents (never saw it) was not terrible but there weren’t any reviews that made me want to go see it.

I’m here to tell you that Shyamalan’s most recent film, “Split,” is really good. No joke. Not kind of good, not average, it is really good! Now, right up front, I will say that this movie isn’t for everyone. The tone of the movie definitely delivers on being a creepy psychological thriller without much of a scare factor. James Mcavoy delivers so well in his performance. You don’t get to see all 23 (24) of his personalities but the 5-7 that he does get to showcase are AMAZING. Truly, he’s a master of his craft. My favorite of his personalities was definitely Hedwig, the 9-year-old boy. He added some awesome comic relief in a movie that I didn’t think could pull off comic relief well at all.

His performance of Dennis pretending to be Barry (a dissociative identity impersonating another disassociative identity!) was truly inspired. How many others actors could actually pull that off?

I was starting to have some big question marks with the story when Mcavoy’s therapist explained the abilities her DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) patients could possess. Even more question marks were raised when Mcavoy turns into “the beast.” Although, I will say that I was grateful that restraint was shown in this transformation. If he grew hair, claws, and went throw some kind of werewolf transformation I would’ve checked out.

However… with the frame of reference provided at the very end of the movie, his abilities made perfect sense. Here is the bomb… it’s revealed at the end of the movie that Split is a story told within a shared Shyamalan universe. Bruce Willis is seen at a bar at the end of the movie, watching the news story about Mcavoy’s villain and mentioning a “Mr. Glass.” If that ending confused you at all, here’s what’s going on.

Shyamalan directed a movie in 2000 that was an understated, realistic superhero movie that starred Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson. That movie was “Unbreakable.” This movie had much critical acclaim and was generally a well-accepted film by general audiences. The ending of “Split” reveals that this movie is in the same universe as that of “Unbreakable.” Mind-Blown! This means that there will be another if not multiple movies set in this universe where Bruce Willis’ superhero character will be pitted against Mr. Glass, The Hord (of the beast), and possibly more villains that Mr. Glass has been recruiting. I am so psyched for this!

Is this movie a complete return to form for Shyamalan? Has he completely redeemed himself for his past directing blunders? Perhaps not yet. But he has definitely taken some big steps in that direction. One of my favorite scenes in this film is when Shyamalan portrays a character (he cameos in almost all of his films) that has access to security video footage that Mcavoy’s therapist needs. As they view the footage, the therapist teases Shyamalan’s character for eating too much junk food and “getting soft in the middle” to which Shyamalan replies guiltily, “I know.” This seemed a clever line of dialogue in which Shyamalan poked some fun at himself for not making great directing choices in the middle of his now possibly turning career.

I’m curious to know what you thought of the movie. Did you get the big reveal at the end? Did you catch the “Unbreakable” soundtrack playing right before they revealed the shared universe? Should we forgive Shyamalan? Let me know!


The Most MagicAL Place on Earth?


Hello, my name is Alan Middleton and I never visited Disney World until I was 29 years old. Before my first visit 2 weeks ago, anyone I ever told that I had never been treated me like I had been severely deprived. They’d ask, “Did your parents not love you?” or, “Are you afraid of flying?” But I assure you that my parents loved all 8 of their children and were wise enough not to even attempt such a trip with that many kids. Also, my fear of flying is confined to who I’m going to be stuck sitting next to or if Spirit will lose my luggage or not. #neveragain

It’s interesting to me how people would describe Disney to me before I went earlier this year. They’d proudly proclaim that it is, in fact, the most magical place on earth. They would describe it as a kind of paradise for the family where everyone was struck with unearthly happiness. There would be boasting of the bigness of the park itself, its shows, and its fireworks. They’d also boast of the attention given to the smaller details such as park cleanliness, well-hidden security cameras, and cast member (employee) etiquette. Indeed, the park goes through tremendous lengths to immerse their patrons in this world and suspend any type of disbelief.

Despite Disney’s best efforts, I was disappointed. Now don’t get me wrong, I had an AWESOME time there. It captured my imagination (or rather the figment of my imagination) and was truly a magical place. Getting to experience it with my wife (who had been twice before) as well as my brother, sister-in-law, and their two boys (my amazing nephews) made even more so of an enchanting excursion. I rode so many amazing rides (Everest and Haunted Mansion were my favorites) and saw so many cool shows (Lion King, Phantasmic, Star Wars, and my personal favorite I got to star in… Indiana Jones!). The food was amazing, the aura was intoxicating, and the experience was one I’ll never forget.

So why was I disappointed? In a word… Heaven. Heaven is the reason it disappointed me. Now it’s no lie that Disney World was sold to me by those who had been pretty hard. The expectations I had going in were pretty high. It’s fair to say that in many ways, Disney World exceeded my expectations. But through it all, I had this voice inside me that kept seeing the humanity in it all. By that, I suppose I mean that Disney World wasn’t transcendent to what I thought a theme park could be. There’s no doubt it’s the best theme park I have ever been to or likely will ever go to. But it is there that lies in the thought of… this is the best attempt we can make towards a truly magical kingdom. When I compare that in my mind to what I believe and know heaven will be, Disney World falls remarkably short. At Disney

When I compare that in my mind to what I believe and know heaven will be, Disney World falls remarkably short. At Disney World, my feet grew tired from power walking everywhere to see as much as possible in three short days there. There will be a day when those who wait on the Lord will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not become faint. At Disney World, they are ingenious with their methods in getting you to spend even more money while you are at their park. There is a day to come where we will want for nothing. At Disney World, there are still lines, there are still ill-mannered and rude patrons as well as cast members. There are rides that shut down. There are crowds to fight. There are unpleasant weather conditions. There is greed, selfishness, jealousy, arrogance, immorality, etc.

Disney World was a great vacation. It was a great place to visit. But to keep everything in perspective, I still look forward to the perfect place that one day we won’t just be visiting. In that perfect place, we’ll move in for good. And indeed, even now we are (the church) bringing this kingdom to earth. I eagerly welcome His kingdom, the most magical place on earth.

Matthew 25:34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.'”

TheatricAL: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” Non-Spoiler Review


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the most recent installment in the Star Wars cinematic universe. I’d be surprised if you didn’t know that already since you are currently reading this review. However, what has surprised me is just how many casual moviegoers and even fans of Star Wars are confused about what this movie is and what it isn’t. Let me briefly clarify in case you find yourself confused about when this movie takes place in the Star Wars timeline.

This movie is not Episode 8. It is not the sequel to The Force Awakens. We won’t be getting that movie until December of 2017. As opposed to being one of the main saga films of Star Wars, this movie is a spin-off film. That is to say that it is a smaller story outside of the main storyline (but still very much tied to it) that is still made by LucasFilm/Disney. Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, has dubbed Rogue One as a type of “experiment” meaning that Disney is seeing if these type of Star Wars spin-off films will sell tickets. With Rogue One generating a very healthy $155 million its opening weekend (Forbes) and other spin-off films already in the works (i.e. an untitled young Han Solo film and a Boba Fett movie) it’s safe to say we’ll be seeing more Star Wars movies from Disney. Fans are also almost universally clamoring for a Obi-Wan Kenobi film which Disney has been holding off on… possibly due to his involvement with Star Wars Episode 8 and/or 9… but that’s a story for another time.

Now that hopefully we’ve cleared up what Rogue One isn’t, let’s get to talking about what it is! Rogue One is the telling of the story through the eyes of our lead female, Jyn Erso, and a group of rebels that form specifically for the seemingly impossible mission of obtaining the plans to the DeathStar (after discovering its existence) and getting said plans into the hands of the leaders of the Rebellion to set up the events which transpire in Episode 4: A New Hope.


This movie is not your typical Star Wars movie. While you will watch this movie and it will be undoubtedly set in the Star Wars universe, the movie plays out much more like a grounded and gritty war film that it does epic space adventure/opera. For instance, we are very much used to seeing the force being used and seeing Jedis wielding lightsabers in every Star Wars film we’ve seen so far. Not the case in Rogue One. In fact, there are almost no characters who seem to be even “force-sensitive” with the exception of Darth Vader (Who definitely appears in this film which I don’t consider a spoiler since he was in the trailer. More on his appearance later.) and arguably, maybe, sort of one other character. But this film’s identity was very much centered around telling the story of this group of rebels that didn’t have the luxury of using the force to accomplish their mission.

This film did so much to explore more of what the Rebellion really looks like in this universe and how it wasn’t all about good guys versus evil guys. There are definitely shades of gray on both sides. It did so much to show the “war” in Star Wars, the heart-wrenching sacrifices to be made for the cause and the inevitable collateral damage that ensues.

The characters and casting were all just brilliant. Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso, Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor, and even Alan Tudyk’s voicing and motion capture of K-2SO were all on point and captivating. Now there are some characters from A New Hope, I won’t say which, that are CGI’d into the movie. While this type of technology is getting more and more impressive, it did take me out of the movie a bit to realize that these characters were more or less animated. That being said, I’m still thrilled that these familiar characters were in the film.

This brings us to Darth Vader. The usage of Darth Vader (who is still voiced by the unequaled James Earl Jones) in this film was very well done. I was worried that they would use him to little and I’d be frustrated that they just used him to sell more tickets or that they’d use him way too much and detract from the purpose or the flavor of the film. Neither was the case in my opinion. They used him well and left me wanting more… in a good way. I think this movie had the perfect amount of Darth Vader and that it used him in a way that made sense.

Another thing this movie did really well was having well-placed easter eggs and references to the larger Star Wars universe and movies that we know so well. This included having references to the animated Clone Wars and Rebels series which I haven’t gotten into but it’s still neat that it’s there. For the sake of not spoiling anything, I won’t go into what they all are but I will say to keep a sharp eye and ear out for little details looming in this film. I might do a spoiler review later that contains these easter eggs. If you’re anything like me you’ve already googled what they are immediately after seeing the movie.

Things I didn’t like… it was kind of a slow build. While I was so excited to see this movie and ultimately really liked it, it took quite a while for the story to build any momentum. The third act is really where things turn up and everything gets really exciting. But there is a bit of a disappointment in how long it takes to get there.

There were also some things about the way they portrayed the Rebellion that I think actually detracted from how I’ve always thought of them in regards to the original trilogy. I’ve always thought of them as a hanging by a thread, last-ditch kind of organization that was just barely avoiding annihilation by the Empire. In this movie, the Rebellion seemed a little too well put together, if that makes any sense. Their fleet is substantial, endless x-wings at their disposal apparently, and many more groups of peoples seem to be in on the cause. I can’t say much more without getting into spoiler territory but I will say that is one of the things that I thought actually took away from how I’ve always viewed the original Star Wars movies.

Lastly, there is one scene that is super strange and features a pilot being interrogated by this really weird alien… if you’ve seen it you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. But that whole scene was super weird and took me completely out of the movie with how ridiculous it was. It made me think of the Rathtars (big ugly ball and tentacle alien that grabbed Finn on Han and Chewies new ship) from The Force Awakens and how many people didn’t care for that plot device either. This scene in Rogue One was the Rathtar scene from The Force Awakens. Other than that, not a whole lot to complain about.

I’ll end this review by saying if you enjoy Star Wars in the least you’ll definitely like this movie. Some nitpickers don’t love it and I get why (haters). Rogue One ends in such spectacular fashion that I wanted to IMMEDIATELY watch A New Hope again because of how well the ending of this movie ties to Episode 4.

That’s all for now! What did you think of the movie? Let me know what you thought and be careful about posting any potential spoilers at least for a couple weeks until everyone who wants to has had a chance to see it. Thanks for reading!


EducationAL: Ideas for Student Ministry in Public Schools


Just this week I finished an 8-week curriculum with a small group at a local public middle school through a program called TEEN LIFE (formerly Teen Lifeline). I’ll talk more about their curriculum and my experience, but I first want to address the student ministers who happen to come across this blog post. Finding ways to do student ministry well in a public school setting can be difficult. Depending on the policies of your state and the practices of a specific school, it seems student ministers receive a red carpet welcome on certain campuses and jump through flaming hoops just to visit for lunch at another. This aspect of student ministry is one I consider a weakness in my ministry. As such, as I share my experiences of things I’ve tried, please please please comment or reach out to share ways you’ve experienced success in practicing student ministry in a public school setting.

Visiting  Campus

Whether you are just popping in to visit with your students for lunch, showing up for a pep rally, or slipping notes of encouragement in lockers, it’s good to have a presence at the schools of your students. This not only allows you to meet your students’ friends but it also gives you familiarity with some the staff and the halls your students traverse every day. When you do go to visit for lunch, I always like taking some other youth ministers from other local churches with me or at least have a game or two handy in case conversations get stale. Make sure you bring a photo ID anytime you go for a visit and be aware of the school’s policies that protect their students.

School Events

Visiting your students’ games, recitals, performances, and shows is a great way to show your students interest in their extracurricular talents. However, depending on the size of your youth group and the number of schools they attend it can become very time-consuming and expensive. In some districts, they distribute special cards for youth ministers that allow the bearer to get into sports events for free. Always worth asking! Having a calendar in your youth room specifically for your students to share the dates of their events can also encourage your students to attend each others’ events.

Getting Involved

These schools are always looking for volunteers for special events. Getting in contact with your students’ school’s PTA will keep your options open as to where you can help out. Supervising school dances/banquets, helping serve food for the teachers, and helping out at fundraisers are just a few of the ways you can likely volunteer with the PTA.

Do you know your students’ school’s counselors? Expanding your network with the school’s counselor can also open up opportunities to mentor students or even be a standby grief counselor in the event of the death of a student. Networking with teachers, coaches, or any school staff is always a great way to stay informed on opportunities to get plugged in with your students’ schools.

Teen Life is a program that trains student advocates (such as youth ministers) in an 8-week curriculum that focuses on equipping a small group of students. The curriculum illustrates several tools that help students deal with their problems that they encounter on a daily basis. In my case, the counselor at one of our local middle schools reached out to me and other youth ministers who had taken the training and she personally selected the students that made up each small group. The curriculum was very practical and contained several points I plan to use in my student ministry. Of course, the curriculum itself contained no faith-based  elements outside the allowance of a belief in a higher power. Even so, the experience of helping at-risk students that largely had no youth group or church family to turn to was very rewarding.

If you are interested in learning more about the TEEN LIFE program, visit their site at https://www.lifelivedbetter.org/.

That’s all I have to say about that. Please do take some time to comment and let me know what your youth minister did to minister at your school. What are some more ways a youth minister can get involved at public schools?

TheatricAL: Watching vs Analyzing


Watching movies is one of my favorite past times. I consider myself an amateur film fan. I’m just now beginning to grow out of seeing only whatever blockbusters Hollywood advertises the most and starting to seek out critically acclaimed films and even a couple “classics”. The cause for this progression is hardly due to my own maturity (still waiting on that train). Rather, I’d attribute my development from movie watcher to film fan to YouTube. More and more I find myself watching movie reviewing channels on YouTube such as Screen Junkies and Collider Videos. These channels are formatted to be enjoyable and often do focus on blockbusters that are popular at the time. However, in addition to what gets them the most views, they will also inject a bit of knowledge about filming styles, cliche film tropes, and story telling elements.

I knew that many movies told their stories according to a proven and familiar formula that might vary depending on which genre the film is set in, but I feel like I’m learning now how to view movies in regards to their narrative structure. I know I’m not alone in watching a television episode or a summer flick and sometimes being able to call what happens at the end of the story. It is within this developed form of movie watching that I begin to see a problem. I find myself asking if it is better to completely turn my brain off and let the movie take me through its twists and turns so that I don’t know what will happen next or is it more enjoyable to dissect the story the director is telling and try to understand where the story arch of the antagonist or protagonist is heading? Mindlessly let the movie wash over me while shoving popcorn in my face or engage my brain and come to a fuller understanding of the film’s structure?

On the one hand, the whole reason I enjoy movies is because it is a type of temporary escape from reality. It is undoubtedly enjoyable to lose one’s self in a cinematic experience, in a world that would seem impossible to experience save this window on the screen that allows us to peer into it for even just a moment. Getting lost in the story is part of the entertainment value. However, it is also satisfying to perceive a director’s use of foreshadowing and underlying storylines to fully appreciate the film’s narrative. Maybe it just depends on which movie I happen to be watching. I don’t think there’s any dissecting necessary for the next Marvel movie but if I just mindlessly enjoy a more cerebral film I’ll miss out. When it comes down to it… I enjoy the analysis and dissecting of a film. Call it pretentious (I am writing a blog after all), but I prefer knowing that I fully understand and appreciate the full meaning and workings of a film.

When it comes down to it… I enjoy the analysis and dissecting of a film. Call it pretentious (I am writing a blog after all), but I prefer knowing that I fully understand and appreciate the full meaning and workings of a film. It is so satisfying to perceive fully what the director is trying to show the audience. Some of the best movies are those I have to think on after I exit the theater and take awhile to process. When I first saw Inception, I was in the parking lot of the theater for a good half hour discussing the ending with my friends. Now the mindless blockbuster type films still have their place. I knew Independence Day: Resurgence was reportedly a terrible movie but I wanted to see it anyway. However, if I had to choose between simply watching a movie vs analyzing a movie, I’ll choose the latter.

In any case, I’d like to make the case that when it comes to reading the Bible we tend to fall into one these two categories. We sit in the pew or classroom and choose to take in what is taught with two different perspectives. Maybe we mindlessly let an Old Testament story about a world-ending flood wash over us without considering what truths this story communicates or how it foreshadows the cleansing symbolism of the New Testament baptism. My point is that as a Christian matures in their faith, it is their duty to intellectually engage with scripture and study it. Protests of varying degrees of giftedness in Biblical studies are somewhat justified but largely over-used excuses. God gave us one book. It is meant to be enjoyed. It is also meant to challenge us. If you feel scripture is anything but challenging, I would recommend a closer analysis. Let us all aspire to be better Bible scholars and prepared to give a reason for our faith.

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” -2 Timothy 4:2 

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” 1 Peter 3:15


MinisteriAL: Top 10 “Must Haves” for the Youth Minister Office

Looking around my office I’ve realized that I’ve started to add some items through the years that have helped me in my ministry. More than just Star Wars posters and superhero bobble heads, there are actually quite a few things that I’d recommend to anyone in ministry. Below are a few items I’d personally recommend and a couple I’ve heard from other youth ministers. Feel free to comment with any items we might have missed!to-do

  1. White Board: This one might seem obvious but I have only recently added a white board to my office wall and I use it almost every day. It is a perfect creative space for writing things to remember and to brainstorm ideas. I even write prayer requests on it to make sure I remember to pray for and follow up on my students’ prayer requests. But what I use it most often for is writing my daily and weekly “To-Do” lists. It helps me divide up my day into compartmentalized sections and keeps me on task since it stares at me on the wall all day. This is a very useful tool for my ministry.img_4724
  2. Calendar: While I get great use out of the calendar on my phone and a monthly desk calendar, I have come to love the year-at-a-glance calendars. The one I currently use is from NeuYear.com and it really helps me to keep in mind big events that are still months away. Having next year’s summer camp in mind when choosing curriculum for next quarter is the mark of a planning aficionado! (I’ve never used that word in my life)                                               thank-you
  3. Thank You Cards: Ephesians 4:29 was always a verse my youth minister drilled into our heads when I was younger and I continue to grow in appreciation for the importance of giving encouragement. If someone has contributed to your ministry in any way, if someone has blessed you or your family personally, if you’ve witnessed someone going the extra mile in service to someone, write them a Thank You Card right now. Whenever I text someone instead of writing them a card for something big they’ve done it feels cheap. Even catching them in the pews at church can feel forced due to time constraints and general awkwardness of which I can proudly boast. Writing a note is a great way to make it personal. Let them know it was important enough to you to stop and recognize what they did. Plus, a bonus is that it’s something they can hang on to and save if they feel they may need to be reminded and encouraged later on. I personally keep a file in my desk titled “encouragement” that has nothing else but notes of thanks and encouragement because I know I need those reminders when I go through tough times in ministry.candle
  4. Scented Candle: This one might seem silly to some people but I’m a big believer in creating a pleasant atmosphere in any area you do ministry. Whether it’s background music in the youth room, a clean classroom, or an office that smells good, it’s important to make these places of ministry a place people feel comfortable. I fully confess to hypocrisy on this issue in that my desk is rarely organized and that does stress some people out. I still believe that everything from your seating to your lighting in your office can have a positive or negative effect on those who visit it.laptop
  5. Standing Desk: I recently purchased from Amazon a reasonably priced laptop platform that allows me to stand while I use my laptop. This helps me cut down on my sitting time, gets me to burn more calories, and often givse me more focus and energy. While they do sell entire standing desks or desktops, this $30 substitute has been a practical compromise.phones
  6. Bluetooth Speaker/Headphones: Rarely a day goes by that I work in my office and don’t listen to music, a podcast, or even the Bible. Most laptop speakers offer the bare minimum when it comes to sound quality. I have found that for the purposes of a fuller and more immersive listening experience, which in turn helps me focus and distract me from becoming distracted, a quality bluetooth speaker and/or headphones (depending how thin your walls may be) are a worthwhile investment. img_4728
  7. Spiritual Mementos: This is probably another no-brainer for most ministers but this list would simply be incomplete without it. It is imperative to have tokens that serve as spiritual reminders pinned to your wall, displayed on your shelf, or kept on your desk. Each of these items should represent a spiritually significant point in your life or a Biblical truth that has bearing on your personal relationship with Jesus and your ministry. In my office, I proudly display a picture of one of my best friends from my youth group days and I praying together to remind myself the importance of accountability and brotherhood. I have a picture of my wife and family nearby that reminds me where I came from and who I am accountable for. I also have pictures and items from mission trips, camps, and events that hold spiritual significance on their own. Something else I got from my youth minister was to keep pictures of graduated seniors on my wall. I love this because it reminds me to pray for them, check in on them, and it gives me perspective for how I should be preparing my current students for life post youth group. Meaningful quotes, scriptures, purpose statements and commitments are also placed strategically where I can see them everyday.                                          bookshelf (not my book shelf)
  8. Shelf Space: Having a book shelf in an office of any kind may seem pretty standard but I’ve come to view them as indispensable. Being someone who struggles to hold still and read consistently it helps me to have shelf space that is specifically designated for books I’ve actually read or need to read, for curricula I want to teach, and for resources that I need to utilize. Empty shelf space challenges me to read more and be more purposeful in how I continue to educate myself and my students. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have a place to put a bobble head or two. commentary
  9. Bible Commentaries and Dictionaries: Speaking of shelf space, no minister should be without a reliable commentary or dictionary they can turn to when preparing lessons and sermons. James 3:1 is no joke and it’s always good to have a trusty commentary nearby, even if its for a quick glance to make sure I’m on point when teaching from a specific scripture. A quality Bible commentary or dictionary can be pricey but are worth it especially if you commit to using them.img_4725
  10. Personality Tokens: I almost didn’t  add this one to the list, but I’m going to anyway because I do think it can be very important. First of all, no, your office should not equate to your personal man cave where you store all your toys and decorations your spouse doesn’t let you show off at home. Secondly, professionalism is important, even in youth ministry and your elders and ministry staff will appreciate your understanding of that fact.  That being said, I believe having these tokens displayed in your office can have some profoundly positive effects. The decor in your office communicates many things to those who visit it and for the minister that inhabits it. Personality tokens can add an element of comfort and confidence in one’s identity. I always like to remind myself that my identity in Christ is of utmost importance but that Christ didn’t call to ministry the version of Alan who only reads scripture and fills his hours with prayer and meditation. Christ called the version of Alan who also likes to talk about movies, spend time outside with students playing ultimate or disc golf, eat pizza and go on adventures with his wife, and who embraces the gifts God’s given him. I love it when a student comes in my office who points out an action figure or a movie poster and we spend 10 minutes connecting over that topic before we move on to a more spiritual one.

Honorable Mentions:

Kleenex, Bottles of water, snacks, a mini fridge, computer, extra bibles to give away, comfortable chairs, a change of clothes, deck of cards or board games, coffee, frisbee, exercise mat, and lock box.

Don’t forget to comment if you think of one I missed and thanks for reading!

SpirituAL: Path of Least Resistance


This past Saturday I had the privilege of participating in a bike ride titled the “Paluxy Pedal” in Glen Rose, TX. I went with a group of three friends and we all agreed on riding one of the shorter routes, the 29 mile ride. For some, 29 miles may seem like a foreboding distance, but in the world of cycling this is truly an amateur attempt. However, it remained plenty challenging for someone of my athletic ability (inability/disability). The temperatures on this particular October morning started out in the chilly upper 50’s but soon warmed to a pleasant lower 70’s. The scenery of the Texas hills and Brazos river were quite wonderful to take in on the downhills and completely ignored on the more challenging uphills.

Though I’ve only been riding for about a year, it quickly became evident to me that the name of the game in cycling is endurance and efficiency. Obviously, conditioning your body’s muscles and cardiovascular system  to work continuously for hours at a time is an ordeal in and of itself. It is an ordeal that remains true to most any race or testing of physical ability. Indeed, in our faith it is quite apparent that endurance is paramount in overcoming the hills that we ride down and over. It’s the efficiency that i find does not translate as well to my faith. Let me explain what I mean.

In cycling, a good bike is the more efficient bike. Cyclist will get clip in pedals so that their leg muscles can work more efficiently with a push and pull motion. They will spend sometimes thousands of dollars to get the lightest and most aerodynamic equipment. Road bike tires are quite thin in comparison to mountain or cruiser bike tires to reduce friction between the rubber and the road. Uncomfortably tight clothing is worn just for the sake of decreasing air drag. There are countless and very meticulous measurements made to ensure the most efficient seat positioning, frame size, handlebar length, wheel diameters, crank positioning, gearing, etc. All this seems almost overly OCD… that is until you start cycling uphill and for long distances. Suddenly, every bit of measuring and maximizing of efficiency becomes worth it.

In reading Hebrews, the author tells us in chapter 12 how we should maximize our efficiency in our journey of faith.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” -Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV

It is so obvious to me that while I’m riding my bicycle on a long ride like I did last Saturday, I don’t allow a brake that’s sticking to my wheel to go without adjustment. I don’t allow a tire with low pressure to go without proper inflation. I unburden myself of any items that will weigh me down unnecessarily. To ride well and reach the finish line with maximum efficiency, I have to throw off anything that hinders or entangles my performance. How can that be so clear in riding my bike but become so lost on me in my faith journey?

The only race that truly matters is the one we are all in at this very moment. Life comes with many hindrances and hills. Entanglements that hamper efficiency are around every corner. Sometimes we are riding on the downhill and a low tire or a sticking brake may not seem like a big deal. But the moment you start to climb that hill, you’ll wish you stopped to fix it. It is worth the discomfort of giving up something that makes us feel comfortable if it in any way interferes with our efficiency of following Christ. Not only does this ensure maximum performance, it actually allows you to enjoy the ride that much more.

Let me also clarify, I realize that there are hills in life that are unavoidable. I’m not advocating we go to Kansas and find the flattest race we can. Surely there are things we can not change that will challenge our faith. What we do need to realize is that there are many things within our power to change. Sin is like someone offering me a more comfortable bike seat or clothing that may feel better temporarily but ultimately hinder me in the race. Too often we buy in to the lies sin sells us and we willingly strap these parachutes that drag behind us and slow our pace.

Therefore, let us throw off the Netflix series that hinders and the negative thoughts that entangle. Whether it is guilt, pornography, swearing, gossip, over-eating, dishonesty, or whatever sin is  trying to remain hidden in your life and make you more comfortable, let us go to war with that sin and drive it from our lives. We are better off without it. We are committed to the race! We are committed to fixing our eyes on the author and perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ!