Artist Kobra Tupac Mural Maimi

Choppin’ It Up

May 8, 2017 | Andrew Mann | Ministry

If you let a person talk long enough, you’ll hear their true intentions! Listen twice, speak once.Tupac Shakur

The burger was good—a flat patty with crispy edges, crunchy lettuce, a glistening tomato, sriracha aioli, all between two sides of a toasted, buttery bun. Neither this meal nor the company sitting across the table were planned at the start of my day.

The young man, who in conversation disclosed he was now twenty-two years old, had texted me earlier that afternoon. He remembered we had met when he was twelve. He came to a basketball camp. Since then we’ve had many fist bumps and hugs as we pass on the street. He’s never been in our building, never been to church. He’s a rapper. Most young men in our neighborhood are or at least aspire to be. However, he actually is. He’s performed at the Apollo, has tens of thousands of followers on social media, and is excited about signing a deal with a prominent record company. His music reflects his experience in life, an experience very different than mine.

Yet there we sat—talking, listening, or in his words, “choppin’ it up.” Perhaps as you get closer to the end of this paragraph you’re expecting to find a point, a moral, a conclusion. No, it’s not here, just as I don’t have a conclusion to the end of my story. When we got back to the block, we parted ways with another fist bump and a hug. I’m not sure the point of it all, but I look forward to more opportunities to chop it up.

Artist John Feknew Growth and Decay

Innovation

May 1, 2017 | Andrew Mann | Faith

Programs don’t change people; people change people.

Speaking at a TED Conference in 1998, Billy Graham pointed out, “There are many problems that technology hasn’t solved”. He described the following:

1. Human evil—Why do racism, injustice, and violence sweep our world bringing a tragic harvest of heartache and death?

2. Human suffering—We have families that self-destruct, friends that betray us, and unbearable psychological pressures that bear down on us.

3. Death—One thing we have in common . . . all of us. . . . We are all going to die.

In the twenty years since Billy Graham shared these words, a lot of new programs, technology, and research have attempted to understand or rectify these problems, yet they persist. Then again, the Bible says, God didn’t send a program to help us; He sent a person.

Jesus offered solutions to all three of these problems. He lived a life that was truly innovative—like none before and none since. Ultimately, the most impacting innovation wasn’t His life or His death. It was His resurrection. He, Jesus, is alive, and promised to be with us always through His life-giving Spirit. His Spirit teaches us to love even those who hurt us . . . to be patient . . . to be gentle . . . to control ourselves . . . to relax . . . to use kind words . . . to forgive. Now that’s innovation!

Seems to me when I learn what He’s teaching, there will be a lot less evil, suffering, and death in my world.

Artist JR through a mother's eyes in the bronx.

Raising the Bar

April 24, 2017 | Josh Johnson | Ministry

“We know how to be teenagers. We want [the church] to show us how to be adults.” Kristin, aged 17, from Raising the Bar: Ministry to Youth in the New Millennium by Alvin Reid

Our students today are constantly fighting to find a place they can gain a feeling of self-worth. No one likes to feel useless or unproductive. It often becomes easy to judge people we see in struggles and think their circumstances are strictly their fault. But far too often the students that walk through our doors have done nothing to choose the life they live. These students are a product of neglect, brokenness, and purposelessness. Students come to your ministry for this need; they want to feel relevant.

How do we make students feel relevant?

Far too often our world has watered down its expectation of young people. We chalk up every mistake, every question, and every small triumph as adolescence. Dr. Alvin Reid discusses this issue in his book Raising the Bar: Ministry to Youth in the New Millennium. In chapter 4, titled “Truth or Consequences,” he covers how the Bible treats the myth of adolescence. This idea is upside down from what the world expects: kids will be kids . . .well into their twenties! God expects our young people to be the church of today. This can only be done when we stop treating youth as children. When we read God’s Word, it addresses two groups: children and adults. There are no tweens, teens, or even youth groups with cleverly named programs. Instead we see in Scripture . . .

“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things.” 1 Corinthians 13:11 HCSB

“Let no one despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12 HCSB

Healthy youth ministry must include some form of expectation followed by accountability to meet those expectations.

Take a moment and honestly think of the youth ministry you were, are, or need to be a part of today. What can you do to change the thinking of how our youth are equipped for the kingdom? Will you equip our young adults for His kingdom?

Josh Johnson is the youth director at Graffiti 2 Community Ministries in the South Bronx of New York City.

Artist Seth Globepainter two kids running into each other

If You Start Fast, You End Up Slow…

April 17, 2017 | Taylor Field | Upside Down

And if you start slow, you end up fast. This isn’t always true, but it sometimes is. I’ve been encouraging some young adults in ministry this week. Numbers are strange things. They can encourage us when actually things aren’t going well, and they can discourage us when things really are going well.

It doesn’t seem like much was happening for Jesus when he was 22 years old, or 25, or even 29 years old. If he was tempted in all the ways we are, I wonder if he ever had times when he felt as though he was on the slow track and all his friends seemed as though they were on the fast track. Here he was, still lugging lumber around and setting masonry in a small village, and he wasn’t getting any younger.

Oh well, I’ve seen ministries that touched thousands in the beginning, but not many results came from them after a short while. I’ve also seen hidden ministries that worked with very few, and later, sometimes a lot later, what was done just took off beyond anyone’s imagination. It’s just the way things are sometimes.

Artist Icy & Sot boy using legos to rebuild broken building

Thriving in Ministry with Your Kids

April 17, 2017 | Kerri Johnson | Ministry

Once you can relax and love God and let him love you, you may find that some of your Christian activity is not of God. Susan Field from My Children, My Mission Field: A Family’s Place in God’s Plan to Change the World

As you look on the precious faces of your children, visualize them walking the path God has laid out for them. Remind yourself of how much your own love for them mirrors the love of God for them and the love of God for you.

Raising children while serving in ministry can be hard. The juggling act is never ending.  Just remember you only have your children for a short time. They grow up fast. You don’t want them having feelings of competing with ministry for your attention. They are your ministry first. Teach them about God’s love. Show them how to serve others. Lead by example with rest and family time.

Always put God first, your spouse and your children second (in that order), then your church/ministry.

“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. . . . As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15 NIV

Kerri Johnson is the Graffiti 2 Works director at Graffiti 2 Community Ministries in the South Bronx of New York City.

tools mural painted by artist John Edwards.

More Serious Than a Hole in the Wall

April 10, 2017 | Andrew Mann | Ministry

If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail. Abraham Maslow

One time I tried to install shelves in the kitchen of my small New York City apartment. I had a hammer, screwdriver, and little experience. It didn’t go well. For months, every time I washed dishes, the oversized holes in my wall were evidence I didn’t know what I was doing. Some time later, a friend who knew what he was doing came and completed the job. He had the right tools and the right expertise.

In ministry we are faced with problems more serious than a hole in the wall. We are faced with the problems of humanity. Not their problems—our problems. Every day I need food, sleep, water, and shelter. But that’s not all. I also need security, acceptance, confidence, and purpose. Jesus addressed these problems in multiple ways. He told stories, made friends, healed, and fed. He spoke bluntly, gently, subversively, and compassionately. Humanity’s problems were uniquely addressed as Jesus met people’s needs, set them free from sin, and taught Upside Down Principles for living God’s way. Then He sent us, His followers, to do the same.

Photo: Steve Hood

Egyptian street art people puppets

Convinced

April 3, 2017 | Andrew Mann | Church

Every sale has five basic obstacles: no need, no money, no hurry, no desire, no trust. Zig Ziglar

Recently I considered joining a new gym. It was about a fifteen minute drive from my apartment. On my first arrival they directed me to a salesman. His spiel didn’t convince me; frankly, I loath sales tactics that prey on the most base aspects of human tendencies. Also, I considered the cost too high. I walked away.

On further research I found a free, five-day trial for the same gym so I went back. I tried Zumba . . .not for me! The spinning class though was right up my alley. I haven’t joined yet because honestly I’m slow to join any group. However, I probably will join that gym sometime soon. The cost doesn’t seem so high anymore, and I’m beginning to believe they have something meaningful to offer me. It wasn’t their words that convinced me; it was the service they gave me for free.