The Life of JaWS

A blog by Jason Sansbury

Monday, July 31, 2006

Church Politics...

So as I am getting ready to move all my belongings to Nashville, it has been interesting watching the news, getting the Vince Young update (on Saturday (?) he leveled a defensive lineman who picked off a pass.) and getting adjusted to the area. At the top of the news this weekend was this story, which is summarized nicely by the Tennessean. Essentially the founding pastor of a local mega-church was dismissed by the elders of the congregation.

A couple thoughts come to mind as I have listened and read about the story. These thoughts are general ones and by no means are necessarily reflective of the local situation specifically.

  1. Pastors need real, honest, sincere accountability. And I say that as someone who is a minister, though not ordained in my denomination. People in ministry tend to succeed based on their drive and determination. Unfortunately, sometimes that drive and determination also can cause lots of problems. What anyone in ministry really needs is someone to challenge them, to question them and ground them. But it has to be something that the minister will invest in personally and it can’t be forced on it.
  1. Pastors should never, ever have complete control. I have been reading a lot of church planting material and blogs and theme that runs its course is that pastors should be the alpha dog, make all the decisions and never relinquish control. The problem with that approach is that pastors fail. And I don’t mean massive moral failure or economic failure. I mean, in general, pastors make mistakes. And we ought to own up to them.

If the truth of the Gospel is that we are seeking to build growing, life-changing communities of faith, then Christ is the head of the body. If we want to have large mega-churches, then you need an Alpha-type that is driven. (And, no, the two aren’t diametric opposites. Some people have managed to do both.) But there is something to the notion of the church as a whole seeking the wisdom and counsel of God.

  1. Congregations need to be wise in choosing leadership. As a United Methodist, it is a rare thing that we ever have a church split. (Though, prognosticators think the whole denomination may split in the next 20 years or so…) Part of why that is true is that the UMC is a laity-driven church if done right. The strength of the church is that its mission and ownership lies in the hands of the people who are most invested. As Methodists, pastors in our denomination change churches every summer. Some pastors stay 12 years in one church, some 2 or 3. Regardless, we are all aware of a time that a pastor will move on. And because of that fact, the church should take ownership much more over its mission, its ministry and its call. Pastors are engaged and involved but they will move on. And there is immense wisdom in that idea, as it stops the very kind of church split that seems imminent for this Nashville congregation.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Busy Sunday...

Okay, after yesterday's "Bored out of my mind, I don't know what to do" Saturday, today was jammed packed.

First I woke up early to do my morning walk. (Yes, since moving I have started a morning walk. Don't make a big deal out of it.) And today was especially early because I wanted to attend the quarterly Men's Fellowship at Bethlehem. And I walked out without a key to my hotel, which when you are staying at an Extended Stay motel is a big, big deal because they don't have 24 hour staff. Thankfully I realized it right away and in the dark and cover of mist, I changed into the clothes I had in my car and went to church. After that, the office opened (8 AM) and I got back into my room, showered and then went back to church.

After church at 2 PM, some dads and kids came to help me do clean-up in the youth spaces. When your marker boxes have empty juice boxes in them, it is time to do clean-up. So we straightened, cleaned, discovered that the ping-pong table, air hockey and foosball tables are all in working condition. (Some of the kids are about to be 8th graders and can't remember a time when anyone played on those tables.) So tomorrow we go get the stuff we need to make them work.

After that, it turned out that a family in the church needed some yard work, so we all partnered up and did that. As usual, I was worthless (hence the need for the morning walks) but I did get to spend time talking to the mom of the family, which is in my wheelhouse. I love spending time with people and hearing their story and encouraging them. So now I am covered in grass, tired and headed back to the hotel for a cold shower and sleep. A pretty good Sunday, though I really, really miss kicking it on Sunday nights at youth group. August 20th can't get here soon enough...because then IT begins....

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Lazy Saturday....

Okay, it is definitely official...weekends stink when you are new to an area and don't know many people. And I am definitely ready to be done with living in a hotel. I am supposed to be able to pick up keys to my new apartment on Wednesday morning. I found a great, spacious apartment north of where I work in the Bellevue area of Nashville. It puts me about 10 minutes from work and 10 minutes from downtown Nashville. I have been living at a hotel in a different area but I am looking forward to getting out and exploring some once I get moved next weekend.

Tonight there was a movie night scheduled. So I went and rented Goonies on VHS and 8 Below on DVD. It should be a great way to just hang out and get to know kids.

This week's to do list:
1. Get a laptop and monitor ordered. (Hopefully.)
2. Register for the Catalyst Conference. I went last year and I was bummed that I wasn't going to be able to attend this year. But it looks like the honeymoon period means that I can go to some conferences this year. (Thinking about Youth Specialties in Charlotte at the end of November and beginning of December.)
3. Get my Netflix account turned back on.
4. Head to Newnan, get all my stuff in a truck, come back to Nashville and unload.
5. Get all my mail, etc. moved to the new address.
6. Take some pictures of my new digs, both home and office and email them out to people.
7. Start memorizing student's names and faces.
8. Get the new youth website up and running.
9. Write some overdue thank you notes to Newnan people.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Starting out...

So this week has been a flurry of meetings, lunches and planning. Here is what has happened so far...

Monday- Got to know the staff a little bit, worked on some general information stuff and all. Plus spend the better part of the afternoon apartment hunting.

Tuesday- Had a great staff meeting. On Monday, I was given a copy of Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton's book Now, Discover Your Strengths and on Tuesday at staff we all talked about what our strengths were and how we work together well. It was pretty amazing to have this conversation initially. I have never been involved with a church that was so practical and direct. Most the staff has been here a long time and they have a great sense of working together.

Wednesday- Hammered on the long term schedule. Got some stuff planned and in the works.

Today- I went and, hopefully, found a great apartment. Holding my breath on the credit check front. I should be okay but when one isn't planning to be paycheck-less for 2+ months, it can create strains. Great size and close to the church. Should be an answer to a lot of people's prayers. I know that I am excited not to have to live in a hotel too much longer.

But, here is mainly what I wanted to post about as I started out. I started my Matthew 9:38 list. Here is what Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 9:
"Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."
Starting out, I see a harvest field. It is ripe and I know that I am not going to be able to do everything alone. So I need workers. Years ago when I started out in ministry, Les Comee, a Young Life guru, taught me to start a Matthew 9:39 list and pray for those folks on it, that God would lead them to become workers. Even now, as I don't know people very well, I am adding folks to my list and praying that God will put them in the fields with me.
The harvest is coming...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Vince Young, Lendale White and...JASON SANSBURY?

Well, I am pleased to announce that like Mr. Young and Mr. White, I will be re-locating to the lovely area of Nashville, TN. In fact, I will soon be moving my stuff but I have already started at my new job. And, no, it isn't playing defensive lineman for the mighty Tennessee Titans.

I am proud to say that after much prayer, preparation and thinking on the part of the church and myself, I am the new director of youth ministries for Bethlehem United Methodist Church in Franklin, TN. It is going to be a wonderful partnership and ministry that I think will last long into the future. While my signing bonus will be significantly less than Vince's and Lendale's, the fulfillment of knowing you are in the right place at the right time will be fantastic.

Here are some of the reasons that I chose Bethlehem over some other offers.
1. The work that they have done with Youth Ministry Architects has been outstanding in preparing them for the years to come.
2. The commitment that the search team had in trying to find an experienced person with a lifelong call to work with teenagers. That most definitely fits me and I am excited about being here for a long, long time.
3. The church itself is a very good church with an excellent sense of balance. It is working hard to do many things well and I am excited to be the leader that helps them bring youth ministry up to the level of excellence that some of the other ministries has.
4. The staff is very strong. Many have served here for many years and they are comfortable with each other and their gifts.
5. I never got the sense that the church, the search committee or anyone else was comparing itself to another church. They want to be faithful to who they are and how God is using them. That is unbelievably attractive given where I was.

So thanks to everyone who offered prayers and wishes. I am excited to be here, to delve into a new conference and see what God has in store for me and the folks who will be partnering with me in ministry!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I don't need these links anymore...

If you are a United Methodist youth minister/director/pastor and are looking for a new job, the following links may be helpful for you:
Youth Specialties Job Bank (Lists the last 7 days new listings)
North Georgia Conference Youth and Children Ministry openings
South Georgia Conference Youth and Children Ministry openings
Western North Carolina Conference Job Openings
United Methodist Church national job openings for youth and young adult
Global Board of Discipleship youth openings
Good graces and may you land at a place where you can use your gifts in the way that God has made you!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign...

How is that for you? A little old school Tesla lyric for an opening...

Well, I seem to be slowly but surely being lead to one particular church in one particular area. I have spent some time with them twice and while they and I would have some hills to climb, it seems like a good fit. Since I last visited with them, I have twice done interviews at other places and had a sense of "This wouldn't be as good as ." So, why I still await for God to knock on the door and hand deliver a clear plan, it would seem like a leap of faith would be called for.

Here are some reasons that I like where I think I am going:
1. They have done the hard work of discovering where they are broken and working towards fixing what has been a perpetually bad situation for their church. They understand it is going to take some time and that the move they are about to make is a move into the big leagues. And kudos to Youth Ministry Architects for helping them with this process.
2. The church staff seems very solid and are spiritually minded from the time I have spent with them. Such a place to serve and grow was/is big time on my list.
3. The process of evaluation and expectations is established, clear and I have some input into it.
4. They have a great group of core kids, who want to be led and loved. It is a weird mix but every youth group I have served is a weird mix.
5. They love me for me. There isn't any talk of changing me into something I am not. They want me to real, genuine, authentic and myself.
6. In addition to making a major upgrade in staffing, they are hard at work to improve facilities for youth ministry. This is huge.

Some things that I didn't like at some churches that I interviewed with:
1. The bait and switch. One church clearly advertised and sold itself as something that it is most definitely not. And it is really irritating. When "lots of great adults already involved" becomes "the youth minister and some high school kids ran junior high youth with 60 kids" there is some honesty missing from the equation.

2. The "we need to reach the athletes" approach to youth ministry. Basically, I interviewed at a church that said it really, really needed to compete with the Baptist church down the street who has all the athletes. And this approach really, really irritates the hell out of me because it basically means that kids aren't equal. This area has a high school with over 1500 students and less than a hundred of those kids play football, which is the largest sport. The other 1400+ kids aren't good enough for us to reach? They really matter less than the others? The day of reaching a small subset of kids and using that to reach all the rest is over. Kids think, move and live in tribes and all the tribes are equal. The skater kids will avoid your church if for no reason other than you reach all the football players. (Recent addition to the the Senior Pastor's Reading List: A Tribe Apart by Patricia Hersch.)

3. Supportive parents who want to do anything other than really engage. Look, great youth ministry needs people behind the scenes, managing details and working hard at the "stuff" that has to happen to make youth groups work. But it needs far more people who are willing to really engage in the life of the students. If your youth ministry has just one youth shepherd, your youth group will be small, it will be less effective, it will have fewer students involved and you will burn out your youth pastor in less than 2 years. Teams are what make great youth ministries work; individual lone ranger youth workers have decent youth groups. Notice the difference...

4. Don't have the expectation that I am not interviewing at other places. I understand that each church thinks that it has a great position at a great place to serve. But, I also think that not everyone that interviews at those positions is the best person or fit for those churches. And if I wasn't working on two solid months without a paycheck, then maybe you can make an argument for me coming to your place, seeing if it is a good fit, taking the time to do the homework and, if it isn't a good fit, then moving on. However, I don't have that luxury thanks to the manner in which I was asked to resign from my last church! I need a job and while there are some flaws with my "Take all interviews" approach, it has helped some churches clarify what they want and it has helped me clarify the kind of place I am looking for.

I hate moving. But a move to a new conference (where I won't be blackballed because of my involvement with the previous youth ministry regime), a new church (that I think I can serve for a long, long time) and a new area may be something that is happening in me and God is calling me to.

Thanks to all you who have prayed.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Superman Returns: a review

Well, I drug my mom out to see the new release of "Superman Returns."
First, some backstory...
I am a comic book guy. At an early age, when I have no idea how I funded my habit, I loved comics. I really loved the story, it made me a better reader and really a better storyteller. I was definitely more of a Marvel guy (think X-Men), than a DC guy and Supes is a DC character. (Having lived with my brother for the last six weeks, we have bored the crap out of my sister-in-law with having debates about who we would put on our new superhero dream team. Yes, I am that big a nerd and my web swallows up my bro.)

So, I never was a great Superman fan. Too powerful, too weird, odd and the whole costume thing bugs the heck out of me. But...I love a good storyteller as much as anyone and I thought the story was well done. It needed some editing but I think some of that was the desire to pay homage to the Christopher Reeves era movies. (Flying around with Lois comes to mind.)

I wasn't a huge fan of the Superboy gimmick, mainly because it can turn into a terrifying idea- Home Alone with Superpowers. And Hollywood execs are complete morons, so don't think that someone isn't making that exact pitch right now. I would have preferred that it be left more ambiguous in the end than it was.

Definitely some Joseph Campbell Hero Story/Myth and Christ imagery going on. A bit heavy handed at times but well done.

Worth going to check out. Tomorrow, no matter what, I am going to see Nacho Libre, which I still haven't been able to check out yet.

And now...your Atlanta Hawks...

Okay, I haven't talked about our Atlanta Hawks in quite awhile. So here are some thoughts:
1. I hate Billy Knight as our GM. He is arrogant, unfriendly to the media and, in general, a dork. He does absolutely nothing to help our franchise in terms of media relations and I suspect that he is sabotaging the franchise so when Steve Belkin arrives and takes over, it will be in worse shambles.
2. We finally got a point guard. Speedy Claxton isn't Chris Paul, but he is an upgrade for us at the point and should be able to help us out some. I still wish we could have gotten Sam Cassell, as he is a freaking man-beast of a player, even as old as he is.
3. Al Harrington is on the way out. You can say what you want about Al but he played hard last year in a year when he was asked to play out of position. He made the most of it. I hope that we can work a sign and trade with another team to get us some front court help.
4. Shelden Williams. Eehh. I mean, I personally don't think he will be great, as he is undersized. But he had a great career at Duke and hopefully can contribute right away. I do think he ought to get minutes.

So what does the roster look like for next year:
PG- Speedy Claxton
SG- Joe Johnson
SF- Josh Smith
PF- Marvin Williams
C- Zaza Pachulia

Back ups:
PG- Royal Ivey, Salim Stoudamire and Tyronne Lue
SG- Josh Childress
SF- Josh Childress
PF- Shelden Williams

What I would do:
1. Say thanks for the memories to Tyronne Lue. We need to get younger and faster and Salim Stoudamire needs minutes for us to decide if he is a good back-up.
2. Spend some money to bring Matt Harpring to Atlanta. He is a solid shooter, became a tough as nails defender in Utah and he is a local Atlanta guy.
3. Look for some bargain free agent veterans. We need experience and need some great bench role players.

A thing I don't get...

So, having been without a job for nearly 2 months now, I have been doing a lot of interviews. In fact, give me a second...
I have done a dozen interviews now. And in the midst of the interview or the hanging out time, people will ask something to this effect: "Are you interviewing at other churches as well?"
So, I answer them honestly: "Yes, I am looking for the best church to serve and I don't have a job, so I am looking to wherever God may lead me."

And sometimes that answer puts people off, which I don't understand. I can honestly say I have not nor will I play one church off another to get a higher salary or better benefits or anything like that. I have focused on asking good questions, getting good answers, providing good answers and basically trying to determine the answer to this statement: "Is God calling me to this place to minister with these people?" But the simple fact that I am interviewing at other places has clearly put some people off. I just don't understand it.

Imagine what would happen if I asked someone if they would close off all interviews except for me. Doesn't make a lot of sense. In fact, in one case, I specifically asked a church to make sure they interviewed other people before they offered me the job. And I did that basically to make sure that if I was the person they wanted that they were sure and we wouldn't wind up with "Buyer's Remorse" down the road. You know..."Man, we really should have interviewed more people before we hired Jason."

And since I am ranting, put your best foot forward if you are interviewing someone and making an offer. I am pretty sure that one church just lowballed me because they thought that because they were closer to my family that I would take a significant pay cut. (Several thousand dollars a year.) Much to their surprise, that wasn't the case. Do as well as you can by the people you want to hire and to make a part of your church's staff. Don't put people in the position where they feel like they have to pull teeth to get your best offer. It isn't fair to them and it certainly is a bad place to start a ministerial and support connection. Hiring someone isn't the place to go all nickel and dime on someone.

All of that to say: I am still praying. One great church has made a significant offer. I have to let them know during the week. Several more interviews loom on the surface. Regardless, if you can, say some prayers that God would lead me to a place where I can do the best that I can at the place He calls me to. Thanks...