Missions Trips

Posted on: 03/31/09 1:00 PM | by Jonathan McKee

Spring break varies in date around the country. For most of us out here in California it’s the week before Easter (once called “Easter Break”… in the great days of old).

For many of us in youth ministry, Spring Break means missions trips, a growing trend. My three kids are all going to missions trips around Spring Break this year.

My 11 year old, Ashley, went on her missions trip last Saturday. All the 6th graders went to downtown Sacramento where they served food to homeless people at the Sacramento food bank. Ashley said that the homeless people were very polite and said nice things like, “Your smile brightens up my day.” She saw a guy wearing a “Chelsea” shirt and ended up talking soccer with him for quite a long time. (How many 11-year-old Americans do you know that can name a bunch of Chelsea’s starting players?)  🙂

From there they went to the grocery store. They were divided into groups of three kids and were given 15 dollars to try to buy food for four: the three in the group and one other person. They then set out to find a person to give the third meal to.

They finished the day by walking around the city and praying for Sacramento. It was a great experience for Ashley.

My 13-year-old, Alyssa, leaves for her trip this Thursday. Alyssa will be going to downtown San Francisco where they’ll be helping out the homeless, serving food and washing feet. Yes, washing feet! The 7th and 8th graders serve all weekend. This is an amazing experience for them.

My 15-year-old son, Alec, leaves Sunday for his trip, a weeklong trip down in Downtown Los Angeles and Watts. They will be serving the homeless, loving people on the streets and initiating conversations with many people they encounter.

I’ve been so impressed with these missions trips that I actually interviewed the guy behind the whole thing. Last year we recorded this as a podcast, Episode #16 on our Podcast Page. I encourage you to give it a listen.

Prayer warriors: pray for my kids and the others that will be on missions trips this next week!

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You Can Have Whatever You Like… in Prison!

Posted on: 03/30/09 10:42 AM | by Jonathan McKee

I can hear the rap song playing right now: “You can have whatever you like.”

Sorry T.I., I guess that doesn’t include guns. On Friday the young grammy winning rapper was just sentenced on gun charges.

Yes, on October 13, 2007, rapper T.I. was arrested by federal agents for having his bodyguard buy machine guns and silencers for him. Unfortunately for him, his 1998 crack cocaine conviction made it illegal for him to own guns.

Aw. Poor little T.I.

Rapper T.I. caught the attention of our young people last year with hits like “Whatever You Like” and “Live Your Life.” These songs, deemed clean by the world’s standards, got plenty of radio play, riding the top of the charts for weeks. The “clean versions” edited out lyrics like, “… late night sex, so wet, it’s so tight,” only leaving the clear message of materialism ringing in our kids ears. The music video shows him draping furs and diamonds on a girl, singing, “You can have whatever you like.”

Maybe T.I. wasn’t just selling woof tickets with those lyrics. Because he got a 20 year sentence reduced to just one year.

Maybe the judge liked his song???

Yahoo news reports:

ATLANTA (Reuters) – Grammy-winning rapper T.I. was sentenced to a year and a day in prison on Friday for illegally possessing machine guns and silencers, as prosecutors lauded his anti-violence advocacy since his arrest.

T.I., whose real name is Clifford Harris, originally faced up to 20 years in prison and the effective end of his career but performing community service as part of his plea agreement with prosecutors reduced his sentence.

T.I., 28, who was sentenced at a federal court in Atlanta, toured the United States in recent months speaking to tens of thousands of young people about the dangers of drugs and gangs, as he completed more than 1,000 hours of community service.

His anti-crime advocacy has been chronicled on cable channel MTV’s reality show “T.I.’s Road to Redemption.” He posted $3 million bail after his arrest.

The Atlanta-born rapper, whose hit songs include “Whatever You Like” and “Live Your Life,” could have his one year and one day sentence further reduced by 15 percent with good behavior.

Isn’t it nice to know that T. I. is doing school assemblies?


(ht to YCW guru David for the article)

Online Obstacles

Posted on: 03/26/09 8:37 PM | by Jonathan McKee

I just got off the phone with David talking about next week’s article for our Youth Culture Window page (it will be on our site Sunday). The article is about what kids are doing online and their “online integrity” compared to “real life” integrity. Fascinating stuff.

Meanwhile, I’m putting my final touches on my parenting seminar I’ll be teaching in New Jersey on Saturday morning. In this particular seminar, Parenting the Texting Generation, I always include a lot of current information about youth culture, attitudes and trends. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve looked at iTunes, Billboard, MTV.com, etc. It’s amazing… these sites never cease to amaze me. I found myself dropping my jaw several times looking at the “most downloaded” and “most popular artists” that this generation is filling their heads with.

Check out iTunes Top 10 Downloaded Songs today:

(Does anyone wanna try tell me that Hip-hop isn’t dominating the charts?) If you want a real treat, go to iTunes and click on each of those songs and give them a listen. Or jump onto a lyrics site (just Google “Lil Wayne Hot Revolver Lyrics”) and check out the words.

And iTunes Top 10 Music Videos today:

This list includes even more sexually explicit words and images (note that “J**z In My Pants” is still on the list, along with “If U Seek Amy“).

Two of my three kids have iPods and can access iTunes on our family computer. I monitor what they download and we talk about music frequently. I’m just saddened by how difficult it’s getting to dodge the filth that’s being thrown at our kids. I don’t want to raise my kids in a shoebox… but there’s times I feel like yanking that cord out of the wall!

Well… back to my studies. I’ve gotta finish my presentation about not over-reacting and yanking the plug out of the wall, but teaching values and discernment so that our kids can be like Daniel, resolving on their own not to defile themselves as they encounter the outside world someday.

Diversity in Ministry

Posted on: 03/25/09 11:24 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Many of you have seen our FOUR MINUTE videos, bringing you a four minute glimpse of various aspects of ministry. Our most recent video was launched last Sunday, a video from my good buddy Fred Lynch.

Fred is well known in urban youth ministry settings with almost 20 years of youth ministry experience. He is the founder of Urbnet, a National Network of Urban Youth Workers. Fred is also the editor of our SLANG DICTIONARY and co author of our hit e-book, What’s a Fo’ Sheezy, a book with over 300 questions from “slanguage” to get teenagers talking.

In this quick little video, Fred addressed the need for the Church to become a safe haven where diverse groups can become connected.

(If you receive this blog via email, click here for that YouTube video.)

You can see past FOUR MINUTE videos here.

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She Stole What?

Posted on: 03/24/09 2:16 PM | by Jonathan McKee

I have to admit, I’ve never heard of these being stolen before, but I guess anything’s possible!

CNN linked this story from KTLA News: Woman Sought for Stealing Breast Implants.


This story writes itself.

HUNTINGTON BEACH — Police are searching for a 30-year-old woman accused of stealing someone’s identity and a pair of new breast implants.

Yvonne Pampellonne is accused of using a fake id to pay for liposuction and new breast implants valued at more than $12,000. According to Huntington Beach police, Pampellonne opened a line of credit in someone else’s name in September 2008.

Huntington Beach police detective Larry Pitcher said Pampellone lied to her doctor and the staff at the Pacific Center for Plastic Surgery about her name and other personal identification. She used the credit to have the procedures done and never showed up for any follow-up appointments, Pitcher said.

So I’m curious. If they catch her… does she have to give them back?

What will the charge be? GTB?

The article gets better.

Employees at the plastic surgery center identified Pampellonne based on a  photo line-up.

Photos of what?

(Sorry… I couldn’t resist.)

Should we use this for a discussion starter about integrity? This might really keep the attention of junior high students. (I kid!)  🙂

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Twilight, Bolt and Bond

Posted on: 03/23/09 1:33 PM | by Jonathan McKee

Three movies are releasing within just a few days of each other, with Twilight leading the pack, Bolt trailing in second, and Bond… well… we will see Tuesday.

Twilight is the only one of the three that required a “special midnight release” so that all the crazed teenage fans could pick up their copy the moment both the hour and the minute hand struck twelve! (My two cents about all the Twilight hype in my last blog) “E! Online reported that more than 3 million copies were gobbled up on the first day alone.

Wow. That’s a lot of 12 year old girls!

Bolt, the animated feature with the voice talents of John Travolta and Miley Cyrus, has a release day of Tuesday, but was already trickling out to the public when someone jumped/violated the release date last week– the guy at my local Blockbuster was letting it out to people Friday. We watched as a family again Friday night with some of our kids’ friends… great film. The hamster is classic!

I thoroughly enjoyed Bolt– a great film to watch with the whole family (my official review of it here).

Bond… Todd’s two cents here. We’ll see how it does Tuesday.


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What to Do with “Twilight” …Now on DVD

Posted on: 03/20/09 1:36 PM | by Jonathan McKee

“Should I let my kids see Twilight?”

I’ve heard that question from parents more than any other question in the last 12 months.

If you don’t know about Twilight, it’s more than just a movie… it’s been a youth culture phenomenon. And now it hits DVD on a special release this weekend (this film prompted a special Saturday release). My neighborhood Blockbuster Video store is staying open past midnight tonight (Friday) just to rent it out. They are expecting a huge response.

Yes, your kids will probably want to see it and will have countless opportunities to see it (including at school- for those high school kids who are in public schools. PG-13 is okay by most standards).

So what should parents and youth workers do?

We’ve written so much about it in the last few months, I’ll just provide you with the links:

Our original Youth Culture Window article with all the facts CLICK HERE

My original blog about it, and a million comments from my readers CLICK HERE

My follow up blog once the film was released CLICK HERE

Todd’s movie review of the film CLICK HERE

My final blog about the film with two classic reactions CLICK HERE

In summary:  If your kids do see the film, use it as an opportunity for healthy dialogue.

Professional Cheating- the Rise of Essay Mills

Posted on: 03/19/09 8:53 AM | by Jonathan McKee

My mom, a professor at California State University in Sacramento, just slipped me a fascinating article about college level cheating. Apparently cheating is gradually becoming a booming business.

Cheating is a huge temptation for students today. In a December, 2007 Youth Culture Window article, we cited research revealing that 95% of students admitted cheating on some level (copying homework, etc.). In a recent blog, I highlighted a 2008 study from the Josephson Institute, revealing 64% of U.S. high school students have cheated on a test, and 36% used the internet to plagerize an assignment (up from 33% in 2004). According to the same study, 93% of these students were satisfied with their personal ethics and character.

Since “guilt” is obviously out of the picture, the only thing stopping cheaters from cheating is the fear of “getting caught.” Smart cheaters are aware of plagiarism-detection software and are turning to paper mills.

What is a paper mill?

Good question.

Here’s an excerpt from the article my mom sent me:

The orders keep piling up. A philosophy student needs a paper on Martin Heidegger. A nursing student needs a paper on dying with dignity. An engineering student needs a paper on electric cars.

Screen after screen, assignment after assignment — hundreds at a time, thousands each semester. The students come from all disciplines and all parts of the country. They go to community colleges and Ivy League universities. Some want a 10-page paper; others request an entire dissertation.

This is what an essay mill looks like from the inside. Over the past six months, with the help of current and former essay-mill writers, The Chronicle looked closely at one company, tracking its orders, examining its records, contacting its customers. The company, known as Essay Writers, sells so-called custom essays, meaning that its employees will write a paper to a student’s specifications for a per-page fee. These papers, unlike those plucked from online databases, are invisible to plagiarism-detection software.

These paper mills don’t see cheating as a problem. They see it as an opportunity to make money. The article goes on:

That’s pretty much how Charles Parmenter sees it. He wrote for Essay Writers and another company before quitting about a year ago. “If anybody wants to say this is unethical — yeah, OK, but I’m not losing any sleep over it,” he says. Though he was, he notes, nervous that his wife would react badly when she found out what he was doing. As it happens, she didn’t mind.

Mr. Parmenter, who is 54, has worked as a police officer and a lawyer over the course of a diverse career. He started writing essays because he needed the money and he knew he could do it well. He wrote papers for nursing and business students, along with a slew of English-literature essays. His main problem, he says, is that the quality of his papers was too high. “People would come back to me and say, ‘It’s a great paper, but my professor will never believe it’s me,'” says Mr. Parmenter. “I had to dumb them down.”

And apparently religious studies courses aren’t off limits. The article cites how one individual paid Essay Writers $100 to research and write a paper on the parables of Jesus Christ for his New Testament class. At the time, the senior at James Madison University who was majoring in philosophy and religion, defended the idea of paying someone else to do your academic work, comparing it to companies that outsource labor. “Like most people in college, you don’t have time to do research on some of these things,” he said. “I was hoping to find a guy to do some good quality writing.”


Top 10 Signs You’re Born in 1970

Posted on: 03/18/09 9:53 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Today I turn 39… my last year as a “young man!”

That’s right. I have one year left of claiming that I’m “thirty-something.” Then, when I’m filling out applications and they ask me to choose my age bracket… it will look like this:

Under 12

Don’t worry… I’m really not thinking this way. I actually love it exactly where I am in life right now. All three of my kids are still at home (two in middle school, one in high school), my wife and I- our relationship has never been better… no complaints.

It’s funny. I was browsing my web site and found the e-ZINE I wrote 9 years ago (wow…that’s a lot of EZINE’s we’ve sent out between then and now) … the week I was turning 30. I wrote it as a 29 year old. I included a top 10 list that really isn’t about turning 30; it’s about being born in 1970.

Listen to this rant:

I sit today and write to you all as a 29 year old. But next week . . . I will be 30. So for just this once, allow me to vent!

Next week, I will be regarded as “the old guy” to all teenagers and I will soon graduate to “the old fat guy,” finally reaching my pinnacle as “the old fat bald guy!” My life as the “the young guy” is gone quicker than “New Coke.” (what ever happened to that stuff?). Next thing you know I’ll fall and break my hip and start spending all my miscellaneous cash on Rogaine and Preparation H. The signs of the times are here . . . I’m turning 30 . . . I’ve seen it coming for a while:


Top 10 Signs That You’re Turning 30

10. You’re still bummed when Tuesday nights roll around because they cancelled the A-TEAM.

9. You feel like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly because of the amount of hair growing out of your ears!

8. You find yourself watching Adam Sandler movies just for the soundtrack.

7. McDonalds is no longer good- it’s SIN! It looks good before you partake of it, but after you indulge, it hurts you deep within.

6. The youth you work with don’t understand why you peg your 501s

5. Your spouse regularly asks you when you’re going to start exercising and if you’re really going to put that much mayonnaise on your burger!

4. You’re embarrassed if anyone sees your 501s because your waist size is now bigger than your length

3. You just bought stock in Diet Coke

2. Your parents just gave you a subscription to Modern Maturity

1. You wake up every night by at least 5:30 AM to pee because you can’t make it through the night any more.

There! It’s all out of my system. I’m actually going out this weekend with my best friends and our wives. Then we will indulge in my wife’s incredible cheesecake that she makes for me once a year- I’ll save you a piece!


Ooooooh! I remember that cheesecake! That was good. This year I get banana cream pie!  MMMMMmmmmmmm!

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They Came Forward… What Now?

Posted on: 03/16/09 8:57 AM | by Jonathan McKee

Recently I’ve spoken at several events that were very well planned… until the altar call.

Think about this for a second. A kid hears the Gospel and even has the guts to stand up out of their seat with the desire to make some life-changing decisions. They walk forward to the front of the room… and…

Freeze. Stop and look at this situation. The DIFFICULT PART is over! Realize this. We just got a kid to actually show up to an event (which can be pretty difficult), listen to the truth of God’s word, AND decide to act on it. They stand up, ready to make a decision… and… and we drop the ball!

Eight of the last 10 events I’ve spoken at have “dropped the ball” when it comes to counseling kids that wanted to make a decision. I’m not disrespecting anyone; these were great people with noble intentions. But if we are part of a team that is programming evangelistic events, we need to put a huge priority on the 15 minutes after the altar call. All too often event planners will spend good time and money on bands or inflatable boxing rings… and not think 30 seconds about what happens after kids come forward.

Not too long ago I spoke at an event where three hundred kids crowded into a room. I shared the gospel, gave an invitation and thirty six kids came forward. These kids were led into a nearby room where I was told they’d meet with counselors and be given a Bible. When I walked in the room, I saw about 5 adults, each with about seven or eight kids gathered around.

Only 5 adults? Really?

This is a HUGE mistake.

As soon as kids come forward, the need switches to one-on-one. The Gospel was presented in a large group format, but now each individual might have questions or clarifications with their unique background experiences and distinctive world views. That’s why it’s good to provide counselors to meet with people at events like this one-on-one, asking the question, “Why did you come forward tonight?” That answer can summon a variety of answers:

“Because I want that eternal life the speaker was talking about.”

“Because I did this before, but I don’t think it took!”

“Because my dog died and I’m just really sad.” 

(Yes, I’ve heard all of those.) Three totally different situations. That’s probably why the Billy Graham organization spends a year in a city before their big event, building relationships with churches and preparing for counseling and follow up.

I touch on this on my book, Getting Students to Show Up: (emphasis mine)

However, we shouldn’t plan on just sharing the message,
shutting out the lights, and leaving. We need to give them an
opportunity to respond. We should have a plan for talking
with the people individually and creating a means for follow
up. I usually have them raise a hand or come forward to meet
with a counselor who can talk with them about the decision
they made. I also use decision cards. If students meet with
counselors, I have counselors fill out the cards for them—
legibility is very important—noting their contact information,
what decision they made (first-time decision, rededication,
and so on), and what group, if any, they came with. These
cards are vital and provide the groundwork for follow up.

Billy Graham’s organization has been doing a fantastic
job with this for decades. Billy doesn’t just come to a city,
preach, and leave. His organization comes a year in advance,
training counselors, meeting with hundreds of area churches,
and implementing a plan for following up with all the new
believers. What an incredible example of faith and diligence.
It’s a year before the invitation is even given; yet they’re
planning for thousands to come forward. Faith and elbow
grease working hand in hand.

On the night of a Billy Graham Crusade, those who come
forward meet with counselors and hear the gospel one-on-one.
Then they have an opportunity to make a decision. Everyone
who comes forward then fills out a follow-up card.This is a
great way to clarify the commitment they’ve made, and it sets
the stage for following up with the person effectively.

Billy Graham’s organization shares the gospel responsibly.
Don’t be afraid to mimic their methodology.

Many of the events I’ve spoken at provide the “follow-up card.” That is vital, and I’m glad to see so many groups doing that. But the area most people fall short is training counselors that will meet with kids one-on-one.

How effective is ONE adult going to be asking EIGHT kids why they came forward? Think about it. What if three kids have specific questions, two want to rededicate their life, one girl is sad because their uncle abused her, and two really want to make a first time decision? (again, a VERY real situation!) This group needs a number of counselors.

A few years ago I volunteered at my local church co-leading a student leadership team made up of high school students. We had about 30 student leaders (it was a large youth group). Evangelism was a huge part of the training we did with these students. We taught each of these kids how to lead someone through the gospel, and then we put them in situations where they could practice doing this.

Our local Youth for Christ did about four big city-wide junior high events per year in the greater Sacramento area. They were thrilled when we would bring our 30 counselors to their events to add to their pool of counselors. This came in quite handy when 100 kids came forward. Even if they had only 50 counselors, they were able to put kids at least “one-on-two” for the 15 minutes after the altar call.

One difficult part of my job now as a “hired speaker” is not being involved in the whole event planning process. I constantly trust that the group bringing me out has done all the ground work and preparation for the event, INCLUDING the 15 minutes after the altar call.

Please. If you are planning an evangelistic event with an altar call for hundreds of kids… don’t just have 5 counselors! Let’s share the Gospel responsibly.