In Praise Of Free Fallin’ As A Worship Song

tom-pettynyWhen the news came in yesterday about the sudden heart attack and death of Tom Petty I was deeply saddened. His songs like “Learning To Fly” and “I Won’t Back Down” have been great inspirations to me. His albums – whether solo, with The Heartbreakers, or of course with The Traveling Wilbury’s – have been the soundtracks to so many car rides and road trips.

Not to mention the fact that his iconic hit “Free Fallin'” is one of my favorite worship songs.

No, I’m not talking about the line about the good girl who loves Jesus (and America too). I don’t think “Free Fallin” is a Christian song by any means.

But I do believe – from firsthand experience – that “Free Fallin'” is a song that’s paved the way for the gospel of Christ to be shared to countless students across the country.

You see “Free Fallin'” is one of the most popular Young Life club songs of all time. Young Life clubs (of which I led my fair share) focus on sharing the gospel to unchurched teenagers.

Their model takes the shape of a student worship service and blends it with crazy games, goofy skits and secular music.

Instead of confusing or scaring off unchurched students with unrecognizable worship songs, at Young Life club we would typically play 3-4 secular songs to sing along together and make these students feel comfortable before playing one simple worship song and sharing a brief story about Jesus. It’s meant to be a starting point for these students – a way to share the gospel by meeting them where they are.

The idea is to forge relationships and common bonds over the shared enjoyment of these popular songs and goofy games so that leaders can earn the right to be heard about the life-saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

I can’t count the number of times “Free Fallin'” was one of those secular songs we used at Young Life club. It was such an easy song to learn. And such a simple and fun song to sing along with.

3040_527750826645_2660631_nThe song was nearly 20 years old by the time I was a Young Life leader. Yet kids still responded to it. (John Mayer had a pretty popular and pretty great cover of it that came out around this time too which probably helped.)

They knew the words. They knew the melody. They had a blast screaming it at the top of their lungs alongside their Young Life leaders.

Our students particularly liked to goof around with the lyrics, chanting the “living in Reseda” line over and over again during every verse.

After club I’d often drive students back home. We’d talk for a few minutes about the Bible story shared at club, what was going on at school, and life at home. Then I’d crank some Tom Petty up on my iPod and we’d continue the sing along as we rode around town in my truck.

Now I don’t think any of the students at our club or at the countless other Young Life clubs who sang “Free Fallin'” came to know Jesus simply because of the power of a Tom Petty song.

But I do believe songs like “Free Fallin'”, along with other classics like “Brown Eyed Girl”, “Don’t Stop Believing'”,  and “Sweet Caroline”, have been used by Young Life leaders for years to play a small role in leading high school students to the cross of Jesus.

Singing these classic songs together, leaders and students with arms wrapped around each other and bouncing to the melody, set the tone for many a great night together with students. It created an atmosphere of joy and inclusion that allowed the message of Jesus to be presented to open hearts.

I believe Jesus can use a completely secular song to connect generations and pave the way for His message to be communicated effectively. I have seen it work. I have lived it. I can testify to the power of it.

Because the gospel is meant to be shared relationally. Ministry happens and lives are changed not when people are shouted out on the street by a stranger but when people form bonds by doing life together.

Sometimes sharing life together is about explicitly preaching the word and communicating what the Bible says about sin and the cross.

And sometimes sharing life together is driving around town with the windows down listening to Tom Petty.

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When Your Story Goes Up In Flames, Remember This:

IMG_5092This past weekend my wife and I got the incredible opportunity to spend some time working at Pioneer Plunge, a majestic Young Life camp in Weaverville, NC.

If you’re not familiar with it, Pioneer Plunge is unlike any other Young Life camp. Nestled high in the mountains and hidden away at the top of Windy Gap (another Young Life camp), Plunge consists of only 3 minimal cabins, a pond and a garden. There’s no electricity or amenities of any kind.

The purpose of the camp is to provide young people with a chance to live in the wilderness for a week and discover God’s calling unhindered by any distraction.

Kate and I met as Young Life leaders and look for any chance we can to give back to the ministry. We never had the chance to visit Pioneer Plunge when we were leaders so when the chance came up to participate in a Work Crew weekend at the camp we jumped at the opportunity.

Unfortunately we didn’t see the camp in all it’s glory. In August of 2014 the main cabin at Pioneer Plunge burned down in a tragic accident. No one was hurt by the fire and it was miraculously contained to just the one building. Continue reading

How SNL Made Me A Better Youth Minister

As SNL celebrates its 40th Anniversary this weekend, I just wanted to take a few minutes to say thanks.

You see, I’m not a funny person.

I’ve said funny things before, and I’ve gotten a few laughs in my lifetime. But the truth is most of those funny things were stolen. And most of them were stolen from Saturday Night Live.

635583156024811072-ConeheadsI think it’s perfect that as part of the new SNL app there’s a whole keyboard of SNL-inspired emojis. After all, for my friends and I SNL is its own sort of language of catchphrases and inside jokes.

I’ve never been good at quoting classic movies, but I can recite for you Matt Foley’s entire speech about living in a van down by the river and tell you why there needs to be more cowbell and shout out all of the Spartan Cheerleaders’ routines. Continue reading

Jesus and Jerry Seinfeld

Jerry Seinfeld would have made a great Young Life leader.

Can you imagine the talks he would give? “What’s the deal with forgiveness? Have you seen this? Have you heard about this?”

It’s not just the jokes Jerry would kill at. Jerry Seinfeld is really good at relationships.

For the past few months Seinfeld has been putting out a web series called “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee.” The show is exactly what you think it is and is absolutely worth 15 minutes of your time.

Each week Jerry phones up one of his famous funny friends, picks them up in a classic car, and picks their brain over coffee.

I’ve never not laughed during an episode. The wisdom from legends of comedy like David Letterman, Larry David, and Don Rickles is valuable for anyone in entertainment, business, or even ministry.

In between the laughter and the glamour shots of Lamborghinis and latte art, what I really take away from each episode is just how simple relationships have to be.As Chris Rock put it in his chat with Jerry, “Everything is about company. A gourmet meal with an [jerk] is a horrible meal. A hot dog with an interesting person is an amazing meal.”

Jerry Seinfeld, unsurprisingly, is really comfortable at talking with people. His conversations with comedians are at once light and deep. It’s something Jerry Seinfeld has in common with Jesus. Continue reading

Why I’ll Always Love The O.C.

Everything I’ve learned about leadership I learned from The O.C.

Maybe that’s a stretch. But as the landmark soap marked it’s tenth anniversary this past week (and retrospective articles like this one from Grantland were all over the place) I started thinking about why I have such a soft spot for this bubblegum show.

I realized none of the articles I found on the internet really got to the heart of why I loved The O.C. – the heart of it all. Continue reading

POP GOD POPcast: Episode 1 – Clay Bagby

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Welcome to the latest addition to POP GOD – the POP GOD POPcast. Throughout the next few weeks I’ll be interviewing different people in the Augusta community and beyond who are seeking God and sharing his message in unique ways.

This week’s guest is Clay Bagby, Young Life Augusta Area Director. Clay talks about growing up in Augusta and coming back to his home town and alma mater to lead Young Life. He shares one of the best pranks he ever committed, his views on pop culture’s effect on today’s teens, how he got involved with Young Life, and more. Plus Clay takes our first ever POP Quiz! You’ll really enjoy this look into one of Augusta’s leaders in youth ministry. It’s a great listen for anyone in Augusta or anyone not in Augusta who wants to hear a unique perspective on ministry.

I’m so excited to open up POP GOD into a new area and share with you other’s stories of seeking God in the present tense. I’d love to hear your feedback. Leave me a comment and let me know how to improve things, what you’d like to hear discussed, and give me your ideas as to who you’d like to see on the POPcast.

Subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, share it on Twitter and Facebook and anywhere else. I’d really appreciate it. Thanks. Enjoy.

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