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'” 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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I’ll Never

Everyone has a pop culture blindspot.

Whether it’s for lack of time or lack of funds or just a general lack of interest we all have those movies or tv shows or books that it seems like everyone in the world has experienced except for us.

spectre1208141280jpg-398894_1280wOne of my biggest pop culture blindspots is James Bond.

This may come as a shock to you, but it’s true – I, a 29-year-old red blooded movie-loving male, have never seen a 007 movie.

I don’t really know how it happened. Maybe watching wrestling satisfied all my testosterone needs in pop culture. I don’t have any moral objection to the Bond series.

If someone were able to make a case for wanting to show me one of the movies I think I would sit down and watch one. But there’s no way I’m going to ever dive through the entire Bond history.

At this point in my life I know I’ll probably just never start watching a James Bond movie on my own. I’ve come to the realization that – even with hopefully many more happy and healthy years in front of me – I just can’t experience everything this world has to offer.

With the amount of quality entertainment in the landscape today and the incredible ease of access we have to it, at a certain point you just have to resign that there are some pop culture phenomena you’re never going to get around to experiencing.

I’m ok with never watching a James Bond movie. But there are some things that I’m not ok with never doing. Continue reading

11 Lessons From My Resume

photo 2-7As I enjoyed the Labor Day holiday this past weekend I had a chance to read an article in my hometown paper where the great columnist Bill Kirby shared lessons from some of the many jobs he worked over his life. I thought it would be interesting to go back and do the same for my years in the workforce.

Though I’m only 29-years-old at the moment I’ve amassed a good size resume and I believe there’s at least one lesson to be learned from every job I’ve had over the years. So, with full credit to Mr. Kirby for the idea, here’s one lesson from every job I’ve had since I started working at age 16:

1) The Masters Tournament (First week of April 2002):

The Job – 4 straight 14 hour days in a concession stand at the most popular golf event in the world.

The Lesson – The paycheck is not always worth the work. Continue reading

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

The 3 Best Words Of Advice I Have To Give

FullSizeRender-8The other day a friend asked me for the best piece of advice I could give someone going into youth ministry.

Her daughter was about to begin an internship with a ministry program so she reached out to an expert in the field. Haha just kidding she asked me.

Seriously though – I was honored she thought to ask me such a question. So I racked my brain for something profound and insightful and deeply spiritual to write back to her. Everything I typed up sounded recycled from someone smarter than myself.

Finally, I just shot off the 3 best words I could think of:

Keep showing up. Continue reading

POP GOD POPcast: Episode 24 – David Keel

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Welcome to the POP GOD POPcast – an exploration into the lives of people seeking God in the present tense.

This week’s guest is David Keel. David is a teacher, speaker, scientist, youth pastor, legendary coffee drinker, and most importantly my former Sunday School teacher. David shares openly about his journey to meeting Jesus at rock bottom, his on-and-off youth ministry career, and how he comes up with his offbeat analogies. We also get real about the struggles of joblessness and how to keep the faith when the paychecks stop coming. Plus David offers a look behind the scenes of Fort Discovery where he worked for over a decade! Enjoy this deeper look inside the life of a teacher who made a true impact on my life.

Listen to the podcast here:

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Check out David’s website to book him for Speaking Events

Subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, rate it, leave a comment, listen to all the other episodes, share it on Twitter and Facebook and anywhere else. I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.

I love sharing stories of people seeking God in the present tense. Let me 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 next episode of the POPcast.