Nate Stratman

Faith and Culture

Why Student Leadership Teams Make me Gag, sometimes.

So what do you think we should do?” I said to my student leadership team during my first year of ministry. This was like throwing a dog a bone. For the next hour I heard what sucked, what I needed to do and when I needed to have it finished. I sheepishly concluded with “great leadership meeting guys, I am excited about what God has in store!” What a load!! I wasn’t excited about jack squat. I just got told by a bunch of teenagers what to do and I was about to do it. This wasn’t leadership. I was training baby dictators.

To be honest, I still twitch a little bit when I hear the term student leadership. I absolutely believe in equipping all the saints for ministry, I just question some of the practices we use to go about empowering young people. Here are my two current thoughts as I wrestle with student leadership;

1. If They Aren’t Serving, They Aren’t Leading- This is classic Jesus leadership 101 found in Mark 10:43-45. As youth ministers, we have opportunities to not only get great theological input and cultural observances from our students, but we can help deploy them as little Christs to a hurting and thirsty world. Looking back I was absolutely setting a low bar by only asking kids about their opinions on pizza, lock-ins and t-shirt designs. In God’s economy, it is the kid who picks up trash after a meeting or who welcomes a newbie who is being the kind of leader our world is dying for.

2. Why a team?-
For me, I have struggled with the select few students serving as a leadership team. You could fire back at me and say “hey, Jesus had His select few!” Well I’m not Jesus and these aren’t my disciples. Here is what I am most excited about as far as student leadership is concerned; a. find those who are already leading and continue to encourage the mess out of them. I know it is hard to believe, but even before we get to our lesson about being a servant, students are already serving. b. investigate the passions and gifts of your students and match them with a need in the ministry, community or world. I would honestly make this one of your highest priorities as a youth worker. It is textbook discipleship and I believe it can spread like wildfire throughout a ministry. While I have known this in my head, I can honestly say that I haven’t been as vigilant about it as I should have. Instead of an insider-outsider leadership team, why don’t we aim to equip each student as a leader in one way or another. I think it would make brother Paul happy based on his body part talk in 1 Corinthians 12.

So how are we attempting to do this? Well you might think I’m a Presbyterian goober who loves polity and meetings and you are wrong! But I have started to think that our students are showing elder like traits in decision making and our little deacons are becoming caretakers. Both of these are servants, they just approach service in different ways.  For instance, we have collected a good sum of money over the years and a small group of students who are responsible stewards are actually deciding how we will best invest this money into the Kingdom. They are writing up some guidelines and the other students will soon submit missions requests. I think our group has been pretty crumby at hospitality in the past, but we have a small band of students who want to change that. One crowd of girls has taken it upon themselves to be the first to welcome and invite any student with a disability who visits our group. This are just a few that get me excited.

What are some ideas you have about student leadership?


Video: My Favorite Description of a Healthy Church.

Simple, refreshing and a hair controversial if you will. The high performance rock show vs. the neighborhood relationships and the line that said “instead of making coffee, make disciples” both made me say dang. I serve a church that I love very much and we are trusting God to do something that on many days seems humanly impossible and probably is. We are a large mainline church who has reached thousands of people for Christ through a programmatic model. Now we are attempting to go from big and programmatic to spread out and missional. Theologically and on paper it looks great, until you take my coffee!!! I’ll admit, coffee and excellence in the music aspect of worship can be idols for me. It is pretty hip right now to have super expensive, fair trade coffee (which I adore), but it is one more thing that can delay our departure and fuzz our focus on showering our workplaces, schools and neighborhoods with the shocking grace of Christ.

And another thing, can large, established churches look like the church in this video without decreasing in size? I personally think that huge churches have a huge roadblock in front of them on their way to becoming a missional church. And you?

Video by the Foursquare Church

Talking to Teenagers about Sex: 7 Helpful Thoughts

1. It is Time: A parent of a teenage girl came to me many years ago in a tizzy about the upcoming sex, dating and relationships talk I was about teach at church. As she was mildly hyperventilating she said ” my 16-year-old daughter isn’t dealing with those things yet!”  I responded with my inner eye roll and a small barf in my mouth before I could respond. Looking back on the situation, I believe the mother was saying that she didn’t want her daughter to be dealing with sexuality. The reality is that our young children who see commercials, magazines, look on the internet or ride the school bus are already exposed to sexuality and most likely the type of exposure that you would never choose.
2. How far is too far? Think about the motive behind this question. My translation of this is, “how close to trouble can I stand without really getting in trouble?” When I would ask this question as a teenager, I can assure you that I wasn’t thinking about commitment or the feelings of my girlfriend. I wanted to know what I could get away with. Whatever the temptation, if we stand on the very edge of the cliff, it only takes a small breeze to knock us over.

3. Rob Bell and Sex (not hell)- Regardless of what you think of Rob Bell, his second Nooma video called Flame is very helpful in talking about marriage and sexuality with teenagers. In the video, Bell talks about three types of flames or love found in Scripture. The major point is that the 3 flames of friendship, commitment and erotic love are all needed in marriage. For example, an affair or one night stand is the sexual flame without commitment or friendship. Many Christian marriages are deeply committed, but the fun and the passion has often fallen away. Although it is hard for teenagers to hear, sex is just ONE part of love.

4. The Fireplace Analogy- When a fire is inside the fireplace, it has the ability to warm the house. When fire gets outside of the fireplace, it can burn the house down.”  In surveying all of scripture I see that God was the designer of sex (not Hugh Hefner) and His design was meant for the context of marriage. You might be like me and want to challenge this analogy. I actually mulled over many scenarios of sex outside of marriage from my own experience and non of them warmed the house.

5. The Best Question Ever: Instead of bantering about right and wrong, I think there is a better question. In a piece I wrote called “They are Going To Do It Anyway!”, I close with this paragraph; Just because there were no condoms or kegs in the Bible doesn’t mean that God has left us hanging on these specific issues. We often run off our teenagers by being so black and white on certain issues without asking them to actually think through and own the decision. “The Best Question Ever” is a book by Andy Stanley that centers on one HUGE biblical principle: Wisdom. So the question becomes, “what is wise about having sex as a teenager?” or “is it wise or unwise to have a keg for the senior prom in my basement?” Ephesians 5:15 says be very careful, then, how you live– not as unwise but as wise.
I have actually had a number of students over the years write their answers on a board in my office to “is this wise or unwise” and watching them discover biblical wisdom is one of the perks of my job.

6. Doing the Dirty or the Nasty!- I continue to hear these two terms when students talk about people having sex. As Christians, I feel strongly that we have a duty to reclaim the beauty of sex. If I would let my daughters figure out sexuality on their own, I am certain that they would refer to sex as “doin’ the dirty” as well. 

7. Major “No-No’s” of Talking to Teenagers about Sex:
     A. If your conversation is a monologue and not a dialogue, you’ve lost ’em.

     B. If they say “everyone is doing it” or you say “nobody is doing it”, you        both have lied.

     C. You are not a sexpert! Sex is something to be explored and learned within    marriage, not something to conquer with the mind.

     D. Enough with the Scare Tactics! – Herpes and teenage pregnancy are absolute realities of sex outside of God’s original plan, but scaring teenagers about disease and pregnancy cannot be our main approach to talking about sex. I have known several friends who were raised in Christian homes that scared the living daylights out of them in regard to sex. These people have actually had difficulty in having sex the first year of marriage. These friends have been scared for so long about sex that they just couldn’t believe it was good and of God.

Question: What are the consequences of having a “NO, NO, NO…..GO!!!!” approach?

These are just a few conversations that I repeatedly have with teenagers and parents. What would you add?

Grateful for the Ravens (1 Kings 17:6)

“The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning
and bread and meat in the evening.” 1 Kings 17:6

I was spending time with one of my students the other day and he was flirting with the idea of one day becoming a youth minister amongst a few other careers. He didn’t flat-out say it, but basically asked so how poor are youth ministers”? We had a great conversation and I basically told him to look at my home, clothes, cars and decide for himself if I looked poor or not.
As we kept talking I was trying to explain to him that there was an elusive blessing that many in ministry receive. Without using the term, I described the blessing of the ravens. The term is based on God’s use of these rather unattractive birds to provide for Elijah in 1 Kings 17.  As the son of a pastor I remember an anonymous man stuffing our freezer with all kinds of meat, bags of hand-me-down clothes on the porch or free tickets to some kind of event for our family. In my own experience in ministry, the ravens have blessed my family in many ways and half of those blessed birds are anonymous. I now realize as I look back on my childhood that we didn’t have too many material things compared to some of my friends, but the ravens kept me from realizing that.

Raven Entitlement
For Elijah, the ravens came and went and the brook actually dried up, sending Elijah packing. I firmly believe that God continues to provide throughout ministry, but he might not use the ravens in the same way or maybe not at all. What I’m really trying to say is that there is a danger in thinking well, I’m suffering for the Lord with this puny salary as a youth minister, so these church folks better start dishing out the goods!” I confess that I have had seasons of the “poor-me’s” and they usually happen when my prayer life goes from being a willing servant to an entitled whiner. It is this very discussion of expecting God to bless us in the ways we want him to that makes me nervous about the prosperity gospel.

Raven Recruitment
There was a time where the church family literally supported the priest/pastor by providing food and shelter for them. In many ways, the Catholic church still cares for their priests with basic provisions instead of large compensation packages that many protestant pastors receive. Most congregations I’ve been around have many people in the congregation who make much less than their youth minister and pastor does and these brothers and sisters could use a raven or two. I have realized the never-ending faithfulness of God as I have recently tried to be a raven to some special people in my life. Even though I have grown in the area of stewardship, I know that deep inside of me is this voice that still thinks the church owes me something. The church owes me nothing. I realize more and more that I am one amongst a local flock of ravens who owe much to our God who has really long arms.


* Inspired by Dr. Jim Singleton, my friend and pastor who has been teaching on Elijah this summer.


With the craziness of mission trips, vacation and writing for The Burner, my blogging has taking a nose dive. I have written about Carrots, Ravens and Talking to Teenagers about Sex. All 3 will be posted after they spend some time on the Burner Blog.

Back in the Saddle,


Three Ingredients for Youth Ministry

I remember speaking to teenagers one time and I was using an illustration about a cookbook. I was explaining that we often treat God’s word as a recipe in a cookbook and if we don’t like an ingredient, we leave it out. I ask the group, “what happens if you leave out necessary ingredients when you are baking?”
The answer I was looking for was that the cake would be jacked up and not look or taste right. The answer I got from a 9th grade boy named Jason was “The cake will you burn and you will too!”  I’m not quite the hellfire and brimstone type of guy, but Jason got the attention of his peers that night.  read the rest here…..

I am now writing Youth Ministry articles for The Burner Blog, a great resource from Fuller Seminary currently featuring folks like Dallas Willard, Tony Jones and many more. Make sure and follow the Burner! I will probably have one post a week over at the Burner and will link it on my site as well.

I Know What You Believe By Looking at Your Church Building.

Father Anthony is an Orthodox Priest with a Young Life background who lives in my community. He shared some interesting thoughts about church buildings with me one day when I visited his church with some of my students. He described 3 major strands of the Christian church and how their buildings tell us something about their belief in God.
1. Evangelical  (Large/Contemporary)-  These buildings are made to fit as many people as possible inside so that all may be “saved”. The media and music create a non-threatening and attractive environment that encourages followers to bring non-believers to church and it helps that the buildings don’t look like traditional churches.

2. Reformed/Presbyterian –  John Calvin was known to preach for 2 hours. These buildings look like lecture halls, with all seats pointing forward towards the pulpit. This design makes sense for folks who put great emphasis on the study and proclamation of the Word.





3. Orthodox –  For an A.D.D guy like myself, the Orthodox church has all the smells and bells. The entire worship space is covered with sacred art, telling the story of God. The priest is not the focal point in these services as there are many places for you to look and ponder the works of God. The Orthodox priest appears to facilitate the worship experience more than lead it.

These descriptions have really caused me to think about the blessings and curses of churches around the globe. Think about a few of these comments and questions below and ponder the necessity and usefulness of bricks and mortar.

1. an Episcopalian priest friend of mine was facing losing his beautiful church in denominational battles. He said “I actually pray that we lose it, because our identity is too wrapped up in the building.” Erwin McManus, a pastor at Mosaic in LA, said that God led them to sell their building which caused ministry to flourish across Southern California. 

2. Of the three models above, is one more conducive to youth ministry than the others?

3. One argument for huge elaborate churches is that they draw in more people who then can pool their resources to be a larger collective blessing to the world. True? 

4. I have seen thriving churches around the globe who meet under tents and have beat up sound systems and chairs. Why aren’t their large churches in our country that look like that? 


What does your church building look like and what are the strengths and weaknesses of its design?


10 “Take Home Experiences” from the Dominican and Pico Escondido

(Playing stick ball in the Barrio. I’m pitching “tapas” or caps to Ryan)
Ten Transformative Moments from the Dominican Republic:

( these are in no order of impact. They are each instruments in the symphony that impacted the lives of many teenagers.)

10. La Comida- Is there anything better than good food and great conversation with new and old friends? Moro ( a rice dish that rocked my face off) and tostones (fried or toasted plantains that rocked the other side of my face off) were two of my favorite culinary finds. 

9. The Doulos School- a Christian, bi-lingual school that has an incredible model for education based on “adventures”. The founders of the school started Pico Escondido and are long-time Young Lifers. They have a coffee plantation that offers all the proceeds to scholarships for local Dominican children at Doulos. Kids there are learning about Christ, recycling, gardening, architecture as well as the basic subjects.

8. Berto “El Gato”- a carpenter at Pico who made me laugh everyday as we both butchered each other’s language. Berto and I would be BFF if we lived closer.


7. Dan and Elizabeth Jessup- Dan is a VP with Young Life who oversees Latin America amongst other things. He and his wife brought donors to the camp for the blessing of 2 new cabins at the camp. Dan goes to our church and I loved that our student’s saw Dan in his element has he gave great vision for YL in the Dominican.

6. Club and Poop Smell- we helped lead a club that was out in the rural part of La Vega. As we walked up to the house, the smell of manure was unreal! Stalls and cages for pigs, chickens and goats surrounded the shed we met under.  As kids were laughing, worshipping and listening to the word of God, the aroma turned from a stink to part of the essence of this powerful ministry.

5. Spanglish- Both the Gringos and the Dominicans made great efforts to speak and hear each other’s language (that will preach!). This is such a simple, yet powerful example of understanding what life is like for our brothers and sisters around the globe.

4. Near Carjacking- Our group was returning to camp after a night in downtown Jarabacoa. We stuffed into a flat bed truck with a tarp over it to protect us from the rain. I was sitting on the back bumper hanging my feet over the edge as dogs chased us and motorcycles whizzed bye. The truck came to a stop and people started to surround the truck and the noise of a small crowd got louder and louder. I was convinced that some gang was about to mess with us and the group started to get a bit concerned. We sat still for 10-15 minutes, which seemed like hours. I finally worked up the guts to walk to the front of the bus and saw a mob of young people surrounding the truck. It was local Vida Joven kids who saw that our driver was one of their volunteers, Joba. These folks get relational ministry that they cause traffic jams to be with kids, I love it! 

3. My Beard- My beard often draws many stares and random comments in other countries. When I was walking down the streets of La Vega with my baseball hat, sunglasses and a stick, the men shouted “FIDEL, FIDEL” as I walked bye. I was also called Moses, Osama Bin Laden and Santa Claus. 

2. Staying with Odalys- Odalys is 20 years old and is a leader in Young Life. He hasn’t seen his mother in 5 years because she is a housekeeper in Italy. He takes care of his 7-year-old cousin, goes to University and loves Basketball. We actually watched his beloved Miami Heat get beat in the NBA finals the night we stayed with him. The home stays were by far the most formative experience on the trip for many of our kids as they discovered bucket showers, roosters and no air conditioning.

1. Teenagers are Teenagers, everywhere- The students of both nationalities blended together in a powerful way. From walking to the local cormado, having a crazy dance party and playing cards on the porch, to worshipping together and cleaning up the trash in the barrios. They are all relational beings who long to be known, love to laugh and are on a journey with Jesus Christ.

Notable Mentions: eating several pounds of ribs, waterfall hike, coffee factory tour, meringue lessons, eating dinner with our entire group from a tiny empanada stand, singing in the dark and many more.

Reflections from the Dominican Republic: Beauty in the Barrio

I’m sitting in a plastic chair on the front porch (which is practically the street) with my new friend Chulo. Chulo is the area director for Vida Joven (Young Life) in the town of La Vega, Dominican Republic. He oversees many clubs in the various barrios of La Vega, but Chulo lives and loves young people in his own barrio.

The Scene: Chulo (25) and his wife Katerin live in one section of a large concrete building.(Chulo, his 2 sisters and wife are the 4 in the middle of the picture above) The front porch is really a covered carport with piles of plastic chairs, which have been loved well by countless Dominican teenagers. This front area functions as a club room for meetings and has been painted in bright colors with a large map of the many clubs of La Vega including those barrios they are praying for ministry to eventually be birthed in the near future.

The street in front of Chulo’s house is about 15 feet wide and filled with potholes, dogs, countless motorcycles and kids playing baseball with a stick and the tops of water bottles. As I sit with Chulo, I am taken back by all the activity in front of me. Small cars with huge bullhorns rigged to the top pace the barrio playing loud recordings trying to sell anything from clothes to eggs. Music is often playing from multiple houses and cars at a level that would get the cops called for noise complaints in the states. On top of all this noise and activity, Dominicans stay up really late hanging out in the streets and the wake up early too!!  The Barrio never stops.

Pico Escondido– The YL Camp of the D.R
After reading the prior paragraphs, you will see the importance of Pico Escondido in the following description. Vida Joven’s Pico Escondido is the only camp in the country and it is literally holy ground for many Dominicans, nestled in the hills outside of Jarabacoa. When teenagers come to camp ($48 US for a week), they are welcomed by a piece of property that creates something so powerful for these young people who just came from the noise of the barrio; silence. The only noise you hear at this camp is the laughter and discussions of people accompanied by the light buzz frogs and crickets. The excellence of Young Life camping carries overseas and plays such a huge role in the ability of teenagers to hear the voice of the Savior. 

I’m not going all Thomas Merton on you, but we as Americans have become seduced by the same noises and activities. I am chief among sinners in this category. What amazed me about Chulo and the other Dominicans was that they had the ability to “be” in the midst of the chaos. They taught my students and me how to “be” for hours and hours. (It helped that my cell phone didn’t work and we had a very minimal schedule). I actually believe that this is a life and death issue for me, spiritually speaking. I am also convinced that this soul nourishing time can happen outside of camps, monasteries and retreats. I am on a new mission to create room to “be”, even at the sacrifice of productivity.

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