Enjoy this short video of the machete juggling at the Upward closing ceremony for Eagle Church in Whitestown, IN!
When I spoke at Mt. Lebanon Camp last summer, I got to meet someone who brought a very creative presentation to the campers on an evening in the middle of the week. After our worship service was over, we had a special program for the campers where they could wave glow sticks and wear glow-in-the-dark accessories in the worship center as we turned out the lights and played loud music. They loved it.
Towards the end, a thousand campers watched as a glow-man figure emerged onto the stage and danced a bit to a Michael Tate song. Then the man on stage pulled out a canvas and some paint and started painting very quickly. The campers were now quiet and mesmerized.
His painted picture was confusing and did not resemble anything but chaotic splatters of color….until he flipped it over.
Then we saw the face of Christ. It was very moving. The point was clear – life is messy, confusing, and chaotic. We look for God and don’t see Him or don’t find Him. Then, in His perfect timing, He flips our world upside down, changes our mess into beauty, and shows us His radiant face.
The painter’s name is Lance Brown. Lance did not ask me to write this profile. I wanted to share with you about a person who loves Jesus and loves to paint. And he has a creative way to share it with the world. Check out his website here if you’re interested in what he does or want to have him at your event.
Enjoy this video of Lance Brown: Speed Painter…..
If you are an Upward Sports™ league director, then you have probably run into the tough decision of finding a good speaker or entertainer for your closing ceremony. There are many very effective, talented, and Gospel-focused speakers out there. But there are also some entertainers floating around that are just not the right fit for Upward Sports™ ceremonies (I won’t name any names). I have spoken at many Upward Sports™ ceremonies over the past decade and when I sit down with the league directors, they sometimes tell me about both the good and bad entertainers they have had in the past.
Here are the two primary things those Upward Sports™ directors have said about the bad entertainers:
1. The presentation was too adult-themed. I’ve heard multiple stories of speakers coming to an Upward Sports™ ceremony based on their high-profile affiliations (like a pro sports team, for example). But then the speaker’s content was full of stories and anecdotes that were more appropriate for an adult audience, such as stories of graphic violence and sexual content. I’m all for giving testimonies to God’s saving grace. But I also believe there are age-appropriate ways of communicating those stories to children. And some speakers have not yet learned about that filter. Equally bad is when speakers use adult-content jokes. Sure, they might go over the kids’ heads, but Upward Sports™ ceremonies are not the place for lewd innuendoes.
2. The speaker did not connect with or engage the children. Some entertainers can have a flashy skill or talent but have poor skills in the field of connecting with kids. It’s like a very skilled doctor with no “bedside manner” or ability to connect with patients on a deeper level than the business of medicine. I would take a speaker with great “kid-connection-skills” and low “flashy talent” skills any day over someone who can lasso the moon but doesn’t know how to make kids laugh or pay attention to a presentation.
So here are my suggestions for things to keep in mind as you search for an entertainer for your ceremony:
1. Check the Upward Sports™ approved speakers list. It should be available when you access your league director pages on the Upward website. And just like any important decision, find some personal references for the ones you’re interested in and make some phone calls.
2. Ask other Upward Sports™ league directors for names of good speakers they have had in the past and ask why they were good.
3. Once you have a short list, look for these qualities as you interview the speaker and/or the referral individuals (in this order of importance):
- (1) Biblically sound and Gospel-centered
- (2) Skilled at connecting with and engaging crowds, especially children
- (3) Skilled in some sort of talent that will serve as a “draw” for the event
- (4) Fits your budget
I would recommend finding the best person who meets the top three criteria that your budget can allow.
I hope this has been helpful to you. Let me know if I can help in any way at your next Upward Sports™ event or I can point you to any of my colleagues at For HIS Kidz.
My buddy Keith Coast got some film of my recent Upward show at Agape Church in Little Rock, Arkansas. Watch and enjoy!
The first time was on Easter weekend about five years ago. My flight was diverted (due to weather, I think) to a different city than originally planned. I rented a car and drove to my show. My luggage was still lost somewhere in airlinedom. So I did what any sensible juggler would do: I went to Walmart at 2am and bought over $200 worth of machetes, baseball bats, plates, tennis rackets, fishing nets, extendable poles (for balancing), various types of fruit, and whatever else I thought was juggle-able. I did my show the next morning and then gave all my stuff away (including the machetes) to any kid who could recite the memory verse of the day to me. It was a thrill. Delta ended up paying me back for my Walmart bill!
The second time I lost my luggage before a show was last week in Mississippi. This time, though, I did not have time to do my Walmart thing. My flight got me to Memphis, TN and my luggage went to Tupelo, MS (the mix up was also weather related). And I was going to just barely make it for the show. The only problem was that I was an hour and a half from my show and my host was not able to come that far because they were setting up for the Upward program. So I called my friend Jason Blackburn (the man who knows everyone in northern Mississippi). He of course knew a guy who was commuting from near the airport to where I needed to go. So Ricky pulled up at the airport a few minutes later and told me to hop in. Southern hospitality is not dead, folks.
But that was only half the battle. My show was coming up fast, and I had none of my luggage. Nearly a thousand people were filling into the Bull Ring in Pontotoc, MS waiting for a juggling show. Meanwhile, I was rummaging through the Children’s Ministry closet of my host church, grabbing balls, stuffed animals, a ladder, some hula hoops, and whatever else I could juggle.
We rushed into the Bull Ring and I set my stuff up on two flatbed trailers before a sea of people ready for the show. They showed their league highlights video and then introduced me. I somewhat nervously began and then proceeded to have a great time presenting a show and message to a crowd that had no idea I lost my luggage. They say that necessity is the mother of invention. That was the case for this show as I tossed around things that I had never laid my hands on before. It challenged me to press on and just do my best with what I have. God was in control, and I pray that His Word was presented clearly. That is the most important part of my show anyway, and juggling equipment is not necessary for God’s Word to spread, just the power of His Holy Spirit.
Upward Sports™ Entertainer – an individual or group who performs and presents the Christian Gospel for the closing awards ceremony of a local Upward™ Sports league.
That’s the basic definition. The goal of this outline is to be informative and helpful for Upward Sports™ league directors, Upward Sports™ parents/family members, Upward Sports™ participants, Upward Sports™ volunteers, and anyone who is curious to learn more about the Upward Sports™ closing ceremony program.
Author’s note: I have had the privilege of being an entertainer for over 100 Upward awards programs. I am on the Upward Sports™ endorsed speakers list. I am not on staff at Upward Sports™. I simply partner with local leagues to help them have a great closing ceremony. What I say here is my opinion based on my observations of working with many local leagues. If you want the official low-down about Upward Sports™ sports, please check out their main website. If you’re a league director, refer to the materials that Upward Sports™ provides for you. These are simply some tips and suggestions from one of their endorsed entertainers.
What is Upward Sports™?
As of the writing of this, Upward Sports™ is the “world’s largest Christian sports league for children” (quoted from the Upward Sports™ website), serving over half a million kids and their families through some 5,000 sports leagues or camps. They have basketball, cheerleading, soccer, and flag football for kids and youth.
What is the Awards Ceremony?
At the end of the season, each local league hosts a free awards ceremony for the players, families, and the community. The goal of this ceremony is to celebrate the kids and what God has done in their lives all season long. Another goal is to deliver a clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with an opportunity for people to respond, and this is often done by bringing in a speaker/entertainer who delivers the message and challenges the crowd.
What does the Upward Sports™ Entertainer do?
First of all, Upward Sports™ entertainers are not official Upward Sports™ staff or employees. They partner with each local church/league to help execute a great awards ceremony. There are Upward Sports™ entertainers who are on the Upward Sports™-endorsed list and those who are not. If you’re a league director, you should do your own homework to find the right program for your ceremony whether you choose from the endorsed list or not. The endorsed list is privately available to league directors when they login to the Upward website. There is a rigorous application and screening process for entertainers to be endorsed by Upward Sports™.
Many of the entertainers have a unique talent that appeals to the kids, such as ball-handling, illusions, ventriloquism, juggling, comedy, singing, clowning, stunts, bike tricks, or other motivational and variety entertainment. They often perform for 30-40 minutes and somehow close with a challenge to follow Jesus Christ. Each program looks different. The rest of the awards ceremony is time for the league director to thank people, recognize the players, have the cheerleaders do a cheer, and other related things.
How to Have a Great Upward Sports™ Awards Ceremony
Based on my observations of the many times I have participated in these, here are a few tips:
- Be Time Efficient: There’s nothing worse than the never-ending awards ceremony. I think an hour is a good amount of time to recognize everyone, do a cheer, announce the teams, have some entertainment, and challenge the crowd to follow Jesus.
- Be Super Energetic: Another common fallacy is the boring emcee or announcer. Make sure that everyone in the spotlight has joy and energy because this is a celebration!
- Be Hospitable and Authentic: Many families attending are not regular church folks. Make sure you greet people, make them feel welcome, and genuinely invite them to enjoy themselves and listen to a positive message for the evening. Tell them about your weekend church services but don’t pressure them to join or give money.
- Be Clear About Closing: I have worked with many different types of churches and denominations and each one has a different way of closing and challenging people to respond to the message of Jesus Christ. Upward Sports™ provides these great response/evaluation cards that let people mark how they want to respond to the message and/or be followed up with. The style in which this is executed might look different from church to church, but make sure you are clear with your leaders and the entertainer about how this is going to look and who’s going to explain the response time.
- Follow the Upward Sports™ Handbook: Upward Sports™ is a super-organized operation. They are a well-oiled machine that has a reason for everything it does. They provide resources for league directors about how to have a great closing ceremony. Refer to that handbook and do what they say, and you’ll do great!
My Personal Entertainer Recommendations
I don’t have access to the full endorsed list, so I can’t say who is on it and who is not (except that I know I’m on it). So this list is my personal list of friends and ministry partners who I think are great entertainers who also present the Gospel in a clear and effective way:
Jesse Joyner – That’s me! Read all about my ministry by starting at my home page and exploring from there. While I would love to do your Upward Sports™ awards night, you might want to compare some other great entertainers, so here are my referrals….
Bob Cates My friend who is a dazzling variety performer
Brad Brown My friend who does neat tricks
Brandon Rushin My friend who makes kids laugh a lot
Brent Weber My friend who rocks out kids worship
Bret Meyers My friend who does really cool tricks
David Cain My friend who taught me most of what I do
Keith Coast My friend who gets inside balloons
Maegan Bruce My friend who is really good at puppets
Steve Winger My friend who juggles and went to the same seminary as me
The Dorrell Family My friends who are a juggling family
Tom Tombs My friend who makes people laugh
Sarah, Kezzie, and I just got back from a camp in Mississippi (Lake Forest Ranch). On our way back, I performed at Hillcrest Baptist Church in New Albany, MS. It was at these recent shows that I first tried out the new light-up stickman costume with LED juggling props – definitely a hit with the crowd!
On our way back to Virginia, we stayed the night in Greenville, SC. We saw some old friends who live in the area (Chris and Rebecca), and then made a stop at the Upward Sports Headquarters in Spartanburg, SC.
Though I don’t work for Upward, I feel very close to the organization, having been on their list of suggested speakers for their awards celebrations for the past 5 years. Upward is a global youth sports organization that has leagues serving over 500,000 kids per year. Their goal is to break a million by 2016. Their ultimate goal is to introduce kids to Jesus Christ through sports and recreation.
We were impressed with their facilities and the warm hospitality we received at their headquarters. We were unannounced walk-ins, and they immediately found someone on staff (Jennifer) to give us a personal tour. It has the look of a modern office building complete with cubicles and offices, but decorated with inspiring photos, posters, wall art, shadow boxes of memorabilia, and printed values, mission, and vision for the organization. What stands out is the “knights-of-the-round-table” style board room in the center of the second story, a glass enclosed meeting area where everyone at the meeting has equal value and input.
The statue out in the front of the property depicts the servanthood of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. If you are ever passing through Spartanburg, SC, don’t miss this special place that is the hub of a lot of God-glorifying activity.