Bethel Music

02 - Jonathan & Melissa Helser Pt 1

I’ve heard Jonathan say before that the more heaven comes to earth – the more earth looks like family. I love that so much of what they speak about in building a ministry – is much like building a family.

I’ve known The Helsers since 2010 – I was part of a team who brought them out to South Africa for two worship schools in Johannesburg – one in 2011 and one in 2012. 

In 2015 I visited them in North Carolina and attended their adult retreat for three-life-changing days. In 2016, my husband and some of our dearest friends did the same. We are all forever changed by their lives and ministry to our hearts.

“We had a mentor early in our life - he sat us down and said it’s so important that you teach a generation to become what they’ve never received.”
— - Melissa Helser

Listen here: 

Speaking about legacy and inheritance, Melissa says:

We got pregnant in year one and I think the merging of becoming parents and pouring into the youth lit a fire in us. We had a mentor early on in our life who sat us down and said it’s so important that you teach a generation to become what they’ve never received. I think that that was a definite marker for us both. Everyone is waiting for a grey haired man to father them – to give them everything they have not got in the natural. And in society – lineage and legacy and inheritance – a part of it has disintegrated – are families thriving? We have seen the fruit - and the longevity of walking with Jesus – we are fighting for this moment right now and for our kids, and their grandkids. That sustainability piece has become a huge driving force for what we are passionate about. I want to be present in the moment – but hopefully I am planting seeds that hopefully my grandkids will eat the fruit of our life. And young adults really get that language – when you talk about sustainability. At its core – its so micro and macro – living fully present but also thinking about in the future. What I practice now – I am planting for future generations to eat from. We are teaching them – because there are so many broken people - longing to be parented in a healthy way. To be able to introduce them to the true heart of the father and the friendship of the Holy Spirit. We don’t outgrow our need for parenting – we never outgrow our need for the trinity.

Jonathan talking about disciplining young adults:

I think what is so encouraging is that they don’t have so much to unlearn. There’s such a freshness in them. You see Jesus’s disciples – such young guys - they were so fresh and wide-eyed. I love how impressionable they are. One word in his presence and from his lips – changes them forever. They leave the noise of the world when they come here. And this is the most noise a generation has ever faced – so many noises competing for a father who wants to define who they are.  And so getting them out the noise and hearing the fathers voice is amazing. Then everything changes – but it takes time to shut out the other noises.

Melissa continues…

One thing that’s so impactful is teaching them how to tend to their own heart. We are a very gifted driven culture – this is what I can do for you to bring significance to my own life. I think teaching them to tend the garden of their own heart for this human life – this human experience – its such a gift.

I remember walking one day and asking about this human life – why are we doing this? These cycles of life, death, trauma – and I was waiting for the lord to bring clarity. I just kept asking… God what is it for? He was super silent. We walk a lot. Just as I was getting back to the house – I heard him quietly - heard Holy Spirit say “I really thought you would enjoy this”. And it struck me - to teach a generation how to enjoy this human experience and to walk fully in the nature of Jesus – to shed disappointment and bitterness and opinions and cynicism and tending to the garden of their heart – its difficult. But everybody wants to thrive. We have seen – going beyond giving them a theology but giving them practical tools – on how to thrive. Not just when they are 22 – but when they have their first baby – and they are up in the middle of the night losing their mind - crying out to the lord in a different place – we give them tools – where the 99% of the time they are thriving. They actually respond so beautifully – finally someone is telling me how to do it. Instead of a message – here is the how to.

 Speaking about their discipleship schools

Jonathan: We had a real father speak into us right as the school was starting to get momentum – cause we were hidden for 5 years and we would accept anyone – now we can be selective. He said: Many will come and ask for your model. Don’t give them models – give them values. Values can work anywhere in the world – values can be replanted. One of the greatest values to us – is that we are found by a father but we are formed in a family. We’ve been found by the Father of extravagant kindness and He puts us in the beautiful tension of family – like Proverbs says – iron sharpens iron. As we are immersed in family - we see who we are. My dad said to us before we got married - one of the hardest things about marriage is that your spouse will become your mirror. They will reflect to you who you are. The father wants to transform you through the power of the cross – a place of transformation that we run to. Then there is also an incredible side to that – our spouse reveals greatness in us that we didn’t know was there – they champion us. That’s what so much of what the students walk into here: the power of a family… we create a table where we encourage them and call the greatness out of them. It gets as practical as (cause they are here 24/7) – in the non-spiritual moments that the stuff comes out. Real correction moments. Like work duties – when you get to say, hey there is a better way for you than the way you acted the other when we were on work duty. There is a better place for you to live. It’s life changing discipleship – and you kind of go: oh that why Jesus’s pattern for discipleship was to have 12 guys live life with him for three years and it was in that place that heaven rubbed into earth and earth was never the same.

 Speaking about the discipline / rhythms of ministry for 6 months and then creativity for 6 months (The Cageless Birds), Melissa says:

We have seasons of pouring out and then creating. Most of the team are creative – so much of why we started the Cageless Birds was to facilitate and create books and music – a space for them to just – even in Christian culture – the higher thing is to do ministry – I just disagree: the higher thing is to live a life totally submitted to the nature of Jesus: whether you are a businessman or an artist. When you bring the presence of Jesus in whatever you do – you change atmospheres and therefore you walk out the ministry of Jesus… For us its been really important that our discipleship doesn’t look like just sitting around having a prayer meeting etc/worship/counselling) – even though we do that – Jesus is so LIFE ON LIFE. Our discipleship with our team looks like loving, feasting, and working hard, dreaming, taking risk, and trying new things. A few years ago we were like – lets write a book – for our community – a collaborative effort from our community… it was the first thing we put our language into. Just trying to gather that material – its risky – just to get printed when people aren’t buying books. To do life together – is to dream HUGE –to take risk is so kingdom.  Whether we fail or succeed – the whole process is part of the reward – the whole thing – even if they fail – me and Jonathan get to practice leading like Jesus – for there to be a consequence but grace. Graham Cooke said to us recently: grace is not underserved favour – its the empowering presence to change. You are walking out all these foundational rhythms of the kingdom – in everyday life – living a life totally submitted to Jesus. Its not enough to sit and talk about Him and how amazing He is. That’s why there are so many rhythms in the school. Photography, dance, etc. Everyone takes art – it’s in those moments – that they come face to face with their fears that have crippled them for so long. We can all get in a corporate worship meeting type setting and you feel like you can conquer the world – then you leave and you get in a fight with a friend or you cant sit at a table with your parents without fighting – that’s where the discipleship takes flesh – can I actually walk this grace message out – can I actually say no to fear – can I say no to anxiety? That’s why we do it. You don’t realise what you are doing and how you are living. It looks like finding God in the 99% of our life and practising his grace and mercy and kindness and self-control. What does it look like to impart that you are no longer a slave to fear. We want to teach them to get traction in the tiny moments - so that when the big moments come, they are like: I am ready for this – and they just start soaring

How do you open up connection and depth with your students?

Melissa: It starts with building trust. We had a friend recently say – the success of the 18 Inch Journey will directly be related to the success and the growth and fruit of your friendships here. We saw that here – a decade in – it felt it feels like the best year – wow our team is in a different place. We are practicing vulnerability and trust 24/7 – 365 days a year. We are practising conflict resolution and brave communication – the deeper we give ourselves to those kingdom rhythms of loving and living life and to serving each other and not being afraid of the things that are really tense. It creates a deeper place of trust…

It’s the worship and the teaching and the presence created in those moments. But mostly its mealtimes, work duties, moments where they are just with the staff and with leadership in really normal moments. And most of them have never been with leaders in really normal moments – never seen or experienced that. Those simple moments – mowing, cleaning, taking out trash – that life on life with a leader – it breaks down their stuff that I can’t trust leadership or this is not a safe place. The more we create an atmosphere of the presence of God – it looks like the 6 months before when we are working hard together and hitting conflict and doing that before they get here. What we create before is as powerful as what we create in the moments. That’s living every single day..

Speaking about family:

Melissa: Our passion more than schools or discipleship programs is the unit that is our family and home. The most beautiful is that the more whole Jonathan and I become, the more whole our children become. They are 15 and 12. Its stunning to watch: the more we press into wholeness – it is a direct reflection on our children – its almost instantaneous because they are watching us 24 hours a day...

Its not enough to say be kind to yourself and then we beat ourselves when we make a mistake: what we actually do to our self is more powerful than what we tell them to do to themselves. The way we treat ourselves is more powerful than the way we teach them to treat themselves. The more vulnerable Jonathan and I become – the more willing we become to open up our heart.

I had a moment with my daughter Haven. She’s doing horse-riding and she was transitioning out of private lessons into group lessons. And she is more like Jonathan. She was like I don’t want to do group lessons. Do I force her? My favourite thing in parenting is being led by the Holy Spirit. So I told her you should just go on a walk with the Holy Spirit and ask him what’s going on? That’s the simplified version of what we teach our students – to just stop and instead of just ploughing through life – stop and ask the holy Spirit – who is the greatest helper – that’s what Jesus died to give us. He swallowed up loneliness forever by giving us the Holy Spirit. So that’s our honour not our shame – that we need a helper – that we need the Holy Spirit. Simplified version – is what I did with Haven. The lord told me that when they were really little: if you teach them to need me – they will never outgrow their need for me – but they will outgrow their need for you. They will need me forever. She left and came back and was like  - I want to do the group lessons. I was like, OK, what did the Lord say? And she said – that I don’t need to be afraid – so, great – I am ready. It was that simple. She ended up doing the lesson and loving it. She was like the lord knows me so well. I didn’t even teach her that – that was her perception of being met by the lord.

Jonathan on family and values:

I think its about finding out values – how do you plant values into your home in an intentional way? Like thanksgiving – how do we go thanksgiving in our family? Or gratitude. One of the really intentional things we do is when we are sitting at a table together is: ok lets all go around and say five things we are grateful for – from today or last week or from this vacation. We’ve had moments where they didn’t want to do it – but as we have had more moments where its fluid and there is life and joy in it – its become a well worn path to encountering heaven. And when you are teaching your kids these paths – be ready for them to teach them back to you. I had this moment when we were running late as a family for a really important meeting and I was getting all anxious – I am huffing and puffing and backing out driveway – Cadence puts his hand on my arm and he’s like dad, I think this would be a good time for you to say five things you are grateful for. We’ve just created a well-worn path to the lord – where thanksgiving crushes anxiety. I put the car in park and said you are right – and I said five things I was grateful for and in that moment gratitude became a weapon to chase anxiety out our home and life. Ask the Father what are intentional things we can do as a family – for us the dinner table is a holy place – and we try to never bring our phones to the dinner table because it can be so easy to look at those screens and not at each other in the eyes. What are the holy places in your home? That’s what the word holy means – to be set apart for the lord – and to set apart those times…

On mentorship and building into their own team:

Jonathan: One of our dreams for our first camp was – what if we created a camp and environment where they didn’t just drink from our well of revival – but their hearts became a well of revival that they could drink from for the rest of their lives? And so our focus was to help them dig their own well of friendship and intimacy with the lord – their own connection with Jesus so that that fire could stay burning for the rest of the year? That has become the value of our discipleship. We don’t want to teach them to need us as leaders – we want to teach them to need the Holy Spirit inside of them. We are always there to help and lead but to teach them their own neediness for God – so they would not always need our well – but they would discover their own well in their heart. So much of our discipleship has become that.

We do evaluations with our staff each year – and in them we give them a set of questions – we change the questions every year and we have them go ask God questions: What is the upgrade you have for me this year? What is the one fear you want me to overcome this next year? They journal this and write it out on their own before the meeting. Usually they are going to write down the weakness that we have already seen and we are just going to partner with the Holy Spirit. That’s a very intentional thing. When they do it for the first time they are so intimidated. But then they get to the end – and they are like I have never felt so loved and fought for because we are partnering with the story the father is telling about them. It’s a beautiful part.


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