Monthly Archives: September 2011
About a month ago I sat down with our youth ministry teaching team and we discussed what our goals were going to be for the school year. One of the goals we identified was to help develop in our students “a love and understanding of the Bible.” As a group, we felt like we have not done a great job of this, and we desire to do better. Yesterday during my small group, I realized how poor of a job we have really been doing.
We had challenged our guys to read James chapter 1 every morning last week as they started their day. When we met yesterday we talked about what was hard about doing that, if it helped them at all, what they pulled out of the passage, etc., etc. We had a great discussion.
One of the guys in my group is a Junior in high school, has been a part of our ministry since starting 7th grade, and surprised me in a few ways. First, he did not have a Bible of his own (at least that he knew about and/or could find). Second, he had to look in the table of contents to find James more than once during our time. Third, he had incredible insights that he had gleaned from only reading the passage twice during the week.
These things weren’t surprises because of this particular student, it surprised me because it showed how poor of a job our ministry has done at helping him know his Bible and fall in love with scripture. Sure we use scripture in our large group messages, and I know he understands the common stories and key verses of our faith. Yet, this is his fifth year of small groups and he has not made it past the first layer of scripture. Yet by his observations he contributed yesterday I know he is vary capable of it. I understand he has some responsibility in this, but I also understand he has done most everything we have asked of him over these 5 years and yet personal Bible study is still relatively new to him.
Here are a few things we are changing this year to help with this trend:
1. We are asking our students to bring their Bibles on Wednesday nights
By printing the scriptures on handouts and projecting them up front we have enabled our students to leave their Bibles at home. The heart behind doing this is pure; to not make visitors feel left out by not having a Bible, yet at the same time we have trained our regulars to never bring it.
2. We commit to having them actually use their Bibles regularly as a part of our program
If we encourage them to bring their Bibles, but never give them the chance to actually open them and use them we are missing the point. Your Bible should not be a part of the “Christian uniform” required to enter the event. So, we must have some Bibles available to use for those that didn’t bring one. We also have Bibles to give to students that don’t have one of their own.
3. We will get out of the way
If all we do is teach from or about the Bible upfront, we might be getting in the way of the Holy Spirit speaking to them personally through scripture. We plan to teach from upfront on Sunday mornings, and focus on interactive and/or experiential teaching on Wednesdays. As a part of small groups, we need to be better at teaching how to personally study the Bible, and then encourage them to actually do themselves.
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)
The Bible is central to the Christian faith. Is it central in your day to day life? Is it central to your ministry? If we aren’t reading it, we can never “do what it says” (James 1:22)
Today is my day off. One of my goals for today, among the house cleaning, laundry, errands to run, etc, etc, was to write another blog post.
One of my first posts on this blog was about Why I write, and I purposefully did not put on that list to boost my ego or be the next famous youth worker. I still feel that way, and I want to always write for the right reasons whether it is a book, a blog post, or a comment on the web somewhere. So today, against all known blog rules to improve my traffic flow and followers, this is all the content I am giving you. Writing today feels like a forced chore instead of a blessing. Instead I am going to enjoy my family, watch football, catch up on house work, and whatever else will be a blessing for me. I am sure I will give you some real content again in a few days!
I had a meeting a few days ago with the small group leaders from our youth ministry. In our meeting, we were discussing how to go deeper with our discussions. We started our conversation with an article from dougfields.com and went from there.
One of the things that came out of our discussion was how frustrating it can be as a leader when you ask a question and you get the awkward silence, maybe even to the point you hear crickets chirping in the background. We came up with 3 reasons you might end up with such a silence:
1. It was a really good question
A really good, deep question needs to be thought about and even wrestled with a bit before they can answer. If this is the case, then let the silence happen. Once they do talk their answer will be genuine and insightful. God does tend to do a lot of work in silence.
2. It was a really bad question
This is usually the one I end up in… If I feel like I am talking too much, I will throw in a question just to break it up. The problem is it is usually a question with a really obvious answer, and no one wants to be “Captain Obvious” in the group. If you grew up in church, you remember the kid in Sunday school that would always raise their hand and always answer “Jesus”.
3. It was a confusing question
Maybe it was worded wrong. Maybe they don’t know what you are asking. Maybe they have no idea what their favorite color has to do with David and Goliath. If we are confused it is human nature to disengage. Instead of giving an answer out of left field and potentially being embarrassed, most people tend to just not answer.
It is usually pretty easy to figure out which one is causing the silence based on the body language of everyone in the room. If you find yourself amidst the awkward silence observe and then act accordingly. If it was a bad question state the obvious and move on. If it was confusing reword it or explain further. If it was a good question do nothing and let God work. Only end it with your own transparent answer to break the ice or a prompting for someone else to break the ice.
I hope this can be helpful for you, I think it was for us. If you want more on this topic, Dennis Beckner wrote a great post about deeper conversations and gives some great insight, check it out!
I stumbled upon this old article I wrote during my days as a Purpose Driven Youth Ministry (PDYM) state mentor. The thing that caught my attention is I wrote it a day after our third son was born; and he just turned three. Some things change pretty drastically in three years, and yet others don’t… Even after 3 years I need to be reminded about these same 5 things. I hope it is helpful for you too.
About a month ago I was talking with a friend about something that had absolutely nothing to do with youth ministry. He had been in charge of taking an old room in our church and transforming it into our new coffee bar. Not an easy task to be sure, something I understood as I helped with some of the framing of walls, installing the new floor, etc. But, this conversation was taking place near the end of the project, and when I asked him how it was going his response was ‘the death is in the details’.
I instantly understood what he meant; when the project started there was demo, new walls framed, new flooring, just a lot of change really quickly. It was obvious to even the untrained eye, something was happening and it was exciting! But then comes the tedious details; paint touch ups, vending machines, furniture, espresso machines, flavoring choices, competing coffee suppliers, paper or plastic cups, gold or silver door handles, how to con people into working the machine, forcing the volunteers to get trained on the machine they were conned into running…; all of the details no one thinks about until they don’t happen and need someone to blame.
The more I thought about this conversation, the more I realized it had everything to do with youth ministry. That can be a very accurate description of many age old youth ministry dilemmas and questions. The tedious details are the difference between a successful event and a mistake you won’t do next year. The tedious details of preparation are the difference between a good message and one that makes students want to switch churches. The answer to the question of ‘what do you do all day?’ is ‘I take care of all the tedious details that make this ministry happen’.
Since taking care of the details is the primary job description of a youth worker, how do you make sure those details don’t become the death of you? Here are a few things I came up with.
- Being purpose driven ensures the time spent on details is worth while
I hope you have done it too – taken someone’s great idea, spend tons of time and resources on it, and then realize afterward there was no real purpose or benefit to the event. I know I have. But by evaluating ideas by the purposes and your vision it gives you the right reason to say no to a good idea and ensures your time and resources will mean something in the big picture.
- Prioritize and complete the major details first, then move to minor ones if time
For a retreat: menu and shopping list – major, games to play while ice skating – minor. For a worship service: Bible message – major, funny videos to play while people arrive – minor. At some time I know we have all spent too much time on minor things at the expense of a major aspect just sliding by. And the minor things are typically the more fun details to take care of. But, if a major thing is overlooked, the minor things don’t matter anymore.
- Delegate, delegate, delegate
This one is hard for me, am I alone in this? The old adage ‘if you want it done right then do it yourself’ will burn out a youth worker faster than you can say chubby bunny! It is hard to let go, but if I don’t watch it I find myself filling my entire day doing stuff a youth leader could do, or a parent, or a student, or even the senior pastor’s secretary! My real job is to manage these people and enable them to take care of the details, and spend my time doing what only I can do.
- Take advantage of available resources
People like Doug Fields (Simply Youth Ministry) and Mike Yakinelli (Youth Specialties), Thom and Joani Schultz (Group publishing), and many others have spent their lifetimes coming up with great stuff, and they even let you take advantage of their hard work. So don’t feel like you have to re-invent the wheel every week. Your church expects you to rise up teenagers to be devoted Christ followers, not write original curriculum for every program you run. If you are at a church that expects that, start seeking God for a new church, or at least a change of heart within the leadership.
- Maintain balance in your life
If the details of your message come before your personal devotions or buying game supplies keeps you from attending your son’s baseball game then you are flirting with disaster. I am writing this from a hospital room as my one day old son and my wife are sleeping, but I would never miss this for any kind of youth event or forgotten detail. These are times you can never get back. No job or career opportunity is worth missing things like this. And since God is supposed to be the #1 relationship in your life, it goes without saying you should not be skipping that either for a job.
Those are just a few things I came up with. I am sure there are more. Give some responses of your ideas of how to not let the details be the death of you; I know I still need more help with it. The whole point here is to be as healthy as we can be and do the best job we can do for the God we love and the students we like.
I have seen a few blog posts and books circulating around lately about the youth worker/senior pastor relationship. I understand for a lot of people, and a lot of churches, this can be a struggle. I thought I should write a post showing that it is not always a bad situation.
I have a great relationship with my senior pastor!
Here are a few keys to our success:
1. We communicate often
We talk literally almost every day, and it is rarely a formal meeting. Because we have an open line of communication, when we do have issues to discuss it is not awkward. Two days ago Tom came into my office with a list of “business” things to accomplish, but it went just as smooth and comfortable as all of our conversations–which felt nothing like talking to the principle.
2. We know we are on the same team
We both want the same thing; for our church to be effective and relevant while expanding God’s kingdom in our community. We have a united vision and purpose, but we also understand each other’s roles in fulfilling them. Just like any team, we are stronger together and we know the other will get our back when needed.
3. We are involved in each other’s lives
Our lives interact in many ways outside of our formal ministry context. I know and care about his wife and daughter. He knows and cares about my wife and boys. We have some mutual interests (like sports) and use those to connect. Yes, we are in very different phases of life, but we are still friends outside of church. When I wrecked my dirtbike he was the first person to the hospital, and I would do the same for him.
4. We both are true to our roles
He trusts me completely with the youth ministry. I trust him with running the church and he knows I am not there to take his job someday. Yes he sometimes gives his opinion on something I should do or change. I sometimes give my opinion on something he should do or change. But he lets me run the youth ministry, and I faithfully follow his leadership as he runs the whole church; we have a mutual respect for one another.
5. We have both worked at it
We have been working with each other for over nine years, and there have been times our relationship has not been as good as it is now. There have been times when I have been upset with him, and definitely times when he has been upset with me. But we both had the expectation that our partnership was going to work and not be awkward or fragile. We have both worked at it but it has definitely been worth the effort.
I know and realize how blessed I am to be in the situation I am in. I wish every youth worker felt like their Sr. Pastor was one of their biggest fans. I wish every youth worker felt supported and encouraged. I wish there were more articles and books telling positive stories. My hope and prayer is my experience and situation can help make yours better.
The last several months for me have been crazy. Conferences, winter camps, family trips, sick kids, launching a new program (LHGH), mission trip fundraising and planning, all on top of the ‘regular’ stuff that goes with being a youth worker. I can not even imagine what I would feel like if I was not full time, and still have all of these things going on. If you are part time or volunteer, I tip my hat to you, because I know you deal with all of these same things.
Through these months though, I have realized that the busier I get, the less time I take for myself. We have all heard and felt the expectations of a youth worker; ‘it is about service’, ‘sacrifice for the sake of the ministry’, ‘do more so God can do more’. In fact, we often times use the phrase ‘I’m really busy’ as a badge of honor. At least for me, what that really means is I have been doing a lot for everyone else, and personally I am tired, overwhelmed, spiritually drained, and see no end to this craziness. With this mentality, no wonder most people get out of youth ministry because of burn out.
But here is my dilemma, blame it on a servant’s heart or just me being weird, but I feel guilty and selfish if I slow down. This isn’t just regarding the church and ministry, but also with my family. Am I alone in this? I understand the two greatest commandments; God first, others second. (Matthew 22:37-40) But, I know in the midst of my busyness, God does not always hold that first spot. Just think about what is the first thing to get pushed off the schedule; prayer and Bible reading. And the truth is I am supposed to love others as I love MYSELF. If I deny myself all the time in the name of service, then eventually I don’t love myself at all; which in turn makes that commandment impossible to fulfill.
As I have worked through all of these feelings these past months, a phrase keeps coming into my mind, be selfish. It seems strange that God would be telling me to be selfish, but I think that is exactly what He has been telling me. If I sit down to read and pray instead of playing with my boys, I feel selfish. If I go into the office an hour late because I was at an event late the night before, I feel selfish. If I watch a movie and take a nap on my day off instead of catching up on work, I feel selfish. If I go out golfing or on the boat without taking a student with me, I feel selfish. And God is saying to me, THEN BE SELFISH! I understand being selfish can go to an extreme, which is not healthy, but an equally dangerous extreme is selflessness. God knows better than anyone what a balanced and healthy life looks like for me, and I need to trust His wisdom. I know during these past months, selfless has become an extreme for me. God is telling me to pull back a bit to be healthy. If I am not leading a balanced healthy life, I cannot be the Husband, the Dad, the youth worker, or the Christian He wants me to be.
What extreme are you living in? What steps do you need to take in your life to bring balance? I challenge you to ask God, I know he will tell you. Then the hard thing is to trust what he reveals to you and then live it out. I am trying to be a little more selfish, what do you need to try?
This weekend we had our church family camp. It is a Labor Day tradition at our church, and I look forward to it every year. I love to go hand out in the mountains, stay right on the lake, and have someone else cook for us all weekend. I love meeting new people in our church, deepening relationships with those I do know, and just hanging out and playing games with everyone.
For the most part, this is a weekend off as a youth worker. However, I realized this weekend how valuable it truly is for our youth ministry. Since it is family camp, the parents are responsible for their own teenager, not me or the other youth leaders that attend. There are three reasons why having no programs is a huge boost for our youth ministry.
1. It gives us a chance to hang out with students as friends.
Sure, we hang out with these same students basically every week. This year especially, we knew every teenager at camp fairly well. But things are different when it isn’t a formal program or a scheduled hang out time. They are different, and so am I. It is not on my shoulders that they have a good time, and they know I am not in charge, so we both can relax and have fun.
2. We see them interact with their families
These are church families we see on a regular basis, but we all know people put on a show when they are at church. It is impossible to keep up the fake show the entire weekend. As I observe how the students interact with their parents, what they do or don’t do to their siblings, what “drama” they participate in, and who they hang out with and what they decide to do really shows a lot about what Spiritual guidance they need.
3. We interact with parents a lot
I get to spend some time with youth group parents, and they spend time with me. We can get to know each other with no expectations. I see how they parent and interact with their teenagers. They see how I parent and how I interact with THEIR teenagers. These are all good things that help us truly be on the same team.
Church family camp is always a fun weekend, and a good time for our church as we jump into fall. It is also a great chance to sit back a bit as a youth worker and learn.
I have realized something about myself lately; I do not have a realistic time to task expectation. When I think about a task or a conversation or an errand to run, or whatever the time I assume it will take to accomplish it is drastically too short. This is something my wife has known for years, but I have recently realized how much it actually effects my life
1. It makes me late
I have heard people say before that if you truly care about something you won’t be late for it. I agree with this, but if I am late it is not because I don’t care, it is because I had to get something else finished before I could show up.
2. It enables me to procrastinate
I am a natural procrastinator, but this definitely makes it worse. Because I do not think it will take me very long to accomplish it, I can put it off even longer than my natural procrastinator attitude would normally allow.
3. It frustrates other people
If you ever work with me, you need to know that I will do what I say I will do. If you expect it to be done early or for me to be fully prepared before I have to be you will be disappointed. I am pretty good at “big picture” planning, but when it comes to the details, I stink.
4. It raises my stress level
I, like most procrastinators, do work well under pressure. But the more things that stack onto my task list, the more my frustration level goes up. With my boys, the slow drivers that always end up in front of me, or my computer; it doesn’t really matter because it WILL frustrate me.
5. It makes me focus on failure
Since I expect to accomplish a huge list of things every day, I often times go home feeling like I didn’t get anything done. I constantly think about everything I didn’t get to, instead of focusing on my family, or the students around me, or any victories God did that day.
I hope the first step to improving as a person is admitting some of your faults. I admit this is one of mine. Since I have admitted this to myself, I have been trying to change my expectations on what I can accomplish in a day. And I have felt better as I drive home. What other ideas do you have for me to try? What is helpful for you?