Monthly Archives: December 2011
This is a repost from about a month ago, but I thought it was pretty fitting for new years eve.
A few months ago I made a choice I never thought I would make. I decided to stop chewing my finger nails. I have done it my entire life, as long as I can remember. I have heard for years about how dirty of a habit it is, how unhealthy it is, yada yada, blah, blah… I never cared.
So what made me care? What suddenly made me decide to change? I saw my son chewing his finger nails.
This experience has reminded me of two very important things that I already know but easily forget.
1. Any lasting life change starts with a heart change
Whether it is a bad habit, an addiction, losing weight, finances, or Spiritual commitment if a change is going to last your heart must change first. Right now, I am really tempted to chew my finger nails. The first few weeks were easy, but now the only thing keeping me from going back is my inner motivation of being a good example for my son. The same is true with bigger more important changes too. If your heart or outlook hasn’t changed, neither will your behavior for very long.
2. Everyone follows what they see before what they hear
My son heard all the same reasons I did about why not to chew your fingernails, my wife and his mom said it a lot to me. But seeing me do it anyway is what gave him the green light to ignore everything he heard. Integrity does matter. A lot. I do not want to hear financial advice from someone who is bankrupt.
The implications of these two things are huge for youth ministry. Like I said, you probably already knew these, but are you living up to them? Did you need to be reminded like I did? How are you living these out in your ministry?
I realize that I need to be teaching more on heart issues than behavior issues. I realize that before I teach anything I better be living it out myself. It just reminds me, once again, how important 1 Corinthians 11:1 truly is.
“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
I have blogged on this verse before, if you want check out that post
As I have already been pretty deep into mission trip planning for our 2012 trip, I realized this will be my 11th trip I have planned at this church. After going on nearly 20 short term trips as a participant or the lead I have picked up several tips and tricks along the way. I have put them in order based on when you would do it in the planning process, not in order of importance. Here are my top ten:
10. Know your purpose
This may seem obvious, but not all trips will fulfill the same purpose. If your main goal/purpose for your trip is to serve and accomplish a task (like a building project) then make sure everyone knows that. If your primary goal/purpose is fellowship and team building people who just want to get the job done will get really frustrated. It does vary between organizations, so know what you are looking for before you get started.
9. Research the organization or decide to do it all yourself
I have done it myself and gone with organizations. As you probably already know, there are plusses and minuses to both. Doing it all yourself is a lot more work but it will likely be cheaper. I prefer going with an organization. They have local contacts and knowledge of what’s needed that I can never get, and it allows me to go and serve with our group and let them manage our schedule. Most of the ones I have used have been great experiences.
8. Get your dates out in January
Once you have nailed down enough details to get a date, publish it as soon as possible. My goal is to have the dates out by new years. Some years this is easy to do, others have been a struggle. Families need to know your dates early so they can plan their own vacations or family commitments. Parents have told me they have literally had fights over going on the mission trip instead of the family reunion, help families out by publishing your dates early.
7. Require a non-refundable deposit to sign up
Everyone has good intentions, and a ton of students will show interest in your trip when you first announce it. If you make them write a check it forces them to think through everything before they sign up, not after. The words “non-refundable” are very powerful, use it to your advantage. Make it enough money that it will force a discussion within their family. Some parents will throw out $5 without thinking, but $50 definitely makes them ask questions. Apply this deposit to the total cost of the trip so the only way it will be wasted is if they drop out.
6. Do individual fundraising
I do not like “group fundraising”. I charge every student the actual cost of their trip, and it is their responsibility to raise the money. We do fundraising events as a group, but divide it among those that actually do the work and put it into their individual accounts. If the group has a large goal, 20% of the team will raise most of the money. That fact really bugs me. By making the fundraising optional and tracking individual accounts only the ones that work benefit from it. Ones that don’t want to participate don’t have to, and they pay for their trip however they decide to.
5. The worship/devotions are just as important as the projects
One advantage of going with an organization is they typically do the evening devotion. If they don’t provide one or you are doing it yourself make sure you put some time into planning these. Everyone will experience many things on your trip, and the evening devotions pull it all together and connect their service to their Spirituality. It all works together, so don’t focus too much on the projects and neglect the devotion times.
4. Plan every second possible
Literally schedule as much as possible. You don’t have to be busy the entire time, in fact rest time is a must, but schedule it in on purpose. Type up meal times, devotion times, project time, down time, travel time, lights out times, and anything else you can think of. Print it, pass it out, remind people of the schedule constantly and then actually stick to it as much as you can. If you don’t have a schedule you will be fighting the slow pokes the entire time and likely will not do devotions after the first few days…(re-read #5 if you need to).
3. Do pre-trip meetings
I have had many people comment to me how great our groups are to host, and pre-trip meetings have a lot to do with it. By doing some team building activities, talking through the details, and Spiritually preparing for the trip will jump start the effectiveness of the week. If you take advantage of this pre-trip time, your team will “come together” several days earlier once you are actually on the trip, which makes their effectiveness go up exponentially.
2. Confirm all reservations and details right before you leave
If you have done your work well this step seems a bit redundant, but there is nothing worse than standing in an airport with 35 people and no confirmation numbers. Go over directions with all your drivers so many times they roll their eyes when you mention “drivers meeting.” Make sure the rental company inputted the right code for 12 passenger van, you don’t want to end up with three compact cars. All of these have either happened to me (when I didn’t do this) or were avoided because of this step.
1. Pray through the entire process
This should be number ten and number one. Pray about your purpose and need for a trip before you start this process. Pray through the entire thing, and pray as much as possible during the trip. If God is not a major part of your trip, then you are just a recreational tour guide. The whole point is for God to work through your group wherever you go and whatever you do and to change the heart of every team member. God can’t do any of this if you don’t invite him along.
As I write these ten, I just keep thinking of more that I should have put on here…I might need to add to this list. What would you add to my list?
I read a post on Youth Worker Movement with a few good ideas and advice about planning a short term missions trip. You can read the post here if you want. Here is my comment I posted on their page:
We do a different trip every summer, everything from foreign trips to ones within a days drive. My goal is to have the dates and place finalized before Christmas. I finalized next summers dates and place last week, and we are doing a multi-generational trip this year.
A few things I would add:
1. Do your first informational meeting for everyone interested in the trip (and their parents) as early as possible, we do ours in January. This leaves everyone plenty of time for fundraising and gets your trip on family calendars before they are planning their family vacation.
2. Have people pay a non-refundable deposit to sign up for the trip. I just build this into the payment schedule (that you will give at your info meeting), mine is $50. By doing this you won’t have near as many people drop out, and the number you give your organization will be much more accurate.
just a few things I have learned in leading more than 10 trips.
Since posting that, I have been thinking about more tips and tricks I could give you on planning a great short term mission trip. I am working on those and will post them when I get them polished.
That original post stated how December is an important month for summer trip planning. I will say December and January are likely two of the most crucial months when it comes to planning a summer trip. As I have consistently done a trip every year, people are asking me about next years trip on the way home from the mission trip the year before. It is an integral part of my ministry culture, and it should be a part of yours too. These trips are a lot of work, and a major budget strain, but it is worth everything.
Have you started planning your trip yet?
In my last post I gave you the first two traditions that happen in our youth ministry in the month of December, if you missed those read about them here. So now for that last two:
Tradition #3 – Youth Talent Show
This tradition started a few years into my time at Cloverdale. Our church takes a break from our regular mid-week programs, basically the same break as the schools. We still do Sunday services, but children’s, youth, and adult small groups all take a break. We saw that by the Wednesday between Christmas and New Years most students are bored with break, so we decided to have them do a talent show. We have videos, lip sinks, songs, dance routines, stand up comedy, and almost anything else you can think of. Since there are no other programs going we invite the whole church to come watch. It has turned into a huge all-church event and entire families come, even if they don’t have any other connection to the students or our ministry.
Tradition #4 – New Years Eve Outreach Event
Through the year we have three or four specific “invite events”, new years eve is our biggest one and most successful one. Over the years more students have accepted Christ as their savior at this event than any others we do. Two of our current DUCS students first accepted Christ at a new years eve event. Our promotion to our regular students is literally “we want you to come, but don’t come alone. You know what the message will be so bring people that need to hear that message.” The details like location and activities change from year to year, but the purpose and the message doesn’t. Yes it is a sacrifice to never celebrate new years with my family, but the success the event has brought more than makes up for it.
We do have a few other traditions that happen throughout the year as well. I can see how these yearly events have really helped bring consistency to our calendar. But everyone knows that we hold them with an open hand. If they become ineffective or there is a viable reason to stop doing them we will. We have stopped a few traditions for these very reasons. The fine line to walk is to always make sure purpose comes before practice. If students aren’t coming to Christ through New years eve, then we will find a better way to spend our time and resources.
What are some traditions you have had to kill? What are some that are already dead but you keep doing?
I have been serving in the same church for nearly a decade. Over these years as the holiday season has come and gone we have established four yearly traditions. I believe youth ministry needs a healthy balance of “new and fresh” and traditions. But there is a danger in traditions becoming sacred cows; when they are more important than the health of the ministry. We have four traditions that all happen in the same month, and all four of them have very different purposes which is what makes them all a key part of our overall ministry picture.
Tradition #1 – Youth Staff Christmas Party
A few times a year our entire youth staff bring their significant other/spouse and hang out just for the sake of having fun. Our annual Christmas party is one of those times. We eat, we play games, they get gifts, we have a ton of fun, and the youth budget pays for all of it. The spouses are included because they make sacrifices in their lives toward our ministry so their spouse can serve. The youth staff members get a special sweatshirt (it was a coat this year) that is customized for them and they proudly wear it the rest of the year. A lot of people in our church are jealous of the gift every year, but everyone knows the commitment it takes to get one, and I am proud to honor their service in this special way. Yes it is a significant part of my budget, and it is worth every penny.
Tradition #2 – The Youth Group Christmas Celebration
The last Wednesday night before our Christmas break is always our youth group Christmas party. We combine the Jr. and Sr. high on this night, and our DUCS group (student leaders) put on a big show for everyone. They come up with the idea, they work out the details, and we go all out for the production; we even move the drum set and cage, that is real commitment! This years show I think is going to be the best ever, and seeing these student leaders rise to the occasion is such a blessing.
I am going to wait and give you the other two traditions in a later post. What traditions does your group have? How do traditions help out your ministry? How have they hindered or hurt your ministry? Have they ever become the alleged sacred cow? I will give you my answers as I conclude this topic, but I would love to learn from you as well.
Obviously the Christmas season is upon us, and with it comes some changes in our daily lives. Mainly it seems that our busyness meter gets maxed. We still have our regular lives to accomplish; work, family, church, etc. Yet we add on top of it all many special events and parties and extra shopping and family traditions and… Busyness is already at epidemic levels in our society and the holidays seem to add insult to injury.
A few days ago I blurted out a statement that I hadn’t really thought of yet:
“Isn’t it ironic that a holiday is supposed to be a chance to stop and reflect and remember, yet for most of us it just makes us busier?”
I have thought about what I said a lot more after I said it than before (this is one of my major faults I am coming to realize…). I am not against Christmas parties and family gatherings, I enjoy them all a lot. Yet I do realize that during the holiday season we are basically forced to do things we should be doing on a regular basis and don’t.
- I should shower those closest to me (like my volunteer youth staff) with praise and support and gifts.
- I should get together with friends and co-workers and family for no other reason than to have a good time.
- I should send notes and cards to most everyone I know.
- I should focus on the incredible gift I enjoy every day of a savior sent to earth for the specific purpose of dying on a cross so I can know God in a personal way.
I love the holiday season and all that comes with it, and I hope you do too. As you we both navigate through the next several weeks attending parties, traveling, shopping, and eating ourselves into oblivion I hope that it is all truly a blessing. And please don’t forget to take some extra time off and enjoy the holiday for what it was meant to be. Turn your phone off, leave the email box un-opened, push the pause button on your blog or other projects and enjoy the holiday.
But once January 2nd comes perhaps we should not just go back to “normal”, but still celebrate the life we have on a more regular basis.
“I feel closer to God right now than probably any other time in my life, yet I feel like a dismal failure in just about everything I am doing.”
I recently met with my accountability partner, who is also a youth worker in my area, and this was one of my first statements to him. His response: “me too!”
I have known him for several years, we have shared a lot with each other. At one point we even shared an office, although I can only remember one time that we were ever both working in it at the same time.
We have been official accountability partners for the past three or four years, and it always has amazed me how we seem to be dealing with the same things at the same time. We work in different churches. We have a completely different circle of friends. Our families know of each other but rarely ever get together. We have very similar outlooks on life and on ministry. These are all reasons why I feel so incredibly blessed to have him in my life and why our relationship is so valuable. There are two verses that perfectly summarize our friendship.
James 5:16 (NIV) Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Because very few things in our lives cross paths it creates a very safe place for us both to be completely honest. I trust him completely, and he doesn’t know the people I need to vent about. He can give me Godly advice and tell me the truth about myself. I know he prays for me, and that brings a lot of comfort and assurance into my life. He knows all of my biggest victories and biggest failures; other than God and my wife he probably knows the most about who I am.
Proverbs 27:17 (NIV) As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
After we talk, I always feel refreshed. There is no area of our lives that is off limits in our conversations, so I feel like a better Christian, a better husband, a better dad, and a better youth worker than I did before we talked. Sometimes I talk the entire time, other times he does. We share struggles, and victories, frustrations, and praises. We pray for each other and part ways feeling “sharper”.
This world can be a lonely place (especially as a youth worker), and I hope you have at least a few “iron level people” in your life like I do. If you don’t, then start praying for God to lead you to one. This relationship did not happen by accident, it was purposefully pursued and kindled and built.
1. Pray for God to show you the right person.
2. Act on His leading and ask that person if they are interested in this kind of relationship.
3. Actually meet on a regular basis.
I hope you don’t feel like a dismal failure in all you are doing, but if (I mean when) you do I hope you have someone to confide in that will pray for you and help you to keep going. If you would like me to pray for you to find the right iron level person let me know on my prayer page or in the comments and I will pray with you!
Last night after our youth meeting our teaching team was discussing how the night went and what we were going to do the next week. One of the leaders (who had led the Jr. High group) shared that during their discussion one of the students said their family never sits down together for a meal. I asked a student that is on our teaching team how often his family sits down for a meal together, and his response was “we did at Thanksgiving, and we might at Christmas.”
The family dinner was something my family did growing up as regularly as possible. Every other meal was scattered and rushed, but dinner was every night and if someone missed it was strange. I realize now how many of my family memories and significant conversations happened around our dinner table.
Now, that I have my own family, we also eat dinner together as much as possible. Our evenings are crazy, and I think we are just as busy as most other families with 3 kids and all the church commitments and sports and… I look forward to that time with my wife and kids every day, but we have consciously made it a priority.
We also have people join us for dinner on a regular basis. Youth leaders, students, friends, it changes often. And everyone that joins us for dinner seems to really enjoy the time around the table, especially youth students. Perhaps this is why – because it is not something they do on a regular basis.
Having kids over for dinner is a pretty big part of our ministry to teenagers. Some of the most beneficial times at camps or retreats is at meals. How do you use meal times as a part of your ministry? Does your family sit down for a regular family meal? If so how has it helped your family? If not what keeps you from doing it?
Recently my favorite book as a child was offered as a free app download from Starbucks. I heard it was available, so of course I was quick to download it. To my amazement this fond childhood memory came to life on my iPhone as Grover reads the title “The Monster at the end of this Book”.
My kids have enjoyed this app over and over (and over) again, and I enjoy watching them work through the story. As we sat down together to go through it for the first time I shared with them how this was my favorite book when I was their age. A few days later my oldest son (7 years old) was playing on my phone and asked me “Dad, when you were a boy did your Dad let you do this story on his iPhone?” As I laughed I explained to him that we didn’t have things like iPhones or tablets when I was his age, it was an actual book, with a cover and paper pages, and the only voice Grover had was in my head. He looked up for a second, said “oh”, and went back to focusing on the screen.
The more I thought about this, the more I realized how quickly our perspectives change based on our surroundings and how much technology has spurred these changes. Here are two things I must do as I strive to understand and serve God and teach teenagers to do the same.
1. I need to evaluate my perspective.
Everyone has a bias. My son’s bias in this situation is that everyone has always had iPhones. That bias is obviously false to you and me, but it was a new revelation for him. I can try to be open minded and neutral, but no matter how hard I try all my life experiences, education, relationships, and struggles play a role into how I see the world and interact with scripture. And no one else is going to agree with me 100% because their life experiences, education, relationships, and struggles have been different than mine. Knowing this can change the way I interact with and teach scripture. Once I realize that the disciples were trying to understand Jesus’ teaching with out the help of the Holy Spirit it changes how I view them. They did not receive the Holy Spirit until Acts 2, but since I do have the Holy Spirit it is easy to bash on them for not getting it. I need to evaluate my own perspective and see if my bias might be leading me down the wrong path.
2. I need to use technology carefully
I love technology. I use it a lot. It has changed my life in drastic ways. Yet, I also know that not all the changes technology brings are good. Yes, the internet and social media has connected the world together more so than ever before. But they have also provided an avenue for pornography to be easily and secretly available to everyone anytime they want it. I have recently seen how technology has effected how we interact with scripture. Because we can easily project verses on a big screen and print them on a handout no one brings their Bible with them to church anymore. I have instant access to scripture on my phone and my computer, but it resonates in my heart and mind very differently when I open my Bible and read it off of paper instead of a screen. I am shocked at how few students in our ministry can find a verse in the Bible without help. I am ashamed to think how I have enabled them to not need to know how to find them by doing it for them and putting it on a screen.
I am not at all suggesting that we should not use technology to further God’s kingdom or teach His word. I am suggesting that we need to be careful on how we use it and think about the consequences of those choices.
How have you seen technology help your personal walk with Christ? How has it hindered it? How has technology helped your ministry to teenagers? How has it hurt it? Is there a change you need to make in your ministry away from technology? These are questions we all need to be asking ourselves.
I recently finished reading Sifted by Rick Lawrence. This book is definitely one you will need to commit to reading, it took me several days to read it, but it is well worth the time. Granted, I am a slow reader and it made me think a lot, which made me even slower.
Rick examines two very interesting verses from Luke 22 where Jesus says ”Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (verses 31-32, NIV)
Each chapter breaks down these two verses phrase by phrase, and Rick explores and releases the wisdom and meaning of each one. No matter what your learning style you will understand his point of view as he uses a nice mix of personal stories, movie scenes, historical fact, and other various illustrations to bring to life the meaning of the text.
The thing I liked the most about this book is Rick lets the scripture dictate the meaning, even when it is something that does not easily fit in the “God shaped box” I have put Jesus in. It definitely challenged my thinking, opened my eyes to new truths about God, and shed light on some current issues and questions within my life.
As I said, not a quick read, but I do highly suggest reading this book.