Monthly Archives: April 2012
I have recently seen a few different blog posts about numbers and youth ministry. One of them at youthmin.org and one at dougfields.com. I encourage you to read both of these posts, as they both offer some great thoughts and insights. As I read both of these I can’t help but get excited because I see more and more people asking (and writing about) the right questions. I see youth ministry taking steps in what I consider to be the right direction.
My book is making progress towards it’s debut to the world, and in it there is an entire chapter devoted to this topic. Here is a sneak peek:
Every time I get into a conversation with someone I don’t know very well, like on an airplane, or with a new neighbor, or with the random stranger you get teamed with at the golf course, eventually the question gets asked—what do you do? When I blurt out “youth pastor,” I can tell a lot about the person by their next question. If the next question is “a what?” then I know they have not ever been around church. If they have been around church, their response to my career choice is, “oh cool, how many kids are in your youth group?” Most youth workers will tell you that this question bothers them, yet we usually always give an answer—which is inflated by at least ten percent. We have heard the mantra chanted over and over that “it’s not about numbers,” yet we all know that isn’t entirely true.
Numbers are a big deal. Numbers is how our society and world track everything. If you are successful, or you are a dismal failure, the numbers will reveal it. We have all heard the phrase “the numbers don’t lie,” but they don’t always tell the whole truth either. Many things that are a part of a successful church, especially if you are challenging the paradigm, cannot be tracked by raw data. Spiritual growth is hard to chart, how much of a message actually sunk into a student’s heart isn’t measurable. However, there are two things in the world of the church that are very measurable: money and attendance. These two things are exactly what most churches track the closest. Since mentioning money is a common party foul, and teenagers don’t have a lot of their own money, our conversations as youth workers center on attendance. As important as programs are in a church and a youth ministry, the most important thing is how many people are attending those programs.
Another of the several ways the paradigm defines success is by how many teenagers show up. It tells me that the more students that are in my group, the better the youth worker I am. If this were actually true, then mega church pastors and youth workers would be perfect people; they would never have a moral failure or a ministry failure. And if this were actually true, the lead youth worker would have complete responsibility on how big or small the group is. The size of church, type of facility, what sports season it is, or the students’ own life decisions would have no bearing. We all know this simply is not true, yet we still judge our own success based on the size of our mailing list.
The truth is that most of the numbers we keep track of and that we throw around to other youth workers are based on hype. Our goal needs to be health, not hype. The numbers we should be focusing on is how many teenagers there are in our area that are not attending a church and don’t know Christ, the number of students that are falling through the cracks in our churches, and the number of students that are genuinely sharing their faith on a regular basis. Those are numbers that will reflect health. Those are the numbers that should get us jazzed up or sick to our stomach.
How much do you tend to talk about numbers? What numbers keep you up at night? What numbers do you pray about?
I also must admit that I have had virtually no experience with or knowledge about Orange, but the more I hear, see, and read about it I need to check it out. I might already be more Orange that I ever realized…
For this inaugural post, I think you need to understand better who I am and what I believe. I am a weird youth worker. “What makes you weird?” you ask. What I believe about youth ministry makes me weird…
I believe my own faith walk is more important than my ministry to teenagers.
I believe that my wife and kids need to know I love them more than I love the church.
I believe that huge numbers is not the goal of youth ministry or the measure of health.
I believe that I should have a good relationship with my senior pastor and other church staff; after all we are on the same team.
I believe that I should not do ministry alone. I need to team up with volunteers and other youth workers in my area to promote unity within my church and my community.
I believe that youth ministry is a long term commitment not a stepping stone to a real job within the church.
I believe that as a Christian I signed up to fight in a war along side God, and that youth ministry is the front lines of the battle not a way to get paid to play.
I believe that teenagers are an integral part of the church today; they are not the church of tomorrow.
I believe that the current paradigm we live up to in youth ministry is hurting us more than it is helping us, and that we need to admit it and challenge it head on through the Truth of scripture.
After reading what I believe you are probably reacting in one of two ways. Perhaps you are deciding you will never read my blog or anything else I write ever again. Or, you are nodding in agreement and glad that someone finally said it and you want to hear/read more.
My hope and prayer is that you will be weird with me as we pursue something different within youth ministry together. If that is you, may I ask two simple things of you?
- Please pray for my book to be taken by an agent and/or a publisher. I have written a book about this topic, so if you want to read more it needs to get published.
- Read and interact on this blog to show there are other youth workers out there willing to step out and be weird with me.
Are you a weird youth worker? Do you want to be?
Whew, the first post is done. My hope is they only get better from here!
As I read over these words I can say I am still just as weird today as I was then. And it is fun to see how God has worked through this site; my book is going to be out soon and I have interacted with many people and like minded youth workers over the past year. I am excited to see how God continues to use it in years to come!
I am sitting in the airport waiting for my plane back to Boise, and it’s raining. I just spent three days in Portland, OR listening to a few great speakers (Michael Frost and Doug Fields), hanging with some great people, and walking through lots of rain. I definitely have a lot to think about and unpack and process from these three packed days away. I plan to write about a lot of this as I process it all, but until then here are a few quick things I am taking home with me from this trip. Yes it rained most of the time, but my time here has been very WARM!
1. Relationships are HUGE
This conference is a gathering of pastors from the western states of the Church of God. Over the years of attending this conference and being on the planning side of it the past few years I have gotten to know many of these people. It is fun to hang out with like-minded friends. Our ministry and personal paths cross from time to time, but our friendships and connections go much deeper than that. I have not talked face to face with Doug for many years. Others I have seen recently but no matter how long it has been it is always great to catch up and share stories.
2. Successful ministry doesn’t have to be complicated and busy
As I reflect on the teachings of both Doug Fields and Michael Frost I see this common theme through both of their messages. These two men had very different styles and approaches, but they both communicated a similar message to me; slow down and keep it simple and effective. More on this to come…
3. Keep pressing forward
Once again, like God did a month ago on my trip to SYMC, I am encouraged to keep doing what I am doing. I see God answering some long time questions of mine, opening some doors, closing others, and confirming to me I am headed in the right direction. With my church, my writing, my friendships, and every other area of my life. There is nothing like being right in the middle of God’s will, and that is exactly where I feel I am right now.
I have no idea where you are at in your life or in your ministry, but if it is “raining” I encourage you to seek God and find out what is missing. Is it relationships? Are you making things more complicated than they need to be? Are you just too busy? Perhaps you just need confirmation you are heading in the right direction. Whatever it might be, seek God and ask if you don’t know, because I know 100% that He does know and I believe he will tell you if you ask. Just because it might be raining, don’t let it ruin anything.
I am already excited for next school year. The last several weeks I have had several meetings about a ministry called Launch Pad. It is a Christian nondenominational religious release class for public high schools. Check out this video, it explains it better than I can…
A new launch pad is starting at Mountain View High next year, and I am going to be on the teaching team for it. Each site has a team of teachers, mostly area youth pastors and a few parents/former teachers, that rotate to cover the instruction time. They have a set rotating curriculum so a student could take launch pad all four years of high school and learn new things every semester.
Here are a few reasons I am really excited about this opportunity:
1. It gets me into their world
If I am not careful, I can find myself spending all of my time on the church property, running church programs, and inviting (sometimes more like begging) students to come into my world. By going to campus on a regular basis and interacting with launch pad students, from my church and other churches, it puts me more in their world. More of a presence in the community outside the church walls is always a good thing.
2. It promotes unity and networking in our community
There are a lot of good youth workers in my area. From full time youth pastors to parent volunteers and everything in between, there are a lot of good youth workers. It takes a team of these people, in every school launch pad is in to make this ministry happen. All of these teams gather twice a year in one room for training, what an amazing encouragement to see so many people that love God and love teenagers come together.
3. Teenagers gain a strong foundational Biblical understanding
It is not always easy or possible to incorporate Bible classes into your church youth ministry picture. Yes, we do teach the Bible to students through our programming, but not in a classroom setting, for a grade, with tests and homework. It is being worked out right now between launch pad and a local Christian college to give college Bible credits to launch pad students. I needed those credits for my college degree, and I wish I would have had access to classes like that in high school. Not just for the credit, but for the depth of knowledge and understanding it brought to my faith.
I encourage you to visit their website and learn more about this unique ministry at http://www.launchexperience.org
Here we are, Saturday of holy week. Have you ever wondered why Saturday is a part of holy week? I really haven’t ever thought about it until today; but I think God must have had a reason for waiting 3 days.
Obviously we know the significance of Friday. Christ died on Friday, everything came to a head, it all hit the fan. Jesus said he was going away and it happened. Everyone that wanted Jesus out of their life and off the religious scene finally got their way. God turned is back to sin and Jesus finished it.
And we have Sunday, the resurrection. Time to celebrate that God solved the equation, God is still a righteous judge, the wages of sin is still death, and yet I can be forgiven by grace. The cross is empty, Jesus is alive, and suddenly everything makes sense. Sunday is the year of jubilee, life is good, and I know the truth and it has set me free.
But what about Saturday? Think about the disciples on Saturday. Just a few days ago they were still kicking it with Jesus and all was fine. Now Jesus is dead and they are left to pick up the pieces. Imagine mentally going over everything Jesus said and did, wondering what exactly everything meant, and wondering what might happen next. Everything changed in the matter of a few hours and here they are, alone. Imagine Peter on Saturday, that had to have been the longest 3 days of his life. I can imagine the one word that would define Saturday is silent. Silent Saturday.
As I think about this, I realize there have been several times in my life and in my faith that it has been Saturday. I have hit rock bottom and I know what I hope for, but all I find is silence.
Perhaps you look around and it is Saturday in your life. Maybe it is Saturday in your ministry. We all have Saturdays. But you know what? Sunday will come. God will show up. It might be only a day away, or perhaps it might be longer, but no matter what know that Sunday is coming!
The other day I had a conversation with an old friend and a great youth worker. As we talked and caught each other up on everything that is going on in our lives of course our conversation turned to youth ministry. We talked about what was going well and what wasn’t. The changes we have both contemplated and especially the ones we actually have done since we parted ministry ways a year and a half ago.
At the center of this conversation, and many others I have had recently was the concept of relational ministry vs. program ministry. This has been a hot button within ministry circles for a long time, and one that does not come with easy answers. It is very easy to jump onto the “it is all about relationships” bandwagon, while we typically spend the majority of our time preparing and running programs. Most of our world is built on policies, regulations, deadlines and set goals yet we all spend a lot of time attempting to find ways around them through personal connections or crafty behavior. “Can’t you make an exception for a friend?” “I know the speed limit is 35, but I am late and my kid is sick and my dog might be eating my favorite pair of shoes right now, I need to get home!” “I am not cheating, I am bending the rules to gain a slight advantage.”
I am not going to pretend to have a good answer for this ongoing struggle, but here are a few thoughts I have observed in myself and in others lately:
1. Know which one is easier for you
The more God molds me and reveals how He has gifted me, the more I realize that I default toward program ministry. I do value relationships, but if things aren’t going well I turn to program changes or policies to try and fix it. When the problem is relational a program change won’t help.
Perhaps you default toward relational ministry; which means when things don’t go well your gut reaction is to do more relational stuff. However if the problem is program oriented more hang out time won’t help.
Everyone has one that is easier than the other, do you know which one that is for you?
2. Extremes are not helpful
If you focus too much on programs and policies the relational tone will fade. If you focus too much on relationships you might never plan out anything and appear to be unorganized or have no direction. Anytime something is carried out to an extreme it is not healthy.
Once you realize something is not healthy you must be careful to not over-correct. My friend defaults to relational fun, and knowing that he found himself overcompensating toward structure and content. For me I turned to structure and content because it is my default. Whether it is your comfort zone or the opposite you definitely can find yourself in an unhealthy extreme.
3. We need both in the church
The old cliché is true: “they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This obviously pushes us more toward relationship. Yet the fact remains that they still need to learn what you know. How will someone know that you care for them? Primarily through relationship. How will someone learn what you have to teach them? Primarily through a program. We need both. The challenge is to balance the two, and do it well.
While at The Simply Youth Ministry Conference I saw that Group does a really good job of making a corporate business environment relational. Not all companies (which are primarily policy/program driven) do a good job of this. Everyone knows the business motivation for putting on a conference like SYMC, and Group and other venders certainly make money from the conference. But the overall feel of the SYMC experience is relational; what an amazing accomplishment.
Finding the right balance between program and relational is not an easy thing, but if you can accept the fact that we need both and know which one you default to I think we can move forward and become better leaders.