Galations 6:4-5 (NIV) Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.
I read these verses in my devotions this morning, and I realized that I evaluate myself completely wrong. It is easy for me to look at other youth pastors, other churches, and everyone of my online connections and get down on myself. They have a better job. They have more students coming. Their church is much cooler. Their book has actually sold some copies. Their blog has way more visitors.
Every time I compare myself to someone else I lose.
The problem is I am holding myself to a standard that isn’t mine. God has put me in my church, with the students and culture that it has, and has put a specific calling on my life. Those are all specific for me from God. That is the only “load” I need to be carrying. I should test my own actions to that standard, not to what someone else is doing. Am I fulfilling everything God has asked me to do in the context He has put me in? That is the test I need to pass.
If I test my actions against someone else, I will lost every time because I don’t know their whole story. I only know what I see on the surface, not what happens behind the scenes of their life. I heard it stated like this:
“Don’t compare your behind the scenes footage to someone else’s highlight real.”
I did steal that from someone, I am sorry I can’t give you credit for this amazing statement.
Today, give yourself fully to the calling God has put on your life, and only compare yourself to that. God has given you the standard for YOUR life, so carry your load and only your load. If you don’t know what that load is, ask God and I am confident that He will tell you.
The other day in my devotions I read Colossians chapter 2; Paul mentions false humility twice (verse 18 & 23). As I have read these verses in several different versions and looked at commentaries and references, I realize this is something that really bothers me. The idea of acting and speaking in a humble manner just to cover up your arrogance . Purposefully giving the perception of humbleness when the truth is pride overflows in your heart.
With all of the big conferences and meetings I have been to, I have experienced some speakers and authors that are really good at false humility. They constantly tell you about how success has fallen in their lap, drop name after name into conversation, and rattle off their amazing credentials and resume with ease. Then the closing line always makes an appearance “it isn’t about me though.”
I have also met just as many nationally known authors and speakers that are the exact opposite of this. They genuinely care about God’s success, not their own. They pass off honor and accolades to those that help them do what they do.
I am writing this today to openly admit my struggle. Arrogance bugs me to the core, nothing makes my skin crawl more than hanging around a conceited person. I am very uncomfortable with self-promotion and marketing my own stuff. Because it is uncomfortable for me I over compensate and do it wrong. I am a horrible salesman. I have yet to write a proposal for a book or a speaking engagement that has been successful. I stink at this.
Whenever I have gained the opportunity to speak or share about my book I feel like I fail at it because I am so scared of being perceived as arrogant or self-promoting. Yesterday I led a discussion in an advanced youth ministry class at NNU. I was asked to do this and to talk about my book. It did not go as well as it could have because of this struggle that continues to rage in my heart and mind. I want so badly to help God change the landscape of youth ministry, which is why I wrote the book in the first place. Yet, I stink at marketing and promotion and so books aren’t selling. I think the only point I clearly communicated to that class yesterday was how I didn’t want to market my book to them. I love speaking and teaching about God’s word, I don’t like promoting my own stuff.
Alright…I said it. I openly admit my struggle and weakness,and with it comes a deep breath. I say all this not only to “think out loud” but also to share what I am learning from this struggle so it can hopefully help you with whatever you struggle with.
1. Acknowledge where you are weak
I realize this is a major weakness for me. With deciding to self-publish my book I knew that I would have to market and promote myself. I had no idea how bad I would be at it and/or how much time and energy it would take. No one is good at everything, we all have weaknesses. I realize now this is a major one for me.
2. Seek the right kind of help
As I have stewed over this post for a few days, I received some great advice. I need to be praying for God to raise up the right person in my life that is good at marketing and promotion, so I don’t have to do what I am not good at or comfortable with. So as I pray for this I have to keep my eyes open for the right person and opportunity.
3. Let everyone do what they are good at
I have to be willing to hand over responsibility when someone agrees to help. I have to be a team player and fulfill my role of writing and speaking as best I can, and let them do their role as best they can without controlling it. My way is obviously not working, but it can be really hard to let someone else do things their way.
I realized these concepts are ones I need to live out in many other areas of my life, not just with my book. The more I can do these, the less I will hold myself back from what God really wants to accomplish through me. What are you not good at? What is an inner struggle that you have? How are these holding you back?
In case you didn’t notice, it is valentines day. Here is a post about relationship that isn’t focused on romance…thought you might need a break from all that. This post was originally posted on October 22nd, 2011.
This past week I had to learn a very valuable lesson…again. There is great power in a face to face conversation.
Last week I had face to face meetings with two guys I serve along side of in our youth ministry. Both of these guys are great youth workers and have been on our team for several years. And both of these guys have not been around much in recent weeks. After a bit of frustration with communication attempts being unanswered I decided I needed to sit down with them face to face and talk. No more emails, no more texts, no Facebook messages, just good old fashioned conversation.
In both situations, it was the best thing that could have happened. Through both meetings I learned a few very important lessons.
1. I put way too much trust in technology
During both conversations, we realized there has been communication that had not connected. Emails and texts that I had sent that for whatever reason had never been received. I was frustrated they never answered, they were frustrated I hadn’t communicated with them. In the age of mass texting, reply all emails, and many many more ways we have come up with to virtually communicate with people it is easy to think we are over communicating. Once I hit “send”, my assumption is communication has happened. Obviously that is not a valid assumption.
2. Relationship is more than words
Yes, a lot can be accomplished through email, texting, social networking, and the like. I feel like I have relationships with many youth workers all over the country that I have never met in person, but it will be completely different when I talk with them face to face at SYMC this year. The same words I exchanged with both of these guys this past week could have been typed and viewed on a screen, but they would have most likely made things worse than better. They needed to SEE that I cared about them by showing up, by the emotion in my voice, by my body language as they heard the words I said. I needed to SEE the same things from them as they talked. There is incredible power in relationship, especially when that relationship is not just on a screen or through someone else.
I have said many times that social networking is “fake fellowship”. Yes it can be good and can connect people that would otherwise not be connected, but I struggle to say it is real relationship. Whether you are leading a team of volunteers, or just interacting with friends and family, don’t trade face to face time for screen time. I have learned once again it is not the same. Who do you need to call or meet with?
This post has been getting quite a bit of traffic lately, and I am not sure why. But, that is why I chose to share it again this week. It was originally posted July 11th, 2011.
When was the last time you thought about your own spiritual journey? If you are a Spiritual leader of any kind; a youth worker, a parent, or a believer for that matter you need to think about it.
Over the past several months of my life, I have thought a lot about my own spiritual journey. It started with my bike wreck; you can read about that here. It continued with a visit to Spokane,WA and the church I accepted Christ as my personal savior at when I was six years old.
It continued as I sought God about the youth ministry I lead, evaluate how we are doing things, and what needs to change for us to move forward. And it all seemed to culminate at Jr. High camp a few weeks ago (you can read about that here and how it affected me here).
I am sure there has been much written about spiritual journeys and the transformation process, but a summary that has helped me sort all this out is from George Barna’s recent book Maximum Faith. He summarizes it as 10 stops on the transformation journey:
Stop 1: Ignorance of and indifferent to sin
Stop 2: Aware of and indifferent to sin
Stop 3: Concerned about the implications of personal sin
Stop 4: Confess sins and ask Jesus Christ to be their savior
Stop 5: Commitment to faith activities (behavior modification)
Stop 6: Experience a prolonged period of spiritual discontent
Stop 7: Experiencing personal brokenness
Stop 8: Choosing to surrender and submit fully to God: radical dependence (Jesus becomes Lord)
Stop 9: Enjoy a profound intimacy with and love for God
Stop 10: Experience a profound compassion and love for humanity (see the world through God’s eyes)
*The parenthesis is my interpretation/summary/clarification of the stop
Where are you at on this transformation journey? Especially if you are a full time pastor, chances are you have not had to honestly answer that question in many years, maybe never. Many people never make it beyond stop 6, and during that time of spiritual discontent either leave the church completely (like after graduation) or settle back into stop 5 thinking that is all the church, and God, has to offer them. So where are you?
I can honestly tell you that God, over the past few years or so, has slung me from stop 5 to stop 9 in a whirlwind of experiences. As I reflect on all this, two key things keep popping up in my mind and heart.
I cannot lead someone where I have not been myself
Most churches (especially youth ministries) do a great job programming up to stop 5. Stop 6 through 10 become very personal and nearly impossible to program. The only way I can help anyone through those last five stops is by personal encouragement, prayer, and leading by example (sounds a lot like discipleship). If I have not gone through those stops myself, I cannot guide anyone else through them. It does not matter if that person is a teenager, my own sons, or my next door neighbor. If I have not navigated through those stops, no one I am leading will either.
I will not ask a student to do something I will not do myself
This has been one of my core values as a youth worker from day one. I tell my volunteer team this applies to everything from scrubbing a toilet on a retreat to reading my Bible daily and everything in between. We all follow what we see before what we hear, especially if you are under the age of 18. So what example are you setting? Not by what you say, teach, or preach; by what you do. Your own spiritual journey is the most important thing for you to focus on as a spiritual leader, yet the more we “do” the more we tend to neglect our own faith.
When is the last time you read the Bible just to read, not for a lesson or to prepare a message? When have you prayed for more than a few minutes and not done all the talking? When have you been in silence for more than the time it takes to go to the bathroom? When did you last fast?
1 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV) 1Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
What example are you really setting?
Most every youth worker has had a similar experience: You must have a heart to heart talk with a student. A behavior problem, the rumor mill, or a social situation turned bad and you have to step in. So you gracefully talk it through, even pray for them and end with a hug (side one of course). Everything is resolved…until they go and tell their friends and their parents that they got yelled at by their youth pastor.
You work hard to keep a healthy balance in your life. You are careful what you say yes to, you guard your evenings at home, you give your all when at church or an event, and you even turn your phone off sometimes. Yet there are still people who think you don’t do enough at church and your kids still say that Daddy is hardly ever home.
It happens often, I have seen it happen several times recently in my life and ministry; what people perceive they believe as truth. Often times information is miss-interpreted, facts are ignored, an assumption is made, and suddenly whatever was perceived is now more truth than what actually happened.
Especially within the church, decisions get made largely on perception and not always on truth. Churches are made up of people, and every person at some point has acted on a false perception. It has been done to me, and I have done it to others. Recently a ministry friend was fired from his church because of perception, not facts. Listening to his story was difficult, but somewhat predictable.
As a leader, whether in the church or not, you need to be aware of this concept, and try to counteract it as much as possible. Here are a few things that have helped me.
Look at possible perceptions of a situation, not just the facts.
We recently hired a new youth intern at my church. Every intern I have ever had serve with me before now has been male. We hired a female this time. My office (and intern offices) are in a separate building on our property – so her office had to be moved into the main building. That decision was completely based on possible perceptions, not on facts.
While preparing a message, make sure you think about how your words could be perceived, not just about what you are going to say. Ask yourself if you are reacting to a situation or to your perception of the situation. As a leader, especially in the church, you need to think one step past the facts and look at the possible perceptions.
Realize you are accountable to God first.
Even if you take perceptions into account, you are going to make decisions that others don’t like. That is a reality of leadership. If you acted completely based on possible perceptions you would end up not doing anything…ever.
Romans 9:1 (NLT) With Christ as my witness, I speak with utter truthfulness. My conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it.
Paul understands that his words are being perceived as harsh, but he also knows that he is accountable to God for his leadership. He was not willing to change his message so everyone listening would feel good. If you made every decision based on possible perceptions that is exactly what you would be doing. If God has called you to Spiritual leadership, whether with teenagers or otherwise, know that you are accountable to Him first.
Once again, a proper balance must be found. Stay true to what God has called you to do as a leader, but you can also side step a few potential land mines if you think about the possible perceptions before you act.
When has perception blown up in your face? Do you act more on facts or perception?
Yesterday I met with my local NNYM network group. I have been “helping” coordinate this group of youth workers for several years. Helping is in quotations because I have not always been convinced that my influence in the group has always been helpful; it has struggled to gain any kind of traction or momentum for a long time.
Yesterday was one of the best network meetings I have ever been to.
As I have pondered on this, I have realized some reasons why it has struggled, and why it seems to be working now.
Why it has struggled:
- Inconsistent leadership. When I was first hired in the Treasure Valley there was a very strong network in place with very consistent leadership. Those people either moved out of the area or out of youth ministry positions within my first year serving in Boise, and it has struggled since. The leaders that have been involved have not been bad leaders, but other factors have not lead to consistency.
- Lack of clear vision and purpose. People are usually pretty clear about what they don’t want in a network, but are not able to clearly convey what will bring them back month after month. We have not had a clear purpose for our meetings, so they become pretty easy to blow off.
- Personal Agendas. I remember a few times the network started to rise above the first two things, and then it would completely implode because of someone’s personal agenda. Someone would see the network meeting as a great opportunity to push their product or ministry or cause or event and the next month no one would show up.
Why it is working now:
- A clear purpose. At a prior meeting we made a list of discussion topics that would be beneficial for our lives to talk about. Yesterday we talked about how to find and maintain proper balance in your life as a youth worker. No article or book, we just shared stories and struggles and victories from our lives. We talked about our marriages, our families, our own faith, our church responsibilities, and how to actually balance them all and find health. We say up front, we are having lunch and talking about this, that’s it.
- Mutual respect. Those who attended represented large and small churches, single and married, veterans and rookies and everything in between. Comparison is checked at the door and we just enjoy being together and talking shop with people that get what it is like to minister in our valley.
- A comfortable and neutral place. One of the youth workers hosted us at his home. Our plan is to rotate around our valley to different homes as we take turns hosting. Restaurants are loud and hard to have good honest discussions at. Going to other churches makes the mutual respect value harder because we all by default compare facilities. Our valley is pretty spread out and people won’t always drive far to meet. This way it will be close to everyone at some point.
- We all want the same thing. Seems it should go without saying, but it needs to be said. We started the discussion by reiterating the fact we all want the same thing: every teenager in the Treasure Valley to fall deeply in love with Jesus Christ. We are all on the same team and understand the unique challenges of our community, so lets help each other.
If you do not have a local network in your area, I encourage you to step up and start one. Visit www.youthworkers.net to get started.
There have been times in my life and ministry that networking has been a tremendous blessing as well as a few struggles–but overall all the effort to make it happen has been worth it. One thing that is always true about networking with other youth workers is that if you don’t pursue it then it will NEVER happen, so whether that means starting your own or just showing up at the next meeting please do it!
This past week I made my first wholesale transaction with a book store and my book. This was a fun step in getting my book out for people to actually read, but a journey I am realizing will take place on a long and slow road. Definitely one drawback of self-publishing, but that is a different subject (and potential post) I will leave for another time.
As my wife and I were walking into the store the next day she asked me what the experience was like bringing in and selling those copies. My answer: “weird”. Seeing my book on the shelf (and selling it the day before) was a very personal experience. That book represents a lot of time, thought, emotions, and resources from my life. Yet, for the bookstore it was simply a business transaction.
Thinking about this the last few days I realize the implications it has for life, ministry, and the Church. Being a youth worker and a Pastor is something that is very personal for me, yet it is also my business. Serving God and teenagers is a very personal calling, but my paycheck is also attached to it.
Within the church, there is a tension between the “free” gospel and all the bills that must be paid. How people spend or give their money is a personal decision, yet a lot of business hinges on those choices.
Teenagers and families within the church have very personal relationships with their youth pastors and leaders, yet they can be fired for business reasons leaving the students with a lot of questions. The student that acts out or texts during your message has some personal issues that need to be dealt with, yet the program must keep going…or does it?
I realize I am not providing a lot of answers here, but just thinking out loud about this ongoing struggle; is it business or is it personal? Unfortunately in this world the answer is both. Within the Christian publishing world: both. Within the youth ministry world: both. Within the American Church: both. I say unfortunately because there is this underlying tension that we all must deal with.
I wish I had good answers on how to balance the two…but I really don’t. Do you have any answers? How do you balance the tension between business and personal in your life? In your job? In your ministry?
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…
This post was originally publish as a guest post for Engaging the Shadows of Youth Ministry. Thanks Matt Murphy for the opportunity!
This article has been looming within my heart for weeks now. What I am about to share with you stems from truthfully months of conversations, prayers, frustrations, victories, hard questions, hard answers, and God’s grace. My trip to SYMC has become the capstone to a lot of these feelings; let me explain…
For reasons that I don’t fully understand, God has put the desire within my heart and the calling on my life to write. This truly does not make much sense to me since English was my worst subject in school and I was completely content being an average youth worker that no one knew or cared about outside of the local church I work at and my own family.
This writing journey started for me about 3 years ago after a long argument with God about why I didn’t want to write; I liked what I was doing in the local church and I wanted nothing, especially my ego, to get in the way of that. I know myself pretty well, and I knew that even mild success could cause me to focus on the wrong things. So if I didn’t ever write then that could never happen.
Here I am three years later with a book that will be out in a month or so, a second book in the edit process, a third book idea in its infant stage, and a blog. Upon giving in to God and me starting to write I told God that this had nothing to do with me wanting to be “Christian famous” or making extra money. It had everything to do with me fulfilling everything He wanted me to do with my life.
James 4:17 (NIV) Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
That commitment has been tested more than once over these past 3 years, and I can tell you that I have not always passed that test. In the weeks leading up to my trip to SYMC God used several key people in my life to show me that I once again, had failed at keeping everything in proper perspective. As I entered into an environment where self-promotion and narcissism run rampant I had only one question on my heart and mind.
Is it even possible to do both and do them well? Can I work in a local church and write/speak on the national scale and not be negatively affected by it all?
As I stepped off the plane in Louisville, after several hours alone with God and my thoughts, that was what I needed God to answer. I was fully prepared (and kind of expected) for God to release me from the national scene and let me go back to Boise, focus on my family and my church, and never write again. You already know (since you are reading this) that is not exactly the answer I received. Through many conversations, classes, speakers, and observations this is what God showed me.
My voice is important
One of the things I had committed to before I went was to not push my blog or writing on anyone. As I purposefully did not bring it up in any conversations I was surprised at how many people asked me about it, and how many of those people told me how much they appreciated what I had to say. I saw that God was using my writing in ways I had no idea about.
My identity and worth belongs only in God
Walt Mueller mentioned a few different times about his findings from his research on social media and how it effects people. I already knew that I had been effected by it, and he just confirmed that it was not in a healthy way. I had said to people many times that social networking is “fake fellowship”, but I had not realized how much I had connected my own identity to online interactions. My self-worth was never supposed to be attached to my blog stats, number of twitter followers, or Facebook interactions but somehow that had become more important to me than the real live people in front of me. In the past two weeks I have not looked at my blog stats at all, limited my time online, and leave my phone on the counter when I get home. It has been very freeing but hard at the same time.
I had put my faith in the wrong places
My intention from the very beginning was to write for God and let him do with it what he wanted. I realized that by me pursuing agents, publishers, and other outlets for my writing I was doing it more for myself than for God. The more I participated in and got beat up by the publishing industry the more it messed with me. I had several conversations with people that had already been published and I realized that my issues might only be magnified if I, like them, did get traditionally published. Since my writing is not helping anyone sitting on my hard drive I am now going to self-publish my books so it is available and let God take care of the marketing and distribution. If my family and friends are the only people that buy my books it does not matter. They are God’s books and He can do whatever he wants with them, and since I will not be tied to a specific publisher or brand I will only answer to God.
God led me to James 3:13-4:17 that day on the airplane which started me down the road of seeing these three very important things.
James 4:1 (NIV) What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
That day I wrote in my journal “the desires that battle within me are to be known and loved in the national spotlight vs. being a local youth pastor, husband, and Dad that doesn’t care about all that. I don’t know if I am capable of doing both Lord. That is the truth, and I don’t want to deny it any longer.”
God showed me that I can’t do both if I do it my way. But if I do fulfill what God has asked me to do, and only that, it is possible. What battles are going on inside of you? What truth do you need to admit to God and to yourself?
James 4:10 (NIV) Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up
I am at the Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Louisville this weekend. During the conference I have the role of room host. Which means I have a breakout room that I have been assigned and I “host” the speaker, the people, and everything that happens in that room for the entire conference. This also means that I do not have to choose what to attend and what not to attend, which is great for me since there are so many great options.
Today I had a pre-conference track in my room about building a strong ministry team. There was a ton of great content and the presenters did a great job. There was one statement made that has really made me think:
Too large of a team is almost worse than too small of a team.
I realize that too large of a team is not something that is a typical issue within most youth ministries. The most common is definitely too small. However, I can say there have been a few times within my last decade of leading a volunteer team that I did actually have too many people. Here are a few things I have thought about why this statement is true.
1. We all have a desire to be needed
If someone makes the effort and makes the sacrifice to attend an event they are expecting to be needed. If someone comes and they end up just standing around because everything is done by someone else they will most likely feel like they wasted their time. I hope no one ever feels like they have wasted their time by helping in youth ministry.
2. We aren’t sure what to do with too many people
I have become pretty good at adapting to having too few people; I just do it all myself. I realize that is unhealthy but I also think I am not the only one that defaults to that… When I am faced with actually having people to help I don’t always switch from my default, and still do it all myself. Even if I can hand some things off, the default phrase when someone else shows up is “just love on students.” The problem is that is actually a very vague statement, and people that hear that most likely will end up back at #1.
Just a few quick thoughts…more will come I am sure.