I recently read a blog post on http://www.youthmin.org about young youth pastors and lack of long range planning. I appreciate his honesty about his struggle and sharing from that point of view. He shares in the post that during his six years as a youth pastor he has served in four different churches.
My experience in youth ministry has been the opposite of his. I have been involved in youth ministry for more than 14 years, at the same church for over 10 years and I have no plans of leaving anytime soon. I have had people ask me many times what has contributed to my longevity, and I have narrowed it down to a few things.
1. Long Range Planning
I realize that ministry is slow. Would I like faster results? A thousand times yes! But I also realize this is not a realistic expectation. I am committed for the long haul, and my long range planning communicates this fact to the students and families I work with. I literally have a two year calendar on the wall in my office, and already have dates filled in for 2013.
I know some people have been frustrated with me because I don’t institute changes quickly, but also believe I have avoided some major mistakes because of that fact.
2. Ministry mentors with longevity
I have been blessed in my life to learn from some very amazing youth workers, and most of them make my longevity look short. One of my closest friends and ministry heroes has been at his church twice as long as me. He has seen many seasons of ministry come and go through his youth ministry and church. As I have made it through a few season changes myself I am thankful for his and many other’s examples of sticking it out for the long haul.
3. I still have a lot to learn about youth ministry
As I reflect on my ministry mentors and how much they have taught me, I also realize I have a ton more to learn. Whether it is from someone that has just started or counts their time in decades we all something of value to bring to the table. I value conferences, youth networks, blogs, books, and everything else I can tap into to keep learning.
4. I don’t view youth ministry as stepping stone
Chapter 7 in my new book is all about this fact, so I hope you will get your copy and read it for yourself. This mentality affects everything you do as a youth worker, and I hope you don’t see your youth ministry position as a stepping stone to a real job in the church.
I don’t know where you are on the longevity spectrum, but I would love to hear what has contributed to your timeline as a youth worker. What has prompted you to change churches or move on from youth ministry? What has kept you pressing forward at the same church?
Perhaps you have noticed, I have not posted for a week. Since returning home from SYMC my life has been crazy. I have been fulfilling a lot of different identities and “blogger” has not been one of them. I have been living out part of my book (The Youth Ministry Paradigm) the past several days. Since it is going to be out in a month or two, I want to give you a preview. This excerpt is from chapter 4:
We all fill a number of different identities in our day-to-day life. No matter what profession or stage of life you are in, we all wear different “hats”: sometimes it’s the friend hat, sometimes it’s the football fanatic hat, other times it’s the crazed driver hat. The paradigm asks that the only hat we wear is the youth worker hat and everything else we do must fit under it, if there is room.
If God is not asking you to change who you are in order to fulfill the ministry He wants you to do, what is His direction? We all know it is impossible to truly fulfill every identity that presents itself in our daily life. God does not expect you to be able to fulfill every identity that is presented to you. He does expect you to fulfill every identity you say yes to. Therefore, we as youth workers have to learn that “no” is not a bad word.
Obviously there are some identities we should not say no to, like Christian, family member, and me. Yet sometimes these are the only ones we say no to. But these are not the identities that typically dominate our ministry life. The ones that do dominate our lives are the ones we might need to say no to, like website designer, office manager, janitor, addiction specialist, professional counselor, stand-up comedian, etc, etc. Where most youth workers mess up is that they don’t put all these identities into a healthy priority list. Most people don’t even have a list, much less actually prioritize it.
In first Timothy chapter three, Paul describes what the life of a leader in the church should be like. He basically makes a list of identities we need to fulfill. As you read through this passage, notice the identities Paul describes.
1 Timothy 3:1 – 13 (NLT) 1It is a true saying that if someone wants to be an elder, he desires an honorable responsibility. 2For an elder must be a man whose life cannot be spoken against. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exhibit self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home and must be able to teach. 3He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, peace loving, and not one who loves money. 4He must manage his own family well, with children who respect and obey him. 5For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? 6An elder must not be a new Christian, because he might be proud of being chosen so soon, and the Devil will use that pride to make him fall. 7Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not fall into the Devil’s trap and be disgraced. 8In the same way, deacons must be people who are respected and have integrity. They must not be heavy drinkers and must not be greedy for money. 9They must be committed to the revealed truths of the Christian faith and must live with a clear conscience. 10Before they are appointed as deacons, they should be given other responsibilities in the church as a test of their character and ability. If they do well, then they may serve as deacons. 11In the same way, their wives must be respected and must not speak evil of others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do. 12A deacon must be faithful to his wife, and he must manage his children and household well. 13Those who do well as deacons will be rewarded with respect from others and will have increased confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus.
What identities are in there? What identities did you expect would be in there, but aren’t? Notice that Paul concludes that living life the way you should, will ultimately increase your faith. Is your current list of identities in an order that is increasing your faith? If not, change is needed.
When was the last time you were really alone? Remember what happened in Jacob’s life right before God showed up to institute change in him? He ended up completely alone. My guess is that you cannot remember the last time you were truly alone for more than a few minutes; and no, the bathroom stall does not count. The first step in allowing God to work in a new way is to get alone, have God show up, and wrestle some things out with Him if need be.
While you are alone, make a list of all the identities you fulfill in your life. Think through your daily and weekly routines and write down every identity where you spend any amount of time. Once you have your list, prioritize it according to your real life. Then compare your list to the Biblical priority list. As you compare these two lists, remember the question I already raised: are you an example worthy of following by the students you minister to? A hard question to admit the truth about I know, but if you continue to ignore it, God cannot work in a new way.
As I said, I am living this out…again…right now. I hope it can help you as it has helped me.
It has been one year since I wrecked on (or should I say off) my dirt bike. If you are interested in the details of the crash check out my previous posts, but here are the quick details.
I was testing a new clutch cable, and while only wearing a helmet and no other gear I hit a pile of rocks in a vacant lot while going somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 mph. The bike landed 45 feet from the rocks. I landed on my head and finally rested on my back about 10 feet past the bike.
I broke my left arm, broke my sternum, and compressed 4 vertebra in my back. I had surgery on my arm and wore a back brace for 10 weeks as I healed.
As I look back over the past year, I can say that this event definitely has changed my life.
1. I understand pain in a whole new way
I have a pretty high pain tolerance, and the initial recovery went fine. Before my accident when I would hear people complain of chronic daily pain I thought they were crazy. I can honestly say now that I know what they mean. My arm still hurts at some point every day. My back gets sore and tired quickly. Whether you want to blame the metal that was added to my body or the that I did not do physical therapy like I should have the fact is the phrase “fully recovered” has kind of a fuzzy definition.
2. I have changed more in non-physical ways than in physical ways.
Yes I have a wicked scar on my arm now, but the biggest changes that have come from this were spiritual and emotional. I love God and my family and friends a lot different now than I did 366 days ago. I have experienced brokenness before this accident, but it means something completely different to me now. Words can not fully explain what I know to be true regarding this, so I think I will leave it at that.
This one “accident” started me down a different direction than I had ever expected to go down life’s path. Now a year later, I am glad it did. This has been a year of growth for me; as a Christ follower, as a husband, a father, a youth worker, and every other identity I could add to the list. I feel I have grown more in this past year than perhaps any other year of my life – this accident being the first of several key things that has spurred it on. My hope is every year I can look back and make the same statement; “this year was better than the one before it thanks to God.”
Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
This past week has been interesting. After returning home from camp and sharing in the main service about the miracle God did, this week I returned to the “real world”. Even with the Holy Spirit moving in a new way there is still office work to get done, phone calls to return, emails to answer, and upcoming events to finalize. Amidst all of the “normal” work this week I have had an abundance of conversations with people and how this whole event has affected them.
I must say, I have loved all of the conversations. I have loved the honest questions and the courage it has taken to ask them. I have loved the genuine thirst for more of God’s Spirit and Truth. I have loved hearing how this miracle has and continues to bear fruit for God’s kingdom.
During one of these conversations someone asked me “How are you different after this whole experience?” This is not an entirely easy question to answer, but as I have thought and prayed about it, my answer is based on these verses:
Luke 9:23 – 24 (NIV) 23Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
I am at 100% instead of 98%
My commitment has not changed. I have always been committed to God and given Him a lot. But, there has always been that 2% of me, the thought in the back of my mind; “what if it isn’t all true?” I can say now with complete conviction, that 2% is not there anymore. After this experience I truly have lost my life for God, He wants 100% and that is exactly what He has now.
I feel humbled
Through the past 8 months of my life I have realized it over and over again and even more so in the past week; I am a pretty selfish person. Sure, I have denied myself in some areas, perhaps even many areas of my life compared to others. But the standard God compares to is not other people, it is himself. Compared to God I am an incredibly selfish person. I have realized how a lot of my decisions are based more on my self and my own ego than on God and His standards. I want to actually deny myself and take up my cross. This is a daily battle, but one I cannot ever give up on.
I feel empowered
Jesus says in this passage that if I can truly deny myself and give Him my life, that I will actually save it. I am more invested and more humbled than I have ever been before, and I feel more alive and more excited about what God will do in and through me than ever before. The point of any miracle is that God’s kingdom will be advanced, both through first time commitments and deepened and/or revitalized relationships. Both have happened for many people because of this experience, and I cannot wait to see how God will use this miracle and me to further his kingdom.
After this experience I don’t know what the future holds for my family, for my church, for my writing, or for speaking opportunities. What I do know is that my relationship with God, how I walk through life daily, and how I serve and minister to teenagers and adults will never be the same and I am forever grateful to God for that.
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” –Jesus (John 10:10)
As I conclude this series of posts, I must first say I am not at all done working through this experience; I am not sure I will ever conclude that. To wrap this up I am going to answer a few of the most commonly asked questions people have asked.
Did the bike get as banged up as you did? Short answer: No.
The only lasting damage on the bike is a few scrapes and a zip tie as you can see in the picture. The only other damage was a broken clutch bridge, a $10 part.
Was it horrible having to wear that back brace? Yes
I was in the back brace for 10 weeks, 6 of which was 24 hours a day and the last month I could take it off to sleep. But I do not have any lasting back issues from it, thank you Lord! The worst part of wearing it was the pressure it put on my broken sternum, but there was really nothing they could do about that.
What exactly did they do to your arm?
I had a plate and 7 screws put into my arm. I was in a cast for a week after surgery then wore a brace on my arm for 5 weeks. My arm is what I have the most lasting pain with, in fact it hurts right now as I type (though my softball game earlier today might have something to do with that). I have heard people say that once you have metal in your body you will feel it the rest of your life, so far I believe that to be true.
Are you going to get rid of your motor cycle?
As of right now, no. I still want to ride. If I was wearing all my gear, out on a trail, and got hurt as bad as I did I would be done. But that is not what happened. I have ridden once since my accident, and the first 15 minutes was quite tension filled, but the longer I rode the more comfortable I got on the bike. I still want to ride, I still have fun doing it, and unless God changes my mind I am not selling the bike.
I realize this whole experience will always be a major part of my life, but until recently I had no idea how big. I of course wish I could have learned the spiritual lessons in some other way, but I do see how God has truly taken my stupidity (choosing to ride that fast through that lot) and used it for His glory. My hope is it has helped you in some way, but even if it hasn’t it certainly has helped me to love my God and my family more than ever before, and take my time here on earth a bit more seriously. On October 7th, 2010 I should have stood in front of Jesus, which I can’t wait to do, but I am not ready yet. I feel like I have so much more to accomplish with my life, with my family, with my church, and within youth ministry. May God continue to mold me, and you so we both can accomplish everything on this earth He wants us to.
These verses take on a whole new meaning for me now, and I will conclude this series with Paul’s words from Philippians 1:21-22 “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.”
“I will make you lie down in green pastures.” Psalm 23:2
This was the phrase God whispered (then started to scream) to me in response to my question “Why?” I knew that I was not being fully obedient to what God had asked me to do, which I quickly remedied as I described in part 2. However, once my book manuscript was completed I realized this was not the only thing God wanted me to change.
The entire sentence in the 23rd Psalm is “He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul.” Yes, God had made me lie down; quite literally lie in a hospital bed, but what could possibly be “green” about this experience? Just as any near death or traumatic experience tends to do, this caused me to take a pretty honest and raw look at my life. My lack of writing was only a portion of what God wanted me to see, here are a few of the other things I have learned about myself.
1. How “loud” my life had become.
It is a pretty common thing in life, and especially youth ministry, to view busyness as a badge of honor. I did not realize how busy my life had become until everything came to a screeching halt that Thursday evening. I was not doing bad things, but between my young family, my church, my friends, and my hobbies my life was moving at mach 10. Quiet waters suddenly did describe my life and I quickly realized how much I liked it.
2. How complacent I had become in my faith.
Being a pastor means that almost no one asks how your faith journey is going, and very few people ever asked me (a few people did but I often just gave the token “good” in response). I think every Christian thinks they “give God everything” and I certainly thought I had. Again, I wasn’t doing anything bad with my life, but I had become very comfortable in my busy life, routine devotions, and continual church involvement to where I was not growing much in my own faith. The biggest problem with this was how comfortable I really was. I was living an incredibly blessed life and there was no reason to change anything (so I thought). My comfort had become a dead end rut and I had not even realized it.
3. That my soul did need restored.
God knew something needed to change for me even though I didn’t. Many times I have thought about what my life would be like today if I had never crashed, and I can honestly say I would rather be where I am right now instead. Being in the spiritual rut I had created was getting boring, and I was taking steps through selfish decisions to make it more exciting (like devoting a lot more time and money to dirt bikes). Even now as I am searching for a publisher for my book and tallying more and more rejections, God continues to show me how selfish of a life I was leading. I like to be in control, and I now see how much that has affected everything in my life including my faith.
I am still in the process of being transformed by God, and wrestling with how to ACTUALLY give God everything, but now I know God is making progress with me again. A book that has helped me quite a bit in putting this all in perspective is Maximum Faith by George Barna. If you have been a Christian for any length of time or are bored with your faith I highly suggest it. My hope is you don’t have to end up within an inch of your life being over like I did for God to get your attention.
If you are a Christian, even if you are a youth worker or pastor, how is YOUR faith journey going? I would love to hear your answer, and don’t send me a token “everything is good”!
I will do one more post to conclude this series including some pictures of my scraped up bike, my broken helmet, and my not broken anymore arm.
As I said in my previous post, I had a lot of questions to answer during my hospital stay. It seemed like the doctors and nurses asked me a million times what had happened and how I was feeling. I quickly grew tired of answering both of these questions; what happened was in my chart and the fact I wanted more medication should adequately and completely answer the later question.
Not only did I have to answer a lot of questions, but I had a few of my own. The biggest questions in my mind and heart were not directed toward any medical professional, but mainly to myself (how could you have done something this stupid?) and to God (Why?).
This two word question, God why, was anything but simple. In those two words, those 6 letters, was a mountain of emotion, confusion, distrust, hope, anger, faith… Those words do not even begin to describe everything I was feeling as I prayed those two words over and over again. As I laid in that bed talking with the stream of people that kept coming through the door, no one had any answers, at least not answers to my real questions. Hope and faith truly were a huge part of what I felt, because I knew that God had the answers I sought, the bigger question was would I hear his voice, and if I did would I accept his answer?
I did hear His voice, but not in any way I expected. An audible voice would have been nice, even a hand writing on the wall would be acceptable, whatever was fine with me as long as what I got was an actual answer, not just something that raised more questions.
As I prayed, and slept, and took more meds, and saw more people, and felt the enormous outpouring of love from so many people one distinct phrase constantly ran through my mind, “I will make you lie down in green pastures.” I had memorized the 23rd Psalm several years ago and this phrase had always stood out to me, but this didn’t really make much sense. At first I just credited the medication and tried to focus on other things, but it would not go away. “I will make you lie down in green pastures.”
Once I realized this was God trying to answer my question through this familiar scripture all it did was raise more questions. “Oh, so you made me lie down, so that means you caused me to crash.”
“No, you made the decision to ride that fast through that empty lot”
“Ok, I understand being the victim of my own stupidity, but why didn’t you protect me?”
“I did. You rode out of your garage with out your helmet on, I made you go back and get it”
“Then why am I in this hospital bed if you protected me?”
“Because you won’t be obedient if you didn’t end up in this bed.”
I wish my conversation with God was that quick and that precise, it wasn’t. Over these several months God has filled in some of those answers for me. But one thing I did get loud and clear before I ever left that hospital room—I was not being fully obedient to God. That conviction stung, I felt like I had given God a lot. I was a pastor, I had given him my whole life (so I thought), and I had genuinely felt close to Him. But I knew right away one thing I was not doing all the way; writing my book.
The amount of time between when my book idea went from scribbles on scratch paper to actual words typed in a computer and me lying in that hospital bed was about 9 months. At that point I had written what now in the final manuscript are 2 and ½ chapters. As soon as I was home and could sit up for more than a few moments I started writing. I finished the next 1 and ½ chapters literally typing with one hand as my broken left arm was elevated on a pillow. I finished the rough draft of my book 3 months after being discharged from the hospital (it is 9 chapters). I fully believe that if I had not crashed that day my book would still not be completed.
But, not diligently writing was not the only thing God was trying to get me to realize. I had focused on the “God making me lie down” part, and it definitely got my attention. But that is not the whole phrase God told me over and over again. “I will make you lie down in green pastures.” It was not until my book was completed that I began to understand what on earth could be “green” about this experience, but that will have to wait for part 3…