Do you have something to add to the youth ministry conversation?

Do you have something to add to the youth ministry conversation?

Over the years I have loved the opportunity to share this space with some fellow youth workers who either have a unique voice, a unique thing to say, or who simply want to try their hand at writing.  

As I am getting older and worried less about building my platform, and living more fully into the small pond that God has landed me, I want to make more space for my colleagues who are leaving it all on the field as they generously love kids into the kingdom of God!

That means, my blog is your blog!  

If you have a unique voice, a unique thing to say, or simply want to try your hand at writing, consider my blog your blog.  If you want to use this space to promote your blog, that is ok too.  Simply send me a 500-700 word blog post, a short bio and a personal picture.

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Time to wrestle with the hidden sin of perfectionism and embrace its cure, authenticity

Time to wrestle with the hidden sin of perfectionism and embrace its cure, authenticity

 As a professional laborer for the Kingdom I find this to be the single hardest thing for us to do successfully. Being vulnerable is hard, especially when you are given positional authority. You are the youth worker, and whether you like it or not you are viewed and kept to a higher standard. Welcome to the world of perfectionism. 

This is how our world is built. You do well, you get a bonus or raise. (In most jobs, not necessarily youth ministry) You fail, you get punished or fired. This breeds perfectionism. Now, I'm not suggesting that we should not strive to make ourselves better, but I am suggesting that we live in to the authenticity of who we wholly are. 

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Is your heart ready for the spring drop off?

Is your heart ready for the spring drop off?

It is that time of year.  The most dreaded time of year, Spring!  While the weather is great, and baseball season is upon us, the lives of our students are beginning to disengage from the programmatic rhythms of youth group.  They call it senioritis, but I am still confused how a sophomore has senioritis.  The truth  is that our low stamina students are checking out of this school year.  With all of the ways that students were dialed in to their many activities early in the school year, now only one or two hold their interest.  In the case of my students that includes a spring sport and a love interest.

The truth is that there are actually ton of reasons that students begin to disengage during spring semester; some good, some dumb, but no matter why, the what is real and how we cope with it matters.  

For those of us who make our livings on developing environments and programs for students to build faith and community, this season can often be pretty difficult for the soul.  And if you at all resonate with this trying rhythm, I have some good news for you:  IT IS OK :)

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Great Programs Are a Must; But only as far as they serve their purpose, which is to provide hooks or relational ministry.

Great Programs Are a Must; But only as far as they serve their purpose, which is to provide hooks or relational ministry.

I think programatic youth ministry has gotten a bad rap over the past few years or decades.  A solid program is the skeleton in which relationships can be built and faith gets formed.  With no program, there is just you and a half dozen kids.  Every great youth ministry has a program that is fun, engaging, inviting, and points towards Jesus. But a good reminder is that no matter how amazing our programs are, how many cool lights and graphics we have, what are online presence and platform has become, without personal contact we have nothing.

At its very core, ministry is about relationships.   

Now I know you are pretty smart and know this.  But before you skim down to the end or click to a new page, ask yourself if you really do know this?  A good gut check is to take a look at your calendar and see how you spend your time. Of all the hours you have allotted to pull of ministry, how many of them are spent building relationship, doing contact work, texting your guts out, facebook and instagram stalking, buying ice cream and coffee for, calling, etc. Chances are less and less of your time is devoted to these things.

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How to recruit the best volunteers!

How to recruit the best volunteers!

This Isn't How it is Supposed To Be:

One of the worst feelings I've ever had in youth ministry is the feeling of going at it alone, feeling like I was the only one who cared for students at my church. Most of this feeling came because I really was the only adult from our church who was at youth group helping connect and pull off our program.

It doesn't take many nights like that, or trips where you find yourself scrambling at the last possible minute to find an adult to drive for you, that you are willing to do whatever it takes to recruit volunteers. At this point in the ministry it doesn't even matter if they like kids--just give me a warm body!

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Do you make space in your ministry for "Decision Night?"

Do you make space in your ministry for "Decision Night?"

A little context and brief commercial :) We just got back from an amazing weekend at Hume Lake for our annual winter camp.   Every time I leave I am so thankful for their amazing ministry to our students and to our staff.  With all complex issues that bear down on youth programs and Christian camps, Hume has managed to stay true to their calling and provide one of the most solid Christian Camping experiences out there.

Hume Lake takes what they do very seriously and strive for excellence on the two vital areas for any camp experience, recreation and chapel.  As youth ministries seem to be moving more and more away from big fun, Hume still embraces recreation as a worthy investment of time and resources.  And the result is a camp that is actually fun with tons of opportunities for interaction, memories, and casual conversations.

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3 Components for an effective leader's meeting

3 Components for an effective leader's meeting

Every week before youth group we have a half hour leader's meeting for our volunteer youth staff. This is, by far, the most important meeting of my week. It is an opportunity for our entire staff to touch base before we jump into another night of student ministry. Over the years these meetings have taken on many different looks. But as I continue to reflect on how to make that time a win for everyone, I have landed on my three most important components to an effective leader's meeting.

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5 reasons there will always be paid youth workers

5 reasons there will always be paid youth workers

There has been some discussion lately among some of my youth ministry friends about the future of our profession. There seems to be another round of shots fired across the bow at youth ministry and the professionals that lead these ministries. Sticky Faith, Family Based Ministries, and people with axes to grind continue to lay the decaying faith of adolescents and young adults squarely at the feet of us professionals and the failed models we are propping up.

Fellow professional youth workers have no fear, our jobs are here to stay!! We have an amazing calling and part of an amazing legacy, and I am convinced that for the foreseeable future, churches will continue to do everything in their power to make sure their staffs include a paid youth worker. Here's why:

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It's Just a Phase - Book Review #thinkorange

It's Just a Phase - Book Review #thinkorange

It's Just a Phase: So Don't Miss It is one of the most helpful ministry books I have read in a long time.  It is written like a textbook in its content, but presented as a picture books with plenty of graphics and colors to keep someone like me interested.  And the combination of information and engaging format makes for an incredible resource for anyone in ministry.

The overarching theme of the book is about phases of life, and they way the define a phase is as follows:  PHASE:  A timeframe in a kid's life when you can leverage distinctive opportunities to influence their future!

For those of us in student ministry it is easy to get stuck in a programmatic rut.

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Want to know the secret sauce so your kids will love Jesus into adulthood? #THINKORANGE

Want to know the secret sauce so your kids will love Jesus into adulthood?  #THINKORANGE

Me too!!  :)

Over the almost 20 years of doing student ministry, I have had the opportunity of being a part of a lot of student's lives.  And while I think I am an incredible youth pastor and do incredible ministry, I think there are about 5 or 6 students who are adults and who totally love Jesus where I had the honor of playing a huge role in their spiritual development through middle and high school.

There are many more students who have meandered in and out of my program during their adolescent career who are now adults and who love Jesus.  But when I look at this group of people and ask the question why they "made it" and so many other students simply fell off the rails, the answer is actually pretty simple.

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Can your own love for Jesus and learning actually have a negative impact your love for middle schoolers?

There are three things that I have found to be true in my life. And surprisingly, I have found that these three things turned out to be in conflict. They are:

1) I love Jesus 2) I love learning 3) I love middle schoolers

On the surface, these three things are every youth worker's bread and butter. It is these three foundational values that have launched us into this unique vocation. But what I have been wrestling with is that the combination of these three values have almost closed the door on good, long term vocational ministry.

I LOVE JESUS: It is hard to believe, but I am rounding the corner on 40. For the past 20 years I have had a growing and thriving relationship with Jesus. I look back on my old journals and last at how impatient and immature I have been in different seasons of my spiritual life. I see how my prayers and my prayer life has fundamentally changed, and how much more settled I am in my identity as a child of God. I love Jesus and I have been and am continually being transformed into His likeness. How cool, that Jesus is never done with us and is so patient with us as we slowly experience the fullness of our salvation.

I LOVE LEARNING: As I reflect back on my life I see how I have always loved solving problems. It seems to me that one of the best ways to solve any problem is by collecting enough data. The more data the more the problem and solution become clear. In my younger days as a Christian and as a youth worker, the nut I was trying to crack was my theological worldview. As I settled on a systematic theology that worked for me, I began to solve the next problem and implementing that theology into my student ministry. I love the Word of God and I so badly want my students to develop a love for God's word as well. And with these passions I spent hours and hours working out curriculum and lessons that would help the scriptures to come alive so my students could love Jesus!

I LOVE MIDDLE SCHOOLERS: There is something totally amazing about the unique season of life 11-14 year olds find themselves. I don't think there is a three year chunk in life except birth - three where there is so much change and development. Because of that we get the perks of playing and goofing off with kids, while leaning into their budding adulthood as we wrestle with larger issues of life and theology! Middle school ministry is the best!!

While all three of these loves are true and noble, what I have found is that they can be in conflict. You see, you and I are adults. And as adults we must lean all of who we are into the pursuit of Jesus. We must love Him, run after him, try out and try on different ways to connect with Him. We must be life long learners in our spiritual, biblical, and vocational understandings. What worked last year doesn't work this year, or won't work in a couple of years. We are always in transition! And loving Jesus and a passion to learn allow us to stay in the game for a long, long time!

OUR LOVE FOR MIDDLE SCHOOLERS MUST SHAPE HOW WE DO MINISTRY MORE THAN OUR LOVE FOR JESUS AND LOVE FOR LEARNING:

I know this is a bold statement, but think about it for a while. It is our love for middle schoolers that has made our vocational calling unique. We could love Jesus and learning in any context. But it is our love for middle schoolers that shapes who we are and what we do. And if we are going to do a good job vocationally we must differentiate ourselves from the students we work with.

We must continue to grow in our faith and in our understanding. This is good and noble. AND we must must realize that we are working with a totally unique demographic.

Think about it; Everything about Jesus is abstract. EVERYTHING! Middle schoolers are just at the very beginning of understanding abstract concepts. This means that what we teach and how we teach must be done in a way that is relevant and applicable to them and their life stage, not you and your life stage.

It is always easier to take our passions for ministry and our growing edge in faith and then teach about that. But if you do this, you will always be 10 miles over their head. (At least I hope so.) What a 20 or 30 something is learning better be totally different and irrelevant to what a 12 year old is learning.

If you love Jesus and love learning, then my prayer for you is that you would harness these loves in a way that allows you to share the good news of grace and mercy in a way that middle schoolers can actually digest and understand. Being part child and part adult is difficult for us as youth workers, but it is even more difficult for them who have to live through it.

May we embrace our unique passion and calling to love middle schoolers by differentiating ourselves so that we can communicate our love for Jesus and learning and them in a way that actually makes sense to them.

Blessings!

This post was recently featured at middleschoolministry.com

Leveraging our Leadership in a post-Christian Context

Leveraging our Leadership in a post-Christian Context

Good afternoon everybody.  My name is Ben Kerns and I am one of the Lead Pastors at Marin Covenant Church in Northern California.  I have been loving our time together this week and love how intentional our denominational leaders are to push and prod us to be better leaders.

When I think of where and how I am going to put into practice all that I am learning, my first thought is our local church.  It is the place God has called me and it is the people I love.  

I want to leverage my leadership to help our church, our Sunday morning experience, and the programs that surround it be incredible.  For those people who have been in and around the church for a while, I want to make sure the environment is warm and engaging, I want to help grow their hearts towards Jesus and find compelling ways to send them on mission.  

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What does it mean to be generous in our theology?

What does it mean to be generous in our theology?

ENCOUNTER:  Read John 4

There is this strange thing that is common to all humans.  We LOVE our friends, and HATE our enemies.  But because we want to feel justified, we don't come right out and say we HATE our enemies, we get swept up in a more subtle and destructive sin.  The sin of dehumanization.  We "other" people, and by "othering" them we no longer have to consider them.

This is not new.  Many people feel it more acutely right now because their political person just left or just got in, and the sin of dehumanization is the number one way in which the political parties are fighting these days.   What is heartbreaking is when the church gets caught up in this tactic. 

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Growing faith in this context is really difficult. (But not impossible)

Growing faith in this context is really difficult.  (But not impossible)

My favorite line from this movie is that, "In order to make water and grow food on a planet where nothing grows, I am going to have the science the $*%! out of this!"  And that is the perspective I think we need to have as we consider how we are going to not only reach this next generation for Christ, but to make disciples in a context where there is zero cultural or familial help.  

Instead of being discouraged, instead of being cynical, instead of putting our heads in the sand, it is time for us on the front lines to take an honest assessment of where we are, and then become the best "botanists" on this planet!

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Safety: The most important value of student ministry

Safety: The most important value of student ministry

The winter camp season has finally descended upon us.  With winter camp comes snow storms, icy roads, dangerous sled runs, and about 1000 other ways for our students to get wrecked!  In my few years of taking kids to winter camp I have had kids break arms, legs, collar bones, wrists, and get concussions.  I have totaled a Suburban and crashed a couple of other cars.  There are polices at our church because of me.

Let’s face it, winter camp is dangerous!  But the real question is whether or not it is too dangerous. 

A friend of mine recently told me about a conversation he had with a parent questioning his judgment driving kids to camp in the middle of an upcoming snow storm.  Somewhere in the conversation the parent said that safety was the most important thing in student ministry!

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Top 10 ways I want our youth ministry to be more like the Ellen Show!

Top 10 ways I want our youth ministry to be more like the Ellen Show!

A couple of years ago the day time talk world was rocked at the retirement of Oprah. Her show was enormous in its power and influence and, if we were honest, we would all love to have the "reach" that her show had. But in the 4:00 vacuum left by Oprah, I have come across another, and better, day time talk show vice; Ellen! But unlike the cult following that Oprah attracted, or the crazies Jerry Springer attracts, or delinquents Judge Judy attracts, Ellen has managed to put together a show that is relevant, fun, and making a genuine impact on the lives of people. The more I watched, the more I am convinced that I want my youth ministry to look more like the Ellen Degreneres Show. Here are the 10 reasons why:

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Guest Post: Start ready to walk away

Guest Post:  Start ready to walk away

When I started in youth ministry, it was for a midsize church that didn't have the budget for a full time youth leader.  Even when they found the money, it wasn't much.  But, as an untested, inexperienced twenty-something, it seemed fair, and as a single guy, it was enough to support myself.  But, as sometimes happens with single guys, I met a girl, who made me a less-than-single guy.  We decided to get married, and then came the awkward conversation of finances.  By this time, I had been working at that midsize church for four years, growing their youth program from 6 teenagers into three ministries, serving middle school, high school and college-aged youth, with steady growth and community recognition, two things that I was told were priorities of the church council.  

I felt confident that I was a valued, essential commodity for that church, and after several practice conversations with myself in front of our bathroom mirror, I marched into my pastor's office to tell him that I would need a (modest) raise or I would have to consider finding another position, since I had a wife and future family to support.  He looked at me and breathed a sigh of relief, then told me that they were in a budget shortfall and there was talk of combining my position with another to create a new position, one I would no longer be qualified to fill.  He said that this made it an easy decision.  

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What are you running after this year?

What are you running after this year?

ENCOUNTER: Read Psalm 73

After reading through this Psalm, do you find that you can relate to any of Asaph's laments?  Don't you find it frustrating that those who could care less about God, morality, the future, all seem to be living large.  And at the same time, you often feel like you are being crushed from all sides?

After Asaph has his temper tantrum, he finally takes a deep breath and comes to his senses.  Why not do the same?  Take a second, pause, breath deeply and read the last part of Asaph's prayer one more time:

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Merry Christmas from the Kerns Family

Merry Christmas from the Kerns Family

Remember being a adolescent and that surreal experience of being so hungry, so tired, and continually feeling like an alien in your own body.  There are these season where the growth spirt occurs so quickly that clothes don't fit, coordination becomes a distant memory, and your actual bones hurt.  Growing pains!  But then after that, season of awkwardness and pain, you look back and can't believe that you went from being a child to an emerging adult.  

When you look at this picture you can see that my kids are on the verge of this experience.  My son is 12 and my daughter is 9.  They are children, but soon, too soon, everything will change.  Things will get difficult as they navigate their new bodies and brains and I cope as a parent.  Then in the almost near future they will become these incredible emerging adults who will be embarrassed of this picture and the reminder of how quickly and awkwardly this process happens.  

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Do not be afraid

Do not be afraid
"Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people." - Luke 2:10

There is so much in the world, in my world that causes me to be afraid.  It turns out there is very little that is in my control.  And of all the things that I can control, all of those things inhabit the bottom of my list of things that are important to me.  

I love many people and it turns out I can't control one thin in their lives.  The people in my life have in the past, are currently, or will soon experience crushing loss and be brokenhearted.  They will lose jobs, they will lose love, they will lose relationships, they will lose those closest to them, and they will lose heart.  

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