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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Don't be too quick to ditch Cheesy Christianity

Don't be too quick to ditch Cheesy Christianity

Having little kids has been a challenge this Christmas season. And the challenge has not been so much about trying to navigate the Santa vs. No Santa debate. The challenge came as I wrestled with how much cheese I was willing to serve up for my kids this Christmas in the form of Christmas stories, books, music and movies. Everything in me is repulsed by the cheese. In fact I used to think that it actually was offense to Jesus Christ himself. But as I watch the fruit of hipster parents who are too cool for cheese lived out in their children, the students in our ministry, I am starting to second guess my offense.

I Hate the Cheese! For me and maybe you we think certain things are hip, cool, cultured, and deep. And while these things may be true, this truth is completely lost on our kids. It seems every Christmas there is more and more effort to find ways to make the story of Christmas somehow new and relevant. But the more we do this, the less of the original, simple, and true story gets passed down from one generation to the next.

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Christmas and divorce

Christmas and divorce

This last week I had a meeting with one of my favorite moms.  Her love for her daughter, for me, and for Jesus is palpable.  And for a verity of reasons, due to long histories, and for things that I really have no idea about, this mom is in the middle of a divorce.  While the ethics of divorce are complex and worthy of lengthy discussions full of truth and grace, this blog post is not about the ethics of divorce.

As the youth worker, no one is coming to me for marital advice, or trying to navigate a difficult situation, asking for prayers, or discernment for whether or not it is time to pull the plug on a marriage.  No, I am the youth worker, my job, my calling, is to be the child's advocate, care for them, make space for them, and help them navigate this new landscape.  I actually believe it is not the job of the youth worker to even take sides and spiritualize the landscape.  Our students are only our students for a few more years, but they will always be the daughters and sons of their parents, whether or not they are divorced.  To use our position of power and influence and pick sides will be disastrous for the long term health and reconciliation between all parties, and for all parties and the church.

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Do you want to be great?

Do you want to be great?

ENCOUNTER:  Read Mark 10:34-45

I love Christmas so much.  Everything about it.  But if you actually think about it, how crazy is it to think about the God of the universe, the King of Kings, coming to Earth as a human, and as a human baby at that.  Tiny, needy, and weak.  

Yet in this one act, Jesus set the trajectory for His entire life and ministry.  He is the greatest, He is the Son of God most High!  He deserves all honor, worship, and respect.  He deserves to be listened to and obeyed.  And He deserves our devotion and submission.  

For as much as He deserves these things because He has made himself approachable to all people; no matter their status, economic portfolio, morality, ethnicity, age, or sex.  He lived out one of the greatest truths in God's economy, that those who are the greatest will be the servant of all.  

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An unexpected character around the nativity

An unexpected character around the nativity

For youth group this christmas, we are asking students to look at five different characters that were in close proximity to the birth of Jesus.  Although the lesson was rather simple to make, the conclusions were a little more difficult to swallow.

The Distracted:  Luke 2:1-3

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to their own town to register.

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If I am honest, I was unthankful this Thanksgiving

If I am honest, I was unthankful this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving....the time we celebrate everything we have been blessed with. The time we gather around the table with friends and family and gorge ourselves. The time when we are asked to share something we are thankful for, but if I'm honest I was unthankful this Thanksgiving.

Let's just say my life has not been picture perfect recently......well, it's really been horrible. Some of it is self-inflicted and some of it just circumstantial. I have been beaten down in every area of my life. Family, relationships, and ministry just to name a few. My wife and I have not had enough time to focus and grow our relationship. Our house was torn apart for an exterminator to rid our house of bed bugs. My grandma's health is shaky at best. I seem to be making all the wrong decisions to help student’s lives change; instead my decisions have led to frustration and spiritual exhaustion in myself and others. These are just a few from the laundry list. Call me Job.

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Our own rumspringa

Our own rumspringa

Rumspringa (derived form the German term “Rond Springen” or “running around”) generally refers to a period of adolescence for some members of the Amish, that begins around the age of sixteen and ends when a youth chooses baptism within the Amish church or instead leaves the community.  (wikipedia) In one of our upperclassman small groups a student made a passing comment that I have been wrestling with for the past couple of days.  She simply observed that their once full table of students during small group time has withered over the the last couple of years.  Where a once a robust small group of 15 was, now a consistent remnant of 6 remain.

As my wife and I talked, we could account for almost every student that has faded away from our student ministry.  And for almost every student there was an explanation.  Most of them were a small changes in priorities that resulted with them being less connected and ended up with them being M.I.A.

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Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts

Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts

ENCOUNTER:  Read Romans 12:3-8

You and me are connected.  Not just because we go to the same church, but because you and I are joined together in the body of Christ.  We belong together.  Even though we are very different we are connected to each other, to share in common cause.  You and I have been uniquely gifted by the Holy Spirit and the joined to one another so that together we can build up the Church and expand the Kingdom of God.  

So the question is, "How has God created you?"  You are uniquely crafted.  God has given you a personality, some passions, and has placed you in a particular context.  The trick is reflecting on all of this to explore these questions and then leverage them for the Kingdom of God. 

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