What youth workers can learn from little league coaches

What youth workers can learn from little league coaches

Last night I dropped my son off at his first Fall Ball practice of the year.  As parents and kids began to gather, the coach took it upon himself to share with all of us his background, coaching history and his philosophy for coaching our kids for this season.  And as he spoke I realized that there were a couple of takeaways that we as youth workers should probably pay attention to.

1) This is not the big leagues!  Fall Ball is a practice season, it is designed for kids to develop skills, try out new positions, and build their confidence as baseball players.  The coach acknowledged that this season will feel quite different from the spring, which is much more competitive. But even in the spring, it is still little league.  These kids are not professionals, and truthfully most will not be.  So there doesn't need to be the soul-crushing shame, the red line in the sand for failures, or the over-inflated expectations that major league players who are paid millions of dollars have to wrestle with.   

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Fall Kick Off Letter to Parents

Fall Kick Off Letter to Parents

Dear Parents,

It is finally September.  Summer is a distant memory, school is in full swing, and for us here at Marin Covenant, it is now time to get down to business.  The student ministry team here at Church has put a ton of prayer, time, and effort into this upcoming year and we could not be more excited about what God has in store for our ministry and your kids!

A JOINT EFFORT IS NEEDED:  For this fall kick off to be a success, and for your child to land in our student ministry community, there has to be a joint effort.  As I have said before, your son or daughter has a compleatly different set of felt needs when it comes to church, youth group, and their spiritual life.  For you, as an adult, it is easy to come and go, to take seasons off from the church, and even seasons off from community.  But when you are ready to dial it in, you make it happen.

Unfortunately, this isn't how it works with your kid.  There is no guilt or shame that drives whether or not they are a part of youth group or church.  In fact, youth group, church, even the Bible are not seen as needs for their spiritual development.  What 99.999% drives whether or not they are going to be part of youth group, part of the church, part of the faith community and move towards an orthodox understanding of the Christian life is their friendships.

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What happens when parents and kids see youth group as simply an elective?

For the past few years it has been obvious that the culture in which we do ministry has fundamentally changed.

I know that pop culture continues to devolve into twerkfests on MTV, but that is nothing new.  What I am seeing that is new, is that the Christian adults within this culture have a totally different world view and values than those Christians that have gone before them.

There was this time in youth ministry's hay day where a youth group was made up of the kids of that particular church and their friends.  It was important for the kids to be a part of youth group, and if it wasn't important to the kids, it was at least important to the parents.  In fact, much of my early years of student ministry was bemoaning the fact that so many church kids would be forced to come to youth group and cause trouble for me and my leaders.  If I only knew how good I had it.

Now, students along with their parents see fellowship, gathered worship, church, and youth group as electives.

Our post-modern, determine your own values and reality has finally trickled its way into the local church.  Carey Nieuwhof wrote an excellent blog about the 15 characteristics of today's unchurched person.  These 15 characteristics are spot on.  But I would actually go further and say that they are not just characteristics of today's unchurched person, but of every person both in and out of the church.  And now Church, youth group, and actually any spiritual discipline are firmly on the bottom of the pecking order.  This means that if homework, sports, vacation, being tired, practice, fill in the blank don't conflict then both students and their parents might consider attending some gathered Christian event like church or youth group.

For adults, this elective version of church involvement doesn't really have any short term consequences to their faith.  Most Christian adults had some incredible experience in late high school or college and are maintaining that faith as they go through the rest of their life.  They can take months or years off of church and fellowship and still have a mostly intact faith.  While there is a ton to say about this new cultural expression of Christianity, the parents here are not my concern.  My concern is for the faith development of their kids.

These adults have had a significant faith encounter in their youth, but are not helping their own kids participate in the very activities that God used to grab a hold of their hearts when they were younger.  And unlike their parents, any significant break in community makes it next to impossible for the adolescent to ever really enter the group later.

Students are relational animals and will only participate in an environment where they have friends and feel welcomed and cared for.  

Even the least cliquey youth groups on the planet still have relationships and those relationships have history.  If a group of students spend a year doing youth group together, bible studies, go to the movies, go roller skating and skiing, and go on a mission trip together, there develops a history.  A student who chooses youth group simply as an elective and misses out on these memory making events will naturally feel on the outs, and once they feel on the outs there is little incentive for them to commit.

Add to this the fact that they culturally don't feel a need to participate, feel little guilt spiritually and see little need for a gathered experience, these poor students don't really have a chance!

For the sake of their children, adults need to model that commitment to Christian worship and fellowship is not an elective.  

This goes against every cultural trend.  But for the sake of our kids, for the sake of the students we are called to love and care for, may we help the adults in our lives go old skool in their Christian understanding.  As much as faith in Jesus is about a "personal relationship" it can only be worked out in community.  And community only happens with students through a safe environment that is authentic, consistent time together, building memories, and spurring one another on toward love and good deeds!

May we, in a loving and gracious way, sound the alarm and make the case that involvement in student ministry is not an elective course in faith development, but vital for the faith formation of our students.

Relationships are not a "Zero Sum Game"

Relationships are not a "Zero Sum Game"

MOST YOUTH WORKERS SEE THEIR RELATIONSHIPS WITH STUDENTS AS A ZERO SUM GAME.

Every student you work with has 100 pennies to dole out to the people in their life for relationship.  As a youth worker you want to be in relationship with students, and even more, you want a place of influence with them.  The best way to get to have influence in their life is to collect more and more pennies.  When you have 30 pennies, instead of one, then you have a powerful place in their life.  (Of course you are noble in your intentions and your influence is for the Kingdom of God.) :)

In a Zero Sum Game world view, the youth worker can only gain influence in the life of the student by collecting pennies, which seems normal and natural.  But in this world view you are stealing pennies from other relationships in order to gain in your influence.  

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Are you ready to kick off your student ministry this fall?

Are you ready to kick off your student ministry this fall?

Gearing up is not about planning (That should have been done already), but rather about filling the tank and preparing your heart, mind, and soul for ministry.

For our student ministry rhythm we intentionally take a couple of weeks off between the end of summer programming and our fall launch. I have found that this is a vital two weeks for our students and for me.  As we wrap up summer, and we have solidified our 16-17 calendar complete with curriculum, fun activities, service and mission trips, it is time to take the foot off the gas, get my own house in order and prepare for another full year of student ministry.  

For the next two weeks, here are my goals and my plan to achieve them.  

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The 3 most important things we do in student ministry

The 3 most important things we do in student ministry

There are so many great things we do in student ministry.  But so much of what we do are simply add ons to what is truly the fundamental core values of student ministry.  The challenge is separate out what is the irreducible complexity in student ministry and what are simply the add ons.

Now, don't get me wrong, it is the add ons, the amenities, and the style points that are what makes your ministry uniquely yours.  These are probably what you are known for and affirmed for in your ministry.  But if we are not careful, we lose focus and make the amenities the main things.  What we really want to do is firmly understand the core values of student ministry and from that foundation we can build what every stylized and culturally appropriate ministry we have been dreaming about!

When you take away the fog machine, the funny video, the dinner together, the lesson, the small groups, the goofy game, the artistic paintings, etc, what is left.  What are the core values that must be present in any solid and thriving ministry?  Irreducible Complexity is the bare minimum requirements for something to work.  And in student ministry, there are 3; Inviting Community, Transformational Relationships, and Incarnation Engagement.

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Your students are not ready to live missionaly

Your students are not ready to live missionaly

I think baseball is an amazing sport. On the surface, it is a simple game, hitting and fielding. But the more you dive into the game, the more you see the deep strategy, pitch selection, and the never ending statistics. Since my dream of becoming a professional baseball player didn’t pan out, I am now putting that pressure on my son. So, this last spring we signed him up for his first season of T-ball. It is quite an entertaining sight to watch a group of 5 year olds learning the game of baseball.

The first season of T-ball is just that, learning the very basics. By the end of the season, this kids mostly know their positions, the direction to run around the bases, how to hit a ball off a T, and that is about it. But the foundation has been laid and a trajectory set for these kids to become legitimate baseball players and for my son to fulfill my dream of playing in the Bigs!

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The politics of youth ministry

The politics of youth ministry

Politics: the art/science concerned with guiding or influencing policy. Add the additional concept of “guiding or influencing people” and we’ve got a good working definition.

In any organization, government or church, there are people and policies that need to be led. Politics is the art through which this is done. Politics is a reality of life, one we can’t overlook.

What makes politics so inherently tricky is the presence of power.

Politics is all about influence and influence is all about power. Power is the lever that makes influence happen. But power within the church is a paradox. On one hand we’re called to be servant leaders, to give up our rights, and lay down our lives for others. On the other hand, we’re called to lead people. You can’t lead without influence, and you can’t influence without power.

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18 months in . . . . and I haven't quit yet.

18 months in . . . . and I haven't quit yet.

There is an infamous statistic of youth workers quitting/leaving/transitioning out of their job after 18 months. It’s kind of a fun game to look back and see how many youth workers you have met that are no longer in the game. It’s can also be pretty sad. How many great youth workers have we lost to the grind of ministry?

The good news is, some of the youth workers we lose are actually for the better. Better for them, their families, and the churches they served at. In my Youth Ministry 1 class our professor actually hoped to have kids give up the idea of youth ministry as a career. He would say “If you can picture yourself doing anything other than youth ministry; go do that! You will be much happier.” You see he realized that like any other job or calling, not everyone is meant to do it.

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Are bikinis sinful?

Are bikinis sinful?

What Are Your Summer Bathing Suit Rules? Now that summer is here it is time for pool parties, lake barbecues, and beach activities. As a youth ministry professional there is always one question that seems always rise to the surface: what is appropriate summer beach attire? Every youth ministry throughout the country has different rules and regulations when it comes to what is ok to wear at events that include water. All of the rules seem to surround the ladies and their swimsuit options. Bikini? Tankini? One Piece? Or my favorite, a Potato Sack.

Because our country is large and our micro-cultures are so varied, the rules we set up become “just the way we do things.” For many of us haven’t really thought through all of the reasons and cultural issues surrounding our decisions. We don’t even get push-back anymore because, “it is just how we do things.”

This way of setting up guidelines is perfectly fine with me. But the problem is that, when the larger body of Christ comes together for some summer fun, there seems to always be some conflict. Whether it is summer camp, a joint camping trip, or a denominational gathering, issues arise when one set of rules bumps up against another set of rules.

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Check out the Class of 2017 laying it down in Big Church! Doubt as Spiritual Formation

Every Year we have our graduating seniors lead a service as we launch them into the big, bad world.  It is so fun to see these kids who our entire church has poured into blossom into incredible young women and men.  And this particular class brought it!!

Being a young person in this current cultural context is kryptonite for faith.  Instead of forcing our kids to live double lives or simply abandon their faith, we stared down into the abyss and let the doubts and skepticism mold and shape our faith.  I couldn't have said it better myself!

Enjoy!

Let's not forget what role we really play in the spiritual development of our students

Let's not forget what role we really play in the spiritual development of our students

I'm not going to lie, I often think I am a pretty good youth worker.  I have been doing this a long time and am technically proficient.  I can deliver a good talk, I can program a good night, and I can work a room and impact its temperature.

And for as good as I think I am, I still find myself longing and searching for the magic bullet.

There has to be some new trend, idea, games, illustration, insight that will help turn students' hearts towards Jesus.  And sometimes my quest for the newest thing actually hinders me from using the best thing.  I know this is the case because recently I Facebook stalked some "friends" of mine of Facebook and listened to their talks, looked at their pictures, read comments on their pages and I was horrified that their feeble attempts at youth ministry were actually yielding some incredible spiritual fruit!

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Providing an easy onramp back to the church

Providing an easy onramp back to the church

Oh, How Nice It Would Feel To Drop the Hammer of Truth!

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had high schoolers lay into me about how youth group doesn’t do it for them anymore, or about how they need something with more depth. Sometimes I lie awake at night, imagining all the ways I would love to give it right back to them; to actually be a straight shooter and tell them how it really is. But just when I’m about to explode and completely blow away some unsuspecting, verbally processing mid-adolescent, God gives me a gracious reminder of my unique role and purpose in the body of Christ.

I recently had lunch with a former student who was the thorn in my side during her time in my student ministry.  Everything I did wasn’t good enough, every lesson wasn’t deep enough, and every other adult in her life was smarter and wiser then I ever could be.  Now, while most of my students probably already believe this, this young woman decided to make it very clear to me how dissatisfied she was with my leadership of our group.

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What can Graduation teach us about our calling?

What can Graduation teach us about our calling?

Guess What? It's Not About You!

A call to student ministry is a special and unique thing. We have been called by God to participate in the spiritual development of students. For a very specific and often chaotic season, we get the privilege and honor of being adults who coach, mentor, disciple and journey with adolescents who are exploring their faith and making it their own. What could be greater? As we attempt to live this out in the real world with real students in a real context, this simple and yet profound calling gets blurry.

The students we work with have joys and concerns, victories and losses, growth and set backs. We attempt to be there for every student for every part of the roller coaster ride; and while we work our guts out, pouring our lives into these students, our vision becomes impaired. Because very slowly, without us knowing, the joy that comes from getting to be there for students and walk with them turns and starts to become about us. Instead of being an adult who journeys with students for a season of their lives, we see ourselves as the adult who journeys with them, who advocates for them, who loves them, who will get them through adolescence, who will solve their problems, etc...

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Taking a needed break from Youth Group

Taking a needed break from Youth Group

We just completed our final youth group activity for the 2016-2017 school year. And for our rhythm, we are taking a much needed several week break. We have been running full speed since September 1 and our staff, volunteers, and even our students are tired and in desperate need for a break. So, instead of fighting it, we embrace it.

Do you take a break in your calendar?

When I first started in ministry, I never, ever, never, ever took a break. Finals week was a study break, Christmas break was a movie night, spring break was a mission trip, any break was an opportunity to be with students and build relationships and memories. I felt like every missed Wednesday night was a missed opportunity.

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Making relational space for this incoming class of students

Making relational space for this incoming class of students

One of the hardest things about doing student ministry in the same place for so long is saying goodbye to the graduating seniors and making space for the incoming 6th and 9th grade students.

We only have so many relational pegs:

I am sure you have probably heard the term relational pegs or something to that effect.  The basic idea is our hearts only have so many relational pegs in them.  We are one giant (or in my case, small) fall green lego panel.  On this lego panel we can fit a finite number of lego people.  Each lego person takes up two pegs, and once our panel is full so is our heart. Being in one place is good news on so many levels.

But it is pretty difficult to offload students with whom you have given your heart to.  You love all your students, and as they graduate they stay on our panel and when they come back we love to catch up with them, and hear all about their new adult lives.  We work hard to track down our current and former students in an attempt to both maintain relationship as well as check in on our investment.

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When is your expiration date for student ministry?

When is your expiration date for student ministry?

I have some bad news.  Your dream of life long student ministry is simply that, a dream.  Whether you like it or not, there is an expiration date for your time serving in student ministry.  But before you freak out, or throw a temper tantrum, take a second to consider this reality.  And if this is actually reality, then this has some really important and potentially life changing implications.

If, in fact, there is an ending to your student ministry career, then what are the things you need to be doing now to prepare for this future?  Great questions.  Here are a couple of ideas:

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13 Reasons Why: Youth Workers MUST be at the top of their game!

13 Reasons Why: Youth Workers MUST be at the top of their game!

Early on in my youth ministry career I was trained to do cultural exegesisOne of the foundational questions when consuming media is to ask yourself this question: "Is what I am watching Directive or Reflective?"  

Back in the good old days, it was easy to write off most edgy programming as simply directive programming and then find ways to protect our kids from being lead astray by media that was overly sexualized and dangerous.  This boycott mentality is deeply ingrained in the Christian psyche and all the old play books are coming out for the new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.

In such short order there have been many things already written about this series.  There is concern from physiologists, parents, schools and churches.  The concerns are real, concerns that this show glorifies suicide and will make it more normative in our communities.  (You can check out some of those posts, here, here, here, here, and here.) While must work with all our hearts to stop suicide and its glorification, we can not simply write off this series and condemn it.  We must engage the content and culture and see what we can learn about the hidden lives of our students. 

I think we should strongly consider that the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why is much more reflective than we think. Consider the possibility that this show doesn't glorify or dramatize the high school experience, but rather reflects it more accurately than any other program out there.

If this show gives us "out of touch" adults a glimpse into the lives of students, then we need to rethink everything we are doing in student ministry and get our heads in the game. This simply isn't the high school experience you remember.  And, as an adult leader in their world, we must start where they are, not where we think they are or where we want them to be.

Here are my 13 reasons why youth workers must be at the top of their game.

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Top 10 ways to survive reentry from #OC17

Top 10 ways to survive reentry from #OC17

Orange 2017 is over, you have checked out of your hotel, and it is now time to head back home. For the past several days you have had the amazing opportunity to be free from leadership responsibilities, drama, and obligations. You have been able to wonder around as you please, sleep in, visit with friends, and stay up too late. You have been encouraged and sharpened spiritually and vocationally. And it is now time to wrap it up and reengage life, real life, the life to which you were really called to live. If we are not careful, it is easy to come in at the wrong angle and disintegrate as we reenter. It takes intentional effort to maximize all that God has done in you this week and to make sure the seed lands in fertile soil. Here are 10 simple ways to survive reentry:

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Do you have a scope and cycle to your curriculum?

Do you have a scope and cycle to your curriculum?

Writing curriculum is one of the most challenging endeavors a youth worker undertakes.  (I have found that it is hard even writing the word curriculum, mostly because I am a horrible speller.)  As hard as writing curriculum can be, what really makes a curriculum great or awful is its scope and cycle.  And this is where Orange's XP3 Student ministry curriculum hits it out of the park!

It is often confusing cruising through a website and trying to figure out what is going on, why they do what they do, and how it all fits together. I get that 90% of that confusion is because I don't pay attention and skim read. So, I really enjoyed sitting down and having the creators of this material, Jeremy Zach and Jared Herd, explain it to me.

These two guys and their team put together some really great material. But what is even more compelling is the values they begin with as they write their curriculum.

Here are a few values that form the foundation of how this curriculum is put together.

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