Don't confuse manners with behavior modification

Don't confuse manners with behavior modification

One of the most important aspects to a balanced and thriving student ministry is having an intentional scope and sequence to your curriculum.  We must be intentional with what we teach and to use the limited amount of time we have with our students well.  And while many of you are thoughtful about your teaching and are biblically deep, contextually astute, and clever as all get out, there might be one significant area that gets left out.

I am sure that you would agree that our culture is getting more and more coarse.  Students are increasingly self absorbed and rude.  Maybe the truth is that you don't even realize it anymore or have simply died to it.  Maybe you think that you will lose street cred if you push back against their entitlement mentality.  Or maybe you are satisfied that you can at last get them to say grace when you are all together for a meal.

As students become more and more isolated, they have fewer and fewer places in their lives where they actually have to consider others.  Their music choices, their movie choices, their food choices are all individualized.  Whatever they want whenever they want it is their instinct and highest value.  If at any time a student is done paying attention in a group, they simply need to plug in their ear buds, check facebook, and check out.

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Are you tired of losing students out the back door?

Are you tired of losing students out the back door?

As summer is beginning, and I reflect on our ministry and the students that have come through the doors this school year, I have realized that there are quite a large number of students who have come and gone and no longer part of our youth ministry community.  I get that sports, school, schedules, etc are the cause for a lot of this drop off.  But most of the reasons that initially caused students to drop off or fade away are no longer part of their reality.  They are now simply out of the habit.  So, the real question is, how do we get these students back in the habit of being part of our community?  Here is what I do:

Put all my students into boxes:

I know, I know, it is awful to put anyone into a box and make a complex being into a two dimensional box filler.  But for this exercise, you have to die to this sensitivity.  Once you get over that, take a sheet of paper and list out all of your students.  I list them out by grade.  I start with every student I can think of and write away.  It doesn't matter if they are committed or I have met them once, or even if they have actually never made it to youth group.  It simply matters if I am connected to them.  (If you are part of a large student ministry, this exercise can be done with your small group leaders for the same effect)

Once I have every student I know listed on a sheet of paper, I then place them into boxes.  These boxes have nothing to do with spiritual maturity or how much I like them.  These boxes have 100% to do with how committed they are to our youth group community.  For those who are invested, I just look at their names and smile.  Then I circle the names of students who are very loosely connected.  I like to call them fringe, you call them whatever you want.  Some of these "fringe" students come pretty regularly, but they are not committed.  Then I put an asterisk next to students who have dropped off completely, those who I have not seen for at least a month.

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The secret to get any kid to share in small groups

The secret to get any kid to share in small groups

Every Fall we have a training for our youth ministry volunteers.  And every year the biggest concern, fear, and anxiety surrounds leading small groups.  If I am honest, I don’t really resonate with this fear. This is because I am a youth ministry professional and I got into this gig because I love students, I love interacting with them, and I love drawing them in, picking their brain, and nurturing conversation around life and faith.

But if I want my students to grow and develop in their faith, and if I want to lead a ministry larger than 6 students, then I will need other adults who can also sit down in a group of students and facilitate conversation.  

What I am about to share is not rocket science, but they are simple tips that will allow faithful adults from just about any background to sit down with a group of students and engage in deep and meaningful conversation.  

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A New Vision for Short-Term Missions

A New Vision for Short-Term Missions

Short-Term Missions has done and is doing a lot of damage around the world. There have been numerous books, blogs, and podcasts bashing short-term missions.

Many would say we should stop going on such trips due to the amount of harm that has been done. One of the biggest reasons why short-term missions have done so much damage is because it only benefits one side of the experience: the trip goer. Our interaction with our short-term mission host community can quickly become a consumeristic transactional relationship where we end up using the poor solely for our benefit.

Youth groups and short-term missions organizations go because of the benefit they see that it has on their students and adults, which isn't a bad thing, but do we seriously consider the effects it has on the community in which we serve? Maybe a better question is, “Do we care?”

I genuinely believe that none of us want our short-term mission trips to do damage or use the poor for our benefit. Therefore, if we truly want to make a lasting impact on the community we are serving and on our team, then we must be willing to change our paradigm in how we do them. We should consider approaching our short-term trips through reciprocal relationships.

“Re-cip-ro-cal” adjective. definition. “when two or more people are carrying out or have carried out a similar action with both receiving mutual benefit or consequence.”

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This is not a revival generation :(

This is not a revival generation :(

Every youth worker's dream is that we are pastoring a generation that will bring revival and be the point of the generational spear for a new spiritual renewal.  But, I think this dream is actually hindering our ability to serve this generation as well as hindering our ability to shepherd the gospel through this really challenging and complex time. 

Now don't get me wrong, I would love nothing more than for this to happen, but every indicator out there is telling a different story.  In 2012 Phillis Tickle wrote an incredible book, Emergence Christianity, and gave some great lectures about the changing culture and how that is changing Christianity.  

Her basic premise is that every 500 years there is a revolution in the way that people understand the world on what their foundations of truth are built upon.  The last time this happened was during the enlightenment and the protestant reformation.  It is truly fascinating and more complex than a little blog has time to go it to.  But it did get me thinking . . .

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How is your millennial fragility hindering your ministry?

How is your millennial fragility hindering your ministry?

Each generation seems to bring with it some really great aspects and some dark shadow sides.  As a true gen Xer, we only really know our shadow side.  And most of us Xers had the privilege of doing youth ministry for the current crop of youth workers.  And now, the vast majority of youth workers are in their early 20's to mid 30's.  That means the vast majority of youth workers are millennials!!

I know millennials have been on the receiving end of a solid decade of crap from just about everyone, even their parent's generation, the generation that raised them.  This is a brutal and unfair moment for you guys.  You have been told your entire lives how great you are and how the world is yours and even better how you were going to be the ones to actually change the world for the better.  And now that you are adults, the rug has been pulled out from under you and it sucks!  

One of the shadow sides of all the empowerment and words of affirmation that millennials have received in their formative years is that there is an over-inflated weight given to words.  In fact, you can complete this sentence, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but . . . WORDS WILL KILL YOU!"

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What kind of influence can you expect to have on parents?  (Especially if you are young, single, no kids, no high school kids)

What kind of influence can you expect to have on parents?  (Especially if you are young, single, no kids, no high school kids)

This is a great question, and I have seen some young youth workers lean into this reality well, and witnessed others completely botch it.  

Interacting with parents can be really intimidating.  Whether or not you realize it at times, parents will talk to us in ways that makes it clear that we are the JV, babysitters, not really know what we are talking about, and have little to offer outside of our “little” mid-week program.  

This kind of blatant or subtle condescension drives many of my youth ministry friends into madness.  When these buttons are pushed, it is easy for our pride to take over and to say and do things that don’t help win over parents, don’t move the ministry ball forward, and if we are not careful can even result in losing our job.  

But have no fear.  As a youth worker, you have an incredible opportunity to not only be a blessing for the student, but an even bigger blessing for the parents.  And if you can win with the parents, you can win the kid and even have a greater impact in the life of that student. Here are 3 simple ways to do just that:

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Attractional Ministry is BACK!!

Attractional Ministry is BACK!!

The pendulum is always swinging, and over the past decade, attactional ministry has become a looked down upon and even scorned.  But, I think it is time to turn the corner and bring back the era of big fun, giveaways, and easy on-ramps for kids to get connected to the church.  

Don't get me wrong; I think there is plenty to critique about the attractional models of the past.  They were shallow; the rubric was only butts in the seats, and, on top of that, it is so expensive. With some harsh evaluation and the changing economic environments of churches, it makes sense that this way of ministry has gone away.  But I would like to argue that it is time to bring it back!

You see, our culture is rapidly changing and with this comes some important changes that we need to take seriously.  

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Is it time for adults to be quiet and let students speak?

Is it time for adults to be quiet and let students speak?

After the awful tragedy at Parkland High School and all of the news, walkouts, and protests, I have found myself unsettled with the conclusions that many people are drawing.   Don't get me wrong, I love when young people recognize they have agency and are willing to look outside of themselves and enter the challenging world in which they live as they find their voices.  

In fact, as a lifelong youth worker, it is my joy when students begin to find their voice and begin to make their faith and their convictions their own.   It has been encouraging to see students try on activism, to wrestle with the deeper issues, and to be congratulated by so many people, especially people in power.  

However . . . 

The consensus seems to be that this is a moment for the children to lead.  But, as a youth worker, I am not convinced that this is the right conclusion to what we have seen unfold over the last six weeks or so.  

I think (or am thinking out loud) this isn't time for adults to be quiet, for adults to shut up, or for adults to secede the conversation.  The call back to other "youth" lead movements just don't wash.  

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Thank God for my kid's youth worker!

Thank God for my kid's youth worker!

I thought my 20 plus years of student ministry would prepare me for the task of parenting a teenager.  I thought wrong!

A while ago, my son and I were driving and he decided to broach the subject of my over the top rules surrounding social media.  He called me on the carpet for changing my rules and requirements three different times, and he has had enough.  I confessed that this was my first time parenting a teenager.  He did not find comfort in that excuse and finally let me have it, "Dad, you have been telling parents for years how to parent their kids and help them set up rules for social media.  What's the problem?"  

It was at that point I had to confess that I have no idea what I am doing, and ask for his forgiveness and patience.  

Upon further reflection, I have realized that this was just an exposed crack in the deepening divide that is happening between me and my teenage son.  This distance is causing such sorrow and anxiety, in a way that I could never have imagined.

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Youth Ministry is Cross Cultural Ministry

Youth Ministry is Cross Cultural Ministry

One of my most favorite mission trips I have ever taken was to the hills of central Guatemala.  For 5 years I made my annual pilgrimage to jump into all the great things that God was doing among these Mayan converts.  These people loved Jesus and were cutting edge in the ways that they missionally cared for their kinsmen who lived even further up the hills. 

Cross-cultural missions is both exhilarating and humbling.  To do this well we must be quiet and listen, ask questions and listen even more.  And through genuine relationship knit together in genuine love, sometimes you are given an opportunity to share a little bit about your own life and the ways Jesus has impacted you.  

In a similar way, ministry to Generation Z is truly a cross-cultural experience.  This grouping of students is unlike any cohort of students that have ever walked through the doors of a church.  It doesn't matter how young you are, how hip you are, how savvy you are about social media, you are not a native to their culture and therefore you must proceed accordingly. 

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Shrewd Manager Ministry: Not as sexy as others out there, but it is the one that works.

Shrewd Manager Ministry: Not as sexy as others out there, but it is the one that works.

There are so many cool and sexy sounding ministry philosophies out there.  But the more I reflect on my ministry and what has been the most effective in helping kids get connected to the church and grow in their long term love for the church and for Jesus, I think I have come to the conclusion that the most effective ministry philosophy out there is the ministry of the Shrewd Manager. 

Check out Luke 16:1-9.  I get that I am taking this "a little" out of context, but what if I am not? :)

I have read this passage many times, and even studied it a few times, and even now, I have to confess that I have no idea what it means.  But at the end of this parable, Jesus says this statement, that I think sums up youth ministry:

Luke 16:9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

Youth workers are tasked by the church to build bridges with students, to build relationships and gain favor and influence.  How do you gain influence with students? Buy spending time with them, by being generous with your time, but even more with being generous with your wallet.

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Our kids need different language to understand the Gospel

Our kids need different language to understand the Gospel

With all of my heart, I think that the gospel of Jesus Christ is always good news. I also believe with all my heart that at different times and in different cultures what is seen as good news is much different than what the generation or people before them saw. And it just so happens that we are living right in the middle of this cultural change.

Thinking back to how my parents’ generation would answer this question, the good news of the gospel was that Jesus Christ died for their sin. Sin meant missing the mark, and they had done just that. Growing up in a firmly Judeo-Christian context, they pushed back and rebelled. There was an expectation of how to behave, and they failed. This failure resulted in consequences and someone had to pay. In a spiritual sense, Jesus died for their sin, and for those who recognized their own rebellion, turned to Jesus, and asked for forgiveness, Jesus would pay the price of their sin and make them right with God.

For some of my younger friends and me, this transactional approach to the gospel lacked heart, meaning and purpose. For us, the Judeo-Christian context was breaking apart. Instead of experiencing the world how it should be, we seemed to inherit a broken, run down version of it. Our generation experienced divorce, economic challenges, environmental disasters, and the crumbling of institutions.

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Time to give up the Side Hustle

Time to give up the Side Hustle

There is this strange phenomenon where everyone in student ministry has picked up a side hustle.  You have been doing student ministry for a while and now you have something to say, something to offer the big bad world.  And even better, you can monetize it in some way.

I get that most youth workers don't make a ton of money and if there is a way to share some of the creative and innovative things you have done in ministry can bring you a few bucks, then it is a win, win.  But this mentality has infected student ministry and is slowly destroying the greatest ministry a church can offer.

At best, being a youth worker is one of the highest callings one can have.  You have been called to be on the front lines of a rapidly changing culture, with kids who developmentally are rapidly pushing back from the faith of their childhood and seeking to discover who they are as they walk through the process of individuation.   

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Are you looking for a good partner in building a sustainable student ministry? #OC18 #thinkorange

Are you looking for a good partner in building a sustainable student ministry?  #OC18 #thinkorange

Most youth workers I know have gotten into student ministry because they love Jesus and they love kids.  Their heart and passion is often overflowing.  And this initial fire brings excitement, growth, and even some fruit.  If there is one thing youth workers are known for it is starting strong.  And on the flip side, the other thing youth workers are known for is flaming out!

Building a sustainable youth ministry takes a team.

Your initial love and passion can honestly only get you so far.  After about 6 months you have used up all your greatest talks, greatest games, greatest gimmicks, and you can see the fruit of your greatest work is starting to have diminishing returns.  Building a student ministry that lasts takes more than passion.  It takes an intentional plan to build a student ministry that will survive the waves and winds of this crazy job.

Like all buildings, the strongest and most stable are the ones who have the strongest infrastructure.  These buildings are not simple shelters, but they are highly engineered structures that require a team of experts to work together to draw plans and actually build.  And like a complex building, a sustainable student ministry needs much more than your passion and our expertise.

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Its Just a Phase: Book Review #OC18 #thinkorange

Its Just a Phase: Book Review #OC18 #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.  

We have some great topics for teaching and fun activities to build community and express faith and we think we are good to go!  But what I found to be so helpful about this book is that every chapter, every phase stirred up in me some new ministry ideas to try on with my students.  

Even though I have been working with students for a long time, I find that I simply put students in a giant category of students.  But this book pushes back on that premise and breaks up the phase of student ministry life into 6 distinct phases with very particular issues, needs, and questions that need to be answered.  

I love how this book clearly spells these out to me and launches me to find practical ways to implement each phase's distinctives back into my ministry context. 

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Merry Christmas from the Kerns Family!

Merry Christmas from the Kerns Family!

As this year comes to a close, I began to reflect on one of the most special experiences our entire family got to share.  It was one of those things that, although quite costly, turned out to be well worth the cost in how it has brought our family together and even more how it shone a light into some of the ways we are growing individually and as a family.  

Imagine having a chunk of change that you have put away for savings and you could dream up the experience you wanted to spend it on for your family.  What would you choose?  With the number I have in mind we had several options; season tickets for our entire family for the 49ers (they suck now, but eventually when they turn around in 5-10 years, who will be laughing then?), a used truck (this is more for me since I am tired of my  Prius that smells like dirty feet), or my favorite, a two week vacation for our family to Italy!!!  That would be perfect.  This is the exact time in our kids lives to make the big splurge and spend money to build memories that will last a lifetime.

Now, all of these are great options for the kind of money I am talking about.  While we have been working on putting this kind of money away for some special splurges for our family, the end of 2017 has also brought our family slush fund down to zero.  So, what sort of costly adventure deflated our savings account this year?  One word and everything will be clear.  BODIE!

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Did you know that you are not the person who has your students’ best interests in mind?

Did you know that you are not the person who has your students’ best interests in mind?

Student ministry is such a strang calling. For those of us in the game, we have given away our lives and often our lively hood to generously love kids into the Kingdom of God!  This is a high calling and one that gets less and less glamorous with each and every passing year. 

But one of the things that keep us going is our deep love for students.  I am not talking about generic "students."  I am talking about the deep love we have for the individual kids in our ministries.  In fact, it is our love for them that many youth workers put up with low wages, dysfunctional staff teams, and often struggle to move on to greener pastures.  This is an awesome thing and you should be commended for this supernatural love and the never-ending grace and mercy you pour out on your kids.  

But it is that last statement that often ends up spinning us out.  We pour out our entire lives into "our kids."  I love this language because it is the language of deep love and commitment.  It is a way to frame our ministry and justify our deep affection.  While all of this is good, even great, there is a brutal reality that needs to be kept in perspective as we spend this season giving our entire lives to these particular students.  

Here it is: THESE KIDS ARE NOT YOUR KIDS.

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Top 10 ways to turn your pastor into the biggest advocate of student ministry. 1: Do a good job

Top 10 ways to turn your pastor into the biggest advocate of student ministry. 1: Do a good job

1) Do a Good Job: It is kind of going all the way back to the beginning. Remember, this series of posts is about how to make your pastor a huge fan of student ministry. At the end of the day, the way in which you make them a huge fan of student ministry is by making them a huge fan of you. And the best, #1 way you can do this, is simply by doing a good job.

When you work hard and do a good job, your pastor's heart towards you will grow. By excelling in what you have been hired to do, you will find that your pastor will; believe in you, trust you, and will want you to succeed even more. By wanting you to succeed, they will want your ministry to succeed.

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Top 10 ways to turn your pastor into the biggest advocate of student ministry. 2: Keep your ego in check

Top 10 ways to turn your pastor into the biggest advocate of student ministry. 2: Keep your ego in check

2) Keep Your Ego in Check: If you were brutally honest with yourself, you would agree that you are a pretty big deal.  You are amazing and people at your church think you are doing a fantastic job.  Whenever you preach you get glowing feedback and you are often juxtaposed from your stodgy boring pastor and their preaching performance.  Your circle of influence is impressed with your vision for the church and your strategy to get there.   With all the great things you think about yourself combined with others adoration of you and your gifts, it is easy to start to think that maybe you should be the one in charge of this church.  If this thought has ever entered your brain, YOU MUST KILL IT!

You were hired to do youth ministry and you are probably doing a great job and others are impressed with the work you are doing.  But having people love you as their youth worker and love you to where they want you to split the church and have you take over are two different things.  IT IS NEVER OK FOR YOU TO TRY AND TAKE OVER YOUR LEAD PASTOR!  They have been called by God and the congregation to do that job and you were hired to do yours.  No matter how you justify it in your brain, it is never ok.  You are called to support, lift up, encourage, and speak well of your lead pastor.  If you are having the burning desire to be "the man" then go somewhere else and give it a try.

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