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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Top 10 ways to turn your pastor into the biggest advocate of student ministry. 3: Document everything

Top 10 ways to turn your pastor into the biggest advocate of student ministry. 3: Document everything

4) Document Everything: You have to admit that youth workers have really strange jobs.  One of the hardest things about our job is to quantify what we do.  We work in relationship first, program second, and quantified results, well never.  Because of this, there isn't really a right or wrong way to do our job.  Everyone does this job differently and takes different amounts of time to accomplish different tasks.  But these realities cannot be cause to overlook the fact that we are paid by the church and as an employee, we are going to be held accountable for what we are doing with our time.

The truth is that most youth workers I know work incredibly hard and way more than the hours they are paid for.  But for whatever reason somewhere along the way, we get in trouble because our pastor has no idea what we are doing.  An easy solution that both covers our own butts, as well as shows our pastor that we are in the trenches working hard together, is to document everything!

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Top 10 ways to turn your pastor into the biggest advocate of student ministry. 5: Don't forget to love them too

Top 10 ways to turn your pastor into the biggest advocate of student ministry. 5: Don't forget to love them too

5) Don't Forget To Love Them Too: Unchecked, all of us are incredibly self-absorbed people. We think the entire world revolves around us. Our life, our experiences, our job, our joys, and our failures are really significant. While all of these experiences consume our every thought, everyone else around us doesn't spend much time thinking about them. This is mostly because they are consumed with their own story as well. This isn't a good or bad thing, just a thing.

As Christians, we are invited to remove yourself out of the center of the universe and allow Jesus his rightful place there. Many of us can get our head around that. But what seems to elude most people is that this invitation is not to have a simple duet between you and Jesus. This invitation also allows other people and their stories to matter to you as well. And this truth could never be more important than with the story that consumes your pastor's thoughts.

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Top 10 ways to turn your pastor into the biggest advocate for student ministry. 6: Love THEIR kids

Top 10 ways to turn your pastor into the biggest advocate for student ministry.  6: Love THEIR kids

6) Love Their Kids:

Most youth workers get into this profession because they have a huge heart for students. With all of our heart, we want the lost to be found, the rejected to find community, and the broken healed. We are thankful for the critical mass of church kids, but our eyes and heart seem to always look to the horizon of where the lost and discarded students live. Sometimes in our effort to run after the one lost sheep, we burn bridges with the 99, especially their parents. And of all the parents who we can not afford to burn bridges with is with our pastor's kids.

If you want your pastor to be your biggest advocate and to advocate for your ministry then it is of utmost importance that you do everything in your power to win them over. Here are a couple of reasons we can not blow off these kids, even though everything in us wants to.

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Top 10 ways to turn your pastor into the biggest advocate of student ministry . 7: Clean your office

Top 10 ways to turn your pastor into the biggest advocate of student ministry . 7: Clean your office

7) Clean Your Office

It is a simple rule, if you want to be treated with respect, then you must act in a way that deserves it.  And believe it or not, your office communicates very loudly what kind of respect you deserve.  Most of us think of our offices as a holding tank, a storage closet, simply the place to get some details worked out, so you can actually get out there and do some ministry.  Most of the people that we care most about in ministry will never see our office, but the most important people for our longevity in our context see our office every day.  If you want your pastor to be your advocate and in turn an advocate for students, then show that you are a professional and aware of your context.

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Top 10 ways to turn your pastor into the biggest advocate of student ministry. 8: Professionalism is key

Top 10 ways to turn your pastor into the biggest advocate of student ministry. 8: Professionalism is key

8. Professionalism is Key:

For as long as there has been youth ministry there have been youth workers who are fully living into their glorified adolescence. Rather than embrace the decades of hard work by the youth workers who have gone before to elevate this calling to an actual calling that is respected by the church at large, many choose to live into the Peter Pan mythology that youth ministry is an isolated ministry and a unique calling that should be respected no matter what. And when we are called on the carpet for being sloppy and a hack, we push back and think it is so sad that these adults have lost their edge and don't care about the lost. But the truth is that professionalism is key when gaining respect among your pastor and your parents. And if you want them to be an advocate for you and your ministry you have to play ball.

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Top 10 ways to turn your pastor into the biggest advocate of student ministry. 9: Don't be a liability

Top 10 ways to turn your pastor into the biggest advocate of student ministry. 9: Don't be a liability

9)  Don't Be A Liability:

Student ministry is a complicated job with many moving parts.  Even the most veteran youth workers among us are bound to make mistakes and create messes that are in desperate need of cleaning up.  Making messes is par for the course.  But when we don't clean them up and those messes move up the chain of command, we are bound to be in some big trouble.  If you want to make your pastor a big fan of you and student ministry then don't be a liability.

Understand The Two Unstated Goals:

As I have done this job for over 20 years and have worked for several pastors and supervisors, I have realized that outside of the job description there are actually two unstated goals that are of supreme importance.  It is too bad that they are unstated, but they are real, and cannot be taken lightly.

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Top 10 ways to turn your pastor into the biggest advocate of student ministry. 10: Remember, they are the boss

Top 10 ways to turn your pastor into the biggest advocate of student ministry.  10: Remember, they are the boss

10)  They Are The Boss:

As a youth ministry professional, we have been told by everyone that we are living into a calling, a calling to ministry.  We have a passion for students and for ministry, we love dreaming up strategic plans and vision statements for our ministry.

But the truth is that a youth ministry job is a job.  You are a hired staff with a boss and expectations, and the pastor is your boss.  It is ridiculous when youth workers, the bottom of the church staff totem pole, pay zero attention to the politics of this workplace and spend zero time and effort seeking to please their boss.

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Top 10 ways to turn your pastor into the biggest advocate of student ministry. 4: Be teachable

Top 10 ways to turn your pastor into the biggest advocate of student ministry. 4: Be teachable

4) Be Teachable: We all love the opportunity to impart our great wisdom and insights to others.  Remember how great it felt when someone genuinely wanted your opinion.  You didn't have to muster up something fake to impress them, they were already impressed and wanted your wisdom.  It builds you up, it connects you to them and is such a gift.  With your pastor, the same is exactly true, but this time you get to be the one seeking wisdom and insight.  When you do this, their confidence grows and their heart strands for you grow as well.  For you to do this well, here are a couple of things to keep in mind.

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Does the Vape Pen mark the end of the culture war?

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As our culture becomes more and more Post-Christian, there seems to be less and less consensus on what is morally acceptable.  I have had the suspicion, but increasingly it is proving to be fact that our kids have no moral boundaries.  They are 100% living into situational ethics.  For the most part, this doesn't impact our student ministries. 

What kids do and don't do for the 165 hours they are not with us doesn't impact us and we have little control over.  Their sexual boundaries, their online activity, the pirating of music and movies, cheating on tests, lying to family, etc.  This is all par for the course.  But what about when it enters our world?

For the longest time kids played ball with the rules and culture of our student ministry and church.  They didn't get it on in the bathrooms, they smuggle in vodka in their water bottles, and they wouldn't smoke bowls before, during or after youth group.  If we could get them to swear a little less, we were doing a good job.  

But now we have a dilemma.  

With the combination of zero moral boundaries and the accessibility of vape pens, it is impossible to truly police behavior.  Kids vape tobacco and pot and there is no way to catch them or bust them.  Vape pens are concealable and the vape dissipates before anyone can tell what is going on.  All the while this is normalizing being high and numbing our students to their own consionsenss and any sense of absolute morality.  And now, we as youth workers need to figure out what to do.  

Do we drug test? Do we have drug dogs? Do we look away?  

It seems every option brings with it a huge amount of negative consequences. 

1) Guilt and shame don't deter behavior anymore, and worse, create a deep wound and story about the church and its judgementalism. 

2) Looking away hurts my heart, but I am not sure what damage it does to students.  

3) I do know that as more and more kids vape at church, all the other students and some parents will probably find out long before us adults do and that crushes the church's reputation as well.

As you can tell with my word vomit, I am simply verbally processing a challenging cultural moment.  For me in my context, I am not so worried about youth group, but as we start planning for trips, winter camp, mission trips, I am getting more and more anxious.

In our context, we are working hard to make our ministry safe for every kid, from every background as they wrestle with what it means to be part of God's family.  We strive to do no harm to them as they work this out.  But this philosophy is getting more and more complex.

I would love to know how you handle these situations and how vaping is impacting your ministry and our student culture.  Thoughts?

  

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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