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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Why does food matter in student ministry?

Why does food matter in student ministry?

I love stereotypes.  I know I am not supposed to, but most of the time they are funny because there is a chuck of truth in them.  And as far as youth ministry goes, pizza is the one and only food group.  Pizza is the anchor to our ministry philosophy and model.  While I try so hard to be healthy and provide food options that actually have nutritional value for our students, pizza is still my go to food!  And when not pizza, then Oreo's and milk.

No matter if you are a health conscious youth ministry or you lean into the way of your forefathers by embracing the Costco $10 extra large pizza, there is something vital to the health of our ministry that is closely linked to providing food for the body and for the soul.

Sharing a meal is a way to share life. 

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The 4 key tasks of student ministry

The 4 key tasks of student ministry

As we gear up for a new year and new semester of ministry, it is easy to get caught up in urgent tasks and miss the mark on what we are actually called to do as youth workers.  Now, don't get me wrong, tasks like the details that go into a successful and engaging youth group, planning events, buying supplies and setting up fun games, the study and preparation for your talks, receipts, and contact work, are all important, but these tasks are only the action steps that must be informed by the four key tasks of student ministry.  If you do these four tasks well then you will be a rock star for the kingdom of God and for your church!

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Who do you recruit to be volunteers?

Who do you recruit to be volunteers?

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

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

Getting Volunteers Now:

Ok, if you are in a situation like the one I described above, you simply need to just get a warm body in the room. I know it doesn't sound like much, but you cannot be doing this alone. First for spiritual and emotional reasons, but also for legal reasons as well. If you are holding out for some adult who will attract kids, interact with them appropriately, and help nurture a healthy version of Christianity, you will die holding your breath.

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5 key ingredients for a thriving student ministry

5 key ingredients for a thriving student ministry

Youth ministry is actually the best and easiest job on the planet!

I know many of you singed up for this gig because you love students and you desperately want them to love Jesus.  And while this initial passion will get you started down the road of student ministry, there are some other essential ingredients that are vital for a long term, sustained ministry.  Here are the 5 basic pillars for a sound infrastructure for your student ministry.  And when you put these in place, you can get back to the thing you were called to do! LOVE KIDS AND HELP THEM LOVE JESUS!

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A little overshare for the glory of Jesus :)

A little overshare for the glory of Jesus :)

It is Labor Day, and I am hopefully on a boat right now soaking up the last bits of summer before the hectic grind of the school year.  So instead of some earth shattering post, I wanted to simply share a sermon I preached recently with you.  Not because I am an incredible speaker, nor because it is a prophetic word to you or your church.  It is simply a little message of hope and and encouragement to live for Christ in the commonness of our lives! To keep your attention I share about my son's poor hygiene, a bit of an overshare about my sex life, all for the purpose of reminding us that Revelations 21 is our final hope, and it is the reality we are to live into today!

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Do you pour into the "Leaders" or the "Least of These?"

least of these As my ministry grows and shrinks and and I grow and shrink, I have found myself wrestling with this challenging question.  "Do I pour my life into leaders, or into the least of these?"  

I totally get the strategy and potential multiplication that happens when you take the cream of the crop and invest into them.  The potential pay off is huge.  They become spiritual leaders among their friends, at their schools, in their companies, and even follow a call into ministry.  Many of us youth pastors were "leader" kids that were given some extra love and attention by our youth pastor and helped shape a larger view of ourselves and ministry and that is why we are doing what we are doing.

Leader kids are the best.

They are all in.  They are normal.  They have social kids and it feels good when they like us.  And while I am a product of some extra love and have seen the fruit of that in some of my leader kids, I wonder if the strategy of ministry to leaders trains our hearts, our leaders, and our ministries to miss the very heart of the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Let's face it, the "least of these" kids are a challenge.  Our groups would be much more effective and fun, and we could actually reach more kids if these socially awkward, totally dysfunctional, poor hygiene kids were not around as much.  There is absolutely no strategic goal that is accomplished by giving our time to this group of kids.  There is little chance that our time with them will turn them into part of the main stream of our ministry let alone of their campus.

The proverbial wisdom is that whatever you feed, grows, what ever you starve dies.  When we focus so much of our time and energy pouring into leader kids, then that is the culture that develops and the space for those on the fringe becomes limited at best.  If you pour into the kids on the fringes and that shapes your culture, your dreams of developing a large, dynamic, beautiful youth ministry go out the window.

Are we perverting the Gospel?

As much as I so long to have a youth group where the leader kids and families are attracted to and impressed with, I am wondering more and more if this is just a continued perversion of the Gospel.  I have read many books, and seen many youth ministries in action.  Everyone is pushing me towards intentional and strategic development of leaders.  And when I spend time with Jesus and watch what he did and how he did it, it is the opposite.

Does anyone else wrestle with this conflict in values?  Has anyone read anything that speaks to this issue?  (Besides Henri Nouwen, our favorite author we love to read, but hate to model) Has anyone developed an intentional and strategic plan to make plenty of space and provide plenty of care for the least of these?

May God be gracious with us as leaders to be good stewards of our ministries and of our gifts, but not at the expense of those we are actually called to care for.

The myth of life long student ministry

It seems like just yesterday that I was sitting in a hotel room at a Youth Specialties conference with my colleagues in ministry.  There were at least four of us staying in the Motel 6 down the road just to save money.  We didn’t mind sharing the room because we could not believe that we had gotten jobs as youth workers.  We were being paid to love on students and help them love Jesus.  All four of us had recently graduated from college, were friends from camp, and relishing the opportunity to take our place as the next generation of youth workers. The urban legend that shaped our views of success was the one about longevity.

We had all heard the statistic about the average tenure of a youth worker was 18 months, and most of had experienced that number to be a reality in our lives.  But this statistic would not define us.  We were in youth ministry for the long haul, not just 18 months, not even 3-5 years, were were going to be youth workers FOR LIFE!!

17 years later, I am the last of my four friends who is still doing vocational youth ministry.  And of the dozens of peers who are of similar age that I have had the pleasure of calling colleagues in youth ministry, I alone remain.

It seems like every young youth worker I talk with has a similar perspective to the one I had years ago.  And the truth is, that like my circle of friends, only a small percentage of them will continue on in student ministry into their 30’s, less into their 40’s, and none into their 50’s.

While this is the truth, this is not a sad truth.  I have no special honor for being the last of my friends who is still in youth ministry.  It is simply the way it is.  While it is ok for young men and women to speak boldly about things they do not quite understand, it is the implications of this false view that ends up limiting them in the long run.

Speaking boldly is part of the fun of ministry.  We love pontificating with our peeps, and really, anyone who will listen, about whatever the subject is.  We speak with great passion and conviction.  This should not be squashed, for passion and conviction are some of the important stones in a ministry foundation.  But sometimes this passion and conviction replaces wisdom and discernment and often proves to be a liability in the long run.

If youth ministry for life is your mantra, then my fear is that being open to all that God might have for your future gets put in jeopardy.  Calling is always seasonal.  Our lives unfold before us like a well written Choose Your Own Adventure book.  And because of this, the specifics of what sort of ministry we are called to do will always be in flux.

Today, in this time and place, you are called to youth ministry.  Praise God for being a faithful servant to your students.  But as you grow and develop, as life throws you curve ball after curve ball, as you discern your gifts and strengths, as you grow less and less patient with junior highers during a lock-in, it becomes apparent that God seems to often closes some doors, and opens wide others.  When that day comes, the one where God calls you away from youth ministry, you should be fully prepared for whatever that next thing is.

If we have not cultivated a view of life after youth ministry, unfortunately, we will find our options incredibly limited.  However,when we see our entire life as called into ministry, in the most general sense, then we will always be on the look out for ways to grow and develop.  For we are not called to one specific task in ministry, we are called to be servants of Christ, wherever and whatever that may be.  And if that is our calling, then we must be good stewards of all of our resources.

SO WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE:

If we have not cultivated a view of life after youth ministry, unfortunately, we will find our options incredibly limited.  However,when we see our entire life as called into ministry, in the most general sense, then we will always be on the look out for ways to grow and develop.  For we are not called to one specific task in ministry, we are called to be servants of Christ, wherever and whatever that may be.  And if that is our calling, then we must be good stewards of all of our resources.

As we all continue to strive to be faithful to our call into ministry,let us work hard to develop personally, scholastically, and professionally.

Personally:

Who you are when you are in your 20’s is different from the person you are in your 30’s, 40’s, etc.  Walk into church and look at some of those old people.  They were wild and got into trouble, they were responsible and made difficult decisions, both personally and professionally.  They have experienced all sorts of pain and heartbreak that we can not even begin to understand.  They are a clear reminder that we will be old soon enough.  Our life will not always look as it does.  And because of that we need to be people who are life long learners.

Many of us are from contexts where testimonies almost always look back to the time of our initial salvation.  While this is a glorious day, we must make sure that we are people who are continually leaning in to the Holy Spirit and have a testimony that is current.  Jesus is always inviting us into closer relationships and deeper intimacy.  He longs to heal our brokenness and set us on the path of life.

Part of this growth comes from trying new things, exploring new passions, developing hidden talents.  If everything remains constant we will miss out on al the colorful things that God has in store for us.  Showing up ready to explore all that God has for us keeps us fresh and growing.  The day we think we have it all figured out, our word begins to get exponentially smaller.

Scholastically:

Many youth workers despise school.  They love to learn and to read and to grow in knowledge, but see school as a needless burden.  School is expensive.  Classes are irrelevant.  Who really cares if you know Greek or Hebrew anyway?

But the truth is school is very important.  Education is the single most important part of your resume.  Maybe not today, and maybe not in this particular context.  But when a group of people who don’t know you, evaluate your resume, your scholastic history is the first score on the pro and cons list that will ultimately determine if you have a shot at an interview.

Because most young youth workers can not imagine a life outside of youth ministry, school seems like a big waste of time.  But it is an awful tragedy when your youth ministry days come to an end, and the options that are available to you are few and far between because you lack the education.  Pursuing education keeps all of your options open.

The truth is there is never a good time to go to school.  There are always seemingly higher callings than jumping through hoops for the man.  But this view is short sighted.  If you don’t have your bachelor’s, then get to work and start taking night classes, whatever it takes but get it done.  In our world today, a bachelor’s degree is the starting point.

While a bachelor’s degree is the starting point, a master’s degree is the deeded degree for anyone who is called into ministry leadership.  Whether it is right or wrong, it is the way it is.  Instead of being bitter about it or thinking you don’t need it because you are happy where you are, remember that you are called into ministry and this season you are doing one thing, but who knows what season is around the corner.

Because we have not idea what the future holds, we should always make decisions that keep as many doors open as possible.  And this is especially true in picking master’s programs.  There are so many master’s programs out there now and many youth workers pick the path of least resistance.  When we are called to youth ministry, the choice seems easy, master of arts degree in leadership or christian formation.

While this is a great degree, I would encourage people at the beginning of their master’s journey to consider their life long call.

If their is any chance that their call might include long term service to the institutional church, then I would strongly recommend a master’s of divinity.  Again, whether right or wrong, this is the bench mark degree for pastoral leadership.  Whatever decision you make regarding school, the lens for examining our options needs to be our entire life long calling, not this short season.

Professionally:

Finally we must be developing professionally.  There are so many amazing resources available to us.  We must be wise to not settle and rely on our current skill set.  Our skills can alway be improved upon.  We live in a time where there are countless resources available to us, and we would be fools to not take advantage of this reality.

We must be reading books, attending seminars, meeting in cohorts, asking questions, seeking answers, continually evaluating ourselves and others.  Striving for excellence is a noble goal.  Many of us trick ourselves into thinking that we don’t care about worldly success and that terms like “excellence” are unspiritual markers.

It is a disservice to the Kingdom of God if we are satisfied with who we are and what we currently bring to the table.  As amazing as our current state s, we can always grow, always be stretched, and always become more effective.  In a world that is continually changing, and the task of youth ministry becoming exponentially complex, we must make our best effort to stay ahead of the curve.

Even the most amazing and gifted youth workers are that way because they have put in countless hours honing their skills.  All the natural ability in the world becomes dated in just a few short years.  But when we approach ever book, every article, every conference, every speaker with a teachable heart, we allow ourselves to grow and develop in new and fresh ways.

At the end of the day . . .

The sad truth is that there will be a day in the near future when your days as youth worker will come to a close.  And when that day comes, my prayer for you and for me is that we will have continued to develop into all that God has for us.

We will have a growing and current walk with Jesus.  A walk where we can hear his voice and a character that will be faithful in his calling.

We will have a growing scholastic resume.  As Jesus calls us into new forms of ministry, we want to be able to have as many doors open as possible.

We will continue to sharpen our skills and abilities as well as increase the number of tools we have at our disposal by developing professionally.  When we sharpen our old skills and develop new ones we have so many more ways to be effective in our current ministry context and in whatever context we find ourselves down the road.

Youth ministry for life is a myth.  We must be careful that this myth doesn’t unintentionally stunt our growth.  There are countless years of life and ministry ahead of us.  We must not sell ourselves short and limit all that God might have for us.  We are called to serve in this current context with all of who we are.  And as we serve we strive to continue to grow and develop to be even more effective now and be prepared for whatever amazing adventures are beyond the horizon.

May God truly bless us who are faithfully serving as youth workers, and may we give grace and blessing to our friends who God has equipped and prepared for a new adventure.  And may all of us strive to be life long learners who are ready for and prepared for every good work!

(This is a crazy long blog post, I know.  I am traveling this week and wanted to pass on an oldie but a goodie.  Thank you mom for being the only one to read this far!)

 

A huge gift for parents

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA It is really interesting how youth workers seem to have a love / hate, ok, maybe a hate / hate relationship with parents.

This last week I was at a national gathering with youth workers and in a break out session with 35 colleagues, I asked them to share their biggest frustration in ministry.  No, joke, in unison, the all said parents!It was interesting as it was sad.  For whatever reason, the tenor of student ministry professionals is that we are God's agent for the spiritual development of students.  We are awesome.  We are experts at adolescent development and faith formation.  (At least, that is what we tell ourselves.)  We spend our entire existence dreaming up programs and meeting with students so that they will come to love Jesus.  But then our hearts get crushed as our students don't show up to the parties we throw because we are getting such little support from parents.

I mean, COME ON!  Is soccer really more important!!

Then there are the family first peeps who think that professional student ministry is an anathema!

According to part of the bible, the nuclear family has the sole responsibility for the faith formation of their children.  All of the weight that we think we carry as youth workers, is carried exponentially by the family first crowd because their very own child's walk with Jesus is dependent on their attempt at being whole, balanced, theologically sound, and the perfect representation of the their heavenly father.  All kidding aside, setting yourself up as the person who is ultimately responsible for your child's faith development is an incredible burden to carry.

What if there was a third way?

  • What if my fellow youth workers and myself got over our self importance and didn't see parents as the problem, but as part of our ministry?
  • What if my fellow youth workers walked alongside parents and provided care and support for parents as they care for the spiritual formation of their kids?
  • What if the church and the family actually needed each other?
  • What if the church and the family partnered together using their unique strengths for the spiritual development of children and students?

It breaks my heart when youth workers are at odds with parents, when we are so consumed with our own importance that we actually forget that our job is not only to care for the students in our ministry but the family system they are a part of.  It also breaks my heart when families feel like they must be the sole person to shoulder the burden of their own child's faith development.

THE GIFT OF STUDENT MINISTRY:

I think that youth ministry has the opportunity to be an incredible gift to parents.  Raising kids and forming them spiritually is an overwhelming task.  As a parent all my issues and baggage seem to get in the way of my genuine desire to help my kids know and love Jesus.  I am not perfect and I am not as intentional as I desire.  And this is as a pastor / parent.  I think many parents can relate for the strong desire to be the people to shape and help develop the faith of their kids.  And I think even more parents can relate to the shame of not being as intentional or not even know how to accomplish this lofty goal.

But what if parents didn't have to do this alone?  What if parents had a resource, other adults and a community of students where their son or daughter could land where they could explore faith and have other pictures of the Christian life.  Youth ministry at its best provides parents with this incredible gift; a partner in the faith formation of their kids!

How great will it be when youth workers see themselves as servants to parents, partners in carrying this incredible burden. 

We must not be at war.  Helping students develop a love for Jesus is a difficult task, an impossible one actually.  The kids who have the best shot at it are the ones in healthy family systems that are connected to a local church, where that kid is connected to a youth ministry.

Let us leverage the light of the church and the love of the family so that through intentional partnership, our students may actually come to know and love Jesus Christ.

Orange ConferenceI am honored to partner with Orange in this philosophy of ministry.  If you would like to know more about this philosophy and the tools that are used to leverage these two spheres of influence for the sake of our kids, check out whatisorange.org.  And if you really want a taste, clear your calendar and join us in the ATL this spring for the annual orange conference.  I hope to see you there!

 

 

5 reasons there will always be paid youth ministry professionals

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 4.52.36 PM 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:

1) If a church is going to attract young families, they need to prove that they will care for the entire spiritual development of their kids.

For better or worse, a church that has a paid youth worker, signifies to the entire church family that they care about families. While children's ministry is incredibly important, many parents will tolerate poor children's ministry if they know that as their children grow into teens, there will be a place for them to continue to work it out at the church. Think of all the families that restart the church hopping process when their kids reach 4th and 5th grade. All of the sudden, that great church plant, or dynamic young preacher doesn't seem to cut it when their own kids' faith is on the line. A paid youth worker communicates care for this significant felt need.

2) It is a model that has positively impacted those who are now at the age to make decisions regarding staffing and budgets in churches.

It is an unavoidable truth that people invest and do the things that are meaningful to them. Think of how you choose what to do for your youth ministry program. Chances are most of what you do is based on the things that God used in significant ways in your own life when you were in student ministry. Youth ministry has now been around long enough that the power players at most churches remember the Hay Day of youth ministry and the significant role that ministry played in their faith development. They want their church to provide solid ministry for their own kids and their view of a thriving church includes a thriving student ministry. Most thriving student ministries are headed up by a paid point person.

3) Students continue to need a place for fellowship and learning that is separate from their parents and makes space for their unique developmental needs.

For all the talk about family ministry and integration, the fundamental task of adolescence is still individuation and separation from their family's faith. Students need a place separate from their parents where they can ask the hard questions, push back, run away, and still be seen and loved by the church at large. Student ministry provides a unique haven in this adolescent development where students can work out their faith separate from their mom while still being connected to the church. It is really brilliant if you think about it.

4) The traditional model of youth minister, run by a professional, continues to be the most effective model at helping students develop personal faith and providing significant water marks in their lives.

I know it is so cool to be pissed at the church and youth ministry for all the kids who walk away from faith. But stop and think about all the kids who have ever come through your ministry and reflect on the ways that God has grabbed ahold of. We need to actually stop and celebrate the great things that God is doing in them and through them now. This isn't something to gloss over. A vast majority of those in leadership now in the Church with a capital C are people who were leaders in their student ministries. Praise God for the gutter to glory stories of those people who find Jesus all by themselves later in life. But when you start to ask around, those people are the exception. Youth ministry is the tool that God has and is continuing to use to clarify people's call into His family, and into ministry.

5) Name one church who has all the resources they need who would intentionally staff their church without a professional to run the student ministry.

For reals, name one. I know finances are hectic and churches have to be creative. But not hiring because of financial hard times is not the same as not doing youth ministry because of conviction. And the churches who are relying on faithful volunteers, whom I am honored to count as my colleagues, would pay those volunteers or someone else if they happened to win the Mega Millions Jackpot this last week.

A caveat:

While I do firmly believe that churches will continue to pay for people to work with students, they will no longer pay people who do shoddy work. Financial hardship is a reality in many of our contexts and every dollar matters. If our church leaders are going to be good stewards of their resources then they will only be paying people who will work hard and do a good job.

Gone are the days where youth workers are simply paid to goof off with students, play video games, eat pizza, and have a few informal bible studies at their house. If someone is being paid to run a youth ministry, then they will be expected to run a youth ministry. This includes program, administration, duties assigned by pastor, and then video game extravaganzas, all within a tight budget.

The good news is that our profession is here to stay! The bad news is that we will continue to be expected to work harder and be more effective than our predecessors. Friends, it is gut check time!

Are you still called to do ministry in this environment and with these expectations? Do you still love students, but may be losing steam on the professional aspect of it? Is it time to maybe need to call it quits? Or do you simply think I am full of crap and protecting my own paycheck? :)

The secret ingredient for keeping students connected to Christ:

The million dollar question seems to be something like, “How do we keep students committed to Jesus into adulthood?” This is one of the main questions I have been wrestling with during my tenure as a youth pastor.  And depending on the season, I end up somewhere swinging between it all being on Jesus or all being on me.  It is true that Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith and as shepherds we are called by god to build up or students in their faith.  At the end of the day, it is both.  I plant, you water, I plant, you water, and God causes there to be growth and life.  This is a mysterious partnership.

In this mysterious partnership there are always better techniques and practices to improve our planting and watering.  And if we take a step back, I think we will see that the solution to fertile and usable soil has been there all along.  We try all these ways to make the gospel more appealing, to make the good news seem better. In the process we distance ourselves from the church.  The church is old, bureaucratic, institutionalized, boring, irrelevant.  While that might win us points in the short term, by making us seem hip, flexible, and relevant.  This attitude decimates the chances of our students becoming adult followers of christ.

If our time and energy is spent winning students to us or to our student ministry at the expense of the church we really are cutting off the nose to spite the face.  The church, warts and all, is where adult followers of Christ gather for worship, discipleship, fellowship, and ministry.  Student ministry is temporary, college ministry is temporary, big church has to be the place we help students land if we want them to continue to know and love Jesus into adult hood.

One of the greatest quotes I have ever heard was from a random volunteer on a Mexico mission trip.  he said, “Student ministry is a short term mission in a long term life.” If you think about it, this is a revolutionary concept.  Just like short-term missions, we are only around for a short period of time.  And to be effective and a true blessings, we partner with those people who have been there and will continue to be there in the long term.  We don’t show up as the end all to ministry, because we know we are there for only a short amount of time.  Instead we work our butts off in that short amount of time and are a blessing to the community we are partnering with.  Then we graciously hand them off to their long-term community.

Student ministry as short-term missions: Student ministry must be seen as short-term mission, and the landing place for long-term mission is the church.  For students to not get caught in the middle, we must do a better job of loving the church; highlighting how the church has been caring for the students, helping students fit into adult worship, encouraging students to serve, and finding meaningful ways to transition students into the adult life of the church.  This allows there to be meaningful, long-term faith and commitment to Jesus Christ.  The following are some principles we have implemented at our church to help our students stay connected to the church.

First, it is not ok for student ministry leaders, myself included, to be among the biggest critics of the church.  Our jobs and budgets are there because the church loves students.  They shell out tons of money to provide a person and place for students to figure out who Jesus is in an environment that works for their development.  And if we take their money and recourses and then discredit the very people who provide for us and our students, everyone loses.  We must communicate with our students that the old, out of touch, adult church, loves them so much.  That is why we have a youth worker, a youth room, a budget.  that is how our mission trips get paid for.  Tis happens because students are valued by the church.  (But sometimes the adult leaders don’t know the best way to show it)

Second, everything we do points to getting our students connected to “big church.”  Big church is the formal term for the adult worship gathering. with all the great things that happen at youth group and sunday student worship, we do a huge disservice if we don’t help our students engage in adult worship.  There is a discipline to singing worship for 30 minutes, or for standing and sitting liturgy, for long sermons that don’t speak directly to students’ lives.  This is where the adult church gathers and is ministered to and worships together, and it is a learned habit.  If this habit is instilled in junior high, it will be much easier for them to continue to worship with adults when they are one, as opposed to only worshiping with their peers in services designed only for them.

Another way we are helping our students connect is by making service to the church part of our ministry diet. Our students regularly serve in children’s ministry.  Their service is not just because we need warm bodies there, it is because we are continually reminding them of how we develop spiritually, that is we are always pouring our lives into someone younger and always finding people older than us to pour their lives into us.  Children’s ministry is a great place to remind our students that the church loves them and cares for them.  It did when they were little, it does now, and it will as they get older.

The last thing we do to connect our students to our adult worshiping community, is by having a transition service for the senior class in our student ministry.  We spend an entire service in the spring for our seniors to share their testimonies.  In these testimonies we work with them to reflect on how they have been loved for and cared for by our church.  Then we commission them by having the church lay hands on them and pray for them and welcome them into the adult community.  It is an amazing service, and i am always reminded at god’s goodness and faithfulness.  Our church is reminded as well of God’s goodness and faithfulness through their love and support of student ministry.

Like you, I still have students who don’t do any of the things I encourage them to do, show up here and there, and end up being amazing followers of Christ, and I still have students who are totally committed to everything we do as a student ministry and choose to walk away from Christ.  But one of the transitions we have seen is that when students return from college, their gathering place is in big church, not outside the youth room.  Big church can not only be for adults, we must help our students develop that habit.  I said at the beginning, the spiritual development of students is a mysterious balance between us planning and watering, and God causing growth.  I do think we make god’s job harder if we cut the legs out from the church instead of helping students find their rightful place in the larger body of Christ.

We give our students an amazing gift when we give them the tools and the habits to develop their faith into adulthood within the adult worshiping community. It is then they have the best chance for loving jesus for the long haul.

The easiest / hardest job on the planet!

Love-students-web-size-copy This fall I kicked off my 17th year as a youth worker. One might expect that by this point in my career I would have it all dialed in. For the basic logistics, program, and structure (which hasn't fundamentally changed, ever) it was a flawless launch. But for anyone who has done student ministry for more than a year, these logistics and structures are not the easy or hard part of this job, it is simply the field in which we play.

The people who I have, and currently do, look up to in student ministry have managed to keep the easy things easy, and treat the difficult things with the weight in which they deserve. So, the trick to thriving is simply to enjoy the easy part, and work hard at the hard part.

THE EASIEST JOB ON THE PLANET: LOVING STUDENTS

Did you know that the only real job for the youth worker is to simply love students. That is the beginning, middle, and end of our job. Everything we do has this at its core. Every thing we do is motivated by this reality. Most youth workers got into this gig because they love students and want them to love Jesus. Those who stick around and thrive have made the jump from generic "students," to the more specific, Maggie, Sarah, Tristian, JJ, Nilsen, Spencer, Jessica, Katurah, Hannah, Bix, Haley, Kimmie, Shelby, and Kyleigh. (Insert your small group here)

Generically loving students makes you the hero of the grand drama of student ministry. Worried parents, annoying students, close minded senior pastors, are all glitches to your center stage focus of ministry. But when your love becomes specific, then you are no longer the center of the play. You are simply one of the many actors in the particular student's drama, they are the star, not you, not me.

The easiest part of our job is to actually see the students God has entrusted to your ministry. See them, love them where they are at, and love them right into the kingdom of God!

THE HARDEST JOB ON THE PLANET: STANDING IN THE GAP!

The many things that we think are difficult in this job all pale in comparison to the true difficulty of this job. Because of our love for particular students we long for them to come to know Jesus and have their lives conform to Him. Part of that process is the logistical and loving way in which we plant and water, plant and water. But as we learn from scripture, I may plant, you may water, but it is God who causes faith to grow!

The hardest part of this job is the spiritual task in which we have really been called. We are to be priests, shepherds, pastors, to students who are on the journey of faith. The call that God has put on our life is to stand in the spiritual gap, to translate, to mediate, to introduce our students to the God who loves and has huge plans for them.

This entire part of our job is so hard because it doesn't fit in our calendar, on our weekly task sheet, and has results that we can't see and often will never see. This is the part of our job that we do in private, in the quiet of the mornings, in the isolation of a solo hike or run, the quiet drive to and from youth group, wherever that place you go to meet with God. This is where this part of the job happens.

It is hard because there is no love for doing this job correctly, because it is done in secret.

It is hard because there is no rhyme or reason to how and when God uses our feeble efforts.

It is hard because most of us don't have the disciplines in our life to do the spiritual work that God has tasked us with.

It is hard because our battle is not between flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly rheims.

May we as youth workers, do the tasks of our job well, but not lose sight as to what the real work of our job is. And may we enjoy the part of our job that is the easiest as we ooze never ending love and grace upon our students, and may we gird up for the spiritual battle in front of us which is truly the hardest part of our job!

Blessings!

Another Top 10 List of Books Every Youth Worker Should Read!

A while ago Josh Evans listed out the 10 must have books for student ministry.  They are great books and sparked some great discussion.  As youth workers we should be learners and a consumer of many books.  The books that Josh recommends should be consumed, reflected on, and implemented. I am blessed to be in a context with youth workers who are some really great thinkers and avid readers.  We used Josh Evans' blog as a jumping off point and came up with round two of books that we think should be read by every youth worker!

As we considered our context, which is about as post-Christian as it gets, we chose books that sharpened us, inspired us, equipped us, challenged us, and helped us understand the world in which we are doing ministry better.  These are not in any particular order and we hope you buy them all today!

not much just chillinNot Much, Just Chillin: The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers 

 

 

 

 

hurt-2-0-inside-world-todays-teenagers-chap-clark-paperback-cover-artHurt 2.0: Inside The World of Today's Teenagers

 

 

 

 

Evangelical TheologyEvangelical Theology: An Introduction by Karl Barth

 

 

 

 

 

understanding-your-young-teen-cover-and-spineUnderstanding Your Young Teenager

 

 

 

 

 

The-Price-of-Privilege-9780060595852

Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids

 

 

 

almostchristian_book

Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church

 

 

 

 

sticky-faithSticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids

 

 

 

 

revisiting-relational-youth-ministry

Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation

 

 

 

 

Torn

Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gay vs. Straight Debate

 

 

 

 

The-Selfless-Way-of-Christ-Nouwen-Henri-J-M-9781570757020 The Selfless Way of Christ

 

 

 

 

As youth workers we are not simply programers, or Bible study leaders.  We are cross cultural missionaries.  We must become experts in adolescent development, psychology, anthropology, sociology, theology, and spiritual development.  May we not settle in our stereo typical role of pizza slinging party boys, but rather as women and men who respect the craft and calling of student ministry and continually strive to deepen our understanding of Scripture, our context, and the movement of the Holy Spirit!

Happy Reading!

PS:  I am blessed to be in an incredible local network with some deep thinkers and gifted youth workers.  If you want to have some great reading from youth workers who are doing solid ministry in a post-Christian context sent directly to your RSS reader, check out Phil Steiner's Blog and Ryan Reed's Blog.  (And don't forget to subscribe to my RSS feed as well. If I get 4,897 more subscribers I can have my book published.  Hahahaha)

PPS:  What books would you add to the list?  

10 easy steps to make your pastor love student ministry!

Top 10 Ways to Turn Your Pastor into the Biggest Advocate of Student Ministry: The truth is that very few senior pastors are passionate about student ministry. If they were, they would be student ministry pastors. God has given them a heart and calling to shepherd the entire church, in which student ministry is only a part. If you want them to become a big fan and advocate for student ministry, then it begins with having them become big fan of you. Here are 10 practical ways to build heart strands with your pastor and helps them become a fan of you and student ministry.

 

10: Remember, They are the boss!

9: Don't be a liability.

8: Professionalism is key.

7: Clean your office.

6: Love their kids.

5: Don't forget to love them too.

4: Be teachable.

3: Document everything!

2: Keep your ego in check.

1: DO A GOOD JOB!

Ok, there is the complete list. Like all things, it is much easier to understand then to do, but when our actions match these values we will be the smell of perfume to our pastor, a blessing to our church, and you will be surprised by the amount of support your area of ministry will get. Get after it!

A mission statement that may not inspire, but will point us toward the job we are called to do.

  which way to go

Remember life before Mission Statements?

I remember back to the good 'ol days, before mission statements, vision statements, measurable goals, strategic plans, and purpose driven everything. In those days life was simple, Chubby Bunny, DC Talk, the 4 Laws, and Pizza ruled the day. And somehow by God's grace, churches grew, people came to know and love Jesus, and some of those people even felt called by God to go into ministry.

As corporate language has invaded the church there has been a sharpening of focus for churches and for ministry. This corporate language is not the point of this blog, and I apologize if you went into anaphylactic shock because of it. Yes, I agree the church isn't corporate and we hate all things corporate (except Apple). But every church I have been to and every youth worker I talk to says that they want their church and their ministry to grow. And while they assure me that growth means spiritual growth, we all know what we mean, numerical growth. And the people who have been leading the charge are those who have taken the best of the corporate world and used them in the church.

A list of mission statements:

And this is where vision statements come in. When you know what you are about and what you are aiming for, you actually have a shot of getting there. "If you aim for nothing, you will hit it every time." So the question is what are we aiming for? After spending 10 seconds googling, I came across this list:

  • Building relationships with God and young people
  • Engaging young people with God
  • Connecting with youth in an appropriate way, so they understand God is relevant to them today.
  • Enabling today's youth to be tomorrow's Christian leaders
  • Planting seeds of discipleship to grow great Christians
  • Preaching, teaching, leading, and living the Christian life to excite and inspire young people.
  • Fishing them to be fishers of men
  • Impacting young people through the message of the Bible to create young men and women who love Jesus
  • Using all appropriate methods to excite, inspire, capture and ignite young people for Jesus
  • To enable young people to understand and recognize who Jesus is, and what it is to live for Him only.
  • Bringing the contemporary message of Christianity to today's youth
  • Building solid Christians on the foundation of The Solid Rock.

This is a decent list. I am sure your statement is much more compelling, but this is still a good list all the same. Each of these statements do exactly what a mission statement is supposed to do. It focuses where you are going and then hopefully everything you do and all the things you say no to doing happen because the don't meet with that mission.

I have found that the longer I have been doing this the easier it is to become disillusioned with youth ministry and with mission statements. Mostly because the things we are trying to do are way to big and totally out of our control. I love this list because there realistic and measurable goals as well as just Christianese gobily gook.

Because I wanted to fit in, I spent some serious time over a few hours and thought about my ministry. I looked at what I do and wrestled with why I do it. I reflected on my ministry career and looked for the values that have shaped all that I have done. I look back at my successes and failures over my tenure. And then reexamined why I counted certain things successes and others. failures. And after this process, I came up with my mission statement.

The more that I have reflected on this statement and its implications, I am becoming more and more convinced that this may not be the most inspiring mission statement, but it is the mission that youth workers are truly called to do.

The Mission Statement of MCC's Student Ministry:

To make the Christian Faith and the Institutional Church a viable option for our students in their adulthood.

Don't rush to judgement. Think about it, think about our students, think about what we truly want for our students 10-20 years from now. Think of all the criticism that gets levied at the church and at the Christian faith, and think of the ways you are trying to combat that. After you have given it a little bit of thought, what do you think? Is yours better? If so, please share :)

Ministry for the long haul

Student ministry is a demanding job, and it seems the longer I do it, the bigger the demands become. Starting out, I couldn’t believe I could actually get paid to spend time with students, take them out to lunch, play video games and help them experience the love and grace of God. As I settled into the job of being a youth worker this simple beginning expanded exponentially. When you take the simple task of loving students and helping them explore their faith, and combine it with the all the extra expectations, emotional mood swings, scared or ticked-off parents, crises, graduation, incoming 6th graders, managing your supervisor, changing programs, and personal growth and transition, it's a miracle that youth workers stick around for even 15 months.

As I reflect on my 17 years of vocational student ministry, I have come to realize that in all I do and have done, two very basic rhythms have allowed me to continue for the long haul.

1) Continue to work out my own faith with fear and trembling. It is easy to slip into a maintenance mode in our faith. Because we spend most of our time with students who are significantly younger than us, it can take a while before we realize that we too have the faith of a sophomore in high school. The truth is, our faith must be our own faith, and the ministry we do must be an overflowing of the work Jesus is doing in our own hearts. (I know this is a no-brainer, but this head knowledge must become heart knowledge if we are going to be all that God longs for us to be.)

We must not settle in our understanding of scripture or in our personal process of sanctification. We are unfinished masterpieces, and to accomplish the good work Jesus has for us to do, we must consistently submit to the hammer and chisel of the Father. What better gift can we give our students than an example of adult faith that is just as much in refinement as their is? And 2 . . .

2) Get connected with other youth workers. For me, I have found that youth ministry is the most emotionally and spiritually taxing endeavor I could experience. We give our entire lives, sacrifice a ton of who we are, to walk alongside fickle students who seem to not even care. We have a ministry of preparation and often never get to experience fruit of our labor. As we are required to spin more and more plates and expected not to drop any of them, where can we go to get encouraged, rebuked, set straight?

We often can’t go to our pastor, it often isn’t right to go to people in the church, and sometimes we can’t even go to our spouse. I have found that fellow youth workers are people who “get it.” They are people who will allow me to share my struggles and my joys. Once you get past the lame dance where you jockey for position, you can actually enjoy some great friendships with people who understand this crazy and amazing job.

Longevity in ministry is a total gift. Sure, it's a gift to parents and students to have a youth worker who has been around the block a few times. But I have found the gift to be all mine as I stick around long enough to see little kids grow into young adults, former students get married, have kids of their own and do great things for the kingdom of God. I would have missed out on this gift several times over if I had not been continually working out my faith in the community of fellow youth workers.

May you too enjoy ministry for the long haul.

This post was featured on the xp3 students blog and is a blog that has some great resources and encouragement!

If you are a part of the Evangelical Covenant Church and are looking to be connected, contact a Youth Ministry Facilitator in your conference and get some love and encouragement so you, too can do ministry for the long haul!

#bestjobever

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Today we are wrapping up our mission trip with a little bit of rest and relaxation. After spending the first part of the week giving a 110%, our students deserve a much needed break.

Every time I take students on a trip like this, and truthfully just about every time I get to spend time with my students, I am taken back by what a blessed man I am. Truthfully, I have the best job in the world. And this trip is the best parts of my job all wrapped up and condensed into one week.

Building Community:
You may not realize it, but building community is an art form. It is something that takes continuous effort and care. It is something that can not be neglected. And building community is my bread and butter. I love, love, love, creating environments, making space, creating memories that draw students together and create a sense of family.

A trip like this can either bring together a group, or the drama factor can kill it right in its tracks. We managed to have zero drama, zero romance, a lot of laughing, and plenty of dance parties. I love these students and I love the community that we have built. I hold sacred the traditions we have built and the larger story of faith and of our student ministry that gets worked out. Our incoming senior class stepped up in huge ways and is ready to lead!

Spiritual Transformation:
It is so pickin' difficult to get students to slow down, un plug, and be quiet. And without making space for students to be reflective, there is no way they will be able to encounter God. For all the work that we did, we managed to create some peace and quiet, some silence and reflection, and the fruit of that has been overwhelming.

Students have had the opportunity to reflect daily on where they have seen God show up. And in just a short week of daily living into this discipline, I am noticing an increased level of spiritual receptivity. I am watching our students serve and care for one another and some of my most difficult students embrace God or at least be willing to wrestle with Him.

Jesus is grabbing a hold of our kids and giving them a much bigger picture of faith, of the church, and of ministry. It is such an honor to be a small part of these students spiritual awakening as they figure out their faith.

Life altering experiences:
One of the students on this trip was actually born in Guatemala and abandoned at a hospital. After going from orphanage to orphanage he was finally adopted by a family in America, in Marin. He has never been to Guatemala, he has absolutely zero cultural touch points.

It has been incredible to watch as this students' eyes are opened up to his roots. He is soaking up this experience, and receiving endless love from the Guatemalan couple who are facilitating this trip for us. What is even more incredible is that our group decided to give up one of our touristy activities so that we could, as a group, attempt to find the hospital where this student was born. So on Saturday, before we hit the airport, we will get to go to the hospital, and even get to go into the maternity ward and see where abandoned babies are left. It is going to be an incredible and powerful moment! I am blown away that I get to be a part of it.

There is so much more:
However, being that it's the end of the trip and I am officially sleep deprived, I will wrap it up.

The truth is, I could go on and on with all the things I love about my job. I am honored to be called into student ministry, and I am honored to do it at such an amazing church like Marin Covenant. I can not believe that God allows a weak an broken vessel, like myself, to be used as part of the spiritual development of these students!

As we reenter our community and get back to life as normal, please pray that we would continue to be sensitive to the spirit of God and faithful to follow through in the ways and places He leads.

Thank you for your prayers and support this week! I am looking forward to landing back in SFO and getting some much needed rest. See you Sunday at church, or later this week for coffee, or Wednesday night at youth group, or around the intra-web. :)

Blessings!

Want to speak at OPEN BAY AREA?

2748596944_6bef50f392_b One of the things I enjoy the most in this season of ministry is getting together with fellow youth workers and wrestling with what it means to be a youth worker, how to live into this calling, and how to get after it so that students may come to know and follow Jesus.

I have found that just about all the conversations wrapped up in, and around the topic of student ministry are life giving and soul filling.  So, any time I can get in a room with colleagues, I know I am going to leave charged up and ready to go!  Sometimes this itch gets scratched at large conferences, sometimes in smaller local network gatherings.  And sometimes, an event comes along that is just right!  Not too big so you get lost in the crowd, and not too small that the conversation gets dominated by that one "challenging" personality. :)  The Open Conference is that space that is just right!

The Youth Cartel has come up with a brilliant model to get youth workers into these conversations.  Instead of hearing from a few famous speakers from contexts very different from our own speak for 45 minutes at a time, wouldn't it be great to hear from a number of speakers from our own context give their best 10 minute talk about their unique passion in ministry?  That is what the Open model is in a nutshell.

The Open model is genius and the people at the Cartel explain what it is much better than I can.  To get a better picture of what and why Opens happen, check out the Open Bay Area site!  This post is simply to wet your appetite :)

Would you consider participating in the conversation?

On November 16, 2013 we will be gathering youth workers and volunteers from all over the greater San Francisco Bay Area for a day training, equipping, inspiration, and fun!  We will be hosting an Open and are looking for people to fill the presenting spots.  We are looking for people who understand the unique context of ministry in the Bay Area and / or have something really compelling to share.  There will be two tracks, a volunteer training and a youth worker track.  So if you have something for either or both of these tracks, simply click on the "become a speaker" link and start the process.

We will be accepting proposals until July 15.

Would you consider having Open Bay Area be part of your fall calendar?

Whether you are a presenter or not, I hope that if you live in Northern California, you would consider being a part of this event.  The organizing team which has some really sharp people on it will be there, Adam McLane, from the  Youth Cartel, will be there, and hopefully you and your team will be there!

If we are going to be all that God has for us to be in ministry, then we need to each other's voices and ideas.  And what better way to do that than with fellow youth workers who are all trying to crack the nut of doing effective ministry in the increasingly post-Christian context of the San Francisco Bay Area.

If I have any chance of keeping my head in the game for the next decade, then I need you!  I need your friendship, I need your voice, and I need your ideas!  

The Open Bay Area is on the books for November 16, 2013.  Would you consider submitting your A material for a shot to present to your peers your best stuff for volunteers and youth workers who do ministry in the Bay Area?    Would you consider bringing your team and joining us, no matter who the line up is for some mutual edification?

SAVE THE DATE!

SUBMIT THOSE PROPOSALS!!

Peace!

 

Is there a corporate ladder in student ministry?

What is the top of the youth ministry world? When will you have arrived? Is it about the number of students in your ministry? Is it about working at a particular church? Is it when you get to travel and speak? Is it when you get to speak at main stage for Youth Specialties? Every career has a ladder, and student ministry is no different.

Let's just take high school education as example. The basic corporate ladder goes something like this; substitute teacher, teacher's aid, class room teacher, head of department, assistant principle, principle. Then if you have sights higher than that particular high school, assistant superintendent, and finally super indent.

But this isn't the top of the ladder. From superintendent, there is an entirely different ladder to climb ending with, who knows, the governorship or even the president of the united states.

The crazy thing is that some people have absolutely no desire to be anything but an instructional aid. They know who they are and what they are gifted to do, and they fully live into it. One of my best middle school volunteer staff is this person. She is a total gift to her school and does her job with passion and grace.

On the other end of the spectrum there are people who are never satisfied with where they are and are continually looking toward the next thing, the higher rung. While ambition is actually a good thing, the dark side is that the overly ambitious person never gets to be fully satisfied. To spend your entire life climbing a ladder, being single minded in this pursuit, actually changes the way the brain works. If you spend your entire life in a state of pursuit, you won't know what to do or how to feel once you have arrived. In order to find peace, one must continue to pursue, something, anything.

There is a Fine Balance:

We are all uniquely gifted and called into ministry. We don't want our over-inflated ego taking us places we have no business going, nor do we want false humility to self sabotage the thing God might be percolating inside of us. If you are called to a particular rung on the ministry ladder and know it, love it, and are grateful for it, then settle in and do the good work that you have been called to do.

If you have a dream of something bigger and better in ministry then you have some work to do. All over scripture are stories like Joseph or David who have been given a larger vision of who they are then who they were. Both of them were insignificant, youngest brothers told that they would be people of power and influence. But both of them suffered some really dark days before that dream was realized.

I do think that God gives us a vision of who we are called to be. Sometimes our pride takes that too far, or our false humility shuts it down. But as we walk closer and closer with Jesus and he continues to mold and shape us, hopefully we can die to our pride, give up our false humility and be all that God has us to be.

The challenge is discerning if being all that means staying put or moving on. May God be gracious with you as you wrestle through that question.

2 ways for the church to care for and correct their pastor.

Normally I wouldn't post a sermon I have preached on my blog. In fact there are a ton of reasons not to. I get that I a not the most compelling speaker, I am slightly below average in looks, and in this case I was a bit nervous because of the topic so I spoke a little bit too fast. I also get that you are a fabulous preacher and I am opening up myself to be seen as less than in your eyes. But these are silly and vain reasons and I am all about the spiritual growth to combat these childish tendencies. Plus, the more I have been reflecting on this passage of in 1 Timothy, my church context, and my friends in ministry whom I would love to speak up for, I thought I would give it a whirl.

The relationship between the church and the pastor is a mysterious one at best. It always starts with such high hopes and expectations, and often devolves into disenchantment, bitterness, and pain. But if the church does these 2 things well, I think we as pastors will thrive a bit more.

Spoiler alert: one of those points is paying us well. I mean really well :)

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We will be back to our regular 500-800 word pithy and wise posts on Monday. Have a great weekend!