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

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

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

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

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

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Providing an easy onramp back to the church

Providing an easy onramp back to the church

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

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

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

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What can Graduation teach us about our calling?

What can Graduation teach us about our calling?

Guess What? It's Not About You!

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

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

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Taking a needed break from Youth Group

Taking a needed break from Youth Group

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

Do you take a break in your calendar?

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

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Making relational space for this incoming class of students

Making relational space for this incoming class of students

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

We only have so many relational pegs:

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

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

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When is your expiration date for student ministry?

When is your expiration date for student ministry?

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

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

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Top 10 ways to get the most out of the Orange Conference #OC17

Top 10 ways to get the most out of the Orange Conference  #OC17

Can you believe it? It is finally here. That most amazing gift a church can ever give to their youth worker, a youth ministry conference!! Your bags are packed, your room is booked, and it is time to go and get some freebies. For one weekend we get to take off our mantle of responsibility and leadership, and become participants, students, and receivers. Whether it is Youth Specialties, Orange, Simply Youth Ministry, or I Still Do, a youth ministry conference is the one time a year that us youth workers get to actually go to camp, and not just put it on. And like camp, there are some things that we need to do to prepare ourselves so that we can have an amazing time and get the most out of our time away. Every year before we take students to camp or on mission trips we give them a little pep talk, so here is yours :)

This week we are the Orange Conference.  Here are the top 10 ways to get the most out of your conference experience.

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Top 10 ways I want our youth ministry to be more like the Ellen Show!

Top 10 ways I want our youth ministry to be more like the Ellen Show!

A couple of years ago the day time talk world was rocked at the retirement of Oprah. Her show was enormous in its power and influence and, if we were honest, we would all love to have the "reach" that her show had. But in the 4:00 vacuum left by Oprah, I have come across another, and better, day time talk show vice; Ellen! But unlike the cult following that Oprah attracted, or the crazies Jerry Springer attracts, or delinquents Judge Judy attracts, Ellen has managed to put together a show that is relevant, fun, and making a genuine impact on the lives of people. The more I watched, the more I am convinced that I want my youth ministry to look more like the Ellen Degreneres Show. Here are the 10 reasons why:

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Don't be too quick to ditch Cheesy Christianity

Don't be too quick to ditch Cheesy Christianity

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

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

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Are you emotionally ready for the spring drop off?

Are you emotionally ready for the spring drop off?

It is that time of year.  The most dreaded time of year, Spring!  While the weather is great, and baseball season is upon us, the lives of our students are beginning to disengage from the programmatic rhythms of youth group.  They call it senioritis, but I am still confused how a sophomore has senioritis.  The truth  is that our low stamina students are checking out of this school year.  With all of the ways that students were dialed in to their many activities early in the school year, now only one or two hold their interest.  In the case of my students that includes a spring sport and a love interest.

The truth is that there are actually ton of reasons that students begin to disengage during spring semester; some good, some dumb, but no matter why, the what is real and how we cope with it matters.  

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How youth ministry crushes your self esteem.

How youth ministry crushes your self esteem.

It is crazy to think about, but I am rounding the corner on 20 years of student ministry.  That is so long.  That is so many hours, days, weeks, months, and years pouring my guts out for students in an effort that they may know and love Jesus some day.  And don't get me wrong, I LOVE IT!!!

But over the last couple of years I have had this awful realization, YOUTH MINISTRY CRUSHES YOUR SELF ESTEEM!

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Want to Preach Like Francis Chan?

Want to Preach Like Francis Chan?

Me too 

There seems to be a strand of ministry leaders who are obsessed with becoming great “communicators.”  In fact the language of how we even talk about this strange thing we do for 20-45 minute once a week is called.  It used to be called preaching, some call it teaching, or sharing, but everyone in the industry seems to now refer to it as “communicating.”

And for those who want to become excellent communicators, there are few more famous that Francis Chan.  Wouldn’t you like to be able to preach like him?  Wouldn’t you like to know what the trick is, what the structure is, what ever “it” is so that you can communicate with the same power, effectiveness, and maybe even fame? 

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How to Deal with a Raging Parent

How to Deal with a Raging Parent

It is pretty difficult to do youth ministry for any length of time and not have some sort of blow up with a parent.  And I have found that no matter how hard I try, every now and then, I find myself at the receiving end of a firing squad.  Most of the time it is from some misunderstanding, but there have also been times when a parent’s rage was deserved.

But no matter who’s at fault, I have found the two silver bullets to de-escalate just about every major conflict between parents and youth workers.  The problem is, youth worker’s aren’t going to like it.

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Being right is not always the most important thing

Being right is not always the most important thing

A Misunderstanding: A few years ago I had a misunderstanding with a student.  But the difficult truth is that there wasn’t a misunderstanding at all.  We had a silly gimmick to attempt to get more kids to come to youth group.  For a month, every time a student came to youth group they got their name added to a raffle.  For every friend they brought, they got to add their name twice to the raffle.  At the end of the month we would draw a name and the winner would win a prize.  A dramatic and costly prize.  One of my seventh grade boys took this challenge to heart, igniting every competitive fiber of his being.

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Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon = You and Me!

Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon = You and Me!

I know by the way I said this, my might think I am implying that I am Justin and you are Jimmy. While I wish that was the case, I will concede that you could be Justin. I think both options are great :) But you are probably wondering, both options for what?!?!

A couple of days ago, Justin Timberlake joined Jimmy Fallon for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. And it was easily the best week of late night ever! Jimmy Fallon does an incredible job on his show on a normal week, but by bringing in his friend Justin Timberlake (who is probably the most talented man alive) the show was over the top.

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Numbers: the most important indicator of ministry health

Numbers: the most important indicator of ministry health

When I meet a fellow youth worker, the most pressing question I have is, “How many kids are in their youth group?” and the answer to this question dictates my emotional state for the rest of the conversation. Now, don’t get me wrong, I may care about many other things, but this question is always somewhere in my not-so sub-conscience. But maybe I have been trained to think this way since it seems like every conversation I have with my collegues, supervisor, parents all seem to circle around one main topic, numbers. 

Whether we want to admit it or not, the numbers of students in our ministry is important, and maybe the most important thing fact of our ministry.

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The best thing about sticking around for a long time

The best thing about sticking around for a long time

I love / hate Facebook!  

This last month one of my old youth group kids go married.  And because of Facebook I got the pleasure of knowing all about it and being so happy for her and his amazing new chapter of her life.  At the same time, I got the pain of seeing picture after picture of my old youth group kids celebrating with her along with the youth pastor who served after me.  For over 7 years I served in a context and in that time, I had the opportunity to pour my life into this incredible group of girls.  They were all so talented, fun, reflective, and strong leaders.  They were the core of my student ministry and going to the be the anchor as they transitioned into upperclassmen.

It was at that junction that I was called away from that context and a new youth pastor stepped in.  This new youth pastor is awesome and a friend.  But from a totally worldly perspective, I was so bummed that he got to reap the fruit of my years of investment.  Just as they were becoming amazing, I left and he got a group of amazing young women who were all ready to step up and lead.  And with his leadership and love they thrived and continued to be great friends and a mentor into adult hood.  And now got to celebrate this amazing event together.

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If you think you are a great, jump into a larger pond.

If you think you are a great, jump into a larger pond.

I am sure many of you already have a really good sense of yourself and how well you stack up to those around you. But I have found in my own life, if I intentionally don't work at it, I start to think I am really amazing. If you even do a half way decent job at your church you have a group of parents who love and respect you. They hang on your every word and seek you for spiritual counseling. In their lives you are pretty important.

The problem comes when you start to believe the hype and agree that you are pretty important.

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Auditing your calendar

Auditing your calendar

One of the worst things I have ever gone through was an audit by the IRS.  Yikes!!  There is one little problem that raises a red flag, and then it is game on.  You would think the IRS would simply say, "Hey, I notice there is a discrepancy here, can you explain it?"  Then you say, "Totally, look here."  And that is the end of the story.  Instead, the IRS notices a discrepancy and then proceeds to pull back every deep and dark corner of your finances.  Its the worst!

In a similar way, I have noticed that there is a discrepancy in my work hours.  I have a job description and I have what I actually do.  The longer I am at my job the distance between these two things has gotten further and further away.  And now, I am at the point where I am entrenched and very full.

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