We are family! (Why our students need a bigger vision of their faith and the church)

We are family! (Why our students need a bigger vision of their faith and the church)

This week I am clear across the country to the University of Tennessee for our triennial youth ministry gathering, called CHIC. The acronym is not important, but what the event is, is one of the most important events I do in my student ministry. 

This conference has all the ingredients that are important for a successful and amazing youth conference: There are solid morning seminars that practically help students put feet to their faith. Then there are the over the top activities for every type of kid; including sporting tournaments, bracelet making, spray paint walls, white water rafting, hiking, choir, etc. And to top it off, a world class evening line up. This year our students get to hear from Ben Stuart Lecrae, Eugen Cho, Judy Peterson, Louie Giglio, and listen to some great artist as well, such as, Propaganda, Social Club, Rend Collective, Lecrae, and For King and Country.

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Want to last in student ministry?

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Let's be honest, our job is not that complicated.  Really, after a year you have learned everything you need to know in order to faithfully do student ministry.  For the quick studies, you have made it a past year and are good to go.  For those who didn't make that first year, you probably aren't reading this blog. :)

Of course there is always things to learn, and I am a huge fan of life long learning.  But for the most part, the basics aren't that hard.  What is hard are the specific ministry encounters, our own soul care, and navigating the political waters at church.  No book or class will help you in these endeavors.  The only hope you have for success and longevity is to be connected to colleagues who love student ministry and love Jesus.

I am so thankful to be a part of a denomination that values connection so much.  I have had the pleasure and joy of spending this last week connecting with my fellow youth workers, sharing life, joys, failures, and best practices for some mutual edification.

Connection is one of my core values and I am fully committed to it.  Is it for you?

What do you do to connect with fellow youth workers?  How do you stay sharp and encouraged in ministry?  May you too find some colleagues that you can connect with and share life with so you can serve your students for the long haul.

Peace!

What fills you?

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This last weekend I had the opportunity to attend our denomination’s annual connection for youth workers.  Of all the things I get to do throughout the year, this connection is a non-negotiable when it comes to calendar and budget.  I know it may sound strange that a denominational gathering is so important, but it is.  And I am willing to bet that it is or at least should be for you too. There are may conferences, retreats, and conventions that we get to go to as part of our youth ministry profession.  I am continually blown away at the generosity of my church to give me space to continue my education and development.  Listening to great speakers, having high-quality worship leaders usher us into the presence of God, and having space to pray, reflect, and listen to the Holy Spirit are regular parts of these experiences.  But our denominational gathering fills me in a way that nothing else does.

Sure, we have great speakers, and amazing worship.  But what this gathering has compared to other conference experiences, is genuine community with my colleagues.

Youth ministry is a traumatic experience

Youth ministry is a difficult and challenging calling.  Those of us who have said yes do it at an enormous cost to our emotional, physical, spiritual, and often financial well-being.  We give our entire lives to fickle kids and overbearing parents.  We see little fruit and the fruit we do see is often dashed away when the kids head off to college.  As amazing as all the upside to youth ministry is, it does come at a cost.

There is a unique bond that is formed by people who share traumatic events and experiences.   There is a brotherhood that happens in the Marine Corps that is unlike any other.  Their lives depend on each other, their experience is like no other, and therefore they need each other.  What the Marines understand that youth workers don’t is that their lives depend on their fraternity.

For my sisters and brothers who share the traumatic calling of youth ministry, our lives are just as inter-dependent.  While retreats and conferences care for our soul and give us a shot in the arm, it is the long term, relational connections that happen year in and year out at our denomination’s connection that have proven to save my ministry life.

We need each other

In Romans, Paul talks about how the different parts of the body of Christ actually belong to each other.   For my colleagues in ministry, this is how I feel.  I belong to you and you belong to me.  Your joys are my joys and your sorrows are my sorrows.

The truth is, getting to make this spiritual truth an actual felt reality is a difficult task that involves trust and time.  Unfortunately, our calling is defined by the exact opposite.  The amazing thing about a denominational connection is that as people move from call to call and as I move, we have a place where we can continue to meet up and share life.

My colleagues in ministry, the sisters and brothers who share my calling to youth ministry, are in my fraternity.  And when we gather we are family.  It doesn’t matter to me if you are brand new, or if we have shared ministry for decades.

Being known is what fills me up, first and foremost by my Heavenly Father.  Thankfully there are plenty of retreats and conferences that make space for this.  But being known by actual humans—the actual body of Christ—ministers to my soul more then any Francis Chan talk or Chris Tomlin music could ever do.

If you are brand new, please reach out in friendship, make space for connection, and join our fraternity (in a gender neutral way).  If you are a ministry veteran, remember what it was like to be alone and isolated.  Make space for new friendships, share your love and wisdom.  We need each other, or at least I need you!

I have found my denomination’s connection to be where I get cared for, connected, and filled up.  Where do you go where you are known and cared for?

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groupme: a helpful ministry resource

groupme

I recently came across a great application to communicate with my students.  It is a way to not only group text, but to set up a group chat.  Instead of sending out a group text where you send the same thing to everyone, and then when they respond, it only comes back to you, GroupMe allows you to text a group and carry on a conversation with the entire group. This has been really helpful on trips, working out logistics, and sharing prayer requests for small groups.  You can set up as many groups as you want and it integrates easily with your phone book.

I am always looking forward to new ways to stay connected with my students who seem to be increasingly more disconnected and found GroupMe to be valuable resource.

What are some of your tricks to communicate with your students?

the greatest need of a youth worker : to be known

seen

This week I am honored to be part of a team of people who are wrestling with how to provide healthy youth ministry for the long haul within our denomination. Through brainstorming we came up with many great ideas to do this; being resourced, being connected, doing shared ministry, planning camps and retreats together, and eating together. But the more we have talked and shared our ideas as to what the magic bullet might be for long term, healthy ministry, the more I have realized what might be the greatest of needs, at least my greatest need, to be known.

I Need to be Known: I didn't realize this was such an important need of mine until I recently went to the Orange Conference in Atlanta. This was the first time in my entire ministry career where I showed up at a conference not knowing a soul. When I arrived at the convention center, I had this strange emotion begin to bubble up within me. After my third lap around the conference center, I realized what I was feeling, I was experiencing loneliness. I had no where to go, no one to be with.

All of the great information and resources presented began to matter less and less in comparison to finding a place to belong and be known. It wasn't until that afternoon that I connected Matt McKee, who gave me my spacial badge, directions to "our" place, and a friendly greeting, that I finally arrived and was ready to go to work.

Now, we all get the importance of friendships and community. We all get that we thrive when there are people around us who actually "see" us. But when we show up in a new context and don't have those things, being known becomes of utmost importance. It is a funny phenomenon, that when you are not known, the status of who sees you or doesn't see you actually impacts how lonely you feel. Isn't it strange the way youth workers jockey for position after a seminar to meet someone "famous," and how surprising and life giving it is when that person remembers our name later.

It Matters Who Knows Us: In our brokenness we seek to have that void filled with other people, people of influence, people of status, and people of power. This is so dumb, because having those people know our names does not change one thing about ourselves or our situation. The truth is that we are already fully known. We are fully known by our creator, who fashioned us together in our mother's womb, who has marked out all of our days, and who knows our words before we even speak them. We are not only known on a data sheet, but in the context of warm relationship, by a God who has more thoughts about us personally then the sands on the beach.

It is from a place of being known and accepted fully by God that we can then be settled in our spirits and available to be accepted and known by others. As youth workers, we do this all the time with our students. We introduce ourselves to them, we remember their names, and we follow up on conversions we have had. We celebrate successes and mourn losses alongside them. We share life and experiences together, we walk towards Christ together. And it is often the students who feel most "seen" by their youth workers and volunteers who feel the most connected to the church and to their faith.

But students are not the only people with this need. As much as I get that God loves me and knows me, I still need to be known. As a team of youth workers who strive to connect other youth workers, we are committed to making sure isolated and lonely youth workers don't stay that way. We want to run after them, like we would our students, so they can be known, so they can be connected, and so they can be resourced. And when this happens, the entire fellowship of youth workers are blessed to have another voice at the table, another angle to see the world, and another package of talents to be used for the Kingdom of God.

May We Know Each Other: If you are a youth worker who is connected and known, please use your place of influence and security to look towards the fringes of your community, your cluster, your context and see who is out there isolated and lost. Run after them, invite them into relationship, and see them, so they will be known.

If you are a youth worker on the fringes, isolated and alone, we are looking for you. You might want to consider putting yourself out there a little bit and jump into an area network, denominational cluster, online forum, something. I would love to help you process ways to find community and connection. You deserved to be seen and affirmed for the tireless and thankless work of pouring your life into sometimes fickle, and always amazing students.

I would love to know what your denomination or network is up to; what works, what doesn't. And if you are part of the Evangelical Covenant Church, know that we are fully going after it. This is our new statement that we are trying to live into:

"Youth Ministry Network promotes healthy Youth Ministry in the Evangelical Covenant Church by helping Youth Workers to be known, connected, and resourced."

Man, I need to be known. Don't you? Don't they? May we be people who embody the love and grace of Jesus as we see people the way he does.

Photo taken from Creative Commons