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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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!

Hitting the 18 month wall in Student Ministry

Over the past year and a half I have had the pleasure of getting to know Ryan Reed.  He joined our local network when he arrived in Marin and has been killing it in his context ever since.  Ryan is one of the smartest and most thoughtful young youth workers I know.  But what makes Ryan over the top impressive is his ability to reflect.  He intentionally reflects on his faith, his life, his marriage, and his ministry.  And because of this discipline he has become wise beyond his years.  When we met for lunch and he shared with me the lunch version of this post, I told him I had to share it.  Whether you are a rookie or a veteran, we have all hit the wall, and pushing through is what separates the girls from the women!  (Or men from the boys.  See how I am trying to be inclusive in my language :) )  Enjoy!

How to break through the 18 month wall . . . AND THRIVE!

I need to confess: I am out of ideas and energy.

I have been serving at Hillside Church for 17 months, and I have accomplished more than I could have ever imagined, even including building a good relationship with my Lead Pastor! This is a result of time and energy invested into the work of God in my community. Given all of this investment, however, I recently encountered something that I never expected.

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I awoke one morning a few weeks ago in a cold panic, thinking for the first time that I truly had no clue how to continue our student ministry. Up until this point, I was steadily and consistently implementing a vision for what I thought a successful, vibrant youth ministry could become for our church. Now, I laid awake with a feeling of dread and the weight of a thousand bricks on my chest. I am out of ideas, I thought. And then, I realized:

I am hitting the 18 month wall . . . 

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Quit Procrastinating: It's time for that mid-year check up!

Every six months I get the dreaded call.  It is the one from my dentist reminding me of my upcoming check up.  I HATE THE DENTIST! I have awful teeth and crazy tartar buildup. It is embarrassing and is never convenient.  But the truth is, because it is a regular part of my life, I get to keep my teeth and my wife :)  If I let my embarrassment over what might be seen or the fake business and importance of my life prevent me from getting a check up, minor problems become major problems and the little annoyances can actually wreck my mouth, ministry, and life.  (see how I just transitioned from my mouth to student ministry :)  ) dental-checkup

Now that you are fully into the swing of your second semester, it is the perfect time to take some time for your bi-annual ministry check up.  The reason we do this is the exact same reason we go to the dentist.  We want a healthy ministry that is experiencing growth and fix any problems that are festering before they explode.  But few of us are willing to do the hard work to actually evaluate our ministries, so we don't even know what to fix or where to even begin.  Here is why it is of utmost important to evaluate our ministry as well as our own lives, and some questions for evaluation.

The ground is always moving:

I am sure that you are an amazing youth worker.  Actually, I am sure you were an amazing youth worker.  Student ministry is challenging because every single part of the ministry is continually in flux.  The students are always changing, the culture is always changing, and you, yourself, is always changing.  If you think that what you have done will always work, I guarantee that the bus has already passed you by.

Change is difficult and finding out that you are quickly becoming outdated is awful.  When we understanding this as a reality, then we are are able to actually be able to do ministry for the long haul.  The bi-annual check up allows there to be a moment in time when we can see where we stand.  We can see how and where we are missing it and celebrate where we are killing it.

Few of us are reflective enough and honest enough with what we see to figure out when we start leaving our sweet spot of ministry.  I always forget if our high schoolers were into Phineas and Ferb or Pogs when they were kids.  Because I am getting old and I don't get student culture and my spirituality is significantly different from theirs, I need to spend more time, not less in evaluation and reflection.  Without check-ups, with out evaluation, I will be in danger of spending a significant season in ministry swinging and missing.

We must always be open to feedback:

So many of us hate getting negative feedback.  In fact we will sacrifice the chance of getting positive feedback so that we won't have to hear about where we have failed or could improve.  We mange our conversations and direct our questions in ways that don't allow others to be truly honest.  But if we are going to improve, if we are going to have sense of how we are really doing, then we must be open to true feedback.

In the book, Good to Great, Jim Collins says that we must be open to the brutal truth.  In Christian circles we use loving grace.  Loving grace is awesome, but that won't help us move our ministries down the field.  We need to be open to how we are really doing.  We can't get defensive or perturbed.  We must ask questions and create an environment that the people around us feel like they can tell us how it really is.  This is true for our boss, for our leaders, for our parents, and even for our students.

The more we are open for feedback, the quicker we are to solve those problems, the happier everyone will be and the better your ministry will be.

We must be preparing for 2 years from now:

The students that you have been pouring your guts into will soon be graduating.  WIthout even realizing it, your amazing youth group of deep students who are relationally close to you will be exchanged for freshman who are wild and immature.  Or worse, you haven't even considered that the middle school ministry or the children's ministry that pours into your ministry is struggling and therefore graduating tiny classes.  This shock for both the youth worker and for their supervisor often leads to awful conflict and even opportunities to move on.

This is the exact time in the calendar year to think about what next fall will look like.  Who are your future leaders?  What will the demographic of the incoming class look like?  Do you have space in your heart for these younger kids?  If you are not actively growing your heart for these new classes your longevity will be in jeopardy.

Plus if there are some danger signs with a smaller than usual incoming class you have an entire semester to develop a plan to solve this problem, to prepare your heart and supervisor, and to come up with a plan that you will be ready to embrace when your besties graduate!

If we want our ministries to thrive for the long run, and if we want to make sure that our own faith and personal lives thrive as well, then we must stop, collaborate, and listen.  We must realize that the ground is in flux, be open for brutal feedback, and prepare for the  year to come.  To do this, lets ask hard questions and be open to the true answers.  Here are some of the questions that I often ask when I do my bi-annual check up.

Some Hard Questions:

  • How healthy is your group?  Is it inviting?  Are there avenues for students to connect? Are students warm or cold? Is these space for them to be honest? Are there toxic elements?
  • Do you have numerical health?  Do you have about 10% of the numbers in your High School ministry as there are to the adults in big church?  Are your numbers sustainable?  Are you growing or dying?
  • What is the spiritual temperature of your students?  Do you have any idea how they are doing or who they are apart from your ministry context?  Is there space for them to be honest about what is really going on?  Is there space for the entire spectrum of students in your ministry, from those who love Jesus with all their heart to those who doubt or have walked away?
  • What is the best thing you have done in the first semester?  What was the worst?  What are 5 specific areas of growth that your ministry needs?
  • When is your day off?  Why aren't you taking it? Who are you trying to impress?
  • Are you preparing your students to hear from and value other adults or have you set yourself up to be the lone voice, the oracle, the apostle for your students?
  • How would  your supervisor answer these questions?  Your leaders? Your students? How close would your answers be?
  • How is your own walk with God?  How are you growing?  What has been some ways God has sharpened you, pruned you, and transformed you in these last few months?  Have you sacrificed your own faith for the faith of your students?  What are you reading? Who is sharpening you?  Who is mentoring you?
  • How is your marriage?  Does your spouse know that they are your one and only? Are you actively pursuing your spouse and finding ways to win them over?  And not just as a good example but because you actually still passionately love them? How is it with your kids?  Do they get the prime place of love and affection?  Do they know that you would drop any other kid for them?  Do you have healthy boundaries in life and ministry?  Are you married to your job?  Have your youth group kids taken the place of your own kids?
  • How would your spouse answer these questions?

How do you evaluate your ministry and yourself?  What questions do you ask?  What process do you use?  I would love to know!

Connection: How youth workers thrive!

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dodgeballI am continually amazed at the wide verity of opportunities there are for youth workers to connect.  In every venue there is some gathering that is hosted by some group of youth workers and you are invited.  It can be a local network or a denominational one.  Whenever we go to camps, the directors seem to always offer a sit-down coffee to connect with youth workers.  And at every conference there are always bulletin boards inviting you to some special lunch or dinner to connect. What is amazing to me is that these events are alway poorly attended.  When I think of all the youth workers in our local network, or at our denominational cluster, those of us who gather are the remnant.  The special invites at camps and conferences seem to go unnoticed by the masses.  My question for you is simply, "Why do you not connect?"

Every youth worker I know is so angsty about putting on an event and then bummed when students choose video games at home than this amazing event.  We know the importance of gathering, building community, and building friendships.  Friendships don't just happen, they take time and effort and we work hard to provide space in our ministries.  But when it comes to us, we are just as fickle and busy as our students.

So, here is a simple encouragement:  Model this connectivity to your students.  

I know you already know that you are an amazing youth worker and working incredibly hard for the Kingdom of God.  I know you have the most creative teaching series and outreach events in the entire world.  I understand that a couple of hours once a month unplugged could send your entire ministry into a tailspin.  I understand the the crisis that you manage on a daily basis are overwhelming and thankfully you are fully available for every one of them.

But what would happen if you could live into the reality that we need your amazingness in our lives.  Your colleagues in your area and denominational clusters need your insights, ideas, spiritual depth, wisdom, and prayer.  And who knows, there may be seasons you could use some of that as well.  Friendships take time and effort.  And the difficult thing is that you don't really know  you need them until you are in desperate need of them.

For as great as things are now, there will be a time, and that time will be sooner than you think where you will need other people's insights, friendship, ideas, resources, and prayers.  So instead of being a statistic, why not jump in and give of yourself.  Be a part of community.  Make some time in that schedule of yours and be an encouragement to your colleagues.

There is not time like the present

This next week, I will be joining my 5000 closest friends and colleagues in Atlanta for the Orange Conference.  And like every conference there will be bulletin boards inviting you to connect.  If you are planning on coming to this event, if you are a youth worker, would you consider making some space in your schedule to be a part of community.

Jeremy Zach and his peeps have put together one of the best networking events I have ever seen.  Instead of standing around in a conference room eating pizza (which is great) he is throwing a Dodgeball Tournament!  If you are competitive and need to blow off some steam, then bring  your A game!  If you hate dodgeball and this idea could not be any less appealing, come anyway.  You will actually have more time to hang out with people and connect as we enjoy the entertainment of youth workers playing dodgeball.

I am really looking forward to this conference and this event.  And if by any chance you are coming to this conference and are in need of a friend, coach, prayer partner, dodgeball partner, message me through twitter @averageym.  My biggest joy is connecting with my colleagues and walking through this amazing calling to students together.

Blessings!

 

 

An Unusual Transition: Guest post by Adam Reed

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A little over two and a half years ago I began serving as the middle school pastor at my church.  When I began my ministry here I knew that I was walking into a unique situation.  Unlike many youth ministry transitions, our previous youth pastor, Barry Shettel, had served at our church for 29 years.  He had retired after 40 years of serving in youth ministry.  When Barry decided to retire our church decided to split the youth ministry into two separate ministries, one for high school and one for middle school. I was a little nervous about walking into a situation where my predecessor had been here so long, but excited about the opportunity to continue the ministry that he served so faithfully.

Here were some of the benefits that I experienced walking into this situation:

Little/No Transition Time – Since Barry retired one week and our high school pastor was there the next week there was no drop off in the student ministry.  When I joined the staff a couple of months later both ministries were able to move forward quickly.

Quick Acceptance – Since Barry made his decision to retire, and since he was still in our church, there were no hurt feelings that we had to work through with students.  I felt like our students took to us pretty quickly and we made an easy transition for everyone.

Willingness to Move Forward – People loved Barry and his ministry over the years, but they were excited to have two new student ministry guys who were willing to do things a little differently.  We didn’t make huge changes, but there were some things that we needed to change, and for the most part people were excited about the future of the student ministry.  Including Barry!

Barry was willing to give us some things as we began this new ministry too.  Here are a few things that he has given me over the past couple of years:

Space – When our high school pastor and I started at the church Barry gave us space to lead the ministry in our own way.  Barry has since started being more involved in our ministry as a volunteer and as a camp pastor for our fall retreat, but he wanted us to have our space when we first got here so that we didn’t feel like he was checking up on us.

A Great Friendship – I have a great friendship with Barry.  We have been to lunch many times and talked about everything from family, eBay, chickens, to ministry.  I value his friendship and the time that we have to spend with one another.

A mentor – We have had many conversations about ministry, and I have asked his advice on many occasions.  He has so many years of youth ministry experience that I can sit and learn from.

Barry has shared with me on a couple of occasions about how longevity in ministry is a blessing in ministry.  I just hope that I am able to last as long as Barry did in ministry.  I can’t think of anything better than to be able to retire from youth ministry after many years of ministry and see some of my former students faithfully serving God.

 

Adam Reed is the middle school pastor at Prince Avenue Baptist Church in Bogart, GA.  He has been working in student ministry for 12 years.  Adam blogs regularly over at www.ypadam.com, or you can follow him on twitter @ypadam.

 

 

the myth of life long student ministry: part 2

The Myth of Life Long Student Ministry: Part 1. (click the link to see the first half of the article)

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 desicion 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!