Earlier this week I posted a blog about some of the potential dangers of short term missions. This post has generated some really fun and interesting conversation among my friends, colleagues, and my little social network. In the course of these conversations Carrie Dotson, who blogs at summernannyjobs.com, pointed me to her blog post about some of the benefits leaders get when leading a student ministry missions experience. She brings up some great points and wanted to share them with you. I love how there are so many voices that speak into student ministry and always gain fresh perspective when I engage them. I hope you are encouraged! (Thanks Carrie)
Leading a mission trip provides church leaders and involved adults with an opportunity to help the young people in your group learn about the power of helping others while spreading the message of Christ. On the surface, it’s more of a learning opportunity for the youth involved than an experience that teaches leadership skills, but there are a variety of lessons that even the adults on a youth mission trip are positioned to learn. If you’re receptive to the experience and approach leading a youth mission trip with an open mind, these are only a sampling of the lessons you can learn along the way. Continue Reading…
It is once again time to start gearing up our annual mission trips. There are so many great options out there. Some are as close as an urban setting, some are in rural and isolated contexts, and some are international ranging in proximity to Mexico all the way to Thailand or Africa. One of the key considerations when planning a mission trip with students has to be assessing the potential dangers of the context we will be traveling to.
Our church has changed our context for short term missions several times depending on concerns for danger. We have taken into consideration the violence in an urban setting or an outbreak of hepatitis within the street community. We have wrestled with the potential danger of crossing a drug warfare zone in the boarder towns of Mexico. Add to the danger of the location transportation and housing, and we start to realize that a mission trip for students is a costly and dangerous endeavor.
As someone who thinks that short term mission trips is the bread and butter of student ministry, I have come to the conclusion that these potential dangers are part of the process of helping students (and parents) to live outside their comfort zone. And taking our students and putting them in a totally foreign and partially dangerous context softens their hearts and opens their eyes to see the working of God in new and fresh ways.
But after leading dozens of trips over the years, I am starting to realize that while the surface dangers are real and must be taken seriously, there is actually a bigger danger that is hidden lurking just below the surface. This danger is cementing in our students a false view of missions and of themselves.
Every year we ask students to fill out an application. One of the questions has something to do with why they want to participate in this trip. And with almost 100% unanimity the answer is “we want to help those less fortunate than ourselves.” Don’t get me wrong, this is an awesome value, it is a value that is at the heart of the Christian faith. Those of us with power and resources are to care for the orphan and the widow, for the poor and oppressed.
However, when we unintentionally frame missions as us, wealthy suburbanites, helping those poor people, we continue to instill in our students that they have their acts together and are “above” others. I am not saying that the suburban church is the problem, or that we need to beat down our own context or culture and make students feel awful for the blessings and resources they have. The suburban culture is just that, a culture. But when we engage in missions we must consider and celebrate the culture in which we are going to. We have to help students see that we are guests in another culture, not superior to those we visiting.
For parents of a troubled teen, the main question that is asked time and time again is this: “What is missing?” Parents feel like they have failed in some way because there is something that is missing from their teen’s life. They see this as the cause of all of the trouble. However, you should know that it is not your fault. If you have raised your teen in a warm and loving home, and he or she has still not turned to God, He could be the real element that is missing. You need to know how to reach out to your teen for God so that He can begin working to change the child’s life.
Do Not Be Overbearing
The number one mistake that parents make in this situation is to be overbearing. They try to push religion on the teen so much that the teen naturally starts to push back. Your son could reject the message just because he is so sick of hearing it. Remember that teens often are striving to be individuals. They may reject things that you say just because you said them, and for no other reason. Do not push too hard, or you could close that door for communication.
Do Not Be Judgmental
Another thing to avoid is judging your teen. Do not pick up all of your daughter’s faults and call her out on them. She already knows what they are. If you are angry and judgmental in your approach, she is just going to return your anger. She will not listen to what you have to say about God.
Many teens want to talk. They want someone to listen to them. If they are walking away from God, do not yell at them or lecture them. Instead, ask questions about their decisions. Sit down and really get to understand why the teen is making the choices that he or she is making. This information can help you to communicate with your child. It also shows your child that you care. When the teen knows that you care and that you want to hear his or her side of things, your child will be more likely to listen to what you have to say.
Connect God with Things that the Teen Enjoys
There are many ways in which God can communicate with people. If your teen loves music, there are Christian artists who can bring a good message to any style of music. If he or she loves to read, there are also Christian authors who are writing great books every year. Rather than just dragging an unwilling child to church, you should try to use the child’s interests to bring them to God for better results.
About the Guest Author
K. Sontoya writes in behalf of HelpYourTeenNow.com . She helps them in spreading awareness about troubled and depressed teenagers (and how to deal with them). Help Your Teen Now aims to increase awareness on the current psychological and societal stresses of today’s teens and how these factors affect the future of our society.
Now that winter camp season is coming to a close, most of us have completed our annual journey to some sort of winter camp, conference, retreat. We pounded the pavement, got students to commit, took care of the logistics, lost $1000, got our kids fired up and inspired, and upon re-entry we get to see (or not see) any lasting impact. Like all events in a youth worker’s calendar we have to do a cost / benefit analysis for each of our events, and the winter camp evaluation is always tricky. Because the cost is so high, and the benefit is a little sketchy, we must answer the nagging question, “Was it worth it?” YES IT IS, and here is why:
Everyone says that the longer the better for youth workers to stay in one church context. And yes, there are all sorts of upsides to sticking around, but lately I have been thinking that 5 years might be ceiling for maximum effectiveness in your local context.
This is the pattern that I notice:
Youth worker shows up in a church context.
Spends the first year or so figuring out the context, dealing with the angst of the upperclassmen, and working overtime building relationships with students.
Youth workers kill it relationally! They are masters at building relationships and winning students.
After 2 years there is a strong relational core in your ministry. The new upperclassmen respect you and the incoming freshmen idolize you. (in a good way)
Over the next few years this group of young kids become amazing upperclassmen. They “get it,” they respect and love you, and you love them with all your heart.
Youth workers then soak up, and rightly so, the fruit of their labor!
Then around year 4 or 5, this group of students who you have known since pre-puberty graduates and you weep bitterly.
When you look up you see that you have replaced a solid group of leaders and young adults for an immature and rowdy group of freshmen. This is more then our weak hearts can often take.
The thought of having to re-build an entire youth ministry with these young and immature kids sends us packing.
It is at this point that we have three options. We can realize that our time in student ministry is done and start dreaming of church planting, realize that your gifts and abilities are too much for this context and start looking for a bigger and badder context, or to settle in and settle for a below average ministry with minimal students and minimal excitement.
Ok, I get that those are total straw men and mostly unfair. The truth is that I have seen this pattern dozens of times among my peers and colleagues. I have even noticed this pattern happen within my ministry and within me. The more I reflect on this pattern the more I realize that there are actually two real options to avoid flame out by year 5.
It is getting to be missions season and I love looking through the many opportunities that are available for our students. Short term missions is the bread and butter of student ministry and I hope that you are planning on finding some way for your students to get missional, get cross cultural, and serve the poor in what ever context you are and are going. Nate McHenry is the Founder of IMchange a missions organization that provides missions opportunities for students. He wanted to share is origination with you, and I wanted you to be spurred on to think biblically, mission ally, philosophically, and theologically as you consider missions.
Engaging Jesus through the poor
Have you ever asked yourself, “How in the world can I get this student to see that Jesus is what he/she needs?” For the last 15 years, nothing has accelerated my student’s passion and love for Jesus and others more than mission trips. For me personally, mission trips and serving the “poor” have provided unparalleled context to my pursuit of Jesus. Several years ago, I watched (and re-watched and still watch) an interview with Bono of U2 (not just because I love U2) by Bill Hybels that significantly encouraged my suspicions that the greatest way to connect young people to Jesus is through the poor.
James 1:27 (the message) says, “Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.
We are going through a really great series on marriage at our church right now, and I drew the nuts and bolts of marriage. It would be disingenuous for me to preach this by myself, since everything I know about marriage I have learned from my wife. So last week both my wife and I preached a sermon on why we don’t want to have a biblical marriage. I love my job and I can not believe I get the honor to preach, to preach in a way that is fun and free, and to be married to the most amazing woman in the world! Enjoy.
On February 5, 2013 the Harlem Shake went viral. As of February 14th, in a matter of 9 days, almost 40,000 spinoffs have been uploaded and have been watched over 175 million times. CRAZY!! This is the most unbelievable viral event of all time! (Facts courtesy of youtube-trends) While there have been many viral videos of note, including, but not limited to, Justin Bieber’s Baby, Friday, Call Me Maybe, Gangum Style, or Ryan Reed’s new blog, this was one of the fastest parody pileups of all time. And the best part is that your parody only has to be 30 seconds long! (Here is our below average offering)
But the total speed of this viral video has caused me to once again realize what it is that I am supposed to do. As youth workers we must understand our cultural context, that is for sure! But we must fully own the reality that we are not hip, cool, relevant, or cutting edge. At best we can simply mimic cool and funny things in our culture. At best we are simply a shadow of pop culture.
Let us not spend so much time and energy in efforts to be hip and stay up on all that is going on at the expense of doing the thing we actually are called to do! Our less hip youth ministry that actually offers friendship and belonging, where they experience forgiveness and grace, as they explore their faith will never come close the the viral explosion of the Harlem Shake.
So, make your Harlem Shake video. Post your links in the comments. Have a good laugh! But please, please, please, let us die to our desires to be hip, cool, and relevant, and let us bring to the table what popular culture wishes it could, and desperately needs!
There has been a lot written lately about what is going on with our students and why are they leaving the church in record numbers after they graduate from college. It seems to me that this is a problem that has been around forever, or at least since I graduated from high school. (Back when Pearl Jam was King!)
What would it look like if we quit wringing our hands about this awful statistic and accepted this as reality.
Everything I have read says that part of the adolescent journey is separating their identity from their family and faith of origin and develop an independent identity. This process of individuation is understanding who they are, where they belong, and if they matter. And these questions can not be done under the thumb of their parents, or their parent’s youth pastor.
So, If 70% to 90% of my students are going to push back from the faith of their childhood during late adolescence, then what is my response going to be?
It seems like blaming the church, youth ministry, the culture, whatever doesn’t move this conversation forward. Maybe there needs to be a different framing question to move this conversation forward. Instead of asking, “Why are so many students leaving the church?” Maybe a better question is, “Why are so few students returning to the church after they become adults?”
Over the course of my career I have gone through different seasons of my ministry when I have had from one to half a dozen students who have had some sort of social learning challenges. We have had students who are autistic, had aspergers, ADD, ADHD, social anxiety, learning handicapped, and many who were never formally diagnosed.
Having students who have these challenges have proven to be a challenge for me in a number of ways.
For one, students who have social learning challenges seem to ruin the amazing, warm fuzzy community that I am trying so hard to develop. When I look around at many of the youth ministries I strive to have mine look like, I realize that they, as well as me, have made little space for them. But once I get my head out of my butt, and realize that students with social learning challenges are the exact students that need the love and care that a youth ministry is designed to give.
Instead of being frustrated by these students, instead of shoving them to the side, instead of praying they leave, maybe there is a better option. What if we actually attempted to understand them as people who are precious to our God and to us as well. What if we spent some time getting some education and training, and then passing that on to your leaders and even your students.
I have found that when I get over myself and seek to actually engage these students and strive to understand them and then make the relativity small tweaks needed, my ministry can now truly be the community that God has designed it to be.
I realize that I am blessed above all my colleagues for several reason. But the reason that is most pertinent to this post is that I have the pleasure of working with a great youth pastor who oversees our Jr High Ministry. He is killing it and I love him to death. He happens to be married to one of the sharpest women I have had the pleasure to know. And her area of smartness centers on caring for and equipping people who have social learning challenges and those who love them.
She recently wrote an article that is a MUST READ for every youth worker, on http://www.socialthinking.com/. It is all about giving youth workers, leaders, and coaches some tools to make life for these students and for the group a win. Here is the introductory paragraph. Continue reading for some good wisdom and practical helps so that can truly have a ministry that reaches out and makes space for every and all students!
“As a coach, youth leader, volunteer, or teacher, you may have come across a child in your group who just doesn’t fit in with the other kids. He might be smart, but you notice he has difficulty following the group plan or stays on the sidelines, unsure how to interact with other kids. Maybe she seems anxious in new situations or she’s eager to contribute, but her comments are out of sync given the topic or the conversation. Perhaps the child’s parents mentioned the social difficulties ahead of time. Now what do you do – how do you help?
As a volunteer leader in a youth program myself, I know it’s not easy to run the program, keep everyone motivated and engaged, and support the child with social challenges. However, it is possible to be a positive influence with your group by taking a little time to understand how these individuals think and process information. Then try incorporating some of the practical strategies that follow. They can be used by any adult who interfaces with youth or adults in a group situation, and the strategies can benefit all your students, players, or club members, not just those with social learning challenges!”
After 3 long months, I am finally back in the saddle. It has been an amazing time off and I actually feel rested. At first I was a little bummed that I didn’t have money or space for some grand adventure like hiking across Europe. I failed in my pursuit to become an Abercrombie model, and didn’t memorize an entire book of the Bible. (Even 3 John) But because I wanted to stay married and have a relationship with my kids, I put some of those dreams on hold for some practical and needed maintenance.
Sure enough, settling in, relaxing, becoming comfortable in my own skin and playing endless board games with the family has paid off in a healthy person, dad, husband and pastor. I am so thankful for my church family and their care for me! It is so extravagant for a youth pastor to be cared for like this, for their staff and volunteers to do such an amazing job, and to even welcome me back with such excitement.
I love our church and I love student ministry. I look forward to this next season of ministry. And for better or worse, I look forward to doing in the unique manner in which God has created me to do it. I don’t want to keep striving to be someone else, nor do I want to continually judge myself by some false ruler that I continually come up short on. I know my gifts, I know my failings, and I am planning on bringing all of that to the ministry God has called me to.
ps: Here is a little video one of my students, Spencer Wilson, made. He is an awesome young man and friend, and blessed the snot out of me and made me laugh with this video. Enjoy!
pps: Here are some home made Ben Kerns Fan Club shirts made by my homie! YES PLEASE!
ppps: Everyone needs to work hard in one context, take a break, and come back ready to take ministry to the next level with kids who you have walked through some significant road together. (If that isn’t part of your call or contract, let me at your elders!)
Whatever! Everyone wants to grow their ministry and expand the kingdom of God. Some times it is true that our egos get in the way and our motives are not entirely pure. But at the end of the day, most people in student ministry are doing what they do because they love students and their hearts break for them.
Everything about the DNA of a youth worker is wrapped up in walking through life with students helping them connect to Jesus Christ. At our best moments we want as many kids to come in contact with the saving, redeeming, healing, and transforming work of Jesus Christ. Practically, this looks like trying to increase the numbers of students that can be impacted.
There Are Plenty of Short Term Options:
For better or worse, in my best moments or my worst, trying to grow numerically is always in the back of my mind. I have done pretty shameful things to try to boost my numbers. Some have worked great and others have flopped miserably. For me, any short term numerical gain always seemed to fade. There are many reasons for this short term blip. But the biggest reason is that I simply put a ton of effort into an event or two for the simple attempt to inflate my numbers.
You are probably in a better and more whole place in your walk with God and would never be so petty to try and increase your numbers for personal gain, but often I am not. Thankfully over the years God has continued to refine me and heal me as he has continued to grow my heart for students. And as He has done this, my heart to increase the size of our group has never gone away.
With the internet we now have access to thousands of clever ideas to grow our groups. Assuming our hearts are in the right place and we are striving to connect with more and more students, there are some great tricks, gimmicks, and structures that will allow you to grow your group numerically.
But most of these ideas will work in the short term, unless there is a dramatic change in systems or straight up hand of God, most groups will settle back to their average size. For me, I have found a sure fire way to grow my youth group for the long haul. It isn’t with gimmicks, it keeps my ego in check, and it actually cares for the larger church. My trick to grow our student ministry is to invest heavily in our children’s ministry!
The Best Long Term Strategy is to Invest in Children’s Ministry
I am always looking for new blogs to add to my RSS feed. Below are some solid bloggers. They are leaders in their areas of ministries and in their regions. They are solid thinkers and they think Orange. They always have solid content and this week they will be writing specifically on how Orange has impacted their ministries. Please check them out and if you dig, add them to your blog roll. (And while you are at it, enjoy a cinnamon roll)
Don’t forget—register by February 14 to save $40 off regular registration rates, and earn a $50 Orange credit. For more information and complete offer details, please visitwww.TheOrangeConference.com. PEACE!!
This week starts the beginning of ORANGE WEEK. It is that bi-annual event where those of us invested in the Orange strategy spread out and seek to engage and encourage our peers to develop an intentional strategy of partnership between the church and family.
Throughout the week, I will, along with some of my good friends, be sharing our thoughts and reflections on the strategy and support that Orange provides. If you use Orange and are looking to connect, lets do that, if you are not an Orange person, then I would love to know how you intentionally leverage the church and family toward greatest impact on students.
I am continually thankful for the resource Orange is for me and for our church. If you have never used Orange or they are not on your radar, their strategy for connecting the church and the family is head and shoulders above anything else out there.
What do you think of the Orange strategy? How do you provoke discovery, wonder, and passion in your students?
As you think about how you will be trained this year and how you will train your staff, why don’t you consider joining me in Atlanta, GA this April for the Orange Conference. This is an entire conference designed to wrestle with the intentional partnership between the church and the family.
If you use something else and/or something better, would you be willing to share. We as youth workers continually need to be sharpened, so sharpen away.
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.
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:
Last week 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!
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!
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)
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 )
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 winter camp season has finally descended upon us. With winter camp comes snow storms, icy roads, dangerous sled runs, and about 1000 other ways for our students to get wrecked! In my few years of taking kids to winter camp I have had kids break arms, legs, collar bones, wrists, and get concussions. I have totaled a Suburban and crashed a couple of other cars. There are polices at our church because of me.
Let’s face it, winter camp is dangerous! But the real question is whether or not it is too dangerous.
My friend, Brian Seidel recently finished his book, Flimsy Ministry. Brian is a gifted and brilliant youth worker. He has spent the last decade caring for and training other youth workers in both national and regional settings. He has used his wisdom and experience to put together a really challenging and helpful read.
Brian not only addresses this question, but actually gives you the tools and questions to examine the what and why we do ministry. Brian has an incredibly high view of scripture and starts and ends with a biblical foundation. I have not read so much scripture in a book outside of the Bible in a while, if ever. The use of scripture is brutal because I often found myself wanting to push back. But instead of simply disagreeing with Brian, I had to wrestle through the scripture first, then disagree with Brian