AYM: The Book

April 7, 2014 — Leave a comment

Average Youth MinistryIt seems that every book, blog post, and article I read is about the top 5 ways to be the best at something. But the sad reality is that if you are trying to study up on how to be the best, you can rest assured that you are not the best. What would happen to your ministry and more importantly to your soul, if you embraced the reality that you were simply average. Think of all that energy wasted on striving for something that you will never attain. Now, imagine if you died to that dream of being the best in the world and embraced the reality that you were simply the best youth worker your actual students know. In fact, the truth is, you are the only youth worker your students care about. Maybe together we can remind each other that we are called to love students and help them to love Jesus.

In this book, I have put my 40 best / most helpful / favorite blogs all together in one really slick package.  

I get that most youth workers want to have some impressive looking books to add gravitas to their book shelves.  And in some sense this is the best and worst book for that.  It is really impressive looking and tough, but at the same time says that you are striving to be average.  But all ascetics aside, this has been a really fun project for me, and I think an incredibly helpful and hope-filled book for you.  Whether you are a ministry veteran or just starting out, there is something for everyone to chew on and wrestle through.

This book is broken up into five sections:

  • Discerning your call
  • Discerning your context
  • Discerning your students
  • Discerning your issues
  • Bonus Section: Nuts and Bolts

Discernment is the key to health and longevity in ministry!

I have said it before, but it is true: Youth ministry is the best / worst, easiest / hardest job on the planet!  And it seems like the difference between these two polar extreems is where your head and heart are at.  Discernment is the process of walking along this tight rope.  We need input from those around us, from those who have gone before us, from the Word of God, and from the Holy Spirit.  We need to listen and be reflective.

Ministry is not about gaining knowledge or collecting information, it is about spiritual and professional formation.  And this book takes the 17+ years that I have been working out my calling and walk with Jesus and that application into student ministry.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, there won’t be very much new, other than all these posts put in a format that is easy to read and a quick reference for you as you crank out ministry.  You will also appreciate that the book form of my posts have actually been edited for grammar and spelling :)  

I wanted to thank the AYM community for your support and encouragement over the past few years as I have worked out many of these issues.  Your input, pushback, and different perspectives have deepened my own walk with Jesus and my call to student ministry.  I look forward to continuing my call as a vocational student ministry pastor and working out my recent call as a writer.

May God continue to bless you in your ministry and care for students and may we together help us keep our eyes on Jesus who is the author and perfecter of faith, of ours’ and of our students’.  

Blessings!

PS: If you are interested in buying this book and upgrading your library, then click on the amazon link and have it by the end of the week!  It will give you street cred and helps pay for my kid’s braces!  :)

 

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

The urban legend that shaped our views of success was the one about longevity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Whether you like country music or not, this song is an incredible seminar for parenting teenagers.  A couple of things before you enjoy these 3:09 of parenting gold!

1) Developing a sense of Identity and  instill Value over Behavior Management.

2) Remembering where you as a parent have come from might allow you a little more grace for your teen.

3) Take the blame and claim them every time!

I yelled he’s mine that one
Got a wild-hair side and then some
It’s no surprise what he’s done
He’s ever last last bit of my old man’s son
And I’ll take the blame
And claim him every time
Yeah man, he’s mine and he’ll always be
The best thing that ever happened to me
You can’t turn it off like electricity
I love him unconditionally
I’ll take the blame
And claim him every time
Yeah, y’all, he’s mine
I thank God, he’s mine

russell-crowe-noah

This has been such an awful week for those of us who are associated with the “Evangelical” church.  The week started with World Vision changing their hiring practices to include married homosexual relationships.  Then a day and a half later reversed it.  And to round out the week, the movie Noah is hitting theaters.

Both of these stories have erected giant straw men called “Evangelicals” only to then proceed to light them up and burn it to the ground!

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As I have watched Frozen over and over and over, I have found myself approaching this movie from all sorts of different fronts.  But this last time I watched it I saw something I never saw before, Anna is the ultimate youth worker.

Anna is young and idealistic and pursues her sister (our students) with all of who she is.  She longs to be connected and share life and even though she is shut out from the bulk of her sister’s life, she has nothing but hope and good will for her sister.

Elsa is the classic student.  For whatever amount of personal pain and shut down they have experienced, their world is pretty egocentric.  She is special, in fact, the most special kid on the planet. And this uniqueness means that she is misunderstood and angst ridden.  She runs away to protect others, and really herself.

Even though Anna has been shut out and shut down, she always runs after her sister, always hopes for a restored relationship, and selflessly gives up her life for the sake of her sister.  And this selfless love, in the end actually restores relationship.

My hope is that my heart would be more and more like Anna’s.  

  • That I will always leave the safety and comfort of the castle, of the 99 and run after the one.
  • That I will not get bitter or disillusioned when my pursuit is not reciprocated.
  • That, in the end, I would actually gladly lay down my life, pour out my life over and over again so that by some possible means relationship would be restored; relationship with me, and mostly relationship with their Heavenly Father.

I love that there is so much to think about and process in this movie.  For me, this time around, I am thankful that God used it to touch my heart, to soften it, and remind me again of what I am truly called to do and be as a youth worker!

“Do you want to build a snowman?”

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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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This last month at youth group we have been looking at media, pop culture, you tubes, music videos and movies in order to develop a more biblically framed world view.  And in doing this, I was surprised by what we discovered.

Of course there is plenty of garbage out there, and yes most of it dehumanizes and satisfies our base impulses.  For as much as I love Katy Perry, Dark Horse leaves a lot to be desired.  But as we were exploring media we came across the new John Legend song, “All of Me.”  And to my surprise, this was the most biblically accurate and affirming song in both pop culture and even in the Christian music charts.

Take a listen and let me know if you agree or disagree:

How beautiful your sandaled feet, O prince’s daughter!
Your graceful legs are like jewels, the work of an artist’s hands.
Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine.
Your waist is a mound of wheat encircled by lilies.
Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle.
Your neck is like an ivory tower.
Your eyes are the pools of Heshbon by the gate of Bath Rabbim.
Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon looking toward Damascus.
Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel.
Your hair is like royal tapestry; the king is held captive by its tresses.
How beautiful you are and how pleasing, my love, with your delights!
Your stature is like that of the palm,  and your breasts like clusters of fruit.
I said, “I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.”
May your breasts be like clusters of grapes on the vine,
the fragrance of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine.

Song of Songs 7:1-9

God KillsOver the past few weeks I have been reading an incredible book on spiritual formation.

It seems like most of the books I have read lately about spiritual formation, Christian living, or about ministry have all had a pretty strong sense of self help sort of vibe to them.  As you can tell by the title of this book, God Kills is not that sort of book.

God Kills, written by Art Greco, has very little to do with life.  For in this book, it is Satan who works hard to give life, but it is Jesus who is in the business of killing.  Killing our flesh and the the things that we so badly long for and have wrongly assumed bring us life.  When, in fact, it is only by Jesus killing, destroying, and eliminating those hidden parts of our soul that pollute our hearts.

Greco goes through seven spiritual disciplines that have seem to gone missing in our current spirituality of personal fulfillment.  With full transparency, we are walked through the spiritual development of a pastor and theologian, and mostly as a fellow sojourner towards the cross of Christ.

As you read this book, I am sure you will notice the deep waters of theology and spiritual growth in which Art swims.

It would be easy to sit in an ivory tower and give some deep pontifications surrounding these disciplines, but instead, you get a peek into an incredibly reflective and brilliant man as he works these disciplines into his own life.

Throughout this book, Art explores the disciplines of:

  1. Humility: God has a bigger plan than the plan he has for you.
  2. Teachability:  Maybe you’re right
  3. Celibacy: It’s not just about sex anymore
  4. Courage: Be afraid be very, very afraid.
  5. Faith: Pain, poverty and other really good things God doesn’t seem to mind you experiencing.
  6. Yieldedness: Live free and Die!
  7. Loyalty:  Look both ways before walking.

If you are looking for a devotional book, or a book that is going to kick you in the butt and spur you on to wrestle through some difficult topics as you grow towards Christ, then this is your book!

If you are noticing a larger chasm between the pop spirituality that is supposed to fulfill your soul and the deeper waters of death and service that are molded by our savior and want to explore this sort of death, then this is the book for you!

If you long to read a book by someone who not only has some good theology and wisdom, but who is currently walking down this road as well, then this book is for you!

I am thankful for a contemporary book that is authentic, humble, and deep that addresses the issues the church at large and that I personally am encountering.  I pray that God will not allow me to embrace the spirituality of self fulfillment, but rather the spirituality that daily lays bear my flesh and hammers it to the cross so that only what is made alive through the spirit will grow and thrive!

I could not recommend this book more and hope that you enjoy exploring some underused muscles in our spiritual development!

Blessings

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My good friend and brilliant youth worker, Carlos Devitis, from Peninsula Covenant Church established one of the best ministry ideas I have heard in a long time.  In fact, it is so great, I am actually stealing an idea from him for once and implementing it in my own ministry.

Once a month, or at least 4-6 times a year, we are going to invite our parents to join us on our Wednesday night youth group extravaganza.  Now, I am not totally sure what Carlos does, but the way we are working it out in our context is like this:

  • Youth Group happens just like normal for our middle and high school students
  • While the students are getting after it, parents will meet downstairs.
  • The parents will have dessert and coffee, a small mixer and then a discussion led by me.
  • This month our topic is “loving your unique kid”  It’s not sexy, but should get the job done.

The whole point of the evening is for parents to not feel so isolate and alone.  To bring refreshment and encouragement to our weary parents.  And hopefully, some of them may connect with each other and build friendship and community.  As parents connect and are encouraged their entire family system does better.

To be honest, parent ministry is not what I am most passionate about.  I love students and student ministry with al my heart.  But good student ministry can only happen when we as youth workers engage the entire family.  Big Wednesday’s are how Carlos does it, it is now how I do it.  How will you do it?

I would love to know the creative and effective ways in which you are engaging parents and partnering with them for the sake of the students we work with.

Here is a talk I gave at our denominational’s youth connection.  Recognizing our culture has changed is the easy part.  Developing a way to share the gospel and a path of discipleship is the call of this moment in time.  What are your thoughts?

What is Lent?

I find it interesting that as youth workers we are always looking for a new series to do with our students.  We inherently know that we must mix up the ritual and routine of youth group or kids will get board and get into a rut.  This need to mix things up might actually come from God himself.  I think that we were actually created for seasons, for change, for rhythm.  And this need for annual celebrations is affirmed all throughout scripture with the commands to celebrate all the different festivals.

While this need for seasonal change is needed and expected, many Christians seem to discard the traditional season change in the Church.  According to the church calendar, today is Ash Wednesday marking the transition from “ordinary time” to the season of Lent.

According to Wikipedia, Lent is the period of the liturgical year leading up to Easter.  The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer – through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial.

Lent is the worst season in the Church.

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“Everything is permissible for me”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12

Who needs lent?

In just a few days millions of Christians around the world will be celebrating Ash Wednesday.  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent.  For many Evangelicals this word and this season have zero meaning.  In an theological system that centers on grace and a cultural context that thrives on individual freedom, it makes sense that the drab and dreary season of lent would get little air time.  But it is exactly for those very reasons that we should reexamine the Lenten discipline as we journey towards the cross and ultimately toward Easter.

I have recently rediscovered the many places throughout scripture that call those of us who follow Christ to give up our freedoms, make our bodies slaves, and give up our rights for the benefit of others.  The more I wrestle with these topics with my friends, the more I realize that in our grace based, individualized context, any talk of limiting either seems to be blasphemous.

Can slavery actually bring me freedom?

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I love at attractional ministry as much as the next guy.  I love the hype, the big games, the thrill of the crowd, the dynamics of a full room.  In fact, most of how I judge my effectiveness in student ministry is by how full I can get the room.

But one of the pit falls of this approach is that us youth workers end up ministering to the “crowd” and not to the individual students.  As a crowd, students generally play ball.  They engage games, seem to engage in worship, listen quietly and give us adults the answers we want to hear in small groups.

This is all well and good and strokes our ego.  But my fear is that as we engage the crowd, we loose sight of the individual students, their stories, their issues, and their world view.

The more time I spend with students, I am convinced that students are more than rebellious teens, or broken in need of healing, but they are straight up lost.  They have no idea what end is up or who or why they ended up where they are or do what the do.

Even though they may play ball in our system, the truth is that their world view is so far removed from ours.  And if this is the case, the we must as the question, “What are we really doing as a student ministry?”

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There are three things that I have found to be true in my life. And surprisingly, I have found that these three things turned out to be in conflict. They are:

1) I love Jesus
2) I love learning
3) I love middle schoolers

On the surface, these three things are every youth worker’s bread and butter. It is these three foundational values that have launched us into this unique vocation. But what I have been wrestling with is that the combination of these three values have almost closed the door on good, long term vocational ministry.

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My best “go to” game!

February 19, 2014 — 6 Comments

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Ok, it is Wednesday and you have been cranking out a semester and a half of youth ministry.  Are you looking for a simple and fun game that takes practically zero set up, engages the entire group, AND is actually pretty fun?  Then this is the game for you.  (I am not taking credit as this game’s inventor, I just love it and it has been my go to for over 10 years)  No, its not shuffle your buns, which is my, not fun, go to, game.  It is a game called:  CATEGORIES

SET UP:  Circle of chairs, pitcher of water, cup of water.  This game is great for groups of 10-30 or for large groups, simply divide into groups of 10-30.  Have everyone sit in a chair in a circle with one person in the middle.

THE OBJECT:  The object of the game is to simply not get splashed with water.

RULES:  The person in the center of the circle picks a category.  They could pick any category.  Some simple ones that can get you started are: states, subjects in school, subjects in school, baseball teams, candy bars, cereal, boy bands, people in the room.  Once a category has been called, the person in the middle tells me, the leader the specific item in that category.  (This keeps everyone honest)  Then I take the pitcher of water and pour some of it in the cup of water and give it to the person in the center.

GAME PLAY:  The person in the center calls the category:  Candy Bars!  Then goes around the circle so that everyone takes their turn naming a candy bar.  The people sitting down call out candy bars hoping to not say the one that the person in the center told the leader.  If they say “Snickers,” the item that was told to the leader, then that person gets splashed with water.   Or if someone repeats what someone else said they get jacked with some water as well.  Then the person who got splashed takes a turn as the person in the center.

That’s it!  Enjoy!

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Peter Pan is one of my favorite characters.  The desire to never grow old, fight pirates, and fly probably influenced my decision to become a youth pastor more than I care to admit.  Peter Pan has a dark side, however, that we must come to terms with in youth ministry. Think about how our attitudes as youth pastors often betray a Peter Pan mentality.  We think we will get to be young forever by working with teens.  We will be a magical leader who will give lost boys, (and girls) love and purpose.  That purpose is to have fun and fight the pirates of worldliness, boredom, and bad cable tv.  Parents are at best unnecessary and at worst, a roadblock to having fun, I mean to true ministry.  As for the love triangle with Wendy and Tink, I’ll have to save that for another post.  If we don’t come face to face with our dark side, we will become increasingly immature, negligent, arrogant, and dangerous.  All kids are meant to grow up and that includes us.  Youth need parents to be involved in their lives.  Youth pastors and other adults can have great influence in the lives of teens, but not as smug, impressive, show-offs.  We need to leave behind Peter Pan and find a better model to emulate.

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Parenting_Beyond_Your_Capacity_Connect_Your_Family_to_a_Wider_Community_OrangeThis last week I read a really helpful book by Reggie Joiner and Carey Nieuwhof called Parenting Beyond Your Capacity. This is a straightforward book that offers a clear roadmap for parents who want to connect their family to a wider community of faith. And for parents who think that going at it alone is best, Joiner and Nieuwhof offer a compelling argument for the need to invite others into the circle so that our kids have the widest safety net possible as our kids grow into adults and explore a faith separate from ours.

Parenting Beyond Your Capacity is kind of like a primer for parents to understand the Orange concept of parenting. Being an orange parent is understanding that “a parent’s influence is best realized in partnership with a wider community.” And that community is the church. If you are looking for a book to share with parents to help them understand the orange model of ministry than this book is for you. This book highlights 5 family values that are key for the long term spiritual health and maturity of kids and students.

Family Value 1) Widen the Circle: Pursue strategic relationships for your kids.

Family Value 2) Imagine the End: Focus your priorities on what matters most.

Family Value 3) Fight for the Heart: Communicate in a style that gives the relationship value.

Family Value 4) Create a Rhythm: Increase the quantity of quality time you spend together.

Family Value 5) Make it Personal: Put yourself first when it comes to personal growth.

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A huge gift for parents

February 10, 2014 — 2 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

What if there was a third way? Continue Reading…

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One of the most important aspects to a balanced and thriving student ministry is having an intentional scope and sequence to your curriculum.  We must be intentional with what we teach and to use the limited amount of time we have with our students well.  And while many of you are thoughtful about your teaching and are biblically deep, contextually astute, and clever as all get out, there might be one significant area that gets left out.

I am sure that you would agree that our culture is getting more and more coarse.  Students are increasingly self absorbed and rude.  Maybe the truth is that you don’t even realize it anymore or have simply died to it.  Maybe you think that you will lose street cred if you push back against their entitlement mentality.  Or maybe you are satisfied that you can at last get them to say grace when you are all together for a meal.

As students become more and more isolated, they have fewer and fewer places in their lives where they actually have to consider others.  Their music choices, their movie choices, their food choices are all individualized.  Whatever they want whenever they want it is their instinct and highest value.  If at any time a student is done paying attention in a group, they simply need to plug in their ear buds, check facebook, and check out.

Why manners are important:

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Bribery_Pays

I remember it like it was yesterday.  I had an outreach event where we used a raffle with a huge prize as an incentive to have kids come to youth group and to bring friends.  The prize was HUGE and so was the criticism I received form my intern and her recently received B.A. in youth ministry.  The bribe worked and a ton of students came to our student ministry, and this event turned the corner in momentum of for our ministry.  And unfortunately turned my interns heart away from me and student ministry.  Which leads me to this question:

Is there harm in bribing kids to come to youth group?

Now, before you get all judgmental or self righteousness in your theology, why are you really opposed to bribing kids to come to youth group?  I’ve heard the arguments:

  • That people live out the gospel that they are introduced to.  
  • That bribing kids doesn’t correctly portray the life of faith that we are called to live.  
  • Bribing highlights students selfishness and doesn’t help students live the kingdom life that they are designed to live.

But aren’t these arguments simply the pontificating of youth workers who have given up a little bit?

Remember back you your middle and high school experience.  Why did you come to faith? Was it a cute boy or girl?  You didn’t want to go to hell? Jesus would give you a better life?  We are all selfish and self absorbed at first.  Meeting some of these needs is just getting our foot in the door.  And Jesus does that with us, we do that in every other ministry, and for students, it is the same.

#bribing4jesus

What do you do to get kids to come to your program?  How is that not bribing?  What if you embraced that reality and capitalized on it?