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?
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?
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.
“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?
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?”
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.
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!
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.
This 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.
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…
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:
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:
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.
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?
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.
There has been some discussion lately among some of my youth ministry friends about the future of our profession. There seems to be another round of shots fired across the bow at youth ministry and the professionals that lead these ministries. Sticky Faith, Family Based Ministries, and people with axes to grind continue to lay the decaying faith of adolescents and young adults squarely at the feet of us professionals and the failed models we are propping up.
Fellow professional youth workers have no fear, our jobs are here to stay!! We have an amazing calling and part of an amazing legacy, and I am convinced that for the foreseeable future, churches will continue to do everything in their power to make sure their staffs include a paid youth worker. Here’s why:
For better or worse, a church that has a paid youth worker, signifies to the entire church family that they care about families. While children’s ministry is incredibly important, many parents will tolerate poor children’s ministry if they know that as their children grow into teens, there will be a place for them to continue to work it out at the church. Think of all the families that restart the church hopping process when their kids reach 4th and 5th grade. All of the sudden, that great church plant, or dynamic young preacher doesn’t seem to cut it when their own kids’ faith is on the line. A paid youth worker communicates care for this significant felt need.
It is an unavoidable truth that people invest and do the things that are meaningful to them. Think of how you choose what to do for your youth ministry program. Chances are most of what you do is based on the things that God used in significant ways in your own life when you were in student ministry. Youth ministry has now been around long enough that the power players at most churches remember the Hay Day of youth ministry and the significant role that ministry played in their faith development. They want their church to provide solid ministry for their own kids and their view of a thriving church includes a thriving student ministry. Most thriving student ministries are headed up by a paid point person.
For all the talk about family ministry and integration, the fundamental task of adolescence is still individuation and separation from their family’s faith. Students need a place separate from their parents where they can ask the hard questions, push back, run away, and still be seen and loved by the church at large. Student ministry provides a unique haven in this adolescent development where students can work out their faith separate from their mom while still being connected to the church. It is really brilliant if you think about it.
I know it is so cool to be pissed at the church and youth ministry for all the kids who walk away from faith. But stop and think about all the kids who have ever come through your ministry and reflect on the ways that God has grabbed ahold of. We need to actually stop and celebrate the great things that God is doing in them and through them now. This isn’t something to gloss over. A vast majority of those in leadership now in the Church with a capital C are people who were leaders in their student ministries. Praise God for the gutter to glory stories of those people who find Jesus all by themselves later in life. But when you start to ask around, those people are the exception. Youth ministry is the tool that God has and is continuing to use to clarify people’s call into His family, and into ministry.
For reals, name one. I know finances are hectic and churches have to be creative. But not hiring because of financial hard times is not the same as not doing youth ministry because of conviction. And the churches who are relying on faithful volunteers, whom I am honored to count as my colleagues, would pay those volunteers or someone else if they happened to win the Mega Millions Jackpot this last week.
While I do firmly believe that churches will continue to pay for people to work with students, they will no longer pay people who do shoddy work. Financial hardship is a reality in many of our contexts and every dollar matters. If our church leaders are going to be good stewards of their resources then they will only be paying people who will work hard and do a good job.
Gone are the days where youth workers are simply paid to goof off with students, play video games, eat pizza, and have a few informal bible studies at their house. If someone is being paid to run a youth ministry, then they will be expected to run a youth ministry. This includes program, administration, duties assigned by pastor, and then video game extravaganzas, all within a tight budget.
The good news is that our profession is here to stay! The bad news is that we will continue to be expected to work harder and be more effective than our predecessors. Friends, it is gut check time!
Are you still called to do ministry in this environment and with these expectations? Do you still love students, but may be losing steam on the professional aspect of it? Is it time to maybe need to call it quits? Or do you simply think I am full of crap and protecting my own paycheck?
Context: Driving a couple of high school boys to youth group talking about movies and the ones we want to see and the ones we are bummed we missed while they were in theaters.
Student: I really wanted to see Don Jon.
Me: That movie has an interesting premise. All that porn that you look at ultimately messed up your relationship with the woman you want to love. If you aren’t careful you will get used to porn and prefer it to actual sex and then you and your relationship / marriage will be in trouble.
Student: I just think Scarlett Johansson is hot.
(Here is some further reading on how porn is changing sexual appetites from the NY Magazine. The Porn Myth.)
For the last few months, and if I am honest, maybe the last few years, I have realized that my heart towards student ministry and really towards students has changed. What has happened is that over the years and years of student ministry, years and years of fickleness, heartbreak, death and destruction, my heart has gone into protection mode. I think I just couldn’t take the heartache of walking through the chaotic lives of students anymore. And unintentionally, I moved into self preservation mode.
I still provided an excellent program, excellent contact work, excellent trips, excellent talks, excellent discipleship, basically excellent student ministry. (or by best attempt at excellence) But I did all of this with my heart somewhat removed. Being too intimately involved with students is really the hardest part of student ministry, and I think I just couldn’t take it anymore.
Thankfully, Jesus isn’t done with me yet, and He gently revealed to me that my heart has grown cold and distant towards my students. So beginning in December I prayed a simple prayer, “Jesus, please grow my heart towards my students.”
$250,000. This is how much money I think that I am worth. The problem I am having is finding someone who agrees. Although this may be my worth, my value as a youth worker is significantly lower. And here is where the rub occurs. You see, we all have a strong sense of worth, but it is determining our value that is the true challenge.
The difference between worth and value can be clarified by a simple craig’s list transaction. A couple of years ago I wanted to get an iphone. I mean I couldn’t see straight, I wanted an iphone so bad. The deal was I had to pay cash for the phone and for whatever cost it would be to switch services. Easy enough. I grabbed my digital camera and started posting on craig’s list.
I quickly realized that items that were worth a certain amount to me, had a significantly lower street value. And at every sale, I had to decide what the items true value was. Sometimes I did ok, and sometimes I got taken pretty hard, but after a couple of weeks, my garage was clean and I was making calls on my new iphone.
What does this have to do with you or with me? It has to do with wrestling with our value as youth workers. How much money are we worth as youth workers? We feel called to student ministry and we feel called to work at a particular church. Then we are offered a salary package and with out even realizing it, we are confronted with the difference between our worth and our value.
No one tells us youth workers who simply want to serve God and love students that there is an actual science to salary negotiations. So after some painful negotiations of my own and a couple awful ones for some of my friends, here are a couple of pointers that may be helpful for you next time you are sitting around the salary negotiations table:
Ever since my first day in student ministry, my number one goal has been to cancel Sunday School. I mean, come on, everyone knows that Sunday school is the dumbest ministry model on the planet. It is awful on just about every level. 9:00 on a Sunday morning is the absolute worst time in the entire world for any sort of ministry, especially to adolescents. We try and try and try to make this hour of spiritual formation relevant and matter to a group of kids who could actually care less. But it seems as much as we try to put a nail in the coffin of this antiquated mode of ministry, I could never muster the political capitol to pull it off. That is, until the perfect storm of events allowed me to do just that.
This last spring we had to move our entire church off our main campus to a hotel ball room while we underwent some construction and renovations. We went from two services with spiritual formation and student Sunday school during the first gathering, to a situation where we were only going to have one service. The best part is that I didn’t even have a choice. There were logistically not enough rooms to do church, children’s ministry and Sunday School for students.
When I was approached with this dilemma, I hung my head in grief and said that I would, reluctantly, take one for the team and cancel Sunday School. On the inside, I was freaking out! It just happened. My dream for almost 20 years became a reality and it actually gained me political points instead of costing every point I have ever earned.
And I have to tell you, those first few months of not having Sunday School was a dream come true. There was no more Sunday morning anxiety or dread for having to face a room full of apathetic and judgmental kids. No more dealing with the zero feedback on the incredible curriculum I have put together for the morning. Yes, my only responsibility was to simply glad-hand students and their parents as they walked past to their seats, and again as they left. I WAS FREE!!
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR:
I love the new year! Out with the old and in with the new. As I chuck the past and lean into the future, there is one area that I have been increasingly sloppy in and therefore becoming less and less effective. This area is my calendar. This is the document that helps me maximize my time, keeps my social media time to a minimum and keeps me focused on my vision, values, and tasks for ministry.
Too often the tyranny of the urgent overwhelms our calendar and then we end up never getting the the important things we long to do in ministry, or even worse, we end up doing most of our ministry half assed. For me, I have let misc. appointments crowd out the appointments I must make and keep to keep my ministry moving forward. I have found myself wasting many hours wandering our office and campus visiting people, and just wandering.
I have found when I limit my office hours, then I crank out what I need to crank out, and then am free to meet with who I need to meet with. As I have erased my calendar, started from scratch, I have come up with a plan that will help me get after all that God has put on my heart to do in 2014!
In general, here is the breakdown:
A hard thing to remember when mapping out your calendar and hours is that your work hours are your work hours. We should honor our church and those people whose tithes are paying for our salaries and work hard for the hours we are assigned. This means that when we run, surf, hike, pray, get our teeth cleaned, go to the doctor’s office or the store, these are our personal hours. Everyone else in the world does these tasks after work and on weekends. Many of us professional youth workers have gotten in the bad habit of combing work and personal hours and then play, “Oh, poor me, I work 60 hours a week.” I am pretty sure you don’t.
This new year, let us have balance and intention in our hours and in our lives so we can fully get after all that God has put on our hearts for life and ministry.
Below is a calendar that I use to help keep all this straitened out and holds me and my staff accountable for our time and tasks. I would love to know what you do! Blessings!
As we gear up for a new year and new semester of ministry, it is easy to get caught up in urgent tasks and miss the mark on what we are actually called to do as youth workers. Now, don’t get me wrong, tasks like the details that go into a successful and engaging youth group, planning events, buying supplies and setting up fun games, the study and preparation for your talks, receipts, and contact work, are all important, but these tasks are only the action steps that must be informed by the four key tasks of student ministry. If you do these four tasks well then you will be a rock star for the kingdom of God and for your church!
I don’t know if it is like this for you, but for me, winter camp is often a programatic event that is surrounded by anxiety and angst. Anxiety around driving in the bad weather, losing over $1000 dollars because I scholarship too many kids, and all the potential drama and chaos that happens when tons of kids get together with minimal supervision
The angst often occurs because of my own issues and pride. It is difficult to enjoy camp because I have so many ways that the camp can improve their program. I can’t believe the camp didn’t choose me to be the speaker and instead they hired some chump who is only half the speaker I am. I love to sit in judgement of the program and of my kids. I usually cloak my pride in some intentional, smart sounding spiritual nonsense, but it is pride just the same!
Well that was before my 2014 New Year’s resolution:
For 2014 I am going to be unguarded. Over the years I have developed a calloused heart as the grind of student ministry has taken its toll. Too many years of apathy, fickleness, business, and broken promises and relationships. In order to protect my heart I have withdrawn emotionally and spiritually. But no more!
Camp has proven to be the best place to try it out!
We just got back from camp and it really was the best! It was truly a life changing event, and most of that is because I simply took off my angsty armor, and decided to stand unguarded with Jesus and with my students. I decided to not allow cynicism or pride get anywhere near me. And the result was actually getting to encounter the Holy Spirit, and to walk through some incredible spiritual conversations with my students.
I know for many of you, this is how you approach every camp. But no matter if you are naturally an optimistic person full of hope for all that God has for your students, or have an extra dose of pride that blinds your heart, may we all gear up and embrace winter camp! Thankfully God is bigger than where we happen to find ourselves spiritually and is faithful to use even the feeblest of efforts to draw our kids closer to Jesus. But when our heart is tuned, we get to be part of the process and have our hearts encouraged as well.
Because of my camp high, I am ready to dive into 2014:
With winter camp behind me, and taking full advantage of the mountaintop experience, I am expectant and hopeful for Jesus to do a fresh work in our students, in our ministry, and in me.
Are you ready for this new year? How do you combat cynicism? How do you stay unguarded after years of ministry? How are you leaning into the fresh start that God has for all of us in 2014?
Happy New Year and may God truly bless you and your ministry in this upcoming year.