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This April there is an incredible conference for people who are called to children, students, and family ministry.  It is one of the best conferences I have ever been to, and if there is any way for you to get there, you should come.  Registration begins TODAY!!

As you prepare for all the tasks that are on your plate and are caring the heavy burden of ministry this week, I pray that you have a place in your life where you can be inspired and encouraged.  And if you don’t, then maybe this can be that place!  Sign up today and lets get our ORANGE on :)

scope

Writing curriculum is one of the most challenging endeavors a youth worker undertakes.  (I have found that it is hard even writing the word curriculum, mostly because I am a horrible speller.)  As hard as writing curriculum can be, what really makes a curriculum great or awful is its scope and cycle.  And this is where Orange’s XP3 Student ministry curriculum hits it out of the park!

It is often confusing cruising through a website and trying to figure out what is going on, why they do what they do, and how it all fits together. I get that 90% of that confusion is because I don’t pay attention and skim read. So, I really enjoyed sitting down and having the creators of this material, Jeremy Zach and Jared Herd, explain it to me.

These two guys and their team put together some really great material. But what is even more compelling is the values they begin with as they write their curriculum.

Here are a few values that form the foundation of how this curriculum is put together.

  • They understand that student ministry is truly cross cultural missionaries to this unique context. They get that our kids are more familiar with Karma then they are of Sin. Because of this they are going to approach biblical ideas and concepts full of truth, but in a way that can be translated to this culture.
  • No matter how great the script is or the teacher is, they genuinely believe that “the best teaching happens in a circle, not rows.” This approach means that leader training and small group questions are critical for the success and spiritual growth of our students. Because of this understanding, Orange makes sure they do both well.
  • XP stands for experience. Jared reminded us that all of us don’t remember one youth talk, but can all recall the ways God showed up on mission trips, service projects, camps, etc. And it is the XP that makes this curriculum so much more. Instead of simply passing on information, the core of this curriculum is providing opportunities and space for students to actually put it into practice, experience it, and be changed by it.
  • The picture at the top of the post shows how this annual scope and cycle work. “XP3 is designed as a comprehensive student curriculum that helps students experience their faith in three areas: Wonder, Discovery, and Passion. Every series falls under one of these areas, but because these are big concepts, we have identified core insights within each to help explain the focus of the series.”

This is an annual scope and cycle that is biblical, comprehensive, culturally astute, and takes the gospel and the transforming power of Christ seriously.

With that summary, I would like to offer a few thoughts . . .

1) You are not supposed to use everything that is in a curriculum. Youth pastors love being angsty and contrarian. For whatever reason we love looking down our nose at curriculum and scrutinize it throw out all the things that don’t work. What is so great about curriculum, is that chucking what doesn’t work is what you are supposed to do. You are paid to contextualize the material so it is applicable to your group.

2) Don’t be a lone-ranger. There is a large community of XP3 users who are sharing how they are contextualized material in their context. Be a learner, see what others are doing ask questions. This is put together by great people. We often think that curriculum comes down from “the man,” some faceless group of people just trying to take our money. But the truth is that every page is written by godly women and men who want nothing more than for your students to experience and be transformed by the love of Christ. The most amazing thing is that Jeremy is one of the smartest and most accessible people I have met in the Orange system. Any problem or issue, you simply need to call him and he will actually pick up and walk with you through whatever the problem is.

3) If you don’t use XP3 to help shape your scope and cycle to have a balanced and intentional ministry, how do you come up with your scope and cycle? Most curriculum does a good job of this. But if you don’t use any curriculum, how do you make sure you have a balanced curriculum? If you are not planned a year out, then please consider buying a curriculum that works for you and your context, or do the hard work of developing a complete scope and cycle, but it must cover at least 1 year, 2 is better, and 3 is best.

4) When you have a curriculum plan for the entire year you get the privilege of showing that off to parents. This plan builds trust and respect for you and your ministry. And that allows you more and more access to the parents and their children.
There has to be a plan! Use curriculum that does, or come up with it yourself, but must have a plan!,

I am so thankful for XP3 and their amazing staff for continually providing such excellent content that is intentional, thoughtful, and truly helpful. Your hard work raises the bar for us youth workers, and then equips us to get there! I would strongly encourage you to check it out!

If you don’t use XP3 what do you use? If you write your own, would you be willing to share your scope and cycle?

Orange Conference

As you contemplate these questions, also consider being encouraged and equipped this year at the Orange Conference!  Won’t you consider joining me and 6000 of my friends 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, and will be refreshment for your soul!

What is Orange?

October 6, 2014 — Leave a comment

 

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?

Orange Conference

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.

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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Most youth workers I know have gotten into student ministry because they love Jesus and they love kids.  Their heart and passion is often overflowing.  And this initial fire brings excitement, growth, and even some fruit.  If there is one thing youth workers are known for it is starting strong.  And on the flip side, the other thing youth workers are known for is flaming out!

Building a sustainable youth ministry takes a team.

Your initial love and passion can honestly only get you so far.  After about 6 months you have used up all your greatest talks, greatest games, greatest gimmicks, and you can see the fruit of your greatest work is starting to have diminishing returns.  Building a student ministry that lasts takes more than passion.  It takes an intentional plan to build a student ministry that will survive the waves and winds of this crazy job.

Like all buildings, the strongest and most stable are the ones who have the strongest infrastructure.  These buildings are not simple shelters, but they are highly engineered structures that require a team of experts to work together to draw plans and actually build.  And like a complex building, a sustainable student ministry needs much more than your passion and our expertise.

We get for a building project there must be engineers, architects, construction workers, contractors, interior designers, electricians, plumbers, and on and on.  But do you really get that your student ministry needs a team as well.

Orange as a vital partner in sustainable student ministry.

Continue Reading…


How Many Hours Does the Church Get With Kids and Students?

I know that this video clip talks about children’s ministry and sunday mornings, but the message is just as clear for those who work with students.  In children’s ministry the church is luck to have kids for 40 hours a year.  For those of us working with students the numbers at best double.

If you include youth group, sunday school, and big church there is still no way that we are even close to having 100 hours a year of ministry with our students.  And this 100 hour figure is being generous with our most committed students.  No matter how you slice it, the church is lacking in the amount of face time we get with children and students.  This necessarily isn’t a bad thing, unless those of us in vocational ministry think that our time with children and students is the most important and most valuable spiritual formation that happens in the life of kids.

Continue Reading…

Orange is the new Black

September 30, 2013 — Leave a comment

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Ok, this blog post isn’t about the new Netflix show, Orange is the New Black. But it is about Orange and how all over the blogosphere Orange leaders are spending the week promoting Orange!

What is Orange? That is a good question. Orange is a ministry philosophy, a curriculum / strategy resource, and an epic conference designed to encourage and equip those who are like minded in ministry.

Throughout this week some of my friends and I will will be writing about some of the many facets of Orange and the upcoming Orange conference. There will be product reviews, give-a-ways, and general encouragement towards the Orange strategy. Below is a list of the bloggers who are participating this week. I highly recommend you take a look at them and even add them to your RSS feed.

Continue Reading…

youth specialtiesCan you believe it? It is finally here. That most amazing gift a church can ever give to their youth worker, a youth ministry conference!! Your bags are packed, your room is booked, and it is time to go and get some freebies. For one weekend we get to take off our mantle of responsibility and leadership, and become participants, students, and receivers. Whether it is Youth Specialties, Orange, Simply Youth Ministry, or I Still Do, a youth ministry conference is the one time a year that us youth workers get to actually go to camp, and not just put it on.

And like camp, there are some things that we need to do to prepare ourselves so that we can have an amazing time and get the most out of our time away. Every year before we take students to camp or on mission trips we give them a little pep talk, so here is yours :) These are the top 10 ways to get the most out of your conference experience. Continue Reading…

Try XP3 for FREE!

September 19, 2012 — Leave a comment

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Being that it is Orange week and we are getting the ball rolling for the annual Orange conference in HOTlanta this spring, the nice people at XP3 are giving away one of their series for FREE!!  So follow the steps below and try out this amazing curriculum.

300x250_curric1“XP3 is designed as a comprehensive student curriculum that helps students experience their faith in three areas. Wonder. Discovery. Passion.  XP3 Students is part of Orange, a comprehensive strategy for all age groups.

XP3 gives you a plan. You’re in control of how you use it.

Try our XP3 Students “Intersect” series for free and see the difference for yourself.

Before you sign up for the free series, feel free to read more about us on the XP3 Students blog, or find out more about Orange and XP3 by visiting ThinkOrange.com.

When you’re ready to “Try XP3 for Free”, just follow these steps to get started:

• Go to https://secure.rethinkgroup.org/v1/registration/?prod=XP3S

• Complete the requested information

• When you get to the order information page, scroll down to the Promo Code field, enterXP3FREESERIES4 and click apply code

• Complete the requested information.

Please contact our XP3 team at xp3@rethinkgroup.org should you have any questions.”

If you are interested in coming to the conference in Atlanta, make sure you check out the conference website today.

I think Will Smith was onto something with this anthem for all those angsty kids in the late 80’s.  And now as someone who works with students and has to deal with parents all the time, this anthem could be just as applicable for us youth workers today!

As youth workers, our entire lives are wrapped up in connecting with students and helping them connect to Jesus.  We spend countless hours doing contact work, developing compelling youth groups, and planning special trips and camps.  And the worst part is that parents just don’t understand!

How many times have we had conversations with parents who just don’t seem to get the importance of what we are doing.  It is us who are standing in the gap, who are the last line of defense in the faith development of their children.  They don’t help their kids show up at youth group or our special events.  They seem to think sports, school, and family vacations are more important than youth group.  How do they not realize how important our programs are?

This regular frustration of mine got a major tweak this last weekend.

Continue Reading…

teacher1To buy curriculum or to write your own?

This is a debate that never seems to die.  The young guns have convictions, the veterans have their experience, the big churches have resources and the smaller ones are simply happy to have someone show up and love kids.  In the midst of all these differences there still is the un answered question of whether or not this is a good idea.

Here is the deal, we all come to the table with a completely different gift set and context in which we find ourselves. And because of that, we all need help and support in different areas.  However, no matter what kind of ministry you lead, no matter how big or small your context is, you MUST have a curriculum.  The real question is what will your curriculum be.

There must be some rhyme or reason to what you teach and when you teach it.  Purchased curriculum is great in that it lays out what each lesson is and usually puts it together in a cycle that builds upon itself and reinforces the lessons that have been taught.  There are many good options out there for this.  My favorite is XP3 by Orange.  I have written a little bit about their scope and cycle before.

Who needs curriculum, I have the Holy Spirit!

Continue Reading…

Tonight I received the most amazing gift from God.

Like most good gifts, it is one that is unexpected and undeserved. It was the gift of experiencing the first Main Stage at Orange with fresh eyes.

The sad truth is that I have reached a place in my life where my eyes are often weary and critical. My once optimism and idealism has taken a hit. And the result is that my posture towards events and institutions is often one of hostility. Now because I am a professional Christian I do a good job of hiding this reality with thoughtful insights and constructive criticisms, but the truth is that I often first see everything wrong, and only occasionally get to what might be right.

Like many of my friends here at Orange, I have really been looking forward to coming to Atlanta and enjoying a good conference. Who doesn’t? Without even realizing it, I think I have become inoculated to the power of an event like Orange. Of course there will be quality worship, clever skits and videos, impressive lights and smoke machine, and well known speakers. So an amazing job is really a C in my book. Any mistake causes the grade to go down, and the only way to get above a C would by inviting me to speak at main stage.

But this year is different.

Instead of traveling alone to this event and spending all my time with my bitter youth pastor friends, I came with my children’s ministry team. This group of women are some of the hardest working and most faithful team members I have ever had the privilege to serve with. They are all part time and have served our church faithfully for years and some for more than a decade.

This year we found a way for them to come to Orange and experience a conference where I knew they would be encouraged, equipped, and blessed. It turns out that there presence allowed me to share in their experience.

If you have ever taken a child to Disneyland, that is what today felt like at the Orange conference. As adults it is easy to dismiss all that goes into making Disneyland the happiest place on earth. But when children go there, they are overjoyed with every surprise that awaits them around every corner.

Instead of viewing the conference in my normal, ho-hum sort of way, I viewed every detail, every booth, every give-a-way, every taco truck through the fresh eyes of my staff. And by the time main stage started I was primed to encounter the entire evening a fresh. The result was “Game Changing!”

In case you have grown comfortable with the conference setting, I wanted to highlight some of the things that Orange did on main stage that was so impacting to me and to my team.

The opening skit of celebrating famous people singing parody songs for the different areas of ministry was not only clever, but was exactly what the doctor ordered to be encouraging to a group of people who work their butts off for their church with little to no recognition. Youth and children’s workers don’t do what they do for the glory or the money. They do it because they are called by God and faithful servants.

But what we all need is to be seen and to have what we do and the range of emotions that we experience as we do it be validated. And the Orange team delivered big time. By seeing us, validating us, speaking our love language, we are able to let our guard down and truly dig in to the rich meal that was served up.

If you have never been to a conference like this, it is overwhelming to have your call validated. I remember the first time I ever went to a large youth conference, I was blown away that the job that is the bottom run in status and influence in my church was lifted high and celebrated. This is what my children’s staff got to experience tonight. Their hours and hours of preparation and implementation that often goes unseen was lifted up, celebrated, and their calling affirmed.

As we made our way through the liturgy of the evening, the Orange team and Reggie hit it out of the park in highlighting the need for diversity as we cling to the unity of the gospel. This gospel we cling to, that we have the privilege to experience ourselves and to share with others was made brand new by the Spirit of God this evening.

Because I was actually open and expectant for God to show up, he did. Amazing!

The question was posed in the middle of the service, “What game needs to change, and am I willing to do what it takes to be a game changer?” Tonight I was struck that the game that needs to change is to get back to my first love, my love of God and my love for students. The game of trying to find the next best thing is actually that I need to reintroduce love back into the equation.

For me, in my little context, the game changing thing God is calling me into is actually simple, but difficult for me. The call is to allow my heart to grow and to continue to give it away with out abandon. It is so easy to protect it from pain, but this new adventure is to give up control and protection of my heart and allow myself to be hurt and crushed by our students, so that I can also experience the joy and celebration if and when Christ grabs a hold of their hearts.

My action plan is simply: I will pour my guts into the students that God has entrusted to me and to our church, and I will seek out and find those students who are lost so that I can pour my guts into them.

We can not do what we are called to do without getting messy. Giving our hearts away to our students and walking through this season of life with them is messy. But it is in this mess where we can encounter the presence of God and be transformed by his Spirit. And until our student figure it out for themselves, I am going to re-commit myself to carrying their mat to Jesus until by faith they get up and walk!

I am thankful for my children’s ministry team and for their commitment to Christ and his church. And I am thankful that God used their fresh eyes to give me fresh eyes, so that I could be expectant for God to show up, and celebrate that fact that he did!

And that was just day 1. Look out!

May I never get jaded with the gospel or the privilege to share it

 

In less then a week, I am heading to the A.T.L. to spend time at one of the greatest ministry conferences out there. I am going to the annual Orange Conference. In case you have never heard of it, you should spend some time on their webiste.

Our church has gone Orange a little over a year ago and we are already seeing some amazing fruit. First and foremost from the philosophy, and then through their engaging, relevant, biblical, and fun curriculum. I am excited to take my children’s ministry team with me and be encouraged, inspired, and equipped for another year of ministry!

There is great line up of speakers and seminars. And like everything done with Orange it will be an excellent conference. But what I am looking forward to the most is spending time with my team dreaming about ministry, connecting with my colleagues in ministry, and staying out late dominating the youth ministry dodgeball tournament.

I have the honor and privilege of not just attending, but of being on the blogging / social media team for the conference. Thankfully I have learned a little bit about both so I can actually contribute this year :) What that means is that myself and a handful of other great bloggers will be sharing their experiences, their notes, their impressions, and whatever else comes to mind with their friends who may not have the opportunity to attend this year.

Here is the list of my fellow orange bloggers. Reading their posts will help you feel like you are actually there in the arena with 5000 of your closest friends, in the dirty south, eating Chick Filet, hanging out with Andy Standly and Kara Powel. Ok, it probably won’t do any of those things. But you will be encouraged and get the most important nuggets handed to you on a silver platter with all the fixin’s. (That is like 3 southern references in one paragraph, not bad!)

Time to get my Crunk on! (in a hip/hop sort of way)

I started youth ministry back when mailing flyers with clip art out of a book was the best and most effective way to communicate with parents.  As I grew in skills I began to make calendars on Microsoft Publisher and would occasionally send out letters to parents to promote special events like a trip to Mexico or a parent meeting.

Because this was the time that formed my communication world view, I came late to embracing all the technology available to me to communicate to parents and to students.  This is my excuse.  What is yours?

I am shocked at how many of my youth worker friends do not have regular communication with parents.  In an age of technology, email, databases, etc, communicating regularly with parents is the number one way to score big points for you and your ministry.

Perception is Reality

The biggest gripe I hear from parents is that they don’t know what is going on.  As a youth worker who is a great planner, this excuse chafed on me big time.  All the information for events would be in the bulletin, on the quarterly calendar, on the website, and sent home on flyers.  But with all of these outlets, parents still managed to miss what was going on in our ministry and the details about events.   And the biggest bummer is that perception is reality.  So if it was perceived that the information was unclear, then it was.

How parents perceive your organizational and communication skills is the true test of how you are doing in these two categories.  We cannot be scared of this feedback.  Instead, we must embrace it and address it.  Here is how my team did it.

Email Parents Once A Week

Like I said at the start, this is easy.  It is not rocket science  If you already do this, then good job, quit reading, and check out one of my fellow Orange bloggers.  If you aren’t, SHAME ON YOU!!  This is a must, and a huge win for you and your ministry.

In our weekly emails we :

·      Get to share the vision and purpose of our group.

·      Encourage parents to love their kids.

·      Encourage parents to pray for me and for our ministry.

·      Empower parents to take away excuses for their kids to miss youth group or events.

·      Share resources that they may find helpful.

·      Share stories of how God is at work in our ministry.

·      Communicate upcoming lessons for both follow-up and open dialogue in case it gets a little spicy.

·      Highlight upcoming events and communicate details.

·      Remind parents of RSVP dates and links so they can sign up right there on the spot.

·      Provide an easy way for parents to get a hold of me, because my email is always in their inbox somewhere.

·      Give the impression that I am easily accessible.

·      Become a weekly reminder that their church has a youth pastor and a youth program that is worthy of their consideration.

Logistically, this can be a challenge.  This is how we did it:

We spent a lot of hours contacting every parent in our youth ministry’s database and added a field for parents’ email.  This is a long and awful task.  But once this is done, the maintenance is super easy.

Now, whenever a new person comes to youth group we collect their contact information.  But we added a step where we mail home a letter to their parents explaining what their kid showed up at, explaining our youth ministry, who I am, and how to contact me.  We also invite the parents to share their contact information with us so they can stay in the loop with our weekly emails.

We have been going at this strong for several years now and the response has been amazing.  I have not heard one complaint about communication or about the lack of information regarding an event.  Parents can simply look in their inbox to find everything they need to know.  The only down side is that all of our parents know I am a horrible speller and have no sense of grammar.  (Just like my fellow blog readers.)  And like I said before, if you already send out these emails, you should have stopped reading 300 words ago.

Why is this post part of Orange week?

The Orange philosophy has solidified my conviction that parents must be partners in student ministry.  I have spent many years being scared and intimidated by parents.  Truthfully, I still am.  But by keeping them in the loop, respecting their rightful place in the lives of their own kids, and inviting a partnership with them has opened up conversation, deepened trust, and made for some of the most fruitful seasons of ministry ever.

If you are unfamiliar with Orange, I would encourage you to check it out.  They are an amazing resource for youth workers and for families.  I can not wait to get out to Atlanta for the annual convention.  I hope you consider coming along.   Sign up this week and save some money.  No matter if you are an Orange Kool-Aid drinker like me or not, communicating with parents is a no-brainer and a must.

This is how a technological newbie does his communication.  How do you do it?  What templates, software or programs do you use?

The conference is over, you have checked out of your hotel, and it is now time to head back home. For the past several days you have had the amazing opportunity to be free from leadership responsibilities, drama, and obligations. You have been able to wonder around as you please, sleep in, visit with friends, and stay up too late. You have been encouraged and sharpened spiritually and vocationally. And it is now time to wrap it up and reengage life, real life, the life to which you were really called to live. If we are not careful, it is easy to come in at the wrong angle and disintegrate as we reenter. It takes intentional effort to maximize all that God has done in you this week and to make sure the seed lands in fertile soil. Here are 10 simple ways to survive reentry:

1) Remember, this was just a break, not real life: Whenever we have some sort of spiritual high, the knee-jerk reaction is to build a tabernacle and want to say there a while longer. The picture we get again and again in scripture is that we get moments of clarity on the mountain, but our call is in the valley. Our homes and churches are the place we are called. This time away is not our real life, it is simply a break. It is time to get back to it.

2) The grass is not greener somewhere else: It seems like every speaker and every new friend you make comes from a context where ministry is amazing and God is alive and at work. We all put our best foot forward. It usually isn’t until a few months after we get married that we let it all hang out. Until that point we all share the best of our context. If you really thought about it, you could tell some story about how God is moving in your context that would blow someone away. Every context has great stories of God’s goodness, and every context has difficult bosses, fickle students, and limited budgets. No matter where you go, you are still there. Ask God to continue to refine you, so you can be all he desires in your context.

3) Brainstorm a list of where God is already at work in your context: If we don’t intentionally reflect on this, we easily forget all the ways God has been faithful and become bitter because our context isn’t as great as all the people’s at the conference. A long list of places God has shown up will go a long way to soothe a bitter heart. I bet you will be surprised and encouraged.

4) Don’t verbally process with your supervisor: I am sure you had several epiphany regarding the programming and philosophy of your context. It never goes well when you come back guns blazing and tear apart all the work and ideas your supervisor has been pouring their life into for the past few years. What you were given at the conference was an idealized, best case scenario. Be inspired and work it out, even come up with a plan. But don’t verbally process with your supervisor. This ends up being hurtful and divisive.

5) Try and implement one new idea: There were so many great ideas that you had at the conference. However, because you have so many, most of them fade away and never get implemented or even thought about. Instead of storing up a million ideas for when things get perfect, pick one or two of them that are ready to go within your current model and context and do it. The minor tweaks and improvements will be well received and the small wins build confidence and good will toward the larger ideas that you desire to implement down the road.

6) Take 3 hours this week and sort through all you learned: There were more than just little fixes you thought about and wrestled through while you were away. In just a matter of days all of this will become a fleeting memory. To take full advantage of all that was revealed to you on the mountain, make sure you take some significant time this week to reflect on and wrestle with all that you learned. If you have some big moves to make, this is the time to come up with a plan to implement it. If you are not intentional, your week will get away from you, and the next week, and soon an entire year will go by with you never even dreaming about where you could go, let alone developing a plan, let alone put one into play.

7) Don’t make any sudden movements: Often after a retreat it feels like God has something new for you personally or for the church. It is now clear that you should leave your job, or implement a brand new ministry philosophy. That is great. While it may be true and it may even be God’s will, do not do it suddenly. Churches are made up of people and people don’t like change. We need to be eased into it. So don’t be hasty. God’s will will be the same in a month or two. If you have dramatic changes afoot, be slow and steady.

8: Be a good listener to your friends and family: While you have been away learning, growing, and being encouraged, there have been people in your life back home that have been living their own lives full of joys and sorrow. Before you open up the fire hose on them, close your mouth and listen to them, to their stories, to all that has been going on while you were gone. This group of people are the core of your real life, therefore we should treat them as such and honor and value the real lives they have been living in our absence.

9) Take a nap this week in your office or car: I don’t know about you, but after a retreat, I am exhausted. I know I didn’t do any real work, but for whatever reason all the conversations, sessions, seminars, late nights and early mornings wear me down. I have found that my life back home has zero empathy for needing rest after a convention. So, zip your lip about being tired. Get your work and family obligations done, then take a nap in your office. Or pull into a parking lot and take a nap. You need the rest, but it is better that it is done in secret. :)

10) Thank your staff and volunteers who have held down the fort: Most of us had program happen while we were away. This did not happen on its own. We have great staff, paid and volunteer how stepped up in huge ways this week to give us space to be at a conference. We can not take that for granted. Make sure you pick up some gift cards, buy some pedicures, and say thank you to the people who went above and beyond for our benefit.

I hope you had a great time at your conference and that God did show up in a new and fresh way. I pray that you would be encouraged and empowered by your time on the mountain, and as you begin to reengage, you would bring back a heart overflowing with grace and mercy. Let us die to the bitterness and angst at the disappointments of how things are back home. Instead, may we return home with fresh eyes that are full of life and hope. May your plans be his plans, and may all of this be for the glory of God.

Can you believe it? It is finally here. That most amazing gift a church can ever give to their youth worker, a youth ministry conference!! Your bags are packed, your room is booked, and it is time to go and get some freebies. For one weekend we get to take off our mantle of responsibility and leadership, and become participants, students, and receivers. Whether it is Youth Specialties, Orange, Simply Youth Ministry, or I Still Do, a youth ministry conference is the one time a year that us youth workers get to actually go to camp, and not just put it on.

And like camp, there are some things that we need to do to prepare ourselves so that we can have an amazing time and get the most out of our time away. Every year before we take students to camp or on mission trips we give them a little pep talk, so here is yours :) These are the top 10 ways to get the most out of your conference experience.

10: This is Our Camp: Our students love camp, they wait for it all year. Their parents fork over all this money and they get to go along for a wild ride. Everything is set up for them to have a great time. All that is left is for the camper to show up and enjoy all that God has for them. But instead of us doing all the work, we get to be participants. There will be great music, amazing speakers, and plenty to learn There will be tons of opportunities to grow in our faith, our competencies, and our connections. We are not in charge. So for once, let us soak up all the hard work that someone else has done and actually receive it all as a gift.

9: Take a Seminar You Don’t Agree With: We all have our hobby horses. In fact my favorite thing is to hang out with people who agree with me and reinforce my amazing theology and model of ministry. And when I get bored with thinking that I am so great, I then think of opposing views and set them up as straw men, just to destroy them. But most of these other positions in theology and practice aren’t straw men, they are points of view by passionate believers who are committed to their pursuits. Being challenged in your theology and practice will actually sharpen you and cause genuine growth. Because we are all at the same conference, chances are you already agree on the big stuff, so let the small stuff sharpen and refine you.

8: Stay Up Too Late: We have to be responsible in every area of our lives, especially in our jobs as youth worker. When we take students to camp we are the ones who monitor the rooms to make sure our students go to bed. Have you ever realized how much fun our students have after bed time. They stay up late, laughing, telling stories, and sharing their deepest darkest. The best stuff always happens after bed time. The same is true at a conference. Don’t go to bed at 10:00. When everyone gets a second wind and heads out to a pub, grab your ID and get going. If a beer will get. you fired, just buy a Shirley Temple. Just don’t go to bed. This is when it starts to get good.

7: Don’t Go to Everything: Ever conference I have ever been to has way to many options. There are main stages, break out seminars, network meetings, discussion groups, etc. Our brains can only take so much input. Find the ones that are most interesting and helpful, go to those and ditch the rest. This conference is our one time a year to get recharged. If we cram our brains with too much information, we will get worn out before we even get home. Hit the beach, catch a game, take a nap, read a book, meet up with friends. Think of it as extended free time.

6: Find 3 Practical Take-A-Ways: There is so much to learn at a conference. Everyone has a good idea that will revolutionize your ministry. Remember, all of these people are trying to sell you something. You have a very specific context in which you do ministry. You know your students the best. Instead of getting swept up with some latest and greatest. Find 3 practical things you can add to your current ministry to tweak it and improve it. Once you have your three, stop. Quit going to seminars, take a break and relax. It is a total disservice if you leave conference ready to chuck what you have been doing for a brand new ministry model. Trust what God has called you to do, and strive to improve it with something practical.

5: Wrestle With One New Concept: You will be challenged to adopt all sorts of new ministry models, curriculum, and causes. While I think it is silly to chuck what you have been doing because of some great marketing, It is important to be open to new things that God has for you and your ministry. There is no way to do everything that is presented. Instead of giving it all equal weight, use some patience and discernment. Use the conference experience for God to begin or confirm a new work in you and in your ministry. Don’t think that a half week conference is enough time for a new conviction, model, or cause to be planted, germinate, grow, and produce fruit. Usually just one of these growing metaphors can happen. So wrestle with one new concept and simply take it to just the next level.

4: Connect, Connect, Connect: We continually tell our students to choose friends who will spur them on to know Christ more fully. We too need to choose our friends and colleagues who will spur us on to deeper and better ministry. We need fellow sojourners to commiserate with, celebrate with, and to speak truth into our lives. Our pastor won’t do it, parents, won’t, our spouse won’t, and for sure students won’t. Fellow youth workers, who get students, the church, this crazy job are some of the greatest resources available to us. Use every opportunity available to connect. Denominational gatherings, women in ministry gatherings, urban gatherings, rural gatherings, whatever. If they offer free food even better. Make new friends, nurture old ones, just connect and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you through this unique community in this unique setting.

3: Meet Up With a Conference Pastor: It totally sucks that in order to be a ministry leader means that our entire lives have to be put together. We have to have victory over all our sin, have a plan for our ministry, we know how to handle every crazy situation, and we can not worry about silly, worldly things like finances. None of this is true. We need priests who we can bear our soul to and confess our sin to and, for at least a moment, be the broken people we really are, and not get fired for it. Conference pastors get to be our priests who will listen to us, pray for us, and offer grace and wisdom. It is so old trying to be the spiritual hero all the time. For one hour, give it up and share what is really going on in your life and in. your heart. Confess your sin and be healed.

2: Get Over Yourself: When you look at the roster of who is speaking and presenting, it is easy to be a little bit bitter and prideful. You are a gifted ministry leader and you have a ton to share and teach. What do these guys and gals know that you don’t. You run a successful ministry and you are the one who is just as qualified to teach that seminar. The only problem is that you aren’t. Instead of being bitter or prideful, try to learn something. If you want to teach so bad, then put a proposal together and get rejected a few times. Maybe one day you will get chosen to present only to be judged by your peers. The truth is there is always something to learn, so let’s learn. When your turn comes to teach, then teach. But this year, let’s be open to new ideas and fresh perspectives from gifted leaders in our field and average youth workers like you and me.

1: Be Expectant: At the end of the day, our attitude 100% shapes what we take a way from any conference experience Most of what makes camp so great is that students expect to meet God in fresh and bold ways. And sure enough, God shows up. The same is true for us. God has all sorts of work to do on our souls and in our ministries. When we actually open our eyes and get in a posture of receiving, the flood gates will open up. God wants nothing more than to encourage us in our faith and in our calling. Let us cut away the parts of our hearts that are hard, cold, judgmental, self-righteous, and rude, and ask God to give us his eyes, his ears, his heart as we lean into all that God has for us.

May God use every single thing while we are away to restore our weary souls. Every session, every speaker, every conversation to fill up our cups to overflowing so that we can go back to our ministry context and live fully into the woman or man that God called us to be. Let us soak up this mountain top experience so we can enter back into the valley with clear vision and purpose. And may all of it be to the glory of God. Blessings!

Later this week I have an amazing opportunity! I am flying to Atlanta, Georgia to not only attend, but also participate (in a very small way) in the Orange Ministry Conference. In case you have never heard of Orange, or are not yet going Orange, I highly recommend spending some time around their website. Here is the basic gist:

“Orange is a strategy for combining critical influences in life to fuel faith in the next generation. Orange is a path, a strategy that combines the strength of two – yellow and red – to create the brilliance of another, Orange. By combining the critical influences of the light of the church and the love of the family, the Orange strategy synchronizes efforts and shows a generation who God is, more effectively than either could alone.”

A Curriculum That Matches My Heart and Values:

That is packed paragraph. But this little paragraph has given words and affirmation to something that God has been doing in my heart for a long, long time. My heart is fully wrapped up in walking with students so that they will become adult followers of Christ. And the longer I have been doing this, the more I see how little my piece of the pie really is in accomplishing this goal. It is me, it is the church, it is the family.

For me, the Orange philosophy and strategy is relatively new, in fact I came across it totally by accident. My children’s ministry director and I were looking at some curriculum choices for the summer. And as she was searching, she came across the Orange website. As she looked at all the information and the videos, and the resources, she became convinced that this would be fun for the summer. But as we talked and prayed about it, it became clear that Orange is not going to be just for the summer, but is going to be the direction we need to be implementing in for our children’s ministry, and in our student ministry.

Right now we are in the end of the planning stage for launching Orange in our ministry context. We have done all the reading, we have bought the curriculum, we have educated our team, and now we are implementing. We gave ourselves the summer to figure it out and work out the kinks. But because it is so helpful and the Orange people are so supportive, it is all coming together faster and smoother than expected.

So, this upcoming week I am getting a last minute crash course in Orange before we jump in with both feet! While I am in Atlanta, I will also be learning from the best in the children and student ministry. Doug Fields, Andy Stanley, Ron Hall, Reggie Joiner, Sue Miller, Kara Powell, David Kinnaman, Chap Clark, Mark Matlock, and a ton more. But here is the crazy part:

I Also Get to be a Very Small Part of the Story:

Because of you, I get to go not just as a spectator, but a participant. I have been chosen, along with a couple dozen other people to be a “guest blogger.” You might be asking yourself, “What is a guest blogger?” That is a great question. Because, before I was asked to do this, I never really considered myself a blogger at all. But apparently I have crossed over and I am now a blogger. And now I get be a guest one at that.

As a guest blogger I get full access to the entire conference. I will have an opportunity to rub shoulders with some of these speakers and ministry leaders. I am encouraged to meet as many people as I can, interview as many people as I can, and share my experiences with you. Because of this great opportunity, I am going to spend this entire week on this blog dedicated to Orange. Now, I am new to the Orange movement so I will be engaging this entire conference as a rookie. I have a ton of questions and a ton of excitement as I spend time with people who share a heart for bringing Christ to the next generation.

I look forward to sharing with you my wrestling with this strategy as we try and implement it in our context that is unique and challenging. I look forward to sharing and reflecting on the main stage speakers and break out sessions. And mostly I look forward to connecting with new and old friends as we all strive to be faithful to this unique call into student ministry.

If you have any questions about anything Orange or are looking for a little inside scoop, let me know and I’ll get on it. Well, that is about it. It is about time to pack my bags and head off to Atlanta to be a “guest blogger.” :) For one week I am going to lean into the blogospher and live into what ever that means. Thank you for your love and support in this writing thing. I recognize I would never have this experience without this unique and strange blogging relationship. Come next Monday, I will settle back into the average youth worker God has called me to be, and back to the unique and amazing students in my specific context. But for now, bring on the freebies :)

One More Thing:

I almost forgot. If you are at all interested in this Orange thing, check out the Orange Leaders website. They will be pod-casting the entire thing, so grab a coffee and enjoy. You can also check out some of my fellow guest bloggers posts and give them some love too. PEACE!

Is Zac Efron still relevant?

No matter how great your ministry is now, or how hip and with it you are today, in just a matter of months, everything will seem so dated.  I had a moment like this recently when I noticed I still have an “I love Zac Efron” sticker in my office.  That joke was so cool 4 years ago. Sad.

In the same way, some of the practices of youth ministry that have proven to be really effective are becoming dinosaurs in this current age of student ministry.  If left to myself I would still be mailing out flyers with amazing clip art, singing my guts out to the Shine, and building community by having students play the human knot.  (although, I still love that game)

Thankfully, I have had the privilege of being around really amazing, young, and fresh youth workers who love me and speak into me and my ministry.  Even though I am old enough to be their youth pastor, and even was for a couple of them, They are the ones who are the future of student ministry and the ones who inspire me.   They are still un-jaded in their passion to love students and are un-cynical in the ways they actually expect students to meet Jesus and be transformed.  I have learned that these young guns are the ones that I need to be around, listening to their heart’s and practices in ministry.  I need to continue to weigh my current practices against theirs, and what I am finding is that more often than not, my practices are left wanting.

A welcomed wake up call:

A little over a year ago, I did just that.  One of the young guys that mentor me in student ministry is an amazing youth pastor from Modesto, CA. Erik Anderson is easily one of the greatest up and coming youth pastors I know.  He has a solid ministry that seems to balance perfectly; big fun and spiritual depth, as well as balancing a complex program with depth of relationship.  (You read about him here first)

Anyway, a little over a year ago I was bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t connect with parents as easily as I had before because our budget froze and we could not longer do our monthly mailings.  Erik proceeded to bring me into the 21st century and told me about email.  What Erik does, and I assume many of you do, is send regular emails to your parents to inform them about what is going on in your ministry.  Erik sends them out weekly, and as a good student, I followed suit.  For the last six months I have sent out weekly emails to parents and have saved thousands of dollars on stamps.

A great ministry practice:

Sending out weekly emails to parents has been the single most transforming thing I have ever done in student ministry.  With this one simple act, I have an opportunity to:

  • Inform parents on what is happening in our ministry
  • Inform parents about upcoming trips and events
  • Inform parents about the topics and lessons that will be discussed each week.
  • Share highlights of what God is doing in and through our ministry.
  • Remind parents that our church even has a student ministry
  • Keep the lines of communication continually open between parents and me.

A great practice, made even better:

All of this is so good and rich.  But, as I have been reading Reggie Joiner’s book, Think Orange, I continue to get my views of ministry challenged.  And like other areas of my ministry, the weekly emails have gotten a fresh look.  And while I thought I was doing a great job, I have realized that this great ministry practice could be made even better.

In one section Joiner says:

“If you think yellow (that is only thinking about church stuff),
You promote what you want parents to know about your programs.
When you think orange (that is thinking that combines the church, yellow, and the family, red),
You focus on what you want parents to do at home.

I was so excited to learn about this new tool called email that I went right to work using it.  And the truth is that I have used it effectively to promote what I wanted parents to know about all the great programs I have planned for their children.  And now I get to go back to the drawing board and continue to tweak my ministry so that I can continue to be an effective youth worker.  The system is already in place with the emails.  Now all I need to do is change the focus.  Instead of me and my programs being the focus, I can use this tool to encourage and equip parents to continue the spiritual formation at home.

I am so thankful for my colleagues who speak into my life, especially the young ones.  I am thankful for authors who challenge me to think deeply and to do ministry better.  I am thankful that youth ministry is a continually changing target and requires youth workers who are life long learners.  And I am thankful that the vast majority of youth workers I have the pleasure of working alongside are life long learners who are driven, sharp, funny, and deep!

Come to the Orange Conference with me:

I mentioned in my last blog that I have been invited to blog about my experience at the upcoming Orange Conference.  If you are interested in wrestling with how to Think Orange and partner more closely with parents, then please consider coming to this conference.  If you sign up this week you will get $30 off.  And if you don’t mind going over/under, we could room together and save some money that way too :)

Thank you fellow youth workers for encouraging me to stay at it in this every changing ministry landscape and for spurring me on to richer and deeper ministry!