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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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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…

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!