What You’re Not Doing

hospital-6-1518170I often joke “I’m not the person you want sent out to do hospital visits; mercy doesn’t register on my spiritual gifts tests.” While I am mostly joking, mercy isn’t one of my primary gifts. I am to work at it, show it, but it isn’t something that necessarily is the most life-giving thing for me to do. However, it’s part of the “job” of being “pastor” (and I’d argue, it’s part of the job description of a Christian).

Sometimes we just have to do things that aren’t our favorite things to do, but they are good for us and help refine, reshape and retool us.

I spend a lot of time with people in ministry, and especially youth ministry (all over the country). Over the last few years I have seen a growing list of things I’d expect a youth pastor to do go neglected. Quite frankly, there are some things that I think we ought to do more, that we aren’t.

My hope is that those in ministry would use this quick list to self-assess. May it serve as an encouragement for those who are doing these things. I hope it’s a fine-tuning-tool for some who need to make some adjustments and may it be a fire-starter for those who recognize it’s time to step-up.

You’re Not Studying The Bible. I love that organizations and curriculum like Stuff You Can Use, DYM, YM360 and Orange exist– however, I believe you have become too reliant upon the writers of these curriculums to do the work for you. As a writer for one of these curriculums, I implore you, make the study your own, personalize it for yourself and then for your group. Please learn and understand the truths you’re presenting– students will recognize your convictions and can tell when they are your convictions or a script you’re reciting.

pexels-photo-933964.jpegYou’re Not Sharing Your Faith. It’s known that most students don’t share the Gospel with their peers because they fear rejection and they are afraid they’ll mess it up (not have the right words). However, I believe one other MAJOR reason– they haven’t had it modeled. Jesus commissioned US to “make disciples.” You are to help believers grow (mature) but we are to share the salvation message with those who don’t yet know. You want students to start sharing? Model it by talking about your experiences sharing your faith with your non-believing peers. Our students can learn and be inspired by Dare 2 Share, but you have the opportunity to impact all the more when you model it.

spectators-at-an-event-1456971You’re Not Going To Them. I love helping Youth Pastors design and develop a weekly rhythm. Way-too-many youth leaders have moved away from the old-fashioned phrase  “contact work.” Attending games, concerts and productions matter. Not only are you encouraging your core-student who is performing, but you’re able to use that time to meet new students, rub-shoulders with parents and likely make connections with teachers and admins who are also influencing your students. Get out!

I recently buddied up with one of our elders and visited a congregant spending a few nights at the hospital. While I wasn’t stoked about going, it was really good for me. It stretched me, but in a good way. My hope is that you can be stretched too. As you spend time in the Word (and share great talks), as you engage with peers outside the faith (and share about it with your teens) and as you meet teens (in coffee-shops, gymnasiums and auditoriums) may you experience great momentum in your ministry!



Tales From The Interim: Part Three

IMG_4389I like to start my weekly small group meetings  by asking a random opening question, simply to get the ball rolling.

For example:

If you could go back in time and observe your life from an outsiders perspective, what event or time would you go back to and why?”

I ask questions like this for my small group to create a safe space where we get to hear from all the participants, it establishes that everyone contributes and every person adds value. Most of the time, a question like the above, helps the group to gain insights into the life and thoughts of each other.

The specific question above, serves as a brief intro to this blog series. In May of 2016, the leadership of our church asked me to take on a short interim role as we engaged a search for our new Student Pastor. “Short” became a little longer as I served for 18 months. In many ways I got to rewind the tape and relive some key strategies in youth ministry.

If you’d like to catch up, feel free to read the first to relaunch realizations here: ONE and TWO.

Relaunch Realization Number THREE: Know and Be Known— Relational Programming 

As I stated in the second post, naming a short term destination helped everyone to understand the why behind the decisions being made and the events being offered. With those named, it was time to implement events that helped us get the desired outcomes. My goal was the leaders, students and parents get a sense that they could know (others) and be known (by others).

Creating a relational space was key, almost everything offered in the summer of ’16 was  on the calendar so that community could increase. We kept the summer calendar clear of events that took a lot of preparation (I, like most of our other volunteers, work full-time outside of leading in the interim), and most everything drove toward relational investment.

We did simple events like:

  • Late-Nite-Apps (gathering at 9pm at Applebees for 1/2 priced appetizers)
  • Minor League Baseball Game (cheap and no-brainer)
  • Bike-Hike and BBQ (active and food always is a win)
  • Bible and Barbecue Nights (weekly Bible study with simple theme and little prep needed)

IMG_7838Our most “robust” event that summer was our “campouts” for both middle and high school, but even those were programmatically simple, allowing our students to get to know our leaders and vice-versa. Instead of week-long camps, we did camping trips for two nights and three days that included water-sports, grass volleyball, kickball and a lot of time just hanging out. We did grade & gender mixed small groups to help create community outside of class distinctions.

I relaunched my youth ministry career the way my original youth pastorate started— by starting simple and creating a relational context where all can be known. Perhaps you are a “big program” person? Even for you it could be good to take a season where ministry is stripped back so that individuals can truly be seen and heard and trust can be built.

Free Youth Group Message/Discussion!!!

IMG_4647Every now and again I would have a “one-off” message between longer talk series in youth group. It’s good to have a change of pace from time-to-time. I do remember a few times when THAT one-off Sunday or Wednesday was suddenly upon me (and I had to quickly come up with a talk). Well, maybe that is you today (or this week). Well, may this post bless ya! Here’s a quick lesson I put together for you!

Lesson Title: Preview a Life (Free Lesson For Youth Group/Small Group)

  • Opening Discussion Question: If you had to choose one of the following super-human  powers what would it be and why?
    • The ability to see what others are seeing
    • The ability to hear what someone else is hearing
    • The ability to know what someone else is thinking
  • Introduce: Let students know they are about to watch a video in which several characters will be shown, the goal is to find a character that you would most like to speak to if you had the opportunity.
  • Watch: http://youtu.be/Wl2_knlv_xw
  • Ask: Who would you speak to and why do you sense you were drawn to them?
  • Share: A story of when you were moved emotionally to meet a need (could be a story of obedience where you met the need or a time you failed to act)
  • Read: Take some time to read the story of Philip and the Ethiopian in Acts 8:26-40
  • Ask: What stands out to you about Philip?
    • (Possible Answers You May Hear)
    • In spite of great ministry taking place in Samaria, when asked to go, he obeys
    • He engaged the conversation
    • He had been listening to the Ethiopian so he knew he was reading
  • Ask: What stands out to you about the Ethiopian?
    • (Possible Answers You May Hear)
    • He was returning from a journey
    • He was humble enough to ask for help
    • He asked questions
  • Ask: If we could see a bubble next to the Ethiopian what would it say?
    • (Possible Answers You May Hear)
    • Don’t know the way to salvation
    • Rich, but not at peace
    • Wants to know the One true God!
  • Ask: If we could go back to watch the video right now, what would be some of the engaging things we could do to enter into spiritual conversations with the person you chose in the video?
  • Discuss: What are some of the “thought bubbles” we may see at our schools on our teams or even here in our own group?
  • Review: In the passage it says “Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.” He began sharing based on what the Ethiopian was experiencing right then. This is a key to evangelistic opportunities. We must:
    • Stop, look and listen (take the time to observe the other person/circumstances)
    • Start with where the person is (know their story and ask questions)
    • Share the story and your experience (share the good news about Jesus).

Tales From The Interim: Part Two

Michael Jordan… Brett Favre… Landon Donovan… Michael Phelps… Marshawn Lynch… Manny Pacquiao… the list of athletes who “unretired” goes on and on. Some had a hard time “hanging them up,” whereas others were talked into a return to the sport they loved. Analogies often fall short and in this case, mine will fall dramatically short, as these athletes are known by the masses, I am not— but I got to go one more round, start one more game and take the field again in my 18-month return to the youth pastorate. I decided to write a quick blog-series of things I relearned or prioritized. Before I relive another realization I invite you to check out the first post in the series here.

After a very short and intentional period reviewing what had been— asking some key questions of select students, leaders, staff and parents and taking some time to review recent events and curriculum used — a short-term, immediate plan needed to be named and claimed, leading to my second point…

Relaunch Realization Number TWO: Know and Name Your Short-Term Aspirations

Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 8.12.44 AMTaking on an interim is different than a full-time permanent role, however, I believe the beginning stage can and should be the same, you have to figure out the immediate short-term wins before diving into the long-term strategy and vision. The low-hanging fruit for us at Faith (my church) was to establish a relational and communicational (is that a word?) base!  Pictured above is a screen shot of a slide I presented of our desires at our Parent Gathering two weeks into my interim period.

There were many contributing factors to why our group was where it was (church issues, leadership changes, graduations, etc.), but the immediate needs were clear to me. Our students simply needed a place to belong and become (with “belong” being the low hanging fruit). I believed this could be established during the summer months through a series of highly relational events with low or no program elements. In addition to being a win for the students, this low-program approach would give our leaders the opportunity to turn their attention to relationships (with students and parents alike).

It seems very elementary, but I prioritized naming the short-term aspirations with the three groups that mattered most; students, leaders and parents needed to all be on the same page with our short-term goals. I was intentional with these plans and began to communicate:

  1. IMG_6420I sent an invite to parents with two weeks notice come to a Parent Gathering where I shared the summer plans
  2. I sent an invite to leaders and hosted a Leaders Gathering/Dinner in our backyard where I could hear their hopes, goals and needs and share my hopes for more activity with less responsibility
  3. I sent and invite to students to an open-house coffee time, where I would simply listen to their hopes and dreams and plant the seeds for our simple and relational summer

My purpose in all three was to simply and intentionally name our short-term destination.

Are you intentional in naming where you’re going? If not, let me encourage you to consistently name the short-term destination, it seems most like to know where we’re going!

Tales From The Interim (Part One)

IMG_7217In May of 2016 the leadership of my church asked me to serve (on an interim basis) as point person for our student ministies as we began a search for our next Student Pastor. We believed this would last about four months. Somehow the math got messed up and my four month interim turned into 18 months.

So, with that math in mind, I will start a four-post series (wink-wink) where I share insights from my return to the Youth Pastorate!

My relaunched YP career began where my last one couldn’t— with experience. My first go, back when hair was popular and possible, as a 19 year-old, started with just me with four Jr. High boys at a church-plant (similar to today, about 50% of them were deodorized). By contrast, in 2016, I inherited a solid group of volunteers, a critical mass of students and a good core of supportive parents.

Most in youth ministry reading this post will relate more with my 2.0 experience— you’re either inheriting and/or reimagining a student ministry; which leads me to my first insight…

Relaunch Realization Number ONE: Stop, Look and Listen
In 1992, I was starting from scratch and learning on the go, it was my youth ministry leadership infancy and toddlerhood all in one, a little Chutes and Ladders if you will? Fast forward to 2016, I inherited an already-in-process Monopoly game— metaphorically there were houses on some properties, hotels on others. I found cash laying out, Chance cards stacked and property cards that had evidently been mortgaged.

monopoly-board-game-1512077The problem: I didn’t know who owns what property, which game piece belongs to which player and who’s turn is it to go next?

As I re-entered the game, I had to assess the situation before making a move. Similarlty in youth ministry it is often wise to stop, look and listen before making your next move.

IMG_7989Whether you’re inheriting (starting a new role) or simply at a stage where you’re reimagining what your ministry can and should look like, I suggest that you hit the pause button and truly assess the status. Here are few things I did and some simple ways to stop, look and listen:

  • Rewind and review; look at the calendar of the last year and list the wins, losses and ties (if inheriting invite others to do this with you in all areas from curriculum to events to training)
  • Be intentional in asking honest questions of leaders, parents and students (what’s going well? what could we tweak? what are your hopes? what’s missing?)
  • Invite trained outside eyes to observe the ministry (selfishly, this is what I love doing, sometimes  you simply need someone from the outside to report what they see to gain perspective, don’t hesitate to ask how we can do this)
  • Go see another ministry to learn what others are doing, but DON’T look to implement yet… you’re still in the stop, look and listen phase!

Like Monopoly, I took a moment to enjoy the Free Parking, maybe it’s time for you to do the same as you stop, look and listen before you take your next turn?

What I Overheard at NYWC17

dsc02175Ever been in a restaurant booth and overheard the conversation at the table behind you? Maybe you’ve walked into an elevator and heard an exchange chock-full of opinion? Or perhpas you’ve taken part in a focus group where input is freely given?

All of the above happened to me this week in Memphis at NYWC! Here’s what I heard in regard to youth ministry…

In Regard To The Unchurched

Though youth leaders ask, encourage and implore students to bring their unchurched friends to youth group, very few youth pastors are doing anything to engage unchurched friends on their own. One youth director said, “I know I’m hypocritcal, but I don’t know how to get out of this bubble.”

In Regard to Numbers

IMG_3890Most Student Pastors are relationally-driven, but the one thing that consumes much of their time is growing the numbers in their youth group attendance. 50% of our 100+ coaching appointments were in regard to “gaining numbers” in youth group. One Youth Pastor said to me, “I am driven by discipleship in a church that measures attendance only.”

In Regard to Staff Relationships

I was quite pleased to hear FAR MORE encouraging conversations about the relationship between senior pastors and youth leadrers than any other year at NYWC. There were certainly some tough waters, but one conversation stood out where a Youth Pastor said, “it is refreshing to be pursued relationally by my senior pastor; it’s never about the job, it’s always about my life, my family and my relationship with Jesus.”

In Regard to those Training For Youth Ministry

Both students and professors spoke to the need for more practical training— taking the academics to application! As one who works for Youth Specialties, I believe we are bridging that gap practically, but it was so refreshing to hear several professors name the desire to make classroom teaching as practical and real-life ministry oriented as possible. I heard a student say, “my prof came to watch me teach and hung aound all night at our youth group.”

In Regard to Youth Specialties

IMG_9026Through a couple focus groups, several airport, elevator and restaurant conversations I was encouraged to hear the following about YS (several times the persons speaking did not know I represent YS):

“I love that they (YS) are leading the conversation about reconcilliation and are proviing it with their lineup.”

“If I wasn’t a part of the 101 Collaborative and didn’t receive the coaching I received, I would have left youth ministry this year.”

“YS has taken a few punches in the last decade, but they were not down for the count, I now can say I am in their corner and not just cheering for them, but I’ll fight with them… youth ministry needs YS.”

“Finally, an organization is recognzing the need to train bivocational youth leaders— since we outnumber the fulltime youth pastors!”

I love what I get to do with and for YS. I hope you’ll consider joining me in one of our collaboratives and at NYWC St. Louis in 2018!

Spring Training… of a different sort

My son fell in love two years ago. Seriously, head-over-heals in love. It started as an interest and within weeks it was pretty intense, he couldn’t stop talking about his new love… BASEBALL!

Several weeks ago this eight year-old son heard on sports radio that pitchers and catchers were reporting for spring training and position players were only a couple days away. Instantly we were outside (in the rain) playing catch. Spring training—time to get ready for the season!

I love this season in youth ministry too— are you preparing for what’s next?

  • Youth pastors— how are you preparing your team for the next season of ministry?
  • Youth workers— what are you doing to better yourself for better engagement, improved methodologies and growth spiritually?
  • Student leaders— who is your next mentor to help you develop your skills and unleash your gifts?

I’m pretty pumped about several opportunities for “Spring Training” in my liIMG_0017fe in the next few weeks.

  • Local— our volunteer team from Faith (our church) is getting away for a weekend together. There will be nearly 25 of us sharing a large house, doing life and getting trained for ministry engagement.
  • National— at Youth Specialties we are partnering with the youth leaders in Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Christian University for a Team Training Event (YS Team Training with CCUth Collective)
  • International— Australia has been on my bucket-list forever and I’m ecstatic to be img_8959partnering with the CRC for a one-day leader training and then several churches for leadership training and preaching opportunities.

I love that I get to engage locally, nationally and internationally to prepare for what is next. I hope you’re preparing yourself or your team too!