What’s Going Well In Youth Ministry?

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “every party needs a pooper, that’s why we invited you!” Every now and then I feel like my social media feed has a lot of party poopers invited.1427243_59682401

  • 5 Reasons People Are Leaving The Church
  • 7 Signs That Your Ministry is Failing
  • The Top 3 Things Your Pastor is Doing Wrong!

Instead of a Debbie Downer post, I would like to share a few things going well in student ministry. As Director of YS Search and YS Coaching I am afforded the opportunity to spend time at churches around the country. I listen to parents, students, search teams and youth leaders. I get to sit in on staff meetings, grab coffee with senior pastors and guest speak for groups. I am honored to help churches prepare for new personnel and get to work with great youth ministers seeking new opportunities.

Of course I do see some of the tough stuff, but I’ll tell you, in general, I am encouraged by the hopes, dreams and reality of what’s happening! Here’s a snapshot:

  1. 1058113_70436716Outward Faced Ministry. There is a strong desire for youth ministry to be more outward faced. Leadership is expressing a strong desire to see youth leader return to the campus and to empower students to share the good news through relationship and service. Yes, churches want a strong youth ministry program (solid weekly “group”) but I am hearing much more about students getting into the community instead of expecting community to be found only in the group.
  2. Leadership Redefined. I believe student pastors (and their teams) understand that “leadership” is not just what’s done upfront. Youth leaders have grasped the idea that we are to nurture gifts, skills and passions— and these attributes are not always used upfront. One body, many parts (1 Corinthians 12) is becoming a reality in many of the groups I have been able to observe and students with gifts in mercy, administration and helps are able to shine!
  3. 659006_20706288Collaboration and Networking. It seems there is less pride and more self-awareness in church and youth leadership. I see student pastors asking one another for help. Whether it is within a denomination or simply in a local community, there seems to be a greater collaborative effort (networking) to reach and empower teens to use their gifts. Sometimes it’s just refreshing to hear someone say, “we don’t have the answer, but we’re willing to risk, listen and learn.”
  4. 1415262_16524815Return to Scripture. I have heard many times “our students are Biblically illiterate.” Perhaps for too long we (youth leaders) have taught moral behavioralism where we thought we were teaching a Bible lesson? I find it refreshing that I hear youth leaders, parents and pastors talking about teaching the Bible. My prayer is that we communicate well the living Word in such a way that teaches context and content while at the same time engages our students so that they draw conclusions as to how the Spirit is leading them to live out the Truth.

What are your observations? Do you see other things going well in your neck of the woods? Dare you to not be a party pooper!

What The 12th Man Taught Me About The Church

A football team has bonded an entire region in a way that I wish the church would unite under the name of Jesus.

960x595After the Seahawks victory over the Niners, I saw from a friend on Facebook “I have hugged more than 20 strangers since the game ended!” A tweet I read said, “Never felt so close to so many people I have never met.” 

This city is crazy-united in the name of the Seahawks.

How I wish the church, I’ll make it even more personal, oh, how I wish my church would be even more united in the name of Jesus.

  • I took my family to Disneyland in October and while waiting to ride Pirates I saw a Seahawks fan (wearing a Seattle shirt) “Go Hawks” I said, quickly to get nod and a “Go Hawks” in return! We were united in Hawkdom.
  • While in Phoenix during the Seahawks bye week, I entered a Starbucks wearing my Seahawks Blue- “Hey, I’m from Seattle,” shouted the Barista, continuing, “your coffee’s on me!” 12th Man unite!
  • The shirt I wore in DIA

    The shirt I wore in DIA

    Last week I had the privilege of speaking at a camp in Colorado (yes, I survived), I chose to proudly wear a Seahawks shirt through the airport, “you’re bold!” “Go Hawks!” “Love your shirt, go Seattle” and “12th Man!” were some of the comments I received in the hostile hallways of DIA. But there was great encouragement knowing I had some friends… I was not alone! United in our Hawks-Love!

With Hawks fans it doesn’t matter if Russell or Marshawn is your favorite player- why be divided over personal preference? We understand it is the team that wins (and all the team members are needed). As part of the 12th man, we understand Sherman’s adrenaline-driven antics and we are quick to forgive knowing that his life is not defined by the one triumph or one mistake.

  • At the Seahawks game that my wife and I were fortunate enough to go to this year, we fist-bumped strangers without asking them if they were bigger fans of the offense or the defense. We exchanged low and high fives with our neighbors before we knew that some of them may actually be upset with some of Coach Pete’s decisions. These small things didn’t matter, we were united in the 12!

I have a lot to learn from the unity of the 12th man. I want to go to church and experience an even greater unity in the name of Jesus. The guy in the row in front of me may wish for louder music, but that shouldn’t change anything about how I interact with him. The family down the aisle may believe differently about the signed gifts, but I can still encourage them in Christ no matter their view. The gal who sits alone and never makes eye-contact, can still be asked if she’d like a cup of coffee. The people in the front row who quietly sigh when they see that it is me getting up to preach are still my potential new best friends, because in Christ, we are united.

Unfortunately saints still sin, and we too often let that define EVERYTHING.

Preferences and methodologies have sometimes become our hill to die on instead of letting the theology of the one who died on a hill become our EVERYTHING!

I am a proud Seahawks fan. But I have friends who are proud Broncos (congrats Denver, for making it to the Super Bowl). Even something that has united Seattle so strongly will not stand in the way of the larger bond I have with my brothers and sisters cheering for another NFL team. Because ultimately, we’re united in the Kingdom!

Go Hawks!

Grace,

Brian

Building A Great Youth Ministry Team

coffee-shop-602704-mYou too may be a coffee addict if you know exactly which Starbucks you’d name for each of the following categories:

  • Most likely to be quiet
  • Best one to work in (AKA- the one with the most wall outlets to plug-in)
  • Fastest and/or best service

This morning I was impressed with how fast the line was moving. Not only was the inside line flowing, I watched as cars quickly passed through the Drive-Thru as well. The Barista team was clicking on all caffeine-coated cylinders.

Could the same be said of the way your team is functioning in your youth ministry context? Sure, they too may be addicted to caffeine, but are they clicking?

As I watched the baristas I watched them move in rhythm, I think all of them were serving in their own area of strength. From the friendly gal at the register who struck the balance of conversation, scanning apps and collecting cash to the barista handing the drinks to seemingly still-moving cars in the drive-thru; this team was cranking.

The Youth Ministry team in your church can also move in a rhythm, here are a few keys to building a great student ministry team.

1. Recruit To Areas Need, Gifts & Strengths.

bad-day-at-the-office-1380015-mEver heard, “want to serve? Well start by stacking those chairs.” I get the fact that we’re looking for people with servant hearts, but C’mon!, if I had a need for a 7th grade guys leader, I found the best recruitment tool was to recruit a person who was actually passionate about mentoring young guys— the chairs can get stacked by all of us together afterwards!

Identify some key missing areas in your ministry and look to recruit people to ministry specific purposes, you’re more likely to find someone when you can define exactly what it is you want them to do (and something they like to do).

2. Educate and Train in order to Sustain

I have found that the groups that feel “stuck” the most are the ones who invest very little in training their staff/team. There’s something about the team and time (together) investment that creates momentum. Whether it is a monthly meeting where you’re training in “all things cyber,” taking several to a national denominational conference or inviting your entire team to a regional event- look for opportunities to expose your team to what’s going on outside your four walls.

Unknown[NOTE] I’m honored to be part of the Youth Specialties Team Training events taking place this winter/early spring. Check out if one of these events is within a few hour drive for your team. This totally affordable Friday eve/Saturday event will help move your team forward.

3. Take A Night Off (get out of the way)

Whether you literally are gone for the night or just choose to not schedule yourself for any responsibilities, one of the greatest gifts you can give your team is to trust them with ALL elements of the ministry event.

You’ll immediately see the benefits of ownership when you have others responsible for the check-in, leading worship, delivering the announcements, giving the talk and facilitating the games!

Like a great coffee shop, I think we in youth ministry can create environments where things are clicking and people want to come back… but it takes smart recruitment, great training and selfless leadership to get there! Ready. Set. Invest!

Grace,
Brian

What a Difference 5 Years Makes

Five years ago RIGHT NOW we were wrapping up the true beginnings of what would become Youthmark.

A Little History…

While serving as an associate pastor in Phoenix, AZ it became very clear that I was not the fit for the church I was serving. Elisabeth and I had prayed (a lot) and we just knew it was time to move on (and hopefully back to WA). The plan was for me to talk to the senior pastor during our one-on-one time late in the week, but I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit (or the quake of bad pizza the night before?) and on Monday afternoon I walked into the senior pastors office, sat down and said, “it’s not a fit.” He graciously responded, “let’s make this the best transition ever.” To this day, I am thankful for his response.

We didn’t know what was next, it was gigantic leap of faith, but we knew it was time. That evening I contacted a friend to find out if he knew of any northwest (preferably Seattle-area) openings. He did… the church he was serving! Only, they were down to their final three and IF I got my resume and cover letter to him the next day he would submit it. 

The Dilemma…

We knew even then (2003) that Youthmark was in the future. I had already started writing some curriculum, but we just didn’t know the timing. So, I wrote a cover letter that stated that I wanted to help the church for their next phase of Youth Ministry, but also would be starting an organization, Youthmark at some point in the next few years.

In the Spring of 2004 I started work at the church and put the plans for Youthmark on hold for a few years.

The Beginning…

In the fall of 2007 we had our first Youthmark event; a parenting seminar open to all in the Seattle area. It was awesome, but I knew it wasn’t time to go full-speed ahead with Youthmark plans, nor was the event or events like it going to be the sustainable financial model to get an organization like Youthmark off the ground.

But the event certainly got the creative juices flowing and an itch to start Youthmark needed to be scratched. I decided that the spring of 2008 would be my last as a Youth Pastor (the guys I was leading in a discipleship group were graduating that spring too). I was done the last day of June 2008 and on July 8 (after taking one week tour of baseball stadiums with my dad and brother) I began Youthmark as my full-time gig!

The Anniversary…

Today marks the day that we concluded our first ever Youthmark Mission Venture related event. I risked big time (like thousands of dollars big time) on an event, a Youth Pastor & Spouse Retreat to pitch Youthmark Mission Ventures to about 24 people. We rented out rooms and a conference room at a 4-Star hotel in downtown Seattle. Over the course of about 24 hours we ate well, laughed a lot and were able to share the dreams and vision of Youthmark Missions. 

Here are some pics from that event:

View from our hotel

View from our hotel

training

training

Old Spaghetti Factory!

Old Spaghetti Factory!

The name tags made it feel official

The name tags made it feel official

gifts for each of the participants

gifts for each of the participants

packed with goodness

packed with goodness

table discussions about what could be in the summer of 2009!

table discussions about what could be in the summer of 2009!

The Changes…

  • God blessed us with 16 teams that first year.
  • The next year we had 24.
  • By the third year I knew the model was not sustainable, but there wasn’t much I could do to change course, I knew I needed to slowly turn the model without losing momentum. That summer we had 40 teams go out with Youthmark.
  • Finally, the fourth year, I started to change the model and began sharing with other organizations the opportunity to partner with Youthmark, essentially saying “let us concentrate on the weeks outside the mission, you be the experts in the mission trip (Mission51).” That summer we still had 53 churches parker with us.
  • This last year we have moved away from Mission trips (though Youthmark still does send a limited number of customized specific trips) and began partnering exclusively with ministry partners. Our premier partner, Youth Missions International, received the majority of our previous church partnerships and did a fantastic job serving them. All of these teams still get all the materials for before, during and after the mission.

Now Youthmark concentrates on Mission51 (hosting the Spring Retreats) and creating new materials for all things Youth Ministry (like Pray21 and many other new products due out in 2014), while I continue to do more speaking, consulting and training! What a journey!

I am amazed at what God has done in these first five years, I look forward to seeing what my 10 year post will look like!

Grace,
Brian

CONTEST: What Am I Thinking? Farmland

This one I found scrolling through Facebook! My friend Geno, from Youth Missions International (a partner of Youthmark) has this as his profile pic. Classic.

WAIT (what am I thinking) is essentially a Caption Contest. You comment with your best thought and then I give you the finalists in a couple days. I haven’t done one in quite-awhile, so if you comment and it doesn’t post right away it’s simply that I need to approve them.

Have fun with this one, I’ll give a Youthmark T-shirt or book to the winner, your choice.

1379330_10101109567614958_974969785_n

Let the comments begin…

Grace,
Brian

********************

In The Running (updated throughout weekend):

Low participation, but some funny stuff (I think I am suffering from low content = low readership):

“Jokes on you, there’s no contest.” – Jan A.  (this is so funny, seeing as how it was a few weeks for me to list these)

He falls for that “grass is greener” thing every time. – the wifey

I think the GPS was wrong. Hang on, I’m re-cow-lculating. – a little bit

Games two barnyard animals can’t play: Red Rover. – skinnyvanillalatte

Winner (To be announced after weekend):

She’s won it a few times, and you may say I am biased, but I just think she is brilliant!

He falls for that “grass is greener” thing every time. – the wifey

You’re NOT too Broken!

As some of you know I write for Dare 2 Share Ministries. It’s been a fun experience and a blessing to be part of a ministry so committed to getting the Gospel out to all people (and especially through teens)!

When I was praying about  the opportunity presented, I immediately thought about doing a column entitled “Dear Aaby,” and allow students, leaders and parents to ask questions about evangelism. The idea expanded as I said “yes” to the invite and today the Dear Aaby blogs have been going for over a year.

This last one was titled “Am I too broken?” It stems from a question a student  asked me when he found out that I wrote for Dare 2 Share.

Check out the D2S post here (with complete question from him and my video answer) or you can see my video response to him below.

Curious, how would you respond to a question like that?

Grace,

Brian

Presentation or Conversation?

Auditory? Visual? Kinesthetic? How would you describe your learning style?

IMG_2195In a few weeks I’ll get to once again participate in a youth leader event that is different than any others. Open Seattle takes place on Saturday, October 26 at Seattle Pacific University.

One of the things I really like about the premise of Open is that it is geared to reach any and all of the three learning styles. Rather than being “spoken at” for 45 minutes to an hour, the speaker/facilitator of each session will engage his or her own material, but create an atmosphere that engages thought and conversation. Each 40 minute session closes with 10 minutes of interaction between any/all who are in that room. They’ll engage the visual, auditory learners will hear great stuff and perhaps some practical “lab activities” will take place for those hands-on (kinesthetic) learners!

At Open the leadership assumes that the speakers are not the only people with something to say! I love this.

There are about a dozen different options spread out over two different learning tracks (you can switch between the two as well), a long lunch break to engage deeper in conversation and the afternoon ends with something new called “Lightning Rounds” where any/all who attend  are given the opportunity to do their own “mini” session in 5 minutes or less!

I have the privilege of partnering with Adam McLane of the Youth Cartel and serve as “Local Host” for this event.

Snap from 2012 Open Seattle

Snap from 2012 Open Seattle

This is such a great opportunity to have your entire team trained. Seriously, one Saturday could supply your entire year of monthly trainings for your youth staff. Have a different leader assigned to take notes at a session of choosing and then divide them up over the course of the year and have them facilitate a staff discussion about these important teen-ministry issues!

Here is the website and registration page! Totally worth the $25 investment! In short, open is more of a conversation than a series of presentations! I hope you’ll join the conversation!

Grace,
Brian

You Think It Is A Promotion; You’re Wrong.

Unfortunately it’s a story I have seen repeated all too often.

Youth pastor- you think taking on more opportunities will lead to greater role and possibly a promotion. More likely it will lead to weaker ministry, extreme fatigue, complaints and possibly burn-out.

Here’s the pattern… The gifted energetic Youth Pastor arrives at his or her church and helps establish some great (needed) changes in the student ministry.

  • He knows the golden rule says, “don’t change anything for several months.” But we all know that this is impossible; but the good ones only make minor changes otherwise their uphill battle gets too steep.
  • She knows that establishing relationships with students, staff, parents and the congregation (all at the same time) is needed to build an effective base for long-term ministry. It’s difficult, but she is able to establish a good balance.
  • Though tempted to satisfy the older (louder) students, he makes the right call and asks a volunteer already known by those students to really build into the upperclassmen while he builds a base with the younger students.

He (or she) was hired to be the Youth Pastor. Her (or his) job description calls for her to shepherd the teens in middle school and high school. And thus far, he/she has done a GREAT job!

BUT THEN IT HAPPENS!

The youth pastor begins to graduate students to a non-existent ministry of the church (college/young adult). Or, the youth director is extremely gifted in music and the elders have seen how students and adult leaders have responded in worship. Or, quite possibly, the student ministry pastor has shown his gift of teaching during fill-in times for the main service and is now being asked to preach quite-often.

It’s fantastic to be wanted.

  • You’re tired of graduated students needing to go over to “that church” to be in the college group- so you volunteer to start the Young Adults Ministry.
  • strum-tastic-823478-mYou love playing the guitar and there are a number of gifted students in your group that you can get upfront with you- so you accept the invitation to take on main-service worship once (or twice… or three times) a month!
  • You LOVE God’s Word, and quite honestly, you may want to be a lead pastor someday- so taking on a sermon every fifth or sixth week would help you.
  • You discovered in a counseling meeting with a student that the problem was not the teen, rather the disconnect between the parents. So you begin meeting with them to help them. You’ve seen progress- so you commit to once a week (but then word gets out and more requests come as well).

THAT JUST HAPPENED!

Each of these areas are great investments and it is NOT WRONG for you to take any (or even all) of them on as long as EACH of the following takes place:

1. If married, your spouse is onboard with the changes (and you’ve both prayed about it).

2. All of the church leadership is made aware of the new roles you’re playing so that there is not confusion or accusation of overstepping bounds.

3.Your job description is updated to reflect these new expectations.

4. Your compensation is changed or  it is recognized that it will be reviewed at such-and-such time in the near future. -OR- someone is hired in youth ministry to replace the hours you’ll be giving up (because after all, they did hire you to work with the youth).

5. Parents, adult leaders and students are invited into the communication and celebration regarding these changes (otherwise the only thing they see is that you’re paying more attention to other ministries, and neglecting student ministry).

If all of these (and probably a few others) don’t happen, it is best for you to keep your focus on what you were hired to do!

Grace,
Brian

Hide and Go Seek Anyone?

Hide and go seek…

Kick the can…

Sardines…

These were all some of my favorites growing up and as a youth pastor. Well, it seems I just finished a masterful game of “all of the above” when it comes to my blog.

I plan to be back to writing after Labor Day after an unintended break.

Though I’ve stayed pretty regular on my writing for Dare 2 Share, I have completely stayed away from my own blog over the summer. This was a surprise to me… but it came with good reason. I plan to write about the unintended break sometime this weekend and post it next week.

But no worries, I’ve heard the “ollie ollie oxen free” call! I’ll be at home-base and blogging again next week!

Grace,
Brian