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!

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How HGTV & Student Ministry Are Basically The Same…

Just to get a laugh I posted this status update on Facebook recently:

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-7-42-42-amI forget the name, but I saw this show on HGTV where the couple remodeling the house discovered issues that were going to cause the remodel to cost significantly more… after the dramatic commercial break they decided to go for it. The house turned out great. Anyone know the name of that show? #hgtv

If you have EVER watched a show on HGTV then you understood the humor— it seems EVERY show on HGTV has this similar storyline.

However, I’m still a faithful viewer of these HGTV programs, because I love to see development. I enjoy seeing obstacles overcome. I love transformation.

img_0196I’m getting so excited about a new venture with Youth Specialties, something that is all about  development and transformation. The 101 Collaborative is a seven-month coaching initiative for those new to youth ministry, in a new role or those looking for a refresher in foundational youth ministry skills and strategies. It launches this spring.

I believe there are three foundational reasons a newer youth pastor should be a part of this Coaching Collaborative.

  1. You’ll Become More Self-Aware

The program is designed for you to better know yourself (your gifts, motivations, skills and strengths) and know how to better communicate these assets to others. I believe knowledge of self leads to improved boundaries and ultimately helps you understand your part in the body much more (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12).

2.    You’ll Develop New Skills and Strategies For Your Context

screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-1-58-37-pm

So excited that Summer Sipes and Dr. David Fraze will be joining me as the Coaches for the 101 Collaborative

College and seminaries are excellent, but the actual “doing” of ministry differs from the philosophy you’ve created, adopted or inherited. I’m excited to help our 101 participants take theory into practice and have coaches and peers walk through this together as you contextualize ministry to your own local setting. The “line-up” for 101 includes everything foundational for sustainable long-term ministry success.

3.   You’ll Learn From and Become a Collaborative Community

Youth ministry is relational and the 101 Collaborative will create relational environments where you’ll likely gain life-long friendships and expand your networking abilities. The program itself starts and ends with on-site retreats and then includes monthly online video chat sessions, one-on-one coaching appointments and peer groups.

It’s hard to believe it, but April 24-25 and our opening retreat is just a couple months away. The kicker to me is that we are including the National Youth Workers Convention (NYWC Memphis in November) as part of the tuition (arrive one day early for culminating retreat).

Though we only see 43 minutes on TV, the actual transformation of a house on an HGTV program takes several months. I cannot wait to see how a several month process will promote transformation in life and ministry through the 101 Collaborative

Jalapeños & Jesus

My son, Will, and I had just finished playing baseball this last weekend and did a quick stop at the store to get a few items for our homemade pizza night.

“Hey bud, what do you want on our pizza tonight?” I asked.

“Pepperoni and a lot of Jalapeños” he announced.

pizza-macro-shot-1312231After a minute or two of silent thought, he explained. “Dad, I used to like spicy stuff because of how much I love you… I really wanted to be like you. Now I love spicy stuff just because I love spicy stuff! I mean, I still love you, but I love spicy stuff on my own now too!”

I loved this; it was encouraging and convicting at the same time.

You see, though it wasn’t my goal to get Will to love Jalapeños (or other spicy stuff), it happened because he was willing to try the stuff that his Daddy likes. In the last couple years, Will has gone from a few drops of Tapatio on his burrito, to pepperoni pizza covered in Hot-Wing sauce and Jalapeños. He can’t get enough spice!

My quick-jaunt home from the grocery store that evening had my mind spinning. My prayer is that Will (along with my daughters, my 8th grade guys and other people I get to “do life” with) will emulate me in a way much greater than taste-bud satisfaction. My hope is that he will see the way that I prioritize my love for God, His Word and His people and begin to try that as well.

I long for a similar spiritually spiced-up conversation:

“Hey bud, what do you want do tonight?” I will ask.

“Let’s talk Scripture, let’s share Jesus with those who don’t know Him yet and let’s serve the community” he will announce.

1415262_bibleAfter a minute or two of silent thought, I imagine him saying, “Dad, I used to like Jesus and His stuff because of how much I love you… I really wanted to be like you. Now I love God, His Word and people just because I love Jesus! I mean, I still love you Dad, but I love Jesus and people on my own now too!”

Finally, on Sunday, at Subway, Will went through the line and confidently proclaimed his veggie choices, “I’d like both banana-peppers and Jalapeños”

May his love (and our love) for Jesus be proclaimed just as confidently!

Do You Really Trust Your Students?

I don’t get it…

  • One scored six goals in a world cup game.
  • They’ve written world famous operas, inspired nations to battle victories and created the social networking phenomenon.
  • In athletics we’ve seen total dominance from some: a Heisman trophy winner, a Daytona 500 driver and one was arguably the best gymnast ever.933623_72957083

I’m talking about teens.

  • Educators push them to take AP Physics and Calculus.
  • They hold down jobs and we trust them to watch after our own children.
  • They create art, perform, bake, dance and defend our nation.

But in the church…

  • We ask them to listen to us (Sunday morning, mid-week and in small group).
  • We buy them endless amounts of pizza in the hopes they’ll come back.
  • We beg them to bring a friend to the camp that we planned for them.
  • We tell them to sit still while the Pastors and adults speak at them.
  • We tell them they are the next generation of leaders, but give them little to lead.

693583_54538565It’s time we (the church) take the governor off their accelerators! Jesus gathered a group of ordinary young adults (most of them teens), mentored them and entrusted them to start the church. Students can/should lead in ministry. This statement causes angst among many. Some hear “student led” and become anxious, they fear chaos will ensue. Others read it and are threatened, “but how will I use my gifts?” Even teenagers may read it and have their doubts, “We’re too young, we don’t need more on our plate!” Semantics play a role as well; what if we redefined “leadership” as a person who is leading in his or her area of giftedness? We need teen leaders in music, mercy and mission. Teens who are exercising their giftedness in administration and teaching are equally important.

How are you helping a student discover, develop and use his or her gift within the context of ministry? IMG_2503

Students are ready, capable and already leading in so many other realms, it is time (again) for the church to give them room to operate while adult mentors walk with them as coaches and cheerleaders!

The What Ifs in Life!

1430509_78858177Yes, I am a HUUUUGE Seahawks fan. Of course I have asked the obvious “what if” questions about Super Bowl 49.

I can guarantee the coaching staff and players are asking that question more than me, a fan.

We can look back and get caught up with the woulda-coulda-shoulda scenarios… but what could be better is to use our history to help others forge forward by not repeating the things we would have done differently.

youth_pastor_what_ifs_brian_aaby_750x180I am excited by the response it seems the Youth Specialities blog is receiving after my post “5 Youth Pastor ‘What ifs'”

I’d encourage you check it out… maybe a few of them could help you as you forge ahead!

As I contemplate the question, “what if the Seahawks didn’t try a pass over the middle from the 1 yard line” perhaps you can get me out of that funk by posing a better ‘what if’ question?

What are some of your “what ifs” in ministry?

Death, Taxes and Poor Communication — The Certainties for a Youth Pastor

Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. 

—Benjamin Franklin, in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, 1789

Ben had it mostly right. He forgot “poor communication.”

As I begin the process of working with a church in their quest for a new student pastor I begin with a site-visit. 24 to 36 hours on the ground taking in the landscape, snapping some pictures and listening to lots of people.

When asked some variance of the question “what’s one thing that can improve in the youth ministry?” It is guaranteed that someone (and typically many someones) will exclaim “better communication!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChurches, and Youth Pastors in particular, have a bad-rap when it comes to communication. One unique observation is that typically the longer a tenure of the Youth Director the worse the reputation for communication— people have just learned to deal with it.

So, instead of a rant against the Student Pastor (or his/her administrative teammates), here are my quick suggestions to improve communication.

http://www.legendswebdesign.com1. Anchor everything in the Web! Make sure your church and/or youth website is the foundation. When in doubt people know they can go to the web to find the most up-to-date information. The key: YOU HAVE TO COMMIT to making sure this is the first place that you (youth leader) put the information.

2. Twice A Year “Year at a Glance Gatherings.” As the school year kicks off and as the New Year kicks off host an hour parent & student gathering where you speak into the curriculum, events and direction. Always give a print piece that highlights everything on the calendar for a year from that date.

http://www.legendswebdesign.com3. Have at Least Seven Consistent Ways To Communicate: Yes, this may seem like a lot, but if you prioritize 30 minutes of your week, each week, you can get it all done at once. But because people all have preferred ways to receive information, you taking the time to offer it in a variety of ways will ensure that they have every opportunity to get it. Here are the options…

  • Email — still great for many parents
  • Social Media — schedule your tweets/status updates for the week
  • Announcements — Big Church and youth group verbal announcements
  • Texts and Group Texts — both to parents and students
  • Slides — Background slides on screens before/after services
  • Bulletin — new people in your church still read these
  • Flyers — take home print piece that go on the fridge
  • Trickle Down — share with small group leaders who share with his/her group
  • Newsletter — PDF or Print (or both)
  • Phone Calls — Sometimes it pays to pick up the phoneOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In all the various forms of communication, I would emphasize “all this information can be found at our website” so that you create the habit for people to check the web first!

What are your suggestions for better communication?

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