Memorial Day weekend, Labor Day weekend and the Sunday between Christmas and New Year could all be labeled “Associate Pastor Sunday (APS).” As a former associate pastor I very much enjoyed the opportunity to preach. I was blessed to preach throughout the year and not just on those Sundays above (though I did many APS). However, I never had the opportunity on Easter. I’d guess that over 99% of our churches will have their senior pastor in the pulpit that day.
I get it, it’s the SuperBowl of Sundays for the church. Naturally a lead pastor wants the opportunity to deliver the message, but it could prove to be a fantastic opportunity to send a different message. If yours is a church that values mentoring, discipleship and development of gifts and skills then having someone other than the senior pastor preach would send a very clear message that these are in fact your values!
As the title suggests, not many senior pastors will likely read this, but if they did I’d ask:
- Did these same people hear you preach the same or similar message last year?
- If the Easter sermon is about a clear presentation of the gospel, is there someone on your staff who would share that same message as clearly as you think you will? Perhaps there is someone on your staff that is quite-active/gifted in evangelism?
- If you were not the “upfront” person all service would you be freed up to enter relationship with those visiting?
In addition, I think giving up the pulpit on Easter Sunday would send a pretty cool message to those you regularly shepherd the other 51 weeks outside of Easter.
- You’d model Psalm 78:1-8 (passing the teaching from one generation to the next, so they may pass it on, etc.).
- You’d clearly state that it’s the message that matters and not the messenger.
- You’d model to your staff that they too should be looking to shepherd others into using their gifts/skills.
Of course there are many other benefits to think about as well, especially for the visitors that day, but I’ll leave these out there for thought and imagination!
My prayer is that even one senior pastor will read this and instead of dismissing it as a rant of a former associate pastor they’d read this as a call from a congregant saying “I want to see us be more proactive in developing and releasing people for ministry!” Maybe a senior pastor WILL give an associate that Sunday. Perhaps a lead pastor will tag-team the sermon?
Consider the potential cost…
…But then consider the potential ministry windfall!
I had the opportunity in Iowa this week to talk with a number of teens who were pretty excited about Jesus, pumped about some potential changes coming to their youth group and TERRIFIED about anyone ever asking them about their faith.
This should not be.
Unfortunately this is pretty common, not just among teens, but all Christians.
I am pretty passionate about this area and I simply want to see those who know Jesus equipped to have REAL LIFE conversations about him with those who do not yet know Jesus. I understand those fears, but I’ve also seen many people get past that and actually, like me, get to the point where we’re craving those asks!
Please consider joining us though a Youthmark Mission51 Retreat. Check out the 90 second video explaining this year’s REAL LIFE theme.
This is the link to all the retreats! Can’t wait to get real!
Over the last few weeks I’ve been in some circles where I’ve been able to solicit some “student ministry feedback” from pastors, parents, lay leaders and students. Throwing out the comments that were just mean (and likely the issues ran far deeper than the presenting problem), here are three tame ones that I believe youth leaders (specifically those serving in the lead student ministry role) need to hear.
- Our Youth Pastor’s talks aren’t good–they’re always about deep theology stuff and never about the real stuff us teens need to hear.
- My daughter decided long ago that youth group wasn’t for her, the leaders show up at sporting events for other kids, but have never once come to one of her piano recitals or even expressed interest in the stuff she’s passionate about.
- Greg (name changed) is a good guy, but I can’t remember a time he ever asked us, his volunteers, for any ideas or input. I don’t want to just be a chaperone.
If you’re a youth pastor/director, I believe all three of the above issues come back to one thing: relationship.
Those under our care want to be known.
I know it is impossible to know everyone well. I know you have ALL of the other things in your life you are trying to balance and do, but don’t let your natural desire to defend get in the way of hearing this simple point. Sheep are looking for their shepherd. They know your voice and want to be individually known.
This is not a guilt trip, and like I challenged ANY and ALL who issued their “feedback” to be part of the solution, I want to be part of the solution as well. I give all of us in the youth ministry field a “to do today” challenge that I believe will help you in your relationships.
- Tweet (or Facebook): Send a shout-out for all to hear/read about one of your students. (i.e. “was stoked to see @MirandaRocks at youth group last night, her smile always encourages me!”)
- Text: Shoot a group text message out to all your youth leaders praising them and asking for tangible youth ministry input. (i.e. “So thankful for our team. Quick question, shoot me a ministry high & and/or a ministry low for you over the last month”)
- Telephone: Take 5-10 minutes to call a parent you haven’t connected with in awhile and simply ask how you can pray for the family.
- Tell: Share a story in your next talk that is about a student or volunteer team member. The cool thing, this may motivate you to get out and see a recital, play or sporting event!
In all four of these “T’s” you’re simply letting your group and individuals in your group that you want to know, love and listen to them!
The month started with 34 items on the “to do” list. Each task varied in size & time needed to complete. Slightly overwhelmed, I took a deep breath and dove in… a few minutes later temptation crept in…
… “hey man, quick question” a ministry friend of mine, Brian Ford, was Instant Messaging me through Facebook. “What would you say about your Facebook use? You don’t really use it, you use it a lot, you tend to think everyone is going away from it… something else?”
Facebooking with Brian Ford was not one of the 34 listed items on the to do list. But somehow it became priority #1. If it weren’t Brian on Facebook it could easily be an alert on TweetDeck or an iChat notification. I do NOT consider myself nor have I been diagnosed ADD, however I am discovering how easily the notifications distract and consume.
I was honest with Mr. Ford and told him that I likely am on it too much. We ended up talking about this off and on the next few days and today we both have gone live with blog posts (his is here). Brian spends some time talking about some of the struggles it has caused in his heart, mind and relationships. My post tackles the moderation issue.
How Can I Stay Social & Networked But Not Consumed?
I enjoy Twitter, Skype, iChat, and Facebook and I easily justify the need to stay connected on them. Much of my livelihood has to do with staying connected, available and aware of what’s going on in the ministry world and with the ministers in that world. But the reality is, those I need to stay the most connected with have access to me via text, email or a call. I need to remind myself if I am needed, they can find me.
I do not want Social Media to become a hindrance to my family, faith and/or ability to get work done. So, I am experimenting with something I’m calling First 5, Last 5.
What is First/Last 5?
I am going to challenge myself for a season (a few weeks) to take the first 5 and/or last 5 minutes before or after major breaking times during my day to engage in social media. These natural breaks include breakfast, lunch, end of regular work day and before bed. Other than those times the apps will be off and the sites off my desktop.
I’m not going to be legalistic, but my general guide will be:
- First five minutes as I begin my workday
- Last five before lunch
- First five after lunch
- Last five at end of workday
My goal at home is to be to keep them off until the kids are in bed and Elisabeth and I are both at the point where we feel the freedom to relax (TV, web, Netflix, etc.)
I have found that I can too easily get sucked into my newsfeed and too quickly link to a blog, news site or become consumed thinking about a witty response to a persons tweet. Therefore, in order to protect my family, my ministry and my workload I’m going to give this First/Last 5 a whirl! Any other takers?
- Give something and possibly get something (give insights, wisdom, experience and inspiration and in return we may see readers take advantage of resources that Youthmark or our partners offer, but do so at a rate they can’t get anywhere else)!
- Contribute to a greater cause (I believe student ministry is three pronged- student, staff and leaders, my hope is that all the posts contribute to that three pronged focus and then see the fruit of unity in Christ can bring).
- Less is more (though I won’t limit myself to 140 words or less on brianaaby.com, all posts in the TweetableYM brand will be concise, 140 words or less, proving that most of the time, less is more)!
We launched the TweetableYM (tweetable youth ministry) brand today. The TweetableYM branding consists of:
- website (TweetableYM.com)
- Twitter (@TweetableYM)
- Facebook (facebook.com/TweetableYM)
- Newsletter (sign up here)
Playing with the 140 character theme from Twitter, we are producing a resource (blog/newsletter) where all of the posts will be 140 words or less! Then connected to the featured (hash-tagged) post we’ll give links to additional writings and resources on that subject. In addition we will (most always) have a featured resource with an exclusive discount available ONLY to those subscribed to the newsletter).
Check us out on any/all of the above… be among the first 140 to subscribe, like and/or follow and you’ll be entered to win one of three Youthmark hoodies!
We appreciate you getting the word out, feel free to r/t this post, share on Facebook, etc.!
NOTE: The below letter is not specific to any one pastor or a specific situation, rather, it stems from years of being a youth and associate pastor, a lay person in the church and now an elder.
I admire you. You have chosen and been called to such a challenging position. Thank you. Though Hallmark likely created it, Pastor Appreciation Month is not often recognized the way that it should be and you’re not appreciated nearly enough.
You pour many hours into the Scriptures preparing your weekly messages but because you seek to meet the needs of your flock your study time is often cut short. You’re called upon to counsel, you’re asked to perform weddings and you’re expected to attend way too many fellowship lunches. You need to be at too many meetings and the one that you miss will NOT go unnoticed. I don’t envy your position, but I’m thankful you’re in it.
I hope you sense the sincerity of my above words. 99% of the Sr./Lead Pastors I have dealt with in my roles fit the above descriptions and I believe you need to hear more words of encouragement because your job is extremely difficult. I have a different form of encouragement for you as well… an encouragement to consider doing a few things I believe will help you and the people you care for. These suggestions may seem elementary, but please examine your leadership style and ask yourself and/or others if these things are true of you.
Collaborate: Your leadership is needed, but ownership in the values and convictions for the church will rarely come from your decree, rather by the discoveries of your leadership team (staff, elders, lay volunteers, etc.). Don’t tell them the direction, collaborate on the values and then lead them in the collective vision.
Develop: Steward your staff and your lay leadership well. The Rich Young Ruler walked away sad because he could not give away his riches to others in need. I believe a number of pastors would walk away sad if Jesus asked you to give away some of your gifted people (staff/leaders). Take the time (and allow your other pastors to take the time) to develop others under you with full knowledge that God may call them to be pastors, leaders and influencers to others elsewhere.
Get Unchurched: You spend 99% of your time with people who are or who think they are Christians. Many under your care have no idea how to bring Jesus into an everyday conversation. It won’t matter what you tell your people to say until they know that you’re being intentional about it too! I challenge you to fall in love with the lost, not just fall in love with the idea of the lost!
Again, I’m thankful for you and believe in you. My simple hope is that you’ll believe in us (your staff, your leaders and your congregants) a little more. Believe that we have good ideas and let us give them. Believe that we can be developed and give us the chance to mess up a bit and then catch us as we stumble. And last, believe in us enough to do life with us. Join us and set the example when it comes to loving and spending time with people who don’t yet know Jesus!
Let me start with the given. Many Christians would say they want to be more like Jesus! We sing it on Sunday, we ask for it in our prayers and we study how to do it in God’s Word. The process of becoming more like Jesus is called sanctification (theology reference, check).
Let me move to another (yet hidden) given. Many Christians are engaging in sexual activities that are directly affecting their spiritual activity and effectiveness. They’re looking at porn. They’re reading filth. They’re flirting with disaster and an adulterous affair may be in their future. Real relationships are getting rocked as unrighteousness runs rampant (Porn reference, check).
I received a text early on Sunday morning from our Lead Pastor. He was sick and asked me to come in out of the bullpen and provide some relief (Pitching reference, check). I was honored!
I decided to preach through 1 Thessalonians because it is chock-full spiritual morsels! I believe it is one of the most practical books in all the Scriptures as it provides a relational context of how we are to do “real relationships” with one another! From the foundation of a relationship with God through Jesus in chapter one, Paul touches on pretty much every sort of relationship throughout the letter (God, family, friends, mentor, romance, unchurched, idol and lost).
However, chapter four really caught my attention. Paul schools us in Theology 101 and teaches through the principles of justification (being declared righteous), sanctification (being made more like Jesus) and glorification (with Jesus in heaven). But get this, Paul makes a direct link between this theological triple play and purity.
Paul essentially tells the people that our sexuality and the sexual distractions play a large role in our sanctification process. What we do or don’t look at and act upon in the area of purity will directly relate to our ability to be more like Jesus. In other words, if we say (or sing) that we want to be more like Jesus we really ought to pay special attention to this specific area!
Books, films, music, TV, billboards, emails, websites and life are all throwing sex and sexuality at us from every angle. The simple, yet direct instruction I gave on Sunday was this: Stop it! Stop engaging in it. If you’ve trusted in Christ and are having an affair stop! If you love Jesus and are looking at porn, quit it! If you’re watching that or reading this and it’s causing you to lust, stop it!
But please hear this: his grace is enough! You’re not defined by those things that you must stop. If you’ve trusted in Jesus you’re now declared righteous. But as a child of the most High God, seek the help that you need. You can’t do it on your own. The world tells you to run, shun and shame, but God has sent the Rescuer, who is running to you and has already bore your shame. He desires for you to enter into real relationship with brothers or sisters who can help! Call that friend. Ask that pastor. Seek out the relative who is waiting to help you.
For the sake of your family. For the benefit of your marriage. For the betterment of your family and for the increase in the kingdom, make sexual purity part of the sanctifying work of Christ in your life!
Two of my kids were recently down for the count with the bug. Because I am part of the leadership for our college-age group and because my wife is an amazing servant/mommy she volunteered to stay home and I made the trek to church with just my eldest daughter in tow. After a great time with the young adults I made my way into the church service…
Early that morning I had tweeted: “Many will attempt the ‘Love God’ part this am in our churches, but let’s also apply the ‘Love others’ portion! Risk a little & be real.”
… I walked into the auditorium with a sense of anticipation, with a desire to be obedient to the very thing God had placed on my heart, to love others.
As a solo-attender that day I could sit with another family, perhaps someone from my small group? I could look for a new family and go out of my way to make them feel welcome. Instead, I sat by a 40-something single man. A man I don’t know well, but have had some interactions with.
“Can I sit here?” I asked.
“Yes, please do!” He responded with an unsuspecting smile as he moved his Bible off of the seat he was sure would be unoccupied.
We worshipped together. We laughed at the same sermon-appropriate jokes from our Pastor. I skipped to different passages on my iPad while taking notes. He seemed more content reading the Scriptures off the the projected screens as we listened to our Pastor.
We were good kids, we didn’t talk during the sermon.
As the service concluded he turned to me and rocked my world with his words.
“Brian, thank you for sitting with me. You just raised my status a few points… I normally just sit alone.”
My perspective changed. I don’t know what it is like to be 40 something and single. This man does most things on his own. He eats most meals alone, shows up to small group alone and returns back home, alone. He longs for relationship (just as I do). But the difference, I can at least cover-up any look of loneliness by being with my family.
I just sat with him. Nothing more, nothing less. This “raised his status?”
It certainly didn’t have to be a 40-something single, there are any number of others that feel lonely. I know many teens struggling with their identity and sense of belonging. Young married couples without kids may feel different (and alone). I am sure several families come to church with the feeling of “lack of connection.” What about the widow or widower? And yes, even the church staff/pastors struggle– it seems everyone knows their name, but very few feel known.
‘Loving others’ this day meant sitting next to a single man. Today, not in church, the circumstance has changed, but the command from Jesus remains the same. Whether in church, in my Christian circle or out in my community, I desire to be more present and more aware. Today I will risk and look to love God and love others.
- A new look for the blog (have done this the last couple years).
- Weigh less at the end of the year than I did at the beginning (accomplished that in 2012).
- Blog more in 2013 than in 2012.
- Publish a few books (a few of my own and few from others).
- Share meals, not just yard conversations, with neighbors.
- Log more miles on my bike than I did in 2012.
- 13 pre-planned dates with Elisabeth (a gift I gave her at Christmas).
- Park my car in the garage all year (clear the clutter).
- Do one major house or yard project (likely our deck).
- Get to at least one new state or country.
- Read all of the Bible (it’s been a couple years since I did this in a year).
- Solo-date each month with each of my kids.
- Talk to and about Jesus. A lot.