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Making Vacations Count For Youth Workers

It’s so hard to truly get away from youth ministry.  Not because there’s so much to do or because people are in such need.  That’s true – but that’s not why we find it hard to unplug.  We don’t unplug from ministry because it’s a calling – it’s like unplugging from oxygen – do it for a few seconds and it’s survivable…do it for a while and you’re suffocating… it too long and you’re dead.

Over the years, my wife and I have developed some tried and true methods for receiving our oxygen even though we’re unplugging for a while.

1) Set a time limit For years, Katie and I would say ‘no youth ministry talk on this vacation’ – but inevitably the conversation would always go back to students, church, people, pastors, planning….you get the idea.  Because ministry is a busy, productive life – we’re always leaving something great or returning to something awesome.  It’s natural that the conversation will gravitate toward those amazing moments (and, sometimes even the not so amazing ones.)  We realized that the ‘no ministry talk’ wasn’t really working for us.  So we set a time limit now.  Since we live in South Texas and it takes four days just to get out of the state – it’s a pretty liberal allotment.  After that time limit expires, then there is no ministry talk.  It works great – we get everything out of our system and we can really focus on our marriage, our kids, our life.

2) Only take one cell phone – and don’t make it yours.  Our society no longer knows how to function without cell service.  But if I take my phone (and leave it on, in case of emergency), everyone and their brother are calling me – and that magic 911 doesn’t pop up to let me know if I should answer it or not.  So a few years ago, we started taking Katie’s phone only.  Not many people have her number – so if it rings, it’s important.  (Kind of like Commissioner Gordon and the bat signal.)  It’s shocking to come home and see 347 messages on my phone….while Katie’s phone never rang once.  And everyone lived happily ever after.

3) Don’t leave the emergency contact with the person you know will call, even if it isn’t an emergency (I was going to say ‘don’t leave it with the secretary’ – but some assistants are better at guarding our time than the pastors are.)  When we leave town, I leave an itinerary with our worship pastor.  I know he’ll only call if it’s dire and I must know about it…plus I know chances are he’ll lose my itinerary before I get back – so I’m pretty safe either way.

4) Schedule debrief days.  We do it for ministry all the time – we rarely do It for family.  We need that respite – relaxation – from the intensity of vacation.  We schedule two to three extra days for each getaway – one on the front end (for packing without panic) and one to two on the back end to relax, unpack, and just enjoy being home.  We make sure the pantry is well stocked so we don’t have to go out – and we park in the garage so no one knows we’re back.

Its torture living with the paparazzi (sometimes ministry feels that way), but my family deserves a little privacy, too! And since the media hounds can find you even on your private, uninhabited island, it’s important to plan ahead for some rejuvenation and get-away time.  (Plus, I would hate to see a photo of me in my bathing suit ending up on the cover of the bulletin).  It IS OK – even encouraged – to completely, 100%, unequivocally unplug and detox from ministry.  When was the last time you did it??


Continuing Youth Ministry Throughout The Summer?

Yesterday, we posted an excerpt from We looked at the philosophy of choosing to shut down youth ministry for the Summer. Today we’ll take a look the ‘other side’ of the philosophy of what it looks like to continue youth ministry throughout the summer…


Continuing Youth Ministry Throughout The Summer. By Mike Hammer.

Summer.  It’s possibly the youth ministry season with the least stability.  Reality check:  the summer season will affect how ministry is achieved, regardless of setting.  School is out.  Families are traveling.  Summer jobs are landed.  A lot of voices and experiences are vying for the attention of teenagers.  For that reason, it’s important to consider having ministry continue throughout the summer.

When students are going every different direction, two of their primary needs are relationships and stability.  They need people that will continue to show them the love of Christ on a regular basis.  The simple truth is that, because of the nature of summer, students will absolutely miss some weeks of youth group programming.  But staying connected with them and helping them to know someone is still available for them, still going, and still loving them is important.  It gives them a foundation, a reminder that even though school is seasonal, the importance of faith is not.  Summer provides students more freedom, which means there’s probably an increased need for accountability as well.  If teens aren’t connecting because the student ministry is hibernating, they’re missing out on the vital support they need from others.

The start of the school year is a natural ‘do-over’ for most teenagers.  They’ll use the beginning of a school year to help determine who they are going to be for that year.  Whether it’s the attitude or personality they display, the style of clothes they wear, or the activities they choose– it’s an opportunity for teens to “reintroduce” themselves to their peers.  Staying connected to the youth ministry and people who care about them may help them keep a healthier perspective of themselves and who God made them to be.  The positive interaction and influence they have throughout the summer can be foundational in friendships, connections, and decisions they make when school begins.

I have a student who is difficult to ‘pin down’ during the school year.  He plays nearly every sport known to man.  He’s getting ready for college.  He takes advanced classes and is involved in several campus groups.  He’s able to completely unplug from that life in the summer and engage with our ministry and Jesus in a way he never does during the school year.

All ministries usually see a decline in attendance during the summer.  That can be deflating for any youth worker.  But the teens who do come – they are coming for a reason.  They want the interaction.  They need the relationships.  They want to grow.  Summer can be the perfect time to take the students who ARE involved a little deeper – in faith, in connection, and in friendship.

What you should consider is: will I have the leadership necessary to continue through the summer?

If we continue through the summer, are there any changes we need to make?

What do we hope to accomplish?

Is this the best move for our ministry?


Summer Shutdown For Youth Ministry?

As some of you know, myself and a group of in the trenches youth workers created a book called . This book is designed to help you engage ‘both sides’ of a youth ministry philosophy and help you own which ‘side’ you need to land on. Today and tomorrow, I will be posting excerpts from the book.  We’ll be engaging the discussion of whether or not to shutdown or keep going for our summer youth ministry programs.

Let me know what ‘side’ you land on?


I’ll never forget the first time our lead pastor said to us “Let’s consider shutting down programming for one month of the summer, just to give people a break.”  Seriously, no other words had I longed to hear more, except maybe ‘Darren, you’ve just won Publisher’s Clearing House!’

We live in a sub-tropical climate – and while most people are dying to get some beach time, those of us who live here are trying to find a way to stay indoors, hunker down, and wait for the Hades object lesson to pass.  I had been lobbying for a summer shut down for years.

Here’s the logic.  We expect a lot of our volunteer team.  And they deliver on every count.  They are faithful to be at our regularly scheduled programming – they show up at football games and choir concerts – they invite students into their homes on a regular basis…all for ministry’s sake.  Taking a break during the summer months gives them some much deserved and needed respite.  They’re able to attend their own Bible studies, go on vacation without missing much, and enjoy meals beyond pizza and burgers.  And in my experience, giving my workers the summer off virtually insures their return in the fall and all but eliminates burnout. Continue Reading…

Youth Ministry Communication: Are You A Dropped Call?

Are You Static, Five Bars, or a Dropped Call?

Doesn’t matter who the carrier is, a dropped call or a call full of static and robot voices is annoying.  The message is muddied, if it’s received at all – and it’s frustrating to have to start over not knowing where the call was dropped or when the conversation went south.

Sometimes (unwittingly, I’m sure), youth pastors become static on the line of communication between parents and teenagers.  Tragically, they can even become the dropped call.  A running theme in our podcast for parents of teenagers centers on keeping the lines of communication open between them and their student.  Youth workers can be a crystal clear call – or one of those calls where you want to slam your phone into the nearest wood chipper.  Who are you?

DROPPED CALL:  You stealthily place yourself between students and their parents.  You see yourself as the answer to students’ problems.  You see all the deficiencies parents are bringing to the table and you are there to be the stand-in dad or spot-on mom.  You never encourage kids to open up to their folks because you know mom and dad will screw it up, given half a chance.  You position yourself AND your youth ministry to be a safe haven away from parents – a place where kids can talk openly to someone in place of their parents – you position yourself to ‘drop the call’. Continue Reading…

NEW BOOK: Two Sides

In the previous two posts, Phil and Leneita shared about two new books under the by Simply Youth Ministry. Today I am excited to share a my new book written to help youth workers discover their own personal youth ministry philosophies. Here’s a snapshot:

Have you guys wandered those ‘gray’ areas of youth ministry?  You know –  “How involved should I let my own kids be in the student ministry?”  “What do I do over the summer – program or respite?”  “Should I combine or separate my junior high and senior high kids?”

I gathered ten of my youth ministry friends and we created a guide to navigating some of the more common gray areas of youth ministry.  Each one of us ‘took a side’ – talked about why we prescribe to that particular philosophy – and then gave you some ‘food for thought’ questions as a landing pad for developing your own philosophy.

This resource is written by ‘in-the-trenches-living-youth-ministry-day-to-day’ people.  So it’s practical – and it’s time-tested.  And the great thing is – GRAY NO LONGER!  Regardless of where you land, 2 Sides to Youth Ministry can serve as the runway lights as you touch down somewhere.

So pick up a copy for an easy, practical read– hand copies out to people on your youth ministry team and wrestle through some of the questions together – provide one for your pastor to help explain where you’re going and why you’re going there!  It’s an inexpensive answer  to some of those nagging questions you’ve always grappled with in youth ministry – and you get to customize it for your context using wisdom of seasoned youth workers.


Darren’s List: 5 Things I Pray At Every Youth Program

In Phil’s previous post, he outlined his 5 things he prays at every youth program. Well, here’s Darren’s quick list…

Maybe you can identify with some or all of them? What would you add to this list? What do you regularly pray for at your youth programs?

1. Please don’t let anyone spill their soda on the sanctuary carpet.
2. Please don’t let anyone’s cell phone go off during my message – and if it does, help me not to lose my train of thought.
3. Please let everyone bring their deposits on time.
4. Please don’t let the senior pastor come in here.
5. Please let me survive this night to fight another day.

Go ahead and comment. What would you add to your prayer list?

P.S – This isn’t Darren’s “serious prayer” list, it’s more for fun… well, mostly.


Advice For A Veteran Youth Worker: Part 2

Our good friends at YM360 posted an article called  In this post and the previous one, we’ve provided advice for the veteran who has been asking that question, and provide them with practical steps to continue strong in ministry…

Advice for Veteran Youth Workers!

No matter how old you are or how long you’ve been in it, you are NOT obsolete or too old for youth ministry.  Never forget that.

  1. You are a ‘real’ pastor.  Don’t lose sight of that when people ask you ‘when you’re moving up the ladder’ or ‘becoming a real pastor.’
  2. Don’t get out of youth ministry because your body ‘can’t keep up with the kids anymore.’  Adapt.  Find new ways to connect with students – and find adult leaders who are ‘a little more spry’ to play basketball and run the lock-in.
  3. If you haven’t already, start your ‘why I do this’ folder.  I’ve been keeping one since my first student ministry – pictures, thank you notes, letters, graduation announcements – I keep it all….like a memory hoarder.  On days when it doesn’t seem worth it, I pull out those albums and spend some time letting the Holy Spirit remind me why I continue to do this.
  4. Find some hobbies outside of the youth ministry.  If you’ve been in youth ministry long enough to be considered ‘a veteran’, then you LOVE youth ministry.  Not in a newly infatuated date kind of way – but in a deep, abiding, agape kind of way.  Because of that, it can be easy to eat, drink, and sleep the student ministry that’s at your core…never turning off the youth ministry wheel whirring in your brain.  Find some things you like that help you unplug from student ministry – even if it’s just for a few hours.  It’ll keep your batteries recharged.

Embrace your call.  Don’t apologize for being a veteran – lean into your exceptional service.  Not many of us make it this far.  Enjoy it!

Advice For A Newly Wed Youth Worker: Part 1

So You’ve Just Gotten Married!!

Congratulations!!  Enjoy the honeymoon – your literal one…and the lingering one as you return from your trip and begin the joyous process of learning to live together and love one another.

While you’re doing that, be on the alert.  Because you’re in youth ministry, you won’t just be learning to navigate the toilet paper rolls and toothpaste tubes around your house!

  1. Build some boundaries.  If you have been single in ministry, chances are your students and your church have become used to your availability.  And even if your spouse is ‘all in’ with the ministry, it’s important to incorporate some boundaries so you can enjoy learning to love one another and live together without the constant eye of ministry watching you.
  2. Spend as much time pouring into your spouse as you do (and have) your ministry.  God has blessed you with a ministry partner – but has also given you a new ministry field!  (And it’s one where your example will speak volumes to your students.)  Invest in your spouse – she/he is your first ministry now.
  3. Build relationships as a couple.  Youth ministry sucks a lot of attention and time.  It’s easy to throw yourselves into ministry with teenagers and never build friendships outside the youth ministry.  Consider getting involved in a couples small group or Bible study.  Your marriage will need identity (and friends) outside the youth ministry.

Enjoy being married!  God made you to serve Him together by serving one another first!

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