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Is Your Lack Of A Day Off Killing You?

It’s Friday and it’s my day off. (I drafted this post on a Wednesday). If you are in  ministry, you have heard the importance of taking a good day off! Why?

  • The extra hours that come up each week that you and your family didn’t plan
  • The late night phone calls, or phone calls during dinner / family time
  • The brain that never switches off from ministry
  • The lost sleep because of a student or family who is being torn apart by sin
  • The weekend retreat that created the 100 hour week

Do these sound familiar? Maybe you could add a few to this list? But here’s the deal:

Lack of a day off and lack of planning on your day off could be slowly killing you…

I speak from experience when I tell you that I have run on empty too many times. I speak from painful experience when I tell you that my spiritual walk has taken a back seat and my family gets the left-overs because I have allowed ministry to consume me. Because of my painful experiences I am learning, (note that I said “learning”), how imperative it is to have a scheduled day off each week AND to ensure that I have a plan for that day.

Without a plan on our day off, we are likely to allow our day off to default back to ministry and the complexity of life…

Instead of allowing my day off to ‘default’  back to ministry, I have learned to create a plan for my day off that incorporates the following essentials for me, (and my wife).

  • Alone time with God
  • Alone time at the coffee shop reading. (My wife takes the first two hours, I take the next two hours, since we have kids).
  • Exercise - Whether it’s a mountain bike ride, (I am doing that this week), or going for a run, I find that exercise energizes me.
  • Family time – On Friday when we are all home, we try to do something fun as a family and ensure that we have talked about the plan ahead of time…

I know these ‘defaults’ of mine might seem simple and straightforward, but without planning them into my day off, I usually ‘drift’ back to the default of ministry.

Is your day off drifting back to the default of ministry or your planned defaults? How is your day off refreshing you? Are you running on empty and need to make a better plan?

Finally, what fills your tank? What would you add to your day off defaults? 

Phil <><

Youth Ministry Realities: When You Can’t Do It All

What can you do, when you can’t do it all?

Do you have those times in youth ministry when you realize that you are unable come through with all that you hoped to achieve? Whether it is that big event, that mission trip, or the weekly program that is getting out of control, we all have moments when we realize, “I just don’t have what it takes… I can’t do it all.” But what do we do, when we come to this painful conclusion?

Here’s a number of options I have had to work through over the years:

1) Depend On God: Yes, this should be a given. But, can we all be honest here for a moment? Even though we constantly tell teenagers to lean on God and depend on Him for strength, there is something about leadership that can easily set us up to begin depending on our own strength. It begins subtly and slowly, but when we are leading others there is often a tendency to feel weak if we have to admit we can’t do it. Somehow we feel inadequate about being a leader who does not have all the answers or have what it takes to navigate through a challenging time. However, isn’t that where God wants us? After all, isn’t God’s power displayed best in our weakness? Continue Reading…

3 Essential Fall Plans You Should Be Making Now For Your Youth Ministry?

This week, here in Michigan, our high schools have their last days and most have already had their graduation ceremonies. The summer is about to begin! However, it is this time of year that I believe it is essential to start making plans for Fall and not wait any longer.

The problem for us is this: Before we know it, we are on a mission trip, we’ve taken that needed vacation, or we are already in August staring down the Fall. It’s true isn’t it? Summer fly’s by! Therefore, to make sure that Fall does not turn into a last-minute planning frenzy, there are three priorities I work on now, while I have the time:

1) Recruiting New Volunteer Leaders: If we wait for potential leaders to leave town on vacation or get into their summer mode, it’s harder to have needed conversations. It’s also good to ask potential volunteers now, so that they can pray and consider helping during the summer months. Sometimes the ‘volunteering seed’ needs to be planted now and will grow over the summer. Waiting to ask potential volunteers a few weeks before the Fall can often feel rushed and disorganized.

2) Plan Out A Basic Calendar: Sitting back here in June is a great time to look at the calendar in a more objective,  relaxed and prayerful way. It allows us to see the big picture of what is going on and allows us to take time to space events and programs out and give healthy margin once the Fall arrives. It also allows us time to tweak and change the calendar without making rushed decisions when a potential calendar conflict comes up.

3) Plan Your Message Series Now: By thinking through your first 2-3 message series now, it will allow your creativity and ideas to ferment over the summer. It also allows us to get others involved and incorporate elements that might not get added if we were running fast into the Fall. Consider the felt needs of your students as you plan your Fall kick off series.Appealing to their felt needs and creating an exciting and engaging Fall series will help you create good momentum right out the gate.

What are you working on now for the Fall? What would you add to this list?

Phil <><

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??


Youth Ministry Getaway? To Vacation or Not to Vacation?

To Vacation or Not to Vacation…

For months I had turned to my husband and whispered,  “When will you take me away?” The children would stay home while we went.  All I could dream of was sitting on a beach with a whole lot of nothing “to do.”

Now that we were “there,” everything seemed to be going wrong.   Our 11 year old was having a panic attack about us being away for a whole week.  He had called 10 times in the middle of the night.  Why was this the time they had to talk about “the rapture” at church?  There were hundreds of calls from the ministry.   Two kids had gotten into a fist-fight and just as an FYI both sets of parents want to meet with us when we get back.  This was not the “vacation” I had been romanticizing for months.  As my mind raced, my soul kept chanting,  “Hurry up and relax,  soon you go home.” Continue Reading…

10 Signs That Insecurity Could Be Eating Away At You And Your Youth Ministry

Insecurity in leadership is one of my greatest concerns as I look ahead to the future of youth ministry. It doesn’t matter how focused we are on seeking the latest and best ways to minister if we are not secure in our leadership. Whether you are a volunteer or a full-time / part-time paid youth worker, your youth ministry will reflect your security, (or insecurity).

Are you secure in God’s calling, strength, and purpose for you? Or, Is your life and ministry swayed by your insecurity?

Here are 10 signs that our ministry (and lives), are swayed by insecurity:

  1. Our days begin with a long list of tasks that focus on keeping others happy, rather than seeking God’s affirmation.
  2. We constantly compare ourselves to other youth workers or the youth ministry down the street.
  3. We say “Yes” to every event and program idea: We are scared that by saying no, we might lose popularity.
  4. We can’t miss a phone call at any time of the day: If we do, it eats us alive to wonder what the call was about.
  5. We would rather be good friends with students, rather than being a solid leader to them.
  6. We regularly lose sleep when students, leaders, and parents disagree or disapprove of us.
  7. We constantly complain to friends about the latest conflict or disagreement in hopes to gain support and affirmation.
  8. We feel defeated and devastated when an event or program doesn’t quite live up to what we and others hoped, (rather than seeing it as an opportunity to grow and learn).
  9. We have a tendency to fish for compliments from others, and are fueled (and ruled), by their affirmations.
  10. We feel distant from God and feel a lack of security and confidence in Him (and His promises…)

If you are like me, there are many things on this list that I relate to. I have times when I feel confident and secure, and then there are times when I feel desperate and insecure in myself and my ministry.

I know this might be completely obvious, but who are we trying to please?

As you go through your day, consider your motivations, your decisions, and your feelings. Are they driven by the intense need to keep others happy, or are you striving to please God and let his leading bring fruit to your life and ministry? I know this might seem so obvious, but it’s one of the greatest issues I see in leadership in churches today.

Are we really living to please God, or living for the approval of others? Are we allowing insecurity to define our lives and ministries?

What would you add to this list? What are some of the indicators that your ministry and life is defined by insecurity?

Phil <><

How to Avoid Youth Ministry Burnout: Part 2

This is part-two of a two-part series looking at burnout in youth ministry. 

Since I wouldn’t stop, God shut me down.  He stopped me totally in my tracks. If I don’t get enough sleep now I am sick for 3 days.  I MUST sleep. If I don’t exercise, my muscles stiffen up and I can’t move.  I HAVE to work out daily. I have suffered from a stomach problem for 13 years (non burnout related.)   It is exasperated by stress and poor eating habits.  I HAVE TO EAT WELL.

God literally stopped me.  He said ENOUGH is ENOUGH.  I am not saying that the Lord laughed at me.  Instead FOR ME,  I couldn’t/wouldn’t listen.  So He gave me signs to help.  As I mentioned yesterday,  I know others that have come under the weight of similar afflictions.

I have come to see when I don’t listen,  the Lord grabs my attention.   He wants me with him in this for the long haul. Continue Reading…

Youth Ministry Burnout: Part 1

This is part-one of a two-part series on youth ministry burnout. 

I could not believe that this ministry veteran was telling my story.  Years of serving  and then one day the weight crushed him. Us “Type A,” personalities are wound tight. On a good day. We are workaholics, especially when it is something that we really believe in. Our minds are always racing.  We never “shut off.”   We are moving and moving and if you aren’t coming with us then well,  get out-of-the-way. We don’t thrive at “days off.”  Vacations can be a hard sell.   We eat too much or live off of an IV of coffee.  Actually, we feel guilty when we do things for “ourselves.”  (I recently used a gift certificate I received for a facial… a year and a half a go).  It feels like when I do “take time” things just blow up anyway.

Eventually we run ourselves into the ground.  I have sat in my bed sick with pneumonia and continued on getting done what needs to be done.

Continue Reading…

4 Plans Every Youth Worker Should Be Making? Part 3: Seasonal Planning

In my previous posts I talked about the importance of youth workers being strategic planners and people who have a long-term teaching plan. Having a good prayerful plan can often be the key to greater effectiveness and help us hang in for the long haul. I know it is not always in our DNA as youth workers to enjoy planning, (or even be good at it), but it is a necessary part of becoming a successful and professional youth worker. Having a good plan will also help us gain greater influence from parents, church leaders, (and ultimately benefit our students).

The previous two posts were pretty in depth and full of information, but today I want to be brief with this idea:

An effective youth worker is constantly planning ahead at least one season.

In terms of events, calendar and programs, it is imperative that we are working at least 2-3 months ahead of where we are. For me, I call it a season. As I write this post, my whole summer calendar is published even though here in Michigan we are barely touching the Spring. It’s so important that we work 2-3 months ahead for a number of reasons:

1) Parents Need The Information: If we want parents to support our ministries we should be getting dates to them at least 2-3 months ahead. For missions trips, however, most parents will thank you if you give them the date 6-9 months out.

2) Volunteers Can Plan Better: If you want volunteers at special events and retreats, they need to book time off and make your program a priority. If you are working a month out, don’t expect to get any support. Continue Reading…

Gaining Healthy Respect & Influence In Youth Ministry: Parents

Gaining healthy respect and influence in youth ministry can sometimes be challenging. Many youth workers are young and often feel like people see them as “the young kid.”  Even veteran youth workers feel like the title of “youth worker” devalues their influence. It’s true,  we do face stigmas and inaccurate perceptions. However, it doesn’t mean that we cannot gain the respect and influence that will help us build strong youth ministries…

Today, I want to encourage you to consider how you can gain healthy respect and influence with the parents in our ministries. As many of you know, having parents “on our side” can make or break the success of our ministries. Below are three things that when consistently worked on, will help us gain healthy respect and influence with parents in my ministry.

1) Set An Example And Stay The Course: This is perhaps the most effective way of gaining healthy respect and influence with any group of people in our church. Parents entrust their kids to us on a daily basis and it’s important that they see someone who is setting a consistent Godly example. It’s easy to get frustrated when people don’t give us time of day, but it’s also important to realize that trust takes time to build. Being a solid and consistent example will bear much fruit in time… Getting frustrated and defensive with parents will only go to confirm any negative ideas they might already have about youth workers… Set an example and stay the course… Continue Reading…

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