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Married In Youth Ministry

So many times we sit with others “in ministry” and we hear the stories of their journey. We heard it said once in every marriage one of you is the plow horse and one of you is the race horse. In other words, one of you is the passionate visionary and the other is the slow and steady planner. Another way of looking at this would be to say that one of you is the pioneer and the other “follows and supports” the lead. Nine times out of ten when we “talk” about the road to ministry as a couple, the “dreamer” is the husband and the “practical” one is the wife.

Not in our marriage. We have had a unique expedition into serving the Lord. Leneita is the crazed overly passionate, “We can do anything” voice, while John is the calm, reasonable, “Sounds good, but how will we accomplish it,”  voice. It used to make us roll our eyes as the husband would look at Leneita and say we are just alike. It made John feel emasculated that he was more like the ministry “wives.”

Ministry is challenging. Then you add marriage to the mix and it simply complicates everything. In our case neither of us even has a “real” job (or so we have heard them called.) to support the cause. Instead, we have walked hand in hand down this road of fully focused, all in, running youth min stuff 24/7 for almost 15 years now.

Here are 3 things that have helped our marriage:

1. We were BOTH called. In our life we have the interesting perspective that our whole family is “in ministry” together. We live in the inner city as missionaries and serve on staff with a ministry. Our lives are immersed into the vision. Yet, we recognize it wasn’t one or the other of us following the other. The Lord made us “one flesh” this means that this call was for both of us. In your life it might look different. One of you may hold down a non “church” job. One of you might stay at home with the kids. However, the Lord wants you unified in his vision for your life. Serving in youth ministry is part of that.

 2. We are called to be who God called US to be. Expectations from others was what brought rifts into our marriage. In the early years we kept trying to make it look like what we defined as the “norm.” This brought a constant sense of uneasiness to our relationship. I’ll never forget the day I heard a young, stay at home, homeschool mom, say to me, “I could never do what you do, I just support my husband as a youth guy.” I told her, “You aren’t supposed to do it our way. You are supposed to do it the way the Lord made YOU as a family.” If you are not sinning in any way and you are happy with the way your marriage is working, stop trying to fix it. It isn’t broken.

 3. “Doing” ministry can never be as important as your relationship. We all say, God first, family second, everything else third. I have also heard it said, “God only.” Our identity can’t be in what you do, it has to be in who you are in the Lord. HOWEVER, when the Lord gives you a spouse that relationship needs care. There is never a “good day,” to take off. There is never a day that the phone calls, text and demands of those you serve will end. If you keep telling your spouse, “they just need to understand this is important,” there will come a day when they won’t anymore. The most important relationships need nurturing. You were called together. Even if your stint in “ministry” ended tomorrow, you will still be together, don’t forget that.

Honestly, when we were both single and “doing ministry” it was relatively easy. The only people we had to care about were Jesus and everyone else. The reality was that the Lord gave us a traveling companion on this life with him. The day we said, “I do” it meant that we would walk it all together, whatever life brings. For today, that means we get to tell kids how to live for Christ… as a couple.

What has helped your marriage in youth ministry? What is essential to continue growing together as one or both or you minister to students? 

John & Leneita


Transitions In Youth Ministry: Part 2 – The Comparison Game

In my previous post, I talked about the importance of building healthy foundations when transitioning into a new ministry. Today I would like to talk about a potential danger that new and transitioning youth workers can easily struggle with:

PLAYING THE COMPARISON GAME: So often students, parents, and leaders are hurting from the loss of the previous youth worker that they will naturally compare us with the previous person. The LAST thing we should be doing is joining in to play the comparison game too! It can become a dangerous and unhealthy foundation to build in our first year. Here’s what the comparison game can cause us to do:

  • We change who we are to keep others happy while we are not fulfilled ourselves…
  • We become defensive when we are compared to the last person and end up “bashing” the guy or gal before us…
  • We change our vision and priorities to keep others happy and continue what others thought was successful…
  • We can become frustrated when we change who we become frustrated in working toward a vision that is not ours…

THE REALITY OF THE COMPARISON GAME: Let’s be honest, every good youth worker should be creating a strong connection with their students, leaders, and parents. Therefore, we need to expect that people will have a natural tendency to miss the previous person and talk about them a great deal. Often a comparison statement is communicating “I miss the previous person, and you are not him or her.” This is natural and normal, but it’s important that we fight the urge to change who we are or take it too personally when we are compared…


Transitions In Youth Ministry Part 1: Healthy Foundations

Transitioning into a new youth ministry, or your first ministry can be very challenging! A good start (or a poor start), makes all the difference. But what are some of the keys to making a good transition into a new youth ministry? There are many, but here are the ones I have found to be paramount in making a good transition:

LISTEN FIRST: A commitment I have made in my last two positions was to move slowly and take time to understand the people and programs first. In my opinion, we should be committed to not making any major changes in the first year, (only tweaking what has been done in the past). This is easier said than done, but it’s important to glean important insights, learn good lessons, and most importantly build trust with leaders, students, and parents.

RELATIONSHIPS: No matter what happens in our first year, we cannot forget that relationships are at the core of everything we should be doing. In a new position it’s so easy to get task focused, but we cannot get too busy to build relationships…  After the first year it will be solid relationships that will make you and your students want to achieve greater things together…  Continue Reading…

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 Veteran Youth Worker: Part 1

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

I’m not sure at what point you get to be considered a  “veteran”  youth worker.   Perhaps it is the point at which you realize you don’t really “know anything.”  Instead,  the “wisdom”  you have to share are the mistakes you have made.   I think it is the point at which you come to  the epiphany that you just want to be the person Jesus wants you to be.  Out of your great love for him all you can do is serve him.  As I am now considered a “veteran,”  here is what I would share with other “vet” youth people.

1. Don’t be afraid of change. I love to tell the story of the little girl who is watching her Mom fry a chicken.   Her Mom buys a whole chicken,  cuts off the legs and the wings and throws them away.  She proceeds to only fry the chicken breast.   “Mom,”  she asks,  “Why do you throw out part of  the chicken?  Why do you fry it like that?”  Her Mom responds,  “Honey,  I don’t know that’s how your grandmother taught me to do it,  ask her.”  So the little girl goes to her grandmother with the same question. The grandma responds,  “I don’t know that’s how your great- grandma taught me to do it, ask her.”  So the little girls asks the great –grandmother the same question.  The great- grandmother responds,  “That’s easy,  when I first started frying chicken I didn’t have a skillet that was big enough to fry it all in.  It took too long to fry the other pieces later so I threw them out.”    Do you see?  Two generations later a Mom is teaching her daughter to fry the chicken ineffectively,  based on an old standard.  In our own ministries we have to constantly evaluate why we do what we do.  Does it still work?  Does the group of kids I have respond to this?  Can my team buy in?  We must be wiling to shift and change our approach based on the team, parents and students we have NOW.

2. Keep growing and learning. Last week I had a conversation with a mentor who is “farther along” in ministry than I am.    He challenged me,  “Leneita when was the last time you went to a conference just to go.  Not where you are teaching,  but just to meet people and learn.”  In contrast I spoke with a 40 year vet last week who told me that conferences can’t really teach him anything anymore.  It is easy to become sucked into a myopic view of our  ministry.   There comes a point when it feels like there is “nothing new under the sun.”   That might be true,  yet we must recognize that the old dog sometimes needs to learn a new trick.   Perhaps a book or  event simply brings encouragement.  Mentors keep us accountable.  Growth keeps us humble. Continue Reading…

Advice For A Newly Wed Youth Worker: Part 2

The conversation still lingers in my heart.  John and I were “getting serious.”  That’s when I got offered a job as a full-time, paid youth worker.   Up until this point I had been either bi-vocational or a volunteer.  I vividly recall telling him why I couldn’t “take the job.”  It was 60 hours a week at least and there was no way that would be good for us when we became newlyweds.   Yet, after praying and seeking the Lord (separate and together), it was clear that this was Christ’s plan, for us.   My world became immersed in youth, and I got “paid” to do it.  As a dating couple it wasn’t that hard to navigate.  Then we got married.  That first year in marriage we learned a lot about what it means to be “one flesh” and  to be a youth person.

1. You are both “called.” I highly recommend having an honest heart to heart about this before the wedding bells ever ring.  Yet, if you have already “said the vows,” you need to sit and talk this concept through.   I am not suggesting that the church got a “two for the price of one,” deal.   You will need to figure out how you will each serve and support  the  other in the actual day-to-day tasks of “ministry.”  Instead, this is a philosophical view.   When you do not have a heart that is united in backing the  “calling” a rift happens in your marriage.  It does not belong to one or the other of you, because ministry is never just a “job.” Continue Reading…

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!

Advice For A New Youth Worker

In my previous post I talked about the advice I had recently given three students who were considering a career in youth ministry. (Check it out and add your advice to the comments too)! Today, I want to focus on the advice I give new youth workers who have been in the trenches for less than two years. There are many things I could cover in this post, but here are the essential things I choose to share. Maybe you could add some more to this list in the comments section?

First, it’s important to realize that youth ministry can be one of the most rewarding and exciting things to do! There are times when I pinch myself because I can’t believe I get paid to invest in students lives. However, having done this for a long time now, I have come to realize that the blessing of youth ministry can quickly feel like a curse if we do not build the right foundations as we start out…

Develop Healthy Spiritual Foundations Now: Starting out in our first ministry is exciting and daunting at the same time. It’s easy to get swept away in the ministry nuts and bolts and find yourself spiritually dry a year into things. Unfortunately, this can become the pattern for the rest of your ministry. Ensure that quiet times and bible study are the foundation to your ministry, not an add-on!

Determine To Be Teachable: I hate to even say this, but I meet so many young youth workers who think they know it all… (I was one of those youth workers a while back too…) A few years at college or a few years as an intern does not mean you have all the answers or have figured how the church needs to change for the better. One of the best qualities of any youth worker is the ability to always remain teachable and realize there is always more to learn. Even after nearly two decades in youth ministry, I realize I still have so much to learn… Unfortunately, I see many young youth workers constantly asserting their new-found knowledge in unhealthy ways in order to gain quick influence in their churches. Unfortunately, much of the time they come across as the arrogant “know it all” and actually don’t gain the influence they were hoping for… Continue Reading…

Too Busy To Breathe?

Have you had those seasons in ministry and life where you just don’t seem to get a time to breathe? The last few months for me have felt that way. Between a constant barrage of family sickness, more ministry “emergencies” than normal, as well as over extending myself in some areas, it has been a challenging couple of months. Maybe you can relate?

In seasons like this it’s time to breathe, time to learn, and time to look forward. 

TIME TO BREATHE: The last couple of months have been very busy, but it means everything to stop and be filled up instead of running on empty. The last two weeks I have had to be very intentional to calve out time to be alone, read God’s Word, and be silent. It’s not easy, but it’s essential. It’s challenging to slow down when there are so many things to get done and so many people to keep happy. However, hanging in the long-haul and being effective in the short-term depends on our dependence on God. We must be ruthless with our schedules and intentional about taking time to breathe with our Father.  Continue Reading…

3 Healthy Ways to Start Your New Year in Ministry: Part 3

In my previous post I talked about the importance of throwing off the things that are hindering our lives and ministries. So often we fall back to the familiar instead of stepping back to survey what needs to change. It’s easy to depend on familiar programs, systems, or self reliance instead of depending on God to clearly direct.

Today, I want to continue to look at Hebrews 12: 1 as we look at the intense and challenging issues of being entangled by sin in our lives and ministries.

We Are All But One Step Away From A Fall: “…and the sin that so easily entangles” Hebrews 12:1

A True and Painful Story: A number of years ago, I remember walking across the parking lot into the church where I was the youth pastor. It was the day I was scheduled to preach, but it wouldn’t be any typical sermon… The Sunday before, we had announced to the church that our senior pastor had been forced to resign because he had committed adultery. It was tragic and horrendous for so many people who loved him, his family, and loved their church…  My sermon would be the first sermon following this deeply painful announcement… If I am honest, as I walked across the parking lot into the church, I was angered by this man and what he had done to so many people… It was at that point that God spoke to my heart very clearly. Instead of casting judgment, God show me how all of us in ministry are but one step away from becoming entangled by sin that will lead to destruction and pain.

Be Honest: Therefore, as we make our way into the new year, we should take an honest look at the repeat sins in our lives that have begun to entangle us. It’s crucial that we get help now, not later. It’s paramount that intentionally seek God and spend time with Him to find freedom from being entangled by sin… I have never met anyone in ministry who intentional wanted to fall to a moral failure or lose their position because of poor choices. However, I do know that sin can creep in very quickly and will easily entangle us if we are not careful…

Here’s three questions we should be asking: 

1) What sin is at work in our lives that will entangle us and eventually destroy our family and ministries?

2) Are we running from God or are we coming to Him honestly and openly with our struggles? We all preach it to students, but when was the last time we fell into the arms of our Savior in confession and repentance?

3) Who can help us and and hold us accountable in areas of struggle?

4) What spiritual habits need our attention to help release us from being entangled and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus?

What else would you add? What wisdom have you gleaned in these situations? What hope can you offer? Please feel free to comment. Let’s help each other.

Phil <><


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