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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…

5 Ways To Finish Out The School Year Well

It’s already April! Most people have returned from their Spring break trips, (I didn’t get away and I wished I had). For most people, their mindset is already looking to the Summer and many of you are already seeing numbers take a dip as the weather warms up or Spring sports hit full speed ahead… As many are looking ahead to the Summer months, I think it’s good not to forget the weeks leading up to Summer. Here are 5 essential elements I have tried to establish as I look to finish the school year well.

1) Survey Your Students and Leaders: Don’t assume you know what worked for your ministry in the last school year, ask your students (and your leaders). I will actually be using a Sunday morning program to survey our students and celebrate the last year. Our survey is pretty detailed, (I’ll post it soon), and gives students a good chance for students to provide us specific feedback. We use this survey as a way to design upcoming Fall and Winter programs and events. Before the summer truly hits, it’s good to reflect and digest on where you have been. I will be sitting down with some of my core leaders to review the school year and plan the Fall.

2) Head For A End Of School Year Event: We always close out our school year with a big event that is promoted heavily and incorporates celebration and fun. It also acts as a beginning of summer event in some ways too. It’s good to have defining events like this that signify a change in schedule or programming.  Continue Reading…

4 Plans Every Youth Worker Should Be Making? Part 4: A Personal Plan

What’s your personal plan? I’m not talking about loving God, loving students and doing ministry for the next year. Have you prayed about the course your ministry is taking? Have you prayed about the next steps for you? You know, will you be in youth ministry all your life or will you one day ‘grow up’ and graduate to ‘real ministry’ one day, (as we often get asked). Are you a volunteer who is destined for full-time ministry or are you being pressured to minister somewhere else because YOU think you are getting too old? Are you wondering if your current church would keep you on long-term as their youth worker? Do you dream of starting a church, but don’t know how? These are just some of the questions I hear from youth workers.

Bottom Line: Do you know where you are going in ministry? Have you stopped to ask?

Praying through and developing a personal ministry plan is crucial for you, your family, your students, your church, and ultimately your usefulness in God’s Kingdom. Here’s what’s crucial about seeking God for your personal ministry plan:  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…

4 Plans Every Youth Worker Should Be Making? Part 2: A Long-Term Teaching Plan

In my previous post we introduced the importance of good strategic planning in youth ministry. Even though good planning is not in the DNA of many youth workers, it is a necessity if we want to have greater effectiveness as well as being able to hang in for the long haul.

Today, we’re going to take a look at what we should consider when creating a long-term teaching plan.

1) Consider Your Audience: Depending on whether your students are seekers, strugglers, or sold-out in their faith, will depend on what you plan to teach. It’s good to have different times or programs to focus on these types of students.

For example, our midweek outreach program is aimed at seekers and strugglers. Therefore, we are intentional about hitting topics and issues that are palatable for every kind of student, whether churched or unchurched. Here we address issues like: Dealing with fears, conflict, regret, relationships, making decisions, identity, self-image, life purpose, etc etc. You get the idea.

In contrast, our Sunday discipleship program is focused on struggling and sold-out students, (usually churched), where we teach deeper areas such theology, apologetics, spiritual habits, evangelism, etc etc.

Bottom line: Your audience will determine your content. 

2) Ask Your Students What They Need: This is particularly helpful when teaching many of the felt need topics. Subjects like relationships are always going to be at the top of the list, but you will also glean much about what your students need by asking them. This might seem too simple, but so many of us negate to ask students.

One BIG way to ask students is to do a yearly survey asking them what areas of their lives they need help with. We do a survey like this every May and it allows us to develop some specific message series for the Fall and Winter months. For outreach and large group programs you will discover that you will ‘hit’ many of the same felt needs areas year after year. This is not a bad thing since our students are constantly battling through the same challenges year after year.

Bottom line: Don’t guess what students need, ask them!

Continue Reading…

4 Plans Every Youth Worker Should Be Making? Part 1

It’s Spring Break here in South East Michigan, (although we had snow flurries after 80f temps a few weeks back). It’s typical that here in Michigan during Spring break, vast numbers of families leave to head South to warm places like Florida… Except people like me… I am sitting in my local Starbucks watching the white stuff fall from the sky.

Despite the cold weather, it’s a great week for me to spend more time investing in planning while many of my students and leaders are out-of-town. Although the idea of planning can be highly offensive to many youth workers, I believe it is an imperative part to what we must do to have an effective ministry and to pursue longevity in our churches. When considering plans, here are 4 types of plans I believe every youth worker must be praying through and working on:

1) Strategic plan.  2) Teaching plan: 3) Seasonal plan: 4) Personal plan

Strategic Plan: For me, when I arrived at my current church, I prayed about and created a 3 year plan that seeks to build year after year. This plan has been adjusted a couple of times, but there has always been a plan written down. It does not have to be detailed, but must give you a big idea of what you are looking to achieve by the end of each year.

As you look at my plans below, you will see they are pretty basic and a broad brush stroke for each year. I did not look to move mountains, I simply tried to create a plan that would help to build trust, build success, and build momentum. It’s important to realize you can’t change the world at once!

As a younger youth worker I tried to change everything at once and didn’t understand the value of patience and building things slowly. I know there’s a lot of pressure to come in and change the world, but “too fast too soon” doesn’t usually last for the long-term. It’s important that a strategic plan takes time to build a solid foundation that will last for the long haul.

Here’s a snapshot of my 3 year plan I have been praying and working through: 

Year 1: Develop Relationships: Develop relationships with students, parents and youth leaders. Commit to listening first! Do not implement major changes. Listen to the people, review the programs, understand the culture. It’s imperative we listen and learn first so that we can build trust and earn the right to make changes…

Year 2: Tweak Programs: Continue to develop relationships with students, parents and youth leaders. Review the last year with students and leaders and THEN implement adjustments to existing programs and events. Create a teaching plan for the next 4 years and create a ‘big win’ event or trip that will rally people behind a cause or core purpose. (For us, this ended up being a huge mission trip that year). Continue Reading…

What Works Best in YOUR Ministry?

I love reading blogs… I love reading youth ministry books… I love listening to incredible youth ministry speakers… I love networking with other youth workers… Bottom line, I love these things because I love to learn how to do ministry more effectively, and discovering new ways of doing ministry! But here is the problem we all face these days:

With a greater access conferences, books, and resources, (and so much information to digest), it can be easy to stop thinking and praying through what works best within our own ministry contexts.

Before we begin to implement the newest idea or the ministry philosophy that  has worked somewhere else, it’s imperative that we take important steps to ensure that new ideas and philosophies will actually work in our ministry contexts. In my last three positions, I have found that no ‘one size fits all’ approach works. In fact, I have had three different approaches for the last three churches…

Here’s what does work however:

1) Seek God’s guidance for your specific ministry. (Do we really spend days and weeks seeking God when it comes to implementing ideas and programs)?

2) Spend your first year listening and understanding the people, the community, and the church. (Just because we are the paid person with the expertise does not mean that God does not want to speak through the people).  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…

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