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Advice For Students Looking Into A Youth Ministry Career

In the last two weeks I have spoken to three students about the possibility of them pursuing youth ministry as a career. Two are current high school students in my ministry, while the other is the son of a friend I play soccer with. (His son is a freshman in a Christian college nearby).

What advice would you give someone who is looking to pursue a career in youth ministry? Here’s what I started with: 

1) PRAY, PRAY, PRAY: This should be a given! But, do you know how many young people I have spoken to who want to go into ministry because it looked fun? It’s so important that we help students to see that youth ministry is a calling and should not be taken lightly. I believe there are great deal of youth workers who burn out early because it simply was not their calling, or they did not take the time to prepare for it…

2) Get Involved In A Local Youth Ministry While At College:School is very important, but it is essential that you get 3-4 years as a volunteer / intern under your belt before you set off into full-time ministry. You will be able to see the good, the bad, and the indifferent as you work in the trenches. It will also allow you discover and develop your strengths, as well as face your weaknesses. Learning these lessons in the relative safety of a volunteer position or internship is a whole lot less painful than being the paid guy or gal…” Continue Reading…

Sharing the Journey…

“Sometimes, even though you may be the most skilled person at completing a task, it does not mean you should be the one to do it”.

Nine years after a mentor shared theses words with me, they still serve as the most powerful ministry lesson I have ever received.  When he spoke them I was working for a grassroots urban youth ministry that was understaffed and overworked (aren’t we all?).  We all had way too much on our plates, and the concept of delegation seemed as real to us all as winning the lottery…it just could not happen.  As I whined and moaned about our lack of staff and volunteers he called me out on what the issue truly was.  There were other people I could delegate to.  I just did not believe that anyone could do the job as well as I could.  As we continued to talk, he brought me to the realization that in order for me to be more effective in my primary responsibilities, I had to be willing to let someone else do work that I was more qualified to complete.  Sometimes, in order to accomplish our goals, I had to subdue my control freak and share the work. No, the task may take the other person more time to get it right, but it would get done.

I recognize that lack of help is one of the three problems we all face in youth ministry (behind lack of money and finding really good games that involve duct tape and Ovaltine). However, I think if you truly think about it, you have people who are willing to jump in and help.  Maybe instead of crowd control and consuming inedible foods they could help carry more of the load.

Now I get it. This youth group is your baby.  God has given you a calling and vision for these kids and this program. It has to be done right. However,  hasn’t He also called your volunteers to the same things? And if that’s the case, shouldn’t you give them something significant to do?

But where do you start? How can you be sure that they are ready to take over the things that you “are most qualified to do”?  It really is simple.  I have found it comes down to three steps: Continue Reading…

Dealing with Tough Stuff

At first glance the article seemed amazing…   I opened it expectantly as it addressed a topic so close to my heart: Girls understanding their identity in Christ.   It began well with the realization that just “telling”  a  teen girl  that they are “pretty” enough will not solve the problem.  Yet, as I read on my frustrations rose.

If I share the piece you will most likely wonder what I am getting so uptight about.  It made great points about how the issue is that young women today need to see themselves through the eyes of Christ.  The “dilemma” is that we are looking at ourselves at all.  All eyes should be on Jesus and Jesus alone.  Again these are great points.

Here is what frustrated me.  It was one more piece about  “what” should happen.   In the end there was not answer to “how,” to help this generation with this quandary. I am tired of reading articles on “what” is wrong with no answer on how to help.   We have come to believe that if we merely talk about the problem then that brings about a solution.

We have come to believe there are certain problems that “just won’t” go away.  That means we should just talk about it. So we hold a sermon series, small group discussions or have a passing conversation on these “hard hitting topics,”  (like self-image.) Then we move on to the next one.  All the while our kids remain in a place of hurting or apathy.   We want to see them change, but we don’t know how to “make” it happen.  That is why we write posts about the problems and solutions with no answers.  In my opinion we need to stop this cycle and start addressing what we “can” do more than what we “can’t.”  Stop writing out hopeful words and start explaining what we can do.

So how do we deal with these tough topics? 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 <><


3 Healthy Ways to Start Your New Year in Ministry: Part 2

In my previous post I shared some insights from Hebrews 12 and the importance of realizing we are not alone in ministry. Often ministry can feel like we are isolated and it feels impossible to hang in for the long-term. Realizing the countless ministry heroes who have gone before us, as well as seeking out the veterans of today, goes a long way to help us stay encouraged when we have “those days.”

Today, I want to focus on a second healthy way to start out the new year in ministry:

Get Rid of Excess Baggage:  let us throw off everything that hinders… Hebrews 12:1

The Complex and Absurd of Ministry: One of the greatest challenges I see for youth workers is the natural tendency to allow our lives and ministry to be overly complex and absurdly busy. Many youth workers wear this badge with pride, and I have often been one of those people. However, as time goes by, I am seeing the foolishness in chasing after every opportunity and every latest trend.

The Hebrew Christians had begun to move away from their dependence on God’s grace through Jesus and had become increasingly focused on Jewish rituals, traditions, and backsliding to old habits. In many ways, I see a similar principle played out in ministry, and it is to the detriment of our personal walk with God, and ultimately the shepherding of students… We often depend too much on traditions, familiar ways, and our personal dependence on ourselves…

Here’s what I am considering this new year: 

Dependence on Programs, Systems, and Self! It’s easy to focus more on a program or system, than the power of God and His wisdom to guide us… It’s easy to get stuck in traditions and familiar ways of doing ministry instead of seeking God’s immediate best… It’s easy to depend on our own skills, work longer hours and become driven by certain results… In the long-term, they can squeeze out our dependence on God and His specific focus for our ministry… How much is my ministry defined by traditions, familiarity, and systems, rather than stepping back to seek God’s leading? 

Before you rush in to 2012 and fall back to the familiar, take some time to step back to survey what needs to be thrown out…

What are some of the things that are hindering you and your ministry?

Phil <><

3 Healthy Ways to Start Your New Year in Ministry: Part 1

Happy New Year to you! I hope you have made a good start to your new year so far. As we enter into the 2012, I wanted to share 3 healthy ways to begin this new year. Recently, I have been reading through Hebrews and I have found some good reminders to help me (and you) stay healthy. Although, these healthy ways might be familiar to us, it’s always good to have reminders…

Realize you’re not alone: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses… Hebrews 12:1a (NIV)

Many Have Gone Before Us: The context of this verse is referring to the martyrs who had gone before and were deemed to be heroes of the faith. Ministry is not a new thing and there are countless lives who bear witness to God’s faithfulness and His ability to work through the lives of ordinary people. There is hope that we can look forward to God using us in our good, bad, and indifferent times of ministry. The key is this: Do you want to be used to make a difference? If the answer is “yes”, we can be confident that God will do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine when His power works through us…

Many Are Making An Impact Today: Not only have countless people gone before us and survived, we have many more ahead of us who are still doing brilliant in youth ministry. With stories of moral failure and challenging situations, it’s easy to focus on the negative.  However, we often fail to celebrate the incredible victories of those who are wildly passionate for their ministries and being used by God in powerful ways. I am blessed to know many veterans in ministry who are a great encouragement to me. They help me realize how God will work through me just as He has for them. Yes, there are many challenging stories too, but it’s imperative to have a long-term view and see how God is using others to make an eternal impact in ministry. Who are the veteran youth workers in your life who encourage and challenge you to stay the course? 

“Yes, but I am not one of those guys / gals!” - We might not be just like a veteran we look up to, but have you taken time lately to get alongside a veteran youth worker and ask them honest questions about their struggles, hurts, and failings? Have you heard their stories of hitting rock bottom and then seeing God pick them up and achieve great outcomes? Have you spent time discovering their authenticity and understanding how “normal” they are. So often we play the comparison game and think that God only uses “those” kinds of people. How are you taking time to get to know the authentic stories of veteran youth workers in your life? 

Often ministry can feel like we are isolated and it feels impossible to hang in for the long-term. Realizing the countless ministry heroes who have gone before us, as well as seeking out the veterans of today, goes a long way to help us stay encouraged when we have “those days.”

Phil <><

Protecting Volunteer Leaders from Burnout

Volunteers are perhaps the most valuable people in youth ministry! Great volunteers who hang in for long haul will make a lasting and impacting difference in the lives of students.

Sadly, the most common reason that I have seen volunteers cease to work with students is not their lack of passion and calling –  it is rate of burnout and being tired out…

In my previous post I talked about the importance of protecting volunteers in general. Today I want to focus on one area I mentioned briefly:

How can I help protect my volunteers from burnout and exhaustion?

1. Create a Healthy Ministry Schedule: Asking most volunteers to serve on a weekly basis is already a challenge for many in their busy lives. For many parent volunteers in particular, making youth group once a week and staying in contact with their small group is a big deal. Therefore I try to commit to scheduling our ministry with healthy breaks and bear in mind my volunteers schedules. a) During Christmas break we do not meet. b) We do not meet for Spring Break. c) Summer is changed up significantly and we have a “come if you can” policy. We need significantly less leaders with our summer schedule, so this works for us. c) We schedule events in a way that they are spread out significantly.  We would rather do a few ‘big” events well, rather than many “poor” events that can tire out volunteers (and students).

2. Insist That Family Comes First: This often can take a while to sink in for my volunteers. Again and again I need to remind them that ministry needs to be a win for their family. Anytime they call me to miss a program or event because of family, I insist that “family always comes first…” In their minds they are often feeling guilty for “calling in”, but it’s my job to affirm healthy family. I have also found that when I take this approach with my volunteers, it actually creates greater loyalty since they I know care about them and their family first. It’s not just about “getting ministry done…” Continue Reading…

Protecting Volunteer Youth Leaders

Just last week we had our yearly White Elephant Christmas Party with my volunteers and their spouses. I am so blessed to have some brilliant volunteers who I love doing ministry with! They are fun, diverse, and integral to reaching and connecting with our students. Therefore, it’s imperative that I make a personal investment to train and invest these great people!

Not only is it my goal to invest in leaders and equip them for ministry, it’s also paramount that I protect them from many of the “joy stealer’s” that often come up in our ministries. Here are some of the “joy stealer’s” we often see:

- Church politics:  It happens in most churches, let’s face it. Don’t allow your volunteers to get sucked into this. When volunteers get involved with politics, remind them the example we need to be to students and remind them to rise above gossip and negative discussions. Most of all, remind yourself…

- Mistakes: Mistakes will happen. Anytime a leader makes an honest mistake it is my job to take the hit, not them. After all, they lead under my leadership. Anytime they make a mistake, I have to make sure I have a teachable moment with the leader, but make sure I emphasize my ownership of the mishap. Continue Reading…

I Messed Up! What Now?

I messed up! Now what? There have been many times in my ministry I have thought this to myself…

Whether it was poor communication, whether a students feelings were hurt, whether a parent was upset, or whether it was ______ (you fill in the blank), we have all messed up haven’t we? Mistakes are inevitable in youth ministry and depending how much experience we have does not always change this reality. As a youth worker I am called to be diligent in all I do and act professionally even when others don’t think that youth ministry is a profession….

But, how do I recover from the times I mess up? 

1) Own Your Mistake: In many church settings, it is easy to live on the defense and never want to admit when we mess up. Somehow we think we might lose our job if we do so. However, as the years go by, I am finding that people respect leaders to humbly accept their mistakes and take full ownership of the mess.

2) Say Sorry Quickly: When we mess up, it’s imperative to catch the people we have impacted quickly so that a small fire does not become a wildfire. When we say sorry it’s important to have no conditions or “buts” about our mistake. Just recently I told some students, “as your youth pastor, I blew it on this one, and I am sorry”. It’s hard to say sorry to students, but there is massive value in teaching them to how to own mistakes in a world that plays the blame game and passes the buck…  They need Godly people to model how to own their mistakes and say sorry quickly. Continue Reading…

3 Things I am Changing Next Fall

One of the crucial lessons I have learned over the years is the need for regular evaluation of how my ministry is going. There are certain times of the year when it is impossible to get a chance to “come up for air”, but there are some natural breaks in seasons that allow me to pause and evaluate. For me these seasons of pause tend to be:

  • Mid-November prior to Thanksgiving and the Christmas rush, (now). 
  • Mid-March just before Easter and a new Spring season. 
  • Late May / early June as we are slowing down and getting ready for the summer.-
  • Early to mid-August as we evaluate the summer and get ready for the Fall kick off. 
This year in evaluating the Fall, I concluded that there are three things I definitely need to tweak or change for next Fall: 
1) Simplify: This year we had too many things on the calendar as we started out the Fall. It’s not that we did not have the capacity to do all the programs and events, but it was our inability to give any one event a great deal of promotion. When we have too many things on our calendars, students focus will get lost. It’s better to “build” into the Fall rather than have a million things to focus on.
2) Do not make drastic changes in our programs until the Fall is well under way: This year, just 4 weeks into Fall we created an “Other Religions” series in our discipleship environment. It had incredible content and I had different volunteers stepping up to research and create material weeks ahead of their day to present. With this discipleship environment we usually have a 15 minute large group message and then break students into small groups to dig deeper into the passages / study. However, because we had so much content to get through each week, we decided to keep the large group together and have students ask questions and discuss the topic in the large group. Although this series seemed to work well, I believe it would have had greater effectiveness if we scheduled it later in the year. For me, my take away was this: Fall needs to be a time of building relational connections in our small group environments. While content is great in these kind of series, they are better used later in the year once we have established our small groups and students are settled and comfortable. Continue Reading…
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