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Youth Ministry Realities: Now That I’m a Parent…I’m Sorry…

Retrospect sucks.

I am 43 years old.  I have been in youth ministry since I was 19.  I finally have teenagers of my own…sixteen, fourteen, and twelve year old sons.  Looking back at some of the decisions I made as a pre-parent of a teenager, I am horrified!

And I am sorry….

…for the time I said ‘orgasm’ from the pulpit in big church. I apologize.  Even though we were deep in the throes of ‘True Love Waits’, I now realize that maybe that would be a word you would like to introduce to your children.  I’m sorry I probably brought questions to roost before you (or they) were ready for them.  I know I would want to be the person introducing the ‘particulars’ of sex to my own teenagers. Continue Reading…

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…

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…

The Lesson I Learned When My Laptop Crashed During Sermon Prep

Today my Macbook Pro crashed!

It was a BIG crash! The good people at the Apple store told me my hard drive is not recoverable. Ever have that happen? Believe it or not, this is the first time I have ever had a computer crash in this way… But here’s the bigger problem:

I AM PREACHING IN CHURCH THIS SUNDAY AND I JUST FINISHED WRITING MY SERMON ON THAT LAPTOP.  No back up, just some notes I had gathered on

So, apart from backing up my sermon as I wrote, or writing it on a web-based application like , here is my BIG lesson I have learned:

“Owning” The Message And Preparing Well Is Helping Me Now:  It’s a pain to have to write it again, but ownership of the message will make it easier to write again.  In Communicating for a Change,  Andy Stanley talks about the importance of “owning” a message and internalizing the core of the message. He even goes so far as to say, why should people listen to us if we don’t own it ourselves? Since reading the book I have tried to ensure that I prepare in such a way, I could preach without notes if needed.

So, even though I have to write my sermon again. And even though I am crammed for time to do it before Sunday, I am thankful that I feel fairly confident that I own the message and have the big idea (and most of the points) in my head… Owning the message is imperative for our audience, but I found out today how helpful it is to write the same sermon again!

For now, here are 5 simple things I do in my writing process to help me “own” the message:

1) Pray: Obvious, yes. Crucial, for sure! Good prayer time saves time!  It’s easier to discern what God is wanting me to say. So often it’s easy to jump into research or even writing without considering what direction The Holy Spirit might want me to look in.  

2) Prepare: Lots of reading of commentaries around the passage or topic. (This really helps to solidify what I own and know). I use for Mac.

3) Plan a Map: This is where I outline a starting and ending point for my message. In many ways, we take people on a journey with us. It’s important that we consider how to get them on the journey, how to keep them on the journey, and how they land at their destination.

4) Put it Together: I don’t write every word, I write an outline that is a detailed version of my map. (This is the part that is lost on my hard drive at the Apple Store).

5) Practice: This is perhaps my best way to own the message and internalize God’s Truth for myself as I preach. It also helps me to iron out transitions and make tweaks as I go. When I practice, I actually talk out the whole message from start to finish. I particularly focus on the take off and landing…

So, there you go. Not rocket science, but perhaps you have struggled in putting sermons together in the past. These 5 points really help me a great deal. Hope they can help you too in case you don’t backup your sermon as you write it!

Phil <><

UPDATE:

  • My Macbook Pro will be in repair for a few days getting a new hard drive
  • I backed up my Macbook 3 weeks ago…
  • I started using a our student ministry Macbook Pro to finish my sermon… It crashed. Not kidding. Can’t get the thing to work!
  • I wrote this post on my lovely wife’s laptop. Unfortunately the laptop is not very lovely. I need to buy her a new one!

Independence can be a Bad Thing…

On this 4th of July, because I am British, you might expect me to say  something bad about Independence Day. (Haha!) However, I now live in Michigan, I love the people, and I love the idea of freedom that emanates all around the world because of this country. But, here’s the specific problem I have with independence within youth ministry

You see, independence, when lived out in healthy ways is no problem at all. But there is an unhealthy independence that I see in many youth workers in the local church today. Here’s what I mean:

  • It’s the unhealthy independence that says, “I know better”
  • It’s the unhealthy independence that has little regard for leadership structure
  • It’s the unhealthy independence that constantly lives as the “victim youth worker” within the church
  • It’s the unhealthy independence whose key phrase is, “it’s better to ask for forgiveness, than it is to ask for permission”
  • It’s the unhealthy independence which considers others inferior or deficient in their thinking
  • It’s the unhealthy independence which establishes a silo ministry that is independent from the parents of students we work with
  • It’s the unhealthy independence that looks to protect our buildings, spaces, and resources, rather than share

There’s a lot more I could say, but are you with me and my thinking? You see, it’s important to be a strong leader and someone of healthy convictions and independence. However, it’s important to realize that independence can become unhealthy and self-serving in our churches if we are not careful. Here’s some good and painful lessons I have learned personally:

  • Youth Ministries should be a part of a team in the church, regardless of whether or not others have the same vision
  • We can always learn from others and their points of view. Personally, I have found that God gives me different people to help me learn my most valuable lessons. What is God teaching you? Who is He using to teach you?
  • We are employed as youth workers not senior pastors. We should know our place and submit to God ordained authority in our lives…
  • Being a victim youth worker is a choice. If we are in difficult situations, we can either choose to stay and celebrate God’s calling of us there, or we can choose to move on. (I have done both).
  • Constantly asking for forgiveness instead of permission can be disguise for not having the leadership ability to ask others difficult questions or communicate a compelling need. Are we simply side-stepping leadership growth by not asking others for permission?
  • Whether or not we know better, it’s imperative to realize that people do not listen if we come across as the “know it all”
  • Our ministries thrive when we share our resources, people, and spaces. Favors can often be returned at the most crucial times.
  • Without a good support and connection of parents, our ministries will die

I hope you are enjoying a good summer and Independence Day. How are you going to pursue healthy independence in the coming weeks?

Phil <><

Character…

Today on Twitter Rick Warren gave a quote that I think every youth worker should take to heart and consider…

Never waste energy trying to be well-known. Today’s hero is tomorrow’s zero. U work on character & leave reputation to Him…

Many people hold fast to the sad reality that many youth workers will leave ministry all together because of burn out. I believe that burn out itself can be avoided if we build a foundation in are own lives that is centered on the power of God and building healthy character. Let’s be real honest for a minute about the world youth ministry shall we?

It’s easy to play the hero isn’t it?

It’s easy to want to be the hero isn’t it?

  • We have students who look up to us who think that we somehow have a different connection with God altogether…
  • Some of us love ministry because students make great followers and it feels good to have people look up to us…
  • We have parents who are working as hard as they can to help their kids succeed, but see us as ‘answer’ sometimes… When we do well for them, we can elevate ourselves to hero status…
  • We go to youth ministry conferences and it’s easy to look at the guys and gals on stage and consider them as a hero in youth ministry…
  • Sometimes in the trenches we grind out a week and do our best for God, but yet secretly hope that we have been noticed by someone important… Am I right?

The Problem: When you and I constantly long for hero status in ministry, it is easy to make decisions that over time can easily lead to burn out… We say yes to be the hero and say no to staple foundations that will help us hang in for the long haul…We search for the hero status and lose sight of our walk with God. We strive for the recognition while we are unable to recognize when we are being unhealthy with our schedules… And the worst thing I think: We lead students to follow unhealthy habits that could be huge stumbling blocks for them now and later…

I have learned some of these tough lessons at times and I have seen some good friends burn out and fall because of the hero focus. I want to be honest enough to uncover the ‘hero shortcuts’ to ministry. However…

When We allow God’s Power to Build our Character:

1) We have Clearer Vision for a Health Ministry

2) We are not Swayed by the ‘Latest Thing’

3) We  give the Glory to God, not ourselves

4) We Lead Students to Follow Jesus, not the Hero

5) We Hang in the Long Haul…

This week, I encourage you to ask God to show you how you are motivated to make your decisions? Are Secure in who you are or are you being the hero? Are confident in the character God has given you? Do you need Him to lead your decisions better?

Bottom Line: Are you and I Heroes in ministry or do we have Christ-centered character?

Phil <><




7 Tips for Planning a Great Event

calendarI know it’s the summer, but now is a great time to be brainstorming and thinking strategically about what events you will be doing when the Fall gets here. In the past I have used a lot of unnecessary energy and faced disappointment from events that didn’t turn out like I hoped. Today, as we look ahead to the Fall, let me give you a few tips from my vault of successes and mistakes.

1) Know the Purpose and Target Audience: This  is probably the most important step in planning the event. Who is it for? Is it for students who are not there yet? Is it a connections event to build community? Is it for students to grow deeper? My experience has been that the answer cannot be, “all of them”. The more specific we are, the greater the impact on the target audience you are reaching. A great question that always helps me to better understand the purpose is this:  ”When the event is over, what would we hoped to have seen happen”?

2) Communicate the Purpose and Target Audience: Once you have established the purpose and the target audience, make sure that everyone (and I mean absolutely everone – students, leaders, parents and the pastor), know the purpose. I have been frustrated in the past when planning events and the leaders and students are coming up with great creative ideas, but for a different kind of event. The more we communicate the purpose the greater we can channel creative ideas.

3) Build Ownership into Planning: When students are part of the process at the outset and are part of planning and implementation, the greater the impact of the event.  Although this can be messy and often students drop the ball, it is key to help them to be involved in as many ways as possible. In the past I have designed and implemented the slickest events with a group of youth leaders with low impact. In contrast, I have worked with students (and leaders) to design and implement events with high impact. Bottom line: Students want to see the event succeed if they have ownership of the ideas, creativity and implementation.

4) Keep the Event on the Same Night as Usual: There are two very good reasons I can think of for why this is key: First, it means you are not asking leaders to come out on a different night and therefore it is easier to staff the event. Second, when doing outreach events, it is crucial to allow for a ‘next step’ to the regular program the following week. It’s easier to invite a new student out the following week if it is on the same night.

5) Delegate, Delegate, Delegate: Yeah, yeah. We have heard this a million times. However, how much does this happen? Your ability to be ‘all there’ with students and be connecting with new students. Failure to delegate well will mean that you and I are programming the event more than we are pursuing students.

6) Create a ‘Next Step’: Having a next step as Andy Stanley would say, is creating an “easy, obvious and strategic” step for students to take at the event and / or following the event. A next step might be simply inviting a new student to come back the next week for your regular large group meeting, (this is why having the event on the same night is so important – it is easy, obvious and strategic).

Another next step might be have students sign up to get plugged into a small group at a connections event. If students are  connecting and getting to know each other better, a great next step is to be promoting small groups where they can continue to experience connection.

7) Pray! Finally, but most importantly, make sure that you pray for wisdom, direction and for God to do great things with this event. At the end of day, we are just event planners without God being at the center of what we are doing. Praying prepares our hearts to minister to students with the heart of God as well as preparing the hearts of the students who are coming. In my experience, this step is often the one that gets missed in the clutter of planning. Don’t miss this step!

Hope this helps. I am sure there are more tips you could include. Why don’t you share them with me? I would love to hear from you!

Phil <><

Secure?

animal

This evening as I write this, it is -4 here in Southeast Michigan. (-20c to all my UK and metric readers). For the next few days it’s going to this cold and perhaps even colder. Coming from the UK, I must admit, I am still not used to this kind of weather… The thing I dislike the most, (apart from the bone chilling cold), is that I never know when I am drive on a patch of ice or even worse, walk on a patch of ice I didn’t see… 

So, here’s my question… Do you ever have any ice patches in your ministry? Do you have times that catch you off guard and hurt you? Do you drive or walk in your ministry living in the fear of hitting ice again? Let me explain what I mean better…

Do have those moments in ministry when you wonder if it’s worth it? Do you have those moments when you feel like someone in your church had the inside scoop to your insecurity and went straight for the jugular? Do you ever have those moments when you are rethinking every word of your message after youth group and wondering if the kids ‘liked it’? Do you ever have moments when someone questions your ability to lead and it tears you apart? 

If you have had those moments, you and I are quite similar… It’s been some of those moments that have made me question whether or not I should stay in ministry or not… I guess you know what I concluded :o )

Take some time to read part of an article written by Craig Groeschel from lifechurch.tv wrote today. The only way that I have concluded I can stay in ministry and be truly effective, is to be secure in Christ…

 

People are always watching. Many are full of grace. Many are full of judgment.

As a pastor’s family, you will be wise to prayerfully develop a deep sense of “security in Christ.”

  • When your kids are secure in Christ—peer pressure weakens. When your kids are not secure in Christ—peer pressure increases.
  • When you are secure in Christ, your need for human acceptance decreases. When you aren’t secure in Christ, rejection kills you.
  • When you are secure in Christ, you easily obey the voice of God. When you are not secure in Christ, you constantly fear the opinions of people.

The more God blesses your ministry, the more negative voices you’ll attract. Years ago I was stinging from some painfully false rumors that were circulating. God used Amy  to build my security in Christ.

She asked me (already knowing the answer), “Are the rumors true?”

“No.”

Then she said with deep faith and assurance. “People’s opinion of us doesn’t change Gods’ opinion. Live for the opinion that matters.”