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Back to Blogging – Fall Golfing Hurts

Hi Everyone, it’s been a while since I posted anything if you follow youthworktalk regularly. I do apologize for my lack of words in recent weeks.

I have unofficially been taking the end of the summer to spend some extra time with the family and get used to being a dad to number two (Addie, born on July 7th – I was afraid this Englishman would have to deal with one of his kids being born on that rebellious day, also know as July 4th – just kidding).

In addition to having a newborn in the Bell household, it has been a challenging season in many other ways. It has been good to be at home and take time to catch up and rest up at times. However, here we are well into September and the Fall is truly underway with a yearly tradition for me and some friends:

golf ballEvery year, the pastors from our church are invited out for a free day of golf that is put on by a local funeral home as a way to support pastors and give them a fun day as the Fall gets kicked off. In fact, one of the directors from the funeral home attends our church and always allows us an extra couple of players to join us from our church. It’s always a fun day filled with lots of bad golf shots and constant pranks. It’s always a ‘scramble’ game, so we never really take it too seriously… especially since we’re not that good… We affectionately call this golf outing ‘The Undertaker Open’

So, last Monday two sets of foursomes from our church headed out for a great day of golf… First the pastors and the then another four from our leadership team at church… These guys had been playing pranks on us all day long… It was great to get them back by unstrapping their golf bags from their carts and watching them fall off the back of the cart at the 14th tee!!!   We celebrated, high fived, did some embarrassing celebration dance and took our tee shots quickly… they were following closely behind us… In our haste, our best shot ended up on the left side of the fairway behind a tree that had roots sticking up all over the place. Not the best place for a second shot… But a ‘safer’ place behind a tree from the guys who kept yelling “FORE” as they pretended to hit golf balls our way… It was my turn to swing… this is where it gets blurry…

It was a long shot from a hard piece of ground with lots of tree roots close to my ball. I knew I had to hit the ball with great accuracy and great power. All day I had been making some good shots and I was confident I could get my team ‘out of the woods’… or so I thought… I came through the ball with as much swing and power as I could and in a split second…. BAM, CRACK, OUCH!!!  The ball left my club, hit a tree root three feet in front of me and came back and hit me straight in the mouth… or more accurately… in the teeth. I instantly felt one tooth break off and blood started to pour… Time slowed down and and my pastor friends around were talking in deep slow voices… I ended up at urgent care and the dentist and I was so bummed that I missed the wonderful free lunch!

The damage in the end was painful, but I count myself blessed that the golf ball didn’t do more damage. I ended up losing a tooth, a ‘hole’ in my face where another tooth came through, and some teeth that needed realigning. I got stitched up, and some minor dental surgery. At the end of the day, I am British, and I guess it’s ok to have some bad teeth isn’t it?

So, where is the youth ministry in this post you might ask? Well, here you go:

Following my injury, I have been out of action for a good part of this week and unable to do my normal youth ministry schedule.  However, I have witnessed countless emails and received a number of phone calls from incredible youth leaders who are carrying the ministry as I recover. As soon as they heard the news, they stepped into action and saw to it that all the major components of what we do are covered.  Here’s what I have learned this week:

1) Friendship is Key: I have great friends who I get to do ministry with.

2) Investing is Key: Investing in leaders and student leaders is imperative. Not only do they do a great job at what they do, they feel ownership and excitement.

3) Step Back to Let Others Lead: It’s important to get this youth ministry to a place where leaders lead and the youth pastor can connect authentically with students. For our large group program my two goal is to be able to connect authentically with as many students as I can, and to give transformational messages. These two things only happen when I have taken time to invest, equip and empower leaders to lead the programs we have created. Being forced out of the details of the program this week was a good test for everyone. It shows how important it is for me to intentionally create opportunities for my leaders to step forward to do what they do best?

Hope your Fall is having a great start and I encourage you to move your golf balls away from tree roots when you have a shot to play…

Phil <><

The Deep and Wide Leader

A while back I wrote a post about the power of example as a leader to volunteers. In the same way, the power of example to our students is imperative if we want to see them become passionate about Jesus.

This week Jason Lamb at Dare to Share posted an article of mine about the example of leadership to our students.

Take a look at: 

Latest Teens and Media Trends

text messageYesterday I read the latest trends in ‘Teenage use of Media’ from Nielson provided by Media Life Magazine.

As youthworkers working with students, it is imperative that we understand teens world of communication and entertainment as much as possible, as well as find ways to ‘break into’ their world with relevant promotion, ideas, and conversation.

One caution I do want to state before you read on is this: I believe there is never a better way to minister to students than face to face contact where they see us look into their eyes with authenticity, hope and love. No media communication can replace quality time with them…

Three quotes stood out to me that I believe are helpful to us as we minister to students:

Fact is, their media habits are similar to adults“.

It seems that the teenagers and adults are using similar modes of media to connect, relax, and get things done. The major difference is perhaps that teenagers tend to use these modes of media in greater consumption. This is good news for us in terms of how to interact and promote to them. Bad news is that they might be too busy to realize…

“In the first quarter of this year the typical U.S. teen sent or received 2,899 text messages compared to 191 calls – that’s about six times the average number of texts and nearly 100 text-messages per day.  Texting is picking up across age groups, but it’s clear that teens are leading this communications shift by leaps and bounds”.

This tells me that as youthworkers, we are smart to continue to communicate with students through text messages more than ever. Again, it is my concern that this this mode should not replace face to face contact. It’s easy to ‘check off’ kids on our list if we have been texting a student. Do we truly get the full picture from them through text? Therefore, I use the to ‘mass texts students’ about events, weekly programs and last minute changes. I do send students encouraging words and notes, but it is more of a promotion tool.

In respect of differences between adults and teens: ”

The biggest difference are in internet use, where teens spend about half as much time online”.

I have found that students rarely view our student ministry site even though we promote it regularly. They will respond to texts and facebook invites though.  However, I still use the web as a way to connect effectively with parents and adult leaders.

Also, a common complaint I hear from some of my leaders is, “I emailed him / her and they never reply to me…” Well, now we know why… If we want to ‘make contact’ with students, we know that a phone call to their cell phone won’t work, (many of them might now even know how to answer and hang up at this point). We know that an email likely won’t work, nor will a website or a flyer in the mail. For me personally, it is a more organic approach or ‘word of mouth’,  text messages, or facebook that seems to be working.

In light, of this study, it’s important to continuously consider how we communicate with students…

What works for you?

For more on the study go to

Phil <><

Communicating with Parents Revisited

bullhorn300x200Following up from last weeks post on promo to students in the Fall, here is a reworked post from a while back. We have made a few changes since then in the way to connect with parents: 

It’s not the first thing that most of us youthworkers think about when we are in youth ministry, but it is likely to become something that we struggle with if we don’t think about it: Communicating with parents… 

I can’t tell you how many mistakes and misunderstandings I have made in the past, (some recent too).  But, I can tell you that I have learned that communicating with parents is essential. When I do this, it makes a huge difference for me. It makes a huge diference for families.

Here’s a list of easy ways I stay in touch with parents. They take some setting up, but are imperative for effective youth ministry!

1) Website: Up to date website with calendar and events page. We also have a parent page and a parent FAQ page too. 

2) Emails: We have all our students complete a connections card which has parent emails etc. We send out an email about special events and updates about once every two weeks. (Too many emails will be ignored by most parents). 

3) Newsletter: An emailed newsletter, (printed and on our website) through  that Group Publishing puts together. (It has facts and info for parents as well as parent tips and has space for your calendar and events too. You can also customize with your logo and change it up yourself). This has proved to be a great resource and only costs $99 for the year! Worth every penny!!! I have a parent put this together and email it out…

4) Events Co-ordinators: I am intentional about recruiting parents to be my event planners. Right now I have two parents who book our events and email out the info to parents. I also make them the contact person for the event since a parent will likely think about the details I might normally miss. 

5) Text Messages (Especially with a Swine Flu Outbreak): I finally gave into using text messages, but recently I realized the HUGE value in having such a service for parents and students in ministry: Three local high schools got shut down recently for confirmed H1N1 flu and we had got word at around noon the day our large group program meets. Having the ability to contact everyone to cancel our program using texts was huge for us. We use the service that Simply Youth Ministry provide. There are lots of other options out there too, this one works best for us. 

Some of these ideas to take some energy putting into place, but in the end they are well worth it. 

Have any easy ideas that you want to share? Feel free to comment. I would love to steal a great idea or two!

What I am Learning.

So, as many of you know who follow this blog, I am part of a church plant in Southeast Michigan, (well, does 6 years old still class as a church plant)? At Easter we had our first service in our first full time facility that we now own. Up until now, we have rented facilities, used homes and the youth program when I arrived here met in basements. Now that we have our own place, you would think it would be all plain sailing now? Right? Yes… and no. Here’s 10 things I have been learning…

1) Less Set up / Tear Down? Getting in a building does not necessarily mean less ‘set up and tear down’ every time we meet for our large program. Prior to being here, we rented a facility for youth ministry and we had to set up and tear down every week. Now, we still have the same situation. We do not have our own youth space and this means we still have work hard before and after the program. 

2) Students Love the Place! Our place looks great and does look like your typical church. Students feel greater ownership and love the place and feel. 

3) Students say they bring more Friends! A number of students have told us that they feel it is easier to bring their friends to. When I ask why, they explain that it’s almost like inviting friends to ‘their place’. Before, it was like inviting friends to someone else’s place.

4) It’s Easy to be too Laid Back! I have noticed that many of my leaders took their foot of the gas a little when we arrived here. It’s almost, like “this will be easier, now we can relax”. 

5) Laid Back = Falling Over! We were all a little too laid back about getting in here and we fell a couple of times and we have had a lot of bumps in the road. 

6) Falling Over is a good path sometimes! Falling over and tripping up a little has been an important part of our journey. I love the fact that I am surrounded by leaders who are always looking to learn and get back up when things don’t go to plan. 

7) SWINE FLU changes Everything! Yes, we had to close our youth program down one Sunday after we got word that some students in the local high school were infected with H1N1 virus. I did not want to over react, however, it was important to send a clear message to parents that safety and health is a top priority for us. 

8) I have a LONGER JOB DESCRIPTION! Now that I am in the office more, I end up doing more stuff outside my youth ministry description. I usually preach every couple of months and work on a lot of communication stuff for the church, but recently I have become: Removal man, IT help desk, Cleaner, Handy Man… just to name a few. However , it’s important to say that I love doing this. There are some people who are throwing down a lot more than me. We are a team and it’s important to get stuff done… 

9) I love my British office! I got to paint and decorate my own place. The flavor and feel is British! I have a lot of stuff from my home country in there! 

10) WOW, we have grown!!!! We have increased attendance by about 25% in the first month. Now, we have had Easter and mothers day, but we have seen so many new people, first time commitments to Christ and so many more people have got plugged into ministry. AND, at the end of the day… this is what it is about. 

There, you go, that is what I am learning. Sorry for the blog drought… It has been a busy season!

Phil <><

What’s Most Important when in gets Messy?

I just got back from NYMC conference on Monday feeling refreshed and very inspired by what I learned and experienced. If you are like me, it’s hard to get away for conferences, vacations, etc, because in the back of my mind I am always wondering what I will be missing and coming back to.

Fortunately, I have some great volunteers who have been partnering with me in ministry for a while now, so I  don’t usually come back to a catastrophe. However, no matter how much I  get done before I leave, there are always emails, voicemail, new tasks and the ‘usual’ week to get back to. For me, all the catch up can make for a ‘messy’ week and it is easy to lose focus in the midst of it all. At these times, it’s easy to get swallowed up by the latest email, or the ‘urgent’ voicemails people have left me… 

So what do I try to do? Here’s what I have learned over the years: 

1) Embrace this Reality: That given a couple of weeks, (or less), you will be caught up. It’s path of the course. It helps to realise that the pressure I feel today with all the added admin and volume of voicemail will only be for a while… It helps because if we do not relax with the idea that we will naturally catch up, we will think we have to pour our energies into these items today. (Note: we need to also embrace the reality that admin is a part of ministry, and will always be there. Therefore, when I say we will be ‘caught up’ I don’t mean it’s ALL done)…

2) Commit to Quiet Times: Everyone in the world might think that their voicemail is the most important, or that their email needs urgent attention, or the plan that has been on their mind for the last 5 days should have been on your radar during that time too. AND, if I we are honest,  we have our own agendas and lists too, don’t we! This is why we cannot short cut our quiet times. For me, even if I am not getting the deepest Bible study accomplished I cannot short cut my quiet time. Instead of being led by the stress and schedule, I try to seek God out of silence and solitude. 

3) Commit to Contact Time: No matter how busy I get, I always maintain certain ‘blocks’ of time for contact with students and my leaders. Busyness is the enemy of relationships and I must make sure that I have certain default times to get together with the people I am ministering to. For myself personally, I have had periods in the past where I have gone weeks without good connection outside of our programs all because I was consumed with admin and organization. In the short term I get stuff done, but in the longer term I am ineffective due to a distance people feel. I must connect in community because students and leaders will follow someone who knows them… Not someone gets stuff done… 

How do you prioritize when you are busy? What defaults do you have set in place? What areas do you struggle to keep focused on?

Hilarious Videos Part II – NYMC 2009

Here’s another video from National Youth Ministry Conference.  Just goes to show that us youthworkers can be creative!

What Tim loves about NYMC 2009

Here’s a flavor of what NYMC is about. I met Tim from Canton, North Carolina today in my track. This is what he just loves about the conference:

Life in Stories

A couple of days ago I blogged about the challenge to get students on board with a message idea. For many of us over 22 and out of college will find that students see us as being old and ‘out of touch’. However, when we ‘sit at the steps of their world’, we will find that our ability to connect increases.  Today I want to quickly look at an effective way to connect with students in our messages. This is nothing brand new or out of this world, but this principle is easy to forget and overlook… How can you and I can help students find life in THEIR stories…

When we sit at the steps of their world and discover who are they, we are taking time to discover their stories. In other words, we are discovering a small part of their ongoing testimony. It is these stories that can often be used powerfully to share how God is working and has worked in their lives. Often we spend hours trying to figure out how to connect with students, when in fact, the quickest (and sometimes best) ways are to have students share their story…

Last Sunday, I saw the power and impact by applying this principle to my high school ministry program. One of my seniors shared her story of how God brought healing to her life after a challenging time. I gave her ‘interview questions’ and walked through the questions a week before. The interview took about 20 minutes in total, and I sandwiched it with two verses from 2 Corinthians. It was very simple, but very powerful. Perhaps more powerful than a message I could have given… The feedback I received from my small group leaders afterward was very good. They shared how impacted and connected students were… It was a good lesson to see that students find life in stories… THEIR stories!

This is not something we do every week, but I think that every other series we do, should have a life story included. Try and see how it works for you?

Healthy ‘Defaults’ for Ministry Balance

img_1593A couple of weeks ago my friend Jeremy was sharing  how he wished he could have a default button in his life, just like there is on a computer when you have to restore it after an error.

Have you ever had to do that after your computer crashed, or unrequested programs got added into your computer and created errors?  I have, unfortunately! It’s at these times we have click, “restore to default” or something like that. The goal is to restore the computer back to the way it was before the crash or the problem. 

If you are like myself or my friend, I wish I had a default button in my life that would allow me to back to the ways things were before the ‘error’. An error could be many things for each of us, but for today I want to take a look at how we need healthy defaults when our lives get over extended and out of balance. Specifically, how our ministry schedules can often lead to a ‘crash’ and how we need constant  ’defaults’ along the way to bring and keep balance. 

Here’s just a few ways that I try to keep healthy defaults in my life: 

1) Date night every two weeks. We are currently doing ‘ABC’ dates. (click here for a post on this)
2) Monday night family plan. Monday is my day off. Every Monday, we have dinner and plan out two, maybe three fun activities to do as a family for that week, (we ask our little girl what would be fun to do – ideas have ranged from getting ice-cream to playing ‘memory’ or doing puzzles… If it’s fun for her, it’s fun for us. We also plan meals for the week to make our shopping trip easier…
3) Eat Lunch at home as often as possible. Being in a church plant situation, I often find myself at coffee shops working. Therefore, wherever possible, I try to stay close to home and get home for lunch as often as I can. 
4) Work longer days on tues, weds, thurs, and be home on Friday by 2pm. The afternoon is for family, naps, shopping or whatever we need to do. 

Simple ideas, but powerful in our busy schedules. How are you doing with your healthy defaults? How can you restore your balance this week? What healthy defaults can you put in place that become consistent and help you avoid crashes?

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