Thursday, September 29, 2011

Daughters and Dads...

If you’re looking for a good book to recommend to the dads in your ministry, Daughters and Dads is one I would suggest.  This is a simple book, written in large type just for those dads who are not inclined to read much.  However, don’t let the layout fool you, there are some great tips and words of wisdom found within these pages.  Chap Clark has been beating the drum of how “Hurt” this generation of teenagers are, but in this book, he spends all his time helping dads invest in the lives of their teenage daughters.  Could this investment be a counter-balance to the abandonment our kids feel?  I think so.  Order a copy today, read it, and then pass it out to the dads in your group.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Boys Punch - Girls Talk

Have you noticed that when you show up to your weekly program at church the boys are running around tackling each other?  How they jump on your back, punch your arm, try to wrestle you and knock you over?  This is how boys relate to each other and how they show affection and say “I like you.”  So, when you are trying to connect with a boy like this, talking with them may not mean much.  Playing with them will mean the world.

On the other hand, although there are a few girls who will be running around, they are more likely talking or gathered in packs doing whatever it is they do in those packs.  Connecting with girls is more about verbal communication.  A colorful note means the world to a girl, and a phone call can be worth ten notes.  Someone who will listen to them is what they crave.  Will you listen?

Outside of program times contacting can be more challenging.  Volunteers have families and responsibilities that may keep them from attending sporting events and other activities on a regular basis.  However, don’t let that keep you from encouraging them to try and get to one thing this semester.  That one connection can be the thing that makes all the difference in the world.  Beyond that, will you make a phone call?  Will you take some time to shoot some hoops?  Will you go out of your way to say an encouraging word when one can be said?  These are big ways to connect with kids.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


We all know boundaries are good things.  We know that without them we can loose our way, step into territory that is very dangerous, and even get hurt or worse.  When it comes to ministry with young teens boundaries are also very important.  Boundaries for discipline, boundaries for activities, boundaries for students, and, yes, boundaries for staff.  Here are some reminders of the importance of boundaries in connecting with students.

Connecting with students is what we long for.  It’s what we encourage you to be doing.  We all know that “real” ministry and discipleship happens more effectively over a Starbucks coffee or on the basketball court.  Trouble is, in today’s culture, these connections can lead to unhealthy accusations and the blurring of clear boundaries if we are not careful.  Here are a few boundaries we have in place for the protection of both our students and our volunteer staff.

  1. Let someone know:  When volunteers are meeting with students, we ask them to drop one of our paid staff an email and let us know.  Not so we can micro-manage, but so we can cover their back and, with good conscience, let others know what is going on in the ministry.
  2. Three is not a crowd:  Although the one on one meeting is a great chance for in depth conversation, it’s becoming a thing of the past.  It is usually better to take two kids with you that one.
  3. Use your head:  Sometimes there are situations that come up that dictate you do something you may not normally do.  In all situations, use your head.  Remember number 1 above and make a few phone calls when placed in a difficult situation.  Never assume that you’ll be okay or that “just this once” you’ll take care of this or that.
Remember, you are an adult!  You have a good head on your shoulders.  Use it!  Sometimes things are not as neat as they need to be.  Sometimes it’s not possible to follow every letter of every law, yet when those rare situations arise, everyone is counting on you to act like the adult you are and act responsibly.

What boundaries to you have set up in your ministry?

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Temptation of Power…

I mentioned in my last post that I am reading “In theName of Jesus” by Henri Nouwen and it is kicking my butt.  Nouwen talks about the temptation of power and I have to say (sadly) that I think this is an issue for me.  Those of you who know me might resonate with these words of Nouwen “I had come to believe that growing older and more mature meant that I would be increasingly able to offer leadership.  In fact, I had grown more self-confident over the years.  I felt I knew something and had the ability to express it and be heard.  In that sense I felt more and more in control.”  WOW!  If I were honest, those words could be mine.  If you read my post on constructive criticismand a critical spirit, this may be a deeper look at why I have a tendency to be more critical than helpful.

Nouwen goes on to say “what makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible?  Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love.  It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.”  Am I that much of a jerk?  I am on a quest for power?  For control?  Lord, may you work in my heart to soften me and help me learn to love.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Youth Worker Vulnerability…

This is something I have struggled with for years (and continue to struggle with).  Everyone needs a group of people they trust.  A group of people they can confide in, share with, vent to, be pushed by, be challenged by.  The question for the youth worker is “who”?  Is these people in your church or outside your church.  I have been involved with local networks of youth workers since I started in ministry for this very purpose and have found it very helpful.  Yet, I continue to wrestle with if the transparency you might have with another youth worker outside your church context might also be healthy to have with a trusted few who are a bit closer to you and your context.

I’ve been reading “In the Name of Jesus” by Henri Nouwen because my co-worker and friend Kris Fernhout (@kriscanuck) suggested we read it as a student ministry staff.  I’ve loved it!  Nouwen suggests that “ministry is communal and mutual experience.”  Later he says “I have found over and over again how hard it is to be truly faithful to Jesus when I am alone.”  Okay, so I totally buy that and have lived it with other youth workers.  But then Nouwen goes on to say “Jesus wants Peter to feed his sheep and care for them, not as ‘professionals’ who know their clients’ problems and take care of them, but as vulnerable brothers and sisters who know and are known, who care and are cared for, who forgive and are being forgiven, who love and are being loved…Somehow we have come to believe that good leadership requires a safe distance from those we are called to lead.”  Ouch!  That hurts!  That suggests I need to be more transparent with people I minister to.

How can I do that?  My friends are elders in my church, parents of students in my ministry, and volunteers in our ministry (I am old you know).  These people used to be the “old” people in the church that I was intimidated by.  Now they are my friends.  My peers.  How do you tell the parent of a teenager in your ministry you’re not perfect?  Okay, I know they already know that, but in my insecurity, I want them to respect me, trust me, validate me.  They have PHD’s, I work with 12 year olds.  Sometimes that’s a bit intimidating.

How do you deal with this? What advice can you give another traveler in the trenches of ministry?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sunday School vs. Small Group…

We have a ton of great small group leaders and I am grateful.  Over the past few years we have started to encourage some of our leaders to move out of middle school and into high school with their small group.  After reading “Hurt” by Dr. Chap Clark, we started to wonder if we, as a ministry, we contributing to the feeling of abandonment in teens when we build great relationships with them in middle school only to dump them when they graduate.  We ask them to start all over again with new leaders as they enter a very difficult transition and have increasing feelings of abandonment.  I’ve not landed on “the” answer, but it seems good to send some of our middle school leaders along with our students into high school.

One of the biggest challenges this decision has placed on the middle school ministry is the need to recruit more volunteers.  We have traditionally had a very high retention rate with our volunteers (most have been involved for more than five years), but when you “kick some out” you naturally need to recruit more.  One the flip side, this has also netted some desire in the children’s ministry volunteers to move up with their Sunday school class.  This year, we have a decent number who have made the leap from 5th grade to 6th grade; from Sunday school teacher to small group leader.

I’ve noticed we need to equip these new small group leaders a bit differently than we equip a leader who is simply new to ministry.  The difference between children’s ministry and student ministry is pretty big and without some proper training, equipping, guiding, our small groups will become mini-Sunday school classes.  It seems that most of these new leaders are used to teaching rather than facilitating.  They are used to giving information rather than drawing it out of people.  They are used to “dumping” rather than helping students to “discover.”

There is nothing wrong with where they are.  What they have been doing is developmentally appropriate for children.  Yet, as these students hit middle school, they need to start to think more deeply.  They need to start connecting the dots of all the information they have swimming in their heads.  They need to start figuring out “why” something is the way it is rather than just accepting the teachers word for it.

How have you helped your small group leaders catch this vision?  I’m confident these new leaders will become some of our best, but we need to help them get there.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Small Groups Off Site…

Although I get to be the middle school pastor at my church, I am also the student ministry pastor which means I have the privilege of overseeing a great team in our student ministry department.  As a result, I also get to think about high school ministry from time to time.  Couple this with the fact that I have one middle schooler and two high schoolers and sometimes I get a perspective on ministry to students as “the old guy” that might be missed if you don’t have teenagers.

Here’s my question for the day.  How do you deal with small groups that meet off site during the week?  We have done this for years.  Our middle school ministry meets onsite while there are other happenings at church for elementary school kids and adults.  However, do to both a philosophical stance (we believe small groups in home are more inviting and more conducive to conversation) and a pragmatic necessity (we have no space for high school small groups onsite) we have chosen to host our high school small groups offsite for years.

What’s the issue?  It’s crazy!  When you have a middle schooler going one direction, a freshman going another direction, and a sophomore (who does not yet drive) going a third direction, it’s a zoo!  Carpools are great, but they are complicated and take a lot of work to organize and keep operating.  I am vested in this ministry thing (obviously), but I can imagine there are a lot of families that are not nearly as much so.  I’m not sure I blame them for dropping out.  It’s hard to get your kids where they need to go.

On the other hand, families (mine included) cart all over town for any number of other activities throughout the week and I’m not sure we belly-ache nearly as much or as loud for those inconveniences.  Ahhh!  What to do?  Do you hold your small groups off-site?  What have you found to work well in communicating to parents the “why” behind the craziness you put them through for this decision?

Monday, September 05, 2011

I Am Critical...

I can be critical sometimes.  Sometimes this is great because I’m constructively critical.  I am one of those people who is rarely satisfied with how things are going or how things went.  I can almost always find ways I would tweak what was done, do things different, or not do something all together.  This is especially good when we’re debriefing our own ministry because we need to be working hard to get better all the time.  However, when you attend a weekend program, a camp, or just about anything that someone else puts together, this “skill” can get you into trouble when you combine it with a big mouth. 

Here is my problem.  First, sometimes I can slip from “constructively critical” to just plain critical.  Second, when I don’t keep my big mouth closed, I can seem like a total jerk.  Here are a few things that I’ve been working on…

·         Speak when spoken to:  Sometimes people want feedback, sometimes they don’t.   I’ve learned the hard way that when they want feedback, they will ask for it.  I’ve been trying to keep that James 1:19, slow to speak, thing fresh in my head.  I wish more people asked for feedback because there is a LOT of growing to do in the world of youth ministry, but that’s a different matter.
·         Think before you speak:  When you are asked, think before you speak.  Tact goes a long way in communicating.  How you say what you say is equally as important as what you say.
·         Relationships help:  If you know me, you know I love middle school ministry and I do not like to see it done without intentionality.  It drives me crazy when it feels like a “watered down” high school ministry program, or worse yet, it is a high school ministry program that the organizers expect will work just fine for the middle school audience.  When you know me, you know that I LOVE the people who do middle school ministry.  Thus, when I have something to say about a program, it’s not that I don’t like you, I just want to see middle school ministry stuff shine and if you can tweak something and shine, I want to share that with you.  When you don’t know me from “Adam” you’ll think I’m attacking you because you don’t know my heart.
·         I’m not the only voice out there:  Sure I’ve been doing this a while, but that certainly does not mean that I have THE answers.  I have ONE answer (and maybe not even a good answer).  I can’t/shouldn’t/won’t expect anyone to do what I say.  That’s arrogant.  I simple desire to be a voice that sings in a choir of voices you might listen to as you seek to make what you do better.

There you have it.  I can be critical.  I hate that!  But I love who God has wired me to be and I pray that with His help, I can continue to trumpet middle school ministry in a healthy way.

What do you think?  Should you even open your mouth to others ministries?  Should you give feedback at all?  Is it healthy?  It is arrogant?  Is it helpful?