Youth Pastors – Encourage one another

youth ministry encouragement

Youth Pastors, we all know the kind of job we have. Often thankless, often lonely, often forgotten.

We so often hear stories in our Community about the hurt being done to Youth Pastors by their churches, by parents in their ministry, by their Pastors. It’s not always the case, but almost every day, one of our site leaders talks with a Youth Pastor going through a rough time.

youth pastor appreciation

Something like two and a half years ago, I got this card in the mail from one of our site contributors, just thanking me for something inconsequential that I had done for him at the Orange Conference. I’ve kept it on my desk for two and a half years, including moving from a church in Boston to one north of Chicago, because the affirmation in his note wasn’t one I had gone out seeking, wasn’t one that was necessary, and came at a time I was feeling so alone, so defeated, so useless in Youth Ministry.

I’m guilty of being Highly Critical of Youth Pastors. I’ve been focused lately on trying to be more encouraging of my fellow laborers for Christ. When I sat down at my desk this morning and moved a stack of retreat planning items off and once again saw this note from two and a half years ago, it reminded me of this lesson once more, and it gave me a challenge that I want to challenge others to do, as well.

My challenge is to send 5 Youth Pastors a note of encouragement in the month of November. Not a Facebook message or a tweet, but an actual, physical letter of encouragement. It would be pretty awesome to know that other Youth Workers were doing the same.

No gimmicks, no prizes if you complete, no sharing pictures to check in. Just for the sake of our co-laborers of Christ.

Wisdom for Rookie Youth Pastors: Fundraisers for Dummies

stuff new youth pastors can use

I am convinced there are two events every youth pastor would claim to be a “thorn in their flesh:” fundraisers and lock-ins. Neither are what we signed up for when were called to youth ministry, but both are a necessary evil. Why? I don’t know, but I just choose to have faith in Christ and claim Romans 5:1-4. Yet, there is a way to take the sting out of these two events, and maybe even learn to enjoy the “suffering.” So the next three posts will focus on fundraisers and lock-ins; so first, let’s focus on fundraisers. Here are 5 thoughts to consider when it comes to fundraisers:

Get the church involved

Yes, your church is going to be involved because they’ll be giving their donations, but that’s not what I’m talking about. When you’re putting together a fundraiser you should consider how the people of your church can use their gifts and talents to participate in it. When the church is using their gifts and talents to support the youth group, it brings a whole new dynamic to fundraising. It creates more buy-in from your church and makes them want to support the youth group.

Work smart, not hard

A fundraiser should never consume all of your time. You have other responsibilities to take care of, and if you’re spending 10 hours on a 1 hour fundraiser, you’re doing it wrong. When planning a fundraiser you need to consider what you, your leaders, and your students are responsible for. Once you know that, then you can hand over the appropriate responsibilities to each party. If you’re the one taking care of all the aspects of the fundraiser, you’re going to run yourself into the ground and despise them for life. Learn to work smart, not hard.

Keep the end goal in mind

When it’s all said and done, the end goal of any fundraiser is to make money. Yet, that goal can get lost in all the hustle and bustle of planning or creating an idea of a fundraiser. Sometimes you may come up with a fundraiser that sound like a good and fun idea, but it’s not cost effective. There’s always going to be some type of cost when it comes to fundraising, but when your cost is consuming most of the money you’ve made, it’s a bad fundraiser and you shouldn’t do it.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

Sometimes we feel like we have to come up with brand new fundraisers to keep things from getting boring, but the truth is, we don’t. In my opinion, the best fundraisers are the ones that have proven themselves time after time. Traditions can be a good thing, and if you have found a fundraiser that makes good money, and is one that your students and church enjoy participating in, then keep it. Don’t try to come up with something new. Milk that cow for all its worth, and don’t stop until its dead!

Look at the calendar

Of course you look at the calendar when you plan the date of your fundraiser, but do you ever consider what season it’s in or major events that affect everyone? Sometimes the best fundraisers can be ruined because of the time of the year. Keep in mind how holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas will have an effect on donations. Furthermore, consider when taxes are due. Unfortunately, we don’t plan for holidays and taxes like we’re supposed to, so that usually causes us to go into financial recovery afterwards. Look at the seasons when planning your fundraiser, and even figure out how to use them to your advantage.

In the end, fundraisers still suck, but they don’t have to suck as bad. Even though we may not like fundraisers they are a blessing, because they bring the church together, provide an opportunity for students to serve, and encourage students to be a part of your future events since it cuts cost for parents.

What are some fundraisers you have done that bring in some serious cash?

Is there a biblical support for fundraisers? If so, where is it? If not, should we even do them?

Tips for Having “The Talk” With Your Students

Tips for Talking About Sex with Students

This Fall, our student ministry tackled the “gods at war” series from Kyle Idleman. The series identifies false gods that war for our affection. From the moment we chose the series, I circled the date on my calendar when I would be teaching on the “gods of love, sex, and romance.”

Every youth minister knows the sweaty palms and the lump in the throat that come along with speaking to students about sex and purity. As youth ministers who care deeply for students, we know that this topic is of the utmost importance. We know that the average age a student sees pornography for the first time is around 11. We know that by the time a student graduates, 92% of the guys and 63% of the girls will have viewed pornographic images. And, frankly, that is only one of the battlefronts as students are also dealing with questions about their sexuality and their gender and being pressured from all sides to be sexually active.

As I thought more and more about sharing with students about this difficult topic, I thought it might be beneficial to communicate some lessons I have learned along the way about giving “The talk” to your students. While some of these lessons were learned the hard way, I hope that they are all beneficial as you approach this topic with your students.

Everything in moderation 
It seems some youth ministers talk about sex almost every week. Honestly, with students facing this topic at every turn, speaking about sex at every youth meeting is a real temptation. But remember, sexual sin is just a symptom of the larger disease. I would encourage you to spend most of your teaching opportunities focusing on the bigger picture of being a disciple and a lifelong follower of Christ. Speaking about sex every week is too one-dimensional and misses the point.

Sound the alarm
I am convinced that one of the best things you can possibly do prior to having “the talk” in youth group is to communicate the details with parents and your leaders. Whether you send a letter in the mail, communicate in a weekly email blast, send a text message, or all of the above, you need to give parents and leaders a heads up. Not only does this communication help keep everyone on the same page, it also helps parents to prepare mentally for the conversation that will most likely happen after youth group. I invited our elders to sit in on our youth group that evening so that there would be no question about what I had said or the tone in which I said it. Communicate like crazy. You will be happy that you did.

Be bold
Once you have set the stage by communicating with parents and leaders and you have prepped well, it is time to be bold. The world is screaming from every direction about sex and romance, and it is high time that the church speaks with holy boldness on the subject. Don’t be afraid to attack certain angles of this topic head on. Talk with your students directly about pornography, sexual promiscuity, movies, television, cohabitation, and whatever else you feel God leading you toward. You know your students and the pressures they are facing in their context. Don’t pull any punches.

Avoid slang 
One of the mistakes I made the first few times I spoke on sex with my group was utilizing slang terms. Every student has a different level of understanding about sex, so using slang terms ended up causing more difficulty than I anticipated. Students spent time during my lesson whispering back and forth trying to figure out what that term I just used meant. For some, the use of slang terms created more curiosity and confusion. I’m not suggesting you give a doctoral thesis and only use medical terminology, but stick to the basics so that your students are sure to understand and can continue to track with you instead of laughing about the term you just used. Parents will also appreciate the deliberate avoidance of slang terms so that they don’t have to define crazy terms to their student after youth group.

Trust the Truth
God’s Word has lots to say on the topic of sex and purity. Students are hearing the world’s view on sexuality from magazines, movies, television, and even their friends in the locker room. But God is the Creator, and He is the one who created us as sexual beings. Trust in His Word, and confidently share that truth with your students. Many times, the Bible will stand in stark contrast to the world on this topic, but you can trust in it and communicate it without fear. Be ready to answer questions after youth group, but know that the Bible is trustworthy.  In turn, you should deliver its Truth confidently.

Give grace
I can’t tell you how many lessons on sexual purity I’ve heard that have been very heavy-handed, guilt-ridden, and condemning in nature.  Honestly, I’ve been guilty of delivering a few of these in the past.  But what I realized is that students who are struggling with lust, pornography, and sexual sin are already dealing with the weight of guilt and shame.  They certainly don’t need me to add to their guilt by bashing them over the head with the Word.  I fully believe that it is possible to encourage students to sexual purity while extending the incredible and glorious grace of Jesus.  When I am confronted in my sin, I prefer it to be filled with grace. So, I have started approaching this subject with my students the same way.

These are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned along the way about having the purity talk with my students.  I’d love to hear what has worked for you as well.  Comment below so we can dialogue about this important subject.

5 Simple Ways to Gain Respect from Your Church Leaders

youth pastor sr pastor tension

Having been a youth minister for well over a decade now, I think I have heard all of the ridiculous statements and stereotypes about youth ministers. We are lazy, disorganized, and never take anything seriously. We only work on Sundays. All we do is play games and order pizza. And my personal favorite: when we “grow up,” we might “get our own church.”

While I’m not certain where these stereotypes originated, the crop of youth ministers I interact with regularly just don’t fit that mold. Almost every youth minister I connect with regularly is working hard, giving and sacrificing time, energy, and resources, and thoroughly thinking through ways to improve the ministry God has entrusted them with.

Despite this trend, we constantly see youth ministers in the YouthMin Facebook group that are struggling to gain the respect of church leaders. So we created a list of some simple, fool-proof ways to gain respect from your church leaders. These won’t solve every problem, but they will till the soil so respect and admiration can grow.

1.  Work hard
One of the easiest ways to communicate your passion for youth ministry is to be a workhorse. Show up early, be prepared, go the extra mile, be available, and churn out great content. If people can’t find you during office hours, you are chronically unprepared, and regularly on the golf course, someone WILL question your work ethic. One of the most respected players in any locker room is the guy who shows up first and leaves last. Be that guy!

2.  Communicate…a lot
Leaders generally don’t like to be surprised, especially by an angry parent or concerned member. The best way to endear yourself to your leaders is to keep them informed. When I respond to a parent, I often carbon copy my ministry elder or senior minister. When I have a confrontation at church or an issue arises, I email my elders. When I taught on sex, love, and romance last week, I told the parents ahead of time and made sure to have a couple elders in the room as I spoke. Communication breeds trust.

3.  Be a great teammate
The hallmarks of a great teammate are loyalty, communication, respect, honesty, trust, and commitment. By being a great teammate to your fellow staff members and elders, you will receive respect in return. NEVER put down an elder or staff member to a person in your church. NEVER lie or stretch the truth to your teammates. Hold the nitty gritty details of meetings in the strictest confidence. Be loyal to a fault.

4.  Be consistent
Consistency breeds trust. When you are consistent in your dealings with people, how you plan and execute events, and the ways you communicate, trust will naturally follow. On our staff at Hazelwood, we have a Senior Minister who has led for 35 years. Other staff members have been in their positions for 14 years, 13 years, and 7 years. I can’t tell you how awesome it is to work in an environment where there is so much consistency. We know how our teammates operate, how we respond to criticism, and we know that loyalty is the norm. Consistency pays huge dividends, so make it a priority.

5.  Stick around for a long time
There are so many benefits of longevity that I can’t enumerate all of them here, but trust, respect, and added responsibility are certainly among them. When I came to Hazelwood as a 22-year old youth minister fresh out of college, parents and leaders questioned me a lot…and I don’t blame them. I was young, inexperienced, and learning on the fly. Having been here for 13+ years now, I am often given the benefit of the doubt instead of a barrage of questions. Our staff, elders, parents, and students know I’m here to stay, and that leads to a lot of trust.

As I stated above, this list won’t save you from every difficult situation or tough conversation, but you might be surprised how far they will take you when it comes to gaining the respect of your leaders. What would you add to the list?

Why your Youth Ministry should be more like Apple

youth ministry planning

One of the things I love about Apple, that I believe (because they tell me this to be true) makes their products that much superior, is their patience. They have plenty of ideas for things that could make the iPhone or iPad better, but they don’t rush the product, and until they can make that idea the best idea, they won’t put it in the phone. Read More