Where’s Your Zone?

how to write youth ministry curriculum

I don’t think I have ever spoken to a Youth Pastor before without somehow or another moving the conversation to curriculum and event planning. I, for one, absolutely love writing my own curriculum. I love the freedom it gives me to cover the topic that I choose and address it in the manner that I like. Writing curriculum challenges me to push myself and my understanding of God even when I feel farthest away from him sometimes.

The investment and challenge it is to write thought provoking, compelling and relevant curriculum that truly reaches out to the students in our ministry is an exciting but daunting task. I really love when the conversation about writing moves to where we write. I believe that we all have certain writing niches that we feel most comfortable in, places that we can hunker down and write away. I love the creativity that God has to instill different writing inspiration locations in our hearts. I have heard everywhere from sitting in the backyard in absolute quiet to writing in the bathroom (which to me seems like a challenge!) I believe writing (or at least attempting to write) curriculum is an essential part of our walk as leaders in the church. We have to work on being able to express our beliefs on some sort of medium. We have to work on getting the ideas our of our heart where God has placed them and get them into the hearts of the students that are so hungry for Jesus. Find your niche and start your on adventures in writing curriculum. There are three questions that I would ask when trying to find your place to write.

1. What do you love?

What is something that you absolutely love doing or being at? I, for one, love being in crowded places and plugging in my headphones and listening to the hustle and bustle of life over a worship playlist on Spotify. In fact, I am actually doing that right now. If you are a quiet person and enjoy being in silence, then find a place of solitude. If you enjoy baths, then try a bath. Find the thing you love and bundle up in it and write away.

2. Is it too distracting?

Video games or TV for the most part is a good example of this. Don’t get me wrong, I love video games and I love watching a few select shows and sports on TV. I would never try to write while doing either of those though. It is a losing battle that isn’t worth wasting your time on. I enjoy crowded places but I absolutely cannot write without my headphones on in crowded places. It’s way too easy to pick up on other peoples conversations and I get distracted too easily.

3. Do You Have a Favorite Spot?

This might seem like an odd question, but my bet is that there are a few people out there that might not be able to answer the questions above that I asked. If that is the case, find yourself a spot soon. Writing places are normally a place that you can relax and let the cares of this world melt away.

As much as ministry is a full time (and more) job, we have to have places that allow us to wind down. It’s healthy for our relationships with God, your family, staff that you work with, volunteers that work with you and your students. Find this place and visit it more than once or twice a month. Whether you have the time to spend a few hours there or 30 minutes, it’s important to give yourself time to just turn off. Writing is one of those things for me, writing for me is therapeutic. I love putting my thoughts and ideas down for later.

I would love to know what your locations are.

Do you have more than one?

How often do you visit these places?

Post yours in the comments below!

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 YouthMin.org 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.

The best Youth Ministry Conference out there

the orange conference youth ministry

They often say “leaders are readers,” but the underlying truth there is that leaders are learners. We all get that.

That’s why conferences are, in my opinion, so crucial for leaders.  In the world of Youth Ministry, we have a number of options to choose from. In my time as a Youth Pastor, I’ve been to a lot of the major, national conferences and several of the smaller, regional ones.  I don’t mean to bash on the others, but there really is nothing that can top the experience and education of the Orange Conference.

I wrote this summer about the idea of the 10 word answers, that it’s easy to be able to say a quick phrase that sounds great or offer a general solution that might solve a problem without understanding why the phrase is true or why the solution works. For me, I can go to any conference and get inspired, see something that is killing it in another ministry, or hear an idea that would be phenomenal for my church. But rarely at these conferences do I learn a) Why an idea is a killer idea in general, b) why an idea is being successful there in that context, or c) how I can make it successful in my ministry, or if it’s even a good fit for my ministry.

That’s why I love the Orange Conference. You’re going to see a lot of amazing things, hear about a lot of killer ideas. But the focus of the conference isn’t the solution, but instead the philosophy of the solution. You won’t just leave with a notebook of ideas or curriculum options, you’ll leave planning a strategy for YOUR ministry.

So I know I’ll be in Atlanta this coming spring, and I’d love to meet more of our YouthMin community there. Registration opens up this week (october 9th) and you can save $80 per person for opening day, thats a HUGE savings!

Even better, the amazing folks at Orange have been kind enough to give us a ticket to give away to a reader. Just leave a comment on ANY post this week, and on Thursday at 3 pm CST, we’ll choose a random winner!

Check out the highlights from last year’s conference

The Orange Conference 2014: Highlights from Orange on Vimeo.

*Disclaimer: I’m asked to help promote the Orange Conference, but I’d write the same post above even if they hadn’t asked.

Finding Peace in the Chaos

networking in youth ministry
For most people in ministry that I have met, vacations and time away from the ministry are often left on the back burner. This is something that, over the past year, I have found to be EXTREMELY hazardous to your spirit as well as your body. We need to have some time to get out and do things that get us out of the 24-hour-a-day mindset that is required in Youth Ministry. For some time now, I have had moments in planning and writing and organizing things for the Youth program to where I have found myself absolutely stressed out over the smallest things. I realized that I wasn’t allowing myself adequate time to “turn off” so to speak.

In order for our hearts and spirits to be able to make a connection we have to allow time for both of them to receive nourishment.

I know I am not the only one out there who struggles with this. There are countless Youth Pastors who seem to struggle with this as well, including the Youth Pastors that are bi-vocational.. In order for our hearts and spirits to be able to make a connection, we have to allow time for both of them to receive nourishment.
Over the past few months, a few friends and I have begun to set out a time block (Thursday mornings at 10am CST) and join each other from all different parts of the United States in a Google Hangout. This has been incredibly refreshing for myself and it is honestly something that I look forward to for the entire week. The conversations have been excellent! We laugh, we discuss, we brainstorm, and most importantly… we pray for each other. There is something so refreshing about receiving prayer from others who are called in the same field of ministry as you are. I leave the hangout every week encouraged and uplifted to take on the next week. This has truly been a time for my spirit to receive nourishment.  Worship, reading and prayer are great additions to this as well. However, something that my heart absolutely strives for is joining in community. It’s who I am. I think this is an important thing for anyone in ministry, because we have so many people who we constantly are in contact with that put on their best appearance and try to be perfect, like we are going to speak badly to Jesus about them or something if they don’t.Something that we often miss is the sense of community. It can be flawed and can have problems.  But we need help and encouragement to tackle what life has thrown at us. I have been extremely encouraged by this and I would absolutely love for anyone in ministry who is reading this to join us in the Google Hangout on Thursdays.Seriously, you will not regret it.

Secondly, we have to find time to allow us to be ourselves. Whatever your hobby is, pursue it in your free time. I have two distinct hobbies that I absolutely enjoy more than any others…golf and graphic design. They both provide me with the opportunity to clear my head and focus on what I am doing. If i get frustrated, you can typically find me on the putting green or behind my computer designing things. This is my getaway, my spot in life to where it’s just me. I can recharge my mind and body within a matter of an hour or so and get back to work.

Hobbies are extremely important, and I would recommend you pick one up or more passionately pursue your hobbies. Students can see through burned out, exhausted, and spiritually dry leadership. They will call you out on it more times than not. But the thing is… THEY ARE RIGHT!

Allow yourself time to recharge and grow this week. I hope that you can discover a hobby that works well for you.

Also, I am sure there are some other techniques that work well for others. Post them in the comments below! I would love to read them.

 

Don’t Kill Yourself – Volunteers are Key

youth pastor volunteer

Volunteers… We don’t always have them but we need them.

I have been in Youth Ministry for a little over 4 years now and for about the first 3 years I thought that everything was my responsibility. I did three lessons a week, scheduled a meal sign up sheet and made contact with whoever was signed up for the current week, spent as much time as I could with the students (which wasn’t much). I led parent meetings, did lock-ins, 30 Hour Famines, Camps, Mission Trips and all of the fundraisers that our program needed. I had parents come and volunteer their time but I never appreciated their help fully until about 6 months ago. I started in a new church about a year and a half ago and for the first year I continued my devastating trend of not allowing anyone to help me. I was exhausted, I was depressed, I didn’t feel like I belonged in ministry anymore.

The past 4-6 months I have truly begun to understand the need for allowing adults to help in student ministry. I need to be in the front leading the group in the direction we are going but that doesn’t mean that I have to be pulling the entire group behind me. Now, I have a group of 4-6 adults that are absolutely invested in this ministry. I bounce ideas off of them, I ask them to do stuff for the ministry (instead of me doing it all) and I do my best to be there whenever I have a leader that has a question or idea for the program. Believe it or not, I am not stressed anymore. I don’t worry about how I am going to tackle certain tasks now, because I have a team that I know can help me and is behind me 110%. Whether that task is little or daunting, my team works together with me and we accomplish it.

A question arises though… Where can I get the leaders that I need to do this?

1. Talk to People

There are many people in the church that don’t do anything and are not invested because they have never been asked to do anything. Invite them out for lunch one day, give your vision for the ministry, ask where they can see themselves helping out and give them the reasoning on why you chose them. Most of my volunteers have stepped up because I have asked them or talked to them about the ministry.

2. Broadcast Your Ministry to the Church

Make sure your church knows that they actually have a student ministry.  And make sure they know that the student ministry is doing everything in its power to equip the students with the faith and the biblical understanding that they need to be able to tackle the challenges that are waiting on them when they leave to go to college. Your students are your best promotional opportunity, so get your students to stand up in church and make announcements for the youth program. When you go on a mission trip or go to church camp, get up in front of the church and let the students share how God moved in their lives during the event. Adults love to hear how the students are tackling the difficult concepts of faith early in their lives and more than likely would love to help out.

3. Make Sure Your Ministry is Inviting

This is something that really took some effort and practice on my part. In all my time as a Youth Pastor, I had never truly worked on being open and inviting to criticism and being open to people trying to help out. I honestly believe that I have had some great volunteers run through the ranks of my ministries and I have burned bridges by not listening to ideas and critiques. Make sure that you are welcoming to volunteers when they have questions or concerns. Discuss their thoughts (neutrally), find solutions to the problems and move on with implementing the solutions. Burning bridges because someone gave you a critique that you didn’t like will only make it harder for you in the long run. Be humble and be wise. You do not always have the right answers, neither do your volunteers. That’s why it is best to work as a team.

 

Please don’t kill yourself like I did for close to 3 years… It’s not worth it. Find some volunteers that share your vision and love on them as much as possible. Give them tasks to accomplish, get their opinions on things that are happening and get out there and love students with everything you have.

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?