Youth Pastors and Self Promotion

How many times have I unfollowed someone on Twitter because they link to their blog every hour?

How many times have I rolled my eyes in a Facebook group for youth pastors because I ask a question, and instead of interaction I get linked to a blog?

How many times have I had a conversation with a youth pastor, and all they can talk about is their accomplishments?

It’s annoying, guys.  But it’s also pretty accurate of what most of us do at times.  Youth pastors, and pastors in general, love to promote themselves.  Why is this?

The Psychology

Youth pastors, by spiritual nature, are teachers and desire to contribute knowledge to their community.

Sometimes at church we might get shut down by a committee, pastors, or even our students.  And perhaps we are insecure; when things aren’t going so hot at church, we over-talk the things we are proud of.  We try to contribute to a community of other youth pastors that can see we have some strengths; strengths that our churches can overlook.

Youth pastors are also used to trying to promote their youth group and begging people to check out their church, web page, or event.  So it makes sense that when we post a blog, we begin begging people to read it.

The Problem

Pride creeps in and tells the pastor that their blog or contribution to the youth pastor community is their identity.  Pride tells them that if they get 100 retweets or comments on their blog, then they are valuable and worthy.

And others can see this pride–it’s redundant when someone fills up my feed with their blog posts and nothing else.  It’s annoying when I ask somebody for help and they just link me to their blog.  It’s usually irrelevant as well.  And hopefully, it’s misrepresentative of the pastor.

As someone who has always struggled with finding her identity in the affirmation of others, it is draining for both my self and for those I interact with.  If I am only finding my confidence in others, where is God in this equation?

The Proper Ways to Promote

Promote your group.

You want to fill my news feed up with something you love?  Quit filling it up with yourself–fill it up with how much you love your students. Your students see your stuff too, and will see that you love ministry not because it makes you “famous” (in your own little world) but because you love students.

Promote community. 

Realize that you need community, not a pat on the back.  It’s great when someone retweets me or tells me I had a great post.  But what we really yearn for is interaction with that post.  So that means we need to interact with others as well.

Promote others.

You want to post links to great information? Great!  Post a variety of links to others’ blogs.  I love posting links to different stuff in my Twitter account; whether it’s youth ministry blogs, parenting sites, youth culture reports, etc.  This shows I don’t just love my blog and what have to say, but many others.

Promoting others is promoting learning and promoting humility.

What do you guys think?  Are you fed up with youth pastors promoting themselves?  How do you make sure that you “promote” your blog, website, or group effectively without becoming obsessed or annoying?

Recognizing Seniors in Student Ministry and the Church

I just started at my current church in the beginning of April, so the seniors here haven’t “grown up” under my ministry. Unfortunately, these seniors hadn’t had a youth pastor for most of their senior year, and I felt bad for them. So to make sure their senior year could end as great as possible, even with the circumstances, I did the following:

  • When I got here I made sure to reach out to each senior. They were some of the first students’ phone numbers I saved in my phone and the first students I had lunch with. I made an effort to show them that I care about them.
  • I built a relationship with them and showed them I cared about their future. I tried to engage them with questions about their future and their dreams about college. I would encourage them with the little I knew about the area schools and gave them the best advice I could give them from my time leaving high school.
  • I got them a good book, which I struggled with the most. Knowing the context I was in, I knew that their parents would be giving them good Bibles. I also didn’t want to give them good books they already read. I wanted to give them something that would prepare them well for college. I choose 99 Thoughts for College-Age people by Chuck Bomar. I tend to steer clear from “stereotypical” youth ministry books and publishing houses, not because I have anything against them, but because I just don’t tend to look at books that come out of there. It wasn’t until I was in a local Christian bookstore and thumbing through this book, that I had to reconsider my angst. This book is wonderful. It is short, thoughtful, and legit. Points on dating, spending money wisely, and how to look at campus ministries are just some of the many great suggestions and insightful tips that the author gives. His tips are exactly what I would tell the students.
  • I met with my senior pastor to find a way to for the church to recognize the seniors well. We blocked out about 20 minutes of the service just for them to be known and recognized by the church.
  • Lastly, I made a video with them in it to be played in service and posted on Youtube for them to look back on and share. I decided to make it upward-focused. From the music to the questions, I wanted the video to focus more about God and his work in the lives of the students, rather than just have a slideshow with baby pictures and a Vitamin C song.


How did you recognize your seniors at your church? What gifts did you give them? If you made a video, share them in the comments.

Open Letter to Volunteers

Dear Volunteer,

If you are reading this, it does not mean that you are in trouble; nor does it mean the youth pastor who sent you this to you is upset with you. This is a list of things on their heart that they may just want to reiterate; or perhaps they have never talked over any of this with you.

I am sure that you are the perfect volunteer and that you follow everything I am about to share with you. If this is true, then just smile and send a quick text to your youth pastor and tell them that they are awesome for reminding you.

However, we all fall short of the glory of God and do occasionally mess up. So, let this be a point of reference, a reminder of what we should be doing as we take on the great task of serving students every week.

  • Listen to us in meetings. We are not holding leader meetings because we are trying to waste your time. We are doing it for your benefit and because we care about the students we have collectively been entrusted with.
  • Support us in front of students. Don’t let students make fun of or belittle us in front of you. Even if you may agree with the student, defend us; later, bring us any concerns that you may have.
  • We do care about your ideas and thoughts, so share them with us! But don’t try to do things on your own to undermine us.
  • Communicate. We may not be the greatest at communicating either, but please communicate with us anyway. If you are going to be late, text us. If you are going to miss something, email us in advance. Give us a call.
  • Commit. Please don’t be fickle. We care about our students, so your lack of commitment tells them that you don’t care about them. If you decide to be a volunteer in the ministry, mark it on your calendar.  Students will appreciate your consistence.
  • If you are worn-out, let us know so we can give you a break. The last thing we want is a bitter, worn-out volunteer. We will not only pray for you, but still be there for you as you take a break from the ministry.
  • Get fed. Don’t serve in the ministry and not seek to serve your personal walk. If you feel stagnant in your walk, let us know. We are as much your pastor as we are the students’ pastor. Let us get you books or suggest audio sermons. If you have questions, ask us. Many of us went to Bible college or have seminary degrees and can hold deep conversations of faith with adults.
  • If you are struggling with sin, please tell us. We are a pastor. We know how to keep things confidential. We all sin; we as pastors know this for sure. Let us help you get to repentance and freedom.
  • Help us promote the ministry. If you see us post something online regarding the ministry, share it. Retweet it. Take a screen shot and post it on your Instagram. Kids are following you online as much as they are following us. Your help with promoting an event or helping remind students to get their deposits in means a lot to us.
  • Tell us how our message was. We rarely get feedback on our messages from the students. Occasionally our spouses will mention something, but they can be the most critical. (No offense Cori. ☺) It is important to us to hear feedback from our volunteers. Let us know if one of our points went over the students’ heads, or if I talked too fast, or if you thought that maybe one of my jokes was awkward. That is fine. We need to know because most of the time, I am the only one evaluating myself…and I am very generous.
  • Don’t use your phones during the message. If you have your Bible app open, then cool. But don’t check your email or text anyone during the message. We don’t want students to do it, so please be an example.
  • Be with the students. Please don’t just stand in a huddle and talk to each other like 5th year seniors. Interact with the students, and seek out students who are alone. We are here to serve them.
  • Take the gender differences seriously. We are looking out for your safety and the students. If you are a guy, don’t be alone with a female student. And if you are a lady, don’t be alone with a male student. Just trust me on this. It is for your safety.
  • Read our emails and texts. Please. Respond to our emails and texts.
  • If you are a parent, don’t come to the ministry to spy on your kids. Come to serve the entire ministry. Your kids will be cooler with you there if you are not hovering over them.
  • If you are in college, let us know your schedule. We know you have midterms and finals and we want to respect that. We may even buy your Starbucks to help you study.
  • If you are in Bible College, learn that nothing is greater than actual ministry experience. You may have the Westminster Confessions fresh in your head from a paper you just wrote, but being face-to-face with students in real life is worth more than any paper you have to write.
  • Don’t forsake Sunday morning worship in “Big Church.”
  • Spend time with your family.
  • Have fun. Enjoy the fact that you can play video games with 16-year-old students and no one can judge you for that.

There may be more that I forgot to mention. You can read the comments. I am sure other youth pastors can help fill in what may have slipped my mind. We love you guys. Seriously! We appreciate what you are doing. This ministry can only go as far as you help us in it.

Thanks,

Every Youth Pastor Everywhere

Summertime Blues

Summer is right around the corner, and it is approaching quickly! I love being a part of camps, mission trips, and random outings that can only take place during the summer break. The preparation that is put into summer is all paid off when we get to see God move in our students’ lives. Summer truly is an exciting time for youth ministries!

Yet, there is a problem. I’m having a hard time getting excited for summer. In fact, I dare say I almost wish it wouldn’t happen. Currently, I’m a little down about work, school, and the opportunities I get to minister to students. In some sense, I’m even questioning my calling. Is this something I want to do for the rest of my life? Can I be happy doing some other profession? Do I even have the skills to get hired in another profession?

If you are experiencing these types of feelings, don’t worry: you’re not alone. You’re actually in good company, and what you’re going through is completely normal. What you are experiencing is what I like to call “Summertime Blues.” The cause? In my opinion, a really long spring semester. I don’t know why, but the spring semester seems to drag out, unlike the fall. It could be the anticipation from all the summer planning, and we’re just ready for it to be over? Or it could be the emotional toll we go through, leftover from Easter, and working with seniors who are about to graduate? Either ways, we may never know; however, there are ways we can combat this attitude so we can be ready for summer!

Take A Vacation

Last year I experienced the blues and my pastor suggested I take an actual vacation. A few days off here and a few days off there are fine, but they don’t have the same effect a solid vacation will provide. We need time away from the office and a chance for God to pour into us. Furthermore, our families need this as well. Finally, make sure to take your vacation before the summer starts. Last year I took mine in late July, but I really needed it before than. Plan accordingly. If you haven’t planned a vacation yet, don’t worry; you still have time to take one before the summer starts!

Go To A Conference

I believe every youth pastor should attend one conference a year. Moreover, I believe it’s even better if you can attend a conference in the fall and spring.  Conferences are a great time to worship without responsibilities and a chance to meet new people. Furthermore, they’re opportunities for you to hone your skills and get the creative juices flowing again. If you can, attend a conference that is a couple of days long. I know it can be pricey, but they’re worth. If you don’t have money for it, talk to your pastor about seeing if your church can pay for it, and if not, add it to your budget for next year. Conferences are like camp for adults. Just make sure there’s no purpleing going on, unless your spouse is with you!

Worship At Another Church

Yes, this means you have to take a Sunday off; however, it’s worth it. It’s amazing how refreshed you can be by attending a different worship service. Hearing a different voice and worshiping with a different group of people helps us to refocus ourselves for the future task at hand. Furthermore, it’s a great opportunity to see what other body of believers are doing. When you decide what church you’re going to attend, call the youth pastor up and let him know you are coming. See if they can give you a tour of their church, and if they’ll have lunch with you. Take this time to learn about a different ministry philosophy and see how God is moving among their body of believers. Be willing to worship and learn!

In the end, it’s important to track your spiritual health. Just like we plan events around certain parts of the year, we need to do so with our spiritual care. If you are experiencing the same type of spiritual slumps during a particular part of the year, then the best thing you can do is plan accordingly to combat the slumps. Learn what does and doesn’t work for you so you can get the most out of the way you take care of yourself!

What do you believe causes the “Summer Time Blues?”

What are some conferences you would recommend to attend?

5 Reasons Your Ministry Needs Women Leaders

Your youth ministry needs women leaders.  Before we start arguing the theology of women in ministry, I want you to hear me out:  The purpose of this post is not to advocate for ordained women, or women pastors, or to argue the Pauline view of women.

The purpose of this post is to convince you why you need more women in roles of discipleship, worship, and (yes) teaching.  We need to have a spread of leaders who represent the spread of the audience in gender, color, and background.  So if your youth group is 60% female and 40% male, you should have about that amount of male/female leaders.  I empathize that it may never be perfectly that way, but you should strive for that representation.

Girls need women leaders.

Seems like a no-brainer, yes?  Young girls need to have examples of women who are leading. If we are teaching our young ladies that they need to advance the gospel, then we need to have examples of women who are actively advancing the gospel in their lives personally.  Additionally, girls desperately need to hear from a variety of women.  Girls need to see a picture of themselves in these roles so that they can do it, too.

Boys need women leaders.

For so long, we’ve been doing ministry so that boys can only lead boys, and girls can only lead girls.  However, there are wonderful things that boys need from both men and women, just as girls need both in their development.  When I began my first youth ministry position, a mother came to me and told me that her son was going to be my toughest case, because he doesn’t respect women, and that included his mother.  I remember that first night of youth group–this eighth grader challenged me with every “tough question” he could muster on women, homosexuality, and president Obama.  When I left two years later, that same mother said to me that her son not only respected women, but valued their leadership in his life.  He became more sensitive, more respectful, and even more affectionate towards his own mother.  Boys need men to mentor them, yes; yet having women as leaders will lead them to holding greater value of women.

Male leaders need women leaders.

Men and women compliment each other.  You have a variety of leaders who are more playful, some more disciplinary, some more empathetic, some more protective, some more approachable, and others more on a pedestal; not to mention the variety of skills: building sets, making snacks, teaching, discipling, etc.  Put people in their sweet spots, and play off their strengths. I serve in a ministry where the co-directors are an unrelated male and female, and it’s beautiful watching how the strengths play off of each other, and where one is weak another fills in strong.  Think about it: why does God give children both a mother and a father?  Both are beautiful and have roles that are necessary in leadership.

Women leaders need women leaders.

I will be the first to admit that I need support.  I need examples of strong women in ministry so that I can do ministry, and I definitely see the effects as I begin mentoring women in ministry.  We need discipleship and community, especially as a part of our female identity.  Personally, it can be difficult as a female in a male-dominated profession, and I crave interaction with other ladies.  So ladies, step it up! And… let’s be friends.

God needs women leaders.

God uses women for multiple tasks in the Bible, and in Acts it is said that God will use both sons and daughters to prophesy in his name.  God uses some of the most random people to accomplish His tasks, so never discredit a potential leader based on their gender, age, race, or background.  From Abel to Moses to Deborah to David to Esther to John the Baptizer to Jesus to the Woman at the Well to Paul… (anyone else out of breath?)… God has a knack of loving and using people who just don’t fit the standard mold.

 

On Our Knees

One of my old volunteers was in town for a doctors appointment.  He’s one of my favorite people on the planet, and always a huge encouragement.  A few months down the road, he will take his entire family across the ocean to help start an online degree program to train pastors in a post-Christian culture.  Did I want fajitas with this guy?  Enough to pay for both of us.

An hour later, the drinks are empty and the cheese dip has cheese-skin so thick I could take a nap on it, but we’re still talking ministry, academia, and family.  I told him how discouraged I’ve been over the past few months; “just one of the parts of being in ministry.”  He prodded, and I shared how inadequate I feel – if I’m doing my job, if our ministry is honoring Christ and being strategic and intentional, we should see growth.  Not necessarily numerical growth, or growth in width, but at least spiritual growth in the students, growth in depth.  This season?  I’ve seen neither.  It may be I’m too critical or expect too much, but I told him I felt we were stagnant in both directions.

His response?  “How much do you spend each day praying about that.” 

“Well forget you, I don’t need your criticisms,” was my first thought.  It lasted less than half a second, and then reality hit like a ton of bricks.  I prayed regularly for my students and ministry…every Wednesday afternoon.  That’s the youth pastor equivalent of praying right before a test.

When was the last time I closed my door, shut off my computer, and fell on my knees on behalf of my students?  MONTHS, if I’m being honest.

My question for our little community of people burdened and called to shepherd their generation is this: how influential is prayer in making your calendar each week?  Even more so, what have you found the most personally rewarding prayer methods (for students specifically? Journalling? Art?) in light of your own personal makeup?

It’s something I’m deeply convicted by, especially having called my students to live a life of prayer.  I have the head knowledge and know it’s vital, but it gets lost in my day.  I could write a multi-volume book on “valid” excuses, but at the end of the day, I haven’t been intentional.  God is bigger than my mistakes, but that doesn’t mean I keep making them.

As a side note, he challenged me, in light of all the work, school work, and family plates I have spinning, to read through The Kneeling Christian.  If anyone else wants to take this adventure with me, hit me up on Twitter.  We will go to our knees for our students together.