An Open Letter to Church Leaders

You might assume by the title of this post that I’m concurrently working on my resume and a blog post, but I’m excited about sharing this post with you and with my own church leaders as we seek to make Christ famous.  I am also eager to hear back from you on what you would share with your church leaders, and I hope this post will be a great conversation starter.

I know that every denomination and every church has a different structure and different definitions of “leadership.”  In my church, we are locally governed by a group of elders, as qualified by 1 Timothy 3.  These are men that I respect, love, and am honored to serve with.  With that context in place, here we go.

Dear Church Leaders,

Let me start by saying that I am honored to serve in the Kingdom with you.  You have been called by God, appointed, and affirmed by our congregation to lead and govern us as a Body.  You bear a heavy burden, and I am thankful for your leadership, your devotion to our Lord and His church, and I write this letter with a submissive heart.  As a co-laborer in Christ, I’d like to share some things from my heart that may encourage and challenge you.  I hope this can open the door to more collaboration in the future.

1.  Your interest in the Youth Ministry means more than you know.  As I speak with fellow Youth Ministers, one of the most common mantras I hear is “I wish my leadership was more aware of what we are doing.”  I know you are busy, and there is no way you can be involved with every ministry in our church.  But you have no idea how encouraging it is to see our leaders stick their head into youth group on a Wednesday or Sunday night, to volunteer to run an inflatable at a 5th Quarter, or even just to ask us in the hallway how the ministry is going.  Those little connections make a BIG difference!

2.  Embrace our differences.  One of the greatest things about the Body of Christ is that it is full of very different people serving One God in very different ways.  There are a lot of things about the students I minister to that would probably blow your mind, and the methods I employ may not make sense to you, but I hope I have proven that you can trust me.  Students live online through smartphones and tablets.  They spend HOURS on Snapchat, Kik, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and more.  I know we may be very different, but I’m certain we both have a place for ministry in this congregation.  So, forgive me when it sounds like I’m speaking Greek, or when I’m asking for some gadget in my budget that weirds you out.  Hear me out, and I guarantee I’ll have a reason for it.  Then, we can go from there.

3.  Give me feedback…any feedback…please.  I believe with all of my heart that God has called me to this ministry, and specifically to ministry in this church.  I think about youth ministry when I get up, when I go to bed, and almost every minute in between.  I’d love to hear from you about your perceptions concerning our youth ministry.  I have blind spots, and I need your feedback so that I can improve.  Be honest, be kind, but I want to be the absolute best Youth Minister possible.  You can help me with that.

4.  Don’t be afraid to try something crazy.  One truth about leadership that I learned early on was that you will never make everyone happy.  You have been given a huge responsibility to shepherd and lead the flock, and sometimes, that means shaking people up.  I challenge you to take a leap every now and then, think outside the box, and make people uncomfortable.  Some of the best decisions I’ve ever made in ministry seemed a little crazy at the start.  I know it may mean criticism from time to time, but don’t be afraid to try something new and different.

5.  Pray for our students.  Our students are in a crazy world.  Many of them have difficult home lives, some struggle with abuse and neglect.  Others are being pressured by coaches, parents, teachers, and school administrators to perform at near-perfect levels in every area of life.  It seems that the students’ calendars are more full than mine with academics, athletics, church, extracurriculars, and more.  Lift them up in prayer often.  It would be greatly appreciated.

I am praying for you, for our church, and for your leadership.  I believe we can do some amazing things together for the Kingdom, and I am eager and ready to follow your lead.  Let’s do this!

An Open Letter to Youth Ministers

Okay, I’ve come to grips with it.  I’m getting old.  I have more gray hairs than brown anymore, it seems.  And I make weird noises when I get up.  So, I get it.  I’m getting older.  But one benefit of being in Youth Ministry for a while (12.5 years at Hazelwood and counting) is that I’ve “put childish things behind me” in a lot of areas where I used to struggle.

Please don’t misunderstand – I don’t have it all figured out.  I learn new things every day, and find new ways that I am a “clay jar” entrusted with the “treasure” of the Gospel.  But there are some glaring trends in Youth Ministry I would like to offer some straightforward opinions about.  Hopefully, they will be helpful and beneficial, despite their “angry old man” tone:)

So, here we go.

Dear Fellow Youth Ministers, please…

1.  Dig into the Word more than your Twitter I’ll be honest, I am alarmed at the lack of Biblical knowledge I see in some of my students, and more alarmingly, in some of my fellow Youth Ministers.  We seem to be really good at updating websites, posting on Twitter and Facebook, updating our blog (guilty), and demolishing Angry Birds or Candy Crush.  But do you dig into the Word?  Do you commit it to memory so that it is handy when a student needs advice?  Trust me when I say that the Word of God is WAY more powerful than the most recent Rick Warren tweet (no offense to Rick Warren).  Come on guys, put down the iPad and pick up the Sword.

Remember that the disciples “devoted themselves” to the Word (Acts 2), that the Bereans “were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true (Acts 17),” and that the Word of God is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16-17).”  Dig into the Word.

2.  Stop the piercings and the skinny jeans.  Are we really so naive to think that we can’t affect the lives of young people unless we look exactly like them?  Here’s a secret…they know you’re not one of them.  Let’s stop working so hard at trying to “blend in” and start leading this generation.  Some of my best sponsors have been over 50 and “uncool” (whatever that is), but they love and lead students.

The truth is that your students don’t need another friend.  They need a mentor.  And the role of mentor does not mean just playing video games together.  It includes accountability, clear boundaries and expectations, meaningful conversations, and sometimes confrontation.  Sometimes, being a mentor is not popular.  But it is what they need.

I’ve often wondered how Peter felt when Jesus called him “Satan” in Matthew 16.  But Peter was being selfish and worldly and NEEDED to be called on the carpet.  Are you willing to speak Truth even when it’s unpopular?  Are you willing to inform parents of behavior they NEED to know about even though it may “ruin your friendship” with a student?  If not, then be their Facebook friend and get out of Youth Ministry.

3.  Preach with POWER Jesus was often referred to as a Teacher who “taught as one who had authority.”  The Word of God is powerful – remember Hebrews 4:12?  And we were not given a spirit of timidity, but one of power (2 Timothy 1:7).  Preach with power and with confidence.  Your students crave Truth, and they will respond.

I’ve heard so many sermons recently that barely even cracked open the Bible.  Stop watering down the Gospel with your platitudes and start giving students meat.  Challenge them, stretch them, and help them wrestle with Biblical Truth.  In the end, you will see stronger, more grounded Christians because of it.

3b.  Stop avoiding the topic of Hell In recent Christendom, it seems all the rage to soften and water down the Gospel.  Whatever your take on these guys, Joel Osteen, Rob Bell, and Brian McLaren aren’t big fans of dropping the “H” word.  But the Word makes it clear that there is a clear distinction between those who follow Christ and those who do not, and that their eternal existence is EITHER in Heaven or Hell.  Mark 16:16 makes it pretty clear – “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Hell is real – deal with it, and help your students deal with it.  Honestly, fear is a great motivator.  When I see a police car, I immediately check my speed.  Fear motivates me to drive the right way.  In the same way, the reward of Heaven and the reality of Hell motivate me to live my life for Christ.  Fear shouldn’t be the primary motivation for salvation, but it IS a factor.  Don’t live here, but use this powerful Truth to motivate your students.

4.  Get off the golf course and get in the trenches.  Let’s face it, we are at war.  Ephesians 6 makes that clear.  And what is at stake is a generation.  If you have been called to Youth Ministry by the Lord of the Universe, then don’t be nonchalant about the work at hand.  Work hard, never quit, and make the most of every opportunity.  Remember Colossians 3:23-24, which says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”


 

I would love your feedback as we seek to lead and teach this generation.  I know I have blind spots myself, and I would love to hear your “Dear Fellow Youth Ministers…” comments as well.  And know that I am praying for you as you lead students.  May God richly bless you and your ministry.  Now go change some lives, ya whippersnapper...

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?

Editors picks 5.17.13

As we discussed our favorite things this week, we realized a lot of our contributors had a great week, full of blessings. We hope your week was one of success, that you got plenty done, learned a ton, and had a bunch of wins. If not, we’d love to pray with you and for you, just connect with us on Facebook.

Here’s a look back at some of the things we posted this week:

Ben Read and Jeremy Smith Debated whether or not Youth Groups should let students use cell phones.

Two new games were added: Who’s the Hero and Say the Same thing.

A reader submitted a great post to share with your volunteers about connecting with students.

And Keith Parker continued his series on Planning a Mission Trip.

Here were the posts we read elsewhere that we think you should check out:

Social Media Resources for Parents by Austin McCann

Why you should stay in your ministry by Michael Bayne

What does it mean to disciple others by Matt McGill

New Brain research about young teens and identity formation by Marko

Free E-book “Helping Teens answer tough questions” by Tim Schmoyer

How to value and empower your volunteers by Jill Harris

John Piper and Mark Driscoll talked me off the bridge by Jared C. Wilson

Extraordinarily Ordinary by Aaron Armstrong

http://geoguessr.com – This is the best use of google street view ever. You play a game where it loads you in streetview in a random place, and you have to guess where in the world you are, getting points for how close you come.

bibleminded app – a great app to help memorize scripture, great for students, volunteers, and ourselves

Engaging students you have nothing in common with

Confession time: I like to talk to people who are like me. You probably do the same thing as well. You naturally gravitate to someone in a room who you feel you have a connection with. On Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, the people I’m around that I have the most in common with are the adults in the room. They have kids. They have jobs. They have bills and schedules and other “adult” things going on.

The students in the room? They have homework. And soccer practice. And girlfriends. And video games.
OK, so I at least have video games in common with students.

The next time you’re in a room with adults and students, make an effort to have conversation with multiple students before you seek out your adult friends. As a volunteer, you came for the students. They are the ones you’re ministering to.

If it helps, decide to have three conversations with students before talking with an adult about their week. The conversations don’t have to end in a Gospel presentation (though you never know!), but should be longer than “Hey! How was your week?”

Ask them how their extra curricular programs are going. Ask them what their plans are for the next holiday. Ask them about their jobs, their boyfriends, their school, their home, their math test, even their video games. Show students that you came for them by engaging them as they walk into the room. It can make a huge difference later on as they reflect on their experience in the youth group.

Seek out students first, you never know what you’ll find!

 

This was submitted to the site by Ronald Long using the Submit button near the top of the site. We didn’t ask for enough information from him to give him a bio, so Ronald, if you see this, message me so we can fix it.