where to begin...

It has been a VERY long time since I have blogged. To just be able to share my thoughts on a subject and have 20 people read it gets my blood pumping. I love it when people comment also. I used to think that this blog was my big ticket. If Justin Bieber can be discovered on youtube singing, surely I can be discovered from my blog.

How often have we dreamed of something like that? We want to have it all. To be discovered. To have the book deal. To be on the speaking circuit. To have OTHER youth ministers look to you for guidance in their own ministries. To write curriculum that will be published. To be THAT special utensil that God uses to change many, many lives. I will be honest and say that I have often dreamt that. I have had people tell me that I am going to be a big deal. People have also tried to bring me down, saying untrue comments or things about the youth ministry I am in, only to hurt me, the ministry and the church itself.

The great thing about being in youth ministry is simple. I get to be a special tool to help mold and shape lives of discipleship, faithfulness, and a desire to pursue Christ into students. A while ago, I posted some verses on my wall that meant something to me at some point. It had meaning, I am sure, but I can't distinctly remember the day or time when it had some special meaning for me to print it out. The verses are from 2 Timothy 2:19-26 which says, "19 But God’s truth stands firm like a foundation stone with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,”[a] and “All who belong to the Lord must turn away from evil.”[b]
 20 In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. 21 If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.
 22 Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.
 23 Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. 24 A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. 25 Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. 26 Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants."

I looked back at these verses and I read them. I tried to remember where I was going when I printed these. I tried to remember what was I going through in my life that I needed such encouragement from God. I simply couldn't remember.

However, looking at these verses today, I can say with truthfulness that I have always seen myself as the day to day utensil. I never say myself as the gold or silver spoon that is always shining and ready to be used for any occasion. I have strived to be that golden utensil though. I wanted to be at the top. I am programmed to be at the top and never let second place be enough. To quote the great Ricky Bobby from the movie Taladega Nights, "If you ain't first, you're last!"

I always thought that was a cute and funny phrase, and occasionally I will say things like this to my students sarcastically. I have always wanted to be at the top. However, in the sight of God, I am the special golden utensil. I am the utensil, I just have to be ready.

I hope the verses out of 2 Timothy really encourage you today. With God, we are always first. Our sins have been thrown to the deepest oceans and forgotten. He loves YOU and ME unconditionally, Agape Love. I have figured out that no matter how many degrees I earn, no matter how many books I write, no matter how many achievements I receive in life, under the Cross I will lay down my crown(s) and wait to be used by God whenever and wherever I can be used. I must be patient and kind at all times, ready to preach that Jesus rose from the dead and is alive today.

2 Timothy 2:9(b) says, "..But the Word of God canNOT be chained down." (emphasis added). Do not try to be something or somebody that you are not. God created us to teach and preach the truth that WE have come to know. A peace that surpasses all wisdom and knowledge. This will be my prayer for you and me today; to be able to be kind and patient, to be able to be vulnerable enough to be the utensil God made us to be, and to teach or tell someone that Jesus is still alive today as He was 2000+ years ago and even when the world was created!

running...

So often in youth ministry, there is a marathon that we run. We go from one school to the next, we go from this dance recital to that football game. We try to make time to hang out with the students, but also try to find some one on one time with those that need special counseling and attention for problems going on in their lives. So often, we are simply running and not even looking where we are going.

I sit here today, fatigued a little. I have been going non stop at school functions, youth functions, church meetings, family things, pregnancy appointments with my wife, and just trying to make things all fit in my schedule. My calendar on my phone is empty, but in my head, I have more dates than I care to remember sometimes.

Yet, I was watching some Skit Guys videos this morning. I was really amazed at the way the present the Gospel to people in such a unique and creative way. So much of my ministry has been just maintained. I run the race, but I don't really see the finish line. I don't have a goal sometimes. I need to simplify my ministry.

One thing I have realized is that my ministry, and probably yours, has different goals than the church. No matter how much we justify it, we have different views and goals to achieve even though we claim we align ourselves with the churches vision. Most youth ministers, me included, would say that we are here to grow disciples. Someone might ask how we do that, and then we roll out our calendar and show them all the great things we can do with the youth and how they can get plugged in. However, where is the discipleship? My view for my ministry is to teach students to love God and to love others to God. My churches mission is to reach up, reach in and reach out. Or put more simply, connect grow and serve. I see these three points and my points and feel they are connected but worded differently.

Usually, there is division amongst churches in every ministry. We all strive to be the best and want to succeed the most. I want us to look back a little bit. We need to see that running the fastest doesn't mean we will always be the best. For a youth ministry to succeed, we must not be our own church. We are a branch of the church we are a part of. All the visions and missions should be unified, from diapers to diapers (babies to old people).


Finding unification between the church mission and your youth group mission, being sold on that, selling the leaders and volunteers in your group, and trickling that down to the students will not only help the discipleship process, but it will help your vision for the youth ministry to be able to reach goals. If it can fall into any of the categories (assuming they are connect, grow and serve) then you can put aside things that don't fit this, create new opportunities for discipleship within the perimeters of the vision and mission, and move forward focusing on growing your group as a family and spiritually.

storying...

Last night, my youth groupstarted a archaic form of Bible Study last night that I want to pass along to all who read the blog. It is called "Storying". The goal is to learn the Oral Bible and share it with students, recalling the story and details in it. During this process, students are encouraged to dig deeper and find their place in the story of God, as opposed to trying to place God in their own story. Through the process, they begin to see how BIG God is, and how we fit into His greater plan and story for each of us. The reference, if you would like to try it, is from Michael Novelli's book "Shaped By The Story" and you can find each of these narratives at www.echothestory.com. Each week I will post this as we study it, and also give insight as to how my students are learning and adapting to it. At first, it may feel like story time, but if you can get your students to really participate, it will become more vibrant for them and they begin to use their imaginations and really connect with each story. The first week is about Creation and the Biblical references for this narrative are: Genesis 1-2, Job 38:4-7, Psalm 8, Psalm 103:19-22, Isaiah 45:18, 2 Peter 2:5, and Jude 6.



This first Episode in God’s Story, called “Creation,” begins like this...
Creation
Before anything existed, there was an amazing and mysterious being called God. While God was creating the earth, angels watched with amazement, singing together and shouting for joy! God created these beautiful angels to worship him. But some of these angels rebelled against God and his ways – any rebellion against God is called sin. God doesn’t allow sin to remain in his presence, so he sent the rebellious angels into darkness on the earth,
to face final punishment later. (Pause)
Then God took the earth, which was dark and formless, and prepared it as a place for life.
God’s Spirit moved over the surface of the earth as...
He made light – separating it from the darkness... He divided the oceans and the sky... He gathered the waters, so dry land would appear... He grew plants, flowers, and trees... all with seeds in them so they could reproduce themselves... He created the sun, the moon and the stars... then set the days and seasons into motion...
He filled the seas with fish, the sky with birds, and the earth with all kinds of wild animals! God put great care and creativity into all of his creation. God looked at this and said, “This is really good!”
After he had prepared the earth, God decided he would create another being, one who was lower than the angels. God said, “We will make humans in our image, to be like us. We’ll put them in charge of the earth, the plants and all the animals that live on it.” So God took dirt from the earth and formed this first human. Then, God breathed his own breath into him, giving him life. This first human would be called Adam.
God placed Adam in a beautiful garden, where he provided everything he needed. In this garden, God planted all kinds of trees that produced delicious fruit so Adam would always have plenty to eat. God gave Adam the responsibility to take care of this garden and all of the creatures that lived there. God even brought all of the animals right to Adam so he could give them names!
In the middle of the garden were two special trees – a Tree of Life, and a tree that could give Knowledge of Good and Evil. God told Adam to enjoy fruit from any tree in the garden – except for one; God warned him, “If you eat fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, you will definitely die.”    (Pause)
Then God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a partner who will help him.” So God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep. While Adam was asleep, God removed one of his ribs and then closed up his side where it was taken from. God used Adam’s rib to form the first woman. When God brought her to Adam, Adam shouted, “At last!” Adam called his new companion Eve, which means “giver of life.”
So God created both the man and woman to be like him – created in God’s own image.
God blessed Adam and Eve with the ability to continue his creation by having children. God joined them in a close relationship as husband and wife, where they devoted themselves to each other. Although Adam and Eve were naked, they felt no shame.
And God would come and spend time with the humans, walking with them in the cool of the day. They lived under God’s care and protection – a life that was full and complete. As God looked over all of his creation he thought, “This is excellent in every way!” After creating all of this, God rested... and set aside a day of rest each week for all of his creation.

new advenutres...

It's been about a week since my big announcement on my blog. I am super excited about what God has placed in my life right now and I can't say it won't come without stress, hard work, and determination. I am ready for some new adventures.

This summer has been a crazy busy one with me youth group. We have gone on three trips, outings and everything else in between. There really has been much of a down moment. This past week, however, might highlight my summer. We went to St. Augustine Beach, Florida to a retreat put on by Ignition Retreats. There were three total churches there and  86 total people. It was small and intimate, but God was definitely on the move.

You see, God has placed on my heart that this group that I am currently leading is ready for service. We have done a lot of service and mission projects already, however, we are ready to go global! That being said, I took 12 students on this retreat. Sure there was the share of drama and luckily no one got injured other than being burnt to extra crispy by our dear friend the Sun, but we really had some great fellowship and some amazing worship time.

During the trip, we also offered work shops. This was a place where students could go and talk with one of the leaders about certain subjects. I decided to take on struggling Christians. I felt, that since I have had my share of struggles lately that I would talk and help some of these students. Little did I know, one of my own students would later accept Christ.

For me, and according to the Bible, one student who has had a very troubled past finally asked for help for the first time in his life and asked Christ to forgive him of his sins and to come into his heart and be Lord of his life. To me, this is the most successful story of the trip. There may have been other students who did not say they became a believer or not, but I know that Heaven rejoiced over this one.

It has been a while since I have done something that exhilarating. When I finally sat down and talked with this student, he was crying and I was too! This really got my juices of evangelism flowing. I am ready for the fall. One to start getting back into a normal schedule again. Two: to start preparing these students for preaching and teaching the Gospel to ANYONE! And last but not least I am ready to see what God has in store for my group this fall.

What things are you preparing for your ministry this fall? Or do you plan on making any changes to the youth programming? Tell me your thoughts!

losing it...

Have you ever come to work, sit down ready to work and then you realize that you feel like you have lost your ministry? Today, I sort of have that sense. Maybe it's because I got selfish. I didn't yield control over to God more. I am not sure what or where this feeling came from.

Sometimes in youth ministry, we can get really discouraged about things. For me, there is a myriad of things going on at once. I have a hard time saying no to things when it comes to church work. It piles up. Specially since I have not been in my office for almost a month! Life has been somewhat difficult and different for me when it comes to Summer Youth Ministry.

I will always know that you have those dedicated few that go on trips and come to Bible studies. I love these students and adore them for their dedication to God and to the youth ministry of my church. However, sometimes we can feel like we have run out of steam. The engine is slowing down.

This is where the network of youth ministry comes in handy. I feel like I can ask for prayers. I don't normally do something like this, but I feel like it would be appropriate. At the same time, below, list some things I can pray about for your ministry or even yourself.

I came back from vacation last week and I can tell you that I feel refreshed. Somehow, I have hit a plateau and I am praying to God this morning that I relinquish control back to Him. I can't handle the fullness of the reigns that I tried to take from Him.

Do you ever feel this way? What are some things you do in the summer to keep momentum going? What do you do to help build relationships? How is your prayer time with God and your devotion time with God? Leave comments, prayer requests, prayers, or ideas down below!

fallen...

The month of June has been VERY long for me. There was always something going on with our youth ministry or the church and somehow the youth ministry was roped into it! It was very tiring but I am so glad to be a part of it. It showed me how much my students are willing to serve and how much they love the church they are in. I am tired, but refreshed after my short vacation to the beach where I did a WHOLE lot of nothing! I am ready to get things going and ready for a lot more ministry....that is until I got a punch in the gut late last week.

I was sitting on the veranda reading a book and I got a call from my best friend. I knew he was on a mission trip with his youth group, so something must be wrong. I listened to his voice mail he left me and almost dropped my phone. There was a youth pastor, whom we both knew very well, and he was ARRESTED FOR CHILD MOLESTATION! This youth pastor was in a relationship with a 15 year old girl. On Monday, June 27, he was arrested early in the morning at the Atlanta airport, RIGHT AFTER returning from a mission trip.

I can't say that I know all the details of the investigation because I do not. I am simply telling of what I do know from media sources and outlets. Now, this youth pastor and I go back a ways. We were not the best of friends, but we knew of each other and could probably pick each other out of a crowd of people. However, when I heard this, my heart sank! This youth pastor has a family, a wife and 2 kids. The sadder thing is, this was described as a relationship with this 15 year old girl. This required effort and methodical action.

So here I am, on July 4th, the birthday of our nation and I am sad. When I see how this can happen to people we know, I am also thinking about the freedom the Christ offers us in His grace and love. Satan is looking at this and is thinking that the fall of this youth minister, the sin that was/is in his life, the way the nation looks at the freedoms we are given and he is laughing. Satan looks at situations like this and dances because another one who works for Christ has gone down because sin eeked into their life.

I have not talked to this youth pastor or his family about what is going on or what happened and I imagine I can't for a LONG time. However, my first reaction was anger. I was angry because of some of the things this youth pastor said not to long ago about others. He was very condescending and he had this holier than thou type of attitude. I was mad. Now looking back, I am now more sad.

I feel for this youth pastor. I have no right to judge him for his actions, only show love to him and pray for him about what is going on. I can only pray for his wife and kids and the STRUGGLE they are going through. I can imagine the hurt and judgement that they may be receiving. I know that I too have fallen from grace. I have had my share of downfalls in my life. Mine were not too long either.

I want us as youth pastors to do a few things:

First, we need to try to guard our hearts from sin such as this youth pastor friend of mine. It can effect ANYONE and Satan sees this as a victory.

Second, we must try to find ways have a heart for those that sin and point them to Jesus. When we see that others are hurting we can show them the same love that Christ shows us. However, we must NEVER put ourselves in any kind of situation that would cause anyone to think something bad. Always guard yourself and protect your family, yourself, and your church.

Finally, we must realize that we are sinners saved by grace and that we will get caught in sin again; but Jesus will always win in the end, because it all points back to the cross.

Sin can grab the best of us. We are given MANY freedoms to talk how we want, think how we want, worship how we want, and do almost anything we want. We live in the Freest nation in the Free World. Christ has given us many options, but we must always turn back to Christ.

Does sin still grab you today, while leading your youth ministry? What is the biggest sin you see your students struggling with? How do you help students deal with sin or things going on in their lives? Are you protecting yourself, your family, and your church when counseling other students?
Leave your comments below!

exhausted...

I have not blogged in over 2 weeks! I have tried a few times, but it all felt like junk. The reason I have not been able to blog is because I have been going non stop with my youth ministry. We went on a 5 day mission trip to Augusta, GA. The next week we had VBS. We just got done with another mission trip (originally a choir tour) to Birmingham, AL to help one woman clean up the roof of her house out of the back of her yard. Tomorrow, we have our choir tour performance for the whole church. Tomorrow afternoon we go the local area children and youth camp called Camp Dooly. That goes until Wednesday. Can you get the trend here? I really have had NO time to blog.

However, when I had a few minutes of down time, I was trying to think of what to write and couldn't. I had constipation of the mind and couldn't write a thing. Suddenly, while getting some MUCH needed yard work done this morning, it hit me; I am running a marathon and I am in NO shape or form to be running one!

In youth ministry, the normal time to AMP IT UP for your ministry is generally the summer. It is a time to build relationships, hang out more with the students, and just be spontaneous with your schedule. However, I feel that this can hinder a youth ministry. Summer time is the time for trips, missions, and all kinds of fun. We need to remember that this is still spiritual development for our students. As we usher our graduates and bring in new students, this is the time to connect with the group and STILL CONTINUE TO HELP THEM DEVELOP!

Yet, I am exhausted. I have done so much and I have missed a lot of valuable time with my wife and dog. Always make sure that you spend time with family, otherwise it will come back and bite you. Before we can help spiritually develop our students we must keep our spiritual lives in tact as well.

With our hectic summer schedules in full effect, what are ways you are keeping the spiritual development in your group and in your own life? Share comments and suggestions or even questions below!

it's been a long time coming...

I have a lot going on in my own little world right now. I feel outright selfish about everything that is going on. You see, once in a while I kind of get in this funk. Don't know what it is, but it feels like you're walking down the hall and someone kicks the back of your knee to make you fall and you just can't get up. Maybe a better expression is that you get punched in the gut and the wind is knocked out of your body.

I had this happen to me about two weeks ago. I couldn't seem to get out of my funk. I had some great and exciting things planned for my youth group, we had a trip coming up, and I couldn't seem to get THAT excited about things. I wasn't excited until June 3, 2011 around 10:00 P.M.

We were on a mission trip to River of Life in Augusta, GA. This is the first time the youth group has been on River of Life or any kind mission trip to begin with. Each night we had share time and each student went around and told about there day or something funny or encouraging they did or saw on their work site. The first two days, people repeated each other, just using different lingo as the circle continued. Friday was the day that it changed. They started mentioning things about how they were really encouraged by God and to see ALL the work that had been done was just amazing and that they wanted to come back.

I felt this sudden compassion in my heart. I was like butter and just melted. I love my students and would do anything for them, but to hear them actually talk the way they did REALLY encouraged and lifted my spirits as well.

In youth ministry sometimes we can feel long winded and less encouraged. We can feel like we are so upbeat and uplifting all the time, who can lift us up? God has been so encouraging to me in the past few days and continues to lift my spirits today.

What has God done to you lately that has just lifted you out of the funk? I know we all go through it, but what is some words of encouragement to others or even me that might bring some wind back in the sails of other student pastors. Instead of looking at the glass half full or half empty, lets say look at how much water I have in the first place!

the middle...

What do you like to do when you go home from work? Sunday nights, Wednesday nights? What does a youth minister do when you go home from the LONG days of hanging out with students? Me? I go home and I watch my TV. I turn into a starch and plop down on my couch. I find myself loving TV shows. Normally, if I watch one or two shows of something, I am generally hooked. This is what I do with my spare time. I am a couch potato.
People always think that the life of a youth minister is glamorous and hollywood, but we all know it isn't. So I am asking, what do you do with your spare time? Some play xbox live, others read, some exercise, others exercise by eating, some watch sports, some play sports, some find ways to hang out with their students, some want to get away from their students.

The reason I am rambling on about this random topic, is because I found myself becoming mad while watching TV last night. I saw the season finale of American Idol, and the person who SHOULD HAVE WON (sorry, little left over frustration) didn't. I turned off the tv and deleted the program from my DVR. I was so mad! and WHY was I so mad? I didn't vote, I didn't do anything but watch and get frustrated with something I had absolutely nothing invested in.

Usually, in youth ministry we can get so invested that we let our emotions get in front of the path. I have seen it before, even in my own ministry, where I let my ego-driven, emotional self get in the lead of our ministry. I also found that the direct correlation from this was I thought I was getting enough God by doing lesson planning and reading books by CS Lewis and Rob Bell. The thing is, we ALWAYS have to make time to spend time with God. My frustration over last night's show caused me to lose sleep. That's CRAZY!

When you have some down time, take some time to make it uplifting with God. Journal, pray, read scripture, memorize scripture, and just take some time to deflate and lay it all down in front of Christ. If you do, great! Keep up the good work! If you don't do it enough and keep saying you want to, THEN DO IT! GET OFF YOUR BUTT, DOWN ON YOUR KNEES AND TALK WITH GOD! I bounce back and forth. I go from awesome for a few weeks, then it dwindles to every few days, to once a month, to every Sunday Night and Wednesday night. When we work at a church we need to be poured into doubly. First we must be poured into on our own time with OUR relationship with Christ, then we move to getting poured into AGAIN for the students. LOTS OF WORK!

I am here to encourage you. Keep doing what you do best, being a light of Christ to the students who need it. Don't be afraid to call a student out on something (in a one on one setting) if you feel something is breaking or fracturing their relationship with Christ. When the work day is over, spend time with your family or friends outside of the church. Try not to bring your work home with you. It can get messy sometimes, but drawing boundaries and making sure you and your relationship with Christ are right first is what draws more water from the well.

Share below some techniques or secrets you have to have a quiet time with God or just share what you do when you get home from work. How do you deflate from working with students and meetings at church ALL DAY?

the game...

This morning, I was rolling through my twitter scroll and I saw a tweet that really stood out to me. It stood out so much, that it has inspired me to blog about the subject! Here is what it said:
Daniel Burke

what harold camping got right...

May 21, 2011. This was the predicted day that the Biblical "rapture" (according to some Baptists and Harold Camping and his followers) would occur. However, if you were like me and MANY other people, we kind of scoffed at the idea that the end of the world was going to happen. We also mocked him and made jokes via twitter and facebook. "Harold Camping was wrong before, he will be wrong again," we probably proclaimed to our students or anyone that would hear us on our blogs, internet radio shows, or really just anyone who would talk about it. I'll be very honest, I mocked him and laughed when I actually heard this man's voice. Yet, in the back of my mind, I thought to myself, "surely this guy is wrong and preaching heresy, but what if he is right? Am I secure in my salvation?"

So I ask you, oh youth ministers of the world, what did Harold Camping get right? Obviously, not the apocalypse. But what he did get right is two things:

1. He got the message out there! Sure Harold Camping and his followers were wrong, but he got the message across. People were investing their lives on this. People were changing their lives for this. People actually believed in this. He got his workers in action. Yet, in youth ministry, don't we struggle just to get our students to participate in games? How can a 89 year old "prophet" rally his troops, yet we can't effectively change the lives of the students involved in our ministry?

2. He got people thinking about God and their own lives! Often times, when I am down in my ministry because things just don't seem to be going my way, I often wonder how effective I am. Camping's ministry pasted this message everywhere, and effectively marketed this message better than the media ministries or evangelical churches combined!

So how do we fix this? The Methodist's seem to be trying to redefine church itself. Their advertising campaign "Re-Think Church" (can't remember that one, huh?) was more interested in social justice, in a vain attempt to appear relevant.

We are always trying to reinvent the wheel to make sure that we are current with the times. Change is good, but it must be followed by God. We must make sure that we are following what we feel Christ is telling us to do and where to go. Harold Camping and his followers would tell you the same thing, they felt this is what Christ was telling them, but I am just guessing some of Camping's Bible pages got stuck together and skipped over The Gospel according to Matthew.

Youth ministers, I want to challenge myself and you to change the culture of how we do ministry. Not to seem more relevant, but to seem more like Christ. We can preach and teach, but we must speak, walk and live the life Christ has called us to be!

Share your comments below about maybe some things you are thinking about changing in your ministry or directions you feel Christ is leading you. Maybe leave a prayer request as you feel that you are taking a leap of faith in your ministry!

the escalator...

I remember going to the mall when I was little. The first stop would always be KB Toys. I would run rampant in the store, saying I want this, taking that off the shelf, playing with those toys. I would be the kid screaming up and down the aisle always saying I want this, this, those, 3 of those, that one, and this one please! (always have to throw a please in the end to make sure the parental unit knows I am nice enough to ask politely). However, when going to the mall, I had so much that stimulated me as a child, I always looked forward to one thing....the escalator. I thought this was the coolest invention ever made. AUTOMATIC STAIRS! I would ride them up or down and I would ALWAYS jump off before I got sucked down into the black abyss below the stairs, or so my brothers told me.

The escalator is such a coll invention and I still enjoy riding them today. I don't ride them, however, with half as much imagination as I did when I was a kid. To be honest, I still don't know what is under those stairs. Yet, when I was a kid, I always thought going up the escalator was the best way to reach the top. It was easy, required little effort, and once I got there, I was on the top floor and NEVER going down.

Youth ministers, it is time to be called out. We have the SAME thought process a few times in our careers. Much like any other career, we always want to move up, be bigger, be better, do more, bigger budgets, more students, more lives over to Christ, bigger events, bigger bands, bigger retreats. We ALWAYS want to go UP and we will always take the easy route to do it. We are on the youth ministry escalator.

I have only been in youth ministry for 5 years. I am what you would call a "newb"; for those that understand gamer lingo. I don't know everything in youth ministry, but I used to always find the easiest way to do my job that would require the least amount of effort; thus, I would be do little work with maximizing my product. See, it doesn't quite work that way. We get what we put into it. My journey in youth ministry, following Christ first (of course not all the time because I am not perfect), is NEVER the escalator, it is the broken down escalator. I have to take the stairs.

When I am "climbing" in my career, it is going to take effort. Now, we all know, as youth ministers we "borrow" from other youth groups, and we also know that if we borrow it, it has been borrowed twice already. Youth ministry was laid out for us by people that dedicated HARD WORK AND EFFORT but also a STRONG FAITH IN CHRIST.

There is never an easy way in youth ministry. The escalator does break down from time to time. The best thing is, they can only become stairs. You will reach your goals, it will take HUGE FAITH and EFFORT to get there.

I also want to touch on one more thing. Sometimes, moving to the bigger and better looking churches is not always the best. Money does not speak in my world. We need to see where we feel God is leading us. KB Toys was ALWAYS on the second floor. MY prizes was at the top. Christ desire for us is to listen to Him and follow Him. Our gifts that He has given us are needed where HE NEEDS US, not always where we want to go.

My pastor said these words to me that ring true right now, "I don't care if I make a lateral move, a move that pays more or pays less. My wife and I want to go where we feel God needs my strength and we put that in His hands. God ALWAYS finds a way to provide." The cool part is, when we put it in God's hands, we can see that He will provide.

I want to encourage those that are looking for jobs, keep looking but pray first. Remember, each church comes with pressure and problems, even though it looks great in the packaging, but also follow what you feel Christ is telling you to go. Only you can lie to yourself.

What struggles do you go through when looking for jobs? What are some things that you look for when you are applying for a youth minister position? When you get discouraged so much at your current position, do we just check the YS Job Bank and see what is available? Write your comments or suggestions below! You never know who could need your advice or who can give you advice!

style...

I went to the National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta back in 2009. This was my first NYWC experience. I was amazed at ALL the things that were dedicated to youth ministry. I was a kid at a candy store. I filled up my "swag bag" pretty quickly. Each day I would take ANYTHING that was free. I would sample this, sign up for that, get that t-shirt, play this game! I was like a middle school student at their first youth event!

At the big sessions, I looked around and I saw how people looked. I am a people watcher, so I like to look at surrounding people see how the interact, what they wear etc. Perry Noble came on stage and said something that I thought was the most astute proclamation of all time. He said, "We must be at a youth minister convention, LOOK AT ALL THIS FACIAL HAIR!" HE was right! Everyone had some kind of facial hair or shaved head. It was REALLY funny. I'll be honest, I don't remember right now what he talked about, but I was just taken back at the fact that there were over 3000 youth ministers in this one room ready to hear and receive encouragement.

We had some break out sessions, during the convention. You were able to take any class that you wanted about any subject. During this time, I was hoping to find the magic recipe to help my youth ministry grow spiritually and numerically. I suddenly got the feeling that a lot of other people were there for the same thing. When I look back, I would sometimes stretch things to make myself look better in front of other youth ministers. I wanted people to ask ME for help and advice. I wanted to be part of the convention, but as a speaker. I knew I had style. I knew I had the facial hair. I thought I knew it all!

I look back during that time in 2009, and it was a REALLY hard year for me. My parents were divorcing after 33 years of marriage, I was about to propose to my now wife. I was going through a lot of emotions and I was trying to seek all these different avenues for help and to fill me up. Nothing worked.

On the outside, I was complete. I looked good, I was doing well at my job (or so I made it appear) I was doing so many things that LOOKED good. On the inside, I felt a void. I felt black and blank. I was hurting, but I could not share my hurt or show that I was vulnerable. I was seeking outside influence to help save me on the inside. Then, I read the story of Moses. I read about the Israelite's and their journey they took. I looked at them, and I saw a lot of myself. They kept messing up over and over, only to come back to God and ask for forgiveness then do the same thing over and over again. It was a vicious empty cycle that had no end. I was on the same path!

I want to encourage youth ministers here. You see, we ALL need help. Here are some things that are nothing new, but simple enough to help you and encourage you to be the same on the inside as on the outside:
1. ALWAYS DO DEVOTION/QUIET TIME! Always try to take time to sit and talk with God, pray to Him, read His word, journal your thoughts, and try to listen for Him speaking to you. Lift up others around you, but also lift up yourself and your struggles to Him!

2. FIND A MENTOR! A mentor is somebody who has the battle scars, who has been in youth ministry, who has run the race and has been through the good and bad times. They can help you with one thing us young youth minister hot shots think we have, wisdom.

3. DON'T STRETCH THE TRUTH! We all know we shouldn't lie. It happens and people do, especially us, when it comes to youth ministry. We want to show we are averaging great numbers, souls are getting saved LEFT AND RIGHT, and you have to create and overflow room just for the extra people that come in. Don't do it. Be honest with yourself and trust that God is going to be there when 2 or 200 show up. Don't be discouraged by numbers. If you show that you are disappointed in low numbers, you may miss a great opportunity for the students that dedicated their time to show up. Remember, no youth means no job!

These are just simple things that can help encourage you along the way. There is no secret formula for youth ministry (if there was, would I be spilling out all this wisdom for free?). We must follow Christ and try to discern what He wants.

Have you ever tried to stretch the truth about your ministry to make yourself/ your youth group/church look better? What are you going through now that someone else may have gone through and can help you and encourage you through it? Leave some comments below and share some personal thoughts. You never know, someone else reading this blog may be able to help you or vice versa.

jumping the gun...

I remember when I was little. We had field day at our school. We did it a lot like the Olympics (on a much cheaper and smaller scale of course). Each class at the school represented a different country or nation. The first one that I can remember, my class was supposed to be Barcelona. We wore purple shirts and they had the Olympic rings on them with our schools name. I was so proud to wear this shirt and participate in field day.

When I found out we would be doing field day, I begged my mom for some new shoes so that I could run faster in the relay race. So we went and got new shoes. I felt like a million bucks and the fastest runner in my class. In our daily P.E. classes, we would have races and I would always think I would win. The night before our field day, I couldn't sleep because I was so excited!

Field day was finally here. I was participating in the tug of war, baton relay and potato sack race. I was SO READY! It came time for our tug of war, my class lost. Potato sack race....win! Finally, the relay race. It came time for me to START THE RACE. I had my new shoes on. I was convinced I could run faster. Right before the said go, I started running! I was winning. Everyone was screaming my name! I was so excited! I handed the baton off to the next runner and I was cheering and clapping! I thought I was helping our team win! Yet, when I finally turned around, everyone else was still standing at the starting line and my teacher was coming after me. She took me aside and said I was disqualified because I couldn't follow the directions.

I was thinking about this story this morning. Not because I got new shoes and not because I am really excited about one certain event, I was thinking about it this morning because I wonder in my own life and in the lives of other youth pastors, are we really following directions?

Youth ministry is not just a color by number type of job. We are called to follow many directions i.e. rules of the church, rules of the senior pastor, job description, and of course the most important direction is our divine rules.

We should get encouragement from our daily devotion time and prayer time with God. Also, we should be listening to the voice of God and waiting for His divine instructions for us. I will be honest, I want to jump the gun. I want to do so many things that I think WILL WORK! Yet, if I sit back and look at what I want to do and where I feel Christ wants me to take this group, my vision does not always line up. I am at a point where I have to have patience. I have to not only talk to God, but listen for Him to talk back to me.

If you are a youth minister, what are some ways that you may have jumped the gun and it didn't work? What are some things you are excited about that are going on in your ministry?
Share and leave comments below! Let's be encouraging to one another to not only listen to others advice, but sit back and listen to the still quiet, but loud and powerful voice of God. What are some techniques you use or do that you can share to help encourage others to listen to Christ?

experimental youth ministry...

I was going through some old books the other day and I found a book that I was SOLD on from the moment I took the class at NYWC in 2009. It is called Shaped By The Story by Michael Novelli.

To me, this book and teaching method was so new. It is pretty simple when you think about it. The book tells us that story telling is the way the Bible was passed down from generation to generation for a while. This is also the way family history is passed down and many other ways of information is passed through story telling. Novelli took this archaic approach and trended it towards the Bible today. The book and the website have lots and lots of stories from the Bible to teach to your students. It is the belief of the author and those that read the book that it will help connect your students more to the Bible.

Most students can't tell a Bible story in its fullness. Most of the time, they can hit the highlights. It's like a picture book. However, if we tell the story of the Bible to the students, in story form, they may remember more details and thus will be able to connect their story with God's story; which I believe was the ultimate goal of the book.

I look back at this book and I see a time that I was so excited because I thought this was going to be the next great teaching method in youth ministry. I tried it and had some positive results. Looking back on my years (as few as they may be) in ministry, I see that the trend of youth pastors is to find the next great way of bringing students in, connecting them with God, making the best disciples of Christ, and changing the whole community you live in! When you find it, please let me know.

There are so many ideas and "experimental" ways to do youth ministry. We need to expand our knowledge of how to teach. This is why NYWC is such an awesome thing for youth ministers. It helps connect us with new resources and it also revitalizes us, if we are down in the ministry dumps and slumps during that time.

I encourage you to keep refreshing yourself with different teaching methods and ways, but also keep to what you know. Don't do something so drastic that it will change your whole way of thinking and the ministry foundation you have laid. Here are some simple ways to help incorporate new teaching methods into your group:
1. Pray about it and talk about it with your senior pastor. ALWAYS remember that you are not your own church! Make sure this lines up with the vision of the church that has been set by the senior pastor. After that, pray about it and hone in your skills.
2. PRACTICE! I can't start telling the stories of the Bible from this book unless I know them first. If I went and did it unprepared, I would be in a hot mess of trouble.
3. TEACH YOUR LEADERS! Before bringing it to the students, sell the parents and leaders in your group on it first. Help them understand the thought that God placed on your heart, and why you feel it would be the right direction. THEN LISTEN TO THEM! Don't make it your way or the highway, because soon enough you will be on the highway in a UHAUL looking for a new job!
4. TRUST THAT THIS IS OF GOD! New methods of teaching are ALWAYS scary! You are not sure if you will be hitting a home run or striking out. Have faith and give it time that God will provide and grow disciples through the new teaching method (whatever that may be).

I tried this to some success. What are some other experimental ways of teaching you have done or are thinking about doing? Post your thoughts below!

living under a rock...

This past weekend has been hyped by A LOT of news! If you were one of the fanatic few (23.8 MILLION) that woke up at 4:00 A.M. on Friday to watch the "Royal Wedding", you were able to see the real life, once in a life time, fairy tale come true! It was a beautiful wedding ceremony that almost half of the world watched. Talk about pressure. This, of course, left the news reals BUZZING for the weekend.

Then, if you are like me and watch "Celebrity Apprentice, you saw the HUGE announcement last night. At first, it was secret. The bottom of the screen read, "Please be prepared for an important message from President Obama regarding an undisclosed topic." Then, right before we find out who was fired on Celebrity Apprentice, we see the news pop up. I told my wife that it has to do with two things: 1. We are about to open war up on Libya or 2. We have captured or killed Osama Bin Laden. (I, of course, was right.)

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have PROBABLY heard the news that Osama Bin Laden was killed. Soon after the announcement, you could flip over to ESPN for Sunday Night Baseball to hear Mets and Phillies fans chanting USA. People outside the White House were singing the national anthem. The main idea was that this truly was a win for the United States. Bin Laden got what was coming to him. You reap what you sew. Karma is a b...well you get the idea.

However, I sat up, watching the news last night, and was thinking to myself, "Sure this is great, but what next?" As I was in and out of sleep, I began to toss and turn over the images and thoughts that were raging through my head. How can we be celebrating the death of someone? Why is everyone so happy? And here is where my controversy will start: I started thinking to myself, that Osama Bin Laden was a great leader!

I will let the anger settle. Done yet? Let me continue on with my RADICAL thought process; You see, I am not here to spark debate about war, politics or anything of the sort. I am simply asking the question, a man as radical and extreme as Osama Bin Laden was, why can't we lead like him? OF COURSE he was leading for the wrong reasons. He helped orchestrate the killing of thousands of innocent victims. He was the worlds most wanted man. However, when I woke up and looked on twitter, a friend of mine posted THIS VERSE: I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways & live. Ez 33:11

Why are we taking pleasure in his death? IF we look back at our own Jesus Christ, the man who we worship as Lord of ALL CREATION, we see that He was just as radical. Jesus taught against Jewish law. Jesus went against the grain of society and tradition to help get his point across. And with this logic, He was an extremist who recruited people for a cause that changed the world.

Now, Osama was a person who recruited people for a cause to help change the world through violence and killing. Jesus never even spoke of such. In John 13, we see that Christ tells us to love one another, just as He loves us.

Let me be clear, as soon as I found out 9/11 was a terrorist attack and we started pointing the finger at Bin Laden, I was the leader of the pack to blame him and curse him for his heinous actions. I said my share of cuss words, I prayed for his death, I was angry God would let something like this happen!

Through my years in ministry, and I am sure most youth minister can relate to this, I have struggled to bring students into the youth group. For one reason or another, we have to raise up more servant leaders each time and we have to keep the spiritual health of the group as a healthy and mature pace, but also try to help grow the group numerically. Jesus grew His group by 12 and now 2.3 billion people on earth are claiming to be Christ followers.

As much as I am happy with Osama Bin Laden's death, for those who needed some retribution for 9/11, I am also sad at the same time. I am sad that people are so desperate to believe in something greater than themselves that people will go to ANY lengths to reach them. You see, leadership wise, Osama Bin Laden was a great leader. He rallied his troops. He grew them numerically. He got them to believe in his cause.

Jesus is CRYING OUT for us to do the same, as ministers and followers of Him. I am sad because to my knowledge, Bin Laden was NOT a Christian. He may have eternal separation from Christ. On a world stage, it is harder to make believers of Christ, but the way I help grow my ministry is by loving those who need to be loved. I try to stray my judgement from them and pray to let me see what God sees in them. I see full potential in everyone to do GREAT things for Christ and this broken, hurting, and sin filled world.

I am never perfect. Jesus was and is the only perfect person to walk this earth. Osama Bin Laden was DEFINITELY NOT perfect. However, how are we going to look at this "victory" today? Are we going to sit and gloat at the Islamic world and just assume they are ALL going to hell? Or are we going to do as Christ commanded us to do. I choose to follow the great commission. I am called to make believers of Christ and Fishers of Men. As a youth minister, I can learn and grow from this experience.

**Again, this was a post to help find where God is in this whole situation. I do not have all the answers. However, this is not some Christian front I am putting on to get followers on twitter, people to read my blog, and a book deal down the road. I am looking to help equip ministers from all areas to look inside their heart and to find what Christ would want us to do. Now, more than ever, we can see that Christ is needing us to make Kingdom followers. Instead of bashing and hating the world, love the world for what Christ see's in it, not what we want to see and hear.

Put your comments below and let me know your thoughts...

what is the gospel...

I was on twitter and I saw Bryan C. Bailey tweet this video. I am always a person who tries to think in the abstract (obviously because I own a macbook pro, iPad, and an iPhone). When I see this, I am seeing something that is artistic. I am hearing something that is spiritual. I can imagine the creator hearing this and loving what He is hearing. What an awesome video. Here it is:
What is the Gospel?

i am...

In trying to keep current with the times, I often find myself buying books that are the hot topic, reading blogs that everyone reads, and even trying to be the aspiring writer myself by writing these strange topics that come into my head. Better than that, I am always trying to keep current with youth ministry so I will buy the newest and coolest things to keep my youth entertained and to make my job just a LITTLE bit easier.

Horrible intro, I know! However, I did want to share a resource that I am finding AWFULLY AWESOME in the way that it is helping me view my own spiritual life and my ministry as a youth minister, husband, son, brother, cousin, uncle, nephew...you get the picture.

I am currently reading a book by Brennan Manning called, "the furious longing of God". First off, Brennan is someone I have a high respect for. Many years ago, maybe 4, I read his book called the "Ragamuffin Gospel". I was not sure how to read this book. Manning has a tendency to use big words and I am too lazy to look them up. However, reading this book, it has really transformed something in my heart.

At the beginning, Manning mentions about the story of God and how there are different parts to us, but it is not the whole story. I typed this out and placed it on my wall in my office, as a reminder of who i am. Here is what it says:

I am Mark. I am a liar.
How I got there, why I left there, why I went back is the story of my life.
But it is not the whole story.

I am Mark. I am a Methodist.
How I got there, why I left there, why I went back is the story of my life.
But it is not the whole story.

I am Mark. I am a youth pastor.
How I got there, why I left there, why I went back is the story of my life.
But it is not the whole story.

I am Mark. I am a thief.
How I got there, why I left there, why I went back is the story of my life.
But it is not the whole story.

How I got to those places, why I left those places, is the story of my life too.
But it is not the whole story.
I am mark. I'm a sinner, saved by grace. That is the larger and more important story.
Only God, in His fury, knows the whole of it.

At the bottom, I signed my name.

It is a very humbling experience to look at ourselves from another prespective. We all have our own stories as to how we came to know Christ. However, that is not the whole story. Only God, in His love, knows the whole of it.

I suggest taking a look at this book or even purchase it. After that, take it to a used book store or pass it on so that someone else may experience some of the same thrills in the spiritual walk I am finding out right now. Manning is really challenging in his book about finding where God is in your story and making THAT who you are.

What other resources/ books/ etc are out there that might be helpful to other youth ministers who may read this blog?

whats the big deal...

So many times in youth ministry, I and many other youth pastors have used the phrase "What's the big deal?" Youth ministry is the fun ministry in the church. We get to hang around students all the time that look up to us, they are down for pretty much anything, and we can always laugh and joke with them. I am wondering this morning, though, what's the big deal?

Looking back in my few years in the ministry I can't even imagine how may times I have said this. It can be in relation to almost ANYTHING! This blog post is to help those, who need to find a barrier between ministry, spiritual life, and normal life.

Sometimes as youth ministers, we can get so involved in the lives of our students, that our students become our friends. They are the ones we lean on for guidance and questions that we may have about things, in hopes that they do the same for us. Do not get me wrong, relational ministry is a timeless practice in the church that is proven, but we need to draw a line. When I was single and in youth ministry, I would make all the time in the world for students. I would often just go somewhere at the drop of a hat and hang out with them. This is good ministry, but there is also a very flawed portion of this thinking. When are you going to worry about yourself?

So many times we can look into the life of a youth minister and see a longing for being with the students. To just be around them, because this is where we thrive the most! Yet, for those that are married or about to be, or for those who have children and are already married, when do you make time for them? On top of that, when do we make time for God?

We can't mistake that developing lessons is our time with God. NOT EVEN CLOSE! Time with God is a sacred and spiritual moment in time. We need to find a time where we can pray and read book, journal, read scripture or just sit and listen to music. However you find a closeness and oneness with God, outside hanging with students, then do it!

We just came off the Lenten season and Easter, yesterday. We celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. I was on facebook yesterday afternoon and twitter at the same time. From the morning to that time in the afternoon, I counted 154 facebook posts about Jesus NOT being in the cave. Twitter, I counted 1,233 tweets about Jesus being risen and it being Easter. That is a lot. But I want us to think a little outside the box. Try not to make Easter a once a year tradition. The Jesus we went to pay our respects to yesterday was NOT there but HE IS ALWAYS THERE. The resurrection was not something God meant for us to celebrate once, it was supposed to be an explosion of love that changes the world. Yet, we box it in.

Try to celebrate the resurrection EVERYDAY! See what happens!

daddy...

I was told by my father many years ago that he swore my first words were the profain version of crap. He says that we were in the car, someone cut him off and he screamed...this word. Soon after, he swears I said the same thing. I was a baby. I do not know if this is true or not. What I do know is that when my father was around, I looked at him in awe. I love(d) my father very much. Today, I am reflecting on Jesus and God's relationship. There was a time where God abandoned Jesus. A time where sin had free reign over the world.

It's the time of Easter and a lot of people are reflecting on the death and resurrection f Jesus. As I read through Luke's Gospel, we see that there was a time where Jesus felt that His Abba had abandoned Him. "Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani" Jesus screamed from the wood he was nailed to. My God, Daddy, why have you abandoned me? This is so hard to read. Even God had abandoned Jesus for the short time.

There is a theologian out there who would disagree. He believes that God was speaking to Jesus this whole time. And for this, we look back to Song of Songs 2:10-14, which states, "

Song of Solomon 2:10-14 (New Living Translation)

10 My lover said to me,
“Rise up, my darling!
Come away with me, my fair one!
11 Look, the winter is past,
and the rains are over and gone.
12 The flowers are springing up,
the season of singing birds[a] has come,
and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.
13 The fig trees are forming young fruit,
and the fragrant grapevines are blossoming.
Rise up, my darling!
Come away with me, my fair one!”

14 My dove is hiding behind the rocks,

behind an outcrop on the cliff.

Let me see your face;
let me hear your voice.
For your voice is pleasant,
and your face is lovely.

God was welcoming Christ into heaven. He was telling Him that is was Okay. He had not left Him. There are many times in our youth ministry, our normal lives, that we will also cry Eloi Eloi, Lama Sabachthani! Christ has never left us. Christ will never abandon us.

Try this with me. Turn your palms upward and pray these seven sylobols, "Abba, I belong to you." Breathe in and say Abba. Breathe out and say I belong to you. This goes in perfect repetition with your breathing. God has been showing me many things over this past week. I have a renewed spirit. I have a spirit that God is transforming into something great. I am clinging to these words from Song of Songs 7:10 that says, "I am my beloved. His desire is for me." These words have never been more true for me and you.

Reflecting on Easter, let's look to the cross, hear the words Jesus spoke to Abba, and let's cry out to our Abba that we are his and his desire is for us.

invite me in...

Easter is the weekend. We all know this. This is the time that your church seats are going to be full. It will be full of people, some that have not been to church in a long time. What are we going to do to these people? Are we going to ignore them? tell them we love them? Make them feel like they are the only people in the world that matter? Are we going to snarl at them because they are in our usual seats?

Take the time to watch this video and think about the love of Christ that He freely gives us. Share that love. Invite them in.

Easter - Invite Me In

follow...

breaking tradition...

How many youth ministers deal with this; coming into a church and having to deal with traditions of the church and youth minister that was there before you? I have been thinking a lot about this lately. I just came into a new church about 6 months ago, and I have loved every minute. Sometimes you can come into a well oiled machine and it work out fine. Other times, you can sit down and put your hands on your head and cry because you can't break the walls down and you don't want to.

In my experience in youth ministry, and being a former active youth participant, I can see how tradition is a good thing. It can be good for a few reasons:
1. Traditions help carry us over and lead students to attend and keep a steady number coming through the doors of the church.
2. It helps youth ministers because they plan less. All you have to do is plug in and play.

These are only a few ways that being a traditional youth ministry is good. However, I see a lot of issues that come with being a traditional youth ministry.

As many youth pastors know, when you come in and you start you want to leave your mark on the ministry. I did this at a previous church. I scrapped all I knew that was the youth ministry and told people that I had to build this group from the ground up. I also told people that I was the one that was going to be changing things for the better, I was going to things that this group had never seen before. Do you see what is wrong with these statements? There is I too many times in these statements. I have said some of these same statements at my new church as well.

God has humbled me. Sometimes, it is my experience that we need to let go of ourselves and let God be the head of our ministries. God will break down walls, He did at Jericho. God will bring new traditions. We need to have a crock pot state of mind. Put things in the pot to make it good, give it some time, and soon enough it will be ready to eat and it will taste good.

That is my blueprint. I am about to start summer programming. I am going to work on relational ministry this summer. I am REALLY going to work on my relationship with God and I am asking Him to do things to this youth ministry AND MY CHURCH that we could never have imagined. Things will fall into place and soon enough, it will taste so good.

What are some traditions that you struggle with in your youth ministry? Are you struggling to rip out the trees and plant new ones? What lessons have you learned from breaking certain traditions that meant so much to the youth ministry?

Just remember this, even though we go through struggles after the honeymoon, God is still in control....if you let Him. He went through the same things we did, suffered first, and died for us to help us live new life. The new life will also come with our crock pot thinking.

hearing...

I have a lot of friends in youth ministry. My best friend, Eric Hendrickson, is my mentor in youth ministry. He is my go to guy, when it comes to questions or problems in my ministry. There are other friends I go to and call, but Eric is my guy! He has been in ministry for almost 15 years and he has experienced a lot. Yet, I can remember a time when I was so full of myself that I would ask him things, just to see what he would say, and do the exact opposite.

In youth ministry, we tend to hear what we want to hear. We can do the same with the Gospel. We say what we want it to say. I can easily manipulate the Gospel, stories of my life, and anything else, to get across my message. I hear what I want to hear.

How many times have you thought to yourself, after coming from a meeting with the senior pastor, "I could do his job. If only I were in his position, this church would be booming!"? I have said this a few times in my short career in youth ministry. When we come away from meetings like this, we are either being chewed out because the giant hole in the wall form the lock in, we said something to tick off a parent who brings in a lot of money, or we just didn't do our best at something. We get callous towards criticism or help, and we think that we ALWAYS know better.

I can claim I still think some of these things. I think that I am good at what I do. The reason I think this is because I have been trained to do so, but more importantly, I am blessed by God with great gifts and talents to help a youth ministry flourish. God places people in our lives, who have helped pave the way to where I am today. Eric has been through a lot of hell in his life to be at the amazing church he is in now. I have been through certain parts of hell as well.

I would only hear what I wanted to hear. That means that I would even shut out God and pretend that I was listening. We can all say that we are not the best listeners. Parents come to us and make suggestions, but they don't run a youth ministry, they don't know! The pastor makes a suggestion to help you grow your youth ministry, but he taught Fred Flinstone and Moses, his/her ways are old and archaic.

I want to encourage youth ministers to do three things:
1. ALWAYS LISTEN TO GOD! Seek God first. His ways are NEVER archaic. We need to CONSTANTLY stay HUNGRY for God to talk to us. He can speak to us through a concerned or ticked off parent, a senior pastor who is older than dust, or a friend who has been in youth ministry for a while and is battled tested and rested and ready.

2. Find a person to help you. Eric was my youth pastor. He kind of gave me the nudge towards youth ministry, and I thought he was NUTS! Now I talk to Eric at least 10 times a day about plans, questions and the crazy part is he values my opinion and will even ask ME questions. (Don't worry though, I don't have a big ego, but I can't control the size of my huge head.) Find a person in youth ministry who will hold you accountable. Eric asks me tough questions to keep me on my toes and he encourages me towards scripture.

3. BE OPEN! We MUST be open to criticism, complaints and yes even compliments. We have to be ready to not just hear people, but to listen to them. Listen loudly and only speak when it is your turn! I have learned to listen and man do my ears hear it! At my last church, I did what I wanted to and I went through a lot of hell that I brought on myself. I did not listen to God, Eric, or even my senior pastor. I listened to him when it mattered most and I was so beat up that I had nothing else to do.

Do you like to hear the sound of your own voice? Do you think...better yet, do you KNOW what is best for the church and youth ministry you work for? Do you wish you could run the church like you do the youth ministry because your group is constantly growing?

If you answered yes to ANY of these questions, it is time to step back. Clean out your ears and find a place and time to listen to someone with experience, your senior pastor, and JESUS MOST IMPORTANTLY! I still like to hear my own voice, but I have relinquished control to Jesus in my ministry. Sometimes I want to grab the reigns and drive, but I might drive it off a cliff with my huge ideas. I am nothing new to youth ministry, but I am unique in the ministry God has blessed me with. I will listen to those who have paved the way, I will listen to my pastor and even ticked off parents, but most of all I will listen to God. His ways are never old and never stop!

I want to encourage those who read this blog to try to hand over the reigns. Give the students in your ministry some leadership and control. Pray for the students. Find adults who want to invest in the lives of the students and pray for them. Develop and disciple students and adults alike in the group. Before all of this, listen to God and give Him ULTIMATE control. I have driven a ministry off a cliff before because I thought I knew what I was doing. I am only in ministry 5 years, but I know I still have A TON OF STUFF to learn. God will bless you when you listen to Him.

Do you struggle with listening to God or others? What are some struggles you have now that maybe someone else who reads this blog can help with? Comment below so we can foster a helping and loving community of youth ministers.

ego driven...

A few days ago, I came home to my wife (after my two hour drive) and I asked her where the mail was. She showed me the mail, and I had a letter in the mail from the "Cambridge Who's Who of America" company. I have heard of these things before, and I was pretty excited about the possibility of being chosen for this. Of course, I did no research on the company because I thought it was legitimate. I had a friend who graduated with a "Who's Who" honor from college. This is what peeked my interest.

I opened up the letter, read the information. I went onto the website, and filled out some online form. (AT THIS POINT THERE WAS NO MONEY EXCHANGED). I thought this was a huge honor. A way to show how I have earned an accomplishment of sorts.

This morning, Thursday April 14, I got a call from New York. I did not recognize the number, so I didn't answer. SOMEHOW this company got my work number, and was sent through to my office. I did a phone interview, and was told I was accepted. I was told I would get a plaque to hang on my wall. I was very excited. I have never been honored by anything before. Then came the drop. If I wanted to join, it would only cost me $759.00! WHAT?!?! I said no thanks I can't afford that. They lowered the price down to $99.00. I said I don't have a credit card (which was a lie) and the woman told me to find a credit card. Maybe someone would loan me the money. At this point, I said NO THANK YOU, and she said to me (verbatim), "Well you will miss out on a great opportunity and SCREW YOU!" She slammed the phone down and all I heard was a dial tone.

I did some research. These people are OBVIOUSLY scammers! How could I fall for something like this? I feel like such an idiot. Then I began thinking how I had an ego for a short amount of time. I thought I was being honored, how I could hang a plaque on my wall, I was excited to be recognized for my great work in the field of youth ministry. Then I thought, well, have I really done that much?

Sometimes our programs, as youth ministers, can be smoke and mirrors. All show and no substance. Am I really making a difference in the lives of my students. I have been in paid ministry for 5 years. I don't even know if I am out of the baby pool yet to make a big splash. However, that's not my goal. My goal is to serve God and make the best of this opportunity I have RIGHT NOW. I am not looking to write a book, be a big speaker, or become nationally recognized in the youth ministry world. At one time I wanted to. I just don't think I could handle it. My wife probably would leave me too, since I would NEVER be home!

Do any other youth ministers struggle with this? We have such big ideas and want to share them, but we aren't sure. We want to be big names and do something so great we get nothing but recognition? My recognition should come from God. I am striving to be the best I can through Him, but I fail and have a sense of vanity from time to time.

The point of this blog was to say that we can have smoke and mirror ministries all day, and leave it for nothing in the end result. We can fake ministry really easily. So, now I am curious; do any other youth pastors struggle with this?

Comment below and let's get some good discussion about this!

the dare...

I am currently doing a 30 day challenge devotional book, by Josh Mayo, called "The Dare". This book is REALLY kicking me in my gut, side, and knocking me around in my head. It is a challenge that is trying to break the chains and bondage that we currently have, that tie us down and bring us away from God.

Josh Mayo is a youth pastor out in Arkansas. He says, in his author bio, that he has over 100 students coming ON AVERAGE to his youth group each week. Now in Doug Fields' book, "My First Two Years in Youth Ministry" he tells us not to play the numbers game. Am I the only one that has a hard time with this. You see NUMERICAL SUCCESS in other youth groups and you wonder, what is it about mine that is not working?

I have thought about this a lot. Youth pastors try to compare and share youth ministries. Some churches have over 500 students come. Some have 5 students come. When we focus on things like this, we miss out on the relationships with the students that are THERE NOW!

It took Jesus 3 years to disciple 12 men that changed the world. Why do we want a microwave youth ministry? Why do we want everything now?

In recent months, I have learned to be patient. Being at a new church, I have to have time to develop the plan God has for this group, while also aligning the vision of the youth group to that of the church. We must all remember that youth ministries are NOT their own church. We are a branch of the "Big Church".

I am trying to find a balance that helps this ministry grow. Right now, I am not super focused on the numbers. One week we can have 50 and one week we have 23. We MUST find a balance to reach these students relationally and be where they are. Here are some ideas:

1. Eat lunch with the students at their school! I personally have not done this yet, but it develops a good bond with the students and also with the school. You never know when the students will call you from school because they need something. It also develops good relationships with the school.

2. Go to their games! Find out schedules and obviously you can't be everywhere because we have families and lives as well. Find adults that are willing to invest in the students and send them to games. It will mean more to them than you know.

3. You MUST have a good adult leadership team. This is my biggest struggle. The one thing I see missing is adult leadership and volunteers. I have college students that invest their time, and one intern I pay pennies to be here, but we must find adults who love students. This is what helps grow ministries numerically.

4. PRAY! Throw the hail mary every week and say to God that this is it! You, the youth pastor, may be the only way a student hears "The Good News". BRING IT EVERY TIME YOU SEE THEM!

These are steps I am taking. I am doing "The Dare" and I HIGHLY reccommend you read this and take the challenge as well. These points are nothing new, just helps me in ways and hoping I can help others that may be struggling with the same challenges.

What are some things you may be struggling with in your youth ministry?

children's coke chug challenge...

GAME IDEA

We played this game during our MYF program Sunday night. It is an easy game, and always fun that gets the crowd excited.

Supplies

3 Baby Bottles
Coke
Baby Bibs
A table to place everything on

The Game
Get three students to come up to the front. Tell them this is NOT a gross or messy game. Tell them to sit in chairs at the table. Before you place the bottles in front of the students, place the baby bibs around their necks. (Try to find ones with funny sayings on them). After that they must put their hands behind their backs.
Place the bottles in front of them. They must chug the coke through the baby bottle.

Depending on time, you can make them chug for a minute to see who wins or until they are finished.

Prizes
For prizes, we gave each participant something that related to babies. For third place, we gave little booties. For second place, we gave some baby food. for first place we gave them a baby easter basket (because of this time of year).

Make it your own and make it fun! It is a great way for students to cheer, laugh and be made fun of for a good upfront game!

Hope this encourages you in your ministry!
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