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...
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