What’s Right About Youth Ministry

As I was placing an order on the The Youth Cartel website, I saw a new book had recently been released : What’s Right About Youth Ministry.  It was on sale (I think) and I had already qualified for free shipping, so I thought, “Why not? I’ve been trying to do more reading and it looks like a good read.” It was.

The book was authored by Mark Oestreicher (Marko). He has been a part of the youth ministry world for a number of years and has served in a variety of capacities.  He has a unique perspective as both a volunteer in his church’s youth ministry, a trainer of youth workers and a recognized speaker.

Kurt Johnson, Junior High Pastor at Saddleback, wrote responses at the end of each chapter. I found what he wrote to be helpful. He sometimes underscored what was said and other times provided a different perspective on the issue.

I’ve never met either of these men personally, but have read other works they’ve written, listen to them via video or audio recording and have heard them speak live and in person.  I value their experience and passion for youth ministry and appreciate the insights they have.  While the book is fairly short (just over 100 pages), it contains some great thoughts and challenges for youth workers.

There were a few things that stood out to me.  I love this “equation” or “magic formula that Marko gives for a great youth ministry.  He shares in the book that he was speaking to a group of Spanish-speaking youth workers and felt compelled, with all the other information he was sharing, to kind of simplify things.  He said there are three things necessary for great youth ministry: 1) You Like Teenagers 2) You Are a Growing Follower of Jesus 3) You Are Willing to Live Honestly in the Presence of Those Teenagers You Like.

I thought that was so helpful and a good description of my small group leaders and volunteers.  Marko then kind of expanded it to say this:

A grace-filled caring adult who’s willing to be present with teenagers
+
A small-ish group of teenagers
+
The power of the Holy Spirit and the presence of Jesus
=
Fantastic youth ministry!

While there is no much we need to know about youth culture and helping students in crisis and relating to parents and communicating well and managing details and staying organized, I thought this “equation” was right on.

I’ve been in full-time youth ministry for nearly 30 years, yet still can fall into the comparison trap where I look at what others are doing and see how I measure up.  Whether you are brand new to youth ministry or have been doing it for decades, it’s something we all can find ourselves doing.  Marko’s encouragement is for everyone.

God isn’t calling you to be just like the youth ministry from that other church, even if that youth ministry is fantastic; God is calling your youth ministry to discern and embody the unique contextualized expression of youth ministry he has dreamed up for you.

Bigger isn’t necessarily better and smaller doesn’t trump bigger.  Being faithful to where God has placed you and knowing the context in which you serve are important elements.

In an earlier chapter Marko also talked about the importance of keeping the course and not just changing up programming to get a different result.  I think this is connected with the idea of being who God has called you to be.  He talks about the misplaced gorgeous value of patience and the mundane way of steadfastness.  I agree that we need to modify our methods as culture changes, but there is also the reality that we should be steadfast and consistent in our ministry to students. Many of my leaders have great relationships and influence with students because they have been steadfast and consistent.

As youth ministry as a profession has changed over the last few decades and, as some have said, has gained legitimacy as a career path, it has led to so many different voices and resources available for youth workers.  I love the fact that I can read a blog, subscribe to an email list, join a Facebook group or watch a video that provides training and information I couldn’t get as easily before.  It has opened the door for other voices that you would most likely not have ever heard from before.  Kurt Johnson, in one of his responses, talks about this very thing and offered a great insight: But, just because somebody has a voice doesn’t mean you need to listen to what the person says, nor does it mean that person’s insights are as valid as somebody else’s. These days almost everybody has something to say and thinks he or she is the person to say it.

I found that to be helpful and echoed what I found myself thinking when I would read something someone wrote.  Just because I have some kind of platform (like a blog perhaps?), doesn’t mean I necessarily have the wisdom or insight a particular situation or issue requires.  Sure we can all disagree on issues (just look at the comments on any Facebook group you are a part of), but I think we need to be discerning in the voices we listen to and ideas we adopt.

What’s Right About Youth Ministry was encouraging to me because it affirmed some of the things we’ve been trying to do, but also provided some challenges as we move forward. I found it to be helpful to me and think it would a good read for other youth workers.

Thought Provoking Suicide Prevention Video

While catching up on my emails this week, I read one from a youth ministry blog I follow. One of the posts was about this video from the Mayo Clinic. While suicide is not a topic people enjoy discussing, I thought this video addressed the topic very well.

This is a good resource for parents and those who work with students. The video’s message is pretty clear: if you think your student is in trouble, say something. It talks about things to say and things not to say. There are some good insights to use and remember if you encounter a student struggling.

What Some Students Need

root beer8I saw this article from Kurt Johnston on the More Than Dodgeball website. It was a good article and a great reminder to all those who work with students that each student has different needs.

I forwarded the email to one of my volunteers who is our go-to guy at camp when it comes to homesickness. Some youth workers have the ability to be able to hone in on what a particular student needs, much like the counselor in this article.

Good article. Check it out and pass it on.

At Summer camp last month, one of our counselors faced a classic dilemma but at an increased level of intensity. One of the 7th grade boys in his cabin was homesick. But this young man wasn’t the “normal” kind of homesick. He was the “kicking, screaming, face-melting, I’m gonna break things if I don’t get to go home” kind of homesick. Faced with that scenario, what would you have done? I know what I would have done, and it wouldn’t have been as wise and warm as the response of his counselor (my response would have included some sort of mocking and shame…but that’s for another article).

First, the counselor decided to call the young man’s parents to get their input. We have a fairly strict “No calls home” policy, so HE made the phone call instead of allowing the boy to. He enlisted the dad’s advice which was, “Tell Junior that we love him and miss him and that he is absolutely not coming home.” Way to go, Dad! The counselor then delivered this “bad news” to his young friend and followed it up with what I believe was the best youth ministry question of the summer, “Since you can’t go home, is there anything I can do for you to help you make it through the night?”

The answer is one of the reasons I love junior high ministry so much.

“Well, I think a warm shower and a root beer would work,” the student replied.

So while Junior took a warm shower, his counselor made a late-night trek to the vending machine and bought the most strategic root beer in the history of youth ministry. Problem solved. The evening routine for the rest of the week? A warm shower followed by a root beer night-cap.

This little story reminds me of numerous junior high ministry principles, especially this one:

Junior high ministry is made up of all sorts of junior highers, and that requires us to be willing to minister in all sorts of ways.

A mistake junior high youth workers often make is viewing every young teen through the same developmental lens. While it’s true that, for the most part, the junior highers in your ministry are going through the same developmental changes, they are going through them in vastly different ways.

Some students need you to talk to them about sex and dating.

Some students need you to nudge them toward their next spiritual step.

Some students need you to help them see themselves as normal.

Some students need you to coach them on their friendship choices.

Some students… well, some students just need a warm shower and a root beer.

– See more at: http://www.morethandodgeball.com/junior-high/junior-high-ministry-101-warm-showers-and-root-beer/#sthash.pAnF0fgW.dpuf

Belong – Believe – Behave

Apple_Podcast_logo-642x642I was listening to the Catalyst podcast yesterday as I was driving between the house and praise team practice. As always I’m a few weeks behind on my podcast listening, but I enjoy the interviews Catalyst presents.

This particular podcast was from sometime in July and one of the interviews was with Jud Wilhite who is a pastor in Las Vegas. There were two things they talked about that I thought were especially valuable.

The first was about volunteers.  Due to the economic situation in Las Vegas, the church can’t afford to hire all the staff they would like to bring into a paid situation. So, they depend heavily on volunteers.  Jud Wilhite shared how they treat their volunteers and seek to honor them. Some of their volunteers are treated just as if they were paid staff.  He said they couldn’t do what they do without their volunteers. It was a good reminder of the importance and value of volunteers.  I am fortunate to have some great volunteers and need to make sure they are cared for and honored.

He also talked about their approach, highlighting the Belong – Believe – Behave model they seek to follow. Many times in churches, we communicate that the first thing that needs to change is how we behave.  Once we behave, then we can belong.  In Las Vegas they seek to keep the order of belong – believe – behave.  A person doesn’t have to it all together before they are welcome at church.  People are invited to have their questions answered and experience the love of God.  This leads to belief and then the change in how they behave comes as God works.  It was another reminder of how the church should operate and welcome those far from God.  It caused me to consider how we do as a church in this area and how I personally look at and treat those whose behavior is not like mine.  Sometimes I need help to keep things in order.

Take the Lid Off Your Church – review

In this brief, easy to read eBook, Tony Morgan provides leadership principles and guidelines written specifically for the church. I read the entire book in under an hour, so it is easy to sit down and digest while providing good insights you can return to for reference and reminder.

I’ve been involved in the local church for a couple of decades and recognize how important leadership is to the church. Morgan’s direction to churches, no matter the size, is clear and understandable.  He takes into account some church’s leadership teams may be mostly volunteer led while larger churches and organizations may pay their senior leadership team.

I especially appreciated his focus on modeling team-based ministry in the senior leadership team and the importance of communication with staff and volunteers.

This is worthwhile resource for church leaders and you can’t beat the $3 price tag.  Click here to purchase this eBook.

Master Provisions – by the Numbers

Over the weekend (Friday & Saturday), 15 of our IMPACT students and adults went to Florence, KY, to assist Master Provisions in packing a container that will be delivered to Togo.  We have had the privilege to work with Master Provisions for nearly 10 summers and have watched the ministry grow.  This year was significant because this container was the 500th container Master Provisions sent out.

Here are some numbers we learned over the weekend about the ministry.

 

– This is the 500th container since the ministry began in 1994.

– It costs roughly $4,800 to ship one container (a local Skyline Chili restaurant paid for $4,500 of the costs – I knew there was a reason I really liked Skyline!)

– Each container that is sent impacts approximately 20,000 people (so, multiply 500 containers by 20,000….)

– Through the course of a year, Master Provisions has 10,000 volunteers who donate clothes, sort and pack, give funds, go on trips and much more.

We enjoy coming alongside this great ministry…and we have fun, too!

Our group sorted shoes, hats, belts and other clothing items

Helped load the container

And even found some cool hats

See You Later, Not Goodbye

On Memorial Day, my wife and I hosted a going away party for a family from her church.   We fired up the grill and she had invited many families who had relationship with our friends that are moving away.  We planned for 100 and think we ended up with between 70-80 people when it was all said and done.  I ran the grill for the first part of the afternoon and we had burgers, turkey burgers, sausages and hot dogs.  I put something on twitter with the hashtag #grillmaster.  My wife thought I was being a little conceited, but I made note that I put #grillmaster, not #THEgrillmaster. However you look at it, it was a great afternoon.

Due to a job change, this family is relocating to Illinois.  My wife and I have become friends with them and they have definitely made a mark at their church, where they have filled many roles – VBS helpers, Drama Camp workers, small group leaders and many more.  While I am not involved actively in their church, I know what a vital role volunteers fill in children’s and youth ministry.  They will be missed on both a personal and ministry level.

Yesterday was just one chance for many in the church to say thank you and farewell.  We stopped mid-afternoon for a prayer circle with them to ask God’s blessing on their relocation.  I really liked the approach Michelle (the wife) had in saying goodbye.  She said, “I’ll say ‘see you later,’ not ‘goodbye.'”  

While they will be moving out-of-state, we are connected by something larger than just our geographic location. We belong to God’s kingdom.  While we wish they weren’t moving, we also know that the kingdom is larger than where we live and we know that relationship will remain. As plans are already in the works to connect with them after they move, we also know that we’ll have all of eternity to hang out together.  And I won’t even have to run the grill.