Let’s Talk About A New Way To Disciple Teens

For those who do not know, I have a Youtube channel dedicated to quipping youth workers and I have started doing Wednesday @ 1  Livestreams. In this episode I talk about my new book and how it came about.

You can grab a free chapter, The Discipleship Dilemma,  by subscribing to the Youth Ministry Round Up Newsletter at the bottom of the page.

Let’s Not Go Over This Again

“Does it matter to a man dying in a desert by which choice of route he missed the only well?” –C S Lewis

This quote caught my attention on Twitter and reminded me, as a Pastor, that going back over someone’s life’s mistakes isn’t the road to healing.

Yes, the past matters in regards to not making the same mistakes, but what’s important isn’t that we get a full confession and an admission of guilt. What is important is that I am the water bearer and the struggling soul needs a cup of cold water, not a lecture.

The Pharisees completely missed this. They, as Jesus said,

“You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” Matthew 23:24

Rather than rejoice with the man born blind that he can see again, that grill the whole family about whether he was ever born blind.

They became angry at Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. That’s why Jesus said,

Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27

Sadly, many people would rather hear, “You were right” than “Thank you for the water.”

We must get the order of things right. Care first, talk later.

I am learning this even more in the life of one of our kids. This student is not on the right path at the moment, They’ve missed the well many times. What he needs right now is cold water. He’s dying for living water and I am committed to giving him that in the present. Grace and love does not mean weak and stupid. I understand the choices he’s making is wrong, but I also know how God has dealt with me in my time of missing the well.

God has rebuked me in my sin and said, “Let’s move on.” It was his kindness not his judgement that drew me back to him. I am committed to this same kindness to all who are struggling and wayward.

It would sound insane if I came upon a car crash and asked the person in the car, “How did this happen?”  or “Didn’t you know you were suppose to have your seatbelt on.”  Sounds pretty callus, doesn’t it?

It’s no different in the case of a soul in chaos who just wants you to call 911 and get them some help.

Don’t Tell Me You’ve Tried Everything

If..

You haven’t changed your habits
You haven’t changed your thinking
You haven’t prayed about it
You haven’t done research
You haven’t put in the work
You have looked for collaborators
You haven’t changed the crowd you run with
You haven’t read or listened to a book on the subject
You haven’t take steps to better yourself
You haven’t read your Bible
You haven’t taken a class
You haven’t budgeted your money                                                                                           
You haven’t gotten a second job if needed                                                                                              You haven’t searched Youtube on a way to do it                                                                        You haven’t asked for help

Commit to doing these 15 things to begin with, then I might listen, but you’ll still not have an excuse because I’ll have 15 more suggestions.

If, after all this, you still haven’t broken through or gained ground; you either didn’t want it that bad or you quit too soon.

Keeping Up The Cemetary

“The decision to close the church was “very, very hard,” said church council president Lance Michaelson. But the council decided that rather than spend its remaining dollars keeping up the church, they would use the money to keep up its cemetery, where so many loved ones are laid to rest — and where many members plan to be, too.” – Star Tribune Article 

This quote was from an article I recently read about a church closing. The statement stunned me. Now, if you’ll read the full article you’ll understand the context fo the quote, but it got me wondering how many pastors, youth pastors, and church leaders are keeping up the cemetery instead of putting money, energy and effort into keeping the church vibrant.

I understand there is only so much one can do for a church if the community around it is dwindling and leaving for the “big city”, but I also believe that humans are slow to adaptation and change.

Many a church has closed because it did not want to reach the people around them or the people God brought them. When people resist change, death has has been signaled to begin it’s march.

If I had a church and I had to close it due to lack of membership, I would have considered it losing, and I hate losing. I wonder, could have been done to stop this church from closing? Here are a few questions I would ask

How often did the church reach out to the broken and hurting?

Did the church embrace technology?

Was there a mindset of growth or a fixed mindset of “whatever will be will be?”

How much of the budget was put into reaching teens and kids when the church was in it’s hay day? If the budget was big, why did you stop giving to it?

Were your members wiling to change? If you knew in your hey day, what would happen to your church, what would you have changed?

One again, I don’t judge this church. There are a ton of factors that go into why a church closes from demographics to poor leadership and a dozen in-between.

Everything on this earth has a last day, including churches, but let’s not turn our our focus, our budgets, and hearts away from giving our best effort to keeping the living vibrant and engaged in reaching the lost to keeping the dead comfortable.

 

Advice To Young Youth Workers On Choosing A “Winning” Church Part Two

So, what is a winning church to you? In my last post, I detailed what I think scripture describes as winning components of a church. In this post I want to be a tad carnal, in a life giving, not offensive to God, kind of way.

I know as a young pastor, I just wanted to get in the game. I just wanted to be a youth pastor so bad, I would have taken any job at any church, and I did. Bad mistake. Several of them.

Every church says they want to grow, but that is not true, it’s assumed.  Most youth workers I know, like to be a part of churches that are growing or at least making progress. Yet, many of my youth workers friends are in churches who are more interested in maintenance that growth.

So, before you shake that hand or sign on the dotted line, ask yourself  a few deeper questions.

Does The Church Perform Like It Wants To Grow?

Churches that only hope to grow without a plan to grow, will not grow. Churches that plan and execute, on a regular basis, grow.

I’ve heard it said that we ought to pray like its all up to God and work like it’s all up to us. When I hear Pastors say, “Well, its all in God’s hands” I want to say,”No, it’s not. He put it in our hands” That’s the point of the Great Commission.  We work with the Holy Spirit to get the message out, make disciples of those who believe and build the kingdom of God through love and service.

What outreaches is the church running on a regular basis?

What corporate outreaches do they have? (Easter plays, etc.)

Don’t be a part of a lazy church.

Does The Church Pray Like It Wants To Grow? 

All work and no prayer makes the church a machine, a grind. Churches need to work and pray. Nehemiah says, of the rebuilding of Jerusalem,

 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah  who were building the wall.  16,17

Yes, the work has to go on, but there must also be watchmen on the wall making sure the enemy doesn’t come and destroy the work being done.

Churches that make sure that there are leaders (the Pastor being chief among them) in the church who are upholding the work of God with prayer and urging the  pursuit of depth of spiritual life (personal and family) are necessary for a healthy church. Does the church you’re looking at feel like prayer is important?

The church who balances the work of God with the spiritual health of it’s people is a winning church.

Does The Church Plan Like It Wants To Grow? 

A well planned, purposeful  calendar is a sign of winning church. Events and activities to reach the lost, disciple the faithful, and offers leadership training opportunities is looking to avoid a growth crisis, a maturity crisis, and a leader crisis.

Organizations tend to only address things when they see that it’s becoming a crisis versus being a proactive to avoid the crisis in the first place. The winning church looks ten steps ahead, sees the potential problems and plans to avoid it best they can.

Some of this you won’t know about the church until you’re neck deep in it, but ask to see a calendar, ask how far along they are planned and look at what’s in the bulletin to give you an idea of what their planning mindset is like.

Do they have regular planning sessions? Monthly or Quarterly?

Do they have planning retreats? Do they plan for the whole year?

The attitude. leadership, and work ethic of a church will tell you whether that church is going to win or not. Sadly, many youth workers only look at is the pay check and youth room possibilities as to whether they work at a church or not; then two years in, they bolt.

Winning doesn’t mean perfect. Every church you apply to has it’s problems, even “winning” churches, but I can put up with the nonsense of church people. politics, and over all messiness of community life if I’m seeing people coming to know Christ and growing in their faith.

Non-winning churches are exercises in futility, constantly putting out fires for no gain. Life’s too short for that. Choose your church wisely.

 

 

Quit Hating Your Struggle

If you are trying to achieve anything, expect the struggle. The struggle is the most important part of growth. 

We struggled from the womb to world, now here we are. 

We must wrestle with our struggle as Jacob wrestled with God and we must not release our struggle until it has blessed us with knowledge, insight or some boon that furthers our journey. 

Struggle is the in-between. It is the holy ground between where we are and where we want to be. We must honor the struggle, but not worship it. It is both passing and present in the same moment. 

The struggle is not the absence of God, but rather it is the time span or the moment where we choose to press in and know God better. Struggle is where we have our grow up, put on our big boy and big girl pants moments and face the excuses that want to kill our dreams.

The struggle exists to remind us that we are struggling FOR something.

Don’t give up. 

There is no growth without struggle.

Struggle on.

 

There’s A Last Day For Everything

There’s a long list of last days, last times,

That restaurant you love.

That book your reading.

Your child not needing you anymore.

The last day you’re on the earth.

Even the world will have it’s last one day

Last night was my last night as full time youth pastor. It’s not nearly as dramatic as having your last day on earth, but it was still a last day and one I knew was coming for 30 years.

My last youth meeting came the same week as VBS was going on. Half of our students were working VBS and I told them via Instagram that I would have it no other way. It’s the thesis of my book The Disciple Project: more ministry, less meetings. How could I encourage anything else.

My last meeting was unconventional. It was like and unlike any youth meeting I had in the past. For the first 45 minutes we played spoons and slap jack. The kids and adults who were there howled with joy as cards and spoons went flying.

After this, I share my lesson, it was average. We sat around on our couches instead of the folding chairs facing the stage. It  was youth service, family style. I was not the speaker, I was just another guy in the room, maybe the crazy uncle at Thanksgiving.

There was no swelling worship music, no slick message, just a few kids and adults playing games, learning together and loving Jesus.

Not a bad last day.

Thank you Jesus.

 

 

 

Advice To Young Youth Workers On Choosing A “Winning” Church Part One

It’s middle of summer and I’m missing football.

This got me thinking about the churches I’ve served at and I feel like I needed to equate them to NFL teams. In no particular order, on purpose,

One church I compare to the  Chargers, They were fun with lots of great moments and lots of talent, and had  some success.

One church I thought of as the The Browns, they didn’t not know how to win. Bad coaching, bad players, messed up locker room.

One church thought they were the Cowboys, lots of hype and chatter, but lots of drama in the locker room.

One church, Packers for sure. Legendary coach, hard working, lots of tradition, but lost the vision for what winning meant as well as the fans who supported them, no matter what.

Another church was the  Jets but with Brett Favre. This was a short stint.  Felt like I got traded . This was a pristine team. Strategy over comradere. All machine, no passion, no wins.

There were the Steelers.  A team of great tradition, but with an aging quarterback. There’s some talent, but they just can’t put it all together.

I know, you think I’m being judgmental. I’m not. These are my opinions. Youth workers have to decide what a “winning” church is and then apply to them.

When a football player retires, he remembers the good and bad of each team he’s played for. His favorite coach and his least favorite. Somehow, we think we shouldn’t define winning teams and losing teams when it comes to the church. I disagree.

If you’re a young youth pastor, you’re going to have  define, early on, what winning is and what does a church look like when they are winning. Otherwise, you’ll be desperate for a job and sign up with any team. Don’t do it!

By the way, prayer is a big part of this search, but I find that all prayer and no discernment is a terrible way to choose a youth pastor position. All I am saying is, I could have avoided some :losing” churches if had committed to Acts 2:42-47 as my Biblical definition of winning and what I really wanted out of working at a church.

First, look for the biblical definition of a winning (not read as perfect) church and then consider asking these questions of the church you are applying to or at least ask them inwardly and look for signs to the answer.

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 

Does the church stick to the Bible or does it run on the pastors personality?

Do the people of the church like to get together or is it a chore, just one more event/meeting?

Does the church enjoy meals together? (most to)

Doe the church value prayer in and out of Sunday service?

43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.

What do you believe about the supernatural power of God? Does the church you want to work at share your beliefs?

What signs and wonders or manifest works of God would you want to see at your church?

44 All the believers were together and had everything in common.

Is there a general sense of unity in the congregation?

Are people on board with the pastor’s vision? (How can you tell?)

45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.

Is this a generous church?

Do they bless the community or take from it?

46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,

Does the church have a small group piece to facilitate discipleship?

Is there a general sense of hospitality?

47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

How many new members have been added in the past year?

How many are finding Christ in the church and through it’s members?

Is there a premium put on evangelism events and personal soul winning?

How many have been baptized?

How many guests are in service during your visit?

Don’t be enamored with the preaching, there more to church than preaching

Don’t be enamored with the worship, trends come and go.

Don’t be enamored with the facilitates, they only facilitate the work being done.

Don’t be enamored by “potential”, look at what is real and happening in real time.

If you want a long term, fruitful youth ministry and you want to maintain your own spiritual health and life goals, these questions are a critical part of making these decisions. Winning churches, not perfect churches, care about the process, the journey and not just the destination.

Is The Remote Mindset Killing Your Team?

Just because you have a team, doesn’t mean you have teamwork. I’ve been struggling with this idea of team work lately, especially in regards to ministry in  the local church.

I’ve built a few teams and I have felt the euphoric blessing of synergy, but, in the age of side hustles and independent work, I’m wondering if teamwork is dead and individualism is king. Maybe it’s has been all along and I didn’t notice.

Now, I don’t have any concrete proof of this, but I  read an article that points out that several companies have recalled their telecommuters. This is only one article, but I think it offers two reasons why you might want to draw your team closer.

Innovation

One of the reasons the article gives for drawing people back together was to generate innovation.

“I think these companies are really struggling to compete at an innovation level with smaller-stage organizations,” said Thanh Nguyen, managing director of HR consulting firm Connery Consulting. “They’re thinking of every single possible way to reunite people to drive better innovations.”

Companies are choosing innovation when their telecommuters have high productivity rates. But, what are high productivity rates when you’ve grown stale over the five years? You’re doing more of the same faster with little progress.

Entrepreneur Magazine shares four ingredient of the innovation process

Creating   Advancing   Refining  Executing

I think these four parts of the innovation process are best practiced in a team setting. Sure, I can do all of these by myself, but the best outcome surfaces when everyone gets to handle and offer their twist on the idea; kind of like passing around the old game Bop It. Some one pulls on the ideas, the next person twists the idea and then someone bops the idea.

In reality, every staff member in a church is now a telecommuter. Most youth pastors I know don’t have office hours and can do most of their work from home if they’d like. The churches they work for aren’t super busy on a weekly bases which allows for more “free” time to pursue other things. This leads to the second reason why companies may be pulling their team back together.

Immaturity

“Our experiment in letting people work from home on Fridays backfired,” said Richard Laermer, the CEO of RLM Public Relations, a NYC-based firm that has 11 employees. “The things people did on their ‘free’ time astounded me.”

Laermer points to the immaturity of certain staff members, and their lack of desire/ability to focus on work while out of the office as the reasons why he eliminated telecommuting (and fired a few employees).

For the past eight years  I have been a telecommuting youth pastor. I worked on my own to design a youth ministry that would make disciples, keeping in mind the vision of my pastor. Our ‘team” rarely had a meeting, instead we had short 15 minute conversations. For those of you who may think this is your dream job, try this for eight years.

Eight years of little to no collaborative planning, no cohesive vision between ministries, and no strategy for reaching or discipling  lost people. We each simply worked, like worker bees, hard on the ministry we were over.

If not for years of experience (and approaching 50), a drive to improve myself, and the work I do to equip other youth workers, I would have been at home bingeing Netflix, playing video games and wasting time. If I learned anything, I learned the necessary discipline to launch out on my own and to keep my priorities straight without a boss looking over my shoulder.

Let me be honest, a less mature youth worker would have squandered the opportunities and broke under the isolation like a  prisoner in solitary confinement. My team lacked the focus and desire to “make things happen”. Was this due to the remote mindset? Not entirely, but both the word culture and our church culture contributed to it.

I believe it is because of the remote mentality, fostered in our church and our culture, that building innovative, hard working, goal driven teams has become more difficult. If not for the monthly meetings I held with my team, we would have been lost.

If you can’t tell, I like face to face meetings vs email to email meetings and , even while writing this have thought, is my way just an old way of doing things? Is face to face team building a thing of the past? Am I just romantic about these kinds of meetings? Isn’t it the end result that matters? I am  process kind of guy, I believe the process of getting there is equally important as getting there, so my pursuit of team building and empowering will continue.

Your Turn

Do you think the “remote” mentality has negatively impacted your team building efforts? How so?

Has the “remote” mentality alway been there and culture has used online tools  to further distance people from one another, hurting the innovation process and allowing immaturity to sabotage goal setting?