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.

 

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.

How To Get The Youth Ministry Job You Want

I can remember wanting to be a youth pastor so bad, I would have taken any job, and I did. They were my fever dream decisions. If I had read the job description better and put on my thinking hat instead of my heart hat, I could have avoided a few things like working too much for too little and getting in over my head.

Every church ad for a YP  differs from church to church based on denomination, size of church, etc. Some churches put everything in the job description you will be doing and others out just enough to lure you in and then  CLANK! the gate slams and you’re caught.

I want you to be able to discern what a church is asking of you so you can decide this is good fit and if you should even apply for.

Let’s get started. This is a real ad and church names. etc. have been left out.

JOB DESCRIPTION: Family Life Coordinator (this means you’re about to do a lot of work and not just youth pastoring) 

JOB SUMMARY

The Family Life Coordinator is a qualified professional teambuilder who contributes to the mission of the Church both by active service and by personal example. The Coordinator interacts with parish and diocesan staff, and the People of God – especially youth and their families – to promote authentic religious values and authentic Church teachings.

Note: Churches put fancy talk in their job descriptions. Besides, what is a Qualified Professional? Do you need a certificate?

JOB RESPONSIBILITIES

The Coordinator serves in promoting family life in the parish, principally through running a Middle School and High School youth program, interacting with wider parish membership, being present at parish events, and managing the parish social media and membership communications. The Coordinator will accomplish the following responsibilities:

Note: I made this statement bold because managing social media is a full job in itself. Trust me ( blog, podcast, youtube, etc.) I smell over worked and underpaid immediately. So far, they have said they want  a qualified professional teambuilder and a social media director (2 jobs, paid for one I would negotiate higher pay from the get go if you have any certifications in these areas)

1. Develops successful Middle School and High School youth programs, including a team of volunteers, that meet once a week (except for vacation periods) during the school year and include occasional special activities/initiatives.

Note: make them define, in writing, what they think a successful MS and HS programs look like. You are cheating yourself if you don’t have a clear goal.

2. Facilitates the recruitment and training of volunteers for the youth programs.

Note: What is the median age of the church, is there enough viable people to recruit, is there an established council, or are you on your own?

3. Leads a delegation of youth/families/individuals to the annual March for Life in Washington, DC.
4. Manages the parish web site, Facebook page, Twitter/Instagram accounts, and makes recommendations on effective social media usage to the Pastor.
5. Evaluates and further develops means of regular communication and outreach with parishioners: SMS/text, email, parish app, bulletin, etc.

Note: Once agin. Job #3 Manage a website.  Skill not listed in qualifications.

6. Assists with the layout and production of the weekly parish bulletin.

Note: No, just no. This is job #4

10. Keeps statistics and metrics so that the effectiveness of our activities/initiatives can be measured on an occasional (at least annual) basis.

Note: First thing I’ve read that I like. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth measuring.

11. Attends periodic staff meetings (usually monthly).
12. Works with the DRE to run background checks on and ensure Youth Protection certification for all volunteers.

Note: Another thing I like. A church that does not do background checks is asking for trouble. In fact, you should not work at a church that does not do this at some level.

13. Assist the  Secretary occasionally with phone/receptionist responsibilities for brief periods.

Note: Job number #5!!! Stop reading and move on. They cannot afford you at this point.

14. Collaborates with the Wedding Coordinator on the usage of the Cathedral Life Center.

Note: Job #6 Wedding Coordinator. Say no to the dress.

15. Collaborates with other parish activities and initiatives on the common promotion of family life in the parish.
16. Assist with occasional “all hands on deck”-type parish events, under the direction of the Pastor.

Note: All hands on deck? I don’t have any hands left.

SUPERVISION

SUPERVISED BY: The Pastor/Rector
SUPERVISES: Team Volunteers
LEADS/GUIDES: Team Volunteers

Note:  A) I supervise volunteers they do not supervise me. B) We are peers and mutually accountable for God’s work.

JOB SPECIFICATIONS

EDUCATION:

  • Required: Bachelor of Arts or equivalent, as well as prior experience with youth programs and demonstrated competence and prudence with social media. 

Note: They forgot the degree in Social Media, Wedding Coordinating, and All Hands On Deck-ology.

  • Desired: Demonstrated success in a similar position held previously.

LICENSES, CERTIFICATION AND/OR REGISTRATIONS: N/A
EQUIPMENT/TOOLS/WORK AIDS: Computer skills, copying machine, and knowledge of other office equipment

Note: Double Nope! Ok, you should know how to push the copy button.

SPECIALIZED KNOWLEDGE & SKILLS: Must be:

9. Creative, without imposing personal opinions on people.
10. Organized and able to multi-task through wise prioritization and scheduling.

Note: Number 9 is pure garbage. If you’re a creative who cannot push your ideas forward, why are they paying you? This may have been placed in here due to a former pushy employee. That’s how rules get made.

PERSONAL TRAITS QUALITIES & APTITUDES: Friendly, willing to work with others and have the capacity to delegate tasks. Open to the ideas of others. Willing to work for the greater good of the Parish, the Diocese, and the Universal Church. Willing to use personal gifts for the good of the whole. Able to win the respect and loyalty of co-workers. Able to relate to youth in a prudent manner and encourage them in their practice of the faith and spiritual/human growth.

  • Be flexible, assertive, persuasive, organized, and highly motivated
  • Demonstrate an ability to accept responsibility for direction, control, and planning of an activity
  • Demonstrate an ability to make generalizations, evaluations, and decision based on sensory or judgmental criteria
  • Demonstrate an ability to perform a variety of duties requiring the changing from one task to another without loss of efficiency or composure
  • Demonstrate an ability to communicate effectively with people of all socioeconomic backgrounds
  • Demonstrate an ability to solve problems in a creative and effective manner
  • Be willing to assess personal strengths and weaknesses and receive and respond to performance reviews and constructive criticism

Note: This person does not exist, so it cannot be you.

Verdict: They want you to work 6 jobs and pay you for one. This job is an F. Do          not apply.

If you’re looking at Youth Pastor job ads, and see one that is crazy, send it over to me and I’ll be happy to dissect and grade it.

If you would like practice applying for a youth ministry job, I offer practice interviews HERE

You Don’t Need New Lipstick, You Need A New “Pig”

Have you heard the saying, “You can put lipstick on a pigs snout, but it’s still a pig?” This phrase is in reference to dressing up an ugly situation hoping you can disguise it, hiding all it’s flaws. Let’s be honest, when it comes to some youth ministries, sometimes there just isn’t enough lipstick.

Our youth ministries can get ugly sometimes . We try to dress it up for our parents, our pastors, the board, etc. There’s nothing wrong with an “ugly” youth ministry. Our youth ministries, like our students, like us, are becoming beautiful over time and through various cycles.

What I suggest is, not try to cover up the “ugly” with lipstick of excuses, pretending it isn’t ugly, in this moment.

Here are some of the lipsticks we’re tempted to put on our pig.

The Lipstick of Busyness

To add another metaphor, adding more activities to your calendar is like adding more deodorant when you haven’s showered in a few days, you still stink. More activities only masks the problem, hoping that no one will notice that the youth ministry is not making disciples, not making progress, and not growing.

Eventually, your youth ministry will slow down, and then it will hit you, “what was all that busyness for?” and your still stuck with a youth ministry going nowhere.

The Lipstick of Comparison

When we start saying things like, “Well, at least …” we’ve started lowering the bar.

Well, at least no one is pregnant.

Well, at least we’re not lot like….

Well, at least kids are coming

Is this bad? Not necessarily. Phrases like this are a coping mechanism when things are not going according to plan. We should always find the positive in our “pig”. We should always look for the small increments of growth and change in our students and celebrate it.

The problem is, if we’re using the phrase too often, it becomes a justification for not trying something different or for not giving more effort to change the things we can change to move our students deeper or further in their faith. It also becomes an excuse for not improving ourselves. The latter is something we have complete control over it. Let’s stop lowering our expectations of God, ourselves and our students and reach for higher goals.

The Lipstick of Numbers

More must mean we’re ok, right? No. Churches with bigger youth ministries just have bigger pigs to decorate. The big numbers can get in the way of a fair evaluation (if any) and slows our need to make changes.

Big numbers can mask flaws in our discipleship strategy. Big crowds are great but the youth ministry as a whole can be unhealthy.

Don’t let big numbers lull you into a false sense of security. Big numbers are not the end game, helping students become more like Jesus is.

The Lipstick of Happy

Everyone’s happy, that’s good, right? Sure it is, but is happiness a good indicator? But how did everyone get that way? Appeasement? Fulfillment?

I always want my students to be happy. I pray for their well being, but from a ministry context, my call is to put them in positions that will make them grow into who God is making them to be, this, sometimes, makes them unhappy.

This kind of unhappy is ok because it’s revealing something about their life and showing them they have room to grow.

We all have a pig, or some shade of pig. If we stay at a church long enough or stay in youth ministry long enough we’ll start to hear the “oinking”.  Once that happens, we have a choice, dress up the pig with excuses and wallow in the mud with it or do what is necessary to turn things around.

Our youth ministries will always have a little ‘pig” in them because youth ministry, leadership, teenagers and life can get ugly, but we should always love our pig and do our best to care for it.

If I can help your youth ministry be better pig, click here to book me to speak, consult or give a workshop.

Remember, pigs can still do amazing things!!