I hate to disappoint you youngin’s in ministry who, like me, romanticize youth ministry. You may think it’s great being the grizzled veteran whose seen it all only to sit with a bottle of scotch at night smoking cuban cigars and wondering where the time went…ok the last part isn’t true. well, partially, I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which, I just felt like monologuing my own youth ministry noir.
I’m 49 on my way to 50 and I’m not happy about it. I called a childhood friend tonight so he could cheer me up and that level was unlocked. He asked me how my journey towards 50 was going and I told him it sucked.
I basically feel like I’m semi-re-tired. I have way too much free time, other than making youtube videos, podcasts, etc. My youth group and church isn’t very needy so I’m left to my own devices. Growing old sucks, but growing old in youth ministry, at least right now, in this moment, isn’t great either.
I lack the desire to do do many of the things I used to like to do in YM which is normal in the aging process. Maybe I just need a testosterone shot or maybe God is doing something else. I’m prayerfully considering both options but that isn’t all I’m struggling with.
I came to the realization today that I don’t believe in destiny. I don’t believe there is a fixed point in time that I am supposed to reach. I still believe in God’s providence and His presence in all things, but my reality is what I make it. There’s no “big break” coming, no matter how hard I try,
I feel like Barry Allen in the Flash trying to get faster so he can save Iris from her death that he saw in the future. Flash finally taps out and admits he can’t do it. Whatever future I saw for myself as a young man, it’s just not going to happen and I’m spending much of this year coming to terms with that, but It’s not easy.
I wish I had some words of wisdom for you. Maybe when I hit 51 I’ll have better perspective or maybe I won’t. My journey through Ecclesiastes is helping.
So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun. Ecclesiastes 8:15
A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, Ecclesiastes 2:24
are certainly helpful.
I still wound’t give up all the memories and God moments I’ve had with students and maybe that’s the normal progression, or rather regression, of aging. Maybe I need to take more time to reflect and less time trying to get somewhere. I don’t know. I’m still working that out.
I hope you don’t mind a little bit of honesty and a little less How To. This is the disciple project blog and aging in ministry is part of my journey as a follower of Jesus and if you’ve read this far, thanks, I appreciate it and there may be even more honesty forthcoming. I hope it serves you well in your life and ministry journey.
I know it can’t only be true for me, but there was a time where I would only read the Bible to “get a message” for my students or congregation.
Sad, I know, but I think it’s because of the way I viewed scripture that caused me to treat it in such a way .
I thought the Bible was a textbook for my job and, like a student, I had a test every week I had to prepare for. I thought I had to know all the answers and ace the test. I made the Bible about me knowing things for other people rather than enjoying the Bible for myself.
That’s the danger of study, preach, repeat; we see study/preaching as a job rather than an authentic way of living.
It’s possible to know a lot about the Bible and be as spiritually dry as a bone. How can we, as youth pastors, balance the reading and study of scripture for work and the devotional side of scripture which grows our own soul?
Plan Growth Into Your Schedule
Some people plan a study time, maybe 2 hours to work on a message. I know there are all kinds of ratios of how long is the message versus how much should I study, but that’s not me. Growth is a 24/7 endeavor for me, so sectioning off time tells me there’s a stopping point when I don’t believe there is one.
Just like when we pray, we say amen at the end but that doesn’t mean we won’t pray the rest of the day. I know we have to have some hard core time for study, I just don’t limit that time.
I plan study into my day in different ways.
Daily Study/Sharing Versus Message Prep
When I go for a walk I listen to scripture through the YouVerion Bible App
I do a FB live devotional on Facebook from 9-9:30 a.m. . I read, study, and pass it on which means it comes back to me through my own ears. Doing this daily means accountability and doing it live means I better be engaged with the Word I am reading.
I post scriptures on my Instagram with a short devotional.
I use websites like www.biblehub.cc when preparing so I can look up Greek/Hebrew words to get context and understanding.
I can’t say enough about learning and sharing on a daily basis. I love doing this because it keeps me from becoming a Wednesday and Sunday Pastor (or Christian). It shows my community that I am all about the daily living and not about preparing for a once a week meeting.
The secret of your success is determined by your daily agenda. – John C. Maxwell
Meditate and Reflect
Just like I build in study time, I build in meditation time, think time. I like to chill and listen to podcasts like Pray As You Go witch is like an audio Lectio Devino which asks me to think and pray and engage with God.
I don’t put pen to paper, as far as a message, until I have fully thought through the scripture and have
asked “what is means
asked “what it means for/to me?”
ask, “because of these revelations, where do I need to take my students.
I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. Psalm 119:15
Practice What It Says
We cannot divorce the preaching and the doing. When I am prepping my message, I try to figure out how to put myself in position to practice or obey what I’m learning.
If I’m talking about forgiveness, I have to find ways to be forgiving or reflect on if there’s anything to be forgiven of by God or others.
If I am talking about giving I have to look at my giving and ask God how this principle needs to be reflected in my life and how do I demonstrate this to my students.
In the practicing of scriptures, we won’t have to look up good illustrations for our messages, we can share from our personal experiences.
An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching. – Mahatma Gandhi
I judge no one but me. I know me and you know you. I would ask you to consider your current spiritual practices and if they contribute to, first, your daily growing, and secondly, to the growth of others.
Growing others without growing yourself is to water all the plants but one. Soon, that one plant will die and then who will water the other plants?
Grow your own soul and you’ll have no problem growing others.
If you are a show runner of your own podcast, like I am, what better podcast than a show about podcasts. Jerod Morris and Jon Nastor break it down abut what means to run a podcast. It’s certainly upped my game.
But there are plenty of things you don’t want half of.
Would you like to have half sex? Nope.
I’ll drive you halfway. Not good.
I’ll pay you half now. What?
No one advises us, “If you want to be successful, give it your half”
Half measures won’t fix anything.
Half-heartedness won’t impress anyone.
Half assed execution won’t get the job done.
Half doesn’t cut it in real life so why do we give, on most occasions, half of our selves to God, to our marriage, to our kids? Half won’t cut it if we want to impact the world.
Half doesn’t cut it in youth work either. We can’t preach half a gospel. There’s good news and bad news. Heaven and hell, judgement and grace, flesh and spirit. Life is is not made up of halves but wholes.
Loving and serving half way will not make a dent in the universe.
Jesus gave all of Himself. He didn’t get beaten and then skip the crucifixion. He didn’t just love the Jews but also the Gentiles. He served the zealot as well as the tax collector. He fully died and then fully rose.
God doesn’t do things halfway.
He forgives all our sins.
He loves the whole world.
He doesn’t make half promises.
There is no halfway Christianity.
Therefore, we must love God with our whole hearts and all of our neighbors as our selves. Anything less won’t make a difference and only shows half of who our God really is.
Think of all the things you’re afraid of. Most will never come true, except for maybe death. How do you handle the real fears? Not the clowns or the spiders (yet, for some, its very real) but the real fear like never having close friends or being alone. These are real fear to us and they’re real to the teens we minister to.
How we handle our fear is measured by the risks we take. The more risks we take the more our fears are exposed as frauds.
We don’t take risks because we fear the outcome, we fear failure and we fear public opinion. We’re not that much different than teens are we? We still have these small fears just in bigger bodies.
I want my students to try everything. Not the bad stuff, the stuff they’re afraid of. Why? Because I want their fears to be shown as frauds and Satan a liar and defeated foe. If they can learn that now, how many more risks will they take wen they get older?
What if our teens became fearless like Samuel
Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.” I Samuel 14:6
And what if their fearlessness became contagious? Like how Samuel’s armor bearer responded.
“Do all that you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.” I Samuel 14:7
Samuel had no idea of the outcome, but he knew God
Could act on their behalf
Nothing could hinder the Lord from saving
Their big or small number did not limit God
And because he knew this, it was worth the effort, the risk, the act of faith.
Turns out Samuel was right.
Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him.In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre. I Samuel 14:13,14
The month of October is all about scary horror movies, Halloween, etc. We know those things aren’t real so we focus on them for 30 days. The fears we and our teens face are year round; that’s why I put together a resource that combines scary and scripture,
For 31 days I’m going to post a graphic that combines a horror movie trop (fake) with a Scripture that reveals God’s nature and character to save, to protect, and to empower (real)
I want to challenge my kids for the next 31 days to be fearless, to be bold, to say. “What if…” and “God could…” instead of “I can’t, because…”.
You could do the same. What if you did? What conversations might arise? What misconceptions could you put to rest? What boldness could you instill? What could God do?
Are all themes of the book of Ecclesiastes and only now am I realizing that this also applies to youth ministry.
When I read verses like
And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless Ecclesiastes 2:19
I realize how futile my efforts are if youth ministry is indeed what I have given my whole life to.
When I started youth ministry, I thought youth ministry was immune to the wails and woes of Ecclesiastes (how naive I was), and I threw myself at it with great abandon. I’ve given my whole life to young people, but I should have given my whole life to Jesus.
No, I don’t worship ministry, although I have. Yes, I love Jesus, but some days I’ve loved the gratification of man’s words to satisfy my soul rather than the gentle whisper of my Savior.
I’m learning, and re-learning, every day, how to commit my life to Jesus and the eternal rather than the ministry and the temporal. I am taking Solomons advice
A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? Ecclesiastes 2:24,25
There is no enjoyment of ministry without God.
Youth Ministry, like any career, will only take you so far, satisfy you so much, before you start to have those “What is this all about”, Solomon kind of thoughts.
If you’re a young youth pastor, don’t give your whole life to youth ministry because youth ministry can only give so much back to you. If you’re a veteran youth worker, it’s a good time to re-commit your life to Jesus.
Give your life to Jesus, find joy in him and you will receive more than you ever though possible and, unlike youth ministry
“those who put their trust in Him are never disappointed.” Romans 10:11 NASB
I was reading a blog post by Bernadette Jiwa, she starts with this question,
If you had to pick one thing you need more of in order to succeed what would that be?
If you are a youth worker, and I hope you are, you may be tempted to say, “more students” , but is more students the right answer?
Would having more students make you a better communicator, a better programmer, a better youth pastor?
Having more students might get you off the hook with the board, the deacons, or your pastor but it will do nothing for you when it comes to actually pastoring those extra kids.
More kids is a result or more patience, more training, more prayer, more love, more outreach and more disciple making.
More kids won’t make us better, it will only reveal how unprepared we are for more kids.
I think it boils down to giving someone a fish to eat for a day or teaching them to fish for a lifetime. What if I could teach you to fish so you could reach the students you desire to fill your youth program?
Book reviewer Melissa Harrison saw something that blew her away,
“MATES MATES something brilliant just happened, well I found something brilliant, and I want to tell you about it. Sorry but THREAD INCOMING!”
What did she see? A model of the church, inside the church. Here is what what she saw
What blew her away even more, was the attention to detail.
Here is the picture Melissa took of the outside of the church
and here is the model
What is the one thing (among many) the church has forgotten? Attention to detail.
I don’t think we’re paying attention to the poor, the outcast, or the loser, yet, scripture tells us that’s who Jesus sought to uplift.
People, just like Melissa are intrigued by the church. They are wowed by the structure, the smell, the wood, the stone, and many other esthetics, but when they enter the church, do they really see a model of the church? I don’t mean the physical model Melissa saw, but the other model from Acts 2:42-47
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 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, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Melissa was blown away to find a model of the church, fully detailed, down to the dog bowl outside inside the church, She found great joy in it, so much she tweeted about it! What if we paid attention to the details of Acts 2 and modeled them for a generation of kids who want to see the church inside the building?
How sad it must be for many believers to see a church, modern or classic, and are intrigued by it only to go inside and be disappointed that the church was not the model they hoped it would be. Granted, many people who do not believe do not know about Acts 2:42-47, but they know the church should look more like Jesus and less like us.
As pastors and believers, let’s pay attention to detail and make sure that what sinners find inside looks a lot like what they hoped it would look like from the outside; right down to the dog bowl.
I’ve been mentoring students for a long time, but there are three practices which are foundational to each mentoring relationship I enter into. These are the three legs to my mentoring stool, Listening, Opportunity, and Failure
These three words make the mentoring relationship worthwhile for me. I want hear what kids are saying, I want to give them the opportunity to do what God has gifted them to do, and I want them to learn from and manage their failures well.
If you put these three words to work in every teen mentoring relationship, both you and the person you are mentoring will be fulfilled.
Every mentor has a desire to share what they know with others willing to listen, but mentors have to learn to listen as well. The rookie mentor or the arrogant mentor sees mentoring as a information dump versus a conversation.
Mentees might want to know all the details and crunch bits or maybe they want hear just the big picture and work the details out for themselves. We must learn the art of active listening in order to hear what what our mentees desire to learn and break it down what we know for their context.
Here’s a video of how I am listening to students in my youth ministry so I can plan what they want heat and mix it with what they need to heart. This simple exercise gives students space to share their desires and gives me a chance to listen to their hearts.
My temptation, as a mentor, was to do an information dump without giving the teen a chance to do the things they were learning from me. Sometimes, I felt like the old boxing trainer who would tell the hungry young fighter, “You’re not ready kid.” I did this for selfish reasons, I wanted them to succeed out of the gate so I would look like a good mentor.
What I should have been doing was giving them as many opportunities as possible to skin their knee so they could build a tolerance to failure. The opportunity to build, create, preach, write, etc would have allowed them to shake off the fear of failure and instead embraced failure as part of the growth process.
Jesus didn’t spend all his time on mountain top teaching his disciples waiting for some magic moment to send them out, He sent the 72 disciples he had out to practice/do the ministry ( Luke 10). Jesus gave them some basic instructions and then said, “Go.”
Jesus gave his disciples the opportunity to do big, scary things. He didn’t start them off with walking little old ladies across the road, he gave them power and opportunity and it produced something amazing.
The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
Faith (a working faith) without works is dead. If I want a kids faith to grow and increase I have to let them do the work. Christianity is not a class, it’s about putting faith into motion, being lead by the Spirit, and letting kids do what God has gifted them to do in spite of potential failures.
Let’s not make that big deal about failure. Failure is not only pat of learning, it is often the catalyst to learning. I don’t glorify failure, but I do respect it as part of the mentoring process even if teens do not.
I don’t want to see the teens I mentor fail because their failure is my failure. I take it personally if I feel I didn’t prepare them well for a task.
As mentors we must be patient with teenagers for a variety of reasons,
their school work
their family needs
Teens may not make every meeting we set up or accomplish every task we give them. These are what we call teachable moments. It’s not that a teen cannot perform a task (although it’s possible) you’ve given them; it could be because of external factors causing them to lost focus or to diminish the value of the task you have given them. This is where the real mentoring begins.
If we’ll be patient and let failure come at it’s own pace, we’ll discover more about the teen wee are mentoring and lear the real reasons behind missed meetings, stalled tasks, and lack of communication.
Our role is not to train a teen to be perfect but rather how to manage and learn from failure so that they are not crushed by them. Teaching resilience is more important than teach the skill . Skills can come and go as needed but resilience is a much needed life skill usable in all situations.