6 Things I Do The Week Before Youth Camp

I am heading off to our summer camp next week and I thought I’d pass along a few things I do that make my life easier:

  1. I meet individually with students who I think might cause me a problem. I challenge them to step up and lead or give them a job for the week, such as watching out for younger students to make sure they’re not picked on.
  2. I over communicate with parents about any changes.
  3. I make sure every kid has signed our camp standards covenant
  4. I think of a surprise or bonus I can spring on the kids that week. It could be as simple as candy bars or free t-shirts.
  5. I make sure my Pastor has a count and a list of campers so he can pray for us individually
  6. I meet one final time with parents right before the trip for about 10 minutes to challenge them to prepare a home where they can live out the things they have committed in their hearts to Christ.

Do you have a list of things you run through to make your camp run smoother?  Share them with us.

Oh, here is a free Generic Camp Covenant I created for our group. Enjoy.

Preaching The Green Lantern Oath

What? You do not know the Green Lantern Oath? For shame.

Say it along with me:

“In brightest day, in blackest night, No evil shall escape my sight.Let those who worship evil’s might, Beware my power… Green Lantern’s light!“

If you are going to use the oath in any of your up coming messages, by all that is holy, let’s get it right.

Here are some themes you could use using the the Green Lantern’s Oath

“In brightest day, in blackest night”  I Peter 3:15, 16, 2 Timothy 4:2

Let’s always be ready, no matter what the conditions, to share the good news

No evil shall escape my sight. Romans 12:9, Hebrews 5:14, 2 Timothy 2:22

We have to be wise, discerning what is good from what is evil.

Let those who worship evil’s might  Proverbs 14:22, Romans 2:8

If you choose to love and do what is evil, it is not going to work out for you.

Beware my power… Green Lantern’s light!“  2 Corinthians 12:9,  Ephesians 1:19, I John 4:4

Obviously, evil doers will not fear OUR power, but the ONE who is in us is greater than he that is in the world.

Green Lantern was a simple movie and much maligned movie but I enjoyed it. If you’re a believer, you won’t be able to not see the spiritual parallels.

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Why Senior Sunday Saddens Me

Why Senior Sunday Makes Me Sad

Let me preface this post by saying I’ve been at my church for under a year. I understand that you have to jettison a senior class or two within a youth ministry to expunge former philosophies and practices and to import new ones that will grow over time. This fact does not make Senior Sunday any less sad for me.  Eighty percent of the seniors I’m graduating, have not had any significant relationship with me or have they been involved in the youth ministry over the past year. This means, when I stand up to introduce them to the congregation, I will not be able to

  • Share stories of spiritual growth
  • Share moments from trips or events
  • Share about about how much I care about them (I do but it’s hard to really care about people you don’t know)
  • Share about funny moments we all shared

Even sadder, their parents could care less if I shared about these things. Maybe because they’ve had all the spiritual moments they needed in life. Maybe because with strong family units they did not need another spiritual community. If this is the case, God Bless them.  Here’s a another saddening realization, their futures, unfortunately, include

  • Not attending church
  • Not continuing to grow in their faith
  • Not caring whether the generations that come up after them in the youth group will have spiritual role models

What if I read that as their future plans in addition to going to college? Right, like a lead balloon. Can you say job hunting? The last of the saddest news is, I don’t know if their is an answer for our community. Oh, I could say Jesus is the answer but that is trite, and quite frankly, stupid. Jesus is not duck tape, You don’t slap him on broken spiritual lives and hope it holds them together.

To quote the great philosopher Dirty Harry, “A mans got to know his limitations”- Magnum Force.

I know mine. I also know God’s, He has none. Only God, by his grace, can save, inspire, and bring to pass, the spiritual growth needed to move this community past Senior Sunday. I have no confidence  in the flesh. I have great confidence in God, but, that does not make me any less sad.

Your Turn

What challenges or emotions do you face on Senior Sunday?

 

Help! I Need Training, Mentoring, and Community! Now!

My friend Nathan over at Called To Youth Ministry asked me a few weeks ago if I was interested in doing some mentoring and I told him I am always up for helping fellow youth workers. Called To Youth Ministry is sponsoring an online training opportunity. For twelve  weeks we’ll cover topics like Dealing with Burnout, Getting Your Youth Ministry Plan Together,  and the How To’s of Discipling Teens. In addition, and most importantly, we’ll search the scriptures and pray together for God’s will for you, your family, and your ministry.

I will be leading 1 hour conference calls on selected Thursday nights at 9:00 p.m. CST and we will be posting thoughts back and forth over the course of the semester. If you are interested in getting some more training on a flexible schedule and at a minimal cost, you can check it out or sign up HERE

I look forward to the journey.

Paul

Taking The Pain Out Of Parent Meetings

I could have used a lot of pictures for this blog that would have best represented how we feel about parents meetings . Here is another photo that I would deem appropriate.

Which ever picture you relate to, sometimes it feels like this when it comes to meeting with parents. Here are a few tips to give you the confidence to meet the parents.

Here are what I think are the top reasons youth workers don’t have or struggle through parent meetings

1. I Feel Inadequate

Whether you are young or old these feelings can be very scary.  Youth workers get in trouble when they focus on pitching programs that mess with normal. The thought is, ” I hope they like my ideas” To go from inadequate to incredible, don’t make programs the center of your meeting. Selling ideas is secondary to meeting needs. make it your mission to empower parents and those knees will quit knocking.

2. I Don’t Have Teens or Kids

If you don’t have kids of your own you might find it tough to relate to the parents in the room. No worries. Not having kids does not make you any less a good youth worker. This does open the opportunity to:

  • watch and learn how parents and kids interact
  • admit you are not an expert and you need help
  • build a team with parents who can help you understand the family dynamic

3. I Don’t Have A Plan

Many youth workers live from event to event. Parents are professional jugglers, between school, sports, teens personal lives, and church. Why is the church always the least organized of these? If a softball team can have a schedule of games and practices so can we! Maybe  we don’t want to have a meeting with parents because we don’t want to look like a charlatan. If you don’t have great organizational or planning skills, recruit parents and a team to help you and let them help you present the meeting.  Play to your strengths, delegate your weakness ,but don’t bow out of the process. Start small and build on it.

I am offering Paul’s Quick Guide To Parents Meetings, on the freebie page, which really deals with the dynamics of creating and hosting a successful parents meeting. It’s a nine page guide with a few tips and tricks. If you are a pro at this, and want to offer some comments, I’ll be glad to add them into a 2.0 edition.

Risk Taking Youth Ministry Part 1

Our gigantic youth ministry experiment commences tomorrow night. Can’t wait to see what happens!- Tweet from Mark Cox 9:11 PM Aug 24th via web

This is the tweet that was that catalyst for the following interview. I love it when youth pastors take risks. I hate it when other youth pastors see other youth pastors take risks, and say , “I can’t or I’m not allowed to do that.”. After seeing the tweet, I knew I wanted to know more and I wanted to tell other youth past that risky youth ministry is not only possible but mandatory if we are wanting to reach students for Christ. Here is Part I of my interview with Risk Taker Mark Cox

Mark, tell us a little about yourself and about the current youth ministry you are serving.

I’ve been in youth ministry ever since I graduated high school. I spent my four years in college being a volunteer youth worker, and became a youth pastor as soon as I graduated college in 2005. I’m at a great church outside of Little Rock, Arkansas called Indian Springs Baptist Church. I happen to believe that I have the best students on the planet, but I might be biased :).

Our youth ministry has a pretty exciting history. Before I came, Daren Neely was the student pastor, and he led it well. Our youth ministry has always had a lot of influence with the students in our area. That’s why it was staggering when we started experiencing a decline in student involvement.

This interview came about because I saw your tweet and my heart just leapt in my chest and said, “This guy is about to do something risky. I want to know more.” Tell me about the youth ministry before the change,

Yeah, we’re definitely stepping out on faith.  Our student ministry has always been one of simplicity, strategy, and intentionality. We aren’t your typical “youth group.” We learned early on that a lot of the events that were expected by parents were dragging the energy out of us student pastors. When it came time to put effort into what matters most, we were drained.

So, we stopped doing the things that drain us (filling a calendar with meaningless events). We became a very simple student ministry. The few things that we decided to do well were our Wednesday night service environment (church for the unchurched), Sunday Morning Small Groups (the “next step” environment), and camps, retreats, and mission trips along the way.

This was a great change for two reasons: we could focus our efforts on making the few things great (rather than OK) and we could send our students out to create meaningful relationships with those who are far from Christ (rather than having another church event where we can hang out together).

This is pretty much what our student ministry looked like before our transition. We did a great service on Wednesday night, designed to reach any student on any level with God. We broke down into small groups on Sunday morning to dig into Scripture and go deeper together. And we planned a few strategic events throughout the year to keep the fire going.  And it was working…until recently things changed.

What was God doing in your heart leading up to the change?

As a leader, when things don’t go the way you would hope, one of the natural responses is to start questioning your own leadership. I don’t care who you are – when you’re not experiencing momentum in leadership, you tend to start expecting mediocrity. I think there were even times I started to make excuses for why student involvement was so low. I think I was just trying to make myself feel better by explaining it away. The truth was there, though. Students weren’t getting saved. Our outreach service had turned into a Christian club.

I was so frustrated, because I know the principles that lead to apathy, and I knew I let it happen. A friend of mine challenged me to re-read Andy Stanley’s “7 Practices For Effective Ministry” around that time. This is one of my favorite books and I figured it could help me sort through a couple issues. I got to the chapter that focuses on the third principle, “Narrow The Focus” and I had no idea what I was about to encounter. I was minding my own business, reading through the chapter, when I read the following words:

“Maybe you need to eliminate what works, so something else can work better.”  (“7 Practices, p. 106)

I froze. I knew what God was saying. He’d been preparing me for this moment for months. I didn’t need to process it. It was as clear as anything I’ve ever seen or heard. That day, He supernaturally communicated to me that I should kill our services, and move to a system that empowers the students to lead their peers. No more spectatorship. Transform the students into youth pastors.

From that day forward, I spent a lot of time talking to the wise counselors in my life (my wife, my youth pastor, and some other trusted ministry friends). They all said the same thing: God has obviously spoken to you. Now, you just need to figure out how to do it and get rolling.

What did the change look like and why was this the way you thought the change was supposed to go?

The change ended up being fairly smooth. I’d always been told that church fights would happen and stuff like that. I don’t know about other people, but that just wasn’t our story.  Specifically, we were killing our midweek student service to allow our students to lead evangelistic small groups in their homes, The goal is two-fold: to reach students who are far from God and to train our core students to become servant leaders in the same event.

In order to do that, we had to spend 3 weeks talking about what it would look like. This included a lot of vision-casting, stats, plans, details, steps, and communication. We recorded it on video, so we could replay it to those who missed out (we released all this in one of our most dead times of the church year). One of the things we were afraid of was that so many people would be gone during this transition, that when school started again, the people who missed these talks would show up at our building wondering what they missed. It didn’t happen this way. The beauty of social media is that you can implement buzz marketing if you just have a few committed students who are willing to get excited about it. Soon, word spread and people got educated.

The change itself took a total of 5 months. We spent almost a month talking about it on Wednesday nights, and spent two months training our student leaders. The first two months were spent honing in on what God was doing (and if He was the one doing it). I’m glad I spent that intentional time seeking Him, because driving change without the Spirit’s power is a suicide mission.


Anatomy of a Blown Event: Where Did I Go Wrong?

If I had a $1 for every failed event….well, lets just say, I would have a lot of dollars. Events are cool when we pull them off, but is that all there is to an event? Not the good ones. When the pre, actual, and post event pieces come together, it’s a beautiful thing. When they don’t, we get called into offices, meet with budget committees, make volunteers mad, and possibly lose kids and respect. If we have a string of events like this, it can cost us out jobs. Let me offer sell you some Event Insurance. Take a look at your events and see where they are going off track.

Every event starts with an idea.. The problem with ideas are that youth workers cook these up in a secret lab in an undisclosed location, a puff of smoke rises, we cry, “Eureka!” and begin telling everyone what we are going to  do and how everyone is going to help me execute my great idea. It’s right after that great idea pops in our head, that we can start going down hill, and fast.

Failed events have one or more of these elements in common

  • We keep an idea to ourselves. In other words, it’s our event and not the groups. It is our precious idea and we don’t want anyone else getting credit for it (see the last point)
  • We plan it ourselves. We get so jazzed about our idea, we break out our Mac or yellow note pad and before you know it, it’s done. Just because we have a good idea doesn’t mean we should do it.
  • We promote it ourselves. I hate making announcements. They are a necessary evil though, if we want to get the word out. But wait, what if the students, and your adult leaders were so bought in you could tone those announcement down a notch.
  • We execute it ourselves. Because we thought of it we feel most responsible to make it happen. So, we wind up making all the phone calls, set up all the chairs, and call for the food. This makes us a stoke waiting to happen.
  • We praise ourselves. I think the true test of any event is not how much we have done but how many people did it take to accomplish it. If it is something only you could do, it is possible that your event was too small.

Successful events have one or ore of these elements in common:

  • Start with “What If”. Take your idea to various levels in your church, from students, staff, parents, pastors, heck, ask the custodian while you are at it. Not everyone will care but they maybe able to offer that nudge that gets you a better insight on your idea.
  • Pray about it, plan and tweak it together. At your next meeting of students and adults, have a marker board available and do some brainstorming. Collect ideas and then whittle them down to the best ideas. Be sure to pray before and up to the event.
  • It’s everyone’s job to promote. Social media like Facebook, Twitter, and other venues, make it easy to get the word out, but nothing beats a personal invitation. Put some invites in your kids and leaders hands and let them loose. Check out the Freebie Page on my website www.thediscipleproject.net for a checklist called How To Get The Word Out.
  • Students do it, you help them. If the students own it form the idea phase you won’t have to do much but assist them. Let them be the visionaries and you hep them execute it. Let them book the band, call the speaker, set up chairs, order the food, etc. Assign an  adult to each student or group and let them walk through it with them.
  • Celebrate the successes and mistakes. Every event or group of events should have a debrief. Talk about what worked and what didn’t. Make sure to share the joy of watching your students lead. Praise will make them want to try again, and again.

Youth ministry is not all about events, but if we must do them, we might as well do them successfully. There are a multitude of tiny details I could have included, why not fill in the gaps for me. Leave your suggestion(s) below.

Check out my cool diagram I included here Anatomy of a Blown Event.

Agreeing On The Word Success

Success is a word that is truly open to interpretation. There is maybe no greater discrepancy of this word than between a pastor (or committee) and their youth pastor. Let me show you what the differences might look like

Their version of success means: You reach a lot of kids

Your version: I reached one kid. THAT Kid.

Their version of success: You caused the least amount of trouble

Your version: I took risks and chances that caused a stir

Their version of success: You are a self started that does not need coddling

Your version: I am a team player who is in a mentoring relationship with my leader.

Somewhere in the mix of these definitions you both  have to come to an agreement of what success looks like  for your youth ministry. If you cannot agree, their will be unfulfilled expectations and broken spirits. When you do come to agreement, life and ministry will be easier to navigate.

As a team decide which of these is success

  • How many kids in the program
  • How  many kids on the retreat
  • How many in SS
  • How many on the youth team

I put most of these in the “how many” category because that is how may pastors see it. Look for balance though and suggest these “how many’s” be added to the list as well

  • How many students have stepped up in leadership
  • How many kids bring their friends
  • How many kids have person spiritual disciplines
  • How many guests have you had in the past few months
  • How many kids kids has the team connected with
  • How many new kids went on the missions trip

“How many” is only one dynamic of success but unfortunately it is the most visible and therefore judged more readily. Don’t forget to add other intangibles and growth markers to the list. Help the team or your pastor see some of the other things Jesus saw like

  • Understanding truth (Luke 10:21)
  • Acts of faith (Peter stepping out in faith or the centurion’s faith)
  • Servanthood (following Jesus’ example of foot washing)

There are other examples in scripture and I invite you share your insights. Until then, find he balance and you’ll find success, if only in God’s sight.

When Sunday School Teachers Go Rambo

We’ve all been through it. We inherit a volunteer who you think you can work with and then you notice you can’t. Why? In my case it’s about teaching the curriculum, I have asked them to teach, connect with new students, and show up to appropriate meetings,  actually teach scripture, ya know , little things like that. Of course this thing is never easy. He’s taught for along time, the kids like him (of course, what teen woud not like to goof off  for an hour each week in SS. I have tried to work with our volunteer and he just wants to do what he wants to do.

Disclaimer: I like this teacher as a person. His son is on our leadership team (he takes after his mother).

My choices

1. Get rid of him outright (you are not doing the job)

2. Try to get him on board again (I don’t like this option, he’s not going to play ball)

3. Talk to the parents of students in this group ( not a fan of this either, makes me look petty, us vs him)

3. I may install an independent evaluation group. Just like public school teachers who do not make the grade, they are evaluated on progress of their students. I would have other staff members or parents, sit in in the class and evaluate the teacher/class. I like this option best for two reason

a) Parents see what I am talking about. I am not making it up

b) The teacher(s) do not get the backlash from me. They are getting it from independent people. In addition I plan on doing a Parent Poll looking for feedback on what they want in a teen Sunday School Class. The bring that to the teachers. Anyway, back  to the evaluation sheet:

Evaluation standard on the sheet

1. Did the appropriate lesson get taught.

2. Class discipline

3. How did the teacher/class respond to new guest

4. Was there prayer (yeah, you would think that I would not have to ask this)

5. How did the discussion go.

I would keep the list short but you are more than willing to add to it. What would you look for?