A Few Of My Favorite Things- 20 Plus Ideas For Volunteer Gifts

I wanted to show some love to the people, place, and things that have helped me or my youth ministry out this past year. These might make great gifts for your students or volunteer leaders. Don’t know what to get your volunteers or leader? I have provided and handy dandy for form you can use for Christmas or anytime this year. This idea came out of a conversation about Christmas on the weekly show Life In Student Ministry with my friend @Tim Schmoyer. Enjoy.

Gifts For Volunteers

  • Food Cards (subway, etc.)
  • Books (for personal or professional edification)
  • Movie Passes
  • Babysitting (if they need it.)
  • A home cooked meal at your house
  • A gift basket filled with their Favorite Things (from the free form)
  • Time off
  • Pay for a maid service for one day (this is for the busy family volunteer)
  • Time with them- Take them to lunch or just hang out
  • A Coupon Book (free car wash etc. students in your group could volunteer for various chores
  • Card games or games in general (this way they always have something to play when kids come over)
  • A coupon filled with discounts for next years trips
  • A thank you card (with items from the Free Questionnaire)
  • Gift them some songs from itunes or itune cards
  • Art (framed pictures or paintings, or something you make for them)
  • A poem written by you
  • A video on you tube thanking them or kids thanking them.
  • Tickets to a sporting event
  • Tickets to a play
  • Tickets to a concert
  • Yourself- offer to pray with them or e-mail them daily prayers of affirmation up until Christmas

Nothing is too outlandish. If you are meeting a need for that volunteer you are giving a great gift. That is round one of gift giving ideas. I may have more as I go along. Do you have any ideas? Please leave your suggestion in the comments.

Is Your Life The Sum of Wins and Losses?

” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” Job 1:22

The Iron Bowl is the yearly college football contest in the State of Alabama between the Auburn Tigers and the Crimson Tide. Tonight was this years battle for bragging rights in the state. Tigers won and The Tide Lost. I don’t really have a dog in the fight, I usually root for the Irish of Notre Dame, but I am re-thinking fandom all together. I am not a good fan anyway.

I’m a fan of the Irish, not because I went there or graduated from their but for other reasons.

I am a fan culturally because I am Irish.

I am a fan religiously because I grew up Catholic.

We often equate fandom with Christianity. If we are good fans we wear the right attire and talk the right talk. The problem with that is that fandom is fickle. We love our team when they win and curse them when they lose. Tonight, all over Alabama, there are people getting drunk because their team won or lost. Emotions drive fandom.

This is why Christians are  not God’s fans. I try to keep my life free of emotional attachments to wins and losses. Jesus is the same whether life is going great or not. His Word is true whether I am cheering His Name or not. God was God when my dad passed away at 10 years old. He was God when my mom passed away at 30. God was God when I got fired from two churches. God was also God when I married the woman of my dreams, my first child was born, and got that sweet job.

God doesn’t need more fans on His Facebook page.  And the amount of “fans” He has does not add or take away from who God is. As the preacher says, “God is God all by Himself.”  God does not seek fans, He seeks the faithful.

How about you? Are putting a bag over your head because God’s church isn’t “winning” or because life seems out of control? Does a failure in your life come complete with a post failure commentary filled with “if I had only”?

“His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. Job 2:9-10

Job’s wife was a fan of God. Job was faithful to God. The fan turns in tough times. The faithful keep their eyes on Jesus, win or lose. Your faith in God is not = to life’s wins and losses, because God is bigger than both.

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.

I Want/Need Your Ideas: Our Welcome Center

Here is a picture of our youth’s welcome center. It needs your touch. What would you do with this space to make it pop for our members and new guests. Talk to me about people, props, colors, anything you think would make this space work. What do you do? Share your secrets. C’mon, don’t make me beg.  Leave your comments.

Mighty Youth Workers Devotion Series

I have been reading about David’s mighty men recently and I am always blown away by their honor and heroism. If 2 Samuel 23 were made into a movie it would make the movie 300 look like The Blind Side. These warriors of old are not unlike youth workers of today. We are in the trenches fighting the Philistines we imagine look like pastors, parents, students, our own emotions, family stresses, the devil, and life itself. Let me offer this small tidbit to encourage you today.

” Next to him was Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. When the Philistines banded together at a place where there was a field full of lentils, Israel’s troops fled from them.  But Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the LORD brought about a great victory.” 2 Samuel 23:11,12

  • When the Philistines banded together

We are at disadvantage sometimes. We are the lone voice, right or wrong, in the board room, the parents meeting, the staff meeting, or the network meeting. You have a great idea, a vision, a desire, or a powerful thought, and it seems like everyone is against it. We have been trained to be peacemakers. Jesus extols it but there is a time when we must speak out. Our passion is like fire in our bones. If you are outnumbered, think about scaling back or break your vision into smaller, digestible pieces. We must always remember that our ‘enemies”, real or imagined, are not human. Parents, pastors, or deacons our not our enemies.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. ” Ephesians 6:11,12

It’s easy to use this verse to say that those who oppose us are driven by dark forces. This is not usually the case. Most of the time we are fighting ideologies and philosophies, generational practices and culture itself, and sometimes the enemy is our own hard- headedness. Shammah knew his enemy, and we must discern ours.

  • Israel troops fled from them

There will be lonely times in youth ministry. There will be times we stand alone but we are not truly alone; God is with us. We may see our youth leaders flee, our students flee, and even our friends flee. The visions may be too tough to see, they might not see what you see. Some see taking new ground as a very scary thing and they do not feel they can fight whatever boogey men lurk around the corner. The Israelites did not see the point of standing and fighting. Too lessen the fears of those around us, we must paint the picture of a field worth fighting for. Use stories of previous victories and potential victories to build the inner strength of those around you. Some will still flee but some may hear the warriors call and join you.

  • But Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field

This is where the rubber meets the road. Maybe Shammah was tired of running. Maybe he he was tired of giving up ground. Whatever the reason, he stopped, drew his sword, and said enough is enough. What is your field. What are you tired of running from? Maybe it’s a meeting, a parent, a person of authority, your personal demons, whatever it is, it is exhausting you. We must take our place. Our paychecks come from a church but our calling is from God. My field is young people. I will fight for them against the devil, my own laziness, apathy, the culture and more. I don’t believe Shammah’s fight was short. I believe it took some time. If we fight too hard too early we ill lose steam, our job, and possibly our passion. Fight for the long haul not the short term. In addition, I don’t believe the fight was over lentils. I think there were greater principles in play. Let us not fight for lentils (programs, policies, or privileges) but for the big picture, the spiritual growth of students within the context of the whole church.

  • Every victory is the Lord’s

This should not go without saying. There are days we fight and win and take the credit when in reality it was the Lord who did it. When someone changes their mind, takes our side, or helps us push, we must look at it in the larger context of what God is doing. We may win a battle but the war is still raging.

“A song of ascents. Of Solomon. Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.”  Psalm 127:1

We are co laborers with God. He sees the architectural blue prints of our youth programs and churches and we must be in tune with His vision. When others laud us for great programs, large crowds, or great ideas we must deflect praise to God.

You are mighty men or women of God. You have a field, defend it, fight for it but not at the expense of scorched earth where the ones we should love get hurt. We are warriors in battle. Don’t give up. If you do not stand, who will? I believe in you but more importantly God believes in you. Go get’em.

Is Youth Ministry A Competitive Sport? Part III

In the last two post I have covered being competitive but not in in competition with other churches or youth ministries. Competitiveness is good. Competition is bad. The difference, I believe, is in the heart. I do not wish any harm on any other churches in my area, in fact, I pray for their success. But, if we are down about our group we might be tempted to say, “well, so and so church is reaching most of the kids. I don’t have to do much to improve myself or the youth.” Not only will you not build the Kingdom of God with that attitude, you probably won’t be in your position very long.

Just because a church down the street seems to have it going on at the moment doesn’t mean it always will. Things change,

Cycles change: This time next year, it could be you who has an influx of students, but are you ready to keep them ? In six months a bunch of kids will walk in but do we have anything to offer them? Next week one guest could show up that God wants to use to transform your group but will you spot them?

Youth Workers Change: This is a very Cult of Personality business we are in. That is why some followed Apollo, some Peter, and others Paul. Paul asks is Christ divided? I don’t believe Paul was talking about physically following, but where the hearts of these followers were. The youth worker down the street may leave in a few years and kids may leave and go searching again.

Students Change: We live in trendy world. You can check on Twitter to see what is trending. What is everyone talking about. We can become demoralized when we constantly hear about what is going on at First Church. Don’t be. Students are fickle. They follow trends in youth groups too (worship style, preaching style, etc.) I don’t condone this. If a kid is at a church, saved under that church’s ministry, they should continue in the faith there. But we know this does not always happen. We should be prepared and know that we can’t reach everyone but neither can First Curch. Who is First Church not reaching and decide to pursue them.

The last person (in this series), and also the first person (in real life), you should be competitive with is you. Take a look at how you spend your time. Consider offering a percentage next to each so you can clearly see where that time is going

  • Time with student leaders
  • Time with adult leaders
  • Time with parents
  • Time with your pastor
  • Time on campus
  • Time just hanging out
  • Time studying
  • Time doing administrative work

I believe time management is one of the top three killers of youth workers. Look at the list. Which area are you having problems in? Is this because you possibly have not invested enough time in that area?

We youth workers believe we have our own competitors. We categorize church, family, personal time, etc. In our hearts we are  not competing with those things but with our self, our own values and feelings about those things. If we believe something is of value then we must make time for it. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Please don’t take my blabbering as another emotional beat down on how you are not doing something well or you are not giving enough, etc. All I am saying is we need to name the culprit that is stealing our time, energy, and focus and then deal with it.

Let’s be competitive in our desire to reach students in our community, let be competitive with the things that are stealing the time, attention, and in some cased the hearts of our students, and let’s compete with our own laziness and lack of self discipline that is keeping both our youth groups and the Kingdom from growing.

Runners run for a personal best time.

Weight Lifters compete against their last weight.

Archers attempt to split there own arrow.

We also should set our goals in ministry and compete until we achieve them or get as close as we can. In our work with teens, being our best matters.

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;  but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” I Corinthians 9: 24-

Let’s always remember what we are competing for is not found on earth but in eternity.

Is Youth Ministry A Competitive Sport? Part II

I’ll say it again. I do not believe in competing with my brothers and sisters in Christ. It is not my group vs theirs or my calling vs their calling. We are not called to be competitors but rather to be competitive. In this blog we have to ask ourselves why we have to be or stay competitive in the youth ministry market place. I know this sounds carnal, but it is not meant to be. It is a fact of our lives. As long as churches make productivity, number of students, and the size of program the goal, I plan on staying competitive in my Kingdom work because my job (what I am paid for) will depend on it.

What are we really competing with? A students attention is focused in so many different direction we can hardly keep up. Consider why some of your students missed your last meeting

  • sports
  • studying
  • scouting
  • family time
  • a club meeting
  • another organization

Every youth meeting faces these challenges. These are things we cannot change and most of them we don’t need to. But there are reasons students miss our meetings that we should be concerned about:

  • We start late
  • We seem unfocused
  • We don’t have a vision
  • We don’t invite kids to something deeper or a bigger cause than support the meeting
  • We aren’t creative with our programs or messages
  • We are boring
  • We don’t insist or train students own their youth ministry or care about others

I have been all of these in the past 20 years and students rightfully stayed home.  There ball team had more clarity. Their math club was more interesting. Their coach was more inspiring. We compete with all these things. Taking time to examine all the parts of our program, our skills and abilities, our leaderships, and our hearts will only lead to making the changes necessary to stay competitive and being our best for the Kingdom.

I believe this old adage serves us well, we should pray like it’s all up to God and work like it’s all up to us. I believe we have to rely on the Holy Spirit to produce anything good. If we try to produce ministry in the flesh we will corrupt it, but if ministry, creativity, productivity, and excellence come from the Spirit there will be fruitfulness.

How can continue to be our best?

  • Take an online class in a subject that will help you
  • Read books in various disciplines outside of youth ministry (business, theology, politics, etc.
  • Attend seminars in things besides youth ministry like social media, social justice, business and education
  • Volunteer at places that are not necessarily Christian organizations
  • Get out and talk with people unlike ourselves by joining hobby clubs or cause clubs (meetup.com)
  • Substitute teach

We can either whine or shine. Those are our options. If you do not believe we are in a competitive market, just ask the other youth pastors in your area to “loan” you some of their kids for a few weeks so you can build up your group. Yeah, that’s what I thought. Anyway, I know there will be some who still think I am off base but this is the elephant in the room at most youth pastor network meetings. We are all very supportive of each other until it starts to effect our bottom line. Do I wish things were different? Yep. Is the system we work in going to change anytime soon? Nope.

So, until the model changes, we should all continue to love and pray for our youth pastor friends, help where we can, support when we are needed, and sacrifice when we should for the betterment of the Kingdom.

Is Youth Ministry A Competitive Sport? Part I

“Where is everyone tonight?”

“I think a lot of them went over at First Church to their outreach.”

“Man, what is going on?”

Ever have this conversation before or after a youth meeting? I know we like to say we are not in competition with our brothers in Christ, and we are not. We, youth workers and programs, whether we realize it or not, ARE trying to stay competitive in 3 areas: programming, the A.D.D. nature of our students, and ourselves.

Let me tackle the first competitor: Another Youth Program

This is where my over analysis of life in general kicks in. In my town, like yours probably, there are churches that have similar programs to yours. They all have bands, great facilities, etc. When kids don’t show up to our programs, I usually go through a check list in my brain of what could draw a student somewhere else:

  • Charisma of the leader (How well they speak or interact with students)
  • Budget of the church (How much can they spend)
  • Number of students (everyone goes there)
  • Organization (how well do they plan, execute, and market their program)

Evaluating these key areas of our program can help us see where the program might be falling flat.

  • If you are concerned about your message delivery, take a speech class at your local community college, read a book on it, practice in the mirror more, or take some online training.
  • Look at the budget and see exactly where that money is going and whether you are spending it on maintenance or on outreach.
  • You may not be able to change the number of students you have right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change the momentum. Try focusing on leadership development with your students and adult leaders. Light a fire under them to lead and take ownership of the program. Let them plan it, execute it, and reap the rewards of it.
  • Make a list of some recent event that did not go so well and then tear them apart with students and other adults. Was it poorly planned or not well announced. Start tweaking how you execute. We many not have the gifts of another youth worker in our community, but we do have a vision and a mandate. Work the game plan God has give you and don’t spend a lot of time trying to mimic someone else.

Scripture tells us we are not to judge ourselves by others (2 Corinthians 10:12.) I am certainly not asking you to do that, but we can’t be naive to think that every youth worker in out community has the mentality of “we’re all in this together”, because we are not. As long as money, job security, numbers, and certain expectations are attached to our job performance, we are in a competitive race for the time and attention of students in our community. But, as I learned playing tennis, when you are playing someone better than you, you tend to try harder and seek improvement. Being competitive isn’t bad, being in competition is.

Do you feel like you are in a competition? Do you feel the pressure to compete with other churches? Is it o.k. to be competitive? Let me know, I want to hear from you. Be encouraged, God has your back no matter where you are in the pack. Part 2 coming soon.

Ten Skills Student Leaders Must Learn Now

What kind of skills do your student leaders have? How do they help make ministry happen at your church? Are they like Napoleon Dynamite and have skills that are cool but are useless like bo Staff skills, nunchuck skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills?

I have been plotting a course for my students leader group. Part of that course is not just sharing information but training in developing skills. Here are 11 skills I will be working with my student leaders for the next 3 months

Ten Skills Training Sessions

1.How To Read /Study your Bible

2.How To Share Your Faith

3.How To Organize Your Life

4.How To Pray/Pray For Others

5.How To Disciple Someone

6.How To Do Hard Things

7.How To Make Friends

8.How To Handle Relationships

9.How To Lead A Devotion

10. How To Use Social Media To Share The Gospel Intelligently

11. How To Lead A Project

This is just a primer. As Doug Fields likes to say Leaders are Learners. This list is just the beginning. Feel free to add some you are working on with your students.

It is like the old adage: Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime. How long will your kids last with what you are training them to do?

The Best Story Wins

Seen any good commercials lately? Any stick with you? I bet the the ones that did told the best story. One commercial I saw was for Pizza Hut and strangely I cannot find the video anywhere. The commercial has real Pizza Hut employees doing the commercials and the theme is Your Favorites Your Pizza Hut. Some of the themes they use are

This is not just a pizza this is

  • your kids favorite Friday night meal
  • your ball teams favorite way to celebrate

Pizza tells a story and so does your youth ministry, but is it worth telling? Here are three bad stories youth groups tell intentionally or otherwise

  • We’re right and everyone else is wrong story

This story is an old story. I understand we follow a narrow path but that does not mean we have to narrow our story so only a few can investigate it. If Jesus is for everyone,  broaden your story so anyone can hear it, understand it, and receive it.

  • We have to be bigger and better story

This is a selfish story. This makes the gospel a story about us and our group. The story is about Jesus and becoming more like Him for those who believe. For those in our ministry who do not believe, God’s story is about redemption. When we focus on us, we rob the True Story of any real power

  • Be Afraid, Be Worried Story

Is Jesus coming back? Yes. Is the world crumbling around us? Sure looks like it. Is Hell hot? That’s what Book tells me. But is  this the story we want to tell with out the redemptive nature of Christ. Too often we use the horror story of hell and the second coming as a way to manipulating students to greater commitment or to come to an altar. If this is the whole story, we’re all in trouble. I believe in telling the truth in context and not as a stand alone truth. Truth in context is a always a deeper, richer story. A solo truth, out of context, is a shallow, short story and will only motivate so far and challenge students to only go so deep.

What story is your group telling? Try writing your groups story, start with Once Upon Time There Was This Youth Group... and see where the story leads you from there.

The better stories you could tell? Coming in Part II.