Are We Chasing Unicorns?

Unicorns are elusive mythological horses with one horn in the middle of their head. Posters of them adorn many a young girls room. We are fascinated by myths: Big Foot, The Loch Ness Monster, UFO’s, etc. People and organizations have spent millions of dollars over the years searching for these illusive creatures.

Wipe that smile off your face, you’ve been chasing unicorns for years. No really, we all have. We go from church to church or closet to closet in our churches looking for unicorns. “Are they  Christian Unicorns?” you ask. Doesn’t matter, we look anyway. We are in search of that mythological church experience. What kind of experiences? If you are a church worker of any kind here are the kinds of myths we chase:

  • The Pastor who “really” cares about students.
  • The Pastor who “really” cares about us.
  • The budget we “really” need to reach students.
  • The students and youth staff that are completely sold out to our ideas.
  • The church with the right facilities.
  • The church who will pay us what we are worth
  • The nice janitor.
  • The secretary who isn’t crabby.
  • The 80% of parents who are totally behind you.
  • The big youth group
  • The spiritual church

The list of unicorns are endless. We search high and low for these creatures seeking their magical qualities. We believe if we have them they grant us wishes and bring us happiness. The problem is, Jesus doesn’t want us to have them . Unicorns are God’s blessings, if we get them, that is great but if we don’t is should not matter because God did not call us to chase unicorns; He called us to follow Him. The devil’s trick is to whisper in our ear “There are unicorns right over there. Perfection awaits you at that church. You’ll have everything you need. You will be complete.” This is total garbage. The more we chase unicorns the more unhappy we become and the further away from Jesus we get.  But can we help ourselves. Some of us are jazzed by the hunt alone. We are like Ahab chasing Moby Dick. We spend our whole lives or careers chasing the imaginary, the perfect scenario and often wind up in burn own or worse.

I don’t know if unicorns exists. The Bible makes mention of them. But I tire of chasing unicorns. If one should appear during my travels with Jesus then I will thanks Him for the visitation but until then, unicorns will have to come looking for me.

Is Your Youth Ministry Leaking?

Day 52 and the news  (like like the oil) just keeps coming. The BP oil disaster in the gulf is a business/life/youth ministry in the making. Let me offer some advice about handling leaks:

You may be leaking students, vision, or enthusiasm , and  these are just  few of the possible leaks you may be facing. Looking at the questions coming out of the gulf, it seems we can do a better job if we will

1. Admit there is a leak. Ignoring it will not make it go away.

2. Determine the extend of the leak. Can I handle it myself?

3. Take responsibility for the leak. Someone has to own it.

4 Partner with others. Find the people in your network who can hep you fix the leak. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

5. Be ready to answer a lot of questions. Who? What? Where? How? and When?

6. Over communicate about the leak. If there is a problem, do your best to over communicate the progress you are making and the solutions you are coming up with.

7. Have a strategy for these leaks to not occur again. Collaborate to solve problems. BP just put cameras underwater to watch these pipes 24/7. Do you have systems in place to watch for possible leaks?

Leaks are bound to happen, but how we handle them is equally as important as stopping the leak itself.

In Defense of Over Analyzing

I was sitting with my daughter the other day having lunch. I mentioned that the triple caramel shake i ordered was not “caramelly” enough. Somehow the conversation evolved into my ability to over analyze things. I debated her of course but in the end she was right; but is that such a bad thing?

Reflecting on that conversation, I found other examples of my almost neurotic over analyzing. When my wife makes dinner I will sometimes say, “You know what will make this better?”

I caught my self the other day in Starbucks, asking the girl if she could recommend somethings new. She did, it involved soy milk, but I got it anyway. As I sat and enjoyed the drink, the over analyzing gremlin came to me again, “What would have made this transaction perfect is if she came over to me and asked me if I liked it.”

My daughter tried to convince me that this trait of intense examination is bad. I say we don’t look deep enough for the perfect.

I see my compulsion as the spirit of innovation. I mean really, if we didn’t ask, “How can this get better?” We’d still be riding horses, working on PC’s (thank you MAC), and drinking regular coffee (thank you Starbucks)

It is because we accept everything as it is that we live average lives, eating at average places, and live slightly above average Christian lives. Some of my favorite verses in scripture involve analysis:

2Cr 13:5“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” KJV

Lam 3:40Let us search out and examine our ways, And turn back to the LORD;” NKJV

Psa 26:2Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; Try my mind and my heart.

1Cr 11:28But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of [that] bread, and drink of [that] cup. KJV

We often do not examine our life our youth ministry because we are afraid of what we might find. I say , look, examine, pull apart, re-tool, cry, scream and dance, because if we do not dig deeper, the result is more average. And do we really need another homogenized, average youth ministry or life for that matter?

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living” .

I say, “The unexamined youth ministry is not worth leading”

What say you?

EAVB_EMLQVPIVIK

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.

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Go Blow Some Leaves

As a full time youth worker, I sometimes I spent to much time in the office. Too much time in the office leads to more paper work and less inspiration. As I started to get our more, my creativity increased. Manual labor takes  me away from the mundane and gets me foccused on one task, like blowing leaves.

Blowing leaves is simple. Most blowers are point and shoot. It’s not complicated. I don’t have any scientific evidence for this but let me tell you my theory. The simpler the task, the less my brain has to work. Youth ministry is filled with 100 moving parts like relationships, volunteers, kids in trouble, dealing with your pastor, etc. Sitting in your office, you have no choice but to let these 100 moving parts cycle through your brain like a ViewMaster.

During my time blowing leaves I thought of this blog post. Why? I had nothing else to think about. My brain just ran free. I blew leaves for a few hours, sweated my stress away, and came up with a few new resource ideas.

I know, I know, many of us became youth pastors to stay away from manual labor and sweating. When you have reached your stress point or the bottom of your creativity barrel, try grabbing a leaf blower, it might just do the trick.

The Base vs Swing Voters: Three Things I Learned

I am a kind of a political junkie, so when I hear pundits talking about the upcoming elections I listen through my special youth ministry headset. That is what sparked this latest post. The question posed was “Should the politician go after the base or the swing voters to get elected?”.

In my  first 2 youth ministries,  I was torn between reaching the lost or fringe kids and ministering to church kids. Sometimes I have been  at odds with the expectation of parents, staff, and myself. I would get a head of steam and say  something stupid like, “If these kids won’t win the lost, I will!”. Yeah, I got far with that. The problems were many and varied

  1. I would inundate the group with lost kids and our group started to lose its shape and identity. The  group was not prepared to receive the lost, the lost were simply lost due to holes in our net. What I learned: If a group is not properly trained, the connections  won’t be made.  I should have trained  our group that we were not just some youth group but God’s church.
  2. I did not get key people on my side such as leaders, the pastor, or parents. Swing voters may come, but they won’t help you when times are tough. They are committed to the fun, not the process. The swing voters will simply swing to other youth groups and churches.
  3. I didn’t follow Jesus’ model. Jesus appealed to his base. He trained the 72 and the 12 and sent them out. Swing voters are like men Jesus invited to follow Him and they gave excuses. The base’s response , “To whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

I am not saying we should not win the lost but, if you are banking on swing voters to get you “elected” you may lose your base and eventually the election (a.k.a job). Love your base, train your base, send your base.

Team Building Advice from Uzziah

Here are some Team building Tips from Uzziah

He went to war against the Philistines and broke down the walls of Gath, Jabneh and Ashdod. He then rebuilt towns near Ashdod and elsewhere among the Philistines. God helped him against the Philistines and against the Arabs who lived in Gur Baal and against the Meunites. The Ammonites brought tribute to Uzziah, and his fame spread as far as the border of Egypt, because he had become very powerful.

Uzziah built towers in Jerusalem at the Corner Gate, at the Valley Gate and at the angle of the wall, and he fortified them. He also built towers in the desert and dug many cisterns, because he had much livestock in the foothills and in the plain. He had people working his fields and vineyards in the hills and in the fertile lands, for he loved the soil.

Uzziah had a well-trained army, ready to go out by divisions according to their numbers as mustered by Jeiel the secretary and Maaseiah the officer under the direction of Hananiah, one of the royal officials. The total number of family leaders over the fighting men was 2,600. Under their command was an army of 307,500 men trained for war, a powerful force to support the king against his enemies. Uzziah provided shields, spears, helmets, coats of armor, bows and slingstones for the entire army. In Jerusalem he made machines designed by skillful men for use on the towers and on the corner defenses to shoot arrows and hurl large stones. His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped until he became powerful.

2 Chronicles 26: 6-15

1. Uzziah had an army equipped for combat

If you work with teens you know that Sunday School, Small Group, or midweek can be like combat. You have to deal with that parent, that kid, the adult worker. How well equipped are your youth leaders to deal with problem situations? Make sure that your leaders understand that youth ministry is fun but it can be messy. Help them understand what they are getting into without scaring the bajeebers out of them. Make sure you include sessions with your leaders on how to deal with the hard stuff (correcting a student, dealing with a parent, etc.) of youth ministry and you will make them battle ready.”

2. Uzziah equipped and broke down his team into smaller manageable bites..

Uzziah broke down his troops into bite sized pieces. Looking at a vast army can cause panic. What am I going to do with all these people? Look at your team and see where or how you can group them. If you have a large group, try breaking your youth ministry into smaller pieces so your current or future adult leaders can grab a slice easily.

3.Uzziah made sure they knew their assignments.

Each division knew what  their role was. if your adults seem kind of confused as to what their role is try making up some job descriptions that will lay a track they can run on. In addition, if you have a planning meeting, make sure everyone is clear on their assignments (who is in charge of what and when). This will cut down on any confusion at your next event.

4. Uzziah equipped them with everything they needed.

Does your Sunday School or Small Group leaders have all their material in a timely fashion? Do they need pens, sign in sheets, props, etc. Do your drivers have directions? Do your parents have calendars? All of these things are like swords, shields, and spears to a warrior. Youth leaders who have what they need when they need it can do their ministry with greater confidence. It is the role of the leader to see that the troops have they ammo they need to do what needs to be done.

5. He organized first and got creative later.

This is/was my problem. I wanted to be creative not organized; but I found out that if I will get organized first it will create the room  in my life and brain to be creative later. If I am so busy putting our fires or playing catch up I will not have time to be creative and think of that next big thing or read that new book. One will lead to the other. Uzziah had time to create kick butt weaponry because his team was organized. Organize, then be creative.

The Draft For Youth Workers

We care about rankings and who gets chosen and in what order. Did you get excited or groan at the recent NFL draft?  Did your team make a good choice? You could hear the cheers and jeers from fans in the  gallery. They voiced their opinions at the choices their leaders make. What about you? Do people groan or cheer at your picks?

Jesus had a draft. Who he chose and more importantly who he did not choose, tells us a lot about the team he wanted and the kind of championship He was playing for. Youth workers do not get to set the pace for the most part, this pace is set by the church, pastor, or board. Sometimes your team is set by the same people. When you do get to draft,  what should you be looking for?

  • Servitude over Stats. The number of years one has been doing something only means they know the system better than anyone. Time does not equal a willing heart. Veterans can actually hold back the team if they are committed to running the same plays they’ve always run. Look for those who are used to leaving it all on the field and are open to new ideas.
  • Humility over Hubris There were those players yesterday who thought they should have gone higher in the draft. The higher you are picked, the more money you stand to make. There will be those who believe you are making a big mistake by not picking them to lead out in front. Choose them lower in the draft. This will give them time to reflect and become a better team player.
  • Expectations over Excuses Team players who are always making excuses why the ball slips, why they missed a block,  etc. won’t make clutch plays when you need them. Look for people who are quick to say  “my bad, let’s try it again.” Those who are quick to own their mistakes will be more committed to the overall goals of them team and not just their own agenda. look for those who have high expectations of themselves and you.

As you start looking around for draft picks, don’t fall into the trap of looking for only the young, energetic, and creative. Make your picks wisely, but once you pick them or God assigns them to you, train, equip, and lead them to victory.

Turning Teens Pain Into Purpose

I’ve seen a series of stories lately about teenagers making a difference. The latest story I saw was about girl with a painful knee condition. The only time she had relief was when she was laying down and reading. She said, ” “When I read, it’s a real escape,” Bearup says. “I try to take myself into the book instead of in the real world where I’m in so much pain.” She matched her pain with her love of books and started to collect books to give to homeless shelters. To date she has donated over 38,000 books in multiple states. You can read the rest HERE

How can we, as leaders, help teens see their pain can have purpose? With me, it was the loss of a father. I have a soft spot for young men who are looking for identity with a father figure. Think of the hurting kids in your youth ministry. Is there a ministry waiting  to be born? Where do we start?

  • Be open to seeing students as ministers.
  • Give them time to work through their pain before asking them to think about ministry.
  • Let it be the students idea.
  • Confirm that their are no scraps. God uses everything in our lives, even our pain.
  • Keep you eyes open for stories like the one above and share them with your group.

God’s working, even in our hurting kids. Beauty from ashes.