10 Lessons Learned from 10 Years in Ministry

Hard to believe…10 years of Youth Ministry.  Praise the Lord for his grace, for the patience of teens and their parents, and the countless times God has brought strength to my weakness.

And get this…my article on the 10 Lessons Learned from 10 Years in Ministry has been published by Youth Specialties.  Go check it out and be encouraged.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE.

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6 Tips to Build a Student Leadership Team

In recent years, I have found great value in having a student leadership team.  It’s not cliché, its true…Jesus spent additional time with a group of men to give them individual attention and help them reach their potential to start the early church.  In these student leadership teams, the goals are on a much smaller scaled compared to Jesus and His disciples, but the goal still remains to help them reach their spiritual potential and to be the next generation of leaders in the church.  Here’s some tips that have helped make the student leadership team a reality.

Ain’t No Such Thing as Small Potatoes.  Don’t be afraid to start small.  The first year I hosted a leadership team, there were only 2 participants.  Small is not always a bad thing.  Individual attention was given.  Questions were answered.  Real progress was accomplished in this small group.

Where do is sign?  Please make sure to have an application process.  You can’t just have a sign up list on the side of the youth room, and hope each person becomes a leader.  Have some requirements right off the bat like an application, and even an interview.  The requirement of the student leadership will be lofty, so the application process should not be just putting your name on a piece of paper.

Little Help Over Here.  Don’t be afraid to go find some help with leadership training.   May I make a suggestion?  The good people at LeaderTreks, particularly the 365 Leadership Training, is a great place to start.  Additionally, I scour the Christian leadership blogs, often sent to me by ChurchLeaders, and use the blogs as an opener to each of our meeting.

Thank You For Coming…Now What?  In addition to the leadership training curriculum and leadership articles, the key part of leadership training is the concept of “level above”.  It is a requirement for each participant to serve in the church in some capacity.  But that’s not enough to just serve in children’s ministry as a volunteer.  We take it a “level above” and require the student to teach or lead a portion of that children’s ministry.  If children’s ministry is not their thing, the requirement for volunteering in other areas of the church are go a “level above”.  We discuss each person’s individual assignments at the beginning of each meeting.

Put Them in the Game, Coach.  Part of training leaders is to give them opportunities to lead.  Sounds simple, but it takes some steps of faith, patience, and willingness to allow failure.  Sure, you could plan youth events easily by yourself.  But in leadership training, you must allow them to take the lead.  In the past, I’ve allowed students to plan events like the Christmas party, Super Bowl Party, and a Compassion International event.  But the doozy was the Easter Egg Hunt.  The teens were placed in charge, planned out the schedule, sought out volunteers, made phone calls, prepped the materials…it was their show.   Talk about a step of faith.  But let me tell ya, in the end, this was a valuable learning experience in leadership that was well worth the effort.

Personal & Prayerful.  Spend some time with them.  Ask for personal requests.  Invite them over for a lunch prior to the meeting so you can get to know the students.  Find ways to make the meeting time special so students want to come, and younger students have something they look forward to.

What do you do?  How have you built student leaders? 

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Are Today’s Teen’s Putting the Brakes on Adulthood?

Recently, I read an article that made a little too much sense in identifying the current teen culture.  A culture that is dominated by screen time, technology, and social media.  But, researchers are finding the behavior of these teens is somewhat tamer than previous generations, even those just decades ago.  Well, that’s good news, right?  Well, the bad news is research is also discovering the positive news of delayed rebellious acts such as alcohol and sex has a flip side.  The negative side is these teens are delaying other social aspects of adulthood such as vital problem-solving skills, conflict resolution, and relationship building.

Generally, this article is on to something that seems to be common within the current adolescent landscape.  Take a peek at the article and see if you agree, and maybe comment on what some solutions might be to the negative side of the culture swing.

Find the Article HERE

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Book Review: The Art of Neighboring

Book Review:  The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak & Dave Runyon

The Good:

Best Camouflage is Right in Front of Your Face.  I had a high school teacher that would repeat that phrase when he didn’t notice the person in the front row raising their hand.  It tends to be true in life.  We often neglect the things that are right in front of us.  This book is one of those obvious premises that is so clear in Scripture, but we often generalize it and walk right past it.  Love your neighbor actually means to LOVE…YOUR…NEIGHBOR.  Imagine that?

Uber Practical.  If you have read my reviews in the past, you know what a big fan I am of practical books.  Don’t just give me all the information and don’t give me pointers on what to do with what I learned.  Help this poor slow reader connect the dots.  And boy does this book do that!  It gives you numerous ideas and even personal examples on how to put the principles into practice.

The B-I-B-L-E.  Pathak & Runyon do a fantastic job of using Biblical examples, typically from the life of Jesus to drive each point home.  If I’m going to step out on a limb here and start applying these bold, but needed actions, it helps to have some Biblical support.

The Bad:

Huh?  One concern I did see was on page 174.  The paragraph under the heading “Find a Partner”.  With phrases like “all truth is God’s truth”, and listing of various religions as possible partners in “honoring God”.  Could cause some confusion and almost sounds like relativism.  I don’t think that was his intention, but did raise my eyebrow.  Basically, it was not a well-thought out idea and slightly tainted the ending of the book for e.

The Grade:  B+

Well thought out practical ideas that the church needs to hear.  You want to read books that change your life, and I can honestly say this book does.  It has convicted me in how I interact with my neighbors and in the month that I have been reading this book, I’ve met at least 3 new neighbors.  Sure, not astronomical numbers, but it’s a start.  Want to be a good neighbor?  I think even Mr. Rogers would tell you, try this book on for size.

 

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Book Review: On Being a Servant of God

Book Review:  On Being a Servant of God by Warren Wiersbe

The Good:

Grandpa Wiersbe.   You can imagine the words of this book coming from a grandpa, giving their grandson advice about ministry.  Maybe I think that because both my grandpa and my wife’s grandpa were in ministry for decades.  The advice is not in a condescending tone, but come across as loving and caring.  You want to get to the page to learn more, like you are sitting on your grandpa’s proverbial knee.

Quotes For Days.  This man has a quote for everything, and each one is dynamite.  Seriously, how does he do it?  Wiersbe doesn’t just reference one or two servant books and take some nuggets to build on.  No, he grabs quotes from deep in history, professors, old preachers, and the list goes on.  No stone was left unturned to drive the point home.

Ministry A to Z.  This is like the Amazon logo of ministry books.  It takes you from A to Z of every aspect of ministry.  Both practical aspects of ministry and also the personal/spiritual side as well.  Such wisdom in these pages from a man who has lived it.

The Bad:

Nada.  Nothing bad to report.

The Grade:  A+.  This book will be on my “read again and again and again” list.  OK, I don’t really have that list, but if I did, this book would be at or near the top.  So much wisdom and practicality to this book, where it walks alongside you in ministry and drops truth bombs on every aspect of your life.  It is a must read for all those that are going into ministry, non-negotiable.

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How To Get Parents on Your Team – Part 2

Last week, I wrote on the importance of being on the same team as the parents in your youth ministry.  I cannot overstate how critical it is to have a parental connection and partnership within your student ministry.  The trust and credibility you build with parents will only bring value and growth.  Parents will provide the support you need in various ways and you will be able to provide valuable insight and encouragement to their parenting journey.

Today, I’d like to share with you one practical method of getting parents on your team.  It’s not a trick or an ulterior motive ploy.  On the contrary, you hopefully have the same heart as the parents, and that is to see their child grow in their relationship with the Lord and reach their full potential of using their God-given abilities and gifts.

One way that happens is through Parent/Pastor Conferences.  You heard me.  Why can’t teachers have all the fun with parent/teacher conferences.  After all, aren’t youth pastors/workers/leaders also teaching their children valuable material (the most valuable actually) and need to give progress updates to the parents and find ways we can work together at church and home to allow the student to achieve continued spiritual growth?  In actuality, this meeting has more significance (no offense teachers, you are most appreciated), but not because of the teacher’s place in the student’s life, but because the church teaches about that which is eternal.Shouldn’t parents and pastors sit down and discuss ways they can partner with each other to allow the teenager to fight temptation, grow in their spiritual disciplines and gifts, and experience spiritual growth.  I can hear you scream YES from here!  So how is this done?  I’m glad you asked.

  1. Pick a date. Provide a date with a wide range of times.  Example – 3-7pm on a weeknight can allow families with different schedules to attend.  Provide alternate dates to parents so they can still have time to meet with you, but encourage the conference date as a primary option.
  2. Sign-up List. During your next parent meeting, explain the parent/pastor conference and pass around a sign-up list.  Follow up with parents that may not sign up, but this provides a good base of meetings right off the bat.
  3. Make it Professional. I had my dear wife make her famous chocolate chip cookies (this puts everyone in a good mood to start the meeting) and some coffee.  I set out two leather chairs in the lobby, coffee & cookies on a table, and a sign saying I would be with them in a moment.  This is not a silly exercise, we are talking about the spiritual condition of a human being.  Take it seriously.
  4. Have a Plan. For me, I kept it very simple.  In order to stay in my 30 minute timeframe, I had 4 categories:  Concerns, Strengths, Weaknesses, & Goals.  The parents talked and I also gave my input as well.  This plan worked well in this context and kept discussion on topic and with a firm direction.  **Make sure to have plans for each grade written down and ready to go.
  5. Make Prayer a Focus. We want God to be the main source and contributor to our discussion.  So we make sure to invite God right off the bat through prayer.  Then, I make it a point to have the dad pray at the end of the meeting if he is able to attend.  This is a subtle encouragement to allow the dad to take charge spiritually within the family.  It’s always a blessing to hear parents pray for the teens you serve and care for.

That’s it.  5 steps to conducting a parent/pastor conference.  Just another way to get parents on your team.  You will be pleasantly surprised at the value this provides in your personal ministry to teens, and in your relationships with parents.  Trust, encouragement, direction, blessing, and counsel all happens in 30 minutes.  Give is a try, and get on the same team with those parents.

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How to Get Parents on Your Team – Part 1

All this discussion about football & the National Anthem, I thought I’d find some comparisons to football and youth ministry.  It’s very common for a rookie in football to make…well, rookie mistakes.  A poorly thrown interception, a missed assignment, or a blown play.  The classic rookie mistake for a youth pastor is to neglect the parents.  Some young or inexperienced youth pastors might even go as far as to see parents as a hindrance or an enemy to their progress in ministry.  Not so!

My ministry philosophy is based on Deuteronomy 6:5-7.  The youth pastor needs to be the assistant coach to the head coach, the parents.  “The responsibility for raising spiritual champions, according to the Bible, belongs to the parents…the responsibility is squarely laid at the feet of the family.  This is not a job for specialists.  It is a job for parents.”  (George Barna, Revolutionary Parenting).

The goal of the youth pastor and his ministry team is to be an assistant coach to the head coaches, the parents.  It is the parents’ responsibility to raise the children, and the youth ministry should assist with that goal in various ways.  This assistance occurs through the teaching of God’s Word, spiritual counsel and encouragement, and prayer.

Alongside those essential spiritual actions, there are practical aspects that need to be brought to the table.  A good assistance coach will help in-game planning, go to the coach when they see a player struggling or injured, and help inform the coach where they lack the knowledge.  Youth ministry is no different.  The youth ministry team should help the parents game plan.  In other words, they should help them develop the spiritual goals for their child and allow the programs and teachings to aid in reaching those goals.  Also, it is imperative for the youth ministry to go to the parents when a student is struggling spiritually.  There will be times when behavior is inappropriate, words throw up red flags, or things are said in small groups where the parents need to be made aware.  Then, the youth pastor can aid in the recovery process.  Lastly, there needs to be parent meetings that include youth culture updates, upcoming event information, discussion/advice from other parents and other essential communication that will act as support in the parenting process.  After all, it is the responsibility of the coach for the team’s behavior, but the assistant coach has a vested interest in the outcome of the game.

You want to get parents on your team?  Make sure you are on their team first.

Stay tuned for next week – a practical way to get parents on your team that will only take about 30 minutes of your time.

 

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Why Do I Want to Shake Joseph of Arimathea’s hand?

Jesus was far from home during the crucifixion.  As a result, his family did not have a tomb, or any other family’s member’s tomb they could use…In comes Joseph.

Who is Joseph?

Wealthy man – shown in the size of the tomb.  A possible reference to Isaiah 53:9, prophesying Jesus would be “rich in his death”

Member of Sanhedrin – lawgivers/judges – the group of men that pushed for Jesus’ death

Jesus’ Disciple – A follower of Jesus, secret follower…until now!

Good Man – He didn’t agree with the death of Jesus.  Recorded in Luke 23:51 & John 19:38.

What did he do?

Went to Pilate – That took some guts.  But it also took some clout, but Joseph of Arimathea had it, in his Sanhedrin position.

Ven. Bede said this – “It was divinely appointed that Joseph should be rich, in order to have access to Pilate, for no mean man could have access to the governor; and that he should be a just man, in order to receive the body of our Lord”

Took the body – Took the body off the cross and carried it off the hill, most likely with the help of Nicodemus.  A Jew, willing to defile himself – willing to do so for His Savior.

Wrapped the body – He and Nicodemus spared no expense in wrapping Jesus’ body w 75 lbs. of spices.

Laid body in the Tomb–Laid Jesus’ body in the tomb – Joseph cut with his OWN hands.

Rolled the stone – Gospels just say he rolled the stone in front of the tomb.  Maybe he and Nicodemus were power lifting partners during lunch breaks?  Maybe they used a fulcrum system?  Maybe they dug a trench and rolled the stone down the hill.

Why did he do ALL that?

Here’s the point.  He didn’t have to.  He did all this because he was willing to boldly put his faith into action.

Listen this man risked EVERYTHING:  His status, his wealth, his job, his life…to bury the Savior.  Now that’s BOLD.

But to me, it’s more than that…In heaven, after praising my Savior and my God …you know who one of the first hands I want to shake next…JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA.

Why?  Well, it almost goes without saying that good men weren’t hung on a cross.  That was reserved for the worst criminals of society.  So, normal practice was to leave the crucified bodies on the cross to be eaten by the birds, the cut down and thrown into a makeshift grave by the side of the hill.

Listen, Jesus didn’t deserve the whip, the thorns, the nails…

You want to know WHY I want to shake Joseph’s hand…Because my Savior certainly doesn’t deserve for his dead body to be eaten by birds, put into a wheelbarrow and dumped on the side of a hill.

So thank you Joseph.  Jesus had suffered enough humiliation because of my sin.  Thank you for stepping up and giving my Jesus a proper burial.  Thank you for your boldness.

[Entire Sermon can be heard/watched here – click on special messages –  9/17/2017 link]

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What is Good?

Most of the time, we have a very poor definition of good.  We read Romans 8:28, and we think of our own definition of good…

Good to us is a well-frosted piece of cake.  Good to us is a plush, cushioned recliner.  Good to us is sitting on the beach with an ice-cold sweet tea.  Good to us is when we wake up with clear sinuses, no aches/pains and low blood pressure.  Good to us is when we have some extra in our bank account for some fun purchases this month.

While these things are not bad…it shows we have little idea of how good the goodness of God truly is.  God’s goodness is more than this.

Joni-Eareckson Tada (a diving accident at 17 left her without use of her hands/legs…is now CEO of Joni & Friends International Disability Center, famous artist using her mouth, & international speaker) said this:

“God cares most – not about making us comfortable – but about teaching us to hate our sins, grow up spiritually, and love him.  To do this, HE gives us salvation’s benefits only gradually, sometimes painfully gradually.  In other words, he lets us continue to feel much of sin’s sting while we’re headed for heaven…where at last, every sorrow we taste will one day prove to the be best possible thing that could have happened.”

You see, God operates from a whole different level.  Not limited by time & space; Unlimited knowledge & power that has no bounds

BUT Put all these together and just TRY to doubt that God can accomplish Romans 8:28 in our difficulties.

Sure, good can be seen when life is riding on unicorns on rainbows while eating skittles.  But when life gets hard – that’s when we really see God work in miraculous ways.

God can orchestrate his plans, interweaving through the evils of this world, pulling decisions and circumstances from the past, present & future…allowing difficulties, exercising patience…and HE IS ABLE TO MAKE IT GOOD.

That’s my God – NOTHING can stop Him from accomplishing His goodness.  None of these things stopped God from producing good in Joseph’s life.  And NOTHING will stop him from producing good in your life either.

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Book Review: The Screwtape Letters

Book Review:  The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

I know what you are thinking.  Have you been living under a rock?  Did you just recently learn to read?  How’s come a pastor just done read this book?  Well, to be honest I grew up without much of a desire to read.  I didn’t really like it.  I’m a bit of a slow reader, a visual learner, and Calvin & Hobbes, Guinness Word Record books, and Garfield were the only books I remember completing.  So, let’s just say I’m still catching up from the days of comic books and playing outside…and beginning to really enjoy reading.

The Good:

Eye-Opening.  When you dive into the spiritual realm, it is truly an eye-opening experience.  The unseen is a fascinating place to take your mind, and when you begin to imagine the spiritual warfare that is happening behind closed doors, it truly opens your mind to what could be happening.

Just Said “Wow” Out Loud Again.  It’s true; while I was reading this book I would actually say “wow” out loud.  The reality of these temptations were so real life, it was almost shocking at times.

Mind-Reader.  The way Lewis puts the temptations and discussions between tempters, is like he could read minds.  He was a master at finding common temptations and constructing his sentences to take you to times where your mind and temptations were real life experiences.

The Bad:

Mind Tricks.  Not a knock on the book, but was a challenge.  Every time the “Enemy” was mentioned, it wasn’t Satan, it was God.  And when you heard “Our Father”, it was not speaking of “Our Father, Who art in heaven”, but the Great Deceiver himself.  So as you read, you almost had to trick your mind so you can follow the storyline and experience the spiritual battle yourself.

The Grade:  A.  Sure the language was a little older and took some getting used to…but there is a reason this book has been set to plays, quoted by a President, and read by thousands.  It is a fascinating display of behind the scenes literature.  The reader is capture by what is happening behind the scenes and capture by what might happen next to the “the patient”.  Get your mind ready, understand the context, and buckle up for an incredible ride.

 

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