Fretting Over Friday

 —  September 21, 2011 — 6 Comments

Posted by Kurt Johnston

On Friday night, I am speaking to a group of about 100 denominational youth pastors. When I asked the organizer of the event what he would like me to talk about, he gave me an answer that I’m sure was meant to free me up….to give me tons of options…to avoid putting me in a box. But, frankly, his answer has served to mess with my mind this week as I try to prepare. “Speak to us about how to reach today’s teenagers” was his reply. Simple enough, right? Maybe for you!

On one hand I get it….all of us want to know how best to reach today’s teenagers. Afterall, that’s what we are in the business of doing, right? Great topic. One everybody will be interested in!

But on the other hand….the topic is begging for a “silver bullet” answer; a formula that, if followed, will result in these youth groups reaching more of today’s teens than ever before. I’m a pragmatist (to a fault many times), and formulas often make sense to me. I like “three steps to a healthy marriage” (as if there are only THREE), and “The Keys to Financial Freedom”. Formulas, step-by-step strategies and the like usually make sense to me. So a “How to” topic would seem to be right up my alley.

But not this time. The subject matter is too important, the ramifications too high to try to boil it down to a formula, or a set of keys, or a few steps.

I can already hear my opening remarks: “Reaching today’s teenagers” is hard, frustrating, thankless work…..and there’s no way to tidy it up into a pragmatic formula.”

Crickets….crickets….crickets…crickets….

 

 

 

Posted by Kurt Johnston

I have a confession to make: In every church I have ministered in as the junior high pastor, I have had a FANTASTIC relationship with my Sr. Pastor. Seriously, I’ve never felt unsupported, disconnected, or like I had to convince my Sr. Pastor that what I was paid to do was important.

Sadly, I know that isn’t the case for many, many, many of my youth worker brothers and sisters. That’s why I’m super excited about the book, “The Disconnect…bridging the youth pastor/senior pastor gap”.

If you are struggling in your relationship with your Sr. Pastor….and if your Sr. Pastor is strugging with his/her relationship with you, this book is a must read! And, if you are blessed enough to have no need for such a book, then buy a copy and keep it as a ready gift for someone whose path you cross that would benefit from it.

Click HERE for more details about the book, and for a fantastic price!



Today I was a New Volunteer

 —  September 17, 2011 — 1 Comment

Posted by Scott Rubin

So I’ve been getting the emails from my son’s 7th grade football league, begging for parents to come help set up the fields on game days. (Can I mention that this “serving opportunity” is at 6am on Saturdays?!)

I decided to go help out – partially to remember what it feels like to be the 1st-time volunteer … who has no idea what he’s getting himself into. It was SUCH a reminder of what people might be feeling when they show up to serve in our ministries. Here are a few observations from this morning:

- New volunteers have no idea what to really expect… and don’t want to look dumb! Even though the email I got had some details for me, I still had this feeling of “uncertainty” as I walked up. I figured that everyone else there knew what they were doing, and I just didn’t want to feel awkward. (I can manage that part without anyone’s help. :)

- Don’t skip the coffee! Sure, I know they were just trying to “lure me in” with free coffee. But when I showed up not knowing exactly what to do & they said “grab a cup of coffee”, I thought to myself, “OK, I know how to do that.” The other thing that provided was a couple minutes of small talk, which helps people feel like someone actually cares about them (and that they’re more than just free labor!).

- People want to make a legitimate contribution – so give clear directions! There was another “new guy” in the bunch that morning, and we were both trying to figure out how we could do something helpful, even though it was just our first day. Any time we got clear directions, we jumped at the chance to do something helpful. A couple times, we got stuck not knowing what to do next. If that would’ve happened for very long, we would’ve wondered if we were really necessary – and probably would sleep in next week!

- “Veteran” volunteers can be welcoming — or territorial! Most of the people I met this morning were really welcoming. But there was one guy I met who made it clear at one point that what I was doing was “his” job. Oops! Sorry dude.

- Greetings & Goodbyes matter. I’m stealing that line from my senior pastor. And even though Allen (the guy in charge of football set-up) probably wouldn’t win any cute-&-cuddly contests, when I got there, he seemed really glad I showed up. And when I left, he was sure to thank me for coming, and told me that my contribution really helped. Best part? HE’S a volunteer, too!

I’m going to see some 1st-time volunteers this weekend at my church… and I’ll be thinking about what I experienced at the football field. (and, fortunately or unfortunately, because it was a good experience – I may be back at the field next Saturday at 6am!)

Posted By Kurt Johnston

I spent the last three days with a group of 100 incredible youth workers. They were gathered together to help begin dreaming about the next Simply Youth Ministry Conference.

And while the purpose of the gathering was to talk about the conference, it was not surprising that most of the conversation and quality time together had nothing to do with conference stuff. A few random highlights and observations from the past three days:

- these days there is lots of talk in some circles about things like “A painful disruption” in youth ministry. And while I agree on most levels with my good friend, Marko….I also think much of the yet-
to-be-defined change needed is already in place in youth groups all over the place. The men and women I spent three days with are bending the rules, breaking the rules, and creating new rules!

Yes youth ministry needs some painful disruptions, and here is one idea: instead of youth workers in small to average sized churches trying to become more like the large youth ministries….perhaps the large youth ministries need to become more like the small and average sized churches. Perhaps (and this may be a painful disruption) we need to somehow “flip” where the major voices of influence come from?

- youth workers are a family. The hot new word right now is “tribe”, but I’m gonna stick with the picture of family. What I experienced the past three days was a true family laughing together, crying together, disagreeing with each other, hugging each other, praying together, holding each other accountable, and cheering each other on. There was also some pain, some hurt, some brookeness and some Un-health. But make no mistake, youth ministry is a tribe….a family.

- Junior high youth workers ALWAYS stick out! There’s just no way for those who feel a special affinity for, and calling to, young teen ministry to completely blend in.

- You belong! This particular mix of youth workers is fairly eclectic. Young and old, male and female, theologically conservative and theologically progressive, large church and small church, urban and rural, full time and volunteer, feeling fresh and feeling tired. It was a great reminder that there is room in the family for each and every one of us.

- And so you don’t get the impression that I only walked away with deep, meaningful insights…during the past three days I also managed to eat sushi for the first time, attend a home game of the Denver Broncos for the first time, catch a movie (contagion….really good), have a hilarious debate on the feminine/masculine nature of God, get drenched in a thunderstorm, and meet a ton of wonderful new friends…err tribe mates….err family members.



Posted by Scott Rubin

The Fall is a great time for new visitors in jr. high ministry. We all need to be on the lookout for students who’ve never set foot in our doors (or else they might never set foot in them again!).

Every other week before students arrive, we do a “training meeting”; giving volunteers something really practical to think about, to help them serve students best as they point middle schoolers towards Jesus.

This past weekend, we talked about “meeting new students”. (whether the student is the one who’s new … or the leader is!)

A couple simple “do’s & don’ts”…
- DON’T extend your hand for a handshake!
Middle schoolers don’t shake hands with each other. What you’re telling them in that moment is “I’m kinda old, and old people shake hands.” High five or fist bump is still great … but don’t be offended if they leave you hanging. They might just be nervous.

- DON’T guess what grade they’re in!
When you see a very tall middle school girl, and innocently say “Are you in 8th grade?”, you run the risk of having her think “No… I’m a giant 6th grader, self-conscious about being 8 inches taller than all my friends. I wish you wouldn’t have brought it up!” Or when you see a short boy, and say “Hey man, are you a 6th grader?”, he may think “NO! I’m a shrimpy 8th grader, whose hormones haven’t kicked in as quickly as my buddies’ have…. Thanks for reminding me!”

- DO show interest in them!
Just asking good questions is the secret to middle-school-conversations. Don’t expect it to be a two way street, though. You’ll probably ask almost all the questions, but if you ask good ones, jr. highers often like to talk about themselves!

- DON’T ask “Yes or No” Questions!
You’re inviting a 1 word answer. And the awkward pause that follows!

Any other “DO’s” or “DON’T’s out there?? Do Share!

A Creed For Young Teens

 —  September 10, 2011 — 4 Comments

Posted By Kurt Johnston

As we all know young teens, especially boys, have fairly limited attention spans…add to that the new reality that they have been raised in a sound bite/facebook status update/twitter culture where so much of their information comes at them in bite-sized pieces.

Because of this, I have wanted to create a simple little “creed” that they can easily remember that, in my opinion holds the keys to success in life.

The early generation had coach John Woodens “pyramid of success” (have you seen the complexity of that thing?). I now offer my modern day, Tweet-sized alternative.

1. LOVE JESUS
2. WORK YOUR BUTT OFF
3. TREAT OTHERS WELL

I’m no John Wooden, but I think this sums up the three biggest traits the kids in our ministries need to pursue as they enter their teenage years….shoot, it’s probably stuff we ALL need to pursue!



Posted By Kurt Johnston

If, like so many JH ministries, you have some sort of small groups kicking off this fall, here are a few things worth considering:

- consider making them highly experiential and interactive in nature: Small groups provide a unique opportunity for the learning to be more hands-on, interactive and experiential…..which all of us know make it more effective.

-consider making the experience as important as the curriculum: This fits well with the above thought. But what if plowing through the bible study wasn’t them primary goal? What if creating an overall experience that was memorable, stretching, and encouraging was the focus?

- consider letting each group “run at it’s own pace”: No two small groups are the same….so don’t expect them all to look the same, feel the same, and progress at the same pace. what if you train your leaders to feel confident gauging the pulse of their group, and customizing it accordingly?

-consider knowing the purpose of your small group program: some of my above considerations are informed by a specific s strategy for our small groups. As you consider these ideas,and a whole bunch of others that come your way, it is helpful to have settled a basic small group strategy to help guide you as you think about stuff.

What are some things you have considered concerning small groups?

Posted by Scott Rubin

I’ve heard lots & lots of ministries (including ours) say that it’s their goal to Partner with Parents of jr. highers. But how that happens is a little tougher to pin down.

As ministries are kicking off the school year, we’re spending the next month focusing on one primary goal in this area: Meet The Parents! (or … re-meet them, if you already know them)

Here’s how it’s working for us; since we have our small groups on-site right after our weekly church service, we’re telling our small group leaders that “your day isn’t done until you walk with a student to where they meet up with their parents, and introduce yourself”! A face-to-face connection early in the year is super-important. It helps parents realize that there really is someone in our ministry who Knows their kid, Cares about their kid, and will be Praying for their kid this year. If small group leaders don’t meet parents early in the year, it’s a much tougher connect with them later on, especially if it’s brought on by a crisis of some kind.

But NOT ONLY for “new” parent-kid relationships! Our small group rhythm isn’t nearly as regular during the summer. (ok — there’s actually barely any rhythm at all in the summer!) So even for returning leaders who already know the parents of their students, a face-to-face connect early in the year is pivotal. “How was the summer? How’s your son feeling about his start to the school year? Anything you want me to know as we begin a new year of small group?”

The tougher challenge is for parents whose kid comes to our ministry, but the parent doesn’t come to our church. A face-to-face connect might not be possible, but a friendly beginning-of-the-year phone call is a great move!

We’re shooting for 90% of our parents to see the face of a ministry leader in the first month of school. How about you?