I’m on a quest. My goal: to clean up and simplify a whole bunch of my youth ministry’s “stuff”. I think lots of youth groups are like mine…we make rocket science out of stuff that should be very simple. Take volunteers, for example. Certainly there is a whole lot that goes into building a healthy volunteer team, but what are the most basic things…the things that when done well give the best results? I haven’t thought this all the way through, but here is my initial thinking:

ENLIST: Do a good job of getting the right people on the bus. You need more volunteers, but you don’t need more of the wrong volunteers! Create some sort of system that helps you enlist the right youth workers for your junior high ministry.

EQUIP: Keep it basic, but make sure you train and equip your team. Figure out what the most essential equipping components are and focus on those.

EMPOWER: Give ministry away! Let them create new ministries! Don’t view your team as nothing more than foot soldiers carrying out your orders. Give them ownership and let them run.

ENCOURAGE: Cheer them on! Lovingly correct them when needed! Say thank you a whole lot.

What are some of the crucial, but very basic, things you do with your volunteers?

Affordable Housing

 —  February 10, 2011 — Leave a comment

Posted by Kurt Johnston

….In case you were interested in buying a vacation home, here is a steal!

posted by Scott Rubin

Last weekend we had our annual parents meeting to let our students’ parents know what we’ll be teaching in our “guy/girl series” coming up later this month. The main agenda for this meeting is to give the parents a brief idea as to what we’ll be teaching in that series (funny how they’re not as curious about what we teach the rest of the year!) — but even more so, it’s my chance to BEG parents to TALK to their kids about stuff related to the opposite gender, dating, and yes, even sex. Because you & I both know that it matters SO much for parents to have these kind of conversations with their kids!

I love having the opportunity to call parents to the challenge of having these potentially-awkward conversations with their students. I have had lots of parents contact me after this meeting to tell me how glad they were for the encouragement to talk to their kids…and over the years I’ve heard MANY humorous stories of how these conversations went!

There’s a book I’ve been reading called “Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers.” In the research that this author has conducted, he’s found that the more important religion is to parents, the more difficult it is for those same parents to talk to their kids about sex!

I’m not sure whether those parents are just more conservative, or scared, or if they figure that conversations they’ve had with their kids about “making good choices in general” will suffice. But I really believe that most middle school parents really need ENCOURAGEMENT about how important it is to talk to their kids about this topic!

Love to hear any thoughts on what you do in connection with parents for the guy/girls series in your ministry!

Posted By Kurt Johnston

There seems to be a fairly common temptation among junior high youth workers: To teach topics that don’t apply at levels too deep for the vast majority of the junior highers in their audience.

The reason this happens, I tend to think, is fairly obvious and quite understandable. After you have taught junior highers for a few years, it is easy to become bored with teaching the same “junior high friendly” lessons over and over and over again.
Seriously, how often can we teach things like “basics of the faith” or “friendship 101″ or “God made you special!”?

The answer: over and over and over again. While you are growing in your faith, getting older, moving into different life stages….your audience isn’t. You are stuck in a strange time warp of perpetual 13 year olds. Every year…year after year…your audience is a bunch of early adolescence in dire need of some of the most basic truths of Gods word.

I’m sure there are some exceptions, but I have found that the most effective junior high ministries are the ones that understand the role of age-appropriate lessons.

Sorta like shampoo….not sexy, but effective. Apply, lather, rinse and repeat.

Posted by Kurt Johnston

About a weekago, Jonathan McKee asked me to read amanuscript of his upcoming book, “Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent”. I did so partly because I like Jonathan and think he writes some pretty helpful stuff, and partly because I’m the parent of two teenagers; an imperfect one at that!

I have to say, I absolutely loved the book! It is one of those books that I will buy several copies of so I always have one ready to pass out to a parent in our ministry.

I don’t know the release date, but my hunch is it won’t be available until late Spring so it isn’t really “coming soon”, but it will be worth the wait.

Survival Instincts

 —  January 26, 2011 — 7 Comments

Posted by Kurt Johnston

For a whole lot of my junior high ministry career, there was a whole lot about junior high behavior that really bothered me. I was bothered partly because the behavior was bothersome, and partly because I felt the pressure (mostly self induced) that if I was a good youth worker, I would be able to change the behavior of my students. If you work with young teens, you certainly know the behavior I’m talking about: The gossip, the teasing, the selfishness, the insecurity, and so on.

Years later, I’m still bothered by the behavior…but not as much. Not because I know longer recognize the consequences of the way they treat each other, but because I have a better understanding of the motive behind it. Let me explain.

The junior high years are tough (remember yours?), and most young teens find themselves, consciously or subconsciously, in survival mode. They gossip because they think that helps them survive, they tease because it’s better to be the teaser than to be the teased. They are selfish because in order to survive middle school, they can’t afford to look out for anybody but themselves.

Again, this probably isn’t a conscious decision (for most, they are simply survival instincts),but when you remember the physical, social, emotional and intellectual changes our students are experiencing at this age; it makes sense that behaviors like this manifest. Shoot…behaviors like this manifest in adults who should know better!

I wonder, if instead of teaching “against” these behaviors we might find more success in focusing our efforts toward helping our students understand themselves a little better, and develop biblical “survival skills”. Perhaps. But today, I’m reminded that behaviors like this are a part of the human condition. Mine, yours and the junior highers we lead.

Random Randomness

 —  January 22, 2011 — 5 Comments

Posted by Kurt Johnston

- This weekend, for the first time ever, I am teaching on the End Times…sorta. It is the last part of our “Beginning and End” series and I am giving a very broad overview of what “the end” holds for us. Here are my main points:

1) Jesus will come back someday

2) The world as we know it will come to an end someday

3) But the end is really just a new beginning

When and How will this all happen? In God’s time and in God’s way!

- Today is my 45th birthday. For some reason, I have always had a tough time with the “5′s” (25, 35 and now…45) because it forces me to realize that technically I now have to “round up” instead of rounding down. Ouch.

- I am toying with the idea of changing our purpose statement to be a more accurate description of why our ministry exists and our current Purpose-driven paradigm. I actually like what I have landed on so far and should be ready to reveal it sometime soon.

- My tweet earlier today: “JH Ministry Tip: treat parents like students by going to them instead of expecting them to come to you.”, has resulted in a few emails asking me, “Okay…but how?” To be honest…I’m not sure! This tweet was the result of our poorly attended parent meeting which has got me wondering if we need to change our strategy and become more relationally proactive with parents. Not sure what that looks like, exactly. If you have had success please share your insights in the comments!

I was reading an article called Bullying & Blessings by Shawn Michael Shoup on the Youth Specialties web site and this statement stood out to me, “it is our privilege and calling to bless where others have cursed.” In Cameron Lee’s book “Unexpected Blessing” there is a lot of that kind of thought about blessing others & receiving blessings back. I had a very hard time taking away only two keys thoughts (which is something I make myself to on a book review) from the book because there is so many. But I did narrow it down two these two thoughts that I think would motivate me to read it again.

In chapter six, “Mercy versus the rationalizations of self-interest” Cameron says a very convicting statement that I think summarizes one of the key ideas for the book, “if we are to purse purity of heart, we must honestly admit that we hunger for so many other things besides God.” In my life as a middle school guy I often think how much nicer it would be to have the next best thing – to minister to the kids of course – that I lose focus of just that — ministering to the kids. In the first chapter Cameron hits on this hard by saying, “Our gratitude for what we already have becomes dulled by the knowledge of what we could have.” I need to constantly praise my heavenly Father for how well He takes care of me and take my focus off of the stuff I have.

Unexpected blessings come when one decides to put oneself aside and focus on God. Cameron quotes a wonderful thought from Frederick Buechner, “compassionate love begins to change from a moral exercise, from a matter of gritting our teeth and doing our good deed for the day, into a joyous, spontaneous, self-forgetting response to the most real aspect of all reality.” Some times when I don’t feel close to God I still choice to worship him and spend time in his Word. The thoughts from Cameron Lee in his book really helped me realize the importance of not stopping.

I believe God has so much more for everyone but we get so caught up in ourselves & our stuff that we miss the blessings God has for us. “Blessed are those who heed everything the Beatitudes teach and are persecuted for it, not because it is somehow blessed in itself to suffer persecution but simply because the Beatitudes point the way to the kind of life that God blesses.” This is a great read for anyone in middles school ministry and I would recommend it.