It felt like I grabbed a can of Mountain Dew the moment I became a youth pastor. At first glance, it seemed like a prerequisite for ministry was a charismatic personality. Even the clarity of the Bible created some confusion, for the Apostle Paul said, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” introvert-extrovert

That’s the truth that caused me to lean into a lie. I wanted to see the people I cared about in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ and assumed the only way I could do it was to become the life of the party.

I wonder how many of our students feel the same way.

Think about it: Is there a vibe that kids have to constantly bring their friends to youth group? What if they only have one really good friend who isn’t interested? How about if they don’t want to stand up and play your “stupid game”?

Time for a gut check. Does your ministry have as many on-ramps for introverts as it does for extroverts? Here are some ideas:

  • Before programs: Offer comfortable seating where quieter kids can come early, relax, or play video games. Provide set-up tasks they can help with (and give them a cool team name, like “Roadies” or “Techies”).
  • During programs: Help introverts take risks by not embarrassing them. Ask them ahead of time if they’d be willing to read Scripture, help with an object lesson, or do something significant behind the counter. Advance planning creates the runway for introverts to soar from.
  • After programs: Some introverts like to slip out fast when your program concludes. Assign at least one leader who will learn that student’s story and catch them with a simple question on a weekly basis, such as “How can I pray for you this week?”
  • On trips: Introverts may feel uncomfortable sharing a huge tent or being packed into a van with their peers. Let them bunk with their best buddy, and be sure to build in rest stops at malls, restaurants, or open areas where they can feel alone (yet always be within sight of the leaders).

Keep in mind that introverts may not fit the stereotype (and they may not want to). As I said, I became an extrovert for what I sensed were noble reasons. Even though I didn’t have the spiritual gift of evangelism I wanted to become more conversational and social in order to “do the work of an evangelist.”

How is this fleshing out in your church and youth group?

  • Do you see quieter kids “trying on” different personalities?
  • Has your personality (or someone else’s) become the “right” one to have?
  • Is there any kind of expectation that people have to become someone they’re not in order to communicate who Jesus is?

Introverts

What other things should we think about when it comes to serving students who may fall more into this category? For example, is it possible to swing too far toward introverts? I’ve seen a fair share of “postmodern” environments where all the contemplative prayers and incense make the extroverts run out the door to play dodgeball. I’ve even wanted to join them.

Share your thoughts, and thank you for loving students!

- Tony

Can we try it again?

Last week we had a great dialogue on the topic of gay youth, the Boy Scouts of America.and a new alternative called Trail Life USA. The ground rules were simple -

“Let’s see if we can keep this respectable and God-honoring. Remember, the eternities of students are on the line.”

The goal here isn’t a debate on homosexuality, but on what it means to be a youth worker in the trenches of this ongoing topic. Whether or not you have a student in your ministry who is actively walking in this tension, your teens likely know someone who is.

On that note, I’d like to share a link my friend Darren Sutton passed along. His comments under the headline were “Wow. Courageous and unexpected.”

My curiosity peaked immediately.

2012-09_LT-GayCatholicFine1

Especially when I saw the headline: Gay, Catholic and Doing Fine.”

You really need to read the whole article, although I will offer two quotes here:

I have heard a lot about how mean the Church is, and how bigoted, because she opposes gay marriage. How badly she misunderstands gay people, and how hostile she is towards us. My gut reaction to such things is: Are you freaking kidding me? Are we even talking about the same Church?

Actually, the only time I get shock or disgust or disbelief, the only time I’ve noticed people treating me differently after I tell them, is when I tell someone who supports the gay lifestyle. Celibacy?! You must be some kind of freak.

I’d like to again raise some questions in the vibe of what I did last week. For example:

  • How do you feel about this young man taking the approach of celibacy for the sake of his walk with God? In his words: “So, yes, it’s hard to be gay and Catholic — it’s hard to be anything and Catholic — because I don’t always get to do what I want. Show me a religion where you always get to do what you want and I’ll show you a pretty shabby, lazy religion. Something not worth living or dying for, or even getting up in the morning for. That might be the kind of world John Lennon wanted, but John Lennon was kind of an idiot.”
  • Is it healthy to loop “Catholic” and “gay” together? Hear me out on this – I don’t want this to become a word study of 1 Corinthians 6:9, but perhaps we do need to nod to 1 Corinthians 6:11 as we consider the implications for youth ministry. That verse comes after a number of things the Bible lists as sins, adding (emphasis mine), “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”So if your church or denomination takes a stance on something, might it confuse youth to say, “You can be a ___________ and a (Catholic/Methodist/Baptist/etc).” Is that one step away from “You can be a ____________ and a Christ-follower?” Should the target instead be, “Receive Christ. Embrace your new identity and Story. Your sin nature no longer has reign over you, and the Holy Spirit will help you face the temptations for sins that will still swarm in on you.”
  • Honesty time – how much of your first reaction to those last two questions was filtered through your personal view on this topic versus your willingness to walk into the grace and holiness of God? No, really… how much? Is it possible more people know your personal platform on this topic more than they do your walk with the Lord? Maybe we need to take a cue from the person who wrote the blog.

Quick tip – before you hit reply, sift through that last question a bit and remember the ground rules for our discussion here. This isn’t a post about homosexuality, but about how we minister to where students may fall on this as they process it all. Try to share Jesus and not your platform. Thanks!



Scouting for Alternatives

Tony Myles —  September 12, 2013 — 17 Comments

Boy Scouts of AmericaYou probably have an opinion about this.

According to NBC News, a new Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts of America has started in response to BSA voting to drop its ban on gay youth earlier this year. The new organization – Trail Life USA – has the support of more than 1,200 former Scout officials, parents and youth from 44 states who attended a two-day national leadership convention for it.

The article quotes different fathers who are trying to voice their position on participating in the new group. One of them is John Stemberger, a former Eagle Scout, father of two scouts and Orlando Attorney:

“I want to have a prominent faith component that will be weaved in every fiber of the program… but at the same time, we are not going to become religious and churchy. This is not another church program. This is going to be a masculine outdoor program to raise young men… I want to be clear: We are not an anti-BSA organization. In fact, we are not an anti-anything or anyone organization.”

So… the story did make the news. Why is that?

I wonder if it’s possible for us to have a professional discussion here about this issue. Not a mean-spirited one where we jump into debate mode, but some observations and theorizing about how this might affect youth ministry.

For example:

  • Is a youth group allowed to create its own policies on expressions of sexuality? Can you ask a barely dressed teenager to not come into your setting or two heterosexual teens who are all over each other physically to leave anymore than you can discourage two gay students from holding hands?

    Keep in mind, I’m not asking if you should… I’m asking if you think you’re allowed to.

  • Has culture really turned the right for personal pleasure into a moral issue? If so, how in the world do you impart a higher value of listening to God on such matters?

Maybe you have some thoughts on that, or perhaps even some questions of your own.

Let’s see if we can keep this respectable and God-honoring. Remember, the eternities of students are on the line.

Twitter is full of parody accounts, including some that only those who serve in a church may fully appreciate.

For example, here’s “The Deacon.”

Committee meetings all weekend... wish I was the pastor. Then I could just preach and go home. #ifonlypeopleunderstood #hardwork

Or if you like your deacons a little more “surly,” try the “Surly Deacon.”

Don't start any trouble at my church. I'll be all over you like a worship pastor at a skinny jeans sale.

There are those who represent the grumbling we hear from the congregation, such as the “Church Curmudgeon.”

When we've been there ten thousand years, we may just get to sing Amazing Grace the normal way again.

Then again, it’s worth noting hard pastors can have it via “Unappreciated Pastor.”

Moses' staff split the Red Sea. Mine split the church.

The “Bad Church Secretary” fesses up a bit, too.

I reminded the youth pastor he's preaching tomorrow. He'll be to embarrassed to ask around and find out he isn't.

How about a “Mad Worship Leader?”

Sure we're taking requests for this Sunday morning service.... just a sec and let me put the Holy Spirit's leading on hold... we aim to please!

How about an “Uncensored Pastor“?

Thanks for telling me how unhappy you are at our church. I was just sitting here wondering if we were making you happy or not.

Another strong one is “Stuff Christians Say.”

Changed the Wifi network at church to 'Jesus is watching you'   Bet those teens think twice about where they go online now

 

Lots of fun, right?

Now…

how about those directed at the Youth Ministry nation?

There’s the “Mistreated Youth Guy

Met a lady today who says she goes to the church I work at but was surprised to hear I've been the Youth Minister there for a couple years.

Or the things a “Youth Pastor Says.”

You really need to cut a larger check for the youth designated fund...I looked

A “Hipster Youth Pastor” chimes in.

I lose followers when I make fun of church camp

As well as a “Bitter Youth Pastor.”

Hey Young Life! Heard your game last night involved twerking and eating Oreos out of each others' mouths. I'm sure Jesus was glorified!

There’s even a “Ghetto Youth Pastor.”

I HATE YOUTH - Every youth pastor immediately following all major events

Not to mention a “Smug Youth Pastor.”

Still looking for the ultimate.....full time pay w/part time effort.

How does this make you feel?

A few weeks ago, I shared a post about Christian Hipsters that had its share of support and criticism. I wonder if when we read about a niche group in the church we enjoy the laughter but feel even just a tad bit defensive when we’re the ones under the spotlight?

Got a thought on this? Know of another parody account worth taking a look at?

Chime in.



awesomeYou know that one thing you just did? Or that next thing you’ll do?

They’re the GREATEST things in the world, and you’re “incredibly humbled” to be do them.

Right?

Welcome to the “humblebrag.”

A Wall Street Journal article describes it this way

“Whether we like it or not, and especially on social media, we’re all self-promoters, broadcasting even our quasi-achievements to every friend and follower.”

The phrase was coined by Harris Wittels who explained that the “humblebrag” is when someone overtly boasts while covertly side-stepping coming across as bragging by wrapping it up in some type of humility

tweet

That’s something Christians can be culprits of just as easily as others.

And why not? Don’t we have the Greatest Message in the world to communicate? And aren’t we all “super excited” at the latest way we’ve found to share it?

  • “Hey, check out my YouTube video…”
  • “You should click on this link…”
  • “Read this post…”
  • “Could you retweet this…”

It’s what you say when someone asks how your last service or event was:

  • “Oh, it was incredible! You should have been there! God did something awesome! And, well… I was just thankful to be used by Him. I always am.”
  • “Well, the pastor was on vacation… and I don’t know if it’s okay to say this, but a few people told me they like my preaching a little better than his. I think a revival may break out soon.”

It’s how you describe the next thing that your name is attached to:

  • “Hey, you need to get your friends out to our next outreach thing. I’m going to bring my ‘A-Game’ and expect you to bring your school out to hear it… you know, so God can work through me.”
  • “I just wrote this blog post that I think just may change the future of how we do what we do. I’m super humbled to share this with you.”

It’s how you let everyone know your life is going well:

  • “Yay! We just became debt-free! It meant living off of croutons and Kool-Aid for six years, but we dropped a few pounds so it’s all good.”
  • “I’m soooooo grateful to have such a super-sexy, always-praying-on-the-knees-while-singing-worship-songs-and-writing-new-ones spouse who made me breakfast in bed today while writing out our tithe check.”

Granted, those are a little over the top and exaggerated. I’m guessing you saw yourself or someone else in them, though.

(In fact, it’s a whole lot easier to see this in others… isn’t it?)

tweet2

It’s worth a gut check:

  • How often do you look for a reason to talk about God and toss yourself in there?
  • How often do you look for a reason to talk about yourself and toss God in there?

I’d love to hear your observations or pet peeves on this.
Maybe even share a few creative youth worker “humble brags.”

Oh… and while you’re thinking of some, make sure you check out my new book Uncommon Wisdom From The Other Side that came out this week. It was a labor of love to write it, but I’m “super excited” for how it turned out.

(Ahem… see what I did there? And you’re welcome.)

Lazy
If you, like me, have the privilege of actually getting paid a full-time salary to work with teenagers, you are in a rare category…and you are probably lazy, like me.

Full-timers: Because you work lots and lots of hours every week, you are probably really struggling with my accusation.
Part-timers and volunteers: Because you work lots and lots of hours every week ON TOP of your youth ministry role, you probably have a smug, “it’s about time…” look on your face right now.

Full-timers, indulge me for a minute.

- Do you regularly take 2 full days off each week? Volunteers and Part-timers usually don’t…they are doing youth ministry on their day off.

- Do you get paid for the week you are at Summer camp? Volunteers and Part-timers usually don’t…in fact they often have to use one of their hard-earned vacation weeks to attend camp.

- Did you take an extra day off the week following Camp? Volunteers and Part-timers probably didn’t. They were right back to grind.

- Do you ever roll into work a couple hours late the morning after a big event, or after mid-week because you “worked late”? Volunteers and Part-timers probably aren’t allowed to do that by their other boss.

- Do you ever hang out on facebook, update your fantasty football team or pin something on Pinterest on “church time?”. volunteers and Part-timers could get fired from their jobs for doing the same thing.

- Do you ever go to the dentist, go to your child’s football or soccer practice or take an extended lunch with your spouse on church time without reporting it to HR? Volunteers and Part-timers don’t have that luxury.

I could keep going. But I’ll spare the full-time youth worker community any more embarrassment! I’d be willing to bet that nobody in the full-time youth worker kingdom is “busier” than I am: I lead a team of 20 full-time staff and hundreds of volunteers that minister to thousands of teenagers each week. I serve on our executive team and my boss is Rick Warren. I am expected to give oversight and direction to the youth groups of six regional campuses and prepare for the launch of youth groups in TWELVE international campuses; each in a different country. I blog a little, create a few resources and speak here and there, too.

AND…I get paid for the week of summer camp, take an extra day off (or two) after each camp, roll into work a couple hours late after events that keep me out at night, I update my fantasy team from my office and go to the dentist and attend my son’s sporting events on company time. Benefits that my busy volunteer and part-time friends probably don’t enjoy.

Maybe I’m not “lazy”…and you probably aren’t, either. But I am fortunate, blessed, honored, privileged and overjoyed that God tapped me as one of the lucky ones. Typically I encourage youth workers to avoid the temptation to compare their lives to those around them. But today…and maybe every time you feel a little overwhelmed by your role…take a second to shift your focus from the junk of full-time youth work to the joys; from the pressures to the perks; from the busyness to the blessings.

When I focus on the junk, pressures and busyness of my ministry life I get overwhelmed and whiny.
When I focus on the joys, perks and blessings of my ministry life I want to work even harder at it.

Thoughts? Bring it on!



scaleYou probably got into ministry for all the right reasons.

I may not know you, but I do know myself. If we’re at all alike, there’s a good chance something else is true of you.

Some days you’re in ministry for all the wrong reasons.

Maybe it’s not as obvious as you’d think.

  • You serve God.
  • You rearrange your schedule for students.
  • You bend over backward for parents.
  • You lobby before your church leadership in all the right ways.
  • You’re not trying to trick people out of their money.
  • You don’t attempt to be the “sexier” youth group in town.

It’s as if every time people see what you’re doing, you’re caught living out the best template for ministry you can think of.

The problem is you can be doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons.

There’s a situation in my life right now with a disgruntled group of people who have found joy in being disgruntled together. They’re people I’ve loved and invested some of my best energy into, from teens I mentored and took on mission trips to adults I scrambled to serve. One of the louder households left our church and began complaining “sideways” – subtle enough to go unnoticed by most, but potent enough to create a funk that I’m still not sure what to do with. It’s as if no matter how hard I try to live out some of the most basic principles in Matthew 18 on reconciliation I’m met with misunderstanding, evasiveness and slander.

I’m doing all the right things.

At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

What I eventually realized is that some days it’s for all the wrong reasons.

There are moments that I want to be vindicated.

I want to work out the misunderstanding, because I hate having people say things about me that aren’t true- especially when I have put so much energy into doing the right things. If I dove into the reason why I do so, it is my human pride wanting to assert itself. I have to make clear that the door to reconciliation is open, but if they never walk through it or continue to group up on this then a part of me needs to turn this over to God.

Check out what the Bible reveals on this:

  • God has a pattern of vindicating His people as a whole.(Deuteronomy 32:36)
  • Humans have a desire to be vindicated individually by their behavior. (Job 13:18)
  • People who watch us will notice our desire to be vindicated and may assume the worst. (Job 11:1-2)
  • Jesus was vindicated by the Spirit – not other people. (1 Timothy 3:16)
  • We will only experience real vindication when we spend time face to face with God. (Psalm 17:15)

If you don’t get this right, then all of the serving you do will come across as ministry perfume and not the genuine scent of Jesus Christ.

Wrestle with this. Consider what you’re doing to get people to think or say better things about you. Give someone else permission to point out when you build a case against a case someone has built against you.

Otherwise, it will leak out. To quote William Ury, “When you are angry, you will make the best speech you will ever regret.”

Thank you for loving students!

There’s a reason why certain song lyrics seem to resonate with those in ministry. I often find myself listening to “Some Nights” by Fun, “Superman” by Five For FIghting and “I Will Wait” by Mumford and Sons with a sort of intuitive understanding that they were written just for me. Maybe you’ve also experienced the fatigue and heartache of trying to balance the tensions of serving God and people.

After all, in ministry all things are not often equal:

All Things Not Being EqualThere are some days you will not be invited to the party.
There are some days you will be the first on the list.
Those days won’t always equal out.

There are some days the needs will outmatch the resources.
There are some days the resources will outmatch the needs.
Those days won’t always equal out.

There are some days you will be misunderstood my the masses.
There are some days you will offer Mass for the misunderstood.
Those days won’t always equal out.

There are some days you will need more chairs for all the people.
There are some days you will need some of those people to leave.
Those days won’t always equal out.

There are some days when your phone won’t stop ringing from strangers.
There are some days when once-good-friends won’t even text you back.
Those days won’t always equal out.

There are some days when you’ll watch whole people get distracted by half-baked slander.
There are some days when you’ll watch half-baked people come up with whole wisdom.
Those days won’t always equal out.

There are some days you will disciple Judas.
There are some days you will disciple John.
Those days won’t always equal out.

There are some days you will remember why you keep doing this.
There are some days you will forget who you are.
Those days won’t always equal out.

What else have you seen when it comes to all things not being equal?