Had a chance to getaway with some of our youth ministry leadership team the past couple of days and really process some of the common pitfalls that youth pastors face as they navigate ministry. My mind has hovered around particularones that I have personally witnessed in my recent experience in youth ministry:

  • Overspending or misuse of church funds
  • Inappropriate relationships
  • Compromising staff/church policies

Let’s talk money
Want to avoid the common pitfall of mismanaging money? You need to know how to budget – for your church and yourself. Make sure you know your church’s culture for spending, get informed on spending expectations, what is or isn’t OK to purchase, and your church’s accounting policies and best practices. What is the real story behind the budget line you were given at the annual meeting. Save your receipts. Turn in reports on time. Be generous with scholarships and stingy with things that directly benefit you. Make handling money a top priority and honor the tithe money people sacrificed to give.

Let’s talk boundaries
I’ve seen several youth workers leave ministry recently because they didn’t stay faithful to their spouse, or flirted with danger as an unmarried youth worker. Don’t fall into this common trap! Don’t become another of the alarming youth ministry statistics. Allowing the possibility in your mind is the first step in a downward spiral that ends with compromises, secrets, lies and eventually your job. Make sure you have someone who is allowed full access to your online world and has the freedom to call you out if and when they see warning signs you might be in danger.

Let’s talk staff covenants
Many churches have a signature-required lifestyle covenant you agree to when you come on staff or take on a volunteer leadership role. Your integrity is on the line when you break that agreement. If you agree to it – no matter how absurd the rule may be – stick to it! Signing a covenant like this than publicly derailing it is a sign of immaturity and lacks integrity in your leadership.

Handle church financial stuff well. Keep clear boundaries with the opposite sex. Have integrity when it comes to the staff covenants you sign. What are other common youth ministry pitfalls and how do you avoid them?

JG

Whether you are a youth pastor, parent, teacher, or random person in the mall, you know that teenagers (along with several other age ranges) are addicted to technology in some form or another. It does not help that this is the most plugged in generation with iPhones, iPads, laptops, televisions, Xbox 360, and every other digital screen that you can imagine.

This has caused many people to worry. The death toll for people texting while driving in the last five years is over 16,000 people, families have transformed from Friday nights together to everyone in their own room in the basking glow of their digital device, and many teenagers are showing symptoms of withdrawal from studies that have looked at fasting from technology.

The question is, how can we as a community fight back against tech addictions? We have a few ideas for you below.

  1. Tech-Free Church Services
    What would happen if we fully turned off all tech at church and youth groups for the one hour that we are sitting in the sanctuary? This is not limited to the phones of congregation members, but includes all of the monitors in the lobby promoting the Bible studies or iPad that are used to sign up for missions trips. Retreats that have limited or no phone use (do not read “no phones” as leadership should always have a way to be contacted) can make engaging with teenagers easier.

    Maybe you ease into it and only do one Sunday a month and see the success of it. It may not seem like a long time, but soon you begin to talk to church members that you sit beside. Youth pastors now can preach and know that there is one less distraction in the room. Small group leaders know that they have their group’s undivided attention. Relationships flourish and you begin to forget about that tech.

  2. A Tech-Only Room
    So many families want to know how they can reunite their families back in their homes. Teenage boys are in their room playing Xbox, teen girls are in their rooms on the phone, dad’s in the living room watching television, and mom is on the laptop in the study working.

    One experiment that has seen significant success is a tech only room. It contains the only television in the house, the only place you are allowed to get on computers, and the only place you are allowed on the phone. This can cause an inconvenience at first and does not guarantee that families will even converse fully, but it ensures that you get to see family members while they are home. At the same time, for families that have concern for pornography or too much video game playing, this is easily monitored simply by proximity.

  3. Talk About Rules Before You Have To Enforce Them
    Setting up a culture within a church or school system or implementing rules at home that are established before any issues come up have shown to reduce the risk of anything happening before they should. Let your teenagers know what will happen if they text while driving, install the proper monitoring applications, and consistently check up on them. Let them know that if they break rules on computer and gaming usage or do something that is inappropriate, that they will punished a certain way.

    We are not looking to “punish them with the rules” but instead to protect them from the dangers that tech brings. Know why you are putting rules into place and explain it to teenagers or others so that everyone is on the same page. If there is strong pushback, at least listen to what they have to say, regardless if you plan to take their advice. This will show respect for them and may even give you a better opportunity to speak into your teens’ lives.

    When these rules are established, follow them yourself. Teens have the easy excuse right now of texting while driving because adults do it too. Be a good role model and if need be, enact the punishment upon yourself if you break it. At the same time, a reward for following the rules has shown to promote further positive-viewed behavior.

How have you seen a tech-free environment have a positive outcome?

Jeremy Smith is a youth worker at the Air Force Academy chapel, working for Club Beyond, and attending Denver Seminary for his Masters of Arts in Counseling Ministries. He has been involved in Youth for Christ for eight years — check out his blog at Seventy8Productions.



As the phone rings you dread the idea of picking it up.  It’s not about who is on the other line as much as it is what that phone call might do to your day.  As you pick up the receiver you hope it’s a call that’s quick with no follow up.  Phone calls, emails, and paperwork are only a few of the things that clutter our schedule.  The reason they clutter is not because there are many, but because they are disorganized.  And when you are disorganized in what you do, you experience:

BOUNDARY ISSUES
When our boundaries have been violated it’s easy to start throwing around the blame and losing focus on what’s important.  If you are going to have any chance of getting anything done in youth ministry, let alone survive the week you need to know what you are doing and why you are doing them.  This will help you set-up boundaries that are realistic and flexible; yet, will keep you on the right path.  To organize your responsibilities and stay within the boundaries you need to know:

WHAT IS IMPORTANT – It’s easy for a youth minister to become a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none and that’s because of a lack of focus.  If you are going to create any type of boundaries you need to know what has to fill up your day.  To figure this out you need to create a list of everything you do and narrow it down to the five most important responsibilities that only you can do.  The rest can be discarded or delegated.

WHAT IS URGENT – Urgent responsibilities are the unexpected events that have to be done; however, are not planned.  A perfect example is the death or illness of a teen in your ministry.  To work with the unexpected you need to be able to SCHEDULE IN MARGIN and COMMUNICATE WITH THOSE CLOSE TO YOU.  Scheduling in margin will give you leeway when something urgent comes across your desk like a teen in need.  Communicating with those close to you will enable you to talk about when family or personal time might need to be sacrificed.

WHAT IS DISPENSABLE – There are probably habits, meetings and responsibilities that you do that are no longer necessary.  To figure out which ones to keep and which ones to toss, list them and then by each item ask the questions, “What is its purpose?” and “How is this fueling us towards our vision?” If you cannot answer these questions toss them.  If there are ones you should keep but are not necessary for you to accomplish look at passing them on to a trusted volunteer or coworker.

When you can determine the importance and necessity of certain responsibilities you can build a healthy calendar.  The reason you leave an hour later than planned or continue to work at home is because you have organized your day.  After you know what it is you need to do and you paint out that 40 – 45 hour work week, ask God to give you the grace to do it.  After all he wants you to succeed, he doesn’t want you to compromise your family time or Sabbath.  Trust him.

How do you know what’s important, what’s urgent and what’s dispensable for your youth ministry?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more great youth ministry articles and thoughts on his exceptional blog Marathon Youth Ministry.

Hopefully yesterday you took some time to think about the tightrope of ministry and how challenging each step of the journey can be. So what are some practical ways you can do youth ministry life well? Glad you asked! Here are 4 ways we try to put into practice ourselves:

1) Talk through the calendar before you go public with it.
One of the biggest learnings we’ve had related to this topic is making sure you clear your ministry calendar with your family calendar first. This will save you a ton of headaches as you navigate little league, board meetings, and that pesky thing called your anniversary. The 24 hours it takes to complete this step are critical to success in youth ministry life. Trust us, we’ve surprised our spouses (and still do occasionally…mostly because Kurt springs stuff on Josh) enough to put this one right up front.

2) Establish some (mostly) non-negotiable family boundaries.
What night is your date night? How many nights of the week out are okay doing church stuff? When is the best time for the family to be all together? There has to be grace and flexibility on a regular basis, but stack hands on what are the non-negotiables and create some boundaries for yourself in ministry. If you skip this step, you’re going to say “yes” to everything and “no” to your family. Done that, too. Argh.

3) Build a team and empower them to help carry the load.
Youth ministry is bigger than one person—if it’s all about you, prepare for burnout and ego deflation. You can hang on for a while, but while you hang on, you’ll also bottle-neck growth in your ministry and other leaders. So why not build margin in your youth ministry life by surrounding yourself with capable people and empowering them to carry significant parts of the load?

This post was written by Josh Griffin and Kurt Johnston and originally appeared as part of Simply Youth Ministry Today free newsletter. Subscribe to SYM Today right here.



Buck the Stats

Josh Griffin —  May 3, 2012 — 1 Comment

Our profession has a problem. If you believe statistics (and 89 percent of you do), you’ll be searching for a job on Monster.com in about 36 months. I’ve joked with my friend Doug Fields that his book Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry will always be a bestseller.

This painful turnover needs to stop. It won’t be easy because many youth workers end up wounded soon after the honeymoon ends. We begin anticipating attacks (not teamwork) and jeers (not cheers). But despite all the challenges, you can stay strong for the long haul with these “lifer” tips:

• Hold some stuff sacred. To increase your chances of lasting in ministry, it’s essential to set boundaries on your time and life. Do you take a day off every week? A break might be difficult during an occasional week-before-summer-camp, but if you’re cheating too often, you won’t survive. Do you rest and exercise regularly? How’s your family life? Having a long view of ministry means putting family first. There’s a connection between your faithfulness to your spouse and your faithfulness to God. You have a problem if you’re constantly looking at your phone instead of at your own children (56 percent of you have them).

• Let some things go. Too often, youth workers want to fight over things that don’t really matter. We take a stand when we should sit down, and we speak up when we probably should shut up. If you fight for everything 100 percent of the time, you’ll be too wounded to endure. Over time, you’ll begin to understand what’s truly worth fighting for. Pause today to reflect on some things you might be grasping too tightly.

• Surround yourself with the right people. To build and maintain a long-term ministry, you’ll need the right people in your life. You’ll need: 1) a ministry cheerleader, 2) a ministry mentor, and 3) someone who doesn’t know you work at a church. Who’s cheering you on? Who’s in the stands watching you and yelling encouragement? (Eighty-eight percent of us have someone yelling at us…but it isn’t encouragement.) Who’s the wise sage nudging you on with practical wisdom? Who do you hang out with who cares nothing about your career? These people are sustaining and life-giving, and they’ll make a huge difference.

Live out of these truths and you’ll have a much greater chance of becoming a youth ministry lifer—not a statistic.

Originally appeared in the March/April issue of Group Magazine. Don’t get the magazine yet? Hit this link to subscribe and get in on the action today!

Was reading Walt Mueller’s blog this morning and loved his most recent post about boundaries with students in your youth ministry. Here’s a clip of it and would encourage you to put his recommendations into place immediately:

Over the course of my years in youth ministry I’ve learned many things the hard way. . . either by watching myself or observing friends One of the lessons I’ve learned is just how important it is for a youth worker to set boundaries. The fact is, we’re in a spiritual battle where the hearts and minds of kids are at stake. Consequently, the enemy wants to take us down. Add to that the fact that we’re all broken and sinful people trying to lead and minister to other broken and sinful people. And wherever one or more broken and sinful people are gathered together, there’s a need for boundaries. I’ve learned to appreciate boundaries. They aren’t confining. They’re life-giving. Boundaries protect us from harm and they provide for our well-being. They keep us out of trouble. And in today’s world, boundaries are more important than ever. Here are some boundaries I believe every youth worker should pursue, set, embrace, and live within.

First, don’t do youth ministry unless you have and are using an accountability network. People who decide to do youth ministry on their own without the benefit of others are usually the first to get in trouble. Find a couple of trusted friends who will engage with you in vulnerable conversation, asking the hard questions about your ministry motivations, about where you’re spending your time, and about your relationships with kids. The great benefit of this boundary is that it helps you figure out just what your weaknesses are, which then helps you set and keep other much-needed boundaries.

JG



Last week I had the opportunity to sit down for lunch with the Youth Pastor whom I replaced after he was terminated after having an inappropriate relationship with a volunteer. I had not seen him in two and a half years since the week before his dismissal and it was a bit like seeing a ghost. Churches tend to make people in situations like that disappear under the guise of it being best for everyone. Truth be told I had not made any effort to see him, nor contact him until last week. Much of this lack of effort came out of my frustration with him for the harm it caused to our students, leaders and church. I was a volunteer leader in the ministry and have been journeying with our students through the process ever since.

As we sat down for lunch, I was encouraged to hear of the restoration process for him, working through the issues, for his family as they worked to build back what was lost. As we chatted I asked him, what advice he would give myself and other youth workers to avoid getting to the place that he did and here is what he said.

Don’t Give Your Students Everything: He did not have kids himself and in many ways him and his wife treated students and leaders as their own. Loved and cared for them, but what he realized is that he had given too much to the students, too much of himself, too much emotion, time and energy that his marriage and relationship at home got what little was left.

Protect Your Home: It’s so easy for your home to become a second ministry space where students can hang out. He said that making sure it was not youth room 2.0 and not prioritizing it as a family space first was a big mistake. The home is an intimate space, be mindful of that before allowing students especially of the opposite sex to be in your home when your spouse isn’t even if its in a group setting.

Keep Healthy Boundaries: He mentioned that in the midst of the relationship that ultimately ended his ministry he had kept very healthy boundaries with everyone else. He had noted the areas where there had been break downs in boundaries and made sure that they would not be repeated with others. Maintaining an open door policy in meeting with female students in the office, not meeting after hours or in private, not driving students alone were all areas where he had let his guard down and allowed for this to happen.

It Could Happen To You: This was the most powerful thing that came up in our conversation and it was a reality that I had come to recently, that anyone of us could end up there. At first I was so mad that he would do this, to his family, to the church, to the youth ministry that I had given 10 years of service to. But as I have moved into a ministry role myself, the reality is that each of us is a few poor choices away from being there too. For him it was little steps, letting firm boundaries become blurry, entering into an emotional relationship that eventually led to a physical one. When things are rough at home and people are showering you with affirmation and coveting your time at the church, it begins there.

He said it wasn’t until he was knee deep in the situation that he realized fully what had happened and that there was no way out, lying about it delayed his world crashing in for a short time. I often wondered how it went on so long, and he said he never thought it would just go away, but this held off the implosion that was to come for a season. He was a great Youth Pastor, loves Jesus, and never intended to throw away what he felt was his calling in life. Will he ever serve in ministry again? Not sure. But he is a constant reminder of how human we are, how sin can grab ahold of us, and how every day we have the opportunity to serve God in Youth Ministry and that we could just as easily throw it all away with a few poor choices.

Geoff Stewart is the Pastor of Jr & Sr High School for Journey Student Ministries at Peace Portal Alliance Church and regularly contributes GUEST POSTS to MTDB. Be sure to check out his Twitter stream for awesome ministry goodness. Want to get in on the fun and write up a guest post yourself? See how right here.