church too

This past week I had the amazing opportunity to spend time with a small church in Tampa, Fl helping them with some strategic planning.  They are a perfect example of so many houses of worship in the US today.  Decades ago when the doors first opened it was placed in a primarily “Anglo” middle-class neighborhood.  As years have worn on the congregation who “grew up there” have become commuters while the community has changed around them.  The main road to the church that once was barren now holds stores as evidence of the Colombian, Venezuelan, Peruvean and Vietnamese population that has moved in.

The church had a choice to make:  Do they move where they worship, keep the “face” of their congregation the same or actively open the doors to the community at hand? We all know the “Jesus” answer.  However, the reality is I have known churches who have moved, and others who have made sure the changing neighborhood knows they are not really welcome. They decided to welcome in the large number of primarily Hispanic and Vietnamese neighbors at their door.  This has caused a unique set of challenges, the least of which is all becoming multi-lingual. It’s funny how you believe you came to serve and the Lord teaches you so much more than you had to give away.

Here is what I learned:

1.  Unity takes Action

It’s easy to go “do an outreach” in our backyard. Then we can invite those we meet to what we offer anyway. However, when you recognize the people in your pews are a now a different mix of people, it takes work to bring unity. First, they invited a Columbian pastor from the area onto their staff.  Then they held services in  both Spanish and English with an integrated service once a month. These were first steps. We came in to help as they work intently towards becoming a multiethnic church  as one total body of Christ. This means thinking through various languages, cultural differences and styles of leadership in all they do and offer.

 

2.  Beware Of Pre-Conceived Ideas

As I met the Hispanic congregants they were clear they didn’t want to be seen as a “ministry” of the church.  The current church body were already welcoming in addicts, the grieving, the mentally ill and reaching those in prison.  The new members would identify themselves as previously disconnected from church but not those living on the fringes of society.  As we reach out it’s important we talk to those we invite in. We may see them as more “broken” than they see themselves. They may not want to be added to the list of those we “outreach.”

 

3.  Involving ALL Families

This church had a deep history of mercy and love.  This meant that it’s youth group was full of primarily “unchurched” teens prior to the church opening it’s doors to the community. Families coming from the neighborhood come from a culture of tight-nit almost over-protection of their children. There are actually an equal amount of single Dads to single Moms. As the church seeks unity one challenge has been teaching to groups who have grown up in the church alongside those who have never heard anything about the Bible. This means they have had to rethink the way they approach all of their programming to include ALL families, from ALL backgrounds. It would be easy to exclude some parents and just focus on their children.  Instead they are finding creative ways to bring the FAMILY to a deep relationship with Christ,  even when it’s complicated.

Walking the journey with this little congregation has left me a lot to think about the way I have approached my own community and notions about who lives there.  Yes, I happen to live in “the hood,” however, it doesn’t mean all who live there are “stuck in a place of survival mode.”  It leaves us with a choice as we “do” church.  Are we willing to take any step necessary not to only invite the community in, but will we seek intentionally to meet them at their deepest need?  This may mean giving a cold cup of water on a hot day,  it might mean learning a language we never knew or it just might mean that we ask them first the question:

“What is your deepest point of need?”

How is your church or youth group working to outreach into your community?

 

 

 

 

 

Constitution Progress

Our High School Life Groups recently went through the “What on Earth Am I Here For?” a small group series by Rick Warren. One of our great small group leaders, Nathan Wells (who happens to also blog at http://www.nothingworthreading.com/) told us about something really cool they did during week 3′s topic of fellowship:

When we got to week three, the topic was on Fellowship and this unknowingly opened a Pandora’s box for our guys to get real. In this series Pastor Rick divides the concept of fellowship into four main categories:

  • SHARING Together (Your Experiences, Your Support)
  • BELONGING Together
  • SERVING Together
  • SUFFERING Together

We asked the guys to rate themselves on a scale of 1-5 of how they thought they act in general and how they act in Life Group in these four categories. Some rated themselves more graciously than others. After which, we (the leaders) made a general statement to the whole group that we didn’t think they were as high rated as some of them thought they were. (This was an intentional sting to get them to critically analyze this idea; we have a 3-year relationship).

The product of this was a strong conversation about what our problems are in our Life Group. We put each category up on the wall and made a list of things of why they felt it was hard to fulfill these categories. On a following week, we then drafted plans on how we could resolve these problems. We went through each item critically and devised solutions on how to counteract them,

By the end of the three weeks and after many conversations, we typed up all the things that were shared. We needed to have a way of organizing the commitments they developed to help change the problems, so we decided to borrow the format of the US Constitution for organization purposes. This can be misleading, because it is not a list of rules or laws, but rather a list of commitments. We also noted that our Life Group operated within the same checks and balances as the U.S. government.

  • God – Judicial (Ultimate Authority)
  • Adult Leaders – Executive (Final Authority)
  • Students – Legislative (First Authority)

All in all, the students produced a well thought out document that shared their heart and passion to be committed to one another and encourage one another to grow in their relationship with Christ together. We had communion together before signing it and prayed together as a way to honor God as the leader of our Life Group and then everyone signed copies so each student could have a signed copy. Because they wrote it, they have faithfully upheld it and are engaging more in fellowship.

JG



The other day I wrote a post, “Is Your Ministry A Movement”, which asked the question:

“How are you making your ministry move?”

One of the suggestions was to partner with the community. This enables you to not only influence teens inside your church; but, ones who would never even come close to a church. A reader asked specifically, “What would it look like to partner with some of the local schools in order to be a movement in the community?” Here are a few suggestions for you to try in your local schools:

  • Recruit Advocates: These might be teachers or coaches (who are members of the church) who act as eyes and ears for your ministry. Have them inform you when anything major happens. They know who the Christian and unchurched teens are and can use you as a resource when appropriate. They are where you cannot always be.
  • Outsource: Instead of competing with para church organizations like Young Life, look to partner up with them. Most of their missions are to reach the unchurch and connect them with a local church. Be that local church for them and support them to live out their mission. This takes trust, accountability and transparency.
  • Commission Your Small Group Leaders: Invest in small group leaders to invest in teens outside your regular gathering. That means encouraging them to go to plays, sporting events, volunteering at dances etc. It’ll make your presence known in subtle ways and show the teens support in their everyday lives.
  • Be A Resource: If you have private schools feeding into your ministry meet with the campus minister and build a relationship with him or her. Offer your services to help with school retreats, chapel, etc. With public schools call the principals and guidance counselors and let them know that you can be available.

While you might want to start your own programs within schools look to building relationships first. This way you aren’t competing against others or using up valuable resources. Partnering in the community is intimidating because it means having awkward conversations and allowing other people to critique your ministry. But, that’s not a bad thing, because it will hold you accountable and allow you to grow in the best way possible.

How are you partnering with schools in your community?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr Day, a day when we reflect on the sacrifice and leadership of not just a great man; but, a powerful church leader.  Honestly, I’ve never really celebrated or reflected on what this day has meant until recently.  It’s a day that not only commemorates how this country moved forward; but, the church as well.  It’s a day that commemorates how the church was a part of a great movement.

Your youth ministry isn’t just a program, activity or a club, it’s a movement.  It’s easy to forget how much of an impact your ministry can have on the community.  You get lost in the details of meetings, paperwork and disappointment.  For us it’s hard enough to:

  • Write A Talk
  • Plan A Game
  • Show A Video
  • Serve Pizza

For us to challenge, encourage and commission your teens to go out and change the world is exhausing.  Sometimes it’s not just about what you say; but, what you do.  So how do you, in the midst of the business, transfer your ministry into a movement?

  • Include Application: Whether it’s an activity, or a message make sure that there is an action step for you teens to take.  Give them a vision so that they are inspired and the steps that will take them there.  The best action steps are tangible, clear and simple.  Once you set them up for success you will see the momentum and enthusiasm build.  They’ll realize, “I can be a part of something.”
  • Empower Through Small Groups:  It takes a lot of work to create big crowd mission trips and events.  You have to multiply your efforts which can lead to error and stress.  With small groups you put ownership on the leaders who will empower their 6-8 students.  Once you get one group going, you can use them as an example and inspiration to get the other moving.
  • Partner With The Community: While working in the trenches and sitting with the students is important, a youth minister needs to be working with schools, community organizations and local businesses to really increase influence.  Sometimes change happens by working within the systems.  As a youth leader that means looking at yourself a community partner.

There are times when youth ministries just need to sit back, relax and have fun; however, in the end it needs to also move.  A youth ministry that moves is one that creates change.  A youth ministry that moves is one that grows.  Next time you feel the ministry is growing stale or mundane, ask yourself, “Where does this need to move?”

How do you make your ministry a movement?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)



This past week in the Refinery we did something really fun – our Life Groups are kicking off the year together and we set up a simple photo station outside the youth room. We took pictures of all of the groups – some serious, some goofy – and put them up on Facebook for people to check out. Couple great but simple things are happening without us saying anything at all:

  • Groups are sharing the pics on their walls and making them profile pictures, spreading the reach of Life Groups
  • The pictures serve as a constant reminder of who is a part of the group and to keep the group going strong through the year
  • They are just plain fun, the groups demonstrate/model Christian community even in their humor

Fun idea that might work for you or inspire you to do something even better!

JG

After two years of youth ministry I felt like I got in a groove.  I knew my roles and responsibilities.  I wasn’t shocked when a parent addressed a concern with emotion.  I was comfortable asking others to get involved; life was good.  Then five years rolled by and everything started to click.  I felt like I understood systems and structures.  I was okay with droughts in creativity and multitasking.

As each year ticks by your level of confidence as a youth minister will grow.  And that’s because with each year you gain experiential wisdom.  It’s priceless and so beneficial; however, it alone will not take your youth ministry to the next level.  There are going to be opportunities that you need to take advantage of that will launch you to the next level.

These opportunities are like launching pads.  You focus on them, you make them a part of your mantra and they take you to the next level.  Three of those launching pads are:

Spiritual Accountability – On a daily basis you are pouring into others.  Whether it’s teenagers, their parents or your own team, you are draining yourself continuously.  While we know the source for replenishment lies with God, we need men and women who are going to help us out.  Three ways you should embrace spiritual accountability are through an Adult Small Group and One on One Spiritual Direction.  You need people reminding you to trust in the Lord, because without Him nothing is possible.

Embrace Risk – Taking chances is a habit that many of us need to embrace.  It’s not about being clumsy or careless, taking risk means getting over our fears to do something big.  To embrace risk properly you need to Trust in God, Gather Insight and Lean Into The Tension. Granted it might be scary; however, people will want to follow you, because they’ll see your courage.  People want a leader who isn’t afraid to fail and will do what it takes to succeed.

Collaborate With Peers – If you aren’t working and networking with other youth ministers than you are traveling a very lonely road.  When you can network with peers in youth ministry you open yourself up to some awesome ideas.  You give yourself the opportunity to learn, think outside the box and problem solve with a new perspective.  When you work with the other guys, they’ll show you how to get to the next level.  Three places to collaborate are Through Social Media, Over A Cup Of Coffee and Attending Conferences.  Get together with others.

It’s important to ask yourself the question, “How can I continue to grow as a professional youth minister?” When you utilize the right launching pads you answer that question.

What other opportunities can we embrace to take youth ministry to the next level?

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.



There is something totally entrancing about boxers and MMA fighters. I watch them do something that I don’t think that I am equipped to do…physically or mentally. Even more amazing than watching the actual fight is talking to them afterward. I have had the privilege of serving with a leader who is getting his MMA career back on track after a surgery. To hear him talk about fighting, you would be astonished. It isn’t a street fight for him. It is a chess match. ”If the other guy does this, I will do this, but if he turns and uses his left hand then I am going to change and do this with my upper body to block his attack.” I could sit and listen to him talk about it all day long.

Another thing that makes him successful is the team that he surrounds himself with. In the sport of fighting, there are timed rounds and a short break in between. During that time the fighter sits in his corner with his team who has a totally different view of what is going on. They bring another perspective, bandage him up and tell him to start doing things and stop doing others. They boost his confidence and tell him where he is performing well or poorly. In his last fight, he was gracious in attributing his quick win to the collaborative effort of all those who invested in him. It wasn’t just about his own amazing ability and fighting skill, he recognized that without those around him it would not have been a successful or victorious fight.

It is highly likely that I will never step into a ring to fight. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have a battle of our own in the world of ministry. What I know to be true is that in our success and failure, in our effort and our gifting we still have our own battle. Part of it is physical in nature. Some of it is spiritual. All of it is about God. In that, there will be times that we feel excited about our calling and ready to head out in the fight. Even when we are “winning” we will take on some amount of “battle damage”. Even the best fighters have a black eye or cauliflower ear from time to time.

Recently I had one of those days. I was taking hits and they were beginning to have their effect on me. I will neither confirm or deny that I may or may not have thrown a chair(s) in frustration. My prayer time after this was less holy and controlled and more screams and accusations. God and I worked through that, and I left that time confessing that I felt alone. I told Him I wasn’t sure how long I could hold on if I was doing this thing by myself. In the span of 24 hours God placed (or reminded me of) four different people in my life to sit and listen, encourage, and help me get perspective and get back out there…which was so necessary.

Being in a new city doing ministry I am still in the process of finding those people who are “in my corner”. Not everyone is going to be your best friend or know all about you. But what I found from all of my conversations is that these were people who had different roles in my life and different skill sets. They are able to speak into different parts of my life. The structure, the spirituality, the craft, and even to the nature of my own heart. What they had in common was some level of care and affection for me. They want me to “win,” if you will.

I would suspect these people don’t even fully know that they did what they did. They were just being themselves and being generous with who God made them to be.

People in your corner come in different forms. I have those I seek out and ask to join in my fight. I have those who are in my life, regardless of what I am doing. I have those who are fighting their own fight, but I can learn by watching them. And then those people that God has brought into my life, and I have no good reason as to why I deserve them.

The great thing is, those people can change roles, evolve, and deepen in relationship over time. So I try to not write anyone off. I have also found that as I begin to establish who support me, I have become better at being in other people’s corner as well. I wipe their sweat. I bandage them up. And then send them out into their own fight. It’s not always just about my fight, but helping others in their own battles.

Jeff Bachman is the High School Pastor at Rock Harbor Church just up the road in Irvine, CA. Feel free to leave comments or email him at jbachman@rockharbor.org and of course subscribe to his blog The Until Matters.

Recently, Brian Baker began a student pastor “get together”. We had no name and really hardly any idea of where it could be headed, but the Lord has chosen to bless his vision. He had a vision of student pastors getting together to share ministry ideas, vision, burdens, and connect with one another. The Lord chose to bless this what we now call “Triad Youth Pastor Fellowship.” We began meeting several months ago, and the Lord has blessed our time. It has been an awesome opportunity for me to connect with other student pastors in our area. I have been a student pastor for years, and we have never had a consistent “get together” such as this. So, I am stoked about what God is doing. I love people and I love getting to know new student pastors. I want to give you a few reasons why you as a student pastor need a student pastor community regularly!

  1. Burden Sharing — Recently, my wife said to me after a youth group meeting, “what is wrong?” I responded to her, “I cannot explain it to you or anyone else. I can only explain it to my student pastor friends once a month when we get together!” Now, that was quite funny, but sometimes there is a great deal of truth in this as well. The only people who I feel genuinely understand what I go through are other student pastors. If you are not a student pastor, you do not get what student pastors have to go through. This has been a great time for me to interact and share my burdens with others. Each month, we go around the room and share what God has been doing in our lives and share any burdens with one another. The Bible commands us to carry each other’s burdens.
  2. Prayer — You have to pray with one another. You need other local men in ministry who can pray with you about what God is doing and wants to do in your ministry. I need and covet the prayers of our local student ministries around us. Our student ministry relies on this! Also, I rely on the prayers of others. There is nothing like going to a student pastor fellowship and hearing how some of these guys have been praying for me this past month.
  3. Connecting — I love connecting with new student pastors. When I moved into the Winston Salem area to be the student pastor at Union Grove, I started googling any churches in our area, and finding who the student pastors were and adding them on facebook. They were probably wondering who this weirdo was that was adding them, but I wanted to connect with them. This is my passion. I love connecting and interacting with other people in ministry through social media. When I go to this student pastor fellowship, we get to make new connections that you might not ever make otherwise. I went this past week, and met 3 new youth pastors in our area that I did not even know existed. When I got home, I had 3 new friend requests. Now, we are connected, and look forward to growing an even deeper connection with one another.
  4. Sharpen yourself — The Bible says that friends sharpen one another. This is what being friends with one another should do to you. I have some close friends in student ministry in my area that make me a better follower of Jesus.
  5. Ideas — We discuss ideas regularly. How can we do ministry better? We discuss better communication with our students. We discuss what is working and what is not working. It is basically a time to get together and learn how to do student ministry more effectively. It is similar to you getting in front of your computer and reading the top student ministry blogs for several hours at a time.
  6. Bible study- We do a quick mini devotion each month. A different student pastor comes and opens the Word to share a quick thought with the group each month. It is like 3-5 minutes long if that, and it is important for me to be challenged in this meeting each month. I love studying and discussing the Bible with these guys.
  7. Growth — The last couple of thoughts are very similar, but there is a bit of difference. I love growing with these guys. I love improving our ministry and learning how to minister more effectively.
  8. Fellowship — Bottom line, it is relationship building. You need this! You need healthy relationships outside of your church! You need someone to talk too that is not a member of your church.

Here are just a few of the many reasons why I think that this is important to have in your area. If you do not have it, I encourage you to start one for student pastors in your area. You will be glad you did, and probably the guys in your area will be glad that you did as well. If you are in the triad area of NC, and would like to connect in our group, send me an email at joshhevans@gmail.com and we would love to connect with you!

Josh Evans is the student pastor at Union Grove Baptist Church in the Winston Salem, NC area. He has been a mentor and pastor to students for 4 years. You can connect further with Josh on his blog or send him a direct email at joshhevans@gmail.com.