18 Months in Review

Colton Harker —  June 21, 2013 — 1 Comment

I recently hit my 18-month mark… which is crazy! It feels like it was just yesterday that I started, but at the same time, it feels like forever ago! Of course, reaching this goal made me reflect on some of my biggest learning’s so far. Thought I might share couple of them with you:

Don’t Stop Being Blown Away. Our student ministry worship pastor has recently been putting on these incredible worship nights for all ages. A few weeks ago, I went to one, worshiped and left. When I left I didn’t really think twice about the event or the life changed that probably happened there. I was just thinking about what I was going to order at Denny’s! I realized that I’ve just come to expect great things so I don’t think twice after I leave events. Sometimes I even feel that way about baptisms. We do them every month so it can easily just feel like something we do and I will stop being floored by what is happening. Don’t get calloused to the awesome things the Lord is doing.

Celebrate the Small Stuff. Let’s face it, the big victories don’t come often. Because of that, it can be way too easy to get discouraged and get in a rut. I think we get discouraged because we are mostly just looking out for those big wins, sometimes even depending on them. But don’t forget to keep an eye out for the small things. We need to recognize the small ways that God is working in if we are going to make it. Like when you get a student to help you pick up trash after a service or, instead of getting discouraged that no parents sent encouraging emails after an event, celebrate the fact you didn’t have any complaints! Keep a look out for the small stuff.

This has been an incredible season of growth. The Lord has taught me a ton about not just ministry, but myself as well. What are some things that you are learning right now?

Colton [Email||Twitter]

Have you been here?

It’s 9pm, you are sitting at home having a great night and hanging out with friends or your Mrs and you hear your phone vibrate. Curiously you lean over and pick it up not missing a beat in your conversation and noticing it’s an email you open it up to see what it is and then you read it…..

All of a sudden it’s like no one else is in the room, all you can do it pour over the words, the critical comments, accusations and your heart begins to sink. Your friends call your name but you can’t hear them as you are focussed solely on the words on your screen.You read it once and then again to check if they are really saying what you think they are. Finally you snap out of the trance and they ask you if everything is okay and you say it is, but you know it isn’t.

You are rattled, frustrated, mad and annoyed not only at the email but that you opened it and now it is ruining the evening for you. What do you do next?

About a year ago, this exact situation played itself out for me, the email was harsh, it was critical, it had many false or exaggerated points and made me feel nothing short of sick inside. I like many others took to my computer to lay out my response to the email and set the record straight.

I articulated a rebuttal / explanation to every point they had made, did my best to explain why they were incorrect in their understanding of the issues. My argument was a case closed victory for the good guys! Well at least I thought so then, and by the grace of God I did not hit the send button on that message. Instead I waited and the next morning I called my mentor and shared with him the content of the message and how it made me feel and he quickly asked me, “Please tell me you did’t you reply yet?”

“Not yet” I replied and he said “good, DON’T REPLY TO THAT EMAIL!”

He continued and explained to me that sending an email in frustration is never a good idea but replying to an accusatory email is like putting ammunition in their gun. You relinquish all control once you hit send, you have no control over perceived tone or where the content goes from there and all of those words are can be used against you in the court of public opinion or the court of your Lead Pastor. Your case closed argument might lead to the case being closed on your job.

When I looked back at the email I drafted that night, I am so thankful I didn’t send it, I was writing from a place of being hurt, feeling wounded and the tone of my message was like someone backed into a corner and swinging. I was hurtful, rude, arrogant and self righteous and I am thanful I follow the advice of my mentor who said quite simply:

“Pick up the phone”

Call the person, hear them out, help them feel heard, help them understand where you are coming from on the issues. Write down what you talked about, and clarify at the end of the conversation about what they heard and understood from your chat. If you have the opportunity to meet in person even better. Tone is not assumed on the phone like it is on an email, and your words don’t get forwarded around from a phone call either.

If you receive a harsh or critical email from a parent, pick up the phone, don’t reply to that email, you won’t regret it.

-Geoff @geoffcstewart

Overtime Legalism

Geoff Stewart —  April 17, 2013 — 10 Comments

Working in youth ministry is an often dynamic and unpredictable work environment and I often find myself wondering how I get paid to do what I do. The events, conferences, cokes and relationships with leaders and students make being a youth pastor incredibly rewarding. One of the challenges of the unpredictable and relational nature of our job is the strange blending of our personal life and work life and knowing where one starts and the others ends can be blurry.

Most youth pastors who are full time work with a schedule of 40 hours a week + or – with expectations of volunteer hours as well pushing most work weeks to the 45 hours or so mark. Before I worked in the Church a 45 hour work week sounded like heaven compared to my 55+ hour schedule.

With the uniqueness of ministry and the blurriness of personal/work time there comes the need to claw back hours worked outside our your normal schedule. That meeting that is unavoidably on your day off, staying well into the evening for an event or overnight for the dreaded lock in, we sometimes go over our hours. There is any number of compelling and reasonable reasons that one could see those and many other activities that are part of the job and request time off in lieu for those extra hours worked. But just a few weeks back I heard about a youth worker who was taking it way too far.

This youth worker was in a constant battle with his Board of Elders about paid time off for extra time worked. This was not the normal every day type stuff, here is what he was asking for:

  • 3 days off for every 1 day he was on retreat with his students (his rationale being that he normally works 8 hours a day, not 24 and thus should be given the other 16 hours including sleeping time off with pay. After all he was not sleeping in his bed) for a total of 9 days off for a three day retreat
  • Half a day off for conversations he had with friends about Church in the past few weeks. (rationale being that due to his work at the Church, he ends up working by talking about “Church” while with his friends)
  • He counts his schedule down the minute making sure that he works his requirement exactly.

I have a great friend at a pretty large church that hosts a massive international conference every year, for the weekend that they host the world it’s all hands on deck. Everyone is serving all weekend and come monday morning everyone is back in the office ready to make it happen. I asked if they were given time off for working the weekend and he said yes, but people that work at the Church are bought into the vision and know that this weekend is core to the mission vision and value. He said they have a culture that being a part of the Church means serving the Church and that if his Pastor gets so much as a sniff of legalism around hours would be watching your taillights leaving the parking lot.

I can understand not giving up every waking hour of your life to the Church but this seems somewhat excessive:

So I have three questions for you:

Where is it appropriate to ask for paid time off for extra hours work?

Have you seen this abused?

We ask our volunteers to give up their time over and above their full time work, how much time should we give? 

-Geoff @geoffcstewart

The week before going to camp or this case a retreat is always hectic with tons of plans and last minute details that have to hammered out. The stress level is high and patience is running low as we rush around sourcing out pens and extension cords. We do a retreat every year and somehow we hadn’t learned from the year before and were allowing students to sign up after the registration deadline which increased the workload for our team in shuffling cabins and bus lists but we knew it would be all worth it and after all the more the merrier of course!

In the craziness of last minute registrations and final details we were experiencing a problem bigger than insufficient pens and power bars. With two days remaining until we were leaving for camp, a significant number of our leaders were not committed or not coming to camp. When our leaders sign up for the year we give them two weekends we were all hands on deck for and this was one of them and they just weren’t committing to be there.

I was frustrated.

I was frustrated because they had said they would be there and now nearly half weren’t coming. Some had to work, others had weak excuses and others did not respond to multiple emails and texts. We had a leader crisis two days before camp.

I didn’t know what to do, so I drafted up a long and well articulated email that outlined my frustration, reminded them of the commitment the made and tried to explain the life change that happens at camp and basically tried to take them on an all expenses paid guilt trip. It felt great to write, to get my feelings out but I quickly realized that while helpful for me, it was not going to be helpful for our team. I left the message for an hour and after showing my colleague, rewrote the email shorter, clearer and outlined THE NEED -More volunteers for the weekend THE ASK - Would you consider shuffling the weekend to spend with our students at camp THE WHY - Help them understand why our weekend camp is the most important event we do all year. The result was 11 more volunteers committing to being there.

Here is what I learned:

  1. Anger, Frustration and Rebuke are not best communicated via email.
  2. Let someone you trust get you off the ledge by showing them your draft and chat with them about your frustrations.
  3. Deal with the need before the event and follow up one on one after you have cooled down.
  4. Remember that God is going to do something in spite of you, or your volunteers.

There are going to frustrating situations where you might be tempted to use email to let someone or a group of people know how you are feeling, and while it might feel good for the moment its not the place for conflict. Deal with immediate need and once you have sorted out your feelings, take the time to meet one on one with your team when the extra time to meet will be worth it in the long run.

Long story short: Don’t send that email.

-Geoff @geoffcstewart

My first year in ministry has been incredibly awesome, incredibly hard, and easily the best year I’ve had yet. It has been so great to look back and reflect on all of the successes and… not successes that I’ve had this year and see how much God has taught me along the way. I thought I would share a few of the big things that I have learned this year.

Look Around. I’m an ambitious person. I am always looking ahead at what is coming next and always looking at achieving my goals. This has been really helpful in my career, but at the same time, really challenging. It keeps me from pausing and embracing where I am. It seems like it’s so hard to be present. I found before I started working on it, I was rarely satisfied with where I was or what I had. It kept me from taking a break and trying to see what God was trying to teach at that moment, to see what opportunities He was trying to present. So I learned to not just look ahead, but around as well. I learned to try to find out the purpose God has for me in this stage of my life. It is far more important to achieve God’s goal for my life than my own.

Ministry is a Rhythm. A couple weeks ago, our church’s head pastor spoke to our Student Ministries Team. One for the most impactful things that he talked about was that ministry is a series of rhythms. Sometimes we take the things we want to spend our time doing (family time, personal time, ministry time, etc.) and prioritize it or faction it out. We try to make sure that at all times, every part of our life is getting attention. The problem is that isn’t how ministry works. Sometimes you need to spend more time in ministry. You will spend 60 hours in the office and have an event every night of the week, but that is okay. Its okay because you will (eventually) have a time where you don’t need to spend more time in ministry and you will have more time to spend more time by yourself, with your family, or whatever you need. Ministry is a series of ebbs and flows; give and take. This is guilt-free ministry.

Be Expectant. I was originally going to title this point as “Trust God,” but I think that “be expectant” does the idea more justice. Trusting God is an action, a great action, but being expectant is a mentality and a lifestyle. The last year was filled with uncertainty. Whether it was the success of an event or my future in general, I was so afraid that God wasn’t going to provide and I focused more on being okay with things not working out than expecting God to show up. I wasn’t praying the “big” prayers because I was afraid I’d be disappointed if it didn’t come through. Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes God doesn’t provide in the ways that we want and that can be disappointing, but He always provides in the ways that we need. We need to be praying those big prayers and expecting God to show up in big ways.

For most of you, your first year of ministry wasn’t very recent… but you are still learning! What are some of the biggest lessons God has taught you during your time in ministry?

Colton Harker is the Student Leadership Director at Saddleback HSM.  If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at coltonharker@gmail.com or on twitter at @ColtonHarker.

Getting into youth ministry is like signing up for a basketball league where every 30 seconds there’s another slam-dunk opportunity. But once you get into it, it feels much more like a soccer game where there’s a heck of a lot of running around before reaching a goal.

Let me explain.

If you’re like me, you do student ministry for those great moments: When a student finally “gets it.” When small group conversation goes deep. When a teenager posts, “Best weekend ever!” on the Monday after the retreat. These are moments that make it all worth it!

But what about all the other in-between moments? The moments that aren’t so exceptional – that are normal. Average. Gray. Like when you have to clean up the youth room after everyone has evacuated. Or when you have to make a hundred phone calls to get the event planned (the one that get’s cancelled because of bad whether). Or when you have to dissect the copy machine because somewhere hidden deep inside of it is a stuck piece of paper… allegedly. What about all the undesirable, underrated and unexceptional tasks of youth ministry?

Now, I get that there are “soccer players” out there – that is, people who love the running around. But my general response is, “This is not what I signed up for!”

But I wonder if God can teach us all something about those gray times in between. Perhaps the exceptional times of discovery in ministry are not the moments we expect.

Oswald Chambers wrote: “It is inbred in us that we have to do exceptional things for God; but we have not. WE HAVE TO BE EXCEPTIONAL IN THE ORDINARY THINGS, to be holy in the mean streets, among mean people, and this is not learned in five minutes.”

 I am guilty of wanting five-minute fixes. Of asking for humility and success and patience… and wanting them all right now. To some extent, we are all tempted toward the big, grandiose occasions, when people point and say, “What a life-changing leader! What an incredible ministry!”

But what if our best leadership today was picking up after students? What if worship found it’s way into filling out finances? What if God was waiting to meet with us each day as we move between meetings?

And what if God’s most exceptional gifts to you today in your ministry were hidden in the common wrapping of everyday tasks?

Sam Townsend works on the Training and Programming Team at YouthWorks, where he helps develop materials to point teenagers toward Jesus. After the workday, Sam is a youth group leader, a seminary student and a conversationalist over half-price appetizers.

I don’t know what is harder about working in ministry, staying informed on what is going on in the lives of our students or keeping up with the expertise in the many field required to keep the ministry going. For any youth group in any size church you are by all intents and purposes running your own small church and for most of us, that means that we have to fill the roles of each person on a regular staff of a church and that can be daunting. Being good at a few things is easy, but being good at dozens of important jobs can be overwhelming and off the top of my head here is a list of regular parts of many youth workers jobs:

  • Pastor
  • Cousellor
  • Mentor
  • Coach
  • Photographer
  • Logistics coordinator
  • Videographer / Video Editor
  • Sound tech
  • Musician
  • Graphic Designer
  • Accountant
  • Handyman
  • Bus Driver
  • Activity Coordinator
  • Public Speaker
  • Camp Director
  • Web Designer
  • Carpenter
  • Chef
  • Janitor
  • Theologin
  • Secretary
  • Marketing Director
  • Any many more…….

My brain hurts thinking about it, but for each of us we are faced with the reality of needing to wear many hats and be talented or at least competent in each of them. When you look at your ministry area are there any that we missed, any other jobs that you do? 

-Geoff @geoffcstewart

I don’t know about you, but there are seasons of ministry that could be best described as “frustration inducing”. They are often marked with little noticeable or measurable progress on any front, or worse regression. They can be filled with road blocks, bottle necks or perhaps landmines. I am in a bit of a season of that right now, as I wrote last week of being in the 15th month without a senior pastor and its been a tough road.

There is of course tons of you that are in a great season as well where you are loving life, things are happening, God is moving and you are just riding the wave. Despite what seems like success now, can I encourage you to have a hobby, an interest, a passion outside of your calling to youth ministry? When I love something, I just want more of it, which would likely explain why I am a touch overweight, but also why I tend to work crazy hours. I love my job;  I am so blessed to do it, but there has to be more to my life than just this.

When everything is about your ministry, your life begins to ebb and flow with it, your energy, your emotions and relationships can be dictated by your work. Having interests outside of youth ministry at my church has been a life savers. Those interests allow me to experience tangible results of my work and sometimes allow me to use a totally different part of my brain and often utilize a different skill set than I do at work. It could be playing a sport, vacuuming, cross stitch, bocce ball, cave spelunking, underwater basket weaving, the sky is really the limit. The point is, as you begin the ministry season remember to prioritize making time for activities that are far removed from your work.

Rest is good, find something that brings you life and it will go a long way to helping you finish the year strong this ministry season.

-Geoff (Twitter)