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

I love our youth nights, I love the buzz, the noise of the crowd, the Worship, the community, the teaching, well basically all of it. The experience of the gathered Church to me is rich, in tradition and off the charts in value. But as mush as I love the bigger stage, I have an equal passion for the relational one on one connection with students and have fought hard to maintain a level of relational connectedness to young people even in the midst of a demanding role in the wider church. When I am going to meet with a student for a coffee, a coke or just going for a walk there are a few questions that are guaranteed to be a part of the conversation.

1 What is something that you are excited about?

This is a great ice-breaker question, its disarming question and allows a student to talk about something they have an easy time talking about, themselves! This is also a strategic question because it gives me some event or opportunity that I can follow up with. If they are excited about their drivers test, a concert or a hot date, I now have intentional opening for a follow up conversation. Remembering these events and following up shows a student they are valued.

2 How are things going in your small group?

Our ministry has small groups on the same night as our youth gather, which means that 100% of our students are in small groups. As a leader there are certain areas of the culture that I can shape, but within the small groups exists its own community and culture and its important to know what is happening. Any chance you have to get a the straight goods on the pulse of ministry, you should take it because the growth and discipleship is happening in the small group more so than the large gather. Also finding out about a problem or challenge allows me I can’t help that leader navigate the scenario that I otherwise might not have known was a concern.

3- How is your heart?

I am so sold out to asking this question because it allows the transition into asking students how their relationship with God is, where they are experiencing Him or not. Asking a student about their heart allows the conversation to address where they feel encouraged and where they feel discourage and takes the conversation to a level of honestly faster than so how are you Really doing? Our leaders have been starting to latch onto the question and some of the students now have heard it enough that they jokingly ask me the same question. Its a great part of the changing culture of our ministry where we are trying to go deeper in our relationships with God and each other.

4 How can I pray for you?

This question is a must ask for obvious reasons, but any meaningful conversation with student that doesn’t include this question is a missed opportunity for me. Students need to know that we are here to journey beside them, to intercede on their behalf and intend to follow up with those things they are in need of prayer for. Praying for our students one on one, in the large group and privately is a core part of what we do.

These are just four of the many questions that we ask our students when we meet with them, are there questions that are on your must ask list?

-Geoff @geoffcstewart

There is something remarkable about the connectivity afforded to us through social media. The ability to connect with people, to have conversations, to encourage and engage people makes it a tool that 10 years ago you could only dream of.

I have been reminded lately of just how important the “Social” part of social media is. As youth workers we spend a solid amount of time posting on Twitter / Facebook / Instagram among others, but if we are not careful or intentional they can become “Shouts” and not conversations. By that I mean we log in, type up a thoughtful tweet or status update and launch it into cyberspace for all to read and leave before it even lands.

The miss is when we don’t go back to engage in the conversation and to read what people have to say, or we don’t venture into their world and to engage in what they are saying or feeling. When we remove the Social from Social Media we miss out on some big opportunities to engage, encourage and learn. I have said it before and I will say it again, the best leaders I know are the best followers too. They engage in the lives of their students, they care about their victories and defeats and look for opportunities to lead and shepherd through online engagement.

Lets keep the Social in Social Media, have a few less shouts and a few more conversations.

Geoff – @geoffcstewart 

I love visting other youth groups and seeing the different ways that each of them approaches ministry and seeing the different cliques and types of students that each group attracts. In the city I work, the diversity between each of the different ministries is pretty surprising but something I love to see, that students can find a place that speaks their language, with a community they belong to and feel safe in. Each group is a reflection of the the values and style of each leader and fulfilling the purpose of reaching different students.

When I visit a new group I am always on the look out for one thing, the awkward kids. The ones that don’t fit in a lot of places, the ones that maybe don’t have tons of friends and that might look and act very differently than other students. I am not looking for the jocks, the hipsters, or any sort of “cool” kid, in fact I think most youth groups have their fair share of those students, I am looking for the complete opposite. Show me your kids that like to use the coat rack as a light saber, show me your Zacchaeus’s, those are the students to help point to a healthy community.

It’s easy to create a space where social students can be social, but creating an environment where students that don’t fit in can fit in is what it’s all about. You show me a ministry that has no awkward kids, I would be able to argue pretty quickly that, that group is not a safe place. There are students that are reminded often at school that they are different and they don’t fit in, but there is no way that the same should be said of youth group. You belong here, you are safe here, you are one of us here, you are accepted here.

Awkward kids are a sign of health, a sign of a culture of grace for students of all kinds, where young people can feel that they belong, they are safe and are accepted when in many other areas of their life they don’t experience that reality. A group that is diverse, is a group that is experiencing authentic community and youth group is a great place for that to happen.

-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

Think Like Them

Geoff Stewart —  March 20, 2013 — 1 Comment

Josh and Kurt had a great post about understanding the world your students live in and I wanted to dig a little deeper on the subject:

In our ministry; like many others, Music is a core part of what we do week in and week out. Before and after our service and the Worship time within it, the music creates a vibe and a space where are students can connect with God and each other. When it comes to Christian music there have been few albums more hyped than Hillsong’s newest release “Zion” which has been a top seller in multiple countries and is filled with incredible music that unapologetically points to Jesus.

In the past few weeks of connecting with other youth pastors in my area, the topic of the album has come up several times and one comment I have made to each person that I have discussed it with is that there isn’t any “youthy,”  jump around classic Hillsong United anthem type songs on “Zion” and most of them were content with the departure. As I get older, my taste in music has change, and for a band like Hillsong United, they are getting older too and with the maturation of their members, comes a maturation of their sound as well.

So what am I getting at? As we get older, and our tastes mature it can become easy for us to lose sight of who we are serving and leading. I may be getting further away from high school every year, but the students entrusted to me are still there, and thus I need to be sure to do my best to see the world through their eyes and through their ears. While I may be less inclined to jump around during a worship service than I once was, I need to know that for 16 year old me, there was nothing better. The truth is:

  • The music that you encounter God through will probably be different
  • The games that you find fun to play might not be fun to students
  • The overnight lock-in might be the most dreaded event on your calendar, but the most exciting one on your student’s
  • The style and feel of a night that will make it conducive to a high schooler inviting a friend to is going to be different than what it might be for you.

Our responsibility is to advocate for the needs of our students. Sometimes that means doing events and playing songs that might not speak to our needs or engage us as much, but we are not youth pastors to serve our own interests. This is the place where student leaders and young volunteers are invaluable. Much like your grandparents favoring a rotary phone over an iPhone, we’ll often resort to the familiar and comfortable. There will be things that we might not be able to wrap our minds around at first, that we need to know and be fluent in. It can be challenging to try and continually re-learn the teenage mind, but for us to be effective in our ministry to students, we owe it to our students to understand the way they see the world.

Geoff – geoffcstewart


SYMC is this weekend, so I thought it would be good to bring this post back so that all of us attending the conference this weekend are on the same page. As youth workers from all over the world converge on Indianapolis in just a few days each of them has an important decision to make: How do I wear or not wear my conference lanyard. There are four distinct phases to the evolution of lanyard style and they are as follows.

1 – The “Standard”: The most common form of lanyard style, with it worn as intended around the neck with your name in a place where people can read your name and greet you with it. Often covered in buttons and other flair, the standard position is helpful to everyone else at the conference.

2 – The “Awkward / Cool”: Bored with the standard position many people choose to place their lanyard near or below waist level which causes awkward gazes to the nether regions when greeting new people. This style makes it easy for you to know who has truly forgotten your name as they will be unable to look natural reading this strategically placed lanyard tag.  You might be tricked into thinking this is “cool” but its more uncomfortable than anything.

3 – The “I think People Know Me”: If you have been to the conference enough, you are tempted to think that people will recognize you and thus a lanyard might not be necessary, after all do they know who you are? right? Stage three is marked with an intentional concealing of the name card, but with lanyard strap in view so that if necessary you can reveal your credentials at the door if someone has possibly not been graced by your presence in the past.

4 – The “People Definitely Know Me”: Stage 4 is all in, no lanyard in sight or on your person. People know you, and when you walk through the door, no one asks questions. This is the riskiest of all the phases because if it backfires, its a long way back to your hotel room to get it.

I can’t wait to see you all in Indianapolis, I am a phase 1 guy, with my Canadian connect group pin for added flair. See you this weekend.

-Geoff @geoffcstewart

Love it or hate, the Harlem Shake craze is here for a few weeks and its high-time to take advantage of it. Last week we decided to make one on Valentines day and students were into it in a big way. Josh has been in Rwanda so HSM team took advantage and made another awesome version of it as well. We decided to tag the information about when and where we meet so that students can share it with their friends and tell them a bit about who we are. These are great youth ministry because it gets everyone involved in something that is fun, sharable and totally different than anything they would be a part of anywhere else.

If your group has done one, please post it in the comments because I will be honest, I LOVE these things!

This is from my Youth Group called Journey here in Surrey B.C. Canada

This is HSM at Saddleback awesome video.


-Geoff @geoffcstewart