Gears

You’ve been there. I’ve been there more times than I care to admit. “There” is that moment when you admit, and determine to do something about, what you’ve already been sensing for a little while: Things in your ministry just aren’t clicking. You’re frustrated. You’re stagnant. You’re hitting the gas but can’t get traction. You’ve quit hitting the gas and are idle. You know something isn’t quite right, but can’t put your finger on it.

What do you do when things aren’t clicking? Here are a few places I’d look at first.

The Structure:
Oftentimes the various structures we have in place are like old wineskins, unsuitable for the current realities of our ministry. “structures” that may need to be reexamined might include your budget, your schedule, your ministry paradigm and strategy, your physical meeting space, etc.

The Team:
Ministries with healthy structures aren’t always healthy! Because ministry is “of the people, for the people”, the team leading the charge is usually highly instrumental in whether things are clicking or not. And, when looking at the team, the question isn’t, “are things clicking?” so much as it is, “Are we clicking?” Are people being used in their areas of giftedness? Do we trust each other? Can we disagree without being disagreeable? Are we all pulling on the same side of the rope? Do we have a clear sense of purpose? Is anybody a continual source of frustration and conflict?

The Leader:
This may come as a shock, but you aren’t a perfect leader. And your weaknesses affect (and sometimes infect) your ministry as much as your strengths. Because leaders are influencers, a ministry that isn’t clicking requires you to take a look at yourself, too. Are you spending time with the Father? Do you still have a passion for the movement you are leading? Do you still feel called to it? Are you pursuing a life of health (personal, spiritual, emotional, relational, financial)? Do you feel supported by your supervisor(s)?

When a ministry feels stuck, there’s rarely a silver bullet that will get things moving forward again. But I’ve learned over the years that the answer oftentimes lies in the structure, the team or myself.

Life Group

The above picture was taken last night, the first gathering of a brand new small group of awesomely awkward 7th grade guys. See me leaning in on the right? The smile on my face masks a ton of anxiety about the year ahead.

- I rarely lead a 7th grade group because should I need to skip a year I don’t want to leave them hanging as 8th graders. Last night reminded me of the VAST difference between 7th and 8th graders.

- I tend to miss about 1/4 of our small group gatherings due to a variety of reasons. This always puts extra strain on my co-leader to pick up the slack. The guy leaning over the back of the couch is Tom…an awesome dad who doesn’t even have children of his own in junior high any more…he just loves this age group. I’ve tried to tell him I’m a crappy small group partner, but he refuses to believe it. He will soon enough.

- The thirteen boys in our group are a true hodge-podge; from a few different schools, different faith journeys and varying family dynamics. Two have Asperger’s, one may die (his words) if he eats gluten, and another seems to have almost zero social skills.

I’m a terrible small group leader. I’m anxious, not very compassionate, and flakey. But I know this is where the good stuff happens; I know that wading into the rarely calm waters of sharing life with this group for the next two years will be life-changing for all of us.

Chances are you are “terrible” at some aspect of junior high ministry, too. It’s understandably tempting to avoid those areas. After all, why subject yourself, or others, to the misery of your efforts! Why? Because it’s when we faithfully enter the rarely calm waters, despite our shortcomings, that the good stuff happens.



Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 11.33.20 AMWe all know college has become an important and, in many cases, a necessary step for people to take in our culture. In 1950 only about 9% of 18-24 year olds were attending degree granting schools (which included those attending high school) whereas today 77% of 18-24 year olds are attending degree granting institutions (not including high school – for source click here). However you look at this and whatever we think might be the cause of such an increase, this is a massive cultural shift. Over the course of this trend there have been waves and cycles that have effected a number of things in both the Church as well as culturally, both too long to discuss in this post (to read more of on this subject, click here). For this post, I would simply like to share one shift in how college is viewed that I see having a tremendous impact on how we can minister to college-age people.

Put simply, the shift is that fewer people view a college degree as a right of passage.  What does this mean? Well, the bottom line is people/employers/etc are less concerned with a degree and more concerned with experience – or at least we are moving that direction. The shift that is beginning doesn’t necessarily negate a college degree, but the key is to realize it’s not limited to it. Actual work experience will increasingly become the most critical element in our culture.

I consult with churches, denominations as well as businesses that hire recent college grads. And although the degree can be important for many positions, employers are starting to see the benefit of hiring people with experience over those with degrees.

Does this mean employers are devaluing a degree? Not entirely, but it is losing some value.

It used to be that a college degree was a right of passage into the workforce. For lack of better terms, it was viewed (and still is in some cases) as a ‘hoop’ to get through to do what you want to do. It was viewed this way by all parties – parents, children and employers. Not to take away from the necessity of a degree for most middle-class suburbanites, but the reality is fewer people want to just get a degree…and I believe you will continue to see fewer and fewer employers viewing a degree as a necessity for positions in their company.

So, what does this mean for those of us in ministry?

Here are 2 things you might consider doing in your church with this in mind:

  1. Emphasize and promote work experience. Encourage college students to get work with organizations like GroupMissionTrips.  Organizations like this would give perhaps the most important “work experience.” That is, experience with leading and organizing people. If someone wants to be an engineer, this probably won’t be the biggest factor in an engineering firm hiring someone. But there are a lot of businesses that see experience like this as a HUGE benefit.
  2. Make intentional connections for students. Connect the students you know to real life people that are actually doing what your students want to do. Encourage older individuals in your church to offer internships and maybe even consider going to larger businesses in your area and ask if they have any internships available for students…and then you be the one to make the connection!

What’s Working?

 —  September 23, 2014 — 17 Comments

Go-crSo… what’s working?

Jesus gave us the Great Commision. We’ve been stumbling over ourselves since He did, trying to figure out how to be a movement when it’s a whole lot easier to build an organization.

On one hand, we know what isn’t working. There’s the penetrating content from “Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore”  as well as articles on why millennials are leaving the church. On the other hand, there are innovative proposals like the approach of Lifetree Cafe or the “orange” approach to some kind of sticky faith. Willow Creek Community Church is trying “A Holy Experiment.”

I think I’ve had my fill of the deconstruction. I’d like to start reconstructing.

helping_hands300What’s actually working?

What are you experiencing?

What are you seeing?

What is the “What if…?” you have started to that you hope will pan out?

What’s the next big idea in front of you that isn’t just a big idea, but potentially the right idea?

What is your church and/or youth ministry doing to create new inlets for lost people to find Jesus and become a part of the Church versus just expecting people to walk through the church building doors on their own?

Please share your best outreach ideas/concepts/dreams.



Thiago-nascimento-opera-background-speaker-jpg1This week we are still talking about small groups.This week we bring in one of our veteran volunteers to talk about training, leadership, and care for our small group leaders. We had a lot of fun. Check it out!!

 

Hope it Helps,

Kurt & AC

hellotagIn what it becoming a popular trend these days, another “live-coming-out” video has been posted on Youtube.

These stories will temporarily trend in social media feeds, including one in particular that Facebook highlighted this week: It features a teenager who hid a camera with just the right line of sight to capture his mom’s reaction to his announcement that he is gay.

There’s a lot to digest here, from the content of the post to why it’s even a trend to begin with. I asked Shawn Harrison, noted author of “Ministering to Gay Teenagers,” to give his perspective on the video concept itself. I also had a few thoughts to offer, not as an antagonist to his point but to supplement it from the ministry side of things. Here are two sides to gay teens coming out:

In terms of the content…

(via Shawn Harrison)

In terms of the takeaways…

(via Tony Myles)

For those that don’t know about these videos, check out Youtube and you’ll quickly see. Instead of writing letters, teens now hide a video camera in a room and film their parent’s (or family’s) response to them coming out as gay. A lot of these videos are hard to watch – some are deeply emotional and deeply troubling in how the parent’s reactions are brutally honest and some times come with the words, “Leave my house now.”

As youth workers, we need to familiarize ourselves with these videos, because they definitely give us insight into the personal lives of gay students – students who could at any time come through our doors.

As I’ve been watching these videos, I’m reminded of the time I came to my parents. I stayed home that day because the thought of coming out to my parents knotted my stomach up like never before. Not only was I physically sick, but emotionally and mentally “sick,” too. It is not easy to tell your parents you are attracted to the same-sex, let alone you have no idea why you experience these attractions, and you cannot seem to change the attractions you have. The stress and fear of becoming an embarrassment and a failure to your parents overwhelms your entire being. The fear of becoming homeless because of your “attractions” is a constant nightmare.

For a gay teen that either has come out or is about to come out, losing friends is one thing, but being rejected by family is on a totally different level.

Friends come and go, while family is supposed to be there no matter what. However, many of the teens in these coming out videos, and many who never make a video, face the unthinkable: parents rejection, homelessness, ridicule, and abuse that is physically and mental. I was fortunate in that though my parents and I never talked about my sexuality, they never stopped loving me.

Regardless of what personal stance you may have on this topic:

  • What did you learn by watching and listening to the kid?
  • What did you learn by watching and listening to the mom?
  • What can we learn about youth ministry from a kid who secretly video tapes his mom’s reaction to something?

Once upon a time, kids wrote something in a secret diary or journal so the rest of the world couldn’t see it. We’re now on the exact opposite extreme where students look for validation and affirmation in the global community, not realizing the bias that in itself creates. They may see how many “likes” or “views” their post gets on the internet and assume that’s what they’ll encounter locally among people they will actually interact with.

Maybe that’s not the end goal in their minds, though. Perhaps if they can just get one more “thumbs up” or “retweet” online, they’ll come up with the courage they need to talk to their family.

It’s why my favorite part in the video is when the mom fires back with her own disclosure… not because of what she says or how she tries to identify with her son, but because for those 10 to 15 seconds the teenager is absolutely out of whatever role he prescribed for himself in this conversation.

This “ad lib” is where real ministry happens… but what if instead of his world getting a little bigger that way there was something more Christ-centered in that moment?

Maybe that’s the message we need to remind students of in this moment. Life is larger than what they’re processing today. While culture is ready to rapid-fire validation or criticism to the latest feelings a teenager expresses, it isn’t dispensing context and wisdom.

What if a student isn’t gay in orientation, but is curious about the same sex? Will culture help them sift through that difference? Will you, with Jesus as your guide?

One way or another, this is a topic that must be explored honestly and unedited, even when we want it to feel one-sided and controlled. We all don’t have the means to package things the way we want to… but over time, context does form. For that reason, I’d like to give Shawn the last word on this – here’s some great wisdom:

shawnharrisonAnother thought occurred to me while watching these videos: Youth workers, what if a student filmed your reaction to them coming out, or what if a gay teen secretly filmed you talking about homosexuality during youth group? What would they record?

And before you determine, “this would never happen,” let me remind you that these parents being filmed most likely said the same thing. We cannot wait to decide what we would say or do concerning homosexuality and our students. We need to decide now how we would respond, how we would teach the subject, and how we would help families through the journey. This conversation is too important to put aside and wait for another day. For too long the church has practiced this approach, and the result is what we see today: we are “anti-gay,” gay teens are leaving Christianity, families sit alone in silence, and the church continues to miss the point about homosexuality.

I am not the “know-all” of this subject. I’m just a guy who personally lives out this journey, and I’m trying to help youth workers, families, and gay individuals navigate through their journey, too. For some practical help, let me suggest my book, “Ministering to Gay Teenagers.” I truly believe in this book, and by God’s grace, thousands of people have learned how to navigate this journey, unafraid and in community with others.



Do you know your role?

720001Prince William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, have been in the news this week. We can all empathize with how difficult it must be for them to sort out ordinary events in the public eye. While this young couple navigates the exciting news of their pregnancy with the hurdle of acute morning sickness (attributed to hyperemesis gravidarum), the rest of the world takes it all in, wondering in the background if and when William will be named the next King of England.

Can you relate?

Years ago, I was a youth worker in a church where our senior pastor was resigning. Suddenly I felt like my life was on display just a bit more than usual as people began wondering if I (or other staff members) would take on the soon-to-be-vacant role. I started attending board meetings a bit more, as I was invited to share my perspective on various things happening. I had to wrestle with the desires of God over the desires of people, including my own.

Can you relate?

Today I was reminded of this older photo of Prince William and Kate (fresh off their honeymoon) visiting with President Barack and Michelle Obama.

Which person in the picture are you?

prince-william-kate-middleton-relationship-photos-obamas

Did you decide?

What do you think Barack and William are talking over?

What are Michelle and Kate chatting about?

Oh… and did you notice the gentleman in the background toward the right?

Look at his face. What is he attentive to?

Look at his posture. What is he ready to do?

Was he one of the choices you considered?

Why?

Why not?

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:3-5)

struettcathy_sm“The one thing I take more joy in than anything else in the world is seeing young people develop.” – S. Truett Cathy

Chick-Fil-A fans and the Cathy family are taking note of the legacy left behind by the founder of America’s top chicken restaurant chain. Fifty years after he created the recipe for his famous sandwich, Georgia businessman Samuel Truett Cathy was announced to have died “peacefully at home, surrounded by loved ones.”

It’s unfortunate that some people will only get to know a person better after they pass away than from the impressions they draw from headlines. I encountered this myself when singer/writer Rich Mullins died, as he went from being in mind “that guy who wrote ‘Awesome God,’ I think” to a “candid-theologian-disguised-as-a-ragamuffin-who-I-wish-I-knew-better.”

struettcathyFor that reason, I’d like to offer just a small portion of S Truett Cathy’s thoughts from various sources, including interviews and his autobiography. There may be several transferable principles here for how you do ministry and so much more, but also consider the legacy he’s left behind:

  • “The Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich itself was born in the wake of an unexpected opportunity. When one of my first two restaurants burned to the ground, I found myself with time on my hands and the availability to develop a new recipe…”
  • “If you wish to enrich days, plant flowers; If you wish to enrich years, plant trees; If you wish to enrich Eternity, plant ideals in the lives of others.”
  • “Put two Cows on a billboard with a bucket of paint and a brush, and they’ll create some unexpected opportunities… They remind people in their unique style to ‘Eat Mor Chikin!’ The Cows still haven’t learned to spell, and their grammar leaves a lot to be desired, but the opportunities are real. Five years after they painted their first billboard, Chick-fil-A had doubled our sales volume, achieving annual sales of more than $1 billion.”
  • truett cathy“We have an impact on our children by what we say, but particularly by what we do. They forget many of the things we say, but they observe everything we do. We can’t expect to keep beer in the refrigerator and expect our fifteen-year-old not to drink beer.”
  • “My business grew on my understanding that customers are always looking for somebody who is dependable and polite and will take care of them.”
  • “It’s better to build boys than mend men.”
  • “After we make the necessary investment – buying the real estate and building the restaurant – we turn over the responsibility of running a $2 million-plus business (for a free-standing location) to these independent franchisees – many who have not yet turned thirty years old. We support them with training, technology, and anything else they need. But the bottom line depends on the Operator’s honesty, integrity, commitment and loyalty to customers and to us. We trust our Operators to make good decisions – and they do. I don’t know of another restaurant company that places so much responsibility in the hands of its franchisees.”
  • “Like wealth, poverty also has the power to build us up and make us appreciate what we have, or it can break our spirits.”
  • “The ‘Eat Mor Chikin’ Cows now have become more than characters in an advertisement. They’re real. Wherever I go I carry a bunch of plush Cow toys. They always make people happy, whether they’re children or adults – even workers in boots and soiled shirts. Everybody loves them. When I give one away I always ask the person to tell me what the Cows say, and hold onto it until they say, ‘Eat Mor Chikin!’”
  • A reporter once asked me how I would like to be remembered. I answered, ‘I think I’d like to be remembered as one who kept my priorities in the right order. We live in a changing world, but we need to be reminded that the important things have not changed, and the important things will not change if we keep our priorities in proper order.”
  • “When we share our time with children, the little things often become lifetime memories for them.”

I have to say, those last two really stand out to me most.

What stands out to you?

For that matter, how out-standing are you? What do you hope to give others based on how you serve and live in this world?

I heard comedian Steve Harvey today talk about his own hope to leave a legacy. In his words, “I’ve scooped a lot of stuff off the ground so you don’t have to slide in it. I tell that to my kids all the time. ‘I just scooped enough of this crap off the ground to keep you from sliding in it.”

Pass-baton-620x480If you were to pass on today, what would your legacy be?

How does that compare to what do you hope your legacy be, that it might be said of you when you pass on into eternity and grasped by others around you?