busyYou know the temptation.

It goes something like this:

  • Plan for your program.
  • High-five some kids as they come in.
  • Say something profound in your message or class time.
  • Talk up the next big event.
  • Run the next event.
  • Over-hype everything you did so your church is glad they hired you.

(I hope that last one rubbed you the wrong way. Either you aren’t doing that, so you’re offended… or you are doing that, and you’re offended.)

That list as a whole may be a stereotype of your pattern. If you’re a good youth worker, you’re obviously doing more than that.

  • You have a broken heart over the phone calls you get from students.
  • You have run out of words from the conversations you’ve had with parents.
  • You have yet another meeting to explain to your church leadership something they don’t yet understand.
  • You have no room left in your schedule for something you know you need to do.

(Keep in mind, some youth workers like advertising the martyrs they feel they are. Don’t become a stereotype on purpose.)

Whatever you’re doing, and whichever version of a youth worker you are, there is one potential downside to all of your effort.

You may be overlooking the opportunities you have for real, generous ministry.

Uncle Leo - helloThink about the moments you remember most about different people in your life. These are the times when they either made you feel alive with encouragement or depleted with criticism. You may also remember when someone snubbed you because they were too busy to even say hello.

It’s an ironic moment in ministry when a kid walks in, and we’re busy prepping for the program. Our lack of availability seems to say, “Right now, I don’t have time to have a relationship with you… because I’m doing this other thing so I can have a relationship with you.”

So what does it look like to be generous with how you invest into the teens and preteens in your ministry?

Here are 20 things you need to tell students this week (in no particular order):

  1. generousHey… thank you for sharing the cool and random stuff from your life with me.
  2. I love you all and always look forward to this time with you.
  3. I can’t believe how many things we’ve laughed about and cried about as friends. It feels like we’re really on a journey together.
  4. I like seeing how you each listen to each other. Do you know that’s one of the ways God uses you to show one another His love?
  5. You are going to change the world somehow. You’re a leader somehow. The question is how you’ll change the world and what kind of leader you’ll allow yourself to be.
  6. I know some of you have it rough in life somehow. The fact that you come here and are looking for a deeper Story to live in is a miracle. Whether you realize it or not, that’s one of the ways God is answering the very prayers you pray.
  7. You know how we talk about those experiences from stuff that we’ve done together? Those “Remember that one time…” moments? By all means, let’s celebrate that stuff – but let’s also look for ways to let some of our newer friends form some memories with us, too.
  8. I learn something from you all just about every time we hang out.
  9. The questions you guys and gals ask? Wow. They’re amazing.
  10. Some of the things we talk about here won’t feel like they apply to your life. It’s because those nuggets aren’t for you, but if you remember them you’ll be the one to share them with your friends.
  11. Listen, I know each of you are going to blow it at some point. That won’t get in the way of our friendship. On the other hand, you also need to know that I will as a friend try to point you right back in God’s direction.
  12. If you ever need someone who will just hear what you have to say, I want to be one of those people.
  13. You will have moments that you feel weird with your parents. Don’t stop being a part of your family. You will also have moments when you feel weird with me or others here. Don’t stop being a part of church.
  14. I mean this as a legitimate compliment: You’re one of the most unique people I know. God poured some of His best work into you. Don’t ever doubt that.
  15. Some day, when you’re ready for it, I want you to ask me to sit down with you and have the most honest conversation about what I think about you. It will involve some of the best encouragement I can give you. It will also involve me talking with you with complete honesty about your blind spots, too. When we’re done with that conversation, it will be the beginning of a new friendship between us.
  16. How can I better understand your ideas and dreams? What can I do to listen to you better?
  17. There will be times that I will have your back. There will also be times that I will have your front, trying to lead you somewhere. I’ll always have your side, though – we’re on this journey together.
  18. You want to play a game? Let’s do something together by doing nothing together.
  19. One thing I really respect about you is that you’re not just putting God first in your life, but are trying to put Him first in everything. There’s a huge difference.
  20. You’re important. This group wouldn’t be the same without you. But never forget this – it would be nothing without Jesus. Any of us can leave and this will continue, but without God we’re just a church club, you know?

Jesus told His disciples that they were the light of the world. He also knew and proclaimed that He was the light of the world.

Application?

If you want your kids to shine, do it first… generously light them up.

(Maybe even share some of that with your fellow youth workers.)

Got any other good thoughts? Comment and add yours to the mix.

Thank you for loving students!

Tony

@tonymyles

*Love Tony’s insight on service and youth ministry? Receive his articles every Tuesday when you sign up for the SYM Today Newsletter!*

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Quit Nodding Your Head

Tony Myles —  November 13, 2013 — 4 Comments

In ministry? Take part in a church?

Think about what that means.

Really, really think about it.

To help, lean into this wild observation and dare from the late preacher and author, Leonard Ravenhill:

revival“We have many organizers, but few agonizers; many players and payers, few pray-ers; many singers, few clingers; lots of pastors, few wrestlers; many fears, few tears; much fashion, little passion; many interferers, few intercessors; many writers, but few fighters. Failing here, we fail everywhere.”

- from Why Revival Tarries

There is a prayerlessness in the church that you and I nod our heads at but often do nothing about. Derwin Gray calls this ministry pornography – you’re trying to meet a need artificially that only Jesus can grow.

So your success in ministry today it’s not about how many followers you have to your idea or vision statement, but about how many prayer warriors you develop who depend on Jesus and follow Him.

Now… quit nodding your head, and go bend your knees.

(Have a thought on how we could pray more effectively? Share it here.)



burningmidnightoilHow much sleep did you get last night?

I’m not asking what you did last night or the night before that required you to stay up late. It was probably quite noble and likely “for the kingdom.”

Maybe this is even a pattern in your life. You have a bunch of work to do, but want to make sure you spend time with your family during the day. It’s why you put off some of your work until late at night…that’s why God invented laptops, right?

Still, how much sleep are you getting?

Or perhaps more clearly…when are you going to bed?

That alone is worth asking, even if you tend to get in your “eight hours” on a regular basis. Perhaps you’re getting the right amount of sleep, but you’re going to bed on a schedule that puts you at odds with others in your home or the people you see throughout most of your day. You snag a “fourth meal” at Taco Bell, or prep your favorite late-night snack, and plug into whatever you’ve been waiting to get to all day.

It could be for any number of reasons:

  • You’re trying to stay flexible: Ministry requires you to be available on the fly, and you know one of your prime times to serve others is late at night.
  • You’re trying to have some “me” time: Your DVR is backed up with shows you’re still waiting to catch up on, and maybe the only time you feel you can watch them uninterrupted is when everyone else has gone to sleep.
  • You can’t think during the day: It feels like whenever you sit down to get something important done, someone knocks on your door, calls you, or sends you an email that needs your immediate attention.

Maybe you can relate to all of this.

Maybe you can relate to none of this.

Let me ask one more question that goes just one layer deeper.

Who gets to decide what’s healthy in this area?

A friend of mine told me years ago that sometimes you need to give yourself a “fake heart attack.” He had a family member who had an actual heart attack and was told by a doctor to radically reorient his life. This meant new habits with eating, exercise, sleep, and more.

The doctor set the standard.

My friend shared how his family member struggled with this, and so the rest of the household decided to join him in the changes. Everyone had a “fake heart attack” and changed their patterns to help with the real situation.

As you might imagine, the entire family’s life became healthier through the process. Each person lost a lot of weight, had new energy, kept the same sleeping schedule, and consequently bonded more with others in the household than they ever had before. Their relationship grew by leaps and bounds, and they even became more involved in church and other charitable efforts.

Maybe that feels like a Cinderella story from where you’re sitting. “I could never do that,” you might argue. Maybe not.

Unless your doctor told you that you were on the verge of a heart attack. Everything would change then, wouldn’t it?

It’s ironic how we criticize people who only come to Jesus at the last minute because they want to avoid hell. Isn’t this exactly what we do with our health? Until there’s a real fear of penalty, we’ll just keep on pushing our bodies and schedules to their limits because we see no other option that we’ll actually stay consistent with.

Allow me to end on a confession.

burning-midnight-oilI’ve written this article to Tony Myles. If anyone else has read along, feel free to comment.

Me? As I write this, I have a doctor’s appointment in an hour. I’m curious, based on how that goes, what I’ll continue to get away with… and what he’ll tell me has to change in my life.

Can anyone relate?

“In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves. (Psalm 127:2)”

Thank you for loving students!

Tony

@tonymyles

*Love Tony’s insight on service and youth ministry? Receive his articles every Tuesday when you sign up for the SYM Today Newsletter!*

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Untitled

I’m a FFB rookie; this is my first year “owning” a team. And I realize there are some undefeated teams out there, but I’m feeling pretty good (and lucky) about being 6-3 and tied for first. Here are a few comparisons I’ve noticed…

- Week to week, you’re never sure what you’re going to get from your key players. I was lucky to draft Calvin Johnson, who had 50 points in his last game. But he’s also had a 5 point week, and a 7 point week. Sometimes, the middle schooler who I count on to bring insightful comments to our small group and generally lower the “goofy-factor”, just isn’t his usual self some weeks.

- Doing even a little bit of “research” can reveal a bigger picture. I don’t subscribe to a fantasy-insider network, but I’ve quickly realized that some simple observation can reveal otherwise-hidden stories for how players play. Injuries, bye weeks, the current opponent, etc. And there are often unseen stories for how middle schoolers engage: who else is present, what’s happening at home, hidden stress-ers, and even “just how they feel” that day. Taking a few minutes to do a little research (asking them questions, getting to know their parents, just observing) can really help me understand how they engage.

- Every week is a chance to see something you never expected. A wide receiver on my favorite NFL squad (the Bengals) caught a team-record 4 touchdown passes in a game last weekend; he’d only caught 4 touchdowns in his whole career before that! Nobody saw it coming. A 7th grader who’s never indicated any real spiritual interest shows up one week with all kinds of questions about who Jesus is and what that has to do with his life… no prior evidence of that happening, either! I’ve got be looking, every week, for surprising stuff out of students.

I could go on … any of you FFB veterans have any comparisons?



How to Make Teenagers Cry

Tony Myles —  November 6, 2013 — 3 Comments

youtubeTalk-show host Jimmy Kimmel has dared parents to frustrate their kids just after Halloween and capture it on video.

It’s an annual prank Kimmel has featured for the past few years as mom/dad tells their son/daughter how all the Halloween candy is gone… because the parent(s) ate it. The kid usually erupts with some sort of understandable tantrum, and the audience enjoys the gag.

Here’s one of the compilations:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOlpdd7y8MI

Of course, this seems absurd. Why would anyone who loves their kids put them through it? It could arguably erode trust and create suspicion of anything in the future.

Then again, we do this in ministry all the time, don’t we?

  • “Hey everyone, I know we’ve always gone to _________ every year, but this year I thought we’d mix things up and do __________ instead.”
  • “Hi! I’m your new youth worker. I thought since I’m new, it was a good time to change the name of the youth group… and what we do here… and when we meet… and what you call me… and the age groups… and…”
  • “I’m kind of tired of us always singing these songs. I just got back from a conference, and we’re now going to do some different worship music…”

Ever seen this?

Ever done this?

I’m raising my hand with a tinge of guilt.

Then again… sometimes change was needed, like pruning before the fruit could bloom.

What do you think –

when is it appropriate to rock a teenager’s world over something they’ll cry about…

and when is it equal to pulling an unnecessary prank?

HOPE

People are messy. Life is messy. Church is messy. Ministry is Messy. Youth Ministry is Messy.

So it’s no wonder we get it wrong from time to time. It’s no wonder that there have been flaws in our attempts to use messy people in messy churches to minister to teenagers. So today, I was saddened to see another youth ministry book dedicated to discussing what’s gone wrong in the church’s attempt to reach students. I think I’ve reached my tipping point, my “we suck” threshold, folks. I’m over it. Youth ministry is messy, yes, but I refuse to believe it’s completely messed up. I have tremendous hope that what you and I are dedicating our lives to is actually making a difference. And despite accusations of being overly optimistic, chipper and pollyannic, I don’t see my hopeful attitude as akin to the band continuing to play while the Titanic sunk.

HOPEFUL. That’s my new word to describe my attitude toward, and outlook concerning, youth ministry. Synonyms would include confident, positive, buoyant, expectant, sanguine, bullish, cheerful, lighthearted and optimistic. Yep, when it comes to youth ministry I am ALL of those things. And I hope you are, too!

Read, sharpen your mind, don’t put your head in the sand, and listen to people who may have insights you don’t.

But never lose hope, friends.



You just don’t have enough time for everything.

It doesn’t matter how well you manage your schedule. Someone is going to demand more of you than you’re able to give.Wasting-Time

One of the best books I’ve read is Choosing to Cheat by Andy Stanley. Its summary is simply that you’re going to cheat people out of your time, and you have to choose who that will be on a daily basis. The challenge is to make sure no one feels “cheated.”

I first thought that meant I needed to develop a personal value statement as my personal filter for how I spent my time. I later realized that the ministry I served in needed its own values statements for the same reason.

Note how that’s a plural concept. A good one-line mission statement will get you rolling in what you try to do, but several value statements help you foster the culture you’re going to do them in.

Here are our church’s 12 “Family Values” that help us figure out what’s worth spending time on.

    • We put God first in all things. God isn’t just the cherry at the top of our lives—he’s the spoon through whom we approach every part of the “sundae.” Instead of just turning to him about some things, we will follow him in everything.

 

    • We love people and will share Jesus with them. It’s up to us to make the next move that lets others experience God through us. We say nobody’s “no” for them—we give them reasons to say yes. Like Jesus, we receive people where they are and speak truth that guides them out of sin and into life.

 

    • We embrace the tensions of the Bible. The Bible wasn’t given to make us know-it-alls, but to foster wonder and wisdom that leads to conversation and conversion.

 

    • We reclaim what’s Normal and reframe what’s common. There is an “original good” in all people and things that we join our Creator in recovering…we won’t settle for the way things are. What’s common isn’t Normal; what’s Normal isn’t common.

 

    • We create as many on-ramps as possible. Everything we do will help outsiders become insiders so the lost can become found and the young in faith can become mature.

 

    • We learn how to feed ourselves and others spiritually. We’re not going to stay baby Christians but will take hold of what it means become disciples who make disciples who make disciples.

 

    • We own and overlap our circles. Every person has a unique life-calling and care-network they’re to discover, take hold of and overlap with others for an epic impact.

 

    • We form community instead of waiting for it to happen. Proximity doesn’t equal intimacy.  We won’t  wait for community, but will make intentional investments that make it happen.

 

    • We work stuff out with a stubborn love. When we get upset, we don’t exit. Reconciliation honors Jesus Christ, especially when it’s hard, in our relationships and church.

 

    • We are intergenerational and age-appropriate. Every person, regardless of age, has something to offer another person, regardless of age.

 

    • We spend our words and our stuff generously to further God’s Kingdom. We go above and beyond what feels comfortable to see life change above and beyond what feels expected.

 

  • We are a growing church. Our size is determined by God’s calling to reach more people with him. We cannot become small-minded or comfortably sit back when he’s called us to be open-hearted, carry our cross, and join him locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.

I’m well aware how hard all of that would be to memorize. Someone would argue that we should distill those down and have 3 to 5 phrases that sum them up. Perhaps one day we will, but right now we don’t need to. Our leadership team spent a year meeting with every household in our church and we discovered these phrases have become “sticky” church-wide based on messages I’ve shared, things others have said, and initiatives we’ve taken part in together.

cultureIn other words, everyone knows these values even if they can’t fully articulate them.

We’ve created a culture where we know what’s worth “wasting time on.” Where that comes in handy is if I have to spend time on one thing versus another thing, I have a community who understands why. They’ll compensate for me in other areas as needed so I can do what I need to do in what’s most needed.

Do you think this is possible in your ministry or church? What have you learned in this process? Maybe we can teach each other something.

Thank you for loving students!

Tony

@tonymyles

*Love Tony’s insight on service and youth ministry? Receive his articles every Tuesday when you sign up for the SYM Today Newsletter!*

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Super Encouragement

Tony Myles —  November 4, 2013 — 1 Comment

In their off-hours, Spider-Man, Captain America, and Batman, to name a few, are washing windows at children’s hospitals.

windowwashers

Their mission? To bring happiness to the youngest of patients.

“We donned the Spider-Man costumes and we rappelled down the side of the buildings,” said Harold Connolly, president of Highrise Window Cleaning of Clearwater, Fla. “We knocked on the glass, waved hello – there were a lot of big smiles.

“The kids—that the important thing,” Connolly says. “We are hoping it spreads throughout the country and beyond. Other hospitals see this and then ask your window company if they will do it – I bet you they will. Who doesn’t like making children happy?”

(Read the full story via USATODAY.)

Thoughts? Implications for you?