Almost every day I hear a different youth worker complain about a parent who doesn’t really “care” about their child. Have you ever done that? I know I have. The “untraditional” family has become the norm with divorce rates continuing at 60% (in and out of the church), parents cohabiting, and grandparents raising grandchildren.

Then there are the struggles our students are facing.  Bullying, abuse, and identity are universal.  However, there are also drugs, violence, eating disorders, cutting, and just generally being a teen.  We keep saying it’s “harder” for this generation.

Why do we think that? 

There was a time when truthfully by looking at someone’s fashion, taste in music, family make up, or “issues” it was easy to identify where they “lived.” There were definitive “sides of town,” with the particulars of what went on there. Now we have come to live in a “mash-up” society of culture, challenges, and tastes. Our idea of who is sitting in our pews, attending our youth groups or living in our community is no longer easily defined by how much money they make, location or the color of one’s skin.The other side of the tracks with their common misconceptions and problems are moving, and reaching each of us in ministry in some way.

Regardless of where you are currently located, I would venture I could place you in a room with 50 other church leaders from anywhere in America and there would be common stories to tell.

As I have had the opportunity to speak across the country I often talk with youth pastors who have students who have some families they struggle with. Everyone has a different “label.” Here are some of the labels I have heard:

Inner city- at-risk-urban- unchurched-spiritually immature- dechurched- and “The Community”Everybody's Urban

The common threads I hear are families living in some form of “survival mentality.” They just are trying to get through the day and “live their life.” You might choose a different term, but my ministry partner Jeff Wallace and I use the term, “new urban.” It does include demographic area, culture, multi-ethnicity, social ills, and socio-economics. However, we would argue, in terms of the Christian community, this title blurs those lines and moves beyond them. Families are dealing with deep-seated issues all around; honestly, some are just better at hiding it than others. Our book Everybody’s Urban can help you delve more into this idea and on how to reach your “new urban” students who are in a survival mindset and quite possibly stuck there.

It’s time for the Body of Christ to stop making assumptions. It doesn’t matter what we label we give, or what we see with our eyes; too many are stuck existing to survive the day when they need to know Christ wants them to thrive.

The question we must ask ourselves is will we stop thinking “those problems aren’t ours” or thinking some families are just too broken, and instead intentionally let compassion move us to action?

This is why Jeff Wallace and myself are partnering with LeaderTreks on April 29 – May 1 for a “Refuel Retreat” at Pawley’s Island in South Carolina. We want to help you embrace and support who is in your group. How do you partner with a generation of parents that seem more distant than ever?  How do you help students genuinely step up and know what it means to belong to Jesus? (For more information click here.) (It’s alright if you don’t want to talk to us just enjoy the free time and being at that beach.)

Won’t you join us in the conversation?

Criticism happens.

Adults nod our head at that reality, knowing that it’s just a part of life. We’re “mature” like that.

Students, on the other hand, are still wrestling with realizing this.

We can argue that they haven’t grown up yet like we have, but maybe it’s something else… maybe the reason they struggle with it is because they haven’t yet let go of the idea (like adults have) that such antagonism shouldn’t be a part of life in the first place. They’re still doing a double-take and a triple-take full of shock and awe on something we’ve closed our eyes to.

hqdefaultIt’s one of the reasons why I appreciate actor Wil Wheaton’s thoughtful answer to a young girl who spontaneously asked him a question at a Comic Con event. She wondered if he could give her advice how to respond to her peers who call her a nerd.

Take a look at Wheaton’s response, noting the way he serves her through the wording and pace he uses to speak to her:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04WJEEb33CY

Any takeaways? For example:

  • Notice how Wil doesn’t toss in a lot of “um’s” into his response. He was speaking from a place of conviction. How did he get there? Is this how conversations happen between you and students?
  • The audience erupted with affirmation a few times, and other times didn’t. Wheaton didn’t seemed phased (no pun intended) by whether they did or didn’t clap… he obviously wasn’t trying to get their approval but address the girl. Again, is this how you handle what students present your way or are you going for a “high five” reply that makes you look favorable/slick/hip/whatever?

What can we learn from this in the way that we serve students through everyday conversations?



The Productivity Vacuum

Leneita Fix —  March 13, 2014 — 1 Comment

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I work in what one would call an “open office.”  For some it would be a “good” thing not having walls around their desks, giving them the ability to be highly relational and creatively collaborative all of the time. When I come to the “office,” I am there to get the administrative “stuff” out of the way. I have tasks I need to get out of the way. This would be fine, except I work with others who see “office time” as “connection time.” What this means is that I rarely feel like I can be productive in getting my “check list” accomplished.

Fortunately, I figured out how to remedy this atmosphere that is a “productivity vacuum” for me. It involved communicating with my staff about our different office time needs. I also need to take the time at least once a week with my team, to meet that relational need. It got me thinking about those universal ways we can be unproductive:

Plan Your Work & Work the Plan

A mentor of mine taught me this awesome saying, “Plan your work and work your plan.”  The “plan” is not the accomplishment. We have to take steps to FINISH the plan. Follow through brings momentum. I actually believe that getting the admin stuff under control gives more time for relational building.

 Tyranny of The Urgent:

We are working our plan when BLAM something blows up. All attention is diverted to put out the fire. This is fine in times of crisis.  However, it’s easy to never work our plan and ONLY be a firefighter. Learn the difference between a real and perceived emergency.

Prioritize:

This can be the hardest part of all we need to get done. There are times when we people need us and it’s true that they are more important than the “stuff” that needs to get done. HOWEVER, we also need to learn what should be at the top of the list and order what needs to be done well.

 

Jack Of All Trades and Master of None: 

It’s my job to do it all!  An inability to delegate is one of the worst blows to productivity. No one person can accomplish everything. Nothing is getting done with excellence while everything is a little bit mediocre.  Make a list of all of your responsibilities.  What MUST you do yourself?  What does your leadership say HAS to be in your hands?  Then what is left?  This is what you delegate. You’re right no one will ever do it as well as you do. However, the more you give away, the more others become invested.

There are so many other ways productivity is lost. I can think of times when my vision for ministry wasn’t clear or when I failed to communicate that vision.

The point is to identify what gets you “stuck” and then to work on that ONE thing first…

What is your productivity vacuum?

Leneita

YouTube Life Skills

Leneita Fix —  October 21, 2013 — 1 Comment

Yesterday I received an email from YouTube that intrigued me.  The subject line read:

Learn 12 New Life Skills On YouTube

Perhaps you got it too? Opening it I found this:

Screen shot 2013-10-20 at 12.27.15 PM

Notice that YouTube “life skills” include slight of hand, solving a rubix cube, rolling a coin across your knuckles, and of course, beat boxing.

I’m not sure what I expected out of YouTube for their version of “life skills.”  While fun “skills” to learn, they are hardly what will truly help anyone in their everyday life. This got me thinking. If I were to make 4 videos teaching something to help a 12-25 year old about navigating life what would they be?

1.  Fail Well:

We mess up. There are even times we totally make the wrong choice. The issue is less about what goes wrong, and more about what we will do to make it right. Will we learn to repent when needed? Will we learn how to improve for the “next time,” we are in a situation? Will we own our mistakes and not get stuck there?

2.  Conflict Is Good/Fighting Is Bad

Learning to confront a difficult situation or disagree with someone respectfully is something many adults don’t know how to do well. In adolescence lives can be all about the “drama.”  Teaching students how to stand up for what they believe in and express opinions for the better good is important.

3. Integrity Above All

Integrity is not merely about learning honesty or even truth.  It’s about putting truth at the forefront of everything- not our interpretation or opinion of- but following through on what is right honestly- no matter what. This needs to be taught and learned by many.

 4. Compassion Moves Us To Action

Our relationship with Christ doesn’t stop with “Jesus Loves Me.”  It is about walking out a journey with Him where He goes, and loving our neighbor as ourselves in the process.  What will we do when we see someone hurting? Will we notice the hurting in the first place?

I would love to solve a Rubix cube without pulling all the stickers off, and I do have a secret dream to be a quality beat boxer, but I hardly call it a “life skill.”

What life skills do you need to teach your students?



In your ministry, you have influence. You can use this influence to shape the way each student views learning about Jesus; His love, creation and His expectations of us. You can create engaged and active learners who are eager to learn more. Instilling the love of learning in those you minister to can be done by engaging your students through their creativity and simply by loving them!

Engaging your students through their creativity

  • Look for ways to be a blessing – Take a stuffed teddy bear to someone who isn’t feeling well, bring a copy of last week’s sermon to someone who missed church, smile when you pass someone by, buy someone a Bible. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Simple is powerful.
  • Build things together – Houses for the homeless, a set for a ministry video, build a new podium for your senior pastor. When you build things together, you are learning about teamwork and about caring for other’s through skills you may or may not have had before.

If you are not so creative, delegate tasks to the students who are, they would love to put their talents to work! Someone great at designing t-shirts, have them design some for a fund raiser. Someone great with woodwork, have them design a set for a play geared toward teaching other’s about Jesus. Someone great with the camera? Have them take some pictures for a new ministry photo album.  Short on ideas? Ask the creative ones, they will have many ideas on how they can use their talents to serve the ministry.

Simply love them!

  • This means showing grace in what may seem to be the worst situation. Things happen. They are here today, done with tomorrow. Loving others should be our focus. Remain at peace through the storm and let God handle the details.
  • Listen – Sometime we are so busy teaching and talking, we forget to listen. Take some time out to hear what they’ve got to say.
  • Be transparent – Be real with them. You have struggles just like them.
  • Spend time with them with no expectations – Let time spent with them flow whether it be into conversation or into a crazy fun game night!
  • Be involved in what they enjoy – When you enjoy being around someone, you’ll make the time to be involved in what they enjoy. It could be you showing up at their soccer game, going to the mall with a group of students or going to the arcade. Spend time in their world.

When you engage your students through their creativity and simply love them, they are actively learning about Jesus; His love, creation and His expectations of us. They will leave your ministry with the tools needed to equip others with the love of lifelong learning as well. Which is so important because this is how we grow in spirit and in stature, we’ve got to be actively engaged and eager to learn more for all of our lives.

Ashley Fordinal is the Children’s Church volunteer at Family Life Church in Sulphur Springs, TX.

How To Grind It Out

Chris Wesley —  February 5, 2013 — 4 Comments

There are those days in youth ministry where it feels like you are running through mud.  They are slow, there is no significant progress and the only thing moving is your blood pressure rising from the frustration you feel.  I can’t tell you when these days will come, they just seem to emerge and when they do they are awful.  So what do you do when ministry is mud?

YOU GRIND IT OUT

That means having a plan that is going to help you move forward, no matter how hard it is to be creative or productive.  To develop that plan means:

Setting A Firm Schedule: A framework to your day will make sure you aren’t wearing yourself out.  That means start time and stop times.  Breaks and times when you just sit back and learn.  During the times that you schedule for writing, creating and developing you may notice little fruit; however, having the framework will make sure you aren’t dwelling too long in the frustration they might bring.

Fuel And Rest Up: Just like an athlete when the days get hard you need to make sure your energy level is at it’s highest.  That means not staying up later, eating right and taking care of your body.  Sometimes the writer’s block that you feel is because you are tired or not feeling well.  It’s at these times when it’s important for you to focus on your health and not your productivity.

Become A Learner: You could simply be out of ideas.  Taking the time you would usually write and create and devote it to reading, watching podcasts or meeting with other youth workers.  Listening to others and reading their thoughts will sometimes kickstart the productivity engine.  Just make sure anything that develops you write down.

Spend Time In Prayer: When you are in a void of ideas it’s easy to feel disconnected.  The best way to reignite this connection is to talk with God.  I find that quiet time in scripture calms me down and takes away the frustration that I may feel when it comes to a writer’s block, lack of ideas or a hard day at work.

Youth ministry is just like any industry where you’ll find moments where you just need to grind it out.  Do not stress, just go to a plan that will help you move forward.  Stay focused, put your head down and lean in.  Remember these seasons are temporary.

What would you add to the plan?

Chris Wesley (@chrisrwesley)