I’ve been feeling something for a while now.

Maybe you have, too.

It’s something I’ve even “prayed” about… like how Christians say they pray about things, but really just conclude something they hope God’s okay with.

closedpulpitI plan to leave my church.

I’ll stand in front of my congregation and say,

“I’m going to attend elsewhere. Things don’t feel like they used to. There’s another congregation that seems more put-together and exciting. They even somehow seem more ‘biblical’ over there, too. You guys just aren’t feeding me anymore.”

Such a plan only lasts for a nano-second.

(Translation: I’m not actually planning on leaving my church. I’m confessing a temptation I feel every now and then… maybe you have, too.)

I’m supposed to be mature.

I need to think bigger than that. You need to think bigger than that.

We need to think bigger than that.

As a lead pastor, I do get emails from people who do this almost every season. It’s like the changing weather makes people change their church.

Thankfully, there always seems to be a remnant through God’s grace – a core group who understands things at a healthier level. These are the “for better or for worse” servant-leaders who get it and push through spiritual walls for the sake of what God is doing in them and through them.

The problem is on a general, church-wide scale it feels like when people aren’t “feeling it” they’re eventually gone:

  • “The worship team doesn’t play the songs I like.”
  • “I purposefully didn’t come for weeks as a test. No one from the church called me. Never mind that I’m not in a small group… the point is…”
  • “The building campaign should be run this way…. instead of that way.”
  • “I showed up for an event and it wasn’t what I expected.”
  • “It’s not how it was when I first started attending.”
  • “I’m just not feeling fed.”

It’s the last one that grinds me the most… not because I believe I’m a great preacher, but if God’s Word is the foundation of a message the only reason people couldn’t feel “fed” is if they closed their “mouths.” According to Jesus, God’s seed is good – it’s the soil that has the problem. Maybe it’s just easier to blame a preacher or church than personally own that.

Why am I posting this here?

There’s a reason why your senior pastor seems worn down some daysit’s because your senior pastor is worn down some days.

Senior pastors often feel like plate spinners who are trying to keep things healthy so people stay happy. It’s not our job, but it somehow becomes our job. It ultimately makes us want to work somewhere where people demonstrate long-term commitment and patronage… like their favorite ice cream store. (Sadly, that comparison is truer than we’d like to admit.)

Right now, go reaffirm a “for better or for worse” commitment to your church and its senior leadership. While you’re at it, dare others to do the same.

Feed up… before he or she gets fed up.

What are some of the “reasons” you’ve heard someone left a church? Share a comment. (Maybe by confessing some of the insanity we’ll better recognize it before it comes out of us.)

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

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

Authentic encouragement is an important part of a successful youth ministry.  Here are some tips to effectively encourage students.
Don’t just tell a student that they rock.  Tell them why they rock.  The more specific you are the more encouraging it is to the student.
It’s very easy to sound condescending when you are trying to be encouraging.  Make sure that you are not talking down to them, and be aware of your tone. When in doubt practice the statement with yourself or another adult leader to test if it is condescending.  I know that may seem weird, but it is better than inadvertently being condescending to a student when you are just trying to encourage them.
Students can tell when you aren’t being sincere.  Don’t try to fake it, mean what you say!
Middle Students are the students who are not the rough students, but also aren’t the really outgoing talented ones.  These students are the most neglected, and need the most encouragement.
This is not the time to talk about yourself, or sneakily brag about yourself.  This is all about them and for them.
You may be the only person that ever encourages them.  So go in with that mindset with every student, because it may be true.
Make encouraging a common practice in your life.  You may not be a natural encourager, but the more you do it the easier it gets.
Derek Parson is the youth pastor at Shippensburg Church of the Nazarene in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania.  He has a youth ministry blog:www.youthministrycafe.com.

What in the world am I doing here? I fumbled my way through the Sunday morning lesson while 50 teens chatted and ignored me completely. I couldn’t do this. Why would God put me here where I was obviously not wanted?

Three years after we left volunteer youth ministry, God called us back in. This time as the leaders.

Our church had been without a lead pastor for around six months, and now their beloved youth pastor was moving on. They needed someone to keep the youth ministry going until pastors could be hired. For some crazy reason, God called my husband and me.

It was one of the hardest, sweetest, trying, and tearful 14 months of my life. It was wonderful.

The world of youth ministry was not foreign to us, but the world of leading one was. Without the proper training, our education came from the trenches. Here’s a little of what we discovered:

Own your ministry.

When we came in, we miserably attempted to recreate all the activities that everyone was so fond of. Every single one of them bombed. After about two months we realized that we had to be who we were. Things went much more smoothly after that.

God will provide.

I was convinced that God had closed that door forever on working with teens, and being back was not really where my heart was. I asked God to give me a love for these students because I simply didn’t have it in me. He was faithful to pour that into me, so much so that as the weight of it came over me, I second guessed that desire!

Establish healthy boundaries.

It didn’t take long for ministry to take over many areas of our lives, blurring some of our boundaries and creating a mess. My husband and I had to learn to respect each other and our differences. We established stronger time boundaries which also helped us in our personal lives.

Youth ministry is hard.

Yes, you know that. But seriously, volunteer sponsors really have no idea! We spent hours and hours helping, working, and serving in youth ministry, but still had no idea how much harder it is to be the guy in charge! It’s extraordinarily hard. And every youth pastor/director should be given something really awesome, like ice cream.

Simple can be good.

With our lack of proper training, an existing full time job, and not as many volunteers as we would like (can I hear an amen?) our students had to fill in the gaps. The amazing thing about this was that they did. And they were awesome! They learned and grew right alongside us. They got to experience the difficulties and take ownership of their ministry.

The biggest thing I learned was that God is in control and working bigger and better things than I can ever imagine.

I am just thankful he let me have a part in it.

Melissa Duggan  just wrapped up a year of working as the Interim Youth Director at her church and is now (again) happily being the support guy in student ministry.

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 love ‘doing’ youth ministry!  It’s so much fun!  There are things I get to do for my ‘job’, that no one else can do!  Going skiing is considered work.  Going to camp is considered work.  Going to a basketball or football game is considered work.  Is that not the best gig ever?  A majority of the time however, I find that I am in my office. That’s some of the hardest work ever.  Especially when disc golf is considered work.

Are you good at working ahead?  I find that I am most productive when deadlines are imminent. It’s hard for me to think way into the future and get stuff done 3 weeks ahead of time, let alone 3 months.

Tip: Set your own deadlines.  I have tried this over and over again.  My problem is that I don’t have consequences when I don’t meet my own deadlines and I have no one holding me accountable.  So, if you NEED to get something done one month ahead of time, set a deadline and have someone consequence you for not getting it done.

Do you work best in the morning, afternoon, or evening?  For me, a vast majority of my work comes in the PM.  I’m not a morning person at all.  My brain doesn’t really start functioning until after lunch.  That’s partially why I take an early lunch, so that I have a majority of my most productive hours ahead of me.
Tip: Figure out what times you are most awake and effective.  Set aside that time for your deep study or for your time to knock off everything on your ‘to do’ list.

Are you easily distracted?  I am often distracted by…you guessed it, the internet.  I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet, but there’s just so much there to learn.  One link leads to another and before you know it, you are watching youtube video on how to clean the spores on a yak.  Bizarre, I know.  Email and Facebook are often calling my name.  I also get distracted by people who come into the office or by myself…going to find people to talk to.

Tip: Get away!  Go to the youth room to read.  Change your surroundings to help yourself get things done.  It’s possible that distractions are the way you live.  You love being around people, so you are distracted by having to sit in your office alone.  So, figure out the times you can be both distracted and productive.

In all things, whether in the morning or at night, whether you are working ahead or playing catch-up, whether you are being distracted or really focused, do all to the glory of God.
“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil.  This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat of who can have enjoyment?” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25)

God has give us work to enjoy, but it is impossible to enjoy your work apart from Him.  So do you enjoy your work?  If not, why is that?  Could it be that you are not really doing it with God in mind?  Yes, it is possible to do the work of the ministry and not have God involved in your life.  Let’s keep the right focus today as we come to our day of work!

Matt Reno is a Youth Worker from Mt Pleasent Iowa and has a blog too that you can check out here

Ever had that moment? A student walks up and tells you that they thought your talk last week was hilarious? Or the game was intense and really great?

And then you ask them what the point of the message was, and they have no clue?

I have.

I’ve learned that I need to spend just as much time thinking about how I’m going to drive my point home as I do trying to figure out what my point is. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. Concrete Ideas: Give your students something to DO. As soon as the message is over if you can. Spell out very clearly for them what living out what you just spoke on looks like. Show them. Illustrate it. Tell them in five languages if you have to. Be very, very clear with your students about what they can DO with what you just told them.

2. Short and Sweet: Get the point of your message down to 120 characters. Why? Two reasons: so your students can remember it and so you can tweet it after the talk. In fact, tweet it multiple times throughout the week, just to make sure they remember it. Even better: put a picture with it. Visuals change lives (I just made that up and have no research to back it up with).

Live It : Whatever you just told your students to do, make sure you are doing it, have done it, and will do it too. You do damage to your message every time you act differently than what you just presented. Think your students will forget your message? You’re right. But think your students will forget your actions? Not a chance.

These things won’t guarantee that a student will remember your talk from last week. But boy they help out!

Ronald is the youth minister at FBC Lexington, TN. He’s married to Bekah and has two girls: Sophie and Penny. Find his blog here and Twitter here