rickwarrenlornemichaelsDo you identify more with Lorne Michaels… or Rick Warren?

The former is the long-tenured producer and mind behind Saturday Night Live. For almost forty years, Lorne Michaels has not just kept his up-and-down-in-the-ratings variety show on the air, but has more recently found much of the creative talent for late night TV. Clearly, he knows when he’s doing – even when he hasn’t known what he’s doing.

The latter is the well-known megachurch pastor, ministry coach, global activist and best-selling author. Rick Warren has connected with the average person in need of purpose and given ministers a strategy that has turned many congregations (and youth groups) around. He’s led a church where his staff and volunteers can grow into their S.H.A.P.E. for ministry.

So… which one of them is right when it comes to dealing with creative people?

In her best-selling book “Bossypants,” Tina Fey spoke about how Lorne Michaels taught her that “Producing is about discouraging creativity”:

lornemichaelstinafey

“A TV show comprises many departments — Costumes, Props, Talent, Graphics, Set Dressing, Transportation. Everyone in every department wants to show off their skills and contribute creatively to the show, which is a blessing. You’re grateful to work with people who are talented and enthusiastic about their jobs.

You would think that as a producer, your job would be to churn up creativity, but mostly your job is to police enthusiasm. You may have an occasion where the script calls for a bran muffin on a white plate and the Props Department shows up with a bran cake in the shape of Santa Claus sitting on a silver platter that says “Welcome to Denmark.”

“We just thought it would be funny.”

And you have to find a polite way to explain that the character is Jewish, so her eating Santa’s face might have negative connotations, and the silver tray, while beautiful, is giving a weird glare on camera and maybe let’s go with the bran muffin on the white plate.

And then sometimes Actors have what they call “ideas.” Usually it involves them talking more, or, in the case of more experienced actors, sitting more. When Actors have ideas it’s very important to get to the core reason behind their idea. Is there something you’re asking them to do that is making them uncomfortable… is there someone in the room the actor is trying to impress?”

Rick Warren, on the other hand, has explained that we should delegate to creative people even if we fear the wildfire:

Rick-Warren_avatar_1392753644-150x150

The key to motivating creative people to lead ministry effectively is granting ownership. At Saddleback, as much as possible, each ministry makes its own decisions without a lot of oversight from the staff. We believe that the implementers should be the decision makers. When everything has to be passed by a committee or board, we tend to ask “why?” about every decision. But our initial response to the ideas of creative people should actually be “why not?”

Warren adds that the three things to focus on include:

  • Give them a challenge: Jesus took a dozen average guys and challenged them to go tell the gospel to the entire world… something they could do over time as the church expanded under their leadership.
  • Give them control: Growth happens in an atmosphere of freedom where leaders are encouraged to dream, to try, to experiment, and even to fail and move forward. Burnout happens when we squash every new idea with a skeptical attitude.
  • Give them credit: Affirm and encourage those who serve. Point out successes, provide guidance and comfort through failure, and remind people of their calling and giftedness in Christ.

brain_gears_iStock_000013485370Small1Who do you identify with more?

Which one is your style?

Which style are you serving under?

What have you learned along the way?

baby

My buddy Matt, the youth pastor at our Irvine Campus, and I just returned from helping launch Saddleback’s first international youth ministry in Manila.

The week was filled with hype, hope, and hard work around the launch. In fact, we were talking so much about “Week 1″ that I finally felt compelled to remind them that we were launching a youth ministry, not just a one-time event. Brittany Hinzo, who helps me with our international stuff had delivered a beautiful little baby girl just a few days earlier so I used her as a launching pad.

“Remember how excited we all were to hear about Brittany’s new baby girl, Navy? Guys, anybody can have a baby! The reality is the birthing process is the easy part; anybody can do that. What’s tough is raising a baby! While I’m just as excited as you about the launch, and largely responsible for creating this excitement, I’m more concerned about week #2 and week #28 and week #84 than I am about week #1″

Youth workers are notorious for new ideas, big plans and fireworks. We love “having babies”! And we are often equally notorious for being terrible at raising them. We have programs we never should have birthed, we are neglecting the health of important things because we are excitedly birthing new things. etc.

We love to ask each other what we are doing that is new, fresh and exciting and rarely ask each other what things we have been doing faithfully for 5 or 6 years that are bearing good fruit.

So while I’m excited about the birth of Saddleback Student Ministry’s addition to the family in Manila, I realize that anybody can have a baby. Can we raise one? I hope so.



up

Summer is a great season for youth workers. For some, things slow down a bit and you finally get some breathing room while for others, it’s packed with tons of extra events and activities. And even though the ministry I’m part of falls into the latter category, summer is still my favorite part of the year. So whether you are swinging in a hammock a little more often this summer or staying late getting ready for tomorrow’s youth event there are a few things you can do that will “Up” your summer.

“Grow Up”: Summer is a great time to read the latest youth ministry, leadership or personal growth book that’s been sitting on your shelf or taking up space on your tablet. Fall is a great time to say to folks around you, “This summer I was reading and….”

“Show Up”: Where can you show up this summer where your presence would be a welcomed surprise? Can you pop into the senior adults potluck and love on the oldies of your church? Maybe your parents have grown to expect you to miss family stuff in the summer because of your youth ministry schedule? Taking the time to “show up” unexpectedly in the middle of summer shows others that the ministry you lead isn’t the only item of importance in your life.

“Blow Up”: Summer is a fantastic time to make changes…especially changes for the upcoming school year. Far too many youth groups do way too much stuff simply because they are afraid to blow up an older, ineffective piece of their program. Sometime this summer, escape for three hours and make an honest list of the stuff your ministry still does every school year that it really doesn’t need to. Then, mentally light a fuse and blow that sucker up.

random

- In my quest to help our students and youth leaders feel more confident explaining, sharing and even defending the gospel (which has included a quest to try to first define the gospel), I stumbled upon the book, What Is The Gospel? In it, authors Greg Gilbert and D.A. Carson take a direct, traditionally evangelical view of scripture that clearly articulates the gospel of Jesus Christ. It won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but it was mine. Or maybe because I love tea so much I was just looking for a reason to use that analogy.

- Are you a Youth Worker? Do you live in Los Angeles? Do you like Saddleback Church? Are you looking for a challenge? If you answered yes to ALL of those questions (or know somebody who would), you may be excited to learn that Saddleback Church has launched a new campus in the heart of LA/Hollywood and we are in the early stages of preparing to launch our student ministries department. The first step: Finding the right man or woman to lead the charge. Interested? You know where to find me!

- Having mostly not surfed for the past few years (the rest of my family enjoys riding dirt bikes in the desert MUCH more), I’ve jumped back in with a renewed energy and passion for the sport. My current “quiver” (set of surf boards) includes a 9′ long board, a 6’6″ Tri-fin, a 6’2″ fun board (shaped like a long board, but short) and a 5’10″ retro fish. They’ve all been purchased on the cheap, and I’m hoping that having lots of surf boards makes it easy for the rest of the Johnston clan to give it a shot this summer!

- I’m Learning…a Lot! I’ve been leading ministry teams for over 25 years, and while it’s never been easy it’s never been as tough as it is right now. For the first time in my ministry career I feel like I am as much of a “manager of systems” as I am a true leader. Saddleback Church currently has 12 campuses (U.S. and abroad) and very soon we will have youth ministries happening at all of them, and my role is to provide leadership, coaching, quality control and ensure they are all simultaneously very true to our ministry paradigm while also feeling free to contextualize appropriately. I knew it wouldn’t be smooth sailing all the time, but what has surprised me the most is that stuff I thought would be challenging and problematic has been fairly easy, and stuff I assumed would be in the no-brainer category has actually been the hardest part. I’m hoping that an old dog can, in fact, learn new tricks.

- Have you been watching “Let’s Talk Youth Ministry”? If so, share it with a friend in the youth worker nation! Me and my buddy, A.C., post a new episode every week mostly as a way to mix up the format on this blog a little bit. It’s sort of like the old Simply Youth Ministry Show, but a little more laid back (mostly because A.C. is the most laid-back person in the history of mankind!). Here’s one fun twist: We are hoping to add a short video from one of you each week! You can send us a 60 minute video that asks a youth ministry question, shares a “I can’t believe I did that” moment, or serves as a word of encouragement (so far, these seem to be the most popular). Just shoot a one-minute video on your phone and email it to letstalkyouthministry@gmail.com



bleeding woman touches jesus

Every year our junior high, high school and college teams sneak away for “Staff Camp”. We jam-pack the 36 hours away with training, dreaming, planning, laughing, playing and eating…lots of eating.

It’s at Staff Camp that I introduce the area(s) of our ministry that I’d like us to give extra attention in the upcoming year. Usually, I pick aspects of our ministry that have tangible, measurable results affixed and challenge our team to give these areas a little boost in the next 12 months. But not this year. This year I decided I wanted our team to focus on ourselves instead of on our youth ministry. Granted, as we boost these two areas personally, it will impact our ministry but that wasn’t the ultimate goal.

So this year, I’ve asked our youth ministry team to strive to be more faithful and faith-filled. Here’s how I hope that plays out:

FAITHFUL: A big part of being a youth pastor is simply showing up; being faithful to your role….making the donuts. Knowing your spiritual gifts and using them faithfully, being consistent in the little things, refusing to bury your talents, etc. are some of the ways we can be more faithful in our roles as youth workers.

FAITH-FILLED: One of my favorite Jesus encounters in scripture is when the bleeding woman reaches out to touch his robe as he walked by. Her “If/Then” faith is astounding. She didn’t know much about Jesus…mostly stuff she had heard through the grapevine, but she had the faith to think, “If I can touch him, then I will be healed”. I want our team to have that kind of faith! I want our team to do youth ministry with an “If/Then” mentality! What might it look like if we minister in a way that assumes Jesus will show up if we give him the chance!

Chances are you and I haven’t met. I don’t know if you are full time or part time; the leader of your youth ministry or part of the team. I don’t know the size, style or denomination of your church; if your youth groups meets in a spacious youth center or in the janitor’s closet. I don’t know the challenges you’re facing or the victories you’ve won.

But I do know that you can be faithful and faith-filled….and if you were on my team, that’s what I’d be hoping for you this year!

It appears that the multi-campus strategy for church growth is here to stay…for a while, anyway. And regardless of how you might feel about it, if your church decides to launch a new campus or two or three, you will quickly find yourself trying to figure out what that looks like in your youth ministry setting.

Our church, thus our youth ministry, has been functioning as a multi-site campus for about seven years. Because we’ve been at it so long, you’d think we would have it completely or mostly or at least partially figured out by now. And we do! We have it partially figured out (we’re slow learners). As our youth ministry has struggled to get our arms around multi-site youth ministry, here are a few of the bigger questions we’ve asked ourselves as we continue to muddle our way through a multi-campus approach to youth ministry:

Does The Youth Ministry Approach To Multi-site Ministry Need To Mirror That Of The Larger Church? Because so many youth ministries have a fair amount of autonomy and often do things ways that don’t reflect the rest of the church, it makes sense that this question needs to be asked. Our decision was that we would mirror the larger church in the bigger, more crucial, pieces of the strategy while reserving the freedom to customize things that we needed to. As a result, our youth ministry multi-site strategy is a very similar looking hybrid of the overall strategy.

How Much Freedom Do We Want Each Youth Ministry To Have? This is a huge, and ongoing question. Right now our motto is, “We Are Many; We Are One!” which is an attempt to keep in the forefront of our minds the desire to be one youth group in several locations. In reality we are several youth groups that share leadership, resources, strategy, etc. We’ve created a red light, yellow light, green light system of checks and balances: Red Light things are things the various campuses have to do exactly like the rest of us. Yellow light things are things they can “proceed with caution” on; do it how they want but be mindful of bigger picture. Green light things are things they have complete freedom to do in any way that makes sense in their context. Determining the level of control your central or “main” campus will have over the others is a fundamental question that needs to be answered…and evaluated on a regular basis.

How Do We Solve The Curriculum Quandary? What do the various campuses teach, and when? Who writes curriculum and lessons? Are messages pre-produced on video to ensure quality control across the board? Should every campus be on the exact same scope and sequence? We’ve decided that each campus can have the freedom to teach anything they want…as long as it’s from our massive archive of lessons that have already been used in our original youth ministry. Not a perfect approach, but it’s working for us.

If you happen to be part of a multi-site youth ministry, please share some of the questions you’ve had to answer along the way!



Lazy
If you, like me, have the privilege of actually getting paid a full-time salary to work with teenagers, you are in a rare category…and you are probably lazy, like me.

Full-timers: Because you work lots and lots of hours every week, you are probably really struggling with my accusation.
Part-timers and volunteers: Because you work lots and lots of hours every week ON TOP of your youth ministry role, you probably have a smug, “it’s about time…” look on your face right now.

Full-timers, indulge me for a minute.

- Do you regularly take 2 full days off each week? Volunteers and Part-timers usually don’t…they are doing youth ministry on their day off.

- Do you get paid for the week you are at Summer camp? Volunteers and Part-timers usually don’t…in fact they often have to use one of their hard-earned vacation weeks to attend camp.

- Did you take an extra day off the week following Camp? Volunteers and Part-timers probably didn’t. They were right back to grind.

- Do you ever roll into work a couple hours late the morning after a big event, or after mid-week because you “worked late”? Volunteers and Part-timers probably aren’t allowed to do that by their other boss.

- Do you ever hang out on facebook, update your fantasty football team or pin something on Pinterest on “church time?”. volunteers and Part-timers could get fired from their jobs for doing the same thing.

- Do you ever go to the dentist, go to your child’s football or soccer practice or take an extended lunch with your spouse on church time without reporting it to HR? Volunteers and Part-timers don’t have that luxury.

I could keep going. But I’ll spare the full-time youth worker community any more embarrassment! I’d be willing to bet that nobody in the full-time youth worker kingdom is “busier” than I am: I lead a team of 20 full-time staff and hundreds of volunteers that minister to thousands of teenagers each week. I serve on our executive team and my boss is Rick Warren. I am expected to give oversight and direction to the youth groups of six regional campuses and prepare for the launch of youth groups in TWELVE international campuses; each in a different country. I blog a little, create a few resources and speak here and there, too.

AND…I get paid for the week of summer camp, take an extra day off (or two) after each camp, roll into work a couple hours late after events that keep me out at night, I update my fantasy team from my office and go to the dentist and attend my son’s sporting events on company time. Benefits that my busy volunteer and part-time friends probably don’t enjoy.

Maybe I’m not “lazy”…and you probably aren’t, either. But I am fortunate, blessed, honored, privileged and overjoyed that God tapped me as one of the lucky ones. Typically I encourage youth workers to avoid the temptation to compare their lives to those around them. But today…and maybe every time you feel a little overwhelmed by your role…take a second to shift your focus from the junk of full-time youth work to the joys; from the pressures to the perks; from the busyness to the blessings.

When I focus on the junk, pressures and busyness of my ministry life I get overwhelmed and whiny.
When I focus on the joys, perks and blessings of my ministry life I want to work even harder at it.

Thoughts? Bring it on!

YOU STINK!

 —  August 9, 2013 — 4 Comments

 

I don’t like to admit it but there are a lot of ministry “things” at which I’m not very good….Correction; there are a lot of ministry things at which I just flat out STINK! And sadly, just because I stink at certain aspects of ministry doesn’t mean they somehow go away. Wouldn’t it be cool if God said, “Hey you, since you are horrible at X, I’ll just keep X away from you and the ministry you lead.” I don’t know about you, but if He did that for me there would be more stuff taken away from my ministry than left in it!

Because I stink at lots of ministry stuff, I’ve had to develop a three-pronged approach over the years:

1) Be okay being below average at some things.  I’ve simply had to “settle” on the reality that there are some things I’m never gonna be good at, and lower the expectations I put on myself to perform at a top level in those areas.

2) Selectively learn some new skills.  And while I’m learning to be okay with just being okay at some things, I’ve also picked a few key areas at which I stink that I think are worth learning to be good at. I can’t learn to be good at all the stuff at which I stink, but in my case I was SO BAD in a few key areas that I simply had to learn the skills necessary.

3) Surround myself with smarter, more talented people. I’m completely okay not being the smartest or most talented person in the room in most cases…especially when the topic or task involves an area at which I stink and I’m not willing to learn to get better at it. Giving these areas of ministry away to others frees me up and allows people to use their gifts to make our ministry better; a win-win!

Guess what? You stink, too!  In fact, you stink really bad at some stuff that is vital to the success of your youth ministry. And for some of you, it’s hard to admit.  So I’ll get the ball rolling in the hopes that some of you may be willing to share your “stink” in the comments section. Who knows, somebody who’s really good at it may be able to help you out.

MINISTRY STUFF AT WHICH KURT JOHNSTON STINKS (Note: This is just a partial list; actual list is much longer)

- Remembering names.

- Reading and sticking to a budget.

- Keeping track of registration forms or checks handed to me by a parent.

- Not using sarcasm to make a passive-aggresive point.  But if I may brag for just a moment…. I’m REALLY good at using sarcasm to make a passive-aggresive point.

- “Turning the corner spiritually” with students in one-on-one conversations.

- Returning emails, texts and phone calls in a timely manner.

Let’s get the comments going….share a tip for me….share something you stink at….share a tip for somebody else!