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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UncommonWisdomfrontcoverWith your permission, I’d like to share an adaption of the introduction to my book “Uncommon Wisdom from the Other Side: A Senior Pastor Talks Youth Ministry.”

Not because I want to sell you a book
(although, feel free to buy one).

I want to share something so important that I wrote it there, and have written it here.

 


medic4Thank you for signing up to reach the next generation.

Your heart will gain scars.

You’ll be misled by others.

Close friends will seemingly abandon you.

The resources may run out.

You may fake your faith some days for the sake of others.

Simple things Christians say will annoy you.

The church you serve may appear two-dimensional in your three-dimensional stress.

Students will let you down.

You will disciple at least one Judas.

People will say all kinds of unkind things about you and your family.

And it is the best possible way to live.

medic3It would be easier to just pat you on the back, but you need to know what you’re being patted into.

The reason it’s called “ministry” is because someone is needed to “minister”-which implies a gap exists that needs filling. You may occasionally get applause for doing this, but if you’re looking for it you have things backward.

Trouble will hit.

Relational blood will be spilled.

People you expect to be medics will at times be holding the knife.

And you’ll at times be one of the guilty parties.

medic5If you can see this for what it is and enter the chaos glued to Jesus, you’ll unearth questions about church and ministry you didn’t realize existed.

You’ll also see some things about God you’d like to change, such as how he gets to call the shots on good days and bad days. You’ll later treasure these things because when you aren’t able to answer the “what happens next” question, you’ll start focusing on the “who can I love who is in front of me now” question.

That’s the question that really matters more, anyway.

It’s going to be ugly. Anytime something full of life is born,
there is a big, bloody mess.

Why do we forget this and whine about it when it happens?

Then again… perhaps you feel OK with ministry today and are nodding, assuming you’re ready for whatever comes next.

  • Will you keep nodding when your spouse is about to experience a nervous breakdown because of your “calling”?
  • Will you keep nodding when your own walk with God feels drier than it’s ever been and you have another message to deliver?
  • Will you keep nodding when the bliss of working inside the four walls of a church starts to feel like solitary confinement?

Such hardships may not dominate, but there will likely be seasons when everything seems crazy and Jesus will need you to help redeem even the “redeemed.”

  • This is where what you preach finally gets owned.
  • This is where your faith moves from practical ideas about living to oxygen when you’re suffocating.
  • This is where you take on Satan, not out of adrenaline, but out of Jesus.

medic2Consider this line from C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters where one demon counsels another on wearing down a man who has given himself to their “enemy” God:

“Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

It’s not my aim to destroy your faith but to ground it in the Lord before it gets destroyed. Ministry will give you every circumstance to abandon what you’re doing because there’s always a seemingly nicer job at a store or restaurant down the street where you can clock in and clock out.

Then again, perhaps you weren’t made to clock in and clock out.

Maybe (just maybe) you will deny yourself, carry your cross, follow Jesus, and experience a resurrection in this generation.

(Note the order of that sentence. It’s what turns you into a battlefield medic for the Church.)

Doing that will unearth more of God than you feel prepared for, which in turn will make you run off screaming or surrendered on your own cross, because you finally see students like he does.

Because youth ministry is ugly and beautiful… all at the same time.

 

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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wipelefty
The above picture and hash tag may be the perfect summary of why I love junior high ministry SO much.

I employ an interesting small group strategy: I only lead 8th grade groups. Each year, I join a pre-existing 8th grade group, or start one with guys who weren’t in a group the previous year. Why? It’s selfish, really…it allows me to take a break from leading a group the following year without leaving students hanging without a leader after 7th grade.

Above is the picture of my new small group, which I co-lead with an AWESOME college student, Blake, who is studying youth ministry at a local Christian college. The picture complete with dog pile, goofy faces and fighting for attention is exhibit A for why junior high ministry is so fun. Exhibit B, of course, is the Hash Tag. We thought it would be cool to give our Life Group an official Hash Tag to use when posting various pictures we want to share with each other. #Wipelefty was picked as the result of a brief conversation we had earlier in the evening that went something like this:

JH guy #1: “Kurt, you’re a lefty?”
JH guy #2: “Do you wipe lefty, too?”
Me: “Yes, I do.”
JH guys #3,4,5,6,7: “We wipe lefty, too!”
JH guy #2: “So you wipe lefty…and you are eating pizza lefty!”
JH guy #1: “Hey, I figure it goes like this: You can wipe lefty, and you can eat pizza lefty…just DON’T wipe, with pizza, Lefty!”

Laughs all around. And the birth of #wipelefty

Why would you work with any other age group?

Top Model: Ministry Edition

Tony Myles —  September 16, 2013 — 6 Comments

Youth ministry is safe.

Before you reply back with a counter-thought that puts me in my place, hear me out.

Youth ministry is safe because it gives you a reason to not do what you’re asking students to do.

Role ModelEver notice how easy it is to spend all your time trying to get teenagers to take a bold step with God that you don’t actually take yourself? We say things like, “Share Jesus with your friends! Bring them with you to church!”

How often are you regularly doing those things with your own peers or neighbors?

Maybe you feel you’re too busy serving students that you don’t have time to sit in “big church.” Perhaps you feel so called to your niche that you don’t know where to start with other adults.

Students don’t need another pep talk from you on how to serve their generation. They need to watch you be an example in serving your generation.

Here are some ideas:

  • Print out a Google map of your neighborhood. Write down the names of the people in each home, and learn the names of those you haven’t yet met. Begin praying for everyone by name.
  • Install a basketball hoop so the neighborhood kids feel free to play on it. Use it as an excuse to meet their parents.
  • Instead of reading a book on the couch, head outside and read it outside. Be sure to say “Hi!” to those who walk by.
  • Crank up some familiar music when you’re working on a project outside. Music can help people feel you’re approachable.
  • Share chores with your neighbors, like helping them with a big project or asking them to help you with yours. Spring for lunch either way.
  • Set up a “grown up table” outside for things like Halloween when people will be walking around the neighborhood. Have bottled water and granola bars available for the adults.
  • Get a dog and walk around your neighborhood each day. It gives you the chance to linger without looking like a creeper. Just make sure you pick up your dog’s “deposits.”
  • Do thoughtful things for your neighbors, like mowing their lawn when they’re at work. (Just avoid trimming their hedges to look like a silhouette of Moses.)
  • If a neighbor has said, “If you need anything, just ask,” go ahead and ask. Sometimes you build a friendship by helping someone else feel needed.
  • If you’re not in a situation where you’re close with neighbors, such as apartments or homes that are far apart, organize a board game night in your home or a community room where you provide ice cream sandwiches and the games.

I think you get the picture. The point isn’t to regard your neighbors as a project so you can get them to church and say, “TA DA!” It’s about loving your neighbor as you love yourself so the Holy Spirit can use your example to change more than one generation.

You know this won’t be easy, and you probably have all your excuses lined up. Feel free to comment and share them so we can sort them out together.

I will say this with full confidence, though– this will be more fruitful than you think.

Teenagers aren’t just looking for a great youth worker… they’re looking for a Christ-follower who is leaving footsteps they can step into.

Thank you for loving students!

Tony

@tonymyles



Twitter is full of parody accounts, including some that only those who serve in a church may fully appreciate.

For example, here’s “The Deacon.”

Committee meetings all weekend... wish I was the pastor. Then I could just preach and go home. #ifonlypeopleunderstood #hardwork

Or if you like your deacons a little more “surly,” try the “Surly Deacon.”

Don't start any trouble at my church. I'll be all over you like a worship pastor at a skinny jeans sale.

There are those who represent the grumbling we hear from the congregation, such as the “Church Curmudgeon.”

When we've been there ten thousand years, we may just get to sing Amazing Grace the normal way again.

Then again, it’s worth noting hard pastors can have it via “Unappreciated Pastor.”

Moses' staff split the Red Sea. Mine split the church.

The “Bad Church Secretary” fesses up a bit, too.

I reminded the youth pastor he's preaching tomorrow. He'll be to embarrassed to ask around and find out he isn't.

How about a “Mad Worship Leader?”

Sure we're taking requests for this Sunday morning service.... just a sec and let me put the Holy Spirit's leading on hold... we aim to please!

How about an “Uncensored Pastor“?

Thanks for telling me how unhappy you are at our church. I was just sitting here wondering if we were making you happy or not.

Another strong one is “Stuff Christians Say.”

Changed the Wifi network at church to 'Jesus is watching you'   Bet those teens think twice about where they go online now

 

Lots of fun, right?

Now…

how about those directed at the Youth Ministry nation?

There’s the “Mistreated Youth Guy

Met a lady today who says she goes to the church I work at but was surprised to hear I've been the Youth Minister there for a couple years.

Or the things a “Youth Pastor Says.”

You really need to cut a larger check for the youth designated fund...I looked

A “Hipster Youth Pastor” chimes in.

I lose followers when I make fun of church camp

As well as a “Bitter Youth Pastor.”

Hey Young Life! Heard your game last night involved twerking and eating Oreos out of each others' mouths. I'm sure Jesus was glorified!

There’s even a “Ghetto Youth Pastor.”

I HATE YOUTH - Every youth pastor immediately following all major events

Not to mention a “Smug Youth Pastor.”

Still looking for the ultimate.....full time pay w/part time effort.

How does this make you feel?

A few weeks ago, I shared a post about Christian Hipsters that had its share of support and criticism. I wonder if when we read about a niche group in the church we enjoy the laughter but feel even just a tad bit defensive when we’re the ones under the spotlight?

Got a thought on this? Know of another parody account worth taking a look at?

Chime in.

#PastorProblems

Tony Myles —  September 8, 2013 — Leave a comment

Being a pastor isn’t easy.

problems1Whether you’re a youth pastor, assistant pastor or lead pastor, we all have a unique set of problems that we deal with. Some of these can be serious, while others are rather tongue-in-cheek:

  • Sunday afternoon: “Just realized I forgot to share a funny story this morning. Wondering if it’ll still be as funny next week.”
  • Monday morning: “Oh, great. Someone took a picture of me teaching and tagged me in it. Why THAT picture?”
  • Tuesday lunch: “Hoping Taco Bell messes up my order so I can make a sermon illustration out of it.”
  • Wednesday night: (thinking) “What’s that kid’s name? What’s that kid’s name? What’s that kid’s name?” (says) “Hey, bro!”
  • Thursday morning: “Yeah, it is my day off… fine, I can meet up with you.”
  • Friday evening: “How did I forget I was officiating a wedding tomorrow? Can I share the same message I shared at the last wedding I did? Hope the sound guy doesn’t rat me out.”
  • Saturday night: “What is the proper shout out on Facebook and Twitter to get people to come tomorrow?”

Of course, this is the dumb stuff. We all know there’s more to it… suicidal students, confused parents, pregnant teenagers, hypocritical leaders, exhaustive situations, physical abuse, emotional bullying and more.

I shared it in Uncommon Wisdom from the Other Side in this way:

Thank you for signing up to reach the next generation.

 

Your heart will gain scars.

You’ll be misled by others.

Close friends will seemingly abandon you.

The resources may run out.

You may fake your faith some days for the sake of others.

Simple things Christians say will annoy you.

The church you serve may appear 2-dimensional in your 3-dimensional stress.

Students will let you down.

You will disciple at least one Judas.

People will say all kinds of unkind things about you and your family.


And it is the best possible way to live.

What are some of the goofy or serious “pastor problems” you’ve seen or experienced. be it as a volunteer, part-time or paid minister?

 



awesomeYou know that one thing you just did? Or that next thing you’ll do?

They’re the GREATEST things in the world, and you’re “incredibly humbled” to be do them.

Right?

Welcome to the “humblebrag.”

A Wall Street Journal article describes it this way

“Whether we like it or not, and especially on social media, we’re all self-promoters, broadcasting even our quasi-achievements to every friend and follower.”

The phrase was coined by Harris Wittels who explained that the “humblebrag” is when someone overtly boasts while covertly side-stepping coming across as bragging by wrapping it up in some type of humility

tweet

That’s something Christians can be culprits of just as easily as others.

And why not? Don’t we have the Greatest Message in the world to communicate? And aren’t we all “super excited” at the latest way we’ve found to share it?

  • “Hey, check out my YouTube video…”
  • “You should click on this link…”
  • “Read this post…”
  • “Could you retweet this…”

It’s what you say when someone asks how your last service or event was:

  • “Oh, it was incredible! You should have been there! God did something awesome! And, well… I was just thankful to be used by Him. I always am.”
  • “Well, the pastor was on vacation… and I don’t know if it’s okay to say this, but a few people told me they like my preaching a little better than his. I think a revival may break out soon.”

It’s how you describe the next thing that your name is attached to:

  • “Hey, you need to get your friends out to our next outreach thing. I’m going to bring my ‘A-Game’ and expect you to bring your school out to hear it… you know, so God can work through me.”
  • “I just wrote this blog post that I think just may change the future of how we do what we do. I’m super humbled to share this with you.”

It’s how you let everyone know your life is going well:

  • “Yay! We just became debt-free! It meant living off of croutons and Kool-Aid for six years, but we dropped a few pounds so it’s all good.”
  • “I’m soooooo grateful to have such a super-sexy, always-praying-on-the-knees-while-singing-worship-songs-and-writing-new-ones spouse who made me breakfast in bed today while writing out our tithe check.”

Granted, those are a little over the top and exaggerated. I’m guessing you saw yourself or someone else in them, though.

(In fact, it’s a whole lot easier to see this in others… isn’t it?)

tweet2

It’s worth a gut check:

  • How often do you look for a reason to talk about God and toss yourself in there?
  • How often do you look for a reason to talk about yourself and toss God in there?

I’d love to hear your observations or pet peeves on this.
Maybe even share a few creative youth worker “humble brags.”

Oh… and while you’re thinking of some, make sure you check out my new book Uncommon Wisdom From The Other Side that came out this week. It was a labor of love to write it, but I’m “super excited” for how it turned out.

(Ahem… see what I did there? And you’re welcome.)

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!