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That’s right, I said it. There are actually tons of perks those of us fortunate enough to work primarily with young teens enjoy that the rest of the youth ministry nation doesn’t. For example:

- Parents are somewhat interested in what we are teaching on Sunday, where we are going to camp, and what movie we are showing at the lock-in. Yep, that’s actually a perk.

- Most of the stuff you teach is brand new to them! For the rest of their lives when they hear old, worn out, illustrations and stories they’ll think to themselves, “Hey, this dude stole my junior high pastor’s story!”

- Their enthusiasm and energy. I know it drives you crazy sometimes (errrr, most of the time), but the fact that junior highers are almost always “all in” is a wonderful thing.

- They almost always look back at their time in the junior high ministry favorably. For some reason, the further removed from the ministry they get…the better the junior high ministry was!

- You get to cherry pick high school and college age volunteers who already understand your ministry and want to follow your leadership because they spent two or three years in it themselves.

- Junior highers say really funny/awkward stuff:
“Rachel, our van stopped on the way to the girls trip to feed a Hobo.”
“Kurt, your nose is big! But that’s cool ‘cuz there’s lots of great smells out there.”

- You are viewed as a Martyr in your church. Sure, many of the adults in your congregation don’t understand why you do what you do, or what you actually do…but they LOVE that you are the one doing it, not them!

- You get paid piles of cash! Ummm….scratch that one.

Add your favorite “perk” of working with junior highers in the comments!

creatvity

The (unfair) truth of the matter is that some people are just naturally more creative than others. And sometimes those folks who feel like they are lacking in the creativity department decide that instead of learning how to be more creative, it’s better (or easier) to simply admit their creative shortcomings and focus on other important aspects of ministry.

So this post is for those of you who would identify as “creatively challenged”. Here are a few tricks I’ve utilized over the years that have helped me stretch my creative muscles:

* Plan Ahead. Planning and organization IS NOT a road block to creativity as many people think. The reality is that when you plan ahead you leave lots of time on the front end of a project to chew on things, talk to others for input, etc. Many creative folks claim to be much more creative in “crunch time”, which is fine….if you are a creative folk. Otherwise, a litle pre-planning will go a long way.

* Find Your Creative Time. Creativity is hard work, so do it when you are at your mental peak. If you are a morning person, do your creative thinking first thing. If you are a night owl, wait until evening time.

* Be A Looker And A Reader. There’s an old saying: “Stop and smell the roses.” I say, “Stop and smell the roses then figure out how you can use them in an object lesson.” The world is full of all sorts of awesome sights, sounds, smells and textures that we can apply to our ministry settings. Become somebody who looks at the world around them and who reads magazines, billboards, bust stop ads etc. Observant people are usually fairly creative.

* Use T.V., Don’t Let It Use You. While watching TV, keep a notepad handy and jot down anything from the news, sporting event or show that you might want to refer to in an upcoming lesson.

* Hang Around Creative People. There’s strength in numbers. Two heads are better than one. All of us are more creative than one of us. One of the best ways to stretch your creativity is to hang around folks who seem to ooze it.

* Always Ask, “Can this be improved?”. Don’t settle for the status quo. If you plan ahead, you’ll have plenty of time to look over your lesson, event, parent meeting agenda etc. to see where you can make it better.

* Empty Your Mind Before Beginning. After an activity, it’s important to keep good records and files that you can refer to next time around, but try to avoid the temptation to make reaching for last year’s file the first thing you do this year! Sometimes starting with an entirely blank slate is the best way to let creativity flow.

* Have An Honest Ear. Is there somebody in your ministry who will be honest enough to tell you when an idea is a dangerous one, or a stupid one, or a boring one? Having somebody you trust to bounce things off will help keep you from settling for something uncreative as well as protect you when your newfound creative skills could get you in trouble!

* Become 5 Again. I’ve never met an uncreative 5-year old! But something happens as we get older: We become aware that certain ideas shouldn’t be shared. We get penalized for “coloring outside the lines”. We become insecure and afraid of failure. All of these things serve to shut down our natural creativity. Force yourself to set these adult attitudes and concerns aside from time to time just to see what the 5-year old version of yourself comes up with!



summeryouthministryHow are you spending your summer with students?

I personally know of several youth groups that shut down because of their proximity to a lake or local activity that keeps teenagers busy, while other student ministries seem to amp up their programs and significantly grow during this season.

Youth worker Austin McCann offers some great thoughts that will help you spend more time with students, no matter what your situation may be.

Like many student pastors I struggle with finding time to hangout with students. In the summer I feel this struggle more than ever… Let’s face it, you can’t leave the office and spend everyday with students this summer. If you do, you will probably get fired! But how do we manage hanging out with our students this summer while making sure all the office work gets done and our ministry doesn’t fall apart? [ READ MORE ]

Austin believes it may be as simple as:

  • Get to the office earlier.
  • Take them along with you.
  • Do stuff at night.
  • Take them out to lunch.

 What have you found that works for you in the summer?

FlightTrack-ProI am a fan of the iPhone app FlightTrack Pro and TripIt. I seem to have seasons of busy travel and these apps help keep all my travel plans centrally located. TripIt is free, if you don’t mind ads, but FlightTrack Pro is $10 (their is a $5 version…but go big or go home!).

TripIt takes your trip details (confirmations from hotels, airlines, etc) and creates a helpful itinerary right on my iPhone (or Android). It will sync with your calendar app and online at tripit.com. After you have registered an email address with TripIt you can simply forward any of your confirmation emails from that address to plans@tripit.com. You do not need TripIt for FlightTrack Pro to work but FlightTrack Pro will seamlessly use all your Tripit data…COOL!

FlightTrack Pro allows you to see flight details on zoomable maps and get real-time departure info, delays, and gate numbers.  This app has been super helpful when I am traveling to a youth ministry conference, flying out to speak at a retreat or events, or taking teams on a mission trip.

A Few Highlights:

  • Sync’s with TripIt and phone’s calendar
  • Share flight status by email, Facebook or Twitter (parent win!)
  • Offline mode for use in airplanes – maps still work!
  • Airtime, aircraft, and speed & altitude (Nerdy Flight Stats)
  • Real-time status for gates, delays and cancellations

If flying is your things you might want to check out FlightBoard too, it helps when monitor connections, delays, and arrivals ($4).

How is this app free? Well, I went to Starbucks today and saw that the $10 FlightTrack Pro app was their free app of the week.  That means you need to get to a Starbucks before Tuesday July 9th and grab a “Pick of the Week” card. If you do not have a Starbucks near you post a comment asking for a code…I grabbed a dozen to share.

 

**UPDATED**
All the codes are gone.  Thanks for reading, and keep an eye out for more give-a-ways!



Senior Pastor questionsA healthy relationship with your senior pastor is a core part of a healthy youth ministry.

It doesn’t matter if your church is large, medium, small or a start-up – your roles can powerfully complement each other if you each discern how to powerfully compliment each other.

A lot gets in the way of that, and it isn’t just about ego or insecurities. Sometimes you both become so busy that a disconnect happens over time. The good news is you can nurture something healthier, starting today.

Here are four questions you need to ask your senior pastor to get the ball rolling:

    • “How often do you want to meet, and what for?”

      In one church I served in, my senior pastor wanted to meet each week so we could synergize our efforts together. It was full of great encouragement and brainstorming. I instigated that pattern in the next church I served in, only that senior pastor found it annoying to meet every week. It ultimately degraded our relationship as he assumed I didn’t know how to do my job and needed extensive coaching. Make sure you both know how often you need to meet and what the purpose of that time will be.

    • “Do you need a safe place to just vent?” 

      When I made the transition to become a senior pastor, I suddenly became aware of perspective I was clueless about as a youth worker. This space is too small to list it all, but I will simply say that it adds up and isn’t always something you can debrief with your spouse about. Offer your senior pastor the chance to dump out what they’re sorting out, be it as a spiritual leader, parent, organizational boss or a human being. Honor that with confidentially and prayers.

    • “How can I serve you this week?”

      You’ll likely be surprised by the answers you hear and don’t hear to this question. As I asked this of my senior pastors I’d sometimes get a quick response, such as “I really need someone to teach this class for me. Can you do it?” Other times I had to pull out something of them by saying, “It seems like you and your wife haven’t had a date night in ages. Can I watch your kids on Friday so you can go out?”

    • “Who can I confront or encourage to help you out?”

      This may be the most awkward question you ask, but it can be the most therapeutic. Your senior pastor has a network of relationships that are similar-yet-larger than yours. You can help pour water on flames that need to be put out and gasoline on the fires that need to grow. Be willing to confront a critic or help spur on the most recent volunteer.

This is obviously not a comprehensive list, but maybe it gets you started. It also helps you better live out Hebrews 13:7: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”

What are some questions you’ve identified that we all need to be asking?

I recently hired a junior high pastor for our church. The process was long and tiring but now I am nearing the finish line…just one more thing to do before I close this file. I need to communicate the hire.  The levels I need to communicate to are:

  • My team (Verbal Communication)
  • Church Staff (Digital Communication)
  • Congregation (Digital/email Communication)
  • Parents (Mail, and Parent Meeting)

My Team:
This was easy.  They knew I was looking and even met with candidates as I was bringing them in. That said, it is easy to assume that those closest to you just know…sometimes they don’t. It is important to keep those close to you in the loop.

Church Staff and Congregation:
I sent the same basic letter to church staff, the congregation, and our parents. Our staff received and email and our congregation will hear about the hire through the website and our eNews email.

Parents:
Parents did not receive any digital communication, they have access to the web and will receive our eNews, they received a parent letter. The added communication to parents is in the form of a parent gathering.  Cookies, carbonated beverages, coffee and a brief introduction with lots of mingling. This personal touch is so important for parents.

Here is what we sent in our parent letter:

Junior High Parents!

new-hire

As you may know, we have been searching for a junior high pastor for nearly a year; a person to partner with parents, train up students, and bring a fresh wind into our junior high ministry.  After many hours of seeking, sifting, meeting and praying we have found God’s person for the position.

Please join me in welcoming (PERSON’S NAME) as our newest youth ministry team member.  (PERSON) will be taking the Junior High position as of (DATE).  He will oversee the entire junior high ministry at (CHURCH OR CAMPUS NAME).

(NAME) grew up in (TOWN). He has been serving as the (PREVIOUS JOB OR SCHOOL) at (CHURCH NAME OR SCHOOL NAME) in (TOWN) since (DATE). During his time at (CHURCH OR SCHOOL) (PERSON’S NAME) has attended (SCHOOL) working toward a (NAME OF DEGREE) degree.

I am eager for (PERSON’S NAME)’s arrival and am excited to see how God shapes student ministries in the months to come.  Please pray for us and with us as (CHURCH NAME) student ministries moves forward in this new season.

You and your junior high student are invited to come meet (PERSON) at the (CHURCH OR LOCATION) on (DATE) at (TIME). Refreshments will be served. Hope you can come!

Grace,
Brandon Early

 

Final Thought:
Youth ministry gets a bad warp for beings irresponsible and too silly at times.  When communicating to parents I raise the bar on professionalism, I want them to trust me with their kids so I don’t try to be edgy and super funny in letters to parents. I recommend that if you add a photo of the person you hired, I wouldn’t choose one with him or her in a suit and tie (which may be appropriate in your setting) but I also wouldn’t send out an obnoxious, crazy pic either. This is all a precursor to building trust.

If it will help you, feel free to download a template of my “New Staff Parent Letter” here.



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Not long ago a youth pastors forum I am a part of discussed the “bikini” issue.  It became a lively debate on how each of us handled the topic.  My favorite response was from a guy who currently serves in Europe.   He talked of culture responding,  “I wish they would wear two pieces here.  Yes it’s a one piece, only the bottoms for men and women.”   This one statement has stuck with me as I have talked about the need for appropriate swimwear with both my youth group and my own children. It made me realize that as we discuss the topic of dress in any way we must ask our students three questions:

  • When it comes to dress, is this a “girl only” issue?

Answer:    NO. We over focus on how visual guys are.   A girl dressed in just the right way causes them to think in the wrong direction.  However, a “hot guy” minus his shirt will garner the same response.  While in America, we usually don’t have to ask guys to avoid speedos,  let’s recognize everyone is  looking at each other.

  • Why are you wearing it?

Answer:  Is it the style or are you trying to be “seen?”    When you look around a beach there are women 8-80 in two pieces.  Guys are wearing certain things to make the girls “swoon,” or are they.  We can argue cultural norms,  however, why are you wearing what you wear?

  • What are you doing to stop the madness?

Answer:  We can place so much emphasis, especially on girls, to watch what they wear we can miss a vital teaching point.  Responsibility falls on both sides of this issue.  When we put on clothes,  we should be learning how to be pure in this area.  HOWEVER,  those peeping need to take responsibility for their lingering look.  So pose to your students: will they consider others when they dress AND will they work on where their thoughts wander when they see those around them?

These questions should be posed to all our students. I work with primarily unchurched inner city students,  and I work with them on this.  It’s a journey in learning to follow the  Lord,  this is one piece of the puzzle.

 What questions would you ask?

bikini

 

 

 

 

How many of us remember “Baywatch?”   The series spanning over a decade was known for it’s beautiful lifeguards jogging toward the water to save some poor drowning soul.  The running joke of course was that no one cared about the plot.  Guys wanted to see the very buxom Pamela Anderson and girls wanted to see guys with six packs.   Here is the irony.  While the beach scenes were full of two pieces, the female cast always wore a one piece.

In the last couple of weeks I have had numerous discussions about whether or not those of us in youth ministry should dictate the summer uniform of our students.

Bikinis, shorts, and tank tops are among some of what we must navigate.  I recently heard someone say,  “Well my unchurched kids just don’t know any better.”

The easiest approach is to just balk, “Modest is Hottest,” and move on.   However,  especially with our unchurched students if we merely give a list of rules,  they may or may not choose to follow them.  They may or may not care is they are causing another person to “stumble.”  (If they even have a clue what that means.)  So where do we begin the conversation?

  • Teach Purity- Not Modesty

Modesty is about clothing, or covering.  At the water we focus on a bikini. Yet, recently a guy told me,  “If I let my eyes linger and my mind wander it really doesn’t matter if a girl is wearing a large sack.”   The ongoing discussion should be on the struggle to understand purity.  This deals with what we allow to come into our soul through our eyes, mind, ears and heart.   It goes way beyond the clothes.

 

  • Year Round Dress Code

I am a firm believer in both dress codes and rules for our youth programming.  Rachel Blom did a great job of spelling this out in her blog here.  This is less about a set of “do’s and don’ts”  and about creating an environment of standards.  These ideals should be posted,  and gone over often.  Expectations should be clear of our consistent students.  New students are informed for the next time they come.  Guidelines help level the field whether churched or unchurched as to what they are “supposed” to do.

The question is less about what goes on our body and what is going on in our hearts.  Our unchurched students may have never been told  any of this before.  Our “churched” students may have heard  but never understood.Most importantly will we explain WHY this is idea is important to us?  In Part 2 we will discuss three questions we must ask every student in the great bikini debate.

 

Do you allow bikinis in your programming?