It’s the buzz word around ministry these days. We move our students from large group time to small group time to discipleship. We want to see student’s grow in their relationship with the Lord and this is how Jesus modeled it for us. Disciples followed Him everywhere; listening, watching, and learning His ways.

There are so many models, curriculum and even conferences focused on the topic. Even Chuck Bomar wrote an awesome post on the topic in relation to young adults last week. It got me thinking about what it is and what it isn’t. So let’s play the game “Two Truths and A Lie” when it comes to discipleship. However, I would like to give it a little spin. Here are three lies and one truth on this important topic:

It’s About Hanging Out

I’ve heard it said often that what matters is just picking a student up and spending time with them. After all, that’s what Jesus did. He spent every moment of the day allowing His disciples to be with Him watching and learning, so therefore if we just spend time with a student then that’s enough right? No. Jesus was always intentional. There was a reason why He went where He did, why He responded the way He did and even talked to the people He did. We have reduced discipleship sometimes to going to the mall and being together or watching students play sports. If the goal is to watch you live your life for Christ and have them model it, are you paying attention to what you do when you do it? Have you considered premeditating questions before you go into a time with students? What’s the goal for being in this discipling relationship? Think before you go. If it’s to help them become a deeply devoted follower of Christ, then think through every situation. Be intentional.

It’s About a Program

I am a huge fan of curriculum and conferences. I think both are great for aiding us in the discipling journey. They often act as catalysts to a deeper conversation.YET, investing in and making a disciple of a student is not a once a week, hour long, one-on-one Bible study alone. I have seen groups who have a discipleship program where the goal is to just meet with your disciple once a week and talk Bible. It’s also not talking to students about topics that are important in knowing Jesus. That’s preaching. Often students are given few places they feel safe to wrestle with their faith and come to understand who Jesus is. They need to build a relationship where they can ask the hard questions. This goes beyond any programming.

It’s About Replacing Parents

Well meaning volunteers often forget to build relationships with parents in this process. Every student who is desiring to be in a discipleship relationship doesn’t want to run away from home. Sometimes they are looking for additional voices to help them along. Make sure you are talking to parents about why you want to spend time one-on-one with their child, or in a  smaller group than usual. In a day and age with more and more “stalker” types sometimes an extra adult hanging around your child can seem creepy, not refreshing if you don’t understand the true reason why they are there.

Anyone Can Disciple

Yes. However, take into account where your relationship is with Jesus and why you want to engage with a student. The goal is they learn what a walk with Christ looks like by seeing it in action. What are they reproducing? It does not mean you have to reach as near perfection as possible. However, it does mean you have a heart that seeks the Lord and just wants to be His. It’s a good thing (and Biblical) to help students grow in the Lord. Just make sure you are offering more of Jesus than yourself in the relationship.

Discipleship is the way Jesus asked us to grow the church I believe. It’s not just about understanding who to follow, we each need to learn HOW to follow Christ.Now does it mean we have to spend every minute of the day with a student? No. It is merely about them understanding more clearly what it means to belong to the Lord, oh and a student has to actually want this. None of the 12 were dragged along. They wanted to be there. The goal is to have a generation who understands living for the Lord starts today.

 

 

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Recently I was in a meeting of the youth ministry minds where this question was asked:

“How often does your group, your youth or your church think of missions?”

The answers ranged from weekly to monthly to an honest, “never.” It was a great question that I felt was poised around “opportunities” to “go and serve” both locally and abroad. In short it was really asking how often we “went” somewhere to think of the people outside the doors of the church. I believe this is an important question and I was humbled at how much others are doing to inspire students to “Go, make disciples.”

Later that week I was taking a flight with my husband. It was on one of “those” airlines where you do not get to pick your seats ahead of time. Instead you line up in a lump by “zone” and hope for the best (unless of course you want to pay the extra to get first pick.) My hubby and I ended up in the final zone, making me really grumpy that we would probably be separated for a four hour flight. Although we ended up towards the back thankfully we were together.

Until…

Now what I didn’t tell you is that I really hate to fly. It makes me nervous on a good day. Yet this time I especially had a knot in my stomach since my flight the week prior had literally bounced through the sky for hours until I reached the safety of the ground.

The “glitch” in this system of picking your seat was that families sometimes get separated.  It happened on this flight; a Dad and young child needed a seat that was not separated.  The voice on the intercom was asking if two people would move so they could be together.  The attendant made jokes about, “babysitting the child next to you” if no one would move.

No one budged.

Again the plead was made, explaining that the only empty seats available were two middle ones in exit rows. A small child is not allowed there. I looked at my husband and asked him if, “It was the right thing to do to give up our seats.” We waited for someone else to step up. I didn’t happen.

Did I mention this flight was at night and I hate, really hate to fly in the dark?

An offer to buy those that moved alcohol was made. I don’t drink.

One more time with desperation, the attendant called, “We can’t move the plane until this Dad and child can sit together.” It had moved from an inquiry to a demand.  Still none of us jumped up.

We looked at each other. Sighed. Gave up our seats. I got to sit in the middle of two people who had brought on food that stank to high heaven, were unfriendly, drank “Bloody Mary’s” the whole way and the flight was bumpy.  It wasn’t pleasant.

I did not want to give up my seat next to my husband. I did not want to have to sit where I did. I wanted my way. Obviously so did everyone else on the plane. Yet, we knew the “right thing” was to let the Dad and child be together.  We wouldn’t want our little one to be stuck next to a stranger just so we could be in a window or an aisle. While I lost four hours of conversation with my hubby there are worse things.

I wonder if thinking about “missions” is far simpler than we realize.

I got “nothing” out of moving. I asked if I could exchange the offer for alcohol for free wifi and the answer was, “I wish I could do that for you.”

There are so many lessons in my little interaction about the reality of “missions:”

  • Sometimes you serve because it’s right, not because you want to.
  • The “blessing” of serving is not always immediate in getting to “see” a “finished product.”
  • Service could be about going out of your way. When I had asked if I could ensure a seat next to my husband in the first place I was simply chided for not paying the money to get one early.  I was offered 3 $5- $7 drinks but no one could float me a code for $8 internet. What about a policy so that children always sit with parents?

I am not the picture of perfection here. I didn’t want to be the person who moved, I just did. I should have been the first person willing to go, and I am sad to say I wasn’t.

Trips are worth it. Yes, put them on your calendar. Use them as a catalyst to get your students thinking beyond themselves. Then teach them to give up their seats. The big events only work when we learn how to use them in the day to day.

-Leneita

@leneitafix

Speaking of trips :) Group Workcamps and LifeTree Adventures offer some amazing options you should check them out!



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This past weekend I had an interesting opportunity to chaperone a trip for “another” youth group my kids are involved in. It is not one in which I am a leader in any capacity. In this setting I am a mom and a volunteer.  My eyes were opened at just HOW hard it is to be the parent/volunteer on so many levels!

For years I have avoided this position, because I wanted my kids to have someplace they could go where we are not leading everything. They get to have a “genuine”  youth group experience without Mom and Dad around. Yet, this time around I gave in. (They needed a van driver who was over 25.) Often the volunteers who tend to sign up happen to be parents of kids in our group. This experience gave me a HUGE appreciation for the parents who show up to serve.

Here is what I learned:

1.  The Youth Pastor Always Views You Through the Lens of “Your Kid.”

Let’s say you have a suggestion about the way something should go. You think it’s a great idea. It may have nothing to do with your child. Even when they listen and treat you with respect it feels like they don’t take ideas or strategies from you seriously. Why? They appear to run all ideas through a filter of, “So are you truly just trying to do this for your kid?”

2.  We Ask Questions For Clarification Not To Annoy You

I knew I wasn’t the leader, I was a volunteer. So I just wanted be clear on what was expected of me. It felt like I asked “too many” questions all the time. I wanted to be proactive, but also wanted to play by the same rules as everyone else not just think about my own kid. I realized that parent/volunteers are very aware of the two hats they are wearing. They/we ask loads of questions to ensure in this setting we are being a “good” volunteer.

JHgirlshulk3.  There Are Times When It’s Really Hard to Have Your Child in the Room

Now my kids are used to me wearing two hats. They have often seen me in situations where I am being the youth worker and then having to put on my “Mom” hat. I know many groups have the “rule” that parent volunteers don’t “teach” their own children. Still there are times when you interact with your kids. When they do things that are not acceptable you have to decide at what point you give them a “Mom” lecture. On the other hand, I had an experience this weekend where another student treated my child really poorly. If it hadn’t been to my child, I 100% would have stepped up and called the student off. However, because it was MY child, I knew the situation would have only been seen as “Mommy saving them.”  It would have made it worse. So I couldn’t do anything but watch my child navigate a hard life lesson. It was excruciating.

4.  Students Actually Like Parental Volunteers

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JH Girls with Leneita

There were several “younger” and “cooler” chaperones on this trip. It was an event where students were required to “check-in” but not spend the whole time with an adult. Somehow I ended up with a posse of 8 Junior High girls who hung with me. I kept telling them they didn’t have to. They kept sticking around. One of the girls actually whispered in my ear, “I like having a Mom around, it makes me feel taken care of.”

In the end as a parent, it made me appreciate my kids way more than I had before. My children are imperfect, quirky and sometimes difficult. Yet, I also came to appreciate the amazing qualities my kids do possess,  and they are mine. As youth people, I think we need to remember that parents who volunteer don’t HAVE to. It isn’t always so they can “spy” on what you are teaching their child or a distrust of their safety. Sometimes it just gives a mechanism to connect with our kids. The feeling that they are “growing up too fast” is overwhelming and sometimes it’s just a way to be where they are.

Just remember to love on those parents, and direct them. I think they are a great addition to any team. (That of course is strictly my biased point of view.)

What’s your thought on parent/volunteers?

Leneita / @leneitafix

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Recently I found myself in the middle of a strange debate with a well meaning guy in youth ministry. He told me  the “real” job of women in this type of ministry is to support their husbands who hold paid positions.  “What if a woman never gets married?”  I asked. His answer was, “As long as they don’t have children, then I guess they can do this full-time.”

I have had these types of conversations before, many times actually.  I am not even discussing a theological debate about “where” women can serve in the church.  I am discussing the niche specifically of youth ministry. When we get together with other women we talk about it, often. Yet,  I think it’s a sticky subject that we tend to avoid in public forums.

WHY?

For me I think it’s that I tend to avoid topics that can just spiral down into an unhelpful cesspool of complaining. Yet, in light of some recent discussions I think it’s worth sharing with you some “REAL LIFE” stories from myself and others that have happened because of their gender:

“We once lived with a broken water heater for a year in staff housing with a youth ministry, because the caretaker didn’t like that I wouldn’t ‘just stay home and take care of my babies.’”

“I have been told my personality is too passionate, too blunt, too emotional for leading in youth ministry.”

“It’s assumed that because I am a woman, the position I want to hold within the youth ministry is administrative. Not only am I not administrative, I don’t enjoy those types of roles.”

“When students break down I have been told to go be relational, because you know women are just more relational. As an introvert who is shy, I am actually better at organizing programs than getting to know kids.”

From a guy: “Someday when I get married my wife can be paid to do this full time, as long as she understands it’s still her job to have dinner on the table every night at six.”

This is a handful of what we hear daily. There are times when we are treated like “Cinderella.”  You can do this ministry thing as long as you tend to your REAL duties as a woman. In the meantime being in ministry does not mean that we ignore the rest of our family or leave our children on the side of the road. We are subject to putting ministry ahead of family and more importantly ahead of Jesus, just like any other PERSON.  Women who aren’t married aren’t using their ministry as a “stopgap” until they find a husband.

Women who do feel CALLED to support their husbands who are paid full-time feel as if it is their ministry too. They would say they are partners not “supporters.” Actually, some wives actually support their husbands calling to youth ministry,  just like they would support their spouse in anything else. This means they aren’t the “extra volunteer.” They love their spouse and pray for them, but have passions elsewhere.

There is so much to say on this topic and more words in my heart than I have to share in a short post.

There have been attitudes and words said to my face that are simply hurtful. The problem with these types of attitudes is they assume the women in our midst are not seeking the Lord or putting Him first. It makes the presumption they have ignored Christ and are doing what they want, therefore walking in sin. It’s “clear” what the “best” way is in the Bible. Yet, in the very lineage of Jesus there is an ex-prostitute (Rahab), a woman who went to extreme lengths (including deception) to clear her family name (Tamar), another taken advantage of by a King (Bathsheba), one who broke customs and boldly laid at the feet of a man (Ruth) and finally the one called “blessed among women” (Mary). These women are who Jesus CHOSE to be in his family line. This is a lineage of bold, imperfect women who would go to great lengths to see justice prevail.

Today’s point is this: Before you say you don’t have “any” misconceptions about women in youth ministry, think about what’s really in your heart. I was told I “had” to quit when I had children. I did. Honestly, I was miserable. My daughter was 5 months old when I went back.

Now, did I work 60 hour weeks anymore? No.  

I took her with me, and when I had to, I worked less hours. I recognized the gift I had in my family, and I wanted to enjoy them.  For me I was pushed aside so often I set out on a path to prove myself. When my kids were in elementary school my husband sat me down and told me it was time to stop trying so hard. I was losing my family in my quest to show everyone what I was capable of. I even worked a high profile role once where I was told, “You wanted to show the world a high capacity woman leader, now you have to prove it.”

Why? Jesus doesn’t ask me to prove myself to Him. I think often times we don’t even realize our misconceptions on this topic. Please don’t say it doesn’t happen. It does. It’s important we don’t pretend it’s not there, while at the same time not getting stuck in hurt because it does. He asks us to follow Him.  He gave us each a personality and talents on purpose to reflect His glory.

He made me a woman who is a wife, a Mom, and called to family ministry.

There are women who tell me, “I could never do what you do.”  You know what I tell them?  “Good, because God has called you to be you.”  I think this is true of each of us…man or woman.

What are your “truths” about women in youth ministry?



Yep, its a bar. Not a fancy bar; just a typical East Texas place where the locals hang out. Actually, its name is now Southland due to an owner change…but the older locals still call it Mr. Jim’s.

Get a picture in your mind: inside is the sit-at bar, games, a karaoke setup, a wall where people sign their name to make their mark. Outside is a big deck area and a playground so that people can bring their kids and dogs. White lightbulbs are strung across the yard. There’s a little wooden stage in the corner of the lot. Nothing fancy.

Its a rare weekend that I’m home but being Labor Day, I’m off the road. I had taken my dog to the dog park so she could walk me when I got this text from Sis: “Want to come up to Mr. Jim’s? I’m up here with “so” and “so.” “But I’ve got the dog,” I said. “Bring her, too. No one will care.” So I went.

People, it was fascinating and as a newbie, I did a lot of watching and listening. My sister is loved there. She is accepted for who she is when other “faith communities” don’t easily embrace her. She has deep “family-like” relationships. People hug each other. Introductions are made when strangers come in. No one cares how you’re dressed or if your dog is tied up out on the deck. When you sing karaoke, people cheer you on whether you were good or not (She was fabulous. I wasn’t). Folks ask after one another, especially after those that are missing. People celebrate holidays and other special moments together. At Mr. Jim’s, hot topics are discussed and yes, things can get heated…but they’re usually forgotten the next time the local pro-team scores.

When Sis was going through breast cancer last year, her community had pink shirts made and wore them (guys, too) to encourage her on. She got numerous cards, flowers, chocolates, etc. She had lots of visitors, calls, posts, etc., all from a community where she’s deeply rooted. 

And God is discussed. People on the fringe about their beliefs aren’t scared to mention and question because their $10 on the bar brings a sense of equal rights. Opinions are encouraged, cruelty isn’t tolerated, and life is lived.

I wish my small church was more like this.

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“I can run a ministry alone,” said no youth worker ever. We simply can not do everything ourselves. Yet, so many times we recruit volunteers in a way that acts like it.

Having been on both sides as a volunteer and recruiter I am more convinced than ever that there are some key ways we can shake a really great unpaid team member. (Notice… large doses of sarcasm ahead.)

Never Communicate Expectations or Just Don’t Communicate Anything Ever

This is super simple. Never tell your volunteers what you want from them, don’t reach out to them regularly and merely avoid being clear on much of anything. Along these lines, use the excuse that you are “too busy” or that you “just aren’t administrative,” when they ask simple questions about logistics. Bring them curriculum they should use the day you want them to teach it, without allowing any space for preparation. Run around like a crazed lunatic all the time without directing anyone. They can figure it out as they go, this is a great learning opportunity for them.

Never Ask Anyone Where They WANT to Volunteer

You have ministry needs. If someone shows up to help, just put them wherever there is a gap, without asking them if they are all right with that. Just don’t bother to empower them or give them ownership of anything in the ministry. Make assumptions based on obvious skill sets that this is exactly where someone wants to give their time. In addition make sure to either raise the bar too high, or too low. It is really helpful to treat someone who is giving their time for “free” as if this is the only activity they participate in. You can also create an environment where everyone sort of stands around with no direction. As a matter of fact just give your volunteers a funky name like “Servants” and then you can treat them like this is the only thing they ever do.

Complain That “No One” Is Helping

Ignore the key team members who always show up, drive, go on trips, or generally pour their hearts out. I mean we are all “doing this for Jesus,” so those that are coming don’t really need encouragement. At the end of the year throw a half-hearted gift at them, and hope they feel like they have done something worthwhile. Better yet just send a mass email saying, “Thank You,” with no personalization. Nope, do nothing. This is best. Make sure you spend all of your time whining how you are “doing this by yourself,” then put an “ad” for more help in the bulletin and keep grumbling that the masses don’t come.

Don’t Bother Offering Training- At ALL- Ever

You can’t get anyone to come to meetings, so why would you want to bother to help your team know how to reach teens better? Chances are they are going to do everything their own way, no matter what you say. Never send them an article, suggest a book or video or take them to any sort of conference (one day, local or in house included.) I mean you have heard it said that those who volunteer believe they are there to support the youth pastor, as opposed to loving teens. You have also heard something about most people who “give” their time really don’t intuitively “understand” youth ministry. Ignore these thoughts. Avoid being creative, or brainstorming with your team ways they would like to be better equipped.

I have done all of these. I have had the tables turned and seen just how frustrating it is when they happen to you. Over the years I have come to learn the quality of volunteers matters more than the quantity. It is possible to keep a team member for a long time. The key is to treat them like the precious jewel they are. Stop making it easy for them to walk away. And remember this one thought: most of the time they will feel guilty telling you why they go, because they do see how hard you are trying so they will make an excuse or better yet- just stop coming and never tell you why.

How do you lose volunteers?

- Leneita

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Two of Casa Caro’s current inhabitants recently experienced a Vacation Bible School that missed every box on the “how to run a solid VBS” check list. Small churches, you can do better than this! (and don’t worry – this church won’t see this post. Trust me.)

-Permission slip for parents to sign? Nope.

-Medical info on each child? Nope x 2 (and one of mine is a diabetic).

-VBS info on their church website? Last update was 2012

-Theme from one of the major publisher’s? R u kidding me?

-Songs learned? Hallelu/Praise ye the Lord, The Lord said to Noah, I’ve got the Joy, Rock/Sand song-circa 1960.

-Opening worship? In sanctuary where they all had to file in one by one in total silence.

-End of the day release? Open the doors and let them run out.

-Follow up? How could they – they never took names or addresses in the first place.

…and yet my two loved it! Couldn’t wait to get up to go each day (and these are kids that only experience “church” at my house). Climbed into the car SO excited to tell me what they learned, ate, did. They felt loved and accepted. They begged me to come the last day to hear their songs.

Later that final afternoon, the 6-year old was sitting on the bench in our front yard.”What are you doing?” I asked. “God provides so I’m asking him for something I need.” “Did you learn that at VBS?” “Yes.” “What are you asking for?” “A kitten.” Yikes. That’s gonna be an interesting carry-on for the plane ride home.

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My son calls them, “Awkward conversations with adults.”

In an attempt for adults to make conversation with a teen boy the first question they often ask is, “What’s your favorite video game?” It becomes uncomfortable for him because he finds himself saying, “Umm, I don’t really like video games.” If he was able, he would be outside all the time playing a competitive sport, preferably football. Sure he plays video games at a friend’s house, but the closest he comes to video games are “app-based” games. He absolutely hates these conversations.

It happens to all of my kids. My 15 year old is smart, a cheerleader, passionate about photography, loves reading (especially anything dystopian), and Jesus. She will tell me, “Adults keep trying to put me into boxes, can’t I just be in all of them?” It’s not just one, it’s ALL of my kids that feel this way. My youngest admitted (with guilt) the other day that sometimes youth group bores her because she doesn’t want to sit and listen to someone talk. My oldest thought she could never fit into the group at church with other college-aged students.

Recently, I have read several articles making broad brush strokes about the younger generation. The irony is that my four kids don’t fit most of the statements that are being made. Come to think of it, many of the students I work with don’t either. I am finding that my own children as well as others are getting turned off by the statements that infer what their generation is and is not, even when these statements are “positive.” It even makes them feel like they don’t really fit into church because they are different. My own kids have tried youth groups, they now avoid because they are told, “All Middle School Students are….” And guess what? They don’t feel that way about themselves. It actually makes them feel like it is just one more place they are on the outside looking in. We talk so much about “inclusive community,” while we compartmentalize students. I wonder if this is one more reason why students leave the church? We try so hard to help them belong, while pushing them away. There are similarities in a mindset, but we must remember everyone is NOT the same.

Recently my daughter was asked to write a persuasive essay for school. Her friends wrote about political ideas or why you should like a certain television show. I asked her the question, “What are you passionate about?” She came up with three things: Photography, Reading, and Helping Inner City Families. She decided she would write about “Why the Church Should Support Inner City Families.” Her teacher didn’t like it. It takes work for them to really figure out what they are “passionate” about. Not every student knows, or some know and don’t think their passion is worthy. Inadvertently some of the systems in place to support our students sometimes make them feel like their passions are “dumb.” Now my daughter has a choice. Stand up for her cause, or succumb to the feeling that her passions should be different. Her first response, “I should have just written about photography.” We often state this is a generation of “innovators” who want to figure out their own way. Yet, the challenge comes when they are not really at a place in life yet where they understand what that means.

I just think we need to be very careful as we embark on this new decade of youth ministry. My generation loved the movie, “The Breakfast Club,” because as a teen we knew exactly which “group” fit us. Those days of “all these types of kids are like this,” is over. Instead, students pride themselves on being a little bit this and some of that. It’s becoming downright dangerous to make assumptions about students just because they are urban, suburban, rural, multiethnic, rich, poor, middle-class, athletic, nerdy, artistic, fat, skinny, and everything in between. For the only common thread is they feel isolated, and like there is “no one else like them.” What they don’t see is we all feel awkward, misplaced and insecure from time to time. We are actually alienating them when we decide who they are based on a new statistical analysis.

I guess in the end I am wondering if we will do the work it will take to really get to know our students?

Instead of trying to program to what they “should” be can we reassess on a constant basis?

What about you? If you are honest, do you lump your students together?