Church Leadership

Hire where you want to grow

One of my many roles at Youth Specialties is to oversee the YS job bank. While it isn’t the fanciest job hunting service in the world countless people have found their ministry jobs through the site.

The hiring process, for many churches, reveals the pendulum problem. They aren’t looking for the best candidate for their church. They are looking for someone who isn’t like the last person.

I’ve read thousands of descriptions over the years. And I can quickly translate a position description into a description of their previous youth pastor. Churches use a code language that they think is clever but is easily translated.

A fictional example of a position description:

First Presbyterian Church – Youth Director

FPC is a family-friendly congregation serious about the raising the next generation of believers in Anywhere, US. We are seeking an individual to oversee and direct our thriving youth ministry program of 7-12 grade students. Duties will include teaching Sunday school, overseeing midweek Bible studies, planning regular activities with the emphasis on developing the ministries effectiveness. Qualified candidates will possess at least 5 years experience in working on a multiple staff team in a youth ministry role, a Masters degree from a denominationally approved college or university, and a desire to seek ordination within the Fictional Presbyterian Church.

What we know about the previous youth director from this position description:

First Presbyterian Church – former youth director, Cindy Johnson

Cindy was single. (e.g. Not family-friendly) As a former YoungLife staff person she was passionate about students… just not the ones whose parents give a lot of money to the church. (e.g. Serious about raising the next generation at FPC’s kids) She probably did a good job teaching Sunday school, (e.g. The new person can still do that) wasn’t that involved in midweek teaching, (e.g. overseeing is code for “will be there and run it”) and Cindy’s cardinal sin was that she planned activities that were fun and easy to run… but weren’t tied together so that parents could tell what she was trying to do. (e.g. emphasis on developing the ministries effectiveness.) Cindy was focused on youth ministry and never really had her heart in staff meetings for things that weren’t about her job. And the pastor’s wife was highly offended that Cindy RSVP’d “No” to her Christmas Tea, choosing to fly home to spend the holidays with her family instead. (e.g. at least 5 years experience on a multi-staff team.) Cindy got the job right after graduating from her undergrad and left to pursue an MDiv at a non-denominational seminary. (e.g. People were always suspicious of her Baptist roots, anyway. They knew she wasn’t really Presbyterian all along because she didn’t like the bag pipes.)

That’s how the pendulum swings. And it carries right into the interview process with candidates walking away scratching their heads. “Why did they ask me so many questions about my personal finances?” Um, because the last person sucked with money. “Why did they ask me questions about my musical preferences?” Um, because they want to know if you’ll help lead the worship team. “Why did they ask me about my philosophy of parent ministry?” Um, because the parents hated the previous person and got them fired.

They aren’t interviewing you, per se. They are interviewing to make sure you aren’t anything like the previous person.

For untrained people often left to do the hiring… it’s human nature. Want something different? Bam. We’ll give you different. We had Cindy, now we have Tom and Janet and their six kids. Tom’s been a youth pastor for 15-years at various churches, is ordained in the denomination, and has an MDiv from the Presbyterian seminary as well as a Masters in Non-Profit Business Administration.

I give Tom 2 years until that pendulum turns into a wrecking ball.

What’s a better strategy?

Simple. Hire where you want to see growth. The leader a ministry hires should reflect and be prepared to take you where you can’t, don’t know how, or won’t go without them.

youth ministry

The Emotionally Healthy Youth Pastor

For the past 2.5 years my job has shifted from being a youth pastor to being a cheerleader, encourager, and fan of youth workers around the country.

And, not surprisingly, I’ve bumped into a lot of youth workers with a shared story. Careers flopping. Getting fired. Financial struggles. And marriages crumbing.

As you’d expect during a down economy (mixed with a season of re-thinking ministry strategies) there are a whole lot of people in full-time youth ministry who aren’t emotionally healthy.

But I’ve also gotten to know some pretty happy and satisfied youth workers. They face the exact same struggles in youth ministry but they seem to have figured out how to manage it. (For lack of a better term)

Rather than share what I think some of the problems are… I thought it would be more useful to share a couple of things that I see, universally, that emotionally healthy youth pastors have.

Two hallmarks of an emotionally healthy youth pastor

  1. Low ownership of the youth ministry program. They tend to have Sunday school (even if they don’t teach it) and a mid-week program with some events/camps/retreats along the way. They seem less focused on being on the leading edge and more focused on doing what they are good at. They see their role as the leader of the program more than they define themselves as the leader of the program. It’s a profession and they can turn it on and turn it off. It’s not a “it’s just a job” mentality. It’s bigger than that as its a healthy acceptance of their role in students lives.
  2. Belonging to adult community. This is the bigger of the two. We are made for community. Healthy youth workers have more than just a couple of friends they see occasionally. They have community. They have a group of people in their life that don’t see them as the youth pastor but as just another knucklehead in a group of friends. This is being a part of a softball league or a fellowship of star trek geeks or even joining a small group from a church across town.

The interesting thing about these two hallmarks is that they are completely within the control of the youth pastor. These are things you can actually do and change relatively easily. You don’t even have to tell anyone. You don’t have to preach about it. You can just do it.

If you are starting to feel like youth ministry isn’t for you. Or if you are thinking that you aren’t really built to do this for the long haul. I’d suggest looking at these two things, first.

Culture hmm... thoughts

Bad news for suburban kids

graduation-dayIn the next few weeks millions of high school seniors will hear their name called and walk across the stage to recieve a high school diploma. There is an interesting phenomonon on graduation day that I’d like to point out.

Kids in the city are typically pretty excited about the achievement. In the city graduation rates are typically lower and there isn’t the same assumption that every child will graduate. Consequently, everyone is more excited and a city high school graduation ceremony is truly a celebration. Parents go nuts when they hear their kids name called. And students literally do backflips when they get their paper.

Kids in the suburbs are typically excited about graduation for other reasons. It’s assumed they will graduate so the ceremony carries an air of “farewell to my friends” more than a true celebration of achievement. Parents take pictures and clap politely as their children achieve something they fully expected their child to achieve. Rather than this being a moment to celebrate, students are anxious about how much they will get at their graduation party or hoping to get to go to the hot girls party. It’s a nice day but lacks the flamboyance of the party in the city.

That’s not the bad news.

dorm-lifeThe bad news is that kids from the city are going to kick the kids from the suburbs butt from here on out! While their richer, more priveledged peers wallow away their days coming up with new ways to not work, take advantage of their parents wealth, and essentially avoid responsibility as long as possible, all while piling up tens of thousands of dollars in college debt. Kids from the city are taking advantage of the system and running laps around their advantaged peers.

Let’s contrast things.

1. The typical “rich white kid from the suburbs” goes to college on a combination of his parents dime and college loans. Almost none work significant hours. (20 hours per week or less seems to be the norm) They waste time professionally. They are so busy playing, going to class, and hanging with their friends that they skirt by classes without taking them seriously. I’ve met countless affluent college kids who passed all of the tests but didn’t learn a thing in 4 years of college. They graduate with $40,000 in debt and no real life experience. Without a job they move back home and hope that someone will give them a job. I’ve even witnessed these affluent college kids chose to live at home and make no money while skipping opportunities to take entry-level jobs at places in their chosen career path. The assumption is that the system will work for them. One day they will magically wake up from a video-game-induced dream get their dream job and make loads of money. The truth is they don’t know how to work hard to earn good money as they’ve never been forced to innovate solutions or hustle to make rent money. In fact, with the mom/dad fall-back plan there is no motivation to strive to achieve anything. They will always have a roof over their head, they will always have food in the belly, a car to drive, and someone to care for them. And even more true is that the silent racially lopsided system doesn’t work like that anymore. While they were watching The Hills, kids from the city took the upper hand.

2. The typical “working-class minority kid from the city” goes to college on a combination of scholarships, work study, and summer jobs. While their more affluent peers weren’t looking, their ACT and SAT scores have caught their suburban peers and the system rewards minorities who compete academically with rich white kids. In other words, a Hispanic student from the city will get a full ride with the same scores that the suburban kid had. (It’s no secret that scholarship dollars are easier to get for minorities.)  Taking advantage of that, these students work harder in class, consequently learn more, and are ultimately rewarded with more opportunities than their affluent peers. job-search-resumeWork study and summer jobs, combined with almost no college debt result in a college graduate who is highly marketable and financially advantaged for the first time ever. They are more industrious, more hungry to take responsibility, and more aware that they can make it than ever.

As an adult I look at this and slap my head. If you were an employer looking at the resume of recent college graduates… which employee would you want? The kid who came from nothing but is crawling out of poverty by his achievement and hard work? Or the kid who was handed everything and never worked a day in his life?

And that my friends is bad news for the suburban kids.

Parents! What are you going to do with this scenario? How can you change your behavior from enabler to motivator?

Church Leadership illustrations

3 Things I Don’t Want to Hear From a Pastor…. EVER!

Now that I’m a regular Joe sitting in the pew on Sunday morning, I’ve gotten a chance to discover some things that are awkward for the audience to hear. In short, I don’t think pastors should say these things… EVER!

  1. Talk about your sex life. How gross is it to hear any 40 something year old man talk about sex with his spouse? It’s especially gross for a pastor to talk about having sex with his wife while she sits and blushes in the audience. And Ed Young, yeah… we know sex is beautiful… but no one wants to know how many times you had sex in a week. I think I just puked in my bulletin.
  2. Talk about your past careers. I know working at a church can pretty redundant and boring. And sometimes you feel like your role is insignificant next to the corporate types who write the big checks. Get over it, you aren’t a _____ anymore. You’re a pastor, your congregation loves you, and we know you could make more money elsewhere. Please don’t remind us of that every week, we don’t care.
  3. Using your kids sin as an illustration. Holy smokes this has got to damage kids self-image. Can you imagine the horror of not only being busted doing something bad but then having your mom or dad tell hundreds… or even thousands of people about it? No wonder so many pastor kids grow up hating Jesus. Cough. ***golden rule*** Cough. Cough.

Thankfully, Stephen rarely does any of these.

So what do I suggest? I know that these 3 things tend to come up because you need a good illustration. And typically, when I’ve let these types of things sneak in it is because I don’t have time to really research a great illustration. But you know they are “winners” and will go over with the core audience well because it’s personal and the people love you. But, be honest, these three things tend to come out most often when you have little time to prepare.