Categories
youth ministry

5 tips for engaging students on a Sunday morning

Newsflash. It can sometimes be difficult to connect with a teenager at church.

Our culture does a lot to communicate to us that teenagers and adults shouldn’t engage with one another. As adults we think, “What could I have in common with a 14 year old?” And teenagers assume that adults don’t really want to be with them. So when thinking about engaging with a teenager at church or youth group you have to start with the understanding that there is naturally a gap or divide to be crossed. You’re going to have to fight past some stuff to really get there.

And frankly, I need to know that the 2-3 hours per week I volunteer with the youth group make a difference. If that time isn’t going to be valuable than I’d much rather invest that time at home than at church.

Getting past “Hi” and the craptastic world of small talk involves some skill. Here’s 5 tips for getting past small talk and helping you really engage with the teenagers at your church.

  1. Take the first step. In my life I’m used to people taking the first step to begin a conversation. But most teenagers, even the most outgoing ones, assume that you don’t really want to talk with them, so you’ll have to take the first step. So push past the awkwardness of initiating a conversation and just go for it. An easy in is always, “Tell me about your week.” Then make sure you listen, not just for an in to talk about your week, but really listen.
  2. Don’t play 20 questions. When taking the initiative to start a conversation it feels easy to play 20 questions. My rule of thumb is that I don’t want to ever get one-word answers so I tend to kick off a conversation with something open-ended. You’re looking for paragraph responses, you want to know what they think, and you want to make sure they know you are someone who really wants to talk to them.
  3. Don’t beat around the bush. About 10 years ago I had a volunteer in my ministry who taught me just to skip small talk altogether. He had this warm, strong way of putting his arm around a guy and saying, “Talk to me about your devos this week, whatcha reading?” I promise you, the reason half the guys in our group read the Bible was because they knew that question was coming and that Jeff really cared about the answer. So skip the small talk about sports, the weather, and TV shows and just get to the point. You want to make a difference and they want you to make a difference— small talk is a sell out.
  4. Go for the heart, share your heart. When we’re engaging with God’s kids at church we need to remember that God cares more about our heart than our feet. We are all going to make mistakes and part of being an adolescent involves trying to figure out who you are. Don’t make the mistake of talking to students about merely what they do. Make sure to drill into who they are when they are doing stuff. And share your heart. You don’t have to relate everything to when you were a teenager, relate what they are saying to your daily life. It’s OK to share your heart… they want to see that you are real and really can relate to them.
  5. Level the playing field. Some of this is body language and some of it is how we position ourselves in conversation. I always want to be at eye level with students. If they are sitting, I sit. If they are sitting on the pavement eating pizza, I pop a squat next to them. The same is true in conversation. They know that in society you are more powerful than they are… culture tells them that. It’s your job to communicate in word and deed that you seem them through God’s eyes… we are all human, we all have the same needs for Jesus, we all have things we are working through and big questions. I’ve found when I level the playing field I go deep, but when I fall into hierarchical habits all of my relationships with students default back to small talk.

What are tips you use for engaging with the teenagers at your church? Share your ideas in the comments. 

Categories
Church Leadership

Outsmarting Your Opponent

Rocky Long is crazy. Yesterday, he told reporters that as head coach of the San Diego State football team he is planning on always onside kicking and always going for it on 4th down.

Rocky Long is genius. By telling his opponents he is not going to traditionally kick the ball off and not planning to punt on 4th down, they have to prepare for that potential even if he has no intention of doing it.

This is Rocky Long’s Moneyball moment. After 40 years as a head coach he has a wild idea and he’s toying with the gamble. He sees something that his opponents don’t. And he’s convinced that this could give him the competitive advantage over more talented teams that he needs.

He told the Union-Times:

And yes, Long — who apparently hasn’t yet tried it all in his 40 years of coaching — is serious about this. “It makes sense,” he said, seeming almost giddy in talking about the possibilities. “Additional plays would allow you to score a lot more points,” he said. “It also puts a whole lot of pressure on the defense.” source

As a season ticket holder I know that this announcement is influenced by his personnel and not just a crazy idea he woke up with. He lost 4 of his most crucial players to the NFL and wasn’t able to replace them with players of equal/higher quality. (QB, RB, MLB, Punter) Additionally, they are one year away from entering the Big East where he will likely have a competitive disadvantage every single week of conference play. He’s interested in a gimmick because he is desperate to give his team any sort of advantage. And just the threat of this makes other teams prepare for it.

That said, the person he’s learning this philosophy from is pretty successful with it.

The possibly not-so-mad professor of this “punting-is-for-wimps” practice is Kevin Kelley, the head coach of a small private school, the Pulaski Academy, in Little Rock, Ark. In nine years, Kelley’s teams have posted a 104-19 record, winning three state titles. Last season, Pulaski went 14-0 and averaged 51 points per game. source

It’s crazy. But it might just be crazy enough to work.

What’s your competitive advantage?

In ministry, the head coach of the other team is Satan. And he’s been doing some winning lately, hasn’t he? Sick of him winning yet? He has more resources than you. He’s got great recruiters. He’s actually smarter and more experienced than you. You are losing, not because you’re a bad person, but because you’ve been outsmarted.

My prayer is that you’re ticked off about this. My hope is that you’re tired of losing. And my eye glimmers with the possibility that maybe you are ready to start playing with the team you have and not the team you wish you have.

Maybe it’s time to try that idea you’ve always wanted to try but thought was too risky? Maybe it’s time to look around and discover something that’s way outside of the box but is totally working? And maybe it’s time you took a 48 hour retreat and figured something out?

Categories
youth ministry

The 48 Hour Self-Retreat – How to plan your Fall 2012 Ministry Strategy

It’s August 1st. 

For most youth ministries things really kick off in 30 days. That means in the next 30 days you need a publishable Fall calendar, you need to check in with all of your volunteers to make sure they are coming back, and you need to host a volunteer training meeting as well as schedule a parents meeting.

Plus, you have all your normal day-to-day work. And you still have summer ministry stuff going.

The Vortex of Doom

Remember that feeling you had in May? The one that looked at what you were doing through a critical, tired eye? The one that said… “Gosh, this was pretty good but we can do a lot better.” The one that resolved to make 2012-2013 better?

Remember how you were relieved to have made it through your annual review unscathed? You left that meeting with a sinking feeling that you probably bought another year before people start demanding “results.”

And now you’re here. You have taken the time to evaluate the past year. You’ve taken a little time away from normality to get some perspective.

And now there is a lot of temptation in your busyness to just do what you did last year with a few minor revisions and hope for different results.

I call that the Vortex of Doom. The Vortex of Doom is that rushed feeling you feel right now, anxiety whispering in your ear… “You won’t be ready in time!” The Vortex has gravitational pull to “just get stuff done” and results in you not doing your very best.

The Promise

If you give into the Vortex of Doom every August and plan to do what you did last year, just a little bit different and just a little bit better, than don’t be surprised when you get to May 2013 and you:

a. Feel worse than you did in May 2012…

b. Get fired because you delivered the same results yet again…

I promise you this. If you take 48 hours and re-evaluate your 2012-2013 plan right now… you’ll be thankful all year.

If you do last years strategy with only minor changes you will not see a different result. Why? Because a bad strategy, wonderfully executed and fully funded, is still a bad strategy. Doing it again this year, with gusto, won’t change things. Investing in your past will never lead to your future.

You work with teenagers… change has to be in your DNA to survive.

The 48 Hour Self-Retreat

Here’s one of my little secrets. While it’s really hard to get my team away for a planning retreat, it’s actually pretty simple to identify 2 full days of planning for myself. Then I can schedule some meetings with key leaders as part of my retreat, say have coffee or have them over for dinner, and they are participating in the planning retreat without even leaving home. (Or knowing they are on your retreat. BAM!)

Tasks for the 48 Hour Self-Retreat

  1. Prayer. Spend an hour or so each day in silent prayer. I’ve found it useful to spend the first 30 minutes just listening and slowing down. Next, I like to spend the first day praying for all of my leaders and students. The second day is spent asking God for wisdom.
  2. Celebrate the victories. I’ve found it really useful to spend an hour or two celebrating what God has done in the previous year. What were wins? Who were the people impacted?
  3. Make some resolutions. What big things need to change? Maybe it’s your target demographic. Maybe it’s what students learn? I can’t answer that for you.
  4. Two-fold research. First, spend 2 hours doing a basic ethnography at 2 different places. Do observation, take notes, etc. (Here’s a link to how to do that.)
  5. Meet with 2-3 key volunteers to ideate. I like to get this to a point of asking, “What if” and “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” statements.
  6. Meet with 2-3 key student leaders to ideate. Same as above. Depending on your set-up you might even do t his with those adult leaders. A dinner is a good way to accomplish that.
  7. Meet with 2-3 “fringe students” to listen, dream, ideate. I actually like to meet with a couple groups of them. Those in the church who should be involved somehow but aren’t. And those truly on the fringe, maybe have visited a couple of times and you see at school, but aren’t engaged at all. Take them out for a coke or go to Dairy Queen… something simple like that works wonders.
  8. Spend a couple hours compiling all of this data, identifying the top 5 learnings. Do this before lunch on the second day.
  9. Have a “So now what” session. Go into a room with a big white board, chalk board, or butcher block paper and just start brainstorming ideas. Look at your data and your learnings and start saying… “So now what?” If you can gather your team for this, awesome. But seriously… this is one of the most critical parts of the process, otherwise you just learned a bunch of stuff but haven’t done anything with it.
  10. Identify 1 measurable difference for the coming school year. It’s not that you are only doing one new thing… it’s that you want to everyone to be able to clearly identify what that 1 thing is and recognize it when they see it. For example, last school year the ministry I volunteer with wanted to dramatically increase the “I know you” factor. So we changed a whole bunch of things so that the group interacted more, hung out more, and got to know one another. At the end of the school year we could all point to that and say.. “Yep, that’s way better.”

So, how did it go? I’d love to hear how your 48-hour retreat went!  

Categories
youth ministry

You know you’re onto something when…

  • the powers that be (doing nothing for years) are nervous about you.
  • people from the church start leaving tracts and books on your desk anonymously.
  • an old lady cusses at you and about you.
  • country club members decide to worship elsewhere.
  • tattoos and pick-up trucks outnumber lattes and minivans in the parking lot.
  • you get sued.
  • your building gets tagged.
  • you get a “performance improvement plan” and are assigned to take the Strength Finders test.
  • a week later the Senior Pastor confesses that he’s jealous of your ministry.
  • the janitor starts covering for you.
  • a ministry magazine and an investigative reporter want an interview on the same day.
  • you schedule volunteer meetings and everyone shows up.
  • your budget gets slashed.
  • you can’t remember whose graduation party or wedding reception you’re at anymore.
  • the fellowship hall you booked for a fundraiser is suddenly being used for a knitting conference.
  • you get called a heretic.
  • you can’t sleep at night.
  • the discouragement is unbearable.
  • the walls of the church seem paper thin.
  • you are exhausted, weary, blurry eyed, but can’t imagine yourself doing anything else.

Remember: Discouragement does not come from the Lord. When you’re onto something our enemy attacks. The closer you get, the more you can expect to be attacked.

Categories
Church Leadership

How much is “enough?”

I go to church on Friday night, volunteer in the high school ministry on Sunday morning, and help lead a high school small group on Wednesday night.

That is enough. When I hear an announcement for something else I could do, or somewhere else they need help, or even something else I would really enjoy doing– I have learned to resist. I am doing enough at church. (If I’m being honest, I’m actually doing one thing too much.)

Hierarchy of serving

I know this is hard for my friends who work in churches. They have spots to fill and they feel like a failure if they can’t fill them. But there is a very real hierarchy of service we all need to bend our lives around.

  1. Serve your family, however that is defined for you. In my life, my kids are in their primary years of faith formation. The Shema dangles inches above my head. There is no mistaking it. My primary ministry right now is my kids, it needs to be my kids, and relying on the church– even expecting them to cater to my kids– is on the edge of sinful selfishness.
  2. Serve your neighbors, there is no other way to love them as yourselves. Jesus’ words couldn’t be more simple. Love God with everything you’ve got, love your neighbor as yourself.
  3. Serve your church, it’s a good thing. The New Testament talks a lot about community life, and Paul talks several times about the various roles of people in the body of Christ. And we certainly get a lot of joy out of serving the greater needs of the church.

For where I am at in my life, with three young kids and two fledgling small businesses, that leaves me with just a handful of non-work, non-running-around-like-a-chicken-with-my-head-cut-off hours to serve. For the sake of simplicity we’ll say that is 10 hours per week.

Within the hierarchy of serving for my stage of life that looks like this.

  1. Family – 70%
  2. Neighbors – 20%
  3. Church – 10%

When I try to do more at church… it’s not like I get more than 10 hours per week. It’s that other areas of my life lose those hours. I sleep less, I rest less, I go to my kids school less, I lean on the fence talking to my neighbors less. And it means that less of what I need to get done, gets done.

It’s OK to tell your church leaders the truth. If you are doing enough and it wouldn’t be wise to take on more… don’t. (And don’t feel guilty about saying no.) There is no shame in doing enough! [Which is why it’s called, “Enough.”]

And if you’re a church leader with spots to fill and no one seems to have the time to fill them, kill some things guilt-free. I know that sounds harsh, but if you’re people are already doing enough… why try to burn them out? Maybe this will even lead you to re-evaluate the priority what you’re doing?

The Disconnect

Here’s an observation from going from a church staff person to a volunteer lay leader. There’s a big assumption differentiation. As a paid staffer I constantly had this feeling that people were on the sidelines and largely uninvolved. “If only I could get them in the game, this church could really do some big things for the Kingdom.” But sitting on the other side of that coin I see the opposite to be largely true. People are very, very involved in stuff at the church and lots of other places. They are exhausted! They are doing too much. It’s not so much that they aren’t doing things for the Kingdom. It’s that their definition of Kingdom is bigger than your church.

Categories
Church Leadership

“It’s Biblical”

click image for full-size

 

 

Categories
Christian Living Church Leadership

The F Word, Part 2

Editorial note: This is part 2 of a guest post from a local San Diego friend. (Part 1) I don’t normally offer guest posts, but this point-of-view is important. Church and youth leaders need to hear from men in their congregations like him. While this post is anonymous, I invite you to dialog with him through me.

 

I grew up reading comic books; it was an escape from the horrible living environment I was stuck in. I had a brother, 9 years older than me, who made me his punching bag; an ex-alcoholic father who switched his addiction to rage, and my mom who had to take a lot of abuse from my dad.

I was attracted to comic books because it clearly spelled out who was good and evil; the good guys won most of the time and what I liked at the end of the day was that they could conceal their identity. Superman became Clark Kent. Batman deftly changed into the billionaire, Bruce Wayne. Green Lantern willed himself back to being Hal Jordan. And poor Spiderman usually stumbled back into his apartment, collapsing onto the bed as Peter Parker.

Their secret identity brought them peace; they protected their loved ones by having it. They managed two distinct and separate lives. It’s something that sounded so great.

But when you have a secret identity, it is more painful than a bruise on your chest or cigarette burn on your arm.

When I was about 14 I realized something; I was attracted to the guys in my high school, not the girls. The realization is a lot to take in, especially around the time that AIDS had surfaced; people were scared; protests were hitting the streets. The words “faggot” and “homo” were en vogue.

I knew I was in trouble.

I managed to keep in secret until about 18 when I told my high school counselor. He sympathized and explain that there were other people out there like me. Once I got to college, my life would change.

It did. My first week at college I became a Christian.

And I was still gay.

In the college Christian group I was a part of, there were great people, but a large majority of them used the words homo, queer, and faggot. I was in some deep trouble.

I had to hide the fact that I was gay. I mean, who could I tell? And the pressure to date was nearly insurmountable.

I managed coming out to some friends, but the loneliness, the isolation was great. No one got it.

That was about 20 years ago.

Since then I’ve tried counseling for 7 years; it was helpful to unpack a lot of the abuse I took, but I still wasn’t attracted to women.

I had a girlfriend in seminary for a year and a half. I thought I could change and make it work.

I didn’t. I broke her heart.

I have mastered the ability to blend in with straight people; they rarely suspect I’m gay. In the Christian world, being gay is right up there with child molester.

You have to understand; I have had friends I’ve never been able to tell. They make the occasional gay joke or if they see two men who are clearly together, they have some kind of snide remark. And I’m sitting across from them.

Now, just so we’re clear: I’m celibate. I’m not planning on having a relationship. You might be thinking, “Oh, good. You’re one of us.” Afraid not. And so we don’t get into a political quagmire that this blog isn’t designed to function for, I won’t get into the reasons why.

The purpose of me spilling this story, the most painful one I have, is to say this.

We sit amongst you.

We are people struggling with being gay, afraid of what their closest family and friends would say. We laugh at your homo jokes and then we go in the bathroom and look in the mirror and hate what we see. We take a deep breath and we go back inside.

We tolerate churches designed around married couples, married conferences, and marriage sermons.

Most of use can’t come out. We risk losing the friendships we have so we’d rather dine on surface relationships, instead of having none.

We long for someone to understand, to get it. And one reason I don’t play the lottery (besides Dave Ramsey’s advice) is that I’ve already won it. I have friends that I’d take a bullet for, who know my true story and love me. It’s not that they don’t love me regardless because I’m not doing anything. I’m not at gay bars or trolling the internet looking for someone. I’m not sinning in my sexual behavior.

I came out to a friend of mine and he looked down at the table, sullen and said, “Everything must be really difficult for you.” We sat there in silence for awhile and I thought, he gets it.

The church will hug the man that just cheated his wife for a year and shun the struggling gay guy who hasn’t had sex in 10 years. Guaranteed. Easy money.

And I’d burn every earthly possession I have, empty my bank accounts, quit my job, and terminate every relationship I have for a pill to change over—in a heartbeat—I’d walk away from that pyre buck-naked, unemployed, broke, but straight.

But unlike my heroes of my youth, my secret identity clings to me and I am forced to hide from what is called to be most loving, compassionate place on the planet—the church.

So here’s what I ask: be kind to us. We are looking for friends that listen and have compassion on us. We are not looking for you to understand us completely, we just want to go through our day not feeling like monsters. We run the risk of losing the people we value by coming out, but we must weigh that against being fake and pretending we are straight.

I also ask that we cut out the gay-bashing talk; I get that it’s funny with your friends and it cuts to the quick, but I guarantee you’ve said it in front of us and we twist inside and mourn inside.

Be kind to us; we are broken and we need no more reminders.

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Categories
Church Leadership

What does your ministry have to do with Dropbox?

Did you catch that? Steve Jobs invited Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox, to his office to play Let’s Make a Deal. And Drew Houston walked away.

Why? In the written interview for Forbes and the video above you get clued into Houston’s reasoning.

  • He said we were a feature, not a product.” Apparently, Jobs was thinking that Dropbox would be a great feature… what is now iCloud. (Which is buggy and I’ve turned off, by the way.)
  • We are excited about the prospect of building a really great and independent company.

Those two statements have great meaning if you understand how the tech industry works. In the tech ecosystem there are whales and minnows and only a few medium-sized fish in the middle. The whales go around and gobble up anything that looks tasty. If you are a minnow your goal, largely, is to get swallowed by a whale. Virtually no company survives a full life cycle from minnow start-up to medium-sized company to big great, independent company. The whales have too much money and too many lawyers. (see Patent Troll)

While at first blush every tech start-up I’ve ever met will tell you that they are excited about their product line and would love to grow into a great company, the reality is that acquisition is probably their exit strategy. If you asked them, “Would you sell to Google?” Almost everyone will say yes because as they grow they realize a couple of things.

  • They are great entrepreneurs/inventors and not great managers of people.
  • They have a product and not a company. It might be their 4th product which hits and makes them a household name but they can’t see past the success of their first product.
  • They are starters and not sustainers. Their business model is short-sighted.
  • They want to cash out to get billions, bottles, and babes.

What does this have to do with people in ministry?

  • If you want to build a great ministry you have to keep innovating. You can’t get so hung up on perfecting your first “product” that you stop innovating altogether and never find the thing that hits.
  • If you want to build a great ministry you have to be a great manager of people.
  • If you want to build a great ministry you have to sustain. Stop looking for a better job and make your job the best job you could ever get.
  • If you want to build a great ministry you better forget about billions, bottles, and babes.
Categories
youth ministry

Social media interaction with minors – Where do you draw the line?

I have a column this week on Slant 33 about this very topic. Here’s some sound bytes.

Youth ministry is dangerous. It will bring you into temptation. It’ll bring you face to face with your deepest fears and greatest annoyances. It’ll cause you to create policies and break them at the same time. Chances are, as you engage with students online, you’ll see all of that and a whole lot more. 

Invitation is the dividing line in my eyes. I think that, as we engage with our students through social media, it has to be about permission. I know many of them say things in Facebook messages or chat that aren’t honoring to God. I know many of them have secret Tumblr accounts and private circles on Twitter and/or Google Plus. But I don’t want to force myself there without permission. I don’t think my role as a youth worker should come with expectations that I’m an FBI agent, cracking into their private spaces to discover what they really think. 

First, I think your church leadership should wrestle through this question together. I know it sounds lame to think about drafting a policy, but there are both philosophy of ministry and legitimate liability concerns to think through. Most school districts do not allow teachers to socialize with students on Facebook. There is good logic there that is worth wrestling through as a staff. Whatever the policy is, it’ll take the staff team policing one another to enforce it. 

Second, I think that when you do engage your students, you should do it through a ministry account and not your personal account. For instance, it’d be a good idea to create a Facebook page for your ministry or church and then interact with your students by using Facebook as a page. It’s a nuanced difference but an important one. It puts you in a position where you are obviously an agent of the ministry instead of the individual person. Because, at the end of the day, that is your role. Just like you attend a Friday night football game as a representative from the high school ministry, you engage with students online as a representative of a ministry.

Read the rest (And Tash & Scott’s take on the same question!)

What say you? 

Categories
youth ministry

5 Minute Strategy Session: Define Your Ministry Goal

Discussion questions:

  • Do you agree with the assumption that ministry programs have relational capacities?
  • Do you agree with the assumption that you need to grow or risk losing your job?
  • What are other strategies you could employ in the next 30 days which would impact adolescents in other spheres?

Here’s the link to download my slides:  [download id=”19″]