Thursday, December 10, 2009

Plan Man...

General Dwight David Eisenhower knew a thing or two about what it takes to win. Back in the fourth grade I did a huge report on his life. I still remember how much I learned about him, all these years later. Out of all the stuff that I took in during that project I still think about a certain quote that he is famous for. He once said “Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” Wow. This is certainly true in ministry.

When I started in my younger years I had all of these huge plans about how things were going to be. Nothing could get in my way. I was determined that I would just barrel through all the madness and get it done. To some extent, this worked. But when you put your head down and drive it into problem after problem you are going to get a headache or two... or in my case, more. Cobb watched me and knew how much I could take. He helped correct me when I needed it most and let me learn the lessons that I needed and made sure that I did not kick myself out of ministry for the long haul.

We spent so much time in planning meetings. When we were getting ready for each season of the year it was time to plan. When we did big events we planned. When we did smaller or follow-up events we planned. Sometimes it seemed that we spent more time planning than we did for the actual events or activities themselves. It got to the point that we often wanted to just go home and hope that everything would work out for the best. But we had seen where that had gotten us in the past and knew that the dilegence would pay off. It was about making the sacrifices when they needed to be done to get the good results that we wanted.

So next time you are feeling tired and weary, to the point where your eye lids are heavy and you want to skip the planning meeting... don't. Just get it done and you will save yourself time on the back end of stuff and be happy with the results you get. And you will not really know when you did not plan well enough until it happens and you look back and think, “yeah, that wasn't the best way to prepare.” be a professional and get stuff done. Your ministry will grow tons.

Friday, December 4, 2009

If you build it...

Field of Dreams, I love that movie. I still cry at the end. Kevin Costner builds the coolest home baseball field in his backyard in the middle of a corn field. When he does this all the old dead baseball greats come to play ball. It's every boy's dream. Don't you wish ministry worked this way; you know, you build a team of volunteers, you get a piece of the church building to use and then all of the sudden, tons of kids come from out of nowhere and give you this dope huge ministry??? I know, that would be awesome!

We have to bring ministry out to the students in our community. They want direction. They are a spiritual generation. But they aren't gonna come to your group just 'cause you think that you have the best one around... and maybe it is the best group. I don't care if you have great music, games, groups, food or speaking; if you do not go to them then you are going to miss a lot of opportunity. They want to know what it is that you think is so important. They hear from their friends at school all the time about how fun youth group is and that they should come check it out. But they will not if you do not first reach out to them. Some will come, a majority will wait.

A couple of items to consider. First you need to know what you believe. Are you the evangelism person or do you prefer a smaller group? Peter had it right when he said that you need to always be ready to let peeps know why you believe. And even further than that you have to do it in a way that is not going to drive them away from wanted to be sensitive to the calling of God. Now, whether this is easy or difficult to you it must be done. When you know what your passions and goals are then you will be able to take the Gospel to the community and peeps will want to be a part of your group.

Do you go to extracurricular activities that your students are involved in? Do you go to school activities, eat lunch with them at school, dinner with their families, visit other church groups, go to seminars and conferences, etc. I hope you do. Have a plan. If you use your time wisely then you will be able to calendar these times in. they are important. Model the ministry you would like to see your staff and students do. Value your ministry and take pride in your time and work, and your ministry and its success will follow.

Monday, November 30, 2009

To preach or not to preach...

I was in a group setting the other day with a bunch of pastors and everyone was putting in their two cents. I guess you could imagine how hard it was to get a word in – for anyone! It was funny to watch everyone try to one-up each other with statements, scripture and some straight up nonsense. As a pastor you will soon learn to walk the line of preaching and pastoring. They do not always go together. But if you do not master each of them then you are going to open yourself up to public mockery and you will see your influence decline quickly. What exactly am I talking about?

You may know what it looks like for a pastor or two or forty start to get all revved up on a subject. They begin speaking in that certain voice. You may know the one to which I am referring. The one that sounds like if you dare to speak against what they are saying then you are no less than an idiot. These pastors would prolly deny this, but they all know that tone. We all have it. We are recognized by it. We have the angry voice, the parent voice, the teacher voice, the business voice – you get the point. Some are not so bad or not bad at all; some are.

And this particular instance reminded me of the many times when I opened my big fat mouth and inserted my foot. Not necessarily that what I was saying was wrong, it was just the way that I said it. But in all of my infinite wisdom I would continually cut peeps off mid-sentence because I knew what they were going to say and I would get impatient. I really think that God had to fight against me, wanting to use me but moving through and around my stubbornness; I created tons of work for God that was not needed. I never understood how dumb I was acting until I saw others do the same thing. I would be like, “Man, that guy sounds ridiculous.” and then I would hear the same stuff coming out of his mouth that I would say to peeps in the same situation. I was aware of my surroundings because I listened. And then it dawned on me... I listened. The first step! My point is that there is a time to preach to peeps and a time not to. The time to preach is when you are given some kind of platform – and the key word is “given.” you know, like when your students come to a weekend or midweek program event. They know what they are there for. They know that listening to message is part of the event. The time not to preach... any other time than that.

That's it! The rest of the time I would advise you to work on being pastoral. That is what you need to do. There is no reason to tell everyone how much you know or use your seminary language. They know you went – you have the degree and the debt to prove it. I mean, that is what JC did. He preached when he needed to and the rest of the time he loved on peeps. The next time you are going to get on your soap box... stop and count to ten. Think of what you are going to say and consider the consequences, good or bad. There is a time for exhortation, yes. However, I think we abuse that more often than not. Just a thought, not a sermon.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Never say never...

When I decided to change my major to Xtian Ministry and make it a vocation I had my mind set. I would go into youth ministry for a while and then move on to be a senior pastor. You know, I would kinda use the youth thing as a stepping stone. But God would have a little bitt different path for me. I did not know what I was in store for in my career as a pastor.

One of the conversations that Cobb and I would have every once in a while would be the “where do you see yourself in the long haul” conversation. I thought nothing of it. I knew what I wanted and the plan that I had for the next ten or more years. But Cobb knew something that I did not, apparently. He would casually ask me the “why” question. He wanted to know why I was thinking whatever I was thinking at the time. He never presumed to know what I was thinking nor did he try to make me think a certain way. He would just challenge me often on what was going on in that little brain of mine.

I never knew why I thought that about why I wanted to be a Senior Pastor, I just figured that is the way that it was supposed to go. I knew that I loved spending time with teenagers and peeps who wanted to make teens better and more involved with church and God. But I thought that is what everyone was thinking. One day Cobb asked me why I wanted to be the leader of a parish and I thought about it for a minute. I could not think of anything else except for that I figured that was the way it was supposed to be. Then he gave me one of the classic Cobb challenges.

He asked me what my life might look like if I choose to stay in youth ministry for the long haul. Wow! I had never even thought of it. In fact, I knew I would never do that... I mean, that is not how it is supposed to be. But why not??? we began to talk more about it over a number of conversations. It took me about three more years to come to the realization that I thought that is the way God was leading me – to youth ministry for the long haul. This of course lead to more questions. Was I turning off God in my earlier conversations with him; to which the answer was “no.” it just took God a little while longer to get through to a stubborn punk like me.

I still talk to Cobb about career stuff today. At one point I even asked how long he had known that I was fighting my heart concerning my ministry for the long haul. He just smiled. Never say never. Your ministry could be going a direction that you don't even know about right now. Trust your instinct, yes. But also trust the words and encouragement of those you trust to speak into your life. Will I be a senior pastor someday? I don't know... maybe. But right now my heart is focused on bringing students to know JC better, and building into those who have the same passion. What is the direction of your passion.

Knowing the value of connections...

When I graduated and came onto staff I was on the younger end of life and ministry. Cobb knew that I needed a lot of work. I, on the other hand, thought that I had all the wisdom and knowledge I needed to be a successful youth pastor. I would prove him right and me wrong time and again very early and often. I saw this most prevalent in the way that I viewed the way I spent my time in ministry.

I was focused on spending time the the students. I thought that the more time I spent with them the better the ministry would be and the more it would grow. There was some truth in that. However, I was no longer a volunteer staff member on the team. I was now one of the youth pastors on staff and needed to change the way I viewed ministry, concerning my job. I was not just in charge of my group of guys in junior high, I now needed to view the ministry as a whole and what was best for the entire group. In the beginning I did not necessarily embrace this. I wanted to be in the middle of the action. You know, for games, groups, stuff like that. But I made the decision to put myself on that outside of that as soon as I came on paid staff.

My worth would now be in the connections I would create and maintain, not just with the kids, but more importantly with the volunteer staff and interns. The more I could influence the leaders, the ones spending the one-on-one and quality group time with the students, the more impact I would have. Cobb always told me that the earlier I realized that my influence was most effective in the staff the sooner I would see growth in my ministry. So, I focused my energy this way.

I read tons of books on leadership and studied what it mean to build leaders. What was good for me was that on of my strengths was intuition. I could pretty much see who had leadership potential. And I put most of my time into these peeps. This did, however, mean that I had to give up a lot of my influence with the students and give that aways to the individual group leaders. I was torn. For me to move to the next level of leadership I would have to give away the very thing that I did ministry for in the first place... that was influence and time with the kids.

But I guess that is what they mean when the experts talk about sacrificing to get to the next level, whatever the field may be. It paid off. Years later now I see the influence that leaders have with their students. And now I praise God as I stand back and watch others continue to excel in their leadership abilities. The more I give up the more God seems to give.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Searching for spiritual direction...

When I graduated from high school and came onto staff with Cobb I was faced with a dilemma. He and I had talked about what it would mean for us to work on staff together. After all, he lead me to a relationship with JC and had been my mentor all throughout high school. Now that he was going to be my supervisor was a much different place for our relationship to be. Sure, he was pretty much in charge of the way that I did ministry 'cause I was in his ministry, but I was still a volunteer and could come or go as I pleased, just like your peeps can do. Now that I was going to be paid we knew that we were going to have to adjust our friendship somewhat.

We both thought it would be best for me to find someone else to be a mentor in my life for the season of ministry that we would work together. This could be anywhere from one year to who knew how long. So I began to pray for a mentor in my life, one who could speak with authority and someone I could trust with my spiritual life and direction. I thought it would be a fast and quick move, that God would place someone in my life right away. You know, why wouldn't God want me to have someone to make sure I was on the right track?

I prayed long and often for a man of God to be a new mentor figure in my life. One year passed, then two and again another. I was beginning to wonder what I was doing wrong. Maybe I was praying wrong. But I knew that I wasn't. What helped me through this time was a group of three other guys at APU who were in an accountability group with me. We would talk once a week about all the stuff that we were dealing with as new college kids. And for me one of the continuing themes was searching for a mentor. They knew my frustration. I was doing ministry like twenty-four hours a day a million days a week and I really needed some wisdom. My frustration lead to sadness and almost to apathy. I lifted my voice and concern to God often for him to answer. And he did.

Through one of my spiritual advisors I was connected with this guy from a church close by. They had known each other for like ten years. This guy was a spiritual warrior, definitely a man of the Lord. His name was Louie. He sat on the board of elders, taught a class with his wife at church and loved God with all his heart. We had coffee and talked about what it would mean for us to do the spiritual mentoring thing. He was all for it. And so was I. For the next few years he and I met about two or three times a week at the same little breakfast place. Man, I learned so much from him. God was faithful and I thank him for placing Louie in my life; it took me waiting over four years for that fit in my spiritual life.

I wonder who God has for you. If you do not have a spiritual mentor or mentors who speak into your life, I would recommend checking it out. Pray, and see what God may have for you. I know that the wisdom of others has and continues to play a huge role in the big and small decisions in my life. I pray that every youth pastor has that kind of support. It will change your ministry.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Choosing and empowering leaders...

Ministry happens with or without you. When you and I are gone God will use others to accomplish what he has in mind. I learned early on that I needed to get others on my team or I would burn out really quick. And I worked under a guy that did not believe in ministry burnout. And for good reason. We had a growing ministry and always had stuff to do. There were many times when I did not know how we would get it all done. But it always seemed to happen.

One of the parts of ministry that you need to learn and exercise really well is getting and keeping good leaders. Whether you have a larger or small ministry, whatever the definitions you hold for each of those, you will need them. And then when you get them you have to empower them. We made mistakes early on with letting anyone with a pulse into our ministry team. They were good peeps with great hearts for ministry. But they were not always cut out for youth ministry.

I remember one guy in particular. He came and made a commitment to hang out in our ministry for a season and did not fulfill it. He was just flakey and had tons of other stuff on his plate that took precedence over ministry. That was not bad, it was just the reality. But after he fizzled out of the ministry the first time I did not learn my lesson. The guys in his group would always ask where he was and I found myself making excuses for him. After all, the boys in his group loved him to death; he was a great and likable guy. He was just a flake. So when he came to my office promising the world yet a second time, I gave in. it did not work. Nor did it work the third time either.

After that painful time in my ignorance I learned that I needed to be more selective. Even if I was hurting bad for a leader, I still had to keep in mind that if I got a bad one just to fill a position, I would ultimately regret it in the end. This new philosophy served me well. Sometimes peeps wondered why I was so picky and turned down so many who wanted to work with our kids. But I knew what I wanted for them and what our ministry needed. I had the pulse and stuck with my instinct. It worked well and still does.

What are your standards. Do you take anyone that wants to be a part of your team; only learning that many times you know you are not making the best decision but you do it anyway? Stop it! Take the best and roll with it. It may slow down growth of your ministry, but it will be better in the end. Get good leaders and empower them. The rest... peace 'em out.

Wasting time...

I talk a lot about running your ministry on all cylinders at all times. I get a lot of questions and concerns that I expect too much from others and myself, ministry and people in general. And they are right... I do expect a lot. But ministry is not about just working for no reason, spending your wheels, doing activities just for the sake of doing something. Everything is intentional. I remember one of my boys asked me one time what it meant to be a youth pastor. This kid was a sophomore at the time and one who I was mentoring. We would meet about once a week and talk over coffee and chill, go over church stuff, family issues, theological questions and whatever else. The funny part about it was that I had and asked the exact same question to Cobb when I was in high school. I answered the question in terms of time.

I told this kid that ministry was about relationships. Spending time with peeps was going to bring about the most fruit in your ministry. I wanted to add value to others every day of my life. This was a tall order. John C. Maxwell talks about this in all of his books. Leadership is all about adding value to at least one or more peeps each day. Henri Nouwen writes that ministry is “having meals at different houses, 'wasting time' with my own people, talking, playing, and praying with them, and allowing them to really know me.” To do this takes tons of discipline in your life. There is a difference between spending time with peeps and investing into their lives.

Cobb was and still is the master at this. When I was in high school I remember when he and his wife would invite a bunch of us at a time to have dinner at their house. Mind you, this is when our ministry was a lot smaller and we pretty much knew one another on one level or another. But we went though a season where Cobb would invite about ten students and leaders to his house. We didn't do any program or anything specific. I do know that the time was intentional though. It was one of the best seasons of ministry in our time together at HCC. A lot of good relationships and commitments to ministry came about from those moments of intentionality.

When I graduated and came on staff I knew the expectations that Cobb had. He did not ever worry about the work that I could do. He knew that I was a work horse and that I was down to put in the long hours. But what he was more concerned with was that I was “wasting time” the right way. Anyone can spend time with another person, but few could be disciplined enough to invest on a continuous basis. This is how I do ministry today. I am always aware of the relationships in which I invest. When I speak to youth pastors I encourage them to do ministry this way.

The peeps on your staff are too busy with life to have you devalue their time. They will put in long hours investing into students if you teach them to do so. But to keep them healthy, yourself and your ministry from hitting burnout, you need to be very careful. Ministry moves fast. It always has ans always will. It is the nature of the game. But moving fast does not mean spinning your wheels. Learn to waste time in the right way. Use it to invest into peeps. Your staff will see the way you treat them and value their time. When they feel loved and cared for they will put more time in, which will produce tons of fruit in the ministry you share together.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Main Event: Follow-through

This is where you find out who your key players are. Your good leaders will follow up and follow through with the kids that came to your event; the kids that visited for the first or second time or the like. So what does this look like? You need to know the protocol for your ministry and it has to be ingrained into the heads of everyone on your volunteer and paid staff. If you have interns then they need to know what you expect of them. For the parents, they have assignments unique to them. The college kids, same things. If you have high schoolers helping out in your junior high ministry then they will also have something to do to make stuff work. It's gotta be in line and you have to know what you are going to do way before the event even starts.

Here are a couple of examples of stuff that our ministry has found to be helpful in our quest to get kids to want to come to church. Your leaders should be calling each of the students who are considered new to your ministry. And this needs to be done before the next activity that your church is putting on. If you have something on a Wednesday nite that is huge and off campus maybe, then your leaders have only a couple of days before the service on Saturday or Sunday or both. It depends on when your leaders come to help out. Do they lead groups on both weekend nites... just one of the two? Remember, the new kids want to come to church and see familiar faces. This includes the other students already in your ministry, preferably their friends, other leaders of all ages, etc.

you have some kind of list that all the kids signed up on when they came to the event and this is the basis of your master plan. Once you know which new kids were in particular groups, you need to distribute that list to each of the leaders so they do not forget about the new kids. Whether your leaders have two or twenty students in their groups, they will forget. Trust me, in their busy lives they do not always think about your ministry. I know, I know... crazy! But that is why you are the leader, that is why you are the youth pastor. It is your job to make their jobs easier. The more you do for your leaders the more responsibility and ownership they will get in the end because they will not be able to let anyone slip through the cracks. In fact, you will be the one to forget and one day a leader will come and ask you if you still have a certain student in the database and you will be like “oh yeah... I forgot about that kid.” but the group leaders will not.

If you want to make it even easier for the leaders, you can make some pre-stamped and addressed postcards with the information of the new kids ready for them by the end of the big event. Before the leaders go home, they fill out that postcard and give it back to you. Then you are the one to send it out for the leader and by the time that the leader forgets about it, you will have called each of your leaders to remind them to call the new kids from the event before the next activity. And when they call the new kid, he or she will have already have gotten the postcard and the leader is a hero! I know, too easy. But this will do wonders for your ministry. The better you make your leaders look and set them up for success the more they will want to put in for the ministry. It will not be a burden for them because they will know you are on their side. These are the simple decisions that will make or break your ministry. Do it right more than you do it wrong and you will see the fruit.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Main Event: Prep

Always remember why you are doing an event. Sometimes we put so much effort into the preparation for a nite or off-campus activity that we make the mistake of letting the actual event be the high put of the ministry. This is natural. When you put your time into something you want to make sure that it gets the credit and impact that you intended. This is especially true surrounding larger events that take weeks to months of preparation. As our ministry grew we began to see this more often.

I remember leaving a huge event like an All-Niter at the church or following arriving home from camp and thinking, “Man, that was awesome... but I am glad it's over!” All my energy and tiem was put into the success of such an event and all I wanted to do was come down from it and rest. But I did not realize for the longest time in my early days that the actual event was never the main event at at all. The main event was the opportunity for deeper and more meaningful relationships, both for the staff with students and me with the staff and parents. We do these events to connect to others on different levels. It is through those relationships then that the love of God can enter and permiate the very lives of those persons.

That is why the most important part of any event is to not come down from it. Yes, you are human and need to rest. But you cannot get sloppy with your ministry using the excuse that you just put so much into the event, no matter how long or short it was. Cobb always sat down with me and we plotted out how we were going to follow up with peeps after an event. But here is the kicker... we made plans to do this and had it in our calendars to do these follow-up meetings and activities before we even had the event. That way when we got back we did not have to think about it. These were a natural part of the event planning process.

Do your homework and be ready for the unexpected. I know that you have tons on your plate, that you have a family and have to keep your sanity in the midst of all of it. However, you will be doing yourself a favor by putting the time in on the front end. If you wait until the event is over to think about what kind of follow-up and impact it should have, you are waiting too long and it will be too late. If you have the process in place you will have a greateer chance of success. But it starts with you as the leader to create that culture and those expectations with your staff. This will put you in a position to see some really good ministry and relationships... and that is why we do ministry.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Poker face...

How close do you hold your cards? I was watching the World Series of Poker. I liked when each hand was dealt. It is so cool to see the dealer move calmly to get those cards out to each individual player. And then the game begins. The players each have unique ways of looking at their cards to make absolutely sure that no one in the room can sneak a peek at them. Sometimes I can't even see while I am watching on TV and have to wait for the commentators to tell me what hand a player holds. I can't believe that the players can see; I mean, they barely lift the cards off the table to look. Once they know what they hold, each time a “community card” is laid down for all to see, everyone starts to use some strategery to outwit everyone else.

You need to know what hand you hold and how much to show and when. When something happens during a midweek program nite, how do you respond? When you are thrown for a loop do you let everyone know you are freaking out, or do you do it softly within your soul, wishing you could scream?! I hope it is the latter. Let me remind each of us that peeps will respond depending on the way that you respond and act in any given situation, good or bad. If the building catches on fire there is a good and a not-so-good way to handle the madness. You may be panicking in your head, heart, or even both, but you can't let yourself lose it. If you let your emotions get the best of you it will be detrimental in both the short and long run.

Your peeps are looking to you for guidance. What hey want and need in times of chaos is you to do the right thing. They want your leadership, not your excuses. That is why you are in that position. Anyone can make the easy everyday decisions... leader are called to a higher standard to handle these situations. Trust me, they will be watching you and they will remember your leadership, or lack thereof. This will determine the movement of your ministry, up or down.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Not about you...

Your ministry is not about you. This was hard for me to grasp, being the guy who thought that he had all the talent in the world to get anything done on his own. However, I think that Cobb knew this; he was the one who pretty much watched me in my journey to accepting the Lord. Cobb knew my shortcomings. He knew what I was good at, what I wasn't. He knew my potential. And his leadership was the reason I decided to go into ministry, changing my entire life direction in the matter of only a couple of years. I knew I cold do the job, whatever it may be in whatever I chose to do in life. That was not the problem. However, I also knew that I was arrogant and up until the point of wanting to go into ministry I did not worry about it too much. Now I was at an impasse. I was not sure that I could do ministry and make it in the long haul, given my weaknesses and sins. Cobb knew though. He groomed me into a leader with the potential to embrace humility. I would soon learn.

He took tons of time helping me to see that ministry was not about me. Had I gone into any other business in the world I would not have flinched in my demeanor and goals, which could have sent me spiraling out of control. Lucky for me, God changed my direction. Now that I was in ministry the hardest part for me in my new quest was seeing that the rest of my life was to be lead for others. I would be living not only to be in God's love but to help others to do the same. And who better to do it than the guy who had the hardest time doing just that... living in God's love.

As our ministry grew from about twenty students to more than a few hundred it was often difficult to keep the peeps first. I became engulfed with making sure that the program side of ministry was working properly, that each of the puzzle pieces were in place. I was always wondering what needed to be done to make sure nothing fell through the cracks. I did not want to mess stuff up. I found myself getting frustrated with the little things, you know, stuff that did not really matter in the large scheme of ministry. It was important to get it right, but I began to take the hits personal... all the time.

I cannot pinpoint where the change came, but it did. Cobb had weekly meetings with us and constantly reminded us that we were not the reason for ministry. We were merely here doing the work we were supposed to be doing for the Kingdom. I began to view our success in ministry from a different angle. I knew that I wanted stuff t be perfect, but it will never be. I know that now, but it was a hard pill to take back then. We never stopped trying to be the best, but the larger our ministry grew the more we had to give ourselves a gut check.

It is something very intangible. As you do ministry more and more, if you can learn to see it from the perspective of a gift in your life, then it will be more rewarding than ever. How do you view your ministry? Are you trying to be perfect? Do you take failures personal. I had one of those gut checks recently when I was able to chill with Cobb at a conference for church leaders. I see that he has always, and still does now even with a new staff, done ministry from all angles. I know he deals with staff and program struggles, just like he did when we were on staff together. The relationships in your life may change but the approach should not. Put people first and you will never think ministry is about you. I continue to learn this lesson. And whenever I want to make it about me, whether it be intentional or not, I remember that the reason I chose ministry for the long haul was realized, and still is found, in the relationships God has given to me.

Get accustomed to good program...

I grew up in a church that did really good program. And although I did not understand it back then, I soon realized that all success youth groups do program well. How well do you fair in the area of program? When I was in Cobb's ministry back in high school we always had great program. From filling out release forms to having the proper procedures in place for making sure all students got home safely afterword, we had it down. It was not perfect but it was excellent. And being a part of the CORE student leadership team enabled me to learn this stuff from the inside.

I was so accustomed to the way we did stuff in my youth group that I came to expect it from other groups when we would visit their ministries. I thought that all ministries were good at program stuff, I mean why would I have thought otherwise? And since I was involved with student government my whole time in high school I was also used to getting things done a certain way. But I would soon figure out that what I had known all my high school career was very much out of the ordinary. I just happened to have good leadership over me.

I found that most ministries were exactly the opposite. They would claim to be poor in the area of program because they spent all their time on the important stuff like relationships. But they were not good at that either, so it was not really believable. Both are important. I know that it is all about relationships. However, we must be able to facilitate the peeps that come to our church youth groups. The staff that cared for me and the other students while I was I in the high school youth group was good at both. They were good at taking direction and getting things done. And they were all very relational with the students. They spent time with us on and off campus. They understood the vision of the ministry.

Good program takes time. I go to more church youth groups with poor to mediocre programs than I see good to great programs. And I guess you could say that you do not need programs to run a successful and growing ministry... I just have not seen it. They go hand-in-hand. What I do know is that Cobb always had us put in tons of time to create good program for our staff and students. Do you take time and pride in your programming? What does the process look like? Don't just show up five minutes before you start your program and then put stuff together. Make your life easier. Have a process and follow it. It will keep you from a lot of stress.

In the game...

You gotta stay in the game at all times. You are the one calling the shots, therefore you must be ready for the hard stuff. When everyone else is at a program and having a good time or after a program leaving to go home, this is the time to take responsibility. Stuff will not always come up, but it may. And for that you have to be on your A-game. When the fit hits the shan and everyone else is in utter chaos, you must be ready to act. I am not trying to scare you into a state of ministry paranoia, but I am telling you that you have to have your sensors up and ready to smell the madness before it happens.

And the younger you are, not necessarily in age, but definitely in ministry, the more you will have to answer questions to parents, staff, students, the big dawg pastor – you know. Many a time I have been challenged on the decisions that I made in a program setting for some reason or another. Whether it was a disciplinary thing or a change in the program, I was always been asked the question “why.” I have had peeps get in my face about stuff, like actually ready to fight. Yeah, some of you may never encounter that, but ministry tends to send emotions running high and sometimes out of control. You cannot let yours get the best of you. Once you do something dumb, there is no going back. It's like the Godfather told Sonny, “Never let anyone outside the family know what you are thinking.” you know who needs to know wussup. The rest of the peeps are on a need-to-know basis. And we all know how that one ends up most of the time.

And once again I urge each one of us to get men and women to speak truth into our lives... now. If you make up your mind what you are going to do in certain situations now, then when they happen you already know what to do. It will not catch you off guard. Your peeps have the luxury of having you to make the decisions. And this takes away your luxuryto get lacksidasical. You haver to be ready to get into the thick of things when they happen. When stuff goes wrong you have a couple of choices; you can run or you can run the show. Please choose the latter. Get in there and make some mistakes. Cobb had a tons of sit-downs with me. We were constantly evaluating and re-evaluating stuff. Much of the time I got stuff wrong. But the cool think was that Cobb usually knew what I was and was not going to do. It's like a chess game. And I hope that your coach is better than you when it comes to the game. He or she should have a pretty good idea how you are going to do stuff, and then coach you to the best of their ability to get you ready for the game of ministry.

Who is helping you grow right now through the madness of ministry. Please don't think you can do it on your own. It's at that point that you open yourself up for something to blindside you. If no one comes to your mind then I would suggest you start praying hard for that person or persons in your life. It will save you and your ministry and take out a lot of the guess work as you mature.

There ain't no future in your frontin'...

I would like to preface the following thought with this – I am the guy who does believe that you need to “fake it till you make it” - another blog for another time. That being said, don't act like you can... if you can't. Your peeps will know. They are very astute. They watch you. They know what you are good at and what you are not good at. I bet they even talk about you behind your back, both good and bad, when you are not there. And rightly so. You are the leader of your ministry. And since you are the leader you are, or should be, making tons of decisions. And the harder the decisions, the more peeps will talk. The hard part is doing the right thing as much as you can, seeing the right way even when your peeps do not see the same way, and then win them to that right way. Yeah, a lot harder than it even sounds.

What are you good at? What do you do really well? Some of you are great up-front peeps. When it is go-time all you need is a microphone or bull horn and it's on like Tron! Others of you are administrative and detail oriented. You make lists of the lists you have. Others of you are problem solvers. Some are motivators. Whatever it is, you know that you do it well. You staff knows that you do it well. Now that you are all warm and fuzzy and patting yourself on the back, here is the next question. What are you not good at? Answer... everything else. I mean, you might be able to do it, but you are not great at the rest of this stuff. And a good leader will step out of the way to other peeps on their staff and help them to do what they do well.

“To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge.”
~B. Disraeli

John Maxwell says something that a lot of peeps do not like, but I love. He says that you need to find out what your weaknesses are, and then then pretty much forget about them. The stuff that you do not do well should not be give much attention. Now, he is not referring to sin, but instead the qualities that you possess... or in this case, do not possess. Stop worrying about the stuff you are not good at. Find someone who is good at it, and be done with it! Finding other leaders and helping them use their gifts will make you indispensable.

Try this. Ask someone in your life what you are and are not good at. They know. If you really wanna be bold, ask your staff the same question. There is a lot of lessons in humility to be learned in hearing those you lead tell you what you suck at! Good luck.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Shadowing leadership...

I had the opportunity recently to chill with Cobb at a conference a million miles away from both our states. He was there with his volunteer and paid staff, and I was there to hang out him Cobb. He's been in his new church now for a few years and grooming leaders the same way he has always done. And there were a some peeps who were newer to ministry responsibilities and I could tell that he was working overtime to create a camaraderie and community among them. It was actually really fun to see the man who shaped my ministry skills and life do ministry, from the outside looking in. and I prayed a ton that each of them would come to know the love and respect that Cobb has for all of those who serve with him in ministry.

Some time into the conference we all went out to eat. It was like old times. However, a part of me was sad that Cobb and I are not only not doing ministry together right now, but that we are not even in the same part of the country. At the end of the meal we all piled into the van to go back to catch the last part of the day. He drove the van all the way up to the front of the conference building to let the peeps out, as he always does, and everyone got out. Except for me. You see, when you are dealing with a guy like Cobb there is little time for you to get around him when there are not a bunch of peeps around. So I found over the years that the best times I got to spend with him in these situations was to do the little stuff, like roll with him way out into the boonies of the parking lot and have a long walk back to the conference. But that was not the best part of this nite.

The best part was that when everyone got out there was one more person who stayed back to roll with Cobb. It was one of the leaders of his youth ministry, a guy that Cobb is putting tons of time into at the present. At first I was shocked, but then realized that it was very normal. You see, that is the way that Cobb does ministry. Every moment is intentional. This young guy was doing the same thing that I did for years, and for the same reason. Cobb's effectiveness is growing even now that he has more responsibility than he ever has had before.

That is what leaders do – they add value to others on a daily basis. Cobb has never been one who needed to take credit for anything. He has never wanted the glory. He has been working behind the scenes and putting into others, hoping and knowing that his time will pay spiritual and eternal dividends. Who are you adding value to this week? More importantly, who are you shadowing and learning from. It is the small moments, nuggets of time, that will make you into an indispensable leader.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Hit the nail on the head... sometimes

I heard one of my teachers say that if all you have is hammer then everything looks to you like a nail. As pastors we need to have a tool box of ideas. Each situation must be treated differently according to its uniqueness. However, if we have not learned how to use the different tools of a youth pastor then we will not be very effective. For instance, when a student or staff member comes to you to talk about a problem or crisis there a good and not so good ways to address the situation. You do not have to have all the answers all of the time. They should doing most of the talking and you should be doing most of the listening.

We all know that you and I do not have all the answers, so why do we feel like we have to when someone comes to talk with us? Most likely its because we have a really cool masters degree that makes us extra special and smart. And we like to cut peeps off mid-sentence to give them all of our wisdom and enlightenment. Here's some advice... don't. The last thing someone wants to hear is, “Hmmm, very interesting. You know, the Bible says blah blah blah.”

yes, I know that you are prolly right and yes, it is important to get the JC perspective. However, when someone comes pouring out their heart to you it would be ill advised to just give them a three-point sermon on how to fix their life and problems. John C. Maxwell himself says that he has to continually watch out for this kind of behavior from himself. So if a smart old guy like that is still dealing with it, I know that I am going to be dealing with it as well.

That is just one example of how to begin to set up your ministry tool bag – starting with a pair of listening ears and some duck tape for your mouth. What else can you use? Well, begin with your imagination and start to write stuff down. You will come up with some good stuff. Quips, anecdotes, stories, games and props, sermons, etc.

your peeps need to know that you are well rounded. They want to know that you can not only solve problems, but also be there for them. They need to see you grow and learn. You can never be done doing so. Your staff will see it. They may even contribute to your learning process and make you an indispensable piece to the ministry.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

One-Minute Ministry

One of the most effective and applicable books I have ever read is “The One Minute Mangager” by Ken Blanchard. After reading that book my whole outlook on team managemnet changed. I realized that I tended to make things more compicated and drawn out than they needed to be. And not for any good reason most of the time. I stared doing stuff in shroter bites of time. I made my goals on one page and had my staff do the same. They were used to my crazy and sometimes dumb ideas. But every now and again they did spectacular things and got great results. This was one of those times. And let me encourage you that as a leader if you are doing stuff that everyone else gets right away then you are prolly not the leader they need. Peeps follow others that see further than they do. They get fed up real quick with leaders of small to no vision or intuition.

I learned how to praise and correct memebers of our team and ministry in under a minute. It was awesome. I shortened my tasks and simplified them to make sure they got done. If something was complicated, I took it down to the lowest common denominated for all the peeps on my team. That way we were all on the same page. I learned that I saw stuff differently from my team and we needed to work toghether if we were going to make progress in our ministry. No one was better or more speial than anyone else. We all followed the same principles and got on the same page.

And most important of all of this was that I first went to my main leaders. The ones in my inner circle. These peeps were the ones that shared my vision and knew what I wanted to accomplish with our staff and students. I don't know how big your inner circle needs to be. The bigger the staff, the bigger the inner circle. But what needs to remain is that you put the time into knowing them and what they are expecting, what they need and how to get it.

With this concept becoming part of our system we became very effective. Sometimes to the point of creating new and bigger problems and concerns. It was the best! The main point here, though, is to become more effictient with yoru staff and that will spill over into your group. Be intentional in yoru time with yoru staff, particulary the ones who you look to most to keep the insanity in tact. Continually read books and look for new ways to help your peeps see ministry. Stretch them and they will grow. And there WILL be growing pains, but that is natural and good. Your staff will appreciate you for it and your ministry will expand.