Saturday, May 30, 2009

Believing in students...

I would have to say that the single best reason that I spend time investing in students is that my youth pastor put time into me. I remember being the new kid at youth group and I was there solely because I knew there would be girls – and there were! It was awesome. However, as I spent time with the youth group and became more involved, the youth pastor spent time hanging out with me. And I thought that it was all just whatever whatever. You know, he did it because he had to. I would find out years later that there was a much different plan for him and the other leaders in the group.

That plan was to help me reach my potential. The cool thing is that we all have potential, and it is just a matter of attaining or missing it. My leaders and youth pastor were determined that I, and all of the other students in the group, were going to and the very least be given the chance to reach our potential in JC. As I came up through high school I was eventually feeling good about my relationship with Christ, as I had accepted him as my personal Lord and Savior mid-high school. And then I ended up on the leadership core team with a few other students. And when I say a few, I mean just that. We were the small youth group in town.

There were other churches in the area that were a lot bigger than ours and sometimes I wondered why they had more kids than we did. And it wasn’t about the numbers, but more about my curiosity of what they were doing different than we were. So, one day I asked my youth pastor, with whom I had become very close. He laughed and appreciated that I was so candid. And then we had one of those serious moments. I bet he would prolly not even remember saying this to me, because I could tell that the next words that came out of his mouth was more than just a sentence, but a vision! He said to me, “MO, you stick with me and we will change lives together.” Wow! That was it. That was all I needed to hear.

You see, I believed him because I knew that he believed in what he was saying and more than that I knew that he believed in me. And that is what I needed – someone to believe in me. He had up to that point spent countless hours investing time into my life through coming to my sports stuff, other extra-curricular activities at school, being there for me when I needed guidance, etc. And after that conversation he continued to do so. The funny thing is that our group over the next few years grew like mad. I graduated from high school and came onto staff under him. I continued to believe in his vision and message and still do to this day.

Now, a thousand miles away he still puts time into me on a weekly basis and more if I need. And believe me, I need it. Here is what I am getting at… I am dedicating my life to changing others and believing in them because guys like him believed in me. Who believes you? Whose vision are you grasping on to? Like John Maxwell says, we need to add value to others each and every day. And that is what we get the privilege to do as youth workers...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

No reason to do ministry

Sometimes i wonder why i, as so many others do, have a love for youth ministry. if you think about it there is no rhyme or reason for such insanity. but there is just something compelling about it that draws a certain kind of person to do it. i talk often with the big dawgs of philosophy, science and whatnot about why i love JC. and pretty much it comes down to me telling them that there is just something in me, to the depths of my soul, that makes me want to follow him and help others to do so. sappy, i know... but i am not trying to be.

i remember sitting on the bus coming back from a youth event one time and just surveying what was going on around me. it was one of those day long trips that makes you just want to crawl into your pajamas and chill with a big bowl of ice cream and watch re-runs of i love lucy... well, not really but you know what i mean. a day that makes you want to go to your happy place and be by yourself and recoup. and i thought to myself on that ride home that i was doing the coolest stuff in the world. it was one of those ah-ha moments that helped me to realize that i loved what i was doing.

sure, there are times with the politics of church and the dumb stuff of higher-ups or policy get in the way; but all that stuff is worth it if you know what you are in it to do. and that goes for anything, not just ministry. i remember reading a book by Donald Trump where he talks about why he wants others to succeed and what it takes for one to do so in any field. it comes down, he says, to loving what you are doing and knowing that you are in the right place for the right reason. john Maxwell also talks about this in his book the 21 irrefutable laws of leadership when saying that you have to strive to be in the right place at the right time. it is harder to do that than one would think (Maxwell, 236).

the problem is that a lot of the time we are not in that perfect place. we then get frustrated and give up when we could have been so close to being exactly where we wanted to be. now i am not one to pray for patience because then the Lord will test me with it. i pray for understanding of the situations that i am in and do my best to trust his timing. also, you must ask in a way that is in accordance with his will and plan. and by this i mean that we must have god in mind when we are making these decisions and requests.

"When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures."
James 4:3

So i guess what i am trying to say is that you do not have to feel as though you have all the answers all of the time. i believe that if you do stuff the way you think is right, with god and his plan in mind, then you will stay within his will. of course there is a lot more that goes into it - listening to the right stuff, getting advice from the right peeps, etc. - but on the simple level this is good. if you feel like you need to be doing ministry then own that and take your ministry to the next level. there is stuff that you have in your heart that should be and need to be used to glorify god and help spread his kingdom. so, don't always look for the reason, just trust that god is on your side - and get it done.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rounding third...

I hear a lot about how leaders burn out and give up toward the end of teh school year. i know that the hardest time for me to keep my volunteers in step would be the last couple of months, you know, like april and may. you gotta figure that there is a lot going on in their lives and spending time with the youth is very time- and energy-consuming. let's face it - your peeps put in a lot of time, and much of it is above and beyond what they signed up for in teh first place.

think about all the stuff that you need to do to make sure that your staff is doing what they are supposed to be. i would hope that they are in some sort of group with other peers, whether that be a bible study or a type of accountability. also, they either have a job or school or both adn a family and tons of bills. so, let's say that for a person that starts a commitment to spend with your youth group in september has about nine months of sheer madness to keep their assigned group up and running. 

with all the madness going on, with holidays and extra-carricular stuff they are going to show some wear and tear coming toward the end of the school year. they are not exempt from the emotions and other stuff that their students are going through. on the contrary, they are emersed in their lives so much that they feel all that stuff and then they take it home with them after youth group. so, what do you do for your staff to keep them going when they do not want to go anymore? i know there is a ton of stuff that comes to mind and will be a book in itself one day. however, let's focus on one very important aspect of that.

one thing that is pertinent to keep your staff motivated is to help them see where they are going. there needs to be an end in mind. i know a lot of youth pastors that just keep the staff going all the time, every week of the year and just tell the peeps to take time off when they need it. and at first this may seem like a good idea, but think about it. that is a lack of direction on your part. peeps don't need to have that on their plate to think about. if you tell them what they are getting into then they will be more apt to finish.

when your collegians are coming up on spring break and your volunteer parents have end of the year stuff to deal with it is easy for the to make excuses and not finish. or even worse, they want to take some time off and not finish well - although they do not see it that way. you are the leader, it is your job to help them to know where they are as they are running the minsitry race. when your staff wants to take some time off you need to be able to point to the commitment they made at the beginning of the year or season of ministry that you are in. help them to know where they are and when they round third base they will want to run harder. they will not want to give up because they will have the end in mind. but if there is not end they will feel like they are running in a never-ending race and will give up easier. that is not ok for you to let happen.

so the question here is whether you are giving those in your care a timeline of the season of ministry that they are in. start there and add to it as you move along. i remember that was one of the hardest parts for me was to ask others for commitments of certain amounts of time. i thought that it would scare peeps away. however, it ended up doing the opposite. the peeps in our ministry were more fired up toward teh end because they saw it as a sprint at the end of the race. they knew they only had a certain amount of time to reach the goals they set out to finish. give direction, give timelines; help your staff sprint and succeed.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Intentional ministry in a cyber world...

Seriously, it is amazing to me when i have a conversation with someone and they tell me that they are not on all of "those sites" because it is a waste of time. what exactly do you mean by that? i mean, it makes sense to me when i hear peeps in the baby boomer generation or even into gen X, sometimes into the Yers, but kids that are right out of high school? i would have to say that they need to reevaluate what it means to be relational if they want to keep up with stuff as it continues on. even the makers of facebook and twitter and others know that their sites are one step away from being out of date; some of them are more than one step past being out of date.

the other day i was talking with two nineteen year-olds. one was a guy and the other a girl. they were telling me how they each have a myspace account but that they refuse to get a facebook or twitter account. then they went on to tell me how old i am because i am still on social networking sites and that neither of them are going to be on past the age of twenty-two. i know, i laughed too. they have no idea what they are in store for in this changing world. 

now, i want to be fair. both of these teens are very centered on what is going in their world to the point where they barely even care about their friends, let alone anyone else. this is what brings me to my point. in ministry we are lucky to have social networking sites and other means of communication. in the span of about two years i have connected with peeps that i have not seen in fifteen years, and everyone in between. it is awesome. it is a great way to expand ministry and get back into the lives of others that may be a potential ministry for you.

just like anything else, you need to know what you are doing and the pros and cons of stuff like this. i remember when Cobb refused to get a celly and then when he got one it expanded his ministry; that's just the type of guy he is. and if you are wise and discerning (which i hope you pray for regularly) then you will use this technology and all others to follow for the right reasons. i know that it is easy to get stuck in the cyber world and you can become disconnected. however, i know for myself it has been a ministry expander.

Cobb always told me that i need to be involved in "intentional ministry." i don't just want to be in relationship with peeps, i want to add value to them. and whether that is a tweet, response to a status update, or some silly quiz, i can learn more about others and get to know them better on a daily basis. don't let others tell you that you are wasting your time. remember, what "they" think of you will prolly bring you down. spend time in reflection and seek the counsel of those in your inner circle of confidants. the cyber world isn't scary, it's what you make it. so make it work for your ministry and give God the props.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Who runs the show?

This may come as a shock to a lot of you, but when you are in ministry for a while and you are the little guy you don't have much say. and if you are like me, you have all the ideas that are going to change not only the youth group, but also the church and the body of christ a whole. and you are ready to do all of this now. the problem is, you are not in charge and there are chains that you are going to have follow if you wanna get anything at all done. 

trust me, i know how it feels to have all of the answers and want to put them all into practice right away. i remember one time i was in a situation on a week day program and there was a decision to be made. it was something along the lines of programming and the way the order of events were going to be played out for the rest of the nite. i was feeling good about the way i had handled stuff to that point and had a whole timeline of the way we were going to do the stuff. however, one of my superiors saw that we needed to do stuff differently; his logic was that there was another ministry on campus at the same time and that if we did not move to certain parts of the property then we would get all tangled up and mess up the Force - and prolly explode. I know... terrible.

so, like the submissive employee that i am, i told him why i was right and he was wrong. and of course you would figure that was a great conversation that lead to nothing but good for me :) uhhh, you guessed it. he pretty much ripped me a new one for even thinking that i could have a better idea than he. and half way through his verbal shellacking of my insolence i realized what i had done. but the kicker was that as soon as he got done "explaining" to me why i am horrible at ministry aden that at my age how could i expect to have the vision of one, such as himself... i rebutted once again. yeah, i know i know. i totally asked for everything that i got. 

and then it came. an answer from the Lord himself. it came in the form of a statement from my superior officer, "I run this show, not you." i could not believe it. how could he not see my expertise. after seeing me in my ministry and the flawless execution how could he say such a thing. the rant went on for an even longer time this second time around, just to make sure that i got it through my thick skull.

you know what? he was right. no matter what i thought i knew about ministry or how to run this madness, he was absolutely right. he was the one that ran the show - ultimately anyway. for whatever reasons he felt that he had to step in, whether it was an honest effort or even to throw some weight around, he had every right to do what he did. and as soon as i understood and came to grips with that, my mind was put at ease. yeah, of course after that day i was frustrated with some, well many... ok - most of the stuff that he enforced. but, oh well. he was put in that position to do that and i could do nothing about it. i could only control me and my own attitude.

and the question i pose is: who runs the show in your ministry? the person that you answer to has power and authority and you will not always agree with him or her. the best thing you can do is remember that as God has placed you in a certain position you have certain responsibilities. do what you can to help the ministry and those placed under your leadership. love on them and help them to succeed. lavish only praise and take all of the blame. God is good, and i pray he will be favorable to your ministry as you work within the realm he has placed you.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Your position of influence...

so i chillin with one of my boys from the old skool this morning and having a cup of coffee. it's been a while since we have spent some quality sit-down time so i was feeling good just to be there. he was telling me that he is at a point in his life where he does not know if he necessarily wants to do ministry as a vocation or as a lay minister. the cool thing is that no matter what h decides, he will be able to do. when we did ministry together some years ago he was one of the go-to guys. i could count on him to get stuff done. he had a good head on his shoulders and was great with the junior high boys.

you can tell a good leader by the way that they interact with others. i remember the poster in the front of my high school Latin class that our teacher had up. it said "If you think you are leading, look behind you. If no one is following, you are just taking a walk." i thought that was a great motivator. and this guy that i was chillin with this morning was and is a leader. when i would go into the room to see how his group time was coming along on a week day program his boys were always pushing his buttons and pushing the limits of his patience. but he loved those guys more than many peeps in their lives. he knew what it meant to do leadership and have influence.

and now that he is thinking about doing ministry as a vocation it makes my heart smile. he will do a great job is he decides to do so. however, if he decides that he wants to do the secular thing i know that he will be an influence to those in his field, as well as add to the leadership of the church. john maxwell says that the job of a leader is to add value to peeps every day. that is not a very hard thing to do. all you have to do is put others before yourself.

when you are looking to do ministry what does that look like to you? who are you putting into on a daily basis? is it the same group of peeps or does it change? it does not matter where you are, you can lead others. i read a great book called "Leading Up" (M. Useem) some years ago. it talked about how to be an influence to those in a position of leadership over you. and we all know that in some cases that is the only way we are going to be able to lead. we all like to say stuff starting with "well, if i was the boss..." and the truth is - we are not the boss. so how are you going to get your ideas and influence to move the ball the way you think it should go?

i know, it is frustrating. however, if you continue to be in positions of smaller influence you will eventually have your day. even if you are not ever the big cheese in a company or ministry, you have the opportunity to have influence given to you by that person in charge. and the cool thing about when you arrive here is that you have all the benefits with little or none of the risk. so, where are you serving and in what capacity? like my boy who is looking at ministry, i would encourage all of us to understand that with the position you have in your field, no matter how small, comes with some kind of voice. it is up to you to be the influencer.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The little things come second

So i was watching a news program and there was a person on there doing some show and tell stuff for her product. and about a minute into it one of the hosts of the show says to the camera, prolly to the producer, "ok, its a good time for that background music about now." amazing. this station spends millions and millions on these shows and you would figure that the peeps behind it would understand how important it is to get stuff right. but, they do not much of the time. apparently, TelePrompTers mess up or someone forgets to get something done in the correct amount of time... these are professionals!

so tell my why i am so anal when it comes to doing stuff on a program nite and making sure things are picture perfect. remember when you were the head youth guy or girl and you did everything. when the kids got there for the midweek program you would be the one to sign them in. then you would move them into the gym or the field to do games - which you lead. then you moved everyone down to snack time (i love that name and will keep it forever) and then the message, which you gave. then it was off to group time. and you lead one of those as well.

the bad part about all of this is that you were burning the candle at both ends and felt like at any moment your body, mind or spirit would give way and it was time to be with the lord. i guess that would be the good part about the bad part. but the cool thing about doing everything on any given program nite is that you knew what had to be done and you made sure that it got done. and it did. most of the time. and if it did not get done then you had no one to blame but yourself. 

then you get some really cool peeps that have tons of talent that want to be a part of the program side of your ministry and you start to give up each of your responsibilities, knowing that if you have someone else do them you can better use your talents the way they need to be used. now that you give stuff away you have a better chance of something going wrong. little things like someone missing a music cue or messing up a video or having the wrong materials for an upfront game or whatever. and this little stuff would set me off and get all frustrated. then i realized that if it wasn't for my team then i would be doing everything myself again and that would ultimately lead to stuff sucking or running me into the ground.

when is the last time you told the peeps that run particular areas of your program that you appreciate them? if you think that they are not doing a good enuff job then you need to have them stop because obviously their volunteered time is not gonna cut it. don't get me wrong. sometimes peeps want to be in parts of ministry that they have absolutely no business being in for lack of talent or skill. and you have to get them out. however, if you did your homework, then the peeps that run stuff for you are qualified and may have an off nite every now and again. get over it. give them love. they are your lifeline and you owe them the success of your ministry.

Monday, May 4, 2009

How cool are you?

I was talking to a bunch of college students the other day and they were friends of friends of friends. you know, that kind of thing. and all of the sudden in the middle of the conversation one of the boys blurts out, "are you MO?" i just started laughing and nodded, not knowing for the life of me who this kid was. but who could blame me, it had been so long since i had seen him and even back in the day he was never one of the kids that came all that much.

whatever the case may be, it was funny what came out of his mouth next. he was wondering what i was up to and if i still did the church thing. i said that i did without pushing the conversation, waiting to see where he was going to take it. and then he told me something that i love to hear. he said that he would have never guessed that i was any type of pastor because of the way that i acted. i was like, wow, this is not a god thing — or so i thought. then he went on to tell me that i was too "cool" to be xtian... hilarious. i mean, this kid is considered to be one of the "cool" kids by those he knows, etc. i was laughing, flattered of course that an old guy like me could be cool enuff to be considered not a xtian. but i was! as you would imagine, i was so excited.

i guess my point is that with all the stuffy peeps out there right now there are a lot of pastors, youth pastors and the like, doing stuff to make others feel like if they are not xtian then they are automatically going to be considered an outcast. what my former student was referring to about me being cool, after talking with him for about two hours, was the he ended up leaving the xtian faith because he felt that no one was meeting him where he was at. that out of all the pastors that he talked to about his questions of xtianity most of them made him feel like he was stupid and lacked faith because he did so.

My guess is that many of those pastors were either too ignorant about the xtian faith to answer intelligently questions concerning dinosaurs, the age of the earth, the meaning of the Cross, etc., or they just had too much seminary crap in their barrel and felt that they had the perfectly wrapped answers for such questions, both simple and complex. 

kids are down to believe in JC, we just need to give them a reason to do so. and it all comes down to listening to them and understanding that we do not have all the answers and it is ok that we do not. because there is a difference between being intolerant and kids today know it. you as a youth group person need to be down to earth enuff to know that you do not know it all and that you believe because you have faith. and sometimes faith has to be enuff. we all know that there are tons of questions about the faith that we will not be able to know, no matter how much study we do. think about it. if it hasn't been answered for centuries, what makes you think you are going to have the perfect answer?

Hold on to your faith and don't be intolerant. JC was unwavering but loved all those he came into contact with knowing that was the best approach. So, next time you around others who do not know JC I hope you are "cool" enuff to know love them where they are at.