Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Strategic Madness

Be strategic when it comes to your ministry opportunities. There is plenty of program to go around in youth ministry and ministry as a whole in the church. And if you can do this well it will help your relationships as you grow in wisdom. One thing that comes to mind off hand is the way we used to move students in and out of venues. When our group was smaller, about eighty students or less, we would just let students and staff move into a room and not really think about how we should deal with it strategically. It was a sea of madness, but it was containable. At that time I was like, ok this is how I will do ministry and it will always work. We figured, on a leadership level, that we could keep tabs on all the students – it was not that hard.

Once our group reach the 80-100 mark we were faced with more decisions. We found that the above method did not work so well. We had kids getting all crazy to the point where we were dealing with hamsters, stink bombs, you know – the youth ministry norm. But we were dedicated to not staying there and wanted to move forward in the ministry size and not lose effectiveness. We had too many students to really know what was going on and by the time that we got to a concern or problem, the culprits were always wise enough to get away with it; well, most of the time anyway.

This is what we did. Instead of bringing the kids up from snack time, game or whatever they were, we stopped them at the door of the sanctuary. They were not allowed to just pour in. when everyone was up and waiting at the doors, we then let the staff volunteers in. The staff were strategically placed throughout the sanctuary in a manner that would cover all areas, from front to back. There was no place for kids to go without getting rolled up on by a staff member. It was great! But that is not even the best part.

Not only did we accomplish our objective, but students naturally gravitated to their group leaders. I mean, DUHHH! This gave our staff a better view of the influence that they had over the students. When we let the kids in they would look for their leaders and sit with them for the most part. It was awesome. As our ministry continued to grow this became engrained into our culture. This model worked no matter how big our group got. So I guess I want you to understand that even the small things you do in your ministry can make a big impact. Keep looking for ways to make stuff better. There is always something else you can tweak. And the more you do that, the less you have to change stuff on a larger scale.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

You never know

One of my mentors told me over ten years ago that I needed to view ministry as being a marathon. I was a young and ripe seventeen with my first shot at youth pastoring and I knew absolutely nothing. I had no idea that there was such a thing as dirty politics in the church, much less backstabbing, bribery and the like. However, my mentor also told me that this stuff is anywhere and everywhere I would work, ministry or not, and I needed to do my best to keep myself on the right track. And thus the journey began.

"Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus."
Phil. 3:12

A life with Christ is about continually learning and getting closer to him each moment. I have tried to live my life this way and tried to do ministry this way over that last several years. We are given a chance as church workers to make a difference in the lives of our students and their families. We are given freedom to speak into their lives, so we have to take it seriously.

Some of my best times in ministry were the long nites of midweek program. The staff of collegians and parents always worked so hard to minister and serve the students. And at times it got frustrating. But then at the end of the nite we would do some debriefing stuff and inevitably one of the volunteers would pull me aside and talk to me about stuff in his or her life. That was always my favrit part of ministry. These were peeps who put in tons of time for students and much of the time it was a thankless job. One of the dads had a really hard time in thinking that he was making any kind of difference at all. What's funny about that is how many of the students, and staff for that matter, who would tell me on a regular basis how cool a guy he was and how much they appreciated him being around.

Your staff does a crazy job. And I know that sometimes they frustrate you. But they are the backbone of your ministry and if you treat them like gold then they will make a difference in the lives of tons of students and their families. Never let a day or program nite go by without telling them how much you care for and appreciate them. But make sure you are sincere. They can see right through fakeness. Be genuine. Lavish praise on them. Help them to see what they are doing right and what they can work on.

When you come to the end of a program nite and you have someone come up to you and want to talk about stuff, important or not, do it. Take the time. I know you are tired. I know you are away from your family and sometimes you just want to go home and climb into your bed and forget about the world. I know that your eyes are heavy and burning from being up for days straight and there are tons of projects that are due by the end of the week. But these are the times where we change lives. Learn to prioritize your time in such a way that you can afford to have that late nite talk with a staff member and still survive to the next day.

And when you get home and look around your street, knowing that the rest of the world went to sleep hours before, you will know that it was worth it. You may not receive the rewards or the appreciation till years later – or maybe even till Heaven – but you know that God sees it. You are a youth pastor and have been called to press on. So until we lay hold of what Christ has in store for us, I will be praying for you and your ministry. It is worth it... it is why we do ministry.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Taking credit...

Learn to take as little credit as you possible can. This will build your ministry in ways you could never imagine. I sat in a seminar back in the day and heard a speaker say that if you work your way out of the job enough you will become an indispensable asset. And we all know that our staff members deserve all of the credit in our ministries. They are not paid for the work that they put in to church stuff. They give time to students because of conviction and belief is God's good work.

Cobb always kept us on a strict schedule and our volunteer staff members put in more time than a lot of full time pastors. I am serious. And many of them had more students in their groups than a small youth ministry. They knew the impact that they were making and in turn gave up a lot of freedom in life to give back to others. Our staff would come early, leave late, put in the time necessary to be successful and do ministry right. They wanted to make a difference in the lives of students and bought into the big ministry picture. And that was key to the movement of the ministry as a whole.

If your volunteer staff does not believe in the vision that you set then you are in big trouble. Worse than that, if you ask someone on your staff what the mission and vision are and they have no idea then you are already on a slippery road. Do on ever just “let ministry happen.” and I am not referring to the Holy Spirit, but to the way that you execute ministry. We need to be in tune with the calling and work that God calls us to do. The best way to honor your volunteers and their time is to not waste it. Know what you are doing. Make schedules and calendars. Don't be the typical youth pastor who procrastinates and flies by the seat of their pants. This will ultimately come back to get you.

It is not cool to be the person thinking everything up at the last minute to make it work. If you have to, then it is good to be able to do that, but not all the time. Do your homework and get stuff ready. This will set your team up for success and then they will get all of the credit, both in the eyes of the students and the church. Your success is no more than the leaders your create and shape. Spend more time than they would think you would. Always put them first and help them excel. Your ministry will be unstoppable.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

People over programs...

I definitely consider myself a program guy. I love to have a solid outline all worked out. And even more than that I like to see when it is played out flawlessly. The latter rarely happens. However, when it does it is straight up sweetness! But, a little word to the wise from a guy that has pretty much screwed up on every part of ministry, this is one that has taken me a long time to conquer. And I would say that sometimes I still fail.

Programming is one of those parts of ministry you have to look out for all of the time. If you forget, it can consume you and cause you to mess up relationships. What do I mean by this? Well, take your midweek stuff for example. You only have a certain amount of time. And if you are like many to most youth groups, you are competing for time in building and fields and the use of supplies. This is all important to keep on your radar because if you screw up too much on any of this stuff then you are likely to lose it, and rightly so, and it will take you tons of time to gain it back. But that does not give you the right to run over peeps and relationships in your quest to run the perfect program.

Trust me when say that I have been in programming nightmares where you wish you could crawl in a hole and come out when the nite is over. Things will go wrong. It's like Murphy's Law loves to hang out at churches just to mess everything possible up in ways you did not think they could get jacked. Music doesn't work, lights break, props are stolen, your message notes go missing in action. And this is when our character is shown. This is when we are most likely to wear our hearts on our sleeves. This is leadership in the making.

Do not ever take stuff out on your staff or your students – for any reason. If you need to approach a staff person for something dumb, like climbing trees with students or starting a marshmallow fight in the sanctuary, or something like that – do it in private... after. So, how do you deal with it at the time? Very carefully. Yeah, you gotta keep control when everything is going wrong and Piggy is carrying around the conch and it feel like you are in the middle of Lord of the Flies. But you cannot crack. Period. As the youth pastor, you are the last bit of sanity left in the place. You need to be like the lawyer in a courtroom when you get blindsided with information you didn't even know existed – calm, cool and collected.

Easier said than done, I know. But you have to do it. Your people are too important. You need to show your students, and your staff in particular, that stuff is going to be cool. Youth ministry is crazy enough without you losing it. But when you have stuff go wrong – and it will, more often than not – keep steady on the course. Don't get all wrapped up in the madness. Deal with stuff as it comes. Remember, no matter what the rest of the world thinks about youth pastors, you have to know that you are a professional. So, act like a professional. After a while, and I am talking years, you will be seen and treated as such. Stay the course, do your best, keep your cool, and you will excel.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Stayin' alive...

You gotta keep on keepin' on. There are times in your ministry when you want to quit. And if you don't, then maybe your aren't pushing yourself enough. There are times when the peeps are gonna get under your skin and you will want to pull all your hair out because the madness gets crazy. Times when your supervisor does not understand you. Times when your senior pastor does not understand you. Times when you feel you are the only one who “gets it.” And much of the time you are going to be right. Just remember that no one can get into that little brain of yours. They do not see things the way you do – and a lot of the time that is prolly a good thing.

Remember the way that Paul did ministry. He was running on all cylinders most of the time. And the reason that I like him so much is that he never let anything get in the way of his ministry that could not be overcome. As soon as you let yourself get a bad a attitude you are toast! You gotta roll with the punches. Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be broken.

Your superiors are not perfect. I know that because one day you will be a superior and you are not perfect. You see things only the way you can see them. And your effectiveness in ministry will depend on your empathy and willing to enter into the minds of those with whom you work. Here is a nickel's worth of free advice. You need to always remember to smile. Must I continue to remind us that we have the best job in the world. We get paid to chill with students and put into the lives of peeps who love students. You have it made... so smile! Don't be the guy or girl who is always out to prove that you are right and everyone needs to do stuff like you.

“Energy and persistence conquer all things.”
~B. Franklin

You gotta hang in there – stuff will happen and you will make a difference. You will feel sometimes that the peeps that ultimately run your ministry, you know – the peeps that tell you whether you can do stuff or not, have more than just the youth to think about. There are tons of dollars coming into and going out of your church. You are just a small piece of the bigger puzzle. And I do not mean that you are less or more important. But there is a lot more than just you. And in the beginning of my ministry I took lots of stuff personal. When my superiors would shoot down one of my brilliant ideas I was convinced that they were the dumbest people in the world. But as I grew older and more mature in my ministry I understood that they were there to do the same thing I was – to change lives.

So, don't roll over and be weak. Stand your ground. But remember to major on the major and minor on the minors. If you remember this it will serve you well. I know you have big ideas and that the world will be better for it in the long run. But if you wanna make it that far you are going to learn how to play the game. Believe in your ministry. Believe in your superiors. The early years are the time for you to learn and be shaped. Use them to your advantage and one day you will get to be the one that everyone thinks is crazy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Get moving...

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”
~J. Maxwell

When I first came on staff with Cobb I had a decent outlook on and idea of ministry. I mean, I had been in his ministry for the previous few years. I saw how things were run. And they were run very well. But it was not until I became employed that I got a better and more thorough look into all of the madness. He had a vision to grow our youth group by hundreds of percents in the next few years; he wanted to do it the right way. We wanted to reach more students in the community without losing spiritual connectedness to the program – a pretty tall order. This would call for us to get uncomfortable... and we did.

Cobb had a clear idea of where he wanted to get to, what to achieve, but he committed to learn along side us as a paid and volunteer staff. He was always out front. When times were hard and we faced tons of struggle through the growth process, it was always sobering to know he continued to believe in our ministry. I remember sometimes sitting in his office and having long discussions about how we were going to get over certain obstacles, whether they were political, damage control or even non-ministry related. But I always felt a sense of peace after I talked to Cobb. He had a reliance on God that I had never seen in anyone I had ever worked with.

We would sit in the “war room” and come up with tons of new plans, most of which never got past the drawing board. Then we would take the few that made it and implement them the best we could. Nothing ever went as planned. But we stuck to our guns. We took ridicule – much of the time it was deserved – but we never gave up. I would leave the church sometimes walking alongside Cobb with no one but the crickets to keep us company. And I look back now and cherish those times. Those were the times that tested our character and drive to do ministry. I never felt like I was working because I believed in his vision for ministry and that we could achieve it.

Who are you following in ministry? Do you believe in the way you are doing ministry to the point where you will work till your eyes burn with sleeplessness? That is the kind of ministry in which I was involved. I always wanted to do more. I always wanted to impress Cobb and make him proud. And it was nothing more than needing him to know that I cared about ministry the way that he did. I still talk to him often and he has not changed. I know that the ministry he leads now is in the same hands that our ministry was. I try to mimic his effectiveness in my own ministry and life each and every day. Can you say that about your mentor and your ministry... that is my sincere prayer for you.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Humility in the making...

“It takes humility to seek feedback. It takes wisdom to understand it, analyze it and appropriately act on it.”
-S. Covey

Needless to say, this was not one of my stronger qualities when I was a young buck in ministry. But for some reason Cobb believed that I could grow – or else he prolly would have put so much time into me. When he brought me on to staff at the church I was your typical punk coming right out of high school. I knew everything about everything and no one could tell me differently.

For lack of a better way to say it, I was a straight up busta' a lot if not most of the time. Looking back I am lucky that Cobb or anyone would have given me a chance to make something of myself. I mean, I would sit in meetings with the “big staff” and not pay attention or give the vibe that my time was being wasted. Just your ordinary uncalled-for crappy attitude. And I don't know why I was like this. I really did care about students and ministry as a whole, I just had tunnel vision in the sense that I could do ministry better than anyone and everyone else. It was like talking to a wall when you others on staff tried to give me advice or any words of critique.

But there was something about Cobb that was able to penetrate my stupidity. He chose to take on a guy like me because he saw something that others did not want to deal with. I am sure that if he let me go then I would be in a much different place than the direction he helped me to go. Yeah, I messed up a lot but he was always there to take the fall for me. And he never complained or debased me. He was always about the “teaching moment” in all instances. And I would listen to him and only him. And I think that the only reason I did was the he always stuck his neck out for me. He always stood up for me. From the time I was in his high school group he would defend me and my character and heart's intentions. He knew me.

Cobb always gave me options. He never told me what to do. But he also let me know that the decisions that I made would carry consequences, good or bad. After some time I understood that there was a method to his madness. There was a reason for the things that he told me. He did not give me advice just to hear himself talk. Cobb knew ministry and he wanted to help me to miss the pitfalls and take the high road in as many cases as possible. Sometimes I listened, and those were the times that my life was easier – most of the time.

The more I listened to him the more I understood ministry. Cobb's wisdom and advice were always pointed toward ministry in the long haul. I further understood and learned that I knew little to nothing about ministry. It began to humble me and I saw the method to his madness. He wanted me to change lives not just now but forever. I began to apply his teachings and listened more than I would talk. I stopped trying to be smarter than him and waited to hear those teaching moments. I was being transformed through Cobb and his relationship with JC.

Today I listen to every word that Cobb has to say. I do not want to do ministry with my head in the sand. I know that he has always and still does have my best interest in mind. My point is that we need to listen to our mentors. The ones who take the bullets for us are the ones who care about who we are and can be in the future. Whoever is over you in a supervisory role has your best interest in mind. If you are thinking, “Not my supervisor, because...” then you have a couple of options. One is that you can suck it up and realize that you need to learn more and humble yourself. But if you are convinced that you are right about that person then you need to get out of that situation and find a church and a supervisor to mentor you in your quest towards ministry for the long haul.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Live the Dream

John C. Maxwell says, “The dream is free, but the journey isn't. That's why dream believers are common. Dream buyers are rare.” Whenever someone tells me that they believe in what they say I never doubt them. We all have dreams. When you are a kid you think about what sports player you are going to grow up to be like or the person you are going to marry. Stuff like that. And the cool thing is that we believe it wholeheartedly! There is no reason you should not believe it. Until someone comes along and tells you why you will not achieve your dream – for whatever reason. These people are straight up busta's.

I don't know about all those naysayers and why they like to steal dreams, but they do. It is prolly an inadequacy in their own lives. I've heard it was said that “misery loves company.” And I guess what I am saying is that you need to hang out with peeps who believe in you. I remember when I was in ministry with Cobb and he would talk about ht dream with me. And to his credit, he is not a huge “dream guy.” he is very down to earth and is good at the bottom line kind of stuff. He spent a lot of his time taming me and my big dreams. He never told me that I couldn't do something; he challenged me to think about how to be more effective in my ministry.

He would tell me that we were going to change a city together, one student at a time. He told me that would could change the world, but it would take work to chisel each piece of the stone. He believed in his ministry and his peeps. He believed in me and my big dreams. He knew that I was going to be something and make the world a better place. He knew that each of our staff members and students had the potential to make the world better. He knew that we were going to change lives for JC and make the Kingdom expand.

I used to love hearing him talk about Kingdom ministry. When I was in his youth group as a junior and he made a CORE team of students he was very honest. He told me that he did not know all of the answers and that we would learn together. And we did. We succeeded and failed together. He would help me to see the lessons in both the good and the bad parts of our ministry. He spoke a lot about ministry for the “long haul” and how each day and moment was a stepping stone. He encouraged and loved each of us.

I feel blessed to be a part of Cobb's ministry when it was smaller. I feel blessed to have been a part of it when it was growing and when it was huge. He never got caught up on the small details or much of the present. He was always striving for what ministry looked like in his head and in his heart. And for that reason I still hang on his every word and thought today. He continues to grow in his knowledge of ministry and that is why I do the same. The dream has not been fully realized, but we are living the dream each day. Who are you doing ministry? Who are you dreaming with? Who is making your ministry better? Lean on them. Learn from them. Live the dream with them.

Add value... one student at a time

I remember Cobb would come to everything in the world that was going on in my life. I was a high school kid and involved with tons of stuff. I had plenty of friends and a lot to do. Of course the universe revolved around me and I gave no one or nothing else a thought. Life was perfect... not really. I went to the church up the street because it was a way for me to get out of my house just a little longer and away from the madness of the folks. They weren't bad, I just wanted to be an adult and this was all part of it.

One day at youth group the youth pastor came up to me and started talking about random stuff. Our group was relatively small but I didn't want to bother Cobb. I know that he had tons of stuff on his plate and would not have time for a single student over the whole of the group. But to my surprise he not only asked me what I was interested in, but he actually listened. It's like he shut out the whole world and put every ounce of his attention on me. In that conversation he asked about my sports, prolly cause he knew that is what was most important to me. And then at the end of our conversation he asked me if he could come and watch me at one of my events. I was stunned! Of course. That would be the best thing in the world. Did I think he would show up... prolly not.

A week later I was at a water polo game and it was comin up on start time and Cobb walked in. I couldn't believe it – my youth pastor was at MY game. It was the coolest feeling in the world. I played awesome that day and did my best to not cuss or act in a way that would make God hate me... And the best part is that after that day he continued to come to my stuff. And there were times that I would not have been surprised if he disowned me as a kid in his group. But he kept putting more and more time into shaping me.

Years later I was able to mentor students the way that Cobb influenced me. It was the best feeling in the world to give back. There is nothing I could do to repay for the time spent by Cobb in my life. I guess the question I have is, who put time into you to make you who you are today? As a youth pastor you never know who you are going to reach. Cobb had so much going on in his life that he did not have to invest into me. But he did. And I am sure he has put tons of time into other kids that fell away from the group and even God as a whole!

So, remember that the next kid that you put time into could be the one to change the world. I know that I will do everything I can to do just that because of the time that Cobb put into me relationally. Call your youth leader and show them some love. I promise they have not forgotten about you. I still talk to Cobb. He still helps me out and keeps me on the straight and narrow. Add value... one student at a time.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sometimes you just gotta jump...

I remember when I would get up at 0-dark:30 every morning to be in the water for swim practice before the sun even thought of coming out. It sucked big time. But I was on a team and knew that my boys were gonna be there too. None of us liked to do it. We were all high school guys and did not want to get up before noon if we had to. But somehow, some way – we managed to do it morning after morning.

Rolling out of your warm and cozy bed on a cold January morning; out of the perfect position of warmth and comfort you would never achieve, well, at least till the next nite. And I knew what I was getting up to do. I knew it was not a shower and a cup of hot coffee, but a sub-zero lap pool calling my name – begging me to burn calories. And that steam that sizzled off the top of the water was all a facade... a lie from the swim gods – laughing at my stupidity.

In I would jump and instintaniously wake up to the smell of chlorine and crisp air. And that is how it went. Every morning. This is how I feel about ministry much of the time. We spend so much time thinking about what we have to do that by the time we get to doing it, we are behind and playing catch up. I was going to swim the same amount of laps whether I got in on time or if I was late. Coach told me that it was up to me if I wanted to be late to first period and get in trouble.

Yes the water was cold – freezing at times – but I knew what I had to do to be the best athlete I could be. If I chose not to go then I would be hating it when it came to our swim meets. And it is always at that point when you wish you would have put in the time. It is the same in ministry. You have to put in the time and put it in NOW. Don't wait and procrasitnate on yoru messages or the calls you have to make. When you have camp coming up, get your stuff done so you can do ministry the way it should be done.

When you have events you need to just get on it. Make a list, form a team and get it done. I talk to so many pastors who think that they have the hardest job in the world. Might I remind you that you make a living chillin' with the students and your leaders. They make the time to be at your ministry, so don't give them your excuses. Give them your time, and your best time at that. They will bend over backwards for you if they know you are on top of it. They do not expect perfection, but they do want you to put in more time and effort than they do.

Your leaders should always be putting in more time and effort because they see that you are on it and they want to be more like you. Like a cold pool, we need to jump into our responsibilities and start on them. The more you think about it the more you are going to wonder why you are doing it. Ministry needs to be calculated, yes. But it needs to be done quickly and intuitively. If you are not good at that kind of stuff them form a team and lean on them. But make sure that you are always working harder than they are. Do this and your team will strive for more. Keep the bar high and your ministry will follow.