Saturday, September 26, 2009

Your ministry footprint

Do you ever feel like you are not making an impact? well, if not, give it some time and you will get there. we all do. you put in tons of time to students and staff and it seems that you are always behind. Behind in your work, your messages, the souls you should be winning for JC. I know, it is frustrating. but it takes time. and Cobb told me that it would take a lot more time than i even thought it would take. yes, there are the small victories, but to win the war you must go through a lot of battles. you will lose a lot of those battles. you will win a lot of them as well. however, the war is much longer and requires the big picture in mind. you cannot be a “small thinker” if you are going to impact others’ lives long term.

you need to start putting those ministry miles on your odometer. you have to keep going. there are going to be events that you do well, and of course the ones you will botch and totally jack up. both types are going to be beneficial. you have to lose to know how sweet it feels to win. you have to spend month, even years putting into someone or a group of peeps that does not turn out the way you would have hoped to understand what God means by perseverance. you have to oversleep because you are so exhausted from the previous four days of non-stop, sleep-deprived madness to know what it feels like to be a sixty-four year old man when in reality you are a college kid. you have to keep going.

you need to pray like mad for God to for understanding and reasoning for why you would spend your college years learning stuff that you thought you would never use, only to find out years later that it was part of making your foundation and philosophy of ministry. you need to wear out your shoes playing football on Thanksgiving Day for the annual Turkey Bowl, knowing that someone will inevitably get hurt and it will be your fault. you need to rip perfectly good clothing at camps because some JH boy thinks that you are a rag doll, knowing he out-weighs you by forty pounds.

Wear out your clothes, shoes, vehicle, personal stuff... and you will ensure you will never wear out your welcome. put others before yourself and know that you have to put the miles on. and when your shoes are so worn out that you have to replace them you will know that you are making an impact. it is the wear and tear on your life and ministry that will prove that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing. God is faithful, you only need to rise to the occasion and make a difference within that goodness. your ministry is counting on you to make the difference.

when you feel like you are at the end of your rope, give a little more. spend more time with your mentors, replenish your energy and fill your tank. you know that your ministry is going to take a lot out of you, so be ready for it. plan for it. walk the miles. put in the time and you will always know where you are on this crazy journey. and when it is time to walk a new path within your calling to ministry... you will be ready.

Fortify your front-line

I would have to say that one of the most important parts of your ministry is found in your parents. They are the ones that make stuff happen. The hard thing is to get them to understand that they are not the busiest peeps in the world and they need to be present for ministry all the time. The parents that we had in our ministry were definitely the driving force and the backbone. They have experience in life and if they can be down to earth enough and are able to relate with the kids, you are going to have a great time.

Do I think that all parents are to be placed in a small group??? Of course not. In fact, it is prolly the hardest position for a parent to fill because of the old cliché of them being too old. Are they too old to relate with the kids? No, not in my experience. But, not all of them have the gifts to be in charge of or be associated with a small group. So, don’t let a parent intimidate you because they are older than you or make more money than you. They are just like any other person in yours or another ministry. If they have the gifts to be a part of a small group, by all means, put them in the position and let them shine.

I had one dad in our ministry that was in the hardest group of boys I think I had ever had in my entire ministry career to that point. He would always come to me and ask if there was any way to take him out of the group and move him to the parking lot ministry or the security detail. I asked him is he wanted to be in the group or if he felt like some other party of the ministry would suit him better. But what it really came down to was that he felt that he did not have much control over what was going on and he did not think that he was making an impact.

The truth of the matter was that he was doing a great job and the boys loved and respected him. Sure, they were all punks and were way too open about stuff and made this particular dad feel uncomfortable, but they made all of us feel that way. He needed to be in that group. He made a huge impact in the couple years with those boys. So, who are the parents that are your ministry you need to call on? They are out there and they are the ones that are going to be your biggest asset and best advocates in the help you will need to grow in support.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Keep your leaders "in the know"

I was talking with one of my homies and he was telling me about how a couple of the peeps were helping out a youth group by being leaders at a camp just recently. What is funny is that it never ceases to amaze me how poorly camp directors, youth pastors and the like, are horrible at making sure that the peeps helping are on the up and up when it comes to information.

These peeps took off an entire week of work and life to spend time giving to the youth ministry and were excited… until about half way through the week. They were in the dark about most of what was happening at this camp. There were no schedules or hard copies of stuff for them to look at and keep. They did not know when the councelor meetings were and when they had them, the information helped little to not at all. It seemed that the youth guy for this church was completely discombobulated and did not know what he was doing.

Like at this camp, most camps are filled with a ton of stuff that is just thrown together and last minute madness. This would not be so bad if you as the youth pastor were the only one that needed to know what was going on. Unfortunately, the leaders that come with you to the camp do not have the luxury of being in that little brain of yours. They do not know what you are thinking most of the time and have so much to think about anyway, you know, spending time with kids and doing their job, which is relationships.

And when you are not communicative with them, your leaders are going to feel out of the loop, misguided, in the dark, frustrated, unappreciated – to name a few. These peeps are your lifeline… they ARE your ministry. Without them you are not capable of reaching out to as many kids as you would be able to with them. I know, it seems a little too simplistic; but if it were so simple then I would not be having a conversation with Jonesy concerning volunteer leaders not feeling useful by a seasoned youth pastor.

Whether you have been doing ministry for a million years or you are the new kid on the block, it is important to take care of the peeps who are putting the time in to do ministry with you. If you are at all concerned with the retention of your staff over the long haul, then you need to do whatever you can to keep them understanding that the time that they put in is useful and that they are making an impact on the lives of the kids in the ministry.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Focus your time

Like in any business or group, you ministry will deal with the 80/20 Rule. That means that eighty percent of the peeps on your staff will do twenty percent of the work, and visa versa. You need to put your time into a small amount of peeps; invest the necessary resources that will get them to be more committed. That means out of ten peeps, for instance, that you want to spend a majority of your time investing into only two of them. This will bring you a bigger return on investment than if you were spinning your wheels and trying to juggle and disperse your time evenly. S remember, putting the best of your time into twenty percent of your peeps will give you eighty percent of the action and results.

You still need to spend time with the others. However, if you are a part of a growing ministry, you need to focus the better part of your energy on what will continue to foster that growth. You only have so much time and energy to give. If you do not focus accordingly then you are going to burn out. And I am one who believes that you cannot, or at least should not, burn out in ministry. If you do then there is something wrong. Either you are spending your time on the wrong stuff or you are letting yourself be taken advantage of by your superiors or your volunteer staff. But, it is always your fault. No one controls your life. You do. I know that you have obligations to your church and to your boss, whoever that may be, but it is important that you take responsibility for your actions and decisions.

You will learn really quickly. Remember, if you do not let peeps know what you are thinking then you cannot expect them to know what you feel you do and don’t feel you should be doing. What is the most important part of your ministry? When I ask that I want to know what you specifically do well and that no one else can do for you. For example, I hope you are the one who lays out the vision for your group. But, on the other hand, you may not be a good speaker and think that someone else should be up front for the kids to see. What??? I know, to think that your youth group kids may not get all of your wisdom seems to be absurd. But let’s face it; some peeps do not need to be up front for any number of reasons. Maybe you are a boring speaker or just a bad communicator on stage. You need to know this stuff.

Ask your staff for honest feedback. Ask them what you do and don’t do well. You will be surprised that when you ask, and then shut your big cake hole to listen, what good comments and suggestions you can get from your staff. Remember, they see you all the time and know what you do well and what you are not good at. Take heed to their advice and, after you separate the wheat from the bad stuff, make changes. Both you and your staff will grow leaps and bounds.

The question I have for you is: who are you spending the majority of you time with? Does this need to change? Where is your ministry and where do you want it to be? You need to have a really pointed and concise understanding of where your ministry is and where you want it to be. Spend your time with the peeps you need to and listen to what they have to say. There is going to be the majority that thinks they know best, and then there is the minority that actually knows and will give you good stuff to use, if you listen. So, listen and realize that this small amount of peeps you pour into can become a juggernaught in ministry.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

It takes time...

Believe you me. If there is a place for you to start in ministry, then this is it. I do not care if you are the youth pastor coming into a church of five or five hundred. You will have to put in the time to make your church grow in every way. First of all, you are going to have to grow in your influence. If you do not do this then nothing good will ever happen. And if it does, it will be in spite of what you do for the group. It is important to know that the time that you put in will pay off. You just have to do it. I was talking with a youth pastor just the other day and he asked me what he needed to do as a new guy in the game. He is young, vibrant, and a great communicator. The guy loves JC a ton and wants to change the world. However, he is also a youth guy with a wife and like a bunch of kids. This is not the best choice necessarily for him to make concerning financials, but he believes in what God is doing and willing to put in the time and make the sacrifice. He asked me where to start.

The best place for him to start is with the peeps in his church, specifically the persons putting time into his ministry. There are parents and collegians that believe in the group, not really him yet. And he gets all frustrated because he feels like peeps do not want to listen to him. They do not think that he has very good ideas but he knows that they will work and that this is the best way to do ministry. Now, what I told him, after I was done laughing because this situation was all too familiar and close to home for me, was that he had to go on a mission. His first couple of years is going to be all about building relationships. Even if peeps would have known him before he took over the ministry (which they did not) he would really only get a pass for the first couple of months. After that it is all about your merits. And the fact is that when you are the new youth pastor no one expects you to stay around. So, you must earn your way into the hearts of those you intend to lead. And leading means that you have to serve and serve until you cannot serve anymore. And then you serve some more.

The most frustrating thing is to put time into someone or a group of peeps that end up falling off the face of the earth. But that is what you are going to have to do if you are going to make an impact in ministry. As you continue on in ministry your radar will get stronger and you will know who you need to put your time into. And I am speaking of potential leaders of course. You are only one person. If you try to do everything you will not be good at anything. Focus your time. And if it is your first couple years of ministry you will feel a lot of the time that you are not getting anything accomplished. You will spend tons of time with peeps that come and go in your ministry. But this is where you build your character.

You have to be the one to stick around. You have to be the one to persevere. When you feel that no one else is buying into your vision, keep on going and sooner or later, sometimes much later, peeps will jump on board and your group will begin to grow, in every way you were hoping. But you have to know what you want for your group. You have to be the one to set the direction. This will help you to be intentional in the time you spend with peeps on your staff. They deserve your best. So spend some sleepless nites thinking about and praying for them. You should never just hang out with your staff peeps but instead have goals and dreams for them and their areas of ministry. Start with the cream of the crop and go from there. It will build a successful ministry and add value to others.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Conferences... vacation time?

I remember going to my first conference with the rest of the “big staff” of our church. And of course I was on their dime, so I counted this as a vacation. It was a time for me to stay up late and get up just in time to roll to the first session. I didn't have my folder to take notes and I was completely unfocused. I definitely did not get much out of the conference at all. In fact, I recall being much too smart and knowledgeable for anything that I could possibly learn that could be of value to me, my youth staff or ministry. So, the answer to your question is “yes”, I am an idiot and was totally pompous, thinking that I was the man and that there was nothing more to learn to better myself.

Over the years I started to realize that whenever I was given the chance to learn from anyone about youth ministry or leadership as a whole I was lucky. And when it began to become repetitious for me to learn the same lesson over and over, from a different person at a different conference, I realized that there was not much to this whole leadership deal. That was the easy part. The hard part was realizing that I had to put that stuff into practice and make it work in my ministry. The lessons and ideas that I was receiving were exactly that. None of it was good until I applied it.

Now that speak at different conferences and attend them as well I see that the stuff that I am teaching or learning is nothing new. Funny that Solomon had a pretty good handle on it. But for those of you out there that are just starting in ministry I hope that you are paying attention to what is going on in the conferences that you are attending. No one can make you understand the importance but yourself. You will not raise your leadership lid – your maxed out potential – until you get your head out of the sand and apply the stuff that you are learning.

At the conferences when I was younger I can remember our senior pastor having late nite meetings with the big dawgs on staff to talk about the stuff that was just taught that very same day. I would think, wow, I am glad I am not in those meetings. Now I wish I had been invited. And, there was prolly a reason I was not invited. You are the one in charge of your ministry. If you do not have higher leadership lid than the peeps you are leading, then you will not be leading them for very long. Peeps want to follow others who they believe can take them places they cannot go on their own.

So, use your conference time to excel and expand your ministry potential. Listen to leaders on tape, the net, video – whatever you can get your hands on. The more you put into your own leadership the better chance you have to lead others. You cannot add value to others if you have nothing to give.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Work and play...

When are you the most productive? If you want to be successful in youth ministry then you have to be the master of your schedule. I remember listening to Bill Hybels at the Leadership Summit a few years back and he talked about scheduling and getting things done. He said that he has his day planned out to the minute each and every day. He does this because he knows that if he does not then he is prolly gonna let something insignificant get in the way of what needs to be done. His day starts early and ends late. He puts everything from his quite time with God to meetings and lunch into his calendar. Man, that is discipline!

Lou Holtz, former football coach, used to tell his secretary that if someone called during his hours of personal work he would not take the call, for almost any reason. He said that unless you needed to talk to him about a life or death situation then you could wait to talk with him after he was done with his work day. He had that discipline because he knew that to stay focused he had to get everything else out of his schedule. That is the way he worked. Some people like to work in complete solitude and others in a large crowd environment. Some peeps like it quiet when they work and others loud. Some of you like a clean and neat desk, others of you like to work in a pig sty. Awesome!

When I worked my first job as a youth guy I used to come in late because that is what youth workers do... right? Well, not necessarily. It took me a couple of years to realize that the later that I came into work the less I would get done. And I knew that the peeps were gonna roll in and see me as soon as school got out because they knew I was there. We all were. That is what we did – ministry! And that is actually when the best ministry took place, after school and in a non-programmed environment. It was not when we had youth group nites or scheduled stuff. It was the non-scheduled time that was the most valuable. And I never turned the kids away. I was glad that they came by. It was the best time for me to do ministry and make a difference.

And that is why I started to and still get most if not all my pertinent work done before 10am. It makes me have to get up earlier in the morning and be more disciplined in all that I do. I do not give up my workout time or my quiet time or anything else that I normally do. That would just be making excuses. But I move it all up to make sure that I am done with stuff and am available for peeps to see or speak to me about ministry. Now, that does not mean you have to get everything done, just the stuff that is do by the end of that business day. And that is why you need to work out of a calendar. Make a list of stuff that needs to be done and get it done. The rest of the time you can work on the other stuff but you know that it can be interrupted.

This will help you begin to make your life and ministry less stressful and more disciplined. Stop flying by the seat of your pants. You know that in ministry you are going to be pulled away from what you should be doing for various reasons. So, plan for it now. The more strict you hold your schedule the more free time you will have. And I once heard a wise man say, “Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be bent out of shape.” do yourself and all those in your ministry a favor – plan and perform... then you can play more.

Monday, September 14, 2009

More meetings, yaaay!!!

One of your most favrit times in the entire world will be your staff meetings. Most church senior pastors hold at least one a week that is scheduled and then the ones that come up any time that s/he feels it is necessary to get out some “pertinent” information. My feeling on the situation is that I used to hate them. I would sit in the conference room and wonder if there was a point to what we were doing. Much, if not most, of the time the stuff could have been given out via memo or an email. Alas, we had them anyway.

However, even though I was prolly right in my thinking, my attitude kept me from growing. We are the ones who have the power in what we learn and get out of the meetings that we have to be at. Common, if you have to be there then you may as well make good of them. And in my case we had a really good staff. Years and years of experience were on the Senior Staff (another name for the old peeps – with all the power) that I could glean. And so I began to listen to the way that they talked. I listened to the way that they asked permission, money, resources, etc.

I learned that it was always the same peeps getting the stuff they wanted and needed; and it was always the same peeps who got nothing. Now, you and both know that there is a lot of politics in church and of course the senior pastor is going to play favrits like any other job or career. And it is up to you to decide how you are going to play the game. I know, I sound so unspiritual and untrusting in God because of what I am saying. But if you want to succeed you are going to have to play this game, the game of ministry.

What this means is that you have to be the person no one expects you to be. You have to be the one who is always on top of your game. Be early with your stuff. With your projects you need to have the mindset that if you are on time – you are late. When you know you are going to be gone, get stuff in line and be proactive with your direct superior. If this is the Associate or Executive Pastor, or the youth person over you. Put in your requests early and follow up on them. Same thing with Activity Requests – you know, to get buildings and resources.

Remember, you are the youth person which puts you last in the mind of all the other peeps on your staff. They have to worry about all their own problems. So, you worry about yours. You are expected to get more done with less resources. And that is the challenge that you need. Do your own footwork. Don't be the person on staff who needs the extra attention from the top to get things done. When something is given to you the higher-ups should feel confident that you are going to get it done. And consider it a compliment when others start to steal from your ministry – ideas, peeps, resources, etc.

Don't get frustrated. Go to bat for yourself and be so good at what you do that others will look at you as an example of what they want their ministries to be. When they say that your job is easy, you will know that you are succeeding. That is what preparation does. It gives you more time and let's you do the stuff you want to be doing. It takes a while to get there, but it is possible. Always do more than you think needs to be done. Check, recheck and check again. Get it done.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Maybe there's a reason...

Ok, let's talk about mentors for a minute and why it is so important to listen to them. They know you better than you know yourself much of the time. And it is when that little voice in your head says, “S/he has no idea what's going on in my life,” well, that is prolly the time you should be listening to your mentor the most. They have been doing ministry for a lot longer than you have been around much of the time. There is a reason they are over you in your ministry. And if you have done your homework on the church at which you serve, then you know that this person is rightly placed above you.

When I was a young lad in the beginnings of ministry I was ready to conquer the world. And in many cases it was good that I had that attitude. I could run on very little sleep for days at a time and bullets bounced off me, as energy drinks and Twinkies ruled the day. And Cobb was cool enuff to know how to deal with me, the young stallion who refused to be tamed. And believe me, my pompous behind needed to be put in check often. But he knew how to handle me. I mean c'mon, the guy lead me to the Lord.

But Cobb never acted malicious toward me. He was always there with a kind word and encouragement to help me better myself and our ministry. He knew knew what I needed. And I he knew it much of the time that I did not even know what I wanted or needed to do. I remember sitting in his more times than I can count. He would lean back in that big old swivel chair and rest his brow on his pointer finger, leaning on his elbow. I would tell him all of the stuff going on in my life and how I needed more. I always seemed to need more in my life. I still do – it is who I am. And Cobb was there to help pull the reins in keep me steady.

He seldom gave me advice but instead gave me options. Maybe there is a reason for the way he dealt with me. And I did not know it then, but those were actually answers in themselves. He knew what I needed to do and that I was capable of doing those tasks and fulfilling those dreams. But if he told me what to do then they would never be mine. And because he facilitated our professional relationship that way it has made all the difference in my life. I feel blessed to have worked under a mentor, and even more so that God put Cobb to be that mentor for so many years.

Today not much has changed. I try to steal as much of Cobb's time as I possibly can, knowing that he is thousands of miles away and in a new ministry with more than twice as much responsibility than he had when we were doing ministry with one another. But when I ask him how he has done ministry so effectively and consistently, he immediately talks to me about the men and women who have put so much time into his life. It's incredible to know that the persons who put so much time into you, the ones you see as invincible, are usually the most humble... and that is why Cobb is my mentor. Who is yours?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Youth ministry syllabus...

I would be shocked to ever hear a youth pastor to say that he or she has over-planned. The reality is that we like to do just enuff the make sure things are going to happen. Many to most of us do or have lived the motto “Excellence is the enemy of Good Enuff.” there are just too many activities and meetings going on in your day to worry about making stuff perfect. I mean common, you have more on your plate than the average person. You are expected to work long hours. And not just the ones during the day, but all the extras that your senior pastor does not see. The ones cleaning up after a crazy midweek program all by yourself because all your staff has to leave right after group to get enuff sleep to make it through the day tomorrow. What about you??? yes, I know that you are living the fast life, and sometimes it is dragging you along – much of the time on your face. And for this reason we need to be on point as much as possible to allow wiggle room for the madness that comes up that we do not expect.

One of the best ways you can prepare yourself and your staff is to distribute information ahead of time, you know, like a proff does at the beginning of a semester or quarter in college. I am talking about so much information that your volunteers and interns are wondering if you are sane anymore. For instance, it is the beginning of September and most of us are in a place where we are scrambling to get the Fall schedule in order cause our midweek “kick-off stuff” is right around the corner. You know, weeks or sometimes only days away. You are still cleaning sand out of the car or unpacking from your last pool or house party of the summer. You have not had time to even look at what your Fall is going to look like yet. I know that it can be straight up madness. I have been there. Sometimes I still am. But I am getting better. And yo can too.

Start here. If you know what you are going to be doing this Fall and the stuff you are talking about, the activities, teams and outreach events – write them down. And do it in way that you can distribute it to your staff in early September before your school ministry season begins. You will see a world of difference in the way that your staff – and you for that matter – approaches ministry. And this is why. Your staff sees you in a couple of lights. The first is that you are running around and doing a million tasks at the same time. Secondly, they think you make up stuff at the last second, you know, right before the event or outreach nite starts. If you give them a packet of lessons, scripture, teams, games, phone numbers and ideas ahead of time they will take stuff more seriously.

Remember, you are the pulse of your ministry. If your staff sees you putting in the time and taking your job seriously, they will do the same. If they have all the material... they are the ones responsible now. Wow! That's right. Transfer responsibility and you will create an expectation of them. They will not come unprepared because you have set them up for success. Now if they fail, it is on them (well, it is still on you – but you catch my drift). They will do crazy stuff like bring your lessons and group questions all marked up with ideas they have for their group, ideas of stuff specifically for their students and ways they can be a better leader.

Also, they will come with questions for you about the passages you have chosen for the next few months, which makes you be accountable for the stuff that you put out. And we all know that it is nice to not have to have anything in writing so we do not have to answer. However, that is not good ministry. Good ministry is getting your material out on time. So, even though you may behind the curve already for this year, you still have time to get on it. Put in the extra time. Put in the long hours now and you will thank yourself later on this year when you are coming up to the holiday season and you are ahead of where you have ever been.

Setting your staff up for success will put you way beyond where you could get the group on your own talents and skills. So, get them as much material and calendar items as quickly as you can. The more they have the more success you will give them and will build confidence as a team. They deserve the chance to do the best they can with the students God has put in their groups. And you will stay sane... at least for a long period of time.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Letting go...

All right all of you micro-managers out there, listen up. What I am about to say is going to shock you beyond all belief, but you need to give up control if you ever truly want to be the leader of your own youth group. The days of owning your ministry and not letting anyone else in, well – is out. Actually, it was never really ever in. You just thought it was. I know I did. I was the guy who thought that I have to have my footprint on every single part of the ministry. And there were a couple of reasons for this.

The first is that I thought if I did not do everything and have influence over a certain program or event then I was losing control of the group. And this goes for those of you who have ministries of ten or even a thousand. It does not matter. What is true is that you need to learn to give stuff up and know that it is going to be good for the group. And some of you are thinking, yeah that is good for you, MO, but in my group my leaders are out of control and if I don't know what is going on all the time then something will burn down. That may very well be true. However, if that is the case then you have a much bigger problem.

If you do not trust your small group leaders to lead, then they are not leaders. And by definition, you are not a leader – or at least a very good one. Harsh? Not really. That is your job. You are the one that needs to know the pulse. And if you can get to the point where you know the pulse, and that is good enuff, then you are on your way. On your way to what you may be wondering. On your way to a less-stress ministry and and better use of your time and talents. Which brings me to my second point.

Along with being able to give up complete control of everything in your entire ministry on a micro-scale, the other reason you have to get this concept is because you are not good at everything. You are good at a couple to a few tasks and talents and the rest you are not. Some of you may be better at a larger number of stuff. And for those of you who fit this category I am concerned. The more skills you have the harder it is to give influence and responsibility away. Casey Stengel once said about being a baseball manager, “Managing is getting paid for home runs someone else hits.” huh??? yes, this is your job. You are hired to make sure others hit home-runs. And when they do, they get all the credit and you keep your job. It is when your staff members, paid and unpaid, stop producing that you will be the one to get the boot. And rightly so.

If you are not adding value to your leaders and giving them more responsibility and influence in your ministry, you will ultimately burn out and fail. It will not be seen as noble that you cannot handle your ministry because there is so much on your plate. It will be looked at as being irresponsible. And if you get to this point then you will be forced to learn and correct your thinking before you will ever be effective in a significant way. So, give away responsibility and influence whenever you can. This will push your leadership beyond what you can handle and let God work the rest.