Youth Pastor: Form A Prayer Team

When missionaries go overseas they begin forming a support team. This often takes place a few years before the missionary actually lands on the ground in their cross-cultural context.

One aspect of this team is financial. And much could be said in this regard, both positive and not so positive.

Another aspect is that of prayer. 

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing”. A rather convicting quote. And a quote that those who’ve done mission work will resonate with.

To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing- Martin Luther King Jr.

A prayer team is essential for those who are commissioned and sent to places around the world in order to spread the Good News of Jesus.

I think this is the case for those of us in youth ministry too. 

Recently I’ve been convinced of the need to form a prayer team around me, my family, and the ministry we’re involved in. In fact, I’m not quite sure why I hadn’t initiated this previously.

So about a month ago I sent an email to a few friends who I thought would be willing to commit to being on this team.

Here’s what I wrote:

Hi,

I’m attempting to form a prayer team for me, my fam, and the ministry we’re doing at Rowville BC. It’s been something I’ve been thinking of for a while and sense the necessity for. You no doubt understand the need for this in your context and I believe it applies to local church min too.

Anyway, this is simply to ask if you’re willing to be part of that team.

What will it require, you may ask?

(1) That you commit to pray for me, my fam and the ministry here at RBC once per week.

(2) Actually pray for me, my fam, and the ministry here at RBC once per week.

That’s all.

I’ll be committing to sending out an email to the group with 3 prayer points each week too.

Thanks for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

So far I’ve had nothing but positive responses, and there is no pressure to being on the team. I currently have a group of 7 willing to commit to this and there may well be others who will join over time. None of the members know who else is on the team as I simply bcc them in. None of them attend my church, and in fact many of them are overseas themselves.

If you’re a Youth Pastor I reckon you should do this.

Here’s why:

  1. You can’t do youth ministry alone. A team of people praying for you will hold you and sustain you.
  2. Prayer gets squashed out for programs and people. How much have you really prayed this week? This actually raises the temperature of your own prayer life too.
  3. It keeps you accountable. People are seeing what you need and will ask questions about it.
  4. You end up thinking about your priorities. To write 3 succinct points keeps you focussed on what’s important in life and ministry.
  5. It reminds you of the positive things God is doing through the ministry. Each week I write a little highlight at the bottom of the email. It’s encouraging to think about the positives for the week.

It’s worth doing, I’d get on to it if I was you.

Starting Fresh As A Youth Pastor

At my denominational gathering of Next Generational Leaders (a fancy name for those in ministry in the children’s, families, youth and young adult demographic) last week I was due to present a few reflections on starting fresh in ministry or a new ministry role. Unfortunately I came down with the flu (or man-flu, it’s a fine line) so I wasn’t able to actually present. However, not wanting to waste the time and thought put into it I have outlined what I was going to say below. Enjoy.

apple starting fresh

What happens when the honeymoon period that is beginning at a new church begins to fade into the distance?

Reality sets in.

Things don’t go as smoothly as they were at the start. The jobs seems bigger than expected. Some of the expectations now upon your shoulders aren’t what you enjoy doing. The role you thought you were given in the interview process doesn’t seem to be have been entirely accurate. You begin questioning your own skills and abilities for the job. Already you have people who don’t like you. You feel like you’re being watched in everything you do. The pressure seems to be rising, whether it’s real or not.

Welcome to ministry. :) 

In recent times there has been a changing of the guard within the Baptist Union of Victoria’s next generation ministries. A little survey conducted recently found that of the 74 Next Generational Leaders within the BUV surveyed, just over 20% were in their first year of a paid ministry role (they are either starting out or in a new ministry context). If you extend this time to 3 years the number rises to just over 40%. That is a lot of newbies!

So, with that information in mind I briefly want to share with you some reflections that might be helpful for you as you begin in your ministry. And, if you’ve been around the traps for a while then I hope these pointers are a good refresher for you.

First, relationships are key, particularly with your Senior Pastor.

The number one relationship you have within your church, other than with Jesus, is your Senior Pastor.

No other relationship will have a bearing on your role and the way you function as a pastor than the relationship you have with your Senior Pastor. A strong relationship will provide a place of trust, honesty, and freedom in your role and will also allow for affirmation, encouragement and critique.

So, make sure you meet regularly with them. Either weekly or fortnightly. Anything longer and you won’t be building a good enough relationship. Seek to sit under their leadership and understand their vision and mission for the church and how you, in your role and ministry, support that.

This is also the relationship where the most tension will come. Bonem and Patterson, in their book Leading from the Second Chair, speak of it in terms of the subordinate-leadership paradox. Whereby we understand our authority and effectiveness comes from a healthy, subordinate relationship to the Senior Pastor. At different times there will be disagreement and it is the health and strength of the relationship that may determine how things go.

Other relationships are of course important – leadership teams, parents, young adults, young people, kids, schools, community groups etc. But, it is the Senior Pastor relationship that often needs to take priority.

Second, when you’re fresh, just listen and observe what’s going on.

Some pastoral ministry advice I have heard is that it is common to overestimate what you will achieve in your first year and underestimate what you will do in five. I think this is true.

I could come in with my predetermined programs and ideas and begin putting them in place without listening and observing what’s going on. In my 4-5 months I haven’t changed a thing. I’ve probably done some things a little differently but I haven’t made any structural or process changes to our youth and young adult ministries. I can see that in due course there will be a need to develop areas but right now it’s the listening and observation stage.

Each individual church is its own cultural microcosm and system. It can take many years for change to come about.

With this in mind I’d encourage you to simply listen to the stories of those who attend, ask them why they’re at the church, why do they stick around in this place? Speak to those in the youth group, the young adults and also the older ones in the congregation to get a sense of the history of the place. You may find that there are reasons why the church operates the way it does and it may seem completely logical in their mind and totally stupid in yours.

But just listen, listen and observe what’s going on and where God is at work.

Third, it’s important to have perspective.

We are broken people, working with broken people. And it is only by the grace of God that we do what we do.

It is such a privilege to disciple and equip people as they seek to know Jesus more and more. The amount of time, effort, and heartache that we put into our programs and our people can make us lose perspective at times.

There is great joy and great pain in ministry and it is only survived through a strong relationship with Jesus, who gives perspective to all things.

I am glad that my personhood and identity is not wrapped up in being a pastor. Being the Associate Pastor for Youth & Young Adults at Rowville Baptist Church is the current assignment God has for me, but my call is simply to follow Jesus and be more like Him. That allows me to have perspective in what I do.

It’s not easy. Not by any means.

But it is a truth that needs to be held onto.

Therefore, I want to encourage you to get a mentor or a ministry partner. Someone who you can trust, who knows what you are going through, and who can sit there and listen to you verbally vomit all over them. Someone who can understand the tough and challenging times but also someone who can lift the mirror up and tell you you’re being selfish and an idiot. Make sure you have someone like that, or a group of people like that, who can mutually support one-another, bring perspective to the various ministry situations you find yourself in, and pray with you and for you.

To finish I would like to remind you of 1 Corinthians 3:8-9 where Paul speaks of how God makes the church grow. “The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

May we be reminded, whether we’re starting fresh or an old hat, that it is God making things grow as we serve Him and His church.

Top Resources For Starting Fresh:

Of Masks and Men

stingProfessional wrestling seemed to peak in the late 90s, while I was finishing up high school. I remember nicking off from school to go watch Main Event: WrestleMania at a mate’s house, hoping to get a glimpse of Sting come down from the rafters and scare the hell out of everyone in the ring. Ah, fun times.

Sting was one of those wrestlers that wore a mask. He wouldn’t wear a corny one that looks like a piece of lycra with some holes in it. No, Sting’s mask was painted on, a white paint with some black flowing stripes. It showed enough of his face to know who it was but also hid something behind it, enough to leave some mystery.

Like entertaining wrestlers we too live behind masks. Probably more than one.

A wrestler does it for entertainment, for their work, to become someone they’re not in real life. Much like an actor playing their role in a biopic. We, on the other hand, seem to hide behind masks because we’re fearful of what others might think of us.

I wonder what masks you wear?

In Matthew 23:25-26 Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for wearing masks. He says,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

Jesus condemns the Pharisees and scribes for their two-faced hypocritical lives. They elevate the law and commandments and self-made rules above loving God and neighbour. They wear masks as they walk around pontificating about their own righteousness, shown by their outward signs and condemnation of other ‘sinners’. Yet on the inside these Pharisees and scribes are as unrighteous, sinful and dirty as the prostitute, tax collector, and leper.

It is hard to take our masks off. Like a woman taking off her make-up, scrubbing hard to get the foundation and blush and lippy off her face so too it is hard for us to scrub our masks off and reveal our true self to the world. If we expose our blemishes to the world we fear what people will think, we fear we will be judged, we fear we will be rejected.

Thankfully we have one that knows our true self. Thankfully we are known by Him who accepts us, blemishes and all. As much as we turn away, hide and put Him aside, God sees all of us and accepts all of us. Despite our faults and imperfections God stands with open arms accepting us just the way we are.


This post is a free writing exercise in response to The Daily Post topic ‘Mask‘. 

Why Every Youth Pastor Should Watch ‘Spotlight’

Last week I saw the movie Spotlight on the big screen. I walked away thinking every Youth Pastor should see this film.

Spotlight

Spotlight is the story of how the Boston Globe, one of Boston’s most famous newspapers, broke the devastating news of sexual abuse by Catholic priests upon young children in its city. The movie follows the reporters investigating the story and gives an amazing account of their work to uncover such atrocities. It’s a harrowing story and one that needs to be remembered.

As a Youth Pastor I am responsible for the care of children. As I walked out of the flick I had a overwhelming sense of responsibility toward those under my care. Most of the time the role of Youth Pastor is amazing. It’s a privilege to be able to share and teach the Christian faith to those who are exploring it for themselves. Leading those who wish to see their friends come to know Jesus is exciting work. But there are also times when certain topics or areas of responsibility need to be in order to make the church environment a safe place for young people. With this in mind I found Spotlight to be a good reminder.

1. It’s a reminder of how sinful supposed good people can be.

The Catholic priests in charge of young people were seen as safe people. And rightfully so. The church is meant to be a safe place for all people. Yet, like all people the priests are fallen and sinful people. This doesn’t excuse them of their horrid behaviour of course. But it is a reminder that good people are sinful and fallen human beings. The church is a collective of sinners, not saints.

2. It’s a reminder of how people look to the church for care and protection. 

This story broke around 15 years ago. The film depicts Boston as a city that trusts its priests and ‘the church’. It may not be so today but there are plenty of people who still look to the church and its ministers for care and protection, for guidance and help. The Church, as the body of Christians worldwide, should continue to strive in setting the example of love and care for others.

3. It’s a reminder of the responsibility churches have to care for children and their families.

As I’ve mentioned, the responsibility on churches and particularly those ministries dealing with young people should make best practice in child safety a priority. It is just so important to have policies and procedures, to have proper screening, and to be in alignment with government laws regarding duty of care for minors. Most people are trusting of others but it is the responsibility of those in charge of events and programs to take the responsibility of caring for children and young people seriously.

4. It’s a reminder of how important it is to properly screen people working with children within your church.

In Victoria we have Working With Children Checks and a level higher would be an Australian Federal Police Check. These of course are the official documents, which may or may not pick up on everything. Ideally, we don’t want to have the attitude of suspicion but we do want to make sure we know the character, chemistry and competence of people who lead and have authority and care over young people. With this in mind it would be good practice to conduct interviews and checks regarding the appropriateness of a persons behaviour with and around children.

5. It’s a reminder of how devastating child abuse can be upon the individual and wider community.

The movie doesn’t go into vivid detail about what actual sexual abuse occurred but it let’s you in on enough to get the picture. It also portrays, as well as it can in a two hour movie, the after effects of such abuse and the consequences. It is a very very sad situation and is simply devastating on the individuals and families involved. The breaking of trust, the breaking of relationships, and the emotional turmoil is a stark reminder of why we must provide safe spaces for our young people to grow, learn, and thrive in our youth ministries.

Bonhoeffer On Sin And Grace

I’ve recently been reading The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. I came across this paragraph from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who Manning quotes while describing how many churchgoers aren’t honest with themselves but believe they’re more righteous than they really are.

He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous.  So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!

(The Ragamuffin Gospel, p136)

While searching for more details about the above quote I found the paragraph that actually follows this. It’s taken from chapter 5 in Bonhoeffer’s work “Life Together”. It provides the answer to the above problem and brings it back to the hope through the Gospel.

But it is the grace of the Gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that it confronts us with the truth and says: You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you. He wants you as you are; He does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work; He wants you alone. “My son, give me thine heart” (Prov. 23.26). God has come to you to save the sinner. Be glad! This message is liberation through truth. You can hide nothing from God. The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him.

What’s Changed In Youth Ministry In 4 Years?

As I mentioned in my post last week I’ve been supporting and encouraging youth ministry from behind the front lines over the last four years. Working in a young adult role in a missions organisation and as a pastoral care facilitator for my denomination has kept me aware of what’s been going on. Even though I’ve only been back in the grassroots of youth ministry for a month I’ve already noticed a few changes across those years. I thought I’d name five here.

So, what’s changed in youth ministry in four years?

1. Communication

Instagram was still a start-up and not yet bought out by Facebook. Facebook was still growing and working out pages and groups. I was at the end of my iPhone 3GS contract. Snapchat didn’t exist. Twitter was Twitter. Churches using e-newsletters wasn’t really done. Podcasts were only just emerging as a new way to hear content.

As I step into this role, and particularly working with under 25s, I see the huge change in terms of communication tools available. If I wanted to I could add Social Media co-ordinator to my title and job description as Youth Pastor. 

The ability to communicate with youth, young adults, parents, and the wider church has exploded and while at times this could get confusing I think it’s terrific. We are in the relational business after all, and these communication tools just help.

Four years ago I was still sending out hardcopies of the term program by snail mail. Part of that was to make sure everyone connected to us received something of their own, but on the other hand, it was snail mail.

Communication has changed heaps in just four years and in many ways for the better, if used well.

2. Experience

I’m really only talking about the Youth Pastors here in the Baptist church in Victoria, this is my experience. Although, I do notice other states and denominations who are experiencing the same.

There have been some great Youth Pastors that I’ve looked up to, rubbed shoulders with, and leant a lot from. They have had good youth ministries and continue to do ministry. Many, however, have moved on to other things, either in the para-church world or up into the Senior Pastor gig.

In my denominational role last year I saw this firsthand. There are plenty of newbies coming into youth ministry, and this is terrific and important and a must. I just pray that they might be able to get the mentoring and development I was able to have through the system.

And as an ageing Youth Pastor myself I know I’m part of that process. The coming five years will be a challenging and critical time to continue to train those coming through the youth ministry system.

3. Methodology

15 years ago many youth ministries were simply running a weekly program with games and a short devotional talk toward the end of the night. 5 years ago games nights were moving more toward small group nights with a social focus. Now I see many youth ministries running a worship service every Friday night.

Variety in youth ministry is important. Of course. But that doesn’t mean I don’t find some approaches difficult to understand. In many ways we need to be thinking through the context of our churches more than we probably do. Like any good missionary we need to be asking the question of ‘why we do the things we do?’

Whatever the case, there has certainly been a broadening out of what youth ministries do with their main gatherings. How are you thinking through the way you do youth ministry?

4. Conferences

There were heaps of conferences four years ago, I won’t deny that. But now there are even more!

When I look at the possibility of taking my youth leaders or youth group to particular conferences I find I have far too many choices. Each conference has its own emphasis and is designed to reach different audiences or theological camps. But even before I started a month ago I could see that on almost any weekend from January to Easter I could go to something.

It’s great to get teaching and training through different conferences. I was inspired to get back into youth ministry after a conference last year, around this time. But certainly when we talk Melbourne-based conferences, there seem to be a lot.

5. Training

Speaking of training, there is now an increase of information and training ready to be absorbed by any Youth Pastor willing to learn.

In four years there have been new books written in the youth ministry field. There is an increase in articles and bloggers focussing on youth ministry. I’ve already spoken about conferences, and now that podcasts are readily available there’s even more input to be had. Speaking of podcasts there’s this really good Australian-based one called The National Youth Ministry with Brenton Killeen and Jimmy Young.🙂 I’ve also found some of the seminary lectures on youth ministry in iTunes U helpful too.

Training can be found almost everywhere and the better trained we are as Youth Pastors the better we will be. I still don’t think anything beats a mentor or colleague for help with youth ministry and training but there are a fair few more resources out now than there were four years ago.

Well, those are some of my observations over the last few years. How do you see the landscape? Has it changed much in your neck of the woods in the last few years? I’d love to hear you thoughts. 

The Ageing Youth Pastor

For the last four years I’ve been behind the front lines supporting and encouraging Youth Pastors as they work on the ground in youth ministry. Time out has been good but for a while now I’ve missed it. Hence, I’m back and loving this new season here at Rowville Baptist.

Jan_Lievens_-_Study_of_an_Old_Man_-_WGA13006It goes without saying that in the last four years I’ve aged. Everyone has. The guys I tracked with in my previous church were finishing up in Year 12, now they’re about to finish uni. I haven’t been a Youth Pastor in my 30s until now. I didn’t have a daughter four years ago.

This isn’t a bad thing. Not at all.

In fact, I think it is to my advantage coming back from a little break.

As I’ve reflected on this in the last few weeks I’ve noticed three particular things about myself that I believe will help me be a better Youth Pastor this time around.

1. Passion

I’ve realised my passion for youth and young adult ministry in a church setting has stayed strong. It’s where my sweet spot is. It’s what I enjoy doing and where I’m confident in being fruitful for the kingdom.

In fact, it’s off the back of a conference last year where I began to think seriously about getting back into the day-to-day of youth ministry and the low embers were fanned back into flame.

2. Perspective

In four years I’ve been given a lot of perspective.

Through the all-consuming nature of church ministry it is hard to see the forest for the trees. I’ve realised what a privilege it is to be walking with people as they explore faith and seek to follow Jesus. Being part of that can feel overwhelming and monotonous if you don’t have some perspective. I’ve been able to look at what’s important and what’s a waste of time to worry about. It’s been refreshing, particularly for someone who was born into a Baptist church 33 years ago.

There are of course stresses that come in the short-term but it is the longer-term view that is so important to have. The slow growth of the gospel working its way into people’s lives and helping them to become more like Jesus. Youth ministry isn’t a fast game, as much as I’d love it to be, it’s for those who see God building His church in His time.

3. Productivity

Finally, I’ve become more productive.

I’ve learnt how I work best, when I work best, and what tools I need to work more efficiently and effectively.

Tim Challies recently wrote a book called Do More Better, in which he explains a system to help people work more productively. I was pleased that the three tools he uses were the ones I’d been using for a while (FYI – Google Calendar, Evernote and Todoist). It takes time to learn how to work and particularly in a role that is so flexible.

If you’re a Youth Pastor I’d encourage you to work on your system. What are the things in your life that help you work at your best? Are you a morning or evening person? Are you planning well, in life and ministry? Are you getting enough exercise or recreation in order to function at your best?

These are three observations about myself that I’ve noticed since being back in church-based ministry.

What about you, what observations can you make about yourself as you age as a Youth Pastor?