Published: Chicken Nuggets or Gospel Nuggets

I’ve had a daily devotional published as a blog post on digisciple.me:

“Formerly I was in a place that was foolish. In this position I sought to gain pleasure for myself, looking out solely for my own needs and wants. This leads down a path that is unhelpful and unhealthy. Seeking pleasure in the wrong place, and in pursuing wrongful passions, we end up being people who are prideful, egotistical, and self-centred.”

You can read it here.

Other pieces of written can be found here.

11 Things: The Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor Relationship

A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part two of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part one here.


As a Youth Pastor I’ve spent time under three Senior Pastors. I’ve always felt I’ve had a good relationship with them. I know I had the support of them throughout my time with them, and I also feel I supported them well, no matter the circumstances. It may well be the loyalty instinct I have within me, but I have resolved from very early on to back my Senior Pastor to the hilt.

The Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor dynamic is an interesting one. It is not often talked about in public. I’ve never been to a workshop about how to relate to my Senior Pastor or been provided with much training in how to navigate this relationship. If such a workshop was ever offered at a youth ministry conference I suspect it would be highly attended.

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I say this because I believe the main reason Youth Pastors leave churches is because they don’t have a good working relationship with their superior. I don’t have any empirical evidence for this statement, but anecdotally I’ve observed the main reason for Youth Pastors moving on is breakdown in relationship with the Senior Pastor.

I spent six months in a denominational role a couple of years ago caring for Youth Pastors who were having a tough time. The topic of conversation, whenever I met with them, was their relationship with the Senior. Sometimes it was simply wanting to get things off their chest and once that was done there was a sense of freedom. Other times the relationship had broken down to the extent that the Youth Pastor decided to leave.

This is not to say the Senior Pastor is at fault. Not at all. This is not to say that all Youth Pastors leave because of this. Not at all.

But.

If the relationship between the Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor is not great then it is hard to provide a healthy ministry for the church.

With this being said, what are some questions worth asking surrounding this topic? How can this working relationship improve for the betterment of the church?

First, the expectations about the Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor relationship need to be set at the time of advertising the position.

A clear understanding between Senior and Youth Pastor about how they will work together is worth talking through as early as possible. It is one thing for the Youth Pastor to tick the boxes in terms of competency and character, another thing in regard to chemistry.

Being able to talk through the way the church see the position operating gives helpful insight into the working relationship. One role might be for the Youth Pastor to fulfil a set of tasks and “look after the young people”. Another role might include more oversight and leadership and therefore wider conversations with the Senior Pastor would be required.

Questions worth asking at an interview might include:

  1. How often do you expect to meet up with me as the Youth Pastor?
  2. What kind of information about the ministries I lead as Youth Pastor do you require?
  3. Do you see this Youth Pastor role as one that is mainly about fulfilling tasks or is there an element of growth to it?
  4. What kind of availability do you have (as Senior Pastor) if I would like to talk to you (as Youth Pastor)?

Second, is there a growing relationship that includes the Youth Pastor being seen as an actual ‘Pastor’?

For many years it has been common for Youth Pastors to be seen as lowly staff workers for the church. They are really just paid ministry leaders who are ‘looking after the young people’ and not really a significant voice in the life of the church. If this is the first ministry role for the Youth Pastor and they haven’t got many runs on the board then this might be a fair way of operating, as long as the training and development is also happening alongside. But for a Youth Pastor who has been in ministry for a while it might be time to explore areas where they can continue to help grow the church. This could be in pastoral care to parents and families, developing small groups, or having more teaching responsibilities. The point is, when the position is advertised and the relationship with the Senior is defined, does the Youth Pastor actually become a Pastor in the church or are they more a Youth Director or Worker?

Third, regular check-ins and one-on-ones between Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor are vital.

If I didn’t meet with my Senior Pastors I wouldn’t have developed as quickly nor would I have felt respected. Surely, a working relationship means meeting regularly with fellow pastoral team members, no matter what size the church is. In the majority case, where it is a Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor on staff, then this seems even more vital. Putting the principles of leadership and management aside, I don’t actually know how a working relationship can work when the Senior Pastor and Youth Pastor don’t meet up, talk about the church and its members, check-in with how each other are going, and learn, develop and grow together. I don’t have a category for this, it seems so basic. Yet, I hear numerous times a year of Senior and Youth Pastors never meeting except on a Sunday morning or at a whole church event. Such a shame.

If there was one thing a Senior Pastor could schedule in to help the relationship it would be a regular one-on-one meet up with their Youth Pastor. If there was one thing a Youth Pastor could seek to encourage their Senior Pastor to do, it would be to meet up with them. This isn’t to add an extra to-do item, this is an opportunity for growth, development, and passing on the faith and ministry. This is an opportunity for discipleship.

I know we now live in a different era. I know that Senior Pastors of the past would operate as the sole pastor of a church. They would have a church of 200-300 people and the pastoral team would consist only of them. But times have changed, there’s more emphasis on team ministry, and the current generation of Youth Pastors coming through are crying out for mentoring, coaching, discipleship (whatever you call it) in ministry. They want to be led, and they want to follow. They want to talk about, observe and experience a variety of opportunities that will help them grow as people and as pastors.

The greatest opportunity for a Senior Pastor to have influence is through their Youth Pastor.

Fourth, is there mutual respect between the Senior and Youth Pastor?

Respect and trust within the pastoral team would seem obvious. This does develop over time, but can also be damaged along the way. This relationship doesn’t mean everyone needs to be best buddies but it should have trust and respect within it.

Ways to foster this mutual respect and trust would be to:

  • Meet regularly.
  • Take an interest in each others lives, not just about the ministry.
  • Speak positively of the other, in public meetings and private conversations with church members.
  • Share openly about the struggles and challenges of life, faith and ministry to one-another.
  • Speak clearly and directly when any disagreements arise (in private).

Fifth, understand the line of authority in the Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor relationship.

At the end of the day the Senior Pastor is the main leader of the local church. They have more responsibility placed on their shoulders than anyone else in the church. They not only have pastoral oversight but at the end of the day they are the boss or manager, whichever sounds nicer for you.

As a Youth Pastor I don’t know half of what is coming across the desk of my Senior Pastor. I don’t know the issues he is dealing with most weeks. I know the main things he has responsibility for and what he is up to but whatever it is it’s a lot more than what I have to deal with. This doesn’t minimise any of the issues, problems, or challenges I have as a Youth Pastor. But, one of those particular tasks as a Senior Pastor is pastoral team management, which includes me as Youth Pastor. But as a Youth Pastor I need to recognise that I don’t have overall responsibility for the church. I have responsibility for part of the church and am committed to the ministry, but even that is under the supervision and leadership of the Senior Pastor.

I hope this has been helpful for you. What kind of relationship do you have with your Senior Pastor? 

11 Things: Life With Jesus

A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is the beginning of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. Enjoy.


Some would like to think that being surrounded by the programs, activities, people, books, studies, services, teaching, and social engagements that being a Youth Pastor brings means that life with Jesus would be easy.

Some would like to think that because of the all encompassing nature of being a Youth Pastor, rubbing shoulders with the things and people of God, then life with Jesus would be a breeze. That it would be a constant joy to be involved in so many so called ‘spiritual things’ that a closeness with God would naturally occur.

Some would like to think that a relationship with God would be so easy to sustain through the conversations, events, and teaching opportunities each week. After all, there isn’t the monotony of the 9-5 existence (is that a thing anymore?) and so connecting with God during the day will occur without too much effort.

Um.

Wrong.

Perhaps at one time I would’ve thought it’d be easier to maintain a great relationship with the Lord while doing ministry too. Nothing seems to be further from the truth.

It’s hard.

Youth Pastors, Young Adult Pastors, Student Pastors, they aren’t good at telling people this. They aren’t good at telling people they struggle with faith sometimes. They aren’t good at telling people they lead that they struggle to read the Bible. That they find it hard to bring teaching to life for the students they disciple. They find it hard to confess that the passage they prepared for small group this week was the only part of the Bible they’ve read this week. They find it hard to admit that their prayer life only happens at church things, five minutes before their next meeting or event.

There is the constant pull to be using our time for what seems to be ‘active ministry’. For many Youth Pastors the actual programs and events of the church take up the allocated time allowance they’re paid for. Outside of this there needs to be time found to do adequate preparation, planning, administration, and hopefully time to counsel people as well. The pressure can seem overwhelming, as there seems little time to take stock, reflect, and breath.

Oh, and in all of this connect and commune with God.

Every Youth Pastor knows that connecting and communing with God is their main priority. The difference is in its application. Every Christian knows the need to commune with God regularly. The difference is in its application.

Youth Pastors are no different to anyone else in seeking to walk with God closely in their life. The difference is that because they are surrounded by issues of faith and spirituality each week one would think life with Jesus would be easier.

I suspect we’ve all heard of the date night for couples. This is usually a dedicated week night for the couple to spend time on their own and without any distractions. They may go out, they may stay in. While the date night is great it would also be wrong to believe that this is the only connection for the week. No relationship is sustained because of a two-hour period one night a week. It’s an added extra. It’s a more intentional time, but not one that takes the place of regularly plodding with each other while doing dishes, checking in at the end of the day, or driving to various engagements.

It’s the same when we consider our relationship with Jesus. At times in our walk with Jesus we might be prone to thinking that we simply need to have a date night with Jesus. That is, simply spend a couple hours one night each week and this will bring some sort of sustainable relationship. Unfortunately this is not the case. As those who seek to help lead others in the faith we should be striving to walk with Jesus each and every day.

The priority is there but the application can be lacking. And it’s in the application that makes the difference.

For Youth Pastors it is simply a must to structure our time and day to help our relationship with Jesus. Out of this we can then disciple and lead others in the faith.

Depending on the season I’ve attempted to do a variety of things to help sustain my faith and life with Jesus. Here are a few suggestions, in particular order, if you care to read them.

1. Have a quarterly ‘Read & Reflect Day’

This is a whole day dedicated to reading scripture, praying, journaling, and spending time in silence. During this day I usually take time to run through the calendar of the last three months, writing down everything I’ve achieved. I then turn to the coming three months, writing 3-5 specific goals to aim for.

2. Meet up regularly with someone older in ministry

I’ve generally tried to meet up with people who I respect and who I believe I can learn from. I’ve gone directly to them asking for an hour or so of their time and bring specific topics of discussion to the meeting. Some will call this mentoring, I’d prefer to stick with discipling. If this occurs once every eight weeks or so then that’s great.

3. Structure my Bible reading

I don’t understand people simply opening up their Bible’s and reading whatever they land on. I at least have a plan and seek to work through a book, at least one chapter at a time. For deeper study a commentary alongside this is helpful.

4. Write people’s name on a prayer list

Just grab a piece of paper, write a name that comes to mind, note down a little something about their life you can pray for. Then actually dedicate a set amount of time to praying for that list of people.

5. Set a phone alarm as a reminder to pray

One thing I really appreciate about observing other Christian traditions, and even Islam, is their commitment to praying at set times of the day. Setting your alarm at certain times in the day will help you to stop and remember to pray. If this is done over a period of time a certain rhythm begins to form.

6. Listen to different podcasts

Listening to sermons all the time can get a bit much, but I’ve found listening to a variety of different podcasts can help in life, faith, and ministry. I have podcasts that are for fun and enjoyment, for learning and education, for news and culture, and for faith and ministry.

7. Listen to music

I know some people really enjoy listening to worship music and find themselves refreshed in doing so. Search Spotify for the ‘Hymns for Hipsters’ playlist. You won’t need anything else.

8. Write in a journal

Writing your prayers or thoughts down in a notebook might sound wussy to you. It’s not. All the hipster pastors do it. But the key here is to understand that by writing these prayers and thoughts down will allow you to slow down. In doing this you can take time to pray and gain a clarity of thought you wouldn’t otherwise.

9. Read old, dead authors

Read Spurgeon – He’s fun. Read Calvin. Read Luther. Read Sibbes. Read Edwards. Read Augustine. Read Wesley. Read Whitefield. Read Lloyd-Jones. Read Stott. Read Carey. Read Taylor. Read Barth. Read Bonhoeffer. Read Lewis. Read Owen. Read Aquinas. Read Jay. Read Paton. Read Simeon. Read Gregory. Read their sermons, their writings, or both.

Growing Young – Final Reflections

This is post nine in a series of reflections on the book Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church. For an introduction to the series please read part one and continue reading the reflections in part two, three , fourfivesixseven, and eight.


Over three months ago I started a series of reflections on the book ‘Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church’. The sentences have been underlined, the pages have been marked, and the book has now been read. Each reflection worked through each chapter, giving thought to the main research and learnings from the Fuller Youth Institute team. Much has been learnt and there continues to be much to learn from this work.

This final post about Growing Young seeks to evaluate the book and the research as a whole. While each chapter has its own learnings it is valuable to end this series with a broader scope, looking at what to take away and what to leave behind.

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From the outset it is important to say that this book needs to be read for what it is. It is a book summarising research on what keeps ‘young people’ at churches. Despite the title’s byline it isn’t seeking to push a particular youth ministry philosophy. Furthermore, the research cuts across denominational and theological lines because it is summarising the results of said research.

At the same time, because of the way this research has been put together it can come across pragmatic in nature. The main point of each chapter implies what churches should focus on, implication being that overtime a church may well ‘grow young’. For example, in the chapter ‘Unlocking Keychain Leadership’ the main idea is to equip and grow young people to be leaders in key areas of responsibility. In ‘Fuel a Warm Community’ the emphasis is to be a church that is genuinely caring of students in every principle and program. In the chapter ‘Prioritising Young People (and Families) Everywhere’ the key idea is is to look at the structures and systems within the church to help facilitate integrated ministry and partnering with parents. The inference being that by doing these things your church is more likely to ‘grow young’.

However, the research findings doesn’t mean that a church should begin implementing a certain structure, program, or idea for a select period of time. No, this book is really talking about cultural change. This cultural change is focussed on growing young as a church and the principles behind it are based on the solid research from the FYI. To implement this kind of cultural change will take many years to implement and be a painful process for many congregations.

Another way this book is pragmatic is at the end of each chapter. Helpfully, the authors have included some reflection questions and ideas at the end of each section for reflection and application. By doing his the book becomes a help in encouraging churches to grow young.

In one sense Growing Young doesn’t promote a particular ministry philosophy but the way it is written means that there is a ‘system’ that can be formulated through it.

I have written extensively about the strengths of the book and each chapter in my earlier reflections. So it is worth asking how this book could have been more helpful, particularly for those of us in youth and young adult ministry.

First, I’d say, and say this very gently, that when reading a book like this those of us in youth ministry can be prone to affirming everything without sifting it through the lens of the Bible. Of course, there is the assumption that everyone who reads this is a professing believer. Yet, as I’ve pondered this research further I’ve come away thinking ‘so what?’

Of course, we want more young people in churches. We want young people to be involved in the things we do at church. We want young people to meet Jesus and know that they can have a relationship with him. We want young people to grasp the Gospel and realise that God is God and we are not. We want young people to understand that God is a personal God whom we worship, enjoy, and follow.

The danger with a book like this is that we can take the ideas, insights, and inspirations and attempt to make the church younger without making it more faithful.

I can walk away from this book thinking that my youth and young adult ministry can get bigger and more influential within the church by implementing these things. Instead I want my youth and young adult ministries to know Jesus more and grow in faith and godliness. Why can’t we use the Bible as the ‘strategy’ rather than seeking a temporary solution that seems to fit with the cultural milieu?

This is not to say culture is unimportant. I’m not saying that. We are living in a culture which requires a certain cultural response. But, if we believe that it is the Word of God that speaks, and that through that speaking God creates, and that through that creation young people’s hearts are opened to the Good News of what Jesus has done, then this becomes a central cog in the youth ministry wheel. Off this cog are the systems and processes and ideas that this book talks about.

So how does this research affect me as a Youth and Young Adults Pastor going forward?

  • This book has provided excellent food for thought.
  • It has given a framework to assess the youth and young adult ministry I currently lead.
  • The emphasis continues to be on the long-term, not on short-term fixes.
  • The research provides data regarding youth ministries and churches.
  • It continues to affirm the much needed work of youth ministry within churches.

Finally, before this post gets far too long, this is an excellent resource for any youth leader, parent, church leader or Pastor in any church. For those who’ve been in the youth ministry world with a discipleship and mission mindset there won’t be too many surprises, but the framing of these things is excellent. I’d encourage you to read the book and talk with someone on the leadership team at your church about it.

Further Resources:

The NYMC Podcast = Episode 15 + 16 – This two-part podcast delves into each chapter of Growing Young and discusses the research at length.

Book review of Growing Young by Seth Stewart

Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast (106): Kara Powell On How Many Average Churches Are Actually Reaching Millennials

Book reflection by Trevin Wax

We Like It, But Do We Care?

We all see the photos.

You know, those photos that depict the perfect life someone else is living.

matthew-smith-100638Those photos of beautiful sunrises. Those photos of the legs on the beach. Those photos of nights out with friends. Those photos of perfect families, all smiling and joyful and happy. Those photos of food. Oh, those photos of food. The ‘amazing’ smashed avo for breakfast, the ‘delightful’ quinoa salad for lunch, and the ‘huge’ burger for dinner. OMG. Like. Like. Like.

We’ve all seen these photos. They pop up all the time.

And as we sit on our couches scrolling through our phones, feeling sorry for our self and jealous of our so-called friends, I wonder whether we care about the other side…?

Because there is another side.

This other side is the side of people we don’t see while traversing the inter-webs through the 5 different social media apps we have on our phone.

It’s the side of sadness, unhappiness, anxiety, hurt, and brokenness.

A little while ago I was struck by how social media changes my perception the relationship I have with others. I noticed one morning one of my friends was with a new partner. I was stopped in my tracks. The last time I saw a photo they were with their spouse and kids, looking happy. Yet, here in front of me is this person with another partner. It was a bit of a shock.

It’s not a shock because of the relationship breakdown. No, relationships fail and marriages breakdown, that’s not the shocking part. The shocking part is that I felt I was in a position where I could reach out and ask how they were.

In reality I haven’t seen this person in over 10 years. We’ve got no real relationship. Yet, because of the way social media comes at you it makes you feel like you know them, and know them well. What kind of response would they have if I did reach out?

“Oh, you’ve been stalking me on social media”.

“Oh, you’re not really a friend but more an acquaintance, and now you want the goss on what’s happened to my relationship”?

“I haven’t heard from you in 10 years and now you want to connect because something seems to have gone wrong. In my world it’s been heading that way for over 12 months and this is the end result, which every one of my actual friends knows about”.  

None of this comes across well.

We all have friends who we haven’t physically seen in years, and have nothing to do with them outside of our digital world. Yet, because of the nature of social media we find ourselves believing we’re closer to people than we actually are. What we perceive on social media may well be what is happening at the time, but underneath there’s a lot more going on.

There’s always another side.

And so, I wonder whether we actually care about those ‘friends’ with whom we have no outside relationship with?

Where are those friends of ours who don’t post?

Do we think of them?

Do we touch base with them?

Do we care enough to like them too?

Para-Church Triage In Youth Ministry

It could be the regular emails sent by various para-church organisations. It could be actual snail mail arriving through the church office. It could be the phone calls from representatives seeking your ear.

In church ministry there is the constant demand from people in Christian organisations around the country who would love to ‘partner’ with you. They email, post, call or seek coffee with you regularly enough that a whole day of your week could be filled with meeting people para-church organisations.

So, what do you do?

On one hand, it seems rude to palm people off and not hear what they have to say about their organisation and what they’re doing. On the other, there is only a certain amount of time, money, and space you can give to various organisations.

How do you prioritise which organisations you will closely ‘partner’ with?

I’ve come to see the answer to this question as para-church triage.

If there is some form of health crisis and you need to go to hospital for help you usually head straight to the emergency department. If you’ve ever been to the emergency department you’ll know that the first person you see is the ‘triage nurse’. The triage nurse is someone who takes your details, assesses your condition, and then places you in the appropriate spot in the queue to see the doctor. This assessment and placement is known as triage. The nurse is evaluating where you should be placed on the priority list, whether you’ll be seen quickly or whether you’ll need to sit a while. If the triage nurse is making the right assessments someone with a drug overdose should be seen quickly while you wait with your basketball-induced sprained ankle.

It’s the same with para-church triage.

As a youth pastor, or any type of pastor I suspect, you need to do a little triage. That is, you need to decide where in the priority queue the various para-church organisations are placed. Some organisations might be at the front of that metaphorical queue and have a strong relationship with you, others might find themselves having to wait a while or work on the relationship, and then there are others who probably need to move queues.

What kind of system is useful in order to perform this triage?

I’ve come up with a framework that helps me think through what to prioritise. I understand that it will have flaws, but it might be helpful for some.

Para-Church Triage Framework

Priority 1: A relationship of openness, trust, and engagement

  • The organisation already has an ongoing relationship with the church.
  • The organisation is given financial support through the annual church budget.
  • The organisation employs members of the church.
  • The organisation is aligned theologically with the church.
  • The organisation can helpfully contribute to the vision and mission of the church.

Priority 2: A relationship that is cautiously open

  • The organisation is known to you and you affirm their work.
  • The organisation has connection with people who attend the church.
  • The organisation has been recommended to you by people you respect.
  • The organisation helps train and develop disciples through people, events, and resources.
  • The organisation reaches out, wanting to improve its partnership with the church.

Priority 3: A relationship of little or no connection

  • The organisation is not known to you and there is no relationship with them.
  • The organisation doesn’t fit with the vision and mission of the church.
  • The organisation doesn’t align theologically or philosophically.
  • The organisation pushes for financial support over relationship.

That’s the framework, and one that I hope helps you think through this issue. It’s not an issue that’s overly appealing so I’ve created a graphic to go with this to make it that little bit more sexy.

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Published: The Significance in Engaging Our Students in The Word

I’ve had the privilege of having a post published on the Rooted Ministry blog today.

“Why is it that many of us in youth ministry are hesitant to reference the Scriptures? Do we believe that the Word of God is too antiquated, that it will scare young people away? Have we lost confidence in the meaning and power of God’s Word?

Don’t get me wrong. I too often wonder whether the scripture I use in sermons, talks, and one-on-one meetings is actually helpful or comforting for my students. But one particular experience has made me more confident, relieved, and secure in using God’s Word in youth ministry than ever before.”

You can read it here.

You can read other articles or posts I’ve written elsewhere here.