5 Learnings From Being ‘Acting Senior Pastor’

Earlier in the year my Senior Pastor went on paternity leave for three weeks.

I was technically ‘Acting Senior Pastor’ during that time. There were extra responsibilities. This is what I learned.

5 Learnings From Being 'Acting Senior Pastor'

1. The amount and variety of decisions required to be made is enormous.

This is the main difference between what my role is normally and what I stepped up to.

It took me nearly two weeks to realise the main difference in roles was that of decision-making.

Each day there were new queries, new decisions to make, new things to have conversations about and then make follow up decisions to enable progress. Upon reflection, I realised that the decision-making required is at a new level, a level you just don’t get at the associate pastor level.

At first I was tempted to put this down to not being used to making these decisions, but after further reflection I don’t think it’s just that. I need to make many decisions in the associate role, some I’ve been used to making for many years. But in the senior role there are a greater variety and range of questions asked of you, leading to a greater variety and range of decisions required.

2. The regular preaching is a joy and privilege.

I expected to be weighed down because of the extra preaching load. Rather than preach once a month or so I had to preach five out of six weeks.

Maybe it was the series we covered, an expositional series on the book of Ruth, but I was enthusiastic and excited about teaching and preaching each week. It was great to prepare for it as a series and to then present the material through the preached Word each week.

3. The one-on-ones became more reactive than active.

In reality the extra load did mean there were some things I didn’t do that I normally would’ve. One of those things is actively searching out young adults and others for one-on-one catch-ups during the week. Instead of being active is sourcing these meetups those I did have were usually reactive. That is, people would call and want to meet, or people popped by the church office and sat in with me for a while. Both are important of course, but I do prefer being active rather than reactive.

4. The phone becomes more important than ever.

The invention of the phone has got to be the greatest thing in the ministry kit bag. I was on the phone a lot more, particularly through phone calls, than I usually am. Part of this is the greater number of people who want to talk to me, or share something, or who I needed to follow up. But, the phone became a great resource for me to have pastoral conversations and show care to those in the congregation.

5. The true day off, mentally and physically, is nearly impossible.

I am usually pretty good at switching off and making sure I’m not available. But, I also find myself thinking about youth ministry a lot because I am passionate about it. I like to reflect, write, and think through it.

In the senior position I found myself thinking about the church, its people, and the ministry more often than I would normally. People didn’t know when my days off were and so I would get calls on every day of the week. This led me to then take the call or return the call on the same day because of the context I am in. And so, a full day off of nothing was something that became harder to implement, even though my intentions were to do so.

There’s a lesson in self-care here somewhere.

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Missions Sub-Committee Approves Short-term Mission Team to Neighbours

For the last nine months Huntingdale Heights Community Church has been actively pursuing the idea that it should reach out to its neighbours. On Monday night the short-term missions sub-committee taskforce formally approved its first short-term missions team to do just that.

Missions Sub-Committee Approves Short-term Mission Team to Neighbours

Over the past three years Pastor Jeff Hines has been preaching through the book of Acts, and this has inspired a small group of eight people to consider reaching out to their local community.

One of those inspired members, Mary Michaels, brought the idea of a neighbourhood short-term mission team to the missions committee. She said, “Knowing missions is in the Bible I thought we could try something small by sending a group from our church to connect with the neighbours in our street. I’ve seen other churches go overseas and to different cities around the country but it seems obvious that we should reach out to those around us.”

After a period of visioning a sub-committee taskforce was formed to think through the process of formulating such a team and decide what they would do. David Jenkins, one of the key members of this sub-committee taskforce said, “For the last six months the committee has really narrowed down on how to best develop this trip and the team going. We have seen what other churches do and feel we could do something similar in our community, even in our street. We’d really like some of our members to connect with our neighbours, and are willing to partner with them in prayer and finances as they head off on this adventure.” Mr Jenkins explained that the team would undergo a training weekend with workshops on language and culture, team building, and gospel presentation.

The 10-day short-term mission trip is being met with much anticipation by those attending Huntingdale Heights Community Church. Gary Hopper thinks this could really spark the missions activity of the church and would like to see it occur annually going forward. He said, “It’s terrific, really terrific. To have a group of 6-8 people from our church who are willing to commit time and resource to reaching our neighbours is something of a culture shift for our church. We’re so busy these days that it is inspiring to see this small group commit 10-days to meeting our neighbours needs. This team could make such a great impact in such a short time.”

With only a month before the team heads off the last minute planning and preparations are taking place. The church is busy organising next weekend’s trivia night where it is hoping to raise the $1500 per person it needs for the trip. And some of the members of the team are buying all the essentials they need, including some new branded clothes that will allow them to fit in well with those they meet.

Of course, this trip wouldn’t have gone ahead had it not been for God working in the lives of the congregation. Josh Arden is one young adult member who has felt called by God to go on this missions trip. He explained his reasoning for doing so this way, “Listening to Pastor Jeff teach through Acts has shown me how important missions really is. I am nervous and excited about how God might change me and grow me through this trip. I look forward to meeting the neighbours of the church during this time, and hopefully helping them in various projects they need doing. I’ve been mowing the lawn for my parents for the last couple of years, I wonder if some of our neighbours would be be willing for me to do the same for them?”

Upon exiting the church building it was noted that the church’s storage room was beginning to fill with half-filled paint tins; donated by caring church members for the painting of some of the neighbours fences.


I submitted this satirical post to The Babylon Bee. It wasn’t accepted. I thought it worth publishing here. I hope you enjoyed it as much as enjoyed writing it. 

Published: Bible-shaped Youth Ministry

I’ve managed to re-work a short talk I recently delivered into an article for The Gospel Coalition Australia. It’s all about the usefulness of the Bible in shaping youth ministry.

“I can’t remember what we were explicitly studying during that season, but I do know that we were walking slowly through a book of the Bible, verse-by-verse, section-by-section. Through this experience I, and I’m sure the rest of the group, came to realise not only in the importance of the Bible but its usefulness as well.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Test Match Youth Ministry

There can be a range of emotions for anyone involved in youth ministry. The emotional rollercoaster can, at times, be brutal.

There are the obvious highs:

  • A kid becomes a Christian
  • The night runs smoothly
  • There is a significant conversation
  • The attendance is high or growing
  • The leaders are developing
  • It was simply a fun night
  • People were connecting with one-another
  • A parent gives positive feedback on the way their child is enjoying the youth ministry

All these bring terrific intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, as well as emotional highs for any youth leader.

But, of course, the opposite is also true.

  • Criticism from a parent for failing to communicate
  • A night where everything planned goes wrong
  • When you’re the only one left to clean up and lock up the church
  • Observing that no one else is taking initiative to lead, serve, and connect with others
  • A medical emergency in the middle of the program
  • A conversation that is awkward
  • The hard slog of week in week out with hardly anyone coming along

Here you can see how disappointment and discouragement can occur. Things don’t go right or there is simply nothing to feel motivated and happy about.

Test Match Youth Ministry

The thing with the emotional rollercoaster is that it is exactly that; up and down, up and down. Riding these waves of emotions often causes increased stress and anxiety, it can become tiresome, and also lead to the seeking of more and more highs. In this way, the rollercoaster can begin to affect the way we do youth ministry.

Helpful ways to settle these emotions is to gain perspective.

Perspective is crucial to understanding the long-term stability of oneself and the ministry.

Early in youth ministry I would have been up and down most weeks because of the way the program ran, what the night consisted of, and how the students reacted to its various parts. But now, realising that this is a long-term game, I don’t get that as much. If things aren’t that great, then it’s OK, it’s one week and a crucial question at the end of a night is, “What can we learn from this?”

You see, youth ministry is like a test match.

A cricket test match.

A test match goes for five days, the players need to be patient, perform their roles, understand what they’re there for, and apply themselves in a stable and steady way.

In test match youth ministry any leader needs to do the same.

We need to understand what we’re there for, what our role is on any given night, and apply ourselves to that. This involves intentionality and being alert to what’s going on. It means we look out for other ways we can help the team. And it also means we make sure we gain perspective while we’re in a season when things don’t go so well. There’s always next week, and the week after that. It’s a long-term approach, a long-term game that requires persistence and endurance.

It’s hard to judge what I love more. Youth ministry or test match cricket. But in both I see parallels in the need to keep perspective. Make sure the long-term game is in the picture, rather than getting emotionally caught up in the short-term ups and downs.

Published: Billy Graham and Gramps

I’ve been fortunate enough to have my original post about my grandfather and Billy Graham posted on The Gospel Coalition Australia website and in the ‘Baptist’ Magazine of The Baptist Churches of New Zealand. It was a such joy to research and write that I’m really pleased to have it spread a little wider than my own family and circles.

“For the churches there were new people joining congregations all over the city. There was an increased vigour in evangelism and almost a mini-revival.”

You can read it on TGCA here.

You can read it on the NZ ‘Baptist’ here.

Billy Graham Quote

Sustainable Youth Ministry, Quotes

I’m currently reading Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries. It’s a book published in 2008 and I can’t actually believe I haven’t read it yet. Anyway, while it’s been resting on my shelf since last Christmas I thought it worth bringing it out at years end. At the 70 page mark I can certainly tell it’s a zinger, with a number of challenging quotes and comments. Here are three that have stood out to me thus far.

From page 13:

“The short-term, high-number, razzle-dazzle, success of your current youth ministry might blind you to the fact that success in youth ministry is measured in decades, not in year-to-date comparisons with last year’s mediocre youth staffer who, quite honestly, just didn’t have your gifts.”

From Thomas G. Bandy quoted on page 16:

“The declining church always assumes that the solution to youth ministry is programmatic. If only they could get a good leader! If only they could find a great curriculum! If only they could renovate a room in the building for youth meetings! They fail to recognise that the solutions to youth ministry, like the solution to decline in general, is systematic.”

Quoting Roland Martinson on page 29:

“The history of primary calling inexperienced and inadequately trained young people to do youth ministry reflects the myth that youth ministry is a beginner’s job that doesn’t require much education, experience or skill. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Youth ministry is one of the most demanding ministries–so demanding and frustrating that many pastors and congregational leaders don’t know what to do.”

Disappearing Church by Mark Sayers

I’m not even a fanboy but it seems I have found myself reading everything Mark Sayers has written. OK, not ‘Vertical Self’, but ssshhhhh. Anyway, his books make me think and for that reason alone I find them useful.

disappearchurch

Over a month ago I finished reading his book, ‘Disappearing Church’. And perhaps it’s because he writes as someone living in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, or because I need a simplified version of various cultural and philosophical ideas, I find myself wrestling with his ideas. My understanding of what Sayers says in this book is that the church needs to be less concerned about being culturally relevant, and build greater resilience and understanding in the Gospel and who it (the church) is. This is in order for believers to be able to live as a minority in today’s secular world, being and producing resilient lifelong disciples of Jesus.

Early on Sayers states his aim for the book,

“This book will argue that we cannot solely rely on the contemporary, Western church’s favoured strategy of cultural relevance, in which Christianity and the church is made “relevant” to secular Western culture. Instead we need to rediscover gospel resilience. To walk the countercultural narrow path in which we die to self and re-throne God in our lives as the supreme authority…Living with gospel resilience in the corrosive soil of Western culture requires a posture of living as a creative minority. Throughout history God has replenished cultures, through the witness of minorities of believers who hold true to their beliefs while blessing the surrounding culture. It is to this position we must return.” (Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church, 12)

The book is broken into two parts.

The first is similar to his other books where he examines culture. In Disappearing Church Sayers focusses on dissecting what a post-Christian culture looks like. He makes the case for how Gnosticism and the self has become central to Western thinking. He also writes at length about how the church of the past few decades has been seeking to stay relevant to culture. This effort has resulted in the poor effort of liberalism, millennials leaving the church in droves, and sustained modern criticism of the Christian worldview in society.

In part two Sayers pivots to show what a resilient faith looks like. This resilience is rooted in a deep faith centred in the Word and prayer. A fair amount of time is spent on acknowledging that we live in such an individualistic society and self-centred world that what Jesus calls for is in direct opposition to this. The aspects of grace given to believers, and the call of God to deny yourself in love and sacrificing for others are two examples of a counter-culture faith. This leads to an understanding that God is not a bit player in life, but the centre of it all. To follow Jesus means He is made central to every aspect of life. He becomes the heartbeat of life and makes life relevant to us. Therefore, in acknowledging the grace of God we are to subordinate ourselves under his Lordship. Essentially the biblical call of following and obeying. As he writes,

“To be shaped by grace in a culture of self, the most countercultural act one can commit in the third culture is to break its only taboo: too commit self-disobedience. To acknowledge that authority does not lie with us, that we ultimately have no autonomy. To admit that we are broken, that we are rebellious against God and His rule. To admit that Christ is ruler. To abandon our rule and to collapse into His arms of grace. To dig deep roots into His love. We don’t just need resilience; we need gospel resilience.” (Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church, 76)

This is an excellent book and I don’t think I can do it justice in 700 words. I appreciated the ideas, of which there are plenty. Of all of Sayer’s books I have found this most helpful. I believe he helps the church navigate a post-Christian culture and live as deeply rooted, faithful, followers of Jesus. In essence, he is calling people back to the historical faith, to be diligent and disciplined in seeking after God through the Word and prayer. Jesus is to be relevant in private and in public, the centre of individual faith and their church communities.

I would highly recommend the read.

5 Reasons To Meet With Older Saints

Often, as Youth Pastors, we can be so consumed with the tasks and programs in front of us that the only people we meet with during the week are those between 12 and 25 years of age.

In between all those set times of involvement–Sunday services, youth group, small groups, and other meetings–we often have limited time to meet up with others. Students usually end up getting priority as we seek to follow up any pastoral concerns, or continue to disciple them in a one-on-one context. Online we’re chatting to students constantly, answering questions, checking-in, and generally being accessible. Often, it can be a week or two before we’ve had a decent conversation with someone over 35.

Having grown up in the church, as a Pastor’s kid, I’ve always found it beneficial to sit with those who are older than me. Part of that might have been because there weren’t many others my age, but it was also something that happened at church dinners, Sunday lunches, and after services.

5 Reasons To Meet With Older Saints

Over the last few years I’ve found it incredibly helpful to meet up with older saints. Whether they are part of my church, retired ministers, or my grandparents, I always walk away encouraged and feeling privileged to hear the stories of those closer to ‘home’ than I. So, as a Youth Pastor I’ve come to observe five reasons why it’s a good idea to have a cup of tea with ‘the olds’:

(1) Older saints enable a greater perspective on what it means to follow Jesus through the whole of life.

When meeting with an 83-year-old who began following Jesus long before you were born you suddenly realise the commitment required. You realise the faith, wisdom, and commitment that comes from one who has walked the path for so long. And you hear what’s involved in growing and walking with Jesus year after year, decade after decade.

Through hearing the story of an older saint you learn that life is not easy, that the hardships along the way are real and painful and take years to grow through. Yet, they continue to say with the Psalmist, “The Lord is my strength and my shield, my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him” (Psalm 28:7).

(2) Older saints give historical context to your church and ministry.

Unless you’re serving in a church plant that has only recently launched it is more than likely your ministry as Youth Pastor begins at a certain season in the life of the church. The church may have been around for decades before you got there, and I suspect it will be around long after you leave.

Meeting with those who’ve been in the church for many decades provides a greater understanding of the church, its culture, and how it has got to where it is today. There are stories, significant events, ministers, and people who’ve served faithfully across the life of the church. These things aren’t known when you begin at a church, but over time you can gain a better picture of the church’s culture and history by meeting with older saints in the congregation. This can help you understand why the church operates the way it does.

(3) Older saints provide encouragement and inspiration to help you keep going.

If we constantly surround ourselves with young voices then we miss out on a wealth of encouragement and perspective. Hanging only with those who have particular ownership and understanding of the youth ministry will simply add more pressure. We will begin to focus on the short-term and forget the long-term.

Meeting with older saints helps give a long-term perspective, and in doing so they provide encouragement to keep going. There have been Youth Pastors before you, and it’s more than likely there will be others to come after you. The older saints have seen people in the church longer than you. And, more importantly, it is likely they themselves were once the youth leaders and Sunday School teachers in the church. They have a rich history of teaching the Bible and seeking to grow young people, albeit in another time. They know what it’s like to serve and serve and serve and wonder whether they are achieving anything for the Kingdom.

(4) Older saints will pray for you and the youth ministry even more because they now have a better understanding of you and what you’re doing.

I’m not sure about you but I always look up to those older saints who are constantly praying. Meeting with those that are older provides an opportunity for us to learn and get to know the saints of our church. Furthermore, they also get to know us and understand more about what we’re trying to do.

It’s an example of inter-generational ministry.

Out of these conversations these older saints can take more specific prayers to our God. They will be helping in sustaining us personally, and the wider ministry of the youth, young adults, and church.

And hey, I suspect they’ll come up and ask you after a Sunday service how this issue or that problem is going. Suddenly you have an advocate for the youth ministry!

(5) Older saints help you realise what a privileged position you find yourself in.  

Hearing anyone’s story is a privilege.

To have someone open up and tell you their life story, their walk with God, and what is joyful and painful for them is a privilege. And meeting up with an older congregational member is just that, a privilege.

It helps us realise that the role we have in discipling others is a privilege. It helps us realise that hearing the story of one person’s life is a privilege. But more than that, the week-to-week, month-to-month ministry of being involved in someone’s life, old or young, is a privilege that we often don’t realise.

And perhaps, as we walk from the cafe to the car, post-conversation we ourselves will begin to realise what a privilege it is to spend an hour or two in front of one of those older saints.

On Youth Pastor Position Descriptions

About a week ago I wrote a short Facebook post out of frustration:

“Another day, another horrible position description for a youth and young adults pastor.

Sorry churches, Superman/woman can’t even run a youth ministry, facilitate the young adult ministry and lead an evening congregation on 12 hours a week. #wecandobetter #rantover.”

I don’t like to complain too often in public, as it seems most social posts these days are that way inclined. However, this comment did receive a little traction, including some private messages from people hoping I wasn’t referring to their church’s search for a Youth Pastor!

But I did write out of frustration.

The particular position description I came across was horrible for its expectations on the Youth Pastor, its lack of time allocated to do a good job, and its focus in outlining specific tasks. And, it is not uncommon to see horrible job descriptions for Youth Pastors like this. Expectations and responsibilities stated on paper, in black and white, often far exceed the capabilities of the possible employee, particularly if the position is part-time.

But rather than just write a frustrated Facebook post, here are some further reflections and suggestions on youth ministry job descriptions.

notasuperhero

(1) It is positive churches want a youth ministry practitioner.

Having a church willing to give time and money and resource to help their young people and families is extremely positive. Whether it is 1-day per week or full-time, we must acknowledge that the willingness of a congregation to do this is a positive one.

(2) Budgets, more often than not, drive the time allocation. 

It’s worth naming that the church’s budget is a huge determining factor in the time allocation of Youth Pastors. It is obvious that the church has to have a certain level of income in order to pay their staff. However, this can also skew the thinking of leadership teams when they are driven to fill a role rather than use it as a vehicle to help the church’s vision in ministering to young people and families.

Just because the money is there does not mean you should automatically search for a Youth Pastor. And just because the money isn’t there doesn’t mean you can’t have a vision for youth ministry in your church.

(3) The time allocation for the role will determine the quality and experience of applicants. 

A person with over 10 years experience, a theological degree, and a young, growing family isn’t going to be looking for a Youth Pastor job that’s 2 days per week. A newbie to youth ministry in their first year of Bible College, with an internship under their belt, is unlikely to be the person for a full-time role.

The allocation of days per week will have a factor on who applies for the role. The number of days the church puts into a role will determine the quality and experience of applicants. This should determine the expectations, development, and breadth of responsibility put upon the YP.

(4) Understand how long tasks, events, and projects actually take. 

From reading a number of position descriptions over time there seems to be little understanding of how long things actually take. It may surprise some that it actually takes time to prepare a bible study, to run a youth group program, and to develop leaders. In any week a variety of things can pop up that mean the ability to complete some tasks will take longer or be pushed out.

That’s what happens when working in the people business.

It would be worth churches talking to other Youth Pastors to gain a realistic understanding of how much time certain tasks and events take so they are done well.

(4a) Include every commitment necessary into the time allocation.

If there is a mid-week bible study, a Friday night youth group, and a Sunday morning and evening service then by my reckoning there is around 10 hours of actual program time. This neglects to include the time for preparation of said programs and the time for setup, pack-up and debrief. If they’re included then it balloons to around 16-20 hours depending on the length of the programs.

That’s already 2-days per week for a Youth Pastor to do some very standard, line-and-length youth ministry.

This doesn’t include the 1:1 meet-ups, pastoral team meetings, administration, follow-up of young people and families, the development of leaders, church or committee meetings, professional development, and any space for visioning, thinking and brainstorming of what is to come.

It’s important to include everything. Churches should be just and fair workplaces, if not better.

(5) Understand that people are at the core of the Youth Pastor role.

While the tasks, events, and projects are important the Youth Pastor views the role in terms of people. As I’ve said, the church is in the people business.

When the position description simply states all the programs the applicant is responsible for then it doesn’t inspire much. But, if the PD states the vision for the ministry, the goal of helping people understand and grow in faith, help families and children grow closer to Jesus, and provide care of the youth and families in the church, then there is something more appealing.

All the programs and activities that happen in a church are simply vehicles for ministry. The ongoing check-ins, catch-ups, dinners, and the like are what help, grow and care people.

Sometimes a vehicle can get too old or the needs for a particular vehicle change. Going from a couple to having a family often means the change of car. The needs change. The same can happen in churches and their youth ministries. Understand it revolves around people.

(6) Provide time for growth and development. 

It is not easy to find a position description for a Youth Pastor that specifically states they will grow and develop the person. I haven’t found churches overly great in professional development. Sure, we all grow in the job, that’s definitely the case. However, if funds and time are allocated for conferences, further training, and study then this will help the person, and will more than likely keep them in the role longer.

(7) Be specific about what your church is hoping to achieve, be broad in how that will happen.

It’s all well and good to want a Youth Pastor, but why do you want one?

Is it because the families in your church are wanting their kids to be looked after at certain times of the week, given a bit of Jesus, and a sprinkle of fun? Or, is it because there is the recognition that young families, young people and young adults are a priority for the church going forward?

Is it because you need to fill particular tasks and so hiring a YP will mean Friday nights and bible studies will happen? Or, is it because there is a vision to develop lifelong faith in children, young people and young adults?

Be big on vision. Give a sense of what you’d like to achieve. But don’t dictate the path. Allow the congregation and potential YP to capture the vision and then let them fulfil it using the appropriate vehicles. A dictatorial position description shows a lack of trust. A vision-orientated one doesn’t.

(8) Have confidence in knowing the Youth Pastor will be putting more pressure on themselves than anyone in the church. 

It’s true. The YP will be tougher on themselves than anyone else. They will be more willing and more driven to see people come to faith and grow in that faith. Trust that. Believe in them.

I think that will do for now.

More could be said around support from superiors and the church’s leadership, which I have mentioned previously.

Hope this helps.

Published: Grace In Relationships – The Youth Minister And The Volunteer

A few days ago I had a post published at Rooted Ministry. This is part of a series about ‘Grace In Relationships’. I focussed on what it means to extend grace as a Youth Pastor to those who are committed volunteer leaders in your church.

“Often, relationships can be made complicated in unhealthy ways. However, when grace is the marker in a relationship – youth ministry volunteer or otherwise – that which seems complicated becomes easier. Truth is eventually able to be spoken, forgiveness is able to be given and received, and love and kindness shines through. If you’re sceptical, look no further than the grace given to us through Christ Jesus. I encourage you to seek to make grace the centre of your relationship with your volunteers, as I believe it will not only transform the culture of your youth ministry to another level, but also transform your own heart.”

You can read the whole post here.