On Planning Your Youth Ministry

I have to admit that I often enjoy the planning process of youth ministry. There is something about the start of the year, when the calendar is fresh and empty, that inspires creativity and excitement about the ministry year ahead.

Over time I’d like to think I’ve grown in my understanding of how to plan a youth ministry year. This growth has helped in solidifying my process and systems in preparing an event, a curriculum, or even gaining a grasp on the coming 12-months. It’s not always easy taking the ideas and inspiration for youth ministry and making them fit into an already busy year. However, I’ve found it helpful to put my planning in perspective as I look ahead to the year.

On Planning Your Youth Ministry.png

 

(1) Make A Plan To Plan

There needs to be some time set out in your calendar to actually plan.

This will require planning itself.

But as the saying goes, “failing to plan is planning to fail”. With this in mind I’d encourage you to look at your calendar over the next couple of weeks and block out a whole afternoon to plan the coming months (or more). First and foremost, there needs to be time set apart for planning our youth ministries.

Go.

Do it now.

(2) Put Planning In Perspective

When I haven’t planned well I can get into an anxious and stressful state.

But when I have planned an event or a meeting to the best of my ability I am considerably less anxious. Even when my planning fails, knowing that I’ve done all I could have in the lead-up allows me to reconcile the failure. It puts me in a better position to evaluate what is happening while things are going wrong and also gives me the metrics to learn what I could’ve done better.

It’s also helpful to be reminded of the words in the book of Proverbs, that while

“…the hearts of humans plan their course, the Lord establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

With this kind of thinking my planning is put into perspective.

I can do as much as I can, as well as I can, but at the end of the day I need to recognise God’s hand in these plans too.

Keeping this in mind helps me from relying on my own skills, abilities, and self and turns my heart to praise as I know I’m part of God’s wider, global, mission in youth ministry.

(3) Move Those Plans To Action

We could spend a lot of time planning and little time actually implementing those plans.

Remember to make sure you have the time and energy to put these plans into practice. Each year that goes by I always find an adjustment is needed in my schedule to move the youth ministry forward.

At the end of the day I am hoping to implement the plans I make, having a heart for the Lord to use them in whatever capacity he chooses.

May it be so for me, just as it may be for you as you serve God and his people.

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Idea: Multiple Churches, One Youth Pastor

An enjoyable part of working within the #youthmin world is connecting with other youth pastors and youth ministry practitioners from across the globe. For a number of years I’ve been following a guy called James in the UK. He regularly blogs about youth work and ministry from a British perspective. I often find his posts helpful, and it really is just him vomiting his thoughts onto the page (or screen as it may be).

As it happens, James and I are reading the same book at the same time. Andrew Root’s latest work, “Faith Formation In A Secular Age: Responding To The Church’s Obsession With Youthfulness”. Yesterday, James had a few reflections on the beginnings of the book and I found it useful to engage with. You can read it here. In this post I’d simply like to engage with what he has written and add my two cents too.

Basically, James asks the question, after reading a chapter or two of the book, “Has the church embraced youthfulness – but given up on young people?”

James then outlines a few thoughts on how the church in the UK has been focussed on young people, and a lot of the time only young people, perhaps to the neglect of other generations. But, one of the key lines in this reflection from James is, “…I imagine that in the UK the drive to attract young people has less to do with authenticity, and more to do with survival.”

This is a key comment.

It is a key issue the church battles with today, and one that youth pastors and other church leaders know, feel, write about, and talk about a lot.

The first part of Andrew Root’s book is a fascinating look into the rise of youth culture in society, particularly American culture, and the effect this has had on our thinking. His contention, better argued than I will articulate here, is that the West, since the 1960’s, has had an obsession with ‘youth’, which filters into everything we see around us. So much so that whenever we think of something to do with ‘youth’ we believe it is authentic and cool. That which is authentic is generally that which is young, yip, and youthful.

In our churches we’ve seen this occur over the last 40-50 years through the strong rise in the youth ministry movement. Prior to the 1960’s, and the beginnings of student and youth orientated para-church organisations, the sole youth pastor within a local church community was not even a thing. Now, almost every church’s second staff appointment would be a youth pastor. To look after the ‘young people’ of course.

Furthermore, there has been a sharp rise in considering ‘youthfulness’ as being the epitome of church and church life. For a church to be authentic, happening, and growing, it needs to have the vibe that it is young, cool, and hip. When you look around Christendom currently, this sort of vibe is especially evident.

James talks about how many of the youth workers and pastors in his region have been given the flick because of financial restraints and the like. He talks about the decrease in specialist youth workers in his region regularly, it seems to be a major concern.

But this got me thinking about how many churches I know who have full-time youth and young adult pastors. Generally, it is only the ones who are large, perhaps with a Sunday morning attendance of 250+, that can afford such an expense. I am also aware that there are plenty of smaller churches who seek to employ a youth pastor (or similar) but can only afford to days per week at the most.

My questions is, is the church of the future willing to work together in order to pay someone a full-time wage but have their youth work cross local church boundaries?

In other words, would two or three smaller churches in a particular area be willing to pay for one person to cover youth ministry in their region? 

I think this would be an interesting experiment for local churches to grapple with.

This would provide someone with full employment, paid through two or more churches, while giving broader scope for the churches than their own little patch. Some might call it kingdom thinking I suppose.

And this links back to the key comment James was making when he said, “…I imagine that in the UK the drive to attract young people has less to do with authenticity, and more to do with survival.”

Rather than actually think about survival (which I understand is a massive issue when the finances are barely paying the overheads), wouldn’t it be better to think more strategically and out-of-the-box in regard to youth ministry? When we’re solely thinking in terms of survival, looking to ‘attract young people’, then we’ve lost the plot.

What we need is a vision that understands the realities of what it is to work in faith-based youth ministry, but have that aligned with a larger vision of God being at work through his people, the Church. And, along the way it would be worth experimenting and working together with other churches for the spread of the gospel and work of his kingdom.

The Forgotten Leader

In chapter 40 of Genesis we read of Joseph in prison.

He’s in prison because he’s been falsely accused of sleeping with the wife of Egypt’s 2IC (second in charge). But chapter 40 tells the story of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker, who are also in prison with Joseph, having dreams that need to be interpreted.

Joseph seems to have risen to prominence, even within the prison walls, as he is tasked with looking after these two men. Having shared their dreams with him the cupbearer and baker ask Joseph to interpret them, which he does. When Joseph interprets positively for the cupbearer he asks him to remember him and speak highly of him to the Pharaoh. When these things happen the cupbearer is released and finds himself back in favour with Pharaoh.

The final verse of the chapter reads,

“Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.”

This sparked a thought about how we often forget those who play a significant role in our lives.

The Forgotten Leader Post

We all tell ourselves a certain narrative of the way things are, of what has happened in our lives. We are able to remember significant things, turning points, and people in our lives. But then, there are all those people we have forgotten, people who may have only had a small part in our lives at some point.

When we think about our own walk with Jesus we often have key people who are part of that journey. We might remember a youth pastor, or a youth leader that connected with us regularly, or maybe someone older in the church who asked how we were every now and then. Sometimes though we forget those other people who were around and part of the ministry; they don’t seem to play a role in our narrative.

This is often what it is to be a youth leader. It is often the case that we can be forgotten.

We become a forgotten leader. 

The forgotten leader isn’t any less significant. I often think it is better to be the forgotten leader than the one who goes down in a blaze of glory, remembered for all the wrong things they did.

The forgotten leader is someone who serves without expecting to be needed in years to come. They serve in the youth ministry (or any other for that matter) week in and week out. They continue to grow in their relationship with God, and students come and go through the programs with the forgotten leader faithfully serving.

This kind of leadership is certainly not what our culture expects. We want youth leaders that are flashy, that are bold, that are magnetic. But often these kinds of leaders don’t last long. Soon enough they’ve had their fill and move on to another place where a new set of people will attach themselves to them.

A forgotten leader is someone who is counter-cultural and at their heart a servant. They get on with the job of connecting with God and connecting with students, doing the task they have been given for that season. Their work often goes unseen, they help with setup and are often packing up well after the parents have picked up their children.

A forgotten leader is a servant leader; doing the one-percenters make the ministry work and being faithful to do what God has asked them to do. In this way the forgotten leader lowers themselves, not seeking first place, but highlights others before themselves.

When Joseph is forgotten by the cupbearer he was performing the task that God had asked him. The issue isn’t that he was forgotten, it’s about how he was faithful to God.

May you be a forgotten-faithful leader this year.

3 Ways The Beach Helps Youth Ministry

The beach is great.

If it was a choice between a warm beach location or say a cold snowy type location, the beach wins every time.

And so with summer holidays and hot days comes the annual visit to the beach. A few days spent relaxing, reading, and having a rollicking time with the family. Last year I spent hours making an awesome sandcastle with my daughter, this year it seems we’re more adventurous and have ventured into the cooler waters and waves.

Oddly enough, the beach had me thinking about youth ministry. Perhaps it was the salt water, the days off, or too much cricket watching (can that ever be the case?). Nevertheless, using the beach as an illustration for youth ministry it reminded me of three things we youth leaders need to have in mind coming into the 2018 youthmin year.

First, we need perspective. 

Sitting on the beach gives you a view of the large expanse of water in front of you. It gives you a view of stretches of sand, to your left and right. It reminds you that there is something bigger than your small self going on in this world. As one person sitting on a small patch of sand, millions of grains within arms reach, you are given perspective on life, faith, and ministry.

As Psalm 139:7-10 reminds us, God is huge. He is everywhere.

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”

In youth ministry we often need perspective. It’s not about the next event, the next catch-up, the next Bible study, the next service, the next hard conversation. It is about God, and declaring that he has come, and is with us through his Son and his Spirit. He will lead and hold us, as the Psalmist has written.

Second, we need grit. 

Generally sand is quite gritty. On some beaches it really does give your feet a good workout.

Youth ministry is the same. It is a hard work. It is constant work. It requires grit. It is the type of work that will give you a good workout, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Paul knows this from experience and writes in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10:

“We are not giving anyone an occasion for offense, so that the ministry will not be blamed. Instead, as God’s ministers, we commend ourselves in everything: by great endurance, by afflictions, by hardships, by difficulties, by beatings, by imprisonments, by riots, by labors, by sleepless nights, by times of hunger, by purity, by knowledge, by patience, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God; through weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, through glory and dishonor, through slander and good report; regarded as deceivers, yet true; as unknown, yet recognized; as dying, yet see—we live; as being disciplined, yet not killed; as grieving, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet enriching many; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

It might be a different context but Paul’s words speak of the kind of grit needed for ministry. The physical persecution is not generally associated with Western youth ministry, but that doesn’t discount the challenges it brings.

All this requires grit. It’s goes without saying that this grit will come more easily when we are walking closely with Jesus. As we work with students and their families we seek to serve them and the church out of our enjoyment of God.

Third, we need to be fluid. 

At the beach you can sit on the sand and watch the waves come time and time again. You can also go for a swim and enjoy the cool water on a hot day. Stating the obvious, the water is fluid and can cope with what is going on in it and around it.

When working with students (and adults too) we need to be flexible, fluid. Often things won’t go to plan, people won’t turn up, or the weather might not be what we’d hoped for our program. In working with people, and in youth ministry, we need to be flexible in our plans and ideas. It’s helpful to know and be sure in what we think is the best way to operate, but sometimes others might actually provide better ways.

So whether it’s events or people, holding things losely, having planned to our best ability is something worth evaluating for ourselves coming into the new youthmin year.

At any time, not just at the start of the year, it is worth taking a few moments to gain perspective, grow in grit, and assess what we hold tightly. I can recommend the beach as a good place to do that.

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.”

Published: What are the Top 5 Books of The Bible You Want Your Students to Read?

So, I’m in a few Facebook groups full of youth pastors and youth ministry practitioners. Someone asked this question of the group and numerous responses came through. I thought about it for a few minutes and jumped in myself. I then made a blog post out of it. It was then published on Rooted Ministry.

“Keep in mind, these aren’t necessarily my five favourite books of the bible. These are what I see as the most helpful pieces of scripture for my students, when it comes to communicating the gospel. It’s an interesting question. You may love Jeremiah, and Amos, and Revelation. Great. Are they in the top five for helping your students understand more of the grace of God and seeking to love and follow Him? Maybe they are.

Of course, no answer is a right answer, but let me outline why I think these are the top five for my students.”

You can read the whole post here.

The Sparkle of a Youth Ministry First-timer

To help transition grade six students into youth ministry I find it helpful to invite them along to our Term 4 program.

I don’t think this is an earth-shattering idea.

But behind this idea is intentionality. There is intention in inviting graduating primary students and their parents to begin attending the youth ministry prior high school beginning.

In the life of the family the graduation of primary school is significant, particularly if it is their first child. It’s an exciting time for the family as they celebrate all that their child has achieved throughout their primary school life. It is also a daunting time, because in a couple of months their child will enter high school, where they start on the bottom rung of the school ladder and desire to find new friends and community.

So, while celebrating the final term of primary school and transitioning to high school, it becomes a good idea to transition students earlier than later. The amount of change going on in the family unit at the start of a new year, particularly when high school is a new step, doesn’t need to be heightened by throwing youth group into the mix. Instead, allowing students to attend early and get an idea of what it means to be part of the youth ministry helps alleviate stress come the new year.

I also believe this helps the parents of the student. Finishing off primary school can be stressful, and this is mixed with various information nights and transition days for high school. With all this going on parents seem pleased for their child to be invited to youth group, and it helps them get a taste for what could be part of the family calendar the following year. Being able to meet leaders, see the program themselves, and watch how their child is adapting to a group of high school students helps in their parenting, and the expectations for their child when they begin high school.

And finally, it is always great to have new people come along to any youth ministry. Inviting new people in Term 4 brings an energy to finish off the year. It lifts everyone to be intentional about their leadership, welcoming, and community-building. And, it’s always terrific to see the sparkle in the eyes of a first-timer.

Perhaps you haven’t thought much about transitioning students between primary and high school? It is worth doing so, and putting into place at least some invitation and communication about this.

Because of this, I have copied my welcome letter to grade six students and their parents, which is sent to them at the end of Term 3. Feel free to use as you like. I trust it will be helpful.

170830 Letter to Parents - G6 Invite Letter - Blog Example

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.

Does The Youth Leader Need To Be Magnetic?

Is it necessary for a Youth Pastor to have a magnetic personality? 

Often I find myself wondering whether all the great Youth Pastor’s are people who have extroverted, outgoing, positive, and magnetic personalities.

Does The Youth Leader Need To Be Magnetic

On one hand it could be argued that a magnetic personality is almost essential as part of the role. Someone who is able to draw people to the ministry, interact with young people in a meaningful way, and have leaders that are willing to follow means there is some form of magnetism required to the role.

It might be helpful to think of this in reverse too. If a Youth Pastor is sour, socially awkward, unable to interact with people of all ages, and wants to hide away from any form of public speaking then maybe the role isn’t for them.

I wonder whether you believe it is important to have a magnetic personality as a Youth Pastor? 

However, it is unfair to discourage people from leading in youth ministry if they don’t conform to our preconceived ideas of what a youth leader should be like. In doing so we deny people within the body of Christ from contributing in their own unique way. After all, as a body of believers, we recognise that God has created everyone in his image and that each one is a gift for the church.

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)

While character, maturity, and skillset of each person needs to be taken into account, there is no biblical edict regarding personality that informs the type of role a person should have in the church.

Whether introverted or extroverted, each personality should be able to find their place to serve and build the church.

It may be helpful to be a people person in a people-focussed work, it is not necessary for there to be some special type of magnetism in youth ministry leadership. People may well be better suited to sharing from the front while others are better suited talking one-one-one with others. Some are better suited at interacting with parents and welcoming new people, others are better suited to sorting out the games or the supper for the night. Some leaders might be best suited to help in administration and not be involved in a youth night at all. There are plenty of ways to serve in youth ministry and it doesn’t matter what their personality.

When you consider your own gifts, skillset, and character, where in youth ministry do you think you would best serve? 


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

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.