Published: Youth Ministry Is Not Just A Stepping Stone

Yeah, so I’m pretty excited and encouraged to have had a piece about why youth ministry isn’t just a stepping stone to becoming a lead pastor published on The Gospel Coalition. I have known for a little while it was going to happen, it has just been a matter of waiting patiently. It was published a few days ago and can now be found here.

“A common misunderstanding about youth pastors is that they’re training for the higher ranking position of lead pastor. While it’s true many pastors once worked with youth, the two roles are distinct. Senior pastors who’ve previously served as youth pastors can provide encouragement and understanding. They can also channel their experience into unrealistic expectations, perhaps beginning with the refrain, “Back when I was a youth pastor . . .””

As an aside I was encouraged even further to find my piece, Redeeming Love For Run-Down Parents, was also being promoted at TGC. Unbelievable.

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You can read other articles I’ve had published elsewhere here.

My Top Posts of 2018

Each year I set a number of writing goals, some of which correspond to the regular writing on this blog. This year has been up and down.

I start off at the beginning of the year full of energy, but to sustain the goal of one post per week on this platform is often interrupted. Sometimes it is life that gets in the way, sometimes it is motivation, sometimes it is a lack of ideas, sometimes it is a lack of confidence, sometimes it is a perfectionism that I can’t get over for a while. Whatever it is and whenever it is I still try to push something out that I’m thinking or reading about. If you’re a regular reader of this site then I hope something has been helpful for you.

Top Posts of 2018

In assessing 2018, in terms of my writing and blogging, there are some encouraging things I’m pleased with and others that I’m not.

In terms of raw statistics, in the last 12 months, I’ve managed to:

In many ways this is pleasing to see. Things have improved and been on the increase year by year. There is slow growth, nothing viral, but growing nonetheless.

In terms of what people actually read when visiting this site, here are the posts written in 2018 that were the most popular:

1// Make The Bible Project Your Bible Reading Plan For 2018

By far and away this post was the most popular. I think it was helped by Google, who pointed people here when they search for ‘Bible Project reading plan’. It’s an excellent plan and one that I was following for some of the year.

2// Chair of Deacons Postpones Meeting To Confirm Identity of Youth Pastor

I was playing around with my writing a little at times and had a go at writing a satirical piece for the Babylon Bee. It wasn’t accepted but fun to write at least.

3// Billy Graham and Gramps

When Billy Graham passed away early in the year I interviewed my grandfather, who helped run some of the crusades in New Zealand back in the day. It ended up being republished on TGCA and on the NZ Baptists site.

4// 5 Learnings From Being ‘Acting Senior Pastor’

The Lead Pastor was away on leave for a few weeks. I was the only other person on staff. Here are some reflections from that time. It’s happening again after Christmas too.

5// Is It Time To Take The Guilt Out Of Your Bible Reading?

Another post about reading Scripture. This one looked at how we can take the guilt out of doing so, like skipping days or beginning to find ourselves behind in reading programs and guides.

So, those were the posts written in 2018. Overall, the top five posts that were most read, written at anytime in the last 9 years, were:

Thanks for reading!

For those interested in stats from previous years you can read about 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Published: The Servant Songs And The Greatest Service Of All

With Christmas only a few weeks away there are plenty of Advent readings and articles written. I had the opportunity to add to this through a little Christmas series Rooted Ministry are doing, focussing on how the OT prophets speak to Jesus’ birth. I planted myself in Isaiah, with particular attention on the four ‘Servant Songs’ (Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-13; 50:4-9; 52:13-52:12), and took some time to reflect through Isaiah 42:1-4.

It will probably become the basis for my sermon on the weekend before Christmas.

You can read it here.

Through his birth Jesus comes as the great justice-giver. Jesus comes to bring justice to the nations, and establish justice upon the earth. Jesus achieves these words of justice through his life and ministry, ultimately turning that justice upon himself, making himself the conduit of justice by taking upon the sins of the world. Through the cross Jesus achieves and establishes justice for the nations, and for us personally. He serves as the Servant-King, reminding us of the words of Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

On Keeping A Journal

Over the years, probably on and off since high-school, I’ve kept a journal.

On Keeping A Journal

At times I’ve been consistent with this practice. I’ve taken dedicated time and discipline to write what I’ve experienced or felt about certain moments. Whether by typing or whether by handwriting I’ve dedicated time, notebooks, and files to exploring what is going on within. During certain seasons I’ve been able to write daily, expressing thoughts about the days just gone and reflect on how I’m understanding those experiences.

At other times, usually when the season is a hard one, I feel compelled to write. I feel compelled to make sense of what is going on. I feel compelled to discern what my mind and my heart is really saying.

You see, often through the exercise of writing, whether it be in list form or a more comprehensive essay, life can be made clearer. As I work through an issue, an experience, or a particular emotion, the ‘thinking on paper’ provides clarity.

Another aspect to journaling that I find helpful is the way it can become a spiritual exercise. A spiritual exercise centred around writing out my prayer for the day, the day coming or the day past, where I can be entirely honest with God.

Even within ourselves, we rarely take the time to really explore what is going on within our own hearts and minds. Through a journal we are able to explore those ideas, concepts, emotions, seasons, thoughts, issues, and pressures by patiently writing or typing our inner most thoughts. Between the pen and the page we are able to discern our own hearts and seek wisdom from above.

After more than 15 years of this practice, with a few breaks in-between, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no right or wrong way to journal. In high school we may have been taught some form of formalised writing, and for some reason we carry over to our personal lives those structured ‘rules’ around how we are to express ourselves. There aren’t any rules for writing a journal, it is yours and you can do with it what you like.

As to reading old journals, it probably depends on purpose. I’m always nervous about re-reading something I wrote years ago. It’s like reading the ‘old me’, or at least taking a step backwards, realising how stupid and immature I was. I’m certainly nervous about it. But, for some of those more diary-entry journals it is worth being reminded of what I’ve experienced and gives perspective on the now. For example, I always find it interesting reading portions of my journals from my time in Lebanon, now over 10 years ago. Those entries can be a reminder of what I did, who I met, and what I was thinking at the time.

A little while ago I came across this post, talking about journaling as a pathway to joy. It highlights, for those of us who have a faith, that journaling can be a beneficial spiritual exercise, keeping our hearts and mind on the things of God. It talks about some of the similar things I’ve outlined here, but provides some good ways journaling intersects with our relationship with God. As the author points out,

“…journaling is a way of slowing life down for just a few moments, and trying to process at least a sliver of it for the glory of God, our own growth and development, and our enjoyment of the details”.

What about you? Do you journal? What have you learnt through it? 

Published: The Public Progress of a (Youth) Pastor

While listening to a podcast of one of Alistair Begg’s conference messages I was struck by his exposition of 1 Timothy 4:12-16. In it he refers to the public nature of the ministry, and the progress seen of that ministry by the congregation. This sparked an idea about what that might look like for those of us in youth ministry. In reality it took far longer to write than I’d hoped but I think it has come out with what I wanted to say!

It was recently published at Rooted Ministry, and you can read the whole thing here.

“Through our own maturity as a believer – our persistence in relying on Jesus – and the sharpening of our ministry skills and abilities, we will find ourselves making progress. As we use these God-given gifts, skills, abilities, and aptitudes we will grow in these things, develop these things, and our progress will bear fruit in those to whom we minister to (no matter the size of the group).”

Published: Faith Formation In A Secular Age by Andrew Root

I’ve recently read Andrew Root’s, Faith Formation In A Secular Age: Responding To The Church’s Obsession With Youthfulness.

It was a dense read. As a result, it has triggered numerous thoughts about how we engage students, helping them to form faith in the current cultural era. I think this book has been very helpful in thinking through the way we approach discipleship, particularly in youth ministry. But, at the same time, I found that it raises unsatisfactory answers in its conclusions.

Having read the book, and thought through some of Root’s ideas I have written a fairly comprehensive review. It was accepted by The Gospel Coalition Australia editors and published on their site.

You can read the whole thing here.

“This has resulted with churches increasingly viewing youth ministry as a “saviour” for their church. While the church youth movement has historically been there, it is really only in the last fifty years that this area of the church has risen to the level it is today. There was actually a time when churches didn’t have a youth pastor and where the work toward the young people was driven by a group of volunteers. The striving after a pastoral staff position specifically for youth ministry is something new, relatively speaking.

A by-product of this is churches increasing their value for and commitment to keeping young people in the church. This increase in attention has also created youth ministry and youth focussed para-church organisations that seek to hold a young person in the orbit of faith. This kind of thinking hopes to see more kids, and particularly kids of church families, stay in church life instead of walking away and becoming one of the ‘Nones’ who are now self-identifying in surveys and census data. As Root remarks, “Even today, study after study in youth ministry seems to define faith primarily through institutional participation.” (p30)”

Andrew Root has also been doing the rounds on various podcast episodes. If you’d like to have a listen to what he says then head to one of these:

Youthscape are a youth work organisation in the UK and interviewed Root about his book in episode 41.

Homebrewed Christianity interviews Andrew Root about Faith Formation In A Secular Age. I haven’t listened to this but will do in coming days or weeks.

The Distillery Podcast is an initiative by Princeton Theological Seminary. They interviewed Root about this book and I found it to be a good insight into his thoughts.

When You Gonna Be A Real Pastor is a fun podcast by two youth pastors in the USA. Here they interview Andrew Root before the book was released, partly on his previous book and partly on this one.

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

Published: The Book of Ruth, Critical to God’s Narrative of Redemption

I’ve recently been preaching through the book of Ruth. It’s been really exciting and energising to do so. For one thing, I’ve been fascinated by the various levels of meaning the author uses throughout the narrative. Anyway, in reading and re-reading the story of Ruth I put together a post, which has been published on Rooted Ministry.

I imagine in the work you do as a youth minister – the people you have conversations with, and the crises you get called into – there are similarly tragic moments you’re involved in.

The student who loses her best friend to suicide and didn’t know she needed help. The young man in high school whose father passes away suddenly. The family who is effected by a car accident, or by cancer, or by an illicit liaison.

As youth ministers, we often have the privilege of being part of people’s lives at the worst of times. And often we ourselves don’t know what to say or how to handle such events and experiences. But we sit there, we listen, and we show our love and care for them.

You can read the whole thing here.

My One Blogging Goal For 2018

With the turn of the new year comes the flurry of posts about how to improve your blogging in 2018. I think I’ve read a dozen or so already.

It’s made me think about my own blogging for the year ahead.

My One Blogging Goal For 2018

There is no doubt that I enjoy the writing process. It clarifies my thoughts, it helps me think out loud, it gives me the opportunity to express my opinions and ideas. Depending on what kind of day it is the writing will come easily, but more often than not it is hard. It requires actually articulating my thoughts in a systematic or structured way. Writing requires me to sit in front of a blank screen and turn that white document into something worth reading.

I’m not sure I achieve this very often, but it seems people do read what I write. I am appreciative of that.

And I’m particularly thankful for those who have read the odd post over the last 12 months. I’ve had a focus to increase readership and write more regularly, which was achieved, even if there were seasons where nothing was published.

But they were last year’s goals. And having read enough “Improve Your Blog” type posts it is apparently important to have goals coming into 2018.

For the coming year I have reservations about setting number goals about readership. It keeps me focussed on numbers, which at the best of times are encouraging but totally distracting and beside the point at the worst. So for 2018, instead of focussing on the statistics, which get looked at far too often, I have decided to make my goal writing-based.

That is, I want to write from the heart more this year. 

Reflecting on my own writing I don’t believe I write from the heart enough. Sure, I may have a post that moves someone else. I may have a good piece of writing that connects with a reader. But am I actually writing from the heart?

To me, writing from the heart is about putting words on paper that reflect more of who I am.

It isn’t giving more of my opinion, it isn’t making the post feel more energetic with faux-excitement. Writing from the heart is about writing truthfully, clearly, and with an openness that leaves part of me on the page. It means I’m not hiding behind words but I’m putting myself on the line when I write and publish.

While this goal isn’t particularly measurable, certainly not from the outside, it may cause me issues when seeking to evaluate come the end of the year. But that’s my issue. For now I’m committed to writing through this blog, seeking to help others in youth and young adult ministry reflect on their experience and be better in their work.

Let’s see how we go.

What about you? What’s your number one blogging goal for the year? 

My Top Posts of 2017

Earlier this month I wrote briefly about how I’ve managed to achieve a couple of blogging goals this year. I wanted to write more regularly in 2017, and as a result I’ve averaged a published post per week on this site and a few guest posts on others. The second goal was to increase the amount of views from last year. I aimed to double last years result and achieved this too. Happy days.

Top Posts of 2017

But, there are a few things that continue to get read reasonably regularly so here’s a list of the five most popular posts viewed this year (2016 and 2015).

One, 11 Things: The Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor Relationship

It seems there’s a few people out there wanting some tips on how to deal with the Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor dynamic. It’s not surprising, it’s probably the number one reason Youth Pastors move on from their job.

Two, Growing Young – Keychain Leadership

I wrote this over twelve months ago. I was working through the book Growing Young. This post talks about how churches need to be willing to pass the baton of leadership to young people. It is a key chapter in the book and worth reading entirely.

Three, Growing Young

Here I begin the Growing Young series, which I wrote over a period of three months. I write about each chapter, but this one gives a general summary of the whole. Again, it’s a book for those in youth ministry and church leadership (and others if they’re interested).

Four, Beginning As A Youth Pastor: 11 Things I Wished I Knew

I wrote this in preparation for a presentation. It describes what I wished I knew when I started out as a Youth Pastor. As it turns out I had 11 points, and those 11 points were then made into a blog post each. This series has already been mentioned with the number one most popular post on the site. This one covers them all.

Five, On Youth Pastor Position Descriptions

I saw a really poorly written position description for a youth ministry position and I got annoyed. This resulted in further articulation of my thoughts in this post. It seems it was reasonably well read and rather relevant to people. Not really many surprises there if you’re a Youth Pastor.

Some other random bits of information about this blog:

  • The top five countries where readers are from are Australia, the USA, the UK, Canada and New Zealand. Australia and the US bring in the most by far.
  • Facebook and search engines are the digital spaces people come from to read.
  • I currently have over 200 posts available for people to read.

If you’re a regular reader, thanks very much for coming by. I am always in two minds as whether or not keeping this up is worth it. When I get to the end of the year and begin to re-evaluate my goals there is something about giving this up that I would find painful. I hope the words written here are worthy of being read, fun and humourous at times, and most of all bringing glory to God as I write about youth ministry.

Thanks again.