The Inadequate Youth Pastor

As I stand in the front row of our church, waiting for the song to finish before I get up to preach, my heart is beating faster than usual. My mind is sending up invisible prayers like a professional boxer hitting the speedball. While on the outside I might look calm, inside is nothing of the sort. Nerves are one thing, but it’s actually the intense feelings of inadequacy that come before the preaching begins. Afterward, those feelings return as I stand praying during the final song, simply wanting to hide. Sometimes I acknowledge the feelings and embrace them, other times I am overwhelmed by them.

These feelings of inadequacy are not restricted to the task of preaching. It applies to other areas of church life, including youth ministry and working with young adults. Whether it is meeting with someone one-on-one, leading leaders in planning our youth ministry and its culture, seeking to give wise advice to questions our high schoolers ask, or leading the week Bible study, I often walk away with a strong feeling that I’m inadequate for the role.

The Inadequate YP

Some smart person will tell me that I’m placing more emphasis on myself than on God at this point. That I’m not putting faith in God’s work through his Word, but rather seeking affirmation and positive feeling from my own performance. And while I imagine I am doing this to some extent, who doesn’t want to at least feel like they’re doing somewhat of a decent job at something they are called to? But considering the preparation, the prayer, and the ‘performance’ itself, the intensity of these inadequate feelings just doesn’t match.

It is often said that we put more pressure on ourselves than we do others. And we expect we will be able to do good, high quality work, from the outset. No matter what role we have–youth leader, parent, student, worker–we all have feelings of inadequacy. But no matter how much positive feedback I might receive this week, no matter how much experience I recognise I have, no matter how much study or reading I do, and no matter how much encouragement I see within the ministry itself, I often feel inadequate in what I do.

I suspect I’m not the only one in youth ministry feeling this way.

At this point it would be worth heading toward a positive, uplifting, and assuring verse of Scripture to tell me, and all of us, that we’re not inadequate at all. But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m reminded of Moses in Exodus 3-4 as he lays out to God objection after objection on why he should not be the leader of God’s people, confront Pharaoh, and help them leave the bonds of slavery in Egypt. I can completely understand Moses when he says, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13).

Evidently my pride and ego get in the way. There is no doubt. And now that I’m in my late-30’s, rather than my early-20’s, a little of the brashness and arrogance has been shaved away. But, those feelings of inadequacy still linger; like the old ladies perfume I was skunked by when receiving an awkward hug at morning tea after church.

Sometimes I’m not sure what to do with these feelings of inadequacy. I can’t say I’ve found helpful answers from others in ministry yet. It seems everyone is battling with the same problem! But then again perhaps all one needs is a good rest and some down time.

Youth Ministry With The Headphones Off

As I drive on my commute, when I’m at the gym lifting iron, and often as I am falling asleep after a long day, I’m wearing headphones.

I listen to a variety of podcasts and audiobooks, trying to learn something new or enjoy a good story while being productive in other ways.

At the gym I’m focussed on two things. First, to do the exercises I’d like to do for the day at an intensity that will improve my health. And second, to listen to whatever is coming through my headphones.

As I look around the gym I notice everyone else doing the same. Everyone has headphones in their ears, listening to something they enjoy while working out.

As a side note, I think those who are actually working the hardest at the gym are often those who aren’t listening to anything. But I digress.

Often, I notice myself lowering the intensity of my exercise because I’m listening to something I’m interested in. Rather than being focussed, and pushing myself for the set of lifts, I’m more interested in what I’m hearing and so drop my intensity to around 80%. Instead of listening to my body, or pushing myself to achieve more, I have my focus elsewhere.

I wonder whether we do the same when we come to youth ministry?

Youth Ministry With The Headphones Off

Most of the time our connection points with people during the week happens while doing other things. It could be trying to talk to a student when youth group is about to begin. It could be a deep conversation with a young adult but small group has wrapped up and they’re about to be picked up. It could be talking to a parent after church but there are others lining up to speak with you.

In youth ministry there can be plenty of things, either in the moment or during the week, that can distract us from putting our full energies toward the task at hand. Whatever it is, there can be moments when we are distracted or lose focus.

The much overused verse from Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:31 is still true and valid, even for distracted youth leaders.

“…whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.”

This can apply to anything we put our mind to, and is relevant for us as we think about ‘focus’. To actually focus on the tasks at hand, such as, organising an event, having a conversation with a parent, introducing a student to another, creating the actual program, or driving someone home after their parents forgot them, will go a long way in glorifying God through our youth ministry.

This focus is intentionality.

It is about being present.

It is about the moment.

Perhaps it is time to take the headphones off and begin to focus on the youth ministry tasks at hand.

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.

My Top Books of 2017

The end of another year is the perfect time for pretentious bloggers to write their list of top reads for the year. Armed with the arrogance of knowing they’ve read more books than most of their friends, and willing to share that information publicly, puts them in a category everyone despises. Nevertheless, I’ve done it for the last three years (2014, 2015, 2016) so why not continue to reveal my own pride and let you all know what I’ve read and how much.

Here goes.

My Top Books of 2017

Because any reader worth their salt is signed up to Goodreads, which enables readers to reveal and recommend books to their friends, there is an automatic graphic created to show just what I’ve read. If you’re interested in that then feel free to have a look. The following is a list of books I’ve rated 5 out of 5 from the 27 I’ve read this year. They are in no particular order.

I couldn’t have kicked off the year with a better book. It was all about how we relate to God. Since reading the book I have found it hard to explain his idea of being ‘with’ God but it was very true and very life giving. It’s pretty much the idea that we aren’t relating to God through Christ in a way which means we are ‘over’ God, or ‘under’ God, per se. It is really trying to say that through our lives we are walking with Jesus, we are WITH God and God is WITH us. There’s a relationship thing going on. It’s a brilliant book and I’d highly recommend it. It’s become a main text for my apprenticeship program next year, it’s that good.

Peterson writes really well. Everything I’ve read of his has been great. This is no exception. Here Peterson articulates the story of his life and ministry. He doesn’t do it all in a chronological and normative fashion. However, there is much in here to listen to and chew on.

I’ve written previously about this book and have found it very stimulating. It’s mainly about how the church can be the church in a post-modern, post-Christian, post-everything culture. And, how Christians can be Christians in a post-everything culture. From the other books I’ve read of his I’ve found this to be his best one. This books has also made it into the hands of a few at church, which is pleasing. But as I’ve commented to them, it’s constantly full of ideas and points one wants to discuss with others. It’s really good.

I took my time reading this but was very impressed with how Keller holds social justice and his evangelical convictions so well. I’m not sure why I’m surprised through, evangelical Christians have been doing good works for centuries. Anyway, Keller articulates the biblical mandate of justice and uses the odd example to show how this might work out in a church context. He elevates this well and by the end you know this is a no-brainer. Big tick.

Just as the Australia plebiscite was in full swing I read this book. It was brilliant. I’m not even sure it matters that the writer is gay. He articulates a terrific theology of friendship, elevating the need for friendship into a status close to marriage. There is the thought of commitment ceremonies for friends, and not in a gay marriage kind of way, but in a way that highlights the need for friends to commit to one-another. It is a book that makes you think about how your church helps singles, couples, and marrieds be better friends to one-another. It’s certainly worth the read. I wrote a few more words about it here.

This is a small yet powerful book. For Christians it should be obvious that discipling others is part of what it is to be a believer. Here Dever outlines a terrific way in how to do that in the Western church and is something I believe strongly in. As I’ve written previously:

“The obvious case for making disciples is made and then the ‘how-to’s’ are provided. Because I’ve read a lot of Dever, and this kind of discipleship, then I understand how to go about it. For those who are unsure this is a good primer and will provide the foundations and the practical. It’s really as easy as meeting with someone, opening the bible with them, and simply talking and listening to one-another. This should really be a standard text for anyone wishing to disciple/mentor/coach or whatever you want to call it. If I was running an internship or ministry apprenticeship this would be on my reading list.”

I wrote a review of this book separately and outlined how many of Roos’ leadership principles relate to youth ministry. Read that for more worthwhile content.

This book follows Paul Roos’ playing days, and particularly his successful coaching career. It’s a great read if you like sports biography, AFL, or leadership.

  • Lion by Saroo Brierley

This is the true story of Saroo, who at the age of five is separated from his family in India. After jumping on a train, believing it will take him back to his family, he is lost in one of the largest and busiest cities in the world. The story is amazing, and I won’t spoil the ending. But, it’s the book made into a movie a couple of years ago. Great story. Inspiring stuff.

I finished this book a couple of weeks ago and there is much to recommend about it. It’s all about youth ministry, which isn’t a surprise given its title. But, it goes into depth about the ins and out of what youth ministry is about. It talks about the culture of youth ministries and how churches are always looking for the short-term, quick fix. Instead, the author is advocating for long-term, strategic and sustainable youth ministries focussed with intention and structure. DeVries has had many years of experience in youth ministry, mainly at one church but then with an organisation that consults to other youth ministries and churches. I found it one of the better youth ministry books I’ve read. It probably makes my top 5 (youth ministry books). I have some quotes from this book in a previous post. Excellent.

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.

Why Every Youth Pastor Should Watch ‘Spotlight’

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

Spotlight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Youth Influencers

By: MxonerSkittleDip
By: MxonerSkittleDip

The term “youth leader” is regularly used in all works regarding youth ministry. It describes a person who has been set apart for a special ministry within a church toward young people. A youth leader’s role is wide and can incorporate a variety of things. Most likely this term’s used to describe a person who’s in some form or another looking after young people within the context of a church program or event.

I use this term, “Youth Leader”, and in many ways it makes a lot of sense to continue to use it. Yet, I also find it difficult to determine who’s a youth leader and who’s not within my context. Some young adults, who are not “official” youth leaders work more with young people than the youth leaders themselves. For example, I wouldn’t call our worship leaders “youth leaders”, yet they find themselves dealing with the young people of our church more than the actual youth leaders themselves.

I think this can cause an issue. A mindset can set in where people who don’t think of themselves as youth leaders, or aren’t given the official title, are classed as secondary helpers in the area of youth ministry. In many respects there becomes a two-tiered ministry – on one level there is the official youth group nights and small groups while on another level (quite often seen to be below the first) are the areas of the church community where young people themselves contribute to and interact with other members of the church (who aren’t “official” youth leaders).

In thinking about this, and also having to get my head around it while I’ve been writing some Electronic Communication Guidelines, I think a better term for all people who interact with young people in the church would be “Youth Influencers”. This term captures those who aren’t deemed to be “official” youth leaders, who don’t turn up to the youth ministry events per se, but, it includes those who deal with young people week to week. It also recognises that many people within the church can shape and mould young people, whether they are classed as leaders or not.

If youth ministries were to expand their terminology I think there could be a greater involvement and take up by people to be involved in the lives of young people. Some people don’t like to be thought of as leaders, or, they don’t have the time commitment to be active “youth ministry” leaders. Yet, this would be an opportunity to recognise those who have influence over young people in our churches and establish a culture of people investing in people.

Integrating Youth Ministry Into The Church

How is the youth ministry at your church viewed?

youth_ministry_logo_sy83
St Peters Youth Ministry

Quite often young ministry is considered a must but it is also seen as the baby to a lot of the other ministries within the church. Sometimes i get the feeling that as long as there is some sort of youth group happening and there are some people we can call youth leaders then the church can promote itself as looking out for the needs of young people.

This, however, doesn’t capture how youth ministry fits into the whole church. Ideally, a good youth ministry should be able to be integrated into other ministries, where it would be acceptable for young people to participate, help out, and even lead. For example, it should be quite easy for young people to not only attend youth group on a Friday night, but also feel comfortable enough to be attending a service, or a small group or even a whole church event.

Finding and working this culture of integration between ages is hard, yet, it seems to be an ideal way for maturity to occur throughout the age groups of a church.

Leaders Who Will Last by Tim Hawkins

leaders who will lastTim Hawkins has been involved in youth ministry  here in Australia for many years. ‘Leaders Who Will Last‘ is his second book on the topic of youth ministry. His first, ‘Fruit That Will Last‘, was written in the late 1990s and is a foundational text for youth ministry practitioners, particularly here in Australia. Before reading Leaders Who Will Last I’d highly recommend reading his first. 

Leaders Who Will Last, published in 2002, is, as you can imagine, all about youth ministry leadership. I have just finished my first reading of it and would recommend it to anyone in the youth ministry field. However, this book is not only for those in youth ministry on a paid basis, but for anyone involved in a voluntary capacity–parent, youth leader, small group leader etc. 

Leaders Who Will Last is grounded in scripture and gives good advice for youth leaders. There are three main sections of the book; one on vision, one on character, and one on skills.

It is under vision that the main biblical foundations are set. The issues of calling, shepherding, and servanthood are rightly portrayed as important. The main characteristics of a leader are to be faithful, reliable, and a follower of those in higher authority, such as the senior pastor, youth pastor, or lead leader.

In terms of skills, the emphasis is on teaching the bible, whether at the main youth gathering or through a bible study. This I find is a bit light, I think there are more things a youth leader should also be across, not just being able to teach the bible. In fact, I think some leaders may not even be able to do that, but there are other skills that they may bring to the overall health of a youth ministry.

Hawkins also describes, in 16 points, the various aspects to youth work and the type of person a youth leader can be, i.e. a pray-er, an organiser, a counsellor etc.

Overall I thought the book was good. An area of improvement would be a deeper theological basis for youth leadership and youth ministry in general. While a biblical theology of youth ministry is not what this book is about I continue to search for such a work. They’re hard to find, even among all the youth ministry books at the theological college I attend. 

Much of what was written applies directly to me, particularly the issue of getting right with God and staying right. I must set my heart on his ways and his agenda. This book pushes me to pray more, I don’t pray nearly enough for my leaders, my peers, my kids, or my church.

And finally, it is a book that I will recommend to fellow youth leaders. There is so much information in this book that is helpful to any leadership position, but specifically to those in youth ministry.