They Loved Me – They Really Loved Me.

springhillI spent a week at 5th and 6th grade camp.  I think I’ve done that almost every year since I WAS a 5th and 6th grader.

As I walked down the hill from my cabin last night, I could hear sponsors trying to call the kids to order; trying to herd those cats into their respective cages. And just like that, I was transported back to Spring Bluff.  The ringing of the bell meant it was time to head to the next thing.  And the flashlight of Brother Bill signaled how much trouble we were in for being out of our cabins!

Brother Bill – a true saint departed – roamed those grounds all night with his flashlight…sometimes masquerading as the pitching mound on the baseball field as the moon reflected from his rotund, white T-shirt clad midsection.  He roamed because he loved us.

Mitch and Cindy – our ‘parents’ in almost every sense of the word – allowed us each a small glimpse of a healthy happy family, whether we needed it or not.  They laughed with us.  They cried with us.  And now that I’m a youth pastor, I know how much they prayed for us.  They prayed because they loved us.

Larry, Julian, Burt, David, and 100 other partners in crime – my youth group ‘posse’ – tolerated, tortured, and sometimes teased….more than any of us ever should have.  And we listened to each other.  We listened because we loved.

And that small, round older lady – our ninja grandma whose name I cannot recall but whose face I still see clearly – made us clean our own tables, do the dishes again if we did a bad job, threatened us with a wooden spoon when we needed it, and treated every condition we ever had with water, band-aids, patience and a fierce kindness.  She bossed because she loved.

I don’t remember a single camp theme.  I no longer have any of the awards I got (not even Mr. Underpants…or whatever it was.)  I can’t even remember how many times I went to church camp as a kid.  What I do remember?  Those people loved me.  THEY changed my life forever.  Because they loved me.  And when you spend a week at camp, you become a lover who changes lives.  Never forget the role you play…it can rewrite legacies.

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Youth Ministry Tips I got from the Grammys

sara-bareilles-carole-king-grammys-brave-beautiful-mashup-at-grammys-2014-videoI love me a good awards show.  It doesn’t matter if I’m ‘into’ what’s being awarded or not.  (Like half the awards shows I watch I don’t even know what they’re for!!)  I like to watch so I can smack-talk the whole time.  One day, I want to have my own ‘can you believe she wore that’ show on some second-rate cable channel.

So, last night, I dutifully tuned in to the Grammys.  And I spent ample time on Facebook being silly and making jokes and marveling at the fact that Metallica got old and Willie Nelson is still alive.

But I also took away an amazing word-picture of what I believe most churches are missing in their youth ministries.

The Grammys has taken to some pretty amazing live performance mash-ups.  Techno with balladeers.  Concert pianists with metal heads.  Rap stars with rock stars.

But one of the more poignant performances in last night’s show was given by an old/new mash-up. Sara Bareilles joined forces with Carole King and gave us this amazing performance.  At the end of the performance, Ms. Bareilles is very obviously enraptured with this music icon and honored to have played alongside her.

We’re missing that in youth ministry when:

a) We just throw curriculum in the hands of leaders and say ‘teach this’.  Every leader has an experience to share – an expertise to wield – a story to pass down.  Make sure you teach them how to do that – and then give them space to do it!

b)  We only use one age group to lead.  It’s a knee-jerk reaction to assume that only 20-somethings and few hipster 30’s can get the youth ministry job done.  Age is a crown of glory – and if we aren’t utilizing leaders from every generation, we aren’t doing church biblically.

c)  We get caught up in our current culture and dismiss the cultures that have come before.  One of the most beautiful (and sometimes strange) parts of the 2014 Grammys were the unusual duets and trios comprised of artists from seemingly opposed musical genres.  It was a little messy at times – but it made for some very compelling performances and an awards show that was one of the best concerts I have ever seen.  To do less in our youth ministries is very one directional.  (pun definitely intended.)

So take a youth ministry lesson from the Grammys – and enlist a grammy or granddad to participate in the student ministry.  Mix it up.  Make a beautiful mess.  And see if your students don’t respond a lot like Sara did at the end of her riffs with Carole – giddy, enthralled, and amazed!

10 REAL Secrets to Being an Unforgettable Youth Pastor

????????????????????????????????????????So, yeah, in case you missed it…that list from Monday.  Farce.  Not real.  Don’t do it.  Try these instead.

10.  Invest in parents.  They’re the most important spiritual influence their kids have (good or bad).  And most are desperately trying to hold their heads above water.

9.  Know your pastor.  Chances are, no one is ministering to him/her.  Maybe you are here for such a time as this.

8.  Balance mercy and justice.  Students need grace, but they also need guidelines.  Giving them both, with love, is a non-negotiable.

7.  Set boundaries for your family.  Not everyone will like that – but they’re all watching to see how your family ‘rates’ in your life.  It could be the most teachable moment you ever offer them.

6.  Invest in getting better, not smarter.  Regardless of how you pursue continuing education, make sure it’s sharpening your skills, not just your intellect.  (Nothing worse than a youth leader who knows all the answers, but has no idea how to deliver them!)

5.  Never go over budget.  Period.  We prefer the term frugal over cheap.

4.  Be seen.  The whole world is a red carpet and you are Lady Gaga.  Football games, grocery stores, and the church office.

3.  Guard your heart.  Though most will never know directly the accountability measures you set for your life, they’ll sure find out if you fail to have any.

2.  Sabbath.  Wherever you can for as long as you can.  Which if you’re being unforgettable in a lot of other ways, may not be much…and only in the bathroom.

1.  Love students.  People notice it.  And then they catch it.  And that’s when you truly become most memorable….

Teenagers are More Than Texting

twitter-logo-breakAt some undetermined point, many adults decided that students were little more than texting, tweeting Youtubers with personalities as deep as their abbreviated phrases and problems as serious as trying to fit a thought into 140 characters.

Have you spent some time with them?

That may be what you get on the surface – but if you spend, oh, I don’t know, an hour a week with them for six weeks — by week seven you’re getting all the depth and emotion and hurt and amazing they have to offer.

But many adults won’t go that far.  They’ll have one…maybe two conversations at best.  And then they’ll make a  judgment and walk away.

Worse yet are the adults who don’t walk away – but who never talk any deeper than 140 character thoughts on sports or grades..  And the students who hang out with them week after week after week sit in silence.  Plastic smiles.  Laughter void of joy,  Pain.  And we play another game.  We ask another pointless question.  We slap them on the back and wish them well.

It’s a disgusting indictment worthy of a millstone.  (And yes, I wrote that in less than 140 characters.)

Be Flexible, Not Ill Prepared

maverick_airtime1So, I’ll say it!  My favorite ‘F’ word in youth ministry is flexibility.  I like to keep things ‘off-kilter’ a little bit.  When things get too routine, too familiar, I like to mix it up.  Sometimes, I throw ‘planned wrenches’ into the plan just to orient my leaders to embrace change.

But LOTS of youth ministers say they’re flexible, when really what they are is lazy, unproductive, or unprepared.

Flexibility is NOT waiting until Wednesday afternoon to prep your Wednesday night talk.  It’s not an excuse for not planning ahead or preparing adequately.

Here are a few ways to be INTENTIONALLY flexible – because sometimes stuff happens and you’ll have to be.

1.  Always have a ‘break glass in case of fire’ Bible study prepped and ready.  I use my trusty Interlinc boxes for such a time as this.  Each box is labeled with the theme contained inside – and inside are all necessary supplies, pre-written notes, and a Bible (just in case.)

2.  Keep generally used supplies on hand….and by on hand, I mean make sure you have a key to the children’s ministry supply closet – you KNOW they have everything in there.  It’s probably where Al Capone’s hidden fortunes all reside– since we know kids ministry gets all the money.   :)

3.  Never panic in front of people.  It’s OK to take a moment to gather your thoughts.  Flexibility can turn into the other ‘f’ word if you leap before you look.  If something goes awry, simply take a few minutes and gather your thoughts, seek counsel from other leaders, make a quick plan of action, and implement it.

4.  If the need for flexibility comes from a mistake or a plan not well-thought through, evaluate that following up after the event, study, plan, etc.  Flexibility is fun, but it shouldn’t happen because of repeated mistakes.

5.  Prepare in advance.  Check the van.  Know the calendar.  Have some contingencies.  Embrace the opportunity for flexibility when it comes because you were fully prepared ahead of time.

Flexibility can be fun or it can be frightening, kind of like a roller coaster…planning ahead and keeping a cool head is your personal lap bar.

Why Project Runway’s Heidi Klum Would Be a Great Youth Worker

pr9-timandheidiReality television star and super model Heidi Klum is one of my favorite people on Lifetime’s Project Runway.  (Obviously…she’s the only reason most guys watch that show!)

My middle son and I watch every week – and the rest of the family endures.  I have a few good friends, like Stephanie Caro, who watch with me in absentia through text exclamations and criticisms.  (We should seriously be fan-judges on the next season!)

Last week, after a particularly poignant moment with the show’s mentor, Tim Gunn, Stephanie and I decided he would make a great youth leader.  She expounded on that idea here!

But as I watched this week, I realized he isn’t the only potential youth worker on that show.  Heidi would be a great youth worker, as well.

1.  Heidi gives clear and understandable expectations at the beginning of every show.  She succinctly lays out the parameters for each challenge.  And while your students might give push back with boundaries, it’s one way they know they are loved.

2.  Heidi clearly uses her expertise in fashion to honestly share truth with the designers in an effort to help them become better.  She never pulls punches or waters down fashion sense for fear of hurting someone’s feelings.  The Truth youth workers wield is poised to help them be better.  They don’t get there if we water that down.

3.  That said – she never gets personal – and she’s never rude.  She has found the perfect balance of disagreeing with a designer’s choices while honoring them as a designer.  Students can learn to respect a youth leader who can disagree with them without denigrating them.

3.  Heidi says ‘you suck’ with a smile – and then lets the designers know they are loved with a kiss.  Sometimes we have to say hard things to students.  They can receive it when it comes in love.

And face it, Heidi is gorgeous.  Do you know how many boys you’d have in your youth ministry if she was one of your youth leaders??!

Remembering 9/11

Two years after writing this…I still watch with horror as events unfolded that day and stand with pride as heroes unfurled.

Everyone's Called to Youth Ministry

As a kid, I thought it was weird when the grown-ups in my life talked about where they were when JFK was assassinated.  I mean, why was that etched in the memory?  I could understand the first moon walk, the invention of television, or their first Farrah-do.  But why something that was so awful?

Then, as a teenager – I watched the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster unfold right in front of my eyes.  It was terrible – and I remember.  And I started to understand how national tragedy impacts a people….

Enter 9/11.  I remember a lady from my church meeting me in the parking lot…I remember my wife calling and asking me to come home…I remember opening our church for prayer and people weeping as they cried out to God…it’s as fresh to me today as it was 10 years ago.

I cannot watch video from that day without…

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