Youth Ministry. I know.

symc-2014-250x250Your conference budget probably turned over in January, right?

Request the money right now to go to Simply Youth Ministry Conference on Columbus, OH in March!

Quit making excuses.  There’s still plenty of time to make arrangements.  You aren’t leaving the country!  You don’t even need any special shots or pills for this trip.

I know.  You’ve been to every conference there is.  I get it.  I’ve been to a billion conferences, too.  And you’re probably right – there’s nothing really ‘new’ under the sun.

I know.  It’s Columbus.  I’m from Texas…Ohio is just some other state vaguely in the middle of the country.  And I heard it snows there…sometimes in March.  You’re probably right – not an exotic location.

I know.  It’s hard to get away.  You have to get 47 signatures to be gone, find people to cover your specific roles, find people to cover the roles you usually find people to cover for just in case someone needs covering.  And don’t even get me started on the kids and the babysitters and trying to get things ready for my wife.  You’re probably right – a lot of logistical church stuff to do.

I know.  It’s easy to sit at your desk and justify every reason on earth not to be at SYMC this year.  I also know it’s easy to sit at your desk, boring holes into your calendar through tears you are willing not to fall, simply because you’re overwhelmed.  I also know it’s easy to sit at your desk and wonder if you’re even getting any of this ministry stuff right.  Someone’s always complaining.  Some kids aren’t coming.  The ones who are coming don’t seem to get it.

I know.  It’s lonely sitting at that desk.  And that’s exactly why you need SYMC.

It’s not an exotic location at the perfect time in your schedule with guaranteed tracks that you’ve never heard before.

But it’s not lonely.  And you’re not alone.  There’s a nation of youth workers pushing back from their desks and up to the table as we embark on a week of transformation.  Wherever you find yourself and your desk this week….find your way to Simply Youth Ministry Conference.

Youth ministry.  I know.  We all do.  That’s why I want you to be there.

Simply Youth Ministry Conference in Columbus, OH, on March 7-10, 2014.

Transformation Tuesday: Mr. Bill

I’m highlighting some youth ministry ‘transformations’ each Tuesday.  (OK – who are we kidding….it doesn’t happen every Tuesday.  Stop judging me.)

I’m sharing this story from my good friend, Bill Freund, with his permission.  Sometimes youth ministry transforms kids.  And sometimes it transforms us!

IMG_6171 (1)Not everyone knows, but leaving our last church really took a toll on me personally.
I went to that church to serve alongside one of my best pastor friends.  Two years in there was a coup because a few families wanted a different style of leadership. He ended up resigning (and not letting me resign with him) and going on the mission field – where his heart is anyway. Our church hired a new pastor who, from day one, wanted a different kind of youth pastor.  Namely…younger.  Obviously, that was an unrecoverable problem for me.  I tried for 4 years to accommodate his requests save moving out of student ministry (which I was asked 3 times to do).  In my final 6 months the relationship deteriorated as I met regularly with one of the elders pleading for them to intercede. After repeated admissions of ‘we have no idea what to do’, the time came to make a change. Finally feeling the Lord’s leading (and without any job lined up), I resigned and almost before I could finish talking they hatched a plan for my departure and severance.  It seemed much easier for them to ‘know what to do’ with that than trying to find a way to help us work through our differences.
This started a period of pretty deep depression for me that I had never experienced before. I kept doing the right things but just feeling numb. To feel unwanted, primarily because of my age; left wondering if God was through with me being in youth ministry;  was I washed up?;  was my resume being tossed aside just because I’m 51?…..
God was in the process of transforming me and I wasn’t really liking it. We kept praying and seeking Him and asking for clear direction – and God answered VERY CLEARLY.  But we didn’t like the answer. God asked us to leave a community we’ve poured 23+ years of our life into (for my wife, Jean, 30+ years)??? Take Jean away from her family for the first time ever? Take our son (with Asperger Syndrome), who needs familiarity and consistency, to a new place with a zero friend base? CLEAR, but clearly not what we wanted. Like Abraham (rather than Jonah), we left our people, our family, our land and went to follow God’s leading to Castle Rock to love on students at a church there. And it came with much pain: financially we have no idea each month how we’re going to make it. Jean had some serious medical issues the first six months we were there. We struggled to find any who would volunteer to help with student ministry.  And our son ran away three times.
In the midst of this, God began doing amazing things in the lives of students – students like Kendra* & Jaqueline* who have come to know Jesus; students like Phillip* & Casey* who had been praying for months for a student ministry for them to grow deeper & wider in;  students like Alex, Brianna, Max, Liddy & JoAnna who had been cutting and are now getting help.  God is transforming and I could go on & on & on & on!~
Transformation means change & reformation.  It’s painful, yet beautiful!~
I feel like this pic depicts my new life excitement after transformation….
What’s your youth ministry story of transformation?  Let me share it!!  Shoot me an e-mail!
And if you’re in need of some transformation – check out this year’s Simply Youth Ministry Conference!  (It’s not too late!)

Transformation Tuesday

31864_401918224827_3062487_nYes – I know it’s Wednesday.  Someone doesn’t know how to accurately set his auto-publish feature.

If you read this blog much, you know I love youth ministry.  It was a life changer for me.  I was a kid who was drowning in an ocean of dysfunctional household and awkward hormones.  A youth pastor stepped into my life and God used him to change everything.  My life – my entire life – was transformed because of that relationship.

Tuesdays heretofore (whatever that means) will be dedicated to those stories of transformation.

Your story might be similar to mine – how being in a youth ministry changed you.

Maybe you’re a youth worker, and your story of transformation comes from serving students.

Perhaps you’re a senior pastor or a church janitor – I’m sure you’ll have profound stories of how youth ministry has altered you!   :)

I want to hear it!  EMAIL ME – let me share your stories of transformation.  Here’s mine:

 

My household was crazy.  My dad was pretty mean.  My mom was pretty victimized.  And we grew up seeing all of it.  Because of the impact of my grandmother and her little country church, I decided to be a Christ-follower at a pretty early age.  But as a young teenager, I found myself walking (probably tripping is more accurate – I was clumsy and growing) into a larger church that had a youth ministry – something I had never even heard of.

Most of the kids were jerks (hey – I don’t judge – it was the 80’s).  And I distinctly remember one evening after church calling my dad to see how he wanted me to get home.  He was at Elmer’s Tavern – where he was most nights – and I never thought two things about that.  Unbeknownst to me, some of the church kids had picked up another phone receiver in a different room and heard the barkeeper answer.  They descended like vultures – laughing, teasing, mocking.  It wasn’t uncommon – I was pretty awkward anyway and spent most of my time deflecting the crap my peers slung at me, church-goers or not.  Today, we’d most definitely call it bullying.  Back then, it was just kids being kids.

I left church feeling shamed and dejected.  I had kept my ‘so-called life’ out of the public eye and now everyone knew.  My family was crazy.  A lesser man would not have returned.

But the love and kindness of the youth pastor beckoned me.  I’d love to tell you it was all about Jesus and being holy.  The truth was – the leader was a man who was kind to his children and didn’t beat his wife – and that was a compelling story for me.  So I kept going.  I kept enduring the ‘cool’ kids so that I could get a glimpse of what real life could look like.  And somehow, those kids started being nicer to me.

About six months later, a confession was made.  I don’t remember the circumstances, but I’ll never forget the moment.  One of the students who had been my tireless terrorist had turned soft.  He (along with many of the kids) was befriending me.  And after Bible study one night, the truth came out.  The youth pastor had been ‘in the know’ about the night I called the tavern for my ride.  He had been watching how students were treating me all along.  This teenager confessed, “One night you were gone.  After Bible study, Mitch lambasted us and told us if we didn’t stop harassing you, you might not ever come back.  Then we found out you weren’t half bad.”

Somewhere in there I should have probably been offended.  But all I remember is how it felt to have a grown man advocate for me.  It was the first time in my life that an adult male had tried to create a safe place for me.  My life would never, ever be the same.   And I knew that God’s calling on my life would be creating that same space for teenagers.

I love Mitch Jackson.  He will always be my youth pastor.  And I am so grateful that he showed me (and all of us 80’s, snarky, apathetic, depressed teenagers) how Jesus advocates for us, loves us, holds us.  My life has been transformed.

How has youth ministry transformed your life?  Share your story!  And be a part of SYMC: Stories of Transformation!!

 

Best Thing I Heard at SYMC 2013: Day 3

figure-watering-grass1.  Water what’s strong.

Don’t waste time trying to nurse what’s dead – invest in what’s strong and allow it to overtake the weak areas.  LOVE IT!

2.  Sometimes the messenger IS the message.

Definitely sometimes the messenger enhances a message that might have otherwise been missed.

3.  I killed people in the Bible for lying to me.

Yep – God don’t mess around…so help me always be honest with you, Jesus.

4.  I don’t get carpet.

It’s a floor covering made of fiber, Matt.

5.  We shouldn’t be driven there.  We shouldn’t someday make it there.  We should start there.  (on our knees before Jesus.)

Bring me back to that place in my life, Lord, where prayer was the first thing – not the last.

6.  I am with you – even in the aftermath.

Thank God – I might even say ‘especially’ in the aftermath.

7.  God does say he care for the flowers – and they live in dirt.

God’s provision doesn’t always look the way we think it should.

8.  It’s time to focus less on the why and more on the who.

Amen!

9.  I’m flippin’ Phil Bell.

It sounds so cool with a British accent.

10.  Dad, can you help me with my NHS forms?

I’d rather do ministry with that kid (and his brothers) than any other kid on this planet!

Best Things I Heard at SYMC 2013: Day 1

desk-bell-icon1.  Wouldn’t it be great if interviews with churches were like speed dating…two words in and you could be like, “NEXT!”

Yes – yes it would….and I will most definitely be partnering with my friend who said this to write some additional blogs about what that might actually look like.  DING!  Please move on to the next one.

 

2.  Andy Blanks is a sissy-foot.

I’m just wondering if anyone has actually seen Andy Blanks, one of the founders of YM360?  ‘Sissy’ would not be in my top 360 adjectives to describe him.

 

3.  Draw a chalk circle.  Then stand in the middle of the circle and pray for revival for everyone inside the circle.

I didn’t draw the circle….yet.  But I am definitely doing the praying.  (I’ll draw the circle at home…where someone isn’t holding my credit card hostage for damages.)

 

4.  “Standing on ant hills trying to touch the stars – trying to contain the oceans in peanut butter jars.”

Awe.  Someone I used to know said ‘the word awesome should be reserved for God alone.’  Tonight, I heard that phrase in my head during this performance.  It was an amazing, nay awesome, reminder.

 

5.  “Darren, last year I was in a terrible place.  My ministry was not good and I was not good.  I came to a workshop you did on discouragement – and it changed everything.  I’m in a better place,  my ministry is thriving.  And I just thought if your encouragement to me was that profound, maybe you could use some of that, too.”

First of all – it’s a humbling honor to be able to invest in the lives of youth workers.  I marvel that God would let me do it at all, knowing fully who I am.  Second – you never know what the Holy Spirit is doing when you’re leading.  And third – God always sends the right encouragement at the right time.

As you lead students and families – remember those truths.  They’re universal no matter who the mouthpiece is — and it might just be you.

Why I Need SYMC (Simply Youth Ministry Conference)

symc 13This morning I was trying to complete some writing deadlines and thinking through my conference notes for SYMC 2013 (Indianapolis, baby!)

Truth:  I almost didn’t go to SYMC this year.

As deadlines loomed and panic rose and my heart began to cloak in the familiar blanket of ‘why does it matter’, I realized ‘This is exactly why I MUST go to SYMC this year.’

Ministry is isolating, tiring, and lonely.  It can be those things when you’re in a near-perfect situation.  It’s especially those things when you aren’t.  And I’m not.

This year depression has become my mentor.  The enemy has whispered his sour-somethings in my ear and I have listened.  I am weak.

But I can be stronger.  And I need to be.  So when you hear those rationalizations about skipping the conference, not needing the community this year, not finding space in your budget…..that’s exactly why you need to come.

And today’s the last day to do so at a discount.  Register for SYMC.  I need to be there – and I’d love to be there with you.

Real Stories from SYMC #1

You.

Did you make it?  Are you on your way?  Are you sitting in a pre-conference retreat as we speak?  Are you unloading your luggage from the airport carousel, gassing up the car, checking in at the hotel, wandering the bookstore, or searching for the Soul Care venue?  Have you met some amazing people already?  Maybe Sherri, Liz, or Matty at registration – maybe Stephanie at the IT3 booth, Mike in the Connect Group arena, Ana at the airport, or Troy coordinating volunteers – maybe you’ve met Andy, Rick, Brian, Kerensa, or 100 other people who have been watching for you.  SYMC is FOR youth workers – and we’re glad you’re here…whether you are in the venue or watching online.  Because the best SYMC story of all is yours!!  

If we haven’t met you yet – we want to.  Pick a person – any person – introduce yourself.  Begin building relationships – connecting with hearts that beat like yours, minds that think like yours, Spirits that soar like yours when you express your youth ministry calling!

Thank you for coming – I cannot WAIT to get to know you.  If we miss one another (there are a LOT of youth workers here!!), find me on Facebook, Twitter, or darrensutton.com.