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!!

 

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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.)

What’s in a Name?

name-tagSo what’s in a name?  Turns out…a whole lot.  Especially at church.

I don’t know about most – but I am AWFUL at remembering names.  Meredith, a girl in my last student ministry, was actually Kelsey.   Oops.  I think I called her Meredith for eight months….WITH HER CORRECTING ME EVERY SINGLE TIME!  Names matter – and so we MUST know them.  (I have a LOT more capital letters in this post than usual!)

Recently, I’ve been working with some students in a ministry who don’t know one another very well.  So each week, we spend about 20 minutes or so just ‘meeting’ each other.  For some students, it’s the very first time they have even spoken to one another.  Last night, it occurred to me – we’re spending a lot of moments hearing about family, school, even favorite foods – but do they even know one another’s names?

Turns out some leaders assumed all the students knew the names of their ‘friends’ because the leaders all knew everyone.  Most of the students knew the adult leader and the person sitting next to them – and no one else.

We tell students that Jesus loves them and knows them and wants a relationship with them.  How does that translate when no one even knows their name??  Make space for students to TRULY meet one another.  And make an effort to know their names….

10 Things Parents Wish They Heard from Youth Pastors

parentsI grabbed my issue of Group Magazine yesterday and read it cover to cover for the first time in a long time (thank you, electrical outage).  Each issue has a Top 10 list – and this issue was Top 10 Things Youth Pastors Wish They Heard from Parents.  It got me thinking… (smell the smoke)?

Parents hear a lot of stuff from youth workers….sometimes junk they wish they hadn’t heard!  Here are ten things I bet parents wish they heard from youth pastors:

10.   Your kid is awesome – you’re doing a great job with him!

9.  Parenting is tough.  I don’t know how you do it!

8.  They grow out of more than their clothes.  Don’t worry – this will pass.

7.  What can I do for you?

6.  Your kid said something great about you last night and I wanted you to know.

5.  I know things have been tough.  Here’s a scholarship for our next event.

4.  I read this Bible verse and thought of you.  (Just make sure it isn’t ‘Jesus wept’ or something equally ‘communicative’.)

3.  We’d love to have your family over for dinner this week.  How’s Tuesday look for you?

2.  Thank you for allowing me the privilege of speaking into your family’s life.

1.  Can I pray for you?  (And then, actually pray for them….right then.)

I have heard a few of these things from our youth pastor.  I have said a few of these things as the youth pastor.  What would you add to the list?

Where Are They Now?

337_549927763798_344_nMeet Jake and Nicole…two grown ups I had the privilege of knowing as teenagers.  These high school sweethearts are now raising kids of their own, navigating the challenges of marriage, parenthood, careers, and all the things that smell so sweet as students…but really just stink of sweat, blood, and tears once you get there.

This week, Jake and Nicole passed through Corpus Christi (well, sort of….they actually detoured through Corpus) so we could have lunch together.  It’s always such an honor to spend a few minutes wading through the adult lives of teenagers who kept the faith and are walking it well.  And though their faithfulness to Him has everything to do with who they are and the investment made by their parents, there are a few things youth workers can do to help develop students who remain committed to Christ into their adulthood.

1.  Give them space to ask questions….and wrestle out their own answers.  (Even if those answers don’t always run parallel to your own.)

2.  Create room for REAL friendships that thrive on accountability and challenge.  (That means more than pizza, basketball, and Bible study.)

3,  Affirm and bless what you see.  (Your influence MUST go beyond a fist bump and stupid joke.)

4.  Make opportunities to serve.  (Both inside and outside your church – and then ask them about those opportunities.)

5.  Underestimate your influence.  (It’s always the work of the Holy Spirit that draws students into relationship with Himself!)

As we finished up our much-too-short visit, I thanked Jake for buying lunch.  (They rarely do that when they’re teenagers!)  He said something like “You paid for that meal years ago.”‘

No, Jake, those days were just redeemed by God – and I am beyond grateful that I just got to see God do His thing….

Appendicitis Proves Students Can Lead

feature5_3Students can lead.  Everything.  It probably won’t be as polished, perfect, or theologically sound as what you bring to the table, but your students can do it!

They’re fully capable of planning, executing, and evaluating Disciple Now.  They can lead a Bible study, small group, or accountability team.  They can be responsible for Vacation Bible School, church hospitality, or offering collection. 

Trust me.  If your appendix ruptured and you spent weeks in recovery, your student ministry could continue as though you were never missed….hypothetically speaking, of course.

Students can do more than run your media presentation or play in the student band.  I’ve had students do all of the above – yes, including running an entire student ministry for six weeks in my untimely absence.  And before you assume it was a small church with just a few kids – we had over 100 students in Sunday morning small groups, a full-blown weekly evangelism rally, Wednesday night discipleship studies and several accountability groups that were meeting weekly.  Students did everything in my absence.  Everything.

How do you make that happen, Darren??

  1. Give them space to do it.  Provide coaching and direction, but don’t spoon feed them.  Give them some room to make it their own.  (Probably the same way someone coached you through your first ministry experiences.)
  2. Let them fail.  Before my students succeeded, they had plenty of opportunities to not get the powerpoints done or forget to enter attendance records, or do a 40 minutes study in six minutes.  I walked alongside them in failure, pulled the rip-cord only when I absolutely had to, and kept coaching them toward success.
  3. Let them succeed.  By that, I mean success takes time.  Don’t give them one slight responsibility and never let them do anything else.  Give them time to lead so they can see success when it comes.  And when it comes, let it take root by allowing them to continue developing in leadership roles.
  4. Don’t pull rank.  It could have been really easy to say ‘Well, I’m in the hospital and this is a big church and there’s a lot going on and we need to have an adult in charge blabbity blah blah blah.”  We didn’t call the grown-ups to come in and save the day.  I knew our students could do it.  So we had some adults who stood in as pinch-hitters if needed….and the kids did everything.  (By the way, that’s as much a testimony to my pastor’s leadership as mine.)

Kids lead when we let them.  It takes some coaching, leading, and cleaning up.  But it’s worth it.

What are you doing to allow your students to lean into leadership?