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.


Someone Told Me I Wasn’t a Pastor Anymore

paycheck1Last week, someone informed me that because I no longer received a paycheck from the church, I was no longer a pastor.

And I guess in the broadest sense of things, that’s right.  Katie and I have been searching for the right church for a long time now – and I haven’t received a paycheck from the church during that entire time.  So if receiving a paycheck defines a call….then I guess I am no longer a pastor.

But I happen to believe being a pastor is more about a call and less about a job.

Being a pastor means taking the middle-of-the-night phone calls of despair.  Yep….still do that.

Being a pastor means having hard conversations with people who ‘don’t wanna hear it.’   Check.

Being a pastor means helping folks see Jesus better, understand Him more completely, love Him better.  Ummmm…..yes.

Right now, my paycheck is illusive.  That doesn’t make me a magician.  (Although, sometimes when all the bills are paid, I do wonder if that might be the next career path for me!)

I am a pastor.  And whether or not I ever see another paycheck from a church, I will always be that.  God created me with that heart.  Ministry is NOT just a job….unless it is.  And if it is, I say to you — you know you can make a lot more money with a lot less heart-ache doing something else, right?

If you’re a pastor -BE THAT – in whatever context (and with whatever paycheck) you find yourself.

Environment Communicates!

2-1-3532-6th-and-Union-Starbucks-Merchandise-Wall-Sept-11-11I’m at Starbucks.  It’s Pumpkin-Spice Latte season….did you know that?  Our pediatrician was in here this morning grabbing his fix.  In and out and on his way to do rounds.

Just down the bench from me is a family of eight.  EIGHT!   (Don’t they know what’s causing that??!)  I think the eldest child is about six.  The back-up barista took six orders in the time it took that family to navigate the pastry counter.   They are enjoying a fabulous family date.

My usual table is occupied by a college student.  She’s reviewing flash cards.

As I plugged in my ghetto laptop (because my battery has decided to vacation in the Bahamas….permanently), they guy in the Adidas ball cap showed me where to plug in.  He’s still cruising the internet….or something stealthy.  He’s super-secretive about his screen….and wearing all black.  Maybe he’s a spy.

Two guys who are too young to be old timers are sitting at the bar.  They’re talking with the barista and feigning interest in the newspaper….which feels antiquated at their age, I’m sure.  A Google app would probably be more their speed for information consumption.  Yet – they sit.

Who is hanging around your local coffee shop.  More importantly, why?

I’m here because it’s clean.  The sales shelved look more like artwork.  They use my name when I order here…and usually spell it right.  The patio is expansive – and someone is tending to it all the time.  The pastries are fresh.  When I walk in, this place beckons me to sit.  I’m welcomed here….if only for a moment or one of those marathon writing days (like today.)

Contrast that with the room where I teach Sunday school.  Three stacks of additional chairs say ‘Hey – don’t sit down….this is a storage room.’  The way-too-tan, totally blank walls scream ‘Oh my gosh, this is gonna be sooooo boring.’  The chairs circling every wall invite folks into group therapy.  And the ripped up, cob-webbed, award bibles look less like awards and more like props from the haunted house down the street.

I cleaned up that mess yesterday….because environments communicate.  What do yours say?

Create Student Leaders

program-guide-2The leaders in student leaders have developed this handy resource to help you be better at what you do!  Thanks, Leader Treks!

Growing Student Leaders is about developing students into leaders who own their faith and live out the ministry. We all agree leadership is important, but how do you actually develop students into leaders?

This free resource provides two proven strategies for how to create a culture of leadership development, walking you through the process in your own ministry context. Through either leadership teams or one-on-one leadership mentoring, you’ll be able to put in place a program that will move non-leaders to leaders.

Now is the time to develop students into leaders. LeaderTreks wants to partner with you to make that happen. We understand leadership development and the importance of it in youth ministry, and we’ll be with you every step of the way. You can download Growing Student Leaders for free at

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….

More Than a Cool #hashtag

cowtagYouth ministry needs to slay its sacred cows.

Youth workers gripe to high heaven about how church leaders are stuck in a rut.  I’m wondering when we’ll ever take a serious look at our own pavement.

Maybe it’s gone unnoticed, but the worship movement….not really connecting with the Millennial generation in a true and meaningful way.  Oh – and the props and backdrops we spend so much time and energy on….usually unnoticed beyond the cursory glance.  And youth ‘talks’?  Don’t even get me started.  Those aren’t talks…because talking implies conversation — and usually, we’re the only ones doing the talking.  They’re sermons.  We need to end the pastor-practicing and start engaging in conversation.

The days of hip, cool youth ministry are dead – because Millennials have actually made space for everyone at the table.  They don’t care if it’s hip, awesome, entertaining, excellent, or quippy.  (Actually, they do kind of enjoy quippy.)  But what they embrace most is authenticity, respect, conversation, community, relationship and the greater cause.

Sadly, many youth ministries are so busy riding our sacred cows….we aren’t even in the same pasture.  As long as we hashtag it…we’re good.

I’d love to see a youth ministry throw it all out and start from scratch.  Retool how worship gets accomplished….maybe it’s a little more scriptural than ‘relevant music’ and ‘youth bands’.  Maybe it’s life change.  I’d love to see sermons morph from one-way pipelines of information to a flood of honest, uncloaked conversations.  I’d love to see rooms more focused toward one another than the staging area…eliminating the need to props and backdrops.  I know – maybe we actually put something tangible and touchable within the grasp of students that might cause them to think, grapple, question, or reinforce.  And if we’re going to use hashtags for real – let’s make them something that matters, not just a tool for social promotion.

Someone has said ‘sacred cows make the best burgers.’  FALSE!  That meat is rancid and covered in maggots.  Just throw it out.

Straight Talk for New Youth Pastors 2

eric ebbLast week, I ran across this post from my friend and colleague, Eric.  Eric’s a youth pastor in Colorado – and he packs a wallop of wisdom in this short little post for up and coming youth pastors.  Take a look – get to know Eric – and examine your heart.  (I have posted this with Eric’s permission.)

Can I express a frustration I’m feeling right now without sounding like a jerk? Which may potentially be unavoidable. But I’ve just had a series of conversations with present and former youth pastors that have left me upset and disappointed in our collective cohort.

It is my understanding that there are some ministry students in this group. These next 3 things are points that I’ve learned in 13 years of youth ministry and wish I would have known as a student as well.

1.  If we are not passionate about seeing teens become champions for Christ and excel through graduation instead of simply using youth ministry as a cop-out from joining the workforce or a stepping stone to being a senior pastor or other church staff position it’s time to back out now. Something may well come along later that YM prepared you for, but the intention of coasting through YM for the purpose of building your resume is shallow and selfish.

2.  If youth ministry isn’t something you would do as a volunteer with no pay outside of the reward of seeing students “get it” the job won’t be easier if we’re doing it for a paycheck.

3.  If you’re struggling with personal life and faith issues and/or secret sins working those problems out on your teen followers is not “doing life together,” it is clouding their understanding of the gospel. Fix it BEFORE entering ministry, these things don’t magically go away after you go full-time. That’s it for now.