Category Archives: every youth worker needs

Every Youth Worker Needs: Supportive Leadership

(Youth ministry is not an easy ministry. And in this series, Every Youth Worker Needs:…, I want to highlight a variety of things that might make your ministry a little easier. This ongoing series will include ministry tips, book suggestions, technology helps, and many other nuggets of advice.)

Being a lead youth worker, paid or volunteer, is a very demanding position. You have to make many decisions every day, some that will affect the students for years to come. Sometimes, you do not get time to think about what you need to do, you just have to act. Other times, you have several days, at the least, to think through how best to handle a situation. But no matter how minor or monumental your decision is, you need to have leadership that will support you through it all.

Having supportive leadership does not mean that the other ministers and elders will agree with everything you suggest. Nor does it mean that you will pursue everything you want to. It does mean that you have the ability to discuss ideas openly and freely, knowing they will do what they can to provide the guidance and support you need. This might mean that when you suggest an idea, they gently encourage you to think of another option. Or it will mean that they agree with your suggestion, and encourage you to continue with implementing it.

But the real advantage of supportive leadership comes after a new program is started or another one is ended. Supportive leaders will listen to people’s opinions and respond without degrading your decision. They will also try to help bring clarity and understanding to those who are opposed to something within the youth ministry. A supportive leader will not talk negatively of you, your ability to minister, or the ministry. Anything to the contrary would have already been handled behind “closed doors” and will not be discussed in public.

When a youth worker has supportive leaders, there are 2 crucial changes that occur within the mind of the youth worker: confidence and courage.

Disclaimer: Before I delve into these 2 changes, allow me to say that I firmly believe that God is the one who changes hearts, not the youth worker.

1. Confidence.
I have found from my experience that no matter how much a youth worker strives to follow God’s leading it does not always lead to leading with confidence. You can feel confident that you are following God, but struggle to lead with the same confidence. No matter how “on track” with God you are, when you do not have supportive leadership, you struggle with second guesses and insecurities.

It’s not that you do not believe in the future of the ministry, but you are not confident others will see it the same way. And when you lack the support of the leadership, you can begin to wonder if a change in the ministry will lead to making people upset – which could lead to the leadership deciding it is time for you to move on. The opposite is also true, though. When you are following God’s leading AND backed by the support of the congregational leadership, then you have the confidence to face the obstacles and naysayers head on. You can face them head on because you know that you are not the only person who wants to see the ministry thrive. As your confidence grows, you must keep yourself from becoming arrogant, this level of over-confidence will lead to conflict with the leadership and will likely lead to more damage than you want to handle.

2. Courage.
Besides gaining confidence to handle the post-decision discussions with people, a supportive leadership allows the youth worker to lead with courage. When youth workers have the support of the leaders, they are willing to try new things and take more risks within the youth ministry. You do not have to feel apprehensive about the unknown outcome when you know you will not be facing it alone.

Leading a ministry means you are out in front of those you are leading. And sometimes leading a ministry is scary, but when you have the support of the leadership you do not feel as scared. You should always be following God’s lead in your ministry, but even following God does not mean you do not feel scared. Working with supportive leadership helps a youth worker maintain the courage to make decisions based on God’s leading, not the people’s reactions.

Are you working with supportive leadership?
If you are not, what can you do to move in that direction?
Have you showed your leadership how thankful you are for their support?

(Every Youth Worker Needs: A Blog Series About Things You Need in Youth Ministry)

Every Youth Worker Needs: to be able to write postcards

(Youth ministry is not an easy ministry. And in this series, Every Youth Worker Needs:…, I want to highlight a variety of things that might make your ministry a little easier. This ongoing series will include ministry tips, book suggestions, technology helps, and many other nuggets of advice.)

Most students seem to have one preferred method of communication – text messaging. Many students (as well as adults) use their cell phones to send more text messages then to make phone calls. I know several students who spend 100% of their time on their cell phone just sending text messages. The youth culture is becoming (some areas have already become) focused on instant communication sent using technology. This attachment to technology is exactly the reason why every youth worker needs to be able to write a postcard.

The goal is to regularly connect with students and parents through a postcard. Remember that what you write on one side can (and will) be read by many more people than just the intended audience.

Benefits of writing postcards
1. Shorter length.
A postcard only has a little room for the message, so you do not feel pressure to write more than a paragraph. This allows you to focus on one key point. There will be times that you struggle to even write a postcard, imagine how you would feel if you needed to fill an entire page. You can keep your message short and not feel the need to stretch it out just to fill a certain space.

2. Shows importance.
A written postcard shows the recipient that they are important enough for you to take the extra time to hand write the note and not just send an email. People are accustomed to receiving emails, text messages, and phone calls. Taking the time to do a little extra will reinforce that the person has value as an individual. Writing a postcard is a great way to rise above the normal.

3. Big impact.
Writing a postcard does not take a lot of time; therefore, you get a lot of impact for a small amount of work. You can write three or four postcards in 15 minutes, but the impact will last for years. Remember that emails are quickly deleted or left to collect digital dust, but a hand-written postcard will be kept by most students. And when they find your postcard while cleaning up their room, they will remember more than just the words written – they will remember your impact.

Tips on writing postcards
1. Use printed address labels.
I have found that using printed address labels for most postcards does not take away from the personal touch. (Plus if you are the lead youth worker – making these labels available to your team makes it even easier for them to write postcards.) You can print both the recipient’s label and the return address label or you can just print the return address label. Using labels saves a few minutes and helps you keep track of who you have and haven’t sent postcards to lately.

2. Use 4×6 pictures as the postcard.
People love to see pictures of themselves. Why not, turn a picture into a postcard? This works great when you are writing about a specific event. Not only are you able to speak into the person’s life, but you are also giving them a very tangible memento. Before digital cameras became so popular, it was fairly easy to just use one of your extra printed pictures. Today, you have to go and purposely have the picture printed. This might seem like extra work, but I think it allows you the ability to choose a great picture (and the ability to edit it when needed).

3. Find funny or unique postcards.
Using pictures of the students is great, but sending funny postcards can be just as good. When you are traveling, keep an eye out for unusual postcards. Find postcards with funny pictures that remind you of a student or two. You can find some great postcards at very touristy stores. My favorite postcard was bought from a Hallmark that was going out of business. It said “welcome” on the front and looked like a miniature version of a welcome mat, complete with artificial green grass. I used it to send to visiting students as a follow-up to their visiting our group.

4. Block out time to write.
Schedule time each week to write a few postcards to different students. I have found that if I do not plan on writing notes to students, it will get pushed off. The more I push this task to the bottom of my “to-do” list, the more unlikely I am to do it at all. The easiest way to block out time to write postcards is to find fifteen minutes in your schedule each week. It might be right before your weekly staff meeting, first thing Monday morning, or after you get back from lunch. It does not matter when you schedule postcard time, but you do need to make time for it.

5. Track each sent postcard.
Keep track of who you send each postcard to. I use a printed sheet with each student’s name, but you can use excel or another youth tracking software, too. You can track on a monthly basis, but make sure you keep your old records. Use this information to make sure you write at least one postcard to every student on a regular basis. Along with postcards, make sure you are making other contacts with the students and their families.

6. Be specific.
Write an encouraging message or talk about something you saw them do. Do NOT use the postcard to simply promote an upcoming event. This shows that you are more concerned with their attendance than anything else. It is much more effective to keep the note simple and related to one specific event, action, or attitude.

Hand-written postcards are a great youth ministry tool. When was the last time you sent one?

(Every Youth Worker Needs: A Blog Series About Things You Need in Youth Ministry)

Every Youth Worker Needs: a book genre reading list (or part 2)

(Youth ministry is not an easy ministry. And in this series, Every Youth Worker Needs:…, I want to highlight a variety of things that might make your ministry a little easier. This ongoing series will include ministry tips, book suggestions, technology helps, and many other nuggets of advice.)

Yesterday I said that every youth worker needed to read a variety of literature. Today, I am offering my list of suggested genres that every youth worker should consider reading. Included with each genre is a list of good books that I have read, in case you need something more specific, to help you get started.

1. Leadership
Visioneering by Andy Stanley
Fish by Lundin, Paul, Christensen
The Generosity Factor by Ken Blanchard and Truett Cathy
Choosing to Cheat by Andy Stanley
Mazimizing Your Effectiveness by Aubrey Malphurs
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
The Dip by Seth Godin

2. General Ministry
Church Staff Handbook by Harold Westing
One Size Doesn’t Fit All by Gary McIntosh
Multiple Staff and the Larger Church by Lyle Schaller
In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen

3. Youth Ministry
Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries (my review)
Purpose Driven Youth Ministry by Doug Fields
Junior High Ministry by Wayne Rice
Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry by Doug Fields
Hurt by Chap Clark

4. Fiction/Classics
The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy (looks at death & dying)
Blink by Ted Dekker
Bleachers by John Grisham
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Hadden

5. Theology/Biblical Study
Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics by Walter Kaiser and Moises Silva
60-Second Guide to Denominations by Shelly Steig
Simply Christian by N.T. Wright (my review)
Called to Worship by Vernon Whaley (my review)
Hidden Worldviews by Steve Wilkens and Mark Sanford

6. Christian Living
Unquenchable Worshipper by Matt Redman
Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald
Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconell
Soul Survivor by Mike Pilavachi
Restoring Margin to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson & Karen Lee-Thorp

7. Books that make you think
Addiction and Grace by Gerald May
flashBANG by Mark Steele
Me, Myself, and Bob by Phil Vischer (my review)
free refill by Mark Atteberry
Culture Making by Andy Crouch (my review)
Signature Sins by Michael Mangis

8. Humor
– since we all laugh at different things, I’m going to let you find your own books that cause you to chuckle. But you do need to make sure you include this into your reading rotation.

If you need any other ideas, you can find some while browsing through the book reviews from this blog.

(Every Youth Worker Needs: A Blog Series About Things You Need in Youth Ministry)

Every Youth Worker Needs: to read a variety of books

(Youth ministry is not an easy ministry. And in this series, Every Youth Worker Needs:…, I want to highlight a variety of things that might make your ministry a little easier. This ongoing series will include ministry tips, book suggestions, technology helps, and many other nuggets of advice.)

It was not until I was in college that I began to enjoy reading books. While I always completed the required reading, I never read anything else in high school. But sometime early in my college career my love of books was birthed. I believe my acquired fascination with books stemmed from my ability to read books on topics I liked, or maybe I just matured enough to want to learn. Either way, I began to read more books and enjoy the process of reading to learn.

In college, there is so much required reading, you do not have much opportunity to read what you want. So when I started as a full-time youth minister, I thought I would read all of the books I never read, but now wanted to read. I wanted to read books on leadership, ministry, youth ministry, marriage, adolescent development, classic literature, and anything else that peeked my interest. Unfortunately, I found one thing to be true: I did not have any more time to read everything I wanted to then I did in college.

After realizing I could not possibly read everything, I came up with an idea of how I could read the most variety. I would rotate through a list of different genres. Instead of reading multiple youth ministry books in a row, I would rotate from youth ministry to leadership to marriage to ministry, and so on. I never limited myself to a fixed rotation, but allowed flexibility to pick and choose. My main goal was to maintain a variety in the information I was reading. This goal generated from my belief that many people in business, leadership, or ministry were stuck in a book rut. I was seeing a trend where only a few books were getting read and talked about. If a book was popular, it was read, almost regardless of whether the person wanted to read it next or not. All books have the biggest readership within the first few months of release, but the “best sellers” stay on top because of this “bandwagon reading.” As you watch what books are being read and talked about, you will notice that it happens with anyone from business executives to stay-at-home mothers.

I am not saying it is wrong to read a book because someone told you it was good. That would be hypocritical of me, since I read and review books for this blog and for Youth Specialties. What I am saying is that I believe youth workers can pigeon-hole themselves into a certain mentality and focus because you only read a narrow spectrum of books. The way you minister is based on a collection of influences, including any mentors, ministry classes you took, conferences and seminars you have attended and the books you have read. If you only read and listen to one method of ministry, you will never question if there is another way to reach students and share God’s love. And while you cannot change anything you have learned in the past, you have the ability to choose the books that will influence you in the present.

A few years ago I realized it was not the amount of books that help a youth worker stay sharp, there needs to be variety, as well. As I looked at my “books read” list, I discovered something – my list revolved around one or two main genres (youth ministry and leadership). I needed more variety and I bet you do too. Think about it in terms of your eating habits and nutritional intake. A person cannot eat only Jiffy peanut butter and stay nutritionally healthy. You will not be properly nourished if you refuse to drink milk. But what about people who have allergies? If that is what you are thinking, you have just taken this illustration too far. (No one is allergic to any genre of literature.) But the point can be made that even when you do not eat certain foods high in vitamins, you will supplement by taking daily vitamins. We understand the importance of receiving the vitamins (what is inside the food) even if we do not like the food itself. Yet, youth workers do not always realize the importance of reading a variety of literature in order to obtain knowledge on varying topics.

To the best of my knowledge, there are no knowledge vitamins we can take to supplement our lack of varied reading. No, the only way to gain this assortment of information is to read a variety of books. I have come up with a list of genres I think every youth worker needs to add to their reading rotation, and will post this list tomorrow. Before we get to the genres, allow me to say this: I know you may not be able to read three books from each genre each year. I am not trying to suggest that. What I am suggesting is that you use this list as a starting point and refuse to read two same-genre books in a row.

(Every Youth Worker Needs: A Blog Series About Things You Need in Youth Ministry)

Every Youth Worker Needs: Less Sarcasm

(Youth ministry is not an easy ministry. And in this series, Every Youth Worker Needs:…, I want to highlight a variety of things that might make your ministry a little easier. This ongoing series will include ministry tips, book suggestions, technology helps, and many other nuggets of advice.)

If you would have known me in high school and college, you would have a hard time believing I wrote the title of this post. Allow me to explain to you, in one sentence, what I mean. I used to be extremely sarcastic. It was simply “who I was” and how I interacted with others. In fact, it was so extreme that I lost a college roommate because he thought I was too sarcastic. We had many (probably at least one a week) conversations over my use of sarcasm and his belief that I used it a little too much. I defended myself back then and despite trying to refrain around him, I did little to change my sarcastic attitude.

Then there came this point where I actually regretted who I had become. For many years, the one word that described me was “sarcastic” and sadly, this followed me into my first ministry. It was years into my ministry before I realized just how my sarcasm was negatively affecting the students and the ministry. As easy as it was for me to be sarcastic – it was pretty second nature for me – I knew I needed to put a stop to it. I don’t remember if I ever sat down with my youth ministry team, the students or the families and told them that I was going to be less sarcastic. I don’t think it was as important to tell people as it was to actually change my words and attitude. And as I changed into a less sarcastic person, I could see visible changes happening within the group.

As I changed, I saw a vanishing of the distance (caused by my sarcasm) between myself and some of the people I was trying to minister to. I wonder what “could have been” during the first two years had I learned sooner. From my experience, I have seen four negatives to using sarcasm in your youth ministry.

4 negatives to using sarcasm in youth ministry.

1. Students do not know when they can trust you.
Okay, so that might be a strong, and over-the-top statement that is not true all the time, but I think its still worth thinking about. When a student asks a question or makes a statement, are they worried about what you will say in return? The more you use sarcasm in your responses, the less students want to open their mouth and say anything. Students need to know they can trust your response to their thoughts and emotions (the stuff they say and do expresses these two) and that your response will be positive or at least neutral, not damaging.

2. Someone (usually a student) gets their feelings hurt.
Sarcasm is known for being “biting.” In my experience, any time it is used it results in hurt feelings. Its not the person using sarcasm that is hurt, nor those who hear it, but the person to whom it is directed toward. As a youth worker, more often than not, we tend to direct sarcasm at a student. And when this student laughs we think we have accomplished the exact opposite of hurt. In reality, we are only fooling ourselves. No student walks away from a sarcastic remark without feeling some level of pain, especially if they respect the person who said it.

3. It neither lifts up or encourages.
Youth ministry needs to be a safe place for students to be. When sarcasm is acceptable and prevalent within a youth ministry, it seizes to be a safe place. Throughout the Bible we are told to encourage each other and lift each other up. Sarcasm hinders us from showing the love of God to those who need it.

4. Simply put, it is cheap humor.
There is no way around this one. If you are looking for a cheap laugh, say something sarcastic. But is this what our youth ministries need? I don’t think so. If you want to be funny, put more effort into it. And remember, you do not need to get a laugh every time you talk to someone. Your ministry is about connecting students with a loving God – not making jokes or getting students to think you are funny.

There are still occasions where sarcasm flows from my lips, but it is much fewer and far between. Not to mention, it is very rarely around a student. Yet, the very fact that I still have moments of sarcastic behavior means I need to be intentional about taming my tongue (see James 3:1-12, especially v. 10). I encourage you to take sarcasm out of your talks, out of your conversations with students, and allow your words to be an encouragement to those students you are ministering to.

(Every Youth Worker Needs: A Blog Series About Things You Need in Youth Ministry)

Every Youth Worker Needs: Friends Their Age

(Youth ministry is not an easy ministry. And in this series, Every Youth Worker Needs:…, I want to highlight a variety of things that might make your ministry a little easier. This ongoing series will include ministry tips, book suggestions, technology helps, and many other nuggets of advice.)

As a youth worker, you spend a majority of your time with students – teenagers & preteens to be exact. These are individuals who are still in the process of figuring out who they are and what makes them unique. And for some reason, these students (well a number of them) will take time out of their busy schedules to listen to you talk, interact in discussion, put up with silly antics and laugh at out-dated cultural references. And youth workers love spending time with students because God wired it into your heart.

But we all know that these same students have a lot of growing up to do. They make impulsive decisions without thought of how it might affect someone else. They act selfishly. Some are quick to break a commitment, if something “better” comes along. And youth workers love spending time with these students because God wired it into your heart.

Being a youth worker means you spend a lot of time with students and their families. You spend time thinking about how to teach, disciple and interact with them. You spend time planning events geared toward them. You spend time praying for them. You spend time figuring out how to handle a situation they are involved with. You spend time personally talking with them. You even spend time just hanging around them. And if you are not careful, without warning, you will start spending most of your time with teenagers and very little time with adults.

Because a youth worker’s work (ministry) centers around teenagers, it is extremely important to have adult friends. You need friends to hang out with who do not care what you do for a living. People who do not expect you to have “all the answers.” You need time away from the teenage culture. You need to be able to talk with adults who know you as something other than a youth worker.

When was the last time you had dinner with a friend, your age? When was the last time you spent time with an adult that did not have a child in your ministry nor was involved with the youth ministry team? If it has been months (dare I say years) since you have had a true friend who was not a teenager, then you need to stop reading and make a phone call. I say that because I know what it is like to be in youth ministry and not have a close adult friend. It can become very lonely.

You can find a friend in a number of places outside the walls of your youth room. Maybe its in the class you take at the local collage. Maybe its at the gym. Maybe you meet your friend playing golf each week at the same course. Maybe you both have kids in the band or on the tennis team. Maybe its your neighbor. Maybe you will find a friend at the coffee shop you go to each day. Or maybe your new friend goes to your church but has no interest in youth ministry, whatsoever.

Just know that having a friend your age is important to your longevity in youth ministry. You need to build friendships with adults who will hold you accountable. Friends who will listen to you share frustrations and struggles. Friends who will rejoice when you rejoice. Friends who actually know what you are talking about when you mention a TV show from your high school years. Besides, if you never have adult friends you might just forget that you are an adult and not a teenager.

(Every Youth Worker Needs: A Blog Series About Things You Need in Youth Ministry)

Every Youth Worker Needs: a receipt scanner

(Youth ministry is not an easy ministry. And in this series, Every Youth Worker Needs:…, I want to highlight a variety of things that might make your ministry a little easier. This ongoing series will include ministry tips, book suggestions, technology helps, and many other nuggets of advice.)

Every Youth Worker Needs: a receipt scanner
Unless you work in a very unique congregation, you have to turn in receipts in order to get reimbursed. This administrative task is always time consuming and boring. Not the reason you became a youth minister at all. But we all know that if we do not do this on a regular basis, monthly at least, then it becomes too overwhelming and then it does not get done. At the end of this train of thought is no reimbursements for items purchased (or what we ministers like to call “donations to the ministry”).

I have recently come across a great little gadget that makes the process of organizing and totaling receipts much simpler. At least that is what the internet and “gift buying” news segment says. As I have watched this product in action and have seen the software to organize the items on the receipts, I have to say I am impressed.

All you have to do is slide the receipt through the scanner, if you have the travel version – which is cheaper and probably all a youth worker needs. Then after all of the receipts are scanned, you go into the program and determine which items go under which categories and which items do not need to be added to the report. Once this is done, you just print off the report and turn it in to the finance committee. (Who will probably be in amazement that a youth worker is so organized and uses spreadsheets.)

Go to this website to see the receipt scanner by neat

(I do not own one of these time saving devices, so consider it on the list of things you can get me if ever you want to get me something.)