Category Archives: leadership

to quote someone else: changing culture (Peter Block)

“A shift in the thinking and actions of citizens is more vital than a shift in the thinking and actions of institutions and formal leaders.”

taken from Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block

I read Community several months ago and have been thinking through the implications of its content ever since. This particular quote has generated a lot of pondering and wrestling in my head.

As a youth minister, there are things I want to see changed or focused on within the context of the congregation within which I work. There are attitudes that need adjusting, focuses that need fine-tuned, understanding that needs broadened, lessons that need learned, and apathy that needs shaken. There are even changes that need to happen, but can only happen when there is a shift in the culture. And changing a church culture is no easy task.

As Block points out the best (only?) way to change a culture is to shift the thinking and actions of the people in the community you want to change. What community culture do you want to see shifted?

  • A Sunday School class.
  • The youth ministry.
  • Your volunteer team.
  • Staff dynamics.
  • Church leadership.
  • Awana group.
  • Your small group.
  • Parents of your students.
  • Your family.

Changing any of these communities will take effort and time. If you are a leader of the community, you have a vital role in helping to shift the actions and thinking of the people within the community. You need to be intentional about changing your thinking, actions, and language. Since you want to see the changes, you have already made the mental shift. You might have even made a shift in how you plan, organize or promote things in order to show the shift. But the most important step (and one that gets forgotten by many leaders) is to verbalize and share your thinking on the shift.

Do you need to change how you talk about a topic? It could be as simple as changing the way you promote the Sunday School class. For example, if you want to shift the class to be more about discipleship than fellowship you will need to stop talking about how much “fun” class is and start using phrases that reflect the depth of the studies.

Do you want church to be less about attendance on Sunday and more about living a life for Christ every day? If you are a leader, you need to help the congregation shift their thinking from the one to the other. How can you help people see the Christian life as more than a checklist? A few possibilities include: speaking about the shift from up-front, changing the way you evaluate and discuss the ministry of the church, or spending time sharing the need for the shift with a few “key” people who can help you champion the changes.

What would you add to this conversation? What have you learned about changing culture?


The Wise & Foolish Builder

In Matthew 7, Jesus tells a parable of two builders: one wise and one foolish. Without even reading the story, you already know which builder you would want to be, right? Nobody wants to be foolish. Before we say anything else, read the passage again.

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

I have heard this passage hundreds of times (not counting the times I sang the song that goes with it), yet I just read some thoughts on it that made me stop and think. Here is what the footnotes say in the Archeological Study Bible.

“The sand ringing the lake (Sea of Galilee) was rock hard during the hot summer. But a wise builder would dig down, as far as ten feet below the surface sand to the bedrock, knowing that this was the only way to erect a foundation able to withstand the winter rains, which were notoriously torrential and capable of causing disastrous flooding.”

For some reason, I have always pictured the wise builder finding a rock formation that was on the sand and building on that. This would have taken time and forethought, but not a lot of extra energy. The foolish builder, on the other hand, was pictured as simply lazy or apathetic, unwilling to notice the foolishness of not using the rock formation.

During part of the year, the foolish builder’s house would be perfectly stable and secure. He would have no worries or fears. His house would be safe… but only because there was no outside dangers. As soon as something negative began happening, the foolish builder’s house would be in danger of collapse.

The wise builder – who took the time to build on a strong foundation – would also have no fears or worries during the good part of the year. But even when the danger came, his house would stand firm because it was built on bedrock which would not collapse. The danger would be real and he would certainly feel some affects of the storm, but he would outlast the danger.

Jesus says that anyone who hears His words AND puts them into practice is like the wise builder.

As a follower of Christ, I have to ask myself one question. Am I putting Jesus’ words into practice in my life?

As a youth minister, I have to ask myself another question. How am I helping students put Jesus’ words into practice in their life?

Are you helping others be wise or foolish builders?

Waiting for Spring

March 20 was the day I’ve been waiting for – the first day of spring. To be honest, this date has been circled on my calendar since the end of October. You see, I’m not a huge fan of Winter.

Growing up in northern Indiana afforded me many opportunities to enjoy winter as a child. We had numerous hills on which to sled, friends with frozen ponds or small hockey rinks in their yard, and even an ice skating rink in the mall. Though I enjoyed spending hours with my friends playing in the wintery goodness, I never woke up hoping there would be a foot of snow on the ground. I guess you could say winter was not my favorite season, I simply tolerated it.

When I went to college, in Cincinnati OH, I found a whole new reason to like winter less and less – driving on slippery hills. Driving on icy roads is bad; driving on icy roads at a 60 degree incline is just plain miserable. Again, there were many opportunities to enjoy the wintery weather with friends. But this time, I participated a lot less. I simply waited for the snow to melt and the warm weather to begin.

Over the past few years something has changed. I have become more intentional and focused on making the most of the cold months and not living as though I’m just waiting for them to be over. I finally accepted a truth you probably already know, when you focus too much on the future you miss out on the present. Focusing on Spring to arrive without enjoying Winter is simply wasting 3 months of your year (do this for 4 years and you have wasted away an entire year of your life).

I have found the same thing to be true of the Christian life. At times, it can be easy, even natural, to focus your energy on the future. It could be focusing on Christ’s second coming, avoiding spiritual change until “such and such” happens, or waiting for someone else to take the first step. If you are waiting for a better day to take your next step of faith, you might not ever start moving. Instead of tolerating your current spiritual status and longing for change, make today the first day of a changed you.

different take on pew Bibles

I recently found a pew Bible at church with a sticker inside that reads:

Dear Friend,

These Pew Bibles were given in memory of *****. She loved to read the Word and it was precious to her. In this way you have access to scriptures that are shared during the services. Feel free to use it.

Because of her love of the scriptures, if you don’t have a Bible at home and would like this Bible – take it. It will do more good in your home than sitting in our pews. Read it with the same passion **** had and it is sure to change your life.

Despite the few capitalization issues, I really like the statement this sticker is making.

The one thing that really stuck out to me was that this Bible, given in memory of someone else, was available to be freely taken. Most items that are “in memory of” become sacred cows and cannot be moved, let alone taken from the church building.

What would happen if church leaders had this mentality about more things around the church building?

I really like the part that says the pew Bible will do more good at your home than sitting in our pews. Isn’t that the point of ministry – helping the people in the congregation make God and His Word part of their daily lives. It is not our goal to be the only source of spiritual growth each week, we should be the springboard to ongoing thought.

Shame on us when we want people to feel that a service on Sunday is sufficient for their spiritual growth.

Book Review: Transforming Church in Rural America by Shannon O’Dell

I have worked in 2 rural churches and anyone who has experienced this unique ministry setting will agree that there are challenges that come with a rural setting. In some ways, working in a rural church can be easier, but Shannon O’Dell would argue that is simply if you do not want to make changes. He begins the book by stating a few of the “unwritten” rules about church life in rural America – all of them focused on the negatives of rural churches and the positives of non-rural churches. O’Dell himself had felt these rules to be true, until he moved to a rural town and experienced uncommon church growth as a senior minister.

Because I am a youth minister at a church in rural America, I was looking forward to learning from the pages of O’Dell’s book. Unfortunately for me, this book turned out to be too long and not as practical as I had hoped. There were many pages that I felt were repetitive or unnecessary to sharing the strategies he used to change a rural congregation. Throughout the book, I felt O’Dell was stretching to make acronyms fit or adding pictures within the chapters that did not fit with the content of the chapter.

I was able to come away with a few things to think about, but I guess I was hoping for more. Though I do not believe in a “one size fits all” style of ministry, I read on the back cover that this was going to be a blueprint for transformation. Though you may not find a blueprint for your ministry, this book can still be helpful for those ministering in rural America thanks to nuggets of information throughout. Plus, just reading the story of Brand New Church can bring you encouragement and hope – your congregation does not have to stay stagnant.

*this book was reviewed as part of the BookSneeze book review program*

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)

Journey of starting a new ministry – week 4

(Over the next few months, maybe longer, I will be writing weekly posts on my journey of starting a new youth ministry position. The focus will be on general tips and suggestions for any youth minister starting a new position, but I will add-in moments specific to my situation. My goal is to offer advice to help other youth ministers and not write an online journal of my own personal experiences. In order to make this series of articles as beneficial as I can, I would appreciate your feedback and thoughts. And remember as you read about my journey in a new youth ministry that every situation is different; therefore, these ideas are just ideas and suggestions. You need to know your church culture and adjust your week-by-week to fit those needs.)

Week 4
Last week was about little things, this week was more about surprises.

This was the week I was glad I spent the first few weeks getting my office organized (well, mostly organized). You see, this week I needed to know where certain books were and find old information. I felt like I was really starting to settle into the ministry and spending a lot more time dreaming/planning/ministering during the week. This week was the first week that felt “normal” (if there is such a thing as a normal week for a youth minister) when I think of what I want to do each week. I still know that this is just the beginning and I have a long way to go before I get to where I want to be. To put it another way, this was the first week I did not feel completely new to this position and that surprised me.

Another interesting thing happened to me this week. Last week, I planned two lunch gatherings for the students. Both days went well and I knew I would do it again, maybe every other week. This week I did not plan any lunches, but on two different occasions I had a couple students ask when they were. I did not expect that question, but am glad I was asked. I was planning on continuing with an every other week schedule through the rest of the summer, but might switch to every week – only once a week, instead of twice. These lunches will be a good way to build relationships with the students in a very informal setting.

Another surprising part of the week was when I realized that some aspects of ministry never change. No, I’m not talking about the fact that students don’t change, they just change names. I’m not even talking about the job descriptions or responsibilities placed on a youth minister. I am talking about some of the tendencies and habits a youth minister acquires based on certain situations. Let’s say, for example, a youth worker is undermined and threatened early in his ministry and develops a tendency to be defensive when talking with those in leadership. You would think this behavior would stop when the youth worker is years removed from the incident and at a new location. I was reminded this week that it is not always that easy.

There is one last thing I would suggest you remember at this point in your ministry because it will help with the transition. I would suggest that you intentionally work with those who were planning and organizing the different aspects of the ministry before you arrived. As much as the person might want to just dump the responsibility into your lap, do not let them. Try to work with them and learn from what they were doing. You might just pick up a nugget of wisdom that was learned through mistakes, thus helping you avoid the same mistakes. Wisdom like: making sure you remind teachers it is there month when the first or second of the month lands on a Sunday.

Week 4 Bulletpoints:
– try to meet with the parents of those “exiting” your ministry
– find a small, positive change you can make & make it
– continue making initial contacts with parents
– be visible during the church services

Goals of the near future:
– develop a vision & goals that coincide with those of the entire church
– learn the passion/heart of the youth coaches
– encourage youth coaches
– learn more names

Previous weekly perspectives: week 1, week 2, week 3,

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)

Book Review: New Breed by Jonathan & Thomas McKee

Youth ministry cannot happen without volunteers. They are the very heartbeat of what helps students connect with a loving God. Yet, most lead youth ministers will agree that finding, working with, and training volunteers is one of the toughest parts of youth ministry – if not the toughest. For all of these youth ministers who desire to gain a better grasp on volunteers, Jonathan and Thomas McKee have teamed up to offer a handbook for the 21st Century volunteer.

Thomas has over 40 years of experience in volunteer leadership and Jonathan has a variety of experience working with volunteers in church and para-church ministries. Together they have written a fantastic book on understanding and equipping the new breed of volunteers. This new approach (or philosophy, you might say) to volunteers is needed due to the changes that have taken place among those who volunteer. You cannot approach volunteers like you would a paid staff member, nor can you approach volunteers today the same way you would have 20 years ago. So, how do you approach this new breed of volunteer?

According to the Jonathan and Thomas, there are three different levels to working with volunteers: the recruiter, the manager, and the leader. Each level has aspects that are unchanged by time, but also contain aspects that must be adjusted for the 21st Century volunteer. Being a recruiter means you have to understand those you want to recruit, which is why chapter 1 is so valuable. The next three chapters are focused on how to (and how not to) recruit, along with some tips on where to look for volunteers that you might have otherwise missed.

Being a volunteer manager is about motivating and empowering volunteers. The second section will offer you ample suggestions for doing just that. But, unfortunately, being a volunteer manager is not always that easy. Jonathan and Thomas spend an entire chapter on how to manage (or fire) the high-maintenance volunteer. Finally, there is the aspect of being a volunteer leader. The final two chapters focus on leading a successful group of volunteers. You will find sound advice, encouragement, and helpful tips that you can put into practice within your ministry.

If the book ended on page 140, it would be a fantastic book on working with the new breed of volunteers. But the book does not end there, no it has over 30 more pages of resources. These are samples, suggestions and other reproducible helps that will transition the information from the book into your ministry. This last section transforms this fantastic book into an invaluable ministry resource for youth ministers. Plus, this is not a hard book to read, which is great for the busy youth minister. All of these factors add up to a must-have for any and all youth ministers.

My advice (rating) – go out and buy it (4 out of 5)

Best of ’09: Books

The year 2009 A.D. is almost over. The past 12 months have brought with them many new things; some good, some bad, and some not worth mentioning. I would like to take some time and highlight some of my favorite parts of 2009. I will call this list the “best of ’09” – which simply means that, in my opinion, these are the best items in a certain category. I fully expect you to disagree with some of my choices or to be upset I did not add other items to the list. If you feel this way, please add your “best of ’09” ideas in the comments.

The third list will be books, any book not fitting in the youth ministry category. These are the best books I read this year. Like the youth ministry books, they may not all be new in 2009, but this was the year I got around to reading them. This list is in no particular order and will not include every good book I read this year, just a list of my top reads – the ones I think you would benefit from reading.

Culture Making by Andy Crouch – I really enjoyed this book. It challenged me to think differently about my role in culture and how I need to live differently to make a bigger impact. This is a must read! Here is my review of Culture Making from earlier this year.
Storylines by Andy Croft and Mike Pilavachi – I picked up the non-American version of the book (ie. original published with “crazy spelling”) and am so glad I did. This book takes a look at some of the major themes that run through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. Here is my review of Storylines from earlier this year.

Called to Worship by Vernon Whaley – This is a pretty thick book and will take a little while to read, but it is well worth your time. The book takes a look at worship in every section of Scripture, sometimes book by book. I highly recommend you read this book. Here is my review of Called to Worship from earlier this year.

Simply Christian by N.T. Wright – I’ve had this book for a few years and finally got around to reading it this year. A truly, thought-provoking book, filled with in-depth insight and observations. Here is my review of Simply Christian from earlier this year.

Fresh Start by Doug Fields – This book is full of great insight into what it takes to make a fresh start in your life. It is a pretty easy read and would be a great addition to your reading list. Here is my review of Fresh Start from earlier this year.

Treasured by Leigh McLeroy – This has to be the surprise book of the year for me. I did not expect much out of it, but I was completely wrong! A few of the first chapters really stood out to me and helped bring a fresh light to some of my life circumstances. You will want to put this on your reading list for 2010. Here is my review of Treasured from earlier this year.

Like the music and youth ministry book lists, there are some items not on this list that were big this year. Some of them (like Outliers by Gladwell) I want to read, but just haven’t. Add your favorite books from 2009 in the comments and let us know what books we need to pick up and read.

Other posts in this series:
Best of ’09 – Music
Best of ’09 – Youth Ministry Books
Best of ’09 – Non-Ministry Books
Best of ’09 – Websites used
Best of ’09 – Blog posts
Best of ’09 – Web Apps
Best of ’09 – Ministry Moments
Best of ’09 – Random Favorites