Category Archives: ministry frustrations

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?


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*

Journey of Starting a New Ministry: week 3

(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 3

This week was more about little things than anything else.

I intentionally tried to make a few small changes in my my week. Over the past few weeks I have spent a lot of my time in the office rearranging and organizing. While I was unpacking and organizing, I was fitting in the necessary ministry work whenever I had a chance. It meant working on the lesson after a box was unpacked or whenever there was room on my desk. But starting this week, I tried to move from this less scheduled (possibly unscheduled) work week to a more structured one. 

While I was trying to maintain a semblance of office hours and such, the framework during my work week was pretty loose. I wanted to take this week and start moving toward the more structured layout of planned and allotted time for ministry work. In my last ministry I found a good breakdown of when to accomplish certain tasks, and now I need to start doing that here. Because I know I have changed and the environment is different, I am intentionally going to try a few different “schedules” within my work day.

I know ministry does not solely happen inside the walls of my office, I added a few chances to hang out with some students to my week. I was not sure how they would respond or if they would make it – since it is prime vacation time and fall sports are starting practices. I offered two different times to get together for lunch during the week. During each lunch we had a great chance to talk and get to know the students and let them get to know my family a little bit. I want to continue lunches or dinners throughout the year as an informal way to build relationships with the students and their friends. 

Being in my first month of ministry, I know there are certain changes that need to wait. One of the changes I want to implement is going to have to wait at least a few months, if not a year. But I started working on developing and putting onto paper an explanation and game-plan for this change. I know it will take a little time to process and implement, but I want to be ready when the right time arises.

Sunday was a crazy day for me. I had a lot of little conversations with people – all good. I think out of the two services and Sunday School, I was only on-time for 1st service. But I am not complaining, I loved the chance to talk and listen to people.

Week 3 Bulletpoints:
– continue talking with students & parents
– spend more time getting to know the youth coaches
– start figuring out how to structure your work day

Goals of the near future:
– improve the ministry with a small/simple change
– learn the passion/heart of the youth coaches
– encourage youth coaches
– learn more names


Previous weekly perspectives: week 1, week 2

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)

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.)

Book Review: Getting Fired for the Glory of God by Mike Yaconelli

Getting Fired for the Glory of God is a collection of writings from Mike Yaconelli. Beyond his writing, it contains audio and video of Yaconelli speaking. This is some of his best material collected together in one little book. What makes this collection so good, beyond it being from Yaconelli, is that his children compiled it all. This book is a tribute to the legacy he left on the youth ministry world.

If you have never read Yaconelli’s work before, you need to pick up a copy and dive right in. You will be challenged, encouraged, and pushed. You might find yourself wanting to read “just one more chapter.” For those who know Yaconelli’s work, this book will be a reminder of his passion and love for youth workers. Plus, as a bonus, you will get to hear and see some of his most passionate messages.

The truth and honesty within the pages of Getting Fired need to be read by anyone in youth ministry. Take every opportunity to get a copy of this book into the hands of youth workers. If you can’t get a copy for every youth worker, you need to at least show them the videos and let them listen to the audio.

My advice (rating) – buy more than one and give out copies (5 out of 5)

Budgeting & Saving Money – 2 YM Today articles

A lot of ministries are either in the process of putting together their budgets for next year or they are in the process of tweaking the budget that got turned down by the finance committee. If you find yourself in one of those two places, I hope you will be able to benefit from some information I wrote earlier this year.

The great folks at YMToday took my youth ministry budgeting series and turned the information into two separate articles. If you would like to read the original series, just click on the link and read each blog post in the series. Or you can read the articles, which are broken down into budgeting and saving money.

Saving the Ministry Money

Creating a Budget

After reading the articles, I would like to hear what you think. What have you done to budget for the upcoming year? Is it dramatically different this year due to the economy? How have you saved money?

2 recent articles: Six Days of Work & Who’s Keeping You Accountable

Here are two articles I’ve recently written and had published on If you haven’t read them yet, take a few moments and do so. Then I’d love to hear your feedback/thoughts, just leave a comment.

5 Year Youth Ministry Contract: Students (5 of 5)

This is post #5 of the 5 Year Youth Ministry Contract. If you have not already read the first four posts, you’ll want to read them before reading this one. Read the introduction first, followed by my thoughts on the youth minister difference, my thoughts on the church leadership & staff difference and then my thoughts on the church membership difference.

In this post, we will look at the difference a five-year commitment would make for the students.

The Students Difference

Anyone who has been in youth ministry for more than a few years knows that the best ministry happens after you have been at the same place for an extended period of time.

This might be the biggest difference of any we’ve talked about so far. I think the students will greatly benefit from knowing the youth minister will be there for at least five years. Will it make it easy for them to open up emotionally right away? No. But it will make it easier for them to trust the youth minister and know this relationship will last more than six months.

Students are used to people coming in and out of their life, which causes some of them to shut down emotionally and relationally. They do not want to open up and allow an adult to know what they really struggle with if they do not know they adult will be around in nine months. When a student knows the youth minister will be around for years, they do not have to worry about having another broken relationship with someone who claimed to care about them.

Beyond the improvement in the student/youth minister relationships, I think there is an even greater benefit for the students – one they will not immediately identify. In fact, this benefit might be one they are never able to verbalize until well after they are out of the youth ministry. The unidentifiable benefit is the intentional long-range planning for the ministry; including a systematic progression of lessons, purposeful retreats and events and an intentional discipleship ministry. Not to mention the improved ministry of the volunteers, thanks to more training and encouragement.

As students remain with the same youth minister year after year, there will be more opportunities for ministry. When talking with their friends, the students will talk highly of the youth minister and create some instant credibility among their peers. This credibility will allow the youth minister more access to minister to those friends and become a positive influence into their lives. The more students and friends of students are benefiting from the youth ministry, the impact of the youth ministry will increase exponentially. And when a tragedy occurs, the students in the community will know they can turn to your youth ministry for support and direction.

One last benefit comes from a deepening of the relationship between the youth minister and the students. As the relationships grow, I believe it will result in more memories for the students. There will be more opportunities for ongoing jokes, funny moments and more laughter. And this increased joy at youth ministry events will not only benefit the students, but also the youth minister and other adults involved.

Are there negatives for the students?

One of the only negatives I can think of would happen for those students entering high school after the youth minister’s fifth year of ministry. They would be entering into a high school ministry ready to minister to their needs, but there would be no guarantee the youth minister will be there for their graduation.

What other differences do you think a five year commitment would make for the students?
Do you think the students would benefit from having a youth minister with this commitment to a local ministry?

Posts in this series:
1. The Introduction
2. The Youth Minister Difference
3. The Church Leadership/Staff Difference
4. The Church Membership Difference
5. The Students Difference

5 Year Youth Ministry Contract: Church Members (4 of 5)

This is post #4 of the 5 Year Youth Ministry Contract. If you have not already read the first three posts, you’ll want to read them before reading this one. Read the introduction first, followed by my thoughts on the youth minister difference and then my thoughts on the church leadership & staff difference.

In this post, we will look at the difference a five-year commitment would make for the church membership.

The Church Membership Difference

It can be difficult for church members to be quick to fully welcome a new youth minister on staff. When the church has a history of having multiple ministers with short stays, it becomes an automatic disadvantage for any new youth minister entering into ministry at this church. Most members assume the new youth minister will only stay long enough to find another ministry, like past youth ministers have done. I think a five year youth minister contract would offer many benefits for these members.

Knowing someone is going to be around for a few years allows you start the relationship with a little more trust than normal. Most members will not question the youth minister’s motives or actions as often as they otherwise would. Being able to have this higher level of trust for the youth minister will allow the members to support and encourage the efforts and changes being made by the youth ministry team.

I believe the willingness to volunteer within the youth ministry would increase. From my experience, I have seen that some people are apprehensive to volunteer to work in an area where they do not know the leader well or where they feel the leadership might change often. This apprehension would be countered with the five year contract. Think about the difference it would make to have a stronger group of volunteers at the beginning of your ministry. Not only would the youth ministry benefit and grow, but the congregation gets a huge benefit: more members using their gifts and doing ministry.

Finally, I think this five year contract would give the members a sense of relief. Most members do not know what expectations/requirements are put on the youth minister by the church leadership. This contract would give them the reassurance that a certain level of ministry professionalism will be kept in the youth ministry. The members will still not completely understand what all is entailed in the youth ministry, but this will be a good start to help them understand that youth ministry is more than just glorified babysitting.

Are there negatives for the church members?

Since the youth minister will be around for a few years, there might be some members who will not work hard at getting to know him. The assumption might be that there is plenty of time to get to know the new youth minister, so why put effort into it now. Someone else might think that the only reason the youth minister spends time with the students is because its in the contract. And there might be someone who decides their help is not needed within the youth ministry, because the youth minister is going to be here for a few years.

What other differences do you think a five year commitment would make for the church members?
Do you think the church members would benefit from having a youth minister with a five year commitment to a local ministry?

Posts in this series:
1. The Introduction
2. The Youth Minister Difference
3. The Church Leadership/Staff Difference
4. The Church Membership Difference
5. The Students Difference