Category Archives: Youth Ministry Thoughts

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?

 

Sunshine, baseball, and wornout grass

It was a nice sunny day and the entire family headed outside to enjoy the weather. The kids rode bikes, played with sidewalk chalk and just ran around. My wife and I played catch and talked. But then something happened that reinforced the fact that youth ministry is part of my family culture. Upon seeing one of the neighborhood kids (a 7th grader) come out of his house with his glove my wife says to me, “You should see if he wants to come over and play catch with you.” On one side, she figured I would enjoy playing catch with someone who is better at baseball and on the other side, she knew it would be a great chance for me to talk to him.

Joe (not his real name or is it) has a younger brother who is friends with my oldest son. He’s been over to the house before and we’ve talked before, so this was not going to be something completely new.

What I thought would be a 20 minute session of throwing fastballs and trying to throw curves ended up being something much bigger. I’m not sure how long we played or how many pitches we threw, but I know my arm hurt when we were done. In fact, as you can see from the picture, we played long enough to cause some serious damage to the well-being of my front yard.

We talked about school, family, and a little about church. I learned a lot that afternoon about Joe and his world. Something else happened, though. After I had to leave to start grilling for dinner, Joe stayed and played with my boys. He continued to play catch and just hang out – my kids thought it was great. And because youth ministry is more than a job – its part of our family culture – we had Joe and his brother over for dinner, too.

We were glad to have the chances to connect with our neighbors and it was a great chance to minister. But a few days later I learned that it was something more. One of Joe’s teachers goes to our church and a few days after this I was talking to her at church. We were talking about Joe, she was asking me some questions, and I mentioned to her that I had played catch with him earlier that week. She said, “Oh yeah, I know that. He came in the next day and told me about it.” She went on to tell me that she thinks I’ve been (and need to continue to be) a good influence in Joe’s life.

I was a little shocked. Apparently the fact that I spent time with Joe meant more to him than I imagined it would.

I was reminded that sometimes the seemingly small things we do with people, especially teenagers, are much more important then we first think.

Many times in youth ministry we get opportunities to spend time with students. Are you making the most of those opportunities?

aging out of youth ministry

I’m reading a book on church leadership and the author (a senior minister) made a statement early in the book that I disagree with. I’ll let you read the quote first, then I’ll give my quick thoughts.

“In the spring of 2001, I sensed God’s call to lead a church. The voice of God’s Spirit was clear, and to be honest, it really made sense. I was starting to age out of youth ministry and (like multitudes of youth pastors before me) the next professional step was to seek an associate or senior pastor position. I clearly felt that God was leading toward a senior pastor position.” (emphasis added by me)

As a youth minister who sees myself involved with youth ministry until I am no longer able to minister, I have a hard time believing that it is possible to “age out of youth ministry.” This statement is even harder for me to believe when I consider the author was in his thirties at this point in his ministry career. I am in my early thirties, but I do not feel that I’m aging out of youth ministry. In fact, I feel that I’m a better youth minister now than I was when I was 22 and fresh out of college.

By saying a minister can “age out of youth ministry,” does the author mean youth ministry is for the immature minister who is not ready to do “real” ministry? Does it mean that when you are old enough, you can handle more ministry responsibility? Or could it mean that youth ministry is not as important as the next-step ministries you should aspire to? Maybe it means that as you get older, you cannot relate to students anymore. Or it could mean that if you do well as a youth minister (let’s not even start that conversation of determining who is a “successful” youth minister) then you deserve to get moved up the minister ladder. Then again, it could not be saying any of these things.

I have known many ministers who wanted to be senior ministers, but no one would hire them without the right experience. So what do they do? They work as a youth minister until they get the “required” number of years of ministry experience, then they move to what they really want. I know others who have had their passion for students morph into a passion for another area of ministry.

I do not think every person who starts as a youth minister needs to remain a youth minister until they retire. If this was the case, we would have very few senior ministers or associates or discipleship ministers. But I do not think you can “age out of youth ministry.” If you have the passion, desire, and calling to work with students then it does not matter how old you are. But, at the same time, I do not believe you can simply “age out of youth ministry.”

Where do you stand?

Do you feel too old to be a youth minister?

Do you think it is possible to age out of youth ministry? Or are there other, stronger factors that lead to that decision?

Difficult times in ministry

Just this week, I spoke at the Fall Kickoff on our need to have reminders and memorials set up to help us remember what God has done in the past. I talked about the time, in Joshua 4, where God told Joshua to take 12 stones from the middle of the Jordan and place them as a memorial. Every time someone would ask what the stones were for, the Israelites were to tell them about how God dried up the Jordan and the people crossed on dry ground. The stones were meant to be a visual reminder of God’s faithfulness.

Just two days later, a student I know from a past ministry (and who just received Christ as Lord and Savior six months ago) died from a 4-wheeler accident. This is the 3rd death, all teens and young adults, in the last year in this community. The students are hurting, confused, angry, or numb. It is difficult enough to experience the loss of a friend while in school, but it is even more difficult when it happens multiple times. Some of these students lost another classmate while in elementary school, too.

It is during these difficult times that we need to be reminded of God’s ultimate love and faithfulness. But how do we remember the times in which God spared a person’s life and kept people safe when the outcome “should” have been different? As a caring adult (youth worker) you cannot start a conversation with a hurting student by telling them to cheer up and remember the good times. That is not good counseling and will probably not help the student. No, one of the best things you can do during difficult times is to simply be present. Listen to the students. And pray with and for them.

As I type this post and think about the community going through this difficult time, I have mostly questions and few answers.

  1. What will it look like for the community to come together during this time?
  2. What will be different if this happens again?
  3. As a youth minister, am I prepared for a situation like this? Do I know counselors in the area? Do I know counseling basics? Do I have a relationship with the school, in order to offer help?
  4. How do you get students to already have those “memorial reminders” in place, so they can turn to them during times of tragedy?

How have you handled difficult times in ministry?

Journey of starting a new ministry – week 7

(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.)
By week 7, you will probably be into a routine. You will be more comfortable on Sunday mornings at this point, knowing more of what to expect each week. Your work week is becoming much more of a routine (that is unless you have done 2 weeks of camp and a VBS). You might even be starting to implement a few more changes into the ministry or at least working on helping people adjust to a different perspective.

But, despite things going so well, there are still things to keep in mind. First thing to keep in mind is to act like you’re still new. Even though you are starting to feel more “at home” in your new ministry, you have to remember you are still a newbie. You are still in the honeymoon phase and most people still think you are doing amazing things, even if you are not doing anything special. Do not let this lead you to believe you really know what you are doing. At 7 weeks, you probably do not have a very good grasp on the culture of your congregation, you probably do not know people well enough to know who to ask about volunteering. Make sure you continue to spend time getting to know the people and the congregation. Keep seeing things through a visitor’s eyes.

The second thing you need to remember is to value the other staff members’ time. Over the last few weeks, you have probably spent more time in offices or just “peeking in.” You might have even gotten in the habit of interrupting another staff member to ask a question, because you know they don’t mind. Or at least, that is what they told you. They probably did not mind, but you cannot keep interrupting them. Their time is valuable, just like your time is. If you have not already, start using email to ask questions that do not have to be answered immediately. And if there is something that needs more than email, set up a time to talk – do not just drop in.

As you continue to integrate into the ministry staff, spend time contemplating what you are adding and subtracting to the overall ministry. What do you need to do differently? How can you help the other staff?

Week 7 Bulletpoints:
– Use email to communicate with other staff
– See everything with fresh (visitor’s) eyes
– Share your passion with somebody

Goals of the near future:
– pray more for other staff members
– track and maintain better student information

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Previous weekly perspectives: week 1, week 2, week 3, week 4, week 5, week 6
Previous monthly perspectives: month 1(part 1), month 1(part 2)

Journey of starting a new ministry – week 6

(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.)

The big lesson this week (and thing you need to remember 6 weeks into a new ministry) is to be yourself. Do not try to be another minister. This may sound like an obvious statement. It may be the same thing you have been hearing since you were in youth ministry classes at college. But knowing the statement and applying it to your new ministry are two different things.


In most areas of my new ministry this has not been a problem. I know I am going to connect to students and parents differently than past youth workers. I make sure people know I am different than the other ministers on staff. I have never had the same work hours as other ministers, especially if a minister is a morning person. Honestly, I thought this idea of not trying to be like another minister was something I was pretty good at. But then I was asked to lead prayer during the service.

For some reason when I got up to pray, I started trying to pray like others I had heard in the previous five weeks. I am not sure why I thought/felt I needed to pray “like them,” but I did. And I felt awkward doing it. Plus afterward, I actually had someone tell me I looked nervous during the prayer. As I thought about this, I became more and more convinced that I was nervous. I was nervous because I was trying to be someone I was not. And I had to make sure I acted the part.

As you start to take on more responsibilities during a service or just become more visible to those outside of your ministry area, focus on being yourself. Do not attempt to talk like another minister or act like him, either. Know who you are and be who God made you to be.

Week 6 Bulletpoints:
– be yourself
– objectively evaluate the current ministry
– look for someone outside the congregation you can talk to
– make yourself visible beyond your ministry

Goals of the near future:
– read a book on parenting (then loan it to somebody)
– plan a parenting meeting
– build the youth ministry team connection (team bonding)

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Previous weekly perspectives: week 1, week 2, week 3, week 4, week 5
Previous monthly perspectives: month 1(part 1), month 1(part 2)

Journey of Starting a New Ministry – month 1 (2 of 2)

You might want to read part 1 first, if you haven’t already.

The first month of a new ministry is very important. It is important for both you and the congregation. During this first month, you will be developing habits and routines which you will continue to use for a long time. You are beginning to set the precedent for what people can expect from you. The congregation will use these first four weeks to watch how you interact and listen to how you present yourself. The are interested in what you will bring to the ministry. Most of these people, even some of those who met you prior to being hired, have not had much time to meet you and ask you questions.


No two ministers will have the same first month at a new ministry. You might preach every week or not at all. You might not even be on stage during this month. You might teach multiple classes or you might be able to sit in and observe. You might have a death in the congregation or maybe its a wedding. You might start in the middle of summer or the middle of winter. Despite the fact that every start to a ministry is so vastly different, I believe there are some things that every minister needs to accomplish during this time.

Tips for Month #1(con’t)
5. Learn the culture of the congregation
Technically, I should probably add the words “start to” in front of that phrase. The culture of the congregation is not something you can learn in one month, but you can learn a lot if you try. Ask a lot of questions to the other staff and leadership. Find out what is important, what is not important, and why. As you are sitting in on leadership meetings and discussing the life of the congregation (or should I use the word programs), pay attention to what is being implied about the culture. Learning this early will help you know how to go about changing things when you feel like you need to. 


6. Organize your office
This is a very important part of your first month. If you do not get your office organized (or at least mostly) at this point, it is going to be difficult to get it done. The longer you are there, the less you want to spend your time putting books away and going through files. Spend a few hours each day working on your office and you’ll have it done in no time. Plus, let’s be honest, when a youth worker has an organized office most people will be shocked and impressed.

7. Spend time away from the ministry
This goes right along with #2. As you start a new ministry, you are creating habits and patterns that will be carried on throughout your tenure at this congregation. Make it a point to spend time away from the ministry, including not doing work at home. Go to the park with your family. Go shopping. Rent a movie and enjoy a night at home. Go explore the area and find out what you can do with your family. Make sure your family knows that the new ministry is not more important than they are.


A quick thought on changes.
Whenever you begin a new ministry, you will encounter a number of things you want to change. Or at least I have a difficult time imagining someone not having at least one thing they want to change (if this is you, please contact me I would like to talk). Making changes, though necessary, is not always easy or wise. Although I cannot give you a specific timeline of when/how to make changes within your context, I will offer you a few of my thoughts on the topic.


Remember, you do not have to change everything in the first few weeks. In fact, you may not want to change anything that quickly. Most of the changes you will want to make will probably be grounded in a philosophy of ministry. When changes are based on something like that, you need to make sure those involved with the change have the same philosophy. And this can take time, so allow yourself time (maybe a year or more) to help move people along and work together on determining the reasons behind the changes before you make the changes.

Another thing you can do is to find something small that needs changed and change it. I got this idea from Jim Wideman, in a chapter entitled Fifteen Smart Things to Do During Your First Three Months in Children’s Ministry that Works by Group. All you need to do is find something that you can add or adjust that does not take a lot of effort, but makes something better. Maybe you make it easier for teachers to get their materials or provide a quicker way to notify parents of a ministry event. Even though you do not want to come in and make drastic changes, you want to avoid “not doing anything” for 6 months.

One last thought: There are times when you start a new ministry and there is a change that needs to be made right away. You will know what it is and you will know it needs to be handled. If there needs to be an immediate change, do not hesitate to work on it. You will need to talk with the other staff and leadership, gain understanding from them and share your concerns. Talk with any youth coach who might be involved and then come up with a solution, as a team. Do not try to make the change on your own, but do not ignore it either.

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Previous weekly perspectives: week 1, week 2, week 3, week 4, week 5

Journey of Starting a New Ministry – month 1 (1 of 2)

The first month of a new ministry is very important. It is important for both you and the congregation. During this first month, you will be developing habits and routines which you will continue to use for a long time. You are beginning to set the precedent for what people can expect from you. The congregation will use these first four weeks to watch how you interact and listen to how you present yourself. The are interested in what you will bring to the ministry. Most of these people, even some of those who met you prior to being hired, have not had much time to meet you and ask you questions.

No two ministers will have the same first month at a new ministry. You might preach every week or not at all. You might not even be on stage during this month. You might teach multiple classes or you might be able to sit in and observe. You might have a death in the congregation or maybe its a wedding. You might start in the middle of summer or the middle of winter. Despite the fact that every start to a ministry is so vastly different, I believe there are some things that every minister needs to accomplish during this time.

Tips for Month #1:
1. Learn names
This goes for those who are good at remembering names and those who forget ten seconds after you are told. Knowing the name of a student or adult makes it much easier to start conversations. Plus everyone likes to know that you care enough to learn their name.

2. Implement office hours & your day off
As you are starting your new ministry, you are forming new habits and routines. One of those routines needs to be setting up, and following through with, the hours you will spend in the office and what day you will be staying away from the office. There is plenty of “work” to be done at the beginning of a ministry and you will leave many days knowing there is much more you can do. Do not let the feeling that you need to prove yourself keep you from setting up limitations.

3. Plan informal gatherings with youth
You need to get to know the students, and that will not completely happen in the classroom setting. So plan some time to hang out with them away from church. You can plan a day in the park, go out to lunch, plan a game night or just plan a day to hang out at someone’s house. Do not use this time to give a devotional or plan upcoming events, just spend time talking and listening.

4. Get to know the adults (parents, youth coaches, elders…)
Aside from the students you will be ministering to, you need to learn more about the adults you will be working with. Meet for lunch or stop by their house (call beforehand). Ask a few questions about their family. Learn about their passions and what drives them. Share your heart for ministry. 

Journey of starting a new ministry – week 5

(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 5

At this point in a new ministry, you have started to settle in and should be feeling more comfortable. You will probably be in a routine. You will want to make sure your routine is a good one and you are not wasting time throughout the week. You should also be starting to build relationships with the students and the adults. And if you are not careful, you’ll forget that you are still only in your second month on the job.


This week I was able to do a couple things that I have been trying to accomplish. First, I was able to start meeting with one of the youth coaches. It was the first of an on-going series of meetings. We are going to try to meet once a week and talk about the youth ministry. Beyond that, he wanted to meet and talk about how he can be a better teacher. I am looking forward to the mentoring and training that is going to take place over lunch each week.

The second thing I was able to do was start planning for a “thank you” lunch for all of the teachers. This is something I have been wanting to do since I first got hired. I know that all of the teachers have been giving so much of their time and money to minister to the kids. Some have been doing it for years, others just started – but all are essential to an effective ministry. I know there is no way the youth ministry will reach the kids without the ministry of the adult volunteers. So I am excited about planning this lunch to show the volunteers that they are appreciated and important.

The last thing I am really excited about from this week was the changes I am starting to see in how the youth interact with me. This is a result of the relationships that are forming and the trust that is being built. They are starting to email/text/message me without my initiation. And not just me, but I am seeing a change in how they interact with my wife and kids (my kids are starting to feel comfortable around the teens, too). There is a lot of things I want to see happen in the lives of the students, but without a sense of trusting me they will not listen. (I am not trying to take the credit for something only God can do, just saying as a vehicle of that message I need to be trusted and respected.)

At this point, you should have a decent grasp on people’s names. If you are still struggling with names and faces, start studying the newest photo directory every day. People still do not expect you to get everyone’s name right, but they will be impressed when you do. If you are not already, you need to be intentional about this seemingly small aspect of your ministry.   

Week 5 Bulletpoints:
– have time for people over projects
– start a list of changes you think need to be made (don’t share it with anyone, yet)
– find one change and start working toward it
– go to lunch with a youth coach or church leader
– listen to people without talking

Goals of the near future:
– encourage a teacher
– sit in on several different classes
– learn more about the church culture

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Previous weekly perspectives: week 1, week 2, week 3, week 4

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




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