Tag Archives: strategy

Learning from each other

The other day I had a great conversation with Katie, my Staff Associate, and Rick Beckwith, the VP of Field Initiatives for Young Life.  Rick, Katie and I have been friends for years and we had a great discussion about Young Life, the Church and how we can be reaching students better.  Now, I have blogged before about partnering with other churches and ministries – something I think is a must do.  But, out of this conversation, I had a different thought about partnering with others.

As we talked about youth ministry and leadership, I began to think about why other youth ministers do certain things and how we can inspire each other to follow a good example.  When I was an Intern at my first Church, one of my first training assignments was to go interview 3 other youth ministers and learn from them.  I was to ask them a lot of basic questions as to what they do and why they do it.  As I was reflecting on this time, it made me curious as to how many youth minsters, myself included, take time to learn from and with other youth ministers.  By this, I mean, how often am I meeting with other youth ministers now to process ministry and see how they are doing effective ministry (or, even as Rick said, “Sometimes we learn as much or more from seeing what folks DON’T DO RIGHT”).

To me, this is more than just meeting with other youth ministers regularly to discuss life and ministry.  This was taking it a step further.  I didn’t want to just talk about ministry, I wanted to experience ministry with someone else.  Therefore, I challenged Katie and myself to “shadow” another youth minister and basically see what they do, why they do it and learn from them as I hang with them.  I have an email into a few people to try to coordinate a time I can shadow them for an afternoon and evening.

Have you ever done something like this before?  How did it go?  When did you last shadow someone else?  Shadowing someone else is probably one of many different ways we can learn from each other.  What are those other ways?  Share them so that others can try.

TAKE A MINUTE and…

  1. Think through how you learn best from others?  Is it by talking with another person, reading blogs or shadowing others?
  2. When you’ve picked out a way to learn that works best for you, take a minute to coordinate a time for you to do that.

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Teaching the Truth

I recently took a class from Dr. Michael Horton at Reformed Theological Seminary called “Ministry in the Post-Modern Context”.  During the class, Dr. Horton told us of an interesting stat.  He said that students who were raised up in an Evangelical church were very likely to abandon their faith by the time they are sophomores in college.  Naturally, I was blown away by that stat because that doesn’t seem very logical.  Why is that?  What makes someone who went to church regularly and really enjoyed it abandon their faith and not feel that Christ isn’t important to them and that Church is worth going to anymore?

It was a fascinating class in which it made me ponder so much about how I am reaching students for Christ for the long haul.  If this is the truly the case and Dr. Horton is right (which I have no reason to not believe him) that a growing number of believers are leaving the faith during their college years, we, as Youth Pastors have a huge problem on our hands.  Of course this is not all our responsibility, but as overseers of the youth program, we have to play a part in transitioning these youth into adulthood.  How can we bridge the gap between the teenage years and adulthood?  I believe that it comes down to a simple change in focus.

What are we to do?

I believe that a critical step that we need to do in helping students stay strong in Christ for the long haul is to teach the Truth of who God is.  Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Duh Tom, I do that”.  But, take a moment and think about your last meeting.  What was the most memorable part of it?  Was it the wild and crazy game you played, the creative and awesome video you showed, the funny skit guys who dressed up like cavemen OR was it the Truth of Christ?  Unfortunately for me, I have an easier time remember the crazy thing we did during our time together rather than the Truth of Christ that was revealed.

Students are not dumb.  They know that when they come to Church, people are going to talk about God and Christ.  So why, then, do we feel the need to play so many games and feel that we need to entertain them so much?  It is a very delicate balance because we want our group to be attractive to everyone while at the same time present the truth of Christ consistently.  I struggle with it constantly as I so desperately want our students to know the Truth but how do I present the Truth to students who are inundated in an MTV world where images come at them so fast?

One thing that sticks out to me is that it appears that we can get so caught up with making Christ attractive that we lose the fact that the truth of Christ is attractive enough.  It is almost like we have to come up with an angel to make Christ attractive to wild teenagers.  When we do this, I believe we miss the point that Christ is already attractive enough, we just have to share about him. Does that mean we have to stop being creative?  No, but the Truth should drive our creativeness, not vise-versa.  Do not get so caught up with the presentation and miss the content of whom you are presenting.

Christ says in John 8:31-32, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  In this day and age, we can get so caught up with creative ways to share the gospel with our fancy PowerPoint slides, movie clips and dramatic performances (and believe me, I have done all those things).  It almost seems that we are trying to copy what MTV and the rest of the world is doing, but in a “Christian” way.  But, is that the right way?  Shouldn’t Christ and the truth found in Him dictate how we teach?  Do we have to go to such extremes if just knowing and understanding the truth will set us all free?

Effectively teaching students the Truth

Now, if you know me, you will know that I am not a Youth Pastor who gets up at the beginning of his meeting, opens my Bible and does an exegetical study.  I appreciate those who do that, but that is not how I am wired.  I love having fun with the youth and trying to find ways to create an exciting and attractive program.  But, Dr. Horton’s stat and subsequent challenge got me thinking of different ways we can be presenting the Truth of Christ so that students can have a committed, long term relationship with Him.

  1. Use the different learning styles. In order to be effective in teaching the truth, we have to be aware of the different learning styles of youth.  There are multiple learning styles: audio, visual, and kinesthetic.  Don’t get tied into just presenting Christ in one way.
  2. Repetition. The Truth of Christ is unchanging, so teach on who he is.  Andy Stanley has a great book, “The Seven Checkpoints” about this and gives some great insight on how repetition constantly reinforces important topics.
  3. Engage and help them Discover. Teaching the Truth about God doesn’t mean you stand up and preach until you are blue in the face and that their ears and minds are ready to explode.  Engage them and discuss the subject with them.  Throughout your message, ask questions so that they can discover the Truth rather be told what the Truth is.
  4. Strategically plan out our Meetings. What is it that we are teaching the students during our meetings together on Sunday?  Are we teaching them that Christ is all fun and just a little scripture?  Or, are we teaching that in all situations, Christ is present and relevant?
  5. Create a Educational Flow from Childhood to Adulthood. Coordinate with your Children’s Ministry, Christian Education and Adult Education Director(s) about the Truths of God you should communicated at each level/stage of their life.
  6. Follow up/through. Continue to earn the right and build relationships with students during the week.  Help them process the information you all discuss on Sunday mornings or at small group by following up with them throughout the week.
  7. Involve Parents. This is especially helpful if you have Christian parents.  Parents are the ultimate spiritual heads of their children.  But, too often, parents believe it is the Church’s job to teach their children about God. The church is just a small part of presenting Christ.  The bulk of the work has to come from the parents.  So, let parents know what you are discussing so that they can know and follow up throughout the week with their children.
  8. Set up Mentorships. This is to integrate the generations in your Church.  It is important to partner up the adults with youth so that the younger generation can learn from the older generation and their experiences.

Final Thought

As youth move into adulthood, like Dr. Horton said, I have had the unfortunate experience of seeing too many young people fade away from Christ and the Church.  The comment, “church/Christ just isn’t for me anymore” is not an acceptable answer, especially for someone who was very committed to Christ as a teen.  Sometimes I wonder, was it me?  Did I turn him/her off from Christ with what we did in our program?  I know that is not the right mindset to have, but it I still wonder.  I believe that in order to engage someone long term for Christ, we have to begin to look at what and how we are teaching our youth.  Christ never said he was just about fun and games.  However, he did say that he was THE way, THE truth and THE life (John 14:6).  Therefore, let us not do a disservice to our youth and present Christ in just a fun, comfortable way.  Rather, let’s present him for exactly who he is and see how our youth step up and take hold of him.

TAKE A MINUTE and…

  1. Do this quick exercise.  Your Senior Pastor just gave you the challenge to share about Prayer to your youth next week.  Quickly, write down how you would organize your meeting?  You have to prepare an hour time frame.
  2. Now, after you have prepared your mock meeting, answer these questions:
  • What was your overall objective for the meeting?
  • What was the 1st thing you prepared?  Was it your game, mixer or social activity OR was it the truth about Christ you were going to present?
  • Was your game tied into your teaching or was it completely separated and had no correlation?

For your next lesson, start with the Truth of Christ and then form the rest of your meeting around that. Let the Truth of Christ drive what and how we present.

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More than just Praying

Our Church just finished up a 30 days of Prayer focus. The goal was for us, as individuals, to be in daily prayer with the Lord, praying for things specifically and seeing how God works in our midst because of our commitment to offer it up to Him.  Accepting the challenge, I was excited about this and wanted to see what happened.  It even reminded me of a time when I saw God work through prayer in a mighty way.

When I was the WyldLife Director for Northwest Fairfax Young Life, the volunteer leaders and I wanted to really seek the Lord and rely on Him and his provisions for our upcoming summer camp trip.  So, this one particular year, the volunteer leaders and I committed to get together each Thursday to pray during the spring and early summer for our camp trip.  We would first write on the dry/erase board our camp requests.  Then, we would pray from them and individual middle school students we really wanted to go on the trip.  When it was all said and done with, the Lord provided over 100 middle schoolers to come!  It was the largest camp trip we ever went on (and I believe the largest still) and we had a significant number of students come to know the Lord during that week!  It was a great blessing from God.

As I reflected on that camp trip, I realize that the only thing we did differently from previous years was that we strategically prayed for students and for the camp trip.  Oftentimes, in ministry, when in meetings or planning out events or curriculum, a common practice is to pray at the start.  Do you do this?  I am sure you do, but do you know why we do this? I don’t know about you, but when I pray, it is for God’s wisdom to come upon us as we make decisions so that more people may come to know Him.  As noble as this request is, should our prayer time before the Lord be more than just a thing we do before a meeting, event or a decision is to be made?

Remembering my summer camp example convicted me in how I am currently praying for the youth and the youth ministry.  I believe that if I am going to experience God’s blessings like my summer camp trip, I need to PRAY STRATEGICALLY for my ministry.   When King Solomon took over as King of Israel, the Lord gave him a chance to ask for whatever he wanted and it would be given to him.  So, in 1 Kings 3:5-14 Solomon asked for wisdom.  Why?  Because he was so young and with the responsibility he had to lead being so great, he needed God to be his wisdom and guidance.  In the same way, as Youth Pastors and Ministers, the responsibility we have to share Christ to our youth is so great, we need to be actively praying for God’s wisdom and guidance.  Why try to go at this alone?  We need to be asking God for wisdom and discernment consistently.

But, praying strategically is more than just praying for wisdom and safety for your students.  It is praying specifically for your students by name, your program for what you hope would happen and become, for your leaders (and for more leaders), and many other things on your heart.  As Christ points out in Luke 11:5-10, if we ask, seek and knock, God will provide and bless us.  So, if this is true, why wouldn’t we come before the Lord with boldness and strategically pray for our ministry.

So, how do you pray strategically?  Here are some examples:

  1. Be specific.  Write down specific things you can be praying over so that, when the Lord answers it, you will be able to identify how he is working in your ministry.  Write down students by name and pray specifically over each student.
  2. Pray for things that only God could provide and answer.  This isn’t an ultimate wish list kind of thing.  But, think through some areas that you know are beyond your reach and only God can do.
  3. After you make a list of things to pray over, organize them to pray over them throughout the week.  For example, you can pray for your existing leaders and new leaders on Sundays and Thursdays while you pray for different students in your program daily.

Again, these are just a few examples, but as I have found out many times, it can be very easy to get into a routine and pray as we always have – not that there is anything wrong with that.  But, when we do this, I believe that we can miss out on what it means to pray intentionally and see how God blesses your prayers and your heart for others and your program.  Try something new this week and refresh or create a prayer strategy so that you can see God at work.

TAKE A MINUTE and…

  1. Examine your prayer strategy.  Do you have one?  Do you need to update it or change it in some way?  Look over it and update it as needed or create one.
  2. After you have created or updated your prayer strategy, have your volunteer leaders look over it and offer input to so that they feel included and a part of the process.

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Bridge Events that Work: 5th Quarter

5Q33If you look at the title and say to yourself, what is a “Bridge event”, let me clarify before I get into how 5th Quarter is a great bridge event.  A Bridge event is designed to give every student an opportunity to come and experience some of what we do as a youth program in hopes that if they do not go to Church or have a Church home, they would make Cedar Run that place.  We are bridging them from not involved into being involved in our program.

What is 5th Quarter?
5th Quarter is a weekly event we do every Friday night from 9:30 – 11:30 pm during the local high school football season.  We open our church up to any and all middle and high school students, although we see very few middle schoolers as it involves parents driving.

It is not an original event in any way, but what we do to it adds a little “Cedar Run” to the mix.  The purpose of 5th Quarter is two-fold:

  1. Offer a safe alternative for middle and high school youth to come after the high school football games.  It is our hope that instead of them having nothing to do, hence getting in trouble or going to parties, that they would choose to come to Cedar Run and hang out in a great place where they can be themselves and have a great time doing it.
  2. Be a bridge into our program.  We want others to start coming to Cedar Run after they experience 5th Quarter.

How does it work?

For us, 5th Quarter is simple.  We open the whole Church up (which isn’t huge) and allow the kids to pick and choose to do whatever they want.  If they want to go outside and play football or death hack, they can (if you don’t know what death hack is, it is a cross between hackie sack and dodgeball – lots of fun).  If they want to go upstairs and play video games or watch a movie, they can.  If they just want to sit at tables and socialize with their friends, they can!  Again, it is simple.

We have added different things to 5th Quarter throughout the 2 years we have been doing it.  At different times, we have added s’mores (usually when it gets colder), a coffeehouse format where we have leaders or kids perform in a corner for others, and we have even experimented with a dance party room.

Ultimately, our goal is not to to structure it too much, but allow the youth to come and just be themselves.  It seems like that is a great option for them as we draw around 60 students each Friday night.

How does it Bridge students into the Program?

This is just our 2nd year doing 5th Quarter, but already we have seen new students who come to 5th Quarter start showing up at other Cedar Run events, in particular Sunday morning.  What 5th Quarter shows students is that Cedar Run is a safe and cool place to come.  Therefore, it is our hope that they want to check us out on a Sunday morning or one of the Special events that we do.

When new students come to 5th Quarter, they are often blown away by the food, the hospitality, the fun and the simple fact that they can be themselves.  We don’t have a program and there is no outreach talk given (although we probably could do one).  We just give them a safe place to come and a positive alternative to other Friday night options.

5th Quarter is a great bridge event that works for us because of 3 key groups of people:

  1. Leaders – Each week we have 5th Quarter, we get a lot of our leaders to come out and participate.  When they do come, they quickly see that this is a perfect opportunity for them to do contact work with new students.  It is a blessing that our leaders are very relational with students so this event is a great opportunity for them to come out and build new friendships. As new students get comfortable with the leaders, it increases the likelihood that they will come to Cedar Run.
  2. Students – Our leaders are able to meet so many new people each week because our students bring their friends out.  A lot of our students (especially the core student leaders) are very outreach oriented.  They want their friends to come meet Christ and so they have no issue with bringing them to Cedar Run.  Without them bringing their friends when we first started last year, this could have easily turned into a Cedar Run only event – which is not the intent.
  3. Parents – This is a great way to involve parents.  We have parents bring food, help serve the food and even mingle with the students.  Last week, we found out that one of the parents can is a get card magician.  He had half the group hanging on his every trick!  What a great opportunity for students to see parents involved and that they care about their children. Without parents there to help and take care of the food, it would mean that our leaders would not be able to hang out and do contact work with the students as much.  Plus, it gives parents a sense of what we do and who we are ministering to.

5th Quarter is a great bridge event that works very well for us and I believe it can work for you all as well.  So, while it is still fresh in your mind, TAKE A MINUTE and…

  1. Think through whether or not you can do a 5th Quarter.  It is not too late to do at least 1 or 2 of them this year.  We plan 5th Quarter every Friday night after the football games. So, when the football season ends, our season ends.  So, you still have time to organize and put one on.
  2. If you feel that 5th Quarter doesn’t work for your area, what could you do that is similar enough to 5th Quarter, but be called something different?  The key for us is that your church is a safe place for people to go to instead of going out and getting into trouble.  So, is there something you could do instead but have the same effect?

Like this post or have a different idea, post a comment so we can be encouraging each other reach students for Christ!

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Volunteer Leaders Retreat

This past weekend, my leaders and I went on our annual Leaders Retreat.  For the past 5 years, I have used this time right before our fall kick-off for a few different reasons.  For starters, after a summer fill with vacations and trips for all the leaders, I like to get all the leaders together to share about the summer, catch up and develop community.  Building and developing community is very important in a leadership team.  The make-up of a leadership team can be very diverse.  For instance, you have leaders who are college students, in the workforce, who have children and who are single.  When you go away for a day, a night or a weekend together, it provides a great way for everyone to get to know each other on a different level.  Taking some time away with just the leaders is the perfect way to build and develop a bond with each other.  In all the years we have been doing them, it has provided us with a great start to the year with each.

Secondly, it is a great opportunity to focus the leaders for the year ahead.  We do this both in a ministry and personal context.  After a summer of vacations and trips away, it is always good to get your leaders focused on what is ahead ministry wise.  What will we be doing during the fall?  How will we be doing it?  What is needed and what are some of the goals we are striving for?  These are some of the questions leaders need to know answers to.  By doing a leaders retreat with them, you can provide all this information and more all at once.

In addition to focusing the leaders on their ministry lives, we use our retreat as an opportunity to build into them personally.  As you know, summers throw even the most organized schedules out the window.  Any schedules or disciplines you may have get at least a little bit shaken.  Therefore, we try to build into our leaders personal lives during this time as well.   We spend time looking over scripture, worshiping together and going over different life skills that they can develop.  As I have written before, by investing in leaders personal lives, we show them that we do not just care about what they can do for us or this ministry.  We show them that we care just as much, if not more, about who they are as a person and a follower of Christ.

These are just 2 of the main reasons why we have been doing Leader Retreats with others.  But, there are many smaller benefits that we experience by just us being together like great memories share together or you discover a new talent from a leader.

Now, working at a non-mega church, you may not have the resources to pull off a weekend retreat or even an overnight.  So, I have a few suggestions:

  • Plan a day trip away.  There are some great places you could go for a whole day and do a lot of team building and focusing them on the fall.  Most of the time it is very cost effective.
  • See if anyone in your church has a 2nd home or even a connection to a place where you could go.  The place we have stayed at is a second home about an hour and a half away.  The great thing about this is if you can find a place like this, you will save a lot of money rather than going to a retreat center.

If you haven’t planned a Leaders Retreat this year, don’t worry it is not too late!  TAKE A MINUTE and…

  1. Mark on your calendar a good day, overnight or weekend time where you could take your leaders away.  It doesn’t have to be during the summer of fall months to plan a time away.
  2. After you mark a Leaders Retreat down on your calendar, write down your objectives for your time away.  What is the purpose for your time away and what do you hope to accomplish?

As I said in the beginning, I have been doing these Leaders Retreats for the past 5 years and they end up being very rewarding times together.  If you have not scheduled a time to get away with your leaders, do it today!

If you have taken your leaders away on a Leaders Retreat before, share about your experiences and why you do them.

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Balancing Ministry and Parenthood and being Effective at both (Part 2 of 2)

This is a continuation from an earlier post.  To look up part 1, look under Recent Posts or click here.

How #2: It affects what you Model

Pete Hill was an unassuming figure.  He didn’t “look” like your stereotypical youth leader.  He was tall and heavyset with thinning hair.  He also had this very loud, yet contagious laugh that sounded more like Santa Claus’ laugh than any Shopping mall impersonator I have ever heard.  Although he did drive this cool, navy colored Jeep Wrangler, he probably would not have been someone you would pick out of a lineup to be an effective youth leader.  However, over a 10 year period, Pete was one of the most successful and effective youth leaders I have ever seen who modeled to so many youth what it means to put Christ first in your life and what it means to choose your family first.

To be effective in ministry, a leader has to model Christ to everyone he/she ministers to.  Pete did that as he took many students deeper in their relationship with the Lord. But, it was also Pete’s passion and heart for his family that made him a great example to everyone he came into contact with.  As teenagers, young people are trying to find themselves.  It is a natural transition for them to begin to separate themselves from their own family in an effort to become more individualistic and find their way in life.  It was during this transitional time in my life that Pete modeled that family is very important.  Whether it was him bringing his younger brother out to hang out with my friends and I or him changing plans on us so that he could spend time with his family, Pete was a great example of what it means to have a family and to minister to them just as much as he ministered to others.  Looking back at times, Pete spurred me on in my relationship with Christ a lot, but it was what he modeled to me about family that really sticks with me today as I minister to teens.

Unfortunately, people in ministry have not always emulated the example of Pete’s family first model.  I have seen more times than naught a Youth Minister continually sacrifice quality time with his/her family just so they can be out ministering to students more.  This is not to say that youth leaders shouldn’t spend times ministering to youth at times that may not be convenient for your family.  But, if youth leaders continue to spend a lot time with their students and neglect their own family, what do you think you are teaching them when they get older and have a family of their own?

Choosing family over ministry is not always easy.  There is no doubt about it, teenagers, especially boys, WILL make fun of you for being whipped and COMPLAIN that you are not around as much as you used to be.  But in the long run, both you and they will be blessed because of it.  You will be blessed because you will be connected to your family more and get to experience those life experiences to share and enjoy for a lifetime.  Sure, it may seem like just “bath time” or “dinner” to others, but missing out on that time with your family could cause you to miss the first time your child does something great, or says a word or does a funny, memorable thing.  These are important things for you to be apart of.   The youth you minister to will be blessed because they will see a healthy example of what it means to be a good parent and a member of a family.  They may not realize it at first, but they will, especially when they begin a family of their own.

In addition, choosing family first means that you have the opportunity to model something completely different to adults as well.  You can’t imagine how many looks I get from other parents or teachers when I pick up my children from school sometimes who must be wondering, “Why is he picking up his child?  Doesn’t he work?”  I have actually been asked numerous times, “I’ve seen you outside your house with the girls or up at the school helping in classrooms.  What do you do for a living?”  People can’t believe that I have the flexibility in my schedule to spend time with my children.  Furthermore, they cannot believe that I am not using that flexibility to get out on the golf course more often and have some “guy” time (although, sometimes I wish I was).  What I am modeling to other people and parents is that my family matters to me and I care about what my children are doing.  Now, I am not trying to pump myself up as I see other people and ministers model this much more successfully than I do.  But, in this age of workaholism, it is a refreshing and helpful for parents and others to see that you actually care about your family.

How #3: It affects your Planning

If you have a spouse and children, you have probably experienced this before.  You have this great youth group night planned with an awesome mixer and you have a great talk prepared.  It is one of those nights you are truly pumped for as it seems like everything is lining up just right.  Then, the day comes and your spouse or one of your children get sick – not just cold sick, something like the flu or strep throat.  What do you do?  You need to attend to them and help out, especially if your spouse is sick, but you also your have a youth function to attend to.  Don’t these situations always tend to pop up at some of the worst times?  It is almost like there is someone/thing out there who is trying to destroy families and ministries.  Who could that be?  Regardless, every sickness or unexpected event that comes up are not the same.  There are varying degrees.  But, what do you do when your family and ministry lives intersect and both need you?

In ministry, it is always good to plan out weeks, months and even semesters ahead of time.  But, just as important as planning ahead, it is always a great idea to have a back-up plan. Even without a family, you should have a back-up plan for your events in case something happens to you or someone else serving in an upfront role.  A back-up plan involves delegation and preparation.

  1. Delegation: As Head Youth Leaders, you never want the program to rest solely on your shoulders.  You always want to include other leaders and the students as well.  It gives them ownership and helps them feel that they are apart of things, rather than just spectators to your show.  So make sure, that every youth function is not just contingent on your running the game, mixer, announcements and talk.  Delegate to others so that they will feel like they are contributing.
  2. Preparation: An older, much wiser Youth Minister once challenged me to be prepared for last minute changes by having all my leaders prepare a talk that they would know by heart and ready to give at any moment.  By having your leaders ready with a talk, if any unexpected thing happens to you or whoever is giving the message that day, you have any number of people who can step up and share a great message to the youth.  In addition, be prepared by having your leaders know exactly what is happening week to week.  The more they know exactly what is happening week to week, the better they will be able to contribute if something unexpected comes up.

Secondly, you need to have leaders you trust.  In addition to having an effective back-up plan, you need to have leaders you can trust and rely on in case a last minute change or Plan B needs to go into effect.  Now, I hope you can trust all your leaders.  But, what I mean here is that these are the leaders you know that can come up with an impromptu game, mixer, skit or whatever may be necessary.  There have been many times in which we have had to go to Plan B at Cedar Run.  When Plan B was needed, I knew that I had at least 3 leaders I could turn to that could pull off something to kill time.  Do you have leaders you can turn to when something unexpected comes up or when you need to go to Plan B?  It takes a lot of pressure off of you and, just like with having a back-up plan, gives other leaders or student leaders an opportunity to shine and share their gifts to others.

Big Picture

In the above paragraphs, I outlined some ways that choosing your family first affects your ministry.  Sometimes you may think that when you choose your family first, you ministry will suffer.  Rather, when you choose family first, it also benefits your ministry in a variety of ways:

  • It provides a positive role model for your youth and others to look to
  • Your ministry becomes less about you and gives your leaders opportunities to step up and confidence to perform.
  • It affects future ministry possibilities because you are a positive role model to your family.  They realize that church isn’t more important than they are.  Christ should always be first and foremost, but Church work is not Christ and although there is a difference young children or even non-believing extended family members may not realize that and end up with a hard heart to Christ because they associate the 2 together.

The big picture point is this, whether you are part of one or have a family of your own, your family needs to be a bigger priority than your ministry.  That doesn’t mean that your ministry ends or makes you less effective.  As I just pointed out, I believe that it can have some very positive affects on your ministry.  So don’t worry, your program is not going to deteriorate and the youth in your program are not going to abandon ship just because you have a fewer hours a week to spend with them.  Sure, they may complain or poke fun at you, but in the long run, what you model to them by choosing your family first is so much more important.  As my friend Pete Hill demonstrated countless times, you can be a great example to your family, the youth you minister to and many others all at the same time and impact them for eternity.

TAKE A MINUTE and…

  1. Plan some Plan B scenarios.  Who are leaders you can trust and how can you build up other leaders so that you can rely on them in Plan B situations?
  2. Set up a time where you can challenge your leaders to have a message ready for any given time.  This may need to be a “Training Time” that you have with your leaders.  So, either set up a Training Time or encourage them today to start preparing a talk to give at any give time.

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Balancing Ministry and Parenthood and being Effective at both (Part 1 of 2)

Ministry and Parenthood are two extremely challenging jobs to do successfully by themselves.  How, then, can you possibly even think about doing both of them at the same time, yet alone, be successful at both of them?  This topic is a personal passion of mine as I have been married for almost 10 years and I have 4 adorable daughters who resemble my beautiful wife in so many ways.  In the 12 years I have been in full-time ministry, I have been a minister and a father to an ever-growing family (one that is hopefully no longer growing for good) for the past 8 years.

One of the hardest adjustments for me in ministry was when we had our first daughter. Before she was born, I felt that I could do a lot as I had all day open to do meetings and contact work with students.  Then, I would go home and my wife and I would have a quiet evening to ourselves to do whatever we wanted.  When we had our first daughter, everything changed. In particular, having a baby in the house directly impacted how I did ministry (I’ll explain more a little bit further down).  In some ways, I was bummed by the adjustments I choose to make and I was envious of those youth ministers who could still do those things.  It was as if I felt that they were being more effective than I was because they were freer to do those things.

I discovered that was and is not the case.  Just because you have a family (and an ever growing one at that), does not mean you cannot and should not be effective.  It just means that it may look different than it did when you were single and without a family.  The question is how do you balance a new and/or growing family with a growing ministry at the same time?

Family First.

When my wife and I were pregnant with our first daughter, I polled a lot of ministers and youth leaders who have been in ministry a long time and I asked them how I could balance family life and ministry and still be effective at both.  The overwhelming answer I got was to choose my family first.  That is not to say that sometimes the decision and choices you make between ministry and family are not going to be hard ones, but when you answer family first, it needs to be more than just mere words you say.  It is easy to say, “My family, not my ministry, comes first”.  But, the proof in the pudding.  Do your actions verify what you say?  Will your spouse be able to say that you care more about your ministry or your family?  Because of this, when you choose your family first, it will affect how you do ministry in a variety of ways.

How #1:  It affects your Schedule

The first way a family first mentality affects your ministry is that it affects your schedule. A perfect example is night time contact work.  As a single adult or even young married person, it is easy to spend multiple nights out a week hanging with students or going to games or plays.  If you are accustom to that, once you have a child, you probably need to cut back.  You don’t have to cut back completely because those are great contact work and relational times you need with the students. But, that does mean that you should pick and choose your events you go to as night time, especially with young children, need to be family time together.

Night times are huge productions for a families.  Not only are you and your spouse getting ready to unwind for the day, but when you have children, night time means teeth brushing, baths and settling them down for bedtime.  It means reading them books or doing a devotional and praying together. Doing this with one child challenging enough, imagine trying to do this with 2-4 children.  Even with newborns, the evening time is a great family time together that you don’t want to miss out on too much.  Your nighttime work strategy needs to be adjusted so that you can be at home more at nights and minister to them.  Why continue to do ministry with other children from other families not your own and sacrifice a more long lasting ministry with your own family?

Another way it affects your schedule is that you will rarely have those 9-5 days anymore. Now, stop laughing.  I know that there are no 9-5 day youth ministry jobs out there.  But, what I mean is that your schedule becomes more in flux than ever before.  For instance, sometimes I sacrifice some early morning or later afternoon meetings to either take my children to school or pick them up.  Sometimes I feel guilty going home from work at 3 pm to pick them up and spend time with the family.  But, in the big picture, as long as I do my work and get it done, my conscience is clear.  See, I make up for this everyday as I get up at 5 am to begin working on messages, vision, working on emails and doing other administrative things.  I know it is kind of psycho, but I get a lot accomplished then.  For me, those are work hours I am logging in so that I can take off early to spend time with the family.  It is not 9-5, but in all reality, as I mentioned earlier, are there any 9-5 ministry jobs out there?

Because choosing family over ministry affects your schedule, you have to be creative with your time.  Some examples of being creative with your schedule are:

  • Get up earlier in the morning and do some admin work or send some emails.  Or, if you are not a morning person, stay up a little bit later, after the children are in bed, and do a little bit of late night work.
  • Invite students to come to your house to hang.  You don’t need to go grab food somewhere or chill at someone else’s house.  Invite them over to do that and they get to see a good example of Christ in your family life.

Now, this is just one way choosing family first affects your ministry.  My next post will conclude this topic with some other areas that are affected when you begin a family.  But, as you can see, choosing family first just means that you alter how you do ministry.  Youth in your program are not going to die because you have a fewer hours a week to spend with them.  Sure, they my complain or poke fun at you, but in the long run, what you model to them by choosing your family first is so much more important.  You can still get your job done and be effective in your work and ministry life at the same time.

TAKE A MINUTE and…

  1. If you have children, how can you adjust your schedule this week to make sure you are being effective in both ministry and family time?
  2. How can you go that extra step with your family today?  What can you do today that will show them that you care about them?

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