Author

Chris Lynch

Browsing

No man is an island, entire of itself;

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

John Donne

This excerpt from the English poet John Donne should adorn the wall of the office of every youth worker.  Stereotypically, youth workers are seen by those “on the outside” as being fun-loving extroverts that are surrounded by people almost all the time.  Although there is some shred of truth to that perception, the reality is too often vastly different. After 20+ years in youth ministry and having countless conversations with youth workers throughout that time, it is clear that being a youth leader is often a lonely place, dare I say an island.

For this reason, it is critical to the mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being for youth workers to connect with other people in their field.  As those relationships and networks evolve over time incredible collaborative ministry initiatives bubble up. Below are 4 steps to creating a collaborative community of youth workers that will insure that you don’t find yourself as “an island” and might produce effective initiatives as well.

1.       Reach Out – Every relationship begins with one party reaching out to another individual.  Building a network of youth workers begins by taking a risk and reaching out to other youth workers.  Maybe that is identifying other youth workers within your denominational structure. Or maybe it is drawing a 10 mile circle around your church, finding every church in that circle, and contacting them to find out who the youth worker is.  Even if it is only a group of 3 or 4 that’s okay. The number involved is not nearly as important as the community created. So make a list and then make some calls.

2.       Open Up – Vulnerability has become somewhat of a buzzword in our Christian culture, but it is a crucial aspect that needs to be a part of any true community.  So as you begin to meet with your community of youth workers, be willing to open up with them in order to move the relationships beyond the surface level. Clearly, this will happen over time as you get to know each other better and as the trust level increases among the group.  But once a safe climate is created, be willing to open up. It might make sense as a group to create a covenant agreement early on that would help ease the anxiety of sharing with each other.

3.       Share Passions – Don’t just spend your time together griping about your church culture or parents or that one junior high kid that annoys you to no end.  Share personally about what passions you have for youth ministry. What keeps you doing what you do in ministry? What activities make your heart jump for joy?  You might find that there are common passions among the group that you could build upon.

4.       Address Common Needs – Brainstorm together common needs among your churches and/or your community.  I know of one community that had a season where 4 young people committed suicide in less than a year.  A group of youth workers that had created a community came together and pooled resources to host a gathering that dealt with the issue of suicide head on.  It was very helpful for that community to begin the healing process, but none of those churches could have pulled that off on their own. Too often in churches we focus more on what makes us different rather than what we have in common.  Maybe your youth worker network could begin to change that mentality in your community.

God created us to be in community.  We were not made to do life OR ministry on our own.  Even when we are fortunate enough to have persons within our congregation with whom to share ministry, it is helpful to have persons from outside of our congregation to walk alongside as we fulfill our calling to be in ministry with youth.  May these suggestions help you get off the island and into a community of other youth workers as you seek to have His kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.

I was raised in church all my life, but was raised in a denominational tradition that didn’t follow the church calendar.  Well, if they did, I was paying attention less than I thought (which if you knew teenage me, you would know is highly possible).  When I began to attend worship in a United Methodist Congregation, I was introduced to the concept of the church calendar including Lent. As I continued to grow in my relationship with God I began to not only understand Lent (and all of the church calendar seasons) better, but I developed an appreciation for the impact it has on my life each year.  That eventually led to me becoming youth director at that same UMC. When I served in the local church, I sought to share the practice of Lent with the teens that were involved in the ministry in hopes that they would find it a means to strengthen their own relationship in Christ.

What is Lent?  

Lent is a season of preparation for Easter that lasts for 40 days, not counting Sundays, that spans from Ash Wednesday until Easter each year.  As you might imagine the number of days being set at 40 is not a coincidence at all. The 40 days of Lent is set up as a reminder of the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness in preparation for His time in ministry to the world.  Yes, that is the same wilderness time when Satan arrived on the scene to tempt Jesus on three different occasions.

How do You Observe Lent?

One of the beauties of Lent is that there is not a rule book to follow.  The point of Lent as mentioned earlier is to prepare your heart for Easter where we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord.  Jesus spent those days in the wilderness fasting, that is denying himself the comfort of food. With that in mind, many Christians choose to observe Lent by fasting from something, like a specific food or drink, or from habits like social media or television watching.  During Lent, the idea is that we die to ourselves by giving up those things we desire. In addition, instead of fasting from something, other disciples take the opportunity of Lent to add or increase a spiritual discipline such as prayer, bible reading, or others. Remember there isn’t a formula to be successful in how you observe Lent.  

Why Observe Lent?

Jesus, spent those 40 days, denying himself through fasting, in order to prepare for his journey through death, resurrection, and subsequent ministry.  Lent allows us to remember and prepare as well in recognizing our own journey from sin and death into life and love with Jesus. A former pastor that I had the privilege of serving with, when talking about the critical occurrences in our life, once said this.  “It isn’t that we forget them, it is that we fail to remember them”. Think about the major historical events that have occured during your lifetime. Chances are you remember exactly where you were when you got the news, so you haven’t forgotten it at all, but you have failed to remember it… well until I reminded you.  Such is the case with Lent. It is a great way to avoid failing to remember not only what Jesus went through in the wilderness, but also to remember the outcome that we celebrate on Easter Sunday. May your Lenten season prepare you well for the celebration of our Risen Lord, and may you share the time of remembrance with the youth you have the pleasure to serve.

Leading an effective youth ministry requires resources that often seem to be in all too short supply.   If you are like most youth workers, there is little that you can do to create additional resources to eliminate the shortage that tends to cause stress for you as the leader or limits the effectiveness of the ministry that can occur.  In most cases, if there are opportunities to create additional resources, such as holding a fundraiser to collect more money for your budget, it requires significant additional resources (time, effort, etc) to be a success with little or no long-term impact upon ministry effectiveness.  

However, there is one resource that, when incorporated effectively into the culture of your ministry, can increase the availability of a much needed resource as well as have a lasting impact on the long-term effectiveness of the youth ministry. What is this resource? I’m glad you asked, it’s developing student leaders.

How do you as a youth leader begin to develop a culture of student leadership development?  

These are three steps that I believe, can serve as a kickstarter to developing a student leadership culture within your youth ministry:  make a plan, identify leaders, and create leadership opportunities.

It sounds simple enough, but like so many things in life it is easier said than done. Let’s break down each of those steps a little further to clarify what needs to occur.

1. Create a Plan

First, it is important that you as the leader create a plan for developing student leaders in the youth ministry context.  In order to create a great plan, begin with your “why”! Answering the why question helps develop a clear purpose for developing student leaders, create a direction for developing student leaders, and offers a basis to evaluate the effectiveness of your student leadership development structure.  Three specific questions to consider as you make a plan for developing student leaders are:

  • Why do you want to develop student leaders?  What’s the purpose?
  • What outcomes are you seeking?
  • How can you best structure student leadership development to accomplish your desired purposes and outcomes?

Answering these questions for yourself, or better yet with a group of adult volunteers and/or youth, can help lay a firm foundation for creating an impactful student leadership culture.

2. Identify Leaders

    Once you have settled on a plan for developing student leaders, it is time to identify potential student leaders in your midst.  This step is critical in creating a student leadership culture. Take your time with this step as it can be tempting to quickly select the typical youth that are the default options when you think about student leaders in the ministry.   Please don’t read that as a statement that you should NOT tap into those students as leaders, because chances are that they are your “default” leaders because they are effective leaders. That being said, it is easy to overlook potential leaders in our midst when we too quickly identify potential student leaders.  

One way to insure that you slow down and think beyond the “usual suspects” of student leaders is to make a list of the characteristics you hope to instill in your student leaders. When you think about those characteristics it might be helpful to divide them into two categories: skills and heart.

Some students will have characteristics that are considered to be skills of a leader (time management, good listener, good communicator).  Skills are characteristics that can be taught and, with practice, mastered. The heart of a leader deals with one’s character. In a ministry setting, I would say that it is much more important that a potential leader exhibits the heart of a leader (integrity, compassion) more than the skills of a leader. Be sure to include a balance of heart and skills characteristics as you make your list. Once you have that list share it with your volunteer team and together, begin to identify youth that exhibit those characteristics.  Obviously no student will exhibit all of the identified characteristics, so be sure to keep that in mind as you set your standards.

3. Create Leadership Opportunities

The final step to kick start your student leadership development after creating a plan and identifying your student leaders is to give them opportunities to lead. This sounds like the most obvious of the steps, but youth leaders regularly struggle with it, not because of the young leaders they are developing, but because their own struggles.  Some struggle to create opportunities due to fear of it not being done up to their standard. Others avoid it in order to insulate young leaders from failure.

Whatever the reason, it is imperative that youth leaders avoid those urges to avoid giving away leadership opportunities. I can promise that you as the youth leader could do a better job MOST of the time at whatever task you delegate to your student leaders, especially initially, but over time your students’ proficiency may surprise you. In some ways I liken it to driving a car.  You can be taught how to drive. You can pass written the driver’s test. You can know every traffic sign and law by heart. But you only become a better driver by driving. The more you drive, the better driver you become. The same is true of leadership. The more opportunities you are given to lead, the better leader you become. Will there be mistakes? You bet. Will there be times when things don’t go smoothly? Absolutely. Ultimately, there will be growth and development among your student leaders, which is the goal.

Nelson Mandela once said, “I have never lost.  I win, or I learn.” What if we applied that quote to our approach to developing student leaders? As a leader it helps alleviate some of the fear that we might face when it comes to kick starting a student leadership development culture.  Suddenly, we don’t see our failures (or losses) as a negative, but rather an opportunity to learn. That approach can also be helpful in how free we feel to give students opportunities to lead.  What if we saw their mistakes, not as failures, but rather learnings. If we do, then we can encourage our students by reminding them, “You will never mess up. You will succeed or you will learn.”   My prayer for you as a youth leader, is that your efforts to develop student leaders in the youth ministry you lead is fruitful and that young, effective leaders rise up in your midst.

Join Chris for Ask A Veteran!  That is our  virtual coaching session where you can ask a youth ministry pro questions and get real, personal help.  He will be leading one on the topic of student leadership on October 18th at 11AM Central Time.  Go ahead and set your calendars.  You can join from your phone or through your web browser.  Here’s all the details.  We’ll see you there:

Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android: https://zoom.us/j/221908709

Or iPhone one-tap :
US: +16699006833,,221908709# or +16468769923,,221908709#
Or Telephone:
Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
US: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 646 876 9923
Meeting ID: 221 908 709
International numbers available: https://zoom.us/u/B9GcIYVv

For whatever reason, it seems that this time of year has become synonymous with a few things: winter weather, broken resolutions, and major youth events. I don’t know much about meteorology and I certainly don’t have any pointers to help you keep resolutions, as mine were broken by January 5th. However, as one who has been involved in youth events for 25 years, both as a youth worker and now as a planner of such events, I have discovered a few pointers to think about that might make the impact of a quality youth event last longer than your new year’s resolution.

Before diving in, I want to be clear about a couple of things. First of all, I love youth events. Whether it is a youth event in a concert-type venue with a few thousand people or a more intimate setting with a couple hundred, the opportunity to pull young people out of their everyday routine and offer them space to focus more intently on their relationship with Christ can be a landmark experience in their faith development.

Secondly, I also believe wholeheartedly that real, lasting ministry with youth is more likely to happen away from the actual “event” as youth have a chance to process or talk through what was experienced at the event with a caring adult. Because of these two factors, I am convinced and have witnessed firsthand that what happens after the event is critically important to lasting impact occurring rather than just having another mountain top experience that stays on top of the mountain. So here are a few ways you help the impact last after your next youth event.

1. Debrief it

Arriving home is not easy. If you are like most youth workers, when you arrive home after an event there is not enough caffeine in the world that can keep you awake. You have invested countless hours preparing last minute details before the event and then keeping crazy night owl hours to insure the Jr. High boys don’t break out of their room to blare an air horn at 3 am. So the last thing on your mind when you arrive is talking about the impact of the event with your teens.

I would never suggest you have that conversation at that point.Rather, before you leave for the event, consider scheduling a follow-up meeting with the group of attendees sometime during the week after the event to offer a chance for them to share the impact the event had on their spiritual journey. It doesn’t need to be a long, formal gathering, just a chance for them to process together how God impacted their lives through the event. Here are a couple of good follow up questions that you might ask:

  • What id one truth that you realized from this event that had an impact on your walk with Christ?
  • How will your day to day routine change because of that truth? Or, has it already changed?
  • What can we do as youth leaders and peers to encourage you to grow in that truth in the coming weeks?

2. Share It

Another way to help the impact of a youth event stick is to create opportunities for youth to share the impact of the event with others. Again, if nothing else, sharing the impact of the event requires that the young person not only process how God impacted their life through the event, but also think through how to articulate that to others. Simply being able to put it into words, makes it more likely that the life change lasts beyond the end of the trip.

Sharing the trip can be done in several ways, each with more or less courage required. You might try:

  • At the next gathering of youth you ask each person that went to share with a small group of peers the impact that the event had on their spiritual walk. That offers a low risk opportunity to share about the trip.
  • Ask the youth to share with the entire youth group about the experience. That increases the risk a bit but spreads the all the stories further.
  • Sharing the experience with the entire congregation is an option as well, but might take even more courage from the students.

Regardless of how or where sharing the impact of a youth event takes place, creating opportunities for youth to share the impact with others is another effective means of insuring that the impact sticks. Plus, it becomes a great way of recruiting youth to be a part of the next event or (if shared with the congregation) connecting with adults who might be intrigued to serve a volunteers in the future. When shared the impact has the potential to spread to others and not just kept to those who experienced the event itself.

If you have just come off a weekend event or retreat (or can see one on the horizon), I encourage you to try to extend the impact of the group through these two avenues. You might be surprised at how far the impact reaches. It could lead to God doing great new things within your youth ministry. Regardless, I pray that God does amazing things as you impact the lives of your young people through events.

Since every church is located in a community in some type of transition, every local church is encouraged to study their congregation’s potential.” 

As a youth worker, you would not be the first, to wonder what in the world the BOD has to say that might be helpful in the youth ministry realm of things.  For the most part maybe you are right, but that is another discussion for another time.  What I would suggest is that this small excerpt in paragraph 213 has the potential to be as relevant to youth ministries as we have found it to be in the lives of local congregations in South Carolina.  

The reality is that the only constant in our culture is change.  Therefore, if we are not continually monitoring the change that is taking place around us – in our culture at large, in teen culture, and in our community – we are less likely to remain effective in making young disciples of Jesus Christ.  

 The Forward Focus process places in front of local churches the stark reality that many of them find themselves facing that is warned of in that quote we began with from the Book of Discipline (paragraph 213). In my work in the South Carolina Conference, I not only have the privilege of working with youth ministries  and youth workers on the conference level, I also resource local churches in two of our twelve districts.  It is in that role that I have had the opportunity to adapt and create a process called The Forward Focus that is used an assessment tool for local congregations based on Paragraph 316 in the UM Book of Discipline.  We are about a year into the launch of this process and have experienced success in helping local congregations assess their ministry potential within their community. 

With that as a backdrop, I would like to offer three truths that can’t be ignored if we are to lead youth ministries that remain effective even as the culture around us changes.

1. Our culture and community will change.

Like I said, that the only constant in our world is change.  That has never been more true than now.  If you doubt that, take a look at your cell phone.  Unless you have purchased one in the last 3-6 months, chances are there is a newer model that promises to be better and probable bigger.  It is impossible to keep up because change is so rapid.  As a matter of fact, I think that is what sets this time and place in our world apart from times gone by.  Change has always happened, but now it occurs at warp speed.  

2. The best time to initiate change in your ministry when momentum is strong.

One trap that youth ministries and ministries in general, routinely fall prey to is waiting too late to assess the change in their culture or community.  When things seem to be “humming along” and numbers and morale are good, we tend to take the opportunity to “ride the wave” of success.  After working hard to create and plan an effective ministry for a particular place and time, there is nothing more satisfying that recognizing and celebrating a job well done.  

As we take time to pause and enjoy the success that we have worked so hard to create, change continues to occur in our culture and our community.  The best leaders are those that can stay in front of the change curve, not by predicting the future, but by continually assessing the change that is occurring and considering new ways of “doing ministry” in their context that will keep their ministry effective as those changes take place.  

3. If the culture and community has already changed and your ministry is “stuck” in the past, moving forward requires wrestling with 3 tough questions:   

-Who are we?

-What has God called us to do or be?

-Who is our neighbor?

These questions are shared by authors Gil Rendle and Alice Mann in their book Holy Conversations as the cornerstone to planning and discernment.  What we have discovered in the Forward Focus process in SC is that these three questions are great tools to assess the change that is taking place in our culture and community and to begin to identify places that the ministry (or church) is blessed with gifts and resources to minister effectively in this “ new reality”.   For me, the sweet spot of youth ministry is the place where we connect our unique DNA with our calling from God to address the needs of the youth in our community.  

Change is eminent.   Regardless of the demographics surrounding your current ministry context, I can guarantee that they are and will continue to change.  Our ability to assess that change and remain proactive in creating ministries that are ready to be effective in the changing climate is critical to our effectiveness in ministry.  To be crystal clear, I am not at all suggesting that we are wishy washy in our theology, not am I suggesting that we allow culture to dictate what we believe.  But in order to reach our changing community and culture we must be sure we understand how and how quickly those changes are occurring.  

 I am a “maximizer”!  That’s what I learned about myself a few years ago when I took the Clifton Strengthsfinder assessment for the first time.  To give you a bit of context, here is some of the description from the Clifton Strengths Finder about how a maximizer thinks and functions:

“Excellence, not average, is your measure. Taking something from below average to slightly above average takes a great deal of effort and in your opinion is not very rewarding. Transforming something strong into something superb takes just as much effort but is much more thrilling.”

With that as a backdrop, it is easy to imagine that I value growth in the vocation of youth ministry.  I began with little background and experience in youth ministry,  but after,20+ years, here are some of the things that have been most helpful and meaningful to me in that journey.

1. NEVER “ARRIVE”

I have now been working to become a professional youth worker for over 20 years.  Have I come a long way?  Absolutely!  Do I have a long way to go?  Absolutely!  I think that mentality of never having “arrived” for “made it” or “figured it out” is an important stance to have when it comes to ministry.  

First and foremost because when we “figure it out” we can then rely on our own strength and understanding and therefore run the risk of creating a ministry that leaves God through the Holy Spirit out of the mix because, well… we got this.  Secondly, having the “I’ve arrived” mentality assumes that the world around us is not changing and that the way I function in ministry will never need to change.  And the reality is that the culture in which we are called to minister is changing at an incredibly rapid rate, so much so that by the time we “arrive” it is time to move somewhere else.  A third aspect to never arriving is to know that you must always be willing to learn as a youth worker.  There are always persons in the world with more knowledge and know how than you.  So take advantage of training seminars and youth worker conventions to keep reaching for that growing edge.  So in order to grow as a professional youth worker it is imperative that we recognize that God is always growing us if we are willing to follow Him.

2. NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK

I was fortunate when I began in my first full time ministry position to be approached by two other youth leaders in my city that wanted to get to know one another.  I just thought it sounded like it would be a possibility to meet a couple of new friends.  Little did I know that my connection with those two youth workers would be one of the most valuable tools in my ministry toolbox for the first 10 years of youth ministry.  

We began to get together on a regular basis, just to catch up on where ministry was leading us, to pray for one another, to vent to one another, to share ideas together, and just to have fun together.  I grew so much in my ministry because of the honest conversations about the good, the bad, and the ugly of youth ministry with these two trusted friends.  As I mentioned earlier, youth ministry is different and sometimes it is incredibly beneficial to have someone else in the tribe to walk alongside for the journey.  

3. GET A LIFE

Ministry in general can become all consuming if you allow it.  Youth ministry is no different.  With that in mind, setting boundaries to keep ministry from taking over your life is a necessity to being the best you that you can be.  In addition to setting boundaries, something that I have found helpful is to have a life outside of youth ministry.  In general, individuals in our culture find too large an amount of their identity wrapped up in their vocation.  Think about it, when you ask most adults to tell you about themselves one of the first two or three qualities that share is what their vocation is.

Youth ministry is not a 9-5 job where you clock in, do your 8 hours, then clock out and leave it behind until you clock back in the next day.  There are often days and nights where youth ministry consumes much more time than you would like.  Finding life outside of ministry is an essential way to help keep ministry from being all consuming.  Whether that is finding a hobby to focus your time on, or keeping a day off or two each week, or blocking out a “Family night” to dedicate to your family having some time away from ministry can help keep ministry from becoming your entire life.  If you feel that ministry is already consuming your life, stop reading this blog and begin to make a list of what your life consists of outside of ministry.  If there isn’t much life outside of ministry, make a plan to create one beginning now.

This is by no means an exhaustive list.  Whether you initiate some of these practices, or find different options that work for you, my hope and prayer is that you continue to grow in your ministry and that God is glorified through that ministry.  

It is the season for most churches where we as youth workers are asked to do something that the large majority of us dislike and an even greater majority of us struggle with: preparing a youth ministry budget. Creating a budget for youth ministry typically creates anxiety within at best and at worst, downright fear. This happens because, as a wise friend once told me, “there always seems to be a tension between money and ministry.”

Most of us would love to have the freedom to do whatever we wanted to do in ministry and let someone else figure out how to pay for it. That however is not the reality in most cases and therefore, that strategy will most often find you looking for a new position at another church.  I hope to help calm the fears and alleviate some of your anxieties about budgeting by offering a few helpful tips that have been gleaned from my experience with budgeting.

Start with looking ahead, not looking behind. I distinctly remember as a young youth worker preparing my yearly budget and my first step consisting of looking at the numbers from the previous year. If I had a youth ministry budget of $7500 last year then I needed to figure out what the best way to spend $7500 next year would be and make that my budget. The money was dictating my ministry. Instead of looking back, start the process by looking ahead. Think about your youth ministry vision, values, or goals and budget in order to fund accomplishing what you hope to accomplish in the future. Let ministry dictate the money not the other way around.

That leads me to a second tip: START EARLY! Every church functions in cycles and my hunch is that no matter what church you serve, if you have served there more than a year, you have a good idea what the “budget cycle” looks like. I have found it rare that a church deviates from the norm of requesting, setting, and approving the budget.

With that in mind, in order to look ahead as we mentioned, we need to start early so that we can spend some time thinking on the macro level about the values, vision, and goals of our youth ministry. This work cannot be done well when it is done quickly. As an inexperienced youth worker, and because of my natural slant towards procrastination, there were numerous times when I put off the work of the budget until it was “crunch time” and what resulted was a quick, “non-thought-through” budget that was based on last year’s numbers. Avoid this mistake by starting earlier.

Don’t plan your budget alone! When we start early and look ahead to create a budget, we are then able to include others in the budget process. Talk about your values, vision, and goals with your youth ministry team. Maybe that is a group of volunteers, or maybe with a group of parents, or maybe with the church staff or pastor. Sharing the vision, values, and goals with others accomplishes two things.

First, it creates a healthy dynamic in your team as everyone feels ownership in charting the course for the future. Secondly, it creates opportunities for others to to offer input about other resources that may be needed that you didn’t consider on your own. An additional benefit is that as your share the “behind-the-scenes” view of your budgeting process, you gain more support for the budget from leaders and stakeholders in your church that might “go to bat” for you when your budget is being considered.

Lastly, do your homework! In other words, rather than just arbitrarily assigning values to certain parts of your budget, do some digging about the cost of certain items. For example if you rent vehicles to take your group on a trip, rather than just “guessing” what it will cost to rent the vehicles, call a couple of rental car companies and get a quote, or go online and get an estimate. The more information you have to “support” your budget requests, the more likely the budget is to be approved.

Tell your story… YEAR ROUND! Finally, one of the most important things you can do to help during “budget time” is to be consistent in telling the story of your youth ministry throughout the year. Whether that is sharing about a retreat in a worship service, or sharing a story of the impact of youth small groups with an online video, or sharing pictures on the church website and social media, the more that the entire congregation sees the effectiveness of the youth ministry throughout the year in a positive light, the more likely the powers that be will be to approve your request for financial resources come budget time. So tell the story at every opportunity you have.

I won’t go so far as to say that if you follow these steps that you are guaranteed to have your budget requests approve, but I do firmly believe that following these steps drastically improves your chances of receiving approval. Perhaps even more importantly, these steps should help alleviate most (not all) of the anxiety that most youth workers experience when it comes to the budget process. May you face the lions, the tigers, and your budget with confidence this year.