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Correct and Instruct

My 8-year old is playing basketball in two different leagues this season. No, it’s not because he’s a phenom and needs the work. It’s because my wife and I didn’t communicate well enough and we each signed him up for a different league. But we’re basketball people, so we love that he gets the extra time on the court.

As he’s learning to play the game, he’s figuring out that the way he played as a 6- or 7-year old won’t fly in his new leagues. In one game recently, he had the ball in three straight trips down the floor. And three straight times he was called for traveling. One time, he was fine. Twice, he was a little annoyed. The third time though, he was visibly frustrated and embarrassed. I was frustrated too, but not at him. I knew the referee, so I yelled, “Wes, can you at least explain why you’re calling it? He doesn’t understand what he’s doing wrong!”

We do what we can in practice, but in a game situation, at that age level, the referees need to serve as instructors and not just arbiters of the rules, calling violations and then moving along.

As a youth pastor, I have to be careful to do that as well. I see my students make poor decisions. I seem them post things they shouldn’t. I know when they’re in detention. I see them in the community doing things they shouldn’t. But I can’t just blow my whistle and say, “You’re doing something wrong!” I need to take the extra time to walk them through what it means to follow Christ at all times and explain how to honor Him with our lives. I need to not only correct, but also instruct.

Paul did that in his letter to the Ephesians. He didn’t just call them out for their sin, he taught them what it looked like to imitate Christ (Ephesians 5:1). It takes more time. It slows the game down. It demands more of us to invest that time in our students. But it is what is required of us.

Let’s not just call fouls. Let’s walk with our students and teach them what it means to imitate Christ. Let’s correct and instruct. The effort we spend is well worth it.

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3 Ways to Get Your Group Unstuck (Part 2)

Every small group leader has moments where the conversation comes to a screeching halt. The factors involved are many. Here is a short list I have continually seen over the years. In our last post we discussed the first of our three ways to group unstuck, get visual. Go check it out if you haven’t read it yet. Today we get to way number two.

Get Easy Wins – One of the things that can get a conversation stuck is a lack of understanding of the question. We are all guilty of asking a complicated and confusing question. Students can be confused and then just say nothing. What if we could create momentum in the conversation, so they had the confidence to talk more. This is when I teach the idea of getting easy wins. Whenever the conversation gets stuck, take a step back, then ask the simplest question you can for the group to answer. Let’s say I asked this question while holding up a plastic red ball pit ball “How has this plastic ball changed how children have been able to play?” After a few moments of silence or confusion, getting the easy win means asking this “What color is this ball?”. Most everyone will be able to answer right away, red. Then you start working your way back to the original question. 

  • What color is this ball?  A. Red
  • What is it made of? A. Plastic
  • Where have you seen it before? A. Kids playlands inside of fast food places and indoor playgrounds.
  • What are some reasons you think they use these? A. They make it safe and fun to play inside.
  • “How has this plastic ball changed how children have been able to play?” A. They have allowed kids to play safely inside even when the outside doesn’t allow it. 

Our Bible and life questions can sound confusing, but working through them from easy to the original question can build so much conversation momentum.  

In what ways are you getting groups unstuck? Let us know in the comments and look for part three Asking Better Questions.

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3 Ways to Get Your Group Unstuck (Part 1)

Every small group leader has moments where the conversation comes to a screeching halt. The factors involved are many. Here is a short list I have continually seen over the years. 

  • Tired and hungry
  • Quiet kids are a dominant number of the group.
  • Fear of saying the wrong thing or answering incorrectly. 
  • Not understanding the wording of the question
  • No desire to engage in anything faith-related
  • Mom and dad made them come
  • Leaders not meeting the students where they are developmentally or educationally

Your list may have even more factors on it. The result can be frustrating. 

Leaders feel defeated and students may not feel connected. We as youth pastors have the continual challenge to equip leaders for the many conversations that they encounter. Yet what about what I call the in-game mechanics of leading a small group.  

So how do we help get a small group unstuck? Here is the first of three ways to make it happen.

Get Visual – One of the most overlooked parts of a student ministry can be identifying learning styles and applying them to how we walk through Bible Studies, discussions, and connecting. One of my favorite weapons to arm leaders with is a box of sharpies and a pad of giant 25×30 post-it notes. This portable white space can be used on a wall for whiteboarding a conversation or placed in the middle so students can draw their answers to a question. I love the continual innovation in how I see it gets used and then left up on the wall for the next week. Another way we get visual in groups is by bringing in physical objects that connect with the discussion. We all do it as speakers, but going that extra mile to help a leader see that they can bring something in from home to help discuss a Bible passage makes all the difference.

What ways do you help get your group unstuck? Check back for part two and three this week.

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Enneagram 9s in Youth Ministry

First off, I’d love to give a shoutout to all the enneagram 9’s out there reading this post. Second off, I’d love to tell you how much I relate with you in the work that we do in caring for people. Technically speaking, I am a 9w8, but most often than not I am a pretty high 9 and tend to carry the weight of what other people are dealing with in their lives.

Throughout these last 11 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, in which we’ve all had to pivot and do ministry differently in some respect, it’s no secret that people are dealing with a lot. When I say a lot, it tends to be pretty heavy stuff people are dealing with. The amount of times I’ve heard people say, “We’re broken…” “This has been so hard on our family…” “Could you pray for us… we’re dealing with…” The list could go on-and-on. As I said before, people are dealing with heavy stuff.

In conversations with families throughout the last several months, sitting and just hearing people talk about what they’ve been going through personally or as a family, I walk away from every conversation, every meeting… and just feel… heavy. I feel the weight of what people are caring. As a Pastor that cares for people, I’m sure you feel that even if you’re not an enneagram 9, but as an enneagram 9, I feel as if I’m sometimes hit harder by some of those conversations.

Personally even, you may feel worn down, beat up, exhausted, emotionally uninvested, etc… after what these last 11 months have dealt us, but keep in mind why you do what you do. You do what you do because you care for people. The conversations where someone pours out their heart to you, the coffee meetings where someone tells you what their son or daughter are dealing with, the meetings that leave you feeling heavy… they all matter. Keep you mind on that, and keep doing the work of caring for people where they are.

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I wish I had a call-in show…

I wish I had a call-in show after youth group on Wednesday nights.

After everyone is gone, weary and tired I still have this crazy desire to just talk about it. I want to break down the program, celebrating the new things we tried, the successful timing, and the moments that worked. I want to celebrate our failures with laughter. I want to unpack why something didn’t work. I want to tell the story about what my dudes shared in a small group. I want to rant about the stuff that just frustrated me.

I wish I had a call-in show where all us crazy youth pastors who can’t just turn it off could call in and talk about what just happened. I know everyone’s youth group isn’t on Wednesday nights, but how awesome would it be for us to take some time to be truly be united through a conversation about our love, our joy, as well as our messy life in youth ministry.

The reality is that most youth pastors and leaders around the country can feel lonely after a long day and night. They can feel like no one really understands their sacrifice or why that one moment that no one else saw was worth the entire night. They are a little off their rocker to want to talk about those nights where things just completely fail, but thats what we want to do.

This isn’t a job or a career. This thing is in our bones and our blood.

Tonight I saw the best parts and the parts I wish didn’t happen.
I was front row for the student who unexpectedly shared about anger and frustration from a family wound. I was also on my email tonight when I learned about a new student who didn’t connect very well and isn’t sure he wants to come back. I saw planning center live actually work from my iPad on stage keeping us on time. I also saw my online groups get accidentally muted many times during the night.

I know I am not the only one, and many times when I go home I think to myself, I wish I had a call-in show with youth leaders and youth pastors so we could just talk about it before going to bed.

We are a youth ministry united across denominations, geographic boundaries, sizes and styles under one name, Jesus. Wouldn’t it be cool to actually connect that way.

Leave a comment that you would share if it was a call-in show about what happened this past week in youth ministry.

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God And Happiness

Does God want us to be happy?

I am watching a video that my mom sent me of my son when he was a baby. She is hitting the ground, and he is just laughing up a storm. He is giggling and smiling, and it just filled my heart with Joy. This got me thinking about how our heavenly Father delights in our joy. He wants us to see us smiling and laughing.

However, there is a difference between us being filled with joy and us being filled with happiness. We live in a culture that screams, “do what makes you happy”. We are told by movies, and the radio that if you think that something will make you happy, you cannot let anything stand in your way. The problem is happiness is momentary, it is fleeting. My son laughs uncontrollably when my mom is hitting the floor. In my experience, when my mom stopped hitting the floor he usually stopped laughing. This is how happiness seems to work. There are a lot of “things” that can make you happy, but how do you feel when that thing is taken? The world would say you just need to find a bigger and better thing.   

The Bible tells a different tale. Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope”. Perhaps when we ask, ‘Does God want us to be happy?’ we are focusing on the wrong thing. God wants us to be filled with joy. Joy is something that is eternal, because it is not brought about by something, but someone. We find joy in our relationship with God. The verse above says that we find our peace in our belief in Christ. This world is falling apart, but so many are looking to things to make themselves happy, rather than growing closer to God. When we are close to God we think less in temporal happiness, and more in eternal joy.

So now what? I hope this week you can spend more time focused on the things of God, and the joy he provides. I hope you can spend less time chasing the things the world says will make you happy. When we chase happiness, we are like the dog chasing a car. What do you do when you catch it?

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Hot Take: Our best days in Zoom Youth Ministry are ahead

Like most of the youth ministry universe, our church has rocked many different online versions of our programs. YouTube original content with live chat to offering groups through massive zoom meetings is among those offerings. This bumpy ride has led to innovations, failures, and complete fatigue from doing so much digital both at work, in school, and through ministry. This fatigue created a blind spot I wasn’t fully aware of until this past Wednesday night. Blindspots are those places between our side mirrors the road that oncoming cars pass through. Without consideration before changing lanes, blindspots have the power to cause trouble. The blindspot created from my Zoom fatigue led to the quick dismissal of its future place in our ministries. That experience has led to a question I want to pose here and now.

What if our best days in Zoom Youth Ministry were ahead?

Church online has been a less attractive option for us as we were able to meet in person. Tired of zoom and trying to juggle it all, online has sort of fallen to the wayside a bit. Lack of volunteer support, lack of desire to do that one more thing, and bumpy experiences have all contributed to the problem.

Maybe that is why I was set up for a surprise this past Wednesday night.

Stuck at home because of quarantine protocols for the second straight week, I was the logical choice for the host for our online option. Since it was my only real option to connect as a youth pastor, it had my full attention. What was different this time, however, was our approach.

Using the simple technology of a Facebook Portal (which now supports zoom calls), Zoom, and OBS switcher software we offered a hybrid approach. As the host, I could spotlight the in-person content for our online crew. When there were moments that didn’t translate online, OBS software allowed me to play games and videos to flesh out our large group time. All of this landed at the same place in-person and online, small group breakouts.

I was confounded by how much we felt part of the vibe that was happening in-person. Facebook Portal made it so easy, where it had been tough before. OBS made playing videos smoothly, where in the past just doing a screen share made them jumpy. Making it all happen in the same time slot as in-person further created the bridge. Think about the possibilities that are now normalized for us going forward.

Snow days that canceled youth groups in some parts of the country can continue online.
Leader meetings now have more accessible time options.
Technology continues to improve so we can offer more engaging experiences online.

Zoom Youth Ministry gave me honest prayers from our small group members, like Bella, who wanted me to pray for her parents to get connected to Christ and a follow-up conversation with one of our young leaders who stayed back to debrief the night.

In-person will never cease to be my number one priority for students, but I do believe our best days in Zoom Youth Ministry are ahead. Connecting people to Jesus and one another will happen on a level we couldn’t have dreamed over a year ago.

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Other Duties as Assigned

I’ve watched our senior pastor handle a lot of tasks that one would expect of a senior pastor: preaching, teaching, counseling, fundraising, grief care, church leadership, etc. But I remember one particular job he did that threw me for a loop. Soon after I arrived, I was working in our youth area when he came down the hall with a plunger. He disappeared into one of our bathrooms and came out a few minutes later with his sleeves rolled up and his normally-pristine hair thrown askew.

Turns out this was a regular task for him each week. He knew the building. He knew the problems associated with it. He knew the unseen needs associated with it. And even though it wasn’t in his job description, even though he had advanced degrees and dressed the part of the senior pastor, he did what needed to be done and received zero recognition for it.

This year, my job has leaned heavily on that cryptic line in every job description: other duties as assigned. I’m still doing youth ministry. I’m still writing sermons and working with small groups. I’m still recruiting and training volunteers. But since change has come to the way we’re doing church, I’ve added a few things to that list. I’m the live-stream director for Sunday mornings because I did a lot of troubleshooting last spring in our student ministry. I record, edit, and publish a lot more video content throughout the week. I help provide vision for the church and help our pastor bring his vision for the whole church to life. The scope of my ministry has broadened because of those “other duties as assigned.”

I know I’m not alone in this. Most churches don’t have so many staff members that everyone can stay in their lane. We’re all doing more than our search committee hired us to do. And since so much of that work is behind the scenes, I struggle to do that work without recognition. I often have to return to Jesus’ warning in Matthew 6.

Be encouraged that the God of the universe sees the work you’re doing, even if the 55+ ministry isn’t seeing it. Know that there is a reward for your work, even if the reward doesn’t come from the finance committee. And if you’re struggling with this, let us know in the comments so we can pray with you that you’ll feel the presence of God while you’re plunging toilets or rewiring the network or repairing the ping pong tables, or working through one of those “other duties as assigned.”

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8 Things To Remember When Engaging Next Gen on Mental Health

According to a recent Barna study, half of 18-year-olds in the U.S. report feeling anxiety and fear of failure1 and about 40% said they often felt sad or depressed, while slightly fewer young people said they felt lonely and isolated from others (34%)2.

The church in America is undoubtedly doing better engaging the ever-growing anxiety of younger generations, but we still have a long way to go. We used to largely ignore it or spiritualize it away — meaning the only response to mental and emotional health was to read the Bible and pray more (among other disciplines). This isn’t wrong — our spiritual disciplines play a very important role in mental and emotional health — but some have clinical struggles that need additional attention.

Don’t underestimate the power of open, honest and vulnerable dialogue with the youth in your church about their worries, anxieties and fears.

Here are eight things to remember as churches start these conversations:

  1. Develop proper biblical teaching on the role of emotions and thoughts in our walk with Jesus.
  2. Cultivate an atmosphere in our churches that makes it safe for people to share their struggles.
  3. Leaders, be transparent about your own struggles in this area. This gives permission for others to do the same. They won’t do what their leaders aren’t willing to do.
  4. Make emotional and mental health a part of your discipleship process and leadership pipeline.
  5. Teach about God’s common grace of doctors, counselors, medicine, etc. God can still get the glory, as these means of healing are provided through His common grace.
  6. Keep trusted resources, books and articles as ready references for your people.
  7. If possible, have a trusted counselor or counseling center to which you can refer people. If you jump into this conversation, people will likely ask you where they can go to get help from a counselor.
  8. Preach the power of the gospel. There is popular statement with young adults – “it’s okay to not be okay”. This is a good starting place because it encourages transparency and honesty. But we must realize this statement is just a starting place. The gospel goes further than that. The gospel teaches: it’s okay to not be okay, but it’s not okay to stay that way when there is another way. Jesus is The Way. He loves us so much He wants us “just how we are,” but He also loves us so much that He won’t leave us that way. Now, is the time to get help, and to begin to move forward!

Check out Shane’s new book, 9 Common Lies Christians Believe: And Why God’s Truth is Infinitely Better.

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Time of Thankfulness

It is very easy to turn on the news or social media and find terror and fear. I feel like negative emotions are so easy to gravitate towards that they can sometimes become our default. When I wake up, I must remind self to be patient, or caring, but I never have to remind myself to get angry or stressed. Honoring the Lord with our thoughts and emotions takes effort.

Easy to Find

My mom always had a saying, “If you can’t find anything nice to say. Then don’t say anything at all”. I think this is a policy I must adapt into the way I feel about things. When something happens there are many ways we can respond, but what do we choose? Do we choose the response that is uplifting and pleasing to the Lord? Or, do we choose the easy option of becoming angry or upset.

What We Need to Look For

In the book of Colossians Paul is telling the people what the life of a Christian looks like. He is telling them to put on righteousness and put to death the negative thoughts and emotions of this world. Colossians 3:15-16 says, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God”.  There is a word said twice in this passage that I want to highlight, “thankful”. Paul is telling the church at Colossae what it means to live like Christ, and part of this is a spirit of thankfulness. This does not mean we are only thankful in the good times, but thankful in all circumstances.

Even Now

The World is in a time of panic and confusion. The easy thing to do is find things that are wrong, or ways your life has been negatively affected by Covid 19. However, Paul would have something else to say. He is writing Colossians from a prison cell telling the people to be thankful. In the worst situations Paul was still thankful for all the Lord had given him. In the same way I challenge you this week to look around you and instead of seeing the negative, thank God for all that you have.