Fruit that helps v. fruit that harms

I hope we are in agreement that the most important aim in youth ministry is fruit—real, solid, true fruit. In youth ministry this can be seen in a number of ways: love, discipleship, conversion, the development of long-term followers of Jesus, the list goes on and on.

However, there is another list of fruit that I must warn you is unhelpful. The trouble with this kind of fruit is that it looks so tasty and tempting. This is the “fruit” of numbers. Numbers are so intoxicating and attractive. Think about it, would you visit a youth ministry of 12 youth or 42 youth to observe and learn from? Most would pick the latter. Bigger is seen to be better in our churches and in our youth ministry. I must warn you that we must be very careful about seeking to plant and grow a crop of harmful fruit. This is a crop that, while it may appear tasty, will leave a very sour taste in your mouth.

Let’s consider an obvious example, you work for a church that expects you to “put something on” each Friday night for the local youth in the area. You know the drill; it is the usual assortment of games with a short message about Christ, followed by a snack. This has been the tree planted by of youth ministry all over the Western World. Well, imagine that you are running this program and you have a good number of youth showing up. Everyone is happy and your job is secure. Now think about what happens if the kids stop coming. They get bored, they grow up, they move on, who knows why … the numbers simply dry up.

Suddenly the “fruit” (that is, kids coming and having a good time) is gone. What happens next? Does the church decide that it is time to plant another tree? Nope, they decide to get rid of the farmer and bring one in who can raise up more of this Friday night fun fruit. Many, many youth leaders have felt the bad taste of a plant that they never should have planted and certainly should not have tended.

This fruit demands that the farmer keep producing the same results, numbers. Is this the picture of a healthy youth ministry? A youth ministry that is built on Biblical foundations? If you are this farmer, there is reason for you to have some degree of fear as this fickle fruit (numbers, especially numbers due to a social program) is not one that will “keep you healthy on the inside”. It is time to cut that tree down and sow a new crop.

Remember, we must aim for a garden that produces true fruit. And, one that doesn’t eventually devour the gardener.

Colossians 1:9-11

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Blog: Making the fun stuff Christian and the Christian stuff fun Part 3: Mixers that Mix!

cropped-changing-world-front4.jpgMixers. Ice-breakers. Get to know you games—that is our topic for today. Now you need to know that I’m a big advocate of the list above. Being an extrovert who does not have many shy bones in his body, I’m all for smashing through ice and mixing with someone that I have not gotten to know yet. With this in mind, we really must spend a moment or two and make sure our mixers mix, the ice gets broken and we do, in fact, get to know each other.

It has been my experience, through reading countless games books and traveling online (or “on the line” as Vince Vaughan would say) that many of our mixers are simply games with the added result of a factoid being passed from one person to the next. Or, they are competitions disguised as a get to know you game. I want to stir things up a bit by suggesting that many of our mixers simply do not mix. And, while our ice-breakers may appear to be a cool activity, they are not ice-olated in the area of not being all that effective. Ok, sorry about that …

When it comes down to it, our strongest selling point in youth ministry is relationships—our relationship with God, our relationships with each other and with the world at large. We must ensure that our youth meetings are filled with activities that truly help us to get to know each other, and get to know each other deeply. Mixers can help do this but only if they really do help us to get to know each other. With this in mind, ask your mixers these questions:

  • Do I have time to talk about something with the person I am mixing with or am I simply trying to ‘be the fastest to finish’ or ‘win some prize through this activity’?
  • Is there some aspect of this mixer that will give me something that I can grab a hold of so that I can talk to this person later on?
  • Is this activity a healthy mix of being enjoyable and profitable at the same time?
  • Should I think about slowing this mixer down just a bit so that the youth can mix with each a bit better? Similarly, should I remove any rewards or prizes from a mixer to help make it a bit less rushed?

So, do you want to start your meeting well? Start with a good welcome (our last post) and follow it with a mixer that … really mixes. This is one way to reach your goal for a youth night that is both enjoyable and profitable.

For more on this see Creative Christian Ideas and the free mixers section of

We also have some free online mixers at:

[By the way, did you hear the one about the alien who landed at a soft drink company and said ‘take me to your liter’???]



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Making the Christian Stuff Fun and the Fun Stuff Christian Part 2: No Boffo the Clowns!

Welcome back … or should I welcome myself back? It has been a while but I’m back and ready to rumble.

When I was a kid I had the pleasure of growing up in Phoenix Arizona. Now you probably know that Phoenix is hot …. as in HOT! So, we tended to spend a great deal of time indoors in front of the TV. It was here, and only here (in Phoenix) that you could delight in one of the greatest show of all time: The Wallace and Ladmo show. I could wax on and on about this life-changing event but I won’t. Rather, I will tell you about one regularly occurring visitor—Boffo the clown. Boffo was unhappy, unfunny, unpleasant and always there to bring the show down to his joyless level.

A few months back I began to draw our thoughts to “how to make youth group enjoyable.” As I have stated before we must strive to make the Christian stuff fun and the fun stuff Christian and I wrote about the need to begin your weekly gathering well. Today I want to give you a guideline to help make the meeting more enjoyable for all involved—no Boffo the Clowns. What I mean is, make sure the person leading the youth meeting (or a segment of it) can stand in front of your group and bring it ‘up’ rather than ‘down’.

I say this because it has been my experience that many groups operate on the “let’s give everyone a try” mentality when it comes to leading the youth gathering. There is some wisdom in this as you never know what a person will be like unless you give them a chance. And, many times somebody that you suspect may not be all that good in front of a crowd actually surprises you and brings the house down (I think many of the modern ‘talent’ TV shows operate on that principle). However, a bit of godly wisdom must be used here as the goal is to provide the most productive gathering possible. With this in mind, here are a few tips to help develop volunteers who can lift a meeting rather than take it down to Boffo’s level:

Run some training. Have an experienced or professional leader come in to provide some teaching on how to stand in front of a crowd. Someone with acting experience or a school teacher will be of great benefit here.

Practice Practice Practice. It goes without saying but practice can really be a help here. Spend some time with your team running through some program segments (Welcoming the group, running a mixer etc.) and critique each other.

Learn to smile. This may the most difficult one, however, it is also one of the most effective ways to communicate positively. Good leaders tend to smile a lot. Again, get lots of practice here. And, you may want someone in the group constantly reminding the person upfront to smile (have them point to their teeth as a reminder).

Be brief. Again, one of the easiest ways to lead things well. Don’t over explain or drone on and on. Get to the point!

Preparation (prevents poor performance). One thing I tell my communication class is to always spend a minute or two at the podium, pulpit, place on the stage where you will be speaking. Get comfy, give it a run through and learn to note any issues that could bring you down.

Finally, running youth group activities is not merely the domain of the extrovert. Youth ministry has long been the domain of the extrovert. This is fortunately changing and we need to realize that introverts can be good in front of a crowd as well. The issues isn’t “extroverts are good in front of people and introverts are good in a small group,” far from it. The issue is simply who is best for the job. (I think back to my early youth group days when we had two people who often ran our youth nights, one was Bruce who was an introvert who loved being alone fixing his truck. The other was Mike, great in a large group. Both did fantastic jobs upfront, each with their own style and manner.)

So, it is the start of the year. Get crackin’ on developing a group of people who can lead your youth group activities in a way that maximises your time together! [By the way, you can learn more about Boffo here! ]

Next, let’s look at mixers that really mix!

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Making the fun stuff Christian and the Christian stuff fun. Part I: The art of a great start

I want to begin a series that seeks to help answer the question, “what should we do each week in youth group?” As many of you know, it is my aim that we strive to have solid content in an enjoyable atmosphere. Or, let me put it another way: Let’s make the fun stuff Christian and the Christian stuff fun! The goal must be to run a weekly program filled with Christian content such as Bible study, prayer and activities that promote Christian things such as fellowship and love. With this in mind lets talk about how to start your weekly youth gathering with a rousing welcome.

The welcome is crucial. It must send out the signal that says “we are a Christian group, tonight is going to be worth your while, and we are going to enjoy being together as we get to know Jesus and each other better.” To do this, don’t start your time together by simple forming teams and playing a mindless game. Similarly don’t bore them with a long prayer or theological treatise on why we are meeting together. Here’s what you do:

  1. Either have them sit in the normal fashion (I’m assuming chairs or couches in rows or a semicircle). Or, have them stand in one large circle.
  2. Say “Welcome”! You could even have them say a brief welcome to the person(s) next to them.
  3. Proceed to your “welcome activity”

You will then move on to an activity designed to help the group to catch up and get to know each other a bit better. Here are some great welcomes that should be sure fire ways to start the gathering well.

  1. 1-2-3 You start by saying “in a second I’m going to say “Welcome to youth group. You respond by shouting back “Welcome to youth group” and then you must: 1. Give one person a handshake, two people a fist bump and three people a high five.” You then shout “Welcome to youth group.”
  2. 10 x High 10s Start in a similar fashion to #1. However, instead of doing 1-2-3, they simply give 10 people high tens and then sit down.
  3. Make a noise. Stand in a circle and have each person make a ‘note or noise’ that describes their week. (High = good, low= not so good.) Go around the circle and have each person make their note. At the end, have everyone make the sound together. If the group is comfortable with each other, go around the circle one at a time and listen to each other’s note. If the group is not so comfortable, you can have everybody make the note at the same time. You could then ask particular people why they made the note they did. (If you want the group to do it one at a time, you could give each person the option to pass if they felt uncomfortable.)
  4. How’s your week- get high, get low! Ask the group to rate their week by height—a great week means getting as high up as possible (like standing on a chair) a bad week = lying on the ground. You can then ask certain individuals to explain their “height.”

After the welcome, say a prayer committing the night to God and then move on to your next activity. Hopefully the goal is clear—start well, reinforce the fact that this is a group wants to get to know each other and God better.

Next, we will look at mixers that really mix!

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Youth Group Made Easy! (Well, a bit easier)

It is September and that means three things: 1 Back to school and youth group. 2 Time to start writing more thoughts about youth and youth group things. And, 3 McDonalds Canada has handed out their biannual “Two for one coupons!” I am not ashamed to admit it … but I love the 2 for 1 deal, it makes choosing what to have so simple.

Now let me make a parallel with youth ministry. It is my contention that we have made youth ministry just a bit more difficult than really needed. Attractional v. Missional? Lots of games v. no games? Is the group for Christians or for non-Christians? Etc.

I want to say that there are some things that we can do to make things just a bit easier, sort of like that handy coupon that comes in the mail twice a year. With this in mind, here is Ken’s list of “things you must do to make your year of youth group a bit easier:”

Work with those kids onside; these are probably the “church kids.” They are your base.

As I have said many times in the past, your greatest strength (next to our Lord), is those youth who love the program and give it a high priority. I am still amazed to see the number of groups who neglect these youth in their efforts to reach the unchurched. Big mistake.

Run a weekly meeting that is high on relationships, high on spiritual input done in an enjoyable way.

This probably goes without saying but run every aspect of your weekly meeting through the filter of “does this activity promote good relationships between all involved? If it doesn’t, drop it!

Run a good network of small groups.

Again, a given for must of us. However, many of us still run small groups that are squeezed in at the end of the program giving them too little time and too little importance. We also chop and change these groups in the name of “meeting more people.” To be effective you need the same amount of time, same group of youth with the same leader.

Adult mentoring in a consistent considerate fashion.

Intergeneration mixing is key. One component of this is having parents and older leaders around—regularly and often. This generation of youth love oldies so run with it! Kenda Dean makes a persuasive case in Practicing Passion when she says, “The presence of an adult guarantor in faith is cited repeatedly as the most important factor in a young person’s decision to claim faith as her own” (Practicing Passion, 243).

Work at making youth gatherings a place where friends are welcomed and desired.

Again, this is more of a reminder than anything new. However, far too many groups are simply … not all that welcoming. Are newcomers welcome, met with smiles and the invitation to come and join our circle (or any other activity that the particular group is doing at any given time)?

Listen to the youth and show interest in them. Speak to them and with them, not down to them.

When you are talking to a young person, look them in the eye, listen to what they say, show interest in their world. You don’t need to be an expert on youth culture or youth issues—you simply need to be an expert in “being interested in them!”

Finally, be patient with the youth and with the program. Build for the future, think long-term.

Remember what I have written long ago: you are not building a speedboat, you are building an aircraft carrier. You want this group to get better and better, but that will take some time, some prayer and a good deal of effort. You also want this group to be around for a long time. This means you must always work with the future in mind asking questions such as, “How do I build these youth to be strong disciples when they are young adults and older?”, and “How can I develop youth to be well-trained, productive leaders for the future?”

God bless as you start this new term and I leave you with this question: is it wrong to eat 2 for 1 Big Macs two days in a row?

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Staying Healthy in Youth Ministry: Get Outta Here!

Rule 1: Run a ministry that fires you up rather than wears you out
Rule 2: God is in control—don’t be a control freak
Rule 3: Work for a good boss
Rule 4: Get some sleep
Rule 5: Get outta here (take time off!)

It’s time for us to head towards a conclusion on staying healthy. Today I want to visit a similar theme that I looked at months ago. Quite simply, if you want to stay healthy in youth ministry, get outta town by sundown (and stay away for a bit)!

Most of us agree that taking time off is important, however many people in ministry simply don’t do it enough. So, here’s my advice: take your day off, take your holidays, take your study leave and stay in ministry.

My story

After getting married Julie and I moved to a location that, while extremely fruitful in ministry, was also proving to be hard work. We realized that we needed to “take our day off hard”. This meant we needed to make a very serious effort at having a good day off. The Lord was good to us and we were able to buy a small getaway cottage in a town about an hour and a half away from home which became our escape. Each Sunday night we would finish church and smile as we packed the car and headed out. We were gone … gone from our house (where people could/would drop in at all times day or night) … gone from our church (that we loved but needed a break from regularly) and gone from our ministry lives. We would leave Sunday night and be back ready to go Tuesday morning. While there may have been a few other factors that kept us going, I can tell you honestly that without this time away we would not have lasted—we would have been another youth ministry ‘casualty’.

I am a broken record on this; if you want to be fruitful in youth ministry, you must have day off that brings you fruitful rest. Ministry is a hungry beast—it wants all of you. If you enter the workweek tired, you are done.

With this in mind, some tips for your day off:

1. Do not take 24 hours, aim for a bit more.
Sure, a break for 24 hours is excellent, but your body and mind may actually need more than this. Some youth leaders take a day of that is designed to mimic the Old Testament Sabbath, they start their day off at sundown (or even noon) on one day and finish it at sundown the next. While this may sound good, my feeling is that it is merely an excuse for the workaholics to get some work done at both ends. I would strongly encourage you to try for a time out that includes two nights (i.e. Thursday night to Saturday morning or our Sunday night to Tuesday am.) The goal is to get rested, not fulfill a requirement. Learn the needs of your body clock and rest accordingly.

2. Your day off may not be the time to catch up on your Bible reading and prayer
Many of us in ministry feel guilty for not having solid devotions during the week. With this in mind, we aim to ‘catch up’ on our day off. While I don’t want to knock Bible reading and prayer, if you are finding this a task on your day off I would suggest you rethink this strategy. The solution is, of course, to work at having better devotions during the workweek. Sure, begin (or end) your day off with a devotion, but don’t be enslaved to “spiritually getting done what I ought to have done” in the past six days.

3. Spend time with people who energize you
Days off must excite you, invigorate you, energize you, and refresh you. Spend it with people who do the same. Some of you will want to be alone, good call. Others need to be with people. If you are the latter, find those people who help you to enjoy life, not suck it out of you.

4. For your vacation do not go back to where you used to minister
I have found that many ministry friends (myself included) often spend our vacation time catching up with people from our previous ministries. I have learned to stop this. It is exhausting and counter to what a vacation should be. I spent hour after hour “catching up” with former youth leaders or youth group kids when, in reality, I was simply ministering in a different setting. I went home more tired than I started.

5. Don’t feel guilty for taking your break during the school year. In other words, enjoy summer!
It is important to begin the year well. It is important to continue the year well. It is important to finish the year well. To do this, you need to have a bit of a break over summer. You may want to take your vacation then, or you may find that your summer is slow enough on its own. Personally, I rarely took my vacation time over the summer, why would I? Whatever the case, plan appropriately. I would suggest you take a week or two off approximately 6-8 weeks after the school year begins. This will help you to continue well. You may also want to have a break sometime later in the school year in order to finish well.

For those in the Northern Hemisphere, here is my suggestion: take a break in early November or late October. Take another break in late March or April. For those in the Southern Hemisphere: take a break in early May or late April. Take another break in late September or October.

6. Finally, think through your study leave / continuing education
Study leave is invaluable on a number of fronts. We get away, take a break from the usual and fill our minds with new thoughts. Use this time! Find a college/seminary that is running weeklong courses and audit one (or start a new degree!). Take a risk and sign up for a course that is a bit ‘out there’ (something outside of your comfort zone). You could even visit a new location and have a nice ‘holiday’ after your classes sightseeing. The rule here is simple: take your study leave!

Stay sane friends!

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Staying Healthy in Youth Ministry: Get Some Sleep!

Rule 1: Run a ministry that fires you up rather than wears you out

Rule 2: God is in control—don’t be a control freak

Rule 3: Work for a good boss

Rule 4: Get some sleep

Do you remember that Monty Python skit about the Four Yorkshiremen? They sat around reminiscing about the past and how bad it was. “Luxury” was one of the words they would use. “We used to live in a hole in the ground.” “We had to live in a lake.” “Lake! There were a 150 of us in a shoebox!” And on it goes.

A few years back there was a similar trend in youth ministry … and remnants of it still exist today. It seemed that the common trend was to boast about how little sleep you got the previous night. “Six hours? Luxury … I only had four!” was a conversation I overheard a few times. Even in ministry this became somewhat common—“Sleep? Luxury! Who needs sleep?” Well, let me answer that by saying, “You do! And lots of it.” It is not “luxury” to get a good amount of sleep. Nor is it godly to get a minimal amount of sleep. In fact, it can be ministry suicide. Your body, your mind and your spirit have been designed to rest and rest hard!

Here is why I tell you this, you need it … and, many of you do not sleep enough. And, if you do not get enough sleep, you probably will find ministry very tough going.

Youth leaders need energy; physical, mental, and spiritual. You also need your creative juices to flow. You can only do this if you are running on a tank with some gas in it. This, in part, must come through a healthy night’s sleep.

I won’t bombard you with the research out there but, needless to say, the people in the labcoats are saying “it is important, get some sleep tonight.” With this in mind, may I make some suggestions?

  1. If you have important things to do in the morning, turn the unimportant things off in the evening. You know what I’m talking about: your computer, your gaming device, your cellphone, your TV, etc. Whatever keeps your brain ‘on’ needs to go ‘off’’.
  2. If you have important things to do in the evening, don’t back it up with something important the next morning. I know this is impossible to do all the time, but work on this as a general rule: late nights need to be followed by more relaxed mornings. I have found that, in ministry, we can often loosen our schedule up to accommodate this.
  3. Have a good sleep in at least twice per week. I have no science to back this up—just my own experience, but every couple of days schedule in a good long night.
  4. Have a few mornings that are program free. I have found that I need at least two mornings per week to myself. These are times to catch up on my reading, spend some time writing, take a walk or simply grab a coffee and chill. While this may not relate directly to sleep, they will happen a lot more naturally after a good night’s rest.
  5. Get rid of guilt. Many of us actually feel guilty for sleeping. Sleep is a gift to us from the giver of all good things. Sure, if you are lazy, feel guilty, because you are guilty. However, if you aren’t a sluggard, grab a good nine hours and wake up smiling and guilt-free. Remember the words of Psalm 127:2:

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil for he gives to his beloved sleep

One final word to those introverts out there

Youth ministry tends to favor the extrovert. I don’t mean the “hand me the microphone and get me in front of a crowd” type of extrovert. I mean those of us who like being in a group of people. That is me, I like parties and I love big youth gatherings. However, that is not everyone. Many of us tend to like to be alone or with a smaller group of people. Two things need to be said here:

  1. We need more introverts in ministry. For far too long youth ministry has been about crowds and noise rather than intimacy and depth. Let’s make sure we get some balance and find a way for the introverts among us to be involved in youth ministry.
  2. If you are an introvert in youth ministry, it is imperative that you get a large quantity of alone time. This is not ungodly—it is the way the Creator has designed you. In my mind your need to get away is similar to everyone’s need for sleep, you need to recharge and refresh. Please do not feel guilty for keeping your schedule from being jam packed with events filled with people. That is the quick road to ministry death. You must learn to keep a balance of the necessary group activities with quieter times for personal space.

If you are an introvert, I hereby free you to have hours (and hours) of time during your week to take a walk by yourself, sit in a coffee shop and read/prepare, go see a movie or simply sit at home for a few hours each day by yourself.

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Staying Healthy in Youth Ministry: Work for a good boss

Rule 1: Run a ministry that fires you up rather than wears you out

Rule 2: God is in control—don’t be a control freak

Rule 3: Work for a good boss

Each of us must work either under, or alongside, a senior minister or group of elders (your church or denominational structure decides what type of structure works best for them.) One of more of these people has the power to make your working life a joy where you are encouraged and fired up, or, a burden where you may end up exhausted and in a state of ‘unhealth’. It is important for you and your ministry that you work with someone who promotes your professional (and personal) wellbeing and not your career destruction. In my experience, it is a necessity that you ensure that your boss is healthy. If they aren’t, chances are you won’t be either.  As we reflect on what it means to work for a good senior minister, there are two things that must guide your thinking here.

Avoid working for a workaholic senior minister!

Ministry tends to attract highly driven types, and that is a good thing. This world needs Jesus and we need men and women who are passionately committed to helping people follow him. The problem is, some of these church leaders simply don’t know when to take off their shoes, grab the remote and kick back for a spell. These are the dreaded “workaholic senior ministers” (and my guess is, you know one!)

Now there are two types of workaholic ministers: those who know they are nuts (and don’t expect you to follow suit) and … those who don’t know they are nuts (and expect everyone else to work seven days and seven nights a week). I worked for one of the latter. When I took the job he told me that this was “church life in the fast lane—we work six days and six nights.” (While he took one day per week off, he believed that every one of the other 144 hours must be given over to ministry.) To be honest, it wasn’t the six days so much as the “six nights” that killed me.

I have talked to countless youth leaders who work for a workaholic. The vast majority of these youth leaders have the same message, “he just doesn’t get it and I’m slowly dying.” So, the question is, what do we do about it?

The first thing is of course, … don’t work for a workaholic. This would be a question I would ask in the interview process. I would also ask around (other staff, elders, the previous youth leader etc.) and if you get a whiff of stressed out, overworked staff, run to the hills. I have said this before but it bears repeating, it is better to work for Starbucks than for a toxic church situation—Starbucks tends to look after its staff.

If you are working for a workaholic. This is difficult, and there are no simple, magic cures that I can offer here. The first thing I would do is to try my best for a series of conversations where you explain to your boss that you struggle with his work ethic. In fact, try to convince him that God wants us to rest (I think it is written in stone somewhere…). At the very least, will your senior minister agree that, “what works for them must not be expected of you?” You may find that they simply do not understand where you are coming from. This is where some solid elders or key parents may need to come in as support.

I would also try to show him through various ways that you are working very hard and not slacking off. This could come through giving him weekly reports and keeping him updated with everything that is going on in the youth ministry. While this is a good strategy, keep in mind that workaholics are rarely satisfied; either with themselves or with those who work for them. In the end, like all difficult bosses, you will have to learn to work with them and, in many cases, around them.

Is there an elder that you can speak with? The workaholic senior minister will probably not listen to you (you are, after all, merely junior staff). However, he may listen to a peer.

For those of you working in this situation, the bottom line may simply be to make sure your next gig is different.

Make sure your boss is not on the verge of burnout

This is a very difficult skill to cultivate but I need to post a warning for all of you in youth ministry. Be careful, you do not want to work in a church where the senior minister is about to blow a gasket.

Many ministers are great at covering up the lurking burnout that is just below the surface. They appear to be fine until wham-o, they fall in an exhausted heap. Before taking a job at a church I would seek out some information: Has this person ever taken time off in the past for exhaustion? Are there some informed people who are worried about his/her health? Does the minister have trouble making decisions (about issues in the church)? Do the decisions that get made never become realities? Does the minister get teary at the drop of a hat? These are some of the signs that I have learned to recognize.  Be warned, a boss on the edge has the serious ability to make your life a living hell … that is because their life is a living hell and they just aren’t thinking straight.

Again, it is better to skip a potential ‘sweet gig’ than to work in a life-sucking furnace. If you have any hint that the senior minister is on the edge … look for a temporary job where the toughest thing is learning to say “tall, grande or vente?”

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Staying Healthy in Youth Ministry: God is in control!

Ministry is exhausting. It can crush your bones, numb your mind and suck every ounce of emotional energy from your spirit. Ministry is so very exhausting for three simple reasons:

1. You are working with people. People who, like yourself can be flawed and demanding, sinful and unpredictable, and insensitive and rude.

2. You always need to be ‘up’. By this I mean that you must constantly be ‘up’ for the events of this week (church, youth group etc.). You must always be the role model. This comes with an inevitable degree of wear and tear.

3. There is an inbuilt importance to what we are doing. It is so very important that we must not give up or give in. This sometimes causes us to push ourselves when we should slow down or even stop for a rest and recharge.

An added dimension that can sometimes make youth ministry harder than most other ministries is simply because we are ‘under’ so many others. Think of all those groups whose opinion matters to our job wellbeing. 

  •We must work under a senior minister and/or elders. You may say “I work with him/her” but the fact of the matter is, they are still over you in the Lord. And, can have a big say in your longevity at your present job.

  •We must aim to work with and even for parents—we are, after all, working with their children. Therefore, their opinions matter greatly.

  •In addition we of course work with the youth themselves.

We need to listen to so many opinions, so many preferences, so many ‘helpful bits of advice to further our ministry.’ Youth ministry is, as a result, filled with workers who are barely hanging in there. I see it in some of my colleague’s eyes—they are the walking dead, are they hanging in by their nails? Nope, they left their nails in the cliff’s edge a long time ago. 

This is the second in a series of post designed to offer some guidance towards “self care: staying sane in youth ministry.” The first post offered some practical advice. This one is going to be a bit … trickier. Your second rule for self care in youth ministry is while you must take great care to work hard and to work smart, God is in control. GOD IS IN CONTROL!

Staying healthy in youth ministry rule #2[1]: You must (MUST!) realize that God is in control!

I have met a lot of youth ministers. There are some who, quite frankly, are lazy. They are lazy in their actions and they are lazy in their minds. However, it has been my experience that they are the minority. The majority work hard and are eager to get better at their craft. Many of them are the exact opposite of lazy—they are driven.

The problem is that in this desire to get things done we become … control freaks. This is one of the most unhealthy aspects to ministry and it is also one that, in the end, will cause you harm.

Now, there are those of us who are aware of this fact, and if you are a control freak you really must acknowledge this fact. Failure to do so will almost certainly cause you suffering and fatigue. Sure we want to see things get done—important things, but we must be very careful. Consider these well-known words from the Apostle Paul:

We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.  Colossians 1:28-29

Notice that Paul works hard, very hard. However, he realizes that it is Christ who is working in him. It is God’s power, not Paul’s. This frees Paul up to relax even while “laboring and struggling”, knowing that the results are up to God.

With this in mind, I want to leave you with three simple thoughts:

  1. Be faithful, work hard. Leaving things in God’s hands doesn’t equal an excuse for laziness. We must be faithful with the gifts that God has given us and use all our energy to see his Kingdom built.
  2. Be smart—do things God’s way. I have written about this copiously in the past so I won’t say much else here. Bottom line; if your church or youth program is producing unhealthiness in your spirit (and body), it may be an unhealthy program.
  3. Know that it is God who brings the fruit from your ministry. Ultimately we must stand with Paul when he says “I planted, Apollos watered, but God brings the growth.”(1 Cor 3:6-7). God brings the growth … not us. This must mean that the fruits of our ministries are totally out of our control!

What does this mean for me?

Can I take a day off and not do one scrap of work? YES!

Can I turn off my phone and feel guilt free for not responding to texts? YES!

Can I say “no” to a 6:00 am prayer meeting (especially when I’ve had a small group Bible study the night before)? YES!

Do I fret when kids just don’t seem to get it? NO!

Do I worry about the numbers game when I have parents or elders breathing down my neck? NO!

In the end, I have learned to examine myself in the present and make sure that what I am doing is faithful, smart, and healthy and that God is in control of the results. I have learned to look back and to see how the Lord is gracious and compassionate and uses my feeble efforts to build his Kingdom. This frees me from my natural tendency toward control freakdom.

[1] Rule #1 = run a ministry that fires you up rather than wears you out.

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Staying Healthy in Youth Ministry Part 1: Run a Ministry that Fires Up Rather than Wears You Out!

[Well it’s been awhile and it is time to get back into the swing of things as my self imposed exile from writing is over so hold onto your hats. Here we go!]

A few weeks back I gave a seminar titled “Self care: keeping yourself healthy for long-term ministry.” One person came up to me and said, “I really wish I had heard that talk when I started out ten years ago.” With that in mind, I want to spend the next few posts on covering just that—how to stay healthy in youth ministry. I also want to answer a question I am often asked, “How have you been in youth ministry for so long?”

Do I merely have the supernatural gift of longevity … well, not really. But what I do have is some wisdom picked up from hitting the wall a few times and learning how either avoid it or how to go around it.

As we do this we are going to go through a few of the ‘rules of staying healthy’. Our first rule is simple: run a ministry that fires you up rather than wears you out.

Ministry is tiring; there is no way around that. However, there is a kind of tiredness that is a ‘joyous exhaustion’. This is where you can fall into your bed knowing that “tonight was a great night because some really great things happened.” Think about that really great retreat you organized where the group really clicked and a number of youth had their relationship with the Lord taken to a new level. This is the kind of joyous tiredness I am talking about. This is very different to the “did we even make a difference in this event we just ran?” type of weariness and to the “why don’t my volunteers seem to get it” exhaustion that we feel deep in our bones.

With this in mind, it is imperative that you are running that type of ministry that can keep you going even when the natural tiredness comes. Here are three tips to help you along:

  1. You need to be in charge of a ministry that operates with your gifting and abilities. I am not an administrator—never have been, never will be. Office stuff and long meetings wear me out. I like being with youth and running youth group gatherings. I also love small group Bible study. Too many of us rushed into a job without taking a long look at whether this job is a good fit or not. So, what are you good at? What type of ministry really gets you pumped up? If you are into discipleship but running a ministry committed to evangelism, you are going to find yourself quickly wearing out. The wise word here is: if you want to stay energized, cut with your ministry grain rather than against it.
  2. You need to get to the stage where everything doesn’t depend on you. I came to that realization many years ago. The youth group I was running was working well and I discovered that I could take two to three weeks for my annual vacation. I had a team of leaders that worked well and a group of core youth who loved the program and could run it without me. So, if you want to be like the energizer bunny, build up your leaders, and build up your core youth.
  3. Think about the practical aspects of your week: the when, what and where. Staying healthy may simply be a matter of knowing what to do and when to do it. Many of you will know my dislike for Friday evening youth group. I have seen that this program tires most leaders out rather than builds them up. In addition to this, I need to be careful of early morning prayer meetings. There will always be someone telling you that “Jesus got up early to pray”! (I had a youth leader who was adamant that we pray every other Friday at 5:00 am. I tried my best to hang in there but after three meetings I’d had enough—it simply took too great a toll.) If you are an early morning prayer type person- more power to ya. If not, don’t sweat it, God is satisfied with us praying at a later time. You may also want to think about how much driving you do. In many different settings, youth leaders find themselves spending hours in traffic or on the road. I have found this to be an energy zapper. Think about saying “no” to those meetings that aren’t all that necessary and a long distance away. Or, learn to take the bus where you can catch up on emails at the same time.

Bottom line is: stay sharp by thinking smart.

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