Saturday, April 24, 2010

GROWING TOOL #2 - "Live Life"

Over twenty-five years ago Nancy and I made the decision to pack up everything we owned (which wasn’t much!) and move across the country to begin an adventure in youth ministry with the Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara.

With my family in Maryland, hers in Indiana and no extended family west of the Mississippi we were most definitely striking out on our own.

Though we initially felt “lonely” we were quickly embraced by a loving congregation and friends in an apartment complex. We were invited to be in a small group with three other couples. Weekly we ate and studied together. One couple eventually moved away and the rest of us began having kids. Before long the little group of six grew to a group of 14, including parents and children.

The other couples also had no extended family in California. In time we made the prayerful and intentional decision to be family for each other. We decided to “live life” together.

The longer I have been a youth pastor the more I realize the importance of “living life” with students. Yes, it is our role to equip and lead them. In this we are able to help build a foundation and plant a seed but when asked what they remember most about their time with us, the consistent answer is almost always about a leader who took them out to eat or invited them to hang out or traveled with them. The quantity of time spent produces the quality and depth we seek.

How to do this?

1) FOCUS – One youth pastor/director cannot “live life” with an entire youth ministry so other adult leaders must understand their need to be more than a “chaperone,” “counselor” or leader. Encouraging leaders to invest in two to three youth gives them the time to go a little deeper.

2) BE PRACTICAL – Youth and adults have limited time. Find ways to merge your normal life with their normal life and invite them to join. Some moms take students along with them to go shopping. Some guys invite youth to go do errands with them or fix something. One of my own youth leaders was asked by some Jr. High girls if she could “hang out.” The leader was short on time but invited the girls to come over and watch her iron clothes. I still have the funny picture of three girls sitting on the other side of an ironing board chatting with the leader. This was one teaching time they will likely never forget.

How are you living life with youth and helping them to grow in their faith?

Thursday, April 15, 2010


In recent weeks I have been working with some youth leaders to help develop a workable list of character traits found in the person who can effectively guide youth in their spiritual growth. We developed a list of five. Over the next several posts I will expand on these.

Number one on the list is “know your kids.”

As youth pastors/leaders we are responsible for the souls of our teenagers. Christ does the inward work but we are called to be “shepherds.” To know our youth we must go beyond showing up and leading a group. Youth ministry is far more than a mid-week or Sunday experience. I recruit volunteers who understand their presence at a “spiritual growth event” is merely the beginning of their work of actively caring for these youth.

When we begin knowing our kids we are more able to provide a growing environment for them. We understand more of their culture, their family systems, and their responses to life. This gives us the tools to authentically invest in their lives and to discern whom it is who really wants to grow and who does not. As we sort this out we are better able to provide opportunities for youth at their spiritual level of interest.

Choose a workable curriculum. Over the years curriculum has gotten a bad reputation. Those who say, “I never use curriculum” misunderstand its purpose. Good curriculum provides balance and gives us a clear objective. The wise teacher will use the pieces of a lesson working best for their group. There is no rule dictating we use an entire lesson. Quality curriculum saves me time, gives me a “running start” and frees me to do the greater work of being a loving shepherd in the lives of youth. This is the ultimate curriculum.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Recently I have been reminded why I am not just a “youth pastor.” Don’t get me wrong . . . I still love being a youth pastor. When I am asked, “What do you ‘do’?” the first words out my mouth are, “I am a youth pastor.” I do many other things in the life of the church but the role of “youth pastor” is my first passion. Why would I not want to be this and only this?

Holy Week in the life of our church is very busy. Over the course of the week I coordinated or participated in seven different events. Another piece of my role description is to lead the worship ministry as well. With that piece I counted my involvement in performing or leading 40+ songs from Good Friday through Easter.

During the course of all this work I realized, again, I am far more than a only a “youth” pastor. In this week where helped youth serve Seder dinner to the adults, coordinated them volunteering at a benefit run, involved them in worship leadership and more, God reminded me of how my reach extends beyond the youth and to their younger siblings, their parents, aunts/uncles, grandparents, to the elderly lady who faithfully prays for them every day, the couple who were never able to have children who loves our youth ministry, the young parents who tell me I have to be around when their kids are teenagers and the recent college graduate who has a small interest in joining the youth ministry team.

To limit myself only to investing in teenagers is to miss the bigger picture of ministry God has for me. My willingness and ability to be a pastor to all the people allows them to know me as one who loves the youth, loves the church and ultimately shepherds all, who in one form or another, bring care and spiritual direction to our teenagers. I love our youth best by loving and caring for all His people.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Beginnings are hard, re-starts are harder

So . . . I basically took a three month break from the blog. I didn't plan it. It just happened. I do a lot of writing for stuff here at my own church, Interlinc in Nashville and other organizations. I felt like I had said it all in other places so chose not to add another "assignment" in keeping up with this blog. I began the blog as a way to write about the life and times of me and youth ministry on the "frontlines" in Santa Barbara. I still like the purpose so with a new vision and determination I will begin again.

Chaim Potok, in his book, "The Chosen," begins the book by saying "All beginnings are hard." I agree but I have decided that second beginnings are even harder. When we begin something there is definitely a challenge (ie. a diet, an exercise program, a discipline in our spiritual walk, etc.). When we fail to keep it going, starting it again seems even more difficult.

Years ago I and one of my volunteer youth leaders were training together for a run called "Tough Enough." It was relay race spanning about 40 miles to the peak from sea-level to the peaks of our local mountains and down again. We trained together and our commitment was not only to train together but to be committed in picking it up again even if we missed a few sessions in row. I have missed a few "sessions" in this blog. I'm picking it up again . . . starting now but more creatively, next week.

Good Friday is all about picking it up again. We "drop the ball" in our sinful lives but Christ died so we could "pick it up again." Accepting His forgiveness, mercy and beginning again is humbling. The re-start may feel "harder" but the reward is resting in His grace. May you rest in Him on Good Friday and celebrate new life this Easter. Let's "pick it up" together.