Posted on

Post-High School Connections

As a youth worker in a church with a fairly large staff, including pastoral staff, I don’t have many responsibilities during the weeks surrounding Christmas. Once we wrap up our gatherings in mid-December I’m pretty much “off” from church duties until the new year. It is a two week stretch I look forward to for months: the promise of time with my family, time with my couch and time with copious amounts of butter, sugar and carbs consumes my hopes and dreams as the holidays draw closer.

However, as a youth worker, it did’t take long for me to realize my dreams of relaxation and time “off” are often just that– a dream. The seemingly endless stream of text and Facebook messages came flooding in from college-aged men and women back in town for break and wanting to grab some coffee and catch up.

Don’t get me wrong, I realize that this is a wonderful thing! But I’m quite the introvert and the tension between ministry down time and filling my calendar with people I love and rarely get to see face-to-face can totally stress me out. One of the ways I, and our high school ministry community, have chosen to deal with this tension is to provide ample opportunities for those who’ve graduated from our ministry to remain connected throughout the year and not just at holiday breaks.

Obviously, groups like Orange and Sticky Faith have done incredible work to shine light on the importance of transitioning well after high school and these are our humble attempts to both steal from their work and add our own ideas into the mix.

  • It all begins when they are still seniors in high school. Our community holds a senior banquet each spring where the junior class (and their parents) makes dinner for the seniors and their families. Each student’s small group leader gets a chance to publicly bless and pray for the the seniors as we look at old pictures, laugh a lot, cry quite a bit and do our best to mark these years as an important and formative time in their lives. The past couple of years we have also had each senior fill out a card with a few simple prompts on it:
    • Where will you be next year?
    • Have you explored any faith communities there yet? Can we help?
    • Do you want us to send you cookies next year?

Having these cards has been hugely beneficial as we both able to partner with them as they search for an active faith community in their new area as well as letting them know we intend to remain connected after they head off. If even just through cookies!

  • Each and every week at our gathering times we have put a large board with a picture and address for every student who graduated from high school the past year. We stock the table with pre-paid postcards, pens, address stickers, etc. Any of our current students or leaders can just stop by, write a quick note and we’ll make sure it gets mailed the next day. It’s been a huge hit- both with our current and alumni kids.

College Post Card Board

  • Our final week of gathering before Christmas has become a tradition of throwing a “Party with a Purpose” to raise money for Blood:Water Mission. We charge a nominal fee and our community gets to pose for pictures with Santa, eat tons of food, participate in a “Christmas Fashion Show,” throw a dance party and play “Pin the Baby Jesus on the Manger.” Recently we’ve decided that instead of this simply being a high school event it should be an anyone from our community that is in town for Christmas event. It’s been a wonderful chance to catch up with those who have gone off to college, the military, or even just been holed up in their parent’s basement the past few months. And the best part… we all gather at one time, cutting down on those separate coffee meetings!

Santa Reunion Pic

  • Twice a year we have small group leaders or current students offer to host cookie baking parties where they, well…. bake cookies! The cookies are then divvied up, packaged along with candy, dollar store trinkets and hand-written notes, and mailed off to current college-aged people.

Cookie Baking

  • Lastly we are working with a longtime, and hugely talented, friend and ministry partner to host a weekend this spring designed specifically for young women who are trying to navigate their post-high school world. We will invite current high school juniors through current college-aged sophomores to come together and have honest discussions about what it’s like to try and carry their faith beyond our high school youth group community. They’ll have guest speakers, workshops, meals, and  lots of time to simply sit and hear from each other. We have high hopes for this weekend and its impact on the young women in our community.

I’d love to hear in the comments what sorts of brilliant ideas you and your ministries have come up with to make sure your communities extend to those who have graduated. Mostly because we totally want to steal them!


Brad Hauge is the Director of Senior High Ministries at First Presbyterian Church of Spokane, Washington.  He is also the writer behind our curriculum series, Viva.

 

Posted on

Working the System to Alleviate our Angst

Are you angsty?

We youth workers are an interesting lot.

I love our tribe tremendously. I love how faithfully and selflessly we serve for the sake of our calling. Most every youth worker I meet reflects the glory of God in the way they desire to show the love of Christ to teenagers.

At the same time, many of us are conflicted and angsty. (If “angsty” isn’t already a word, I want credit for creating it.) In my experience our angst comes from a feeling of being overlooked, undervalued and misunderstood.

When it comes to working with the larger church body I’ve often felt different and out of place. Youth workers are natural innovators and creative thinkers. We tend to push the envelope when it comes to new ministry forms. What I’ve found in my own life is that these great qualities can lead me to look at other ministry leaders with frustration. My perception is that they don’t get me and don’t really know how to do the work of ministry. So we look for ways out.

Our angsty feelings and our drive for innovation give us a desire to be free of the systems we serve. We think, “If I could be free of the tired, stagnant church I’m a part of, the I can really flourish.” You may be like me and even thinking of the church as a “system” makes you cringe.

I would like to challenge my fellow youth workers to think twice before dismissing the systems we are a part of. I’ve learned that instead of being free of the stagnant church system I need to embrace it.

Being a part of the system teaches me to honor authority. How often have you taught your students to honor their parents, teachers, coaches or other authorities? We’ve extolled the benefits of honoring those over us. If we are honest, this is one of those things– we practice the opposite of what we teach.

We undermine and rebel against authority because we think we know better. If we are unwilling to honor those God has placed over us (elders, pastors, church boards) then we are hypocrites. Jesus himself learned to submit to the authority of the Father when he laid down his life at the cross. Paul taught us to honor and respect authorities, even unjust ones.

Being a part of a system teaches me that those who think differently are not my enemies. It’s funny how youth workers, who feel dismissed and overlooked, often dismiss those who are older and think differently. The body of Christ is a beautiful thing when it displays unity among diversity. I must remind myself daily that the people who may think differently still love Jesus and want to make Him known to others. Once I do that I am able to look past the differences and appreciate them for who they are. Also, I need to let go of my arrogance that I know better than others. As much as I hate to admit it, I don’t have all the answers. I can actually learn from ministry leaders who aren’t like me.

Being a part of a system teaches me to help shape a church culture instead of abandoning it. When Jesus came to earth, He came into our system and transformed it from the inside out. In the same way, if I remove myself from the system that is weighing me down, then I am robbing myself of possibly helping the Body of Christ grow and change. I’ve found that by honoring church leadership and appreciating those who think differently, I have been able to win the right to be heard and to shape the church through my passions and gifts.

When I became okay with working in the system and serving those around me I found a peace and joy about being part of the larger church family. I became more selfless toward other ministries. I saw the blessing that I could be to other people. Yes, I may still feel like an outsider from time to time, but being a part of Jesus’ body makes it all worth while.

What do you think? Can you live out your calling within an imperfect system or is it necessary to get out of the system?

photo credit: Charlotte Spencer via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Posted on

A Lesson from Brian Kelly

Brian Kelly Screaming

Growing up about a mile from the campus of Notre Dame and being a lifelong fan of their football team, my Irish eyes have been smiling all season long. (For non-college-football fans, Notre Dame is playing January 7th for their first national title since 1988.)

Watching college football has always been a distraction from my ministry life. It’s one thing easy to compartmentalize and be unabashedly excited about. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I often overlay my fall ministry schedule against the Notre Dame schedule so as to miss lesser games for retreats and protect more important Saturday’s from ministry stuff.

But this year I actually learned something about youth ministry from my favorite team’s coach. While not exactly a traditional youth worker, Brian Kelly is a Catholic man who has spent his 20+ year coaching career investing in the lives of adolescent men.

Brian Kelly’s first 3 years at Notre Dame may become a case study in handling crisis and controversy only to discover first love all over again. (Something many youth workers deal with.) First, there was the horrible accident which resulted in the death of a member of the video team. Then, in the first game of 2011, he embarrassed himself on national television by very clearly cursing out his players after playing poorly. (Alumni were not pleased to see it replayed on ESPN over and over again.) Later in that same season, he inadvertently created further problems amongst his players by talking to the media about “his guys” being more committed than his predecessors. All season long, 2011 was marked by mistakes and turnovers that cost them games.

It all started to spin out of control over the summer when 2 players were arrested in South Bend at a party. One player pushed a cop and threatened him. On top of that he didn’t have a clear choice as a starting quarterback and they were facing their toughest schedule in years.

As a fan, I was prepared for this to be last year of his tenure as coach. I liked Brian Kelly. Everyone did. But Notre Dame isn’t the kind of place that cares much about moral victories. 

I had no idea that between year two and year three Brian Kelly had called the biggest audible of his life.

Kelly made every hire with the intention of spending more time with his players. Last winter, when he might have been driving to Chicago or Detroit for an alumni meeting, he held Monday meetings with his team. No assistant coaches, no support staff, just a head coach and his players.

“It kind of gave us a chance to get to know him a little better, and for him to get to know us,” offensive tackle Zack Martin said. “[Before the meetings,] I don’t think it was something that I thought, ‘Oh, I wish I had this.’ After he started it, people realized: Oh yeah, it’s nice to get to know your head coach on a more personal level, not just on the football field.”

source

 

Faced with two lackluster years… knowing that another one would just result in him getting fired… Brian Kelly did the most obvious, yet least likely thing imaginable: He got to know his players. 

I think a lot of us face a similar problem. Our roles have a tendency to pull more and more of our attention away from students. We justify that as “selling our vision” and “representing the students voice.” But, before too long, we fall into the habit of becoming advocates to strangers. We barely know our students… but we represent them all the time.

The tension is there. We think that if we create a great environment for our students that great things will just happen because of our leadership.

But, in reality the one thing our students need more than represented to the rest of the church… is us.

We need to focus on our first love, investing in the lives of teenagers. We need to fight against the seemingly gravitational pull to do other stuff. And we need to make sure we know our students and they know us.

It’s simple. But like all simple things… it’s just not easy.

Posted on

Moving Like Bernie

Ah, the video that started it all.

As far as YouTube inspired dance crazes this one is pretty mellow. It might be something fun to add to your youth group… chances are pretty good that your students will already know what to do.

Posted on

We Didn’t Hire a Youth Pastor

Last year, our church was presented a great opportunity. Our youth pastor was transitioning into another role at our church and we were charged with re-imagining what youth ministry could look like in our context. The charge was daunting and exhilarating.

I firmly believe that any transition is an opening to re-envision what we are currently doing and how we might want to approach things differently. However, this is a scary process because it begs identification of sacred cows, failures, inherent dysfunctions, and will require a longer transition from the old to the new. This is messy and time-consuming…and so freeing! This re-envisioning process also opens up the possibilities to recalibrate to even greater Kingdom impact and influence. We opted for the messy, long-way-round and it uncovered an entirely new thing for us.

The process began with an urging from my boss, the lead pastor of our church, to present a “Future of Youth Ministries” proposal. After consulting with a few youth ministry gurus I respected that know me and our church [including Marko!], we put a plan into motion. We compiled a proposal which included: youth ministry realities in our context, our current reality overview, an assessment of the past 5 years of ministry, assessment of annual programs and events [including past events we’ve quit], future values and structure proposal, and a proposed practical future. Over the course of several weeks, I put together this 8-page document in partnership with our transitioning youth pastor. It was complete with statistics, graphs, bullet point evaluations, and concise vision for our future. Was it time consuming? Absolutely! Was it a great use of time? Beyond a doubt!

This systematic yet creative process led us down a road and presented ideas that I never would have imagined if I simply tweaked our youth pastor job description. In the end, we determined, we could not hire another youth pastor.

We had to hire a Student Integration Pastor.

After Marko heard our new position title and read through the job description, he merely posted the title of the job on his Facebook status and in a matter of hours, his Facebook was lit up with excitement, skepticism, and curiosity. The intrigue quietly stoked my fire that, in fact, the Holy Spirit was on to something with us in this newly envisioned role.

One of the first dogmatic statements we made to our church staff and in the hiring process was that we were NOT hiring a youth pastor. That job title came with very clear ideas of what this person would do and not do. We needed to re-envision our community toward what this person would be responsible for and the vision of our church toward youth. We were asking our Student Integration Pastor to do a new thing.

What was our guiding philosophy for a Student Integration Pastor?

  • They had to be a 3rd culture person, having the “mindset and will to love, learn, and serve, even in the midst of pain and discomfort”. This “new way” would be uncomfortable and painful for our church who have been used to a generation of traditional youth ministry.
  • We wanted to go headlong into an intergenerational approachto youth ministry. As an Advisory Council member of Fuller Youth Institute, our church has been digging into their Sticky Faith (stickyfaith.org) research for nearly 4 years. And we believe in it.
    • 2 Timothy 2:2, 1 Timothy 4:12 became guiding Scriptures for us as to what we believe about youth and the church.
    • Mutuality, Intentionality, and Meaningful Togetherness – Yes, students need age-appropriate gatherings and training, but this should be the exception, not the rule. We believe in an age appropriate version of the broader church vision and practice so students can transition into the broader church post-graduation.

Our Student Integration Pastor is to contribute to and collaborate with the broader church for meaningful, intentional, and mutual ways to connect students to the Church.

  • Relational and regional, not programmatic and segmented.
  • Collaborative and Big Picture – In all things, we would look at ways the entire church was at work, growing and being developed, and consider how that might intersect with our students.
  • Champion for teenagers – Lead banner-waver reminding our church of their responsibility of spiritually forming teenagers, not just the youth ministry’s job.

At first, we felt a lot of resistance and skepticism that this was just a trendy title for the same-ol’ thing. Many of the faithful didn’t even believe in what we were doing, but we kept casting vision, praying for God to bring the right leader (Joshua 1), and sharing stories of a future hope. Four months into this new position and it clearly is a new thing. Yes, programs and events have changed. But it’s the focus, the time reallocation, the ways we talk about youth ministry that’s the real difference.

It’s changing our church in so many ways. With a smile on my face and joy in my heart, I’m glad we didn’t hire a youth pastor for this new season of ministry at our church.

Posted on

Switching Targets – Two Practices that Get Results

The daunting task of youth ministry revolves around making a change in the lives of teenagers. We all start with this goal in mind, but something usually happens along the way. Maybe we have agendas forced on us, or we get hurt and start playing it safe. Either way, grooves become worn in the road we travel in youth ministry. These habits form without our knowing and can limit our effectiveness.

While reading the Heath brother’s book Switch, I came across two great reminders for leading change in the lives of young adults. Here are two concepts that will help you limit habits and free yourself from imposed outcomes.

Decision Paralysis
I couldn’t tell you how many times as a small group leader I required students to drink from the fire hose. They would come to me with burdens, and I would give them everything I can think of to help. Too much advice, as wise as it might be, is still too much. The Heath brothers call this Decision Paralysis. Too many choices make it hard to choose a path forward.

Switch tells the story of a doctor and patient with few choices for their chronic, arthritic hip pain. When a doctor has exhausted all medications available to cure the arthritis, he begins to prepare for surgery. Just before scheduling surgery though, a new drug is discovered that might cure the patient. Many doctors (47%) will try this new drug to forego the trauma of surgery. Yet when there are two drugs left, only 28% will choose either drug over surgery.

It’s way more productive to give adolescents one clear next step and a farther reaching goal. By doing this, we provide a direction for them that can be seen and followed. They will know quickly if they are following the path and be assured of their progress.

Solution-Focus
The other idea the Heath’s write about concerns a school counselor who meets with a problem student only once every other week. She realizes her impact will be severely limited just because of the time spent with the student. She also knows that she will be equally limited by the child’s home life which she is powerless to change as well. So instead of typical therapy, where she would dig into the young boy’s past, she focuses on quick solutions to his behavior.

Studying his behavior when he doesn’t get into trouble, she develops a series of unusual questions. These questions bring all of the boy’s attention to what happens when he doesn’t get into trouble. When he doesn’t get into trouble the teacher greets him at the door, he is given clear directions that he understands and his assignments are ones that he can achieve. This information is shared with teachers who are dying for a way to calm their classrooms by changing one student’s behavior.

Guess what, it works. In youth ministry, we often focus a lot of time and energy trying to correct behavior by exploring the past. In doing that, the focus is usually on what not to do. This practice of correction has typical results. Behavior doesn’t change, but shame and feelings of inadequacy grow from the expectations of the leader.

If we switch our suggestions to repeating success, then we have a more hopeful future. Instead of telling a young man to stop looking at porn, we ask him what he would like to do instead of acting on his temptations. Or we can ask him what he does when he resists. This gives a positive view of the future rather than a disgraceful reminder of failure.

In following these two principles, a couple of side benefits have crept in. First, I don’t feel like I need to give amazing insight. I’m released from having to be the sage oracle at every meeting. Second, since these techniques center on the teen, it helps them develop problem solving skills of their own.

These ideas may be completely new to you, but I would bet that you practice some form of these ideas daily. If they are new, give them a try. If you recognize these already, let this remind you like it did me to be the change-makers we want to be.

Posted on

How to get rid of your pastor

A pastor in Sterling, Colorado wrote 5 snarky tips for getting a pastor to quit.

Here are my favorite two:

Idea No. 2: Pat your pastor on the back and brag on his good points two or three times a month. Make a bunch of phone calls to your friends and neighbors and tell them all the good things about your pastor. In a little while, so many more people will start coming to your church, you’ll have to hire an associate pastor, and your senior pastor will be free to leave.

Idea No. 5: Get a whole bunch of the church members to unite in earnest intercessory prayer for the pastor, his ministry and his family. Organize prayer meetings in which you pray for the growth of the church and the blessing of the pastor. The pastor may become so effective in ministry that some larger church will gladly take him off your hands.

read the rest

I’m guessing there is a story behind this pastor’s snarky article. But I think that anyone who has worked at a church can empathize. Who hasn’t felt appreciated from time-to-time? It’s a sad reality which haunts us all.

Question: If you were to write, “How to get rid of your youth pastor,” what would make your list?

ht to Ministry Best Practices