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Too Old to be a Woman in Youth Ministry

old womanLiving in Michigan, I hear a lot of people complain about the snow or look at me with crazy eyes because I chose to move here from sunny California. I am not a grumpy winter complainer. I don’t complain about the cold, the snow, or the temperature that is too crazy cold to take kids to play outside.  I am not sure why, but  I love winter. Maybe it’s because I like actually being able to wear scarves, cute boots, and cardigans 7 months out of the year. Continue reading Too Old to be a Woman in Youth Ministry

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The merry go round that is youth ministry

merry-go-round-ym

Hello. My name is Theresa Mazza and I am a Woman in Youth Ministry. (Hi Theresa).

My mind won’t shut off at night. I lay in bed awake for hours because there is so much on my list that still needs to be done.

I sneak texts and facebook posts. I can’t ignore the teenager or parent on the other end. I can answer a text while I’m cooking taco meat. No, I’m not texting a student. I’m making dinner!

My computer is a part of my body. I’ve watched countless movies with my family while answering emails, loading the youth calendar, or creating a winter retreat brochure.

Youth ministry gets more date nights with me than my husband does. Youth ministry and I go to the movies together, we go away on the weekend together, we share meals together, we worship together. All things I wish I did more of with my husband.

I am the master at the Costco run. I can load my car to the max with all things youth group, unload, set up the youth room, prep dinner for 80 (where the hell are my volunteers), print out small group sheets, plug in my mac, turn on the sound system, and start a mad round of 9 square while students arrive…all with my child on my right hip the entire time.

This is me pushing myself on the merry go round that is youth ministry. Most of it feels like utter chaos most of the time. But enough of it, enough of the time, is an absolute thrill. So see I just can’t stop pushing myself round and around and around. I’m freaking called to youth ministry and there’s nothing I can do to be uncalled. It’s not uniquely crazy because I’m a woman, but I think other woman in youth ministry can uniquely understand why I do what I do, why I am the way I am, and can identify with me, and challenge me. This is why 2015 will look very different.

After almost 20 years of youth ministry I can say that I will not be on the youth ministry merry go round alone. Me and 5 other women in youth ministry in the area where I live, have committed to stand together in prayer and friendship. The decision to make this commitment came when we all agreed on a few things: we isolate ourselves on our youth ministry island way too much, we don’t laugh enough, or go out with friends enough, and we don’t have the prayer support or accountable we so desperately need.

So this year will be different for the six of us. We will pray for each other very intentionally, we will call each other often, and meet together the way besties do. We aren’t part of a program or anything, we’re just doing it.

We’re doing it and I hope this happens…

I hope my phone rings and the person on the other end says: “Pray with me.” And in that moment because I know what she’s going through, I can go to our loving God with her and petition for her in a way that no one else could.

I hope that we end up at Starbucks, not as our second youth office, but as place of friendship where we will share stories with each other that most people don’t get (yes, we purposely lock ourselves in with middle school girls all night and don’t sleep).

I hope we inspire each other and recognize each others strengths and gifts.

I hope we trust each other. And I hope that our trust will allow us to guide each other in a loving way.

I hope we challenge each other to be better, better moms, wives, sisters, friends, and leaders of our ministries.

This year I’m locking arms with these women. Whom will you lock arms with? Maybe there are women in youth ministry in your area you could invite to spin on the merry go round with you. And maybe you could also join us at the first ever Women in Youth Ministry Campference.


TheresaAbout Theresa

Theresa is a long time youth director and youth worker currently volunteering and causing student ministry mayhem at Broomfield United Methodist Church in Broomfield Colorado. She is also a speaker, writer, mommy, wife and Outreach Director at a clean water non-profit called El Porvenir.

 

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Celebration – the role of the extended family

I grew up in a small town and what was unique about my childhood is that the majority of my extended family lived within 20 minutes of one another for these early formative years. We’d gather together regularly for special holidays, feasts and crazy family experiences.

At this young age I never really understood the value or privilege it was to share in these experiences. To be honest, there were times I didn’t want to be a part of these experiences. I felt like too many people knew me for who I really was, and I wasn’t sure if that would ever be enough for them.

Kind of sounds like what some people have to share about connecting with a community of faith, no?

As a father of three young children, I’m being inspired to return to the practice of celebration. There is great value when we support, protect and honour these shared experiences.

1. Support/Love – Families are designed to support and love each other. Both of these habits aren’t always easy to create or achieve. There are internal and external pressures that affect the context families exist in. A family doesn’t always represent a biological connection. Families are clusters of people of different ages who consistently commit to living out life together….families are meant to be people who love one another no matter what.

I long for my own children and for teens/leaders/parents under my influence of leadership to know that they matter. Do I shape the elements of my parenting and pastoring around the postures of love and support, or do I allow productivity and measurables dictate rhythm, pace or design?

2. Protect – Families are designed to protect each other. It’s true that those who are closest to you have the most influence to harm or to help you. As an extended family, gathered around a set of values & principles (like a community of faith), do we fight for things that truly matter, or do we reserve our physical efforts to creating chaos within our familial connections? When people connect with your extending family (community of faith and/or ministry) do they understand that they are being welcomed into protection, or do they live in fear of being seen for who they really are?

Only one person ever lived a perfect life…Jesus. And we still found a way to make fun of him, hurt him, betray him while ultimately killing him. For the rest of us who are less than perfect, maybe we should invest our energy into developing health and growth in one another instead of always focusing on why we might be sick. Would people flourish if they knew they were worth fighting for?

3. Honour – Families honour each other. In my world, to honour means to celebrate. I honour those who are older than me because their lives have helped to shape the current reality that I benefit from. I celebrate my own kids because we all need people who believe in us and will cheer us on. Honouring doesn’t infer that we completely agree with everything that has transpired over time, but it demonstrates that we are willing to overcome our differences and recognize that diversity isn’t meant to polarize us, it’s meant to inspire us. As leaders, parents and people, is our posture one that speaks to defiance, or one that speaks to celebration?

What other roles do you see an expression of the extended family playing in the lives of people?

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Test..test…is this on?

If you’ve been in any sort of leadership role you will know the reality of being evaluated. It’s happening constantly. Parents are looking at you to see if you are trustworthy as a voice of reason in the life of their child. Teens are wondering if they can trust you with who they really are. Volunteer leaders are hoping they can find a faithful cheerleader who supports, encourages and cares for them as they invest their life in the lives of others. And while tests can sometimes help us evaluate the good, the bad & the ugly, at other times I wonder if they simply get in the way of our goal of defining meaning and purpose behind the ministry activity we are seeking to measure.

Over the years that I’ve been involved in youth ministry as a student, a volunteer and now a paid youth worker, I’ve discovered that there are 3 predominant themes that permeate the evaluation process from both a programmatic and personnel perspective.

  1. Personality
  2. Passion
  3. Performance

Here are some thoughts on how each of these themes burrow their way into the evaluation process.

Personality – This is perhaps the most contentious aspect of evaluation. It’s also the most subjective. Every person in the world possesses a unique personality and make up. Some personality traits are more endearing than others. Different environmental factors can enhance or detract from natural personality quirks. But at the end of the day, some people are going to like you as a leader and others aren’t. And they base a lot of their assessment on whether or not they can understand or interact with your personality.

It’s important to remember that the way you are wired is the way God intended you to be wired. As Creator, we must trust that God doesn’t make mistakes. We aren’t asked to be perfect like Jesus, we are asked to follow the way of life that He modelled for us. Perfection is unattainable for us as humans, and therefore we should never seek to personify it. Yes, we can grow in our understanding of ourselves and others, and in our ability to love one another, but we must recognize that we are intentionally flawed and yet still worth knowing and being known. As such, we cannot lament about different aspects of our personality that naturally connect us with people while disconnecting us from others.

Evaluation that is based solely on personality is always subjective. Sometimes it really is about you, and there is nothing you can do about it. Live into who God has created you to be while asking others to love you in the same way. If you hit an impasse in evaluation, you may have to embrace the reality that some personalities will never get along and it may be wiser to move on than to continue trying to create hope or change.

Passion – Passion is most easily defined as burden or hunger…although I do think the word suffering is appropriate to use at times. Passion asks the question: What drives you to move forward? Passion is also contagious. As people interact with you, are they experiencing our passion or are they questioning it?

Having passion doesn’t mean doing more or working harder. Sharing your passion means learning to communicate what drives you forward to lead the way you are wired and to do what you do as a leader. If there are questions about your passion, it may be because people don’t understand your personality, or it may be because what you are saying and what you are doing don’t link up.

If you have passion, it should be seen through what you do and heard through what you say. Sure, we all have our off-days, but is it our passion that drives us to move forward or something else?

Performance – While personality may be the most subjective element of evaluation, performance seems to be the most convoluted. The typical North American church defines success based on the bottom line reality of what is most easily measured (attendance, budget & income vs. expense). We’ve created different metric systems to try and bring clarity to our performance, but in doing so we may have unintentional creating recurring ripples of chaos that detract from the true goal of our leadership efforts.

It’s easy to say that performance should be defined by obedience and faithfulness. But how do you measure it? I will say this, if you are performing well according to whatever contextual metric is in place, questions about your personality and passion become less frequent. But if the opposite is true, questions about both become increasingly prevalent.

 

If these three elements are in play throughout the evaluation process, where does that leave us in our quest to evaluate and even define success? What do you think?

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What’s in a Name?

I remember the first moment when I found out I was going to be a dad. Mixed emotions of excitement, nervousness and joy flooded into my soul. The weight of responsibility of caring for and discipling a young child into adulthood became the focus of my thought power and energy leading up to the moment of birth (and beyond!). Of all the responsibilities associated with being a parent, none seemed as important as providing a great start for this new child by choosing the name they would live into.

My wife Bonny and I spent countless hours creating names for our children. We created a spreadsheet listing all the leading name candidates, researching their meaning and dreaming about what we hoped our children would live into in terms of values, character and aspirations for their future.

The day came where we met each of our three children and called them by name. In that moment everything seemed settled, new, hope-filled and amazing.

Fast forward a couple of years and these young little babies who are now young children are beginning to live into and own the name that they have been given. They respond to it when it’s called (for the most part…), they introduce themselves by it and they know how to write it. My kids are beginning to share who they are with others, starting with their name.

I often marvel at the power that names have in each of our lives. Working with teens I’ve seen firsthand the positive and negative effects of names or labels that have been placed on these kids by those who they trusted and cared about. How we speak to each other and what references or names we use matter. The grade 7 boy who is home-schooled is more than just a home-schooler. The grade 10 girl who has dated half the youth group is more than just the floozy. The student that lives in the rough part of town is more than an underprivileged kid.

The names we share with one another and we give to others matter. What names are you using to refer to the teens and families under your sphere of influence and care? Are they names that breathe life into their souls, or names that reinforce all the lies they may be tempted to believe about who they are? What’s in a name, and does a name really matter?

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Four Tensions a Leader Must Face

Being a leader isn’t an easy task. The greatest leaders in history are those who have learned to work around, embrace and resolve tension. While many people enjoy the responsibility of making decisions, choosing a direction or having people work for you, there is significant weight associated with being a leader because tension is inevitable.

A leader is someone who is open to criticism that is fueled by the mismanagement of the different tensions they endure.

Here are four tensions that every leader faces:

1. Physical Tension – respect and honor for other leaders
There is a natural default human tendency to define our self-worth based on who we are in comparison to others. Leadership is no different. We might look at a leader from another environment and evaluate ourselves to be better than or worse than what we see based on a set of identified or inferred criteria.

Every leader will be faced with the tension to consider him or her self to be of better quality than another leader. Learning to value other leaders for who they are, while leaving room to disagree with process, philosophy or methodology will help you to stay focused on developing into the leader God has created you to be.

2. Emotional Tension – hope vs. pessimism or cynicism
Leaders are often faced with the tension of creating a sense of hope or a sense of impending doom. Facilitating hope creates and sustains vision. Consistent pessimism or cynicism leads only to peril.

Leading from a hope-filled perspective doesn’t make a leader naïve, but instead helps the leader to process, refine and redirect vision as necessary. Leaders need to be honest about their current reality, admitting when things are darker than they had hoped, and brighter then they could have imagined. Hope may not disappoint, but pessimism and cynicism always do.

3. Intellectual Tension – being teachable vs. being arrogance
There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. This is often the difference between creating momentum or chaos. Leaders who are willing to learn from everyone and every situation will begin to develop intrinsic momentum within their organizations by valuing creativity and innovation over proper procedure and/or productivity.

4. Spiritual Tension – love or legalism
There is a leadership tension between valuing tradition over outcome. A loving leader celebrates diversity while a legalistic leader demands conformity. The values of an organization are its social conscience. Violation of values leads to a culture that is more cumbersome than hopeful, depleting the leader’s ability to inspire, manage, create or stimulate growth. Leadership is learning to balance the tension between a legalistic carnal response and loving spiritual intuitiveness.

Tension is a necessary experience for growth and development as a leader. While this is not an exhaustive list of leadership tensions, it points out the reality that tension exists and it cannot be avoided. What do you agree or disagree with? What other leadership tensions do leaders face? What tension are you facing most prominently right now?