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"I only eat like a glutton at youth group activities."

 by Aaron Helman | @aaronhelman | loading comments...

So I was at a ministry event eating Way Too Much Pizza, and the guy next to me turns and says:

"I only eat like a glutton at youth group activities."

And ever since I heard him say that, I haven't been able to get it out of my head.

Because it's completely true.

If I ever eat six slices of pizza, or eat five donuts, or go back for a seventh bowl of chili...

...it definitely means I'm at a church thing.

I'm not so sure that's a good thing.

Look through the Bible. Gluttony is an actual Sin.
Are we tacitly encouraging it during youth group?

I remember back to a New Year's Eve party I did once. It was the end of the year, and we had enough budget money leftover to make it a good party. Students were eating candy and stuffing chips in their faces and drinking soda and there was Way Too Much Pizza.

I remember a chili cook-off where I challenged a student to a chili eat-off.

I remember my own youth pastor engaging me in a Mountain Dew chugging contest when I was a teenager.

Sidenote: If you provide your students with Mountain Dew, you forfeit the right to complain about how they won't calm down for your message.

In fact, I think that I am more likely to eat sensibly at Thanksgiving or a Memorial Day barbecue than I am at a church event with free food.

What's up with that?

If we're regularly pigging out at youth group,
what does that teach our students?

What happens when we eat like gluttons at youth group?

Well, besides encouraging sin and undermining the teaching we might want to do about it later, we may also be setting students up with unhealthy habits that could very well hurt their health down the road.

Diabetes, obesity, cavities... You already know the host of health conditions that are directly related to poor dietary habits.

Listen, the most important thing is helping my students know Jesus, but I don't think I need to jeopardize their health to do it.

In our youth ministry, we've already gone caffeine-free. The free soda is gone and so are the vending machines. That's because it was the very definition of foolishness to try to get a group of sugar-high caffeine-filled 13-year-olds to sit still for long enough to experience something Meaningful.

We've dialed back on sugar for the exact same reasons (and because we were tired of finding Skittles literally everywhere).

Maybe the next thing we need to address is the pigging out that we enable - and the example that I've become to my students. Because it's true. I only eat like a glutton at youth group.

But my students don't know that. All they know is that I seem to eat an irresponsible amount of food every time they see me eat.

And if my students decide they want to be like me, that's not a habit I want them to emulate.

How about you? Are you only a glutton at church stuff? Or have you succeeded at responsible eating when surrounded by mountains of free food?

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The one rule you have to follow if you want to have better meetings

 by Aaron Helman | @aaronhelman | loading comments...

We all know the experience of sitting in a meeting that seems like it's never, ever going to end.

Doesn't matter if it's 30 minutes or two hours. A bad meeting can torpedo your whole day.

And if you're working with volunteers, it makes it way less likely they'll come back for another meeting.

The problem is that meetings are important. The information you have to share is important.

And that's why we've got to do everything we can to make sure meetings don't suck.

In charge of a meeting? Follow this one rule to make your meetings way better.

The first time I ever ran a volunteer meeting, it was obvious I had no idea what I was doing. My agenda was thrown together at the last minute, my content was obviously unplanned, and then I gave pinkeye to my entire volunteer team.

No part of that is made up.

And while I don't consider myself the master of meetings, I have learned a few things along the way, including the one crucial rule you should follow every time you plan a meeting:

If you're in charge of the meeting, spend at least as much time planning it as it's scheduled to last.

Now, there are obviously going to be times when it's appropriate to spend way more time in planning than in delivery; but for my money, it's never appropriate to spend less time planning a meeting than actually delivering it.

If it's a twenty minute gathering, spend at least twenty minutes thinking about what you're going to say.

A two hour training event should take you at least two hours of dedicated planning.

Even if you already know what you're going to say. Even if you're just going through the same agenda that you did last year at this time.

And listen, I know that the last thing the average youth worker needs is another block of committed time on her plate, but your volunteers are busy people too...

...and if it's not worth you spending an hour to plan the meeting and crafting the message, then it might not be worth the hour that they're going to give up to attend.

Here's the kicker. If you decide it's not worth your time to plan the thing, then maybe the best course of action might be to skip the meeting altogether.

No one ever complained about not having another meeting.

Why more planning should mean shorter meetings.
Here's how your going to recover the time that went into planning those meetings:

You're going to have shorter meetings, and the catch is that you can't have shorter meetings if you don't plan them well.

An unplanned meeting quickly devolves into rambling. People ask questions about ideas that weren't fully explained. Answering those questions becomes its own agenda item.

But if you can plan a concise explanation, anticipate people's questions and answer them along the way, you could easily buy yourself half of a meeting.

And no one ever complained about a meeting that was only half the length it used to be.

Here's why this matters for your ministry
Volunteers have busy schedules, and they're not going to alter their schedules or sacrifice their own family time to be at your meetings if they learn that your meetings are a waste of their time.

After my first disastrous meeting, it took me a full year before I could find a quorum of leaders to attend a second one. They were all putting me of with excuses that seemed paper-thin; all because I'd provided such a negative experience at that one meeting.

That wasn't their fault. That was mine.

I wasted their time because I decided that my meeting wasn't important enough to first invest my own time. It's the kind of mistake I hope I never make twice.

Are you great at meetings? What's your secret?

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The 2015 SmarterYM Reading List:
5 books you should pick up TODAY

 by Aaron Helman | @aaronhelman

Presenting the 2015 SmarterYM Reading List...
I sat down in January to start whittling away at this list, and it was immensely challenging. My goal was to take the 100+ books I've read in the last year, and boil those down to the FIVE that I think best address youth ministry in 2015.

If you were an intern in my ministry, I'd consider four of these books essential reading. That's how valuable they are proving to be in my life and my ministry.

Here we go.

Essentialism by Greg McKeown
I loved this book. McKeown deals with the idea that with narrowed focus and commitment to priority (not priorities!), we are able to make a more significant impact.

How many youth ministers do you know who are planning dozens of different events and programs, but aren't seeing the impact they really hoped they would?

Essentialism deals with the idea that when we focus on the stuff that matters the most, we can massively multiply our impact.
[Get Essentialism by Greg McKeown at Amazon.]

Lead Small by Reggie Joiner
This summer, Lead Small will be required reading for ALL of my small group leaders, and maybe it will be for yours too.

As students become more stressed out than ever before, they're going to need pastors more than they need programs. And the only way to make that happen is to equip more of our adults to be in ministry and relationship with teenagers.

Lead Small is the best resource to help us learn how to pastor, shepherd, and lead their small groups.
[Get Lead Small by Reggie Joiner at Amazon.]

Comedy Writing for Late Night TV by Joe Toplyn
You don't have to be funny when you speak. It's totally possible to be effective without making people laugh.

But if humor is a tool in your arsenal, you should at least be good at it. After all, there's nothing more awkward than when someone fails at deliberately trying to be funny.

Here's the thing. Upfront humor is a learnable and improvable skill, and although Comedy Writing was written for the racier world of late night shows, the principles will help you too.
[Get Comedy Writing by Joe Toplyn at Amazon.]

Creature of the Word by Matt Chandler
I try not to buy-in to the Christian celebrity game, but I am a huge fan of Matt Chandler and his obsession with preaching grace.

Teenagers are expected to perform athletically, academically, socially, artistically... All of them have felt the consequences of a failure to perform.

That means that the idea of grace is more counter-cultural than ever, so we're going to need to plan on spending more of our time explaining it. This book will help you do that.
[Get Creature of the Word by Matt Chandler at Amazon.]

Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley
This was on the 2014 reading list. It's on the 2015 reading list. It will probably be on the 2016 reading list.

That's because of all the preaching, teaching, and speaking books that I've picked up in the last decade, I haven't gone back to any of them as much as I've gone back to Communicating for a Change.

Some people will think I'm the old man for going back to this well, but there it is - the best book for communicators I've ever read.
[Get Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley at Amazon.]