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The one-sentence mantra that could change your youth ministry forever

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

I've taken everything I've learned about reaching super-busy students...

...and I think I've boiled it down into one sentence that, if applied, could radically change your ministry.

Now, I hate it when bloggers write headlines that make wild, exaggerated claims just to get clicks.

The headline to this article is NOT an exaggeration.

It's one sentence, and it could fundamentally change your ministry forever.

Here it is:

Your ability to share God's love with teenagers is not dependent on their attendance at your program.

It hit me when I drove home from a one-on-one with a student who almost never comes to youth group. He's got pretty intense social anxiety and our large group can intimidate him.

Good thing my ability to share God's love with him isn't dependent on his attendance at my program.

I don't mean to diminish the importance of church attendance, and I do think it's important for teenagers to experience faith corporately with one another.

But I also know that too many of us have gotten caught in a trap where we start to believe that we can't do ministry if they don't show up.

It's ridiculous when a student plays video games all weekend, then skips youth group on Sunday night because he's swamped with homework.

It's more ridiculous when we believe that we can't be in ministry to students who are procrastinators, but sometimes that's exactly what happens.

My ability to share God's love with teenagers is not dependent on their attendance at my program.

If you can read that sentence out loud, I've found that it's actually incredibly freeing.

It's freeing because so many of us spend so much of our time racking our brains trying to figure out how to get teenagers to show up at youth group because we've been conditioned to believe that youth group is the place where ministry happens.

And while that may be true, it's time to get reconditioned because youth group isn't the only place where ministry happens.

He didn't even know he was a youth pastor...

I have a friend who's a director at a camp that serves primarily low-income families. He plans and delivers nine weeks of summer camp, and that's a lot of work.

But he spends the bulk of his offseason following up with the kids who attended his camps. In a typical week, he sees about 30 students either one-on-one or in very small groups of 2 or 3.

He spends more time listening to and praying with students than any youth pastor I know. His ministry isn't dependent on a student's attendance at his program, and that's a good thing, because for ten months of the year, he doesn't have one.

Now, I understand that it's impossible for you - one person - to run a wide-ranging ministry and give dedicated one-on-one time to every student who never shows up. There simply aren't enough hours in the week.

But this is absolutely a mindset that you can transfer to volunteers and other leaders too.

Just because they're not here for youth group doesn't mean we can't somehow be in ministry with them.

Here's your very basic action item...

There may be dozens of students who fall on your "doesn't really show up" list. That's pretty common actually.

What I've noticed in most youth workers is that there are usually three or four who really haunt us. They stick out. It seems that God's placed those students directly on our hearts, and so we work especially hard to invite and entice them to our programs.

It's in these cases that I think oftentimes we've clearly heard God's calling, but we've misinterpreted our next step.

If God has especially placed a student on your heart, it's not because he wants you to invite them to your program, it's because he wants you to be in ministry with them...

...and that's something that is not dependent on their attendance in your program.

So, your action item is this. Write down the names of three students who don't show up and who God's placed on your heart.

Then instead of trying to figure out how to get them to come to youth group...

...start trying to figure out how you can be in ministry with them even if they don't.

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A kick in the pants from Heather Lea Campbell

 by Heather Lea Campbell | @heatherlea17

This past Halloween, I went to Starbucks for the Frankenchino. The Frankenchino is a green tea Frappucino with peppermint, java chips, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream. Delicious, but complicated.

I've read articles about Starbucks employees not enjoying making specialty drinks, but because I'm a black Americano kind of gal, I've never encountered this myself.

Except this time, the employee was super-rude to me. I can imagine that it's not pleasurable combining 6 different elements into one drink, but it's your job! It's not even "all other duties as assigned" category. It's right there in your main job duties.

The same is true for many of the youth ministers I know. We complain about a lot of the things that are part of the basics of our job.

  • We complain about administrative tasks such as budgeting, incident reports, meeting agendas, and various other paperwork.
  • We complain about dealing with conflicts with people: Volunteers who can't read our minds, parents who don't seem to care, and students who aren't always on their best behavior. Not to mention senior pastors who don't share our exact vision.
  • We complain about having meetings all day, because they're boring, because we can do work more efficiently on our own, and because we'd rather be out there with people.
  • We complain about things over there versus in our ministry.
This isn't meant to be a dig. I'm not telling you to "quit complaining", because honestly, I vent all the time.

It's not that I never struggle with these things. Some complaints have validity to them. Some of the time, youth ministry is taxing. Other times, it's simply boring.

Most of us got into youth ministry because we love teenagers.

When we said yes to ministry, we didn't realize we were saying yes to lock-in nightmares, strict budgets, committees, and crazy adults.

We didn't realize our roles would include also becoming a tech guru, band leader, or janitor.

I was talking this out with my brilliant co-worker, Mindie, and she elaborated, "We get into ministry thinking it's our calling, but we forget it's also a vocation."

Youth ministry is a vocation, hence, vocational ministry. Every vocation has paperwork, office hours, a budget, and "other duties as assigned."

And I'm not going to lie: It's not always fun. But it is a job; every grown-up job has its unsavory parts. Every job has administrative tasks that aren't glamorous and that don't feel like they have much meaning.

But what makes vocational ministry different is that it's ministry.

The paperwork, the budgets, the crazy parents; they all have the divine purpose of furthering the Kingdom of God on Earth.

So keep at it and go do your job.

Leave a comment below. > > >

Heather Lea Campbell currently works with JrHi students at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. She blogs at heatherleacampbell.me. Aaron let her write this guest post even though she's a Cardinals fan.

Don't just worry about students -
busy parents are your ministry too

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

You probably saw the post a few months ago:

Today's teenagers are the most exhausted generation in history.

But the thing about busy teenagers is that their parents are often even busier.

Think of all of the activities your students are a part of every week?

Who's driving them there and back? Who's really managing a teenager's schedules?

Have you ever wondered how your ministry is serving the parents who make it all happen?

Youth ministry should be in the business of HELPING parents,
but too often we're adding stress to their lives.

I'll assume you already know that parents are the largest influence on their child's faith development. There are plenty of incredible resources out there - like ParentMinistry.net - designed to help you help them claim that influence.

But that's not really what this post is about.

Too often we see parents - at their best - as a particularly useful tool to be leveraged for the cause of ministry. At their worst, we regard parents as an obstacle to overcome.

Both of those are incorrect. The truth is this:

Youth worker, remember that parents are people too.
Tired, broken, overwhelmed people.

Talk to the mother of a high school wrestler about how stressful it is to prepare meals for a fifteen-year old who can't gain weight until the season is over even though gaining weight is literally the thing a fifteen-year-old does better than anything else.

Find one of the 52% of families who can't afford the home they're currently living in. You wouldn't be wrong to say that that's often a result of poor financial choices, but that doesn't discount the real stress many parents are facing.

Ask a parent what it's like to care for an aging parent of their own or honestly ask them about how things are going at work.

It's a wake-up call when you realize that these are people who need the grace and peace of Christ, and too often we've issued silent judgment or pent-up frustrations instead.

Then ask yourself what you can do to serve the parents for their own sake, not just as an indirect strategy to get their students to youth group.

And if you're looking for a few concrete, practical suggestions; well, SmarterYM has those too, because when you're surrounded by tired, broken, overwhelmed people...

...well, you minister to them.

The Youth Worker's Five-Minute Guide to Caring for Parents

Be mindful of a parent's drive-time.
If a family lives fifteen minutes from your gathering place, they could spend a full hour dropping their student off and picking them up from a single event. Thing is, there are absolutely families who live even further away than that.

"Chunk" your programs whenever possible.
We do all of our "fun events" on Sundays right after worship services. It gives our students Sunday nights to do homework, but also takes two "church commutes" off of our parents' agendas.

Say 'Thank You' more often than you do.
My New Year's Resolution is to send a hand-written thank you note to each of our students' parents during the school year.

Create space for parents to wait for their students.
If you're running an hour-long Bible study, parents won't want to run home after dropping their students off, only to turn around and come right back again. Set aside a room for parents, complete with coffee, Wi-Fi, and a few books. It won't always get used, but when it does, parents will appreciate it.

End your programs on time.
If it's important that parents not be late to pick up their kids, it's just important that you not be late to give them back. Dad's spent 40-minutes in the car driving kids back and forth to youth group. I'm sure he doesn't want to sit out there for another 20 minutes.

Reach out.
When a student shares a prayer request that mom lost her job, make sure that someone is reaching out to mom. If no one's doing it, then you're up!

Especially be mindful of prayer requests with grandparents, as these often hit the adults (that's their mom or dad!) harder than teenagers.

I'm sure there's more, but that's where you come in. Leave a comment below and let me know how you're caring for the parents in your ministry too.

Leave a comment below > > >

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