group magazine: May-June, 2008
Anger is a powerful and useful emotion. It pushes away, it strengthens, it shields, and it comes in a tremendous array of disguises. One of anger’s best gigs is to cover up pain. Like a scab it covers the wound, helping pain to go undercover. Recent research has shown that depression in guys often shows up as anger. Kids often struggle to label their feelings—and they really struggle with anger. Don’t be fooled or put off by anger—instead, treat anger as a footprint on the trail to track down what’s really going on.
hands on help
I needed to find a quick way to get paperwork out to my girls’ group and have it back to me without wasting precious meeting time.
I took several over-the-door shoe holders and screwed them to a wall. Girls each get two pockets; one “Out” pocket labeled with a wearable button—which they use as a name tag during meetings—and one “In” pocket with a mailing label that lists their name and address. These serve as our mailboxes and are great for a quick visual attendance check. I fill the Out pocket with info to go home, and they return permission slips and so on to the In pocket. When I recognize that someone missed a meeting, I can just gather up the paperwork and send it out to her—the address is right there on the label. And since I use color-coded paper for permission slips, I can quickly see who hasn’t turned theirs in and mention it in the meeting. This saves me a lot of time and stress.
SR. PASTOR PARTNERSHIP
It’s Not Your Job (But It Should Be)
Though it’s not in any youth ministry job description I’ve ever seen, we’d all do well to understand the eight words that are silently dictated by every senior pastor: “Keep your work off of your boss’ desk.”
When our bosses have to handle incessant complaints about us or the youth ministry, trust and confidence in us is broken, and we paint ourselves into corners we may not be able to get out of. Long-term, effective youth workers know that senior pastors are like horses—they don’t like to be surprised.
what’s pain got to do with it?
Do you remember the old commercial: “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner”? If I re-imagined that commercial for youth leaders, it would be: “Pain. It’s what’s for dinner.” Pain is integral to what it means to participate in the Christian adventure called youth ministry.
Do you remember what God told Paul when he asked the Lord to remove his thorn in his flesh three times? He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
So thank God for small budgets, complaining parents, and puny paychecks. God is using this pain like spiritual protein to build you stronger for more effective ministry!
the no-rock-star zone
If you work with a youth-led worship team, it’s important that they see themselves for what they really are—humble servants whose role is to provide a distraction-free environment so the group can worship at the feet of Jesus.
Recently, my bass player was resting his foot on the monitor, with his bass between his legs, while sticking out his tongue...in the middle of a worship song! Even though he was totally kidding and didn’t mean anything by it, I had a chat with him and told him that we’re in the “no rock-star zone.”
Thinking With, Not For
Since our teenagers are growing up in a media-saturated and media-driven world, we must equip them to interact with and engage media in healthy ways. Rather than thinking about media’s messages for them, we must think with them so that they’re then equipped to make healthy, God-honoring media choices for themselves.
going the distance
The Christian life is not about speed—it’s about distance. It’s not about how fast we grow—it’s about how far we grow. If we want to nurture in our teenagers a faith that perseveres, we need to focus on strategies that encourage survival, not just arrival. Ask yourself: Is my ministry focused more on ‘Come forward’ or ‘Press onward’?
fuel your creativity
The most common question writers and artists get from adoring fans is: “Where do you get your ideas?” They all have the same broad answer—ideas come from life. Since it wasn’t possible for George Lucas to visit a galaxy far, far away, he had to rely on things in his own life for ideas. Random stuff like junk scraps, pets, and accidental words all played a catalytic role in helping Lucas create his universe.
The same goes for creating incredible youth ministry experiences. Your devotions, Bible lessons, and games all rely on creativity to be effective. So does it make sense to sit down at your desk and expect genius ideas to flow? Here’s a challenge that’s guaranteed to make you more creative. Select a faith topic (such as forgiveness). Take a trip to a store and randomly pick an object (such as detergent). How is that object like your faith topic? How can you use it to help kids understand your topic? Let that catalyst inspire you.
hands on help
Here’s a great way to divide large groups into smaller ones.
Keep a few heavy-duty cardboard or wooden kids’ puzzles on hand. Mix up the pieces from enough puzzles to match the number of small groups needed, and pass out the pieces.
Then both teenagers and adults try to find others to complete the picture, and when they do you’ve got your groups.
video game or reality show?
In the “Youth Leader Ultimate Saga” video game, you earn “power-ups” by graduating from Bible College or signing up for YWAM training. You win shields and coins for new recruits, rings for each budget increase, cheat codes and extra lives for new converts. Duuude!
Nice fantasy. But back on “Survivor: (Name of your ministry),” most volunteers aren’t seminary grads. They just love Jesus, kids, and (if you’re good) you. They don’t have access to most youth ministry resources, so equip them from your shelf of books and experience. Mentor them in teaching and small-group leading instead of throwing them in to sink or swim. Let them know you’re serious about their success as volunteers.
How do you build true confidence in teenagers? They’ll never find true confidence in accomplishments, success, or personality. Lasting confidence is based in who Christ is, what he has done for us, and how closely we identify with him. Anything less creates a shaky foundation. Leadership development means using every means possible to draw kids closer to Jesus—not to extract life principles, but simply to get close to him.
Remember, the good news that brings true confidence is for us, but it’s all about Christ!
I’ve seen way too many youth workers chewed up by churches that don’t understand the profession of youth ministry. So often I’ve heard friends tell me, “I just didn’t see it coming!” So guard yourself:
• Keep a schedule of hours worked, including at-home and off-site time.
• Ask for an evaluation every three to six months. This limits bad surprises.
• Make friends on the church personnel committee.
• Leave a huge paper trail of what you’re up to in your ministry.
• Have covenant agreements, in writing, for all you’re expected to do.
faith-sharing with style
“It’s hot in here” says your friend. “It’s hot in hell, too!” is your smooth evangelistic response.
Okay, that’s a little on the bold side. But every person is different in their faith-sharing style. Your teenagers each have a style that must be discovered and unleashed. It's like a three-strand wire—a unique blend of their personality, social maturity, and spiritual gifting.
Study the New Testament and you’ll see four dominant types of evangelists—Talkers, Stalkers, Buddies, and Brains. Talkers (the Apostle Paul in Athens) are able to take almost any conversation and skillfully bring up the gospel. Stalkers (Peter in Acts 2) are the first ones to bring it up and the last ones to shut up. Buddies (Barnabas with Saul) come alongside people in compassion and share the good news with gentleness. Brains (Luke with Theophilus) use apologetics, insightful questions, and research to get their friends to consider Christ.
Your mission is to help your teenagers discover their evangelism style.
mother’s day/father’s day
For a small investment you can purchase a Crayola crayon maker ($20 at Wal-Mart). Use this product to help kids make their own crayons out of the bits and pieces left in the Sunday school craft cabinet. Direct your teenagers to design paper wrappers for their crayons based on specific events they remember from childhood—Camping Trip Green or Cookie Baking Brown, for example. Then have kids each give their parents a customized set of crayons as a cherished gift.
Tom and Maggie Mahler have always been a little over-the-top in protecting their children from worldly influences. They’ve home-schooled their kids and restrict their exposure to television, the Internet, and other influences. Now they’re not allowing their 13-year-old son Jason to attend a ministry event that features hip-hop music. They say hip-hop seeds disrespect.
Maybe you have parents like the Mahlers. They can be a big problem, especially if you ignore them. Here’s my advice.
First, remind yourself that the Mahlers are good parents who care deeply about their children. If you had more parents just like them, your youth ministry would be better off.
Second, find ways to communicate regularly with the Mahlers and listen to what they have to say. Problem parents often feel disconnected from what you’re doing.
Third, if you want the Mahlers to support your ministry, you will need to support theirs. They, not you, were commissioned by God to train up their children in the way they should go (Deuteronomy 6 and Proverbs 22) and you should encourage, not discourage, their efforts—even when they create problems for you.
hands on help
blogging Bible studies
Use this tip to connect with your kids throughout the week. While going through the book of 1 Corinthians in our Wednesday service, I made up a daily reading plan for the teenagers. Then I set up a free blog at blogspot.com, and every day I blog my thoughts on that day’s passage. By enabling comments on the blog, kids can add their thoughts on the passage and comment on other people’s comments.
It’s a great way to see the teens discussing and wrestling with the passage, and it’s a way to stay connected. It’s also easy to adapt to any and all books you might be reading and studying.
handling money well
Church leaders will be more open to our (sometimes crazy) youth ministry plans if they’re confident that funds are being handled well. Early in my youth ministry when a retreat or youth event loomed, kids and parents just handed me cash. I’d come back to my office (or home) and empty my pockets. I sometimes had a hard time remembering who’d given me what. Since I was in charge of multiple age groups, it was even hard to remember what this money was for. What a recipe for embarrassment...or embezzlement!
I quickly learned to delegate, whenever possible, the gathering of funds to someone armed with envelopes. That person put any cash or checks received in an envelope, sealed it, then wrote the name, amount, and the purpose of the money on the outside. Then my helper entered that information on a separate log sheet. She’d pass on the log to me, then lock the envelopes in a file that same day.
This useful site allows you to search for songs by title, and then play them over your computer. You can also view and play others’ playlists or create your own. It’s perfect for finding just the right song to play during a game or event.
My eyes rolled back in my head, and I fell to the floor twitching, when I thought of the possibilities of this ingenious site. Based on those hilarious de-motivational posters, the site allows you to upload a photo, provide a title, and then write three funny lines. Oh the fun you can have...
scott firestone IV
the no-fault gift
Sierra finally opened up to me: “I hate girls. I hate lesbians. I hate myself sometimes too.” After a quick silent prayer, I thanked her for trusting me and gently asked, “Can you tell me more?”
As the rest of her story unfolded, I discovered that she was taught sexual acts from a 7-year-old neighbor when she was only 6 years old. Even though she wanted to stop, she stayed involved with this neighbor for years. “Sierra,” I said strongly, “It’s not your fault.” I repeated it three or four times to let it sink in. I asked her to say it with me: “It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault.” As she heard herself speak, the tears flowed.
Many victims of sexual assault believe that what happened to them was their fault. It’s our great honor to “break the news” to them that it never was.
The journey for Sierra continues as she confronts her horrific pain. We referred her to a great counselor and a caring small group leader. With their consistency, help, and prayer, Sierra will find the hope and healing she so desperately needs.
It’s our job to help replace kids’ feelings of shame with feelings of acceptance, to replace their despair with hope, and to replace their hate with love. It’s a long, often arduous process. But it’s our calling to “stick it out” as long as it takes because they’re worth it.
A Rule of Thug
The kid who memorized verses for candy in his childhood could be dealing on a corner today and six feet under tomorrow. So if kids aren’t in your program, find where they are and go there. Remind them that you’re still around. Be as good at recruiting them as the gangs are.
ginger sinsabaugh macdonald
We’re all busy—nothing new about that. But what happens when we live month after month in the fast lane, without pausing? Well, the pace of modern culture seduces us, and that spells trouble. It’s trouble because your relationships fragment, you lose perspective on who you are, you skim over your life rather than experience it, you push away the things that give you joy, and you often can’t hear God’s quiet voice.
How often do you pause each week? A pause is a brief break taken before doing something important. The “something important” is your life...lived today, tomorrow, and next week. Why not incorporate mini-pauses into your day—moments when you still your heart and remind God (and yourself) that you need him and long for his presence? Youth workers who develop the skill of pausing are wiser, more loving, and
enjoy their work more than those who settle for racing through life.
MISSIONS & SERVICE
prepare for the after
As you get ready for your group’s next mission trip, don’t forget to prepare for a crucial part of the trip—the after-it’s-over part. In many ways the “after” time is just as important as the serving. Be ready to help your kids process what they experienced. Plan times to discuss and ask reflective questions such as, “How does what we experienced last week matter now that we’re at home?” To get the most out of a mission trip, prepare well for the “after.”
JR. HIGH MINISTRY
ripping off letterman
This Letterman favorite is best played live, but it can also be videotaped. If you play it live, you’ll need an aquarium full of water. If you videotape it you can use a pool, a bathtub, or your church baptismal!
Hold up a random item and have kids vote whether they think it will sink or float. Drop the item in the water and give junior highers (or teams) one point for each item they guess correctly. This game is much more fun when you use odd items such as a can of SPAM lunch meat, a stuffed animal, a DVD, your glasses, and so on. Make sure to test items ahead of time to ensure a good balance between items that sink and those that float.
road safety imperatives
Picture yourself standing next to a teenager’s bed in a hospital ER, trying to explain to the frustrated nurse why you don’t have a medical release form. It’s not a scene I want to repeat. Before you take your kids anywhere, make sure you run through this checklist:
1. Have signed permission/medical release forms for activities where kids could be harmed. Have one set of copies in each vehicle. Consult state laws to find out how long these forms must be kept on file.
2. Check the vehicle to make sure it’s drivable. Tire treads? Oil level? Washer fluid?
3. Don’t turn the key until you confirm every teenager has strapped on a seat belt.
4. If there’s an accident call 911 first. But after that, immediately call the parents, the senior pastor, and your insurance agent. File accident reports upon returning from the trip.