Tuesday, February 12, 2013

From mistakes... tips for youth pastors (part 1)

  One of the major ways we humans learn is by learning from the mistakes or success of others. When we are young, we do not possess any frame of reference by which we can make educated choices until we have experience in certain situations. Frame of references come through experience, such as learning that a stove top is hot and can hurt us comes from either being told and listening to that persons advice, by experiencing the pain of a burn first hand, or seeing someone else's experience with a hot stove top. It is fascinating how God created our brains to absorb experiences through both direct and indirect input, every tiny seemingly insignificant experience we either participate, are told of, or witness plays apart in our development into mature adults.
 The main reason for the creation of this blog was to help youth pastors, youth leaders/volunteers, parents, pastoral staff and even students (youth) to become a cohesive unit and further the preparation of the generations that will take over as the leaders of the church in the not so distant future. Today, I want to focus on some advice for youth pastors, and later this week I will try to cover some helpful tips for the other aforementioned groups, however; reading on may help people in the other groups gain a better handle on what we'll be discussing.

Ok, Youth Pastors, here's part 1:

   Whether you're an old guy like me or someone just starting out, some of the most important things that you can learn or remember are: Start with the end in mind, and Parents are not the enemy.

Starting with the end in mind means that you build the ministry at the church you are at in such a way that it becomes Christ centred. A youth ministry built in such a way that if the Lord chose to take you home tomorrow, the youth leaders shouldn't have to hire a detective, an accountant and an archeologist a to figure out how to run the youth ministry. By Christ centred, I mean that you are NOT at the centre of it all, but that any event, retreat, conference, bible study, small group, leader training or coffee time is wholly focused on Jesus and He has absolute and total control to change things as He sees fit. Build it in such a way that it is easily transferrable to your successor.

Lets be real for a moment, we are not going to live forever. We are not going to be youth pastors of a single congregation forever. Granted, some of us will be blessed enough to be in a place for a long time, but we are meant to be ready to move where God knows we'll bring him the greatest glory at a moments notice. This means that we must tailor our ministries to be prepared for us to not be there. More importantly, think about the brother who follows you, wether you meet him/her or not give them the gift of a stable ministry. Help them to succeed, for if they surpass your greatest successes, does that not mean that you succeeded too? Even if the person who succeeds you becomes greater than you, remember that you help build that ministry, you helped to bring greater glory to God by helping your successor do greater things than you could do. YOUTH MINISTRY IS NOT A COMPETITION!!!

     In a perfect world this would be so easy for us to do, but this world is not perfect. We have to deal with imperfect people who sometimes may, without intent, hurt us. We have to work past the hurt and help those who will take up the reigns of leadership after us. It is not the most pleasant thing to do, preparing "provisions" and materials knowing you will never see the finished product, but even King David stored up all that Solomon would need to build the temple, though his eyes would never witness it. In our ministries, we all tend to want to be Solomon and build a magnificent ministry, while God needs us to simply be David, and prepare everything so that Solomon can succeed. Both jobs do the same thing, which is bring glory to God. The Lord will honour us for going the extra mile in ensuring our successor does well, even if the hurt wants us to simply take the blue prints and the materials with us. Remember, you were once someone's successor, and you are building on the the work, sweat and tears they shed for that group. This is how you Start with the end in mind: prepare the ministry for your successor.

How can we do this? well, it really depends on what the ministry in your particular church looks like, but here are some general suggestions you may wish to try or even improve upon.

  1. make sure all passwords for websites, Facebook groups, Twitter, office computer etc are generic. don't use a personal password, but make up something easy to remember that the new guy does not have to go in a change.
  2. Keep all graphics, sign up sheets, permission slips, retreat brochures in template form in a digital or physical folder.
  3. Leave instructions on major events that have become good traditions and are successful. This will keep him/her from accidentally removing or changing said event to the point where the students may riot (ok, riot is a bit of a stretch...barely)
  4. Keep an updated contact list for students, bookings for events, transportation services, hotels, retreat centres used, and other Youth Pastors in the area.
  5. Train your leaders to run, and organize events, they will then be able to maintain the status quo with out much stress. This also frees you to develop deeper relationships with the students, prepare sermons/bible studies, pray or simply take a weekend off with your family. (its ok not to be there every friday, but let your Sr. Pastor know what you're doing.)
  6. Be honest with your students, let them know that you're there until the Lord moves you and that all you do is to prepare them for that day.
  7. Do NOT start fights with other departments, you don't want anyone dealing with your damage.
  8. If you decided to move on, leave a letter outlining any major issues that the group has gone through. This is like leaving a map for a mine field so that he doesn't step on any proverbial mines and can navigate safely and even bring about some healing. This is not a list of complaints about people who slighted you or even called for your resignation! for example, at a previous position I mentioned to my successor to, should he run into any issues, first speak with the executive pastor and then together head to the senior pastor should the executive pastor deem it necessary. This way he wouldn't burden the sr. pastor needlessly with worry.
  9. Remind yourself that ALL ministry is temporary, constantly. specially after a big "win"
  10. Any youth storage area should only contain things/resources that will aid the youth group going forward. No, keeping curriculum from 1983 cause it "may" get used is not advisable... the 80's are gone, let them rest in peace.
  11. anything you would have liked your predecessor to have done or left for you.

These are just a few suggestions that have helped me. feel free to add or omit any that you feel does not apply to your particular ministry situation. The list is not the point. the point is that we need to think about those who come after us and how we can help prepare things for them to build an even greater ministry than we could have dreamed. who knows, if the Lord wills it you may be setting things up for one of your own students or your child or even great grand-child. We all build on the work of others.

Moving onto the next helpful tip: Parents are not the enemy, nor are youth pastors the enemy.

  The reality that both youth pastors and parents need to understand is that they need each other in order to grow a healthy christian teen. Most of us tend to miss out on the wealth of success we can have in ministry if we only involved parents more. No, driving van fulls of kids or using the yard/jacuzzi or their house for a party does not count as having parents be involved. I mean that we should have almost an equal amount of parents as our core leaders as there are students/ young adult leaders. Train some parents (dare I include grandparents?) to be youth leaders, to lead a small group to be mentors to the boys and girls. If you're human like me, you've come to the realization that you cannot be everywhere at once and that you cannot be everyone's listening ear, good buddy and pastor. You're not God, stop trying to be. Think of this: who are your students going to lean on when you're not there? it takes at least 4-5 years to develop a deep rapport with a single student, if you spend 1-2 hours a week with them out side of youth events/small groups. Are you going to hope that the new guy takes up the slack?

 I bring this up, not because of my success, but because I failed to do this many times and regret not building a strong parent contingent to help mentor students. If anything, get parents to form prayer teams that pray for your students and the youth leaders, at minimum this is a good way to get parents involved.

   We all dread parents meetings. Most of us would rather have a root canal than stand in front of parents! at some point it feels like you're heading to be executed before a firing squad and sometimes those meetings are not that far off as you receive volley after volley of "complaints." Parent's meetings shouldn't feel this way though, they're a great tool to cast the vision God gave us for our ministries. If parents catch the vision, they'll support any decision you make. Always be over prepared, be clear in your direction and allow time for parents to ask questions about your vision, you may even want to ask them what Christian principles they are focusing on teaching their kids or what they would like their teen to be exposed to and use that information to tailor your teaching/preaching times.

 We must do everything in our power to make sure the majority of parents are in our corner backing us up or we mind as well quit and making sure parents are properly informed on the direction of the youth group is key. Take their suggestions into consideration, better yet, if they give you ideas that you've never tried, seriously consider asking them to help you get it off the ground. They know their kids best, we only spend 2-3 hours a week with the students, and we only know what the students want us to know about them. Most of all, listen. really listen. Parents like to feel like they are being listened to and in a roundabout way, they may be sharing a deep fear or pain that they are going through.

  Praise parents who are exemplary. I don't mean make an announcement from the pulpit extolling their exploits in parenting teens. I mean pull them aside and tell them you think they're doing a good job. Most of them are scared about raising teenagers, some of them don't know what to do or what to expect during those 6 years and they rely on you to help them. If you think about it, we not only pastor teens, but we pastor the parents as well.

 Youth Pastors are NOT the full meal deal in raising healthy Christian teens! We are more like a vitamin. a supplement that helps add small quantities of missing ingredients that will stimulate growth that are missing from their every day diet. Some times, actually, a lot of the time, Youth pastors feel like parents are expecting us to "fix" their kid, to be the full meal when we just can't. Sometimes we feel like we're letting you down if we don't miraculously change a student from a spazzy, hyper 13 year old into a mature bible scholar. We do the best we can, but we're just as human as the rest of you, and we cannot do much by ourselves. we need your help! any help! No sane youth pastor will ever turn down a parent who wants to help.

   How can you help? Avoid falling into the trap that you can't help because your child does not want you there. Yes, its true that teens need to have their own space to develop their own identities and explore their individuality, but there are ways you can help your youth pastor out while staying out of your students "space." for example, if your church has a small group program or a sunday school program for teens/pre-teens you can help lead a group, preferably one that your child is not in. "take care of someone else's, teen?!? are you nuts?!" maybe what you're saying right now, but think about it, what better way to learn how to handle teens? you can learn how to talk with them, what they're into, what they struggle with, what they hope for, what they wish their parents would trust them with, etc. you know, stuff your teen deals with. (by the way, if you choose to do this, make sure you set some parameters with your teen assuring them that while at a youth event you won't go all "parenty" on them and that you're a youth leader until you get home. Ask them first, don't surprise them with the news that you'll be at every youth event for the rest of the year... not a good idea) your youth pastor will do all they can to help train you and place you with a group that fits you best, so don't worry about not knowing what to do. You can learn a ton of things about your teen by spending an hour with a group of teens.

         Lastly, Trust your youth pastor. Most of us work with teens by choice, because we believe that God has called us to train the future generation to go further than we could in their faith walk. Everything we do, from the silliest of games to the deepest of spiritual times is done because we care about your teens. We do our utmost to keep them from harm and would not expose them to anything we felt would endanger their spiritual walk. yes, it may not look like they way you do things at home, not will it look like the way your youth pastor (if you were lucky to have one) did things. You can rest assured that we are trying to grow spiritually self feeding, deep rooted disciples of Christ, but we will not force anyone to follow Christ. We will answer their questions, help to guide them through rough patches of life, but we are not going to brain wash them and that means we're going to give each student the freedom to decide for themselves if our faith will become theirs. We will pray for those who are ready to go deeper with Christ and love those who choose to stay in the fringe, we will do our best to model who Jesus is through our lives, but we're not going to keep them in a bubble. We are in the same team, and we need each other to ensure that the gospel of Christ is preached to all nations and through all generations until He returns.

Have you hugged your youth pastor today? sometimes we don't hear the one kind word over the roar of disapproval. it would be nice if you heaped praises on your youth pastors this week. help them to keep the passion they were given for your teens burning bright.

with many blessings!