Archive for February 2012

Asking my Really Big Question   Leave a comment

Hmmm...so what do you think about that?

I’m totally biased, but I kinda think my husband Dennis is a super genius.  (You don’t read these posts, do you, hon?  Don’t want a statement like that to go to your head.)  On his blog, blog.trainforpurpose.com,my husband wrote an inspiring post based on his time at TEDxAustin.  I will now attempt to interact with his post Learn this to change the world: Big Solutions REQUIRE a really big question first.

An introduction from Dennis:

I attended TEDxAustin this past weekend, and I really enjoyed and was inspired by all the people that came on the stage and how powerfully they we changing the world for the better. They say TED is about celebrating and spreading ideas, but I was struck by how much all of the speakers on the stage had DONE. just check out this speakers list :http://tedxaustin.com/TEDxAustin-2012-Program.pdf

A world record holder in free diving, Someone training dozens of doctors in Iraq, A recognized and awarded Musician and conductor, An accomplished photographer, Successful and energized urban renewal activist. These speakers had done a lot.

I was also struck by something else, the similar process they went through to get to where they were. I am going to try to distill what I heard down to a few points that seemed to recur frequently during their “Life in 18 min” talks.

First, See the bigger problem

Almost every speaker had a more or less common problem, experience and took a different or second look at it. And they saw something larger than what they were dealing with.

Michael McDaniel who looked beyond the news of Katrina and the sad pictures of the first few days and weeks and saw a huge injustice in the way people who had lost their homes were being housed.

David R. Dow who handles death row cases, looked beyond the problem of the trial and appeal process and said literally “how can I make this problem bigger?” and started to see the amazingly similar backgrounds and stories that make up the most common back story for 80% of the people currently on death row.

Chris Bliss, Who looked beyond the “10 commandments public display” controversy to find a truly mind boggling lack of the celebration of the bill of rights.

Taryn Davis, who saw beyond her own pain and loss to see that there is an entire generation of people, just like her, that did not have support, and even google could not figure out where to point them.

Luis von Ahn, who we saw pre-recorded, took a look at the success of his captcha technology and looked beyond that to see the tremendous amount of time that was being wasted daily on a global scale.

Jeremy Courtney, who looked beyond the one sad father that wanted him to help find his child a lifesaving surgery in America, to see the massive epidemic that was going on in Iraq.

So step one is to take a point of view that sees something bigger. It was often not sought out, but something that these speakers found themselves in. Some of them were people who had trained for years to be in the field, but the vast majority were people pursuing something else, and when they encountered a problem, took enough time to see the bigger problem behind it.

See the bigger problem.  So, if I am going to take step one to heart, I’ve gotta tell you that the big problem I see is too many broken people in youth ministry.  The people aren’t broken so much as they are abused by a system that will let them work with at best one day off a week, pay them poorly, criticize what they do and expect more than can be done.  I have more than a few friends who are talented, smart people full of love for Christ and young people that essentially got beat up by their churches.  It’s frustrating to hear about people leaving the church because members of the church or senior pastors think it is okay to dump on them.  No youth worker is perfect, no youth worker will ever be perfect.  But unlike ordained clergy, there is no system or  set of standards in place to protect youth workers from losing their jobs unexpectedly, from working crazy hours, from being criticized, from neglecting their own care.

Obviously this varies for every church.  I’ve seen churches with incredibly healthy ministries and healthy relationships between the student ministry staff & pastor as well as staff & congregation.  I get the sense that where there is ministry health it is directly related to the leadership of the church.

Step 2, Ask a really crazy bold question

I have written before about the power of questions. I have seen firsthand how powerfully the world can shift if you earnestly seek an answer to a good enough question.

Jeremy asked, how can I do something that will make sure that every child in Iraq that needs a lifesaving surgery can get it?

Taryn asked how she could help all the military widows reclaim their lives and identity and look forward to waking up?

David asked, What can we do as a society to prevent murder in the first place?

Michael asked, How can we provide descent emergency shelter that can be deployed anywhere it is needed in time to meet the need?

And most boldly of all was Luis, who asked the very powerful question, in the 10s on average that someone takes to do a captcha, can we get them to do something useful at the same time? The emphasis is mine. The genius of and thinking is really apparent there.

And what is amazing is that every person on the stage was well on their way to providing a definitive answer to these crazy questions. But they could not be where they were if they had not responded to seeing a bigger problem, by asking what must have seemed at the time to be an impossible question.

So be sure to ask yourself a question that will solve a problem in the most _________way possible.

(pick one or two here) Audacious, Impossible, Resolute, Passionate, Just, Permanent, Life-changing, Bold, Crazy, Immediate, Unexpected, Complete, Fearless, Imaginative, Powerful

We all solve problems every day, often we don’t look beyond the face of the problem presented, and if we do, we only use that insight into the bigger world to just solve our problem better. To live into a bigger destiny, you need to take those moments of insight into the bigger problems of the world, and make your problem bigger, ask a bigger question.

My big questions.  The word that rolls around in my head the most is ADVOCACY.  As in, who is an advocate for youth workers in the church?  Who is standing up for them?  How can I be a voice that reconciles the conflict between youth workers and their churches?  How can I communicate what is reasonable to expect from a person in youth ministry?

Step 3, You ARE the leader, Take action, Now

If you are going to ask the big questions, you also need to “get comfortable with the fact you will be a leader” that aspect was mentioned multiple times, by Chris regarding his monumental project for the bill of rights, Jason Roberts when talking about his projects in Oak Cliff, By Michael and by Jeremy. They might not have felt comfortable being the leader, they might not have had the experience to do this on paper, but they all leaned into the discomfort and looked around and saw that they were the leader that was needed.

Chris even mentioned a point where he was looked around the room, and found himself staring in the mirror, and how he knew at that point, if it was going to get done.. It was going to be him.

And then he took the leap, and so did the others. They made the commitment. They took the plunge and jumped, not into the know, but into the compelling unknown.

One of the speakers quoted W.H. Murray

 The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

I don’t believe I can improve on those words.

Whatever you are wrestling with starting today. Begin it now.

Hmmm.  So here I am.  A reluctant leader?  Or am I even by myself here with these questions?

Are great organizations like Simply Youth Ministry’s Simply Soul Care and We Love Our Youth Worker the only voices out there?  Who else is standing up for the youth worker and setting standards for youth workers and churches?

Anyone wrestling with these questions besides me?

And does anyone else dare to ask their own big questions?

 

7 Choices You Can Make To Keep From Losing Yourself in Youth Ministry   Leave a comment

I had a reality check six months ago while sitting in a volunteer training seminar.  Our instructor suggested that youth ministry volunteers focus on their hobbies and figure out creative ways to get the youth to participate too (a youth flyfishing expedition? Why not?)  He had us start with a list of our hobbies… and I realized that I didn’t have any hobbies outside of my job in youth ministry.  This cannot be healthy. 

In a profession like youth ministry, it’s easy to get caught up in the role of youth pastor/youth director and lose touch with who you are as a person.  Youth workers almost by definition are givers, people who sacrifice their goals to help others. It is almost universal that youth workers will ignore their own needs every chance they get. But you have to spend some time taking care of yourself or you will find yourself where you have nothing left to give, and probably at the worst possible time.  Here are 7 choices you can make to keep from losing your sense of self in your job:

The first 4 choices are internal things you can control – basically ways to take care of yourself.  The last three involve external factors that you can work on but you might have limited control.

 

Four Internal Choices to Make to Keep from Losing Yourself in Youth Ministry

  1. Choose to care for your own soul.  You pour your heart into helping others.  But who is your pastor?  Consider finding a pastor who is not your boss.  Who holds you accountable for your own spiritual growth?  The best way you can minister to other people is to make sure you are spiritually fed yourself.  Choose to make time for personal Bible study, retreat, worship – whatever you need for your own spiritual growth – and make sure to do these things before you get caught up in work.  Do not get in the habit of putting youth ministry before your own relationship with God.
  2.  Choose to care for your mind.  What do you think about? The questions you ask will become habitual.  What kind of thoughts are you letting into your head?  Are you reading positive things and surrounding yourself with a positive helpful message?  Just the simple act of reading positive material can keep your mind from spiraling down into negative thoughts.  (check out some inspirational books, read Scripture)  You need to keep yourself in a positive and healthy frame of mind.
  3. Choose to care for your body.  We all know youth work can mean lock-ins and a seemingly limitless number of occasions to eat pizza.  That might have seemed like the ideal job in college, but we’re not getting any younger.  Be honest, are you eating well?  Getting enough rest?  Exercising?  You know what you need to do – do it!  We all need to take care of ourselves physically – get adequate rest, exercise regularly, wear sunscreen.  If you are taking care of your body, you will find that you have more energy and you will last longer. One of the healthiest things you can do is to say “no” when people are asking you to add another commitment to your schedule.  Consider this: When asked the secret to making amazing products, Steve Jobs said “It comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much”. Your ministry works the same way, do too much “not amazing stuff” and you can’t focus on the truly important stuff.
  4.  Choose to develop yourself outside of your profession.  Get a hobby.  Learn new things.  Keep your mind sharp.  [Have a bucket list? No? Make one. Have one, cross one off this month. Who do you have fun with? In the military they say at social events, “never open the hangar doors”, which means when you are at a social event with people in your unit, focus on the fun, and don’t talk about work. Having trouble turning off the worker mode and relaxing? Maybe you need friends that are not involved in youth ministry in any way shape or form.

 

Three External Choices to Make to Keep from Losing Yourself in Youth Ministry – these are about your relationships

  1. Choose to make your home relationships a priority.   It’s too easy to take your family for granted.  If you are married, you need to make sure your marriage is a priority over youth ministry.  This might mean turning the text messages off when you get home, scheduling date nights and not letting youth events conflict with them, eat regular meals together.  If you have children, you need to be demonstrating the priority your own kids have over the youth events.  Bonus: when you choose to make it clear that family is your priority, you are being a great role model for youth.  Set boundaries.
  2. Choose to build positive work relationships.  Church politics is [not any different than office politics, when people who have different opinions and values work together, sometimes their personalities don’t fit. It’s] unavoidable.  But you can be part of the solution instead of feeding the problem. Make sure you are keeping things positive with your coworkers.  Try to understand the pressures the senior pastor might be under.  Take the janitor out to lunch.  Lift people up.  Work relationships are one of those things that make the job joyful when they’re great, miserable when they’re bad. 
    Work relationships also include your relationships with volunteers – be positive, affirming.  And if there is a problem with fit or calling be loving but direct, not everyone is going to be a successful long term volunteer.
    Along those same lines, choose to have healthy youth relationships –  set your boundaries and make sure your relationships are appropriate. If you are not doing safe sanctuary where you are consider adopting it as a standard, it helps keep everyone safe, and it doesn’t leave room for any inappropriate rumors to take root. Remember that your role is not to be the “cool buddy” of teenagers, you are an adult. Being a youth worker is not the same thing as being a youth.  You can coach your students, you can listen, you can cheer them on, but you are not there to live life for them or through them.   Choose not to be alone with youth or to be in situations that can be misunderstood.
  3. Choose your job wisely.  Churches and youth ministries have different personalities; just like youth workers have different personalities. If you are working in a church that has unrealistic expectations for you or just isn’t a fit for your personality and gifts, you might be miserable and on the way to losing yourself before you even begin.
    Choosing the job that is right for you starts with an honest self-assessment.. What are your strengths? Gifts? Passions?  Are you an extrovert that gets your energy from having a large number of people around? Then don’t go to work for a small church with a high average age and few youth. If you are passionate about student leadership, will you be content working for a church that expects you to produce programs?  If you are passionate about discipleship, will you be content working for a church that expects big outreach events and large crowds?  How much time does your job really require?  Will this work with your other priorities for spiritual growth and healthy relationships?
     If you find yourself in a church that doesn’t fit your personality and gifts, it may be time to make the difficult choice to make a switch.  The more you can align who you are as a person and how you are comfortable in ministry, the healthier you’ll be.

 

 

Erin Jackson is a veteran & certified youthworker as well as part of the Youthworker Movement team. If you are in youth ministry, you should learn more about Youthworker Movement at http://www.ywmovement.org.  She lives in Arlington, Texas with her husband Dennis and three kids. She can be found blogging at http://umyouthworker.com/ If you like this post, please let me know.

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted February 3, 2012 by erinjackso in Uncategorized