Archive for May 2013

99 Thoughts on Marriage and Ministry – Prioritizing the “Holymess” of Matrimony – a Book Review   Leave a comment

99 thoughts coverLike most life lessons, sometimes you have to learn things the hard way. But what if there was a way to learn things without all of the pain?

My husband says there are two types of people in the world – “stove-touchers” and “not-stove-touchers”. If you have a hot stove and tell someone not to touch it, some people will listen, others have to touch the stove themselves. There is wisdom in listening to good advice before you get burned.

What about you?  Are you more of a stove-toucher in life or not?  Either way you learn life lessons…but why would you want to learn things the hard way when it comes to your marriage and ministry?

Jake and Melissa Kircher’s new book, “99 Thoughts on Marriage and Ministry – Prioritizing the ‘Holymess’ of Matrimony,” is full of sound advice for youth workers who are trying to achieve balance between church work and married life.  The book covers five areas: Marriage Basics, Balancing Marriage and Ministry, Finances, The Church Versus Your Family, and The Darker Side of the Church.

I realize after reading the section on “The Darker Side of the Church,” that I was a “stove toucher” myself when it came to surviving my own youth ministry struggles.  When you leave a youth ministry position, it’s easy to get in a trap of “if only’s,” ruminating on things that have gone badly.  As Jake and Melissa point out, this leads to hurt and bitterness more than healing and forgiveness. I learned this the hard way as I spent way too much time trying to figure out how I could have done things differently to make other people happy.  Sometimes in ministry, we can get overwhelmed with the pressure to meet the stated and unstated expectations of others.  It’s heartbreaking.  If I had heard Jake and Melissa’s advice earlier to “expect to fail,” and advice on how to handle that pressure, I imagine I could have avoided a lot of pain.

I have to confess, I picked up this book with an unintended arrogance.  My husband and I have been married for over 15 years and have been involved in youth ministry the entire time.  I started the book thinking there wasn’t much new I could learn, but I was pleasantly surprised with not only Jake and Melissa’s candor and openness, but also their sound advice.  We forget the valuable marriage life lessons learned along the way, this book does a good job of articulating important points to consider about work-life balance and the idiosyncrasies specific to church work.  Whether it’s advice basic marriage happiness or finances or whatever you need most, it’s comforting to know you are not alone in your struggles.

Good advice doesn’t have to be earth-shattering to be valuable.  For example, Jake and Melissa advise youth workers to have a day completely off from work each week plus a “flex day” for getting errands done.  The concept of a day of rest is not new, yet how many youth workers neglect Sabbath?  When you keep telling yourself you’ll take a day off later, or keep putting off time with your spouse because you have just “one more thing” to do for work, it doesn’t take long until find yourself exhausted and on the road to burnout.  Neglect taking days off and you suffer, your spiritual life suffers, your marriage and your ministry suffers, too.

It’s as painful an experience as touching a stove when you find yourself at a point of spiritual dryness or hurt in youth ministry.  While it is reassuring to know that you are not alone and you can survive these experiences, wouldn’t it be easier to avoid some of the pain by following sound advice in the first place?  Your marriage and family life should take precedence over your work life – read this book for advice and practical on how to make your own family and spiritual life a priority.

Who should read this book: If you are newly married, thinking about marriage, or if you just never really given any thought to how ministry effects your marriage, I would say this book should be required reading for you.  But even if feel like you have your act together, there are elements in this book that are healthy reminders about how to find work and life balance.   To the happily married, read it for a brush up, then pass the book on to your favorite newlyweds.

3 Steps for Creating a Culture of Responsibility in Youth Ministry   1 comment

responsibility

I didn’t set out to be the children’s minister’s nightmare parent, but I became that person and it didn’t have to be that way.  Here is how it all happened:

Our church’s children’s ministry was planning on taking a group to a huge preteen event being held at a nearby megachurch.  The registration flier said the early bird deadline was in early January, but I was out of town and missed signing my sons up by that deadline.  Once I realized I missed the early bird rate and was going to have to shell out an extra $20 when I finally did register,  I lost my motivation for getting them signed up right away.  What I didn’t realize was, what our children’s minister really meant was that the early bird deadline was the actual deadline for our group, but more on that later.

(To be fair it’s likely she announced this more than once to my sons, but I didn’t get that message, and that in itself is a valuable lesson we can all learn – communicating announcements exclusively to the children or youth might be about as effective as not announcing it at all.  If you need the adults to take action, send money, etc, you would be wise to let them know directly, rather than through the grapevine.)

So back to the story, it was now the week before the event and I was ready to sign up my sons.   This was when I learned it was too late to sign up for the group. At this point, the only date I had seen was the Early Bird date, which in most situations means there is another date later that is not “early”. But like I said it is entirely possible that this was communicated to my children. So, given that we could not sign up with the church group, I did what any resourceful parent would do and called the venue directly to see if there was space available that we could sign up individually.

And this is where the story gets interesting to me.

Instead of simply saying yes or no about whether or not there was room, the contact person answered my “is it too late to register my two sons?” question with his own questions: “Did you not hear the announcements during worship about the deadline to sign up?”  “Did you miss the signs posted around the church?” “Was there a financial or some other reason why you couldn’t meet the published deadline?”  I was taken aback but then I explained I was from a different church altogether.  He apologized and then explained that they are “trying to create a culture of responsibility in the congregation.”

Well, I was surprised to learn I was an irresponsible parent. Had I not offered up that I was from a different church, I would have left that conversation with a very negative feeling about that church.

But a culture of responsibility?  How intriguing.   On one hand, I wonder what kinds of situations led up to the moment of the church staff getting together and saying “you know what we need?  We need to have a culture of responsibility here.”  You know, no rules are created without reasons.  But even more, I wondered what I have done in my own ministry to create a culture of irresponsibility.

It’s more common than you’d think.   When a deadline is published and you really don’t enforce it, you communicate that your deadline doesn’t really matter.  How often do youth or youth parents ask you, is it okay that they forgot to turn your forms and can they turn it in later this week?  Do you find yourself saying, “it’s okay, get it to me as soon as possible”?   Who wants to say no?  But if we do this every time there’s an event, what we tell people unintentionally is that they can turn things in as late as they want.  Your deadlines don’t mean diddly squat.

I have a friend whose predecessor had this habit.  She would tell everybody when forms were due and then she would let the deadline pass. Realizing that she didn’t have enough youth signed up, she would extend the deadline.  Eventually she would call each youth individually to ask them if they were coming to the event.  It didn’t take long for everyone to expect things to work that way.  When my friend took over, that culture was not going to work for him.  And when you’ve got events to plan and need a basic headcount, this last minute stuff causes all sorts of avoidable stress.  So how can you make the change to a culture of responsibility?

Here are 3 steps to create a culture of responsibility in your youth ministry:

Step 1: Communication.  Anytime you are making a big culture change, you need to cover the change with communication up and down the chain.  As you roll out events, explain what will be different this time.  Clearly communicate the deadlines and that the deadlines really will be enforced this time.  (I’m talking deadlines here, but this step is true for any kind of big change – it could be getting students to be responsible for taking care of the youth room, getting people to show up on time, etc.)  Be sure to get your volunteers and church leaders on the same page – explain why the current system is not working and how you would like them to help you fix what is broken.  It’s especially important that you communicate up the chain because that is to whom unhappy people tend to complain.  Communicate deadlines or rule changes in as many channels as possible – like I learned with my own children, just a verbal announcement to the students might not be enough.  Back up your announcements in print, in texts, on websites.  In my case, I would have acted differently if I’d understood that the early deadline was really the final deadline, so make sure you communicate all dates and times clearly.

Step 2: Consistency.  Once you’ve set the deadlines and expectations, keep them clear and consistent.  They apply to everyone and expect this to be true for every event.  Nothing undermines a change quicker than being inconsistent about it.  And this goes for communications from anyone that is “kind of official,” too, so make sure your volunteers understand and communicate the same message and don’t “walk it back” with the way they phrase or answer questions. As much as I was taken aback by the megachurch contact person’s questions, they clearly had a plan to consistently expect responsible behavior across their ministries.  How much easier would your life be if the families in your church knew you expected them to be responsible?

Step 3: Enforcement.  It might hurt at first to feel like the bad guy.  If you have someone who misses the deadlines and expects special treatment, be prepared to say no. If you can’t say no, at least don’t give a 100% yes.  If you have some flexibility, have an “early bird” rate/deadline and a “regular” rate/deadline, but say no after the final deadline.  Set your expectations high and people will rise to meet them.

Of course, this inevitably leads to the question of grace.  If a youth wants to participate but missed the deadline, are there times when it would be okay to let them in? If you want to have flexibility, determine that upfront and not after the fact. As long as you determine the rules in advance, I would say, in special circumstances, yes, it is okay to work after deadlines.  Let’s say a youth is new to your group or just heard about the upcoming event, you might be able to make an exception. In the Megachurch they had clearly determined that not seeing signs, or hearing the announcement or having financial trouble was the criteria they were going to use.

Also, instead of just saying yes to late sign ups, plan on making these the rare exceptions – allow youth to sign up if someone drops out and a space opens up, for example.

So instead of saying,

“Yes, I can sign you up, no problem don’t worry about it,”

say,

“I can take your name and put you on the waiting list in case someone drops out,” or

“I can take your name and see if we can order extra food and materials this far past the deadline, I will check and get back to you.”

In my story, my sons ended up missing the event.  It was a tough lesson for our family but not the end of the world.  I’ll work on being more responsible next time – and that’s probably a healthy thing.

Be blessed,

Erin

Would love your feedback:

Where have you struggled with this?

Would you make exceptions to let people sign up late?  In what circumstances?

10 Must-Have Ingredients for Every Parent Meeting   Leave a comment

woman bakingChances are if you’re in youth ministry, you are in it because you feel called and love working with youth, you relate well to young people.  What you may or may not have noticed is that those same youth are often dropped off by parents/guardians/grandparents* at the beginning of  your time together.  Those adults are, in fact, one of your most important constituencies…maybe even more important to win over than your senior pastor.  Why does your ministry with parents matter?  Whether you realized it at the start or not, those same parent/guardians are the number one influencers in the youths’ faith lives.  They also heavily influence whether or not their teenage children can participate in your ministry.  You may be the world’s best at relating to young people, but if you can’t master communicating with parents you’re headed for trouble.

If you don’t communicate well with parents, you risk their thinking of you as unprofessional, unreliable or worse.  Unhappy parents can lead to grumbling and  complaints about your ministry.  But if you can successfully manage your relationships with parents, they can become your biggest fans and supporters.  One way you can be successful at winning parents over is by having regularly scheduled, well-run parent meetings.

And if you’re asking yourself, “what’s a parent meeting?” then no one has taught you a basic principle of youth ministry – You are in ministry to parents as much as you are in ministry to youth.  Being a parent of an adolescent is a daunting challenge, as the youth worker you have a unique opportunity to come alongside parents and make raising Christian teens a little less scary.  Let’s look at ways you can get parents on your side through well-run parent meetings.

Here are 10 Must-Have Ingredients in Every Successful Parent Meeting:

1. Start and end on time.  This really should be a no-brainer, right?  It matters because how you start a meeting sets the tone for the meeting.  If you start your meetings 10 minutes late, you unintentionally communicate that it’s okay to not show up on time to things you plan.  When it’s time for the parent meeting to begin, let parents know you have a lot to cover and how long you realistically expect the meeting to last.  Starting or ending a meeting late communicates that you don’t respect people’s time. How long should a parent meeting last?  Of course this depends on the content you have to cover, and while an hour is a good rule of thumb, what matters even more is that you spend enough time to communicate well without belaboring the points.

2. Create a friendly atmosphere.  Chances are, not every parent knows every other parent’s name or they might not even know you.  Have name tags for everyone – few things communicate care better than actually calling people by name.  Even if it’s a small group, is there anything more embarrassing than blanking out on someone’s name you’ve known for a while?   Introduce people, introduce yourself, thank people for being there.  If the gathering is under about 20 people, take the time to have each person introduce themselves and tell which kids are theirs.  During your meeting, engage your audience by calling on specific people.  Smile.  Warm up your crowd.  Create an air of friendliness but still remember you’re together for a purpose – keep the introduction time brief.

3. Have an agenda (and not the hidden kind).  Want to demonstrate that you are organized and have planned what you are going to say?  Have a printed meeting agenda to follow.  Circulate it beforehand so parents know what to expect.  What is the purpose of this particular parent meeting?  Are you addressing certain problems, seeking volunteer support, coaching parents, going over the details of upcoming events?  What will you cover, what’s the goal of the meeting?  Don’t meet just to have a meeting.

4. Have very specific action items lined out clearly.  What is it that you want parents to do as a result of this meeting?  Do they need to sign forms for a retreat by a certain date?  Are some fundraising events mandatory for the youth to attend in order to participate in other activities?  Are parents expected to volunteer once a quarter at snack supper?  Whatever it is that you really want parents to do, list the “to do’s” as clearly as possible.  Don’t make people guess what you’re asking of them – be clear.

5. Date everything.  Double check any handout you make to ensure it answers the basic questions of what, when, where, who, why, how much.  Some parents are calendar people and planners, help them out by having dates communicated as clearly and often as possible.  If you’re not doing so already, learn to use a Google calendar for your ministry events and share it with parents.

6. Use consistent formatting in your handouts.  I admit, there was a time in my life when I thought PrintShop was the coolest thing ever (yep, I just dated myself didn’t I?)  It’s easy to get caught up in the default templates available in desktop publishing.  You don’t have to spend hours sticking in multiple clip arts and fonts, just make sure you communicate the main information people really need.  Keep your handouts simple and clear across the board.  Not everyone is particular about this one, but if you’re communicating to adults, use a “grown up” font on your handouts (please just don’t use Comic Sans).  Not only is consistent formatting important, but please make sure you are consistently communicating the correct information through all communication channels you use – in other words, be sure the church newsletter, youth ministry newsletter, website, texts, Facebook page and meeting hand outs all have the correct information.

7. Make your meetings easy to follow and pay attention to your audience.  Communication studies indicate that most of our communication is made through our body language and visual aids.  How well do you do during your meetings of managing the visual?  Along with the printed agenda in the hands of your participants, have a slide show (Keynote, PowerPoint) with main points, dates, related photos to guide your meeting.  Pay attention to whether or not your audience is understanding what you are saying.  Ask them from time to time if they have any questions.  It doesn’t matter how great the information you have to share is if people get stuck at a point when they’re confused by you.

8. Tell stories to a point.  Participating in youth ministry events should be life-changing. Don’t get so caught up in talking about the logistics and huge amount of upcoming youth events that you neglect stories about the heart of your ministry.  In the midst of talking about the upcoming youth events, share a story of the impact youth ministry has had on changing a person’s heart.  Parents yearn for their children to know Christ, share a story about how youth ministry can help make that a reality.  Even better, have a respected parent in the group share a story.

9. Publicize your meeting weeks in advance.  Clearly communicate the next meeting time, date and place.  How often you should have a parent meeting depends on your situation – at least once a year, but quarterly works too if you have a reason to meet.  Just be sure to give your parents a few weeks notice so they can plan to attend your meeting.  (A cool ministry idea is to have a “parents encouraging parents” meeting – have “experienced” parents of teens lead a small group discussion or Bible study once a month with other parents.  As the youth worker, you stop in to these meetings briefly to build relationships and communicate current events.)

10. Open and close in prayer.  I am so guilty of getting caught up in making sure that all of the details of a meeting are covered, that I sometimes neglect the most important ministry we can offer – prayer.  Pray at the beginning and end of the meeting.  Ask the Holy Spirit to guide the meeting, pray for the ministry, your leadership, the parents and the youth.  If you can allow the time, have parents circle up, share their joys and concerns and pray together to close your meeting.  Remember, you are in the ministry with parents just as much as you are with youth.

And there you have it! The top 10 ingredients for a successful parent meeting – use and mix them well and you’ll create a supportive parent network.

Be blessed,

Erin

*Note: I recognize that families and family dynamics come in a wide variety of formats.  For simplicity, I’m using the term “parent meeting” to include whomever the adults are that matter in the lives of your youth group – parents, step-parents, legal guardians, grandparents, etc.

Would love to hear from you:

What other successful ingredients to parent meetings would you recommend?

How often do you meet with the parents of your youth?  What’s working?  What is not?

Are there specific ministry tools you’ve used that have made parent meetings easier?

No More Pizza for the Youth Ministry   Leave a comment

Feeding the masses at your youth group gathering but out of fresh menu ideas?  Meal planning for a retreat?  Or are you looking for an easy menu list to pass out to the parents who graciously volunteered to make snack supper for the youth group?

It’s okay to admit it – are you just plain tired of pizza?  Try these 9 inexpensive menus for a change.  Each menu is designed to be easy to make, easy to multiply and less than $3.00 per person.

9 Cheap Snack Supper Meals that are Not Pizza

1.    Ballpark Fare: Hot Dogs/Chips/Fruit             

Suggested shopping list: Hot Dogs & Buns (estimate 1.5 per person), ketchup, mustard, relish, bag of chips per person; Apples & Oranges (1 fruit per person)

Estimated Cost Per Person: $1.50-2.00

2.    Italian Night: Spaghetti or Lasagna/Bread/Caesar Salad*

Suggested Shopping List: Spaghetti  & sauce or Large Frozen Lasagnas, loaves of  French bread, butter, bags of romaine lettuce salad, Caesar dressing, croutons, shredded parmesan cheese.

Estimated Cost Per Person: Spaghetti meal $2.00; Lasagna meal $2.50-3.00

3.    Hoagies/Sandwich Bar

Suggested Shopping List: Either loaves of wheat & white bread or sandwich rolls, sandwich meat such as roast beef, turkey & ham, American and provolone cheese, lettuce, mayonnaise, mustard, tomato slices, peanut butter & jelly, bags of chips, sandwich cookies.

Estimated Cost Per Person: $2.00-2.50

4.    Mexican Menu: Tacos/Taco Salad/Nacho Bar

Suggested Shopping List: Ground Beef, Taco Seasoning (cooked ahead of time), heated taco shells, tortillas, shredded cheddar cheese, lettuce, salsa, nacho cheese heated in Crock Pot, extras: jalapeños, sour cream, guacamole.

Estimated Cost Per Person: $1.75-$2.00

5.    Frozen Food You Heat & Eat: Taquitos, Chicken nuggets, Corn Dogs

Suggested Shopping List: buy bulk quantities of whichever items you plan on serving (estimate 6 taquitos, 6 nuggets, or 1.5 corndogs per person) serve with cut fruit, chips, cookies.

Estimated Cost Per Person: $2.00-2.50

6.    Grill it: Hamburgers & Fixings

Suggested Shopping List: hamburger patties and buns (estimate 1.5 per person); American cheese slices; ketchup, mustard, pickles, lettuce, tomato slices.  Serve with sides such as chips, cookies.

Estimated Cost Per Person: $2.50 per person

7.    Breakfast for Dinner: Pancakes/French toast sticks with fruit cup or Breakfast Tacos with fruit cup*

Suggested Shopping List:  For Pancake/French Toast Sticks Meal: Pancake mix, butter, syrup, frozen French toast sticks, powdered sugar, fruit cups, milk and orange juice; For Breakfast Taco Meal: scrambled eggs with and without sausage crumbles (cooked ahead of time), flour tortillas, cheese, salsa, fruit cups, milk and orange juice.

Estimated Cost Per Person: $1.50-2.00

8.    Soup & Grilled Cheese Sandwich*

Suggested Shopping List: tomato and chicken noodle soups, loaves of white bread, butter, American cheese slices.  Remember to have bowls and spoons on hand.

Estimated Cost Per Person: $1.50

9.    Baked Potato and Salad Bar*

Suggested Shopping List: Potatoes (1 per person), shredded cheddar cheese, bacon bits, butter, sour cream, bags of salad, Italian and Ranch dressing, croutons, optional carrots or additional veggies for the salad.  Caesar salad is also a really popular option.

Estimated Cost Per Person: $1.50-2.00

Money saving tips: You can save more by buying in bulk packaging – serving from large bags of chips instead of individual bags will reduce your costs, for example.  Instead of individual soft drink cans, offer 2 liters to choose from or even cheaper, water & lemonade.   Note: I did not include drinks in most of the menus, costs for drinks will be anywhere from free water to about 50 cents per person.

*These menus are easily adapted to meet vegetarian diet needs

Questions:

Do you serve a meal when your youth group meets? 

What non-pizza menus have worked well with your youth group?

Pin It!

I put together a little Pinboard for snack supper ideas – feel free to check it out.

Special thanks to my youth ministry colleague/former caterer/feeding frenzy expert, Michelle Freeman, for her input on this article.

“Women should be silent.” What?!?! A Bible Study on 1 Timothy 4   Leave a comment

It was bad luck for the Baptist denomination that I happened to join my high school friend for Sunday School on the day they were studying the part of Ephesians that mentions women should be submissive to their husbands.  This was my first impression of what a Baptist church was about, and that word “submissive” did not sit well with me.  I was raised with an “anything boys can do, girls can do better” mantra forever in my head, it’s possible I was born thinking that way because I don’t remember ever thinking differently.  So what was this about a woman’s place and being submissive?  WHAT?

No United Methodist Church I had ever attended preached on women being submissive to men.  I had had several female pastors in my life, my own aunt is a UMC pastor.  So what was this about a woman being submissive?  About not being able to teach or preach?  This first impression of a Baptist denomination was hard to swallow.  I wonder, what happens to our own youth when they visit their friends’ churches?

Years later, I have a different understanding of the Scripture about the roles for women.  And I relish my role as a senior high Bible study teacher.  If we can create a place where youth can safely wrestle with even the most controversial parts of Scripture, we can give them a faith foundation that won’t be rocked as they’re exposed to different theology.

We are currently studying the book of 1 Timothy in my Senior High Bible study.  Have you read through 1 Timothy lately?  I chose the book of 1 Timothy because I knew that 1 Timothy 4:12 says “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.”  That’s a verse young people should know, right?  However, I was tempted find another book to study once I read through the book, or at least to skip chapter 2 because of the whole “women should learn in quietness and full submission” part.  I remembered those early impressions from my own youth – would I be doing the same to the girls in my own class?  We took the whole book on anyway and I’m glad we did.  I might add, if you choose to tackle this with your group, it might not hurt to read Jeremy’s article about not getting fired first.  Make sure you have support with you when you’re delving into the controversial & know your youth.

The fun part: During the more controversial part of the Bible study, I had the boys sit in an inner circle to study the Bible with me.  The girls sat outside the circle and were able to take notes but not speak.  You should have seen the reactions – there were furious notetakers and a few angry glares from the girls during the process – and I’m pretty sure more than one boy’s chair got “accidentally” kicked from behind.   It’s a lesson we won’t soon forget.

Take a look for yourself: [download id=”4″]

Obviously, I took this on as a woman in youth ministry.  If you’re male and you try this session, I would love to hear how it goes!

Blessings,

Erin