7 Thrifty & Easy Gifts to Celebrate Your Inner Artist this Season

“We are all artists in everything we do.  Art is creating; it is our link that makes us like God.  All you have to do is look at any form of nature to know that God is the greatest artist of all.  He gives us beauty in his creations to inspire us to find the artists inside of us.  Art isn’t just about painting or sculpture.  It is in everything from how you organize your life to how you communicate with the world.” – Bethany Jane Andrews Hoey

Killing a little time, I ran across this Facebook status update, “Make things for Christmas this year not simply because of economics, but because you’ve forgotten that you are an artist.”  So who would have guessed – maybe the Facebook newsfeed is the new way to get inspired.

Now, I don’t define myself as an artist.  In the world of arts & crafts, I certainly lean toward the passably-crafty-at-best end of the spectrum.  But why not spend a little time unleashing your own creativity or the creativity of your youth this season?  

Here are 7 really easy & thrifty gifts you (or your youth) can make this year:

1.  Handmade cards.  Grab a piece of card stock, cut it in half and then fold that in half (any direction is okay).  Voila!  You have the beginning of a card.  There are a jillion stickers and stamps and products you could buy to make a card, but the favorite one I ever received was a hand-drawn stick figure with a santa hat and a heartfelt message.  You could recycle images from old Christmas card fronts as well.  How cool would it be if the youth made cards for the seniors or the pastors in your church?

2. Favorite Memory Drawing.  Think of a friend and a favorite time together – maybe it was a special worship time on a retreat, for example.  On a plain sheet of paper, draw a picture representing that memory.  This doesn’t have to be impressive art here – think Shel Silverstein or Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  Frame your art when you are done.  On the back of the frame, you could write a personal message about your friendship.

3. Start an annual ornament tradition.  For the last several years, I’ve crafted little ornaments for each of my youth.  The idea behind an annual ornament is that if they stay involved in the youth group, by the time they graduate they will have 6 ornaments of their own to put on their first Christmas trees as young adults.   There are tons of ways to make an ornament, here’s how I did mine: First, I found matching plain wood cutouts, usually with a meaningful symbol like a cross, angel, star, etc.  I spray painted them white, drew the date & a little verse or symbol on the back with a ultra fine permanent marker, tied on a ribbon.  (I have a weakness for glitter so I added that, but it’s totally optional.)  Although I made mine as a gift for the youth, you could also have the youth make them as a group project or tie it in with an advent lesson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marbled Ornaments.  Here’s a really easy ornament that youth could make, but make sure it’s youth who can handle breakables.  You’ll need clear glass ornaments & craft paint in a variety of colors.  Remove the metal cap & drip paint into the opening of the ornament.  By slowly turning the ornament around, the paint coats the inside of the ornament.  You can add additional colors until you get the marbleized effect you like.  A little paint goes a long way.  For best results, let the ornaments dry overnight before replacing the cap.

 

 

 

 

4. Time capsule ornament.  You’ll need a clear plastic ornament that you can open (available at most craft stores), strips of colored paper, optional small photos & mementos, ribbon & tape.  Write down favorite memories from the year on strips of paper, or even favorite Bible verses and wishes for the future.  Fill the clear plastic ornament, tape it shut and tie it with a ribbon.  Add the date on the outside.  If you happen to know someone with a little one having a first Christmas, this is a great gift.  This might be a cool New Year’s Eve project as well.

5. Cookie baskets.  Or really any kind of homemade food.  Include the recipes for an additional nice touch.  (Feel free to send me one.)

6. Homemade Coupons.  A meaningful way to tie the idea of serving others to Christmas is to make service coupons for gifts.  Have youth brainstorm ways they could help out their loved ones & make coupons.  Would they be willing to shovel the sidewalks for other church members?  How about offering to clean the kitchen without complaining?  Youth could put them in a decorated envelope.  (I’d suggest making coupons good for “Staying after the New Year’s Eve lock-in to clean up,” but that’s just me.)

7. Write a poem, compose a song.  Everyone has different learning styles, different gifts.  Celebrate the creative genius in your youth by having them write poems or songs.  Or write a song yourself, make a YouTube video of it & share it with us.

 

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting about two dozen emails a day from retailers this week trying to get me to buy something no one really needs for Christmas.  Why not give a gift of your own creation this year?  And if you do, share some pictures with us!

What other creative gift ideas do you have?

 
Erin Jackson is National Director – Community & Care for the Center of Youth Ministry Excellence and the YouthWorker Movement. She is a veteran & certified youthworker as well, and loving her current role as a volunteer Senior High Bible Study teacher.  She lives in Arlington, Texas with her husband Dennis, three kids and a dog. She can be found blogging at http://umyouthworker.com/
Follow @ErinJackso

 

 

 

Just One Starfish Mentoring Begins

Thank you so much for your faithful prayers about our new ministry endeavor, Just One Starfish.  This is such an exciting time!

A quick update: God has been opening doors left and right for this new ministry!  We have our first team of 12 mentors (representing 3 different churches and 4 high schools) trained and ready to begin mentoring at our first elementary school, Blanton Elementary.  (Thank you to Alley Cats of Arlington for donating a meeting space for our training!)

It was really special to tour the school with the mentors last week and to see the positive reaction faculty and staff had to the mentors. God is doing big things at this elementary school and it’s humbling to be part of His work.

Prayer Request: Will you take the time to pray specifically for these 10th-12th grade young adults and their 4th-5th grade elementary school mentees?  The student pairs will meet for the first time starting next week.  Here are their names:
Mentor and Mentee:
Lara K. and Emily M.
Will R. and Adrian R.
Morgan K. and Joana S.
Katie K. and Blessing N.
George T. and Edwin A.
Alex S. and Jose Jr.
Emily W. and Coraima V.
Bailey B. and Angela M.
Steven H. and Samuel V.
Kaitlyn J. and Angela O.
Hannah J. and Oralia M.
Landry P. and her unnamed 4th grade girl that God is selecting for us right now ūüôā

Next steps/prayer requests:
  • Now that we’ve got our first team of 12 youth in place, we will begin talking to more youth ministries and schools about expanding the program.
  • High School Students Can Apply Now for Our Second Team of Mentors: Just One Starfish Mentor Application
  • I meet with the CEO of an incredible Student Ministry organization next Thursday about aligning our organization with theirs – please pray that God’s will be done in that conversation.
  • On October 26-28 we will be putting together our new website with the generous, talented help at Dallas GiveCamp.  Please pray a special blessing on those volunteers.

I have full confidence that it is because of your prayerful support that we’ve been able to accomplish all that we’ve done so far.  Knowing that you had been praying about our match-ups and letting the Holy Spirit do His work, we let the young adults select the mentee who’s name most spoke to them (a beautiful selection process.)  I can hardly wait to see what God has in store next!

Thank you so much for your faithfulness.  Can you help spread the word by sharing this post with your friends/Facebook contacts?

Blanton_team_pic_1

4 Critical Signs of Youth Ministry Burnout

Is it burnout or just a funk?

In direct sales, you know right away if you’re succeeding or not – you either have the sale or don’t.  In sports, you know if you scored or not, you can measure your stats to gauge success or failure.  You can measure or see the results of your work in physical labor jobs, even jobs like accounting have an output you can see.

Youth ministry is one of those professions that has a lot of “gray areas.”  You’ve spent the last several months and years pouring your heart into your ministry.  You’ve stayed up all night at lock-ins, retreats.  You’ve worked long hours to be there for your youth ministry.  You’ve done the work.  Have you been successful?

It depends, did someone just schedule a 4 hour meeting on “improving your numbers”?
Did a parent just stop you to say thanks for how much you have impacted their child?
Did a youth just direct every profane word they know at you, because you caught them smoking a joint?
Did more than one youth in your group decide to go to school for seminary?
Did your own child just complain about “you like the youth kids better”?

On any given day, what you do may not directly tie to how you allow yourself to feel at the end of the day. You are in control of what you do but, you are not in control of the results that you may feel on a daily basis.

Here’s the good news: God calls us to youth ministry to be faithful, not impatient for worldly success.  You’ve been faithful.  But maybe you’re working too hard at trying to be seen as successful.  Or maybe you’re just working too hard.

You’ve heard that if you don’t take care of yourself in youth ministry, no one else will. You can get youth ministry burnout.  This time of year, it’s common for youth workers to be tired, discouraged or “in a funk.”  How can you tell the difference between a temporary downturn and serious youth ministry burnout?

If it’s a temporary downturn, give yourself a break.  Return to the basics like prayer, sabbath, rest, personal time, exercise and eating right.  Find friends to talk you through things.  Have fun outside of youth work.  Seek pastoral support – and you might need to look outside of your church for this help.

If you think you might be in burnout mode, seek help.  How to tell the difference?

According to crisis intervention research*, there are 4 main areas that burnout affect: behavior, physical, interpersonal, and attitudinal. The following are the things that can be effected in each category:

Behavior:
– abuse of alcohol/illicit drugs
– difficulty coping with minor problems
– loss of enjoyment
– dread of work
– increased irritability/impatience
– losing things
– suicidal or homicidal ideation/attempts
– reduced work efficiency
– PTSD-like symptoms (post traumatic stress disorder)

Physical:
– chronic fatigue
– insomnia
– muscle tension
– panic attacks
– weakened immune system
– flare-ups in preexisting medical conditions
– weight gain or loss
– changes in appetite

Interpersonal:
– withdrawal from family and friends
– difficulty separating professional and personal life
– decreased interest in physical or emotional intimacy
– loss of trust
– loneliness
– allowing clients (pastors/parents/youth?) to abuse your professional boundaries
– ending of long-lasting relationships
– difficulty coping with minor interpersonal problems

Attitudinal:
– boredom
– guilt
– depression
– pessimism
– helplessness
– survivor guilt
– grandiosity
– sense of meaninglessness
– self-criticism

The world needs good youth workers.  Your role as a youth pastor has the opportunity to transform lives. But the world needs you to be healthy.  Your youth and your family need you to be healthy.  If too many items on the lists above sound familiar, it may be time to take a break, reevaluate and seek help.

Be blessed,
Erin

Questions:
For the veterans, have you gone through times of burnout? What got you through it?  What advice would you give to youth workers who might be experiencing burnout symptoms?

Is there anything you’d add to the list of burnout symptoms?

What do you do to stay healthy in youth ministry?

About Erin Jackson

Erin Jackson is National Director – Community & Care for the Center of Youth Ministry Excellence and the YouthWorker Movement. She is a veteran & certified youthworker as well, and loving her current role as a volunteer Senior High Bible Study teacher. She lives in Arlington, Texas with her husband Dennis, three kids and a dog. She can be found blogging at http://umyouthworker.com/
Follow @ErinJackso

Originally published for The YouthWorker Movement, 5/8/2012.

*(Source: Cooper, J. (2010). Essential crisis intervention skills. In L. Jackson-Cherry and B. Erford (Eds.), Crisis intervention and prevention (pp. 55-71). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, p. 70.)

5 Immediate Ways You Can Help St. Barnabas UMC Rebuild

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I have been overwhelmed with the outreach of support for our community and church family after Tuesday’s tornado destroyed our church building.  It has been a tough couple of days – so many have told me that they feel helpless because they want to help but don’t know how to help.

Here is your opportunity the help our church and community rebuild.

Here are 5 ways you can support our church right now.

1. Prayers.

First and foremost, we need your prayers right now.  Specifically, please pray for:

  • Our church and Early Education Center staff that they can find rest and care in the midst of chaos and stress
  • For the safety of everyone who works to help
  • For long-term encouragement to our church family as we struggle to rebuild
  • For the ministries of the church to continue and strengthen as we rebuild our facilities
  • For the children and people who were traumatized by this storm
  • For our groundskeeper and master gardener Dave as clean-up work begins
  • That God be glorified and that we can continue our mission of spreading the love of Jesus Christ to our community for the transformation of the world.

2. Presence.

Our building is down, but the Church (that’s us!) is still going.

You can support our church by being there physically. Temporarily, our Sunday worship services and Sunday school are being held in the Seventh Day Adventist Church of Arlington located on the I-20 Service Road near Kelly Elliott Rd.  The Preschool is meeting at Tate Springs Baptist Church.  In the weeks to come, your presence at worship services and church ministry events will be more vital than ever.  Visit the church’s website to stay up to date on where you can be.

3. Gifts.

Financial Need: While the church’s insurance will end up covering a lot of our rebuilding costs, we still will need help financially to rebuild our church.  You can send donations by check made out to St. Barnabas UMC and designated “Rebuild” to 5011 W. Pleasant Ridge Rd., Arlington, TX 76016.  

Or you can donate online: http://sbumc.org/online_giving.html

Give to our Community: Hundreds of homes in our area were damaged this week, many families lost much of their household goods.  You can help by donating food, clothing, furniture, diapers, wipes, hygiene items, household goods and cleaning supplies to Mission Arlington, 210 W. South St., Arlington, TX 76010.  Specifically, I have learned that local food pantries need staples like peanut butter and canned goods and local families need children’s clothing.

4. Service.

UPDATE: ANYONE FROM ST. BARNABAS MEMBERSHIP who wants to volunteer, please call first to sign up or text your name and number to 682-888-6980. 

IF YOUR HOUSE WAS DAMAGED AND YOU NEED HELP WITH TRASH AND DEBRIS REMOVAL, call or text 817-505-5154 for Arlington and Kennedale residents who need help. We will do what we can to help arrange teams of volunteers to help.

Find time to volunteer to support our church’s ongoing ministries, such as the Open Arms Free Health Care Clinic.

5. Witness.

We need you to tell the world about God’s amazing work being done.  This is Easter season – there is no better time to share the Good News that Christ is Risen.  He is alive today and He is here to protect and guide us.

More than 80 preschoolers, their teachers, church volunteers and our church staff were inside the walls of St. Barnabas when a tornado destroyed much of our building.  In fact, seventeen confirmed tornados damaged homes, property, businesses in the Dallas-Fort Worth area on Tuesday, April 3.  

No one died.

Since the tornado, hundreds of people from around the country and from all denominational backgrounds have stepped up to help.  

No matter our denominational differences, we are all Brothers and Sisters in Christ.  You can help by telling others about how the Body of Christ works together.  Tell others about God being glorified in the midst of a tough situation.  Help as many people as you can as much as you can, all for the glory of God.

You can help by sharing what is needed with others you know would want to help.

We are the Church.  Our building is down, but we still stand.

 

(photos taken by Jayme Philp & Erin Jackson)

Asking my Really Big Question

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

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. ÔĽŅ

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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What if we threw away our curriculum and just used the Bible?

Last night at the Senior high Bible study I teach, I did a revolutionary thing.  Instead of coming into the class with a lesson plan full of activities, skits, handouts, etc., I brought the Bible.

Here’s how it worked:

We opened to a book of the Bible (Jonah – which is hard to find, so we used the Table of Contents).

I talked briefly about the background of the book to set the scene.

I asked for volunteers, and a youth read Chapter 1. ¬†We talked about it verse by verse. ¬†What do you think was going on in Jonah’s heart? ¬†What must the Ninevites have done to get that reaction from Jonah? ¬†What does this text say about the nature of God? ¬†(What we concluded: God is powerful, creative, merciful, answers prayers and has a sense of humor.) ¬†I had done some research ahead of time, so I added a little bit of information from scholars on the text.

Then we moved on to Chapter 2 and did the same thing.

At the end of the evening, we did what we always do. ¬†We closed in prayer and passed out a little card with a Bible verse (Jonah 2:1-2) on it. ¬†If the youth memorize it and can recite it next week, they get candy. ¬†Maybe this is bribery, but I say it’s worth it if I get youth thinking about Scripture and getting it embedded in their thinking.

Here’s what we got from the lesson:

Incredible conversation.  The ability to discuss it without worrying about the theology of the author.  Depth.  Laughter.  Youth listening to youth.

Here’s why it’s revolutionary:

I have shelves of youth ministry curriculum in my office. ¬†I tend to use it like a crutch or a lifeline. ¬†Instead of relying on my own creativity and knowledge, I just grab the book of the shelf, pick what looks fun, look at the supply list and try to recreate someone’s learning scenario. ¬†It’s not bad or inherently evil or anything, but it’s also not awesome. ¬†It feels like creating entertainment more than creating engagement. ¬† What I’ve learned is there is beauty in the simplicity of just reading the Bible and discussing it. ¬†The youth agreed.

So my question/challenge for youthworkers out there: What would youth ministry look like if we made the Bible our main source of curriculum?  How would this change the face of youth ministry?  Pros/cons?  What keeps you from doing this?

Want to Understand the Teenage Brain?

Gracing the cover of this month’s National Geographic magazine is “The New Science of the Teenage Brain,” a headline the result of years of research on teenage brain development.  It attempts to answer the age-old question about teenage risky behavior, “What on Earth was he doing?”
As a person who works with and loves teenagers, what do you need to know from this article that will help you in your ministry?  

Based on new research by the National Institute of Health, this article proposes some new takes on the teenage brain.  Instead of saying teenagers do what they do because their brain is simply immature, it proposes that the teenage brain is actually  wonderfully adaptive for making the transition between childhood and living on your own.  The idea is based on evolutionary theory (called the adaptive-adolescent story) and suggests that even risky teen behavior is a natural part of development.

What I found most interesting is a new explanation on teenage risk-taking:

Teens take more risks not because they don’t understand the dangers but because they weigh risk versus reward differently: In situations where risk can get them something they want, they value the reward more heavily than adults do.

While conventional wisdom might say that when a teen does something risky, they are not thinking of potential consequences, the study suggests that teens simply view risk/reward differently than mature adults.  In fact, studies showed that teens might even pay higher attention to potential risks.  However, teens tend to place a higher value on potential or even perceived rewards to behavior than adults.  In short, a mature adult may avoid a behavior (let’s say jumping off a cliff into the ocean) because of potential harm (let’s go with broken bones or death).  A teen will also be aware of the potential harm, but puts more value on perceived rewards like peer recognition…as in, how cool will I look when I survive.  Another idea is that youth thrill-seeking experiences can lead to positive traits – the love of adventure and new experiences helps teens to widen circles of friends and grow as a person.

The research, much like the adolescents themselves, is still in progress and well worth reading & sharing with your youth and adults.  A few thoughts from this youthworker on how we can apply this research: I think it can only help to cast the teenage brain in a positive light.  In youth ministry, we could feed into the natural tendency toward risk-taking and adventure by offering opportunities to try new things. We can also offer more ways to reward teens for their choices through recognition.

What do you think?  Are there ways we can use this research to work better in youth ministry?

 

Not Enough Volunteers ‚Äď 5 Pitfalls of Volunteer Recruiting and Care

Want to spot a healthy youth ministry in 10 seconds or less?  Show up at a meeting and count the number of parent or adult volunteers.  If there is less than one adult for every 4-6 youth, youth could be falling through the cracks.

Volunteers are crucial to a healthy youth ministry.  If you are essentially running a one person or staff-only led program, you might just be on the way to running yourself into the ground.  And if you’ve found yourself thinking you just don’t have enough volunteers to help, maybe it’s something you are doing wrong.  Here are some common “Not Enough” pitfalls when it comes to working with volunteers:

1.  Not enough volunteers.

Sure, you probably can teach a message to your youth by yourself.  You can run the whole show…and if we’re honest, it’s probably simpler to plan if you are the one leading everything.  But is that biblically sound and healthy?  Is it sustainable in the long run?  By putting all the responsibility on yourself, are you leaving others out of the opportunity to minister to others?  Consider this: when multitudes came before Jesus, he didn’t try to individually minister to all of them, he trained disciples to do that.  He was closer to some people than others, and as much as you love your youth, you will be closer to some more than others, too.  Instead of leading everything yourself, enlist the help of volunteers to lead different parts of your youth ministry according to their gifts.

If an average adult can reach 4-6 youth, you should have a 1:5 ratio of adults to youth to make sure you’ve got enough volunteers to cover the group.   While that covers the ideal number of adults, you also need a variety of volunteers.  I know that as a female in ministry, I can only teach young men so much about what it means to be a man of God – so you also need a healthy mix of male and female adult volunteers.  (For more cool facts, you can check out this article on youth ministry numbers.)

You may already have a handful of faithful volunteers who you know will say yes whenever you need help.  That’s awesome – It’s great to have consistent volunteers, but you can enrich your ministry just by adding new voices to the mix.  You never know with whom teens will relate, so a mix of old and young and a variety of personalities is a good thing, too.

2. Not enough GOOD recruiting.

So you want to get enough volunteers, but no one is raising their hands.  It could be a problem with recruiting technique.  Maybe you are frustrated because you sent an email asking for volunteers or you made an announcement in church, yet nobody signed up?  Mass calls for volunteers like this, just like any kind of mass marketing, often leads to low response rate or worse, the wrong people volunteer.

To recruit well, spend time in prayer first.  Ask God to bring to light the ministry gifts you need to find and the right person.  Ask trusted church members and parents for suggestions.  Ask the youth to pray about it.  When you’ve come up with a potential list of volunteers, ask each person personally (or have the youth ask) to pray about volunteering.

And the key to great recruiting: The more you ask specific people to do specific tasks, tasks that align with their interests and gifts, the better results you will have.  It takes a special personality to volunteer with youth all the time, but I bet there are adults in your congregation who’d be happy to volunteer for special projects.

3. Not enough caring for volunteers.

Once you’ve got an awesome team of youth ministry volunteers recruited, what’s next?  Care about them.  Even the most faithful of volunteers needs to know that you care about them if you want them to care about your program.  Want a volunteer team that goes the extra mile?  Care about them.  Know what is going on in their lives, pray with them, keep updated.  Volunteers are going to really care and support what you do once they know how much you care about them.

In fact, if you want to multiply your youth ministry, realize that you are probably in volunteer ministry first.  You can only really reach a handful or so youth yourself, but if you can really invest in volunteers and get them to minister to youth, more youth will be positively impacted.

Keep a log of your contacts with volunteers – How often are you face-to-face with your volunteers, are you checking on them? Praying for them?  Have you had your student leaders say thank you to your volunteers?  A best demonstrated practice: a youth minister meets with his team at the local coffee shop right after youth group – they debrief the evening, plan for the next week & share concerns and prayers for each other.  Bonus: they minister to the employees at the coffee shop while they are there.

4. Not enough training.

Whether you lead the class, it’s a continuing ed class across town or the National Youth Workers Convention, volunteers love to be trained.  (Bonus, the time spent traveling to training is a great time to catch up on what’s going on in the lives of your volunteers.)  If you are the one leading the training for your volunteers, this is a great chance to share your vision for the youth ministry with your team.

A best demonstrated training practice is weekly training as part of a weekly planning meeting.  For example, it could be that one hour before the youth group time, all volunteers get together to go over the meeting plans, as well as learn something about better youth ministry together.

5. Not enough pruning.

It’s painful, but from time to time, you may have to ask a volunteer to step down.  Sometimes, we have volunteers that need to be asked to take a break from youth ministry because of personal issues or personality conflicts.  There are a multitude of reasons – maybe they don’t have the gifts for the role, or youth ministry has become their outlet for airing personal problems.  Whatever the problem, if you have a volunteer that does not support you and your leadership, they can be like poison for your ministry.  Do not keep unhealthy volunteers around just because no one else is lined up to volunteer.

When you decide it is time for a volunteer to step down or  switch roles, do pray about the conversation.  Bring in a pastor and keep things as loving and kind as possible.

Recruiting and taking care of volunteers may be the most important part of your ministry.  When I reflect on my own youth group as a teen, it was a volunteer 40-something year old hairdresser who touched my life and encouraged me to be in ministry (not the youth director.)  You never know who God will use in ministry.

 

What volunteer ministry successes/struggles have you had?  Would love to hear your comments and ideas.

 

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