Project 365: Day 126 I made the Youthworker Journal!

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I’m tempted to play it cool, but I’m really excited and honored to have been selected to write a feature article for The Youthworker Journal. This is a very big deal for me! I have copies of YWJ going back over fifteen years – and now my name is on the front cover. As my husband pointed out, I not only made the cover, I made Marko’s beard! How crazy is that?

My article is about 1800 words on how we as youth workers can explain brain research to parents and answer the question that plagues every parent of a teenager: “Is my kid normal?”. I loved the process of researching and long form writing for the journal.

I only subscribe to the magazine electronically now, so I’m hoping to get my hands on an actual paper magazine copy soon. It is very cool have part of the Youthworker Movement represented in YWJ!

Project 365: Day 99 A Lent/Passover Bible Study on John 13:1-35

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Wednesday night is senior high Bible study night (SBUMCSHBS). Tonight we continued our series on the book of John and Jesus’s last days. Tonight’s lesson was multisensory and went really well, so I thought I would share it with everyone.

Supplies: dish tubs filled with warm water, towels, chairs, hand sanitizer, matzah, kosher grape juice, kosher candy (optional), Kings Hawaiian Sweet Bread loaf (or whatever your church uses typically for communion)

Introduction:
The study begins before anyone enters the room. A sign on the door asks participants to remove their shoes and socks, and to enter and sit quietly.

In silence: One person at a time, leaders guide each person to a chair in front of the water tub. Ceremonially wash and dry each person’s feet. We ended with leaders washing each other’s feet.

Pause.

Then we welcomed everyone to Bible study and reviewed the stories we have been reading (for us it was Jesus raising Lazarus and Mary anointing Jesus’s feet)

We took turns reading parts of John 13. I’m putting the text here, courtesy of Biblegateway.com, with some of the discussion questions interjected:

Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

This led to discussion about whether or not Jesus was naked under the towel. Did towels look like we think of today? The good news is we are in the habit of visualizing the stories as we read! (Religious scholars and historians feel free to help us out here. I’m just reporting what we talked about.)

6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

At this point we talked about how it was a common practice of hospitality to provide a basin for washing guests’ feet. The actual washing would be done by a slave, not the host, so Jesus’s act had more meaning. How did it feel to have your feet washed?

Jesus Predicts His Betrayal

18 “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned[a] against me.’[b]

19 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. 20 Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”

21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”

At this point I introduced the matzah and explained it’s history in Jewish tradition. We talked about the significance of unleavened bread to God’s saved people. I also taught about what “kosher” food means. We sampled kosher grape juice with a piece of matzah as we read the next section:

22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

Snap! What just happened? What did it look like when Satan entered Judas?

So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 28 But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.

Here we tried the sweet bread so everyone could taste the difference between leavened and unleavened bread.

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him,[c] God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

The last two verses are our memory verses for next week. Whoever can recite them next week earns a candy prize. To close the lesson we shared our joys and concerns, we prayed, and then everyone got to sample a piece of kosher candy on their way out.

Questions:
How does it feel to have someone serve you?
When have you served others?
How is your foot washing like baptism?
Which character would you be in this story?
What did you think of the foods?
How do you show love to one another?

Project 365: Day 92 My Crazy Idea

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I almost forgot to take a picture today. Other than Zumba class with mom, I spent most of my day sitting at a computer working on another scholarship application – which was completely lost when Safari suddenly shut down (grrrrr.)

I’m going to seminary in the Fall and I even got an article posted on Youthworker Movement today about my journey. You can check it out here.

The article mentions the expense of seminary, which is of course why I’m spending any spare hours working on scholarship applications. I also applied for a part time job that I hope will both give me a new type of nonprofit work experience, but also help us prepare for college financially.

What I’d rather be doing is working on turning the above unfinished pieces into art. So this is where I admit to a crazy idea – how about selling the art I make to help pay for seminary? It’s a long shot possibly, but why not? I’m thinking either open up an Etsy shop online, or sit on a corner with a cardboard sign saying “Will Make Art for Seminary Tuition.” (Probably the former, I’ll keep you posted.)

What do you think? Should I do the crazy thing? Anybody want a commissioned piece of art made with much love and gratitude?

Blessings,
Erin

Questions: What would you do if you could get paid to do what you love? Is that the same or different than what you do now?

I love you, Lord…But I AM MAD AT YOU!

This is an article I wrote for The YouthWorker Movement, thought I’d put it here on my personal blog, too:

 

Are we failing the students in our youth ministry by teaching them to be too polite to God?

I recently visited a different mainline church’s youth group program.  During the lesson time, the youth pastor asked the opening question, “What are different ways we can pray?”  The room contained a wide range of students from goofy 6th grade boys to mature 12th grade girls, so the maturity of answers varied a little, but the gist was: Prayers in church, silent prayer, singing praises, spending time in nature, prayer with movement, liturgical dance, writing down your prayer, reading the Bible, saying grace at dinner…and so on.

While listening, it occurred to me, all of the prayers we tend to teach and model to youth are very polite, reserved even.  And maybe even a little fake.

When I’m honest, there are times in life when I don’t feel polite at all.  When tragedy strikes and it’s on the news – innocent children murdered while at school, civilian hostages being shot and killed in a Kenyan shopping mall – the emotions I feel are shock, horror, sadness, grief, anger.  When I lost my job, I felt wounded, betrayed, stunned, hurt.  I’ve silently grieved the loss of unborn children lost through miscarriage.  These emotions boiling inside of me are neither polite nor reserved.

Learning to cope with strong, often changing emotions is one of the biggest challenges a teen can face.  If I reflect on my adolescent years, emotions I felt then were similar to the ones I feel now, more intense even.  I clearly recall specific times of anger, pain, grief, doubt, disbelief, betrayal, abandonment and more ugliness.  As a teen, I did not know much beyond my own personal experience and emotions.  What is different for me now is I have a faith mature enough to recognize that, no matter the circumstance, God is still good and God is still in control.  Teens don’t all know that yet.  Is there a way to help them deal with pain and anger and other strong emotions by teaching it is okay to feel these emotions, even to pray toward God with them?

What if we taught that it was okay to be real, to even yell at God?  

Here is how I introduced the concept recently:  In this clip from the classic movie, The Apostle (1997) you can see an entirely different model of prayer, one I know that my United Methodist senior highers had never seen before.  In case you haven’t seen the movie (it’s really good), what you need to know is the main character, Sonny, is a preacher that is a complicated, imperfect character.  He just lost the church he started and his marriage is falling apart.

(Follow this link if the above clip doesn’t play for you: http://youtu.be/q5v5DOEF45E)

I showed this movie clip to my senior high Bible study last week, followed by questions on how they have seen people pray.  Well, no one had even imagined yelling at God before.  In church we tend to focus on the pretty parts of the Bible, but if you take a close look, there is a lot in Scripture about struggle, anger, pain, grief, jealousy and more.  We followed the clip with a Bible lesson on the wide range of emotions found in the book of Psalms, having the youth read to themselves.   Youth reflected on their week, read Psalms from the list in the lesson that spoke to them, prayed and then wrote their own psalm prayer.  (Here is the complete handout I used: How to Use the Bible to Improve Your Prayer Life, adapted from to “Holy Things for Youth Ministry“ by Brian Hardesty-Crouch.)

Maybe United Methodists in general are never going to feel comfortable with actually yelling at God, especially in front of others, but maybe we should.  What I learned through this Bible study is that there are deep emotions going on in the youths’ lives, even on an ordinary Wednesday school night.  We fail our students if we don’t teach them that it is okay to be honest with God.  Sometimes honesty is a painful thing, yes?  By giving a method to pray about their emotions, by giving permission to be honest and to deal with hard things head on, healing and growth begin.  By teaching how the Bible can give practical help in times of struggle, students learn to turn to God’s Word for guidance.   The youth and I also learned that they are creative and can make parts of the Bible their own story.  My prayer for you is that you can model honesty with God, even when the truth hurts.

Blessings,

Erin

Questions:

What other creative ways have you or your church taught about prayer?  About dealing with emotion?

Is there someone you know whose life would be changed if they knew it was okay to yell at God, to release their anger and hurt?

3 Steps for Creating a Culture of Responsibility in Youth Ministry

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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?

Talk about Hell – Discussion Guide

Talk about Hell

Is Hell real?  What is Hell like?  What really happens when we die?  How do I know if I’ll go to Heaven?  Is Hell like or unlike a junior high lock-in?

When your youth want to learn about Hell, prepare yourself.  Let’s face it, on some issues, take gambling or the death penalty as examples, the United Methodist Church is really clear on where it stands  (in case you’re new, we’re against them.)  Some topics are harder to find a clear UMC stance on – like Hell.

I knew I didn’t know all the answers to the questions my youth were asking.  Youth ask a lot of tough questions…and sometimes I’m still trying to figure out what I believe too.  Don’t let not knowing everything stop you from discussing important things anyway.  Allow youth to think and wrestle with tough issues with you.  The following discussion guide will get the conversation started.

Talk about Hell – A Discussion Guide (recommended for senior high)

Open with prayer.

Video background  (20 minutes)

To frame the discussion, have the youth watch three YouTube videos & jot down anything that sticks out in their minds:

Rob Bell – LOVE WINS: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.(2:57)

Francis Chan on “Erasing Hell” (9:41)

What You Don’t Want to Hear About Heaven and Hell – Mark Driscoll  (5:16)

As you can probably pick up from the videos, Rob Bell wrote his book first.  He started a lot of controversial discussion when he stated that “Love Wins,” that every single person will eventually embrace Jesus.  If God’s nature is love, how could this God of love condemn millions of non-Christian people to hell?  Bell would say no…obviously faithful Christians both agree and disagree.

Questions for youth on first video: 

In the video, Bell says, “See what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about who God is and what God is like.”

  • Is this true?  If Heaven is real, what does that say about God?
  • If Hell is real, what does that say about God?
  • What do you believe are the characteristics of God? What is God like?

On the other hand, Chan explains that while we might not want God to condemn people, God operates in a way that is beyond our understanding.  Who are we to question God’s sense of justice?

Questions for youth on second video:

Chan says, “I’m a piece of clay trying to explain to other pieces of clay what the potter is like.”

  • What characteristics of God surprise you?
  • Are there characteristics of God that you wish were different?
  • How do you learn about what God is like?

Driscoll reminds us that “there is a real hell and that it will be full.  Come to Jesus, or you’ll experience it.”  I especially like the use of the flame background on his set.  As a lifelong United Methodist, this whole fire and brimstone message is one  I am not accustomed to hearing.  Even if the Senior Pastor doesn’t preach this way, students can handle being prepared for discussions like this.  What stood out to the youth as they watched the video?

Questions for youth on third video:

  • Can God be both a God of Love and a God of Wrath?
  • Can wrath and judgement be loving?  Give an example of a punishment that is also loving.
  • Read Luke 16:19-31.  What is hell like for Lazarus?
  • What does holiness mean to you?

So where does the United Methodist Church officially weigh in on the issue of Heaven and Hell?

The basic beliefs of United Methodists can be found in the Book of Discipline in Our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules.  However, mention of “hell” and “heaven” as serious afterlife issues cannot be found in this section or any other part of the Book of Discipline.

Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials  by Ted A. Campbell says, “The Methodist Articles of Religion, following the teachings of the Reformation, rejected the medieval Catholic idea of purgatory as a place where the souls of those who have died in Christ could be aided or helped by the prayers of the living. John Wesley himself believed in an intermediate state between death and the final judgment, where those who rejected Christ would be aware of their coming doom (not yet pronounced), and believers would share in the “bosom of Abraham” or “paradise,” even continuing to grow in holiness there. This belief, however, is not formally affirmed in Methodist doctrinal standards, which reject the idea of purgatory but beyond that maintain silence on what lies between death and the last judgment.” (source: www.umc.org)

Questions for youth:

  • Does it surprise you that the United Methodist church doesn’t have a clear stance on this?
  • Is it okay to not have all of the answers?

Closing:  At this point I like to discuss the Wesleyan concepts of prevenient, sanctifying and justifying grace – in my words.   As United Methodists, we believe God offers his grace and forgiveness to us before we even expect or know about it (prevenient grace).  Once we learn about Christ’s saving us and accept this gift of grace, we are saved.  Some believe that we were saved the moment Christ died on a cross for us.  Once we accept this grace, we begin a lifelong process of growing in our faith and growing closer to Christ-likeness.

My answers are not perfect and I believe it’s okay for the youth to know that.  We are on this journey together of trying to figure out answers to the tough questions.

Closing Prayer: Dear God, thank you for being in our discussion today.  Thank you for loving us and for saving us through your Son.  We have so many questions about what happens after we die and we don’t have all of the answers.  We ask that You guide us as we grow in our faith and learn more about your nature.  Help us to be love in the world so others can know you.  In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Be blessed,

Erin

Questions for you:

  • Have you talked about Hell/Heaven/Salvation with your students?
  • What would you add or take away in discussing Hell with your youth group?
  • What stuck out in your mind when you watched the video clips?
  • If you try this discussion with your youth group, how did it go?

7 Quick Tips to Look Like A Youth Ministry Professional

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Note from Erin: I had this article published on The YouthWorker Movement website this week.  Based on the comments I received, it seems to have struck a chord with a few of my fellow youthworkers.  Just thought I’d point out that I am not saying it is RIGHT for people to judge others by outward appearance…I’m just saying that people DO make judgements by appearance and it might be helpful to consider what kind of image you are projecting at work.  Peace, Erin.

 

Over the next few weeks I will tackle different aspects about what it means to be a professional in the context of youth ministry. There are a lot of conflicting rules and expectations that people have of you, and I hope to provide a framework and some guidance that will allow you meet the unspoken but reasonable expectations that parents and pastors have of you, without impacting your effectiveness and personal style too greatly.

The first area I want to cover is appearance. I know you might think “you can’t judge a book by its cover.”  Well you can, and if you can’t, every one else can and does. The better rule here – if you want to quote things your mom would have said – would be this: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” or maybe “The clothes make the man (or woman).”

Think of what a parent or pastor would think in this scenario:

The youth worker Lyle stood up in the room of his fellow youth workers and parents and volunteers and said, “I’d like to talk about how we can make this youth ministry more respected in this church.”  Lyle was not astute enough to realize the irony of this: he asked the roomful of people this question as he stood there – unshaven, dressed in a t-shirt, flip flops, shorts, ball cap.

As you can imagine, their first thought was, Yes, Lyle, let’s talk about making a professional impression. And whatever valuable thing he was about to say, is now a “lecture” from someone who has destroyed his own credibility.

Or consider this story:

A veteran youth worker met with her Senior Pastor who said during her annual review that she should work on dressing more professionally in the office. She was furious. “I work with youth!  They don’t care that I’m wearing jeans, a t-shirt and tennis shoes – it makes me more approachable for the teens,” she argued.

Too many youth workers are starting their professional career without any thought or training on how to dress.

The truth is, you can bemoan the unfairness of being judged by what you wear as much as you want, but you will still be judged first by what you look like.  The way you dress is the way you are perceived, and whether or not you appear to be professional on the outside will make a difference in how people respect both you and your work.

But it doesn’t have to be a chore, a professional look can be comfortable, current, and still convey a sense of organization and professionalism that helps you in your ministry. If you have ever watched “What Not to Wear,” there are generally a few simple rules that can help.  Once you learn them they are not that hard to adopt.

 

Here are 7 Smart and Easy Tips to Make a More Professional Youth Ministry Impression:

Tip 1:  Wear clothes that fit.

Ill-fitting clothes fall into two categories – too big or too small. Wearing clothes that are either too tight or too loose can look bad.

Too big: If your clothes are big and baggy, your impression is sloppy.  Pants should fit and not hang or sag.  (The song “Lookin’ like a fool with your pants on the ground” comes to mind…) You should not be drowning in a tent of material that you call a shirt.  It’s common for people to wear baggy clothes if they are trying to hide extra weight but the end result is looking heavier.

Too small:  It’s possible that the steady youth ministry diet of pizza and soft drinks has caught up with you, and the clothes you have owned a while are getting a little snug.  Current fashion trend of super skinny jeans can also fall into the category of too small – very few body types can pull this look off successfully.

Instead of clothes that are too big or two small, wear tailored clothes that fit your current body size.  Wear a structured coat or jacket over a fitted shirt.  Consider having clothes altered to fit you properly, usually just a few dollars at a tailor.

Tip 2: Dress your age – or even older. 

Remember, you are in youth ministry to coach and minister to teens, not to be a new BFF who dresses just like them.  Even though in youth ministry we primarily minister to teenagers, we don’t have to look like a teenager to be effective ministers.  If you also want to make a more favorable impression on the parents and adults who can hire or fire you, or who you want to support your ministry, dress like an adult.  This also means sticking to classic clothes and avoiding overly trendy styles.

When we were students ourselves, we dressed for comfort with our untucked shirts and comfortable clothes.  Tired of not being taken seriously, a young youth worker friend of mine finally decided that it was “time to look like a grown up.”  For her, that meant ditching the flip flops and Mickey Mouse sweatshirt for outfits that were a little more put together.  For women, this may mean changing to coordinated outfits, adding a scarf or cardigan and wearing closed toe shoes (more on footwear below.)

For men, ditch the trendy super skinny or ripped up jeans for khakis or a clean dark wash jean that fits.  Wear a blazer or jacket.  Instead of the t-shirts you wore in college, opt for collared shirts and polos.  It helps that flannel shirts with buttons and collars are hip right now.

If you are not sure, look on Pinterest and see if there are any models wearing what you are thinking of putting together.  Here’s a pinboard just for Youth Ministry What Not to Wear ideas.

Tip 3: Save your t-shirts and sweats for working out in the gym or out in the yard. 

We all have our favorite t-shirts.  Maybe it is the shirt advertising your favorite soft drink that you got for free 10 years ago.  It’s good to have favorite things, but save your t-shirts for working out, not for work.  Instead, opt for collared shirts and khaki pants.  If you must wear a t-shirt, consider shirts made out of quality fabric in solid colors that fit correctly.

Tip 4: Take care of your clothes.

Ripped jeans and ripped up t-shirts might work if you are Adam Levine, but the rest of us need to make a tidier impression.  Go through your closet and ditch the shirts, shoes, jeans, anything with holes, rips and tears.  Get rid of clothes that have stains, or save them for mission work, but do not wear them to the office.

Keep your clothes clean and looking fresh with regular laundering, folding and hanging them up.  Having wrinkles in you clothes is something people will notice even if only on a subconscious level.

Tip 5:  Mind what’s on your feet.

Professional dress begins from the ground up.   A great rule of thumb is that professional looking shoes are rarely made out of plastic.  If you are in the habit of wearing flip-flops or similar shoes, do you realize people are getting an unprofessional impression just from the flip flop sound as you come down the hall?  Save the plastic shoes for the showers and swimming pools they were designed for originally.

I know that youth workers are historically underpaid, but a good pair of shoes is a sound way to spend your money.  Wear clean footwear without holes, supportive shoes that make running and playing more comfortable.

Tip 6:  Personal hygiene matters.

This advice is probably no different than something your mom might have told you as a kid:  If you want to make a sharp impression, keep your hair clean, teeth brushed.  Wash your hands and make sure your fingernails are well-groomed.

Men: If you are a male youthworker and feel compelled to have facial hair, that’s cool but keep it tidy.

Women: Hopefully you don’t feel compelled to have facial hair, but do take the time to fix your hair and put on a little makeup before you go to work.

Tip 7:  Consider who you might see today and dress appropriately.

In youth ministry, you will have days when you are playing with teens.  You may have plans to get messy – in these situations, wear clothes for playing and getting messy!

But on the days when you will also be speaking to the congregation, having office hours, talking to parents, or representing the church, make sure you choose to wear shoes and clothes that make a clean, professional image.

Every youth worker should have at least one professional suit or dress to wear for important occasions.  Stick with classic, basic colors and quality fabrics to make a good impression.

They say that “clothes make the man/woman.”  Is that really true?  What matters most really is what is on the inside – your brilliant mind and love for serving God and teenagers – but we can raise the bar for professionalism in youth ministry if we also dress the part.

Be blessed,

Erin

 

Questions:

1.     Does what you wear for ministry matter?

2.     What other tips would you add to this list?

3.     Have you struggled with not being taken seriously in youth ministry?

 

 

(Stay tuned for more tips on being a professional in youth ministry.)