Archive for the ‘Professional youth ministry’ Tag

7 Quick Tips to Look Like A Youth Ministry Professional   2 comments

slacker

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.)

 

 

Students Doing Ministry   Leave a comment

I am teaching a class this week at the SMU Perkins School of Youth Ministry called “Giving Them the Keys – Creating a Student-Led Ministry Culture.”  The basic idea is that youth directors need to change the way they approach youth ministry altogether.  Instead of youth directors creating programs for youth to attend, youth should be using their gifts and talents for ministry themselves.  I believe students are fully capable and ready to do ministry and a youth director’s job should be to come alongside and coach youth into the youth’s own ministry.

Reph1351_copy

I am having an amazing experience teaching, but what’s even cooler is the email I received this week from a high school senior named Lara.  A little about her – Lara is one of the mentors in our pilot of Just One Starfish.  This means that once a week Lara volunteers an hour or so to be a mentor and just spend life together as a positive role model for an at-risk upper elementary school girl.  In her own right, Lara is a talented, amazing, wonderful young woman of God.

Lara is also one of the most talented young photographers I’ve ever met.  With this post, I’m giving you a sneak preview of one of the most beautiful photo shoots I’ve ever seen.  The model is Lara’s mentee with the “Just One Starfish” mentoring program.

I think you’ll agree – God is at work here transforming the lives of young people, one person at a time.

This just makes my heart smile and I had to share.

Just One Starfish Mentoring Begins   Leave a comment

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 🙂

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   3 comments

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.)

Want to Understand the Teenage Brain?   Leave a comment

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 – 5 Pitfalls of Volunteer Recruiting and Care   Leave a comment

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.

 

Follow @ErinJackso

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Comfortable with Wet Logs? (a blog post about calling & courage)   1 comment

Images

Ever try to light a wet piece of firewood? 

In the Old Testament, there’s a story about the prophet Elijah and his challenge against 450 of the prophets of Baal, a pagan idol.  Elijah worshipped the one true God, the prophets of Baal had a pagan god, and the current leader of the land, Ahab, was trying to worship all the gods.  In this challenge, Elijah and the other prophets each put sacrifices on some wood and they are supposed to call upon their gods to make the wood catch fire for a burnt offering.  Whichever side was successful would prove that they had the real god to follow.  The prophets of Baal go first, but are unsuccessful after calling on Baal all day long. (Elijah even taunts them a bit – it’s worth reading for yourself.)

When it’s Elijah’s turn, he doesn’t go about it the same way.  Instead, God has Elijah put water over the sacrifice and the wood.  Not just a little bit of water, but big jars full of water four different times – enough to soak the sacrifice and wood, and fill a trench around the altar as well.  

Elijah then begins to pray to God – and, wouldn’t you know it,  God lights the fire, burns the sacrifice & the wood and evaporates all the water and dust around until nothing is left.

When I shared this story from 1 Kings with my ten year old son today, he said, “Well, that’s because nothing’s impossible for God, right?”

And, yes, that’s exactly right.

Nothing is impossible for God.

In reading this story paraphrased from 1 Kings 18,  I realize that God has the ability to lead us each to something absolutely incredible.  If nothing is impossible for God, why do we settle for less than incredible?  In fact, God loves to do the impossible!  Yet, so many of us (myself included) are comfortable just sitting around with wet firewood, not even daring to ask God for what seems like the impossible.

If I’m honest about my own faith journey, I’ve got my own wet wood that I’m hanging on to.  As I find myself in between ministry callings, I know I’m holding back on praying for big things.  I’m stalling.  To dare believe that there is an absolutely amazing calling for me out there – something God alone has prepared for me – is a bit overwhelming.  I have no doubt that God has brought me to this point in my journey – He has been faithful to call and prepare me for exactly what I need to be doing all along.  In my heart, I believe that there is something incredible right around the corner…as a couple, my husband and I both have seen God’s hand in all that’s happened in the last month & we just know God’s got us in His hands.

Yet I’m a little afraid to ask God to lead me to the next thing.  It’s safe to be where I am now, staying with what’s comfortable, easy, familiar.

God can do what seems impossible.  Elijah knew that, so he prayed for God to do what seemed impossible anyway and God was faithful.  I wonder if I’m alone in holding back from asking God to do what seems impossible?  How many of us are holding back from what can be incredible to settle for what seems safe?  Are you holding on to wet wood of your own?

I don’t think it will be long until I dare ask God for the next steps in my journey – but I do admit that I’m holding back.  What if God has prepared me for something that seems too impossible, too incredible?  Join me in praying for the courage and faith of Elijah!  
Yours in Christ,
Erin

 

Posted June 23, 2011 by erinjackso in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,

Frayer for Youth Ministry   Leave a comment

My oldest son just completed the 4th grade.  In his science class, they were required to complete “frayers” in their science journal.  It had been a while since I was in 4th grade, so I admit I didn’t know exactly what a frayer was when it was first assigned.  Basically, you divide your paper into four quadrants and label them – Definition, Properties, Examples, Non-examples.  So, in the case of “rocks,” for example, you have the definition in one quadrant, you can list its properties like “non-living” and “natural” in the second quadrant.  Examples could be sandstone or marble, non-examples could be minerals like quartz or diamond.  You get the idea.

As I’ve entered this phase of discernment – recently laid off from a youth ministry position, now trying to discern where God is leading me next – the idea of a frayer for my own personal role in youth ministry makes sense. 

So, if I labeled my own frayer “My Personal Ministry Passions,” here’s what you might see in the quadrants:

Definition – the areas of ministry where my personal passion and heart’s desire/sense of God’s call on my life most closely align with the work at hand

Properties –
  • these areas of ministry bring me joy
  • I’m excited about them
  • I get pumped when I see it happening
  • brings sense of fulfillment
  • I sense God getting glory through faithfully doing work I was called to do
  • Best uses my strengths/gifts/skills

Examples (things that bring me the most joy) 
  • loving on students and getting them to understand God’s grace and plan for them
  • teaching students to be leaders in ministry
  • mentoring students to find their own spiritual gifts and to discern God’s call on their lives
  • teaching students to be compassionate
  • inspiring others to do something about injustice
  • having a heart for youthworkers who are in desperate need for self-care, mentors and pastoral care to keep from burning out in an often misunderstood profession
  • helping others through mission work (Mission trip, 30 Hour Famine)
  • teaching junior high Bible study
  • inspiring youth to read their own Bible
  • creating spiritual retreats and other moments to bring students closer to Christ
  • trying new adventures
Non-examples (things that do NOT bring me the most joy)
  • Sitting in staff meetings
  • Church politics
  • Paperwork
  • Missing out on personal Sabbath, Bible study, worship, pastoral care
  • Sitting at my computer/desk
  • Counting heads instead of monitoring spiritual growth
  • Leading a group in song (those who’ve heard me sing will attest)
  • Too much time away from family
  • Most technical support things like running the sound board

 

This frayer concept might be helpful in bringing clarity to other decision making processes – I could see this helping youth to figure out what God might be calling them to do with their lives.  After all, adolescence is a time of figuring out who we are and how we fit in God’s Kingdom – what about a frayer to define who you are/who you desire to be?  

 

Each of us have been given unique gifts from God to be used in this lifetime – why settle for something that’s just okay when something truly awesome could be an option?

 

Please leave a comment if you have any thoughts to share/other ideas where this could be used.

 

Love in Christ,

Erin

Two weeks’ notice   2 comments

In a quick, unscheduled meeting after weekly staff meeting today, I was given my two weeks’ notice.  It’s called two weeks of notice, but in actuality, I have about 5 days to process that I’ve been fired, to compose myself, and then to say goodbye to young people and colleagues I have grown to love as my own family.  (The church is reducing staff and the new clergyperson who is replacing both me and two associate pastors has to start after Annual Conference…so it’s time for me to clear out.)  What’s worse to bear,  is that my husband and three kids are expected to leave the church with me, so I’ve also got to tell my 4, 7 and almost 10 year old that this isn’t our church family after all.  In five days.  

 

In my heart, I have known there was a problem.  I have tolerated feeling isolated and frustrated for months…tolerated it because I love the youth in our ministry and I have seen God at work in such amazing ways during my tenure here:  A first international mission trip igniting a passion for missions.  Thousands of dollars raised by youth to help the world’s hungry.  Former youth called into youth ministry as young adults…current youth hearing God’s call into ministry.  Student leaders blossoming into leadership and taking ownership of their areas of ministry.  Youth that were on the fringe becoming excited participants and sharing their life with me. The creation of the most enthusiastic losing basketball team ever witnessed.  (Only God gets the glory for these things happening, but it’s been exciting to see it all unfold on my watch.)

 

So, how did this job loss come to happen?  I have done all that I was asked to do, I have poured my heart into my ministry, I know students are closer to Christ for my having been here…but it basically boils down to program performance and attendance.  In short, I may have mistaken the lofty words as my primary directive (equip students to be Christ’s disciples) for the business reality (the number of students you should be equipping is at least 25% more than your current attendance rate…or at least as high as some unspecified number that we believe we used to have in the youth group 10 years ago…)

 

Ugh.  This has been a very tough day.  I know my emotions are raw so I don’t want to write too much.  Just the same, I still believe God has a hand in all of this.  He clearly, faithfully called me to my current church, He’s clearly calling me to something else….something I haven’t quite grasped yet.  Maybe in His creative wisdom, God has found a way to prune the things I’ve held on to that are not of His Kingdom – things like my pride of working for a big church, my ego associated with feeling immune to being fired (this happens all the time in youth ministry – just look at the job postings – but it is a first for me), my reluctance to quit because of actually having a decent salary in youth ministry.  

 

Perhaps divinely inspired, I’ve focused a lot of my studies this year on the importance of youthworker self-care.  At youth ministry conventions I kept hearing this recurring theme of a deep need for healing in the souls of youthworkers.  We need to take care of our own spiritual health in order to take care of feeding the souls of others.  We need rest.  We need mentors.  We need pastors that are not our bosses so someone can give us pastoral care when we, say, lose our job or some other crisis.  Perhaps God has just provided me with the perfect opportunity to rest, to regroup and refocus my calling into ministry.

 

I do not know the plans God has for me, but fortunately He does.  I know from experience that His plans are good.  

 

I hope you’ll join me on the journey to see what He has in store.  I wonder if anyone reading this has a story of their own to share?

 

Yours in Christ,

Erin

 

 

 

 

Posted May 24, 2011 by erinjackso in Uncategorized

Tagged with , ,