Archive for the ‘Youth ministry’ Tag

Project 365: Day 162 When Family Becomes Friend   Leave a comment

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Life comes to us in seasons. In childhood, we are babies, small children, big kids, preteens and teens first. Then we get to be young adults, middle aged adults and so on.

I believe the leap from childhood to adult is one of the more fascinating seasons, probably why I have spent so many years in youth ministry. One of the great joys of youth ministry is that we get to be on the sidelines as these seasons of life change for the youth. It is humbling to watch someone go from high school student to discovering themselves as adults. You can guess, but you might not ever be able to fully predict how youth will turn out. Occasionally I’ve had the great privilege of reconnecting with former youth and they have crossed over to become my adult friends.

It wasn’t in my youth ministry per se, but for about the last 25 years, I’ve loved watching my nieces make this journey too. I am really excited and proud of how they are turning out.
This week I’ve also discovered that family can cross over to become adult friends as well. This is a joy in our new season of family life.

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Project 365: Day 103 How Not to be *That* Sports Parent   Leave a comment

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We are a sports family.  Between the 3 kids, my husband and myself, we have played soccer, cross country, track, baseball, basketball, football and cheerleading.  As an athlete, a sports mom and also a coach, I spend a lot of time at games and practices, and a lot of time on the sidelines.  Today I even had the special opportunity to watch my niece play in a volleyball tournament in Dallas (my picture of the day.)  What really struck me this weekend were the voices and messages from the parents and fans around me.

For the most part, the parents and other coaches I overhear are supportive and encouraging, but not all of them.  I heard a coach reprimanding his player-son this weekend in a way I would never accept as a way he could coach my child.  I’ve half-joked with other parents that you can always tell who the coach’s kids are because the coach reserves a special tone of voice for yelling at their own kid…although to be fair, usually that same coach’s kid reserves a special tone of voice for talking back to his coach.  Among the fans, there are a handful of parents that say things like “Why did you do that?!” “Are you going to actually play hard this game?” “What were you thinking?!”

I’ve also overheard  plenty of parent-fans openly and loudly criticize the calls of refs, usually just teenagers or volunteers working as a referee for the game.  My brother shared with me that the niece I watched play today has spent time working as a referee, and was really hurt by snide comments fans made about her calls.  My niece is beautiful, smart, talented and an all around lovely young person, so it’s painful to hear about how thoughtless parents/fans could be.

It’s tough to just sit there and hear kids getting berated like that, especially about playing a game.  Sure, it’s tough to watch the kids you love lose a game or play poorly, but that doesn’t mean it is your job to criticize them.  I love sports and I hope that kids grow up loving sports too…but I wonder if how we adults are on the sidelines can kill the joy of sports. I even wonder how many of these vocal critics could play any better if they were on the field. There is a lot to be said for encouragement over criticism.  In fact, I think there are really important lessons here for parents, coaches and youth ministers alike.

To parents and fans:  As an athlete, I can tell you that players know full well when they mess up.  There are plenty of self-critical voices. Critical voices from the crowd or from parents especially do not help.  Here’s an idea on what a parent or fan could say at the end of a bad game or play instead of criticism:

Good: “I am proud of what a good team player you are/of how hard you work.”

Really good: “I loved watching you play!”

Even better, add: “I especially loved when you did [specific play here].”

The message that gets caught here is one of love, no matter what.  Add to this an offer to work on a specific skill in between games, or to somehow spend quality time with the kid, and you’ve got a kid who knows unconditional love.

To the coaches: The best coaches I’ve seen will substitute out a player after a bad play to explain on the sidelines what could be done differently, then put the player back in.  It’s the difference between openly criticizing (ouch!) and patiently redirecting…which may feel like the difference between being scolded/embarrassed versus being taught.  To the parents who are coaches (myself included here), let’s remember to try to treat our own kids like a part of the team – neither giving them special treatment beyond the rest of the team, nor giving them harsher criticism.

To my fellow youth ministers: There are great lessons learned on the playing field for youth ministry.  Our “players,” the members of our youth ministry, need us to come alongside as encouraging voices and coaches, not critics.  They need us to come alongside their lives and not say things like, “what were you thinking??!” “Why did you mess up like that?!” but rather, send messages into their lives that say, “I love watching you grow in your faith!” “I’m proud of who you are becoming.”  “I loved when you did [this specific act of love, grace, mercy].”  When youth mess up, we can quietly pull them aside, coach better behavior and then send them back in.  Correct privately, praise publicly.

What results from this is players (youth) who know unconditional love – that’s what we hope for, right?

Blessings,

Erin

Questions:

How do you handle critical voices?

How can you relate sports and faith?

Who has inspired you as a coach?

How do you encourage others?

 

 

 

 

Project 365: Day 85 Lazarus Bible Study   Leave a comment

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John 11:35 “Jesus wept.”

It is the time of year when we consider resurrection. At senior high Bible study tonight we discussed the story of Lazarus. Read Luke 11:1-44.

Found in John chapter 11, A quick summary of Lazarus is story is that Jesus and Lazarus were friends. Jesus is away but gets word that his friend Lazarus is very ill and needs Jesus’s healing. Before Jesus can get to Lazarus, Lazarus dies and is entombed. Once Jesus arrives, he finds that his friends are wailing and weeping & Jesus wept too. He opens the tomb (much to the objection of Mary and Martha and the others) and tells Lazarus to come out. Alive, a resurrected Lazarus comes out of the tomb.

The raising of Lazarus from the dead is a story that comes right before the leaders coming and turning against Jesus. Through this story of Jesus with his friends we can sense God’s humanity and his empathy for others.

Questions:
What do you think about resurrection?
Do you think the next thing you’ll hear after death is Jesus calling you?
Which person in the story do you relate to best? Why?

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An unexpected bonus tonight was that we talked about how to read and study the Bible. We still lack a clever acronym, but we came up with this process:

After reading a passage, ask:
What does the passage Say?
What does the passage say about God?
What does the passage say about Us?
What does the passage say about the Relationship between God and Us?
What else stands out?

I also shared that Google can be a great starting point as long as you’re careful.

We suggested following a Bible reading plan and I use this list of reading plans.

Where would you begin?&p;

Light-hearted Yet Deep St. Patrick’s Day Lesson   Leave a comment

Monday is St. Patrick’s Day, so I can’t think of a better time to share the following YouTube video with you, St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies:

I was introduced to this video during the Intro to Theology class I visited when I was checking out SMU Perkins School of Theology. I love how the video is very deep theologically, but fun as well.

If you are a youthworker sharing this video with your youth ministry, or even an adult sharing this with your Sunday School or Bible Study, you might want to ask the following discussion questions:

  • Who is God to you?
  • Who is Jesus?
  • Who is the Holy Spirit?
  • Before this video, how did you describe the concept of the Trinity?

Read through John 1 and discuss who is the Word and what this passage says about God, about the Trinity.  You could follow this up with reading through historical creeds found in the United Methodist (or your denomination) hymnal.

And there you have it, a quick and easy Bible study on the Trinity and St. Patrick, just in time for St. Patty’s Day!

May the luck o’ the Irish be with you, Erin Go Bragh, etc,

Erin (or as my dad always called me, Erin O’Seamus O’Shansky O’Toole)

 

Project 365: Day 49 Dinner with YS   Leave a comment

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Thankful to have had the opportunity to attend training and eat dinner with these fine people. I love being around people who live youth ministry.

Project 365: Day 17   Leave a comment

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The Perkins School of Youth Ministry 2014 has come to a close. Had an amazing week of teaching youth ministry Foundations along with 3 inspiring colleagues – crazy to realize that our teaching team had over 140 years of combined youth ministry experience!

Loved my week of teaching, learning, reconnecting and growing. It was both rejuvenating to be around “my people” and a little exhausting to not have my sleep and quiet time. Today began with quiet time and journaling at home. Caught my breath. Now I am ready for what’s next.

If you look closely in the above picture, you’ll see a prayer labyrinth ornament. This was a thank you gift for teaching at PSYM. My faith journey has included a lot of special moments marked by prayer labyrinths in some way – at Grace, Trinity, National Youth Workers Convention, First Arlington, Texas Youth Academy and now PSYM to name a few. I wonder if God is trying to tell me something through this symbolic gift?

Have you journeyed through a prayer labyrinth? What did you learn from the experience?

3 Important Reasons to Smile Today   Leave a comment

I just watched this interesting TED Talk about the superpower of smiling, and I thought you’d enjoy it too:


(If the video doesn’t work, click here: http://www.ted.com/talks/ron_gutman_the_hidden_power_of_smiling.html)
Here are the three most important things I took away from the video:

1. The span of your smile determines the span of your life.  Research backs up the fact that people who smile more often live longer, healthier lives.  Smilers have less stress and more positive feedback.  I, for one, want to live a long, healthy life and would like to spend that time smiling, how about you?  Just think, if you can impress this idea on young people and change their behavior, you can actually make them live longer.

2. Smile + Frown = Smile.  Smiles are contagious.  If you see someone who is smiling, it is difficult to not smile back.  What a great ministry tool it is to know that you possess the power to make sad people feel better just by giving them a smile!  In the youth ministry world, this power is valuable for encouraging teens who are feeling down on themselves…and at some point that may be all teens.  How can you use this power today?

3. Smiles bring more pleasure than up to 2,000 bars of chocolate.  Want to feel good without high caloric intake?  Smile.  You feel better, the pleasure part of your brain is activated, life is good.  I still like chocolate a good bit, but it’s nice to know that I can smile thinking about chocolate without eating it all and still feel good.

That’s all today – 3 valuable reasons to smile.  I hope this post makes you live longer, happier and healthier.

Blessings,

Erin

I love you, Lord…But I AM MAD AT YOU!   4 comments

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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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?