Archive for the ‘YouthWorker Movement’ Tag

Project 365: Day 92 My Crazy Idea   Leave a comment

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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?

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

responsibility

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

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

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

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

And this is where the story gets interesting to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So instead of saying,

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

say,

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

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

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

Be blessed,

Erin

Would love your feedback:

Where have you struggled with this?

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

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

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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.)