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Sustainable Youth Ministry

Sustainable Youth Ministry, Mark DeVriesI have so much appreciated this book Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries. Definitely a permanent fixture on my "youth ministry" shelf! About systems and structures to enable ministry to be effective and fruitful, I'd recommend this to youth ministers, senior pastors, and any church member who loves teenagers enough to want God's best for them. It's worth the money just for Chapters 4 & 5, and Appendix B alone! I'll let DeVries' own word sum up the book:

The apostle Paul reminds us, "We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us" (2Cor4:7). I'm embarassed that this book is less about the treasure and more about the clay pots that carry the treasure. This book has grown out of the gaping hole in the competency of youth workers, who may know the treasure well but seem to have little capacity to carry it.
Certainly the treasure Paul writes about is what has captured the hearts of so many in ministry, but it's equally important and necessary to have an effective way of sharing that treasure with others. Here were some of my highlights:
  • It is often our successes that keep us stuck rather than our failures.
  • A ministry that chooses to see its future only in the light of what has been will always stay stuck.
  • But gymnasiums, air-hocky tables, plasma TVs and leather couches don't build thriving youth ministries; appropriate staffing, clear vision and structure do. Too many churches are like parents spending thousands on a playroom for their children while neglecting the kids' need for food and clothes, assuming that the fortune they have already spent on their kids should be enough.
  • Staff should coordinate, inspire, and equip volunteers.
  • Goals do not necessarily mean that bigger is better. They affirm that clearer is better. Goals help define what a particular ministry will look like as it moves toward increasing health. If we want our youth ministries to be evaluated by something other than numbers and programs, we must take responsibility to define our targets clearly.
  • The time to change the strategic direction of your ministry is, ironically, when things are going well.
  • In reference to the importance of Climate, Vision, and Tasks: Ask any youth director what his or her job is and chances are you'll hear a list of tasks: "I hang out with kids," "I teach the Bible," "I go to meetings." Sadly, most youth workers are almost obsessively focused on tasks. They react to the demands placed before them, daily racing against the clock to try to get more done in less time, to get all the phone calls and emails answered, all the lessons written, the programs prepared. But eventually, almost every youth worker, no matter how organized, realizes that there is simply not enough time to get all the tasks completed.
  • Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line, and sometimes an obsessive focus on getting results as quickly as possible is the slowest path to achieving sustainable results. (note: if the Climate isn't right)
  • Those of us who lead have the power (and responsibility) to craft the stories that will define the climate of our ministries.
  • Children -and churches- tend to live into the words that are spoken about them. Focusing on the negative gets more negative, while focusing on the positive results in a much more positive climate.
  • In reference to a "Replace Yourself" attitude: [Good youth ministers] proactively prepare the way for a future that does not include them.
  • Peter Scazzero was right when he wrote in The Emotionally Healthy Church, "The overall health of any church or ministry depends primarily on the emotional and spiritual health of its leadership."
  • For the youth worker, time spent with students, developing a volunteer team and doing strategic planning contribute the most to making a youth ministry sustainable.
  • We need the power of a team pulling together in a unified, crystal-clear direction.
  • In "winning" organizations, information flows freely; in "losing" organizations, a select few hold the information.
  • When I'm looking for potential student apprentices, I look down to try to find people bending over to do the work that no one else wants to do (like picking up trash after youth group), and I look to the corners for the people who have a knack for paying attention to those at the fringes of the group. A little affirmation and a few assignments can go a long way toward empowering student apprentices, one at a time, long before a formal student apprentice program is put together.

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A Quote for Friday

"Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."


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Email Is for Old People: Yth <3 TXT!

This post is part of a series on Using Technology to Further Relationships in Youth Ministry.

I want to tell you two reasons teens love text and what that means for your youth ministry.

BTW, that's not read "less than three"... it's a heart (tilt your head to the right... See, I told you so!) Much to the horror of English teachers everywhere, texting abbreviations and grammar are creeping into school work and, now, apparently into blog headlines.

The mindset of our microwave culture means people want what they want and they want it now. And that attitude towards life carries over into our communication with the people we care about thanks to our hyper-connectedness. The evolution of cell phone technology from a Zack Morris brick to the iPhone certainly helps.

Text is immediate.
Text is short, limited to 160 characters. Since it's short, it's quicker, both to send and read. The speed and convenience mean this is an immediate way to communicate. I also think there's something of a "hiding factor" to this for some people. I've had people tell me they use text when they have to communicate with somebody they don't want to have to actually talk to. They want to avoid getting sucked in and held hostage with chit-chat they're not interested in. Again, microwave mindset.

Text is mobile.
Email is tied to a computer. Messaging through Facebook, MySpace, or email... well, while many people now have PDA's and Blackberries and iPhones and all that can do email, most teenagers don't have the necessary phones or data plans for this. But so many text. And texting from their phone means text is in their pocket. And most of us know how attached some students are to their cell phones; it's like a surgical procedure to get them to lay that cell phone down.

What's this mean for ministry?
Ministry is about relationships, and one key to healthy relationships is communication. One of my youth small group leaders will text her girls to remind them of their weekly devotional reading. Another sends her group encouraging reminders that let them know she's thinking about them: "I'm hoping you do well on that Math test." A short note like that communicates care.

Just today I used short, quick text messages to set-up a one-on-one meeting for Friday morning, got a new volunteers phone number from the volunteer who recommended them, received an unsolicited music suggestion from a youth (Crystal Ball by Keane), and sent an encouraging note to one of our supporting adults. So, my examples are 3-to-1 with adult leaders for today, but all of this was while sitting in the drive-thru or waiting at the copier in the office. And I do use it often with students; reminders for worship band practice or about small groups or meeting up with them after school...

A tool to consider: SimplyTXT
Simply Youth Ministry offers "SimplyTXT," designed to be a simple way to manage contacts and send text messages to individuals or groups. I don't currently use this, but it definitely seems like it would be a helpful way to manage group messages if your students or parents or volunteers are big-time texters. At the risk of sounding like I'm advertising for SYM, here's a short video about how it works:

The bottom line
Again, this is about 1) building and strengthening relationships in ministry and 2) the missional principle of contextualizing the message of the Gospel. If your students are typing away on their cell phones, maybe text messages would be an effective way for you to communicate with them.

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Leaders Love People

Whether it's friends, a spouse, or volunteers...

People like to hear "I love you."

o Not because it's part of a routine.
My wife and I often tell each other "I love you," just before we end a phone conversation. I like this and I hate it.

I've realized there are sometimes I say it out of habit; it's just become part of our routine to end a phone call. I hate this because I don't want some thoughtless phrase tossed out there for something that's so meaningful. And yet, I like this, too. I want to take every opportunity I have to let her know she's loved.

With a volunteer team or staff members, we should routinely let them know they are valued, but not out of habit.

o It must be genuine.
I still think most people have a built-in crap detector. People can call a bluff. And when it comes to hearing that you matter to someone, it's a painful thing to think it's just a disingenuous gesture. This can actually communicate the opposite message.

o Not just when you're looking for something.
If you only express appreciation or care when you're in need, it feels manipulative. Like the teenager that suddenly becomes the most pleasant, agreeable kid with the spotlessly clean room when they're hoping for permission to go out Saturday night... It's more than some system of relational deposits and withdrawals. Communicating care is about the other person, not your needs.

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A Quote for Friday

"Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit."

Napoleon Hill

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You Can Have a Free Website That's Easy AND Useful

This post is part of a series on Using Technology to Further Relationships in Youth Ministry.

There are plenty of reasons to have a website for your church youth ministry. But I'll sum it all up with one single reason: communication. This is something I'm always coming back around to; how can I better communicate to youth, parents, volunteers, average church members, those outside the church... If you've got a message that's worth telling, you need to say it in ways that can be heard (and the message of the church is definitely worth telling).

Just this past week I met a new family who visited the church and our youth Sunday school for the first time because they had gotten a taste of the ministry through the church website and the youth page. Often a website is the first impression for your ministry.

Let's face it; your ministry should have a website. And a blog is an ideal solution for your youth ministry.

Use A Blog!
First of all, a blog (short for "web log") is just a specific type of website that is a collection of individual articles that are usually stored and displayed chronologically, much like an online journal. Here's a short video explanation:

Here are some of the reasons a blog is an ideal web presence for most youth ministries:
  • It's easy. Blogs are simple to update and websites HAVE to be updated. (Side note: If I pull up a website that was last updated before the current president was in office, I'm probably gone pretty fast. If a website is updated consistently, at least once every two weeks or even once or twice a week, it creates trust. People feel they can trust that as a source of communication. And if people can't trust it, they'll tune it out.) If you can send an email, you can use Blogger. Click "New Post," type in your content, and click "Publish" or "Save". If a tool is easy to use, people are more likely to use it.
  • Comments The social aspect of blogs, through the comments, is a simple point of interaction. Create conversations to follow-up on group Bible studies, poll your students, brainstorm ideas, allow people to share stories from recent trips or events...
  • Subscriptions For years the Internet has been about "come to me." And, like almost any website, blogs are still set-up to meet that need, but they are also ideal if you want the information to go to the people. There are two simple ways to make this work for you:
    1. Setup email subscriptions through Feedburner or FeedBlitz or other service and each time the site is updated, people will receive an email of the updated content.
    2. Blogs are primed for RSS. Not everybody uses RSS, but it's such a help for people who do utilize it to keep up with websites they're interested in keeping up with. Here's the best three-and-a-half minute explanation I could give about RSS:
  • Share the Work You can give multiple people access to update the website. You don't have to shoulder the load alone if you've got a team of people (or even just one other person) who would help keep up the website.
  • Again, it's all about communication. A blog allows you to keep people informed and connected to so many aspects of your church's youth ministry. How?
    • Got an event coming up? Give the basic "Who, What, When, Where" info.
    • Just got back from a trip? Share the experience by posting some pictures or a short video.
    • Planning a new Bible study series or new teaching theme? Tease it with some of the artwork or a summary. Or follow up your lessons with some discussion questions to help parents reinforce the learning at home.
    • If you want to be super helpful, include a staff picture and basic contact information such as an email address or phone number. (Plus, we'll talk more about how to put a calendar on your website in a later post in this series.)

Getting Started
There are lots of blogging services out there, many of which are absolutely free. Some of the more popular ones seem to be Blogger, Wordpress, and Typepad. (I use Blogger.)

With Blogger it's easy to get started by following their simple 1-2-3 step process. It's easy to customize the look and feel of your blog. Blogger provides several free templates, plus there are tons of free templates floating around out there on the Internet. Not only that, but Blogger gives you complete control over the CSS & HTML for the site, so you can play around with the look and feel of the site if you know how to (or if you've got a volunteer who gets into that kind of thing).

Hopefully you recognize the importance of your youth ministry having a presence on the web. Maybe you've shied away from it before because of fear or confusion, thinking it's something that's too complicated or too much work or just didn't fit into your ministry budget. But now you can see that by using a blog, you can have a free website that's easy and useful.

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3 Types of Relationships in Youth Ministry

Adult-to-Adult Modeling
One of the roles of the lead youth pastor and one of the benefits of a volunteer team. A team becomes focused, energized, and confident when it knows where it’s headed and why it’s going there.

Adult-to-Student Molding
A role of volunteers and one of the key pieces of disciple-making relationships. The most effective youth ministry happens when a caring adult invests their life in the lives of students.

Student-to-Student Motivating
One of the responsibilities carried by student leaders and one they will naturally have opportunities to do if they're looking for it. This happens as students leverage their influence in positive ways for Kingdom purposes.

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A Quote for Friday

"The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people."

Woodrow Wilson

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Change Can Be a Good, Difficult Process

When I clean out a closet, I make a mess. I pull out all kinds of stuff to sort through before tossing the old junk and putting what's left neatly back in place. When I'm doing yard work, sometimes it looks like a mess. I've got yard tools out, trimmed limbs lying around the bushes, and I'm a sweaty, smelly person.

Sometimes when things are in process, they seem to get worse before they get better.

In Exodus 5-6:1, Moses and Aaron go to Pharoah, requesting Israel's release, and Pharoah makes it harder on the people of Israel. God sends Moses to rescue the people of Israel and the people actually have it worse!

The people complain to Moses, and Moses complains to God. And God's response: Now you'll see what I will do.

God does work through the messes of our lives for good. Was this God's way of showing His strength and power and just how much He could overcome? He did say before that Pharoah's heart would be hardened.

Was this God's necessary pre-requisite in order for Israel to follow through on this change, not turning back to their old life? It's the process of change that is sometimes uncomfortable for us. But it's only when it's more painful to stay the same that we choose to change.

If you're seeking God, maybe some of the mess you're going through in the short-term is evidence that God is in the process of making it better for the long-term. Maybe it's God's way of showing just what He can do in the face of the storms of life. Take encouragement that sometimes we need to be uncomfortable enough to recognize the areas of our lives that God wants to shape and mold into something so much better than we would settle for on our own.

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A Tag-Team Tool for Twitter and Facebook

This post is part of a series on Using Technology to Further Relationships in Youth Ministry.

Let's say you've taken the plunge and become an official Twitter-er and now you're text messaging quality updates like Mr. Kutcher. And you've been Facebooking for a while, connecting with youth and publicizing your youth events. If only there were some sort of way these two super heroes could team up like Batman and Robin. With their powers combined, you'd be unstoppable... Alright, that's way over-hyped, but here's a simple tool for updating your Facebook status through Twitter.

There is a Facebook application, Selective Twitter. After the short, simple setup process, you can have the Twitter updates you choose show up as your status on your Facebook profile. The nice thing is that not every Twitter update shows up, hence the name selective. The app basically links your Fb profile to your Twitter profile, so your FB page is reading your Twitter updates. Any tweet that ends with "#fb" will now be shown as your Facebook status.

Updating your Facebook status is a quick way of letting your Facebook friends know what you're doing or just what's on your mind. I enjoy the Selective Twitter Status for it's convenience; I can update two accounts at once just by sending a text message.

Some of the advantages of sending only selected tweets as FB status, as they explain on the FBApp page:

  • Avoid confusing your Facebook friends
  • Don't swamp your profile with too many updates
  • Leave certain updates on Facebook for longer
Note: It doesn't work if your Twitter updates are protected. Also, it is possible to enable certain Facebook functions, such as status updates, on certain cellphones straight from Facebook.

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Surprise! He Could Count to Ten

We didn't realize our almost-two-year-old could count, but it turns out he could and we didn't even know it!

About two months ago Shannon and Noah were at home waiting for toast in our new toaster. As they waited, Shannon would count out loud and Noah would repeat after her.

We had been doing this for a little while as he'd been learning new words, and his talking has been improving, and all...

Well, as Shannon and Noah were counting, Ansley spit up. So Shannon stops counting for a moment as she wipes up Ansley's mess. And Noah didn't wait on her - he went right on and counted to ten!

We didn't know he could do that! He'd never counted before (without us prompting him). The rest of the night, he walked around the house counting to ten, and counting to grandmothers on the phone. I don't know if he might have even been a little surprised by the new discovery.

I wonder how many times we might underestimate what all Noah DOES know and what he CAN do. I also wonder what all Noah doesn't realize he can do now and what he can do when given the chance.

This gets me thinking about how many times we might underestimate other people in our lives; what they know, what they can do, what they're capable of, their gifts and talents and potential... and how much of that they may not even be aware of yet... and how I can help them discover and use their giftedness.

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A Quote for Friday

"Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."

John F. Kennedy

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Facing the Fears of Leadership

When God showed up and spoke to Moses, it turned his world upside-down. God called Moses to a task that was way bigger than Moses could accomplish. God called Moses to the God-sized task of leadership.

But Moses wasn't so sure right away. He had some doubts and concerns about what God was inviting him to be a part of.

I think the doubts and concerns that Moses wrestled with are issues that many leaders have to face for themselves.

Moses' Excuses: Who am I?
The Core Issue: Doubted his identity.
God's Response: I'm with you; you'll worship on this mountain.
Note: There's a comfort that comes from the confidence of finding our identity in Christ. God is with you, and that makes all the difference. God basically responds, "Who are you? You are mine."

Moses' Excuses: Who's sending me?
The Core Issue: Doubted God's identity.
God's Response: I AM, repeats picture & vision of hope, and "I'm going to move!"
Note: God has been, is, and will be. God cares for His people. God is living and active.

Moses' Excuses: They won't believe me.
The Core Issue: Doubted people's response.
God's Response: Gives examples of how He was going to show himself.
Note: There's a bit of a feeling that stepping into leadership is like stepping out on a limb. But it's not the leader's job to worry about people's response. It's the leader's job to faithfully follow where God leads and invite others to join in. Besides, as the saying goes, out on the limb is where the fruit is.

Moses' Excuses: I can't speak well.
The Core Issue: Doubted abilities, not equipped for the responsibilities.
God's Response: I'll tell you what to say.
Note: God wouldn't call you to join in His redemptive work and then hang you out to dry. The old cliche is true: God doesn't call the equipped; He equips the called. God's power is made perfect in our weakness because then we know we're dependent on Him.

Moses' Excuses: Just send someone else.
The Core Issue: Wants to run away, avoid responsibilities.
God's Response: Anger. Take Aaron with you. Now go do what I say.
Note:It's a certain arrogance to claim so boldly that we know a situation better than God. It's a blessing to be invited to participate in God's work and activity. God may send others to do the same work (sent Aaron), but not to do what He's called you to do. And we come to know God by experience as we live in obedience and see God work.

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More Than An Endless Stream of Noise: Twitter and TwitPic

This post is part of a series on Using Technology to Further Relationships in Youth Ministry.

So, apparently the latest, greatest thing to hit the Internet is a little thing called Twitter. Have you heard of it?

What is Twitter?
Even if you've heard of it, you may still be unsure just what Twitter is. Maybe this video would help:

Yeah, it seems to have reached a tipping point in the past few months. Honestly, I'm still skeptical. Right now I'm not convinced this is super-duper useful, but it's definitely gained popularity with certain groups of people. I did have one really successful experiment with Twitter that is totally worth telling about.

How I've used Twitter as a tool for ministry
Before our summer mission trip, I set up my five most recent Twitter updates to show up on our church website. I gave parents a little card before we left with some trip contact information and a few other typical last minute notes. The card also told parents they could follow our trip from the church website. While we were on the trip, I sent updates to Twitter. (This is called "tweeting", but I still can't jump onboard with the insider language.)

Twitter updates on Church Website

Anyway, it was as simple as sending a text message from my phone to my Twitter profile. I wrote about my Twitter experiment shortly after we returned from the trip.

Pictures by TwitPic
One other piece of the Twitter experience that I'll recommend is TwitPic. Basically, TwitPic allows users to post pictures to their Twitter feed. I set it up so that I can snap a picture on my cellphone, send it to my TwitPic account just like an SMS/MMS (text message), and it will show up on my Twitter page. Well, actually the picture doesn't show up, but it does show up as a link to the picture.

Also, there are many other web applications that do basically this same thing, such as TweetPhoto, Pikchur, and yfrog.

If people in your little corner of the world are Twitterers... or Twitters... Tweeters... on Twitter... maybe now you'll be a little more equipped to use this tool to better connect with students or parents in your ministry.

And if you're interested, here is where I twitter.

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