Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How Well Do You Communicate?

I have a friend in youth ministry who recently had a confrontation with his Pastor/boss (the adjective here is boss).  The pastor was cornered by a concerned parent who was feeling like most parents of a teenager... uniformed, confused, frustrated, lost, and looking for answers, any answers!  

The student ministry was preparing for a trip that this parents son registered for, put a deposit on and was in process of making final plans to attend when the mother found out through a letter in the mail. The letter informed her of "how excited" the church was that her son would be leaving in three days with other students and leaders for a five-day mission project.  
The mother was very upset and remembered talking about the trip with her son and even the youth pastor, but never consented to him going. I will now summarize to keep from boring you with a very lengthy story.

- The son asked the mother to attend the mission trip
- The mother said no because family was visiting from out of state
- The son became upset and talked to the youth pastor
- The youth pastor prayed with the student
- The youth pastor told the student he should do what God was leading him to do
- The son disobeyed his mother and you know the rest

The mother explained the situation to the pastor who then shared his conversation with the youth pastor.  The pastor explained some basic principles of communication and he felt the youth pastor feel short in these areas.  He asked to have a meeting with the parent, student and youth pastor to clear up the situation and to help prevent future occurrences.  The youth pastor refused, became very upset and ultimately was released from his position.

This story is very sad, true and happens more than we would like to admit.  I am happy to say that my friend has made restitution with the student, parent and Pastor.  He continues to serve in ministry and has chosen to lean and grow from his mistake.  He allowed me to post this in hopes that others would not follow the same simple mistake he made, a lack of communication.  Good communication to the student, parent and pastor could have saved a great deal of pain to the ministry  and families involved.

Good communication to the student would have directed him to honor and obey his parent and then encourage him to really share and express his passion to go on the mission trip.  If the parent still says no, support that decision.

Good communication to the parent would have not come in the mail three days before the departure date.  There would have been at least four letters/contacts:
  1. A "registration" letter to the parent with details about the trip.
  2. A "Congratulations" letter letting the parent and student know that they (the student) has meet all the requirements and is invited to be a part of the trip team.
  3. An "update" letter informing parents of how the trip preparation is progressing.
  4. A "per-trip check list" letter with what to bring, departure details, emergency contacts while on the trip and the remaining balance for the cost of the trip.
  5. A "post-trip" letter with details and a report of how the trip was.
Good communication to the pastor would have allowed the pastor to defend the youth pastor and address some of the concerns the parent had.  Even if the pastor doesn't recall the details he can at least assure the parent that he knows the trips progress is going well and he is not caught of guard.  If a pastor or executive is updated about the ministries of the church, they are usually comfortable in directing people to the ministry leader, adding their "vote of confidence" to those with concerns or questions.  Note: emails are the best way to keep your boss informed, don't bother them with daily twenty minute updates.

This is a very short post addressing a very big problem (in all ministry areas) that many churches struggle with weekly.  Don't let this area fall short in your ministry.  If you don't communicate, you may find yourself constantly behind while trying to earn the respect and trust of parents and leaders again and again.

Monday, April 27, 2009

What Does Your Ministry Offer? REALLY!

After three months into the relocation we are still in the process of looking for a church.  We are looking for one where our entire family will grow in our personal relationship with Christ, make connections and build friendships.

Being in full time ministry for more than 16 years we always attended the church where I was on staff.  Now that we are starting a new ministry in a new location, we get to choose.  To say the least, finding a "church home" has been more difficult than Cindy and I ever could have imagined.

We have been to six churches in twelve weeks, some with thousands of attendees, others with hundreds.  Churches with great music and churches that needed to visit the churches with great music so they would know what goals to aim at (this had nothing to do with "style" but rather quality).  We have been to churches that greeted us in the parking lot and churches we thought had closed down because there was nobody around to help us, really!  We have seen really good children's programs with security and then we have visited churches where anyone could pick-up a baby or child without ever identifying him or herself.  We have seen programs (bulletins) with great information about the church and we have received no information at all.  There have been churches that greeted us with a smile at an "information" area with answers to the questions we had and there were information counters/desk that were surrounded by regular attendees drinking coffee and sharing their most recent golf scores (needless to say we didn't get any church information but I took two strokes off my game).

I have given you just a few examples of what we have experienced in our search.  I also tried to avoid my opinion (with an exception or two) in what I thought was effective and what was not.  I think it would also surprise you to know that many ministries that were doing well, in my opinion, where not the mega churches but rather those that were really trying to connect with people.

SO, here they are, the big questions:  What does your ministry offer?  How do you connect with people?  How important do they feel?  What steps do you take to communicate your ministry?   

People visiting your church for the first time don't care WHAT you call them, you know, first time friend, future sibling in Christ, potential giver, guest, visitor (NO, not that one!  They might think they are new or something...).  What people are looking for is to feel welcome, comfortable, the opportunity to "look around" and see if what you have is what they need.  People visit for a reason, give them a reason to stay!

Which doors of your church do you best welcome people to, the front or the back?

Friday, April 24, 2009

How Contagious Are You?

In our family we believe in sharing.  In fact, we share almost everything, including the common cold and flu.  Recently my daughter had the flu, shared it with my son who then passed it on to me.  My wife seemed to have been the lucky one and missed the opportunity to stay in bed for 24 hours while moaning and making many trips to the... you get the idea.

As I thought about how easily the flu bug passed through our family it was a great reminder to me about my faith and witness.  After recovering from the 24-hour flu, I began to examine my life, motives and witness.  What I saw in my life was not always reflective of Jesus.  Jesus' life was full of compassion, grace, mercy, truth and integrity (just to mention a few) and people were drawn to that.  In fact, many followed Jesus because they couldn't imagine doing anything else after meeting Him.  HE WAS CONTAGIOUS!

I want my life to be contagious!  I want others to "catch" what I have simply by being in contact with me.  My heart's desire is to serve Christ more and reflect all of His attributes.  

How contagious are you?  Where is your heart and motives today?  If you are struggling, confess it to those you have offended and ask for God's forgiveness.  May you be contagious to those who you meet and minister to.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

How To Make Announcements Fun!

Announcements always seem to take to long and if you have someone standing up front reading them, chances are good that most of your students (and leaders) are not paying any attention to them.  

Have fun with the announcements and get students looking forward to them.  Get a video camera (borrow one if you need) and a willing person (students work great because they like to see themselves up front, it is also a great way to have staff involved, I have even used the Manager at Wendy's) and start creating.  If you have a computer and are willing to try to edit the video, even better.

If you own an Apple, iMovie is a great beginner application to use.  PC users should try Movie Maker, Pinnacle or whatever you have available on your PC.  Ask others what they use.  If you find someone who has good resources, chances are they enjoy video editing.  Ask them if they would help you out every other week for a couple months until you get the hang of it, by then they are usually hooked. 

The more creative you are with announcements the better your response to activities and programs.  Have fun!

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Fun Day

When was the last time you had a fun day?  A day you totally enjoyed and without a cell phone, blackberry or Franklin Planner (for those of you over fifty), a meeting or prep for that next message.  These days are few and far between when you are in ministry.  If I were totally honest with you I would share that in 16+ years I think I could count on two hands how many of those days I had.  Over the years I have listened to many youth leaders share why they just don't have the time, here is just a sampling.

  1. I am just to busy.  Not a big surprise here, I lived off this one.  However, I do know that many youth leaders don't know how to budget their time, making us unproductive in many ways.  We spend too much time on the projects that we like and not enough time working on the areas we struggle with.  Youth leaders also are not know for our ability to ask for help, either because we don't like to share the leadership or because we don't know "how" people can help even if they offer.
  2. I feel guilty about being out of the office for an entire day.  WHY?  Who do we work for?  Yes, we answer to a pastor (if your lucky), a church board or a controlling group of parents who don't appreciate anything you do anyway.  Plan your week and let others know your schedule, email it to your boss and whoever answers the phones.  This helps with personal accountability and it allows those answering calls to inform people of when you are available.  If you don't get out of the office at least one (should be two days) day a week, you will find yourself discouraged, frustrated and always looking for a better position and church.  Remember, if the problem follows you it's not the place, it's you!
  3. Youth Ministry is my fun.  I almost vomit every time I hear this one, only because I used to say it.  If where you are paid to work and do ministry is your only fun, I hope you are single with no kids, family or friends.  If this describes you, please get out of ministry.  We are called to gather with the body of believers and encourage one another, what kind of example would you be setting if you only spent time with teenagers?  If you do have a family, PLEASE spend time with them before they get to old and recognize that their “parent pastor” is there for everyone except their family.  Get a hobby, join a league, start exercising, do something that involves you getting away and enjoying life to it's full.  Take little steps at first, soon you’ll be a pro at getting out of the office (and you might even enjoy it).

If most pastors and youth leaders are honest, we feel lonely.  Not in a physical way, but in an emotional way.  We carry information, hurts, and pain for so many with nobody to share it with because we have a trust that should not be broke with people who we care for and minister to.  At times, many ministry leaders are on the outside looking in.  We look in at the relationships that have been there before us and will be there long after we move on and many people don't want to get to close for the fear of losing a friend when the "next church" calls.  

My prayer is that you find someone to share with, find a hobby to have fun with and make some relationship to invest in.  SPEND TIME WITH YOUR FAMILY!  These are small steps that will allow you to have days of fun and really begin to enjoy life.   

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sink Or Swim?

My family was at Disney's Magic Kingdom yesterday in the play area across from Mickey's house.  My son was playing as my daughter and I watched.  An understatement would be to say there were "tons" of children in the play area.  There were some fun structures for the children to play on and slide down.  There was one in particular that caught my attention.  It was a small playhouse where children could go inside, look through windows, make pretend food and sit at a table, nothing out of the ordinary.  The roof is what held my attention, not the children playing ON the roof, but the parents and grandparents who LET them play on it.  After a short time my son and daughter were fixated on the roof too.  Children who were able and coordinated were climbing on the roof, running on the roof and jumping off the roof.  We watched as three older children landed on three small children causing crying and pain, and we were at the Magic Kingdom of all places!  

The interaction that brought this to blog was when a father told his son four times not to climb up on the roof, while his son climbed higher with each request.  I watched as a four-five year old blatantly ignored and disrespected his father.  When the child reached the roof he realized it was higher than he expected.  The small boy moved toward the edge in what looked like a possible attempt to jump.  After many failed attempts the boy began to cry and beg his father to get him down.  The father looked at his son and said "sink or swim, you got yourself up there after I said not to, now I think you should find a way down."  The small boy cried a little louder with a little more passion and the father rescued him from the roof.

In many ways this story parallels some students and adults that we know and work with.  They have been asked, pleaded with, and told where and how to avoid some of life's dangers and pitfalls and yet they continue to make decisions that lead them toward the problems, living with constant struggle and pain.  There comes a time when we should stop asking the question "sink or swim," and instead "point" to the end results reminding them there is a success or failure ahead and the choice (yes choice) is theirs to make.  We need to remind ourselves that when we continuously rescue someone we enable him or her to grow.  Real growth hurts; it hurts those going through it, and it causes pain for those of use who have to watch. 

My prayer is for growth: for my children, family and friends.  The best kind of growth to watch and be a part of comes from those people who have seen and learned from others mistakes and make the choice to swim not sink!  

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Who Do You Owe?

I love the book of Philemon!  It is short, to the point and reminds me of those people I owe.  My favorite verses are 18-19 where Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon and writes:  "18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back–not to mention that you owe me your very self."

I enjoy reading this passage because it reminds me of all the people I owe my very self to.  I don't live life feeling as if I must repay all of the good people have shown me, but rather I see the investment in me from Christ loving people and I thank God for the blessings!  Yes, there have been times people have "Pauled" me and reminded me to help, serve, and give as they did to me. They also have encouraged me to forgive as they forgave me.  They have pushed and pleaded with me to simply be more like Jesus.

I realize that the greatest example is when Jesus took my sin, suffered and died for me. He continues to "pay" the cost for me daily and I am reminded that I owe Jesus Christ my very self.  
Who do you need to forgive?  Who are you investing in?  Who do you owe?

Friday, April 17, 2009

What Was I Thinking?

"What are they thinking" was a common sentence I used... well, thousands of times throughout my first 5 years of ministry.  As a youth pastor I was usually the low person on the totem pole (is that still politically correct?) and my opinion never seemed to effect or influence the decisions that were made.  I found myself thinking that if only they did it my way (thanks Frank) the results would have been far better and the world would be a nicer place to live.  Not once, when disagreeing with another leader, did I consider the fact that they might have put a great deal of effort, thought and time into the ministry they were working on and that they had good reason for doing it the way they thought best.

I didn't consider many things; usually in part because I had a brotherhood of youth pastors to spend time with and gain support for our crazy idea that other ministries in our churches would be better if they all ran like the youth ministry.  I forgot that the people leading ministries where there because God had blessed and opened doors for them to be there.  I forgot that their desire was Kingdom growth through leading others to Jesus.  I forgot that nobody was perfect.  I forgot that encouragement; support and lending a hand did more for Kingdom growth than focusing on my selfish wants and nature.  I simply forgot!

I continued this way of thinking until a friend and youth pastor of more than 25 years pulled me aside and confronted me about my attitude and the way I looked at other ministries.  That was more than ten years ago, but I will never forget the feeling of pain and sorrow it brought to my heart.  I repented and confessed to some of the leaders at my church asking for their forgiveness as well as God's.   

I would like to tell you that I have never fallen back into that way of thinking, but that would be a lie.  I constantly look for the good in ministries so that I don't open the door of judgment.  I also find that when I look for the good in ministries it allows me to see how blessed I am to be part of something so much bigger and better than I am.

Looking back all I can say is "WHAT WAS I THINKING?"

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Coffee Breaks Good For All

In ministry, as many other occupations, the hours are never ending and there never seems to be enough time in the week to finish all that needs to be done.  Many of us "keep ourselves going" by consuming coffee.  I was always told how bad it was for me and that I should "kick the habit" to help keep me healthy.  I was happy to find this short article and pass it on to those of you who also drink coffee, not just for the "kick" but also because we enjoy the taste.

Once suspected in a variety of diseases, coffee now has an impressive resume: Mounting evidence suggests that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, gallstones, Parkinson's disease, cirrhosis, and certain types of liver, breast and colon cancers.

Better than fruit juice? Hundreds of compounds, including antioxidants, seem to be responsible for coffee's many protective benefits.  In a recent Harvard University study, coffee drinkers had a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular causes than nondrinkers.  Black coffee is probably even better for you than high-calorie beverages.  A Norwegian study found that a typical serving of brewed coffee is richer in antioxidants than a serving of blueberries, raspberries, pineapples, or many fruit juices.

Brain bonus.  Coffee might help your mind as much as you body.  One study found that sleep-deprived rats were much calmer after simply inhaling roasted coffee beans.

Have a great day and enjoy a good cup of coffee!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Where Does The Time Go?

Last night my wife and I were looking at pictures of our children when they were first born and in the toddler years.  After smiling, laughing and even shedding a couple tears we realized time goes by as fast as our parents & grandparents said it did.

Today I also realized that I have not been keeping up with my blog due to our move to Orlando, new home, school, sports, new ministry and many great family fun nights!  I wouldn't trade any of that for... well, anything.  

I am excited to let you know that a new ministry which I have been working on will launch May 1, 2009.  The ministry, Youth Ministry Consultants Inc. will focus on student ministry in smaller churches who can't afford a youth pastor or to send it's youth volunteers to conferences due to financial restrictions.  I hope and pray that you continue to be patient and help us start a "buzz" about the ministry come May.  

Thanks for your support and ministry!  May you see the many blessings God has given you this day.
Living for Jesus & loving it!