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Author Archive | Neely McQueen

Rebooting Student Leadership

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I am excited to be rebooting our Student Leadership program. Due to staff shortage for the pass year we had no real student leadership program in place. And we have felt it in our ministry. We’ve had plenty of student involvement and even students stepping up to serve but we have seen student ownership of the ministry go down.

All that to say…I am excited that I get to take the lead on the reboot. Here is what we are going to focus on:

1. Growing in your faith- We’ll spend a lot of time focusing on what it means to grow on your own and how to build space and time for the practice of HABITS in our busy lives. We’ll pray and read scripture together…so students can learn how to do these things on their own.

2. Embracing servant leadership- It is important for our students to understand the model of leadership that Jesus demonstrated while on earth. We won’t be the ASB or the cool club kid at church…we’ll be the ones who serve…who wash feet.

3. Understanding your role in the family- Our student leaders will learn what it means to be part of the family. They will see and experience the ins and outs of our ministry. Not only will they see them, they will learn about their gifts and how they play a part in the family life.

We’ve calendar for 6 Summer “training” days. We’ll spend time together serving our church, community and world while talking about the basics of faith and leadership. In the fall, we’ll schedule monthly training meetings…with these times we’ll bring in other staff members from our church to teach on leadership principles. I am really excited about the reboot and the potential it has for our students and for our ministry.

Do you have a Student Leadership program at your church? What does it look like?

(One of my favorite ways that I have been able to encourage my student leaders is by taking them to the Student Leadership Conference. If you have a student leadership program or want to start one, you should consider checking it out. http://studentleadershipconference.com)

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Is This Mic On?

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Last week on twitter (@neelym) I posted a link to an article about the movie Divergent and some intense themes in the movie about sex and relationships. A fellow youth worker read the article and reached out to me with some questions regarding the topic of sexual abuse/rape and how we talk about it in the context of our youth ministries. One of the comments that stood out to me was that when the topic had been brought up previously in their ministry, people including leaders became uncomfortable with it and made jokes to lighten the tension.

Rape and sexual abuse is not a joke. (Is this mic on?)

Statistics are that 1 in 4 girls have REPORTED sexual abuse. If there were more safe places for students to tell their stories, I am sure that statistic would be higher. This means that YOUR ministry has been impacted by sexual abuse.

This is not a joke. I would love to see churches become the safest place for girls…on multiple levels…safe from danger and safe to tell their truest story.

How do we became that place?

  • Don’t make jokes about abuse…and don’t let others make jokes about it.
  • Do your diligence when screening your adult leadership team.
  • Train your team to be looking for students who may be easily victimized or students who may be prone to be abusive. (Victims can become abusers…)
  • Engage with grace and truth on the topic. Talk about what love looks like…and what it doesn’t look like. Don’t be afraid to be specific. Assume that they need to hear everything from you. This is for both girls and guys.
  • Realize the stigma around sexual abuse. How we talk about sex…and how we talk about abuse may be perpetuating the stigma or it may be removing it. (i.e. “damaged goods”)
  • Provide care inside and outside your church for those who need extra support.
  • Empower students to use their voices and stories.

I hope that our ministries are the safest place for girls. I hope that each time we speak to our students, each moment we interact with our students…they would feel both safe from danger and safe to tell the truth.

What are the ways that you make your ministry safe?

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The Fault In Our Stars

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A few weeks back I spoke on the topic of pain and suffering. Something happened in my message that has NEVER happened before…

A little background:

I had done a little “research” and read some books that several of my students had been talking about lately. Most of these books are written by John Green. I now refer to him as the Judy Blume of this generation. These books are filled with sadness, love and even hope…but they address the suffering that young people may face in their life. His books include: The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines.

I recently read The Fault In Ours Stars. This book is a best seller and is currently set to come out as a movie in a few months. This book had a few great quotes that fit right into my message on pain.

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When we flashed the image of the cover onto our screens…and I referenced the book…the room erupted with noise. I kid you not, there was moaning and gasps coming from everywhere in the room. It was like I had posted a photo of a cute kitten being held by a newborn baby. In that moment, by using the book cover and the simple quote from the book I was able to draw almost every student into this tough conversation regarding pain and suffering.

This moment reminded me of the power of being aware and being interested in what is happening in the lives of our students.

Being aware says I know what’s going on in your world…and being interested says that it matters to me too. A easy and simple step that earns you credibility to speak truth into their lives.

I want to be more aware and more interested. How do you say engaged in what is going on in lives of your students?

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What Do You Think: Baptism?

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I would love to hear your thoughts on something that has been running through my brain lately regarding baptisms.

Do you ever get that gut check that a student may be getting baptized for the wrong reasons?

What do you do?

They say the right things but something doesn’t feel right..do you go ahead and baptize them?

What is our responsibility in making sure a student understands fully the statement they are making in baptism?

What do you think? Share your insight!

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TDVAM?

Did you know that February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month?

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Did you know that 1 in 3 girls a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse?

Or that 1 in 10 High School girls has been purposefully been hit by a boyfriend or girlfriend?

Dating violence is much more common than we think and it may very well be happening to girls in your ministry.

Church should be a place where we talk honestly and openly about important and relevant issues. Based on the statistics above this issue is VERY relevant…and deserves our attention. Maybe in the past we haven’t talked about these things but now is the time for churches to start speaking up for those who are victims of abuse.

Talk about and model healthy relationships with the opposite sex. Don’t assume that students know that abuse is not acceptable. When a student has been raised in a home where abuse (of any kind) is present, the behavior becomes normalized. This conversation needs to happen with both the guys and the gals.

See something, say something. Teach students to be on the watch for other students. Give students permission to come to you with their concerns. Also, if you see signs of abusive behavior than step up and say something. Get involved.

Check out this helpful website for more information.

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DYM & Our Winter Retreat

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We got back last night from our Winter Retreat. It was a great success. We took more students than ever while still being “under-staffed.” Which is both amazing and crazy.

Thankfully, DYM saved the day. Every game or fun element for our retreat was straight up from DYM.

Here is what we played:

Friday Night||Extreme Bingo (FREE- blogpost here)

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This was so fun. We had a blast playing it and giving some great stuff away. When the wheel (we had a digital one) landed on guys out for the Beats by Dr. Dre the room went crazy. So fun!

Saturday Morning||Awesome vs. Awful ($3 – here)

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This game was SO easy and so fun. Hands down, one of the best games we have ever played. Best moment…a leader drinking the blender of doom.

Saturday Afternoon|| InstaScavenger Hunt ($3- here)

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Every year at our retreat, we have some kind of run around town as a small group and compete against each other…every year the senior or junior boys win. This year, we did this scavenger hunt and the top three teams were girls. First time in history. But EVERYONE had fun…and we got tons of free PR on Instagram for our ministry! So fun.

Sunday AM|| On This Day ($3 -here)

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We used this game as an elimination round before we had people complete ridiculous tasks on stage…like perform an Olympic Floor Routine for a panel of judges. This game was fun…and maybe a bit too easy.

Grateful for this place where we can come together and share resources…help make each others jobs easier and be connected in a strange way to each other!

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#loveyourselfie

I love this short film that Dove has put together about beauty and how social media can play a part in redefining it.

I would love to encourage and remind you that you play a role in how the girls in your care see beauty…and how they see themselves!

They are watching and listening to your words and actions.

There is a line in the film that says what makes a girl unique makes her beautiful. I pray that girls that walk in our doors sense and hear that truth from us.

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When Helping Hurts

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In a recent issue of a Seventeen magazine, there was an article about one of the young actresses from the TV show, Pretty Little Liars. In the article she comes clean about her years of self-harm.

Our culture is slowly embracing the idea of vulnerability. The idea of admitting our lives are messy and broken. And I have seen a similar trend in our churches. We are getting more comfortable admitting that life isn’t all happy and perfect…that sometimes it hard and painful.  

I believe this trend is way healthier than the alternative which is ignoring the pain or pretending it doesn’t exist.

But I have seen some negative side effects with this trend that I think warrant us considering a few thoughts on the idea of vulnerability with teens.

Years ago, I had a student who suffered from an extreme eating disorder. When we talked about how she learned about anorexia…she admitted it was from an episode of Oprah, which featured a young girl battling this the same disorder. Obviously, we don’t blame Oprah or her guest…in fact, that day they may have helped many people gain a better understanding of this disease. But this story shows us a little bit of what might be the issue with our vulnerability.

When we bring attention to any destructive behavior like self-harm, pornography, eating disorders, etc…we need to take a few precautions so that we don’t perpetuate these behaviors:

1. Use words wisely. Be mindful of giving a recipe or a playbook for these behaviors. I once heard a student share their battle with an eating disorder where they described what exactly they ate each day. Another time as a student talked about her battle with cutting, she explained how she cut herself and hid it from her parents. Or the leader who when identifying with his small group guys and their struggle with porn, mentioned some of the sights that were his biggest downfall (Oh, I wish this one wasn’t true but it has happened…) Honest conversations that happen to be given students a play by play for these types of behaviors. All this to say, I think we MUST keep talking about these issues but we must guard are words. Talk about the issues, be honest but don’t provide a playbook for these behaviors.
2. Don’t forget to mention the process. One thing that can happen is when these destructive behaviors can be glamorized in our stories or those of our students. It can happen when we or those sharing their stories forget to explain the process of recovery. When we ask students to share their stories, we ask them to share what their life was like before Christ and what their life is like now with Christ. Sometimes it is not that simple.  There is pain in the process. There is struggle. Let’s be honest about the lifelong journey that many of these behaviors lead to, they are not fixed in a moment. Let’s include the conversation around therapy and support groups. Our students need to hear that these “issues” don’t have to define them and that there is hope in the midst of pain BUT they must know that many times the process of healing can be long and hard.

Let’s not run from or discourage the honest conversations but as the shepherds of our flocks- let us be wise in how we engage.

How are you balancing these conversations?

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Faith & Body

(Photo courtesty of PostSecret)

When I saw this disturbing PostSecret my mind began to think about the challenges that girls face when it comes to their body image. How do we help girls battle low body image issues especially when they escalate to eating disorders? I think as youth ministries we need to have a more wholistic approach.

Here’s 4 ways we can develop more of a wholistic approach:

1. Always keep the truth of Jesus’ love and acceptance at the forefront. For a girl to know that the Creator of the universe loves and accepts her unconditionally is a solid foundation for health. Faith does matter.

2. Provide resources for both your students, parents and your leaders. Here are some really good ones…

(for youth workers)

(for students)

(for parents)

3. Know and refer to outside counsel. Find and create a list of christian therapist in your area that focus on teen girl issues. Make the list available to all the parents in your ministry. Don’t assume that they don’t want your help in this area…because they do.

4. Gather around the girls with other signficant people in their life. Once everyone is on the same page – communicate to the girl and her family that everyone is committed to her health. By doing this you create a circle of support for any girl that can help her process any of her life issues. It is important to girls that they are not alone in this journey.

Low body image is a real issue and we should always be prepared to help girls and their families. What do you do to help the girls in your ministry with their body issues?

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Ganja, Mary Jane…Weed.

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I live in Seattle, last year Marijuana became legal in our great state of Washington.

Weed is a big deal here. Students have been talking about the impacts of weed politically and physically in school for years. So, while it is a big deal…it also has become normalized. I remember talking with a student at a camp about how in their mind, smoking weed was less dangerous than drinking and getting drunk.

Last year with the legalization of weed our church included the conversation in our “hot topic” series. I loved our lead pastors message and I thought it was perfect for even helping our students engage in the conversation.

I don’t know if weed is a big deal for your students but it is for ours. Sometimes I don’t think we talk about it enough. More students are seeing the use of marijuana as no big deal.

If you are wondering how to get the conversation started, check out this video from our church.

How do you talk about weed in your youth ministry?

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In the Midst of Suffering…

I consider myself a glass half full kind of girl. Even when things don’t tend to be going my way, I find myself looking to the bright side of things.

That’s why  it is a bit hard for me to admit this…ministry is hard right now. In some ways, there are great things going on right now. (See, I can’t even turn off my optimistic side.) We’ve been short staffed for over 6 months and programs are still running strong. We’ve had a big Fall…and it’s been good.

Programs aren’t what leave me struggling. I am overwhelmed by the pain and suffering that our students are experiencing right now. I don’t know what is so unique about this season but I have never in my years of ministry walked along students who are in the midst of this level of issues and pain. Some of this pain is self-induced and some is caused at the hands of others.

There are tons of great resources in the youth ministry world about helping hurting students. I am grateful for these resources but in the end they don’t really do the “work” for you. You and I, we still need to sit with the girl who just loss her dad to a sudden heart attack or talk with a parent about their child’s suicidal confessions. Doing the actual work of ministry is exhausting and overwhelming. These moments are hard. There is no easy way around them.

I guess typically, here is where I am suppose to turn the corner on this post, tell you 4 ways to deal with the “work.”

But I won’t. Because I don’t want to make light of suffering… Our students’ and our own suffering and pain.

What I do want to leave you with is the Beatitudes. I have decided to memorize them, hang them in my office and tape them to my bathroom mirror at home. Because I think as youth workers we need to remind ourselves that our only hope isn’t a helpful tip or a new program* but the promises of Jesus.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Praying these promises for my students and for us.


*Don’t get me wrong- I love good programs and helpful hints…and these things are an important part of being a youth worker. I just need to remind myself sometimes that they are not the end all to my ministry…or to the suffering of my students…But Jesus is

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Young Girls Shaping Culture

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The other day I was walking through the airport and noticed on the TV monitors in the terminals this story about young girls shaping pop culture.  I stopped and listened to it for a while and couldn’t help thinking about the girls in my youth ministry.

At first, my thoughts were on the fact that these celebrities were shaping the culture of my students…both in positive ways and negative ways.

But I found my thought shifting to the idea of the “power” that culture as given these young famous girls. (Though we have still have some things to figure out- check out these interesting stories on girl in media. Here and here.) The reality is that these girls are given avenues and platforms to shape culture.

I wondered, do we do the same thing? Do our churches give girls in our ministries, the avenues and platforms to shape culture? Do we teach them to use their gifts and their voices to influence others for God’s kingdom?

I can guarantee that each of our youth ministries has young girls in them with the potential to shape the cultures our ministries, of the schools in our communities…of our churches, if we would just equip and encourage them.

Can I encourage you to send a note or an email to a girl in your ministry today…offer her a word of affirmation and encourage her, allow her to shape the culture of your ministry for the better.

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5 Conversation Starters from 2013 for Girls (Part 2)

It isn’t always hard to get girls talking but it is important to help direct them to conversations that can lead to life change.

In 2013, there were plenty of viral videos that provide a platform for conversation.

Yesterday, I shared 2 of my favorite. (Part 1)

Here are my remaining 3:

3. Malala on The Daily Show

Questions:

1. What stood out to you about Malala’s story?

2. Why do you think Malala was so passionate about her education?

3. What in your life do you feel that passionate about?

2. Brave (Music Video)

Questions:

1. What was your favorite part of that video?

2. On a scale of 1 to 10, how brave are you?

3. How can we help each other be braver each day?

1. Shrinking Women

Questions:

1. What do you think about this video?

2. Where do you think women learn these type of messages about themselves?

3. How can we change the way we see ourselves and other women?

Those were my top 5 videos from the year (when it comes to getting the conversation started), what about you? What videos did you see this year that helped you communicate and care for the girls in your ministry? Share your ideas!

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5 Conversation Starters from 2013 for Girls (Part 1)

Want to start a conversation with a group of girls in your ministry?

Here is the deal…it’s real easy. In fact, 2013 provide many viral video moments to get girls talking.

I want to share you with my favorite 5 videos from 2013. Plus I’ll provide a few questions to kickstart the dialogue.

5. The Sexy Lie

Questions:

1. Why is “sexy” not empowering?

2. She talked about how much time girls spend thinking about our bodies, why do you think we (or girls) do that?

3. What were the action steps she mentioned?

4. Labels Against Women

Questions:

1. What do you think about the labels in this commercial?

2. Do you ever feel like people treat you differently because you are a girl?

3. Does our church/student ministry ever make you feel this way?

Tune in tomorrow for more simple video ideas to get the ladies talking in your ministry!

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What She Said (the art of listening to a girl)

Have you ever been in an argument where you noticed that you weren’t really listening to the other side because you were too busy thinking of your rebuttal? Or have you ever had a girl corner you in the youth room…she is crying and you can’t understand a word she is saying, which leaves you thinking of way to make it stop. I know I have. I have also noticed in several of my conversations I am busy forming a solid reason for why a student should do “something”,  that I don’t always even hear what they really are saying. You know…solving their situation so we can move on to the next task.

But, I have found, especially with girls, that you have to really hear what they are saying to understand them. (I mean that in both a literal and figural way)

Generally in youth ministry we need to start by…

1. Make room for LISTENING. Maybe this is just me but if I am not ready to really listen than it won’t matter what technic I use to hear. For example, if I am in the youth room and there are other students around I can’t hear anything but words. I am ADHD in the youth room especially if it is before a program or service. I see people sitting alone or notice someone who hasn’t been in awhile…I am easily distracted. One Christmas party, a student walked into the room right to me and was crying. SHE WAS CRYING AND TALKING at me…and in all honesty all I could think was we are suppose to start the santa relay game right now. Luckily, she said something about her parents that triggered my attention back to her. I asked another volunteer to run the game and took the student out of the room to talk. Finding a quiet place with no people is huge for me when it comes to really listening. Included in finding a good location is forgetting about the other locations and focusing just on this one student in this moment. I need to make room for listening.

Now, more specifically when it comes to listening to girls…

2. Notice the “feeling” statments. Try to get pass the details of the situation and listen for statements that indicate their feelings. Girls (myself included) can get lost in the details of a story- because we assume that if you know the details you will understand the feelings but that just isn’t the case. Don’t be afraid to stop a story and ask the girl what she is feeling. “How do you feel about that?” It might sound funny coming out of your mouth but it helps them focus away from ALL the details to the heart of the issue.

3. Listen for your role. Excuse my overgeneralized gender statements…but sometimes girls just need to vent and they don’t nessecary need a game plan for dealing with the situation. And sometimes guys just need to come up with a game plan instead of listening to all the details! They may need more from you than a safe place to vent BUT listen first to see if they already know the help they need. All they may need from you is a confirmation of a decision or intervention for a friend. Likely, they have come to you because they need you…but don’t assume you know exactly what they need without really hearing them speak.

I am still trying to learn to be a better listener, I have a long way to go… What tips do you use when listening to students, especially girls?

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