I’m away at high school camp this week – here’s the highlight video from Day 1. Off to a strong start … already exhausted from the first 24 hours!
I’m away at high school camp this week – here’s the highlight video from Day 1. Off to a strong start … already exhausted from the first 24 hours!
So this week is HSM Summer Camp. I’m going to be up front with you, I have nothing to do with the planning of it. But the week before we head out, its all hands on deck fro answering questions for students, leaders and mostly parents. For the most part, summer camp runs smooth, but there always is the dreaded “putting the cabins together” and not everyone is going to be happy with everything. That is okay, it is part of it.
All this last week, I would say I spent a good 2 hours on the phone with upset parents. These parents were not out of control; they were just worried because they were looking out for the best interest of their child. My phone calls with parents were great and it got me thinking about how we as youth workers deal with parents and some things we need to keep in mind.
When dealing and communicating with upset parents we need to:
Listen- I have heard of horror stories where parents don’t feel like the youth pastor actually listens to them when they are upset about something. I think one of the most important things we can do is just to listen. Stop talking. Hear them out whether they are being rational or not. Most people think they will get backlash right back so when we don’t respond and hear them out, it automatically lets them take their guard down and allow you to say what you need to say in a loving but clear way. Parents want to know they are being heard.
Affirm – Whether you think so or not, how they are feeling is a real feeling to them. We may not agree with what they are feeling or why they are feeling it, but regardless, it is how they feel. Saying, “I can see how you can feel that way” or “I understand where you are coming from” shows that you are listening and hearing what they have to say.
Inform – Remembering that their feelings are very real to them, we still need to explain why something is a particular way. If it was an oversight, we can apologize and fix it if necessary. If there was a reason you made the choice they are upset about, this is where you would lovingly explain to them why it is that way.
Encourage – We are to partner with parents. We want to listen to them, affirm their feelings, inform them, and then encourage them. If you do the first 3 things, usually the end of the conversation is much different from the upset beginning. It allows us to cool down the confrontation and then turn it into a conversation about the most important thing (and the reason why they are calling you so passionately) their child. We are to speak life into their family whenever we can.
Granted, some conversations don’t always end so nicely. Hopefully you will be able to figure the best way to represent Christ with a passionate parent. But I feel remembering these things while talking with an upset parent will help us get through a difficult conversation and turn it into an encouraging one.
Cabin times: confusing and frustrating youth workers since 1847*. We are told that cabin times are where the “real” ministry happens at camp: the band and the speaker will get students pumped for Jesus, but those late-night group discussions with their counselors will seal the deal.
*This statistic is not supported by science.
This kind of thinking is based in a lot of truth, but it can also create anxiety, undue pressure, and feelings of inadequacy for the counselor when his or her cabin time falls short of powerful expectations.
We just returned from middle school summer camp, where I was reminded again of the challenges of leading a “successful” cabin time. (In a minute I’ll explain why I put successful in quotes.) Thankfully, we brought along some incredible volunteers who were able to share their cabin time experiences and teach me a thing or two about making the most of group discussions at camp.
Here are some of the tips and trips I picked up last week and in previous years while reflecting on my cabin time successes and failures.
Taylor Bird is the Middle School Pastor at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for five years.
This weekend we leave for HSM Summer Camp. It honestly is one of my favorite things we do all year long. The staff is pumped. The students are pumped. Our volunteers are pumped. I think it is easy to say, everyone and their mother is pumped for camp. One thing we have been trying to get pumped up (because we have not really focused on it besides the last few months) is our @SaddlebackHSM twitter. If I’m honest, we have neglected it but that has changed recently.
As I’m sure all of you know, many students are online in some way, shape or form. We have noticed many students have made the transition to Twitter so we want to communicate to them and get our ministry Twitter up on its game. So with camp coming up, I decided to launch a Twitter campaign of “100 Awesome Things About Summer Camp”. The goal was to get students to interact with it and in a way spread the word about HSM twitter to other students and friends while promoting our stuff. So we started to make a list of things about summer camp and used the hashtag “#100AwsomeThingsHSMCamp” and went to town.
I would have to say it was a success. Students “favorited” or “retweeted” many of the tweets and it was a really fun way to get students excited about camp. Go check out the rest of the tweets by clicking HERE.
GAME 5: Pool Relay
Another week, another episode of the Download Youth Ministry Show! This week we’re all back together talking shop! We talk about youth ministry for 45 minutes every week or two, your questions answered every time! Join Doug Fields, Katie Edwards, Josh Griffin and Matt McGill around our roundtable.
Just enough youth ministry so you don’t feel guilty for listening.
As always, thanks to our amazing sponsors who help with incredible giveaways:
Send in your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org to be answered on a future show, too!
Every Tuesday on Download Youth Ministry we release new youth ministry resources! If you’re not in the habit of checking the site early in the week or if you haven’t subscribed to the DYM Weekly newsletter you are missing out! In addition to the $1 Download of the Week you can get the inside track on specials, sales and new stuff hitting the store that day.
On the fringes of youth ministry lurks an evil monster. It seems to rear it’s ugly head often. No matter how we run, or hide it is chasing our students and their families. The heat of summer seems to sometimes make him appear stronger than ever before. Maybe it’s because there’s more time on everyone’s hands with less to do.
The name of this hideous creature?
We could also call him: hurt, suffering, hopelessness or even depression.
We are talking to adolescents who mask their problems with alcohol, drugs, perfectionism, anger, or acting out in a multitude of ways. At camp and on trips students break down with honest assessments of their thoughts and feelings. They hunger for: Hope. Truth. Love. Acceptance.
Instilling life into the heart of a youth takes, time, energy and focus. There are days when the lives of our students just seem so heavy. In the midst of all the weight we are left feeling helpless.
What do we do?
Keep Building Relationships:
I heard it said once that a “touch is worth a 1000 words.” In a world focused on social media we can easily hide and pretend to be anything we want to be. HOWEVER, all of us, especially teens are hungering for deeper, authentic relationships. YOU may have time to really go deep with maybe 3-5 students. Teach your team how to build relationships with students. Make this a philosophy that spreads like wildfire.
Include and Involve the Parents:
One of the first things we as the youth worker want to do is to “save children from their bad home life.” However, getting to know a family and their situation just may save a life. This goes beyond offering “classes or meetings” for parents. Genuinely get to know the families. Figure out practical ways to lift them up and come along side them.
Train and Equip:
Bring your team together to talk about all of the “sidebar” issues in the lives of your youth. Let’s face it, we can find a book on programming or how to run a Bible Study. All the “hard stuff” our teens are going through is intimidating. Find videos to watch, books to read together and experts to bring in. The more involved you are as a unit, the more the paid “staff” will not feel alone in handling the “tough stuff.”
Know When To Direct to “Professional” Help:
We are called to walk life with students. However, some problems simply are too big for us. There may need to be a counselor or agency brought in to aid in the situation. This does not mean they take over. We still need to stick around, yet, there are spaces where the professionals know how to take the monsters down fully.
Let’s face it the sword of the truth is the only thing that can bring freedom once and for all. Sometimes we need to look a youth in the face and simply let them know the truth: “They are loved with an everlasting love.” Not just once. Over and over. Together I think we can slay this dragon.
What are you doing this summer as your students share the “tough stuff?”
Every ministry has a sacred cow.
Sometimes sacred cows need to die.
But how do you kill a program in a healthy way?
Here are the steps I follow in order to slaughter sacred cows:
1. Enter a time of prayer and discernment. Since people are, by nature, resistant to change, invite others to join you in this process. When people have a hand in making a decision, they’re more likely to support it.
2. Individually examine the questionable program’s…
- Value: What has and does the program contribute to your ministry, congregation, and larger community?
- Sustainability: Is your program breathing life into your ministry or sucking life out of it? How much momentum and funding does the program have?
- Worthwhileness: Is it good stewardship to continue pouring resources as well as the time and energy of leaders and students into the program? Is the program worth a night away from people’s families?
- Seasonality: How long has the program been around? Is it possible it’s run it’s course and that God might be calling it to end?
3. Collectively examine the program’s value, sustainability, worthwhileness, and seasonality. Reach consensus around as many answers to the above questions as possible before then moving back into a time of prayer and discernment.
4. Together with those involved in your discernment process, determine what God is calling you to do.
5. If God is calling you to continue with the program, take time to determine how you will intentionally reinvigorate it. Make plans to reevaluate it at a specific time, so as not to let it linger indefinitely on life-support.
6. If God is calling you to kill a program, carefully determine how to share the news with people. Frame your decision positively and hopefully. Positivity enables you to celebrate and affirm the fruit that’s come from that program. Hope enables you to live into the future rather than dwell on the program’s death.
After working through the aforementioned process, my youth ministry recently made the decision to kill one of our staple programs: A relationally based Kids Club ministry for refugee children, which my high school students faithfully ran for four years.
In many ways, this program was one of our ministry’s best. It gave teens the chance to put their faith into action and provided a frequent entry point for friends to get involved in our ministry.
The problem was by the end of the school year, high school teens outnumbered the refugee children 7 to 1.
So after much prayer and discernment, we killed it.
We are, of course, grieving it’s loss. But we’re also convinced it’s far better to kill a program than to indefinitely keep it on life-support, in the process allowing it to rob our ministry of much needed energy and resources.
We’re also hopeful about the future, curious to see what new ministries will emerge in it’s absence.
After all, in Christianity, life comes from death.
So it is when we kill programs. By intentionally killing some, we make room for others to grow and flourish.
There are times in ministry (and life for that matter) where I come upon a situation and I really do not know what to do. I get a very angry email from an upset parent and my first response will probably not be the best. There is a leader in which I know is not working out and I need to ask them to step down. There is a student in which seems not to get anything I have been teaching or saying and they just keep doing the same thing over and over again. There is a decision that only you can make but you don’t really want to make it because you know you are going to get back lash. I feel like I have been in a season of all of these things happening at once and I find myself just standing scratching my head thinking, “What do I even do here?”
Here is a few things I do when I do not know what to do:
Stop. Relax. Chances are it’s not the end of the world, it just feels like it. One thing I know for sure, the best decisions are not the ones out of immediate reactions of anger and annoyance.
Forget about the overall outcome. Many times just the thought of what is going to happen down the line will freeze us in making a right decision, or any decision for that matter. When we don’t get too ahead of ourselves, we stop and think, we can make the best leadership decision.
Think about the next right, immediate decision. So instead of thinking so far in the future, ask “What would be the best next decision now to get towards the solution?” We can worry about whether or not this is going to pan out and stay stuck or we can think about what the next move is and move forward.
Pray about it. Sometimes I feel like it’s really easy to skip this step. We get so caught up in the anxiety, we miss probably the most important step. We know what Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” We have the power of the Holy Spirit to help guide us in decision-making. allow God’s peace to guard your heart and your mind. Give it to him.
Respond appropriately. When we give it to God and have spent some time in prayer about it, we can confidently know our decision is the best one we can make and we know we have gone about it the best way we humanly know how. Then respond appropriately and people will be able to see your leadership and how well you handle tough calls.
GAME 4: Human Battleship
I’m not sure where the name came from … but this game is simple, easy fun. It is called Crack Dice and the student ministry team at Granger Community Church introduced me to it and I had to share. Props to Greer Evans (the director at GSM LaPorte) for creating it. Here’s how it works:
Such a simple, fun game! Perfect for the countdown before service or a fun icebreaker. Winner!
We’re giving away a Sin Scanner! OK, maybe it is just the Sin Scanner box … but it will also be filled with amazing youth ministry goodies! Get all of the details here on how to enter (it is super easy) and you could be getting a box – sent in the mail which is something we never do. Fun!
Go ahead and take two minutes to describe your youth ministry.
How did it go?
Every youth ministry has an identity. The question you need to answer is, “How clear is your youth ministry’s identity?”
Do you know it? do others? Is your youth ministry doing what you hope it would do?
If the answer is no, then it’s time to look at the type of ministry God has called you to lead.
To truly understand your youth ministry you need to understand it’s identity. To understand it’s identity you need to know the main components that shape it. The 4 components that are essential to your youth ministry’s identity are a(n):
If your ministry is going to be a movement it needs a destination. To get people on board and investing you need to give them a clear picture of where your ministry wants to go. Decide what it is God is calling your ministry to do. Describe what that looks like. And then communicate it like crazy.
It’s not just where you want to go, but how you are going to get there. Your mission explains to people how you’ll reach that destination. It’s your behavior and your values all mixed in one. Your mission tells people what you need to do in order to succeed.
Your ministry’s identity depends on who you are trying to reach. You could try to be a youth ministry for all teens, but you’ll struggle to be efficient. Focus on a group that has the potential for the largest impact on the surrounding community. At first you’ll draw a select crowd; however, over time your mission will reach more and more.
Your values dictate how you behave, and what’s important to your ministry. What you value is based on the characteristics of it’s leadership. When you gather people together with similar values your youth ministry will work well together.
Recruit people with similar values and raise like minded leaders. You’ll not only improve the quality of your ministry, but increase your effectiveness. A ministry that is confident in it’s values is one willing to take on big challenges.
Your ministry’s identity is essential to it’s growth. Without an identity your ministry will just exist and eventually burnout. Take some time to sit with your leaders to discern the vision, mission, target audience and values. The work will payoff.
What other attributes are important to a youth ministry’s identity?
I don’t think it comes as a surprise, but I think small groups are great. There are a ton of reasons why students join a small group. It could be just the thing to do at your church. It could be because their parents are making them. It could be because a leader a student has a relationship with invited them into the group. It could be because a student has seen the life change it causes and invited a friend to it. It could be because a student wanted a community around them so they just joined one.
Either one of these reasons are great. I approve. I want all students in a group. But I think there is one reason we as leaders should have a purpose for small group ministry.
Last weekend I was talking to a student about her small group and she hit the main reason right on the head. She said, “I joined the group at first to have community, but as I kept going I realized I really joined because of my need to repent of my sins and learn how to follow Jesus fully.”
BOOM! I was so proud in the moment that this student realized this on her own. She decided to let God control her life and she should stop running it. Her joining the group was the first step to letting that happen. She knew that the community around her would help her understand the studies, she knew the group would pray for her, encourage her, help keep her accountable.
But the main thing was to repent. And this will be an ongoing process.
This is the end goal of youth ministry and healthy small groups of God’s people are instrumental in bringing life change . . . repentance . . . transformation.